New Delhi, Apr 10 (AP/UNB) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 promising big-ticket economic reforms. But with unemployment rising and signature policies getting panned, Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party has adopted a nationalist pitch ahead of a general election that begins this week.
The last time the BJP sought a second term was 2004, when it spent millions on an ad blitz projecting India as an economic powerhouse.
The voters didn't buy it. Election results showed that people voted according to their caste, an ancient hierarchy in India that is outlawed by the constitution but still vital in Indian politics.
Hindus comprise about 80% of India's 1.3 billion people, so the BJP is invoking its Hindu nationalist roots, with Modi at the forefront against the threat of Pakistan, India's Muslim-majority archrival.
Voting will take place in seven phases over six weeks beginning Thursday. Nearly 900 million people, including 15.9 million first-time voters, are eligible to cast ballots in the world's largest democratic exercise. Around a million polling stations will be set up, and voters will choose 543 members of the Lower House of Parliament.
A look at some of the key election issues and factors:
Even though India continues to be one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, the Modi-led government's performance on the economy has come under criticism.
A November 2016 demonetization program aimed to curb black market money by taking some rupee notes out of circulation. But it ultimately hurt the poor, and India's central bank said later that most of the illicit funds had re-entered the banking system.
According to the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, employment contracted in the year following demonetization by 3.5 million jobs. The think tank said unemployment reached 7.4% in December 2018, its highest rate in more than two years.
Public subsidies to farmers have failed to steady India's agricultural sector.
The first item in the opposition Congress party's election manifesto describes a plan for creating jobs. It also promises an income subsidy program for the poorest families and for farmers.
Amid growing scrutiny of Modi's economic record, a suicide attack in Kashmir killed 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers in February, helping the BJP hone its nationalist pitch.
Analysts say Indian airstrikes inside Pakistan in response to the attack gave Modi a pre-election boost. BJP leaders quickly made national security a central plank of their campaign.
In northern parts of the country bordering Pakistan, anti-Pakistan sentiment has always been strong because of the bloodshed during the countries' partition in 1947 and three wars since then.
But anti-Muslim sentiment in India has become more common and more violent since the BJP came to power in 2014. At least three dozen Muslims have been lynched by self-styled Hindu vigilante groups or mobs on suspicion of illegally moving cows, sacred to Hindus, or eating beef, according to Human Rights Watch.
The BJP is mainly supported by upper-caste Hindus, while struggling to make headway with lower-caste voters and non-Hindus.
Successive governments have sought to redress discrimination against those on the lower rungs by setting up quotas for government jobs and university spots.
Currently, just under half of all government jobs and places in state-funded schools are allocated to the lower castes.
With an eye toward elections, Modi's government last year passed a law carving out 10% quotas for lower-income Indians belonging to higher castes.
Modi has been on an electoral blitzkrieg across this vast country, promoting government development projects while blasting the alleged corruption within the opposition Congress party, a dynasty that began with India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Nehru, his daughter Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi ruled the country for about a half a century after India won independence from Britain in 1947. Rajiv Gandhi's son, Rahul Gandhi, is now the Congress party leader and a potential candidate for prime minister if the opposition can stitch an alliance to stop the Modi juggernaut.
That's easier said than done. Despite Congress victories in three key state elections in December, bucking a string of losses to the BJP since 2014, Gandhi has struggled to marshal widespread support for his beleaguered party, even after bringing his popular sister, Priyanka Gandhi, into the fold.
The Gandhis would have to unite the opposition in order to take on BJP candidates in the vote-rich states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Delhi. A split in opposition votes would likely benefit the BJP.
Giveaways are essential in Indian politics.
Some 270 million people — roughly 22% of the country's population — live in poverty, making giveaways particularly attractive to voters.
In the past, farmworkers were offered cows and goats.
In its interim budget in January, the Modi-led government announced that farmers would be paid 6,000 rupees ($85) annually, benefiting as many as 120 million households.
The Congress party waived farmers' bank loans in the three states it won in December. It promised in its election manifesto to waive outstanding farmer loans elsewhere, and to decriminalize farmer loan defaults.
A ladder, hand pump, bicycle, bow and arrow, bungalow, book, mango and banana are just some of the many objects voters will see on their electronic ballots, symbols of the dozens of political parties and independent candidates in the fray.
Since only about a fifth of India's population could read or write at the time of the country's first election in 1951, the symbols were introduced on ballot papers to help the unlettered cast their votes.
Nearly three-quarters of Indians can now read, but the icons remain evocative political symbols.
Among the best-known symbols are the lotus flower for the governing BJP, and the outstretched palm-facing hand for Congress.
The Aam Aadmi Party, or the Common Man's Party, which rules the state of Delhi, chose a broom as its election symbol, reflecting its pledge to sweep the political system clean of corruption.
Dhaka, Apr 9 (UNB) – BNP senior leader Nazrul Islam Khan on Tuesday alleged that the government is hatching various plots to belittle their chairperson Khaleda Zia.
Party senior joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi alleged that a pro-government electronic media ran news on BNP chairperson’s domestic help Fatema Begum, who has been staying with her in jail, to malign Khaleda.
They came up with the allegations while speaking at doa mahfil arranged by Jatiyatabadi Sramik Dal in memory of its late executive president Abul Kashem Chowdhury at BNP’s Nayapaltan central office.
