India’s Modi says committed to farmers’ welfare, protesting leaders to expand campaign

India’s Modi says committed to farmers’ welfare, protesting leaders to expand campaign
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) waves to the gathering at the golden jubilee celebration of Gujarat Co-Operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), owner of the flagship dairy brand Amul at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on February 22, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 22 February 2024
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India’s Modi says committed to farmers’ welfare, protesting leaders to expand campaign

India’s Modi says committed to farmers’ welfare, protesting leaders to expand campaign
  • Farmers mostly from northern India have been attempting to march to New Delhi
  • Protesting farmers are demanding legally binding higher prices for their crops

SHAMBHU, India: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday his government is committed to the welfare of farmers and is on a mission to make them entrepreneurs and exporters, amid a protest by thousands of farmers seeking higher prices for their produce.

Modi’s comments on farmers were his first since the protests began last week and come months before general elections in which he is seeking a rare third term.

Farmers, mostly from the northern state of Punjab, have been attempting to march to the capital for more than a week as part of their ‘Delhi Chalo’ (Let’s Go to Delhi) campaign demanding legally binding higher prices for their crops, among other things.

They have been stopped 200 km (125 miles) away by police who have used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon, with talks between farmers’ leaders and federal ministers failing to produce a breakthrough.

The farmer leaders said on Wednesday they were pausing their march for two days following the death of a young protester, with authorities telling local media that the man had suffered a head injury and the cause was yet to be determined.

After a meeting on Thursday, farmers’ leaders said they had decided to launch other “mega programs” across the country starting on Friday.

Friday would be observed as a Black Day and effigies of federal Interior Minister Amit Shah and some state leaders would be burnt across the country, farmers’ leader Avik Saha told reporters.

A tractor rally would be held on highways on Feb. 26 and a farm workers’ public meeting would be held in Delhi on March 14, he added.

POLITICAL RISK

“Our government is committed to fulfill every resolve related to the welfare of our farmer brothers and sisters across the country,” Modi posted on X earlier on Thursday, and referred to a cabinet decision on Wednesday to raise the floor price that mills must pay for sugar cane by 8 percent.

The move does not benefit the protesting farmers who mostly grow rice and wheat but will help cane farmers in two other states that send the most lawmakers to parliament.

“How to better the life of the small farmer is our focus,” Modi later told a public meeting in his home state of Gujarat, without referring to the protests on the border of Punjab and Haryana states.

“We have given modern seeds to farmers...we are giving solar pumps to farmers...our effort is to get small farmers in villages to meet modern technology,” Modi said. 

“Besides making them producers, this is a mission to make small farmers entrepreneurs and exporters.”

Although the protesting farmers mostly belong to Punjab state, which has a limited footprint in parliament, analysts say Modi’s party cannot risk the campaign spreading to other states and angering more farmers, who are an influential bloc of voters, so close to the polls.

Similar protests two years ago, when farmers camped for months at the border of New Delhi, forced Modi to repeal a set of farm reform laws in what was seen as the biggest political defeat of the strongman leader.

At the main protest site of Shambhu, on the border between Haryana and Punjab states, dozens of farmers milled on and around the highway, sipping tea, cooking and collecting tear gas shells fired on Wednesday, as police kept watch.

Earlier on Thursday, social media platform X said it took down certain accounts and posts following an order by the Indian government, which local media reports say are linked to the farmers protests.
 


What lies ahead for the new Indian government

What lies ahead for the new Indian government
Updated 8 sec ago
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What lies ahead for the new Indian government

What lies ahead for the new Indian government
  • Economic disparity, inflation, taxes and unemployment likely to be key challenges 
  • Foreign relations with China, Pakistan, Canada will continue to plague any new administration

