India election: Inside Modi and BJP’s plan to win a supermajority

India election: Inside Modi and BJP’s plan to win a supermajority
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi walks alongside Amit Shah, Indian Home Minister and leader of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the day he casts his vote, outside a polling station during the third phase of the general election, in Ahmedabad, India, on May 7, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 07 May 2024
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India election: Inside Modi and BJP’s plan to win a supermajority

India election: Inside Modi and BJP’s plan to win a supermajority
  • Hindu nationalist BJP party and its allies are targeting 400 of 543 seats in India’s lower house of parliament
  • Only once has a party crossed 400 mark, when Congress won following assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984

BARPETA/THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India: As India votes in a six-week general election, Narendra Modi’s image adorns everything from packs of rice handed out to the poor to large posters in cities and towns.

His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is relying on the prime minister’s popularity as it seeks a super-majority in India’s parliament. Its message: Modi has delivered economic growth, infrastructure upgrades and India’s improved standing in the world.

But as the Hindu nationalist party and its allies target 400 of the 543 seats in India’s lower house of parliament — up from 352 won in 2019 — they are also employing local tactics in some vital constituencies they hope to wrest from the opposition.

Opinion polls indicate Modi will win a rare third term when voting ends on June 1. But only once in Indian history has a party crossed the 400 mark — when the center-left Congress party romped to victory following the assassination of its leader Indira Gandhi in 1984.

To examine how the right-wing National Democratic Alliance (NDA) aims to achieve that feat — and the obstacles it faces — Reuters spoke to nine NDA officials, three opposition leaders and two political analysts, as well as voters in six opposition-held seats the alliance is targeting.

They identified three of the BJP’s key tactics: enlisting celebrity candidates to unseat veteran opposition lawmakers; making an assault on the opposition’s southern strongholds by appealing to minorities such as Christians; and exploiting redrawn political boundaries that bolster the Hindu electorate in some opposition-controlled areas in the north.

“A combination of strategies, organizational commitment and tactical flexibility will help make inroads in seats never held by the party ever before,” BJP President J. P. Nadda, who oversees the party’s election strategy, told Reuters in April.

Some critics have warned the BJP would use a large majority to push through a more radical agenda in a third term. While the BJP’s manifesto focuses heavily on economic growth, it has also pledged to scrap separate legal codes for religious and tribal groups in areas such as marriage and inheritance.

Many Muslims and tribal groups oppose the plan, which would require a constitutional amendment to be passed by at least two-thirds of parliament.

“Modi wants a landslide majority only to be able to end the debate and deliberation on any policy matter in the parliament,” Congress party president Mallikarjun Kharge told Reuters.

Following low turnout in early voting, some BJP campaign officials have in recent days appeared less confident of securing a huge majority, though the party still expects to form the next government.

SOUTHERN STRATEGY

Modi’s party has criticized the dynastic politics that it says afflicts Congress, long dominated by the Nehru-Gandhi family. But in Pathanamthitta, a seat in the southern state of Kerala, it is fielding a political scion in Anil Antony — son of a veteran Congress leader.

The constituency, home to a sizeable Christian minority, has been held by Congress since its creation in 2009.

Anil’s father, former defense minister A.K. Antony, supports the incumbent and has denounced his son, a fellow Christian, for representing the Hindu nationalist party.

But Anil has another supporter: Modi, who came to Pathanamthitta in March and praised the BJP candidate for his “fresh vision and leadership.” The prime minister has visited the five states of southern India at least 16 times since December.

Nadda, the BJP president, acknowledged that winning a supermajority would require performing well in the five southern states, which are home to about 20 percent of India’s population but have not traditionally voted for his party.

In 2019, the NDA won just 31 of 130 seats across Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, all of which are linguistically diverse and have many Muslim and Christian voters.

Jiji Joseph, general secretary of the BJP’s minority wing in Kerala, said the party has made a concerted push for the 18 percent of voters there who are Christians. The BJP did not win a single seat in Kerala at the last general election.

