BBC News – Is Narendra Modi losing his mojo?

One of the reasons why Narendra Modi swept to victory with a historic mandate in 2014 was his combative and upbeat oratory. Three years on, the Indian prime minister is beginning to sound unusually defensive.

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

Op/Ed, 19 October 2017. Many say Mr Modi’s characteristic bluster and bombast have begun to wane. In recent speeches, he has described his critics as doomsayers, blamed the previous Congress government for India’s economic ills, painted himself as an “outsider” and said he was “willing to drink poison” for the good of the country.

Has the victor turned victim?

“A small number of people weaken us,” Mr Modi told a gathering of company secretaries recently. “We need to recognise such people.”

So is Mr Modi beginning to lose his mojo? Three years ago, when he won his landslide, he promised reforms and jobs. But under his leadership, and at a time when the world economy appears to be taking off, India is looking like a sorry outlier, battling an economic slowdown and a jobs crisis.

Banks are struggling with mountains of bad loans, which in turn has choked credit and hurt domestic investment. “India’s economy is grounded,” says economist Praveen Chakravarty.

Mr Modi’s response has been criticised as piecemeal and clumsy. A controversial currency ban last November, politically sold as a crackdown on the illegal economy, ended up halting growth and causing a lot of misery.

July’s introduction of a much-lauded countrywide Goods and Services Tax (GST) to help India move towards a common market has caused widespread business disruption because of what is seen as shoddy execution.

In cities and towns, traders are upset over the grinding tax bureaucracy engendered by the GST. In villages, nearly half of Indians are engaged in agriculture, farmers are complaining of income insecurity as they believe the government isn’t paying them enough for their produce.

No challenge

Also, for the first time since winning power, Mr Modi’s government is under attack.

A senior functionary from Mr Modi’s party, the BJP, recently blamed his government for the economic slowdown. “The prime minister claims that he has seen poverty from close quarters,” former finance minister Yashwant Sinha wrote. “His finance minister is working overtime to make sure that all Indians also see it from equally close quarters.”

And Mr Modi is taking flak from the opposition too for a change. His main political rival, Rahul Gandhi, of the once mighty Congress party, appears to be suddenly re-energised and has been taking on Mr Modi more aggressively than ever before.

Added to this, the son of Amit Shah, Mr Modi’s closest aide, is accused of corruption. Jay Shah denies the allegations and has threatened to sue non-profit news website The Wire over the story.

Thus far since taking office, Mr Modi has been greatly helped by four unrelated things.

Low oil prices, India imports most of its crude, helped boost growth and tame inflation. Second, a chunk of the domestic mainstream media which depends on government advertising has been largely uncritical of his government.

Third, Mr Modi faces no leadership challenge from within his party, which he and Amit Shah dominate. Lastly, and most importantly, a political opposition largely in disarray has failed to offer aspirational Indians an alternative, and persuasive, narrative of hope.

Still, there’s “something in the air”, as Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Print news site, says.

One indication is that even Mr Modi’s fiercely pugnacious supporters are markedly subdued on social media these days. On the other hand, social media is awash with memes making fun of the prime minister.

Mr Modi’s politics are also causing discontent. By whipping up what many say is hysteria over the sale and consumption of beef and pandering to Hindu radicals, observers say his party has begun to frighten off many young people and urban folk.

To make matters worse, his party appointed a controversial Hindu religious leader known for anti-Muslim rhetoric to run the political bellwether state of Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP won a decisive mandate in March.

About a fifth of Uttar Pradesh’s 200 million people are Muslim.

Not a reformer

In 2014, Mr Modi secured the overwhelming majority of the young votes. But is support from this quarter waning? BJP-supported student unions have lost elections in three major universities in Delhi and Hyderabad.

Last month’s unrest in a leading university in Mr Modi’s constituency in Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh, where police beat female university students protesting against an alleged sexual assault, will not endear him and his party to young voters.

On the economy, Mr Modi clearly seems to have overplayed his hand and questions are being asked over whether he can fulfil expectations. In June, the Economist said Mr Modi was “not the radical reformer he is cracked up to be”. The magazine said he had few big ideas of his own, the GST, for example, had been initiated during the previous, Congress, regime.

