For the first time, a poll has predicted that India’s opposition alliance, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and Narendra Modi, will win a clear majority in the country’s ongoing elections. The BJP alone will get 226 seats in the national parliament (out of 543), its highest ever total, and the ruling Congress party will be crushed, taking just 92 seats in its worst showing to date. BJP’s allies within the larger opposition coalition, the National Democratic Alliance, will join it to form a majority. But if the poll is an accurate forecast, the NDA will not be forced to invite any other parties to join them in government. Modi and his allies can go it alone.The Times of India reports on the poll:
NDA’s projected win is based on impressive gains over 2009 in UP (an increase of 41 seats), Maharashtra (17), Rajasthan (17), Bihar (12), Andhra Pradesh (12) and Madhya Pradesh (10). In these six states, it stands to gain 109 seats. In most other states too, NDA is projected to gain, though by more modest numbers. […]In contrast, the UPA is predicted to lose seats vis-a-vis 2009 in almost every major state, with Andhra Pradesh being the worst case, where the Congress tally could drop from 33 five years ago to just six this time.
It’s too soon to start addressing him as Prime Minister Modi, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else will become the leader of the world’s largest democracy this month. A lot of people will be thrilled by his victory (as we will discuss in an article this weekend). But many others are frightened by the prospect of Modi in India’s highest office. Or they should be, according to Edward Luce, a former resident of India and author of the excellent In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India. In a must-read article in the Financial Times, he writes:
I was living in India in 2002 and remember very well the inflammatory rhetoric Mr Modi deployed on the day that 85 Hindu pilgrims burnt to death in a train fire in Godhra. The incident was immediately blamed on the Muslim tea-sellers who hawked their wares at the train station where the horrific accident occurred. A subsequent exhaustive government inquiry absolved the tea-sellers of any blame for the fire, which was thought to have been caused by kerosene. […]No one, Indian or foreigner, who covered the following, gruesome, 72 hours, was in any doubt about the meaning of Mr Modi’s signal. For three days and nights, mobs of fanatics went from house to house armed with electoral rolls (to identify the religion of each household), dragged women and children out of their homes, poured kerosene down their throats and ignited them to crowds of cheering onlookers. The police in Ahmedabad and other Gujarati cities did not intervene. After 72 hours, the police intervened and the rioting stopped. Defenders of Mr Modi would have us believe that he lost control of his own police force. That would make him a weak leader, which contradicts his principal selling point. I do not believe that explanation. Six months later Mr Modi won re-election in a landslide. As he put it at the time, the Hindu majority had awoken.
Luce dismisses the arguments by “apologists” who say that Modi has “mellowed out” since those dark days. He concedes that Modi is “a brilliant tactician who is saying and doing what it takes to reach India’s top job” but warns that those who vote for him are making a “big bet.” In a sign that Modi is perhaps not so different from the man he was in 2002, he appointed Amit Shah, a longtime advisor who is currently under investigation in connection with several extra-judicial killings by police, to oversee the BJP’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh. That region had only recently seen some of the worst Hindu-Muslim violence in years, in which dozens of people were killed and 50,000 displaced. Shah reportedly gave several speeches in the areas convulsed by the riots, telling people, “This is the time to avenge.”It’s hard to say what kind of leader Modi will turn out to be if he wins this election as expected. But Luce concludes, not without reason, “I would rather not take the risk of finding out.”