Pakistan wary as Hindu extremists rally in India
Political rivals in India are bracing for the world’s biggest and longest elections
Political rivals in India are bracing for the world’s biggest and longest elections, starting Monday and set to span over five weeks until May 12 before deciding whether the extremist Hindu Bhartia Janata Party (BJP) candidate, Narendra Modi, or moderate secular Congress candidate, Rahul Gandhi, will become the next prime minister.
Indian elections bear strong political effects on Pakistan, the arch rival and neighboring country, against which India has fought four wars over the disputed Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir region. But the results of the present elections are especially significant for Pakistan, which is suffering from internal insecurity due to the U.S.-led war on terror in Afghanistan. It is also struggling against Indian-backed insurgencies in two embattled eastern provinces of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtonkhawa, the worst-hit by terrorism and subversion over the last decade.
Nearly 200 national and regional parties are contesting in the polls involving a huge number of voters, nearly 814 million, in the only country in South Asia that remains largely unaffected by the fallout of the 12-year U.S.-led war on terror. Yet, the main contestants are the BJP and Congress.
Congress is the oldest political party in India - it is 127-years-old - and it has nominated the relatively young Rahul Gandhi, 45, for the premiership candidate. Rahul is the scion of country’s most revered political dynasty, the Gandhi family. He is the son of slain Indian premier Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. BJP, for its part, has nominated 63-year-old Narendra Modi, who carries notoriety as Muslim-hater and is also accused of being the mastermind behind the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat. The riots left nearly 3000 Muslim men, women and children dead, most of them burnt alive inside their houses by violent Hindu mobs.
It seems as if secular moderates and Hindu extremists are wrestling in the world’s biggest elections in IndiaMansoor Jafar
A survey reveals that the Indian capitalist class is backing Modi and industrialist groups have so far donated him over 10 billion rupees, the biggest election funding in history. Political surveys predict Modi’s party will win more seats than Congress but will remain short of being the single largest majority party. If it proves true, BJP would form a weak coalition government with the help of allies and independent candidates.
Rahul Gandhi is considered more popular among the country’s youth and his recent measures for providing employment to the youth helped. Congress has had a good record over the previous decade regarding development in the country, yet the popularity dipped during the last three years and many ministers were accused of corruption. However, the party is still better placed in rural areas and in the state of Utter Pradesh. Most significant is the fact that the overwhelming majority of Muslims back Congress, primarily because the party is secular and considered the chief architect of India’s secular image.
On the other hand, Modi’s prospective win sends fears of insecurity among minorities, especially the Muslims. After becoming Gujarat chief minister in 2001, he made his first speech full of hatred against Muslims. In 2002, a train full of Hindu pilgrims caught fire and Modi is accused of secretly ordering a Muslim massacre to cash in on the situation. Besides killing thousands of Muslims in Gujarat, the Hindu mobs also dug up old graves of Muslim leaders and trampled the buried on streets with open contempt. Modi has a life long association with extremist Hindu groups, joining RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing, paramilitary, volunteer Hindu nationalist group) at the age of seven. Son of a poor tea shop owner, he spent childhood in hardship but with the support of Hindu extremist groups, he joined the BJP after completing his education.
Modi is expected to fan war hysteria against Pakistan if he becomes prime minister. In a recent electoral public meeting, he spat fire against Pakistan and accused Islamabad of war mongering over Kashmir, claiming it was an integral part of India and ruling out any negotiations to decide Kashmir’s future. In the same address, Modi also accused Beijing of destabilizing the region with her expansionist policies. Being an extremist Hindu, Modi was at the fore front of razing the historic Babri mosque in 1992. It is feared that he will open the war front against Pakistan if he becomes prime minister.
Despite unfavorable polls, Congress should not be ruled as a contender. The party’s manifesto carries vital objectives for alleviating poverty and this attracts voters in a country where nearly 50 percent of people live below the poverty line. In his speeches, Rahul Gandhi speaks to the poor population in their tone. His mother Sonia and sister Priyanka are also running his campaign diligently. Intellectuals and moderate quarters of India support Rahul against Modi for fears of damaging secularism and democracy if Modi wins.
Present elections see India divided along the lines of moderates backing Rahul and Hindu extremists supporting Modi. It seems as if secular moderates and Hindu extremists are wrestling in the world’s biggest elections in India.
Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached via Twitter: @mansoorjafar