Archive for ‘congress party’

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.

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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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India votes 2019

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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

05/05/2019

India’s rural pain goes beyond farmers, and it may be a problem for Modi

ZADSHI VILLAGE, India (Reuters) – Three years ago, brick mason Pundlik Bhandekar was always busy as farmers in his tiny hamlet in Maharashtra commissioned new houses and nearby towns were undergoing rapid urbanisation. Now, as the rural economy sinks and the pace of construction slows, Bhandekar is struggling to get work.

“I used to get a new construction project before I could even finish one. People would come to my house to check when I would be free to work for them,” said Bhandekar, as he sat with friends under the shade of a tree on a hot afternoon.

From daily wage workers such as masons, to barbers and grocery shop owners – just about everyone in Zadshi village, some 720 km (450 miles) from India’s financial hub Mumbai, says a drop in farm incomes has dented their livelihoods.

Their woes are symptomatic of a wider problem across India, where more than half of the country’s 1.3 billion people are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, as the slowdown in the rural economy is felt in the dampening sales of consumer goods, especially the biggest such as car and motorbike sales.

The slowdown has also dented Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity in the hinterland that propelled him to power in 2014, and political strategists say it may mean he struggles to form a majority after voting in a staggered general election that began on April 11 concludes on May 19.

Zadshi has been almost entirely dependent on annual cotton and soybean crops that, according to farmers, have given lacklustre returns in the past few years due to a dip in prices, droughts and pest attacks.

And as incomes have dropped, farmers have cut back on big-ticket spending such as building new houses, digging wells or laying water pipelines, squeezing employment opportunities for people such as Bhandkekar.

“No one is interested in hiring us. We are ready to work even at 250 rupees ($3.60) per day,” said Bhandekar, who charged 300 rupees a day when work was steady, but now gets work only once or twice in a fortnight.

LOWER WAGES, LESS SPENDING

Economic data reflects the plight of farmers and daily wage workers.

Retail food inflation in the fiscal year ended on March 31 fell to 0.74 percent, even as core inflation stood at 5.2 percent, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch Research, eroding the spending power of farmers.

Inflation adjusted wage growth for workers involved in crop sowing was just 0.6 percent 2018/19 compared with 6.5 percent in 2013/14.

The value of farm produce at constant prices grew 15 percent in the past five years, compared with 23 percent in the previous five, while the manufacturing sector grew 40 percent, against 32.6 percent in the previous five years, government data shows.

“Lower rural wages will result in lesser spending, which in turn will reduce demand for goods and services that are part of the rural basket,” Rupa Rege Nitsure, group chief economist at L&T Finance Holdings in Mumbai, told Reuters.

The government needs to spend more in rural areas to generate employment and boost incomes, Nitsure said.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist government did introduce various support schemes in the past six months, such as a 6,000 rupees yearly handout to small farmers.

The main opposition Congress party has gone much further with its pledges though, saying it would introduce a basic minimum income, where the country’s poorest families would get 72,000 rupees annually, benefiting some 250 million people.

RISING UNEMPLOYMENT

In Zadshi, as the mercury touched a searing 40 degrees Celsius(104F), a group of villagers gathered under the trees lining a dusty road and began chatting about everything from crop prices to politics.

“What else we can do? Had work been available in urban areas, we could have moved there but even in the cities construction has slowed down,” said Amol Sontakke, an unskilled labourer who works in farms and on construction sites.

Job opportunities have slowed even in urban areas and India’s unemployment rate touched 7.2 percent in February, the highest since September 2016, according to data compiled by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). Official data is unavailable for recent periods.

The mood in Zadshi was glum. While four dozen villagers interviewed by Reuters were hopeful that if there was a good monsoon this year it could improve farm incomes, they’ve been cutting back on spending in the meantime.

“People are thinking twice before buying new clothes during festivals,” said Avinash Gaurkar, a farmer currently doubling up as a part-time driver. “Buying big-ticket items such as motorcycles or refrigerators is out of the question.”

