The South Asia Channel

BJP Sweeps Indian Elections; Iran Reportedly Recruiting Afghan Refugees for Syrian War; Pakistani Prisoners Released from Bagram

Bonus Reads: "New Beginning? What a Modi Victory Means for India and the U.S.," James C. Clad and Robert A. Manning (SouthAsia); "How Islamic is Pakistan's Constitution?," Corri Zoli and Emily Schneider (SouthAsia).

India

BJP, allies win Indian elections

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the Indian election on Friday with a landslide win of 283 seats, making it the largest single majority party in nearly 30 years (Election Commission of India, Mint, Indian Express, NDTV, The Economist). Along with its allies in the National Democratic Alliance, the total number of party seats stands at 335, nearly five times as many as won by the incumbent Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance, which won 62 seats. The BJP also made remarkable gains in several states, such as Assam, Bihar, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh, where it had not been in power. Narendra Modi, the current chief minister of Gujarat and to whom this win has been credited, now stands ready to become India's next prime minister.

The party's victory is being touted as a vindication of the ‘Modi wave' (or ‘Tsunamo', as some have called it). Modi campaigned on a platform of good governance and economic growth, banking on his image as a strongman politician and able administrator. The BJP's overwhelming victory also has implications for the future of coalition politics in India, which has characterized the last two decades of Indian politics. It is estimated that over 550 million voted in the elections, which ran from April 7 to May 12.

The BJP swept into power in several parts of the Hindi heartland, winning 66 seats in Uttar Pradesh and upsetting the state's incumbent Samajwadi party, which managed to win only nine seats. In Bihar, the BJP won 24 seats, also overtaking the incumbent Janata Dal United party, which secured around four. It even registered surprise wins in Assam, traditionally a Congress stronghold, by winning 10 of the 14 parliamentary seats. 

The Trinamool Congress party led by Mamata Banerjee emerged victorious in West Bengal, winning 30 seats in the state and became one of the single largest parties, after the BJP and Congress, in the Indian parliament. The BJP took home all 26 seats in Modi's home state of Gujarat, as well as all 26 seats in Rajasthan. It also won 40 of the 48 available seats in neighboring Maharashtra, along with ally, the Shiv Sena party. The All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party in Tamil Nadu won a resounding 35 seats out of 38 in the state, while the Telegu Desam Party and Telangana Rashtra Samiti made massive gains across Seemandhra and Telangana.

The Congress party, however, had the biggest defeat in its history, losing seats in every state it contested. Reports speculated that the party lacks enough seats to even create an opposition bench in parliament (Hindustan Times). Rahul Gandhi, the party's vice president and presumed prime ministerial candidate, assumed personal responsibility for the loss, saying: "[W]e respect the verdict of people with humility and congratulate the next government."

The elections also saw an uninspiring performance by the upstart Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) under Arvind Kejriwal, who placed second in his first parliamentary election in Varansi, losing to Modi (NDTV). The AAP only won a lone seat in Punjab, however, it succeeded in outstripping the Congress party by coming in second for several other seats in the state; it also placed second for many seats in Delhi. The AAP fielded 426 candidates in the national election, more than the Congress party or the BJP, after its surprise victory in the Delhi polls in December.

A newly introduced "none of the above" option also performed well in some constituencies, coming in third in Vadodara, for example (OneIndia). In 2013, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that the "Nota" option should be included on the ballot. Various aggrieved communities across India had voiced plans to use the option, including sex workers in Calcutta, civil servants in Uttar Pradesh, and villages in Tamil Nadu that had lost faith in local politicians (BBC).

Indian stock markets rose as the election results were announced, with the Bombay Stock Exchange's Sensex climbing 6 percent to a record 25375.63, before falling back to 24121.74, an increase of 1.29 percent (BBC). Scores of retail investors took in profits as the market reached its intra-day high (Economic Times). The value of the rupee also surged more than 2 percent, reaching an 11-month peak against the dollar (Bloomberg).

Analysts cautioned, however, that Modi will now face a series of tests, including keeping inflation in check, delivering a budget that can reassure markets, and, most immediately, selecting a cabinet. "Clearly financial markets have gone far ahead of fundamentals," said Ananth G. Narayan, co-head of wholesale banking for South Asia at Standard Chartered in Mumbai (Economic Times). "The next 100 days will be critical for the next government to revive the investment climate." 

