Archive for ‘Prime Minister Narendra Modi’

10/07/2019

Jai Shri Ram: The Hindu chant that became a murder cry

Tabrez AnsariImage copyright BBC HINDI
Image caption A video showing Tabrez Ansari pleading for his life was widely circulated on social media

In many parts of India, Hindus often invoke the popular god Ram’s name as a greeting. But in recent years, Hindu lynch mobs have turned Ram’s name into a murder cry, writes the BBC’s Geeta Pandey in Delhi.

Last month, a video that went viral on social media showed a terrified Muslim man tied to a pole being assaulted by a lynch mob made up of Hindu men in the eastern state of Jharkhand.

In the video, 24-year old Tabrez Ansari is seen pleading for his life, blood and tears streaming down his face.

His attackers force him to repeatedly chant “Jai Shri Ram”, which translates from Hindi to “hail Lord Ram” or “victory to Lord Ram”.

Mr Ansari does as told, and when the mob is finished with him, he is handed over to the police.

The police lock him up and his family is not allowed to see him. He dies four days later from injuries sustained during the attack.

Mr Ansari is not the only one to have been singled out in this manner. June was a particularly bloody month for Indian Muslims, who were targeted in several such attacks.

In Barpeta district in the north-eastern state of Assam, a group of young Muslim men were assaulted and then made to chant slogans like “Jai Shri Ram”, “Bharat Mata ki Jai” (long live Mother India) and “Pakistan murdabad” (death to Pakistan).

In the commercial capital Mumbai, a 25-year-old Muslim taxi driver was abused, beaten up and told to chant “Jai Shri Ram” by a group of men. Faizal Usman Khan said he was attacked when his taxi broke down and he was trying to fix it. His attackers fled after a passenger called the police.

And in the eastern city of Kolkata, Hafeez Mohd Sahrukh Haldar, a 26-year-old Muslim teacher at a madrassa (religious seminary), was heckled while travelling on a train by a group of men chanting “Jai Shri Ram”.

He told reporters that they made fun of his clothes and beard, and then insisted that he also chant the slogans. When he refused, they pushed him out of the moving train. Mr Haldar was injured, but lived to tell the tale.

The slogan-shouting and heckling is no longer restricted to the mob and the streets. Worryingly, it has also entered parliament.

When the newly-elected lower house convened for the first time on 17 June, Muslim and opposition MPs were heckled by members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when they stood up to take the oath.

The attacks on the minorities have been condemned by opposition politicians. Rahul Gandhi, before he resigned as leader of the main opposition Congress party, described the mob lynching of Tabrez Ansari as a “blot on humanity”.

Many critics, including cartoonist Satish Acharya, have also expressed alarm over the rising number of such incidents.

CartoonImage copyright COURTESY: SATISH ACHARYA
Image caption Cartoonist Satish Acharya says using Ram’s name to unleash violence risks widening India’s religious divide

In villages across north India, devout Hindus have traditionally used “Ram Ram”, “Jai Siya Ram” (goddess Siya or Sita is Ram’s consort) or “Jai Ram Ji Ki” as a greeting.

And many feel a sense of unease that these attacks and killings are being carried out in the name of a god revered by millions for his sense of justice and benevolence.

But “Jai Shri Ram” has now been turned into a cry of attack, meant to intimidate and threaten those who worship differently.

The invocation was first used as a political chant in the late 1980s by the BJP to mobilise the Hindu masses during the movement to construct a Ram temple at a disputed siteat Ayodhya.

The party’s then president LK Advani launched a march supporting the construction of the temple and in December 1992 mobs chanting “Jai Shri Ram” marched upon the northern town and tore down the 16th Century Babri mosque.

The BJP believes the mosque was built after the destruction of a temple to Ram that once stood there.

The campaign galvanised Hindu voters in favour of the BJP and helped turn Ram from personal to political. Since then, the party has consistently invoked the deity during elections and the 2019 polls were no exception.

