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The Negative Nuclear Signaling and Anti-Pakistan Rhetoric in India’s Elections

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The Indian General Election 2019 that was held in seven phases between April and May reportedly involved 900 million voters to cast their votes, making it world’s largest democratic exercise. As predicted by analysts around the world, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), an extremist right wing Hindu nationalist party won the election. The landslide victory of BJP was based on many domestic and external factors, out of which the ‘negative signaling’ of the BJP leadership against Pakistan during the whole election campaign played a crucial role. In this regard the BJP has a history of spreading hatred against Pakistan during election campaigns for achieving the desired electoral results. Against the backdrop of the February 2019 escalation between India and Pakistan the BJP’s election campaign was largely based on negative signaling and repeatedly playing the ‘Anti-Pakistan Card’. The hatred against Pakistan has worked in favor of the BJP’s extremist agenda as the party has now formed its government, with Narendra Modi elected as the Prime Minister of India for second consecutive term.

The anti-Pakistan card and the controversial Hindutva rhetoric have always as remained trump cards for BJP’s electoral politics. In the recent election they proved as a decisive factor in securing a landslide victory for the BJP. The first term of Prime-Minister Modi has been widely criticized within India on economic grounds as reportedly it had reportedly failed to provide the promised employment to youth and relief for the farmers. Furthermore, the government was also accused of corruption charges in various defence deals with other countries. On the basis of these issues the ruling BJP was facing some of the worst criticism it has faced and it was widely believed that the party might not come up with a strong position to form a government for second consecutive term.

Aspiring to change public opinion and exploit public sentiments, Prime Minister Modi and the ruling BJP were left with no choice but to intentionally create ‘war hysteria’ against Pakistan. During election rallies Prime Minister Narendra Modi confessed that he wanted to take revenge from Pakistan, and for that purpose had given a free hand to the Indian military for responding to the Pulwama suicide attack.In the same vein the Modi government had also politicized nuclear weapons by getting itself involved in negative nuclear signaling. For instance, while at a rally on21st April 2019Mr. Mod iplayed with public sentiments by blaming Pakistan for threatening India with nuclear weapons and asked the crowd “whether India had saved these weapons for Diwali”. He also threatened Pakistan with India’s purported development of a thermonuclear bomb citing it as the ‘mother of nuclear bombs’.

Based on such negative nuclear signaling, Mr. Modi tried to assert that India is no longer afraid of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. India’s conventional and unconventional military modernization programs have made it capable enough to maintain the threat of carrying out nuclear attacks on targets across land, sea, air and in space.

Against the backdrop of the self-proclaimed Balakot aerial strikes by India, other top leaders of the BJP were also involved in negative signaling vis-à-vis Pakistan during its election campaign. In this regard the statement of party president Amit Shah is also evidence of the BJP electoral strategy in which he called on the Indian public to “choose a prime minister who can give a befitting reply to Pakistan”. Another BJP leader and chief minister of Gujrat, Vijay Rupani went as far as associating the Indian National Congress (main opponent of BJP) with Pakistan and asserted that “if Congress wins the election by mistake, then Diwali will be celebrated in Pakistan”. The hype which Modi and other BJP leaders had created in order to shape the public opinion in favor of them has likely impacted Mr. Modi’s bid for becoming the prime minister of India for second time.

This impact is also evident in one of the surveys conducted by an Indian poll agency ‘C-Voters State of Nation Tracker’ soon after the dangerous escalations which could have resulted into an all-out nuclear war between India and Pakistan. According to the survey report Mr. Modi’s approval ratings which were at just 32 percent in January 2019 reached an incredible figure of 63 percent by March 2019. While during the same time period his main opponent, Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi’s ratings went down to just 8 percent. The negative signaling which the BJP leadership had adopted soon after the Pulwama attacks and the escalations in its response had thus clearly worked in favor of the BJP’s political agenda.

Hence, at the present the election results show that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has managed to secure 353 seats out of 543 seats of parliament. It could be assumed that Mr. Modi has succeeded in achieving his short-term political goal by shaping public opinion in favor of his party through exploitation of anti-Pakistan rhetoric specifically by leveraging the threat of nuclear war during his re-election campaign. He has used negative nuclear signaling and hatred against Pakistan as a tool to achieve his pre-determined political goals. By doing so he has secured a remarkable victory in the recent elections. However, he has done so by adversely affecting the strategic stability of the region which is likely to become even more fragile over the long-run.     

Haris Bilal Malik is working as a Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) Islamabad.

