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Pranab’s Mission Nagpur: Striking a blow for democracy

Was Mukherjee wrong in going to Nagpur, in breach of the beliefs and values he is known to have held dear all through his half-a-century-long political career?

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The images from Nagpur were, in the words of a Congressman, hard to digest. Here was Pranab Mukherjee, a dyed-in-the-wool secularist, who had spent a lifetime in the Congress party, then became the President of India with the responsibility of upholding its Constitution, sharing the platform with, and enjoying the hospitality of, a person — and the organisation he heads, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — espousing values and ideals that are the very antithesis of all he stood and strove for his entire life.

“You were part of the government that banned the RSS in 1975 and again in 1992. Don’t you think you should tell us what was evil about RSS then that it has become virtuous now?” asked a middle-level Congress leader of Mukherjee after his controversy-tinged visit to the headquarters of the Hindu-first outfit that is the ideological mentor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Many in the Congress party, including his own daughter, questioned the wisdom of the former head of state and elder statesman accepting an invitation from the organisation that has been a bete noire to the left-liberal-secular establishment. Not just the committed, but even concerned citizens, have been voicing their anguish at the creeping climate of hate and prejudice in the country and blamed the ideology of the RSS and its affiliated Sangh Parivar outfits for the systemic attacks on minorities and suppression of the voice of socially oppressed groups. Many have voiced fears that if such venom was allowed to spread, it might end up tearing up the multireligious, multiethnic and multicultural social fabric of India that makes the country so unique.

“Today we are confronted with a politics of hate that has swept large parts of our country….. Muslims live in fear of the shape of the next round of attacks, even as the rights of Dalits and Adivasis enshrined in the Constitution are being questioned,” read the flier distributed at the #NotInMyName protests across the country in April after the brutal violations of young girls, allegedly by elements with affiliations to Hindu nationalist groups.

In this atmosphere of growing polarisation stepped in the 83-year-old Mukherjee, bearding the lion in his own den as it were, ignoring appeals by some old cabinet and party colleagues. In a speech that was followed nationally on live television, Mukherjee said that the “soul of India resides in pluralism and tolerance” and “secularism and inclusion are a matter of faith for us”. He reminded the RSS rank and file who preached a Hindu supremacist ideology and whose founder considered Muslims and Christians as “invaders” that “the multiplicity of culture, faith and language is what makes India special” and “any attempt at defining our nationhood in terms of dogmas and identities of religion, region, hatred and intolerance will only lead to dilution of national identity”.

Was Mukherjee wrong in going to Nagpur, in breach of the beliefs and values he is known to have held dear all through his half-a-century-long political career? A peek into his thinking was available in his address in which he expressed anguish over how “manifestations of rage” were tearing apart the national fabric. He said a “dialogue is necessary not only to balance the competing interests but also to reconcile them… only through a dialogue can we develop the understanding to solve complex problems without an unhealthy strife within our polity”.

Dialogue and accommodation are the cornerstones of democratic functioning and their absence have often sounded the death knell of democracy. In the celebrated book “How Democracies Die”, Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt talk about how “extreme partisan division” in American democracy today — following the norm-breaking tenure of President Donald Trump — was being fuelled not just by policy differences between the Republicans and Democrats “but by deeper sources of resentment, including racial and religious differences” and was eroding the “guardrails of democracy”.

India today stands similarly at a crossroads, unprecedented perhaps in its 71-year history. As the national discourse becomes heated by the day, with a permissive social media often fanning the division and hatred between the two extreme partisan ideologies, the growing slugfest and the low level of the debate is leading to a gradual disillusionment with democracy among ordinary citizens, particularly the youth, who yearn for change and progress.

With the country headed towards what could be one of the bitterest elections in recent history, not only between sworn political rivals but between ideologies that are fundamentally at odds with each other in their national outlook and their very definition of who is an Indian, the partisan polemics over every issue and policy of national concern is eroding India’s fundamental unity. If India, an exemplar of democracy, were to fragment on religious or caste lines, analysts say it could have a devastating effect on the region and the rest of the world.

