The World Today for February 10, 2022

NEED TO KNOW

Battlegrounds

INDIA

With live political rallies banned due to the coronavirus, LED screens are going up throughout India in anticipation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi holding virtual campaign speeches in the run-up to local elections in five states that start on Feb. 10.

As India Today reported, Modi plans to discuss how his central government has boosted social welfare programs amid the pandemic and plans to spend more on big infrastructure projects.

Modi wants to build 15,500 miles of highways, 100 cargo terminals, 400 new trains and new affordable housing, Foreign Policy wrote. Those projects could appeal to almost 35 percent of India’s working-age citizens who are currently unemployed.

Those moves came as Modi’s “strongman” image has taken hits in recent months, CNBC explained. Elected in 2014 as a pro-free market nationalist who argued for the primacy of Hinduism in the technically secular country, Modi saw his popularity decrease over his handling of the pandemic, including his short notice on lockdowns that sent millions of Indians scrambling from cities to the countryside.

Then, in November, protests compelled Modi to repeal controversial farm laws that would have ended state protections and instituted free-market-oriented reforms. It was his biggest defeat ever.

The elections are viewed as vital precursors to a general election in 2024, reported the Independent. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) controls four of the five states, while the Indian National Congress, which held power in India for decades, controls the fifth.

Of the five states, the BJP-controlled state of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in the country of nearly 1.4 billion people, is the most hotly contested ground. Its voters represent 17 percent of India’s total electorate. Some BJP lawmakers have fled the state party under hardline Hindu nationalist Yogi Adityanath and joined another rival group, the Samajwadi Party.

Muslims comprise almost 20 percent of the electorate in Uttar Pradesh. It’s not clear if they will play much of a role in the vote even though, theoretically, they should oppose the BJP’s pro-Hindu stance. BJP candidates criticize opponents who speak up for Muslims who are traditionally alienated from Indian politics, argued TRT World, a Turkish public broadcaster.

Modi has been holding events in Uttar Pradesh and plans to direct a large chunk of his new spending to the state. “The BJP swept that state in 2017, which contributed to building its image of electoral invincibility,” Ashoka University Political Scientist Gilles Verniers told Bloomberg. “Losing ground in Uttar Pradesh now would automatically make the 2024 election more open and competitive.”

Expect a rumble.

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