NEW DELHI - India’s prime ministerial frontrunner Narendra Modi unveiled his party’s delayed election manifesto that included controversial Hindu nationalist policies, though he also pledged good governance and development.
Modi and other Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders unveiled their blueprint for government just hours after polls opened in the world’s biggest election, which they are widely expected to win.
The manifesto promised BJP support to end the slaughter of cows, which Hindus consider sacred, and to repeal special autonomous rights granted to Kashmir, the country’s Muslim-majority state.
The BJP also reiterated its intention to draft a uniform civil code for all Indians, a deeply sensitive and controversial issue which has always divided the population along religious lines. The Indian constitution allows the country’s billion-plus citizens to be governed by their own religious laws, a privilege enjoyed by minorities such as Muslims and Christians.
The 52-page manifesto pledges to revise the country’s nuclear doctrine on use of nuclear weapons in a conflict.
A new government would revise the doctrine “to make it more relevant to challenges of current times” without giving details, the manifesto said. India carried out nuclear tests in 1998, and Pakistan quickly followed suit.
It would also modernise the armed forces, “deal with cross border terrorism with a firm hand” and strengthen the country’s borders, Modi said at party headquarters in New Delhi. “Good governance and development (are) the two issues on which we are fighting these elections,” he added.
Focusing on economic reforms, the document welcomed foreign direct investment by almost all companies - except by overseas supermarkets - in a bid to create much-needed jobs and kickstart the flagging economy.
The BJP pledged to simplify the taxation system, review labour laws, and focus on infrastructure such as new cities, high-speed railways, broadband Internet and build low-cost housing for families.
The right-wing party, voted out of power in 2004, also stuck to controversial Hindu nationalist ideals which worry religious minorities, particularly Muslims, in Hindu-majority but officially secular India.
The BJP committed to a longstanding demand for the building of a temple to honour the Hindu god Ram on the site of India’s most notorious religious flashpoint.
The party in 1992 supported the destruction of a mosque believed to have been built over Ram’s birthplace in the town of Ayodhya in northern India. Resulting riots left more than 2,000 people dead.
Senior BJP leader Murali Manohar Joshi said the Ram temple issue was included in the manifesto because it was “culturally important”, but stressed that “Hindutva” (a Hindu nationalist agenda) was not on the election agenda.
Blast kills two policemen on election day
An explosion killed two policemen Monday in north India, police said, on the same day that national elections kicked off in the world’s largest democracy with security high across the country.
The policemen were killed in the explosion of a bomb they were trying to defuse in Aurangabad district, 150 kilometres from Bihar state’s capital Patna.
The region where the blast occurred is known for its Maoist insurgency.
“Two security men were killed and nine injured when an IED (improvised explosive device) exploded,” police official Ravinder Kumar told AFP.
Bihar police “strongly suspect” the Maoists were to blame for the bomb, police said, but there has been no claim of responsibility from the ultra-leftists. Police said the bomb may have been a scare tactic by the Maoists ahead of the polling in Bihar which is staggered over six phases starting Thursday.
The Maoists have urged voters to boycott the election being held in nine phases across the country. The marathon national vote winds up May 12.
The Maoists have become a potent insurgent force, demanding land and jobs for the poor and fighting for a communist society by toppling what they call India’s “semi-colonial, semi-feudal” form of rule.
The insurgency has cost thousands of lives, with much action focused around the insurgent-dominated, so-called “Red Corridor” stretching through central and eastern India. Last December, Maoists killed seven policemen in a landmine blast in eastern India.