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

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.


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.


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.


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.

Death inevitable, says preacher at center of Indian stampede disaster

Death inevitable, says preacher at center of Indian stampede disaster
Updated 18 July 2024

Death inevitable, says preacher at center of Indian stampede disaster

Death inevitable, says preacher at center of Indian stampede disaster
  • Bhole Baba: ‘I am very distressed by what happened, but who can possibly challenge fate?’
  • Police constable-turned-preacher spoke to local media at one of his monasteries in Kasganj

NEW DELHI: An Indian preacher whose latest sermon ended in a deadly stampede that killed more than 120 people insisted that fate could not be challenged and death was inevitable.
In his first appearance before the media since July 2, when 121 people were crushed to death following a sermon he delivered in the northern city of Hathras, Bhole Baba said he was upset by the tragedy.
“I am very distressed by what happened, but who can possibly challenge fate?” he said.
“Whoever comes to this earth has to go one day — it is only a matter of when.”
The police constable-turned-preacher spoke to local media Wednesday at one of his monasteries in Kasganj, around 60 kilometers from the stampede site.
Baba’s lawyer had earlier said “anti-social elements” in the crowd were responsible.
The prayer meeting was attended by 250,000 devotees, more than three times the authorized number. The vast majority of fatalities were women.
A police report issued after the stampede named several organizers of the prayer meeting sought for arrest, but Baba was not among them.
So far 11 volunteers working for him have been arrested.
Religious gatherings in India have a grim track record of deadly incidents caused by poor crowd management and safety lapses.
In 2008, 224 pilgrims were killed and more than 400 injured in a stampede at a hilltop temple in the northern city of Jodhpur.

Top Democrats increase pressure on Biden to step aside, US media reports

Top Democrats increase pressure on Biden to step aside, US media reports
Updated 18 July 2024

Top Democrats increase pressure on Biden to step aside, US media reports

Top Democrats increase pressure on Biden to step aside, US media reports
  • US Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi among voices of dissent
  • Joe Biden has repeatedly rejected calls from Democrats to drop out of the presidential race

WASHINGTON: Top Democrats including US Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have increased pressure on President Joe Biden to withdraw from his reelection campaign over concerns he cannot defeat Republican challenger Donald Trump, US media reported on Wednesday.
Schumer told Biden in a meeting on Saturday it would be better for the country and the Democratic Party if he ended his reelection campaign, ABC News reported.
US House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries has expressed similar views directly to Biden, ABC News reported, citing a source familiar with the conversation.
CNN reported on Wednesday that Pelosi, too, has told Biden polling shows he cannot defeat Trump and that the president could destroy the Democrats’ chances of winning back control of the House of Representatives.
Pelosi spoke to Biden in a recent telephone call, CNN reported, citing four sources briefed on the call. None of the sources indicated Pelosi told Biden he should leave the race, CNN said.
Biden responded by telling Pelosi he has seen polling indicating he can win, according to one CNN source.
A Pelosi spokesperson told CNN that Pelosi has not spoken to Biden since Friday.
Earlier on Wednesday, Democratic US Representative Adam Schiff became the 20th congressional Democrat to publicly call for Biden to drop out of the race.
Schumer’s office responded to the report about his meeting with the president with a statement calling it “idle speculation” and said Schumer “conveyed the views of his caucus directly to President Biden on Saturday.”
Jeffries’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
Biden has repeatedly rejected calls from Democrats to drop out of the race after his halting performance in a debate last month against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“The President told both leaders he is the nominee of the party, he plans to win, and looks forward to working with both of them to pass his 100 days agenda to help working families,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement.

