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