India election 2019: Modi seeks re-election

7:24 a.m. ET, March 28, 2019

Experts say India's anti-satellite test was not just about Pakistan

Indian men watch the live broadcast of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi address to the nation on televisions displayed in an electronic store, in Amritsar on March 27, 2019.
Indian men watch the live broadcast of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi address to the nation on televisions displayed in an electronic store, in Amritsar on March 27, 2019. NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images

Modi announced on Wednesday that India had successfully conducted an anti-satellite missile test that put the country in a league of global "space powers."

Though the prime minister said Wednesday's test was for India's defense and security, it is likely to be seen as provocative by Pakistan and China and raise concerns about the militarization of space.

"It is an anti-China measure," said Bharat Karnad, security expert with Indian think tank the Centre of Policy Research. "This means that it provided the country with the capability to shoot any Chinese satellite. This is the flip side of the constellation of satellites. This is the destructive side of satellites."

There have been repeated warnings against China's growing space military capabilities.

"Given the relevance of satellites and the issue of China in the region, India needed to demonstrate that it has the ability too. Warfare is predicated increasingly on satellites and the use of satellites," said Uday Bhaskar, director of Indian think tank Society of Policy Studies.

Why China?

In 1962, India and China engaged in a border war and skirmishes have continued to break out sporadically throughout the subsequent years, most recently in the Doklam area in 2017.

China also has a close military relationship with Pakistan and is the country's biggest arms supplier -- with 40% of Beijing's military exports going to Islamabad, according to data from a December discussion of Pakistan at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"He wants to be seen as a person who has great resolve when it comes to national security. It is very routine that a military success is packaged as a political benefit," said Bhaskar.

5:14 a.m. ET, March 28, 2019

Modi talks up development in Uttar Pradesh rally

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a massive rally Thursday in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, where he exulted the achievements of his government and derided attempts being made by opposition parties to unseat him.

Why UP?

Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party is vying for votes in Uttar Pradesh -- seen as a key state to win the election.

The enormous state lies in India's north and has a population of 200 million people; if it were a country, it would be the fifth largest on the planet.

As India's most populous state, it has the largest parliamentary representation and holds huge political sway.

But Modi is facing tough competition in Uttar Pradesh from a coalition alliance formed by two regional parties -- the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party -- and India’s main opposition party, Congress.

Modi touts development

The rally in Meerut is Modi's first since dates for the general elections were announced -- officially kicking off election season in the world’s largest democracy.

Speaking to thousands of people on Thursday, Modi touted accomplishments that he said his government has achieved during his tenure, including action to address terrorism, and providing electricity and cleaner fuel to the poor.

“There is no corner in the country that has been untouched by development from us. Our first time voters when they go to the booth and before they press the button to vote for BJP, they will take a vision of development with them,” said Modi.

The state is one of India's most poverty-stricken states and home to 8% of the world's poor. 

But Modi has been repeatedly criticized for not doing enough to create jobs across the country.

“In the coming days, I will put forward the work done by the government. Our vision is of a new India and of the kind of India that is proud,” he said.

Bharatiya Janata Party supporters seen during Sankalp Rally at Gandhi Maidan on March 3, 2019 in Patna, India.
Bharatiya Janata Party supporters seen during Sankalp Rally at Gandhi Maidan on March 3, 2019 in Patna, India. Parwaz Khan/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

Attacks on opposition

Criticizing the previous governments for allegedly lining their own pockets and not doing enough to eliminate poverty, Modi dismissed the recent minimum income plan announced by Congress.

Last week, the Congress Party announced that it would provide an annual income of $1,045 per annum to 50 million families if they were voted into power.

The Congress did not reveal details for the plan and the BJP has claimed that it provides better economic help to the poor through subsidies and welfare programs.

Strong on defense

The BJP has repeatedly used its record on national security to beef-up Modi’s profile as a leader who is strong on defense. Modi has spoken about the increase in India’s muscle power and international strength, particularly in the wake of the Kashmir crisis that saw India and longtime rival Pakistan edge to the brink of war.

On Wednesday, Modi announced that India had conducted an anti-satellite missile test that put the country in a league of global "space powers," and boosted India's defense capabilities.

“I will put everything on the line for the country. No political or international pressure can scare your prime minister,” said Modi.

Modi is expected to address two more rallies today in Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand.

