Saturday, April 21, 2018

Congress banks on populism to restore lost glory: Caste plays vital role in Karnataka polls

The pre-election mood in Karnataka is hardly encouraging as ‘Politics of Divisions’ as surfaced with the political parties talking about caste, sub-ethnic groups and religions probably as the ‘principal factors’ in deciding their future course of actions. Ironically this has happened in one of the few progressive states of Karnataka – which always prides in being “different” from the run-of-the-mill stuff or for that matter other states which fall under BIMARU categorisation.

Battle Ready !

If caste is a menace in UP and Bihar, it is part of classy debate! But why?

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Cambridge Analytica: A saga of manipulation of data to influence electoral mandate?

Best credited for 'helping' Donald Trump emerge the ultimate winner in 2016 US Presidential elections, British data mining and analytics firm Cambridge Analytica in its home page claims to help political parties 'find voters' and 'move them into action,' media investigations say.

'We find your voters and move them to action....By knowing your electorate better, you can achieve greater influence while lowering overall costs'-it affirms.
According to a report in the British daily, 'The Guardian': 'The company at the centre of the Facebook data breach boasted of using honey traps, fake news campaigns and operations with ex-spies to swing election campaigns around the world, a new investigation reveals.'

The company's home page further asserts: 'We are the global leader in data-driven campaigning with over 25 years of experience, supporting more than 100 campaigns across five continents. Within the United States alone, we have played a pivotal role in winning presidential races as well as congressional and state elections.'
The media firestorm as well as tough comments from investigating agencies and governments came after Britain's Channel 4 News on Monday filmed senior executives at Cambridge Analytica, including its CEO Alexander Nix, suggesting the firm could use sex workers, bribes and misinformation in order to try and help political candidates win votes around the world.

Channel 4 released a three-part documentary titled ‘Data, Democracy and Dirty Tricks’. Nix, meanwhile, has been suspended from the company. 

The Indian narrative:

In the Indian context, IT Minister Ravi Shanker Prasad warned against the abuse of technology and cautioned that if required, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg could also be summoned. 

"Mr Marc Zuckerberg you better note, if any data theft or abuse of data is done by using the Facebook system it shall not be tolerated. We have stringent powers under the Information Technology Act including summoning you in India," Mr Prasad told reporters here. 

He also linked the Indian National Congress with the imbroglio. Mr Prasad questioned whether Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi had enlisted the services of the company to boost its election campaign in Gujarat and now in Karnataka.

The Congress dismissed the charges outright.

'News about Congress engaged/engaging with Cambridge Analytica is absolutely false,' the head of the social media unit of the Congress Divya Spandana tweeted. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Sushma targets Rahul: Political row surfaces over killings of Indians in Iraq

Intense political backlash surfaced on Tuesday, March 20, 2018, over the deaths of 39 'missing and abducted Indians' in Iraq with the government and opposition parties trading charges on how best the "sensitive issue" could have been handled or was 'not handled'.
While opposition parties accused government for 'misleading the nation' on the issue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi complimented External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and MoS Gen VK Singh. 

In a terse reaction, the Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala said,''The Modi Government has crossed limited of insensitivity in the matter of the 39 Indians abducted in Iraq by the ISIS" and questioned why the government, the External Affairs Ministry and the External Affairs Minister "misled the country and the family members of the victims".  

Endorsing similar sentiment, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury condoled the deaths of Indians killed most likely by terror outfit Islamic State and tweeted saying: "The question about why the BJP government kept giving them false hopes of being alive for past three years must be answered". For her part, Ms Swaraj denied having "misled the country" and also made a vitriolic attack against the Congress for disrupting the proceedings in Lok Sabha when she was to make a statement on the matter. She especially directed her ire against Congress president Rahul Gandhi for the unruly behaviour of the party MPs. 

Ms Swaraj asserted that the government "never misled" anyone nor gave any false hopes on the possibility of the survival of missing or abducted Indians. They were kidnapped in 2014 in Mosul, an IS infested hub.
She also said two heads of states have said earlier that "they (abducted Indians) were not killed".

