On April 11th, India, the world’s largest democracy, started its walk towards the polling stations. The election of the lower house of parliament of the second most populous nation is estimated to continue until the 19th of May, with the vote expected to be counted on the 23rd. While the outcome of the election is yet to be seen, a significant chain of events could prove fateful for the vote. On February 14th, Indian-administered Kashmir experienced the most fatal attack in the last three decades. A minivan, filled with explosives, drove into an Indian military convoy and killed 46 paramilitary soldiers in Pulwama. New Delhi responded with a retaliation airstrike at Balakot, Pakistani territory, on February 26th.
Blood is once again being shed on the fields of Kashmir, invoking uncertainty for the future stability between two of the world’s nuclear weapon-wielding nations: India and Pakistan.
Five years ago, incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi led his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to an immense election victory, with the party gaining an absolute majority of the votes. A repetition of such a successful campaign seemed unlikely at the beginning of 2019. The Indian economy is currently experiencing rising unemployment rates, along with falling crop prices within its huge agricultural sector. There is certainly room for disappointment with the BJP’s conservative, Hindu nationalist rule. In the last quarter of 2018, the Indian annual growth rate of GDP fell to 6.6 percent, which is lower than the former government’s average annual growth rate. Exports are going through a positive trend, with investment, although starting to decrease during 2018, ia projected to keep rising.
Although the economy is not going to bust, the Prime Minister’s statements about his administration’s success story of steering the economy may not be fully reflecting the real picture. In addition, his approval ratings were measured to lie below 50 % in January of 2019.
The attack on February 14th, however, has turned things around.
The prime minister tapped into the feelings of his countrymen, expressing his own anger about the fatal consequences at two different meetings according to the BBC. “The blood of people is boiling.” “I feel the same fire in my heart that’s burning inside you.”
Times of India is reporting that Modi is regaining support after the suicide bombing, through bolstering approval ratings in February. Mobilizing the strength of the nation in times of insecurity can prove valuable for the incumbent prime minister. That is inferred by Ashutosh Varshney, director of the Center for Contemporary South Asia at Brown University: “National security essentially gives a leader an opportunity to show determination and resolve.” “Now we also have an organisation [the BJP] whose morale has been boosted by Balakot, and which is working even more enthusiastically for a leader who had seemed to be in a fair amount of trouble.”
With the election process in motion and the results becoming official at the end of May, it remains to be seen who is going to challenge the BJP in the current political landscape. Regional parties in various Indian states could potentially mount a resistance to Modi’s regime, while Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the rival Congress party, is another challenger to take into account.
On the horizon, there remain additional questions lacking clear answers.
With the attack in Pulwama, the state of Kashmir has once again become an arena for confrontations between Indian military forces and insurgency organizations, such as the Pakistani Jaish-e-Mohammad which stated its responsibility for the bombing. Throughout the years, Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, where over 60 percent of the population are Muslims, has been witnessing demands for the region’s independence or merging with Pakistan against the rule in New Delhi.
The recent development within the region can be viewed in clear contrast to the state of the relations between the two states just five years ago. In 2014, both Prime Minister Modi and Pakistan’s contemporary incumbent Nawaz Sharif expressed peace interests. However, the peace process stagnated in the wake of new emerging confrontations.
One important question that can be posed for the future is how the development in Kashmir and Indian-Pakistan relations will be influenced by the outcome of the Indian election. Prime Minister Modi, whose BJP party has asserted that nationalism is one of its fundamental segments, leads an administration which has openly taken the role as a hawk against Pakistan.
Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, has expressed wishes for dialogue between the two parties, and tried at an earlier stage to ease tensions by offering the release of a captured Indian pilot on March 1st. However, Khan has strongly criticized the tough line of Modi against the Indian part of Kashmir with his recent election promise to erase the Indian state’s autonomy.
In the end, with the election result not expected until late May and the difficulty of predicting the next moves of the two nuclear weapon powers, the world may have to hold its breath a little while longer.