Let Us All Work For the Greatness Of India

Highlights February 2021


Gujarat Local Elections Results

Municipal Corporation Results

Elections were held on 576 seats across 6 municipal corporations in Gujarat – Rajkot, Ahmedabad, Bhavnagar, Jamnagar, Vadodara and Surat. BJP won all 6 municipal corporations, with a total of 483 seats. Congress was reduced to a tally of just 55 seats, while Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) opened its account with 27 seats in Surat. AIMIM won 7 out of the 8 seats held by Congress in Ahmedabad’s Muslim-dominated areas. Congress did not win any seat in Surat.

The results are significant, as the BJP increased its tally from 390 in 2015 to 483 in 2021, improving its share in every corporation. Congress fell from 175 in 2015 to 55 in 2021.

Municipality, District Panchayat and Taluka Panchayat Results

BJP swept the Panchayat and Municipality election results, maintaining the winning streak from the earlier Municipal Corporation results.

Party Municipality District Panchayat (Total: 31) Taluka Panchayat (Total: 230)
2015 2021
40/56 77/81
2015 2021
6 31
2015 2021
77 196
2015 2021
9/56 4/81
2015 2021
21 0
2015 2021
151 33

The takeaways from these elections are significant. The elections come in the backdrop of nation-wide discontent over fuel price hike and GST rules that have been troubling the people, especially the urban populace. Yet, this background – though completely genuine – has not become a voting issue, indicating that the politicization of technical developmental initiatives may be reaching its precipitation. Some of the takeaways are:

First, local elections – based on performance of candidates and rarely on personality cult of national leaders – are more indicative of dynamism within political parties at the ground level. In that sense, BJP’s performance in Gujarat local elections indicate the government’s strong footing in the state, and the, more or less, natural process of decimation of the Congress party.

Second, the fact that BJP improved its performance compared to 2015 across all categories of local elections show that the party has a strong hold in both urban and rural areas. It is also a big blow and final nail in the coffin of the caste-based politics of Patidar agitation endorsed by the Congress in 2015. The result of Surat municipal corporation result proves this point, as the entire Patidar vote of Congress shifted to the AAP.

Third, the performance of AAP in Surat is not impressive and does not automatically mean that it has made inroads in Gujarat. It has come a distant second in Surat, on the back of Congress. More importantly, the vote for AAP was a really a vote for disgruntled (with Congress) Patidar leaders who had jumped the ship – AAP is merely a banner under which they contested. Had the same candidates contested on a Congress ticket or independently, it is possible that AAP may not have been able to even open its account – as in the case of rest of the state. An indication of AAP entry in Gujarat can only be reasonably established if it had won any seats in any other corporations or in rural election results, which is not the case.

Finally, the elections results are a vindication of the growing nationalistic spirit that is steadily taking root all over the country, overriding petty and divisive differences based on developmental freebies, caste and regional politics and other factors that have been leveraged by politicians in the past to divide this country. Every indication of the growth and nurturing of this spirit is a welcome movement in the direction of a united and unassailable India.

Puducherry Political Crisis:

A major development has been the political crisis in the Union Territory (UT) of Puducherry. The Congress witnessed the falling of its only government in southern India after its Chief Minister tendered his resignation, prior to the floor test, where he clearly no longer enjoyed a majority.

The crisis began after the Union government removed the LG, Kiran Bedi. Ms. Bedi’s confrontational attitude with the Congress government in Puducherry had been exploited to the hilt by the Congress to create an anti-BJP sentiment in the UT, for the last 3-4 years. This development occurred merely 2 months prior to the state assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. The time period of Bedi’s removal had coincided with 6 resignations by Congress MLAs in Puducherry (including 1 from DMK). Last year, the party had disqualified an MLA for anti-party activities.

This had reduced the strength of the 33-member assembly to 26. The ruling coalition had a total of 12 MLAs – 9 of Congress, 2 of DMK and 1 Independent. The Opposition had 14 MLAs – 7 of the All India NR Congress (AINRC) led by former chief minister N. Rangasamy, 4 of the AIADMK and 3 nominated BJP MLAs.

The reason BJP engineered these carefully crafted developments are many-fold:

First, BJP has virtually no presence in Puducherry. It had nothing to lose. Its decision to appoint Tamilisai as a Governor in place of Bedi worked in BJP’s and AIADMK’s favour, as the former is a Tamilian and people may be more favourably disposed towards her.

Second, the fall of the Congress government was symbolic for Puducherry, but it may have consequences for Tamil Nadu elections. The entire shoddy episode revealed the Congress in a weak light – as a spent force. This may be an important public perception during the Tamil Nadu elections. It is already having some impact on the differences between DMK and Congress on seat-sharing. Much like other regional parties, DMK has started perceiving Congress as a liability.

