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Analysis

RSS chief sets BJP’s electoral agenda

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RSS volunteers

There was never any doubt about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) anti-minority electoral gambits but the agenda has now been unambigiously and forcefully articulated by the party’s friend, philosopher and guide, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Delivering the organisation’s customary message on the occasion of Dussehra/Vijay Dashami, its chief, Mohan Bhagwat, has left no stone unturned about what the Narendra Modi government should immediately do — which is to start building the Ram temple in Ayodhya even by enacting an ordinance.

By pointedly ignoring the fact that the issue is currently before the Supreme Court, the RSS chief has taken the party and the Hindutva brotherhood to the days of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement in the 1990s when the saffron storm-troopers used to say that the courts can have no say in a matter of faith.

Apart from a reiteration of this aggressive “religious” stance, Bhagwat’s directive to the BJP to get down to business and not dilly-dally any longer on building the temple has scrapped Atal Behari Vajpayee’s decision in 1996 to put in cold storage the three “core” issues of the Sangh parivar — building the temple, doing away with Article 370 of the Constitution conferring special status on Jammu and Kashmir, and introducing a uniform civil code

That the negation of Vajpayee’s wishes has been done in the year of his death is not without significance. It remains to be seen whether the RSS will give any “advice” to the government on the two other issues — Article 370 and the uniform civil code.

But why the sudden hurry about constructing the temple? There may be two reasons. One is that it is the last throw of the dice by the party and the parivar in an election season to consolidate its vote bank of communal-minded Hindus at a time when the less than favourable economic scene may make sections of the liberal Hindus, who voted for the BJP in 2014, drift away.

The other is the realisation in the saffron brotherhood that it is now or never where the temple is concerned since the BJP is unlikely to get a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha in 2019. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by it may get it, but it will not be easy for the BJP to persuade some of its allies such as the Janata Dal (United) — which has opposed the BJP’s favourite triple talaq ordinance — and the Akali Dal to endorse a construction programme which cannot but alienate the minorities.

Notwithstanding BJP president Amit Shah’s conviction that the party will reign for half a century, there may be an awareness in the organisation that the 2014 outcome was the result of several unforeseen events — the Congress’s sudden and somewhat inexplicable collapse and Modi’s emergence (against the wishes of several in his party) as some kind of a messiah. From this standpoint, 2019 will not be the same as 2014.

Ever since the party and the parivar sensed that the mantras of neither “achhe din” (good days) nor “sabka saath, sabka vikas” (development for all) is evoking a favourable response, the focus of the saffron propaganda has been on Hindu-Muslim polarisation.

Whether it is extending the scope of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) from Assam to other states or the removal of long-established Muslim names in Uttar Pradesh like Mughalsarai and Allahabad, the BJP’s aim has been to send the message that Muslims will be under pressure to prove the genuiness of their citizenship and that India’s multi-cultural past will be erased as Hindu rashtra takes root.

Along with the direct and indirect offensive against Muslims, the parivar is also intent on confirming its Hindu credentials by opposing the Supreme Court’s verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala on the grounds it violates centuries-old beliefs.

The Sabarimala episode enables the RSS and the BJP to try and kill two birds with one stone. One is to project themselves as the standard-bearers of Hinduism, and the other is to flaunt a defiance of the Supreme Court.

The court has aroused the saffron lobby’s ire ever since it delivered a series of “progressive” judgments (of which Sabarimala is one) such as the one upholding the rights of privacy, which the government argued was an elitist concept, and the other was to decriminalise homosexuality in a case from which the government recused itself evidently because while the legalisation went against the BJP’s crusty orthodoxy, the party could not afford to be seen as living in Victorian times.

Sabarimala has given an opportunity to the RSS and the BJP to defy the apex court and suggest that it is not right all the time. The defiance may have also been motivated by the #MeToo movement which has claimed the scalp of a Union minister and persuaded another minister to say that those who support the movement are “perverted”.

Among the others who also answer to the description of being perverted are the so-called “Urban Naxalites”, a new form of abuse coined by the RSS and the BJP for the Left-Liberals who have always been called anti-nationals. Not surprisingly, another of the RSS chief’s advice to the government was to keep the “Urban Naxalites” under surveillance.

It will be interesting to know what those “secularists” who interacted with the RSS recently like former President Pranab Mukherjee and the business tycoon, Ratan Tata, think of the pitch for the temple and the castigation of “Urban Naxalites”.

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

Analysis

The US presidential elections and future of India-US relations

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Donald Trump Joe Biden

As the coronavirus pandemic dominates global news in the United States, progress toward the next presidential election scheduled to be held on November 3 moves slowly forward. President Donald Trump had no real opposition in the Republican party and is running for re-election. And it has now become apparent that former Vice President Joe Biden will be his opponent as the Democratic candidate for president.

What would a Trump victory bode for the future of US-India relations? What would a Biden victory bode? Let me answer each of those questions in turn.

Given the love fests of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, Texas, in which Trump participated in September of 2019, and Trump’s ‘Namaste Trump’ event hosted by Modi in India in February of this year, it might be assumed that the future for US-India relations is a splendid one. This would be an incorrect assumption.

Both of these events were more symbolic than substantive. Trump’s participation in them undoubtedly helped to persuade some — perhaps many — Indian American Modi supporters who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 to cast their ballots for Trump in 2020. Trump’s campaign team took steps to ensure this by holding an event at his Mar-a-Lago resort in which a group of prominent Indian Americans announced their plans to work for his re-election and to mobilize Indian Americans on his behalf.

To understand the future potential of India’s relations with the US. with Trump as president, however, it is necessary to look beyond these political moves and to examine the present state of those relations and Trump’s personal style.

