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AAP sweeps Delhi again

NEW DELHI, Feb 11: For the second time in a row, Delhi voted overwhelmingly for the AAP, giving it 62 seats in the 70-member assembly. In 2015, the AAP won 67 seats. The AAP also garnered 53.5% of the vote share, just around a percentage point less than its 2015 vote share. For an incumbent to win over half the votes polled for a second time, when faced with a strong opposition in the form of the BJP, is a huge success.

And that is why Kejriwal, at the same victory gathering on Tuesday, told the citizens of Delhi, “I love you”, and thanked them profusely for their support. It’s a love that will get statutory recognition when the AAP government is sworn in on February 14, Valentine’s Day, the same day it was sworn in on in 2015.

Kejriwal’s victory sparked celebrations among non-BJP regional parties, many of which are competing with the BJP in their own states.

The BJP, which mounted an aggressive campaign primarily centred around the issue of the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, faced its second consecutive assembly loss — and a huge setback only nine months after it swept all of Delhi’s seven parliamentary constituencies with a vote share of over 50% in the last general elections.

The BJP won eight seats, up from three in 2015, and 38.5% of the vote share, up from 32.3% in 2015. To be sure, the party contested only 67 seats with its allies contesting three. Last time, it contested all 70 seats. While it increased both the seat tally and the vote share, the BJP fell far short from mounting a challenge to the AAP, raising questions about its strategy in state elections.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Kejriwal on Twitter, “Congratulations to AAP and Shri @ArvindKejriwal Ji for the victory in the Delhi Assembly Elections. Wishing them the very best in fulfilling the aspirations of the people of Delhi.”

Kejriwal responded minutes later: “Thank u so much sir. I look forward to working closely wid Centre to make our capital city into a truly world class city.”

The third force in Delhi’s politics, the Congress, which governed the city for 15 years from 1998 to 2013, failed to win a single seat in the assembly polls and crashed to its lowest vote share of 4.26%. The loss represents the fifth consecutive defeat for the Congress in Delhi — after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the 2015 assembly polls, the 2017 municipal polls, and then the 2019 Lok Sabha polls — and sparked questions about its lack of credible national or state leaders, and the collapse of its social base in the Capital. Late on Tuesday evening, the Congress’s state unit president for Delhi, Subhash Chopra, offered to quit.

The AAP’s victory came on the back of a clever campaign that leveraged Kejriwal’s leadership, delivery of public goods and concessions to various demographic segments, and assertion of both religiosity and nationalism in order to prevent the BJP from monopolising these issues.

A key campaign theme for the AAP was that it had a CM who had delivered. Just like the BJP in 2019 asked the Opposition, “We have Modi, who do you have?”, to capitalise on the absence of a national face against the PM, the AAP asked, in this election, “We have Kejriwal, who do you have?”. The absence of a CM face, who could match Kejriwal’s stature, hurt the BJP. It relied exclusively on Narendra Modi’s name — but as recent state elections in Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand have shown, voters make a distinction between national and state polls, and many of those who voted for Modi in 2019 in Delhi, and may still do so if Lok Sabha polls are held, shifted to a strong CM face in the state. Kejriwal was also careful not to take on Modi directly, in order to win over precisely this support base and kept his focus local.

But the AAP’s most significant campaign platform was its record of delivery. By focusing on improving government schools — infrastructure has improved, pass percentages have shot up, students are being introduced to new styles of teaching, teachers have undergone training in best practices — the AAP delivered on an often-neglected sphere.

This was coupled with its focus on public health — mohalla or neighbourhood clinics have been upgraded, patients are given quick care, the government has unveiled free schemes for medicines, diagnostics and even surgeries, which clearly resonated with a segment of the population, particularly the poor.

The AAP supplemented this focus on education and health with the provision of electricity and water at rates low enough, and free quotas so generous that many people do not pay anything for the two utilities. These were key issues when Kejriwal first began campaigning against the Congress government in Delhi. And the beneficiaries have included demographic groups across classes.

