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China, Russia, France share satellite data on Assam floods

Flood in Assam could be minimised with the help and application of early warning system, says Chandan Kumar Duarah,  a science journalist and conservation activist in Assam. Satellite data has been playing a crucial role  which was ignored during Assam flood.  Several countries including China, Russia and France collaborated with India on sharing satellite images of the scale of inundation. As signatories to the The International Charter Space and Major Disasters, any of the 32 member countries can send a ‘request’ to activate the Charter. This would immediately trigger a request by the coordinators to space agencies of other countries whose satellites have the best eyes on the site of the disaster.

Based on an activation request by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on July 17, France’s National Centre for Space Studies, China National Space Administration and ROSCOSMOS of Russia shared satellite images of the flood situation in the districts of Dhubri, Marigaon, Barpeta, Dhemaji, Lakhimpur in Assam with ISRO’s National Remote Sensing Centre. ISRO’s CARTOSAT satellites too got the Indian space agency its own images.

‘Standard practice’

Ravish Kumar, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, said in response to a query from The Hindu that combining earth observation assets from different space agencies allows resources and expertise to be coordinated for rapid response. This was a “standard practice” and in the past ISRO too had provided information to other space agencies in response to similar requests. In August 2014, for instance, ISRO’s CARTOSAT shared images after an activation request from China after an earthquake struck Yunan province and killed 398.

Since 2000, when the Charter came into operation there have been about 600 activations and data from 61 satellites have helped with disaster operations in 125 countries.

Election, Politics

Can the World’s Largest Democracy Endure Another Five Years of a Modi Government?

BY AATISH TASEER MAY 9, 2019

Of the great democracies to fall to populism, India was the first.

In 2014, Narendra Modi, then the longtime chief minister of the western state of Gujarat and leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was elected to power by the greatest mandate the country had seen in 30 years. India until then had been ruled primarily by one party–the Congress, the party of Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru–for 54 of the 67 years that the country had been free.

Now, India is voting to determine if Modi and the BJP will continue to control its destiny. It is a massive seven-phase exercise spread over 5½ weeks in which the largest electorate on earth–some 900 million–goes to the polls. To understand the deeper promptings of this enormous expression of franchise–not just the politics, but the underlying cultural fissures–we need to go back to the first season of the Modi story. It is only then that we can see why the advent of Modi is at once an inevitability and a calamity for India. The country offers a unique glimpse into both the validity and the fantasy of populism. It forces us to reckon with how in India, as well as in societies as far apart as Turkey and Brazil, Britain and the U.S., populism has given voice to a sense of grievance among majorities that is too widespread to be ignored, while at the same time bringing into being a world that is neither more just, nor more appealing.

Illustration by Nigel Buchanan for TIME

The story starts at independence. In 1947, British India was split in two. Pakistan was founded as a homeland for Indian Muslims. But India, under the leadership of its Cambridge-educated Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, chose not to be symmetrically Hindu. The country had a substantial Muslim population (then around 35 million, now more than 172 million), and the ideology Nehru bequeathed to the newly independent nation was secularism. This secularism was more than merely a separation between religion and state; in India, it means the equal treatment of all religions by the state, although to many of its critics, that could translate into Orwell’s maxim of some being more equal than others. Indian Muslims were allowed to keep Shari’a-based family law, while Hindus were subject to the law of the land. Arcane practices–such as the man’s right to divorce a woman by repudiating her three times and paying a minuscule compensation–were allowed for Indian Muslims, while Hindus were bound by reformed family law and often found their places of worship taken over by the Indian state. (Modi made the so-called Triple Talaq instant divorce a punishable offense through an executive order in 2018.)

Nehru’s political heirs, who ruled India for the great majority of those post-independence years, established a feudal dynasty, while outwardly proclaiming democratic norms and principles. India, under their rule, was clubbish, anglicized and fearful of the rabble at the gates. In May 2014 those gates were breached when the BJP, under Modi, won 282 of the 543 available seats in Parliament, reducing the Congress to 44 seats, a number so small that India’s oldest party no longer even had the right to lead the opposition.

Populists come in two stripes: those who are of the people they represent (Erdogan in Turkey, Bolsonaro in Brazil), and those who are merely exploiting the passions of those they are not actually part of (the champagne neo-fascists: the Brexiteers, Donald Trump, Imran Khan in Pakistan). Narendra Modi belongs very firmly to the first camp. He is the son of a tea seller, and his election was nothing short of a class revolt at the ballot box. It exposed what American historian Anne Applebaum has described as “unresolvable divisions between people who had previously not known that they disagreed with one another.” There had, of course, been political differences before, but what Modi’s election revealed was a cultural chasm. It was no longer about left, or right, but something more fundamental.

The nation’s most basic norms, such as the character of the Indian state, its founding fathers, the place of minorities and its institutions, from universities to corporate houses to the media, were shown to be severely distrusted. The cherished achievements of independent India–secularism, liberalism, a free press–came to be seen in the eyes of many as part of a grand conspiracy in which a deracinated Hindu elite, in cahoots with minorities from the monotheistic faiths, such as Christianity and Islam, maintained its dominion over India’s Hindu majority.

Modi’s victory was an expression of that distrust. He attacked once unassailable founding fathers, such as Nehru, then sacred state ideologies, such as Nehruvian secularism and socialism; he spoke of a “Congress-free” India; he demonstrated no desire to foster brotherly feeling between Hindus and Muslims. Most of all, his ascension showed that beneath the surface of what the elite had believed was a liberal syncretic culture, India was indeed a cauldron of religious nationalism, anti-Muslim sentiment and deep-seated caste bigotry. The country had a long history of politically instigated sectarian riots, most notably the killing of at least 2,733 Sikhs in the streets of Delhi after the 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The Congress leadership, though hardly blameless, was able, even through the selective profession of secular ideals, to separate itself from the actions of the mob. Modi, by his deafening silences after more recent atrocities, such as the killing of more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, in his home state of Gujarat in 2002, proved himself a friend of the mob. He made one yearn for the hypocrisies of the past, for, as Aldous Huxley writes, at least “the political hypocrite admits the existence of values higher than those of immediate national, party or economic interest.” Modi, without offering an alternative moral compass, rubbished the standards India had, and made all moral judgment seem subject to conditions of class and culture warfare. The high ideals of the past have come under his reign to seem like nothing but the hollow affectations of an entrenched power elite. When, in 2019, Modi tweets, “You know what is my crime for them? That a person born to a poor family is challenging their Sultunate [sic],” he is trying to resurrect the spirit of 2014, which was the spirit of revolution. Them is India’s English-speaking elite, as represented by the Congress party; sultanate is a dog whistle to suggest that all the heirs of foreign rule in India–the country had centuries of Muslim rule before the British took over in 1858–are working in tandem to prevent the rise of a proud Hindu nation.

