For a second consecutive term in office in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has registered a landslide victory, pushing the opposition, Indian National Congress or INC out of the picture. BJP led by its firebrand leader and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proven its critics wrong and improved its poll performance from that of 2014. Meanwhile, what do these election results indicate and how will they impact India’s image in the global scenario?
Leaving INC with just 52 seats, the BJP secured 302 seats out of the total 542 Parliamentary seats, national level elections for which were held in April/ May 2019. As the results have turned tables on the INC (the party whose ideal is secularism and pluralism), the rightwing Hindu party clearly has taken it to cleaners, showing the Hindu party’s triumph a smooth sailing. Although PM Modi himself was seen as a winning edge with his party, yet the winning party has clearly done better homework than its rivals to pave way for a historic victory.
Granted that the INC was led by its president Rahul Gandhi, the man with considerable political background and better education. Yet the party has shown dismal performance. Perhaps, Mr. Gandhi has realized the bitter truth and that accounts for his persistence to step down as the Congress president. Though his resignation, which he reportedly offered during the Congress Working Committee meeting following the election verdict decleared on May 23, will not compensate the loss or redeem his party, Mr. Gandhi is sending a message across that he is not in the party for the sake of the president’s chair and that the top chair is not the property of his family. That, to my mind, is a statesman like gesture by the Congress president though the resignation can be seen as a sign of internal disturbance in the party after its sensational defeat.
Despite INC’s gracious acceptance of the defeat, the principal point for it to accept is that its homework was not up to the mark. Modi for granted. Congress possibly fought the election more out of conviction than comprehension. The triple defeat of the BJP in December 2018 in three states (the Hindu Heartland) opened its eyes to prepare better but made INC complacent that the electorate was rejecting Modi’s party.
The BJP’s grand victory can be taken as its grand understanding of the changing perception, beliefs and values of the electorate. During its first term, Modi government took some economic measures such as demonetization, Goods and Service Tax; a big social step like Triple Talaq (divorce said thrice at a time) for the Muslim women. These measures were criticized by INC, hoping that they would dig a grave for the ruling BJP. Yes to a certain degree, the initiatives hurt the party’s image. Moreover, the party’s failure to honor the poll promises of 2014 was seen as a key issue with INC to corner BJP and return to power comfortably in 2019. Sensing the danger, the BJP rose to the occasion to push things in its favor.
The post-Pulwama attack scenario across India gave the Hindu right-wing party a window to satisfy the dissatisfied electors and win their support and vote. The attack had seen about 40 Indian troops killed. The Indian Air Force strike, said to have been carried out inside Pakistan after the Pulwama attack followed by the release of the Indian pilot captured by Pakistan, revived BJP’s hopes of rallying the electorate behind it in the name of nationalism and national security. For that, Pakistan bashing throughout the poll campaign was used as an effective tool. As a result, INC was left helpless as it watched BJP back to the corridors of power with a majority.
On its part, the right-wing Hindu party will be very pleased with the results for two strong reasons: one it has won another opportunity to rule the world’s largest democracy. Two, its image and honor has remained intact as it would have been humiliating for it to get out only after five years by losing the elections touted as a referendum on PM Modi’s reputation.
That said, how will the results impact India’s image across the globe? During the last five years under BJP, India has projected itself as an assertive economic and military power in Asia. India had a one month long faceoff with China on the Dokhlam plateau (claimed by China and India’s key regional ally Bhutan) in 2017. India is the regional country that has out rightly refused to be a member of OBOR, China’s ambitious project reaching up to three continents in the world. India decided not to participate in the SAARC summit in 2016 following strained relations with Pakistan. New Delhi’s decision of boycotting the summit was followed by other members of the association, pointing to India’s rising influence. India is said to have carried out a ‘surgical strike’ under Modi in Kashmir (on the Pakistan side) and recently is said to have carried out an air strike in Pakistan’s Balakot area. Therefore, India is likely to advance its interests from a stronger position in the region.
Interestingly, New Delhi’s Pakistan policy continues to be the same old story: aggression and assertiveness. Mr. Modi invited the neighboring nations to the swearing-in ceremony on May 30. Only Pakistan was left out, a clear signal that India will not soften its stand on Pakistan. The post-Pulwama attack situation had brought them to the brink of war before PM Imran Khan doused the fire through his peace gestures. As the relationship between New Delhi and Islamabad is based on the principle of reciprocity, how will Pakistan respond to its non-inclusion in the oath taking ceremony of PM Modi? Though Pakistan has downplayed the non-inclusion, the picture of the potential relations will emerge in the days ahead.
At the international level, Modi and his government will be hard put to tackle the emerging big picture of the global security. A host of developments are coming up. The US is in confrontation with countries at different levels – trade war with China, engagement in Venezuela, engagement for peace in Afghanistan and the soaring tensions with Iran.
China has accused the US of “naked economic terrorism” while China’s vice foreign minister Zhang Hanhui has said, ‘We are against the trade war, but we are not afraid of it.’ US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when asked about the rare earths threat (from China) during an interview said, “Americans have already suffered for decades under the current rules and that Trump’s singular focus is to push back on China.”
Some month backs, America designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a ‘terror outfit’, the first time in history a national military has been labelled as a terror force. American war ships and 1,500 troops have gone on to the Persian Gulf amid a blame game between the two regional adversaries – Saudi Arabia and Iran. In the recent past, two Saudi oil tankers were allegedly attacked off the shore of Fujairah on May 12. And Tehran backed Houthi militia drone attacked Saudi oil pipelines. The incidents raised tensions, creating a war-like climate in the Gulf region. Meanwhile, to rally support among Islamic nations against the arch-rival Iran, Saudi Arabia hosts three summits towards the end of May 2019 as regional tensions intensify. Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf has slammed Iranian “interference” in the region.
In view of this whole scenario, PM Modi and his government will have to address issues both at the domestic and the international level. Domestically, the government faces major issues like unemployment, instability in Kashmir and insecure climate around the minorities. Globally, the BJP government will be tested concerning Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the Middle East situation.
Image: “The Prime Minister of India visits UK Parliament” by UK Parliament is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
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.
Sheikh Shabir Kulgami is a Kashmiri (Indian) political commentator, analyst and columnist. He writes extensively on South Asia.