After a landslide victory in the Lok Sabha elections 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been selected to lead the NDA government once again. Modi will be sworn in for his second term as prime minister on May 30. For the ceremony, he has chosen to invite BIMSTEC countries instead of SAARC nations, resulting in Pakistan’s exclusion from the guest list.
Along with the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) countries—Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, and Bhutan—Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth and the Kyrgyz Republic also have been invited for Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.
Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar announced the invitation on Twitter.
Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid will attend in place of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who will be missing Modi’s inauguration for the second time. PM Hasina will instead be travelling to Japan, Finland, and other countries as part of her world tour.
Nepalese Prime Minister Sharma Oli, Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering, and a special envoy from Thailand will also attend, according to The Times of India.
NDA’s second landslide victory
Crossing its tally in 2014, the BJP won 303 seats in India’s general election this year. Most exit polls and election pandits had pegged the party to hover around the 300 mark and were mostly accurate in their predictions.
In 2014, the BJP had won 272 seats; this year, it increased its share in the Lok Sabha by 31 seats. The Congress also rose in seats, but marginally— from 44 in 2014 to 52 in 2019.
The BJP-led NDA government is currently in possession of 341 seats, while the Congress-led UPA has 95 seats.
Why Pakistan was snubbed
In 2014, Modi had invited all South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leaders to his swearing-in ceremony, including Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister at the time.
However, this year, Modi is singing a different diplomatic tune. He has chosen to invite the BIMSTEC countries over SAARC because the latter includes Pakistan.
After Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), a Pakistan-based terror group, allegedly carried out the Pulwama terrorist attack earlier this year, relations between India and Pakistan became deeply fractured. India retaliated with air strikes across the Line of Control in Balakot that apparently targeted JeM camps.
Following the airstrikes, the two countries even engaged in a dogfight that resulted in Wing Commander Abhinandan being captured for a few days before being returned safely to India.
After this military escalation, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has been frequenting diplomatic channels in the hope of calming tensions with and from India.
TOI said that Khan wrote a letter to Modi during the Lok Sabha elections 2019, reiterating the need to resolve political issues between the two countries. This letter was apparently in response to Modi’s message to him on Pakistan National Day, where the former had said the “subcontinent” needs to work towards a terror-free atmosphere.
Modi excluding Khan from the list of invitees to his swearing-in ceremony shows that Pulwama and subsequent tensions are not yet a distant memory.
Pakistan has tried justifying the decision by saying Modi’s campaign stood mostly on anti-Pakistan narratives. Hence, inviting the prime minister of that country would be an unwise political decision.
“His (Prime Minister Modi’s) entire focus (during the election campaign) was on Pakistan bashing. It was unwise to expect that he can get rid of this narrative (soon)… India’s internal politics did not permit him to extend an invitation,” said Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, as quoted by Money Control.
Khan has already congratulated Modi on his win, another amicable gesture on Pakistan’s behalf.
Focus on BIMSTEC
A government spokesperson told the Economic Times that Modi’s decision to focus on BIMSTEC members is because he wants India to focus on its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, as well.
Moreover, including Kyrgyz Republic is also a calculated decision because Kumar mentions the country as “chair of SCO”, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. China, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India, and Pakistan are all members of the SCO.
Although Maldives has not been invited as it is not a member of BIMSTEC, Modi will be making a visit next week.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius