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Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh’s newly minted chief minister, is the bad boy of Hindu nationalism

The 44-year-old Hindu priest Yogi Adityanath (left), an often acerbic critic of Islam, was appointed chief minister last weekend of India’s largest state. (PTI)

When he was campaigning across India in the leadup to his overwhelming victory in the 2014 general election, prime minister Narendra Modi often proclaimed that development, more than Hindu nationalism, would behis government’s priority.

Pehle shauchalaya, phir devalaya. Toilets first, temples later.

Indeed, throughout this spring’s local election campaigns in five states across India, Modi and his Hindu nationalist  Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) emphasized development, economic reforms and defended the November 2016 ‘demonetisation’ effort, all neatly summed up in the slogan — sabka saath, sabka vikas, essentially ‘all together, development for all.’

It worked: the BJP easily won elections in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, and it did well enough to form new governments in Goa and in Manipur. (In the fifth state, Punjab, the BJP has a negligible presence as the junior partner of a Sikh-interest party that last week lost a 10-year grip on power).

But the Modi brand of ‘toilets over temples’ seemed to change Saturday, when the BJP announced that Yogi Adityanath would serve as Uttar Pradesh’s new chief minister.

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RELATED: Modi sweeps state elections in Uttar Pradesh
in win for ‘demonetisation’

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The 44-year-old Adityanath, a local priest who dresses in saffron robes, has been a member of India’s parliament since 1998, representing the Gorakhpur district in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

He will now lead a sprawling north Indian state of over 200 million people; indeed, a state more populous than all but five countries worldwide. Uttar Pradesh, sometimes marred by religious violence in the past, and it’s somewhat poorer than the average Indian state. In fact, its per-capita GDP is lower than every other state in India (except for impoverished, neighboring Bihar) and barely more than one-third that in Modi’s home state of Gujarat.

Though many of the BJP’s supporters are motivated by Hindutva — the idea of bringing Hindu nationalism and Hinduist morals and precepts into government, the Modi wave of 2014 (and 2017) rests on the idea that Modi can implement the kind of economic reforms and development policy to make Uttar Pradesh more like the relatively prosperous Gujarat.

To that end, many Indian commentators expected the BJP to call upon an experienced statesman to head the new government in Uttar Pradesh. Home minister Rajnath Singh, who briefly served as the state’s chief minister from 2000 to 2002, or the younger communications and railways minister Manoj Sinha, both of whom are among the most popular and successful members of the Modi government, typically topped the list of potential leaders.

By contrast, Adityanath doesn’t have a single day of executive or ministerial experience. He is a controversial figure, to say the least. In his first day as chief minister, he spent more time talking about shutting down slaughterhouses, a top priority for Hindu nationalists who believe that cows are sacred creatures, than about the nuts-and-bolts policy details, despite promising that development would be his top focus.

In short, the new chief minister is the bad boy of Hindu nationalism, a man who’s been charged with crimes as serious as attempted murder, rioting and trespassing on burial grounds. He once claimed Mother Teresa was part of a conspiracy to Christianize India, threatened one of the leading Muslim Bollywood film stars and accused Muslim men of waging ‘love jihad’ against Hindu women. Among his more moderate provocations was a recent threat to place a statue of Ganesha in every mosque in Uttar Pradesh.  Continue reading Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh’s newly minted chief minister, is the bad boy of Hindu nationalism

Modi sweeps state elections in Uttar Pradesh in win for demonetisation

Narendra Modi is riding high after winning a key set of state elections this spring, including in the all-important state of Uttar Pradesh. (Facebook)

If anyone had doubts, it’s clear now that Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has a clear grip on his country.

When Modi swept to power in 2014 by capturing the biggest Indian parliamentary majority in three decades, he did so by unlocking key votes in Uttar Pradesh. Ultimately, Modi owed his 2014 majority to the state, which gave him and the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी)  73 of its 80 seats to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament.

Nevertheless, it was a surprise last weekend — even to Modi’s own supporters — when, after seven phases of voting between February 11 and March 8, officials reported that the BJP won over three-fourths of the seats in the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly. That’s a landslide, even in the context of a state where voters like to see-saw from one party to the next every five years. The BJP victory marked only the fourth time in history (and the first time since Indira Gandhi’s victory in 1980) that a single party won over 300 seats in the UP legislative assembly, and it bests the earlier BJP record (221 seats in 1991) by just over 90 seats.

A referendum on demonitisation

The victory in Uttar Pradesh, one of five state elections for which results were announced on March 11, amounts to a massive endorsement of Modi (less so of the BJP). Though the 2019 elections are over two years away, the victory will give Modi some comfort that he will win reelection. For now at least, the Uttar Pradesh victory shows just how far behind Modi the opposition forces have fallen.

With over 200 million people, Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state in the country and, indeed, it’s home to more people than all but five countries worldwide.

In some ways, Modi’s staggering victory in Uttar Pradesh this spring  is even more spectacular than his 2014 breakthrough. After all, Modi was defending a three-year record as prime minister that hasn’t been perfect. Despite winning the biggest parliamentary majority since 1984, the protectionist wing of the BJP has slowed the pace of Modi’s economic reforms. It was only last November that Modi successfully completed a years-long push to reform the goods and sales tax — a landmark effort to harmonize state levies into a single national sales tax, thereby lowering the costs of doing business between Indian states. Those obstacles still exist, as evidenced by the truckers lined up at state borders for hours or days on end.

For all the supposed benefits of the November 2016 demonetisation plan, its rollout was cumbersome, with the sudden removal of 500-rupee and 1,000-rupee bills from circulation in a country where 90% of all transactions are cash transactions, most of which involved the two ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes (equivalent, respectively, to $7.50 and $15.00 in the United States). Though Modi hoped the abrupt step would stem corruption and retard the flow of illicit ‘black money’ that’s evaded taxation, the move also inconvenienced everyday commerce and trade, as ordinary and poor Indians struggled to transition to the new system.

So the state elections — in Uttar Pradesh as well as Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa — were referenda on Modi’s reform push, in general, and demonetisation, in particular.

Modi passed the test, as voters gave his government the benefit of the doubt — and he did it on his own, with the help of his electoral guru, Amit Shah, a longtime aide to Modi during Modi’s years as chief minister in Gujarat and the engineer of the BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 and, since 2014, the BJP party president.

Manoj Sinha, railways minister and, since 2016, communication minister, could be the Modi acolyte chosen to serve as Uttar Pradesh’s new chief minister. (Facebook)

So personalized was Modi’s campaign that the BJP didn’t even bother naming a candidate for chief minister. So the BJP won a three-fourths majority in India’s largest state without ever telling voters who it intended to serve as the state’s top executive. Speculation initially revolved around Rajnath Singh, the 65-year-old home secretary who once served as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh from 2000 to 2002 and who is himself a former BJP president. But But 57-year-old communications and railways minister Manoj Sinha, who was born in Ghazipur and represents the city in the Lok Sabha, is also a leading contender. Modi and Shah are expected to make a decision by Saturday.  Continue reading Modi sweeps state elections in Uttar Pradesh in win for demonetisation

Three lessons about the state of Indian politics from spring election season

Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa (left) and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (right) both have reason to smile at India's spring election season. (Facebook)
Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa (left) and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (right) both have reason to smile at India’s spring election season. (Facebook)

For the better part of a week, exit polls showed that Tamil Nadu’s chief minister Jayalalithaa, both beloved and scandal-plagued, was in trouble of being rejected by voters. India Flag Icon

But when election officials announced the results Thursday for the May 16 state elections, her governing AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) instead won a resounding victory. It proved the staying power of one of India’s most enchanting regional leaders, despite her temporary, nine-month suspension as chief minister that followed a 2014 a conviction on corruption charges, and despite disastrous flooding late in 2015 that affected the Tamil capital of Chennai and that killed over 400 people throughout the state.

None of those problems seemed to matter to Tamil voters, who returned the AIADMK to power, five years after Jayalalithaa returned to power at the state level and two years after she nearly routed both regional and national parties in India’s parliamentary elections.

Despite the pollsters’ last-minute spook in Tamil Nadu, none of the results announced Thursday in spring elections across five states offered much of a surprise. But the voting, across five states, from India’s northern border with China down to its most southern tip, which incorporated, in aggregate, a population of over 225 million Indians, was as close to a ‘midterm’ vote as prime minister Narendra Modi will get.

Regional parties are stronger than ever

Mamata Banerjee won a second term as chief minister of West Bengal, despite her failure to stem corruption. (Facebook)
Mamata Banerjee won a second term as chief minister of West Bengal, despite her failure to stem corruption. (Facebook)

In the spring’s two biggest prizes — West Bengal and Tamil Nadu — voters delivered resounding victories to regional leaders like Jayalalithaa and West Bengal’s chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

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RELATED: Banerjee eyes reelection in West Bengal state election results

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The resilience of regional parties, often more tied to personality or class patronage than to a set of policies or rigid ideology, shouldn’t have been a surprise. Following the spring voting, 15 Indian states are now governed by chief ministers from regional or left-wing third parties. Last year, Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) suffered humiliating setbacks both in Delhi and in Bihar, the former to clean-government guru Arvind Kejriwal in the latter to a regional party alliance headed by chief minister Nitish Kumar, one of a handful of politicians in the country with a better record on economic growth and development than Modi himself. Continue reading Three lessons about the state of Indian politics from spring election season

Banerjee eyes reelection in West Bengal state election results

Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, hopes to win reelection in state elections that run through May 5. (Facebook)
Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, hopes to win reelection in state elections that ran through May 5. (Facebook)

India’s prime minister Narendra Modi can breathe a sigh of relief about this spring’s state elections: in none of the three biggest prizes (Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal) is his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) a local presence.India Flag Icon

That means, if nothing else, Modi and his allies will not be blamed for yet another state-level electoral setback of the kinds that his party suffered in Delhi and in Bihar last year (though elections in Assam are expected to be fiercely contested by the BJP).

Since mid-April, elections have been underway in five states, the results of which will be announced Thursday, though exit polls are already giving Indians an idea of who might triumph.

In West Bengal, the biggest state-level prize of India’s spring elections, a popular chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, is attempting to hold onto power just five years after ending 34 consecutive years of communist rule. Voting took place in six phases between April 4 and May 5.

Between 1977 and 2011, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)), a left-wing splinter group from what was then India’s main communist party, governed the state as part of the Left Front (বাম ফ্রন্ট) coalition. By most accounts, communist rule in West Bengal wasn’t incredibly successful in boosting growth, despite a sweeping land reform and other efforts to boost nutrition and anti-poverty measures.

In the 2011 election, Banerjee (pictured above), known simply as ‘didi‘ (‘sister’ in Bengali), won power in a lopsided victory. Banerjee, who began her career in the Congress Party, formed the All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC, সর্বভারতীয় তৃণমূল কংগ্রেস) in 1997. Going into the elections, she and her allies controlled 227 of the 294 sets in the legislative assembly as a result of the last election’s rout.

In the current election, the Left Front formed a rare electoral alliance with the Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस), struggling for relevance after its national defeat in the 2014 elections and the erosion of its power at the state level both to Modi’s BJP and to regional parties like Banerjee’s AITMC. Despite the fact that Congress and the West Bengal communists appeal to very different constituencies, the alliance has worked out better than perhaps expected.

Ironically, exit polls also show that Congress is set to lose power to communists when the results are announced for the May 16 elections in Kerala, the far southwestern state where Congress and the communists, with wildly different views on economic and social policy (in Kerala as well as in West Bengal), have vied for power for decades. Continue reading Banerjee eyes reelection in West Bengal state election results

Rahul Gandhi returns to Indian politics — but does anyone care?


Nearly a year after Narendra Modi won a landslide victory in India’s parliamentary elections, it sometimes feels like Modi is governing the world’s largest democracy unopposed.India Flag Icon

To some degree, that’s true, because his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी), won so many constituencies that no other party emerged with enough seats to become the official opposition in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the lower house of India’s parliament.

That was an especially humiliating result for India’s traditional ruling part in the post-independence era, the Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस), which was swept from power after presiding over a decade of accelerating corruption and stagnating economic growth.

But as Modi prepares to fight for a land reform bill that would make it easier to acquire farmland for development and to build new industrial corridors, better transport links, and other infrastructural improvements that are central to Modi’s goal of greater economic development, urbanization and modernization, Rahul Gandhi has returned from a two-month sabbatical to lead the movement against the land reforms. He was set to travel to Punjab today to attack a bill that’s attracted widespread opposition among India’s farmers. Gandhi, anxious to pit Congress on the side of India’s poor, is waging an uncharacteristically energetic battle to become the leading figure in what could be the first major hurdle in Modi’s reform plans.

Nevertheless, there’s some question whether he or anyone in his family is best suited to lead the Modi-era opposition. Continue reading Rahul Gandhi returns to Indian politics — but does anyone care?

Forget the Gandhis. Kejriwal is now India’s true opposition leader.


When the former (and now future) Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal challenged Narendra Modi for a seat in the Indian parliament from the symbolically and religiously important city of Varanasi last spring, it was a sign that Kejriwal, days after resigning from Delhi’s 49-day government, maybe bit off more than he could chew. India Flag Icon

He lost. Badly.

Furthermore, instead of securing a national perch in Delhi, where Kejriwal (pictured above) and his newly formed Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, आम आदमी की पार्टी, literally the ‘Common Man’ Party) found such success in the 2013 Delhi regional elections, the party instead won none of the seven seats up for grabs to the lower house of the Indian parliament. The AAP managed to win four seats in Punjab only because of voter disgust with the corruption of the ruling Sikh nationalist party in that state.

Kejriwal’s decision to resign as chief minister, just 49 days after forming a minority AAP-led government to wage a national campaign looked like a disaster. The AAP, like many third parties, was largely swept aside by the Modi wave that gave the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, or भारतीय जनता पार्टी) a landslide victory.

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RELATED: Kejriwal’s AAP looks for second chance in Delhi vote

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After Delhi’s government reverted to president’s rule, it seemed like the BJP would easily sweep to power there too, especially after winning regional elections last October in Maharashtra, the home of Mumbai (Bombay) and the second-most populous state in India.

Today, however, with the announcement that the AAP swept up an unexpectedly strong victory in voting on February 7 (winning 67 out of 70 seats in the Delhi legislative assembly), it’s no longer risible to think about Kejriwal competing on the same platform as Modi. Voters have given Kejriwal, whose AAP is barely two years old, a second chance to carry out his agenda of anti-corruption good governance. It’s the first time since Modi’s remarkable national victory last spring that any figure or group has decisively defeated the BJP at any level of Indian politics.

Remember that in the landscape-shifting December 2013 elections, the AAP won just 28 seats, four fewer than the BJP. It governed in an awkward alliance with the Indian National Congress (भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) that, under former chief minister Sheila Dikshit, had governed Delhi for 15 years and, increasingly, became synonymous with corruption and incompetence.

delhivote15In the latest vote, Congress won no seats at all to Delhi’s legislative assembly. The party is still reeling after its massive rejection last spring. Congress won so few seats nationally that it cannot even appoint the leader of the opposition in the lower house of the Indian parliament, the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा). Since its defeat, there’s no sign that the Nehru-Gandhi family shows any sign of realizing that it must fundamentally change in order to regain the electorate’s trust. There’s no sign of any rising stars in the party from outside the family — if Rahul Gandhi proved uncharismatic and uninspired in 2014, it’s conceivable that his sister, Priyanka Vadra, might be the right answer for 2019.

But given the uninspired leadership of the quasi-monarchical Gandhi family, Kejriwal has a real chance to eclipse Congress and build a new, populist force for the secular center-left in India, attracting votes from all castes and religions whose votes are no longer tied to the independence movement of the 1930s and 1940s. That’s provided that Kejriwal can, in the years ahead in Delhi, deliver on his promise of less corruption, better services and greater safety, especially for women. (Critics will note that there’s plenty of Hindu traditionalism lurking beneath the surface of the AAP movement, but that’s just as true for Congress as well or for any Indian party that wants to compete in a country where four-fifths of its population practice Hinduism). Continue reading Forget the Gandhis. Kejriwal is now India’s true opposition leader.

Kejriwal’s AAP looks for second chance in Delhi vote


Guest post by Devin Finn 

On February 7, when Delhiwallas go to the polls to vote for candidates for all 70 seats in the Vidhan Sabha (विधान सभा) — the union territory’s Legislative Assembly — the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, आम आदमी की पार्टी, literally the ‘Common Man’ Party) has another opportunity to prove it knows how to remake politics.India Flag Icon

The AAP’s leader Arvind Kejriwal has promised to end corruption and improve the lives of the poor. Hanging in the balance are several fundamental political processes: ongoing efforts to chip away at corruption, an unprecedented movement to combat violence against women, and the possibility that an alternative vision of politics may find support among voters.

