Tag Archives: narendra modi

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: Modi, Sharif meet at India’s inauguration

Former Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi was sworn in today as India’s 14th prime minister in New Delhi today.India Flag IconPakistan Flag Icon

But as historic as his inauguration is, which brings to power Modi’s conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) after a landslide victory in India’s April/May national elections with the largest mandate of any Indian political party since 1984, it’s been eclipsed by the presence of Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif.


It was the first time that a Pakistani leader has ever attended an Indian inauguration, and the handshake between Modi and Sharif is an audacious start for the Modi era. Modi, who has evinced a hawkish line on foreign policy, especially regarding India’s Muslim-majority neighbors, Pakistan and Bangladesh, made the surprising invitation to Sharif late last week. Sharif, much to the world’s surprise, and likely in opposition to hardliners in his own conservative party, the Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N, اکستان مسلم لیگ ن) and within Pakistan’s military and intelligence communities, accepted invitation over the weekend. 

Sharif joins a handful of regional leaders from within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to attend Modi’s swearing-in ceremony, including Sri Lanka president Mahinda Rajapaksa and Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai.

Modi’s invitations weren’t without controversy at home — Modi’s hard-right, Hindu nationalist allies in Shiv Sena (SS, शिवसेना) opposed the outreach to Sharif, and Tamil Nadu leaders in both Modi’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa decried the invitation to Rajapaksa.

But Modi’s mandate is so sweeping that he has enough political capital to do just about whatever he wants, no matter what his allies think. Modi’s hawkish reputation, in combination with his parliamentary majority, could give him the space to pursue the kind of closer economic ties that have eluded prior Indian governments. Continue reading Photo of the day: Modi, Sharif meet at India’s inauguration

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

The phenomenon of Narendra Modi, 56-inch chest and all


It’s not hard to understand why Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is leading his Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) and its allies to a victory that will be the most resounding in Indian history since 1984.India Flag Icon

The truth has been there all along, as Narendra Modi became more than just a potential prime minister. Somewhere along the course of the election campaign and the nine phases of voting that began way back on April 7, Modi became a phenomenon.

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RELATED: In-Depth: India’s elections

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Even before he leapt to the national stage, Modi perfected the art of campaigning by hologram, whereby a life-size avatar of Modi could address election rallies in multiple cities simultaneously:


His colorful kurtas — traditional body-length garments for men that Modi often wears with short sleeves — have become a downright fashion statement and have already attracted international attention. Here he is in a great photo from Sonia Paul of The Caravan:


Modi himself has admitted to a bit of cockiness about his fashion:

[Modi] confesses he likes to dress up well, is “god-gifted” in the way of mixing and matching colours and is happy at compliments on his dressing sense…. “Yes, I like to dress up well and stay clean. God has gifted me the sense of mixing and matching colors. So I manage everything on my own. Since I’m god-gifted, I fit well in everything. I have no fashion designer but I’m happy to hear that I dress well.”

Implausibly, as he brags about his 56-inch chest (critics joked it was more like a 56-inch belly), he’s also become something of a sex symbol among a certain segment of India’s population.

But when, as now seems inevitable, he becomes India’s next prime minister, the entire world will turn its attention to one of the oddest — and compelling — characters in international politics today.

So who is the personal Narendra Modi? And what have we learned about him on the campaign trail?  Continue reading The phenomenon of Narendra Modi, 56-inch chest and all

Who’s who in Modi-world: A guide to the next Indian government


In just a few hours, India’s national election results will be released.India Flag Icon

If exit polls (and virtually all polls, leading up to India’s six-week elections) are correct, Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi will have delivered his conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) and its allies to a potentially historic victory — and an equally historic defeat for the ruling Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस).

Whatever happens when election results are announced, there’s no doubt that Modi led one of the most ‘presidential’ campaigns in Indian history. If the BJP emerges victorious, as expected, it will be a mandate for Modi as much as for the BJP.

