On the summer of 2014, India overwhelmingly voted one man to 7, Race course road. Behind that huge election victory was a huge propellant- a state named Uttar Pradesh. This mega hinterland of the country alone accounts for 80 seats of the total 540 seats in the Lok Sabha, out of which the BJP alone won a whooping 71 seats. The other parties were reduced to a rubble of 9 seats in total. This coming in a situation where BSP, SP and the Congress have been ruling the roost for the past 67 years. This victory, no doubt , was majorly powered by the image of Narendra Modi and his henchman, Amit Shah.
But things have changed since then, the honeymoon phase of the government is over. The government has been mired in a lot of controversies, including some that have questioned the secularism and liberty of citizens of the country. The Dadri lynching, the JNU debacle, the comments of some BJP honchos, the influence of RSS, and the latest Demonetisation policy has all contributed in diminishing, if not tarnishing, the image of the BJP in general. The Bihar election loss, albeit by a narrow margin, was a punch in the stomach for a government grappling desperately to show its influence still exists. Thus, it is safe to conclude that the Modi wave has lost its charm and the BJP is increasingly being portrayed as a misogynistic organisation struggling to have a modern outlook. The image has deteriorated so much , that it is almost considered cool to be “Anti- National”, a term coined for its own bane by the Modi Government.
So, coming into the UP elections of 2017, which is scheduled to be held between February 11 to March 7, 2017 , the BJP has a far lesser chance of a majority than in 2014. But, does it mean the end of the road for BJP in UP? Definitely NO.
The current ruling party i.e. Samajwadi Party, has had an internal conflict right when the elections are around the corner. The party has split right in the middle , with the current Chief Minister , Akhilesh Yadav and his father and leader of the party, Mulayam Singh Yadav being on the opposite sides of the crossfire. This puts the SP in a spot, where they are not clear whom to portray as the CM candidate, nor are they sure of even a split in the party. A split in the party would destroy any chances the SP might have had, which was anyway narrowed by an anti-incumbency wave fuelled by Dadri and woman rapes. The many face-polishing efforts by Akhilesh Yadav has found few takers.
The next major party in fray is the BSP, a dalit party headed by Ms Mayawati, who ruled the state for half a decade from 2007-2012. This achievement by a woman was all the more commendable because it came from a state which was known to have a chauvinistic side to it. But what surprised most is that she not only became the Chief Minister , but also the supreme of the party, with no parallel voice. Although it was not good for a democracy to have a Phoolan-Devi like attitude, but this strength of character consolidated her position in a very firm way. BSP will take full advantage of the current split in SP , and also the anti-government wave currently prevailing. With the support of Dalits and Muslims, Mayawati is well in chance for the power battle with SP and BJP.
The other major party in the state is the Congress, but after its performance in the Lok Sabha elections, it cannot be even called a major party of UP. The congress was battered and bruised , to say the least. But what is sadder is that they have not been able to improve their condition even after 3 years from the 2014 loss. In 2014, the Congress, the then ruling party, INC, secured 2 out of a total of 80 seats with both the seats being won by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, the biggest leaders of that party. When Narendra Modi came to Amethi and conducted a mass rally in 2014, it caused a huge blot on not only the image of Rahul Gandhi, but also the whole of Congress as a whole, that the opposition leader comes to the constituency of the Ruling Party’s PM prospect, and gain mass support shattered the confidence of congress.Thus ,it is safe to say that Congress alone can not do much alone in this election.
Let us wait for March 11, 2017 now , to know who will take away the biggest prize in Indian Elections.
What a Rising Xi Jinping Means for China and the World
“Watch this man.” These were the three words used by the founding father of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew to describe a relatively unknown Xi Jinping while he was yet to become the President of the People’s Republic of China. Today, in addition to being China’s “paramount leader”, Xi is arguably the most powerful man in the world, and even if leaders across the world were doubtful about it till now, the developments in the previous week were sure to make them think again.
19th Party Congress: How it unfolded
Xi today, Xi forever?
The Communist Party of China assembled the previous week for its 19th Party Congress, a political summit that takes place every five years to decide upon the country’s future and the future is precisely what Xi has fixated his eyes upon. According to the current rules, Mr Xi must step down as the leader when his term ends in 2022 and as tradition dictates, a successor must be appointed. While only time will reveal whether Mr Xi steps down from the presidency at the end of his term, it increasingly looks that he is not keen to do so, having failed to hint towards any successor for the time being. His apparent intentions to stay put were further solidified with the appointment of the new members to the Politburo Standing Committee, the highest decision making authority in the country after the president. Each of the members appointed to the body is over 60 years of age, which means that they are highly likely to retire when their term comes to an end with the next meeting five years later. Interestingly, two-thirds of them are also known to be Mr Xi’s loyalists.
