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What Modi govt does with Pakistan the coming week will define its next 5 years

Nobody can take Modi for granted. He is capable of upsetting the apple-cart, demolishing status quo and spoiling carefully laid-out plans.

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As Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarks on his second term in office, one thing is very clear. Nothing is what it seems and nobody can take anything for granted. Not even Amit Shah.

Modi is the master puppeteer, pulling the strings not from far behind. He is both willing and capable of upsetting the apple-cart, demolishing the status quo and spoiling your carefully laid-out plans – choose your cliché and it will be true.

This government is only a week-old and the first changes have already been made. If home minister Amit Shah, by being a member of all the cabinet committees reconstituted so far – security, appointments, parliamentary affairs, accommodation, political affairs and economic affairs – was being spoken of as Modi’s No. 2, because defence minister Rajnath Singh had been left out of most of them, by Thursday night that impression had been dispelled. Rajnath Singh was made a member of four of the six committees, save the ones on appointments and accommodation.

Also read: Modi’s foreign minister Jaishankar has a situation on hand – tackling angry US

Shah may still be Number Two, Modi’s closest confidante and adviser. But to allow that impression to travel is clearly risky.

Similarly, Piyush Goyal may have hoped for the most powerful ministry in the government, finance –which is natural, considering he delivered the Budget in 2018 – but Modi was clearly having none of it. Goyal was allocated commerce, while an Arun Jaitley protege and the one of the few with an economics background in this government, Nirmala Sitharaman, made the cut. Jaitley may be out due to his ill-health, but his influence remains.

As for the technocrats who will run Modi’s foreign policy – external affairs minister S. Jaishankar and national security adviser Ajit Doval – Modi likes the fact that he will be given expert advice on an area of priority, which is to expand India’s presence abroad, by two people who have no political ambitions.

Doval and Jaishankar are both cabinet ministers so they are equal. Both have five-year terms, although Doval turns 75 in January 2020, so they are equal on that front as well.

They are also nicely matched: Doval will continue to be the PM’s Special Representative on the India-China border talks, as well as remain the head of the Strategic Policy Group – he displaced the cabinet secretary as the head of this group last October – as well as the head of the Defence Planning Committee, a super-committee created in April 2018.

Also read: Modi’s key test with Trump will be to ensure Make in India doesn’t clash with Make in America

Doval is also likely accompanying Modi to Sri Lanka over the weekend, while Jaishankar heads off to Bhutan. Remember that Modi won the recent election on the back of the Balakot strikes, which Doval would have planned to the last, minute detail. We know that Doval and his men negotiated for the return of captured pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. The NSA remains close to Modi.

The moral of the story can be encapsulated in one word: Balance. Modi, as he pulls the puppets on his strings, will maintain this up-down movement as is his wont, intending to keep all his mantris on their toes. That way no one can get bigger or better than their shoes.

There’s only one man on top – the pilgrim in Kedarnath, the model for the animated yoga series that is back on @narendramodi these days (check out the vrikhsasana, trikonasana and tadasana) or the best wisher for Team India this World Cup – and his name is Narendra Damodardas Modi.

As he sets about shaping his second term, the PM must realise his two biggest challenges on hand. Fixing the economy at home and leveraging this to enhance India’s standing abroad.

The Chinese can be held off at Doklam, but they are far more likely to respect economic strength. Similarly, US president Donald Trump’s trademan instincts have forced him to enter into a micro-mini trade war with India that is threatening to damage the relationship. No wonder, Jaishankar has been spending quality time with Goyal and Sitharaman.

Also read: India’s problem is its policy to pamper China while treating weak Pak as full-blown threat

Modi also realises that if India has to become a regional power, he has to first fix the neighbourhood. It’s all very well to invite leaders from the Bay of Bengal region to your swearing-in ceremony, and then follow that up with visits to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, but what do you do with Pakistan, the country that threatens to block your rise and rise to great power status?

Either you gnash your teeth or you set about doing things with a cool head. Certainly, Modi would return to talks with Imran Khan in a trice – but how would he sell those talks to the RSS as well as various BJP karyakartas and supporters who have been fed on an anti-Pakistan diet for some time?