Critics say despite running India’s most powerful government in recent history, he has achieved little in creating functioning markets for land and electricity, and reforming labour laws.

On his politics, they say, Mr Modi appears to be hostage to the party’s ideological fountainhead, the right-wing Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers’ Organisation), known for what many say are visions of Hindu glory and achievement.

Economists such as Dr Chakravarty believe Mr Modi still has time to revive the economy by exploiting the buoyant stock market, which is flush with money from foreign institutional investors. Money could be raised by divesting stakes in state-run companies and used to recapitalise and clean up the ailing banks, so that they can begin lending again.

Also the rupee could be depreciated to boost exports, the GST simplified further to help small businesses and interest rates lowered to spur growth. Growth will also depend on social stability, but it is not clear whether Mr Modi will be able to rein in the radical hotheads.

Fighter politician

However, Mr Modi is a redoubtable fighter. It is too early to say the tide is turning against him decisively. One opinion poll in August indicated he would win handsomely if elections were held. But then again, a month can be a long time in politics.

State elections in BJP-ruled Gujarat in December will offer some clues, a recent survey by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) suggested people were “unhappy with GST”. Nobody expects the BJP to lose, but the margin of victory will be closely watched.

Among his supporters, Mr Modi enjoys a reputation of being a hardworking and honest prime minister. “What has helped in stopping this wind of dissatisfaction from turning into a strong hurricane are two factors, the absence of a viable alternative, and the personal credibility of Mr Modi,” says political scientist Sanjay Kumar.

“The only question that remains is: how long will Mr Modi be able to hold down this wave of resentment with his own image and credibility?” And right now that answer is blowing in the wind.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-41563751

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The Tribune – Akal Takht edict supreme: SGPC

Fatehgarh Sahib-Panjab-India, 24 October 2017. Kirpal Singh Badungar, SGPC president, has said anyone can follow the teachings of Gurus and celebrate Gurpurbs, but “hukamnamas” (edicts) of Akal Takht are supreme for the Sikhs; so no Sikh, including a Jathedar, can dare violate them.

His remarks come against the backdrop of RSS-affiliate Rashtriya Sikh Sangat celebrating 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh in Delhi tomorrow.

Badungar was speaking at a seminar organised at Sri Guru Granth Sahib World University here today. “Everyone should celebrate the occasion, but the RSS has a hidden agenda. The SGPC stands by Akal Takht’s 2004 edict, asking Sikhs to remain cautious of the activities of the RSS and its affiliate,” he said.

How do government appointed jathedars without jatha fit into the concept of
Guru Panth – Guru Granth ?

Answer: these jathedars of buildings do not fit in at all,
they are a direct negation of Guru’s hukam

Man in Blue

http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/akal-takht-edict-supreme-sgpc/486812.html

Leuven NMBS – Melle Leeuw

Leuven NMBS
11 October 2017

Platform 1 – Resurfacing work, no visible progress

IC train Oostende – Gent – Brussel – Leuven – Liège – Eupen

IC train to Liège and Eupen

Eupen in the German speaking part of the country

Melle Leeuw
11 October 2017

Tram 2 terminus

To see all my pictures:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/12445197@N05/

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

DNA News – Sikh body miffed at RSS event

A community event that is to be attended by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on October 25 here in Delhi has become the bone of contention

Siddhartha Rai

New Delhi, 24 October 2017. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is caught in yet another controversy and this time it is related to Sikh community. A community event that is to be attended by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on October 25 here in Delhi has become the bone of contention.

While the Sikh arm of the RSS, Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, is all set to commemorate the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh at a huge event in Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium and which is billed to be attended by over 5,000 Sikhs, including several religious figures of authority, the RSS alleged that a section within the Akalis as well as separatists elements pulling strings from foreign countries were trying to scuttle the programme.

