India’s BJP, the world’s biggest party, plots election drive of epic scale

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activists hold party flags during a rally in Kolkata, India, on July 19, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 26 September 2023

India’s BJP, the world’s biggest party, plots election drive of epic scale

  • BJP launches what it calls biggest voter outreach in history
  • Party sends out 18,000 activists to meet 35 million voters

KOLKATA: Indian activist Partha Chaudhury is on a war footing as he strides out of the ruling BJP’s regional headquarters in Kolkata armed with passion and pages of voter lists.

“We need to meet each and every BJP supporter, and all of this has to be done in less than 300 days,” the 39-year-old tells a group of fellow activists advancing into the north of Kolkata, the teeming riverfront capital of West Bengal that’s home to about 15 million people.

“We want people to remember that the BJP knocked on their doors much before any opposition party worker did.”

Chaudhury and his team are among an army of 18,000 volunteer activists fanning out across India ahead of next year’s national election. Their mission is to meet — face-to-face — with about 35 million BJP supporters by January, or roughly 2,000 each.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, the world’s largest political outfit with 180 million members, is betting on what it says is the biggest voter outreach campaign in history, to secure a third term in power in the world’s most populous country.

Its leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, remains enduringly popular among Indians after almost a decade having brought political stability, invested in infrastructure, and championed welfare reforms and national security.

Despite voter concerns about inflation, unemployment and uneven growth, opinion polls suggest the right-wing BJP will comfortably win a third term in the federal elections, expected to be held in April and May.

It’s no sure thing, though: growing anti-incumbency sentiment is conspiring with a newly formed national alliance of 26 opposition parties, including archrival Congress, to pose what BJP officials say will be Modi’s toughest test by far.

“For once we are now seeing a united opposition,” said Tamoghna Ghosh, a senior BJP official campaigning in Kolkata. “They may be devoid of a shared political ideology or vision, but their determination to defeat Modi can’t be overlooked.”

While Modi and his party stress they govern for all Indians, their emphasis of their Hindu faith and culture has disquieted some members of minority groups who feel politically excluded, especially Muslims who make up about 14 percent of the 1.4 billion population.

Some critics warn of an erosion of India’s status as a secular democracy, long enshrined in its constitution.

BJP leaders in New Delhi have been spurred to action by an internal report presented to them by researchers in February that concluded that an anti-incumbency vote could see the party lose about 34 of their 303 lawmakers in the lower house of parliament, robbing it of the majority that gives it a freer hand to pass laws, three senior party officials told Reuters.

“This time we will have to win in uncharted territories as retaining all the existing seats for the third time in a row is going to be a challenge,” said BJP national president J.P. Nadda, who is leading the grassroots mobilization drive.

In conversations with Reuters, Nadda and six other senior BJP figures outlined previously unreported details of the project — dubbed the “Big Outreach” internally — which they said marked a shift from its 2014 and 2019 election strategies focused more on large campaign rallies across the country.

It won’t be an easy task, or free of risk, according to Nalin Mehta, dean at the UPES School of Modern Media in Uttarakhand and author of the book “The New BJP.” He said the ground mobilization, accompanied by an online campaign blitz, could fuel anti-incumbency sentiment in some quarters.

“The BJP’s challenge as the dominant national party is to manage voter fatigue and to sustain the enthusiasm among its cadres after two terms in power,” Mehta added.

“The party’s ground-level cadre-building goes hand in hand with the creation of a massive digital footprint ... as well as an industrial scale use of social media.”


The BJP’s outreach began over the summer, much earlier than in its previous campaigns when mobilization started about four months before national elections.

The campaign isn’t focusing on wooing voters from rival parties, according to the party officials, but will instead make direct contact with people who voted BJP in 2019 to lock down their support, enlist their campaigning assistance and provide intelligence on local issues.

The first phase, slated to end in early October, targets 134 priority constituencies with Hindu-majority populations where they lost by narrow margins in 2014 and 2019.

