Weekly Update: Mandir Politics In UP; Kisan Morcha Aasabad; Theatre At Mother Of Parliaments

UP Elections: GDM Not GDP Growth

Asaduddin Owaisi, the leader of AIMIM has accused both BJP leader Yogi Adityanath and the SP leader Yadav of competing to be ‘greater Hindu’ ahead of the UP elections. Both Yogiji and Yadav ji have been trying to convince voters that they will build bigger Mandirs and are the real protectors of Hinduism. Yogi of course uses the Babri Masjid-Ayodhya claims to fame. To out do him, Yadav has inaugurated a Lord Parshuram Mandir in Lucknow on the banks of Purvanchal Expressway.

The temple was built by UP’s Samajwadi Party leader Santosh Panday. Not to be outdone, BJP responded the next day with its Deputy Chief Minister of UP, Brijesh Pathak, unveiling the statue of Lord Parshuram at the Hasoveer Temple.

Temple politics is big in this largest of Indian states. The BJP took lead when its ‘base’ the RSS demolished Babri Masjid and started building Ram Janam Bhoomi temple in Ayodhya with the  Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi having laid the main foundation stone on 5th August 2020.

Seeing that UP is more interested in Mandirs than food security, jobs or housing, Yadav revised his manifesto and put building an entire city after Lord Vishnu as one of his election pledges. So not only one temple to Lord Vishnu, but an entire city in his honour. The city will no doubt have Vishnu City Council, Vishnu City Football stadium, Vishnu city General Hospital, Vishnu City High Secondary School, Vishnu City Police Station, Vishnu City market and all other Lord Vishnu landmarks and institutions that cities have.

Meanwhile BJP has made rebuilding Mathura along the lines of Ayodhya as one of its key manifesto pledges.  While Yadav has refrained from attacking Muslims in UP, Yogi Adityanath has not been shy of this. The BJP has been branding Akhilesh Yadav as pro Muslim and Yogi has been raking up history of firing on karsewaks in the 1990s by the regime of Yadav’s father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, when he was CM.

Owaisi, the leader of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Musalimeen, was quick to pick this up and made the rhetorical statement that both Yadav and Yogi are in competition about who is a greater Hindu. It’s a tough one coming from a man who has been competing to become the greatest Muslim and therefor represent Muslims in India.

Unemployment, price rises, farmer’s issues, polarisation and development all seem to be taking a bit of a back seat. UP is famous for caste politics but the smaller caste groups seem to be engulfed by Uttar Pradesh obsession with GDM, that is Gross Domestic Mandirs than GDP, Gross Domestic Product index.

At this rate the main competition between states in future may not be who feeds the most mouths, has best education system or most peaceful state, but which state has the most mandirs. One for budding economists to watch and make a name.

Kisan Morcha Aasabad

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha has sent a memorandum to the President of India charging that the Kisans have been betrayed by the Government that had given assurances on six outstanding issues. The Morcha leaders, the ones still left standing after some have gone on to fight elections in Punjab, feel a bit let down by Modiji.

Why they expected the assurances to be kept is a wonder. Before he became Prime Minister, Modi had promised gravity defying promises. They included creating 2,00,00,000 jobs a year, a shelter for everyone and bring back black money. Every Indian was to get ₹15 lakh in their bank account. Farmers’ income were going to double.

So far, a few lakh jobs have materialised since 2014, somewhere in lakhs rather than crores. Shelter is still nature’s blue sky interrupted by smog over many heads. And bank accounts have yet to start being fed any proper money. Black money is nestling where it is and grown with interest and further investments. Modi’s policies made farmers saw a threat to their meagre income and they decided to protest.

Kisan memorandum complains that the Modi Government had promised to withdraw all cases against farmers with immediate effect. Yet no action has taken place. The Union Government is saying it is waiting for state governments to sort out paperwork. Farmers are still getting summons. The memorandum complains that the Union Government hasn’t even written to state Governments.

A committee to ensure MSP was to be formed. However no committee has yet even been contemplated let alone formed.

Moreover, the Government is moving ahead with the Free Trade Agreement with Australia that will threaten the existence of dairy farmers.

Modi has a history. In 2015, he gave a promise to the Sikhs in London that all political prisoners will be released immediately. Seven years later, quite a few still remain in prisons, waiting for this state government or that state government to finish its paper work.

Paper work is one of India’s great political tool. In the age of internet and online Adhaar Card technology, the bureaucrats can still bring anything to stone-age speed with ‘paper work’.

Yet despite all broken promises, Prime Minister Modi has maintained his popularity. It is an art, a gift, that has served the BJP well. It is what brought the Kisan Morcha to end. He has made the promise, but keeping that is for another ‘yug’, if that ever comes around. Yugs are in millions of years.

The Farmer leaders have splintered. The morcha got the laws repealed. Yet like one of those horror movies where the undead arise again, the laws are likely to come back in another form. One can sympathise with the farmers and hope this time the Modi Government will actually keep its promises. They live in hope –aas.

