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The Indian Elections—What the BJP Has to Say About Foreign Policy

by Alyssa Ayres
April 7, 2014

BJP manifesto Narendra Modi (2nd R), the prime ministerial candidate for India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, addresses a gathering after releasing their election manifesto in New Delhi on April 7, 2014 (Anindito Mukherjee/Courtesy Reuters).


This post is part of a series on the Indian elections

Earlier today, on the first day of India’s five-week-long national elections, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at last released their 2014 campaign manifesto. With the ruling Congress Party having released theirs on March 26, and the drumbeat of poll results showing the BJP with a commanding lead on the eve of elections, the platform’s absence had become the subject of much speculation.

The document offers a vision of India in the world which contrasts with that of the Congress: it speaks of alliances, where Congress speaks vaguely of goodwill and Non-Aligned Movement historic legacies. While it predictably emphasizes growth, it does so invoking a representation of India’s civilizational past as one of traders, scientists, and economic leaders in the world, a position damaged by colonial rule and one necessary to recover: “Before the advent of Britishers, Indian goods were internationally recognized for their quality and craftsmanship. India had a much bigger role and presence in industry and manufacturing than any nation in Europe or Asia.” In this emphasis on India as an ancient trading power, it differs slightly from earlier BJP manifestos which focused on the achievements of Indian civilization in agriculture, science and technology, medicine, and education.

On the international economic policy front, the platform shares with Congress an emphasis on making India “globally competitive,” and takes that a step further by advocating a “Brand India built on quality.” (Of course, as the party in opposition, the BJP is in a much less awkward position arguing the need for change to produce growth, since in doing so Congress tacitly acknowledges their own stewardship of economic problems over the past five years).

The BJP’s statement on foreign direct investment (FDI) policy has already caught media attention. It is both general but specific relating to multi-brand retail: “Barring the multi-brand retail sector, FDI will be allowed in sectors wherever needed for job and asset creation, infrastructure and acquisition of niche technology and specialized expertise.” In press interviews today, manifesto committee chair Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi has stated that the party would seek to repeal the current national policy permitting FDI at states’ discretion, a move which would roll back a reform already in place.

On the more encouraging side, a specific section focused on industrial development notes an emphasis on innovation, and promises to “embark on the path of IPRs and Patents in a big way.” Many international businesses will find these welcome words, although how they might be executed in practice is not clear.

On matters of national security and foreign policy, the BJP platform promises “zero tolerance” on terrorism and would seek a revamp of intelligence systems, defense, and defense production in order to better secure India. The manifesto envisions an India as a “global hub for defense hardware and software.”

In a significant departure from the Congress platform, which uses the word “nuclear” only once to exhort the need to expand civilian nuclear energy, the BJP pledges to update India’s nuclear doctrine to “make it relevant to challenges of current times.” They would maintain India’s policy of a credible minimum deterrent “in tune with changing geostatic realities.” These statements have already been picked up by the media as representing a shift away from India’s no-first-use policy. According to Reuters, while the platform itself does not say it will review no-first-use, “sources involved in drafting the document…said the policy would be reconsidered.” This element of the manifesto will be of great interest around the world, especially given the past history of the BJP hewing to their platform statements regarding nuclear doctrine. Indeed, the BJP manifesto of 1998 pledged to “Re-evaluate the country’s nuclear policy and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons.” In May 1998, they did.

The foreign policy section of the manifesto, which takes up one page and comes at the end, in keeping with the BJP past again promises to be “guided by our centuries old tradition of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is a family) in working to achieve India’s rightful place in the world. The BJP, unlike Congress’s plan to strengthen relations with all, would create a “web of allies to mutually further our interests.” Alliances are selective and much tighter relationships of consultation and obligation, a position very different from one of non-alignment with all.

