Archive for ‘Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’

03/06/2019

No compulsory Hindi in India schools after Tamil Nadu anger

Indian schoolchildren are silhouetted against a national flag as they participate in Independence Day celebrations in Chennai on August 15, 2016.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Tamils argue that imposing Hindi will jeopardise their language

The Indian government has revised a controversial draft bill to make Hindi a mandatory third language to be taught in schools across the country.

The draft bill had met particularly strong opposition in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which has always resisted the “imposition” of Hindi.

In 1965, it saw violent protests against a proposal that Hindi would be India’s only official language.

Tamil is one of the oldest languages and evokes a lot of pride in the state.

However the government decision has not calmed tensions in Tamil Nadu.

The two main political parties in the state, the DMK and AIADMK, have both said that simply revising the draft to say Hindi would not be mandatory is not enough.

The state teaches only two languages – Tamil and English – in the government school curriculum, and the parties do not want a third language introduced at all.

A DMK spokesman told the NDTV news channel that the third language clause would be used as a “back door” to introduce Hindi anyway.

Their rivals, the AIADMK, which allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the general elections but lost badly in the state, had a similar view.

“Our party has always been clear in our stand. We have always followed a two-language policy. Though mandatory Hindi has been revised in the draft now, we still cannot support this three-language system. Our government will talk to the union government for our rights,” former state education minister and AIADMK spokesman Vaigaichelvan told BBC Tamil.

On Monday, #HindiIsNotTheNationalLanguage began trending on Twitter in India, which saw many from Tamil Nadu facing off against people from other parts of the country and asserting their right not to have the language “imposed” on them.

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Presentational white space“There is no opposition to actually learning Hindi. In fact with the recent IT boom in the south, so many people from the north have migrated here that its use has become more widespread here. It is true that if you know Hindi you will find it easier to get work in other parts of India, so there are also many people here who willingly learn it. But that should be their choice. What people are opposing is the imposition of it,” senior journalist and political analyst KN Arun told the BBC.

Mr Arun also warned that there was a chance that the issue could lead to further protests in the state, saying that a few hardline Tamil groups had been using the issue to whip up anger among the people.

It is also a particularly emotive issue. Politics in the state is still centred around the ideas and principles of the Dravidian movement, which among other things reveres the Tamil language and links it closely to regional identity.

“Tamil is very rich in literature and different to other languages like Hindi which branched out of Sanskrit. There is fear that the Indian government is trying to slowly introduce Hindi, which will threaten the status of Tamil,” author and journalist Vaasanthi told the BBC.

Source: The BBC

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28/05/2019

Pakistan PM Khan speaks with India’s Modi to congratulate him on election win

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday spoke to Narendra Modi and congratulated the Indian leader on the runaway election victory of his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), both countries said on Sunday.

“Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi today and congratulated him on his party’s electoral victory in the Lok Sabha elections in India,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The Prime Minister expressed his desire for both countries to work together for the betterment of their peoples.”

Tensions between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed countries, flared in February with cross-border air strikes and a brief battle between fighter jets above Kashmir.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs confirmed Khan had called Modi on Sunday, adding the two leaders had discussed fighting poverty together.

He (Modi) stressed that creating trust and an environment free of violence and terrorism were essential for fostering cooperation for peace, progress and prosperity in our region,” the ministry added in a statement.

Source: Reuters

22/05/2019

In an Indian village, Muslims talk of leaving as divide with Hindus widens

NAYABANS, India (Reuters) – Muslims in Nayabans, an unremarkable village in northern India, say they remember a time when their children played with Hindu youths, and people from either faith chatted when they frequented each other’s shops and went to festivals together.

Such interactions no longer happen, many say, because of how polarized the two communities have become in the past two years, and some are frightened and thinking of moving away – if they can afford it.

Muslim residents who spoke to Reuters said they thought tensions would only worsen if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wins a second term in the current general election, as exit polls released on Sunday indicate is likely. Votes will be counted Thursday.

“Things were very good earlier. Muslims and Hindus were together in good and bad times, weddings to deaths. Now we live our separate ways despite living in the same village,” said Gulfam Ali, who runs a small shop selling bread and tobacco.

Modi came to power in 2014 and the BJP took control of Uttar Pradesh state, which includes Nayabans, in 2017, partly on the back of a Hindu-first message. The state’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, is a hardline Hindu priest and senior BJP figure.

“Modi and Yogi have messed it up,” said Ali. “Dividing Hindus and Muslims is their main agenda, only agenda. It was never like this earlier. We want to leave this place but can’t really do that.”

He says about a dozen Muslim families have left in the past two years, including his uncle.

The BJP denies its policies have stoked community divisions.

COW KILLING

At the end of last year, Nayabans, a village of wheatfields, narrow cemented streets, bullock carts and loitering cows, became a symbol of India’s deepening divide as some Hindu men from the area complained they had seen a group of Muslims slaughtering cows, which Hindus regard as sacred.

Angry Hindus accused police of failing to stop an illegal practice, and a Hindu mob blocked a highway, threw stones and burned vehicles. Two people were shot and killed – including a police officer.

Five months later many Muslims, who only number about 400 of the village’s population of more than 4,000, say the wounds haven’t healed.

And in a country where 14 percent of the population are Muslim and 80 percent Hindu, Nayabans reflects wider tensions in places where Muslim residents are heavily outnumbered by Hindu neighbours.

The BJP denies it is seeking to make Muslims second-class citizens or is anti-Muslim.

“There have been no riots in the country under this government. It’s wrong to label criminal incidents, which we denounce, as Hindu-Muslim issues,” BJP spokesman Gopal Krishna Agarwal said.

“The opposition has been playing communal politics but we believe in neutrality of governance. Neither appeasement of any, nor denouncement of any. Some people may be finding that they are not being appeased anymore.”

