Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | Is Pak off Sangh radar? Ties uneasy amid focus on China

The Asian Age.  | Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Opinion, Columnists

At the moment, Pakistan has ceased to be that “enemy” which ideological fanatics so desperately need

External affairs minister S. Jaishankar. (PTI Photo)

External affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has of late been duelling with the European Union over its insistence that India should condemn Russia over the war in Ukraine and not have any trade links with Moscow, and at other times he has been reiterating that India-China relations cannot be normal unless China switches off its aggressive stance at the undefined Line of Actual Control (LAC).

But he has been relatively quiet over Pakistan, except in passing as when he would refer indirectly to Pakistan and its support for anti-India terror groups based there. The recent clash between India and Pakistan at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting in Goa was an indirect one, and visiting Pakistan foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari got the proverbial cold shoulder.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that Pakistan should create conducive conditions for resuming talks in his interview to Nikkei Asia as he flew to Japan to attend the G-7 summit in Hiroshima as a special guest was the mildest that one has heard from Mr Modi, who was quite aggressive in his statements against Pakistan at an earlier time.

The benign negligence of Pakistan by the Modi government began after reading down of the temporary special status provision granted in Article 370 to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, its demotion from a state to a Union territory soon after the BJP won the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with an impressive majority. Pakistan in response had closed rail and road links, and downgraded the foreign missions in each other’s country, and the diplomatic impasse still remains.

But it was impossible to maintain total silence. Pakistan offered to send ventilators to India during the catastrophic second wave of Covid-19 in the summer of 2021. India politely turned that away. Prime Minister Modi expressed condolences to Pakistan as an unprecedented monsoon fury killed more than a thousand people and affected 33 million people in Sindh and Balochistan in 2022, and there was offer of help from the Indian side but it was Pakistan’s turn to remain silent.

There was a time when the Bharatiya Janata Party government and the party were keeping Pakistan in the news in India. Pakistan served on many an occasion as the punching bag for the Hindutva advocates. But with the country’s economy growing in size, and the world, especially the rich democracies of the G-7 looking to India as a foil to powerful China in Asia, the BJP politicians in the government and in the party and the pro-government chattering classes are not talking about Pakistan any more. The “love jihad” issues are not being traced back to terrorist groups in Pakistan, and the terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir have been reduced to local incidents. The foreign office and the armed forces must be keeping a constant watch over the current happenings in Pakistan, but the pro-Modi intelligentsia is speaking more about how the world is looking to India rather than the existential threat that Pakistan poses to “Hindu” India.

Many would say that this is a positive development, and that the fading away of Hindu Right’s angst and anxiety over “Muslim” Pakistan should make for a more peaceful South Asia. There is a slight twist in the tale here. Until now, the Hindu Right had sought to portray Pakistan as a threat to India’s security and it used to pretend that the barbs armed against Pakistan should not be misconstrued as attacking the Muslims in India. But with the disappearance of Pakistan from the dark horizon of Hindutva imagination, the majoritarian right-wingers are now ready to be belligerent against Muslims within the country. There is a greater demand that Muslims in India should fall in line with the country’s so-called Hindu civilisation. In the past, Hindu conservatives believed in the Hindu glory of Indian civilisation, but did not see the Islamic component of Indian history as a cultural threat. But then the Hindutva brigade operates at the infra-intellectual end of the spectrum, and it is always on the search for an “enemy” in India and outside. At the moment, Pakistan has ceased to be that “enemy” which ideological fanatics so desperately need. And it is the Muslims in the country, the largest religious minority, who are considered a cultural threat.

The BJP and its ideologues within the Sangh Parivar and outside found it useful to target Pakistan in their arguments while the government followed a well-established pragmatic line. But with the shift in focus to China as the main rival, the Hindutva cohorts, including the intellectual camp followers who style themselves as national security experts, are at a loss. It was easy to berate a brittle Pakistan and even set it up as the straw man to showcase India’s need to step up its military preparedness.

But this is not an easy thing to do with China on the radar. In terms of the economy, the Indian right-wingers are painfully aware that China is far ahead of India, and that in military terms India can only think in terms of defending itself but not to overwhelm China. That India is the most populous country in the world, overtaking China, is not much of a solace. So, the rant against China is rather faint in the Hindutva groups, and with Pakistan not on the radar, there is a strange quiet on the ideological front.

The Hindutva brigade does derive huge satisfaction from the fact that the United States and Europe are now looking to India rather than to Pakistan as the strategic lynchpin of their anti-totalitarian stance.

Though the Narendra Modi government is only too glad to be part of “big boys” club of the West, there is also the recognition that India cannot cut itself away from Russia, the old ally. The fact that Russia is not any more Communist appeals to the Hindu right-wing. The Modi government is thus forced to adopt India’s default position of non-alignment, that was identified with Jawaharlal Nehru, the bête noir of the Hindu Right. Unlike Western countries, which despite their flawed democracies, can take a clear stance against the authoritarianism in Moscow and Beijing, the Hindu Right in India, with its own dark dreams of totalitarianism, is quite half-hearted in opposing the anti-liberal democracy of Russia and China. Mr Modi and his supporters are in an ideological no-man’s land.