Modi’s Juggernaut Grinds to a Halt?

India’s election has delivered unexpected outcomes, especially for the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Jinnah Institute reached out to experts to solicit their expectations from the election, and whether it can open up space for positive engagement between India and Pakistan.

Sherry Rehman
President, Jinnah Institute

The obvious question being asked in Islamabad is in context of external policy change, and that may not necessarily be the next big thing in India’s playbook. Will Modi’s setback make him focus a little more on stabilising the region and seeking peace with Pakistan? That will depend on a huge shift in narrative and although brand Modi is down, it is not out. In fact, policy to Pakistan may become an “external” factor to rally real domestic losses. The fact of the matter is that Pakistan featured way more heavily in the Modi campaign than India ever does now in a Pakistan election. This despite all the talk that the Indian  focus is now on the Indo Pacific region and Pakistan has little relevance in the bigger game New Delhi seeks to play. Given this context, Islamabad has no reason to expect rational motivation for peace or normalisation in changing the ambitions of a reduced rightist mandate in New Delhi. Nor can Islamabad respond unilaterally to unfreeze the longest and most dangerous policy stalemate between two nuclear neighbours.

Why did Modi lose? The BJP lost because it was tone deaf to unemployment, inequality and local economic distress, not to mention the violent and state sponsored weaponization of hate embedded in an exclusivist Hindu extremist agenda. UP state is an example, often known as the gateway to Indian poll majorities, where identity politics has had a strong negative impact on BJP’s defeat in this populous state.

Has India changed existentially after this election? It is too early to say. The next upcoming state elections should be watched before any conclusive pronouncements on the changing “idea of India” and its place in the pendulum of populist and liberal politics. Will its default mode revert to democracy in its Nehruvian form or will it continue its headlong rush to a Hindu rashtra? These binaries may at this time be the wrong questions to ask. Perhaps more relevant may be the new middle or centre of political gravity that India finds in its shifting demographic quicksand.

Amb. Aziz Ahmad Khan
Former High Commissioner to India

The election has surely delivered an upset for the BJP, who had started believing their own propaganda. It was a rather long election campaign, and it was becoming obvious that BJP will not win the kind of overwhelming majority that they had hoped for. The biggest upset they have experienced is in UP, whose Chief Minister Swami Adityanath was positioning himself for a premier slot in the BJP. In my view, this is positive because Swami’s divisive brand of politics was bad news for India overall, and particularly UP’s Muslim population.

This election result is a shot in the arm for the Indian National Congress, who were reduced to a minor party in previous elections, and will find ways to build a new profile. It is also a sign of hope for the other parties that the Indian electorate have rejected the Hindutva agenda, and may still value the idea of a secular democratic India. Voters have shown that their interests lie in bread and butter issues, not communal animosities. 

The election will not deliver any policy change for Pakistan. We have had a strained relationship with them since Article 370, and until there is redressal of this issue, we should see how things pan out. Let the government settle down, formulate their policy position, and only then can we determine ours.

Amb. Aizaz Chaudhry
Former Foreign Secretary

The BJP led by Narendra Modi was expecting a landslide victory of 400 seats. Ab ki bar, chaar so par. In order to reach that target, Modi unleashed an unprecedented hate speech targeting Congress, Indian Muslims, and Pakistan. It turns out that Indian voters were not impressed. Not winning even a simple majority is a setback for his party, though the BJP led coalition, NDA, will be able to form a government, giving Modi a third term.

The BJP will try to figure out what went wrong. Unemployment, rising inflation, vertical inequalities, and his relentless push to move India away from its secular moorings seem to have influenced the voting patterns.  Congress has made electoral gains, but it is still far behind the BJP’s vote tally. Regional parties have also made gains. In his third term, one would expect some check on Modi’s ambitious and rash drive towards Hindutva driven agenda in Indian politics.

Modi’s approach towards Pakistan is not likely to change in essence, but he might be more amenable for limited bilateral contact. On the Indian held Kashmir, he is likely to continue his policies.

Lt. Gen. Isfandiyar Pataudi
Director General ISI

The election result has brought about interesting outcomes. The post-NDA government will have more of an internal focus, and possibly more inclusive politics, owing to the presence of Indian National Congress and Samajwadi Party representatives in government.

The challenge for the BJP will be to rebrand a fascist-themed party into one that is softer, but still sufficiently nationalist. This may even require bringing forth a charismatic younger leader from within or outside Modi’s inner circle. The BJP’s best known electables have lost Modi his 400 plus victory in this election.  

Confrontation with Pakistan will still remain a feature of Indian foreign policy, but internally, there is likely to be a softening of the clampdown in Kashmir. India will not let up patronage of proxies across the border in Afghanistan, and will continue to stoke trouble in Balochistan.