18 May 2024 08:48 AM


Kuldip Nayar | 10 JANUARY, 2016

Of Lahore and Ayodhya….

Stones for Ram Mandir arrive in Ayodhya

The best tiding of the year gone by is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s impromptu visit to Lahore, while returning from Kabul. It was, indeed, a welcome gesture that has been applauded all over, particularly in Pakistan. The feeling in that country is that India wants to undo it. Seventy years of Pakistan’s independent entity has no removed that fear.

Modi’s remark that such visits by both the sides would be a common occurrence is a welcome assurance. Whatever diplomatic hurdles might have come in the way of the two talking to each other to sort out the problems facing them has been pushed into the background.

Unfortunately, the media on both sides continues to be a spoiler. Commenting so much on the visit as on the gesture to probe what prompted him to do so is anybody’s guess. The visit was his thinking. Ideas do not have to be prompted by the outsiders.

The applause, even in Pakistan, shows that the act of breaking the ice was overdue. False prestige had stood in the way. Modi spanned the divide to everybody’s admiration. The comment by the Congress, to run down Modi, is absolutely unwarranted. Instead of putting Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in the wrong by saying that it had come to appreciate the line which the Congress had adopted for decades, the party said that there was no roadmap.

Years ago, when former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said that he would take a bus to Lahore, he took everyone by surprise. The talks were successful. According to Mushahid Hussain, then the government’s spokesman, a time frame was agreed upon to sort out the Kashmir issue. It is unfortunate that intermittent dialogue on the problem has not found any solution.

Kashmir leader Farooq Abdullah showed a streak of his respected father, Sheikh Abdullah, when he said that whatever part of Kashmir is under Pakistan should be part of their territory and ours continue to an integral part of India. In fact, that is the situation on the ground. Any violation of line of control creates tension between the two countries and even a war-like situation.

Modi’s meeting with Nawaz Sharif at Lahore should open a new chapter. Both countries should foster not only friendship but take steps to benefit the region economically. There should be trade between the two across the border instead of using Dubai as the place for import and export of capital goods.

Modi’s statement after the visit that such an occurrence would be common and they would be coming and going to each other’s country without any protocol is what should have been done earlier. Vajpayee was a visionary enough to think of it. Modi appears to be following him because soon after his return from Lahore the first thing he did was to call on Vajpayee. The latter is incapacitated but did say by gestures that what Modi had done was something which he would have himself done.

If Modi is to succeed, he should tell the RSS to give up agenda of Akhand Bharat and recognise Pakistan as a sovereign country. It is regrettable that soon after the meeting some statements, particularly by the RSS leaders, brought up the oft-repeated slogan of Akhand Bharat. This will only increase the deficit in trust which is really the problem between the two countries.

Unfortunately, the goodwill created by Modi in Pakistan is being dissipated by the build-up in Ayodhya over the arrival of stones from different parts of India. The extremists are once again playing the old game and reviving the Ram temple controversy. It was the demolition of the Babri masjid that made Muslims in India feels that they were not equal citizens. It was as the Babri masjid which widened the gulf between New Delhi and Islamabad. To revisit the issue would only deepen parochialism in the country.

Historians who gathered for an annual conference have passed a resolution against the arrival of engraved stones in Ayodhya, for a future Ram temple at the site where the Babri masjid once stood. This happened at the ongoing 76th session of the Indian History Congress (IHC) at Malda in West Bengal. “The collection of stones at Ayodhya raises the suspicion of another breach of law,” noted the IHC.

Ultimately, it all depends on Modi. He has to control the hotheads in his party and those in the RSS. If they once again talk about building Ram temple at Ayodhya they would defeat the purpose of Modi’s visit. The structure of Babri masjid was a testimony to our country’s faith in secularism.

One person remarked at the time of the demolition that Mahatma Gandhi was shot at on January 30 but he died on December 6, 1992 when the demolition took place in the presence of BJP leaders L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti. Advani was then sensitive enough to submit his resignation from parliament to register his unhappiness. But subsequently the atmosphere created by the Hindu extremists was that of victory and Advani sheepishly withdrew his resignation.

Happily the foreign secretaries of the two countries are meeting later this month. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s adviser Sartaj Aziz has already said in a broadcast from Pakistan that all problems cannot be solved at one sitting. But there would be a serious effort to clear the hurdles that crop up off and on in the culmination of concrete results.

Modi, who has taken the initiative, seems determined to normalize relations with Pakistan. That the gesture has been praised in Washington, Moscow and London indicates how anxious is the world that New Delhi and Islamabad should come to an understanding so that the region is not plagued by war or hostilities and it prospers economically. After all, the largest population of the poor lives in this part of the world. Modi, whatever his past, has taken a step towards a bright future. And it should be endeavour of all that he should succeed.