Malaysia’s 99-year-old ex-PM Mahathir in hospital: aide

Malaysia’s 99-year-old ex-PM Mahathir in hospital: aide
Updated 18 July 2024

Malaysia’s 99-year-old ex-PM Mahathir in hospital: aide

Malaysia’s 99-year-old ex-PM Mahathir in hospital: aide
  • A two-time former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad turned 99 last week
  • He has suffered several heart problems in recent years and underwent bypass surgeries

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s nearly 100-year-old former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has been hospitalized for “continuous coughing,” his aide said Thursday.
“Mahathir is expected to be treated for the next few days,” Sufi Yusoff said, adding he had been admitted on Monday.
A two-time former prime minister, Mahathir turned 99 last week.
He has suffered several heart problems in recent years and underwent bypass surgeries.
He spent nearly three months in hospital earlier this year.
Born on July 10, 1925, Mahathir served as prime minister twice, first taking office as the country’s fourth national leader from 1981 until 2003.
He then served as prime minister for a second time at the age of 92 from 2018 to 2020.

Trump gunman Thomas Crooks leaves behind pile of mysteries

Trump gunman Thomas Crooks leaves behind pile of mysteries
Updated 18 July 2024

Trump gunman Thomas Crooks leaves behind pile of mysteries

Trump gunman Thomas Crooks leaves behind pile of mysteries
  • An FBI review of Crooks’ phone found he had searched for images of both President Joe Biden and Trump, and other famous figures in the days before the shooting, New York Times reports

BUTLER, Pennsylvania: Thomas Crooks was pacing next to a warehouse building outside the Butler Farm Show grounds as a crowd gathered for one of former President Donald Trump’s signature outdoor rallies.
Crooks had already been flagged as suspicious by law enforcement. By the time two police officers walked over to check him out, he was on the roof, belly crawling.
“He’s got a gun,” a bystander yelled.
One officer hoisted the other to the lip of the roof. As the officer pulled his head over the edge, a long-haired young man wearing glasses turned toward him, wielding an AR-15 -style rifle. The officer dropped back to the ground, the Butler County sheriff told Reuters.
Crooks, an introverted 20-year-old computer whiz who had just earned a spot at a college engineering program, turned back to his target about 400 feet away. He squeezed off several shots at Trump, clipping the former president’s ear, killing an audience member and wounding two others before Secret Service snipers on a nearby building killed him with counterfire.
This account of the first assassination attempt to injure a US president since 1981 is based on interviews with more than two dozen people, including law enforcement officials, Crooks’ school associates and witnesses who attended the rally, along with public records and news accounts.
Crooks fired his rifle at approximately 6:10 pm, according to a Reuters photographer at the rally. Trump winced and grabbed his right ear. Secret Service agents tackled the former president and some supporters dived for cover. A bullet hit what appeared to be the hydraulic line of a forklift that held a bank of speakers to the right side of the stage. Fluid spewed across the crowd and the lift’s arm collapsed. To the left, screams erupted where a spectator had been fatally shot.

As Secret Service agents tackled the former president, some supporters scrambled for safety. Others grabbed children and hustled toward the gates.
“The audience wasn’t like what you’d expect out of a crowd that just experienced something like this,” said Saurabh Sharma, a Trump supporter sitting near the front. “Everyone was really quiet. There were a few women crying. They were, you know, saying, ‘I can’t believe they tried to kill him’.”
Four days after the assassination attempt, a coherent picture of the moments before the shooting was emerging. But Crooks’ ideology and reasons for pulling the trigger remained a mystery.
A review of Crooks’ phone by the Federal Bureau of Investigation found he had searched for images of both President Joe Biden and Trump, as well as other famous figures, in the days before the shooting, the New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing US lawmakers briefed on the law enforcement investigation.
Crooks had been searching for the dates of Trump’s public appearances and of the Democratic National Convention, the report said. He had also looked up “major depressive disorder” on his phone, the Times said. Reuters was unable to independently confirm the report.
The shooting comes amid a years-long rise of political violence and threats in the US When that violence turns deadly, it has been more likely to be perpetrated by people on the American right, according to a Reuters analysis published last year. But the ideological motivation behind Saturday’s attack remains unclear.

