The death of Pervez Musharraf revived a flood of memories about his tumultuous time as dictator of Pakistan, not the least about his much-discussed “peace talks” with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Though the proposals were never quite put out in black-and-white, Musharraf was supposed to have come up with a “four point” formula about a “non-territorial” solution to resolving the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. Many commentators, including former diplomats, had seen merit in the discussions and even held that Musharraf was by then a changed man. Yet, the so-called formula that included the concept of “soft borders” would have never flown. Any move to dilute India’s sovereignty and strengthen the perception of Kashmir as disputed territory would have kicked up a political storm which would have made the Sharm el-Sheikh snafu—when Singh agreed to an ill-considered reference to Balochistan in an India-Pakistan joint statement—appear like a minor hiccup. Caught up with his conviction that the Kashmir ‘issue’ could be resolved through “out of the box” solutions, Singh forgot Musharraf was a tricky customer. Any direct or implied reference to “joint sovereignty” and other such fanciful verbalism would have served Musharraf very well. It was just as well that Musharraf’s domestic excesses caught up with him and he had to quit as Pakistan president. Singh, and more importantly India, was likely spared a major embarrassment.
Trusting In Pradhan
There has been sustained speculation about changes to the Union Council of Ministers, but so far nothing has happened. In any case, there are no vacancies at the top in the Cabinet Committee on Security with the concerned ministers doing their jobs well. Some changes are expected in the party organisation and the forthcoming state elections might indicate these. The decision to make Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan in-charge of the Karnataka election underlines the trust of the BJP brass in the Odia leader. Pradhan has been in-charge of Karnataka before and has handled tough assignments like the Bihar elections in the past. Karnataka poses a challenge and Pradhan will need his soft skills in dealing with heavyweights like BS Yediyurappa and the state party organisation. He will be assisted by health minister Mansukh Mandaviya who seems to have caught the eye of the leadership for his handling of the government’s response to the Omicron wave and negotiating fertiliser import contracts while boosting domestic production. There is no doubt that the campaign will be scrutinised by BJP top bosses but Pradhan and Mandaviya has a chance to bring the party home in Karnataka.
In a move to further rationalise its Hajj policy, the government has done away with its discretionary quota, merging it with the general one. The costs of Hajj travel have also been reduced, with the faithful now allowed to make their own purchases of items considered necessary for the trip to Saudi Arabia within their budgets. There is a substantial increase in India’s Hajj quota at a little over 1.75 lakh, up from around 80,000, with travel normalising post-Covid.
On February 7, a day after a deadly earthquake struck southern Turkey, the Indian government released photographs of an Indian Air Force C17 Globemaster leaving New Delhi carrying NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) teams, dog squads, medical supplies, and drilling equipment. India is one of the early responders to Turkey’s call for assistance after two massive shocks caused thousands of deaths and widespread damage. The assistance is in keeping with India’s commitment to extend humanitarian help in a crisis and mirrors its sustained involvement in UN activities like peacekeeping in troubled regions. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has often taken critical positions on domestic issues in India, joining a handful of countries in censuring the decision to abrogate the application of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. Of late, India has sought to smoothen ties with Turkey in order to reduce the hostility caused by Erdogan’s action as he sought to project himself as a leader of the Islamic world. While humanitarian assistance does not have any strings attached, India has sought to convey its willingness to help Turkish people.
Dalai Lama at Home
The Dalai Lama is back in Dharamshala, the home of the Tibetan government-in-exile, after his visit to Bodh Gaya. He watched the Republic Day celebrations from his residence and will remain there for a while. As is his wont, the Dalai Lama has been speaking of inner peace and compassion. Recently, a message of hope and oneness was flashed across large screens in public places in London, Melbourne, Berlin and Los Angeles. The veneration the Dalai Lama gets across the world and his singular importance for the Buddhist faith, as evidenced by the attendance at his annual sermons, is anathema to China. The campaign against the Dalai Lama as a ‘splittist’ continues but he has long acquired a stature unaffected by such attacks. On the other hand, his presence in India in the light of a more assertive stance by Indian forces on the Line of Actual Control is a bother for Beijing which feels the Buddhist leader undermines its control on Tibet. India is not so lucky with Karmapa Urgyen Trinley, whose escape to Dharamshala in 2000 was sometimes questioned. A foreign currency case later further muddled the case and somehow the Karmapa and the government could not see eye-to-eye. For some years now the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa has been based in the US.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi utilised an event at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to get back at Congress over allegations regarding the Rafale fighter deal. Without naming either, Modi said HAL had been propped up as an excuse to oppose the deal to import the French fighters. The prime minister did not elaborate but he was referring to claims that HAL had been sidelined in the purchase. Some sections of the employees’ union had opposed the Rafale deal as well. Yet, one reason why the UPA government was unable to close the deal with Dassault Aviation was because HAL and the French firm could not agree on how many man hours would be needed to make the plane in India. HAL wanted about three times more man hours than what Dassault considered sufficient. Besides, HAL’s track record in delivering on projects was woeful. By the time the Modi government took office, the need for a new fighter had become urgent and a government-to-government contract for 36 jets was signed. In the tense face-off with China in 2020—it is yet to blow over—the deterrent value of the 4.5 generation fighters with long-range missiles and an advanced radar and electronic suite was more than evident.