Violence prompts poll panel to pull campaign plug in Bengal
EC cuts electioneering by a day; says fear psychosis is widely prevalent in State
In an unprecedented move, the Election Commission on Wednesday imposed a blanket ban on political parties’ campaigning activities in the nine parliamentary constituencies of West Bengal from 10 p.m. on Thursday, in view of the “growing incidence of disruption and violence.”
The decision came a day after violent clashes during a roadshow of BJP president Amit Shah in Kolkata, following which the party lodged a complaint with the Election Commission.
The Trinamool Congress had also approached the Commission seeking intervention.
Elections on May 19
Polls in these constituencies are to be held in the last phase on May 19 and the 48-hour silence period was to start on Friday evening.
The order bars campaigning activities till the conclusion of elections on May 19.
Exercising its powers under Article 324 of the Constitution, to ensure the conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections, the EC directed that no person “shall” convene, hold, attend, join or address any election-related public meeting or procession.
The order also states that no one can display to the public — through movies and television — or propagate any election matter by holding any event, including musical concert, theatrical performance or any other entertainment or amusement, with a view to attracting people in connection with elections.
A ban has also been placed on the sale and distribution of liquor or “other substances of a like nature” within the polling areas.
The Commission said the decision was taken based on a report from the Deputy Election Commissioner in-charge of the State.
In the report, the officer said: “During the review with the observers, it clearly came out that…there is distinct resistance and non-cooperation from the district administration and district police when it comes to providing level playing field to all candidates for campaigning and in providing a fearless threat-free environment to the voters.”
The EC observers said that while on the surface everything looked fine, in their interactions with the public, the fear psychosis that was widely prevalent came out. “They pointed out that utterances of the AITC [Trinamool] senior leaders on the lines of ‘Central forces will leave after the elections while we will remain’ sent a chilling message among the officers as well as voters alike,” said the order signed by Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and the two Election Commissioners.
‘Indians eager to cut alcohol intake’
It reflects awareness of abuse, says global survey of recreational drug use
Fifty-one per cent of the respondents wanted to ‘drink less’ in the following yearGetty Images/iStockphoto
A global survey of recreational drug use, which for the first time polled respondents from India, has found that Indians — more than from other nationalities — are seeking help to reduce their alcohol intake.
Alcohol, tobacco and cannabis were the most common stimulants used by Indians. Of the nearly 1,00,000 respondents from 30 countries, Indians reported ‘being drunk’ on an average of 41 times in the last 12 months — behind the U.K., the U.S., Canada, Australia and Denmark in that order but well above the global average of 33 times.
The Global Drug Survey (GDS) is an anonymised, online survey that uses a detailed questionnaire to assess trends in drug use and self-reported harms among regular drug users and early adopters of new trends.
Though the survey is not designed to determine the prevalence of drug behaviour in a population, it throws light on “stigmatised behaviours and health outcomes of a hidden population that is otherwise difficult to reach…and can be used to inform targeted interventions,” according to a description by the organisation in a 2018 editorial in the medical journal Lancet.
Indian respondents to the survey, conducted online during October-December 2018, appeared more than other nationalities to be eager for help with reducing their alcohol intake.
According to the 2019 GDS, 51% of the respondents wanted to ‘drink less’ in the following year and 41% ‘wanted help to do so’ — again the highest percentage among other countries.
“It might genuinely reflect high levels of concern among drinkers of being aware of consuming at levels known to be harmful,” said Adam Winstock, among the key authors of the survey, in an email. Mr. Winstock is a London-based psychiatrist and founder and director of the GDS.
‘Monsoon to reach Kerala on June 6’
IMD’s forecast expects ‘slight delay’
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Wednesday said the southwest monsoon will be “slightly delayed” over Kerala and arrive on June 6. The normal onset date is June 1.
The IMD forecast is in line with the one by private forecaster Skymet, which said on Tuesday that it will reach Kerala on June 4.
The IMD has been using a customised model, since 2005, to forecast the monsoon’s onset over Kerala. From 2014 to 2018, the agency claims, it got the date wrong only in 2015.
This model crunches six meteorological parameters: minimum temperatures over northwest India; pre-monsoon rainfall peak over the south peninsula; outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) over the South China Sea; lower tropospheric zonal wind over the southeast Indian Ocean; upper tropospheric zonal wind over the east equatorial Indian Ocean; and OLR over the southwest Pacific region.
It has a built-in error margin of 4 days. That is, a June 6 onset can mean any day between June 2 to June 10.
“Conditions are becoming favourable for advance of southwest monsoon over the southern part of Andaman Sea, Nicobar Islands and adjoining southeast Bay of Bengal during 18-19th May,” the IMD press note says. Generally, the monsoon reaches Kerala within 10 days of crossing the Andamans.
First-time pilgrims get preference for Mansarovar Yatra
The selection is a fair computer-generated, random gender-balanced selection process, the MEA said in a statement
Press Trust of India
Pilgrims who were selected through a computerised draw for the Kailash Manasarovar Yatra, in New Delhi on WednesdayPTI
Computerised draw of lots for selecting pilgrims for the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra was held here on Wednesday, in which, for the first time, preference for fresh applicants or route choice of senior citizens was incorporated into the software, Ministry of External Affairs officials said.
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, who presided over the draw of lots held at the Jawaharlal Nehru Bhawan, urged pilgrims to help “protect and preserve” the fragile environment of the Himalayas.
The MEA organises the Yatra during June to September annually through two different routes — Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand and Nathu La Pass in Sikkim. Known for its religious value and cultural significance, it is undertaken by hundreds of people every year.
624 senior citizens
For this year’s Yatra, the Ministry received 2,996 applications, out of which 2,256 are male. As many as 624 senior citizens had applied.
For the Lipulekh route, there are 18 batches with 60 pilgrims per batch and for Nathu La, 10 batches with 50 yatris per batch. Two liaison officers will assist each batch.
“It is our endeavour to provide a chance to the first-time applicants. And, of course, to senior citizens as well,” Mr. Gokhale said.
“We also have a helpline now for the applicants. And, emails received from them are regularly monitored and applicants are suitably advised in a time-bound way,” he added.
The selection is a fair computer-generated, random gender-balanced selection process, the MEA said in a statement, adding, the selected yatris are informed through mobile text messages and email.
“Since 2015, the entire process commencing with online application till selection of the yatris is fully computerised. The feedback options on the website can be used for obtaining information, registering observations or suggestions for improvement,” it said.
The Yatra involves trekking at high altitudes of up to 19,500 feet, under inhospitable conditions, including extreme weather, and rugged terrain, and may prove hazardous for those who are not physically and medically fit.
Mr. Gokhale urged the yatris to strictly observe safety norms, for themselves and also for their fellow pilgrims.
Sushma Katarai was delighted after the draw. She said, “It is a like a dream come true for me.”
Varun Khandelwal, a Delhi-based pilot, who was put on the waiting list after the draw, said, “I am hoping I will make it eventually.”
Rajasthan to purge ‘distortions’ in textbooks
Based on panel report, several changes introduced by previous BJP government will be reversed
After submission of its report by a curriculum review committee, the Congress government in Rajasthan has embarked on a project to revise school textbooks by removing “adulatory references” to Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh ideologues V.D. Savarkar and Deendayal Upadhyaya. The previous BJP regime had added chapters glorifying the RSS icons in the textbooks.
