India has begun what many commentators call the world’s largest democratic election in global history. Started from Monday the 7th of April 2014, an approximate 814.5 million people are gearing up to vote in a process that is estimated to take at least six weeks to select a new prime minister for the South Asian country. The result of this election will be declared on 16 May, before the 15th Lok Sabha completes its constitutional mandate on 31 May 2014. The outcome will have a deep and lasting impact on not only India but the rest of the world especially the IndoPak subcontinent.
If popularity polls are to be believed then the right wing BJP is believed to be the one to hold the reins of India for the next five years 1. Right wing politics in India, as well as anywhere else in the world revolve around flexing muscle and a belligerent approach of acquiring one’s self interest. Notably right wing politics of foreign policy normally revolve around a demon to bash at home. Regrettably, India has found such a position for Pakistan in its domestic as well as foreign politics.
BJP’s candidate Modi has already targeted Pakistan during his campaign. In one speech he referred to three AKs helping Pakistan, Congress’s defence minister AK Anthony and rival AAP’s leader Arvind Kejriwal 2 , and bashed the Pakistani state in the speech.
In some campaign areas, the NDA is banking on sentiment against Indian Muslims with whom many Pakistani share a brotherly bond 3.
While the signs do not look good, there are some who say that all such talk is hype used for public consumption during campaigning. To assess what the foreign policy of India may be and its importance for Pakistan, the manifesto of respective parties will be presented below with analysis.
The BJP Manifesto states that it wishes to revise its foreign policy, which in its own words it desires to “reboot and reorient”4. The manifesto has mentioned Pakistan-backed terror groups by name and has vowed to “deal with cross border terrorism with a firm hand”. Later on in the same manifesto it states about relations with neighbours, “In our neighbourhood we will pursue friendly relations. However, where required we will not hesitate from taking strong stand and steps”5 ,which means that the stance towards Pakistan will be tough, while India will seek friendly ties with Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka possibly trying to isolate Pakistan in the South Asian subcontinent. It also states that it will revise the “no first use” doctrine which is potentially to counter Pakistani tactical nuclear weapons, which do not cause dramatic destruction but diminish India’s conventional advantage. It also presents its vision on Kashmir, that is to say that it will not be conciliatory to Pakistani concerns and will maintain the region as “an integral part of the Union of India”6.
On the historical side a BJP win holds much uncertainty for IndoPak relationship. Before now the two countries did come quite close to a solution through peace talks but they have also fought a volatile skirmish at Kargil as well as a highly tense troop standoff on the border.
For Pakistan, reconciliation with Modi as the eventual new leader of India can be made possible if the BJP sheds off some of its Hinduvta agenda, abandons anti-Pakistan knee jerk rhetoric and makes an effort to cool down anti-Muslim sentiment within India. Modi may also have to emulate the former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee , whose journey to Pakistan for a peace treaty and developing rapport with Mian Nawaz Sharif had a much positive effect.
Coming onto the Congress Manifesto, it too has named Pakistan in its foreign policy section. It has declared to help and encourage the PML (N)’s stated position of improving relations with India, but it has also linked the normalization of peace talks with the trials of accused of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. It seems that the Congress is not willing to divorce from IndoPak relationships the actions of non-state actors, who seem to be more motivated by Indian policies and actions than anything else. And linking of trials in a foreign country with peace talks seems to be a way for the Congress to win votes as well as a potential path of withdrawal or backing out on the last moment. On Kashmir too it is strangely mum.
The actions of the Congress when it was in government also do not carry many signs of hope. Although time and again the Indian government of Man Mohan Singh talked of bettering relations with Pakistan, it backed out on one pretext or another. In the aftermath of various corruption scandals rocking the government, it unashamedly started Pakistan bashing to draw attention away from its misdeeds. Indeed the youth wing of the Congress tried to stage a mob attack on the Pakistani embassy in New Delhi on the pretext of border violations which were initiated by the Indian military7.
The Congress led UPA government also has not allayed Pakistani concerns of Indian support to terrorists operating inside Pakistan against the state despite being handed proof 8 and a joint declaration at the Sharm Ul Sheikh Summit.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) however seems to be a breath of fresh air in this respect. The AAP Manifesto while talking of zero tolerance for “cross border terrorism” has highlighted that it will use the platform of dialogue to deal with this phenomenon. It calls for coordination of bilateral and multilateral efforts to prosecute terrorists and for better border management 9.
