With reference to ‘India’s Modi condemns anti-Muslim remarks …’ (SN, Apr 24), appeals on caste and religion would not have a significant effect on the outcome of the Indian election though such comments may cause Muslims to reconsider how they vote that could help defeat candidates of Modi’s BJP. Modi was right to condemn anti-Muslim remarks and to reprimand those who made them. He will be the beneficiary of this statement because people are fed up with vote bank politics based on caste and religion and want change.
They see the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP as the person who will bring the necessary change to develop India. I was not fortunate to meet Modi when he visited Guyana before he became Chief Minister of Gujarat state but I met him several times in New Jersey and in India at the annual PBD meets since 2003 after he became CM. He had an imposing, charismatic, charming, handsome presence with delegates storming him for autographs and to invest in his state which has the strongest growth in India under his watch. He is a pro-development leader who wishes to make India a strong nation and who wants to stamp out corruption.
I have been analyzing Indian politics for decades, having studied in India, and have been keenly following this election (making frequent trips to India over the years and again this month to get a snapshot of voting trends). Modi has been campaigning on national issues ever since he was nominated as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate last year. He has avoided caste and religious comments unlike other parties (and their leaders) that specifically urged Muslims not to vote for Modi and the BJP pointing to anti-Muslim riots in 2002. However, many prominent Muslim leaders have come out in support of Modi and are seen on his platform as well as in his motorcades.
Modi was cleared by various investigating agencies and the Indian Supreme Court on the riots, and he stated last week that he will accept death by hanging as his punishment if he is tried and found guilty for the riots. He urged opponents and detractors not to make allegations but to file charges against him and put him on public trial; the opposition has not responded. The Supreme Court rejected an appeal to reconsider its clearance of Modi of wrongdoing in 2002. India’s CBI, controlled by the ruling Congress, the equivalent of the US FBI, also could not come with any charges against Modi for the riots. Thus, reminding voters about 2002 will not help the ruling Congress and its allies. Modi won three state elections (as Chief Minister) after 2002 with even Muslims voting for him. People are voting change (and have already made up their minds) and Narendra Modi, his opposition BJP, and alliance partners are the primary beneficiaries of this anti-incumbency.
Modi is a no-nonsense political figure. He says what he means and he means what he says. He has been tough on law and order. He made it clear after 2002 that there would be zero tolerance for terror and violence and there has hardly been any violence in Gujarat post 2002; terrorists from across the border don’t come to Gujarat because of the very warm treatment they get from Modi. Muslims say they feel more secure and protected in Gujarat than in any other state. Their standard of living has improved more in Gujarat than in other states. Modi has zero tolerance for violence against women and children and women told me they feel secure in Gujarat; women say they can be out in public at all hours of the night and don’t have to worry about their safety unlike in other states where rape is prevalent. The general feeling across the country is Muslims and other minorities would be better off under Modi than allow themselves to continue to be fooled by the other parties playing the religious card. It is generally felt Modi would manage a genuinely secular state with equal opportunities and protection for all regardless of caste and religious background.
Opponents of Modi challenged him that instead of contesting a safe seat from his home town in Gujarat, he should contest from Varanasi, located in Uttar Pradesh from where most Indo-Guyanese trace their ancestry, to show he has national support and acceptance by Muslims. Arvin Kejriwal, leader of the anti-corruption Aam Admi Party that performed spectacularly in Delhi elections last December, said he would contest against Modi if he should file nomination papers from Varanasi. Modi accepted the challenge and Kejriwal and the leaders of the other parties have formed an unwritten alliance to defeat Modi. On nomination day on April 24, over 100,000 supporters accompanied Modi to file his nomination. It was an incredible scene in which the entire city was shut down with traffic grinding to a halt. His critics say he brought those people from Gujarat – thousands of miles away. Varanasi has one of the highest concentrations of Muslims (approximately 30%) and if they vote en bloc against Modi, he could lose. Indeed, Muslims are urged not to split their vote and to bring about Modi’s defeat. The entire Gandhi clan of Priyanka, Rahul and Sonia as well as the leaders of the regional and caste-based parties have descended on the city to bring about Modi’s defeat. Opinion polls point to a close contest with media persons telling me Modi could lose if the Muslims vote en bloc against him. But everywhere I went it was a Modi wave. Even many Muslims told me they want Modi for safety and protection saying that the others have fooled them for too long. And Modi vowed to make Varanasi a spiritual haven for all religions – important to Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists.
The anti-Modi campaign by his detractors and opponents will not work in Varanasi or elsewhere. People are voting change (and have already made up their mind) and Narendra Modi, his opposition BJP, and alliance partners are the primary beneficiaries of this anti-incumbency mode across the country. Even BJP’s ally, the Akalis, are also suffering from anti-incumbency in the state of Punjab and have been reminding voters what the Congress did to Sikhs in 1984 after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. But religious or caste appeals would make little difference to the outcome except in closely contested seats.