Bad News Awaits Yogi In Uttar Pradesh

As the dance of democracy rolls on in Uttar Pradesh, it seems bad news has come to stay for the BJP, even as the assembly polls in the spring of 2022 might signal symbolic signs of which way the wind might blow in the Lok Sabha elections in 2024. Indeed, for both Yogi Adityanath and Narendra Modi, the writing on the wall is loud and clear, and, surely, achche din seem nowhere in sight for them, or the BJP.

The seasoned journalists who were predicting only a depletion of 100 seats for the BJP, have now come down to 150. Apparently, certain bureaucrats in the state are calling up Akhilesh Yadav, sensing the mood on the ground. A district magistrate in Western UP, reportedly, refused to order a repoll in certain booths in a constituency despite the ardent pleas of a BJP heavyweight. These are all markers blowing in the wind, like the chronicle of a tale foretold.

While his father remains entrenched in the Union cabinet, despite the angst and anger of the farmers, the release on bail of the principle accused in the Lakhimpur Kheri murder case, with crackers etc to welcome him, has sent waves of disgust and dismay across the rural landscape in the area. Modi’s rally out here therefore might not change the simmering mood on the ground.

Besides, old memories have come to haunt the BJP. The burning pyre of a young Dalit girl in Hathras, with the UP police barricading the site, is etched in the mind of the locals, especially the Dalits. She was brutally assaulted and raped, and her family was not allowed to be part of the funeral of their own daughter. The media was not allowed to report, and, opposition leaders like Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi were stopped at the Delhi-UP border. With massive protests and nation-wide outrage spreading all across, the Yogi regime was compelled to allow the media and politicians access to the mourning family.

Now, Dalits in and around Hathras, are determined to teach Yogi a lesson. Not only here, with Mayawati having disappeared from the scene, Dalits across UP are unhappy with the BJP. In Western UP, anyway, Dalits have consolidated themselves with their Jat and Muslim brothers, in the formidable SP-RLD electoral alliance. The BJP leaders are not even able to visit their own constituencies, or else they have to face the wrath of the farmers. The confluence of Har Har Mahadev and Allah-u-Akbar at the massive Muzaffarnagar rally in the recent past, has all but eliminated the Hindutva card. Polarisation and hate politics just cannot work in Western UP anymore.

There is a noticeable paradigm shift in terms of the dominant BJP narrative in UP. Gone is the belligerent aggression and the strident Hindutva overdrive. The divisive discourse is all but over because communal politics is just not selling anymore in the Hindi heartland.

People have long memories. Bad, sad, bitter memories have a long shelf life. The toxic taste of demonetisation and GST lingers in the back-lanes like ghost stories. The ravaged economic lives of the small-scale industry and petty traders stalk the by-lanes. There is mass unemployment and the economy has gone for a toss. People want development, a better life, food to eat, health and education, jobs for the young. Surely, they don’t want hate politics.

Poor people are not able to have two square meals a day. Poor mothers are eating one meal a day. Women seem to have disappeared from the unorganised work force. The pandemic and lockdown has taken its toll on the poor.

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The Khatik community of Banda district in Bundelkhand, who backed the BJP in the past, are now terribly disappointed. Poor Khatiks who pick up sand since eternity, for a living, have to spend Rs 200 per day to feed their donkeys. From where will they get this kind of money? ‘‘Badlaav hoga,’’ (there will be change), said a woman to Chal Chitra Abhiyan, an independent news channel run by locals in Western UP.

In the village of Utarva in Banda, according to the news channel, Dalits want jobs. Doors have locks in this village because there is mass migration in search of livelihood. The nomadic community here, who voted for the BJP last time, will not toe the line anymore.

Talking of sand, the memories of the dead buried on the sandy shores of the Ganga, along with scores of dead bodies floating in the river, during the deadly Delta wave in the summer of 2021, haunts the people. People remember the dead cremated in public spaces and the hoardings put up hurriedly in Lucknow by the UP government to block photographers and journalists.

Plus, the memories of the anti-CAA protests have come back. The Supreme Court has recently ordered that the UP government should refund the damages worth crores recovered from the persons accused of destroying public property during the peaceful protests. Several activists, including women, were trapped in false cases.

Besides, the Brahmins, who can sense power from a distance, are waiting and watching. They will certainly vote for the winning alliance. In any case, bereft of political and bureaucratic power, they have been deeply disturbed by the unilateral power enjoyed by the Thakurs under the Yogi dispensation. Across UP, from Lucknow and Varanasi to Saharanpur and Meerut, the disgruntled Brahmin community might mark a decisive shift against the BJP in these assembly polls.

Political observers believe that at least 35 per cent of the BJP support base will shift this time. The backward caste vote base has all but aligned with the SP. Combined with the formidable Yadav-Muslim alliance, this seems a win-win scenario for Akhilesh Yadav. That heavyweights like Swamy Prasad Maurya, a powerful backward caste leader, four times minister with a daughter as MP, has aligned with Akhilesh, is a sign of the times. Like those bureaucrats, he too has sensed the shifting mood on the ground.

The Muslim factor too is crucial. Earlier, sidelining the Muslims, not pitching a single Muslim candidate, and ground level polarization would consolidate the Hindutva votes across the Hindu community. Now no more. This will lead to the Muslim community uniting as one against the BJP. With the backward castes, a section of Dalits and Brahmins too joining the Yadav alliance, the BJP is on a sticky wicket.

The ban on hijab in the schools of Karnataka has shocked the nation. Even BJP supporters can’t understand why school girls with backpacks, chasing dreams, should be unnecessarily targeted. There are reports that there is deep resentment within the BJP, including among Union cabinet ministers, against the move. The ban, which seemed a symbolic sign to polarize in UP, seemed to have boomeranged.

With schoolgirls from the Hindu, Christian and other communities, holding hands with the Muslim schoolmates in hijab, marching in solidarity, hand to hand, a new wave of unity in diversity has brought cheer to the nation. And this is the cheer and optimism which will be blowing in the wind in the state of UP in the spring of 2022. Resurrecting the chronicle of a tale foretold in the summer of 2022.

Bypoll Results: Diminishing Modi Magic

Almost no crackers on the festival of lights in pollution-free Kolkata and Bengal, while Delhi chokes and gasps for breath. And even while North India celebrated Deepawali with worshipping Goddess Lakshmi, Bengal worshipped the fiery Goddess, Kali, sometimes darker than darkness, her hair let loose, and at other times, ‘shyama’ – her face in blue.

Following Covid protocols and the no-crackers campaign, A subdued festival it was, though, post-Deepawali, all across Kolkata, the goddess was taken in small processions with the resonant beat of the dhakis and ghantas, and the auspicious echo of ulluk dhwani and shankh, for immersion in various ponds, water bodies and rivers, and this went on all day, until midnight.