Politically divided town

Crooks seemed to have a bright future, said two people who knew him at the Community College of Allegheny County, where he graduated in May with a two-year associate’s degree in engineering.
One college instructor told Reuters that she had gone back through his assignments this week, bewildered that the conscientious student who distinguished himself by going “above and beyond” could have turned murderous.
The instructor, who declined to be identified, said his homework responses were thoughtful and his emails polite. He excelled at an assignment to redesign a toy for people with disabilities. “He did a chess set for the blind. He 3D-printed it. He put the Braille on it. He talked to experts in the field,” she recalled. “He really took a lot of care.”
Crooks made less of an impression on classmates. Samuel Strotman, also enrolled in CCAC’s engineering program, took two online classes with Crooks. Strotman said Crooks never spoke in the lectures and had his camera turned off.
A college employee who knew Crooks said he was quiet but pleasant. “It’s just very, very, very unexpected,” the employee said. Crooks had seemed interested in pursuing a career in mechanical engineering, the employee said.
The college closed its engineering program on June 30. Crooks was planning to continue his engineering education at nearby Robert Morris University, that school confirmed.
Most recently, he worked as a dietary aide at a nursing home, where he “performed his job without concern,” the center said. The job was down the street from his home in Bethel Park, a middle-class suburb of Pittsburgh, where he had lived in a modest brick home with his parents and older sister.
At Bethel Park High School, where he graduated in 2022, he kept a low profile, according to classmates. One former classmate told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Crooks expressed conservative views in a history class where other students leaned liberal. Others said his views were never apparent. His photo was missing in his senior yearbook, with his name listed under “not pictured.” He enjoyed gaming and building computers, a classmate told Reuters.
Crooks’ town, Bethel Park, is divided almost down America’s political middle. In the 2020 election, Trump eked out a 65-vote margin in the borough of about 33,000 people, results show.
The political split showed up in the Crooks household. Thomas was a registered Republican. His father is a Libertarian and his mother is a Democrat, voter registration records show. Both are social workers. When Crooks was 17, he made a $15 donation to a political action committee earmarked for a Democratic turnout group, according to federal election data.
His school counselor Jim Knapp, who retired in 2022, said Crooks rarely came across his radar because he wasn’t a “needy type kid.” Knapp occasionally checked on him at lunch because he was sitting alone. “I’d say, ‘Do you want to sit with somebody?’ And he’d say, ‘No, I’m okay by myself,’” Knapp recalled.
Former high-school classmate Max Rich said Crooks was shy and “never seemed like the type” to commit such violence. He left virtually no digital footprint. He spent time on Discord, a gaming platform, but the company said it found “no evidence that it was used to plan this incident, promote violence, or discuss his political views.”
Crooks was a member of the local Clairton Sportsmen’s Club, a gun club. He was wearing a shirt advertising “Demolition Ranch,” a YouTube channel for firearms enthusiasts, when he was killed. After the shooting, Matt Carriker, a Texas veterinarian who runs the Demolition Ranch channel, posted a video on X saying he was “shocked and confused” to learn that Crooks was wearing his channel’s merchandise. “We keep politics out of it,” he said, adding that he did not know and had never met or communicated with Crooks.

Homemade bombs & ammunition

Crooks appeared to spend at least some time preparing for the Trump event. He bought ammunition on the day of the rally, stopping at a gun store in his hometown of Bethel Park to pick up 50 rounds, according to a joint bulletin issued this week by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is leading the investigation.
He built three homemade bombs – two found in his car and another in his home, according to the bulletin, which was reviewed by Reuters. In the preceding months, the bulletin noted, Crooks had received “multiple packages, including some marked as possibly containing hazardous material.”

