M Saeed Khalid
The Indian general election 2019 could prove to be highly consequential in some ways. The BJP’s clear victory shows that it pays to play on the Indian masses’ insecurities by promising a Hindu India after a thousand years of non-Hindu rule.
The world’s second largest nation and a rising economic and military power can still be shown as vulnerable in the face of a much smaller power. Pakistan-phobia can be a sure winner if the party in power can also conjure a clear and present danger in the form of a terrorist attack as was done by ‘Chowkidar’ Modi a few weeks before the election. The Indian people had no way of verifying the Modi government’s claim of killing 300 terrorists in a ‘surgical strike’ inside Pakistan. It has been argued that truth and reason were the great casualties in the election campaign. The opposition parties which questioned the dubious Pulwama attack were accused by Modi of speaking the enemy’s language at a time of a contrived warlike situation. All that remains to be done now is Modi’s self-confession to thank Pakistan as the perfect alibi to play up the great threat to India’s security and thus annihilate the motley opposition for some time. The ruling party’s failure to fulfill its election promises from the 2014 election were swept under the rug to capitalize on an agenda of hate and warmongering.
The BJP leaders have described their victory as a clear repudiation of the vision of a secular India, upheld by the founding fathers. Gandhi’s assassin, Godse is being rehabilitated as a hero. Modi has swiftly moved to assign the home ministry to Amit Shah, his longtime associate from Gujarat and a partner in crimes against the Muslims in that state for years. That should leave little doubt about their intentions to demonize India’s Muslims as remnants of foreign invaders or converts from the Hindu faith. India’s other great minority, the Dalits, also fear the BJP’s wrath to treat them as second-rate citizens. Shah can be expected to carry forward the exclusionary tactics against the Muslim migrants in the states of Assam and Tripura.
What is particularly worrisome is how the Indian rulers plan to act towards Pakistan in the months and years ahead. It is easy to affirm that if the BJP pursues its three-pronged agenda of persecuting Indian Muslims, subjugating the Kashmiris with state terror, and isolating Pakistan in the region and beyond, there is no hope in any uptick in Pakistan-India relations. If these premises are valid, what good can come from Pakistan’s untiring calls for peaceful resolution of disputes – and hence the resumption of the long-suspended bilateral dialogue between the two nations?
Pakistan’s repeated calls for a resumption of the dialogue process have been spurned by India on the pretext of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in IOK. Modi went a step further by threatening to pay Pakistan in the same manner in Balochistan. The two ex-spymasters, Durrani and Dulat, may be right in suggesting a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute as there can be no military solution. Modi’s first term, however, was marked by heightened repression in Kashmir. To keep asking for a dialogue when the other side refuses to come down from its high horse sounds illogical if not embarrassing. The PTI leadership should appreciate that as seen in the Indian election campaign, Pakistan has only one use for the BJP – that of a whipping boy – and there must be some very strong reasons for them to tone down hostility towards this country. Capitals like Washington, Beijing, Moscow and Riyadh are ready to woo India to lower tensions in the Subcontinent in a warlike situation but gone are the days when the US could persuade India to engage with Pakistan, a front-line state in the’ war on terror’. There could be a little window of opportunity if – only if – the BJP think tank feels that its short-term objectives have been achieved and the opposition is badly hurt to pose a challenge in the immediate future. It can talk of Hindu-Muslim harmony as Modi did on the first day in the lower house.
However, to move from there to show a modicum of reason, for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute by engaging Pakistan would amount to a major shift of the Hindutva brigade’s mindset.
India’s new foreign minister, S Jaishankar will probably be no different from his father K Subrahmanyam – an arch hawk and a great proponent of India’s military intervention in East Pakistan. He remained an influential voice in Indian security affairs for decades and was known as the premier ideological champion of India’s nuclear weapon programme. Jaishankar, a former foreign secretary and ambassador to Beijing and Washington has a stellar career. He contributed to the negotiation of the Indo-US civil nuclear treaty. Jaishankar played a major role in improving trade and cultural relations with China. He persistently advocated deeper cooperation with China as long as India’s “core interests” were respected. In order to visualize the future trajectory of India’s relations with Pakistan, it is important to find an answer to a fundamental question: how far is the BJP prepared to go in pursuance of its core agenda of Hindu domination of India’s two hundred million Muslims? And whether the party will keep following its militaristic approach to the political and human rights problems in occupied Kashmir, and remain in denial of the 70-year old dispute which needs a peaceful settlement. Ultimately, whether Modi can break free from an avowed exclusionary agenda, and actually move towards lowering inter-communal tensions during his second five-year term.