Archive for ‘congress party’

18/04/2019

India election 2019: Can West Bengal’s female candidates win?

A supporter throws marigold petals at Mahua Moitra
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Women make up nearly half of India’s 900 million voters, but they are still poorly represented in the country’s law-making bodies. One political party is trying to correct the balance by nominating 41% female candidates. The BBC’s Geeta Pandey travelled to the state of West Bengal to see how they are faring.

On a bright sunny morning, as an open jeep decorated with bright yellow and orange flowers hurtles along the dirt track from one village to the next, women in colourful saris and men rush to greet Mahua Moitra.

They shower bright orange marigold petals on her, place garlands around her neck and many reach out to shake and kiss her hands. She waves at them, greeting them with her palms joined: “Give me your blessings.”

Young men and women whip out their smartphones to take photos and selfies. On the way, she’s offered coconut water and sweets.

Ms Moitra, who is contesting the general election as a candidate of the state’s governing Trinamool Congress Party (TMC), is campaigning in her constituency Krishnanagar.

Women offer sweets to Mahua Moitra
Image caption On the campaign trail, women offer coconut water and sweets
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Women throw marigold petals at Mahua Moitra
Image caption Supporters throw marigold petals at Mahua Moitra
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In one village, party workers tell her about an old man who’s too ill to come to meet her, so she walks to his home to greet him.

Her jeep is followed by dozens of bikes and their riders, all young men, chanting slogans like “Long live Trinamool Congress, Long live Mamata Banerjee.”

The loud, colourful procession is led by a small truck, fitted with loudspeakers, from which announcements asking people to vote for Ms Moitra are played on a loop.

With the election season well under way in India and political leaders criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country, addressing rallies, I’m travelling across the country to see if the high-decibel campaigns are addressing the real issues that actually affect millions of people. One of them is getting more women into parliament.

In India, only 11% of members of parliament are women, and in state assemblies it’s 9%. In a list of 193 countries this year, India was ranked 149th for female representation in parliament – below Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

A bill to reserve 33% of seats for women in parliament and regional assemblies has been pending since 1996, so the decision by the TMC – led by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee – to give 41% of her party nominations to women has created a huge buzz.

Mahua Moitra during her road show
Image caption Ms Moitra quit her banker’s job in London to return to India and enter politics
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Ms Banerjee, who set up the TMC in 1998 after falling out with the Congress party, is a feisty politician who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2012.

Her female candidates, says my BBC Bengali colleague Subhajyoti Ghosh, are an “interesting mix” of career politicians and first-timers. They include actors, doctors, a tribal activist and the 25-year-old widow of a recently-murdered politician.

Ms Moitra, the TMC’s national spokesperson and a member of the state assembly since 2016, is among 17 women who have made it to the party’s list of 42 general election nominees.

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Read more from Geeta Pandey

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A former investment banker with JP Morgan, she gave up a well-paying job in London in 2009 to return to the heat and dust of Indian politics.

Her decision left her family aghast. Her parents, she told me, thought she was “insane”. Some party workers too had their doubts – “she’s a memsahib”, they said at the time, “she won’t survive”.

A poster of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal
Image caption Mamata Banerjee was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2012
Presentational white spaceBut she has survived – and thrived. In 2016, she won the Karimpur assembly seat that no non-Left party had won since 1972 and has now set her eyes on the national parliament.

She’s agreed to let me follow her on the campaign trail, so for two days I’ve been a “fly on the wall” – standing behind her in her jeep, travelling in her car, watching her strategise with party workers, aides and confidants.

The previous evening, I had watched her be the chief guest at a college cricket match and address a gathering at the local market in Plassey.

A four-hour drive from Kolkata, Plassey is the site of the famous 1757 battle between the British East India Company and the local ruler supported by the French.

Ms Moitra takes her spot to speak and clearly takes aim at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as she talks about a deadly suicide attack in Kashmir and India’s subsequent air raid in Pakistan.

