Modi’s Return to Power: Consequences For Pakistan

By Ashir Wilson

The results of Lok Sabha Elections 2019 prove the growing popularity of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) in India. As BJP swept their opponents off their feet by securing over 350 seats out of 543, political commentators marked the win a result of national security narrative, strongly built by Prime Minister Modi in his last term of 5 years. A major part of this narrative has been built on an aggressive foreign policy towards Pakistan. Hence, with his return to power, it is pertinent to question the future of Modi’s hawkish policy. While many view a continuation of aggressive nationalist stance, there are key factors that would divert Modi towards regional peace and stability.

Economy and national security are two major pillars of Modi’s political manifesto. The economic strength of Gujrat during his tenure was a major source of his victory as the Prime Minister of India in 2014 elections. During political campaigning for 2014 elections, he promised a notable rise in the Indian economy. Hence, his performance was gauged mainly on economic parameters. Figures imply that in the last five years, the average annual GDP growth rate in India was around 7 percent. Government policies to provide firms with easy construction permits and a smooth process of paying taxes improved the ease of doing businesses in India. Yet, with the highest ever 6.1 percent unemployment rate, poor infrastructural development, and low crop prices resulting in farmers’ suicides, Modi could not rely on economy alone during the 2019 elections and had to play up using the other tool in its armor.

The second tool Modi used to strengthen his standing in public was nationalism, strongly tilted toward the notion of Hindutva. The aggressive foreign policy measures against Pakistan was an extension of this policy. It includes surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LOC) in 2016 and refusal to visit Pakistan to participate in the SAARC summit the same year. Regular violation of LOC and the growing human rights violation in Kashmir were justified by the BJP government using the same nationalist rhetoric. Right before the 2019 Elections, Indian government fueled the tension at LOC by accusing Pakistan of involvement in Pulwama incident and responding with an attack in Balakot. Despite clear proofs against it, BJP and Modi used the claims of destruction of militant camps in Pakistan for political campaigning during 2019 Elections.


Now as the BJP strategy of using national security rhetoric to cover up shortcomings in economic policy has been successful, many commentators have predicted the intensification of Indo-Pak rivalry. History suggests that things can get flared up between the two nuclear powers. Some fears that India would try to isolate Pakistan using diplomatic pressures. Nevertheless, tables can turn. The internal criticism of Modi’s hawkish policies and growing economic concerns might make Modi go for a rather moderate approach towards Pakistan.

During the 2019 election campaign, the criticism over growing unemployment has been resonant in most of the debates. The economic reports show that despite a significant increase in the economic growth rate, the Modi government was not able to create enough jobs for its people. Sixty percent of the Indian population falls in the working age category. A large number of young people, who make their way into the Indian job market every year, can become active and strong opposition for the government. No government can afford to adventure at the border when there are serious internal issues to resolve.

In addition, while BJP government has initiated some good projects like clean India, there is still much left to be done. Digitization of India and the creation of smart cities is among the many projects in the pipeline for two or three years. Since such projects are important for job creation, Modi should cut its spending on defense and invest in such development projects on a priority basis.

There is also growing criticism of PM Modi’s rhetoric of national security, especially the anti-Pakistan narrative and consequent actions. The criticism intensified after the government of Pakistan released arrested Indian pilot as a peace gesture. This criticism not only came from the political enclaves but also from civil society. There were some murmured voices from international community as well. Continuation of this policy in future can make these voices louder and can tarnish Modi’s legacy.