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Atal Bihari Vajpayee: The Gentle Colossus

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Atal Behari Vajpayee

In passing away of Atal Behari Vajpayee, India lost its one of the tallest leader and a statesman. He was a democrat and nationalist to the core apart from being an orator par excellence and a poet. Vajpayee was for BJP what Pandit Nehru was for the Indian National Congress. Vajpayee’s only sin was that he moulded the early BJP as a secular and a socialist legatee of the Janata party which came into existence in 1977 to oppose Mrs Indira Gandhi.

He had also opposed the Ram Mandir movement and it was Advani who was the RSS’s first choice for Prime Minister for the 1996 elections. But it was Advani who in November 1995 in Bombay announced Vajpayee as the prime ministerial candidate – to the astonishment of those present on the stage. It also took RSS by surprise but from then on, Vajpayee never turned back becoming Prime Minister in 1996, 1998, and in 1999 – while Advani withdrew to being his deputy.

The close friends and family members used to call him “Baap ji” and the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once addressed him as the “Bhishm Pitamah” of Indian politics. Vajpayee was a gentle colossus among the contemporary politicians and there were few among Indian leaders who attained the respect which he did. Journalists and newsmen all over the world do without salutations in addressing a politician but Vajpayee Ji was an exception and “Ji” became an integral part of his name.

“This young man would one day become the Prime Minister of India” said Pandit Nehru about Vajpayee. Nehru’s prophecy did come true decades later in 1996 when Vajpayee occupied the coveted post. Vajpayee was elected 11 times for Loksabha and twice for the Rajya Sabha and remained a Member of Parliament for 47 years.

In 1977, he became the External Affairs Minister under Morarji Desai and when he entered the office of Ministry of External Affairs in the South Block, he found the usual portrait of Jawaharlal Nehru missing from its spot in the ministerial chamber, removed in an excess of zeal by functionaries to please the new rulers. Though a lifelong critic of Congress, he wanted it back on its original spot. That was the persona of Vajpayee – a great heartedness as he embraced even those with whom he disagreed.

Image result for morarji desai atal bihari vajpayee

Pro-India; anti-Indira: (From left) Jagjivan Ram, Morarji Desai, Ashok Mehta, Chandrasekhar and Atal Bihari Vajpayee | Pramod Pushkarna. “

According to a popular legend, once Henry Kissinger asked Chou-en-Lai in 1972 what he thought of the impact of French Revolution on Western civilization. Apparently, Chou thought about it for a minute and then turned to Kissinger and said: “It is too soon to tell.” Something like that could well be said about the legacy of Vajpayee, India’s first BJP Prime Minister and also the first non Congress leader to complete a full tenure.

He had the distinction of being the first head of nation to address the United Nations in Hindi. He ran a coalition Govt of 24 parties in one of the most chaotic times in the country and provided not just stable but very efficient governance. His coalition partners in ideology were as diverse as chalk and cheese but it was to his credit that he kept his flock together despite extreme provocations.

When Jayalalitha pulled the carpet under his feet, he refused to opt for the customary horse trading and lost the confidence motion by just 1 vote. He took integrity and probity to a level which was unheard of in the Indian politics. He was also the best performing parliamentarian for over 5 decades and was a true Bharat Ratna on all counts.

His stewardship of economic reform and his skilled management of unruly coalition made his 6 year tenure as a Prime Minister a memorable one. But more than these accomplishments, Vajpayee should be remembered for the way in which he achieved them. Judged on most parameters, Vajpayee was a great Prime Minister.

He continued the policies of economic liberalisation initiated by Narsimha Rao and as a result economy flourished during his reign. He took the historic trip to Lahore by Bus to break the ice with Pakistan but unfortunately it was followed by their usual betrayal in the form of Kargil war. His summit with President Musharraf at Agra also ended in a fiasco but Vajpayee improved India’s relations with US, Russia, China and most of other important nations.

He was a great consensus-builder and worked closely with the opposition, avoided political invectives and endeavoured to bring all Indians and not just Hindus to bring them together in harmony. After the Pokhran-II nuclear test of May 1998 and the victory in Kargil, India began to be taken seriously as an emerging Asian power. It was under Prime Minister Vajpayee that the old hyphenation of India-Pakistan ended and a new one like India-China emerged on the global scene.

