Tag Archives: Narendra Modi

India-Pakistan: changes and challenges 27 May 2014

India-Pakistan: changes and challenges   27 May 2014

The good news is that Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has attended the inauguration of India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Apparently, the two leaders also met outside this significant event. This is a positive start, particularly as their nations are estranged with a poor-to-parlous relationship.

One of Modi’s greatest challenges will be managing expectations. He and his party’s massive majority have dramatically raised many Indians’ hopes and desires—even though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP; Indian People’s Party) only received slightly less than one third of the total national vote. (Nevertheless, India’s first-past-the-post voting system translated this into a massive electoral win.) Whether Modi can satisfy his euphoric victory tweet that “India has won! We’re approaching the good days” remains to be seen. However, given human nature and the nature of politics, his leadership and rule almost certainly won’t satisfy and please all Indians.

Some Pakistanis now have increased hopes or expectations of improved India-Pakistan relations. These are not well founded. Apart from new governments in Pakistan last year and India just recently, little else has changed in India-Pakistan matters. Both nations still have (at least) eight issues to deal with, as per their Composite Dialogue which essentially has been suspended, or piecemeal at best, since the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. Some of these issues are particularly difficult, strategic and emotional, chiefly Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen Glacier, and terrorism and drug-trafficking. There is one further highly significant issue not part of any regular India-Pakistan dialogue: the little discussed matter of water and water-sharing, with Pakistan at a significant disadvantage because of its downstream position and suffering because of its burgeoning, now excessively large, population for which it can only blame itself. There has been increasing angst about this vital commodity, particularly in Pakistan. Arguably, this is the most serious India-Pakistan issue of all.

In terms of changes in either nation, ironically we appear to have gone ‘back to the future’. The Pakistan Muslim League (PML) is again in power in Pakistan, just as it was when Pakistan came into existence in 1947. While Sharif’s PML (Nawaz) faction is less militant and driven to achieve than Jinnah’s original party, Pakistanis are still—and have been since 1947—dealing with the issue of how Islamic their nation should be and which interpretation of Islam is the ‘correct’ one for Pakistanis to adhere to—or be compelled to adhere to—via the imposition of Sharia Law, as hardline Taliban-type elements want. Conversely, with the BJP’s election, India is questioning what part religion should play, and seemingly is moving away from its entrenched and successful secularism. The BJP’s name arises from ancient Bharat (or India), with the party desiring more ‘Hinduness’ in Bharat/India, which geographic entity for some hardliners includes ‘lost’ areas like Pakistan and Bangladesh.

In some ways, therefore, we have reverted to 1947, with leaders and many people in both nations again trying to decide, both pacifically via political processes and violently via militancy, how Hindus and Muslims will cohabitate, and interact, on the subcontinent. In India, Hindus are feeling ascendant, with some acting accordingly, while Muslims, and sometimes Sikhs, are feeling nervous and considering their options. In Pakistan, Muslims are agitating, often violently, to impose their version of Islam, with some of Pakistan’s few remaining Hindus now fleeing for India or being forcefully converted to Islam. Publicly, people in both religious groups are using the other to shore up their own ideology and positions. Thus, religion used for political purposes is again dividing the subcontinent and its people—and stalling the improvement of India-Pakistan relations.

One major difference from 1947 is the current leadership. Nawaz Sharif is not of the same intellectual calibre as Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Similarly, Narendra Modi is no Jawaharlal Nehru. Conversely, Sharif seems more conciliatory than the often inflexible Jinnah, which aspect may actually assist India-Pakistan relations, as long as the Pakistan military agrees to any conciliation. Equally, Modi seems a less complex person than Nehru, with a clearer economic agenda for India that vicariously may help improve India-Pakistan relations if the two nations, particularly Pakistan, can agree their trade regime. Modi also will need to control recalcitrant states, such as West Bengal and Tamil Nadu seeking to influence India’s foreign relations. Hopefully, neither leader will have to face any devastating partition-type divisions, upheavals and bloodshed that confronted Nehru and Jinnah. Rather, their task is to resolve how India and Pakistan can normalise their relationship and to decide how Indians and Pakistanis will re-engage and, to some extent, even partially reunify, via closer trade, cooperative actions and other day-to-day cross-border activities, particularly travel, study and exchanges that ‘normal’ nations engage in. While both leaders possibly want improved relations, each seems to want it on his own terms. Neither seemingly has much genuine interest in, knowledge about, or deep warmth for, the ‘other’.

