Modern South Asian Studies seminar MT20: Week 4: Domestic audience costs and foreign policy making in India: Recent shifts in the BJP's strategy

Conveners: Imre Bangha, Nayanika Mathur, Polly O'Hanlon, and Kate Sullivan de Estrada

Speaker: Happymon Jacob (JNU)


Unlike ever before in India’s history, domestic political calculations and audience costs dictate the shaping of the country’s foreign and security policy. Under the Bharatiya Janata Party government, key foreign and security policy pursuits are often not undertaken for their own sake, but to cater to domestic electoral outcomes and spin convenient political narratives.

The events that followed the 2019 Pulwama terror attack in Kashmir showed how the BJP-led government adopted an aggressive posture towards Pakistan in tandem with a carefully choreographed domestic political narrative to suit its forthcoming election campaign. However, the recent Sino-Indian military standoff on the LAC tells a completely different story. The BJP-led government refused to acknowledge the extent of incursions made by the Chinese army on the Sino-Indian border given how such an acknowledgement would have been politically costly for the ruling party.   

The talk will highlight how the party leveraged populism, social media, post-truth politics and narratives on nationalism and patriotism in order to legitimise its use of foreign policy outcomes for domestic political gains. The talk will also discuss how the BJP has managed to avoid domestic audience costs while making risky foreign policy decisions. 


Happymon Jacob is associate professor of Diplomacy and Disarmament at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Prior to joining JNU in 2008, Jacob held teaching positions at the University of Jammu in Jammu and Kashmir and the Jamia Milia Islamia University, New Delhi. He is a columnist with The Hindu, and hosts a weekly show on National Security at The Jacob is the author of The Line of Control: Travelling with the Indian and Pakistani Armies (Penguin Random House 2018), and Line on Fire: Ceasefire Violations and India-Pakistan Escalation Dynamics (Oxford University Press, 2019).

Pre-registration required. Please visit to book either for this seminar or the whole series.