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Modi Made the Indian Election About National Security. It Paid Off.

After a terrorist attack killed 44 soldiers in Kashmir, Modi seized the opportunity to portray himself as India’s Chowkidar, or “Guardian.”

by Juanita Ceballos, Krishna Andavolu, and Angad Singh
May 23 2019, 6:15pm

India is counting more than 600 million votes in the biggest election in world history — and all signs are pointing towards a massive win for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party, the Hindu-nationalist BJP.

The BJP drew support from a core of India’s rising middle class, which credits Modi’s pro-business policies for their success.

“He's a virtuous person. He's becoming a brand like anything in India,” said Ankit Wadhwa, a BJP voter. During Modi’s first term, Wadhwa opened up a wedding venue, his third business.

“Definitely, all are happy and all enjoying, he said. “Where India stands in the world… [it’s] just because of Modi.”

But “all” is a tricky word. While Modi has helped revitalize India’s economy, his policies have largely benefited the elites and members of India’s burgeoning middle class like Wadhwa. The rest of India has experienced a much different reality: Under Modi the country weathered a 45-year-high in unemployment.

That grim figure made Modi vulnerable heading into the elections, so he shifted the conversation to his other major platform: nationalism and security.

After a terrorist attack killed 44 soldiers in Kashmir in February, Modi seized the opportunity to portray himself as India’s Chowkidar, or ‘Guardian’ that was the best fit to address the threat of Islamic terror. In the weeks leading up to the vote, he repeatedly stoked anti-Pakistan fervor to rev up his nationalist base and turn-out the vote, at one point claiming that a vote for him would be a vote for the soldiers.

For Tej Bahadur Yadav, a soldier who served in Kashmir, Modi’s response was more concerned with the politics of the attack than the livelihood of service members themselves.

“In reality Hindus aren’t under threat. All of these attacks are only brought up during election time,” Yadav told VICE News. “After the election, no one cares about soldiers, farmers, or workers.”

Ravi Mishra contributed to this video report. Alejandro Soto was editor.