Archive for ‘New Delhi’

09/07/2019

China and India eye joint military drills as sides seek thaw after face-off on Himalayan border

  • Relations between the Asian giants had been strained after a 73-day military stand-off at their disputed border last year
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army in Beijing. Photo: EPA
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army in Beijing. Photo: EPA
China and India aim to hold joint army drills in China before the end of this year, China’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday, as the two countries continue a rapid rapprochement.
Relations between the Asian giants were strained last year over a 73-day military face-off in a remote, high-altitude stretch of their disputed Himalayan border.
Chinese ‘tourists’ face 7 years in Indian jail over shahtoosh shawls made from endangered antelope
But the neighbours have over recent months been working on mending ties and Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi in August.
Speaking at a regular monthly news briefing, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said that the joint exercise was planned for before the end of this year.
China and India are aiming to hold joint army drills this year as part of an ongoing rapprochement. Photo: EPA
China and India are aiming to hold joint army drills this year as part of an ongoing rapprochement. Photo: EPA

The two countries would meet in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu next month to discuss the arrangements, he added, without giving other details.

India and China fought a war in 1962 and the unresolved dispute over stretches of their 3,500km (2,200 miles) border has clouded relations ever since.

But the two big Asian economies share similar positions on a host of issues including concern about US tariffs and Chinese President Xi Jinping and Modi agreed in April to improve relations.

Source: SCMP

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09/07/2019

Xi Jinping says China, Russia and India should take ‘global responsibility’ to protect interests

  • Chinese president also called for the three nations to uphold multilateralism in talks with Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi in Osaka
  • In a separate meeting with other BRICS leaders, he said Beijing opposed ‘illegal and unilateral sanctions’ and ‘long-arm jurisdiction’
(From left) Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese leader Xi Jinping meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, on Friday. Photo: EPA-EFE
(From left) Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese leader Xi Jinping meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, on Friday. Photo: EPA-EFE
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday called on the leaders of Russia and India to take “global responsibility” to safeguard the three countries’ interests and uphold multilateralism, as Beijing seeks to rally support amid its protracted trade war with Washington.
Xi made the remarks during a trilateral meeting with Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the annual 
Group of 20

summit of world leaders in Osaka, Japan.

The trilateral meeting was part of the Chinese leader’s efforts to marshal international support ahead of his 
high-stakes meeting

with US President Donald Trump, seeking to reach a truce on the year-long trade conflict between the world’s two biggest economies.

“The rise of protectionism and unilateralism has severely affected global stability and economic growth, as well as the existing international order which emerging economies and developing countries have relied on,” Xi was quoted as saying by state broadcaster CCTV.

“China, Russia and India should take on global responsibility to safeguard the fundamental and long-term interests of these three countries and the world,” he said.

Xi also called for the nations to promote “a more multipolar world and the democratisation of international relations” – meaning with less reliance on a US-led world order.

During a meeting with leaders of the other BRICS countries – major emerging economies Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – Xi also said Beijing opposed what it saw as “illegal and unilateral sanctions” and “long-arm jurisdiction”.

The efforts to forge closer ties among China, Russia and India come as all three nations are locked in disputes with the United States.

New Delhi, a key strategic ally in Washington’s Indo-Pacific policy to contain China’s rise, has been upset over tariffs imposed on Indian goods by the Trump administration. Meanwhile, geopolitical rivalry and the Kremlin’s alleged meddling in US elections has strained relations between Moscow and Washington.

Beneath the smiles and handshakes, tensions simmer as world leaders meet for G20

Wu Jianghao, director general of the Chinese foreign ministry’s Asian affairs department, said the trilateral meeting laid out a framework for future cooperation.

“The three countries have spoken with one voice on some major global issues, helping stability and injecting positive energy to the current international situation – which is filled with instability and uncertainties,” Wu said at a briefing on Friday.

Wu said that the leaders did not talk about Huawei Technologies or 5G networks, but that the three countries had maintained good communication on telecoms issues and would continue to cooperate.

Washington has banned US companies from selling American technology to Huawei and put pressure on its allies to block the Chinese tech firm over security concerns.

(From left) US President Donald Trump, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pose for a photo before their meeting. Photo: AP
(From left) US President Donald Trump, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pose for a photo before their meeting. Photo: AP

Meanwhile, the United States is also seeking to build ties with India, with Trump holding trilateral talks with Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday.

Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale described that trilateral meeting as “very good”, saying it was “short but very productive”.

“The main topic of discussion was the Indo-Pacific, about how the three countries could work together in terms of connectivity, infrastructure and ensuring that peace and stability is maintained, and working together to build upon this new concept so that it would benefit the region as a whole and the three countries,” Gokhale said.

