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Posts Tagged ‘Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party

From Calcutta to Kashmir

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By Avirook Sen

For a march that kicked off so close to my home in Calcutta’s Shyambazar, this thing has gotten somewhat out of hand, and more than somewhat ridiculous.

On January 12, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) youth wing flagged off what they called the ‘ekta yatra’ – a march for unity.

The plan was to converge on Lal Chowk in Srinagar, the arson-prone heart of Kashmir, from all over the country, to hoist the Indian tricolour on Republic Day. Assert a fundamental right, remind the fellow in the firan where it’s at, and so on. Alas, the plan lacked idiot-proofing from conception to execution.

A bunch of merry right-wing youth from Karnataka in the south, boarded a train bound for Kashmir. But sometime after midnight, when the train had barely gotten a fifth of the way there, the poor boys fell asleep, dreaming dreams of national unity.

Alert security forces grabbed their chance. At a station in Maharashtra, they detached the bogeys containing the future flag-hoisters from the mother train. They then attached the bogeys to a train headed back to Bangalore, where the volunteers had breakfast.

While the rest of us laughed our heads off, spokesmen for the BJP objected in the strongest possible terms: “Our workers had valid tickets!”

There is a sense of deja vu about these events. In late 1991, a year before they demolished the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, the BJP undertook almost the exact same march. The then president of the party, Murli Manohar Joshi, led the marchers.

Landslides (and a not a little Kashmiri outrage) prevented Joshi’s followers from reaching the spot. Joshi himself had to be flown in, amid what witnesses called the tightest security they had seen. Sympathetic commentators put the number of people getting to Lal Chowk at 40, including journalists. Curfew had been imposed on the town and announcements made that Lal Chowk had been handed over to the army.

There are varying reports of how the actual hoisting took place on January 26, 1992.

It is clear that security personnel helped Joshi with the flag, but when he was raising it to the pedestal of the clock tower on which it was supposed to fly, the rod broke and knocked the old man on the head. It has been reported that the flag was finally hoisted on a lamppost. Having raised the flag, a slightly dizzy Joshi left the scene and went off to plot the razing of a mosque.

Leading the marchers this time is a fellow called Anurag Thakur, MP, and the son of the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh. An official website lists his professions as “cricketer” and “industrialist”. Though what he really does is run an export house and make sure, with a little help from papa, that he’s in control of all cricket administration in his home state.

His own webpage has a picture of a cricket team with a trophy in front, he sits in the middle with a blue jacket, the boys are in white. The header reads: “If he can do this in sports, he can do better in politics. There is a need to bring young talent to the forefronts (sic) of politics.”

By the standards of Indian politics, this chap should visit the pediatrician if he catches a cold during his march, but at 36, he’s been pushed to the forefront all right.

Now all he has to do is find a suitable lamppost, and not injure himself, or cause injury to others. In Shyambazar, where it all began, Republic Day represents a peaceful holiday. That I have from the horse’s mouth.

Author Arundhati Roy defends Kashmir statements

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NEW DELHI – Indian author Arundhati Roy, facing possible sedition charges over remarks she made about disputed Indian Kashmir, said on Tuesday she had only been calling for “justice” for the region.


The Booker prize winning Indian author, Arundhathi Roy

Roy’s statement came after police in New Delhi said they were weighing whether to bring sedition charges against the Booker prize-winning author over comments she made about Kashmir in recent days.

The author of the novel “The God of Small Things” issued a statement Tuesday saying her remarks urging “azadi” or freedom for Kashmir were “fundamentally a call for justice.”

The region has been beset by anti-India violence, curfews and strikes since early June, when a 17-year-old student was killed by a police teargas shell. Since then, a total of 111 protesters and bystanders have died.

“What I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their fingernails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians,” she said in an emailed statement.

Arundhati, who has emerged in recent years as a prominent social activist, has spoken out on two occasions in recent days on Kashmir, in one instance sharing a stage with hardline separatist Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has objected strongly to Roy’s remarks, calling them “seditious” and accusing the Congress-led government of “looking the other way” by not taking any legal action against Roy.

