Can Amit Shah win 400 MP seats

India under the grip of Hindu nationalists

Despite the lack of concepts against the economic misery, the Hindu nationalist BJP was able to increase its majority in the April elections. Now Prime Minister Narendra Modi rules alone - and difficult times are ahead for the Christian and Muslim minorities.

by Christophe Jaffrelot

India in the grip of the Hindu nationalist cast: The elections in numbers

There didn't seem to be much to speak for Narendra Modi: he pursues an openly discriminatory policy against the Muslim and Christian minorities and his record in economic and social policy is more than unsatisfactory. Even so, the Hindu nationalist was confirmed as prime minister by a comfortable majority.

Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (Party of the Indian People's Party, BJP) won 303 of 545 seats in India's parliamentary elections between April 11 and April 17, when 900 million eligible voters (about one tenth of the world's population) were called to vote . Modi can now rule alone and is no longer dependent on the support of his allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) (see box on page 16).

In the election campaign, the prime minister skilfully circumnavigated the explosive issues. His campaign specifically diverted attention from the economic misery: India's unemployment level is at its highest level in 40 years, agriculture is in crisis, exports are falling - despite the depreciation of the rupee - investment is falling, and foreign direct investment is falling likewise and consumption is weakening.

Modi had placed economic development at the center of his election manifesto in 2014, but in 2019 he fully concentrated on the issue of security. For example, he had migrants deported from Bangladesh who did not have regular residence status in India.

He also used the Pulwama bombing in the conflict region of Kashmir to pose as the daring protector of the country. 40 Indian soldiers and the suicide bomber were killed in the attack on February 14, which the Pakistani jihadist group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility. In response, Modi ordered air strikes on targets in Pakistan, to which Islamabad responded by shooting down an Indian military plane.

The most expensive elections in world history

Never before has an election campaign in India been so strongly characterized by patriotic and bellicose rhetoric as that of 2019. It went so far that 150 veterans, including generals and admirals, asked the prime minister not to use the army as a political instrument.

Modi's opponent Rahul Gandhi from the Congress Party had to admit defeat again after his election defeat in 2014. And that although his election manifesto had a lot to offer: from an annual basic income for the poorest to measures against environmental pollution - a problem the existence of which the Modi government simply denies1 - Pending the proposal to review a special authorization law for the Indian military after repeated extrajudicial killings, rape and torture by members of the security forces under its protection in Kashmir and Jammu states. In addition, Gandhi relied on a topic that Modi had already brought up for himself in the 2014 election campaign: the fight against corruption and nepotism.

In order not to have to answer for his domestic political failures, Modi meanwhile stoked the fear of a foreign threat. The fact that he was able to focus on this topic throughout the election campaign was also due to the fact that he refused to open any public debate or press conference. He contented himself with giving prepared interviews, preferably in the media, whose owners are keen to maintain good relations with power.

The other big factor in the 2019 campaign was money. The parliamentary elections in India were the most expensive elections ever held in the history of democracy: according to a credible estimate, the parties spent almost $ 9 billion on the election campaign.2 The police provided an unprecedented one on behalf of the electoral commission

Masses of small bills in private homes of candidates and party offices are certain. Modi's BJP broke all records in this field.3

In 2016, the Modi government put a vote on a law that allows anonymous party donations from companies and private individuals. Shahabuddin Yaqoob Quraishi, the former chairman of the electoral commission, described the law as "legalizing nepotism".4 Votes were bought with the enormous sums of money that were raised: giving gifts on the eve of the election is a common practice in India, and sometimes it is enough to win elections. Most of all, the money was put into the campaign.

As elsewhere in the world, it can also be observed in India that social networks are gradually becoming the most important channel for political communication: Although the candidates continue to appear in public, their presence on Twitter and Co. is even more important.

This is evidenced by a whole army of multilingual employees who spread false information and do “trolling”. For example, Rahul Gandhi was accused by his rival of being a Muslim. The alleged evidence: a photo from childhood that shows him praying in a mosque. In truth, this photo was taken in Peshawar in 1988 at the funeral of the Pashtun leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, to which Rahul accompanied his father Rajiv Gandhi.