“The BJP launched active contact with the Church and we started interacting with clergies directly,” he said, adding that the party now has 11,000 active Christian members. “There is a change. Christians now want to believe that BJP stands for them.”

In April, Anil became the first BJP candidate in Kerala to be endorsed by Christian leaders. He told Reuters his selection indicated the party offered opportunities to members from minority groups. He declined to comment on relations with his father.

Jayant Joseph, a Keralan Christian voter, said he backed the BJP because he had read media reports about Muslim men marrying Christian women and converting them to Islam. Most moderate Hindus consider allegations of large-scale forced conversions to be a conspiracy theory.

“Kerala is a secular state,” he said. “But for it to continue to be a secular state, the Muslim population and their conversion strategy must be kept under check.”

A Modi political aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media, said the NDA expects to win about 50 seats in the south.

K. Anil Kumar, a senior leader of Kerala’s ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), said he did not believe BJP would do well in his state, which he said has a strong tradition of secularism.

“The BJP might try to side with the Christians on some issues but they are fundamentally a party of the Hindus and for the Hindus,” he said.

STAR CANDIDATES

In the Mandi constituency of the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, the BJP has recruited Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut to break the Congress party’s grip on power. Congress is fielding as its candidate Vikramaditya Singh, whose mother currently represents the constituency. His father was the state’s long-time chief minister.

Ranaut, a political novice who calls herself a “glorious right-wing” personality, has starred in popular movies with nationalistic themes. She is known for her criticism of Bollywood executives who she said favored the relatives of famous actors for opportunities.

The actress is one of five actors running for the BJP this year, up from four in 2019.

No opinion polling on the Mandi race is publicly available.

Anjana Negia, an elementary school teacher who plans to vote for Ranaut, acknowledged that her preferred candidate had no political experience. But she said that she valued a new face and that a Modi-backed candidate would help “bring a fresh wave of development.”

Fielding celebrities and seeking the endorsement of entertainment personalities is relatively new for the BJP, which “long resisted such tactics because of its cadre-based nature” that prized grassroots efforts, said Milan Vaishnav, an expert on South Asian politics at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think-tank.

Ranaut declined an interview request. Federal BJP spokesman Shahzad Poonawala said she “has been successful in exposing dynastic culture and nepotism in Bollywood and now she is doing the same in politics.”

Singh, a state minister responsible for urban development, told Reuters that his family’s experiences gave him a better understanding of politics. Charges of nepotism were “shallow,” he said.

REDISTRICTING BENEFITS

The NDA is hoping for gains in the northeastern state of Assam, where it won nine of 14 seats in 2019. Assam’s BJP chief minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, said in March he was confident of winning 13 seats.

The NDA’s confidence is rooted in a 2023 redistricting exercise in the state. India’s non-partisan Election Commission routinely redraws seat boundaries to reflect population changes; it is tasked with ensuring that no political party gains undue advantage from the changes.

But exercises since the last federal election in Assam and far-northern Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only majority Muslim region, diluted the Muslim vote in seats that the NDA is targeting, according to three BJP and four opposition officials.

The Election Commission declined to comment on the two exercises, citing the ongoing election.

In Assam, the NDA has high hopes for Congress-held Barpeta, which alliance candidate Phani Bhushan Choudhury said newly includes dozens of villages and some towns with large Hindu populations.

“Earlier (Barpeta) had a Muslim majority but now it is a Hindu majority,” said Choudhury. “That change has worked in my favor.”

He estimates that there are now 1.2 million Hindu voters in Barpeta, where he is campaigning on development and protecting the rights of what the NDA calls “indigenous Assamese” voters, who are mostly Hindu.

Choudhury’s Congress opponent Deep Bayan said the percentage of Hindus in Barpeta went from 30 percent to 70 percent. “Instead focusing on real issues affecting the people...(the BJP does) the politics of polarization,” he said.

