Cover Story en Sun Mar 13 12:26:07 IST 2022 how-imran-khan-may-benefit-from-the-crisis-in-pakistan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>History in Pakistan is never the past. It looms large and is on loop. No prime minister has ever completed a five-year term. No prime minister has ever lost the no-confidence motion either. Only two faced it—Benazir Bhutto and Shaukat Aziz. Imran Khan became the first to duck the motion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The slow month of fasting in Pakistan began with a bang as Khan dissolved the national assembly before the vote, in which the numbers were against him. Khan threw a googly, claiming that the motion was “foreign inspired” and “foreign funded”, and Pakistan slipped into a constitutional crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pakistanis now look to the Supreme Court for relief; the opposition has termed this a civilian coup. The only certainty is uncertainty. Early elections have been called by President Arif Alvi, in 90 days. A news report suggests that the Election Commission of Pakistan has expressed its inability to conduct elections at short notice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In a way, Imran Khan has played out the script that the military’s favourites always fall out,” said T.C.A. Raghavan, former high commissioner to Pakistan. “No one had expected this alliance to end this way.” The hybrid system has failed. Khan often said that his government was on the same page as the military, especially when it came to India. That is now officially over.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is not the first time that Pakistan finds itself in the midst of a domestic crisis. Nor is it the first time that the Supreme Court has found itself arbitrating over a legislative issue, but it comes at a time when the economy is far from robust. “There’s a perfect storm playing out in Pakistan right now,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director, Asia Programme, at the Wilson Centre. “There is political uncertainty and a worsening economy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Sri Lanka still amid an economic crisis, another fragile economy in the region is cause for concern. The economy is projected to grow at 4 per cent, but in January, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics put the consumer price index inflation at 13 per cent—the highest in two years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan may have not created the economic crisis, but he has certainly contributed to it. Khan inherited an economy that had been mismanaged. “But they didn’t take the policy route,’’ said Haris Gazdar, an economist. “They took a populist route. They built a powerful narrative of corruption being responsible for the economic malaise, which has not been supported by the history of economics.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the heart of the change in dynamic between Khan and Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa is the numbers. “In Pakistan, there is a big penalty for economic mismanagement,’’ said Gazdar. The people in power are sensitive of their image and Bajwa is due to retire in November. This is the most important piece of the Pakistan stability puzzle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The military isn’t a monolith in Pakistan,” said Kugelman. “Khan’s relationship with the army chief may be shattered and several other top military leaders may have been turned off by his relentless anti-US and anti-west rhetoric. But, there’s no reason to think he’s lost the institution on the whole. He continues to have close ties with several key military leaders, including the previous ISI director who could be in the running to become the next army chief, if Khan finds himself back in power when Bajwa’s term ends in November.” He added that while the military did not do anything to prevent the opposition from bringing forward its no-confidence vote, it also did not stop Khan from dissolving the assembly. “And that is telling,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, Khan has added to the fragility of Pakistan politics. Over the past four years, he has been unable to reach across the aisle to forge alliances. Khan has attended only around 10 per cent of the sessions—an indication of the low emphasis he placed on the process. With a wafer-thin majority and Khan’s crusade on corruption, which put major leaders behind bars, the parliamentary process has suffered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dissolving the assembly has added to the political chaos as it has left the Supreme Court dealing with a constitutional pickle. Whether the court will be able to stand up and prove its impartiality remains to be seen. Khan has also chosen to add a “foreign hand’’ conspiracy to this mix. He named the US’s Donald Lu, an assistant secretary of state, for threatening the Pakistan Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan with consequences if Khan survived the no-trust vote. The US chargé d’affaires in Pakistan was issued a late-night demarche. But, again, Khan is not the first leader to use the anti-American sentiment to his advantage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto made the same allegation in 1977, when he claimed that the demonstrations spread across the country were being funded by the Americans. It is no secret that the relations between the countries have not been at their best. Khan had waited for President Joe Biden to make a call, which never came.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The relations with the US had stalled for some time now,’’ said former Pakistan foreign secretary Salman Bashir. “It goes back to the last few months of the Obama administration. There were differences of perception. After [2021] August (Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan), I can imagine that there are issues germane to US politics that blame Pakistan for what happened.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the Islamabad Security Dialogue, Bajwa chose to defuse tensions and batted for Pakistan emerging as an economic melting pot, stressing on connectivity and friendship, especially within the region. “Pakistan does not believe in camp politics and our bilateral relations with our partners are not at the expense of our relationships with other countries,” he asserted, in reference to Islamabad’s close ties with China. Referring to relations with the US as “long and excellent’’, he said that Pakistan sought to broaden and expand relations with both China and the US “without impacting our relations with [either]”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan is hoping that the anti-American sentiment will translate into votes. It is a narrative that will play to the heart of his voter: Pakistan is no longer a lackey of the west. It will resonate with the young Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf voters who passionately buy into the idea of the naya (new) Pakistan that is mukt (free) of corrupt opposition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Will this have an impact on US-Pakistan relations? “There’s no denying that a blow has been dealt to US-Pakistan relations,’’ said Kugelman. “Khan has accused the US government, with no evidence, of trying to overthrow him. There’s no way they can just shrug off something like that. That said, let’s not overstate the damage to the relationship. Also, the military-to-military dimension of the relationship is unlikely to be impacted, and Bajwa’s conciliatory words make clear that he’s keen to continue cooperation with his counterparts in the US. That said, the future of US-Pakistan relations will be determined to a great extent by the next Pakistani government. If Khan returns to power, it’ll be a lot tougher to make things work.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is yet to be seen whether his anti-US rhetoric will finally galvanise votes, but it certainly has managed to win friends eager to egg him on. Russia, of course, and China. “It will naturally make China very happy,’’ said Ayesha Siddiqa, a military expert and political commentator. While China may not be willing to do the heavy economic lifting for Pakistan, having extra leverage will certainly help. “The military leadership, especially Bajwa, do not want to be Sri Lanka and the balancing relationship will not be easy,” said Siddiqa. India may not choose to deal with Pakistan, but a stronger China in the region is not likely to make South Block happy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the uncertainty in Pakistan, it is clear that Khan will not be beaten easily. “Khan has always been a smart politician,’’ said Kugelman. “Critics’ claims that he’s dim-witted have always been wildly off the mark. You can’t become prime minister in a country with such a brutal political scene without having smarts. What he did may well be unconstitutional and therefore undemocratic, but it was also, on some levels, a stroke of genius. He denied the opposition, energised his rank and file, and strengthened his position ahead of early elections.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The last ball is yet to be bowled.</p> Sun Apr 10 12:52:17 IST 2022 masterstroke-or-civilian-coup-imran-khan-move-divides-pakistan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>General (retd) Pervez Musharraf once said that he thinks the constitution is “just a piece of paper to be thrown in the dustbin”. The scenes that unfolded in the national assembly on April 3 show that prime minister Imran Khan and his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), think no differently than the former military dictator.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A vote of no-confidence against Khan was moved by the opposition on March 8 over his government’s inability to rein in inflation. The government delayed summoning a session of the national assembly, using the Organisation of Islamic Corporation foreign ministers’ meeting as an excuse. After some delay and adjourning sessions, the vote was finally set to take place on April 3. It could not be delayed any further.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so, the numbers were eventually managed by the opposition. It had been a hectic political time since February. There was a flurry of meetings—first between the leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and then between the opposition parties and the PTI allies, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid e Azam (PML-Q) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At first, the government dismissed these meetings and challenged the opposition to file a no-trust motion. When the opposition finally filed it in March, Khan celebrated the move, saying that the opposition had fallen into his trap. But then there was panic in the government ranks. Despite meetings with its allies and threats to people who could be lured to switch sides, the government could not manage to keep all of its allies on its side. MQM and BAP jumped ship to join the opposition. The PML-Q almost left, but stayed put when it got a better last-minute deal from the government. The bigger surprise though was how more than two dozen members of the PTI had come out in the open against Khan ahead of the no-confidence motion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When it became apparent that the government would not survive the trust vote, Khan started building a narrative centred around a foreign conspiracy to oust him. He talked about a letter from Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Asad Majeed Khan, who had, in a meeting with US assistant secretary of state for Central and South Asia Donald Lu, been allegedly warned of implications if Khan survived the no-confidence vote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On April 3—the day of the vote—Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri disallowed the vote of no-confidence by invoking Article 5 that states that loyalty to the state is the basic duty of every citizen. This came after a short statement by information and broadcasting minister Fawad Chaudhry reiterating Khan’s foreign conspiracy claim. Ironically, Article 5 also talks about obedience to the constitution and law being an obligation of every citizen, which was flouted in broad daylight on the floor of the house by the ruling PTI. Once the vote of no-confidence was disallowed, Khan announced that he had advised President Arif Alvi to dissolve the national assembly. And it was done. Within a span of a few minutes, the constitution of Pakistan was thrown into the dustbin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>PTI leaders celebrated this move as some sort of a ‘masterstroke’. However, a statement by the Human Rights Watch says, “Imran Khan’s dissolution of parliament to prevent it from voting so that he could remain in office threatens core democratic principles. It infringes on the rights of Pakistani citizens to choose their government, which is protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The government’s threatened use of violence, allegations of treason, and abrogation of the constitution are hallmarks of dictatorship, which Pakistanis have previously endured and should not have to endure again.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The gravity of the situation can be gauged from the fact that the supreme court took suo moto cognisance of the crisis on the same day—despite it being Sunday, a holiday.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>PPP senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar says that we have seen populist leaders follow a similar pattern the world over. “Imran Khan is no exception,” he says. “Having mishandled the economy and not being able to fulfil a single promise in his four-year stint as prime minister, he has hurled the country towards another crisis upon his departure.” The act of dissolution of the national assembly on the basis of opposition being part of a foreign conspiracy to topple him, he says, “has left many wondering if he has still got a hang on his mental faculties. Even comedians have turned out to be better leaders in times of crisis”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal says that Khan has launched a civilian coup against the constitution. “His deputy speaker has unconstitutionally rejected the no-confidence motion against Imran Khan like Hitler got his enabling act passed without a majority on March 23, 1933,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a view that finds resonance among the opposition. PML-N senator Dr Musadik Malik says that Khan has shaken the constitutional foundations of Pakistan. “Historically, such acts have only been carried out by fascist regimes and dictators,” he says. “In parliamentary democracy, the inalienable right to elect or remove the leader of the house cannot be taken away from parliamentarians.” He also decries the speaker’s role in the trust vote crisis. “Equally insidious is the speaker’s ruling declaring 197 members of the parliament disloyal to Pakistan, and denying them the right to vote,” he adds. “It is reminiscent of dictator Zia-ul-Haq’s referendum in which opposing the general would have meant opposing religion. Khan’s near-fascist regime is setting precedents on which democracy cannot stand.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chaudhry, however, says that the opposition is hiding behind technical jargon. “The opposition is running away from people’s vote and trying to evade elections,” he says. “Imran Khan is ruling the hearts and minds of people, whereas the opposition is largely conceived corrupt and incompetent. Hence, PTI is likely to return to power with a huge majority.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, this is not as simple. Senior journalist Zebunnisa Burki says it would not be an exaggeration to say that April 3 will go down as “one of the darkest days in Pakistan’s history”. “We have seen men in uniform disregard the constitution over the years but, no matter how regressive a civilian dispensation was, it was always a given that at least they would try to preserve even a facade of protecting the constitution. But Imran Khan becomes the first one to opt for a civilian coup just to placate his bruised ego,” she says. “In this, Khan’s action unfortunately is in keeping with the way he has conducted government during the past three years: a chokehold on the press; a witch-hunt against political opponents; a regressive approach towards education; and a near-disdain for democracy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there is a method to this madness. Senior journalist and news anchor Kashif Abbasi says that the reason why Khan took this route is so that his electoral legislations, which include the use of electronic voting machines and voting rights for overseas Pakistanis, could not be reversed. He also did not want the National Accountability Bureau law to be repealed. “He can see his ground swell and he has a narrative—foreign interference—that he thinks is very popular among the masses,” says Abbasi. “He doesn’t want to give his opponents the opportunity to make key appointments before elections.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ball though is now in the judiciary’s court. “The constitution is not on trial. The judges are,” says senior journalist Najam Sethi. He believes that there is a consensus in civil society and the bar that the subversion of the constitution on April 3 by a civilian—Khan—is no less damning than when military generals imposed martial law in 1958, 1977 and 1999. “Judges legitimised those subversions on the basis of the ‘law of necessity’ (who can argue with a gun?). But today that argument is not relevant,” he says. “Therefore, any supreme court judgement that does not outlaw the April 3 decisions in toto will tar the judges for life without resolving the crisis of democracy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Abbasi says he does not know about Khan’s legacy or how he wants to be remembered. “He is still popular,” he says. “Only elections will tell us whether he is popular enough to form a government or have enough seats to be a loud opposition voice.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sarfraz is a Lahore-based journalist.</b></p> Sun Apr 10 12:50:05 IST 2022 imran-khan-being-punished-for-standing-up-for-pakistan-former-aide <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Prime Minister Imran Khan has been accused of tearing up the constitution and staging a civilian coup. Your response.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Where does the civilian coup come from? He has actually worked strictly according to the constitution. He has made use of the powers [granted to him by the constitution].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within the Parliament... there is speculation as to why the speaker did not preside over the session [in which the deputy speaker dismissed the no-confidence motion]. He did not preside over the session because the opposition had moved a motion of no confidence against him also in the morning. He was not entitled to preside over the session. So the deputy speaker was next in line.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This thing has been going on for a long time. We received our usual communication from our embassy in the US on March 7 and on March 8 the no-confidence motion was moved. If you remember, there was a meeting of the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) finance ministers scheduled immediately after that. So we could not have gone public with it. But, immediately after that the prime minister shared the information with the top military leadership, a select number of cabinet members and select journalists. Then, he convened a meeting of the national security committee (NSC), which is the second most important body after the cabinet. It is more important in a sense because the top military officers also sit in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NSC came up with a statement where it was acknowledged that there was interference in the affairs of Pakistan and that was not acceptable. So the civil and military leadership agreed that there was an ongoing infringement on Pakistan’s sovereignty. We understand that the opposition’s move for a no-confidence motion was part of that plan. It was foreign inspired, foreign motivated and foreign funded. So, what were the options left for the government of Pakistan?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The opposition claims they were not kept in the loop.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Stop there. The leader of the opposition and some other members of the opposition are members of the NSC. Invitations were sent to them. This was a question that the court asked and insisted that they answer; it is a critical question. They did not attend the meeting. They do not have a locus standi that it was not shared with them. They were invited to attend the forum. They refused to attend the forum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is the way ahead? The polarised opposition and Khan are not seeing eye to eye. There seems to be no conversation across the aisle. Do you see this as a politically fragile time for Pakistan, regardless of the verdict?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no doubt about it. There are going to be re-elections. Unless the Supreme Court decides otherwise, elections will be held in the next 90 days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even if the opposition is able to defeat the government now, they can only form the government for a year or so before we head towards elections. But I see a lot of problems with that. What are they going to achieve in those days? They are going to undo whatever was achieved in the last three years, particularly with regard to their corruption cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The economy is a problem. Sri Lanka is a cautionary tale for the region. There is hyperinflation in Pakistan. There is an IMF loan issue. Do you see this as the biggest challenge for the interim government or the opposition, if it gains power? How do you see that playing out?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The economic issues are there. We cannot hide from that. But, the fact is that Pakistan has fared much better than the countries in the region in terms of dealing with Covid-19. Compared with India, we have done much better....</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In terms of recovery, our GDP growth is 5.5 per cent, which is exceptionally good. About two years ago, we were at zero and there were serious doubts being expressed about our survival. I am not saying we do not have issues. Yes, IMF loans are there. Yes, other loans are there and we need to come up with a solution. Because the loan quantum is increasing. But, basically, we are trying to put the fundamentals on solid ground. We are in a much better shape than we were two years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What we need is political stability. I think going to elections is a good move because we feel that we did not have a very strong government. We were dependent on four coalition partners. We were not able to implement the things we wanted to do. We feel we will return with a much bigger majority, which is what we want. We do not want to rule with a coalition partner. If a coalition partner is there, we should not be dependent on the coalition partner. So our decision to move towards early elections is based on this need that we have for a larger majority in parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The military has issued a statement saying they are neutral. How do you see this relationship with Khan and General Qamar Javed Bajwa playing out?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no reason for me to speculate that the relations with the military are not good. I would go by the assumption, which I know and I have also personally seen at times, that the relationship with the military has been good. In fact, at times very good. So I do not think that this thing about neutrality has anything to do with the differences with the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The military should be neutral. Why should the military not be neutral? Maybe there is no reason to state that the military is neutral but everywhere, in your country, any other country in the world, too, the military has no political role to play. They are subservient to whoever wins the elections and comes to rule the country. And the chief of the army staff is on record and has stated this many times. We keep saying this in Pakistan, we have to keep saying it, simply because in the past, we were used to the military taking over and running the country. So there is a need for the military to say ‘Look we have no role to play in politics.’ I feel like saying that is good. But I have no reason to say that the relations between the military and the government have been bad during the past three years or so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>In the Islamabad Security Dialogue, Khan and General Bajwa made contrary statements. What do you make of that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The basic direction has to come from the government, not the military. The military is a contributing factor. They are consulted and their views are taken before any policy shift or any policy is finalised. Before the government decides any shift in policy, inputs from all relevant bodies, organisations and institutions are taken. The military has been on board. The military has stated that categorically in the NSC meeting also.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Khan has decided to take on the US, a big shift in policy. Your thoughts.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been a shift in our approach. There has been a reappraisal in our relations with America. I think that there were certain aberrations in our foreign policy and I think in these three-and-a-half years, we have tried to address those aberrations. We belong to this region and I think the principal focus is to cement our relations with the countries of the region. India being one of them. We have tried in the past. Unfortunately, there are issues which are yet to be sorted out, which hopefully will be sorted out in time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We feel that we have virtually gained nothing out of our friendship with America in the past 74 years. Whatever aid came to Pakistan, much more than that was invested in doing the US’s bidding. Everything that they gave came with conditions; either fighting communism or not fighting India. There was never transfer of technology. We really did not gain anything out of American aid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There comes a time in a country’s history when you have to really attend to your own issues and make policies that suit you. I think that time is long overdue. The prime minister has the courage. He has always had the courage. He has the courage to stand up and say we have to move away. This is what he is being punished for.</p> Sun Apr 10 12:47:37 IST 2022 imran-has-outmanoeuvred-the-pak-army-for-now <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Well before Imran </b>Khan was Pakistan’s prime minister, he was a paradox. For those of us who knew him—in my case as a professional journalist who has reported on and from Pakistan for decades—it was hard to reconcile the seemingly disparate parts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Who is the real Imran Khan?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Is he “Im the Dim” as author Salman Rushdie disparagingly referenced him to describe his flamboyant Casanova years as a playboy pin-up who lived the superficial life? Or, is he the instinctively canny craftsman with an instinct for survival honed from his years as a cricketing superstar?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before he became prime minister of Pakistan, Khan would often point out that there was no Pakistani politician who knew India as well as he did, both in the number of times he had visited as a private citizen and in the number of close friends he had here. His implication was that his rise would automatically translate into a strengthening of India-Pakistan relations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On his last trip to India—he was still an opposition politician then—I met him for a cup of coffee at a Delhi hotel. He was an easy-going, laid-back and charming, charismatic global citizen who seemed utterly at ease in his own skin, happily posing for selfies with a legion of fans. I presented him with a copy of my first book on India. Since then, he has repeatedly quoted from it in his campaign rallies zooming in on one paragraph where I speak about a back-channel, off-record, unofficial meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then Pakistan prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On that Delhi trip, Khan believed his time had come. He was upbeat and optimistic, and smiled ear to ear at whatever was asked of him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A couple of years later, I met Khan in Islamabad as part of a group of journalists in Pakistan to report on the opening of the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara. He had achieved his stated goal; he was now prime minister of Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But this time Khan seemed unfriendly, awkward and uncomfortable, barely acknowledging that he had known some of us in the group for more than 20 years. I walked away thinking that the Pakistani deep state’s eye on him was a scrutiny that he could not afford to mess with. Perhaps that is why he could no longer appear to be too convivial with Indian journalists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hence, the irony of this moment in Pakistan’s history. Khan, widely dismissed by his critics for being a yes-man of the Pakistani military, is today openly taking on its army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. The same Khan who seemed too nervous to even interact informally with Indian media is today exhorting his party colleagues: “Ghabrao mat [Don’t be afraid]”—his complacent smile giving away his awareness that he has outmanoeuvred the very system that he seemed terrorised by, to live another day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The only thing that has remained consistent in Khan’s politics is his anti-Americanism. He lashed out at the United States when Osama bin Laden was taken out in an undercover military operation from Abbottabad. And today, he is accusing them of being a moving force behind the move to oust him from office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, Khan is not playing by the rules. If he had not ducked the vote of confidence, he had clearly lost his majority in the Pakistan assembly. The president who endorsed his call to dissolve the assembly and go in for fresh elections is an erstwhile member of his party. Khan has pushed his country into a constitutional crisis, which led scholar Ayesha Siddiqa to describe him as a man “who never plays politics; he only plays narratives”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the more intriguing question is this: How did Khan emerge as the unlikely rebel against the all-powerful Pakistani military that has ensured that no civilian prime minister has ever completed a full term in office? Is it because a section of the military is in fact backing him covertly? Let us remember that Sharif’s simple assertion that the Pakistani prime minister is the boss of the Pakistani army chief, ensured that his term in government was doomed from the first day. Would Khan dare to destabilise his country’s polity without a nod from some powerful factions within the establishment?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In other words, the most important question to ask right now is this: Does Imran Khan’s effective political coup also mean a coup of sorts within the Pakistani military? And, is the Pakistani Army’s Corps Commander in Peshawar, Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed—whom Khan wanted to continue as ISI chief—the linchpin of this plan?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pakistani friends argue against this theory. They say that the military in the end is institutionally governed and its chief will have the last word. They say Khan has shown himself to be a poor loser who is trying to cheat after losing the game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan would possibly argue that he is fighting for survival in a country where martial law has ended but democracy still has to take deep roots.</p> Mon Apr 11 21:23:50 IST 2022 shehbaz-sharif-the-top-choice-to-replace-imran-steps-out-of-his-brother-shadow <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the fall of 1999, when General Pervez Musharraf found out that prime minister Nawaz Sharif was planning to sack him as army chief following the Kargil misadventure, he moved quickly to meet Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif. Musharraf told the younger Sharif that the army wanted him to replace his elder brother as prime minister. But Shehbaz made it clear to the general that he would never betray Nawaz. A few days later, Nawaz ordered Musharraf’s dismissal, but the army deposed the two brothers in a quick, bloodless coup. A year later, they were banished to Saudi Arabia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was not just the army that had tried to turn Shehbaz against Nawaz. According to senior journalist Hamid Mir, back in 1992, when Shehbaz was just a junior member of parliament, president Ghulam Ishaq Khan offered him the top post after a tiff with Nawaz. The Benazir Bhutto government even jailed Shehbaz in 1995 to force him to testify against Nawaz in a corruption case. But Shehbaz has always placed fraternal loyalty above everything else and has spent his three-decades-long public life in his big brother’s shadow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shehbaz was born on September 23, 1951 in Lahore, to industrialist and businessman Muhammad Sharif and Begum Shamim Akhtar. He joined the family business after his graduation from Government College, Lahore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shehbaz started his political career by winning an election to the Punjab provincial assembly in 1988 on a Pakistan Muslim League ticket. Nawaz was then the province’s chief minister. In 1990, when Nawaz became prime minister, Shehbaz was elected to the parliament. Shehbaz, however, focused more on Punjab and became the province’s chief minister in 1997, the same year his brother was elected prime minister for the second time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Upon his return to Pakistan in 2007 after the seven-year exile in Saudi Arabia, Shehbaz rejoined active politics and became chief minister of Punjab in 2008. He served two consecutive terms till 2018. When Nawaz was removed as prime minister in 2017 on corruption charges and was barred by the supreme court from holding any constitutional posts, Shehbaz was chosen to lead the PML (N). But he lost the 2018 national elections to Imran Khan, who had the backing of the army. He has been serving as leader of the opposition and president of the party since then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from his loyalty to his brother, another hallmark of Shehbaz’s politics has been the friendly ties he shares with the army. Nawaz himself conceded that had Shehbaz known about his decision to act against Musharraf, he would have talked him out of it. In 2014, when Nawaz wanted to travel to India to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it was Shehbaz who convinced army chief General Raheel Sharif to greenlight the visit. With the army now trying to distance itself from Imran, Rawalpindi is likely to consider Shehbaz to be a safe bet as prime minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shehbaz’s reputation as an efficient administrator, too, may come in handy. “During his three stints as chief minister of Punjab, he was known for his hands-on style, marked by surprise visits to schools and hospitals, early morning staff meetings and late night social media messages to his officers,” said Ejaz Ahmed, a Karachi-based journalist. Erring and underperforming officials were often summarily punished.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shehbaz is also known for his penchant for massive infrastructure projects, such as the Lahore Metro. Despite his habit of quoting revolutionary verses by leftist poet Habib Jalib, Shehbaz has never loathed the fruits of capitalism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were rumours that he once ordered the construction of a bridge in Lahore so that he could reach his new wife’s house quickly. According to official records, Shehbaz was married twice—to his cousin Nusrat Shehbaz in 1973, and to author and activist Tehmina Durrani in 2003.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the foreign policy front, Shehbaz maintains close ties with important strategic partners like China and Turkey. He is an enthusiastic backer of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative. “Compared with many other Pakistani politicians, Shehbaz enjoys better ties with India, at least with certain industrialists. He has visited India a few times,” said Joshy M. Paul, international relations expert at the Delhi-based Centre for Air Power Studies. “His foreign policy, like his domestic policy, is expected to be marked by pragmatism.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite all the advantages he enjoys, ascending to the top post and staying there may not be an easy task for Shehbaz. Both Shehbaz and his son, Hamza, who is the leader of opposition in Punjab, are facing investigation on corruption charges. The duo was indicted by the UK for money-laundering in 2020, but were let off as investigators were unable to furnish any proof. In Pakistan, however, the cases are going on and Shehbaz could face arrest any time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The simmering rivalry between Nawaz’s daughter, Maryam, and Shehbaz’s son, Hamza, could also turn out to be a major challenge. On the personal front, Hamza and Maryam, both in their late forties, appear to be close. Videos of the two cousins singing old Bollywood numbers during Maryam’s son Junaid's wedding reception held in London in December have gone viral. Shehbaz, too, is known for breaking into songs occasionally, sometimes during public functions. But those right notes may not always extend to the political arena.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Up until a few years ago, the succession plan in the PML(N) looked settled with Hamza being groomed to take over after Nawaz and Shehbaz,” said Saleema Nazki, a US-based Pakistani researcher. “But with Nawaz unabashedly promoting Maryam, Hamza is rattled, and the stage is set for a bitter intra-family rivalry.” Maryam recently conceded that she and Hamza had differences of opinion, and reiterated that the final word in the party would be that of Nawaz.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maryam, however, is close to Shehbaz, and did not hesitate to put forward his name as the PML(N)’s prime ministerial candidate during the ongoing crisis. “He is the most competent person. He is my hero. I love him to death,” she said about his chances. But her political equation with her uncle and cousin would be crucial for the long-term future of the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have also been questions about Shehbaz’s health. He is a cancer survivor, and he himself has admitted that he suffers from low immunity and multiple ailments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next few months will be a tough grind for Shehbaz. The opposition, which now stands united behind him to oust Imran, may not remain so once the elections are announced. But after having survived the rough and tumble of Pakistan politics for more than three decades, Shehbaz appears to be better placed than most others to chart a new course.</p> Sun Apr 10 12:24:47 IST 2022 why-pakistan-wants-peace-with-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In his keynote address to a select audience on April 2 at the recently held Islamabad Security Dialogue (ISD), Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa said that while modernising the Pakistani military, Pakistan’s emphasis will be on geoeconomics: development and connectivity, and peace with neighbours, especially India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bajwa said: “Pakistan will benefit if we improve ties with India. We have wasted 70 years; it is time to move on. Let us sit down and resolve our issues including Kashmir. We want development first. Pakistan is working on north to south (Pakistan to Afghanistan to central Asian republics and Russia) connectivity. We also want east to west (India to Iran) connectivity and trade which will benefit both Pakistan and India.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an informal chat a day earlier, Pakistan’s then national security adviser Moeed Yusuf told this writer that Pakistan was willing to discuss the Kashmir resolution under the Musharraf four-point formula, which was being discussed with prime minister Manmohan Singh until 2008 when the Pervez Musharraf regime fell. Two very senior army officers who had accompanied Bajwa to the ISD confirmed to me that the Pakistani army was onboard the Musharraf formula.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, Bajwa said that as a consequence of a major study done by the Pakistani military, they have decided to reduce the Pakistani army strength of 5.38 lakh troops substantially over the next five years. The money saved would be used for modernisation with focus on firepower and cyber. According to him, a cyber division under a major general rank officer has been raised. The Pakistan air force (PAF) and the navy, too, will have their own cyber capabilities. A cyber organisation will also be created for the protection of civilians. A Pakistani scholar close to the army said that the People’s Liberation Army was helping the Pakistani military with its modernisation to progressively adapt to the changing character of war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Pakistani military, like the Indian military, can fight in three war domains: land, air and sea. It wants to develop capabilities to fight in two additional war domains: cyber and electromagnetic spectrum (EMS). The PLA has capability to fight in seven domains: land, air, sea, near-space, outer-space, EMS and cyber. The air domain is up to an altitude of 20km from land surface. The altitude from 20km to 100km is called near-space, beyond which is outer-space.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Development of the EMS domain will be done by the PAF, which will be the lead service in case of future war with India. To accomplish this, the Centre of Artificial Intelligence and Computing (CENTAIC) was set up with PLA support under the PAF in August 2020. With cognitive electronic warfare as its first project, the CENTAIC would be responsible for developing sensor fusion technologies and EMS management. Coupled with the J-10C aircraft acquired from China, the PAF would move away from tactical dogfights to stand-off operations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus, while strengthening its military muscle, the Pakistani army will play the central role in the progress of the nation by optimal utilisation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which requires peace with India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sawhney is editor of FORCE news magazine. His book on artificial intelligence in warfare, titled The Last War: India’s Final Showdown with China, will be released in August.</b></p> Sun Apr 10 12:18:42 IST 2022 the-evolution-of-rishabh-pant-mature-settled-and-possibly-future-captain <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There was a time, a year and a half ago, when Rishabh Pant felt stranded. Not like when he hops down the pitch and misses a wild swing. This was off the field. Critics were on his back, complaining that he was too inconsistent. There was reportedly not much support from captain Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri either. Pant, 23, was out of the ODI team and was not the first-choice keeper in home Tests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for away Tests, he was dropped for the first one against Australia in December 2020. Wriddhiman Saha got the nod instead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A disastrous Test later—India were bundled out for 36 in Adelaide—Pant returned to the team. Two weeks later, he had cemented his spot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He had scored 89 on the last day of the fourth Test to hand Australia its first loss at the Gabba in 32 years. India won the series 2-1. Nine fours, one six and seemingly limitless self-belief; these were the ingredients that made that a once-in-a-career innings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pant had proven why he had been talked of as a long-term successor to M.S. Dhoni. He had clawed his way out of a career trough, and flew back to India his happy, impish self.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A year and few months later, he has reason to smile again. His personal growth aside, he has now found support like never before under the new team management. Pant had been nervous, what with his form and the uncertainty about his place in the team. Reportedly, he had even been told that Rahul Dravid’s arrival as coach might hurt his case. But Rohit Sharma, who has been close to Pant, gave him a lot of reassurance when he became captain, THE WEEK has learnt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It also helped that Dravid had coached Pant in his Under-19 days. Reportedly, Dravid told Pant, Sharma and BCCI president Sourav Ganguly that he saw a big role for the wicketkeeper-batter in the team’s future. He also called up Pant before taking charge and had a lengthy conversation with him about his expectations. Pant also, reportedly, had a chat with Ganguly, who not only reassured him, but backed him publicly, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Four years after he got off the mark in Test cricket with, what else, a six, Pant has now matured. And the team management sees that. Speaking to THE WEEK in an exclusive interview, Pant looked and sounded older. The naughtiness is still there, but more contained. Taking care of yourself in the ultra-competitive and high-profile world of cricket can age you fast. “I do not want to leave my inner core, but at the same time you have to find a balance,” he said. “When there is a serious discussion, I have to be serious... In the past year or so, I have been making better choices.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 2021-2022 season has seen the coming-of-age of the batter, wicketkeeper, son, ward and friend. There have been hard knocks; some courtesy of life and some of his own doing. But through it all, Pant has built on the foundation he laid in Brisbane. In the past 14 months, he has scored two of his four Test tons, four of his five ODI fifties, and one of his three T20I half centuries. It might seem like a mixed bag, but the numbers hide a lot. “I do not focus on scoring hundreds,” he said. “If by scoring 97 I have done what the team needs me to do, and I have given my 200 per cent, I am fine with that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This must be music to his coaches’ ears.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He made his slowest Test 50 (105) at The Oval last September, and fastest, off 28 balls, in Bengaluru in March. Both innings were tailored to the match situation, and both were key to India winning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there was also the audacious reverse sweep off James Anderson’s bowling en route to a match-winning 101 in Ahmedabad last March; a reminder that Pant will be Pant. “On that turning track, he took 90-odd balls for his first 50 and then got 40 to 45 runs in the next 10 or 12 balls,” India batting coach Vikram Rathour told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The more impressive feat, arguably, was in the Cape Town Test against South Africa this January. He scored 100 (139) of India’s 198 runs and seemed to be batting on an altogether different pitch. The second highest score was Virat Kohli’s 29 (143). With that ton, he became the only Indian keeper to have scored Test centuries in India, Australia, England and South Africa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“His batting is his batting,” captain Sharma told reporters following the recent Sri Lanka series. “There will be times when you smash your head and say ‘Why did he play that shot?’ but again we need to be ready to accept that with him when he bats. He is somebody who can change the game in 40 minutes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rathour, who has been with Pant most of his career, said it was “key to gain his trust” and have constant conversations. “We all knew he was a special player,” he said. “He had seen initial success by playing his way—we all know he is a stroke player. Then his consistency went down. I told him that nobody wants him not to play his shots, we just want him to be more selective in picking the bowlers he wants to attack. He is a young kid, and it takes time. [You cannot] suddenly change the approach. Maybe he realised once he got dropped that he cannot play his way. We all know he will get out defending; that is not his game. Playing according to the situation is all we want.