By Haris Bilal Malik
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 on 21st April 2019 Mr. Modi played 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 a Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) Islamabad.