An Ikea customer in Hyderabad

An Ikea customer in Hyderabad Atul Loke—The New York Times/Redux

In 2014, Modi converted cultural anger into economic promise. He spoke of jobs and development. Taking a swipe at the socialist state, he famously said, “Government has no business being in business.” That election, though it is hard to believe now, was an election of hope. When the Delhi press tried to bait the Modi voter with questions about building a temple in Ayodhya, a place where Hindu nationalist mobs in 1992 had destroyed a 16th century mosque, said to stand at the birthplace of the Hindu epic hero Ram, they stoutly responded with: “Why are you talking to us of temples, when we are telling you that we’re voting for him because we want development.” Sabka saath, sabka vikas–“Together with all, development for all”–was Modi’s slogan in 2014.

As India votes this month, the irony of those words is not lost on anyone. Not only has Modi’s economic miracle failed to materialize, he has also helped create an atmosphere of poisonous religious nationalism in India. One of his young party men, Tejasvi Surya, put it baldly in a speech in March 2019, “If you are with Modi, you are with India. If you are not with Modi, then you are strengthening anti-India forces.” India’s Muslims, who make up some 14% of the population, have been subjected to episode after violent episode, in which Hindu mobs, often with what seems to be the state’s tacit support, have carried out a series of public lynchings in the name of the holy cow, that ready symbol of Hindu piety. Hardly a month goes by without the nation watching agog on their smartphones as yet another enraged Hindu mob falls upon a defenseless Muslim. The most enduring image of Modi’s tenure is the sight of Mohammad Naeem in a blood-soaked undershirt in 2017, eyes white and enlarged, begging the mob for his life before he is beaten to death. The response of leadership in every instance is the same: virtual silence. Basic norms and civility have been so completely vitiated that Modi can no longer control the direction of the violence. Once hatred has been sanctioned, it is not always easy to isolate its target, and what the BJP has discovered to its dismay is that the same people who are willing to attack Muslims are only too willing to attack lower-caste Hindus as well. The party cannot afford to lose the lower-caste vote, but one of the ugliest incidents occurred in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, in July 2016, when upper-caste men stripped four lower-caste tanners, paraded them in the streets and beat them with iron rods for allegedly skinning a cow.

Modi’s record on women’s issues is spotty. On the one hand, he made opportunity for women and their safety a key election issue (a 2018 report ranked the country the most dangerous place on earth for women); on the other hand, his attitude and that of his party men feels paternalistic. He caused outrage in 2015 when he said Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, had a good record on terrorism, “despite being a woman”; Modi’s deputy, Amit Shah, speaks of women as having the status of deities, ever the refuge of the religious chauvinist who is only too happy to revere women into silence. Yet Modi also appointed a woman Defense Minister.

If these contradictions are part of the unevenness of a society assimilating Western freedoms, it must be said that under Modi minorities of every stripe–from liberals and lower castes to Muslims and Christians–have come under assault. Far from his promise of development for all, he has achieved a state in which Indians are increasingly obsessed with their differences. If in 2014 he was able to exploit difference in order to create a climate of hope, in 2019 he is asking people to stave off their desperation by living for their differences alone. The incumbent may win again–the opposition, led by Rahul Gandhi, an unteachable mediocrity and a descendant of Nehru, is in disarray–but Modi will never again represent the myriad dreams and aspirations of 2014. Then he was a messiah, ushering in a future too bright to behold, one part Hindu renaissance, one part South Korea’s economic program. Now he is merely a politician who has failed to deliver, seeking re-election. Whatever else might be said about the election, hope is off the menu.

I covered the 2014 election from the holy city of Varanasi, which Modi had chosen as his constituency, repurposing its power over the Hindu imagination, akin to that of Jerusalem, Rome or Mecca, to fit his politics of revival. That election split me in two: on the one hand, I knew, as someone of Muslim parentage (my father was a Pakistani Muslim) and a member of India’s English-speaking elite, that the country Modi would bring into being would have no place for me; on the other hand, I was in sympathy with Modi’s cultural diagnosis of what power looked and felt like in India. In the West, the charge that liberalism, or leftism, corresponds to the power of an entitled elite is relatively new and still contestable. In India, for decades to be left-wing or liberal was to belong to a monstrously privileged minority. Until recently, there was no equivalent group on the right, no New England Republicans, no old-fashioned Tories. It was easy to feel that being left-wing was the province of a privileged few who had gone to university abroad, where they had picked up the latest political and intellectual fashions.

Sardar Singh Jatav recovers after an attack by higher-caste Hindu men in September 2018

Sardar Singh Jatav recovers after an attack by higher-caste Hindu men in September 2018 Atul Loke—The New York Times/Redux

Modi in 2014 was able to make the cultural isolation of the Indian elite seem political–part of a foreign-led conspiracy to undermine the “real” India. He revealed that a powerful segment of the country was living in a bubble. It was an effective political tactic, but it also obscured the fact that “real” India was living in a bubble of its own. Nehru had always been clear: India was not going to become a modern country by being more authentically itself. It needed the West; it needed science and technology; it needed, above all, to embrace “the scientific temper” and to eschew the obscurantism and magic that was at the heart of its traditional life. Modi, inadvertently or deliberately, has created a bewildering mental atmosphere in which India now believes that the road to becoming South Korea runs through the glories of ancient India. In 2014 Modi suggested at a gathering of doctors and medical professionals in Mumbai that ancient Indians knew the secrets of genetic science and plastic surgery. “We worship Lord Ganesha,” he said of the Hindu deity. “There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery.”

