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Amit Shah vs Ghulam Nabi Azad: Congress and BJP lock horns

Arti Ghargi

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Amit Shah

While BJP President Amit Shah slammed the Congress for its comment on unemployment, Ghulam Nabi Azad called the BJP ‘The weakest government’ in past 70 years.

 

The winter session of the parliament mostly remained stormy. The Budget Session witnessed nothing different as well. Ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha election both Congress and BJP are taking each other head on the inside as well as outside the parliament.

Today, BJP President Amit Shah made his maiden speech in Rajya Sabha. Amit Shah moved a motion of thanks and parliament decided to discuss on it over Monday and Tuesday.

However, Amit Shah’s first speech was filled with sharp attacks on Congress. Amit Shah said when his party came to power in 2014, it was handed over a country where economic progress had gone downhill, by the preceding government.

Shah said, after 30 years in a “historic mandate” a party received a sweeping majority to form the government at the centre.  He said, “For the first time after independence, a non-Congress party was given mandate by the public and it was a BJP government led by PM Modi. In spite of getting an absolute majority, we formed the government with NDA members.”

Invoking Mahatma Gandhi and Deendayal Upadhyaya he said that the BJP has worked for the upliftment of the weakest sections of the society. Praising PM Modi he said that before 20114, vote bank politics had ridden the system and nobody was ready to leave their privileges. He reminded the house of former PM Lal Bahadur Shastri recalling that after his request to fast, it was PM Narendra Modi who asked people to give up on something for the poor people. “The PM asked the well-off people to give up their gas subsidies and people responded positively,” said Shah.

Taking a swipe at critics of Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan he said, “Those living in Lutyens Zone will not understand the importance of toilets in every house.” For last few months, Congress has surrounded the government on a number of problems including unemployment. Rahul Gandhi during his speeches had raised the issue too. Shah defending the BJP government said that the Congress ruled the country for over 50 years. “Why couldn’t the Congress find a solution?” Shah asked. He also slammed former Finance Minister for his pakoda seller jibe. He said, “I believe it is better to work hard by selling pakodas rather than be unemployed. What sort of a mentality is it when you compare a pakoda-seller to a beggar?’ Amit Shah.

Talking about GST, he accused Congress of destroying the federal structure. Shah said he had studied GST and claims that small businesses will be destroyed are over the top. Boasting about the surgical strike by the army, he said the world realised that after America and Israel, India is the only country which can protect its soldiers & Army.

Kashmir and the increased instances of stone-pelting remains a main criticizing point of opposition. Shah claimed Kashmir is the safest in past 35 years. Attacking the Congress for stalling Triple Talaq Bill he said the party has to answer the people. Talking about the winning streak of the party, he said: “some parties are now finding victory in losing elections.”

Shah’s speech indeed fiery launched a sharp attack on the Congress who is trying to galvanize the support of opposition ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, from Congress’ side, the leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad took the charge of countering the accusations made by Amit Shah.

He began his speech wondering why Amit Shah didn’t mention Sardar Patel in his speech. With his witty replies to Amit Shah, it seemed that Azad had fully prepared to give tit for tat. Congress after 2G verdict last year had said that it feels vindicated. Azad today said that the UPA government was accused of Himalayan sized corruption but the CBI acquitted everyone under your government.

Taking a jibe at scheme introduced by BJP government, he said, “The Modi is the government is not game changer they are just namechangers.” Reminding Shah of election promises made by his party he said that the only thing the government has changed in last 3.5 years is the name of the country from India to New India.

Azad also targeted state government ruled by BJP. He said the crime rates in BJP ruled states has increased multiple folds.  He said, “BJP ruled states like Haryana has become the hub of criminal activities, gruesome rapes happening with minor and innocent girls.”  He struck a chord with members saying, “What kind of New India are we developing? If this is the new India give us our old India.”

Azad did not spare even Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah. In a veiled dig, he said, “BJP has one original scheme on how to turn Rs 50,000 to over Rs 80,00,00,000 but they don’t share it with us if they do everyone would be happy.” Talking about the budget introduced by the government last week, he said the Government’s promise to double farmer’s income is just a lollipop.

