Obama's Resounding Shots

Obama's Resounding Shots

US needs to go beyond crisis management and help build a positive peace process in the region.

So we celebrated this year’s Republic Day with a difference. The difference was more noticeable on two counts. First, the US President Barack Obama became first  American President to be the chief guest on the occasion. Second, Obama vehemently aired a resounding parting shot: religious intolerance will stall India’s progress and wreck its democracy.  

On the first count, it led to enthusiasm among the functionaries of the ‘Hindu revivalist’ government in the backdrop of the promise of strategic alliances. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hugs and handshakes with Obama despite being called by many political commentators ‘compulsive’ and ‘smothering’, were signs of this enthusiasm. On the second count, Obama’s concluding remarks, in simpler terms warning shots, about growing religious intolerance sent shock waves among those pursuing sectarian agenda in the country. He showed his seriousness in his remark about religious intolerance when he said: “Your Article 25 says that all people are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.”

Precisely, his statement was a ‘word to the wise’ seriously pointing sufferings of minorities at some point at the hands of majority community supremacists. Notably, in last week’s column, just two days before the Republic day, I had pointed out the deteriorating tolerant traditions and fractured pluralistic democracy as major challenges leading to religious extremism enough to drag our democracy, economy, and international relations down. Amid all this bonhomie and back-slapping of three days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhibited his high level of tolerance and tried to kill the controversial remark of the US President by his calm attitude. No response itself indicates that the governance practices at the moment are not clean on account of our tolerant traditions and pluralistic democracy. Does Obama’s emphasis on religious tolerance mean an indictment of ‘growing religious intolerance’ during the present political dispensation? This question needs a serious deliberation so that faults are removed and loopholes in religious tolerance tradition are plugged. 

Meanwhile amid all this Obamania show on the eve of Republic Day, India-Pakistan relations vis-à-vis Kashmir situation missed the agenda of talks between Obama and Modi. When Obama first time assumed his role as US President in 2009, he had outlined American role in the Kashmir conflict situation.

Basically, it is the continuing failure of the governments of India and Pakistan to resolve the conflict through bilateral channels that has left the scope for third party intervention like the United States as the last approach to conflict resolution.

We all are aware of the fact that all attempts at resolution of the conflicting claims to Kashmir have thus far failed. Analysis of the US interests in South Asia reveals that there is an emerging and strong junction among US-Pakistani and US-India interests. This means an opening for effective third party intervention.

Precisely, US today is in a unique position of enjoying good relations with both India and Pakistan. It needs to reposition its policy beyond some public pronouncements addressing the popular aspirations of the people of the region. Obama administration needs to go beyond crisis management and help build a positive peace process in the region.

It is not the matter of reinventing the wheel. The leadership of both the countries and the separatist cadres should not lock themselves into rigid positions and confine themselves to corners. This is the time for them to think much more creatively about the whole situation. Obviously there are many approaches, but it is the matter of unlocking from the positions they have locked themselves into. People here too have a crucial role as they will have to pressure their negotiators to think more creatively. And this all is possible under the umbrella of friendly relationship between Obama and Modi.

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)