He has in every field, from politics and economics to Indology itself, privileged authenticity over ability, leading India down the road to a profound anti-intellectualism. He appointed Swaminathan Gurumurthy, Hindu nationalist ideologue, to the board of the Reserve Bank of India–a man of whom the renowned Columbia economist Jagdish Bhagwati said, “If he’s an economist, I’m a Bharatanatyam dancer.” It was Gurumurthy who, in a quest to deal with the menace of “black money,” is thought to have advised Modi to put 86% of India’s banknotes out of commission overnight in 2016, causing huge economic havoc from which the country is yet to recover. Modi now finds himself seeking to hold power in a climate of febrile nationalism, with a platform whose themes have much more to do with national security and profiting from recent tensions between India and Pakistan than with economic growth.

In 2017, after winning state elections in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, which happens also to have its largest Muslim population, the BJP appointed a hate-mongering priest in robes of saffron, the color of Hindu nationalism, to run that state. Yogi Adityanath had not been the face of the campaign. If he was known at all, it was for vile rhetoric, here imploring crowds to kill a hundred Muslims for every Hindu killed, there sharing the stage with a man who wanted to dig up the bodies of Muslim women and rape them. Modi has presided over a continuous assault on the grove of academe, where the unqualified and semiliterate have been encouraged to build their shanties. Academia in India was dogmatically left-wing, but rather than change its politics, Modi attacked the idea of qualification itself. From the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), which produced a roll call of politicians and intellectuals, India’s places of learning have been hollowed out, the administration and professors chosen for their political ideology rather than basic levels of proficiency.

Modi is right to criticize an India in which modernity came to be synonymous with Westernization, so that all those ideas and principles that might have had universal valence became the preserve of those who were exposed to European and American culture. What Modi cannot–or will not–do is tell India the hard truth that if she wishes to be a great power, and not a Hindu theocracy, the medieval Indian past, mired in superstition and magic, must go under. It is not enough to be more truly oneself. “In India, as in Europe,” wrote the great Sri Lankan historian A.K. Coomaraswamy, “the vestiges of ancient civilization must be renounced: we are called from the past and must make our home in the future. But to understand, to endorse with passionate conviction, and to love what we have left behind us is the only possible foundation for power.” The desperation that underlies Modi’s India is that of people clinging to the past, ill-equipped for the modern world, people in whom the zealous love of country stands in for real confidence.

Cows are sacred to Hindus. Cow-protection mobs have killed at least 46 people since 2015. Most targets were Muslim

Cows are sacred to Hindus. Cow-protection mobs have killed at least 46 people since 2015. Most targets were Muslim Atul Loke—Panos/Redux

The question of what is hers, and what has come from the outside, is a constant source of anxiety in India. The same process that made the Indian elite “foreigners in their own land”–in Mahatma Gandhi’s phrasing–is repeating, albeit unevenly, throughout the country across classes and groups never exposed to Western norms and culture in the past. “Our culture is being decimated,” one young member of the ABVP–the most powerful Hindu nationalist youth organization in the country–told me in Varanasi. “Many in my family have received degrees in commerce; but I chose to be nearer my culture. A great civilization, like ours, cannot be subdued without the complicity of men on the inside, working against us. Someone–I cannot say who–is controlling us, and there is but the difference of a syllable between vikas [development] and vinasha [ruin].”

This young Hindu nationalist is part of a new generation of Indians, untouched by colonization, but not spared globalization. They live with a profound sense of being trifled with. They feel their culture and religion has been demeaned; they entertain fantasies of “Hinduphobia” and speak with contempt of “sickluars,” “libtards” and the “New Yuck Times.” One has the feeling they are converting their sense of cultural loss into a political ideology. It produces in them a rage for the Other–Muslims, lower castes, the Indian elite–“the men on the inside,” who have more generations of Westernization behind them. Last month, Amit Shah compared Muslim immigrants to “termites,” and the BJP’s official Twitter handle no longer bothers with dog whistles: “We will remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha [sic], Hindus and Sikhs.” If this wasn’t bad enough, the BJP’s candidate for the central Indian city of Bhopal, with its rich Muslim history and a Muslim population of over 25%, is a saffron-clad female saint, who stands accused of masterminding a terrorist attack in which six people were killed near a mosque. Currently out on bail, Sadhvi Pragya Thakur’s candidacy marks that all-too-familiar turn when the specter of extreme nationalism and criminality become inseparable.

Modi’s India feels like a place where the existing order of things has passed away, without any credible new order having come into being. Modi has won–and may yet win again–but to what end? His brand of populism has certainly served as a convincing critique of Indian society, of which there could be no better symbol than the Congress Party. They have little to offer other than the dynastic principle, yet another member of the Nehru-Gandhi family. India’s oldest party has no more political imagination than to send Priyanka Gandhi–Rahul’s sister–to join her brother’s side. It would be the equivalent of the Democrat’s fielding Hillary Clinton again in 2020, with the added enticement of Chelsea as VP.

Modi is lucky to be blessed with so weak an opposition–a ragtag coalition of parties, led by the Congress, with no agenda other than to defeat him. Even so, doubts assail him, for he must know he has not delivered on the promise of 2014. It is why he has resorted to looking for enemies within. Like other populists, he sits in his white house tweeting out his resentment against the sultanate of “them.” And, as India gets ready to give this willful provincial, so emblematic of her own limitations, a second term, one cannot help but tremble at what he might yet do to punish the world for his own failures.

Taseer, a novelist and journalist, is the author, most recently, of The Twice-Born: Life and Death on the Ganges

Contact us at editors@time.com.

This appears in the May 20, 2019 issue of TIME.

Election, Politics

Elections 2019: BJP Could Lose 40 Seats in Uttar Pradesh

Deepankar Basu and Debarshi Das——-

The BJP’s spectacular victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections relied on stunning victories in the ten states of the Hindi heartland – Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. The BJP won 190 of the 225 Lok Sabha seats in these states, virtually ensuring the success of its bid for power at the Centre.

Its fortunes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections rest crucially on its performance in these states, but more so in Uttar Pradesh. This is not only because it provides the largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha, but also because of its oversize impact on the rest of the Hindi heartland.

This article attempts to predict the BJP’s performance in Uttar Pradesh in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections using past voting trends – both from the assembly election in 2017 and the previous Lok Sabha elections. Our interest in this exercise is motivated primarily from understanding the possible impact of the electoral alliance between the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party (SP), and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). This alliance has been formed with an explicit anti-BJP focus and is, by all accounts, likely to have a significant impact on the outcome of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This article attempts to quantify the impact.

Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Ajit Singh, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati and Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav. Credit: PTI

Methodology

To predict the electoral outcome in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in UP, we used the actual voting pattern in the 2017 assembly elections and in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. We used the Election Commission’s voting data and supplemented it with data from the website pollniti.com.

We started by identifying the parliamentary constituency to which each assembly constituency belonged. Then we computed the total number of votes that each of the major political parties received at the parliamentary constituency – the BJP, BSP, INC, RLD and SP. We arrived at this number by adding up the votes that each party won in the assembly constituencies that make up a parliamentary constituency.

Dividing the number of votes of each party by the total number of votes cast in the parliamentary constituency – itself the sum of total votes cast in each of the assembly constituencies that make up the parliamentary constituency – gave us the vote share of each party at the parliamentary constituency level.

We used this number to predict the vote share for each party at the parliamentary constituency level in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. We added up the vote shares of SP, BSP and RLD to arrive at their predicted combined vote share. Finally, we declared the party or alliance with the maximum vote share as the winner.

The second method was more straightforward. We used the parliamentary constituency-level vote share of each party in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as the predicted value of vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Moreover, just like in the first method, we added up the vote shares of SP, BSP and RLD to arrive at the predicted vote share of the combine. Once again, we declared the party or alliance with the maximum vote share in a parliamentary constituency as the winner of that seat. The results of our prediction exercise are summarised in the table.

Table 1: Outcomes in Lok Sabha Elections in Uttar Pradesh
Actual Outcome in 2014Predicted outcome in 2019
Basis of Prediction: 2017 Assembly ElectionsBasis of Prediction: 2014 Parliamentary Elections
Vote Share (%)
BJP42.339.542.3
BSP19.622.219.6
INC7.56.27.5
SP22.221.922.2
SP-BSP-RLD45.942.5
Seats
BJP712730
BSP0
INC206
SP5
SP-BSP-RLD5344

Results

What do the results show and how does the BJP’s performance compare to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls? Its vote share will not change significantly. The first method shows that the BJP’s vote share will drop from 42.3% in 2014 to 39.5%. The second method keeps the BJP’s vote share unchanged.

But the number of seats that the BJP can win will be impacted significantly. Using the first method that relies on the 2017 assembly election patterns, its seats will drop from 71 to 27 in 2019, a deficit of 44.

If we use the second method that relies on the 2014 parliamentary election patterns, the BJP’s seats will drop from 71 to 30 in 2019, a deficit of 41. Both methods point in the same direction: a massive decline in the number of seats that the BJP can win. Whether the party will be able to make up the 40-plus seat deficit in UP from other states is a critical question. The party swept most of the north and west India in 2014. This means that there is likely to be deficits from those parts of India as well. East and South India do not hold promises of significant increment either. All in all, the significant seat deficit in UP might mean serious trouble for the BJP’s ambition to form the next Central government.

The reasons for this significant change in the BJP’s electoral fortunes between 2014 and 2019 is almost wholly governed by the logic of electoral arithmetic. The SP and BSP have had significant electoral presence in UP for the past several decades. The BJP has been able to gain electoral victories primarily because of triangular or quadrilateral contests. The RLD’s presence is limited to western UP, but it wields sufficient electoral prowess to deal a strong blow to the BJP.

In the current conjuncture, neither the SP nor BSP, and least of all RLD, has the electoral heft to defeat the BJP on its own. This is evident from the vote share data of the previous two elections. But it is interesting that the BJP has not been able to erode their vote shares significantly. For instance, between 2014 and 2017, both the SP and BSP increased their vote shares. Moreover, taken together, these two parties have consistently maintained a vote share that is close to or larger than what the BJP managed to get in 2014 – its most stunning performance so far.

Thus, the SP-BSP alliance will be able to significantly reduce the seats won by the BJP, unless there is a drastic change in voting patterns. The Congress may go without any seats if the prediction from the first method comes true. This is not surprising. The combined might of three parties can obliterate small parties in the first-past-the-post system.

Congress Leader Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul Gandhi. Credit: PTI

The Congress may go without any seats if the prediction from the first method comes true. Credit: PTI

Caveats and conclusion

Using the past to predict the future is always a risky venture, especially so in the case of electoral outcomes. After all, the situation in the economy and polity change between elections. Political parties intervene to shape the outcomes in their favour.

Hence, it is possible that the voting patterns in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and in the 2017 assembly elections are poor predictors of the voting pattern for the current elections. If that is the case, then the predictions of this article would be incorrect. But there are reasons, both electoral and political, to believe that the patterns are more durable.

Let us start with the electoral reasons. First, the Mahagathbandhan parties may not transfer votes to each other. After all, the BSP and SP has had an acrimonious relation till very recently. Their voters rely on caste loyalties, which are not readily mutable. While this remains a valid concern about our methodology and predictions, it is also important to note that the alliance has had quite a few successful dry runs – in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana.

The recent joint rally of Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav bolsters the chances of a successful replication of those experiments at the state level. Second, Muslim and secular votes which were with other parties (the Congress, for example) may shift towards the Mahagathbandhan once it emerges as the only serious contender against the BJP. While the first factor would improve the BJP’s performance, the second would undermine it, and it is possible that these contradictory tendencies will balance each other out.