“These seats require energetic intervention and insulation of existing vote share,” said Nadda, adding that the second phase ending in January would see activists visit all of the 303 seats that the party won four years ago.

“This time, the world’s biggest party has launched the biggest-ever outreach to win the world’s biggest elections.”

Mahua Moitra, a national lawmaker with the regional opposition All India Trinamool Congress, isn’t impressed. She said the bolstered outreach efforts reflected the threats posed to the BJP by the “INDIA” alliance of 26 rivals formed in July to challenge the ruling party’s nationalist platform and oust Modi.

“The BJP is in panic mode and it’s forcing them to set up a taskforce to meet voters a year before elections,” she added. “They won’t be third-time lucky.”

Moitra is MP for Krishnanagar in West Bengal, a state in India’s far east where Muslims make up about a quarter of the population. The BJP is resented by many voters there who fear its brand of Hindu nationalism has marginalized minorities and hindered their economic progress.

Mallikarjun Kharge, president of the rival Congress party, said the coalition of 26 regional parties might not have the financial clout enjoyed by the ruling to launch a similar grassroots campaign, but the alliance had mustered a broad enough opposition base to oust Modi.

“The BJP’s grassroot workers can gather intelligence or coax voters but they will not win the 2024 election,” he said, adding that too much “in-your-face” campaigning could turn off voters.


Not so, says BJP leader Nadda who says politicians must keep their ear to the ground.

Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, is a city with deep historical, strategic and political significance. Long a trading hub for commodities like jute and tea, it was once the seat of British power in India as well as the cradle of an intellectual and artistic renaissance born in the 18th century.

Kolkata North, where and his group are campaigning, is a prime example of an early priority seat being targeted by the ruling party, as well as the problems the BJP faces nationally.

The BJP was beaten by a regional opposition party four years ago, even though it had strong support there, winning roughly 600,000 of the total 1.5 million votes cast.

Nonetheless Partha Chaudhury, an ophthalmologist by profession, has a clear vision as he traverses streets dotted with the 300-year-old crumbling architectural legacy of a bygone colonial era.

His first stop is a tin-shed shop in a slum district skirted by Victorian-era houses that have seen better days, where introduces himself to a bare-chested shopkeeper tending a cauldron of oil and kneading dough to fry samosas.

“Please tell us, elder brother, what can we do to make your life better?” Chaudhury asked the shopkeeper and simultaneously ticks off the man’s name in his voter list.

He speaks fervently about a slew of reforms introduced by the federal government to improve lives of the urban poor since Modi came to power in 2014.

Chaudhury intones a mantra he’ll repeat to more than 20 voters in the next three hours: “We know you vote for the BJP and we are here to understand what we should be doing to win this seat in 2024.”

Russia’s Lavrov faces Western critics at security meeting, walks out after speech

Updated 55 min 47 sec ago

Russia’s Lavrov faces Western critics at security meeting, walks out after speech

  • The Russian foreign minister spoke for 15 minutes before walking out of the meetings
  • “The very existence of Russians and their decisive contribution to the history of Ukraine are denied,” Lavrov said