Critics say those who heckle minorities, inside parliament and outside it, see the BJP’s sweeping victory in the April/May elections as sanctioning their behaviour. The party won more than 300 seats in the 543-member lower house, propelling Mr Modi to a second term.

Mr Modi’s first term in power was marked by violence against minorities. There were numerous incidents of Muslims being attacked by so-called “cow vigilantes” over rumours that they had eaten beef, or that they were trying to smuggle cows – an animal many Hindus consider holy – for slaughter.

The prime minister did not condone such attacks, but was criticised for not condemning them either.

An Indian artist puts final touches to statues of the Hindu God Lord Ram in Hyderabad on April 13, 2016Image copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Millions of Hindus revere the god Ram for his sense of justice and benevolence

But right after the BJP’s stunning victory in May, Mr Modi expanded his earlier slogan of “sabka saath, sabka vikas” (development for all) to include “sabka vishwas” (to win the trust of everyone), giving rise to hopes that this term would be different.

A few days after Tabrez Ansari’s death, he told parliament that he was “pained” by the incident and that “the guilty must be severely punished”.

But many Indians doubt that any serious action will be taken against those who carry out such attacks.

Several dozen people have been killed and hundreds injured since 2014 in mob attacks, but there have been convictions in only a handful of cases.

In others, the accused remain free, often due to a lack of evidence, and some have been seen being feted by Mr Modi’s party’s colleagues.

BJP leaders often downplay such incidents, calling them “minor” and accusing the press of “maligning the image of the government”.

One BJP MP recently told a news website that the popularity of the slogan “Jai Shri Ram” was a sort of protest by Hindus “against a certain bias and tilt of the polity towards minorities”.

“They are also asserting that we are Hindus and we count as Hindus,” he said.

But critics say that there are other – better – ways of doing that.

Source: The BBC

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09/07/2019

‘We need to talk’: call for Chinese and Indian navies to communicate

  • Ambassador to China Vikram Misri says they will be ‘meeting more and more in common waters’, and more exchanges are needed
  • He also says preparations are under way for President Xi Jinping to visit India
The INS Kolkata arrives in Qingdao for PLA Navy 70th anniversary celebrations in April. The Indian ambassador called for more communication between the two navies. Photo: Reuters
The INS Kolkata arrives in Qingdao for PLA Navy 70th anniversary celebrations in April.
The Indian ambassador called for more communication between the two navies. Photo: Reuters
The Chinese and Indian navies should establish communication because they are increasingly operating within close proximity, according to India’s ambassador to China.

While the two nations’ militaries communicated extensively, it was mainly between their land forces, and that should be extended to the navies and air forces, Vikram Misri said.

“We need to talk about the two air forces and the two navies – especially the two navies – because we are operating in the same waters and increasingly in the coming years, we will be meeting more and more in common waters,” Misri said.

“I think it is important for us to develop those levels of understanding and communication,” he said. “There are some [navy and air force] exchanges now, but not as well developed as in the case of the land force.”
China and India have made efforts to repair their relations since a tense stand-off at the Doklam plateau two years ago, when communications between their forces along the border were seen as inadequate to contain the tension.
China and India have sought to repair relations after a tense stand-off at Doklam. Photo: AFP
China and India have sought to repair relations after a tense stand-off at Doklam. Photo: AFP

Misri said the two nations had made incremental progress, and opened new points where “border personnel can meet and exchange information, or exchange views about any particular situation”.

The ambassador was visiting the Indian consulate in Hong Kong over the weekend, six months after taking up the post and six weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi was re-elected.

He said preparations were under way for Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit India, which was expected to happen in the fourth quarter, after they pledged earlier to strengthen cooperation.

Tensions between 

China and India

have periodically flared along their 4,000km (2,485-mile) border, resulting in a brief war in 1962. Relations have also been strained by China’s ties with Pakistan, and India’s concern over China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean.

India has also not signed on to China’s global trade and infrastructure strategy, the

Belt and Road Initiative

, which has projects that run through the disputed Kashmir region.

