Will cows and temples still win the election in India for prime minister Modi?

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Will cows and temples still win the election in India for prime minister Modi?

Nilanjana Bhowmick writes about Modi's chances in the coming elections in India.


In December 2018, Hindus rioted in Bulandshahar in western Uttar Pradesh state. This was after discovering the bodies of a cow and a calf. The police arrested four Muslim men but later they found them innocent. Some people said that Hindu fundamentalists organised the riots to create problems before the general elections in April or May 2019. So, the fight for the general elections has started. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by prime minister Narendra Modi, are hoping to win again.

Before the 2014 elections – when Modi won a big victory – the talk was about development, anti-corruption, and more jobs. Four years later, the talk is about temples, cows, and Islamophobia. And so the rioting in Uttar Pradesh (UP) in December 2018 comes at an important time. UP is the Indian state with the biggest population and over 200 million people. And it has one of the biggest populations of Muslims in the country. Reports say that problems in UP increased 47 per cent from 133 in 2014 to 195 in 2017. UP is also home to the town of Ayodhya, where rightwing groups – including top BJP politicians – encouraged the demolition of a mosque in 1992. The promise to build a temple to the Hindu deity Rama on the site of the demolished Babri mosque has come with the rise of the BJP in the country.

Democracy has been in trouble after the demolition of the mosque in 1992. Tension is growing slowly. Modi’s rise shows that. He began as Hindu nationalism’s favourite after the Gujarat riots in 2002, when over 1,000 Muslims were killed. And then he became the prime minister of the country. As he comes to the end of his first term in power, the idea of development and good governance is nearly gone. It’s once again very clear that the BJP is good at dividing people.

But after the cow riots in UP, the traditional BJP states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh went to elect new state assemblies. These three states are often called ‘the cow belt’, where there is more cow worship than in the rest of India. Madhya Pradesh has a cow protection board and has been asking for a cow protection ministry. Rajasthan set up a cow ministry in 2015. That is how deep their feelings are. But the BJP lost in all three states.

Religion may keep people happy, but it doesn’t feed hungry stomachs. The UN says 364 million Indians continue to suffer from serious problems of health, food, schooling, and sanitation. When the BJP lost in all three states, it was also a lesson for the opposition – especially the Congress Party. The Congress Party has been following a policy of soft Hindu nationalism to try to beat the BJP. Rahul Gandhi, the party leader, visited temples, showing his Hindu roots and the new chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Kamal Nath, took an oath in a very Hindu ceremony all to win Right-leaning votes.

We can only hope that, after the December election, they have decided to think carefully about what is important for 2019. In Madhya Pradesh every eight hours a farmer with big debts committed suicide in 2016. After two hours of taking charge, Kamal Nath stopped unpaid debts worth $5 billion affecting 3.4 million farmers.

In 2019, cows and temples are unlikely to be important in the election but farmers will probably be important.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: https://newint.org/features/2019/02/11/view-india

(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)