The largest democracy in the world is engaged in a highly significant election campaign. About 900 million eligible voters are voting at about one million polling stations for five weeks. An extremely complex process is currently taking place in the areas of the rising southeastern superpower.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to be elected to another term, and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata party) wants to retain its power in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s parliament. The BJP won a majority of seats in parliament in the 2014 elections, which allowed the construction of a stable coalition and enabled freedom of action for the government.
P.M. Narendra Modi is a unique politician in the political arena of India. He is a man who emerged from below, a son of a Chai Wala (tea seller), and he does not belong to the elite class like the leaders of the opposition, the Congress Party. In his 60s he served as the head of state of Gujarat and was responsible for economic growth that was much greater than the growth in parallel economies in India at that time. He promised to copy his success at the local level for the benefit of the whole country. He assured the public that he would grow the Indian economy and strengthen India’s position in the global economic and political arenas.
He has sought to serve as a personal example of an Indian bureaucrat, and he set up attendance clocks and supervision of providers of public services. He is in charge of a transition to computerizing the jobs of officials, with the goal of improving services for the citizens. The P.M. is reported to be the first to come to his office and the last to leave each day. He is married but lives alone, and his personal life remains in the shadows, while he spends all of his time devoted to his work and his vision of promoting India.
During his five years in office, India has experienced tremendous changes and great progress. Modi has promoted a host of reforms to open up the economy, ease bureaucratic obstacles, and improve the tax system, in order to make India a more friendly country to do business with. He believes that the economy precedes all; therefore, his main reforms are in this area. The current government has also engaged with small business owners and made it possible for the state to provide small loans for the establishment of small businesses, which today provide a livelihood for hundreds of thousands of people.
Despite India’s impressive achievements and economic growth rates, the current government has also been criticized. Modi promised to create a million new jobs – a rather ambitious task which at least for the time being he has not been able to keep up with. One of India’s biggest problems is its huge demographic growth, especially in rural areas. The Indian state cannot accommodate the rate of its population growth, nor can it provide jobs for its entire young population of working age. During the current administration, new jobs have been added but not as many as expected. In fact, the Indian government should invest more in education, especially in rural areas, because only education can moderate the demographic growth that India has experienced and its far reaching implications.
The government is further criticized on the issue of farmers’ problems. This is a recurring issue in every election campaign in India. Over 50 percent of India’s population is engaged in agriculture. This constitutes the “feeder layer,” according to the philosopher Aristotle, but it contributes only 17 percent of the gross national product – a disproportionate amount that reflects a problem that has characterized India since its inception. Farmers remain weak, at the bottom of the economic ladder, struggling with low crop prices and natural disasters, and collapsing under the weight of loans they cannot repay. Moreover, cases of suicide are prevalent among farmers. Assistance efforts offered by the government are only a drop in the ocean.
Now that India’s largest elections are taking place, hundreds of millions of farmers will help decide the outcomes and be able to express their frustration at the polling stations. The parties are courting the farmers’ voices. The leader of the Congress Party, Rahul Gandhi, promised to introduce a nationwide program that would include debt relief for loans to farmers and the addition of jobs in non-farm sectors in rural areas. Modi promised to double farmers’ incomes by 2022. During his tenure, Modi proved his commitment to the poor in rural areas when he implemented his ambitious plan to supply electricity to all villages in India. The government describes a village as having electricity when only 10 percent of the homes of the village are connected to electricity. There is no doubt that there is still a long way to go to connect all households to electricity; nevertheless, there is dramatic development with far reaching effects and implications. Modi’s government has built hundreds of thousands of toilets and has provided medical services to hundreds of thousands of poor people.
Another group that is courted by the Opposition Congress Party is the Muslim minority in India. We cannot talk about “The Muslim Voice” in India as a united power. The Muslim voice is divided. One of India’s most prominent Muslim political leaders, Mr. Asaduddin Owaisi from Hyderabad, calls for cooperation with the BJP party and Modi’s government. Punjab Muslims are divided between support for the Congress Party and support for Owaisi.
It is important to understand that voting in India is very sectorial. For the most part, Hindus vote according to caste affiliation, and Muslims usually vote for Muslim candidates. This is one of the reasons why some Muslims support the Congress Party. it is due to the presence of Muslim representatives on the lists of the Congress Party in various Indian states. Other Muslims support sectarian parties that represent lower caste members. Yet another group of Muslims, especially from the middle class, supports the BJP party, since the current government will continue to strengthen the economy, which will affect their future. Jammu and Kashmir are over 80 percent Muslim, and most of the Muslims of the Kashmir region tend toward separatist perceptions. They disapprove of the Indian government, and do not support the Congress Party, which sends representatives to every corner of the country to call on Muslims not to split their votes and render themselves unable to defeat Modi. Kashmir is largely hostile on the one hand to the Indian government, and on the other hand, is not interested in being under the control of Pakistan. Muslim Kashmir is interested in being independent.
The question of the identity of Muslims in India is also interesting. It is not uncommon to hear leaders, Sheikhs and Imams, openly declare that they are Muslims by religion and Indians by nationality. In this way, they offer a solution to the conflict of identity of the Muslim in India, and declare loyalty to the Indian state.
In the past year, there have been a number of events that indicate trends of change within and among the Muslim community. In the political arena, Narendra Modi and his party have been trying since 2018 to promote an amendment to the law called the Three Talak (Triple Talak) Law − an amendment that would prevent Muslim men from expelling their wives by saying the word talak three times. The amendment is intended to protect Muslim women, who are weak and vulnerable in society. The opposition opposed this amendment, making it difficult to pass it in Parliament.
In the educational arena, the Muslim Council for Education in the southern state of Kerala prohibited female students from wearing Niqab. The Council established 152 educational institutions in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Its goal is to provide education to disadvantaged Muslim populations. The reason for the prohibition was the “incompatibility with mainstream society.” They also banned short skirts and jeans, and claimed the goal was to have a dress code that promotes modest and appropriate clothing for men and women on campus. They said “The truth is that the niqab covers all the face except for the eyes. This is a custom of clothing imported to India from Arab countries in the past decade and not a part of Muslim culture in India.”
In the legal arena, a couple from the State of Maharashtra appealed to the Supreme Court to allow women to pray in mosques. The petition arose following the Supreme Court’s support for Hindu women entering and praying in Hindu temples in southern India. Although there is no express prohibition of the entry of women into mosques, in most mosques there is no separate prayer area for women. The petitioners won.
In conclusion, the 2019 elections in India are important for that country’s future. This is a struggle between different governing approaches and world views − those of the BJP party, which are based on the concept of Hindu superiority, versus the multi-cultural approach of the Congress Party, which holds that India was given to all of its citizens regardless of religion. As of May 2019, the ruling party presents clearly stated and organized economic, security, and social policies, while the opposition presents no orderly plans for the central issues. The opposition seems to be divided and weak, and its main goal is to topple Modi.
The 2019 elections are a statement of the public’s confidence in or distrust of the policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He is a prime minister imbued with a sense of mission, a clear identity, and religious and national pride. His behavior also allows Hindus to take pride in who they are. After hundreds of years of foreign conquests, a traumatic partition, a war of independence that tore up the subcontinent, and too many decades of a stagnant economy, Modi claims to be bringing India back to its proper place in the economic and political global arena.