Indian election parties hit by TV and funding clampdown

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures while speaking at an election rally during the first phase of the Indian general elections in Bhagalpur, in the Indian state of Bihar on April 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Bangalore City Railway Station porters try the vote casting process during a demonstration organised for the members of the public during Systematic Voter's Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) regional outreach, in Bangalore on April 12, 2019, for the ongoing general election in the country. (AFP)
Updated 12 April 2019

Indian election parties hit by TV and funding clampdown

  • The ruling BJP is the biggest beneficiary of the bonds, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), one of the groups behind the case
  • According to the ADR, the BJP — the world’s biggest political party — received about $150 million in total donations in 2018, of which more than half came from anonymous sources

NEW DELHI: India’s Supreme Court on Friday ordered parties to name anonymous donors behind tens of millions of dollars in funding as hostilities intensified in the country’s mega-election.
The order came ahead of the second round of voting and after the election watchdog called for a clampdown on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal television channel, saying it breached campaign rules.
While Modi and his opposition rival Rahul Gandhi returned to the campaign trail, the country’s top court gave parties seven weeks to name people who have bought “electoral bonds” in recent months.
Rival parties are said to be spending up to $7 billion on the election, which started Thursday and runs through to May 19, and funding sources have come under the spotlight.
The bonds — bought for between $15 and $140,000 and then given to a designated party — are controversial because they are anonymous.
India’s election commission and watchdog groups which took the case to the Supreme Court said the bonds should be ended because of the risk of businesses making secret contributions to influence decisions.
Modi’s government, which introduced the bonds in 2017, opposed naming donors. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the biggest beneficiary of the bonds, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), one of the groups behind the case.
More than $150 million in bonds were bought in 2018, according to the Factly Indian data journalism portal.
Experts estimate that at least the same amount was bought in the months ahead of the election.
According to the ADR, the BJP — the world’s biggest political party — received about $150 million in total donations in 2018, of which more than half came from anonymous sources. Congress brought in about $30 million and about 60 percent was anonymous.
The prime minister, who won a landslide in 2014 and is considered frontrunner in this race, faced increased pressure after the election commission said his NaMo TV breached campaign rules.
The commission ordered NaMo TV, which is sponsored by the BJP, to submit all of its content for approval.
Under Indian election rules, any content deemed campaign material — including adverts, films and even social media — needs permission from the independent watchdog.
NaMo TV shows 24-hour programs on Modi rallies, speeches, and even rap songs and dance routines devoted to the normally austere leader. It was being broadcast as normal on Friday.
The order was the commission’s second blow to the Modi campaign in 48 hours, after it postponed the release of a flattering movie about the 68-year-old prime minister until after voting finishes.
Producers of the film insisted they had no links to the BJP. But the commission said the film “PM Narendra Modi,” which tells of the Hindu nationalist leader’s ascent from selling tea at a train station to prime minister, could not be released during the election.
Modi and Gandhi kept up their punishing schedule of rallies ahead of the next vote on April 18.
Modi has sought to portray himself as tough on national security, particularly against Pakistan, which India accuses of fueling an insurgency in Kashmir. The two countries came close to a new war in February after a suicide attack in the disputed territory.
“To kill terrorists in their dens is a policy of a new India,” Modi thundered at an election rally Thursday referring to an airstrike inside Pakistan.
Gandhi and Congress have sought to focus on the economy and the fate of India’s many minorities who say they feel more threatened under the Hindu nationalist government.
“This is the ‘New India’ they want, one completely devoid of unity and brotherhood,” said Congress.
In Thursday’s first day, voter turnout averaged 66 percent, according to the Hindustan Times daily, compared to 70% in the 2014 polls.
The first day of polling saw two supporters of rival parties die in Andhra Pradesh state and a teenager killed in clashes with security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.


World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

Updated 24 January 2020

World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

  • Economist and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee will attend the event

JAIPUR: The 13th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) started on Thursday.

Known as the “greatest literary show on earth,” the five-day event brings to one venue more than 500 speakers of 15 Indian and 35 foreign languages, and over 30 nationalities.

Among the festival’s participants are Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.

The event has been expanding, with over 400,000 people attending it last year and even more expected to show up this time.  The growing crowd has made the medieval Diggi Palace, which hosts it, look small, and organizers are planning to shift the event to a bigger venue next year.

Scottish historian and writer William Dalrymple, one of the organizers, said: “The first time we came to the Diggi Palace in 2007, 16 people turned up for the session of which 10 were Japanese tourists who walked out after 10 minutes, as they had come to the wrong place. Things have improved a little since then. We are now formally the largest literature festival in the world.”

Dalrymple, who has extensively written on medieval India and South Asia, has played a pivotal role in promoting the festival.

The other two organizers are its director, Sanjoy K. Roy, and writer Namita Gokhale, who along with Dalrymple made the JLF become one of the most sought-after events in India.

“Why has the literary festival taken off in this country in this extraordinary way? It goes back to the tradition of spoken literature, the celebration of literature orally through the spoken word has deep roots in this country,” Dalrymple said.

“So the idea that a literary festival is a foreign import is something that can’t be maintained. We’ve tapped into something very deep here. Literature is alive and is loved in India,” he said.

Inaugurating the festival’s 13th edition, celebrated British mathematician Marcus du Sautoy said: “Every number has its own particular character in the story of mathematics. For me it is 13; 13 is a prime number, an indivisible number, and the JLF is certainly a festival in its prime.”

The festival this year is taking place amid a raging debate about India’s new citizenship legislation and mass agitation on the issue of preserving the secular fabric of the nation.

Reflecting on the prevailing mood in the country, Roy, in his opening remarks, said: “We are now faced with a situation where we see a spread of the narrative of hatred. Literature is the one thing that can push back against it and so can be the arts. All of us have a responsibility to do so and this is not the time to be silent anymore.”

Gokhale said: “Ever since its inception 13 years ago, we at the Jaipur Literary Festival have tried to give a voice to our plural and multilingual culture. We live in a nation which is defined by its diversity, and it is our effort to present a range of perspectives, opinions, and points of view, which together build up a cross-section of current thinking.”

She added: “We seek mutual respect and understanding in our panels — it is important to us that these often conflicting ideas are respectfully presented and heard. We also resist predictable and self-important all-male panels, and try to ensure that the vital voices of women resonate through all aspects of our programming.”

One of the attractions of the event this year is the presence of Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, who won the prize in economics last year.

There are also panel discussions on Kashmir, the Indian constitution and history.

The prevailing political situation in South Asia is also reflected by the absence of Pakistani. Before, popular Pakistani authors would attend the JLF, but delays in visa issuance and a hostile domestic environment forced the organizers to “desist from extending invitations.”