Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election campaign in 2019 had no imprint of the promises he had made five years before. Gone was the allure of achhe din—the good days—the promise of two crore jobs every year and 15 lakh rupees in each account. The Gujarat Model was also nowhere to be seen. In its place was muscular hyper-nationalism, Hindutva majoritarianism and authoritarian populism—all of it riding on a vicious anti-Pakistan tirade, tom-tomming the Balakot airstrike unleashed to avenge the Pulwama suicide bombing. Besides proud proclamations of having ordered the firing of missiles into Pakistan, threats of using nuclear weapons were openly given.
Invoking Pakistan in vengeful terms is not a new tactic for Modi. He did it during numerous state assembly elections before 2019, hitting a particular low during the 2017 Gujarat elections when he made baseless innuendo-filled allegations against Manmohan Singh and Hamid Ansari of colluding with Pakistani diplomats to make Ahmed Patel the chief minister of Gujarat. As chief minister of Gujarat, Modi was fond of raising Pakistan in his campaign. He invoked “Miyan Musharraf” to link Indian Muslims with Pakistan, and, by extension, terrorism.
To those following Modi’s career, his insinuations and anti-Pakistan rhetoric in 2019 was in keeping with his past. If Modi’s election rhetoric translated into policy, Pakistan would have been wiped out from the face of earth after 2019. Instead, within a year of his re-election, Modi was studiously avoiding any mention of Pakistan in his speeches. Since then, assembly elections have been held in Bihar, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. Scarcely has Modi made a mention of Pakistan in his election speeches. The absence is glaring. This is unlikely to be because of a change of heart on Pakistan, but instead due to the harsh reality of Chinese forces taking control of some parcels of Indian territory in Ladakh in April and May 2020.