In contrast, Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh gave a politically mature, culturally prudent and diplomatically profound twist to the event. He cautioned Pakistan on terror and at the same time endorsed the building of the Kartarpur Corridor as a promotion of people to people contact.
Courtesy : Hindustan Times, Chandigarh, Nov 30 , 2018
To embrace the army and be friends with democracy simply can’t go hand in hand in Pakistan. History is witness to Pakistan army being on the wrong side of democracy, involved in harbouring terror and violating civil liberties. Peace-building is sacred and to expect actors engaged in perpetuation of violence to be torchbearers of peace is but naivety. In this context, political discourse becomes vitiating as it tends to seek simple answers to complex questions. Let me labour this issue to uncover the complexity of India and Pakistan’s geo-political reality.
Two decades ago, Pakistan was ruled by a democratically elected government and a visit to Islamabad received warm Punjabi cultural hugs. It also witnessed India’s defeat against Sri Lanka in the 1996 World Cup cricket final held in Lahore, manifesting in Pakistani Punjabi friends hugging Sri Lankans and giving a cold shoulder to Indian Punjabis. A decade later, the US invasion of Iraq evoked solidarity among South Asians, including Indians, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans.
COMPLEX REALITIES These three contextual responses are pointers towards the existence of complex realities. The first situation signifies cultural bondage and the quest for sharing the cultural reservoir and resources. Hence the cultural hugs.
The second context was an expression of Pakistanis and Sri Lankans highlighting their perception of India being a ‘hegemonic regional power’. Hence the political hugs.
The third situation exemplifies the developing countries’ sense of powerlessness in the face of the US’s authoritarian misadventures. Hence, the survival hugs.
Further, the complexity is reflected in politics, carefully nurtured by cultural and religious similarities that transcend territorial boundaries. In other words, political competition within the countries and identity assertions get embroiled into India-Pakistan conflicts meshed up with ultranationalism. In other words, Indian Punjab is on the boil. Religion is being invoked, be it the Bargari Morcha or Kartarpur Corridor. Partisan politics is competing in the religious space be it the Congress, the Akalis or the AAP to appropriate credit.
In case of the Kartarpur Corridor, Pakistan has taken a shot by giving credit to Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu and added another dimension by attempting to earn goodwill among Sikhs to provide fodder to radical elements in that country. However, Pakistan’s attempt to outweigh religious interests of Sikhs over and above their nationalism and patriotism is not going to succeed.
BRIDGES AND WALLS Congress and Akali leaders are trying to follow different routes to take credit for opening the Kartarpur Corridor. The Shiromani Akali Dal is citing continuous efforts and their proximity with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for the quick response of the central government. Sidhu, a cricketer-turned-minister is taking credit for the positive response of the Pakistani establishment because of his friendship with former cricketer and now prime minister, Imran Khan. Another Punjab Congress minister hogged the limelight by attempting to dislodge the Badals from centre stage at a stone-laying ceremony at Dera Baba Nanak.
Vice-president M Venkaiah Naidu described the corridor as an initiative to build bridges between the people of the two countries and usher in an era of peace and prosperity in the region. “This is a corridor that connects us to the Guru we revere, to the sacred space where he spent the last 18 years of his life. This corridor is a unifier, building bridges across old chasms. It promotes deeper understanding and a new resolve to connect people of our two countries through love, empathy and invisible threads of common spiritual heritage,” he said.
India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj termed this an isolated issue linked with people’s faith and said it had nothing to do with India-Pakistan peace-building.
CAPT’S MATURE ROLE In contrast, Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh gave a politically mature, culturally prudent and diplomatically profound twist to the event. He cautioned Pakistan on terror and at the same time endorsed the building of the Kartarpur Corridor as a promotion of people to people contact. He complimented Imran Khan for the initiative but urged him to rein in his army and its intelligence wing, the ISI, which works against us. He recalled the 26/11 Mumbai attack as a grim reminder of Pakistan-sponsored terror in India, and pointed out that the Dinanagar and Pathankot attacks also stood out as examples of terror unleashed by Pakistan in Punjab.
Amarinder’s statement is comprehensive as he condemned the army and endorsed democracy. He reiterated India’s commitment to peace and development. He did not go overboard to appropriate religious emotions of the Sikhs but located the Kartarpur Corridor initiative in a larger context. Khan mentioned that history is made by those who are not led by people’s emotions, but lead them for humane and peaceful co-existence. This description is apt for the role played by Amarinder.
The transformation of civil society is constrained by the legacy of conflict in which sovereignty continues to be located in territorial nationalism and free market and not with citizens. No doubt, these initiatives have a potential to provide space to regional, country and multicultural groups to maximise on collateral advantages. This can happen if the hegemonic articulations of the countries are curtailed; the role of reactionary and ultra-nationalist forces is minimised; and political establishments refrain from appropriating peace building initiatives to promote divisive politics.
Dr Parmod Kumar, Director IDC Chandigarh
First Published in Hindustan Times, Chandigarh, Nov 30 , 2018