On the Modi-Trump bilateral meeting, he said the two leaders had “a very warm discussion”. They also briefly discussed 5G, with the focus on business cooperation between the two countries to leverage their technology and the potential of the Indian market, according to Gokhale.

He said the discussion of how to develop 5G networks was “in terms of business, not in terms of governments”. “It’s an exciting new area that India and the US can work together [on],” he said.

Source: SCMP

09/07/2019

Rights violations in contested Kashmir continue unchecked, U.N. report says

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – Tensions in disputed Kashmir after a deadly suicide bombing earlier this year are having a severe impact on human rights in the region, a United Nations report released on Monday said.

Muslim-majority Kashmir is claimed in full by India and Pakistan, who both rule it in part and have fought two wars over the territory. They came close to a third in February after the suicide bombing of a convoy claimed by a Pakistan-based militant group killed 40 paramilitary police.

India accuses Pakistan of funding these groups, who want independence for Indian-administered Kashmir, a claim Islamabad denies.

The report, by the U.N. Human Rights Council, says that arbitrary detentions during search operations by Indian troops are leading to a range of human rights violations.

Despite the high numbers of civilians killed in the vicinity of gun battles between security forces and militants, “there is no information about any new investigation into excessive use of force leading to casualties”, it said.

The report was also critical of special legal regimes used by India in Kashmir, saying accountability for violations committed by troops remains virtually non-existent.

The report says that in nearly three decades that emergency laws have been in force in Jammu and Kashmir, there has not been a single prosecution of armed forces personnel granted by the central government in a civilian court.

It called for the repeal of special powers protecting troops from prosecution.

The United Nations also flagged a spike in hate crimes against Kashmiris in the rest of India following the February attacks, calling on India to do more to prevent the violence.

In response, India’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said the report presented a “false and motivated narrative” on the state of the region.

“Its assertions are in violation of India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and ignore the core issue of cross-border terrorism,” Kumar added in a statement.

Though the majority of the allegations in the report pertain to Indian-administered Kashmir, it was also critical of Pakistan for detentions of separatists in its portion of the region.

A spokesman for the Pakistan embassy in New Delhi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Source: Reuters

07/07/2019

In drought-hit Delhi, the haves get limitless water, the poor fight for every drop

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – In this teeming capital city of more than 20 million people, a worsening drought is amplifying the vast inequality between India’s rich and poor.

The politicians, civil servants and corporate lobbyists who live in substantial houses and apartments in central Delhi pay very little to get limitless supplies of piped water – whether for their bathrooms, kitchens or to wash the car, dog, or spray a manicured lawn. They can do all that for as little as $10-$15 a month.

But step into one of the slum areas in the inner city, or a giant disorganized housing estate on the outskirts and there is a daily struggle to get and pay for very limited supplies of water, which is delivered by tanker rather than pipe. And the price is soaring as supplies are fast depleting.

India’s water crisis is far from even-handed – the elite in Delhi and most other parts of the country remain unaffected while the poor scramble for supplies every day. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official residence and those of his cabinet are in central Delhi, as are those of most lawmakers.

That may help to explain why it took until this week for Modi to call for a massive water conservation program, the first big initiative by the government despite years of warnings about dry reservoirs and depleted water tables, policy makers and water industry experts said.

Telecom sales representative Amar Nath Shukla, who lives in a giant unauthorized housing sprawl on the south side of Delhi, says he is now paying 700 rupees ($10) for a small tanker to bring him, his wife and three school-age children 2,000 liters of water, their weekly quota.

A year ago, Shukla would buy two of the rusty, oval-shaped tankers a week for 500 rupees each but he cut back to one as the price climbed 40 percent.

“Why should a densely populated settlement get so little of water and why should the sparsely-populated central district of New Delhi receive so much of extra supply?” asked Shukla.
More than 30 other residents Reuters spoke to in his Sangam Vihar district also complained about the quality of water.
“Until last year I was drinking the water sold by a few local suppliers but then I fell ill and the doctor asked me to buy water bottles made by only big, reputed companies,” said Dilip Kumar Kamath, 46, waving a prescription which listed abdominal pain and stomach infection as his ailments.

WATER GANGS

Delhi’s main government district and the army cantonment areas get about 375 liters of water per person per day but residents of Sangam Vihar on average receive only 40 liters for each resident per day. The water comes from boreholes and tankers under the jurisdiction of the Delhi water board, run by the city government.

But residents say some of the boreholes have been taken over by private operators associated with criminal gangs and local politicians. These gangs also have a major role in providing private tankers, which are all illegal, making people liable to price gouging.

