Modi promises temple, farmer sops days before India poll
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday sought to woo Hindu voters and farmers with an election manifesto he hopes will help him seal a second term in office.
Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) outlined its key policies in the document released with fanfare in New Delhi, balancing nationalist policies with development talk, three days before elections begin.
The party said it was committed to building a grand temple for Hindu god Rama “as soon as possible in a harmonious way” and pass a citizenship bill that would grant Indian nationality to Hindus from neighboring countries.
The conflict over whether a temple or a mosque should be constructed in the holy city of Ayodhya is a major flashpoint between Hindus and India’s sizeable Muslim minority.
Under fire from the opposition Congress party for not doing enough for India’s struggling farmers, the party said it would infuse more than 300 billion dollars for rural development.
It would also extend an annual handout of 6,000 rupees (86 dollars) and introduced a pension scheme for small and marginal farmers.
“Nationalism is our inspiration … good governance is our mantra,” Modi, 68, said at the launch.
“It (the manifesto) is multi-layered and multi-dimensional because our society is very diverse. We can’t have a one-size-fits-all kind of policy. It addresses the needs of all sections of society.”
The party also said it would scrap a historic law providing special rights to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir, a move that is likely to spike tension in the tinderbox state.
The BJP manifesto comes on the heels of a similar document released by Congress last week which promised to “create wealth and guarantee welfare” to India’s 1.3 billion people.
Congress had announced 72,000 rupees ($1,045) each to India’s poorest 250 million families.
Recent opinion polls, although notoriously unreliable, suggest Congress is trailing BJP ahead of India’s mega-election running from April 11 to May 19.
The BJP, which decimated Congress as it swept to power in 2014, has been riding a nationalistic wave, vowing to protect the country against Pakistan-backed “terrorism”.
In February, India and Pakistan faced off in their worst confrontation in years over Kashmir, conducting tit-for-tat airstrikes.
“This manifesto has been prepared with strong nationalist vision … it is rooted in India’s realities,” said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
Critics say Modi has failed to create jobs and revive the rural economy.
He is also accused of tarnishing India’s credentials as a tolerant, secular country and imposing “Hindutva” or the hegemony of Hindus on its teeming millions.