CALL TO PRAYER

To be sure, villagers say Nayabans was not free of conflict in the past – attempts to build a mosque in 1977 led to communal riots in which two people were killed. But for the 40 years after that there had been relative harmony, villagers say.

Some Muslim residents said Hindu hardliners started asserting themselves more in the village after Yogi took office in March 2017.

The atmosphere worsened around the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 2017 – Hindu activists demanded Muslims stop using a microphone in their madrasa, which also acts as a mosque, to call people to prayer, arguing it disturbed the whole community.

The Muslims reluctantly agreed to stop using the mike and speaker – even though they say it had been operating for many years – to keep the peace, but the move created deep resentment.

Some Hindus were unsympathetic.

“God knows what they are moaning about,” said Hindu elder Om Prakash, a 63-year-old tailor. “There’s peace here but we won’t tolerate any mike there. That’s a madrasa, not a mosque.”

Islam requires the faithful to pray five times a day. Without the reminder of hearing the call, some Muslim residents say they risk missing prayer times.

“We can’t express our religion in any way here, but they are free to do whatever they want,” said Muslim law student Aisha, 21.

She said that Hindu men from the village often shouted anti-Muslim slogans during festival processions. At least a dozen Hindus in the village denied that was the case.

Aisha remembers when relations were better.

“Earlier they would speak very nicely to us, but now they don’t,” said Aisha. “If there was any problem at all, or someone was sick in the family, all the neighbours would come over and help – whether Hindus or Muslims. Now that doesn’t happen.”

“EMPTY OUT”

Sharfuddin Saifi, 38, who runs a cloth shop at a nearby market, was named in a complaint filed with the police by local Hindus over the cow incident last year.

After 16 days in jail, he was released as the police found he had nothing to do with the suspected slaughter, but said he found much had changed.

Hindus now shun his business. The money he spent on lawyers meant he had to stop going to Delhi to buy stock for the shop, which is largely empty. And he withdrew his 13-year-old son from a private school because he could no longer afford it.

“For someone who had never seen the inside of a police station or even dreamt of committing a crime, it’s a big thing,” he said of the trauma of his detention.

He often thinks about leaving the village, he says, but tells himself: “I have not done anything wrong, why should I leave?”

Carpenter Jabbar Ali, 55, moved to a Muslim-dominated area in Masuri, closer to Delhi, buying a house with money he saved from working in Saudi Arabia.

“If Hindus could kill a Hindu police inspector, in front of a police outpost, with armed guards alongside him, then who are we Muslims?” Ali said, recalling the December incident.

He still keeps his house in Nayabans and visits occasionally but said he feels much safer in his new home, where all his immediate neighbours are Muslims.

“I’m fearful here,” he said. “Muslims may have to empty out this place if Modi gets another term, and Yogi continues here.”

Junaid, a round-faced 22-year-old with a goatee, comes from one of the most affluent Muslim families in the village. His father runs a gold shop in a town nearby.

Seated outside his home, he recalled playing sport together with Hindus.

“When we were young all the Hindus and Muslims used to play together, especially cricket – I played it a lot,” he said. “Now we haven’t played in at least a year.”

He said he wanted to move to New Delhi soon to study at a university there. “Things are not good here,” he said.

Some Muslims, however, say they are committed to remaining. Aas Mohammed, 42, the owner of a flourishing tiles and bathroom fixtures business in a nearby town, has decided to stay in the village, though he has a house on Delhi’s outskirts.
Mohammed helped arrange a lawyer for Saifi after his arrest over the cow incident. He is now lobbying to have the microphone brought back and fighting a legal battle to get a new mosque built.
“I will fight on,” he said. “I am not scared, but another term for Modi will make it very difficult for many other people to live here.”
Source: Reuters
21/05/2019

EVM allegations: India poll officials deny ‘vote fraud’

EVMsImage copyright AFP
Image caption More than 1.5 million e-voting machines will be used in the summer elections

India’s election is nearly over: voting began on 11 April, and the final ballot was cast on 19 May with results out on 23 May. Every day, the BBC will be bringing you all the latest updates on the twists and turns of the world’s largest democracy.

What happened?

India’s Election Commission has denied allegations that voting machines had been tampered with in parts of India.

India’s opposition parties are meeting the election watchdog on Tuesday to demand more transparency in counting of votes on 23 May (Thursday).

Opposition leaders said the EC had to ensure that there was no possibility of anybody manipulating the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) which were used to record votes in the general election that concluded on Sunday.

In Uttar Pradesh’s Ghazipur constituency, a candidate belonging to the opposition Bahujan Samaj Party held a protest outside a room where the machines have been stored ahead of the counting. The candidate alleged that attempts were being made to take out the machines from the storage room.

Local officials have said the allegations are baseless.

Electronic Voting Machine

The Supreme Court has ordered the EC to tally the results from five EVMs with VVPAT receipts in at least five polling stations in every assembly seat. A parliamentary constituency comprises several assembly seats.

But opposition parties say that the tally should done for the entire constituency in case of a mismatch.

“On VVPATs and the EVM tally, the EC is yet to come out with a procedure in case there is a mismatch. Even if there is one mismatch in the EVMs or VVPAT samples picked for counting, to maintain the integrity of the electoral process, all VVPATs in that Assembly segment must be counted. This is important to maintain integrity of the electoral process,” Mr Yechury said.

If this were to happen however, it would considerably slow down the counting process and declaration of results.

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PM Modi tweets tribute to former PM Rajiv Gandhi

What happened?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tweeted on the occasion of the death anniversary of former PM Rajiv Gandhi.

Mr Modi has repeatedly attacked Mr Gandhi on the campaign trail and his slurs have prompted widespread criticism.

He called Mr Gandhi the “number one corrupt man in the country” at a rally earlier this month in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. A few days later, he went after Mr Gandhi again – accusing him of using a naval aircraft carrier to take him and his family to an island for a “family holiday”.

Mr Gandhi was assassinated by a suicide bomber in 1991 during a campaign rally.

