Since independence, Pakistanis have been told that their country is a "citadel of Islam," that its destiny is to be an Islamic state and its army is "the sword of Islam." Advocates of modern, secular values, even pluralism, are denigrated as "enemies of the ideology of Pakistan." Pakistan's establishment, led by its military, also seeks parity with India, not only in the legal sense of sovereign equality between nations but in military and political terms. This ideological milieu has helped religious-political groups exercise greater influence on national discourse than is justified and led to the outgrowth of jihadi groups, one more extreme than the other.
The crushing victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party and India's newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi has brought much hope to exasperated Indians and foreigners alike. With promises to revive a nation that 1.2 billion people call home, the so-called "Modi wave" has surged across India. Over the past few months, Indian equities have risen close to 20 percent. The rupee, which lost 13 percent against the dollar in 2013, has been one of the best performing.
After a prolonged period of political drift and paralysis, India's new government will be led by a man known for his decisiveness. Just as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's return to power in late 2012, after six years of political instability, reflected Japan's determination to reinvent itself as a more competitive and confident country, Narendra Modi's election victory reflects Indians' desire for a dynamic, assertive leader to help revitalize their country's economy and security.Like Abe, Modi is expected to focus on reviving India's economic fortunes while simultaneously bolstering its defenses and strengthening its strategic partnerships with likeminded states, thereby promoting regional stability and blocking the rise of a Sino-centric Asia.
What Modi offered to voters was in effect a mix of market-friendly growth, muscular nationalism rooted in Hindu lore and the promise of a militarily-strong India. The extent to which this mix proved to be an elixir, particularly for India's young, aspirational, technology savvy generation, would be obvious from the outcome of the elections. The Congress party has suffered its worst defeat in its history. Parties that banked on the votes of the lower castes and Muslims have been routed. And those controlled by families in the states have been flattened. Modi's appeal has thus cut across India's traditional fault lines. In one fell swoop, the BJP has widened its social base and, no less important, established its presence in virtually every state of India. It can now legitimately hope to fill the void created by the debacle faced by the avowedly secular and populist parties. This election therefore heralds a tectonic shift in Indian politics.
Some Indians cling to the warm and fuzzy notion that the country is slowly but surely fixing itself and improving its imperfect democracy. Indeed, several steps the government, Supreme Court and Election Commission have taken have done much in this regard. The introduction of electronic voting machines is often touted as an example. Stricter enforcement of "good conduct" norms has also helped. Politicians are now fined for provocative speeches, campaigning without prior permission and announcing sops close to polls. But all this is just a drop in the bucket. When India's election results are announced on May 16, many in this nation won't be sure whether it was their votes, or black money, guns and booze that determined who will run the world's largest democracy.