“A section of the Akali leadership is apprehensive of the RSS sway inside the community which may make their politics redundant. Those sitting outside and instigating the Sikhs of the country are separatist and militant elements who want to negate any possibility of harmony with the Hindus,” said a senior functionary of the Sikh Sangat.

When asked by DNA to clarify Shiromani Akali Dal’s (SAD) stand on the event, Shiromani Akali Dal MLA in Delhi and Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee general secretary Manjinder Singh Sirsa parried the question.

“We have nothing to do with it (the event). We are a religious organisation and we are doing religious work,” Sirsa said evasively.

While a coordination committee comprising several US-based Gurdwara management committees and Sikh diaspora bodies has appealed the community in India to boycott the event, an unfazed RSS came out with stinging response.

The RSS gave a rebuttal to allegations that the event was anti-Sikh as the Sangat had been censured by the Akal Takth in 2004. The RSS also clarified its stand vis-a-vis allegations that the organisation was trying to bulldoze Sikh identity and aiming at assimilating the community with Hinduism.

Punjab RSS head Brajbhushan Singh Bedi said RSS had always maintained the unique and distinct identity of Sikhism as a separate religion. “Just as Jainism and Buddhism, Sikhism too is a religion with social and religious sanction.

RSS has always considered Sikhism as a separate religion. RSS had made its clear in 2001 when the then media head of RSS Madhav Govind Vaidya had conveyed to the then head of the minority commission Trilochan Singh in a written document that RSS considered Sikhism as a separate Indian religion.”

The president of Sangat Gurcharan Singh Gill told DNA that the propaganda that Akal Takht had censured the Sangat in 2004 was wrong. “We had prepared to take out a massive all-India rally of Sikhs which we later withdrew.

The Takht had sent out a ‘sandeshnama’ against it. Since we did not go forth with the rally, the ‘sandeshnama’ stood annulled. Therefore it is false propaganda that we had been censured.”

Gill also told DNA that the event was going to be attended by senior retired army officers, luminaries from judiciary, Jatthedar of Patna Sahib as well as representatives from sects such as Namdhari.

Big names to attend

The president of Sangat Gurcharan Singh Gill said the event was going to be attended by senior retired army officers, luminaries from judiciary, Jathedar of Patna Sahib.

http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-sikh-body-miffed-at-rss-event-2554864

The Hindu – Senior Cabinet Minister denies talks with Pakistan on Kashmir

Says dialogue with a third party was out of the question

Vijaita Singh

New Delhi, 24 October 2017. The mandate of the Centre’s newly appointed Special Representative on Kashmir, Dineshwar Sharma, will be to hold dialogue with all stakeholders in the country, but will not involve Pakistan, a senior Cabinet Minister told The Hindu.

The senior Minister said that talking to a “third party” to resolve the Kashmir issue was “out of question.”

On Monday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced that the former Intelligence Bureau (IB) Director Dineshwar Sharma would be the Centre’s representative to carry forward a dialogue with all sections of people in Jammu and Kashmir and ensure that “normalcy returns to the State as soon as possible”.

The Minister said the announcement would have no bearing on the security operations in the Kashmir Valley and there would be no let-up in such operations. “Kashmir is an integral part of India. Why should we talk to a third party [Pakistan] on Kashmir? Such suggestion is out of question,” he said.

Mr Sharma told The Hindu on Tuesday that he would visit the Kashmir Valley in the next 10 days. “It will be an exploratory visit. I will go there and see who all to talk,” Mr. Sharma said.

On Tuesday, Mr Rajnath Singh, while responding to a question on whether Mr Sharma will engage with separatists, reiterated that it was his decision who he wanted to engage with. The Minister dodged questions by reporters on what signals the Indian government sought to send to Pakistan with the appointment of the interlocutor.

Not ‘interlocutor’

In a departure from the past, the government refrained from using the term “interlocutor” while announcing the initiative on Monday. A senior official said it was because Mr. Sharma might hold “Track-II” and “informal dialogue”.

The Cabinet Secretary rank would ensure that officials take him seriously.

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/senior-cabinet-minister-denies-talks-with-pakistan-on-kashmir/article19913626.ece