A tribute to Mahatma Gandhi by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Gandhi Jayanti: A tribute to Mahatma Gandhi by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

On January 30, 1958, to mark the 10th anniversary of the Mahatma’s passing, a young clergyman who was using Gandhian methods in America wrote an article for Hindustan Times on why India’s Father of the Nation belonged ‘to the ages’.

INDIA Updated: Oct 02, 2019 13:11 IST

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr
Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

Hindustan Times
Dr Martin Luther King, Jr stands next to a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi in his office in 1966.
Dr Martin Luther King, Jr stands next to a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi in his office in 1966.(Bob Fitch Photography Archive, Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries)

Mahatma Gandhi has done more than any other person of history to reveal that social problems can be solved without resorting to primitive methods of violence. In this sense he is more than a saint of India. He belongs — as they said of Abraham Lincoln — to the ages. In our struggle against racial segregation in Montgomery, Alabama, I came to see at a very early stage that a synthesis of Gandhi’s method of non-violence and the Christian ethic of love is the best weapon available to Negroes for this struggle for freedom and human dignity. It may well be that the Gandhian approach will bring about a solution to the race problem in America. His spirit is a continual reminder to oppressed people that it is possible to resist evil and yet not resort to violence.

Watch: From HT Archives: A tribute by Martin Luther King, Jr to Mahatma Gandhi

From HT Archives: A tribute by Martin Luther King, Jr to Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi had thousands of followers across the globe. One among them was Martin Luther King, Jr.
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The Gandhian influence in some way still speaks to the conscience of the world as nations grapple with international problems. If we fail, on an international scale, to follow the Gandhian principle of non-violence, we may end up by destroying ourselves through the misuse of our own instruments. The choice is no longer between violence and non-violence. It is now either non-violence or non-existence.

Oppressed people can deal with oppression in three ways. They can accept or acquiesce. Under segregation they can adjust to it. Yet non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. The minute one accepts segregation, one cooperates with it. Oppressed people can, on the other hand, resort to physical violence, a method both whole nations and oppressed peoples have used. But violence merely brings about a temporary victory and not permanent peace. It creates ever new problems. Gandhi has come on the scene of history with still another way. He would resist evil as much as the man who uses violence, but he resists it without external violence or violence of the spirit. That is what Gandhism does. It is a method of the strong. If the only alternative is between cowardice and violence, it is better — as Gandhi said — to use violence, but there is another way.

Also read | A note from Pakistan: Why Gandhi matters beyond India’s borders

I myself gained this insight from Gandhi. When I was in theological school, I thought the only way we could solve our problem of segregation was an armed revolt. I felt that the Christian ethic of love was confined to individual relationships. I could not see how it could work in social conflict. Then I read Gandhi’s ethic of love as revealed in Jesus but raised to a social strategy for social transformation. This lifts love from individual relationships to the place of social transformation. This Gandhi helped us to understand and for this we are grateful a decade after his death.

Also read | Gandhiji’s name etched in the history of independent India, writes Mohan Bhagwat

First Published: Oct 02, 2019 04:01 IST

India: Jammu and Kashmir: Now a territory of the Union

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Jammu and Kashmir: Now a territory of the Union

The move has triggered a debate among constitutional experts, with many experts asking if Article 367 can indeed be amended through a presidential order.

INDIA Updated: Aug 06, 2019 01:09 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent

Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Union Home Minister Amit Shah after the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill being passed by Rajya Sabha in New Delhi on Monday. (ANI Photo)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Union Home Minister Amit Shah after the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill being passed by Rajya Sabha in New Delhi on Monday. (ANI Photo)

In a move planned with political and legal precision, and complete suspense, the central government led a move in the Rajya Sabha on Monday to end the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). By the end of the day, Article 370 and Article 35A, which have, for close to seven decades, defined the state’s relationship with the Union, were effectively rendered null and void.

It also pushed through a bill in the Rajya Sabha to reorganise the state. J&K has now been bifurcated; Jammu and Kashmir will be a Union Territory (UT) with a legislature; and Ladakh will be a separate UT without a legislature. The resolutions are to be tabled in Lok Sabha on Tuesday, where the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has an overwhelming majority.

 

‘Bloodshed will end now’: HM Amit Shah on how Article 370 hurt J&K
Union Home Minister Amit Shah justified the decision to end Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and the proposal to bifurcate it into two Union Territories in the Rajya Sabha.
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The move came after a week of intense security build-up in the state — additional paramilitary troops were deployed, the Amarnath Yatra was cut short, tourists and non-Kashmiri students were advised to leave, Kashmiri leaders, including former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, were detained, internet and phone connections were suspended, and movement severely curtailed. The actions caused panic in the Valley and prompted speculation about whether the government was pre-empting a terror threat from across the border, or seeking to bring in drastic legislative changes.

Monday provided the answer.

The day began with a Cabinet meeting at 9.30am at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence in New Delhi’s Lok Kalyan Marg. Union home minister Amit Shah then headed to Parliament, where he began speaking in the Rajya Sabha at 11am. While Opposition leaders first sought a response to the unfolding situation in the Valley and the detention of Kashmiri leaders, Shah said he would address all the concerns.

He then moved four motions. The first was the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 2019, which superseded the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order of 1954. The 1954 order gave rise to Article 35A, which defined and prioritized permanent residents. The order also enabled all provisions of the Indian Constitution to be applied to Kashmir. With this, not only was the supremacy of the Indian Constitution and its laws reinforced, but the special provisions which gave the state a distinct constitutional identity, removed.

The order also added a clause to Article 367 of the Constitution — whereby it said that references to the Government of Jammu and Kashmir would be construed as the governor of the state (acting on the advice of a council of ministers); and the reference to the constituent assembly of Jammu and Kashmir of Article 370 would now read legislative assembly of the state.

The second was a statutory resolution to recommend to the President to issue a notification, using clause 3 of Article 370, to declare that all clauses of Article 370 would cease to be operative and that all provisions of the Indian Constitution would apply to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Clause 3 empowered the President to do so, but only on the recommendation of the constituent assembly (CA) of Jammu and Kashmir. This was overcome by the earlier order, which replaced the CA with the state legislature, and empowered the governor.