SKOPJE: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov faced Western critics while attending international security talks Thursday in Northern Macedonia, where he blamed “NATO’s reckless expansion to the East” for war returning to Europe.
Lavrov arrived in Skopje to attend meetings hosted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The diplomats of several OSCE member nations, including Ukraine, boycotted the event due to Lavrov’s planned attendance amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Russian foreign minister spoke for 15 minutes before walking out of the meetings. He blamed what he described as Western tolerance of the “ruling neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv” for the war that started with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
“The very existence of Russians and their decisive contribution to the history of Ukraine are denied,” Lavrov said. “There are plenty of facts. The OSCE and its relevant institutions are silent.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly alleged that Ukraine’s government is made up of “neo-Nazis,” even though the country has a democratically elected Jewish president who lost relatives in the Holocaust.
Putin and other Russian officials have invoked the Holocaust, World War II and Nazism to legitimize the invasion of Ukraine. Historians see their rhetoric as disinformation and a cynical ploy.
Western ministers attending the OSCE meeting were sharply critical of Lavrov after he spoke.
“Russia’s attempts to blame others for its own choices are transparent,” said Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who was speaking when Lavrov walked out.
“We will not compromise on the core principles of the European security order or allow Russia to deny Ukraine the right to make its own independent foreign and security policy choices – principles that Russia itself has agreed to,” he continued.
Based in Vienna, Austria, the OSCE is an intergovernmental organization focused on promoting security, stability, and cooperation among its participating states.
NATO member North Macedonia lifted a ban on Russian flights to enable Lavrov to attend the meeting. Russian state news agency Tass reported that the minister flew a longer route over Turkiye and Greece to reach the summit after Bulgaria blocked his plane from using its airspace.
Greek officials did not immediately return a request for comment.
The foreign ministers of Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had said they would not attend the talks due to Lavrov’s participation.
The Russian minister arrived in Skopje hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a brief stop in North Macedonia’s capital late Wednesday.

EU should recognize Palestinian state: Spanish PM

Updated 30 November 2023

EU should recognize Palestinian state: Spanish PM

  • When he was sworn in for a new term, Sanchez said his foreign policy priority would be to “work in Europe and in Spain to recognize the Palestinian state”

MADRID: The European Union should recognize a Palestinian state since this would help end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “stabilize” the region, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Thursday.
“It is obvious that we must find a political solution to put an end to this crisis and this solution requires, in my opinion, the recognition of the Palestinian state,” the Socialist premier said during an interview with Spanish public television TVE.
“It is in Europe’s interest to address this issue out of moral conviction because what we are seeing in Gaza is not acceptable,” and also for “a geopolitical objective — to stabilize a region,” he added.
When he was sworn in for a new term this month, Sanchez said his foreign policy priority would be to “work in Europe and in Spain to recognize the Palestinian state.”
If there is no consensus among the EU’s 27 member states, Sanchez has said Madrid does not rule out unilaterally recognizing a Palestinian state.
A handful of smaller European countries have taken the step, mainly east European nations like Hungary, Poland and Romania that did so before they joined the EU.
But until now no large member of the bloc has made the move, which would make Spain a pioneer.
Spain’s parliament voted in 2014 in favor of a resolution calling for recognition of Palestine as a state.
The vote was non-binding, however, and there has been no follow up.
“The situation has changed,” Sanchez told TVE, adding that Arab nations did not understand the EU’s position.
“During all these years, we have seen how Israel systematically occupied Palestinian territory,” he added in a reference to Israeli settlement- building.
According to Amnesty International: “Israel’s policy of settling its civilians in occupied Palestinian territory and displacing the local population contravenes fundamental rules of international humanitarian law.”
Palestinians say the settlements jeopardize their goal of a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Israel last week summoned Spain’s ambassador over criticisms Sanchez made of the Israeli offensive on Gaza during a visit to the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt on Friday.
Israel accused Madrid of supporting “terrorism.”
“Friendly nations must tell the truth,” Sanchez said before recalling he had unequivocally condemned the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians and soldiers.
“But we must tell Israel with the same conviction” that it must respect international law, he added.

India to launch green credit initiative with UAE at COP28

Updated 30 November 2023

India to launch green credit initiative with UAE at COP28

  • PM Modi to participate in World Climate Action Summit and three side events
  • Green credit initiative is based on a program of India’s Ministry of Environment

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra will launch the Green Credit Initiative with the UAE during the COP28 climate conference in Dubai, the Indian government said, as the summit began on Thursday.

World political and business leaders from nearly 200 countries are arriving in Dubai this week for the UN’s annual meeting, which aims to address some of the most pressing issues related to global warming and climate crisis.

Modi will deliver a speech at the opening session of the World Climate Action Summit and will participate in three high-level side events, two of which are being co-hosted by India.

