‘I Would Be Excited If Obama Were Coming To Ahmedabad’

Sahista Memon, a homeopathy practitioner in Ahmedabad, says instead of creating walls to hide poor households, governments should ensure that nobody needs to live in slums

I live in the Ellis Bridge area of Ahmedabad and run a homeopathic clinic in the same area. My house is around 10 km away from the airport and even though traffic diversions are there for American President, Donald Trump’s visit, since I don’t have to travel much for work, I am fine.

However, my house helps, driver etc. live near the airport and are finding it difficult to commute easily because of the traffic diversions. Also, it is taking them longer to reach our house for work. They are apprehensive about how it will all turn out on Monday, February 24, the day Trump comes visiting. They have told me, “Ma’am Monday ko subah ghar se bahut jaldi nikalna padega” (We will have to leave home really early on Monday to reach work due to Namaste Trump event).

ALSO READ: From Howdy Modi To Namaste Trump

Unko takleef me dekh ke mujhe bhi thodi takleef hoti hai. Theleaders don’t know how their itineraries impact the lives and livelihoods of the common man when the whole city is brought to a standstill. In my part of town, which is at the centre of Ahmedabad, there isn’t much buzz regarding Trump’s visit, but on the outskirts which is where his travel route is (from the airport to Motera Stadium), people are quite excited.

I would have been excited if Barack Obama was coming. He is a leader I hugely admire. He was so popular with everyone without even having to try hard. To me Trump seems like a power- lover who is more concerned about his image. Modiji is also trying to show the world India’s new improved image where even the President of the most powerful country in the world feels happy to visit.

The wall built to cover one of the slums falling on Trump’s route isn’t a great idea to be honest. Trump’s proposed wall on the US-Mexico border has shown us, why walls anywhere aren’t a great idea, especially when they are built with the purpose of hiding something uncomfortable or built from a place of fear. If the wall is built to protect the residents of a particular area or country, isn’t it better to take everyone into account and tell them how a new structure is beneficial to them? All stakeholders should be consulted. Everyone’s point of view should be taken into account.

ALSO READ: Tight Security Ahead of Trump Visit

Moreover, I would like to say such structures should be temporary. If there is a real threat to people, just building a wall won’t work; ‘concrete’ work needs to go like intelligence gathering. If the wall is built to hide slums, shouldn’t we be working on policies that ensure nobody needs to live in slums?

So, no I won’t be going out to watch Trump or see the public’s reaction to him. I will be busy with my work and that is what is required in nation building, an honest day’s work.

Will JP Nadda Come Out Of Shah’s Shadow?

The humiliating defeat suffered by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Delhi assembly election has not proved to be an auspicious beginning for the party’s month-old president JP Nadda. Though it is true that it was Union Home Minister Amit Shah who led the party’s high-decibel campaign in Delhi, history books will record the result as BJP’s first electoral drubbing under Nadda’s stewardship.

Out of power for over two decades, the BJP was predictably desperate to take control in Delhi. But the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party proved to be a formidable opponent and the BJP fell by the wayside once again.

Well before Nadda took over as the BJP’s 11th president, it was widely acknowledged that he will not enjoy the same powers as his predecessor Amit Shah did but, nevertheless, would be called to take responsibility for the party’s poll defeats as well as organisational matters.

Nadda began his tenure with a disadvantage as it is difficult to live up to Shah’s larger-than-life image. Amit Shah, who served as BJP president for five years has easily been the most powerful party head in recent times. Known for his supreme organisational skills, Shah is chiefly responsible for the BJP’s nation-wide expansion, having built a vast network of party workers and put in place formidable election machinery. No doubt Modi’s personality, charisma and famed oratory drew in the crowds but there is no denying that Shah contributed equally to the string of electoral victories notched by the BJP over the last five years.

ALSO READ: Shah Could Be Most Decisive HM

Given that Shah has revamped the party organisation from scratch and placed his loyalists in key positions, there are serious doubts that the affable, low-key and smiling Nadda will be allowed functional autonomy. Will he be able to take independent decisions, will he constantly be looking over his shoulder, will he be allowed to appoint his own team or will he be a lame-duck party president? These are the questions doing the rounds in the BJP as there is all-round agreement that Shah will not relinquish his grip over the party organisation. This was evident in the run-up to the Delhi assembly polls as it was Shah and not Nadda who planned and led the party’s election campaign.

In fact, it is acknowledged that Nadda was chosen to head the BJP precisely because he is willing to play the second fiddle to Shah. Party leaders maintain that the new president is unlikely to make any major changes in the near future and that he will be consulting Shah before taking key decisions. For the moment, state party chiefs appointed by Shah have been re-elected, ensuring that the outgoing party president remains omnipresent.

ALSO READ: Anti-CAA Protests Erupt In Country

Though Nadda has inherited a far stronger party organisation as compared to his earlier predecessors, the new BJP president also faces a fair share of challenges. He has taken over as party chief at a time when the BJP scraped through in the Haryana assembly polls, failed to form a government in Maharashtra and was roundly defeated in Jharkhand. The party’s relations with its allies have come under strain while the ongoing protests against the new citizenship law, the National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register have blotted the BJP’s copybook.