British Prime Minister David Cameron, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and other heads of state congratulated Modi on his victory, saying that they were eager to work with the new prime minister (NDTV, ABC).

-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson

Afghanistan 

WSJ: Iran recruiting Afghan refugees to fight in Syria

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Iran has been recruiting thousands of Afghan refugees to fight against rebel forces in Syria by offering them $500 a month and Iranian residency (WSJ). According to the report, details of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IRGC) recruitment efforts were posted to a refugee-focused blog earlier this week; both the IRGC and the office of Grand Ayatollah Mohaghegh Kabuli, an Afghan religious leader in Qom, confirmed the details. Kabuli's office added that many young Afghan men have written to him, asking whether or not fighting in Syria is religiously sanctioned. His response? Only if they were defending Shiite shrines.

Western officials told the Journal that Iran is playing on the region's sectarian divides -- pitting Afghanistan's mostly Shiite refugee population against the predominantly Sunni rebels; the Syrian regime is dominated by minority Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

According to Matthew Spence, a senior defense official, "One of the most concerning aspects of the Syrian conflict from a U.S. security perspective is that it is attracting foreign fighters from across the region and around the world." He added that: "We assess that there are now significantly more foreign fighters in Syria than there were foreign fighters in Iraq at the height of the Iraq war."

Karzai tells officials to stay neutral in run-off

As Afghanistan prepares for a run-off election between former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, current President Hamid Karzai "directed military and civilian officials to demonstrate complete neutrality in the process and avoid the use of state resources for or against any candidate" (Pajhwok). He also urged Afghans to vote as enthusiastically in the second round as they did in the first, calling their "active participation in the elections the biggest guarantee of stability and continuity of democracy in the country." The run-off election is scheduled for June 14, with the final results being announced in July. Bonus read: "Afghan candidates differ in style not substance," Associated Press (AP).

With less than a month to go until the election, Afghan security officials told TOLO News on Thursday that preparations to secure the vote "have been and will continue to be made to ensure a peaceful voting process" (TOLO News). Representatives from the country's Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, and National Directorate of Security said the Afghan security forces are preparing and reviewing security plans to strengthen the protections around polling stations, as well as the candidates themselves. While the first round of voting occurred quite peacefully, many observers have noted that this next round will occur during the Taliban's spring fighting season. 

Pakistan

Prisoners released from Bagram

U.S. officials in Afghanistan have quietly released 10 Pakistani detainees from Bagram Airfield, after they spent years in the prison without trial, their lawyers said on Thursday (AJE, Reuters). According to the reports, the International Committee of the Red Cross informed the prisoners' families that they had been released and repatriated to Pakistan, but further information was not provided; a similar batch of prisoners was released in December 2013, only to be secretly moved to Pakistani prisons and held for several more weeks. 

Sarah Belal, a lawyer at Justice Project Pakistan, a nonprofit human rights law firm that represents some of the detainees, and Tasneem Aslam, a spokesperson for Pakistani's Foreign Office, told reporters that dozens of men remain at Bagram under U.S. custody. U.S. officials have not commented on the reports. 

Protestors and police clash in Islamabad

Protestors belonging to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf political party and railing against the results of last year's national election clashed with police in Islamabad on Friday, though no serious injuries were reported (Dawn, ET). According to Pakistani media outlets, the protestors were trying to get close to the country's Election Commission to protest against alleged vote rigging in the 2013 vote. Police officers apparently charged the protestors and hit them with their batons when they crossed some of the barricades that had been erected in the area; the protestors then responded by hitting the officers. 

Bomb blasts wound dozens

At least 15 people were wounded in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Thursday night when a bomb attached to a motorcycle exploded outside a local restaurant (RFE/RL). According to authorities, one of the injured victims is in critical condition. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred hours after hackers targeted the city police's web site.

Elsewhere in Bannu, 10 people were injured when another bomb planted in a motorcycle exploded near a police vehicle (ET). Pakistan's Express Tribune reported that four police officials, including an assistant sub-inspector, were wounded in the blast. 

Earthquake hits Balochistan province

One week after a series of small tremors hit Pakistan's Balochistan province, the area was rocked by yet another 5.1-magnitude earthquake on Friday, though there were no immediate reports of damage or injury (AFP).

-- Bailey Cahall

Edited by Peter Bergen. 

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