Undoubtedly, the festival season has arrived with a heady note in West Bengal despite the sadness and restrictions of the pandemic earlier. The BJP has received a drubbing of its life in four assembly constituencies in the recent byelections. The Durga and Kali Puja also symbolise the universal celebration of ‘shakti’ in the state, where neither Jai Shri Ram nor the Ram temple in Ayodhya could make even an iota of religious or political breakthrough. Nor did the polarising politics of ‘termites’, outsiders, infiltrators, backed by huge money and muscle power, and pomp and show, with the prime minister and his home minister literally camping in the state, turning it almost into an ego issue. The drubbing therefore is yet another reminder that Bengal is continuously showing the way to the nation, and with no holds barred, just as Kerala and Tamil Nadu had shown earlier.

The recent by-elections, therefore, are more than symbolic indicators of the possible decline of the star power of Narendra Modi, and the polarising electoral power of communal and hate politics and Hindutva. The marginal reduction in excise duty on petrol and diesel, under tremendous civil society resentment and opposition pressure, is the first sign of backtracking and retreat by a regime in Delhi which remains absolutely unilateral, arrogant, unmoved and adamant in terms of popular demands, angst or anger, so sure it is of its 31 per cent hardened fanatic vote bank.

Not only have LPG prices been exorbitantly raised suddenly, again and again, inflation in terms of essential commodities, even during the festive season, is sky high. There is deep resentment inside crisis-ridden ordinary families, while millions are jobless or in serious economic distress, and even while a handful of super rich billionaires close to the current regime have reportedly amassed millions during the pandemic.

With UP elections round the corner, and signals from both Western and Eastern UP not bringing happy tides, the BJP, it seems, is clearly worried. Indeed, despite the BJP victories in Assam and the North-east, the signs from Bengal, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana means a different wind seems to be blowing in the country, and the BJP led by Modi seems on a sticky wicket.

The BJP has been decimated in Bengal. In Dinhata in North Bengal, Trinamool Congress candidate, Udayan Guha, once a Leftist from Forward Bloc with his father once a minister in the erstwhile Left Front government, polled a massive 84.15 per cent of the total votes. Near the Sunderbans in South Bengal, at Gosaba, the Trinamool candidate has polled 87.19 per cent of the total votes. The BJP was reduced to 11.31 per cent and 9.95 per cent of votes in the two assembly constituencies. The CPM stood third. In the four assembly polls, Trinamool won comfortable victories.

Social scientists and political observers point out that the BJP’s communal cards have been thrown into the garbage can in the face of secular politics in Bengal, and due to the grassroots development and social welfare initiatives of Mamata Banerjee, especially among women and the economically weaker sections. Indeed, during the lockdown and pandemic, the scheme of free food at the doorstep for the poor and economically marginalised, has been highly effective and it continues till this day, including other schemes such as Lakshmi Bhandar with monthly cash deposits for poor women and those belonging to the SC-ST communities, along with other schemes in health and education.

Tweeted Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee: “My heartiest congratulations to all the four winning candidates. This victory is people’s victory, as it shows how Bengal will always choose development and unity over propaganda and hate politics. With people’s blessings, we promise to continue taking Bengal to greater heights.”

The Congress had uplifting news from Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh. In Rajasthan, anti-incumbency is a crucial trend every five years, and the political dispensation inevitably changes. After three years of power in Rajasthan, and with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot claiming to win another term in the next assembly polls in 2023, the Congress candidates won Vallabhnagar and Dhariawad assemblies with margins of 18,725 and 20,606 votes. Indeed, it is a fact that in the by-elections in the last two years, the Congress has scored victories under the leadership of Gehlot, even while the state BJP is a divided lot with two factions pitched against each other.

Barring Yogi Adityanath in UP, the BJP has changed chief ministers in Uttarakhand and Karnataka, to recover lost ground and fight anti-incumbency. There are reports that the chief minister of Goa might also be replaced after a lacklustre performance and all-round unhappiness against the BJP’s abysmal record in governance in the scenic state. However, there is real bad news for the BJP in Karnataka, especially because it seems to be losing the support base of the formidable Lingayat community which backed its protégé, BS Yedurappa, who was recently removed from the chief minister’s post.

Has the Lingayat community vote got divided, or, is it nursing some deep-rooted angst — that remains a conjecture. The BJP won with its support in Sindgi in the Vijayapura district, but had to face a major embarrassment when it lost the Hanagal constituency in the Haveri district. Significantly, and ironically, it is the home terrain of the new Chief Minister, Basavaraj Bommai, also a Lingayat, but without the clout of Yedurappa. So, will the BJP start looking for a new CM now, even in Karnataka!

The victory of Abhay Chautala from Elenabad in Sirsa district, against the might of the Kanda family backed by the BJP, is significant. Chautala had earlier resigned in support of the farmers’ struggle. The united farmers movement had called upon the people to vote against the BJP-JJP candidate in a predominantly rural constituency. Clearly, despite a tight contest, rural Haryana has voted for the farmers’ struggle.

Seasoned journalist Ramsharan Joshi, who has covered the Hindi heartland for decades, has an interesting, analytical perspective. He says, “When Amit Shah says that the victory of Yogi is a must in the assembly elections in UP so as to pave the way for the victory of Modi in the next Lok Sabha polls, it sounds like a Freudian slip. Why is he linking the two polls – is he not confident of Modi’s charisma in UP or in the rest of the nation, anymore! Indeed, the statement reflects three things: Yogi’s graph is fast declining in UP, Modi is for the first time dependant on Yogi’s victory in the assembly polls, and that the two have become sadly dependent on each other because both have become seriously weak, despite their similar brand of politics. Despite the communal violence in Bangladesh and Tripura, the BJP was unable to polarise in the current by-polls, except in Assam. Where ever there is a strong opposition alternative, the BJP’s communal card fails to play, though this is what they will do again in UP.”

There is another fact. Modi’s vote-catching ability for the Centre, has somehow not really translated always, across the Indian geography, when it comes to state politics and polls. This has yet again been reflected in the recent by-polls. No wonder, the ‘kabristan, namaaz, Pakistan’ discourse of hate politics seems to be getting resurrected all over again. If nothing else, it also reflects a sign of desperation.

India’s Fall From Democracy To Electoral Autocracy

By virtue of its having a population of close to 1.37 billion and holding elections to Parliament and state assemblies every five years as required under the Constitution and on the basis of adult suffrage, India has logical claims to the status of the world’s largest democracy. Unfortunately, to popular concern, India is not faring well as a democracy in the eyes of independent global watchdogs.

