BJP’s ‘electioneering’ and secular manifestoes

To speak or comment about Narendra Modi as a Pakistani citizen can have its implications. The backlash is expected in the form of one being censured for adopting an anti-Indian bias or by pointing out Modi’s alleged links with the Gujarat Pogroms in 2002, which has been described by Martha Craven Nussbaum (2008) in the Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future, as a form of “ethnic cleansing involving the complicity of the state government.”

Yet the BJP’s ‘electioneering’ and the rhetoric which has been used to garner public support brings out an interesting dynamic to Indian politics in the lead up to the 2014 elections this year, which has raised quite a few eyebrows. The tone was set, when Amit Shah, the general secretary of the Bharata Janata Party was banned from campaigning on the premise of making remarks, which had stirred tensions amongst the Muslim minority and polarized opinion in the largest democracy in the world. Yet developments just weeks later, gave observers plenty of reasons to be befuddled over campaigning, in a country which is struggling to translate its tainted past into an secular outlook which could benefit their chances at the polls and their international image.


As a young journalist covering election campaigning in 2013 in my home country, I noticed that pressing issues such as rampant corruption, widespread unemployment and the crippling energy crisis were central themes adopted by the left, right and center of the political spectrum, in a nation which was about to witness its first democratic transition in its history. Occasional altercations, were also about mild ‘point scoring’ between the contesting parties, of which the notable ones were the skirmishes of the center-right PML (N) and the PTI, over dynastic politics, accusations of corruption and mismanagement. Similarly, the Pakistan People’s Party, which suffered its worst defeat since the 1997 elections kept on appealing to the sacrifices rendered by the deceased Benazir Bhutto (another secular leader) with promises to cater to the disgruntled masses with a more comprehensive performance in terms of economic development which had eluded them since 2008. Similarly parties in the center right of the spectrum such as the PTI, alluded to protecting minority rights enshrined in its ideology, where there was no reference or bland targeting of the active Christian or Hindu population in the country, for garnering grass roots level support. Yet when one considers the BJP’s manifestos and how they manage to stir public emotion in a nation riddled with economic woes, it begs the question as to why Pakistan fails to get the credit it deserves for displaying remarkable political maturity, with sectarianism and terrorism being rampant.

The BJP as the largest opposition in India is expected to make massive inroads against the INC in the upcoming elections. Yet what could or should amaze election observers and human rights activists is whether Narendra Modi and his close aides would continue to toe the stronger foreign policy line or resort to ‘Pakistan bashing’ for the 16th Lok Sabha in the world’s most populous democracy to gain public support, or adopt a different line of action. Interestingly, critics which considered Pakistan’s ‘rightist’ disposition as far as its politics are concerned suffered a massive set back when election manifestos came to the fore; given that there was little to no reference to capping India’s regional designs. From Nawaz Sharif’s claim of reclaiming lost ground after the PML N performed stupendously during their short, uninterrupted tenures in power, to Imran Khan’s promise of eradicating corruption and facilitating the creation of a welfare state;  not one manifesto centered on curbing Indian influence in the region or stirring discord amongst the minorities sects, as an electioneering tactic. For this reason alone, Pakistan’s political parties should be given credit for dishing it out over issues plaguing the nation, rather than arousing public sentiment against India or minorities to garner votes.

With the emergence of Arvind Kejriwal (a popular candidate by the way in Pakistan, for his populist views) and his ‘Aam Admi Party,’ a third force in Indian politics had emerged. The party’s manifestos centered on eradicating bureaucratic corruption which has plagued India’s rise in the international arena, and increasing its popularity by appealing to the disgruntled masses which were left out of the INC spectrum during the latter’s tenure. Yet, Kejriwal’s stance on Indian held Kashmir in January was met with severe castigation from the BJP leadership which cited any revocation regarding unbridled powers to the Indian military in the region as contrary to India’s national interest, which had severely damaged the AAP’s vote bank.

Similarly, in an unrelated development, Azam Khan, a senior member of the Samajhwadi Party was banned by the ECI from campaigning after his statements of lauding Muslim efforts for the nation’s cause was considered as stirring ‘religious sentiment.’ Ironically, this ban was kept in place despite BJP’s Shah managing to get a reprieve for coming up with remarks rendered offensive to the minorities. The secular orientation of election campaigning in light of such realities can thus be questioned, based upon affiliations, alliances and rhetoric oozing from the stakeholders in this 2014 showdown.

