BBC News – India Lok Sabha election: 11 things you need to know

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi – UK, 10 March 2019. India’s general election will take place in seven phases between April and May, the Election Commission says.

Polls to elect a new Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament, will be held from 11 April to 19 May. Votes will be counted on 23 May.

With 900 million eligible voters, India’s election will be the largest the world has seen.

PM Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP will be battling the main opposition Congress and a host of regional parties.

Leaders of two powerful regional rivals have formed a coalition against the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, and a key bellwether state.

The lower house has 543 elected seats and any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a government.

So what makes these elections distinctive?

1. It’s mind-bogglingly big

Everything about Indian general elections is colossal, the Economist magazine once compared it to a “lumbering elephant embarking on an epic trek”.

This time, about 900 million people above the age of 18 will be eligible to cast their ballots at a million polling stations.

The number of voters is bigger than the population of Europe and Australia combined.

Indians are enthusiastic voters, the turnout in the last general election in 2014 was more than 66%, up from 45% in 1951 when the first election was held.

More than 8,250 candidates representing 464 parties contested the 2014 elections, nearly a seven-fold increase from the first election.

2. It takes a long, long time

The dates on which voting will be held are 11 April, 18 April, 23 April, 29 April, 6 May, 12 May and 19 May.

Some states will hold polls in several phases.

India’s historic first election in 1951-52 took three months to complete. Between 1962 and 1989, elections were completed in four to 10 days. The four-day elections in 1980 were the country’s shortest ever.

Elections in India are long-drawn-out affairs because of the need to secure polling stations.

Local police are seen to be partisan, so federal forces have to deployed. The forces have to be freed from their duties and moved all around the country.

3. It costs a lot of money

India’s Centre for Media Studies estimated parties and candidates spent some $5bn (£3.8bn) for the 2014 elections. “It is not inconceivable that overall expenditure will double this year,” says Milan Vaishnav, a senior fellow and director of the South Asia Program at the US-based think-tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Compare it to the $6.5bn that the US spent on the famously free-spending presidential and congressional elections in 2016, and you realise how costly India’s elections are.

Financing of political parties in India continues to be opaque despite the fact that they are forced to declare their incomes.

Last year, Mr Modi’s government launched electoral bonds, which allow businesses and individuals to donate to parties without their identities being disclosed.

Donors have given away nearly $150m in these bonds, and the bulk of it, according to reports, has gone to the BJP.

4. Will women hold the key?

Indian women are voting in large numbers. So much so, that more women are likely to vote than men this time around, the first time ever in a general election.

The vote gender gap has already shrunk – in 2014, the turnout of women was 65.3% against 67.1% for men.

In more than two dozen local elections between 2012 and 2018, the turnout of women was higher than men in two-thirds of the states.

Political parties have begun treating women as a constituency and offering them more sops: education loans, free cooking gas cylinders, cycles for girls.

5. It’s all about Narendra Modi

In 2014, Mr Modi led his BJP and its allies to a historic victory.

The BJP alone won 282 of the 428 seats it contested. It was the first time since 1984 a party had won an absolute majority in a general election. The BJP also picked up a third of the popular vote.

The staggering win was largely attributed to Mr Modi’s ability to promote himself as a decisive, hardworking leader who promised to usher in corruption-free “better times”.

Despite a patchy performance on several of his promises, Mr Modi remains his party’s main vote-getter. He’s also supported by a formidable and disciplined party machinery, run by his trusted and powerful aide Amit Shah.

Analysts believe the summer elections will largely be a referendum on Mr Modi.

The opposition campaign will be entirely targeted at the prime minister, a polarising leader who is loved and loathed in equal measure.

So expect a presidential-style faceoff in a parliamentary election. Whether Mr Modi remains a durable brand will be known when the votes are counted.

6. India’s Grand Old Party will be hoping for a comeback

Can the 133-year-old Congress party step back from the abyss?

In 2014, the party suffered its worst defeat ever in a general election. It won a mere 44 seats, down from 206 seats – and picked up less than 20% of the popular vote.