Together, these two moves mean that J&K will no longer have its own flag and own constitution; Indian laws — from the penal code to property and taxation — will now be applicable. It also paves the way for citizens from the rest of the country to be able to exercise rights to move, settle, and purchase property in J&K.

Shah then introduced the Jammu and Kashmir (Reorganization) Bill, 2019. The new Ladakh UT will include Leh and Kargil districts; and the remaining districts of the state will constitute the J&K UT. The final bill was the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Second Amendment) Bill 2019, which enabled reservations for economically weaker sections to be extended to the state.

Shah’s proposals caused a massive stir in the House and outside. The treasury benches erupted with applause and cheers, and its supporters outside lauded Prime Minister Narenda Modi and Shah’s courage for fulfilling a key ideological goal and manifesto promise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to integrate the state fully into the nation. Jitendra Singh, minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office, said, “This will be known as the day of redemption, as the day of rejuvenation.”

But the Opposition was not pleased. A furious Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and a former CM of J&K, led the charge for the Congress: “In my political life, I had never even imagined that the state which is India’s crown, one day that head will be chopped off.” He warned that the move would not integrate, but in fact had laid the foundations for disintegration.

The move also provoked howls of outrage from Pakistan, which has fought four wars with India and continues to engage in a shadow war in Kahsmir with the use of terrorists. It asked the Indian government to “halt and reverse” its decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, contending such a unilateral step cannot change the state’s status as an “internationally recognized disputed territory”.

Foreign secretary Sohail Mahmood summoned Indian envoy Ajay Bisaria to the foreign ministry to convey a “strong demarche” or formal diplomatic representation on actions taken by India.

The response from Kashmir was strong too. With most of the state under a blackout, little information percolated out. But former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti tweeted, “GOI’s intention is clear & sinister. They want to change demography of the only Muslim majority state in India, disempower Muslims to the extent where they become second class citizens in their own state.” Another former CM, Omar Abdullah, said, “Government of India (GOI)’s unilateral and shocking decisions today are a total betrayal of the trust that the people of Jammu & Kashmir had reposed in India when the state acceded to it in 1947. The decisions will have far-reaching and dangerous consequences. This is an aggression against people of the State as had been warned by an all-parties meeting in Srinagar yesterday.”

But the government sought to allay apprehensions. “Article 370 is the biggest hurdle to normalcy in the state,” Shah said, promising to make J&K among the most developed states in India.

The Opposition fractured in Parliament. Congress’s own chief whip in the house, Bhubaneshwar Kalita, resigned from the party disagreeing with its position on Article 370. The Bahujan Samaj Party and the Aam Aadmi Party, in surprise moves, backed the government — as did the Telangana Rashtriya Samithi, Biju Janata Dal, YSR Congress Party, and AIADMK, among others. One hundred and twenty-five MPs voted in favour of the Reorganization Bill, while only 61 voted against it.

The move has triggered a debate among constitutional experts, with many experts asking if Article 367 can indeed be amended through a presidential order. Mohan Parasaran, a senior advocate and a former solicitor general of India, noted, “An amendment to the Constitution may only be done by recourse to Article 368 by introducing a Bill, in that regard, in the Parliament and being passed in both the houses by a majority of 2/3rd of its members present and voting and thereafter the Bill receiving the assent of the President. As the amendment to Articles 367 and 370 are the fulcrum of the Presidential Order, question may arise as to whether such amendments can be made through a circuitous manner without resort to Article 368 and whether such an Order would suffice in light of the spirit behind Article 370.”

But beyond the legal complexities — and there are indeed complexities which could well end up seeing a challenge in court — the government’s move on Monday on Kashmir was fundamentally political. Over the next few days and weeks, observers will closely track developments in Delhi but also more importantly Kashmir, where the response has remained muted because of the clampdown. Observers believe that managing the fallout in the Valley will now be the government’s next big challenge.

First Published: Aug 06, 2019 00:59 IST

India: On World Population Day, Giriraj demands 2 child norm, links it to religion

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

On World Population Day, Giriraj demands 2 child norm, links it to religion

The Begusarai BJP MP said that there should be a rule of having only two children in the country for every religion and those who violated it, should be debarred from the right to vote.

INDIA Updated: Jul 11, 2019 17:33 IST

Vijay Swaroop
Vijay Swaroop
Hindustan Times, Patna
Giriraj Singh,population explosion,2 child norm
Union Minister of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries, Giriraj Singh, initially posted his comments on population explosion on social media and later spoke to the media.(HT FILE PHOTO.)

Union minister Giriraj Singh, known for his controversial statements, has linked the rising population of the country with religion. On World Population Day, on Thursday, Singh initially tweeted his views and later told the media that population explosion was disturbing the social harmony and balance of the country.

The Begusarai BJP MP said that there should be a rule of having only two children in the country for every religion and those who violated it, should be debarred from the right to vote.

The minister, without naming any community, said that the rising population was posing threats to resources and harmony. “It’s ruining the economy,” he said.

Singh’s tweet in Hindi said, “Population explosion in India is disturbing social harmony and balance. Religious interference is also a reason related to population control. Like in 1947, India is heading towards division on the basis of culture. Every political party should come forward to make laws regarding population control.”

He requested all parties to mull over the issue seriously. “A strict law should be made to control the population. There is a need to raise the issue in Parliament,” he said.

Singh, three years ago, had demanded laws for sterilization in the country.

The firebrand BJP leader has always been in the news for the wrong reasons. During the parliamentary elections, he had demanded a ban on green flags, which he said, “tend to create hatred in the society and gives one a feeling of being in Pakistan.” This had caused huge embarrassment to BJP’s alliance partner, JD(U), as both JD(U) and the main opposition party, RJD, have green flags.

If that was not enough, he triggered another row during the Lok Sabha polls when during an election meeting he said, “Muslims will have to say Vande Mataram if they need three yards of land for a graveyard.” A comment that had angered key ally JD(U) which in turn asked the Election Commission (EC) to take cognizance of his comments.

