Archive for ‘Elections’

16/01/2019

Exclusive – Modi’s party wants expansionary economic policy ahead of India election

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party is in favour of an expansionary economic policy and does not consider the government’s plan to keep the fiscal deficit to 3.3 percent of GDP as “sacrosanct”, a party spokesman told Reuters.

Ahead of a general election that must be held by May and after a string of losses in recent state polls, the government run by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has announced several stimulus measures for the countryside where millions of farmers are grappling with low crop prices. Other fiscal moves have been aimed at helping small businesses.

The measures are likely to be a drain on finances in Asia’s third-biggest economy, though the Modi administration is expected to get the Reserve Bank of India to agree to transfer an interim dividend of 300-400 billion rupees (£3.36 billion-£4.51 billion) to the government by March, Reuters reported last week quoting sources.

Weak consumer spending and the fragile farm sector have already been a drag on economic growth, creating a headache for Modi as he struggles to meet ambitious job creation targets.

India lost 11 million jobs last year, with around 83 percent in rural areas, according to independent think-tank the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, as operational costs surged for small businesses. Those costs were boosted by the launch of a national sales tax in 2017 and the economic impact of an earlier ban on high value currency notes.

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“There’s a demand, there’s a debate – all my colleagues are saying what’s the need of keeping the fiscal deficit in check when there is a distress in a particular sector,” said Gopal Krishna Agarwal, the economic affairs spokesman for the Hindu nationalist BJP, referring to the farm sector.

“Even think-tanks associated with us are talking in this sense. Very few people domestically are talking about fiscal prudence. Only foreign think-tanks are talking fiscal prudence, fiscal prudence. I strongly believe an expansionary policy can benefit the party,” he said in an interview on Tuesday night.

India’s 10-year benchmark bond yield IN071728G=CC rose 4 basis points to 7.53 percent after the news, its highest since Jan. 8 on worries about the fiscal deficit. The rupee INR=D4 also weakened to 71.23 to the dollar from its previous close of 71.03.

Agarwal, a chartered accountant who is a director at state-run Bank of Baroda (BOB.NS) and a member of a government committee on small and medium-sized businesses, said Modi was aware of his party colleagues’ thinking but that no final decision had been taken.

D.S. Malik, a spokesman for the Ministry of Finance, did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is in the United States for a medical check-up, said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that India’s “fiscal discipline during the past five years has been amongst the best as compared to any preceding period”.

NEED TO REACH LANDLESS

Agarwal said the government understands that farmers are in distress and that directly transferring money to their bank accounts was an option to help them out. He said the government was, however, trying to figure out how to distribute funds to landless tillers to make sure any such transfer programme was effective and didn’t just benefit those with land.

The government is studying a programme launched by the eastern state of Odisha under which farmers with landholdings of up to 5 acres would get cash assistance to buy seeds, pesticides, fertilisers and pay for labour. Sharecroppers, who cultivate rented land will also get the benefits, which include life insurance coverage.

Agarwal said Modi and many financial institutions were not in favour of waiving farm loans, as done by states recently won by the main opposition Congress party, because doing so mainly helps banks and not so much farmers in duress.

“There’s definitely a suggestion to give interest-free loans to farmers. Banks won’t have to pay, it has to be incorporated into the budget,” he said.

“And what’s the so sacrosanct issue about keeping the fiscal deficit at less than 3.5 percent? If you don’t adopt an expansionary economic policy, then the government alone can’t create demand by just spending on infrastructure. It has to come from both public and the private sector. The economy will grow only when demand will be created.”

He said increasing the income tax exemption limit for individuals was also being considered for the interim budget to be presented on Feb. 1 by Jaitley.

William Foster, vice president at Moody’s Investors Service, said that it expects the country’s fiscal deficit to slip to 3.4 of GDP this fiscal year ending March 31 due to revenue shortfalls from goods and services tax, lower excise duty and below-target receipts from sale of government assets.