These agencies use copiously collected social science data and feedback from a wide range of independent sources before they decide where a particular democracy finds itself in their indexes. The first blow for India came from Freedom House, a US based watchdog funded largely by the US Administration, which relegated the country to “partly free” status from the earlier “free” ranking.

Now a much harsher admonition for India comes from Sweden based V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy) Institute. In a major setback for liberal democracy, “the world’s largest democracy has turned into an electoral autocracy,” says the V-Dem report. The country’s 23 percentage point slide on V-Dem scale since 2013 makes “it one of the most dramatic shifts (read in terms of erosion of democracy) among all countries in the world over the past ten years.”

Elaborating how democratic values got eroded in India, V-Dem says: “Autocratisation process has largely followed the typical pattern for countries in the ‘Third Wave’ over the past ten years: a gradual deterioration where freedom of the media, academia and civil society were curtailed first and to the greatest extent.”

But Pranab Bardhan, professor emeritus of economics at University of California, Berkley, says much of Indian media, particularly the TV channels are found “shamelessly” ingratiating themselves with the powers that be. What freedom of the Press can there be when media owners and journalists who matter have on their own drawn the Lakshman Rekha in a way offering comfort to the ruling party at the Centre and in states like Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. What is left of free media is some news and opinion websites run by some intrepid journalists and a magazine or two.

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Bardhan is surprised that BJP has the gumption to complain that the opposition is engaged in smearing the reputation of the country across the world. “But it is now imperative to say that the way democracy is being trampled in so many ways is giving the country a bad name. Let’s take the case of harassment of Disha Ravi (climate activist). Hasn’t this invited global criticism? I will say those who describe the protesting farmers and principled journalists as anti-nationalists are a blot on our democracy,” says Bardhan.

Bardhan, a global campaigner for equality of opportunity for human development, has strong distaste for doublespeak that BJP leaders indulge in. They, according to him, will say sabka saath sabka vikas (development for all) but when it comes to act they will spew hatred for the ones not of their faith. Why Bills are not discussed any longer and Acts are steamrolled through Parliament?

Bardhan thinks the fear of courting uncomfortable questions has made Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to hold Press conferences at all. The people are instead left with ‘Man ki Baat,’ a monologue that leaves no room for questions to be asked. (To put the record straight, Modi at least once sat for a long interview with the former Hindustan Times chief editor Sanjoy Narayan.)

Incidentally, Bardhan like many other front-ranking intellectuals is a strident critic of the NDA decision on demonetisation and the Covid-19 lockdown for the indescribable sufferings of the common man, millions of migrant workers and people dependent on the unorganised sectors. Now we learn from the periodic labour survey by National Statistical Office that the urban unemployment rate in the country shot up to 20.9% in April-June 2020 coinciding with the lockdown from 9.1% in the previous quarter. But what will go unrecorded are the physical, mental and financial pains millions of migrant workers suffered because of sudden declaration of the lockdown without giving them a chance to go back to wherefrom they came by train and long distant buses.

In a recent interview with the largely circulated Bengali newspaper Anandabazar Patrika, Bardhan expressed his anguish over disintegration of the country’s federal structure. As policy decisions are getting concentrated in the Prime Minister’s office (PMO), in a novel development New Delhi is regularly trespassing into areas reserved for the states. There are too many occasions when the centre without seeking the views of states are addressing subjects concerning education, health, agriculture, law and order and labour.

The winding up of the Planning Commission where the states could place their economic demands and subsequently get relief from the government was a blow to federalism. As for revenue mobilisation, every time New Delhi would impose a cess that will be a denial to states of their rightful share. This is not the case when revenues are mobilised by way of taxes.

Drawing an analogy with Germany in the 1930s where the Communists and social democrats locked in political bickering helped in Hitler coming to power, Bardhan strongly recommends that the Left, the Congress and Trinamool Congress should not allow their past differences, often quite bitter, to come in the way to stop BJP from wresting power in West Bengal.

ALSO READ: Battle For Bengal Is The Election to Watch

Bardhan says if the Left truly believes that ‘Ram in 2021 and Bam (that is left) in 2026’ then it is indulging in self-delusion. The left apparently doesn’t want to have any kind of understanding with Trinamool since its members and supporters had suffered a lot in the hands of ruling party members in the past ten years. But he says in the past ahead of the Left Front rule, the Communists were given a hellish time by the Congress. The left, according to him, will be showing wisdom if it is found ready to bury all such hatchets to stop the BJP juggernaut. He at the same time wants the Matua and Rajbangsi communities, which are befriended by BJP, to stay clear of the party with strong Brahminical leanings.

People from different parts of the country have over centuries made Bengal their home and in the process they have made rich contribution to the local economy and culture. Many Bengalis are uncomfortable that BJP is described by incumbent Trinamool as a party of outsiders.

Bardhan has an interesting take on this: “BJP has tenuous links with Bengali culture. Since the party doesn’t have a great Bengali intellectual to boast, it is busy paying obeisance to Bankim Chandra, Rabindranath, Swami Vivekananda and Subhas Chandra Bose. But it is impossible to reconcile BJP’s Hindutva with what these great Bengali minds wrote and said.”

Bankim Chandra will not accept that the country has made any progress unless the Muslims and everyone else have a share in it. Vivekananda wanted everyone to read the Bible and the Quran along with the Gita. Subhas Chandra was secular to the core. His strong disapproval when Syama Prasad Mukherjee joined Hindu Mahasabha is well known. Finally, the world has known Tagore as a well wisher of both Hindus and Muslims and as someone desirous of their brotherhood.

Delhi-Dhaka Ties Stand The Test Of Time

The government of Bangladesh has been enjoying great cooperation from India ever since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came to power in January 2009.

The Indian government headed by Narendra Modi has extended wholehearted support for Bangladesh for rebuilding its economy and its infrastructural development. In return, the Sheikh Hasina government has set a unique example of cooperation and reciprocation out of which the people of both countries would reap ample benefit. The transit, trans-shipment and building regional connectivity, including the waterways, would immensely facilitate and promote trade, commerce and tourism.

A number of issues, including the most critical and complex border problem, which had been hanging for about 40 years despite the inking of a treaty by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Indira Gandhi, was resolved in a unprecedented bills passed in the Indian Parliament with unanimous support by all members of both the houses.

In response to that genial gesture, the Sheikh Hasina government has set an example of a new reality of cooperation. India-Bangladesh relations are based mainly on the solid historic bond of social, political, economic and cultural tradition. India played a vital role and provided substantial diplomatic, economic and military support to Bangladesh during the Liberation War in 1971.

India was the first country to recognise Bangladesh as a sovereign and independent state and established diplomatic ties with the country immediately after its independence in December 1971.