7:43 a.m. ET, March 27, 2019

$78 million in cash, drugs and liquor seized ahead of polls

A member of election staff pastes a tag on an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) at a distribution centre ahead of India's general election, in Ahmedabad, India, March 26, 2019.
A member of election staff pastes a tag on an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) at a distribution centre ahead of India's general election, in Ahmedabad, India, March 26, 2019. Amit Dave/Reuters

Cash, drugs and liquor worth $78 million have been seized by Indian police in the last two weeks.

Law enforcement officials have been on high alert for possible bribes since the Election Commission announced the schedule for the upcoming polls.

In India, bribes in the form of cash, gold or alcohol are common. Police said they confiscated $23.5 million worth of gold and $19 million worth of drugs.

According to the Election Commission, a total of $43.4 million of cash was seized during the entire 10 weeks of the 2014 elections. In the last 15 days, officials have already seized cash worth $20.7 million from 25 states across India.

Analysts say political parties and candidates have been known to spend more than three times the amount that is declared officially as expenditure during elections.

Goods worth millions of dollars are routinely seized during state elections every year as they are smuggled across state lines.

Earlier this month, the Election Commission introduced dedicated mobile apps where people can register any complaints or suspicions of bribery during the next two months.

7:41 a.m. ET, March 27, 2019

Modi says India conducted successful anti-satellite missile operation

India on March 27 destroyed a low-orbiting satellite in a missile test that had put the country in the space 'super league', Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
India on March 27 destroyed a low-orbiting satellite in a missile test that had put the country in the space 'super league', Prime Minister Narendra Modi said. PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India has successfully conducted an anti-satellite missile test that put the country in a league of global "space powers."

In a national address Wednesday, Modi said India had achieved a "historic feat" by shooting down its own low orbit satellite with a missile in just three minutes.

Only three other countries: US, Russia and China have the capabilities to use such an anti-satellite missile.

India’s space program has grown substantially over the past decade. In 2014, India put a satellite into orbit around Mars and the Indian Space Research Organization has announced that it will send a manned mission into space in the next three years.

Modi said the operation, called Mission Shakti – which stands for "power" in Hindi – would defend the country’s interests in space. The country's foreign ministry said that India had "no intention of entering into an arms race in outer space."

Though Modi said Wednesday's test was for India's defense and security, it is likely to be seen as provocative by Pakistan and China.

In response, a spokesperson for Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said "boasting of such capabilities is reminiscent of Don Quixote’s tilting against windmills," meaning to fight imaginary enemies.

"Space is the common heritage of mankind and every nation has the responsibility to avoid actions which can lead to the militarization of this arena," the statement said.

Opposition leaders dismissed the announcement as a publicity stunt.

Akhilesh Yadav, former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and one of Modi’s severest critics said, Modi's announcement "got himself an hour of free TV" and "divert nation’s attention away from issues on ground."

India’s feat comes after repeated warnings against China’s growing space military capabilities.

A report released last year by the Pentagon detailed that Russia and China are developing capabilities including “laser weapons to disrupt, degrade, or damage satellites and their sensors."

The growth of China's space capabilities and the need to help safeguard US satellites have been cited by the Trump administration as a reason why the US needs a Space Force.

4:40 a.m. ET, March 27, 2019

Narendra Modi biopic slammed as propaganda by opposition ahead of election

Vivek Oberoi, during the trailer launch of his movie "PM Narendra Modi" in Mumbai.
Vivek Oberoi, during the trailer launch of his movie "PM Narendra Modi" in Mumbai. Milind Shelte/India Today Group/Getty Images

India's main opposition party has criticized a Bollywood biopic of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, labeling it as propaganda and suggesting its forthcoming release contravenes the country's election laws.

In a petition to the Election Commission, the Congress Party demanded that the release of "PM Narendra Modi" be delayed until after the country's elections, which begin on April 11 and will last for about six weeks.

"This is no artistic venture. It is a political venture," said Kapil Sibal, senior Congress Party leader Monday. "The purpose of this film is only political -- to get some extra mileage in the election."

Read more on that here.

6:07 a.m. ET, March 26, 2019

 Raghuram Rajan: "huge hunger for good jobs"

Former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India Raghuram Rajan says "good jobs for the people with moderate education, is simply not there."
Former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India Raghuram Rajan says "good jobs for the people with moderate education, is simply not there." Rajanish Kakade/AP/Getty Images

Former chief of the Reserve Bank of India, Raghuram Rajan, has said one of the biggest issues in the country is the lack of jobs.

