A Modi Second Win Dampens Struggle For India’s Soul

“Suits us,” said the defense expert. Modi reminds me of The Thorn Bird.

IRSHAD SALIM — A feat not achieved for decades in India, Narendra Modi’s party BJP is winning a commanding parliamentary majority for the second time in a row– his graduation from ‘Butcher of Gujrat’ to ‘India’s Chowkidar’ over the years has been a mixed bag of love-hate and blow hot and cold though, within and outside the hemisphere, including the country’s two most important neighbors Pakistan and China.

“Congratulations to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP party on their BIG election victory! Great things are in store for the US-India partnership with the return of PM Modi at the helm. I look forward to continuing our important work together!”, tweeted President Donald Trump Thursday evening– US and India defense sales are at an all time high.

Earlier that same day, Russian president Vladimir Putin congratulated Modi in the morning, beating Trump by few hours. Russia is India’s traditional arms supplier and awaits decision on the multi-billion dollar S-400 Missile Defense Systems– a possible sale Trump is not too all happy about.

Premier Imran Khan’s wait may be over– he has been saying ‘let’s wait for India’s election results’ ever since he came to power and followed it up with a peace overture to Modi which was brushed aside. Mr. Khan on Thursday also congratulated Modi. He also looks forward to a transaction (a priceless one though) for a possible durable deal on Kashmir– the K-word is not whispered in India’s South Block though. Whether it would be from Modi a worrier or Modi a peacemaker, or Modi shall continue as India’s ‘Watchman’ (Chowkidar), only Modi has to decide.

Many Indians see their 54-inch chested leader as a nationalist icon. Modi has confronted China, nearly gone to war with Pakistan and brought India closer to the U.S while maintaining strong relationship with erstwhile non-aligned decades-old ally Russia. How deftly he manages to bring closure (if he wants) to some of the irritants he has been harboring as trump cards to politic for populist votes, has to be seen– now that the polls are over. But a trend has already been set: national security, border and immigrants are Modi’s new Apps akin to President Trump’s.

Modi has been able to create a hype against Pakistan and at the same time driven a wedge within secular India: collateral damage has been the creeping marginalization of minorities in the country, specially of the Muslims.

From the lede, India to many observers is on the brink of re-birth as a Hindutva ideological state next to Muslim Pakistan.

“Today in India, Jinnah’s Two Nation Theory won by a landslide,” wrote renowned Pakistani columnist Nadeem F Paracha (NFP) on social media.

How the asymmetry will play out is not easy to predict– there’s no hedgehog to look for, except predictability itself.

A senior defense expert in Pakistan said, “Minorities, specially Muslims should buckle up.”

“He is a true politician and has played his cards extremely well…,” said another senior Pakistani defense expert (based in the Middle East) on condition of anonymity.

According to Mr. Khaled Almaeena, an icon in the Middle East media,
“I do hope extremism will not spread further and fascist tendencies  prevail. India can never progress in any manner if caste and creed are more important than citizenship. Self appointed  Hindutva leaders will deface the beautiful face of  secular India. Already Indian image has been battered.”

India’s minorities fear return of Modi. So do many Pakistanis and their compatriots overseas. The two countries have gone to war three times over Kashmir and almost one in February/March. (But) “I think he will be able to take bold decisions,” said one Pakistani diplomat based in Saudi Arabia.

There are apprehensions though. A senior Pakistani civil service officer said on condition of anonymity that Modi’s second win will have disturbing effect in the region. “Not good,” she added.

Syed Rashid Husain, an energy expert based in Toronto sees Modi’s win as an end of Nehruvian India– a view many are writing about since Modi’s foray in national politics as PM in 2014.