Minister of State for Education Govind Singh Dotasara said here earlier this week that the review committee had made recommendations on the basis of historical facts, while the previous government had imposed its ideology on the students and neglected the contributions of freedom fighters.
The social science textbook of Class X will be rewritten to include a detailed description on Savarkar’s mercy petitions to the British from the cellular jail, asking for forgiveness and depicting himself as a “prodigal son longing to the parental doors of the government”.
‘Lab of Hindutva’
Mr. Dotasara said the BJP had turned the School Education Department into a “laboratory of Hindutva” and made changes in the school curriculum on the instructions of RSS. “We will teach whatever is in the history, irrespective of what the Sangh Parivar feels today,” he said.
The Minister said the Congress government would remove distortions and ensure that the contribution of leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh were taught in correct perspective. “It is not correct to glorify Savarkar and Upadhyaya and describe them as great leaders,” he said.
Among other changes, a picture of jauhar (self-immolation by women) will be removed from the cover of Class VIII English textbooks. Mr. Dotasara said an outdated practice, which was now prohibited by the law, should not be depicted on the book cover, as it would leave a negative impact on children at an impressionable age.
New academic session
The curriculum review committee, comprising academic experts and historians, was appointed in February this year. It submitted its report, recommending changes in the contents of textbooks, earlier this month. The new textbooks for Classes VIII to XII will be introduced in the 2019-20 academic session, beginning in July.
In the large-scale changes in textbooks made by the BJP regime, the Congress was described as a “nurtured baby of the British” and the result of the Battle of Haldighati of 1576 AD was changed to declare Maharana Pratap victorious. The textbooks also lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy and praised demonetisation as a drive to cleanse the country of black money.
Union Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar, who was here on Tuesday, protested against the move and said the Congress was afflicted with the mentality of eulogising “one particular family as great”. “Congress is out to insult nationalists. It can go to any extent to glorify a single family and demonstrate [Mughal Emperor] Akbar as great by undermining our role models,” he said.
Pest-struck Mizoram farmers hit by lack of crop insurance
Help being sought from Centre, NGOs: Agriculture Minister
The State woke up to an attack of fall armyworm in Lunglei on April 8.File PhotoG_N_RAO
The bad news of pest attack have turned worse for 5,309 families in Mizoram with the fact that their crops are not insured.
The Northeastern State, where a rat-induced famine had triggered extremism in the 1960s, woke up to an attack of fall armyworm (FAW) in Lunglei district on April 8. By the first week of May, the crawly pest had damaged 3,082.5 MT maize across 2,055 hectares of land.
The loss has been estimated at ₹6.47 crore, calculated at ₹21 per kg, including transportation charge.
Officials said that compensating the farmers could have been processed had subsidised insurance schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, launched in February 2016, been implemented.
“It is unfortunate that no crop insurance scheme is in place. We are seeking help from the Centre in this regard besides seeking the help of local NGOs in combating the pest that took us off guard by spreading very fast,” said Mizoram’s Agriculture Minister C. Lalrinsanga.
From Lunglei, the FAW spread to all the eight districts of Assam and attacked crops in adjoining Manipur. Mizoram’s district agricultural officers, however, were alerted about a possible attack on February 27.
The Mizo National Front, which took charge of the State in December 2018, stopped short of blaming the former Congress government for lack of initiative. The Congress, however, attributed the farmers’ loss to the State government’s inability to convince the Centre on crop insurance.
“The MNF should not use non-implementation of Central crop insurance scheme in Mizoram as an excuse for their failure to claim crop damages in several parts of Mizoram. Earlier, the Congress Ministry was always able to take care of the interests of farmers who faced hardships due to natural calamities,” said Congress spokesperson Lal Lianchhunga.
‘Reluctance of firms’
Agriculture officers said the present crisis is more because of the disinterest of insurance companies than the government’s lack of drive.
“The farmers and their crop are not insured because the PMFBY could not be introduced in Mizoram for want of a desirable company when the tender was floated for the purpose. We have floated a fresh tender. Some companies have shown interest, but the premium is high,” said Rohmingthanga Colney, the State’s Director of Agriculture, adding a reason could be small landholding and low-scale production of farmers.
The PMFBY aims at providing insurance coverage and financial support to farmers in the event of failure of any of the notified crops due to natural calamities, pests and diseases. The prescribed premium is 2% to be paid by farmers for all kharif crops and 1.5% for all rabi crops. In the case of annual commercial and horticultural crops, the premium is 5%.
On paper, there is no upper limit on subsidy by the government, which bears the expense even if the balance premium is 90%.
Ziona Lalremruata, general secretary of All Mizoram Farmers’ Union, said they have been pursuing crop insurance for a decade in vain. “The primary reason is the bad system of marketing of farm produce because of which most farmers do not make profit. This has affected the banking system and the insurance sector in turn,” he told The Hindu.
“The banks are simply not interested in servicing rural areas despite warning letters from the Centre. Even the Rural Bank of Mizoram is concentrating on Aizawl,” he said.
The State government said efforts were being made to impress upon the Centre to work a way out to make insurance companies service farmers despite the shortcomings.
Maharashtra demands 3 tmcft water in return for supply to Karnataka
State facing unprecedented drought; dams left with only 16% water stocks
Sheep in search of water at the Krishna river in Darur, of Athani taluk, Belagavi district last month.File Photograph
Facing an unprecedented drought situation, the Maharashtra government has demanded 3 tmcft of water from Karnataka.
The demand has been formally stated in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) the two States are likely to sign soon assuring exchange of as much as 5 tmcft of water across both sides of the border. Maharastra’s demand was communicated to Karnataka last week by outgoing Chief Secretary UPS Madan, officials said. “I have communicated to my counterpart in Karnataka that we would be providing water for drinking purposes in exchange for the water they may have to offer us in wake of the drought situation we are facing,” Mr. Madan told The Hindu.
Maharashtra is currently going through an unprecedented drought like situation after declaring 151 taluks as drought-affected. The State is getting a Central assistance of ₹4,714 crore for the drought-affected areas but the dams in the State have only 16% of water left. It may dip into its emergency reserves now, officials have said.
“Water availability is a concern for us. We are able to provide fodder and other assistance. The government is trying its best to increase the water supply to remote areas,” said Mr. Madan, now an advisor to the Chief Minister. The three tmcft of water will be distributed in the Maharashtra villages bordering Karnataka, where the State is unable to supply tankers. Maharashtra in turn will supply two tmcft of water from the Koyna or the Warna into the Krishna and two tmcft of water from Ujjani dam into the Bhima to help the dry districts of north Karnataka.
Earlier this month, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in principle agreed to Karnataka’s demand for water to be released from State reservoirs for drinking in Belagavi district based on the condition that Karnataka should also release water from its reservoirs to drought-hit districts in that State.
A BJP delegation from the State met Mr. Fadnavis, who had also received a personal request from Water Resources Minister D.K. Shivakumar for release of water for drinking in Belagavi, Bagalkot, and Vijayapura districts on the Karnataka-Maharashtra border.