“There’re many conspiracies on to defame Khaleda Zia. She’s was convicted in false cases though she had no involvement with allegations. The government is saying she was punished for stealing the money of orphans, though no money was misappropriated,” said Nazrul.
He said the ruling party leaders try to malign Khaleda resorting to dirty politics and strategy as she is the most popular leader in the country.
Nazrul, a BNP standing committee member, said the government has enchained democracy by sending their chairperson to jail.
He demanded the government release Khaleda immediately so that she can receive proper treatment for her serious illness.
The BNP leader also alleged that the government has destroyed the country’s election system by indulging in ‘vote fraud, ballot stuffing’ and election ‘manipulation’.
He said the very thin presence of voters at polling stations during the recent upazila polls has manifested how people lost their confidence and interests in the country’s election system.
Speaking at the programme, Rizvi said a private television took the interview of Fatema’s father about her stay in jail with Khaleda Zia by intimidating him.
“As our leader (Khaleda) has been suffering from various ailments, a person is necessary to stay with her. Fatema has been with her and she stays out of the prison cell. But a pro-government media has indulged in a foul game over the matter.”
He said the media which took the interview of Fatema’s father with an evil motive did not go to the fathers of rape victims in Noakhali’s Subarnachar and Kabirhat.
The BNP leader strongly denounced and protests such ‘propaganda’ by the media.
Thakurgaon, Apr 9 (UNB) – Mirza Faisal Amin, younger brother of BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and Thakurgaon municipality mayor, has hailed Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for implementing a development project in his area.
Faisal, also the general secretary of district unit BNP, praised the Prime Minister on Monday while speaking at a programme marking the inauguration of reconstruction work on a 1.75-km road from the municipality’s Swarnakar Patti to Mirza Pump area.
“After being elected the municipality mayor, I couldn’t do anything for the people of my area in the past three years despite my sincere efforts. During the Prime Minister’s visit to Thakurgaon before the 11th parliamentary election, a list of development activities was presented before her, and we’re now getting its results,” he said.
The mayor further said, “I thank the Prime Minister as she accepted the demands of our municipality. During her speech, she had announced that the demands would be met.”
As a sequel to her announcement, he said an allocation of Tk 1.85 crore was made for the reconstruction of the 1.75-km road of the municipality.
Faisal, who elected mayor in 2016, hoped that the trend of such development will also continue in the days to come.
He also sought cooperation from the Prime Minister and the local MP Ramesh Chandra Sen for the development in the municipality. “Carry out development activities here in the interest of people and ease their sufferings.”
“Now, I’m mayor of the municipality while the new mayor will come in the future, but the roads belong to people. So, party matters little here. The development of the area and its people is important,” Faisal observed.
He also said it is unfortunate that he could not carry out development as a mayor in his area only for his involvement with the politics of the opposition party.
The mayor also said people in the municipality even cannot smoothly move in rickshaw due to the sorry state of roads. “The drainage system in the municipality has also destroyed.”
Mentioning that a proposal for the implementation of a Tk 50-crore development project of the municipality has been submitted to the ministry concerned, he urged the MP to put in his best efforts to get it approved.
The mayor also apologised to the people of the municipality for his failure to ease their sufferings over the last three years. “I hope all the development projects the Prime Minister promised to take here will be implemented with the help of our capable leader and our MP Ramesh Chandra Sen.”
Faisal’s elder brother Mirza Fakhrul was defeated to Ramesh Chandra in the December-30 national election in Thakurgaon-1 constituency with a big margin.
Speaking at the programme as the chief guest, the MP said their government will carry out development activities to turn Thakurgaon Municipality into a model town.
Dhaka, Apr 9 (UNB) – Amid the party’s move to reorganise its grassroots, BNP on Tuesday dissolved its Laxmipur district unit committee.
A press release signed by party senior joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi said a convening committee of the unit will be formed by April 30 next.
After a massive debacle in the 11th parliamentary elections, BNP started reorganising its district units and associate bodies to stage a comeback in politics.
The party has already announced the full-fledged and convening committees of its different district units.
Besides, the party formed the new committees of its different associate bodies, including Doctors’ Association of Bangladesh (DAB), Agriculturalists’ Association of Bangladesh (AAB), Jatiyatabadi Matsyajibi Dal, Mohila Dal and Tanti Dal.
Dhaka, Apr 8 (UNB) – Components of the BNP-led 20-party combine on Monday decided to take various action programmes in alliance and party-wise demanding the release of ailing Khaleda Zia from jail.
The decision was taken at a meeting of the top leaders of the alliance at BNP chairperson's Gulshan office.
Briefing reporters after the meeting, 20-party coordinator and BNP standing committee member Nazrul Islam Khan said, “Our meeting expressed deep concern over the deteriorating health condition of Khaleda Zia, and demanded her immediate release.”
To press for the demand of the BNP chief’s release, he said, the meeting also decided to announce different programmes in alliance while the alliance partners will also observe separate programmes at their own initiatives.
Khan, however, said the alliance leaders will again sit in a meeting to work out their action programmes.
He said they also decided that they will wage a united mass movement to ‘restore’ democracy in the country.
Replying to a question, the BNP leader said there is no conflict among the partners of the 20-party and the Jatiya Oikyafront. “We’ll carry out our movement together.”
The meeting that lasted nearly one and half an hours began around 8:40pm with BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir in the chair.