NEW DELHI: India is expected to have a new government in place by the middle of June after a six-week election that began on April 19. Votes will be counted on June 4 and analysts expect Prime Minister Narendra Modi to win a third straight term.
Here are some key issues the winning party, or coalition, will need to tackle in office.
ECONOMIC DISPARITY
India’s economy is expected to have grown by about 8 percent in the last fiscal year, one of the fastest rates among major economies, but voters have pointed to disparities on the ground, with growth more visible in cities than in the vast hinterland.
The economy has jumped five places to be the fifth-largest in the world in the past decade under Modi and he has said he will lift it to the third position if elected. But the country’s per-capita income still remains the lowest among G20 nations.
Nevertheless, S&P Global Ratings in late May raised India’s sovereign rating outlook to ‘positive’ from ‘stable’ while retaining the rating at ‘BBB-’, saying the country’s robust economic expansion was having a constructive impact on its credit metrics.
INFLATION ABOVE CENBANK TARGET
Annual retail inflation (INCPIY=ECI) in April stood at 4.83 percent, slightly lower than March, but still above the central bank’s 4 percent target.
Food inflation, which accounts for nearly half of the overall consumer price basket, was an annual 8.70 percent in April, compared with a 8.52 percent rise in the previous month. Food inflation has been at more than 8 percent year-on-year since November 2023.
Countering the steep increase in food prices has been one of the key campaign planks of the main opposition Congress party, which has promised several cash handouts to alleviate the situation.
Modi has meanwhile banned exports of wheat, rice and onions to contain domestic inflation.
UNEMPLOYMENT
Unemployment in India has also been one of the main issues in the campaign with Congress accusing the Modi government of doing little to provide jobs for the country’s youth.
The unemployment rate in India rose to 8.1 percent in April from 7.4 percent in March, according to the private think-tank Center for Monitoring Indian Economy.
Government estimates for the latest January-March quarter show that the urban unemployment rate in the 15-29 age group ticked higher to 17 percent from 16.5 percent in the prior quarter.
Overall, urban unemployment rate in the January-March quarter stood at 6.7 percent, compared to 6.5 percent in the previous quarter, according to government data.
The Indian government does not release quarterly unemployment figures for rural India.
FOREIGN RELATIONS
India’s rising world stature and assertive foreign policy have been touted as major recent achievements by Modi’s administration.
A key diplomatic strain, however, remains with China which was spurred by a 2020 border clash that left 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers dead. Modi said last month the countries should address the “prolonged situation” on their border.
Modi’s government has been trying to attract foreign companies to diversify supply chains beyond China.
Relations with Canada have also been strained in recent months after Ottawa and Washington accused an Indian official of directing the plot in the attempted murder of Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Sikh separatist and dual citizen of the United States and Canada.
In May, Canadian police arrested and charged three Indian men with the murder of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar last year and said they were probing whether the men had ties to the Indian government.
TAXES
An industry lobby group earlier this year called for a tax exemption limit for individuals to be increased and linked with inflation to help boost consumption.
The Confederation of Indian Industry also asked that the government review its capital gains tax structure by bringing consistency in tax rates for different asset classes such as debt, equity and immovable assets.
FARMERS
Stagnant farm income is a major sign of widening inequality between urban and rural India that has led to widespread protests. The BJP had promised to double farm income by 2022 in its manifesto for the last election, but has failed to do so.
Despite that, Modi has set a new goal to lift rural per-capita income by 50 percent by 2030 but farmers in the hinterland remain skeptical of such plans, Reuters reported earlier.
LAND, LABOUR REFORMS
In February, a BJP spokesperson told Reuters that Modi could make labor reforms a priority if he wins the general election.
New labor codes, which would make it easier for firms to hire and fire workers and impose operating restrictions on unions, were approved by parliament in 2020, but they have yet to be implemented following resistance from workers and states.
The new government may also continue to delay taking on land reforms as any such moves would be contentious and lead to losses in state elections later this year.
In his first term as prime minister, Modi tried to push through legislation that would have made it easier to buy land for industrial corridors, rural housing and electrification, and for defense purposes. However, the plan was put on the backburner amid stiff resistance from the opposition.


WHO emergencies team faces funding crunch as health crises multiply

WHO emergencies team faces funding crunch as health crises multiply
Updated 26 sec ago
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WHO emergencies team faces funding crunch as health crises multiply

WHO emergencies team faces funding crunch as health crises multiply
  • It will likely have to ask for funding again to cover salaries up to June, the document, released ahead of the WHO’s annual meeting in Geneva this week, said

