Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (left) with his Indian vis-à-vis Manmohan Singh in New York (Photo: Jay Mandal/On Assignment)
After carefully examining the omnipresent Jay Mandal’s pictures I conclude that that India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not a dehati aurat or a peasant/rustic woman. For a woman, Dr. Singh has too much facial hair, for one, although his voice may have a feminine register.
What is hilarious about India-Pakistan relations is that they have subplots that would have defied some of the quirkiest fiction writers. Who would have thought that barely hours before his first ever meeting with Dr. Singh, Sharif and his staff would be scrambling to clarify that the Pakistani prime minister did not refer to the Indian prime minister as a peasant woman?
According to a story by the Press Trust of India (PTI) Sharif directed his top aides, including Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani, to clarify to the Indian delegation as well as Dr. Singh that he never referred to the latter as a rustic woman. There were reports that during his informal interactions with handpicked Indian and Pakistani journalists before the meeting, Sahrif reportedly spoke of an allegory about a village woman who runs to the village chief for every little dispute. He was apparently referring to Dr. Singh taking up the issue of Pakistan supported terrorism in India with U.S. President Barack Obama.
The PTI story says that Jilani called India’s National Security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon early morning to clarify that Sharif had never referred to Dr. Singh as a peasant woman. Whether or not such a description was used by Sharif is moot to the controversy that followed. Here are the leaders of two nuclear armed neighbors about to meet for the first time and their top aides are compelled to exchange phone calls over whether one of them pejoratively called the other a peasant woman. If a fiction writer had written that it would have been dismissed as ludicrous.
In this laughably sordid affair no one has bothered to represent the feeling of the peasant woman. Does Sharif even begin to understand the challenges of the dehati aurat? For one they do not run into exile to save their skin. They stay on in their village and do their best to stand up to men precisely like Sahrif. If I were Dr. Singh, I would take that as a compliment.
Sharif and Singh (Photo: Jay Mandal/On Assignment
Since the top item on the Singh-Sharif agenda seemed to be about the peasant woman, it does not give me much scope to analyze the finer details of their talks. Other than shaking hands and engaging in some polite exchanges about the same list of bilateral grievances, nothing much seems to have happened. Of course, the two accepted each other’s invitation to visit their respective countries at the earliest convenience. But that is neither here nor there.
One fundamental factor that inhibits any Pakistani leader from showing a level of genuine empathy and sensitivity towards frequent terror attacks in India at the behest of their country’s intelligence-military complex is that for every attack in India there are ten more in Pakistan. For years now Pakistan has discovered that dismounting the tiger of terrorism is perilous and frequently fatal. Of course, the fact that Pakistan is now a bigger victim of its own atrocious policies fails to inspire much sympathy in India because people there blithely point out ‘You reap what you sow.’
What both sides need are two transformational figures at helm who transcend the petty calculus of short-term gains. I am not sure whether that is possible, although it is more likely to happen in India than Pakistan simply because of such deeply entrenched rival power elites in Pakistan which often work at cross purposes. India has those too but nowhere close to the extent as they exist in Pakistan.
* The headline to today’s post does not mean anything other than hopefully sounding clever.