View from the Neighbourhood

A weekly look at the public conversations shaping ideas beyond borders — in the Subcontinent.

Election reaction

The tone of the editorials in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi press show a marked difference — and some similarities — in the way they have reacted to Narendra Modi and the BJP’s landslide victory in the Lok Sabha elections. The May 26 editorial in Dawn asks: “What is Mr Modi’s mandate and how would he interpret it?” The editorial examines, with maturity and in some detail, some of the more controversial and disturbing aspects of the polls. “There are worries about the election of Sadhvi Pragya, an accused in a terror plot but out on bail. Having lauded Mahatma Gandhi’s killer, it is evident, that she would be Mr Modi’s headache, and not the opposition’s. Will he tinker with the constitution as some fear,” it writes. It also asks whether, despite the talk of “inclusive government”, if Muslims and Christians will be targeted during PM Modi’s second term. However, Dawn still seems to see some hope of a Congress party revival: “But the Congress though considerably mauled is still there after winning a clutch of state assemblies from the BJP recently. It also shores up a crucial but fragile alliance in Karnataka while running stable governments in key Hindi-belt states. On Thursday, the party swept the polls in communist-ruled Kerala. Some would say Mr Modi is primarily the preferred candidate of a powerful business lobby, which would nudge him towards balancing his ideological yearning for a Hindu nation with the more worldly need to create a conducive climate to improve India’s flagging economic profile. “

Bangladesh’s The Daily Star, on the other hand, is far more congratulatory in its tone, remarking that PM Modi’s policies have clearly worked with the people. Even while flagging certain issues that could be a thorn in bilateral ties, the editorial keeps to its upbeat tone: “Some of the electioneering issues—such as the topic of the National Register of Citizens of India, and the Modi government offering citizenship to Bangladeshi Hindus—did concern us. But under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership, India and Bangladesh have already built upon their historically good relationship. And we hope that during his new term, Modi will continue to lead India down that path.”

Muslims and liberalism

Political scientist Shafiqur Rahman uses the BJP’s landslide victory in India to talk about the wave of populism that has swept liberal democracies in general in The Daily Star. Rahman talks of how the “othering of Muslims” and the role it has played in strengthening conservative narratives: “It’s hard to deny any causative role of Islam. The emergence of right-wing, national identity politics was perhaps inevitable in India, but BJP’s astonishing dominance must be partially attributable to Pakistan’s persistent spoiling and nightmare-neighbour role? Right-wing majoritarians everywhere are scapegoating Muslims as the principal other; morality of their methods can be questioned, but the success cannot.”

Rahman’s argument, though, makes a somewhat unique argument. In essence, he states that Muslims, rather than being a complete anathema to a liberal democratic politics, have enhanced it: “ I would argue that Islam has not undermined the liberal order by sowing doubts within liberal ranks or exposing its contradiction, it has weakened liberalism by emboldening and consolidating the enemies of liberalism in established democracies which were scattered and disheartened after the bloodbath of WWII and subsequent emergence of liberal world order. Stubborn defense of group identity by Muslims of the world has made upholding group identity respectable for all groups, majority or minority, powerful or weak. In the age of mass politics, group identities like religion or nation have more elements in common than in difference. If Muslims can be unabashedly assertive about the sanctity of their religious identity and traditions, other groups can be unapologetic about their respective identities too.”

Vajpayee’s Example

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, a retired Pakistani diplomat , writes in Dawn on May 26, that Narendra Modi’s election to a second term “is not a good omen for India and its neighbourhood, unless Modi demonstrates an ability to rise above himself and beyond the Hindutva vision of the RSS. Vajpayee displayed an inclination in this regard. But Modi is more limited. He may now be inclined to see himself as the embodiment and validation of Hindutva. Arguably, this might provide him the space to reinterpret the Hindutva ideology, narrative and vision in a more inclusive and rational politics. As of now, this appears less likely than ever.” Qazi minces no words and issues a warning that, “Hindutva as a fascist, communal, irrational and vengeful ideology can never provide India a basis on which to emerge as a credible great power in the 21st century. As a lunatic fringe movement it was a phenomenon common to all political societies. But as a lunatic mainstream ideology it will degrade India’s future and threaten regional and possibly global stability.”

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