Three of Jammu and Kashmir’s five seats are majority Muslim and held by the opposition. But the NDA hopes to swing one of them, Anantnag-Rajouri, after its voter rolls swelled by more than 50 percent to over 2 million, according to government data.

Many of the new voters are Hindus or from regional tribes — which benefited from new BJP policies awarding them education and employment privileges — according to regional BJP chief Ravinder Raina.

Raina said the BJP would support an NDA partner that it believed could win Anantnag-Rajouri and focus on retaining the two Hindu-majority seats it holds.

The two redistricting exercises presages a broader remapping of constituencies due after the election.

Vaishnav, of the Carnegie Endowment, said the remapping would distribute seats to the BJP-dominated north, which has much higher population growth rates, to the detriment of wealthier south India.


Russia slowing down in Kharkiv area after lifting of arms restrictions, says Austin

Russia slowing down in Kharkiv area after lifting of arms restrictions, says Austin
Updated 12 sec ago
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Russia slowing down in Kharkiv area after lifting of arms restrictions, says Austin

Russia slowing down in Kharkiv area after lifting of arms restrictions, says Austin
“What I see is a slowing of the Russians’ advance and a stabilizing of that particular piece of the front,” said Austin

BRUSSELS: Russia’s advance in the Kharkiv area is slowing and the frontline is stabilizing after some allies lifted restrictions on Kyiv’s use of donated weapons on Russian territory, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday.
“What I see is a slowing of the Russians’ advance and a stabilizing of that particular piece of the front. Now, I think we’ll see incremental gains — and we’ll see puts and takes — going forward,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels.
“But again, a couple of weeks ago, there was concern that we would see a significant breakthrough on the part of the Russians. I don’t think we’ll see that going forward.”

Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, a top UN official warns

Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, a top UN official warns
Updated 24 min 51 sec ago
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Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, a top UN official warns

Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, a top UN official warns
  • The UN has prepared a contingency plan, with $40 million set aside to respond to any emergencies, said Mohamed Yahya
  • The weather forecasters in Pakistan are projecting above-normal rainfall in the coming weeks

ISLAMABAD: An estimated 200,000 people in Pakistan could be affected by the upcoming monsoon season, which is expected to bring heavier rains than usual, a top UN official warned on Thursday.
The United Nations, with help from local authorities, has prepared a contingency plan, with $40 million set aside to respond to any emergencies, said Mohamed Yahya, the newly appointed Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan.
Yahya told journalists in Islamabad that the weather forecasters in Pakistan are projecting above-normal rainfall in the coming weeks. However, the rains would not be as heavy as in 2022 when devastating floods killed 1,739 people, destroyed 2 million homes, and covered as much as one-third of the country at one point.
Pakistan is one of the countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change, in part because of its immense northern glaciers, which are now melting as air temperatures rise. Warmer air can also hold more moisture, intensifying the rains of the monsoon.
Until recently, public opinion and even some government officials took little account of the possible negative impact from climate change on daily life. Pakistan’s weather patterns have changed in recent years, forcing cities to strengthen their infrastructure and farmers to adapt their practices.
The 2022 floods caused more than $30 billion in damage to Pakistan’s already cash-strapped economy.
Analysts and government officials say Pakistan in recent years failed to achieve goals for economic growth because of man-made disasters, which have repeatedly hit the country in the form of droughts, heatwaves and heavy rains, which badly damaged the road network, bridges, power system and other infrastructure.
Pakistan says despite contributing less than 1 percent to carbon emissions worldwide, it is bearing the brunt of global climate disasters. This year, Pakistan recorded its wettest April since 1961, with more than double the usual monthly rainfall.
Yahya said he was in contact with officials at Pakistan’s ministry of climate change, who were preparing their contingency own plans for monsoon season, which in Pakistan runs from July to October.
Earlier this week, weather forecasters in Pakistan urged people to stay indoors as the third heatwave in a month began. A recent study by the United Nations children’s agency said that Pakistan could avert 175,000 deaths by 2030 by developing resilient energy systems to power its health facilities.
On Thursday, temperatures in various parts of Pakistan soared as high as 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit), forcing many people to stay indoors. Authorities are asking people to hydrate and avoid unnecessary travel.


