New Delhi: Since India is so geopolitically obsessed with Pakistan, it would be worthwhile to seek an answer to this question: Which of the country’s most historically-significant prime ministers, namely Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, P. V. Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee, made positive impacts on relations with the western neighbour and adversary? And does the future of bilateral ties look bright or gloomy?

Since the Pakistani raiders struck early in Kashmir in the infant administration of Jawaharlal Nehru, he could be pardoned for harbouring deep suspicions anent the regime that had come to rule Pakistan. His distaste for military rule that quickly followed Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s early death was reflected in his determination to keep the Indian armed forces under strict civilian control and supervision. The subsequent history of the subcontinent would bear with his wisdom.

On Kashmir, he had learnt his lessons after the loss of the northwest portion. As a liberal democrat, he was willing to abide by the special status for the state. In that respect, he was constitutional. At the same time, he valued the retention of Jammu and Kashmir for India’s secular polity. A state wedded to one religion, the history of the Thirty Years War had counter-intuitively warned him, was prone to instability and territorial fragility. Secularism, although still not formally registered by the Constitution in his time, was, in reality, territorial glue. The union of Kashmir with the rest of India was a territorial sine qua non. To that extent, any Kashmiri political movement that compromised the union was anathema to him. He suffered when he ordered Sheikh Abdullah to be jailed but he was not about to have another partition. Since Pakistan was hell-bent on that, the space for negotiations was sharply circumscribed.

There is a view that had Nehru not died a broken man on account of 1962, Kashmir could have been resolved. This writer has his doubts. A broken man is usually most persuaded to compromise. There was really no one that Nehru could lean on. Sardar Patel was dead. And yet, the dying prime minister did not yield on the contentious border state. He set the tone that has become the official line since of not an inch of territory to be ceded.

Indira Gandhi, on the other hand, brought Pakistan to its knees. Revenge for the loss of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir did not motivate her entirely in the campaign to create Bangladesh, but she has scarred the Pakistani psyche nevertheless. The loss of East Pakistan loaded Kashmir with a special significance for the Pakistani leadership, and joined to it was the Pakistan army’s lost prestige from a lost war. Even so, there were limits to the 1971 war victory which Indira Gandhi well knew. She had an opportunity in the Simla talks to compel Pakistan to accept the Line of Control as the border but there was no guarantee that an undertaking extracted under duress had any manner of durability. Her advisers reminded her of the failed Treaty of Versailles and the costs of imposing what could be construed as “victor’s justice”. In her own time, the Pakistan deep state struck back in the very region of the Partition by supporting the Khalistan movement which went on to claim her life.

To P. V. Narasimha Rao goes the credit, meanwhile, of saving Kashmir and Punjab from worse. Pakistan was openly suggesting the breakup of India on the lines of the former Soviet Union and had committed considerable resources of the state to that end. Less given to summitry and being rather a quiet, canny consolidator, he not only let political impulses fully flow in the border states, he also set India with Manmohan Singh on a reform path which placed the country on an altogether different orbit from Pakistan. Narasimha Rao perhaps contributed in a rounded way to give India a politico-economic lead over Pakistan which has become unmatchable over the years.

Atal Behari Vajpayee, for his part, was Pakistan’s best bet for peace but he ran into Pakistani army opposition that culminated in the Kargil war. A lesser prime minister would have abandoned the search for peace but not Vajpayee. Before he became prime minister, there was a feeling that his RSS background made him ideal to talk tough to the Islamist diehards on the other side. The Pakistanis also swallowed this line. But Vajpayee had an accidental RSS/ BJP background and rather displayed the Congress tradition of managing the opposition with reason and arguments. It is a testimony to his political and diplomatic skills that the prosecutor of the Kargil war and subsequent dictator, Parvez Musharraf, became his agent for two valuable understandings with Pakistan. It is doubtful if he could have done more had he returned in 2004 but he has left an admirable legacy.

The future of India-Pakistan relations is neither bright nor gloomy. Till Pakistan values Kashmir over economic growth and prosperity, frictions will continue. And when Islamabad reaches its own 1991 moment, peace will finds its way.