“Increased expenditure on income transfers, farm loan waivers or other forms of subsidies would weigh further on government finances,” Foster told Reuters.

Reporting by Krishna N. Das and Aftab Ahmed; Additional reporting by Suvashree Dey Choudhury; Edited by Martin Howell

Source: Reuters

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13/01/2019

Rivals unite in Indian state in bid to beat Modi in elections

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) – Two political rivals in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh will form an alliance in a bid to defeat Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in national election scheduled for May, leaders of the parties said.

The Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), both of whom command large support bases among Uttar Pradesh state’s working class and are led by former chief ministers, will contest the election as a team, they said.

Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state and accounts for about a sixth of all members of the parliament, the highest by a single state. Barring a couple of exceptions in the 1990s, the party winning the most number of seats there has helped form the federal government.

Out of the 80 seats in the state, SP and BSP will nominate candidates for 38 seats each, BSP chief Mayawati Das said at a joint press conference with SP chief Akhilesh Yadav on Saturday.

They will not contest the other four seats, which include two that have historically been held by the country’s main opposition party, Congress.

Congress, which ruled India for nearly four decades since its independence from Britain in 1947, has also been working to build a “grand alliance” with other parties ahead of the polls.

Mayawati, however, said Congress would not be a part of the BSP-SP alliance in Uttar Pradesh. “We can surely stop the BJP from coming to power with this alliance with SP,” she said.

On Friday, Yadav had told news channel NDTV: “We can give Congress two seats they have always held”, referring to the constituencies from where Congress President Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi have contested in the past.

Mamata Banerjee, head of Trinamool Congress party and chief minister of eastern India’s West Bengal state who has been pushing to create a mega alliance of regional parties to defeat the BJP, welcomed the announcement in a tweet.

“I welcome the alliance of the SP and the BSP for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections,” Banerjee tweeted.

Akhilesh Yadav, Chief Minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and Samajwadi Party (SP) President, addresses a news conference before resigning from his post in Lucknow, India, March 11, 2017. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar

“Let us cherish the ‘idea of India’ for which our freedom fighters laid down their lives. Our people and our great institutions must strive to remain “independent”, in the true sense of the word.”

OPPOSITION GETS A FILLIP

Opposition parties across the country received a fillip last month, when India’s ruling party lost power in three states and dealt Modi his biggest defeat since he took office in 2014.

The BJP, SP and BSP contested against each other during the state elections in March 2017, which the BJP comfortably won, but political analysts say a BSP-SP alliance could affect the ruling party’s prospects.

The BJP had a 40 percent vote share in the state polls, the BSP and SP put together accounted for 44 percent. To be sure, voting patterns could be different when the world’s largest democracy goes to polls.

The BJP, however, is confident of winning elections in Uttar Pradesh. “We will win 74 out of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh,” president Amit Shah said in a televised address on Friday.

Despite the strategic significance and having been ruled by different parties since independence, Uttar Pradesh remains one of India’s most backward states.

It is notorious for its crime rate and unlicensed gun use, has below-average literacy levels, an abysmally low human development index and worrying levels of population growth.

13/01/2019

2019 Lok Sabha Elections: Congress drops a bombshell, to contest all 80 seats in UP

Amethi is Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s parliamentary constituency and Rae Bareilly is that of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

SNS Web | New Delhi | 

Breaking the suspense over its election plans in the state of Uttar Pradesh for the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress on Sunday announced that it will be fielding candidates on all the 80 Lok Sabha seats.

This was informed by senior party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is also the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha.

“We will fight all 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh in the Lok Sabha elections. We are fully prepared. And just like the Congress emerged the number one party in Uttar Pradesh in 2009 Lok Sabha elections, it will happen again in 2019,” said Azad while interacting with the media in UP capital Lucknow.

Also Read: Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav announce BSP-SP alliance for 2019 Lok Sabha polls | Slam ‘arrogant’ BJP

“We had earlier also said that we are ready to walk with every party that wants to defeat the BJP. But we can’t force anyone. They have (SP-BSP) closed this chapter, so we will continue this fight to defeat the BJP on our own,” he added.

