The 11th of the on going month, just a few days from now, marks the beginning of the world’s largest electoral exercise in the form of Indian General Elections 2019. The polls are very critical not just for Indian citizens but to the entire South Asian region. The regional security security is marred by territorial conflicts, proxy wars and arms race particularly between the two nuclear powers, i.e. Pakistan and India. The clash between the two nations, led to mobilisation of the troops towards the border many times starting from the very year of inception. Though there have been brief periods of detenté between India and Pakistan, the clash of ideologies, which are pretty much embedded in the state structure and public lifestyle, keeps pitching the two nuclear powers against each other intermittently.
The BJP and the INC represent two different sets of thoughts and the clash has become more relevant after India elected Narendra Modi as its prime minister in 2014, the man who allegedly fueled Gujarat riots being the then chief minister of the Indian state. Prime Minister Modi undoubtedly represents the voice of India’s right-wing, which believes in the sanctity of Indian state on religious-nationalist terms. Modi has been an active worker of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organisation of India’s ruling BJP. RSS believes in uniting all the citizens of India upon a single ideology professed by the Hindu religion and this is where it gets complicated as the values of Indian Nationalism projected by RSS differ to a great extent from what the pioneer of Indian National Congress Mahatama Gandhi stood for during the Indian Independence movement.
Natuhram Vinayak Godse, a once active RSS member, killed the father of Indian Independence movement Mahatama Gandhi in 1948 for agreeing to the partition of Bharat Mata. The man, though had split from the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha in 1946 to form his own Hindu Rashtra Dal, is regarded as a hero in the far-right whereas the centre right does not villify him. 2014 saw a boost in Hindu Nationalism in India as Modi rose to power following a landslide victory against Rahul Gandhi’s United Progressive Alliance. Since 2014, Hindu Mahasabha has been attempting rehabilitation of Godse by portraying him as a hero. There were several attempts to build Godse temple and a documentary “DeshBhakt (Patriot) Nathuram Godse” was created by Hindu Mahasabha. The Hindu Mahasabha even requested Prime Minister Modi to install the bust of Godse which shows the strength possessed by the right wing.
Another agenda on card is the rising intolerance that has further deteriorated the already weak secular outlook of the Republic of India. The ban on selling, slaughtering and consuming beef was imposed in 2017 by Modi government. Since 2017, 26 people have been lynched to death on consuming beef by furious Hindu vigilantes. Moreover, 76 percent of a total of 126 attacks by vigilantes on cattle traders, have occurred in the past two years. The ruling NDA (National Democratic Alliance) has paid little heed to the voices protesting against the growing intolerance perhaps because it is the very freedom of the far right Hindu organisations that will help BJP and allies in re-election.
In the episode of crisis that followed February 14 after an attack on Indian CRPF Convoy in Pulwama, the Indian Government successfully created a war-rhetoric among the masses, particularly by influencing the media. The Indian Media portrayed Modi as a war-hero who would ‘punish’ Pakistan for ‘terrorist attack’ in India. Modi’s popularity surged in the recent month and may play a decisive role in determining the outcome of the polls.
Though India’s main issue is unemployment which has gone up to 7.2% in February 2019 from 5% in February 2017, Modi seems to be relying on his Bash-Pakistan and Hindu narrative. The slogan coined by the party for 2019 polls is ‘Chowkidar (Watchman)’, which portrays safety from rampant corruption as well as aggression from the threat posed by the external enemy. BJP’s efforts revolve around appealing the right wing of the country which has become stronger in the recent years.
The biggest determinant of the India-Pakistan relations is Kashmir whose freedom movement is audaciously supported by the Pakistani government and the public. The rivalry between the two nuclear powers boils down to Kashmir, the apple of discord, a crisis whose solution is not in sight at the moment. The only way to move forward towards peace is beginning of dialogue which the Indian government has been turning down time and again. The polls in India beginning from April 11, will decide whether there will be talks in the future.
South Asia’s Future
In the past few years, Indian minorities particularly Muslims, have undergone a swift alienation in the Indian society. The Minorities are committed to Indian identity on the basis of secularism which seems to be fast eroding. The right wing, which is the hope for Modi, believes in Hindu dominance in India, a concept that is detested by minorities. Growing intolerance against minorities is transforming India’s socio-political structure. The outcome of elections 2019 is important for the future of the region for if Modi secures a second term on his Hindutva narrative and Bash-Pakistan rhetoric, the relations between India and Pakistan are projected to deteriorate further.
Despite complete alienation of Kashmiri youth in India, Narendra Modi is not willing to take a turn on his national security policy that aims at suppressing the Kashmiri movement with iron fist. The BJP president Amit Shah has spoken of removing article 370 that gives special autonomous status to Indian Occupied Kashmir in a bid to solve the crisis in the state whereas Rahul Gandhi, the Congress head, aims to maintain special status for states. For regional peace, India needs to adopt a soft stance on Kashmir’s freedom movement, something which Modi cannot afford, as his popularity owes a great deal to the appreciation coming from the right wing.
Indian Elections 2019 will be keenly watched in the entire world as they are important not just for Indian citizens but will determine the future of a nuclearised region. All eyes are on the Indian public to choose between Hindutva and secularism. In terms of the state of economic affairs and employment, Modi might struggle to make it to the Prime Minister’s Office once again but he undoubtedly enjoys the popular support of India’s right wing which has been set free since the former Chief Minister of Gujarat’s rise to power. The recent surveys predict the victory of Modi’s led NDA since his popularity after a showdown with Pakistan is very high and he has been enjoying uninterrupted media coverage for bashing Pakistan. The world’s biggest electoral exercise has a great impact and Islamabad along with others, will be watching it with great interest.