Modi’s dominance at risk after BJP loses key state

Modi’s dominance at risk after BJP loses key state
Supporters of the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) celebrate the party’s lead during the counting process of the West Bengal legislative assembly election. (AFP)
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Updated 04 May 2021

Modi’s dominance at risk after BJP loses key state

Modi’s dominance at risk after BJP loses key state
  • Shock Bengal poll defeat a ‘major setback’ for ruling party, analysts say

NEW DELHI: A day after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee led the Trinamool Congress to a spectacular victory by defeating the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the eastern Indian state of Bengal, experts on Monday warned that the BJP’s loss in the crucial regional polls could have significant implications on national politics.

Five state assemblies went to the polls last month. However, the Bengal polls were the most watched and bitterly contested, with the top BJP leadership putting everything at stake to wrest the largest state in eastern India.

During the campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed 38 election rallies in the eight-phase elections, while almost all of his Cabinet remained in Bengal for over a month in a bid to secure votes.

In a house of 294, Bengal’s ruling TMC improved its performance by winning 213 seats — three more than in the previous poll — while the BJP secured 77, a poor result compared with the previous parliamentary elections when it won 18 out of 42 parliamentary seats or roughly 140 seats in the local assembly.

 

“This is a historic and significant victory as we managed to stop the march of communal forces in Bengal,” TMC leader Ananya Chakraborty told Arab News.

“The secular fabric of the nation was saved by defeating the BJP. Had they won, it would have given them extra power to turn this nation into a Hindu majoritarian state,” Chakraborty added.

However, political experts differed in their analysis of the verdict, with some describing it as “a major setback to Modi’s political charisma” and others as a result of voter “resentment.”

“This is the first time Modi’s dominance is being challenged decisively,” Sudheendra Kulkarni, a Mumbai-based political analyst and the former political adviser to the first BJP government in 1999, told Arab News.

“Never in the history of the BJP since 1980 has it fought a state election with a total determination to win and in which the prime minister put everything at stake. Still, they could manage only 77 seats, which is 50 less than what they have gained in 2019 parliamentary elections,” he added.

“This TMC victory has given hope to the opposition that the BJP can be defeated. I anticipate that Mamata Banerjee will become a magnet for opposition unity in months to come.”

FASTFACT

The Bengal polls were the most watched and bitterly contested, with the top BJP leadership putting everything at stake to wrest the largest state in eastern India.

However, Hilal Ahmed of the New Delhi-based think tank, the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, warned against “overestimating the TMC victory.”

“The BJP has not merely won elections in the last few years, but has also been successful in transforming Hindu majoritarianism into the dominant narrative of Indian politics,” Ahmad told Arab News.

“There is certainly resentment against the regime,” he said, adding that “there is no counter-narrative.”

Chakraborty agreed, adding that the TMC party with “limited resources was fighting the mighty Indian state with unlimited resources.”

“The victory will have great political implications in future,” Chakraborty said.

However, the BJP claimed that it has done “well” in Bengal.

“The BJP has emerged as the main opposition with complete decimation of the Congress and the Left,” Sudesh Verma, party spokesperson, told Arab News.

India’s principal opposition Congress party could not open its account in the state this time with left-wing parties such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Forward Block and more — which ruled the state for 35 years until 2006 when they lost power to the TMC — also facing a similar fate.

“The ground has been prepared for certain victory for the BJP next time,” Verma said.

Bengal-based political activist Zim Nawaz said that the poll results were a “rejection” of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

Under the CAA, members of Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi and Christian minorities who moved to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan before Dec. 31, 2014, are eligible to become citizens. Muslims are excluded.

The legislation is part of the government’s proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) initiative to identify “genuine citizens” of India.

If any non-Muslims are left out of the NRC, they will not be declared stateless because the CAA will protect them — a privilege denied to Muslims.

Most of the 1.9 million people left off the NRC were Bengali Hindus, who form part of the party’s core vote. Illegal migration was also a prominent issue in Bengal during the election campaign.

The BJP was banking on the support of the Hindu Matua community, which constitutes close to 20 percent of the state’s population. The Matuas migrated to India in large numbers during the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971.

Under the CAA, the Matuas — despite having legal documents and residing as Indian citizens for decades — would be forced to declare themselves as refugees before claiming Indian citizenship again.

In the 2019 parliamentary elections, the Matuas voted overwhelmingly for the BJP, helping the party win 18 out of 42 seats after it promised to grant them citizenship rights.