On Saturday, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) had officially announced their alliance ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, keeping the Congress out.

While BSP and SP will contest on 38 Lok Sabha seats each, they have left two seats for other parties. “We have left Amethi and Rae Bareilly for Congress, which is not part of our alliance,” Mayawati had said addressing the media at Lucknow’s Hotel Taj on Saturday.

Amethi is Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s parliamentary constituency and Rae Bareilly is that of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

“BSP and SP are not going to get any benefit from an alliance with Congress. Our experience is that we do not get votes on seats we leave and they go to the BJP. Congress benefits from us but honest parties like us do not get any benefit,” Mayawati had said, drawing attention to the BSP’s alliance with the Congress in 1996 and SP’s in 2017.

Azad was speaking after a meeting at the party’s state headquarters in Lucknow.

12/01/2019

Rivals unite in Indian state in bid to beat Modi in elections

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) – Two political rivals in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh will form an alliance in a bid to defeat Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in national election scheduled for May, leaders of the parties said.

The Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), both of whom command large support bases among Uttar Pradesh state’s working class and are led by former chief ministers, will contest the election as a team, they said.

Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state and accounts for about a sixth of all members of the parliament, the highest by a single state. Barring a couple of exceptions in the 1990s, the party winning the most number of seats there has helped form the federal government.

Out of the 80 seats in the state, SP and BSP will nominate candidates for 38 seats each, BSP chief Mayawati Das said at a joint press conference with SP chief Akhilesh Yadav on Saturday.

They will not contest the other four seats, which include two that have historically been held by the country’s main opposition party, Congress.

Congress, which ruled India for nearly four decades since its independence from Britain in 1947, has also been working to build a “grand alliance” with other parties ahead of the polls.

Mayawati, however, said Congress would not be a part of the BSP-SP alliance in Uttar Pradesh. “We can surely stop the BJP from coming to power with this alliance with SP,” she said.

On Friday, Yadav had told news channel NDTV: “We can give Congress two seats they have always held”, referring to the constituencies from where Congress President Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi have contested in the past.

Mamata Banerjee, head of Trinamool Congress party and chief minister of eastern India’s West Bengal state who has been pushing to create a mega alliance of regional parties to defeat the BJP, welcomed the announcement in a tweet.

“I welcome the alliance of the SP and the BSP for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections,” Banerjee tweeted.

Akhilesh Yadav, Chief Minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and Samajwadi Party (SP) President, addresses a news conference before resigning from his post in Lucknow, India, March 11, 2017. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar

“Let us cherish the ‘idea of India’ for which our freedom fighters laid down their lives. Our people and our great institutions must strive to remain “independent”, in the true sense of the word.”

OPPOSITION GETS A FILLIP

Opposition parties across the country received a fillip last month, when India’s ruling party lost power in three states and dealt Modi his biggest defeat since he took office in 2014.

The BJP, SP and BSP contested against each other during the state elections in March 2017, which the BJP comfortably won, but political analysts say a BSP-SP alliance could affect the ruling party’s prospects.

The BJP had a 40 percent vote share in the state polls, the BSP and SP put together accounted for 44 percent. To be sure, voting patterns could be different when the world’s largest democracy goes to polls.

The BJP, however, is confident of winning elections in Uttar Pradesh. “We will win 74 out of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh,” president Amit Shah said in a televised address on Friday.

Despite the strategic significance and having been ruled by different parties since independence, Uttar Pradesh remains one of India’s most backward states.

It is notorious for its crime rate and unlicensed gun use, has below-average literacy levels, an abysmally low human development index and worrying levels of population growth.

07/01/2019

Kashmir-centric politicians churn out pro-militant formulas before elections

Top separatist, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, calls the slain terrorists “martyrs” and publicly offers tributes to them.

