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Rise of regional leaders in Congress

In contrast, Siddaramaiah has kept pace with Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s electioneering with both public appearances and a regular recourse to tweets which are characterised by humour as well as biting sarcasm.

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Siddaramaiah Rahul

Irrespective of the outcome of the Karnataka elections and notwithstanding Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s desire to retire after the polls, a feature of the contest in the southern state is his emergence as a major state-level leader.

As a result, the battle is being perceived as being mainly between Siddaramaiah and Narendra Modi if only because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief ministerial candidate, B.S. Yeddyurappa, has been almost completely overshadowed by the Prime Minister’s intensive campaign since May 1.

In contrast, Siddaramaiah has kept pace with Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s electioneering with both public appearances and a regular recourse to tweets which are characterised by humour as well as biting sarcasm.

For the Congress, this rise of a regional leader marks a return to the immediate post-1947 period when the party had a number of top-ranking local leaders despite the presence of towering personalities at the Centre like Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and others.

The co-existence of influential leaders at both the Centre and in the states gave way in Indira Gandhi’s time to a concentration of power in Delhi with the regional leaders reduced to being mere supplicants rather than representing considerable authority as, for instance, B.C. Roy once did in West Bengal or Pratap Singh Kairon in Punjab or Govind Ballabh Pant in Uttar Pradesh or Morarji Desai in Bombay.

The reason for the marginalisation of the regional leaders was largely ascribed to Indira Gandhi’s disinclination to allow any charismatic local Congressman to acquire a sizable base in his home province and become a rival centre of power.

The diminution of the stature of local leaders was accompanied by the increasing dominance of the party’s first family, which reached its highest point during the Emergency when Indira was deemed synonymous with India by the Congress president, D.K. Barooah.

Arguably, this pattern of politics with only one focal point has begun to change in the Congress. The first sign of this transformation was in Punjab last year where Amrinder Singh emerged as the No.1 figure both before and after the party’s electoral success. That he did so despite having once made disparaging remarks about Rahul Gandhi showed how the “high command” had matured since Indira Gandhi’s time or had come to terms with its own diminishing status.

Now, the battle in Karnataka has given an opportunity to Siddaramaiah to acquire a stature similar to Amrinder Singh’s. Moreover, there is no tension this time between Delhi and Bengaluru as in Punjab earlier when there was even speculation about Amrinder Singh leaving the Congress.

It will be futile to deny that the increasing visibility of the state-level leaders is related to the dimming of the dynasty’s aura. At the same time, the BJP’s ascendency has apparently made the Congress realise that the earlier style of politics with a concentration of power at the Centre will not work.

Just as the Congress is trying to change the perception of being a “Muslim party”, to use Sonia Gandhi’s words, it is also becoming accustomed to the idea of giving a free hand to the local satraps. The leeway given to Amrinder Singh was the first step and now it is Siddaramaiah’s turn to operate as he pleases.

It goes without saying that this new approach will do a world of good to the party. Fortunately, it has in Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia young, personable and energetic leaders in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh who are capable of delivering the goods in the assembly elections later this year.

It is the Congress’s misfortune that several prominent state leaders like Y.S. Rajshekara Reddy, Madhavrao Scindia and Rajesh Pilot died early. Otherwise, the process of a more even distribution of power between the Centre and the states might have begun earlier.

At the moment, the party is trying to evolve a balance between the younger generation and the elderly leaders if only to make the handing over of the baton a smooth affair. Nowhere is this effort more evident than in Madhya Pradesh where the party has always had more than a normal share of heavyweights.

Thus, the 71-year-old Kamal Nath, who was once close to Sanjay Gandhi, has been nominated as the party’s chief in the state while 47-year-old Scindia has become the head of the campaign committee. What this balancing act means is that the question of who will become the Chief Minister in case the Congress wins has been left open.

It is the same in Rajasthan since the former Chief Minister, 68-year-old Ashok Gehlot, has been elevated to the position of a General Secretary of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in charge of the organisation and the training of cadres while the 51-year-old Sachin Pilot remains the chief of the party’s state unit.

There is little doubt, however, that the generational shift evident in Rahul Gandhi’s ascent to the Congress president’s post is paving the way for the younger leaders to gain more prominence. But it remains to be seen whether their rise will put an end to the unequal relations as in Indira Gandhi’s time between the high command and the state units.