Singh has been known for his controversial remarks in the past too. Only last year, he had embarrassed the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government in Bihar, when he demanded renaming Bakhtiarpur town, where Nitish Kumar was born. The minister also wanted the name of Akbarpur in his current Lok Sabha constituency of Nawada changed, saying it was named after Mughal emperor Akbar.

Singh’s latest comments on population found support from NDA MLAs in Bihar. “For the sake of the country, we need to control population, irrespective of religion. If not controlled today, it is bound to create food and water scarcity in the country,” said JD (U) MLA, Lallan Paswan. BJP’s MLA Sachindra Kumar, too, supported the union minister’s demand for population control.

The opposition, however, snubbed the demand. “This shows the narrow-mindedness of the union minister,” said RJD’s MLA, Bhola Yadav. Congress MLC Premchandra Mishra wondered how one can seize anybody’s voting rights. “He is in the habit of saying weird things,” Mishra said.

First Published: Jul 11, 2019 17:19 IST

Mamata Banerjee trying to suppress her political opponents like Kim Jong-un: Giriraj Singh

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

Mamata Banerjee trying to suppress her political opponents like Kim Jong-un: Giriraj Singh

Singh was talking to reporters at the party’s state headquarters upon his first visit to Bihar after being sworn in as a Union cabinet minister.

INDIA Updated: Jun 08, 2019 12:30 IST

Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India
Patna
mamata banerjee,kim jong-un,west bengal
The countdown to the end of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s rule has begun as she has been trying to suppress her political opponents with a ruthlessness comparable to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Union minister Giriraj Singh said in Patna on Friday.(REUTERS)

The countdown to the end of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s rule has begun as she has been trying to suppress her political opponents with a ruthlessness comparable to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Union minister Giriraj Singh said in Patna on Friday.

Singh was talking to reporters at the party’s state headquarters upon his first visit to Bihar after being sworn in as a Union cabinet minister.

“Ulti ginti (countdown) has begun for Mamata Banerjee…fear of an imminent defeat has left her frustrated. The treatment she has been meting out to her political opponents remind us of King Jong-un,” the firebrand BJP leader alleged when asked about the running feud between his party and the Trinamool Congress headed by the West Bengal Chief Minister.

“She has been displaying contempt for the country’s federal structure. She has said that she refuses to acknowledge Narendra Modi was the Prime Minister of India and has never attended meetings of the Niti Aayog where Chief Ministers of all states turn up,” he said.

Banerjee had at an election rally last month defended her inability to take calls from Modi for discussing the devastation wrought by the Fani cyclone, saying he was an “expiry prime minister” and she would talk to the PM upon the formation of a new government at the Centre.

Earlier in the day, she caused a flutter by announcing that she would not attend the meeting of the Niti Aayog scheduled later this month terming it as “fruitless” and suggesting in a letter to the Prime Minister conveying her decision that focus be shifted to the Inter-State Council for deepening cooperative federalism.

Sidestepping queries about Banerjee seeking “professional help” from poll strategist-turned-politician Prashant Kishor who is also the national vice president of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), a BJP ally in Bihar, Singh said, “I do not know whose help she is seeking. But I am certain that she has ceased to get help from the common people of Bengal.” The BJP recorded a remarkable victory in West Bengal in the recent general elections as it ended up winning 18 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state, only four less than the ruling TMC. The party’s tally soared from only two in 2014.

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)

First Published: Jun 08, 2019 08:35 IST

India: No place for Hindi in Tamil Nadu, says AIADMK

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

No place for Hindi in Tamil Nadu, says AIADMK

Jayakumar’s statement came a day after the Opposition accused chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami of being an apologist for the Centre’s three-language formula proposed in the draft New Education Policy (NEP).

INDIA Updated: Jun 07, 2019 01:39 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Chennai
AIADMK,Hindi in Tamil Nadu,Hindi imposition
There is no place for Hindi. Neither the government nor the party would backtrack even an inch from what Anna has laid out. There would not be any change,” Tamil Nadu minister and AIADMK leader D Jayakumar said.(PTI File Photo)

Tamil Nadu’s ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) on Thursday said there is no place for Hindi in the state and that it is committed to the two-language formula of teaching Tamil and English in schools.

“The AIADMK government is committed to the two-language formula in schools — mother tongue Tamil and English — introduced by Anna [former chief minister C N Annadurai]. There is no place for Hindi. Neither the government nor the party would backtrack even an inch from what Anna has laid out. There would not be any change,” Tamil Nadu minister and AIADMK leader D Jayakumar said.

Jayakumar’s statement came a day after the Opposition accused chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami of being an apologist for the Centre’s three-language formula proposed in the draft New Education Policy (NEP).

The draft proposed compulsory teaching of Hindi in schools across the country. The Centre on Monday dropped the clause related to the proposal in the draft after southern states opposed the idea saying it amounted to imposition of Hindi.

Jayakumar said Palaniswami’s tweet on Wednesday, which has since been deleted, urging PM Modi to include Tamil as the third optional language in other states was misunderstood. “The message of the chief minister’s twitter post was well-intentioned. But the Opposition has been distorted it and turned into an unnecessary controversy.”

First Published: Jun 06, 2019 23:49 IST

India: Anger in South over draft policy’s Hindi ideas

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

Anger in South over draft policy’s Hindi ideas

Although the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was muted in its response, the Tamil Nadu government maintained that the state will persist with a two-language formula – Tamil and English.

INDIA Updated: Jun 01, 2019 23:54 IST

MC Rajan
MC Rajan
Hindustan Times, Chennai
Hindi imposition,three-language formula,languages in school
According to the draft National Education Policy that was made public by the new government, the three-language formula should be introduced at an earlier stage in schools.(Ministry of HRD/Twitter )

In Tamil Nadu, where language is an extremely sensitive issue and an old slogan, “English Ever, Hindi Never,” still holds resonance, the draft national policy on education has incensed political parties by calling for the adoption of a three-language formula in schools — Hindi, English and the local mother tongue in non-Hindi states.