“The first high-level event which is being co-hosted by India and the UAE is the launch of the green credit initiative ... The second side event, co-hosted by India and Sweden, is the launch of Lead IT 2.0,” Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra told reporters in Delhi.

The green credit initiative is based on the Green Credit Program, which was notified by the Indian Ministry of Environment in October. It is a market-based mechanism to incentivize voluntary environmental actions by various stakeholders such as individuals, communities, private-sector industries, and companies.

The LeadIT 2.0. is “essentially a leadership group for energy transition,” Kwatra said.

“This was a joint initiative launched by India and Sweden in 2019 at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York ... This initiative fosters collaboration among the decision-makers, bringing together both the public sector and the private sector with the objective of accelerating the industry transition to net zero emissions.”

The Indian prime minister is also scheduled to participate in another high-level event, “Transforming Climate Finance,” which will be hosted by the COP28 presidency, the UAE.

During the two-day visit, Modi is also expected to hold bilateral meetings with many of his counterparts on the sidelines of the summit, as India — the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases and a country experiencing the brunt of global warming — seeks to play a leadership role in shaping the international agenda on climate change.

“India’s approach to climate action is deeply rooted in our civilization ethos and is reflected foremost in our contributions and our ambitious and effective national policies, especially those which are aimed at economic development, energy, health and nutrition,” Kwarta said.

“We have also been pioneering and in the forefront, and taking global initiatives in fighting climate change and its impacts.”

Asian publishers join campaign to counter Western narrative on Palestine

Updated 30 November 2023

Asian publishers join campaign to counter Western narrative on Palestine

  • #ReadPalestine campaign makes available works by Palestinian authors 
  • Publishers say literary community ‘cannot remain neutral’ over plight of the Palestinians

JAKARTA: Asian publishers want to counter the Western media narrative as they take part in a global initiative launched this week to encourage people to read Palestinian authors and history. 

#ReadPalestine started on Wednesday and runs through to Dec. 5. 

It was created by Publishers for Palestine, a global solidarity collective comprising more than 350 publishers who have called for an end to all violence against Palestinian people and for Tel Aviv and its allies to be held accountable for war crimes in the wake of the deadly Israeli onslaught on Gaza that started last month. 

The collective, which includes more than 70 Asian publishers, has made available for free download more than 30 works of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. 

“The initiative aims to be an amplifier for the Palestinian cause within the literary community, particularly in the West,” Iskandar Kamel of Malaysia’s Kawah Buku told Arab News.

“The way they have muted themselves and chosen to align with genociders, adopting an apolitical stance and neutrality in the face of atrocities, is entirely unacceptable. This is especially noteworthy considering that, all the while, they have preached about human rights and liberal principles to the Global South.”

Kamel cited as an example the biggest annual book fair in Frankfurt, which last month called off an awards ceremony to celebrate Palestinian writer Adania Shibli. 

“Publishers, bookstores, authors and the entire literary community cannot remain neutral; choosing to be apolitical is not an option. It is our responsibility to play our part,” he said. 

Ronny Agustinus, chief editor of the Indonesian publishing company Marjin Kiri, is a member of the International Alliance of Independent Publishers, which wrote a letter condemning the cancelation of the Frankfurt event. 

“Because there are so many misunderstandings about Palestine from various parties, it becomes important to share studies and reading materials as thoroughly and as much as possible about Palestine so that we can get the whole picture,” he said. 

“Literature can paint the reality of Palestinian lives poignantly and evocatively.” 

The #ReadPalestine free ebook list includes “Wild Thorns,” a novel by Sahar Khalifeh about life in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and “Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear” by Mosab Abu Toha, a Palestinian poet whose abduction by Israeli forces made global headlines earlier this month. He was later released following an international outcry.   

“Writers and publishers bear histories and narratives; and with them, truth. Western media is so powerful and it has skewed the thinking of many people, including writers. We can fight against that through our books and writings,” said Faye Cura of Philippines-based Gantala Press. 

When it comes to Palestinian literature, women writers are Cura’s favorite. 

“Many people have biased views against Muslim women, thinking they are ‘conservative,’ ‘passive,’ ‘silent,’ etc. The women writers definitely resist all that and paint a stronger, more powerful image of the Palestinian woman,” she said. 

She hopes that #ReadPalestine will forge strong relations among writers, translators, artists and publishers across the world so that the “conversation and resistance continue until liberation.”

Malaysian publisher The Patriots said speaking about the Palestinian plight was also a responsibility of the literary community. 

“We are collectively disappointed with this ongoing cancel culture against the Palestinian literature. It is against free speech to do so,” The Patriots said in a statement to Arab News. 

“We hope this initiative could at the very least break this hostile attempt. The Palestinians could not, should not and must not be stifled.”  

Explainer: How will countries measure climate action at COP28? 

Updated 30 November 2023

Explainer: How will countries measure climate action at COP28? 

  • In September, the United Nations offered an early stocktake assessment that revealed countries were far behind in meeting climate goals
  • It said action required “on all fronts” to keep global average temperature rise limited to 1.5 C beyond which irreversible climate impacts will occur

DUBAI: Countries will for the first time assess how far off track they are to curb global warming at this year’s COP28 climate change summit, a process known as the “global stocktake.” 

Governments will look at progress so far as well as what action is still needed to get the world on track. The aim is to yield a plan by the end of the two-week UN conference in Dubai. 

The assessment could become politically divisive as it sets the stage for the next few years of global action in cutting planet-warming emissions. 


Each country sets its own targets and policies for meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement’s overall goal of holding global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius of preindustrial times, and aiming for just 1.5 C of warming. 

Under the 2015 pact, countries must gauge their progress as of this year, and then every five years afterwards. Based on the results, countries may be pressed to set more ambitious climate policies or to contribute more financing to help developing countries adopt clean energy. 

This year’s stocktake could also offer important guidance as countries prepare to update their emissions-cutting targets again by 2025. For example, the stocktake could advise that CO2-cutting targets should cover a country’s entire economy, not just certain sectors. 


In September, the United Nations offered an early stocktake assessment that revealed countries were far behind in meeting climate goals. It said action was required “on all fronts” to keep the global average temperature rise limited to 1.5 C — the threshold beyond which scientists say more severe and irreversible climate impacts will occur. 

Despite a huge increase in the number of countries setting CO2-cutting targets since the Paris Agreement, current emissions plans still put the world on track to warm by at least 2.5 C, the UN estimates. 

Many countries also have yet to set strong enough short-term policies to steer their economies toward emissions targets for 2030 and 2050. 

The global average temperature has already warmed by 1.2 C since pre-industrial times, which is causing widespread drought along with more frequent deadly heat waves, wildfires and storms around the world. 


Before the stocktake has even started, countries are squabbling over the scope of future plans — including whether they should commit to phase out fossil fuel use, end investments in new coal power plants or triple renewable energy capacity within this decade. 

COP28 delegates will also need to decide if the stocktake should recommended action for specific sectors, such as the energy or manufacturing sectors. 

The UN’s report in September urged countries to cut CO2-emitting coal power by 67 percent to 82 percent from 2019 levels by 2030. 

The report also called for more finance to help poorer countries adopt clean energy, and noted that billions of dollars were still being invested in fossil fuels every year. 

The European Union wants the stocktake to produce “concrete policy signals” for countries to follow. 

Some developing countries have suggested the stocktake should focus on pressuring wealthy nations to do more, since they have contributed the most emissions to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, diplomats said. 

“This is where we take stock and see where we are — where are the gaps between the targets and our ambitions, and the actual action. What then needs to be decided... what do we then do from here,” Dan Jorgensen, Denmark’s Global Climate Policy Minister, told Reuters.