An Allegheny County Police Department Bomb Squad vehicle makes its way to the home of assassination suspect Thomas Matthew Crooks on July 14, 2024. Police said three homemade bombs were found – two in his car and another in his home. (Reuters)

At the rally, Crooks caught the attention of local law enforcement while pacing around the grounds before Trump took the stage. One officer called in a report of a suspicious person and snapped a photo that was distributed electronically to other officers at the scene, according to Butler County Sheriff Michael Slupe, a Trump backer who was seated near the front of the rally as a special guest.
As two Butler Township Police officers responded to the call, people in the crowd already had noticed a man on the roof. Some yelled that he had a gun, according to crowd-shot video reviewed by Reuters. Slupe told Reuters the officer who initially pulled himself onto the roof had no time to unholster his gun when Crooks turned on him, leaving him no option but to drop back to the ground.
Secret Service officials have said their agency is responsible for securing the area within the event’s security perimeter; the building used by Crooks was just outside it. But some former agency officials and other security experts have disputed that contention, arguing that buildings with a direct sight line and within firing range of the former president should have been swept and under constant surveillance by the service’s sniper teams.
Local officials have bristled at any suggestions that town or county law enforcement was responsible for securing the building.
“The Butler Township Police Department had no security detail for this event,” Butler Township commissioner Edward Natali wrote in a Tuesday post on Facebook, noting that the township had seven officers on site solely for traffic duty. Even though the officer who confronted Crooks on the roof had to fall back, he added, the encounter “most likely forced the shooter to hurry his shots.”

Russia set to resume trial of US reporter Evan Gershkovich

Russia set to resume trial of US reporter Evan Gershkovich
Updated 18 July 2024

Russia set to resume trial of US reporter Evan Gershkovich

Russia set to resume trial of US reporter Evan Gershkovich

YEKATERINBURG, Russia: US reporter Evan Gershkovich is set to appear in a Russian court on Thursday for the second hearing of his trial for espionage, a charge that his employer and the White House have labelled a sham.

The 32-year-old became the first Western journalist in Russia to be charged with spying since the Soviet era when he was detained in March 2023 on a reporting trip to the Urals city of Yekaterinburg.

He has spent almost 16 months in Russian detention and faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years if found guilty.

The trial is scheduled to resume behind closed doors in Yekaterinburg’s Sverdlovsk Regional Court at 11:00 am (0600 GMT), almost a month earlier than expected at the request of his defense team.

Moscow and Washington have both said they are open to exchanging the Wall Street Journal reporter in a deal, but neither side has given clues as to when this might be.

The Kremlin has provided no public evidence for the spying allegations against Gershkovich, saying only that he was caught “red-handed” and was working for the US Central Intelligence Agency.

Prosecutors accuse him of spying on Russian tank maker Uralvagonzavod.

Washington has said the claims are fabricated, and a United Nations expert panel declared in July that he was being held arbitrarily.

His last public appearance in court was on June 26, when he spoke only briefly to greet journalists and his head was fully shaven.

The Russian penitentiary service refused to disclose to AFP where he would be held after the proceedings or why his hair had been cut.

Raised in New Jersey and a fluent Russian speaker, Gershkovich had reported from Russia for six years.

He carried on visiting the country on journalistic trips even after dozens of other Western reporters left in the wake of Russia’s Ukraine offensive and the introduction of strict military censorship laws.

In 2017, he moved to the Russian capital to work for an English-language newspaper, The Moscow Times, where he produced some of the outlet’s biggest stories on a shoestring budget.

He then worked for AFP before becoming a Moscow correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, weeks before the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine.

In the role, he covered how the conflict affected ordinary Russians, including by speaking to the families of dead soldiers.

There has been a major campaign to release Gershkovich, who spent almost 15 months in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo prison following his arrest.

“He is managing the best way he can,” his mother, Ella Milman, told The Wall Street Journal in March.

Russia holds other American citizens in its jails, including marine Paul Whelan, in prison for more than five years on spying charges, and US-Russian journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who was detained last year while visiting family.

The White House has warned US citizens still in the country to “depart immediately” due to the risk of wrongful arrest.