Why does this matter?

Mr Modi’s tweet marking Mr Gandhi’s death anniversary is customary – but it has garnered attention because he attacked the former prime minister repeatedly while campaigning and didn’t back down when challenged.

Many were taken aback by Mr Modi’s criticism of Mr Gandhi. It elicited condemnation not just from the main opposition Congress party, but other regional opposition leaders, political commentators and even former political opponents of Mr Gandhi.

Analysts said the comments were a sign of “desperation” and showed that Mr Modi “knew” his party was not going to perform as well as expected in the election.

Now that campaigning is over and the election is nearly at an end, Mr Modi seems to be abandoning acerbic rhetoric for something more conciliatory.

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On Monday, opposition rejects exit poll results

BJP supportersImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

What happened?

Opposition leaders have dismissed the exit polls, which suggest that the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is on course to win the general election.

20/05/2019

BJP preparing for return to power after surprise exit polls: sources

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is preparing to meet coalition partners to discuss a new government, two BJP sources said on Monday, after exit polls predicted a better-than-expected result for it in a general election.

The talks would most likely be held on Tuesday afternoon, the two sources in the BJP said. They declined to be identified as they are not authorised to speak about the meeting.

Nalin Kohli, a spokesman for the BJP, declined to comment.

India’s seven-phase general election, billed as the world’s biggest democratic exercise, began on April 11 and ended on Sunday. Votes will be counted on Thursday and results are likely the same day.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP-led National Democratic Alliance is projected to win anything between 339-365 seats in the 545-member lower house of parliament with the Congress-led opposition alliance getting only 77 to 108, an exit poll from India Today Axis showed on Sunday.

A party needs 272 seats to command a majority.

Indian stock markets and the rupee were sharply higher on expectation the business-friendly Modi would stay on at the helm.

The benchmark NSE share index was up 2.8%, its best single day since March 2016.

“I expect another 2-3% rally in the market in the next three to four days based on the cue,” said Samrat Dasgupta, a fund manager at Esquire Capital Investment Advisors.

Congress spokesman Sanjay Jha cast doubt on the exit polls, saying on Twitter he believed they were wrong.

“If the exit poll figures are true then my dog is a nuclear scientist,” Jha said, adding he expected the next prime minister would come from outside the BJP alliance.

Modi and his BJP faced criticism in the run-up to the election over unemployment, in particular for failing to provide opportunities to young people coming onto the job market, and for weak farm prices.

But Modi rallied his Hindu nationalist base and made national security a central theme of the campaign after a surge in tension with Pakistan in February following a suicide bomb attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir by Pakistan based militants.

Modi ordered air strikes on a suspected militant camp in Pakistan, which led to a surge in tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

But many Indians applauded Modi’s tough stand and he was able to attack the opposition for being soft on security.

Ram Madhav, a senior leader in the BJP, told Reuters partner ANI the results would be even better for the party than the exit polls were suggesting, particularly in West Bengal state.

West Bengal has the third largest number of members of parliament and has been hotly contested between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress, one of the most powerful parties in the coalition trying to unseat Modi.

“Bengal will surprise all the pollsters, we are hoping to do extremely well there,” Madhav said. “Everyone has seen the tremendous support for PM Modi and the BJP in Bengal.”

Source: Reuters

18/05/2019

Narendra Modi attends first press conference but takes no questions

Mr Modi said the Congress should be ashamed of the 1984 anti-Sikh riotsImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Mr Modi said he will not forgive Pragya Thakur

India is in full election mode: voting began on 11 April, and the final ballot will be cast on 19 May with results out on 23 May. Every day, the BBC will be bringing you all the latest updates on the twists and turns of the world’s largest democracy.

What happened?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has attended first ever press conference at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) head office in Delhi – days before Indians take part in the final stage of voting.

But journalists were left disappointed as he did not take any questions, and instead largely talked about his government’s achievements.

“I have come to thank the country for blessing me. I have seen a lot of ups and downs but the country stayed with me,” he said.

Mr Modi also spoke of his pride in India’s democratic process and said he needs to show the world “how diverse our democracy is”.

Mr Modi was seated next to party president Amit Shah. He said he would not take questions because the press conference was Mr Shah’s.

Earlier, the prime minister said he would “never be able to forgive” those who have “insulted” Mahatma Gandhi.

Mr Modi’s statement comes after controversial Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician Pragya Thakur called Nathuram Godse – the man who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi – a “patriot”.

Ms Thakur apologised after several leaders, including those from the BJP, criticised her.

“Such statements should be condemned. There is no place in society for such comments. She [Ms Thakur] may have apologised, but I will never be able to forgive her,” he said in an interview to News24 TV channel.

Why does this matter?

This is the first time Mr Modi has attended a press conference as prime minister while in India. Most of his press conferences have been on state visits to other countries and often involved little more than reading out an official statement.

He has given some one-on-one interviews to Indian media, though critics say that these have largely been tightly controlled and given to journalists seen as sympathetic to him. However in recent weeks he has given a flurry of interviews to several leading publications and television channels, including those that have been critical of him.

But if people were expecting a complete about-turn in his media policy this time, they would have been disappointed.

This caused some frustration among journalists on Twitter.

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Also on Friday, a BJP candidate apologised for calling Gandhi’s killer a patriot

Hindu activist Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur leaving for Simhastha in Ujjain under heavy police protection on May 18, 2016 in Bhopal, India.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

What is happening?

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician Pragya Thakur has apologised after calling Nathuram Godse – the man who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi – a “patriot”.

Several political parties had criticised her comment and her own party demanded that she should publicly apologise.

“It was my personal opinion. My intention was not to hurt anyone’s sentiments. If I’ve hurt anyone, I do apologise. What Gandhi Ji has done for the country cannot be forgotten. My statement has been twisted by the media,” Ms Thakur said on Thursday evening.

She made the comment after actor-turned politician Kamal Haasan said Godse was India’s first Hindu “extremist” earlier this week.