Law Minister Veerappa Moily said the comments were “most unfortunate”. While there is freedom of speech, “it can’t violate the patriotic sentiments of the people,” Moily said, according to the Press Trust of India.

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan each hold part of Kashmir but claim it in full. India insists that Kashmir is an “integral part” of the country.

The Himalayan region, which has triggered two wars between the nuclear-armed neighbours, has been wracked by a militant insurgency against Indian rule since 1989.

Rebel violence has declined sharply since the start of a peace process between India and Pakistan.

Roy said in her statement that she had read in Indian newspapers that she might be arrested on charges of sedition for her remarks supporting freedom for Kashmir.

“I said what millions of people here (in Kashmir) say every day. I said what I as well as other commentators have written and said for years,” she said.

“Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice,” she said.

Geelani also faces the threat of sedition charges for comments he made while sharing the podium with Roy, according to the Indian media.

When told of the possible charges, the elderly separatist leader said 90 such cases had already been filed against him.

“Let this be the 91st,” he declared.

India fuel strike bites and tests resolve for reforms

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Opposition workers set buses on fire and burned tires as a nationwide strike over higher fuel prices shut down parts of India on Monday in a test of the government’s efforts to cut subsidies and trim a budget deficit.


Police use batons to disperse Samajwadi Party activists during a strike against the hike in fuel prices in the northern Indian city of Lucknow July 5, 2010.

Many flights were canceled and streets emptied in response to the strike called by the main opposition Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the leftist bloc as the ruling Congress party attempts to push ahead with key reforms in Asia’s third-largest economy.

The response to the strike was mixed, with a total shutdown in opposition-ruled states but business mostly normal in Congress-ruled regions.

Businesses were largely shut in financial capital Mumbai while in eastern West Bengal state, a communist bastion, supporters marched on the streets to protest the freeing up of state-subsidized petrol prices late last month and the raising of prices of other fuels that may exacerbate double-digit inflation.

The IT-hub of Bangalore in BJP-ruled Karnataka state was practically shut down, with most software firms closed.

In Congress-ruled capital New Delhi, morning traffic was heavy and shops remained open, though there were reports of brief disruptions in the underground train service.

“The government claims it is working for the common man but it clearly doesn’t care for them,” said D. Raja, leader of the Communist Party of India. “Price rise is the single biggest burning issue affecting all sections of the society.”

The Congress-led government retained power last year largely on a social spending-driven agenda but says now it needs to curb costly subsidies to stay on target of reducing the fiscal deficit to 5.5 percent in 2010/11, even at the risk of angering some of its allies which opposed the fuel price hike.

Fuel subsidies in the year ending March 2010 were roughly 1 percent of GDP.

STOKING INFLATION

The fuel hike helped prompt the central bank on Friday to raise interest rates by 25 basis points, nearly a month ahead of a scheduled policy review.

Signaling the government’s resolve, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said on Sunday there was no question of rolling back the hike in fuel prices.

The government has the tacit support of its parliamentary allies. Some face state elections in coming months and have to be seen as publicly opposing the fuel price hike, which will add nearly one percentage point to headline inflation now at 10.16 percent.

But the allies will continue to support the government despite their vocal criticism of high inflation.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has struggled with other reforms such as opening up the insurance and banking sectors and a civilian nuclear liability deal due to strong opposition in parliament, including Congress party allies.

More disruption over bills may be seen in the next parliamentary session starting on July 26. But so far inflation is not translating into mass spontaneous protests that could destabilize the government.

“Today’s strike is not going to deter the government from pushing its reform agenda,” political commentator Amulya Ganguli said.

“For the opposition it is more an exercise to boost the morale of its cadre and mobilize it to do something instead of sitting idly … People today realize it’s not possible to keep on subsidizing.”

The national truckers’ union said more than 600,000 trucks would stay off the roads.

Airports in Mumbai and Delhi were open, but some flights were canceled in response to low passenger loads, a spokesman said.

For Chandra Bai, a domestic helper in Mumbai, the strike was not quite the show of support for the common man that the opposition claimed it is:

“On one hand, all prices have sky rocketed. On the other hand, they call a strike and trouble us even more. Where is the relief for us?”