Bangladesh and India are two countries bound by the inalienable link of history, religion, culture, language and kinship. But the relationship between the two friendly nations is based on sovereignty, equality, trust, understanding and win-win partnership that goes far beyond a strategic partnership.

Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the architect of Bangladesh-India relations. Both Bangabandhu and his Indian counterpart Indira Gandhi were firm believers in democracy and secular ideology. Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina and Narendra Modi have further strengthened the relations Mujib and Indira forged between the next-door neighbours.

There are more than 50 bilateral institutional mechanisms between Bangladesh and India in the areas of security, trade and commerce, power and energy, transport and connectivity, science and technology, defence, riverine and maritime affairs and so on.

Bangladesh and India share 4,097 kilometres of border, which is the longest land boundary that India shares with any of its neighbours. The two countries also share 54 common rivers. Bilateral trade between them has grown steadily over the last decade.

There are lots of common and bilateral issues between these two neighbours. Both countries are promise-bound to maintain these healthy relations without interrelations. Some of the issues, including regional road connectivity, cooperation in power and energy sector, land border agreement, easy visa process, Bangladesh-India rail services, are vital and significantly beneficial to both the countries.

Regional Road Connectivity

The Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) Initiative is a sub-regional entity in Eastern South Asia. It meets through an official representation of member states to formulate, implement and review quadrilateral agreements across areas such as water resources management, connectivity of power, transport, and infrastructure.

In February of this year, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal agreed on the need to finalise the passenger and cargo protocols for implementation of the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA).

Moreover, according to the transport ministers of the four BBIN members, 30 transport corridors will be transformed into economic corridors. This will potentially increase intraregional trade within South Asia by almost 60 per cent and with the rest of the world by over 30 per cent.

Recently, ECNEC cleared an 846-crore Bangladeshi taka project to widen the Baraiyarhat-Heyanko-Ramgarhroad under Chattogram and Khagrachhari districts, aiming to boost export and import between Bangladesh and India. The approval came from the 5th ECNEC meeting of the current fiscal year chaired by Sheikh Hasina.

According to a report of South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC), Bangladesh, India and Nepal conducted a trial bus service run on April 24-25 2018. Two buses left Dhaka for Kathmandu in Nepal, carrying delegates from the three countries and the Asian Development Bank. The bus service will strengthen sub-regional connectivity and help tourists and entrepreneurs, including those who travel to West Bengal for medical tourism.

Land Border Agreement

On June 6, 2015, the 1974 India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement came into force, following the exchange of instruments of ratification by Sheikh Hasina and Narendra Modi during the latter’s state visit to Bangladesh. The agreement provides for the exchange of enclaves of Indian and Bangladesh territory, which remained unresolved following the partition in 1947.

Following the agreement, India and Bangladesh exchanged control of 162 enclaves. The move was branded as akin to the fall of the Berlin Wall by politicians.

Until August 1, about 50,000 people were living in 111 Bangladeshi and 51 Indian enclaves on the India-Bangladesh border, cut off from their parent countries. Daily chores such as visiting the market were cumbersome process because they involved crossing national boundaries.

The Land Boundary Agreement played a historic role in advancing the exchange of 111 enclaves (17,160.63 acres) from India to Bangladesh and reciprocatively the latter transferred 51 enclaves (7,110.02 acres) to India. In addition, the choice of citizenship in either country was offered by states to enclave residents.

Easy Visa Process

India-Bangladesh visa rules were being gradually relaxed and five-year visas would be granted to students, senior citizens and patients. Earlier in 2018, an agreement, Revised Travel Arrangement (RTA)-2018, stated that freedom fighters and elderly Bangladeshi nationals will get five-year multiple visas from India. Easy and hassle-free visa services have been ensured for the travellers of the two countries.

Bangladesh-India Rail Services

Transport between India and Bangladesh bears much historical and political significance for both the countries. A direct Kolkata-Agartala link running via Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is being developed by both the countries. The Maitri Express (Friendship Express) was launched to revive a railway link between Kolkata and Dhaka that had been shut 43 years ago.

The first container train arrived from India via Benapole-Petrapole rail link carrying FMCG cargo and fabrics loaded in 50 containers, and those were handed over to Bangladesh on July 26 this year. With this container train service, a huge opportunity has opened up for bilateral trade via rail. Bangladesh Railway’s freight trains, noted for bringing stones and fly ash as raw materials for cement, from India, are now used to bring onion, garlic and ginger and other essentials amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In July this year, India handed over 10 broad-gauge diesel-based locomotives to Bangladesh that have a residual life of at least 28 years. These are 3,300 horse-power locomotives that can run at a speed of 120 km/hr. These 10 locomotives are expected to increase the use of the rail sector.

Cooperation in Power and Energy Sector

Cooperation in the power and energy sector has become one of the hallmarks of India-Bangladesh relations. Bangladesh is currently importing about 660 MW of power from India. In March 2016, the two Prime Ministers inaugurated the export of power from Tripura to Bangladesh as well as the export of internet bandwidth to Tripura from Bangladesh.

Five hundred megawatts of electricity was added to Bangladesh’s national grid from India in 2018 as part of India-Bangladesh cooperation in power and energy sector. Sheikh Hasina and Narendra Modi jointly inaugurated the power supply to Bangladesh-India Power Interconnection Grid at Bheramara of Kushtia through a videoconference. In September last year, Bangladesh signed an agreement to buy 718 megawatts of electricity from India’s Reliance Power over the next 22 years.

Earlier, the Bangladesh Prime Minister unveiled her power import plan and said, “We plan to import 9,000 MW of electricity from our neighbours by 2041 under a regional cooperation framework and I hope India will remain by our side in this endeavour.”

There are several other issues where Bangladesh and India have developed the highest level of friendship and bilateral relations. These two friendly neighbours are also great examples of greater understanding, dialogue, diplomacy and regional cooperation.

The author is the editor-in-chief of Bangladesh Post (ANI)

How Tiny Finland Is Combating Corona Pandemic

(The author is based in Vaasa, a city on the west coast of Finland)

At the time India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was announcing a complete curfew-like lockdown of the country—1.3 billion people are not allowed to step out of their homes for 21 days—up in the Nordics, Finland’s government, a coalition of five parties, headed by Prime Minister Sanna Marin, 34, and her cabinet of mainly young women ministers were huddled together to discuss how to go about locking down Uusimaa, a southern province that, including the capital city of Helsinki, is home to 1.68 million Finns. That number might seem like a drop in the context of India’s vast ocean of people but compared to Finland’s population of 5.5 million, it’s a sizeable chunk.