“Our concerns with regards to this particular initiative are very clear, and we have continued to share them very, very frankly with our Chinese partners,” Misri said. “I think there is understanding on the part of our Chinese partners with regard to this.”
Indian ambassador to China Vikram Misri said New Delhi’s concerns on the Belt and Road Initiative were clear. Photo: Xiaomei Chen
Indian ambassador to China Vikram Misri said New Delhi’s concerns on the Belt and Road Initiative were clear. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

But he said the two nations should not let their differences evolve into disputes, and they should focus on areas where they can cooperate.

One such area was maritime and investment cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, including infrastructure and disaster response. The US in recent years has focused on the Indo-Pacific region, and has asked its allies to send naval vessels to the area as a counterbalance to Beijing.

“We have made the point that our vision of the Indo-Pacific is not a strategy, which sometimes is a concern on the part of some partners, aimed against any particular country,” Misri said. “It is definitely not a military alliance in any format.

“It is on the other hand a vision that aims at economic and development cooperation with our partners in the Indo-Pacific space,” he said, adding that India was discussing such cooperation with China.

He also said trilateral meetings between China, India and Russia would become more regular after their three leaders met on the sidelines of the 

Group of 20

summit in Osaka, Japan last month, when they vowed to uphold multilateralism.

Those meetings would allow the nations to address challenges facing the international trading system and pushback against globalisation, but Misri said they should not be seen as a bid to counter the US, which is also involved in a trade battle with India.

India also had a trilateral meeting with Japan and the United States during the G20 summit.

“The fact that these countries seek us out also shows that they see value in engaging with India, and we have important issues to discuss in each of these settings,” he said. “None of our individual relationships is going to come at the cost of a relationship with any other partner.”

The ambassador said there could be a broader consensus on counterterrorism. Photo: AP
The ambassador said there could be a broader consensus on counterterrorism. Photo: AP

Misri also said there could be a broader consensus between China and India on counterterrorism. The two nations have clashed over Indian efforts to blacklist Masood Azhar, leader of the Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), at the United Nations, which China objected to for years – a move seen in India as being done at the behest of Islamabad.

Azhar was finally listed as a global terrorist by the UN in May, after JeM claimed responsibility for a deadly terror attack on Indian security forces in Pulwama in February, although the listing did not directly reference the attack.

“It could have happened earlier … but I’m glad that it did happen, and we hope to build on that – that should be taken as progress, and we hope to build on that in the coming years,” Misri said.

“Everybody is aware of the context in which the listing happened, and therefore, I don’t think it’s hidden from anybody as to what this was aimed at or who this was aimed at, or what the motivation for the action might have been.”

As for the tensions between India and Pakistan following the terror strike in Indian-controlled Kashmir, Misri said progress would be “largely dependent on Pakistan” and the actions it needed to take to address the “ecosystem of terror that prevails in different parts of that country”.

Source: SCMP

07/07/2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WATER GANGS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WATER WARS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Reuters

26/06/2019

Pompeo meets India PM Modi for talks on trade, defence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Reuters

25/06/2019

West Bengal protests: Politicians hounded to return bribe money

Supporters of Indian social activist Anna Hazare, including members of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), pose with fake rupee notes signifying corruption during a rally in Hyderabad on August 17, 2011.Image copyright AFP
Image caption Residents have been raiding politician’s homes asking for their bribe money back

People in India’s West Bengal state are up in arms against politicians for an unusual reason – they are demanding their representatives repay bribes.

The state’s chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, has told ministers to return bribe money they were paid by citizens seeking access to government schemes.

The home of a local leader of her party was “raided” by residents on Monday who wanted their money back, police said.

Now similar incidents are being reported across the state.

“The money they have taken… they will have to return it to the victims. We will teach these leaders a lesson,” a protester told the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS).

Bribery is fairly common in Indian politics, but this scenario is unexpected, says BBC Bengali’s Amitabha Bhattasali.

Mamata BanerjeeImage copyright GETTY IMAGES

Reports of protests organised across the state are coming in every day, our correspondent adds.