The bike riders
Image caption Her jeep is followed by dozens of supporters on bikes
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Women shaking hands
Image caption Many women reach out to shake hands with Ms Moitra

“What’s the point of saying you killed all those terrorists in Pakistan? It’s not important who you killed in Pakistan or how many. What’s important is you failed to protect our soldiers.”

She talks about how the government has failed to create jobs and accuses the BJP of trying to divide Hindus and Muslims.

“You have taken away our livelihoods and you’re trying to teach us about [the Hindu god] Ram and [Muslim saint] Rahim? I don’t have to write my religion on my forehead,” she declares to loud claps from her supporters.

Elections in the past were to change the government, she says, but this election is to save the constitution of India. “It is no ordinary vote.”

Her main rival is the BJP’s Kalyan Chaubey, a former footballer who played in goal for India. So drawing a football analogy, she declares: “I’m an A-league centre-forward player, stop my goal if you can. I am here to win.”

Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, a founder member of the TMC and two-term MP, says to nominate so many women is part of a “continuous process” followed by Mamata Banerjee because “you can’t develop a society without uplifting the status of its women”.

In the last general election in 2014, she points out that the party nominated 33% women and 12 of their 34 MPs in the outgoing lower house were women.

Ms Banerjee, she says, believes that gender sensitive laws will come only if more women are in power.

At a campaign rally that Dr Ghosh Dastidar addresses in Kumhra Kashipur village in her constituency Barasat, women are seated in the front rows.

Their opinion though is divided over whether having more women in parliament will actually benefit other women.

Dr Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar being welcomed in her constituency
Image caption Dr Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar is among the founder members of the TMC and a two-term MP
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Supriya Biswas says it’s easier if their MP is a woman because then it’s easier to approach her. “For, who can understand a woman better than a woman?”

Archana Mallick and Meena Mouli, who live just across from the rally ground, point to the broken roads near their homes and complain about poor medical facilities in their village. They say that the candidate’s gender is “inconsequential” and what’s important is “who works for our benefit”.

Studies, however, show that female representatives bring economic growth to their constituencies because they are more concerned than men about issues such as water supply, electricity, road connectivity and health facilities.

Saswati Ghosh, professor of economics at Kolkata’s City College, says that politics in India is “still very patriarchal” and it’s “absolutely necessary” to elect more women MPs.

“It is important to have more women in lawmaking bodies because I think after a certain number, you’ll reach the threshold level and that will lead to change. I don’t know if 33% is the magic number that will change the quality of discourse, maybe 25% can do the trick?”

Archana Mallick and Meena Mouli say a candidate's gender is "inconsequential"
Image caption Archana Mallick and Meena Mouli say a candidate’s gender is “inconsequential”

Critics, however, question whether celebrities are the right candidates to bring about that change.

Prof Ghosh says actors and celebrities make for “winnable candidates” and that’s why all parties choose them even though sometimes they may not be the right candidates to reach that threshold.

But, she says that Ms Banerjee is a strong leader who’s regarded by many women as “a role model who inspires more women to come into politics”.

And that’s something that many Indians think the country sorely needs.

In their manifestos, the main opposition Congress party has promised to pass the women’s reservation bill, if elected to power. So has the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, although it had made similar promises in its last manifesto and did nothing about it.

By allotting 41% seats to women, Ms Banerjee has shown that one doesn’t need to set artificial quotas to elect more women.

Source: The BBC

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13/04/2019

Hundreds participate in march to commemorate Jallianwala Bagh massacre centenary

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Hundreds of people holding candles and the national flag marched through the northern Indian city of Amritsar on Friday, on the eve of the centenary of the colonial-era Jallianwala Bagh massacre that British Prime Minister Theresa May has called a “shameful scar.”

On April 13, 1919, some 50 British Indian army soldiers began shooting at unarmed civilians who were taking part in a peaceful protest against oppressive laws enforced in the Punjab region.

