Speakers at a briefing for parliamentarians on Thursday expressed their hopes and fears on the possibility of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winning the general election in India. They also sounded a note of caution on its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi taking a hard line on Pakistan.
Over 142 members of the National Assembly had registered for the event organised for the first time by the Pakistan India Parliamentary Friendship Group headed by Awais Ahmad Khan Leghari, who took this initiative. Mr. Leghari is keen that Indian MPs reciprocate the interest in building better ties.
Senator Mushahid Hussain briefing members on the “Prospects of Upcoming Indian Elections and its Impact on Pakistan-India Relations,” provided a lucid outline of the changes in the South Asian region and the fact that Pakistan had a democratically-elected government and how it would have a positive impact on relations with India.
He said the Congress was unlikely to retain power and this time but for a few exceptions, the political campaign was not Pakistan-centric. If the BJP comes to power, it would be good for Pakistan since the country had fond memories of the former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who took the bus to Lahore in a historic event many years ago, he said. The BJP had a better track record and a political legacy of normalising relations with Pakistan and visits from Mr. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani who even praised Jinnah, showed that.
He also pointed out that India had far more pressing concerns in the form of economic growth, unemployment and poverty.
The former Foreign Secretary and High Commissioner to India Salman Bashir said while Pakistan today was in a better position to normalise relations with India, there was a disturbing trend of communal discord in the run- up to the elections there. He said the Aam Aadmi Party could also affect the Congress chances.
On the question of Mr. Modi as a national leader, he said “it has to be seen if he will transform on the lines of Mr. Vajpayee and he is known to be an assertive administrator. India is entering an uncertain phase and there is a clear-cut view which sees Pakistan as an enemy State and it is deeply entrenched.”
“The question is if Mr. Modi will deepen this view or move ahead. Will he be pragmatic or an ideologue?” Mr. Bashir wondered. Also, Mr. Modi did not have much exposure to foreign policy and there is a question mark on he India-U.S. relationship. He will also have to deal with Pakistan and China too.
Mr. Bashir was doubtful if the new government would resume the stalled composite dialogue.
Rasul Baksh Rais, Director-General of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad referred to the growth of a large middle class which is conservative with a strong nationalistic tone in India. He said the efforts of Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Advani were individual efforts move and not necessarily the party line. He said trade would benefit both countries but warned that the likelihood of the new government discussing issues piecemeal was a reality. He suggested that Pakistan take a proactive role towards India.