Two years ago Gaurkar began building a house, but had to give up midway as his five-acre farm could not generate the money needed, he said, pointing towards a half-finished structure without doors.

In 2018, just four villagers bought new motorbikes compared with as many as 10 a year about four years ago, said cotton farmer Raju Kohale, whose son is sitting at home unemployed after graduating as an engineer.

“Poor monsoon or lower prices, something or the other has been hurting us in the past few years,” Kohale said.

MODI AGAIN?

In the 2014 general election, most in Zadshi voted for Modi, but the farmers’ distress has swayed many towards the opposition Congress party. That was clear from Reuters’ interviews with 48 villagers, who cast their ballots last month.

Farmers are at the bottom of the Modi administration’s priority list, said labourer Sagar Bahalavi.

“They are building big roads to connect metros and calling it development. How is that useful for us?” he said.

Some, though, want to give Modi a second chance.
“Modi’s intentions are good, it’s the bureaucratic system that is not supporting him,” said Gulab Chalakh, who owns a 20-acre farm and is among the richest in the village. “We should give him another chance.”
Source: Reuters
29/04/2019

Police break up clashes in West Bengal, Mumbai votes in fourth phase of massive poll

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Police broke up clashes between rival groups of voters in West Bengal on Monday as some of India’s richest families and Bollywood stars also cast their ballots in Mumbai during the fourth phase of a massive, staggered general election.

In West Bengal, a populous eastern state crucial for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election bid, supporters of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) clashed with others from the regional Trinamool Congress, police said.

TV footage showed armed security forces chasing away people wielding sticks, although it was initially difficult to determine the scale of the clashes.

There were no immediate reports of any poll-related injuries in West Bengal, where at least one person was killed and three injured during the third phase of voting last week.

The BJP is in a direct, and sometimes bloody, fight in West Bengal with Trinamool, whose chief Mamata Banerjee is one of Modi’s biggest critics and a potential prime ministerial candidate.

More than 127 million people are eligible to vote in this round of the seven-phase election held across 71 seats in nine states. Modi’s coalition won more than 75 percent of the seats in the previous election in 2014.

Many of the constituencies are in Uttar Pradesh in the north and western India’s Maharashtra, where the financial capital Mumbai is located. Uttar Pradesh elects the most lawmakers, with Maharashtra next. Both states are ruled by the BJP and its allies.
However, political analysts say the BJP may struggle to repeat its strong showing this time due mainly to a jobs shortage and weak farm prices, issues upon which the main opposition Congress party has seized.

‘SOME PROGRESS’

First-time voter Ankita Bhavke, a college student in Mumbai, said she voted for economic development.

“I want the country to be at par with the best in the world,” she said. “There’s been some progress in the last five years.”

India’s financial markets were closed on Monday for the election.

Mumbai is home to the massive Hindi film industry, as well as Asia’s wealthiest man, Mukesh Ambani, and India’s richest banker, Uday Kotak.
Ambani, who heads Reliance Industries, and Kotak, managing director of Kotak Mahindra Bank, created a stir this month by publicly endorsing an opposition Congress party candidate from their upscale South Mumbai constituency.
Mumbai, which has six seats, is India’s wealthiest city but ageing and insufficient infrastructure is a major concern. Six people were killed last month when part of a pedestrian bridge collapsed, recalling memories of a 2017 rush-hour stampede that killed at least 22 people on a narrow pedestrian bridge.
The election, the world’s biggest democratic exercise with about 900 million voters, started on April 11 with Modi in the lead amid heightened tension with long-time enemy Pakistan.
The last phase of voting is on May 19, with results released four days later.
There are a total of 545 seats in the Lok Sabha.
Modi sent warplanes into Pakistan in late February in response to a suicide attack by an Islamist militant group based there that killed 40 Indian police in the disputed Kashmir region.
Modi has sought votes on his tough response towards militancy and in recent days has evoked the deadly Easter Sunday bombings in nearby Sri Lanka.
Maidul Islam, a professor of political science at Kolkata’s Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, said long queues outside polling stations would indicate whether Modi’s national security pitch was working.
“Whenever there is a BJP kind of a wave, you see a higher voter turnout,” he said.
Source: Reuters
28/04/2019

A really simple guide to India’s general election

Indian electionsImage copyright GETTY IMAGES

It is an election like no other. Those eligible to vote in India’s upcoming polls represent more than 10% of the world’s population and they will take part in the largest democratic exercise in history.

