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A thaw in Indo-Pakistan ties?

Arati R Jerath |

A slight thaw is visible in India’s frozen relationship with Pakistan. After many months, Indian media representatives were invited for dinner by Islamabad’s envoy to New Delhi. It used to be a regular event on the social calendar of journalists covering foreign affairs. But after India-Pakistan ties nosedived, the dinner invitations stopped. In fact, media persons can’t remember the last time they were hosted by the Pakistani high commissioner.

According to those who attended the dinner, it was a pleasant evening laced with optimism about getting bilateral relations back on track now that there is a new government in Pakistan. With Imran Khan and Narendra Modi both talking of meeting each other half way, hopes abound that the stalled dialogue between the two countries can be resumed.

In fact, much of the conversation at the high commissioner’s dinner revolved around the possibility of a bilateral meeting between foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York later this month.

There is no official word on such a meeting but Track Two talks have been on for some time now to find common ground to begin the process of normalising ties. It was agreed that things would start moving after the general elections in Pakistan.

If the resumption of media interactions by the Pakistani high commissioner is any indication, it would seem Islamabad is keen to set the ball rolling.

Mayawati’s motives

BSP chief Mayawati is keeping everyone guessing. Just when it seemed the mahagathbandhan in UP was on track, she has suddenly gone incommunicado. The buzz in political circles is that she has not taken Akhilesh Yadav’s calls for the past fortnight.

Now, Mayawati is known to do this sort of thing to retain an upper hand in negotiations. But her allies in the mahagathbandhan are a little anxious about her intentions amid reports that the BJP is exerting enormous pressure on her to go solo in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

It is widely believed that a SP-BSP alliance with RLD and Congress as minor partners would sweep UP, leaving the BJP with possibly just ten seats. That’s a drop of 60 seats from the 2014 tally.

BJP circles candidly admit that they would do just about anything to stop the mahagathbandhan from taking shape. They believe that Mayawati is the weak link in the alliance and can be pressurised with the threat of CBI, ED and income tax cases. It is true that Mayawati has gone underground. But is she playing a deeper game to keep both the SP and BJP guessing? She is certainly wily enough to do so.

Upper caste backlash

The upper caste backlash to the recent amendment making the SC/ST Act more stringent has shaken BJP MPs. Many of them, particularly those belonging to the upper castes, are being gheraoed and abused by angry groups in their constituencies.

Riti Pathak from Madhya Pradesh, for instance, was so intimidated by a mob of irate upper caste representatives in her constituency of Sidhi that she gave way to an emotional storm. Screaming her helplessness, she told the mob to bring a sword and kill her.

Pathak had tried her best to reason with the group. She told them that it was a party decision to introduce the amendment that overturned the Supreme Court ruling on bail provisions for those booked under the SC/ST Act. She had to vote for it as a disciplined worker of the party, she said. There was no scope of taking an autonomous decision.

But the crowd refused to be pacified. They harangued her for voting for the amendment and accused her of betraying her own community. That’s when she lost her cool and shouted at them to kill her with a sword.

Pathak’s is not an isolated case. Many BJP MPs are facing similar anger from their voters and are at a loss on how to deal with it. The issue is expected to figure in a big way at this weekend’s National Executive meet of the BJP.

This will probably be the last meet of the National Executive before the Lok Sabha polls. All eyes are on PM Modi to find a way out of the imbroglio that the BJP finds itself in, of positioning itself as a party of social justice while simultaneously pacifying the upper castes.

The Elders spurned

Diplomatic circles are puzzled by Narendra Modi’s refusal to meet a top level international delegation led by former UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon. The delegation is part of a well known international NGO called.

The Elders which was founded by the late Nelson Mandela in 2007. The Elders travel to various countries for discussions on peace and human rights. A group headed by Ban Ki-Moon was in New Delhi last week to discuss India’s universal health care program.

It was actually a great opportunity for Modi to talk about his Modicare initiative. Instead, he declined to meet the delegation. No reasons were offered.

The buzz in diplomatic circles is that he didn’t want to meet the delegation because he suspected that they would be critical of India’s health care programme. India figures at the bottom of the list along with Pakistan on health indices.

The other speculation is that he turned his back on the delegation even though it was headed by someone as eminent as Ban Ki-Moon because the team included Ela Bhatt, activist and founder of SEWA, who has been a longtime critic of Modi in Gujarat.

Modi’s reluctance to meet the delegation has not gone down well in international diplomatic circles. The Elders ranks as a top initiative for peace and human rights and it boasts of former heads of government and a host of eminent persons as its members and well wishers.