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Shaheen Baghs spring up in UP districts

Initially, the protests began with Muslim women but now Sikh men and women have joined in a big way. Hindu women are not only participating in the dharna but are also arranging for food and blankets for the other protestors.

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Shaheen Bagh

Lucknow, Jan 23 : It began with the Clock Tower in Lucknow and has now found an echo in Prayagraj, Varanasi, Etawah and Rampur.

The sit-in protests against the citizenship laws which began in Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, have caught on in a big way in Uttar Pradesh.

Last Friday, a group of about 15 women arrived at the Clock Tower with placards against CAA and NRC, hidden under their burqas, and began the protest. As soon as they took out the placards, traffic on the main road slowed down and within three hours, more than a hundred women had collected at the site.

The police took away their blankets and food packets, doused bonfires with water in a bid to deter their efforts. However, the women did not budge.

The number has been swelling with each passing day and the seven-day-old dharna shows no signs of ending.

After Clock Tower in Lucknow, it was the Mansoor Ali Khan Park in Prayagraj where women started a sit-in protest

What initially seemed to be a one-day protest has been continuing for five days now. More than 5,000 women, men and children are camping at the park, braving the freezing temperatures.

“Yes we have been inspired by Shaheen Bagh. If our sisters can protest there, we can do it here too,” said Renu Varma, a mother of three. Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh entered Day 39 on Thursday.

At the Mansoor Ali Khan Park, women can be seen listening to speeches made by student organizations from the Left and the Samajwadi Party while others are recording the events on their cell phones.

“I just want to say that we will be here for as long as required, till someone from the government speaks to us,” said Fatima, an octogenarian who has joined the protest.

The Jama Masjid in Rampur has also turned into a protest site with women assembling in large numbers.

In Etawah, on Wednesday, the cop chased and caned women who had started collecting in the Pachraha area to start a sit-in against the citizenship laws.

“The police did not let us protest yesterday but we will be planning and will do it again. Let us see how long they shoo us away,” said Arushi Yadav who is now painting anti-CAA posters.

Varanasi, which is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency, faced fresh trouble on Thursday when scores of women tried to stage a protest at the Benia Bagh ground.

As soon as they spread a ‘durrie’ on the ground, the cops arrived on the scene and tried to dissuade the women from staging dharna. The women were unrelenting and as soon as the police tried to arrest the protesters, a mob standing close by started pelting stones at the cops.

Additional forces have been deployed in the area to prevent the protestors from returning.

The protests against the citizenship laws are now spreading to the rural areas as well. Ujariyagaon, a village on the outskirts of Lucknow, is also witnessing a protest, albeit smaller in size.

What is common in all these protest is that the women are inspired by the Shaheen Bagh protest.

Initially, the protests began with Muslim women but now Sikh men and women have joined in a big way. Hindu women are not only participating in the dharna but are also arranging for food and blankets for the other protestors.

At the Clock Tower, Sikh men have even set up a community kitchen for women and children.

While majority of the protesters may not understand the provisions of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), they insist that it will ruin the future of their children.

“If women are protesting in 32 cities, braving the freezing temperatures, there has to be a reason. Even if you want to believe that we are illiterate and are being misled, how do you explain that educated children form universities, IITs and IIMs are also staging protests?” asked Roshanara, a protester at Clock Tower in Lucknow, who has had much of a formal education.

The women are all the more determined to continue their protest after the ruling BJP alleged that they were being paid money to protest.

“Fine, we are being paid — so let us make some good money and continue with our protest. If these leaders also want money, they can send their women to protest with us,” said Ruchi Sahni, a young protestor at Clock Tower.

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Rahul used ‘strong words’, Manmohan right in not quitting: Montek

Ahluwalia has mentioned this incident in great detail in his latest book “Backstage: The Story behind India’s High Growth Years”.

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Manmohan Rahul

New Delhi, Feb 17 : The now-defunct Planning Commission’s former Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia on Monday said Congress leader Rahul Gandhi used “strong words” in 2013 while tearing up an ordinance on convicted lawmakers, but insisted then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did the right thing by not resigning.

In an exclusive interview to IANS, Ahluwalia said: “On hindsight, I think, Dr Singh took the right call.”

