Archive for ‘Elections’

13/03/2019

India election 2019: Did the ban on high-value banknotes work?

Man waits outside a bank to deposit and exchange 500 and 1000 rupee notes in Amritsar, India, in November 2016.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

In the run-up to the Indian election, which gets under way on 11 April, BBC Reality Check is examining claims and pledges made by the main political parties.

One of the most dramatic actions taken by the ruling BJP was the withdrawal in 2016 of all high-value banknotes from circulation, almost overnight.

This effectively removed 85% of all cash notes from the economy.

The Indian government said this was intended to flush out undeclared wealth and counterfeit money.

It also said it would help move India towards an economy less dependent on cash.

However, Reality Check has found that there’s little evidence the ban has helped root out illegally held assets.

And compared with other emerging economies, the level of cash in circulation in India has remained high.

What actually happened?

In November 2016, the two highest notes in circulation – 500 and 1,000 Indian rupees (£11) – were scrapped.

The surprise move – referred to in India as “demonetisation” – caused widespread confusion and led to street protests.

Protest in city of Kolkata against withdrawal of bank notesImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

For a limited period only, the withdrawn notes could be exchanged for legal currency at banks – but there was a limit of 4,000 rupees per person.

What impact did it have?

Critics said the policy severely disrupted the economy, badly affecting the poor and rural communities that relied on cash.

The government said it was targeting illegal wealth held outside the formal economy, which fuelled corruption and other illegal activity and had not been declared for tax purposes.

It was assumed that those with large amounts of such cash would now find it difficult to exchange for legal tender.

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But by August 2018, a report published by India’s central bank said that more than 99% of the old banknotes in circulation prior to the ban had been accounted for.

This caused some surprise – and led to further criticism of the move.

It was suggested that there had not been much unaccounted for wealth held in cash in the first place – or if there had been, the owners had found ways to convert it to legal tender.

A sand sculpture by sand artist Sudarshan Pattnaik about Cashless India campaignImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Did the policy achieve the objective of exposing counterfeit currency?

Not really, according to India’s central bank.

The number of fake 500 and 1,000 rupee notes found after the ban was only marginally higher than the amount from the previous year.

The new notes have features designed to make them harder to counterfeit, but fake versions of these have since been discovered, according to economists at the State Bank of India.

Is more tax being collected?

Another aim of the policy had been to improve India’s poor record on tax collection.

The idea was that if more transactions were carried out digitally and in the open, it would be easier to enforce tax payments.

An official government report last year said the note ban had indeed resulted in an improved tax take, largely by revealing more tax evaders

In the two years before the currency withdrawal, tax collection growth rates had been in single digits.

Then in 2016-17, the amount of direct taxes collected increased by 14.5% over the previous year.

The following year, collections rose by 18%.

But the rate of growth in collecting direct taxes had seen a similar increase between 2008-09 and 2010-11, when the Congress party was in power.

And it’s likely that other policies – such as an income tax amnesty in 2016 and a new goods and services tax the following year – may have contributed as much to the growing tax take as demonetisation.

What about a cashless society?

Against a long-term trend of a gradual rise in cashless payments, there is a significant jump at the end of 2016, when the notes were withdrawn.

But this reverted soon afterwards to the steady rising trend.

The overall increase over time may have less to do with government policy and more to do with changing technology and easier cashless payments.Line chart showing rise in cashless transactions

As to whether the overall amount of cash in the economy has fallen, we can look at India’s currency to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio over time.

This is a measure of the amount of currency in circulation in proportion to the total value of goods and services produced.

This took a sharp dive immediately following the withdrawal of the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes – but by the following year, currency in circulation had reverted to pre-2016 levels.

And not only has cash usage not fallen, India also still has one of the highest levels when compared with other emerging economies.

Source: The BBC

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12/02/2019

The impossible job – India’s pollsters face uphill battle to call election

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Thousands of candidates, hundreds of parties, endless combinations of possible coalitions – spare a thought for India’s pollsters, tasked with making sense of the country’s fiendishly complicated politics ahead of a general election due by May.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi won a surprise majority in 2014. Until last year, many predicted a similar result. But amid rising anger over unemployment and a fall in rural incomes, the BJP lost key state elections in December, making this contest more closely fought than first expected.

That means surveys conducted on behalf of newspapers and TV channels will be closely scrutinised. Some of India’s top pollsters however, told Reuters current surveys could be wide of the mark until the parties finalise alliances, which could be as late as April – and even then, there are challenges.

“In India there are certain relationships between caste, religion and allegiance,” said VK Bajaj, chief executive of Today’s Chanakya, the only polling firm to predict the BJP would win an outright majority in 2014. “We have to do checks and counter-checks when collecting our samples.”

CHEQUERED PAST

Opinion polls grew in popularity in India in the 1990s, after economic liberalisation saw a boom in privately-owned newspapers and TV channels, all demanding their own surveys.

In 1998 and 1999, the polls closely predicted the share of seats for the winning BJP-led coalition, according to data collected by Praveen Rai, an analyst who has tracked opinion polls in India for more than 15 years at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, which also runs its own surveys.

But in the last three elections, polls have been significantly wide of the mark. In 2004 and 2009 the victorious Congress alliance was completely underestimated, while in 2014 only Bajaj’s firm predicted the BJP would win an outright majority.
Elections in India have become “increasingly multi-varied”, Rai said, with the emergence of regional parties complicating pollsters’ efforts.

