Potential India-Pakistan war signalled as Modi’s election rhetoric grows more worrying

Narendra Modi mocks neighbour’s nuclear capabilities as home minister vows to ‘take back’ Kashmir

As the fifth of seven rounds of voting in India’s staggered general elections gets under way this week, the campaign rhetoric from prime minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), seeking a third consecutive term in office, has attained a worrying pitch.

At election rallies across the country, federal home minister Amit Shah, the prime minister’s closest confidant and India’s second most powerful official, has threatened “decisive action” if re-elected against neighbour Pakistan, to “recover” the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir it seized 77 years ago.

Shah declared that despite Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal, India would act to “take back” the one-third portion of Kashmir that the Pakistani army and armed Pathan tribesmen captured in violation of bilateral agreements, following independence from colonial rule in 1947.

“We have rights over it [Pakistan-administered Kashmir] and we will take proactive steps at the appropriate moment to take it back,” Shah said, signalling the potential for war between the two nuclear-weapon states. “We have set this target”, he said at a rally in eastern Bengal state on May 15th, issuing similar warnings elsewhere, without elaboration.


Modi has disparaged the opposition Congress Party’s advice that India should engage Pakistan in dialogue to foster peace.

Addressing an election rally in eastern Odisha state on May 11th, he mocked Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities as incompetent and ineffectual and claimed that Islamabad’s penurious state prevented it from “even handling its [nuclear] bombs”. He claimed Pakistan had been looking to sell its nuclear weapons but was unable to find a buyer as they were of poor quality.

India and Pakistan have fought four wars since independence, three of them over Kashmir, which is claimed by both in its entirety. Globally, Kashmir is considered a “nuclear flashpoint” territorial dispute.

Political commentators in India have said invoking Pakistan in their election speeches is part of an Islamophobic agenda by the BJP leadership in its bid to garner votes from India’s majority Hindu community, which comprises about 80 per cent of its more than 1.4 billion people.

The country’s 200-odd million Muslims, making up some 15 per centof the population, have long been targeted by the BJP and its numerous associate religious, social and political organisations, in their collective agenda of propagating Hindutva, or Hindu hegemony.

Media reports have suggested that such anti-Muslim sentiments are also aimed at motivating BJP cadres into energising party supporters, following low voter turnouts in the first four rounds of polling. These have prompted disquiet within the BJP’s hierarchy, disappointed at the party’s apparent inability to securing the landslide majority Modi had projected based on his personal popularity and his administration’s economic and governance record over the past decade. In response, the BJP leadership has opted for a “more robust” anti-Muslim clarion call to attract voters, analysts have said.

Modi has repeatedly warned Hindu voters against electing the Congress Party, claiming it would seize their wealth, land and even jewellery, and distribute it to Muslims. He also says the Congress would favour Muslims over Hindus, under India’s sizeable affirmative action schemes.

At a recent rally in central Madhya Pradesh state Modi urged voters to choose between “Vote jihad” and “Ram Rajya”, or governance dictated by the tenets of the Hindu god Ram, whom he said guided the prime minister in creating a prosperous and just society.

Tens of millions of Hindus worship Ram, and in January Modi had inaugurated a temple built on the god’s birth spot at Ayodhya in north India, on the site of a 16th century mosque flattened by Hindu zealots 32 years ago. This demolition triggered countrywide rioting in which more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, died.

Modi denies demonising Muslims, despite having recently publicly referred to them as “infiltrators”, and as a community that has numerous children. This stems from the BJP’s enduring belief that Muslims produce many more children than Hindus and will eventually subsume them, numerically.

In an interview with CNN-News 18 on May 14th, the prime minister rejected opposition and media allegations of vilifying Muslims, and said he would abandon public life if he ever resorted to sectarianism.

“I will not do Hindu-Muslim [politics]. That is my resolve,” he said in his interview in Hindi, clips of which were posted on X. Asked why he had labelled Muslims as a people with more children than others, the prime minister said he was referring to poor people, who invariably had large families.

However, a day later Modi reverted to Hindu-Muslim politics at a rally in Nashik, western India. He cautioned voters against opposition parties allocating 15 per cent of India’s budget for Muslim welfare, as part of their “divisive” agenda to downgrade Hindus, and urged them to elect the BJP as their protector.

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