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May 24, 2019

India goes Modi


May 24, 2019

As congratulatory messages began to pour in from world leaders on Thursday, India’s Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party prepared for their second five-year term in office. The sweeping win for the National Democratic Alliance, led by the party, makes this the first time since 1984 when a political party has amassed 300 seats on its own. The results that came in after India completed its massive electoral exercise, held in seven phases, did throw up somewhat of a surprise. There had been predictions that the BJP would lose seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament. Instead, it made significant gains, with an established lead on 350 seats out of the 542 up for contest. In 2014, the BJP had won 282 seats.

The 67 percent voter turnout was the highest ever recorded in an Indian election. The enthusiasm appeared to stem from the fierce nationalism based around notions of Hindu belief that Modi has pulled into mainstream politics in India, which is secular according to its constitution and ideology. Modi’s campaign seemed to gain strength from the anti-Pakistan sentiment injected into it following the Pulwama attack in February 2019, and the skirmishes between the two countries which followed. The opposition alliance led by the Indian National Congress, has been virtually wiped out, leading on less than 90 seats, with the Congress itself ahead on little more than 50 seats. The possible loss on the Amethi seat in Uttar Pradesh, the ancestral seat for the Nehru-Gandhi family, is an indicator of how far the party has been swept into the political wilderness. It will be a long climb back for India’s founding party, which with its allies had campaigned on job losses, a crisis in the agricultural sector and allegations of corruption in a deal involving weapons purchase.

The signals however have been delivered clearly and unequivocally. The victory for the BJP will further weaken the position of India’s minorities, including its 172 million Muslims, who have faced increased discrimination and violence through the Modi years. These are factors Pakistan will need to consider in its response. Wisely, given that regional politics revolves around the India-Pakistan equation, the gestures from Islamabad continue to be friendly. In Bishkek on Wednesday, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting, the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan held an unscheduled and informal meeting, during which Shah Mehmood Qureshi stated Pakistan was ready for dialogue with India. His Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj’s response is not known, although the meeting was held in a friendly environment as Ms Swaraj awaited results from her own country and prepared to celebrate a victory for her party. In the foreseeable future, we would naturally like to see a more rational position taken by the BJP government as it gains a hold on India with renewed strength. Only if the bitterness of the past can be avoided is there any hope for negotiations between the two neighbours and greater stability which will benefit all the people of South Asia.

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