India’s Modi faces revived opposition after setback in southern state

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (AFP)
Updated 20 May 2018
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India’s Modi faces revived opposition after setback in southern state

  • The BJP had emerged as the single largest party in Karnataka with 104 seats but fell short of a majority.
  • Indian opposition parties join forces to snatch power from the country’s ruling party in the big southern state

NEW DELHI: Indian opposition parties have joined forces to snatch power from the country’s ruling party in a big southern state, laying the stage for other such alliances in a direct challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election bid next year.
A coalition of Congress and a regional group said on Sunday they will establish a government in Karnataka state next week, after Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failed to prove its majority despite bagging more seats than any other party in a closely-fought election.
Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the Congress party — which has struggled to make any major political inroads since Modi stormed to power four years ago — said his party will rally regional groups into a common front against Modi.
“I am very proud that the opposition has stood together and defeated the BJP, and we will continue to do so,” said Gandhi.
Karnataka, with a population of 66 million, was the first major state this year to elect an assembly, and will be followed by three more before the general election in 2019.
Political strategists say polls in Karnataka, home to India’s “Silicon Valley” Bengaluru, which was previously known as Bangalore, were seen as a key test of Modi’s popularity but the final outcome highlights the threats he faces from a united opposition are much bigger than anticipated.
“Formation of this coalition is a platform for an anti-BJP alliance for the next year,” said Sandeep Shastri, a political scientist at Bengaluru’s Jain University.
“Any shortfall in other states will further consolidate anti-BJP forces.”
Karnataka’s state’s governor last week allowed Modi’s party to form a government, even as it became clear that with only 104 seats the Hindu nationalist BJP trailed the opposition alliance, which has at least 115 seats in the 225-member assembly. That decision prompted Modi’s rivals to turn to the Supreme Court.
The governor gave the BJP 15 days to prove its majority, but the court ordered a vote of confidence in the assembly on Saturday. Even before that could take place, BJP’s newly appointed state chief minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, resigned.
To bring the regional party — Janata Dal (Secular) — into the alliance, Congress, which has 78 of the seats, did have to concede the chief minister’s job to the smaller group. Previously, the state had been held by Congress.
“VOTE OF OVERCONFIDENCE“
Mamata Banerjee, a powerful politician in eastern India, described Modi’s failure in Karnataka as a “victory of the regional front.”
In an apparent show of strength against Modi, most opposition leaders have been invited for the upcoming swearing-in ceremony of Karnataka’s new chief minister, said Sanjay Jha, Congress’ national spokesman.
Jha said Congress’ spirit ahead of the 2019 polls was that of “necessary political accommodation” when it comes to forming alliances to stop Modi.
BJP leader Seshadri Chari said no opposition alliance will be able to stop Modi. “BJP will emerge as the single largest party (in 2019) with a majority.”
Modi remains by far the most popular politician in India and his approval rankings far outweigh Gandhi, who is the fifth-generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
US-based research agency Pew released a survey in November that showed nearly nine out of 10 Indians held a favorable opinion of Modi.
On Sunday, Indian newspapers carried front-page headlines highlighting Modi’s loss, a rare sight of late in Indian politics: The BJP and its allies rule 21 of India’s 29 states currently, up from seven they ruled in 2014.
“BJP loses vote of overconfidence,” said the Indian Express newspaper’s front page headline.


On World Refugee Day, Afghans in Pakistan fear deportation

Updated 12 min 9 sec ago
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On World Refugee Day, Afghans in Pakistan fear deportation

  • Islamabad has set June 30 as the deadline for Afghan refugees to return to their country
  • Nearly 4.2 million Afghans have been repatriated to their native country since 2002, according to the UN refugee agency

PESHAWAR: Rasool Khan, 40, and his four siblings were born in Pakistan, his family having moved there immediately after the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1978.
Both his grandfather and father were merchants and frequently visited Pakistan. “My father used to visit Pakistan for business, but in the 1970s he permanently moved there because of the war in Afghanistan,” Khan said.
But Pakistan has set June 30 as the deadline for Afghan refugees to leave the country. Khan, a representative of Afghan traders in the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce, said there should be a separate policy for students, businesspeople and Afghans married to Pakistani women.
“It’s not fair to deal with all Afghans under the same policy of deportation and repatriation,” he added.
With World Refugee Day being observed on June 20, Afghans living in Pakistan hope that the deadline will be extended.
Abdul Hameed, director of the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations, said Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KP) province hosts 1.1 million Afghan refugees.
Based in KP’s capital Peshawar, he expressed hope that Pakistan’s caretaker government will extend the stay of Afghan refugees.
“Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are improving, and both sides are in touch on the refugee issue,” he told Arab News.
The director general of the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees in KP, Waqar Maroof, said Islamabad is considering adopting a separate policy for Afghan students, traders and those married to Pakistani women.
“Once KP’s Interior Ministry gives the go-ahead, we’ll implement the plan,” he told Arab News.
Qaiser Khan Afridi, spokesman in Pakistan for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said 4.2 million Afghans have been repatriated to their native country since 2002.
“Pakistan is the second-largest refugee host country (in the world), and it is hosting around 1.4 million Afghan registered refugees at the moment,” he added.
Islamabad says there are more than 1 million Afghans living in Pakistan without proper documentation.
“We want Afghan refugees to stay in Pakistan with legal and valid documents,” said Maroof. “Afghans who were repatriated to their native country want to come to Pakistan on a valid visa and passport so they can stay here legally.”
Khan fears losing the business he and his father built over the last four decades if he is forced to go to Afghanistan.
His friend Masham Khan moved there a few months ago, but returned to Pakistan after getting a visa because “there isn’t enough business activity” in Afghanistan.