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Is Congress trying to be a better BJP?

Arti Ghargi

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Congress

If the Congress accuses BJP of communalising the society, then what Congress is doing along the caste lines is not any different from what BJP has been doing so far. 

Several states across India on April 2 witnessed bloodied Bharat Bandh protests. The protestors opposing the recent amendments introduced by the Supreme Court in SC/ST Act turned violent torching factories, cars and several other vehicles. The violence grew so much that a child was hit & injured by lathis by the protesters in Muzaffarpur’s Maripur area. The violence left as much as 10 people dead. While the Dalit outrage was at its peak, the government was drawing criticism from all the corners of the nation.

The SC/ST Act amendment issue has turned out to be a golden card for the opposition especially Congress who is trying every possible way to cash on it. The Dalit outrage seems to have come to the front of the country’s politics again with even BJP not failing to mention its support to the community in every major speech. A closer look at all of the recent developments raises the question, is Congress turning into another BJP?

BJP and communalism:

BJP has always been accused of using communalism as a tool to polarise the society to build its vote bank. The party leadership does not forget to assert the Hardline Hindutva ideology ahead of every election. Last year, during the UP Assembly Election, Prime Minister Modi at a rally in Fatehpur on February 19, accused the ruling Samajwadi Party of spending crores on constructing boundary walls around cemeteries while neglecting Hindu crematoriums. Recently, UP CM stoked controversy asking the Karnataka people to make a choice between those who worship Hanuman and those who worship Tipu Sultan. There are countless such examples. While appealing its Hindu majority vote bank, it portrays the opposition Congress as Anti-right, Anti-Hindu and Pro-Muslim.

 

Congress and Caste Politics:

While BJP depends on division along religious lines to build its vote bank, Congress, on the other hand, is countering it with more divisiveness- using the caste politics. During Gujarat Assembly election, the Congress weaved a caste alliance of Hardik Patel(Patidar), Alpesh Thakore(OBC) and Jignesh Mewani (Dalit) to take on the incumbent BJP which was ruling the state for 22 years. Though BJP won the elections, the Caste alliances paid off for Congress as the party improved its tally with impressive numbers.

Repeating the same strategy in Karnataka, the party supported the separate religion demand of Lingayat community-which is a powerful community in the state, both-socially and politically.

Continuing on the same line, the focus is on the Dalits where the party is invoking the legacy of Ambedkar. The party’s support for the Bharat Bandh protest and a day-long fast to protest the Dalit atrocities is a step further in the direction to consolidate the Dalit votes in favour of the party.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Bandh protest, tweeted, “To keep Dalits at the lowest notch of Indian society is in the DNA of RSS/BJP. Those who challenge this thinking are hit by violence. Thousands of Dalit brother-sister are taking it to the streets today seeking to protect their rights from the Modi government. We salute them.”

It is clear that Congress is trying to assert a picture of BJP as Anti-Dalit and Anti-Minority.

The divisive politics is not new to Indian political sphere; be it division along religious lines, caste lines or linguistic lines.

If the Congress accuses BJP of communalising the society, then what Congress is doing along the caste lines is not any different from what BJP has been doing so far

Is Congress turning into BJP?

Since the Gujarat Assembly Elections, Congress went under major revamping. This revamped Congress has rigorously been trying to shed the image created by the opposition. However, in the process of doing so, the party is following the lines of BJP. The soft Hindutva approach is one of the examples.

Late last year, just ahead of Gujarat Assembly Elections, Congress started its rigorous campaigning in Modi’s home state. While attacking Modi’s Gujarat model was the strategy of Congress, the core strategy also included wiping out its own party image as an Anti-Hindu party. The temple run that followed has not stopped since then. As the state of Karnataka stands on the edge of Assembly elections in the upcoming month of May, the Congress party is trying to reinforce its image as a pro-Hindu party. Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat asserted his Hindu identity as Janeu-dhari Hindu while in Karnataka Siddaramaiah started asserting his Hindu identity recalling the “Ram” in his name. All this quest is to appease the moderate Hindus while still holding onto the Dalits.

However, between the race for raising the vote bank on the religious and caste lines, the ‘Vikas’ seems to have lost the path. The Gujarat Assembly Election had shown a ray of hope bringing the development issue in the light again, but as the Karnataka Assembly elections are nearing, the election discourse is back to revolve around communal and caste politics. Meanwhile, the people are still waiting for the ‘Vikas’!

Opinion

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

Image source: Web

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

Image Source: Web

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

Image Source: Web

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

Image Source: Web

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:

Image Source: Web

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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