Will India’s Changing Relations with China and Pakistan have an Impact on Elections?

The dynamics of India’s relationship with its immediate neighbors, namely China and Pakistan have varied over the past couple of decades. Currently too, uncertainties loom around the same. Much of it is because of Modi’s policy of taking clear cut stance on international controversies and giving up of the non-offending policy which the country had been using so far. With the coming up of 2019 General Elections can we estimate Modi government’s stance with these countries to have an impact on the election results? Before we answer this question it is important to follow up on what has been the trajectory of Foreign Relations with these countries.

In 2016, according to the Indian Express, Sino-India ties hit multiple roadblocks after China blocked India’s admission into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), stalled a United Nations ban on terrorist Masood Azhar. Further, the construction of the 46-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir became another point of contention. Following this in 2017 the relations of the two countries were surrounded by severe tensions over the 73-day standoff at Doklam. However, after the 9th BRICS summit in China, the leaders of both countries had a proper dialogue over improving Delhi-Beijing ties. Despite diplomatic efforts to improve the bilateral ties, what cannot be ignored is India’s strong stance over not giving into pressure tactics which was well exhibited by India’s absence from Belt and Road Forum.

Coming to Pakistan, in 2015 with Prime Minister Modi paying a surprise visit to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, it did seem that the bilateral ties between the two countries were about to seek new positive developments. In one of its reports however, the International Institute for Strategic Studies noted, “After the deadly, deep cross-border attacks by Pakistani militants on Indian army facilities in Kashmir’s Pathankot and Uri (2016), Sumbal (2017) and Sunjuwan (2018) areas have sparked increasingly aggressive retaliation against Pakistan army positions across the heavily militarised border.” India’s stance seemed to have taken a stronger position when in 2016 for the first time the country used “special forces” to destroy ‘‘militant launchpads behind the border”. Worse still, substantial diplomatic dialogue has not happened between the two countries since 2016.

Now we once again come back to our question: Will India’s Foreign Policy with Pakistan and China have any impact on General Elections 2019?

The answer to this question is also subject to the binaries of ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Yes, the General Elections can be influenced by the Foreign Policy followed with the two countries because of the hard-line attitude of both the governments actually conveys a definitive message to the public in terms of the national interests of the country. When our government decides to take a strong stance in response to the loss of lives of its soldiers, then a sense of security does reach the civilians. This can work in favour of the party in power in the coming elections. But the problem with this sense of security or the idea of concrete national interest is that these sentiments are not durable. By the time elections come, the distant memory of these foreign affairs fade in comparison to the more immediate domestic conditions. Even if the party in power re-iterates its achievements along these lines one cannot help but focus more on the domestic affairs which impact them more immediately. For example the ones hit hard by demonetisation and GST will not be voting for the party in power. Likewise, the population which is dissatisfied by the poor condition of women’s safety, consistent lynching caused in the name of protecting cows and so on, will also prioritise domestic affairs over foreign ones. In such situations, the answer to the question raised becomes a ‘no’.

The answer of this question actually depends on which section of the population prioritises what. At the same time it doesn’t mean that the section which cares more about the domestic affairs will not be impacted by foreign affairs at all. The results of General Elections 2019, it seems, are as ambiguous as the answer to our question.

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