05/24/2019, 19.31
INDIA
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For Ram Puniyani, democracy will be subverted under Modi 2.0

Re-elected as prime minister, Modi began consultations to form a new government, whilst the opposition is downcast over its failure. Now the room for dissenting voices is at risk. The head of the Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai speaks on the matter.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The picture of today’s India is not rosy: economic growth dropped to 6.6 per cent in the last quarter of 2018, the farming sector is in crisis with scores of farmers killing themselves, millions of jobs have been lost with the highest unemployment rate in 45 years, and minorities enduring harassment on a daily basis. Yet more than 50 per cent of voters chose Narendra Modi.

India’s incumbent prime minister is the same man who exacerbated confessional divisions over the past five years with his nationalist rhetoric, who implemented economic policies that impoverished rural communities, who defended and backed members of his party who want to close minorities schools, who have lynched Muslims, or said that Muslims and Christians must be sterilised.

By casting their ballots as they did, Indians have sanctioned Modi’s victory and that of his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose seat count (more than 300 out of a total of 543) gives them an absolute majority.

The factors that swayed the election were the inconsistency of opposition candidates, first of all Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi. Blamed for the historic defeat, he failed to retain his own seat in Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh, his stronghold for the past 15 years. Despite the personal blow, Gandhi will still be in Parliament because he also ran in Wayanad, in Kerala.

Today the prime minister-elect began consultations to form the new cabinet. However, the future of the country under Modi 2.0 is far from rosy. Ram Puniyani, a secular activist and president of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai, spoke to AsiaNews about it. Here is the interview.

What does this election mean for democracy in India?

The process of subversion of democracy, which began in last five years, will get much worse. Democratic institutions have been weakened and the agenda of Hindu nationalism through identity issues like the Ram Temple (the Ayodhya mosque) and holy cows will further undermine democracy and pluralism.

As a secularist activist, how do you explain that people voted for a leader who is committed to a nationalist ideology?

Many factors may have contributed to this outcome. The failure of security – which led to the Pulwama attack (in which 50 soldiers were killed) – was cleverly used to show nationalist fervour. There was a failure on the part of opposition parties to come together. The split in opposition votes was the major cause of BJP walking away with such a mandate, which it might not have gotten otherwise.

Modi was successful in distracting people’s attention away from his unfulfilled promises, and used the Balakot attack (against alleged terrorist bases in Pakistan) to attract voters. As usual, BJP-related organisations played their role in a silent campaign for the BJP.

What will be the future of human rights, freedom of speech, and dissent under Modi 2.0?

The human rights are already under a great cloud. Human rights activists have been targeted in the past. Minority rights have been pushed down and the type of hysteria created around identity issues is marginalising religious minorities.

Why did people elect a leader who failed to improve the economy and create jobs?

The power of propaganda and religious nationalism makes people forget the core issues at times. The worsening plight of farmers, the rising unemployment and rising prices were concealed under the make-believe insecurity created by the Pulwama episode.

In addition, there is the role of EVM (Electronic voting machines). Some political leaders have raised the issue of the vote machine tampering.

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