These developments have predictably came as a rude shock to the BJP leadership and its cadres who were convinced that the party was invincible, especially after it came to power for a second consecutive term last May with a massive mandate.

WATCH: Modi Has Woken Up A Sleeping Tiger

Nadda’s first task has been to boost the morale of party workers and make them believe that the recent assembly poll results were a flash in the pan and that the BJP’s expansion plans are on course.

After Delhi, the Bihar election poses the next big challenge this year. The party’s ally, the Janata Dal (U), has upped the ante, meant primarily to mount pressure on the BJP for a larger share of seats in this year’s assembly elections. Realising that the BJP cannot afford to alienate its allies at this juncture, Amit Shah has already declared Nitish Kumar as the coalition’s chief ministerial candidate, which effectively puts the Janata Dal (U) in the driver’s seat. This has upset the BJP’s Bihar unit which has been pressing for a senior role in the state and is even demanding that the next chief minister should be from their party.          

The BJP has to necessarily treat its allies with kid gloves as they have been complaining  about the saffron party’s “big brother” attitude and that they are being taken for granted. While Shiv Sena has already parted company with the BJP, other alliance partners like the Lok Janshakti Party and the Shiromani Akali Dal have also questioned the BJP’s style of functioning.

The crucial West Bengal assembly election next year will also be held during Nadda’s tenure. The BJP has been working methodically on the ground in this state for the past several years now and has staked its prestige on dethroning Mamata Banerjee.

ALSO READ: West Bengal Follows AAP Model

But the Trinamool Congress chief is putting up a spirited fight, sending out a clear message to the BJP that it will not be so easy to oust her. Banerjee has declared war against the Modi government on the issues pertaining to the CAA-NRC-NPR and also activated her party cadres who have spread across the state to explain the implications of the Centre’s decision to the poor and illiterate. The BJP, on the other hand, is struggling to get across its message.

As in the case of Delhi, Shah can be expected to take charge of the Bihar and West Bengal assembly polls while Nadda will, at best, be a marginal player. Again it will be left to Shah to mollify the party’s allies as it is too sensitive and important a task to be handled by Nadda.

Like all political parties led by strong leaders, a BJP defeat will be seen as Nadda’s failure while a victory will be credited to Modi and Shah.

India And Sri Lanka – Cleaning The Slate

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to India this week (February 7-11) will be an opportunity to forget past bitterness and begin on a clean state. The former strong man will get a warm welcome in the Capital, when he arrives in for his first official visit in his new avatar. Delhi is as eager as the Rajapaksas to improve relations.

The emphasis will be on getting the political relations right, considering that the Rajapaksa’s second term as President, where he openly wooed China and gave short shrift to India, was a nightmare for New Delhi. This was the period when Colombo allowed Chinese submarines to dock in Colombo and allowed Beijing to spread its wings across the island nation, despite Delhi’s security concerns.

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s supporters allege that India had a hand in his defeat in the 2015 elections. They blame the former RAW official posted in the High Commission in Colombo of organising the anti-Rajapaksa front of like-minded people from both the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party to oust Rajapaksa. Whatever be the truth of the allegations, suspicion remained. But all that is now in the past as the two sides hope to rebuild frayed ties. 

ALSO READ: Off To A Fresh Start

The Rajapaksa brothers (President Gotabaya and PM Mahinda as well as state defence minister Chamal) know that it is important to have good relations with India for all ruling dispensations in Colombo. Mahinda Rajapaksa who is the main strategist for the family, had built his bridges with India soon after he lost power. During private visits to India, he had made it a point to call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His closeness to maverick politician Subramanian Swamy ensured access to the PM.

Though the LTTE has been wiped out, Tamil-speaking minorities in the north and east of the island, indeed even those living in Colombo, look to New Delhi for support. In the initial stages when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam began their movement against discrimination by the Sinhala-Buddhist majority, they were solidly backed by New Delhi and Tamil Nadu. So far while the Tamils have been given some of their rights, the complete devolution of power to the provinces have not yet come through. India will be urging Mahinda Rajapaksa to carry out all the provisions of the 13th amendment, which was brokered by India in the past. The Tamil National Alliance, the party of Tamil MPs has been urging the government to fulfil the promised devolution provisions.

ALSO READ: Gotabaya Calls For Better Indo-Lankan Ties

It is unlikely that the Rajapaksa brothers, who believe in a unitary state, will be in a hurry to fully implement the 13th amendment to the Constitution. In fact President Gotabaya himself believes that rebuilding the Northern Province and bringing development to the Tamils is more important then giving them greater autonomy. `Development over devolution,’’ is what Gotabaya thinks is the need of the hour. The Tamil population which have long yearned for more meaningful devolution may not quite agree. Aware of this, New Delhi will continue to push for devolution.

India is also in the mood to ensure that the past mistakes are not repeated because that will push Sri Lanka into China’s waiting arms. This is at a time when PLA vessels, including warships are increasingly plying the Indian Ocean region and developing close ties with India’s immediate neighbours.The BJP government since 2014 has been working towards strengthening ties with all its Indian Ocean neighbours whether it is Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri lanka and Maldives.  

