Location, location, location. On the face of it, the very idea sounds ridiculous when it concerns PMs. But in a country where vastu, astrology and mythology determine the lifestyles and businesses of the majority, the numerology of 7 Race Course Road (RCR), the PM’s official residence, assumes an almost astral significance. Indo-Pak dialogue watchers now wonder if there is something arcane in the air of Race Course, which affects the thinking of its occupant regarding dialogue with Pakistan.
Spread over more than 12 acres of impeccably landscaped greenery, the RCR complex has become famous for exercising a sattvic effect on the personality of the premier. It becomes more pronounced while dealing with a hostile and untrustworthy neighbour like Pakistan. Today, India’s nationalist PM Narendra Modi, who rode to power by promising to teach terror-sponsor Pakistan an unforgettable lesson, is being perceived as a docile dove. During his campaign in 2014, he was spewing fire and brimstone. But soon after winning the Lok Sabha elections, he became the first PM to invite his Pakistani counterpart to his swearing-in ceremony. His tactical charm offensive with Pakistan didn’t end there. He walked the few extra miles by courting Nawaz Sharif at various international forums. But ever since he moved into 7 RCR, Modi hasn’t uttered a single hostile word against Pakistan or warned it of reprisal despite a record number of cross-border incursions. The Congress even attacked him for expressing sympathy for the Bangkok blast victims, while keeping schtum on the daily killings of Indian jawans and civilians along the LoC. Those who know the PM will not believe for a moment that he has abandoned his nationalistic moorings. So, is his government’s decision to engage—instead of isolating Pakistan as a terror-bitten pariah—influenced by some planetary effects on RCR?
Modi, however, is not the first Indian PM who has changed the approach of dealing with our treacherous 1947 offshoot. Some Indian soothsayers and vastu experts joke that the softness of Indian PMs for Pakistan started soon after Race Course became the PM’s official residence. Rajiv Gandhi was the first one to move into RCR. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first premier, who lived in a sprawling bungalow on Teen Murti Road, may have lost the 1962 war, but he had followed a militarily aggressive policy against China and also wrested Goa from the Portuguese. Lal Bahadur Shastri, whose address was 10 Janpath, treated Pakistan as India’s biggest enemy and routed its army and almost captured Lahore in 1965. During Indira Gandhi’s 15-year stay at 1 Safdarjung Road, her policy was to treat Pakistan as a tremendous threat. Since it was a close US ally, she took a confrontationist attitude towards America too. Both Indira and Shastri did not hesitate to engage Pakistan in full-fledged wars.
But once Rajiv moved into RCR, the government’s attitude towards Pakistan changed. He went out of his way to wave the olive branch. He got along famously with Pakistan PM Benazir Bhutto, who became a frequent flyer to New Delhi. During the five years of his rule, Pakistan almost wrangled for itself the status of a Most Favoured Nation. The emotional distance between Lahore and Delhi was sort of bridged with a plethora of highfalutin cultural galas and lavish dinner parties in both cities. Rajiv didn’t know that his government’s excessive obsession with bettering relations with Pakistan had provided the ISI a golden opportunity to infiltrate J&K. By the time he was overthrown by voters, Pakistan had already created a powerful base in the Valley to destabilise India. Mars, the planet of aggression, seems to have moved away from the firmament over 7 RCR. The natural aggressive instinct of a Prime Minister to counter a hostile neighbour has been pacified. P V Narasimha Rao, after moving into 7 RCR, became a strong proponent of dialogue with Pakistan. His old friend Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who lived on Safdarjung Road, was always pushing for a confrontation with a terror-toxic Pakistan. It was Rao, who, in fact, consolidated Track II diplomacy to lay the ground rules for cross-border chitchat. But the planets changed when Vajpayee shifted his numerological pin code to RCR in 1998. And he fell in love with idea of a friendly Pakistan. He hopped onto a bus to Lahore in February 1999, but got Kargil in return gift. Later Vajpayee invited Gen. Pervez Musharraf to a summit in Agra. But the stars changed during his second innings, and the pacific atmosphere of Race Course prompted him to speak in peacenik patois. Did Vajpayee and his team fall under some Pak sorcerer’s spell and forget their earlier Pakistan doctrine? His successor Manmohan Singh (MaMo) was a dove, which simply dove into the peace pool at RCR. He was one of the most vocal and active votaries of Indo-Pak dialogue. So obsessed was he with striking a detente deal that at one stage, he was even toying with the idea of converting the LoC into an international border.
If MaMo was a dove, NaMo was supposed to be a hawk. Have the enchanted environs of RCR changed the way every Indian PM perceives Pakistan? Has the diplomatic necromancy of RCR acquired control over PM’s mind, since the place functions more like the PM’s office than his residence? South Block, which is still called the PMO, has become just an outhouse where a couple of bureaucrats hold random meetings and keep records. It also houses the external affairs ministry, which used to give important inputs to the PM’s diplomatic formulations. For the past 25 years, none of our PMs have spent more than a few hours a week at South Block. Rao even got a special lift installed, but one he never used. After Modi moved into 7 RCR and access became severely limited, he now gets to hear only the views of those who enjoy unrestricted entry. 7 RCR’s imperial aloofness from rest of the establishment has made it India’s most powerful parcel of premium political real estate. Modi has spent barely 15 months living there. Perhaps, the stars may change the prevailing Pak-bewitched mood and turbo-boost Modi’s mission and commitment to causes that define him as a no-nonsense nationalist. Then the contrarian and conflicting diplomatic gamma rays emanating from within the boundaries of 7 RCR may finally be dispelled by the influence of mangal in the PM’s house.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla