India heads to the polls as a much lesser democracy – Asia Times

India heads to the polls as a much lesser democracy - Asia Times

As India’s premier minister prepares for legislative elections to be held in seven stages starting on April 19 through June 1, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed confidence in winning a fourth consecutive term in his most recent statements.

On February 18, in his speech at the National Council of the&nbsp, Bhartiya Janata Party&nbsp, ( BJP), the prime minister confidently&nbsp, stated&nbsp, that despite the elections being weeks apart, he was already receiving requests from other countries for activities after the votes, suggesting common expectation of his return to power.

Also, he boldly proclaimed that the ruling empire had protected more than 400 seats in parliament, a majority often witnessed in Indian politics.

While his followers claim Modi’s popularity and his party’s perceived dignity allow for such daring projections, the opposition argues that the prime minister’s trust stems from his administration’s tightening grip on the world’s political institutions, law enforcement agencies and even media.

On&nbsp, March 20, one of the opposition’s principal leaders, Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, was &nbsp, arrested on corruption charges lodged by the central government’s anti- corruption agency.

The central agency has detained Kejriwal as the second chief minister in the past two months. Only last month, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren was &nbsp, arrested&nbsp, by the Enforcement Directorate hours after his resignation.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren was &nbsp, arrested&nbsp, by the Enforcement Directorate hours after his resignation. Photo: PTI / Mint / X Screengrab

While the cases of the Jharkhand and Delhi chief ministers are the most high- profile, they are not the only ones where the Enforcement Directorate has &nbsp, gone after&nbsp, politicians who oppose the Modi government.

In many states across India, politicians who have been accused of corruption have defected and merged with the ruling party, and the cases have since appeared to have largely vanished.

This is probably why opposition and government critics accuse the government of tampering with opponents to lead to defection. Those who do not defect are subject to prison time, as well as summonses from the Enforcement Directorate, which is frequently used by the Delhi and Jharkhand chief ministers.

Only last year, opposition leader Rahul Gandhi was suspended from the lower house of parliament after the High Court of Modi’s Home state, Gujarat, declared him guilty in a flimsy&nbsp, defamation case. The Supreme Court of India overturned the politicized decision, allowing Rahul to rejoin parliament, and granted him legal protection.

These incidents demonstrate in particular the difficulties that dissenting voices are currently facing in India.

The BJP received the largest sum of money in an electoral bond scheme that permitted anonymous donations to political parties, according to information made available as recently as the first week of March.

Data released on orders of the Supreme Court showed that the BJP received around &nbsp, 50 % &nbsp, of all the electoral bonds sold while the principal opposition party, Congress, garnered under 10 %. On Indian television and print media, there was little discussion about this news, which could have caused a sizable political stir in a functioning democracy.

The government’s announcement of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, or ADA, which facilitates the granting of Indian citizenship to persecuted religious minorities from India’s neighboring nations quickly caused a change in public consciousness.

However, the Act eliminated Muslims from the list of religious minorities that could be quickly granted citizenship and makes religion a factor in the country’s first-ever independent history when granting Indian citizenship.

Many people view the announcement of the CAA’s implementation as components of a deliberate government distraction strategy to divert public attention away from the contentious electoral bonds findings.

With the help of money, muscle, media, and central organizations on the BJP’s side, and not to discount Modi’s real popularity, particularly among the majority of Hindu voters, the party appears to be in complete control in a number of states during the upcoming elections, even though there are still provinces where its candidates are expected to face formidable challenges.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: WikiCommons

The BJP is comfortably in command in northern India’s larger states. That’s particularly true Uttar Pradesh, where the&nbsp, consecration ceremony&nbsp, of a grand temple in January this year, at the site of a mosque that was demolished by a right- wing mob in 1992, took the form of a cultural festival. With its 80 parliamentary constituencies, Utah is the state with the most significant role in national elections.

Madhya Pradesh, another major state with 29 seats in the national assembly, also proved a to be a bastion for the BJP when it was comfortably&nbsp, returned to power&nbsp, in the state assembly election last year after many analysts had predicted a tough fight.

Rajasthan, the BJP’s seat of power after defeating a well-liked chief minister, is also a place where the ruling party hopes to succeed in the upcoming election. No trends suggest that the ruling party’s home state of Gujarat, which is the prime minister’s and home minister’s home state, has experienced significant change there. It has been a stronghold state for the ruling party for decades.

Outside these larger states, the BJP is also successfully&nbsp, forging alliances&nbsp, with the locally dominant political parties in the smaller states of India’s northeast. However, there are several states where the BJP performed admirably in previous state elections, which may present significant difficulties for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

In the state of Bihar, Lalu Yadav’s Rastriya Janata Dal ( RJD ) has &nbsp, regained prominence&nbsp, in recent years. While the BJP had managed to get former Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of Janata Dal ( United ) to abandon his alliance with the RJD and put&nbsp, his weight behind&nbsp, the ruling party, that seems only to have added to the RJD’s popularity.

West Bengal, another significant state, has long been the Trinamool Congress ( TMC)’s stronghold and has been a thorn in the BJP’s side.

The southern states continue to be the party’s weakest political base. Even though the party has attempted to gain popularity in the five southern states, it does n’t appear to be in serious opposition to the state of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and other regional parties.

Karnataka was the only state in which the BJP had recently come to power at the state level, but it had to cede its position after a crushing defeat by the Congress in 2023. Many people had anticipated the once-powerful party’s electoral fortunes to be changed by the result of Congress’s victory in Karnataka at that time, but that has not been the case.

The BJP has used a highly potent tactic to defame the main opposition leader in the previous two elections to effectively discredit Congress. In particular, television has depicted Gandhi as an unworthy leader who lacks political acumen and intelligence.

Even government critics are left to wonder,” If not Modi, then who?”, because this concerted effort has yielded significant political dividends for the BJP.

Rahul Gandhi makes gestures to party employees and members in Srinagar on August 10, 2021. Photo: Asia Times files / AFP / Abid Bhat

After enduring a decade of electoral woes as a result of his perceived lack of leadership, Gandhi was able to shed the label of a naive politician with bold initiatives like the Bharat Jodo Yatra, a 3, 000 kilometer march across the nation in 2022 that served as an anti-BJP rallying cry for national unity.

Gandhi has succeeded in asserting himself as a serious political candidate, demanding attention and recognition on the national stage, despite the BJP’s best attempts to discredit him.

Although the majority of Indian media may assume that Modi’s victory in the upcoming 2024 national elections will be certain to come, a number of factors indicate that the outcome is not certain. Despite the BJP’s hold in certain regions, challenges persist, including its vulnerability in the southern states, accusations of corruption and opposition from regional parties. The emergence of a more trustworthy opposition leader may also tip the balance in favor of the BJP.

A potent political formula has been developed by the BJP’s adept use of promoting racism against minorities, fostering hyper-nationalism, putting in place welfare measures, and projecting an aura of Hindu dominance. Additionally, the imprisonment of opposition leaders raises concerns about institutional erosion and democratic backsliding, as well as the swift implementation of significant legislative and constitutional changes without adequate discussion.

As India’s elections approach and Modi’s BJP ahead in the polls, the nation’s democracy itself is seemingly at stake.

At Shiv Nadar University, PhD candidate Bilal Ahmad Tantray is. &nbsp,