BBC News – Congress manifesto: India opposition pledges to review armed forces act

India has entered full election mode: voting is due to begin on 11 April, with the final ballot cast more than five weeks later on 19 May. Every day, the BBC will be bringing you all the latest updates on the twists and turns of the world’s largest democracy.

Congress promises to review a controversial anti-insurgent law

What is happening?

India’s main opposition party Congress has promised to review the Armed Forces Special Powers Acts (AFSPA) if elected, according to its election manifesto.

The law allows troops to shoot to kill suspected militants or arrest them without a warrant.

It also protects soldiers who may kill a civilian by mistake or in unavoidable circumstances during an operation.

AFSPA has been blamed for “fake killings” in Indian-administered Kashmir and the north-eastern state of Manipur and campaigners say it is often misused.

The party has also promised to scrap a contentious colonial-era law on sedition if it comes to power.

Why does this matter?

Critics, including human rights campaigners, have argued that AFSPA is undemocratic and has given the armed forces carte blanche power.

The law has always been seen as controversial, but it hasn’t really been an election issue in years. In 2011, P Chidambaram, who was the home minister at the time, said he would review the law, sparking outrage from the opposition.

To some extent, it is a risky strategic move from the Congress, the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has already criticised them, calling the idea “positively dangerous”.

The announcement to amend the law comes as analysts say that the BJP has begun to treat national security as an election issue after a suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir in which 40 Indian paramilitary were killed.

The manifesto also gives more details on the party’s most ambitious welfare proposal, a basic income scheme that promises 72,000 rupees ($1050) yearly to India’s poorest households.

Economists have told the BBC that funding the scheme will require scrapping existing government subsidies on food and fertilisers, and removing certain tax incentives.

‘Narendra Modi’s army’

What is happening?

The chief minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, has drawn fire from the opposition for referring to India’s army as “Narendra Modi’s army”.

Yogi Adityanath, known for his fiery and controversial rhetoric, repeated a common accusation from the governing BJP party that the opposition Congress “used to serve terrorists biryani [a rice dish]”, an allegation stemming from rumours that 2008 Mumbai attacks gunman Mohammad Qasab was served biryani on Ramadan while he was in Indian custody.

He continued: “Modi ji’s sena [army] gives them only ‘golis’ [bullets] and ‘golas’ [bombs]”.

Why does it matter?

Mr Modi and the BJP are making national security their number one campaign issue ahead of the vote, continuously accusing the Congress of being weak on terrorism.

Various opposition leaders from across party lines called this comment from Mr Adityanath “an insult to our armed forces” and called on him to apologise.

A former Army Chief General, Shankar Roychowdhury, told NDTV that the Indian military serves “the government of the day, not a political party”.

The comments from Mr Adityanath came a day after he was embroiled in another controversy. He travelled to a village where a Muslim man was lynched for allegedly eating beef, and addressed a rally where one of those accused of the murder was seated in the front row of the audience.

Mr Adityanath also indirectly referred to the incident, accusing the previous state government of “curbing the passion of Hindus” and adding that he had taken immediate steps to shut down slaughterhouses.

Hindus consider cows sacred and killing them is illegal in several states including Uttar Pradesh.