That is why a possible meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in Bishkek on 13-14 June on the margins of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is of huge interest. The process of returning to a photo-op with a Pakistani PM is certainly as important as the content of their conversation.

MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar carefully caveated his remarks on the meeting Wednesday, saying “to the best of my knowledge,” there is no such meeting. This wonderful phrase neither confirms nor denies what, if anything, is going on between the two countries this week.

Modi government’s decision on Pakistan this coming week will, in a sense, define the remainder of his five years in office.

Will the PM take a leaf out of his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s book, and open up a dialogue with a country which deeply damages India’s national interest, but isn’t going anywhere anytime soon?

Or, will he blow up this opportunity by waiting for a more perfect time when cross-border terrorism comes to an end?

The future awaits India’s prime minister.

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  1. There’s only one man on top – the pilgrim in Kedarnath, the model for the animated yoga series that is back on @narendramodi these days (check out the vrikhsasana, trikonasana and tadasana) or the best wisher for Team India this World Cup – and his name is Narendra Damodardas Modi.”

    If a schoolgirl were asked to write an essay on “My Beloved Leader”, this is how she would begin.

    Fact of the matter is, Modi ji is potbellied, something that he tries to hide with great dexterity. But when he climbs the steps of an aeroplane jauntily, the fat on the back of his waistline quiver merrily. There is nothing wrong in being potbellied, many satiated men are so, but why unnecessarily ramp up the yoga lie?

    As for the title of the article, the next 5 year plan for Pakistan is ALREADY in place since last many months. The “terrorist” fight has very smoothly and seamlessly given way to “freedom struggle” in the valley, and Indian army is busy thwarting it. The terrorist bogey is still being used by the Modi government though the fact of the matter is, their supply from across the border has trickled down to zero. Why do I say so? Well, people who are dying in the valley these days are not Pakistan imports; they are armed, but haven’t indulged in typical terrorist acts like blowing up malls and schools etc. Their hatred for India has reached a stage of fulmination in last five years, and will continue the same way as long as Narendra Modi, the catalyst of that fulmination is in our midst. Which freedom struggle in any part of the world has failed to elicit a notice and response from the UN? Sooner than later islamic groups like OIC and/or Pakistan will succeed in moving the UN through diplomacy, or through a small “dirty” bomb lobbed somewhere. The latter will send Mr Modi into a cocoon and peacekeeping forces will start walking the streets and hilly roads of that paradise on earth. That will end Modi and Amit Shah’s dream to push moneyed Gujaratis, Sindhis and Punjabis into the valley and colonize a simple people whose only crime is that they follow a different religion. Yes, I say this in all seriousness. If the same valley were populated by Hindus who resisted assault from outside Indians in the name of preserving pristine beauty, the same Modi government would have agreed and advocated that the entire valley be declared a UNESCO heritage city.

  2. Modi: Has two psyches: Nehru and Indira Gandhi, and many faces: All Saffron: A good analysis of how all strings are now in Modi’s hands:

  3. As usual, Jyoti is writing nothing substantial. As regards Pakistan, nothing needs to be done and there is nothing to talk. There is no need to invoke Ataljee the moment one refers to Pakistan or Kashmir. Ataljee would have done the same thing as Modi, given how Pakistan and Kashmiris have responded to our peace gestures. Insaniyat is not a one way traffic. Unless the Pak Army, ISI and the government jointly agree to stop terrorism, there is nothing to be done with them. In fact, Imran should not waste his time in writing letters to Modi and instead manage problems facing his country. Of course, for our media, this is a big loss for generating exciting news and stories. Jyoti will be disheartened if Modi and Imran don’t have a formal talk in Bishkek!

  4. We can only hope that he does nothing. Unless Pakistan makes real irreversible changes, we are wasting our time. These events turn into media spectacles with nothing to show afterwards.

  5. My – somewhat broken – heart tells me peace with Pakistan is no longer seen as something desirable. The best that can be hoped for is a more prudent, professional effort to prevent actual conflict. Nor is any serious political dialogue likely on Kashmir. As far as the economy is concerned, the first Budget / 100 days will show whether there is any appetite for reform. The warm afterglow of victory is leading to a feeling that nothing is really broken enough to need fixing.

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