Uusimaa is the worst affected province in the raging spread of the pandemic Coronavirus (COVID-19) and accounts for an estimated two-thirds of the total of 915 cases (at the time of writing) and five deaths. At an all-party meeting, Marin and her cabinet debated whether shutting down Uusimaa would impinge on the deep freedom, independence and autonomy that Finns have constitutional rights to. The negotiation took time and then, after nearly three days, the Finnish Parliament approved the requisite changes in the law to enable the lockdown for a period of three weeks.

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Finland treasures the rights of its people and its democracy is driven by consensus among parties ranging from leftists to centrists to right wingers. The good thing is at the time of national crises, these ideologically opposed parties manage to bury their differences and come together for the greater good of the people. The Coronavirus’ spread, like anywhere else in the world, has been an unprecedented crisis in tiny Finland. But a quick resolve to take measures has borne some fruit. The spread of the virus, at least till date, has been limited to some of its 19 provinces, while others have been largely spared its onslaught.

Yet, the measures have been effective. People have been advised to socially distance themselves; not gather in crowds of more than 10; avoid public places and restaurants and bars (most of which have been shut down); and stick scrupulously to personal hygiene such as frequent washing of hands. Self-isolation and quarantine for citizens coming back from abroad has been recommended and are largely voluntarily being followed strictly. In Finland’s cities—small as well as big ones—you see hardly any people on the streets but shops are stocked with food and other essentials. In the initial weeks, some panic had set in (not unlike in many other places in the world) and people were frenetically shopping for food, toilet paper and other items of daily use. But once they realised that supplies were not going to disappear that panic abated.

WATCH: Is India Ready To Battle Covid-19?

Finland and India can never be compared. Besides their incomparable sizes of population, Finland is a rich country. Per capita income (in terms of purchasing price parity) in Finland is over US$45,700; India’s is 7,060. Finland’s free universal healthcare, free education, and social security system is among the world’s best. And, to boot, in the past two years, the country has ranked as the happiest nation in the world in a survey that is adjudged as credible. But then Finland is also a scarcely populated country: 19 people per square kilometre; contrast that with India’s 420 inhabitants per square kilometre. Also, that average figure is weighted by the cities. The fact is that nearly 74% of Finland is under forests.

Such demographic advantages help when a crisis such as Coronavirus hits. Finnish hospitals and health-care centres are well-equipped. Food supplies are adequate and there is, at least till now, no reason to fear a collapse of those essential services. Statistical models suggest that in the next four to six months the virus could mean that 11-15,000 Finns could be hospitalised, but the authorities are trying to take measures to stagger the possible spread so that it would ensure that no more than 900 people. The Uusimaa lockdown is a step in that direction.

Like in many other countries, the Finnish army is also on standby. Finland has compulsory conscription for young men (for women it is voluntary) and if needed conscripts and other trained personnel could be summoned to help in the containment measure that the virus’ spread would require. An example of the quick response: as soon as the death toll and incidence of infections increased, the government swiftly doubled the healthcare system’s intensive care facility.

But there are other scares. The virus scourge could contract the nation’s economy by 5%. Finland has a GDP of US$ 251.9 billion that has been growing at an average of just under 3%. But the virus’ impact has already cost 100,000 jobs and that puts pressure on the social security net. Moreover, it is vastly different from India in terms of its population distribution by age: the average age of its population is 42.5 years (in India it is 26.5) and 1.2 million of its 5.5 million population is above 65. As many as 1.46 million Finns are entitled to pensions. Already, the Finnish Pension Alliance, Tela, has said that the coronavirus-related fall in the markets has wiped out Euro 20 to 30 billion off pension firms’ investments. This could put pressure on sovereign debt and also perhaps affect people’s individual budgets.

The coronavirus’ impact in Finland (as in the rest of the world) could impact its economy and its citizens for a prolonged period even after the pandemic subsides. A couple of days back the Finnish government announced a Euro 15 billion package to prop up the economy by helping businesses and individuals and this could adversely affect state debt. But as Prime Minister Marin said that was a secondary consideration. “We are not thinking primarily of how much additional debt the state will have to take on,” she said.

‘Lockdown Is Fine, But How To Handle Panic Buyers’

Pankaj, a Delhi resident who went to a local market after Narendra Modi announced 21-day lockdown to combat Covid-19, rues the rush & panic buying at stores

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a 14-hour Janata Curfew, or self-imposed isolation to be observed on Sunday (March 22), people by and large complied. His other appeal to come out of homes at 5 pm and clap as a mark of respect for health workers, however, was followed with extraordinary gusto. People not only came out to clap but also banged utensils, played drums and danced in close proximity, throwing caution to the wind and defeating the real purpose of isolation. But we are like that only.

On Tuesday (March 24) therefore, when Modi announced that the country would go into a 21-day lockdown from midnight onward to combat Coronavirus, what else would you expect from the Delhi residents than flood the market, crowd the grocery stores, and stock up whatever you can lay your hands on? I too stepped out to buy some essentials, and also to watch the tamasha. I wasn’t disappointed on the latter.

WATCH: Are We Prepared For Coronavirus?

Tamasha is the right word to describe what I saw at our local market in Mayur Vihar. Buyers behaved as if the apocalypse was on us. Many youth grabbed as many cigarette packets as their pockets could allow; the family man rushed from vegetable store to ration shop and took home the bucketful of whatever was available; shopkeepers, instead of assuring the customers of enough supply, goaded them into buying large amounts. Even before Modi’s address was over, the entire stock of breads, buns, instant noodles, meat and grain in our local Mayur Vihar market had gone off the shelves. It was sad and funny at the same time.

The buyers were still not satisfied. Many of them made their way for small, unauthorized shops in nearby clusters to stock up more. These shops, run by relaxed locals who had never experienced frantic buying, were at loss of their wits by the onslaught. Unable to keep with the rush and shouts for various items from all corners, they shouted back at the customers. “Police aa jayegi. Ek ek kar ke bolo. Halla matt karo (Police will come, speak at your turn one after another. Don’t make a racket).” Worse was their money management. They fumbled for the right amount of change and repeatedly punched at calculators to get their calculations right. The impatient customers egged them on to make more mistakes.

Petrol pumps were not spared by some panicky vehicle owners. Sedans queued up as if they were going to leave Delhi without thinking that the lockdown was for the entire country. Either, there was no clarity in the PM speech about essential supplies or people hadn’t bothered to sit through the entire address. I received several calls from friends if liquor could be available in my area at this hour.

ALSO READ: ‘Living In Quarantine Was Aweful’

As I moved back to my house with one litre of cooking oil and some onions in my hand, I kept thinking how we are going to tackle the deadly virus and the lockdown if we cannot fight the hoard mentality. And at a larger psyche level, this also proved that even though people follow Modi’s commands as their leader, somewhere in their minds they have little trust in his crisis management ability.