SP Sharma | Jammu | 

Provoked by Mehbooba Mufti’s visits to families of slain terrorists on the eve of the general elections, the Kashmir-centric political leadership has started churning out their respective formulas to tackle militancy in Jammu and Kashmir.

It is expected that elections for the state assembly might be held simultaneously with that of the Lok Sabha.

The latest to join the chorus is the BJP backed Sajjad Lone who has demanded a policy “laced with dignity” for the return of militants in the mainstream. Lone, who is himself a former separatist, and was a minister in Mehbooba’s government from the quota of BJP, told media persons in Srinagar that the government should take steps for a dignified return of terrorists in the mainstream. However, he did not elaborate his formula.

Mehbooba has come under fire from her rivals who are also trying to placate the terrorists.

The Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) operations commander, Riyaz Naikoo, who is among the most wanted terrorists, has in a video clip asked families of killed militants to “throw Mehbooba out if she comes to their homes.” He appealed to such families not to allow her inside their homes as her hands were soaked with the blood of militants whom she got killed when she was in power.

National Conference leader, Omar Abdullah, was the first to lock horns with Mehbooba with whom he exchanged a series of sarcastic tweets on the issue.

Sympathising with terrorists at the time of elections has become a part of the electoral campaign of the Kashmir-centric political parties. Mehbooba’s father, late Mufti Sayeed, had faced criticism outside the Valley as the first thing he did after becoming the chief minister with the support of BJP in 2015 was to ‘thank the separatists and Pakistan for allowing peaceful elections in J&K.’ He did not have a word of praise for the security forces that performed their duty even in harsh weather to maintain peace during the long-stretched phase wise polling.

Top separatist, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, calls the slain terrorists “martyrs” and publicly offers tributes to them. He is never heard criticising killing of innocent civilians or policemen by terrorists.

Pakistan leadership has also been adding fuel to the fire in Kashmir.

Separatist Mirwaiz Umar Farooq appreciated the recent statement of Pakistan PM Imran Khan on Kashmir during his interaction with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey has always been a strong supporter of the right to self-determination for the people of Jammu & Kashmir and an active member of the OIC contact group on Kashmir, said the Mirwaiz.

28/12/2018

Collapse in India’s onion prices could leave Modi smarting in election

HIVARGAON/MUJAHIDPUR, India (Reuters) – A spike in the price of onions has led to the ouster of governments in Indian elections in the past. Now, prices of the staple have collapsed, and many impoverished farmers are saying they will make Prime Minister Narendra Modi pay in next year’s general election.

Steep drops in recent weeks in the prices of onions and potatoes, both staple foods for India’s 1.3 billion people, have badly hit the rural economy in large states.

In interviews with dozens of farmers last week, Reuters reporters found resentment welling against Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for not helping support incomes in the countryside, where a majority of the population lives.

“Whatever they do in the coming months, I will vote against the BJP. I won’t repeat the 2014 mistake,” said Madhukar Nagare, an onion grower from Nashik in Maharashtra state, referring to his backing the BJP at the last general election.

In the 1998 state elections, a sharp spike in onion prices led to the fall of the BJP government in the capital New Delhi.

In the 1980 general election, sky-high onion prices helped former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi dislodge a coalition government that had included politicians who later formed the BJP.

In recent weeks, loss-stricken farmers have staged protests, blocked highways and dumped onions on the road after prices plunged to as low as one rupee (1.4 U.S. cents) per kg for a crop that costs about 8 rupees a kg to produce.

But because of large cuts taken by middlemen, consumers have not benefited from the low prices.

In Maharashtra, the top onion producing state, farm prices have fallen 83 percent, dragged down by surplus supplies from the previous season’s crop and lower export orders from the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

And in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, which was crucial in Modi’s election win in 2014, there is a similar problem with low potato prices.

Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh are both dominated by rural voters and together send 128 lawmakers to the 545-member lower house of parliament. It means that big losses in these two states could either see Modi lose the next election which is due by May or his party be forced to form a coalition government. Farmers say shortcomings in a government crop support programme, and weak overseas demand have combined to produce the current glut of onions. And as prices have plunged, fertiliser and crop nutrient costs have risen, thanks in part to a weak rupee.

Perhaps most important of all, the BJP came into office in 2014 determined to shift away from subsidies. That may have been fine when crop prices were relatively high but as they crashed it has exposed the party in farm areas.

The prime minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

NOT “GOOD DAYS”

Many farmers blame Modi for not fixing a price protection programme which barely covers 7 percent of India’s 263 million farmers, leaving most growers at the mercy of middlemen.

They also criticize him for not setting up more food processing and cold storage facilities, which would allow them to store their crops without having to sell immediately after the harvest.

“Expecting good days, as promised by Modi, we voted for the BJP, but now we are going through the worst phase,” onion farmer Madhav Pawase said, pointing to his rotting crop stocked in a temporary shed in Hivargaon village, about 230 km (140 miles) northeast of Mumbai, India’s financial hub.

“I’ve spent more than 80,000 rupees to produce 15 tonnes of onions from my two acres of land, but I won’t recover more than 3,000 rupees at the current market price,” he said.

Some farmers have decided to let onions rot in the field, saying that harvesting and transporting the produce to wholesale markets would only add to their losses.

A farmer sits on a tractor trolley after auctioning his onions at Lasalgaon market in Nashik in the western state of Maharashtra, India, December 19, 2018. REUTERS/Rajendra Jadhav

The BJP was defeated by the opposition Congress party in three major states in local elections this month because of rural anger, and Modi’s government is under pressure to come up with measures to placate farmers.

Congress wrote off farmers’ loans in the three states which it won and has demanded the federal government do the same across the country.

Although the BJP has so far not commented on the issue of farm loan waivers, Rajiv Kumar, the head of government think-tank NITI Aayog, has said that writing off debt is not the solution for the problems of the farm sector.

Syed Zafar Islam, a spokesman for the BJP, said the government had initiated a number of steps to help farmers get remunerative prices, including a project to electronically provide farmers with real-time market prices and help them directly sell to buyers, eliminating middlemen.

“It’s an ongoing process and the results will not just start reflecting in four years,” he said.

In a sign that the Modi administration is beginning to take the crisis seriously, the government on Friday doubled export incentives for onion farmers to 10 percent.

The move will result in better prices for onions in the domestic market, the government said in a statement.

POTATO PRICES

In Mujahidpur village of Uttar Pradesh, India’s biggest potato growing state, farmers lamented that prices have dropped by 86 percent to 2,500 rupees a tonne.

“I lost my entire investment of 100,000 rupees to grow potatoes on one hectare,” said Gopi Chand, 55, sitting next to bright yellow mustard fields.

He said he and some other farmers in the area had dumped potatoes in favour of growing mustard.

Farmers in the two states also complained of rising operating costs.

Prices of crop nutrient diammonium phosphate, popularly called DAP, have gone up by 400 rupees to 1,450 rupees for a bag of 50 kg, said Babloo Singh in Mujahidpur village. DAP rates have gone up because of higher overseas prices and India’s weaker currency.

“Higher input costs and record low potato prices have left us in deep debt,” said Singh. “The situation would have been different had there been more cold storage facilities and food processing plants in our state.”

The crash in vegetable prices hasn’t helped consumers either thanks to the chain of middlemen.

In Lasalgaon, the country’s largest onion trading hub, most farmers are selling their produce at 2 rupees a kg. But consumers in Mumbai are still shelling out 20 rupees. Between Lasalgaon and Mumbai, a distance of 220 km (135 miles), traders say onions pass through at least four layers of middlemen, adding a hefty margin at every stage.

12/12/2018

‘Happy with 3-0 score’: Sonia Gandhi on Congress’ big wins in elections

The Congress was a clear winner in Chhattisgarh state, and fell one seat short of a majority in both Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Two of them, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, had been ruled by the BJP for 15 years.