And that is perhaps why Mukherjee felt he had to step in to bridge the deepening chasm in the national discourse and plead for dialogue. Whether the canny former politician did it with any eye on the next elections — in politics, as Franklin Roosevelt said, nothing happens by accident — may not be known immediately, but to denounce his visit as self-serving and a betrayal is to lose sight of the fundamental tenets of democracy which the world has come to value in India.

“Messy as it may be, India’s political system may be credited with great achievements,” The Economist said in one of its recent columns referring to a Pew Global survey which found Indians to be less enthusiastic about democracy and more drawn towards having a strong leader or military rule than citizens of any other democracy surveyed. “It has helped hold a huge and almost impossibly diverse country together. It has kept the army out of power. And it has upheld civic freedoms that, for all their fragility, remain the envy of many of India’s neighbours.”

(The author is a veteran mediaperson. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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Women, Sabarimala temple and right to equality

The Sabarimala issue is not just about entry right to the women but now has become Religion Vs Fundamental Rights. In India, there are numbers of such issues which are still keeping the females deprived of rights.

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Ages back the women folks were exploited and the same is happening in modern times. Hinduism abolished Sati — a female was forced to be burnt alive in the pyre of her husband. Raja Ram Mohan Roy started a campaign against it and it came to an end. But has this changed brought much change in the lives of the women folk in the present times!

Sabarimala temple is Ayyappa temple situated in the Sabarimal region in Kerala. Here the females of age 10 to 50 are not allowed to enter due to the menstruation problem. There has been a lot of hues and cry over this issue.

Legal battle:

In 1991, this boycott to temple section for ladies was tested under the steady gaze of the Kerala High Court in S. Mahendran Vs The Secretary, Travancore case. Kerala High court decided for the preclusion of ladies entering the temple and asserted that these confinements have existed since time immemorial and not unfair to the Constitution. This request of the High Court was executed and pursued for the following 15 years. In 2006, the boycott was tested by the Public Interest Litigation recorded by the Young Lawyers Association with the Supreme Court, asserting that rule 3(b) of Kerala Hindu places of Public worship (Authorisation of entry) Rules 1965 that states, “women who are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship shall not be entitled to enter or offer worship in any place of public worship” is infringement of established standards of equality, non-discrimination and religious opportunity. On April 25, 2016, the representative lawyer of the Devaswom, K.K Venugopal stated: “There is a sensible grouping by which certain classes of women are excluded”. Supreme Court was concerned regarding the statement if menstruation was associated with purity of women. The case was then assigned to the Constitution Bench by the Supreme Court.

In 2018, Justice Dipak Misra, The Chief Justice of India, while addressing to the PIL, put a query to the temple’s management over denying passage to women. The case was heard by a constitution bench headed by Justice Misra alongside Justices Rohinton Nariman, Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra. The court held that Sabarimala pilgrims couldn’t be a different group or religious division. The traditions are subjected to sacred legitimacy and preclusion of ladies passage to temple infringing upon the Fundamental Rights. Justice Chandrachud claimed, “Your entitlement to implore as a lady isn’t subject to any law, it is a constitutional right”. He additionally included that notice issued under the standards recommending the age restrictions on ladies entry as “discretionary on its essence”.

In the year 2012, a similar campaign like that of Sabarimala temple was launched by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) & Bhumata Brigade to offer prayers at the Haji Ali Dargah. It is the resting place of Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari on the islet of Mumbai coast. This shrine is 585 years old. The Haji Ali Dargah is administered by the Haji Ali Dargah Trust a public charitable trust enrolled under the Maharashtra Public Trust Act. The trustees of the Dargah had chosen to deny ladies access to the grave area in 2011, calling the un-Islamic. It had expressed that it was redressing it’s earlier misstep of enabling ladies to touch the actual grave. The argument by the petitioner was that the Muslims deprive their women to equal rights, they keep them suppressed and the women folks don’t have a right to raise their voice in Islam.

