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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.

Opinion

Kerala By-polls: Kerala floods took a center-stage over Sabarimala issue

Arti Ghargi

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kerala

Though, the number of seats put BJP at the bottom of the race, come to think of it, the real loser here is the Congress-led UDF. The Congress and its allies bagged 11 wards in Kerala bypolls as against the 16 they held earlier.

The results of the by-polls held in Kerala have come as a shocker to everyone, but the ruling Left government. On November 30, by-polls were held in 39 local bodies including 27 panchayat wards, five block panchayat wards, six municipality wards and one corporation ward. The CPI(M)-led LDF won a majority of the seats i.e. 21 seats. Whereas, the Congress-led UDF bagged 12 seats. The BJP, which was eyeing on mighty political dividends after the recent Sabarimala protest that rocked the state, however, was limited to only two seats.

Now, we do realize that the by-polls held in just 39 seats cannot spell out the mood of the entire state but the elections do hold a significance as it was for the first time after the Sabarimala controversy the state was going for polling. Those who have closely followed the recent political developments in the state can bear the testimony of the fact that it was probably rare in Kerala that the Hindu anger erupted at such a large scale.

sabarimala

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For the saffron party BJP, which has been trying to create a base in the coastal state, Sabarimala issue ticked every box. It was related to Hindus and even led to unprecedented widespread outrage. The party sensing the “Golden opportunity” launched aggressive protests targeting the left-led government. Even then, it did not turn into expected political dividends.

On the contrary, the CPI(M) which had come under fire from the majority of the Hindu society over the implementation of Supreme Court order of allowing women in Sabarimala, expected an electoral backlash. However, the party ended up winning the majority of the seats.

Let us first check the resulting outcome:

Among all the 39 wards, the BJP has increased vote share only in a few of them. It has lost its sitting ward at Parappukkara in Thrissur district to the Left. Now, Thrissur is where the BJP is hoping for a significant gain in vote share in the Lok Sabha elections. BJP could get only 19 votes in two wards in Pathanamthitta district, where the temple is located. The party candidate got just 12 votes in the Palakkad ward of the Pandalam municipality, which has been the epicentre of the Sabarimala protests. the BJP candidate secured only seven votes in the Kulasekharapatnam ward.

Though, the number of seats put BJP at the bottom of the race, come to think of it, the real loser here is the Congress-led UDF. The Congress and its allies bagged 11 wards in Kerala bypolls as against the 16 they held earlier. The tally has now come down to 11.

Kerala

The LDF wrested five seats from the UDF and one from the BJP (Parappukkara in Thrissur district). The two seats the BJP won were both earlier held by the UDF.

If we compare the votes polled for the parties, BJP’s votes came down from 11,118 to 9869 whereas UDF’s vote came down from 26,722 to 26,092. Though UDF’s vote difference is less than that of BJP, the party lost 5 seats.

What could have been the possible reason for it?

The credit of LDF’s win goes to the BJP. As observed in 2016 assembly elections too, as the majority shifted to BJP, the minorities in the state shifted to LDF. This has taken away UDF’s vote bank which is based upon both the majority Hindus and other minority communities.

As the polarization in the state peaks, a significant part of Hindu votes backing the UDF has shifted to BJP. While a portion of the minority has leaned towards the left.

Kerala

Image Source: Web

For the left after Sabarimala, the polls were a tough task but the party sailed through it. Though it would be too early for BJP to score major victories in the state, if the trend continues, the BJP may soon replace Congress as the main opposition party in the state. Which is not a small achievement for the marginalized party.

As for Kerala’s voter population, the floods and state’s well-handling of the disaster made the main point of contention than Sabarimala.

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From Indira Gandhi to Vajpayee: How Kartarpur Corridor remained a non-starter

Arti Ghargi

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kartarpur corridor

For many Sikh devotees on the Indian side, Kartarpur corridor had been in eyesight but still like a distant dream for 70 years.

 

“Jo bole so Nihaal, Sat Shri Akal”, the chants reverberated the Attari-Wagah border on Wednesday as hundreds of Sikh pilgrims marched towards the holy shrine of Kartarpur. It was the first time since the partition that Sikhs on the Indian side of the border could walk up to the Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara in Pakistan located just 4 km away from the Dera Nanak Sahib. A 65-year old Sikh man from Fatehgarh Choorian who was among the first few to cross the border and visit the shrine was smiles talking about the historic event. “I am happy that Kartarpur corridor is finally a reality,” he said exuding the excitement.

For many Sikhs like him, Kartarpur shrine had been in eyesight but still like a distant dream for 70 years. On Wednesday, the wait finally came to a positive end.