Free public transport to women, offered last year, has also had an impact, with many women employees — particularly those in the informal sector — availing of the benefits. Savita, a household support staff who works in Defence Colony and commutes from Badarpur, said on the day of voting: “I voted for the AAP because it has helped us save money. I convinced my husband to vote for them too. And when my brother-in-law was mocking me for voting for them in return for free rides, I told him, we run the household and we know how much easier it has become to manage our expenses with AAP in power.”

But the AAP’s campaign faced its strongest challenge when BJP leader and Union home minister, Amit Shah, made the protests against the CAA at Shaheen Bagh a poll issue, terming it a hub of anti-nationals, and alleged that the AAP was backing it, based on a statement by deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia. Kejriwal was quick to place the onus back on Shah to clear the protests, and in order to prevent a communal division on the issue, played up his own religious identity as a devout Hindu. AAP candidates visited local temples: Kejriwal recited the Hanuman Chalisa in a television interview; and he took a strong stand against a Pakistani leader who commented on the Delhi elections. On the day of victory too, Kejriwal invoked Hanuman and said his blessings had helped.

This approach helped neutralise the BJP’s aggressive campaign, which hoped to offset its weaknesses at the local level with a sharply ideological campaign which could polarise the Delhi electorate on religious lines.

The BJP, however, faced three challenges, which, eventually proved insurmountable. The first was the absence at the local level — Manoj Tiwari, the party chief in Delhi, is not seen as a chief ministerial candidate capable of taking on Kejriwal; there was also internal factionalism. As a BJP leader on the eve of the counting day said on condition of anonymity since he was not authorised to speak on the issue, “Our organisational cadre was thoroughly demotivated in Delhi. Each Delhi leader saw himself as a CM-aspirant and was more busy undercutting other party rivals than challenging Kejriwal.”

The second was its inability to counter the AAP’s welfare politics. While Modi’s own welfare schemes have been praised, the state unit did not have a manifesto which could provide a clear framework on how it would improve on public goods and service delivery. And the third was its almost exclusive reliance on a strategy of religious polarisation. This may have helped the party secure its own vote base, and even expand it beyond the 2015 level, but it was not sufficient to win.

Swapan Dasgupta, Rajya Sabha MP and a political commentator aligned with the BJP, tweeted that there were three obvious challenges to the party. “1) Ideological issues must be supplemented by a solid governance agenda 2) There has to be a vibrant local unit with mohalla presence, & not merely during polls 3) A chief ministerial face is a must. Modi-Shah can’t be a substitute.”

Commenting on the BJP’s increase in vote share, Ashutosh Varshney, professor of political science at the Brown University in the United States, said, “Vote share matters a lot to small parties, not to big parties — who not only want to increase share but also win. That is what the BJP wanted. Moreover, in political analysis, vote shares are critical in systems based on proportional representation, where seat shares critically depend on vote shares. In the first past the post system, winning is the real issue, not vote shares.”

The Congress failed to open its account in Delhi yet again, grappling with an unprecedented crisis, and turning the contest bipolar from triangular. This was the first election fought after the death of late former chief minister, Sheila Dikshit; it was also held in the backdrop of a weak campaign by the national leadership; and an inability to articulate its agenda or preserve various social groups which have supported it in the past. Pawan Khera, Congress spokesperson and a close aide of Dikshit who worked in the Delhi government, said, “For a party that got over 22% votes under Dikshit in the Lok Sabha elections, this result is shocking. All organisations depend on a towering personality. With her passing away, the party is struggling to find its feet.” It must, however, be added that even when Dikshit was present, the party’s decline in the city had begun.

The AAP now heads to another renewed term of five years, with a set of newer, younger leaders having won their first assembly election — these include names such as Raghav Chadha and Atishi Marlena, who are expected to find space in the government. In the next term, as Kejriwal told HT in an interview this month, the focus of the government will be on clean water, cleanliness, and tackling pollution.

Omar Abdullah's Sister Challenges His Detention In Supreme Court

NEW DELHI, Feb 10: Omar Abdullah's sister Sara Abdullah Pilot has challenged his detention and charges under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) before the Supreme Court, asking for the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister to be produced in court and freed immediately.

