Times of India | 3 months ago | 23-02-2023 | 09:16 am
THANE: A delegation of Samata Party from Bihar met CM Eknath Shinde and sought his help in getting back its 'mashaal' election symbol that has been allotted to the Uddhav Thackeray faction. The delegation, led by party president Uday Mandal, met Shinde at his office in Thane on Tuesday evening, according to a release from Shinde's office. The delegation told Shinde Samata Party was an old political outfit and "mashaal" was its symbol. But after change in guard in Maharashtra, EC allotted it to the Uddhav faction, the release said. The Uddhav team has been allowed to use the symbol until the February 26 byelections. The delegation told Shinde they would challenge EC's decision in SC to get back their symbol, the release added. The delegation sought CM's help in getting back Samata's symbol the way he got the 'bow and arrow' symbol. While allotting the 'mashaal' symbol to Thackeray, the election commission had said it was not in the list of free symbols and was an "erstwhile reserved symbol" of the now-derecognised Samata Party but it had decided to allot it on a request to declare it a free symbol.
As the Opposition parties step up to build a united platform against the ruling BJP for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the saffron party has returned to kickstart talks with its erstwhile allies in a bid to breathe a new life into the NDA, even as the party has sought to firm up ties with its existing partners.Its rout in the recent Karnataka Assembly polls coupled with the rapidly-changing political situation seems to have forced the BJP to shed its tough stance against ex-partners that walked out of the party-led NDA on a sour note. Clearly, the party is again looking to stitch up a formidable coalition for the next general election.BJP sources said the party leadership has already resumed alliance talks with the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab. The BJP top brass has also reaffirmed the party’s ties with the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. Also, it will soon meet and hold discussions with smaller allies in other states, including Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, sources said.In a recent meeting with the BJP Chief Ministers and Deputy CMs in Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was said to have advised the BJP to be open to accommodate the regional parties by forging ties with them.A number of BJP leaders have admitted that the exit of parties like the TDP, Uddhav Sena, SAD and JD(U) from the NDA over the years has given the party an image in public that it does not want to accept regional parties that are formidable forces in their respective states. Its friendly parties – the YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh or the BJD in Odisha – had not been ready for a formal alliance while remaining unwilling to be a part of the party-led government at the Centre.According to sources, the BJP leadership has decided to keep aside its disenchantment with the SAD, which quit the NDA over the now-repealed contentious farm laws, after evaluating the Jalandhar Lok Sabha bypoll outcome.The May by-election to the Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat, a traditional Congress bastion, was won by the AAP with 34.1 per cent votes while the SAD and the BJP candidates, respectively, got 17.9 per cent and 15.2 per cent votes. “The fact that the votes won by the BJP and the SAD almost equalled the votes the winning AAP candidate got has made the leadership review its stance. The BJP is a party that drops hard or adamant positions if it is necessary for electoral wins,” said a party leader who is familiar with developments in the Punjab unit.After its decimation in the Punjab polls last year, the SAD – it could win only three seats in the 117-member state Assembly – was keen on returning to the NDA fold, said the leader. The BJP had then fought the election in a coalition with smaller parties, including the ex-Congress CM Capt Amarinder Singh-led Punjab Lok Congress, managing to win only two seats.Although the JD (S) was interested in a pre-poll alliance with the BJP in the Karnataka elections, the BJP did not go for it in a “strategic move” to let the regional party keep its Vokkaliga-Muslim support base, according to BJP sources. However, the BJP was disappointed with the “surprising drop in its vote share” in the elections. “For the Lok Sabha elections, it makes sense for both the parties to forge a formal alliance as the JD(S) does not have much hope to regain its minority votes in the near future,” said a BJP leader.Some recent statements from the JD(S) leaders, including ex-prime minister H D Deve Gowda’s praise for Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw for his handling of the Balasore triple-train disaster, indicate that there could be a tie-up between the two parties for the 2024 polls. In the wake of the Congress’s spectacular victory in the state elections, the BJP is keen to consolidate the Vokkaliga votes in its favour, sources said.The Karnataka lessons also appear to have pushed the BJP into resuming coalition talks with TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu. Although Naidu had made several attempts for a thaw in their ties earlier too, the BJP leadership was then reluctant, primarily due to vehement resistance from its state unit. Last week, however, Naidu met top BJP leaders, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and party national president J P Nadda, with both sides apparently agreeing to work together in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.With several crucial state elections lined up later this year in which it will face off the Congress directly, the BJP’s current focus has turned to curbing the re-emergence of the Congress in these states.While Naidu is keen on forging an alliance with the BJP to mount a bid to return to power in Andhra Pradesh by ousting the incumbent Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSRCP from power, the BJP is looking to secure its position as the most potent alternative force in Telangana. In both these states, the BJP wants to restrict the Congress to a distant third position or push it to the margins.After a hiatus in Maharashtra, the BJP leadership sent out fresh conciliatory signals to the Shinde Sena earlier this month, sources said. Both the allies share power in the state government led by CM Shinde, whose party has also been demanding berths in the Union Cabinet for its MPs who have extended support to the BJP in Parliament. Sources said fresh moves are afoot in the government to explore any possible changes in the Union Cabinet in order to create space for some alliance partners and new faces.Shinde along with Deputy CM and senior BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis met Shah earlier this week in the national capital, following which the CM announced that both the allies will contest all future elections in the state together. “During the meeting, it was decided that all future elections (including the Lok Sabha, Assembly and civic bodies) will be contested jointly by the Shiv Sena and BJP. We will contest and win the elections with a majority,” he tweeted.The BJP is expected to launch fresh efforts to strengthen its ties with the Apna Dal in UP, even as it would explore partnership with other smaller parties in both UP and Bihar.
