Don't fool us BJP
India"Deeply divided after this election campaign"
Britta Fecke: Modi wanted to create 10 million new jobs every year. He didn't succeed, instead unemployment continued to rise and so did inflation. Why didn't that seem to play a role in the election?
Ronald Meinardus: The answer to this question is actually found quickly: The BJP and especially Narendra Modi succeeded in setting the agenda in such a way that they had absolute control over the issues of this election campaign and the opposition came to nothing. Mr Modi and his campaign focused on the candidate, turning a parliamentary election campaign into a presidential election campaign, and Modi has the great advantage that he is by far the most popular politician there, far beyond the BJP's electorate, Modi is one popular politician, man of action. That worked, and a very important moment in this election campaign is the month of February, when there was a terrorist attack in the unrest in the province of Kashmir, in which 40 Indian soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing, and shortly afterwards the Indian air force carried out a so-called surgical Strike, an attack against a target in Pakistan. Since then, Modi has boasted of teaching the Pakistanis a lesson, and that was very, very popular with a very, very large number of Indians in this area code.
Since then, the issue of nationalism, security and anti-terrorism has been a key issue in the election campaign of the BJP and Mr Modi. All other issues, technical issues or economic policy issues have been sidelined and the opposition had no means of counteracting them in any way.
Nationalism and the fight against terrorism were a key issue in the election campaign
Fecks: Does that mean that he, too, has succeeded in covering up domestic issues with foreign policy issues?
Meinardus: Absolutely. It's been a red herring because, as you said, there are problems. Modi started five years ago and promised jobs and promised development. In terms of economic policy, the balance sheet is surprisingly not so good. There is a big problem with unemployment. Economic growth in India has fallen below seven percent. That's a number we in Western Europe would be happy about, but in India it's a number that is not enough to provide jobs for the vast army of job seekers. Even millions of dollars in jobs have been lost in the past year according to independent reports, but through this diversion, Modi managed to simply shift the agenda.
Fecks: But that he was able to increase his majority with the problems you described, that makes me wonder.
Meinardus: Yes, it's a surprise too, I have to say. It is a surprise even among the so-called experts. I have to say so-called experts, because apparently they are not really great experts if they are so mistaken in an analysis or a preliminary analysis. In the run-up to these elections, the BJP had always said that it would increase its majority. I have heard and read many interviews with Party President Amit Shah, and he assumed that the majority would increase. We have a situation, I want to be a bit careful with the comparison now, but we have a situation that is a bit reminiscent of the situation in the United States of America, where you develop a certain wishful thinking and then certain circles in this situation chew your own information again, and to that extent you may have become a victim.
Ronald Meinardus heads the Naumann Foundation's New Delhi office. (Deutschlandradio / Ronald Meinardus)
The BJP has a professional social media strategy
Fecks: Modi is also very fond of tweeting, I heard.
Meinardus: Yes, he tweets a lot and with a broad impact that has it all. So around 50 million Twitter followers, which is a considerable number, but also broadly. Modi is an excellent example, of course, but the second and third rows in the BJP also have a very, very, shall we say, professional social media strategy. The BJP is known for having dealt with social media at a very early stage and investing a lot of money and a lot of expertise there. Not everything that happens there, I would say, is the fine tone. There are some phenomena there that are borderline and even beyond the limit of decency, but that too, working with dirty tricks, is part of this election campaign. People who think differently, especially those with a liberal orientation, have suffered a lot there, and that has left wounds. India is deeply divided after this election campaign. At the moment it is a bit masked by the euphoria of the winners and the surprise perhaps also of the losers that it turned out that way. What I want to say about this is that Modi's victory was clear, that he was able to increase his majority, but that the absolute numbers are not that clear at all. Modi voters represent 37 percent of the Indian electorate, which means that almost two thirds of Indians did not vote Modi, and these are of course people who have to be kept in mind.
Fecks: I thought 600 million voted for him.
Meinardus: The turnout was high and many voted for him, but according to the latest results of the electoral commission, the result for Mr. Modi is 37 percent of the votes cast. That was the 31 mark in the last ballot five years ago, and to that extent it has risen significantly, but thanks to majority voting you can win a large number of seats in parliament with such a result, and that is what happened. We have also seen in America that one can become president without necessarily being able to get an absolute majority of the votes.
Fecks: So he doesn't have a two-thirds majority, that is, he can't change the constitution, but can he rule alone?
"Modi is no longer dependent on coalition partners"
Meinardus: Yes, that is very important. He has a majority in parliament, and the difference with the legislative period that is now coming to an end is that Mr Modi is no longer dependent on coalition partners. His BJP party is part of an alliance, and this alliance - which, by the way, also exists in the opposition - is forged long before the election date, also for reasons of election tactics. Recently, according to this current result, Mr. Modi is no longer dependent on the coalition partners or the alliance partners. It is expected that he will continue to work with these alliance partners, but of course he now has a much better position in negotiations, for example when it comes to distributing cabinet posts or drawing up a government program, then he does not have to be so big Take into account the sometimes very particular interests of the alliance partners, which are predominantly made up of regional parties.
Fecks: During Modi's first term in office, the Hindu majority became radicalized, and the Muslim population in particular suffered as a result. There were also lynchings. What do you think? Will he divide the country even further in his second term based on ethnic and religious borders?
Many Muslims in India feel threatened
Meinardus: Let me now say it very crudely: The reservations of Hindu nationalism against the Muslims in India go back a long way in history, and they are to a certain extent a basic element of the ideology of radical Hindu nationalism. They have become generally clear over the past few years, and now we can discuss why. On the one hand, it is due to the spread of social media that voices that were previously not heard suddenly find an echo - this is very important - but on the other hand it is also due to a changed political climate that is now more tolerated, what used to be not tolerated and that some things have become socially acceptable that should not have been socially acceptable in the past. Muslim Indians are particularly affected, but also members of other religious and ethnic minorities. Whether this will continue now is a big question. The fact is that not a single Muslim is represented in the parliamentary group, in the large parliamentary group, the BJP. The Muslim minority, that is 14 percent of the Indian population. 180 million Indians are of the Muslim faith. Within this group there are representatives who, shall we say, have made very, very clear anti-Muslim attacks, and while that might still need to be explained, in no way excused, it would have to be explained, which is by no means acceptable that Modi and the leadership of the party did not throw these people out or clearly distance themselves from them. In this respect there is a climate of tolerance towards these failures and insofar poisoning, and this is a big problem, especially with people of Muslim faith. The people of the Muslim faith with whom I am now dealing, with whom I speak, but also comments in the media from these people, indicate a very, very clear uncertainty.
Fecks: What do you think are the challenges for this second term for Modi?
Meinardus: Modi first has to try to get serious about his promise to be Prime Minister of all Indians, and he has to do more than just speak a good word. Above all, he has to be serious about his announcement that he is reforming the economy, because the Modi reformer who would introduce the market economy here did not take place, and there is a widespread view - and I am not just saying this as a representative of a liberal foundation - that the Indian economy must be deregulated, that it must be liberalized, because this is the only way to create the jobs that are necessary to lead the many millions of people who now live in poverty into a better future.
Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt the statements of its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.
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