The magic number is 272 — if the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) can win an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the lower house of the Indian parliament, Modi will certainly be India’s next prime minister, and he’ll likely steer a relatively stable government that should last for its full five-year term.

If the BJP and its allies fall short of 272 seats, while still emerging as the largest bloc in the Lok Sabha, they will also likely form the next government by forging a series of alliances with regional parties, including any of the following:

  • the ruling, Dravidian AIADMK of Tamil Nadu’s chief minister Jayalalithaa;
  • the Uttar Pradesh-based Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of former chief minister Mayawati; or
  • the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which is a former member of the NDA, and is forecast to win both state and Lok Sabha elections in the state of Odisha.

While regional allies might temper the Hindutva tendencies of a stronger BJP government, they might also prevent Modi from enacting the kind of economic reforms that he has promised to unleash greater GDP growth and development and to stymie bureaucratic waste and massive corruption.

In any event, almost every sign indicates that Modi will become India’s next prime minister, and he was already gathering with top BJP officials in Gujarat yesterday planning his new government (pictured below in a photo that Modi tweeted):


So who are the individuals that could become the most important officials in a Modi administration?

Here is Suffragio‘s guide to Modi-world — a list of 25 Indian politicians and leaders who are most expected to play a role in a government that promises to be very different than the current government.

The officials are divided into four categories:

  • the BJP’s ‘old guard,’ which controlled the party in the its first major stint in government between 1998 and 2004;
  • the BJP’s ‘new guard,’ the new generation of leadership with whom Modi is more comfortable;
  • the Gujaratis, the members of Modi’s own inner circle after 13 years of state government; and
  • the allies, those non-BJP party leaders who might be expected to take key roles within the NDA and otherwise in the next government.

Continue reading Who’s who in Modi-world: A guide to the next Indian government

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

India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 9


Today marks the final phase of India’s election marathon.India Flag Icon

Voters in 41 constituencies will elect their members of the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the 545-seat lower house of the Indian parliament. After today’s voting, exit polls should give Indians (and the rest of us) the first indications of what the results might be, though they have been vastly wrong in the past. The official final results will be announced on Friday, May 16.

In particular, it’s the biggest day of voting in two of India’s most populous states. Uttar Pradesh will elect 18 of its 80 seats today, and West Bengal will elect 17 of its 42 seats. In addition, Bihar will elect its final six legislators.

In West Bengal, a state of 91 million Indians, chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s local All India Trinamool Congess (TMC, সর্বভারতীয় তৃণমূল কংগ্রেস) is set to win the biggest share of the vote after sweeping to power in the state’s 2011 elections and, in so doing, sweeping a 34-year communist government out of office in West Bengal.

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RELATED: Mamata-Modi spat takes center stage in West Bengal

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Nonetheless, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CP-I(M)) and the Left Front (বাম ফ্রন্ট) are expected to win a large share of the vote as well.

That leaves India’s two national parties, the governing, secular Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) of Rahul Gandhi and outgoing prime minister Manmohan Singh, and the conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी)  of chief minister Narendra Modi, both unlikely to make many gains in West Bengal.

Both Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will provide more fertile territory, especially for the BJP, which needs to win most of the 122 seats in those two states to have a chance at winning a majority government in the Lok Sabha.

In what might be the most watched constituency in India, Modi is battling Arvind Kejriwal, the former chief minister of Delhi, in the city of Varanasi (formerly Benares). Lying on the shores of the Ganges River, the city is known as India’s holiest, and it’s in the heart of Uttar Pradesh.

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

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Kejriwal emerged as one of the most popular politicians in the country after his showing in the December 2013 elections in the National Capital territory. His newly formed Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, आम आदमी की पार्टी, Common Man Party) took power for 49 days, instituting popular policies from water and power subsidies to hotlines for reporting bribery. Kejriwal resigned, however, in February, when the territorial legislature refused to enact his jan lokpal bill that would have instituted mechanisms for reducing corruption.

