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.


Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

Updated 04 July 2020

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

  • Young volunteers tackle tough terrain, pandemic myths in isolated northern region

JAKARTA: A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, told Arab News that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he told Arab News.

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he told Arab News.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.