Speaking in a televised interview with NDTV, Rajan said, "there does seem to be a paucity of jobs" for all those who are graduating.

"Too many graduates are trying for low level jobs because they are not finding jobs that suit them," he said. "To some extent the lack of job creation mirrors the problems in the West, that is good jobs for the people with moderate education, is simply not there." 

Rajan is currently the Katherine Dusak Miller Distinguished Service Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

"There is a huge hunger for good jobs. Our job statistics have been poor for a long time. We need to improve collection of those statistics. We can't rely on the EPFO (Employees' Provident Fund Organization) or other make-do versions. We need to collect better job data," Rajan said.

More than half of Indians are aged 25 or under, and some 12 million enter the workforce each year. According to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, the unemployment rate in February this year stood at 7.2%, up from 5% in February, 2017. 

5:25 a.m. ET, March 26, 2019

Rights group says parties should pledge to protect human rights

A young Indian demonstrator holds a placard at a rally in New Delhi on July 18, 2017, in protest over a spate of assaults against Muslims and low-caste Dalits by Hindu vigilantes in India.
A young Indian demonstrator holds a placard at a rally in New Delhi on July 18, 2017, in protest over a spate of assaults against Muslims and low-caste Dalits by Hindu vigilantes in India. SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images

Human Rights Watch has called on all parties standing in the forthcoming Indian elections to commit to "strengthening human rights protections."

"Respect for economic, social, and political rights has declined in India in recent years," the international rights organization said in an open letter Tuesday. "We are writing to urge you to adopt human rights as a key part of your pledges and manifestos ahead of parliamentary elections."

The rights group wants candidates to pledge to ensure accountability of the security forces, to protect freedom of expression and assembly, to enforce laws that protect women and children, and to end discrimination against minorities and refugees.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch said, “It is important for voters in India to have the choice to elect leaders who will genuinely uphold human rights protections."

4:20 a.m. ET, March 26, 2019

India's Rahul Gandhi takes on the Modi juggernaut

Indian Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi is seeking to unseat Prime Minister Narendra Modi in upcoming elections.
Indian Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi is seeking to unseat Prime Minister Narendra Modi in upcoming elections. ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images

He is the heir apparent to India's most powerful political dynasty. But over the next few months, Rahul Gandhi will face an uphill battle in the country's general election campaign.

The 48-year-old was born into the Nehru-Gandhi family, whose legacy is intertwined with an independent and democratic India. He is also president of the India National Congress -- the main opposition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Gandhi was a reluctant leader but has lately exceeded expectations, with his party winning key state elections late last year. He's been campaigning on anti-Modi rhetoric and his party seeks to show that the economy has suffered in the last five years and that Modi's promises have fallen flat.

Here's what you need to know about political scion and Modi rival Rahul Gandhi.

11:08 p.m. ET, March 25, 2019

Congress promises to "wipe out poverty" with minimum wage

ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images
ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images

India’s main opposition party, Congress, has promised a minimum wage of Rs 72,000 ($1,045) to 50 million families if they are voted back into power.

In a press conference Monday, the party's President Rahul Gandhi announced the latest project would benefit the poorest and “would be the final assault on poverty in India.”

“In the past five years, Indian citizens have had to suffer through many problems, especially our poor people. We will wipe out poverty in India,” Gandhi said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced a similar program last month -- assuring millions of poor farmers of an annual income of Rs 6,000 ($87).

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dismissed the Congress plan and said it is not needed given the other government programs already in operation.

“If you are sure about your defeat, you can promise the moon. Who takes it seriously? Already under different schemes, poor families get much more support. Is it in addition to those schemes or will they all be subsumed in it?,” tweeted Ram Madhav, the general secretary of the BJP.

In the run-up to elections, Congress has maintained a focus on the dearth of jobs and the employment crisis in India. However, Modi’s BJP has laid more stress on national security -- a subject Gandhi has little experience and expertise in.

The project will be rolled out in phases and it is fiscally prudent, said Gandhi. “We will liberate 250 million people from poverty. It is unacceptable to the Congress party that in the 21st century there are poor people in this country.”