By Elizabeth Kendal
In mid September, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) anointed Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. A sectarian figure and hardline Hindu nationalist, Modi gained notoriety in 2002, when, as Chief Minister of Gujarat, he failed to intervene in Hindu pogroms that left as many as 2000 Muslims dead. On top of this, the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, enacted by Modi in 2003, is one of India's most draconian anti-conversion laws.
To shift attention away from his image as a sectarian figure and rabid Hindu nationalist, Modi is exploiting Gujarat's massive development and marketing himself as India's most successful pro-business administrator -- an economic 'saviour' who will raise the living standards of all Indians. As he is well aware, Indians are tired of hardship and poverty.
Aware too that the BJP must win the confidence of minorities if it is to win with a majority in the next general election, Modi is holding out the "Gujarat model" of economic development as the means by which he and the BJP will raise the living standards of minorities across the nation -- something Congress has consistently failed to achieve. Indeed Modi is blaming Congress for the hardship and backwardness suffered by minorities, when in reality the blame belongs squarely with the systematic racism and crippling discrimination perpetuated by the Hindu caste system.
See: BJP eyes minorities to become majority party
Party to argue Congress rule is to blame for backwardness among minorities, dispel 'anti-minority' image
2 Oct 2013
Analysts have long regarded Modi as too sectarian, too controversial and too stained by events such as the 2002 pogroms to ever be accepted by the electorate -- especially by minorities (who are fearful of him) and by the educated middle classes (who should know better). It seems, however, that most Muslims would rather see economic development than the return of the Babri Masjid; more jobs and opportunities than more reservation (affirmative action). By standing on the pedestal of Gujarat's record -- economic development -- and offering the people exactly what they want -- a better life -- it appears Modi may have found the winning formula.
At a BJP rally in Gujarat on Tuesday 17 Sept, Modi managed to persuade some 40,000 Muslims to join the party.
At a rally in New Delhi on Sunday 29 Sept, the charismatic Modi spoke to a crowd of more than 200,000 who responded to his lofty promises with 'frenzied' excitement. It was, writes political analyst Sanjay Singh, 'a public rally, the likes of which it had not seen in many decades.'
Another political analyst, Anil Padmanabhan, observes (29 Sept) that Modi is connecting with youths and 'rapidly becoming a national phenomenon. . . Modi has transcended his party and become a personality.'
". . . the BJP should sail into power".
In a piece published in The Australian (18 Sept), Amanda Hodge gives voice to the prevailing view:
"Under Mr Modi, Gujarat has earned an international reputation for its business-friendly administration, and an ability to keep the lights on in a country plagued by power shortages. . .
"After the Congress Party-led government's disastrous second term - five years marred by corruption on a grand scale, parliamentary paralysis and sharp economic decline - the BJP should sail into power.
"Seven months from a general election, the Congress Party is rudderless. The once-respected octogenarian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, is widely derided as an ineffective puppet leader.
"Rahul Gandhi, the heir apparent for whom Singh is said to be warming the chair, has shown scant enthusiasm for a job that has already claimed the lives of his grandmother Indira and father Rajiv.
"With the rupee at historic lows and GDP growth estimates for the year down to 5.3 per cent, India needs a leader who can re-set its growth path."
GENERAL ELECTION: April-May 2014
India, the world's largest democracy, will hold a general election for the 16th Lok Sabha -- the House of the People / the lower house of federal parliament -- by the end of May 2014. It will be intensely competitive and many parties will compete to put representatives in the 552-seat legislative assembly. Each Member of Parliament will be directly elected by their constituents in a "first-past-the-post" system. Voting will be conducted in four phases.
STRATEGIC UTTAR PRADESH
Narendra Modi will spend all of October and up to mid November campaigning in Utter Pradesh -- India's strategic heartland and the home of Hinduism. Nine mega-rallies are being planned.
The northern state is 80.6 percent Hindu, 18.5 percent Muslim and around 0.1 percent Christian. It is India's most populous state, accounting a massive 80 parliamentary seats.
Analysts are expecting the BJP to do well in Uttar Pradesh (UP), regaining seats lost in 2009, and even picking up new seats. Most believe the recent Muslim-Hindu clashes in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts of UP -- clashes that left 44 dead and thousands of Muslims and Hindu Jats displaced -- will work in the BJP's favour.
[Jats are a non-elite, peasant people. Most Jat tribes are classified as OBCs (Other Backward Castes). Traditionally in Uttar Pradesh, Muslims and Hindu Jats have together voted for the democratic socialist Samajwadi Party (SP). In Western UP, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) (English: National People's Party) is supported mostly by Jats. There has long existed a Muslim-Jat alliance aimed at keeping the sectarian and elitist, Hindu-nationalist BJP out of power. ]
Rikhi Chakrabarty writes: "While SP, the ruling party in UP, is being blamed by Muslims for failing to protect them and, in some cases, for a collusive role in fomenting riots, the jats seem to be going with other Hindus and are looking up to BJP's Narendra Modi as their saviour from the state government's 'misrule'.
"Needless to say, these fresh pulls could have a deep impact in the coming Lok Sabha election. It is clear that the riots have benefited the BJP the most. It is also clear that the losers are Samajwadi Party and RLD."
According to political analyst Sanjay Singh, "The emerging social equations are such that BJP is back in the reckoning in UP, the state that sends 80 MPs to Lok Sabha, one-seventh of its total strength."
The government is clearly rattled, as the Indian Express reports: "Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday [1 Oct] called for all secular forces to 'combine' and take on the 'onslaught' of BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, indicating that he emerged as a threat to the country's secular fabric. . ."
PM Singh told reporters that during the time that was left before the elections, the Congress-led UPA government would seek to "better manage" the economy in the hope that it might be able to deliver improved growth.
"On whether he felt that his government had performed well enough for the voters to decide in favour of the Congress, Singh struck an optimistic note, saying he hoped the voters will be 'generous' and 'tolerant', while conceding that there may have been areas where UPA could have fallen short."
The BJP immediately struck back, decrying the government's move to give "a blatant communal angle to everything".
"It is they who have created the real communal divide," BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi said.
STRATEGY VS REALITY
The modi operandi of Narendra Modi
It appears that BJP's election strategy will be to talk solely about economic development, holding out the prospect of raised living standards across the board. Then, when the government or anyone else warns of sectarianism / communalism, the BJP will feign offense and accuse them of sectarianism. Brilliant!
Narenrda Modi is a very clever wolf in sheep's clothing, inviting hungry lambs to come feed in his grassy field. So tempting! Feed they might; but not for long -- for Modi is a sheep-eating wolf through and through.
India's April-May 2014 general election may well prove pivotal.
Campaigning is already well underway and gathering momentum -- as must the prayers of Christians who should be praying that the Lord will intervene in grace and mercy to save India from such a fate.
Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)