Round The States

Ideology & Principles: UP restates it be damned

Ideology be damned! The political development in Uttar Pradesh sadly reiterates it. With Assembly elections slated February next year, the BJP has started poaching on ‘important personalities’ and on Wednesday last got its first catch. Congress leader JitinPrasada exited the grand old party and joined the saffron brigade. Apparently, the first among Group of 23 Congress leaders who had written to Sonia Gandhi seeking sweeping changes in the party. While his leaving may not be significant loss given his performance as AICC in-charge of West Bengal was a disaster, the fact of BJP gaining cannot be denied as would use it to shift the narrative from the dominant Thakurs community under Yogi Adiyanathto the Brahmins, which Prasada belongs. And the timing is vital as Yogi is under tremendous pressure within his own flock and met Modi-Shah team. Be that as it may, Congress needs to worry. Madhya Pradesh’s JyotiradityaScindiaand Gen-next leader shifting to the BJP last year was a setback and there are rumours of Rajasthan’s Sachin Pilot contemplating a switch, though he has rubbished it saying the BJP may be referring to Sachin Tendulkar. Crossing the fence and opting for greener pastures appears to have become normal for the political class. A big question to be asked what ever happened to ideological commitments and principles? Sab ek hi thali ke chatte batte hain or say birds of a feather flock together!

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Farmers’ Not Pleased

The Centre’s plans to entice Punjab and Haryana farmers has flopped. ‘Too little, too late’, is the response of leaders of farmers’ agitation at Delhi borders to the hike in MSP announced by Union government on kharif season crops—3.8% for paddy, 1.1% for maize and 3.8% for cotton. Obviously, Prime Minister Modi’s tweetthat the hike will boost farmers’ income and improve their living standards, has made no dent in the farmers’ resolve. The raise is unacceptable on various counts: not as per recommendations of Swaminathan Commission (2006) or RC Committee (2015); announcement now when sowing of cotton is over in Punjab and Haryana, is of no relevance and it’s nothing compared to increase in prices of diesel, fertilizers, and insecticide in the past one year. What next? Undoubtedly, the attention on the stir has weaned, but the spirit, at least of Haryana farmers remains high. They continue to boycott leaders of BJP-JJP government in their districts and specially Chief Minister Khattar and his deputy Chautala. Withdrawal of FIRs or non-arrest of farm leaders, or public apology by district administration for the cases registered have not led to a change in heart. Can a dialogue, as suggested by leader of Opposition Hooda, resolve the stand-off? Time will tell.

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States’ Give & Take

States can heave a sigh of relief, but need to exercise caution. On Monday last, Prime Minister Modi finally relented and announced the Centre has decided to buy 75% of jabs from vaccine makers, including 25% of State quota, and give it for free to State governments. However, since then, it has given Union Health Ministry leeway to issue advisories. On Wednesday last, it expressed ‘serious concern’ over ‘low coverage’ of vaccination among healthcare and frontline workers and that States/UTs must prepare effective plans for expediting the 2nd dose among these priority groups. In a meeting to review vaccination progress, Health Secretary noted that while national average for 1st dose among healthcare workers is 82%, for the 2nd it is only 56%. Clearly, States were told to put their house in order. A day later, another advisory advised them not to share data of eVIN system on vaccine stocks and temperature of vaccine storage at public forums “without prior consent.” The information, it said was “sensitive” and should be “used only for programme improvement.” This did riffle feathers as Ministry had to clarify: its intent was only to prevent any misuse of information by various agencies for commercial purposes, as it can be used to manipulate the market and associated research with respect to various vaccines and cold chain equipment…” Guess, the message is clear: there is no free lunch!

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Maharashtra Abuzz

With political alignments ever-changing over a period of time, Maharashtra was abuzz with rumours whether cracks were emerging within the Maha Vikas Aghadi government. This after Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had a one-to-one meeting with Modi in New Delhi on Tuesday last. He sought to quell any doubts and said they discussed important State issues such as GST, Maratha reservation and hoped Modi would resolve these positively. The Shiv Sena said there shouldn’t be a conflict between Centre and States as the latter needs assistance during a crisis  and CM-PM should have a dialogue. Two days later, at the 22nd foundation day of his party, partner NCP chief Sharad Pawar too stepped in and expressed confidence the MVA government ‘will complete its full term’. He praised SS saying it’s a party which one can ‘trust’ and the MVA ‘will do well in next Assembly/Lok Sabha polls.’ Was he suggesting the two along with Congress will contest 2024 polls together? Too early and outstretched, many would say, but guess the assertion was important as his meeting with BJP’s former CM Fadnavis last week had political circles abuzz too. More so, as true to its style, the BJP would like to see cracks and government falling. As an MP said the meeting ‘would set in process reunion of the SS-BJP and “a new realignment of political forces in the State”!  Is the clock ticking?

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TN Privacy Case

All eyes would be on the Madras High Court as it deals with the critical issue of free speech and right to privacy. On Wednesday last, it issued a notice to the Government of India following a petition by Ramon Magsaysay awardee and Carnatic musical vocalist and writer, TM Krishna, challenging the new IT guidelines. Filed by Internet Freedom Foundation, the plea states not only are the rules against the Constitution and IT Act 2000 but “offend my right as an artist and cultural commentator by both imposing a chilling effect on free speech, and by impinging on my right to privacy.” The Code of Ethics in the rules, which lay down regulatory mechanisms for digital content by news media and on OTT platforms, elaborates the plea is ‘vague and unclear’ and guidelines regarding content around belief, race or religion, will “thwart artists from raising difficult questions against existing aesthetic, gender and caste hierarchies in Karnatic music,” besides upsetting dissent against existing norms. It took a cue from Supreme Court’s judgement of 2017 which guarantees right to privacy as a fundamental right under the right to life and personal liberty, and claimed the rules ‘violate my rights as a user of social media services’, and ‘are in breach of my rights as a creator of online content.” The Union government is given three weeks’ time to file its counter-affidavit. Long, it may seem, but certainly worth the wait.

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Bizarre Vaccination Drive

Trust the police to help the administration in its vaccination drive in bizarre fashion.  “Mujhse dur rahein, maineabhi corona ka tika nahilagwaya (Stay away from me, I haven’t got vaccinated for Covid),” posters/stickers with skull masks are being put on people who haven’t taken the jab. One of the initiatives in Madhya Pradesh’s Niwari district, where policemen are conducting checks on roads to create awareness. The defaulters are asked to read the message loud and take oath they will get vaccinated within two days, as in this region if someone swears, he will definitely fulfil it. The idea says district SP is to dispel fears of vaccination and that instructions were to hand over posters/stickers only. Interestingly, those who have taken the vaccine are given badges with colours of Tricolour reading: “Mein sacchadeshbhakthoonkyunkimaine corona ka tika lagwayahai (I am a true patriot because I have been vaccinated).” An overreach, given there’s a shortage of vaccine and the drive has tapped only a small percentage–8,582 of the 2.03 lakh population in 18-44 age group? What if the drive is a success and the authorities are unable to meet demand? Get a poster ready for themselves too!


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