Theatre At Mother Of Parliaments

One of the interesting facet of the international community of States is that there is always some leader some where providing enough eccentric or maverick behaviour to keep the headlines running, journalists in jobs and the world entertained. From Berlusconi’s Bunga Bunga parties, Kim Jung Un’s pointless Missiles hitting whales in Oceans and Trump’s anti vax tirades, the world has some leader somewhere hogging the media. Now it is Britain’s Boris Johnson who is providing the political entertainment.

Britain’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is a man who likes reckless challenges. During Covid lockdowns when he was going on TV to tell the rest of Britons to stay at home, not to visit relatives or friends, not to have any parties etc, he was busy doing precisely the opposite. There were parties galore at 10 Downing Street.

Caught out or rather outed by his ex-advisor Dominic Cummings, Johnson faced a huge backlash in the media and from MPs from his own party, the Conservatives. But Britain is old hand at managing accusations, a trick learnt by Indian Government too. It set an enquiry or a committee.

The first person to lead the enquiry had also been involved in a party. So he was replaced by another civil servant called Sue Gray. She has finished her enquiry but the British Police, more precisely Scotland Yard, whose Chief owes her continuing job to Johnson Government, has delayed publication by saying it has to ‘investigate’ some of the law breaking. Police investigations, as anyone knows, can also by Jugo Yug (eternal)

Meanwhile the people, now used to Instagram attention spans, are getting fed up with the delays and want to move on. That is what is happening.

Johnson has been given a lifeline by Putin. Putin has amassed forces at the borders of Ukraine. Johnson knows that Brits like wars or pretend they are still a world force to be reckoned with. So Johnson now bellows threats at Putin. Putin must be amused at these juvenile threats and has even given an audience to Johnson to add to the charade of Britain’s comic Global British Power.

In the meantime, the mother of Parliaments, Westminster, seems to be in a state of ethical dementia as MPs from Conservative party up hold the ‘highest’ standards by admitting openly that their leader is a pathological liar but they are still examining whether there are grounds to  remove him!

The Monk Who Sold Hardline Hindutva

This is indeed a diabolically crass crossword tangle, juxtaposed within the terribly tangled twists of UP politics. The absurdity of this bad theatre unfolds the incestuous dilemmas of a typically clichéd Catch-22 spectacle, and though much of it is behind closed doors, the neon lights are out blinking green and red. With extreme Hindutva and the power play of the RSS-BJP and Sangh Parivar as backdrop, and a rising Samajwadi Party with a formidable alliance on the other side.

Anything can happen in this thriller, the end seems unpredictable, and that is why the excitement and the suspense.

For the first time since 2014, the BJP and RSS are feeling “unsafe” in Uttar Pradesh. And this is the reading on the spot, on the dot, at the epicenter of the Hindi heartland, by seasoned journalists based out there (and not in Delhi), and who have faced the brunt of the mobs since the black day of the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya. Not only the BJP, it seems both Yogi and Modi are feeling unsafe, insecure, shaky, jerky, stuck on a sticky wicket.

And herein lies the obsessive infatuations of power play; Season One of this Soap Opera is out there, free of cost, for all of us to see. Including for the politically sharp UP voter, more addicted to the underbelly of caste and power politics, then on the nuances of the political economy of development. That is why what it is and what makes UP the king-maker in Delhi, and also the worst state in terms of the Human Development Index. But no one cares a damn, neither the establishment, nor those who are toiling down there, in the invisible margins of ‘history from below’.

The first clue of this dark thriller replete with catharsis and anti-catharsis was given by Amit Shah. Call it a Freudian Slip, it indicated the prophetic fatedness of power. He said that Yogi’s victory in UP in these assembly polls will pave the way for the victory of Narendra Modi in 2024! Thus is the interwoven complexity of victories and defeats. That is, if Yogi loses now, Modi too must lose three years later. That is his fatedness. But if Yogi wins, then, what happens?

That is the clue which no one can predict. Either way, it seems a double whammy for Modi. Bad prophecy and bad faith and bad breaking news multiplied three times over.

The BJP, Yogi and Modi are unsafe in UP because they can see the rapidly shifting electoral sands, and they just can’t be sinking sinking drinking water. Yogi reportedly desperately wanted to contest from Ayodhya. He wanted a national profile and thereby become the new Hindutva Hriday Samrat. Obviously, the top brass in Delhi hated this idea. And no one knows what the top brass in Nagpur or Delhi’s Jhandewalan want or think – they being so secretive!

The clear indication is, as a hardened journalist from deep inside the Hindi heartland said, Yogi has become a bone in the throat of the Sangh Parivar, especially Modi. They can’t swallow him, nor they can throw the bone out. The RSS, which originally seems to have propped him up from nowhere, seems to be finding itself in the same dilemma – much as they tried to find another extremist Hindutva icon to replace the ‘Acche Din Messiah’ at the Centre. That is why this Catch-22 scenario.

When Yogi was first promoted during and after the last assembly elections in the state, journalists would wonder what to do with the press release he would routinely sent – he was holding no official position in the BJP. He was a BJP MP from Gorakhpur, head of the sprawling and influential Math, and much more far-right of even the BJP. He simply had no locus standi whatsoever! Nor was he a mass leader in UP or elsewhere. So why promote him?