And all this when temperatures, and demand, are soaring. Delhi was the second driest it has been in 26 years in June, and recorded its highest ever temperature for the month at 48 degrees Celsius on June 10.

Monsoon rains reached the capital on Thursday, more than a week later than usual, with only a light drizzle.

Most private tanker operators in Delhi either illegally pump out fast depleting ground water or steal the water from government supplies, various government studies show.

In Delhi, nearly half of the supply from the Delhi water board either gets stolen with the connivance of lowly officials or simply seeps out via leaky pipes, several studies show.

The board’s 1,033 tanker fleet is well short of the city’s requirements. Hundreds of private water tankers are operating this summer, though there are no official numbers.

WATER WARS

The water scarcity is even more acute in the Bhalswa Dairy locality of northwestern Delhi, more than 30 km (20 miles) from Sangam Vihar. The water from a couple of community taps and hand pumps are too toxic to use, forcing people to queue up for a government tanker that comes just once a day.

As a result, fights frequently break out when people, mostly can-carrying women and children, sprint towards the arriving tanker. Last year, at least three people were killed in scuffles that broke out over water in Delhi.

“Fights over water supplies have gone up since May and these fights now constitute almost 50% of our daily complaints,” said a police official at the Bhalswa Dairy Police station, who declined to be named.

Some tanker operators have also started selling bottled water, underlining concerns over the quality of water in their tanks and how costs for ordinary people can mount, said the police official.

Nearly 200,000 people living in the Bhalswa area are vulnerable to liver-related disease such as jaundice and hepatitis, said Kamlesh Bharti, president of non-governmental organization Kamakhya Lok Sewa Samiti, which works in the areas of health and education.

The Bhalswa area is next to a big waste landfill, which has contaminated both surface and groundwater in the area.

According to UK-based charity WaterAid, about 163 million people in India, roughly 12 percent of the population, do not have access to clean water close to their homes, the most of any country.

Almost all middle-class residents in the city have either water purifiers at home or they buy big cans of water from Bisleri, India’s top bottled water brand, Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) or PepsiCo Inc (PEP.O).

Bottled water suppliers reported a nearly three-fold jump in sales in India between 2012 and 2017, according to market research company Euromonitor.

India’s dependence on groundwater and the country’s failure to replenish aquifers have exacerbated the crisis, said V.K. Madhavan chief executive of WaterAid.

Both individual households and myriad industries mostly use fresh water and the reuse and recycling of water “is almost an alien concept” in the country, Madhavan said.

Still, Delhi authorities said the plan to build three dams in the upper reaches of the Yamuna river, which passes through the city, would help Delhi overcome the shortage.

It will take 3-4 years to construct them, said S. K. Haldar, a top official of the Central Water Commission.

But issues such as land acquisition, resettlement and environmental clearances could make such an aggressive timetable untenable, Madhavan said.

Source: Reuters

06/07/2019

New Delhi and Beijing cannot let differences turn into disputes: India’s ambassador to China

  • Ambassador Vikram Misri has called on China to balance its US$60 billion trade deficit with India ‘before the issue becomes politically sensitive’
  • He also says India will not take sides over its use of US-blacklisted Huawei, as ‘any decision taken over this will only be taken in our national interest’
Indian ambassador to China Vikram Misri says that while the countries’ differences will not derail ties, there are still thorny issues to grapple with. Photo: CGTN
Indian ambassador to China Vikram Misri says that while the countries’ differences will not derail ties, there are still thorny issues to grapple with. Photo: CGTN
India and China must actively manage their differences

so they do not get in the way of the Asian superpowers working together for global stability, India’s top diplomat in China said on Friday.

To emphasise his point, Ambassador Vikram Misri listed eight long-standing and new bilateral issues that required attention, including 
India

’s almost US$60 billion trade deficit with China, cooperation on counterterrorism and a

peaceful resolution to their border dispute

.

“This trade imbalance is not economically sustainable in the long run,” said Misri at an Asia Society event in Hong Kong. “It is in our mutual interest to find workable solutions before the markets react in unpredictable ways and the issue becomes politically sensitive.”
Frosty ties between two of the world’s largest economies have thawed in the past year following a 73-day 
military stand-off in the Himalayas

in 2017, with Beijing seeking to forge closer ties with New Delhi amid its ongoing trade and tech war with the United States.

Ivanka Trump, the unlikely messenger of India-US relations
In May, Beijing dropped its long-held objections towards United Nations sanctions on

Masood Azhar

, the founder and leader of terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which was behind the suicide bombing of Indian soldiers that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war earlier this year.