REALITY ON THE GROUND

Many polls are conducted face-to-face, and collecting representative samples can be hard in a country that still has several armed separatist movements and tribal communities unused to opinion polling.

When CNX, one of India’s largest polling companies, conducts fieldwork in rural Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand – two states with large tribal populations – it often finds many are unfamiliar with the concept of opinion polls.

“In areas where people are not so educated it is difficult for them to understand,” said Bhawesh Jha, CNX’s founder.

Elsewhere, a lack of trust in why polls are conducted and how the data is used means respondents are also less truthful than other countries, pollsters said.

“Dubious opinion polls conducted by some media houses to sway the elections for political parties … has definitely created a bad name for the polling industry in India,” Rai said.

India lacks strong data protections laws like those in North America and Europe, and many people still believe their details will be passed on to political parties, Rai and Jha said, meaning answers were often those they think the pollster wants to hear.

“We have to convince people we are not going to reveal their identity,” Jha said.

COMPLEX ARITHMETIC

Current polls are making large assumptions, no more so than in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state with a population of more than 200 million that accounts for nearly a fifth of the seats in India’s lower house.

Results there have been so difficult to predict that the state has earned the nickname “Ulta Pradesh” – a play on the Hindi word meaning “reverse” – for its ability to confound experts.

A recent poll there found that if two regional parties already in alliance joined forced with the main opposition Congress, the BJP would be wiped out in the state, almost certainly losing power nationally.

But like other states in India, much depends on who contests from where – and to what extent Congress stands its candidates down to allow regional parties a run.

Until the final seats sharing agreements and candidate lists are announced – which may not be until April – current polls are little more than guesswork, said Today’s Chanakya chief Bajaj.

“We have to wait until the final alliances come out,” he said. “It is not possible to do anything until that.”

Source: Reuters

09/02/2019

After China objects to PM Modi’s Arunachal visit, MEA says state integral part

Modi’s visit was part of a series of public meetings in the region aimed at garnering support for the Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of elections that are due to be held by May.

INDIA Updated: Feb 09, 2019 16:14 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi/Bejing
China,PM Modi,Arunachal Pradesh
Both India and China have sought to rebuild trust after an armed standoff over a stretch of the Himalayan border in 2017.(Twitter/BJP4India)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh on Saturday saw jagged exchange between China and India. China’s foreign ministry Objected to PM Modi’s Arunachal visit saying “resolutely opposes” activities of Indian leaders in the region.

Responding to China’s objection to PM Modi’s visit to the northeastern state, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said the state is “an integral and inalienable part of India.” Modi’s visit was part of a series of public meetings in the region aimed at garnering support for the Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of elections that are due to be held by May.

“The State of Arunachal Pradesh is an integral and inalienable part of India. Indian leaders visit Arunachal Pradesh from time to time, as they visit other parts of India… This consistent position has been conveyed to Chinese side on several occasions,” news agency ANI quoted MEA as saying.

Despite recent efforts to improve bilateral ties in both countries, disputes over the mountainous Indo-China border – which triggered a war in 1962 – and the region that China claims as southern Tibet have remained a sensitive issue.

On Saturday, India’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Both India and China have sought to rebuild trust after an armed standoff over a stretch of the Himalayan border in 2017.

Source: Hindusatn Times

07/02/2019

As good as gold for some brides in India as election nears

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – An India state will give gold worth about $530 to every bride from a poor family, the latest budget giveaway ahead of a general election that must be held by May.

The northeastern state of Assam is run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is facing a battle for re-election because of low farm incomes and a lack of jobs that have turned off some of those who backed it in the last polls, in 2014.

The federal government announced cash handouts to farmers and tax cuts for the lower middle class last week.

On Thursday, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) cut interest rates for the first time since 2017, in line with a government demand as it attempts to stimulate the economy.

The opposition Congress party has also been forgiving farmers’ loans and announcing it would provide the unemployed with cash handouts in some of the states it controls.

But handing out gold to brides is new.

The tea-growing state’s finance minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, allocated 3 billion rupees ($42 million) for the next fiscal year, from April 1, for the gold programme.

That would buy 875 kg of gold, enough for about 80,000 brides.

“A customary ritual which has been part of Assamese society for centuries is to gift a set of gold ornaments to one’s daughter as a blessing as she leaves her father’s home to start a new life,” Sarma said in his budget speech on Wednesday.

He said the programme should stop families falling into debt to pay for daughters’ weddings.

“I feel that it’s my solemn responsibility to stand with those fathers who cannot afford to gift a set of gold ornaments,” he said.

The Assam government would buy the gold from the RBI and give it to the beneficiaries directly, Sarma told Reuters on Thursday.

The programme would be limited to two women from each family with an income of less than 500,000 rupees (£5,422) a year. Each bride would get a “tola”, or 11.66 grams, of gold.

Indian brides traditionally get gold, which helps make the country the world’s second-biggest buyer of the metal after China. The World Gold Council expects India to consume 750-850 tonnes of gold this year.

The Assam government hasn’t stopped at gold.

Sarma said the state would also give electric bikes to girls who score at least 60 percent in school-leaving exams, for getting to places of higher studies.

He rejected opposition accusations he was making “fake promises” to win votes.

Political parties and candidates find different ways to give presents to voters.

In the past, gifts have included electric fans, laptops, pressure cookers and televisions.

Under the election law, the gift-giving has to stop once an election date is set.

Source: Reuters

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

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.

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