Giving his reasons, the former aide to Manmohan Singh said that had Rahul Gandhi been a member of the then Union Council of Ministers, things would have been different. “But he was the Vice President of a political party,” he pointed out.

When pointed out that Gandhi kept Dr Singh in the dark about his sudden move on the ordinance, he quoted former Congress Vice President (Gandhi) to suggest that his choice of words could have been better.

“You must realise, in a democracy, there is nothing wrong to have dissent within the party. I don’t think there’s much merit in running a party in a way in which everyone in a party simply endorses what the party leadership thinks. This is an example of democratic dissent surfacing (within the party). In my view, nothing wrong with it. Mr Gandhi himself, I think, said that may be the words he used were not very appropriate… I think he said ‘complete nonsense’, okay? Strong words! But the bottom line is, had he simply gone there and said ‘this has happened that I frankly have great doubts about’… I think there would not have been anything wrong with that. That’s what democracy is all about. People should freely express their views, and if you disagree with them, you discuss that. And that’s what they did,” Ahluwalia said.

Ahluwalia has mentioned this incident in great detail in his latest book “Backstage: The Story behind India’s High Growth Years”.

He said that after his brother wrote an article to advocate Dr Singh’s resignation, he showed the article to the then Prime Minister.

“The first thing I did was to take the text across to the PM’s suite because I wanted him to hear about it from me first. He read it in silence, and initially made no comment. Then, he suddenly asked me whether I thought he should resign. I thought about it for a while and said ‘I do not think a resignation on this issue is appropriate’.”

In 2013, after the Supreme Court ruled that sitting lawmakers convicted of crime would be immediately disqualified and not continue as MPs, MLAs or MLCs pending an appeal, the then United Progressive Alliance government sought to bring an ordinance to counter the verdict.

Rahul Gandhi appeared unannounced at an event to oppose his own party’s line and tore a copy of the ordinance, an act seen as undermining the Prime Minister’s authority while he was in the US.

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Dubbing dissent as disloyalty totally wrong: Montek

Speaking on the importance of dissent, Ahluwalia pointed to Rahul GAndhi’s act of tearing up an ordinance copy during the UPA rule.

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Montek Singh Ahluwaia

New Delhi, Feb 17 : At a time when Delhi and other cities are witnessing anti-CAA protests, now-defunct Planning Commission’s former Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia on Monday cautioned against labelling dissent as disloyalty.

Referring to the protests against Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the country’s once- foremost policymaker told IANS: “There are many protests going on right now in the streets. I frequently hear, sort of, wherein dissent is equated with disloyalty. I think that’s completely wrong. Peaceful dissent is an essential part of the democratic process. If people feel that’s not happening, then I think the government should reassure them that, you know, they are under misapprehension and live up to those standards.”

In an interview to IANS, Ahluwalia said: “I do feel that in a multi-identity, complex country (like India), expression of dissent is an essential part of democracy. To my knowledge, everyone recognises this. And if that’s not happening, then we should worry.”

His comments assume significance in the wake of a high-voltage and often acerbic campaigning in Delhi Assembly elections, including shouting of slogan “desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maro saalon ko” at a rally addressed by Union Minister Anurag Thakur.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, during the campaigning, “Earlier it was that the Congress used to feed biryani in Kashmir, now it is (Delhi Chief Minister Arvind) Kejriwal who is doing the same in Shaheen Bagh….”

Speaking on the importance of dissent, Ahluwalia pointed to Rahul GAndhi’s act of tearing up an ordinance copy during the UPA rule.

“You must realise, in a democracy, there is nothing wrong to have dissent within the party. I don’t think there’s much merit in running a party in a way in which everyone in a party simply endorses what the party leadership thinks. This is an example of democratic dissent surfacing (within the party). In my view nothing wrong with it.”

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India a $5 trillion economy by 2025 unrealistic: Montek Singh Ahluwalia

He also cautions against “strong centralised governments”, a scenario that is now unfolding in India.

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Montek Singh Ahluwaia

New Delhi, Feb 15 : Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream of India rising to a $5 trillion economy by 2025 is unrealistic though it will happen at some time, says Montek Singh Ahluwalia, a former Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission and whose document prepared in 1990 largely influenced the economic reforms unveiled the next year, in his book “Backstage – The Story Behind India’s High Growth Years”. He is also extremely harsh on “two major policy mistakes” of the present government — demonetisation and the hasty implementation of GST.