Why does this matter?

The BJP as well as opposition parties immediately reacted to her comment, which also caused a storm on social media.

BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao said that the party does not agree with her statement, and asked her to publicly apologise.

The main opposition Congress party demanded an apology from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said that the BJP should take “punitive action” against Ms Thakur.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said that “insulting martyrs is in the BJP DNA” and that the “soul of the nation” has been hurt by her remarks.

Congress party leader Priyanka Gandhi also lashed out at the BJP.

Political analysts also say that her comments have put the BJP in a tough spot, since Mr Modi and BJP president Amit Shah defended their decision to field her as a candidate despite terror charges against her.

Her candidature caused outrage as she is an accused of involvement in a blast that killed seven people and injured 100 others. Ms Thakur denies all charges against her.

However, Ms Thakur’s comments do reflect the views of some right-wing Hindus who support the BJP and have long seen Gandhi as too moderate.

Godse, who shot Gandhi in the chest three times at point-blank range on 30 January 1948, was also an activist with nationalist right-wing groups, including those closely associated with the BJP.

Hindu hardliners in India accuse Gandhi of having betrayed Hindus by being too pro-Muslim, and even for the division of India and the bloodshed that marked Partition, which saw India and Pakistan created after independence from Britain in 1947.

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On Thursday, a ruling party candidate called Gandhi’s killer a patriot

What happened?

Controversial Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician Pragya Thakur made headlines again. This time it was for calling Nathuram Godse – the man who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi – a “patriot”.

Her comment was made in response to a statement by southern actor-turned politician Kamal Haasan who had said India’s first “extremist” was a Hindu”, referring to Godse.

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His statement, made on Monday, was heavily criticised by the BJP, which accused him of indulging in “divisive politics” and filed a complaint against him with the Election Commission of India.

Why does this matter?

The BJP responded by criticising Ms Thakur and asking her to publicly apologise.

“BJP does not agree with this statement, we condemn it. Party will ask her for clarification, she should apologise publicly for this statement,” party spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao told reporters.

Mahatma Gandhi (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi,1869 - 1948), Indian nationalist and spiritual leader, leading the Salt March in protest against the government monopoly on salt production.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

Ms Thakur has seen her fair share of controversy. Her candidature caused outrage as she is an accused of involvement in a blast that killed seven people and injured 100 others. On 18 April, she said that police officer Hemant Karkare had died in the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks because she had “cursed” him. She was then banned from campaigning for 72 hours as a result.

A team led by Mr Karkare had arrested her for questioning in connection with the Malegaon blast.

During her campaign, she also said she was “proud” of her part in the demolition of the 16th Century Babri mosque. In 1992, right-wing Hindu mobs razed the mosque to the ground, claiming it was built on the site of a temple destroyed by Muslim rulers. The site, which is in the city of Ayodhya, has been a religious flashpoint for Hindus and Muslims for decades.

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Campaigning ended in West Bengal a day before deadline

What happened?

The Election Commission (EC) told political parties to end their campaigning in West Bengal state, a day before the deadline in the wake of poll-related violence.

The campaign will end on Thursday at 10pm local time, and voting will be held on Sunday.

The decision comes after clashes broke out between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers and protesters believed to be from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) on Tuesday.

It happened during a roadshow of BJP chief Amit Shah. Several people were injured and vehicles were set on fire. A statue of renowned Bengali reformer Iswarchandra Vidyasagar was also vandalised in the clashes.

Both parties have accused each other of starting the violence.

Why does this matter?

Violence took place during BJP chief Amit Shah's rally in Kolkata on TuesdayImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Violence took place during BJP chief Amit Shah’s rally in Kolkata on Tuesday

The BJP welcomed the decision, saying it validated their argument that the state had “descended into anarchy” under the leadership of chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

Ms Banerjee said that the move was “undemocratic” and “it had insulted the people of Bengal”.

“Tomorrow, [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi has two meetings in Bengal. When he finishes, the campaigning also ends… Instead of punishing Amit Shah, the Election Commission has given a gift to the BJP,” she said.

This photo taken on May 14, 2019 shows supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) facing off with Indian police next to torn down barricades during clashes between rival groups during a campaign rally event held by BJP president Amit Shah in KolkataImage copyright AFP
Image caption Several people were injured and vehicles were set on fire during the violence

Both parties are locked into a fierce election battle to win most out West Bengal’s 42 seats. Ms Banerjee has ambitions of becoming the prime minister in case a nationwide coalition of regional parties wins enough seats.

The state has also become crucial for the BJP as it’s trying to expand its reach in the eastern state. It won only two seats in the 2014 election.

The BJP performed well in northern states like Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in 2014, but this time it’s expected to suffer loses against a coalition of regional parties and the main opposition Congress.

So the party is trying to make up for the losses in West Bengal.

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On Wednesday, the TMC and the BJP accused each other of poll violence

West Bengal chief minister Mamata BanerjeeImage copyright GETTY IMAGES

What happened?

The war of words between West Bengal state chief minister Mamata Banerjee and the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) intensified ahead of voting on Sunday.

The latest verbal duel comes after violence was reported during BJP chief Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) on Tuesday.

Clashes broke out between BJP supporters and protesters who were holding “Amit Shah go back” posters.

Some people suffered minor injuries and a few vehicles were set on fire.

The BJP said the protest was “orchestrated” and called it an “attempt to strangulate democracy”.

Why does this matter?

The eastern state has become politically crucial for the BJP as it has intensified campaigning in the past few days.

And that has sparked a feverish electoral battle between the BJP and Ms Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC).

“What does Amit Shah think of himself? Is he above everything? Is he god that no one can protest against him?” Ms Banerjee said.

In reply, Mr Shah accused the TMC of not following democratic norms during elections.

“Have faith in the people of Bengal that they’d face the TMC goons,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to hold more rallies in the coming days, so one can expect more verbal fireworks from the two leaders.