ALSO READ: Hate Machine Is Legit, Centre Mute

Yogi’s promotion was thus taken with a pinch of salt across the BJP, as well as in the secular media. His consequent actions therefore were predictable, inevitable and proved the real worth and meaning of this man. He did exactly what he was supposed to do. From the encounters, to the brutal assaults on peaceful anti-CAA protesters, to unleashing the Romeo Squads against young couples. And the burning pyre in the night of a girl violently brutalized in Hathras, barricaded from all sides by the repressive state apparatus, was seen as a sign of how a regime can turn so short, nasty and brutish.

So those who thought that Hathras depicted the final truth, had to only wait for the third surge of the killer Delta epidemic, even while the health system totally collapsed in UP, and dead bodies started floating on the holy river, with the sandy shores of Ganga full of dead bodies buried hurriedly with tattered clothes flying as miserably tragic signposts. So much so, dead bodies were being cremated in parks and public spaces, and huge fences were quickly erected outside cremation grounds in Lucknow to stop reporters and photographers to capture the mass tragedy.

And, yet, an ad campaign was soon unleashed apparently costing crores. The same tactics – turn the truth topsy-turvy, tell a lie a million times so that it appears as the truth, camouflage the bitter reality and tell the world how lovely it all is. It kind of triggered a sick taste in the mouth even as the cremations continued and so did the mass mourning, in UP and across India. That sick taste continues to remain, and will continue to haunt Yogi, Modi and the BJP in the days to come.

The Gorakhpur Math, locals say, started in as a secular monastic Shaivite mode, close to the Bhakti ethos, assimilating all currents and respecting all communities and religions, almost treading on the same path as the wisdom of Kabirpanthis. The Nath cult was universally tolerant and secular. The turn towards extremism came with Mahant Digvijay Nath participating in the sacrilege by installing idols at the Babri Masjid, joining the Hindu Mahasabha and contesting elections. He was also one of the accused in Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.

His rise and fall was followed by Mahant Avaiydanath, the guru of Yogi Adityanath, both ‘Bisht and Thakur’, who turned the original Nath philosophy upside down and pushed it into hardline Hindutva, even more extreme than the softer, moderate line followed in the early days by the Jan Sangh, with leaders like Atal Behari Vajpayee at the helm. The muscle-flexing and street power they hold in Gorakhpur with huge property in their grasp, with the aggressive vanguards of the Hindu Yuva Vahini calling the shots, is well known in the town. Yogi is a product of this ethos. Indeed, associated with the BJP as a winning candidate from Gorakhpur, he is not really a die-hard BJP or Sangh Parivar loyalist. That is another dilemma for the party.

The situation thereby is complex: Modi is apparently not with Yogi, and Yogi is apparently not with Modi. And not only that, even backward leaders like Keshav Chandra Maurya, the current deputy CM, and several MLAs, are apparently not with Yogi. Maurya is eyeing the CM post for long. Hence, there is a hidden rift within rift within the fragile fortress, and a possibly simmering implosion. Truly, when it comes to UP, anything can happen. 

Come what may, as of now, the BJP is on a sticky wicket. And the ground below its feet seems to be slipping. Surely, as Amit Shah so prophetically predicted, perhaps, paving the way for 2024.

‘I Want Yogi To Return As CM, And Here Is Why…’

Pratham Raj, 19, a college student and a first time voter in Uttar Pradesh, recounts the reasons why he will cast his vote in favour of Yogi Aditynath

I am excited to be able to vote for the first time as the assembly elections date draws near. For a state as big as Uttar Pradesh, we all need to take our votes seriously. Even though I don’t follow news religiously, you cannot call me unaware. I am a socio-politically aware youngster even if I don’t understand the nitty gritty of politics very deeply.

I would be delighted to see chief minister Yogi Adityanath return to power for a second term. I have been happy with his tenure from 2017-2022. And I believe Yogi ji and the BJP will go from strength to strength in the next five years or so.

For me, the highlights of his tenure are the bhoomi poojan at Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and also the Kashi Vishwanath corridor project. As a Hindu, I feel very happy that my identity is being respected. People might say what they want but Yogi Adityanath has done many things for the state, be it handling Covid well, bringing the crime rates down and an overall lessening of the dabangai attitude. Most importantly, he has taken good care of the education of the youth.

Raj is appreciative of the decicisiveness of CM Yogi (right)

I study in a government college in UP and when even in normal times the education at government colleges would not be up to the mark, I am satisfied that even in these difficult times my education at government college is going well. Government employees have begun to take their work more seriously, because the CM takes his work seriously.

ALSO READ: ‘Polarisation & Pandemic Will Dominate UP Polls’

During Covid, the government did a great job with supplying timely rations to the poor and the needy. No matter which community people belong to, they should appreciate a good job when they see it, irrespective of the party. I agree with what Yogi Adityanath said about this election being an 80-20 fight. Many still do not appreciate even a bona fide project like the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan in the state by Yogi just because he carries his Hindu identity on his sleeve.

When I grow up I want to take an active part in politics. I like the decisiveness with which Yogi Adityanath handles matters. His relatively young age also means he understands the requirements and aspirations of the youth. He is a balanced leader in my understanding and the Hindutva factor totally works for me. I am looking forward to see what more Yogi Adityanath can do in the next 5 years.