“I told the delegation that we will give water based on availability, but at the same time they should enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with us to provide water to parts of our State from Almatti reservoir. Mr. Shivakumar has agreed to it. The respective secretaries of the two States will work on that immediately. Based on our needs and availability, if surplus water is available we will give it to them for drinking purposes,” Mr. Fadnavis told The Hindu.
After 29 years of service, Vigraha decommissioned
Coast Guard lauds the ship’s role in various missions
Sailing into sunset: ICGS Vigraha was commissioned on April 12, 1990.Special Arrangement
Indian Coast Guard ship Vigraha was decommissioned at Visakhapatnam on Wednesday. The ICGS Vigraha that had served the Coast Guard for 29 years was decommissioned with full military honours at sunset, a Coast Guard release said.
“ICGS Vigraha, the symbolic representation of the able-minded warrior in the battlefield, was commissioned on April 12, 1990. It was the seventh Offshore Patrol Vessel built by Mazagaon Dock Ltd, Mumbai, and the first of its class among OPVs of third series,” the Coast Guard said.
The ship played a pivotal role in execution of assigned missions in the seafronts of Coast Guard Regions of West, North West and East when it was based at Mumbai, Porbandar and Visakhapatnam respectively, the release said.
The ship was also on dry lease to the Sri Lankan Navy from August 11, 2008 to January 22, 2011.
It was re-inducted into the Indian Coast Guard on January 23, after which it was based at Visakhapatnam.
The ceremony began with an impressive guard of honour and culminated with hauling down of the Coast Guard ensign from the ship. The ship entered into the archives of the Coast Guard after the ceremony.
Inspector General S. Paramesh, Commander, Coast Guard Region (East), was the chief guest for the ceremony. Retired Coast Guard and Navy officers, senior defence officials and civil dignitaries were present.
Slain commandos’ kin may not get ₹20 lakh insurance money
Maharashtra police had failed to renew the group insurance policy on time
harad Vyas ,
Remnants of the vehicle with 15 security personnel that was blown up by Maoists on May 1, 2019, in Gadchiroli.PTI
In a major embarrassment for the Maharashtra Government, the kin of 15 police commandos killed in a Naxal attack in Gadchiroli earlier this month will not get the insurance benefit of ₹20 lakh because Maharashtra police failed to renew the group insurance policy offered under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) fund until last year.
Maharastra Director General of Police (DGP) S.K. Jaiswal has now issued a strict reprimand to the Administrative Department after it lost the file in the back-and-forth process related to the SRE fund provided by the Centre.
Sources said Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has now issued orders to provide alternative insurance as an Extra Grant on an immediate basis from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.
In one of the worst retaliatory attacks on anti-Naxal security forces, earlier this month, Maoist insurgents triggered an IED blast, killing 15 jawans and a civilian in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district. A unit of the Quick Response Team (QRT) of the Gadchiroli Police was on its way to provide reinforcements to the police station in the Kurkheda taluk, a day after Naxals torched 36 vehicles meant to assist road construction work in the Dadpur village.
Senior officials said the developments related to the insurance policy cover have greatly upset the families of the slain jawans.
They have already demanded a high-level probe into lapses in the standard operating procedures (SOPs) followed.
The Chief Minister had, following the attack, announced an aid of ₹50 lakh for every martyred jawan, but in the absence of the insurance cover, the government may have to substitute that with an ‘Extra Grant’.
“We should be able to approve the extra grant at the earliest, but the process will take some time,” said a senior official from the Chief Minister’s Office.
SC penalises Bihar govt. officials for ‘lethargy’
Officers directed to pay ₹20,000 each for 728 day delay in filing appeal
“We strongly deprecate the casual manner,” the Supreme Court said.
The Supreme Court ordered the Bihar government to collect a fine of ₹20,000 from the pockets of its officers whose “lethargy” led to a 728-day delay in the filing of an appeal in the apex court.
A Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Indira Banerjee said State governments should not feel that they can approach courts at will and the judiciary is obliged to take up the case of the State.
“We are of the view that a clear signal has to be sent to the government authorities that they cannot approach the court as and when they please, on account of gross incompetence of their officers and that too without taking any action against the officers concerned… No detail of the delay of 728 days have been given as if there is an inherent right to seek condonation of delay by State government,” the Supreme Court observed in its order.
The Bihar government said it had taken time to get the sanctions from various departments, receive the affidavit and vakalatnama from the department concerned, and hence the delay in approaching the court.
But the court said “condonation of delay is no more admissible on the pretext of government working lethargy”. “We strongly deprecate the casual manner.”
Noting that the Bihar government should collect the fine from the officersand deposit the amount with the Supreme Court Mediation Centre, the court said it was punishment for “wastage of judicial time”.
IN FOCUS:BENGAL VIOLENCE
A renaissance man slighted, now for the backlash
Vandalism on Vidyasagar’s bust will have an impact on the results in three Kolkata constituencies which go to the polls on Sunday
On Tuesday, a few men clad in saffron shirts broke away from a mega rally of BJP president Amit Shah and entered a nondescript building in central Kolkata. They attacked the building, smashing the bust of 19th century educationist and reformer Ishwar Chandra Bandopadhyay, who is known by the title Vidyasagar, the ocean of education.
As the BJP denied that its cadre indulged in the vandalism, the civil society was furious and social media was flooded with responses. The reason lies in Vidyasagar’s contribution to the making of the modern Bengali society. He was not just a formidable intellectual but reformed a community in 19th century, much like Periyar or B.R. Ambedkar.
Hence, the attack may decide the results in constituencies that go to the polls in the last phase in the State on Sunday.
Bengalis mostly remember him for his pioneering work, Barna Parichay, a book to introduce Bengali to beginners. But the range of his work is vast — from developing the language, especially its modern prose form, to sustained campaigns against various social menaces.
One of his key achievements was to push the British Legislative Council on widow remarriage, opposed by the bhadralok ruling class and religious bodies. He advocated education for all, especially women, and raising of the marriageable age of the girl child, which too was challenged by the ruling class.
He also campaigned against polygamy. Modern Indian laws, pertaining to the subjects, are shaped partly on discourses first underscored in public space by Vidyasagar for which he was isolated.
Tormented by bhadralok
Being severely tormented by the English-speaking bhadralok of the 19th century, he left Kolkata in his declining years. In an interview, published in a book, Puratan Prasanga [past subjects], Vidyasagar concluded that he would never “teach English to children” in perhaps next life.
“The attack on Vidyasagar indicates two things. One, that women’s emancipation lost its meaning in today’s Bengal and two that the bell has tolled for the Bengali language, which evolved with him, indicating its death,” said Shibaji Bandopadhyay, an eminent Kolkata-based scholar.
Throughout the day, the issue of bust demolition dominated social media. On the ground, political parties and the civil society staged demonstrations and rallies and BJP leaders sounded apologetic, off record.
But it may not affect the BJP in all the nine seats that go to the polls on May 19, as the event was not commanded by its leadership. While the party can be critically examined for staging an unimaginably big rally on a not so wide lane, the police can also be questioned for not managing to keep the students and the Trinamool’s black flag waving supporters inside, triggering the incident.