By : Amulya Ganguli

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])

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Death of Tuticorin protestors brings focus back on Vedanta’s environment violations

During this ten-year-period, The Wire said, it had also given political contributions to the Congress and BJP — donations that were held to be in violation of India’s Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act by the Delhi high court.

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Tuticorin protestors

Chennai, May 25 (IANS) The death of 13 anti-Sterlite Copper protestors in the police firing in Tuticorin has worsened the situation, focussing the limelight on its parent company Vedanta’s environmental violations.

Vedanta has said that it has followed the law at its copper smelter plant on pollution, but environmentalists and other activists point to major unresolved issues at Tuticorin. They also point to several other instances of violations in the past where Vedanta was involved.

“The protest and the killing of 13 persons in the police firing will make it difficult for the Sterlite Copper’s smelter plant (owned by Vedanta Ltd) to function again,” Nityanand Jayaraman, writer and social activist told IANS adding that “the death of 13 persons would not go in vain.”

Others are seeking permanent closure of the plant. “We have seen closure and reopening of the plant earlier. Till a permanent closure is announced, protests against the smelter plant would continue,” S.Raja of the traders association youth wing in Tuticorin told IANS over phone.

Even Chief Minister K.Palaniswami has said that the government is against the functioning of the copper smelter plant. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has directed the plant not to commence production or operation without its consent. The power supply to the plant has been disconnected.

Activists and media reports say Vedanta has often overlooked the legal requirements in many cases. The Wire this week carried a story on how protests have dogged the company for several years. “From 2000 to 2010, the company’s alumina and bauxite mining operations in Lanjigarh district and the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha sparked widespread protests and cemented Vedanta’s reputation as an egregious polluter and offender of tribal and human rights,” the news portal said.

During this ten-year-period, The Wire said, it had also given political contributions to the Congress and BJP — donations that were held to be in violation of India’s Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act by the Delhi high court.

The company’s environmental violations very quickly proved impossible to ignore and drew sharp censure not just from local activists but also international investors and institutions. In 2007, Norway’s state pension fund relinquished its holding in the company over what it described as “environmental and human rights violations”, the portal said, adding that three years later, prominent investors such as the Church of England the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust also sold their stakes for similar reasons.

Its green clearance was pulled away by India’s environment ministry in the same year for “violating forests laws in Orissa”, it said.

To improve its public image, Vedanta has spent huge amount of money in its corporate social responsibility project and its boss, Anil Agarwal, is a strong supporter of Narendra Modi and his government, often going out of its way to welcome projects launched by the government — including associating itself with the ‘Swachh Bharat’ campaign with a group company helping to build 30,000 toilets.

It’s campaign for a more benign outlook in media was also widely noted, and criticised. In 2016, the company’s sponsorship of the Jaipur Literature Festival’s edition in London sparked calls for a boycott campaign, according to The Wire. Over a hundred academics and writers launched a protest campaign and a “Boycott Vedanta JLF” London event, expressing “solidarity with the many communities suffering pollution, illness, oppression, displacement and poverty as a result of Vedanta’s operations”.

Back in Tuticorin, protestors say efforts are being made to suppress their voice totally. “The police firing seems to crush the anti-copper smelter plant protest as well as to act as a deterrent for other protests in Tamil Nadu,” Raja said.

On Tuesday, situation turned for the worse when a huge procession against the Sterlite’s copper smelter plant to mark the 100th day of protests were fired upon by police, after incidents of stone-throwing and torching of vehicles by the mob.

The police, who were said to have been outnumbered, resorted to firing resulting in the death of 11 persons. On Wednesday, in fresh firing one more person died and later one person succumbed to his injuries, bringing the death toll to 13.

When asked about the arson, Raja said: “It has to be probed. The people indulged in the arson could be anyone including those in favour of the smelter plant.”

Following the protests and police firing, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) rejected the renewal of consent (for 2018-2023) to operate the first unit of the Sterlite Copper smelter unit in Tuticorin, as it said the establishment had not fulfilled the conditions laid down by it.

The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court stayed the construction works of Vedanta’s second copper smelter plant.

The company had planned to double its copper smelting capacity to 800,000 tpa but has failed to adequate answer several allegations of harm to locals from the pollution creating by its existing plant.

The company’s plant has been mired in controversy for violation of pollution control norms and other issues, ever since the AIADMK government in early 1990s gave the permission for its construction, after several other Indian states denied the same on grounds of likely environmental damage.