Turning to political reasons, we should note that the BJP came to power in 2014 because it could project an image of a party that would address the economic problems of the vast majority – the rising unemployment of the youth, the distress in the agricultural sector, the precarious lives of the informal sector workers. This the BJP could do easily by drawing attention to and contrasting itself with the “corrupt, and ineffectual Congress”.

But now the same problems plague the BJP. The promise of generating jobs remains unfulfilled. The deepening distress in the agricultural sector has hardly been addressed – other than by window dressing measures. On top of that were the misadventures of demonetisation and the hurriedly implemented GST, both of which inflicted enormous costs on the ordinary citizen.

The BJP did well in the 2017 UP vidhan sabha elections because demonetisation was successfully marketed as a pious nationalistic act. The fragmented state of the opposition also helped. But reality soon caught up. In 2018, vidhan sabha results in Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh signaled the shifting mood of the electorate.

Nothing has changed significantly since the 2018 vidhan sabha elections for the unemployed youth, the distressed farmers, the precarious workers – other than BJP’s recent, frantic efforts to divert attention from these economic issues by stirring nationalist frenzy and religious bigotry.

Hence, it seems likely that the logic of electoral arithmetic that favours the SP-BSP-RLD alliance will be bolstered by these enduring failures of the BJP to hand it a crushing defeat on its own turf.

Deepankar Basu is associate professor in the Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst. Debarshi Das is associate professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati.

Sc. & Tech.

‘A terrible thing’: India’s destruction of satellite threatens ISS, says Nasa

India’s destruction of one of its satellites has been labelled a “terrible thing” by the head of Nasa, who said the missile test created 400 pieces of orbital debris and posed a threat to astronauts onboard the International SpaceStation (ISS).

Jim Bridenstine was addressing employees five days after India shot down a low-orbiting satellite in a missile launch that it says elevated the country to the elite tier of space powers.

The satellite shattered into pieces, many of which are dangerously large but too small to track, Bridenstine said. “What we are tracking right now, objects big enough to track – we’re talking about 10cm (six inches) or bigger – about 60 pieces have been tracked.”

Space agency chief says shooting down of satellite has created 400 pieces of orbital debris

The Indian satellite was destroyed at a relatively low altitude of 180 miles (300km), well below the ISS and most satellites in orbit.

But 24 of the pieces were going above the ISS, said Bridenstine. “That is a terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris at an apogee that goes above the International Space Station,” he said, adding: “That kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human spaceflight.”

“It’s unacceptable and Nasa needs to be very clear about what its impact to us is.”

The US military tracks objects in space to predict the collision risk for the ISS and for satellites. It is tracking 23,000 objects larger than 10cm. That includes about 10,000 pieces of space debris, of which nearly 3,000 were created by a single event: a Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007, 530 miles above the surface.

As a result of the Indian test, the risk of collision with the ISS has increased by 44% over 10 days, Bridenstine said. But the risk will dissipate over time as much of the debris will burn up as it enters the atmosphere.

India’s ministry of external affairs said at the time of the launch the test was done in the lower atmosphere to ensure that there was no space debris. “Whatever debris that is generated will decay and fall back on to the Earth within weeks,” it said.

The missile test was celebrated in India but also drew criticism because it was announced by the prime minister, Narendra Modi, while the government is supposed to be in caretaker mode before elections starting this month.

There are estimated to be about 900,000 pieces of debris larger than a marble in orbit around the Earth, according to statistical models cited by the European Space Agency. There are about 34,000 objects circulating that are larger than 10cm.

Even collisions with tiny objects can be catastrophic in space, largely due to the pace at which spacecraft are moving in orbit, a minimum of 7.8km per second.

Sc. & Tech.

US didn’t spy on India’s ASAT test: Pentagon:

  The Pentagon has strongly denied the reports that the US spied on India’s anti-satellite missile test by sending a reconnaissance aircraft from its base in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to monitor the development. It, however, said the United States was aware about India’s first test-fire of an anti-satellite missile. “No US assets were spying on India. In fact, the US continues to expand its enduring partnership with India, resulting in enhanced interoperability and stronger economic ties,” US Defense Department spokesperson Lt Col David W Eastburn said. Aircraft Spots, which monitors military air movements, had said that a US Air Force’s reconnaissance aircraft from its base in Diego Garcia went “for a mission in the Bay of Bengal to monitor India’s anti-satellite missile test”. This was interpreted by many that the US spied on Indian ASAT test. “I don’t think that it implies coordination between India and the US,” astronomer Jonathan McDowell from the prestigious Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told PTI on the Aircraft Spots report. “This implies that the US intelligence community were aware of the test in advance because to some extent they’re spying on India,” he alleged. “Everybody spies on their friends as well as their enemies. That’s the way the world works these days. It would be surprising if the US were not detecting or observing the launch site and aware of activities preparing for the test. So one assumes that they knew it was coming,” he claimed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Wednesday announced that India successfully test-fired an anti-satellite missile by shooting down a live satellite, describing it as a rare achievement that puts the country in an exclusive club of space super powers. The test made India the fourth country in the world after the US, Russia and China to acquire the strategic capability to shoot down enemy satellites. 
— PTI

Politics

BJP fields non-Mizo in LS seat, loses 17 leaders

Aizawl: The state’s BJP unit lost its spokesperon and 16 other leaders on Thursday evening because of the party’s choice of Lok Sabha election candidate, Nirupam Chakma.
“Lok Sabha members are representatives of the people. The BJP high command’s decision to field a non-Mizo in the Mizo-dominated state is an insult to the majority community,” Lalrozara, former spokesperson of the saffron party’s Mizoram unit, said. “While we appreciate the development work undertaken by the BJP-led government at the Centre, the party has failed to address the fears of the Christian community,” he added.

Mizoram has always been witness to a schism between the majority Mizo community and minority communities like Chakma and Bru. Last year, just before the Mizoram assembly election, the influential Young Mizo Association had led several other Mizo organizations in demanding that the Chakma Autonomous District Council be scrapped because Chakmas are “outsiders”.

BJP had banked on support from these minority communities to make inroads into the Christian-majority state where it had never won a seat in either the assembly or Lok Sabha election. The saffron party managed to win its first seat in the state, Tuichawng, by fielding former Congress leader from the Chakma community, Buddha Dhan Chakma.

This time, too, BJP hopes to gain ground in the Lok Sabha election with Nirupam, a former Congress leader and the state’s first Chakma minister. The veteran leader is now vice-president of BJP’s Mizoram unit. (TNN)

Politics

PM Modi’s Mission Shakti address didn’t violate model code of conduct: EC

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on the successful test-firing of an anti-satellite missile did not violate the model code of conduct, the Election Commission said on Friday night.

The EC took the decision based on the report of a committee of officers which found that the Prime Minister did not violate the provision of ‘party in power’ in the poll code.

“The committee has, therefore, reached the conclusion that the MCC provision regarding misuse of official mass media … is not attracted in the instant case,” the commission said, citing the report of the committee constituted to look into the case.

Model code of conduct is in place for the April-May parliamentary election and some state polls.

India shot down one of its satellites in space on Wednesday with an anti-satellite missile to demonstrate this complex capability, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced, making it only the fourth country to have used such a weapon after US, China and Russia.

Declaring India has established itself as a global space power after the success of the operation ‘Mission Shakti’, PM Modi said the missile hit a live satellite flying in a Low Earth Orbit after it traversed a distance of almost 300 km from earth within three minutes of its launch.

The announcement was made by the Prime Minister in a broadcast to the nation on television, radio and social media.

Several opposition parties had complained to the Election Commission alleging violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).

PM Modi's Mission Shakti address didn't violate model code of conduct: EC

International, Politics

Modi’s 5 foreign policy mistakes

India looks less equal to China than 5 years ago, the strategic alliance with the US is hobbled by trade, and Pakistan is looking anything but chastened by Balakot.
What has gone wrong? asks Shekhar Gupta.

What is more overpowering, fear or love? You should be asking a psychologist.

What a columnist can do is to collect hard facts, sift them from fantasy and propaganda, and provoke an important debate.

Trolling, we take in our stride.

Earlier this month, China delivered a nasty kick in India’s shin by blockingPakistan’s Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar’s designation as a global terrorist by the UN security council.

Not only did China block it for the fourth time, much inspired commentary in Chinese state or party-controlled media held out admonitions for India.

The rudest was a commentator in the Communist Party-owned Global Times who, with pictures of angry BJP workers in the background, accused Narendra Damodardas Modi of exploiting the situation for his election campaign, and concluding with a final insult: China is India’s friend, not a hostage to its nationalism.

With this, China redefined the ‘Wuhan Spirit’ to mean that if my troops aren’t squatting on your territory in the run-up to your elections, I have kept my part of the deal.More from around the web

For the rest, the old rules apply.

Two reactions to this Chinese arrogance stand out for their tone and emphasis.

India has been ridiculously guarded, not daring to even name China and expressing just ‘disappointment’ with ‘a nation’.

The Americans, on the contrary, had no such hesitations.

They named China in a statement enormously more severe than India’s pusillanimous one.

How Modi scored an own goal

The Modi government hasn’t lost its muscularity.

It is just applied more selectively now, though not particularly with an application of mind.

Mr Modi’s India of March 2019, two months to the elections, treats a hostile China with nervous deference, but launches an all-out Swadeshi trade war on Donald Trump’s friendly America.

We suck up to those who harm and humiliate us because we fear them.

We fight on with those who speak for us because we love them.

Here are the five follies of what we might call the ‘Modi Foreign Policy Doctrine’ that got us here.

1. Inability to appreciate that strategic alliances need a big heart

Strategically, America has been, to use a familiar Americanism, a stalwart ally.

Yet, at the top levels of the US administration, beginning with Mr Trump, a wary fatigue has developed about India.

It is tempting to dismiss Mr Trump as a petulant child.

But can you afford to do so? You might laugh at his fixation with Indian duties on Harley Davidson motorbikes, but he can also similarly call your Swadeshinomic approach to trade nutty and insincere.

Slashing prices of imported medications and medical aids is a good moral and political idea.

But must you implement it with sudden price controls and import restraints? The Americans must be bemused to see India declaring war on their Amazon and Walmart while it heartily welcomes Chinese investments in Indian e-commerce and digital financial services.

While the way America has stood by India after Pulwama is creditable, there are strains in the relationship and personal chemistry between Mr Modi and Mr Trump.

A bilateral hasn’t happened since November 2017 and attempts to set one up at the recent G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in November 2018 failed.

Mr Trump isn’t the kind to invest time in photo-ops and platitudes when his favourite peeves are not addressed.

A little ‘give’ on trade wouldn’t hurt India.

Mr Trump isn’t asking for something as difficult as troops in Afghanistan or to not buy those Russian S-400s or to shut the Chabahar port in Iran.

All he wants is a little concession on some tariffs and business as usual on the rest.

Smart leaders pick their fights, especially with friends, carefully.

Mr Modi has erred in opening a Swadeshi trade front with Mr Trump, who also has a domestic political constituency.

2. Miscalculation that unilateral appeasement works with arrogant big powers

See it this way.

India has locked horns on trade with the US, with which it enjoys a $60 billion trade surplus, but is giving unfettered access to China, with which it has an equal, $60 billion deficit.

The idea behind opening up our markets so widely to Chinese goods and investments may have been to give them an economic stake to moderate their strategic policy towards India.

Nothing of the sort has happened.

Two years ago, the Chinese walked into Doklam.

Now, the message from them seems to be, if we are not in Doklam or Chumar again, as you head for elections, send us a thank-you note. Likely on a Chinese phone, network, and operating system.

Just as with America, the Modi government has demanded all ‘give’, with China it is all ‘take’.

3. Obsession with personalised foreign policy

Mr Modi has stature and charisma.