New Delhi’s tough policy towards Nepal and the decision to blockade that land-locked nation in 2015, has had severe consequences for India. Nepal turned to China for help. The Chinese naturally grabbed the opportunity. The Chinese are today well entrenched in neighbouring Nepal, thanks to Prime Minister Oli’s close ties with Beijing. China is giving India a run for its money in the Himalayan nation. India realises the dangers of China’s presence in its immediate neighbourhood, and is hoping to counter the dragon in its periphery. This means wooing the neighbours, and ensuring that Indian interests in the region are protected.

South Block is no mood to give more space to China in its immediate neighbourhood. And with China investing massively in Sri Lanka, from the Humbantota Port, to modernising the Colombo port and building the USD 1.4 billion port city in the capital, which would house an International Financial Centre. Delhi has no time to waste.

India has also stepped up its efforts. In fact, the move to woo the Rajapaksa brothers began with foreign minister S Jaishankar rushing to Colombo soon after Gotabaya’s election victory, inviting him to visit and reassuring him that Delhi was ready to do business with the new regime. Gotabaya helped matters by announcing that Sri Lanka’s foreign policy would be neutral as the island had no wish to get involved in the rivalry between the two Asian powers. Gotabaya came to India soon afterwards in November 2019, and had meaningful conversations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other Indian leaders. India announced a credit of $400 million to boost development and a further $50 million for security. Sri Lanka lost 250 people after the Easter bombings. Anti-terror cooperation is high on the list of bilateral ties now. In fact, Indian intelligence had warned their Lankan counter part of a possible terror attack. But the squabbling coalition of Sirisena and Ranil Wickremasinghe did not act on the information.

Apart from the ongoing project of building 50,000 house in the war torn Northern Province, announced in 2010, India and Japan are joining hands to build a deep sea Container Terminal in Colombo port. This was announced in 2019. India will also work towards refurbishing the Trincomalee oil farm in the Eastern province.  At one time, decades back, India was worried about US eyeing the oil tank project in Trincomalee. Now though India has been working at refurbishing some of the old tanks. Sri Lanka has leased out the oil tanks to India, to jointly operate a strategic oil facility. This is not a new project but the Modi government now is paying much more attention and will take up the work in earnest. This will help in the integrated development of Trincomolee and the entire Eastern province. Trincomalee is strategically located in the eastern side of Sri Lanka and in the heart of the Indian Ocean. According to reports from Colombo the US is also eyeing Trincomalee port, perhaps to checkmate China’s presence in Humbantota further south of the island.

Keeping all this in mind, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit this weekend is important. Last month China’s foreign minister Wang Yi was in Colombo on an official visit. China will continue to be an important partner of Sri Lanka. Considering that Beijing has the money power to back it, no developing nation wants to close the door to China. So despite criticising Mahinda Rajapaksa for giving a free reign to China, the India-friendly government of Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickeremasinghe, allowed China to continue the projects it had signed with the previous government. So South Asian neighbours will benefit from the India-China rivalry playing out in the region.

Though China’s cheque book diplomacy works wonders, people to people contacts are much better with India. Buddhism is a strong link and Sri Lankans, including Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa does not miss an opportunity to visit the holy sites in India. He will be visiting Sarnath as well as Bodh Gaya during this trip. The religious and cultural bonds are India’s strong points. All this will come into play as India hopes to contain China in its neighbourhood.

Rahul Gandhi In Arunachal

Can Rahul Pull It Off As Prime Minister

As the battle for the most powerful and prestigious chair in the country rages on, many voters have put their penny on Rahul Gandhi as the next Prime Minister of India. Does the Gandhi scion has the mettle to handle the power and responsibility that comes with the post? In a new series of articles, LokMarg will examine the various contenders for the Prime Minister’s job, starting with the arch-challenger, Rahul Gandhi.

Well before Rahul Gandhi took over as the Congress president, a large section of his own party members were not sure that he had the capacity to lead them. After all, the Nehru-Gandhi scion had acquired a reputation of being a non-serious politician who was yet to get a firm grip on the party’s organization. In addition, he had an uneasy relationship with other opposition parties and was unable to connect with the public on account of his poor oratorical skills.

The fact that Rahul Gandhi had been unsuccessful in delivering electoral victories for the party was another negative. These doubts about his leadership qualities were further fuelled by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s relentless and highly successful campaign, dubbing Rahul Gandhi as “Pappu”.

However, there has been a dramatic change in Rahul Gandhi over the past eighteen months. His oratory has improved considerably though he is not in the same class as Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Congress president is gradually coming across as a mature politician, who is fighting shy of taking on the Modi government and is more focused on handling the party organization. Rahul Gandhi further redeemed himself with a credible performance in last year’s Gujarat assembly polls, which was followed by victories in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

More than a year after he took control of the party, the Congress president has finally shed the “pappu” image while his critics within the party have been effectively silenced.

