Until recently, foreign policy and nationalistic exhortations played a relatively marginal role in impacting the fortunes of political parties in national elections in India and abroad. But now, this is changing, and changing in a big way. If these twin phenomena swing even just 2-3 per cent of the votes, it can make a huge difference in the total number of seats won and decide who will form the government.
Since September 11, 2001, in the United States, the capability of the Supreme Commander — the President — to fight international terrorism and provide national security and protection to all citizens has become a factor. In some measure, this did help in the re-election of George W. Bush for his second term. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of the situation in Iraq, Libya and Syria, especially hundreds of e-mails which she sent on her personal e-mail ID became handy for Donald Trump to raise serious questions about her integrity in the election campaign in 2016 — which resonated with many voters and dented her prospects. The alleged Russian meddling in the last presidential election — extensively probed by Robert Mueller — and whose report didn’t indict the President personally but also didn’t exonerate him fully is still a raging controversy and is likely to be used in the next election. Mr Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency to divert funds to erect a wall to prevent illegal immigrants from Mexico from entering the US, renegotiating Nafta with Canada and Mexico; trying to ban immigrants from certain Muslim majority nations, shifting the US embassy to Jerusalem, giving a blind eye to Israel’s annexation of part of the Golan Heights and it’s naming as Trump Heights and warning even close allies like the EU, Japan, South Korea and Australia to balance their trade with the US or face high tariffs are all geared to project him as a macho, resolute nationalist President who wants to Make America Great Again; brings in investment and generates jobs and re-establishes the US as the most dominant power in the world. Many may not know that his tariff war against China, which is not only hurting China's economy but also impacting the buyers of Chinese goods in America, enjoys widespread support in the US.
Back home in India, the opening of the Kartarpur corridor between India and Pakistan falls in the realm of foreign relations but it has huge sentimental and emotional impact in Punjab, especially for Sikh devotees in view of the forthcoming 500th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Saheb.
Terrorist attacks hatched, aided, assisted and executed by Pakistan-based terrorist groups have taken place in India during UPA and NDA governments However, there is general agreement that the scale and the depth of a pre-emptive surgical strike across the LoC carried out on September 28, 2016 after the terrorist attack at the Uri Army camp was arguably the biggest ever. And the airstrike after the terrorist attack on a CRPF convoy at Pulwama on February 14, 2019, for the first time since 1971, deep inside Pakistan at Balakot on February 26, 2019 before the parliamentary elections in India was an unprecedented and bold political and strategic decision. The shooting down of an F16 jet fighter by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman with his Mig 21 Bison and his capture by Pakistan and India’s success in putting bilateral and international pressure on Pakistan to release and send him back unharmed had all the ingredients of a thriller and offered an account folklores are made of.
As the buck for giving a green signal to carry out the surgical strikes and the airstrike stops at the doorsteps of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he has been legitimately credited for his resolute and decisive leadership; the armed forces deserve all the credit for accomplishing the task given to them. The Prime Minister’s decision to receive the coffins of CRPF soldiers at the airport, the heroic welcome accorded to Mr Varthaman (his posters were displayed by many candidates in their election campaigns) and repeated references to the airstrike in speeches aroused patriotic feelings and a perception was created that Indian citizens and national borders were safe with Mr Modi at the helm and only he was capable of striking back at and teaching Pakistan a lesson.
Bringing back Christian Michel, the Augusta Westland middleman, the efforts at getting Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, all economic offenders and fugitives, success in eventually getting Masood Azhar designated a terrorist by the UN sanctions’ committee, the arrest of Hafiz Sayeed (the US played a crucial role in the action against Azhar and Sayeed) and the decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case do reflect the greater vigour of the government of the day to pursue them. In these cases, the domestic and external aspects get intertwined.
Not surprisingly, BJP president Amit Shah has hailed the ICJ’s verdict as “another manifestation of the Modi government’s diplomatic efforts and commitment to protect all Indians.” The defence minister Rajnath Singh has echoed similar sentiments.
And for a change, the ministry of external affairs and its diplomats are getting a pat on their backs. They deserve it....