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BJP will have a moderate Govt, say US experts - The Pioneer

Aziz Hanifa ()
March 10, 1998

Title: BJP will have a moderate Govt, say US experts
Author: Aziz Hanifa
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: March 10, 1998

As the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and allies edged closer to
forming a new government in India, the feeling among Clinton
Administration officials and South Asian experts was this would
be a "moderate and responsible" government.

The consensus among these officials and pundits was that the new
BJP-led coalition would be a far cry from the Hindu nationalist
party reflected in its election manifesto and predilection
rhetoric.

Publicly the Clinton administration, which has scrupulously
eschewed indicating any bias towards one party or another, said
it stood ready to work with any new government in New Delhi.

e are waiting till there is a government. We will see what the
government does and we will be having a dialogue with whatever
government there is" in India, a State Department official said.

An official source, while acknowledging that the administration
had been concerned if the BJP would emerge with a thumping
majority, said the U.S. was indeed heaving a sigh of relief that
the brittleness of an Atal Behari Vajpayee government would
hardly augur for pursuing a Hindu nationalist agenda.

The source said, "Because a coalition is necessary, if the BJP (-
led coalition) did come to power, it would be more likely that
there would be moderation in the Indian government, because it
would have to encompass a wide, spectrum of views."

Michael Krepon, president of the Henry Stimson Centre, a think
tank here, said, "If the BJP forms the government, the top
priority has to be economic growth and domestic tranquility.

He said, "If the BJP takes steps that damage economic growth and
domestic tranqulity, not only will they be shooting themselves in
the foot, they will be harming India's national security."

Krepon, obviously referring to possible tampering with the
economic reforms set in motion in 1991 and adoption of a
chauvinistic Hindu posture at the expense of the minorities,
reiterated, "If they do things that harm one or both, then India
loses."

Robert Hardgrave, professor of government studies at the
University of Texas in Austin, said even though the BJP's
"chauvinistic and communal track record is not an anxiety that
has by any means been eliminated, "a coalition sans an extreme
Hindu wing would necessarily manifest a "moderate face."

He recalled that this "moderate face" was reflected in the ery
character of the government that Vajpayee formed for those 13
days" In 1996 when the BJP was in power.

Hardgrave said he has always had tremendous respect for Vajpayee
albeit his concerns re-, garding the BJP's policies. He expressed
confidence that the esponsibilities of power," coupled with the
"moral force of a man like Vajpayee, would by themselves e a
moderating force.

James Clad, a professor of Asian Studies at Georgetown
University's School of Foreign Service, said even if a BJP-led
government declared India a nuclear power, Washington should not
overreact.

He predicted that the BJP for all its bluster would not test a
nuclear weapon. "What would India gain from that? Nothing," he
said, and added: "The question is not so much of reality on she
ground, but how we want to react to it."

Clad said the BJP's declaration that it would re-evaluate India's
present nuclear policy, which has caused ripples of concern in
U.S. administration circles here, was "simply cheap and easy
rhetoric."

"Even if they say India is a declared nuclear power, it means
nothing," Clad said, and expressed confidence that "there won't
be any change. The status quo will continue."

"So I think the U.S. will be well advised to look for a
comprehensive relationship with whoever took power and to take it
easy," he said.

Clad predicted that the BJP-led coalition "is probably going to
be a model of tolerance because firstly why should they give free
ammunition to their opponents? Secondly, they have allies who are
telling them that they can't go ahead with (reforming) the
uniform civil code and many other things."

"Plus, the fact is, no matter what they say," Clad emphasised,
'India is the world's second largest Muslim country after
Indonesia. There are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan. So
what kind of games can they (a BJP-led government) play?"

Clad agreed that the clobbering the likes of the Shiv Sena
received would afford the BJP greater flexibility and freedom vis-
a-vis adopting a moderate posture.

Meanwhile, the Southern Asia Forum Cross-border Dialogue,
conducted on the Internet by the Stimson Centre where the week's
topic was "What changes, if any, can one expect in the state of
Indo-Pak relations and the nuclear issue in the event of a BJP-
led coalition government," generated a veritable consensus that
the status quo would prevail.

Sumit Ganguly, professor of political science at Hunter College,
New York, said, "My strong suspicion is that for all Its bluster,
the BJP will not depart from India's ptions' policy."

While acknowledging that the BJP would "make more money available
for the development of missiles," Ganguly said they i. will not
make any overt changes in nuclear policy."

On relations with Pakistan, he argued that "on the one hand, the
BJP can pursue useful negotiations with Pakistan. No one can
question their jingoistic credentials."

"On the other hand," Ganguly said, "Pakistan's continuing
involvement in Kashmir will pose a problem for any regime to
pursue meaningful negotiations. Furthermore, many in the
Ministry of External Affairs, who already have a deep distrust of
Pakistan, will be able to make common cause with BJP ideologies."

Ganguly warned that the "BJP's leaders will have to proceed with
caution to avoid provoking the wrath of its more ideologically-
charged members."

Misbah Saadat, a Pakistani journalist, who is currently a
Visiting Fellow at the Stimson Centre, said she did not believe a
BJP government would have any effect on Indo-Pakistan relations.
Addressing a concern that the administration has privately
acknowledged, Saadat said, "It will definitely not be worse than
the current state of affairs." She said that the "fear that they
will not follow the so-called Gujral Doctrine is baseless. Gujral
would never have resumed the dialogue with Pakistan without first
consulting with the BJP and the Congress -- which implies that
the BJP was for It."

Saadat also predicted that "a BJP government will not conduct a
nuclear explosion because it knows that it is against India's
national interest."


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