On 26 August 2016, Bombay High Court decided that women to be allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum. Even the Supreme Court sealed the verdict of Bombay High Court and the women were allowed to enter the shrine sacred area on 29 November 2016. This was welcomed by all the people across India. It was stated that now the Muslim women have got their rights which were deprived of them since the advent of Islam.

Similarly, the Supreme Court has ordered that the women should be allowed in the Sabarimala temple and the old practice should be done away with.

In the case of Sabarimala temple, various Hindu groups are not accepting the decision of the Supreme Court and want a revision of the judgment. The present day’s ruling party Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) is backing the agitation against the judgment.

Are the women not suppressed now by going against their right to enter the temple? It is not an insult to the highest court of law in India? The law of the land is above the ruling class or any religion but the BJP and other Hindu organizations are adamant for rather they are trying to show strength through mass gathering against the judgment.

Is this the respect to the law of the land?

Declaimer: The views are the sole discretion of the author...
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Climate change will worsen disparities, may increase support for Naxals: Report

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Bengaluru, Oct 16 : As the effects of climate change on livelihoods become more pronounced, especially for people involved in agriculture and fishing in South and South-East Asia, support for rebel groups and the Naxalite movement is likely to shoot up, according to a new report.

There is evidence that climate change will worsen socio-economic and political disparity in the region as those in power will get to decide who gets the limited resources and how much, the report, co-authored by researchers Pernilla Nordqvist and Florian Krampe while working for the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), has said.

“The climate-conflict linkage primarily plays out in contexts that are already vulnerable to climate change and violence, and where income is highly dependent on agriculture and fishing,” Nordqvist told IndiaSpend in an email.

Human activities have already caused warming of 1 degree Celsius as compared to pre-industrial times, according to the latest report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). By 2030, or latest by mid-century, global warming is likely to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Close to 2.5 billion people live in South and South-East Asia, where poverty rates have been declining substantially, thanks to years of strong economic growth in countries such as India. However, the region is also prone to the fallouts of climate change, with glaciers in the Himalayas melting and several island-countries facing rising sea levels. Floods, cyclones, heat waves and droughts are now a frequent occurrence and are expected to intensify in the coming years.

“The region is highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change and also has a recent history of political violence,” Krampe told IndiaSpend.

Nordqvist and Krame examined 2,000 peer-reviewed studies on the relationship between climate change and conflict and narrowed down on 21 of the most authoritative works for their report, which was published in September 2018.

Their findings from India show that rebel groups and government forces both find recruitment easier when drought is around the corner.

The IPCC report also adds that climate-related risks to livelihoods, food security, health, water supply and human security are projected to increase as the planet warms by 1.5 degrees. With a 2-degree rise, the risks will intensify.

In some areas affected by the Naxalite conflict, the worsening of livelihood conditions has been related to the increased intensity of ongoing civil conflicts. During a drought, or a potential drought, there is an increased risk that rebels and government actors recruit or cooperate with civilians in exchange for livelihood and provision of food.

Naxalites could use climate-related events to gain power in an ongoing conflict, and rebel groups more generally could increase their use of violence against civilians to ensure their groups’ food security, according to the report.

“They violently remove local farmers from their land to ensure enough cropland and agricultural supplies for their own use. The risk of violence seems especially high in rural areas, where government control is scarce and the local population is dependent on the support or protection of rebels or other armed actors,” Nordqvist said.

As climate change pushes up migration, it introduces the possibility of riots in urban areas over resources, the report said. Highlighting the case of riots in Tripura in northeastern India, it said the effects will be most felt in areas where there are already low levels of socio-political stability.

“Many of the climate change problems are trans-national. The Brahmaputra, for example, flows through three countries and is seeing frequent flooding. There is no question that countries will need to cooperate and tensions like the ones between countries India and Pakistan will make this difficult,” Krampe said.

