Modi’s landslide victory comes as little surprise; there are celebrations all around as the rightist BJP rips the reins of power. But with that, India’s image as it is projected to the outside world might undergo a complete overhaul—a secular and liberal India could find itself making a transition to an intolerant ‘Hindustan’. Given his track record as an aggressive, pro-Hindutva leader there is a great deal of concern that India, under him, could fall prey to extremism. His role as the Chief Minister of Gujrat during the 2002 riots is heavily criticized as scores of Muslims were butchered by Hindu mobs while his government watched quietly.
In Pakistan, many believe that his anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan stance has helped him earn the populist vote. Through provocative statements and superlative assertions, he has managed to sway public opinion and erode the influence of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty. Another factor that has contributed to the BJP’s current political status is the resolve to usher in a new era of economic development. The markets have been extremely optimistic—given Modi’s track-record in bringing about economic prosperity in Gujrat, with the leading bourse taking a leap of 6% and the national currency jumping to 59 to the US dollar (an 11 month high) as soon as the news of his success came in. Foreign investors have betted heavily on Modi and have brought in more than $16 billion into Indian stocks and bonds in the past 6 months and now have a stake worth almost $280 billion according to Morgan Stanley.
Hence, there is sufficient reason to believe that the Modi administration will be guided more by goals of economic growth than the ambitions expressed in fiery speeches during the election days when setting policies. The BJP’s success may in fact be a good thing for Indo-Pak relations considering that the most progress was made during the party’s tenure at the time of the Vajpayee-Sharif talks and the Agra Summit. With a pro-business party already at the helm of affairs in Pakistan, there is more common ground and it is easier to figure out mutually shared goals. Both governments can focus on improving regional trade ties and bringing about stability.
It is likely that the goals of achieving economic excellence will take precedence as the disappointing performance of the Congress is still fresh in the people’s minds. In part, when voting for Modi the Indian population has also voted for ‘Incredible India’ and ‘the breakout economy’. It is up to the BJP now to prioritize effectively and decide which orientation it will take when it is sworn in. Declaring Pakistan as a source of cross-border terrorism, Kashmir as a non-negotiable issue and denouncing the principle of No First Use against Pakistan as an instrument of its policy should perhaps not be more than symptoms of Election Day fever.
When it comes down to actually running the government, dialogue with Pakistan with an aim to strengthen bi-lateral trade ties and regional stability should top the foreign policy agenda. Toning down its anti-Pakistan rhetoric will be beneficial to the BJP, help establish trust and goodwill and also pave way for resolution of issues that have for long thwarted the development of cordial ties between the two countries. The new government in India must be selfish: for its own sake and the sake of its people, it should understand the importance of looking ahead, focus on finding opportunities and building new bridges if it is to stay true to its vision of making India an economic powerhouse.
By Minahil K.