PM may make one final attempt to reach out to Pakistan. The recent house arrest of Hafiz Saeed, some encouraging statements by the Pakistan army chief along with India's decision to attend the Indus Waters Commission are cited by optimists as positive dev.
The ruling Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) further strengthened its position with stupendous victories in assembly elections held in two states, Uttar Pradesh (the party won 325/403 seats) and Uttarakhand (58/70 seats). The Congress Party triumphed in the state of Punjab winning 77/117 seats, while in Manipur and Goa, Congress emerged as the single largest party — though BJP is likely form governments in the state as it has mustered the support of independents and local parties. PM Narendra Modi, who emerged as the numerouno of politics in 2014, has further strengthened his position not just in national politics, but also within his party. While post-demonetisation, there were criticisms from many of his opponents, and even many within the media criticised this move, this step seems to have overwhelming support, and if anything it has only widened the support base of the party, which was primarily considered a party of traders.
The question on many people’s minds is what impact the victory will have on the government’s economic and foreign policy. While speaking at a victory speech, the PM made some interesting points, and reached out both to the middle classes saying:
‘The burden on the middle class should reduce. This will enable our middle classes to shine. If we bring together the poor’s strength and the middle class’s aspirations, no one can stop us.”
The PM while speaking about a New India, also said that the poor don’t want doles any longer, but opportunities.’
A lot of Modi supporters would now be banking on economic reforms which have been held up for long, due to BJP lacking adequate strength in the Rajya Sabha(Upper House). With these wins the BJP’s position will improve considerably in the parliament.
Many analysts have also been curious about the PM’s foreign policy especially his approach towards countries in the neighbourhood. While some argue, that with the PM is likely to build on the gains of the last two years in the India-Bangladesh relationship, others also believe that the PM may make one final attempt to reach out to Pakistan. The recent house arrest of Hafiz Saeed, some encouraging statements by the Pakistan army chief along with India’s decision to attend the Indus Waters Commission are cited by optimists as positive developments, which may pave the way for engagement between both countries.
A few things need to be kept in mind however. While India did take note of the house arrest of Hafiz Saeed, but was guarded in its response, as this has happened in the past and he has been released. Many believe that has been done purely because of pressure from other countries including China and is eyewash. Similarly, no real action against Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) Chief Masood Azhar has been taken so far. Unless some substantial steps are taken against terror groups, substantial political engagement between both countries is unlikely. At the same time, there is a possibility of the PM keeping some doors open, and the Modi government will not be averse to find common ground in the economic sphere and other mutually beneficial areas.
For instance, recently Indian railways has put forward the idea of a container train which seeks to connect Dhaka with Istanbul, the Trans Asian Railway Southern Corridor, was first identified by UNESCAP in the 1990’s and sought to connect Myanmar with Turkey, but this project could not go ahead due to logistical issues.
The container train proposed by Indian Railways seeks to traverse 6000 kilometre and the route shall be Dhaka-Kolkata-Delhi-Amritsar-Lahore-Islamabad-Zahedan-Tehran-Istanbul. Pakistan so far has opposed the project and has expressed reservations about Indian containers crossing into its railway network. Moreover, there are also some logistical roadblocks to the project.
PM Modi has a little over two years to the next general election and several state assembly elections to be held, including the state of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, later this year. There is a little over a year to the next election in Pakistan as well and PM Sharif too would be tied down. In conclusion, it is a bit naïve and optimistic to expect anything significant over the next few months. That said, this may be the best course to follow, in the past all attempts to make history have fallen flat.
The writer is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal University, Sonipat