With the Indian parliamentary elections slated for 2014, the election campaigns for both the Indian National Congress and the Bhartya Janata Party (BJP) are already underway. A few news items about the election campaign caught my attention- hence my decision to write this blog. When I finally sat down to write this piece, I googled BJP to find its official web address. Much to my dismay I could not access the website. I got an error message saying www.bjp.org had banned my IP address based on the country or region I was accessing it from! The denial is a fitting example of the BJP’s distrust of Pakistan in general and of Pakistanis in particular.
Narinder Modi’s first speech after being nominated as BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister made headlines in both the Indian and International media. Arguably, it was an obvious departure from his usual anti Pakistan rhetoric. Terming the Pakistani culture of pistols, guns and terrorism a worrisome trend he advised Pakistan to concentrate on fighting poverty instead. His skepticism of the new government in Pakistan was apparent though. Expressing hope that the Sharif government would begin a process of reconciliation with India, he remained doubtful of Pakistan’s intentions especially in the context of the August 2013 border skirmishes. Incidentally, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s address to the same election rally also belied Narendra Modi’s softened tone towards Pakistan. Rathore’s address aped Modi’s characteristic threats towards Pakistan. An acclaimed shooter, Rathore, while training his guns on Pakistan said, “If Modi gets elected and Pakistan gives Kashmir the evil eye, then Kashmir will exist but Pakistan won’t. ” The speech was reminiscent of similar speeches made by Modi in both 2002 and 2007 when he targeted Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf in trying to convince his Guajarati electorate to vote him into power. If Modi becomes Prime Minister, Pakistan will become an oft-used tool for him to terrorize the Indian nation. Trade disputes may well be created, or worse, border skirmishes may be used as a plausible excuse to an all out conflict. It has after all been Modi’s style to find an enemy to unite his electorate and increase his popularity among the masses.
By contrast, India has never been used as a point-scoring factor in Pakistan’s domestic politics. Even during the 2013 elections which took place when India- Pakistan relations were at their lowest, political parties in Pakistan referred to India only in the context of détente or resolution of conflict through peaceful means. For example the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) election manifesto placed a lot of importance on Pakistan as a bridge between India and China on one side and Central Asia and Iran on the other. It also highlighted Pakistan’s potential role in providing the shortest land routes linking India with Afghanistan and the Central Asian republics. In accordance with these broader foreign policy objectives, the manifesto made a convincing case for rapprochement with our eastern neighbour. This policy also reverberates with the party’s policies during its tenure as the main opposition party during the last five years e.g. PML N organized various bilateral trade related initiatives in Punjab where it was in power. Similarly, the Pakistan Tehreeki Insaaf (PTI) manifesto also called for, “progressive détente,” with India particularly in the field of energy.
Amidst all the election frenzy and in an effort to point scores vis-a-vis the Congress, the BJP is again busy drumming up passions against Pakistan. On September 23, 2013 while denouncing the possible Manmohan-Nawaz meeting in New York, the BJP President Rajnath Singh had suggested using other economic and diplomatic options to deal with Pakistan. The unfortunate terrorist attack in Jammu two days later (September 26, 2013) has once again prompted the BJP’s Prime Ministerial Candidate Narinder Modi to point fingers at Pakistan. It also gave him a chance to condemn the upcoming Singh-Sharif meeting in New York. Addressing a gathering at Trich in the Tamil Nadu Province, he strongly condemned the possibility of such a meeting between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif. “Should the Prime Minister hold talks with Pakistan when our country is under attack? Should he hurry to hold talks?” asked Narendra Modi. The crowd answered NO in unison. Modi then said, “Mr Prime Minister, I am not saying this. BJP is not telling you this. Youngsters from Trichy are telling you this.” All these are ominous developments especially when considered in the context of another more worrisome trend- the propensity of Indian politicians and media alike to incite the public. It is unfortunate that every time there is a possibility of dialogue between India and Pakistan, it succumbs to some sort of crisis whether in the form of terrorist attack or an infiltration. To make matters worse, the media and politicians choose to play with peoples’ emotions to manipulate them in order to advance their own political agendas. They need to realize sooner rather than later that dialogue with Pakistan is not a sign of “weakness.” It is in fact an imperative for the possibility of lasting peace in South Asia.