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India

Stakes high for Modi in Delhi polls

Defeat for the BJP could damage its image amid violent protests over changes to the citizenship law

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Updated: February 07, 2020 09:08 AM GMT
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Stakes high for Modi in Delhi polls

Indian Prime Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi speaks during a rally on Feb. 3 for the upcoming Delhi state elections, where his pro-Hindu agenda will face a big test. (Photo: Money Sharma/AFP)

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Is it erroneous to say that right-wing politics are here to stay worldwide? The maxim should be relevant at least for a while in India, the world's largest democracy.

Speak about the politics of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and everyone knows that his primary concept of a great India is rooted in the spirit of Ram Rajya, the kingdom of Hindu god Ram.

The politics of religious division have taken center stage as Delhi gears up for polls to elect its legislature on Feb. 8.

Modi on Feb. 5 announced the setting up of a trust that will work for the construction of a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya. The decision of the federal cabinet is in tune with the judgment of the Supreme Court delivered last November. The big question is only about the timing.

The stakes are high for India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as it has been out of power in the capital since 1998. More importantly, the BJP suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the newly floated Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in 2015 when it only won three seats in the 70-member legislative assembly.

The other 67 seats went to the AAP and its leader Arvind Kejriwal, who boosted his political career with a popular anti-corruption movement in 2011.

Some observers believe Modi is using the temple issue to boost his party's electoral battle in Delhi. But there are some worrying factors for the PM and his lieutenant Amit Shah, a diehard proponent of a hardcore Hindutva agenda.

A defeat for the BJP could dampen its national image amid violent protests by students, Muslim groups, women and major political parties against a controversial amendment the federal government made to the citizenship law in December.

BJP leaders maintain that the aim of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is to ensure that citizenship is granted to persecuted religious minorities, including Christians and Hindus coming from three neighboring countries.

However, government critics say the law is discriminatory to Muslims. Even Western newspapers have published articles accusing Modi of building a Hindu state.

The politics of polarization are not simply linked to talk about a Ram temple trust. It was recently reported that a man who fired shots at an anti-CAA protest site at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi had been sent by the AAP.

Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have suggested more than once that the ongoing protest by mainly Muslim women at Shaheen Bagh is more than a mere anti-CAA protest.

"The BJP's electoral strategy in Delhi is a case of hard selling Hindu polarization and patriotism. But how much of it will it succeed remains to be seen. The polarization card did not help the BJP in provincial elections in Haryana or Maharashtra," said socialist leader Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party.

Saugata Roy of Trinamool Congress speaks in a similar vein: "When Mr. Modi came to power again in 2019, everyone was looking at the great man and how he would transform India, and what we have now is only persecution and polarization."

Debate on citizenship

Since May 30, 2019, when Modi was sworn in again with an enhanced mandate, the federal government has pushed several changes with an inherent pro-Hindu slant. These include abrogation of Article 370 in militancy-hit Jammu and Kashmir, a new law banning triple talaq divorce among Muslims, and of course passing the amended citizenship law.

Senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram warns that India is entering dangerous territory. “We have reached a point where the debate on secularism has shifted to a debate on citizenship. If you are secular, there are people who will call you anti-national, if you are secular today, they will say that you are speaking the language of Pakistan, your patriotism is under question," he said.

In June 2019, UCA News reported the fears of religious minority leaders and some liberals that the BJP could change the constitution to discard the parliamentary system. Their fears seem to be coming true.

Opposition leaders allege that the government has locked up political opponents in Kashmir and used police force against dissenting students and minorities to virtually turn India into an authoritarian state.

BJP leaders predictably deny these charges. Lawmaker Dilip Ghosh from West Bengal says that "PM Modi is working for inclusive development and is against Muslim appeasement as was cherished for long by Congress and other parties."

It is in this context, he said, that the Modi government has made triple talaq illegal in India since August 2019, helping battered Muslim women.

Ghosh and other BJP leaders say the “discredited” opposition is now trying to bank on street protests, arson and anarchy to corner the Modi government.

Samir Dwivedi, a retired army colonel, joined the BJP this week. "Those who are encouraging the protest at Shaheen Bagh are the same people who were praising China in 1962. If we do not come forward to support Prime Minister Narendra Modi now, we will not be able to control the fire," he said.

Ironically, Dwivedi's father Janardhan Dwivedi is a Congress veteran and was once one of the close advisers of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Now that all eyes are on the Delhi polls, BJP leaders feel that a favorable outcome in the capital, especially against the backdrop of anti-CAA protests, would be a fitting reply to Modi bashers.

Modi's most trusted lieutenant, Amit Shah, is anchoring all electoral strategies. More than 200 BJP MPs are campaigning. Shah says the election will be a contest between two ideologies — one pro-India and nationalistic and the other supporting those who are playing at the hands of anti-India forces. "The poll results will be a shocker to everyone," he said.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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