At least 379 Sikhs were killed, according to the official record, although local residents said in the past the toll was far higher. The massacre took place in the walled enclosure of Jallianwala Bagh, which is still pocked with bullet marks.

The massacre became a symbol of colonial cruelty and for decades Indians have demanded an apology from Britain, including during Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Amritsar in 1997.

On Wednesday, May told the British parliament that “the tragedy of Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 is a shameful scar on British Indian history”, but she did not issue a formal apology.

In 2013, then British Prime Minister David Cameron described the killings as a “deeply shameful event” in a visitor book at the site, now marked by a 46-foot (14-metre) high flame-shaped memorial.

“There are events in the histories of nations which are difficult to forget and they hold a very emotionally charged space in a nation’s memory,” Navtej Sarna, a Sikh who has served as India’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, told Reuters.

“We have an excellent relationship with the United Kingdom today but it’s a question of assuaging sentiments and healing a wound which has been festering as part of our shared history.” India gained independence from Britain in 1947.

Security in the city – also home to Sikhism’s holiest shrine the Golden Temple – has been stepped up as hundreds of visitors and groups are likely to arrive at the site, Amritsar Police Commissioner S.S. Srivastava said.

Residents of the city, tourists, visitors, top government officials and students took part in the candle lit evening march from a building called Townhall to the massacre site.

The march of about one kilometre was accompanied by loudspeakers playing patriotic songs and onlookers thronged the roadsides. At the end of the march, people observed a two-minute silence.
Punjab state’s Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Governor V P Badnore took part in the march while Rahul Gandhi, president of the opposition Congress party, was expected to visit the city later in the evening.
Source: Reuters
11/04/2019

India election 2019: Voting begins in world’s largest election

Indians have begun voting in the first phase of a general election that is being seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Tens of millions of Indians across 20 states and union territories are voting in 91 constituencies.

The seven-phase vote to elect a new lower house of parliament will continue until 19 May. Counting day is 23 May.

With 900 million eligible voters across the country, this is the largest election ever seen.

Some observers have billed this as the most important election in decades and the tone of the campaign has been acrimonious.

Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a historic landslide in the last elections in 2014. He stakes his claim to lead India on a tough image and remains the governing BJP’s main vote-getter.

But critics say his promises of economic growth and job creation haven’t met expectations and India has become more religiously polarised under his leadership.

The BJP faces challenges from strong regional parties and a resurgent Congress party, led by Rahul Gandhi. Mr Gandhi’s father, grandmother and great-grandfather are all former Indian prime ministers. His sister, Priyanka Gandhi, formally joined politics in January.

Modi at a rally in Meerut
Image captionMr Modi has made national security a key election issue

How has voting gone so far?

The Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament has 543 elected seats and any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a government.

Hundreds of voters began to queue up outside polling centres early Thursday morning. In the north-eastern state of Assam, lines of voters began forming almost an hour before voting officially began.

Voters at one polling booth in Baraut – in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh – got a royal welcome with people greeted by drums and a shower of flower petals.

A little boy clutches his father outside a polling booth in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh stateImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image caption A little boy clutches his father outside a polling booth in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh state

In central Chhattisgarh state, suspected Maoists detonated an IED device near a polling booth at around 04:00 local time (23:30 BST) – no injuries were reported.

The mineral-rich state has witnessed an armed conflict for more than three decades and attacks by Maoist rebels on security forces are common. On Tuesday a state lawmaker was killed in a suspected rebel attack.

How big is this election?

It is mind-bogglingly vast – about 900 million people above the age of 18 will be eligible to cast their ballots at one million polling stations. At the last election, vote turn-out was around 66%.

More than 100 million people are eligible to vote in the first phase of the election on Thursday.

An official checks the names of Indian lambadi tribeswomen at a polling station during India's general election at Pedda Shapur village on the outskirts of Hyderabad on April 11, 2019.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image caption Indian lambadi tribeswomen at a polling station in southern India

No voter is meant to have to travel more than 2km to reach a polling station. Because of the enormous number of election officials and security personnel involved, voting will take place in seven stages between 11 April and 19 May.