Weekly Update: The Flyover PM; Putin’s Khrushchev Moment; Political Petri Dish

Prime Minister Modi’s attempt to do a flyover visit in Punjab and get stuck over a flyover is a skit for satire if it wasn’t for real. The repercussions are still going around the social media with all sorts of threats, counter threats and allegations. The Prime Minister himself, who no doubt could easily get a job in Bollywood were he to lose his current role as ‘leader of India’, was as dramatic as ever.

‘Tell the CM I made it live to the airport’. Precisely who was threatening him is also a mystery. ISI? ISI don’t know what to do with a target if it was standing in front of them. They only work through ‘underground agents’ after coasting the target over weeks, if not months. ISI likes ‘clever’ games. It is a habit. Besides, that would have led to a war and ISI, for all its anti-India activities, isn’t quite ready for a war. Let us rule ISI out.

Sikhs? Why would Sikhs want to kill him? They just won the farmer protest having damaged him beyond repair. Modi is like a dead man walking in Punjab. Punjabis don’t respect losers. He lost and no point on inflicting more on him. His very presence is their victory. Some farmers simply obstructed his path and told him ‘Delhi wapas ja Bharava’ Go back to Delhi brother.

A Congress wallah? The Congress only kills people through the police and Army. They did enough in the 1980s and 1990s. They don’t do Jhatka, i.e do the work themselves.

It seems the only people threatening the beloved Modiji were Modi Bhakts. There was a bus load who were suddenly elated that they came almost face to face with their god and collectively said several times. ’Modi ji ki Jai’.

Modi ji, who doesn’t even give press interviews or face people directly and only speaks at big rallies through a bullet proof glass wall, was suddenly physically confronted by the sight of his worshippers in close proximity. He was obviously unnerved. This was a new situation for him since becoming PM. They are meant to be behind ropes and barriers, clamouring to touch his feet, not two yards away on a flyover. He misread their adulation as threats.

But what was Modiji doing in Punjab? After the protests ended in November, there were no hugs or stuffing laddoos in each other’s mouths. He took back laws. The Punjabis are still suspicious. A committee has been formed. But he decided to go over to Punjab. He probably thought to say, ‘No hard feelings’. The farmers probably thought he has come over to show that he is still Boss.

For a seasoned politician, it seemed a bit naïve to think that he could go over to Punjab and be greeted with garlands. The protestors had occupied several roads to stop any Modi Bhakts to get to the ground where he was going to speak. But they got lucky and managed to stop Modiji himself from getting to the ground, which was going to be mostly empty anyway.

For a ‘helicopter’ PM who flies everywhere, travelling on an Indian Road must have been an experience itself. And then getting caught over an India made flyover with no opportunity for a helicopter to ‘save’ him from his Bhakts, must have been another nightmare.

Instead of complaining about the hapless Punjab Chief Minister who had made all arrangements for Modiji to get to his empty ground by helicopter, Modiji needs to haul his transport minister and order him to build better flyovers. Flyovers where a helicopter can land and whisk the dear leader off, away, from his fans. Meanwhile his statement, ‘Buch je agya hun’ (I have come back safely), is causing roars of amusement in Punjab, further denting his muscular profile. ‘Kis se Buch ke ayaa hae bhai’ (who did you save yourself from? Who was threatening you?)

Putin’s Khrushchev moment

Putin has gone into a high stakes poker game with the United States. Having amassed some 100,000 troops and heavy equipment on the borders of Ukraine, Putin is threatening war unless US gives assurance that there will be no deployment of NATO forces in Ukraine and Ukraine won’t be permitted to join EU. Biden and EU are so far refusing. Putin is said to be threatening to install missiles again in Cuba.

This is a rerun of the 1962 Cuban crises. The head of the Soviet, Nikita Khrushchev, decided to install missiles in Cuba, an independent Island country only some 80 miles from Florida, US coast. The US under Kennedy, circled the Island with its Navy and blocked further supplies. A threat of war was looming. The Soviet (now Russia) wanted US to remove its missiles from Turkey in return. The standoff lasted about a month. The Soviet took away its gear. Khrushchev lost face in the Soviet and had to resign for showing ‘weakness’.

Strongman Putin now faces the same dilemma. He started a political poker which will only conclude with him or Biden losing face. For some time Ukraine has been seen as a possible NATO army base. Ukraine has also been openly saying that it will join the EU if permitted. Both are seen as evidence of Russia’s loss of power in that region.

Putin took over the Crimea in 2014 and part of Eastern Ukraine (Donbas) in some swift moves. The Eastern Ukraine is not strictly in Russia but is de facto Russian territory. Putin decided to threaten war and take over Ukraine if it doesn’t give up attempts to join EU and have NATO base. A NATO base is seen as a threat too near Russian border.

Treating Ukraine as a puppet of America, Putin is dealing directly with the US and NATO rather than Ukraine. Putin has said that the situation is similar to the Cuban crises of 1962.