Xi Jinping Thought: A force to be reckoned with
“Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” or the “Xi Jinping Thought” for short was written into the party’s constitution at the end of the Congress. The thought consists of 14 principles calling for deep reforms, conserving the environment, the party’s complete control over the army, and the importance of the unification of the country. The development was highly publicised and with good reason. With the “Xi Jinping Thought” embedded in the constitution while still being in power, Xi Jinping has drawn comparisons from all over the world to Mao Zedong himself. Moreover, he has ensured that anyone that opposes him will do so at the cost of their removal from the party. When Xi asked the delegates at the end of his address for any objections, shouts of “meiyou” which means “none” rang through the Great Hall of the People.
Mr Xi has declared the start of a “new era” for China, and undoubtedly for the entire world. It is therefore important to ask what significance these developments hold for the country and for the world at large.
What this means for China
The inclusion of Xi’s thought in the constitution means that the same will be taught in schools, colleges, and other institutions throughout the country, infusing his ideology among the Chinese on a cultural level. Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center puts it aptly when he says that the move “greatly increases, … broadens, and deepens Xi Jinping’s personal power within the Chinese system”.
The president has already found a wide support of the Chinese population with his push for modernisation and his crackdown on corruption has been hugely popular among the masses. Since his election in 2012, Mr Xi’s anti-corruption drive, famously known within the country as the “tiger and flies campaign” has either disciplined or expelled nearly a million party members. As his stance on corruption remains as stern as ever, many have come to view it as a political tool used by him time and again to get rid of political rivals. However, the corruption drive has undoubtedly proved to be effective and fruitful for the country’s business climate.
While Mr Xi’s crackdown on corruption has garnered immense coverage, the crackdown on humans rights activists and NGOs has not received its fair share. China has struggled for decades in its battle for free speech. In 2015, many human rights lawyers were detained and many international NGOs faced stricter curbs to keep them from functioning. As the president has left little room for any opposition within the party, the authoritarianism and censorship are by no means expected to be relaxed, ensuring that there is no opposition from outside the party as well.
Powerplay: China’s standing on the global stage
Donald Trump was among the world leaders who wished the Chinese president when he congratulated him on his “extraordinary elevation”. The reverence he holds for Mr Xi was quite apparent when he said: “some people might call him the king of China.” The surprise, however, came when North Korea’s Kim Jong Un congratulated the president on his “great success” since the two leaders are not known to be fond of each other. The intent here is clear. Both sides need a China that is continuously growing in power on their side in their stand against each other, and that means a closer association with Mr Xi. Chinese influence in the world is unlikely to stop there.
While speaking to CNN, James McGregor, author of “No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism”, mentioned that “given the chaos in Washington and also the dysfunction in Europe, the world is looking for leadership.” Mr Xi enjoys a great level of stability and largely unquestioned authority in a time where the leaders of Western democracies face intense competition at home. As such, his message to his party and to the world is clear: in the coming decades, China will “stand proudly among the nations of the world” and “become a leading global power. ” However, it will do so on its own terms, emphatically rejecting the Western political models.
These intentions are perhaps best evidenced by The Belt and Road initiative, China’s attempt at connecting Europe, Asia, and Africa with each other through a modern take on the Silk Route, into which it has already pumped hundreds of billions as loans and aid to countries across all three continents. While the project has been met with opposition from Japan, India, and the USA, many of China’s neighbours have expressed their support for it, which speaks of its influence on the global stage.
With the people’s army under the control of the party, Mr Xi also looks to achieve the twin goals of increasing the military might and the protection of China’s sovereignty. “We will not tolerate anyone, using any means, at any time to separate one inch of land from China”, he said in his address which is seen as a warning to both Hong Kong and Taiwan. Enhancing combat capability is also linked to the Chinese interests in the South China Sea, where its activities of building and militarisation of islands have received backlash from the international community.
“If one is big”, Mr Xi said on the final day of the Congress, “one must act big.” There’s no doubt that Mr Xi intends to put these words into action at the global level. Lee Kuan Yew once rightly pointed out about China that the world would do well to remember: “The size of China’s displacement of the world balance is such that the world must find a new balance. It is not possible to pretend that this is just another big player. This is the biggest player in the history of the world.”
UK Attempts To Bypass European Commission On Brexit Blocked By Brussels
As the UK and EU draw deeper and deeper into uncharted waters, Brexit negotiations are becoming increasingly erratic. As negotiators from both states met this week to discuss items such as the Northern Ireland Border, the rights of EU citizens currently residing in the UK and the notorious ‘divorce bill’, there have been numerous reports of frustration within the British camp.
