Two crucial states go to the polls in India

The Election Commission of India on Saturday announced the dates for polls for two crucial provinces - the western states of Maharashtra and northern region of Haryana. (Screenshot)
Updated 21 September 2019

Two crucial states go to the polls in India

  • Elections in Maharashtra and Haryana comes at a time when the economy is going through a rough patch with the GDP at an all-time low

NEW DELHI: The Election Commission of India on Saturday announced the dates for polls for two crucial provinces - the western states of Maharashtra and northern region of Haryana. 

Both the states, currently under the command of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), go to the hustings on October 21 with the results to be announced on Oct 24th.

The elections in these states comes at a time when the Indian economy is going through a very rough patch with the GDP touching an all-time low at 5% in the last financial year.

The slowdown in the market has affected the job scenario in the country with many sectors registering a low growth not witnessed in the past two decades. 

Maharashtra is a financial hub of the country with Mumbai being its capital, the election is a test for the BJP government whether it can retain the momentum of the last parliamentary elections where the party, along with its allies, won a whopping 41 seats out of 48.

With a slowing economy and farmers' distress at its height – with more than 12,000 farmers committing suicide in the state in the last four years – the first BJP government in Maharashtra has a tough task to defend the crucial state. 

The party hopes to ride on the back of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity, and expects people to give the government an overwhelming support on the issue of abrogation of Article 370 of the constitution that gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir a special status under the Indian union. 

The Modi government calls the decision to repeal the special status of Kashmir as one of its major achievements in the last 100 days of its governance. 

On Thursday, in an election rally in Maharshtra’s Nasik city, Modi set the tone for the upcoming electoral battle where he raised the Kashmir issue and said that “the decision to revoke provisions under Article 370 was a decision for the unity of India”. 

In the last elections in 2014, the BJP won 122 seats in the assembly of 288 and its ally Shiv Sena got 63. Both the parties are also fighting together this time and hope to sweep the poll because of the chaos in the opposition ranks and file. Congress party is facing a leadership crisis in the state and its regional alliance partner Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in disarray because of the large scale desertion. 

In Haryana, the situation is almost the same with the BJP banking on the national issue and the national leadership to sail it through. The ruling party has an upper hand there also because of the leadership tussle in the opposition Congress. In the 90 member provincial assembly the BJP has 47 seats and it is aiming to get 75. 

The opposition Congress party on Saturday said that the party will fight the elections in both the state “with its full might”.

It said that by raising the Kashmir issue, the BJP is diverting attention from the core issues that affects the lives of the people. 

“We will not allow the BJP to divert the attention of the people. The Congress party will raise those issues which the government has been trying to evade”, says Pawan Khera, spokesperson for the Congress.

“We will raise the issue of farmers, unemployment, economic slowdown and closer of many industries and the party will fight the elections with all its might”, Khera added.

The BJP says it will sweep both the states on the basis of its performance and the strong leadership of Modi.

“Though our performance in both the states we have been able to create a trust among the people”, saysSudesh Verma, BJP spokesperson.

He tells Arab News that “a strong and powerful country under Mr Modi is also an issue that is likely to sway voters. Here is a leader who is decisive and can take tough decisions for the betterment of the nation. 

Dr Shailendra Kharat of Pune University says that “the BJP is a front runner in the state election despite the fact that the government has not performed well. There is a crisis in agriculture, unemployment is high, economy is down- despite all these the image of Prime Minister Modi and through the media management of the BJP the ruling party is clearly ahead in the race.

He tells Arab News that “the strategy of the BJP is to fight the state elections as a national election. Ideally this being a provincial election the local issues should dominate but the BJP is keen to raise the issue of the abrogation of Article 370, the national security issues and the image of the Modi to sway the voters”.

“The opposition Congress party is not coming to the terms with the changing political scenario. The party is confused how to counter the issue of nationalism, image of Prime Minister”, adds Kharat.

“Maharashtra used to be the bastion of the Congress party but there  is a large-scale desertion in the opposition camp as a result  the local political strength of the Congress -NCP alliance has depleted”, says the political scientist.