Vajpayee’s legacy remains in doubt as people forget that for all his charisma, he began his career as a hard-core Sanghi and made his reputation in the great Hindi debates of the Sixties, demanding that all of India should embrace Hindi, his mother tongue.

Vajpayee only began to mellow in the Seventies when experience convinced him that there is no place for divisive politics in India. From then on, he lost interest in the agitation for Hindi language and more significantly also moved away from the hardliner Hindus-first politics of Jan Sangh. By doing this, he alienated most of his old colleagues and earned the ire of the RSS.

After the BJP was almost wiped out during Congress landslide victory of 1984, the RSS looked around for alternatives and it found one in Vajpayee’s old lieutenant LK Advani, who abandoned the liberal approach that he too had once espoused, and pushed the concept of RSS. Advani undertook a Rath yatra through most of North India in an effort to whip up the communal tensions and weaponise Hinduism.

Vajpayee had no option but to distance himself altogether from his protege Advani’s movement. But when the BJP seemed like it had a chance of finally coming to power, the RSS also conceded that it was only Vajpayee who could attract the potential allies.

We think of Vajpayee as a strong Prime minister but that was only because he always remained calm and composed and seldom let the tensions show. RSS continued to push its own agenda and was not happy with Vajpayee’s politics and propped up Advani as a rival power centre. The allies in coalition Govt were difficult to handle but somehow, Vajpayee made it all seem easy.

From then on, the BJP should have continued as a centre-right party as even Advani suddenly turned into a liberal and visited Pakistan to sing paeans in support of MA Jinnah. But that was not to be and the BJP went back to her Hindu-centric ideology that Advani had once espoused much to the delight of RSS. Only, this time around, the shift to a muscular Hindutva was so extreme that even a hardliner like Advani began to seem like a lily-livered secularist in comparison.

Related image

Lal Krishan Advani lays a flower wreath at the mausoleum of Mohammed Ali Jinnah

From BJP’s point of view, Vajpayee’s greatest achievement was that he took a party that had once been a political pariah, brought it into the mainstream and acceptable to the electorates.

In many ways, it is as if the Vajpayee Prime minister ship with its consensus-building and taking everyone in confidence never happened. Sometimes it seems that the BJP moved directly from the destruction of the Babri Masjid to the dominance of the ideology that celebrated the demolition. So, it will be pertinent to say, Vajpayee was a great Prime Minister. But what will India remember as his legacy? As Chou-en-Lai might have said, “It’s too soon to tell”.

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Influencers manipulating social media in India, Indian IT Act silent

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Sting operation: Bollywood celebs

New Delhi, Feb 20 (IANS) If the Cobrapost investigation which revealed that several Bollywood celebrities were willing to pass views of political parties as personal opinion for money shook your conscience, but there is not much that you could do to restrict them from doing so because the relevant Indian law is silent on this matter.

The investigation revealed that more than 30 Indian film and TV industry actors/artistes agreed to spread the propaganda of political parties through their social media accounts for money.

“Taking money for tweeting on behalf of political parties is definitely unethical, but it is not illegal. The Information Technology Act, 2000 is completely silent on this,” Pavan Duggal, one of the nation’s top cyber law experts, told IANS.

What the investigation unearthed was just the tip of the iceberg. The rise in popularity of social media platforms actually opened up a relatively new advertising economy driven by “influencer marketing”.

Marketing firm Mediakix estimated that influencer marketing on Instagram alone could reach $2 billion by the end of this year from $1 billion in 2017.

While Instagram has over a billion monthly active users globally, its parent company Facebook has over 2.3 billion monthly active users and over 16 million people log in to Twitter every day. WhatsApp is another powerful platform which has over 200 million users in India.

The kind of reach that these social media platforms have can offer some idea about how big the influencer marketing business could be. Important here to mention is that it is not just celebrities who are the stars in this game.

While celebrities with huge following running into millions on social media are known as macro influencers, even some people with small number of followers can earn big sum of money as influencers. They are known as micro influencers.

With a wide array of social media analytics tool available online it is not even difficult to spot the right influencers for their advertising programmes.