Opinion polls indicate a tight race, with party leaders from both prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, or भारतीय जनता पार्टी) and the AAP trading barbs and accusations of rules violations. After a rough 2014, AAP is attempting to concentrate strength in Delhi and demonstrate that it can govern. AAP has sought to contest as many seats as possible, build a widespread political movement in Delhi, and train and equip activists who can exploit social media to generate precise and effective messaging. Even if AAP loses, will politics be the same?

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RELATED: Meet Arvind Kejriwal,
the rising anti-corruption star of Indian politics

RELATED: Did Kejriwal err in resigning as Delhi’s chief minister?

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The AAP campaign labors in the shadow of its brief administration a year ago. In a serious upset in December 2013, Delhi voters elected Kejriwal by a considerable margin to his New Delhi constituency seat, and handed AAP the reins to the city, albeit dependent on outside support from the previous governing party, the Indian National Congress (भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस). After only 49 days, however, Kejriwal resigned: he had promised to do so on principle if lawmakers failed to pass the Jan Lokpal, a parliamentary bill that would mandate an independent ombudsman to curb corruption.

Most Delhi voters and political analysts I conversed with during last spring’s election season asserted that Kejriwal’s resignation was no way to change politics. This was perhaps borne out by AAP’s electoral humiliation in the national vote in April and May 2014. Spreading itself thin, the fledgling party won just four seats out of over 400 it contested. Meanwhile, the BJP gained 51.9% of all seats and a comprehensive mandate.

Still, it is those ’49 days’ that both haunts and enlivens the AAP campaign. Kejriwal has apologized to supporters for reneging on the opportunity to lead the Delhi government. While he lost significant political capital by staking his leadership on the bill, Kejriwal now knows that he must play the political game for real. He has tried to demonstrate that in less than just two months, the concrete initiatives that AAP put in motion were on the right track, including  establishing an anti-corruption hotline and 5500 new auto rickshaw permits. Rahul Kanwal thinks this could be an asset:

The poor actually liked those 49 chaotic days. That was when electricity and water bills had halved and the neighbourhood cop and bijliwala were too scared to ask for bribes. The day Kejriwal’s government fell is the day the ravenous agent of the state was back on the poor man’s door asking for his monthly hafta.

While the #49DaysNostalgia lends an air of experience to today’s AAP effort, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as Kejriwal likes to say. The question is whether voters are willing to support AAP after its two serious missteps in 2013 and 2014. At least three major issues are at stake. Continue reading Kejriwal’s AAP looks for second chance in Delhi vote

Four lessons as Modi wave extends to Maharashtra, Haryana


Voters in two of India’s largest states elected regional assemblies last week on October 15 — in Maharashtra and Haryana.India Flag Icon

In both cases, the conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) will take power of state government for the first time in Indian history in what was the first major electoral test for prime minister Narendra Modi (pictured above), who swept to power nationally in May after promising to bring a new wave of economic prosperity, reform and good governance to India.

In Maharashtra, India’s second-most populous state, with over 112 million people, and home to Mumbai, India’s sprawling financial and cultural center, the BJP won a plurality of the vote and the largest number of seats in the 288-member regional assembly, where it will form a coalition government with either its longtime ally, the far-right, Marathi nationalist Shiv Sena (शिवसेना) or a more intriguing option, the center-left Nationalist Congress Party (NCP, राष्ट्रवादी कॉँग्रस पक्ष), which unexpectedly offered to support a BJP government shortly after the results were announced on October 19:

mahrastra october 14maha 2014

In Haryana, a state with just 25.4 million people, which forms much of the hinterland of New Delhi, the BJP won an outright majority of seats in the 90-member legislative assembly:

haryana state 2014 haryana assembly

There are at least four narratives about what happened in these two absolutely pivotal state elections, the first since India’s national election cycle in April and May. Keep in mind that, together, the two states have a population of 137 million, larger than Japan.