“The India that you and me knew, a democratic India, with traditions, past and history. A secular India that belonged to everyone. The all inclusive India is gone. Modi ji has won and India, of Gandhi, Nehru and Azad has lost. On another note, right wingers when inducted into power, have led to chaos, division and disaster. We have experienced it, now it is India’s turn. India has given in to the macho psyche. In the longer run macho men seed division in a society. Ayub, Zia, Putin, Trump, Bibi, all are examples of this psyche. Modi and Ondia has joined the group. People think of them as saviors. They turn out to be disaster. A new, divided, right wing India is on the horizon.”

May be so. “The results indicate, in part, that the ideology of Hindutva and strong national security-centered rhetoric can be a winning combination,’ said Michael Kugelman, Deputy director Asia Program and South Asia senior associate The Wilson Center.

According to Kugelman, there are echoes of Trump in Modi’s politics. Like President Trump, PM Modi has focused on borders to shape a particular vision of India’s future, he said.

BBC reported that Indian officials have begun holding “foreigner tribunals” to hear contested cases – much like the immigration court hearings under President Donald Trump at the US-Mexico border – while the draft list is being finalized to meet a 31 July deadline mandated by the Supreme Court.

While the initial euphoria according to the Pakistan-based defense expert, will propel Indian markets and economy, “but as the time passes ground realities will start to bite in,” he said. 

“If the previous 5 years are to be the litmus, India will be more polarized, minorities will be marginalized, nationalism and hate crimes will rise,” the expert added.

He maintained that with growing economic muscle and western embrace, India will become more belligerent, a real challenge for Pakistan and the region. “The only way forward for Pakistan is to put its own house in order,” he added. “An economically stable Pakistan with viable armed forces is the only option for Pakistan,” was his conclusion.

Some looked at Modi win through political lens.

Waseem Sajid, a young Pakistani professional in Riyadh (supports secular PPP party in his country) pointed out that the polls results also indicate “there is no space for the left wingers and the progressives in India.”

“Hope we remember the US ban on his entry…I would say, investors won and legacy lost…”

Sajid also alluded to reports of nationalists (led by Modi’s BJP) stage-managing poll results. Modi’s arch rival Rahul Gandhi of Congress while accepting defeat, angrily tweeted on Thursday.

“From Electoral Bonds & EVMs to manipulating the election schedule, NaMo TV, “Modi’s Army” & now the drama in Kedarnath; the Election Commission’s capitulation before Mr Modi & his gang is obvious to all Indians.”

India’s Election Commission (EC) charged with upholding the guidelines governing the world’s largest democratic exercise, has come under fire for being nothing more than a “toothless tiger”.

“The EC used to be feared & respected. Not anymore,” Gandhi added.

A Pakistan professional and entrepreneur in KSA Mr. Shahzad thought it’s (Modi win) is a “Classic example of social engineering tool applied and executed to get predictable outcome.” He believes social engineering is at work globally.

Some also drew comparisons between waning dynastic politics on both sides of the border.

India and Pakistan were partitioned in 1947 as the British empire was hitting colonial sunset rule but its legacies and norms still exist in both warring neighbors polity.

Shan Tasser tweeted: “A BJP victory is a message to the Gandhi’s, the Bhutto’s and the Sharif”s to resign and make way for genuine progressive politics. Dynastic politics must end in India and Pakistan as it should in any mature democracy.”

On being asked to comment on Modi’s second win, Mr. Khawaja, a die-hard PML-N supporter quipped: “I am sure (PM) Imran must be delighted. The results are ditto according to his desire.” 

Nevertheless, Modi’s second win was “expected” and (is) “good for Pakistan, said Mr. Hamza Gilani, a senior official in the government. “His policies though are anti-Pakistan, but they are clear, and well defined,” he said. “Easy enemy to deal with.”

Several observers had said earlier that Modi’s second win will do to India what The Economist recently indicated: ‘struggle for India’s soul” and “a threat to democracy“.

“Suits us,” the defense expert said. Modi win reminds me of The Thorn Birds.

(The author is a business consultant, analyst, and Editor-in-Chief of PKonweb and DesPardes– presently based in Islamabad)