Addressing a press conference here - shortly after making a statement on the issue in Rajya Sabha, Ms Swaraj said the government has so far no details on whether these Indians were tortured or abused as "slaves".
"We did not get any information about these details.....but yes, we got information from two heads of states that they have not been killed," she said.
Asked whether government could have given credence to the version of one of the survivors Harjeet Masih that all 39 Indians have been killed, the Foreign Minister said, "Harjeet Masih is just an individual....he can easily say somebody is dead. But we are a government here. We could have taken his words and said easily that they are dead, but that would have been irresponsible".

"Khoye huye ho to maare huye samjhe jaaoge' yeh sarkar aisi nahi hai (Just because you are missing, you may be considered dead, this NDA government is not like this)," Ms Swaraj said.

 "A responsible government has to look for evidence ...Our efforts have actually helped us to reach logical conclusion. Today I can affirmatively say, yes they are dead. I have their DNA certificates to say so", she said.

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor also has said that, "the way the government gave high hopes to the families was not right".
In fact, Harjeet courted controversy in 2015 - when months after government had asserted that efforts were still on to 'find' the missing Indians - mostly construction workers -  he had said all those abducted have been killed.
Speaking to the press at the Mohali residence of AAP leader Bhagwant Mann, Masih had said those ill-fated Indians were all shot a few days after they were abducted.
To a question here onTuesday, Ms Swaraj denied that Harjeet Masih was harassed. "There is no harassment...He was kept in protective custody only".

The story of lone survivor - Harjeet Masih - in the crisis in Iraq when 39 Indians first went missing in 2014 and now declared dead is turning curious and even murkier to an extent.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj - fielding volleys of questions on 28-year-old Masih who had managed to escape - told a press conference here that his version could not be given much credence.
"When Gen VK Singh (Minister for State for External Affairs) went there, the company owners said he changed his name into Ali and with a Bangladeshi visa, he escaped," Ms Swaraj told a press conference answering a pointed question.
Ms Swaraj was asked how could she be so certain that anything Harjeet Masih said was a "lie".
She also said: "I am satisfied that I had stated that I will declare them (39 missing Indians) dead only on the day I have concrete evidence, I kept my word. I will get my closure when I would hand over the mortal remains to their families and they receive proper last rites".       
"We had been saying that we neither have the evidence of them being alive nor the evidence of them being dead. We maintained this in 2014 and 2017. We did not keep anyone in dark. We gave no false hopes," she said.
To another question, Ms Swaraj denied that Harjeet Masih was harassed. "There is no harassment...He was kept in protective custody only".
In fact, Harjeet courted controversy in 2015 - when months after government had asserted that efforts were still on to find whether missing Indians - mostly construction workers -  he said all those abducted have been killed.
Speaking to the press at the Mohali residence of AAP leader Bhagwant Mann, Masih had said those ill-fated Indians were all shot a few days after they were abducted, and chances of their survival were “bleak”.

Slamming Congress members staging unruly scenes in the Lok Sabha, Ms Swaraj said: "For last few days the Congress party has been trying to give the impression that they are ready for a discussion on No Confidence motion. So what's that extra ordinary thing happened today .....I can understand only one reason. After seeing the proceedings of the Rajya Sabha, the Congress president (Rahul Gandhi) must have felt how this was allowed....So he disallowed the similar scene in Lok Sabha".
"Today's behaviour by Congress members in the House was of immense low ebb and it crossed politics of lowest nature (occhey rajniti)," she remarked.
Both in the Rajya and later at a press conference later, she said of the 39 Indians who went missing around June in 2014 - DNA tests conducted has confirmed that samples of 38 people have matched and one person Raju Yadav from Bihar has matched only 70 per cent.
"Of the 38 Indians, 27 were from Punjab, four from Himachal Pradesh, six from Bihar and two from West Bengal," Ms Swaraj said.
On whether some compensation may be announced for the families of the victims, Ms Swaraj said fist priority for the government is to reach help the bodies reach their destinations.
Minister of State for External Affairs Gen V K Singh will go to Iraq to bring back the mortal remains of the Indians killed by terror outfit Islamic State (IS) and the bodies will be also taken to the nearest kin in Pubjab, Himachal, Bihar and West Bengal, she said.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Time will tell: Chandrababu Naidu says 'Namaskaram' to BJP-led NDA