Former US President Donald Trump was indicted late on Thursday (June 8) on charges of mishandling classified official documents after he stepped down as President in 2021, making him the first former president in US history to face criminal charges brought by the federal government.The AP reported that the US Justice Department was expected to make public a seven-count indictment ahead of a “historic” court appearance next week, even as Trump has launched a bid to contest the 2024 US Presidential elections. Here’s what this case is about.In May 2021, a few months after Trump left office in January of that year after losing the 2020 Presidential election, he was asked to hand over certain classified government documents in his possession. The government’s National Archives and Records Agency (NARA) notified him that he had failed to turn over at least two dozen boxes of original records.The New York Times had reported at the time, “The investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents began in earnest in May 2022 with a subpoena. It sought the return of any classified material still in his possession, after he had voluntarily handed over an initial batch of records that turned out to include almost 200 classified documents.”In December that year, his team told the Archives that they had located some of the records and proceeded to return them. Trump’s lawyer M. Evan Corcoran gave investigators more than 30 documents in response to the subpoena. Around the same time, another lawyer, Christina Bobb, asserted that a “diligent search” had been conducted at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private estate in Palm Springs, Florida, assuring prosecutors there were no more documents with classification markings.However, in August 2022, the FBI arrived at Mar-a-Lago to conduct a search and discovered more than 100 additional classified documents.It must be mentioned that Trump’s Vice-President Mike Pence and current US President Joe Biden have also faced scrutiny for having classified materials in their possession and an investigation is underway in Biden’s case.However, the Biden and Pence cases differ from that involving Trump. A signiifcant difference is that documents in their possession were voluntarily turned over to investigators as soon as they were found, the AP reported.“In the case of Trump, prosecutors have focused on a few key questions: Did Trump knowingly remove the sensitive records from the White House and did he willfully hold on to them in violation of the Espionage Act? Moreover, did he try to hinder investigators from figuring out why or where he kept them,” The New York Times said.What can happen as a result of this?Trump has now been charged with a total of seven counts, including willfully retaining national defence secrets in violation of the Espionage Act, making false statements and an obstruction of justice conspiracy, according to people familiar with the matter, The New York Times reported.The Justice Department lodged federal criminal charges against Trump and the former President is expected to appear in court on Tuesday (June 13).Trump’s lawyer James Trusty said on Thursday (June 8) on CNN that the indictment includes charges of willful retention of national defence information, obstruction of justice, false statements and conspiracy.If Trump is charged, that won’t legally affect his ability to run for the post of President. “There are no legal obstacles to running for president as a convicted felon or even from behind bars,” Politico reported.Assuming he wins the elections, determining whether he could actually take on the job would “open a constitutional can of worms”, it added, saying many legal experts believe it would ultimately be possible for him to do so.What has Trump said about this?Trump announced on Truth Social, his social media platform, that he had been indicted, saying that he had been charged “over the boxes [of documents] hoax”. He has previously described the case – and the other cases against him – as part of a “witch hunt”.He termed the indictment “a DARK DAY for the United States of America,” and said in a video, “I’m innocent and we will prove that very, very soundly and hopefully very quickly.” Within 20 minutes of breaking the news, his 2024 presidential campaign sent out a fundraising call from his supporters.In what other cases is he in trouble?In May 2023, a jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming E Jean Carroll, a writer and former advice columnist for Elle magazine, and awarded her $5 million in damages. However, it rejected Carroll’s claim that Trump had raped her.Before that, Trump was in the middle of a New York criminal case related to hush money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels. He is also under investigation over alleged attempted interference in the state of Georgia during the 2020 election and for his role in the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Trump has denied all the allegations.(With AP, The New York Times inputs)
