The Indian elections this year are among the most political charged the world’s largest democracy has ever seen. On one side is another member of the Nehru-Gandhi family; Rahul Gandhi, the heir-apparent to the clan’s long political tradition. On the other is Narendra Modi, the BJP Party candidate and committed Hindu nationalist, whose political strength is matched equally by his controversial views that had made him a global pariah.
However, Modi has found an ally in one of the most unlikely places, Pakistan. In a recent interview with The Telegraph, Pakistan’s foreign minister, Sartaj Aziz, stated that Pakistan was willing to work with Modi in renewed efforts to bring peace to the Indian Sub-Continent, something that has not existed since partition. Since that interview took place other senior officials in Pakistan have intensified the nation’s support for Modi, suggesting that he is in-fact Islamabad’s preferred choice for the Prime Minister’s post.
Their support is one that appears to put national interests ahead of historic, sectarian divisions. Modi, as a staunch Hindu nationalist, is not a natural figure for an Islamic nation to get behind, particularly with such controversy attached to his name. The reason he is considered, by much of the world, as a political pariah is that in 2002 riots broke out in Gujarat (the province Modi is currently Chief Minister of). During this violence he is alleged to have stood by as Muslims were massacred. Pakistan’s endorsement for a figure such as this, represents a growing frustration over the lack of political progress and effective dialogue between the two states in recent years.
But this is a new era for the Sub-Continent. After Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took office June, 2013 and with former-President Pervez Musharraf finally brought to justice for abuses during his period as Pakistan’s leader, the country has begun to look towards a new future. Sharif will be seeking a similar thaw in Indian-Pakistani relations to that achieved during his first time as Prime Minister in the 1990’s and at that time India was led by another BJP leader, Atal Bihari.
Sharif clearly sees the potential of a new BJP government in India. His efforts to achieve a reconciliation in the 90’s were thwarted, first by Musharraf’s seizure of power in 1999, then by the Taliban insurgency and finally by the 2008 Mumbai attacks that destroyed Indian-Pakistani relations for several years. Both nations are putting these events behind them and, for Pakistan a new leader in India provides a renewed chance to bring India and Pakistan together.
Hindu nationalist of not, Narendra Modi, is seen in Islamabad as a man Pakistan can do business with, a change from the Nehru-Gandhi dominated Indian National Congress and their current leader, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose current government is accused of stagnation and corruption.
The geopolitics of this cross-border support are monumental.
Between India and Pakistan the two states account for close to 1.4 billion of the world’s population and are, respectively, the 2nd and 6th most populous states in the world. Any conflict between these two would result in the deaths of millions in the Sub-Continent. It would draw other nations, such as Bangladesh and Afghanistan, into a wider regional war that would effectively divide Asia in two. India’s Hindu population would be pitched against the Islamic world in a conflict where religion would cause long-term divisions, unlikely to ever be truly healed. The stakes for peace are high and President Sharif is aware that both governments should make steps to achieve this peace or risk another event destabilising relations.
With Pakistan’s endorsement Modi can hope for success in the elections. Already supported by those who seek a change in Indian politics and by the Hindu nationalists, Modi will be joined by those who prioritise regional peace and seek reconciliation with Pakistan.
The two nations have always influenced the politics of the other, but with Pakistan’s declaration a new phase of cross-border relations has begun; one in which the two states could work together. Whoever wins in India now will have to work alongside the Pakistani government and although Rahul Gandhi may achieve great things with victory, for Narendra Modi his unlikely ally may have tipped the balance in his favour.