Since leaving office, Kejriwal has led a national campaign for the AAP, hoping that he can recreate the same electoral magic nationally that he did six months ago. But there’s a general sense that Kejriwal made a mistake by resigning, and that his national campaign attempts to do too much in too little time. There’s a chance that it will backfire so much that the AAP might not even win a majority of Delhi’s seats to the Lok Sabha.

But in Varanasi, Kejriwal has waged an electrifying fight against Modi, who chose to contest  both the Varanasi constituency and in the Vadodara constituency in his home state of Gujarat. Continue reading India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 9

Mamata-Modi spat takes center stage in West Bengal


In today’s final phase of India’s six-week national elections, attention has increasingly shifted to West Bengal, which will elect the final 17 of its 42 seats in the lower house of the Indian parliament, the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा).India Flag Icon

But even as he tries to sweep the rest of the country, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, the leader of the conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) will find precious few votes in West Bengal.

As far as that goes, neither will his national rival, the secular Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस), which has governed India for the past decade under the leadership of party president Sonia Gandhi and prime minister Manmohan Singh.

That’s because, like so many of India’s states these days, West Bengalese politics is dominated by entirely regional forces.

Between 1977 and 2011, West Bengal featured the longest consecutive communist government in elective history — under the long-serving chief minister Joyti Basu, from 1977 to 2000, and his successor Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, from 2000 to 2011. For 34 years, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M) ruled West Bengal as the largest party of the Left Front (বাম ফ্রন্ট) coalition.

That all changed with the 2011 state assembly elections, when Mamata Banerjee (pictured above), known simply as ‘didi‘ (‘sister’ in Bengali), swept to power in a lopsided victory. She and her allies now control 227 of the 294 sets in the legislative assembly. Banerjee, who began her career in the Congress Party, formed the All India Trinamool Congess (TMC, সর্বভারতীয় তৃণমূল কংগ্রেস) in 1997.

Banerjee quickly joined the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and became railways minister in the BJP-led government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. She re-aligned herself with the Congress Party in   2009 as part of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), and once again served as railways minister, this time under Singh.

She returned to West Bengal for the 2011 state campaign, leading the TMC to its overwhelming victory. As chief minister, Banerjee has emerged as one of the most powerful players in Indian politics, and while she may not have lived up to high expectations that followed her victory three years ago, she’s generally seen as a relatively honest public servant and she’s worked to improve health and education programs throughout West Bengal, traditionally one of India’s poorer states on a per-capita basis.

It’s difficult to place Banerjee politically. At the state political level, she and the TMC are ideologically to the right of the Left Front, naturally, and at the national level, Banerjee has allied with both the major parties. It’s perhaps most correct to say that Banerjee is a populist, veering left or right as convenient for her political future or for West Bengal’s relationship vis-à-vis the central government.

But an alliance with the BJP seems unlikely as Modi and Banerjee has increasingly traded harsh barbs on the campaign trail.

Much of the explanation lies at the intersection of religion and politics. Modi is trying to maximize Hindu support in West Bengal, but also in the voter-rich states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and elsewhere in the ‘Hindi belt.’ Banerjee, for her part, is increasingly trying to unite Muslim voters in West Bengal, which comprise over one-quarter of West Bengal’s 91 million residents.

Modi has attacked the West Bengal state government for its handling of the Saradha Group financial scam that defrauded 1.7 million Indians, mostly in West Bengal, of up to $6 billion. Earlier this month, India’s supreme court referred the current investigations to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation amid signs of political interference. Modi has also taken a hard stand against Bangladeshi illegal immigrants. Last week, Banerjee pushed back, calling Modi a ‘donkey,’ and chastising him as the ‘butcher of Gujarat’ for his alleged role in deadly riots there in 2002.