Voters will choose representatives for the Indian parliament, and in turn decide if Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi will run the country for another five years.

What is at stake?

Whoever wins these elections and forms a government will control the destiny of the world’s largest democracy.

While they are in charge,  is likely to overtake the UK’s and become the world’s fifth-largest.

Its population meanwhile – at more than 1.34bn people – is predicted to soon surpass China’s 1.39bn.

Hundreds of millions of Indians have escaped  since the turn of the millennium but huge challenges remain.

 is a major concern and is especially high among young people.

Millions of  about low crop prices.

How the nuclear-armed country engages with the outside world – and manages a tricky  – is also of immense importance to international security.

Graphic: The immense scale of India's elections

Who is being elected?

Indians are voting for members of parliament and the job of prime minister tends to go to the leader of the party or coalition with most seats. The current PM is .

His main rival is opposition leader .

Parliament has two houses: the Lok Sabha and the .

The lower house –  – is the one to watch.

It has 543 elected seats and any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a government.

At the last election in 2014, Mr Modi’s  won 282 seats.

Mr Gandhi’s  only took 44 seats in 2014 – down from 206 in 2009.

Graphic: The battle for the Lower House of the Indian Parliament

Why does voting take so long?

Because of the enormous number of election officials and security personnel involved, voting will take place in seven stages between 11 April and 19 May.

Different states will vote at different times.

Votes will be counted on 23 May and results are expected on the same day.

Who will win?

This election is being seen as a referendum on Mr Modi, a polarising figure adored by many but also accused of stoking divisions between  and the country’s 200 million Muslims.

Until a few months ago, Mr Modi and his BJP party were seen as the overwhelming favourites. But the  in December’s regional elections injected a sense of serious competition into the national vote.

Analysts are divided on whether Mr Modi will be able to win a simple majority again.

A recent escalation of tensions with Pakistan has given the BJP a new and popular issue to campaign on.

It will be hoping that a focus on patriotism will help the party to get past the serious challenge mounted by powerful regional parties and Congress.

Source: The BBC

18/04/2019

India election 2019: Can West Bengal’s female candidates win?

A supporter throws marigold petals at Mahua Moitra
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Women make up nearly half of India’s 900 million voters, but they are still poorly represented in the country’s law-making bodies. One political party is trying to correct the balance by nominating 41% female candidates. The BBC’s Geeta Pandey travelled to the state of West Bengal to see how they are faring.

On a bright sunny morning, as an open jeep decorated with bright yellow and orange flowers hurtles along the dirt track from one village to the next, women in colourful saris and men rush to greet Mahua Moitra.

They shower bright orange marigold petals on her, place garlands around her neck and many reach out to shake and kiss her hands. She waves at them, greeting them with her palms joined: “Give me your blessings.”

Young men and women whip out their smartphones to take photos and selfies. On the way, she’s offered coconut water and sweets.

Ms Moitra, who is contesting the general election as a candidate of the state’s governing Trinamool Congress Party (TMC), is campaigning in her constituency Krishnanagar.

Women offer sweets to Mahua Moitra
Image caption On the campaign trail, women offer coconut water and sweets
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Women throw marigold petals at Mahua Moitra
Image caption Supporters throw marigold petals at Mahua Moitra
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In one village, party workers tell her about an old man who’s too ill to come to meet her, so she walks to his home to greet him.

Her jeep is followed by dozens of bikes and their riders, all young men, chanting slogans like “Long live Trinamool Congress, Long live Mamata Banerjee.”

The loud, colourful procession is led by a small truck, fitted with loudspeakers, from which announcements asking people to vote for Ms Moitra are played on a loop.