1984 to 2020 – State Riot Machine At Work

Sociologists and hardened journalists know it too well. No violent communal polarisation or riots, killings, arson and mayhem can last for more than a few hours if the local administration, the top police brass, and their bosses, don’t want it. 

It is impossible to stretch the bloody destruction of public and private property, ransack and burn schools, kill innocents in cold blood, or move as armed mobs shouting blood-thirsty slogans as a terroristic public spectacle, if the government of the day does not want it. In that sense, the onus of all communal violence in any locality across geographical zone lies with the administration and the law & order enforcement machinery.

Besides, there are grey zones in all kinds of violence which are driven by identity and hate politics. Riots can be termed ‘spontaneous’, based on years of conflict and tension, brewing and simmering, which suddenly flare up for no rational rhyme or reason. For instance, a tiff in a barber shop, a minor roadside accident, a heated argument, a mindless scuffle – they can all lead to spontaneous violence between communities. However, if this simmering conflict which is usually buried and allowed to pass, is stoked and instigated by interested lobbies for vested interests, with a certain diabolical twist in terms of motive, timing or location, then this spontaneous violence can be actually called socially and politically engineered.

ALSO READ: ‘We Lost Our Child, Save Others’

There could be also situations that communal violence is engineered deliberately and with precise planning even in a totally peaceful scenario where communities have shared local space, public/social functions and festivals, trade and agriculture, friendship and neighbourhood life, for prolonged periods of peace and harmony. Then, a vicious mind can introduce a virus than can suddenly become an epidemic with help from certain planned and hidden factors, inflammatory speeches and rallies, and acquire brutish and nasty dimensions which can rip apart the harmonious social structures built painstakingly since decades. And, then, the wounds just refuse to heal, thereafter.

This is exactly what happened in Muzaffarnagar and Saharanpur and its highly fertile rural areas in western UP months before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections which never had a history of communal strife or conflict. This is a green revolution belt, with flourishing sugar cane and mustard fields, a stronghold of the inheritors of Jat leader and former prime minister Chaudhury Charan Singh, and stretches across the rich and laid-back townships and villages of Shamli, Kandhla, Baraut, Baghpat and Meerut. The BJP had no presence here, except among the trading communities in Saharanpur etc.

The engineered riots were galvanized using the fake news of ‘Love Jihad’. That Muslims were enticing Hindu girls into love marriages, etc. This sparked off local violence, deaths, killings, mass rallies, mahapanchayats, inflammatory speeches and a vicious rupture that has never been witnessed ever in western UP.

ALSO READ: Communal Fault Lines

The BJP’s dream project materialized in the 2014 elections: the Hindus, from upper caste Jats to landless and divided Dalits, among others, united against the Muslims who were cornered and pushed to the wall. The BJP swept the elections here for the first time, while Charan Singh’s followers, including his son, lost out badly.

At least 60,000 Muslims were rendered homeless. And it took a while, fact-finding teams, and some brave reporting by reporters, to prove the fact that the Love Jihad propaganda was a diabolical ploy which succeeded; there were casualties among both the communities though the Muslims took the brunt, and scores of Muslim women were assaulted. Some of the most militant and popular hardliners and rabble-rousers among the local BJP leadership emerged from this ‘engineered’ communal violence.






Relatives of victims of Delhi communal violence mourn outside Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital in New Delhi on February 27

More sinister than this phenomenon is what is called a ‘State-sponsored’ communal carnage. This happens when the State itself aligns with a community or powerful lobbies or violent vigilante groups, and thereby unleashes concerted and relentless violence of the most grotesque kind against another community, its own citizens, for political, hegemonic and social reasons. This is nothing but ethnic cleansing in a certain transparent form, like the Whites did with the Blacks in America, the Serbs did with thousands of Muslims in Bosnia, the Taliban did with the Hazaras in Afghanistan, and what the ISIS and Wahabi Jihadis continue to do with the Yazidis, Kurds and other communities in Syria and the Middle-east.

This includes massacres, mass murders, killings as public spectacles and total destruction of life and property of the victim communities so that they are savaged and ravaged and can never find justice against the violence inflicted on their bodies, minds, families and homes.

This is what happened in 1984 in Delhi and in 2002 in Gujarat. This kind of ethnic cleansing is called a pogrom: master-minded, planned, organised and executed by the State machinery and its ideological and sundry goons, with the full power and might of the State apparatus against a helpless and innocent community. This is what happened to the Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. 

A State-sponsored massacre.

This involves total destruction of their economy, shelter, community life, religious places and well-being, effectively rendering them as second/third class citizens, oppressed, brutalized and crushed.

In Delhi, for instance, the homes and shops of Sikhs were burnt and looted in full public view with the police either watching or becoming tacit and overt accomplices of the looters and murderers. In Trilokpuri, Sultanpuri, Jehangirpur, among other spots, where humble and modest, hard-working Sikhs lived simple lives, they were killed in the most macabre manner and their homes burnt. Gurudwars too were not spared. This was a Congress government sponsored massacre led by its politicians in Delhi with the full backing and support of the police and administration.

Besides, in other towns and public transport, Sikhs were hounded and killed. Indeed, it took decades to get a minimal sense of justice for those who suffered unimaginable tragedies and brutalities. The graphic realism of the massacre was made public in a report by the PUCL-PUDR, ‘Who are the Guilty’, perhaps the first decisive report of the bloodbath.

Unlike 1984, the Gujarat carnage of 2002, with Narendra Modi at the helm of affairs, was well documented from day one, though there was no social media at that time. Print and TV journalists did their job with precision and exposed the fault-lines where the violence was master-minded by the State, with its Bajrangi and Sanghi footsoldiers on the ground, enacting massacre after massacre, mass rapes and burning of women and children alive, hacking and burning of people, and organised mayhem with active support of the police machinery.

This reality has also been documented by several fact-finding teams, tribunals, filmmakers, among others. Some police officers testified about the dirty deeds of top politicians, and BJP leaders like Babu Bajrangi and Mayaben Kodnani were found guilty, among several local functionaries. For the BJP, it was yet another test of ethnic cleansing with State backing that would not only destroy the Muslims, but also reassert their masculine, xenophobic and Hindutva brand of politics.

This is exactly the ‘Gujarat model’ that they tried in Northeast Delhi last week. True, there were occasional retaliation and violence by Muslim youngsters, but by and large, this was a State-sponsored violence, with a loyal police in tandem, striking at will, burning and killing, destroying markets and schools, hosting a flag on top of a mosque, surrounding women and children, and running amok, like they did in Gujarat.

This could not have happened without the tacit and overt approval of the Union home minstry and Delhi Police. This could not have happened without the mobs being allowed full freedom to ravage and savage residential areas, shouting Jai Shri Ram, now a blood-thirsty war cry for masked goons with sticks guns, iron rods and petrol bombs.