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So what was the result of all these conversations and time put in? “He has suddenly grown up,” said Rathour. “Rohit and Dravid are in the saddle now, and he knows he is an important player in the India setup.... He has now matured as a player. He is getting better and better, but there is still a long way to cover.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Off the field, tragedy struck Pant in November; he lost his coach and mentor Tarak Sinha, 70, to cancer. He had depended a lot on Sinha, a coach at Delhi’s famous Sonnet Club, after his father died in 2017. “It was like losing my father all over again,” said Pant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Devender Sharma, Sinha’s assistant at the club and Pant’s go-to guy for anything cricket, said, “When news of Ustad ji being diagnosed with cancer first came, he was very disturbed. We even sent sir’s reports to him when he was in England. The doctor told Rishabh that it was best that sir get treated in Delhi or Jaipur. He was shattered when sir died; we all thought sir would fight it out. [But Pant] is mentally strong—even when his father died, he came back two days after the cremation to play an IPL game and scored runs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While in England, Pant also got Covid-19 ahead of the Test series last July. Those 10 days alone in quarantine at his uncle’s place, away from the team, were tough for the youngster. As has been the bubble life. Time away from family has been hard, and there is only so much that video games or Monopoly or catching up on news can help.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the pitch, though, everything seemed to be according to plan. His resurgence and evolution, especially in red-ball cricket, has been heartening for all his backers in the BCCI and outside. Said former Indian keeper Saba Karim: “The fact that he held his place in the Indian side helped him evolve as a person. Ever since the England tour, he has realised not just his potential, but also what the demands of the team are vis-a-vis him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Karim, who is currently head of talent search at Delhi Capitals and has been associated with Pant from his early days in Delhi cricket, said he had seen improvement in the latter’s “match situation play”. “Overall, he seems in a much better space and is able to express himself better,” he said. “Plus, his demeanour on field has improved and has helped him grow.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former Indian keeper and chief selector Kiran More, who has worked with Pant at the National Cricket Academy, said, “The expectations of Pant were from his batting; there was a lot of pressure on him, but he backed himself and his game (as batter) has gone up for me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What sticks out like a sore thumb, though, is the zero in his century count in ODIs. Though he has looked more settled in the line-up than before, more is expected of him. Is there an issue with his approach? “Even Sachin Tendulkar took time to score his first ODI hundred!” said More with a laugh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His role in white-ball cricket is more defined now, said Rathour. “He will be a finisher at number five or six, he knows that. Nobody is pushing him to get a hundred in ODIs. He will always be an impact player and if he is consistently getting 40-50 and winning it for the team, then that is fine.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An aspect of Pant’s game is that his heroics with the bat often overshadow his wicketkeeping. It is a role that has seen quite some turbulence; in 2019, for instance, his home crowd at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi showered him with chants of “Dhoni, Dhoni” whenever he erred behind the stumps. From there to now, there has been progress by leaps and bounds, quite literally. Karim said Pant has worked hard on match simulations and had vastly improved his footwork and collection of low catches. “He has been really good at gauging spin,” he said. “It shows his confidence behind the stumps. It was just a matter of time before he showcased his skills [as keeper]. He is now a multi-skilled player like Dhoni. His keeping has improved because his batting has improved.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More added that a player had to be a good enough wicketkeeper to get into the team in the first place, and that keepers were like opening batsmen—there will be good and bad times. “His glove work has improved a lot,” he said. “His balance and positioning have also improved.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former India player and Delhi Capitals assistant coach Pravin Amre said it was the tour of Australia that gave Pant confidence. “Winning a series Down Under was so critical,” he said. “And then to win against England. That also boosted his confidence. His keeping has improved, especially at home. He has got maturity by playing tough series.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said captain Sharma: “His keeping [against Sri Lanka] was the best I have seen. He seems to get better every time. And he also seems to be making the right DRS (decision review system) calls.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the past few years, the competition among wicketkeeper-batters has been intense. While Saha’s career seems to be over, Ishan Kishan and K.S. Bharat are now in the fray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More described Pant as a “very smart cricketer”. “He has a great mind, and his reading of the game and ball-to-ball awareness are sharp,” he said. “He is a lot more shaant (peaceful) while keeping.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pant’s chirping behind the stumps has been a source of entertainment for fans for years. He once sang a Hindi version of the Spider-Man theme, calls Ashwin “Ashley”, and even jokingly told Harsha Bhogle to improve his work so that people do not clamour for the commentary to be shut off when he is behind the stumps. Bhogle had brought up the “complaint” in a post-match interview.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“His composure is good,” said More. “He has grown for sure with more responsibility as India vice captain. I will not change anything in his batting; with experience he will realise what he needs to do.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pant was made deputy to Sharma for the T20I series against the West Indies in February. The national selectors are looking to groom future captains under Sharma, and Pant is one of the main contenders alongside K.L. Rahul and Shreyas Iyer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More added that Pant did not believe in following anyone and did not have anyone in mind while leading a side. Apparently, so focused is Pant on his job as Delhi Capitals skipper that he shot down the management’s idea of making a documentary on the team this season. He wanted the team to focus on winning its maiden title.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reportedly, he made it clear to the team management before the mega auction that he would stay on only if he was made captain. Shreyas Iyer had the same condition. The DC bosses chose Pant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When Rohit took over at Mumbai, he was quite a young man as well,” said DC head coach and former Australian captain Ricky Ponting. “He would have been 23 or 24, similar to what Rishabh is here. I know they are great mates and they talk all the time and they are probably exchanging things about leadership and captaincy along the way. I think there is every opportunity for Rishabh’s journey to be similar to Rohit’s. He’s a young captain of a successful franchise and growing on a daily basis. Hopefully, Rishabh can have the same sort of success Rohit has had at the Mumbai Indians (where Ponting has worked). With some experience in a high-pressure tournament like the IPL, I have no doubt there is every chance that Rishabh could be an international captain.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The past year or so has been about Pant maturing as a player, he added. “The past couple of years with some more responsibility in and around the Indian team, and captaining DC, there is a lot of learning experience that will keep helping him become a better leader and person. I know Rishabh really well, and that is what he talks about all the time, trying to find ways to improve. He has got a good grasp on what leadership is all about because he has been in successful teams and he has been under strong leaders in the past.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Being a full-time captain at DC, which comes with handling the pressure and expectations of team owners and fans, is a step towards bigger responsibilities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Karim said communication and gut instinct were Pant’s strong suits. “He backs players, especially youngsters,” he said. “He likes to interact with the coaching staff, but on the field, he has a mind of his own.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pant’s rise has also meant a rise in his brand value. JSW Sports, which co-owns DC and also manages Olympic athletes, ventured into cricketer management by signing Pant—a move with an eye on the future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Mustafa Ghouse, CEO, JSW Sports: “This (cricketer management) is a direct extension of the work already being done. We had a relationship with Pant (as a player) since we made an investment in DC in 2018; we have been interacting with him a lot. He was transitioning from his previous agency and the comfort level was there. It was always on the cards and we had a few conversations internally. We were not signing a big brand, but building the brand and growing with him. Rishabh fits the bill.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghouse added that Pant was the next in line after Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, among current players, when it came to getting brand endorsements.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pant, though, is not keeping track. At this point in his life, all he cares about is cricket. Performing in front of and behind the wickets. “International cricket is a journey, not a destination,” he said. “It is not about scoring runs in one-odd series, but doing so over a period of time. If I can do [what I have done] over 10 years, then I can say I have done something.”</p> Sun Apr 03 12:29:26 IST 2022 i-wanted-to-change-people-perception-of-me-says-rishabh-pant <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q. From the Tests in Australia in early 2021 to the recent home win against Sri Lanka, how much has Rishabh Pant the player grown?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The way the growth is going is really nice. But, at the same time, I am not focusing on it totally. I am just trusting the processes I have created over 15 months. Sometimes I do not get results, but I continue to believe in it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are these processes?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It consists of many things like my diet regime, gym training, skill training and the mental side. Cricket is a skill-based game and I have to focus on that. And, yes, it is a mind game. If at the end of the day you can keep your mind in the same place, it does not matter if you score runs or not. I just keep believing in my process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Any drastic changes in the diet?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I just try to follow my dietician’s plan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your coaches, teammates and former players say you are mentally strong. How do you work on that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I try to meditate sometimes and I read positive quotes all the time. I try to relate my life to these. I focus on that one thought that has hit me as an individual and I do not think of anything else. There are so many distractions in cricket. So, how to keep yourself in check is very important. I have been trying to give myself time [to work] on that aspect; I talk to myself, keep telling myself I can do this. That is part of my mental journey, I guess.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How has the journey from 23 to 24 been as an individual?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am still naughty, because I do not want to leave my inner core. But, at the same time, you have to find a balance. When there is a serious discussion, I have to be serious and think about the game, focus on the process. In the past year or so, I have been making better choices. I have improved as a person, not changed as such. I have added a lot of things to my kitty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What do those close to you say on seeing this Rishabh?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ They say, “I heard he speaks very maturely now!” (laughs) I tell them I am the same person, just making better choices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In terms of performance, have you achieved the goals you set for yourself in the past year or so?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am not satisfied, but I am happy. If you work hard, you should be happy with what you have done. But you should not be complacent. International cricket is a journey, not a destination. It is not about scoring runs in one-odd series, but doing so over a period of time. If I can do [what I have done] over 10 years, then I can say I have done something.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What have been your highlights on the field in the past year?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ One satisfying aspect has been my wicketkeeping. I wanted to do that (improve). People are saying, “Oh, you have changed as a wicketkeeper, you have improved a lot in the past two years.” That is what I wanted to hear. I was working hard on this for the past two to three years, but it takes time to change people’s perception in India. That was one of my main goals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Any difference in your batting?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am in a happy zone with my batting. I am not thinking too much about what I have done or what I will do. I am just trusting my process and following the path I have laid by myself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In the past year, you have scored your slowest and fastest Test fifties. What was the journey between the two and how challenging was it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It was obviously very challenging. That was a low phase in my life. You feel good when you come from hard times and play like that (series in England where he scored 50 off 101). But, at the same time, I do not think of either [fifties] too much. I just play on the merit of the ball. [However,] I did find that I could control my instincts better (laughs).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You lost your coach Tarak Sinha last November. How have you coped?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I was devastated. It was [the same feeling I had] when I lost my father. From a cricketing point of view, I would always go to him (Sinha) for feedback; we were in constant touch while I was playing for India. We would talk regularly, and not always [about] coaching. He was like family—he took care of me like a father. It was a special thing for me. I will really miss him throughout my life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People say it might get better over time, but this is about family. His going away cannot change, but perhaps I can focus on what I can do for his family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The kind of work he has done in 40 to 50 years of coaching is phenomenal. I doubt there would be anyone like him in the world. I thank him for teaching me and taking care of me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Any particular knock you thought he would have been happy to see?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Not any particular innings, no. I do not say it, but I dedicate every innings to my father and Tarak sir. These two guys have been close to me in this cricketing journey. Whatever I am in life today, the credit goes to them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You are leading the Delhi Capitals at a young age. So much goes into leading; you have to focus on things beyond your own game. Are you ready for that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ As I said before, I focus on my process. When you do [that], you do not feel pressure. You change your thought process into a positive one rather than doubting yourself. I like being in this position [where] my team can trust me. They have made me captain, and I have to pay back that trust. Hopefully, we can turn things around and win the IPL.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ As DC captain, what have you been telling [spinner] Kuldeep Yadav? He has had a tough time being out of form and out of the national team.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I just tell him to follow his heart. Most of the time, you have done all the hard work, but it is just a mind thing. So many factors are involved in cricket—how your day is going, what your thought process is, are you in two minds.... I tell him to make his plan and focus on that instead of focusing on many things at a time. That is something that has really helped me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Backing [a player] helps but, at the same time, it is a personal choice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ DC has come close but has never won the trophy. How much more difficult has it become?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It has obviously become more challenging, but we are all trying to give our 200 per cent every day to win the trophy. Some things are not under our control, but we can give our best.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your relationship with [former captain] M.S. Dhoni like?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Mahi bhai is like family. Our relationship is very good. I have learnt a lot of things from him in my cricketing journey. He always says [that I should] focus on processes and the controllables. That has really helped me. You take out the extra things from your mind. His family, too, is great. Sakshi bhabhi, [daughter] Ziva, uncle, aunty; they are such a loving family. I love spending time with him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So what do you discuss with him? Do you like cars and bikes like him or is it all about cricket?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Right now I do not have time to focus on anything other than cricket (laughs). Maybe 10 to 12 years down the line.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Who all helped you in your journey, especially when you lost your place in the ODI team and were not the first-choice keeper in home Tests?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It was a hard time and I shut out everyone. It was difficult for me to go to many people. I only believed in myself; I wanted to prove myself to the world. I did not want to think negative thoughts. I was waiting for my chance. I was talking to Rohit [Sharma] bhai and Mahi bhai a little bit. But mostly I kept believing in myself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You spoke about Rohit Sharma. You have also played Under-19 cricket under Rahul Dravid’s coaching. What assurances have they given you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ As a cricketer you can cement your place in the side if you perform. But, at the same time, the captain and the coach help you improve your thought process, help you improve as a player. I had these small talks with Rahul bhai and Rohit bhai—they told me what they wanted me to do for the Indian team. I want to learn and improve every day. You have to keep working hard every day if you want to improve—that is the mantra I follow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You got Covid-19 in England last year. How tough was the isolation and time away from the team?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It was difficult, obviously, but I was lucky. The place I was quarantining in was big enough and had a garden. It was my uncle’s place. I watched TV, Netflix; the trainer told me not to train. It was difficult because there was nothing to do. [All I could do was] watch movies all day or lie around. [It is tough,] especially when you are used to moving all the time. But I had no option.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You were Rohit Sharma’s deputy for a series recently. Do you enjoy the responsibility?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I enjoy that part as a wicketkeeper. You tend to move fielders here and there, and you read the game standing behind the stumps. You realise how the wicket is behaving and see the reaction of the batter. I try to read that and convey it to Rohit bhai. He said I could help him set the field. I was doing my part as a keeper to help my captain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have also started reading.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ (Nods) It is mostly general knowledge stuff from Google and positive thoughts. I just want to keep myself in a positive frame of mind. I do not want to get distracted. I recently saw the movie 83. It was interesting when Kapil [Dev] paaji was batting; all had lost hope but he stood tall and believed he could win the game for his team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Rohit Sharma recently said you can change a game in 40 minutes. But also that he wants you to play according to the situation. How do you balance the two?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I have not thought too much [about that]. I play according to the ball. You mentioned the slowest and fastest 50. What I am able to do now I maybe should have done five years ago—it is all about experience. That is the difference between a youngster and an established player.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have been in the bio-bubble for so long. How difficult has it been for you and your family?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In the past two years, I have been home for seven or eight days only. It takes a toll on your mental health. In cricket you need to switch off, too. You do not get that inside a bubble.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you switch off from cricket?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Netflix, table tennis, snooker and PlayStation. But you cannot do that every day. There are times when all you want is to sit with family or friends and talk to them. At the same time, I am thankful I am playing cricket. When we resumed cricket [a few months into the pandemic], it was like a new journey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you feel you have achieved the targets for the season?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is always room for improvement. At the same time, in life, there are big and small goals. I have not achieved the big one yet, but I have ticked quite a few boxes along the way. Till the big one is ticked, I will not tell you.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In white-ball cricket, especially ODIs, the century is elusive. Does it bother you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Personal goals are important, but I do not focus on landmarks. I am fine scoring 97. I just want to give my 200 per cent. If I think too much about landmarks, then I will not be able to perform in the next match. I just want to [do] whatever the team management wants me to do. If I can win matches for India, that is the biggest kick for me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your main goal?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In the IPL, we [will focus on] one match at a time, focus on making the playoffs, then take it forward. [We want to] keep the environment good for players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For team India, this year is the WT20 (T20 World Cup). The goal is to win it.</p> Sun Apr 03 11:30:50 IST 2022 sri-lanka-on-the-brink-of-bankruptcy-after-worst-economic-crisis-in-history <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The city of Colombo is famous for its pristine beaches, clean streets, heritage buildings, delicious cuisine and zestful people. Leaving behind the bitter memories of the decades-long civil war which ended in 2009, and the 2019 Easter bombings, the Sri Lankan capital and the rest of the country have been returning gradually to normalcy. Yet, all the progress the country has made in that journey seems to be going up in smoke as it faces a grave economic crisis, leaving it on the verge of bankruptcy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Matters have taken a turn for the worse since January, with food and fuel prices going out of control, and now, crippling shortages. With its foreign exchange reserves nearly depleted, the island nation of 2.2 crore people is unable to import even basic necessities like rice, milk and kerosene.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, praised as “Terminator” by his supporters for putting an end to the civil war, said his country would work with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to tackle the crisis. He put the blame for the downturn on previous governments. “When those who contributed to the crisis are criticising the government, I am trying to resolve it and provide relief to the people,” said Gotabaya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the president’s explanation has not gone down well with the people. Anger, frustration and desperation to grab whatever food and fuel is available is a common sight in the streets of Colombo. Armed forces have been deployed to oversee fuel distribution in many places.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The incumbent government headed by Gotabaya and his elder brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, made a series of policy errors that aggravated the crisis, which has been in the making for a while. “The origins of the crisis go back to the trade liberalisation in 1977,” said K. Don Vimanga, policy analyst at Advocata Institute, a think-tank in Colombo. “The major problem is macroeconomic instability, tax cuts and large budget deficits financed by printing more money. Subsequent debt downgrades shut Sri Lanka out of the capital markets. The country could not refinance maturing debts or finance the current account deficit that was growing rapidly due to fiscal expansion. They then tried to fix the exchange rate and control imports, which have led to the shortages.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After taking over as president, Gotabaya imposed import controls and implemented an ill-advised tax cut that devastated the already fragile economy. He banned the import of luxury vehicles, chemical fertilisers and spices like turmeric to prevent foreign currency outflows. Import ban on motor vehicles came into effect in March 2020. Before the ban, Sri Lanka was spending around $400 million annually on fertiliser imports. Vehicle imports were worth $1.5 billion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government thought the ban would protect foreign exchange reserves, encourage domestic production and even boost exports. But the ban failed to meet those objectives, and only resulted in further depletion of forex reserves. The situation got so dire by mid-January that Sri Lanka had to sell its gold reserves and make use of its currency-swap agreements with India and China to repay a $500 million international sovereign bond (ISB) that was due for settlement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For a country like Sri Lanka, which has traditionally depended on large-scale imports for most essential supplies, the sudden reversal of policy led to unprecedented problems. It crippled the manufacturing industries sector, especially apparels. The Sri Lankan apparel industry imports even buttons. “When imports are stopped, how can we ensure quality in exports? Sri Lanka depends on imports for raw materials,” said Kopalapillai Amirthalingam, professor of economics at the University of Colombo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sri Lanka had already lost much of its crucial income from tourism because of the pandemic, and the import ban and tax cuts further hurt the revenue flow. Since 2020, inflation has surged, foreign reserves have fallen by 70 per cent and the outright ban on chemical fertilisers has crippled the farming industry. The Sri Lankan Central Bank’s short-sighted monetary policy and the interest rate cap on bonds have added to the crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts also point towards a lack of discipline in handling imports. In 2021, Sri Lanka spent $6 billion importing non-essential items like cheese, butter, vegetables, fruits, ice-creams, chocolates and sauces. Mobile phone imports cost $386 million. “The primary challenge facing the country is the dollar crisis. When we earn $100, we have to pay off $115 as debt,” said Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera at a news conference. “Our dollar receipts are not enough even to repay our debts.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With a $6 billion trade deficit and massive debt incurred from foreign loans, sovereign bonds and large-scale infrastructure projects, repayment is a major challenge. “We have been spending beyond our means for years,” said Ahilan Kadirgamar, political economist and senior lecturer at the University of Jaffna.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fertiliser ban, too, turned out to be a fiasco. When Gotabaya announced the decision to transform the country’s agriculture sector into completely organic, he was hoping to save the import costs and also to protect the environment. But agricultural experts and economists had warned about food scarcity. “The ban led to a reduction in yield, which went down by 25 per cent,” said Saman Dharmakeerthi, professor of soil fertility and plant nutrition at the University of Peradeniya in Kandy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Paddy cultivation went down drastically in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Tea cultivation, which is one of the mainstays of the economy, was also badly hit. The output of pepper, cinnamon and vegetables went down by 30 per cent. “Organic agriculture, being low-yielding, is land intensive. The crops may be resilient, but they cannot feed a growing population when cultivable land is shrinking,” said Dharmakeerthi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the government realised its folly and lifted the ban, the agriculture industry had lost nearly 50 per cent of its production capacity. So, the government had to rely even more on foreign countries for rice and other staples. Sri Lanka signed an agreement last year with Myanmar for importing one lakh tonnes of white rice and 50,000 tonnes of parboiled rice. It is also importing rice from India. China, meanwhile, donated a million tonnes of rice in January.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gotabaya’s decision to cut down taxes, too, has severely dented Sri Lanka’s economic prospects. The move caused revenues to fall to a historical low of 9 per cent of the GDP. “The fall is one of the major reasons why the government is not being able to provide relief to the people during this devastating crisis. It is difficult to burden the public with indirect taxes, and for that matter even direct income tax, at a time the economy is shrinking,” said Kadirgamar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tax cuts reduced the number of registered taxpayers in the country by 35 per cent, leading to credit rating downgrades. “With this, the cost of living has gone up,” he said. “Gotabaya’s tax relief package derailed our financial situation, leading to debt repayment at a huge social cost,” said Patali Champika Ranawaka, member of parliament and leader of the new political movement, 43 Brigade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The inflation climbed to 15.1 per cent in February, up from the 13-year-high of 14.2 per cent in December. The government, meanwhile, was forced to withdraw the special Goods and Services Tax (GST), which was aimed at simplifying the existing tax structure after the supreme court ordered it to conduct a referendum and get the law passed by the parliament with a two-thirds majority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sri Lanka is also devastated by the collapse of its tourism industry, which contributes nearly 10 per cent of the GDP and is a significant source of foreign exchange. The pandemic caused tourism revenues to fall from $7.5 billion in 2019 to $2.8 billion last year. Just as the sector was limping back to normalcy, the Russia-Ukraine war has come as a major setback. A significant portion of foreign tourists who visit Sri Lanka are from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The war in Ukraine poses other challenges as well. Sri Lanka imports 45 per cent of its wheat, more than half of its soybeans, sunflower oil, peas and asbestos from Russia and Ukraine. “The war has resulted in a steep increase of international oil prices. Also, both Russia and Ukraine are major importers of Sri Lankan tea,” said Colonel R. Hariharan, a retired military intelligence specialist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The foreign exchange crisis has become an existential threat. An even bigger problem is the borrowing. We have borrowed to invest unproductively, like the Hambantota port and the Ceylon Electricity Company,” said Amirthalingam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Gotabaya government, meanwhile, remains clueless about how to resolve the crisis. It could not agree on a roadmap to recovery even after two cabinet meetings on the subject. Sri Lanka has now approached India and China for help. During the visit of Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa to Delhi on March 17, India offered a billion dollar line of credit to import food, other essential commodities and medicines. A few days later, China indicated that it was considering a billion dollar loan and a credit line worth $1.5 billion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Colombo has also approached the IMF for help. Yet, there are not too many optimists in the island nation right now. Kadirgamar said Sri Lanka was unlikely to come out of the crisis immediately. “The country needs new policies. In the 1970s, we had a strong public distribution system like in India. We also had the cooperative network and the paddy marketing board. There is an urgent need to revive those institutions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vimanga said borrowing more money without addressing the basic issues would only make matters worse. “Implementing economic reforms is the only way out,” he said. “The type of reforms needed will be very tough and painful, and it is difficult to see how acceptable that will be to politicians. With some stabilisation, Sri Lanka could perhaps get back to where the country was in 2019. Debt restructuring may take 18 to 20 months, while a return to growth will take even more time.”</p> Sun Mar 27 12:21:33 IST 2022 chinese-debt-diplomacy-turns-out-to-be-a-major-concern-in-indo-pacific-region <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>China’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Qi Zhenhong, announced on March 21 that his country was considering a billion dollar loan and a credit line worth $1.5 billion for Colombo to purchase goods from China. There is, however, growing resistance in Sri Lanka against borrowing more from China after the island nation had to cede control of the Hambantota port in 2017, as it fell short of its repayment commitments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ongoing multibillion dollar Colombo Port City project, too, is bankrolled by China. Beijing’s debt-trap diplomacy, which critics say is a ploy to take over strategic assets by providing loans on terms that end up being impossible for countries to repay, is turning out to be a major geopolitical challenge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China is now the world’s largest lender, according to AidData, a research lab at the College of William and Mary, a major public research university in Virginia, United States. It offers more money to the developing world than traditional lenders, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) put together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The funding usually goes to projects under President Xi Jinping’s flagship project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and are concentrated largely in the Indo-Pacific region. Unlike development finance offered by traditional lenders, these are like regular commercial loans. They often come with non-disclosure clauses under which the borrowing country has to keep the terms and sometimes even the existence of the loans a secret. It violates the basic principle that public debt should be transparent so that borrowing governments can be held accountable by taxpayers. According to AidData’s latest figures, Chinese loans to the developing world is about $843 billion, while the hidden debt is $385 billion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As most loans are granted to countries with weak economies which are unlikely to get loans from reputed lending institutions, China is often able to impose favourable terms and high interest rates. And the hidden nature of these loans make them untraceable and immune to proper scrutiny. Often, only Chinese companies are allowed to work on projects funded by these loans and most of the work, excluding casual labour, is done by Chinese citizens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For instance, in both major projects in Sri Lanka—the Hambantota port and the Colombo Port City—the loan agreement specified that the China Harbour Engineering Company would be the construction contractor. The failure to support local economy and the preference for Chinese workers have led to widespread protests in several countries, including Beijing’s “all-weather friend”, Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Pakistani coastal city of Gwadar, where China is building a port and allied infrastructure as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, witnessed multiple protest demonstrations last year as the Chinese started monopolising fishing rights in the region and imposed humiliating security screenings for local people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chinese lenders offer loans at higher rates of interest which are close to commercial rates. For instance, the rate for the Hambantota project was nearly 6.5 per cent, which was about three to four times the rate offered by the IMF and the World Bank for similar projects. Equally stringent are the repayment schedules. Chinese loans often have a repayment window of less than 10 years, while traditional lenders offer up to 30 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Around 40 low and middle-income countries now owe more than 10 per cent of their annual economic output to Chinese lenders. In the case of Djibouti, Laos, Zambia and Kyrgyzstan, the corresponding figure is more than 20 per cent. As the indebtedness grows, it gives China the option to take over the projects and turn them into strategic assets. Most of the Chinese money is invested in infrastructure projects like roads, railways, ports, mines and energy resources.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like the Hambantota and the Gwadar ports, there are many other major projects like the Entebbe airport in Uganda, the Mombasa port in Kenya, a military base in Djibouti and railway projects in Laos and Nepal, which are being financed by Chinese debt. In the days to come, when the Indo-Pacific will be the world’s preeminent theatre of great power politics, debt-diplomacy could give China unmatched leverage in the region and could turn into a strategic nightmare for India.</p> Sun Mar 27 12:18:51 IST 2022 food-and-fuel-shortage-triggers-widespread-protests-in-sri-lanka <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FOR 33-YEAR</b>-old Anandhi from Jaffna, life has been an ordeal for the past two months. She runs the household all by herself. Her husband, Uthayakumar, died of Covid and her parents, who were injured in the civil war, are wheelchair-bound. Her two sons attend online classes whenever possible. But Anandhi’s immediate concern is the food and fuel shortage which has engulfed Sri Lanka. Although she works in a supermarket, she finds it difficult to get essential goods as hardly any supplies reach Jaffna these days. “Sometimes, I don’t get kerosene even after waiting for three hours. Our country is becoming unliveable,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anandhi’s neighbour Apinaya Devanesan can no longer get milk for her three-year-old daughter, despite standing in queue from dawn. For a few days, Anandhi used to bring her milk powder from the supermarket where she works, but Apinaya said she could no longer afford it. The price of milk powder has gone up to LKR (Lankan rupees) 2,000 per kilogram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“For the past nine weeks, the price of milk powder has been going up in the world market. With our falling dollar reserves, we are not able to import from the world market,” said Asoka Bandara, spokesperson for the Milk Powder Importers’ Association.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chicken, which used to be a staple, now costs nearly LKR 6,500 a kilo. “I buy only vegetables these days. But the nonavailability of kerosene and cooking gas is another problem,” said Dilanta Weerasekara, an autorickshaw driver from Colombo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With its foreign exchange reserves almost gone, Sri Lanka is witnessing a crisis which was in the making for more than a decade, because of excess borrowing and increased imports. The country’s trade deficit stands at $6 billion which is 85 per cent more than its exports. “We import everything. Our only export is tea, for which we are dependent on the European market. After the Ukraine-Russia war, our tea exports have come down,” said Lasantha Perera, who runs a retail tea store in Colombo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After facing salary cuts because of the pandemic, people like Weerasekara have been working multiple jobs, and the economic crisis has made things worse. Weerasekara works in a mobile store by day and drives an autorickshaw at night. “My salary is not enough to run the family. I don’t know for how long I will be able to drive the autorickshaw because of the shortage of fuel,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Weerasekara recently went to Sri Lanka’s administrative capital, Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, to take part in a protest against the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government. “It took place on March 6 and 7. I went there both days,” he said. “It will at least show our problems to those who live in luxury bungalows.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 7, people in the capital were seen holding placards saying, “Enough of corruption”, “Gotabaya go home” and “Why have you made us beggars?” Udhitha Deshapriya, a civil engineer, said Sri Lankans had been suffering for a long time. “There has to be a solution. I am here to register my protest,” he said. Rajitha Gunasekara, a banker who lost his job recently, said the incumbent government should go. “Do we actually need a government that makes us live like beggars?” he asked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gunasekara is also upset that his daughter, Chandrika, is unable to write her O-Level exams. “She could not go to school because of the pandemic. Now there are no exams because of paper shortage. The government did not anticipate anything,” he said. Chandrika had to study by candlelight because of the long power cuts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Every day, there will be a power cut for at least six hours. We need to charge our phones, computers and then work,” said Ishini Gamage, who works for an Indian software company in Colombo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Our children are unable to go to school or write their exams. Our babies are not getting milk. Are we going to make our next generation beggars?” asked Rasakumaran, who runs an apparel store in Colombo. He is finding the 7km commute from his home to his shop difficult because of fuel shortage. He has to fill fuel for his vehicle once in three days for LKR 4,000, after spending at least three to four hours in the queue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At Mullaitivu in the Northern Province, the situation is no different. Selvakumaran, who runs a grocery store, has to wait for three days for items to come from Colombo. Rice is now being imported from India, as paddy cultivation has plummeted because of the fertiliser ban. “Our home-grown red rice is not available,” said Selvakumaran, who is worried whether his order from Colombo would be delivered on time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rasarathinam Jothilangam waits in a long queue every week for at least eight hours to buy kerosene, although he has an LPG connection. But it has been a month since he got a cylinder delivered at his home at Wellawatte, in Colombo. “We do not get enough kerosene for cooking food for five people in my family,” said Rasarathinam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The price of petrol was increased by LKR 77 and diesel by LKR 55 by the government-owned Ceylon Petroleum on March 2. “The demand is huge and the supply is short,” said a petrol pump worker in Colombo. Ishini Jayasinghe, who works for a national bank in Colombo, said she had not taken her two-wheeler out for months, fearing long queues. “I walk 8km every day. I cannot wait in the queue to fill petrol and the cost is also not affordable,” said Jayasinghe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former energy minister Udaya Gammanpila said people were suffering because the government deliberately crashed the economy. Gammanpila was dropped from the cabinet last month along with industries minister Wimal Weerawansa after they criticised Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa for his “rigid working style”. Before he was sacked, Gammanpila told the parliament that the problem facing Sri Lanka was not power or fuel shortage but the non-availability of dollars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The crisis has erupted into anger against the ruling Rajapaksa clan. People picketed the president’s secretariat on March 15 and 17. “Winning a war alone is not enough. Rulers must understand the people’s needs,” said Kamanthi Jayasinghe, who was at the secretariat campus during the picketing. “More than building highways and ports, the duty of a government is to feed its people. We want milk for our children.”</p> Sun Mar 27 12:07:09 IST 2022 sri-lanka-could-look-beyond-the-rajapaksas-next-polls <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SOMETIME BETWEEN 2004</b> and 2005, when Mahinda Rajapaksa was the prime minister of Sri Lanka during president Chandrika Kumaratunga’s term, Sinhalese astrologer Sumanadasa Abeygunawardena predicted that the Rajapaksa family would rule the island for the next 50 years. He foretold Mahinda that his brothers would rule after him, followed by his children. But Abeygunawardena failed to predict the economic crisis that has made the Rajapaksa clan unpopular.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Gotabaya Rajapaksa took oath as president in 2019 at an ancient temple built by Sinhalese King Dutugemenu—who is best known for defeating an invading Chola king—the majority Sinhala Buddhists in the country hailed him as the “terminator”. It was believed that the Rajapaksas would again take the country forward, socially and economically. But today, Sri Lanka is facing an economic crisis, perhaps its worst. From a fertiliser ban to falling foreign reserves to bankruptcy, the situation in the country has turned Lankans against the Rajapaksas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Rajapaksa clan has four brothers at its helm—Irrigation Minister Chamal, Prime Minister Mahinda, President Gotabaya and Finance Minister Basil. Mahinda’s son, Namal Rajapaksa, who is sports minister, and other members of the family, too, hold key positions. Despite being the power centre, the Rajapaksas have not been able to rein in the economic crisis. Gotabaya’s recent address to the nation, where he said he was “sensitive to the many sufferings the people have had to experience over the past two months”, failed to calm nerves. Basil’s efforts to seek support from the International Monetary Fund and at getting a $1 billion line of credit from India, too, had little impact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I believed that under Gotabaya we would grow like Singapore,” said Harsha Karunakare, a businessman. “I asked everyone—all my friends and relatives—to vote for him in 2019. This is because he was successful in ending the [civil] war. But now I feel Prabhakaran [chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] should have been alive and there should have been a separate Eelam. If it had been there, we at least could have borrowed money from them to resolve our economic crisis. I have lost hope in Gota.