LONDON: The World Health Organization’s emergencies department is facing “existential threats” as multiplying health crises have left it so short of cash that it needed emergency funds to pay staff salaries at the end of last year, an independent report said.
It will likely have to ask for funding again to cover salaries up to June, the document, released ahead of the WHO’s annual meeting in Geneva this week, said.
In 2023, the department responded to 72 emergencies. They included earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria, conflict in Sudan, Ukraine and Gaza, and a large global cholera outbreak.
The report, by an independent oversight committee, said that countries need to strengthen their own preparedness efforts and the WHO must improve the way it transfers responsibilities to national authorities to cope with the increased demands.
It also recommends new guidelines for the WHO’s role in managing long-lasting humanitarian emergencies, rather than the acute disease outbreaks that the department also deals with.
“More numerous natural disasters and conflicts in fragile states pose existential threats” to the performance of the emergencies program, the document reads.
Without increased capacity in countries, the WHO’s emergencies program “will be obliged to cut back critical activities”, it adds.
The WHO has a system of grading emergencies, with its highest level of alert being a “public health emergency of international concern”, or PHEIC. Only polio remains at this level; WHO declared the end of the emergency for both COVID-19 and mpox in 2023.
However, the agency also responds to increasing numbers of other emergencies, from conflict to floods and infectious disease outbreaks.
Last year, while the WHO’s overall budget was “relatively well funded”, the emergencies program had a “critical” funding gap of $411 million, or around a third of its entire budget, the report said.
WHO member states have taken steps to reform WHO’s funding and member states are set to discuss the report on Thursday.


India election 2024: What next after voting ends?

India election 2024: What next after voting ends?
Updated 5 min 50 sec ago
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India election 2024: What next after voting ends?

India election 2024: What next after voting ends?
  • Winners of India’s April 19-June 1 general election expected to form new government after votes counted on June 4
  • Analysts largely expect PM Narendra Modi to win third straight term as predicted by opinion polls before voting began

NEW DELHI: The winners of India’s April 19-June 1 general election are expected to form a new government by the middle of June after votes are counted on June 4. Analysts largely expect Prime Minister Narendra Modi to win a third straight term, as predicted by opinion polls before voting began.
Here is a look how votes, opens new tab are counted and what happens after that.
VOTE COUNTING
Vote counting is decentralized and done simultaneously at counting stations in each of the 543 constituencies around the country.
Counting begins at 8 am (0000 GMT) on June 4 with the tallying of postal ballots that only select groups can use, including people with disabilities, or those involved in essential services including security forces and some government officials.
After paper ballots, votes recorded in the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) are counted, which India has used since 2000, moving away from paper ballots for national and state elections.
CRITICISM OF THE PROCESS
Along with the electronic record of each vote cast through the EVM, a corresponding paper slip is also produced, which is visible to the voter, and then stored in a sealed box.
The poll watchdog, the Election Commission of India (ECI), counts and verifies these paper slips against electronic votes at five randomly selected polling stations — drawn by lots — in different segments of each constituency.
While critics and some members of civil society, including some political parties, want verification to be done at more booths to increase transparency, the Supreme Court has declined to order any change in the vote-counting process.
The ECI has dismissed allegations that EVMs can be tampered, calling them foolproof.
FORMING THE GOVERNMENT
Results are announced for each constituency as soon as counting is completed. India follows the first-past-the-post system, under which a candidate with the highest number of votes wins, regardless of garnering a majority or not.
Result trends generally become clear by the afternoon of counting day and are flashed on television news networks. The official count from the ECI can come hours later.
After the ECI announces the results for all 543 seats, the president invites the leader of the party, or an alliance, which has more than half the seats to form the government.
The party or coalition with 272 or more seats then chooses a prime minister to lead the government.
In the 2019 elections, Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won 303 seats and its National Democratic Alliance partners secured about 50 more. Meanwhile, the main opposition Congress won just 52 seats, with another 91 seats going to its allies.
If no political party or alliance gets a simple majority, leading to what is called a “hung house,” the president asks the party with the largest number of seats to form a government, and prove a majority on the floor of the house later.
A new Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, has to be in place before its current term ends on June 16.
WILL MODI WIN?
Opinion polls conducted before voting began on April 19 projected an easy victory for Modi for a rare third consecutive term, but a lower voter turnout, and a more unified opposition compared to 2019 have emerged as surprise challenges for him. Most analysts however say he is still likely to win.


Biden campaign taps friend groups, social media, with unpredictable results

Biden campaign taps friend groups, social media, with unpredictable results
Updated 8 min 19 sec ago
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Biden campaign taps friend groups, social media, with unpredictable results

Biden campaign taps friend groups, social media, with unpredictable results
  • Biden listened attentively as she told him about surviving cancer and how the Affordable Care Act, which Biden helped push as Barack Obama’s vice president, saved her life