ALSO READ: Transformation Of Rahul, Tweet By Tweet

But does this mean that Rahul Gandhi is now ready to shoulder the responsibility of leading the nation as its Prime Minister just in case the post-poll numbers favour the Congress. No,  the Congress president has still some distance to cover before he is accepted by the public at large as a credible alternative to Modi. For starters, he is sorely handicapped by his lack of administrative experience. Rahul Gandhi had an opportunity to fill this gap in his resume when he was offered a Cabinet berth in the Manmohan Singh government but he decided instead to focus on party affairs. Besides his lack of experience, Rahul Gandhi does not instill confidence in the voter that he can handle matters of state without fumbling or making a faux pas.

Congress leaders, of course, are quick to point out that his father Rajiv Gandhi also came with no previous experience in running a government when he took over as Prime Minister in 1984 in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. However, Rajiv Gandhi had the advantage of a massive majority in the Lok Sabha which enabled him to take decisive steps in both domestic and foreign affairs. Despite widespread skepticism, he pushed ahead with advances in information technology and telecommunications sectors. Rajiv Gandhi was also emboldened to take risky decisions like signing the Longowal accord in insurgency-hit Punjab, was responsible for a paradigm shift in Sino-India relations and sought to build bridges with Sri Lanka though he ended up paying a heavy price for it.

ALSO READ: Rahul’s Popularity On The Rise

Unlike his father, Rahul Gandhi is not expected to have the luxury of numbers in case he does get a shot at ascending the Prime Minister’s kursi. The Congress footprint has shrunk considerably over the past three decades and the party has gradually come to terms with the fact that it needs the support of coalition partners to come to power at the Centre as it cannot do on its own. There are lurking doubts that Rahul Gandhi has the temperament or the gravitas to deal with temperamental and demanding allies even if there is a remote possibility that the other opposition parties will concede the Prime Minister’s post to him. Undoubtedly, he will have to rely on Sonia Gandhi and other senior leaders like Ahmed Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad to keep the allies in good humour.

Whatever other disadvantages he may have, the Congress president will have a large inhouse talent pool at his disposal to assist him in running the government. Besides, Rahul Gandhi comes with a long and rich legacy which is both a source of strength and weakness. On one hand, the party’s past experience provides a ready template for governance but on the other hand, it will also make it difficult for the young Gandhi to chart an independent path. Here, he will be hemmed in not just by his coalition partners but also by his party members. Remember the stiff resistance PV Narasimha Rao faced from Congress insiders when he deviated from the party’s set economic policy and drafted Manmohan Singh to liberalize the economy.

ALSO READ: Rahul Gandhi In A New Avatar

Nevertheless, the Congress brand name, though considerably diluted, will give Rahul Gandhi an edge over the other Prime Ministerial contenders in the opposition camp. The Nehru-Gandhi scion may be lacking in experience but he can always fall back on seasoned leaders like former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, P. Chidambaram, Anand Sharma and A.K. Antony to navigate him through possible minefields in the areas of economic and foreign affairs.

Like his mother, Rahul Gandhi has made it abundantly clear that he will build on the party’s pro-poor image with a special emphasis on addressing agrarian distress and the implementation of an income guarantee scheme for the needy as detailed in the party’s election manifesto. But it is equally certain that there will be no going back on economic reforms ushered in by Manmohan Singh.

Rajiv Gandhi’s friend Sam Pitroda is currently playing a key role in Rahul Gandhi’s dispensation and will continue to do so if the Congress president makes the cut as the country’s Prime Minister. Pitroda has been instrumental in planning and organizing Rahul Gandhi’s tours in the United States, Britain and the Middle East where he has interacted with both the Indian diaspora and global leaders, policy makers, think tanks and academics.

The intention is to position Rahul Gandhi as an international leader, to correct the perception that he is a dilettante, improve his image abroad and provide an opportunity to the outside world to get acquainted with his views on a vast array of subjects. As in the case of economic affairs, Rahul Gandhi is unlikely to deviate from the Congress position in the area of international affairs which will continue to focus on strengthening ties with both Russia and the United States and improving relations with the neighboring countries. An assurance to this effect has been conveyed during Rahul Gandhi’s trips abroad and his periodic meetings with visiting world leaders.

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Narendra Modi In Varanasi

PM Disclosed Horse Trading Plan: TMC

Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Monday filed a complaint against Prime Minister Narendra Modi before the Election Commission over the alleged horse trading of party leaders.

“The complaint against Modi for horse-trading has been filed with ECI on Monday at 7 pm,” TMC spokesperson Derek O’Brien tweeted.

Earlier in the day, the TMC leader had hit back at Prime Minister Modi for his remark that 40 TMC MLAs are in touch with him, asking if he is campaigning or is indulging in horse trading.

Taking to Twitter, O’Brien called Modi “Expiry Babu PM” and tweeted, “Expiry Babu PM, let’s get this straight. Nobody will go with you. Not even one councillor.”

“Are you election campaigning or horse trading! Your expiry date is near. Today, we are complaining to the Election Commission. Charging you with horse trading. #LokSabhaElection2019.”