With the BJP on Thursday appointing election heads for all 48 Lok Sabha and 288 Assembly seats in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde has found itself on the back foot. The party, however, tried to downplay the move, saying that it will not sour their alliance as it was an attempt to build the party base and asserted that it will contest all 22 seats like the undivided Shiv Sena did in the 2019 elections.“We have an alliance with BJP. There is nothing wrong if BJP appoints election heads. These election heads have been appointed for building the organisational network and expanding its base,” Shinde Sena spokesperson Naresh Mhaske told The Indian Express on Friday.“Our leaders and BJP leaders will be working in coordination in all Lok Sabha and Assembly seats. The election heads appointed by BJP will help its candidate in a particular constituency from where the party is contesting. Similarly, the election heads will also work for our candidate where BJP is not contesting,” he added.Mhaske said the Shinde Sena will contest 22 seats in the coming Lok Sabha elections. “In 2019, the Shiv Sena which was in alliance with BJP had contested 22 seats. This time too, we will contest 22 seats,” he said. In 2022, the Shiv Sena split following a rebellion led by Shinde; the other faction is led by Uddhav Thackeray.MP Shrirang Barne, who was elected twice from the Maval Lok Sabha constituency, also said that the appointment of an election head does not mean that the same person would be fielded by the BJP. “It is their strategy to build their party and organisational network. But one thing is certain. I will be contesting from Maval Lok Sabha in 2024,” Barne told The Indian Express on Friday. The BJP has appointed Prashant Thakur, party MLA from Raigad district, as its Maval Lok Sabha election head. Three Assembly seats from Raigad district are part of the Maval Lok Sabha constituency.On the other hand, BJP’s Bhosari MLA Mahesh Landge has been appointed as the Shirur Lok Sabha election head. Landge is keen to contest the Lok Sabha election. “I am one of the aspirants for the Shirur Lok Sabha seat,” he said.Amit Gorkhe, who has been appointed as BJP’s election head for Pimpri, said that he was an aspirant for the Pimpri Assembly seat. “But my appointment does not mean I will be automatically contesting the Assembly seat. My job is to expand the party’s network and make the party stronger in the seat. If a Sena candidate contests from here, both BJP and Sena will work together in the constituency for his victory,” Gorkhe said.
No leader resembles Narendra Modi more than Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has just been re-elected for another five-year term as Turkey’s president. Both leaders are virtually doppelgangers in terms of their political roots, paths to power, ideological orientation, pet policies, and impact on their countries. What can the trajectory of Turkey’s most influential politician since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk tell us about Prime Minister Modi who aspires to at least a similar standing in India vis-a-vis Jawaharlal Nehru?Both Erdogan and Modi hail from humble backgrounds, well outside their country’s privileged elites. Both made their name as rulers of important regions — Erdogan as mayor of Istanbul, Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat. Both came to lead their countries off the back of waves of popular disaffection with secular, left-leaning governments that had become mired in corruption. Both are polarising figures whose core base consists of tradition-minded, conservative voters in their countries’ heartlands. Both are one-man shows, who tower over their parties and governments and have ruthlessly centralised power and patronage of a select circle of businessmen. Both are self-styled strongmen who take pride in wielding muscular foreign policies and crow about having raised their countries’ global stature. Both have deployed a potent cocktail of religion, nationalism, welfare, and economic development to retain their grip on power while reshaping their countries to increasingly resemble majoritarian autocracies.The recently concluded presidential polls in Turkey were billed as the best chance to displace Erdogan since he first came to power in 2003, with the country under the grip of an acute cost of living crisis and the Opposition at its most organised in years. But despite pre-election polls pointing to Erdogan’s political demise, he managed to eventually comfortably beat his rival, extending his rule into an unprecedented third decade exactly 100 years after the Turkish republic was founded by Ataturk.Four observations from Turkey may be relevant for India’s political future. First, elected autocrats are difficult to vote out of office. The legitimacy gained from winning elections gives them freer rein to tilt the electoral playing field in their favour than if they were unelected rulers. Erdogan, like Modi, has relentlessly deployed not just the advantages of incumbency — showering largesse in the run-up to the vote, including free gas, discounted electricity, and broadband packages for students, and boosting the minimum wage and civil servant pay — but the full authoritarian playbook to gain every advantage at the polls. He has undermined institutional checks on his power — be it courts or election authorities — stifled the political Opposition, deployed government agencies to harass and even imprison critics, and restricted media freedom via laws, law suits, and police action. Just as in India, most private TV news channels are controlled by business groups beholden to Erdogan. The Turkish president — like PM Modi — is given wall-to-wall coverage by a fawning media, and his government’s claims are seldom critically evaluated. Meanwhile, Erdogan’s party, like the BJP, deploys aggressive propaganda on social media and manipulates public opinion via messaging platforms such as WhatsApp.Second, despite the serious erosion of democratic rights and constitutional values under authoritarian leaders, it is hard to galvanise voters over these issues. The rule of law, freedom of expression, independence of the courts, and abuse of government agencies all appear as distant and somewhat abstract concerns to the wider populace. Only an egregious violation of individual rights, as happened with forced