Last but not least, Modi and his party exploited the Hindu religion excessively. The BJP chairman Amit Shah mocked Rahul Gandhi because he had run in a majority Muslim constituency - this, too, a lie. Shah also stated that when he saw the gatherings of Gandhi supporters, he could not tell whether one was "in India or in Pakistan".

The BJP did not shy away from nominating Pragya Singh Thakur as a candidate. As a member of the Abhinav Bharat (Young India) movement, she is accused of participating in four acts of anti-Muslim terrorism, in which dozen people died in 2008. Thakur was released on bail for health reasons. During the election campaign, she sang the praises of the murderer Mahatma Gandhi. The legendary independence fighter is hated by Hindu nationalists for his philosophy of nonviolence and religious tolerance.

In fact, many of the Indians who voted for Modi are not staunch Hindu nationalists. They wanted a strong man in power or saw no alternative because they distrust the opposition. Still, it can be said that Modi's Hindu nationalist ideology did not deter them either, despite the fact that it has emitted a massive wave of violence against the Muslim and Christian minorities over the past five years - including lynching of around 40 people suspected of having eaten beef or slaughtering cows. Even in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament, these minorities will find it difficult to make their voice heard. Only a small number of Christian and Muslim MPs made it into the BJP-dominated parliament.

Brahmins and criminals in parliament

Only 25 MPs are Muslims, which corresponds to 4.6 percent of all seats. However, the proportion of Muslims in the total population is 14.6 percent. Women are also still heavily underrepresented in parliament, although they were able to win more seats than in 2014: 78 women (14.3 percent) sit in the new parliament, compared to 66 before. As far as voter turnout is concerned, as many women as men have their vote for the first time submitted.

In addition, the April election confirmed the return of the higher castes to parliament. A development that could already be observed in 2009 and is mainly due to the elitist composition of the BJP. Out of the 147 BJP candidates residing in the Hindi-speaking regions5 entered, 88 (almost 60 percent) belong to the highest castes, whose share of the total population is only 12 percent. 80 of them were elected to the Lok Sabha. Of these 80, 33 are Brahmins (the highest caste) and 27 are Rajputs (a warrior caste that is directly below the Brahmins in the social hierarchy).6

The new parliament is also characterized by a large number of MPs from families of politicians. The proportion of representatives of these “dynasties” has risen from 25 (2014) to 30 percent. In some states, the proportion is even higher, such as Karnataka (39 percent), Maharashtra (42 percent), Bihar (43 percent) and Punjab (62 percent). This phenomenon can be observed particularly in the regional parties, which are often inherited from father to son as family property.

But the offspring of political dynasties cavort in the supraregional parties as well: In the Congress Party they made up 31 percent of the candidates, in the BJP 22 percent, although the latter campaigned explicitly “against the dynasties that rule India” - primarily against them, of course most important of them, the Nehru-Gandhi family. This proportion is all the more surprising since the BJP had previously exchanged a good hundred of its candidates for younger ones in order to start the election campaign with fresh blood; in the end, however, her blood was just as blue as that of her predecessors.

Setting up the representatives of traditional political families is almost a guarantee of success. Also, when it comes to nominating more women, wives, widows, or daughters are preferred by political leaders to maximize chances of winning. This was the case with 54 percent of the candidates for the Congress Party and 53 percent of the BJP.

In the new parliament, the proportion of members of parliament against whom criminal proceedings are ongoing or who have long been on file with the police has also increased. In order to gain immunity, many criminals with money have recently entered politics. The NGO Association for Democratic Reform examined 539 MPs. Result: Investigations are ongoing against 233 of them. 116 belong to the BJP and 29 to the Congress Party. 11 members of parliament (including 5 BJP MPs) are under investigation for murder, 30 for manslaughter and 19 for violent crimes against women.7

Under these circumstances, Modi's re-election is unlikely to lead to a mere revision of politics since 2014. There will be no fundamental change of course on important issues, such as the concentration of power in the hands of the prime minister. But the extent of the economic crisis forces decisive action. Most pressing are the problems in the agricultural sector, exacerbated by the extreme drought. The government will not be able to avoid increasing the guaranteed prices it pays farmers for agricultural produce at the risk of fueling inflation and driving off its urban voter base.