India’s historic first election in 1951-52 took three months to complete. Between 1962 and 1989, elections were completed in four to 10 days. The four-day elections in 1980 were the country’s shortest ever.

Source: The BBC

13/03/2019

India’s main opposition promises jobs for women amid heated election campaign

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s main opposition Congress party will reserve a third of federal government jobs for women if it comes into power, its chief Rahul Gandhi said on Wednesday, in a sign women’s rights are rising up the political agenda for next month’s election.

Over the last week, two powerful parties from eastern India said they would field women in a third of parliamentary races, putting pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other big parties to follow suit.

India ranks at 149 out of 193 countries – worse than neighbouring Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Pakistan – for the percentage of women in national parliaments, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an independent organisation promoting democracy.

“For how many generations have people talked about reservation in party positions, reservation for elections, reservation in jobs? But it doesn’t seem to happen,” BJP spokesperson Shaina N.C. said.
There are currently 66 women out of a total 543 elected members in India’s lower house of parliament. At 12 percent, this is the highest ever proportion of women in the Lok Sabha.
Women make up nearly half of all voters in the country of 1.3 billion people, according to the Election Commission of India. Based on recent state polls, women will likely head to voting stations in droves for the elections due by May, surpassing male turnout, analysts predict.
On Tuesday, Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal state, said her All India Trinamool Congress party would field 17 women candidates across 42 seats.
Earlier, on Sunday, the Biju Janata Dal, which rules Odisha state in eastern India, said it would reserve seven of 21 seats it is contesting for women candidates.
“33% reservation in parliament will give them bigger role in highest policy making body,” Naveen Patnaik, leader of the BJD and Odisha’s chief minister, said in a tweet.
“Women of our nation rightfully deserve this from all of us.”
Source: Reuters
10/03/2019

India and Pakistan: How the war was fought in TV studios

An Indian man watches live news channels broadcasting images of Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander pilot Abhinandan Varthaman returning to India from the India-Pakistan Wagah border in New Delhi on March 1, 2019.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionAn Indian man watches the news broadcasting images of the released Indian pilot

As tensions between India and Pakistan escalated following a deadly suicide attack last month, there was another battle being played out on the airwaves. Television stations in both countries were accused of sensationalism and partiality. But how far did they take it? The BBC’s Rajini Vaidyanathan in Delhi and Secunder Kermani in Islamabad take a look.

It was drama that was almost made for television.

The relationship between India and Pakistan – tense at the best of times – came to a head on 26 February when India announced it had launched airstrikes on militant camps in Pakistan’s Balakot region as “retaliation” for a suicide attack that had killed 40 troops in Indian-administered Kashmir almost two weeks earlier.

A day later, on 27 February, Pakistan shot down an Indian jet fighter and captured its pilot.

Abhinandan Varthaman was freed as a “peace gesture”, and Pakistan PM Imran Khan warned that neither country could afford a miscalculation, with a nuclear arsenal on each side.

Suddenly people were hooked, India’s TV journalists included.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he speaks during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) "Sankalp" rally in Patna in the Indian eastern state of Bihar on March 3, 2019.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionIndian PM Narendra Modi is accused of exploiting India-Pakistan hostilities for political gain

So were they more patriots than journalists?

Rajini Vaidyanathan: Indian television networks showed no restraint when it came to their breathless coverage of the story. Rolling news was at fever pitch.

The coverage often fell into jingoism and nationalism, with headlines such as “Pakistan teaches India a lesson”, “Dastardly Pakistan”, and “Stay Calm and Back India” prominently displayed on screens.

Some reporters and commentators called for India to use missiles and strike back. One reporter in south India hosted an entire segment dressed in combat fatigues, holding a toy gun.

And while I was reporting on the return of the Indian pilot at the international border between the two countries in the northern city of Amritsar, I saw a woman getting an Indian flag painted on her cheek. “I’m a journalist too,” she said, as she smiled at me in slight embarrassment.