sterilisation during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, can stir widespread outrage. Turkey’s united Opposition managed to compose a joint platform that pledged new laws increasing freedom of expression and individual rights, greater independence for the courts, and generally to reverse Erdogan’s consolidation of power, but these promises do not appear to have made much difference to their campaign.By contrast, and this is the third observation, the core nationalist and religious-minded supporters nurtured by Erdogan and Modi remain a potent force at the ballot box. Islamist voters in Turkey’s Anatolian heartland feel an emotional bond with Erdogan for allowing pious women to wear the headscarf in public offices (banned by Ataturk), restricting alcohol sales, and for endorsing Islamic values and practices previously sidelined by secular governments in Turkey. This appears to also be true of Modi’s Hindutva constituency for whom his delivery on issues such as the Ram temple in Ayodhya and playing up the overly Hindu character of the state (such as the prominence of Hindu rituals in the inauguration of the new Indian Parliament) at the expense of supposedly “foreign” (Muslim and British) elements underpins their continued loyalty.Finally, displacing an autocrat requires the Opposition to weave a powerful counter-narrative centred on the bread-and-butter realities of the average voter — and not on the hoary ideals of the constitution or bleeding heart laments against bigotry and pleas for unity. Turkey’s Opposition was simply not able to convince a majority of the electorate that they could govern better than Erdogan. Even in areas of the country that were badly affected by the government’s botched response to the devastating earthquake in February (which killed over 50,000), voters appear to have given Erdogan the benefit of the doubt. Corruption allegations wash over Erdogan who, like Modi, carefully projects a relatively austere image while tightly channeling his party’s funding and favours. And as for the crisis-ridden economy, the Opposition’s technically-oriented focus on strengthening the independence of the central bank and reversing Erdogan’s unorthodox interest rate policies (which have resulted in 50+ per cent annual inflation and a sharp drop in the value of the lira) failed to catch fire beyond urban centres.This last observation is particularly relevant for India’s Opposition. Even as the world apparently can’t stop cheering India’s prospects, the black hole at the heart of Modi’s economic record is around job creation. Despite headline GDP growth figures, India is simply failing to create even a fraction of the jobs required by its burgeoning youth population. The violent protests last year over the introduction of the Agnipath scheme and Railway recruitment were a stark illustration of the frustration. This despair over jobs presents perhaps the only opening for a credible anti-Modi election strategy. A 2020 report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that at least 90 million new non-farm jobs are needed by 2030 just to keep pace with India’s youth bulge. Unless India’s Opposition can unite behind a compelling programme to deliver these, they face an uphill battle to dislodge the BJP in next year’s Lok Sabha elections.The writer is a private equity investor based in London
As artists committed to improving the quality of life for all, our critical role as citizens has motivated this attempt to reach out to the public through our elected representatives. There was a time when artists participated in the making of our Constitution: Nandalal Bose illustrated the manuscript and Prem Behari Narain Raizada calligraphed it, all keeping in mind our rich cultural legacies.India’s electoral system is one of the largest and most complex in the world and our elected vidhayaks constitute the tana bana, the warp and weft, of our federal democratic ethos.The National Legislators Conference (NLC), due to start next week, is a pioneering initiative bringing together 4,000 MLAs and MLCs from all political parties under one roof. The three-day boot camp is an opportunity to exchange notes across ideological lines, presenting case studies of best practices and governance.With increasing ideological divisions among political parties and their supporters, grandstanding often hampers constructive debates and leads to policy gridlocks. The spirit of consensus building is undermined even as the few paths for possible convergences get sidelined.This appeal is to you, the chosen ones from across India. The most pressing issues from your perspective may remain your re-election but our mutual concerns will continue to find ways to make a young democracy thrive.Some creative thinkers, designers and artists attended preparatory meetings as a run-up to the NLC. Issues that required review included the role of money power, the influence of identity politics, provisions for equitable opportunities and other vital issues determining our right to ethical representation. Here are a few interventions that can become a part of the public discourse.People’s participation and plural growth: Corruption in governance and personal values remains a persistent challenge that erodes individual trust in institutions. How does one collectively evolve a more responsible system of elections that does not owe its existence to the support of tainted money? How does the public empower itself to become vigilant, making representatives more answerable? How do we ensure the performance of our vidhayaks before, during and after their tenure? What systems of checks and balances are needed to secure consistent deliverables?The more critical