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South Asia

Accusations to Acknowledgement: The Battle of Article 63 A

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The weather is heating up. As the May is ending, Political temperatures are soaring. The fate regarding the country’s political and economic stability will be measured in the upcoming days. Earlier, PDM built momentum by taking on institutions. Maryam Nawaz raised the temperature by targeting key personalities and institutions. Allegations were bursting against the institutions in all dimensions. Today, we witness reversal of roles. Accusations have been outflowing in every Jalsa by PTI. But now suddenly, the “accusations” turned into “acknowledgment”. “Complaints” started transforming into “Compliments”. Is it the change of narrative? Is it another U-turn? Or is it the restoration of confidence in the institutions? Where will this chaos end?

The Supreme Court’s “decision” or as they say “opinion” or “binding” on Article 63 A has raised some pertinent questions on the status of CM Punjab election? In the interpretation of Article 63 A of the constitution, the Supreme court categorically condemns the practice of horse trading by calling it “a cancer afflicting the body politic”. Supreme Court in its decision of 3-2 rejected the vote count of these dissident members against the party directives. So the future of the Chief Executive of Punjab is now under threat because it is contrary to what happened in National Assembly. The political instability continues and the situation is messy.

In light of this verdict, Hamza has a support of 172 MPAs in Punjab assembly but at the same time, he also has 4 dissenting members which draws the figure to 168. Now further moving ahead, PTI and alliance also has a collective figure of 168 votes minus 21 dissenting members. The situation here in Punjab is way too complex now. A support of 186 members is required for a clear majority in Punjab assembly to formulate a government. This current Punjab government can either fall through a governor led vote of no confidence or a Supreme court order. The governor even has a right to dissolve the assembly with his discretionary powers according to Article 112 (2) of the constitution. Supreme Court has already made its decision on cross voting against Party fiat.  Now legal experts are interpreting the decision in their own dictionaries. What will happen in Punjab? What will happen on the federal level? Will there be an election call? If so, what will be the care taker setup? Will there be a fresh mandate? Who will make the hard economic decisions?  Lot needs to be answered in these crucial times.

From “My judges disappointed me” to “Thankyou Supreme Court”, a lot has happened and a lot is ready to take place. Islamabad is full of gossips, interpretations, whispers and predictions these days. There is something seething under this political turmoil. The Red zone is under a lot of pressure whether politically or economically. Pre – Elections, Elections and then Post elections, we have a lot of consequences of a lot of hard decisions. But hard decisions need to be taken. Question is who is ready to make the hard choices? Be Afraid!!

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The sizzling “Political Matrix”; What will happen now?

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Politics in Pakistan is unfortunately leaving scars that will fade away not that easily. Islamabad today is wrapped in thick political clouds since past few weeks. These last few weeks have altered all assumptions and calculations in the national political matrix.  While the political landscape today is sizzling with intensity, aggression and strain the economy is shattering every day.  Who is to blame for? What will happen now? And will sanity prevail?

The entire edifice of the “conspiracy mantra” which even made PTI commit violation of the constitution stands demolished today. It was one of the worst advices Imran khan could ever get from his party among the list of many others. Sadly he made his entire politics captive to this conspiracy myth.  But today no one questions them on the impact it had on our foreign policy. US today feels betrayed, Saudis not ready to give aid, Chinese worried about their stakes and it continues.  So diplomatically this conspiracy mantra has damaged Pakistan like anything.

Imran Khan’s followers see nothing wrong in what he says and what he does. They absolutely reject all the facts, all the logics and embrace the rhetoric which is fuelling more today with a greater intensity. Imran khan is leading this campaign more aggressively. Khan very well knows that bringing large crowds to Islamabad will have an impact only if there is some kind of aggression.  The leaders on different occasions already hinted towards an aggressive March. He very well realizes that the figure of 2.5 Million is unrealistic but keeping in view the size of Islamabad, 0.1 Million crowd will even be perceived as a bigger crowd. So can he force the early elections at this stage? How will the government react to it? For instance let’s accept this narrative that the pressure of crowd aids PTI in getting an early election call and PTI wins it. So now what next? How will you deal with the mighty US? The economy is already sinking. You need aid to feed it but no one is providing you that. Then how will you stop dollar from going above 200? How will you provide relief from the soaring fuel prices when you won’t have money for a subsidy even? Forget about one lakh jobs and 50 lakh houses.

From the past few weeks we haven’t heard any PTI leader telling any economic plan or any diplomatic plan to revive relations. How will you deal with the IFI’s, World Bank & IMF when they’re all US controlled and as per your narrative you won’t accept “Amreeka ki Ghulami” or USA’s dictatorship.