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Karunakare was part of the protest organised by Sajith Premadasa’s Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) on March 15. The crisis has provided fresh ammo to the opposition. A popular slogan during the protest was ‘Gota, go home’. There is palpable anger against Gotabaya. The president is not seen as an inclusive person like Basil; neither is he respected or loved by everyone like Mahinda. Basil is the strategist in the family and, unlike Gotabaya, has his ears to the ground. It is said that the four brothers do not see eye to eye on several policy and political matters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest reason for Gotabaya’s waning popularity over the past year is his authoritarian streak. He is loathed by the Tamils in north and east Sri Lanka over war crimes. The Muslims are wary of him as he is a staunch Sinhala Buddhist. Of late, Gotabaya, sources in Colombo said, has not been consulting Mahinda, who has been unwell, on administration and policy matters. Rather, he relies on a powerful coterie of officers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But people’s anger is not restricted to Gotabaya; Mahinda had to cancel his visit to Nallur Kandasamy temple on March 20 because of protests. With the backlash against the Rajapaksas rising, the prospects of their Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party have been falling. Its parliamentary allies are threatening to break away, demanding that they be consulted on every government move. Gotabaya and Basil, however, have chosen to ignore this demand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And while the opposition is clamouring for Gotabaya’s resignation, with no elections round the corner, a parliamentary vote would mean a Rajapaksa would get the president’s chair, as the SLPP has majority, and not someone from the opposition like Premadasa or Patali Champika Ranawaka, who was with the SJB and now heads the 43 Brigade, or Anura Kumara Dissanayaka of the Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among the Rajapaksas, Namal is a probable candidate for president, but his father, SLPP sources said, wants him to follow in his footsteps and rise to power by first being in the opposition. So, the only option left in the family is Basil. “Basil has presidential aspirations, but he may not be elected immediately, given the fact that the cabinet cannot be dissolved within two and a half years after election,” said former MP P. Shivajilingam, who was in Chennai to express the distress of the Tamil community in the wake of the economic crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources said that India, aware of Basil’s aspirations, has been nurturing ties with him. Basil too, has been closer to the ruling dispensation in India than his two elder brothers. “Basil has been visiting India and meeting leaders there only for the people of our country, only to get financial help and loans to save the country from the crisis,” said sources close to the Rajapaksa clan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But with the Rajapaksas growing unpopular, new alternatives are emerging in Sri Lankan politics. While Premadasa, who contested against Gotabaya in 2019, is popular among both the Sinhala majority and the Tamil minority, he is not looked at as an alternative to the Rajapaksas by the Sinhalese. But there are other leaders, too, like Ranawaka, who, in the past two years, has cultivated the image of an intellectual and a committed politician. He launched 43 Brigade in 2021. Structured on the theme of ‘not a number, but a generation’, the 43 Brigade is a political movement inspired by the Kannangara revolution of 1943 that introduced the free education policy in Sri Lanka. The 43 Brigade recently released a document that resembled an election manifesto, offering solutions to the crisis and implying that he could replace the Rajapaksas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another leader who has made a mark is Dissanayaka of the JJB. A charismatic leader, Dissanayaka is seen as someone who can rally the youth in the country. But JJB’s principal partner, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, has a violent history, having led two unsuccessful insurrections in the 1970s and 1980s. So while the youth may support the JJB, the older generation may not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fourth in the race is Karu Jayasuriya of the National Movement for Social Justice. Jayasuriya is looked at as a person who will deliver on his promises and could muster the support of the opposition forces to fight the SLPP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A name that has surprised many is that of former chief justice Shirani Bandaranayake, who was impeached by parliament on corruption charges and removed from office by the Rajapaksas in 2013.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Will any one of these leaders manage to topple the Rajapaksas? Or, will Abeygunawardena’s prophecy hold true in the long run?</p> Sun Mar 27 12:05:24 IST 2022 we-are-committed-to-honour-all-debt-obligations <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ What do you have to say about the economic crisis in Sri Lanka?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently, the economic activity in the country is severely affected by recent adverse developments in the global front, in terms of disruptions to supply chains and surging commodity prices, as well as in the domestic front, particularly in the form of power interruptions and supply shortages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The current shortage of essential items such as fuel and LPG is mainly stemming from the lack of liquidity in the domestic foreign exchange market in the absence of significant forex inflows. Considering these developments, the Central Bank has announced a comprehensive policy package to counter the economic headwinds the country is facing at present.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Allowing greater flexibility in the exchange rate is one of those measures. Following this initiative, the conversion of foreign exchange earnings through formal channels has already shown an increase. We expect that these concerted efforts will gradually help alleviate the temporary pressures posed by the present economic challenges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the adverse speculation of certain parties and sovereign credit rating downgrades, Sri Lanka was able to maintain its unblemished record of debt servicing—including the settlement of $500 million in international sovereign bonds in January 2022. While also providing liquidity support to finance the essential import bills, we have been able to service the foreign debt in a timely manner thus far. The government and the CBSL are committed to honouring all forthcoming debt obligations as well.</p> <p><b>Q/ Has India extended any help?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The India-Sri Lanka relationship is rooted in shared cultural ties, economic partnerships and diplomatic cooperation. Hence, India has been a long-standing supporter of Sri Lanka in challenging times. Even in 2020, when Sri Lanka was grappling with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, India extended its support by making available the SAARCFINANCE currency swap facility through the Reserve Bank of India. Again in 2022, RBI has provided this swap facility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition, India has agreed to provide a $500 million credit line to finance purchase of petroleum products and a $1 billion credit line to finance essential commodities. These facilities would certainly help enhance the availability of essential supplies and also control supply-driven price pressures while reducing the pressure stemming from import demand for forex.</p> <p><b>Q/ Sri Lanka printed currency worth LKR 1.2 trillion in 2021. Has this helped?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In economics terms, there are two key methods through which the CBSL can print new money (and issue to the economy). On the one hand, when the CBSL grants credit either to licensed commercial banks or to the government, it prints new money, which is technically known as the accumulation of domestic assets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, when the CBSL purchases foreign exchange from the domestic foreign exchange market or from the inflows received to the Government, it prints new money, which is technically known as the accumulation of foreign assets. The total value of these two assets is called reserve money. Reserve money would increase if either one or both of such assets increase, and vice versa. Money printing is usually considered as the increase in the stock of reserve money.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The country’s reserve money has increased only by LKR 341.4 billion in 2021. Currency in circulation, which is another alternative definition of money printing and a component of reserve money, increased by around LKR 170.3 billion, in order to fulfil the increasing demand for currency amid the pandemic and to facilitate increasing transactions in the economy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Increased funding requirements by the government, amidst the pandemic-impacted revenue losses and limited access to international capital markets, compelled the CBSL to provide financial support to the government through the purchase of government securities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As such, on a net basis, CBSL holdings of government securities increased by LKR 691.6 billion in 2021. However, as and when the CBSL sells foreign exchange to the government to settle a foreign currency loan or the CBSL provides foreign exchange to the banking system to ensure uninterrupted imports of essentials, the impact on the monetary base due to the CBSL purchases of government securities is negated and money available in the economy is reduced by the same amount. Accordingly, during 2021, the net foreign assets of the CBSL declined by LKR 912.9 billion, thereby negating the net increase of the CBSL holdings of government securities during 2021.</p> <p><b>Q/ You recently sought help from the IMF.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ A potential IMF engagement is expected to support the balance of payments position of the country and policies promoting greater macroeconomic stability. In the current context, there is a need to secure a sizeable amount of foreign financing in the immediate future. This can be facilitated through an IMF engagement while conducting the necessary policy and structural reforms. Working with the IMF would enhance investor confidence and encourage non-debt-creating inflows. It would also help augment international reserves and put growth on a sustainable path. The formal discussions with the IMF are expected to begin soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did Sri Lanka’s allies, including China and India, delay bilateral credit lines?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ No, not at all. On the contrary, the execution of these bilateral credit lines is progressing very well. India and China had always been trusted bilateral partners and we highly appreciate their continued financial assistance to Sri Lanka not only at difficult episodes but also throughout all these years on our way towards achieving sustainable and inclusive economic growth.</p> Sun Mar 27 12:02:30 IST 2022 how-india-stabilised-its-ties-with-sri-lanka-despite-mr-moneybags-china <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SRI LANKA’S FINANCE</b> Minister Basil Rajapaksa took home a cheque of $1 billion during his March visit to New Delhi, for purchase of essential commodities. This is in addition to aid given a few months earlier to buy fuel, and foreign exchange. India’s total relief package to the island is already at around $2.5 billion. A substantial amount, no doubt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s aid should go a long way in helping Sri Lanka come out of its economic crisis. But India’s is not the only helping hand out there. China, whose investments in the country are deep, also announced a $500 million urgent relief package, and also extended the payment of previous loans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China’s entry into the Indian Ocean over the last decade, and its active wooing of countries that traditionally relied on India for their security needs, has unsettled waters. Way back in 2005, Sri Lanka had, with consent from all political factions, affirmed that it would turn to India for its security needs. However, where development assistance was concerned, it would go anywhere where there was money. In today’s scenario, Mr Moneybags is China. “Sri Lanka has been pretty consistent on this front. However, our interpretations may have changed because of changing perceptions,” said N. Sathiya Moorthy, head of the Observer Research Foundation’s Chennai chapter. “China may only be a development partner, yet there is no assurance that China won’t misuse this situation to India’s strategic discomfort.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s wariness with China’s involvement in Sri Lanka became deeply set when Beijing began pouring money into the island, taking over Hambantota Port when Colombo did not have funds to repay. The new Colombo Port City, being built with Chinese investment, too, has over 60 per cent Chinese stake. India, upping its development aid, has come at a time when Sri Lanka has also realised the drawbacks of Chinese help—the debt trap. “India’s aid, on the other hand, comes without strings attached, and is always nonreciprocal,” explained former diplomat Anil Trigunayat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has also begun working on various aspects of aid, making it encompass a range of areas. While a large focus for India used to be the ethnic Tamil minority, in recent years, the thinking has changed. India keeps alive the Tamil issue in every meet, always urging Sri Lanka to take necessary steps to address the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has helped build homes in Tamil-dominated areas for the returning refugees. It is also reaching out to the majority community, the Sinhalese, tapping cultural, religious and ethnic ties—from helping rebuild Buddhist heritage sites and even reaching into pre-Buddhist links, right from the time of Prince Vijaya, who hailed from mainland India and is said to have established Sinhalese rule on the island after banishment from his home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic gave India the opportunity to not just extend Vaccine Maitri (though Colombo also used China-made vaccines), but also in training the country in pandemic management. Skill development is a large component of India’s outreach to its neighbours. “Bilateral relations now are more even and balanced,” said Moorthy. “Lots of mutual suspicions are gone or are in the process of being removed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sri Lanka’s disillusionment with China-style aid has been of advantage to India in some ways. For instance, last year, Sri Lanka imported a shipload of supposed organic fertiliser from China. The import was important as the country was planning to turn its entire agriculture organic. However, the consignment turned out to be contaminated and was returned. India is reported to have helped Colombo then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But while Sri Lanka has become more aware of India’s strategic concerns, China often steals a march because India does not have its ear to the ground. Last year, Colombo cancelled a wind farm project it had allotted to a Chinese firm after India raised security concerns. The project, by the Asia Development Bank, was clinched by the Chinese firm after a global tender was floated. No Indian company submitted its proposal. “Why then blame Colombo? No Sri Lankan government is pro- or anti-India,” said Moorthy. “Every government is pro its own country.” The Rajapaksa government’s decision to cancel the tender shows how keen Sri Lanka is now to eliminate suspicions from its ties with India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, another Indian Ocean minilateral is quietly developing. The Colombo Security Conclave recently met at Male at the national security adviser level. This grouping, initially between India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, was formed in 2011, but made little progress, with the two island nations not being too forthcoming. Its revival now is significant, as India consolidates its position as the main security provider in the Indian Ocean. Mauritius is a full member; Bangladesh and the Seychelles are observers. These are among the countries that are on China’s radar for developing its ‘String of Pearls’ in the Indian Ocean. Even the language of the ties has changed; they call themselves each other’s “maritime neighbours”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has pumped big money into these nations in recent times. It gave the Maldives $3 billion, after Ibrahim Mohamed Solih came to power, mainly to get rid of the Chinese debt. Bangladesh has received $8 billion in three soft loans, the largest concessional credit given by India to any country, said Finance Minister Piyush Goyal recently. Nepal has got $1.65 billion (infrastructure development), Myanmar around $500 million.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, we cannot wish away China from our neighbourhood in the foreseeable future, and the development needs of these countries are huge. Will they play these sources of help against each other to leverage their own positions? “These countries have become smarter in using the insecurities of India and China to their advantage,” said Trigunayat. “However, they also realise the difference in the quality of aid, and that is where we have an advantage.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India finds itself firmly in Sri Lanka’s development story, or at least in getting it out of its economic crisis. Rebuilding the oil tank farm in Trincomalee is one such deal. These storage tanks are of British vintage. The location of Trincomalee is strategically important for India. Also, the Adani group has clinched a deal to develop the west container terminal of Colombo port.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a certain stability in India’s relationship with Sri Lanka at present. Ties, however, remain works in progress—not too long ago, Colombo scrapped a deal with Japan and India for developing the east container terminal of Colombo port and gave it to China.</p> Sun Mar 27 11:58:31 IST 2022 anti-government-protests-force-colombo-to-seek-indian-investment-in-port-city <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>HUGE CRANES AND</b> dredges roll up and down the south end of Colombo's business district, disturbing the tranquillity of the serene oceanfront. The road leading to the construction site is closed with huge sheets of steel, although a signboard says “Welcome to Port City Colombo”. Sri Lanka’s upcoming shiny metropolis, located right across the president’s secretariat on Galle road, is being built to international standards, modelled on the financial centres in Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A vast expanse of sand reclaimed from the sea is being transformed into a modern metropolis, extending Colombo’s business district. “The Port City is envisioned to position Sri Lanka as a multi-services hub supported by an investor-friendly framework of law,” said Saliya Wickramasuriya, acting director general and member of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Conceived during the second term of president Mahinda Rajapaksa, the project was put on hold during the Maithiripala Sirisena regime. A total of 269 hectares have been reclaimed for the project by the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC). Of this, 179 hectares are earmarked for city development, while the total built up area will be 6.3 million square metres.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A public-private partnership between the Sri Lankan government and the CHEC is executing the project. The CHEC has invested $1.4 billion for land reclamation alone. In return, the Chinese company has been given 43 per cent of the land on a 99-year lease. The CHEC can market their share of land to any investor. “Any piece of land in the Port City can be sold only with the consent of the government,” said Yamuna Jayaratne, the Port City’s director of sales and marketing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It took over 30 months for land reclamation and the project is gaining momentum. Cranes and dredgers supervised by Chinese engineers are seen laying concrete slabs. The Marina, one of the five sections of the project, is half complete and showcases the long arm of Chinese investments in Sri Lanka. The path leading to the Marina has placards detailing the history of China-Sri Lanka relations, with photographs of key events and leaders of both countries. The first exhibit is the photo of the 1952 trade agreement and the last photos show Buddhist monks praying for China to come out of the pandemic, and the visit of President Xi Jinping to Colombo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first phase of the project is expected to be finished in the next five years, while the entire project will take a couple of decades more. “We are estimating to complete the project by 2045,” said Yamuna. The project, she said, was estimated to add 1.29 lakh direct jobs and would attract foreign direct investment worth $8.7 billion in real estate development. About 80,000 people are expected to live in the Port City, which will offer tax holidays for those who invest and do business there. All transactions in the special economic zone, including salaries, will be in US dollars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the project, even before land reclamation began, came under criticism by opposition parties, civil society groups and labour unions. At least 20 petitions were filed against the project in the supreme court, alleging that it violated the country’s sovereignty, the constitution and labour rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Chinese involvement, too, has come under scrutiny. When asked whether the project was a key element of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Wickramasuriya conceded that Sri Lanka was a signatory to the BRI. “But the Port City project was conceived many years before we signed the BRI,” he said. “This is our own project. A Chinese company is building the Port City and it has been given 43 per cent of the total reclaimed land for a 99-year lease. But the land is still owned by the Sri Lankan government.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China’s influence started growing in Sri Lanka after the civil war came to an end in 2009 and Mahinda was elected president for a second term. Colombo wanted Chinese support to rebuild the country after three decades of war. China was more than willing to help, and the Hambantota port project in southern Sri Lanka was one of the key elements of Chinese involvement. But the unfavourable loan terms for the project made it unviable and was a key reason behind Mahinda’s loss to Sirisena in the 2015 presidential elections. The port was handed over to China in 2017 by the Sirisena government, as Sri Lanka could not repay its loans. The bitter experience with Hambantota has made many Sri Lankans wary about the Port City project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“China is building the project. What can I say?,” asked Hamsa Perera, a 34-year-old small-time businessman who took part in an anti-government protest on March 15.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wickramasuriya reiterated that the Port City was Sri Lanka’s sovereign asset. “The entire control of the project is with the Port City Commission, and is governed by a special act,” he said. But Sri Lanka’s external debt now stands at about $45 billion, of which it owes $8 billion to China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The increasing debt and interest payments have pushed the country to the brink of bankruptcy. With protests spiralling out of control, the government and the Port City Commission are trying to bring in more investments into the prestigious project. And one major potential investor, according to the officials, is India, which has high stakes in the Indo-Pacific region. “Indian investors need not fear China. It is our own project and we are looking for investors from across the globe,” said Wickramasuriya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the assurances, India’s concerns still remain, especially because of China’s ‘String of Pearls’ strategy to encircle India. While Sri Lanka continues to seek financial help from India, it is also in negotiations with China to restructure its debt. The Indian strategy, for the time being, is to wait and watch before making any major investment in the Port City project.</p> Sun Mar 27 11:56:14 IST 2022 will-oppose-if-india-throws-lifeline-to-corrupt-rajapaksas-patali-champika-ranawaka <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Sri Lanka is facing an acute economic crisis. What do you think is the reason for this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are facing multiple crises—shortage of essential medical drugs, food items, construction material and, more importantly, energy. Core issues are the financial crisis and scarcity of foreign currency and local Sri Lankan rupee. Net foreign assets owned by the banking sector are in the negative by 5 billion dollars, whereas the rupee deficit in the Central Bank is around LKR 650 billion. We are heading towards sovereign bankruptcy. Core reasons are uncontrolled rupee and dollar deficit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After 2005, we obtained short-term commercial loans—international sovereign bonds, Sri Lankan development bonds and other commercial loans from Exim banks—and invested the money in long-term, low-return mega projects without adhering to feasibility studies. In the meantime, financial costs inflated and stolen money was siphoned off. It was estimated that $19 billion had disappeared from Sri Lanka between 2004 and 2014. Total forex debt was $24 billion in 2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Where do you see Sri Lanka in the next few months?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With or without swap arrangements from friendly countries like India, Sri Lanka is heading towards sovereign bankruptcy. Our main problem is that access to foreign financial market is reduced owing to the derating by rating agencies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sri Lanka is a signatory to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Do you think the Chinese debt contributed to the present crisis?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As far as Sri Lanka’s total debt is concerned, China’s loan component is around 10 per cent. But it is 23 per cent in the foreign loan component. Sri Lanka got loan from China to develop their infrastructure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BRI created two economic centres—Colombo and Hambantota; all expressways are connected to these two economic centres. Sri Lanka has not received 10 per cent of the revenue to repay its loan for these mega projects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you think about president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s handling of the situation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>President Gotabaya’s actions accelerated the financial crisis. His 2019 tax relief package caused derating of our financial status, thereby leading to debt repayment at a huge social cost. So we have no food, no medicine, no fuel or electricity. His mishandling during the early stages of the pandemic aggravated the economic situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Artificial fixing of dollar rate, disrupting free market mechanism, crony capitalists ruling the market, creating black market, suppressing rule of law, militarising public institutions, egoistic approaches to economic problems and 100 per cent organic farming have added fuel to the burning economic woes. He and his government have lost the people’s trust. As per a recent survey, 83 per cent of the population believes the president and his government have deteriorated the economic situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you have to say about India’s line of credit to Sri Lanka?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are scared that we are sandwiched between a global power struggle in the Indian Ocean. What had happened in the 1980s may repeat again. We appreciate the Indian credit line without attaching economic or political strings. But we will oppose if India is going to be the lifeline of the corrupt Rajapaksa family rule in Sri Lanka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why is the opposition not capitalising on the unpopularity of the Rajapaksas?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We must avert the imminent bankruptcy. To do that, we should have a common minimum agenda that can be implemented by the caretaker government in parliament. Otherwise, extreme right-wing and left-wing political movements may emerge and spoil our future.</p> Sun Mar 27 11:51:45 IST 2022 congress-the-grand-old-mess <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As the results of assembly elections in five states flashed on the television and mobile phone screens on March 10, a dark realisation engulfed the minds of most Congress leaders—that in terms of the number of states they rule, their 137-year old party is at par with the new wimpy kid on the block. Yes, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party rule two states each. And next year, both the Congress-ruled Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh will be going to another dreaded round of polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, the party is sharing power in two more states—Maharashtra and Jharkhand—and is an ally of the ruling side in Tamil Nadu. That, however, is no comfort, knowing well how the BJP had upset its precarious applecarts in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh only a year ago thanks to the sheer ineptitude of its own leadership. Even for the Gandhis, the family that has been lording over the party for most of India’s post-independent years—save a brief seven-year spell in the 1990s—it is a never-before moment. For once, little chieftains who used to blame each other at every defeat till a year ago have become emboldened enough to question the first family, its ability to command and control, and take the party anywhere other than downward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was an unmistakable sense of deja vu when Congress president Sonia Gandhi said at the meeting of the party’s highest decision-making body on March 13 that she and her family were ready to step down from their perch. A familiar script played out soon when the members of the Congress Working Committee unanimously rejected the offer. It was almost as if the sequence of events was in a time loop. However, this time around, there was a qualitative change in the stance of the Gandhis. There was no air of confidence that came from knowing that they were above the blame game and their offer to resign would be seen as gracefulness. Also, there was no strong comeback as seen just a few months ago when Sonia sent a stern message to her detractors that she was a “hands-on” president and she would prefer not to be talked to through the media.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Gandhis find themselves in a never-before situation where their stock is at an all-time low and party leaders are openly questioning their ability to lead and amass votes, some even going to the extent of saying that they should make way. The unenviable position that the family is in is comparable only to their party, which has hit the lowest point. The party that once dominated the political landscape of India now finds its footprint drastically reduced as it hurtles from one electoral defeat to another.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The inability of the Congress to retain Punjab, to make any electoral difference with its experimental initiatives in Uttar Pradesh, and to wrest back Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur from the Bharatiya Janata Party has brought the party to a juncture where it stares at the possible embarrassment of going to the Lok Sabha elections in 2024 with no states in its kitty. The downward spiral that the party has been in since 2014 can be gauged from the fact that it was in power in nine states when Narendra Modi first became prime minister. It was pointed out by a leader in the CWC meeting that the party lost 39 out of the 49 elections it contested since 2014. It is left with a small clutch of MPs in the Lok Sabha (56) and its numbers in the Rajya Sabha (34) have been on the decline.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, the Congress has been leaking leaders. According to a report of the Association for Democratic Reforms, 222 electoral candidates left the party to join other parties between 2014 and 2021. During the same period, 177 MPs and MLAs quit the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the centre of the discussion on the Congress’s future are the Gandhis. There has been disquiet in the party about the efficacy of the leadership provided by Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka—their perceived failure as vote catchers, electoral strategists and party managers. While the ‘Group of 23’ leaders have been the most vocal about the leadership vacuum in the party—with some of them like Kapil Sibal and Sandeep Dikshit openly asking for the Gandhis to step aside—even Gandhi loyalists feel that they need to make urgent changes to shake off the sense of hopelessness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the G-23 group of leaders talk about the problems with the style of functioning of the Gandhis, it is seen as an indirect criticism of the manner in which Rahul and Priyanka have been taking decisions. Even in the latest round of elections, the siblings had led the party from the front. Priyanka had played a crucial role in the appointment of Navjot Singh Sidhu as party chief in Punjab, despite resistance from chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and many of the MPs from the state. Sidhu’s unpredictable nature and the constant run-ins he had with his own government are blamed for the party’s loss in the election. Charanjit Singh Channi, Rahul’s pick to replace Amarinder, was projected as a game-changer on account of his dalit identity, but he failed miserably. The changes in Punjab were the clearest manifestation of Sonia stepping back and letting Rahul and Priyanka occupy centre stage. It is felt that the siblings have run roughshod over other leaders in an attempt to assert their authority. There has also been criticism that the advisers of Rahul and Priyanka are not in tune with the Congress culture. They are seen as either apolitical or ideologically left-leaning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Loyalists, though, describe the G-23 as a ragtag grouping of disgruntled leaders who have enjoyed the fruits of power and are right now seeking a place at the high table, unable to come to terms with their powerless present. And as the G-23—now a much-weakened group, as several leaders have moved away—reaches out to others in the party in a bid to increase pressure on the leadership, it is described as lacking the gumption to go the whole hog.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is lazy analysis to pin the blame on the Gandhis,” said family loyalist Akhilesh Pratap Singh. “Did the detractors of the Gandhis do anything to match the courage shown by Priyanka Gandhi in UP? Has Rahul Gandhi not fought the Narendra Modi government more fiercely than his party colleagues and other opposition leaders?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A large section of the Congress disagrees with the extreme view that the Gandhis should step aside. They feel that the family is needed as a glue to keep the party together and because they best represent the party in the eyes of the people and the ordinary party worker. “The people who say that no member of the Gandhi family should lead the Congress party are unable to understand that without them the party will only become weaker,” said senior Congress leader Anil Shastri. “If the Congress is weak, our democracy cannot survive.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Everyone, however, wants a course correction. In a bid to pre-empt questions about actions taken in the states where elections were just held, Sonia had the Congress communications department put out the information that she had sacked the party chiefs in all the five states. That no state president had offered to resign despite the disastrous election results was seen as a sign of the weakening authority of the central leadership. Sonia’s action has given rise to speculation on further changes in the organisation at the central level. She has started consulting leaders on the road ahead and more heads could roll. Critics, however, ask why she stopped at the state unit chiefs and why the AICC in-charges, which include Priyanka, have been spared.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In what feels like a throwback to 1998 when Sonia convened a Chintan Shivir in Pachmarhi, she has called for a brainstorming session immediately after the budget session of Parliament. The expectation is that it will help the party get clarity on its ideology—how does it deal with the dominant hindutva narrative and assuage the concerns of the Muslim community, fine-tune its messaging on economic issues, build a resolve to match the election machinery of the BJP, and firm up alliances.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The poll debacle and the ensuing churn come at a time when the process to elect a new Congress president is already on and scheduled to culminate by September 2022. Rahul was expected to make a comeback as president, and even now, a vast section of the party wants him to. His detractors, however, say that he has been functioning as a de facto chief, making appointments and taking important decisions, even after quitting as party president following the Lok Sabha poll defeat in 2019. It is felt that the conditions that he had laid down for his return as party chief, which included having a free hand in taking decisions and fixing accountability for the electoral debacle in 2019, are not relevant anymore. It is also felt that he has had a free run in decision-making despite not being party chief, and running the party by proxy should now end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Rahul had said that the party should choose a non-Gandhi in his place,” said a leader close to him. “Why did the party leaders not choose a non-Gandhi as the party chief then and instead ask Sonia Gandhi to step in? If the party has certain expectations from him and needs him, he cannot turn away.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The road ahead presents the Congress with an opportunity to redeem itself, but there are challenges galore. The party has to ensure a good show in the elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, which are scheduled for later this year. In late 2023, just months ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, polls will be held in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. All these states present direct contests between the Congress and the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Factionalism was a major factor in the Congress’s defeat in Punjab and Uttarakhand, and a major challenge for the leadership would be to control dissidence in the states that go to the polls next. While various camps owing allegiance to leaders like Shaktisinh Gohil, Bharatsinh Solanki, Arjun Modhwadia and Hardik Patel have complicated the preparation in Gujarat, in Himachal Pradesh, there is a tug of war going on between state party chief Kuldeep Singh Rathore and veteran Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu. In Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where the party is in power, there has been an ongoing demand for a change at the helm.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Rajasthan, the supporters of former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot are demanding that a generational change be effected at the helm immediately so that the new leader gets time to alter people’s perceptions. The state has a habit of voting out the incumbent. “In Punjab, Channi was made chief minister a little late in the day. The change should have happened much earlier. Similarly, in Rajasthan, there is a need for a generational change. And it should happen now when we have time to make the necessary changes,” said Ved Prakash Solanki, legislator and a known Pilot supporter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, in Chhattisgarh, where Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has built the image of a son of the soil and unleashed a slew of populist measures, a sizable chunk of MLAs has been resisting any shift from the status quo. Veteran leader T.S. Singh Deo has demanded a change of guard and wants to be made chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The political situation in Chhattisgarh is very much in favour of the Congress. The BJP is not very active and they do not have a leader to take on Baghel. Also, we have worked to match the election machinery of the BJP,” said Bhilai MLA Devendra Yadav.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, Hardik Patel, who is the party’s working president in Gujarat, indicated that he was not in favour of a chief ministerial face in the state. “We should focus on two or three faces. To focus on just one face is risky. These faces will reach out to different communities and social strata so that no one feels left out,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP, which defeated the Congress in Punjab and is believed to have eaten into the anti-incumbency votes in Goa and Uttarakhand, is being factored in with greater seriousness in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. The AAP has declared that it would intensify its campaign in both states. Besides vying for the same votes as the Congress, it could also prove to be a magnet for Congress leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Beyond the intra-party issues, a big challenge before the Congress is to maintain its pole position in the opposition space. The party’s negotiating power in the opposition space has diminished as a result of its electoral drubbings, and its status as the principal opposition party is being challenged. Outside Parliament, leaders like Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and AAP’s national convener Arvind Kejriwal are expected to position themselves as challengers to Modi. Allies like the Nationalist Congress Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal have shown increasing restiveness to the Congress failing to get its act together. The DMK, too, has not been averse to holding discussions with other proponents of opposition unity such as Mamata and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It will be wrong, though, to write off the Congress. As its leaders have often pointed out, it still has a sizable presence and recall value across the country, has 753 MLAs (second only to the BJP’s 1,443) and enjoys a 20 per cent vote share nationally. “How can Mamata Banerjee say that the Congress is not relevant anymore and cannot be relied upon? It is still the only party after the BJP with a pan-India presence. Does the Trinamool have any substantial presence outside West Bengal?” asked senior Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party, however, desperately needs a leadership that can inspire, an organisation that can connect with the masses and a slogan that captures the imagination of the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Is the grand old party up to the task?</p> Sun Mar 20 11:14:00 IST 2022 channi-turned-out-to-be-neither-poor-nor-honest <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q. Could the party have won Punjab?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In hindsight, you are always wiser. But yes, the transformation that was sought to be brought about in Punjab could have been handled better. Changing the chief minister so close to the elections was in itself problematic. And the seriousness with which it should have been handled was missing. There was no succession plan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Why do you think changing the CM close to elections was problematic?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under Capt Amarinder Singh, the party had won all elections in the state since 2017. Yes, it was felt that certain issues were not addressed. The sentiment on the ground was for a change. People did not want the status quo to continue. Therein lay an opportunity for the party. Had Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi met the captain one-on-one and conveyed the concerns of the MLAs to him, he would not have ignored the issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. But the party says Amarinder Singh’s credibility had taken a hit.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If there was a perception that he was hand-in-glove with the Badals and that there was corruption in the government, the leadership could have handled the situation with greater finesse and come up with a succession plan. The solution was not to impose Charanjit Channi upon everyone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Why do you say Channi was an imposition from the top?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After Capt Amarinder Singh resigned, representatives of the high command called up each and every MLA to ask who they think should be the chief minister. Forty-two MLAs voted for me. Navjot Sidhu got six votes, and Channi got only two. The lady sitting in Delhi (Ambika Soni) said a Hindu cannot be the chief minister, and eventually Harish Rawat announced Channi’s name. What did the party gain from this? It only made adversaries out of both Hindus and Sikhs. The high command went wrong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. So the change of guard did not work for the party?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a wrong assessment that the sentiment for change was against traditional parties. They wanted the tradition to be changed. We should have provided them with that change by putting forth an honest face. It would have been a brilliant idea to show the Maharaja the door and bring in a dalit who empathised with the downtrodden. But the bubble around Channi burst when the Enforcement Directorate raided his nephew. That Rs10 crore was seized cannot be denied.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The medicine turned out to be worse than the disease and the entire narrative of an ‘Aam Aadmi CM’ collapsed. Channi turned out to be a cheaper version of the same old system. At least, Capt Amarinder Singh had charm and an aura around him. Channi turned out to be neither poor nor honest. In the end, he was only dalit and that is no criterion in itself to be a leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Did you voice your concerns to the party leadership?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I had met Rahul ji five days after Channi took charge. He asked me to join the Channi government. I told him I cannot work with Channi and assured him I was with the party. While other leaders may have had differences with Capt Amarinder Singh, nobody questioned his leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Channi was such a great asset, why was he not invited to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting? Why was he not asked to campaign in Uttar Pradesh, where the Bahujan Samaj Party is dormant?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Should the state Congress leadership be changed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sidhu cannot take people along. You need a leader who inspires confidence in everyone and can take them along. Also, the timing of Capt Amarinder Singh’s removal was so wrong. Harish Rawat was put in charge of Punjab in September 2019, and Rahul Gandhi had taken out a tractor yatra in Punjab in October 2020. Had the chief minister been changed then, there would have been plenty of time for the change to be accepted by the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. The decisions were all taken by the high command. So is it at fault?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They can be held accountable for at least as much as having reposed their trust in people like Harish Rawat and the Punjabi lady in Delhi. They should have discussed issues with the state president and with Amarinder Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Are you satisfied with the CWC's deliberations on the poll debacle?