By all accounts, the prime ministerial candidate of Bharatiya Janata Party, Mr Narendra Modi, is a front-runner for the post and there is a distinct possibility that he may become Prime Minister of India in May. Mr Modi owes his rise to the twin factors of a hard-nosed Hindu nationalist political agenda and a pro-development platform which though distinctly pro-industry made a mark as an efficient one.
Mr Modi has been India’s most controversial political leader for more than a decade and opinions on him are sharply divided. People label him either a “mass murderer” or a “development messiah” depending on the perspective from which they are evaluating Mr Modi. There is no denying that opinions on him are so polarised because of the Gujarat riots in 2002 when more than a thousand people were killed in horrific Hindu-Muslim clashes.
With that spectre of Mr Modi, a question has been uppermost in the minds of most: What will be Mr Modi’s foreign policy in regard to India’s neighbours and specifically Pakistan. Will he be as hard-nosed and vitriol-dripping as he has been in the past? During the Kargil conflict in 1999, Mr Modi was asked in a TV show how India should respond to provocations from Islamabad. His answer was: “Chicken biryani nahi, bullet ka jawab bomb se diya jayega”.
[quote]His Pakistan policy would also depend primarily on the nature of his mandate[/quote]
Later, during the communally charged electoral campaign in 2002, Mr Modi routinely accused Muslims in Gujarat of having links with anti-India forces in Pakistan and frequently dragged the name of the then Pakistan president General Pervez Musharraf. He simply called him Miyan Musharraf, in a derogatory manner.
So will Mr Modi as Prime Minister will be reluctant to pursue dialogue for normalising ties with Pakistan? Or will he go one step further to push the already delicate ties to the brink once more? Or will Mr Modi, in complete contrast to expectations, actually turn a peacenik and attempt something as dramatic as Atal Bihari Vajpayee did by first travelling on bus to Lahore and then inviting General Musharraf for Summit levels talks at Agra?
Fears of ties turning frosty stemmed from what Mr Modi said at a recent campaign meeting in Assam. He was addressing an audience that comprised mainly Hindu Assamese and other Hindu migrants from the rest of Indians states, mainly West Bengal and Bihar. He was playing on the insecurity of his audience of being demographically overrun by Muslim (and a few Hindu) migrants from Bangladesh, most of whom arrive by illegal means. Mr Modi said: “Assam lies next to Bangladesh, and Gujarat lies near Pakistan. Today, Assam is disturbed due to Bangladeshi immigrants, but the whole of Pakistan is disturbed because of me”.
A few days before that, while speaking at a function of the Somnath Temple in Gujarat, Mr Modi referred to the issue of detention of Indian fishermen detained by Pakistan for straying into its territorial waters. He said: “I ask the central government to show decisiveness with Pakistan and give that country a befitting reply for its activities against Indian fishermen.”
On the basis of this statement, one can jump to a conclusion that if Mr Modi becomes Indian Prime Minister, relations between the two neighbours will nosedive. But before making that assumption, it would be worthwhile to survey Mr Modi’s assertions in regard to India’s other neighbours.
[quote]Modi adopted hardline postures solely for strategic purposes[/quote]
As early as September 2013, just a few days after he was officially named BJP’s electoral candidate, he had adopted a tough posture saying Pakistan needed to “stop focusing on anti-India policies and clamp down on terror”. With regard to Bangladesh the terse advice was that it should “fight poverty, illiteracy and superstitions” and not India. As far as China is concerned, the tough message that went out from Mr Modi that afternoon was that Beijing was dominating because of an ineffective central government. This aggressive stance was demonstrated again recently when Mr Modi told a campaign meeting in Arunachal Pradesh on the same day he addressed the gathering in Assam and contended that “China should shed its expansionist policy and forge bilateral ties with India for peace, progress and prosperity of both the nations.”
On the issue of relations with Sri Lanka and the extent to which India should be concerned about Colombo’s internal matter of the issue of addressing grievances of Sri Lankan Tamil population, Mr Modi said in October at a meeting in Chennai that India should have an “assertive foreign policy that would also involve the states.” His remarks were noteworthy as political parties in Tamil Nadu and Trinamool Congress in West Bengal in recent years displayed belligerence towards their international neighbours because of parochial concerns. Mr Modi decision to endorse tough stances of regional parties has considerable political consequence.
It is fairly certain that the south block will advise Mr Modi from opening too many regional fronts if he indeed becomes Prime Minister. Such advice actually may not be necessary because of his political acumen. Mr Modi would also be aware that it would be foolhardy to simultaneously engage Beijing in an escalated dispute. Insofar as Pakistan is concerned, his stance will be mainly be determined by internal factors and the nature of electoral mandate he gets from voters.
