Can Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar still turn this election?

The Indian voters have already decided the fate of candidates in 302 Lok Sabha seats. Although the composition of more than half (56%) the Lok Sabha has been sealed, this general election can still turn. Expected as well unexpected developments can impact the voting decisions in the remaining 240 seats in the coming days.

These remaining parliamentary seats are crucial for the overall electoral results. They are especially important for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had won 161 of these seats in 2014 – that is, two-thirds of its total tally of 282. It is essential for the BJP to do well in these seats if it wants a stab at forming the next government.

A polling process stretched out over seven phases has provided the political parties the opportunity to either devise different campaign narratives for each phase of polling or opt for a narrative that slowly gathers momentum as the voting progresses.

Unlike the BJP the regional parties can do without an all-encompassing national narrative. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the other hand, has chosen national security and punishing Pakistan-sponsored terrorism as the binding themes of his re-election campaign.

An expected and somewhat lucky development which could provide a boost to the BJP’s campaign for the remaining phases of voting is the possibility of China withdrawing its veto to allow the UN Security Council to designate Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.

Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale’s visit to China last week to discuss bilateral issues also focused on Beijing’s stand on Azhar. Diplomats believe that China is under tremendous pressure from the US to give way on Azhar’s designation as a global terrorist in UN Security Council’s 1267 Sanctions Committee (named after UN Resolution 1267 on sanctions regime against individuals and entities associated with global terrorism). With China blocking the listing of Azhar thrice already, the US, France and UK had given it time up to April 23 to withdraw its ‘technical hold’ on the Azhar issue in the UNSC sanctions committee. Failing to do so would mean China facing a resolution on the issue in the Security Council plenary which would isolate it globally for its irrational stand. Jaish-e-Mohammad is already black-listed by the UN and therefore it makes no sense for China to use its veto on the Jaish Chief.

Masood Azhar
There is indication that China now wants to resolve the Azhar issue in the Sanctions Committee instead of facing international opprobrium in the UNSC plenary. It claimed last week that the Azhar issue “is moving towards the direction of settlement.” The Chinese announcement is apparently being delayed because of pressure from Pakistan and Beijing’s reluctance to do so while Indian elections are underway. However, China has apparently been persuaded to make its decision public much before the voting in India gets over.

The designation of a terminally ill Masood Azhar is likely to make little difference to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism against India. It will, however, be a major propaganda victory.

The Chinese announcement was earlier expected before the fourth phase of polling (April 29). However, it is now expected nearer the fifth phase due on May 6. It could still impact voting in the remaining 31 per cent Lok Sabha seats (169) going to the polls in the remaining phases. Prime Minister Modi would gain bragging rights and bolster his image of a leader who “delivers” on terrorism. There could potentially be electoral gains in states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal where voting for all or a large number of seats is yet to take place.

The second development that could impact the ongoing elections is terrorism. If our security and intelligence agencies are not careful, there could be another development, an unfortunate and unexpected event, which could also impact the voting.

The terrorism alert issued by the intelligence agencies to seven states – Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Goa, Maharashtra and Puducherry – points to such a possibility. The alert, according to reports, is based on a tip-off received by the Bengaluru police based on the presence of a group of terrorists in Tamil Nadu’s Ramanathapuram and probably linked to the Islamic group which allegedly carried out the Sri Lanka Easter Sunday attacks. This warning comes in the wake of reports that the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) is looking into links between the Easter Sunday bombers in Sri Lanka and suspects in India.

It has been suggested that the Sri Lanka attacks could have a major implication for security in India because the group identified behind the bombings, the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), has ideological links with the India-based Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath (TNTJ). The TNTJ, has not been accused in India of any criminal activity as yet. It organises blood donation camps and protests against alcohol and films that are offensive to Islam.

However, it is now being reported that the TNTJ helped establish the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath from which the NTJ bombers branched off as an extremist offshoot. There is also a suggestion that the NTJ developed links with the Islamic State. It is significant that the tip-off about the possible terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka originated in Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu during the NIA’s investigations of an alleged plot by an Islamic State-inspired module to assassinate some political leaders in South India.

One would hope that the threat either to any prominent leader or of terrorism in India from remnants of these groups no longer exists. The alert from Bengaluru police, however, suggests otherwise. If an unfortunate terrorist incident were to take place before the current electoral process is over, one can well imagine the public anger. It could contaminate the democratic process and its sanctity eroded by the emotions it unleashes.

Indian democracy and democratic processes without doubt need to be insulated from terrorism. A ballot may be stronger than a bullet but if fired in anger, it can do great long term damage. A frightened and emotionally agitated voter cannot lead to a healthy democracy.
Twitter: @Bharatitis

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