Things remained bleak as the party lost a string of state elections over the next four years. By the middle of 2018, the Congress and its allies ran only three state governments, while BJP and its partners ran as many as 20.

The party appeared to be in terminal decline. Its leader Rahul Gandhi, fourth generation scion of the famous Nehru-Gandhi family, became the butt of social media jokes.

But in December, the party seemed to seemed to have staged a revival of sorts.

Led by a more assured and energetic Mr Gandhi, the Congress wrested three key northern states from the BJP. Many attributed the recovery to anti-incumbency, two of the three states had been ruled by the BJP for years. But it would be churlish to deny Mr Gandhi and his party workers credit.

Clearly, Congress has got some of its old mojo back. Mr Gandhi has positioned himself as a more open and receptive leader in contrast to the forceful and take-no-prisoners leadership style of Mr Modi.

And in a surprise move, his charismatic sister Priyanka has been formally inducted into politics to infuse some fresh energy into the party’s campaign.

Congress’s revival has helped rejuvenate a fractured opposition, and promises to make the 2019 election more of a contest than what was believed it would be.

7. It’s the economy, stupid

Under Mr Modi, Asia’s third-largest economy appears to have lost some of its momentum.

Farm incomes have stagnated because of a crop glut and declining commodity prices, leaving farmers saddled with debt and angry.

The controversial 2016 currency ban, locally called ‘demonetisation’, and a complex and badly executed new uniform goods and services tax hurt small and medium businesses and threw many out of their jobs in India’s huge informal economy.

Exports have dropped. Joblessness has risen, and Mr Modi’s government has been accused of hiding uncomfortable jobs data. To make matters worse, some of India’s state-owned banks are drowning in bad loans.

Yet, inflation is in check. Increased government spending in infrastructure and public works has kept the economy moving. Growth is expected to be 6.8% this fiscal year.

But the fact is that India’s GDP needs to grow at a rate faster than 7% for the country to continue to pull millions out of poverty.

Mr Modi has said reforming the economy is a work in progress. The elections will prove whether people are willing to give him more time.

8. Parties are banking on populism

Economist Rathin Roy says India is moving from a “development state to a compensatory state” where governments are putting cash in the pockets of the poor to cover up for the deficiencies of the state.

The result is competitive populism.

Mr Modi’s government has announced direct cash transfers to farmers and waivers of farm loans. It has also promised job quotas for the less well-to-do among the upper castes and other religions.

Rahul Gandhi has promised to guarantee a minimum income for the poor if his party wins the elections. Others will be showering the voters with freebies ranging from TV sets to laptops. There is no clear evidence to show that sops win votes.

9. But nationalism could tilt the balance

Mr Modi’s muscular nationalism and his party’s majoritarian politics have left India a deeply divided and anxious nation, say critics.

But his supporters say it has energised and consolidated his base. They believe there’s no need to be apologetic about political Hinduism because India, well, is an overwhelmingly Hindu nation.

Unfortunately the nationalist rhetoric has emboldened radical rightwing groups to lynch Muslims suspected of smuggling cows. Hindus consider the cow sacred. Thanks to aggressive enforcement of anti-slaughter laws, the cow has become a polarising animal.

People critical of radical Hinduism have been labelled anti-nationals. Dissent is frowned upon.

India’s 170 million Muslims, many say, have become the “invisible” minority. The BJP has no Muslim MPs in the lower house – it fielded seven candidates in 2014 and all of them lost.

10. And India’s attack on Pakistan could bolster Modi’s strongman image

The tit-for-tat aerial bombings by India and Pakistan at the end of February following a deadly suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir triggered more nationalistic chest thumping.

Mr Modi has made it clear he would not hesitate to retaliate if there was another attack on Indian soil provoked or sponsored by Pakistan-based militant groups.

What is clear now is that Mr Modi will make national security a key plank of his campaign. Whether this will work is not clear. The opposition has to still come up with a persuasive counter-narrative. Will the pull of nationalism override other issues and fetch swing votes for Mr Modi?