To normalise India-Pakistan relations will be challenging, and will take time. There is significant, deeply entrenched mistrust between both nations’ populations—a factor made significantly worse because there is such a paucity of direct contact between them. It is almost impossible for an ‘average’ Indian to meet an ‘average’ Pakistani in any easy, meaningful or ongoing way. Resolving the Siachen Glacier issue is the litmus test. If India and Pakistan’s leaders can solve this issue, then all other India-Pakistan issues are soluble. The Pakistan militaries’ veto power on all issues is obvious and well known. Unusually, the Indian Army has been very political on Siachen, with its generals wanting ‘iron clad’ guarantees that, should Indian forces withdraw from Siachen, their mistrusted foe will desist from capturing these vacated positions. Therefore, to resolve Siachen Glacier will require both prime ministers asserting themselves over their respective militaries. Overall, to improve India-Pakistan relations will require vision, leadership and both leaders asserting themselves over their respective nations—and getting on with each other. It’s still too early to tell how they will fare.

Christopher Snedden
27 May 2014


Article 370 and Indian Jammu and Kashmir; 10 December 2013



Article 370 and Indian Jammu and Kashmir; 10 December 2013

Indian prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, has raised the issue of the Indian Constitution’s Article 370 and its benefit for the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Although Article 370 supposedly guarantees autonomy to Indian Jammu and Kashmir (IJ&K), any such autonomy disappeared long ago.

Article 370 was included in the Indian Constitution in 1952 as a ‘temporary provision’, presumably until J&K’s international status was resolved and the state was finally integrated into India, as New Delhi expected would happen. Under this article, the Indian government was supposedly only responsible for defence, foreign affairs and communications. The IJ&K government of the day retained all other powers. This allowed the IJ&K state—comprising Jammu, the Kashmir Valley (or Kashmir) and Ladakh—significant autonomy. India’s input in IJ&K was limited to inter-state disputes, people’s fundamental rights and the three matters mentioned above.

Historically, Article 370 was created as a result of the controversial circumstances surrounding Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession to India on 26 October 1947. It was designed to appease Kashmiris uncertain about whether J&K should join India or Pakistan. It also unofficially recognised that India needed the Muslim Kashmiri leader, Sheikh Abdullah, and that New Delhi was agreeable to his terms for J&K joining the Indian Union (rather than Pakistan). In 1950, Abdullah was popular, politically powerful, and had considerable influence, including with his friend, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s prime minister. Nehru, who had Kashmiri ancestors, had an emotional attachment to the Kashmir Valley that, on occasions, clouded his otherwise rational approach to resolving difficult matters. He needed Abdullah to shore up India’s position in J&K, particularly amongst the Muslim-majority population living in the prized Kashmir region, possession of which Nehru was reluctant to forego. This related to India’s hope of winning the plebiscite that India’s leaders had promised, rather hastily, in 1947 to the people of J&K. J&K-ites were to determine whether J&K, in its entirety, would join India or Pakistan. But India’s desire to hold this poll faded quickly, chiefly because it felt that it would ‘lose’. Concurrently, a disenchanted Abdullah reverted to an earlier position favouring J&K being independent from both (secular) India and (Islamic) Pakistan. His stance was unacceptable to Nehru. As a result, Abdullah was sacked as IJ&K prime minister on 8 August 1953.

With the popular Abdullah sidelined, New Delhi steadily and consistently eroded IJ&K’s supposed autonomy. Local IJ&K politicians ably assisted India, starting with the administration led by Abdullah’s immediate successor, the necessarily (and possibly genuinely) pro-Indian, Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad. Thereafter, to all intents and purposes, IJ&K became just another Indian state. It is now fully integrated into the Indian political system. IJ&K voters send four representatives to India’s Rajya Sabha (Upper House) and six to its Lok Sabha (Lower House). The IJ&K prime minister, like is his counterparts elsewhere in India, is now called chief minister. The Indian tricolor flies throughout the state. The New Delhi-appointed Governor or Indian President is able to impose Governor’s Rule or President’s Rule on IJ&K. The Indian Administrative Service’s J&K cadre populates the IJ&K bureaucracy. People in IJ&K can obtain legal remedies through the Indian Supreme Court. Most persuasively, since 1947, IJ&K has become part of India economically. With no other transport options available, IJ&K is totally reliant on India for all of its goods and services. Consequently, IJ&K has become fully integrated with India commercially, financially and communications-wise.

