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Friday June 14, 2024

India’s exhausting rhetoric

In its political manifesto of 2024, the BJP mentions Pakistan only once in the context of infrastructural development along the India-Pakistan border

By Maheen Shafeeq
May 22, 2024
Indias Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks with the media inside the parliament premises upon his arrival on the first day of the budget session in New Delhi, India, January 31, 2024. —Reuters
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks with the media inside the parliament premises upon his arrival on the first day of the budget session in New Delhi, India, January 31, 2024. —Reuters

The initial campaigning for the 18th Lok Sabha elections in India gave the impression that political parties in India had moved away from depending on anti-Pakistan rhetoric to rally their voter base.

However, during the fourth phase of the seven-phase of the ongoing elections, the BJP had to resort to its much familiar tactic of invoking anti-Pakistan rhetoric from its 2019 election guidebook.

In its political manifesto of 2024, the BJP mentions Pakistan only once in the context of infrastructural development along the India-Pakistan border. This made people believe that anti-Pakistan rhetoric did not seem to be one of the top strategies of the BJP this time. During election campaigning, the BJP also depended mostly on the Hindu supremacy narrative, aiming to transform India into a Hindutva state. The party leveraged the emotive power of temple politics, which captivated the majority of Hindu voters.

The BJP’s strategy included building Ram Mandir over the ruins of the centuries-old Babri Masjid, and the inauguration of the first Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi by Modi gathered significant traction among Hindu voters. This also strengthened the divisive ‘us versus them’ narrative, which has led to a surge in xenophobia and the otherization of all non-Hindu population in India. This agenda was to set secure the BJP a third term in power. However, as the elections are half way through, some noteworthy trends suggest that the effects of temple and division politics may be waning.

While the BJP still remains a popular political party, it appears to be losing momentum in the elections. Its campaign slogan ‘ab ki bar, 400 par’ (this time, [the BJP] will cross 400 [seats]) seems to have vanished from the speeches of BJP leaders. Several analysts now speculate that the BJP may secure between 200 and 300 seats, and its target of 400 or even 370 appears increasingly elusive. Although India appears to be a progressive and economically developing country, Indian voters seem to be disappointed by the BJP’s performance on key internal issues.

Extreme poverty, high unemployment and inflation, education, health, sanitation, communal harmony, freedom movements, framers’ issues, hate politics, violence, corruption, crime and so on have directly impacted the majority of ordinary Indians. Outside of the polling stations, during the ongoing electoral process, some Indian voters have emphasized that these key internal issues remain lingering for over a decade and that they have little assurance that the BJP would address them this time. The BJP’s deceptive campaigning tactics also stand exposed to people, which is why the voters are exercising caution. These developments have rung alarm bells in the BJP’s headquarters. Analysts believe that the BJP seems frustrated and is acting out of desperation.

As the certainty of victory seems to be shedding, the BJP is reverting to its old tactics of stimulating its voter bank through an anti-Pakistan narrative. While anti-Muslim rhetoric was a dominant feature of the BJP’s previous campaigns – with references to Muslims as “infiltrators” and “those who produce more children” – the Pakistan card was not as evident. However, now an agitated Modi has been recklessly exploiting derogatory statements concerning Pakistan.

At a public gathering in Odisha, PM Modi slammed a Congress leader for mentioning Pakistan as a “respectable nation”. Addressing three back-to-back rallies in Bihar, Modi maintained that Congress leaders have “nightmares about Pakistan’s nuclear bomb”, labelling them as “cowards” who are “seeking ways to instil fear of Pakistan in Indians”. Modi and BJP leaders have been frantically commenting on Pakistan’s strategic assets, their capability and ‘quality’ and “lack of buyers for Pakistan’s nuclear bomb”. Such statements depict a lack of understanding of strategic subjects but also underscore a disregard for the implications of supporting nuclear proliferation.

BJP leaders are also echoing Modi’s anti-Pakistan narrative. Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, in a recent interview, emphasized aspirations of ending the ‘illegal occupation’ of ‘Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK)’ [Azad Jammu and Kashmir] and said that he disputed region would join India eventually. Indian Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah has also stated that India is waiting for ‘the right time’ to ‘take PoK back’ as it belongs to India. This shows that Indian leaders believe that Azad Jammu and Kashmir (which is referred to as PoK by them) will either be occupied by India or the region will fall into India on its own due to internal issues.

Such assertions supplement India’s hegemonic and imaginative concept of Akhand Bharat (Greater India) that encompasses South Asian states, including Pakistan. It appears that Modi and BJP leaders appear more akin to sports coaches, hyping up their team before a match rather than acting as mature statesmen. Their electoral strategy appears to be capitalizing on war-mongering rhetoric and anti-Pakistan sentiments for political gains.

Islamabad is closely observing each phase of Indian elections and has refrained from commenting on such statements. However, the disturbing surge in the irresponsible use of anti-Pakistan rhetoric called for a response. Pakistan’s Foreign Office, on May 14, 2024 urged Indian politicians to refrain from dragging Pakistan into their domestic politics for electoral gains.

The comments by India’s PM show a lack of prudence in handling critical and sensitive strategic matters. Such inflammatory commentaries and their posture depict grim hopes for regional security and stability. It also diminishes the faintest hopes for dialogue. Such campaigning might win the BJP another round of power play; however, it will have a negative and long-term impact on the prospects of addressing the long-outstanding issues of South Asia.

The writer is a research analyst in emerging technologies and international security. She tweets/posts @MaheenShafeeq