Is the media really biased against BJP?

Colored contrasts in the heart of politics

The five-year ritual of Indian parliamentary elections is in full swing across the country. The largest democracy in the world, as India is often called, is going to the polls once again. After the campaign noise of the campaigning, slogan-wielding parties and the excited reporting subsided, there is now a brief moment of calm: the voters (this year there are a total of 814 million citizens) are in an empty classroom of a neighboring school, which is called Polling station serves to cast his vote by pressing a button on the electronic voting machine. One can only speculate about which button will be pressed at the end. But the will of the electorate, which is expressed in the decision, was known to be the target of endless manipulation by the political parties with their expensive election campaigns, the subject of tireless election analysis and debates in the media and the academic establishment, as well as discussions at tea shops or at the barber's.

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A federal state in northern India has always been a laboratory for political experiments: Uttar Pradesh (UP). Perhaps unfairly, many may object. Because of the sheer size of its population of almost 200 million people, the country is India's largest state and claims the lion's share of the seats to be allocated in the lower house of the Indian parliament (Lok Sabha), namely 80 of a total of 543 seats. UP, as most parties will agree, is the decisive factor in the formation of the new central government. Development indexes are in the basement and there is growing social tension in some parts of the state. The UP has thus become a hunting ground for political parties of all stripes, outdoing each other in their rhetoric and election promises. But UP is undoubtedly a microcosm of the multi-faceted Indian electorate and the political changes looming underground.

Technocracy and the politics of hate

Take, for example, the mood at an election campaign event of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the Shipra site in Ghaziabad. The name Narendra Modis alone as the hoped-for new prime minister attracted hundreds of followers and curious people from the surrounding fenced-in housing estates and nearby high-rise buildings, shiny glass and chrome office towers and shopping centers. The people flowing together here represent the well-off, aspiring middle class, from which many of the nearly 100 million first-time voters come. It is this electorate that is drawn to Modi and his revamped image - as a model for efficiency, decision-making power and economic opportunities. If we add the heady mix of patriotic and religious (Hindu nationalist) pride, we get the right cocktail for India's high-tech generation. The tainted past of Modi, who as prime minister in Gujarat stood idly by and even, it is alleged, approved of genocide in his state, counts little for these people. Let's look to the future and not conjure up the past, they say impatiently.

Please don't start again with the Ram Temple controversy that made the BJP great as a national alternative in the early 1990s; the era of religious politics is over, so the young fans of the BJP may defend themselves. So they probably look away blankly when Modi brings up his favorite twist on the "pink revolution," an alleged conspiracy by the incumbent Congress Party with the alleged goal of sending all stray holy cows to the slaughterhouse to boost beef exports. But the underlying not particularly hidden message of this recurring metaphor in Modi's speeches suggests that conservative Hindu issues are still at the top of the BJP's agenda, especially when one considers the words of Amit Shah, Modi's right hand, in hears a riot-ridden Muzaffarnagar. "Now it's our turn to take revenge," he recently told supporters in an area that has barely recovered from the violent communal unrest last year that drove hundreds of Muslim families from their homes and yards. They now live in poorly equipped refugee camps.

It is only a small consolation that Shah was banned from the election following these remarks. The damage had already been done. The BJP cadres in the city of Muzaffarnagar admit that they are not interested in attracting Muslim voters. "They don't trust us. They will vote for Mullah Mulayam or the Congress Party anyway, which have more for them than for us Hindus," said a party official who wants to remain anonymous.

divide and conquer

“Mullah” Mulayam, this nickname coined by the BJP is aimed at Mulayam Singh Yadav, who regards himself as the protector of the Muslims in UP. His incumbent Samajwadi Party (SP) has been denounced by critics of all shades for its cynical and polarizing policies in Uttar Pradesh. During the brief reign of his son Akhilesh Yadav, various municipal fires flared up in the state, and Muzaffarnagar was particularly badly affected last September. The SP leaders seem to have discovered local politics as the key to the complex electoral matrix in UP, and some of the party's Muslim leaders, such as Azam Khan, have made incendiary statements on par with Amit Shah's malicious remarks. However, many Muslim voters do not see the party as their protector. "We see through her game," told me a resident of Malakpur Camp, one of the largest settlements for displaced Muslims in the troubled Shamli district, when she showed me her husband's provisional electoral ID, which was issued by the local Samajwadi Party officials was issued. "You can vote for us with it," they told us. But I know this is not even a real electoral ID card. We cannot use it to prove our citizenship or apply for any social benefits. Why should we vote at all? "She asks.

