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India election

Modi boosted in election by UN listing of Pakistani terrorist

India's decadelong campaign finally given tacit greenlight by China

Supporters of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party celebrate the U.N. Security Council's decision to blacklist Masood Azhar, head of Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed. REUTERS/Amit Dave   © Reuters

NEW DELHI -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi's reelection bid in the ongoing nationwide polls received a shot in the arm after the United Nations Security Council last week named Pakistan-based militant leader Masood Azhar -- dubbed locally as India's number one enemy -- a global terrorist.

Azhar, who is now subject to an asset freeze, travel ban and arms embargo, heads Jaish-e-Mohammed which claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in the Indian part of disputed Kashmir that killed 40 paramilitary police and brought nuclear-armed India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

The security council's May 1 move -- India's demand to ban Azhar was backed by the U.S., U.K. and France -- came after China, a close ally of Pakistan, dropped its objection to his listing as a terrorist.

Analysts said the development would strike a chord with voters and further boost Modi's image as a go-getter and trustworthy leader in the remaining three phases of India's seven-phase general election that began on April 11 and ends on May 19.

New Delhi had been trying for about 10 years to get Azhar on the blacklist but China had put a technical hold saying there was no proof of his direct involvement in terrorist attacks in India, pointed out Pankaj Jha, a professor of defense and strategic studies at the O.P. Jindal Global University in northern Haryana state.

Beijing's stand was contradicted by Azhar himself who claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in India, the analyst said. The security council's move creates the impression that Modi is "a strong leader" because he knows "most shrewdly how to do diplomatic maneuvers than any other leader."

"People have realized that Modi is a tough taskmaster and is making countries like China move. Definitely, it is going to translate into [some electoral dividend] for him," Jha said, adding that the prime minister and his Bharatiya Janata Party have already gained public trust following the Indian airstrikes on militant bases in Pakistan in response to the Kashmir attack. 

Addressing a rally in northwestern Rajasthan state bordering Pakistan on May 1, Modi referred to the U.N. ban on Azhar. "It's a big success for India which has been trying to eliminate terrorism for a long time," he said amid passionate chants of "Modi, Modi" from the crowd. "The whole world is paying heed to the voice of 1.3 billion Indians now."

New Delhi voter, Himani Sati, threw her support behind Modi, saying: "We do not have a leader as strong as Modi currently. He seems to me the right choice to lead the country for another five years." New Delhi votes on May 12 in the penultimate phase of the elections.

JeM -- which is also linked to al-Qaida and Taliban -- was founded by Azhar, a Pakistani national, after he and two others were released from an Indian prison in 1999 in exchange for the passengers and crew of an Indian plane that had been hijacked. The plane was on its way to New Delhi from Kathmandu and was flown to Afghanistan which was then ruled by the Taliban. India blames JeM for a series of attacks on its soil, including on its parliament in New Delhi in 2001.

Shamshad Ahmad Khan, a visiting associate fellow at New Delhi-based Institute of Chinese Studies, said it was "surprising" that Azhar's support for al-Qaida and Taliban was cited as a reason for his blacklisting and not his owning up to the Kashmir attack. "Nonetheless, it is a diplomatic victory for India which eluded it for over a decade because of China's [objection]."          

Khan was less certain about the impact on voters. He said voters might not prioritize national security -- which the BJP has made one of its main planks in the elections -- over other "pressing issues" such as employment generation, agrarian distress and better water and sanitation facilities.   

In the remaining phases of the polling on May 6, May 12 and May 19, a total of 169 seats -- or about 30% of the 543 for which elections are being held -- are up for grabs. All ballots will be counted on May 23.

Many opinion polls have predicted that the ruling National Democratic Alliance headed by the BJP will return to power albeit with a reduced majority. 

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