Posted by sepoy on May 14, 2004 · 3 mins read

In class, some of my students expressed grave doubts that Congress-led India would be good for Pakistan. They claimed that the Hinutva BJP could make concessions with Pakistan because it was so hard-core on all other issues. And peace overtures were not seen as a sign of weakness. The Congress, some argued, would have to act tough [the analogy one student used was of Nixon going to China while a Democrat would never dare do that]. HA! I said. This sissy Congress had no problems going to war twice with Pakistan.

But, that is the question on everyone's mind. What will India do about Pakistan and the peace initiative?

The way I see it, Vajpayee's overtures came after the most intense stand-off between the two nations since 1965. It came after September 11 changed Pakistan's geo-strategic position on the world stage. It came after US committed to years of strong military presence in Afghanistan and the Indian Ocean. It came after the upswing in tech economy was evident [the impact of the stand-off in 2002-3 was felt most in the global tech market in India]. That Vajpayee made the peace overture reflected the global reality of India as a player in a changed world scene. It was, also, the best chance of catching Pakistan in a reconciliatory mood. That reality continues and India will continue to pursue normalization of relationship.

I think that Congress is already committed to that. At the very least, it will concentrate on mending the burning fences among Muslims and Hindus in India and just THAT will have calming effects on the region. Speaking of which, Salman Rushdie ruminates upon the Indian election in today's WaPo [r.r.]. And however much fun I made of his wedding posting in NYT, I whole-heartedly support him in this:

My second wish is that the study of India's history can now be rescued from the extremists and ideologues. The outgoing government's politicization of historical scholarship -- its determination to impose textbooks peddling a narrow, revisionist, Hindu-nationalist vision of India's past on the country's schools and colleges, and its deriding of the work of the greatest Indian historians, such as Professor Romila Thapar -- was one of its most alarming initiatives. The BJP has often seemed to want to inflame our perceptions of the past in order to inflame the passions of the present. Congress and its allies have it in their power to restore the atmosphere of cool objectivity that true learning requires.

We had Prof. Thapar here last summer and she was so gracious and nice. I remember talking to her about the abuse of history in Pakistan as well and she recounted the intense hatred heaped on her by BJPwallas while she was at the Library of Congress post. Listservs were flooded with hate-mail as well the LOC servers. Sad.

So, I am hopeful that this flowering of Democracy will indeed help India (who knows, may inspire some Pakistanis as well.)