After Kartarpur corridor, Pakistan has decided to open a passage to ShardaPeeth, an ancient Hindu temple and cultural site in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Established in 237 BC during the reign of emperor Ashoka, SharadaPeeth is an ancient centre of learning dedicated to the Hindu goddess of learning. The development is a sign of the gradual normalization of the relationship weeks ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. And if this normalization endures until after the elections, there is every likelihood that the long-suspended dialogue between the two countries will resume. Much will also depend on which government will come to power at the centre. If it is the BJP, dialogue with Islamabad will again be strictly conditional in nature. The redlines like no interaction with the Hurriyat leaders before any bilateral engagement will again come into effect and nix the talks before they even take off.
A Congress-led government or a coalition of the opposition parties will certainly be more flexible but will it be able to withstand the rightwing onslaught against breaching of the Hindutva redlines remains a big moot point. Also, it is seen unlikely that a Congress-led government would be able to carry forward a productive, sustainable dialogue with Pakistan considering the powerful influence that India’s right-wing has come to wield over the relationship with Pakistan. On the contrary, a BJP-led government is perceived to be in much stronger position to hold and sustain a meaningful engagement with Islamabad.
However, over the past five years, India’s public opinion has become a much bigger stakeholder in an Indo-Pak dialogue than it ever was. The reason for this is the deliberate fanning of the hate for Pakistan by the political parties to garner votes. A conciliatory approach towards Pakistan is seen as detrimental to a party’s electoral chances. This shows there is no constituency for a dialogue between India and Pakistan. And in the absence of such a constituency, one can hardly be hopeful for any ruling dispensation in New Delhi being keen about an engagement with Islamabad even after an election.
Any ruling party in New Delhi now feels there is a huge political cost for an engagement with Pakistan And this is unlikely to change, unless India’s rightist parties stop manufacturing and playing to Pakistan hate for electoral benefits. The stakes are too big for the region and for the neighbours to remain in a perpetual state of estrangement. So, alongside the urgency for India and Pakistan to get back to dialogue, it is important for them to simulatenously create a public opinion that is favourable to such a process.