DESPARDES — Millions in the Indian capital voted on Saturday in a key regional election, with exit polls suggesting a big defeat for right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was a distant second behind the Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man’s Party, led by former tax inspector Arvind Kejriwal, according to exit polls released after voting ended.
“Let’s hope as exit polls say. Inshallah. It’s very important that Kejriwal win to put brakes on Modi plans,” says Engr. Arshad based in Saudi Arabia who graduated from the Aligarh University in UP.
Another Indian expat, Zafar who graduated from Jamia Millia in Delhi and now living in Saudi Arabia, says, “I would be really surprised if results are otherwise. Delhi has been transformed into a welfare state.”
Ehtashamul Haque, a businessman, told AFP the Aam Aadmi Party “only has development on their mind” in comparison to the BJP.
The BJP campaign reopened old wounds in the Hindu-Muslim divide and treated the election as a referendum on nearly two months of protests across India against a new citizenship law that excludes Muslims.
“If Delhi falls for the Hindu-Muslim ploy, India is doomed”, Zafar added.
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The law which fast-tracks naturalization for non-Muslim migrants from neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan living in the country illegally has not been taken all too well countrywide.
Modi’s BJP also hopes to garner Hindu votes for ending semi-autonomy of Muslim-majority occupied Kashmir last summer and turning the disputed region into two federally governed territories amid security lockdown.
That move back in August forced German Chancellor Angela Merkel to say, “the situation is not good, not sustainable”.
Both of those actions may have won him some praise from hardline supporters though but yielded little reward at the polls. BJP lost two important state elections last year. In Delhi this year, it would be the third if exit polls don’t lie.
None of the exit poll surveys showed any hope for the Congress party.
During the campaigning, BJP members called for violence against minority Muslims by invoking the specter of Pakistan. Critics have called the incendiary religious appeals a tactic by BJP to divert attention from the sluggish economy, which expanded at a 4.5pc annual pace in the last quarter, its slowest rate since mid-2018.
“They (BJP) must be given a jolt. We are poor, but we are also humans. They only talk about divisions,” said Shabnam Mukhtar to AFP, a housewife at Shaheen Bagh, a working-class neighborhood where Muslim women have staged a sit-in for two months to protest the Citizenship Amendment Act.
On the eve of the elections, the BJP sent out messages telling people to vote for the party if they wanted an end to the Shaheen Bagh demonstration.
That did not happen despite the fact that he majority of voters in Delhi — the elites and middle class — belong to the upper-caste Hindu society,.
The majority of poor workers and urban poor, from the marginalized communities and castes, who are migrants, whose minuscule percentage are Delhi voters including 13% Muslims of Delhi may have stood up.
A loss could dent Modi’s ‘Hindu-nation’ plan and charisma. An easy hat-trick for Aam Aadmi “would mean Indians have admitted their mistake of re-electing him (Modi) last year,” says a South Asian observer based in the Middle East.
Last week, 154 European Parliament lawmakers denounced Modi’s ‘Anti-Muslim’ Citizenship Act as “largest statelessness crisis in the world that could cause widespread human suffering”.
“I admire the young, the women and the students in Delhi institutions for standing up against his moves”, says Sen. Mushahidullah Khan, who migrated to Pakistan from UP in the 40s. “The way PM Modi is going whole of India would have several Kashmirs”.
Results will be declared on Tuesday.