Ms Banerjee, a hugely popular and fiery leader, first came to power in 2011.

But there is some indication that her popularity has been waning in recent months, which correspondents say has left her rattled.

It could be that this latest statement is an attempt to regain some of the ground she lost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the recently concluded general election.

Her party won only 22 of West Bengal’s 42 seats – a big drop from the 32 she won in 2014 – in an election marred by violence which saw a number of political activists in the state killed.

Source: The BBC

22/06/2019

Fears for elephants facing 1,900 mile train journey in India

Decorated elephants stand prior to the arrival of Gujarat state Chief Minister, Narendra Modi to offer prayers at the the Lord Jagannath Mandir in Ahmedabad on July 9, 2013Image copyright AFP
Image caption Decorated elephants lead the procession at the Jagannath temple’s annual festival in Ahmedabad

Animal rights activists in India have criticised a plan by the Assam state government to send four elephants on a perilous train journey of more than 3,100km (1,926 miles) to participate in a temple ritual. They say the long journey could be dangerous for the animals and may even kill them, writes the BBC’s Geeta Pandey in Delhi.

The elephants are to be moved from Tinsukia town in the north-eastern state of Assam to the extreme west of the country – Ahmedabad city in Gujarat state.

Reports say the railway authorities in Assam, who have been asked to make travel arrangements for the elephants, are looking for a coach to transport them.

No date is set for their departure yet, but they are expected to reach Ahmedabad before 4 July to participate in the annual Rath Yatra (chariot procession) at the Jagannath temple. The train journey is expected to take three to four days.

In previous years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hails from Gujarat, has participated in the festival and the elephant procession, although temple officials say he’s not expected to attend this year.

Temple trustee Mahendra Jha told BBC Gujarati that they decided to “borrow” the animals from Assam “for two months” because three of their own elephants died from old age last year.

But activists and conservationists say the plan to move the elephants is “cruel and completely inhuman”, especially since temperatures are more than 40C (104F) in many places along the northern Indian route these elephants are expected to take.

Media caption Human-elephant conflict destroying lives in India

“Most of north-western India is reeling under a heatwave. There have been reports of people dying from heat during train journeys,” Kaushik Barua, a wildlife conservationist based in the Assam state capital, Guwahati, told the BBC.

“The wagon in which the elephants will be transported is not climate-controlled. It will be hitched to a passenger train which will be travelling at a speed of 100km/h (62mph), so can you imagine the plight of the animals?”

Mr Barua warns the journey may prove “dangerous” for the animals.

“They can suffer from heatstroke, from shock, and even die.”

Under the law, he says, there’s no problem moving these elephants since all the paperwork is in order, “but where’s the animal welfare?”

Also weighing in on the debate is the opposition Congress party MP from Assam, Gaurav Gogoi, who’s petitioned India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar to intervene.

“Roughly half of the country is struggling through its worst drought in six decades…. These are extreme conditions for the elephants to travel… The elephants may suffer from acute skin infection and dehydration,” Mr Gogoi wrote in his letter on Thursday.

Media caption India’s first elephant hospital is run by the charity Wildlife SOS

“Therefore, I request the central government to intervene and instruct the state government to withdraw the decision as soon as possible.”

Elephants – both wild and captive – are a protected species in India and there are strict guidelines for their transportation, wildlife biologist Dr Bibhuti Prasad Lahkar told the BBC.

According to the rules, no elephant can be made to walk for more than 30km (18 miles) at a stretch or transported for more than six hours in one go.

The state’s wildlife officials, who’ve issued transit permits for the elephants, have so far refused to comment on the controversy. But after protests from activists and conservationists, “they have gone into a huddle, discussing a plan B,” according to a wildlife expert.

A mahout gives a bath to an elephant in a lake at Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary on a hot summer day on June 05, 2018 in the Morigaon district, Assam, India.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Elephants are a protected species in India

“There’s some suggestion that the pachyderms may be moved in trucks to allow them the flexibility to stop if needed and that they could be accompanied by a forest department veterinarian to look after them,” he said.

