Success of India’s “Look West” Policy Brings Change For Kashmir

The Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party, which is widely acknowledged as a Hindu party, has carved a niche for itself in the Muslim dominated Middle East. The effect of this can be seen as Pakistan, which was once a favored nation of the Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iran, and Iraq, is now being cold-shouldered by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) nations over Kashmir and other issues. If we take into account the attitude of Muslim countries of the Middle East on Kashmir, it can be easily summarized that the Narendra Modi government’s “Look West” policy, i.e., cultivating relationships with three main axes: the Arab Gulf countries, Israel, and Iran has paid rich dividends. Moreover, it has emboldened the Narendra Modi government to abrogate Article 370 in Kashmir.  It may be recalled that Kashmir was formally incorporated into the Indian Union in 1957, with a special status under Article 370 of India’s constitution.  Except for foreign affairs, defense, finance, and communications, the Indian government needs the approval of the state government for application of other laws in Jammu and Kashmir. Article 370, ensured that non-Kashmiri Indians could not buy property there, work there, or vote in the state elections along with other conditions.

With the abrogation of Article 370 by the Narendra Modi the people of Jammu and Kashmir lost their unique identity and now they are just like any other Indian.  Now non-Kashmiri Indians can buy property there work there and become a part of Jammu Kashmir.

Pakistan, a prominent member state of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation which used to raise issues about Kashmir at OIC meetings, has been cold-shouldered by the OIC nations due to India’s relations with prominent members of OIC nations and the growing influence of India in the global trade. While the UAE termed it as a bipartite issue between Indian and Pakistan, others kept quiet.

Before the advent of Narendra Modi in the Indian political scenario, India’s relations with the Arab world, which has historically favored Pakistan, were at stake. A shrewd politician Narendra Modi realized that apart from oil and gas, the Middle Eastern nations have much to offer. By pursuing a proactive “Look West” policy, he has as much to gain personally and electorally as India has to gain from energy and economic partnerships. One can cite a host of Indian interests – checkmating Pakistan, energy needs, an influential diaspora in the region, bilateral trade, etc. – to explain the Modi administration’s ‘Look West’ policy. In India, where Hindu-Muslim tensions run high, Modi’s “Look West” policy has electoral dividends as well.

Keeping in view the windfall gains of the ‘Look West’ policy, Narendra Modi visited Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Oman, and the UAE, seven out of the 13 countries once considered “hostile” by past BJP ideologues. Beyond this, he made official visits to Iran and Israel as well. It is unparalleled for an Indian prime minister to visit so many countries in the Middle East; an Indian premier had not visited some of these countries in more than three decades. To add to this, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj addressed the inaugural session of this year’s OIC as a “Guest of Honor”, which speaks volumes of Modi’s acceptability in the Middle East. It was a major disappointment for Pakistan, who threatened to boycott the summit.

India’s bonhomie with the Middle-East and Pakistan

The highest civilian awards conferred upon Modi, from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Palestine, are suggestive of Modi’s broader recognition in the Islamic world. A notable achievement of Modi’s rapport has been getting the UAE government’s permission for a traditional Hindu temple and a generous donation of land by the rulers. This ornamentally hand-carved stone temple is an exception and first of its kind in Abu Dhabi, an Islamic country, which outlaws public propagation of other faiths.

Over the years, Modi’s rapport with the Gulf monarchs has far outperformed expectations – and so has his proactive “Look West” policy aimed at boosting ties to the Middle East.

India’s bonhomie with Iran contains both national security and an economic dimension. Iran is not only a key energy supplier but also a media to contain India’s chief rival, Pakistan. For both Iran and India, the path to constraining Pakistan lies through Afghanistan, which has become a base for militant groups whose threats exceed the country’s borders.

Modi’s ‘Look West’ policy has proved to be an ideal win-win situation politically and economically for all the parties. The Middle Eastern states stand to gain equally from India’s oil imports, labor, and bilateral trade. According to political observers, the growing friendship between the Narendra Modi Government and monarchies of the Middle East provided an opportunity to the Modi-led government to go for the kill in the Muslim dominated state of Jammu and Kashmir. Thereby, the government took the bold decision of abrogating Article 370 in Kashmir.