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.

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