The Trinamool, however, argued that they “have the right to protest democratically”, while the BJP said “Trinamool triggered the violence.”
The results in three Kolkata seats would indicate who gained and who did not, once the results are out on May 23.
“The question, however, is whether Bengal will forgive the perpetrators. Bengal never forgave the Naxals for similar action,” said Partha Sengupta, a former Communist Party of India activist.
Mr. Sengupta organised the civil society to place Vidyasagar’s head on the pedestal after it was chopped off by ultra-left activists in 1970, albeit to underscore a completely different political thought.
Why the Muslim vote matters in U.P.
Marginalised and fearful, Muslim voters want to demonstrate that they still count in India’s democracy
Getty Images/iStockphotoajijchan/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Zoya Hasan & Mannika Chopra
Uttar Pradesh continues to hold the key to political power in the country. The results for the 80 parliamentary seats in this keystone State will decide who governs India. Travelling through five districts of Awadh, including the VIP constituencies of Lucknow, Amethi and Rae Bareli, makes it amply clear that the Muslim vote will play a crucial role in the final outcome.
There are three interconnected assumptions about Muslim political behaviour, which may not necessarily be accurate. First, they vote en bloc for one candidate or party. Second, they are more strategic in their voting than other demographics. Third, their voting preference is likely to be influenced by clerics or traditional community leaders. While there was little evidence to support this view of Muslim unity in the past as they mostly voted for parties that best protected their interests, in 2019, opposition to the polarising politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is clearly influencing electoral preferences and imparting a unity of purpose to the Muslim vote. Although the most important issues for Muslims, as indeed for any voter, are education, health care, jobs and infrastructure, today as a community they feel beleaguered; hence their singular aspiration to vote for the strongest party or alliance that can defeat the BJP.
If previously they did not vote en bloc for any single party, in this election too they are not voting as a homogenous group but there is a strong preference and consolidation behind the mahagathbandhan (the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal, or SP-BSP-RLD, alliance) because it is more likely than the Congress to overwhelm the BJP. This feeling is so strong that even elite and upper-middle class Muslim families, which have historically had close ties to the Congress in Lucknow, have chosen to vote for the alliance.
Significantly, then, unlike other social groups, Muslims will exercise their vote along ideological lines, and not on the basis of the candidate’s identity. Nonetheless, some Muslims may not vote as a unified entity despite the consciousness that 2019 is a critical election. “This verdict will be the life or death of democracy in India,” said Manzoor Ali from the Giri Institute of Development Studies. This was also evident in scores of voters travelling long distances from different cities to cast their vote on May 6 in Lucknow.
This is not surprising because U.P. — which saw the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992 in Ayodhya, is now run by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and has been long considered to be the pulse of the Hindi heartland — is the centrepiece of the Hindutva project built largely on creating a fear of Muslims as the Other. This has resulted in fundamental changes in U.P. politics — and more so in Awadh, a BJP stronghold since the days of the Ayodhya movement. The landslide victory of the BJP in 2014 and in the 2017 Assembly elections has seen the consolidation of the Hindu vote under the BJP, while Muslim votes have remained split between the Congress and regional parties. At the same time, many Muslims in Lucknow, Rae Bareli, Amethi, Faizabad and Ayodhya narrate how the Rasthriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been sowing seeds of division and splitting up communities.
The BJP has extensively used issues such as national security, terrorism, uber-patriotism and cow protection to construct a ‘Hindu’ constituency. It has tried to exploit its so-called progressive stand on the triple talaq issue to attract Muslims. (After raising the issue with such intensity, ironically the BJP did not give a single ticket to a Muslim woman). It has also tried hard to slice the Shia vote by promoting Shia clerics such as Maulana Kalbe Jawad Naqvi, who issued a statement extending support to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, the BJP candidate from Lucknow. But this was promptly dismissed by most people as inconsequential. So, neither of these efforts is likely to help the BJP in getting a significant chunk of the Muslim vote because of the widely shared perception that it is an anti-Muslim party.
Fearfulness as cohesion
Though Muslim identity on the ground is highly fragmented, varying with religious denomination, caste and class, the lack of security and overriding fear have neutralised social differences. Madhavi Kuckreja, a social activist, recalled how a rumour about a stray cattle being injured in a road accident led to anxious guests promptly leaving a walima (wedding reception) to rush back home. Such apprehensions are driven by the fear of the mob and police crackdowns (even when they are the victims of violence). This surcharged environment has been fostered by repeated incidents of mob lynching over perceived cow slaughter, ban on the beef trade and its consumption and the vicious anti-Muslim rhetoric of BJP leaders such as Mr. Adityanath, who portrayed the electoral battle as one between “Ali” and “Bajrang Bali”.
Secularism, in the new political context, has been redefined as Muslim appeasement. It has helped the BJP to gather Hindu support, especially as no party is willing to represent the concerns of Muslims. Democracy and development should go hand in hand. but in U.P. the two do not share a symbiotic relationship.
Hence, political and social equality in terms of roughly proportionate distribution of development benefits and representation eludes them. Muslims in rural areas feel they’ve been left out of government schemes such as the Ujjwala Yojana or in getting financial support to build toilets or homes while other strong contenders in the rural hierarchy are benefiting.
It is indeed odd that though Muslims constitute 43 million of U.P.’s 200 million-strong population, no party is really talking about issues that concern them as the battle for 2019 rages. Instead there is a manufactured silence. Majoritarian impulses, to a greater or lesser degree, are the foundation for the current political discourse, as are caste alliances in which the Muslim voice has little space. Their current marginalisation is a far cry from the time when Muslims were crucial to the political fortunes of parties, especially the Congress. Today the tendency towards political equality when it comes to the distribution of power or representation is completely missing. Perhaps the Muslim is seen as a liability. In 2019, as in 2014, the BJP has not fielded a single Muslim candidate in U.P., while it is 10 for the mahagathbandhan and eight for the Congress.
This deliberate neglect has had its repercussions. The politics of hate has forced Muslims to give priority to security of life and property. Even more worryingly, they are once again looking to clerics for succour whereas a few years earlier they were beginning to show signs of autonomy and independent thinking, said Athar Husain, Director, Centre for Objective Research and Development in Lucknow. They are getting pushed back into ghettos and into the arms of conservative clerics. Fearing a backlash, they are reluctant to protest against attacks on their livelihoods, food habits, closure of slaughterhouses and meat shops or any other issues that matter to them.
Weapon of the marginalised
Despite the failure of politics which has invisiblised legitimate issues and allowed a radical Hindutva consolidation in their name, Muslims continue to believe in the efficacy of their vote. Even though their representation in Parliament and State legislatures has fallen drastically and development deficits haven’t been addressed, there is no dilution in their electoral participation. What is significant is that discrimination and low representation have not bothered Muslim voters or affected their political engagement with democracy. This is because the vote is a weapon of the weak — a political counter against the concerted effort to render them voiceless and irrelevant. It can establish links between local voices and regional forces, between the politics of community and the idea of citizenship.
By capitalising on their vote, U.P. Muslims today, more than ever, want to demonstrate that they still count in India’s democracy. They are using their vote to demand a new deal which crucially depends on dismantling the BJP’s Hindutva project in India’s heartland.