Why is this all so important?  Continue reading Mamata-Modi spat takes center stage in West Bengal

India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 8


If you can believe it, today marks the one-month anniversary since the first polls opened in India’s gargantuan nine-phase general elections. India Flag Icon

Today, with 439 members of the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा) already elected, India is now just two election days away from completing the voting process. Results will be announced on May 16 — just nine days from today.

The eighth phase adds 64 more seats to the total.

Uttar Pradesh

Fifteen seats will be selected in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state and the biggest prize of the election, with 80 seats.

The most watched contest is in Amethi, something of a Nehru-Gandhi family heirloom:

  • It was first won by Sanjay Gandhi, the son of longtime prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1980.
  • When Sanjay died in an airplane crash, his brother Rajiv Gandhi held the seat from 1981 (including as India’s prime minister between 1984 and 1989), until his assassination in 1991.
  • Rajiv’s Italian-born widow Sonia Gandhi held the seat from 1999 to 2004, though she is running today in the adjacent Rae Bareli constituency.
  • Rahul Gandhi, the son of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi, has held it for the past decade, and he’s leading the campaign of the governing Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) in 2014 — with prime minister Manmohan Singh stepping down, Rahul Gandhi would likely become prime minister if his party defies polling predictions and wins the elections.
  • Rahul’s sister, Priyanka Vadra (pictured above with Rahul), is running the Congress campaign behind the scenes — though with an increasingly public role.

Though Rahul Gandhi’s official opponent is Smriti Irani, a former television star, he’s really running against Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी), who took the fight earlier this week to Amethi, a sign of confidence in the ‘Modi wave’ that the BJP and many national polls say is sweeping India after a decade of Congress-led rule (though polls have been wrong before, in 2004 and even in 2009).

Modi on Monday delivered a scathing attack on the entire Nehru-Gandhi family, calling it arrogant and angry — it’s the Indian political equivalent of spiking the ball as Modi appears on the verge of winning a landslide BJP victory:

There is no doubting Modi’s intention, which was to offer the spectacle of his presumption; the presumption of a “chai bechne wala” humiliating the “raj parivar” in their own backyard. The class warfare trope, beloved of old socialist-era Hindi films, played beautifully to his exceptionally large gallery. They cheered each time Modi pronounced ‘Sssonia madam’ with his now trademark sibilant hiss…. The truth is that Modi didn’t really need to go there. Yet he did because, simply, he could — hold a giant rally in Amethi and heap personal invective on the Gandhi family. 

Modi attacked Priyanka Vadra for her ‘arrogance’ in dismissing the local BJP candidate and baiting her into an angry response by attacking her father. Modi, who is considered ‘OBC’ (Other Backward Classes), a constitutionally protected class, and who once sold tea for a living, played both the class card and the caste card against the Gandhis.

Vadra accused Modi of practicing ‘neech rajniti‘ — or low-level politics — and Modi slammed back that it’s not a fault that he was born into a ‘neech jaati‘ — or lower caste. In states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where caste and politics are unmistakably linked, Modi has been careful to shy away from caste-based campaigning, though top Modi aide Amit Shah has been working for months behind the scenes to manage a savvy BJP campaign designed, in part, to maximize the caste divisions among rival parties.

Hindu poet Kumar Vishwas is running as the candidate of the newly formed good-government, anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, आम आदमी की पार्टी, Common Man Party), which rose to prominence in the December 2013 Delhi elections and briefly held power for 49 days until AAP leader and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal resigned when the legislative assembly blocked his keystone corruption bill.

Andhra Pradesh

The remaining 25 seats in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh are up for grabs, too. Continue reading India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 8

How the 2002 Gujarat riots became so important to the 2014 election


Earlier this year, when Narendra Modi, the frontrunner to become  India’s next prime minister, decided to run from Varanasi, a city that many in India consider to be India’s holiest, many of his supporters co-opted a Hindu chant, ‘har har Mahadev,’ a traditional greeting in Varanasi among Hindus.India Flag Icon

The chant praises the Hindu lord Shiva, also known as Mahadev, and it literally means, ‘rid us of pain,’ though it was once a battle cry of ancient Hindu kings.