The foreign policy platform speaks of the importance of Indian soft power potential, and lays out a high-level “Brand India” plan through what it calls the “5 Ts: Tradition, Talent, Tourism, Trade and Technology.” They will develop talent by expanding the diplomatic corps. The Indian diaspora receives special mention as an asset in developing Brand India. Relations through regional fora, like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the “BRICS” emerging economies of Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa, G20, the “IBSA” countries of India-Brazil-South Africa, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and others, also receive attention. In keeping with the manifesto’s domestic policy of deepening decentralization, the BJP promises to provide states a “greater role in diplomacy” specifically to “harness their mutual cultural and commercial strengths.”

The platform presents a straw man (“Instead of being led by big power interests”), which to my knowledge and diplomatic experience has never been true about India, to assert it will “engage proactively on our own with countries in the neighbourhood and beyond.” No individual countries receive mention, unlike the Congress document. On the neighborhood, the BJP will “pursue friendly relations” but “where required we will not hesitate from taking strong stand and steps.” These should be read as statements of orientation toward China and Pakistan, but enactment of any future policy steps will necessarily depend on immediate circumstances. Finally, similar to the German concept of citizenship by blood, the manifesto provides for India to serve as a “natural home” for persecuted Hindus around the world to seek refuge.

So: the BJP lays down some markers on FDI, India’s nuclear doctrine, and how it would approach its bilateral and multilateral relationships. As a roadmap for what the possible next Indian government might undertake, it thus offers some high-level guideposts, and important areas for external observers to watch closely.

Follow me on Twitter: @AyresAlyssa

Post a Comment 8 Comments

  • Posted by MBI Munshi

    It would seem that the BJP election manifesto on the subject of foreign policy has deliberately sought to be obscure and ambiguous. There is every indication that the BJP will seek to make India more interventionist in the South Asian neighborhood. It appears it will use terrorism and victimization of Hindus as a pretext for intervention similar to the excuse adopted by Russia in annexing Crimea. While outright annexation may not be on the cards interference and pressiure certainly is and in this respect the BJP will be no different from previous Congress governments. What is different is that the BJP will rely more on militarism to achieve its objectives. The key point in the document relating to foreign policy is the following statement, “In our neighbourhood we will pursue friendly relations. However, where required we will not hesitate from taking strong stand and steps.” By not specifying any particular country every country in the South Asia is now put on warning. The language seems to suggest that the BJP like the Congress will seek hegemony and domination over South Asia but will be more overt and blatant in its maneuvers and not restrained by big power interests. In effect the BJP sees India as a regional power not to be ‘bullied’ by other great powers external to the region. What is of most concern is the vapid, imprecise and vague language used in the document as if there is a deliberate attempt to hide its true intent. For more on the history of Indian foreign policy objectives please read my book The India Doctrine which provides some indications of what a Hindu ‘rashtra’ might look like and try to achieve …

  • Posted by Jennifer Bloom

    BJP and Indian elections have consequences for regional & global security. See also the piece by political scientist Asimov Arifov on this:

