India’s coronavirus lockdown hits poor, tests Modi’s support

The steps were taken after a nationwide lockdown announced last week by Prime Minister Narendra Modi led to a mass exodus of migrant workers from cities to their villages, often on foot and without food and water. (File/AP)
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Updated 03 April 2020

India’s coronavirus lockdown hits poor, tests Modi’s support

  • Thousands of desperate day laborers have walked hundreds of miles home — and more than 20 have reportedly died on the way
  • In slums, anxious families are low on food, while homeless shelters are overflowing

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: Ravi Prasad Gupta, a worker at a pipe plant in the western Indian state of Gujarat, for years proudly supported Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his promise to usher in “good days” for millions of impoverished laborers.
But Modi on March 24 announced a three-week lockdown to fight the coronavirus, which meant Gupta lost his job and so decided to head home, first by train and then on foot.
“I voted for Modi in all the elections but now I’m very sure that he works only for the big people and not for a man like me,” Gupta told Reuters in the northern town of Lucknow where he was getting on a truck for the next leg of his journey home.
The shutdown has dealt a body blow to India’s neediest, many of whom have long backed Modi, the 69-year old son of a tea seller whose Hindu nationalist administration was first elected in 2014.
Thousands of desperate day laborers like Gupta have walked hundreds of miles home — and more than 20 have reportedly died on the way. In slums, anxious families are low on food, while homeless shelters are overflowing.
Modi says the lockdown is necessary to avert a humanitarian calamity in India, where health care has long been weak and millions live in crowded, unsanitary conditions.
The country has reported more than 2,000 coronavirus cases and 56 deaths but many health experts are bracing for a surge of infections despite the government’s efforts.
Modi has apologized to the poor and two days after announcing the lockdown, his government unveiled a $23 billion economic plan to hand out cash and food.
Government critics say the shutdown was poorly planned, and that authorities are now scrambling to contain its fallout instead of focusing on the coronavirus.
Rivals also accuse Modi of being tone-deaf to the suffering of the poor and of seeking to polish his image with the crisis.
‘Know yourself’
During a radio address on Sunday, Modi encouraged Indians cooped up at home to reach out to childhood friends on social media, dust off old musical instruments and introspect.
“Don’t go out but go inside,” said Modi. “Try to know yourself.”
He has also shared some cartoon videos called “Yoga with Modi” for keeping fit, and encouraged people to watch them on a special Modi app.
He has also created a relief fund — PM-CARES — sidelining a decades-old traditional prime ministerial aid fund.
“Why the self-aggrandizing name, PM-CARES? Must a colossal national tragedy also be (mis)used to enhance the cult of personality?” historian Ramachandra Guha, a Modi critic, said on Twitter.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.
Shaina NC, an official with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, said criticism of the lockdown was unwarranted and authorities were providing food and shelter to those in need.
“There is bound to be a little hardship when a decision such as this is taken,” she said.
“Prime Minister Modi is popular and continues to be so, but I don’t think he is looking for a certificate of popularity at this juncture.”
Some state governments blame Modi’s top-down management style for what they see as the chaotic implementation of the shutdown, which has complicated operations for e-commerce, medical device makers and farmers.
“Did the prime minister talk to any of the state governments before unilaterally announcing it? No,” said Bhupesh Baghel, the chief minister of opposition-ruled Chhattisgarh state. If given proper notice, he said, Chhattisgarh could have stocked up on essentials and coordinated with neighboring states.
‘Not anticipated’
Two central government officials dealing with the shutdown said Modi’s administration had not expected it to trigger the exodus of migrant workers.
“This was not anticipated, perhaps the time was too short,” said one, referring to the advance notice, who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to media.
Modi said on Thursday the lockdown would end in phases, amid fears there could be a second wave of infections.
To be sure, Modi remains India’s most popular politician and some of his supporters are blaming others for the problems.
“Modi is 100% right. He should extend the lockdown. It’s because of middlemen that we are not getting food,” said unemployed laborer Prahlad Kushwaha, 45, as he cooked flatbread in an idled textile mill in Mumbai.
More than 80% of Indians said the government was handling the coronavirus pandemic well, according to a survey by the CVoter polling agency conducted days after the shutdown began, but largely before the migrant exodus dominated headlines.
Political analysts say it is too soon to say how the lockdown will affect Modi — especially with the opposition in disarray.
Voters have in the past been fairly forgiving of Modi, said Sadanand Dhume, a fellow at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, citing the government’s 2016 ban of big bank notes, which triggered chaos but failed to significantly dent Modi’s popularity.
“This is the first game in a five-set match. It could go either way,” said Dhume.


Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

Updated 01 October 2020

Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

  • Senior BJP officials acquitted of conspiracy to destroy historic Muslim place of worship

NEW DELHI: A special court in the northern Indian city of Lucknow on Wednesday acquitted all 32 politicians and senior leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of conspiring to demolish the 16th-century Babri Mosque in 1992, ruling that the move was not “preplanned.”

Muslims described the judgment as “yet another betrayal by the judiciary.”

The BJP under the leadership of then-party president Lal Krishna Advani led a political campaign in the late 1980s and early 1990s to build a temple on the site of the disputed 16th-century mosque in the eastern city of Ayodhya, claiming that it was built by the first Mughal ruler Babar. 

On Dec. 6, 1992, in response to a call by BJP leaders, hundreds of Hindu extremists gathered at the disputed site and demolished the mosque, resulting in religious riots across the country that claimed more than 2,000 lives.

Most of the BJP leaders and its affiliates were blamed for razing the Babri Mosque.

However, on Wednesday, Surendra Kumar Yadav, the judge at the special court, said that the demolition of the 500-year-old mosque was not pre-planned.

“They have been acquitted for lack of evidence,” defense lawyer K.K. Mishra said after the verdict.

Muslims reacted to the verdict with disappointment.

“The judgment pronounced by the special CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) court is wrong. We will appeal in the high court,” Zafaryab Jilani, general secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said.

The BJP was elated with the court’s decision.

“It is a moment of happiness for all of us; we chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Hail Ram) after the court’s verdict. The judgment vindicates my personal and BJP’s belief and commitment toward the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement. Along with millions of my countrymen, I now look forward to the completion of the beautiful Shri Ram Mandir (temple) at Ayodhya,” 92-year-old Advani, one of the accused in the case, said.

Another BJP leader and former party president, Murli Manohar Joshi, who was also among the accused, called the judgment “historic.”

“This proves that no conspiracy was hatched for the incident in Ayodhya. Our program and rallies were not part of any conspiracy,” Joshi, 86, said.

The verdict comes 10 months after the Supreme Court’s controversial judgment giving the disputed land to a Hindu trust and awarding five acres of land to Muslim petitioners to build a structure of their choice at another location in the city.

“It’s a betrayal by the court,” Ayodhya-based Hajji Mahboob, one of the original Muslim petitioners, told Arab News.

“So many BJP leaders have claimed openly that they were involved in demolishing the Babri Mosque. If the court gives this kind of one-sided verdict, I can only say that it is compromised,” he said.

“We know that there cannot be any justice for Muslims in this country because all the decisions given by the courts are wrong,” he added.

Reacting to the verdict, the main opposition Congress party said it was “counter to the Supreme Court judgment.” 

The apex court held that the demolition of the Babri mosque was clearly illegal and an “egregious violation of the rule of law.” 

“But the Special Court exonerated all the accused. It is clear that the decision of the Special Court runs counter to the decision of the Supreme Court,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.

The demolition of the mosque was “a deep-rooted political conspiracy to destroy the country’s communal amity and brotherhood, and to usurp power at any cost,” he added.

According to Hilal Ahamd, of New Delhi-based think tank Center for the Study of Developing Societies, there is a growing belief among Muslims that India is a Hindu country and “they have to adjust themselves accordingly.”

Meanwhile, former chairman of the minority commission Zafar ul Islam Khan said the verdict will encourage the BJP to take the law into its own hands in the belief that the police and judiciary will protect them.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi political analyst who has written several books on the Hindu right-wing politics, said: “The demolition of the mosque was a criminal offense and the failure to establish guilt after 28 years is unfortunate.”

He described the verdict as “a betrayal for Muslims and risky for the security of the country if its largest minority keeps getting marginalized like this.”