The Big Story: Neighbourhood watch

It now seems amazing that it was just two years ago that Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled stop in Lahore to visit the wedding of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s grand-daughter, and signal that New Delhi was prepared to talk directly to Islamabad. Much water has flowed under many bridges since then, and Sharif is no longer in charge in Pakistan, having been brought down by the Panama Papers. The optimism engendered by Modi’s surprise visit has given way to the routine cynicism that is standard when it comes to India-Pakistan ties.

This week once again shows how the Modi government, which will hit its four-year mark in a few months, has been unable to put together a Pakistan policy that is any more incisive than the one pursued by the Congress-run United Progressive Alliance. What was one a top priority, as slotted under Modi’s “Neighbourhood First” line and reflected as his swearing in, has gone back to the normal bickering and narrative fights.

In the headlines, India and Pakistan are battling to present themselves as more magnanimous than the other in the run up to the International Court of Justice’s hearings in the case of Kulbhushan Jadhav, who Pakistan caught and sentenced to death on allegations of espionage and terrorism. In political rallies, India’s current prime minister is accusing his predecessor of colluding with Islamabad, even though Modi has not ordered any official inquiry. And on the ground, the armies continue to try and inflict damage on each other, with news this week of four Indian Army troops being killed by cross-border firing and some details from unnamed officials about five Indian commandos crossing the Line of Control to kill four Pakistani soldiers.

Although the mood does not seem ripe for the situation to worsen even further, the speed with which 2015’s positivity was killed by the subsequent years is enough to take a pause and re-consider what India is trying to achieve with its Pakistan relationship. This is particularly pertinent now because the ICJ hearing, which is expected to begin in January, will rake up many more nationalistic and bellicose sentiments from either side.

As a Right-Wing leader not worried about maintaining his Hindutva image, it was expected that it would be easier for Modi to push for dialogue and a solution, since he is not worried about friendly fire from the saffron side of the polity. That is what made the visit to Lahore possible, after 10 years during which Manmohan Singh did not travel to Pakistan despite wanting to. But the Modi government’s decision to continue stoking the Hindutva and nationalist sentiments of the public have meant that it is hard even for him to extend an olive branch. With the 2019 elections expected to feature nationalism and “anti-nationals” as a key element of the discourse, this is only expected to get worse. As India enters 2018, it is imperative that Modi work to create a cohesive Pakistan policy that is both realistic and optimistic before the bellicose tiger he has been riding slips away and does real damage.


  1. “It is imperative that we stop the Aadhaar juggernaut before it infringes on the very right to life itself,” writes Ajit Ranade in Mint.
  2. “The one indubitable take away from the Gujarat election is that the hope-inspiring sabka saath sabka vikas slogan has been emptied of all meaning,” writes Abdul Khaliq in the Indian Express. “Although not officially proclaimed, the Hindu rashtra is already upon us. And to hell with the minorities.”
  3. Pulapre Balakrishnan in the Hindu calls for an increase in social and health spending from the government, saying it will be needed if we want to halt the growing inequality in India.


Don’t miss

Douglas McDonald-Norman tells us the story of an Englishman who stayed back as a judge in India, and explains what that tells us about Jawaharlal Nehru.

Unlike most British judges and civil servants, Broome stayed in India as a judge after Independence. By 1958, Nehru was able to write of Broome that “I have seldom known any Englishman who has so Indianized himself in various ways as he has”, and that “he is as much as Indian as anybody can be who is not born in India and indeed probably more so than many people born in India”.

In that year, with Nehru’s assistance, Broome renounced his British citizenship and became an Indian citizen. He was appointed to the Allahabad High Court, where he served until his retirement in 1972. His judgments in this role demonstrated a strong concern for civil liberties, even going further than the Supreme Court of that time.

One of Broome’s final cases as a judge was to hear the early stages of Raj Narain’s challenge to Indira Gandhi’s 1971 election from Rae Bareli – the challenge that ultimately led to the Emergency. Broome had known Nehru and had once enjoyed a friendly relationship with Indira – he and his wife were even invited to Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi’s wedding reception. But he nonetheless made important procedural rulings in Narain’s favour. (Although Broome’s friendship with Indira Gandhi seems to have ended after this case, it is striking that no effort was made to delegitimise his decisions by referring to his foreign birth.)