Parties of every political shade — from the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) to the Left and actor Kamal Haasan’s fledgeling Makkal Needhi Maiam — slammed the report, which they saw as a precursor to the imposition of Hindi. Pro-Tamil parties projected it as a Dravidian versus Aryan fight.

“The DMK will never allow imposition of Hindi. It will raise its voice in Parliament and outside and strive to stall it,” DMK’s newly elected Lok Sabha MP Kanimozhi Karunandhi said.

Although the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was muted in its response, the Tamil Nadu government maintained that the state will persist with a two-language formula – Tamil and English.

“Tamil Nadu will continue to have the two-language formula and there is no move to either change it or dilute it,” AIADMK veteran and education minister KA Sengottaiyan said.

According to the draft National Education Policy that was made public by the new government, the three-language formula should be introduced at an earlier stage in schools.

“Since children learn languages most quickly between 2-8 years, and multilingualism has great cognitive benefits for students, children will be immersed in three languages early on, from the foundational stage,” the policy said. Suggestions of Hindi’s domination like a reference to the 54% of Indians who speak Hindi didn’t go down well in Tamil Nadu.

“In keeping with the principle of flexibility, students who wish to change one of the three languages they are studying may do so in Grade 6, so long as the study of three languages by students in the Hindi-speaking states would continue to include Hindi and English and one of the modern Indian languages from other parts of India, while the study of languages by students in the non-Hindi-speaking states would include the regional language, Hindi and English.”

In response to the outcry in Tamil Nadu, a senior human resource development ministry official said: “If anyone has any difficulty, they should express (it). We take all views into account when the policy is taken to the cabinet. 30th June is the date before which they can give views on the policy.’’

Information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar wrote in a Twitter post: “There is no intention of imposing any language on anybody, we want to promote all Indian languages. It’s a draft prepared by committee, which will be decided by govt after getting public feedback “

Linguistic politics has been a feature of Tamil sub-nationalism since 1938, when protests erupted against a move by then premier of the Madras Presidency, C Rajagopalachari, to make Hindi compulsory in schools. Two men who were arrested for participating in the protests, Natarajan and Thalamuthu, and died in police custody were deified as martyrs to the cause of Tamil.

Rajagopalachari, known as Rajaji, himself became a convert and opposed the imposition of Hindi.

Massive protests erupted against Hindi again in 1965 and pro-Tamil activists committed suicide by self immolation and consuming poison. And riding on this wave of protests, the DMK rose to power in the 1967 assembly elections. No national political party has since emerged as an alternative to the Dravidian parties of Tamil Nadu.

Even now, the slogans of those days, “English Ever, Hindi Never”, “Let the body go to the grave, giving life to Tamil,” find occasional resonance.

Conscious of the political overtones of language pride in the Dravidian land, MNM founder and actor, Kamal Hassan, who has also acted in HIndi-language movies, made it clear that the language shouldn’t be imposed.

“Imposing a language is wrong. The option should be left to the people and facilities should be provided to learn any language {they want to}. Imposition would be counterproductive,” he told journalists.

Going a step further, Marumalarchi DMK (MDMK) leader Vaiko warned that Hindi imposition would lead to another language war.

“If the Centre is bent upon imposing Hindi upon us, another language war would erupt in Tamil Nadu as it happened in 1965,” he warned.

Incidentally, Tamil Nadu is the lone state in India where Navodaya Vidyalayas, residential schools meant for gifted students, haven’t been allowed on grounds that it would encourage the backdoor entry of Hindi. Both the DMK and AIADMK are on the same page on this issue.

Political parties in the state harp on late first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s assurance that Hindi would never be imposed on non-Hindi speaking states unless they accepted the language. They also invoke a similar assurance by late Prime Minister Lal Bhadur Shastri.

“Widely spoken in the country, Hindi is one among the keys to political power at the Centre. But instead of thrusting it, the BJP government should facilitate its learning,” reasoned C Lakshmanan, associate professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies.

First Published: Jun 01, 2019 23:54 IST

Indian PM Narendra Modi and his party just swept India’s elections

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S ‘VOX’ NEWS)

 

Indian PM Narendra Modi and his party just swept India’s elections

It was a stunning victory for Hindu nationalism.

A supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wearing a mask of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi dances as he celebrates on the vote results day for India’s general election in Bangalore on May 23, 2019.
 Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Image

The world’s largest democratic elections have concluded — and India’s pro-Hindu nationalist prime minister and his party are on pace to win by a landslide.

The early results from India’s weeks-long general election show a clear victory for incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which has so far won 300 of a total of 543 seats in parliament. The BJP seems to have trounced its main rival, the Congress Party, led by Rahul Gandhi, the scion of a famous political dynasty.

Modi and the BJP swept into power in the 2014 elections with a majority win, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in 30 years, promising to clean up the pervasive corruption plaguing the country and improve the economy.

But once he came into office, Modi began pushing a strident form of Hindu nationalism that inflamed tensions with many of the country’s minorities, including India’s sizable Muslim population.

Media reports have noted a dramatic rise in hate crimes during the five years Modi has been in power. Vigilante groups have sprung up around the country to protect cows, which are sacred to Hindus. A report by Human Rights Watch found that at least 44 people were killedbetween May 2015 and December 2018, most of them Muslims accused of storing beef or transporting cows for slaughter. Oftentimes, the guilty were not punished, and hate crimes were encouraged by speeches from senior BJP leaders. In May 2017, the Modi government banned the sale and purchase of cows for slaughter.

Meanwhile, Modi’s grand economic promises have not been met — unemployment in the country is now the highest it’s been in 45 years, and there are growing concerns of an economic slowdown.

So when the 2019 election rolled around, Modi decided to lean into his nationalist platform, which served to divert attention from the country’s more pressing problems. And now that the results are in, it’s clear his gamble paid off.

Modi’s economic record was his biggest liability in this election — but he clearly managed to overcome it

When Modi won in the 2014 election, his party defeated the Congress Party-led government by winning 282 seats. The Congress Party, routed at the polls, managed to win only 44 seats.