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I cannot comment on the CWC meeting as I was not a part of it. But I could not help but react to the praise showered upon Channi. How can that joker be eulogised?</p> Sun Mar 20 11:11:29 IST 2022 gujarat-congress-is-in-no-shape-to-take-on-the-might-of-the-bjp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>At a brainstorming session of the Gujarat Congress in Dwarka a month ago, Rahul Gandhi reminded his partymen about the fight they put up in the assembly elections five years ago. The Congress made the BJP huff and puff in the home state of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah and restricted it to 99 seats. It was the first time since 1990 that the BJP failed to cross 100 seats in the 182-seat assembly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress benefitted from anti-incumbency and the Patidar agitation then, but things are a bit different this time around. The results of the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur seem to have reinvigorated the BJP, as Modi received a hero’s welcome at the roadshows in Ahmedabad after the party’s impressive show. His undiminished appeal means the party has won half the battle. It will also benefit from the presence of the Aam Aadmi Party and Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM that would divide the non-BJP votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Modi remains the BJP’s Plan A, B and C in Gujarat, the Congress does not even have a plan. In the past five years, the Congress lost 12 of its MLAs to the BJP. The party is yet to figure out if Hardik Patel, who led the agitation demanding reservations for the Patels in the OBC category and later joined the Congress, is an asset or liability. Patel is working president of Gujarat Congress and many leaders are not happy about the prominence he is getting in the party. Jagdish Thakor, who was appointed state party president a few months ago, is also a lightweight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress is still banking on the tribal votes, but that alone will not take it anywhere near victory. The OBC votes are split and Patels mostly vote for the BJP. The party is trying hard to rope in Naresh Patel, a popular Patidar leader from Saurashtra and head of the Shree Khodaldham Trust of Leuva Patels. The AAP also is also talking to him. There is speculation that if Naresh Patel joins the Congress, some former leaders who had quit the party might return.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manish Doshi, the spokesperson for the state Congress, said the challenge was to reorganise, and address the issues that concern people and go to the masses with an agitation. He alleged that the AAP and the AIMIM were the B teams of the BJP put in place to divide the opposition vote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a huge gap in the party machinery of the BJP and the Congress. While the BJP is always in election mode with systems in place, the Congress often struggles to manage things at the booth level.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That Gujarat is a matter of pride for Modi and Shah will make things even more difficult for the Congress. The BJP is said to be eyeing the record 149 seats won by the Congress under Madhav Singh Solanki in 1985. It might or might not achieve it, but the Congress is in no position to stop it.</p> Sun Mar 20 11:04:41 IST 2022 we-will-do-better-than-2017 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q. Why do you think the Congress is well-placed in the coming assembly elections in Gujarat?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It will be wrong to extrapolate the results of elections in other states to Gujarat. Every state has a different set of issues. Our main effort will be to first understand the ground situation in Gujarat, and based on that design our campaign and our manifesto and also decide our candidates. We will do better than the previous election in which we came close to defeating the BJP. We got 77 seats in 2017. This time, we aim to get more than 92 seats and form the next government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. So you are quite confident about the Congress’s prospects in Gujarat.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation in the state does favour us. Last time, only one community was upset with the government. Now, every section of the society is angry with them. However, there could be an attempt by the ruling side to bring in another party to try and cut our votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Factionalism is said to be the undoing of the Congress in Punjab. It is there in the Gujarat Congress, too.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We should focus on two or three faces. To focus on just one face is risky. These faces will reach out to different communities and social strata so that no one feels left out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Should candidates not be decided well in advance?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a BJP-ruled state, if we show our cards early by announcing our candidates in advance, the establishment then begins to harass them by getting them trapped in cases or threatening them, or tries to lure them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How big a challenge is the AAP in Gujarat?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One needs to ask a very important question about the AAP: how did it win Punjab and fail to win a single seat in Uttarakhand? And in Goa, it only helped in the Congress’s defeat. It could not defeat the BJP in Goa. There is a big conspiracy behind this. I do not want to elaborate on that, because it will be part of our poll strategy. We will find ways to ensure our voters do not get misled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Critics of the party say that there is a leadership crisis in the Congress.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The central leadership cannot be blamed for everything that goes wrong. They are supposed to entrust the state units with tasks and give them the freedom to carry these out. The state leadership has to fulfil the mandate and achieve results. If the state leadership fails, how can Priyanka ji or Rahul ji be held responsible for that?</p> Sun Mar 20 11:03:36 IST 2022 maharashtra-congress-rout-causes-imbalance-of-power <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On March 10, as the results of the assembly polls in five states poured in, legislators of the Nationalist Congress Party were attending the budget session of the Maharashtra legislature. They were shocked to see the scale of the Congress’s wipeout in Punjab and its poor show in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NCP has been the Congress’s oldest ally in national politics, but both the parties compete with each other to increase their reach and influence in Maharashtra. Responding to his ally’s rout, NCP chief Sharad Pawar said the Congress should not give up hope. The party had seen its worst defeat in 1977, he said, and bounced back in 1980 to come to power at the Centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“No defeat is permanent,” said Pawar. “The Congress leadership and cadre should introspect where its efforts fell short, where alliances should have been stitched in time, and how the organisation should be strengthened henceforth to take on the BJP.” The Congress’s lack of will to fight was shocking, said a senior NCP MP. “Now is the time for Rahul and Priyanka to hit the streets, tour all corners of the country, galvanise party cadres into action, and prepare to take on the BJP ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls,” said the MP. “Had I been with the Congress, I would have asked Rahul to go to Kanyakumari, seek blessings at the Swami Vivekananda memorial, and start a Bharat Yatra covering all Lok Sabha constituencies. Half of India is still not ruled by the BJP. Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Rajasthan are not ruled by the BJP. It is time to think about bringing leaders from these state together on a common platform, and prepare a common minimum programme well ahead of 2024.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Citing the example of Goa, another NCP MP said the Congress should have allied with parties like the NCP and the Trinamool Congress to oust the BJP. The Congress, said the MP, could have come to power in Goa but for its inability to form alliances and prevent the division of opposition votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A section of NCP leaders in Maharashtra, however, wants to exploit the opportunity provided by the Congress’s rout. They feel that the Congress’s loss can be the NCP’s gain. A young NCP leader pointed out how the Congress fought the local body polls alone and came fourth in terms of the number of seats won.</p> <p>“Had they had some realisation of ground realities, they would have said, ‘Let's form a statewide alliance like the Maha Vikas Aghadi (the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress coalition that rules the state), and fight the BJP in local bodies.’ If you look at the outcome, you would see that the NCP is the number one party [in Maharashtra], followed by the BJP, the Shiv Sena and, lastly, the Congress,” said the NCP leader. “In our region, the Sena is so strong that our leadership has told us clearly that we have to play a supportive role. When we asked about the Congress, the leadership said that the Congress is not a force to reckon with in any way.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, said the leader, since the NCP is not strong in Mumbai, it would have to join hands with either the Sena or the Congress in the run-up to the municipal corporation elections due next month. “If the Congress gives up its foolish stand of contesting the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections on its own, our alliance would sweep the polls and the BJP would be in the minority,” said the leader. “So we hope that better sense prevails in the Congress.”</p> Sun Mar 20 11:01:24 IST 2022 the-congress-party-needs-a-reincarnation <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It would be presumptuous to write a death certificate for a party that has existed for more than a hundred years. There are other examples in the world of political parties that have governed or ruled for decades, and then went through phases of deep decline. But then, they have successfully re-emerged. You may find examples in Japan, Mexico and Italy; to a certain extent, the Labour Party in the United Kingdom as well. But all these parties have succeeded in reinventing themselves. They went through a change of leadership and electoral platform. They have redefined their identity and ideologies. In many ways, these parties are almost unrecognisable to their previous incarnations before their decline.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not up to me to say what the Congress leadership should do, whether it should go or not. It is not my concern as a scholar. The only observation I can make is that it is tough for old political parties on the decline to reinvent themselves with the same people at the top. That is what many examples across the world tell us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress party remains the second national party in India by virtue of retaining support from a large number of people. You still have several states where there is no opposition other than the Congress. Most of these states are largely in the Hindi belt. You still have many states where the Congress remains the direct contender for the BJP, and it is unclear as to which other regional parties—including the Aam Aadmi Party—might come to these states. It will be challenging for any party seeking to replace the Congress in these states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In many states, the Congress is the lone force against the BJP. It can eventually sign up with a coalition of opposition parties, but none of them is in a position to come and help Congress in these bipolar states. Besides, such a coalition of opposition parties should find a way to capture the imagination of voters. They have to stand for something that is distinct from their opponents—something that can mobilise voters across groups, castes and genders. They cannot be just an aggregation of forces [and win the elections].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The emergence of women voters as a distinct category is a recent phenomenon. Political parties have become aware that women’s participation has increased all across India after the 2009 [Bihar assembly elections]. So, there is a massive phenomenon in India of women participating more [in the electoral process]. Political parties have integrated that fact and therefore are appealing to women as voters, by themselves, and not just as an extension of their households. This was reflected in manifestos, in policies, and the articulation of welfare policies with women beneficiaries in recent elections. If you look at parties that have campaigned on welfare schemes, they tend to have received more support from women than men.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP in Delhi, the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar, J. Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu for some time, and, of course, Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. All these leaders have made direct appeals to women voters and have enacted pro-women policies—which is also a way for these parties to show that they are appealing across castes and communities. This transformation of women’s participation has brought many positive changes in Indian politics. Now there is more concern from parties to be gender-conscious. That itself is a positive development. But it is not necessarily translating into political empowerment—in terms of the inclusion of women candidates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some of these parties, which have the most imaginative pro-woman politics, have the worst records when it comes to the inclusion of women in their parties. It is only parties like the Trinamool Congress and the Biju Janata Dal who have made significant efforts in terms of women candidates. Of course, the Congress tried to do that in Uttar Pradesh, in the name of creating a new space for women in formal politics. But the problem is that the Congress party did not have much else to offer the voters. To win elections, you need more than one good idea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While I think most would see the Congress move to include women as a good decision, this is not susceptible to generate a lot of support per se, when the Congress does not offer anything on any of the other factors that matter when you contest elections—organisations, resources and credibility. What Congress has done is to use a full-scale election as a pilot programme to experiment with gender equity, but it shows that if you focus on that at the exclusion of other aspects of electioneering, it does not work. The Congress cut its vote-share by more than half in these elections. It was a terrible performance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, of course, the Congress can always claim legacy by saying that it appointed the first woman chief minister in Uttar Pradesh, which is true—Sucheta Kripalani. But she was appointed because she was the wife of J.B. Kripalani. It was also an appointment from the top. UP chief ministers at that time were appointed from Delhi. She did not hail from UP; she hailed from Ambala in Punjab. When Kripalani was chief minister of UP, there was still a voting gap of 10-15 per cent between men and women. So combined with the fact that we do not have data on how women voted at that time, it is hard to say that the presence of a woman chief minister in UP had any effect on the women electorate per se. We just do not have the data to show that. There are reasons to be a bit doubtful about it. Also, she did not have a long career as chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In recent elections, we have seen the Congress being eroded more and more, both by the BJP and by other parties. I anticipate that unless it manages to jolt its organisation, it will continue to lose its leaders and MLAs—who would find they have little incentive to stay with the party. That process has already started.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>As told to Mandira Nayar </b></p> <p><b>Verniers is an assistant professor of political science and co-director, Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University.</b></p> Tue Mar 22 16:29:41 IST 2022 assembly-elections-bjp-aap-ride-on-delivered-promises-and-effective-communication <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Narendra Modi draws his legitimacy from electoral mandates. The devastating pandemic, lockdown-induced migration, job losses and inflation, among other setbacks, were all forgotten as he worked his magic on the voters in the latest round of state elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In terms of scale, the BJP now rules over 40 per cent of India’s geographical area, down from 70 per cent in 2018, but the impact of this latest victory is the biggest since the election that returned the prime minister to power in 2019. It is a sobering lesson for the losers, and a bigger challenge for the contenders, if any, to his throne in 2024. Politics in the Modi era is a 24x7 phenomenon; it is not to be practised just before elections, as the opposition found out in Uttar Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The March 10 verdict marks a big shift in the country’s polity. It is a signal that sharp politics and messaging work, if done around the clock. The Uttar Pradesh result marks the rise of a new, muscular politics and the addition of another leader to the firmament. Two decades ago, Narendra Modi—having been picked as Gujarat chief minister by the BJP’s central leadership in 2001—led the party to victory in the 2002 state elections. He won the mandate for himself. Now, Yogi Adityanath has done the same. Plucked out of relative obscurity in 2017, he has now proven his electoral strength. If 2002 was the start of the Modi era, this well could be the beginning of Yogi’s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The elections in Uttar Pradesh were about the MY factor. For years, the Samajwadi Party—which increased its tally by around 70 seats and 10 per cent votes—had relied on the MY (Muslim-Yadav) combination. With this result, there is a new MY in town—Modi-Yogi. The BJP became the first party to retain power in the state in 37 years, and Adityanath became the first BJP chief minister to complete a full term.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In five years, the monk in saffron robes tamed the state; he built his reputation as a strong administrator by improving law and order, an issue that found resonance among voters. What also worked for the BJP is its time-tested template of hindutva plus welfarism. The distribution of ration during the pandemic endeared it to the women voters. They are the main beneficiaries of the government’s doles—many of the men migrate for work—and have proven to be a major factor in these elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The return to power in the most populous state makes the road to 2024 easier for Modi and tougher for his opponents. It also makes Adityanath the first among equals when it comes to BJP chief ministers, a group that includes veterans like Shivraj Singh Chouhan. If anything, this win will only increase the clamour to make Adityanath Modi’s successor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It could also propel Adityanath into the powerful parliamentary board. Though his rise would annoy some of the older BJP leaders, they will have to keep quiet as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh could throw its weight behind him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, can Adityanath jump the queue to become Modi’s successor when others like Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Chouhan and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari wait in line? Unlike Shah, Adityanath has little connection with MPs of the party outside his state. Shah has, in the past few years, picked most of the candidates for elections, and they would likely remain loyal to him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP central leadership, in practical terms, has been a duopoly of Modi and Shah. Whether that becomes a trio will depend on how much space Modi and Shah allow Adityanath, who is a lone ranger. Till a few months ago, there were strong rumours that BJP MLAs in Uttar Pradesh were disenchanted with Adityanath.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, Shah, too, played a big role in the Uttar Pradesh victory. He micro-managed the campaign, held more than 60 rallies (more than Modi and BJP president J.P. Nadda), and was the first to fix Adityanath as the face.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The question now is, will the drop of over 50 seats (vote share is intact) from the 2017 tally impact Adityanath’s stature? Modi and Shah could bring in new faces into his cabinet, including former bureaucrat-turned-politician A.K. Sharma, to keep a tab on the administration. Shah has, in the past, encouraged alternate leaders in several states where the chief ministers were seen as unamenable to the leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Uttar Pradesh aside, the BJP formed its second government (on its own) in the northeast after Assam, in Manipur. It was also re-elected in Uttarakhand, and is just one short of the majority mark in Goa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The BJP is winning as other parties are shrinking,” said BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia. “Earlier, people used to talk about anti-incumbency, now it is about pro-incumbency. The chief ministers’ work has paid off; the poor, women, dalits and the marginalised have been helped. It is a victory of positive politics.”</p> <p>As if on cue, the Election Commission allowed victory processions. Addressing workers in Lucknow, Adityanath said it was a win for nationalism, governance, and law and order. Senior party leaders played Holi amid chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’. A song about bringing to power those who brought Ram has crossed the border and is being played for the Delhi municipal election campaigns.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were three important components of the Adityanath government. One, it moved away from exclusionary caste politics. “When Modi arrived in 2014, he brought in the class factor with a focus on gender, marginal farmers, the poor and the marginalised,” said Dr A.K. Verma, director, Centre for the Study of Society and Politics. “The schemes and financial security worked for them. This movement of polity from caste politics to class politics is helping the BJP.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Does this mean Akhilesh Yadav’s social engineering misfired? He improved the party’s vote share by 10 per cent, but could not translate this into seats. While the BJP had a pantheon of leaders, he was the sole campaigner for the Samajwadi Party. “Yadav is not doing social engineering,” said Verma. “He is experimenting. He started by allying with the Congress, even though his party was founded on the principle of anti-Congressism; he then allied with Mayawati and now with smaller parties. That is why his politics of social engineering is not working.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Yadav was the prime challenger, he was not strong enough to take on the BJP’s machinery, which works 24x7. He only became active around six months before the elections, and was largely invisible during Adityanath’s rule.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, it was an improvement for the Samajwadi Party, as these elections saw Yadav become a more confident leader. The Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tejashwi Yadav, too, had shown some fight in the previous Bihar elections. However, the two young Yadav leaders would have to reorient their politics to stay relevant. As social engineering based on Mandal politics acts as a counter to hindutva, the demands for holding a caste census may intensify.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If conducted, it may throw up new demands for reservation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Talking of caste, another highlight of these elections has been the decimation of Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party. Its vote share dropped to less than 13 per cent, as it won only one seat. Even the Jatavs, who have been Mayawati’s core voters, have started looking elsewhere. Dalits in the country have become more conscious of their rights, but their tallest leader is slipping. The dalit vote, especially those of the non-Jatavs, has shifted to the BJP and the SP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This unravelling of the BSP is yet to benefit new entrants like Chandra Shekhar Azad’s Azad Samaj Party. Moreover, Congress Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi’s loss shows that dalits are moving to those who can win elections and provide them with benefits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The only party that matched the BJP’s level of engagement was the AAP, at least in Punjab. It also focused on discipline, booth management and effective messaging. The rise of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been on par with those of leaders like West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, who have been exploring unity among non-BJP parties. The AAP was kept away from these plans as it only ruled Delhi, and Kejriwal was seen as a political lightweight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given this win, will Kejriwal now leave the management of Delhi to his deputy Manish Sisodia and devote his time to the party’s expansion? He is likely to, as the AAP is now the third party, apart from the BJP and the Congress, to have governments in at least two states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It will also be interesting to see how new Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann navigates his relations with the Centre. The AAP government in Delhi has had a chequered history with the Modi government, and Punjab, which is a border state grappling with drugs and radicalism, would need to be handled sensitively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both Kejriwal and Mann had nuanced their messaging on the farm laws issue to steer clear of controversy. Mann had told THE WEEK in an interview earlier this year: “For Punjab’s security, peace and prosperity, we will seek cooperation; even if we have to bow before anyone or touch anyone’s feet, we will do it. But we will keep Punjab a peaceful state at all costs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the BJP, the focus now shifts to the presidential, vice presidential and Rajya Sabha elections. The BJP may lose some seats in the upper house, and it will need more help from friendly parties to get important legislation passed. Also, the BJP has not made it clear whether President Ram Nath Kovind will get another term. The 2022 mandate, incidentally, has meant that the talk in the opposition camp of putting up a joint candidate—perhaps Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar—is expected to die down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among the opposition parties, this round of elections has hit the Congress the hardest. It lost Punjab, and could lose it further in the Lok Sabha elections. The AAP could grow at its expense and the Congress’s Lok Sabha tally could take another hit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The results in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh also signal a change in north Indian politics, where broad-based parties like the BJP and the AAP are scoring over regional players like the Samajwadi Party and the Akali Dal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now armed with a historic win, the BJP could steamroll any opposition to its ideological agenda. “The common thread in this victory is the trust in the BJP, trust in its policies,” said Modi. “I hope the learned would say that the 2022 results will reflect in 2024.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The larger message of the BJP and AAP victories is that, primarily, it is about delivery of promises combined with effective communication. Only then do factors like nationalism and hindutva come in.</p> Sun Mar 13 13:11:48 IST 2022 yogi-decimates-opposition-cruises-to-victory-in-lucknow <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Some five hours into the counting of votes, a bulldozer was stationed outside the BJP office in Lucknow. The ‘Bulldozer Baba’ jibe that Akhilesh Yadav had made against Yogi Adityanath was turned into a symbol of victory. BJP supporters whose faces were smeared with orange gulal (dry colour) danced to the chants of Jo Ram ko laye hain, hum unko layenge (We will bring in those who have brought Ram). Elsewhere, the song UP ke bachcha bachcha ki farmaish mein Yogi ji (Yogi the choice of all of UP’s children) played.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the Samajwadi Party office, stray supporters milled around. Party president Yadav drove into the office in a car with black tinted windows. There were no waves to party workers. The gates were shut on the media.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sudhir Panwar, an SP leader from Shamli in western Uttar Pradesh, said, “It is the liquidation of the Bahujan Samaj Party which has helped the BJP the most.” However, in the outgoing assembly, there are only two BSP members from western Uttar Pradesh, after defections and expulsions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Panwar’s other explanation is more plausible. He said the SP alliance had failed to attract the non-Jatav vote which is of a sizeable number in the west. “The gap between the landed, socio-economically dominant castes (the Jats) and the dalits is too large to bridge. They are not comfortable being with the SP but are attracted to the BJP because of its direct benefit transfer schemes,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The SP gained more than 10 per cent in vote share compared with the last elections, but in terms of seats, it could not reach a majority. Its vote share showed a greater increase than what the BJP’s did, which makes it easy to presume that the vote share lost by the BSP and (also perhaps) the Congress came to the SP in some measure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But after consecutive losses in Lok Sabha and assembly elections, Yadav now stands at an uncomfortable junction. The narrative that the only time he became chief minister was when his father Mulayam Singh Yadav propped him up in 2012 will get stronger, even though it was the junior Yadav’s hard work that got his party 224 seats then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is also burdened with the irony of being labelled a parivarwadi (dynast) when, in fact, the only other Yadav family member who contested this time was his once-estranged uncle Shivpal Yadav. Thus, the one spin that the SP made on Adityanath’s status as a yogi—that one without a family could not understand the pain of loved ones—did not stick.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On seats that the SP was not contesting with allies, Yadav was the party’s only face. His wife, Dimple, stepped out minimally. And in Sirathu where she did, her remark that the colour of rust was bhagwa (saffron), implying that the BJP government was decaying, led to Adityanath proclaiming that he was a proud bhagwadari.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For all the hard work that Yadav put in in the run up to the elections, his absence from the ground during the pandemic was noticed. At one juncture, he was in London for family commitments, yet tweeting furiously and, in turn, drawing a barrage of scorn from the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other criticisms—that he does not listen to party seniors, is opaque in his manner of functioning, is surrounded by advisers with little ground experience and relies too heavily on retired bureaucrats—will now become louder. And he will have to learn to listen to those inputs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress rout was not unexpected. There is praise for party general secretary and state in-charge Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s efforts, but an equal measure of criticism for her strategy lacking focus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party’s Ladki Hoon Lad Sakti Hoon campaign drew applause from her opponents. Juhie Singh, chairperson of the SP women’s wing, said, “It has opened a pandora’s box. Political parties will now have to address it and give more representation to women as a matter of right, regardless of the status of the Women’s Reservation Bill.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On ground however, the Congress campaign was a non-starter. In Unnao, for instance, where the party fielded Asha Singh (mother of a rape survivor) the local unit boycotted the candidate, and the campaign was left to party workers from outside the state. One such worker said when attempts were made to draw Vadra’s attention to the fact, her closest aides at the party headquarters in New Delhi refused to convey the reality to her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, in this loss, the Congress could perhaps emerge as the party which gains the most. These elections have shown that there is no credible opposition in the state, and thus in the Lok Sabha elections of 2024, the scattered anti-BJP vote could line up behind the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Usman Engineer, a Rashtriya Lok Dal leader from Muzaffarnagar, said, “Vadra is in our hearts now, regardless of the number of seats her party gets.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To the BJP’s credit, it took every misstep and jibe, and implanted it in its election arsenal. Thus, Adityanath’s quite obvious communal call of an 80 per cent versus 20 per cent election was spun to mean that the ratio was that of those who wanted progress against those who wanted disruption. Midway through the polls, the narrative started to tilt more to the benefits of social welfare schemes that had gone to the most disadvantaged sections without discrimination based on religion or caste. Towards the end, India’s efforts to evacuate students from Ukraine were also woven into election spiel to mix nationalistic pride into politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The election results most acutely mean that Adityanath’s position is consolidated and strengthened. Whatever speculation of inner-party conflicts had been made (including the sending of Arvind Kumar Sharma from Gujarat to be the eyes and ears of Prime Minister Narendra Modi) will now be shut down. He had stood his ground and refused to be dictated to by seniors. It was a telling comment that when the results started pouring in, his cut-outs being waved around at the party office were bigger than that of Modi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For now, it seems ‘Bulldozer Baba’ has not just razed the opposition, but has also silenced every voice of dissent within the party.</p> Sun Mar 13 13:08:54 IST 2022 the-divided-caste-vote-in-up-by-badri-narayan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN INDIA,</b> “caste needs politics and politics needs caste.” This observation, made by the political scientist Rajani Kothari 50 years ago, may seem relevant even today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Caste played a major role in the UP assembly elections 2022. During our fieldwork many villagers complained of price rise, unemployment, Covid and loss of livelihood, but declared that they would still vote for their caste (vote to jati-viradari ko hi denge).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In this election, caste worked in two ways. Brahmins and other dominant upper castes, upwardly mobile castes like Jats, Yadavs and Kurmis, and the Jatavs among the dalits worked as a base vote for their own political parties. Many other OBCs, most backward castes (MBCs) and non-Jatav dalits, who are still not a base vote for any political party, worked as supplementary votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The base vote emerges from castes or communities that find their community resonance in the leaders or the agenda of a political party. The BJP built up its base vote among upper castes and Vaisyas over a long period. Its base vote has now extended towards some OBCs and MBCs, too. The Samajwadi Party got its base vote from the legacy of the socialist movement and the long political struggle of Mulayam Singh Yadav, and it includes Muslims, besides Yadavs. Dalits in UP flocked to the BSP when they were disillusioned with the Congress. Kanshiram and Mayawati worked hard to get Jatavs and a few other dalit communities as the BSP’s base vote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All three parties have tried to form rainbow social alliances to gather the support of castes and communities that are not yet the base vote of any party. Among these caste votes are the smaller upper castes, many MBCs and many dalit communities. These are supplementary caste votes. Mostly the castes that have small numbers, not yet politically mobilised, or not evolved their own caste leaders or caste based party, appear in this category. A certain section of voters of these castes showed the swing nature in this election. They favoured parties that might give them space in the organisational and electoral politics and respond to their political and developmental aspirations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their votes, however, got divided on the basis of their relations with the political parties at the local level, and the benefits they got from the party in power or are likely to get from the aspirant for power. In one village, the people explained it as the phata hua vote (divided or not fixed vote). A villager in Mungari near Allahabad said “our votes are fixed for the BSP and the votes of the Yadav patti (hamlet) are fixed for the SP. But the votes of the Kol community in this village are not fixed. Ye phata hua vote hai.” Communities such as Hari, Nat, Sahariya, Kuchh Badhiya and Basore may have shown swing nature in this election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, many voters in the base vote hamlets told us, “Hare ya jite (we will vote for our party). Yes, we get ration and benefits of various government schemes, but we will vote only for our party. We are known as voters of our own party, and even if we vote for another party, no one will believe it. So, we will vote for our own party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the making of phata hua vote among non-base vote castes, the beneficiary consciousness plays a big role. This consciousness makes them move towards the party which delivers them welfare schemes. The free ration, pension schemes and PM Aawas Yojana have had a lot of impact of their electoral choice. The beneficiary consciousness, however, has not worked well among base vote social groups, such as Jatavs, in political mobilisation in the favour of the party in power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The election result shows that party that won evolved its rainbow social alliance broader than others, by attracting smaller communities that are not yet base voters. The master key to power in democracy lay with the formation of caste based social alliances and transforming them to electoral vote.</p> <p>The writer is director, G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.</p> Tue Mar 15 18:28:04 IST 2022 rise-of-the-beneficiary-class-by-prashant-k-trivedi-shilp-shikha-singh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WHILE EACH ELECTION</b> is a new story, UP assembly election 2022 marks a historic moment in the political journey of the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most distinct narrative of the election was about the rise of a beneficiary class. It was projected as a progressive identity of the destitute, as it subsides caste and religious differences and attempts to ensure the inclusion of the developmental left-outs. Neither the distribution of benefits through welfare schemes nor the promise of freebies is a new approach. But, in this election, we saw a new political identity being built around distribution of such benefits. The beneficiaries were expected to enhance the core support base of respective parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While welfare schemes were meant to address systemic imbalances and societal discrimination, freebies are direct transfers, most often cash that has little ability to offset structural imbalances. They are a simple distribution that creates a spectacle and helps construct a perception of benevolence and arrest anger against the government. Kisan Samman Yojana, launched before the Lok Sabha election of 2019, had done wonders for the BJP. Learning from that experience, the government tried to put out the fire of discontent on account of loss of livelihood during the pandemic, rising prices and the stray cattle menace by distributing free food grains and making cash transfers through Shram Shakti cards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is neither welfare nor redistribution, but all political parties are likely to continue making efforts to outdo each other on this plank. These tactics gained relevance in the context of heightening internal differentiation among castes, making it difficult for the political parties to reach out to the community only on the caste identity. Caste needed a supplementary identity that is universal as well as differentiated. Thus came the beneficiary class.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The middle class, largely dominated by upper castes, does not enter electoral politics seeking freebies. They are driven by national pride, better urban infrastructure and policies that can further their interests in the global village. The rustic flavours of SP and BSP politics were never to their liking and this had forced them to abstain from active politics. The arrival of the BJP gave them the chance to regain the lost ground. Their hold over information technology gives them space to acquire the role of opinion makers. Virtual campaigning in this election facilitated their perspective to hold centrestage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Freebies have an appeal at the bottom of caste and class hierarchy, but the charm of communalism runs top-down. It finds its strongest resonance among the upper castes, and milder among dalits. During our fieldwork we rarely found dalits indulging in Hindu-Muslim talk, or mentioning the Ram temple, hijab or love jihad, issues that are the staple political diet of the urban middle class, upper castes and other dominant castes in rural areas. Their justification for support to the BJP might begin from anywhere, be it nationalism or development, but soon veers towards Hindus and Muslims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most potent challenge to communalism comes not from secularism but from social justice. There is a strong realisation among backward castes and dalits that, under the Hindutva umbrella, they essentially get numerical representation but not a substantive share in power. This has led to a shifting of ground in this election, with several OBC leaders leaving the BJP for the SP. This churning has also brought the Muslims back in the political arena with a bang. They were no longer seen as irrelevant, if not outright liability for a party. There was, however, limited political enthusiasm to reach out to the dalits. While the core voters of the BSP backed the party, they remained politically sidelined because of its unimaginative political strategy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writers are social scientists at the Giri Institute of Development Studies, Lucknow.</b></p> Tue Mar 15 19:12:02 IST 2022 debilitating-blow <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Two days before the results of the assembly polls poured in, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra held a rally in Lucknow to mark International Women’s Day. She said the women candidates her party had fielded in Uttar Pradesh had given their all, and that they should not be bothered about the results. The fight had just begun, Priyanka said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As it turns out, the fight will now be for the Congress’s survival. The grand old crisis-ridden party is at its lowest point. The last assembly polls it won was in 2018, and it rules only two states own its own—Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The situation is so grim that the Gandhis, especially siblings Priyanka and former party president Rahul Gandhi will have to address mounting doubts about their effectiveness as politicians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress may not have been in the race in UP, but it was dealt an embarrassing defeat in Punjab by the Aam Aadmi Party. Chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi and state party president Navjot Singh Sidhu, lost their seats. Capt Amarinder Singh, who quit the party after being removed from the chief minister’s chair months before the polls, also lost from home turf Patiala. The Congress also failed to wrest back Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa from the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The results are contrary to the Congress’s expectations,” said senior party leader Randeep Surjewala. “We fought well, but failed to get the people’s blessings. We are dejected, but we are not going anywhere. We will be back with a new strategy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul and Priyanka had led the party from the front in the elections. Rahul was campaigner-in-chief in all states except UP, where Priyanka held the reins. The role of the Gandhis, especially the changes they brought about in Punjab, will now be questioned. While supporters say that the Congress had no option but to replace the unpopular Amarinder Singh, critics have questioned the manner in which he was removed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priyanka had played a major role in appointing Sidhu as state party president, and Rahul had invested heavily in the game-changing potential of Channi’s dalit identity. With the bets having come undone—Channi lost from both the seats he contested—daggers are out now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priyanka, once seen as the Congress’s secret weapon, will face questions about her effectiveness. But supporters say that she did connect with the voters, especially women. “Priyanka ji’s campaign resonated with the people, and the crowds she attracted in her rallies were real and not managed. This is only the beginning of our revival,” said Pankaj Srivastava, vice chairman of the party’s media department in UP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Voices of discontent in the party will get stronger. The G-23 group of leaders have been demanding reform and an effective, full-time leadership in the party. The results will bolster the group’s calls for a shake-up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party is set to have its organisational elections later this year. Rahul was expected to make a comeback as president, but now there is speculation about the possibility of a non-Gandhi party chief. Also, the Congress’s claim on the pole position in any anti-BJP bloc is now undeniably weakened.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party is in a dire position—it needs to introspect, but there is not much time for it. If it is to redeem itself in the assembly polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh later this year, it has to act now.</p> Sun Mar 13 12:51:21 IST 2022 aaps-governance-in-punjab-will-determine-its-national-footprint <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Arvind Kejriwal seldom wore a turban during his numerous visits to Punjab in the past several months. Against the backdrop of anger over the emotive sacrilege issue, the Delhi chief minister kicked off his party’s campaign in the state in June 2021 with a pledge to reduce electricity rates. It was a conscious effort to keep off hardcore Panthic issues and stick to the bread-and-butter matters of electricity, water and education that has held its government in Delhi in good stead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2017, the AAP tried hard to shake off the ‘outsider’ tag, but this time, that very fact became its USP; its track record in Delhi worked in its favour. If the word ‘change’ was the leitmotif this election, the AAP’s landslide victory, winning 92 of 117 seats, shows that the Punjabi voter has rejected the traditional parties, with stalwarts of the Congress like Navjot Singh Sidhu and Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi and the Akali Dal’s Sukhbir Singh Badal and former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh falling by the wayside. Trust has been reposed in a non-Punjabi party, and there is whole-hearted acceptance of a non-Punjabi leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The farmers’ protest over the three farm laws that were eventually withdrawn formed the backdrop of the election and became a channel for the expression of discontentment among people, cutting across castes and social strata. The AAP capitalised on this mood by building a strategy around it, which was encapsulated well in the pithy slogan—‘Ik Mauka AAP Nu, Ik Mauka Kejriwal Nu [A chance for AAP, a chance for Kejriwal]’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Our slogan was a reflection of what the people wanted,” said AAP leader Manjit Sidhu. “And here, the youth were a big factor. Their restlessness with the present scheme of things turned the tide in our favour.