Voices this Week – Elections and the Next Government

Voices this Week draws together published material on an important strategic issue in South Asia.  This week: Indian elections and the potential impact of a Narendra Modi-led BJP government.

Thursday was the largest day of voting so far – 121 constituencies across 12 states went to the polls. Debate continues over what these elections could mean for nuclear doctrine, for India’s strategic relations with Pakistan and the US, and India’s youth.

The BJP had released its 52-page Election Manifesto on April 7, the first day of voting. Analysts have argued the manifesto is “thin,” offering few genuine insights: “If the BJP election manifesto does not say much about what the party would do if it was in a position to govern India, its silences are sometimes very telling. Its treatment of the corruption issue is a case in point.”

The manifesto’s treatment of India’s nuclear doctrine has however provoked debate. In the last week, both Modi and BJP president Rajnath Singh have affirmed India’s No First Use policy, countering speculation that the manifesto’s pledge “to study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times” put no first use nuclear policy in doubt.”

What would a Modi government mean for India-Pakistan relations? Pakistani media has branded Modi a Hindu hardliner who would take a “tough stand” against Pakistan if elected, and warned that his presence “dampens the developing spirit of camaraderie between the two nations.” At the same time, Tariq Osman Hyder predicts a degree of pragmatism:

“If the BJP is elected what will be the reaction of its neighbours? At the official level naturally they will welcome any decision by the people of India and be prepared to engage with the new government. They will wait and see how the BJP government acts in external relations as it settles down and hope it will follow a pragmatic policy to improve relations beyond trade. At the same time. they will be watchfully cautious.”

As for India-US relations, Pratap Bhanu Mehta suggests “if a BJP government comes to power, the Narendra Modi issue is going to continue to cast a shadow on this relationship.” Modi, however, counters that he would not take a confrontational approach towards Pakistan, and that he would not allow the visa issue to hamper relations with the US. On Wednesday, Nisha Biswal, U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia urged the next Indian government to adopt investment-friendly policies, saying the US would like to see bilateral trade increase to $500 billion a year.

In addition to regional and international strategic issues, the New York Times editorial board weighed in on the role of youth in these elections and the resultant challenges facing the incoming government:

 “Of the estimated 814 million citizens eligible to vote in India’s general elections that began on April 7, some 150 million are first-time voters between the ages of 18 and 23. How they vote may well determine the results, scheduled to be announced May 16. But will a new government be able to fulfill the aspirations of India’s young citizens? ….

“The new government will need to act quickly…. will have to jump-start the faltering economy, provide access to affordable, improved education for boys and girls in all regions and help the private sector create tens, if not hundreds, of millions of decent-paying jobs. Unless it can do that, India’s youthful demographic dividend could turn into a demographic liability.”

A Washington Post article reports on the rising role of social media in Indian elections. It reports two key findings from a recent analysis of social media trends over the past 100 days: 1. Corruption is the major issue online, and 2. the two biggest names – Modi and Gandhi – are not the most talked about on social media, rather, it is Arvind Kejriwal.

Posted in , Elections, India, India-Pakistan Relations, Politics, Uncategorized, Voices this Week

Julia Thompson

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One thought on “Voices this Week – Elections and the Next Government

  1. While opinion polls in India predict a BJP led coalition coming to Power, things could change if the BJP falls short of its seat target. In India approx 20% of the electorate falls in the undecided category till polling day. The last 48 hours prior to election is very crucial in terms of tilting the undecided vote. A late burst of well targeted communication can tilt the balance, often resulting in a wave.

    A Modi dispensation will not drastically alter direction on the policy front, however it is bad news for trouble makers in the South Asian region. India’s so called pacific stand on most issues has been a reflection on Congress Politics, carried to Power on the back of majority support from Muslims who form around 17% of the electorate. The BJP does not enjoy this vote so its stand will never be compromised by those same electoral calculations.

    Modi’s focus as always will be on Economic development and governance so almost all his challenges will be internal. Modi has a good rapport with China having visited many times, they never ever denied him a visa, even welcomed him when he was a pariah. They are part of the mutual admiration club that understands the language of Money and its power. While PM Singh has talked about reciprocity in relations with US based on recent tensions, the US may discover what this means in real terms, optics and semantics be damned. Pakistan has to quickly decide who is running that country, setting its policy and implementing decisions. Using terror as an asymmetric instrument of negotiation simply will not work because Modi is a very clever tactician, very capable of exploiting the smallest vulnerability and adroitly using the same force that targets him to destroy an opponent. To come from a lower middle class family and go from selling Tea at a roadside stall to becoming an PM aspirant needs energy, hard work, motivation, focus and ambition. If he can transfer even a fraction of the confidence and motivation he possesses to citizens, a transformational change could be in the offing. “India first, everything else second” is spelt boldly in his calling card.

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