Third, the decision to go for President’s rule rather than an alternative government was a clever move, as Congress was prevented from exploiting the situation claiming its victimhood in the aftermath of its fall in Puducherry.

Finally, Puducherry developments have a national resonance in strengthening the narrative of a weakening Congress party, making it more unpalatable to regional allies, as well as dissenting members within its own fold.

Punjab Local Bodies Elections

Results of the Punjab local body elections marked a clean sweep by Congress party. Elections were held in 117 urban local bodies, including 8 municipal corporations and 109 municipal councils and nagar panchayats. While Congress could make its board in all the 8 corporations, it won 77 municipal councils. SAD has clear majority in 5 councils, CPI in 1 Council while 26 councils don’t have clear majority of any party. Following table details party-wise seats won:

Party Municipal corporation Municipal council Total seats won
2021 2015 2021 2015 2021
Indian National Congress 317 68 1115 253 1432
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) 33 167 (BJP+SAD) 251 870 284
AamAadmi Party (AAP) 18 NA 51 NA 69
Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) 20 167 (BJP+SAD) 29 248 49
Independent 12 NA 352 NA 364
Others 0 NA 17 NA 17
Total 400 301 1815   2215

The election results have given a boost to the Congress. It reflects the following immediate trends,

First, Congress is getting the votes of both Hindus and Sikhs in Punjab. This is a good news, as it indicates that, despite best attempts at Sikh radicalization by Khalistani elements based abroad through the farmers’ protests, the Sikh community is not really swayed. While the Sikhs are angry with the BJP over the farmer’s issue due to a serious misinformation campaign by vested interests, yet they have chosen to vote for Congress rather than AAP – the latter being a party that openly propagates the Khalistani agenda in Punjab. They have also chosen to not go for SAD, as SAD has nothing to offer and had been with the BJP till last year.

Second, Congress has wrested votes from the traditional BJP strongholds of Gurdaspur, Pathankot, Hoshiarpur, Moga and others. This again reinforces the fact that Hindus do not trust either AAP or SAD, and see the Congress as a moderate option that can stem the possible tide of Sikh radicalization by anti-national khalistani elements and forces like AAP. Hindus comprise around 40% of Punjab’s population.

Third, AAP has been completely decimated. In Municipal Corporation results, it won even less seats than BJP. On the other hand, SAD has not even come second. Coming third, it has performed worse than independents in terms of total seats won, while AAP has come fourth.

Finally, BJP may have come last, but considering the virulent anti-Modi agenda unleashed by alleged farm protests, the BJP’s numbers don’t look bad at all. Prior to elections, some BJP members resigned and some faced physical violence at their offices and death threats. Given all this, BJP’s position is commendable. As per BJP leaders, the atmosphere was so negative that they could not even freely file nominations or campaign on the ground.

Indeed, prior to farmers’ protest, the Congress in Punjab was facing the problem of infighting. Voices had started speaking against the Chief Minister. However, the protests turned the tide. Arguably, Congress’s victory was more due to its adversaries’ extremely weak position and predicament. Whatever the reason, in a way this was good, for, a Congress victory would keep negative Khalistani forces and AAP at bay. In sum, election results show that Punjab is still searching for an alternative in the darkness.

India-Pakistan Ceasefire Agreement:

For the first time since 2003, India and Pakistan agreed to observe the ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC), with effect from February 25th,2021. The sudden agreement is supposedly a result of back-channel talks between the two sides, the details of which have been kept a secret. However, significantly, the agreement comes in the backdrop of the following,

First, it comes in the backdrop of India-China disengagement deal along Pangong Tso, with the understanding of it being replicated along other areas of India-China border. After nearly a year of face-off and low intensity clashes, this was significant. The disengagement also proceeded smoothly. More than anything, this has sent out a message to Pakistan that China continues to seek good relations with India and that India is also a strong power that doesn’t back down in face of conflictual situations. More significantly, the heavy economic costs imposed by India on China, especially permanent app bans sent out the message that India is a power that executes its vision.

Second, India is firmly within the circle of US and its allies, especially with formations like QUAD (Australia, India, Japan and US, with even UK contemplating joining it) and Indo-Pacific which are gaining ground. The new Biden administration has nearly the same approach as Trump’s. Indeed, Pakistan could see that despite worst global non-state provocations over farmer protests, none of the Western governments had made any comment about India (except Canada – that too in a muted voice, which had to be moderated after domestic political backlash and vaccine requisition from India). Pakistan now sees an India that severely takes anyone to task for meddling in its internal affairs and is extremely aggressive in global for a change. Gone is the India that could be bullied on human rights etc. by Pakistani or other machinations.