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On Tuesday, the saga of the morphed Mamata meme continued

What happened?

India’s top court stepped in to release an activist belonging to India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who was sent to prison for sharing a doctored image of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Priyanka Sharma was sentenced to two weeks in prison on 10 May after she shared a picture of Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra and her husband Nick Jonas at the Met Gala – but with Ms Banerjee’s head superimposed on to Chopra’s body.

Earlier the court had said Ms Sharma could be released only if she apologised to Ms Banerjee, but later waived this condition.

Why does this matter?

The battle for West Bengal in this general election has been absolutely bruising.

The BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, has been campaigning hard for votes in the state. This has brought them toe-to-toe with the state’s feisty chief minister. The fact that voting for West Bengal’s 42 seats has been split across all nine phases of voting has meant that the battle has been long and drawn-out.

And with just one phase to go before voting finally ends, the gloves are well and truly off. The two parties have traded insults on the campaign stage, their workers have attacked each other, and the violence on the ground has intensified. And now the battle has spread to cyberspace as well.

The country’s finance minister Arun Jaitley jumped at news of Ms Sharma’s release to call Ms Banerjee a dictator.

Analysts say that this political row is so bitter because the BJP has clearly identified West Bengal as one of the states where they may be able to make gains this election. This becomes more important for the party in the context of their fight in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the most number of MPs (80) to parliament.

They are up against a powerful coalition of regional parties there, and many expect them to lose seats as a result.

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And PM Modi said Rahul Gandhi should be ashamed of 1984 riots

What happened?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that main opposition Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi should be “ashamed of himself” over his colleague’s remark on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Mr Modi was replying to a controversial statement made by Sam Pitroda, who is a strategist of the Congress party.

In his reply to a question about the Congress’ role in the riots, Mr Pitroda had said “so what?”.

“I don’t think so, this is also another lie, and what about 1984? You speak about what you [Mr Modi] have done in five years. It [the riots] happened in 1984, so what?” he said.

Mr Gandhi said he was “ashamed” of Mr Pitroda’s statement, and asked him to apologise.

Mr Pitroda later said his statement was “twisted” and he did not mean to hurt sentiments.

But Mr Modi said the Congress chief “must apologise”.

“I was watching that naamdar [the dynast] told his guru that he should be ashamed of what he said. I want to ask naamdar, you pretended to scold your mentor for what? Because he exposed what was always in the Congress’s heart, and in the discussions of the naamdar family? Because he made public a family secret? Naamdar, it is you who should be ashamed,” Mr Modi said.

Why does this matter?

The controversy matters because it comes days ahead of voting for the 13 seats in the northern state of Punjab.

The BJP, which has formed a coalition with regional Shiromani Akali Dal, is locked in a bitter electoral battle with the ruling Congress in the state.

Sikhs are a majority in the state and the 1984 riots is still an emotional issue for many of them.

More than 3,000 Sikhs were killed in 1984 after the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

They were angry at her decision to send the army into the Golden Temple – Sikhism’s holiest shrine – to flush out militants earlier in the year.

The killing of Mrs Gandhi, who belonged to the Congress, saw mobs attack and murder members of the Sikh community across the country.

And both parties appear to be trying to come across as pro-Sikh ahead of the vote on 19 May.

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On Sunday, Delhi voted but not enthusiastically

A voter in Delhi in the general electionImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Delhi’s voter turnout was lower than in 2014

What happened?

Sunday saw India’s capital Delhi vote along with several other states in the polls – the penultimate phase of the country’s mammoth general election.

Voters turned out to vote, but in fewer numbers than they did in 2014. The election commission said that around 60% of the capital’s registered voters had actually cast ballots, which was about a five percent drop from 2014.

Delhi Chief Electoral Officer Ranbir Singh expressed disappointment, saying that the turnout did not match expectations.

Why does this matter?

The election commission is right to be disappointed – it had run a series of campaigns in the city, encouraging more people to vote.

But it was not as though polling in Delhi was an entirely smooth process. Some voters complained that their names were missing from electoral lists even though they had all the necessary documents. There were also reports that around 1,200 Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) had malfunctioned across the city, delaying the polling process.

The fact that Delhi became a three-cornered contest after the main opposition Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which controls the Delhi state assembly, failed to stitch up an alliance may also have put voters off. Many analysts believe that this failure will only split voters who were against prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and effectively hand them victory.

So they may have decided to just stay home, and not bother queuing up in the blistering heat – it touched 40C on Sunday.

Source: The BBC

18/05/2019

Lawbreakers to lawmakers? The ‘criminal candidates’ standing in India’s election

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has one unwanted lead in this month’s general election race – according to data from an electoral watchdog it is fielding the most candidates among the major parties who are facing criminal charges. Its main rival, Congress, is just a step behind.

Election laws allow such candidates to run so long as they have not been convicted, on grounds both of fairness and because India’s criminal justice system moves so slowly that trials can take years, or even decades, to be resolved.

Still, the number of such candidates accused of offences ranging from murder to rioting has been rising with each election.

Analysts say political parties turn to them because they often have the deepest pockets in steadily costlier elections, and that some local strongmen are seen as having the best chance of winning.

Nearly one-in-five candidates running for parliament in the current election has an outstanding criminal case against them, inching up from 17% in the previous election and 15% in 2009, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a non-profit organisation that analysed candidates’ declarations.

The data shows that 40% candidates from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP face criminal charges, including crimes against women and murder, followed by the Congress party at 39%.

Among the smaller parties, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has an even higher proportion, with 58 percent of its candidates embroiled in criminal cases.

Polls have suggested that the BJP and its allies lead the race to win the mammoth, staggered election that began last month and ends on Sunday. Votes will be counted on Thursday.

“Parties only think about winnability and they know that money power and muscle power of such candidates ensures that win,” said Anil Verma, head of the ADR.

