Mixed fate for Modi's party in India state polls as job losses bite

Supporters of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling party BJP hold placards as they gather ahead of the announcement of the Maharashtra state election results outside the BJP headquarters in Mumbai on October 24, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 24 October 2019

Mixed fate for Modi's party in India state polls as job losses bite

  • Scores of BJP workers turned up at the party's headquarters in Mumbai dressed in saffron tunics
  • Still, it was a fraction of the huge crowds that gathered there for state elections five years ago

MUMBAI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalists faced mixed fortunes in two Indian state elections, with his party on course to see reduced majorities as a grinding economic slowdown weighed on voters.
An official count of tens of millions of ballots was underway Thursday in western Maharashtra state, which is home to the financial hub of Mumbai, and in Haryana in the north, bordering New Delhi.
With more than half the 288 seats in Maharashtra's state assembly declared, Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won or was ahead in 103 seats, sharply down from 122 five years ago, the election commission's website showed, leaving its rival Congress party trailing at 45.
But in Haryana they were locked in a tight battle, with Congress winning or leading 31 seats - a boost for the party from its tally of 15 in the 2014 polls.
Although the BJP appeared to be edging ahead of Congress, neither side was expected to secure a majority of the 90 seats up for grabs, putting the result on a knife-edge.
The BJP is seeking a second term in both states, months after Modi's landslide victory in national polls in May despite a patchy economic record that has seen unemployment hit levels not seen since the 1970s.
The premier was a star campaigner in both states, eager to reassure voters upset over job losses and sluggish growth.
Scores of BJP workers turned up at the party's headquarters in Mumbai dressed in saffron tunics, with some playing drums and others carrying victory placards, letting off firecrackers in anticipation of the final results.
Still, it was a fraction of the huge crowds that gathered there for state elections five years ago.
Hours later, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis told reporters that the reduced majority was not a cause for concern.
"This is not a time for analysis but time for celebrations," he said.
In Haryana however, BJP chief Subash Barala - who was trailing by more than 30,000 votes in his own constituency - quit his post Thursday after early results showed the party struggling to carve out a lead, the Press Trust of India reported.
Analysts said the results were a warning for the BJP, which trumpeted its muscular brand of nationalism and aggressive foreign policy towards arch-rival Pakistan in its push to voters.
Political commentator Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay said while Modi's personal popularity had bolstered the party's appeal, the diminished majorities showed "the BJP's political narrative has its limits."
"The... government has to take its economics more seriously. It cannot bluff its way past. Voters are not buying it," he told AFP.
Modi is under mounting pressure to kickstart the economy, which has endured five consecutive quarters of slowing growth, causing India to lose its status as the fastest-growing major economy to China.
The slump has hit automakers particularly hard, with sagging demand forcing companies to halt production, slash prices and cut jobs in a once-booming industry that employs millions, including at major plants in Haryana and Maharashtra.
Exit polls had predicted wins for the BJP, but said the party would have to depend on its allies to form a majority and establish a coalition government in both states.
A return to power by the BJP - even as part of a coalition - would be yet another blow to the Congress party, which has struggled to strike a chord with frustrated voters after dominating Indian politics for decades.
 


Minneapolis braces for more riots, arson following police killing of Afro-American George Floyd

Updated 29 min 17 sec ago

Minneapolis braces for more riots, arson following police killing of Afro-American George Floyd

CHICAGO: Minneapolis exploded into riots and arson this week after an African-American suspected of handling counterfeit money was killed on Monday during his arrest by two city police officers.

Videos on social media showed an officer placing his knee on George Floyd’s neck as he was handcuffed and being restrained on the street by the kerb. The 46-year-old said that he could not breathe, but police insisted that Floyd was “resisting arrest” and had to be forcibly restrained.

The officer who was seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck was arrested on Friday and charged with murder.

Floyd was pronounced dead at the scene and his family immediately called for an independent probe.

His family turned to civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who said the family’s first concern was to seek an autopsy independent of the police because of a lack of trust in law enforcement and to give their deceased family member a proper funeral.

“Is it two justice systems in America?” Crump said as he addressed the media. “One for black America and one for white America? We can’t have that. We have to have equal justice for the United States of America and that’s what I think the protesters are crying out for.”

Protests spread across the country and turned violent as arson destroyed property, including the police station where the police officers were assigned.

President Donald Trump denounced the rioters as “thugs” and warned that he might send in the military “to take control.” 

Minneapolis Police handed the investigation into Floyd’s death to the FBI and US Justice Department on Thursday night. Officials from the FBI and US Justice Department promised that the probe would be “robust and meticulous.”

The media’s role in the protests came sharply into focus when, early on Friday, CNN’s Omar Jimenez was arrested along with his TV crew.

CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota, who looked on as her colleague was being arrested, told viewers: “If you are just tuning in you are watching our correspondent Omar Jimenez being arrested by state police in Minnesota. We are not sure why our correspondent is being arrested.”