11. A battleground bellwether could decide the polls

The northern state of Uttar Pradesh has an outsize influence on Indian politics.

One in six Indians lives here and it sends 80 MPs to parliament. It is also one of India’s most socially divided states.

The BJP won 71 of the state’s 80 seats in 2014. Last time, Mr Modi’s charisma and his party’s ability to stitch together a rainbow coalition of castes contributed to the rout of powerful regional parties, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

Ms Mayawati, who heads the BSP, is an icon to millions of low-caste Dalits, a fifth of the state. She has now joined hands with her arch rival Akhilesh Yadav of SP, a nominally socialist party. Together they hope to win more than 50 seats and halt the BJP’s march to Delhi.

It is an opportunistic alliance, bitter foes turned strange bedfellows, but could end up hurting the BJP’s prospects in the state. It will be pinning its hopes on Mr Modi to neutralise the alliance. – PDA Nominates Bibi Paramjit Kaur Khalra from Khadoor Sahib, Manwinder Singh Giaspura from Fatehgarh Sahib

Sikh24 Editors

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 12 March 2019. Bibi Paramjit Kaur Khalra, the wife of martyred human rights activist Shaheed Jaswant Singh Khalra, has been nominated from the Khadoor Sahib parliamentary seat by the Punjab Democratic Alliance. Her name was officially announced by the PDA leaders while announcing the candidates for the upcoming parliamentary polls.

Currently, six political parties, including Punjabi Ekta Party (PEP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Lok Insaaf Party (LIP), Punjab Manch, Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Revolutionary Marxist Party of India (RMPI), are contesting the elections under the banner of the Punjab Democratic Alliance.

The SAD (Taksali) couldn’t become a part of this alliance due to differences over the parliamentary seat of Sri Anandpur Sahib.

It is learnt that the parliamentary seats of Bathinda, Faridkot and Khadoor Sahib have been allotted to the Punjab Ekta Party by the PDA while the parliamentary seats of Ludhiana, Amritsar and Fatehgarh Sahib have been given to the Lok Insaaf Party.

Similarly, the parliamentary seats of Anandpur Sahib, Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur have been allotted to the Bahujan Samaj Party while the parliamentary seats of Patiala, Ferozepur and Gurdaspur have been assigned to the Punjab Manch, CPI and RMPI respectively.

The PDA is still to decide upon the parliamentary seat of Sangrur where the sitting AAP parliamentarian Bhagwant Mann and SAD (Amritsar) president Simranjit Singh Mann are in the fray.

The PDA has also fielded AAP MP Gandhi from Patiala, Manwinder Singh Giaspura from Fatehgarh Sahib (SC), AAP MLA Master Baldev Singh from Faridkot (SC), Vikram Singh Sodhi from Anandpur Sahib, former IAS officer Chaudhary Khushi Ram from Hoshiarpur (SC) and Balwinder Kumar from Jalandhar (SC).

Gent: Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat & Sint-Pietersplein – Climate Manifestation

24 February 2019

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The Derby Telegraph – Tributes paid to Derby Sikh who worked tirelessly to unite city communities

Daljit Singh Ahluwalia MBE has passed away

Derby – Derbyshire – UK, 11 March 2019. A much-loved stalwart of the Indian community has died, aged 80.

Daljt Singh Ahluwalia spent much of his life bringing people from different cultures together.

He first arrived in Derby in 1966 to work as an instrumentation engineer at British Rail’s technical centre, in London Road.

He had originally arrived in London from Delhi to study in 1959, before securing work with the rail company and securing promotion to Derby.

Settling in Derby, Mr Ahluwalia found there was very little opportunity for members of the Indian community to socialise.

So he decided to organise a number of variety shows in order to bring people of all cultures together for a night of entertainment.

Featuring music, dance and comedy, the events proved a huge success, so much so that the police had to be called to one show to control the huge crowd of people trying to get into the venue.

Inspired by this success, Mr Ahluwalia went on to form the Indian Friendship Society, designed to create relationships between different cultures in Derby and promote racial harmony.