  • Posted by varun bajpai

    Multiplicity of political options is good and showcases the good health of democracy, however my aversion is towards the ways and means of AAP, Its die hard opportunism and disruptive politics. Kejriwal was forced to form the government as 7 of his MLA were forming there own rebel group.. hence government in Delhi was formed with support of congress . Kejriwal as executive head of the state was sitting on dharna and causing public inconvenience, how funny that could be.. if lokpal bill was not passed there were other means to move ahead.. as head of the state he could give sharper teeth to the lokaukt… bring in legislations to lessen corrouption and prove able governance however he chose to resign cos yelling and levelling allegations is the easiest thing he could do.. governance is a holistic and tough issue for which u need to have vision, imaginative prowess and guts of steel to see it through which kejriwal lacks. So it was easy to run away and capitalise on the anti incumbency and the public disgust. Its easy to coin terms like crony capitalism, poorna swaraj, public participatory governance etc etc.. but implementation need much more than blabber. When the Aaam Admi Party emerged on the Indian political horizon, the country was stirred by the prospect of young and dynamic leaders serious about cleansing the system. Although it began as an apolitical movement, a lot of people concurred with Arvind Cryjeriwal’s view that to cleanse politics, one must move into politics. For this reason I was happy to see many young people participate in the last Assembly elections in Jharkhand.
    The coterie culture of established political parties has left the common man with little scope for participation in the system other than casting votes. The new party created high hopes in millions of Indians who were tired of corruption and criminalization of politics.
    Many signed up for membership of the new party, yearning to see a better India. Its people-to-people connection and sincerity of purpose made Delhi vote for it in a big way. It was good that, subsequently, they formed the government with Congress’ support. People expected the new government to take on the corrupt leaders. If the AAP government had fallen because of its positive action against corruption, it would have scored high on integrity. But they were ill-advised to resign so that they could get out of Delhi and sweep the nation. By doing this, Arvind Cryjeriwal showed himself to be no different from other politicians – the hidden ambition and agenda came to the forefront.
    Cheap publicity stunts, self contradiction, over-ambition and autocracy tarnished the positive image of AAP and soon many respectable people became disillusioned and left. Now Arvind Cryjeriwal says that he is okay with a fractured mandate in this election and mid-term polls in two years’ time. This indicates a very callous attitude towards the nation’s economy and security. This attitude and strategy is extremely selfish and self centered
    He visited Gujarat for four days and hurled loose criticism at the state’s development. In Gujrat In the early 2000, to see a tree in Saurashtra was a rarity. It was so drought-prone that people had to sell their cattle often. But today there is greenery everywhere. Electricity supply was scarce – hardly two hours a day. Today there is water and electricity in almost every village and the per capita income has risen. While Gujarat may not be 100 per cent corruption free, I have no hesitation in saying that it is much better than what it used to be. Instead of being honest with facts, Arvind Cryjeriwal has chosen to put down Modi on flimsy grounds. One who hasn’t learnt to stand up has no right to criticize that someone’s dance is off rhythm.
    If AAP is voted for a role in national politics and if Arvind Cryjeriwal does what he did in Delhi, it will be an absolute disaster for the country. India cannot afford to take such a risk when the country is on a ventilator with most economic parameters vulnerably placed. We need a stable government with a strong leadership at the Center for our economy to come back on track and spur development.
    In a hurry to jump on the national scene, the party has compromised all principles that gave birth to it. AAP should have proved its mettle in Delhi and taken time to build up its cadre in other parts of the country. It should have gone to villages and contested panchayat and municipality elections and taken time to build a strong and committed cadre trained in governance. It could have forced the other parties to rethink their strategy of giving tickets to criminals and corrupt people. With a strong foundation, it would have been a boon to the nation. But with so many contradictions, AAP has squandered its agenda of political reform.
    When Arvind Cryjeriwal captured people’s imagination with his sharp activism during the anti-corruption movement, he was primed to give an alternative to Indian politics. But after his recent antics, there is a sense of being let down even among those who were once his supporters

  • Posted by shartuajaat

    MBI Munshi “In our neighbourhood we will pursue friendly relations. However, where required we will not hesitate from taking strong stand and steps.” By not specifying any particular country every country in the South Asia is now put on warning. — You cherry picked one sentence and interpreted it to suit your own line of thought even though the words “strong stand and steps” could also mean being diplomatically firm and assertive. Your assertion that if the BJP comes to power it will use military as a means to further its goals is based on assumptions not facts. Your bias towards the BJP is so strong that you fail to see that this is not a government policy but an election manifesto designed to appeal to the common citizens. National security and terrorism are the major issues with people across India and the BJP is trying to use these issues to its own political benefit. It is not the first time the BJP has made such promises. It did back in 1998 as well when it promised that if voted to power they will repeal article 370 but once they came to power they shoved it under the carpet on the pretext of running a coalition government. If you remember a huge number of terror attacks happened during the Vajpayee’s time including IC814 hijack and the attack on the Indian parliament and Kargil war. What did the BJP do? Nothing. Can they do anything? No. Can any country afford to anger the Arabs by taking action against their Muslim neighbors? No. Why? Oil. Can India afford to have a war with any neighbour? No. Why? Because of huge population, poverty and the challenges we face. The BJP knows it very well perhaps you don’t.

  • Posted by Chris

    This is the party , an ultimate conservative party that got a western book on buddhism banned.

