Friday, 10 February 2017

Narendra Modi’s reforms meet realpolitik in Uttar Pradesh polls

PM Modi has promised to clean up politics but Keshav Prasad Maurya, who is running BJP’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, is facing 11 criminal cases. Assembly polls open on Saturday in Uttar Pradesh, and on the ground Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s loftier aims for a new India seem far away.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to clean up politics. The man running the ruling party’s campaign in a crucial state election, who is facing 11 criminal cases, says it will take a while.

“At a time of elections, one has to forget every other aspect and just focus on victory,” said Keshav Prasad Maurya, as his three-vehicle convoy carrying police with automatic rifles sped through the countryside.

Polls open on Saturday in Uttar Pradesh, with a population of some 220 million, and on the ground Modi’s loftier aims for a new India seem far away.

Maurya, the state’s president for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), says the charges against him are false and politically motivated; unless he is convicted, they do not prevent him from holding office.

An official at the prime minister’s office referred questions about Maurya and his criminal cases to the BJP, where an aide to party president and Modi confidant Amit Shah said there was no problem.

The charges are related to Maurya protesting on behalf of Hindu causes, said the aide, and anyone who does so “is not a criminal in the party’s eyes.”

“Slowly,” Maurya told, “the BJP will be moving towards a direction where it will only have politicians who are absolutely clean and have no cases of corruption against them.”

Modi stormed to power in 2014 vowing to sweep away corruption and vested interests from business and politics.

Win at all costs?

As Maurya criss-crossed Uttar Pradesh by helicopter and sport utility vehicle ahead of a month-long election, voters were doubtful of wholesale reform to the way Indian politics work.

“That’s not going to change - the corrupt and the criminal are able to get votes,” said Rakesh Kumar Gupta, as he sold bread, cigarettes and snacks from the same cramped stand his father tended before him in Uttar Pradesh’s capital, Lucknow.

Ashutosh Mishra, head of the political science department at the University of Lucknow, said he saw no sign that Modi or any other major Indian politician was serious about overhauling a system he described as “feudal.”

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