“In the starting, celebrities were used as influencers for brand endorsement and marketing purposes, however, after social media, now everyone is a celebrity and everything is business including politics,” social media expert Anoop Mishra said.

In countries like the US, it is mandatory to put proper disclosure on paid posts. But only a few follow the rules.

In India, due to lack of user awareness, it is even more difficult distinguish between a paid post and personal opinion.

With the elections coming, political parties are not complaining much. A top WhatsApp executive recently even warned political parties against abusing its platform.

“More than 10,000 official WhatsApp groups have been created by a leading political party to slam its rivals on social media,” Mishra said.

“Political discourse is going to be impacted by social media influencers. There is no two opinion about it,” Duggal said, adding that the consequences of this can be very serious as social media platforms are being used to create a highly-polarised atmosphere in the country.

Just as social media companies have come up with transparency rules for political ads, they should have similar features for influencers so that people can distinguish between commercial space and personal space.

“Manipulation of social media platform for personal gain must be brought under the ambit of law without putting barriers on free speech,” Duggal added.

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Manipur student activist released on bail by Imphal court

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Veewon Thokchom

Imphal, Feb 19 (IANS) A court here on Tuesday granted bail to Manipuri student activist Veewon Thokchom, who was arrested from Delhi on charges of sedition.

The court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Imphal west, where Thokchom was produced after brought from Delhi, turned down the police plea for his custody and released him on furnishing a bond of Rs 30,000.

Thokchom’s lawyer Meihoubam Rakesh said that his client, who was preparing for examinations in Delhi, was arrested on February 15 by a combined Delhi and Imphal police team. According to his family members, he was not even given time to wear his slippers.

A former president of the Manipur Students’ Association Delhi and now an adviser, Thokchom had opposed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which had been passed by the Lok Sabha on January 8. Recalling the mass agitations in Manipur on June 18, 2001 during which 18 persons including a woman had died, he had contended in a Facebook post that if the bill is passed by Parliament, the state’s people may renew demands for self-determination.

There had been demands from various students’ bodies to release Thokchom or face intensified protests from the students and people.

Some time back, the BJP-led state government had arrested Kishorechandra Wangkhem, an anchor with a local cable channel, on charges of sedition.

A local court was of view that that the offence he was charged with was not seditious and ordered his release. However police arrested him at the court’s door and detained him under the National Security Act for one year.

Massive protests from the media circles in India and abroad have been of no avail.

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Pulwama Attack: Terror gets a quantum Jump in Kashmir Under Modi

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suicide attack in Kashmir

In one of the most barbaric and brutal attacks, 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed in a car-bomb explosion triggered by a lone wolf named Adil Ahmad, also known as “Adil Ahmad Gaadi Takranewala” and “Waqas Commando of Gundibagh” in South Kashmir’s Pulwama on Thursday, 14 February.

The ferocity of the terror attack far exceeded even the Uri attack of 18 September 2016, in which four heavily armed terrorists targeted an Army brigade headquarters, killing 19 soldiers. This was clearly, the worst ever terror attack in lat twenty years in the Kashmir valley.

Both the Uri and Pulwama attacks were said to have been carried out by Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed, which has subsequently taken the responsibility for this heinous attack on the CRPF convoy in Pulwama. This was one of the most audacious attacks and it established the fact that the Jaish-e-Mohammed is still very active and holds the capability of carrying out an attack of such a scale. It also reflects the failure of Modi government’s Kashmir policy much more than even the Uri strike.

While carrying out much criticised demonetisation on 8th Nov, 2016, Mr Modi cited checking terrorism in Kashmir valley as one of its objectives . But that never happened. On contrary, the terrorism received an unprecedented fillip post demonetisation. Modi Govt in a reply to the Lok Sabha admitted that terror incidents in Jammu and Kashmir have increased by 261 % in the last five years – from lowly 170 incidents in 2013 to a mind-boggling 614 incidents in 2018.

There were two key moments related to major spikes in terror incidents: In 2016, when Hizbul Mujahedeen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani was gunned down in an encounter and again in 2018 when the no of local youth joining the terror outfits surpassed the record level from 16 in 2013 to 191 in 2018, an increase of nearly 1093%.