People from both communities have died and a majority has died of gunshot wounds. Investigations are likely to be fudged in the days to come, as they did in Gujarat, but, still, the reality cannot be hidden. Indeed, it was Kapil Mishra who triggered the violence with his speech. That even the Delhi High Court is giving him space, after another judge had sought an FIR against him and other BJP leaders a day before, points to a certain pronounced institutional collapse of Indian democracy, where many believe that the Constitution itself is in danger.

In that sense, clearly, this was no CAA polarisation, though that was the pretense. The fact is that majority of the anti-CAA/NRC protests, including in Shaheen Bagh and all over Delhi, led by women, have been transparently and relentlessly peaceful.

Clearly, this was not spontaneous, as Amit Shah has claimed. Scores of innocents have died. The number will only increase. Surely, and tragically, this was brazenly and blatantly organsied for communal polarisation to target one community. This was State-sponsored. And the whole world knows whose first and final trump card this kind of organised hate politics is.

Domestic Brownie Points For Trump & Modi

India gave President Donald Trump exactly what he asked for. Massive crowds in Ahmedabad, the Taj Mahal in Agra and energy & defence deals in Delhi. A deal worth $3 billion for the purchase of Apache and MH-60 helicopters was finalized before the US President landed in India.

The show and spectacle in Ahmedabad’s Motera stadium, where President Trump and First Lady Melanie were greeted by colorfully dressed enthusiastic crowds set the mood for the visit on Monday, soon after the US leader landed. He was accompanied by daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, besides a host of senior officials.

It is well known that Donald Trump loves to be feted. Prime Minister Modi and his government ensured that President Trump would have exactly what he wanted. His ego got a massive boost and the visiting dignitary was clearly delighted. He showered praise on Prime Minister Modi and declared that America loved India and Washington would be a loyal friend.

ALSO READ: India Trip Was Great, Says Trump

Though violence has wracked north east Delhi during the Trump visit, the President has refused to comment on that or the Citizenship Amendment Act. On Kashmir, while he again offered mediation, he made it clear that he was willing to help only if asked. Though he spoke of fighting Islamic terror, he was not really aiming at rebuking Pakistan. For Trump Islamic terror is ISIS or Al Qaeda and not groups operating against India. Nevertheless he assured India that Pakistan is being urged to clamp down on these groups and Prime Minister Imran Khan is getting there. Trump also spoke of religious freedom and mentioned not just minority Muslims but Christians as well. The Christian right in the US is part of Trump’s support base.

Some are disappointed that no major deals were announced, though a mega trade deal is in the offing. Two MoUs were signed on mental health and safety of medical products. A letter of cooperation between Indian Oil Corporation and ExxonMobil India LNG was also signed. India is now looking to US to diversify its energy market. Energy imports from the US which stood at $7 billion in 2019 will rise to $9 billion in 2020

The significance of the Trump visit goes way beyond deals or the personal chemistry between Modi and the US President. “It reinforces the connect between people of the two countries and it will resonate on every aspect of the relationship, from the strategic global partnership, maritime security, to trade and energy cooperation, homeland security,” foreign secretary Shringla said at a news conference after the talks at Hyderabad House.  

ALSO READ: ‘Taxpayers’ Money Blown To Impress Trump’

The fact that President Trump chose to come on a standalone visit to India, and on an election year, shows exactly how far relations between India and the US have improved. The people connect with 4 million Indian American’s playing a major part in this effort and contributing to the US economy, the sky is the limit for these two democracies. People in both countries endorse the ties. This is in sharp contrast with India’s relations with Russia, which are excellent at the governmental and political level, but poor on people to people contact. Getting private business off the ground between India and Russia is a major problem, despite the best efforts of New Delhi and Moscow. But there is no such difficulty when it comes to Indian investment in US. Business leaders are eager to do so.

The transformation of ties between the two countries, which were on opposite sides of the Cold War divide, began with the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2005. The strategic consideration underlying Washington’s decision was to checkmate China’s growing military and economic might in Asia. By building ties with democratic India, another large Asian country and helping modernize its defence capabilities.

US wants India to be a part of the Indo-Pacific defence architecture an area which now includes the Indian Ocean. This works for both India and America, though Delhi has so far resisted the idea of joint patrolling of the Pacific, near the South China Sea. This has to do with avoiding a confrontation with China.

Trump’s visit should be seen against this background. And if a few billions go into US coffers in the process of building up India’s defence capabilities, it is fine. So far New Delhi has stuck to its promise of buying the S 400 missile defence system from Russia, despite enormous US pressure. Washington must realise that a country like India cannot be coerced.

WATCH: Agra Citizens Welcome Trump

It serves India for China to realise that Delhi has powerful backing in the international community. Though finally every country has to look after its own interests and not back on US or Europe to come to their help, developing India’s defence capabilities is important, more so as China has transformed its army, navy and air force.

Successive Indian prime ministers from Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to Manmohan Singh and now Narendra Modi know the importance of friendship with the US. Manmohan Singh risked his prime ministership to get the deal through, despite opposition from a large majority of his party men as well as the BJP and the Left parties. Singh realized more than any other leader that the civil nuclear deal would open many doors for India and help Delhi to finally be counted as a force in the world.  India’s nuclear apartheid ended with the signing of the pact for which former President George W Bush did some heavy lifting.

The need to counter authoritarian China with a democratic India is shared by Republicans and Democrats alike. So it does not matter which party finally wins the November elections, India-US ties will remain strong. However a Democratic President, especially if Bernie Sanders is the winner, will certainly have much more to say about human rights, treatment of minorities and Kashmir. For Trump these are India’s internal problem and he trusts Prime Minister Modi to take care of them. But democratic values are important and even Trump cannot totally ignore them up to a point.

Both Modi and Trump have gained domestic brownie points from the visit. Modi’s image among his followers will get another major boost after Trump’s fulsome praise of him as a leader with a vision. For Trump the India trip so close to elections may help to garner Indian-American votes, though most have usually opted for Democrats. More important Trump can boast of the welcome he received by adoring crowds in India, a rarity for him on visits to other parts of the world. Critics here believe India may have erred in opting blatantly for Trump in the November elections. But that remains to be seen.

Is Hindutva Hanging By A Thread In Bengal?

Hindutva is no longer the rabble rouser vote bank as it was in the last national election. When the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party won an emphatic victory in the recent Delhi assembly election, opposition leaders were quick to point that the Bharatiya Janata Party will have to recalibrate its strategy of polarisation now that it had been roundly rejected by the electorate of yet another state.

However, it would be extremely difficult for the saffron party to abandon its majoritarian agenda in the forthcoming state elections. For the BJP, hardline Hindutva, strident nationalism and communal talk is an article of faith.

Hindutva seems to have worked for BJP in the last election. It probably sees the current run of defeats as aberrations. Besides the Hindutva strategy helps divert attention from bread and butter issues at a time when the economy is tottering. An election is the occasion for the BJP to propagate its ideology.

ALSO READ: Oppn Must Sieze The Moment

In fact, the BJP’s high-decibel poll campaign in Delhi with its focus on the Shaheen Bagh protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act was meant not just to consolidate the Hindu vote in the Capital but also to send out a message across the country that this agitation is led by minorities and that the amended citizenship law actually enjoys popular support.

Among the opposition leaders, West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee appears most vulnerable in this regard. Determined to add West Bengal to its kitty, the BJP has opted for a brazenly communal narrative to dethrone Banerjee. Having met with remarkable success in the last Lok Sabha election when it surprised everyone by winning 18 seats and increased its vote share to 40 percent, the BJP has every reason to persist with this strategy. It remains undeterred by the fact that its attempts to focus on Article 370 and triple talaq did not cut much ice with the voters in Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.

It will not be surprising if the BJP’s polarising and divisive rhetoric gets more shrill as it begins preparations for next year’s assembly election in a state which has a 27 percent Muslim population.

The very fact that the BJP has re-elected Dilip Ghosh as president of the party’s West Bengal unit, is a clear message that the saffron party has no intention of going back on its communal agenda. Known for using vitriolic language, Ghosh is constantly stoking controversies with his inciting statements. Ghosh was in the eye of a storm recently when he described the anti-CAA protesters as “illiterate and uneducated” who are being fed biryani and “paid with foreign funds” to continue with their agitation. He constantly refers to the issue of infiltration in his speeches and has, on several occasions, thundered that all Bangladeshi Muslims in the state will be identified and chased out of India!

ALSO READ: ‘NRC Will Be A Disaster In Bengal

Not only has the BJP campaign reopened the old wounds inflicted in the communal riots during the state’s partition of 1905, it has also been helped by the fact that Mamata Banerjee is seen to be appeasing the minorities. The Trinamool Congress chief who is personally leading the prolonged protests against the amended citizenship law as well as the National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register, has given the BJP enough fodder to push ahead with its communal agenda.

Undoubtedly the Delhi defeat came as a rude shock for the BJP but, at the same time, its leaders believe the party increased its tally from three to eight seats and improved its vote share from 32 to 38 percent because it made the anti-CAA protests as the centre piece of its campaign.

It’s still too early to say if the BJP’s strategy will succeed but, at present, Mamata Banerjee has the first mover advantage over her political rival. While the saffron party lacks a strong party organisation in West Bengal and has no credible chief ministerial candidate, the Trinamool Congress chief is already in election mode.

ALSO READ: West Bengal Follows AAP Model

Like Kejriwal, she has stopped taking personal potshots at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and is instead emphasising her governance record. She has also taken the lead in articulating the dangers of the amended citizenship law, the NPR and NRC. Mamata Banerjee is taking no chances as she realizes she can ill-afford to underestimate the BJP as she had done in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

But before it goes for broke in West Bengal, the BJP will test the waters in Bihar which is headed for polls later this year. Not only does the state have a 17 percent Muslim population, the opposition (the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress) has staunchly opposed the CAA, reason enough for the saffron party to polarise the electorate on religious lines.

Besides, the BJP is banking on its alliance partner, Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (U) president Nitish Kumar to act as a buffer against its strident campaign. Though Nitish Kumar has endorsed the CAA, he has not framed his support for the law on communal lines. Moreover, the Bihar chief minister measures his words carefully and is not known to use extreme language. This, the BJP feels, should help the alliance offset any possible adverse repercussions of the saffron party’s high-pitched tirade against those opposing the CAA.

However, if Mamata Benarjee can repeat AAP’s massive success in Bengal, voices in Bengal may start questioning Hindutva. Hindutva may be hanging by a thread.

‘Taxpayers’ Money Blown To Impress President Trump’

Jalpa Bhatt, a clinical psychologist for children with special needs, says Ahmedabad came to a standstill on Feb 24 for a marketing gimmick which holds little value

Both my residence and workplace are in the Thaltej area of Ahmedabad. The 22 km long stretch between the airport and Motera Stadium had been witnessing increased security and multiple traffic diversions for the past many days, just so that American President Donald Trump’s visit to Ahmedabad could become memorable.

ALSO READ: ‘I Wish Obama Had Come To Ahmedabad

While earlier it took 20-25 minutes to reach my workplace from my home, during the last few days it has been taking nearly double the time. Most people were expecting the 22 km long stretch between the airport and Motera Stadium to come to a standstill for a few hours on Monday (February 24) and it did. Many of my friends who had workplaces on the 22-km long stretch couldn’t make it to work on Monday.

The roads were all decked up with lighting and decorations and some people were excited as if a festival was going on in Ahmedabad, but I’m personally amused by the whole situation. Last year, India was one of the countries on the US’ watchlist for Intellectual Property (IP) violations and now it seems as if nothing happened between the twi countries.

I feel this visit was a marketing ploy on Trump’s part. Every smart businessperson around the world is tapping into the Indian market, because that’s where the maximum number of audiences are. Nobody is concerned about the citizens of either country or even democracy. People here in Ahmedabad have mixed emotions regarding Trump and his politics.

It had been mentioned in reports that Sabarmati Aashram is going to be the first stop on Trump’s visit, where both the popular leaders would be paying homage to Gandhiji. But I feel this is merely lip service, for both the leaders don’t actually believe in Gandhiji’s principles deep down.

ALSO READ: From Howdy Modi To Namaste Trump

As about the wall that built around the slum on Trump’s route, I don’t think it was a good idea at all. Even though Ahmedabad is the hub of trade and business in India and people from many faiths and cultures live here, yet people are getting divided more and more. Everyone is keeping to their corner and thus I feel this wall will create more divisions between the rich and the poor.

Also, I wonder why the people aren’t bothered now about taxpayers’ money being spent on impressing Trump rather than actually building a city where no one has to live in slum-like conditions. Where is all this money coming from, especially when it’s a one-off visit from Trump? It’s not like he has been invited to the Republic Day parade.

No official holiday was declared on February 24, but many people were keen to see Trump and how he actually interacts with people. In fact some people are openly excited and are calling it a historic visit. Even though I feel Trump is in India only to access its soft power and create a soft corner in people’s hearts, I don’t think it will lead to some concrete developments, yet I am curious to see both him as well as people’s reactions to him.

I was planning to go out on the 24th, but couldn’t go because I couldn’t take time off work. However, I still feel that the government should invest its time and money to make the lives of people living in India by creating jobs, rather than spend so much on visits by world leaders.