Bihar Assembly Elections 2015

How foreign policy found its way into election campaign

With days to go for the India Africa Forum Summit in October, a tussle broke out between the External Affairs Ministry and the BJP satraps, as it became clear that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have to fly to Bihar for campaign rallies even while the Heads of State or government were in Delhi.

Eventually, officials say, the Prime Minister’s campaign commitments ranked over diplomatic niceties and protocol, and the Ministry had to scramble to rearrange bilateral meetings with 39 leaders over three days, even as Mr. Modi flew to Muzaffarpur and Gopalganj.

But while the Prime Minister may have put the Bihar campaign over bilateral meetings in one respect, India’s foreign policy played a sizeable role on the campaign agenda. Pakistan, Nepal and even Bangladesh came up for frequent comment, as did Mr. Modi’s whirlwind travels abroad. Perhaps, the most noted comment came when BJP president Amit Shah told a crowd, “If, by mistake, the BJP loses the election, then firecrackers will be burst in Pakistan.” Explaining his comment a day later in a television interview, Mr. Shah said it was clear that Pakistan was anti-India and that if “Modi and BJP are weakened, it is natural for the anti-national forces to be happy.”

Mr. Shah was not the only one to make comments about Pakistan, with a string of BJP leaders bringing in external relations to the discourse.

“Vote for PM Modi as both China and Pakistan are afraid of him,” said Sushil Modi, even as he questioned why Nitish Kumar travelled to Pakistan in 2012.

“Why didn’t he travel to Buddhist countries like Japan, Thailand, Myanmar and Sri Lanka?” Mr. Modi tweeted.

While BJP MP Ashwini Kumar Choubey said Mr. Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad would have to “go to Pakistan” after the election results, senior leader and MP Rajiv Pratap Rudy questioned why the JD(U)’s campaign ads were being used by Google ads on Pakistani news websites. It took several angry tweets from web users to explain to Mr. Rudy that Google ads are based on reader’s interests worldwide, and it merely proved that Pakistani readers were interested in the Bihar election.

On result day on Sunday, in fact, the Bihar election was a trending topic online in Pakistan, as several Pakistani commentators wrote and spoke about the impact of the poll on India-Pakistan relations, and on the ‘intolerance debate’ in India.

The Opposition too, brought Mr. Modi’s foreign policy to the election battleground, with repeated comments by the Congress over his visits abroad.

“On one side you have Nitishji who visits his people, on the other you have Mr. Modi who only visits foreign countries,” said Mr. Rahul Gandhi, himself accused of too many visits abroad, at an election rally.

As the price of pulses rose in September, Digvijay Singh came up with a sarcastic line on PM Modi’s partiality for “Tour dal,’ alluding to his foreign tours. For the record, the PM did not undertake any foreign trips in October.

Finally the elephant in the room, was the unfolding crisis in Nepal, where India has been accused of taking a partisan interest favouring Madhesis, many of whom are related to Bihari families, against the government in Kathmandu. While India has consistently denied the charge, saying it only seeks a more equitable Constitution, on the ground, the tough position of the government seemed to sway voters along the border checkpost constituency of Raxaul, which elected the BJP candidate.

With the election behind the government, experts hope it may have a freer hand in patching up ties with Nepal, as it will also take steps towards normalising relations with Pakistan, given that the Prime MInister is expected to travel to Islamabad for the SAARC summit in mid-2016.

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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 5:10:43 AM |

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