Analysts said this would pave the way for a better relationship between India and China.
Misri said both countries enjoyed a “full-spectrum relationship” of economic, commercial and people-to-people ties, and this was reinforced by the “strong personal bond” Indian Prime Minister

Narendra Modi

and Chinese President

Xi Jinping

had, despite the “elements of competition”.

The leaders of the two nations met four times last year and twice in 2019, with Xi set to visit India later this year. Both men share an understanding that “our rise can be mutually reinforcing” and a mutual interest in “preventing differences from turning into disputes”, the ambassador added.

But while Misri, a career diplomat posted to Beijing at the start of this year, stressed that differences would not derail ties, he made no bones about the thorny issues both sides are grappling with.

Will Modi’s snub of Xi’s belt and road derail China-India ties?
Both nations are still engaged in the second of a three-stage process to settle their border dispute – the world’s largest in terms of area, he said.
The first stage was an agreement on the political parameters for a boundary settlement in 2005. The current stage involves agreeing on a framework for a boundary settlement, which Misri said would be translated “into a delineated and demarcated boundary” in the final stage.
Communication over water and shared rivers has also been a key area of cooperation for the two nations.
Indian ambassador to China Vikram Misri speaking at the Asia Society in Hong Kong. Photo: Asia Society
Indian ambassador to China Vikram Misri speaking at the Asia Society in Hong Kong. Photo: Asia Society

They have established channels for information sharing on cross-frontier rivers, which last year enabled the Chinese side to warn the relevant Indian authorities of a landslide which would send a large amount of water to India. While in this instance the two sides were able to avert a loss of life, they can do more to broaden cooperation, Misri said.

He alluded to how China and India are vying for influence in the Indian Ocean, saying it was an area where both had “contiguous zones of maritime interest”.

The two sides need to work together to preserve peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region – which stretches from the Indian Ocean to the central Pacific Ocean – and ensure transparent economic and commercial cooperation, infrastructure and connectivity, he said.

As China, India and Russia draw close, has Trump overplayed his hand?

Misri, who served as the private secretary to Modi as well as former prime ministers Manmohan Singh and I.K. Gujral, said there were three areas of mutual interest for India and China.

Besides a “peaceful periphery”, they should cooperate to ensure there are open international systems regarding trade and technology, and that global governance is reformed so the voices of nations such as theirs can be heard.

The Russia-India-China trilateral meeting on the sidelines of last month’s 

G20

summit in Osaka, where leaders discussed issues ranging from energy security to climate change, was an opportunity to discuss alternative viewpoints on changing international issues.

This was crucial amid the economic instability caused by 
US-China trade tensions

, that were causing “generalised damage” to the global economy, Misri said.

In the question and answer session with the event’s 112 attendees, Misri was asked if India was feeling the pressure to choose in the face of US efforts to get its allies to reconsider using or ban Chinese tech firm 
Huawei

from their superfast 5G networks.

Washington says Huawei equipment could be used by Beijing for spying and the US Commerce Department has placed the company on its entity list, effectively banning US companies from selling equipment and components to it.
When US President 
Donald Trump

and Xi met at the G20 summit, Trump announced American companies could resume sales to Huawei as long as the products involved did not threaten national security.

Misri referred to this, and said: “Let’s see how it shapes up.”
He added the issue was far from decided for India as it had only achieved 4G connectivity recently and was not yet ready to build out its 
5G

infrastructure.

Still, he said, “there’s no question on taking sides over this”. “Our leadership is very clear that any decision taken over this will only be taken in our national interest.”
Source: SCMP
26/06/2019

Pompeo meets India PM Modi for talks on trade, defence

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday for talks on trade and defence issues that have strained ties between the countries.

Just days before Pompeo’s visit, India slapped higher retaliatory tariffs on 28 U.S. products following Washington’s withdrawal of key trade privileges for New Delhi.

Indian broadcasters showed footage of Pompeo exchanging handshakes with Modi at the prime minister’s official residence in the capital New Delhi on Wednesday morning. Neither side released details of the meeting.

India’s relations with Russia and Iran – both under U.S. sanctions – are also a sore point.

Under U.S. pressure, India has stopped buying oil from Iran, one of its top suppliers. The United States has also stepped up pressure on India not to proceed with its purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia.

Pompeo is scheduled to have lunch with foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, followed by a news conference at 1400 local time (0930 GMT), the foreign ministry said.

He is expected to round off the trip with a policy speech hosted by the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday evening, before departing on Thursday for the G20 summit in Japan.