With the election season well under way in India and political leaders criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country, addressing rallies, I’m travelling across the country to see if the high-decibel campaigns are addressing the real issues that actually affect millions of people. One of them is getting more women into parliament.

In India, only 11% of members of parliament are women, and in state assemblies it’s 9%. In a list of 193 countries this year, India was ranked 149th for female representation in parliament – below Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

A bill to reserve 33% of seats for women in parliament and regional assemblies has been pending since 1996, so the decision by the TMC – led by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee – to give 41% of her party nominations to women has created a huge buzz.

Mahua Moitra during her road show
Image caption Ms Moitra quit her banker’s job in London to return to India and enter politics
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Ms Banerjee, who set up the TMC in 1998 after falling out with the Congress party, is a feisty politician who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2012.

Her female candidates, says my BBC Bengali colleague Subhajyoti Ghosh, are an “interesting mix” of career politicians and first-timers. They include actors, doctors, a tribal activist and the 25-year-old widow of a recently-murdered politician.

Ms Moitra, the TMC’s national spokesperson and a member of the state assembly since 2016, is among 17 women who have made it to the party’s list of 42 general election nominees.

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Read more from Geeta Pandey

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A former investment banker with JP Morgan, she gave up a well-paying job in London in 2009 to return to the heat and dust of Indian politics.

Her decision left her family aghast. Her parents, she told me, thought she was “insane”. Some party workers too had their doubts – “she’s a memsahib”, they said at the time, “she won’t survive”.

A poster of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal
Image caption Mamata Banerjee was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2012
Presentational white spaceBut she has survived – and thrived. In 2016, she won the Karimpur assembly seat that no non-Left party had won since 1972 and has now set her eyes on the national parliament.

She’s agreed to let me follow her on the campaign trail, so for two days I’ve been a “fly on the wall” – standing behind her in her jeep, travelling in her car, watching her strategise with party workers, aides and confidants.

The previous evening, I had watched her be the chief guest at a college cricket match and address a gathering at the local market in Plassey.

A four-hour drive from Kolkata, Plassey is the site of the famous 1757 battle between the British East India Company and the local ruler supported by the French.

Ms Moitra takes her spot to speak and clearly takes aim at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as she talks about a deadly suicide attack in Kashmir and India’s subsequent air raid in Pakistan.

The bike riders
Image caption Her jeep is followed by dozens of supporters on bikes
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Women shaking hands
Image caption Many women reach out to shake hands with Ms Moitra

“What’s the point of saying you killed all those terrorists in Pakistan? It’s not important who you killed in Pakistan or how many. What’s important is you failed to protect our soldiers.”

She talks about how the government has failed to create jobs and accuses the BJP of trying to divide Hindus and Muslims.

“You have taken away our livelihoods and you’re trying to teach us about [the Hindu god] Ram and [Muslim saint] Rahim? I don’t have to write my religion on my forehead,” she declares to loud claps from her supporters.

Elections in the past were to change the government, she says, but this election is to save the constitution of India. “It is no ordinary vote.”

Her main rival is the BJP’s Kalyan Chaubey, a former footballer who played in goal for India. So drawing a football analogy, she declares: “I’m an A-league centre-forward player, stop my goal if you can. I am here to win.”

Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, a founder member of the TMC and two-term MP, says to nominate so many women is part of a “continuous process” followed by Mamata Banerjee because “you can’t develop a society without uplifting the status of its women”.

In the last general election in 2014, she points out that the party nominated 33% women and 12 of their 34 MPs in the outgoing lower house were women.

Ms Banerjee, she says, believes that gender sensitive laws will come only if more women are in power.

At a campaign rally that Dr Ghosh Dastidar addresses in Kumhra Kashipur village in her constituency Barasat, women are seated in the front rows.

Their opinion though is divided over whether having more women in parliament will actually benefit other women.

Dr Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar being welcomed in her constituency
Image caption Dr Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar is among the founder members of the TMC and a two-term MP
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Supriya Biswas says it’s easier if their MP is a woman because then it’s easier to approach her. “For, who can understand a woman better than a woman?”

