India prepares to swing hard right

An Indian election is a marathon, not a sprint. The voting will start in a month’s time, on April 7, but the voting will move around the country on nine phases, ending on May 12. Then the votes will all be counted — there are 814 million eligible voters — and the result will be known on May 16.

An Indian election is a marathon, not a sprint. The voting will start in a month’s time, on April 7, but the voting will move around the country on nine phases, ending on May 12. Then the votes will all be counted — there are 814 million eligible voters — and the result will be known on May 16.

But a lot of people think they know the result now: Narendra Modi of the BJP will be prime minister, and India will swing hard right.

The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party — Indian People’s Party) is a socially conservative, Hindu nationalist party that has only had one full term in national office, in 1998-2004.

That time, it led a broad coalition that restrained its more extreme sectarian impulses.

This time, however, many Indian observers claim to detect a “Modi wave” of support that might carry the BJP into power on its own.

That would certainly make for interesting times.

Narendra Modi is best known for two things: the remarkable economic growth and relative freedom from corruption of his home state of Gujarat, and his alleged complicity in the massacre of more than 1,000 Muslims during religious riots shortly after he became chief minister of Gujarat in 2001.

The prosperity of Gujarat is obviously a political asset for him.

The problem is that the his alleged religious extremism is also an asset in the view of some of his potential supporters.

Indeed, that is probably why Modi has never expressed any regret or offered any apologies for the riots, an omission that many see as disqualifying him for high political office.

One such is Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister for the last 10 years, who said when announcing his retirement in January: “It would be disastrous for the country to have Narendra Modi as the next prime minister. If by a strong prime minister they mean you preside over the massacre of innocent citizens on the streets … I do not believe that is the sort of strength this country needs.”

But the ruling Congress Party is weighed down by corruption scandals and slowing economic growth, and Congress’s candidate for prime minister is none other than Rahul Gandhi, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather have all held the job in the past.

But Rahul’s political ideas seem half-formed, his rhetoric struggles under the burden of words like “empowerment” and he is seriously lacking in novelty value.

Hence the “Modi wave.” The BJP currently leads Congress by a wide margin in the opinion polls: a January poll gave it 34 per cent of the vote, almost twice as much as it got in the last national election in 2009.

Voters prefer Modi to Gandhi as prime minister in virtually every state — and among 18-to-25-year-old voters, the BJP out-polls Congress almost two-to-one.

So the pundits are speculating on how a BJP government would behave if it were led by Narendra Modi and had no need of coalition partners. There is no precedent for that.

Last time, the BJP government was a complicated coalition led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a poet and intellectual of moderate views, and none of its more extreme nationalist and Hindu positions got translated into actual policies.

If it were different this time, then India would be moving into unknown waters, and the possibilities would be as alarming as they were extreme.

But that may just be Indian journalists trying to inject a little more tension and excitement into the story.

The reality is probably rather less exciting.

Thirty-four per cent of the vote is much better than the BJP got last time, but it doesn’t get you a majority in the parliament.

In fact, it leaves you about 50 seats short of a majority, which tumbles you back into the real world of coalitions and deals, and having to put aside your cherished sectarian goals in order to make the deals work. Just like last time, even if your name is Narendra Modi.

Getting to 50 per cent of the vote is almost impossible for any political party in the Indian political system, because a good deal of the vote always goes to regional and local parties that are quite separate from the big national parties. It’s especially hard for the BJP, because it’s hard to imagine that any of the 13 per cent of Indians who are Muslim would vote for the BJP.

There are 39 parties in the current parliament, and there may be even more in the next one. Most of them would be willing to join a coalition government in return for concessions on whatever local or regional issues they or their voters care about, but they will also have red lines that must not be crossed or they will leave the coalition.

Assuming that the outcome of the election does leave the BJP as the biggest party, but without an overall majority, those red lines will probably confine Narendra Modi to relatively moderate policies on religious issues.

If not, then India is in for a wild ride, and at the end of it the country may no longer be known for its tolerance.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Just Posted

Women’s marches underway in Canadian cities, a year after Trump inauguration

Women are gathering in dozens of communities across the country today to… Continue reading

Red Deer councillor balks at city getting stuck with more funding responsibilities

Volunteer Central seeks municipal funding after being cut off by government

Olds chicken barn burns to the ground, no livestock harmed

More than 100,000 chickens were saved as fire crews prevent the blaze from spreading

Bear video meant to promote conservation: zoo owner

Discovery Wildlife Park says it will look at other ways to promote its conservation message

WATCH: Setters Place grand opening in Red Deer

Red Deer’s Setters Place officially opened to the public Saturday afternoon.… Continue reading

In photos: Get ready for Western Canadian Championships

Haywood NorAm Western Canadian Championships and Peavey Mart Alberta Cup 5/6 start… Continue reading

WATCH: Red Deer city council debates cost-savings versus quality of life

Majority of councillors decide certain services are worth preserving

Got milk? Highway reopened near Millet

A southbound truck hauling milk and cartons collided with a bridge

Stettler’s newest residents overcame fear, bloodshed to come here

Daniel Kwizera, Diane Mukasine and kids now permanent residents

Giddy up: Red Deer to host Canadian Finals Rodeo in 2018

The CFR is expected to bring $20-30 million annually to Red Deer and region

Ice dancers Virtue and Moir to carry flag at Pyeongchang Olympics

Not since Kurt Browning at the 1994 Lillehammer Games has a figure… Continue reading

Beer Canada calls on feds to axe increasing beer tax as consumption trends down

OTTAWA — A trade association for Canada’s beer industry wants the federal… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month