Slamming the ruling Modi government on Kashmir issue, he said that the government does not have a policy on Kashmir. “The maximum number of security personnel, armed forces personnel and civilians have died under your government in last three years,” Azad said. Calling the Modi government, the weakest in 70 years he said, the government failed to bring Massod Azhar to justice.

Replying to accusations on Triple Talaq bill he said the Congress supports the good part of the bill but opposes the part where it criminalises Muslim men. He said the BJP has created a divide between Hindu and Muslims.

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RSS conclave: Did Mohan Bhagwat take a sly dig at PM Modi?

Arti Ghargi

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In those 80 minutes of speech, RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat stumped the critiques and supporters an equal number of times.

 

If yesterday’s speech of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat is to be described with a phrase, it has to be a “package of surprises”. After all the antagonism and vilification thrown out at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh– the ideological fountainhead of the ruling BJP, by (yet to be) united opposition, the RSS presented itself as an all-embracing, truly democratic organization. In those 80 minutes of speech, the sarsanghchalak stumped the critiques and supporters an equal number of times.

“Congress played a big role in the freedom movement and gave India many great personalities,” Mohan Bhagwat said. This comes at a time when Congress has frequently questioned RSS/BJP’s contribution in the freedom movement. On the other hand, the ruling BJP had time and again invoked Congress’ contribution in the last 70 years of independence.

Mohan Bhagwat

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The first speech at the 3-day event titled “Bhavishya ka Bharat-an RSS Perspective” seemed like an attempt by the organization to clear the alleged misconceptions about it from the minds of people. Bhagwat further made a statement on the topic of diversity. “India’s diversity must be respected, celebrated and it should not be a reason for any discord in society,” the RSS chief said. The organization has been time and again accused of causing disharmony in the Indian society by furthering the Hindutva agenda.

Calling the organization democratic, the Sarsanghchalak reiterated that the organization believes in “Yukt Bharat, not mukt” (inclusion not an exclusion). This is the second time that the RSS chief has re-established this. Earlier, at a book launch event in Pune on April 1, RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat had said, “Congress-mukt Bharat is merely a political slogan. It is not the language of RSS.” Underlining the inclusiveness of RSS, Bhagwat had even said that RSS does not believe in such political slogans which talk about excluding anyone.

The comments made by RSS chief have come in the wake of several comments made by the BJP top leadership which often refers to the “Congress-mukt Bharat” including Prime minister Modi himself.

Bhagwat

Mohan Bhagwat on the Day 1 of RSS Conclave

If this is not the clear sign of RSS showing a significant detour from the BJP, then what is? If there’s still room left for any doubt, then one must read what Mohan Bhagwat said further. Talking about what people think about the organization, Bhagwat said that people often tell him that the organization is becoming faceless. “We want to be faceless so that we don’t become arrogant. If tomorrow pictures of Mohan Bhagwat start getting published in newspapers, it will be a matter of concern for Mohan Bhagwat,” said Bhagwat in reply. Out of all the subtle hints that the Sarsanghchalak dropped, this particular statement has to be the highlight. Was it a sly dig at once RSS worker, now PM Narendra Modi? There is hardly any chance that it is not!

In our earlier article titled, ‘Is Mohan Bhagwat drifting away from BJP?’ we elaborated that RSS fears Modi’s omnipresence may also outgrow that of Sangh’s. The RSS insiders also say that the Sangh is not much flattered with the Modi’s autocratic leadership style. Modi’s tenure has already seen the BJP decimating the alliance parties. In the last four years, BJP’s existence has been limited to the Modi-Shah duo. Narendra Modi has become the only face of the party and the government.

RSS

There has also been a significant shift in the party’s attitude which not only it reeks of arrogance but also egomania. Remember, during Atal Kalash Yatra, every front page advertisement in the newspapers and posters had big pictures of Modi and Shah while the picture of late. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was nowhere to be seen. Was the sarsanghchalak’s comment made in this regard? Or else, was it a warning bell for the Modi-Shah duo?

Taking a significant shift from BJP-who has been constantly playing up the Mughal invasion card on the opposition, Bhagwat recalled the teachings of Dr. Hedgewar-the founder of the Sangh. He said, “Dr. Hedgewar (the founding chief of the RSS) always used to say for how long will we blame the Muslim invaders and British for our state. How did it happen that a handful of invaders from thousands of miles away conquered this nation of warriors? He used to say there is some problem with you which you need to correct.”