UK Labour leader Keir Starmer says he’ll end the era of ‘gestures and gimmicks’ if he wins power

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer says he’ll end the era of ‘gestures and gimmicks’ if he wins power
Updated 13 June 2024
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UK Labour leader Keir Starmer says he’ll end the era of ‘gestures and gimmicks’ if he wins power

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer says he’ll end the era of ‘gestures and gimmicks’ if he wins power
  • Starmer said a Labour government would “stop the chaos, turn the page and start to rebuild our country”

MANCHESTER: The left-of-center politician aiming to become Britain’s prime minister in three weeks’ time said Thursday he will lead a government that’s both “pro-business and pro-worker” and restore stability after years of economic and political turmoil.
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said that if he’s elected on July 4, he will end the “desperate era of gestures and gimmicks” of the Conservative Party’s turbulent tenure.
Launching Labour’s election manifesto in the northwest England city of Manchester, Starmer said a Labour government would “stop the chaos, turn the page and start to rebuild our country.”
Next month British voters will elect lawmakers to fill all 650 seats in the House of Commons, and the leader of the party that can command a majority — either alone or in coalition — will become prime minister. Labour currently has a double-digit lead in opinion polls over Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ‘s governing Conservatives, who have been in power for 14 years under five different prime ministers.
The Conservatives jettisoned two prime ministers without an election in quick succession in 2022: first Boris Johnson, felled by scandals, then Liz Truss, who rocked the economy with drastic tax-slashing plans and lasted just seven weeks in office.
Starmer, a former chief prosecutor who is widely seen as competent but dull, is trying to turn his stolid image into an asset. His core message is that he has transformed Labour from its high-taxing, big-spending days under former leader Jeremy Corbyn into a party of the stable center.
Starmer said his platform was “a manifesto for wealth creation,” and acknowledged that a Labour government would face “hard choices” about public spending.
“We cannot play fast and loose with the public finances,” he said. He said he rejected the idea that “the only levers are tax and spend,” and would get the economy expanding after years of sluggish growth.
Starmer’s cautious economic approach dismays some in his party, who want bolder change, but has won the support of many business leaders.
Starmer called the party’s platform a manifesto for “wealth creation,” and its ambitious goals were largely long-term ones: establishing a new industrial policy, developing a 10-year infrastructure strategy, building 1.5 million new homes.
Labour pledged to improve ties with Britain’s former partners in the European Union, but ruled out a return to the bloc’s frictionless single market and customs union.
The plan’s spending commitments were modest. The manifesto forecasts that taxes will rise by 7.4 billion pounds ($9.25 billion) by 2028-29, through measures including a windfall tax on energy companies.
Starmer said personal taxes would not rise under a Labour government, but that did not stop the Conservatives casting Labour as the high-tax party.
“If you think they’ll win, start saving,” Sunak wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
Starmer spoke at the headquarters of the Co-op, a Manchester-founded cooperative society that has grown into a large retail and services empire. He introduced several voters, including a father whose family of four live in a one-bedroom apartment, and Nathaniel Dye, a man with terminal cancer campaigning for faster treatment.
The only unscripted moment came from a demonstrator calling for Labour to have tougher climate change policies, who was swiftly removed.
Sunak released the Conservative manifesto — the party’s key handbook of promises — on Tuesday, pledging to cut taxes and reduce immigration if the Conservative Party is reelected.
Labour’s 131-page manifesto included previously announced plans, with little in the way of last-minute treats to woo voters.
“It’s not about rabbits out of a hat, it’s not about pantomime,” Starmer said. “I’m running as a candidate to be prime minister, not a candidate to run the circus.”


