Archive for ‘Prime Minister Narendra Modi’

21/05/2019

EVM allegations: India poll officials deny ‘vote fraud’

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

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

What happened?

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

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

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

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

Local officials have said the allegations are baseless.

Electronic Voting Machine

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

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

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

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

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PM Modi tweets tribute to former PM Rajiv Gandhi

What happened?

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

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

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

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

Why does this matter?

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

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

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

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

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On Monday, opposition rejects exit poll results

BJP supportersImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

What happened?

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

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19/05/2019

Modi’s jobs deficit: J&J’s largest India plant idle three years after completion

ENJERLA/NEW DELHI, India (Reuters) – It was supposed to be Johnson & Johnson’s biggest manufacturing plant in India. It was to eventually employ at least 1,500 people and help bring development to a rural area near Hyderabad in southern India.

Yet, three years after the U.S. healthcare company completed construction of production facilities for cosmetics and baby products on the 47-acre site, they stand idle.

Two sources familiar with J&J’s operations in India and one state government official told Reuters production at the plant, at Penjerla in Telangana state, never began because of a slowing in the growth in demand for the products.

One of them said that demand didn’t rise as expected because of two shock policy moves by Prime Minister Narendra Modi: a late 2016 ban on then circulating high-value currency notes, and the nationwide introduction of a goods and services tax (GST) in 2017.

J&J spokespeople in its Mumbai operations in India and at its global headquarters in New Brunswick, New Jersey, declined to respond to a list of questions from Reuters.

Modi’s office did not respond to a call and an email with questions.

Aimed at rooting out corruption and streamlining the tax system, the double whammy of ‘demonetization’ and GST – were two of Modi’s signature policy moves. But instead of encouraging economic activity as intended, they did the opposite, at least in 2016-2018, by sapping consumer demand, according to some economists.

Many businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, complained publicly – some in their financial statements – that they suffered a drop off in orders. The suspended J&J project stands as one of the most vivid examples of the impact on the broader investment picture.

In the first month after demonetization, some business surveys showed that sales of products such as shampoos and soap fell more than 20 percent.

Lack of jobs growth and a farm-income crisis because of low crop prices have hurt Modi in the current general election, according to several political strategists.

Still, Modi and his ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party are expected by many of the strategists to be in a position to get a second term – probably with support of some other parties – when votes are counted on Thursday, partly because of his strong stance on national security issues.

BIG INVESTMENTS, GREAT EXPECTATIONS

A range of Modi’s business policies, such as capping prices of medical devices, forcing tech companies to store more data locally and stricter e-commerce regulations have in the past two years hurt plans of American multinationals such as J&J, Mastercard, Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart.

The groundbreaking of the J&J facility in Penjerla, its third in the country, was carried out with much fanfare in 2014, attended by Telangana state’s Chief Minister Chandrashekar Rao, who hailed the foreign investment as a big win for local communities. A document dated April 2017 that lists products the company planned to make at the facility, submitted to the Telangana government and reviewed by Reuters, names baby oil, baby shampoo, baby lotion, baby hair oil, face wash and creams.

Shaukat Ali, running a tea shop under a bamboo stall on barren land outside the plant, said local workers check in routinely for possible vacancies at the J&J site, but nothing has come up in years.

At the local pollution control board office, the member secretary Satyanarayana Reddy said the J&J plant had all the required approvals and he was not sure why it hadn’t started production.

“It is unusual for such a big plant to stay idle for so long,” he said. “But there is no problem from our side.”

Chandrasekhar Babu, an additional director at the Telangana industries department, said a J&J company official told him the plant hadn’t started due to lack of demand.

GST and demonetization were two key reasons the plan didn’t kick off, one of the sources said, adding that lack of consumer demand since then dented company’s plans.

The second source familiar with J&J’s plans said the company miscalculated Indian market demand.

On a recent visit by a Reuters reporter to the J&J plant, plush, furnished conference rooms and cubicles sat inactive; M. Sairam, who said he was the site manager, told Reuters production areas with machines were idle too.

PLANNED FURTHER EXPANSION

Local officials had hoped the initial J&J plant would be only the beginning. After the groundbreaking in 2014, Pradeep Chandra, who was Telangana’s special chief secretary of industries, told Business Today magazine that “based on the extent of land (J&J) have acquired we believe that they are looking at much larger expansion here.”

Local media reports at the time said the J&J facility would employ some 1,500 people.

A J&J official, who was not identified by name, was reported subsequently in December 2016 in India’s Business Standard assaying that the $85 million plant would be operational by 2018 after it had overcome procedural delays. The official was quoted as saying the company had earmarked an additional $100 million for expansion.

Vikas Srivastava, the managing director of J&J Consumer(India), who was at the 2014 groundbreaking, did not respond to calls for comment.

Reuters also talked to two workers outside a sprawling Procter & Gamble facility making detergents and diapers, which is next to the J&J plant. They said they were part of the P&G plant’s production team and the plant had been running below capacity.

A P&G spokesperson denied that, saying the plant was “operating at full capacity in line with our business plans”. “India is a priority market for P&G globally and in recent quarters, P&G’s business in India has registered strong double-digit growth consistently,” the company said.

The weak rural economy, where most Indians work, has also hurt growth in sales of basic items such as detergents and shampoo in the past year.

Hindustan Unilever Ltd, an industry bellwether that would compete with the likes of J&J and P&G in some categories, said its volume growth shrank to 7 percent in the quarter ended March 31, down from double-digit growth in the previous five quarters.

The company warned that the daily consumer goods segment in India was “recession resistant … not recession proof.”