To become a $5 trillion economy “calls for an average growth rate of about 9 per cent in real terms over the six-year period from 2019-20 to 2024-25. With growth below 5 per cent in 2019-20, and only a slow recovery expected next year, achieving an average of 9 per cent for the period as a whole is simply not credible. We will certainly get to $5 trillion, but it will be a few years later,” Ahluwalia writes.

“A more realistic target would be to try to reach a growth rate of around 8 per cent per year as quickly as possible. This is certainly necessary if we want to continue to reduce poverty and generate the employment needed to satisfy our young and aspirational labour force. Is 8 per cent growth feasible? India did achieve GDP growth of 8.5 per cent in the first seven years of the UPA, but a return to that growth rate is easier said than done,” Ahluwalia warns.

India’s growth was at 6.8 per cent in 2018-19 and dropped to 5 per cent in 2019-20. It is expected to “strongly rebound” to 6-6.5 per cent in 2020-21 the Economic Survey tabled in Parliament on January 31 said.

Demonetisation, Ahluwalia writes, “came as a complete surprise when the government on 8 November 2016 announced that all currency notes of denominations Rs 1,000 and Rs 500, accounting for 86 per cent of the value of currency with the public, were no longer legal tender. Holders of these notes were given up to 31 December to take the notes to banks to convert them into new notes. The decision was originally presented as a decisive attack on black money and corruption, but as that particular justification seemed difficult to sustain, several other justifications were advanced.”

“Raghuram Rajan, who was then governor of the RBI, was consulted informally about a possible demonetization and he had advised that any long-term benefits would not be worth the short-term costs. In any case, he counselled that if the government was determined to demonetise, there should be careful planning to ensure adequate supply of new notes. In fact, demonetisation was hastily announced a couple of months after Raghu’s term as governor came to an end.”

Rajan’s fears were “amply vindicated. People rushed to banks to exchange their holdings of old notes for new notes, but as there was a shortage of new notes, amounts handed over to banks could only be credited to their bank accounts, from which cash withdrawals were permitted on a restricted basis until the supply of new notes could catch up with demand. The shortage of cash disrupted agricultural markets and operations in the informal sector, both of which are highly cash-dependent”, Ahluwalia writes.

Eight months later, “the economy received a second jolt when the GST was introduced in July 2017. Unlike demonetization, which had very little support from professional economists, the GST was universally regarded as a major reform of the indirect tax system. It was expected to generate larger revenues, and also simplify the system but it failed on both counts because of a flawed design and poor implementation.”

Also, “frequent changes in the rates added to the confusion, giving the signal that rates could be adjusted through lobbying, which goes completely contrary to the signal of stability that GST should normally convey”, Ahluwalia maintains.

He also cautions against “strong centralised governments”, a scenario that is now unfolding in India.

“Strong centralised governments have some advantages but they also have a major disadvantage: the failure to provide room for different views. This reduces the likelihood that policy mistakes will be acknowledged and corrected.

“Manmohan Singh recognised the importance of encouraging free expression of views and descent in a liberal democracy. We are now about to go through a different experience with a government enjoying a strong majority and also one which was expected to rely on much greater centralisation of power in the PMO,” Ahluwalia maintains.

Ahluwalia concludes that India’s “transition to high growth was not a chance development. It was achieved by deliberate policy steps taken by those who had conviction and belief in the need for change. Changing policies in a country as complex as India has to go much beyond making declarations of intent. It needs an open society where businessmen and other stakeholders are free to criticize the government and draw attention to whatever is not working. It needs a team of technically skilled professionals with the ability to understand economic issues offering honest advice to the political class. It also needs a political class that can combine the unavoidable compulsions of adversarial politics with working towards building consensus on the broad direction of economic policy”.

“Good economics may not seem to be good politics in the short run, but wise political leaders will realise that it is almost always the best politics in the long run. How to marry the two is, in some sense, the real test of political leadership. I remain an unrelenting optimist that our political system can resolve this conflict and that the India story of high growth and development will therefore continue. India can and must return to its high growth years-our younger generation deserves nothing less.”

(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at [email protected])

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