Modi’s sweep in the 2014 elections was based on a platform of development. His slogan was “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas,” or “inclusive growth through collective effort.” He promised to wipe out corruption, improve infrastructure, and boost the economy. For a citizenry and businesses tired of rampant corruption, Modi’s slogan offered a hopeful change.

But those promises have not materialized. Unemployment reportedly grew to 7.2 percent in February. And a leaked government report on unemployment revealed that the numbers were the highest in 45 years.

Some of Modi’s economic policies have also gone horribly wrong. In 2016, he introduced demonetization — in a surprise move, he pulled all 500- and 1,000-rupee currency notes out of circulation. He claimed it would get rid of corruption, as it would flush out unaccounted cash that had not been taxed.

He also claimed that the move would check the circulation of fake currency that was being used to fund terrorist activities in IndiaBut experts say it’s had no effect on this type of money. Instead, small businesses were severely hit.

There are other problems, too: Farmers in India have been distressed for years as costs have gone up several times while their incomes have stagnated or even declined. In fact, suicides by farmers because of their debt are depressingly common. Farmers played a big role in helping Modi sweep to power in 2014, as he’d promised to double their incomes.

But that hasn’t happened, either. The BJP government announced it would provide cash support of 6,000 rupees (about $86.22) for individual farmers in its February budget, one of a raft of policies aimed at securing the farmer vote before the election. Yet there was no guarantee that last-minute gambit would work, as farmers want more lasting solutions, including better prices for their crops — something Modi also promised in the last election.

Modi played to voters’ nationalist sentiments to distract from the country’s problems

When he released this year’s election manifesto, Modi announced a new slogan: “Nationalism is our inspiration.” It was a stark contrast to his previous economy-focused slogan and a clear signal of the kind of campaign he planned to run.

And sure enough, as political scientist Ashutosh Varshney, whose research focuses on India, explained in an email, Modi and his party campaigned on a “plank of nationalism and national security” rather than on their governance record.

In his campaign speeches, Modi used divisive language. At a public rally, he accused Congress of committing the “sin of defaming our more than 5,000-years-old [Hindu] culture.” And in keeping with the Hindu nationalist ideology of India’s glorious past, he promised a “new India,” and a return to its “glorious past.”

A recent conflict with neighboring Pakistan may have also helped him in this regard. In February, a group of militants launched an attack in the Indian-controlled region of Kashmir, killing dozens of soldiers. As anger mounted in India in the wake of the attack, Modi promised forceful retaliation.

His government later claimed to have struck a major terrorist training camp located in the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir and killed “a very large number” of militants in response. Modi’s approval rating surged to 63 percent on March 7 after this action, up from a dismal 32 percent on January 1.

“National security was one of the loudest themes of the campaign,” Varshney said. The message that Modi had “hit back [against Pakistan] strongly, was decisive, and had taught the enemy a lesson worked well.”

It also helped that Modi’s main opponent, Rahul Gandhi, failed to convince voters to support him over Modi.

Gandhi comes from a famous political dynasty: His grandmother, Indira Gandhi, was India’s first female prime minister, and his grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the first prime minister following the end of British rule. His father, Rajeev Gandhi, was also prime minister of India. Both his grandmother and his father were killed violently while still in office.

In this election, Rahul Gandhi promised a “final assault on poverty.” He said that if elected, his government would provide a minimum income for the poor and waive farmers’ debts. He also promised to increase the education budget, and, in an attempt to woo women voters, said he would reserve 33 percent of government jobs for women.

However, the Congress Party has come to be perceived as one that favors the Gandhi family — Rahul is the fourth generation to lead the party — over the country.

And Modi has used this to his advantage, taking repeated swipes at “dynasty politics” and speaking about the costs India suffered as a result of one family’s “desire of power.” He specifically pointed to the 21 months of emergency in 1975, during which then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s opponents were imprisoned, the press was censored, and civil liberties were curbed.

For many Hindus, the Congress Party was also seen as a party that “appeased” minorities for political gains, an issue that resonated strongly with Modi supporters. In what was seen as a clear attempt to counteract this perception, Gandhi and his sister Priyanka, who campaigned alongside him, were often seen frequenting Hindu temples.

But it seems that wasn’t enough to overcome the seductive power of Modi’s nationalism.

The new government will now have to address the growing economic crisis.

Modi’s party may be victorious, but that doesn’t mean its troubles are now over.

Recent media reports have pointed to worrying signs of an economic slowdown. The BBC reports that economic growth has shown a decline, and sales of cars and SUVs are at a seven-year low. Kaushik Basu, former chief economist of the World Bank, told the BBC that the slowdown is “much more serious” than he initially believed.

Another big challenge facing the new government is providing jobs to an increasing number of young Indians. Some 84 million young voters became eligible to vote this year. Additional employment opportunities are urgently needed, but the unemployment data is not promising.

A recently leaked report based on official government survey data revealed that unemployment hit a 45-year high of 6.1 percent in 2017. A 2018 International Labour Organization (ILO) report also showed that the number of unemployed people in India is projected at 18.9 million by 2019.

Even more concerning, though, is whether Modi will continue to try to distract from the country’s economic troubles with even more overt appeals to Hindu nationalism.

Experts such as Varshney told me that if Modi comes back with a strong mandate from voters, a Hindu nation is almost certain, in practice if not constitutionally. This means that India’s rich and diverse culture — as well as its very identity — may be under threat.

Kalpana Jain worked for many years at India’s leading national daily, the Times of India, and was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 2009.

For more on India’s 2019 elections, listen to this episode of Today Explained, Vox’s daily news podcast.

‘Sea change in Pakistan’s attitude towards India after Balakot air strike’, says PM Modi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

‘Sea change in Pakistan’s attitude towards India after Balakot air strike’, says PM Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Pakistan’s attitude towards India and that during the Congress government has undergone a sea change and terrorists and their sponsors in Pakistan are living in fear.

LOK SABHA ELECTIONS Updated: Apr 11, 2019 21:27 IST

Avijit Biswas
Avijit Biswas
Hindustan Times, Bhagalpur
Lok Sabha Elections 2019,Election Rally,Election news
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the audience during an election rally, in Bhagalpur on Thursday.(Santosh Kumar /HT Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said that in order to talk of peace it is essential to be strong as he came down heavily on the opposition, particularly Congress, over national security.