Mr Barua, however, is blunt.

“Gujarat doesn’t need these elephants,” he says. “Wildlife laws prevent [the] display and exhibition of elephants. Laws ban performances by elephants in circuses, zoos are not allowed to exhibit them, so why should temples be allowed to use them in rituals or processions? Don’t elephants have rights?

“We worship Ganesha, the Elephant God. Why are the Gods then being put through such cruelty by a temple?”

Source: The BBC

22/06/2019

India asks scooter, bike makers to draw up plan for EVs – sources

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s federal think-tank has asked scooter and motorbike manufacturers to draw up a plan to switch to electric vehicles, days after they publicly opposed the government’s proposals saying they would disrupt the sector, two sources told Reuters.

Niti Aayog officials met with executives from companies including Bajaj Auto, Hero MotoCorp and TVS late on Friday, giving them two weeks to come up with the plan, according to one of the executives.

The think-tank, which is chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and plays a key role in policymaking, had recommended that only electric models of scooters and motorbikes with engine capacity of more than 150cc must be sold from 2025, sources have told Reuters.

Automakers opposed the proposal and warned that a sudden transition, at a time when auto sales have slumped to a two-decade low, would cause market disruption and job losses.

India is one of the world’s largest two wheeler markets with sales of more than 20 million scooters and motorbikes last year.

During Friday’s meeting government officials argued that switching to EVs is of national importance so India does not miss out on the global drive towards environmentally cleaner vehicles, one of sources said.

But industry executives responded that a premature switch with no established supply chain, charging infrastructure or skilled labour in India, could result in India losing its leadership position in scooters and motorbikes, the second source said.

“There were clearly drawn out positions,” said the source, adding there were “strong opinions” at the meeting.

Bajaj, Hero and Niti Aayog did not respond to a request for comment, while TVS declined to comment.

ELECTRIFICATION

Niti Aayog is working with several other ministries on the recommendations, which are part of an electrification effort to help India reduce its fuel import bill and curb pollution.

The proposal also includes incentives for local production of batteries, an increase ownership cost of gasoline cars and forming a policy to scrap old vehicles, according to records of government meetings seen by Reuters.

The panel has also suggested measures such as directing taxi aggregators like Uber and Ola to convert 40% of their fleets to electric by April 2026, Reuters has reported.

Executives from EV start-up Ather Energy, ride-sharing firm Ola and officials from the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), an industry trade body, also attended the meeting, the sources said.

The proposals are India’s second attempt for a switch to EVs. In 2017 it proposed an ambitious plan mainly for electric cars but rowed back after facing resistance from car makers.

The current push could disrupt the market order for two-wheelers and open up avenues for local start-ups, analysts say.

Scooter and bike start-ups like Ather, 22Motors and Okinawa are already making in-roads in India.

“It is extremely critical that we make the transition to electric quickly lest we get wiped out by another global wave,” Tarun Mehta, CEO and co-founder at Ather said.

Source: Reuters
19/06/2019

Viewpoint: How the British reshaped India’s caste system

A priest sits in front of a Hindu templeImage copyright AFP

A Google search for basic information on India’s caste system lists many sites that, with varying degrees of emphasis, outline three popular tropes on the phenomenon.

First, the caste system is a four-fold categorical hierarchy of the Hindu religion – with Brahmins (priests/teachers) on top, followed, in order, by Kshatriyas (rulers/warriors), Vaishyas (farmers/traders/merchants), and Shudras (labourers). In addition, there is a fifth group of “Outcastes” (people who do unclean work and are outside the four-fold system).

Second, this system is ordained by Hinduism’s sacred texts (notably the supposed source of Hindu law, the Manusmriti), it is thousands of years old, and it governed all key aspects of life, including marriage, occupation and location.

Third, caste-based discrimination is illegal now and there are policies instead for caste-based affirmative action (or positive discrimination).

These ideas, even seen in a BBC explainer, represent the conventional wisdom. The problem is that the conventional wisdom has not been updated with critical scholarly findings.

