Kashmir gives Modi a rise in Indian politics

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pays tribute to the martyred CRPF jawans, who lost their lives in Pulwama terror attack, after their mortal remains were brought at AFS Palam in New Delhi. - PTI photo

The Indian poll campaigns get hotter each day as the general election moves closer. Politics, politicians and people are lining up for the world’s largest democratic national election, in which about 900 million Indians will cast their votes to select a new federal government.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose BJP and allies won a huge majority in the last Lok Sabha poll in 2014, remains the central figure in the polls campaign, both for and against him and his politics and governance. While the Congress Party, now led by Rahul Gandhi is emerging strong with its own allies in the campaign, raising as a good challenge to the Modi leadership, the BJP leader gets stronger with the post-Kashmir attack, by pro-Pakistani terrorists and a rising trend of Hindu nationalism.

The statistics of the general election are stunning to all other democracies. Voters will elect representatives to the 543-member Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament. In a multi-party democratic system, India had 1,709 registered political parties, of which 464 fielded their candidates in 2014 and more are expected this year. Divided into 29 states and seven federally-administered territories, and with a population of more than 1.3 billion, India's poll will take place in seven phases between April 11 and May 19, with results announced on May 23.

Narendra Modi and the BJP were somewhat on the decline through the past year, especially in federal state elections, with issues of demonetization, difficulties faced by the largely agricultural community, lack of sufficient employment opportunities for the widening population of youth, and notable corruption in governance, gaining ground in the electoral campaigns.

Then came ‘Pulwama’ – the issue that is largely trending the electoral politics of today. Pulwama is where the pro-Pakistani and Islamist terrorist forces carried out the attack in Kashmir killing 44 paramilitary Indian troops, on February 14. There was a subsequent aerial attack on Pakistan, where an Indian pilot was captured by Pakistan and returned in a peacebuilding move; and Indian aerial attacks on camps of the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist organisation, that claimed responsibility for the Pulwama attack, where it is alleged that at least 300 were killed.

Pulwama appears to have largely changed the political trends in India today. As many political analysts see it Narendra Modi is building himself as the figure of the Indian response to Pulwama, Pakistan, Islamic terrorists, and also rising extremist Hindu forces. Some see the coming election to be a referendum on Narendra Modi, after five years in power, but more on his image in the post-Pulwama situation, that could hide the negative aspects of the past five years. The tones and notes of war are widely heard in Indian politics today.

The Opposition that remains disjointed, although Congress has a strong leadership, is faced with turning the ‘nationalist’ image of Modi and the BJP, to what are seen as the realities of poor governance in the past five years, and the issues that brought them strength in the past several months, when Modi was losing hold in several federal states. There is also hope among the Congress and its allies that better results could be achieved by directing the campaign to local issues. They want to focus on concerns connected to the daily lives of people — livelihood, security and basic infrastructure, with emphasis on hardships faced by the agricultural sector and agrarian distress, lack of job opportunities for youth, a slowing economy and corruption, but Pulwama and Kashmir do not make this easy.

Rahul Gandhi is now joined by his sister Priyanka Gandhi Varda, who launched their campaign in Narendra Modi’s stronghold of Gujarat this week. They face a major attack by Modi on their political dynastic tradition, beginning with strong attacks of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, her son Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his wife, and their mother, Sonia Gandhi, who remains in a strong leadership position in the party.

In a significant attack on Congress for following dynastic culture and corruption, Prime Minister Modi said this week that Mahatma Gandhi had warned about this at the time of Independence and had suggested disbanding the Congress.

“Gandhi Ji understood the Congress culture very well, which is why he wanted the Congress disbanded,” Modi wrote in a blog on the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's 1930 Dandi March. He quoted Gandhi Ji as saying that Congress leaders were only busy making communal adjustments. In 1937 itself the father of the Nation said: “I would go to the length of giving the whole Congress a decent burial, rather than put up with the corruption that is rampant.” (Economic Times, India).

In a new situation that will support the Modi political cause, China has placed a technical hold on the efforts to list the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad terror group’s leader Masood Azhar by the UN Security Council this week. This hold can last three months and can be extended for another six months. China has not given reasons for the hold decision, which has been done earlier too. This will be big anti-Pakistan, and also ant-China propaganda by Modi and the BJP in the coming weeks, as the polls campaign gets hotter by the day, creating new problems for the Congress-led opposition alliances.

More defeats for May

Theresa May faced more shattering defeats in the House of Commons this week as MPs once again defeated her Brexit Deal with the European Union, by 391 to 242, showing major differences with her own Conservative Party.

With just 15 days before the agreed date for the UK to leave the EU on March 29, there is complete uncertainty and near political chaos in the UK with Theresa May’s failure to reach an understanding with the EU that is acceptable to the elected legislators in the House of Commons. Her negotiations through nearly two years, without taking a multi-party approach, has pushed the Conservative Party and the UK Government to a situation of uncertainty and worries about future economic and political trends never seen in the UK before.

In a normal democratic process and UK tradition, Theresa May should resign from office having faced such major defeats. But, she remains as the Conservative leader, having defeated a party move to remove her in December last year, which gives her the opportunity not to be removed by her own party for one year. The nearly unmanageable situation over Brexit, in UK politics and the EU, is also not making room for open challenges to her from the Conservatives, due to the difficulties anyone would face in taking over from the current political chaos.

The situation is now moving to a possible call for a general election, through a motion of No Confidence against the Theresa May government in the Commons, and also the possibility of a call for a second referendum on Brexit, which is fast gaining ground among voters.

A vote in the Commons this Thursday would possibly lead to a request from the EU for an extension of the date to leave the EU, from the scheduled March 29. This has major problems because of elections to the European Parliament in May this year, which would enable only a short, two month, extension, under prevailing conditions. The many UK and European observers see this as too short a time to come to a new deal or understanding with the EU in view of the uncertainties seen in the current House of Commons, due to Theresa May’s failure in having cross-party negotiations on the Brexit issue.

The failures of Theresa May so far on Brexit are taking the future decisions on the exit from the EU to the House of Commons, and away from the government. The recent defeat of May’s Brexit deal was considerably due to the Attorney General, a member of the Government, not wholly supporting Theresa May’s position on a deal with the EU, at the Commons. Several Cabinet and other ministers have also voted against the Government Whip on amendments to the No Deal motion last Wednesday, despite the possibility of them being removed from office; but PM May is unable to take any such action.

In fact, she leads a minority government, after the June 2017 General Election, when the Conservatives under her leadership lost the majority in the Commons. She then came to an understanding with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland to get ten votes for key financial and policy issues in the Commons. The DUP is opposed to Theresa May’s policies in Brexit, especially on the border with the Irish Republic – a member of the EU – which is now leading to what is known as the ‘Back Stop’ on future imports to the UK from the EU. This is essentially a legally-binding insurance policy to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is strongly opposed by largely Conservative voters and politicians and is considered essential by the EU.

In view of the critical situation faced by the UK in the Brexit moves, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, has appealed to the EU’s leaders to be open to a long Brexit delay to allow the UK to rethink its goals in any continuing negotiations, if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it.

However, this needs the support of all 27 members of the EU and is not likely to receive such support, before the UK lays out a clear position on its Brexit Deal, other than the ‘backstop’ which the EU will not change.

The UK remains Brexit chaos caused by Theresa May’s policies of non-cooperative government on key national issues.

 



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