At an election rally in Bhagalpur, Modi said that the country has emerged stronger after retaliatory action against Pakistan following the Pulwama terror strike. He said the air strike was carried out to address “the restlessness of 130 crore people of country for a firm and definite action against Pakistan”.

“Pakistan’s attitude towards India today and that during the Congress government has undergone a sea change,” the PM said. “Terrorists as well as well as their sponsors in Pakistan are living in fear.”

He attacked the opposition alliance for “speaking the language that supports terrorism”. He stressed that the opposition alliance should clarify whether they are with terrorists or with armed forces.

Modi who was campaigning for JD (U) nominees contesting as NDA candidates from Munger, Banka and Bhagalpur parliamentary seats, said the NDA has a clear policy of giving free hand to armed forces in the fight against terrorism and extremism. While he did not mention the Congress manifesto, he asked the people whether they approve curtailing power of the armed forces. The Congress manifesto promises to review the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act which gives the forces in disturbed areas sweeping powers of search and arrest and provides immunity from prosecution in civil courts.

He said as chowkidar of the people he has done what was expected from his government for social security and national security. He referred to works undertaken in social security front under various centrally sponsored schemes including Ayushman Bharat.

He said opposition leaders were fighting for their existence and were trying their best to create fear among people that there would be no election in the country in future and that the reservation policy would be abolished if he is voted back to power.

“On the contrary I favour further strengthening of reservation policy,” Modi said and cited the 10% reservation which his government had announced for poor people of upper caste.

He referred to the government’s minimum support price agriculture produce of farmers against their crop expenditure and said the Congress had no interest in improving the lives of farmers.

“Once we are voted to power again all farmers would be covered under financial assistance scheme instead of present coverage to farmers having land holdings up to five acres,” Modi said.

He also spoke about future plans aimed at extending support to small and marginal farmers besides small businessmen. He mentioned the development work undertaken in Bihar praised Nitish Kumar’s government for its performance.

In the silk town, the PM also spoke about the problems faced by local silk industry and apprised them on what his government has been doing to boost their business globally. “The mega handloom cluster was established here as a step towards solution of your problems,” Modi said.

First Published: Apr 11, 2019 20:56 IST

India: Jawans were killed for votes

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

‘Jawans were killed for votes’: SP leader calls Pulwama attack a conspiracy

Big fish will be caught if the new government after 2019 Lok Sabha elections probe Pulwama terror attack, says Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath demands an apology from Yadav.

LOK SABHA ELECTIONS Updated: Mar 21, 2019 16:48 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Samajwadi Party,Pulwama Terror Attack,Ram Gopal Yadav
Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav has raked up fresh controversy over Pulwama terror attack terming it a conspiracy.(ANI)

Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav has revived attack on the Narendra Modi government over Pulwama terror strike owned by Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed. Yadav has called the Pulwama terror attack a “conspiracy” in which “soldiers were killed for vote”.

The SP leader said if the government changes in 2019 Lok Sabha election, and a probe is conducted into the Pulwama terror attack, “big fish” will be caught.

“Paramilitary forces are unhappy with the government. Soldiers were killed for votes. There was no security checking between Jammu and Srinagar. Soldiers were being transported in ordinary buses. This was a conspiracy. I did not want to say this at this point of time. When the government changes, (and) it is probed, many big fish will be caught,” news agency ANI on Thursday quoted Yadav as saying.

ANI UP

@ANINewsUP

RG Yadav,SP: Paramilitary forces dukhi hain sarkar se, jawan maar diye gaye vote ke liye,checking nahi thi Jammu-Srinagar ke beech mein, jawano ko simple buses main bhej diya,ye sazish thi, abhi nahi kehna chahta, jab sarkar badlegi, iski jaanch hogi, tab bade-bade log phasenge.

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Responding to Yadav’s comment, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said the SP leader should apologise for “lowering the morale of soldiers”.

“Ram Gopal Yadav has presented an undignified example of politics. He should apologise to the public for his comment meant to raise question on the martyrdom of the CRPF jawans and lowering the morale of the soldiers of the nation,” he said.

Forty CRPF jawans were killed on February 14, when a suicide bomber targeted a convoy carrying more than 2,500 personnel from Jammu to Srinagar. The incident took place in south Kashmir’s Pulwama.

The Pulwama terror attack saw escalation in tension between India and Pakistan. Days after the terror attack claimed by the JeM, the Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out a “pre-emptive” strike in Pakistan’s Balakot. The target was what was believed to be the biggest terror training camp of the JeM.

Pakistan responded to the IAF strike on terror camp by violating Indian airspace in its attempt to target military installations. The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) used a large package of fighter jets including the F-16 in its aerial campaign. An IAF response team foiled the PAF’s attempt to hit India’s military installations.

One F-16 fighter jet of the PAF was shot down by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was flying a MiG 21 Bison. The IAF aircraft was also shot down by the PAF. Pilot Abhinandan ejected safely but landed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, where he was captured by the Pakistan Army.

Amid mounting international pressure, Pakistan released IAF pilot Abhinandan leading to easing out tension between the two countries. The BJP-led government termed the development as its diplomatic victory following a “bold move” to hit at terror camp deep inside Pakistani territory.

The opposition has targeted the government alleging that it is using Pulwama terror attack and IAF strike at Balakot for political gain with an eye on the Lok Sabha election in April-May.

First Published: Mar 21, 2019 15:34 IST

India: Election Commission blows bugle, India takes poll position

(This Article Is Courtesy Of The Hindustan Times Of India)

 

Election Commission blows bugle, India takes poll position

Indian elections are not won or lost only on leadership and issues. It is a complex landscape with multiple states, multiple parties, and a battlefield where arithmetic often reigns supreme.