Both US and NATO are refusing to budge citing Ukraine’s sovereign right to chose what it wants. As days go by it seems Putin may have little choice but to either backdown or invade. The west is trying to call Putin’s bluff, trying to see how far it can push Putin’s tolerance.

Sooner or later, Putin will have to chose if there is no movement on the discussions. If he deploys missiles in Cuba, that might be seen as too provocative. If he invades Ukraine it will be very costly for both countries. The economic crises that Russia will face afterwards will weaken him. If he backs down, Putin will be weakened as a political strongman in Russia. Either way, he has problems.

If Putin attacks Ukraine, Biden will face a barrage of criticism in USA from the Republicans. It will distract from the enquiry into the attempted insurrection of Capitol Hill. It will be the second country Biden administration will have failed to live up to a promise of protection (Afghanistan).

All indications are that this is leading to a war barring a last minute diplomatic breakthrough in the talks.

The Political Petri Dish

Look down a petri dish under a microscope and one will see bacteria or other organisms wandering around aimlessly from one end to another. Politics in India seems similar. With no clear agendas except caste, communalism or unachievable promises, the parties have little to differentiate between themselves.

So politicians often see parties as career ladders rather than organisations of conviction and loyalty. So it is in UP. A number of BJP MLAs have defected to Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party. They say that BJP is only interested in working for the big corporate houses and not representing the backward castes or the poor. The BJP in turn is trying hard to woo the backward castes.

So like a petri dish culture, the politicians are crossing from one side to another. So far Dara Singh Chauhan, Swami Prasad Muarya and Dharam Singh Saini and a few others have crossed over from Adityanath’s BJP to Akhilesh’s SP. Dara Singh was in Adityanath’s cabinet.

Soon no one will know which party any candidate is in and what he or she stands for until the morning of the upcoming elections. At least that day the election commission forbids any statements so no point in political promiscuity on election day.

‘Polarisation And Pandemic Will Dominate UP Elections’

Danial Faraz, 26, a lecturer in Uttar Pradesh, considers Yogi a better leader than Akhilesh Yadav and warns against hate-mongers like Waseem Rizvi (aka Jitendra N Tyagi)

What a time to be voting in! In the middle of the pandemic. The virus has kept everyone on their toes, and depending on the severity of the Omicron variant, the number of people attending political rallies can go up and down. Which is to say that the situation and its handling by leaders might play an important role in deciding which way the wind blows.

So we will have to take each month as it comes until elections are due in India’s most populous state. After the virus, it is polarisation that can sway the votes, and polarising people is something that BJP and its leaders know how to do really well. One would have thought that after the Ram Mandir Bhoomi Poojan in August 2019, there would be no more issues on which people could be polarised, but that is not the case. Polarisation continues and people give in.

If you were to ask me whose tenure I found better between Akhilesh Yadav & Yogi Adityanath as CM, as an individual, I would say Yogi Adityanath. Even though Akhilesh Yadav started the Laptop Distribution Scheme for the youth and the Dial 100 scheme, there were many things that were left to be desired.

ALSO READ: BJP Has Done Good Work In UP, But Polarised Society Too

The Muzaffarnagar riot took place under his watch and people were not brought to task. I feel Akhilesh Yadav has become greedy for power like many others and forgotten to carve his own separate way. There was a lot of biradariwad (nepotism). Yadavs were preferred over efficient people in the administration. I don’t know how his alliances with the smaller parties or independent candidates will work, but he needs to step up his presence.

Faraz considers Asaduddin Owaisi (right) a strong contestant in UP elections

Under Yogi Adityanath, the crime rate has definitely come down. If we don’t go into the means used to bring the crime rate down, then we can say that the lowering of crime rate has proved beneficial to many. One work of Yogi Adityanath government that I really like is the Scholarship Schemes for graduates where 60% marks is the set criteria for receiving aid and students have been receiving them consistently for the past 4.5 years.

I am not scared of living in UP, himmat se kam lena chahiye. Take life each day as it comes. I believe in the Indian Constitution and also believe that a good leader is one who teaches us the Constitution (as in our rights and duties) better.

I feel Asaduddin Owaisi (AIMIM) is the right leader. Many people think he is a polarising figure as well, but I don’t believe that to be true. Just because he takes care of the Muslim community doesn’t mean he doesn’t care for Hindus. There are Hindus in his party. If his party’s results in Bihar elections are anything to go by (a nearly 25% success rates) then he should be able to make headway in UP as well. Many people think he is an outsider and would not have an understanding of local issues, but I believe deep down our issues are more or less the same, given that we are all humans.

It is leaders like Waseem Rizvi aka Jitendra Narayan Singh Tyagi who do major harm to the whole political landscape. People like him are mere opportunists, ready to go to any length to remain relevant, and the youth needs to be especially weary of turncoat leaders.

I believe youngsters should give weight to the party leader, but also take note of what kind of work their local leader has done. One should give importance to individuals over party. Choose a leader who is good for you.

‘Yogi Has Done Good Work In UP, But Polarised Society Too’

Shubham Singh, 31, IT professional, says the pandemic has shown us how important it is to choose the right leader for one’s constituency

I have voted in every election, ever since I turned 18. I always make sure to take a good, hard look at the work and profile of the candidates in the contest. In the coming Uttar Pradesh elections, I feel the Ram Mandir verdict isn’t going to play a very important role. For, that issue is over and done with; now the voters are looking at everyday issues. The focus is back on poverty alleviation, education, infrastructure development etc.