RACINE: Andrea Dyess, 57, was already a Joe Biden fan, but after meeting him in her neighborhood of Racine, Wisconsin, in May, she has been talking to anyone who will listen about giving him four more years in the White House.
Dyess was on a street corner with her two young grandchildren trying to catch a glimpse of Biden’s motorcade, when a campaign worker invited her to join the president at a nearby community center.
Biden listened attentively as she told him about surviving cancer and how the Affordable Care Act, which Biden helped push as Barack Obama’s vice president, saved her life.
“I told him, just keep fighting the fight,” she said,
Since then, Dyess says she has shared her “once in a lifetime moment” directly with dozens of friends and relatives, at a church revival, at her grandkids’ school and on her neighborhood walks. She’s also been urging her 20-year-old son’s friends to register to vote.
Campaign officials say the encounter is exactly what they are hoping to replicate around the country with a series of small-scale campaign events.
Biden, 81, has spent decades honing his ‘retail’ politician style of wooing voters. Big, thundering speeches have never been his style but he lights up when meeting people one-on-one, thumping shoulders, hugging strangers and FaceTiming people’s moms.
In sharp contrast to the
mass rallies
hosted by Republican rival Donald Trump — heavy on stagecraft with classic rock playlists, anti-immigration rhetoric and mostly white audiences — Biden meets with small, more diverse groups of voters for personal conversations.
Those
smaller events
are arranged with friendly invitation-only audiences, and often publicized only at the last minute to avoid pro-Palestinian protests that have dogged Biden’s appearances for months.
It’s part of a broader campaign strategy that includes celebrity endorsements, a slew of political surrogates, traditional ads and official events to showcase Biden’s support for NATO, infrastructure funding and other key policies.
The campaign is under heavy pressure as Biden wobbles in the polls.
Despite strong economic growth and stock market highs, his approval ratings are near two-year lows, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll showed, and other polls show Trump ahead in several of the battleground states that Biden narrowly won in 2020.
Campaign and Democratic party officials say that is in part because voters are still smarting from higher prices and don’t know enough about what Biden has done to reduce costs of prescription drugs and other essentials, or his backing of unions fighting for higher wages.
They say US media is too “fractured” to be an effective way of reaching voters on these issues. So they’re enlisting friend networks, super-surrogates, small business groups, podcasts, new media and TikTok stars who they hope will talk issues and policies as they try to convince millions of Americans to back Biden in November.
Charles Franklin, who directs polling at Wisconsin’s Marquette University Law School, said that because Biden doesn’t have “groupies” like Trump, these smaller events are a better bet. “If they both got the same stadium and did back to back events, [I’m] pretty confident that Trump would have the bigger turnout for that,” Franklin said.
Republicans, who ridiculed Biden’s 2020 campaign for being run “from his basement,” say the lack of big Biden rallies in 2024 is further evidence of his physical and political fragility.
Trump spokesperson Karoline Leavitt, described Biden’s strategy as “tiny, staged, 15-minute snooze-fests,” and said “Team Trump’s campaign events will continue to get bigger and better.”
Before events like the one in Racine, the campaign combs its databases for local people who care about a specific issue Biden’s policies have addressed or are part of a demographic he hopes to reach, and invites them to meet Biden. Sometimes they find unexpected guests like Dyess.
The interactions are filmed by the campaign for YouTube video and campaign ads, and followed by local and national media. Ideally, participants make their own social media posts and those go viral, reaching more voters, the campaign says.
“One of the strategies around any visit is not just to have the perfect room and create the conditions for serendipity, but also to make sure that what happens in the room doesn’t stay in the room,” said Ben Wikler, head of Wisconsin’s Democratic Party.
In Milwaukee in March, for example, Biden met 9-year-old Harry Abramson, who had written to Biden about his stutter.
Biden, who stuttered as a child, shared his strategy for dealing with difficult words. The interaction was picked up by the local Fox affiliate and other TV stations, digital and print media, and Biden’s campaign put it on Facebook and other accounts. It went viral, bouncing around chat rooms, TikTok and Reddit.
“Grandpa’s gonna Grandpa. Imagine telling your friends you got speech lessons from the president of the United States,” one Reddit user wrote under a video of the interaction on “Made Me Smile,” a group with 9.5 million members.
Biden visited the Fitts’ family home in North Carolina in January, part of a ‘kitchen table’ visit to regular families in swing states. Afterward, teenaged Christian Fitts posted a video on TikTok showing the President admiring school photos on his refrigerator and sharing french fries at the kitchen table.
The post got over one million “likes” and thousands of comments that attracted millions more views. Many were incredulous, rather than outright endorsements of Biden. “HIM JUST STANDING AT THE FRIDGE IS SENDING ME” one user wrote. Nearly 50,000 people liked the comment.
Tracking the digital impact of this strategy is difficult, political experts say. New tools to track TikTok content are still not reliable, most Facebook posts are private, and there’s no way to know how many of those who comment will actually vote.
Teddy Goff, co-founder of marketing firm Precision Strategies, believes the smaller events are a smart play.
“They’re going to wind up in the local news, local newspaper, local TV, and in all likelihood, will get seen by more people than might have been to that Trump rally,” said Goff, digital director of former President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, referring to an April rally by Trump in Green Bay that drew a crowd of 3,200.
Relying on individuals to share the Biden message can be unpredictable.
Sheree Robinson, a Black mother of five from Racine who says funding from Biden’s American Rescue Plan helped her earn her a High School Equivalency Diploma, was invited to ride in Biden’s limousine during his May Wisconsin visit.
She posted a video on Facebook showing her smiling next to a bemused-looking Biden, as he gets detailed instructions on what to expect at the next event. In her comment, she used an obscenity to tout herself as a “big ... deal,” without any praise of Biden.
Later, however, she called into a local radio program to share what she called an “awesome” experience, and plugged Biden’s policy that helped her get a degree. The Wisconsin Democratic party is featuring her in digital ads it will use around the state.
Social media tends to embrace more negative or awkward moments, like a stumble or fall, Goff noted, rather than a tiny event like the recent one in Racine.
Biden’s campaign is outspending Trump’s on digital media in Wisconsin, according to an analysis by Priorities USA. It spent $2.2 million on digital ads in the state alone since January, compared to $1,500 spent by Trump.
So far, though, a FiveThirtyEight compilation of Wisconsin polls still shows Trump with a slight lead in the state.