In 2013, the Supreme Court had fined Sterlite Rs 100 crore for polluting the environment in Tuticorin.

According to social activist Jayaraman, the TNPCB and Tuticorin District Administration’s analysis of 15 ground water samples in March 2018 showed that all the water sources were polluted and violated the Bureau of Indian Standards norms for drinking water parameters.

Jayaraman said levels of the neurotoxin heavy metal lead were found to be at far higher levels than what is considered safe for drinking water.

He said soon after the 100-day protest began, groundwater samples were taken by the officials from seven locations within the copper smelter plant premises and eight from the villages near the plant.

Jayaraman said the report came to light following queries under the Right to Information Act.

The Tuticorin District Administration, instead of warning the villagers against using the ground water based on the findings, kept the report under wrap, he said.

He also said, a 2008 study done by Tirunelveli Government Medical College found higher levels of musculoskeletal disorders among villagers living near the copper smelter plant.

Tamil Manthan, an anti-Sterlite Copper activist told IANS that people claimed higher incidence of cancer amongst residents near the smelter plant. According to Raja, over 550 new cancer cases were reported by the government hospital in Tuticorin.

One of the placard held by the protestors read: ‘Cancer for us and Copper for you?’

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Four years of Modi: an era of all round disaster

Modi Govt has made it necessary for all those who cherish secular democracy, economic development and the parliamentary democratic set-up to unite urgently to resist the fascistic onslaught which may restrain the present regime from further damaging our country.

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Narendra Modi

The last four years of Modi government was a disaster in all spheres because we saw a Govt which only represented corporate capital and the worst right-wing ideology. Modi government has unabashedly pushed through its agenda of economic neo-liberalism, hastening the process of communal and caste polarisation for narrow electoral gains and missed no opportunity to diminish the established secular democratic norms. It went as far as trying to subvert the Constitution of India and its basic ethos which by any yardstick is unpardonable.

The corporate houses have been flagrantly favoured with various financial moves that benefited them to the extent of Rs 65 lakh crores and under the garb of promoting its flagship scheme ‘Make in India”, all sorts of concessions have been granted to foreign investors. The economy has been on a perennial declining mode since Modi became Prime Minister and almost every sector is in shambles because of his ill-conceived decisions in last 4 years.

Modi’s most disastrous move was demonetisation of the currency on 8th November 2016 when he abruptly decided to withdraw Rs 500 and 1000 notes which wiped off almost 87% of total currencies in circulation. This one decision cost heavily as it inflicted pain and misery to 133 crore people of this country which was unheard off.

People were made to stand for hours and hours in serpentine queues outside the bank ATMs to get a paltry 2000 rupees. The lucky ones who stood for hours got their money but there were as many as 167 unfortunate souls who were not so lucky, they perished because of a nonsensical decision by the head of a state who had a wild dream that in demonetisation he got a panacea for everything which is bad about the Indian economy. He proved wrong, terribly wrong. He was no Nobel laureate in economics and because of one bad decision, everyone suffered. In the next one year GDP lost a monumental 300,000 crore giving a hit of 5% to India’s GDP.

Banks continue to be on the verge of bankruptcy. More than 70 lakh jobs were lost at the altar of demonetisation in the Manufacturing, IT, Automobile and MSME sector. There was a virtual blood bath in the unorganised sector and those who were dependent on daily wages were destroyed by this tornado of note ban. This one decision will easily go into the annals of world economy as one of the most stupid and ill thought decisions by the head of a state.

Agriculture sector continues to be in the grip of worst ever crisis after independence. There isn’t a single day when we don’t hear the news about farmer’s suicide. As for common people, they are under lot of distress because of the high Prices of essential commodities and the skyrocketing fuel prices. Even essential services like education and public health have gone out of their reach.

The educational institutions are being blatantly saffronised and are targeted for the ideological reasons and syllabus is being distorted. There is a concerted attempt on re-writing the history from the anti-national and unconstitutional angle of RSS, the chief patron of Modi government. The RSS has usurped the reins of a regime and is busy running its own Hindutva agenda. Attacks are being allowed on minorities, Dalits and other weaker sections of the society in the name of protecting cows.

The Govt is unashamedly violating the constitution and democratic norms. The Governors in BJP ruled states are virtually acting like RSS cadres. It is busy destroying parliamentary democracy to promote its fascistic and authoritarian agenda. The Govt’s Kashmir policy has been disastrous as the crisis in the valley has gone from bad to worse in last three years.