Naidu may be back in national politics, but has to make sacrifice yet again

In the 1990s, N Chandrababu was said to have rejected the offer of Prime Ministership as his teenager son Nara Lokesh told him it would have been a "temporary job.' 

Naidu takes SECULAR bus yet again

Two decades later, he is back into the whirlpool of national politics of coalition.Within hours of his exit from the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, Mr Naidu was not only among headlined but he also found "friendship tele calls" and favourable tweets from Mamata Banerjee and other regional players.In fact, the All India Trinamool Congress supremo and Bengal Chief Minister was among the first to "welcome" Mr Naidu's decision. She tweeted, "All political parties in the opposition (should) work closely together against atrocities, economic calamity and political instability.'

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Red Fortress demolished in Tripura: BJP unleashes new contours

A visibly happy Prime Minister Narendra Modi told party workers at the BJP headquarters in Delhi that his government has taken Delhi to the doorstep of the people of the North-East, ending their alienation from the seat of governance.
The BJP and its allies are already in power in 19 states across India and adding Tripura and Meghalaya will put NDA in the seat of power in 21 states. In Nagaland, the BJP was in power in alliance with regional party NPF.

Giving new contours to the political map of northeast India, the Saffron party demolished the communists' raj and stormed to power in Tripura while it looked set to form coalition governments in alliance with regional parties in Nagaland and Meghalaya too. 

The BJP and its allies are already in power in 19 states across India and adding Tripura and Meghalaya will put NDA in the seat of power in 21 states. In Nagaland, the BJP was in power in alliance with regional party NPF.  Dedicating the unprecedented victory of the BJP to the untiring efforts, toil and sacrifices of the party workers over the last one year in the CPI(M)-citadel of Tripura, Mr Modi said the people had reposed their faith and trust in the Lotus party through the ballot, braving the politics of intimidation and violence. The CPI(M) could win 16 seats in Tripura where it has ruled since 1978 barring a five-year period of Congress rule from 1988 to 1993. 

But victories in northeast also means a lot for Modi-Amit Shah duo and hence it was not without good reason the BJP chief credited Prime Minister for the party victory. However, at the end of the day there are several issues those need to be looked into - on what really gave BJP the landslide victory. The party bagged an impressive two-thirds majority winning a historic verdict in its favour -- the 35 seat haul for itself and as many as eight (8) for its ally Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT).  

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Brushing aside intellectuals' verdict, Modi marching on with global payers

The visiting Jordan King, who is credited for pioneering the “Aqaba Process” that makes mass level efforts in Arab world to counter radicalisation, is also the 41st generation descendant of Prophet Muhammad. Sharing stage at a function here, Mr Modi and the King of Jordan Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein spoke in one voice about moderation and pluralism.

Indian intellectuals and English media especially have already written off Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They see 'Nirav Modi' as an harbinger of great catalyst for revival of Congress and feel time is more than ripe probably to make 'paragons of virtues' Rahul Gandhi the next Prime Minister of India.  

But Modi is a player with  a difference. He wants to still play even as Lutyens' intellectuals feel - its is high time status returns into Indian polity. Dynasty is hence the favourite topic these days. However, at the global plane - Modi continues to get the importance he has been getting. 

Sharing stage at a function here, Mr Modi and the King of Jordan Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein spoke in one voice about moderation and pluralism.".....This fight is against that particular mindset that radicalises youth force, misguide them and lead them to perpetrate torture on the innocents," Prime Minister said speaking at a function in presence of Jodan's King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, who also delivered a speech on the theme "Islamic Heritage: Promoting Understanding and Moderation". ''Those who resort to violence and claim to fight for protection of the religion have actually harmed their own religion," Mr Modi said.