Once the dust settles and the violence and emotions of the conflict subside, cynicism and less easily definable problems will return to the agenda. It is not without good reason that camp residents accuse leaders of local groups who came with helping hands of enriching themselves personally with aid deliveries. The girls' age at marriage is falling as their safety and honor have become an issue in the desperate atmosphere of the camp. Kabooli, an elderly resident of Malakpur Camp, laments the fate of her seven granddaughters as she watches one of them prepare the evening meal by the wood fire. Farhana hardly looks 16, but her grandmother says she is already 20. What is also striking is the radicalization of the disaffected youth, who is becoming cannon fodder for hate campaigns. Such developments were also observed in Malakpur after the riots.

Shadab Ahmad Mister in the village of Sanjarpur tells us another story about extremism. Mister is sitting in a bamboo-and-tile-roofed hut and gazing calmly over the sun-drenched inner courtyard of his large house as he prepares for a prayer meeting with the elders of the community in a nearby Koran school. But when asked gently about his son Mohammad Saif, his voice suddenly trembles with emotion. Saif has been languishing in a prison since 2008. He is accused of being involved in a terrorist attack without sufficient evidence. There is no trace of another son, who is also accused in the case. The incident that changed their fate was a shootout between police forces in Delhi and alleged Indian Mujahideen fighters in the area around Batla House in the capital. The details are opaque and still give rise to speculation today. Law enforcement agencies are investigating the city of Azamgarh and Sanjarpur.

Mister, an old member of the Samajwadi Party, does not want to know anything about the allegations with which the SP was accused of allegedly manipulated canvassing of Muslim votes. "There is a structural bias against Muslims in the Indian system. This has demoralized the Muslim community so much that it has internalized the guilt; Muslims are supposed to believe that they are all criminals," he says dejectedly, claiming that the SP is one of the few parties that care about the fate of Muslims. However, certain tendencies in some regions of Uttar Pradesh suggest a change in loyalties.

Incidentally, the first four Prime Ministers of India came from the UP, all of them from the Congress Party. The state was considered a stronghold of the party for a long time until its hegemony faded in the 1990s, as a result of social changes initiated by the Mandal Commission; Their reservation policy strengthened the lower caste communities in particular. The leading family of the Congress party is still hoping for electoral success in the UP. But if you want to see the devastated party office in Lucknow as a sign, then Congress is a run-down political force.

Positive action and megalomania

Political analysts and journalists who know UP well claim that if anyone can stop the "Modi wave", it is Behenji. Behenji is a loving expression of respect for Mayawati Kumari, the former prime minister and leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Mayawati, a leader of the Dalits, the Untouchable caste normally marginalized from Hindu society by the repressive caste system, was able to turn electoral behavior in her state on its head with her unique talent for social manipulation. She managed to integrate the upper castes, Dalits and Muslims, who previously had their own candidates, into her electorate. Their trend-setting campaign in 2007 had a catchy slogan that explained the elephant symbol of the BSP, the elephant: “Haathi nahin, Ganesh grove, Brahma, Vishnu Mahesh grove”, which means something like "The elephant is the deity Ganesha that is in one God united trinity ". This slogan was an invitation to completely different social groups to lean on Behenji's elephants. However, her successful path to power ended in 2009 when she was increasingly confronted with allegations of corruption affecting her own party and growing personal fortune until she was eventually elected from office.

Her usual quiet election campaign began late and is based on her traditional bastions, of which she is sure to support. Your election rally at the beginning of April in the village of Thana Bhawan in West Uttar Pradesh could be an indication of a possible - albeit demographic - change. It is said to have been the only political party election rally in the troubled areas that had female participants. Muslims flocked in large numbers, determined to curb the rise of the BJP, which is also to be seen as a sign of their dwindling support for the SP. After a delay of nearly two hours, during which the Muslim and Dalit leaders did their best to keep the crowd in good spirits, Behenji's helicopter finally appeared on the horizon. The police and paramilitaries had to hold the rushing participants who wanted to catch a glimpse of their idol at bay with batons.