In short, on the eve of its fourth anniversary of being in power, Modi Govt has made it necessary for all those who cherish secular democracy, economic development and the parliamentary democratic set-up to unite urgently to resist the fascistic onslaught which may restrain the present regime from further damaging our country.

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Karnataka shadow on Modi’s 4th anniversary

Considering that three more assembly elections are due in the next few months where the BJP is facing the anti-incumbency factor, it is obvious that Modi’s fourth anniversary is not the happiest of occasions.

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Narendra Modi

If Narendra Modi expected Karnataka to be the icing on the cake on the eve of the completion of his four years in office, he must be disappointed.

Yet, the setback in the southern state is only one of the several reverses which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has suffered in the recent past. These include a series of by-election defeats in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and UP, which have not been adequately compensated by the party’s successes in the northeast. That’s because electoral outcomes in the country’s heartland have a greater salience than those in a region generally regarded as remote.

Considering that three more assembly elections are due in the next few months where the BJP is facing the anti-incumbency factor, it is obvious that Modi’s fourth anniversary is not the happiest of occasions. Several things appear to have gone wrong for the Prime Minister and his party. Foremost among them is the general bleakness of the economic scene because of the paucity of jobs and the continuing agrarian distress.

But even more than the economic woes — which have led to the blanking out of the phrase ‘achhe din’ (good days) from the saffron lexicon — what may have hurt the government even more is an intimidating atmosphere generated by a political project of virtually remoulding Indian society by obliterating all the supposed ignominy which the country is said to have suffered during the 1,200 years of “slavery” under Muslim and British rule. Not surprisingly, the 60-odd years of Congress rule have been included in this period of “alien” governance.

Hence, the rewriting of history textbooks and the packing of autonomous academic institutions with people in tune with the ruling party’s thinking. These have been accompanied by the veneration of the cow and the targeting of “suspected” beef-eaters.

It is this imposition of the saffron writ which made former Vice President Hamid Ansari say that the Muslims were living in fear and led to protests by writers, historians, film makers and others within the first 12 months of Modi’s rule who returned the awards which they had once won.

Instead of analysing why so many distinguished people were expressing their disquiet, the government and the BJP chose to dismiss them as “manufactured protests”, in Arun Jaitley’s words, and the dissatisfaction of a section which has lost the privileges which it had enjoyed under the previous dispensation. Evidently, the BJP believed that it was on the right track — in fact, the protests may have reinforced this self-perception — and that there was no need for a rethink.

Little wonder that the government took no notice of the two open letters written to it by groups of retired civil servants and a third by more than 600 academics, including those in the US, Britain and Australia. While the bureaucrats expressed distress at the decline of “secular, democratic and liberal values”, the educationists regretted that not enough was being done for the vulnerable groups.

There is little doubt that the government has taken a number of initiatives to reach out to these groups. In a way, these “small” measures have mitigated to some extent the effects of the faltering on the macroeconomic front.

Among these measures is the Jan Dhan Yojana relating to small savings by ordinary people via a large number of bank accounts. However, although nearly all the households are now said to have access to banks, the number of people with inactive accounts is embarrassingly high.

It is the same with cooking gas connections, where consumption has not kept pact with the higher number of households with such facilities. There have been similar shortfalls on the cleanliness (Swachh Bharat) and electrification programmes as well.

According to official figures, 72.6 million household toilets have been built since 2014 and there are now 366,000 defecation-free villages. But the absence of independent verification of these claims has led to the World Bank withholding a $1.5 billion loan for these rural programmes.

Similarly, the official assertion about cent per cent electrification of the country has generally been taken with a pinch of salt since government data shows that there are still 31 million households without power and that the percentage reaches 60 in UP, Jharkhand and Assam.

It is on the highways’ front that visible progress has been made with the raising of the construction target to 45 km per day from 27 km. The employment potential of such infrastructure projects is also high. Since 100 per cent foreign investment is allowed in this sector, an estimated $82 billion is expected for it in the next four years.

But all these initiatives should really have been an add-on to an atmosphere of economic buoyancy which is absent. This has been noted by a pro-Modi economist, who has said that the people are yet to see their lives improve materially. Unless this perception changes with, say, an implementation of the Modicare programme of medical insurance in the next few months, the government will not be able to look forward to next year’s general election with high hopes.

By : Amulya Ganguli

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at [email protected])

–IANS

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