Source: Reuters

23/06/2019

India rejects U.S. report on attacks on minority Muslims

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India on Sunday rejected a U.S. State Department’s annual report on religious freedom that raised questions about the government’s inability to curb violent attacks on the country’s minority Muslims.

Preparing for a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday, India’s foreign ministry issued a stiff rejoinder to the U.S. criticism.

“India is proud of its secular credentials, its status as the largest democracy and a pluralistic society with a longstanding commitment to tolerance and inclusion,” Raveesh Kumar, the ministry’s spokesman, said in a statement.

The State Department report, released on Friday, said some senior officials from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) last year had made “inflammatory speeches” against religious minorities.

Kumar said India’s constitution guarantees fundamental rights and religious freedom of all citizens, including its minority communities. Muslims make up 14 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people.

“We see no locus standi for a foreign entity to pronounce on the state of our citizens’ constitutionally protected rights,” Kumar said.

The U.S. State Department report examined attacks on minorities during 2018.

“Mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, especially Muslims, continued throughout the year amid rumours that victims had traded or killed cows for beef,” the report said.

It also noted reports by non-governmental organisations that the government sometimes failed to act on mob attacks on religious minorities, marginalized communities, and critics of the government.

While in New Delhi, Pompeo is expected to hold talks aimed at laying the ground for a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Modi during a Group of 20 summit in Japan later next week.

Source: Reuters

03/06/2019

World’s 15 hottest places are in India, Pakistan as pre-monsoon heat builds

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India warned of severe heat in northern and central areas on Monday, following similar extreme weather on Sunday.

Of the 15 hottest places in the world in the past 24 hours, eight were in India with the others in neighbouring Pakistan, according to weather monitoring website El Dorado.

Churu, a city in the west of the northern state of Rajasthan, recorded the country’s highest temperature of 48.9 Celsius (120 Fahrenheit) on Monday, according to the Meteorological Department.

Churu has issued a heat wave advisory and government hospitals have prepared emergency wards with extra air conditioners, coolers and medicines, said Ramratan Sonkariya, additional district magistrate for Churu.

Water is also being poured on the roads of Churu, known as the gateway to the Thar desert, to keep the temperature down and prevent them from melting, Sonkariya added.

A farmer from Sikar district in Rajasthan died on Sunday due to heatstroke, state government officials said.

Media reported on Friday that 17 had died over the past three weeks due to a heatwave in the southern state of Telangana. A state official said it would confirm the number of deaths only after the causes had been ascertained.

The temperature in New Delhi touched 44.6C (112.3F) on Sunday. One food delivery app, Zomato, asked its customers to greet delivery staff with a glass of cold water.

Heat wave warnings were issued on Monday for some places in western Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh state.

The monsoon, which brings down the heat, is likely to begin on the southern coast on June 6, the weather office said last month.

The three-month, pre-monsoon season, which ended on May 31, was the second driest in the last 65 years, India’s only private forecaster, Skymet, said, with a national average of 99 mm of rain against the normal average of 131.5 mm for the season.

Source: Reuters

24/05/2019

Indian forces kill leader of al Qaeda affiliate in Kashmir – police

SRINAGAR (Reuters) – Indian forces have killed the leader of an al Qaeda affiliated militant group in Kashmir, police said on Friday, triggering protests in parts of the disputed region.

Zakir Rashid Bhat, 25, was trapped by security forces in a three-storey house in southern Kashmir late on Thursday, said a senior police officer, adding that the house was set ablaze during the operation.

“As we were clearing debris from the house, he tried to get up. Our troops fired at him and he was killed,” said the officer, who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak to media.

For decades, separatists have fought an armed conflict against Indian rule in Kashmir, with the majority of them wanting independence for the Himalayan region, or to join New Delhi’s arch rival Pakistan.

India has stepped up an offensive against militants in the Muslim-majority region since a suicide attack in February killed 40 Indian troopers in Kashmir and brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

Pakistan denies giving material support to militants in Kashmir but says it provides moral and diplomatic backing for the self-determination of Kashmiri people.

Protests by supporters of Bhat broke out in parts of Kashmir on Thursday and there were reports of demonstrations early on Friday, the police officer said.

Fearing more unrest, authorities said schools were closed and railway services suspended in the affected areas.

Any large scale unrest in the region would be a challenge for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he prepares for a second term after winning a general election on Thursday.

Bhat, a former commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest of the militant groups fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir, founded his own group and declared its association with al Qaeda in 2017.

Also known as Zakir Musa, he was seen as a successor to Burhan Wani, a popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander whose death in 2016 sparked clashes that left 90 civilians dead.

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