Addressing a public rally in Serampore in West Bengal, Prime Minister Modi had said that 40 TMC MLAs are in touch with him and there is nothing that can save Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Related News: Mamata Slams BJP For Ignoring Elders

“Didi, on May 23, when the results will come, the lotus will bloom everywhere and your MLAs will leave you. Didi, your 40 MLAs are in contact with me even now,” he said at the public meeting.

Eight parliamentary constituencies in West Bengal — Baharampur, Krishnagar, Ranaghat, Burdwan East, Burdwan-Durgapur, Asansol, Bolpur and Birbhum, went to polls under the fourth phase of the Lok Sabha election.

There are 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state. The counting of votes will take place on May 23.

(ANI)

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Religion In Indian Politics

When Secular Is Mocked As ‘Sick-ular’

BJP has launched an aggressive election campaign on Hindu ‘victimhood’ that requires to be repaired (sic) with attempts to enforce its supremacy over others

Cradle of at least three and home of many more, India is what it is because of the multiplicity of faiths. Religion and religiosity are integral to its culture that has had a continuity few others have.

Call it mutual ‘tolerance’ or ‘acceptance’, Indians professing different faiths live together despite past foreign military invasions followed by conversions, whether they were forced by the sword, coerced through temptations or voluntary. There is assimilation even as people are sought to be divided on religious lines.

What is ‘secular’ in modern-day parlance has evolved with Indian connotations and convenience, just as what is ‘communal’ has to explain what is not ‘secular’. And ‘secular’ itself has undergone transformation from being anti-faith and irreligious to treating all faiths with equal respect. 

For two millennia-plus, India has remained pluralist and yet, in terms of numbers, overwhelmingly (79.8 percent) Hindu. 

And yet, the current election is witnessing an aggressive discourse on Hindu ‘victimhood’ that requires to be repaired with attempts to enforce its supremacy over others. Hindutva, the ploy used to give political turn to the majority faith, gives new twists to the very understanding of the terms ‘tolerance’ and ‘acceptance’. Secular is spelt ‘sick-ular’.  

Three top members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) including an estranged member of the Gandhi ‘dynasty’ courted controversy last week for appearing to threaten people to vote for them.

A video showed women and child welfare minister Maneka Gandhi warning a Muslims’ gathering to vote for her or be shunned if she returns to power. “I am winning with the help of the people. But if my victory comes without the support of Muslims, then I will not feel good… “It will leave a bitter taste. And then when a Muslim comes for any work, then I will think let it be.”

The other new incident involved Sakshi Maharaj, a Hindu monk, who told a gathering in Kanpur that he would “curse” those who do not vote for him. “When a saint comes to beg and isn’t given what he asks for, he takes away all the happiness of the family and in turn gives curse to the family,” Maharaj said, adding he was quoting from sacred Hindu scriptures. He is facing 34 criminal charges, including alleged murder, robbery and cheating.

These offenders are from the ruling alliance. But in a growing list, politicians from other parties and alliances, like Navjot Singh Sidhu, Mayawati and Azam Khan, have also used religious ploys, sexist remarks, hate and intimidation to win support of the electorate even though soliciting votes on religious lines or threatening voters is prohibited.

The Election Commission, while struggling to maintain its authority and a semblance of fairness, has admitted before the country’s highest court that it is ‘toothless’ and ‘helpless’ before the offenders.

For the first time, the statutory body conducting the world’s largest democratic exercise has slapped token punishments of exclusion from public speaking, using its limited powers, to some of these offenders for violating the EC-set norms by appealing to religion or employing religion-related issues. But the punishment has been ridiculed by some who play to the public gallery and some others have repeated their offences.

Besides Sakshi Maharaj, ‘curse’ has become the new cussword. It is astounding that what one read in fairy tales and mythology is used today to damn opponents.

The most controversial curse has come from Pragya Singh Thakur, a lady monk connected with a Hindu extremist body, nominated by the BJP to contest. Unique and complicated, her case needs elaboration. She is on trial for offences ranging from conspiracy to murder and transporting explosives. For want of evidence, a special court recently exonerated her for the 2007 blast on Samjhauta Express, the train that links India and Pakistan. Seventy Pakistanis returning home and Indians visiting their relations in Pakistan died.

The court passed severe strictures against the investigators who first probed a Muslim group and then switched to “Hindu terror”, allegedly on political orders. In effect, none has been convicted and punished, even as India demands of Pakistan to try and punish those involved in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

Thakur said she had ‘cursed’ the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief, Hemant Karkare who she alleges tortured her. The police officer died fighting the Pakistani militants in Mumbai. Honoured posthumously, Karkare had also led the investigations against Thakur in other cases including one pertaining to blasts at a mosque. Thakur now declares that he died “within five weeks” of her ‘curse’. She later regretted her remark, but wants everyone who implicated her in terror attacks to apologise. 

Modi has defended her nomination, declaring that there is “nothing called Hindu terrorism.” Legalities apart, her nomination, while she is out on bail on health grounds, allows her to convert herself from a terror suspect and a victim of her investigators and the judiciary who were ostensibly doing their job, to a heroine upholding her faith.

Admittedly, Thakur is not convicted. She is among the many contesting this election, like others with criminal cases. But in nominating her, Modi and BJP that routinely hand out certificates of nationalism and tag anyone who disagrees with their dominant narrative as a traitor, are rooting for an accused in a terrorism case.