I have been working in Delhi since 2014, but I return to my home state UP every time I am supposed to vote. However, for the past two years, like most people, I have been working from home. And in these two years I have had a better understanding of the ‘state’ of affairs around me.

As someone who has lived in Delhi, I can see that the communal tension does raise its head many times. And I have noticed the BJP government has been doing some good infrastructure development work on roads and bridges, Rapid Metro Project, Ganga Expressway Project etc. Personally I am happy about the work done on the Delhi-Moradabad Highway on NH-24. Indeed, if there is one state that has benefitted from what the BJP says “double engine ki Sarkar” then it is Uttar Pradesh.

Singh feels the youth must ask questions from their elected leaders

Having said that, we cannot ignore the fact that the groundwork for these were laid by the Samajwadi Party government. Marketing matters a lot during elections. Most people only remember the work done in the last one or two years of a party’s tenure, whereas the public should scrutinise all five years, the choice of candidates etc.

All around me, I see youngsters becoming focussed on entertainment (making short video reels for social media is their favourite pastime). They have forgotten to ask the right questions to leaders, say for example the dissatisfactory employment opportunities in the state.

ALSO READ: Western UP Gets A Healing Touch

Communal polarisation triggered by the BJP is a sticky point for me. But I also feel that the Muslim community needs to be more confident rather than giving in to victim mentality and not being able to see any good work done by the BJP. For example, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is a good initiative, yet many people find it hard to praise it.

People need to show exemplary analytical skills in these elections because as the pandemic has shown us, choosing a good local leader plays a very important role in handling a calamity. One should vote as an individual, not as a Hindu or Muslim. Sarv Dharm Sambhav is an important aspect of our lives here in UP. And seriously every reasonable person has begun to feel that the Hindu-Muslim narrative has begun to get a little too much.

Still If I had to choose between Yogi Adityanath and Akhilesh Yadav, I would go with Yogi Adityanath. The crime rate has come down, government machinery has picked up pace. If anti-social elements are scared, so are certain police officials who cross the line.

As about Asaduddin Owaisi and his party AIMIM, I believe it is BJP’s B-Party and is here just for cutting the vote base. Outside candidates don’t have a good understanding of local issues and neither are they able to build a strong connection with the natives. A case in point is Mohammad Azharuddin who contested the Lok Sabha elections in 2009 from Moradabad, won, and made few appearances afterwards. A local leader should be given more importance, at least he/she can be held accountable by the public. Now Azharuddin is busy with Telengana.

Being rooted is very important for a politician. The youth is aware, but all youngsters need to step up on their rights and duties if we want to see a flourishing political atmosphere where everyone’s issues are well-represented and solved.

Weekly Update: Biden Weaponises McDonald’s; UP Double Engine Slow Start; Punjab Politics Gets Crowdier

As Russia surrounds Ukraine with over 150,000 troops, heavy weapons, missiles on standby and jets revving up, Ukraine’s ally, the United States of America has sent a threatening message to Putin. ‘We will withdraw McDonalds!’ or something like that. Biden has threatened sanctions that will be the mother of all trade sanctions according to him. ‘Ya have seen nothn yet.’ So Biden retorted in barely audible decibels as if he didn’t mean it. If he does mean it then it must mean pulling back even McDonalds from Russia along with a few other things, such as helicopters and car parts.

The US imports a lot of oil and some platinum and bit of vodka from Russia among other things. Biden says he will stop importing these. Can this war be averted by threatening to stop McDonalds or similar things? Trade between Russia and USA is not eye popping anyway. In 2019 it was a mere $10.9 Billion exports to Russia whereas Russia exported $24 Billion of stuff to USA.

Russia already has huge foreign exchange reserves twice that of USA! It has 30% of world’s natural resources. And most of its trade is to neighbouring countries such as China, Ukraine, Poland, Kazakhstan etc. If it takes over large part of Ukraine, then that trade will be part of its domestic economy.

It’s difficult to see Putin having nightmares over United States threat on sanctions. Out of $551 Billion Russian annual exports, a loss of $24 billion seems miniscule. Ukraine will have to fight its own war. As usual, USA eternal friendship is finitely tied to its interests. Just as it ditched the Afghan democratic government which was relying on USA to protect it against Taliban, it is likely to dump Ukraine’s Zelensky when Putin sends the first tanks into Ukraine.

Sanctions will also mean that USA will force its allies such as EU and Britain to stop trading with Russia. The EU is a different story. As a block, EU is Russia’s largest trading partner exporting some $107 Billion worth goods to EU and importing about $88 Billion worth goods from EU. Sanctions will hit Russia and Putin may have to think hard.

But not so hard. A lot of import by EU is petroleum which is $75 billion worth, about 70% of imports. Rest is mainly minerals. It is difficult to see how EU is going to replace this amount of oil and gas. Germany has understandably long been reluctant to impose sanction on Russia as it relies heavily on petroleum from Russia.