The first two statements may as well have been written 200 years ago, at the beginning of the 19th Century, which is when these “facts” about Indian society were being made up by the British colonial authorities.

In a new book, The Truth About Us: The Politics of Information from Manu to Modi, I show how the social categories of religion and caste as they are perceived in modern-day India were developed during the British colonial rule, at a time when information was scarce and the coloniser’s power over information was absolute.

graphic
Image caption Conventional wisdom says the caste system is a four-fold categorical hierarchy of the Hindu religion

This was done initially in the early 19th Century by elevating selected and convenient Brahman-Sanskrit texts like the Manusmriti to canonical status; the supposed origin of caste in the Rig Veda (most ancient religious text) was most likely added retroactively, after it was translated to English decades later.

These categories were institutionalised in the mid to late 19th Century through the census. These were acts of convenience and simplification.

The colonisers established the acceptable list of indigenous religions in India – Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism – and their boundaries and laws through “reading” what they claimed were India’s definitive texts.

The so-called four-fold hierarchy was also derived from the same Brahman texts. This system of categorisation was also textual or theoretical; it existed only in scrolls and had no relationship with the reality on the ground.

This became embarrassingly obvious from the first censuses in the late 1860s. The plan then was to fit all of the “Hindu” population into these four categories. But the bewildering variety of responses on caste identity from the population became impossible to fit neatly into colonial or Brahman theory.

A leader of those formerly considered untouchable discusses a food shortage with a government official. Bengal Province, British India. | Location: Bengal Province, British IndiaImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption A leader of those formerly considered untouchable with a government official in British India

WR Cornish, who supervised census operations in the Madras Presidency in 1871, wrote that “… regarding the origin of caste we can place no reliance upon the statements made in the Hindu sacred writings. Whether there was ever a period in which the Hindus were composed of four classes is exceedingly doubtful”.

Similarly, CF Magrath, leader and author of a monograph on the 1871 Bihar census, wrote, “that the now meaningless division into the four castes alleged to have been made by Manu should be put aside”.

Anthropologist Susan Bayly writes that “until well into the colonial period, much of the subcontinent was still populated by people for whom the formal distinctions of caste were of only limited importance, even in parts of the so-called Hindu heartland… The institutions and beliefs which are now often described as the elements of traditional caste were only just taking shape as recently as the early 18th Century”.

In fact, it is doubtful that caste had much significance or virulence in society before the British made it India’s defining social feature.

Astonishing diversity

The pre-colonial written record in royal court documents and traveller accounts studied by professional historians and philologists like Nicholas Dirks, GS Ghurye, Richard Eaton, David Shulman and Cynthia Talbot show little or no mention of caste.

Social identities were constantly malleable. “Slaves” and “menials” and “merchants” became kings; farmers became soldiers, and soldiers became farmers; one’s social identity could be changed as easily as moving from one village to another; there is little evidence of systematic and widespread caste oppression or mass conversion to Islam as a result of it.

All the available evidence calls for a fundamental re-imagination of social identity in pre-colonial India.

The picture that one should see is of astonishing diversity. What the colonisers did through their reading of the “sacred” texts and the institution of the census was to try to frame all of that diversity through alien categorical systems of religion, race, caste and tribe. The census was used to simplify – categorise and define – what was barely understood by the colonisers using a convenient ideology and absurd (and shifting) methodology.

n Indian woman sits infront of portraits of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar during 122nd birth anniversary celebrations for Ambedkar in Hyderabad on April 14, 2012.Image copyright AFP
Image caption India’s constitution was written by BR Ambedkar, a member of the Dalit community which is at the bottom of the caste system

The colonisers invented or constructed Indian social identities using categories of convenience during a period that covered roughly the 19th Century.

This was done to serve the British Indian government’s own interests – primarily to create a single society with a common law that could be easily governed.