The AAP has also declared itself committed to ending of persecution of Indian Muslims; ensuring misuse of power against them will end. Its manifesto has also announced to better their current situation.
It has also called for reducing political hostilities in India’s immediate neighborhood through confidence building. In practicality, the AAP came under heavy and even violent attack by right wing forces when it called for reducing the draconian use of power by the Indian Army occupying Jammu and Kashmir 10. While not Pakistan specific, such a step would be a great confidence booster for future peace talks as the oppression of Kashmiris by the Indian military is a great obstacle in normalization of IndoPak relations.
Other parties too have given their respective party positions on Pakistan in their manifestos. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) which is a leading party of the Third Front has stated in its manifesto that it wishes to continue dialogue with Pakistan to resolve all outstanding issues and promote people to people relations between India and Pakistan 11.
Many pessimists say that in South Asia promising the moon in an election manifesto and the going back on one’s own election promises is not only been witnessed but is said to be standard operating procedure for nearly all South Asian politicians. However times are changing and the young generation of the subcontinent is getting more and more interested in how they are being led. Deceiving this tech savvy and extremely mobile generation will not be so easy.
And for the young generation wanting to build a conflict free South Asia for the future, the present political status quo of India does not hold much promise. With true transformation in the Lok Sabha, can true change really come to the realm of peace in South Asia! The old guard has neither shown nor promised much improvement in this regard, it seems the untested newcomers could be the only ones who can deliver on building the road to peace.
1. BJP could clinch election win – opinion polls | Reuters . 2014. BJP could clinch election win – opinion polls | Reuters . [ONLINE] Available at: http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/04/05/india-election-poll-idINDEEA3405O20140405. [Accessed 12 April 2014].
2. “AKs” helping Pakistan, says Narendra Modi targeting Arvind Kejriwal | NDTV.com. 2014. 3 “AKs” helping Pakistan, says Narendra Modi targeting Arvind Kejriwal | NDTV.com. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ndtv.com/elections/article/election-2014/3-aks-helping-pakistan-says-narendra-modi-targeting-arvind-kejriwal-500416. [Accessed 12 April 2014].
3. As riot-hit Indian region votes, religious divide favors Hindu leader | Reuters . 2014. As riot-hit Indian region votes, religious divide favors Hindu leader | Reuters . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/10/us-india-election-muzaffarnagar-idUSBREA390BM20140410. [Accessed 12 April 2014].
4. BJP Election Manifesto 2014. . [ONLINE] Available at: http://bjpelectionmanifesto.com/pdf/manifesto2014.pdf. [Accessed 12 April 2014].
5. Flaring tempers: Pakistan protests mob attack on its mission in India – The Express Tribune. 2014. Flaring tempers: Pakistan protests mob attack on its mission in India – The Express Tribune. [ONLINE] Available at: http://tribune.com.pk/story/588171/flaring-tempers-pakistan-protests-mob-attack-on-its-mission-in-india/. [Accessed 12 April 2014].
6. Balochistan proof shared with India – DAWN.COM. 2014. Balochistan proof shared with India – DAWN.COM. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.dawn.com/news/1047779/balochistan-proof-shared-with-india. [Accessed 12 April 2014].
7. AAM AADMI PARTY ELECTION MANIFESTO 2014. . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.aamaadmiparty.org/sites/default/files/Manifesto%20-%20NATIONAL%20SECURITY.pdf. [Accessed 12 April 2014].
8. Aam Aadmi Party caught in Kashmir uproar – DAWN.COM. 2014. Aam Aadmi Party caught in Kashmir uproar – DAWN.COM. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.dawn.com/news/1079277/aam-aadmi-party-caught-in-kashmir-uproar. [Accessed 12 April 2014].
9. Manifesto | Communist Party of India (Marxist). 2014. Manifesto | Communist Party of India (Marxist). [ONLINE] Available at: http://cpim.org/elections-2014/manifesto. [Accessed 12 April 2014].