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Election Heat: How Pakistan Dominates Modi’s Campaign

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political strategy frequently leverages Pakistan as a focal point, especially during election campaigns. This approach, characterized by aggressive rhetoric and nationalistic fervor, plays a significant role in shaping India’s domestic and foreign policies. Modi’s Pakistan-centric politics, its electoral benefits, and the broader implications for India-Pakistan relations.

Leveraging Social Media for Political Gains

A recent incident highlights how intertwined Pakistan is with Indian electoral politics. On May 1, a seemingly innocuous social media post by Pakistan’s former information minister, Fawad Chaudhry, praising Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, sparked a political storm. This tweet was seized upon by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its supporters to paint the Congress party as being in league with Pakistan, a long-standing BJP narrative.

Amit Malviya, head of the BJP’s information technology wing, and Modi himself quickly responded, using Chaudhry’s post to bolster their claims of a Congress-Pakistan alliance. Modi’s rhetoric at an election rally emphasized this narrative, suggesting that Pakistani leaders were rooting for a Congress victory, thereby reinforcing the BJP’s position as the defender against foreign adversaries.

Historical Context and Political Strategy

This strategy of invoking Pakistan is not new. Modi and the BJP have consistently used the specter of Pakistan to rally nationalist sentiments. During the 2019 elections, the Pulwama attack and subsequent Balakot airstrikes were pivotal in portraying Modi as a strong leader capable of defending India against its arch-enemy. This narrative was instrumental in BJP’s electoral success.

Modi’s tactics involve flipping criticisms into accusations of disloyalty towards India. When opposition parties questioned the effectiveness of the Balakot strikes, Modi accused them of undermining India’s armed forces and siding with Pakistan. This maneuver not only deflected scrutiny but also intensified the BJP’s nationalist appeal.

The Role of Hyper-Nationalism

Modi’s emphasis on Pakistan during elections contrasts with earlier campaign periods where the relationship between the two nations was not a central theme. The shift can be seen as a deliberate attempt to exploit hyper-nationalism for electoral gains. By framing the opposition as sympathetic to Pakistan, Modi effectively positions himself and the BJP as the sole protectors of national security.

Home Minister Amit Shah has echoed this sentiment, claiming that India under Modi has given a “befitting reply” to Pakistan’s terrorism. These statements resonate with voters who view national security as paramount, thereby consolidating the BJP’s support base.

Consequences for India-Pakistan Relations

This election-driven rhetoric has tangible consequences for India-Pakistan relations. Islamabad has responded to Modi’s and Shah’s comments, condemning them as manifestations of an “unhealthy obsession” with Pakistan. The Pakistani government argues that such statements are intended to inflame hyper-nationalism and garner votes, rather than reflect genuine diplomatic positions.

The entrenched hostility fueled by these political strategies has kept bilateral relations strained. Despite brief moments of thawing, such as Modi’s surprise visit to Pakistan during his first term, sustained diplomatic engagement remains elusive. The recurring election cycle rhetoric ensures that any progress is quickly overshadowed by renewed antagonism.

The China Factor

Amidst the focus on Pakistan, it’s essential to consider the broader geopolitical context. Analysts like Walter Ladwig from King’s College London suggest that Pakistan is now a secondary concern for India, with China being the principal foreign policy challenge. The 2020 Galwan clashes, where India and China faced off in the Himalayas, underscored this shift. Despite these tensions, Modi’s election strategy continues to prioritize Pakistan, potentially as a distraction from the unresolved issues with China.

Potential for Future Relations

While Modi’s current rhetoric suggests a further deterioration in India-Pakistan relations if the BJP wins again, some analysts hold a more nuanced view. They argue that Modi, considering his legacy in a potential third term, might seek a lasting rapprochement with Pakistan. Given Pakistan’s economic struggles and India’s strategic pivot towards countering China, there could be mutual incentives to improve bilateral ties.

Historical precedents show that several Indian governments have attempted to mend relations with Pakistan, albeit with limited success. Modi’s surprise visit to Pakistan early in his tenure indicates that he is not averse to engaging diplomatically, provided the conditions are favorable.

Modi’s Pakistan-centric politics

Modi’s Pakistan-centric politics, characterized by strong nationalist rhetoric and strategic use of social media, plays a critical role in shaping India’s electoral landscape and foreign policy. While this approach has yielded electoral dividends for the BJP, it has also perpetuated a cycle of hostility that complicates bilateral relations. As India navigates its regional and global challenges, the interplay between electoral politics and diplomatic strategy will continue to be a defining feature of Modi’s leadership.

Note: Mr. Rehan Saleem and Abu bakr contribute to this article.

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