What is Kartarpur Sahib?

For Sikhs across the world, the Kartarpur Sahib gurudwara holds huge significance. It is the place where Guru Nanak after a long pilgrimage of almost three decades finally decided to settle. It is believed that Guru Nanak spent his last years in Kartarpur farming and spreading the message of peace. He lived here for 17 years and before his death, appointed his disciple Bhai Lehna (Guru Angad) as the next guru. In 1947, India was divided into two and the Kartarpur Sahib gurudwara went to the Pakistan side of the border. Currently, it is situated in near the city of Narowal alongside the Attari-Wagah border.

Kartarpur corridor

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The main complex of Kartarpur Sahib has a grave and Samadhi of Guru Nanak. The folktale behind it goes like this:

After the death of Guru Nanak, an argument sparked between his Hindu and Muslim devotees over the funeral rites. The Hindus wanted to cremate him while the Muslims wanted a burial. It was almost night when both the arguing group decided that the matter should be resolved the next day. However, when they woke up the next day, they found a pile of flowers lying at the place where the body was. Not reaching a consensus, they divided the flowers among the two groups. While the Muslims buried them, Hindus cremated them. Thus, the Kartarpur Sahib has a grave and a samadhi.

Kartarpur corridor

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The pilgrimage begins at the Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur in Punjab. Situated only 1 km from India-Pakistan border, Kartarpur Sahib can be seen from the Border with naked eyes at a distance of about 4-5 km. Since the partition pilgrims used binoculars for Darshan.

The Sikh pilgrims separated from their holiest site by the border had been a sore spot. But why did the issue take so long for two neighbouring nations to solve?

From Indira Gandhi to Atal Bihari Vajpayee:

The Kartarpur corridor which was officially announced by the Pakistan premier Imran Khan almost a week ago was first proposed by the former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He had ideated the corridor during the historic 1999 Delhi to Lahore bus diplomacy between the two nations. Pakistan too had agreed to allow Sikh pilgrims from India to visit the shrine visa-free (and without a passport) by constructing a bridge from the India side of the border to the shrine.

Kartarpur corridor

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However, the thaw between the two countries proved to be short-lived. The hostilities along the border increased and eventually led to Kargil war. These developments put an end to the talks. Though, the earliest reference to the Kartarpur corridor is found during Vajpayee’s Lahore trip for the peace initiative, it was in 1969 that the issue had first drawn the attention of the Indian government.

The year 1969 marked the 500th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. During the celebrations, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi promised the Punjab government that land-swap would be done with Pakistan for accessing the Kartarpur Sahib. Indira Gandhi said the Centre would approach the Pakistan Government for the exchange of Kartarpur Sahib with an adjoining Indian area. She also gave an assurance on granting free visas for visitors to Nankana Sahib on the Indian side of the border.

However, the assurance faded into oblivion after the Indo-Pak war in the subsequent year following the creation of Bangladesh.

Kartarpur corridor

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto with Indira Gandhi in Shimla

The two times, when the access to Kartarpur Sahib actually came into consideration, the countries saw derailed relationship with a streak of violence breaking on the border.

On Wednesday, Pakistan PM Imran Khan furthering the message of the peace said, “If you one step forward, we will take two.” Before that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi too backed the initiative. He even expressed the possibility that the corridor could be the “Berlin Wall” moment for India and Pakistan. “Who would have thought that Berlin wall can be destroyed? With the blessings of Guru Nanak, even Kartarpur corridor can be a medium to join people from across the border,” Modi said.

Kartarpur corridor

Image Source: Web

While Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal at the Kartarpur corridor launch ceremony reiterated PM Modi’s message, external affairs minister added a prompt reminder back home that the corridor won’t be a sole consideration in resuming the talks between the two countries. Some also fear the Khalistani threat returning to Punjab with the proposed corridor.

Whether the corridor becomes a harbinger in bringing the derailed Indo-Pak talks back on track not is for the two governments to decide. But, one thing is for sure, the Kartarpur corridor presents a rare example where religion poses the possibility to unite two divided countries.

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In Madhya Pradesh’s tribal belt, ‘Indira Mai’ keeps Congress’ hope alive

Arti Ghargi

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tribal

Even three generations later, Indira Gandhi commands an unparalleled respect among the tribal population of Madhya Pradesh.