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Party leaders say the preparation for Punjab began right after the AAP’s massive victory in Delhi in 2020. Kejriwal appointed Delhi MLA Raghav Chadha, one of his closest confidantes, as co-in charge of the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While it emerged as the main opposition party in the 2017 assembly elections, the AAP had a series of electoral setbacks since then. It won just one seat in the state in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It also fared poorly in the civic polls in February 2021. The state unit was in disarray, with local leaders rebelling against the Delhi Durbar, comprising Kejriwal and his confidantes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As it got its house in order and a strategy moving, it was helped in a big way by the infighting in the Congress. The high court order in the sacrilege case became a tipping point for the discontentment against the Amarinder Singh regime. The farmers’ unrest only added to it. The protests helped the AAP, but it did nothing for the party borne out of the agitation—the Sanyukt Samaj Morcha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP has had to deal with organisational weaknesses and lack of recognisable local leaders, except for Mann. Eventually, it did get an organisational structure in place, and a senior leader or legislator was put in charge of each constituency. The AAP also made sure it did not repeat its past mistakes. Unlike in 2017, it named its chief ministerial candidate—Mann, a Jat Sikh from Malwa region, AAP’s stronghold, and a household name in the state. There was also the perception that the party was close to Khalistani elements, which had alienated not just the Hindus but also others wary of militancy rearing its ugly head again. This time, the party steered clear of ticklish regional and religious issues. Also, keen on not being seen as sympathetic to the separatist cause, it kept NRI support at bay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP was the first to announce its promises, starting with the free power pledge. Its other populist promises included Rs1,000 to women per month, free medical treatment and free education. The campaign focused on Kejriwal as the leader who brought about a change in Delhi and could do so in Punjab as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The results prove that the people did not just vote for change but they wanted to teach the traditional parties a lesson. That is the reason why the Congress and the Akali Dal have been decimated,” said Ashutosh Kumar, chair, political science department, Panjab University.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was the feedback from the ground that the AAP was getting traction that had forced the Congress to replace Amarinder Singh with Channi as chief minister. The choice was also guided by the assessment that the AAP was making inroads into its dalit vote bank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Punjab handing the AAP its first foothold outside Delhi, the state now holds immense significance for the national ambitions of Kejriwal and his party. The party will form its government in a full-fledged state, which, unlike Delhi, will give it control over police and state administration. After the BJP and the Congress, the AAP is now only the third party to be in power in more than one state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the run-up to the next Lok Sabha elections, Kejriwal is bound to emerge as a possible contender to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Also, the term of seven Rajya Sabha MPs from the state would end this year, and the party is set to get a stronger voice in Parliament. The victory also comes as a boost to the AAP as it would look to make inroads in poll-bound Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is widely accepted that Kejriwal will be the super chief minister. But his endeavour to make a difference here is not going to be easy. While Delhi is a small city-state and revenue surplus, Punjab, after having seen prosperous days, is now going downhill and is burdened by huge debt. Besides the issues of unemployment, drug addiction, cross-border terrorism, education and health, the party will have to deal with regional issues like the sacrilege matter, release of Sikh political prisoners and the question of water sharing with Haryana.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mann and his legislators, meanwhile, will have to learn on the job as they have no administrative experience. “The party had decided to form a team of experts to overcome this challenge,” said political analyst Prof Harish Puri. “They do not know how bureaucracy or the police functions in the state.” The police and bureaucracy have been battle-hardened since the days of militancy, and have their own way of functioning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Party leaders say the AAP has the political will to bring about a change, unlike the Congress and the Akali Dal. “The same kind of scepticism was expressed when the AAP came to power in Delhi,” said AAP leader Priti Sharma Menon. “But we have provided a model of governance in Delhi that is now being emulated in other parts of the country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, it is not certain if the present mood of acceptance of Kejriwal and his team of Delhi-based leaders in the state unit will continue. Punjab is the AAP’s stepping stone into the national arena and could well turn into a stumbling block.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>With Pratul Sharma</b></p> Sun Mar 13 12:49:18 IST 2022 aap-poised-to-replace-congress-and-out-compete-bjp-prof-pramod-kumar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>PUNJAB URGENTLY</b> needs a paradigm shift in the development path. Unfortunately, the recently concluded assembly elections had everything else except a serious debate on solutions to challenges like stagnation in agriculture, creating avenues for youth, linking agriculture with industry, reclaiming the capital city as an investment pole and evolving models for providing citizens access to ease of living. It became a battle royale of false claims and empty promises to entice voters. Political parties became dharamshalas without doors, with popular politicians hopping from one party to another.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Elections have been reduced to a ritual of democracy and just a matter of perceptions and popularity ratings of leaders alone, and not of political parties. And, the only slogan audible has been ‘change’, which has come to mean giving freebies and doles and selective targeting of political adversaries as a substitute for competitive politics. The overall approach has been to use a cocktail of doles and promises to cater to everyone’s taste. So, we had ‘menu-festo’ rather than manifesto. There is a menu card for farmers, traders, students, dalits, industrialists and women. The credit for this invention goes to the AAP. It was strange that the agenda of politics could not mirror the issues raised by the year-long farmers’ protests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The apathy of voters with the existing system became visible— as the votes polled were 5 per cent less than that in the 2017 assembly elections. In 76 of 117 constituencies, the decline in the votes polled was between 5 to 12 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This election was different, as it moved from two-party to multi-party contests. New electoral alliances were formed, and blatant attempts were made to polarise the electoral space on the basis of religion and caste. To counter this, the deras were invoked to weaken the exclusive vote bank politics. The grammar of electoral discourse was dominated by doles, deras and drugs, garnished with identity politics, ranging from endorsing of the dalit identity, radical Sikh assertions, activating insecurity among the Hindu minority and revival of Jat peasantry hegemonic politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP had an advantage as it did not have any historical baggage and did not locate itself in any fault lines of caste, religion or region. It largely followed a ‘catch all’ approach. And the activisation of various fault lines could not act as impediments to the AAP. The Shiromani Akali Dal, meanwhile, had a baggage of the sacrilege cases. And the Congress was facing huge anit-incumbency. Added to this was the self destructive struggle between the warring Congress leaders like Navjot Singh Sidhu, Channi, Sunil Jakhar and Pratap Bajwa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Punjab, there are no exclusive vote banks based on religion or caste, unlike in many other states. There are no neat categories of minority (Hindu) and majority (Sikhs). For instance, the Hindus struggled with majority-minority complex, perceiving themselves to be a majority in India and a minority in the reorganised Punjab, and vice-versa with the Sikhs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The duality of minority persecution complex and majority arrogance complex shapes both the contestation between the Sikh-dominated Akali Dal and the Hindu-dominated BJP as well as the electoral compulsions for coalition strategies to capture political and economic power. The Akali Dal and the BJP formed four post-poll coalitions before 1992 and four pre-poll alliances since 1997. The ideological explanation given by the SAD and the BJP was that to protect and promote their exclusive support bases, the coalition was essential.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been a change in the political strategy of the BJP—it is branching out by regionalising its own agenda, leadership and symbols, and has carved out an alliance with Capt Amarinder Singh’s Punjab Lok Congress. This has also exposed the BJP’s electoral strategy of attempting to marginalise regional parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In this election, the SAD has not entered into a pre-poll alliance with the BJP over the farm bills issue. It has instead allied with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)—an alliance that has come about after two and a half decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not surprisingly, this coalition of the opposites existed within the Congress, too, which claimed to be secular. The Congress represented a coalition of Sikh leaders (who were votaries of Punjabi Suba—political movement demanding the creation of a Punjabi-speaking state) with Hindu leaders (who were in the forefront of the Hindi agitation and in favour of Maha Punjab).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It all started with the manner in which the Congress leadership replaced Capt Amarinder Singh just a few months before the election. When the name of Jakhar (a Hindu) was doing the rounds, the Congress spokesperson made a statement that only a Sikh could be the chief minister—a remark that did not go down well with the Jat Sikhs and the Hindus. The nomination of a Scheduled Caste chief minister for the first time created a buzz. But has it led to a consolidation of SC votes to a particular leader or party? Perhaps no.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The religious reforms movements, particularly Sikhism and to an extent Arya Samaj, weakened the behavioural aspects of inter- and intra-caste practices of the Sikhs and Hindus. The Scheduled Castes acquired more social and political bargaining space. They found representation across political parties rather than merely in a caste-based political party, such as the BSP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Scheduled Castes do not constitute a captive vote bank of any political party. Numerically though, they are proportionately represented in the state politics. Of the 1,365 legislators between 1967 and 2017, the Scheduled Castes constituted 25.57 per cent, OBCs 8.57 per cent and Jat Sikhs 43.59 per cent.</p> <p>The religio-caste divisions, Dera factor, regional variations (between Majha, Malwa and Doaba) and consolidation of Urban Hindus could not counter the AAP wave. The decimation of the SAD and marginalisation of the Congress in elections by the AAP is historic. It is a signal that the AAP is all poised to replace the Congress and out-compete the BJP particularly in Himachal Pradesh and Haryana.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Punjab, as is evident, the status quo has become unsustainable. Therefore, it is urgent that the political leadership ought to think afresh and demonstrate its sincerity and will to implement the pro-people agenda. But perspectives on development in Punjab have hinged merely on government debt. Undoubtedly, it is worrisome. There are states which are under heavy debt, but are maintaining their pace of development. The crisis in Punjab is not merely confined to the grim fact that the state debt is mounting or that unemployment is rising, or that dalits are reduced to penury, or that drug addiction, female foeticide and farmer suicides are on the rise, the real crisis is the manner in which these problems ought to have been effectively addressed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is director, Institute for Development and Communication, Chandigarh.</b></p> Sun Mar 13 12:44:17 IST 2022 uttarakhand-bjp-romps-home-despite-cm-dhamis-defeat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On March 8, a day after exit poll trends were out, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami and his wife, Geeta, visited the local deity Mahasu Devta at Hanol, in Dehradun district. Dhami prayed for happiness and good luck, and performed the traditional Harul Tandi dance with folk instruments, following tribal customs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhami’s prayers were answered when results came out on March 10. Although exit polls pointed towards a hung assembly, voters of Uttarakhand reposed their faith in the BJP. According to latest reports, the party has won 38 seats and was leading in another nine seats in the 70-member house. As the BJP and the Congress were worried about a hung assembly, senior leaders of both parties were camping in the hill state to “manage” the situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP was all the more concerned because Uttarakhand has always elected a new government in every poll. But, it appears that the Modi magic has worked this time. In an earlier interview with THE WEEK, Dhami said ever since Modi became prime minister, all patterns had been broken.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhami, who took over as chief minister last July, managed to turn the tide in the BJP’s favour, but he lost from Khatima constituency in Udham Singh Nagar district. The seat has a considerable number of Sikh voters, who were upset with the Union government’s farm laws. Congress candidate Bhuwan Chandra Kapri defeated Dhami by over 6,000 votes. The BJP will now have to decide whether to nominate a chief minister from among the MLAs or to pick someone else.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhami’s loss, meanwhile, confirms another pattern of Uttarakhand that none of the incumbent chief ministers has ever been re-elected. In the past 20 years, the state has seen 11 chief ministers and only N.D. Tiwari of the Congress was able to complete a full term. Interestingly, chief ministerial candidates of the other two major parties—Harish Rawat of the Congress and Ajay Kothiyal of the Aam Aadmi Party—too, lost.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rawat, the face of the Congress in Uttarakhand, used to speak about this election as the last opportunity to protect Uttarakhandiyat (the spirit of Uttarakhand). The migration of people from the hills in search of jobs was one of the main issues in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP had swept the 2017 polls winning 57 seats, but changed the chief minister thrice in the past one year. The Char Dham Devasthanam Management Act controversy, which angered priests as it allowed the government to take control of major temples, was one of the reasons for political turmoil. The mismanagement of the Haridwar Kumbh Mela and a Covid test scam during the congregation, too, provided opposition parties ammunition to attack the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, the issues failed to influence voters as the BJP banked on developmental work including building more roads for better connectivity in far-flung areas, the Centre’s allocation of funds for infrastructure development and all-weather connectivity for the Char Dham Yatra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP, which made its electoral debut in the state, failed to win even a single seat. The party’s tactic of winning votes by offering freebies seems to have eaten into the Congress’s vote bank and helped the BJP.</p> Sun Mar 13 12:39:55 IST 2022 who-will-be-goa-chief-minister-pramod-sawant-and-vishwajit-rane-lead-the-race <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The BJP won Goa because of two reasons—the loyal saffron voter and the division of the anti-BJP vote between the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and the AAP. While the BJP won 20, one short of majority, the Congress got only 11, six short of its 2017 tally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chief Minister Pramod Sawant won his third election, but with a thin margin. He defeated the Congress’s Dharmesh Saglani, who, many believed, had the tacit support of the BJP’s Vishwajit Rane, who seems to have chief ministerial ambitions. Rane and wife, Divya, won Valpoi and Poriem.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I was campaigning in all the constituencies and hardly got a day to spend in my constituency,” said Sawant. “My entire campaign was conducted by our party cadre in Sanquelim.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Raju Nayak, editorial director of the Gomantak group of newspapers, told THE WEEK that the BJP benefited from the politics of bahujan samaj. “The chief minister made sure that bahujan communities were wooed aggressively,” he said. “Their views and aspirations were taken into consideration. Another important point is the increasing presence of migrants (who have now become residents and voters in Goa) in all constituencies. These people have favoured the BJP.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently, the BJP’s promise of a “double-engine” push for development won over the fence-sitters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other side, the Congress’s state leadership seemed to be too proud and did not form alliances in advance. “State party president Girish Chodankar kept saying that the Congress will win on its own because of the anti-incumbency of 10 years,” said Nayak. “It was veteran Digambar Kamat who convinced the party’s central leadership that an alliance with players like the Goa Forward Party was necessary. If not for that alliance, the Congress would have dropped to single digits.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP’s win in two seats—Velim and Benaulim—has also been an interesting development. The party’s hard work since the previous elections has borne fruit in the Christian-majority Salcete region. It is also a warning sign for the Congress that it cannot take the minority vote for granted; Salcete had been its stronghold.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The aggressive “Goa for Goans” politics of the Revolutionary Goans Party helped it win one seat—St. Andre. It would be interesting to see if the BJP can get the party’s support for its government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another highlight was the Trinamool’s poor showing despite its high-pitched campaign. Even former chief minister Churchill Alemao lost in Benaulim; he came third. His daughter, Valanka, also lost in Navelim.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Trinamool’s ally, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, won two seats. The BJP has said that it has won over two of the three independents, and would even accommodate the MGP. This could be crucial in the selection of the chief minister. Currently, Sawant and Rane are the frontrunners. The Dhavalikar brothers, who run the MGP, are friendly with Rane.</p> Sun Mar 13 12:37:40 IST 2022 golden-era-for-manipur-to-begin <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SINCE 2017,</b> rebels in the BJP have been asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah to drop N. Biren Singh as chief minister. But Modi and Shah stood firmly behind Singh, the five-time MLA who left the Congress in 2017 to join the BJP. They even agreed to Singh’s request of going solo in the assembly elections. And, voila, he has delivered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh, who registered a landslide victory from Heingang, scripted history and brought back the BJP to power; this time on its own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP not only received votes from the valley—dominated by the Meiteis (Hindus)—but also received huge support in the Kuki belt, which has traditionally voted for the Congress. It also won a few seats in the Naga belt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ It was a surprising win, as the BJP fought alone.</b>&nbsp;<br> <br> Yes, this time we decided to go alone in the election. I told the central leadership that we have done enough to make everybody in the state happy.</p> <p><br> <b>Q/ What are the reasons for the BJP coming back to power?</b><br> <br> The slogan of the BJP is everyone’s growth. We did that. The prime minister, home minister and our party president ensured we followed the path. We did not differentiate among people while giving benefits.</p> <p><br> <b>Q/ You made yourself available for every community.</b><br> <br> [Laugh] Yes, I did. But the prime minister is a [hard] taskmaster. He had an eye on our work. From giving relief during the pandemic to free ration and oxygen plants, he stood by me. He gave me assurance, and I worked hard and brought development in every belt possible.</p> <p><br> <b>Q/ So, job done?</b><br> <br> We never said that. You are going to see how we are going to perform from today, as it is our own government. We will go to everyone with our development network. The next five years will be a golden era for Manipur.</p> <p><b>Q/ But, the central leadership of the BJP told you to bring nationalism into Manipur.</b></p> <p><br> What’s wrong in that? It is an insurgency-prone state. There were lack of development and nationalism as well. But people were not anti-Indians. You know I was threatened because I celebrated the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who merged Manipur with India. But I went ahead with it.</p> <p><b>Q/ So, you will celebrate the birth centenary of Patel again?</b><br> <b>&nbsp;</b><br> Yes, of course. I will take Patel's message to every corner of Manipur. He is an icon for Indians. Manipuris are also Indians who sacrificed their lives, as part of INA, during Netaji’s march to Moirang. It is very sad that the Congress did not recognise the INA, but Modi <i>ji</i>&nbsp;did. So, people of Manipur are happy.</p> <p><b>&nbsp;</b><br> <b>Q/ But you were a rebel in the past; a journalist who faced a sedition case for taking the side of rebels. How did you adopt nationalism?</b><br> <br> [Again laughs] But you did not mention that I was a national footballer. I played for the country. Is it not for national cause?</p> <p><br> <b>Q/ You are also getting the votes of Nagas and Kukis, who are orthodox Christians.</b><br> <b>&nbsp;</b><br> That’s why I told you to come and see our model of nationalism. Irrespective of being Hindu, Muslim or Christian, all are saying Bharat Mata Ki Jai. This is because we never differentiate between communities. Cooking gas, free ration, and Covid-19 vaccines were all made available at the doorstep to poor people, be it Hindus, Muslims or Christians.</p> <p><b>Q/ The JD(U), the NPP and the NPF got a good number of seats. Will you accommodate them?</b></p> <p><br> I will not accommodate the NPP [in the government]. They put a lot of pressure on us to do unethical work. We did not do that. Deputy chief minister [Y. Joykumar Singh], who belongs to the NPP, was defeated as a result of that. I would request the central leadership not to include them in the council of ministers. But the NPF and the JD(U) are our natural allies. We will not do any political harm to them, even though they fought against us.</p> <p><br> <b>Q/ What is your next task?</b><br> <br> My next task is social engineering through nationalism and reducing the gap between valleys and hills. [I am aiming at] complete eradication of poverty along with ensuring that every community embraces nationalism. Everyone should sing the national anthem with teachings of their respective community. We are not going to hamper anyone’s religious functions. But they have to [imbibe a sense of] nationalism.</p> <p><br> <b>Q/ What is your message to insurgent groups?</b><br> <br> Come to talks or face action. I will be soft if they lay down their arms. The Union home minister has empowered me to talk to them. They must come on board and should not force me to take harsh measures.</p> <p><br> <b>Q/ There was criticism in 2017 that the BJP formed governments in Goa and Manipur despite being the second largest party.</b><br> <br> People gave their answers. Both these states have gone to the BJP this time. The message for every party is clear—do not destroy the country by bashing the BJP. Every community, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, lined up to vote for the BJP. The opposition should not cause harm to the country by [merely] opposing us.</p> Sun Mar 13 12:35:20 IST 2022 exclusive-encounters-in-a-polish-border-town-with-those-who-fled-ukraine <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Wars and a man I sing, an exile driven on by fate....</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Przemysl is a</b> small town in Poland, about 15 minutes from the Ukrainian border. It has a beautiful train station, built in 1895 in the neo-baroque style. The building is lovingly maintained, the chandeliers grand and glittering, the colourful tiles bright and clean, the paintings glowing with colour.</p> <p>But it was not the building I was looking at when I stepped out of my train. The platform was crowded with people, with tables loaded with coffee urns and vats of soup, with suitcases, with plastic bags overflowing with bread and packets of instant noodles.</p> <p>At the far end of the platform, a little away from the crush of people, there was a girl sitting on the floor. She was slumped against the railings and had a sleeping bag wrapped around her legs. I smiled at her, making my eyes wider to say hello, and through her exhaustion she instinctively replied with an effort at a smile.</p> <p>I stopped to say hello. Her voice was so soft that I could barely make it out. I did discover, however, that the sleeping bag wasn’t wrapped around her legs, but rather around a little dog called Archie. Next to Archie was a big package of dog food. It must have weighed at least five kilos.</p> <p>Can you imagine… fleeing a war, taking whatever you have that may help, needing to take things that will help, knowing you might have to carry it for days, you might have to walk with your things for god knows how long… and instead of a case of water, she carried food for Archie.</p> <p>The young man next to her looked like Mick Jagger and had a very deep voice. He did most of the talking.</p> <p>Damian and Erika. 16 and 14 years old.</p> <p>“Have you come from …,” I asked, my voice trailing off.</p> <p>Damian nodded, his big dark eyes wary and tired, filled with caution and pain.</p> <p>“How are you …,” I asked, my voice trailing off again.</p> <p>They were silent.</p> <p>“I’m so sorry,” I said.</p> <p>“Thank you,” said Damian. Erika said something as well but so quietly I couldn’t hear it.</p> <p>I went to get them coffees and when I came back their mother Anna had rejoined them, so I got her one, too (milk, no sugar). And then we stood on that platform as evening turned to night, as the light faded and the lamps came on, and chatted.</p> <p>Anna was an illustrator and designer who worked on children’s books. They lived in Kyiv but had decided to go to Lviv for a short holiday three days before Russia invaded. She hadn’t expected the invasion, it really had been planned as a break. But now there they were, about 80 kilometres from the Polish border, and she had a decision to make.</p> <p>“I feel bad,” she said. “Part of me wants to stay and fight for my country. I want to help.”</p> <p>I nodded.</p> <p>“But I have to save my children,” she said, and she turned to look at them for a moment.</p> <p>I thought of my own son, all of nine months old, and the fierce protective love I feel for him, the utter panic I experienced when he had to be taken to hospital for a few days in December. I nodded. Yes. She had to save her children. So they upped and left, with just the stuff they’d taken with them on their holiday.</p> <p>The train from Lviv normally takes a couple of hours to get to Przemysl. Anna, Damian and Erika sat in this train for 15 hours. I heard about this train journey from quite a few people while I was in Przemysl. The trains were overcrowded, bursting with people trying to get into Poland. Ravinder, a boy from Delhi, told me, “You know what Indian trains are like, but even in India I’ve never seen anything like this.” People were crying, babies screaming, the toilets overflowing. Food and water began to run out. For hours the train would stand still, tensions rising, the air heavy with suffering and sadness and panic and fear. Fights broke out sometimes. Dogs barked and cats squealed.</p> <p>“How are you feeling now?” I asked Anna.</p> <p>“Relieved,” she said. “We got out. I actually feel relaxed right now.”</p> <p>But as we talked, it turned out that Anna wasn’t just relaxed. She was also intensely worried about the future. How was she going to feed her kids? She could do some of her illustration and design work online, but the pay was nothing in European terms. She would try to find normal work, she said, maybe as a cleaner or something like that. But she needed papers to work, the papers that would allow her to work legally. Would she get them? How?</p> <p>At some point, I asked Damian what he was thinking about.</p> <p>“I am thinking,” he said, “of what I have to do to secure the financial stability of my family.”</p> <p>I felt Anna’s love rush to her son in that moment, I felt her softness and her despair. She turned towards him and stroked his chest through his jacket.</p> <p>I asked Damian what he enjoyed studying at school.</p> <p>“I was going to be a linguist,” he said. “I was good at English.”</p> <p>Going to be! A boy of 16, talking about a future that was now in the past.</p> <p>Anna tried to reassure him that he still could be.</p> <p>“No,” he said. “I did all the school exams but now the records are lost and won’t be transferred.”</p> <p>Anna and I both tried to reassure him that it would be possible to get his school records and that he would be able to finish school. But he wouldn’t be reassured. He was worried about it and in the worry you could see the little boy breaking through, the boy that he was working very hard to conceal and put away for ever.</p> <p>Anna and I looked at each other, and in her eyes I saw love and despair and pain.</p> <p>A woman came up behind us. “Excuse me,” she said to Anna, “do you speak English?” Anna nodded. “Oh great! I’m from the German media, would you be willing to answer some questions?” Anna nodded again, and off they went.</p> <p>I continued talking to Damian. But something about the situation suddenly made me feel sick so I gave Damian my email address, told him to let me know that they had reached Aachen (Germany) safely.</p> <p>We shook hands, and in his deep, sonorous voice, Damian said something I couldn’t understand. He repeated it and I realised I had understood it, just that my mind had not expected it.</p> <p>“May the Lord be with you,” said Damian. It was not a politeness. It was a real wish that Damian was expressing.</p> <p>“May the Lord be with you,” I replied, and I meant it, too.</p> <p>I left. Behind me, I heard the German woman asking Anna: “And, what do you think of Putin?”</p> <p>I walked out of the station, sick of the job of mining people’s suffering for stories.</p> <p>Later that evening, I walked back to the station with two boxes of pizza. I found Damian and Erika and gave them the boxes. One of the pizzas was vegetarian because I had guessed correctly that Erika was vegetarian, and this fact gave her inordinate joy.</p> <p>“You’re an amazing person,” said Damian.</p> <p>I mention this not because Damian is right. I mention it because it shows how much things can mean to people when they’re suffering. And because it shows how much Damian was suffering, that a simple pizza could mean so much to him.</p> <p> </p> <p><b>Lukasz Bucior had</b> translated the pizza menu for me. He was standing at the bar, a 43-year-old Polish man with a big belly and a ready smile. While I waited for the pizzas to cook, I had a beer and chatted with him. He had studied in Michigan and worked in England, which was where he had learned his English. But he came from Przemysl and always returned there. He told me that he was on his way to help at a kind of refugee camp and would take me there if I wanted. So we dropped off the pizzas together and then walked about 40 minutes till we reached this camp.</p> <p>The camp was in a giant car park that had once belonged to a supermarket. It was much, much larger than the area at the train station. Curiously, while the train station had been overrun with reporters and TV crews, the camp was almost devoid of them; apart from me, the only other media presence was a TV crew from South Korea.</p> <p>One side of the park was where the buses came in, big buses filled with people fleeing Ukraine. Opposite where the buses stopped stood a crowd of people holding up cardboard signs and shouting things. I asked Lukasz about that, and he said they were offering places to stay for the night, to have a shower, or rides to Warsaw or wherever.</p> <p>“That guy just said he has four beds for one night,” said Lukasz.</p> <p>“Who are these people?” I asked.</p> <p>“Just normal people,” said Lukasz.</p> <p>“From here?”</p> <p>“Some of them from here. But some have come from other parts of Poland.”</p> <p>“All for free?”</p> <p>“Yes.”</p> <p>In another part of the park there was a line of small tents set up; more precisely, poles had been struck into the ground and cloth hung from those poles as a rudimentary covering. The tents were full of things that had been donated—toilet paper, water bottles, clothes, food. One tent served hot food. At another tent a man stood behind a table and shouted out the drinks that were available. One of them was “chai”—it turns out that Ukrainians have the same word for tea as we do in India.</p> <p>What can I say of what I saw there?</p> <p>A group of five: a mother, a grandmother, three children between the ages of four and eight. The children were drinking hot drinks, their faces glowing. The oldest, a girl, had very big eyes. All three were quiet, self-contained.</p> <p>A mother with a young child—maybe around five—holding her hand and a baby in a stroller.</p> <p>Three Pakistani boys, only recently moved to Ukraine, now having to leave again, not knowing how to get to Warsaw, worried about going back after having spent the money to get to Ukraine in the first place.</p> <p>A young boy, about three years old, holding a teddy bear that was bigger than he was. He was struggling to hold it but there was no way he would let it go. His mother next to him, holding a baby in her arms.</p> <p>I took a photo of them. The mother noticed and shouted at me. I had no defence. I went to her and showed her the phone and showed her that I was deleting the photo.</p> <p>Later, Lukasz told me that there was a window at the train station where you could drop off stuff to give to the refugees. He had taken two plastic bags filled with teddy bears. “They were asking for teddy bears,” he said. His sister’s kids, eight and six years old, had also offered to give up their own teddy bears. Give them to the children from Ukraine, they had said.</p> <p>The car park appeared to be a central point from which stuff would not only be handed out to people there, but also taken to places on the border where it was needed. Lukasz and I helped unload and reload cars and vans. There was a great need for nappies somewhere, so we filled up a van with them. But they needed specific sizes, so I spent 10 minutes rifling through piles and piles of nappies to find the right ones.</p> <p>Size 3 nappies are for young children. Very young. Babies.</p> <p> </p> <p><b>It appears to me</b> an iron law of the universe is that where there is suffering, there will also be love. Anna’s love for her children. Damian’s for his family. The love that made Erika carry kilos of dog food for Archie. The love that made Polish people offer their homes and their cars, the love that made them open their hearts, that made them spend their nights making soup, sorting through nappies, arranging clothes. The love that made people give their limited food to their fellow refugees on the train from Lviv to Przemysl.</p> <p>Yes, there is a lot of love. But let us also not be sentimental.</p> <p>I began this account with the lines that open the ‘Aeneid’, Virgil’s great epic poem about the exile of Aeneas and the founding of Rome. Later, the ghost of Aeneas’s dead wife tells him what is to come:</p> <p>“‘<i>A long exile is your fate . . .</i></p> <p><i>the vast plains of the sea are yours to plow</i></p> <p><i>until you reach Hesperian land, where Lydian Tiber</i></p> <p><i>flows with its smooth march through rich and loamy fields,</i></p> <p><i>a land of hardy people. There great joy and a kingdom</i></p> <p><i>are yours to claim, and a queen to make your wife . . .</i></p> <p><i>And now farewell. Hold dear the son we share,</i></p> <p><i>we love together.’”</i></p> <p>Aeneas was exiled but his story continued. He knew his story would continue. He knew his suffering would be crowned with great joy and a kingdom, with a queen to make his wife.</p> <p>The people I met have no such knowledge and could not have it. Because, I realised, that is what something like this is: It is the end of lives, it is the end of stories. Some people will get lucky, some people will pick up the pieces, some people will make new stories. But even for those people, the lives and the stories that they had before Russia invaded—they are over. Done. Finished.</p> <p> </p> <p><b>The train back</b> to Austria left from Platform 2. I was there 20 minutes early. There was a woman sitting on a bench. I recognised her instantly as a refugee—the suitcase, the plastic bags. She was talking on her phone to someone.</p> <p>Next to her sat a little boy. Blond and blue-eyed, with enormous red cheeks. Somehow he made me think of my son and instinctively I stuck my tongue out at him. This delighted the child. He laughed, a rich laugh, a dirty laugh, a laugh that gurgled up from the soles of his little feet and danced through his body and burst out of his mouth. When he laughed, I saw the gaps between his teeth. I did it again. He laughed again. Then he stuck his tongue out, stuck it out as far as he could. He couldn’t laugh while doing this, but his big eyes narrowed into little slits, creasing up with delight.</p> <p>For a moment, I thought of taking a photo, of talking to the mother… she had somehow made it across the border with this little boy (and a second child, I saw later). Where had they come from? What was the journey like? What had it taken to make that journey? What had they left behind? What was she thinking about? What would happen to the laughing infant?</p> <p>But I left it. There was this brief golden moment, for all I knew the first such moment in a while, this moment in which the child was gurgling and the mother and I were smiling, in which we were doing something simple and human, something that had nothing to do with war or politics or money or work or missing family or death or any damn thing apart from the laughing present. There were tears in the past and there would be tears in the future. Let them stay there.</p> <p>We played for 15 minutes, the little boy and I. I said bye and he waved. But he was too lovely to leave so I stayed, still saying bye. He laughed and waved. I told his mother that he reminded me of my son—the same huge cheeks, I said—and asked how old he was. Two, she said. Well, good luck, I said, and waved again, and this time really left.</p> <p>—<b>Sanklecha is a writer&nbsp;living in Graz, Austria.</b></p> Sun Mar 06 17:39:13 IST 2022 while-ukraine-appreciates-zelenskyys-leadership-many-citizens-are-fleeing-to-safety <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Ksenia, a 25-year-old Kyiv resident, has never been a supporter of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. She voted against him in 2019, but his heroic fightback against the Russian invasion has made her a big supporter of the president. “The first day of the war was scary. Any other person would have run away or surrendered the interests of our country. But Zelenskyy organised a bold resistance. We believe him,” said Ksenia. Zelenskyy’s approval ratings have gone up from a modest 25 per cent to 91 per cent.</p> <p>The Russian military started its full-scale invasion on February 24. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aim is no longer limited to resolving the eight-year-old dispute over the Donbas region. He is now trying to neutralise Ukraine’s military power and force the country to abandon its plans to join NATO.</p> <p>Once the invasion began, life in the capital, Kyiv, and other cities changed dramatically. According to UN estimates, more than six lakh Ukrainians have fled in the first five days of the war. They first moved to the western border, from where they are trying to reach western and central Europe through Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania. Highways from Kyiv—which is located in the north, near the border with Belarus and Russia—to the western city of Lviv are chock-a-block with cars and buses. Civilian flights are grounded; trains are either overloaded or finding it tough to maintain schedules. People are taking up to 36 hours to cover the 600km distance between Kyiv and Lviv by road.</p> <p>Andrey, who took his wife and two children to Lviv, said he had to spend more than a day on the road. But he said that throughout the trip, his fellow citizens helped him wholeheartedly. “We left in a hurry with two small children, and we were completely unprepared,” said the 48-year-old Kyiv resident. “We stopped twice for food. At first, we got it at half the regular price; the second time, we got it for free. Our people are wonderful.”</p> <p>When the Russian attacks started, Ukrainian authorities and citizens were in a state of shock, but they soon swung into action. Doctors, firefighters, military personnel and municipal workers have all been working together since then. However, as the war continues, Ukrainians face manifold challenges.</p> <p>The delivery of food and medicine has been interrupted, especially in the central and eastern parts of the country. And prices are going up. In Kyiv and many other cities, there are long queues outside supermarkets and pharmacies, which are running short of essential supplies. Many stores accept only cash.</p> <p>The authorities have asked traders not to hike prices and to accept bank cards. However, this directive is not always obeyed. Buyers who cannot pay in cash are being turned away at checkout counters.</p> <p>Across Ukraine, air-raid warnings are sounded several times a day, forcing residents to hide in basements and parking lots. Initially, the response was fast, but now, fewer and fewer people are moving to shelters.</p> <p>Mobile communication and internet facilities are still operational in most cities. Public utilities, too, are largely unaffected. However, water and heating remain a major concern in many cities, especially in the Donbas region. Weather has remained comfortable so far, with temperatures ranging between one degree and nine degrees Celsius, which are higher than normal for this time of the year.</p> <p>Public transport systems in Kyiv worked normally during the initial days of the invasion. But metro services have been suspended since February 27 in Kyiv and Kharkiv as stations have been converted into bomb shelters.</p> <p>Shortage of fuel is another major concern. On the first day of the war itself, queues stretched for kilometres outside fuel stations and it has now become almost impossible to purchase gasoline. The authorities have been trying to remedy the situation by means of state regulation, but it does not seem to be working well.</p> <p>In order to avoid risks, most citizens prefer not to drive around in the cities, and use taxis as much as possible. There have been rumours of massive car thefts, but the police clarified that there were only very few real cases of banditry and fraud. Some citizens are afraid to remain in large cities and are renting village houses and hotels located far away from highways, airports and military facilities.</p> <p>As the situation turns grim, most of Ukraine’s western allies have expressed their solidarity by imposing stringent sanctions against Russia and by providing weapons. Ukraine’s key allies in its fight against Russia are the United States, the UK and Canada. Influential European powers like France and Germany, too, have unambiguously supported the Ukrainian position, after some initial hesitation. They have announced sanctions against Russia and have offered to send weapons and other equipment.</p> <p>Interestingly, Ukraine has been winning the information war against Russia and there is a growing sense of unity within the country. Before the escalation of the conflict, Ukrainians had a lot of complaints. Citizens were angry at the government for the constant increase in tariffs for water, electricity, heating, medicines and food. They were also unhappy about the controversial medical reform and the frequent corruption scandals involving politicians and bureaucrats. But everything has changed after the Russian aggression.</p> <p>Public opinion in Ukraine is still in favour of negotiations with Russia, but without any ultimatums from Putin. The first round of negotiations took place on February 28. While it did not result in any major breakthrough, more talks are expected to happen soon.</p> <p>“I would very much like the politicians of Ukraine and Russia to agree on peace as soon as possible,” said Alexander, who escaped from the war-torn east. “Ukraine and Russia are neighbours. Fighting a war in the 21st century is idiotic. I hope the two leaders will finally agree on something.”&nbsp;</p> Sun Mar 06 16:39:35 IST 2022 ground-report-from-moscow-protests-and-sanctions <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Spring has arrived in Moscow. It is sunny outside and the sky is deep blue. It seems like the perfect time to enjoy the weather, but nobody does so. All passers-by are on their smartphones, following the events in Ukraine and the new sanctions that western countries are imposing on Russia. Ask passers-by what day it is, and they most likely will take time to answer. But, they can tell you that the dollar exchange rate at the Russian Central Bank is more than 100 roubles, up from only 75 roubles a week ago. But even at the new rate, it is impossible to buy dollars. Banks sell it at 150 roubles for a dollar</p> <p>It all started about a fortnight ago with several addresses by Russian President Vladimir Putin to fellow citizens. The addresses came like an explosion, completely unexpected by the majority of the population, since almost everyone believed that the warnings by NATO countries about Russia’s impending attack on Ukraine was nothing more than western propaganda. However, on February 24, Putin told fellow citizens: “In December 2021, we once again made an attempt to agree with the United States and its allies on the principles of ensuring security in Europe and on the non-expansion of NATO. Everything is in vain. The US position does not change.”</p> <p>Based on this, Putin also explained the decision to launch a special operation in Ukraine. “Those forces that carried out a coup in Ukraine in 2014, seized power and are holding it with the help of, in fact, decorative electoral procedures, have finally abandoned the peaceful settlement of the conflict,” said Putin. “For eight years, endlessly long eight years, we did everything possible to resolve the situation by peaceful, political means. It is all in vain.... Russia cannot feel safe, develop, exist with a constant threat emanating from the territory of modern Ukraine.... They simply did not leave us any other opportunity to protect Russia, protect our people, except for the one that we will be forced to use today.”</p> <p>Now, after the fall of the rouble, amid rising prices and vague fears of escalation to a nuclear conflict, Muscovites leaf or scroll through the news, their faces gray and bleak. There is a continuous stream of information. But, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between the truth and fake news. Pro-government media write about the successful offensive of Russian troops in Ukraine, while opposition media cries about heavy losses.