The first narrative confirms the BJP’s political dominance in the honeymoon period of the Modi era. The second narrative is its direct analog, the post-independence nadir of the Nehru-Gandhi family and the chief opposition party, the Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस).

The third narrative, with almost as much national importance as the first two, is the rift between the BJP and its longtime ally, Shiv Sena, and the possibility that Shiv Sena will be shut out of the next Maharashtra government.

The fourth and final narrative has to do with India’s third parties, especially as the election relates to the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, आम आदमी की पार्टी, Common Man Party), which didn’t even bother contesting the Haryana elections and may soon lose its one-time grip on Delhi’s government. Continue reading Four lessons as Modi wave extends to Maharashtra, Haryana

Jayalalithaa scrambles India’s southern regional politics

JayalalithaPhoto credit to Malayalam Daily News.

It says something about the strength of India’s democracy that a regional leader who controls the third-largest bloc of MPs in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the lower house of the Indian parliament,  and who has developed something of a personality cult as chief minister of her home state of Tamil Nadu, can fall from power broker to convicted felon in the blink of an eye.India Flag Icon

So it goes for Jayalalithaa (pictured above), a former star of Tamil cinema, who has towered over Tamil Nadu’s politics for the past three decades — she first served as chief minister from 1991 to 1996, again for four months in 2001, from 2002 to 2006 and, most recently, since May 2011 regional elections, when her party, the AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) won a landslide victory. She is known throughout the state as Amma, a Tamil word for ‘mother.’

With over 72 million people, Tamil Nadu is the sixth-most populous in India, and it has a population equivalent to Turkey’s. Its Tamil-speaking population also makes it unique among India’s states as a key cultural link with Sri Lanka, the island nation to India’s southeast.


In the most recent national elections in April and May 2014, her party won 37 out of 39 constituencies in the state of Tamil Nadu, a rare performance in withstanding the electoral wave that brought prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) its biggest mandate, by far in Indian history.

But on Saturday, Jayalalithaa’s luck ran out when a Karnataka-based court sentenced her to a four-year jail term in a corruption case that resulted, suddenly, in her demotion from office. The court found Jayalalithaa guilty in a ‘disproportionate assets’ case, essentially convicting her for illegally obtaining up to 530 million rupees (around $8.7 million) in unexplained income. That forced her to step down immediately as chief minister and report to prison, though she’ll have an opportunity to appeal the verdict.

She is now the first sitting chief minister to be found guilty of corruption charges.

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RELATED: Jayalalithaa, the Tamil actress-turned-strongwoman,
could play India’s kingmaker

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If the conviction holds, it will be a rare victory for anti-corruption reformers in India. Among the strongest regional politicians, few are as powerful or as popular as Jayalalithaa. That give the case national importance. If the Indian judiciary can hold to account someone like Jayalalithaa, whose face plasters billboards, subsidized food halls and even bottled water in Tamil Nadu, no one in India can credibly believe that she (or he) is above the law. It’s a powerful precedent, and it’s a sign to global investors of the growing strength of Indian legal institutions.
Continue reading Jayalalithaa scrambles India’s southern regional politics

Photo of the day: Manmohan Singh in defeat


From Scroll.in comes this piercing photo of former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh in January, four months before the landslide election that delivered to Singh’s ruling Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) its worst defeat in Indian history.India Flag Icon

Raghu Rai, a photographer and journalist, captured images of both Singh and India’s current prime minister Narendra Modi for his new book, The Tale of Two: An Outgoing and An Incoming Prime Minister.

The photos of both candidates are compelling, but the shots of Singh are particularly so, coming after a decade as prime minister that most Indians (and non-Indians) consider disappointing.

An economist by training, Singh made his international reputation as the finance minister in the government of P. V. Narasimha Rao between 1991 and 1996, spearheading the most thoroughgoing set of economic liberalization reforms in India’s post-independence history.

When Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and daughter-in-law of former prime minister Indira Gandhi, demurred from taking the premiership after Congress won a surprise victory in the 2004 parliamentary elections, she turned to Singh instead, boosting hopes that India might enact further reforms, especially with respect to liberalizing foreign development. It also gave India its first leader from the Sikh community.