LOK SABHA ELECTIONS Updated: Mar 10, 2019 21:31 IST

Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times
Election 2019 date,Lok Sabha Poll Schedule,Lok Sabha Poll Schedule Today
A para-military jawan guards EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines) at a counting centre.(PTI File Photo)

In 2014, soon after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) historic win in the general elections, a senior leader of the party was asked what lay ahead. He said, “2019. As soon as you win, the clock starts ticking towards the next polls. We cannot be a one-term wonder. A second term will cement our legacy.”

Reeling from its worst ever performance, a Congress leader had a similar response about the next objective. “All our attention must be focused on 2019. We have to survive five years, and come back. Otherwise the party’s very existence will be under threat.”

A key feature of the Indian democratic system is periodic elections. This enables a smooth transfer of power. It ensures circulation of political elites. And it keeps both the incumbent under check (for it is always looking ahead to the next poll) and the opposition hopeful (for one electoral turn can bring them back to office). Both then remain invested in the stability of the democratic system and constitutional order.

Ever since 2014, it appears that both the incumbent, the BJP, and the opposition, the Congress, and a range of regional forces have been waiting for precisely this moment. With the Election Commission announcing the dates for elections to the 17th Lok Sabha, India formally enters poll season.

What will be the nature of this election? What are the issues at stake? How do the numbers stack up as campaigning begins? And what can India expect in the next 50 days?

Read more| Lok Sabha elections in 7 phases, voting starts April 11, results on May 23

Nature

Under the Indian parliamentary system, in theory, when a voter goes to the polling booth, all he is voting for is a representative from his constituency. This representative is meant to frame laws in Parliament.

But electoral competition is mostly between political parties, and the party with the highest number of parliamentarians, either on its own, or in a coalition, gets to form the government. So the voter is essentially selecting not just a candidate (MP), but also the party the candidate represents, and eventually the Prime Minister (PM). The legislature and the executive are conjoined, unlike a presidential system in which they are elected separately.

This may appear basic, but it is precisely this debate which played out in 2014. Were voters electing MPs, according to local factors and arithmetic, or were they electing a PM, in keeping with a larger national outlook? Did Narendra Modi turn Indian elections into a presidential race? And what will happen in 2019?

Modi is not the first leader who has made a general election all about leadership. Jawaharlal Nehru’s elections (1952,1957,1962) and Indira Gandhi’s elections (particularly the one in 1971) were essentially presidential in nature. Even the BJP’s electoral gambits in the 1990s under Atal Bihar Vajpayee were based on leadership. Modi refined this campaign plank and took it to another level.

In 2019, the BJP is attempting to do the same. It is asking voters a simple question: would you rather have Modi or an unknown leader in a weak coalition government? And it is hoping that the image of Modi will once again succeed in rebuilding a coalition across castes, classes, geographies and override local factors. The opposition is hoping to take the election in exactly the opposite direction. It would like voters to consider local factors, prioritise narrower concerns rather than focus on national leadership.

The outcome of the 2019 election, therefore, depends on its very nature. Will it be national or local? Will electing the PM or MP be important?

Read more| No assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir for now

Issues

But an Indian national election is too complex to be reduced to just one variable. As citizens grow more aware, aided by the spread of technology and mass media, the importance of issues will only grow. If the 2014 election was defined by anger against the past regime for its perceived corruption and inefficiency and hope for a new future, this election will be determined by a set of five issues, with sides pushing forward their competing narratives.

The first issue is national security, or, more generally, nationalism. This has shot up the charts in recent weeks in the aftermath of Pulwama.

The BJP’s story is straightforward and is following this script. The Modi government has cracked down on terror. It has also redefined the response for Pakistan-backed terror attacks, be it through the surgical strikes after Uri or air strikes after Pulwama. The following is the narrative of the government. The air strikes represented Modi’s decisiveness. He taught Pakistan a lesson. He also used India’s diplomatic strength to isolate Pakistan and bring back the pilot. Only a BJP government can keep India secure, a weak coalition government will preside over a weak security regime and would never have the strength to take on Pakistan. And any questions about the strikes come from a position of undermining national interest.

The opposition’s script on the issue is somewhat muddled. There are segments of the opposition which do not want to engage, refer to the air strikes as a matter of pride for the armed forces, and would like to shift the conversation. But there are others in the opposition who believe Modi needs be to questioned on his claims. They ask: Did the terror attack in Pulwama itself not represent an intelligence failure? What is India’s Pakistan policy, for Modi has swung from a surprise visit to the neighbouring country to talking tough? What was actually achieved in Balakot? Didn’t the fact that an Indian plane go down and an Indian pilot captured represent the government’s weakness? Did Pakistan actually land the final blow after the strikes? And what has the Modi government done to improve the situation in Kashmir or end terror decisively?

Read more | Model code of conduct now in force: What it means

The second issue is agrarian distress and rural India.

The opposition has a robust case and argues the following. The government has not implemented the Swaminathan Commission recommendations on Minimum Support Prices. Farmer incomes are at a low; either margins are so low that livelihood is difficult or farmers are actually getting less than their cost of production and are thus driven to despair and debt traps. The government has done little to make farming attractive, treats farmers as liabilities and is leaving rural India unprepared for the future. Farmer marches and protests across the country are a symptom of this distress, as is the BJP’s losses in the state polls last year. If elected to power, the Congress has promised a blanket farm loan waiver.

The BJP, for its part, cites the PM Kisaan Scheme — a promise of Rs 6000 to small and marginal farmers, of which the first instalment of Rs 2000 is in the process of being transferred — as a landmark income support initiative. It argues that structural problems in Indian agriculture are a legacy of the past, and, instead, it has attempted to address it through soil health cards, insurance, market reforms. Productivity has in fact shot up. In addition, the Modi story for rural India goes beyond agriculture and focuses on assets. The government cites construction of houses and toilets, the distribution of gas cylinders, and electricity connectivity as big accomplishments.

The third issue is jobs.

The opposition claims that despite promising millions of jobs every year, the government has been a dismal failure on employment creation. They point to both demonetisation and the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax as having actually destroyed jobs. A recently leaked official report appears to substantiate the claim that unemployment was at a low in the year following these initiatives. The lack of progress on Make in India, the stalled private investment, the persisting twin balance sheet problem are all cited by the opposition to make the case that the government has done little to kickstart the economy, and has only favoured a few crony capitalists.