Recently it was revealed that Prime Minister Theresa May, believing talks to be at an impasse, intended to go over the heads of the EU’s Brexit negotiators and appeal directly to world leaders such as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron. When questioned about this, however, Brussels officials close to the negotiations intimated that Mrs May would not be able to circumvent the negotiations process.
The officials pointed out that both French and German leaders had agreed prior to the talks that negotiations would come “as a single package” where “individual items cannot be settled separately” and that no member state would abstain from negotiations in favour of individual agreements.
One year on…
It has been over a year now since the UK referendum in which the country voted (at a rate of 52% to 48%) to leave the European Union in an unprecedented political and economic chain of events, the repercussions of which will take years to fully realise but which the world glibly knows as Brexit. It’s a small name for such a political leviathan. Many of the world’s leading bankers and economists still aren’t sure what to make of. Recently CEO Lloyds Bank Antonio Horta-Osorio (who has been lauded for restoring the bank’s profits to pre-financial crisis levels) expressed doubt and uncertainty over the long term economic effects of Brexit. It’s somewhat telling that former Prime Minister David Cameron resigned shortly after the vote, claiming that his involvement in the ‘Remain’ campaign put him at odds with the will of the people but it’s possible that he had the prescience to realise that he had no hope of taming this wily and unpredictable beast. One year on, the beast only seems to have become further enraged by the negotiating process.
Theresa May has gone into Brexit negotiations with some questionably aggressive negotiating tactics. The first round of talks were mired by her strangely audacious assertion that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. The frustration has clearly been felt on both sides with chief negotiator Michel Barnier urging Mrs May to begin negotiating “seriously”. The French government also demonstrated an unwillingness to circumvent negotiations earlier this week, stating that it “fully supports, on the substance as well as on the method, Michel Barnier’s negotiating mandate” and asserting that claims that Mrs May can somehow bypass the procedure “are founded on absolutely nothing and do not reflect reality”. Brexit Minister David Davis, however, retains an optimistic tone, stating;
“Our goal remains the same: we want to agree a deal that works in the best interests for both the European Union and the United Kingdom and people and businesses right across Europe. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get back to work once more…”.
Jeff Sessions Is Planning to Go After States Legalizing Medical Marijuana
Republican Senator Jeff Sessions apparently wrote a personal letter in May to Congress, asking it to remove the medical marijuana protections that had been in place for four years. That ban was put in place by the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment. President Trump’s signed spending bill extended the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment through the end of 2017, and Senator Sessions wants to repeal it.
The Details of the Letter
Republican Senator Jeff Sessions asked Congress to repeal the ban the Department of Justice had been following that prohibited the Feds from going after medical marijuana suppliers in states where it had been legalized. In short, the ban prevents the federal government from enforcing federal drug law in states where medical marijuana has passed, and he’s asking Congress to lift the ban so that federal law is applied equally to all states – including those that legalized medical marijuana.
The Impact If Passed
If the ban were lifted, the Department of Justice would regain the authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act and shut down medical marijuana distributors. The federal government could then shut down medical marijuana in states that legalized it, including Colorado’s very recent approval of it. Everyone, from growers to dispensary workers to medical marijuana patients, would now be subject to potential DEA prosecution. However, as of this writing, Congress has not issued a response to Senator Session’s request.
Why the Legal Shift Wouldn’t Actually Help
The intent is to go after drug addiction that is harmful, though one can argue the policy is misguided since it is opioid addiction and overdose that is responsible for the rising death rate among the poor, not medical marijuana. The end result of criminalized medical marijuana would thus increase drug convictions and incarcerations, but not the growing addiction and death rates it is intended to address.
There is growing evidence that medical marijuana can help those addicted to opioids, and penalizing medical marijuana may end up undermining the potential treatment of the opioid addiction epidemic. The stated desire to fight crime is an honorable intention but isn’t furthered by this legislative change, since violent crime rates actually go down when medical marijuana is legalized.
Scientists like Raphael Mechoulam have been working for years on educating people on the various benefits of marijuana and a vast majority of constituents truly believe in its benefits in treating conditions such as glaucoma, depression, and alleviating pain associated with chemotherapy and AIDs.
The Scalise Shooting
The June 14th shooting of several Republican officials by liberal, pro-medical marijuana Bernie Sanders supporter, James Hodgkinson, might fuel the fire of some hardline Republicans. Violence in the name of various political causes is often used to rally various bases against a cause. Hardline Republicans might use these actions to completely de-legitimize the benefits of medical marijuana.
The medical marijuana debate has been resolved to date by the Feds essentially leaving the issue to the individual states, regardless of federal drug laws that make medical marijuana illegal. Senator Sessions asked Congress to repeal the amendment that allowed for this de facto state-based solution. Congress to date has done nothing while President Trump seems fine with leaving things as they are.
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