With 240 cases against him, K Surendran of the BJP tops the list of candidates with the most outstanding criminal complaints that include rioting, criminal trespass and attempted murder.

He said most of the cases stem from his involvement in the BJP campaign to oppose the entry of women and girls of menstruating age into the Sabarimala temple in his home state of Kerala.

“I understand that an outsider might feel that I am a grave offender but, in reality, I am completely innocent of these charges,” he said. “It was all politically motivated.”

Dean Kuriakose from the Congress party has 204 criminal cases against him, the second highest, the data showed. Most of the cases were related to a political agitation against the ruling Communist Party in Kerala, which turned violent.

He was not available for comment. But a party spokesman said Kuriakose was innocent. “He was falsely charged by the police under influence from Kerala government,” the spokesman said.

Political analysts say that often people vote for candidates who face criminal charges because they are seen as best placed to deliver results. In some parts of India local strongmen mediate in disputes and dispense justice.

“Powerful people, even if criminals, offer a kind of parallel system of redressal,” said K.C. Suri, a professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad.

A separate ADR survey of more than 250,000 voters last year found 98% felt candidates with criminal backgrounds should not be in parliament, though 35% said they were willing to vote for such a candidate on caste grounds or if the candidate had done “good work” in the past.

Source: Reuters

15/05/2019

Priyanka Gandhi: Can Congress party’s ‘mythical weapon’ deliver?

Congress Party's Priyanka Gandhi campaigns on the road for for India National Congress on March 29, 2019 in Utter Pradesh, India.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

On Wednesday, Priyanka Gandhi is taking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his home turf – by holding a road show in his constituency Varanasi. Ever since she formally joined politics in February, she has been on a whirlwind tour, campaigning mostly in Uttar Pradesh where Varanasi is located. But will her efforts make any difference to the fortunes of the Congress party in the general elections?

When Ms Gandhi, the charismatic sister of Congress party president Rahul Gandhi, walked up onto the stage at a rally in the town of Pratapgarh last week, she was greeted by shouts of “Priyanka Gandhi zindabad! [Long Live Priyanka Gandhi!]”. A massive garland of red roses was held up by local Congress leaders to frame her and a golden crown was placed on her head.

Ms Gandhi launched a direct attack on Mr Modi, accusing him of not fulfilling the promises he had made before the 2014 elections.

His government, she said, had failed to create jobs, his decision to scrap high denomination banknotes had broken the backs of poor people and small businesses, and she chided the prime minister for denying farmers their rights.

When the Congress is voted to power, she said, the job scheme for the poor would be extended, wages paid on time and high school education made free.

Supporters of Priyanka Gandhi
Image caption Ms Gandhi connects easily with people, especially women

The rally was held in a small ground in the town centre and it was a small crowd, but the audience was responsive, clapping and cheering as she spoke in flawless Hindi. She ended her speech by appealing to them to vote for the Congress candidate, to vote in the change.

Mithilesh Kumar Yadav, a 21-year-old student in the audience, told me that as a young man, that’s what he wanted.

“Priyanka Gandhi wants to bring change here. As a young man I want change. Mr Modi’s policies have affected people adversely,” he said, adding that “the prime minister doesn’t talk about issues that are important. He’s trying to divert attention from his unkept promises.”

Congress spokesman Akhilesh Pratap Singh told me that Ms Gandhi had been brought in to strengthen her brother’s hands, help energise the party rank and file and counter Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

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Since taking the plunge into active politics, Ms Gandhi has hit the ground running. In the past three months, I too have travelled extensively in this bellwether state that elects 80 MPs, talking to Congress party supporters to understand why they clamour for the Gandhis, especially her.

At her rallies and road shows, I have met people who are enthused by her presence, her decision for a more active political role, but I didn’t meet a single person who said they were going to vote for the Congress because of her.

Ms Gandhi has spent hours campaigning in cars, trucks and even a boat, participated in dozens of road shows and addressed scores of rallies, grinning and waving at supporters, often reaching out to shake hands.

In February, when she made her first public appearance as a full-time politician in the state capital, Lucknow, along with her brother, thousands of supporters thronged the streets to greet them. Party workers and supporters were charged up and many told me that the Congress was now on course to win the elections and form the next government.

Similar scenes were repeated later in Amethi, Mr Gandhi’s constituency, and in towns and cities across northern India.

Congress Party Senior Leaders, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi clicked during a road show, in Amethi.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption The Gandhi siblings received a tumultuous welcome during their road show in Amethi

A natural politician, Ms Gandhi is extremely articulate in Hindi and English and connects easily with people, especially women. With her short hair and crisp cotton saris, she bears a striking resemblance to her grandmother, India’s tough and only female prime minister Indira Gandhi.

And even though she’s not running for parliament, there is obsessive media interest in everything she does – during her visit to a village of snake charmers in her mother’s constituency Rae Bareli, she’s photographed holding up snakes, and in central India, a sari-clad Priyanka Gandhi is seen scaling a fence to mingle with the crowd at a rally while her security men race to catch up with her.

Her visits to temples and shrines to woo the religious are streamed live on TV channels, her road shows get prime time, and her comments about PM Modi often make headlines. And increasingly, it’s her who’s taking on Mr Modi, countering his criticism of her family and his charge that the siblings are there not because of merit but their name.

Ms Gandhi is not exactly a newcomer to politics. For almost two decades now, she has managed campaigns for her brother and mother Sonia Gandhi, but been reluctant to take on a wider role.

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Read more from Geeta Pandey

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The 47-year-old mother-of-two has always been regarded as the more charismatic of the Gandhi siblings. And in recent years, as the Congress has suffered major electoral setbacks, the chorus for her to take on a larger role has been getting louder. In 2015, some party workers demonstrated outside the Congress headquarters in Delhi, holding placards that read, “Priyanka lao, Congress bachao [Bring Priyanka, Save Congress]”.