issue at hand, therefore, is how a representative democracy, with its defunct norms, can be transformed into a more modern participative democracy. Not voting can be a serious form of protest but even as a far more rigorous and regular grievance redressal mechanism is put in place, we would need to take up the challenges implicit in direct interventions through referendums. Conducting workshops that explore the possibility of the right to recall inefficient and corrupt politicians and strengthening RTI and protecting whistleblowers, becomes essential.With technological advances in the past two decades, civil society interventions and local referendums are being defined as options for action. Several types of direct voter interface have increased in use throughout the world. India has lessons to learn about better governance from other parts of the world.Switzerland has been using referendums for decades as an integral part of policymaking, whether for constitutional amendments or legislative enactment. Australia and Ireland use them to effect basic changes. In Canada, there is an increasing discussion at all levels of government about the use of referendums to foster greater “democratisation” of political life. What is crucial is creating an inclusive society where every citizen has empowered access to an agile tool, giving them a chance to thrive and be counted as the real decision-maker.Strengthening federal democracy: Considering how centralised our democratic system is becoming, MLAs are now more of a representative number to demonstrate the party’s political prowess. Rather than safeguard their regional aspirations and local decision-making imperatives, they have to bow to the high command.The most urgent issues faced by the people are addressed at the constituency or state-level, and the MLA has to find ways to give a voice to the electorate. Voters hold allegiances that are not just “national”, but personal and community-based. We see this reflected in the difference in issues that determine election outcomes at the state and Centre. Decentralising power and empowering local governments can enhance accountability and promote citizen participation in matters of national importance.Cultural regeneration to build economic capital, up-skilling and livelihood options: Capacity building amidst an increasingly deskilled population requires an innovative design-led reappraisal of local competencies. For example, fish trap makers in Jharkhand are now making furniture and lighting fixtures.During my term as vice-chairperson on the Task Force on Creative and Cultural Industries set up by the Planning Commission in 2005, I steered a three-volume document with recommendations for a National Policy on the Creative and Cultural Industry. Even the executive summary was not read or deliberated upon. Nearly 20 years down the line, we are yet to create a comprehensive strategy that could formalise our inherent assets. Most developed nations have already lost their traditional skills and are now attempting to nurture what is left as heritage while simultaneously capitalising on the creative design-led industries where they have an edge.We have more than 50 million artisans who still work in time-honoured, legacy enterprises producing skill-based unique artistic products and services. India’s cultural dividend is under-utilised and can generate livelihoods in ways that are empowering while being entrenched in our ways of life.In our efforts to introduce design-led innovations to transform the traditional sensibilities of rural artists, we confront the serious threat of a shrinking skilled craft force and the lack of any pehchan (recognition) amidst elected representatives. Despite new prototypes of products and services, a crucial aspect of ensuring financial sustenance — marketing — can only be realised through local support. This includes facilitating district-level private/public sector cooperation, village access to credit and loans, and regional and global market research with the deployment of bottom-up information and communication technology. Do our vidhayaks know the predicament of the kasturi mrig — the musk deer — which frantically seeks the source of the fragrance that actually lies within itself?Harnessing technology and making AI transparent: In recent months, we have all experienced disruptive but incomprehensible technologies, especially artificial intelligence. We should not, however, shy away from using technology. From democratising access to services and empowering citizens, leveraging technology can improve governance and provide access to quality education, healthcare, and financial services. In the field of culture too, it can equip India’s creatives to manage change and derive inspiration from all over the world.With nearly 60 per cent internet penetration in India and 600 million smartphone users, you, the legislators, have an unprecedented opportunity to reach out to “we the people”. Of course, concerns related to the digital divide, data privacy, cyber security, and the ethical use of digitisation must be addressed to ensure that benefits are accessible to all.To feel, see and hear what may otherwise seem like a lonely path to tread, the NLC must also become a pedagogic tool driving a recurring public platform to discuss and debate “glocal” issues, promote a unique model of peer-to-peer learning and making the young more responsive to governance. For elected representatives, this may not always be possible within the confines of state legislatures and with the constraints on their time, but three days in the Maximum City could be a beginning.The writer is the founder-trustee and chairman of Asian Heritage Foundation