NATO says over 300,000 troops now on high readiness

NATO says over 300,000 troops now on high readiness
Updated 13 June 2024
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NATO says over 300,000 troops now on high readiness

NATO says over 300,000 troops now on high readiness
  • “The offers on the table from allies comfortably exceed the 300,000 that we set,” the official said
  • The push to have more troops ready to respond quickly is part of a broader overhaul of NATO’s plans to stave off any potential Russian attack

BRUSSELS: NATO countries have “comfortably exceeded” a target of placing 300,000 troops on high-readiness as the alliance grapples with the threat from Russia, a senior alliance official said Thursday.
NATO leaders agreed in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 to massively ramp up the number of forces that alliance commanders can deploy within 30 days.
“The offers on the table from allies comfortably exceed the 300,000 that we set,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
“Those are forces which allies have said to us, ‘They are available to you as of now at that level of readiness’.”
The push to have more troops ready to respond quickly is part of a broader overhaul of NATO’s plans to stave off any potential Russian attack that was signed off at a summit last year.
Those plans laid out for the first time since the end of the Cold War what each member of the US-led alliance would be expected to do in case of an invasion by Moscow.
NATO commanders are currently trying to make sure they have the capabilities to execute those plans if needed.
But the alliance faces shortfalls in key weaponry such as air defenses and longer-range missiles.
“There are capability gaps. There are things that we don’t have enough of as an alliance at the moment and we need to tackle,” the official said.


Migrant shipwreck victims pursue case against Greek coast guard

Migrant shipwreck victims pursue case against Greek coast guard
Updated 13 June 2024
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Migrant shipwreck victims pursue case against Greek coast guard

Migrant shipwreck victims pursue case against Greek coast guard
  • 53 have filed a group criminal complaint, alleging the coast guard took hours to mount a response despite warnings from EU border agency Frontex and the NGO Alarm Phone
  • The case is still under preliminary investigation by the naval court of Piraeus

ATHENS: A year after one of the Mediterranean’s worst migrant shipwrecks killed more than 600 people, lawyers for survivors pursuing a criminal case against the Greek coast guard gave fresh details on the case Thursday.
The rusty and overloaded trawler Adriana sank on the night of June 13-14 last year. It was carrying more than 750 people, according to the United Nations, but only 82 bodies were found.
Lawyers representing dozens of survivors held a news conference after a court in Kalamata last month dropped charges against nine Egyptian men accused of being part of the criminal gang operating the trawler.
Among the 104 survivors, 53 have filed a group criminal complaint, alleging the coast guard took hours to mount a response despite warnings from EU border agency Frontex and the NGO Alarm Phone.
“This was a crime committed over a 15-hour period,” Eleni Spathana, a lawyer with the Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) group, told journalists.
The case is still under preliminary investigation by the naval court of Piraeus, but the survivors’ lawyers say they have found many irregularities in the Greek coast guard’s actions before and after the incident.
The boat was sailing from Tobruk, Libya to Italy. In addition to Syrians and Palestinians, it was carrying nearly 350 Pakistanis, according to the Pakistani government.
Survivors said the coast guard was towing the vessel when it capsized and sank 47 nautical miles off the coast of Pylos.
The coast guard has insisted it communicated with people on board who “refused any help,” rendering any rescue operation in high seas risky.
But on Thursday Maria Papamina, legal coordinator for the Greek Council for Refugees, said the coast guard chose to dispatch a patrol boat from Crete — and not a larger rescue tugboat stationed closer by at the Peloponnese port of Gythio.
The patrol boat’s voyage data recorder was damaged and was only repaired two months after the accident, Papamina added. Nor was there any video footage from the patrol boat.
“There are reasonable concerns of an attempted cover-up,” she said.
Spathana of the RSA added: “There was clearly no intent to rescue before the boat sank. Not only is this terrifying, it is criminally liable.”
Eighteen of the victims remain unburied, including eight still to be identified.
The independent Greek ombudsman’s office has launched a disciplinary investigation into the case, after the coast guard saw no grounds to do so, the lawyers said Thursday.
On Friday, victims’ relatives in Pakistan plan to gather in the city of Lala Musa to protest the lack of response from the Greek authorities to the tragedy, organizers in Athens said.