A very large, complex and regionally diverse system of faiths and social identities was simplified to a degree that probably has no parallel in world history, entirely new categories and hierarchies were created, incompatible or mismatched parts were stuffed together, new boundaries were created, and flexible boundaries hardened.

Group of Untouchables, India, circa 1890Image copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Dalits, or untouchables, were at the bottom of the caste system

The resulting categorical system became rigid during the next century and quarter, as the made-up categories came to be associated with real rights. Religion-based electorates in British India and caste-based reservations in independent India made amorphous categories concrete. There came to be real and material consequences of belonging to one category (like Jain or Scheduled Caste) instead of another. Categorisation, as it turned out in India, was destiny.

The vast scholarship of the last few decades allows us to make a strong case that the British colonisers wrote the first and defining draft of Indian history.

So deeply inscribed is this draft in the public imagination that it is now accepted as the truth. It is imperative that we begin to question these imagined truths.

Source: The BBC

29/05/2019

China looks to Russia, Central Asia for support amid tensions with US

  • President Xi Jinping will meet Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin next month and address economic summit in St Petersburg
  • Diplomatic flurry will also include regional security forums in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
Xi Jinping has met Vladimir Putin more times than any other foreign leader since he took power in 2013. Photo: AFP
Xi Jinping has met Vladimir Putin more times than any other foreign leader since he took power in 2013. Photo: AFP
Beijing is stepping up efforts to seek support from regional and global players such as Russia and Central Asian nations as its geostrategic rivalry with Washington heats up.

President Xi Jinping is expected to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin next month, when he will also address the St Petersburg International Economic Summit,

Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov told state-run TASS news agency earlier.

The Chinese president will also visit the Kyrgyzstan capital Bishkek for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in June, as well as another regional security forum in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Meanwhile, Vice-President Wang Qishan is visiting Pakistan before he heads to the Netherlands and Germany, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan meets Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan in Islamabad on Sunday. Photo: AFP
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan meets Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan in Islamabad on Sunday. Photo: AFP
The latest flurry of diplomatic activity comes as competition between China and the US intensifies on several fronts including trade and technology, the South China Sea and the Arctic, where Beijing’s partnership with Moscow –

funding and building ports, berths and icebreakers off Russia’s shores

– has drawn criticism from Washington.

It will be Xi’s second time at the St Petersburg forum, and observers expect the Chinese leader will reaffirm Beijing’s commitment to multilateralism and promote the nation as a champion of openness and cooperation.
China-Russia ties unrivalled, Beijing warns before Pompeo meets Putin
It will also be his second meeting with Putin in two months, after talks on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in late April, when the Russian president

offered his support

for the controversial China-led infrastructure and investment initiative.

With China and Russia edging closer, the latest meeting is likely to see efforts to coordinate their strategies on a range of issues – including Venezuela, North Korea, nuclear weapons and arms control, according to observers. Xi has met Putin more times than any other foreign leader since he took power in 2013.

“This time it is very likely that the latest anti-China moves by the US, such as new tariffs and the Huawei ban, will feature prominently in their conversations,” said Artyom Lukin, an associate professor at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok.

Lukin said Russia’s stagnating economy and sanctions imposed by the West limited its role as a substitute for the foreign markets and technologies China could lose access to because of the US crusade. But he said Putin would “provide political and moral support to Xi”.

“That is also significant as Russia has been withstanding intense US-led sanctions pressure for more than five years already,” Lukin said, referring to sanctions imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Xi and Putin are also expected to talk about Venezuela, where US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido is attempting to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who has the support of China and Russia.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has the backing of China and Russia. Photo: AP
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has the backing of China and Russia. Photo: AP

“Moscow and Beijing are not able to seriously hurt Washington by raising tariffs or denying access to high technology. However, there are plenty of areas where coordinated Sino-Russian policies can damage US interests in the short term or in the long run,” Lukin said. “For example, Moscow and Beijing could intensify their joint support for the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro, frustrating Washington’s efforts to dislodge him.”

