Politics of hate loses a key vote in India

Voters in the nation’s capital sent a message to the ruling party that anti-Muslim policies go against India’s secular tradition.

People wait to vote in a Feb. 8 local election in New Delhi. The polling station is close to an ongoing mass protest against a new Indian citizenship law.

The Muslim minority in the world’s two most populous countries, China and India, have lately felt very much under siege. Since 2017, China has shut mosques and rounded up its Uyghur Muslims for mass “reeducation.” In December, India passed a new citizenship law for migrants that purposely excludes Muslims. It was the first time that religion has been used to grant nationality despite India’s secular constitution. In other moves, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has signaled it seeks a Hindu-centric nation.

In each country, the anti-Muslim discrimination differs in scope and intensity. Yet one other difference stands out.

In India, which is the world’s largest democracy, both Muslims and non-Muslims have held sustained protests for two months against the new citizenship law, the largest demonstrations in decades. Even more important, voters appear to be in revolt. On Feb. 8, the BJP suffered a massive defeat in local elections in New Delhi, despite intense campaigning by the party’s leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

With 20 million people, the nation’s capital is a microcosm of the country. The BJP won only 8 of 70 seats in the city’s assembly while the other seats went to the local Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party, or AAP). Its leader, Arvind Kejriwal, is a well-known anti-corruption activist who, as Delhi’s chief minister since 2013, has implemented popular anti-poverty projects. He opposes any fear-mongering against Muslims.

One of the AAP’s top leaders, Sanjay Singh, said the election result is a mandate against hate. Mr. Kejriwal says the vote “is a victory for Mother India, for our entire country.” Indeed, the election was seen as a referendum on Mr. Modi’s politics of division and his image as protector of Hindus, who are about 80% of the population.

The resistance against the BJP’s policies could go on. Even though the party won national elections last May, it has lost power in five states since 2018 and may lose more this year. In a democracy, where the principle of equality for all people before the law is sacred, the use of hatred to win votes or to hold power is easily exposed.

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