If EU imposes sanctions, the price of oil will sky rocket, throwing many EU economies into possible recession. Just recovering from Covid lockdowns, the impact on European countries will be devastating as they import petroleum products from elsewhere. It will hit rest of world too.

Wily old Global Britain has already said it will not send forces if Russia attacks Ukraine. Little Englanders know they don’t stand a chance if Russia nukes Britain in anger and the current Brexit economy of Global Britain can’t afford another war, especially if Big Uncle Sam doesn’t relish sending any forces to aid Ukraine.

Putin has of course calculated all this. From his position, Ukraine has been a thorn in its security. Ukraine wants to join EU thus aiding its expansion to the borders of Russia. Ukraine could also give United States military bases. Russia has already compared this to the Cuba crises that faced USA in 1962 when the Soviet was planning to install missiles in Cuba on the doorsteps of United States.

Trouble with the West is that it has demonised Russia under Putin in its media and made a number of threatening statements warning Putin not to advance into Ukraine. This rhetoric could get in the way of finding a peaceful solution to the standoff between Russia and Ukraine although they, the West, have also been saying that sending forces against Russia is out of the question!

It should dawn on Ukraine that it is in the same position as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan which fell to the Taliban and has become the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan when USA decided it had enough of the friendship with Afghan democracy.

Although high level meetings to avoid war are between Putin and Biden, it will ultimately be up to Ukraine to either accept its fate peacefully or under force. Putin is neither bluffing nor eager for war. His terms for avoiding war are on the table. If Ukraine understands its position, it will let the West know that it will not join EU and will not invite US to set up bases in Ukraine. If not, then Putin is likely to unleash his forces and colossal firepower and take a significant part of Ukraine.

Unless of course Putin decides that he cannot do without a Big Mc in which case Biden’s threat of sanctions as retaliation for any war on Ukraine might just miraculously work. On the other hand, capitalist McDonalds may decide that it doesn’t want to forego profits in Russia and may call its burgers ‘Putin Burgers’ to get around sanctions. These wars are becoming multifaceted and complicated these days.

Double Engine But Slow To Start

Scurrying to save the BJP in Uttar Pradesh (UP) after retreat from farmers, PM Modiji has been trying his persuasive powers to win voters back to BJP. Farmer leader Tikait has dented the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, the state with the largest number of MPs in the Centre. Currently, UP is under BJP ruled by the monk Yogi Adityanath with a mixture of anti-Muslim rhetoric and Hindu revivalism.

‘Double engine Government’ said Modiji, is good for UP and everybody. By double engine he means, BJP government in UP and BJP government at the national level. Modiji laid the foundation of a ₹36,250 crore Ganga Expressway which will be the longest in the state. One stone has been laid. When it will have the last stone is another matter. Characteristically he even threw in a soundbite. UP + Yogi = UPYOGI. Only in Hindi it is flattering.

Not impressed, Bahujan Samaj Party leader, Shrimati Mayawati said, “Now near election the double engine government, meaning after 10 years, the Ganga Expressway has been announced and that also in two phases” Laelo ji double engine.

Equally unimpressed, the Samajwadi Party leader, Akhilesh Yadav tweeted, “Hathras’ daughter, Lakhimpur farmers, Gorakhpur traders, unsafe women, unemployed youth, daily and backwards all are saying the present government is ‘unupyogi (useless)’ than up-yogi.”

Punjab’s Politics Gets Crowdier

Already with more political parties than districts in Punjab, the over-crowded political space of Punjab has been joined by yet another new party. Fresh from their victory, a group of farm leaders under Gurnam Singh Charuni, has announced the setting up of Sanyukt Sangharsh Party. Their agenda, ‘To clean Punjab politics!’

There are many things Punjabis can do, including forcing one of the most powerful political parties in modern India to take back laws. But cleaning Punjab politics is a task that even God may shy from attempting. Nevertheless, Gurnam Singh is going to take on this more than Herculean task by fighting all Vidhan Sabha seats and bringing in Left ideology. MSP for all, fresh from Kisan Morcha.

Maybe the impossible might be achieved, politics will become cleaner and Punjabis will stop migrating to Canada at the creak of an open door and find jobs at home instead. There are more IELT classes than jobs in Punjab these days. These could be replaced by more job opportunities. Singhu border comes to Punjab.

Mamata In A New Challenger Avatar

Since May 2014, after its victory in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP as a party, and the BJP government in New Delhi, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, has been in ‘election mode’. Critics say it was this “obsession” for electoral victory that the government completely missed the deadly ‘second surge’ of the killer Covid-19 pandemic and failed to ramp up the healthcare infrastructure in time.

After a brief pause, the party leadership is once again switching to the ‘election mode’ with an eye on the coming Uttar Pradesh elections next year. For Modi and Shah, winning UP seems the last straw amidst a rapidly falling popularity graph.

However, the drubbing in West Bengal continues to rankle. Not only because ‘Didi’ has emerged as a ‘national icon’ after her incredible victory with Modi as her principal political opponent. But because she is tipped to be a possible leader of a secular opposition alliance in the next Lok Sabha elections.