Protests in US put racial discrimination in Canada under scrutiny

Updated 06 June 2020

Protests in US put racial discrimination in Canada under scrutiny

  • Discrimination against Canadian blacks and Arabs ranges from higher unemployment to hate crimes
  • Trudeau’s reputation as a diversity champion was punctured last year by multiple images of him in black makeup

DUBAI: The protests across the US over the death of George Floyd while in police custody have prompted its northern neighbor with a nicer image to acknowledge discrimination within its own borders. Only time will tell, though, whether Canada’s next step will be honest self-searching and concrete action to defend its reputation — especially among Arabs and Muslims — as a fair and tolerant society.

So far, what Canada has mainly shown is that a history of moral posturing greatly diminishes a politician’s ability to provide credible leadership on the problem of anti-black racism. Otherwise, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would not have reacted the way he did during a news conference in Ottawa when asked to comment on US President Donald Trump’s call to use military action as violence and looting eclipsed protests over Floyd’s death.

The former drama teacher paused for 21 seconds, opening his mouth a few times to speak. The pregnant pause caused many to wonder whether Trudeau was making a deliberate point with his silence, fearful of taking on Trump, or he was literally at a loss for words, perhaps recalling his own blackface scandals.

On Friday, Trudeau made a dramatic appearance at a protest in Ottawa (pictured above), where he joined the crowd in kneeling for eight minutes and 46 seconds — which is how long a Minneapolis police officer held down Floyd with his knee on his neck before he died — clapped to chants of “Black lives matter” and collected a T-shirt emblazoned with the same slogan on the front.

Such gestures are perhaps only to be expected of a white politician whose carefully crafted image as a champion of inclusivity and diversity was punctured last year by the appearance of multiple images of him in black makeup, laughing, making faces and sticking his tongue out.

The tradition of brownface and blackface — white people painting their faces darker — was common in North America until it came to be viewed by the turn of the 21st century as a racist caricature. However, systemic inequalities that plague Canada’s black and indigenous communities have proved far more resistant to change.

Last weekend in Toronto, protesters held a rally over the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a black woman who fell to her death last week while police were in her apartment, an incident that is being probed by the province’s Special Investigations Unit.

People who were identified as family and friends of Regis Korchinski-Paquet (no names provided) lead protesters as they march to highlight the deaths in the U.S. of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and of Toronto's Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who died after falling from an apartment building while police officers were present, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 30, 2020. (Reuters)

A CBC News investigation of fatal encounters with police found that black people made up 36.5 percent of the deaths involving Toronto police from 2000-2017, while accounting for only 8.3 percent of the city’s population.

Canada is also no stranger to prejudice against Arabs and Muslims. Most recently, some cities’ decision to suspend their noise bylaws during Ramadan to permit mosques to broadcast the sunset call to prayer sparked a backlash, drawing some racist rants on Twitter. 

In 2017, university student Alexandre Bissonnette shot and killed six Muslims in a Quebec City mosque, in what Trudeau called “a despicable act of terror.”

In 2017, university student Alexandre Bissonnette shot and killed six Muslims in a Quebec City mosque. (Facebook)
Montreal mayor Denis Coderre (L-R), Quebec City mayor Regis Labeaume, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pay their respects during a funeral ceremony for three of the victims of the deadly shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, in Montreal, Quebec on February 2, 2017. (AFP/File Photo)

That year there was a spike in hate crimes reported by police, a 10-year high of 2,073 criminal incidents, according to Statistics Canada.

While the most recent stats show a slight decrease in 2018 to 1,798 incidents, the number was still the second highest of that period.

Of those hate crimes, 44 percent were motivated by race while 36 percent were based on religion.

Then there is a less visible form of systemic discrimination, such as the issue of unemployment among Arabs, Canada’s fastest-growing immigrant population.

ISNA Canada building. (Supplied)

“A lot of people here think that Canada isn’t racist,” Faith Olanipekun, an organizer of a Canadian protest in support of Black Lives Matter, told the CBC, the national public broadcaster, this week.

“So it’s important for us to come out, voice our concerns and let people know that we are suffering in Canada just as much as people in the US are suffering.”