But it doesn’t substitute the preparation and follow-up of professional diplomacy, and the need to refine policies through internal debate and discussion.

Also, individual styles and approaches of other leaders vary.

The Saudi crown prince might love a copious hug and take decisions on the spot, but a Xi Jinping may be irritated or misread it as fawning.

Besides, although the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng, he doesn’t have the personal power in Beijing that a Mohammad bin Salman or Mr Modi does in Riyadh or New Delhi.

Mr Xi works with a structured and empowered ‘system’ that functions a lot more effectively than the Modi Cabinet.

It is now evident that Mr Modi’s first charm-filled approach with Mr Xi was counter-productive, and this continued later through Xian, Wuhan and elsewhere.

The misstep of a Republic Day invite to Mr Trump and the failed hugging outreach with Nawaz Sharif showed inadequate homework.

4. The price of predictability

From politics, diplomacy, to warfare, sport and gambling, predictability is a liability.

Mr Modi has made that error.

Foreign leaders know his personalised style, need for publicity, photo-ops, praise, all of which they understand he needs for his domestic audiences.

The Chinese know very well by now that Mr Modi is wary of another intrusion in the months leading to the polls.

The Chinese also would have known that much as Mr Modi might like a little skirmish with Pakistan, which he could quickly end claiming victory, there is no way he could start and end anything with China like that.

Predictability makes it easy for others to guess your responses.

The Chinese have been the first to do this.

The Pakistanis must have taken note of a few things too.

They know Mr Modi is now publicly committed to a quick retaliation in the case of major terror attacks.

It gives them the power of orchestrating a crisis and drawing the world to the subcontinent at will.

All they need is to tell the ISI to unleash another incident.

Great leaders do not allow themselves to be ‘gamed’.

5. Perils of mixing foreign policy with domestic politics

Mr Modi has often used his foreign policy initiatives and summits for domestic image-building.

The Chinese were the first to exploit it.

They knew Indian fears of another intrusion in election season and offered reassurance at Wuhan, but on their terms.

Chinese trade dominance has increased, their view on Arunachal and Pakistan is harder, and India is reduced to protesting meekly on Masood Azhar, without daring to name them.

Do note that since Wuhan, India has not raised the issue of Nuclear Suppliers Group membership with China.

If India’s demand is now the banning of Masood Azhar, it does two things: Diminish India in its bilateral equation with China, and enable it to hyphenate its own India policy with Pakistan.

China, therefore, has India just where it wants, triangulated with Pakistan.

To conclude, this isn’t a foreign policy balance sheet of the five Modi years.

It is a listing of what we see as his most significant flaws and their consequences.

Source:  The Print

Politics

Narendra Modi didn’t seek nod for TV address: Election Commission

A committee is likely to finalise its report by Friday evening on whether any content of the PM’s speech violated the Model Code of Conduct

The Election Commission (EC) on Thursday said a committee of officers was examining the responses received from Doordarshan and All India Radio (AIR) on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on Wednesday, announcing India’s successful demonstration of anti-satellite missile capability.

The committee, which has held two meetings so far, is likely to finalise its report by Friday evening on whether any content of the Prime Minister’s speech violated the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). Based on the findings, the EC will take the final decision.

At a press conference, Deputy Election Commissioner Sandeep Saxena said the Prime Minister’s Office had neither informed, nor sought any permission from, the EC for broadcast of his address. After the issue was raised, the EC set up a committee to look into the matter.

Subsequently, the committee wrote to Doorsarshan and AIR to know about the source of their feed. It is learnt that the state broadcasters had taken the feed from a live broadcast made through private Internet video portal YouTube.ALSO READDelay release of Modi biopic: Opposition to EC

On the issue of the biopic on Mr. Modi, the EC said notice had been sent to the four film producers and the BJP, seeking their comments by Thursday. The EC has also given conditional approval for the government’s decision to review the wages under the MGNREGA from April 1.

Terming the Voter Verification and Identification Programme a great success, the Commission said more than one crore voters had been added to the electoral rolls just in the past five weeks. The total number of voters stands at 90.74 crore, including 1.82 crore from the 18-19 years’ age group. There are 17.50 lakh service voters.

The EC has so far received about 23,000 complaints of MCC violations through the ‘cVIGIL’ mobile application, of which nearly 60% were found to be correct. Further action is being taken in these cases.

Taking cognisance of some tweets claiming that animal fat had been mixed with the indelible ink to be used in the polls, the EC wrote to the Twitter and got them removed. The Delhi Police have registered an FIR on the Commission’s complaint.

“Based on the viewing of a video clip showing a sitting DMK MLA, A. Radhakrishnan of Tiruchendur Assembly Constituency, distributing cash to ladies performing ‘aarti’ at a private event, in the presence of Ms. Kanimozhi, the police have registered a case…on March 28 against the MLA and seven others,” said the EC.

The EC said the maximum seizure of about ₹130 crore, in the form of cash, liquor, drugs and precious metals, had been made in Tamil Nadu. While the overall seizure so far is worth ₹673 crore, Andhra Pradesh stands second with ₹127.85 crore and Uttar Pradesh comes third with ₹119.57 crore seized. The total cash seized across the country is ₹202 crore. (Source: The Hindu)

Development, Politics

Economist Dreze held for trying to host meet, freed

Noted development economist Jean Dreze and his associates, Vivek Kumar Gupta and Anuj Kumar Gupta, were detained by police for about two hours on Thursday just before they were about to host a public meeting in Jharkhand, allegedly without taking permission from the state administration.

The team had organised the meeting to listen to people’s grievances related to social security pensions and delayed allotment of foodgrain. After being released, Dreze said that police had threatened the organiser with legal consequences. 

Renowned Indian development economist Jean Drèze is a Belgian-born social activist who has been influential in the economic policy making of his country. In his years in India since 1979, he has made wide-ranging contributions to development economics and public economics. He has promptly worked on social issues such as hunger, famine, gender inequality, child health and education, and the NREGA.