Mamata Banerjee is not unaware of her new status. One can clearly witness that every political move of Didi since her victory on May 2, is designed to position herself as a ‘direct adversary’ to Modi, while attacking him routinely with an aggressive and creative consistency. This is bound to unnerve the ‘Dear Leader’ in New Delhi.

Take, for example, her statement after what seemed like the hounding of her chief secretary by the Centre on whimsical grounds: “There are so many Bengal cadre officers working for the Centre; if we confront like this, what will be the future of this country, Mr Prime Minister? Mr Busy Prime Minister, Mr Mann Ki Baat Prime Minister… what, do you want to finish me? Never, ever…. As long as people give me support, you cannot…” 

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The latest is the ‘big news’ of what seemed a predictable event – the return of prodigal son Mukul Roy, back into the Trinamool, which he founded with Mamata Banerjee in 1998 against the mighty CPM which ruled Bengal for more than 30 years. Undoubtedly, this was ‘breaking news’ not only in Bengal, but in the national scenario.

Mukul Roy was the second-in-command, responsible for organizational affairs in the Trinamool, appointed as Union Railway Minister at the behest of Mamata Banerjee, her point-man in Delhi’s power circles, even while he called the shots in Kolkata. All this changed after the Narada-Saradha scam, and the decline in his fortunes led him into the lap of the BJP – also perhaps because that was the only alleged ‘method’ to escape the Centre’s law enforcement agencies.

Mukul Roy was seemingly sidelined before the assembly polls in the BJP though he was the key strategist who lifted the BJP to 18 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, an unprecedented victory in Bengal for the Hindutva party.

Roy shared this ‘scam dilemma’, along with another high profile ‘turncoat’, Suvendu Adhikari, who switched over to the BJP before the 2021 polls, became a bitter enemy of his mentor, abusing her in the most communal and misogynistic language during the campaign, and is now reportedly a favourite with the Modi-Shah dispensation, adding to the angst and anger of the ‘original’ BJP workers and leaders like state party chief Dilip Ghosh.  

The inevitable return of Mukul Roy is therefore bad news for both Modi and Shah. In a party replete with discontent among its hardcore followers because it is filled to the brim with ‘turncoats’ — and several of them losing in the recent elections — his departure might trigger major defections back to Trinamool, including several MLAs. These defections are just a tip of the volcano – the BJP might be actually imploding in Bengal.

Indeed, with the BJP weakened in Bengal, and with Didi on the ascendant in terms of her ‘national stature’, it is believed by observers that all the signs are pointing to the beginning of the end of the Modi era, with a possible rainbow coalition of federal reassertion under a secular umbrella beginning to take shape in the national scenario. The latest is her move to send political strategist Prashant Kishore to meet Sharad Pawar, known for his tactical acumen; they had discussions for three hours.

Didi has called upon all opposition parties, including civil society organizations and NGOs to unite against Modi. Recently, in Kolkata, while yet again fully backing the farmers’ leaders who had come to meet her, she told journalists: “I have only one thing to say: Modi has to be removed from power.”

Besides, she told the farmers’ leaders that she will take the lead in organizing opposition leaders and chief ministers to hold a joint meeting in their support. Clearly, the importance she has been giving to the protracted movement and to specific leaders like Rakesh Tikait (the West Bengal assembly passed a resolution earlier in support of the farmers’ struggle), is evidence that she understands the political importance of the farmers as integral to future electoral dynamics, especially in the Hindi heartland, Haryana and Punjab.

Meanwhile, nursing the wounds of the massive defeat despite pumping in money and muscle, and the media hyperbole, the Modi-Shah regime started hounding Mamata Banerjee soon after May 2. First, there was this fake news campaign of organized violence against the BJP cadre and Hindus, with fake videos and Whatsapp campaigns trying to create a communal divide. She was blamed by central leaders, but the fact is that when the short-lived violence was triggered, the Election Commission was still in control, the central forces were still deputed in Bengal, and she had not been sworn in as the chief minister.

She took over, gave compensation to the victims across the political spectrum, and ordered a complete end to the violence. The violence stopped, even while Bengal celebrated the incredible victory of the secular forces against hate politics, with a deep, quiet and discreet dignity, mostly indoors.

Soon after, two of her senior ministers and two top leaders were arrested by the CBI, for being involved in the Narada scam. Mukul Roy and Suvendu Adhikari, also accused in the same scam, were left untouched. This was followed by the hounding of her chief secretary by the Centre, post Cyclone Yaas, for what seemed like a whimsical revenge act. Even the Congress and the CPM in Bengal criticized this, and there were rumblings within the BJP that this is indeed a terrible move by the Centre.

All this has been reinterpreted in Bengal and the rest of India as a display of arrogance and power, even while the feisty and resilient ‘Didi’ emerged yet again as a mass leader, street-fighter and formidable adversary against Modi. The more they hounded her, the more she has become popular, emerging as a ‘national icon’ who decisively took on Modi – and defeated him in his own game.

Clearly, as of now, it’s a win-win scenario for Mamata Banerjee. In a country where the Constitution and its federal structures have been so deliberately weakened in contemporary India, her brave and steadfast reassertion from the East might mark the rise of a new dynamics in mainstream politics in the country.