Now let us find out where Modi Govt went wrong. The problem lies in the way it tackles this decades old problem not as a political, but as a battlefield for some kind of ideological war. The BJP’s policies on Kashmir are guided by its desire to fulfill its ideologue Syama Prasad Mukherjee’s unfinished mission of establishing their rule in the Valley.

This was quite evident in their attitude towards capturing power in the state. They initially pushed Mufti Mohammad Sayeed into a corner to force him for an alliance and later on showed the same brinkmanship to make his daughter and successor Mehbooba Mufti to fall in line. Eventually, she also walked out from the coalition which left Mr Modi no choice but to impose the President’s Rule in the state.

This was diametrically opposite to what Vajpayee government did. The actions taken by the then NDA Govt resulted in fostering a PDP-Congress alliance government led by Mufti Sayeed in 2002.This was said to be one of the few phases in the violent history of Kashmir when the state experienced a relative calm. The intransigence of BJP government under Modi has led to a disastrous Kashmir policy that has nullified whatever goodwill the New Delhi had achieved in Kashmir since 2002.

In the 2014 J & K assembly elections, the highest turnout in Kashmir in last over 25 years was recorded. The increase in voting was more perceptible in the South Kashmir constituencies that have historically seen low turnouts, mainly due to boycott calls by the separatists. The other element which added to this increase in voter’s turnout was the reaction of majority Kashmiri Muslims to the aggressive campaigning by the BJP in the Valley. Kashmiris were apprehensive of BJP’s intention of abrogating the article 370 and felt that their identity as a special status would be in danger if the BJP came to power in the state.

In fact, there were several voters in the valley who came out to vote for the first time since the 1987 elections, which were heavily rigged by most accounts. However, this anti-BJP mood in Kashmir was squandered by the PDP when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed opted to form a government in the state in alliance with BJP.

This must have given a huge setback to the local Kashmiris because soon after this coalition Govt came in power, the increase in local youth joining the ranks of militants began. It just can’t be a coincidence that the PDP’s areas of influence in South Kashmir shortly emerged as the main hub of militancy.

Most of the top militants of the past few years hailed from South Kashmir – Burhan Wani from Tral in Pulwama district, Riyaz Naikoo from Awantipora in Pulwama district, Saddam Padder from Heff in Shopian district and even Ali Ahmad Dar, who carried out fidayeen attack on the CRPF personnel, from Kakpora, also in Pulwama.

Most of the young men from South Kashmir who joined the ranks of militancy, hailed from pro-Jamaat-e-Islami families. Interestingly, in the past, Jamaat is said to have had a tactical understanding with the PDP. In both the 2002 and 2008 Assembly elections, Jamaat cadres were said to have ignored the boycott calls and came out and voted for the PDP but the alliance of PDP with the BJP ruptured the PDP’s traditional ties with Jamaat and alienated its supporters across the Valley. Therefore, when the extremely popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter in 2016, the PDP’s implosion accelerated dramatically.

Soon, a cycle of violence and mayhem began – protests, crackdown by security forces resulting in civilian casualties and sparking more protests. Every civilian casualty and pellet injury created further resentment from central Govt among an average Kashmiri which in turn resulted in more youth joining the militancy. The locals which earlier provided the helping hand to the security forces in its drive against militants stopped doing that and in process, PDP’s credibility nose-dived.
One of the crucial fallouts of this alienation deprived security forces of the human intelligence network almost entirely comprised of local Kashmiris. This breakdown in human intelligence is probably one of the reasons why security forces have become sitting ducks for attacks like the one we just witnessed in Pulwama on the Valentine ’s Day.

It appears, the government has learnt no lessons even after the Pulwama attack as most of its reactions are based on its flawed view of Kashmir. Take for instance MoS in the PMO, Jitendra Singh, who chose to attack NC and PDP, the mainstream political parties of Kashmir, which are perhaps the only set of well-wishers of some importance New Delhi has in Kashmir.

The problem of Modi government is it cannot differentiate between its political opponents and threats to national security. This is the reason; it has been unable to stop the rise of militancy in Kashmir in the past five years. The same is true for its inability to differentiate between Kashmiri civilians and the terrorists. It won’t be an understatement, if we say that armed forces personnel and the civilians in Kashmir are paying with their lives for this disastrous and flawed handling of Kashmir crisis by Modi Govt.

(DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.)

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