But those economic reforms never happened, which voters didn’t seem to mind in Congress’s first term. After all, the economy was still growing at breakneck speed and Indian voters hadn’t become acquainted with the dozens of scandals (e.g., Coalgate, the 2g spectrum scandal) that would come to define Congress’s second term, which Singh and Gandhi won easily enough in 2009 under the steam of India’s stellar growth.

Continue reading Photo of the day: Manmohan Singh in defeat

So far, so good? A look at Modi’s first weeks as India’s PM


It’s been just over a month since the historic election that vaulted Narendra Modi to the top of India’s government, and he took office on May 26, nearly four weeks ago.India Flag Icon

So how has his tenure as India’s prime minister gone so far?

Fairly smoothly, though of course it’s still far too soon to tell just whether Modi (pictured above with Bhutanese prime minister Tshering Tobgay), ushering in a new government with the slogan of ‘minimum government, maximum governance,’ can achieve the transformational economic and other policy achievements.

With his first day in office, Modi made global headlines by inviting Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif to attend his swearing-in ceremony, which saw the two regional leaders hold closed-door discussions on Modi’s second day in office.

On June 1, his government marked the relative seamless creation of the new state of Telangana, out of what was formerly a much larger Andhra Pradesh, and the rise of its first chief minister Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao (known as ‘KCR’), though KCR is already making headlines for his blunt approach to press freedom.

Modi has already started to outline his economic policy priorities, which will kick off with a concerted effort to lower inflation. His government will unveil its first federal budget in July, but for now, Modi has signalled that he’s willing to deliver tough policy to improve fiscal discipline that will almost certain including cuts to fuel subsidies and further liberalization of India’s economy, especially with respect to foreign investment. That was clear enough from Indian president Pranab Mukherjee’s address to the Indian parliament earlier this week.

Modi has also appointed a strong, streamlined cabinet that was met with approval among both domestic and global observers: Continue reading So far, so good? A look at Modi’s first weeks as India’s PM

A state-by-state overview of India’s election results


It quickly became clear early on Friday morning across India that Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) were headed for a historical victory in India’s national elections, which took place across nine separate phases between April 7 and May 12. India Flag Icon

But to really understand the impact of the victory, it’s important to delve into the results on a state-by-state level. Where did the BJP massively exceed expectations? Where did it fall short? Where did regional leaders keep the ‘Modi wave’ at bay? Where did regional leaders fail? Each state tells us something about the future shape of India’s new political reality in New Delhi and about the future of state governance, which, after all, represents the most important level of government for most Indians, even in the Modi era.

For the record, here are the final results:


The BJP, together with its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 336 seats in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the House of the People, the lower house of India’s parliament. It’s the largest mandate that any Indian party/coalition has won since 1984.

The ruling Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) and its allies in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) won just 58 seats. Not only did the Congress suffer the worst defeat of its history under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, the great-grandson of India’s first post-independence prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, it’s the first time that a non-Congress party has won an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha.

Regional parties and other third groups won an additional 149 seats. Continue reading A state-by-state overview of India’s election results

India’s election results: Modi wave largest mandate since 1984

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The results are now (largely) in for what will certainly be one of the biggest election dramas of the decade.India Flag Icon

Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s chief minister, has led the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) to its best-ever victory. In India’s post-independence history, it’s the first time that the BJP — or any party — has won an absolute majority other than the  Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस).

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RELATED: In-Depth: India’s elections

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Conversely, the Congress, the party of Indian independence and the party of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, has suffered its worst defeat in the history of independent India. After a decade of rule, party president Sonia Gandhi and her son, party vice president Rahul Gandhi, face a long wilderness in the Modi era.

Here’s the latest on results, via NDTV:


The BJP, by itself, will hold 284 seats, which gives it an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा). Together with its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), it will hold 340 seats. That represents the largest mandate that any governing coalition has won since 1984, when Congress won over 400 seats under Rajiv Gandhi, who was waging the fight after his mother, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by her SIkh bodyguards in the wake of Sikh riots.

It’s hard to describe just what a massive landslide this was, but this NDTV map of all 543 constituencies give you a good idea:

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Continue reading India’s election results: Modi wave largest mandate since 1984

Pivoting to Modi: US-India relations in the Modi era


I write tomorrow in The National Interest about US-India relations — why they’re at such a nadir and how they could become even worse under the person that exit polls (and every other piece of evidence) say will become the next prime minister of India, Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi.India Flag IconUSflag

Just six years ago, US president George W. Bush stood beside Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh to hail a landmark nuclear deal that welcomed India into the global nuclear club. Though it foresaw greater technological cooperation between the United States and India, its real power was in demonstrating US respect for the world’s largest democracy — and the world’s second-most populous nation-state.

