The center-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is expected to win India’s general elections and likely catapult its leader, Narendra Modi, to the prime ministry, released its party manifesto earlier this week to applause from its supporters and predictable derision from opponents and critics. The 52-page document spells out -- mostly in ambiguous and intentionally vanilla terms -- the party’s vision for its rule in India, touching on dozens of important topics, including the economy, military, defense, health care and foreign policy.
Here are some of the highlights, lowlights and downright odd items included in the BJP manifesto:
*Foreign direct investment
In a direct slap at foreign retailers like Wal-Mart (NYSE: WAL) of the United States, and Tesco (LON: TSCO) of Britain, BJP states that it will allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in “sectors wherever needed for job and asset creation, infrastructure and acquisition of niche technology and specialized expertise,” but will prohibit such investments for foreign multi-brand retailers. BJP explained that it is committed to protecting the interests of small Indian retailers whose businesses would be swallowed up by foreign giants. (Wal-Mart defied the BJP by announcing that it plans to open up dozens of new stores in India over the next few years, something that the Congress Party has already endorsed.)
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The BJP said it will seek to construct a Hindu temple on the site of a mosque that was destroyed by Hindu groups in 1992 in Ayodhya in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Hindu activists demolished the Babri mosque, citing that the location served as the birthplace of the Hindu god Rama. This measure is likely to solidify support among Hindu nationalist voters and further alienate Muslims from the BJP.
The BJP said it may seek to "revise and update" India's policy of no-first-use with respect to nuclear weapons, while suggesting it may commit to a build-up of the country's arsenal, policies it says would “serve India's national interest” in the 21st century. “We will follow a two-pronged independent nuclear program, unencumbered by foreign pressure and influence, for civilian and military purposes, especially as nuclear power is a major contributor to India's energy sector,” the manifesto reads. BJP also said it will maintain a “credible minimum deterrent that is in tune with changing geostatic realities.”
India had adopted a no-first-use nuclear policy as a result of pressure from the west following successful nuclear tests. In response to BJP’s plans, Richard Boucher, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, called it "not a smart move" by the BJP. "What does it do for India? Nothing really, although it would introduce a small, probably destabilizing, element in the calculations of nuclear adversaries,” Boucher told Reuters. "In fact, the threats to India -- terrorist groups and conventional border disputes - can't be dealt with by nuclear threats. India's nuclear strategy ain't broke, so don't fix it."
India has an estimated 90 to 110 warheads, while Pakistan is believed to possess as many as 120 and China is thought to have at least 250.
With respect to Kashmir, the northernmost region of India that is also claimed by Pakistan, BJP said that Jammu and Kashmir (the Indian-administered part of Kashmir) will “remain an integral part” of India and that the territorial integrity of India is “inviolable.” But the BJP goes one step further by asserting it wants to revoke Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the semi-autonomous status of J&K. In response, a top Kashmir official named Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said that Article 370 cannot be abrogated and that such a policy is “non-negotiable.” Also, Arif Majid Pampori, a former BJP candidate in Srinagar, Kashmir, has quit the party after calling the manifesto "anti-Kashmir" and "anti-Muslim," citing not only Article 370 but also the construction of the Rama temple.
The BJP manifesto even goes so far as to declare it will protect the cow, an animal sacred to India and to Hinduism. “In view of the contribution of cow and its progeny to agriculture, socio-economic and cultural life of our country, the department of animal husbandry will be suitably strengthened and empowered for the protection of cow and its progeny,” the BJP stated.
The BJP again is likely seeking to curry favor with its Hindu nationalist base by seeking promote Yoga and traditional Ayurveda medicine, calling them “gifts of ancient Indian civilization to humanity.” The party said it will increase the public investment to promote Yoga and Ayurvedic medicine.”
The Manifesto does not mention China even once, but indirectly refers to the Chinese by discussing “intrusions inside the LAC (Line of actual control),” which is the name for the 2500-mile border the two countries share. BJP also appears to reference China by stating that “in our neighborhood we will pursue friendly relations. However, where required we will not hesitate from taking strong stand and steps,” a possible reference to quick retaliation for any further border incursions by foreign states, including China.
Pakistan, a county that every Indian government has to spend an enormous amount of time and resources to deal with, is only explicitly mentioned twice in the BJP manifesto. The first reference discusses the BJP’s plan to return Kashmiri Hindu refugees back to what it called “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir,” while the second mention speaks of an “increase in incidence of Pakistan-backed terror groups in India.”
Bizarrely, the manifesto makes no mention whatsoever of major foreign powers like the United States, Japan, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, Iran or Russia.
Bangladesh is mentioned only once in the entire manifesto, in terms of illegal immigration into India from that country. BJP said it will address the issue of “infiltration and illegal immigrants in the Northeast region [of India] on a priority basis. This will include clear policy directions and effective control at the ground level.” The party also vowed to complete the construction of a border fence along India’s borders with both Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma).