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It was economic discontent versus aversion to bigotry

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s unexpected capture of 18 Lok Sabha seats from West Bengal could in a sense be termed “ghar wapsi”. After all, the BJP is the lineal descendant of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh founded by a proud son of Bengal, Shyama Prasad Mookherjee. But given their traditionally enlightened outlook, Bengalis have been averse until recently to what are generally regarded as the Sangh Parivar’s attitudes and activities. If the Bengali voter appears to have shifted his position now, it is because of circumstances that have very little to do with the saffron brigade or the cow belt politics of sants and sadhus like Adityanand or Pragya Singh Thakur.

Mookerjee would not have approved of the upsurge of ghar wapsi, love jihad vigilanteism, gau rakshak lynchings and other forms of populist violence even in previously non-communal  Bengal that the BJP appears to condine. Judging by his principled opposition to the Quit India movement against British rule because it would create public disorder, it is clear he would deeply have deplored the Sangh Parivar’s turbulence.

He will forever be respected in Bengal for resigning, together with another Bengali minister, Khitish Chandra Neogy, from Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet in protest against the infamous Nehru-Liaquat Ali pact of 1950. This was a treaty signed by the prime ministers of India and Pakistan, supposedly to ensure that the minority communities were safe and not dispossessed in each other’s country. In practice, only Muslims continued to enjoy all their rights in India. Hindus who amounted to about 20 per cent or more of East Pakistan’s population were classed as “evacuees” and lost effective control of their houses and fields which the Pakistan government took over. They became “enemy aliens” after the 1965 India-Pakistan war and lost even titular rights to their ancestral properties even if they continued to live in Pakistan. The treay aroused widespread misgiving but Mookerjee and Neogy alone had the courage to protest and denounce it as a fraud on a helpless Hindu community.

When Nehru said to him, “We will crush you!” Mookerjee is believed to have retorted, “We will crush this crushing mentality.” He was also admired for other unpopular actions that spoke of his loyalty to Bengal’s culture and identity. Zhou Enlai’s comment after his education in Japan that language is an instrument of colonialism resonated with him. “You have drunk deep at the springs of western knowledge” he told students of Calcutta Universiiy when he was vice-chancellor. “While you will not hesitate to absorb for your benefit and for the national good the best elements in western culture and thought, you will not in any case permit the destruction of the vital elements of your own civilisation.” That was when Rabindranath Tagore delivered the convocation address in Bengali for the first time. Tagore also let loose “a volley of Sanskrit” to Oxford’s Latin citation when it honoured him with an honorary doctorate. Perhaps he was influenced by the first Lord Sinha, Britain’s only non-white hereditary peer, who must have caused eyebrows to rise in 1919 by introducing his Sanskrit motto Jata Dharma Stata Jaya to the College of Heralds and House of Lords.

He would not, therefore, have countenanced Dilip Ghosh, Bengal’s BJP chief, proclaiming his cow-belt affiliation by chattering away in Hindi on national television. Heis more likely to have supported Amra Bangali (We Bengalis), a socio-political organisation that tried to replicate Shiv Sena exclusiveness in West Bengal but was soon squeezed into silence.

Kamal Nath, the Madhya Pradesh chief minister who was brought up in Kolkata where his father and grandfather were in business, rightly dismissed the BJP’s appeal in West Bengal as “just Hindutva, nothing else”. He knows that many Bengalis accuse Mamata Banerjee of histrionically appeasing Muslims with her hijab, namaz and “Khuda Hafiz”. Her latest offence was to appoint Firhad (Bobby) Hakim, a smalltime local Muslim politician with no municipal experience at all, mayor of Kolkata. He is hardly a worthy successor to Bengal’s greats like Deshabandhu Chittaranjan Das and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Before that she announced stipends of Rs 2,500 and land for house construction to 30,000 imams and muezzins. Trying to repair the damage, she got Mr Hakim to promise Rs 380 to Brahmin priests per corpse at the cremation ghat but this was too little too late. Given the tension, Amit Shah was probably applauded for calling Bangladeshi immigrants “termites”.

