KARACHI: There were four main takeaways from a talk given by Dr Lawrence Saez, professor in the political economy of Asia at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, on ‘The 2014 Indian elections and their impact on the region’ at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs on Tuesday.
Firstly, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014 Indian elections refashioned itself to become more mainstream and not cater to only its core nationalist constituency.
Dr Saez backed this point by saying that when he studied and compared the manifestos of the party during the recent elections and the earlier ones he found that the BJP had proposed policies for instance on poverty alleviation, the elderly, which they had, previously, not touched upon. “The BJP is trying to broaden its support base by appeasing non-Hindutva supporters. They are trying to appeal to the urban, young and poor constituencies.”
He cited the example of Uttar Pradesh, the largest state of India, which was previously dominated by caste-based parties but in recent elections people of the state massively voted for the BJP. “If Modi is intelligent, he will continue with this broad-based support. And I foresee the BJP becoming more centre-right which is a cause for optimism.”
Secondly, he opined that India is a regional hegemon, a reality which its neighbours may find hard to digest, nevertheless, India has to assert itself in the region for successful regional cooperation. He substantiated this statement by citing the BJP manifesto which had one page on foreign policy and had the dictum, “Nation first. Universal Brotherhood”.
According to the political science professor, when Modi talks about foreign policy he is referring to the three Ts: trade, technology and tourism. This he felt was a key change brought forth by the more mainstream BJP.
Referring to regional cooperation, he said that it could be broken down to two scenarios — some succeed and some don’t. “The condition under which it can succeed is when you have regional players that have equal power and each player’s viewpoint is given equal weightage. Another condition is when a regional power is much stronger than its neighbours and wants to exercise leadership.”
Dr Saez felt that India enjoyed this position because of its population and military strength and hence could exercise leadership. “I know this may not go down well by its neighbours but it is the only way.”
Thirdly, India can never become a global power even though it has such aspirations. Dr Saez said that other than its internal challenges, China posed a serious threat to India which would be played out in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea with Sri Lanka as a main ally to China. “China has been heavily involved in the infrastructural development of Sri Lanka following the civil war. Recently Sri Lanka allowed a Chinese submarine to dock at its port despite India’s misgivings.”
India and China will challenge each other at sea and this rivalry between the two, the professor thought, will escalate.
Finally, if the focus of the India-Pakistan relationship centres around trade, tourism and technology and there is easing of visa restrictions then it can facilitate trade and investment across the border and this upsurge can be beneficial to both.
However, Dr Saez highlighted another T, standing for terrorism, that posed the biggest challenge between the two countries. Linking it to Afghanistan, Dr Saez said, “Should the situation in Afghanistan deteriorate that may affect Pakistan which in some way works its way to India, then it will completely undermine the relations.”
Sounding a pessimistic note, the political scientist added, “India was restrained when the attacks on the Indian parliament and Mumbai took place. If anything similar happens Modi will act differently. Modi is very decisive and can be retaliatory.”
Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2014