Archana Mallick and Meena Mouli, who live just across from the rally ground, point to the broken roads near their homes and complain about poor medical facilities in their village. They say that the candidate’s gender is “inconsequential” and what’s important is “who works for our benefit”.

Studies, however, show that female representatives bring economic growth to their constituencies because they are more concerned than men about issues such as water supply, electricity, road connectivity and health facilities.

Saswati Ghosh, professor of economics at Kolkata’s City College, says that politics in India is “still very patriarchal” and it’s “absolutely necessary” to elect more women MPs.

“It is important to have more women in lawmaking bodies because I think after a certain number, you’ll reach the threshold level and that will lead to change. I don’t know if 33% is the magic number that will change the quality of discourse, maybe 25% can do the trick?”

Archana Mallick and Meena Mouli say a candidate's gender is "inconsequential"
Image caption Archana Mallick and Meena Mouli say a candidate’s gender is “inconsequential”

Critics, however, question whether celebrities are the right candidates to bring about that change.

Prof Ghosh says actors and celebrities make for “winnable candidates” and that’s why all parties choose them even though sometimes they may not be the right candidates to reach that threshold.

But, she says that Ms Banerjee is a strong leader who’s regarded by many women as “a role model who inspires more women to come into politics”.

And that’s something that many Indians think the country sorely needs.

In their manifestos, the main opposition Congress party has promised to pass the women’s reservation bill, if elected to power. So has the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, although it had made similar promises in its last manifesto and did nothing about it.

By allotting 41% seats to women, Ms Banerjee has shown that one doesn’t need to set artificial quotas to elect more women.

Source: The BBC

13/04/2019

Hundreds participate in march to commemorate Jallianwala Bagh massacre centenary

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Hundreds of people holding candles and the national flag marched through the northern Indian city of Amritsar on Friday, on the eve of the centenary of the colonial-era Jallianwala Bagh massacre that British Prime Minister Theresa May has called a “shameful scar.”

On April 13, 1919, some 50 British Indian army soldiers began shooting at unarmed civilians who were taking part in a peaceful protest against oppressive laws enforced in the Punjab region.

At least 379 Sikhs were killed, according to the official record, although local residents said in the past the toll was far higher. The massacre took place in the walled enclosure of Jallianwala Bagh, which is still pocked with bullet marks.

The massacre became a symbol of colonial cruelty and for decades Indians have demanded an apology from Britain, including during Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Amritsar in 1997.

On Wednesday, May told the British parliament that “the tragedy of Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 is a shameful scar on British Indian history”, but she did not issue a formal apology.

In 2013, then British Prime Minister David Cameron described the killings as a “deeply shameful event” in a visitor book at the site, now marked by a 46-foot (14-metre) high flame-shaped memorial.

“There are events in the histories of nations which are difficult to forget and they hold a very emotionally charged space in a nation’s memory,” Navtej Sarna, a Sikh who has served as India’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, told Reuters.

“We have an excellent relationship with the United Kingdom today but it’s a question of assuaging sentiments and healing a wound which has been festering as part of our shared history.” India gained independence from Britain in 1947.

Security in the city – also home to Sikhism’s holiest shrine the Golden Temple – has been stepped up as hundreds of visitors and groups are likely to arrive at the site, Amritsar Police Commissioner S.S. Srivastava said.

Residents of the city, tourists, visitors, top government officials and students took part in the candle lit evening march from a building called Townhall to the massacre site.

The march of about one kilometre was accompanied by loudspeakers playing patriotic songs and onlookers thronged the roadsides. At the end of the march, people observed a two-minute silence.
Punjab state’s Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Governor V P Badnore took part in the march while Rahul Gandhi, president of the opposition Congress party, was expected to visit the city later in the evening.
Source: Reuters
11/04/2019

India election 2019: Voting begins in world’s largest election

Indians have begun voting in the first phase of a general election that is being seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Tens of millions of Indians across 20 states and union territories are voting in 91 constituencies.