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RELATED: In Depth: India’s elections

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Much of that goodwill today is gone, unfortunately, and US-India relations could take an even more ominous tumble during a Modi-led government dominated by his conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी).

In brief, Modi (pictured above) will be a much different kind of Indian leader, who isn’t nearly as friendly to Westernization as the English-speaking elites in the ruling Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस). It doesn’t help that Modi was essentially banned from US and European travel for much of the past decade, though US and European officials may have had good cause for shunning Modi on the basis of his role in the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat.

Amid a dizzying amount of political change across Asia, India might prove to be the most difficult challenge for the Obama administration in its final 2.5 years:

But from the U.S. perspective, Modi’s rise could be the most challenging of all. Even though the bilateral relationship is now at its lowest point since Obama took office, its current state could feel warm and fuzzy compared to what lies ahead. Among the priorities of the Obama administration in its final two-and-a-half years, the challenge of restoring strong ties with India should lie at the top of the Asia agenda. No amount of pivoting will matter much if U.S. ties to the world’s largest democracy—and, despite its current stumbles, one of the world’s largest emerging economies—lie in tatters in January 2017.

I argue that the Obama administration needs to find a way to move past the diplomatic kerkuffle of the Khobragade affair that added so much needless tension to the US-Indian relationship, appoint a much stronger ambassador to India than the outgoing envoy Nancy Powell and work to encourage Modi’s instinct for greater economic freedom while discouraging Modi’s possible instinct to restrict India’s religion freedom.

The truth, however, is that no one knows exactly how Modi will deal with US relations: Continue reading Pivoting to Modi: US-India relations in the Modi era

Indian court ruling highlights women’s issues in election campaign


A decision earlier this week by a Delhi court that forcible sex between a husband and wife doesn’t constitute rape highlights an issue that has been increasingly part of India’s policy conversation during this campaign season — violence against women, in particular, and gender equality, more generally. India Flag Icon

The brutal rape and murder of a 23-year old in Delhi in December 2012 caused a national sensation and an outpouring of  sympathy and anger. The governing Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) was immediately met with calls for legislation designed to increase urban safety for women and to institute stricter criminal penalties for rape. The girl, whose name was initially withheld from media reports, has come to be known by many pseudonyms, the most common of which is ‘Nirbhaya,’ which means ‘fearless one’ in Hindi.

In March 2013, following the conclusions of a panel committee established to consider legal reforms, India’s parliament enacted new, stronger anti-rape laws. Although the laws lengthened jail sentences for rape and related crimes and introduced the death penalty for repeat offenses, they also created new offenses, such as stalking and voyeurism, which weren’t previously illegal. The laws also expand the definition of rape, and they relax some of the burdens required for a conviction — for instance, a victim no longer has to prove physical struggle to show lack of consent.

Critics of the new laws argue that they still aren’t strong enough. For example, marital rape is still not illegal. Moreover, the legal reforms did nothing to address Section 377 of the Indian penal code, which criminalizes same-sex conduct, a statute that the Indian supreme court upheld last December, nor do they particularly address the challenges of transgendered Indians. (Though the Indian supreme court a month ago recognized transgender as a third gender category in a ruling that LGBT advocates hailed as a landmark decision.)

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RELATED: Is there a potential parliamentary path to amending Section 377 in India?

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Even as activists worry that the current government’s steps don’t go far enough, they also worry that a government led by Narendra Modi and the conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) could be even worse. Exit polls, though not incredibly accurate in the past, forecast a strong Modi victory when election results are announced on May 16.

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RELATED: In-Depth: India’s Elections

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Both Modi and Rahul Gandhi, who is leading the Congress election effort, have railed against sexual violence and invoked the memory of Nirbhaya in their campaign rallies. But whether you prefer Modi or Congress depends on your perspective about the roots and causes of sexual violence in India.  Continue reading Indian court ruling highlights women’s issues in election campaign