Modi’s Popularity and What It Could Mean for Pakistan

As India’s general election fast approaches, opinion polls are projecting Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to be considerably ahead of its main rival the Congress Party. According to CVoter and the India Today media group, BJP is set to win 188 seats in the 543 seat parliament, over twice the predicted tally of the Congress Party. At the regional level, BJP is further buoyed by polls showing that it would win the majority share of the vote in key states that usually decide the fate of Indian elections.

According to a survey by pollsters CSDS and the CNN-IBN news channel, BJP is forecast to win 41-49 of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India with a population of 200 million. BJP is also predicted to emerge as the largest group in Bihar, with 16-24 of the state’s 40 seats, and to win well over half of the 48 seats in Maharashtra that is home to India’s financial capital Mumbai. Nevertheless, BJP is set to fall short of the 272 seats required for an outright majority, and this means that the BJP will have to forge messy alliances with regional parties to form a coalition government.

There are three main reasons for BJP’s popularity. First, BJP is led by a charismatic but controversial figure Narendra Modi. To Muslims, Modi is known as the butcher of Gujrat but to others he is regarded as the person who revived the ailing economic fortunes of the Gujrat state. Amongst India’s business elite, Modi is touted as the man who can reverse India’s sluggish economic growth. Second, the Congress Party is tainted by a myriad of corruption scandals, which includes the fraudulent issuing of telecomm licenses and the fiasco over the cost in hosting the Commonwealth games. Third, the Congress Party has no leader to contest the general elections on the same platform as Modi. Rahul Gandhi the heir apparent to the Ghandi family dynasty is viewed by many as politically immature to lead the Congress Party. With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announcing his departure, the Congress Party is rudderless and does not have a credible leader to compete with Modi in the general elections.

So it appears most likely that BJP will win the general election in 2014. So what does this mean for India’s relations with Pakistan? BJP is traditionally close to the Americans. With Senior BJP figures such as Vajpayee, Advani and Rajnath Singh all backing Modi, one can expect a more pro-American influence over Indian politics and relations with Pakistan. America would want India to play a greater role in countering China, as part of Obama’s US to Asia pivot strategy. But a more active role from India requires the country to overcome two obstacles namely: slow economic growth and repositioning of India’s army. India’s economic growth has been further compounded by the emerging markets currency crisis and this makes the stationing of large number of troops in places like Kashmir not only very expensive, but at odds with America’s Asia pivot strategy. For India to meet the demands of supporting American efforts to subdue China, India’s armed forces must be ready to relinquish domestic peace keeping in exchange for an active ovrseas role.

Therefore, one can expect to see the resumption of normalisation between the two countries that leads to some sort of deal on Kashmir. Some political commentators have rebranded the process of normalisation as de hyphenation, which includes transforming the Line of Control (Loc) into a soft border, allowing free movement of people across the border, and jointly administering the key aspect of Kashmir’s economic and foreign policy. Unlike the Congress Party, the BJP is more amiable to a deal on Kashmir. This was amply demonstrated during the era of Musharraf and Vajpayee, but the people were not ready.

Anticipating a change in New Delhi in the not too distant future, Nawaz Sharif has offered to kick-start the normalisation talks. All that is missing is a viable partner on the Indian side to conclude the talks. Will Modi reciprocate? Time will tell.

Written for the Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir by

Abed Mustafah