But the enlightened Bengali’s ingrained aversion to Sangh Parivar bigotry would not have evaporated so easily if it hadn’t been for gnawing economic discontent. Ms Banerjee succeeded in ousting the Marxists after 34 years mainly because their land reforms and minimum agricultural wages had created a revolution of expectations the Left Front just didn’t understand. Watching Indian society’s avid upward spiral, I found this blindness unbelievable. More than 50 years ago I spent a few days in the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana. The students were all sons of farmers selected because they showed promise and on the understanding that they would take back to the field their university-acquired skills and enrich Indian agriculture. Not one boy was willing to return to farming. Everyone wanted a clerical job in the BDO – Block Development Office – which was the highest their gaze rose in the 1960s.

It should be clear to politicians and planners that village boys with a smattering of education yearn for white-collar jobs and middle-class respectability. Having driven Tatas out of West Bengal, Ms Banerjee found herself hoist with her own petard. Bengal voters who ditched her have yet to discover that the BJP hasn’t created too many jobs either. In fact, for all the BJP’s bombast, national unemployment is at an all-time high. It could be frying pan to fire for young Bengal if the party realises its dream of chasing Trinamul out of office in 2021.

Strong men with strongly-held views aare not always right. Echoes of Mookerjee’s resonant “Ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan aur Do Nishan nahi chalenge” (A single country can’t have two constitutions, two prime ministers, and two national emblems) can be heard in Narendra Modi’s  opposition to Article 370 for Jammu and Kashmir. Both are wrong for two reasons. First, Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India on only the three points of defence, foreign policy and communications. Article 370 was New Delhi’s solemn quid pro quo. It cannot unilaterally be withdrawn without laying India open to the charge of breach of faith. Second, Mr Modi may not know it but every Indian province had a prime minister under the Government of India Act of 1935 until the republican Constitution came into force in 1950. In no way did this celebration of India’s multiple identity damage national unity.

The writer is the author of several books and a regular media columnist.


Sonia Gandhi elected as leader of Congress Parliamentary Party

New Delhi: Sonia Gandhi was once again elected leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) at a meeting of party MPs at the Central Hall of Parliament on Saturday. The meeting was attended by the party’s 52 newly elected Lok Sabha MPs and Rajya Sabha members.

Gandhi, who represents Uttar Pradesh’s Rae Bareli in Lok Sabha, is the chairperson of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). “Smt. Sonia Gandhi elected as the leader of Congress Parliamentary Party! She says, ‘we thank the 12.13 Cr voters for reposing faith in the Congress Party’,” Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeted.

The MPs will also elect the Congress leader in Lok Sabha and chalk out the party’s strategy for the upcoming session of Parliament, they said. This will be the first official meeting that Congress president Rahul Gandhi will attend after the May 25 meeting of the party’s working committee, where he had offered to quit as Congress chief. The CWC has already rejected his offer to resign and unanimously passed a resolution authorising him to bring structural changes in the party at all levels in a bid to revamp it.

Main accused in Smriti Irani’s aide Surendra Singh’s murder case arrested

Amethi: The main accused in the murder of Surendra Singh, a close aide of Amethi MP Smriti Irani, was arrested by the police following an encounter here. According to the police, the accused, identified as Wasim, was held in Shalhapur area on Friday night following an encounter where he sustained a bullet injury and was admitted to a hospital.

With this, all the five accused in the case have been arrested. Earlier on Monday, four accused – Ramchandra, Dharmanath, Naseem and Golu – were arrested by the police in connection with the case. A case has been registered against them. Singh, former village head of Barauli, was shot dead at his residence in Amethi on May 25. He was referred to a Lucknow hospital but succumbed to injuries during treatment.

Donald Trump terminates preferential trade status for India under GSP

Washington: President Donald Trump has terminated India’s designation as a beneficiary developing nation under the key GSP trade programme after determining that it has not assured the US that it will provide “equitable and reasonable access to its markets.”

The Generalized System of Preference (GSP) is the largest and oldest US trade preference programme and is designed to promote economic development by allowing duty-free entry for thousands of products from designated beneficiary countries.

“I have determined that India has not assured the US that it will provide equitable and reasonable access to its markets. Accordingly, it is appropriate to terminate India’s designation as a beneficiary developing country effective June 5, 2019,” Trump said in a proclamation on Friday ignoring the plea made by several top American lawmakers.

On March 4, Trump announced that the US intends to terminate India’s designations as a beneficiary developing country under the GSP programme. The 60-day notice period ended on May 3. The Trump administration has prioritised working with the Government of India to ensure that US companies have a level-playing field, a senior State Department official told reporters on Thursday, hours after Narendra Modi was sworn in as Prime Minister for a second time following his spectacular electoral victory in the general elections.

Under the GSP programme, nearly 2,000 products including auto components and textile materials can enter the US duty-free if the beneficiary developing countries meet the eligibility criteria established by Congress. India was the largest beneficiary of the programme in 2017 with USD 5.7 billion in imports to the US given duty-free status and Turkey the fifth largest with USD 1.7 billion in covered imports, according to a Congressional Research Service report issued in January.

The GSP criteria includes, among others, respecting arbitral awards in favour of the US citizens or corporations, combating child labour, respecting internationally recognised worker rights, providing adequate and effective intellectual property protection, and providing the US with equitable and reasonable market access.

Countries can also be graduated from the GSP programme depending on factors related to economic development. In a statement, Coalition for GSP executive director Dan Anthony said Trump’s decision will cost American businesses over USD 300 million in additional tariffs every year.

“Without GSP benefits American small businesses face a new tax that will mean job losses, cancelled investments and cost increases for consumers. Only a year after the Senate and House passed a three year reauthorisation of the GSP by a near unanimous margin, the Trump administration has kicked out the GSP country that saves American companies more money than any other,” he said.

Anthony said the Trump administration made the decision in the face of opposition from members of the Congress and hundreds of American businesses that have called for continued GSP eligibility for India. “They also acted despite India’s willingness to negotiate new market access for American exports. Thus, there are no winners from today’s decision.

American importers will pay more, while some American exporters will continue to face current market access barriers in India and others, including farmers, are very likely to be subject to new retaliatory tariff, Anthony said. The Trump administration argues that New Delhi has failed to assure America that it will provide equitable and reasonable access to its markets in numerous sectors.

Meanwhile, India had said that the US government’s move to withdraw duty concessions on certain products under the GSP programme will not have a significant impact on exports to America as the benefits were only about USD 190 million annually. Commerce Secretary Anup Wadhawan in March said despite the fact that India was working on an “extensive and reasonable” trade package, the US decided to go ahead with its decision to scrap the preferential trade benefit .

The package was covering all concerns related to bilateral trade with the US on sectors including medical devices, dairy products and agricultural goods, he said adding that India could not negotiate issues concerning interests of public healthcare.

In a statement in March, the US Trade Representative (USTR) said that India has failed to provide the US with assurances that it will provide equitable and reasonable access to its markets in numerous sectors. The Trump administration had launched an eligibility review of India’s compliance with the GSP market access criterion in April 2018.

“India has implemented a wide array of trade barriers that create serious negative effects on United States commerce. Despite intensive engagement, India has failed to take the necessary steps to meet the GSP criterion,” the USTR said.

Modi 2.0 government to present Union Budget 2019-20 on July 5

New Delhi: The newly appointed Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present the full Budget for 2019-20 on July 5 in the Lok Sabha. This will be first full Budget of Modi 2.0 government. In view of the general elections, the interim Budget for the current fiscal was presented by the then Finance Minister Piyush Goyal.

The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in its first meeting has approved the summoning of the 17th Lok Sabha on Monday, June 17, 2019, and subject to the exigencies of Government Business, the session will conclude on Friday, July 26, 2019, an official statement said. The Rajya Sabha will be convened on Thursday, June 20, 2019, and subject to exigencies of government business, the session will conclude on Friday, July 26, 2019, it said.

The Union Budget for 2019-20 will be presented in the Lok Sabha on Friday, July 5, 2019, at 11.00 am and after presentation/laying of the Budget, the respective Houses will be adjourned for the day, it said. Besides, the election of the speaker will be held on Wednesday, June 19, 2019, it said. The President will be requested to address both the Houses of Parliament assembled together in the Central Hall of Parliament on Thursday, June 20, 2019, in term of article 87(1) of the Constitution, it said.

PM Narendra Modi to hold meeting with new cabinet ministers at Rashtrapati Bhavan today

New Delhi: The first meeting of the new Union Cabinet will take place on Friday at 5:30 pm, a government official said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Council of Ministers were sworn in on Thursday at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The Union Cabinet for the 17th Lok Sabha includes 24 cabinet ministers, 9 ministers of state with independent charge and 24 Ministers of State (MoS). Top leaders who were sworn in as cabinet ministers include Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, DV Sadananda Gowda, Nirmala Sitharaman, Ram Vilas Paswan and former foreign secretary S Jaishankar, a surprise pick.

Rajnath Singh, Nirmala Sitharaman, Nitin Gadkari, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Sadanand Gowda and Representatives of BJP allies–Ram Vilas Paswan (LJSP), Harsimrat Kaur (Akali Dal), Arvind Sawant (Shiv Sena) and Ramdas Athawale (RPI-A) who will be a Minister of State (MoS) also took oath.

Some of the key ministers in the previous Modi government, including Sushma Swaraj, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and Maneka Gandhi, are not a part of the new council of ministers, while former finance minister Arun Jaitley opted out of the new cabinet citing health reasons.

PM Modi’s cabinet 2.0: Amit Shah likely to get Finance, Rajnath Singh Home Affairs, Nirmala Sitharaman may retain Defence ministry

New Delhi: Hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his 57-member council of ministers were sworn in by President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday, it is learnt that several of the top ministers have been given the following portfolios:

  • PM Modi will be in charge of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions; Department of Atomic Energy; Department of Space and all other portfolios not allocated to any minister;
  • Rajnath Singh will be the Minister of Home Affairs;
  • Amit Shah will be the Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs;
  • Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport & Highways, Minister of Shipping, Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation;
  • DV Sadanand Gowda, Minister of Statistics and Programme Implementation;
  • Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of Defence;
  • S Jaishankar, Minister of External Affairs;
  • Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Law and Justice, Minister of Electronics and Information Technology;
  • Ramesh Pokhriyal, Minister of Health and Family Welfare;
  • Smriti Zubin Irani, Minister of Women and Child Development;
  • Narendra Singh Tomar, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Minister of Rural Development and Minister for Panchayati Raj;
  • Thawar Chand Gehlot, Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment.

PM Narendra Modi’s 2.0 Cabinet: Uttar Pradesh gets maximum berths, followed by Maharashtra, Bihar

New Delhi: The second Narendra Modi-led government has the maximum representation of 10 faces from the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi who represents Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency, followed by seven from Maharashtra and six from Bihar.

The Modi government 2.0 also has three ministers each from Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Karnataka followed by two each from West Bengal, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh. The voters had given the BJP a clean sweep in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana.

The states of West Bengal and Odisha gave massive gains to the Bharatiya Janata Party as it won 303 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha in the national election. West Bengal, where Assembly polls are due in 2021, gave the saffron party 18 MPs. However, it is being represented by only two ministers– Babul Supriyo and Debasree Chaudhuri.

Odisha, where the BJP won eight seats, is being represented by Dharmendra Pradhan and Pratap Chandra Sarangi. Pradhan has been elected to the upper house from Bihar. The new Council of Ministers has representation from almost all the states, except Andhra Pradesh and the north-eastern states of Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim and Tripura.

Besides Modi, the ministers representing Uttar Pradesh are Rajnath Singh, Smriti Irani, Mahendra Nath Pandey, Sanjeev Balyan, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, V K Singh, Santosh Gangwar, Hardeep Singh Puri and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. The BJP won 62 seats in the state while its ally bagged two.

Ministers from Maharashtra include Nitin Gadkari, Prakash Javadekar, Piyush Goyal, Arvind Sawant, Danve Patil, Ramdas Athawale and Shamrao Dhotre while those from Bihar Bihar include Ram Vilas Paswan, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Giriraj Singh, R K Singh, Ashwini Kumar Choubey and Nityanand Rai, while those.

Uttar Pradesh sends the maximum of 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha, Maharashtra and Bihar send 48 and 40 MPs respectively. Modi gave representation to members from Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand as the states will be going to polls later this year.