Contrary to popular belief, much of Pakistan’s religious parties have not enjoyed the local support that many right wingers in the country believe they should have deserved. Throughout the nation’s history, there has been a preference for clientele considerations and overcoming economic woes particularly in recent times when the PPP’s socialist orientation could not live up to its billing since they were elected into power in 2008. Many observers could argue that Modi’s economic performance in Gujarat which has enabled it to have a higher per capita GDP than the national average, yet falls short in improving the human development of the state, is one of the prime factors which would be cited by average Indians to vote for the BJP, despite the horrendous 2002 Gujarat episode. Yet at the same time one wonders as to why election campaigning from a party with a tainted past is failing to adopt an approach which lays criticism from the radical left to rest, i.e. refrain from targeted, verbal attacks on minorities and the process of Pakistan bashing.

It remains a mystery, but what is clear is that the difference in campaigning sheds light on the dynamics of Indian and Pakistani politics prior to the elections and on the disposition and clout of right wing parties in both countries. Much to Pakistan’s credit, in the nation’s first ever democratic transition in 2013, there was plenty of maturity in terms of refraining from using the ‘religious’ or ‘India’ card to gain popular support. According to secularists, this is precisely what nations largely ‘secular’ in their political landscape and disposition are known to do.


Posted in , Elections, India, India-Pakistan Relations, Kashmir, Pakistan, Politics

Hamzah Rifaat

Hamzah Rifaat is an anchor for Policy Beats, a current affairs and policy oriented web talk show series. He has over four years of broadcasting experience. He is a gold medalist with a Master of Philosophy degree in the discipline of peace and conflict studies from the National Defense University in Islamabad. He holds a diploma in World Affairs and Professional Diplomacy from the Bandaranaike Diplomatic Training Institute in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He was a freelance writer and blogger for the Friday Times and received a CRDF scholarship to the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, where he studied nonproliferation and terrorism studies at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. He was also a Graduate Editorial Assistant for Women's International Perspective, a global source for women's perspectives, based in Monterey. He has also represented Pakistan as a member of the CTBTO Youth Initiative 2016. His writings encompass political and internal security issues in Pakistan and he regularly contributes for The Diplomat Magazine. Hamzah is a former SAV Visiting Fellow (January 2016).

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4 thoughts on “BJP’s ‘electioneering’ and secular manifestoes

  1. @Hamzah

    While it is true that Pakistan is more secular than it is given credit for and India is more religious than is acknowledged, I’m afraid your analysis is flawed, and with factual errors.

    Regarding what you consider the Indian “right”. India has only one right wing party – the BJP…this is a big canvas that includes people on 1) the economic right who are pro globalization 2) economic nationalists who are viciously anti globalization 3) security pragmatists who want smarter policies and cheaper defense 4) statusquoists 5) ultra liberal religious revivalists 6) ultra conservative religious evangelists and hundreds of other sub categories

    Given this is the case i would really urge you to come out of these European definitions of right and left one gets from reading the English press. Taking that further to imply that the agenda of one of these, is somehow the agenda of the BJP as whole is wrong. take for example how the religious conservatives – the VHP and the RSS absolutely hate ( Modi and consider him a bigger destroyer of hindu temples that the hated Mahmud Ghazni (

    Just because they represent one looney fringe of the BJP does not mean they are the BJP, just like the Taliban represents one looney fringe of Pakistan.

    Second – you will find that Modi hates these looney fringers hijacking his development anti-corruption agenda. As he said “Petty statements by those claiming to be BJP’s well wishers are deviating the campaign from the issues of development and good governance,” (

    Third – don’t get carried away by spin. India’s media tends to be a leftwing incarnation of FOXNews. I would suggest you check out Amit Shah’s speech here ( ) where he calls elections a revenge against injustice and insult, not against any specific community. However you will note his speech is very different from what the TV News anchor claims he has said. By your definition of “right wing” and “secular” Bilawal Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and Barack Obama are also right-wing religious demagogues because they referred to elections as revenge ( (

    Azam Khan on the other hand specifically made remarks that specifically DIVIDED communities. Under Indian election law one CAN say “Hindus AND Muslims” were responsible for victory in Kargil…… however one CANNOT say “Hindus NOT Muslims” or in Azam Khan’s case “Muslims NOT Hindus” ( were responsible for the victory in Kargil. …….. note Azam Khan’s supporters contend ( that “”Is it a crime to say that along with Hindus, Muslims have also fought with equal valor in the Kargil war” ???

