Modi May Address India Ethnic Violence in No Confidence Vote

Prime Minister Narendra Modi might address the deadly ethnic violence in northeast India before a no confidence vote brought by the opposition this week in an attempt to force a debate in a legislature dominated by his allies.

(Bloomberg) — Prime Minister Narendra Modi might address the deadly ethnic violence in northeast India before a no confidence vote brought by the opposition this week in an attempt to force a debate in a legislature dominated by his allies. 

Modi won’t lose the parliamentary vote scheduled Thursday as the coalition led by his Bharatiya Janata Party has a supermajority in the lower house. The opposition is instead focusing on pressuring Modi on his government’s handling of the killings in remote Manipur state bordering Myanmar ahead of a national vote due by May 2024. 

The prime minister is never far from the public eye with daily social media posts and trips to the US and Australia this year. But he has yet to fully address the ethnic clashes that left more than 150 people dead and displaced 50,000 people since May in Manipur — a state controlled by his party. 

“This is going to be a battle of perception,” said Arati Jerath, a New Delhi-based political analyst who has written about Indian politics for nearly three decades. 

“What the opposition is going to do in the no confidence motion is to put the BJP in the dock on a whole range of issues starting with complete administrative and law order failure in Manipur, which they feel is the result of BJP’s divisive policies,” she added.  

When a video surfaced of two women being paraded naked and allegedly raped in Manipur, Modi made his first public comment last month focusing on safety for women. He didn’t speak on the ongoing dispute between two ethnic groups — the Christian Kukis and the Hindu Meiteis over access to affirmative action benefits. 

Modi’s opponents say the Hindu-dominant BJP has made the South Asian country less tolerant of religious and ethnic minorities — with the recent spate of violence reinforcing this view. Last week, clashes between Hindus and Muslims during a religious procession left seven people dead near New Delhi’s international airport. 

No Confidence 

Since taking power in 2014, Modi has come under fire for pushing a Hindu nationalist agenda and coming down hard on dissenting voices, including news organizations, NGOs and research groups. He remains popular with surveys showing approval ratings above 60% and is likely to win a third term in national elections next summer. 

This week’s no confidence vote is the second for Modi. The first was in 2018 when he easily defeated a motion filed by the opposition who said his government failed on economic, defense and foreign policies. 

The opposition got a boost on Monday with Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi reinstated as a lawmaker after a stay on his defamation conviction by India’s top court. Gandhi, who is positioning himself to be a direct challenger to Modi in the elections, will kick off the no confidence debates on Tuesday. 

“This is our compulsion to bring the no confidence motion. It was not about numbers but for giving justice to Manipur,” said Gaurav Gogoi, a lawmaker from the Congress party, while initiating the debate in Parliament, adding the prime minister has not spoken as he doesn’t want to admit to failures of the federal as well as Manipur state government in checking violence. “Through the no confidence motion we want to break the silence of the prime minister.”

Congress party, which traditionally leads the opposition, is looking to build momentum from its rare election victory in the southern state of Karnataka in May. The party also wants to highlight the rising cost of living during the debate with the latest surge in the prices of tomato — a key ingredient in Indian cuisine. 

BJP slammed the opposition by saying the conflict in Manipur is the result of continuous neglect by the earlier governments of the Congress party.

“The wild allegation by the opposition that prime minister didn’t pay attention to Manipur is not correct as lots of development took place in the state by the Modi government,” Earth Sciences Minister Kiren Rijiju said in parliament. “Prime minister has won the trust of people of northeastern states.”

–With assistance from Santosh Kumar.

(Updates with comments from lawmakers starting in 11th paragraph)

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