Modi’s supporters co-opted the chant as ‘har har Modi,’ a turn of events that even left some Hindu scholars uncomfortable. Though Modi and other leaders in his party, the conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) eventually called on supporters to desist, it’s become the most notorious ‘dog whistle’ in a campaign where religious tension is bubbling fervently below the surface.

It also confounded worries among India’s religious minorities that they might be second-class citizens under a Modi government. The overwhelming majority of Indians are Hindu, including nearly 80.5% of the Indian population, largely as a result of the 1947 Partition that created the Muslim-majority Pakistan. But 13.4% of India’s population is Muslim — another 2.3% is Christian, another 1.9% is Sikh and another 0.8% is Buddhist. In a country of 1.236 billion people, that translates to over 165 million Muslims, and that’s a fairly large group of folks that could feel threatened by a potential Modi government.

For many Indians, the key question of this year’s national elections has less to do with development or economics but rather about a series of riots in 2002 that left at least 790 Indian Muslims, and possibly up to 2,000 Muslims, dead.

Those riots, which took place in Gujarat, were one of the first crises in the administration of a new chief minister, Narendra Modi, just four months on the job. Modi had succeeded Keshubhai Patel, another BJP chief minister whose rule faltered after the loss of several by-elections and charges of mismanagement of the relief efforts from a devastating 2001 earthquake in Gujarat.

Twelve years later, Modi’s response to those riots and the lack of clarity over his responsibility for the bloodletting is at the heart of the national election campaign. Suspicion that Modi subtly encouraged the violence has dogged him ever since. Though he’s been technically absolved by the Indian supreme court, the Gujarati riots prevented Modi from receiving a visa to enter the United States in the mid-2000s and Modi himself has refused to apologize for the tragedy that took place on his watch. even as Modi has increasingly used his economic stewardship of Gujarat as the basis of his presidential-style campaign.

So what actually happened? And why has it become so central to the current election campaign?  Continue reading How the 2002 Gujarat riots became so important to the 2014 election

India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 6


Today, Indians in eleven states (and a territory) will vote in the sixth phase of its elections.India Flag Icon

In terms of seats, today’s phase of voting (in 117 constituencies) is only marginally less important than last week’s April 17 phase, in which 121 seats to the decided.

What’s more, after today’s voting, we’ll be well over the halfway mark of voting in all 543 constituencies of the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा) — following today’s phase, we’ll be 195 constituencies away from the end of what’s been the largest, longest election in Indian history.

So where are the key points in today’s round of voting?

Tamil Nadu

The biggest prize is the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which elects all 39 of its Lok Sabha representatives today. It’s one of India’s most populous states, with over 72.1 million people, and it’s also one of India’s largest state economies, with its capital Chennai a primary manufacturing, services and financial hub.

Unfortunately for Narendra Modi, the frontrunner to become the next prime minister, and for Rahul Gandhi, who hopes to lead the current government to a third consecutive term in power, neither of India’s two national parties are expected to win very many votes here. Continue reading India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 6

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


As Narendra Modi looks for new places where the ‘Modi wave’ can power him to a majority government, one of those place won’t be Tamil Nadu.India Flag Icon

That’s because, like so many other states in India, Tamil Nadu is dominated by regional parties. Though the politics of Tamil Nadu are unique to the state, it’s a case study in how regional politics can influence and distort national outcomes.


With over 72.1 million people, Tamil Nadu, which sprawls along India’s southeastern coast, is one of the biggest prizes in India’s nine-phase, five-week marathon election contest, boasting 39 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the lower house of India’s parliament.

Tamil Nadu has the second-largest state economy in India, after  Maharashtra (home to Mumbai). Chennai, its capital, is a hub for manufacturing, services and finance, and it and other state cities benefit from being part of the great IT sector hinterland that’s drawn so much foreign investment to Bangalore, which lies just to Tamil Nadu’s northwestern corner.