    Answer no it is not – but that is not what Azam Khan said – he said “love us because peaks of Kargil were not conquered by Hindus, but by Muslim soldiers …”

    Fourth – it was not Kejriwal’s stance on kashmir – it was his colleague Prashant Bhushan’s, and kejriwal backed off and disowned those remarks immediately. (
    Similarly, You go onto praise Tehreek e Insaaf on their lack of anti India invective while ignoring the rants of his colleague Shireen Mazari .

    Next time round when you make such sweeping assertions could you at least examine primary sources?


  2. It is very difficult for any foreigner to understand the way Democracy functions in India. Like every thing Indian it is very colorful, loud, noisy and often libelous. Even if the world would embrace some other governing system Indians would still stand by democracy, not based on some exalted principles, but because they simply love it. Where on earth will you find hundreds of political parties, some national but many regional ? Many countries cry themselves hoarse saying they have no good leaders — in India everyone wants to be the leader, if not at least a King maker.
    Politics is India’s biggest Industry and most profitable too, besides a politician does not need any qualifications. It is a great leveler too where the background of the individual in terms of religion, caste, wealth, social strata — are no bars to upward mobility. Oratory and connect with the people and issues of the day, are paramount.
    Keeping this in mind, the stakes in any election is very high more so today where a serious candidate in Parliamentary election would be spending on average at least 4 million Dollars. With at least three to four serious candidates in every Lok Sabha seat, the spend of the leading candidates alone would be around 8 Billion Dollars(542 x 4 x 4 million).
    Considering the above facts the rhetoric of participants is understandable, non issues will often be raised to divert the debate in an effort to keep real issues buried. However the seasoned Indian voter is a breed of his own and astute enough to play one against the other to wangle the best deal. Every Indian knows the value of his vote and how precious it is, more so the poor, marginalized and downtrodden. The poor, the labour class, the rural farmer, they will never miss a vote — they will drive a hard bargain for their support too. It is the educated and affluent mostly in cities who have an apathetic attitude to voting, saying their vote will not make a difference. It is wonderful to see the aged, infirm and handicapped being carried into the polling booth on the broad and benevolent shoulders of a friend or relative. The women cannot be left behind, in most constituencies in my home State their polling %age is higher.
    An Indian election resembles the Circus of the absurd — high decibels, crass entertainment, theatrical dramatics, emotional blackmail, hard bargaining, appeasement and an exercise in stamina. More so, since everyone has an issue, this is the time for it to be discussed and resolved. The cradle of Civilization continues to be the best laboratory in the world for every type of experiment, in the realms of evaluating and measuring the best and worst of human endeavor. Right and Left, good and bad, hope and despair, all have to stand the test of competition. That such an experiment is conducted peacefully in a continent sized land of vast diversity and geography, is a feat India will always remain proud of. Who comes to Power is immaterial and irrelevant, democracy has ensured the voter is the King, the rulers the beggars. “Do your job or you will be sent packing with ignominy”, is the clear message.

  3. @ Abhijit

    Thanks for your comment Abhijit.

    Let me remind you that in 2014, Praveen Swami in ‘ India’s new language of killing’, wrote that Narendra Modi, someone who promises economic development and has discarded looney fringers, as you have pointed out, suggested that upon coming to power he would authorize India’s intelligence services to stage cross border strikes against terrorists. Swami writes that the ‘ stakes were considered as ‘ seismic’ and mandated a debate with dispassion before a choice is to be made with rage.

    This is a sharp detraction from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s commitment to remain engaged with Pakistan, especially in light of a change of guard in 2010, when Shiv Shankar Menon replaced Mr. Narayanan that mean that the doves came into policy making. Now whether Mr. Modi, a front runner as Prime Minister, giving a first ever public suggestion that covert operations against miscreants on the other side of the border ( again the Pakistan factor), in May 2014 is not a hint to garner popular support, can be anyone’s guess. Remember, we are speaking about ‘ the Pakistan factor’ here, not counter terrorism efforts on either side of the border or the region as a whole.

