It was Vajpayee's innings Back   Home  

The Indian TV channels tried their best to make the summit seem like a one-dayer. In their attempt to present the event as a thriller they had turned a very serious event into an entertainer all the way and, in the process, surpassed even the best of their own entertainment programmes.

They were all seemingly falling over each other for at least one exclusive a day each. Everything goes, they seemed to be saying and went for the smallest details of the event turning them into highly dramatic happenings. But to be fair to them, they did make a professional job of it and for at least three days millions around the globe remained glued to their TV sets round the clock.

But you cannot make a drama out of nothing. You have to have heroes, villains, conflict, romance, tragedy, pathos, emotions and comic relief. For hero they had President Musharraf. The villain of the piece was the APHC leadership. The conflict was Kashmir. Romance was provided by the visits to Nehrwali Haveli and Taj Mahal. The ongoing violence in Indian held Kashmir provided them with tragedy and pathos.

It was an emotional experience for the Indians to see a Pakistan president paying respects, for the first time, at Gandhiji's samadhi. And for comic relief, they had discussion programmes with anchor persons, asking the participants the most unlikely questions, and the participants sounding as if they knew it all. While building up the drama, they had already decided to present an 'all is well that ends well' climax. But when the end did not seem to fit their preconceived ideas, they went with the only thing which they could think of instantly - failure! The next day both Jaswant Singh and Abdus Sattar corrected them. The summit was not a failure, the foreign ministers of the two countries said. It was 'inconclusive.'

While taking away nothing from the 'heroic' performance of President Gen Pervez Musharraf during his three-day stay in India, one simply cannot ignore the sagacity, vision and statesmanship (which President Musharraf himself has acknowledged during his breakfast meeting with the Indian newspaper editors and TV anchor persons) with which India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee made it all possible.

The invitation itself was a statesman-like gesture. For almost two years he had kept insisting that he would not talk to 'a military ruler,' the very 'the architect' of Kargil and that unless Pakistan stopped 'cross-border terrorism,' he would have nothing to do with Pakistan. But when the time came for him to take the bold initiative, he seemingly suffered from no ego problems and invited Gen Musharraf without any pre-conditions for talks. An act of a large-hearted man, indeed!

And by engaging the 'architect' of Kargil socially, politically and diplomatically with entire India watching the events, Mr Vajpayee manipulated the very media which he had used to whip up the frenzy against Pakistan through the length and breadth of India in 1999, to defuse it.

Without making it appear as if India has given up its position on the status of the APHC, a meeting between President Musharraf and the APHC leadership was allowed to take place. The way this whole episode was handled by him is reflective of Mr Vajpayee's political astuteness. His supporters and many in India believe that by allowing the meeting to take place he had only deferred to an unreasonable demand of an elite guest whom he himself had invited. In fact, however, this single gesture on the part of the Indian prime minister has created a new reality and paved the way for the induction of the APHC in Kashmir talks at some future date.

And what President Musharraf said in his speech on the occasion of President Narayanan's banquet for him was also nothing short of historic. For the first time Kashmir was referred to, on a formal occasion by a Pakistani leader, as a problem, with so many Indians (representatives of almost all sections of Indian society) listening and that too inside, of all places, the Rashtrapati Bhavan itself! There was no flutter, no protest. It was a passive but official recognition of Kashmir's centrality by India.

The credit for this too goes, once again, to Mr Vajpayee's accommodative politics because on such occasions written speeches of the guest and the host are exchanged and approved by each other before being made. And Gen Musharraf, on his part by not mentioning the UN resolutions on the occasion in his written speech seemed to have conveyed Pakistan's willingness to perhaps consider solutions other than plebiscite. A formal but passive recognition by Pakistan that UN resolutions have become redundant.

Gen Musharraf's meeting with the Indian newspaper editors was an act of media manipulation par excellence. The Indians were for the first time allowed to hear the other side of the story and its logic with their own media persons quizzing the Pakistan leader rather closely on the Kashmir issue. An impression was sought to be created immediately that the PTV and NDTV had made a clandestine arrangement for the event to be recorded and then broadcast by Star TV without the knowledge of the Indian government.

When you are a guest of a country, specially a country with which you have a lot of problems and misunderstandings, where ordinary persons ask "Can we trust this man?", you do not play such tricks and undermine even your residual trust. Of course, the impression that it had all happened without the knowledge of the Indian government which, however, got stuck saved Mr Vajpayee from any criticism at home for having allowed the general to speak his mind so openly and that too on the Indian soil.

And by not allowing Gen Musharraf to hold a post-summit press conference in India, which in any case had seemed to have become redundant after his meeting with the editors was broadcast, Mr Vajpayee seemed to be making it doubly sure that he would not be blamed for the broadcast.

But why did he go to all this trouble of manipulating the media to recognize a truth? He could have allowed the APHC leaders to meet Gen Musharraf without any protest and agreed publicly to treat Kashmir as the central issue. But then being a shrewd politician he perhaps thought it advisable to first try to change the mindset of his people before springing the truth up on them. Or perhaps he was trying to tell the Pakistanis, look how difficult it is for him to agree to what they were asking.

Even the most liberal, most enlightened and most emancipated among the Indians still seem to believe that the partition of the Indian subcontinent was wrong and that we should go back to being one country again. And, in the meanwhile, they would like Pakistan to forget Kashmir. That is the mindset Mr Vajpayee is trying to change. And not only does he need to take the staunchest anti- Pakistani along in his search for a solution but also those who appear to be highly accommodative.

It is very difficult to say how much he could accomplish in the first round. It seems a long haul for him, indeed. And it certainly is no one-dayer. Agra was perhaps only the first innings of a five-dayer. The second innings will perhaps be played at the UN in September, the third at the SAARC summit in Colombo in October and the fourth and final in Pakistan later this year.

This article was published in Dailypioneer website. I too am little bit dissappointed with the way things went. But still my Indian heart is proud of 'LK Advani'.. then, as called by many.. am I a hawk too ??