Indian Elections And Its Regional Implications

Lok Sabha elections, to elect a new government in India, are going on from April 9 with the electors hopeful of a ‘change’. With the verdict around the corner, the countdown has begun as to the party that will form the next government. Opinion polls suggest the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) is the most favorite for forming the government.

The back to back victories will close the gates on the assumptions that BJP’s days are numbered and that the electorate is unhappy over its performance during the term that began in May 2014. However, the new victory will be seen as the manifestation of the party’s good governance and power retaining capability, the joint stand of the opposition parties to stop BJP notwithstanding.

Although the triple defeat in three states, the Hindu heartland, in December last year had come as a wakeup call for BJP and an angel of hope for the anti-BJP parties  to dethrone it,  the party kept cool, regrouped and is likely to stage a good showing, leaving the main opposition party( Indian National Congress or INC) off balance.

What proved a blessing in disguise for BJP was the political situation that emerged following the Pulwama attack in Jammu and Kashmir. One saw the scenes of escalation, aggression, and clouds of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan. BJP capitalized on the situation, raising the issue of national security and making Pakistan the punching bag to successfully appease and appeal the electorate. The Indian aerial strike said to have been carried out inside Pakistan showed PM Modi as a strong man – the man who can take tough decisions in defense of the country.

The Congress-led anti-BJP parties seem to have no answer for BJP’s aerial strike masterstroke. In my opinion, only a miracle can stop BJP from retaining government in the world’s largest democracy. Pertinently, thanks to the good sense which prevailed, the warlike climate (sparked by the Pulwama attack) went away to signal that in the long night of enmity, a lamp of friendship can be lighted if New Delhi and Islamabad wish. A question arises: if the two countries can fight so well, why cannot they live well?

Speaking of Pakistan, the country would like to watch the elections with great enthusiasm. The winner in the Indian elections holds a key regarding the kind of relations between the two South Asian neighbors. The two nuclear-armed powers have a host of outstanding issues between them and decades of hostility is yet to see the issues settled. A new government in India and the attitude and approach by the two states play a key role in shaping their mutual relationship.

Additionally, the two countries’ relations are significant for the fate of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Hostile ties between New Delhi and Islamabad leave the South Asian Regional Forum defunct. In 2016, the BJP government refused to attend the forum. The refusal was followed by the boycott of the summit by the regional nations. A chapter of good relations between India and Pakistan can infuse a new lease of life into SAARC, leaving a positive impact on its future.

Interestingly, Pakistan premier Imran Khan recently said that with BJP in power in India, the possibility of achieving peace is bright. Khan’s optimism seems to be based on the previous talks and good gestures by BJP leaders. India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is an example. Vajpayee had visited Pakistan in 1999 and there was a summit in Agra, India in 2001. Unfortunately, the Confidence Building Measures went down the drain due to the Kargil War in 1999 and the parliament attack in 2001.

This statement of Khan cannot and should not be taken on face value and counted as his backing to BJP fighting to retain power in India. Khan fears that Congress government might prove a weaker one in view of the right-wing scenario that is prevailing across India since BJP took over. Congress in power and BJP in opposition could play a spoilsport because BJP’s rhetoric and its right-wing brigade have gained ground. It would be a tall order for the non-BJP government to survive the onslaught by the right-wing elements.

Narendra Modi-led BJP government’s reaction and response in the form of “surgical strikes” claimed to have been carried out in Pakistan, aggression on the Line of Control, claims of isolating Pakistan and a successful Pakistan bashing – all have brought BJP to the level of a national hero in India, sinking congress to oblivion. India-Pakistan Conflict Monitor says that both the countries have carried out about 629 ceasefire violations since the Modi government took office in 2014.

Due to its growing economy, India has learned to assert as was loud and clear from its behavior towards China, the Asian tiger, about two years ago at Dokhlam plateau (India-China border) claimed by China and Bhutan, a key Indian ally. The assertive behavior was repeated against Pakistan on the border and in Pakistan bashing across the globe. Premier Modi has been on tiptoes to isolate Islamabad, and post-Pulwama attack, his government asserted aggressively sending a clear signal of action against Pakistan. Pakistan responded positively by releasing the captured Indian pilot – an act which cooled temper and prevented further escalation.

India also enjoys good relations with America. Washington is keen to see India playing a big role in peacemaking in neighboring Afghanistan. Khan well knows this and hence believes that a strong government in India can play a leading role in the Afghan peace process. And a peaceful Afghanistan, bordering Pakistan, is essential for Islamabad.

Interestingly, a dispassionate analysis of Modi-led BJP government shows that high hopes should not be attached to his second term regarding possible positive engagement between New Dehli and Islamabad. Except for a few positive gestures like inviting Nawaz Sharif for Modi’s swearing-in ceremony and the surprise Lahore stopover on Christmas Day 2015, anti-Pakistan hostility has increased significantly under the BJP’s rule. Soured relations between the countries can leave the region vulnerable to violence and war.

Fruitful dialogue between the two countries can be made possible only by addressing all the issues, including the Jammu and Kashmir with political acumen. Consequently, both the countries not only can benefit economically but also can help lead the region out of chaos, confusion, and uncertainty which have engulfed the region.

Image: David Castor [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Geopolitics.

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