Advani&’s aura self-destructs
EMBARRASSINGLY premature were the political obituaries of LK Advani. Greater embarrassment could, however, befall the “patriarch” when the curtain indeed drops on his career in public life for there will be few admirers imploring “curtain-calls”. Only the days ahead will reveal how much authority or influence the man will henceforth command in the party he dominated after Atal Behari Vajpayee&’s departure, but it is certain that unlike his political soulmate his exit will not be graceful ~ the means he adopted to achieve as yet undetermined ends were just not in keeping with a leader of his stature, nor with his track record. Sure he was justified in resisting the Modimania sweeping the party, valid was his objection to the Gujarat chief minister&’s elevation, only technically a step short of the party&’s prime ministerial choice, so too the lesser concerns he raised in the retracted resignation letter. Yet rather than feign illness he ought to have “taken the fight” to Goa, made out a principled case, get other like-minded seniors to endorse it, and left it for the BJP national executive to take the decisive call. For he, better than anyone else, could have effectively articulated what so many, even within the party, predict. Modi&’s galvanising the rank and file of the party will not suffice to form a BJP government, the man&’s “style” could scuttle the NDA. That would have been the “Advani way”, or at least the way it was. Instead he sulked. Since few details of the  compromise formula have been made available ~ actually for hours after Rajnath Singh announced the crisis had dissipated there was no formal confirmation from the Advani camp ~ it would appear that at best he has created a speed-breaker on the Modi Expressway. The general impression is that while Advani did succeed in attracting the spotlight, it exposed him as nursing a bruised ego, entertaining some “aspirations” (note that he did not relinquish a role in the NDA), and projected his protest as petulance, pique. Even if it turns out that he has/had a grand strategy in mind, he will emerge as “crafty” ~ not “correct”.
And that is what he could eventually regret. Never before has he been so openly criticised, trivialised, even ridiculed. All through his long career Advani has sustained an image of being principled and upright. True he lacked the warmth of Vajpayee, was no winner-of-hearts, yet even those fiercely opposed to his hard-line policies respected his commitment to what he believed was of honourable intent. He had created a certain aura for himself ~ that has faded away over the past few days. Advani may or may not have “conquered”, he has most definitely stooped.

Honesty can be disarming
REFRESHINGLY different from the Indian military&’s standard operating procedure of blanket denial of any transgression, has been the Indian Air Force&’s admission of a technical violation of Pakistani air space. And that a court of inquiry was being ordered into the incident on the morning of 11 June. The IAF officially communicated that to Pakistan, and also went on to clarify the position to the media too. While it rejected Islamabad&’s contention that two of its Mig-21s went over four kilometres into Pakistan and stayed there till the PAF “scrambled” its own interceptors, the IAF did not get tempted into a verbal, undiplomatic spat that only needlessly fuels tensions. Rather than react at the level at which Islamabad pitched the debate, the IAF let its spokesperson in New Delhi respond in factual, non-belligerent manner: virtually conceding that there had been inadvertent breach of the 1991 agreement that military aircraft maintain a 10-km “no fly” zone along the frontier. Hopefully that clarification will satisfy the professionals across the border who will concede that such human error is possible, and let the  matter rest at that. Such mature, balanced responses are rare in any India-Pakistan “situation”. There is a tendency for agencies in both countries to go ballistic, point accusing fingers and level rash charges. And air space violation conjures up images so much more sinister than unsuspecting rural folk crossing the land border, or fishermen poaching in a neighbour&’s territorial waters. Actually left on their own, military personnel (unless politically directed) seldom escalate problems ~ of course there are ugly incidents too ~ and sometimes even “honour” the adversary. The IAF should cherish the memory of how the publication of a history of its opposite number solved the mystery of a missing Mystere jetfighter in 1965. The Pakistani Starfighter pilot who told the story expressed such admiration for the courage and professionalism of the Indian flier he eventually shot down that it earned a posthumous gallantry award for Sqdr-Ldr A B Devaiah. Wonder if Ft-Lt Amjad Hussain (PAF) was ever recognised for his nobility?

Mr Sharif&’s mission of hope
THAT Nawaz Sharif has been sworn in as Pakistan&’s Prime Minister for the third time is a critical matter of detail for historians to record as must be the recent election on the completion of the government&’s full term. True this has been almost an exceptional turn of fortune for a leader who was ousted in a military coup in 1999 and flown into exile in Saudi Arabia. Beyond such facts of academic interest are the close-to-the-bone issues that he will have to countenance. There may be hope yet in his assurance to the newly-elected members of the National Assembly that he will seek the cooperation of all parties and stakeholders as he sets about the task of governance, a refreshing change from the arrogant self-confidence that one associates with elected leaders and Chief Ministers nearer home ~ “I will not present a fanciful image of heaven.” It is a pregnant statement in the context of the formidable ground reality.  There was no carping at the previous dispensation or even the military, whose brass was seated in the front row to witness the grandstanding that marked the inaugural of Mr Sharif, ironically ousted by the previous Army chief. The new Prime Minister has urged all parties and stakeholders “to be on the same page” in the task of policy formulations. Uppermost must be the crippling energy crisis that results in 20-hour power cuts even in Islamabad. A no less forbidding challenge is the Taliban threat that has intensified in parallel with the CIA-controlled drone strikes. Yet another is the torpid economy. As a  businessman, Mr Sharif is acutely aware  that economic growth and the return of foreign investors will hinge hugely on fairly regular power supply and an end to bombings. He clearly has succeeded to a sorely depleted inheritance. The lights don’t work in Pakistan and the militant bombings are almost relentless. Not wholly unrelated and equally relentless are the drone strikes and Mr Sharif has been remarkably swift in conveying a message to Barack Obama immediately after being sworn in ~ “This daily routine of drone attacks, this chapter shall now be closed. We respect others’ sovereignty. It is mandatory that they respect our sovereignty.” The statement reinforces his condemnation of the killing of  Waliur Rehman, the Taliban&’s No.2 in a drone attack last week despite President Obama&’s assurance that he will stop such offensives by pilotless aircraft. From electricity to the drone, the challenge can daunt the most intrepid head of government. It remains central to Mr Sharif&’s mission, however ~ “Now it should be decided forever that Pakistan&’s survival, protection, sovereignty, progress, prosperity and respect in the international community depends upon strengthening democracy.” He has outlined a mission of hope for a fractured land.