    Hence, when I claim that a party such as the BJP with a tainted past needs to focus more on secular electioneering, it is not entirely about bland references to media rhetoric or sources as you erroneously pointed out. It is true that my references lead to reiterations in the mainstream Indian media, but that does not mean that these are my primary sources of citation.

    Lastly, when Benazir Bhutto considers democracy to be the best revenge, that does not hint at stirring discord amongst the minorities as the BJP has done time and time again. It actually considers the demolition of military dictatorship as the salient argument in this case in the lead up to a democratic transition, with no reference to the right wing pacification. Similarly, Obama’s reference to the ballot as the best revenge entails that he is a demagogue of democracy and not of religion.

    Thank you

  4. @ Hamzah

    1. you’re confusing tackling terrorism with secularism. One is a function of security, the other is a function of governance.

    Barack Obama has ordered more drone strikes than Bush (the darling of the US religious right). That hardly makes Obama a religious looney and it does not make Bush a bleeding heart liberal. Since you are confusing tackling-terrorism with secularism then the underlying assumption to that (and this is what i find so disturbing in your entire write up) is that all Muslims are terrorists…. ergo pursuing terrorists is a fundamentally a communal act?

    2. You are confusing action with engagement – falsely making one completely exclusive of the other. On the contrary all engagement is fundamentally dependent on action – Engagements – All engagements involve carrots and sticks

    It was precisely because Vajpayee was aggressive over the nuclear tests that he could visit Lahore. It was precisely because he ordered operation Parakram against Pakistan that he could invite Musharraf to Agra. It was because Musharraf ordered Kargil, that he could give more on the negotiating table. It was precisely because both of them were considered hawks that both of them could engage more robustly.

    Vajpayee could pick up the pieces within years if not months …Lahore a few months after the Shakti tests, Agra a year or so after kargil. Manmohan Singh on the other hand has been bogged down for 6 years after the Bombay attacks of 2008… so what “engagement” are you talking about here exactly? Ahmad Rashid says Manmohan Singh deliberately sabotaged the peace process Vajpayee started because he discarded the top down approach in favor of bottom up confidence building measures.

    Sadat could not have made peace with Israel had he not started the the 1973 war, Ariel Sharon could not have demolished Jewish Settlements had he not been the champion of settlements in the first place – associated with Sabra and Shatilla.

    3. you are confusing politics with methods.

    The PPP, BJP and Democrats all play identity politics, just that they manipulate different identities. Whipping up identity divisions, real or perceived is what all political parties do anywhere in the world.

    What makes it legitimate or illegitimate is how you channel those stirred up passions – into a legal and peaceful method (elections) or into illegal and violent methods (riots/pogroms)

    Balloting as revenge is profoundly democratic – it is a statement of method
    … irrespective of which identity it is aimed at – military, rich, Muslim, whatever.

    It seems to me you basically have a present notion here and are concocting a “heads i win tails you lose” argument. Have a riot a la 2002 they’re communal, give up violence and urge their supporters to the ballot and they’re still communal?

    Claiming that BB did not play identity politics – have you forgotten this speech of hers?

    4. You are confusing the “Pakistan Factor” with “Internal Security”. Pakistan enters the election debate simply because of Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism – i.e it’s a factor in internal security. India has no issues with the wounds Pakistan inflicts on itself, however any party that wishes to govern India has to deal with the wounds Pakistan wants to inflict on India

    What according to you should the BJP do when asked about cross border terrorism? hold a candle light vigil? sing and dance on the border? twiddle thumbs and knit sweaters?

    I presume your answer to all of this will be the boiler plate “we need to have a meaningful engagement”, “stop the rhetoric”, …. etc…all the same tired old formulations that have failed time and again.

    5. What exactly is the point you’re trying to make? That the BJP is communal/ That India is not secular? That Pakistan is secular?

    6. If you have primary sources – lets see them. less opinion, more fact.

    7. What exact “mainstream” media have you quoted? India’s mainstream media is in fact its vernacular media. The English media at best reaches less than 1% of the population. At best the views you link to can be described as 1% view. I don’t think by any stretch of logic can a 1% view be called mainstream. Having perfect syntax and grammar and speaking English in a posh Cambridge accent still = 1%

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