However, the CAA has not been implemented because New Delhi has yet to frame the law’s rules.

Several in the Matua community have protested against the move, with the BJP’s lack of clarity on the matter forcing the community to question the party’s intent, experts say.

“Unlike the 2019 elections, the BJP could not get the Matuas’ vote en bloc. This shows their disenchantment,” Nawaz said. “By the next election, they will completely stop voting for the BJP.”

Besides Bengal, the results for Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry Assembly elections were also announced on Sunday.

While the BJP retained its spot in Assam, it lost power to the regional Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led alliance in Tamil Nadu in southern India.

In Kerala, the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) claimed a historic win by retaining power in a state known to change hands every five years.


Pakistani clock collector records passage of time

Pakistani clock collector records passage of time
Updated 5 sec ago

Pakistani clock collector records passage of time

Pakistani clock collector records passage of time
  • Gul Kakar’s collection of 18th, 19th-century timepieces range from small pocket watches to grandfather clocks

QUETTA: Bells, whistles, chimes, and gongs sound every minute. Hands tick, pendulums swing.

Welcome to the museum of Gul Kakar, a 44-year-old Balochistan Levies Force officer, who has collected thousands of ancient clocks from around the world.

Housed in his small museum in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, the collection of 18th- and 19th-century timepieces includes exhibits ranging from small pocket watches to tall free-standing wooden case grandfather clocks accumulated over two decades.

“My passion toward antique clocks started when I found two old clocks in my house, which were in my father’s possession. After repairing them, I started my search for more antique clocks,” Kakar told Arab News.

“The majority of clocks in my museum have been acquired from people in the UK, Germany, Holland, France, and the US.

“I have a rare French-made Morbier grandfather clock, which was produced in 1850, and a pocket watch manufactured in 1820. When I learnt that a French family wanted to sell these rare clocks, I contacted a friend in France who purchased them for me and sent them six years ago.”

Kakar said he had not counted how many clocks he had but reckoned there were thousands in his two-room museum, located on the city’s Joint Road. There are no guided tours, but visitors are always welcome.

“I never thought that I would be able to build a museum. With the passage of time, my antiques including all forms of old clocks started arriving and turned my place into a clock museum,” he added.

HIGHLIGHT

Gathered from around world, Kakar has never counted, calculated value of his museum contents.

In a world increasingly oriented toward technology, Kakar said his museum had become a portal to another time. He also has a number of vintage radios and old gramophones in his collection.

“When I hear the sounds of these clocks or play songs on gramophones, it gives me immense comfort and pushes me into the historical lifestyle of the people back in the 18th and 19th centuries who had used these items. I am able to recognize the chimes of all clocks.”

The models he owns are unfamiliar to Pakistani clocksmiths, so Kakar has to carry out any repairs himself.

“I service them and wind them once a week, and I’m able to repair minor issues with my clocks,” he said.

And he has recently started looking into the history of some of his exhibits.

“I know the background of some of these clocks and I am in contact with some families in England and France and have asked them to share the histories of these clocks used by their great grandfathers during the 18th and 19th centuries. I am hopeful I will get more details in the coming months,” he added.

Kakar has not attempted to calculate how much his collection is worth. “I have never sold items from my collection to anyone. If I started counting the sum, I would not be able to carry on with
my enthusiasm.”


Six countries including US urge Ethiopian government to cease illegal detentions

Six countries including US urge  Ethiopian government  to cease illegal detentions
Updated 12 min 44 sec ago

Six countries including US urge Ethiopian government to cease illegal detentions

Six countries including US urge  Ethiopian government  to cease illegal detentions

WASHINGTON: Six countries including the US expressed concern on Monday over reports of widespread arrests by Ethiopia of Tigrayan citizens based on ethnicity in connection with the country’s year-old conflict, urging the government to stop acts they said likely violate international law.

The US, Britain, Canada, Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands cited reports by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the rights group Amnesty International on widespread arrests of ethnic Tigrayans, including Orthodox priests, older people and mothers with children.

The countries said they are “profoundly concerned” about the detentions of people without charges, adding that the government’s announcement of a state of emergency last month offered “no justification” for mass detentions.

“Individuals are being arrested and detained without charges or a court hearing and are reportedly being held in inhumane conditions. Many of these acts likely constitute violations of international law and must cease immediately,” the six countries said in a joint statement.