</p> <p>The pressure from the state is growing. The authorities are tightening censorship every day, and the Russian prosecutor’s office reminds citizens that there is an article in the criminal code on high treason. “Fake news is all around,” the authorities warn. “Distribution of such information is prohibited. Only official reports of state departments of the Russian Federation, such as the ministry of defence, are trustworthy.”</p> <p>The statements by pro-government bloggers and nationalists who support the operation on social networks are getting louder. Bloggers promoting “the strong hand of the state”, warn that “in an acute situation, an unambiguous choice must be made. And always be ready to bear responsibility for your choice. The current situation is a choice in wartime conditions, and the laws of war apply. By speaking now against your country, you make your choice.”</p> <p>At the same time, there are more and more letters against the operation every day, signed by well-known figures in science, culture and academia, and journalists and doctors. There have been at least 10 open letters, including from students/graduates of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations of the Russian ministry of foreign affairs—the country’s main educational institution for diplomats. One open letter from medical workers says: “As in all times, we do not divide the belligerents into friends and foes. We swore an oath to help all people, regardless of nationality, religion or political views. But now our help is not enough. The fighting will take many lives, cripple so many destinies that we will not have time to help with all possible efforts. People will be shouting in pain and calling out to mothers in the same language.”</p> <p>Almost every day, “anti-war” rallies take place on the streets of Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities. These demonstrations end in the same way—the police arrive and take away the participants. Some are only fined, while others get up to 20 days in prison. The streets of St. Petersburg are covered with graffiti protesting the operation in Ukraine. There are fewer such inscriptions in Moscow, but they also exist. It is just that here they are more actively washed off and painted over.</p> <p>Russian opposition leaders also speak out. For example, the head of the Yabloko party, Grigory Yavlinsky, said that he was expressing “a categorical protest against the outbreak of hostilities against Ukraine. This war is Russia’s war with the objective course of history, a war against time, a tragic fall from the reality of the modern world.” Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is now in prison, said that “Putin is trying to make everyone think that Russia attacked Ukraine, that is, all of us. But it is not [the case]. We must show that we do not support this bloody war.”</p> <p>Tension and anxiety have led to a sharp division of Russian society into supporters of the operation and those who are against it. According to estimates by the state Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), published on February 28, 68 per cent of Russians support the decision to launch a special operation in Ukraine, while 22 per cent oppose it. But, it should be noted that VTsIOM does not enjoy much confidence among Russians, since it has been repeatedly suspected of juggling data. Independent sociologists estimate the number of hawks at about 30 per cent, the same number, in their opinion, oppose hostilities. The rest are vacillating.</p> <p>In the first days after the start of the “special operation in Ukraine”, the vacillators mostly opposed such a move by Moscow. However, gradually they are getting used to it, thanks in part to massive propaganda by state and pro-state media. Therefore, every day there are more and more people who approve of military operations. That is why there is a feeling that opponents of the “special operation”, accused of betraying the motherland by pro-government patriots and nationalists, will become less active in the coming days. At the same time, ordinary citizens, as the socioeconomic problems caused by the sanctions grow, will be concerned not with the search for the truth, but with survival.</p> <p>Additionally, the tightening of the state information policy will also contribute to the reduction of protests. Already, there is a partial blocking of social networks, such as Facebook and Instagram, as well as VPN services. The head of the human rights council of the Russian Federation proposed blocking Facebook altogether in Russia until the end of the special operation. And, as the head of the security committee of the state duma (lower house of the parliament) of the Russian Federation, Vasily Piskarev, said, on February 28, in the near future, parliamentarians may consider a bill that provides for up to 15 years in prison for “fake news about the actions of Russian troops”. The use of the word “war” in relation to what is currently happening in Ukraine is considered by Russian authorities to be “dissemination of false information,” which can be punished by a fine of more than $48,000.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the problem of the worsening economic situation and the associated price rises looks more and more ominous every day. Store prices are rocketing. For example, the cost of a bottle of beer increased by 30 per cent in a few days. Consumer electronics prices are up by 50 per cent on average. Cars, including used ones, have become very expensive. And this is just the beginning of the sanctions.</p> <p>The Russian government is trying to take measures to mitigate the problems. Thus, in response to the sanctions, the Russian Central Bank suspended trading to “cool the market”, more than doubled the discount rate to 20 per cent, and imposed a ban on the execution of orders from foreigners to sell their Russian securities. In addition, on February 28, a decree appeared on the mandatory sale of 80 per cent of the foreign exchange earnings of Russian exporters. In theory, this should support the Russian financial system. However, the overwhelming majority of Russians are not concerned about the liquidity of the banking sector, but about the expected rise in prices for food, medicines and essentials.</p> <p>My aunt, who is 71, calls me five times a day to find out what will happen to her money. She has some savings—about 5,00,000 roubles (at the time of writing, it was equivalent to a little more than $5,000; how much it will be at the time of publication is anybody’s guess). She saved this money for emergencies, like medical expenses or surgery. Now, she asks me every day if she has already become destitute. I reply: Not yet.</p> Sun Mar 06 16:25:32 IST 2022 expert-take-ukraine-needs-regime-change <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Most people, </b>including Russians, did not expect extensive military action in Ukraine. Russian authorities, however, realised that there has been a fundamental change in the situation, and not just in the Donbas region, but across Ukraine. The Zelenskyy government chose to ignore the blatant violation of human rights and atrocities by the neo-Nazis, and refused to comply with the Minsk agreements. There were also reports about a large-scale invasion of neo-Nazis into Donbas, along with the threat of terrorist attacks and provocations ordered by Kyiv against Donbas and Russia.</p> <p>Russian troops hastily occupied the Chernobyl nuclear plant to prevent the possibility of such a terrorist attack. By doing so, Russia was protecting a large number of people, not just in Russia and Ukraine, but in Europe as a whole. This explains the secretive, sudden and large-scale nature of the military operation. The operation was forced, and this is obvious from the fact that President Vladimir Putin was not at all interested in such a course of action.</p> <p>The main task of Russian operations is denazification and demilitarisation of Ukraine. It can only be fulfilled by signing a peace treaty and changing the political regime in Ukraine. First of all, Ukraine must adopt a neutral status. The aggressive NATO cannot be on its territory and neo-Nazi groups must be completely disarmed. Zelenskyy allowed the distribution of weapons into the hands of everyone, which has created a new risk for Ukraine itself.</p> <p>We are already seeing growing chaos. Street gangs have stepped up violence in Ukrainian cities. It is going to be a major challenge for the Russian army. Manoeuvres must be lightning fast, and the operation must be precise and time-bound.</p> <p>Zelenskyy needs to act as an independent leader to stop the war, but he is under the influence of his western handlers, and his decisions depend on their position. He delays key decisions, first offers negotiations and then refuses them. He is, frankly, a weak politician, who cannot and does not want to take responsibility. He expects someone else to solve problems for him.</p> <p>In Russia, too, the reverberations are being felt. As the operation has been secretive and fast, Russians have not been ready, especially psychologically. Most of them do not know what the situation is, and they have hardly thought about the risks that Ukraine has created. Moreover, there is the influence of the western media. Some people, looking superficially at the situation, got scared and protested against the operation. Therefore, until all documents, including the secret ones, are made public, Russians will not have a clear point of view on the situation.</p> <p>The Russian society as a whole, however, is aware that the situation could not last long. Therefore, a majority of the Russians have supported Putin’s decision.</p> <p>As far as the response of the international community is concerned, the position adopted by India and China, despite the pressure from the west, has been not to take any ill-considered steps, and to keep in touch with the Russian government. I think Russia has informed India and China about the risks the Ukrainian government could pose to regional and global security. They have understood that Russia does not conduct military operations against the civilian population, and has taken an objective stand, despite the deluge of fake news, especially on social media, about atrocities committed by Russian forces.</p> <p>—<b>The author teaches international relations at St Petersburg State University, Russia.</b></p> <p><b>As told to Ajish P. Joy</b></p> Sun Mar 06 16:14:00 IST 2022 navtej-sarna-ukraine-russia-is-not-our-war <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Tightrope walking is</b> an acquired skill demanding years of practice and India’s abilities in this regard, as it balances its strategic relationships with Russia and the United States, are being severely tested by the Ukraine conflict. As the conflict intensifies and is brought closer home with the unfortunate death of an Indian student and growing difficulties for thousands more, there is no certainty how long this tightrope may have to extend, or how our official stance may evolve.</p> <p>To recapitulate, India has so far taken—in carefully-crafted statements at the UN Security Council—what appears to be a balanced and even-handed stand; our fortuitous presence at the horseshoe table as a non-permanent member results in both a greater prominence for and a closer examination of our position. While these statements have predictably called for diplomatic dialogue, de-escalation of violence and a settlement on the basis of the Minsk Agreements, they have been perceived to contain a nuanced tilt towards Russia. Expressed in diplomatic shorthand, this tilt lies in our refusal to name Russia as the aggressor, a repeated reference to “legitimate security interests” of all states and a reluctance to categorise the developments as anything beyond “violence and hostilities”. While these statements have grown sharper with the spiralling of the situation into a full-blown conflict, the tightrope has held in essence, culminating in India’s abstention on the crucial draft resolution tabled on February 26 that sought to deplore Russian aggression.</p> <p>Despite the general references to the UN Charter, international law, and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of states contained in our explanation of vote, this abstention by India—even at the cost of standing in China’s dubious company—has been seen as support for Russia, both by Russia as well as the rest of the world. Russia, in fact, officially expressed appreciation of our stand and the US Ambassador in New York characterised an abstention as being “against the Charter”.</p> <p>The reasons for India’s position so far are clear: Russia is seen as an old friend, a reliable partner and the dependable supplier of more than 60 per cent of our defence equipment. Besides the highly sophisticated S-400 missile system, this includes new deals in the pipeline for supply and production of naval frigates, fighter aircraft, assault rifles as well as spares and refurbishment of Soviet and Russian legacy weapon systems. Other crucial areas of strategic cooperation include space, energy and civil nuclear industry.</p> <p>There is also the weight of history. Russia, notwithstanding the current Russia-China bonhomie and recent footsie with Pakistan (on both counts, India would need to have a serious conversation with a possibly attenuated Russia that emerges from the conflict), has been a dependable strategic supporter who can be trusted to wield its UNSC veto in our favour, should we need it. As the world rushes into an open east-west conflict, memories of 1971 and the lifeline offered by the Indo-Soviet Treaty get refreshed. There are also deeply embedded doubts about America and the west’s reliability to provide unconditional strategic support when push comes to shove. Not just 1971, but the recent indifference to our concerns over Afghanistan, the mollycoddling of Pakistan for its own uses by the US and the long wooing of China before the recent reversal of position have not been forgotten.</p> <p>India’s stand so far has been dictated by a hard-nosed calculation of its self-interest. But the same sense of realism also tells us that there will be costs and we should be geared to counter them. Compared with the days of non-alignment, the world today is more multifaceted, interlinked and complex. The balance of power is neither clear nor settled. There is neither the comfort of an entire bloc to lean back on nor the comfort in numbers of the fellow non-aligned. Nor does the construct of strategic autonomy rest on a moral bedrock strengthened by recent freedom struggles and anti-colonial, anti-imperialism impulses; instead, it is seen as a military-security-economic construct, fair game for a transactional approach and less deserving of generous understanding.</p> <p>Beyond the spinoff costs arising out of the crippling sanctions on Russia and rising oil prices, India would need to counter the fallout on the India-US relationship, which is arguably the strongest it has ever been. While the US administration may show more understanding for our position at least for now, the Congress—where the Republicans are regaining their hawkish attitude—is likely to prove more difficult, particularly on the CAATSA waiver against sanctions for purchase of the S-400. It will also be a challenge to maintain the present strong momentum in the defence relationship and access to hi-tech weaponry; US caution about leakage of high technology to Russia, alleviated to some extent by the conclusion of foundational agreements with India over the past five years, is certain to re-emerge.</p> <p>Further, India would need to ensure that neither the shifting of US focus from China to Russia nor any disappointment with our stand, weakens the India-US strategic convergence on China. The Quad—which is just beginning to get some teeth towards providing an alternative political, economic and technological paradigm for the Indo-Pacific—would need to be firewalled from the Ukraine fallout, as we stand alone among its four members. Our policy bet is that by taking the position that we have, we do not lose Russia and we depend on our inherent strength as a strategic, economic and technological partner to repair any cracks that may appear in the India-US and India-Europe relationships. However, this bet should factor in the odds of China’s increased hold on Russia, hardened European and NATO positions and a possibly decreased western focus on the Indo-Pacific.</p> <p>India’s position should continue to evolve in the coming days and weeks depending on the situation, the extent of the destruction, civilian losses, even the opposition within Russia and so on. In developing our stance further, we would need to be mindful of several key aspects: First, our support for the principles of international law, sovereignty and territorial integrity may need reiteration beyond our last mention of these in the UNSC. A cynical view could well be that no great power, east or west, really respects those principles; yet if we are seen to be weak on supporting these fundamentals, then we open ourselves to losing international support on exactly those grounds when we need it. Secondly, though some may consider this to be a small change, there is likely damage to India’s soft power: images of rolling tanks, cowering civilians and teeming refugees will progressively increase the pressure on countries that have not openly denounced Russian aggression. Extending humanitarian aid to Ukraine is a welcome move that can ameliorate, to some extent, any such setback to the image. Thirdly, the diplomatic dividend from our position has given us space to play a role and not just be a neutral observer. The prime minister’s conversations with Putin, Zelenskyy and other European leaders as well as the foreign minister’s conversations are proof of this point. The immediate focus of these conversations would naturally be to ensure the safe evacuation of Indian nationals, but India should not eschew any opportunity to play a broader role in facilitating dialogue. An early end to the conflict will also limit our costs; sitting on the horns of a dilemma for long is never a comfortable option. While this is not our war, we can endeavour to be part of the peace.</p> <p>—<b>The writer is a former high commissioner of India to the UK and ambassador to the US.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sun Mar 06 16:06:42 IST 2022 is-the-ukraine-war-presenting-only-headaches-to-india-or-opportunity <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Operation Ganga is </b>a high-optics mission to bring back Indian nationals from Ukraine’s war zone. The death of medical student Naveen Shekharappa has brought home the war, underscoring the danger to civilian populations. With four Union ministers dispatched to various border areas to oversee evacuations and Prime Minister Narendra Modi making calls to heads of border countries—Romania, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia—as well as Vladimir Putin and Volodomyr Zelenskyy, India’s immediate concern is to get its people back home, safely.</p> <p>It is not an easy task, given the massive exodus from Ukraine. Neither aggressor nor defendant, and certainly not the rest of the world, had expected this war to stretch this far. Around 8,000 of the approximate 20,000 Indians are out of Ukraine already. Russia is now working on opening humanitarian corridors from Ukraine for such evacuations.</p> <p>However, there are bigger headaches facing India in the long run, and not all of them are dependent on what position India takes in this conflict. Call it payback for the steadfast way in which Russia stood by India, call it compulsions of robust military cooperation, but so far, India has not gone against Russia on the international platform. It has adeptly used diplomatese to condemn the war without apportioning blame, yet, refused to vote against Russia at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)—to condemn the invasion, and even to convene a special session of the UN general assembly. It maintained a similar stance at the UN Human Rights Commission. “We take positions based on certain very careful considerations… we will take decisions in our best interests,” explained Foreign Secretary Harshvardhan Shringla.</p> <p>India has always voted carefully whenever there is a resolution concerning the big powers, especially their interventions in another country, said India’s former permanent representative to the UN, Dilip Sinha.</p> <p>In 2011, for instance, when India was in the UNSC, it abstained from voting for a no-fly zone over Libya that the US initiated. Experts believe that India’s decision to abstain from a vote is not in conflict with its position regarding the “territorial sovereignty” of a country. Deputy director-general of Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Major General Bipin Bakshi (rtd), recounted the massive campaigns launched on Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan by nations that were not even located in the same continent. “The same powers that bombed Libya and Iraq had condemned India’s actions in 1971,” said Bakshi. “India will have to take a posture on the issue that best serves her interests, and the posture might see some modification as the situation unfolds.”</p> <p>“We are strategic partners. We are very grateful to India for its balanced position at the UN. India understands the depth and reasons for the current crisis, it sees the whole situation in all its complexities, not just at face value. That is why it stands so balanced and unbiased,” said Russia’s ambassador-designate to India, Denis Alipov. “We hope India will continue to take that position.”</p> <p>Right now, loyalty to Russia still counts. Especially when that can be done by abstention, without having to vote for or against. Then, it gives India the space to reach out to the other side, too. India has started sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine.</p> <p>Justifying a position may be the easier part. Managing its repercussions is another story. So far, the west has not said anything about India’s position, knowing well that the Indo-Russian friendship has to be factored into every pact and grouping it makes with India. “They know they can go only as far with India,” said Harsh Pant of the Observer Research Foundation. Thus, the Quad remains a nonmilitary grouping, its “security’’ element encompassing all forms of security—health, livelihood, even climate change. The military trilateral Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) was rustled up because Quad will not walk that extra step. AUKUS comfortably complements Quad. Russia, similarly, did not say anything when India made a new bestie, the US, to play together in the Indo-Pacific. Russia is fine, as long as its red lines are not crossed. Ukraine is that red line.</p> <p>With geopolitics rapidly polarising, will partners remain as understanding? The US earlier turned a blind eye on Russia’s S-400 deal with India but invoked Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) against Turkey for the same. It might not be so accommodating in the future. Given that the bulk of India’s military equipment is still Russian, despite recent diversifications, these sanctions could hit India. Russia itself is not likely to be affected much by sanctions. Decades of sanctions have made it the kind of <i>atmanirbhar</i> (self-reliant) that in India is still a work in progress. “We need to work on innovative ways of avoiding sanctions in future, say by having special purpose vehicles with a ruble-rupee swap system,” said Anil Trigunayat, former envoy and distinguished fellow at Vivekananda International Foundation.</p> <p>Alipov said the S-400 deal was done in a way that it is immune to past and any new sanctions. “Rest assured, there is hundred per cent surety on this,” he said. But overall trade may see the impact, despite there being a mechanism for doing business in the ruble-rupee swap. “A lot will depend on Indian partners, some of whom are cautious about doing business because of their exposure to the European and US markets,” said Alipov.</p> <p>Grand plans of alternate transport routes, especially the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) might get affected, too. However, the changes in Afghanistan have already impacted this project negatively. There are too many factors at play affecting the outcome of this ambitious project.</p> <p>The world is a complicated place. While the robustness of India’s friendship with Russia is time-tested, India’s people-to-people and economic engagement is more intense with the western world. Those ties are only getting stronger. Given the potential of India’s market, it is not that simple for other nations to punish India for its Russian loyalty. The age of isolating India is long past. The hits could come in other forms, like calling out India for human rights violations and minority issues. India is rather thin-skinned over such criticisms and still has to learn to counter them without raising its hackles. While resolutions on such issues do not have an economic impact, they impact perceptions. India is rather touchy about how it is perceived, unlike Russia, which remains unfazed.</p> <p>Isolating Russia, on the other hand, has other risks. For one, the nation is largely sanction-proof (Russian diplomat Roman Babushkin even said sanctions will give them further opportunities to strengthen self-reliance). On the other, isolating Russia only ensures that the Russia-China tie gets tighter, something the west would not want either. The US maintains China as its biggest threat. This prospect is a big worry for India, too. Could the Russian-Chinese friendship get to a stage when it could endanger India? Memories of 1962 are still sharp, when India found itself all alone while facing China’s aggression. The optimists think differently. “Russia and China need each other on the global stage. Russia needs India to contain China in its backyard,” said Trigunayat.</p> <p>Russia is changing the world. The longer the war continues, the more drastically different will be the new format. There might come a point when India will have to take sides. But could India not help shape the future, instead? A time of adversity can also be one of opportunity. India is in that unique position when it can talk with everyone—Russia, the US, Ukraine. By remaining neutral, it has strengthened its position. China abstained from voting, too. The difference is that China does not have credibility with the west. “This is the moment when we should offer ourselves, become proactive. We can be that neutral ground for talks,” said Trigunayat. Former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha has called upon Modi to offer to mediate in the conflict, and become a Vishwaguru if he can help stop the war. “If India can skillfully manage this situation, it can [truly] take its permanent place in the Security Council [which it aspires for],” said Alexey Kuprianov, south and Central Asia expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences.&nbsp;</p> Sun Mar 06 16:00:40 IST 2022 ukraine-crisis-india-must-do-more-writes-salman-khurshid <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>My party, the</b> Indian National Congress, like many Indian citizens free of onerous responsibility of managing important diplomatic relations, has closely observed with growing concern the unfolding of the human crisis in Ukraine as a result of military conflict between that country and Russia. Apportioning blame now is neither helpful nor useful in the long run for India to play a constructive role. There is much talk of the emergence of a new world order and it would be a pity if that happens without India’s participation and contribution. Even as our relations with Russia remain important there is great irony in being on the same side as China although our comfort level with the latter remains uncertain.</p> <p>Sadly, despite efforts on both sides, escalation of the differences has led to avoidable military violence causing loss of life and property. As this opinion is being written, the first round of talks between the estranged neighbours has drawn a blank even on a temporary ceasefire. India finds itself in the unhappy situation of having friends on both sides of the conflict and, therefore, especially distressed that matters got out of hand. Undoubtedly, we have a duty to prevail on both sides and persuade them to de-escalate the conflict immediately and work towards peaceful military disengagement and negotiations.</p> <p>There is much to be said on both sides and that can only be done by honest intervention of friends. Expectations and the chance of being misunderstood are obviously great. Unfortunately, our voice is somewhat dampened by practical considerations of self-interest and our valued relationship with Russia over the decades and through many crises. That relationship, ironically, was shared by Ukraine as part of the Soviet Union although the latter’s preoccupation with the EU and NATO may have obscured that somewhat. However, the very fact that 20,000 Indians, most of them students, are on Ukrainian soil speaks of our continuing beneficial relationship.</p> <p>Unfortunately, the fine balancing we need to do in the current circumstances is not exactly helping those Indians caught in the dangerous situation. The government of India must, of course, keep in mind that the commitment of the country over decades since independence from Panchsheel to the Non-Aligned Movement is not hastily undermined by a difficult emotional and practical consideration to support a friend. But then, what is a friend who does not heed the implications of a decision taken in his own legitimate self-interest?</p> <p>In the last seven years, as we boasted of having taken our international friendships to an unprecedented level, did we take too much for granted? Did the visuals of partnership overlook realpolitik? Did we misread the gestures of friendship and take the surface impressions for the substance of our relationships? Surely, we must do what we can to bring peace immediately but once that is achieved there will be a lot to do for the world and India as well.</p> <p>Let us not forget that the strategic force of Russia has been alerted and many have talked of a third world war, even if to discourage the remote possibility. One is reminded of the Cuban crisis when US president John F. Kennedy drew the red line and the USSR retreated, averting a nuclear confrontation. We might be witnessing an obverse mirror image this time, with many allusions to the past arguments we heard from the US. But, this is a solemn reminder that the worst fears of the Cold War days might continue to visit us if we do not put the world in order. There is little one can do about the lives that have been lost, particularly innocent young children and women, the worst victims of state violence. But, there might be a lesson in not permitting disagreements and differences to grow into major confrontations. Sovereignty and security are in a balance; the scales must be held steady without fear or favour on all sides. As an Indian, one can only ask of our government: are you equal to the task?</p> <p>There is, of course, need during the crisis to support efforts of the government of India to put in place arrangements to evacuate Indian citizens, albeit with considerable, inexplicable delay. In the internet age, the painful helplessness of young Indians stranded without transport and with little back up, and the unfortunate lack of cooperation by border authorities of Ukraine and its neighbours quickly overshadows the uncalled-for celebration for evacuating but a fraction of the Indian population of Ukraine. Yet, hopefully all our citizens will be home soon and one hopes that the government will do a better job of renegotiating their ultimate safe return to their institutions. Simultaneously, the government must exert itself with greater endeavour to have its voice heard to restore peace and, for that extensive diplomatic effort, engage all stakeholders and build enlightened public opinion.</p> <p>—<b>Khurshid is former external affairs minister.</b></p> Sun Mar 06 15:49:57 IST 2022 how-the-russia-ukraine-war-will-affect-india-s-defence-supplies <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>On February 27,</b> Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba announced that the invading Russian forces had destroyed the “biggest plane in the world”—the Antonov AN-225 named “Mriya (The Dream, in Ukrainian)”—that was parked at Hostomel Airport, near Kyiv. The strategic airlift cargo aircraft that held multiple records was designed by the Antonov Design Bureau in the Ukrainian SSR of the Soviet Union in the 1980s.</p> <p>India has a strong link with Antonov. In 1984, India became the launch customer for its AN-32 military transport aircraft. Designed to withstand adverse weather conditions, the AN-32s were used to ferry cargo and personnel to every terrain, including the Himalayan frontier. Even now, India operates over 100 AN-32s, though they are waiting for an upgrade to fly safely.</p> <p>India is dependent on both Russia and Ukraine for the supply of critical defence equipment. Observers in the security establishment believe that the current conflict will adversely affect India at several levels. Besides new purchases, the Indian military’s existing platforms from fighter planes to air defence missiles, artillery guns and infantry combat vehicles to its T-72 and T-90 tanks are dependent on both Russia and Ukraine for critical spare parts.</p> <p>“Certainly, the ongoing war will interrupt the deliveries…. Curtailing of defence supplies will impact India’s ability to respond to China [in case of a face-off],” says Phunchok Stobdan, former Indian ambassador to Kyrgyzstan. And the sanctions against Russia by the United States and other European nations put a question mark on India’s military purchases, besides deliveries of spares and supplies for existing equipment. From the project to produce AK-203 assault rifles in India to BrahMos Aerospace which recently bagged export orders from the Philippines, multiple India-Russia joint venture projects are likely to be interrupted. Experts, however, believe a delay in delivery of long-range air defence system S-400 Triumf—a process started in December last year—would be the immediate casualty. The delivery of nuclear submarine Chakra III, which is scheduled to arrive by the end of 2025, may also face some delay.</p> <p>More than 70 per cent of the Indian military arsenal is of Russian origin. INS Vikramaditya, the Indian Navy’s sole operational aircraft carrier, is a refurbished Soviet-era ship. Moreover, four of the Indian Navy’s 10 guided-missile destroyers are Russian Kashin-class, six of its 17 frigates are Russian Talwar-class and its lone nuclear-powered attack submarine, INS Chakra, is an Akula-class vessel on lease from Russia. Similarly, most of the Indian Air Force’s fighter jets are Russian—it operates 272 Su-30MKIs and over 100 MiG-21 Bisons. The IAF also operates Russian-made Mi-17 and Mi-8 helicopters.</p> <p>After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Indian military had faced a shortage of critical spares and had to chase the original equipment manufacturers. Incidentally, in the early 2000s, Russia had agreed to arrange all types of critical spares for Indian platforms. Simultaneously, India developed equally good ties with Ukraine, too, for its military needs.</p> <p>India needs Ukrainian support for upgrading the IAF fleet of Antonov AN-32, supplying critical R-27 air-to-air missiles for its fighter jets, upgrading existing artillery and air defence systems, and getting engines for the four guided-missile frigates of the Indian Navy.</p> <p>In 2008, the Indian government had signed a $400 million contract with Ukraine to upgrade its 105 AN-32 planes. Under the contract, 45 aircraft were upgraded in Ukraine and the rest were to be upgraded at Kanpur. But the project got delayed after Russia refused to supply Ukraine with critical equipment for the retrofit, following a breakdown of ties between Kyiv and Moscow over the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. Meanwhile, the IAF bought Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules and Boeing C-17 Globemaster III transport jets from the United States.</p> <p>Stobdan points out that India’s problem will grow worse if the US imposes sanctions on Russia under its Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). “[India’s] major military platform’s patent lies with Russia,” he says. “The key issue will be the payment as Russia is out from SWIFT—the international banking system.” The US seems to have provided a silent CAATSA waiver to India for purchasing the S-400 system. However, it remains to be seen whether it will maintain a similar stand on other future military purchases from Russia.</p> <p>In 2018, India had signed a $950 million contract with Russia for four advanced Talwar-class frigates. But these warships are designed to operate with a Ukrainian power plant, and no alternative option is available. In 2019, India convinced Ukraine to supply engines for two ships to the Kaliningrad shipyard in Russia. But the engines for the other two ships are yet to be delivered. Experts maintain that India will have to look at countries like Georgia, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan for critical spare parts, as these countries also have old Soviet-era military platforms.</p> <p>Retired Air Marshal M. Matheswaran, former deputy chief of integrated defence staff, believes the present conflict will hit India’s military preparedness if it drags on. He believes that Ukraine is being used as a pawn by the Americans and NATO. “There is no option for India but to take a neutral stand and not openly support anyone,” he says. “India-Russia partnership is more valuable and we cannot afford to damage it.”&nbsp;</p> Sun Mar 06 15:42:50 IST 2022 indian-students-stare-at-uncertain-future-as-they-flee-ukraine <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>At around 7.30am</b> on February 24, a decorative glass object toppled to the floor of Siddharth Saini’s studio apartment. And he knew the nightmare had begun.</p> <p>A deafening roar filled the street outside; it was the 22-year-old Haryanvi’s introduction to bombs. A fourth-year student at Vinnytsia National Pirogov Memorial Medical University in Ukraine, Saini had somehow managed to get a ticket back to India via Dubai for the 24th evening. He was due to take a train in an hour to reach Kyiv. Incidentally, the war was declared that morning. However, something bizarre happened then. “At 8:45am, our online classes began. I did not understand… the country is under war, and they are taking online classes?” asked Saini, as he waits in a Romanian shelter for a bus to Bucharest—and from there, a flight to India.</p> <p>Saini said that Ukrainians were anticipating something “very big” from Russia since December. His friends from other countries like Sweden had left Vinnytsia when US President Joe Biden sounded the alarm in the second week of February. But the Indian embassy was not quite panicking yet. And, in the city, everything was going on as usual. Saini, however, started looking for flight tickets from February 17 onwards. His bookings would get cancelled, or the prices would hit the roof. While a one-way ticket from Kyiv to Delhi would normally cost Rs20,000-Rs22,000, from the middle of February, it started hovering between Rs70,000 to Rs80,000. When Russian President Vladimir Putin officially recognised the independence of the two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, Saini ignored the cost and booked tickets for the 24th. However, he dropped his plans when friends from Kharkiv National Medical University were not allowed to deboard their bus at Kyiv airport, as all the flights were cancelled. They alerted Saini to stay put in Vinnytsia.</p> <p>“Those sirens started going off—the sirens to prepare your emergency backpack and head to the bunkers below. They would haunt me for the rest of my life,” recalled Saini about the three chilly nights he spent in a bunker. “Three short sirens mean it is safe to get out. One long siren is to drop everything and head to the bunkers with your emergency kit. Three long sirens means to drop everything and leave right away for the bunkers. Even without your documents!”</p> <p>On February 26, Saini and his group of friends got a bus to the Romanian border, where he was not prepared for the long line of Ukrainian cars waiting to cross over. “We walked for some 7km with our luggage, documents, six litres of water, laptops and food,” he said. “When we got to the checkpoint, the scenes of manhandling we saw, it is best to not describe them. The authorities were bashing women.” Saini waited in queue for a day in freezing temperatures to cross the Romanian border.</p> <p>According to the Ukraine ministry of education and science, there are 20,000 Indians in the country, of which 18,000 are students. Most of them are medical students as it is cheaper to study medicine there than in private Indian medical colleges. It is also a gateway to working and settling in Europe. But what happens now for the many Indian medical aspirants when the battle is lost and won, and a post-war Ukraine undertakes the arduous journey of repairing a ravaged economy and a deeply wounded society? “Only those students in their third, fourth or fifth year will come back to complete their degrees,” said Raj Pandey, a fifth-year student at Bogomolets National Medical University in Kyiv. He left for India in the middle of February itself under intense family pressure. “Medicine is a practice-based profession. The last two years have been the worst possible time for Indian medical students in Ukraine. First, there was Covid and now this war,” said Pandey, who is now tapping into his local contacts in Ukraine to arrange buses and cars for trapped students in Kharkiv.</p> <p>Janani is a student at Kharkiv National Medical University. On February 28, she responded to Telegram messages from her university bunker—where she had been trapped for five days with 80 other Indian students. “If we want to leave, we should go at our risk. The Indian embassy is not taking any steps for us,” she wrote at 6:42pm. When asked about her escape plans, she said: “The Indian embassy should help us to get out. We do not want to take any risk.” Can you still hear bombings? “Yes, we heard that sound.” That was Janani’s last message at 6:50pm. And then radio silence.</p> <p>Shilpa Gupta, a student from Bihar, studying at the International European University in Kyiv, managed to reach the Warsaw airport in Poland on February 28 for a flight back to India via Doha. But she is hardly relieved. “I bought my tickets. There was no arrangement of any flight, no camping, no Indian embassy number was working. I am all alone in this situation,” she said in a voice note.</p> <p>Debanani Guha in Kolkata is waiting for her son Suvonil to return. She is not exactly stressed; her son is waiting for his turn to board a flight in Romania. The worst is over. “Their agent has helped them a lot,” she said. “Once they crossed the border, they got blankets and food from the Romanian people. Embassy instructions were always very vague.”</p> <p>Suvonil, 23, managed to get across the border by flexing his good old Indian <i>jugaad</i> skills. “I got into a line which had many Nigerians and several contractors. They somehow managed to push their way through,” said Suvonil. He knows the situation is much worse for thousands of others still trying to leave Ukraine. “Yes, we are worried for our future, but we hope the situation gets better in Ukraine in the coming days,” he said. “I do not know if I can work there anymore, but I just want my medical degree at this point.”&nbsp;</p> Sun Mar 06 15:44:23 IST 2022 up-polls-akhilesh-yadav-solo-fight-to-recapture-lucknow <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Just as in life, in politics, too, there is a tide in the affairs of men.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Uttar Pradesh’s assembly elections, the overriding perception is that Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav is the man most likely to benefit from this tide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yadav is the complete antithesis of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. This is most marked in the language he uses during the election campaign. He does not make comments like garmi nikaal denge (will take the heat out), but responds with witty quips. In this case, for instance, he asked whether Adityanath was a compressor to perform such mechanical feats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The loss in the 2017 assembly elections and the dismal showing in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls had left Yadav embittered. After the losses, party men recall, he cut himself off from all contact within the party. The 2019 results were especially painful, as his wife Dimple lost from Kannauj, the same city from where he launched a specially made ‘Samajwadi ittr (fragrance)’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In this election, Yadav is on his own. In 2012, although he had almost single-handedly stitched together all the elements that ousted the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government, he was not the party’s chief ministerial face. His 10,000-km yatra through the state had even earned the admiration of Rahul Gandhi who was unable to forge the people connect that Yadav seemed so adept at doing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The change was visible on the ground then, with him denying tickets to strongmen such as Dharam Pal Yadav. And then there was his humility. After the victory, he quickly dismissed speculation that the new government would demolish statues and memorials built by Mayawati, saying that the vacant spaces would be used for public facilities such as hospitals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Yadav of 2022 is a very different man. Gone is the very strong backing of his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, who is unwell. In Karhal, from where Yadav is contesting, Mulayam addressed his first rally in this election season. But he forgot to mention his son’s name, saying instead “vote for whoever the candidate is”, a lapse that Adityanath took a swipe at. His reconciliation with his uncle, Shivpal, too, is half-hearted, what with him giving just one seat to Shivpal’s party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yadav’s strategy this time has been to stitch together a coalition of small, caste-based parties which can fill in the gaps in the SP arsenal. It has generated resentment among party leaders who had been working for the last five years in the hope of getting a ticket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ram Bishun Azad, former MLA from Mankapur, is one of them. In the 2017 elections, he finished third, which he said was because his name was announced very late and he got just nine days to campaign. “Akhilesh ji had asked me to fight the elections, and to keep working hard,” said Azad. Yet, the seat went to Ramesh Gautam, who was expelled from the BSP for anti-party activities. “My years of dedication counted for nothing and a man who had joined the party just four months ago got the ticket. It was humiliating,” said Azad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are many like Azad. A few got tickets, but were told not to file their nominations. Some of them said Yadav was burnt in effigy at many places and that official candidates were being actively opposed by local party units. They also said Yadav’s manner of decision making, where it was completely unclear what criteria was used to distribute tickets, was unlike what had happened when Mulayam was party president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He (Mulayam) would call up a worker, explain to him why the ticket was cancelled, assure him of an adjustment in some other form, and keep his word. Now it is just a one-man show and people’s careers are being ruined,” said a disgruntled ticket seeker.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The SP’s most prominent allies in this election are the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP). The former is led by Jayant Chaudhary (son of the late Ajit Singh) and the latter by Om Prakash Rajbhar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Traditionally, the RLD has a strong grip over western Uttar Pradesh, where the Jats, though not numerically dominant, are an influential caste. It is, however, a waning grip as in the elections of 2017, the RLD’s score was zero.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is also a party with a history of allying with political outfits of differing ideologies. In the 2002 assembly elections, it sided with the BSP. Two years later in the Lok Sabha elections, it struck an alliance with the SP and then moved on to the BJP in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. In 2014, it shifted its allegiance to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. In the possible scenario of the SP not emerging as the single largest party, and the governor inviting the BJP to form the government, another shift by the RLD cannot be ruled out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sudhir Panwar, a senior SP leader from Shamli in western Uttar Pradesh, however, said the RLD was unlikely to ditch the alliance. “The BJP tried hard to bring the RLD to its fold, but the party did not go with it. This is a different kind of election where the search is for an alternative to the BJP,” said Panwar. “It was the public which first decided that the SP would be that alternative and then the RLD joined it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajbhar, who started his political career with the BSP, is a mercurial politician. Although he was a minister in the Adityanath cabinet, he once alleged that the chief minister was trying to get him killed. Rajbhar was ousted from the government in 2019. Yet, as late as the last quarter of 2021, he was considering joining hands with the BJP once again, if it gave in to his demands, including that of a caste-based census.