Brisk polling in second phase of Indian election

Indian women line up to cast their votes at a polling station during the second phase of the mammoth Indian elections in Patidarang village, some 60km from Guwahati, the capital city of India’s state of Assam, on April 18, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 April 2019

Brisk polling in second phase of Indian election

  • Around 900 million Indians are registered to vote for candidates to fill 543 seats in the country’s lower house of Parliament
  • The first phase of the election began on April 11

NEW DELHI: There was brisk polling Thursday in the second phase of the Indian election, with people in 13 states casting their votes.

Around 900 million Indians are registered to vote for candidates to fill 543 seats in the country’s lower house of Parliament.

The national election, the world’s largest democratic exercise, is seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The first phase of the election began on April 11. The second saw voting in 97 parliamentary constituencies and was spread out from the north to the south of the country.

The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has a history of voting overwhelmingly in favor of one party, with that party playing a crucial role in the formation of a government in New Delhi.

In 2014, the regional All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam (AIADMK) party won 37 seats and helped the BJP to a two-thirds majority.

“The BJP is banking on AIADMK to repeat the 2014 performance but this time it’s not easy,” said N. Sathiya Moorthy, from the Observer Research Foundation.

“The BJP has been very desperate to seal a strong alliance in Tamil Nadu. It knows that it’s not possible for them to get the same number of seats from north India this time. Therefore, Tamil Nadu becomes crucial in forming the government in Delhi,” he said. 

“But this time it’s not going to be easy for the BJP in Tamil Nadu. Opinion polls favor a sweep by the opposition Congress party-led alliance,” he told Arab News.

The BJP, on the other hand, was confident and predicted its allies were poised for a landslide win.

“We are 100 percent sure that we will form the government,” said Sudesh Verma, national BJP spokesman.

“We will not only retain seats in Tamil Nadu but also improve our performances in other states. There is an undercurrent in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”

In Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, there was low voter turnout amid high security.

News agency AFP reported that authorities had deployed tens of thousands of security forces in the state, with troops, paramilitaries and police flooding Srinagar.

Kashmir leapt to the forefront of Modi’s campaign after a February suicide bomb attack killed 40 paramilitaries and brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

“The government thought that by arresting separatist leaders and civil society activists people will come out to vote,” Prof. Sheikh Showkat Hussain of Central University of Kashmir, told Arab News. “But the reverse has happened today. The boycott of the election is more intense today than before. The election should be an eye- opener for the government, that you cannot put people of Kashmir into submission. By using brute force, democracy in the valley has become stigmatized.”

The election is taking place in seven phases and voting concludes on May 19. Counting takes place on May 23.


France launches crackdown on foreign imams

Updated 20 February 2020

France launches crackdown on foreign imams

  • French president says: New laws will counter ‘foreign interference’

ANKARA: French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Tuesday that he will restrict other countries from sending imams and Islamic teachers to France in what he said is an attempt to counter “foreign interference.”

A new law is also being prepared to ensure transparency over how mosques are financed, the French leader said.

The moves are part of a longstanding campaign to have more say over imams and Islamic teachers sent to France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim community.

Macron highlighted the risk of “separatism” and “foreign interference” in the way Islam is practiced in the country.

He said the French Muslim Council (CFCM) has been instructed to focus on training imams on French territory, and ensuring they speak French and do not spread radical views.

France will receive its last intake of imams in 2020.

Macron said France will establish bilateral agreements with other countries to allow French authorities to have control over school courses and their content starting in September.

France currently has agreements with nine countries whereby their governments can send teachers to French schools to teach students originally from these countries on culture and language, without any supervision from French authorities.

From September, France is not expected to provide classes in other languages by using curricula of other countries, including Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia.

The move is designed to halt the rising number of teachers who are unable to speak French and are disconnected from the national education system.

“From September, the teaching of culture, and in foreign languages, will be removed from everywhere on Republic soil,” Macron said.

Turkey is the only country with which France has yet to reach an agreement on the issue.

“Turkey today can make the choice to follow that path with us or not, but I won’t let any foreign country feed a cultural, religious or identity-related separatism on our Republic’s ground. We cannot have Turkey’s laws on France’s ground. No way,” Macron said.

HIGHLIGHT

The moves are part of a longstanding campaign to have more say over imams and Islamic teachers sent to France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim community.

Ahmet Erdi Ozturk, assistant professor at London Metropolitan University, said Turkey’s educational and religious activities abroad have provided Ankara with a perfect tool to control and monitor the diaspora.

“It is part of Turkey’s longstanding ambition and extra-territorial policy to be a leader in the Muslim world. Mosques and educational institutions have become a political tool and a propaganda method in Ankara’s hands,” he told Arab News.

According to Ozturk, Turkey’s illiberal regime is strengthening its grip on Islamic preaching abroad.

“Following the failed coup attempt in 2016, the ruling Justice and Development Party, and especially President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, emphasized establishing political and religious domination over diaspora Muslims in their struggle against the religiously motivated movement of Fethullah Gulen, believed to be the mastermind behind the coup attempt,” he said.

Mosques abroad have cooperated with the Turkish intelligence agency, sparking fears over “imams spying on their followers,” he said.

“Now Turkey is accused of exporting domestic politics via religious apparatus,” Ozturk said.

France has around 300 imams from abroad, working across 2,500 places of worship around the country. About 150 imams are sent from Turkey, 120 from Algeria and 30 from Morocco.

Ankara has not responded to Macron’s announcement.