They urged Ethiopia’s government to allow unhindered access by international monitors.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokesperson Billene Seyoum and Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the statement.

The conflict between Ethiopian’s federal government and the leadership of Tigray has killed thousands of civilians, forced millions to flee their homes and made more than 9 million people dependent on food aid.

Ethiopia, Africa’s second-largest nation and a regional diplomatic heavyweight, was once an ally for Western security forces seeking to counter Islamist extremism. Relations have soured amid increasing allegations of human rights abuses committed during the conflict.

The joint statement reiterated grave concern over human rights abuses including sexual violence and ongoing reports of atrocities committed by all sides.

“It is clear that there is no military solution to this conflict, and we denounce any and all violence against civilians, past, present and future,” the statement said.

Both sides in Ethiopia accuse each other of committing atrocities and both have denied the allegations.

The six countries in the statement called on the parties to the conflict to negotiate a sustainable cease-fire, reiterating calls from the United States and others for Ethiopia’s government and Tigrayan forces to declare a cease-fire to allow humanitarian aid to enter Tigray.


UN chief names US diplomat to run Libya mediation

UN chief names US diplomat to run Libya mediation
Updated 45 min 24 sec ago

UN chief names US diplomat to run Libya mediation

UN chief names US diplomat to run Libya mediation
  • Guterres named Williams as his special adviser, which does not require council approval

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday appointed US diplomat Stephanie Williams to lead mediation efforts in Libya after his special envoy quit just weeks ahead of planned elections in the war-torn country.

UN special envoy on Libya, Jan Kubis, is due to step down on Friday. Guterres had informally suggested veteran British diplomat Nicholas Kay as a replacement, but Russia said it would not support Kay, according to diplomats. The 15-member UN Security Council, operating by consensus, must approve a new appointment.

Guterres named Williams as his special adviser, which does not require council approval. Williams was the acting special envoy on Libya after Ghassan Salame quit in March 2020 because of stress and before Kubis was approved in January 2021.

Kubis, who has been based in Geneva, said last month there was a need for the head envoy to be based in Libya's capital Tripoli and he resigned to "to create conditions for this".

Williams "will lead good offices and mediation efforts and engagements with Libyan regional and international stakeholders to pursue implementation of the three intra-Libyan dialogue tracks - political, security and economic - and support the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections in Libya," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

Libya descended into chaos after the NATO-backed overthrow of longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. In October last year, the two major sides in Libya's civil war - the internationally recognized Government of National Accord and Khalifa Haftar's eastern-based Libyan National Army - agreed a ceasefire.

A UN political forum last year demanded parliamentary and presidential elections take place on Dec. 24 as part of a roadmap to end the war. However, disputes over the planned vote threaten to derail the peace process.

A first-round presidential vote is set for Dec. 24 and the parliamentary election has been delayed to January or February. However, rules for the elections have not yet been agreed. 


Sudanese protest military coup, deal that reinstated PM

Sudanese protest military coup, deal that reinstated PM
Updated 06 December 2021

Sudanese protest military coup, deal that reinstated PM

Sudanese protest military coup, deal that reinstated PM
  • Footage circulated on social media showed demonstrators marching in different locations in Khartoum and Omdurman
  • In the western Darfur region, the death toll from tribal clashes over the weekend climbed to at least 48 people