In 1974, he married Parkash, a lecturer who worked for Derbyshire police, encouraging ethnic minority women to join the force, as a translator for the probation service, and as a team leader for Derby City Council’s education department.

The pair, who have a daughter Poonam, made it their mission to promote understanding of Indian culture and set about putting together a range of exhibitions focusing on Panjabi culture, heritage, history and tradition.

Appearing at venues such as the multi-cultural education centre, in Normanton in 1997, Derby Museum and Art Gallery in 2004 and Kedleston Hall, part of the aim of the exhibition was to educate people from other cultures about India.

It was also designed to teach children born in England to Indian parents about their cultural background by using photographs, artwork and historical artefacts.

Mr Ahluwalia’s other achievements over the years included helping to found Derby Open Centre, in Normanton, becoming a member of Derby Racial Equality Council, chairman of the Ethnic Minority Forum and vice-chairman of the Education for All committee.

He was also chairman of Derby’s inter-cultural social group, an organisation for retired people from any cultural background.

Mr Ahluwalia’s work was recognised as early as 1992, when he was invited to attend the Queen’s garden party in Buckingham Palace and in 2000 he was awarded a Derby City Council Civic Award for his work in the community.

He was also awarded the Panjabis in Britain All Party Parliamentary Group Cultural Award in 2009, in recognition of his contribution to the promotion of Panjabi culture in Britain.

A second trip to Buckingham Palace took place in 2010 when Mr Ahluwalia was made an MBE for voluntary services to the community and inter-faith relations in Derbyshire and he collected his medal from Prince Charles, who told him to “carry on” what he was doing.

Speaking to the Derby Telegraph in 2009, Mr Ahluwalia said: “I’ve always tried to be a link between the ethnic community and the council, for example, helping the elderly people who can’t speak English understand forms or telling them where they can go for help.

“I think understanding different cultures is even more relevant today. It is something which should be promoted as much as possible.”

Mr Ahluwalia’s family has issued a statement, which said: “We will deeply miss our beloved husband and father. He was a man of great integrity and honesty, who led by example by helping those in need and bringing communities together. He was loved by everybody.”

Long-time friend Councillor Baggy Shanker added: “The whole Indian Community is deeply shocked by the sudden loss of a stalwart and lovely man who has tirelessly helped people without any hesitation over several decades.

“All week I have been talking to people who have been sharing great memories of Mr Alhuwalia. Our thoughts and prayers are with his beloved family at this difficult time.”

Mr Ahluwalia’s funeral will take place at Markeaton Crematorium tomorrow (Tuesday, March 12) at 10.40am and a bhog, kirtan and Guru ka Langar will be at the Ramgarhia Gurdwara in St Thomas Road, Derby.

The family has asked that donations in lieu of floral tributes be given at the crematorium in aid of the Pingalwara Charitable Society in India, which offers medicines, education and support to those in need.

The Hindu – ‘Lynchings dented credibility of government.’

Church body criticises ‘saffronisation’

Bindu Shajan Perappadan

New Delhi – India, 11 March 2019. “Minority communities should feel secure in the country and no one should be forced to prove one’s nationalism,” said the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the apex body for the Catholic church, as a suggestion for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Sankalp Patra’ for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The CBCI added that “nationalism is in the blood of every Indian, whether belonging to a majority or minority community, and that no one should even doubt such a thing or alienate anyone by being suspicious.”

“Lynching in the name of differences in religious practices, food habits, and cultural differences, have considerably dented the credibility of the government and made minorities feel unsafe.

The Constitutional right to practice, preach and propagate one’s religion must be upheld,” said the recommendation letter sent in response to the government’s invitation for suggestions and proposals.

Warning that “there should be no centralisation, commercialisation and communalisation of education,” the report, prepared by Fr. Joseph Manipadam, secretary, CBCI’s Office for Education and Culture, said, “There should be no saffronisation of text books or distortion of historical facts.”

“The government should acknowledge the contribution of Christian missionaries in education in India. Even today, they run the most sought after institutions in the country. Involve them in drafting the National Education Policy,” the report said.

CBCI has more than 20 million members.