Modi playing China card to win election

By Zhao Gancheng Source:Global Times Published: 2019/3/25 18:13:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Not long before India's general elections scheduled from April 11 to May 19, the standoff between India and Pakistan had reached a climax after tit-for-tat air strikes following a suicide attack on Indian paramilitary troopers in February. India recently proposed to blacklist Masood Azhar, the leader of Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, as a global terrorist at the UN Security Council. This shows that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) intend to use the simmering dispute with Pakistan as one of its main election planks to shore up Modi's popularity and lure voters.

Bilateral problems are generally not used as election issues in India or other countries, unless tensions boil over leading to a war. 

Indeed there are problems in ties between Beijing and New Delhi, but relations are far from leading to a crisis. China has virtually nothing to do with India's general elections, yet Modi has begun to play the "China card" to divert the electorate's focus. 

The BJP was once confident of winning the general elections. But it has been lashed by various domestic woes, including uninspiring economic data reflecting lower employment growth. Discontent among the people has brought to the fore the BJP's unfulfilled promises to voters. 

Such being the case, an experienced politician like Modi will certainly spare no effort to play different cards, including the "China card," which would work to some extent in India's northern region, which is a so-called frontline of conflicts with China. Besides, the region is underdeveloped and people living in such areas have stronger nationalist sentiments. 

Modi's popularity has declined, so he needs to grab every opportunity to gain more votes. In addition to using the China card, Modi played up the standoff with Pakistan. 

The BJP whipped up nationalist sentiments with an explicit goal - consolidating its hardline profile. As some Indians have been persuaded to believe that Beijing has taken Islamabad's side against New Delhi in the standoff, this is a good opportunity for Modi to play up his "China card." 

Usually, playing the diplomatic card doesn't work. But it was used in northern India that is densely populated - the northern state of Uttar Pradesh houses 200 million people. Larger the population, more the number of voters. 

Why didn't the BJP play the "China card" in southern India, which is more developed and prosperous? The people there wouldn't buy it as the general elections are about domestic politics. Anyone who has a relatively clear perception of the international situation can easily see through Modi's intention of raking up the China issue in election rallies to gain popularity when he cannot figure a better way out of his domestic predicament.

This year's general elections are quite complicated; it is very hard to tell who would win. The Indian National Congress (INC) performed well in state elections, but that result is not directly related to elections to parliament. Furthermore, the INC doesn't have an effective leader. A descendant of the Nehru-Gandhi family, Rahul Gandhi didn't perform well at election rallies either in 2014 or 2018-19. He is not even as politically savvy as his popular sister Priyanka Gandhi. Hence, it is unlikely Indians will accept Rahul Gandhi as the country's PM. 

If Modi could finally win his re-election, he would desist from the "China card," taking national interest into top consideration. China-India ties will face no big hurdles as Beijing doesn't harm India's essential interests. 

Some Western media outlets have hyped up India's bid to list Azhar as global terrorist due to their own policy agendas. The US and some other Western countries do not want to see China and India have friendly relations. Officials and scholars in the US believe the two countries will be permanently hostile to each other and make policies based on such an assumption. 

China-India relations are on a sound track; the recent tensions over Azhar are not as serious as the Doklam standoff in 2017. India should have known beforehand that China will not back its claim.

New Delhi is also clear that Beijing is playing a mediating role and that China doesn't want to see India in clash with Pakistan. Therefore, if Modi makes it in the general elections, he will rationally handle relations with China. 

The author is a research fellow of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.


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