From a ritual to a smorgasbord of opportunities, the spin that the swearing-in ceremony of the prime minister of India underwent is bound to feed into the many tales that abound regarding the unique talents of Narendra Modi. There is speculation across the border on how Mr Modi has turned the tables on an unsuspecting Pakistan prime minister by seizing the moment as his chance to spread international goodwill without conceding much on his part. But if the moment offered an opportunity, it was grabbed with both hands by both the prime ministers. It was as necessary for Nawaz Sharif to present himself as a civilian head of State capable of taking his own decisions as it was for Mr Modi to show that the pre-electoral agenda of a party need not encumber the world-view of a government. Since the needs and visions matched, the first meeting of the two countries’ premiers turned out to be a remarkable success. The handshakes and smiles have done precisely what they were intended to do — push the India and Pakistan establishments out of the corners they had sequestered themselves in during the momentous elections in both the countries. Yes, India’s routine concern over terror has slipped through the smiles, but the political savvy of both prime ministers ensured that the old spoiler did not steal the limelight away from the task they had set out to accomplish.
In turning the spotlight back on economy, Mr Sharif may even have achieved a minor win over Mr Modi. This is where India-Pakistan relations dithered around the end of 2012 after the talks that followed the Sharm-el-Sheikh breakthrough at the start of the second phase of the United Progressive Alliance government. And then Manmohan Singh’s party and government started talking in two voices and vested interests across the border found it opportune to scotch the momentum with renewed disquiet on the borders. Unlike Mr Singh, Mr Modi finds his party solidly behind him. As Mr Sharif may have rightly guessed, like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Mr Modi could take bilateral relations to unprecedented heights. But that is also why Mr Modi’s little note on terror becomes essential. In spite of the efforts of Messrs Vajpayee and Sharif, the Parliament terror attack in 2001 almost brought the two nations to war. Neither Mr Modi nor Mr Sharif has it in him to avoid a similar pitfall.