Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made an appeal to first time voters to cast a ballot for his BJP as a tribute to the Indian military personnel involved in a provocative action against Pakistan. For a country that enjoys promoting itself as the “world’s largest democracy”, such militant campaign techniques demonstrate political immaturity as well as a very frightening tendency in contemporary Indian politics. This trend is one in which hyper-nationalism rather than constructive policy making forms the main basis of electioneering.
In the most politically stable countries, foreign policy issues are rarely confrontational within the context of political debates. The more stable and secure a country is, the more its foreign policy remains broadly consistent over a period of internal peaceful political transitions. As such, the more stable and confident the country, the less foreign policy becomes a matter of internal confrontation.
Within the context of south Asia, the importance of foreign policy consistency over a sustained period of time has been underscored by the creation of the CPEC Political Parties Joint Consultation Mechanism between the political parties of China and Pakistan. This all-parties Mechanism will allow for stability and consistency in Pakistan’s most important cross-border all-weather friendship irrespective of future domestic political developments. Pakistan’s move to elevate CPEC above party political hostilities is a key example of foreign policy stability transcending internal politics.
In China, non-interference in foreign countries has been a consistent policy for decades in spite of the arrival and departure of various individual policy makers throughout China’s highly consultative political system. In the United States, foreign policy has traditionally played a minor role in elections as the country’s foreign policy agenda tended to remain broadly consistent between leadership changes. This has often been cited as an example of American stability. However, recent years have seen a less predictable and stable US foreign policy correspond with issues of external affairs becoming more confrontational within the context of domestic American politics.
In ASEAN’s most stable country, Singapore, although founding father Lee Kuan Yew relinquished Prime Ministerial duties in 1990, Singapore’s policy of open relations with the wider world has remained consistent.
Perhaps ironically, India is more in a need of a foreign policy shift than many other large Asian nations. A policy of win-win neighbourly relations with both China and Pakistan would be a deeply productive development for India and for the world. And yet while such a shift would be welcome in terms of diplomatic policy, Modi is doing the opposite by conducting an election which intends to arouse the more hysterical emotions of people in order to create a militaristic frenzy during a lengthy election season. This approach is not only materially counterproductive but it demonstrates a lack of confidence that tends to be absent in countries where foreign policy considerations transcend heated electoral rhetoric.
Except for those living in a state of war or those perversely trying to provoke a war, political discussions during an election season ought to be framed around issues surrounding economic development, building a long term sustainable infrastructure, public health, scientific development, education and fighting extremism. But rather than focus on these issues, Modi has attempted to make militarism and jingoism key selling points in India’s election. This represents an unfortunate trend for India.
If India’s ruling party focused on the exploration of policy action steps in the pursuit of elevating living standards, reducing poverty and minimising religious extremism, not only would India grow healthier as a result, but so too would all of India’s neighbours based on the principles of win-win development goals in an increasingly interconnected world.
Although western countries in particular tend to promote adversarial party political systems as the apotheosis of democracy, the trend in India towards emotional hyper-nationalism as a campaign strategy goes a long way towards discrediting the notion that the Indian style political system is somehow a universal model to which others should automatically aspire.