FACTBOX: India’s Delhi sees first heat-related death this year as capital sizzles

FACTBOX: India’s Delhi sees first heat-related death this year as capital sizzles
Updated 11 min 3 sec ago
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FACTBOX: India’s Delhi sees first heat-related death this year as capital sizzles

FACTBOX: India’s Delhi sees first heat-related death this year as capital sizzles
  • Heat-related fatality was a 40-year-old laborer who died of heatstroke on Wednesday
  • India Met Department has said confluence of weather patterns has driven up temperatures

NEW DELHI: India’s capital, Delhi, has recorded its first heat-related death this year, media reported on Thursday, as India’s northwest swelters in record high temperatures. The heat-related fatality was a 40-year-old laborer who died of heatstroke on Wednesday, The Indian Express newspaper reported.

RECORD DELHI HEAT, READINGS UNDER REVIEW

The temperature in Delhi reached a record high of 52.9 degrees Celsius (127.22°F) in the Mungeshpur neighborhood on Wednesday, while parts of northwest and central India have been experiencing heat wave to severe heat wave conditions for weeks.

The reading for Mungeshpur may be revised however, as maximum temperatures in other parts of the city ranged from 45.2°C to 49.1°C.

Delhi’s lieutenant governor on Wednesday asked the government to ensure measures were taken to protect laborers by providing water and shaded areas at construction sites and granting them paid leave from noon to 3 p.m.

WHY IS INDIA IS SEEING MORE HEAT WAVES?

The India Meteorological Department has said a confluence of weather patterns has driven up temperatures.

Summer temperatures often peak during May in India, but the IMD predicted 7-10 heat wave days in northwestern regions this month, compared with the usual 2-3 days.

This was largely due to fewer non-monsoon thundershowers and an active but weakening El Nino, a climate pattern that typically leads to hot and dry weather in Asia and heavier rains in parts of the Americas, the IMD has said.

Warm, westerly winds blowing in from Pakistan also contributed to the heat.

Other parts of India have already seen summer temperatures climbing to record peaks, including eastern and southern India, where temperatures in April were among the highest on record.

EXTREME HEAT

A heat wave alert has been in place for large parts of India since last week.

The IMD threshold for a heat wave is when the maximum temperature reaches 40°C in the plains, 30°C in hilly areas, 37°C in coastal areas and when the departure from the normal maximum temperatures is at least 4.5 degrees.

Rajasthan state has also been reeling under scorching heat, with mercury touching 50°C in some districts. Government data shows four people have died since March with 451 cases of heat stroke reported on Wednesday itself.

Asia has sweltered in a hotter summer this year — a trend scientists say has been worsened by human-driven climate change.

NEAR TERM RELIEF

Heat wave conditions will reduce over the next two to three days due to a gradual fall in temperature along with rainfall and southwesterly winds blowing from the Arabian Sea to northwest India, the IMD said on Wednesday.

Late on Wednesday, some parts of Delhi received a spot of light rain.