    The BJP are about ‘alliances’ like the Dalai Lama is about alliances, who is allied with the the RSS in India. This is pretense to gain ground.

    This is also the new ‘secular front’ that all these fundamentalist religious and reactionary Hindu based groups, like Tibetan “Buddhism” are presenting to the world, This is religious fundamentalism disguising itself with a secular front.
    A secular front is what the Dalai Lama is doing with his Mind and Life Institute while infiltrating into higher education in the U.S. as it becomes more corporatized and privatized.

    Of course the BJP will work in alliance with corporatism, thus its emphasizing Indias pre-colonial in industry .

    This is like Hitler saying he was a ‘socialist’. Which the Dalai Lama also says , periodically as he consults an oracle seven or eight times a year for all decisions and keeps his own people in a form of metal slavery to him, as they burn themseves up for the Kundun.

    This BJP group is fundamentalist, anti-Muslim and misogynistic as is the Dalai Lama’s ‘Buddhism’ both are allied in are trying to create a Hindu-Vedic Brahmin Tantric World religion, to undermine democracy whereever it infiltrates, while putting on the masks of greater ecumenicalism, openness whatever is required to spread their caste system influences and religious fundamentalist ties.

    What the BJP means by having zero tolerance for ‘terrorists’ is voicing in code their the anti-Muslim stance. Muslims, our new scapegoat for totalism with these Hindu Tantric based political groups.

    We should be paying attention to what is happening in India, because India is theprototype for our nations future , a caste system of the very rich and the rest, while calling itself a democracy.

  • Posted by Chris

    Correction: This is the BJP party, an ultra nationalist party of Hindu religious fundamenalists, that got a book unfavorable to Hindus, ( not Buddhism) written by a western author and banned, and Penguin India, that wonderful publishing company caved in and withdrew the book.

    BJP is a fanatic , ultranational Hindu based group that wishes to spread its influence through out the world. this would result in a caste system throughout the world, with a religious arm of fundamentalism and the god kings, both Tibetan and Hindu Indian still on their thrones.

    Of course that made the sales soar in western countries, and authors and publishers around the western world were horriifed.

    The BJP and is militarized arm ,the RSS is allied with the Dalai Lama’ and his Hindu based fundamentalist religion Tibetan Lamaism, disguised as ‘Buddhism’ which is also anti-Muslim and spreads this through his Kalachakra empowerments and through his western cult devotees , like Sam Harris that calls himself a secularist but is a Tibetan ‘Buddhist’ of theVajrayana and also a Muslim basher.

    This Hindu Vedic religion is infiltrating throughout the U.S. , first through the many yoga centers you find in U.S. cities and towns, and now through our privatized and corporatized universities spreading Hindu-Tantric Guruism that has kept a stranglehold on India every becoming a democracy, who also uses the guise of ‘scientific and secular, the same mask this BJP party is wearing. These groups are against democracy and will weaken a secular and liberal educational system while calling itself ‘secular’ and ‘scientific. through such Dalai Lama entities as the Mind and lIfe Institute.

    The BJP is using the same mask, associating with more secular activities in the India of the past in precolonial days, when in fact it is associated with the most fundamental reactionary religious elements connected with an ultra nationalism in India.

  • Posted by George Chakko

    From GeorgeChakko

    Alyssia’s report on Indian elections left one area insufficiently addressed – BJP’s defence policy. The BJP characteristically has not bared its full agenda hitherto. Prevarication-talented, the party is known for its pre-election secretiveness and ostentatious non-reticence on aggressive ‘National Interests’. It needs be singled out that national interests form the basic pillar the entire BJP ideology platform (its ideology slogans) is based on. BJP is the party, with only 25 percent of electoral seats, without consulting the other 75 per cent of the Indian Parliament, not even its own coalition partner, that decided to force India go nuclear, incurring successive heavy burden on national budget and on India’s innocent posterity, and abolition of India’s millennia-old ‘peace philosophy’. Its leadership disrespected the national consensus principle on this dead-serious issue, sans a closed session debate in the Parliament. Either, it was its vast underestimation of Pakistan’s prepared response, or the failure of Indian Intelligence on Pakistan’s nuclear weapon development, or both, that elicited this national fate.

