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Narendra Modi ‘put a target on Muslims’ in India’s election

The hard right prime minister survives partly because the Congress Party, the principal opposition force, is totally ineffective
Issue 2908
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi behind a desk. illustrating an article about the India elections

Prime minister Narendra Modi claimed victory in India’s elections

India’s Narendra Modi has claimed his third successive election victory. But early results on Tuesday suggested his majority could be much lower than at the last election in 2019.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its coalition allies were ahead, but on course to fall far short of their expected landslide.

India has a population of 1.4 billion and 970 million people were eligible to vote. Modi put Hindu supremacy and the scapegoating of the country’s 220 million Muslims at the centre of his campaign.

Sushant Singh, a lecturer at Yale University, wrote Modi “put a target on Indian Muslims’ backs”. He “redirected the anger of poor and marginalised Hindu communities away from crony capitalists and the privileged upper castes”.

Some polls showed Modi’s lead narrowing during the six-week election campaign. Whenever that happened, he increased the anti-Muslim assaults.

Rana Ayyub wrote in the Washington Post recently, “In just the past four months, Mumbai and adjoining cities in the state of Maharashtra witnessed 50 anti-Muslim hate rallies. 

“They were attended by thousands of Hindus, often led and participated in by leaders of the BJP. I have attended four such rallies all across western India.

“I saw vast crowds, from young children to 80-year-olds marching in the streets, expressing ‘Hindu akrosh’ (Hindu rage). They called for ‘termites’ and ‘bearded traitors’—all terms for Muslims in Modi’s India—to be wiped from the face of the country.

“I saw young women holding placards asking Muslims to choose between ‘Pakistan or Qabristan’ (Pakistan or the graveyard).”

Such tactics divert from the country’s deep poverty and rampant inequality. Some 800 million Indians depend on free food grains from the government. These food packages pre-dated the Modi government but during the Covid pandemic Modi made them free. He extended the programme for five years during the run-up to the election

Typically families receive 25kg of free rice and wheat a month. People top that up with work that pays as little as £2 a day for 12 hours’ labour, such as in road construction or in soya bean fields. 

Families go through extreme hardship to send one of their children to university. But according to recent studies, 42 percent of graduates have been unable to find a job,

Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale last year, there were 200 Indians on the Forbes billionaires list—the most ever. 

Modi survives partly because the Congress Party, the principal opposition force, is totally ineffective. Congress was once the preferred party of the Indian ruling class. It ruled for most of the country’s post-independence years.

It made some promises during the election to help farmers, extend health care, loosen anti-union laws and increase the lowest wages. It also attacked Modi and his close ties to India’s two wealthiest billionaires, Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani.

But its manifesto said “the most immediate objective” of a Congress Party-led government “will be to restore a healthy, fearless and trustworthy climate for businesses”. It went on, “We will conduct a comprehensive review of the current rules and regulations and repeal or amend them in order to restore freedom to industry, business and trade.”

When it headed the government, Congress was just such a pro-corporate government.

Western imperialism pretends not to see Modi’s repression. Leaders in Britain and the US will congratulate him if he wins because they see him as a partner in ramping up confrontation with China.

The hope to unify workers and the poor and to defeat Modi comes in a united struggle from below. Farmers have repeatedly fought Modi using the most militant methods—and sometimes won. Two years ago up to 200 million people joined a two-day strike over privatisation.

Such actions have to move from being one-off tokens to a consistent strategy of resistance.

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