These statements force more eyeballs to turn as they come in the light of Lok Sabha Elections. The importance of the booth-level RSS worker is tried and tested. Not only in Lok Sabha elections of 20114 but also subsequent assembly elections and even Tripura Assembly Election where the saffron storm took over the red bastion. Thus, RSS which has only grown in size since independence hinting at a shift in its political approach is a major political development in waiting.

Will RSS back Modi again? The chances are very scarce. Is it trying to cozy up with the opposition? Maybe. The opposition’s response to the invitation of Sangh’s event by turning it down says volume. However, the three days RSS event is sure to gather more steam.

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Should student elections be limited to concerned Universities?

Arti Ghargi

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It is not wrong if one may see student elections as the Launchpad for mainstream or national politics- a ticket to have a national exposure.

The recently concluded Delhi University Student Union Elections and Jawaharlal Nehru University Elections were among the topmost news last week. So much so, that the results of DUSU Elections were a top trend on the social media sites like Twitter. #DUSUElection2018 was trending all over the Twitter. For someone who has been part of Universities other than Delhi University or JNU, the amount of coverage and impetus the Student Body elections get, comes with a package of astonishment and a lot of important questions. Why in the first place, the DUSU, and JNU election get so much importance? There are total 819 odd universities in India enrolling lakhs of students. Why is it that we rarely hear about the student elections from any other university? And most importantly, do the student elections from Universities really matter in a national political arena?

Left

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India has a long history of student movements and indeed a very successful and powerful one. Right from India’s freedom movement in which youth and college-going students took part in large numbers to the most recent Anti-Corruption Movement led by Anna Hazare, the student involvement was something that was at the core of why the movements gained importance. Thus, student politics and student elections remain a point of fascination. There are even people who readily equate the outcomes of DUSU Elections and JNU elections to that of national politics and mood of the nation at large. Whether these arguments hold water or not is a different question altogether.

It is not wrong if one may see student politics as the Launchpad for mainstream or national politics- a ticket to have a national exposure. After all, a leader like Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Delhi Congress President Ajay Maken, Delhi’s former BJP president Satish Upadhyay are among the many national and state-level politicians who began their political career from the student politics and the elections. The student elections are also an opportunity for the existing political parties to reach out to the young voters brimming with enthusiasm. If looked at it from this perspective, it is easy to understand why student elections thus become a matter of prestige for political parties and their student wings.

student

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For now, let us take the example of DUSU elections that happened this year. The largest central university in the country has more than one lakh students. Out of which 44.5% turned up for elections. It was a clean sweep for BJP and RSS backed student wing ABVP. While ABVP won 3 seats including that of president’s, BAPSA won 1 seat. On the other hand, JNU which has been in controversy for a few years due to various reasons, saw a red storm taking the center stage.

Being the largest central university and the most controversial university in the national capital which is the center-stage for national politics, the student elections tend to reflect the national political culture at the student level. The politics at this level is heated and as much amount is splurged in these elections as in Municipal Corporation elections. The student elections in recent years have been marred by the incidents of violence, poll code violations, and expensive campaigning. Thus, the elections that are a week’s affair suddenly gain national importance.

Left

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But for those, sitting away from the politically charged Delhi environment, this treatment to student elections is alienated. In country’s economic capital Mumbai, student elections hardly make it to the news headlines, let alone the front page. The elections in Mumbai University which houses more than 5 lakh students and is affiliated to as many as 700 colleges, rarely see the kind of coverage that DU or JNU student elections get.

At a time, when student body elections have become a part and parcel of national politics, the one who stands at the losing end is a student. While the topics as OROP, Triple Talaq, Rohingya Muslims take the center stage in the presidential debate, issues that worry the students in their academic and campus lives are rarely addressed. We also have heard a lot of students complaining about the disturbance in their classes and invasion of privacy in the days of student body elections. The solution is not taking the politics out of institutes. The politics which is deeply entrenched in our system is equally necessary for education institutions to hold the authorities accountable. The need is to decide what should be the degree or level of politicisation being allowed.