Source: Reuters

18/05/2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Reuters

17/05/2019

India’s next government will have a growth problem

A high-rise residential tower is seen next to shanties in Dharavi, one of Asia"s largest slums, in Mumbai March 18, 2015. In Mumbai, the windows of new high-rise apartment blocks, old low-rise residential buildings and shantytown shacks portray the disparity in living conditions and incomes in the Indian city.Image copyright REUTERS
Image caption Economists say India’s growth is powered by the ‘top 100 million’ people

As India lumbers towards the final phase of an exhausting general election and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP seeks a second term in power, there’s some worrying news. The world’s fastest growing major economy appears to be headed for a slowdown.

The signs are everywhere. Economic growth slowed to 6.6% in the three months to December, the slowest in six quarters. Sales of cars and SUVs have slumped to a seven-year-low. Tractors and two-wheelers sales are down. Net profits for 334 companies (excluding banks and financials) are down 18% year-on-year, according to the Financial Express newspaper.

That’s not all. In March, passenger growth in the world’s fastest growing aviation market expanded at the slowest pace in nearly six years. Demand for bank credit has spluttered. Hindustan Unilever, India’s leading maker of fast moving consumer goods, has reported March quarter revenue growth of just 7%, its weakest in 18 months.

GurgaonImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Sales of cars and SUVs have slumped to a seven-year-low.

One newspaper wondered whether India was “losing the consumption plot”. Taken together, all this points to a fall in both urban and rural incomes, leading to demand contraction. A crop glut has seen farm incomes drop. And credit stagnation, partly triggered by the collapse of a major non-banking financial institution, or a shadow bank, has led to a fall in lending and worsened matters.

Kaushik Basu, former chief economist of the World Bank and professor of economics at Cornell University, believes the slowdown is “much more serious” than he initially believed. “The evidence is now mounting to the point where it can no longer be ignored,” he told me.

One reason, he believes, is the controversial currency ban in 2016 – also called demonetisation – which adversely hit farmers. More than 80% of the currency circulating in India’s sprawling cash-driven economy was taken out of circulation in what, in the words of one of Prime Minister Modi’s own advisers, was a “massive, draconian, monetary shock”.

An Indian farmer carries sugarcane to load on a tractor to sell it at a nearby sugar mill in Modinagar in Ghaziabad, some 45km east of New Delhi, on January 31, 2018Image copyright AFP

“This was evident to all by early 2017. What many observers did not realise then – I did not – is that the shock made the farmers take on debts which ended up causing sustained hardship to them that is continuing and slowing down the agriculture sector.”

Source: The BBC

15/05/2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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India votes 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Read more from Geeta Pandey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The BBC

12/05/2019

Indians vote in penultimate phase of seven-round general election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BIG CHANCE FOR SMALL PARTIES?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Reuters

07/05/2019

‘Arrogant like Duryodhan’: Priyanka Gandhi jabs PM after ‘corrupt Rajiv’ attack

Over the last few days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party’s top leadership have scaled up attacks on the Gandhi family, particularly on former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

LOK SABHA ELECTIONS Updated: May 07, 2019 17:40 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Priyanka Gandhi,Congress,PM Modi
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra(PTI file photo)
Launching a scathing attack on the ruling BJP, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said on Tuesday that the saffron party’s “arrogance is like that of Duryodhan”, just days after Prime Minister Modi referred to Congress general secretary’s father and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi “bhrashtachari no 1”.
Without naming anyone, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said:” This country has never forgiven arrogance. Even Duryodhan had such arrogance, when Lord Krishna tried to make him see sense, he wanted to take him hostage.”
Speaking at a rally in Ambala for party candidate Kumari Selja, Priyanka Gandhi quoted poet Ramdhari Singh Dinkar to reinforce her remarks. “Jab naash manuj par chaata hai, pehle vivek mar jata hai (When doom looms, first thing a human loses is the ability to discern right from wrong).”
Priyanka Gandhi slams BJP, says party’s ‘arrogance like that of Duryodhan’
Priyanka Gandhi launched an attack on BJP while addressing a rally in Ambala.
The party incharge of eastern Uttar Pradesh added: “They never fulfil the promises they make at election time, instead they either seek votes in the name of martyrs or insult the martyr members of my family.”
Over the last few days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party’s top leadership have scaled up attacks on the Gandhi family, particularly on former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
At a rally in Uttar Pradesh over the weekend, PM Modi had attacked Congress president Rahul Gandhi who has been hammering the BJP-led national coalition alleging corruption in the Rafale deal.
“Your father was termed Mr Clean by his courtiers, but his life ended as corrupt no 1,” PM Modi said, provoking a sharp response from the Congress and other opposition parties.
As she spoke at an election rally in Bengal on Tuesday, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said PM Modi’s attack was in bad taste. “Rajiv Gandhi died for the country. You may not like him but you should give respect to a departed leader,” Mamata Banerjee said.
The BJP response came soon after. Amit Shah, the party chief and its master strategist, wondered why PM Modi’s comment was made an issue when the latter spoke only the “truth”. “Is it not true that there was a Bofors scandal,” Shah told a public rally in Bengal insisting that the prime minister had only reminded the Congress about one fact. “It is not an insult to remind someone about the truth,” the BJP chief said.
Source: Hindustan Times
05/05/2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOWER WAGES, LESS SPENDING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RISING UNEMPLOYMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MODI AGAIN?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘SOME PROGRESS’

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

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

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

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

A really simple guide to India’s general election

Indian electionsImage copyright GETTY IMAGES

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

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

What is at stake?

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

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

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

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

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

Millions of  about low crop prices.

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

Graphic: The immense scale of India's elections

Who is being elected?

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

His main rival is opposition leader .

Parliament has two houses: the Lok Sabha and the .

The lower house –  – is the one to watch.

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

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

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

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

Why does voting take so long?

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

Different states will vote at different times.

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

Who will win?

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The BBC

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