Print journalist Salil Tripathi wrote a scathing critique of the way reporters in both India and Pakistan covered the events, arguing they had lost all sense of impartiality and perspective. “Not one of the fulminating television-news anchors exhibited the criticality demanded of their profession,” she said.

Media captionIndia and Pakistan’s ‘war-mongering’ media

Secunder Kermani: Shortly after shooting down at least one Indian plane last week, the Pakistani military held a press conference.

As it ended, the journalists there began chanting “Pakistan Zindabad” (Long Live Pakistan). It wasn’t the only example of “journalistic patriotism” during the recent crisis.

Two anchors from private channel 92 News donned military uniforms as they presented the news – though other Pakistani journalists criticised their decision.

But on the whole, while Indian TV presenters angrily demanded military action, journalists in Pakistan were more restrained, with many mocking what they called the “war mongering and hysteria” across the border.

In response to Indian media reports about farmers refusing to export tomatoes to Pakistan anymore for instance, one popular presenter tweeted about a “Tomatical strike” – a reference to Indian claims they carried out a “surgical strike” in 2016 during another period of conflict between the countries.

Media analyst Adnan Rehmat noted that while the Pakistani media did play a “peace monger as opposed to a warmonger” role, in doing so, it was following the lead of Pakistani officials who warned against the risks of escalation, which “served as a cue for the media.”

What were they reporting?

Rajini Vaidyanathan: As TV networks furiously broadcast bulletins from makeshift “war rooms” complete with virtual reality missiles, questions were raised not just about the reporters but what they were reporting.

Indian channels were quick to swallow the government version of events, rather than question or challenge it, said Shailaja Bajpai, media editor at The Print. “The media has stopped asking any kind of legitimate questions, by and large,” she said. “There’s no pretence of objectiveness.”

In recent years in fact, a handful of commentators have complained about the lack of critical questioning in the Indian media.

Indians celebrated on hearing news of the strikesImage copyrightAFP
Image captionIndians celebrated news of the strikes

“For some in the Indian press corps the very thought of challenging the ‘official version’ of events is the equivalent of being anti-national”, said Ms Bajpai. “We know there have been intelligence lapses but nobody is questioning that.”

Senior defence and science reporter Pallava Bagla agreed. “The first casualty in a war is always factual information. Sometimes nationalistic fervour can make facts fade away,” he said.

This critique isn’t unique to India, or even this period in time. During the 2003 Iraq war, western journalists embedded with their country’s militaries were also, on many occasions, simply reporting the official narrative.

Secunder Kermani: In Pakistan, both media and public reacted with scepticism to Indian claims about the damage caused by the airstrikes in Balakot, which India claimed killed a large number of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militants in a training camp.

Hamid Mir, one of the most influential TV anchors in the country travelled to the area and proclaimed, “We haven’t seen any such (militant) infrastructure… we haven’t seen any bodies, any funerals.”

“Actually,” he paused, “We have found one body… this crow.” The camera panned down to a dead crow, while Mr Mir asked viewers if the crow “looks like a terrorist or not?”

There seems to be no evidence to substantiate Indian claims that a militant training camp was hit, but other journalists working for international outlets, including the BBC, found evidence of a madrassa, linked to JeM, near the site.

A cropped version of a satellite image shows a close-up of a madrasa near Balakot, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan, March 4, 2019. Picture taken March 4, 2019.Image copyrightPLANET LABS INC./HANDOUT VIA REUTERS
Image captionThe satellite image shows a close-up of a madrassa near Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Paktunkhwa

A photo of a signpost giving directions to the madrassa even surfaced on social media. It described the madrassa as being “under the supervision of Masood Azhar”. Mr Azhar is the founder of JeM.

The signpost’s existence was confirmed by a BBC reporter and Al Jazeera, though by the time Reuters visited it had apparently been removed. Despite this, the madrassa and its links received little to no coverage in the Pakistani press.