Sara Abdullah Pilot says her brother's detention is a grave violation of his constitutional rights including that of freedom of speech, and is part of a "consistent and concerted effort to muzzle all political rivals".

Omar Abdullah, detained without charges since August 5 -- when the government ended special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 -- was formally detained under the PSA last week.

Similar orders of detention had been issued over the last seven months "in a wholly mechanical manner" to others detained, Sara Abdullah Pilot says in her petition.

"The order conflates 'Governmental policy' with the 'Indian State', suggesting that any opposition to the former constitutes a threat to the latter. This is wholly antithetical to a democratic polity and undermines the Indian Constitution," the petition says.

"...a reference to all the public statements and messages posted by the detinue during the period up to his first detention would reveal that he kept calling for peace and co-operation - messages which in Gandhi's India cannot remotely affect public order."

Abdullah was not even served with the material that formed the basis of detention, she says.

Details of the charges listed out in a dossier against the 49-year-old National Conference leader have sparked surprise and anger. His sister's petition says the dossier contains "patently false and ridiculous material", essentially accusing him of becoming a popular figure among general masses and possessing considerable influence over people.

The dossier includes his "ability to garner votes even during peak militancy and poll boycotts". It says Abdullah, a former Union Minister, can influence people for any cause and specifically cites his ability to bring voters out in the wake of boycott calls by separatists. "The capacity of the subject to influence people for any cause can be gauged from the fact that he was able to convince his electorate to come out and vote in huge numbers even during peak of militancy and poll boycotts," it says.

Referring to this in her petition, Sara Abdullah Pilot says in other words, Abdullah is accused of convincing people to participate in elections in huge numbers and exercise their democratic right to vote despite threats from militants.

Other charges include Abdullah's opposition to the Centre's decision to abrogate Article 370 and "instigating people on Twitter against the unity and integrity of the Nation". No twitter posts have been cited to back up this allegation.

The dossier says he is a "popular figure among masses and has tremendous potential for diverting energy of common people for any cause".

Abdullah's sister says in her petition that he had been accused of "favouring radical thoughts" and "planning and projecting his activities against the Union of India under the guise of politic" while enjoying the support of gullible masses.
"These averments fly in the face of his tweets shortly before/ around the time of his detention, in which he cautioned people against resorting to violence and taking law into their hands," she argues.

Abdullah was in preventive detention under Section 107 of the CRPC since August 5, 2019. Under the law, his detention was to end six months later on February 5, 2020.

On February 5, the government used the Public Safety Act against him and another former Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti. This extends their detention by 3 months without trial and it can be extended for up to one year.

 

Ex J-K CMs Mehbooba, Omar booked under Public Safety Act

NEW DELHI, Feb 6: Former Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah were booked under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) on Thursday along with two other leaders of their People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference (NC).

The PSA allows for detention without trial for up to two years if a person is deemed acting “in any manner prejudicial to the security of the state”.

The officials said a magistrate accompanied by police served the detention order to Mufti at the bungalow, where she has been under detention. Omar Abdullah was also booked under the PSA, they added.

A police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the former chief ministers have been booked under the PSA since their preventive detention ended on Thursday.

Mufti’s daughter, Iltija, said that her mother was handed over the PSA detention order on Thursday evening. “The PSA has been slapped on Mehbooba Mufti and she would not be shifted to her residence.”

She later tweeted. “Ms Mufti received a PSA order sometime back. Slapping the draconian PSA on 2 ex J&K CMs is expected from an autocratic regime that books 9-year-olds for ‘seditious remarks’.”

The four leaders were slapped with the PSA on a day Prime Minister Narendra Modi quoted in Parliament comments by the former chief ministers in August when Parliament cleared the nullification of Constitution’s Article 370 to suggest that they were not in sync with the spirit of the Indian Constitution.

He said Mufti called the move a “betrayal”, while Omar Abdullah warned of an “earthquake” in the aftermath of the decision. Modi added Farooq Abdullah said people would stop waving the Indian flag in the region and asked if any “true Indian” would “advocate the cause of such people”.