INDIA Updated: Dec 12, 2018 13:55 IST

Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Assembly election results,Sonia gandhi,Congress
Assembly elections results: The Congress emerged clear winner in three states – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh(Vipin Kumar/ Hindustan Times)

The Congress’s win in three heartland states ruled by the BJP is a victory against the ruling party’s negative politics, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi said on Wednesday, her comeback to the many attacks hurled at her during election campaigning by top BJP leaders.

“I am happy with 3-0 score line… It is a victory against BJP’s negative politics,” Sonia Gandhi told reporters outside Parliament after results to five state elections were declared.

The Congress was edged out of Mizoram and didn’t make an impact in Telangana despite a grand alliance with Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP and other parties. But in the three politically-crucial BJP states, the Congress is set to form a government.

The Congress was a clear winner in Chhattisgarh state, and fell one seat short of a majority in both Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Two of them, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, had been ruled by the BJP for 15 years.

Also Read: Congress lays 2014 ghost to rest, sets up grand finale

The victories are seen as a sign of a turnaround of the political fortunes of the Congress under Rahul Gandhi, who took over as party president from his mother, Sonia Gandhi, and a stinging rejoinder to his critics that he could not lead the party’s revival.

It is a point that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah repeatedly underlined in their election speeches, listing all the state elections that had taken place after 2014 and how the BJP had won most of them.

Also Read: The Congress’ rebound is impressive

Gandhi has been leading from the front ever since he was named Congress president on December 11, 2017. Days before his elevation, he launched a spirited campaign in Gujarat where the party threw a tough challenge to the BJP. Though the BJP won the elections, the Congress managed to restore some pride in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his trusted lieutenant, Amit Shah.

Later in Karnataka, Gandhi had led the election campaign in Karnataka where the party moved quickly to form a post-poll alliance with HD Kumaraswamy’s Janata Dal Secular and let the smaller partner take the chief minister’s chair.

Observers contend that he still faces the challenge of reviving the Congress in key states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and West Bengal, where it has lost its political space.

Some of this might have to wait till after the 2019 elections, given how Gandhi is going to focus on firming up state-specific alliances to prevent division of the opposition vote.

Click here, for overall coverage on assembly elections results.

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First Published: Dec 12, 2018 12:34 IST

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11/12/2018

Assembly election result 2018: Countdown for 2019 begins, says Mamata Banerjee on BJP’s setback in state elections

Assembly election result 2018: The leaders decided to lay a roadmap for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections to oust the BJP from power by evolving a common strategy.

BJP,Congress,Telangana Assembly election Results 2018
Assembly election result 2018: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was among the 21 opposition party leaders who on Monday agreed to work together to defeat the BJP.(AP)

It was people’s verdict and their victory, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted as the Congress was ahead in three states with votes being counted in the assembly elections, billed as the semi-final before next year’s Lok Sabha polls.

All three states — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh — were won last time by the BJP, which had also won 60 of the 65 total parliament seats in these states in the 2014 general elections.

Click here for Telangana election results 2018 LIVE

Votes are also being counted in Telangana, where K Chandrashekhar Rao’s Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) has raced to a massive lead, validating his decision to call early elections. In Mizoram, the Congress’ last bastion in the state, the Mizo National Front is ahead.

“Semifinal proves that BJP is nowhere in all the states. This is a real democratic indication of 2019 final match. Ultimately, people are always the ‘man of the match’ of democracy. My congrats to the winners,” she said.

Click here for Madhya Pradesh election results 2018 LIVE

The leaders decided to lay a roadmap for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections to oust the BJP from power by evolving a common strategy.

“In the course of the next few months, we will place before the people of the country, a comprehensive programme of work anchored in complete transparency and accountability,” read a joint statement issued after the meeting.

The parties also appealed to all “liberal, progressive and secular forces to join them in their battle to save the Constitution and protect parliamentary democracy”.

