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The Ballot Box Must Mr. Modi Worry?

  • KIPS CSS Admin
  • May, 2019
  • 129
  • Letters

READERS, INCLUDING INDIANS, DEBATE THE 2019 POLLS AND ALSO LOCAL POLITICS AND PROBLEMS IN PAKISTAN

INDIA & PAKISTAN

In the coming months, more than 800 million Indians will cast their votes in what will be the largest election exercise in the world. At stake will be the fate of Narendra Modi whose ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had secured a landslide victory in 2014 winning 282 out of 543 seats, the first party in thirty years to win an outright majority in India.

Challenging him will be a broad yet loosely-knit coalition of parties led by a resurgent Indian National Congress under Rahul Gandhi. This alliance is popularised as the Mahagathbandhan, a caucus to unite different regional satraps who have little in common except for their shared aversion towards the Modi government.

However, there are reasons for Mr. Modi to worry about for the time being:

First, the opposition alleges that the pro-business BJP has been averse to Indian peasants. Farmers who together make up about half of India’s 1.3 billion people have been struggling to cope with rising debts and declining returns on their produce. They have long demanded an unconditional loan waiver and minimum support price for their crops. But except for a few populist measures, the government has been unable to fix the structural barriers in the agriculture sector, and this seems to have been picked well by the opposition.

In addition to the peasantry, India’s huge informal economy has also suffered due to measures like demonetisation and the flawed implementation of the good and services tax. Both steps have drastically dented the small business and workers in the informal sector. There is a growing gut feeling of anti-incumbency against the government and resentment strongly resonates with the small-scale businesses which have withered due to the radical economic policies of the government.

Second, upper caste Hindus who have been the traditional vote bank of the BJP are increasingly turning against it. In caste-ridden Indian politics, parties have to maintain a fine line where they do not upset their traditional support base. Yet the Modi government has not been successful on this front either. Ever since Mr. Modi ascended the power in 2014, several upper castes most notably the Patidars in Gujarat, Marathas in Maharashtra, and Jats in Haryana have protested to obtain reservations in education and government jobs. Interestingly, the demands of upper castes are interwoven with the farmer distress in India since the upper castes form the bulk of landowning class and represent a considerable part of agriculturists. With the agriculture sector becoming less attractive, these communities have insisted on quotas in job opportunities.

Third, the BJP’s Hindutva pitch and religious nationalism-based agenda seems to be overstretched and simply unsustainable. It is no secret that the BJP was conceptualised as a political vehicle of the Hindu fringe and has often benefited from invoking religious appeals. Critics have often complained of the unsaid approval given by party bosses to bolster religious bigotry and hatred.

So, how will this possibly play out on the ground? Does the Mahagathbandhan have a pan-Indian resonance or as Omar Abdullah, leader of the National Conference (another plank in the anti-BJP caucus) warned, ‘When we make it look like we are all ganging up against Mr. Modi, we are actually playing to his advantage. It allows him to be the victim. It is the biggest favor that we can do him.’

One alarm bell triggered by such advice is whether, rather than advancing a pan-Indian outcry against the Modi government, the opposition should engage the BJP in smaller statewide battles. Through these, the opposition will be able to localise the electoral contest and bleed the BJP through a thousand cuts.

COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL INTEREST

If the current government led by the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi secures another emphatic mandate, the country will move dangerously close to becoming a majoritarian state. A decisive victory would give the BJP hegemonic control over all state institutions, as well as the media and public discourse. This would further undermine the integrity and autonomy of different arms of the state, including the judiciary, public watchdogs and, more importantly, state-run educational institutions. Moreover, another party victory would put the freedoms and security of nearly 175 million Indian Muslims in jeopardy. Would a re-elected Modi have a rethink on Pakistan? It’d all depend on the trade-off at the time between the unknowns of normalisation with Pakistan, and the familiar gains of tensions for domestic politics, Kashmir, and India’s regional an...

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