The BJP has an entirely different narrative on jobs. It argues that there has actually been substantial job creation in the service sector; the Mudra loans indicate a spurt in entrepreneurship and self employment; the government has also improved India’s ranking in the ease of doing business, which facilitates investment, which, in turn, facilitates jobs. The Modi government claims that far from encouraging cronyism, it has actually brought in key reforms to institute cleaner capitalism — from the bankruptcy code to the GST — and this will slowly begin showing dividends. As proof of its sound economic management, the government also points to low inflation.

Read more| EVM ballot paper to carry candidates’ photographs to assist voters

The fourth issue is identity, which encompasses both caste and religion.

For the opposition, the BJP regime is marked by a strong element of Hindu upper caste domination, which is geared against Dalits. By suggesting that the BJP is against reservations, pointing to the presence of upper castes at the top echelons in the party, arguing that there is a tilt towards Thakurs in key states like UP, and claiming that caste atrocities have increased, the opposition hopes to wean away Dalits and perhaps even sections of OBCs from BJP.

On caste, the BJP has attempted to keep intact its wide coalition. By restoring the original provisions of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, or restoring department wise reservations for marginalised in universities in the final cabinet meeting, the government hopes to convince Dalits its interests are supreme; by introducing 10 percent reservation for economically weaker sections, it hopes to signal to ‘General castes’ – its old core vote – that the government has taken steps to make the system more just for then; by pointing to the ongoing work of the commission to sub categorise OBCs, BJP will tell OBC groups that it is drawing up a more equitable system where advantages are not monopolised by only the most dominant of the backward groups.

The identity debate will play out in the realm of religion too. Some opposition parties will be vocal in pointing out that BJP’s regime was marked by outright majoritarianism; state backed vigilantism in the name of cow protection; marginalisation of Muslims from the political sphere; and assault on their livelihoods. Most opposition parties – particularly Congress, but also key regional forces in UP like Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party – will seek to capitalise on the Muslim vote, but not make this an explicit part of the agenda for they fear that it will lead to counter-consolidation of Hindus in favour of the BJP. But make no mistake, as subtext, religion will matter. For its part, the BJP will make an attempt to play the Hindutva card, in order to construct a wide vote across caste and class cleavages. From the (temporarily stalled) Citizenship Amendment bill to promises of Ram Temple, from acting tough against illegal (Muslim) immigrants to blurring the line between nationalism and Hindutva and encouraging polarisation on the ground, expect the BJP machine to deploy a range of tools.

And the fifth issue is the state of Indian democracy or institutions.

For the opposition, the post 2014 period has been marked by increasingly authoritarian rule of Modi, aided by BJP president Amit Shah. They allege that all institutions – from the cabinet to Election Commission, from Central Bureau of Investigation to the Reserve Bank of India, from the judiciary to the media – have all been compromised in this quest to create an almost totalitarian set up where party faithful take over all spaces. The BJP argues that distortion and politicisation of institutions is once again a legacy of the Congress. These allegations are only a result of an old entrenched elite having lost power. And in fact, they claim, what is now visible is deeper democratisation with a new segment of people, away from Westernised urban centric backgrounds but more rooted to the soil, exercising power.

Read more| Lok Sabha election dates announced: Know when your state goes to polls

Arithmetic

But Indian elections are not won or lost only on leadership and issues. It is a complex landscape with multiple states, multiple parties, and a battlefield where arithmetic often reigns supreme.

The BJP begins its campaign way ahead of the rest of the pack. This is both the party’s strength and weakness. It swept north, west and central India in 2014. Replicating the performance in these regions will be particularly difficult because either the party now faces three tiers of anti incumbency in many of these states – it is in power at the centre, in the state, and has the MP from most constituencies across Bihar, UP, Uttarakhand, Himachal, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra – or has just lost power in states – be it MP, Rajasthan or Chhattisgarh. It also has an additional challenge in the form of alliances, especially the SP-BSP alliance in UP.

The Modi-Shah machine’s entire effort will be to defend its gains in this belt, and it believes the surge in nationalist sentiment post the air strikes will benefit them most precisely in this belt. The opposition’s entire effort will be to limit the BJP to the bare minimum here. This will either take the form of sharp bipolar contests in which the Congress is the principal challenger, or triangular contests in which the BJP will face a regional force with Congress playing a supplementary role.

If the game in the heartland for the BJP will be defence, in the east and south, it will be expansion. The BJP has invested remarkable energy in West Bengal and Odisha in particular. The opposition is more enthused here, however, for it believes that the BJP has not been able to make enough inroads independently in West Bengal or Odisha to take on the Trinamool or Biju Janata Dal; it has weakened its chances in the Northeast by pushing the Citizenship Bill; and it has minimal presence across all southern states except Karnataka where a Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance will take them on.

It would be foolhardy to make any predictions based on these regional variations at the moment. But what we can say is the following.

The BJP is likely to dip from its high of 282 seats in 2014, but the extent of the dip is not known. The Congress is likely to gain somewhat from its low of 44 seats in 2014, but the extent of the gain is not clear. There will be a coalition in power after 2019 with regional parties probably exercising more say unlike in the post 2014 arrangement, but whether they will indeed exercise the veto or get leadership or play a supplementary role to a national party is not clear. And there will be a reconfiguration of forces after the results are out, with many of those currently on the fence — the BJD, Telangana Rashtriya Samithi or YSR Congress Party — more willing to reveal their cards.

But beyond the outcome, Indian elections are a remarkable exercise in allowing society to have a voice in shaping who runs the state. It is a moment for social conflicts and fault lines to play out in a civil, non violent and democratic manner. It is a moment for the political elites to understand and adapt to the demands of a new, empowered citizenry. And it is the occasion to keep this utterly diverse landscape tied together to a common political unit. Both the campaign and the polling over two months will once again be a tribute to the foresight of the Constitution’s founding fathers, as India charts the path for the next five years.

First Published: Mar 10, 2019 20:11 IST