09/12/2018

As election nears, religious tensions surge in an Indian village

NAYABANS, India (Reuters) – Nayabans isn’t remarkable as northern Indian villages go. Sugar cane grows in surrounding fields, women carry animal feed in bullock carts through narrow lanes, people chatter outside a store, and cows loiter.

But this week, the village in Uttar Pradesh state became a symbol of the deepening communal divide in India as some Hindu men from the area complained they had seen a group of Muslims slaughtering cows in a mango orchard a couple of miles away.

That infuriated Hindus, who regard the cow as a sacred animal. Anger against Muslims turned into outrage that police had not stopped an illegal practise, and a Hindu mob blocked a highway, threw stones, burned vehicles and eventually two people were shot and killed – including a police officer.

The events throw a spotlight on the religious strains in places like Nayabans since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power at the national level in 2014 and in Uttar Pradesh in 2017. Tensions are ratcheting up ahead of the next general election, due to be held by May.

The BJP said it was “bizarre” to assume the party would benefit from any religious disharmony, dismissing suggestions that its supporters were largely responsible for the tensions.

“In a large country like India nobody can ensure that nothing will go wrong, but it’s our responsibility to maintain law and order and we understand that,” party spokesman Gopal Krishna Agarwal said. “But people are trying to politicize these issues.”

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Nayabans, just about three hour’s drive from Delhi, has about 400 Muslims out of a population of 4,000, the rest are Hindu. Relations between the communities began deteriorating around the Muslim holy month of Ramadan last year when Hindus in the village demanded that loudspeakers used to call for prayer at a makeshift mosque be removed, local Muslims said.

“For 40 years mikes were used in the mosque, calls for prayer were made five times a day, but no one objected,” said Waseem Khan, a 28-year-old Muslim community leader in Nayabans.

“We resisted initially but then we thought it’s better to live in peace then create a dispute over a mike,” he said. “We don’t want to give them a chance to fan communal tensions.”

Reuters spoke with more than a dozen Muslims from the village but except for Khan, no one else wanted to be named for fear of angering the Hindu population.

Several among a group of Muslim women and girls standing outside the mosque said they have been living in fear since the BJP came to power in the state in 2017.

They said that Hindu groups now hold provocative processions through the village during every Hindu festival, loudspeakers blaring, something that used to happen rarely before. They said they felt “terrorised” by Hindu activists.

“While passing through our areas during their religious rallies, they chant ‘Pakistan murdabad’ (down with Pakistan) as if we have some connection to Pakistan just because we are Muslims,” Khan said.

HINDU PRIEST CHIEF MINISTER

The subcontinent was divided into Muslim Pakistan and Hindu-majority India at the time of independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

During the violence on Monday, many Muslims in Nayabans locked themselves in their homes fearing attacks. Some who had attended a three-day Muslim religious congregation some miles away stayed outside the area that night to avoid making themselves targets for the mob.

Muslim villagers say they are particularly fearful of the top elected official in Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who is a Hindu priest and senior BJP figure. Hindu hardliners started asserting themselves more in the village after he was elected, they say.

Uttar Pradesh sends 80 lawmakers to the lower house of parliament, the largest of any state in the country.

Considered the county’s political crucible, it has also been the scene for spiralling Hindu-Muslim tensions.

Slideshow (8 Images)

Adityanath said the lead up to the rioting in Nayabans was a “big conspiracy”, but did not elaborate.

In the only statement from his office on the incident, Adityanath ordered police to arrest those directly or indirectly involved in the slaughter of cows and made no mention of the death of the police inspector. He announced 1 million rupees ($14,110) as compensation for the family of the other dead man, a local who is among those accused by police for the violence.

Both men were Hindus and died of bullet wounds, although police said it was not yet clear who shot whom.

Police say they have arrested up to five people for the cow slaughter but have not given their religion. Locals say all the arrested people are Muslims. Four Hindu men have been arrested for the violence leading to the deaths.