A report last year by the Canadian Arab Institute, a non-partisan research and policy group, showed that based on its analysis of the country’s last census in 2016, the unemployment rate among Arabs was 13.5 percent, higher than the total visible minority population at 9.2 percent.

“That’s more than double the national average, so this is based on 2016 data, very important to note, because with COVID-19 it means it’s going to get much worse,” Shireen Salti, the institute’s interim executive director, told Arab News. 

“We know there are employment barriers. We’re looking into why … Is there discrimination in the labor market, on university campuses etc.? There are some preliminary results from our research that show this, and we want to dive deeper to better understand.”

IN NUMBERS

ARAB CANADIANS

- 947,820 people in Canada reported having Arab ethnic origin.

- 90% reside in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta provinces.

- Highest numbers: Lebanese, Moroccan, Egyptian.

- Over 60% are first generation.

- Over 60% have post-secondary education.

Source: Canadian Arab Institute, based on country’s last census in 2016.

Despite being a highly educated community, she said figures show Arabs’ average annual income is about $33,000, below the national average of $47,000.

“There’s a lot of work that we still need to do to ensure the integration of Arabs in Canada,” said Salti, who was born in Palestine and moved to Canada with her family in 2009.

“There’s a lot of government support in place for newcomers and immigrants, but we need to move beyond that and better understand how to cater to various communities with various inequities.”

While standing in solidarity with black Americans, Salti said the US situation has opened up a window for Canadians to talk about all forms of discrimination.

A man walks past Vancouver's Chinese Cultural Centre, which was targeted with vandalism during the Covid-19 pandemic, prompting police to erect mobile surveillance cameras, on May 21, 2020 in Vancouver, British Columbia. (AFP)

“It’s important to take a moment to pause and listen to the important messages that are being shared right now,” she added.

“We need to be anti-racist in a society where we have multiple communities, and diverse communities, and multiculturalism is literally at the heart of what we do here in Canada.”

Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father, who was Canada’s prime minister for more than 15 years, had the vision to make the country the first in the world to adopt an official policy of multiculturalism in 1971, later enshrined in law.

This allowed its citizens to preserve their own cultural heritage while being protected from discrimination.

In this file photo Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill to attend a sitting of the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic, May 20, 2020 in Ottawa, Canada. (AFP/File Photo)

Justin has had a harder time convincing people that he walks his talk as Canada’s woke leader. He got points for introducing the first gender-balanced Cabinet in the country’s history in 2015, which was also ethnically diverse.

He offered apologies to Canada’s aboriginals for their abuse dating back more than a century, and he welcomed Syrian refugees at the airport with open arms.

Then, while running for re-election last year, two “blackface” photos and a video raised troubling questions about the character of a politician who rose to high office on a platform of social justice, gender equality and indigenous and minority rights.

At the June 2 news conference in Ottawa, Trudeau said he had "spoken many times about how deeply I regret my actions hurt many, many people," before going on to state: “There’s systemic discrimination in Canada, which means our systems treat Canadians of color, Canadians who are racialized, differently than they do others.”

Protesters march to highlight the deaths in the U.S. of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and of Toronto's Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who died after falling from an apartment building while police officers were present, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 30, 2020. (Reuters)

Not everyone was impressed. Jagmeet Singh, the outspoken leader of Canada’s NDP Party, said Trudeau’s government could immediately take actions that “go beyond the pretty words of a prime minister who says that he cares.”

Trudeau’s own cabinet minister, Ahmed Hussen, a Somali Canadian, was more specific: He lamented that black Canadians were disproportionately followed in stores by shop owners fearing theft, while black drivers had every reason to be anxious when they are pulled over by a police officer.

Racism is “a lived reality for black Canadians,” Hussen said, as he urged other Canadians to “step up” and “raise your voices and ensure that real inclusion accompanies the diversity of our country.”

The mood in Canada’s black, indigenous and immigrant communities was perhaps summed up best by Salti, of the Canadian Arab Institute, thus: “Now more than ever, we hope that all our political leaders and elected officials will do more than simply pay lip service, and instead act and invest in strategies that promote an inclusive, integrated and fully respectful society for all Canadians.”