The same admiration can be seen on the faces of the Dalits who make pilgrimages to the impressive Ambedkar Monument in Gomti Nagar in Lucknow. Among the imposing towering and crushing marble and stone statues of B. R. Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram, Narayana Guru and other heroic fighters against the caste system, you finally reach the gigantic marble statue of Mayawati on your tour. This statue, built in the Greco-Roman style from red sandstone, inspired by pioneering architects such as Edward Lutyens, bears all of Mayawati's insignia: her trademark, the dupatta scarf wound around her neck, is not missing, as is the leather handbag. This monument, which was erected during her lifetime, is perhaps symbolic of the divine, omnipotent aura with which she tries to surround herself.

The pilgrimage and the myth of harmony

The gods are part of politics in India. But do not believe that Narendra Modi can sail unmolested on the waters of faith. In the ancient city of Varanasi, which is considered the place of residence of Lord Shiva, Modi's followers have discovered a centuries-old hymn in honor of the deity residing there and converted it into a battle cry for their meetings. “Har Har Mahadev” became “Har Har Modi”, but this transformation did not go down well with the priestly class who live in the winding streets around the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. "How can someone call himself a god? Nobody is greater than God, not even Modi," a young priest tells me when he is about to take a bath in the Ganges at the enchanting sea ghat.

Similar words can be heard in Ayodhya, another ancient pilgrimage town that became the scene of a dispute in 1992 that caused the deepest rift in Indian politics and changed it forever. The Ram Janmabhoomi movement only took off in the late 1980s through the BJP and Hindu nationalist organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) when they asked for the Babri Mosque to pass a Ram Temple should be replaced. The protest only came to a standstill when the Hindu fundamentalists finally climbed the domes of the mosque that shaped the silhouette of Ayodhya for almost 500 years. Today the place, which many consider to be the birthplace of God Ram, is more militarized than the border posts of the army on the Indian-Pakistani border. The pilgrims have to squeeze their way through metal cages and fences reinforced with barbed wire in concentric circles, in order to be able to stoop at the end of the fence through a hole in the fence to take a look at the sparsely decorated image of the god, which stands in a shabby tent on a mound of earth.

"Modi could not even fulfill his religious duties to his own wife. How can a man who is unable to look after his own family take responsibility for the nation?" Asks Bhavatlal Gutpa angrily. He runs a candy shop on the temple grounds at the destroyed Babri Mosque. The seventy-year-old witnessed the storm that swept through Ayodhya. “My own son was a Karsevak (Hindu activist). He broke his arm while climbing the Babri Dome. But we are all used by the VHP for their own political goals. They are not true Hindus. Hinduism does not teach the desecration of monuments of other religions, "says Gupta. In fact, Ayodhya is what electoral researchers call a" mature "electoral community that is not so easily influenced by slogan-wielding politicians. Nevertheless, DVDs are being made of television records of the destruction of the Babri Mosque freely sold to pilgrims from across India Recent statements by the BJP prove that the demand for a Ram temple has not been forgotten.

In the hysterical days of 1992-1993, after the destruction in Ayodhya, riots broke out in various places in UP and other parts of the country. Much has been said about how Varanasi remained untouched by the turmoil at the time; and television news anchors reporting on the election still like to highlight the harmonious culture of the temple city - or the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb, as it is known colloquially. But as the young reporter Saiyyed Danish, whom I met in Varanasi, reminded me: This was only the case because the city experienced a tense silence and bitter peace in 1989 after weeks of violence. In his opinion, the communal divisions are deeply ingrained in India and Varanasi is no exception.

That is probably why Arvind Kejriwal, chairman of the anti-corruption party Aam Aadmi Party, held his first election rally in this city. As always, he chose the venue on the basis of strategic considerations, with the excluded in view whom he seeks to woo. Benia Bagh Square is close to a Muslim bazaar and ghetto and guarantees that the majority of the participants come from this community, but also addresses many other participants, such as the shaven young Hindu monks in their saffron-colored robes.

But in the Madanpura district of Varanasi, which is home to the city's 250,000 weavers, there is skepticism about Kejriwal's prospects. The 52-year-old Mohammed Ilyas sits in his shabby workshop in the midst of old wooden looms with which he weaves together the bright beige, burgundy and saffron-yellow silk threads. He shows me his electoral ID cards, which he has received from various parties over the years."Apparently we should get discounts and more money for our saris, which we weave and sell to the Hindu businessmen. But the parties come, make promises and disappear again. Take a look at the condition of my workshop. Who knows if?" this political newcomer can do something good for us, "says Ilyas with a half-smile.

Further articles, interviews, analyzes as well as studies and publications on India in the election year 2014 in our dossier:
"India in the Election Year - New beginnings or stagnation?".