India’s Modi heads for landslide, bolsters PM prospects

Updated 20 December 2012
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India’s Modi heads for landslide, bolsters PM prospects

AHMEDABAD, India: The controversial Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi headed for a landslide election win in the Indian state of Gujarat on Thursday, firming up his chances of running for prime minister in 2014.
Modi, a charismatic but divisive figure, was set to be re-elected as chief minister of Gujarat, sealing his status as the most high-profile leader of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of national polls in early 2014.
Supporters of the BJP, which is the main opposition party in the national parliament, chanted and waved flags in delight as official counting put the party ahead in 118 seats with the rival Congress party leading in just 59.
While the victory was expected, Modi’s popularity on the national stage remains uncertain with his reputation tarnished by allegations over links to deadly Hindu-Muslim riots in his home state in 2002.
Gujarat, which has a population of 60 million people, is one of India’s fastest-growing and most pro-business states but it was badly scarred by the riots in which 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.
“Modi has proven that he has the ability to showcase himself as a prime ministerial candidate,” Sebastian Morris, an economics professor at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s main city, told AFP.
“Congress will have to work hard to check his increasing clout.”
Though he has never openly declared his ambition to be prime minister, Modi is seen as angling to lead the BJP into the 2014 national elections — with the ruling Congress party weakened by slowing growth and corruption scandals.
But many in the BJP itself are wary of Modi, fearing that he remains a hate figure for Muslims and secularists following the 2002 riots, some of the worst unrest in post-independence India.
Modi, who has been chief minister since 2001 and is seeking a fourth term, is blamed by some rights groups for turning a blind eye as mobs went on an orgy of violence with victims set alight or hacked to death in the streets.
“Big success in one state does not mean that the party is ready to put Modi center stage,” Pralay Kanungo, of the Center for Political Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, told AFP.
“The big challenge for him is appease his party and potential allies. He will have to fine-tune his political skills to be the BJP candidate in 2014.”
Modi campaigned in the state polls on a platform of economic expansion and investment, gathering votes from a broad range of farmers, small businesses and young people attracted by his strong personal style, analysts said.
Modi, who denies any wrongdoing over the 2002 unrest but is still denied a US visa since the attacks, avoided Hindu nationalist themes on the campaign trail.
Congress received some good news in the Himachal Pradesh state which also went to polls, where it was forecast to throw out the BJP.


Rohingya refugees rescued after drifting at sea for 9 days

Updated 21 April 2018
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Rohingya refugees rescued after drifting at sea for 9 days

BIREUEN, Indonesia: A Rohingya Muslim man among the group of 76 rescued in Indonesian waters in a wooden boat says they were at sea for nine days after leaving Myanmar, where the minority group faces intense persecution, and were hoping to reach Malaysia.
The eight children, 25 women and 43 men were brought ashore on Friday afternoon at Bireuen in Aceh province on the island of Sumatra, the third known attempt by members of the ethnic minority to escape Myanmar by sea this month. Several required medical attention for dehydration and exhaustion, local authorities said.
Fariq Muhammad said he paid the equivalent of about $150 for a place on the boat that left from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where a violent military crackdown on the minority group has sparked an exodus of some 700,000 refugees over land into neighboring Bangladesh since August.
The refugee vessel was intercepted by a Thai navy frigate and later escorted by a Thai patrol vessel until sighting land, said Fariq. The group believed the Thais understood they wanted to reach Malaysia and were dismayed when they realized they were in Indonesia, said Fariq, who gave the identification numbers of the Thai vessels.
“We were forced to leave because we could not stay, could not work so our lives became difficult in Myanmar. Our identity card was not given so we were forced to go,” he told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Local officials and a charitable group are providing shelter and food for the refugees. The International Organization for Migration said it has sent a team from its Medan office in Sumatra, including Rohingya interpreters, to help local officials with humanitarian assistance.
Rohingya, treated as undesirables in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar and denied citizenship, used to flee by sea by the thousands each year until security in Myanmar was tightened after a surge of refugees in 2015 caused regional alarm.
In April, there has been an apparent increase in Rohingya attempts to leave the country by sea. An Indonesian fishing boat rescued a group of five Rohingya in weak condition off westernmost Aceh province on April 6, after a 20-day voyage in which five other people died.
Just days before, Malaysian authorities intercepted a vessel carrying 56 people believed to be Rohingya refugees and brought the vessel and its passengers to shore.
Mohammad Saleem, part of the group that landed Friday in Aceh, said they left from Sittwe in Rakhine state, the location of displacement camps for Rohingya set up following attacks in 2012 by Buddhist mobs.
“We’re not allowed to do anything. We don’t have a livelihood,” the 25-year-old said. “We can only live in the camps with not enough food to eat there. We have no rights there.”