China and Russia would also be seeking to boost economic ties. Bilateral trade, dominated by Chinese imports of gas and oil, reached US$108 billion last year – falling far short of the target set in 2011 by Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, of US$200 billion by 2020.

China and Russia to forge stronger Eurasian economic ties

Li Lifan, an associate research professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said bilateral trade was a sticking point. “This is one of the potential hindrances in China-Russia relations and Beijing is hoping to [address this] … in the face of a possible global economic slowdown,” Li said.

Given the escalating trade war with Washington, he said China would seek to diversify its investments and markets to other parts of the world, particularly Russia and Europe.

“China will step up its investment cooperation with Europe and Russia and focus more on multilateral investment,” Li said.

But Beijing was not expected to do anything to worsen tensions with Washington.

“China is currently taking a very cautious approach towards the US, trying to avoid heating up the confrontation and further aggravation of the situation,” said Danil Bochkov, a contributing author with the Russian International Affairs Council. “For China it is important to demonstrate that it has a reliable friend – Russia – but that should not be done in an openly provocative manner.”

Stephen Blank, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, said Beijing and Moscow would also seek to contain US influence “as far as possible” from Central Asia, where China has increased its engagement through infrastructure building under the “Belt and Road Initiative”.

Leaders from the region will gather in Bishkek next month for the SCO summit, a security bloc set up in 2001 that now comprises China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan. Those members account for about 23 per cent of the world’s land mass, 45 per cent of its population, and 25 per cent of global GDP.

Newly re-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could meet the Chinese president for talks in Bishkek next month. Photo: EPA-EFE
Newly re-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could meet the Chinese president for talks in Bishkek next month. Photo: EPA-EFE

There is growing speculation that Xi will meet newly re-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of that summit.

Independent analyst and author Namrata Goswami said India would be seeking a commitment to a WTO-led and rules-based multilateral trading system during the SCO talks.

“This is interesting and significant given the current US tendencies under President Donald Trump focused on ‘America first’ and the US-China trade war,” Goswami said.

Counterterrorism will again be a top priority at the SCO summit, amid concerns among member states about the rising number of Islamic State fighters returning from Syria and Iraq. Chinese scholars estimated last year that around 30,000 jihadists who had fought in Syria had gone back to their home countries, including China.

Alexander Bortnikov, chief of the main Russian intelligence agency FSB, said earlier that 5,000 fighters from a group affiliated with Isis had gathered in areas bordering former Soviet states in Central Asia, saying most of them had fought alongside Isis in Syria.

War-torn Afghanistan, which shares a border with four SCO member states – China, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – is also likely to be high on the agenda at the Bishkek summit.

“With the Trump administration drafting plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, the SCO will assess the security situation there and decide whether to provide training for Afghan troops,” Li said.

Eva Seiwert, a doctoral candidate at the Free University of Berlin, expected the security bloc would also discuss Iran after the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and ordered new sanctions against the country.

Iran, which has observer status with the SCO, was blocked from becoming a full member in 2008 because it was subject to UN sanctions at the time. But its membership application could again be up for discussion.

Iran presses China and Russia to save nuclear deal

“The Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 made it easy for China and Russia to present themselves as the proponents of peaceful settlement of conflicts,” Seiwert said. “Discussing the possibility of admitting Iran as a full member state would help the SCO members demonstrate their support of multilateral and peaceful cooperation.

“This would be a strong signal to the US and enhance the SCO’s standing in the international community,” she said.

Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov (right) meets Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bishkek on Tuesday last week. Photo: Xinhua
Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov (right) meets Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bishkek on Tuesday last week. Photo: Xinhua

As well as security, Xi’s visit to Central Asia is also likely to focus on economic ties. Meeting Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov in Bishkek last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing would continue to “provide support and help national development and construction in Kyrgyzstan”.

Li said China may increase investment in the Central Asian region, especially in greenfield projects.

“China will continue to buy agriculture products from Central Asia, such as cherries from Uzbekistan, and build hydropower projects to meet local energy demand,” Li said. “Investment in solar and wind energy projects is also expected to increase too.”

Source: SCMP