Individuals apart, how faith determines the fate of friends and adversaries is clear from BJP’s official Twitter account. It quotes party chief Amit Shah’s speech that explicitly declared that if re-elected, it would implement the Citizenship bill for the entire country and would act against all infiltrators who were not Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist.

The party’s stand on different communities is no secret. The important thing is the fear that this position elicits among potential voters.

Those obviously excluded are Muslims — invaders who stayed on to rule — and Christians, although those who came as traders and turned colonizers hardly exist in present-day India. The targets could be members of the 24 million community that accounts for 2.3 percent of the totally population.  But they are ‘outsiders’.

The most telling exclusion – one hopes it’s inadvertent — is that of Parsis, the Zoroastrian migrants from Iran who made India their home 14 centuries ago — in Gujarat, the home-state of Modi and Shah. 

The opposition has no answer to this campaign. By not countering the BJP on lynching and numerous other issues that pertain to the minorities and depressed sections of the society, the opposition parties by and large, but the Congress especially, have conceded to the BJP’s ideological narrative.

Sadly, Shah’s viewing the electorate as Ali-versus-Bajrangbali is finding tacit acceptance from rising urban middle classes. Unlikely to end with these elections, it is now a reality of our times, unlikely to go away.

One is sticking the neck out mid-way through the voting process, with its outcome barely three weeks away. Forget arguing over Modi’s development plank and his many achievements and failures, he could get a fresh mandate by dividing people on religious lines, instilling fear in them. But if he fails, it will be because a resilient society that has lived in plurality for long has its own silent, even if opaque, way of dealing with such attempts.

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com


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Narendra Modi In Varanasi

Ajay Rai, Not Priyanka, To Challenge Modi

The Congress on Thursday fielded Ajay Rai as its candidate from the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat, putting to rest speculation regarding Priyanka Gandhi Vadra contesting the election against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Prime Minister Modi won from Varanasi by a margin of 3.37 lakh votes. AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal and Rai were among the candidates from the seat. While Kejriwal came in the second place, Rai stood third in the vote tally.

Priyanka last week had said that she will contest the Lok Sabha election from Varanasi against Prime Minister Modi if the party president Rahul Gandhi asks her to do so.

This would be the second time Prime Minister Modi and Ajay Rai will battle from Varanasi seat.

Varanasi goes to polls in the seventh and the final phase of the general election on May 19. The result will be announced on May 23.

Meanwhile, the Congress has also announced the name of Madhusudan Tiwari as its candidate from Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat. (ANI)

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Generation Shift In Indian Politics

Election 2019 Will Witness Generational Change

This Lok Sabha elections, 500 million young people will vote in the country, 15 million of them for the first time

This had to happen, sooner than later. India is used to politicians furthering their social and economic clout while professing to be “in service of the people.” Now, several private institutions are producing professionally trained politicians. “Serving public” may soon be like “customer care.”

Khadi, the homespun cotton that Indian politicians generally don is optional for the young wannabe with varying political beliefs prescribed kurta –pajama-jacket uniforms. They are attending training courses that will fetch them degrees, diplomas and certificates at convocation ceremonies.

The Parliament’s Bureau of Parliamentary Research and Studies runs an internship course for the young. But now a plethora of private institutions has come up to train the young to ‘connect’ and ‘engage’ with the people. Concept of “public service” may not be prominent in the syllabi, but thankfully, the Indian Constitution is.

They charge between Rs 300,000 to Rs 1.6 million per course, promising to make “better leaders.” The corporate touch is inescapable and so is the nudge from some of the political parties who want to “catch them young.”

It is not difficult to see that besides electoral politics, the graduate can become a lobbyist, a counselor, a PR man or an analyst. These are among the areas of interest for business houses, investors, visiting suppliers and deal-makers and foreign embassies. Or, join a NGO.

Whether this kind of education and training could produce a politician willing to get hands dirty, dine with the poor in their homes and join the rough and tumble of party affairs would seem seriously doubtful to an old-timer. But if there are cyber warriors, why not have cyber politicians? Haven’t harnessing knowledge, skill and technology, and using sociology and psephology, produced strategy room analyses, surveys and Exit polls for nearly four decades now?

This has not ended, but has slashed the role of the hands-on reporter who hits the election trail, talking to the tea vendor or interviewing a bus and rail rider to fathom the ‘ground’.  As this reporter gets tech-savvy the interviewees, too, are getting smart, saying what the TV cameras want. The current campaign is hugely being driven by the social media.  

This is inevitable as India urbanizes, educates and acquires economic heft. Political activity has evolved although it requires moving out in the blazing sun to a rough rural terrain. The cyber-boys and girls would need that at least during elections and when mass movements are launched.

Going by past experience, with each Lok Sabha election, roughly a third of the 543 lawmakers are replaced or are defeated and new ones ring in. Besides growing use of technology, the current run-up to the elections is a hugely transformational exercise. To assess it, one has to jostle with personal views, political preferences and professional objectivity required of a scribe.  

