This post is part of a series on the Indian elections.
Earlier today, on the first day of India’s five-week-long national elections, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at last released their 2014 campaign manifesto. With the ruling Congress Party having released theirs on March 26, and the drumbeat of poll results showing the BJP with a commanding lead on the eve of elections, the platform’s absence had become the subject of much speculation.
The document offers a vision of India in the world which contrasts with that of the Congress: it speaks of alliances, where Congress speaks vaguely of goodwill and Non-Aligned Movement historic legacies. While it predictably emphasizes growth, it does so invoking a representation of India’s civilizational past as one of traders, scientists, and economic leaders in the world, a position damaged by colonial rule and one necessary to recover: “Before the advent of Britishers, Indian goods were internationally recognized for their quality and craftsmanship. India had a much bigger role and presence in industry and manufacturing than any nation in Europe or Asia.” In this emphasis on India as an ancient trading power, it differs slightly from earlier BJP manifestos which focused on the achievements of Indian civilization in agriculture, science and technology, medicine, and education.
On the international economic policy front, the platform shares with Congress an emphasis on making India “globally competitive,” and takes that a step further by advocating a “Brand India built on quality.” (Of course, as the party in opposition, the BJP is in a much less awkward position arguing the need for change to produce growth, since in doing so Congress tacitly acknowledges their own stewardship of economic problems over the past five years).
The BJP’s statement on foreign direct investment (FDI) policy has already caught media attention. It is both general but specific relating to multi-brand retail: “Barring the multi-brand retail sector, FDI will be allowed in sectors wherever needed for job and asset creation, infrastructure and acquisition of niche technology and specialized expertise.” In press interviews today, manifesto committee chair Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi has stated that the party would seek to repeal the current national policy permitting FDI at states’ discretion, a move which would roll back a reform already in place.
On the more encouraging side, a specific section focused on industrial development notes an emphasis on innovation, and promises to “embark on the path of IPRs and Patents in a big way.” Many international businesses will find these welcome words, although how they might be executed in practice is not clear.
On matters of national security and foreign policy, the BJP platform promises “zero tolerance” on terrorism and would seek a revamp of intelligence systems, defense, and defense production in order to better secure India. The manifesto envisions an India as a “global hub for defense hardware and software.”
In a significant departure from the Congress platform, which uses the word “nuclear” only once to exhort the need to expand civilian nuclear energy, the BJP pledges to update India’s nuclear doctrine to “make it relevant to challenges of current times.” They would maintain India’s policy of a credible minimum deterrent “in tune with changing geostatic realities.” These statements have already been picked up by the media as representing a shift away from India’s no-first-use policy. According to Reuters, while the platform itself does not say it will review no-first-use, “sources involved in drafting the document…said the policy would be reconsidered.” This element of the manifesto will be of great interest around the world, especially given the past history of the BJP hewing to their platform statements regarding nuclear doctrine. Indeed, the BJP manifesto of 1998 pledged to “Re-evaluate the country’s nuclear policy and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons.” In May 1998, they did.
The foreign policy section of the manifesto, which takes up one page and comes at the end, in keeping with the BJP past again promises to be “guided by our centuries old tradition of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is a family) in working to achieve India’s rightful place in the world. The BJP, unlike Congress’s plan to strengthen relations with all, would create a “web of allies to mutually further our interests.” Alliances are selective and much tighter relationships of consultation and obligation, a position very different from one of non-alignment with all.
The foreign policy platform speaks of the importance of Indian soft power potential, and lays out a high-level “Brand India” plan through what it calls the “5 Ts: Tradition, Talent, Tourism, Trade and Technology.” They will develop talent by expanding the diplomatic corps. The Indian diaspora receives special mention as an asset in developing Brand India. Relations through regional fora, like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the "BRICS" emerging economies of Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa, G20, the "IBSA" countries of India-Brazil-South Africa, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and others, also receive attention. In keeping with the manifesto’s domestic policy of deepening decentralization, the BJP promises to provide states a “greater role in diplomacy” specifically to “harness their mutual cultural and commercial strengths.”
The platform presents a straw man (“Instead of being led by big power interests”), which to my knowledge and diplomatic experience has never been true about India, to assert it will “engage proactively on our own with countries in the neighbourhood and beyond.” No individual countries receive mention, unlike the Congress document. On the neighborhood, the BJP will “pursue friendly relations” but “where required we will not hesitate from taking strong stand and steps.” These should be read as statements of orientation toward China and Pakistan, but enactment of any future policy steps will necessarily depend on immediate circumstances. Finally, similar to the German concept of citizenship by blood, the manifesto provides for India to serve as a “natural home” for persecuted Hindus around the world to seek refuge.
So: the BJP lays down some markers on FDI, India’s nuclear doctrine, and how it would approach its bilateral and multilateral relationships. As a roadmap for what the possible next Indian government might undertake, it thus offers some high-level guideposts, and important areas for external observers to watch closely.
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