Zoya Hasan is Professor Emerita, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Distinguished Professor, Council for Social Development, New Delhi. Mannika Chopra is Managing Editor, Social Change, Council for Social Development
All out at sea
India’s engagements in the Indian Ocean reveal a tactically proactive but strategically defensive mindset
India is setting a high tempo of naval operations in Asia. In recent weeks, a series of bilateral exercises with regional navies in the Indian Ocean have demonstrated the Indian Navy’s resolve to preserve operational leverage in India’s near seas. In April, in their biggest and most complex exercise, Indian and Australian warships held drills in the Bay of Bengal. This was followed by a much-publicised anti-submarine exercise with the U.S. Navy near Diego Garcia. Last week, the Indian Navy held a joint exercise ‘Varuna’ with the French Navy off the coast of Goa and Karwar. even as two Indian warships participated in a ‘group sail’ with warships from Japan, the Philippines and the United States on return from a fleet review in Qingdao.
For many, the trigger for India’s newfound zeal at sea is the rapid expansion of China’s naval footprint in the Indian Ocean. Beyond commercial investments in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, China has established a military outpost in Djibouti, a key link in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Reports suggest the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is planning an expansion of its logistics base for non-peacekeeping missions, raising the possibility of an operational overlap with the Indian Navy’s areas of interest. As some see it, Djibouti portends a future where China would control key nodes skirting important shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean, allowing the PLA’s Navy (PLAN) to dominate the security dynamic.
Meanwhile, South Asian navies have been making their presence felt in the seas of the subcontinent. In a quest for regional prominence, Sri Lanka has positioned itself as a facilitator of joint regional endeavours, expanding engagement with Pacific powers which includes the Royal Australian Navy and the U.S. Navy. With China’s assistance, Pakistan too is becoming an increasingly potent actor in the northern Indian Ocean, a key region of Indian interest. Beijing has also been instrumental in strengthening the navies of Bangladesh and Myanmar, both increasingly active participants in regional security initiatives. In these circumstances, India has had little option but to intensify its own naval engagements in South Asia.
Partnerships are key
Widely acknowledged as the most capable regional maritime force, the Indian Navy has played a prominent role in the fight against non-traditional challenges in the Indian Ocean. While its contribution to the counter-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (including in cyclone-hit Mozambique) has been substantial, a paucity of assets and capacity has forced the Navy to seek partners willing to invest resources in joint security endeavours.
Partnerships are vital to the Indian Navy’s other key undertaking: deterring Chinese undersea deployments in South Asia. For New Delhi, China’s expanding submarine forays in the Indian Ocean indicate Beijing’s strategic ambitions in India’s neighbourhood. Experts reckon PLAN has been studying the operating environment in the Indian Ocean in a larger endeavour to develop capabilities for sustained operations in the littorals. As a result, the Indian Navy’s recent bilateral exercises have focussed on under-sea surveillance and anti-submarine warfare.
To be sure, sightings of Chinese submarine sightings have decreased, which has led some to conclude that Beijing is moving to scale down its maritime operations in the Indian Ocean. After a ‘reset’ of sorts in ties following the Wuhan summit last year, some observers believe India and China are on a collaborative path. New Delhi’s silence on China’s continuing aggression in the South China Sea, and Indian warships being sent for the Chinese fleet review in Qingdao (in April) do suggest a conciliatory stance. Yet, reduced visibility of Chinese submarines does not necessarily prove absence. The truth, as some point out, is that PLAN is on a quest to master undersea ‘quieting’ technologies and its new submarines are stealthier than ever. The reason they are not being frequently sighted is because Chinese submarines are quieter and craftier than earlier.
For its part, China has been downplaying its strategic interests in South Asia. It is concerned that too much talk about its growing naval power could prove detrimental to the cause of promoting the BRI. Alarm at the recent BRI summit over Chinese ‘debt traps’ has led Beijing to revise some infrastructure projects. India’s refusal to participate in the BRI may have also prompted China to rethink its economic and military strategies in the Indian Ocean.
Even so, Beijing hasn’t indicated any change of plan in West Asia and the east coast of Africa, where most of China’s energy and resource shipments originate. Chinese investments in port infrastructure in Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania and Mozambique have grown at a steady pace, even as PLAN has sought to expand its presence in the western Indian Ocean. In response, India has moved to deepen its own regional engagement, seeking naval logistical access to French bases in Reunion and Djibouti, where the second phase of ‘Varuna’ will be held later this month.
Yet, India’s Indian Ocean focus makes for an essentially defensive posture. Notwithstanding improvements in bilateral and trilateral naval engagements, it hasn’t succeeded in leveraging partnerships for strategic gains. With India’s political leadership reluctant to militarise the Quadrilateral grouping or to expand naval operations in the Western Pacific, the power-equation with China remains skewed in favour of the latter.
For all its rhetoric surrounding the ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’, New Delhi is yet to take a stand on a ‘rules-based order’ in littoral-Asia. A wariness for sustained operations in China’s Pacific backyard has rendered the Indian Navy’s regional strategy a mere ‘risk management’ tactic, with limited approach to shape events in littoral-Asia.
Abhijit Singh is a former naval officer.
He heads the Maritime Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation in
By seeking an apology while granting bail, the Supreme Court downplayed the misuse of law
The case of a BJP Yuva Morcha functionary being arrested in West Bengal for sharing a morphed image of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee demonstrates how wrong and needlessly oppressive legal processes can turn out to be. The police in Howrah registered a case and arrested Priyanka Sharma under irrelevant and non-existent provisions, a magistrate showed little application of mind while remanding her to judicial custody, and even the Supreme Court, while ordering her immediate release, did not recognise sufficiently the perverse manner in which the law was being used. It is a matter of some consolation that the apex court observed a day later that the arrest was arbitrary and pulled up the West Bengal government for delaying Ms. Sharma’s release for technical reasons. The police, apparently realising that there was no offence in the first place, has filed a closure report terming the complaint a ‘mistake of fact’. It is a reflection of the level of acrimony between the ruling Trinamool Congress and the BJP in the midst of a violence-marred, multi-phase election that the police entertained a complaint from a Trinamool Congress activist and booked Ms. Sharma for criminal defamation and offences under the provisions of the Information Technology Act. It is possible that some considered the morphed image — in which Ms. Banerjee’s face was appended to an actor’s photograph at a museum event in New York — defamatory. But it is unclear how the police could arrest someone for defamation based on a third party’s complaint.
A cyber-crime police station handled the case, apparently because it involved Section 66-A of the IT Act, a provision declared unconstitutional in 2015, and Section 67-A, which can be used only when sexually explicit material is transmitted in electronic form. Thus, what was at best a case of defamation, a non-cognisable and bailable offence, was projected as a cyber-crime with the sole aim of getting the accused remanded. While magistrates are often known to act mechanically — although that is no excuse for remanding the accused in this case — it is disconcerting that a Bench of the Supreme Court ventured to advise her to apologise for sharing the image on Facebook. The court included a gratuitous sentence in its order that “the detenu shall, however, at the time of release, tender an apology in writing”. The inclusion of an apology requirement gives the impression that the court was more concerned about cooling frayed tempers than about the blatant misuse of the law. Another disconcerting aspect is that the police continue to invoke Section 66-A. In January, the apex court sought the Centre’s response on a petition that claimed that police officials were unaware that the section is no more on the statute book. As the main issue of freedom of expression thrown up by this case is going to be heard in detail later, it is hoped the aberrant developments so far will give way to a reasoned verdict.
