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Indian election alarm as BJP raises prospect of nuclear weapons rethink
Hindu nationalist opposition party, which is tipped to win lower house majority, causes concern with manifesto
The Hindu nationalist opposition party tipped to win India's election has sparked concern with a manifesto which, though largely devoted to economic development, setss out uncompromising hardline positions on contentious issues and raises the prospect of a revision of the country's policy on use of its nuclear weapons.
The election, a six-week process which is expected to see more than 600 million people vote, started on Monday with millions in the country's remote north-east going to the polls
Surveys predict a big win for the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) – whose prime ministerial candidate is the controversial Narendra Modi – though not an absolute majority in the 545-seat lower house of the national assembly.
The long-awaited BJP manifesto includes hundreds of policy initiatives including bullet trains, investment in job creation, water connections for every household, increased local defence production and funds to boost the practice of yoga.
But it was commitments to draft a "uniform civil code" – legislation that would withdraw the rights of India's 150 million Muslims to follow their religion-based law – and to "explore all possibilities" to build a Hindu temple at the bitterly contested site in the northern town of Ayodhya, which drew most attention internationally.
The BJP also says it would move to end the special autonomous status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan former princedom. The manifesto includes a controversial promise to work for the return of Hindus who left Kashmir when a separatist and then increasingly Islamist insurgency took hold in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
However, it is the prospect of a revision of India's nuclear doctrine, whose central principle is that New Delhi would not be first to use atomic weapons in a conflict, that has worried many in the region and beyond. Party sources involved in drafting the document told Reuters the "no first use" policy introduced would be reconsidered. The policy was introduced after India, then under a BJP government, conducted a series of nuclear tests in 1998. Pakistan, India's neighbour responded within weeks with nuclear tests of its own.
"For a long time there has been an assumption that India would not use nuclear weapons first. Given the existing tensions with Pakistan and the fact that those tensions are likely to rise as US troops leave Afghanistan [at the end of this year], this could well cause stress in Pakistan's security establishment which is really not something anyone [in Washington] desires," said Michael Kugelman, of the Woodrow Wilson International Center.
In an interview last month, Rajnath Singh, the BJP president, told the Guardian the party wanted cordial relations with "all countries in the world".
Though Indian elections are unpredictable, most analysts and all polls indicate a significant BJP win. Economic growth faltered three years ago and the Congress party, in power since 2004, has been hit by a series of graft scandals.
Along with its many pledges to improve the living standards of all Indians, the manifesto unequivocally sets out a nationalist agenda. "In a democracy, everyone is not only free, but also encouraged to voice his or her concerns … However, all this should happen within the framework of our constitution and with the spirit of 'India First'. We have to keep the nation at the forefront of our thoughts and actions. Any activity, which disrupts the integrity of the nation, cannot be in the interest of any segment of the society or any region of the country," it says.
One passage refers to the "power" which lies in " the people of India, in the inner sanctum sanctorum of Mother India" and explains that "what is needed is to ignite the spark and Mother India would rise in her full glory."
However, the manifesto also says the "BJP recognises the importance of diversity in Indian society, and the strength and vibrancy it adds to the nation. India constitutes of all its' people, irrespective of caste, creed, religion or sex."
Singh, the party's president, said the manifesto's release was not simply a formality but a "pledge".
The document gives a glimpse into internal tensions within the BJP, which is an offshoot of a broader Hindu nationalist movement which has its roots in the struggle against British colonial rule, and the party's relationship with the vast RSS (National Volunteer Force), an organisation of activists working on a conservative and religious agenda with 40 million members.
Seema Chishti, a journalist with the Indian Express newspaper, said that the inclusion of Ayodhya, Kashmir and then uniform civil code indicated that "the BJP is not in a position to jettison its Hindu identity or issues".
"These are the things they put on the back burner the last time they were in power … but in this manifesto, they have been reintroduced in a significant way," Chishti said.
Though the 50-plus page document acknowledges the "charismatic leadership of Narendra Modi", the promotion of the three-term chief minister of Gujarat on the national stage has been controversial within the BJP.
Modi came from the ranks of the RSS but has distanced himself from the organisation and has caused anger among traditionalist adherents of a vision of India as economically self-sufficient with its emphasis on attracting foreign investment from global firms. Analysts have said that the 63-year-old has sidelined older members of the BJP.
Prof Sumantra Bose of the London School of Economics downplayed any split and said that issues such as Ayodhya, the status of Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian civil code were at "the core of the beliefs of Hindu nationalist leaders of both the generations."
One question is the extent to which the nationalist views would define policy when in power.
"There's a religious right in the BJP so they want to acknowledge that without making it the centrepiece of the manifesto," said Ashok Malik, a political columnist. "I don't think the BJP is going to take it forward as a political movement."
One of the most polarising politicians in India for years, Modi is seen by critics as an extremist who, when chief minister in 2002, was accused of allowing or encouraging mobs to attack Muslims in towns across Gujarat after a lethal fire supposedly started by Muslims on a train full of Hindu pilgrims. Modi denied the allegations and investigators found no evidence of any direct involvement in violence.
He is also accused of an authoritarian style of government at odds with India's tradition of political compromise and consensus-building.
Supporters, including some of the most powerful industrialists in India, say Modi is an honest and decisive administrator who has introduced policies that have encouraged development in his state and could be reproduced elsewhere if he were prime minister. "There should be a strong government in Delhi so that the world doesn't threaten us. We need to hold our heads high and match the world," Modi said in Delhi."
Bharatiya Janata party leader Narendra Modi, right, and party president Rajnath Singh at the launch of the manifesto for the Indian elections. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
Jason Burke in New Delhi
theguardian.com, Monday 7 April 2014
- 8 days ago via site
#Indian men do very little household work : OECD
- 28 days ago via site
#Indian Government bans trucks from carrying protruding rods
- 39 days ago via site
Why is the #Indian soldier denied his right to vote? #IndianArmy #IndianNavy #IndianAirforce
By:Colonel (retd) Anil Athale
Every general election nearly 14 lakh soldiers/sailors and airmen, 9 lakh personnel of the para-military forces and their families are effectively denied their basic democratic right to vote. Why can’t the Election Commission come up with a solution for this, asks Colonel (retd) Anil Athale.
The general elections are definitely in the air! Political temperatures are already rising and many expect the general elections to take place this winter. As the elections approach, one can almost predict the news coverage! There will be the usual model code violations, media criticism on a large number of criminals in the electoral fray, stories put out by the Election Commission how it has made herculean efforts to reach the remotest corners of the country even for a mere ten voters etc!
There will also be the usual procession of political bigwigs, surrounded by SPG and ‘Black Cats’ , coming to the polling booth to cast their votes! At the end of the day, the Election Commission will pat itself on the back for having prevented booth capturing and conducted this mammoth exercise.
Forgotten in all this will be close to 14 lakh soldiers/sailors and airmen, 9 lakh personnel of the para-military forces and their families. These uniformed citizens are effectively denied their basic democratic right to vote. The nature of their job is such that most of them (including this author) have managed to vote only after retirement.
While the EC takes great pride in reaching the remotest location, does it remember the 4,000 odd soldiers on Siachen Gacier? Are the unformed citizens children of lesser God? Has any of the ‘leaders’ in Z and Z Plus category ever asked their bodyguards if they have had a chance to vote? This author conducted a straw poll of around 20 odd soldiers in Pune on April 5. Out of them only two had managed to vote since they happened to be on leave during an election. Over 90 percent said in their entire career they have never received a postal ballot.
Even if a more extensive survey is conducted, it will reveal that just over 5 percent of soldiers have ever had a chance to exercise their democratic right. This scandalous state of affairs has existed for over 65 years. Contrast this with the length to which other democracies go to ensure the soldiers exercise their right to vote. In the midst of World War II, in 1945, the British had polling booths in jungles of Burma for their soldiers to vote.
This author had raised this very issue in June 2012. The only response to this was a list of excuses and a promise to ‘look into the issue’. This article is to reiterate those arguments and again bring this issue to light well before the electoral process begins so that the Election Commission does not have excuse of lack of time to carry out the necessary reforms.
It is not that the armed forces have not brought out this issue earlier. Talking to a former adjutant general, this author was told that the excuse of the EC for its inability to send postal ballots was due to the large ballot papers with tens of names etc. We have come a long way from the ‘paper ballot’ era with the electronic voting machines the norm now. Do the same ‘logistic’ reasons hold even today? How did the British do it in 1945? How do the Americans, with worldwide spread of its soldiers and other citizens do it? Is it not time that the EC learns from the experience of other democracies and adopts ‘best practices’!
The de facto ‘dis-enfranchisement’ of soldiers (sailors, air men, para-military personnel) begins with the voter registration/electoral list revision. A soldier at Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, obviously cannot be present in his home in Jhumritallaiya. So a clerk who visits his home can easily delete his name! Matters become ever more curious if his family is staying in Guwahati. Now, no Assam government official visits the separated families’ accommodation to register them as voters in Assam (though our PM had his home address in that state). So the soldier who guards the country’s borders is not a good enough ‘citizen’ to vote.
There is a simple enough solution to this problem. Every soldier’s record and his identity card have clear mention of his permanent address. This is a part of government record, verified by local police at the time of recruitment/commissioning. The EC should accept this as the proof of residence and a simple application, sent to the EC headquarters, should ensure that the soldier is registered as a voter in the constituency. Having simplified the registration process, it should be possible that the EC will have the details of the soldier voter.
With advances in IT and the pioneering role played by India in having an ‘electronic voting system’, it should be possible for the EC to send its teams to the level of brigades during the election process. Here the soldiers can come personally and vote on a machine. Brilliant former CECs like T N Seshan, James Lyndoh, S Y Qureshi, who know the system can suggest ways that this can be accomplished. The process of voting need not wait for the date of general elections, but can begin even before. Like the US, it is time we also permit ‘early voting’.
This author is well aware that this is a cry in wilderness. The political ‘caste’ is not interested in letting the soldiers vote. This further complicates their ‘vote bank’ calculations. Has anyone ever wondered why a death of a single agitator in Kashmir valley is a big deal while six CRPF men being gunned down does not evoke any reaction!
The simple answer to this is that the politico’s know that the soldiers do not vote and are nobody’s vote bank, kind of political orphans. This is a serious issue that impacts the policies and actions of the governments. From neglect of martyred soldiers to lack of national war memorial or one rank one pension issue, the approach of political caste is dictated by the fact that there is no ‘vote’ to be gained in all this.
Can all this change? Surely, it can if the only credible institution of the country, the Supreme Court takes cognisance of the fact that the procedures/practices are effectively denying voting rights to uniformed persons, sort of what happens to Dalits in some part of the country, and directs the EC to take measures to rectify it. Will the apex court take suo moto notice of this issue and ask the EC a few questions like:
How many soldiers have managed to vote in past elections?
Why can’t the procedure to register be simplified for soldier?
What stops EC from sending teams with suitable machines to record the votes of soldiers centrally and then transmit them to the respective constituencies?
Don’t the soldiers who defend democracy have a right to participate in it?
Colonel (retd) Anil Athale
- 49 days ago via site
Almost 500 #Indian workers have died during #Qatar #FIFA World Cup preparations #LiarKejriwal #BJP #NaMo #narendraModi #humanrights
More than 500 Indian migrant workers have died in Qatar since January 2012, revealing for the first time the shocking scale of death toll among those building the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup.
Official figures confirmed by the Indian embassy in Doha reveal that 237 Indians working in Qatar died in 2012 and 241 in 2013. A further 24 Indians have died in January 2014.
These come after the Guardian revealed last month that 185 Nepalese workers had died in Qatar in 2013, taking the total from that country to at least 382 over two years.
Human rights groups and politicians said the figures meant Fifa could not "look the other way", and should be leading demands for Qatar to improve conditions for the estimated 1.2 million migrant workers fuelling a huge construction boom.
The figures from the Indian embassy show that 233 Indian migrants died in 2010 and 239 in 2011, taking the total over four years to 974. Since the World Cup was awarded to Qatar in December 2010, there have been 717 recorded Indian deaths.
However, the Indian embassy did not provide further details on who those individuals were, their cause of death or where they worked. But analysis of the lists of dead Nepalese workers showed that more than two-thirds died of sudden heart failure or workplace accidents.
Qatar's ministry of labour and social affairs told the Guardian: "With specific regard to these new figures, we were aware that local media had previously reported some of these headline numbers, and we are clarifying them. Clearly any one death in Qatar or anywhere else is one death too many – for the workers, for their families, but also for Qataris who welcome guest workers to our country to perform valuable jobs. We are working to understand the causes of these deaths – as these statistics could include a range of circumstances including natural causes, and road safety incidents, as well as a smaller number of workplace incidents."
Nicholas McGeehan, a Gulf researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: "These figures for Indian deaths are a horrendous confirmation that it isn't just Nepalese workers who are dying in Qatar."
Jim Murphy, the shadow international development secretary, said: "Preparations for the 2022 World Cup cannot go on like this – the trickle of worrying reports from the construction sites of Qatar has become a torrent.
"Some of the practices we know are taking place in Qatar amount to forced labour, and there are widespread concerns that the death toll could reach well into the thousands if nothing is done."
Last week, a hearing at the European parliament heard from human rights groups, Fifa and other interested parties after a resolution was passed last year calling for action on the issue as construction of 2022 World Cup venues begins in earnest.
Despite the Qatar 2022 organising committee implementing a new charter relating to construction on its stadiums and the ministry of labour highlighting an expanded inspection programme, human rights groups and trade unions have repeated their call for structural change in the face of hundreds of deaths.
In November, Amnesty warned in a damning report that workers were enduring 12-hour days in sweltering conditions and living in squalid, overcrowded accommodation.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has warned that up to 4,000 workers may die before a ball is kicked in 2022 without meaningful reform of the kafala system, which ties workers to their employers, and stringent control of the myriad construction companies and subcontractors involved.
The ITUC, which has campaigned consistently for better rights for migrant workers across the Gulf, has called the publication of the charter a sham because it does not deal with structural problems created by the kafala system..
Many workers arrive in Qatar already heavily in debt, having paid huge sums to middle men to secure contracts in the fast growing Gulf state.
A senior executive at one of Qatar's largest banks told a conference in Bahrain last month that the Gulf state would spend £123bn on infrastructure projects in the next four years alone. The hosting of the World Cup is an integral part of Qatar's unprecedented 2030 National Vision building project.
There are an estimated 1.2 million migrant workers in Qatar. Those from India make up 22% of the total, with a similar proportion from Pakistan. Around 16% are from Nepal, 13% from Iran, 11% from the Philippines, 8% from Egypt and 8% from Sri Lanka.
The Qatar World Cup organisers believe that by holding their own contractors to higher standards they can create momentum for change and that improved rights for workers could be one legacy benefit of hosting the tournament.
The ministry of foreign affairs has also emphasised that it is stepping up efforts to hold contractors to existing labour laws, sanctioning 2,000 companies in 2013 and a further 500 in January 2014 alone.
The statement from the Qatari ministry of labour and social affairs added: "Where any liability is found to rest with employers, the ministry …and Qatari law authorities will pursue these cases through the relevant legal channels. We have increased the number of trained labour inspectors by 25%, and continue to hire new inspectors, with over 11,500 random spot-checks of workplaces carried out in the past three months.
This, in order to enforce our existing labour laws, with the aim of the prevention of any further workplace incidents."
Law firm DLA Piper has been engaged to prepare a report on all issues surrounding Qatar's use of migrant labour, which is expected to be published next month.
But human rights groups have maintained that Qatar must prove it is serious about reforming its labour laws. Amnesty's James Lynch, who wrote last year's report, called on the Qatari and Indian authorities to provide more detail on the circumstances of the deaths.
"This issue is not restricted to one country of origin," said Lynch. "It is critical that the Qatari government works urgently with the governments of migrant workers' countries of origin to investigate the main causes of migrant workers' deaths and develops a transparent plan to address these, particularly where deaths relate to industrial accidents, work conditions and access to healthcare."
Fifa has asked Qatar to provide evidence of meaningful progress in reforming labour law but the president of world football's governing body, Sepp Blatter, has said its status as hosts is not under threat.
Murphy, who will travel to Nepal and Qatar in the coming weeks, said: "Fifa cannot simply look the other way. Football's governing body should be leading demands for change, not dragging its feet."
- 56 days ago via site