Why some Pakistanis like the idea of Modi becoming India’s prime minister

The country’s businessmen believe that the BJP candidate will usher in a more productive economic climate.

A glance at the Pakistani newspapers might give the impression that their readers care deeply about the Indian elections and are concerned about the possibility of Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Narendra Modi becoming India’s next prime minister. Talking to people on the street, though, suggests that simply isn’t the case. They wouldn’t even know how to spell the name of Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal.

In fact, some conservatives are upset by that the Pakistani media is even talking about the Indian elections. For those on the political and religious right, this is part of a never-ending competition with India. Since they don’t cover the Pakistani elections, this group contends, why should we cover theirs?

If there’s any serious discussion about Modi, it is taking place in select government circles, among the radical right and business communities. The Pakistan government is not anxious about the hawkish BJP candidate because it understands that nothing will become certain until the election results are announced. For the right wing, the main concern is what Modi means for the Muslims in India. Any tension between the BJP and India’s Muslim community  would present an opportunity for the radical right to convert more Pakistanis to the idea that India is a permanent enemy. If Modi fails to protect India’s religious minorities, it could mean chaos not only within India but across the entire region.

Businessmen, though, are excited that a Modi victory could bring opportunities for increased trade. There are many industries in Pakistan’s central Punjab that already benefit from imports from India through the black market. They are hoping that business costs will be reduced by the pro-industry BJP candidate. Despite the Pakistani government’s indecisiveness on trade ties with India, the possibility of a strong government in India would be good for business in the entire region.

Curiously, some Pakistanis are viewing Modi more in terms of an impending failure than as success story. One farmer from Punjab compared the BJP’s top candidate with Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of the Pakistani Punjab and brother of prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The farmer was of the view that the hype about Modi’s development work in Gujarat was similar to the hype about the younger Sharif’s achievements in the Pakistani part of Punjab. But, the farmer added, it is a different ball-game when you have to operate at a national level. “Shahbaz Sharif cannot bring together all of Pakistan the way Benazir Bhutto did,” he said. “Similarly, Modi won’t be able to connect India either.”

Conflict with Pakistan

Unlike the radical right, the public at large is less concerned about Modi’s image as a Hindutva hardliner supported by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh who might ignite conflict with Pakistan. Many people I spoke to were dismissive of Modi’s speeches promising to bring Dawood Ibrahim back to India or retaliating against terrorism. Shopkeepers that I spoke to in Rawalpindi and Islamabad shared similar views. They said that Modi’s harsh statements were nothing more than a political ploy to gain votes. If he becomes prime minister, he will realise that he can’t keep his promises, they said. “Do you think his generals and officers will not brief him about what would happen if he took a hard line towards Pakistan?” one shopkeeper said.

Common people understand that India and Pakistan have little to gain through conflict. They believe that with nuclear weapons in the equation, India would not take the risk of pushing Pakistan far, even if Modi wanted to do so. Threatening Pakistan is easier said than done, people feel.

“Is it that easy to walk over Pakistan without thinking of the millions of Muslims that live inside India?” one person asked. Modi is thus viewed by Pakistanis as a divisive agent within India, a man who will damage his own country before he hurts anyone else.

Note: This article originally published here.