Climate change and energy policies are top of the agenda in Australia’s elections
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison may have, in a manner of speaking, already scored a political victory ahead of the May 18 election. Few had expected the socially conservative politician to last out the remainder of Parliament’s term when he took over as Prime Minister in August following a coup within the ruling Liberal party. In the past, the country has seen many heads of government toppled. That said, Saturday’s election may not prove an easy ride for the former marketing executive. The polls may not signal an end to the political instability that has dogged Australian politics of late. From combating climate change to shaping energy policy, Mr. Morrison’s Liberal party is a divided house between moderates and conservatives. These differences were manifest in the ousting of Malcolm Turnbull last year and continue to elude a resolution. The world’s driest inhabited continent is confronting its own vulnerability to the effects of global warming. Australia, among the world’s largest wheat exporters, has been forced to take recourse to bulk imports of the grain, consequent to severe droughts in its eastern states over two years. Mr. Morrison, a supporter of coal-generated power, may also find his hardline stance on immigration difficult to defend in the wake of the terrorist attacks in neighbouring New Zealand.
The opposition Labor party seems to enjoy an edge over the governing centre-right Liberal-National coalition, according to opinion polls. Its leader, Bill Shorten, has rallied the party during its time in the opposition in the last six years. Labor’s advantage stems from its promise of a living wage, tighter regulation and ambitious targets on carbon emissions. A 45% reduction in carbon emissions on 2005 levels by 2030 is part of its manifesto, aimed at appealing to Australia’s growing number of green voters. Conversely, the pro-business credentials of Mr. Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition are said to have been steadily eroded as the government has reneged on its promise of corporate tax cuts. The package of measures unveiled in the pre-election budget in April may only have a moderate impact. As with several industrialised democracies, voter disillusionment with the principal parties is yielding a fragmented polity, and smaller parties and independents could potentially tilt the balance of power in the Senate, which is crucial for the passage of legislation. With consistent economic growth and modest levels of unemployment, Australia has had a remarkable track record in recent decades. This scenario is in stark contrast to the incessant political swings that impede the legislative agenda. What is without doubt is that the turnout will be high at the polls, as voting is compulsory for registered voters.
The need for judicial restraint
Lawmaking is not the job of the judges, but of the legislature
The recent trend in the Supreme Court is to rely more on the sociological school of jurisprudence and less on the positivist school. In other words, the court is resorting more to judicial activism rather than judicial restraint, which is problematic. This is seen in its recent judgment on ordering time limits to burst firecrackers on Diwali, which is a function of the legislature; its judgment on linking rivers, for which there is no parliamentary legislation; and in its unpredictable decisions in cases relating to freedom of speech and expression, such as the recent one in which a BJP Yuva Morcha leader was asked in the bail order to apologise for sharing a meme, despite the guarantee in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
Types of jurisprudence
According to the positivist theory laid down by jurists such as Jeremy Bentham and John Austin in the 18th and 19th centuries, and continued by H.L.A Hart, Hans Kelsen and others in the 20th century, law is to be distinguished from morality and religion. However bad a particular legislation is, it is law at the end of the day, provided it emanated from a competent legislature (according to the earlier natural law theory, bad law was not law at all).
In positivist jurisprudence, the centre of gravity of the legal system is statutory law, i.e., law made by the legislature. It holds that lawmaking is not the job of the judges, but of the legislature. Hence, judges should be restrained and not activist in their approach. In view of the well-established principle of separation of powers of the three organs of the state, judges should not perform legislative or executive functions, and each organ of the state should remain within its own domain, in order to avoid chaos.
On the other hand, sociological jurisprudence, as developed in Europe and the U.S. by jurists such as Rudolph Ritter von Jhering, Eugen Ehrlich, Léon Duguit, François Geny, Roscoe Pound and Jerome New Frank, shifts the centre of gravity of the legal system from statute to laws made by judges. It gives wide discretionary powers to judges to make laws.
Sociological jurisprudence and natural law have the same problem. Kelsen argued that with natural law, one can prove everything and nothing, and Bentham regarded natural law as metaphysical nonsense. Similar criticisms can be made of sociological jurisprudence, which the Supreme Court seems to be relying on. In other words, the court can lay down anything as law according to its own subjective notions.
Positivist jurisprudence places heavy reliance on the literal rule of construction, because departing from it would give a free handle to each judge to declare the law according to his own notions, and this would result in legal anarchy. For example, the Second Judges Case (1993) and Third Judges Case (1998), which created the collegium system of appointment of judges, were not based on any provision in the Constitution. Article 124, which prescribes how Supreme Court judges are to be appointed, does not talk of any collegium system. Yet, it is the collegium which decides the appointment of judges, despite the founding fathers of the Constitution not envisaging the same anywhere. In fact, despite the unanimous will of Parliament in favour of the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), the Supreme Court declared the NJAC Act to be unconstitutional on the grounds that it would affect the judiciary’s independence.
In recent times, the Supreme Court has increasingly adopted the sociological school of jurisprudence in an aggressive manner. In a parliamentary democracy, the buck ultimately stops with the citizens, who are represented by Members of Parliament. The Supreme Court was never envisaged to perform the role of an unelected, third legislative chamber. Yet it is performing this role not in exceptional circumstances, but in its everyday functioning. Of all the three organs of the state, it is only the judiciary that can define the limits of all the three organs. This great power must therefore be exercised with humility and self-restraint.
In rare circumstances
The usage of sociological jurisprudence can be justified in very rare circumstances, such as in the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
In Griswold v. Connecticut, Justice Hugo Black of the U.S. Supreme Court warned that “unbounded judicial creativity would make this Court into a day-to-day Constitutional Convention”. In his book, Nature of the Judicial Process, Justice Cardozo of the U.S. Supreme Court wrote, “The Judge is not a knight errant roaming at will in pursuit of his own ideal of beauty or of goodness”. And as Chief Justice Neely of the West Virginia State Supreme Court observed: “I have very few illusions about my own limitations as a Judge. I am not an accountant, electrical engineer, financier, banker, stock broker, or systems management analyst. It is the height of folly to expect judges to intelligently review a 5000 page record addressing the intricacies of a public utility operation. It is not the function of a judge to sit as a super board or with the zeal of a pedantic schoolmaster substituting his own judgment for that of an administrator.”
The Supreme Court should limit its usage of the sociological school of jurisprudence to only the most exceptional situations, and employ the positivist school as far as possible.
Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India. Aditya Manubarwala is Law Clerk-cum-Research Assistant at the Supreme Court
The rise of the BJP in West Bengal
How it slowly gained strength to become the Trinamool’s main opponent
The most vitriolic exchanges this election season have perhaps been between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The fierce contest in West Bengal is reflected in the voter turnout, which is the highest in the country in this election so far.
