It's not just India's middle classes who have a problem with Narendra Modi | Kalpana Wilson

As the elections end, the truth about Modi's support among the young and poor – especially in Bihar – will become clear

As India's five-week-long elections come to an end and the world waits to see if Narendra Modi will become prime minister, several myths are circulating outside of India. First, that whatever the outcome it will be the result of a democratic process; second, that in any case it is really only the English-speaking elite that has a problem with Modi; and third, that young people who want to see a change are flocking to Modi. But the view from the ground in Bihar – a key state and one of India's poorest – challenges all of these beliefs.

In Bihar it is the poor who fear and are mobilising against a Modi victory. Glib references to "the world's largest democracy" obscure the fact that Dalits and other poor communities are once again having to defend a hard-won battle for the right to vote denied to them by higher caste landowners.

There was a civil rights breakthrough in the state in the late 1980s and 1990s when, riding a wave of movements for decent wages, land redistribution and an end to rapes of Dalit women by landlords, large numbers voted for the Communist party of India (Marxist-Leninist), the revolutionary left party which led these movements. As Shanti Devi, a Dalit female agricultural labourer told me in 1996: "We got the courage to fight. Things have changed, we answer back, we talk to them as equals."

The landlords responded by forming the Ranvir Sena – an armed group which has carried out a series of massacres of landless Dalit and Muslim women, children and men. The horrific nature of the violence prefigured the massacres of Muslims in Gujarat under Modi in 2002, but the connection doesn't end there.

Like Modi, the Ranvir Sena's founder, Brahmeshwar Singh, was a lifelong cadre of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the organisation at the heart of India's Hindu far right. Nitish Kumar, the incumbent chief minister who was until recently in an alliance with the BJP, hastily disbanded the judicial commission set up to look into the political links of the Ranvir Sena before its findings could be made public.

But it is common knowledge that while all the major parties utilised the Sena to try to crush the assertion of the rural poor and its left leadership, its core loyalty remains with the BJP. Like many other armed and violent Hindu rightwing organisations across the country, the Ranvir Sena is a key ally for Modi on the ground.

What this means for democracy was demonstrated when the Ranvir Sena assassinated two people days before polling in the Ara constituency – one was Budhram Paswan, a local Communist party (ML) leader, himself a Dalit. His killers fired shots in the air to mark his murder as a political assassination, and to terrorise those intending to vote for his party. The other was a young Muslim teacher, Akbar Khan, whom the Ranvir Sena claimed to have murdered for cheering on Pakistan during a cricket match. His murder was an attempt to terrorise Muslims and – as has been the BJP's pre-election strategy in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere – to orchestrate Hindu-Muslim violence. In this case it failed because Khan was very popular among local people of all communities.

Since then, Bihar BJP leader Giriraj Singh has publicly announced that opponents of Modi will have "no place in India" once he wins and should "go to Pakistan".

Despite this level of intimidation, in Ara the Communist party (ML) has seen hundreds of young people, including large numbers of young women, walking from village to village to campaign for their youthful candidate Raju Yadav. Among them was Rachna, a 20-year-old student from Ara town, who explained that she was drawn to campaign by her concern for issues around women's freedom: "Here we are consulted; we've helped to shape the campaign – it's a breath of fresh air."

So what then of Modi's alleged support among young voters? Bihar presents a very different picture – of a generation that wants a very different kind of change from the rapid slide into fascism Modi promises.

Since a series of unexplained blasts during a Modi rally in Patna, the state capital, Muslim communities have experienced a reign of terror in which teenage boys have been indefinitely detained without charge by the National Investigation Agency and tortured in an attempt to extract false confessions. Family members of these youths were also interrogated by NIA officers who demanded, "Why won't you and your family vote for Modi?"

This frightening administrative collusion with the Hindu right does not appear to be serving its purpose. Bihar appears set to decisively reject Modi.


Kalpana Wilson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Narendra Modi: India's saviour or its worst nightmare?
Jason Burke in Meerut: India goes to the polls next month to elect a new prime minister. The BJP candidate, and current frontrunner, is seen by supporters as a dynamic man of the people. Opponents say he is little more than a rabid nationalist. What would his victory mean?

Jason Burke in Meerut

06, Mar, 2014 @6:00 AM

Article image
Narendra Modi makes tearful speech to India's parliament
Prime minister-elect chokes back tears as he agrees to lead world's biggest democracy and recalls his own humble origins

Jason Burke in Delhi and agencies

20, May, 2014 @11:27 AM

Article image
Narendra Modi meets BJP leaders to begin forming India's government
Composition of Modi's government will be keenly watched as indication of what policies he will pursue

Jason Burke in Delhi

18, May, 2014 @11:43 AM

Article image
A Narendra Modi victory would bode ill for India's future | @guardianletters
Letters: It is crucial to remember the role played by the Narendra Modi government in the horrifying events that took place in Gujarat in 2002

11, Apr, 2014 @8:00 PM

Narendra Modi, India's PM-elect, receives hero's welcome in Delhi

Hundreds of flag-waving Bharatiya Janata party supporters celebrate at capital's airport after landslide election victory

Martin Williams and Jason Burke

17, May, 2014 @2:01 PM

Article image
India's BJP names Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi as election candidate

Modi to run for prime minister despite critics depicting him as an extremist to blame for 2002 mob violence against Muslims

Jason Burke in Delhi

13, Sep, 2013 @3:30 PM

Article image
Who is Narendra Modi? – video
Narendra Modi is expected to become India’s next prime minister. Phoebe Greenwood explains how a lowly ‘chai wallah’ from remote Gujarat blossomed into a Hindu nationalist poster boy

Phoebe Greenwood and Laurence Topham

15, May, 2014 @6:53 PM

Article image
India has given Narendra Modi a mandate to refashion the country | Swapan Dasgupta
Swapan Dasgupta: Young Indians crave the good life, and their energy will allow the country's new leader to push past its 'plodding culture'

Swapan Dasgupta

21, May, 2014 @5:00 AM

Article image
Narendra Modi and the BJP bludgeoned their way to election victory | Jayati Ghosh

Jayati Ghosh: The sheer aggression of the BJP campaign, the threats to the Election Commission – Modi made sure India felt his presence

Jayati Ghosh

16, May, 2014 @9:20 AM

Article image
Narendra Modi: Britain can't simply shrug off this Hindu extremist | Priyamvada Gopal
Priyamvada Gopal: The UK will also suffer if India elects this far-right activist. We must sever our links with him

Priyamvada Gopal

14, Apr, 2014 @6:00 AM