“All invidious elements who may have conspired to vitiate the situation will be exposed through a fair and transparent investigation,” Anand Kumar, the second highest police official in Uttar Pradesh, told Reuters.

Asked if there was any bias against Muslims, Uttar Pradesh government spokesman Sidharth Nath Singh – who is also the state’s health minister – told Reuters: “We believe in equality and our motto is sabka saath, sabka vikas”, using a Hindi phrase often used by Modi that means “collective effort, inclusive growth”.

RELATIVE HARMONY

The two communities in Nayabans have lived in relative harmony for years, residents from both groups said.

But now Hindus in the village, who mostly say they support Yogi, accuse the Muslims of trying to turn themselves into the victims when they weren’t.

“Can’t believe they are raising our processions with journalists!” said Daulat, a Hindu daily wage labourer who goes by one name. “They are making it a Hindu-Muslim issue, we are not. Their people have been accused of killing cows, so they are playing the victim.”

At a middle school, metres from the police outpost near where the two men got killed, two women teachers, sitting on a veranda soaking in the winter sun, said its 66 students stopped coming for classes in the first few days after the violence.

“We worship cows and their slaughter can’t be accepted,” said one of the teachers, Uma Rani. “Two Hindus died here but nothing happened to the cow killers.”

Both teachers were Hindus.

Political analysts say relations between the two communities are likely to stay tense ahead of the national vote, particularly in polarised states such as Uttar Pradesh.

The BJP made a near-clean sweep in Uttar Pradesh in 2014, helping Modi win the country’s biggest parliamentary mandate in three decades, but pollsters predict a tighter contest next year because of a lack of jobs and low farm prices.

“Facing economic headwinds and lacklustre job growth, Modi will rally his conservative base by selectively resorting to Hindu nationalism,” global security consultancy Stratfor said last month.

Muslims say they increasingly feel like second-class citizens in their own country.

“The BJP will definitely benefit from such incidents,” said Tahir Saifi, a Muslim community leader a few miles from the area of violence who supports a regional opposition party in Uttar Pradesh. “They want all Hindus to unite, and when religion comes into the picture, other issues like development take a back seat.”

09/06/2014

Highlights – President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to parliament – Reuters

The new government will pursue an economic reform agenda that foresees introducing the goods and services tax, encouraging foreign investment and speeding approvals for major business projects, President Pranab Mukherjee said in a parliamentary address on Monday.

Mukherjee also said the focus of the Modi government would be to:

– contain food inflation

– improve supply side of agro-based products

– prepare contingency plans for sub-normal monsoons

– increase public and private investments in agriculture

– address issues in farm pricing and procurement

– set up IITs and IIMs in every state

– have zero tolerance against violence against women and will strengthen criminal justice system

– tackle illegal immigration and infiltration in the north east region

– roll out broadband highways in every village in next five years

– vigorously follow up issue of black money with foreign governments

– focus on social media as a tool for participative governance

– provide predictable, fair and stable policy environment

– make every effort to introduce goods and services tax

– encourage investment through foreign direct investment

– promote labour-intensive manufacturing, tourism for job creation

– move towards a single-window system of clearances to promote manufacturing

– fast-track investment friendly public, private partnership

– liberalise foreign direct investments in defence

– encourage private investments in defence production

– implement reforms in defence procurement

– take up modernisation and revamp of railways on priority

– chalk out infrastructure development programmes for high-speed rails, roads and airports

– launch comprehensive national energy policy and focus on increasing electricity generation

– urgently pursue reforms in coal to attract private investments

– operationalise international civilian nuclear pacts

– ensure every family has good house by 2022

– ensure 24×7 electricity supply by 2022

– follow zero tolerance towards extremism, terrorism and communal violence

– formulate clear rules for allocation of coal, minerals and telecoms spectrum

– work towards putting economy on high growth path

– engage energetically with neighbours, including China

– bring renewed vigour in its engagement with the United States

via India Insight.

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