Media analyst Adnan Rehmat told the BBC that “there was no emphasis on investigating independently or thoroughly enough” the status of the madrassa.

In Pakistan, reporting on alleged links between the intelligence services and militant groups is often seen as a “red line”. Journalists fear for their physical safety, whilst editors know their newspapers or TV channels could face severe pressure if they publish anything that could be construed as “anti-state”.

Who did it better: Khan or Modi?

Rajini Vaidyanathan: With a general election due in a few months, PM Narendra Modi continued with his campaign schedule, mentioning the crisis in some of his stump speeches. But he never directly addressed the ongoing tensions through an address to the nation or a press conference.

This was not a surprise. Mr Modi rarely holds news conference or gives interviews to the media. When news of the suicide attack broke, Mr Modi was criticised for continuing with a photo shoot.

Imran KhanImage copyrightAFP
Image captionImran Khan was praised for his measured approach

The leader of the main opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, dubbed him a “Prime Time Minister” claiming the PM had carried on filming for three hours. PM Modi has also been accused of managing his military response as a way to court votes.

At a campaign rally in his home state of Gujarat he seemed unflustered by his critics, quipping “they’re busy with strikes on Modi, and Modi is launching strikes on terror.”

Secunder Kermani: Imran Khan won praise even from many of his critics in Pakistan, for his measured approach to the conflict. In two appearances on state TV, and one in parliament, he appeared firm, but also called for dialogue with India.

His stance helped set the comparatively more measured tone for Pakistani media coverage.

Officials in Islamabad, buoyed by Mr Khan’s decision to release the captured Indian pilot, have portrayed themselves as the more responsible side, which made overtures for peace.

On Twitter, a hashtag calling for Mr Khan to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize was trending for a while. But his lack of specific references to JeM, mean internationally there is likely to be scepticism, at least initially, about his claims that Pakistan will no longer tolerate militant groups targeting India.

Source: The BBC

06/03/2019

‘War’ and India PM Modi’s muscular strongman image

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he speaks during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) "Sankalp" rally in Patna in the Indian eastern state of Bihar on March 3, 2019.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionMr Modi is accused of exploiting India-Pakistan hostilities for political gain

A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth, American political journalist Michael Kinsley said.

Last week, a prominent leader of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appeared to have done exactly that. BS Yeddyurappa said the armed aerial hostilities between India and Pakistan would help his party win some two dozen seats in the upcoming general election.

The remark by Mr Yeddyurappa, former chief minister of Karnataka, was remarkable in its candour. Not surprisingly, it was immediately seized upon by opposition parties. They said it was a brazen admission of the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party was mining the tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals ahead of general elections, which are barely a month away. Mr Modi’s party is looking at a second term in power.

Mr Yeddyurappa’s plain-spokenness appeared to have embarrassed even the BJP. Federal minister VK Singh issued a statement, saying the government’s decision to carry out air strikes in Pakistan last week was to “safeguard our nation and ensure safety of our citizens, not to win a few seats”. No political party can afford to concede that it was exploiting a near war for electoral gains.

A billboard displaying an image of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi holding a rifle is seen on a roadside in Ahmedabad on March 3, 2019.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThe BJP has put up election posters of Mr Modi posing with guns

Even as tensions between India and Pakistan ratcheted up last week, Mr Modi went on with business as usual. Hours after the Indian attack in Pakistan’s Balakot region, he told a packed election meeting that the country was in safe hands and would “no longer be helpless in the face of terror”. Next morning, Pakistan retaliated and captured an Indian pilot who ejected from a downed fighter jet. Two days later, Pakistan returned the pilot to India.

