Winds of Po­lit­i­cal Change

In­dia pre­pares for a BJP win in the cur­rent elec­tions and Pak­istan watches the sit­u­a­tion closely.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

As In­dia pre­pares for a BJP win in the cur­rent elec­tions, Pak­istan watches the sit­u­a­tion closely.

On April 7 In­dia went to the polls for the Lok Sabha. The voting process took six weeks and nine stages in a coun­try where the aver­age con­stituency size was ’big­ger than the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of Es­to­nia (1.3 mil­lion)’ ac­cord­ing to The Guardian.

Cam­paign­ing saw many in­no­va­tions. Naren­dra Modi, the BJP nom­i­nee for the prime min­is­ter’s slot, was pro­jected through 3D holo­gram tech­nol­ogy to 100 lo­ca­tions across the coun­try si­mul­ta­ne­ously to speak to vot­ers. The party billed the dig­i­tal rally as the “first of its kind in the his­tory of global elec­toral cam­paign­ing.”

The air was thick with high-oc­tane

speeches. Vit­riol-laced barbs were ex­changed be­tween ri­vals and new rev­e­la­tions were made. Rahul Gandhi said about his ri­val Naren­dra Modi that he can do any­thing to be­come prime min­is­ter. “He will cut people to pieces and make people fight each other…” This was an oblique ref­er­ence to the Mus­lim mas­sacre in Gu­jarat un­der Modi as chief min­is­ter.

Wine and cash flowed like wa­ter to seek votes. The Elec­tion Com­mis­sion re­port­edly seized “over $32.5 mil­lion in cash and 2.7 mil­lion litres of liquor in coun­try­wide raids since the polls were an­nounced on March 5.”

In an­other de­vel­op­ment, the Aam Admi Party (AAP) chief, Arvind Ke­jri­wal was slapped on two oc­ca­sions, once by a mo­tor-rick­shaw driver and the next time by a young man. He met both, for­gave them and still de­clined state se­cu­rity.

Mean­while, Naren­dra Modi ex­ploded a bomb­shell by pub­licly re­veal­ing for the first time in his life that he is a mar­ried man. And, Azam Khan of Mu­layam Singh’s Sa­ma­jwadi Party (SP) cre­ated an­other stir by as­sert­ing that it was Mus­lim troops of the In­dian army that suc­cess­fully de­fended Kargil in 2009 against Pak­istan.

As ex­pected, the BJP played the com­mu­nal card. Modi’s aide Amit Shah urged the Jats in Muzaf­far­na­gar (UP), which was the scene of bloody ri­ots be­tween Jats and Mus­lims, to vote for "re­venge." He al­legedly re­peated the same re­marks in Bi­jnor and Shamli districts.

It also ex­ploited Hindu re­li­gious sen­ti­ments by re­viv­ing the is­sue of Ram Mandir, be­cause in the past, the Ram­jan­mab­hoomi cam­paign, promis­ing to build Ram Mandir over the site of the razed Babri mosque, had paid div­i­dends. For in­stance, the BJP ex­panded from just eight Lok Sabha seats and 7.58% vote share in 1989 to 51 seats and 32.82% votes in 1991 in con­se­quence of that cam­paign.

As if con­struc­tion of the Ram Mandir was not enough as an ir­ri­tant to Mus­lims, the BJP also promised in its man­i­festo to pro­mul­gate a com­mon civil code for all people and ab­ro­gate Ar­ti­cle 370 of the Con­sti­tu­tion that con­fers a spe­cial sta­tus on Jammu-Kash­mir. In con­se­quence, Mus­lims in gen­eral and those of Jammu-Kash­mir, in par­tic­u­lar, dis­tanced them­selves from the BJP. Arif Ma­jid Pam­pori, BJP can­di­date for Lok Sabha from Jammu-Kash­mir “re­fused to file his nom­i­na­tion paper and re­signed from BJP” in protest. Mean­while, in re­ac­tion to Amit Singh’s “re­venge” call, Mus­lims dis­placed by the ri­ots in Muzaf­far­na­gar went in hordes from their camps to their vil­lages to vote for BJP’s ri­val can­di­dates.

