Indo-Pakistan relations have always had to contend with hiccups, but what the Congress party did by pulling the rug from under the United Front government of H.D. Deve Gowda shows—among many other things—its contempt for Indian doves´ efforts to mend relations with Pakistan. Bilateral talks, taking place after a hiatus of three years were ongoing across town as the Congress President Sitaram Kesri carried out his surprise move. In retrospect, there was no reason why the move could not have waited a few days at least. What Mr Kesri did was definitely in his personal interest, probably in the interest of the party, but definitely not in the national or regional interest. For, while Indian commentators were definitely more agitated about the national political ramifications of Mr Kesri´s bid for power, those who follow geopolitics got the message loud and clear: India´s premier political party, with a history of 112 years and the longest period at the helm of affairs since 1947 (including the period when all wars with Pakistan were fought), does not think talks with Pakistan to be a priority.
The irony of Mr Kesri´s action is only more obvious when you take into account the widely held (and correct) assertion that Indo-Pakistan cold war is holding both the economies hostage. Hostilities between these two South Asian powers also retards socioeconomic advancement of the whole region. Nor did Mr Kesri seem to care that Inder Kumar Gujral, certainly one of the ablest foreign ministers the country has had, had invested a lot of non-partisan national political capital in resuming the high-level talks, or that Pakistan, with Mian Nawaz Sharif´s strong government leading it, was responsive and had taken up the proffered olive branch.
We do not believe that the timing of Mr Kesri´s announcement was the result of a conspiracy hatched in some deep recess of the Indian establishment, meant to scuttle the talks because they looked promising. That, at least, would have had the saving grace of an indication that this was a priority. The reality is that no one among the Congress party who was party to the decision even thought about the bilateral talks as they went for it—it was not a factor, it made it nowhere in the hierarchy of personal, party and domestic interests.
What is troubling about this line of analysis is that if it is true of the Congress party, then it must in varying degrees be true of all the political groupings of India as well. Relations with Pakistan assume importance as a negatively charged issue to be used whenever chauvinism needs to be stoked for political reasons. There is not nearly as much support to be had by championing the cause of reconciliation with a neighbour. This, we believe, explains why Mr Kesri and his party did not even give a passing thought to the timing of their move. It was not important, there was no mileage.
What of Mr Kesri, the man? In walking up to the Indian President and retracting his support for Mr Deve Gowda´s government, the one-time Treasurer and backroom boy of the Congress was obviously concerned: first, about moving into the Prime Minister´s mansion as quickly as possible, and this might or might not have had something to do with a) his age and b) a murder charge then being investigated; secondly, Mr Kesri had to find a way to keep his fractious, power-hungry flock together. What ever the reason no one could accuse the politician from Bihar of statesman-like behaviour.