Modi’s weakened third government remains bad omen for Pak-India relations

Modi’s weakened third government remains bad omen for Pak-India relations

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It has been a pyrrhic victory for India’s Narendra Modi who is now elected for a record three consecutive terms as prime minister of the world’s most populous nation. While his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failed to get a majority in the national elections, he will now be heading a tenuous coalition government. Although much weakened, there is no sign that the third-time prime minister will step back from his hard-line Hindu nationalist agenda. 

It was a shocking reversal for the strongman prime minister whose Hindu nationalist politics have reshaped India’s secular democracy. The election results defied the exit polls that had forecast a landslide victory for the ruling party. Modi was confident of winning a two-third majority in the parliament that could have paved the way for turning the country into a Hindu majoritarian state.

Surprisingly the biggest setback for the BJP which has been ruling the country for a decade came in its main bastion and biggest state, Utter Pardesh (UP). It was the overwhelming support in this state that had propelled Modi to power in the previous two elections. The loss of its power base in the most populous state with the highest number of seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the parliament, cost the party its majority. 

Pull-quote: A third term for right-wing nationalists is bound to have serious implications for the world’s largest democracy as well as regional geopolitics.

- Zahid Hussain

The Hindu nationalist party lost 62 seats across the country with its strength reduced to 240 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, down from the 303 it had won in the 2019 elections. The BJP faced a formidable challenge from rival parties who formed an alliance under the banner of ‘INDIA.’ The coalition of disparate political parties is led by the Congress, and the united opposition managed to stop the BJP’s onslaught.

The loss of the majority has left the BJP-led government completely dependent on the two allied parties that don’t subscribe to Modi’s divisive policies. Many observers believe that a weakened Modi administration propped up by unreliable allies would be forced to temper its hard-line nationalist agenda. But any change in the party’s stance could further erode its support base among religious supremacists.

India’s voters have delivered a body blow to Modi’s Hindutva vision even though he’s back as prime minister. No prime minister since Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first premier, has won three consecutive terms. Modi’s last two terms brought India close to authoritarianism. The press was under siege presenting a threat to democracy. 

Had Modi and his allies managed a two-thirds majority, as predicted, it would have allowed the prime minister to bring some fundamental changes to the constitution, undermining India’s secular structure. His election campaign pivoted around anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan rhetoric. 

Modi’s dehumanizing anti-Muslim language on the campaign trail was more direct than that of his past speeches. The BJP campaign fueled concern among the Hindu majority that a victory for the opposition would lead to Muslim domination. The brazen continuation of such anti-Muslim rhetoric is what has differentiated this campaign from the two previous elections that Modi won. 

Modi’s campaign narrative made it absolutely clear that under his dispensation, the Muslims will be politically disempowered, economically marginalized, and deprived of their constitutional rights. The inauguration of the Ram temple on the ruins of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya a few months before the polls was a prime example of Modi’s increasingly communal politics.

A third term for right-wing nationalists is bound to have serious implications for the world’s largest democracy as well as regional geopolitics. Modi’s victory, even if diluted, is not a good omen for Pakistan. It’s not surprising that the Indian prime minister had upped the ante against Pakistan on the election trail. Anti-Pakistan rhetoric has been one of the factors behind Modi’s previous electoral victories.

Relations between India and Pakistan hit a new low during Modi’s second government after the illegal annexation of Indian-administered Kashmir.

BJP leaders are now threatening to take over Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The party’s rhetoric is built around taking control of all of Kashmir. These provocative claims demonstrate the BJP’s growing bellicosity. Now, a third Modi term promises to have disastrous consequences not only for India but also for Pakistan and the rest of the world. 

There is a strong fear that a weakened Modi administration may increase pressure on Pakistan and whip ultra nationalist sentiments in order to regain its lost support base. But that will have its own consequence.

- Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a former scholar at Woodrow Wilson Centre and a visiting fellow at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and at the Stimson Center in DC. He is author of Frontline Pakistan: The struggle with Militant Islam and The Scorpion’s tail: The relentless rise of Islamic militants in Pakistan. Frontline Pakistan was the book of the year (2007) by the WSJ. His latest book ‘No-Win War’ was published this year. Twitter: @hidhussain

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