Mr Modi then told a gathering of scientists that India’s aerial strikes were merely a “pilot project” and hinted there was more to come. Elsewhere, his party chief Amit Shah said India had killed more than 250 militants in the Balakot attack even as senior defence officials said they didn’t know how many had died. Gaudy BJP posters showing Mr Modi holding guns and flanked by soldiers, fighter jets and orange explosions have been put up in parts of the country. “Really uncomfortable with pictures of soldiers on election posters and podiums. This should be banned. Surely the uniform is sullied by vote gathering in its name,” tweeted Barkha Dutt, an Indian television journalist and author.

Mr Modi has appealed to the opposition to refrain from politicising the hostilities. The opposition parties are peeved because they believe Mr Modi has not kept his word. Last week, they issued a statement saying “national security must transcend narrow political considerations”.

‘Petty political gain’

But can the recent conflict fetch more votes for Mr Modi? In other words, can national security become a campaign plank?

Many believe Mr Modi is likely to make national security the pivot of his campaign. Before last month’s suicide attack – claimed by Pakistan-based militants – killed more than 40 Indian paramilitaries in Kashmir, Mr Modi was looking a little vulnerable. His party had lost three state elections on the trot to the Congress party. Looming farm and jobs crises were threatening to hurt the BJP’s prospects.

Now, many believe, Mr Modi’s chances look brighter as he positions himself as a “muscular” protector of the country’s borders. “This is one of the worst attempts to use war to win [an] election, and to use national security as petty political gain. But I don’t know whether it will succeed or not,” says Yogendra Yadav, a politician and psephologist.

Indian people feed sweets to a poster of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they celebrate the Indian Air Force"s air strike across the Line of Control (LoC) near the international border with PakistanImage copyrightEPA
Image captionMany Indians have celebrated India’s strike in Pakistani territory

Evidence is mixed on whether national security helps ruling parties win elections in India. Ashutosh Varshney, a professor of political science at Brown University in the US, says previous national security disruptions in India were “distant from the national elections”.

The wars in 1962 (against China) and 1971 (against Pakistan) broke out after general elections. Elections were still two years away when India and Pakistan fought a war in 1965. The 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that brought the two countries to the brink of war happened two years after a general election. The Mumbai attacks in 2008 took place five months before the elections in 2009 – and the then ruling Congress party won without making national security a campaign plank.

Things may be different this time. Professor Varshney says the suicide attack in Kashmir on 14 February and last week’s hostilities are “more electorally significant than the earlier security episodes”.

For one, he says, it comes just weeks ahead of a general election in a highly polarised country. The vast expansion of the urban middle class means that national security has a larger constituency. And most importantly, according to Dr Varshney, “the nature of the regime in Delhi” is an important variable. “Hindu nationalists have always been tougher on national security than the Congress. And with rare exceptions, national security does not dominate the horizons of regional parties, governed as they are by caste and regional identities.”

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Bhanu Joshi, a political scientist also at Brown University, believes Mr Modi’s adoption of a muscular and robust foreign policy and his frequent international trips to meet foreign leaders may have touched a chord with a section of voters. “During my work in northern India, people would continuously invoke the improvement in India’s stature in the international arena. These perceptions get reinforced with an event like [the] Balakot strikes and form impressions which I think voters, particularly on a bipolar contest of India and Pakistan, care about,” says Mr Joshi.

Others like Milan Vaishnav, senior fellow and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, echo a similar sentiment. He told me that although foreign policy has never been a “mass” issue in India’s domestic politics, “given the proximity of the conflict to the elections, the salience of Pakistan, and the ability of the Modi government to claim credit for striking back hard, I expect it will become an important part of the campaign”.

But Dr Vaishnav believes it will not displace the economy and farm distress as an issue, especially in village communities. “Where it will help the BJP most is among swing voters, especially in urban constituencies. If there were fence-sitters unsure of how to vote in 2019, this emotive issue might compel them to stick with the incumbent.”

How the opposition counters Mr Modi’s agenda-setting on national security will be interesting to watch. Even if the hostilities end up giving a slight bump to BJP prospects in the crucial bellwether states in the north, it could help take the party over the winning line. But then even a week is a long time in politics.

Source: The BBC

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