    Years ago when I confronted one of India’s highly respected elite icon, Dr.Karan Singh (the former Maharajah heir of Kashmir and an old Congress stalwart), here in Vienna after a Vedanta philosophy lecture, on how reconcilable India’s much publicised ahimsa (non-violence) philosophy and the hoarding of nuclear arms were, a question quite often put to me by Europeans, he immediately conceded -”That’s the reason, you would have noticed, I didn’t mention Gandhi and ahimsa at all. We were telling that (non-violence – here meaning disowning nuclear weapons) to the whole world, and now we have it in our own backyard.” But he added wisely, “but I think we have to talk to Pakistan on this”.

    Once gone nuclear, it affected all the rest of the Indian defence sectors’ budget subsequently – Air, Army and Navy, hiking the costs gigantically, because of the need to make nuclear delivery systems the most efficient and fastest, i.e., hot purchase of latest military hardware abroad, making India in some form or the other overseas-dependent for its military security. The U.S. defence industry would gain substantially if a Modi-led government is installed. But at the end of the day, when it comes to the economic bottom-line, India’s poor would suffer substantially and substantively.

    A big lie has been told that India’s cheap scientific labour allows for expensive systems to be built at low costs. The truth is that most crucial ‘indigenous’ military items are, or, have been dependent, and continue to be, on very expensive high-tech imports that have cost the country over 3 digit billions of dollars in the past and present. More are yet to come. Even an indigenous Tejas-fighter jet is reportedly dependant on foreign electronic and hardware components. The general question is – where is the actual need for this kind of falsely prioritised financial outlay? China had already declared nuclear no-first use. So where is the nuclear threat from China? Now India develops expensive ICBMs to hit Beijing as a result of BJP’s primary decision to spark a nuclear arms race in Asia that even successive Congress-led governments were forced to stick to minimum nuclear deterrence. Pakistan’s nuclear bomb and nuclear first use and Islamic, extremist hate-ideology targeted on destroying India, have now redoubled Indian defence efforts, speak, untold baggy drain on national exchequer.

    The BJP and many other Indian “experts” believe erroneously, possession of nuclear arms enhances security of the country, deliberately not mentioning that India and its major cities also become simultaneous targets of nuclear attack from both China and Pakistan, of which Pakistan is the most dangerous (because a substantial small section of Pak population believes in destructive, Muslim ideology towards non-Muslim world, esp. towards a predominantly Hindu India). BJP was blind to foresee the consequences. They fell in for their own slogans. After India’s thermonuclear explosion in 1998 China swiftly moved a portion of its nuclear missiles near to India’s North-East borders. If BJP had so wanted, India could have gone the clandestine way Israel did in South Africa by not declaring the explosions officially and kept mum or openly denied knowledge, having let military do it under nebulously worded programmes. Instead the grand intelligence of Vajpayee-Advani duo felt it apodictic to declare India as a great nuclear power, ridiculously demanding even that Pakistan be seized upon that new reality. A Pakistan brimmed with nuke-weapon know-how patronised by an anti-India China was just waiting for one such chance. Had India not gone officially nuclear, Pakistan would not have been a nuclear power, even if it had developed all the necessary nuke-weapon components prior. Weapons become arsenals, hence nuclear power status, only if tested. India donated Pakistan a chance to test. Thus the “prophetic grand prudence” of BJP leadership bed-room served an Islamic Republic a military parity on a golden plate that Pakistan otherwise could have impossibly achieved, considering India’s conventional superiority.