So what’s the big deal? Article 370 has become a symbolic device that people use in different ways. For many Indians, especially non-Muslims, Article 370 is unfair, even abhorrent. It grants IJ&K, whose majority population comprises Muslims—although, as far as I can determine, the 2011 Indian Census does not confirm this situation—a special status not given to other Indians or Indian states. These anti-Article 370 Indians include members of Modi’s right-wing BJP. They want IJ&K to become a normal, or non-special, state fully incorporated into the Indian Union. Conveniently, this would allow them to purchase land and property in IJ&K, an option currently only available to ‘state subjects’ of IJ&K. This status arises from a law passed in princely J&K in 1927 and retained thereafter throughout J&K after 1947, with the exception of Pakistan-administered Gilgit-Baltistan. Naturally, some people in IJ&K fear being swamped should they lose state subject status.

Anti-Article 370 Indians also include many Jammuites and Ladakhis. They claim that they have long endured Kashmiri domination of IJ&K. Politically, ethnic Kashmiris have 47 seats in the IJ&K Legislative Assembly, giving them an absolute majority over Jammuites’ 37 seats—even though Jammu may have more electors than Kashmir—and Ladakhis’ three seats. Economically, Kashmiris get a larger share of state resources, jobs and services. Emotionally, New Delhi’s attention mainly goes to Kashmir and Kashmiris. Jammuites, particularly, and Ladakhis therefore would be happy to see IJ&K become a ‘normal’ Indian state without any special privileges. Many also may want the state bifurcated into two regions comprising Jammu-Ladakh and Kashmir, or even trifurcated into its three component regions. BJP politicians may be prepared to consider such proposals.

For Kashmiris, most of whom are Muslims, Article 370’s existence confirms that New Delhi acknowledges that this Muslim community is important, needs to be treated specially—and wooed. Additionally, IJ&K is India’s only Muslim-majority state. But, while Muslims comprise IJ&K’s majority population, they are part of a minority in secular, but Hindu-dominant, India. Kashmiris have cleverly extracted benefits from India for their special status. The removal of Article 370 would eliminate this specialness. Some Kashmiris say this would cause them to rethink whether they want to part of India. Such talk has concerned Congress-led governments that consider the Kashmiris’ presence in India—not in Islamic Pakistan—helps to confirm India’s secular credentials. Conversely, a BJP-led government possibly intent on Indian-ising, or even Hindu-ising, all Indians, regardless of their religion, causes Muslim Kashmiris angst. For them, Narendra Modi has possibly unleashed a monster.

Christopher Snedden
10 December 2013

‘Modi’-fying India, 17 September 2013


‘Modi’-fying India                                                                 17 September 2013

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has selected Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for the forthcoming Indian elections. Should the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), in which the BJP is the major and most popular party, win the most number of seats in the 2014 Indian elections, then the BJP has proposed that Mr Modi become prime minister of India.

(The term of the current Lok Sabha (lower house) ends on 31 May 2014. The Election Commission of India, which conducts the Indian election over 3-4 weeks in order to accommodate the large number of Indian voters, has yet to announce actual election dates. The current prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, may choose to go to the polls earlier.)

Narendra Modi is a polarising figure. Many Indians, particularly middle class ones, hold him in high regard because, as chief minister of Gujarat since 2002, Modi has boosted the Gujarat economy, encouraged and enabled development, and delivered 24-hour access to electricity throughout the state. He also is a Hindu, a strong Indian nationalist and an advocate and supporter of ‘Hindutva’, which term, according to the Indian Supreme Court, is ‘a synonym of Indianisation, i.e., development of uniform culture by obliterating the differences between all the cultures co-existing in the country’. For Modi, the Indian Army represents an organisation with a ‘uniform culture’.

