• Thursday 19th September 2019

Indian election outcome and U.S.-Iran tensions

  • Published on: May 22, 2019

  • By MR Josse

    GAITHERSBURG, MD: By the time this column sees light of day, the outcome of India’s marathon, seven-phase election would have been officially announced.
    Given the significant place India occupies in the international order, it is only natural that there should be intense attention on the matter – in her immediate neighbourhood, as well as in the United States, China, Russia, Japan, and the EU.
    At the time of writing, however, the voting process has just concluded and speculation on the result is still deliciously rife. Yet, going by the New York Times (NYT) reportage, based on half a dozen exit polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP will pick up at least 280 of the 545 seats in the Lok Sabha, or, well past the 272 needed to constitute a government on its own.
    If such claims do prove to be prescient – and here the NYT reminds that exit polls have a patchy track record – it would mean that Modi has been unscathed by widespread economic dissent and sectarian tensions, giving him a strong hand in his next five-year stint of government.
    As a NYT account reminds, Modi’s critics worry that victory will embolden him to “assert his Hindu nationalistic policies that his party campaigned on – placing India squarely within a global shift to the right.”
    More importantly, in my opinion, if Modi – after his projected victory – continues with, or reinforces, his ‘Hindutva’ agenda it could spark a perfect storm of communal strife in India – not forgetting that radical Islamic outfits such as ISIS have just announced their determination to robustly promote their baleful agenda in India and Bangladesh. To recall, ISIS has in fact recently announced a ‘province’ in Kashmir!
    Two additional factors warrant pointed attention: one, that hard-core BJP worthies have in the past thought nothing of terming the Indian armed forces as their own ‘sena’; and the other, that Indians such as Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda have, as reported by the Times of India, publicly stated that it is “worrisome” that the military is increasingly being drawn into the political discourse and used to win political arguments.
    Nepal, in any case, needs to tread very cautiously given the possibility that she might, even unwittingly, be drawn into the cross-fire of a ISIS-Modi’s ‘Hindutva’ clash: despite Republican Nepal’s faux ‘secularism’, she is very much a Hindu state, at least going by the inalterable facts of history, popular culture and demography.
    That apart, there is the perennial problem of dealing with a triumphant BJP-led Indian government, given the bitter lessons of its five-month plus blockade on our earthquake ravaged nation in 2015. Besides, Nepal must never neglect nourishing, upgrading and updating Nepal-China relations: for its own sake, and in the context of dealing with a hegemonic power with pretensions of Great Power grandeur.
    Against the backdrop of the Indian elections, it may not be inappropriate to draw attention to the fact, as reported by the Washington correspondent of The Hindu, that House Democrats, including House Foreign Policy Committee Chair, Eliot Engel, have written to President Donald Trump to appoint an Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs, and lists a number of concerns including a lack of a coherent India policy.
    Let’s see if things change on the U.S-India front after the G-20 summit in Japan slated for June 28-29 where Trump will meet with Modi – assuming, of course, that he is by then the head of the post-election Indian government.
    Before moving on, here’s a brief note on the American presidential electoral scene more than a year before it takes place. This concerns Joe Biden, former vice president and recent entrant to the primary race for the Democratic nomination. Two points are particularly worthy of note, at this early stage.
    The first concerns that present divide within the Democratic party on whether ‘unity’ or ‘anger’ is the most effective overarching theme to be pursued in the forthcoming presidential joust against Trump, come November 2020.
    Biden has lumped for ‘unity’ against ‘anger’. At a recent Philadelphia campaign rally, this is briefly how he explained his choice. There, he declared: “Some say Democrats don’t want to hear about unity. That they are angry – and the angrier you are, the better. That’s what they are saying you have to do to win the Democratic nomination. Well, I don’t believe it. I believe Democrats want to unify the nation. That’s what we’ve always been about. Unity.”
    The second attention worthy point is that he has been consistently leading in the polls for the Democratic party since he got into the race, now bulging with 23 announced candidates. Also, there is widespread feeling in the Democratic camp that Biden is the strongest candidate to beat Trump in 2020 for, among other qualities, including those of leadership and political experience.
    The wrangling between the United States and Iran has gotten worse with President Trump’s latest tweet ratcheting up rhetoric against Tehran.
    Interestingly, though, Trump’s America would have to go it alone in any confrontation with Iran. An Asia Times piece reveals even the most hawkish of America’s Middle Eastern allies – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel – has decided to take steps to “ensure that Israel is not dragged into the escalation.”
    While Saudi Arabia has long called for regime change in Iran, Riyadh too is clearly wary of taking part in actual conflict. According to Bloomberg Television, the United Arab Emirate, would not be “baited into a crisis”.
    Equally illuminating is that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent dash to Brussels was met with a cool reception: EU states didn’t desire to be pressurized into joining America in a confrontation with Iran.
    Given this revealing backdrop it is indeed difficult to envisage a frontal America-Iran clash in the near future. But, who can really tell, over the long haul?


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