Narendra Modi's BJP loses key Indian vote amid nationwide protests

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party has lost a key state legislature election, a setback for the party as it faces massive anti-government protests against a contentious new citizenship law.

According to results announced by India’s Election Commission late Monday, Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, yielded power to an alliance forged among the opposition Congress party and powerful regional groups in eastern Jharkhand state, where the voting took place this month.

The election was held amid protests calling for the revocation of the citizenship law, which critics say is the latest effort by Mr Modi’s government to marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims.

BJP leaders said on Tuesday that the new citizenship law was not an issue in the Jharkhand election, but Congress party leader R.P.N. Singh said the results were a snub to Mr Modi’s party, which won only 25 of 81 state legislature seats. The Congress party and its allies won 47 seats, ending the BJP’s five-year rule in the state.

Since December 2018, the BJP has lost power in five states: Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Jharkhand. But Mr Modi won a major victory for his party in May national elections – a rare feat in India, a country usually governed by alliances. The BJP came to power in 2014, defeating the Congress party.

Mr Modi has defended the new citizenship law and accused the opposition of pushing the country into a “fear psychosis.”

Indian activists hold placards and shout slogans as they protest against Citizen Amendment Act(CAA) outside Jamia Millia Islamia University, in New Delhi. EPA

Objects were set on fire during demonstrations against India's new citizenship law in Kanpur. AFP

A Policeman throws stones towards protesters during demonstrations against India's new citizenship law in Kanpur. AFP

An Indian holds a poster that reads "How much lower will you fall?" during a protest rally against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Kolkata. AP

Indian activists hold placards and shout slogans as they protest against Citizen Amendment Act(CAA) outside Jamia Millia Islamia University, in New Delhi. EPA

Indian students shout slogans during a protest rally against the Citizenship Amendment Act, in Kolkata. AP Photo

Firefighters and police personnel stand next to burning objects set on fire during demonstrations against India's new citizenship law in Kanpur. AFP

A firefighter sprays water as cars burning after being set on fire during demonstrations against India's new citizenship law in Kanpur. AFP

A police personnel aims his gun towards protesters during demonstrations against India's new citizenship law in Kanpur. AFP

Supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wave party flags and hold placards in support of the government's Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) during a rally in New Delh. AFP

The law allows Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are in India illegally to become citizens if they can show they were persecuted because of their religion in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It does not apply to Muslims.

Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to India’s streets to call for the revocation of the law.

Twenty-three people have been killed nationwide since the citizenship law was passed in Parliament earlier this month in protests that represent the first major roadblock for Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda since his party’s landslide re-election earlier this year.

Most of the deaths have occurred in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where 20 per cent of the state’s 200 million people are Muslim. The state government is controlled by Mr Modi’s BJP.

Hundreds of students marched on Tuesday through the streets of New Delhi to Jantar Mantar, an area designated for protests near Parliament. They walked behind a huge banner that read, “We the People of India.”

Vipul Kumar Chaudhary, a student, said the purpose of the march was to ensure that there was no discrimination on the basis of religion. “India is a bouquet of people representing different religions. We want to preserve it,” he said.

Also Tuesday, police stopped Congress party leaders Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi from visiting Meerut, a town in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh that had seen massive clashes between police officers and protesters on Friday.

They were turned back from the outskirts of Meerut, 75 kilometres north-east of New Delhi, Rahul Gandhi told reporters.

Mr Modi’s government, meanwhile, announced details on India’s 2021 census, an exercise carried out every 10 years.

Prakash Javadekar, the information and broadcasting minister, told reporters that the census will begin this April, ending with a headcount in February 2021 to prepare a national population register.

He said it will be a self-declaration exercise, requiring no residential proof, documents or biometric identification. The country’s current population is around 1.3 billion.

Authorities across India have taken a hard-line approach to quell the protests. They’ve evoked a British colonial-era law banning public gatherings, and internet access has been blocked at times in some states. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has asked broadcasters across the country to refrain from using content that could inflame further violence.

The communication shutdown has mostly affected New Delhi, the eastern state of West Bengal, the northern city of Aligarh and the entire north-east state of Assam.

Updated: December 24, 2019 05:00 PM

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