Modi’s can­di­da­ture for prime min­is­ter sparked a wave of protests among sec­u­lar­ists and lib­er­als. As many as 26 em­i­nent people of di­verse call­ing, - artists, film di­rec­tors, schol­ars, econ­o­mists, a bar­ris­ter, as well as Sal­man Rushdie and four Bri­tish MPs, -Mike Wood, John McDon­nell, Fiona Mac­tag­gart and Imran Khan, sent a joint let­ter to the Guardian say­ing, in­ter alia, that, “Were he (Modi) to be elected prime min­is­ter, it would bode ill for In­dia's fu­ture as a coun­try that cher­ishes the ideals of in­clu­sion and pro­tec­tion for all its peo­ples and com­mu­ni­ties.”

Ac­tu­ally, it is the specter of the mas­sacre of Mus­lims in Gu­jarat “over­seen” by Modi as chief min­is­ter that haunts ev­ery think­ing mind in In­dia. Worst case sce­nar­ios in­clude a spate of coun­try­wide com­mu­nal vi­o­lence tar­get­ing Mus­lims. Nonethe­less, Modi him­self has said noth­ing in his speeches to stoke Mus­lim fears.

How­ever, while the prom­ises in the BJP man­i­festo listed in the aforestated re­late to do­mes­tic is­sues, the dec­la­ra­tion to give up the doc­trine of “No first use of nu­clear weapons” is some­thing that would make Pak­istan’s pol­i­cy­mak­ers sit up and take no­tice.

Is­lam­abad is nat­u­rally watch­ing the In­dian elec­tions with bated breath, not only be­cause it is the next door neighbor, but pri­mar­ily be­cause, the coun­tries re­main in a state of per­pet­ual stand­off, in­ter­spersed by wars. Yet, whichever party forms the govern­ment, Pak­istan will have to do busi­ness with it. That is what Ab­dul Ba­sit, Pak­istan’s High Com­mis­sioner in New Delhi, told the me­dia a few days ago.

Fears and ap­pre­hen­sions in the con­text of the ex­pected vic­tory of the BJP may, how­ever, be un­jus­ti­fied, His­tory is wit­ness that dur­ing the five years of the Congress govern­ment, Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh never vis­ited Pak­istan de­spite re­peated in­vi­ta­tions, nor did Indo-Pak­istan talks to set­tle dis­putes make any progress. On the con­trary, dur­ing the BJP-led NDA govern­ment, Prime Min­is­ter Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee vis­ited Pak­istan twice.

Man­mo­han Singh used the Mum­bai mas­sacre, al­legedly en­gi­neered by Pak­istani el­e­ments, as an ex­cuse for not vis­it­ing. But Va­j­payee was not de­terred by the mil­i­tants’ at­tack on the par­lia­ment build­ing. He took the fa­mous bus jour­ney to La­hore and made an­other trip to Is­lam­abad, later. He even in­vited Pres­i­dent Mushar­raf, the “ar­chi­tect of Kargil,” to a state visit, the first by any Pak­istani head of state or govern­ment, to In­dia.

The BJP man­i­festo ex­plic­itly as­serts that “where re­quired we will not hes­i­tate from tak­ing strong stand and steps.” And in a speech once, Modi ac­cused his po­lit­i­cal agents of be­ing “agents of Pak­istan and en­emy of In­dia.” In an­other speech he was quoted as say­ing that “our soldiers, who live and die for this coun­try, were bru­tally shot by Pak­istan to death” re­fer­ring to a clash on the Line of Con­trol some­time ago and cri­tiqued Man­mo­han Singh for “silently tak­ing it all.” He also promised that “we will take tough ac­tions against Pak­istan.”

Yet, all this high volt­age rhetoric should be treated as the re­sult of the elec­tion fever, and dis­counted. The first ques­tion is whether the BJP will be able to muster at least 273 seats in a house of 545 that would give it a sim­ple ma­jor­ity. Al­though the lat­est NDTV poll gives it the re­quired num­ber but there may yet be many slips be­tween the cup of over­all vic­tory and BJP’s lip. Elec­tions in the most pop­u­lous state of UP and quite a few other states are yet to be held. The process will go on till al­most mid-May. How the bal­lot may sway dur­ing this pe­riod is still rather early to spec­u­late. If the elec­tions lead to a hung par­lia­ment and Modi has to form a coali­tion, so much of his wings may be clipped.

Nonethe­less, Pak­istan must take a real­is­tic view and pre­pare it­self to en­gage with the new govern­ment with sin­cer­ity of pur­pose to over­come hur­dles and set­tle dis­putes.

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