Making an inspiring speech, the King of Jordan said, "Today's global war against terror is not a fight between 
different religions. It is between all faiths and communities against extremism, hate and violence".

"Too much of what's heard or seen in the news today is about what separates people.....Around the world suspicions are being flamed by what different groups do not know about the other," he said adding such "ideologies of hate" distort the word of God to steer up conflict and "justify crime and terror". 
"Faith should draw the humanity together," he laid emphasis and pointed out that, "it is Faith that inspires the everyday experiences of people in countries like India and Jordan - where different religions and ethnic groups have together in amity throughout history".  
Prime Minister Modi lauded the role of Jordan King in his fight against radicalisation and said India will always support his efforts.

Things are happening. Somethings are moving according to plans -- in the direction Rahul Gandhi and his 'residential retainers' may not appreciate. 

Speaking in a function on the theme "Islamic Heritage: Promoting Understanding and Moderation", Jordan King Abdullah and Mr Modi pitched for 'moderate Islam' and tried to highlight that a section of radical Islamists have been trying to hijack the Arab world and other followers of Islam and bringing them into perpetual conflict with the rest of the world.

On diplomatic front, India and Jordan on March 1 shared keenness to take the cooperation further and both sides renewed their support to the Palestinian cause.

At the end of high-level delegation level talks led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and King of Jordan Abdullah II Ibn Al Hussein, the two sides inked 12 pacts including on cooperation in defence, health and fertiliser sectors. 

"The talks with His Majesty @KingAbdullahII were wide-ranging and productive. Our discussions will add new vigour to India-Jordan friendship," Prime Minister Modi tweeted. 

"There is keenness on both sides to take this cooperation further and we are in the process of exploring avenues for enhancing the cooperation," T. S. Tirumurti, Secretary, Economic Relations in the Ministry of External Affairs, told reporters at a media briefing. He further said: "Both leaders renewed their support and commitment to the Palestinian cause....."His Majesty was appreciative of our Prime Minister undertaking a standalone visit to Palestine through Amman".

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Republic Day Musings: Face to Face with Modi bashing

The periodical columns in newspapers are often categorised as personal journalism. Blogs are more personal, more of a mood piece - where the personality of the writer could be a key element. 

On this backdrop, let me discuss about a fresh blog as part of my offerings as the Republic Day musings. This is the third in the series since 2016 as I try to share very personal views about contemporary setting in and around the country and its socio-political context on a day of such national importance. Last few weeks and months had revolved Narendra Modi, Gujarat polls, soft-Hindutva polity of Rahul Gandhi and a rather unwanted controversy involving highest court of the land.    So let's take a few of these - step by step. In my previous blog I have dealt with judicial crisis and hence the focus would be on other issues. With regard secularism and soft-Hindutva politics, Indian polity has undergone multi-fold changes in terms of content and also the resultant. The term ‘secularism’ has been probably first used in Europe toward the middle of the 19th century wherein an underline theme was given that public institutions should not be religious. That is they should be ‘secular’. In simpler sense – church and state apparatus ought to be different. Well, this could be a Christian sense – but it travelled into Indian politics laying emphasis that one person’s religious practice or identity had nothing to do with his her public standing vis-a-vis government apparatus. A man could be irreligious also – if Marxists intellectualism is to be understood. But in course of time – it was used to ‘garner’ minorities – and especially Muslim votes. Without going into details on which leader or which party is to be blamed; it ought to be understood in a very simple sense that soon politicians pushed languages like Urdu even in states like Kerala and West Bengal – where locals hardly spoke or understood it and it was presumed that this can appease Muslims. This was in later years – dubbed by the likes of L K Advani, a chief architect of Hindutva-politics, as ‘appeasement politics’. 