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Rajbhar caste forms 2.36 per cent of the electorate, according to experts, but is seen as a leader among the backward communities. Said Rajbhar, “Just on our own, we can attract 20 per cent votes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Rajbhar threw in his lot with the SP, he would not tire of saying that he was not in the alliance for seats, but only because he wanted to rout the BJP. The SBSP, however, is now contesting 18 seats on its own symbol. Given Rajbhar’s volatile nature, there is no saying which way he will go after the elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among SP’s smaller allies is the Mahan Dal, which was given two seats. Keshav Dev, national president of the party, said, “Even if Akhilesh has lesser experience, he remains the only credible alternative to the BJP. The electorate’s only desire is to throw the BJP out. Had there been another alternative, voters would have gone for that. However, the BSP is acting as the BJP’s B team and the Congress is hardly putting up a fight.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Those in Yadav’s inner circle, however, say the party chief’s own merits are the main reason why the voters want him back in the saddle. Anurag Bhadouria, national spokesperson of the SP, said Yadav was able to get things done. “He set up the 1090 women’s helpline, started the Lucknow Metro project and initiated the building of expressways among other things. He has a clear vision of development,” said Bhadouria, who is contesting from Lucknow East.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Annu Tandon, former Congress MP from Unnao who joined the SP in November 2020, said Yadav had the right neeyat (intent). “He is sensitive to issues of women, especially their safety and education. He has promised free education till postgraduate level. He understands the need to restore the dignity of the farmers and will provide five bags of urea and two of DAP (fertiliser). Appropriate policy changes will be made to stop the losses caused by stray animals.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Athar Husain, director of the Lucknow-based Centre for Objective Research and Development, said Yadav had generated confidence across a wide section of the population with his announcements on employment generation and on the restoration of the old pension scheme. “These will yield major electoral benefits.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Madhukar Jetley, an SP member of the legislative council who is very close to Mulayam, said Yadav could consider choosing his advisers with greater care. “In Neta ji’s (Mulayam) time, bureaucrats were never given any importance. Now bureaucrats who have worked against the party under the current regime in the hope of getting plum post-retirement postings are hovering around him,” said Jetley.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A former chief secretary who is now close to Yadav had not so long ago won high praise from Adityanath in a speech delivered in the legislative council. It has made many SP leaders unhappy. “We feel insulted. The entry of these bureaucrats scuttles the careers of party workers and diminishes our stature,” said an MLC who was present during the aforementioned speech.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The strain on Yadav is visible. He is the only known face of the SP, shouldering the burden of campaign, while the BJP has launched an offensive with its entire top leadership. Rajendra Chaudhary, SP spokesperson, described it as an “army” hurling abuse at Yadav.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vidya Bhushan Rawat, an Ambedkarite activist and author, said there was definite ground support for Yadav in some parts of the state. He, however, said the media perception that the BSP was not in the race was wrong. In his view, it was important that either of these two parties formed the next government. “If neither of them can do so, the anti-BJP voters would then look for an alternative. It will improve the chances of the Congress in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections,” said Rawat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yadav’s performance, therefore, is crucial to the direction in which politics in Uttar Pradesh is headed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But just as in life, in politics, too, the tide must be taken at the flood so that it leads to fortune. Will Yadav be able to do that is the question.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>CASTES OF UP</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Saini (including Mali and Baghban), OBC</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The origin of Sainis is traced back to Lord Krishna. Another version is that they are of Rajput origin and a martial people. They enlisted in large numbers in the army of the sixth Sikh guru, Har Gobind, to fight the Mughals. They are found in UP, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and MP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In every prominent movement of the freedom struggle, Sainis had an important role to play. Their population in UP stands at 2.9 lakh, and they are concentrated in the western region of the state. One of the most prominent politicians who belongs to the caste is Dharam Singh Saini, a four-time MLA and minister in the UP government, who ditched the BJP and joined the SP. The Sainis remained largely absent from the farmers’ movement in UP, as their allegiances lie with the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>CASTES OF UP</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Khatik, SC</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They are spread throughout north India and trace their origins to Kshatriyas. They are divided into two further groups—the Suryavanshis and the Sonkars. Their main task was to kill animals for yagyas (sacrifices), which were performed by kings. Even today, in Hindu temples, Khatiks reserve that right.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A prominent Khatik politician is Udit Raj, who is the national chairman of the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations and was a BJP MP in the 16th Lok Sabha. Their importance can be gauged by the fact that in the last cabinet expansion in UP, one inductee was Dinesh Khatik, who was given the portfolio for jal shakti and flood control.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Punjab, many Khatiks have converted to Islam. As per the Census of India, 2001, Khatiks, along with Dhanuk and Gond castes, form five per cent of UP’s population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>CASTES OF UP</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Pasi (also known as Tarmali), SC</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Spread through north India, Pasis are also found in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Their traditional occupations have included toddy-tapping, pig-rearing and agricultural labour. In UP, they were classified as a criminal tribe by the British. They are believed to have originated from the sweat (paseena in Hindi) of Parshurama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some ethnographers say Pasis were a Dravidian tribe which ruled over some areas of erstwhile Oudh. One of the famous Pasi icons is Uda Devi, an associate of Begum Hazrat Mahal, who was shot dead in 1857 while fighting the British in Lucknow. The Bahujan Samaj Party was the first to raise Uda Devi as an icon to pander to the community. They form the second largest Dalit group in UP and account for almost 16 per cent of the SC population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>CASTES OF UP</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Mallah, (also known as Kewat), OBC</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the name indicates, Mallahs are traditionally boatmen. The name Kewat is derived from the Sanskrit word kaivarta, meaning fishermen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They are concentrated in eastern UP and Bihar—in areas where Bhojpuri is spoken. Some of them are also found in Rajasthan (in Kota and Sawai Madhopur). According to ethnologists (Russel and Hiralal, The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India, 1916) they are almost certainly derived from the non-Aryan primitive tribes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within the larger Mallah banner are some 30 sub-castes, all of which have engaged in livelihoods around water sources. One of their biggest demands is including them in the category of Scheduled Tribes. The Yogi government included the caste in the list of Scheduled Castes. One of the best-known names from the community is Phoolan Devi, the dacoit-turned-politician. Estimates about their population in UP vary between 2.3 and 4.5 per cent.</p> Sun Feb 27 11:11:45 IST 2022 akhilesh-yadav-interview-i-have-learnt-how-to-defeat-the-bjp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ Half of this election is over. How do you gauge public sentiment?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Since the BJP has come to power, a 440-volt current is running through the electorate against it. Of course, the party does not realise this. The first question it needs to answer is—why is inflation so high? Then, why is it that, despite the much-touted ‘double engine’, there are no jobs. The youth of the state are ready to uproot the tracks on which their train of lies runs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When farmers came out with their demands, forget listening to them, they (the BJP) put up barricades, fixed nails on roads, called in whatever (police) forces they could and labelled the farmers terrorists and mawalis (disreputable characters). 700 of them lost their lives. It took them (the BJP-led Centre) that long to take back the black laws. When the SP rath (chariot) started moving from Ghazipur to Lucknow (November 2021), the government was petrified [by the crowds we were attracting]. Elections were looming in Punjab and UP, so they had no option but to withdraw the laws.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP leaders keep saying A for this, B for that (Yogi Adityanath had said ‘Abba jaan’ to allude to the preference the SP gives Muslims during its rule), but I say only this—‘Kaka’ for Kaale Kanoon (black laws). Kaka went and now it is Baba’s turn to go. I heard he has already booked a flight ticket to Gorakhpur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Where does the SP stand after three phases of polling?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In the first two phases, we have hit a century. With the fourth phase, we will complete another century. We will get our majority in these four phases. Then we will go beyond it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The kind of language used in this election has been unfortunate. Why has politics come to this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ As children, we were taught that when one begins to get irritated sensing the possibility of defeat, one uses foul language. The BJP is using the language of a loser.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is the responsibility of the Election Commission of India to keep a check [on this]. Our PM is very educated, so is [Home Minister] Amit Shah ji. They should use good language and set a precedent. Instead, look at what their party candidate in Domariyaganj said. (Raghvendra Pratap Singh, the sitting BJP MLA from the constituency, had said that those Hindus who do not vote for the BJP must have Muslim blood in their veins).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is an IG (inspector general of police) in Lucknow who is pressurising voters to choose the BJP because her husband is contesting (the reference is to Rajeshwar Singh, a former Enforcement Directorate official). We have filed two complaints before the ECI, but no action has been taken.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have struck two crucial alliances in the west (with the Rashtriya Lok Dal) and the east (with the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party). Which do you think will be the most beneficial?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ This is a very different election. It is the public that is fighting this election against the BJP. And, in every phase, the people are concerned with just one thing—how to get the SP and its allies more votes than the previous phase. We are only standing with the public with our regional allies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Which new voter is coming to you in this election?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ All our voters are new voters. As I say, Nayi hawa hai, nayi Sapa hai (these are fresh winds, this is a new SP). Our alliance partners have gotten us the votes of many castes. I would go as far as saying that there is no caste that has not voted for us in this election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is there a possibility of a post-poll alliance?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I do not think that will be necessary; we will get a majority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you not think that an alliance (with the Congress or the Bahujan Samaj Party) would have prevented a split of the anti-BJP vote?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In this election, the people’s only concern is how to defeat the BJP. The only alternative they see is the SP. Look at how poorly the BSP and the Congress did in the last elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ After the BJP, who is your biggest competitor in this election?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is no other party in the reckoning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There has been some anger in your party over ticket distribution.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ All anger and resentment is over. Those who got tickets are campaigning with support from other party workers. I have seen that on the ground, in all the phases. In Sirathu (where the candidate against Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya is alliance partner Apna Dal (K)’s Pallavi Patel), all ticket contenders were on stage together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the start of any election, there are disagreements, but all these are resolved quickly….I told the ticket hopefuls to decide among themselves who deserved the ticket the most. I asked them to sort it out over a meal. If they still could not decide, then it was my call.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What have you learnt in the years that you have been out of power?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I have learnt how to defeat the BJP. I have learnt that farmers, the poor, the young, traders and workers are the decision makers. There is no formula that can work beyond them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here (in his office) I sit facing [idols] of the gods. Look at all of Yogi ji’s pictures; the images of gods are behind him. So, essentially, he is showing his back to the gods. This is not right. Even God is with us in this election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Besides anti-incumbency, what is working for you in this election?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ People believe that we can get work done. It is this trust that is getting us votes. During the pandemic, it was the infrastructure we created (hospitals, ambulance service, police helpline) that benefited people the most. There were so many people from various districts who told me that they had never been on a flight, but the expressways that we created helped them get back home during the lockdown....</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at what this government is doing. Where are the smartphones it had promised? The tablets that they distributed are farzi (fake) and do not [have] the specifications they promised. But then that is bound to happen when Baba ji himself does not know how to use a tablet. While the public looks in one direction, he is looking in another.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You are a family person. How does that influence your politics?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Listen to the language the BJP uses. How is it justified for them to talk about Neta ji (Mulayam Singh Yadav) in the way they did? (S.P. Singh Baghel, the BJP candidate from Karhal, said that the senior Yadav had been forced to campaign for his son). If Neta ji is with me they are bothered, if he is not with me, they are still irritated. We have not spoken about anyone’s family in the campaign. The public notices all of this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the pandemic, I read a report about a woman who was walking from Maharashtra to Lalitpur (Uttar Pradesh) and had to deliver her child. She rested for just three hours and resumed her walk. I called up a party worker at 6am and asked him to get immediate help to her. I told him 'If the police stop you (the lockdown was in force) make them speak to me.'</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That day, our worker gave the lady Rs20,000. Later, I sent 01 lakh for her. We gave Rs1 lakh to 90 families whose members had died in the attempt to get back home… This was not our responsibility, but that of the government, yet we did our duty because we have empathy. These are just some examples I am sharing to illustrate my point that only a family man can understand the pain of another family. Those who call us ‘pariwarwadis’ and live alone can never understand a family’s pain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The buses that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (Congress general secretary) sent were stopped at the state’s borders, but we got buses from Chennai with people who wanted to get back home. My instructions were clear—wherever the police stop the buses, in whichever state, they should be paid so that the buses continue the journey. We had to do this because we had figured out that that was the only way to get anything done in this government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Being called a ‘pariwarwadi’ then should be a compliment.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Unfortunately, the connotation of the word in Hindi is different from that in English. Their intention is to say that we only promote family in the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How different are you from your father? One of the complaints against you is that you are not as accessible.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am my father’s son and share his ideology. My father did the best that he could in his time. Neta ji is committed to supporting and strengthening the party as it moves forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That I am inaccessible is another lie created by the BJP and the RSS. I recently spent six hours standing to allow numerous party workers to get photos with me. Tell me of another leader—in any party—who has done something similar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You are the party’s only nationally known face, hence the entire campaign is centred on you. What do you do to unwind?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am not saying that. That would be blowing my own horn. There is no need for relaxation. But I do talk to friends.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Has this government done any good?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ They let bulls roam on the roads. That was a sight we had never seen before. The best thing that they did was that they did not do anything worthwhile, and that is why we will win this election. We built the office (Lok Bhawan) in which the chief minister sits, our government bought the sofa he sits on, as well as the chopper he flies in. He inaugurates projects we initiated. That is a good feeling.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What will your immediate priorities be if you form the government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Infrastructure building and employment. We want to build bigger, better infrastructure than what we did last time. Remember, we went beyond our promises and even initiated the Purvanchal expressway, which this government inaugurated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for employment, it is difficult to find it if the state’s chief minister claims he is working 24 hours a day. That means he is taking away the work of so many others. We have some innovative ideas for employment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For instance, just like we have shiksha mitra (para teachers), we will have mitra (friend) to protect the environment, our rivers and water bodies, and also the Sarus crane (the state bird). We will build media facilitation centres in every tehsil and regional media hubs that will also create jobs. We will set up a traders’ protection commission that will create thousands of jobs. Our manifesto has details of how we will rejuvenate the MSME sector to generate one crore jobs and also how we will create 22 lakh high-quality IT jobs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We want to not just look at history for pride, but also connect it to employment. Look at a simple product like the bangles of Firozabad—one person scoops out the molten glass, another works on a ‘motor’ to shape it, someone else sells it and it is worn by someone else. This brings together people of all castes and religions. This is what we want to bring back to this state. We do not want the BJP to be back as it has no respect for democracy.</p> Sun Feb 27 11:08:59 IST 2022 dalit-identity-has-become-more-assertive-but-mayawati-has-moved-at-a-snail-pace <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On February 2, eight days before the first phase of the Uttar Pradesh elections, Mayawati came out of hibernation. She chose Agra, the dalit capital of India, to address her first rally. “I was busy building the organisation from the booth level,” she told the crowd. “I stayed home and interviewed all 403 candidates. I was betrayed by senior leaders who are no longer here; they did not keep caste equations in mind and put up dummy candidates in collusion with other parties.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The audience kept quiet, perhaps not buying the explanation, but erupted when she trashed “biased opinion polls” and promised a repeat of 2007. The polls then had dismissed the Bahujan Samaj Party; it won a brute majority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But a decade and a half is an eternity in politics, and Mayawati has not kept pace. These elections are a battle of credibility for the former chief minister, and also for the future of the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BSP's political journey can be charted through its slogans for each election. This time, it is: 'Har polling booth jitana hai, Basapa ko satta mein lana hai' (We have to win all polling booths, and bring the BSP to power). Mayawati knows that other parties, especially the BJP, have far superior booth-level management; hence, the focus on that aspect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In recent years, parties such as the BJP and the Samajwadi Party have adopted the BSP’s social engineering strategy; the BJP has even overtaken its core social justice plank ‘Sarvajan Hitay, Sarvajan Sukhay’ (Benefit for all, comfort for all) with the slogan ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ (With everyone, for everyone’s development).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, despite consistent poll setbacks, Mayawati has continued to hold around 20 per cent of the votes. In 2007, the Brahmin-dalit-Muslim consolidation had made her chief minister for the fourth time. The slogan then was: ‘Brahmin Shankh Bajayeya, Haathi Aage Jayega’ (The Brahmin will blow the conch, the elephant will move forward).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party has used the same strategy since the time of its founder Kanshi Ram. “We follow the principle jiski jitni hissedari, utni bhaagedari (representation based on population),” said BSP spokesperson Faizan Khan. “We have given nearly 100 tickets to Muslims. Our strategy is to involve the upper castes, especially Brahmins, the backward castes and minorities.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party has often been criticised for being averse to change. For instance, Mayawati sent out her first tweet in February 2019 and appointed spokespersons (three of them) for the first time last August. The party has only now created WhatsApp groups at the booth level.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We have always campaigned door to door,” said Khan. “The BSP is not just a party, but also a mission. That keeps the faithful firmly behind it. Unlike other parties, we work throughout the year.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, at a time when the dalit identity is more assertive, Mayawati has moved at a snail’s pace. There is, of course, respect for her contributions, but the young and the restless are looking for options. “Look at her 2007 cabinet and MLAs. None of them, barring her, are there now,” said former three-time BSP MLA Jagpal Singh. “Mayawati has stopped interacting with people and access to her is controlled.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh, who joined the BJP in November is contesting from Saharanpur. “[This is] perhaps the first time that a dalit has been allotted a general seat,” said Singh. “This experiment has endeared the BJP to dalits. If you look at the booth-wise data of the 2019 [Lok Sabha] elections, dalits had already started deserting the BSP. It has lost the plot.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though she still has the support of the Jatavs, a sub-caste to which she belongs, the other dalit groups had flocked to the BJP in the polarised 2017 elections. Apparently, the SP has made amends and claimed the Ambedkarite legacy to woo these groups this time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Where Mayawati scores is her emphasis on the improved law and order situation during her latest term (2007-2012). ‘Chad Gundo ki Chhati pe, Mohr Lagegi Haathi pe’ (Climb on criminals’ chests, vote for the elephant) had been her slogan then. Now, the Yogi Adityanath government's key plank is also improved law and order.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The difference is that we had taken even our own MLAs and ministers to task if they were in the wrong,” said Khan. “The BJP always compares its law and order [control] with that of the SP government as it was the worst. Why don't they compare it with the BSP's?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another plus for Mayawati is that, in several places in western Uttar Pradesh, she seems to have picked better candidates than the SP-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance. The party has accommodated those who came from other parties, and has even changed several candidates at the last moment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With these elections, Mayawati would also look to build a second-rung of leaders; she completed 20 years as party president in December.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Ajoy Bose, the author of Mayawati's biography Behenji: “Except for the Jatavs, no one supports her. She is no longer a leader who is visible to her cadre and community followers. It is no longer the old Behen ji. She [is on a] pedestal, as the statues she built.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mayawati’s challenge also comes from emerging leaders like Bhim Army founder Chandrashekhar Azad. If she was silent during the massive anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests, Azad was on the ground against it. He also makes it a point to visit victims of caste violence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Dalits have political empowerment,” said Bose. “Now, even the BJP, the Congress and the SP call themselves Ambedkarvadi. Dalits might be gaining, but their own party is losing. They do not have a party of their own, though they are far more aggressive and organised.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BSP, though, dismissed Azad as a threat. “The way it is [AIMIM president] Asaduddin Owaisi for Muslims, the same is Azad [for dalits],” said Khan. “They make more noise, so attract more attention.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are also allegations that Mayawati has a tacit understanding with the BJP. “There are unconfirmed reports that, if not an open deal, there is a tacit deal so that they (BJP) stay off her back,” said Bose. “She has not been active on controversial issues. The Muslims are concerned. Despite so many tickets, they may support Akhilesh. Overall, it is a gloomy election for her.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given her survival instincts, though, it may be too early to write off Mayawati.</p> Sun Feb 27 11:02:58 IST 2022 manifestos-are-fake-we-do-what-we-say-bsp-satish-chandra-misra <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>After the first two phases of polling, where does the BSP stand?</b><br _rte_temp_br="brEOB"> <b></b></p> <p>The BSP has found support from all sections. We have the consolidated votes of dalits, the most backward classes, Gujjars and Jats. The BSP has always been respected by farmers. We increased sugarcane prices by Rs115 per quintal, this government increased it by just Rs35 per quintal (Rs 10 initially and then another Rs15 before the elections). Under this government, farmers have been killed and the killers granted bail. The chief minister has made statements like “we will take the heat out of farmers”. All this has gone against the BJP. People are fed up with its divisive politics. In the previous regime (of the Samajwadi Party), there were atrocities on many sections of society. The BSP stands for bringing all castes and communities together. For every single seat, Behen&nbsp;<i>ji</i>&nbsp;has chosen candidates who are deserving. Even in our worst showing (in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls), we were in the second position in 30 seats. We are a very strong contender (in western Uttar Pradesh where polling had taken place at the time of this interview). The results will be a big shock, especially to the media.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>In addition to your traditional voter, which is the new voter you will attract this election?</b><br _rte_temp_br="brEOB"> <b></b></p> <p>Our 22 per cent dalit vote is intact with us. Then there are the Brahmins—no one seems to be talking about them. The BJP has certainly given up on them. They tried to follow our pattern of the Prabuddh Varg Samvad, which we started from July 23&nbsp;in Ayodhya, but they gave up after two or three meetings as Brahmins were not coming to them. The same happened with the Samajwadi Party. Brahmins are beyond&nbsp;<i>mandir-masjid</i>. They look at what is happening on ground like the imprisonment of 16-and-a-half-year-old Khushi Dubey (wife of Amar Dubey, gangster Vikas Dubey’s aide, who was gunned down in July 2020) and the death of Renu Sharma in jail (Sharma’s husband is the prime accused in a liquor tragedy case; Renu was granted bail but was still in jail because of procedural delays). Other parties say Brahmins account for 14 per cent of the electorate, we say they are 16 per cent. It was challenging to get them with us in 2007 as dalits and Brahmins are poles apart, but it is different this time. They have faced the atrocities of the Samajwadi Party and the&nbsp;<i>thok do</i>&nbsp;(shoot them) of this government. Brahmins are coming to us on their own, and this will be such a shock that the BJP will be unable to recover from it. Even I have been surprised by the huge numbers in which they have attended our meetings. BJP leaders know that it is too late for them to do anything to win Brahmin support, so they are concentrating on other castes. The Scheduled Castes and backward classes do not go to the Samajwadi Party. Who has forgotten that the bill&nbsp;on quota in government job promotion for SCs/STs was torn up by Samajwadi MPs (in 2013)?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Despite being a woman-led party, why is women representation in your party and among its elected representatives so low?&nbsp;</b><br _rte_temp_br="brEOB"> <b></b></p> <p>The representation of women should not be counted just in terms of number of MLAs and MPs. Take into account the number of MLCs, chairpersons and vice-chairpersons (of corporations/commissions) that we have had. We don’t believe in women’s representation just for show. The Congress gave 40 per cent tickets to women candidates because it knows it has no chances of winning. It was we who set up women&nbsp;<i>thanas</i>&nbsp;(police stations) for the first time. We gave Rs5,000 per month pension to the eldest lady in the family. It was Behen&nbsp;<i>ji</i>&nbsp;who sent to jail her own MLA (Purushottam Naresh Dwivedi) and MP (Atul Rai) when charges of rape were made against them. Now the National Crime Records Bureau data shows that there is one rape every two hours in the state. The issues and safety of women have always been Behen&nbsp;<i>ji’s</i>&nbsp;top priority. Where we feel that women have a chance of winning, we field them. For instance, we have fielded Shadab Fatima against Om Prakash Rajbhar (an ally of the Samajwadi Party) in Zahoorabad.&nbsp;</p> <p>Behen&nbsp;<i>ji</i>&nbsp;has never shirked her responsibility towards women. In her regime, women felt safe enough to be out on the streets at midnight. Top police officers were patrolling the streets at night…. The message that crimes against women would not be tolerated was very clear. It is the same police, the same bureaucracy that got the message “<i>ladke hain galti ho jaati hai</i>&nbsp;(boys will make mistakes, said by former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav)” at one time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Mayawati has joined Twitter rather late. Yet, there seems to be selective outrage to atrocities on dalits.</b></p> <p>Whenever an incident happens, Behen&nbsp;<i>ji</i>&nbsp;takes note of it. But we are not in show business. There are standing instructions that whenever an atrocity happens, local BSP office-bearers are to meet the aggrieved family and provide assistance and protection. No one is to wait for Behen&nbsp;<i>ji</i>&nbsp;to call and give instructions. That is an excuse that she will never listen to, and action has been taken against those who fail to immediately reach out to the aggrieved. In the Hathras case (the rape and hurried cremation of a dalit girl), for instance, we were the first to reach the family. We were the only ones acceptable to the family and we are still taking care of them. In the recent Unnao case (alleged rape and murder of a dalit woman), the family met Behen&nbsp;<i>ji</i>. But we do not toot our horn. Since January 2021, Behen&nbsp;<i>ji</i>&nbsp;has been in Lucknow, except for two days when she went for her mother’s last rites. She is here without any family member. She is monitoring events 24/7 and working for the party. She can tell you the name of booth level party workers from memory.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>However, even by the BSP’s standards, has this not been an unusually quiet campaign?</b><br _rte_temp_br="brEOB"> <b></b></p> <p>We do not believe in the politics of damaging property, creating ruckus and blocking roads. Behen&nbsp;<i>ji</i>&nbsp;believes that this kind of politics causes loss to our people, that the property damaged is ours. We have always believed that we are a movement first, a political party later.&nbsp;</p> <p>The perception of a quiet campaign has only been created by the media and social media. We were the first party that started campaigning on July 23, 2021. We covered all 75 districts. In the second round, we covered all reserved constituencies. In the last seven months, we have held 470 meetings at different levels. No one is taking note of that. Instead the questions being asked are—where is Behen&nbsp;<i>ji</i>, why is she not roaming around in a bus, why is she not in an open jeep? These are wrong questions to ask. Is Sonia Gandhi touring in open jeeps? Look at the last 20 years of our party’s history. In any election, there is a set pattern. There is one big rally in Lucknow that happens three to four months before the elections are announced. Then there are rallies in all divisions. On October 9 (BSP founder Kanshi Ram’s death anniversary), five lakh people came to our meeting in Lucknow. How did that happen in the midst of Covid-19 restrictions? We could not have stopped people from coming to pay tributes to Kanshi Ram&nbsp;<i>ji</i>. These are not government programmes where the government is paying for arrangements and the chief minister is, in turn, asking for votes. Akhilesh Yadav got his Vijay Rath out only two months ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Though your party does not release a manifesto, what will be your priorities if you form the government?</b></p> <p>Manifestos are fake. We do what we say. Delegations of the 69,000 struggling aspirant teachers, ad-hoc employees, those harried by the old and new pension rules have met Behen&nbsp;<i>ji</i>&nbsp;and she has heard them out. She has announced that a commission will be set up and the matters decided. This will not be a commission that will carry on for five years without a result. She has said that she will revive the old pension scheme. Before making these announcements, she works out how they will be implemented. In her speech on October 9, she said that there was no need for further building of anything (statues and memorials of dalit icons), as all of that had been done. Now her only focus is the development of Uttar Pradesh to change&nbsp;the face of the state.&nbsp;</p> <p>Our first priority is to do away with unemployment. Behen&nbsp;<i>ji</i>&nbsp;does not agree with the concept of unemployment allowance and free mobile phones. She calls these&nbsp;<i>bheekh</i>&nbsp;(alms). If you provide employment, people can buy mobile phones on their own. Health infrastructure and world class educational institutions are other priorities. All the hospitals made during her regime were modern, unlike the ones in this government, where existing government hospitals have been designated&nbsp;medical colleges. Under her, the first&nbsp; university for the physically challenged (Dr Shakuntala Misra National Rehabilitation&nbsp;University, named after Misra’s mother) was set up. The first university for Urdu, Arabic and Persian came up, as did a world class university in Noida.&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there is law and order. The day she sits on the chief minister’s chair, things will change.&nbsp;</p> <p>When she came to power the last time, there had not been a single power plant set up in the previous 17 years, so she immediately set about doing that. It was her government that started a programme of giving free houses to the eligible. This government changed its name and stopped giving houses for free, instead they were subsidised. She believes in doing things as soon as she comes to power, so that the results are visible over the next five years.</p> <p><i>&nbsp;</i></p> <p><b>Is the BSP developing a second line of leadership?</b></p> <p>In the last two-three years, at every level, young people form 50 per cent of our organisational structure. This is a fixed target. Look at our ticket distribution, more than half the old(er) people are gone. They either left or were expelled. Om Prakash Rajbhar was a BSP man. Behen&nbsp;<i>ji</i>&nbsp;makes leaders. New leaders are being created at every level. These young leaders are our future.<b></b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>While the percentage of your vote share has not fallen drastically, the number of seats you have has gone down much more. Between the geographical concentration of your votes and the fewer number of seats, which is the larger problem?</b><br _rte_temp_br="brEOB"> <b></b></p> <p>This is a matter for larger discussion. The Election Commission of India also held a seminar on the issue. The basis on which representation is determined will have to be re-examined. In 2014, we had zero seats in Parliament, but we were the third largest party as far as vote share was concerned. We have never lost by a large vote margin. So, wherever there is a slight shifting of votes, we will win. There has been meticulous concentration on every seat this time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you think there is anger against the incumbent chief minister, apart from the anti-incumbency against the government?</b></p> <p>There is no doubt about it. The last election was in the name of Modi&nbsp;<i>ji</i>&nbsp;and people participated in the election because of him. This one is openly in the name of Yogi&nbsp;<i>ji</i>. A leader makes a huge difference to how the party is viewed. This language—<i>thok denge,&nbsp;garmi utar denge, bulldozer chala denge&nbsp;</i>(will shoot them, will take out the heat, will run bulldozers over them)—is unacceptable. His own MLAs have revolted against him. How can a CM not recognise the five crore minorities who live in the state? He is the CM for everyone, not for selected people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Your experience with coalitions has not been good, but would you consider an alliance to form the government?</b><br _rte_temp_br="brEOB"> <b></b></p> <p>Our aim is to form an absolute majority government. If we do not get a majority, we will not form any alliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sun Feb 27 10:30:05 IST 2022 no-samajwad-in-samajwadi-party-aparna-yadav-bjp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Aparna Yadav revels in speaking her mind. The feisty 34-year-old has never been the demure choti bahu she would have been expected to be on account of being married to Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav’s younger son, Prateek.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eyebrows were raised when Aparna recently joined the BJP in the run-up to the assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh. Having contested and lost assembly elections in 2017, she had reportedly been left out in the cold in the SP, which is now headed by her brother-in-law, Akhilesh Yadav.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Aparna said she had informed Mulayam about her decision to join the BJP, and that he did not dissuade her. Since joining the BJP, she has not talked to Akhilesh and his wife, Dimple.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What made you join the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am a firm believer in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision and his slogan of 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas'. I am also deeply influenced by the good governance ushered in by our Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh, which was earlier known more for lawlessness and lack of development.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How has the initial experience been?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is very hectic, since I am campaigning extensively. Of course, it is a big shift for me. But the party has been very welcoming and I have got so much respect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ As a daughter-in-law of the Yadav family, it must have been a difficult decision.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I continue to be a bahu of Neta ji (Mulayam), and am an integral part of the family. I have chosen a nationalistic brand of politics and distanced myself from the parivarvaad (nepotistic) brand of politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But it meant giving up the Samajwadi ideology for another.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Samajwad (socialism) does not exist in the Samajwadi Party today. It has degenerated into something else.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you reconcile with the view that the BJP practises divisive politics?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Parties critical of the BJP have practised politics of appeasement and polarised society on caste and community lines. Modi ji has given homes to Muslims, too. Ration was distributed across communities. So how can one accuse the BJP of pitting Hindus against Muslims? Just because the BJP started building Ram Temple, it has not neglected Muslims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you view the hijab controversy?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is an international conspiracy against Modi ji. And it was meant to have an impact on elections. Those behind this conspiracy felt threatened by Modi ji’s popularity among Muslim women. He has done so much to empower them. The triple talaq law is an example.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hijab is a matter of personal choice. But in a school, a certain decorum has to be followed. Uniform is needed, so that there is nothing to distinguish between students from different communities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ It is said you joined the BJP because of your political ambition.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ People don’t ask questions of male leaders who break families and form new parties. They are not called ambitious or aspirational. But if a woman takes a view divergent from that of her family, her intent is questioned. People did not spare Sita. I am only Aparna Yadav.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why are you not contesting?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Even in 2017, I had not sought a ticket. Neta ji had insisted that I contest. I was given a very difficult seat. I would have won, but for the fight within the party and the family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You were expected to contest from Lucknow Cantonment this time, too. Did you seek a ticket?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is a seat the SP has never won. It is a BJP stronghold. But Neta ji believed I could win. But an intra-family feud erupted. This resulted in the cadre also getting divided. Despite that, I got 64,000 votes—a never-before number for the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time, I did not ask for a ticket although I have worked in the constituency. I said I wanted to campaign for the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did you consult your father-in-law about joining the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ He asked me whether I would be happy in the BJP. He never said I should not join it. He asked me to follow my heart.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You spoke about SP’s ideological erosion. Who is responsible for it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The fight within the family led to a disintegration of the cadre. That, and the fact that Neta ji was not at the helm, destroyed the party’s ideological basis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you on talking terms with Dimple and Akhilesh Yadav?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Whenever they want to meet me, I will not say no. I will be very respectful towards them because they are my elders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you spoken to them after you joined the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I did not get the time. And he (Akhilesh) also does not have time because he has been campaigning. Whenever we get time, we will speak to each other. But he has given me his blessings through interviews. I am grateful for that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your husband, Prateek, is keeping away from politics.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ He says he is a businessman. He does not want to join politics, as of now. He wants to pursue his passions, be it body-building or animal welfare, away from the limelight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ As a woman leader, how do you view Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s move to give 40 per cent tickets to women?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ They (the Congress) don’t have a vote base or cadre in UP. They gave 40 per cent tickets to women in UP because nobody wanted the Congress ticket. Why was the same not done in Punjab or Uttarakhand?</p> Sun Feb 27 10:23:56 IST 2022 uttar-pradesh-elections-will-the-bjp-benefit-from-the-ram-mandir-construction <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Hazari Das Baba’s right eye will hold your gaze. It resembles a cloudy sky; shades lighter than his left, which is as dark as the night sky. “I think the colour of the right eye is changing because of bleeding,” says Das, 70. “I can see properly only through one eye now.” His left shoulder is damaged, too, he reveals. And, it has little to do with age.