Soul search­ing for Modi af­ter crush­ing Bi­har rout

In­dian PM urged to change tack af­ter elec­tion de­feat

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

NEW DELHI: In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi met lead­ers of his party yes­ter­day to dis­cuss whether to over­haul poli­cies and pri­or­i­ties in the wake of a hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feat in elec­tions in the east­ern state of Bi­har. Modi and a dozen se­nior col­leagues of his Hindu na­tion­al­ist party, in­clud­ing its pres­i­dent Amit Shah, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley and Home Min­is­ter Ra­j­nath Singh, gath­ered at the party’s of­fices to an­a­lyse the rea­sons for the de­feat.

“There are lessons to be learnt,” Jait­ley told re­porters af­ter the meet­ing, with­out out­lin­ing specifics. “In elec­tions you win some and lose some.” Sun­day’s loss in Bi­har, In­dia’s third most pop­u­lous and poor­est state, is the most sig­nif­i­cant set­back for Modi since he won a crush­ing vic­tory in a gen­eral elec­tion last year. For the first time since he came to power, party lead­ers are openly start­ing to ques­tion the di­rec­tion of the gov­ern­ment.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of­fice in New Delhi was vir­tu­ally de­serted yes­ter­day, with only a few work­ers com­pil­ing news­pa­per clip­pings on the elec­tion de­feat. In­dian shares, bonds and the ru­pee opened at six-week lows as in­vestors who had backed Modi wor­ried he would strug­gle to push eco­nomic re­forms through par­lia­ment against an em­bold­ened op­po­si­tion. They later re­gained their foot­ing.

PAR­LIA­MEN­TARY SET­BACK

The Bi­har loss may ham­per Modi’s re­form agenda be­cause he needs to win most state elec­tions in the next three years to gain full con­trol of par­lia­ment. In­dia’s states are rep­re­sented in the up­per house, where the BJP lacks a ma­jor­ity.

The gov­ern­ment an­nounced yes­ter­day that par­lia­ment will re­sume for the win­ter ses­sion on Nov. 26. Over the last year, Modi has strug­gled to pass laws, in­clud­ing tax and la­bor re­forms, and now faces an op­po­si­tion with po­lit­i­cal mo­men­tum.

The elec­tion came against a back­drop of con­cerns in In­dia over in­ci­dents in which Mus­lims have been tar­geted by Hindu zealots. There have been protests by prom­i­nent in­tel­lec­tu­als at what they call a cli­mate of ris­ing in­tol­er­ance. Some BJP law­mak­ers called for the party to pro­mote a more uni­fy­ing agenda fo­cus­ing on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, af­ter a cam­paign in Bi­har that sought to po­larise vot­ers along caste and reli­gious lines.

“We have to be sin­gle mind­edly fo­cused on de­vel­op­ment, de­vel­op­ment, de­vel­op­ment,” said Chandan Mi­tra, a BJP mem­ber of par­lia­ment. “We can’t af­ford to be dis­tracted by any­thing else.”

A se­nior BJP leader, who asked not to be named, said the prob­lem was that Modi side­lined too many peo­ple. “Modi thinks he can do it all at once. He wants eco­nomic growth, so­cial and cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion, to win po­lit­i­cal bat­tles and project him­self as a states­man,” he said.

“If he wins then ev­ery voice of dissent can be si­lenced, but if he fails then ev­ery voice of dissent is go­ing to build.”

AG­GRES­SIVE TAC­TICS

The elec­tion was one of the most vi­cious in re­cent years. At one of dozens of elec­tion ral­lies ad­dressed by Modi, he ac­cused ri­val par­ties of snatch­ing eco­nomic ben­e­fits from lower- caste Hin­dus and hand­ing them over to a reli­gious mi­nor­ity, a com­ment in­ter­preted as a veiled ref­er­ence to Mus­lims. The elec­tion com­mis­sion banned sev­eral party posters they said could incite ha­tred. One banned poster showed a young Hindu woman em­brac­ing a gar­landed cow, an an­i­mal sa­cred to Hin­dus.

The BJP pres­i­dent was also crit­i­cised for com­ments sug­gest­ing that if his party lost, the re­sult would be cel­e­brated in arch-ri­val Pak­istan.

In con­trast, Chief Min­is­ter Ni­tish Ku­mar, who led the anti-Modi al­liance in Bi­har, was able to trade on his record of turn­ing around a state that was once widely con­sid­ered to be among In­dia’s most cor­rupt and law­less.

Arun Shourie, a min­is­ter in the last BJP gov­ern­ment, called for a change in course.

“We should be grate­ful to the peo­ple of Bi­har be­cause the di­rec­tion has been halted,” he told NDTV news. Asked what went wrong with the party’s Bi­har cam­paign, he said: “Every­thing”. —Reuters

PATNA: Bi­har Chief Min­is­ter Ni­tish Ku­mar, cen­ter, is sur­rounded by me­dia per­son­nel as he greets sup­port­ers af­ter vic­tory in Bi­har state elec­tions in Patna on Sun­day. The al­liance led by Ku­mar de­feated In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s rul­ing Hindu na­tion­al­ist party in a cru­cial elec­tion in one of In­dia’s most pop­u­lous states. —AP

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