Third, Pakistan itself is in a very tight spot globally. The counter-terrorism watchdog, FATF, has retained it on the grey list. This continuous state of semi-sanctions is depriving Pakistan of investments and other legitimate sources of funding. Its relations with Saudi Arabia and UAE have also soured, as they have cultivated closer ties with India. Turkey is of no use to it financially, except giving occasional moral sermons in its favour on Kashmir. But even Turkey is striking a balancing act with India. This has isolated Pakistan, and China has not been an all-weather friend in these trying times.

Fourth, the domestic situation is equally bad. Not only is there domestic disgruntlement and protests, but terrorists are targeting Pakistan, in the aftermath of bleak protests of the Afghan talks in the wake of the skepticism of the Biden administration. India has already fortified its security set up in Kashmir since last year, after the revocation of Article 370, thereby insulating India from Pakistan-Afghanistan developments and their fallout.

All these developments have left Pakistan in a virtual echo chamber. Prior to this agreement, Pakistani Army Chief had already signaled that Pakistan was ready to move beyond Kashmir to cultivate ties with India. For all practical purposes, Kashmir issue has been reduced in Pakistan to a mere ploy to keep its domestic Islamic clerics and their vast followers appeased – a tool to satisfy their bloodlust and anti-Hindu, anti-India hatred – nothing more.

For now, more than this technical ceasefire, it is these developments that forced Pakistan to come to this that are more significant. The question is not whether the ceasefire will hold or not – with Pakistan, nothing can be trusted – but of what more lies in store for our Islamic neighbour.

The New Digital and Social Media Code

The Centre released new rules for regulating social media, digital news media, and over-the-top (OTT) content providers. The rules have come in the backdrop of an ugly spat between the Indian government and Twitter following the Red Fort violence on Republic Day and the global conspiracy to defame India coordinated through Twitter. For a long time, Twitter, in the name of free expression, refused to yield to government demands to ban certain mischievous social media handles that were spreading fake news and inciting unrest in India. Ultimately, when Indian government moved to an India-made social media app, Koo, and threatened to take action against Twitter, that the company finally complied with the government. It couldn’t afford not to, and lose one of its biggest markets.

It was also noted with concern, globally, how crassly Twitter had banned the former US President, Mr. Trump, and his supporters. Twitter was also accused of interfering in Ugandan elections, and was banned in Uganda along with the Facebook.

It was under this backdrop that the government hastened and implemented the new digital and social media code. However, the code has been under consideration for the last three years. Under the new code,

  • Currently, under Section 79 of the IT Act, intermediaries (like social media companies) are exempted from liability for the actions of their users if they adhere to government-prescribed guidelines. These have now been moderated, and if the companies do not exercise due diligence, they would cease to be exempt from liability for the content hosted on their platform.
  • They have to establish a grievance redressal mechanism for receiving and resolving complaints from users. These platforms will need to appoint a grievance officer to deal with such complaints, who must acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours, and resolve it within 15 days of receipt.
  • There are 10 categories of content that the social media platform should not host. These include content that “threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order, or causes incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence or prevents investigation of any offence or is insulting any foreign States”; “is defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, invasive of another’s privacy, including bodily privacy; insulting or harassing on the basis of gender; libellous, racially or ethnically objectionable; relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise inconsistent with or contrary to the laws of India”, etc.
  • If the government flags concern about such content, it should be removed within 36 hours. Violations of the code will be punishable under penal sections of the IT Act.
  • Streaming services like Netflix and Google’s YouTube must self-regulate and classify content in categories according to age. The draft rules say that OTT players must take into consideration, “India’s multi-racial and multi-religious context” when featuring content relating to any racial or religious group.
  • Stand-alone digital entities must disclose information related to their ownership details etc. in a prescribed format to the government, much like the print and television news media. They also need to follow the code of journalistic ethics laid down by the Press Council of India and the Cable and TV Regulation Act.

The rules are an important step forward in regularizing the digital and social media industry, which has evaded accountability for long. The manner in which these companies have begun to influence politics in countries especially through the use of fake news and malign elements, this was much needed. These codes have predictably met with opposition from privacy and freedom activists and lawyers, who have raised objections pertaining to rising governmental surveillance. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, has decried the lenient code and asked the government to frame more stringent rules for regulation.

Indeed, the framing of these rules should also pay attention to how to curb fake news in print media as well. The use of promotional, paid advertisements masquerading as news is a misleading phenomenon that needs to be seriously tackled by the government.

Please like & share:

Leave A Reply