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Vajpayee's masterful strategy?
February 24, 2004
Unlike the rest of his BJP policymakers who were up in cloud nine after the party's convincing triumph in the Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan assembly election, Vajpayee was not for a mid-term poll to capitalise on that success.
The popular perception he disseminated was that he wanted to complete the allotted five-year term for his government and be the first-ever non-Congress one to do so before going for the scheduled voting for the 14th Lok Sabha. Why then did he change his mind after the Islamabad declaration of January 6? Why did he suddenly decide to swim along with his party's urge for quickly cashing in on the assembly success?
That question has been, very strangely, beyond the scanner of the media's many political analysts. But it has been answered now, after the initial three-day talks under the declaration ended in Islamabad the other day. India has so clearly succeeded in securing a 'roadmap for peace' that next [talks] gets underway only in May-June at the secretaries' level and thereafter leads to the foreign ministers' review in August.
By thus deferring the meat of the dialogue by as much as nearly six months in all, Vajpayee's government has been totally relieved of the mighty Kashmir burden it would certainly have had to carry to our people if the general election was to be held during the scheduled September season that Vajpayee, we were led to believe, had earlier intended.
Now, without the K-burden in the mid-term poll, with the artillery's silence continuing along the LoC and with Musharraf giving a breather to the jihadis, the BJP's electioneering can safely proclaim from the rooftops that it has ushered in the most sustained period of peace with Pakistan in the last two decades.
The long postponement of the next meaningful pow-wow with Pakistan will also mean that, for six more months at least, we can go ahead speedily, without any hiatus, with our programme of fencing the porous borders, thus creating further insurance against those sneaking jihadis from Pakistan.
The postponement will also enable the various confidence-building measures in progress to generate an ambience in which Pakistanis -- and Indians -- realise that bountiful yields from having a peaceful neighbour are worth a certain amount of give-and-take. All in all, it's a gung-ho scenario for Vapayee's smooth run in the India Shining bus to another long occupancy of 7 Race Course Road.
Contrarily, if Vajpayee had stuck to his earlier belief in completion of his first, full five-year tenure, there is no guarantee at all that he would have all the electoral aces he now has in his waist-coat. Indeed, with India's general election slated for September-October, and with George W Bush's continuance in the White House under a cloud then, Musharraf would certainly have hustled us into one round after another in quick succession from the first meeting of February itself so as to bring Kashmir rapidly to the dialogue table.
His frenetic pace would have been determined by his belief that Pakistan can strike a deal on Kashmir only with Vajpayee, the only Indian leader so far who has publicly expressed a willingness to alter old attitudes and travel on a new path of the delicate subject -- the subject that has stood between peace and hostility between the two neighbours.
The general and president of Pakistan would have been hell-bent on getting Vajpayee's autograph on a settlement before the latter faced another election with all its unpredictability and before he himself discarded his army uniform as he has promised to his people.
In that mood of Musharraf and in that commitment written into the Islamabad declaration, there is simply no way, no reason, why Musharraf and Pakistan and the US would have let Vajpayee filibuster it for eight whole months after the issuance of that declaration on January 6. Chances are that, by September or so, when the time came to ink the dialogues into a deal on Kashmir, the talks would have broken down and the two nations subjected once again to a Kargil or its variant and to murmurs of nuclear flashpoint anxieties from across the globe. The blame game would have begun; coffins may have had to be readied. The BJP's election platform would have tottered as the Opposition lambasted its promise of peace with Pakistan as another shattered dream of poor Mungherilal.
To have the Islamabad declaration issued on January 6 committing India to a comprehensive dialogue that was quickly slated to begin in the next month, to then go against his earlier viewpoint and opt for a mid-term poll, and then to use that very poll as ground for postponing the nitty-gritty of that dialogue till election results are out in May-June and the new ministry has found its feet in September -- all of it must be considered as a masterly Vajpayee strategy in terms of purely party interests.
It must be conceded though that the postponement also offers the whole of India itself the opportunity to further secure its border security, to surge forward economically in a peaceful environment devoid of terrorism, to nibble concessions from Pakistan such as getting Dawood Ibrahim into its net, and to allow more time for various people-to-people contacts to soften the psyche of the Pak people who have been unable to see beyond Kashmir and the Islamic bomb.
The reason for that strategy -- if that is what it is -- may well lie in the wording of a particular portion of the Islamabad declaration.
That portion is the sentence which says, 'The two leaders (Vajpayee and Musharraf) are confident that the resumption of the composite dialogue will lead to peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both the sides.'
That business of 'satisfaction of both sides' with regard to the J&K issue is a huge, huge constraint to its final settlement. That wording is something that did not exist either in the Simla Agreement of July 2,1972 or in the Lahore Declaration of February 21, 1999 signed by the then prime ministers of the two countries. The former said, inter alia, 'Pending the final settlement of any of the problems between the two countries, neither side shall unilaterally.' At Lahore, both sides agreed merely to 'intensify their efforts to resolve all issues, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.'
The Islamabad declaration, however, avers confidence in a settlement that is peaceful and that is also to 'the satisfaction of both the sides.' How can that come about with the mammoth maze of the J&K issue? All of the several solutions offered by several quarters over the last 55 years have failed that test. None of the solutions can fulfil that 'satisfaction' test unless India or Pakistan is ready to make a sacrifice that is acceptable to its people. Is either the Indian or the Pakistan nation ready for that sacrifice?
Until that mirage becomes a reality, Vapjpayee's resort to a mid-term poll represents only an interregnum at best. Come September, he would either have left the fireball in the court of a new and raw coalition government, or continue handling it himself for another five years -- towards an end which no configuration of stars whatsoever can foretell at this juncture.