Politics is a game of interest. For developed countries it is for national interest, but in underdeveloped states this may not be the case. In the latter, the self-interest of political leaders and parties is mostly the priority. The political elite seldom consider national interest before their own benefit. In order to pursue their interests, they use the core beliefs, ideas, and values of the society to manipulate the masses. In the cases of Pakistan and India, it is religion and nationalism, respectively. This argument is based on historical and empirical evidence and one needs to look deep into the structure and style of politics in both countries.
In Pakistan’s case, religion has been used, adopted, and implemented by political leaders; be it the Objectives Resolution on March 12, 1949, the declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslims in 1974, the Islamization policies of General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s, or the alliance of political parties and religious extremists to secure a vote bank. These phenomena have shaped Pakistani politics to the extent that it is now hard to separate religion and politics. Religious entities who were not supporters of Pakistan at the time of its independence have been dominating Pakistani politics since 1947. These elements do have some influence on society, but politicians and political parties have been manipulating them to prolong their time in power. This religious tool has been used against India and to gain votes and popularity by Pakistani political leaders time and again.
The story of Indian politics revolves around Hindu nationalism. With roots in issues like the Urdu-Hindi controversy in 1867, the division of Bengal in 1905, or the Pakistan-India partition in 1947, Hindu nationalism has historically dominated Indian politics. The Two-Nation theory presented by the Muslims of India in the pre-partition era was not acceptable for Indian politicians. Hindus refer to the subcontinent as “Mother India” and its division was unacceptable for them. After independence, Hindu nationalism did not play a major part in Indian politics until the late 1970s. This is when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a political wing of the conservative right-wing non-political Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), emerged in Indian politics. Since then the BJP’s Hindu Nationalist ideology has changed the course of Indian Politics.
The party adopted the ideology of Hindutva, “which sought to define Indian culture as a manifestation of Hindu values,” in the 1980s. Since then, allegations have been made linking BJP leaders and RSS members to incidents like the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992, the Gujarat Massacre in 2002, and the Samjhota Express bombings in 2007. The wave of nationalism is high in India since the arrival of the BJP in 1980, negatively affecting relations with Pakistan.
Current Leadership in Pakistan and India
Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan
Currently, the Pakistan Muslim League (N) is ruling Pakistan with Nawaz Sharif holding the Prime Minister’s office. The ruling party is a right-wing conservative party, whose leader was interestingly brought into politics in the 1980s by General Zia-ul-Haq, the initiator of Islamization in Pakistan. The party is famous for having support and a vote bank among religious extremists in Pakistan, especially in Punjab. Based on this background and style of politics, religious considerations do have a significant impact on the policies of the current government. Also, these religious elements have been and could be used against India, something which will further deteriorate relations between both states.
Narendra Modi in India
The current Prime Minister of India was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time of the 2002 massacre. He started as a member of the RSS and then joined the BJP. A believer of the Hindutva philosophy and a conservative right-winger, Modi is a symbol of nationalist politics. This was evident during his election campaign in which he used nationalist sentiments against Pakistan to gain votes. The recently implemented law banning cow slaughter in Maharashtra is one of the many examples of the Modi Government’s Hindu nationalist policies.
After presenting a brief history of both leaders and their political parties, it becomes clear that religion is a political tool in Pakistan while Hindu nationalism is a means to gain political support in India. Although it may not be a deciding factor in Pakistan-India relations, in my opinion, it is a major factor, particularly during election campaigns where political parties play with the sentiments of masses.
Similarly, the Kashmir issue also plays a central role. In Pakistan it is considered to be part of the country on religious bases, while in India it is dealt with the nationalist approach of Akhand Bharat or Atoot Ang (integral part of India). It is a territorial issue, but political leaders have used it as a propaganda tool against the neighboring state. The extremist line on this issue has been utilized by the political elites of both sides. Ultimately, it has left a long-lasting negative effect on India-Pakistan relations and it still remains unresolved.
These aspects of Pakistan-India relations may not be discussed much or prioritized, but they have deep implications. Political leaders may mostly use religious and nationalist sentiment for their own short-term interests, but it does increase the relational gap between both states. The following are some recommendations for the resolution of this problem:
- Cross-border people-to-people contact is essential to overcome the extremist barrier constructed by political elites;
- Student exchange programs should be initiated as the youth are the future and hence it will create an immensely positive impact on the future of the relationship;
- Huge cultural similarities exist on both sides of border, therefore this tool needs to be utilized effectively;
- Political awareness needs to be developed amongst the masses so that political leaders cannot use extremist views for their self-interests;
- Sports diplomacy should be used to develop cordial sentiments across the border;
- The issue of Kashmir needs to be resolved so that the permanent atmosphere of hostility can be rooted out from the people on both sides.
Pakistan and India are immediate neighbors but socially and politically they are far apart. Both neighbors are living in a hostile environment since their separation in 1947. Self-centered political leaders have further increased the gap for their own political interests and to maximize their vote banks. The common people of both states need to understand the motives of the political leaders and then the issue can be resolved, or at least mitigated.