Jharkhand is being represented by Arjun Munda while Naqvi, who is a Rajya Sabha member from the state, hails from Uttar Pradesh. Despite the BJP bagging all seven parliamentary seats in Delhi, only Harsh Vardhan– the winning MP from Chandni Chowk– could find place in the Modi 2.0 cabinet.

Also inducted into the cabinet were Nirmala Sitharaman, a Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka who hails from Tamil Nadu and with V Muraleedharan, who represents Kerala in the Council of ministers but has been elected to the upper house from Maharashtra.


Jammu and Kashmir: Security forces exchange fire with terrorists in Shopian

Shopian: An exchange of fire is currently underway between security forces and terrorists in Dragad Sugan area of Jammu and Kashmir’s Shopian district.

Further details are currently awaited. This comes two days after an encounter broke out between the security forces and terrorists in the Shopian district. The area was later cordoned off.

Ahead of swearing-in ceremony, PM Modi pays tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, soldiers

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee here ahead of his swearing-in ceremony. He paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat and to late Atal Bihari Vajpayee at Sadaiv Atal Samadhi, the memorial of the former Prime Minister. Several BJP leaders including BJP President Amit Shah and other party leaders including JP Nadda, Piyush Goyal, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Prakash Javadekar, Giriraj Singh were also present on the occasion and paid tributes.

PM Modi also visited the National War Memorial and paid tribute to the jawans who laid down their lives for the country post-independence. Outgoing Defence Minister and BJP leader Nirmala Sitharaman also accompanied Modi along with Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat, Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba and Vice Chief of Air Force Air Marshal RKS Bhadauria.

Modi, who decimated the Opposition to lead his party BJP to a landslide win in the recent Lok Sabha election, has become the first prime minister in nearly 50 years to win a majority in consecutive polls.The 68-year-old stalwart leader is set to take oath as the Prime Minister of India for the second consecutive term today. President Ram Kovind will administer the oath of office and secrecy at the function.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi pays tribute at the National War Memorial in Delhi. Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat, Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba and Vice Chief of Air Force Air Marshal RKS Bhadauria also present.



Modi has reached out to BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) member-states, whose leaders have confirmed their attendance for his swearing-in ceremony. The BJP, which won 282 seats in 2014, improved its tally by notching up 303 seats. Along with its NDA allies, the number swelled to 353 in the 543-member Lower House of the Parliament.

Modi on February 24 inaugurated the memorial located next to India Gate in the heart of the national capital. The state-of-art monument spread over an area of approximately 40 acres dedicated to soldiers who laid down their lives defending the nation during Sino-Indian war in1962, Indo-Pak wars in 1947, 1965 and 1971, Indian Peace Keeping Force Operations in Sri Lanka and in the Kargil Conflict in 1999.

The memorial also commemorates the soldiers who participated and made supreme sacrifice in UN Peace Keeping Missions, during HADR Operations, Counter Insurgency Operations and Low-Intensity Capital Operation (LICO). The monument has four concentric circles, namely, the ‘Amar Chakra’ or Circle of Immortality, the ‘Veerta Chakra’ or Circle of Bravery, the ‘Tyag Chakra’ or Circle of Sacrifice, the ‘Rakshak Chakra’ or Circle of Protection.

The complex also includes a central obelisk, an eternal flame, six bronze murals depicting famous battles fought by the Indian Army, Air Force and Navy in a covered gallery (Veerta Chakra). Likewise, 16 walls have been constructed in the Tyag Chakra for paying homage to the 25,942 battle casualties. The names of soldiers who have made supreme sacrifice have been inscribed in golden letters on granite tablets arranged in a circular pattern which symbolises the ancient Indian war formation ‘Chakravyuh’.

The outermost circle called Rakshak Chakra comprises rows of more than 600 dense trees with each tree representing many soldiers who guard the territorial integrity of the nation round-the-clock. The complex also has graphic panels and stone murals. Busts of the 21 awardees of Param Veer Chakra have been installed at Param Yoddha Sthal which includes three living awardees — Sub Maj (Hony Capt) Bana Singh (Retd), Sub Major Yogendra Singh Yadav and Sub Sanjay Kumar. The construction of a memorial had received in-principle approval of the Union Cabinet at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Modi on October 7, 2015.