Election Theater: The BJP’s Political Tactics and Anti-Pakistan Campaign

As the 2024 Lok Sabha elections approach, considerable discourse has been devoted to the topic of electoral dynamics in India. A new opinion poll published earlier this month by Times Now-ETG predicts that the National Democratic Alliance, led by the Bhartiya Janata Party, will once again sweep the nation in the Lok Sabha Election 2024. The Congress, despite making significant gains in its tally, is likely to finish a distant second. It is probable that the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in power, will secure another term in office.

The worrying thing, though, is that the BJP’s election campaign, which ought to be predicated on an assessment of India’s prospects for the future, instead centers on taking advantage of anti-Pakistan feelings. Even if the BJP is likely to win the next elections, peace and stability in the area may be endangered by its ongoing anti-Pakistan campaign. Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared in 2019 that “it would have been a ‘qatal ki raat’ (night of slaughter)” if Pakistan had not returned Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman during his election campaign in Gujarat. However, the BJP won handily as a result of this, but peace and stability in the region were put in jeopardy.

Modi came out of the Pulwama charade to become the unbeatable national rescuer during the Indian election. According to political pundits, the Modi administration has been uniting extreme Hindu voters by employing rhetoric that is anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan, and anti-Kashmir. Modi was able to regain power in the 2019 general elections with a sizable majority, thanks to this formula. India has been gaining political advantages both domestically and internationally by employing the narrative of “terrorism staged in Pakistan” as a tool for its foreign policy.

In an interview, Satya Pal Malik, the former governor of Indian-held Kashmir under the Modi administration, issued a warning about the likelihood of another false-flag operation similar to the one that occurred in Pulwama, as the 2024 election campaign got underway. “I’m afraid [these folks] might cause any unfortunate incident. They are able to plan an assault against the Ram Temple. They might plan to murder a BJP official. They can do anything, given that they can execute a Pulwama strike. The legislature is unimportant to them.”

The stage is prepared to boost patriotic feelings by using Bollywood films like Fighter, which was scheduled for release on January 25, just one day before India’s Republic Day. Fighter is notable for its realism, especially in its depiction of the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attacks. The trailer alludes to the airstrikes carried out by India in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJ&K). In reaction to the assault in Pulwama, it demonstrated attacking alleged terror launchpads in Balakot. In the Pulwama attack, at least forty Indian Army soldiers lost their lives. The teaser of the film also shows India’s forceful retaliation to Pakistan’s counterattack using F-16 aircraft built in the United States. The movie completely contradicts the data and facts presented in the teaser. But the films encouraged a radical agenda against Pakistan, which will aid the BJP in gaining electoral victory.

The same pattern was seen in January 2019, when Bollywood released the film “Uri: The Surgical Strike,” which was directed at Pakistan and claims to narrate the events of the 2016 Uri attack as well as the Indian Army’s subsequent surgical strikes against so-called militant launch pads in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Positive reviews were given to the film because of its action-packed and patriotic story. It was a big box-office hit and helped fuel the nationalist spirit that was popular in India at the time. Although the 2019 Indian general elections had nothing to do with the movie’s release, it did take advantage of the country’s heightened political atmosphere and feelings against Pakistan.

The article “The Rise of Anti-Pakistan Bollywood” by Poulomi Das, published on September 14, 2021, explores how Bollywood is now more inclined to make patriotic films that emphasise anti-Pakistan feelings. It discussed how three films, “Bhuj: The Pride of India,” “BellBottom,” and “Shershaah,” were slated to be released on Independence Day in 2021. These films were presented as being more anti-Pakistan than they were about honouring India. The piece also discusses how Bollywood’s sense of patriotism had changed, especially in the wake of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election and the ascent of the nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014. Films that were once patriotic but now have strong anti-Pakistan overtones are now often released on the week of August 14–15, which is when Pakistan and India commemorate their independence from the British Raj.

The “surgical strike” was a key platform of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2019 Indian general elections, which helped the Hindu nationalist party secure a larger majority than it did in 2014. Voter mobilisation for the 2019 general election also made use of the Pulwama attack. The attack was launched with the intention of benefiting politically from the anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan sentiment. It is BJP policy to bring up Pakistan during election campaigns.

The Indian Air Force strike against the alleged Jaish-e Mohammad camp in Pakistan’s Balakot had been formally included in the BJP campaign, according to an NDTV report titled “Balakot Air Strike In Tagline, Song As BJP Rejigs Campaign Plan.” It was followed by a significant surge in nationalism, leading the BJP to refocus their campaign around nationalism. “Modi hai toh mumkin hai (When Modi is around, everything is possible)” was its catchphrase.

Prominent Indian lawyer Prashant Bhushan has issued a warning, claiming that the Modi administration is preparing a false flag operation similar to the one that occurred in Pulwama to be carried out in advance of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Bhushan went on to warn that the Modi government would launch a second “surgical strike” in Azad Jammu and Kashmir in order to inflame nationalist sentiment by drawing the country into a show of retaliation. Giving an example of how the BJP had thrown everything to its advantage prior to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections by conducting an unjustified “airstrike” at Balakot, he insisted that the Modi government would not hesitate to use a “tried and tested” strategy of manipulating the electorate through an aggressive campaign.

Bhushan claimed that in order to incite hyper nationalism among the populace, Narendra Modi would either partition all of India, like Manipur, or implement “Pulwama 2.0” and “Balakot 2.0.” He stated that the concerned individuals would stop at nothing to win elections.

Now, taking into consideration the tendencies described above, Pakistan ought to be ready for any misadventure the BJP government may have against Pakistan as an election tool. It is essential to maintain uninterrupted surveillance of the situation, particularly in the border regions, in order to identify and swiftly respond to any provocative activities that may occur. Pakistan ought to take an active role in international diplomacy in order to bring attention to its worries about the possibility that India will exploit anti-Pakistan sentiments for the purpose of gaining political advantage. By bringing these issues to the attention of the international community, Pakistan has the ability to garner support and deter any imprudent acts taken by the Indian government.

Pakistan should counter any false narratives or propaganda that may arise during India’s election campaign. It is important to make use of international media sources in order to promote Pakistan’s perspective. Communication that is both clear and transparent has the potential to assist in shaping foreign opinion and gaining support for Pakistan.

It is important for the international community to take note of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) foreign strategy of blaming Pakistan to secure domestic political mileage. The merciless plan that India has devised to maintain Pakistan’s security on the brink of collapse is a cause of concern on a global scale, particularly regarding the fact that it involves two nuclear powers. By intentionally fanning war hysteria against Pakistan, the Hindu-extremist rulers of India have been putting peace in the area in jeopardy and encouraging the possibility of an all-out conflict. India’s propaganda campaign against Pakistan, which is driven by self-serving political motivations and relies on falsehoods and dishonesty, should be brought to the attention of the international community, according to the most recent disclosures.

Muhammad Mateen

The author is a Research Intern at the India Study Center, Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, specializing in Indian internal politics, India's foreign policy, and the Indo-Pacific region.

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