New Delhi: There is a view in the Ministry of External Affairs which sits oddly and uncomfortably with the narrow nationalism and communalism of the Narendra Modi government and is unlikely, therefore, to ever get heard. This view is that the Indian foreign office would have quietly brought back Kulbhushan Jadhav on an exchange plan had the Modi regime eschewed grandstanding and not referred the case to the international court in The Hague. By doing so, the prestige of India and Pakistan directly were pitted and shut the window of freedom for Jadhav. Now, there are ugly trading of charges between the two countries on the treatment allegedly meted to Jadhav’s mother and wife. This writer has no clairvoyance to suggest success or failure of the external affairs ministry’s preferred quiet method. But by obsessing itself with Jadhav, the Modi government has reduced geopolitics to an India-Pakistan slanging match. Since Narendra Modi came to power, India and Pakistan have been battling one another in the United Nations while the rest of the world has looked on bored and disinterested. The verbal conflict has lately shifted homeward. Meanwhile, any residual peace between the two countries has been shattered by artillery duels and cross-border raids. Pakistan is a limited democracy led in the main by the army. Militarism runs in its bloodstream. Unfortunately, the Modi government is turning India into a poor copy of Pakistan, and this process of minimization and lowering of India has progressed too far forward to be easily reversed.

India’s interest in Pakistan is not a singular deviance of the Narendra Modi government and it is neither misplaced. It owes to Pakistan’s location on India’s western flank, its history of hostility to this country, its terrorism, and its considerable military power derived, inter alia, from the possession of nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan are equal military nuclear powers. If they go to war for a fifth time, it will be a nuclear war with no winners. India may have the advantage of territorial vastness over Pakistan but it would not save the country from nuclear catastrophe. Victory scarcely could be proclaimed if Pakistan vaporizes only a short time before India does. So if war between India and Pakistan is unthinkable, it makes sense to remove even the most remote grounds for conflict, and to cease, from the Indian side at least, a dogged obsession for a rather disagreeable neighbour. Since Pakistan has no vision or future as a nation-state (its remarkable founder died early, and its existence in limbo is guaranteed to last forever), its envy and loathing for a more successful neighbour is understandable. But it is extraordinary that the Narendra Modi government should lower India to the level of Pakistan and reduce geopolitics to a Regharpura, Karol Bagh, street fight.

Viewed from the angle of cynical votebank politics, however, the Modi government’s obsession with Pakistan does make sense. Terrified of losing the Gujarat election, Modi turned a harmless get-together of serving and former Indian and Pakistani diplomats into an anti-national conspiracy in which he implicated Manmohan Singh (a former prime minister, no less) as a co-conspirator. A man with a modicum of decency would have apologized to Manmohan Singh. Not Modi. Modi has amalgamated domestic politics and geopolitics to produce a most explosive substance. He is portrayed as a victor of Doklam when the reality is messy and complex. Last year’s “surgical strikes” became a campaign tool for the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Uttar Pradesh election. It won the poll but ruined India-Pakistan relations further. A second cross-LoC Indian raid was publicized yesterday. It means the first one did not have the desired effect. Narendra Modi’s belligerence with Pakistan may fetch great popularity with voters but it damages India’s long-term interests. With India pre-occupied with Pakistan which is happy to bait it, the field is left clear for China. After gobbling Sri Lanka and the Maldives, it now has designs on Afghanistan which is being cajoled to join the CPEC. When China applies itself to a geopolitical project, it usually succeeds.

And here we are in India stuck with a model of geopolitics that harks back to the conflict narratives of the 19th and 20th centuries. With Narendra Modi in power, there is simply no hope for India’s geopolitics. As for the subterranean view in the Ministry of External Affairs apropos the Kulbhushan Jadhav case, it will remain just that: A view suffocated to death by a project of dubious nationalism.