The two other leaders booked under the PSA include NC’s Ali Mohammed Sagar and PDP leader Sartaj Madani.

The four were among hundreds of people, who were detained in August to prevent protests against the nullification of Article 370 that gave Jammu and Kashmir a special status. A communications blackout and a lockdown were also imposed in August when the region was also divided into two Union territories. Most restrictions have since been eased.

In December, another former chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s detention was extended by three months under the PSA.

On Wednesday, former minister Sajjad Lone and PDP leader Waheed Parra were released even as the government told Rajya Sabha that 437 people, including the three former chief ministers, remain under detention.

Lone and Parra’s release came exactly six months to the day after Parliament passed laws and resolutions bifurcating Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories and nullified constitutional provisions that gave the region special status and its residents’ special privileges.

Opposition parties in Parliament raised the issue of Farooq Abdullah’s incarceration as he completed six months in detention on Wednesday. “Three former chief ministers, including Farooq Abdullah, are languishing in jails for the past six months. They have been put behind bars without giving any proper reason,” Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said.

Former legislator and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader M Y Tarigami said the decision puts a question mark on the Centre’s claim that the situation is normal in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of its special status.

Congress spokesman Ravinder Sharma termed the slapping of the PSA on the four leaders as unfortunate. “There is no justification for it...the mainstream leaders served the erstwhile state in different capacities,” Sharma said. He added the move does not match with the claims of normalcy and comes at a time when the government is encouraging a section of leaders to restart the political activity.

Mahatma Gandhi-led freedom struggle was a ‘drama’: BJP’s Anantkumar Hegde

NEW DELHI, Feb 3: Controversial BJP leader and former Union minister Anantkumar Hegde waded into yet another storm by claiming the freedom movement led by Mahatma Gandhi was a “drama”.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, however, said it does not approve of Anantkumar Hegde’s comments and that the issue will be referred to a disciplinary committee.

He has been asked to tender an unconditional apology for his comments on Mahatma Gandhi by his party, according to a news agency on Monday.

Anantkumar Hegde, a six-time Lok Sabha member from Uttara Kannada, made the comments at an event on Hindutva icon VD Savarkar in Bengaluru on Saturday.

Hegde said that none of the “so-called leaders” had been beaten by the police even once and “the entire Independence movement was a staged big drama with the consent and support of the British”.

He also labelled the freedom movement led by Gandhi as “not a genuine fight but an adjustment freedom struggle”.

The former Union minister of state for skill development and entrepreneurship had also derided the Congress, saying that “people support the Congress saying that India got Independence because of fasts and Satyagraha. This is not true. Britishers gave us independence out of frustration”.

Hegde also attacked the anti-CAA protests and said the Rs 120 crore funding for it was just the tip of the iceberg and that ‘more rats will come out.’

He also said that Savarkar’s ideology and methods are relevant even today.

His statements came in for severe criticism from the opposition parties, including Congress.

“Anant Kumar Hegde is perhaps reflecting the views of his masters. If he is not, his comments should invite the strictest possible action from his party,” Congress leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted.

Another Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi also hit out at Hegde on Twitter.

“Awaiting Narendra Modi who invokes Mahatma Gandhi at the drop of a hat especially when repackaging his ideas & to gain international credibility to comment on Mr Hegde who is a senior BJP Leader,” Singhvi, the Congress’ spokesperson, tweeted.

A senior BJP functionary said the party does not approve of Hegde’s comments.

Referring to Hegde’s comment, the functionary said both Prime Minister Modi and the party leadership are “extremely angry with such a proposition and some disciplinary action is likely”.

On the party failing to reign in Hegde, who has left the party embarrassed on several occasion, the functionary said, “He lost his ministerial berth...”

Hegde has been at the centre of controversy many a time.

He had labelled former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer S Senthil as a traitor and asked him to “go to Pakistan”. He had also called Congress’ Karnataka unit president Dinesh Gundu Rao as somebody who “went after a Muslim lady”.

 

 



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