Within weeks of winning the Lok Sabha elections with a surprisingly large margin, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance has suffered major setbacks in Assembly byelections in four states. Of the 18 seats for which elections were held—10 seats in Bihar, three each in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, and two in Punjab—the NDA won only 8, down from its victory in 14 Assembly segments earlier. A majority, 10 seats, went to the Congress and its allies.
If the Narendra Modi government wanted to dismay and embarrass many of its supporters even before completing a hundred days in office, it could not have done so more effectively than by announcing two major decisions: Cancelling the foreign secretary-level meeting with Pakistan scheduled for August 25, and abolishing the Planning Commission at home.
More than a month after Israel launched a murderous onslaught on the Gaza Strip, with over 2,000 casualties, there’s still no clarity about when “Operation Protective Edge” might end—despite the recent extension of a ceasefire. Israel has destroyed 10,000 homes, turned a quarter of Gaza’s population into refugees, and repeatedly targeted civilian installations, including schools, hospitals and United Nations-designated shelters—in flagrant violation of international law.
Mr Singh sheds very little light on a tumultuous period in history which saw the end of the Cold War and the emergence of a newly aggressive United States, and a drastic re-alignment of India’s foreign policy towards it, in which he himself played a part. He presents himself as a staunch defender of India’s independent foreign policy and Non-Alignment, when the recent record shows the opposite.
India’s former foreign minister Natwar Singh is no ordinary diplomat-turned-politician. A part of the Establishment for half-a-century, he is well educated, widely travelled, a close witness to major events, and capable of reflection. So when he published his memoirs One Life is Not Enough, readers expected more from him than from the recent book on Manmohan Singh by his former media adviser, Sanjaya Baru.
The Lok Sabha election has produced what was easily the worst conceivable outcome by giving an outright majority to the Bharatiya Janata Party under a man who is widely believed to have been complicit in mass killings of Indian citizens belonging to one faith, and who even 12 years on has not been fully exonerated by the country’s legal system despite its compromised, semi-functional nature, and vulnerability to diabolical manipulation. Make no mistake. Despite a limited (31 percent) national vote, Narendra Modi’s victory is the result of a Rightward shift in society, and the triumph of Hindutva combined with neoliberal capitalism.
It’s a sign of the pathology of much of India’s mainstream media that it displays the rise of the speculative-trader-industrialist Hinduja brothers to the top of Britain’s (not India’s) billionaire list on the front page, as many papers did on May 12, while blacking out the shamefully persistent phenomena of grinding poverty and rapidly growing income inequalities in this country.
As the momentum of India’s nine-phase Lok Sabha election shifts in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s opponents, a new bunch of writers and social scientists have risen to defend its Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Some of them see virtue and talent, indeed even poetic genius, in a man who presided over the mass butchery of Muslims in Gujarat. (One of them compares Mr Modi’s ghastly poetry with Kabir’s!)
Two weeks ago, many public-spirited Indians complimented the Election Commission for banning public speeches and rallies by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Uttar Pradesh chief campaign manager Amit Shah, and the Samajwadi Party’s fiery Azam Khan, both of whom had made provocative speeches for or against religious groups. This action was seen as in keeping with the Commission’s mandate, legally well-founded, even-handed, exemplary in punishing/deterring the use of communal means during canvassing, and encouraging the conduct of elections in a free and fair manner, as befits a democracy.
Two weeks ago, many public-spirited Indians complimented the country’s Election Commission for banning public campaigning by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Uttar Pradesh chief election manager Amit Shah, and the Samajwadi Party’s fiery Azam Khan, both of whom spoke provocatively for or against specific religious groups.
Narendra Modi files his nomination in Varanasi, Praful Bidwai believes 'a straight contest against Priyanka would have put Modi on the defensive and forced him to concentrate on Varanasi.'
The Accidental Prime Minister, the book by Sanjaya Baru, media adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2004-08, has become a sensational best-seller primarily because its release was timed to coincide with the election campaign. Unsurprisingly, the BJP seized upon it to repeat its pet charge about Singh being India’s “weakest-ever” PM, and otherwise malign the Congress.
When Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency in 1975, the vast majority of Indian academics, intellectuals and media commentators protested. Barring a few publications like India Today, most newspapers carried sharply critical comments and truthful, horrifying accounts of the excesses perpetrated in the name of defending India against contrived “threats”—until censorship was imposed, and sometimes defying it.
Many Narendra Modi zealots are acting as if he had already been sworn in as Prime Minister, or as if that were only a matter of time. They have taken their cue from Mr Modi’s March 29 statement in Chandigarh, where he declared himself India’s future PM. He says the people have chosen the government even before voting; the national election is a mere formality to be gone through. Such contrived hype about a “Modi wave”, bankrolled by corporations, and propagated by much of the media, ignores four main trends which have emerged in the last couple of weeks. These suggest the election still remains open-ended. Mr Modi has doubtless established an edge, but it isn’t decisive, and cannot ensure the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s election victory.
India’s Left parties, among the world’s biggest parties belonging to the Communist tradition, face a huge crisis as the Lok Sabha election approaches. The election will largely decide if they can reverse their recent setbacks, or go into a steep decline, with waning political-intellectual influence and growing organisational disarray.
'AAP's real value must be measured not by the number of Lok Sabha seats it wins in the election
which may not exceed 10 or 15 and not even by the number of votes it takes from the BJP, but by its ability to deflate Modi's superhuman '56-inch chest' image and the charisma so assiduously manufactured around him by the corporate-controlled media,' says Praful Bidwai.
The Rs 1.5-lakh-crore cut in plan expenditure, which represents productive investment, will impoverish the infrastructure and affect growth. But even more unkind is the 31-percent reduction in the current financial year’s allocation to schemes which benefit the poor and address long-neglected areas like health and education. Indian society will pay dearly for this artificial state-induced automobilisation—through greater road congestion, slower commuting speeds, horrendous levels of air pollution, widespread health damage, and increased fatalities and injuries from road accidents.
India’s Left parties, among the world’s biggest parties belonging to the Communist tradition, face formidable challenges as they approach the 2014 national election. The election will play a major role in deciding if they can reverse the setbacks they recently suffered, or go into a steep decline, with a fall in membership, decreasing political influence, and growing organisational dissonance.
The Aam Aadmi Party has made a shrewd, calculated, well-planned move by quitting the Delhi government and taking a plunge into national politics. The issue on which it ostensibly precipitated its action was the Delhi Assembly’s vote against the tabling of AAP’s Jan Lokpal Bill, its trade-mark platform, based on the ground that its introduction wasn’t approved by the Central government.
Is the Aam Aadmi Party sinking into the same mould as our “normal”, cynical, mainstream parties which routinely use doublespeak and venal means to make short-term gains? Recent developments suggest the answer is yes. Take how former diplomat and founder-member Madhu Bhaduri was heckled at AAP’s national executive for moving a sober resolution rightly calling for an apology to the African women in Khirki who were racially profiled by Somnath Bharti and subjected to degrading medical tests. When Bhandari reminded Arvind Kejriwal of his professed insaniyat (humanism), and pleaded that rape shouldn’t be linked to prostitution, she was humiliated.
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