CAIRO: Thousands of Sudanese took to the streets Monday in the capital of Khartoum and other cities in the latest protests against the October military coup and subsequent deal that reinstated Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
Footage circulated on social media purportedly showed demonstrators marching in different locations in Khartoum and its sister city of Omdurman. There were also protests in other cities, including Kassala, Sennar and Port Sudan.
Security forces fired tear gas to disperse protesters marching in a street near the presidential palace in Khartoum, activist Nazim Sirag said. He said they also used heavy tear gas to break up a one-day sit-in protest in Khartoum’s district of Bahri. Around a dozen protesters suffered light injuries from tear gas canisters, he said.
In past rounds of demonstrations security forces used violence, including firing live ammunition at protesters, according to activists. At least 44 protesters were killed and hundreds were wounded since the coup, according to the Sudan Doctors Committee, which tracks protester deaths.
The Sudanese military seized power Oct. 25, dissolving the transitional government and arresting dozens of officials and politicians. The takeover upended a fragile planned transition to democratic rule more than two years after a popular uprising forced the removal of longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir and his Islamist government.
Hamdok was reinstated last month amid international pressure in a deal that calls for an independent technocratic Cabinet under military oversight. The agreement included the release of government officials and politicians detained since the coup and the formation of an independent technocratic Cabinet led by Hamdok.
The deal, however, was rejected by the pro-democracy movement, which insists on handing over power to a civilian government to lead the transition. The protests came under the slogan of: “No negotiations, no compromise, no power-sharing” with the military.
Monday’s protests were called by the Sudanese Professionals Association and the so-called Resistance Committees, which spearheaded the uprising against Al-Bashir and then the military coup.
Among the protesters’ demands are the restructuring of the military under civilian oversight, purging officers loyal to Al-Bashir and disbanding armed groups including the Rapid Support Forces.
“We will keep on using all peaceful means to reject and resist until the fall of the coup government and the return to the course of democratic transition,” said protester Dalia Mostafa, while taking part in a march in Khartoum.
The Rapid Support Forces are a paramilitary unit notorious for atrocities during the Darfur war and a 2019 massacre of protesters in Khartoum. They are led by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who is also the deputy head of the ruling sovereign council.
Dagalo is seen as the co-architect of the coup along with Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the ruling body.
Relentless street demonstrations have put pressure on the military and Hamdok to take measures to calm angry protesters and gain their trust. Hamdok has yet to announce his Cabinet, which is likely to face opposition from the pro-democracy movement.
In televised comments over the weekend, Burhan described the deal that reinstated Hamdok as “a true start” for the democratic transition.
He said they were working on crafting a “new political charter” with the aim of establishing a broader consensus among all political forces and movements.
In the western Darfur region, meanwhile, the death toll from tribal clashes over the weekend climbed to at least 48 people, all of them shot dead, according to the Sudan Doctors Committee. It said dozens of others were wounded, some in critical condition.
The fighting grew out of a financial dispute late Saturday between two individuals in a camp for displaced persons in the Kreinik area in West Darfur province.
The clashes continued Sunday, with Arab militias known as janjaweed attacking the camp and torching and looting property, according to Adam Regal, spokesman for the General Coordination for Refugees and Displaced in Darfur.
The clashes in Darfur pose a significant challenge to efforts by Sudan’s transitional authorities to end decades-long rebellions in some areas like war-wrecked region.


More attacks will happen, says UK’s top counterterrorism cop

More attacks will happen, says UK’s top counterterrorism cop
Updated 06 December 2021

More attacks will happen, says UK’s top counterterrorism cop

More attacks will happen, says UK’s top counterterrorism cop
  • Neil Basu’s warning came during an inquiry into the 2017 bombing of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester
  • ‘I’m going to be very blunt about this: We won’t stop them happening again, they will happen again. We have to try and minimize or reduce the risk,’ he said

LONDON: Britain’s highest-ranking counterterrorism police officer has warned that despite improvements in the ways agencies collaborate to prevent terror attacks, they cannot stop them all and it is inevitable that there will be more.

The comment by Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu of the Metropolitan Police Service came on Monday when he appeared at the inquiry into the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing. Twenty-two people were killed, including a number of children, when 22-year-old suicide bomber Salman Abedi detonated an explosive device at an Ariana Grande concert.

Basu, who serves as the National Police Chiefs Council lead for Counter Terrorism Policing, told the inquiry: “The horror of this makes you look very hard at, hopefully, preventing it ever happening again.”

But he added: “I’m going to be very blunt about this: We won’t stop them happening again, they will happen again. We have to try and minimize or reduce the risk and that means constantly trying to have a system that looks at improvement, no matter how busy we are.”

The inquiry into the attack in May 2017 is examining the activities of emergency services, including the police and intelligence agencies, in the lead-up to the attack.

Basu said the results of a joint police and MI5 review of a number of attacks that took place in 2017, including the arena bombing, were “humbling.” That review made 104 recommendations for improvements, four of which remain outstanding.

He added that cross-agency collaboration has improved since 2017 but that more work can yet be done to better align the work of agencies.

“We’re very close but we need to be closer still,” Basu said.

The inquiry also heard from Ian Fenn, the former headteacher of a Manchester school Abedi attended between 2009 and 2011. He said Abedi was not a good student and was, at times, “aggressive and rude” to teachers, and had been suspended for theft and for setting off fireworks.

However, there was “no indication,” Fenn added, that Abedi held extremist views at that time.

“He never came across as somebody who was opinionated, who was driven, that had an agenda,” he told the inquiry. “He was a typically lackluster child who drifted around.”