So when it was announced in January that she had been appointed as general secretary for the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, supporters celebrated by setting off fireworks and dancing outside the party office. She was described as the “Brahmastra” – a mythical celestial weapon of last resort deployed by Hindu deities to annihilate the enemy.

In a recent interview with a Hindi-language newspaper, Ms Gandhi explained the reasons why she finally said yes.

“Democracy, constitution and our institutions are under attack and it would have been cowardly not to take the plunge now. In 2017, Rahul asked me to take on Uttar Pradesh but I didn’t. It was a mistake but people learn from their experiences, so this time when he asked, I agreed.”

The Gandhi siblings are the fourth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, often described as India’s political royalty. Their great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the first prime minister of independent India, their grandmother and father also served as prime ministers, while their mother, Italian-born Sonia, was the Congress chief until poor health forced her to hand over the reins to her son.

Indian Congress party workers hold pictures of Priyanka Gandhi as they shout slogans outside the All Indian Congress Committee office in New Delhi on February 10, 2015, demanding Priyanka replace Congress party vice-president Rahul Gandhi to 'save the party'. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conceded defeat on February 10 in the Delhi state elections as early results showed anti-corruption campaigner Arvind Kejriwal's party set for a landslide victory.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption In 2015, some party workers demonstrated outside Congress HQ in Delhi, holding placards that read “Bring Priyanka, Save Congress”

Mr Modi often mocks the siblings, saying they lead the Congress because of entitlement and not achievement.

Congress supporters, however, don’t seem unduly worried about the dynasty link – they talk about the fact that their grandmother and father were assassinated and the “sacrifices” the family has made for the country.

Spokesman Akhilesh Pratap Singh says Rahul – and now Priyanka – have re-energised the party. “BJP leaders, including PM Modi, are rattled, otherwise why would they call her names or say she won’t make any impact on the elections?”

Mr Singh says the most important thing is that “our workers are enthused and the public confidence in the party has grown”.

But will all this adulation really convert into votes and seats for the party?

“Definitely,” Mr Singh says. “When the votes are counted, you’ll see our voting percentage has gone up.”

Congress road show in Amethi
Image caption Congress says Ms Gandhi has been brought in to help energise the party rank and file in Uttar Pradesh

Political analyst Neerja Chowdhury says Ms Gandhi has lots of charisma but she is a great example of its limits.

She “left it a bit too late” and should have come out a year ago and worked to galvanise the people, she says.

“The party organisation is decimated in the state and has to be built from scratch. She doesn’t have a magic wand.”

Ms Chowdhury says expecting Ms Gandhi to turn around the party in such a short time is asking her to do the impossible and it’s unfair on her because it will open her to being dismissed as a failure.

But in the absence of a strong party machinery or leadership in Uttar Pradesh, Ms Gandhi’s efforts can take Congress only so far and no further.

Ms Chowdhury says she would need to build the party base in the state brick-by-brick – that would require much more than charisma, and plenty of hard work.

But one thing, she says, she’s sure about is that “Ms Gandhi is here to stay”.

Source: The BBC

12/05/2019

Indians vote in penultimate phase of seven-round general election

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Voters in north India lined up early on Sunday to cast their ballots in the second-to-last round of a seven-phase general election, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi facing a diverse group of opposition parties seeking to deny him a second term.

More than 100 million people across seven states are eligible to vote in the sixth phase of the 39-day-long poll, which Modi began on April 11 as front-runner after an escalation of tension with neighbouring Pakistan.

But opposition parties have recently taken heart at what they see as signs Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may be losing ground and have begun negotiations over a post-election alliance even before polling ends on May 19. Votes will be counted on May 23.

The president of the main opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, said the main issues in the election were unemployment, distress in the countryside, the demonetisation of bank notes and a new sales tax.

“It was a good fight,” Gandhi said after he cast his vote.

“Narendra Modi used hatred, we used love. And I think love is going to win.”

A lack of new jobs – despite annual economic growth of about 7% – and the plight of farmers struggling with falling crop prices have been major worries for voters.

A new good and services tax (GST), as well as Modi’s shock ban on all high-value currency notes in 2016, hurt small and medium businesses.

Some voters in the capital, New Delhi, said they were backing Modi because they were won over by his tough stand on security.

Indian warplanes attacked what the government said was a terrorist training camp in Pakistan in February, soon after a suicide car bomb attack in the disputed Kashmir region killed 40 police officers.

BIG CHANCE FOR SMALL PARTIES?

The aggressive response stirred nationalist passions that pollsters said could favour Modi in the election.

“I have voted for Modi’s sound foreign policy and national security,” said a 36-year-old first-time voter who declined to be identified.

“The demonetisation has affected jobs growth but over time, the positive effects of GST and demonetisation would take care of jobs,” he said.

But concern about unemployment and crop prices have put the BJP on the back foot, and the opposition has in recent days felt more upbeat about its chances.

Political analysts say state-based and caste-driven parties could be decisive in determining the make-up of the next government.

“Regional parties will play a bigger role compared to the previous 5 years or even 15 years,” said K.C. Suri, a political science professor at the University of Hyderabad. “They will regain their importance in national politics.”

Recent weeks have also been marked by personal attacks between leaders, including comments from Modi about the family of Congress President Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty.

At a recent rally Modi called Gandhi’s late father, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, “corrupt no. 1”. The BJP says Modi was reacting to Rahul Gandhi calling him a thief.

“The political vitriolic has become intense, and negatively intense,” said Ashok Acharya, a political science professor at the University of Delhi.

“It seems as if this particular election is all about a few political personalities. It is not about issues, any kind of an agenda.”

Source: Reuters

08/05/2019

India election 2019: How sugar influences the world’s biggest vote

An Indian vendor sits among sugarcane kept at the main wholesale market ahead of celebrations surrounding the festival of Pongal in Bangalore,Image copyright AFP
Image caption Some 30 million farmers are engaged in cane farming in India

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a recent election meeting in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, he was compelled to make a promise relating to sugar, a diet staple.