Indeed, just eight years after Ms. Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) brought the Left Front government’s 34 years of uninterrupted rule to a dramatic end, a road journey through West Bengal makes it evident that there is a new rising star here, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In most constituencies, it is a direct fight between the TMC and the BJP, while in a handful, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or the Congress is still in contention.
No organisation, a lot of strength
This is remarkable for the BJP, which is still a work in progress in the State. The party does not have much of an organisation in West Bengal, nor sufficient candidates from its own ideological pool. For many constituencies, it has had to seek out disgruntled persons from other parties to be its nominees. Across the State, the party’s offices are just coming up. In South 24 Parganas, for instance, a recently bought three-storey building overlooking a pond smells of fresh paint. The cubicles are being readied. Saffron-coloured chairs are stacked on shiny floors. One wall is painted saffron, and against it, fibre glass busts of Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyaya flank a statue of Bharat Mata.
But what the BJP does have in plenty in West Bengal is money. This is a new element in West Bengal politics, where long years of Left rule ensured — and encouraged — financial austerity. The party also has a growing army of musclemen, a staple for successful political parties in the State for at least half a century. “The BJP has no shongothon (organisation) but it has the shokti (strength) to take on the Trinamool,” says a former Left supporter. “The Left parties still have a shongothon but no shokti. So, those who want to end Trinamool rule have to vote for the BJP. Only the BJP can protect their votes.” The Left Front’s steady decline and the Congress’s near annihilation has ensured that those disappointed with the TMC-promoted culture of violence as well as the State government’s inability to tolerate dissent can look to the BJP now. If anger had been gradually building up against the TMC, it became apparent in the 2018 Panchayat elections. For the first time, non-ruling party candidates found themselves barred from even filing nominations in 34% of the seats. Not surprisingly, the BJP emerged second, even though it was distant from the TMC.
Making inroads into the State
The BJP’s entry into the State is not sudden, even if its 2014 victory in the general election widened its appeal in the State. Local RSS activists stress that RSS founder, K.B. Hedgewar,studied medicine in Calcutta, and that his early inspiration came from the State. They also stress that Syama Prasad Mookerjee was born in Calcutta. Senior RSS activist Dhanpat Ram Agarwal talks of attending a shakha in the early 1960s in Siliguri where he grew up. Conversations reveal that Hindu right-wing organisations have been working in West Bengal for more than six decades. They worked first with Marwari traders and migrants from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, in Kolkata’s Burrabazar, in the State capital’s industrial hinterland where the jute mills were situated, and in north Bengal. By the late 1960s, the RSS began to insist that its meetings be conducted in Bengali.
If long years of Left rule pushed the Hindutva agenda underground, Ms. Banerjee’s overt wooing of Muslims, who constitute 28% of the population, through ill-advised measures such as providing a monthly stipend to imams, most of whom are now Trinamool activists, awakened a sleeping giant. For the RSS-BJP combine that has been trying to sell the difference between Bangladeshi Hindus (“migrants”) and Muslims (“infiltrators”), especially in the border districts, and the dangers of what they call a “demographic imbalance that can affect social harmony”, this was a perfect moment for take-off.
It took Ms. Banerjee time to see that her party was being branded by the BJP. She had already been financing puja committees. Now she began to patronise Ram Navami processions and Hanuman Jayanti. One TMC candidate was found posing on a poster that had a flying Hanuman, and another was photographed campaigning with workers holding ‘Jai Sri Ram’ banners. A young TMC worker told me that he now had “Hindutva inside him”, indicating that he had made an ideological crossover.
A belated realisation
Meanwhile, many Left supporters, brought up on years of bloody battles with the TMC and encouraged by their leaders who are still targeting Ms. Banerjee rather than the BJP, are openly saying that in this election they will vote for the BJP to rid the State of the TMC. Belatedly, some CPI(M) senior leaders have realised the ideological short-sightedness of a campaign that has described the TMC and the BJP as two sides of the same coin. Former Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, who lost last year’s Assembly election to the BJP, said recently: “To gain freedom from the TMC, don’t make the mistake of choosing the BJP. It will be a blunder.” Former West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya told the CPI(M) mouthpiece Ganasakti, “There is no use in leaping from a TMC frying pan into the BJP’s fire. In some places, the danger is already present. Our task is to bring back the people from this self-destructive mode.” But the warnings have come too late.
Ms. Banerjee, fighting possibly the toughest battle of her political career, remains popular in rural Bengal, where people continue to make a distinction between her and her workers. Many of her welfare schemes have worked, and the people are grateful. Muslims stand rock solid behind her. But the danger to her rule from the BJP is real and present. Ms. Banerjee realises it and continues to fight hard.
Smita Gupta is Senior Fellow, The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy
Rhetoric over real issues
Nationalism and Hindutva are the talking points this election, not everyday matters like jobs
This general election has largely been about optics, muscularity, glamour and positioning. After the attack in Pulwama, Kashmir, and the Indian air strikes in Balakot, Pakistan, the election campaign has been riding on a strong anti-Pakistan sentiment and politicisation of the armed forces. At the same time, the campaign across party lines has been more about actors, cricketers and other “non-political” personalities. As far as ideology is concerned, the BJP’s campaign is more explicitly about Hindutva politics now than it was in 2014.
The inherent paradox in the 2019 election is that although each of the above has been used to appeal to the ordinary citizen, policy matters that affect citizens directly in their everyday life appear to have fallen by the wayside, including healthcare, education, employment, working conditions, water, farming, prices and nutrition. Contrarily, this campaign has sought to deepen majoritarian paranoia, by glorifying one community and demonising another, and through the negative politics of fear, anger and vendetta.
The focus on negative politics is all the more surprising given some of the positive work done by the incumbent government. This includes the reach of gas cylinders, toilets, roads, electricity and, to some extent, housing in rural areas, all of which have seen a considerable push in the Modi era. Why then has this election been ‘issueless’?
One can clearly witness the shift in the BJP’s own issue-based slogans of of the past five years like ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’, ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’, and ‘Make in India’ to more direction-less ones this time like ‘Main bhi chowkidar’ and ‘Modi hai toh mumkin hai’. Does this framing reflect an intent to evade questions around the agrarian and job crisis?
Yet, anecdotal evidence suggests that many believe in the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor. This indicates distrust in the Opposition’s leadership, in regional parties and ‘agenda-less’ grand alliances. However, the danger here is that collective beliefs of this sort might make elected authoritarianism possible, leading to the delegitimisation of the federal structure of our democracy.
This election is also not about party manifestos and local candidates. Otherwise, citizens, irrespective of the political party or ideology they support, would have objected more strongly and widely to, say, people with criminal backgrounds being given tickets. One thing is clear: this election is more about personality than ideology. According to a recent analysis of 35 speeches by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the word he most often used was “Modi”. The real question and its answer then lie with the voters. What appeals to them the most this time: personality cults, charismatic dynasts and movie stars or issues and candidate qualifications?