Though Kerala (0.790) and Delhi (0.750) lead India with the highest state/territory-level human development indices, Tamil Nadu’s HDI (0.570) is equivalent to that of Maharashtra, making it higher than the Indian average (0.467) or in Gujarat (0.527). Tamil Nadu’s GSP per-capita is also, slightly, higher than Gujarat’s. That’s significant because Modi is largely campaigning on the economic prowess of the ‘Gujarat model‘ and his economic stewardship of Gujarat since 2001.

Though Modi and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) are expected to win this spring’s election, it’s still an open question if he and the BJP’s allies can amass the 272 seats that they’ll need to form a secure majority government.

One of the reasons for that is the dominance of regional parties like those in some of India’s largest states, including Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha.

Amma’s state

That also means that the state’s chief minister and its virtual strongwoman, Jayalalithaa (pictured above), a former Tamil cinema actress, could become one of several outsiders to which Modi turns to form a coalition. If there’s anyone in India who’s perfected the personality cult, it’s Jayalalithaa, whose face greets you throughout the state, from rural towns to urban centers like Chennai (formerly Madras) and Madurai. Known affectionately as ‘Amma’ (‘mother’ in Tamil), her government is responsible for setting up ‘Amma canteens‘ to provide subsidized food to the poor, providing ‘Amma bottled water‘ to deal with chronic shortages and even establishing ‘Amma theaters‘ for entertainment purposes.

For the more prurient of you, here’s an awesome clip of Jayalalithaa pushing the sexual boundaries of Indian cinema (she was the first Tamil actress to appear in a skirt):

Continue reading Jayalalithaa, Tamil actress-turned-strongwoman, could play India’s kingmaker

India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 5


It’s election day once again in India, and today marks the fifth phase of the nine-phase marathon to determine India’s national government. Indians today will elect 121 members of the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा). That makes today’s round, just barely, the most important of all nine phases. Together with the April 24 phase next week, Indians will choose 43% of the seats in the entire Lok Sabha in just two rounds of voting.  India Flag Icon

So what are the keys to the voting in today’s phase?

Here’s our trusty map of India’s states, as a reference point before we jump into the state-by-state breakdown:



The biggest prize is the south-central state of Karnataka, a state of over 61 million Indians, home to Bangalore and India’s high-tech sector. All of its 28 representatives to the Lok Sabha will be elected in today’s voting.

More than any other state in India, it’s been especially impermeable to the ‘Modi wave’ that polls predict will lift the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) and its prime ministerial candidate, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, to power.

In the May 2013 state elections, the BJP lost control of the Karnataka state government, terminating the BJP’s historic first government in India’s south. The loss had less to do with Modi than with corruption and infighting within the state party. Nonetheless, the  BJP was wiped out, losing 72 seats in the state assembly, and damaging its reputation in advance of this year’s national elections.

With the memories of the disastrous BJP state government still fresh, Karnataka could be the rare bright spot for India’s governing party, the Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस), which could pick up eight seats for a total of 14, according to the latest NDTV poll.

One of the marquee contests is in the Bangalore South constituency, where Congress’s candidate is Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekan, running against the BJP’s Ananth Kumar. 


The BJP’s most impressive victory in last November’s state elections occurred in the arid, western state of Rajasthan, India’s eight-most populous state, where Congress lost 75 seats and the BJP gained 84 in the state’s legislative assembly. It was the BJP’s best-ever performance and Congress’s worst-ever performance.

So Modi has high hopes here, in a state that lies just north of his own home state of Gujarat — if the BJP runs away with this election and forms India’s next government, it will be largely because of the lopsided  victories it’s expected to win here and elsewhere in India’s north.

Twenty constituencies, out of a total of 25, will vote in Rajasthan today, including the historic city of Jodhpur (pictured above).

Continue reading India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 5