Jean Drèze as Academician

Born in 1959 in the ancient town of Leuven, Jean currently lives in Ranchi, Jharkhand. His father, Jacques Drèze, is one of the world’s great economic theorists and a celebrated teacher as well. Jean grew up in an atmosphere composed equally of scholarship and service. One of his brothers became a left-wing politician; a second was a professor of marketing; a third is a translator.

He studied Mathematical Economics at the University of Essex in the 1980s and did his PhD (theoretical economics of cost-benefit analysis) at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi.

He has lived in India since 1979 and became an Indian citizen in 2002.

Jean Drèze taught at the London School of Economics in the 1980s and at the Delhi School of Economics. Presently, he is an Honorary Chair Professor of the “Planning and Development Unit” created by the Planning Commission, Government of India, in the Department of Economics, University of Allahabad.

He is also a visiting professor at the Department of Economics, Ranchi University.

He was a member of the National Advisory Council of India in both first and second term.

Dreze is well known for his commitment to social justice, both in India and internationally. Apart from academic work, he has been actively involved in many social movements.

He played a central role in the conception of the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme; helped draft the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (NREGA), and continues to monitor its implementation.

He also contributed to the Right to Information Act and the National Food Security Act of the Government of India.

Jean has written a great deal in English. His columns have been collected in a book called Sense and Solidarity, with the self-deprecatory sub-title, Jholawala Economics for Everyone. The essays cover a wide range of themes; from food security to healthcare to the rights of children to the threat of nuclear war.

_____________________________

On the need for action-oriented research in development policy

A whole new way of looking at poverty and development policy is taking shape in the world of economics. Traditionally understood as meagreness of material resources, there is a growing realisation that poverty also depletes mental resources. Understanding of how poverty impacts behaviour, what the absence of resources does to a person’s mindset can vitaminise the poverty-fighting policy toolkit.

Insights, well-designed qualitative and quantitative data from field surveys enable sounder grasp of human behaviour. If you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from, how that makes you pick or reject an option. It is not enough to go taste the food the poor consume, visit their homes. The idea is to try to feel how being impoverished impacts decision-making and choice.

Say the task at hand is to figure out whether to universalise old-age widow pensions or not. A narrow evaluation of the proposal would measure impact on poverty of the limited version of the programme in use, the administrative costs of expanding it, the vulnerability to leakages, so on and so forth. Field intelligence could help provide the human angle such as what the pensions do to the quality of life of the beneficiaries. Being able to afford small luxuries — a new pair of glasses or treats for the grandchildren — out of the pension money rather than having to depend on their families for the expenses can improve the women’s sense of independence and dignity. The family’s attitude is also likely to become more favourable.

Economist Jean Drèze’s new book, Sense and Solidarity: Jholawala Economics for Everyone, argues for an increased role for action-oriented research in development policy. The book is a compilation of op-eds, published mainly in The Hindu, under 10 broad themes such as Drought and Hunger, Poverty, School Meals, Health Care, Employment Guarantee, and Food Security and the Public Distribution System. He has updated the pieces with introductions, background notes, statistical and bibliographic sources.

Action research is not a collection of principles, theories and methods as academic research tends to be. It supports an action, or a change, while at the same time producing new knowledge. Active cooperation between the researchers and the participants is involved in this relatively new approach. Action and academic research shares a mostly tense relationship. Action researchers see academic researchers as occupants of ivory towers.

Drèze’s argument about the inadequacies of statistical analyses and academic approaches cannot be quarrelled with. The world has grown pessimistic about economics for its over-reliance on mathematics, its failure to predict the global financial meltdown and its inability to draw the world economy out of the economic slowdown. The feel of the field gathered from his own trips far and wide, from the hills of Chamba district to the forests of Kalahandi and the dusty plains of Bihar in the book’s essays make for great reading.

Drèze’s findings from the ground leave readers less confident of imposing our assumptions about poverty and humans on policy and economics. To economists suffering from insufficient understanding of society and human life, Drèze recommends copious doses of literature (although he does also caution against getting carried away by fiction or personal experiences). The works he regards helpful in developing empathy include Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s classic novel Pather Panchali, Dalit autobiographies of Daya Pawar, Laxman Gaikwad, Om Prakash Valmiki and Shantabai Kamble.

In ‘The Bullet Train Syndrome’, he questions the pro-rich institutional bias of the Indian Railways based on his own extensive travel on its networks. “If you have money, the Indian Railways is great fun, bullet or no bullet,” he writes. “But the lesser mortal who travels without reservation is exactly where she was 35 years ago.” The book succeeds in reminding us that poverty and privilege both are inherited at birth more often than earned. “The privileged tend to believe that they deserve or have earned what they have. But the chief determinant of privilege is chance,” he writes of the accident of birth. And that often the system works to perpetuate those inequalities.

In ‘Glucose for the Lok Sabha?’, he traces the clamour from Parliamentarians and ministers for replacing cooked midday meals in primary schools with biscuits to the corporate lobby. The plea for doing away with cooked midday meals for schoolkids was first made by the Biscuit Manufacturers Association through a letter signed by a senior executive at Parle Products, the biggest manufacturer of glucose biscuits.

Drèze’s differences with academic research are deep and go beyond approach and methodology. Why is carrying a corporate briefcase innately more respectable than carrying a jhola, he asks. Jholawalas — the student volunteers, like-minded scholars, field investigators, driven by passion, not money — has become a term of abuse in India’s corporate-sponsored media, he writes.

Undeniably, corporate influence is growing. But his attack on policy and the media seem sweeping; his suspicion of intent and sense of hurt excessive. Didn’t action research play a role in the schemes he has championed: the rights-based and legislation-backed social security schemes, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and the Right to Food or the National Food Security Act? They too are not free of leakages and infirmities, as Drèze concedes and makes clear he would like to see the defects addressed.

Even if readers disagree with the book, it is valuable because through it Drèze hopes to start a dialogue between economists and jholawalas for greater mutual learning.

Sense and Solidarity: Jholawala Economics for Everyone; Jean Drèze, Permanent Black, ₹795.