India’s opposition says Modi win will 'light country on fire'

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Insights from The Indian Express, Times of India, and Financial Times

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India’s opposition parties have united to protest what they called Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “match-fixing” ahead of general elections this month after the arrest of a leading political opponent.

Opposition leaders put aside their differences to accuse the Hindu nationalist government of arresting rivals on trumped-up charges, freezing the bank accounts of other parties, and weaponizing the country’s law enforcement to target those that disagree with it.

“If the Bharatiya Janata Party wins this match-fixing election and changes the constitution, it will light the country on fire. This is not an ordinary election,” Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the Congress party, said at the rally where several opposition leaders shared a stage. Opposition politicians claim the BJP is aiming to centralize power and enshrine Hinduism in the constitution.

India’s prime minister has denied the accusations of electoral interference, countering that the opposition has sought to protect the corrupt. “Big corrupt people are behind bars and even the supreme court is not giving them bail,” Modi said as he held a rally to launch his campaign in a different state on Sunday.


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Flaws in world’s largest democracy on display in run-up to the election

Sources:  Journal of Democracy, Time Magazine, Indian Express, Reuters, Amnesty International

While India’s upcoming elections will be the largest democratic exercise ever recorded — with a billion people expected to vote over 44 days — the flaws in the country’s democracy are acutely apparent. YouTube has featured dozens of ads encouraging violence and voter suppression, two NGOs warned. Meanwhile, The Indian Express reported that over the past decade, 23 out of the 25 politicians who faced corruption probes and then joined Modi’s BJP had their cases closed or stalled, a trend the critics have dubbed the “washing machine.” In late March Arvind Kejriwal, a longtime Modi critic, chief minister of Delhi and leader of the oppositional Aam Aadmi Party was arrested on bribery allegations, in a case he says is fabricated and politically charged. Amnesty International has said the ongoing effort to stifle the BJP’s rivals “shows the authorities’ blatant disregard for human rights and rule of law.”

Modi’s coalition looks set to cruise to victory

Sources:  Financial Times, Times of India

It can seem “puzzling" that India’s ruling party would feel the need to crack down on the opposition given the BJP’s comfortable advantage in polling, the Financial Times reported. A survey conducted in February by Morning Consult found that Modi had an approval rating of 78%, higher than any other global leader, The Times of India reported. Modi’s popularity has been bolstered by a range of aid programmes that prominently display his name or picture — such as free monthly bags of rice that display large photos of the prime minister. While Modi has not boosted social spending, he has done more than previous leaders to link welfare efforts to his own persona. “Everything is being renamed, and even free food grain bags have become electoral advertisements,” an expert in inequality in India told the Financial Times.

India’s opposition remains in disarray despite efforts to unite

Sources:  The Associated Press, BBC

India’s long-fractious opposition parties have struggled to unify ahead of the upcoming elections due to internal infighting and ideological clashes. Attempts to field a single candidate per district across more than two dozen opposition parties have collapsed as the Indian National Congress party, which once dominated India’s domestic politics, insisted on putting its candidates forward even in regions where the party is weak, The Associated Press reported. While the opposition has found common ground in blaming Modi for India’s high unemployment rates and in condemning the BJP’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, they lack an “ideological binding force,” Gilles Verniers, a professor of Indian politics, told the BBC.