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Das lives in the regional office of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Karsevakpuram in Ayodhya, and has witnessed the changing contours of the Ram Mandir issue over the decades. He is the caretaker of the hall in the spacious office that houses the miniature model of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple. But Das was no mere spectator—he was one of the many kar sevaks who tried to reach the Babri Masjid in 1990.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A native of Shahjahanpur district, he claims to have escaped the police firing that killed several people. But he ran out of luck in 1992, when the mosque was demolished. “I fell from the mosque structure and the debris landed on me,” he recalls. That fall damaged his eye and shoulder and landed him in hospital and eventually behind bars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It did not damage his reputation though—over the years, devotees flocking the Ram Janmabhoomi site started calling him ‘baba’. The Ram Mandir issue has been central to Ayodhya and its residents for decades, and in an election year it is no different. But will it bring in votes?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finding answers in Uttar Pradesh is like finding your way through a maze. As we leave town to chase leaders and gauge the mood of the voters, we melt into the rural landscape. Sitting MLA Ved Prakash Gupta of the BJP is scheduled to attend a public meeting in Badokhar village. Ten kilometres from the Ayodhya-Faizabad highway, the scenery changes to lush green fields and narrow roads. We pass village after village, only to realise that we have lost our way. We seek directions from a youngster, only to be told, “It is a Muslim village and I am a Hindu. I don’t go there much.” All he does is point towards a road.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We take the road that could best accommodate a medium-sized car. A sharp left turn later, we come up behind an SUV that has blocked the road. After incessant honking, a group of youngsters tells us, “The vehicle’s owner is busy getting his hair cut in a nearby salon. He might take time.” They recommend turning back and taking another route, which leads us not to the village but to a pond.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We give up on finding Badokhar village, and instead decide on meeting Gupta at Dadera village, one of his last stops for the day. We spot a few dejected faces there. Their grouse? Stray cows trespassing into their fields and destroying crops. Such incidents have been on the rise ever since the state government passed the law banning cow slaughter. Ageing cows, who were earlier sent to slaughterhouses, are now abandoned on the streets and open fields.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dadera village, with 1,800 voters, is a BJP bastion. And, villagers are hoping the party will come up with a solution soon. The meeting is being held outside Sayyam Srivastav’s house. “Crops in two of my 20-bighas were destroyed by cows,” laments the wheat and sugarcane farmer. Others speak of losing sleep and about the cost of employing guards at their fields. Some had to spend on fencing their farms with barbed wire. Despite all this, none of them will vote against the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gupta arrives and speaks to a gathering of 50-odd people. He highlights the BJP’s development work in the constituency, stresses on the party fulfilling the promise of the Ram temple and pitches it as a tourist and spiritual destination that can spur employment. And, he has a plan in place for stray cows. “We have already made arrangements to transport them to the nearest cow shelters,” he tells THE WEEK. “Our plan in the near future is to start a cow shelter in every gram sabha for ageing cows.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few kilometres away, the Kanha Gau Shala takes in stray cows from nearby villages based on complaints. Trucks keep plying in and out of the cow shelter. Unlike the cows though, we are denied entry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Travelling a few kilometres from Dadera, saffron gives way to a darker shade. A corner of the main road in Rasoolabad village is painted red. Men in red turbans sit on red chairs in front of a table covered in red cloth. It is the inauguration of the local office of the Samajwadi Party. Its Ayodhya candidate—former minister Tej Narayan aka Pawan Pandey—is here. As soon as he steps out of the SUV, he walks towards the crowd, greeting youngsters with folded hands and touching the feet of the elderly. He chews on the rose petals from a garland as a string of big and small leaders speak in support of him. When his turn comes, he tailors his speech to each caste. He recalls the Hathras rape case while addressing dalits, and talks about “fake encounters” to the Brahmins, Nishads and Yadavs. And to the BJP, he says, “Do not forget that I am a bigger Hindu than you. I am a Brahmin and a Pandey.” He is hopeful that the Brahmin card will see him through.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pandey tells THE WEEK that people are unhappy with the increase in municipal tax and that his party will bring it down if voted to power. Likewise, he assures relief to troubled farmers over the stray cow issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even among the din of election, the Sarayu in Ayodhya flows unperturbed. There is no dip in the visitors she gets on her ghats; the pujas and boat rides continue as usual. The cows come here, too, and giving them company are lifeless teddy bears propped on the gunwales of boats. Step away from the Sarayu, and one will encounter monkeys—hordes of them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what is Ayodhya without its temples—its narrow lanes are dotted with old, colourful temples. And, it is in these temples and among those who run them that a poll narrative emerges. The Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas (trust), the all-powerful body entrusted with the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, has 15 members that includes Hindu monks and representatives of Hindu groups. One of them is Mahant Dinendra Das, chief priest of the Nirmohi Akhara, which was one of the litigants in the Ram Mandir case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To its right, the Nirmohi Akhara has residential quarters for about a dozen people, including youngsters here to train in the religious way of life. The mahant, clad in a red sweater and yellow dhoti, meets us. His salt-and-pepper beard makes it hard to decipher his expressions. His response to a dozen questions are a mere few words, implying everything is fine, and a warm smile. Dinendra, who joined the akhara as a student in 1978, was elevated to a mahant in 2017. He admittedly does not read newspapers. But what about polls and politics? He flashes a smile and says people, irrespective of parties, come to meet him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wading past slippery and muddy roads, we proceed towards Karsevakpuram—the hub of the temple construction activity. Champat Rai, general secretary of the trust, lives inside the VHP campus. He is unquestionably one of the most active and powerful figures within the trust, and is also the VHP’s global vice president. We finally get to meet him after a few unsuccessful attempts. “The progress of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple is satisfactory,” he says. “People may visit and worship at the temple by 2023, but there is no deadline for the completion of the temple.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once the temple is completed, they expect a traffic of 50,000 devotees on a daily basis. He, however, refuses to comment on donations received or the controversy surrounding purchase of lands. He does not entertain questions about elections, either. But he does speak a few words for the critics of opposition parties. “They are all sympathisers,” Rai says. “They are only criticising due to political reasons.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Karsevakpuram also houses the oldest workshop of Ram Janmabhoomi temple. In every corner of the workshop, one can find huge beige-coloured stone blocks with traditional temple carvings. A few visitors have written holy words or phrases on the stones with chalk and these would eventually be transported to the temple site. There was also a dedicated section for hundreds of stacked old bricks with “Shri Ram” written on them in different languages, fonts and prints. In another corner, a group of artisans from Rajasthan chisel motifs on a huge block. While the granite is being shipped from Karnataka, stones and Makrana marble are being brought from Rajasthan for the temple construction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The temple construction site is heavily guarded. The inclined narrow lanes lead to the current Ram Lalla temple, adjoining the site. As we step onto the land that was in dispute for almost the entire period of independent India, construction is in full swing. Huge cranes carry granite blocks from one end of the site to the temple area. The foundation is complete and the workers are engaged in raising the plinth. An estimated 17,000 blocks will be required for this exercise. The two-storied temple and boundary wall will cover eight acres.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Outside the temple site, there is a line-up of more temples and shops selling sweets and religious items. Heera Lal owns a general store close to the temple site. He is upset about losing part of his shop to the proposed road expansion plans. “What will happen to my livelihood and regular income? I am unhappy with what this government is doing in the name of beautification of holy structure,” he says. In the recent past, many traders like him have openly protested the expansion plans. But the BJP government refuses to budge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Traders apart, a few priests are also unhappy with the BJP. “Ayodhya has always been a holy place,” says the priest of a small temple. “So, what great work has the BJP done? For me, the candidate is important and I will vote for the person who is accessible. Samajwadi Party’s Pandey is approachable and a hard worker.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Baudi temple, located in a lane in Tulsi Nagar, resembles a mansion with its exterior floral designs. Inside, the walls of the 300-year-old temple are painted a vibrant green and the stones depict beautiful paintings from the Ramayan. The artwork seems to have a touch of Roman and Oriental impressions. Temple caretaker Phool Prasad Das informs that the stones were imported from Japan, Germany and other countries by the then king.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Das lives in the temple premises with a couple of other sanyasis. Unlike other priests, he does not shy from talking about politics. “[Chief Minister] Yogi [Adityanath] comes in a chopper, waves hands and leaves,” he says. “They are using Ayodhya only for hype. We will be happy if the BJP leaders mingle with us and take care of every temple and priest and not just focus on one project.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the minorities and the common public, civic and employment issues seem to be the priorities. On Railway Extension road, Iqbal Ansari sits on a sofa placed unusually in an open garage. He is the son of Hashim Ansari, the oldest litigant in the Babri Masjid case. Guarded by two armed policemen, he consoles a man who lost his brother recently. “Hindus and Muslims alike come to me,” says Ansari. “I help them in whatever way I can.” He takes pride in talking about the communal harmony in Ayodhya and how the temple issue never created a discord among local residents. His Hindu friend joins in, saying, “We have never even celebrated Ramleela here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The men say that the Ayodhya issue had more resonance nationally and the project was being piloted by outsiders. So, what matters for the local residents? “Look at the condition of the roads,” says Ansari. “There is filth everywhere and the city needs to be cleaner. The unemployment rate is high. Take a tour of the city and you will see only poverty. These are the issues that need to be addressed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While all candidates claim that they have Lord Ram’s blessings, it remains to be seen who gets the voters’ blessings this poll season.</p> Sun Feb 27 10:21:58 IST 2022 saffron-streets-of-gorakhpur-signal-a-decisive-win-for-yogi-adityanath <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I tried to locate the corn-cob spires of the Gorakhnath Math from a few streets away. The temple was not imposing enough to catch the eye from afar; yet, figuratively, it does touch every corner of Gorakhpur, a town near the Nepal border in eastern Uttar Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Driving through the streets, we saw snapshots of its influence. The math runs dozens of schools and colleges, a free hospital and bhandara (kitchen). The temple authorities were building a structure near a busy road to rehabilitate street vendors. It was impossible to find someone who had not visited the math.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The temple is the spiritual, geographical and political epicentre of the town. And its mahant (chief priest), Yogi Adityanath, is the chief minister of the state. Gorakhpur has sent Adityanath to Parliament five times; he is trying to get into the assembly this time, from the Gorakhpur Urban seat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His poll machinery, expectedly, is in full force. As we entered the temple complex, spread over 55 acres, the mood was festive. The Khichdi Mela was on. On the first two days of the annual, month-long event, devotees offer khichdi ingredients. As per tradition, the initial offering comes from the royal family of Nepal. Apparently, lakhs of devotees, mostly from Purvanchal and Bihar, turn up in the first two days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In one corner of the complex, a merry-go-round, a Ferris wheel and a Columbus boat attracted children. These rides are a highlight of the mela. Rapper Badshah’s ‘She Move it Like’ was on loop near the rides. Trying to keep pace with it was a fast number, being shown on a large screen, featuring stills of Adityanath. “A large number of those who operate the rides and stalls are Muslims. In the evenings, you can also see Muslims visiting the math,” said a staff member, pre-empting any question about communal harmony in the area.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People were thronging a building outside the inner temple; this was election-related. A Hindu Seva ashram—an orange building where devotees spend the night—was converted into a temporary BJP campaign office. A truck pulled up as we entered. It was full of publicity material, including pamphlets and scarves. Under P.K. Mall’s watchful eyes these were taken to a store room. He is the general secretary of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a right-wing organisation Adityanath founded in 2002. Mall was in the merchant navy for 10 years before that. He also runs a school in the area.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Vahini was Adityanath’s vehicle to political stardom, and has often been in the headlines for the wrong reasons. “There is no negative news about us,” said Mall. “People just make it up. The truth about what we do is in front of everyone.” So, what exactly do they do? “Social service,” he said. “We create awareness on the environment, herbal plants and government schemes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also refuted allegations that Adityanath’s elevation as chief minister had weakened the Vahini. They still had 50,000 members in town, he claimed. For clarity, we asked Mall if he was working for the BJP or for the Vahini. It did not matter, he said; he was working for “Maharaj ji (Adityanath)”, he said, before taking his volunteers to campaign door to door and enrol voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The temple complex had its share of green, too. There were manicured gardens, mini temples and a lake with small boats. Adityanath’s favourite spot, though, is the gaushala (cow shelter); he spends a lot of time there whenever he is home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Inside the bhandara, Kothari baba supervised lunchtime. Sanskrit teachers and students from a nearby college settled down on a long, red mat. They were served rice, dal, curry and roti. “This place promotes equality,” said Kothari baba. “Your background, caste, religion or social status does not matter. Anybody can come and eat for free; nobody will ask them any questions.” According to the math management, nearly 300 eat here daily.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Gorakhpur Urban constituency has close to 4.5 lakh voters. Of these, 70,000 are Brahmins. And one candidate is pinning her hopes on them—Subhavati Shukla of the Samajwadi Party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Outside a modest house in nearby Allahadadpur, half a dozen youngsters sat in plastic chairs. One of them was Aravind Dutt Shukla, the elder son and campaign manager of Shukla. The duo is banking on the image of former state BJP vice president Upendra Dutt Shukla, who died in May 2020.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A room on the first floor of the 300sqft home is a shrine to his memory. “In the 2018 parliament byelections, my father, who contested on a BJP ticket, was defeated because of internal politics. In 2020, he died of brain haemorrhage. He could not take the betrayal,” said Arvind. A former private employee, Arvind met Samajwadi president Akhilesh Yadav this year and joined the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His soft-spoken mother admitted to being a political novice; she broke down after a few words. “My husband sacrificed his life for the BJP,” she said. “After he died, not once did Yogi visit our home or enquire about my children.” The family was hurt and expected voters to be sympathetic to its plight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Out on the streets, though, it seemed to be mostly saffron. The Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party were near invisible; the talk was whether Chandrashekar Azad of the Bhim Army, who is taking on Adityanath, would win the dalit vote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At nearby Rajbhar Tola, in one of the Yadav-dominated slums, we met the sitting MLA, Radha Mohan Das Agrawal of the BJP. He has made way for Adityanath this time. Smiling and with folded hands, Agrawal went from house to house with young party men, seeking votes for the chief minister. In the evening, sitting MP and Bhojpuri actor Ravi Kishan did the same.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back at the math, on the first floor of the campaign office, a commerce lecturer in one of the math’s colleges busied himself with backroom work. Soon, a man considered crucial to the campaign walked into the adjoining hall, now a makeshift media centre. Pradeep Rao, the principal at one of the math’s postgraduate colleges, sat in front of a huge poster of Adityanath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He gave us the lowdown. The campaign office hosted several shades of saffron. The groups supporting Adityanath were split into five categories—BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its affiliates, other Hindu groups, the math and its supporters, and individual followers of the chief minister. Representatives of these groups had formed a core committee, which assigns work and steers the campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Earlier, it was a challenge to get everyone on one platform,” said Rao. “Now, Modi and Yogi have emerged as symbols of admiration and everyone is ready to work for them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As part of the BJP’s digital strategy, he said, WhatsApp groups with more than 1.25 lakh members had been created to amplify videos and slogans. “This election is above party lines. People, on their own, are working for Yogi ji’s victory. We are only concerned about becoming complacent because we have little to do,” Rao said with a laugh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What about Muslim voters? “Muslim women are the BJP’s silent voters,” he claimed. “As per our estimates, 30 per cent of the women will vote for us. They are quite happy with our schemes and the triple talaq [law].”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We headed out to examine this claim and ended up at the sprawling hospital-cum-home of Dr Aziz Ahmad, a senior physician who is vocal about politics and social matters. He scoffed at the idea of Muslims voting for the BJP. “The Muslims of Gorakhpur are disenchanted,” he said. “They do not have much interest in politics now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said that, before delimitation, Muslims were a force in the constituency and had active leaders. Not anymore. The seat now has about 25,000 Muslim voters, most of whom, he claimed, supported the Samajwadi Party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A photo of his ancestors with Jawaharlal Nehru hung on the wall of his drawing room. The family has long been associated with the Congress, but feels it has lost steam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aziz was also concerned about the communal atmosphere in Gorakhpur, which he said had worsened in the past few years. More than political issues, religious ones dominate the elections, he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, which benefits from the addition of faith to the electoral cauldron, would not complain. It has, however, made sure to highlight its non-religious achievements, and quite loudly so. Among these is the AIIMS in Gorakhpur, the improvement of law and order, infrastructure development, beautification work and the tackling of Japanese encephalitis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party has also projected its work in uplifting the Vantangiyas, the forest-dwelling people the British had originally brought in to plant trees in India. The community, which spans 23 villages on the outskirts of Gorakhpur, was bereft of basic rights for a long time. We drove 40km out of Gorakhpur into the forests of the Baki range to meet them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Daulatpur village, where some of the Vantangiyas live, was enveloped in mighty teak and sal trees. They told us stories of oppression dating back a century; they were considered specialists in growing forests and moved from place to place after planting enough trees. “Our condition was pathetic,” said Sitaram, a village elder. “We were ill-treated by the British and also the forest department of our country. You see this mark? An official beat me for not planting saplings properly. We were not even paid money; we were only allowed to grow crops in some corner of the forest.” Sitaram is one of the few who planted trees for a living till the practice was stopped in 1990.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After decades of struggle, the community now has voter IDs, ration cards, solar power and government-sanctioned houses. However, poverty and inaccessibility remain major problems. “Nobody is willing to marry our children, because they do not want to travel into the forests,” said a villager. Adityanath has stood by the community in its struggle for years and also celebrated Diwali with them last year. He had, in 2018, accorded some of their settlements the status of revenue villages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, all their needs have not been met, and another term for Adityanath would help. Their villages, though, fall out of the Gorakhpur Urban constituency, and they have no role to play on voting day—March 3. They can only hope and pray. Adityanath thrives on faith.</p> Sun Feb 27 10:16:05 IST 2022 wave-to-wavering-up-elections-will-not-be-a-cakewalk-for-bjp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In Uttar Pradesh politics, predicting an electoral winner is difficult and foolhardy in equal measure. This is a state that has not given any chief minister a second chance at a full five-year term. It has an electorate that has long debunked the prophecy that whoever rules it will get a shot at forming the Union government (remember Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav). It is also a state that routinely mocks political predictions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 2022 assembly polls are no different.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yogi Adityanath, who initiated his career opposing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in his hometown of Gorakhpur, was a surprise pick for the state’s top post. But he quickly proved to be a tough ruler, unabashed about his beliefs. Thus, he has unapologetically refused to wear skull caps, has been a loud votary of Hindu pride and talks in the only language that criminals understand. Of the last, his ‘thok do (shoot them)’ remark is perhaps as well-known as it is criticised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under him, the state has initiated legislation that other states have emulated (like the law on illegal religious conversion), aggressively invited investment and taken on a bureaucracy that has always lumbered to its own diktats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is banking on hindutva pride and development to win this election. Unlike the last Lok Sabha election, nationalism is not an issue, at least not as yet. Sidharth Nath Singh, the state’s cabinet minister for micro, small and medium enterprises, investment and export, said that there were “two parallelly strong aspects” that would benefit the BJP. “The first is the manner in which law and order has improved and people can go about their daily lives and businesses. The second is the all-round development that is visible in the state,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Giving an example from his constituency (Allahabad West), Singh cited the case of Atique Ahmed who won a record five terms to the Vidhan Sabha. He is currently lodged in Sabarmati Jail, Gujarat, and the Enforcement Directorate has attached assets worth more than Rs8 crore. His many charges include kidnapping and money laundering. Acts such as these— including the ferrying of another criminal legislator Mukhtar Ansari from a jail in Punjab back to the state—were unimaginable in previous regimes in which both were lauded as ‘mananiye (honourable)’. Ahmed has been a member of the Samajwadi Party and Ansari of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) at different times in their long political careers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the link between development and employment, Singh said that it was a nuanced relationship that had to be understood vis-à-vis the manner in which the Planning Commission calculated employment figures. For example, in the case of those who are self-employed/employed in family businesses, such calculations rely on self-assessments. “Even if a person gets a Rs10 lakh loan and sets up a sweet shop that employs not just his family members but also creates jobs for others, he will still harbour the desire for a ‘government job’,” said Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By that, he means that it is these elusive government jobs—teachers, police personnel, health workers—that have created the impression that unemployment is rampant in the state and its youth angry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Development, too, can hold different meaning for different people. The coming up of airports and expressways, for instance, while not generating immediate jobs are definite parameters of progress for many. And in these projects, Uttar Pradesh has seen an unprecedented uptick.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anupriya Patel, national president of the Apna Dal (Sonelal), a key ally of the BJP, said that a successful implementation of Central government schemes had been made possible only because of the state government’s efficiency. That is the “double engine of growth” that has been a staple of the BJP election campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The prime minister’s idea of creating export hubs was merged with the state’s One District, One Product scheme,” said Patel, Union minister of state for commerce and industry. “Through value addition, capacity building and making products export competitive, there is steady employment generation. People from the state will no longer need to move out.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coming from Patel, this can only be counted as a genuine compliment, for she has specifically said that issues of hindutva (so dear to Adityanath) are not her party’s issues and that Muslims are not untouchables.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Awanish Kumar Singh, BJP MLC (Lucknow graduate constituency), said that the government’s biggest achievement had been that it had remedied a moribund public distribution system (PDS). The introduction of biometrics meant that the human element of choice or rejection by PDS shop owners had been buried.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A June 2018 paper in the Indian Journal of Human Element noted, “The public distribution system in Uttar Pradesh… was widely recognised as dysfunctional.... Main findings show that the accessibility to PDS rationing is higher among lower socioeconomic groups and regions, which also have a higher share of PDS commodities in their food consumption and calorie intake in comparison to the non-poor categories. PDS has also made a positive and significant contribution towards ensuring food security among poor families.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Poor Muslims, dalits and the most backward castes, which critics of this government say are the most neglected, thus benefit most from this revamped system that makes discrimination impossible. Thus, within villages, the overriding sentiment is that everyone has got something—a house, a toilet or free rations. And the possibility that those who have not will soon be eligible is a plus for the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, initiated during the pandemic, will continue till March 2022, when the seven-phased elections will conclude. This, too, will positively influence voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the possible repercussions of Covid mismanagement in the state, Awanish said, “There was a very brief period of problem (in managing Covid). People understood that the pandemic had caused a collapse of health systems in advanced countries like the US. After that brief period of trouble, the government stood with the people and that is what they remember.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Analysts, however, do not believe that all is smooth sailing for the BJP. There is anti-incumbency and the opposition is putting up a fight, building alliances. But there are specific issues that irk the electorate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For example, one big issue in rural Uttar Pradesh has been that of stray animals. Myth and religion collude to give the cow an exalted place in Hinduism. The state’s first act for protection of cows was passed in 1955; stricter provisions were added to it in June 2020. This included charging even owners of vehicles used to illegally ferry cows for slaughter and making them pay for maintenance of seized animals. Adityanath had said that only hailing the cow as divine would do nothing to protect her. And thus the need for harsh provisions, which also prescribed punishments for those who endangered the animal by not providing adequate food and water.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the government’s data, there are over 5,000 cow protection centres in the state that cater to the well-being of over five lakh cattle. But there are many catches to this claim. One, there is just a provision of Rs30 per animal housed in a shelter. Experts said that this amount should at least be double to meet the nutritional needs of cows. Two, the food for the strays in these shelters was to come from common grazing lands in villages. But in most villages this land has been leased out for private use. Thus, there are no grazing areas for the cows, causing them to wander into people’s fields and destroy standing crops.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Munna Lal Shukla, a Right to Information activist, is a Socialist Party of India candidate from Sandila, Hardoi district. He has been leading a movement to get stray animals to shelters so that they cause no harm to crops and humans. Since December 2020, he had led about 1,000 cows to shelters. But in January 2021, the police booked him for disturbing peace and he also got into skirmishes with BJP leaders. “They made use of the cow only as an issue, but did not know what to do about it,” said Shukla. “The blame has now come to rest on common folk for letting their animals go once they no longer produce milk.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So while no one, including politicians, will dare openly say that stray cows have become a nuisance, there is anger against what has happened. Moreover, there is anger in communities that were engaged in leather trade but lost their livelihoods owing to the cap on cow slaughter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is telling that the BJP manifesto has nothing on cow protection, despite the political mileage it got from the issue. It is only the Congress that has given some thought to it, for instance, promising Rs3,000 per acre for farmers whose crops have been destroyed by animals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramesh Dixit, retired head of department of political science at Lucknow University, said that the opposition—more specifically Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav—would benefit by a huge personal resentment against Adityanath. “The way he (Adityanath) talks—‘we will run bulldozers after March 10, we will take the heat out of the UP boys (Yadav and his alliance partner Jayant Chaudhary)’—will be unacceptable to the electorate,” he said. “Politics does not mean revenge, hooliganism and an open threat to Muslims, dalits and backwards. People want a civilised society back.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yadav’s cause will be helped by the multiple alliances he has built with small caste-based outfits, like (the almost unheard of) Gondwana Gantantra Party and the (slightly better known) Mahan Dal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Badri Narayan, director of the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Prayagraj, said, “The Samajwadi strategy is to stitch together these small parties to make a big difference. Individually they might attract few votes, but in a closely fought election, these votes will make all the difference”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These small outfits are also buoyed by the fact that there is a greater chance of fulfilling their political aspirations within the Samajwadi Party than the BJP. The large size of the BJP and the fact that its strategy is to make direct inroads into communities rather than rely on leaders it has attracted (for example, Swami Prasad Maurya, an OBC leader of great stature who came in from the BSP in the 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections) defeats the aspirations of these outfits. Conversely, if the party accommodates their aspirations, it risks alienating its own cadre and homegrown leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While public perception is that this election is a two-cornered contest, the BSP is not out of reckoning. Mayawati made her first election appearance in Agra on February 3 and answered her critics by announcing that she had been working. Quiet on ground work is the manner of the BSP and its core Jatav voter is unlikely to desert it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dharamveer Chaudhary, BSP spokesperson, said, “We lost 88 seats by just a 2,000 vote margin in 2017. All those seats are coming to us in this election.” Poll data, however, shows that overall less than 20 seats had a defeat margin of 2,000 votes or less. Despite agitation not being the natural BSP style of politics, even its biggest supporters believe that the party has been uncharacteristically quiet in this election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the Congress is also adding to the din of elections. The ‘Ladki Hoon, Lad Sakti Hoon (I am a girl, I can fight)’ campaign has incited curiosity. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s personal charisma is also at work. Though these are unlikely to translate into wins, the party will attract votes, most likely eating into the secular votes that the Samajwadi Party is banking on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But all these speculations might add to naught when the election results start to roll in on March 10. That is the enduring charm of Uttar Pradesh’s unpredictable electorate.</p> Sun Feb 20 11:10:49 IST 2022 yogi-adityanath-to-the-week-my-purpose-of-existence-is-to-serve-people <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ What are your biggest achievements in the last five years?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There are many achievements, but the biggest feather in the cap has been to change the perception of the state, both nationally and globally, by enforcing the rule of law and order in the state. Prior to 2017, there was a perception that mafia raj prevailed in UP. Poor law and order adversely affected development programmes. We have changed this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier, UP was known as a ‘BIMARU’ state. Now it is emerging as the number one among developed states in the country. It has become a favourite destination for both domestic and foreign investors. UP now is also the country’s second largest economy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have ensured infrastructure development, women’s safety and empowerment, better implementation of welfare programmes and good governance. Before 2017, traders and people of some pockets of the state had to migrate to other places. But after 2017, it is criminals who are leaving. The properties of the mafia are razed by bulldozers today. There is a safer environment for women. This is the first state to deploy women police personnel at all gram panchayats for joint patrolling. It is also the state that saw no riots or terror activity in the last five years, and the first state to use new technology to promote e-Prosecution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our GSDP was seventh in India in 2017. But in just five years, we helped our GSDP reach the second spot. In the Ease of Doing Business ranking, the state has climbed from the 14th to the second position. Prior to 2017, the unemployment rate in the state was as high as 17.1%, but we have brought it down to 3.1% (as per CMIE).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Likewise, the per capita income, which was around Rs46,000 per annum in 2017, has increased to Rs94,000 (more than double). The state budget, which hovered around Rs2 lakh crore in 2015-16, rose to around Rs6 lakh crore. The state provided a unique model of ‘One District, One Product’ scheme, which is now being replicated nationally. This scheme has turned UP into an export hub. We have given 4.5 lakh government jobs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All this has happened despite the fact that in five years of our government, we faced the Covid-19 pandemic for two years. The state did an outstanding job of controlling Covid-19 and safeguarding the livelihoods. UP has the highest numbers in Covid-19 vaccination: we gave the first dose to all people above 18 years and the double dose to 75% of the people. We have created a world class health infrastructure, including testing facilities. We helped migrant workers travel back to the state safely amidst the pandemic and helped them get jobs through ‘skill mapping’ so that they can stay in the state and contribute to its economy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The double engine government has been distributing a double dose of free ration to almost 15 crore people thus helping them to tide over the Covid-19 crisis. Our aim of saving lives and livelihoods has been successful. The WHO and the Niti Aayog have appreciated our strategy.</p> <p><b>Q/ You have said that this is an 80% versus 20% election. Who are those 20% whose votes you do not need or will you try to win them over as well?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The 80% are those people who have a positive attitude towards development and prosperity of the state, better law and order, welfare schemes for the poor, and the work done to honour faith in UP. All of them are with us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The remaining 20% are those who are with negative outlook and no vision. People who do not like the better law and order situation, who want to hurt religious sentiments, who do not like welfare schemes for the poor, who do not like infrastructure development.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before 2017, when people from UP travelled outside the state, they were snubbed. Now when they talk about being from UP, they have pride in belonging to the state, as it means a developed state with good infrastructure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition and the 20% are those who are scared of the BJP returning to power. They dream of fomenting riots and looting…. The BJP has worked with a zero-tolerance approach towards crime and criminals, and against corruption and corrupt persons. Our work has benefited all sections of society irrespective of caste, creed, religion, etc.</p> <p><b>Q/ You are a powerful orator. The response of the public energises you. How has the experience of conducting a virtual campaign been?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Talking to people live does have a different appeal but Covid-19 has increased our dependence on technology. However, now with the permission of the Election Commission of India, we are once again holding ‘Jan Sabhas’ where I am directly in communication with our people.</p> <p><b>Q/ According to government figures, employment has increased. The same figures say manufacturing activity is constantly decreasing. Why is that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have worked a great deal towards generating employment. The better law and order situation has changed the image of the state, and during our first Investors Summit we signed MoUs for investment worth Rs4.68 lakh crore. A record Rs3 lakh crore worth projects have already been executed. Even during Covid-19, the state received investment proposals worth over Rs66,000 crore. A recent survey done by UP Industrial Consultants Ltd found that 11.48 lakh units out of 95.49 lakh MSME units financed by banks in the past five years have provided employment to more than 30 lakh people. If these results are extended to the entire units, then the total employment generated by the 95.49 lakh units is for more than 2.6 crore youth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The manufacturing sector has gathered pace with Samsung shifting its display unit from China to set up the country’s only such unit in UP. The upcoming Defence Corridor will have manufacturing units at every node. The famous BrahMos missile will also be manufactured in UP.</p> <p><b>Q/ How do religious faith and spirituality influence your politics?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ My faith is personal, and I am not ashamed of my religion or my faith.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While our faith can be personal and our manner of worship specific, when we think in terms of the nation, duty becomes our religion. I am a yogi and will remain a yogi. Long before I became the CM, I had renounced my private life. My decisions, unlike those of previous CMs, are not selfishly motivated. My entire energy is dedicated to working for the welfare of the people of this state, who are my family.</p> <p><b>Q/ There are new equations in the state’s east. There is some anger in the west, too. Do you view these as big challenges?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The BJP swept the western region, winning 91 of the 113 seats, in the 2017 assembly elections. The work we have done for the development of the state has made us confident that the people of UP want the BJP again. In the first two rounds put together, we are winning more seats than we had earlier. The farmers’ protest had no resonance in UP. The farmers of the state supported the passage of the farm laws in Parliament. It is a different issue that some sat on protest later. But ask any farmer in UP, he supports the schemes of the Central and state governments, from loan waivers to PM Kisan Samman Nidhi. We see no impact of the farmers’ protest, as the farm laws have also been repealed. The BSP/SP governments’ anti-farmer approach and unscientific policies drove farmers to suicide. A lot of them moved away from agriculture. After the BJP was voted to power in UP, we waived farmloans to the tune of 036,000 crore and made a record payment of Rs1.59 lakh crore to cane farmers. Likewise, a host of pending irrigation projects were fast-tracked and completed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>UP is now considered as a model for the entire country. We have eliminated the role of middlemen. The government has been buying directly from the farmers. We have bought 2-3 times more wheat/paddy at minimum support price, as compared with the previous governments. Also, Direct Benefit Transfer has ensured transparency, with money being transferred within 48 hours to the bank accounts of farmers. A record amount of money has been transferred to the accounts of the farmers. In fact, our government has transferred more money to the farmers’ accounts in past five years than the entire budget of 2016 of the last SP government.</p> <p><b>Q/ Your work style is that of micromanagement and you have boundless energy. Where do you get that from?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I derive my energy from the love and faith which the 24 crore people of UP have given me. I dedicated my life to the service of people when I was a child and have never looked back. My purpose of existence is to serve people. This is what has always inspired me. I feel proud that I have been able to serve some of the most backward communities like Musahars and Vantangiya, among others. I have helped people get their land back from mafias and ensure safety for women in the state. I do yoga and believe in minimum governance and management by exception.</p> <p><b>Q/ Some OBC leaders of stature joined your party before the 2017 elections. Has their exit from the party been for the better, as they were unable to fit into the BJP’s mould?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ They left in the manner in which they came—defecting from other parties. They were part of this government, which did not discriminate in the implementation of welfare schemes. We respect all. But everyone is free to take independent decisions and leave or stay. We don’t stop anyone. The BJP talks about nationalism. The SP talks about castes. We take up issues related to development, but they talk about their family. They may call themselves ‘Samajwadis’, but they work like ‘Parivarwadis’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Those who pursue the politics of principle enjoy long innings. And the public teaches lessons to those who keep their vested interests above national interests. (Swami Prasad) Maurya was afraid to fight elections from his existing seat and has shifted to another seat because of the fear of losing.</p> <p><b>Q/ Was your ticket from Gorakhpur finalised with your inputs, or did the party decide on its own? Would you have preferred to fight the election from elsewhere?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ This was our party’s decision and I am very happy with it. In the BJP, the party is above individuals. Similarly, national interests are above the party interest. It is the party which decides who will contest the elections and from where. The party decided that I will contest from Gorakhpur. I am grateful to honourable Modi ji and the parliamentary board of the party for giving me the opportunity to contest the election from Gorakhpur.</p> <p><b>Q/ You have fought and won five Lok Sabha elections. How is contesting an assembly election different?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The experience is the same as before. For me it is about my party, the BJP. I have worked for the last two decades to ensure victory for my party.</p> <p><b>Q/ If there was one decision of your government that you could reconsider, what would it be?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have executed all our initiatives in a good manner and with good intent. We will further improve on these in the next term.</p> <p><b>Q/ If your party wins this election, how do you evaluate your position in the party? Does the responsibility seem too big?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am a worker of the party and will happily execute any role given by the party. I work under Modi ji’s guidance. Of course, being the CM of one of India’s biggest and most populous and diverse states is a great responsibility. But I was born to serve the people so I am grateful for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sun Feb 20 11:09:16 IST 2022