So now what options the present regime has? The government would of course like to stop this building dangerous momentum of “Azadi March”. They would not like any big clash in Islamabad which results in bigger mess and chaos. The PDM government also has a much bigger fish to deal with, the same sinking economy. They came into power with this narrative to fix economy as former Premiere was unable to do it.  The key cabinet members made more than two different official visits.  The instructions are coming from London today as a decisive power so who will run the government? Who will run the system? Will the IMF aid? What will be the upcoming budget about? This upcoming budget is a bigger risk for this government along with an already announced to Long march call. Khan has already played a dangerous narrative especially with the blame of another conspiracy being made about his Life.   

The stakes, the narrative and the politics of every party is at risk today.  But above that, Pakistan is at risk. The dread is in the air. The end of May will be heated ferociously in Islamabad, whether politically or meteorologically.

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Sri Lankan economic crisis and the China factor

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After the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is the sole member of the United National Party (UNP), was sworn in as Sri Lankan Prime Minister on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Wickremesinghe will be holding the position of Sri Lankan PM for the sixth time. While the new Sri Lankan PM is a seasoned administrator, the task of restoring even a modicum of normalcy to the island nation’s economy, which is currently facing its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948 seems to be a Herculean task (Wickremesinghe has clearly indicated, that his first task will be ensuring the supply of electricity, diesel and petrol to the people).

 The grave economic crisis, which has resulted in acute shortage of food and essential commodities have brought ordinary people on the roads and demonstrations have resulted in violence and loss of lives (the Sri Lankan President had to declare a state of emergency twice first last month and then earlier this month). There had been a growing clamor for the resignation by President Gottabaya Rajapaksa but Wickremesinghe was sworn in after the exit of Mahinda Rajapaksa (protests have been carrying on even after the swearing in of Wickremesinghe)

During his previous tenure, Wickremesinghe had tried to reduce Sri Lanka’s dependence upon China, and in his current tenure he will be compelled to do the same. He had also been critical of the previous government for not approaching the IMF for assistance (Wickremesinghe has been repeatedly accused of being pro-west and having neoliberal leanings by many of his political opponents).

It would be pertinent to point out, that the PM had also batted for a coordinated regional response, by SAARC vis-à-vis the covid19 pandemic. The new Sri Lankan PM has also been an ardent advocate of improving ties with India.

While it is true, that Sri Lanka finds itself in the current situation due to economic mismanagement and excessive dependence upon the tourism sector (which faced a severe setback as a result of covid 19), it is tough to overlook the level of debts piled vis-à-vis China, and the fact that the Island nation was following China’s model of economic growth with a focus on big ticket infrastructure projects.

Another South Asian nation — Pakistan which witnessed a change last month where Shehbaz Sharif took over as Prime Minister, replacing Imran Khan, also faces daunting economic challenges.  Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves were estimated to be a little over $ 10 billion on May 6, 2022 and the Pakistani Rupee fell to its all time low versus the US Dollar on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Shehbaz Sharif ever since taking over as PM has repeatedly reiterated the importance of Pakistan’s ties with China and the Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto in a conversation with his Chinese counterpart alluded to the same, with Pakistan’s Foreign office in a statement released after the conversation between Bhutto and Wang Yi said:

 “underscored his determination to inject fresh momentum in the bilateral strategic cooperative partnership and add new avenues to practical cooperation”.

 Yet, China has categorically said that it will not provide any financial assistance until Pakistan resumes the IMF aid program. Pakistan has been compelled to look at other alternatives such as Saudi Arabia and UAE, which have also said that without the revival of the IMF program aid will not be possible. Only recently, Chinese power companies functioning under the umbrella of the China Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC) have threatened to shut down their operations if their dues (to the tune of 1.59 billion USD) are not cleared. China had also reacted very strongly to the terror attack on Karachi University in which three Chinese teachers lost their lives, this is the second such attack after 2021. China in recent years had also indicated to Pakistan, that it was not happy with the progress of the China Pakistan Economic (CPEC) project. The current government in Pakistan has repeatedly pointed to this fact.

One point which is abundantly clear from the economic crisis in Sri Lanka as well as the challenges which Pakistan is facing is that excessive dependence upon China has disastrous consequences in the long run. If one were to look at the case of South Asia, Bangladesh has been astute by not being excessively dependent upon China – it has maintained robust economic relations with India and Japan. Given the changing economic situation it is becoming increasingly important for developing countries, especially in South Asia, to join hands to confront the mounting challenges posed by excessive dependency upon China. US, Japan and western multilateral bodies and financial institutions need to find common ground and provide developing countries with an alternative economic narrative. It is also time for India along with other countries in the South Asian region to find common ground and focus on robust economic cooperation.

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