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New challenges for Modi in 2015

By Graham Cooke - posted Tuesday, 6 January 2015

India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had much to celebrate in 2014. A landslide victory in the May national elections ended a decade in opposition; added to this were wins in a string of State polls – Haryana, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and a near miss in Jammu and Kashmir.

But as 2015 begins, there are a number of clouds on the horizon as Prime Minister Narendra Modi gets down to the serious business of transforming his country into the economic powerhouse he dreams will one day challenge China for supremacy in Asia.

Among the State polls, it is the BJP's performance in Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir that stands out as the most remarkable example of what has become known as the Modi Magic.


Despite representing a party that has its roots in militant Hindu nationalism, the Prime Minister campaigned in the State on a platform of economic reform and expansion, and with a slate of Muslim candidates won 25 of the 87 seats, finishing second to the local People's Democratic Party.

But it is this region, bordering both Pakistan and China, which is likely to give the BJP and Modi most grief in the months ahead. In a dispute that dates back to the partition of British India in 1947, Pakistan holds roughly one third of the total territory of the former Princely State of Kashmir and Jammu, while China also has territorial claims on some border areas.

Tensions have flared into wars between India and Pakistan on two previous occasions and in recent times tensions have risen again with cross-border firing and deaths on both sides, endangering Modi's attempts at rapprochement with Pakistan's President Nawaz Sharif.

This has led to Pakistan's Minister for Defence, Khawaja Asif, blaming India for trying to engage his country in a "low-intensity war", adding ominously that as New Delhi did not understand the language of peace "we will now communicate with India in a language they understand".

The situation took another turn for the worse when Indian coastguards attempted to intercept a Pakistani fishing boat which appeared to be heading for the coast of the Indian State of Gujarat.

The trawler, with a crew of four, made off when challenged. It stopped when the coastguard vessel fired shots, but was then set on fire by its crew, resulting in a massive explosion. A navy official told the Hindustan Times the vessel was probably on a suicide mission.


This stirred memories of the 2009 Mumbai massacre when 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists travelling from Karachi hijacked an Indian fishing trawler and brought it ashore before going on a three-day rampage that killed 166 people.

Pakistan may be Modi's most intractable foreign policy challenge, but the BJP is also in trouble at home over allegations of forced conversions of Christian villagers by right-wing Hindu nationalist groups such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The issue paralysed India's Parliament as it wound up for the year with Oppositions MPs demanding that the Prime Minister make a statement condemning the use of force or inducements to make religious conversions.

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About the Author

Graham Cooke has been a journalist for more than four decades, having lived in England, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, for a lengthy period covering the diplomatic round for The Canberra Times.

He has travelled to and reported on events in more than 20 countries, including an extended stay in the Middle East. Based in Canberra, where he obtains casual employment as a speech writer in the Australian Public Service, he continues to find occasional assignments overseas, supporting the coverage of international news organisations.

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