Modi is back: What next?

Despite all predictions to the contrary, Narendra Modi has won a second term with a resounding majority. The Modi led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has been able to grab 350 seats in the Lok Sabha (the lower house). This tally is just a few seats shy of a two third majority. Till a few months back, the pollsters were of the opinion that Modi would return to power albeit with a reduced majority. The economy wasn’t performing well; unemployment was high, unhappy farmers were committing suicide by the dozens and the minorities literally feared for their lives. Modi’s policy of Hindutva and his hard line right wing Hindu party the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had clearly destroyed the much hyped secular fabric of the multi religious and multi ethnic nature of the Republic of India. He was openly being trumpeted as the ‘divider in chief.’

In retrospect, several factors worked in Modi’s favour. First and foremost the opposition was divided and its leadership was lacklustre. Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru family appeared to be a softie in the rough and tumble of the Indian politics. He was devoid of personal charisma and seemed still tied to his mother’s apron strings. Modi on the other hand showcased himself as a self-made person without any dynastic support. He had emerged from a modest background and had worked hard to cultivate the macho image of a decisive leader. He claimed to be the regional chowkidar (watchman) and his anti-Pakistan rhetoric also resonated with a public in the throes of a nationalistic fervour. His strong bid to finish the special status of occupied Kashmir also had the backing of the hawkish elements in India. This image building was backed by a strong social media campaign. He had a NaMo TV channel to build his personal following and this was backed by a NaMo App. He made strong use of technology to promote his image as a decisive leader and in the end it paid off.

The question is what will Modi 2.0 portend for Pakistan, for the region and the world at large? The Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan has telephoned Modi and congratulated him on his electoral win and expressed the hope that they should work together for the betterment of their people. Sometime back Imran Khan had expressed the hope that there was a chance to discuss and resolve the issue of Kashmir, if Modi’s BJP returned to power. His optimism was perhaps based on the fact that a ‘strong’ party with credible nationalistic credentials had more chances of negotiating on a contentious issue of Kashmir than a weak party, forever trying to appease the domestic audience. Khan and Modi will be attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on 14-15 June this year. There is a possibility that they may talk to each other on the side lines of this conference. Some time back the foreign ministers of Pakistan and India, Shah Mahmood Qureishi and Sushma Swaraj met at the same venue and talked. Swaraj had brought along sweet to ostensibly remove the bitter taste in a hostile relationship. Can this be a good omen? It is hard to say. Pakistan-India relationship seem never to take off and is forever shackled in past recriminations and suspicions. Khan’s hopes that Modi may turn mellow after his second victory are also subject to a number of pushes and pulls. One thing is sure, Modi or for that matter any Indian leader or any world leader would only negotiate if there is any gain from such an engagement. Facile negotiations leading nowhere is a waste of time and nobody is willing to invest in such efforts.

Pakistan is a country mired in economic problems and has little to offer to India. What possibly can it offer to spark any interest in India, without compromising its legitimate security interests? The menu of possibilities can be small and large depending on the skills of the negotiators. Some of the issues have been discussed before with limited success but there is always a next time. Trade definitely should be on the top of the agenda. The measly few hundred million bilateral trade can become as big as a 40 billion dollar portfolio. The Torkhum-Wagha economic corridor can be operationalized. A World Bank offer to sponsor this project has just been spurned because of security reasons.   Visa regime needs to be softened. This is a very old demand. Religious tourism should be encouraged. People to people contacts ought to increase. Sports, cultural and educational exchanges need to be revived. A culture of trust has to be developed. The situation of no war-no peace needs to be replaced with one of peace. Bilateral arms control treaties need to be negotiated to effectively rein in the arms race and imaginative ways have to be found out to resolve the Kashmir dispute in the best interests of its people. Stable and peaceful South Asia is in the interest of the world. If Modi understands it and Pakistani leadership provides him a way out in this regard, it will be a great service to humanity.