Modi is in, where is Nawaz Sharif?
If the pundits overestimated the electoral performance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its ‘India Shining’ campaign in 2004, this time they underestimated the strength of “ab ki baar Modi Sarkar” campaign. The Indian electorate has reposed resounding confidence in Narender Modi as the leader of a new India. Like every new mega event, the emphatic victory of Modi ushers in a variety of enabling and disabling forces. Because of Modi’s association with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), many fear that, in the garb of populist nationalism, India may actually be entering a new era of an Indian version of Nazism. If Modi was a tea-seller, Hitler served as a lance corporal during World War I. Both rose to prominence due to their fiery nationalist speeches after joining political parties. Like Modi, Hitler also promised the electorate a developed and grander Germany. Like Hitler, Modi has also galvanised support around his personal appeal. He is burdened with the negative perception of being an anti-Muslim communalist. For these parallels with Hitler, many analysts are fearful that his victory may prove a fatal blow to the secular credentials of the biggest democracy in the world.
Optimists on the other hand draw attention to the positive forces that Modi’s era might generate. They remind us that Obama was also very belligerent during his election campaign but once in power he has been pursuing a more pragmatic and pacifist foreign policy. Modi used nationalistic rhetoric to appeal to the right-wing masses of India but, as the prime minister of India, the statesman in him will be more prominent. He knows that not only a sceptical intelligentsia in India but concerned international analysts will also be watching his first moves and policy pronouncements with bated breath. Communal politics and a good corporate style election campaign could only bring him to the highest office. For playing a long innings he needs to do a lot more. For good perception management he has to dispel the impression of being a right-wing extremist. Can he be the Indian Nelson Mandela? We have to wait and see.
While India appears strong and united under Modi, we see a gradual disintegration of writ of the state in Pakistan. Over many years we have seen anarchy in the tribal areas and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Karachi. However, ever since Hamid Mir was attacked, we are realising a bitter reality. After the transfer of power to a civilian government through elections we had presumed that democracy had finally matured in Pakistan and rule of law would define our national conduct in all spheres of life. What we have witnessed in the last couple of weeks makes this assumption a self-deceiving farce. In the past, individual journalists have been attacked and killed but this time conspirators were seen repeatedly stabbing the biggest channel of the country in broad daylight. Be it an investigative journalist like Saleeem Shahzad or an assertive media group, if the red line is crossed, no one is spared. Whether it is democracy or dictatorship, the rule remains exquisitely simple.
Who is the executive head of Pakistan? Not Nawaz Sharif as one feels Mubashir Luqman is the one who has been calling the shots. In the past, Lucman remained tirelessly busy in running programmes against the PML-N government ever since he started his electronic media career. I have no problem with that as not all journalists are objectively neutral and they tend to develop a soft corner for one and dislike for others. Even in the western media many journalists can be identified for their political leanings. So Lucman’s right to attack the government is not disputable. But when he proactively began promoting hatred between the army and government as a full blown campaign, I feel he started breaching the law. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and the police should have geared into prompt action. The abuse of freedom of opinion touched new levels when he unleashed a blasphemy charge campaign by inciting hatred and violence, and thus putting thousands of working journalists in a life threatening situation. Again there are enough provisions of criminal law that were ostensibly breached but one felt that, instead of the prime minister, someone else was acting as the big boss.
Modi will be a strong prime minister for India. In Afghanistan, new leadership is also soon going to emerge. Both Modi and Sharif have reciprocated messages of goodwill but the friendly relations initiative is tender and brittle. Non-state actors can easily upset the apple cart. If the Pakistani security establishment wants to embarrass the prime minister again, all that is needed is to fire a shot at the Line of Control and the nationalist media will quickly toe the line. In the case of the private media group therefore, what is more at stake here is the victory of a hatemongering mindset. If, for running the ‘Aman ki Aasha’ campaign the media group can be accused of anti-state activities, how will this mindset approve of Modi and Nawaz Sharif creating history by burying the hatchet and redefining Pak-India relations in terms of regional development and cooperation? If Nawaz Sharif fails to reassert his authority he will find himself cornered when he negotiates peace with India. The government must show that it still reigns supreme and is the actual boss. Only a strong and independent media can ensure continuity of the democratic order.