Just like most of South Asia, and indeed a lot of the world, I looked at the elections results in India on May 16 with shock and awe. The election not only significantly changed the political landscape of India, it sent a number of political scientists back to the writing table. For the last few decades we had been hearing that the time of one-party majority in the Lok Sabha had gone, that coalitions were there to stay, that regionalisation had set in. However, the way in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies won across India shocked all these pundits. In Pakistan, Modi’s dramatic win sent shockwaves and unleashed the wrath of the right-wingers who had a field day with it. Allow me to make a few points.
First, Modi’s win is not a validation of the Two-Nation Theory, just as the Congress governments in the past were not a negation of it. The coming to power of a party known for Hindu nationalism does not mean that Muslims and other minorities will be summarily slaughtered. This assessment is way too simplistic and wishful thinking. A party’s idealistic views and the reality it formulates are never the same.
Secondly, it might seem counterintuitive, but Modi did win a sizeable percentage of the Muslim vote. Out of the 87 seats in the Lok Sabha with a large percentage of Muslim voters, the BJP won 45 seats. In the three Delhi seats of Chandni Chowk, North East Delhi and West Delhi, which have significant Muslim populations, the BJP candidate won thumping majorities — these victories would not have been possible without the shift in the Muslim vote, first from the Congress to the Aam Aadmi party and now to the BJP. Similarly, the BJP won all but one of the 27 seats in Uttar Pradesh with a large number of Muslim voters. In fact, BJP president Rajnath Singh won resoundingly in Lucknow where there are about 400,000 Muslim voters. The Muslims and other minorities who voted for the BJP did not vote for self-destruction, but made intelligent political decisions.
Thirdly, Modi’s win was primarily a vote for development. When veteran leader of the BJP LK Advani was asked the reason for the BJP’s resounding success, he said, “Bad governance, corruption and dynastic rules (of the Congress party) were the three main reasons why the BJP won this election”. While Modi’s personal charisma and PR machine had a part in the historic win, the above factors were the critical base. India has a burgeoning middle class and it needs jobs and development. Religion matters but it falls to second place when the question of jobs and well-being arises. In Pakistan, where the masses still have to free themselves from the clutches of feudalism, a vote for simply development is difficult to imagine. But India is now a different country. Modi himself famously said that he would make “toilets before temples”. People voted for him hoping that this pledge is kept.
Fourthly, Pakistan should wholeheartedly welcome the coming in of a strong and stable government in Delhi. Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, and Modi, the prime minister of India, will not be the same person and so Pakistan will be dealing with someone who is more nuanced and development focused. With both Prime Minister Sharif and Modi big on investment and business, trade might just be the factor which brings the two countries together. Also, let us not forget that the last time contentious issues nearly got resolved was not under a Congress government but a BJP-led one. With a person so concerned about his legacy, we should expect Modi to try and resolve issues with Pakistan — not for our sake — but for the well-being of his own country. India cannot become a world power till it resolves its major issues with Pakistan, and Modi knows it. Therefore, sheer self-interest would guide him to improve relations.
Finally, Modi’s win might serve as a wake-up call for Indian Muslims. While there remains discrimination against Muslims in India, there are critical issues within the community such as resistance to broader social interaction, inward looking lives, etc, which stymie their progress. Modi’s win might shake them into action — I hope.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2014.