India’s Modi wins Gujarat election with reduced margin

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Reuters)
Updated 19 December 2017
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India’s Modi wins Gujarat election with reduced margin

NEW DELHI: The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the crucial regional election in the western Indian state of Gujarat. This is the party’s sixth consecutive victory in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The BJP also won the hilly state of Himachal Pradesh, defeating the ruling Indian National Congress there.
Gujarat, however, was a closely contested election in which the BJP was fighting not only a strong anti-incumbency factor but also vocal resistance from several caste groups. Modi staked all his political capital to regain his home state, which many call his political bastion.
Out of the 182 seats, the BJP seems to be winning 99, a substantial reduction of more than 20 seats compared with 2012. The opposition Congress Party registered the best ever performance in the past 20 years by winning 80 seats, a substantial jump of 4 percent.
Despite the victory, the mood in the BJP’s headquarters in Delhi was somber and there was hardly any celebration.
“Modi just survived the scare of defeat in Gujarat,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political analyst and writer of Modi’s biography, “Narendra Modi: The Man, the Times.”
“For the first time after becoming prime minister, Modi has been seriously challenged by the opposition. Had he been defeated, there would be a nationwide political campaign to oust him and it would have severely dented the political image of the BJP strongman,” says Mukhopadhyay.
Sanjay Kumar of the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, a New Delhi-based think-tank, called the result “a victory neither for the BJP nor for the Congress Party. It is a status quo.”
Though the BJP has won the election, it is the Congress Party and its newly elected president, Rahul Gandhi, who are the talk of the town. Many see it as the “resurgence of the Congress and a transitional moment in Indian politics.”
“Gujarat was an opportunity for the Congress that it missed. But the leadership of the party will take a positive lesson from that and the result offers an opportunity for the party to revive. Despite the loss, Congress has reason to celebrate. Rahul Gandhi has started his innings on a positive note,” Mukhopadhyay told Arab News.
Kumar said “the result should not be seen as demoralizing for the Congress. They were able to push the BJP on the back foot.”
Meanwhile, BJP President Amit Shah, in a press conference, blamed the “negative campaign by Congress Party” for BJP’s reduced margin of victory. He termed the party’s victory as a “result of politics of performance.”
The Congress Party’s spokesperson, Randeep Singh Surjewala, said: “The loss in Gujarat is a lesson for us … but we have done exceedingly well.”
Analysts say the Gujarat election results show that the 2019 general elections will be a close contest and Modi has a huge challenge ahead.
“Politics is now wide open and it will be keenly contested between now and 2019,” said Mukhopadhyay.
In the next round of 2018 regional elections, the BJP will have to defend three major states: Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, and with a resurgent opposition, it would be tough for the right-wing party to retain the states that they have ruled for more than a decade.


Families bury victims as Tanzania ferry disaster toll passes 200

Updated 23 September 2018
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Families bury victims as Tanzania ferry disaster toll passes 200

  • Divers were also set to continue their grim search in the waters around the boat
  • With a surface area of 70,000 square kilometers, Lake Victoria is roughly the size of Ireland and is shared by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya

UKARA, Tanzania: Grieving families were on Sunday preparing to bury victims of Tanzania’s devastating ferry disaster, with more than 200 confirmed dead after the crowded boat capsized in Lake Victoria.
Hopes were fading of finding any more survivors three days after the ferry sank on Thursday, even after rescuers pulled out an engineer who had managed to find refuge in an air pocket in the upturned vessel.
“We are going to start burying bodies not yet identified by relatives,” said John Mongella, governor of Mwanza region, where the MV Nyerere ferry had been coming in to dock on the island of Ukara.
“The (burial) ceremony will be overseen by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, in the presence of clergy members of different denominations,” Mongella said Saturday on TBC 1 public television.
Divers were also set to continue their grim search in the waters around the boat, where late Saturday they were watched by anxious crowds gathered just meters (yards) away on Ukara’s shore.
Mongella said 218 people had been confirmed dead, while 41 escaped the tragedy with their lives — a total figure far above the official capacity of the boat, which was in theory only able to carry 101 passengers.
One survivor was an engineer who shut himself into a “special room” with enough air for him to stay alive until he was found, said local lawmaker Joseph Mkundi.
Transport Minister Isack Kamwelwe said on Saturday that 172 of the victim’s bodies had been identified by relatives.
State television cited witnesses reporting that more than 200 people had boarded the ferry at Bugolora, a town on the larger Ukerewe Island. It was market day, which usually sees the vessel packed with people and goods.
Witnesses told AFP the ferry sank when passengers rushed to one side to disembark as it approached the dock. Others blamed the captain, saying he had made a brusque maneuver.
Dozens of wooden coffins lined the shore on Saturday, waiting to be seen by families as police and volunteers sought to keep hundreds of curious locals at bay.
Aisha William came to collect the body of her husband. “He left on Tuesday around noon, but he never came home. I do not know how I am going to raise my two children,” she said.
Ahmed Caleb, a 27-year-old trader, railed at a tragedy “which could have been prevented. I’ve lost my boss, friends, people I went to school with,” he sighed.
The aging vessel, whose hull and propellers were all that remained visible above water, was also carrying cargo, including sacks of maize, bananas and cement, when it capsized.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli on Friday ordered the arrest of the ferry’s management and declared four days of national mourning.
In a speech broadcast on TBC 1, Magufuli said “it appears clear that the ferry was overloaded,” adding that the government would cover the funeral expenses of the victims.
With a surface area of 70,000 square kilometers, oval-shaped Lake Victoria is roughly the size of Ireland and is shared by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.
It is not uncommon for ferries to capsize in the lake, and the number of fatalities is often high due to a shortage of life jackets and the fact that many people in the region cannot swim.