 

The polling for the Madhya Pradesh Assembly Election will be held on November 28. While the various political leaders including Congress President Rahul Gandhi and BJP President Amit Shah are trying hard to ace the ‘I-Am-More-Hindu-than-you’ race, the real path to the state’s Vidhan Sabha passes through its vast tribal belt. In Madhya Pradesh, the tribal population accounts for 21% of the entire state population. It is also the highest tribal population in the country.

Electorally the tribal community is more significant and out of the total 230 assembly seats, 47 seats are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes. More than 50% of the state’s tribal population is concentrated in Dhar, Jhabua, and Mandla districts while Khargaon, Chhindwara, Seoni, Sidhi, Singrauli, and Shahdol districts have 30–50% population that is of tribes. According to the 2011 census, the Adivasi population in Madhya Pradesh was 73.34 million. There were 46 recognized Scheduled Tribes and three of them have been identified as “Special Primitive Tribal Groups” in the State.

Tribal

Gond tribe of Madhya Pradesh

Thus, it wasn’t much surprised when the current Chief Minister of the state Shivraj Singh Chauhan showered the community with promises of housing or even beat drums dancing with the community to woo their votes. Congress, on the other hand, promised the community of land rights. Rahul Gandhi even addressed a meeting of the Adivasi Ekta Parishad at the Ambedkar Stadium in Morena in October. Just in time for the election, the party also successfully managed to rope in former Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti national convener Hiralal Alawa to contest Manawar seat on Congress ticket.

The Tribals and BJP:

BJP which is widely considered as an upper caste party has been successful in bagging the tribal votes since last one decade. It was in 2003 assembly polls that the BJP won 67 SC/ST seats. In the 2008 assembly election, the BJP won 54 of these seats. In 2013, BJP performed exceedingly well on the SC/ST reserved seats. Out of total 47 ST seats, it emerged victorious on 31.

tribal

MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan campaigning in one of the tribal constituencies

A major part of BJP’s successful penetration in the tribal region has to be credited to its ideological parent RSS. The Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram played a significant role in diverting the tribal vote to BJP with their anti-conversion operation ahead of 2013 assembly elections. However, this time the fear of annulment of the SC/ST Act seems to have ricocheted in the minds of the tribal community. Despite the sops offered by the ‘Mama’ Shivraj Chouhan, the tribal belt has seemingly made up its mind to vote BJP out.

Congress trying to woo Tribals:

The Congress has sensed the anger among the Tribal community against the Shivraj Singh government. Even if the party manages to win 40 ST seats and 20 SC seats, it can easily have an edge over the BJP. The Congress manifesto also promises lease rights to Adivasis and nutrition allowance for most backward Adivasi groups being raised to ₹1,500 from the existing ₹1,000. For years, the tribal belt has remained Congress’ bastion though, after the decade-long rule of Digvijaya Singh as CM, the SC/ST community showed a significant shift towards the BJP. But the Congress is hopeful for the expected homecoming of the tribal voters in 2018 elections. The party has also used the ‘Indira’ card to woo the voters.

tribal

Tribal women turn up for Rahul Gandhi’s rally in Morena

The ‘Indira’ factor:

Almost a week ago, at a rally in Jhabua, Jyotiraditya Scindia was addressing the crowd. To the 7000 odd people who attended the rally he appealed to vote for the Congress describing it as “ye Indira Mai ki party hai (this is mother Indira Gandhi’s party).” The party realises that even three generations later, Indira Gandhi commands an unparalleled respect among the tribals.

tribal

Indira Gandhi temple in Khargaon

So much so that the tribals of Padalya village in Khargaon district worship her as ‘Indira Mai’. Moreover, the village has a temple of Indira Gandhi. Since the last 30 years, there has been not one day when the worshipping has stopped. Even today, the chants of ‘Goddess Mother Indira’ echo in the village. The temple was constructed after the death of Indira Gandhi in 1984.

Indira gandhi

Indira Gandhi addressing supporters after her 1980s victory. Image Source: Youth Congress twitter

While most of India remembers Emergency as the black chapter of the Indian Democracy, the tribals in this area swear by Indira Gandhi’s twenty-point programme. They say that the village got a high school, roads and electricity as part of Indira Gandhi’s’ twenty-point programme. She also helped to make these villages self-sufficient and to repay the loans. The inauguration of the temple was one of the most controversial affairs during 1988. What was remarkable that the inauguration was attended by 30,000 Adivasis.

Even three decades later, it is the ‘Indira Mai’ who has been able to keep the emotional connect between the Congress and Tribals.

tribal

Image Source: Web

Having witnessed the fierce and heated election campaign, it is to be seen who the tribals give their mandate to? What will prevail- Shivraj Mama’s sops or the devotion to Indira Mai?

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