Saturday, February 15, 2014

Today's newspaper articles

Today’s articles come from a variety of news sites (“The Independent”, “The Telegraph”, Reuters and the Foreign Policy website). They discuss the interesting events of Indian politics from this week including (my favourite), pepper spray being used in the Indian parliament.



Delhi's grass-roots activist chief minister resigns

Delhi's Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal waves his resignation letter as he addresses supporters at Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party offices
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Asia Correspondent

Just 49 days after he was elected as the chief minster of Delhi, an anti-corruption campaigner resigned from the post when his political opponents blocked a plan to introduce an official ombudsman for India’s capital.

Arvind Kejriwal, whose grass-roots Aam Aadmi party, or Common Man party, (AAP) stunned its rivals by seizing control of the Delhi state government after an election last November, said other parties were scared their members would be investigated if the ombudsman’s office was established.

“From here, I am now directly going to the Lieutenant-Governor’s office to hand over my resignation,” he told his cheering supporters in the centre of Delhi. “I wish I get a chance to serve the nation and the state soon.”

Mr Kejriwal’s resignation came after the Congress party, which backed his minority government, voted with the opposition to block the bill. He said on Friday he would recommend that new elections be held in Delhi.

“We might have done some mistakes. We are also human, but we tried our level best,” he announced.

Mr Kejriwal has led protests and hunger strikes against government corruption. They have included sit-ins demanding public access to government documents, lower electricity rates and the transfer of control of the local police from the federal government’s home ministry to his administration.

Supporters of Delhi's Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, chief of the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP), listen to his speech (Reuters)

His campaign has earned him admiration from working people in the city and elsewhere in India, along with support from a considerable number of middle-class citizens who are exhausted with the country’s endemic corruption. Yet his critics have accused of being unwilling to govern and preferring instead to behave like the activist he has been for many years.

His party controls 27 of the 70 seats in the state legislature and the Congress party has eight. One politician recently quit Mr Kejriwal’s party following differences over implementation of various policies. The remaining seats are held by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Socialist Party legislators.

The showdown between Mr Kejriwal and the Congress party – which run the federal government - came over a 2002 federal home ministry order which said Delhi state government could only enact laws with financial implications with its approval. The Associated Press said Mr Kejriwal defied the order on Friday and sought to introduce the ombudsman bill in the state legislature, saying the order was arbitrary.

The evening drama, played out beneath a rare winter downpour, comes as India prepares for a general election. The ruling Congress party, led by Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul, is on the back foot and is expected to do very poorly. In turn, the front-runner is the BJP’s Narendra Modi.

But after its success in the Delhi state election, the AAP announced it would contest more than 300 seats in the general election. Some analysts have suggested the AAP could secure enough seats to blunt Mr Modi’s surge. One senior AAP official recently told
The Independent the party expected to get at least 40 seats.

“Kejriwal’s resignation caps a tumultuous 49 day reign as chief minister of Delhi. It was perhaps the most eventful month and a half of any state government’s tenure in recent memory,” said Milan Vaishnav of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“What remains to be seen is whether the Aam Aadmi Party can leverage this moment to connect with voters outside of the Delhi region. Polls suggest their reach, while growing, is still largely limited to the national capital region.”

Ashok Malik, a journalist and analyst based in Delhi, said that with the parliamentary polls taking place shortly, it would now depend on whether Mr Kejriwal could use the incident to his party's advantage.

"In Kejriwal's perception, he's achieved what he craved - martyrdom," he said. "He has two months to convince the country."


Delhi chief minister quits after corruption bill blocked

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, whose Aam Aadmi party sent shockwaves through India's political establishment in local elections last year, quits to protest blocking of anti-corruption bill after fewer than 50 days in office

Anti-graft activist Arvind Kejriwal, center, addresses his supporters with his resignation letter in his hand at the Aam Aadmi Party HQ in New Delhi Photo: AP

4:47PM GMT 14 Feb 2014

Delhi’s firebrand Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced his resignation today to protest the blocking of an anti-corruption bill, fewer than 50 days after taking power in the Indian capital.

The upstart Aam Aadmi party, formed only a year ago, sent shockwaves through India’s political establishment late last year when it scored a series of stunning successes during local elections in Delhi.

But Mr Kejriwal’s decision to resign little more than seven weeks after taking power throws his party’s fortunes into uncertainty.

His announcement came shortly after local legislators effectively shot down his efforts to bring in anti-corruption legislation – the key plank of his manifesto in December’s state elections.

Mr Kejriwal blamed the Congress party for his decision to resign, accusing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s party of reneging on an earlier promise to back the bill.

 “Congress had promised us, in writing, that they would support the bill but when we tried to present it before the assembly today both they and the BJP came together to block it,” Mr Kejriwal said.

“They have exposed themselves and shown their true face.”

The Congress party claimed the measure was unconstitutional.

Fresh elections in the capital are unlikely, and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could try and form an alternative administration.


Pepper spray, chaos in Lok Sabha over Telangana

NEW DELHI Thu Feb 13, 2014 5:02pm IST

(Reuters) - The Lok Sabha erupted in mayhem on Thursday when a lawmaker fired pepper spray in parliament in protest against a bill on a new Telangana state. Television footage showed pictures of lawmakers coughing, sneezing and holding scarves to their faces. Shouting protesters also broke a glass table and snapped the wire of an official's microphone.

A few lawmakers were rushed away in an ambulance while others were given first aid treatment in parliament.