By 2014 – after Congress strength in Lok Sabha was reduced to all time low, an internal panel of Congress party headed by versatile A K Antony ‘rightly’ diagnosed that the Congress party was also being described as ‘anti-Hindu’. In a country where nearly 80 per cent are Hindus – the Congress was really pushed into the second fiddle. ‘Sickularism’ was a tag given to the Congress and thus some corrective and drastic steps were necessary.

The Gujarat elections in 2017 provided an ample opportunity and the corrective step in purely political sense made lot of sense. Being ‘secular’ and someone believing in pluralism did not mean one ought to turn anti-Hindu! Rahul Gandhi precisely did that in the run up to the elections in Gujarat. This adds a new feather in his cap. May be !

But what is more important to debate is WHY the real ‘secular polity’ – as ideally desired – has not succeeded in India so far? The general approach of administrations – irrespective of party affiliations and states – towards the problem of communal tension and disturbances - has been like ‘fire brigade’.  After the riots, police would appear on the scene and once the riots have been doused – they would return to the barracks and as if would wait for the next conflict to emerge. In between – the political class would do their business and garner votes ! 

To discuss these, we ought to examine two different questions as well. What has ‘secularism’ done to Indians? Or – What has Indians done to the secularism?
To answer these questions – we need to understand the significance of pro-Hindutva and hard or soft Hindutva politics. Some have tried to answer these questions by laying the blame on specific doctrines! True, it is always easier to blame others. Who did this to us? – is therefore a common human response. But 'soul searching' is vital and perhaps the compulsion of vote-game has started drawing the likes of Rahul Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee to play so called 'soft-Hindutva'. In both the instances, these are crucial as anti-Modi brigade have started realising that you cannot ignore Hindus for long and rule over Indians. For that matter in Tripura, even the Marxists - the original copy right holders of 'Muslim appeasement' have been talking about Ramayana, Pandavas and so on.
This is one principal impact of the Moditva phenomenon -- and hence the die hard Modi-detractors are looking for new avenues every day to slam him. 
Was judicial crisis part of that endeavour, one cannot answer this question either way. The anti-Modi brigade has not given up their agenda and they will not. But each time they try to build up a mountain out of a mole hill, things go the other way. Actually, Prime Minister Modi is found to be a smart operator and often a gamechanger for a game - where he is the referee and also the ultimate winner.

In political sense, Rahul Gandhi has led his party to corrective path when he shed the shyness of being associated with temple. There is nothing to be apologetic about Hindu identity. The Congress party – for all practical reasons – need not be shy about doing politics with 80 per cent Indians. The ‘inclusive’ politics cannot actually be crafted keeping the majority community away from it. The misadventure of terminologies like ‘saffron terror’ should be forgotten as bad dreams. 

The party has paid heavy price for using words like ‘Osamaji’ for a dreaded terrorist.  It has also gained nothing by stating that country’s the ‘minorities’ have the first right to national resources. It is not that such politics were not tried in 2002 or in subsequent polls in Gujarat. But such efforts then did not yield results. However, the elections of Gujarat 2017 paid in dividends and it clearly suggested that Congress should stick to the new roadmap.  

In 2014 and some state elections after that, Congress lost the support of ‘moderate Hindus’ and - post Gujarat - it is presumed that this section can be won over.  

However, the real diagnosis is not yet happening about the malady. Since mid December when Rahul Gandhi took over as Congress chief, everyone seems to be waiting in the wings eager to know the real Team Rahul. The delay is no longer a puzzle, it leads to frustration.

Meanwhile, the BJP's onward march continues notwithstanding Gujarat.

The Campaign Star

The coming elections in three north eastern states would many things clear. But as far as the Republic Day of 2018 remains, Modi remains ahead --- the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit was a totally a new and uncharted roadmap tread by him. How much it would bring in dividends remains to be seen though. 

The Padma Shri Award for individuals from each ASEAN member nation will find him new fan following -- another factor that could lead to stomach pain to his detractors.

The Governance is not about 'glory' of ruler, Pranab Mukherjee had propunded in his last address on the eve of Republic Day on January 25, 2017. But what's the power -politics all about - if there is no glorification of the man - who has that 'power'.