    An irrational, hot-tempered, Muslim-extremism in nuclear Pakistan is the last thing the world wants to see, and least of all a Hindu-dominant nuclear India led by Modi. It is incumbent on the world community to force Pakistan to retract its nuclear first-use, as it is senseless and suicidal for the Islamic State. One Pakistani diplomat told me once at the U.N. that “we learnt it from NATO”, meaning the first use. There lies Pakistan’s stupidity. What is NATO and what is Pakistan for Pakistan to foolishly follow NATO. NATO is a powerful conglomerate of world’s richest who need not fear any UNSC sanctions. What is a financial pariah Pakistan, inclined to smoke a nuclear cigar?! This writer fears, a Modi-led government might introduce a selective first-use by India against Pakistan (which I once suggested in Defence Forum India discussions, but do not anymore), should Pakistan not relent on first-use on world community demand, while India retains a no-first use vis-à-vis China. The danger here is, a selective first-use by India against Pakistan increases the risk of a nuclear war between both.

    Many Indian elites do not seem to have discerned, as corroborated by new studies, that a nuclear war between even small powers like India and Pakistan will substantially affect health security and life of the Globe due to heavy radiation fallout; hence such incidents would have to be stopped; due to the logical compulsion of world security sustenance, possibly by UNSC P5 nuclear club, even preventively. One Chernobyl incident has taught the world enough. If then a nuclear war between India & Pakistan is made impossible under world community pressure, what is the rationale of these nuclear weapons (NWs) made at high price with precious resources wasted for all the support systems? The deeper blame for this wretchedness falls on all P5 nuke powers for not having repudiated NWs and thus encouraging others to join the Club. On the contrary, smarter weapon systems are being developed under the cloak of stockpile stewardship programmes for sustainability and modernity of NWs by U.S., Russia and China.

    The former Chairman of the UN Disarmament Committee on CTBT in Geneva (1995-96), Ambassador Jaap Ramaker made a wise remark in an informal chat with this writer at the Dutch Embassy, Vienna, “India does not want to seem to understand that those powers who got into this nuclear weapon game regret it deeply, and having got into it, find it very difficult to get out of it”. India’s case vindicates this truth. Soon after the BJP-led govt. was voted out, a new cabinet minister of the Congress-led UPA was asked on CTBT. He reportedly answered somewhat, (quoting from memory), “The previous govt. did us in. If we had been in power we wouldn’t have done those explosions (1998). Now that Pakistan has nuclear weapons, we cannot roll back.” But a counter to Ramaker would be – why the West then continues to legitimise the currency value of nuclear weapons by its guardianship of them? Why not dispossess them with strong will and not hide under philosophic excuses?

    One security-related issue hardly emphasised in current elections is: India has a fast-growing population under no official demographic control. India has not solved its poverty, education and health security of its poorest (over 400 million) which China more or less has controlled, enabling China to catapult into the second largest economy of the world now at $10Trillions GDP per annum compared to India’s $2Trillions, but having almost the same population size. This differential will widen till 2018 and beyond with China then having GDP $14Trillions as against India’s $2.8Trillions (Data Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook). Yet India is the biggest arms importer of the world. What for, one may justifiably ask? What have you achieved with these arms? Pakistan parades itself, as world’s only Islamic nuclear power, a bankrupt pariah economy struggling frantically to cash in on its nuclear power image in Middle-East! In the meantime the world is aware what Pakistan is, as National Geographic succinctly identified, a State become a WMD per se.

    Today both India and Pakistan are bleeding themselves through their unaffordable military spending. China’s military budget and development are designed to counter potential U.S. military “bullying”, we are told. The point is, despite current financial investment consolidation in defence spending even with the U.S. Obama administration, both China and the U.S. can afford such big defence outlay, having solved their basic, existential survival problems ages ago, whereas India and Pakistan still reel under them in 21st century’s 2nd decade.

    The only way to roll back this sub-continental irrationality in defence spending is for a new Indian government and Pakistan’s civil leader Nawaz Sharif to come to a peace agreement, so that they can divert substantial part of their resources for developmental needs. Pakistan needs but to understand that India’s military program cannot be drastically cut overnight because of unsolved border problems with China.

    George Chakko, Former U.N. correspondent at the Vienna International Center, now retiree in Vienna, Austria. April 13, 2014

  • Posted by Azhar

    Thanks for the detailed article. Hope to see good relationships with neighbor countries.

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