Political tensions will undoubtedly increase on two fronts over the next five years: First, in relations between the Modi government and the regional governments of the states and union territories dominated by the opposition parties. The fact that there is already a heavy crunch here can be seen, for example, in the BJP's attacks on Mamata Banerjee. Banerjee is Prime Minister of the state of West Bengal, which was a communist stronghold for a long time and which the BJP would like to recapture.

Second, there is a risk that the minorities will be sidelined even further. The right wing of the BJP, which is now heavily represented in parliament, should ensure that a decade-long dispute comes to the surface again: In 1992, Hindu nationalists destroyed the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. In the coming months, the Supreme Court will announce whether it will allow a Hindu temple to be built on the same site worshiped by Hindus as the birthplace of the god Ram. If the verdict is negative, there will be massive protests by Hindu nationalists. If the judges decide positively, however, young Muslims who are already suffering from numerous forms of discrimination could rise up.

1 “Environment Minister rejects global reports claiming 1.2 million deaths in India due to pollution”, The Hindu, May 5, 2019.

2 Bibhudatta Pradhan and Shivani Kumaresan, "Indian elections become world’s most expensive: This is how much they cost", Business Standard, New Delhi, June 4, 2019.

3 “In 2019, is BJP riding a Modi wave or a Money wave?” The Wire, May 6, 2019.

4 Adil Rashid, "Electoral Bonds have legalized crony capitalism: ex-chief of Election Commissioner SY Quraishi", Outlook, New Delhi, April 7, 2019.

5 These include the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and the union territories of Delhi and Chandigarh.

6 This and the numbers in the next paragraph come from the Spinper research project (Social Profile of Indian National and Provincial Elected Representatives) at Ashoka University and Sciences Po Paris.

7 "43% of Newly Elected MPs Face Criminal Charges: ADR Report", The Wire, May 27, 2019.

Translated from the French by Jakob Farah

Christophe Jaffrelot is director of the Center de recherches internationales (Ceri). Most recently he published “L’Inde de Modi. National-populisme et démocratie ethnique “, Paris (Fayard) 2019.

The 17th Indian general election confirmed the leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (Party of the Indian People, BJP). The fact that the number of its seats rose from 282 to 303 is mainly due to the relative majority suffrage and the concentration of its forces in the north and west of the country. In this way, the BJP was able to obtain an absolute majority of the mandates, although it received only 37.4 percent of the vote (2014: 31 percent).

The BJP is no longer dependent on the support of its allies from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The party alliance founded in 1999 under the leadership of the BJP won a total of 353 seats, with a share of 45 percent of the vote. The opposition Congress Party, on the other hand, was only able to gain little: from 44 seats in 2014 to 52 seats with the same share of the vote of 19.5 percent. The alliance led by her - the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) - received a total of 91 seats (with 26 percent of the vote), compared to 60 seats in the 2014 election. And that despite the massive losses of some regional partners.

The regional parties that are not part of the NDA were the big losers in this election, although the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) - which has its electoral base mainly among the Dalits (the “untouchables”) in the north of the country - is one of them returned to parliament. However, the 10 seats that she was able to win fell far short of expectations. Actually, the BSP wanted to become the third strongest force in the country in alliance with the Samajwadi Party (SP) in Uttar Pradesh. The latter was only able to get 5 seats and thus not record any increase compared to 2014.

Where the regional parties weakened, the BJP was able to record substantial gains, for example in the east of the country, in the states of West Bengal and Odisha. The only regional party outside the NDA that achieved any notable success was the Dravida Progress Union (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, DMK), which won 23 seats in the state of Tamil Nadu.

The Congress party was only able to gain significant gains in Punjab and Kerala. There she ousted the Indian communists, who received only 5 seats nationwide - the worst result in their history.

Le Monde diplomatique, July 11th, 2019, by Christophe Jaffrelot