"The incidents which took place in the house are a big blot on our democracy," Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath told reporters.

"Parliamentary democracy provides for dissent but does not provide for the kind of disruption and attempted violence which we saw today. I feel ashamed that such an incident has taken place."

The furor erupted after Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde rose to table a bill for the creation of Telangana to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh.
Lagadapati Rajagopal, a member of parliament from Andhra Pradesh who was recently suspended by the ruling Congress party and who opposes creation of the new state, then unleashed the pepper spray.

Congress has tried to pass laws in the parliament's last session before a general election due by May, but the house has frequently been adjourned amid rowdy scenes over the creation of Telangana state.

Thursday's antics were the worst and drew criticism from parliamentarians from various parties.

"It is an unprecedented and a disgraceful situation," said Jaswant Singh of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

The bill was tabled but the session broke up soon after. The speaker suspended 17 members of parliament.

(Reporting By Sruthi Gottipati and Nigam Prusty; Editng by Angus MacSwan and Robert Birsel)


   FEBRUARY 13, 2014 - 06:00 PM

A decision by the U.S. ambassador to India to meet with a popular but controversial Hindu nationalist politician in Gandhinagar is fueling a war of words here at home between Muslim and anti-genocide groups on one side and an array of pro-Hindu groups on the other.

On Thursday, Ambassador Nancy Powell met with the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, in the most high-profile encounter between Modi, a Hindu nationalist leader, and a U.S. official since he was barred from traveling in the U.S. in 2005. The State Department revoked Modi's visa nine years ago because of accusations that he had done little to stop a spate of anti-Muslim violence in his region that killed some 1,500 people.

But in recent months, blackballing Modi became untenable given his status as the front-runner to become India's next prime minister. That created a dilemma for the Obama administration and served as a vivid reminder of how events from more than a decade ago can still have repercussions years later.

"They should not have met at all," said Shaik Ubaid, a founder of the Coalition Against Genocide, a group that spreads awareness about the 2002 killings in Gujarat. "But I hope they at least talked about pogroms and concerns about religious freedom."

The rub on Modi is that many believe he approved or actively encouraged violence against Muslims in the 2002 riots. In 2012, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an advisory body,insisted that he not be issued another visa because of his role in the bloodshed. Modi and his supporters vehemently deny the allegations and point to an Indian Supreme Court inquiry that found no evidence to prosecute him.

As the prime ministerial candidate for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is ahead in most polls, he is favored to win enough seats to form a government after India's general elections in May. For groups in the U.S. dedicated to strengthening ties between the two countries, the meeting was long overdue.

"This move is only positive," Suhag Shukla, executive director of the Hindu America Foundation, told The Cable. "U.S. policy should be one of meeting all parties who could potentially lead the country. The largest and oldest democracies need to have a strong relationship."

Shukla said it was hypocritical of the U.S. to single out Modi for religious intolerance under the Immigration and Nationality Act while other more malevolent foreigners went unpunished. "Our stand is about parity in U.S. law," she said, pointing to examples of U.S. engagement with Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Bengali leaders accused of religious violence.

Sanjay Puri, the chairman of the U.S. India Political Action Committee, agreed. He warned that the U.S. risked being seen as meddling in India's internal affairs. "He's the duly-elected leader of a state of 60 million people," he said. "It is not our calling in the U.S. to interfere with India's electoral process. When we take a position on someone, it gets amplified and used by Modi's opponents."

That's exactly what the State Department wants to avoid as it navigates the sensitive terrain between Modi-watchers in the U.S.. "This is simply a meeting happening on the ground in India," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki during a press briefing.

"It's not a reflection of anything else than outreach to a broad range of officials."

In a short readout of the meeting, the U.S. Embassy in Delhi said that Powell and Modi discussed the importance of the "U.S.-India relationship, regional security issues, human rights, and American trade and investment in India."

For Modi critics, the statement was wholly unsatisfying. "I'm disappointed," said Biju Mathew, co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate. As one of the original activists that successfully lobbied the State Department to revoke Modi's visa in 2005, Mathew said Washington owes the victims of the Gujarat riots an explanation for the meeting.

"It's quite common practice for officials to meet with politicians of prominent political parties in any country, but that is not the issue," said Mathew. "It's disappointing that there was no warning of the meeting and no explanation as to what transpired during the gathering. For instance: Which human rights issues were brought up?"

For the State Department, a number of thorny issues remain. Technically, it would not be difficult for Foggy Bottom to resolve Modi's travel status. Although the department originally determined that Modi was ineligible for travel under the Immigration and Nationality Act, it's not bound by that earlier decision. "Our long-standing policy with regard to the chief minister is that he is welcome to apply for a visa and await a review like any other applicant," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told The Cable in December. "That review will be grounded in U.S. law." However, a Congressional aide familiar with the matter says Modi is demanding assurances from the State Department that if he re-applies, his application won't be rejected. 

"At some point, the State Department has to acknowledge that Modi has never been convicted by any Indian court of wrongdoing," said the aide. "That's what Modi wants to hear."

Doing so risks inflaming the leader's vocal opponents in the U.S. But given the importance of the economic ties between the two countries -- $100 billion worth of trade each year -- it's unlikely that the State Department will let a decade-old dispute disrupt relations should Modi become the next prime minister. "The United States and India are moving forward with a strategic partnership that is broad and deep," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.

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