Farmers who grow cane in the politically crucial state ruled by Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were angry because sugar mills had not paid their dues in time. They held protests and blocked railway tracks. “I know there are cane dues. I will make sure every penny of yours will be paid,” Mr Modi told the audience.

India’s sugar mills are bleeding money and collectively owe billions of dollars to 50 million cane farmers, many of whom haven’t been paid for nearly a year. Niti Ayog, a government think tank, says the arrears have reached “alarming” levels. More than 12 million tonnes of unsold sugar have piled up in factories. There is little incentive to export more as India’s sugar price is higher than the international price.

Sugar is serious business in India. Around 525 mills produced more than 30 million tonnes of sugar in the last crushing season, which lasted from October to April. This makes it the world’s largest producer, unseating Brazil. A large number of mills are run by cooperatives where farmers own shares proportional to the land they own and pledge their produce to the mill.

An Indian worker is pictured next to a sugarcane processing unit at the Triveni sugar refining factory in Sabitgarh village, in Bulandshahr district in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionIndia is the world’s largest producer of sugar

That’s not all. Some 50 million farmers, tightly concentrated geographically, are engaged in cane farming. Millions more work in the mills and farms and are engaged in transportation of cane.

As with much of India’s politics, cane growers appear to be a reliable “vote bank”. Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, which together produce 60% of the country’s sugar, send 128 MPs to the parliament. The price of cane can swing votes in more than 150 of the 545 seats in the ongoing general election, according to one estimate. Sugar is possibly the “most politicised crop in the world”, says Shekhar Gaikwad, the sugar commissioner of Maharashtra.

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Indians are also voracious consumers of sugar. The bulk of the supply goes into making sweets, confectionary and fizzy drinks that are beginning to contribute to a rising obesity problem, like elsewhere in the world. “The world’s sweet tooth continues to rely on cane sugar, much as it did four centuries ago,” says James Walvin, author of How Sugar Corrupted the World.

Indian sugarcane farmers shout slogans during a protest in New Delhi on December 4,2012Image copyright AFP
Image caption Cane farmers have held protests, demanding higher crop prices

On the face of it, cane growers and owners of sugar mills should be happy.

The government sets cane and sugar prices, allocates production and export quotas, and hands out ample subsidies. State-run banks give crop loans to farmers and production loans to mills. When mills run out of cash, public funds are used to bail them out. “I earn around 7,000 rupees ($100; £76) from growing sugar every month. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s an assured income,” says Sanjay Anna Kole, a fourth-generation, 10-acre cane farm owner in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district.

But protectionism may be yielding diminishing returns. Generous price support for the crop means the price at which mils buy cane has outstripped the price at which they sell sugar. Among large producers – Thailand, Brazil and Australia – India pays the highest cane price to farmers. It also spends more than Brazil, for example, in producing sugar.

Sanjay Anna KoleImage copyrightMANSI THAPLIYAL
Image captionFarmer Sanjay Anna Kole says cane farming provides an ‘assured income’

The involvement of politicians may not be helping matters. Since the inception of the first mills in the 1950s, politicians have owned or gained control of them by winning mill co-operative elections. Almost half a dozen ministers in Maharashtra, India’s second-biggest cane growing state, own sugar mills.

A study on the links between politicians and sugar mills by Sandip Sukhtankar, associate professor of economics at University of Virginia, found that 101 of the 183 mills – for which data was available – in Maharashtra had chairmen who competed for state or national elections between 1993 and 2005.

He also found that cane prices paid by “politically controlled” mills fell during election years, and that this was not entirely due to loss of productivity.

These mills have also been blamed for holding on to arrears and releasing them before elections to win over voters; and political parties have been accused of using money from the mills to finance campaigns. “One would think that perhaps political parties that don’t benefit from links to sugar might have incentives to reform the sector, but we have seen parties everywhere want a piece of the action,” says Dr Sukhtankar. “There are resources in the sugar industry to be extracted for political purposes.”

Sugar stocked in Maharashtra factoryImage copyright MANSI THAPLIYAL
Image caption Sugar stocks have piled up in factories across India

Whatever the case, India’s world-beating crop is mired in crisis. The farmers and the mills grumble that they aren’t getting a fair price for their crop and sugar respectively. “It looks like a sunset industry for me. There’s no future in cane until the government completely overhauls farm policies,” Suresh Mahadev Gatage, an organic cane-grower in Kolhapur, told me.

The unrest among the farmers is worrying. In January, several thousand angry cane farmers descended on Shekhar Gaikwad’s office in the city of Pune, demanding the mills pay their dues in time. The negotiations lasted 13 hours.

One of the farmers’ demands was to arrest a state minister, who was heading three mills in the state, and had defaulted on his cane dues. When negotiations ended way past midnight, authorities issued orders to seize sugar from the offending mills and sell it in retail. In India’s lumbering bureaucracy, that took another eight hours because 500 copies of the orders had to be printed. “My office is pelted by stones every other day by irate farmers,” says Mr Gaikwad.

Suresh Mahadev GatageImage copyright MANSI THAPLIYAL
Image caption Cane grower Suresh Mahadev Gatage says there is ‘no future in cane’

Meanwhile, what is completely forgotten is how much sugar has hurt India’s ecology. More than 60% of the water available for farming in India is consumed by rice and sugar, two crops that occupy 24% of the cultivable area. Experts say crop prices should begin to reflect the scarcity and economic value of water.

But before that, as Raju Shetti, MP and a prominent leader of sugarcane farmers, says, price controls should be eased and bulk corporate buyers like soft drink companies and pharmaceuticals should pay more for sugar.

“We need differential pricing for sugar. Cheap sugar should be only provided to people who can’t afford it. The rest should pay a higher price,” he told me.

“Otherwise, the industry will collapse, and farmers will die. Even politicians will not be able to save it.”

Source: The BBC

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