In Pakistan and trying to read the BJP manifesto? Nope, can’t access it!

Published: April 24, 2014
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BJP itself made its website inaccessible to people from Pakistan, citing hacking threats.

The right wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) recently released manifesto says many things – and newspapers and people all over the world tell me a lot of it is problematic.

There’s something about a reversal of India’s nuclear doctrine, apparently. And an Indian friend of mine told me they might be cutting beef production. But I wouldn’t know, because I can’t access BJP’s website, and neither can anyone else in Pakistan.

Interestingly, it isn’t our government that banned it; the BJP itself made its website inaccessible to people from Pakistan, citing hacking threats. While the hacking threat may not be entirely implausible, a spokesman complained that BJP leader LK Advani’s website was attacked the day before the block – that’s hardly a reason to block the website entirely, nor is it effective in securing the website from attacks anyway.

So what does the BJP effectively seek to gain from blocking access to a few million Pakistanis who can’t vote in the Indian elections anyway?

If I were forgiving, I’d say it’s because of the trolling. One of the interesting statistics the Express Tribune published was that a much higher proportion of Indians commented on Tribune articles compared to the number of hits that came from India. Look at the comments section of any Tribune article, any YouTube video, essentially anything online that covers India, Pakistan, or Indo-Pak relations and you will notice the Siachen-level heights at which cross-border vitriol is generally flung across virtual, but equally national, lines.

The BJP, being Hindu nationalist and all, invites trolls. It might simply be the convenience of not having to go through vile things being said about their mother and sisters that the BJP cadre decided to do away with access to Pakistanis.

But I’m not forgiving. Modi’s been campaigning with a 56-inch chest, and masculinity has been an ugly feature of this election cycle. Surely the BJP aren’t pansies who can’t take a few salty words from Pakistanis whom they don’t think much of anyway?

Another, simpler explanation is simply intolerance.

It isn’t a secret that much of the BJP’s campaign is based on a ‘muscular’ foreign policy, especially with regards to Pakistan, and blocking access to their website in Pakistan is indicative of their dismissive attitude towards those across the Radcliffe line.

Whatever the case may be, this is not a good thing. Access to information, especially when it comes to the likely victors of the world’s largest elections, is paramount. As a neighbouring country, we have the right, indeed, the obligation, to know more about the would-be government of our neighbours. Currently, Pakistanis are being prevented from doing so.

But this shouldn’t be seen exclusively through the lens of censorship. It is important to consider that neither government had a hand in blocking the website. So the question, more specifically, is whether an organisation as public as the BJP can behave like a private actor, adjusting their ‘privacy settings’ so that a large swathe of people cannot have access to their ‘profile’.

It seems absurd that a party coaxing 814 million voters would still consider its election platform to be off limits, or ‘private’. If Modi’s secret, age-old unconsummated marriage can be found out, attempts to block access to one’s official website is laughable.

But there are other concerns. Blocking its website for Pakistanis is hardly the sort of harbinger proponents of India-Pakistan relations, including Nawaz Sharif, are hoping for. Whether it’s electioneering or simply conviction, Modi’s hardly said a positive thing about Pakistan this entire campaign trail. We’ve heard plenty about dissidents moving to Pakistan and Kejriwal being an agent, but not a word that could correspond to Nawaz’s optimism, which, it must be said, looks more misplaced as time goes on.

Pakistanis were already apprehensive of a Modi-led central government. The BJP removing access to its website doesn’t waive any of those apprehensions. In fact, it adds a few more.

Saim Saeed

Saim Saeed

A sub-editor at Express Tribune. He tweets @saimsaeed847 (twitter.com/saimsaeed847)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.