There is some research on the relationship between climate change and conflict in countries such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, the report said, adding that there is little understanding of how climate change could be driving conflict in places such as Afghanistan and Myanmar.

Elsewhere in South-East Asia, in some coastal areas of Indonesia the reduced income opportunities from fishing have been linked to a rise in piracy-related activities.

But the impact does not end there.

In Pakistan, for instance, the Islamist group Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD) was able to increase its stronghold in Sindh province after the group participated in relief activities following extreme floods.

The IPCC report also warns that those living along coasts and populations dependent on agriculture will be the worst hit by climate change, which will push up poverty rates in coastal areas and in developing countries.

However, “Not everyone affected by climate change will join a rebel group but this also relates to the failure of the governments to respond to disasters,” Krampe said.

At the same time, not all areas will see conflict in the face of climate change. Some might even see a greater cooperation in the aftermath of a natural disaster. These regional dynamics are evolving, however, and their contours will only become clearer with time.

(In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform. Disha Shetty is a Columbia Journalism School-IndiaSpend reporting fellow. The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend. Feedback at [email protected])

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Higher food prices jack up India’s September wholesale inflation

“The prevailing market price for most kharif crops at major mandis has remained lower than the MSP, suggesting procurement hasn’t picked up.”

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New Delhi, Oct 15 : India’s inflation rate based on wholesale prices accelerated 5.13 per cent on year in September, from a 4.53 per cent increase in August, as prices of primary articles and food items rose, official data showed here on Monday.

In September last year, the WPI had stood at 3.14 per cent.

“The annual rate of inflation, based on monthly WPI, stood at 5.13 per cent (provisional) for the month of September, 2018 (over September, 2017), as compared to 4.53 per cent (provisional) for the previous month and 3.14 per cent during the corresponding month of the previous year,” the Ministry of Commerce and Industry said.

“Build up inflation rate in the financial year so far was 3.87 per cent compared to a build up rate of 1.50 per cent in the corresponding period of the previous year.”

On a sequential basis, the expenses on primary articles, which constitute 22.62 per cent of the WPI’s total weightage, rose 2.97 per cent, from a decline of 0.15 per cent in August.

Similarly, the prices of food articles rose. The category has a weightage of 15.26 per cent in the WPI index.

The cost of fuel and power, which commands a 13.15 per cent weightage, increased at a slower pace of 16.65 per cent from a growth of 17.73 per cent.

The expenses on manufactured products registered a rise of 4.22 per cent from 4.43 per cent.

On a year-on-year (YoY) basis, onion prices declined by 7.88 per cent, whereas potatoes became dearer by 68.81 per cent.

In contrast, the overall vegetable prices in September rose by 39.41 per cent, against a rise of 41.05 per cent in the same month a year ago.

Further, the data revealed that wheat became dearer by 6.09 per cent on a YoY basis while prices of pulses were up 0.74 per cent, though paddy became expensive by 2.03 per cent.

The prices of protein-based food items such as eggs, meat and fish went up marginally by 0.83 per cent.

The price of high-speed diesel rose by 11.88 per cent on a YoY basis, petrol by 10.41 per cent and LPG by 17.04 per cent.

“The WPI inflation for September 2018 revealed a negative surprise, printing 30 basis points higher than our forecast. Moreover, a lagged correction in the sub-index for crude oil is likely to result in the revised print for this month, exceeding the initial 5.1 per cent,” said Aditi Nayar, Principal economist, ICRA.

“The considerable uptick in the YoY WPI inflation in September 2018 relative to the previous month was driven by primary food and non-food items and minerals, whereas the other major indices recorded a sequential dip, partly driven by the base effect.”

According to Devendra Kumar Pant, Chief Economist and Senior Director (Public Finance), India Ratings and Research, “The prevailing market price for most kharif crops at major mandis has remained lower than the MSP, suggesting procurement hasn’t picked up.”

“The future inflation trajectory would depend on the response of mandi prices with respect of new MSP, and the movement of crude oil price and value of currency.”

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