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Mainstream, VOL LX No 8, New Delhi, February 12, 2022

Letter to the readers, Mainstream, Feb 12, 2022

Saturday 12 February 2022

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, February 12, 2022

State assembly elections involving millions have just begun across five states of India including its most populous state of Uttar Pradesh. In the preceding weeks practically all political behaviour of major parties has been driven by electoral calculations towards these elections. The Election Commission (EC) is supposed to keep a tab on all political parties including the ruling party to not cross any limits just prior to elections, but, we should be ringing alarm bells over some recent events leading to the elections which may not be seen as connected. We list some of these in an attempt to connect the dots on the possible misuse of democratic space and overstepping of the boundaries even if EC may not take these up. First of all, the high profile presentation of the Union Budget 2022 happened this year while EC’s Model Code of Conduct was in place; budget proposals and sops presented on National TV were likely to influence the public electorally even if these were not state specific. Perhaps the EC could have reconsidered the dates of the elections to be at some distance from the presentation of the budget. Secondly, the speeches by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, part of the motion of thanks to the President’s joint address over the Budget in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha became a vitriolic attack to denounce the duly elected and National parliamentary opposition – the Congress party was targeted as being harmful to the country. Slander is not the way to respond to uncomfortable questions over the budget raised by leaders of opposition parties — It seemed as if the PM was delivering election campaign speeches from the floor of the Parliament directed at audiences outside and voters. Thirdly, in the past few days, there have been disturbing developments in two BJP ruled states that can be interpreted as having an electoral motive going beyond their states. Here a strategy of marking out differences along religious or sectional lines is done clearly to harvest votes or influence voters. In the state of Karnataka, sectarian fire over the wearing of the hijab has erupted creating a siege in educational institutions in Karnataka. Hindutva groups with links to the ruling BJP mobilised students by distributing saffron colour stoles and turbans to protest against hijab-wearing co-students; also Islamist groups are said to be using students to push identity politics. While, there is no election underway in Karnataka, the timing of these events leads us to think that these fires have been deliberately fanned for electoral gain in the election campaign in distant UP (The Karnataka hijab noise can be heard on the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) campus in Uttar Pradesh where the Muslim students mobilise for protest) In an unusual development the BJP ruled coalition government in the state of Haryana has granted of a three-week special permission of absence from prison to Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh the founder and head of the Dera Sacha Sauda cult, who is currently serving multiple prison sentences on serious crimes (Such convicts are normally allowed only short two day paroles) Commentators suggest that this release may have larger political motives to influence the elections in Punjab since the Dalit followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda cult run into hundreds of thousands. And finally, a clear case may be made of taking liberties with the electoral code of conduct over the airing of 90-minute long interview of the Prime Minister by ANI news agency which was broadcast on multiple TV networks on the eve of the elections in UP. This interview directly raised many issues of domestic politics that could influence the election campaign. All of these, are instances that should be seen as direct or indirect misconduct using existing gaps in the system and breach the rules of our democracy.

Tributes:

Lata Mangeshkar, one of India’s most popular singers died in Bombay on February 6, 2022. Mangeshkar’s voice was the soundtrack to hundreds of films of the Bombay film industry from the 1940s to the 1990s. Songs sung in her voice are etched in memories and sung by millions in the subcontinent.

We pay our tributes to her.

Feb 12, 2022 – HK

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