The writer is a Ph.D. Scholar at the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics
U.S. orders staff to leave Iraq Embassy
Trump administration says it has intelligence that Iranian activity puts facilities and personnel at risk
Risk assessment: The U.S. flag being raised during a ceremony to mark the opening of the Embassy in Baghdad in 2009.APHadi Mizban
The State Department ordered a partial evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday, responding to what the Trump administration said was a threat linked to Iran, one that has led to an accelerated movement of U.S. ships and bombers into the Gulf.
The department ordered “non-emergency U.S. government employees”, at both the Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate in Irbil, to leave the country. The order applies primarily to full-time diplomats posted to Iraq by State Department headquarters in Washington, and an Embassy statement said that visa services in Iraq would be suspended as a result. Contractors who provide security, food and other services will remain in place for now.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that the administration had received intelligence related to “Iranian activity” that put U.S. facilities and service personnel at “substantial risk”. Other American officials have said the same piece of intelligence points to potential attacks by Shia Arab militias tied to Iran against U.S. troops in Iraq or Syria.
Iraqi officials have voiced scepticism about the threat described by the Americans, and on Tuesday, so did the British deputy commander of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS).
No increased threat
“No, there’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria,” Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, speaking from Baghdad, told reporters at the Pentagon by video link. There are threats in the region to U.S. and coalition forces, he said, referring to “non-compliant actors” among the militias, but “there always have been”.
The Pentagon’s Central Command released a statement saying General Ghika’s comments “run counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from the U.S. and allies regarding Iranian backed forces in the region,” and that as a result, U.S. forces in Iraq were “now at a high level of alert”.
Mr. Pompeo made a surprise visit to Baghdad on May 7 to brief Iraqi leaders about the threat.
On May 5, John Bolton, the National Security Adviser, issued a statement warning against any attack by the Iranian military or a “proxy” against U.S. interests or allies. Mr. Bolton said the U.S. was sending the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and bombers to the Gulf. Other officials later said the strike group’s movement to that area had been previously scheduled and was merely being sped up.
On Friday, the Pentagon said it was sending another ship and a Patriot anti-missile battery to West Asia.
The order for a partial evacuation of the Baghdad Embassy, which at the height of the Iraq War was the largest in the U.S. diplomatic system, adds to the rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran. It is unclear when the employees being evacuated will be told they can return. In September, Mr. Pompeo ordered a full withdrawal from the American Consulate in Basra, in southern Iraq, after a few rockets landed around the grounds of the city’s airport, where the consulate is. The rockets did not cause any injuries.
The Trump administration blamed Shia militias tied to Iran for the rocket attacks in Basra. NY Times
Facebook to curb livestreaming
Company to ban users who share extremist content
Facebook was under intense pressure after Christchurch attacks.REUTERSStephen Lam
Facebook said on Wednesday that it would tighten access to its livestreaming feature as New Zealand’s Premier Jacinda Ardern and French leader Emmanuel Macron launched the ‘Christchurch Call’ initiative to tackle the spread of extremism online.
Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has been under intense pressure since March, when a white supremacist gunman used Facebook Live to stream his rampage at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, which left 51 people dead.
The California-based platform said it would ban Facebook Live users who shared extremist content and seek to reinforce its own internal controls to stop the spread of offensive videos.
New Zealand attacks
“Following the horrific recent terrorist attacks in New Zealand, we’ve been reviewing what more we can do to limit our services from being used to cause harm or spread hate,” Facebook vice-president of integrity Guy Rosen said in a statement.
In Wednesday’s statement, Facebook acknowledged the inadequacy of its own systems. “One of the challenges we faced in the days after the attack was a proliferation of many different variants of the video of the attack,” Mr. Rosen said.
The announcement came as leaders of Britain, Canada, Ireland, Senegal, Indonesia and Norway met in Paris as part of the backers of the ‘Christchurch Call’.
Xi Jinping rejects ‘clash of civilisations’ theory
Chinese President says a global community with a shared future is possible
, Atul Aneja
Chinese President Xi Jinping.AFPNICOLAS ASFOURI
China’s President Xi Jinping on Wednesday debunked the “clash of civilisations” theory, and appealed for harmonious dialogue and coexistence between civilisations.
Without naming the U.S., President Xi, in his address at the maiden conference on Asian Civilizations Dialogue, advocated equality, and rejected superiority of the U.S.-led West.
“If someone thinks their own race and civilisation is superior and insists on remoulding or replacing other civilisations, it would be a stupid idea and disastrous act,” Mr. Xi said. “We should hold up equality and respect, abandon pride and prejudice, deepen our knowledge about the differences between our own and other civilisations, and promote harmonious dialogue and coexistence between civilisations.”
Rejecting isolationism, Mr. Xi stressed that, “If countries retreat to secluded islands, human civilisation will die out because of a lack of exchanges.”
Rebuttal to U.S.
The Chinese President’s remarks roundly rebutted recent assertions by some U.S. officials who have stressed the emergence of a deep civilisational and race-based rift between China and the U.S. A fortnight ago, State Department director of policy planning Kiron Skinner called the U.S.-China competition as “a fight with a really different civilisation and a different ideology”. Ms. Skinner spotlighted that, for the first time, the U.S. had faced a “great power competitor that is not Caucasian”. The back-and-forth between China and the U.S. adds a layer of cultural rivalry, to the escalating trade between the world’s largest and second largest economy.
“Various civilisations are not destined to clash,” Mr.Xi observed.
He pointed out that a global “community with a shared future” is possible based on inter-civilisational exchanges. But he stressed that these exchanges should neither be compulsory, forced, or one-directional.
Brexit Bill to be tabled before MPs in June
As things stand, the legislation looks set to be defeated in Parliament, again
British Prime Minister Theresa May.AFPBEN STANSALL
British Prime Minister Theresa May is set for a new political showdown in Parliament as MPs across the political spectrum expressed their intention to oppose her Brexit plans, when she attempts to gain their support through legislation set to be put to MPs in early June.
On Tuesday evening, following the latest instalment of cross-party talks with the Labour Party, Ms. May said she plans to bring forward the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in the week commencing June 3, thereby setting a tangible deadline for the talks that have continued with little outcome so far.
The date of early June has been set to enable the U.K. to leave the European Union (EU) before the start of the summer recess were the legislation to pass.
It is a high-risk strategy: should the Bill be rejected at the second reading, the legislation could not be put to MPs again within the current Parliament. As things currently stand, the legislation looks set to be defeated. Opposition comes from across the parties. The Labour Party insists that for the legislation to be acceptable, it must include its demands for customs union membership and strong guarantees around environmental protections and workers’ rights. Pro-‘Remain’ parties such as the Scottish National Party (SNP), Change UK, Liberal Democrats and Greens wouldn’t back anything unless it included a specific promise for a second referendum. There is also pressure on Labour to insist on a second referendum.
While the government has sought to put a positive spin on the cross-party talks, Labour’s take on them has been far more sceptical, with senior figures repeatedly expressing their concerns that the government isn’t willing to compromise. They are also concerned that should Ms. May be replaced, her successor might not live up to the commitments made.
At the other end of the spectrum are Conservative and Democratic Unionist Party MPs unhappy with the backstop arrangements to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Losing again could prove disastrous for Ms. May, already under heavy pressure to step down and make way for a successor. She is set to meet with the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs on Thursday, where the issue of succession and her date of departure are likely to dominate.