Modi’s Political Campaign

Undeniably, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is going overboard to ensure success for his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the assembly polls in four states. Modi is confident of repeating his party’s victory in the parliamentary elections in the forthcoming assembly elections in Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), Jharkhand and Maharashtra. In the present 90-member Haryana assembly, 40 are from Congress, 31 from the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and four from BJP. The 81-member Jharkhand assembly has 18 members from BJP, 18 from JMM and 13 from Congress. Congress has 82 members in Maharashtra assembly consisting of 288 seats, NCP has 62, BJP 46 and Shiv Sena has 45. In the outgoing assembly of neither of these states, BJP can be hailed as a leading party.

The manner in which Modi has started the electoral campaign in these states suggests that he expects his wave to have the desired political impact on election results.

During electoral rallies addressed by Modi, while he was hailed by cheering crowds, dominated by BJP members, chief ministers of respective states were literally jeered at by the audience. There is a view that campaigns of this nature were deliberately planned by BJP to convince voters of Modi’s popularity.

Interestingly, Modi appears to be over-optimistic about BJP’s chances in J&K also. Modi’s campaign strategy suggests that he has left nothing to chance to ensure BJP’s victory in J&K. The same prime minister, who shortly after declaration of the Lok Sabha results gave impression of being extra-concerned about improving India’s relations with Pakistan, is now conveying a different message. Modi’s “friendly” approach was marked by his extending invitation to his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, to attend his swearing-in ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Sharif responded positively and also stayed on to hold informal talks with Modi. In the same diplomatic tone, stage was set for holding of talks between foreign secretaries in Islamabad on 25 August, which were called off by Modi on 18 August.

During his recent J&K visit, Modi strongly criticized Pakistan for its indulgence in “proxy war” against India. Soon after Islamabad expressed its stand against Modi’s “proxy war” comments, India retaliated by saying that terrorism is a “core concern” in its bilateral ties with Pakistan.

These diplomatic hiccups did not prevent the two premiers from extending Independence Day greetings to each other. Modi conveyed his greetings to Pakistan on August 14. A day later Sharif reciprocated similarly by conveying his Independence Day greetings to India.

Diplomatic ethics maintained to a certain degree by Modi and Sharif naturally raise the question about the sudden dip in their ties marked by former calling off the 25 August talks.

Pakistan is one country which India cannot afford to delink from its internal politics, particularly concerning J&K. The talks were called off following India’s objection to the interaction between Pakistan ambassador and Hurriyat leaders in New Delhi.

Modi’s recent J&K visit and apparent turn in his approach towards Pakistan may be viewed as a part of his campaign for assembly elections in this and other states.

This was Modi’s second visit to J&K since he assumed power as prime minister. While in J&K, Modi laid stress that no other prime minister has visited J&K as frequently as he has. He added a historical touch to this visit by being the first premier to visit Kargil after the 1999 conflict with Pakistan. While addressing public rallies in Leh and Kargil, Modi emphatically stated that J&K’s development was among his primary concerns.

In Lok Sabha polls, BJP succeeded in winning three of the six seats from J&K. The other three are from J&K People’s Democratic Party (J&KPDP). In the present J&K assembly, 11 of 87 members belong to BJP. The party heading the present J&K government, National Conference (NC), failed to win even a single Lok Sabha seat.

In the J&K assembly, NC has only 28 members, while J&KPDP has 21. NC heads the state government in alliance with Congress, which has 17 members in J&K assembly. Numerically, BJP is not too behind the state-based parties and Congress in J&K assembly. This together with its major win in Lok Sabha polls has apparently pushed BJP to focus on its “Mission 44,” that is to gain majority in J&K assembly elections.

Modi has played a political card by objecting to the talks held in New Delhi between the Pakistani envoy and Hurriyat leaders. Modi’s approach has pushed Hurriyat leaders into limelight. Hurriyat leaders have never directly participated in J&K assembly polls. Their role has been limited to calling on people to boycott these elections. Besides, Hurriyat leaders and Pakistani diplomats in India have frequently interacted with each other during the recent past. They held talks even when BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee was the premier.

As a part of BJP’s “Mission 44,” Modi is hopeful that his decision to call off 25 August talks with Pakistan may prompt Hurriyat leaders to make more noises which may help his party gain in J&K assembly polls.

Pushing democratic, diplomatic and other norms to the background, Modi’s primary agenda at present is directed towards manipulating BJP’s victory in the forthcoming assembly elections in Haryana, J&K, Jharkhand and Maharashtra at any cost, even by polarizing the voters on communal lines.   

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 September 2014 on page no. 11

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