Indian elections: Modi reloaded? | Editorial

The mainstream perception in India notwithstanding, there is little visible interest in Pakistan in following Indian elections. Despite the recent worsening of relations between the two countries, even a superficial glance at media reveals that faced with myriad internal challenges, Pakistanis are least concerned about the electoral calculus in India beyond the major outcome. All they wish to know is the nature of the next government and its policy vis-à-vis Pakistan.
The regular Pakistani, satisfied with the ban on exhibition of Indian films in cinemas and the dismal response in international media to India’s claims of killing 300 terrorists in Balakot is indifferent to the phenomenon that is Indian elections. Concerns for a living are clearly more important than keeping media tabs on India and its elections.
And yet India’s elections are a fascinating study for those interested in politics, patterns of a huge voting bloc, the way voters are influenced, and the dynamics that can change the face of the country, in this case the largest democracy in the world. The results of the seven-phase elections will be announced on May 23, the day 1.3 billion Indians wait for with varying expectations and mixed emotions. The sheer numbers involved are staggering. In the run for 543 seats of Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, are thousands of candidates from 2,354 registered parties in 29 states and seven federally-administered territories, 900 million voters, one million polling stations and 2.3 million electronic voting machines.
Most of the exit polls place Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bhartaya Janata Party as the forerunner, with no opposition party including Rahul Gandhi-headed Indian National Congress even a close contender. Despite claims by major opposition party leaders about an anti-Modi wave in India most analysts are betting on Modi emerging as the clear winner.
In 2014, the BJP, had stunned its opponents and detractors, and observers of Indian elections in the region and across the globe, by bagging the biggest electoral majority in 30 years, relegating INC to a dismal 44 seats in the Lok Sabha.
As for Pakistan, the completion of Modi’s tenure will be remembered for his government’s frenzied demonization of Pakistan. The terrorist strike in Pulwama and its warlike aftermath in Balakot have been exploited as a major vote-seeking tactic by Modi and his party, especially in Hindutva-dominated constituencies.
In Pakistan, Modi and his outgoing government are viewed in terms of the present non-relationship status of the two countries. In an ideal world, given their geographical closeness and shared culture and history, India and Pakistan should have a relationship based on mutual respect and a willingness to be friends, trade allies and regional partners. Modi’s India for most Pakistanis today is a nationalistic and an intolerant state. Once lauded for upholding pluralism and diversity, it is steeped in hatred, bigotry and fanaticism.
Pakistan’s scepticism and wariness aside, India for its own sake should have voted differently than it did in 2014. India needs to guard its best values. A one-hued party is in no way India’s best chowkidar. *

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