The seven-phase vote to elect a new lower house of parliament will continue until 19 May. Counting day is 23 May.

With 900 million eligible voters across the country, this is the largest election ever seen.

Some observers have billed this as the most important election in decades and the tone of the campaign has been acrimonious.

Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a historic landslide in the last elections in 2014. He stakes his claim to lead India on a tough image and remains the governing BJP’s main vote-getter.

But critics say his promises of economic growth and job creation haven’t met expectations and India has become more religiously polarised under his leadership.

The BJP faces challenges from strong regional parties and a resurgent Congress party, led by Rahul Gandhi. Mr Gandhi’s father, grandmother and great-grandfather are all former Indian prime ministers. His sister, Priyanka Gandhi, formally joined politics in January.

Modi at a rally in Meerut
Image captionMr Modi has made national security a key election issue

How has voting gone so far?

The Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament has 543 elected seats and any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a government.

Hundreds of voters began to queue up outside polling centres early Thursday morning. In the north-eastern state of Assam, lines of voters began forming almost an hour before voting officially began.

Voters at one polling booth in Baraut – in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh – got a royal welcome with people greeted by drums and a shower of flower petals.

A little boy clutches his father outside a polling booth in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh stateImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image caption A little boy clutches his father outside a polling booth in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh state

In central Chhattisgarh state, suspected Maoists detonated an IED device near a polling booth at around 04:00 local time (23:30 BST) – no injuries were reported.

The mineral-rich state has witnessed an armed conflict for more than three decades and attacks by Maoist rebels on security forces are common. On Tuesday a state lawmaker was killed in a suspected rebel attack.

How big is this election?

It is mind-bogglingly vast – about 900 million people above the age of 18 will be eligible to cast their ballots at one million polling stations. At the last election, vote turn-out was around 66%.

More than 100 million people are eligible to vote in the first phase of the election on Thursday.

An official checks the names of Indian lambadi tribeswomen at a polling station during India's general election at Pedda Shapur village on the outskirts of Hyderabad on April 11, 2019.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image caption Indian lambadi tribeswomen at a polling station in southern India

No voter is meant to have to travel more than 2km to reach a polling station. Because of the enormous number of election officials and security personnel involved, voting will take place in seven stages between 11 April and 19 May.

India’s historic first election in 1951-52 took three months to complete. Between 1962 and 1989, elections were completed in four to 10 days. The four-day elections in 1980 were the country’s shortest ever.

Source: The BBC

13/03/2019

India’s main opposition promises jobs for women amid heated election campaign

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s main opposition Congress party will reserve a third of federal government jobs for women if it comes into power, its chief Rahul Gandhi said on Wednesday, in a sign women’s rights are rising up the political agenda for next month’s election.

Over the last week, two powerful parties from eastern India said they would field women in a third of parliamentary races, putting pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other big parties to follow suit.

India ranks at 149 out of 193 countries – worse than neighbouring Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Pakistan – for the percentage of women in national parliaments, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an independent organisation promoting democracy.

“For how many generations have people talked about reservation in party positions, reservation for elections, reservation in jobs? But it doesn’t seem to happen,” BJP spokesperson Shaina N.C. said.
There are currently 66 women out of a total 543 elected members in India’s lower house of parliament. At 12 percent, this is the highest ever proportion of women in the Lok Sabha.
Women make up nearly half of all voters in the country of 1.3 billion people, according to the Election Commission of India. Based on recent state polls, women will likely head to voting stations in droves for the elections due by May, surpassing male turnout, analysts predict.
On Tuesday, Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal state, said her All India Trinamool Congress party would field 17 women candidates across 42 seats.
Earlier, on Sunday, the Biju Janata Dal, which rules Odisha state in eastern India, said it would reserve seven of 21 seats it is contesting for women candidates.
“33% reservation in parliament will give them bigger role in highest policy making body,” Naveen Patnaik, leader of the BJD and Odisha’s chief minister, said in a tweet.
“Women of our nation rightfully deserve this from all of us.”
Source: Reuters
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