Out, at least from the LoK Sabha elections are  Lal Krishna Advani and  Murli Manohar Joshi two of the founders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Appointed ‘margadarshaks’ (advisors) five years ago, they are now, as a television debater tellingly put it, ‘darshaks’, just onlookers.

Three other Ram temple movement leaders who witnessed demolition of the historic Babri Mosque in Ayodhya city in 1992 – Uma Bharati, Kalyan Singh (now Rajasthan Governor) and Vinay Katiar — are not among the contestants. The tumultuous event they led and much that happened in its aftermath have seriously challenged the idea of an inclusive India. How these five will face prolonged court trial for their role is best left to the future.

Three scores of BJP lawmakers have been changed. The process began in 2014 with an age bar of 75. Modi denied ministerial berths to Advani and Joshi. Now the generational shift in the party has reached the next level.

Sentiments apart and even discounting speculation over lack of personal equations among other reasons for their exclusion, the BJP needs to fight incumbency. All this is inevitable in India that is seen with justification as a gerontocracy.

This is also true of other parties. Elders have been forced to be flexible as they tackle pressures from young aspirants, many of them family members – even grandchildren. Former premier H D Deve Gowda and Sharad Pawar have had to change their Lok Sabha constituencies to accommodate young wards. Her retirement plans well-known, former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has returned to the election arena.

Mulayam Singh Yadav, having lost control of Samajwadi Party to son Akhilesh, has accepted the same party nomination. This is after the perennial prime minister-in-waiting bid farewell to parliament and surprised everyone by wishing a victorious return to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Times are changing.

Part of this change is the idea of crowd-funding of election, not exactly new, is attracting the young. Kanhaiya Kumar, former leader of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, has adopted it. Parties and their nominees unlikely to be funded by moneybags may follow him now and in future. This ensures public participation.   

Young leaders are emerging even as ‘win-ability’ compulsions force them to field the old. While Akhilesh has won the family turf war, acrimony has surfaced in the other Yadav clan in Bihar between two sons of jailed Lalu Prasad. The two northern states are crucial for the Opposition alliances to challenge Modi/BJP.

Rahul has found state satraps scuttling Congress’ alliances with other parties in Delhi, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. His gambit of contesting a second seat in Kerala, while boosting his party in the South where he hopes to do better than the BJP, has antagonized the communists, already angry with him for failure to align in West Bengal.

It is difficult to blame any single party. But many have seriously wondered if the Congress as the biggest opposition entity has frittered away the opportunity to show accommodation to others, thus conceding space to the ruling alliance.

The once-reticent Rahul’s in-your-face attacks on Modi have won him admirers and expectedly, counter-attacks from BJP and its social media acolytes.  In contrast, sister Priyanka’s striking presence and a conversational style appeal to listeners.

Some issues are out from the BJP’s armour. At his rallies, Modi doesn’t promise to build Ram temple anymore; nor does he defend government’s policies. It’s all hyperbole.

And some issues are passé for both sides. None talks of corruption, Rupee’s demonetization, triple talaq for Muslim women and lynching of Muslims by cow-protecting vigilantes. The opposition is silent on the Rafale aircraft deal. Call it prioritizing – or opportunism.

Overall, the opposition has fallen short in forging credible state level alliances, leave alone a national one. It is a difficult task given conflicting ambitions and support bases when transfer of votes from one party to another is not easy. The opposition does not have a tall leader who can parley across the parties.  It is advantage BJP.

With opposition alliances in many states gone awry, analysts say there is lack of clarity in opposition strategy and eventually, too much will depend on post-polls give-and-take. In 2004, that had helped the Congress race past a shocked BJP. But now, BJP is the predominant force led by the most formidable team of Modi and party chief Amit Shah, geared 24×7 into poll-mode, with full intent to retain power at any cost.

But with incumbency factor looming large, the numbers may elude Modi as of now. To get the numbers, Modi is trying hard to build sentiment, hoping to trigger a wave.

This explains his below-the-belt rhetoric. When critics are called “anti-national” and asked to “go to Pakistan” and the neighbour itself, accorded undue, exaggerated place in domestic discourse and is predicted to “die its own death,” one wonders what message electioneering in the world’s largest democracy is giving to others.

(The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com )

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Woman Holds Narendra Modi Cutout

Is It Advantage Modi Before The Elections Begin?

Even before the first vote is cast, and campaigning reaches its crescendo, Modi is probably entering the fray with an advantage.

A few days ago, one of India’s most respected and well-known senior TV journalists posted a tweet that was telling. She was reporting from the field in Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh and her tweet said: “A commonly described refrain about @narendramodi–not Pulwama, Balakot, or PM Kisan–is “he works really hard and he isn’t gaining anything for himself” – talking to voters in Baghpat. #OnTheRoad2019”. India’s national elections are less than a fortnight away and, increasingly, the views gleaned from the ground seem to point to a public mood that favours re-electing Mr Narendra Modi, his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and its several allies.

