PN Member Sherry Rehman Reflects on the Upcoming Elections in India

Sherry Rehman
March 29, 2014

As India turns inwards to its next election, the world watches with a mixture of anxiety and hope. Hope, because India has the capacity to lead South Asia into a less polarised 21st century. And worry in case it takes a turn towards ultra-nationalism and regional drift. With the BJP’s Narendra Modi’s sharp new addition to the election’s chest-thump, anti-Pakistan belligerence has been staked out as a test of his opponent’s nationalist credentials – in this case, Arvind Kejriwal. Whether the ‘Vajpayee route’ of seeking eventual normalisation with Pakistan is taken or not, the drumbeat of chauvinism is back in play.

No one can predict an election outcome in South Asia. Yet, in what is seen as a pendulum swing to the BJP after ten years of Congress rule, whatever the outcome, a second and possibly more profound sanitisation of the politics of Hindutva is underway. Pollsters suggest that swathes of governance-deprived Indians, driven either by the commerce or can-do profile of Narendra Modi, are ready to put their faith in a resurgent BJP.


Indian polls say that the contemporary Indian voter is predominantly driven by economic issues. Not identity or ideology. This view is in danger of ignoring the many other Indias jostling for space, but if dissenting, marginalised, and impoverished India is blacked out of this glossy commercial frame, the mobilisation of this aspirational mainstream makes for less and less seats for the Left in 2014.

So is 2014 just a number, as many liberals contend in India, and not a new tryst with its destiny? Will the critical political mass wheel back to a new articulation of its post-Nehruvian centrism? Is the embrace of the unfettered market model of Modi-nomics a surge to harness the power of capital, and what are its implications for running a heterogeneous, unequal multitude? Is the new BJP agnostic of exclusivism or is it a mask for religious supremacism? Where does that leave the 190 million Muslims of India?


The question central to the Pakistani mind in the short run, though, is not whether 4G India can accommodate its disaffected, but how it deals with Islamabad. Pakistan has changed. Its parliamentary mainstream no longer thinks about India in cardboard cut-outs. No one bothers to mention India in an election call-out of rivals. Democrats in Pakistan see regional cooperation as the future, albeit on mutual terms, whereas in India, even outside an election cycle the Lok Sabha can rock with a nationalism that often roadblocks dialogue with Pakistan.

What is worrying is that whatever the numbers, given the high-octane right-wing discourse fuelling rhetoric on a corporatised Indian media, all bets on a Singh-like restraint amid a possible crisis with Pakistan may well be off.

At the same time, a new Indian PM’s behaviour towards Pakistan will likely be shaped by the strength of the government coalition. The conventional wisdom is that a majority will certainly help prospects of moving forward. A fragile plurality will likely prolong stalemate. The sense is that official Delhi’s studied ‘peace fatigue’ over a revival of the composite dialogue over the last two years will continue unless Islamabad changes the game on penalties for Mumbai.

Given that crisis-management structures between India and Pakistan remain embedded in a history of conflict and mistrust, both countries would profit from a break in the strategic drift that New Delhi has preferred to keep broader dialogue trapped in.

While breakthroughs such as trade are very welcome, the new leadership needs to know that trade alone will not shift the shape of things between the two nations. Coercive diplomacy will fare even worse.

With a major security transition on way in Afghanistan, including an impending election there which will spawn new coalitions by the summer, uncertainty is the catchword for 2014. The only certainty, in fact, is that the next Indian leadership will take its time in rebooting the relationship.


To read the entire article on Sherry Rehman's blog, please click here.

Photo by Yogesh Mhatre.


PN Member Sherry Rehman served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to United States from 2011 to 2013. Before her designation, she was Member of Parliament in the National Assembly of Pakistan from the Pakistan People’s Party for her second term. She served as Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Pakistan (2008-09) and ranking member of the National Security Committee in the Parliament.

Read stories from: 
Read more on: