Many Indians rally behind PM Modi | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 20, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, February 20, 2019


Many Indians rally behind PM Modi

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has suffered a series of political reverses in recent months but widespread anger after 40 troopers were killed in an Islamist militant attack last week could lead to a surge in support for his Hindu nationalist party.

As emotions run high following the deadliest attack on security forces in decades, Modi, who faces a general election by May, said he had given a free hand to security forces to avenge the killings in Kashmir, the region disputed with arch-foe Pakistan.

Tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals have ratcheted up and shouts of "down with Pakistan" and "blood for blood" have reverberated at funerals of the victims. Many Indians have held candle-lit marches across the country demanding the government "not forget, not forgive".

The attack has been claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group but the Pakistan government has denied any responsibility.

Rakesh Kumar, a 32-year-old part-time teacher in Kasba Bonli town in the western state of Rajasthan, said he was now inclined to vote for Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the national election after backing the main opposition Congress in a state vote late last year.

"If he teaches Pakistan a lesson, support for him will rise," Kumar said in a telephone interview. "It's a matter of the country's security, and we need to see what he can do for us."

The BJP was ousted from power in three major states, including Rajasthan, in December, and Modi has been blamed for weak rural incomes and an inability to provide employment to the millions of young Indians entering the job market each year.

Although still tipped to win, pollsters had said before the attack that the ruling party could fall short of a majority in the general election.

No polls have been published since the attack, but political analysts say the anti-Pakistan wave has become a rallying point for the BJP.

Yogendra Yadav, a former pollster and now a political activist, said the Kashmir attack would be a distraction from economic challenges facing the government.

"Ever since those issues have emerged, there have been systematic attempts to divert attention, some by design, some by accident," he said.

"The consequence (of the attack) would be to bring the spotlight on issues of national security, which is exactly what the ruling party may have wanted."

Modi has often spoken about adopting a more muscular approach to Pakistan, after a surprise visit to the neighbour in 2015 failed to improve ties.

On Monday, he said any hesitation to take action against militancy and those who support it was akin to encouraging the menace.

“Terrorism is a very serious threat to global peace and stability," Modi said. "The brutal terrorist attack shows that the time for talks is over."

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