Dipstick surveys of the sort that journalists often resort to—talking to local cab drivers or roadside tea stall owners is one of the commonest tactics they use—are neither rigorous nor scientific ways of gauging the pre-election mood of an electorate, at least not of one that is as diverse, complex, and confounding as that of India’s. Yet, as we head for this year’s national elections (they begin on April 11 and go on for seven phases), what people outside the high-decibel chatter on social media platforms are saying bears consideration. Mr Modi and his government appear to elicit greater levels of faith among large swathes of India’s population. So, are they headed towards an election with a definite edge over their opponents such as the Congress party or the motley crew of other parties that have been trying to forge a grand alliance to oust the BJP-led government?

When it comes to campaigning for votes Mr Modi has a clear edge over his rivals. Whatever critics say, he’s probably the best orator in Indian politics today. His speeches may be peppered with “politically incorrect” statements (recently, while speaking to students at an IIT, he appeared to be mocking Congress president Rahul Gandhi as someone suffering from dyslexia), or repetitive homilies about how his government had delivered on what it had promised, or even inaccurate accounts of things such as India’s growth, employment generation, and poverty alleviation during his regime, but his oratorical skills are clearly a huge draw among ordinary Indians who usually come out in strength to listen to him at his numerous rallies. The average Indian sees Mr Modi as a strong, hardworking leader who is honest and selfless.

A gifted speaker, Mr Modi’s rally speeches are designed to touch the heart of his audiences. He speaks to them in simple language, although he has a penchant for coining acronyms, and is usually able to create a feeling of respect, admiration and trust among them. Through his tenure, he has leveraged this talent. His monthly radio talk, Mann ki Baat, which partly crowd sources its themes, and has a potential to reach 90% of Indians, is a huge hit. He has nearly 47 million followers on Twitter and has posted more than 22,800 tweets (Donald Trump has 59.5 million and 41,000 tweets) and even though he’s faced flak for not holding a single press conference since he became Prime Minister in 2014, his alternative way of keeping in contact with people seems to have borne fruit. No one except the media complains about the PM not holding pressers.

In several polls, confidence trackers and other devices of that ilk, Mr Modi continues to be head and shoulders ahead of his rival politicians when it comes to who most people would prefer to see as the leader of their nation. In contrast, the Congress president and Mr Modi’s main rival, Mr Gandhi, is still seen as a work in progress. That may seem amusing because at 48, Mr Gandhi may be a generation younger than Mr Modi, 68, but he’s already a middle-aged man.  Mr Gandhi’s election speeches are also not remarkable. He’s not as good a public speaker. But more importantly, his speeches lack the conviction that Modi’s speeches invariably seem to have. Also, during this election season, other than the announcement of a form of universal basic income for the poorest in India, in his public utterances, there has been little of his vision for a better India.

Mr Gandhi’s party just released its manifesto for the elections, spelling out what it would do if it came to power. It was no surprise that it promised a thorough investigation into the Modi government’s deal to buy Rafale fighter jets from France—a deal that the Congress and others believe smacks of corruption. But its main focus was on creating jobs; alleviating distress among India’s farmers; and, naturally, the minimum income scheme that Mr Gandhi had announced earlier, and in which Rs 72,000 a year would be paid to the poorest 20% of households.

The BJP is yet to release its manifesto—before the last election in 2014, it had done so only very late into the campaigning period. But it would be a real surprise if that document didn’t prioritise the exact same things that the Congress’s one has. The Modi government has been perceived to be tardy on issues such as employment generation and well-being of farmers. Political prudence would dictate that these issues would feature high up on the BJP’s manifesto as well. India’s problems—particularly on the economic development front are complex and so large that no aspirant for New Delhi’s seat of power can ignore them, least of all an aspirant wanting to be re-elected.

The outcome of India’s elections—they are complex and involve various permutations and factors that influence voters’ choices—are never predictable. The size and scale of itself is massive: 820 million voters; 930,000 polling stations; 1.4 million electronic voting machines; 11 million security personnel overseeing polling over seven phases. But so is the unpredictability of the voting trends. How a party fares in populous states such as Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh (now bifurcated into two separate states), and Maharashtra could be the determinant of whether it gets a shy at forming the government. Moreover, votes are cast on the basis of many other factors that go beyond economics and the personalities of leaders. Caste and religion create blocs of voters; and India’s population of 172 million Muslims who are its largest minority have not exactly been happy in the past five years under a government led by a party whose policies have always had Hindu nationalism at its core. Recently, at one of his rallies, while upbraiding the Congress for creating the term “Hindu terror”, Mr Modi implied Mr Gandhi was contesting from an additional Muslim-dominated constituency because he was afraid of losing from his regular constituency, UP’s Amethi. In 2014, when the BJP and its allies won 336 seats out of 543 in India’s lower house of Parliament, few psephologists had been able to predict that it would be such an overwhelming win. One reason why India’s pre-poll surveys often go horribly wrong is because of the diversity and sheer size of the electorate—huge numbers of voters; and a vastly diverse population, both in terms of demographics and psychographics. In a country of 1.3 billion, sometimes the biggest sample size you can manage to poll is quite often just not big enough. Yet, even before the first vote is cast, and election campaigning reaches its crescendo, it may not be wrong to say that Mr Modi is probably entering the fray with an advantage.

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