In a word, the best way to characterize the current relations between the US and India is “functional”. The relationship was relatively good for the first two years of Trump’s presidency. In fact, near the end of 2018, Alice Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, was quoted in the media s saying: “This has been a landmark year for US-India ties as we build out stronger relationships across the board.”

Then, in 2019, the relations went off the track in the first half of the year after the US and India got into a tit-for-tat tariff war after the US terminated India’s Generalized System of Preferences which allowed India to send certain goods to the US duty-free. There have been continuing efforts to structure a “modest” trade deal since then. It was thought there might be some type of deal done in September of 2019 while Modi was in the US by year’s end, and then during Trump’s India visit. But, as of today, there is still no deal.

This inability to get any meaningful trade agreement in place speaks volumes about India’s potential future relations with India with Trump as president. So, too does Trump’s style.

Trump’s campaign slogans this time around are “Keep America Great” and “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” Trump is not a policy wonk and most of his effort will go toward “America First”. This involves making the US more isolated by withdrawing from international agreements, restructuring trade agreements, emphasizing building walls to stop immigrants at the border, using tariffs to block trade with countries who are taking away American jobs, and confronting businesses who are allegedlly stealing American trade secrets.

This perspective suggests what India can expect for its relations with the US if it has to deal with Trump for a second term as president. The relations will stay functional at best. As I have said before, that’s because the words partnership, cooperation and collaboration are not in Trump’s vocabulary. Nationalism, isolationism and protectionism are.

Joe Biden stands in stark contrast to President Trump both professionally and personally. Biden is a strategic thinker and doer with a solid eight-year track record of leadership experience as Vice-President in forging alliances that have made a difference around the world and he has also been a long-standing friend of India.

He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading advocate for the Congressional passage of the Indo-US civic nuclear deal in 2005. At a dinner convened 10 years later in 2015 by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Vice President Biden discussed the tremendous joint progress that had been made by the two countries in the past and declared “We are on the cusp of a sea change decade.”

Early in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in July of 2019, in laying out his foreign policy vision, Biden stated that the US had to reach out to India and other Asian partners to strengthen ties with them. The items on Biden’s foreign policy agenda for strengthening which are of importance for India include climate change, nuclear proliferation and cyberwarfare.

During his vice presidency, Biden worked side by side with President Barack Obama to do things that would contribute to achieving Obama’s vision stated in 2010 of India and America being “indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time.” In 2020, those challenges are even greater than they were a decade ago.

That is why it is so essential that India and the US develop a strategic relationship that enables them to become those indispensable partners. That can happen if Biden assumes the presidency on January 20, 2021. It cannot happen if Donald Trump remains as president for a second term.

The results of this upcoming election in the US matter greatly for the future of the United States. They matter greatly for the future of India-US relations as well. Time and the American electorate will tell what that future will be.

(Frank F. Islam is an entrepreneur, civic and thought leader based in Washington DC. The views expressed here are personal)

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Analysis

Covid-19 toll across world crosses 35,000

The COVID-19 is affecting 132 countries and territories around the world.

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Patients infected with the novel coronavirus

New Delhi, March 30 : The death toll around the world due to coronavirus crossed 35,000 on Monday evening, with Italy heading the list of 35,097 deaths with 10,779, while the number of cumulative cases rose to 737,929, with US leading with 143,055 of them, as per data from the Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

Spain was second with 7,340 deaths, followed by China with 3,308 (3,186 of them in Hubei where the outbreak was first recorded), Iran with 2,757 deaths, France with 2,606 deaths, the US with 2,513 (776 of them in New York) and the UK with1,228 deaths.

In number of cases, Italy was second with 97,689, followed by Spain with 85,195, China with 82,198, Germany with 62,435, Iran with 41,495 and France with 40,747.

Meanwhile, 156,652 people around the world had recovered, with nearly half of them (75,923) in China, followed by 16,780 in Spain, 13,911 in Iran and 13,030 in Italy.

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Analysis

45% of Indians do not back up their data, files: Survey

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.

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Data Privacy

New Delhi, March 30 : Nearly half of Indians do not back up because they think their data or files are not important enough and most of those who back up their data, do it once a month, a survey said on Monday.

Other reasons cited by the respondents for not backing up their data included not knowing how to do it, not having time and forgetting about it, according to the survey by cybersecurity company Avast.

“It could be that many aren’t aware they are backing up, as it could be happening automatically, in the background, however, others really might not be backing up at all, thinking it is not worth it,” Luis Corrons, Security Evangelist at Avast, said in a statement.

“Losing personal documents, photos and videos can be a painful experience and it’s not until this happens that they realize how valuable it actually is,” Corrons added.

Of those who do back up their data, nearly 42 per cent Indians back up to a cloud storage, 36 42 per cent back up their data to an external hard drive, 23 42 per cent back up to a USB or flash disk, 18 42 per cent back up their phone to their PC, and 10 42 per cent back up to a network storage drive, the results showed.

Corrons recommended to back up data to two different locations, like the cloud, and a physical storage, like an external hard drive.

When it comes to iPhone and Android phone owners, the percentage that backs up is nearly the same, 69 per cent and 70 per cent respectively.

The percentage of smartphone owners that don’t know how to back up their data does not vary much between iPhone and Android owners, with 13 per cent and 17 per cent claiming not knowing how to, respectively, the study revealed.

Data loss can be caused by users accidentally deleting their data themselves, hardware damage and failure, as well as malware, causing valuable data such as photos, videos, documents, and messages to be lost forever.

Ransomware and other malware, such as wipers, can either encrypt or completely destroy files, and there is no guarantee that files can be decrypted if a ransom is paid.

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.

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