In a Parliament of 543 elected members, no single party is expected to reach within handshaking distance of a simple majority. The BJP’s best performance so far has been under Mr Vajpayee when they won 182 seats in Lok Sabha. The rest of the coalition was cobbled from regional parties. Mr Modi stands little chance of becoming Prime Minister if the BJP tally ends up lesser than that. He will become assertive within his government if the tally is more than that figure. The higher the BJP’s individual tally, the lesser would be his dependence on allies.
His Pakistan policy would also depend primarily on the nature of the mandate. If the mandate is such that Mr Modi needs to consolidate his core political constituency, one can expect calibrated aggression while dealing with Islamabad. But if the mandate is fairly overwhelming then, there may not be any political compulsion for going overboard. However, there would be considerable temptation to turn belligerent, although Mr Modi adopted hardline postures solely for strategic purposes. At least for the initial couple of years when Mr Modi will have to consolidate the mandate, he cannot be expected to walk across the Rann of Kutch with a white flag in hand. However, compulsions of realpolitik are also likely to act as a kind of a check-dam. He is still likely to ensure that the reservoir of pent up emotions remain full, yet does not spill over and literally flood the region.
The writer is a journalist and author of Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times (Tranquebar, 2013)
Reasonably accurate assessment of Mr Modi as a political leader and as a human being. Except that the writer has not brought out an innate generosity of spirit in Modi which would flavour his strategies atleast with regard to Bangladesh, Myanmar, Srilanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan. In relation to Pakistan he would not be hostile, even friendly, but nobody should expect him to be another Vajpayee. Definitely no bus yatra for him! The most interesting part would relate to the formidable China. Modi admires China and, yet, he is also an uncompromising nationalist. China might have a need for some Modi watchers, now!
“The whole of Pakistan is disturbed because of me…..” A remarkable insight into Modi’s self delusion. Today if you stop an average Pakistani on the road and ask them who is Modi, you will find the vast majority will not recognise this name. If he becomes India’s PM then it will be different obviously. Why should Pakistan be disturbed by Modi? Modi is the least of our problems right now.
Yes, Pakistan should putting its house in order and not worry about this “traditional and historical enemy” that is India.
Pakistani newspapers, and some of their Indian columnists, speak different.
Modi is far far over-rated.
This writer is a Hindu Bengali. Bengalis consider themselves superior and liberal than rest of the Indians and are first ones to backstab the country. They were the first one to cooperate with the East India company whien it was looking beyond business interests and you could see the results.
This writer never mentioned how Congress and the current ruling party killed Sikhs but he has to suck up to the muslims. He should be happy he is living in India because if he were living in Pakistan and criticizing muslims there to a foreign country, he would have had it.
No doubt Modi will be tough to deal with border fire works. he will prepare the nation for fittest deterrent, a job and role of a Prime Minister. We need him after having suffered, docile, sleepy non effective, corrupt Manmohan sing under his able leadership every Cabinet Minister ran Parallel govt, indulged in mass frauds, corruption etc. coffin is getting ready for congress.
we did not have a good PM after vajpai . India deserves a break
Dear author, I full endorse your speculation over Modi’s foriegn policy. But please also enlighten me on one thing. What have we as a nation achieved by mollifying Pakistan all these years? Terror which has killed hundreds of Indians? Fake currency worth millions which has in a way weakened the Indian economy? Blatant funding of anti India activities inside and outside the country by the ISI? Anti India campaign on the Capitol gill by Pak-funded Left liberal and jihadist intelligentsia? What is our roaring need to treat Pak with kid gloves except for promoting US interests? If it’s trade, it’s more in Pak’s interest that they ensure that it remains normal. If it’s a war, Pak planners I’m sure won’t be delusional to imagine that they can survive a nuclear confrontation. Time and again it has been proved that Pakistan provides the manpower for jihad globally. Their nasty designs are already evident in Kashmir. Now isn’t it a little too late that we acted tough with these people for whom diplomacy is only a veil to further the nefarious braking India agenda?
Before commenting on Modi, the author should explain why Pakistan is exporting terror worldwide ?? If it were to be US neighboring country, and does such acts, Pak may be history.. The Author should exercise care while naming Modi as Mass murderer. It is advised to explain who have torched the GODHRA Train? One sided comment will not give full picture. Now a days it has become habit to pose as Secularist to get international attention, at the cost of the Motherland. Sri Modi is not Nehru backed by Gandi, who have sold the Nation to be first PM. They have devised the Constitution so that India should never prosper. The Author should also write about the fate of helpless Hindus who stayed back in Pakistan. He should give comparative population figure of Hindus in Pak and Muslims in India and their social and economic status, before penning such article.