Electoral dynamics unpredictable in India

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

HECTIC and tense progression and in some areas bloody process of  general elections in India, the world biggest election have started from Thursday, 11th April on its due period after a span of five years under the full drum beats. Pakistan has had its polls in July last and the promises to the people for a piece of moon, rivers of milk and honey seem to rolling in a space craft with destination unknown. Notwithstanding the ongoing sabre-rattling more of media ranting than anything else, silver linings from under the dark clouds are scary but not too discouraging.

Much of hula-hoop that we had experienced in the month of February has gone and Ides of March too have passed by without any eventuality except the hot air let out by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi who has read the smoke signals and says that there is something sinister that is cooking. He even had the dates of new series of fireworks. Of course all coincide with the ongoing elections in India in which electoral dynamics are unpredictable.

Sitting Indian Prime Minister Narender Modi’s fate hinges on factors that are beyond his control though the war hysteria that was built may have had its impact but not that much that it could turn the tables on his opponents. Notwithstanding, the common denominators controlling winds of change in both India and Pakistan are essentially economic and they are beyond the grasp of those in power. Prime Minister Modi’s promises of jobs, multinational boost in agriculture, industrial progress and overall prosperity seems to have fallen like seeds on the stony ground.

Masses can’t be taken for a ride by delusional hopes. Modi swept into power five years ago on a business-friendly manifesto that promised to shake up Asia’s third-largest economy and boost employment. Notwithstanding the communal massacre in Gujrat, earlier Modi as Chief Minister had earned quite a fame for the progress made by the state under him. Now 68, Modi seeks a second term in PM’s office with a heavy loaded economic agenda pertaining to job, jobs, and more jobs. His promises seem to be copy of Imran Khan’s 100-day fairy tale. He had promised 10 million jobs a year in 2014, millions of youth remain disappointed and jobless.

According to one study unemployment is at its highest since the 1970s -much similar is of Pakistan under Imran Khan. Analysts say that the economy has failed to expand at the rate required to employ the one million Indians who enter the workforce every month.

Having failed in generating employment, Modi followed Imran Khan’s footsteps by raising much like him the populist slogan of war against corruption. In 2014, Modi projected himself as an anti-corruption crusader who would eradicate graft and so-called “black money” with drastic measures such as demonetisation-though abortive, his overall record on combating corruption is mixed as the experts say. He was step ahead of Imran Khan in toughening anti-corruption laws, including one outlawing “benami” property, where owners purchase real estate through third parties to hide money.

Pakistan’s economy is worst off then India’s. Its rupee has fallen all time low and if IMF Formula is adopted, it will go beyond Rs 150 to a US dollar. The government’s poverty alleviation programme much talked about by Prime Minister Khan seems to be nothing but a pipe dream. Millions of houses that were to be put up to provide shelter for shelter-less have not stretched beyond tented homes, people have heard about the ‘Sehat’ card but it seems to be nothing but a doze of bitter pills. Punjab, the crown jewel among the provinces in the federation, is sinking deeper in the quagmire of mismanagement, lawlessness and its police service is rendering it into a police state. People suspect police of having a hand in organised crime and in cases such as Sahiwal mayhem; it sees Joint Investigation Teams as a new contraption to cover up their crimes.

Indeed, common citizens in the streets of Lahore and Delhi have reasons to wonder how could the two nations having no economic sustainability could afford even the seasonal fireworks on the line of control, dog fights in the air or a plane lost. It must be hell of an amount to keep over 600,000 Indian soldiers in the Indian occupied Kashmir. We don’t know what it must have cost India 90-hours of miss-mash in February last, according to reports in Pakistani media national exchequer had to cough out Rs 8 billion for the air force beyond the annual budgetary allocations.

Usually politicians talk in the air and they don’t mind making claims that are often ridiculous, however, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is not one of those who would make an assertion off the cuff. In a press conference on Sunday last he disclosed that he had intelligence tip off that India was planning an attack on Pakistan between April 16 and 20. It could be like Pulwama-type incident to justify its subsequent action. SMQ forewarned that war clouds have not dissipated yet after Delhi had reacted with aggression to the February 14 killing of 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel. It may be mentioned that SMQ’s warning follows on the heels of the US media conclusions that India had not shot down any PAF F16s when it had clashed with it and that its claim of shooting down a PAF F-16 fighter was nothing but kite flying. On the other hand the PAF had claimed to have downed two IAF fighters, captured one pilot that was returned to India as a good will gesture.

There are no two views despite contrary claims that the United States and China did play a big role on the quiet to pull India and Pakistan back from the edge of precipice. In view of his current apprehensions of renewed aggression SMQ Qureshi claims to have taken on board international powers, the P-5, had been informed calling upon them to use their good offices to restrain Delhi from any misadventure. Delhi and Islamabad must set aside opinion of the hawks within their administrations that war mongering with Pakistan can get Modi few more votes or that JeM or any other organisation of resistance in Kashmir could force India to withdraw its troops are but fallacious notions. Indeed, nothing can replace a well-meaning resumption of composite dialogue between the two nations involving the Kashmiris to resolve the problem—-war being suicidal for both the countries.

(Author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to the UK and a veteran journalist.)