For starters, we can keep student elections, an affair limited to the concerned university rather than blowing it up as a reflection of the nation’s mandate at large!

 

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In Uttar Pradesh, government’s Maternity Benefit Scheme is still in the womb

Arti Ghargi

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uttar pradesh

With such a high IMR and high TFR, Uttar Pradesh spends a meager Rs 452 per capita on health.

On the eve of New Year 2017, Prime minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation. Amongst all the other schemes and their benefits, he talked about a scheme that was launched nation-wide for pregnant women in the country. The scheme named Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana aimed to provide a prenatal financial assistance to pregnant women. In his speech, PM Modi said, “This scheme will help reduce the maternal mortality rate, in a big way. This will help ensure nutrition before and after delivery, and improve the health of mother and child.” Prime Minister also cited that under the pilot project, the scheme had already benefitted women in 53 Indian districts who were given assistance of 4000 rupees each.

 Almost two years after the highly-touted project launch, not a single woman from Uttar Pradesh has benefitted from PM’s Matru Vandana Yojana, an RTI has revealed. According to the RTI filed by IANS, not a rupee of government money has been spent on maternity benefit scheme till August 2018 in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state also has the highest fertility rate among the Indian states.

The RTI further revealed that out of the states whom the funds were allocated under the scheme, Uttar Pradesh received the maximum. Out of total Rs. 2,049 crores in 2017-18 sanctioned and approved by the central government, Uttar Pradesh received the largest share of Rs. 336 crores.

Though, the positive picture states that as many as 34 lakh women across the country out of the 44 lakh enrolled stood as beneficiaries of the scheme, only 184 women enrolled in PM MVY and none of them received the benefit since its inception in January 2017.

Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana:

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Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) is a Maternity Benefit Programme that is implemented in all the districts of the country in accordance with the provision of the National Food Security Act, 2013. It was launched as a replacement of Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahayog Yojana which was launched in 2010 by the then UPA government. The objective of the scheme was Providing partial compensation for the wage loss in terms of cash incentives so that the women can take adequate rest before and after delivery of the first living child. The cash incentive provided would lead to improved health seeking behavior amongst the Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers. All eligible Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers who have their pregnancy on or after 01.01.2017 for the first child in a family can receive the benefit.

The fertility rate of Uttar Pradesh:

Source: NITI Aayog Website

Uttar Pradesh, out of all the Indian states registers one of the highest fertility rates. A NITI Aayog report published in 2016, the state recorded Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 3.1. This is second highest following Bihar which has TFR of 3.3. The TFR in Uttar Pradesh is way higher than the ideal Fertility Rate suggested by the central government which is 2.4. If we look at the details of TFR district-wise, the picture is even worse. According to the data released by Health ministry in July this year, as many as 11 districts from UP have a fertility rate of 4. Nineteen districts have a total fertility rate of between 3.5 and 4, while 28 have a total fertility rate of between 3 and 3.5.

Infant Mortality Rate of Uttar Pradesh:

 

Image Source: NFHS 2015-16

According to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, UP’s Infant Mortality Rate is now the same as the strife-torn West-African nation of Mauritania (65), worse than another poor, chaotic African country, Burkina Faso (61) and only just better than Afghanistan (66). The state now also has India’s worst under-five mortality rate of 78 deaths per 1,000 live births which are comparable to that of Mozambique (79), an African nation with half of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. This is an 18-point reduction in under-five mortality from 96 per 1,000 live births ten years ago.

However, with such a high IMR and High TFR, Uttar Pradesh spends a meager Rs 452 per capita on health. India’s most populous state spends 70% less than the Indian average on health. It means one in two children in the state is not fully immunized. As well as, the state has India’s second-highest maternal mortality rate i.e. 258 deaths per 100,000 live births.

At a time when UP government spends only Rs. 452 per capita on health, the Yogi government spent Rs 65 crore on the ‘makeup’ of Lucknow to host the mega Uttar Pradesh Investors Summit 2018. The mere lip service and fund allocation will not ensure that maternal benefits will reach the needy. It has to be streamlined in a process with appropriate auditing of the fund allocated and spreading awareness of the same.

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