Pakistan, a constant

Pakistan has become a catchall boogey man for the BJP and its Hindutva supporters

Pakistan, a constant


few days ago, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in an interview: “For the past 10 years, I have put a lock on Pakistan being a factor in running India. We don’t need to waste our time. We have moved far ahead.” On face value, it would seem that India, which now claims to be an emerging world power, has finally cut the umbilical cord with its 1947 midnight twin. The truth couldn’t be farther from this statement. Pakistan has become a factor in the 2024 Indian elections more than it has ever been in peacetime.

History has a knack for repeating itself, and because it so often does, it keeps people like me in business. Thus, it was interesting when Modi, speaking at a rally in Ajmer in early April, remarked that the Indian National Congress’s recently unveiled election manifesto reflected that of the All India Muslim League. He said: “Every page reeks of attempts to tear India apart. It reflects the thoughts that the Muslim League had before Independence. The Congress wants to impose the Muslim League’s thoughts from that era on the India of today.”

Similar jibes have since then been repeated by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party president JP Nadda and BJP’s Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. Funnily enough, the Congress manifesto doesn’t even have the word “Muslim” in it. Perhaps the mention of “equity,” “saving democracy,” “removing fear,” “restoring freedom,” “justice,” “federalism” irked the BJP leaders so much that in their anger they could only refer to a party—the All India Muslim League that dissolved in December 1947, a good seventy-five years ago—from a time when more than three quarters of Indians weren’t even born. No one—even in Pakistan—remembers the election manifesto of the Muslim League from 1945, beyond the demand for the creation of a separate homeland for Muslims, but I hope this at least stirs up some people to look it up to read its views on minority rights, redistribution of wealth, etc.

India’s fascination with Pakistan has grown so much that a three-word tweet by a former Pakistani minister, where he simply wrote: “Rahul on fire” while retweeting Rahul Gandhi’s strong rebuttal of Modi, made headline news in India. News channels began to discuss the tweet on prime time. Even Modi referred to the tweet in an election rally saying that the Congress was being supported by Pakistan and that as the Congress “dies,” Pakistan “cries.” Imagine — if for fun and kicks, a sitting Pakistani minister wishes Modi well in his upcoming Varanasi election: will Modi be a Pakistani agent?

Obsession with Pakistan has also become a sign of India’s power and international stature. Thus, while the Pulwama incident has yet to be independently connected to Pakistan, the fact that Pakistan in February 2019 downed an Indian plane and captured its pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, is undisputed. In 2019, the Pulwama episode led the BJP to a strong victory in the elections. Now opposition leaders are strongly contesting the narrative being sold to them. Recently, the chief minister of Telangana, a Congress ruled state, openly questioned the ‘surgical’ strikes and the failure of the intelligence saying, “They failed to prevent the Pulwama attack. What was the IB doing? What was our intelligence network doing?... Nobody knows for sure if the airstrike, as was claimed, took place.” With questions being asked about the possible false flag operation, it is striking (pun intended) that the 2019 incidents are still lauded as India’s ‘strong stance’ and ‘success’ against Pakistan. Perhaps with no success against China in a border dispute, the felling of trees in Pakistan can be a reason for a 56-inch chest thumping.

Even more fascinating is the statement by Modi that unlike under the Congress government, when India shared dossiers about alleged terrorists with Pakistan, the Modi government’s Bharat “ghar mein ghuss kar marta hai,” [enters the house and kills]. At a time when Indian intelligence has been blamed for the killing of people in Canada and the United States, claiming proudly that you have done the same in Pakistan, is admitting that India indulges in such rogue actions–not a very clever move by a country that claims that its stature is rising.

Finally, for the BJP and its Hindutva supporters, it is no longer a self-explanatory and self-defining aim that India should become a Hindu Rashtra (state). Speaking at an election rally actor and BJP candidate Kangana Ranaut exclaimed: “During the Partition in 1947, which led to the birth of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, why wasn’t India declared a Hindu nation? We will work towards making India a Hindu Rashtra.” So for her, just because Pakistan became an Islamic country, India should become a Hindu state too. The reality that Pakistan crept into the reasoning behind making India a Hindu state clearly shows how deep Pakistan and its existence have seeped into the psyche of the BJP and Hindutva supporters.

Pakistan has become a catchall boogey man for the BJP and its Hindutva supporters. It is clear that its role is so central to their political posturing that if there were no Pakistan their whole political rhetoric would fall apart. Without Pakistan a Hindu Rashtra might not even be possible, let alone explained. Despite claiming that he doesn’t want to “waste” his “time” on Pakistan, Modi and his lieutenants keep on talking about Pakistan, claiming all the while that the Congress is Pakistan backed. This shows that they realise there is little in terms of real development they can peddle to the masses. Rising unemployment, inflation, farmer protests, election bonds and other scandals and several other issues have made them return to the single most consistent existential threat for them—Pakistan.

The writer is a historian based in Lahore. He can be reached at His X handle: @BangashYK

Pakistan, a constant