Thus, Modi favours equality for all Indians, not the ‘appeasement’ which he considers that the Indian National Congress, the major party in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the BJP’s main political rival, of practising. For Congress, all Indians are equal, but some disadvantaged Indian minorities need assistance, support or to be positively discriminated in favour of. These Indians include Dalits (Untouchables), Adivasis (aborigines), Other Backward Classes (OBCs), and minorities, including Muslims. Similarly, Modi does not favour parties lobbying ‘vote banks’, such as Muslims, Untouchables or Brahmins, etc., in the way that Congress traditionally has done. He seeks to appeal to Indians regardless of their location, religion, caste, class, creed, etc. While seemingly a nice ideal, the Indian electoral system does not yet work this way. No longer are there any truly national parties in the way that Congress once was. Instead, apart from the BJP and Congress, regional parties now also are very important political forces. Indian political parties also must appeal to as many sectors of the diverse Indian society as they can.

Conversely, Modi is unpopular with some Indians, particularly ‘secularists’ and Muslims. This is because of his mishandling and condoning of serious Hindu-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002 that saw 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus killed, 223 people go missing, and a further 2,500 people injured—not to mention economic upheaval and dislocation amongst the affected. Modi also is unpopular with some senior Indian politicians, in particular Bihar’s chief minister, Nitish Kumar, who considers the Gujarati disrespectful and divisive. Kumar’s party, the Janata Dal (United), was an NDA member until 16 June, when it withdrew after Modi was appointed chairman of the BJP’s election campaign committee. This is significant as the JU (D), which is the fifth largest party in the Lok Sabha, has been an NDA stalwart, while Bihar itself has 40 (of 545) Lok Sabha constituencies. (Gujarat has 24.) To enhance his popularity among northern Indians, Modi may stand from Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, with 80 Lok Sabha constituencies.

Seemingly, a senior BJP stalwart, L.K. Advani, also does not respect Modi, although the two men may have been somewhat reconciled in recent days. Modi’s nomination as prospective prime minister represents a generational change in the BJP, with Advani (85 years old) being ‘encouraged’ by other party members to relinquish leadership to the younger Modi (63 years old). Modi’s relative youthfulness gives him a significant advantage against his incumbent Congress rivals, particularly Prime Minister Singh (81 years old) and President Mukherjee (78 years old). Whether Congress likes it or not, it soon also will go through an enforced generational change. Equally, Modi has another advantage in relation to Rahul Gandhi (43 years old), who Congress may anoint as its prime ministerial candidate: Modi has had considerable experience in politics and administration, including electioneering. Conversely, Gandhi has no direct administrative experience, he lacks charisma, while his political campaigning to date has not been terribly effective. Equally, however, Gandhi has one significant factor in his favour: the mystique of the Nehru-Gandhi lineage and name. This is worth many (incalculable) votes. Another factor is an interest, seemingly genuine, in India’s poor.

According to some analysts, Modi’s selection could result in the NDA obtaining a five per cent increase in electoral support at the elections. Although it is hard to evaluate this premise, in a first-past-the-post voting system, such a boost could prove to be significant. Equally, while Modi is popular with middle class Indians, many of whom reside in urban areas, almost 70 per cent of Indians still live in rural or village India, where the results of all Indian elections are still ultimately decided. In such areas, the Gujarati’s popularity is less certain. Indeed, Modi should keep in mind the cocky BJP’s slogan for the 2004 elections of ‘India Shining’, which resonated with urban, middle class Indians, but not with rural or lower class Indians. Consequently, the BJP, to its astonishment, lost this election.

The 2014 election is by no means a foregone conclusion, with some early opinion polls suggesting a three-way split of seats between UPA, NDA and regional parties—making the only certainty another coalition government of some sort. Modi will be a political force for the UPA and for regional parties, particularly, to reckon with. Equally, however, he needs to transform himself from a regional politician to a national leader—and to be as inclusive and non-discordant as possible while doing so. This will be Modi’s biggest challenge.

(For a short interview on Radio Australia by the author about Narendra Modi, see http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/radio/program/asia-pacific/controversial-bjp-figure-annointed-as-candidate-for-indian-pm/1191059)

Christopher Snedden
17 September 2013