Modi Rules the Roost as the Great Indian Festival of Democracy Begins

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INDIA bloc remains riven by infighting and is yet to put forward its candidate for the post of Prime Minister. Most analysts believe it is struggling to match Modi’s star quality and appeal.

The festival of democracy has begun in India with the BJP-led NDA and the opposition, currently represented mainly by the INDIA alliance, kicking into top gear for campaigning. The election will, without doubt, decide the future of the country, perhaps the most populous in the world now.

According to foreign media estimates nearly 1 billion people are eligible to decide whether to grant Prime Minister Narendra Modi a rare third consecutive term in office, thus extending the 10-year rule of his Bharatiya Janata Party. They agree that under Modi India has become one of the fastest growing economies of the world.

But foreign observers also believe that India has become increasingly polarized along religious lines under him and many fear that another five-year term will give Modi’s party a mandate to continue its policies that might transform the country from a secular republic to a Hindu-first nation. BJP leaders outright reject such conjectures and seek to allay the fears of the minorities by asserting that India’s secular character will never change but it will not be the secularism that thrives on the appeasement of non-Hindu groups like Muslims for the sake of votes.

The number of eligible voters in India this time would surpass the combined populations of the United States, the European Union and Russia. Given the size of the electorate, the elections have been staggered with polling to take place in seven phases beginning on April 19.

Among the top contenders are Modi and his BJP which remain hugely popular and widely expected to secure another five years in power. The 73-year-old was first elected prime minister in 2014 with a thumping majority on a plank of development and anti-corruption. He is credited with implementing welfare and social reforms, and easily secured a second term in 2019.

The main challenger to the BJP is the Indian National Congress, which has governed the country for much of the 77 years since independence but now finds itself in all kinds of problems. In an effort to prevent another Modi win, the Congress formed an alliance with other opposition leaders, including major regional parties. The Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, or INDIA is now in the thick of campaigning on the platform of “saving democracy.”

Rahul Gandhi is the face of the Congress party but other key figures in the INDIA alliance include popular leader of the Aam Aadmi Party and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. There are also regional heavyweights such as the West Bengal chief minister and All India Trinamool Congress’ Mamata Banerjee and Tamil Nadu chief minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin. They will be vying to stop the BJP juggernaut. However, INDIA bloc remains riven by infighting and is yet to put forward its candidate for the post of Prime Minister. Most analysts believe it is struggling to match Modi’s star quality and appeal.

The opposition is also under pressure from what it says is a campaign by the BJP to weaken Modi’s opponents. Several prominent members of the opposition, including Delhi chief minister Kejriwal, have been arrested or investigated by state agencies. The opposition has accused the BJP of using dirty tricks to undermine their election campaign. The Congress had its bank accounts frozen by tax authorities.

Meanwhile, another victory for Modi would cement his place as one of India’s most important and longest-serving leaders. His party and its allies are aiming to win more than 400 seats in the Lok Sabha, a mandate which will enable them to make changes in the constitution.

The opposition accuses Modi of silencing his critics by using every trick in the bag. They say under the Prime Minister India has seen a seismic shift from its secular founding values to that of a Hindu-first nation. A fresh term will push India further along this road. However, Modi’s supporters deny this and point to his economic record: India is poised to become a 21st-century powerhouse as its economy rapidly expands. They say his presence on the world stage —including hosting the G20 — has cemented the position of the country as a modern global power.

As the campaign progresses it would be interesting to see how the masses respond to Modi and the leaders of the INDIA bloc. The outcome of the contest is going to be crucial for them.

 

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