Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
THERE are growing indications yet not without prompt impressions that the two premiers, Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu may face tough times during this month’s elections in India and Israel. The two like-minded unscrupulous leaders of the BJP and the Likud parties respectively face culpable charges of corruption in their state deals. There are signs that both the leaders could win with thin margin; but they have been losing the popularity graph despite their utmost attempts to use the tools of religious extremism and ultra-nationalism as the campaign strategies to win the polls.
India goes to a general election (April 11-May 19) to constitute its 17th Lok Sabha. India’s ballot, involving an electorate of more than 875 million, will determine the fate of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Party and its agenda of reform—mixed with polarizing religious rhetoric that often comes at the expense of the country’s roughly 170 million Muslims. The Mahagathbandhan is a mega alliance consisting of numerous different regional political parties including the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party from Uttar Pradesh, the Trinamool Congress, and the Aam Aadmi Party. This alliance seems to be serving as a united front against the ruling BJP party, and has the potential to win majority seats in Uttar Pradesh. In states where the BJP can turn the fight into a presidential contest, it still has a leg-up with Modi.
India’s political parties rightly question the PM Modi’s deal over the 2016 purchase of 36 Rafale planes from the French Dassault Aviation estimated to be worth $8.7 billion, charging PM Modi had overpaid for the planes and had not been transparent. “The corruption and malfeasance in Rafale deal is out in the open. PM Modi misused his office to give benefits to Dassault Aviation and caused loss to the public exchequer,” Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala told reporters, according to Hindustan Times. Though the status of the Indian National Congress has been minimized to a regional party, it still has an organic impact to profoundly influence the dynamics of the Indian elections. The Congress’ view is that a prominent figure of India’s first family, Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into politics may pose a big threat to PM Modi’s coalition government in this election.
Yet the X factor, the high number of women’s voters is an important factor in this election. Modi’s waged anti-Pakistan propaganda drive ingrained in his Hindu extremism has been a pivotal tool that he uses in this election. However, Modis false notion of involving Pakistan in the Pulwama incident; the wrong Indian claim of attacking at extremists’ training camp at Balakot and a humiliating shooting down of the two Indian jets by Pakistan Air Force are ominous developments for Modi’s political image. Truly, Modi is losing that gravity of the popularity that he established in 2014 election.
Israel holds its early called election on 09 April. The Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, currently reached a preliminary election deal with two fringe religious-nationalist parties in a bid to unify his hardline bloc before elections in April. Netanyahu’s Likud Party announced it would reserve the 28th spot on its parliamentary list for the Jewish Home Party and grant it two cabinet ministries in a future government if it merges with the Jewish Power Party. Consequent upon his reelection in 2015, Netanyahu orchestrated an ideologically knitted coalition with conservatives, religious Zionists and Sephardic Jews in order to replace Israel’s ‘’old elites,” who were more secular and Western-oriented Ashkenazim.
Therefore, he formed a coalition based on using right-of-centre and ‘ultra orthodox parties’ to maintain his ‘parliamentary majority ‘rather than reaching out to parties on his left. Accordingly, Netanyahu’s opponents are making different coalitions to counter Likud’s victory. As per the Time.Com reports, Israel’s primary centrist challengers to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently announced that they were joining forces ahead of April elections. Nonetheless , it is a dramatic move that brings about a new metamorphosis in country’s political system to weaken Netanyahu’s decade-long rule . Israel Resilience Party, Yesh Atid Party and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem unveiled the party slate on 19 February 2019. The three parties agreed to run on a united list as ‘Blue and White’. Former Army Chief Benny Gantz’s Resilience Party and YairLapid’s Yesh Atid party have received a massive support for them. Though the Labour Party under AviGabby’s chairmanship desired to join the White and Blue slate, Benny Gantz did not accept it.
Netanyahu’s campaign trajectory largely depends on whether Israel’s Attorney General, former Netanyahu Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit issues the very instrument of indictments that could charge the premier before 09 April. Netanyahu is facing three lengthy and ongoing corruption investigations: One that focus on whether the telecom company Bezeq won preferable tax treatment for permitting the PM Office to guide press coverage on its Walla website. Another one which centres on charges that Netanyahu allowed legislation—thereby limiting the circulation of Israel Hayom—a free daily newspaper that extolls the state largest readership—in exchange for more favourable coverage from its competitor Yediot Aharonot. And the third one is the case asking whether the estimated $180,000-$200,000 in champagne and cigars he did receive from a friend who shared a minority interest in an Israeli television station constitutes a bribe.
But Netanyahu’s current campaign strategy to lead in the polls is also focused on his security doctrine, the so-called threats from the Iranian regime. Consequently, the US installed THAD missile system near Gaza can be an instrumental factor in determining Netanyahu’s fate. Though if Netanyahu manoeuvres to win the elections in the face of these striking challenges, he may form his next coalition strategy based on whom he would be relying most once indictment charges are framed in the coming months.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum- analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.