Op-Ed: Too early to hail Imran as ‘statesman’

How naive and gullible some Indians can be! I was more amused than angry after witnessing the concerted effort by a section of our intellgentsia to hail Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan as a ‘statesman’ after his announcement about releasing wing commander Abhinandan, who was in the custody of the Pakistanis, as a ‘peace gesture.””Are these people serious? Do they even know what the word ‘statesman’ means?” I wondered to myself.

A closer look at Imran’s cheerleaders in India, however, made it abundantly clear that the motivation behind this ‘Hail Imran’ chorus is a visceral hatred for Prime Minister Narendra Modi rather than any love for Imran or appreciation of what was unquestionably a most welcome gesture.

Make no mistake. The acts and words of Modi since the deadly terror strike by Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammed in Pulwama on February 14 showed him up a petty politician only interested in winning the next election rather than the leader of a nation of 1.3 billon people. When the situation called for leadership and rising above political (read electoral) considerations, he left no room for doubt that he is hell bent on cashing in on the incident and its aftermath to soar up the sagging electoral prospects of his party in the polls due in the next few weeks. When the occasion called for an appeal for calm to countrymen, he chose to whip up a war frenzy by stoking the fires of nationalist passions sweeping the country instead. When the need of the hour was to take the Opposition – which, for once, acted with great maturity – into confidence and carry it along in this hour of crisis, he refused to chair an all-party meeting and left the job to the likes of Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharamanan. Even on a day when Pakistan announced the release of Wing commander Abhinandan, he talked about the air strike at Balakot being only a ‘pilot project’. In short, he failed the leadership test. Period.

But does all this automatically make Imran Khan a ‘statesman’? Does he deserve the tag simply on the basis of one goodwill gesture in releasing an Indian prisoner of war (PoW)? Releasing the wing commander is, at best, an exercise in realpolitik aimed at winning the diplomatic and perception battle and cannot be termed statesmanship by any stretch of imagination. Given how the world looks at his country, any other course would have been foolhardy for Imran and his army (or should we say the army and its Imran?). Let us not forget that even its all-weather friend China refused to come out in open and unqualified support after Pulwama. On its part, the US gave unequivocal support to India’s right to self-defence. If Pakistan had chosen to do to wing commander Abhinandan what it did to Captain Sourav Kalia during the Kargil war (something that the Pakistan army is eminently capable of doing and would not be averse to doing even now if war breaks out), it would have faced international opprobrium. Besides, it would also have to contend with the inevitable Indian retribution that would have followed. It was a perfect case of making a virtue out of a necessity. it was a goodwill gesture, for sure; nothing more, nothing less

So let’s not put him on a pedestal, create a hallow around him and credit him with something he doesn’t deserve – certainly not at this juncture. Of course, he can still become a statesman. But he will have to do much more than release an India PoW to deserve the tag. I will be the first person to hail him as a statesman if and when he dismantles the terror infrastructure and stops pushing jihadis into our side to conduct terrorist acts.
It is too early to anoint him as a statesman. Let’s reserve our verdict till he does something really statesmanlike.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)