Mayhem in US Capitol
Prior to new US President, Joe Biden’s oath-taking ceremony as the President on January 20th, US witnessed unprecedented siege of the Capitol – where US legislature convenes – on January 6th. The US Congress had convened for formally counting the electoral votes and declaring Biden as the President, on January 6th. In the middle of this exercise, a huge mob of Trump supporters breached the Capitol building with the intent to disrupt the counting of the votes, and clashed with the security officials.
Such a breach of American institutions has not been reported since 1812. Visuals of the mob climbing the walls of the Capitol building, overwhelming the outnumbered security personnel, breaking doors and windows, entering lawmakers’ chambers, vandalizing artifacts inside the Capitol, have shocked the world. It has been condemned universally and has been variously described by American Democrat and Republican lawmakers as a riot, an insurrection, a siege and an attack on democracy. Trump also belatedly appealed to his supporters to maintain peace, law and order. At least, 5 people died in the siege, with several cops injured. Around 52 arrests were made on January 6th itself, while subsequent investigation has been going on and arrests were being made.
The Capitol siege occurred after an incendiary speech given by the then sitting President, Trump, at a public gathering in the Ellipse park near the White House. Trump had refused to accept the election results in November 2020, and he and his campaign had filed several lawsuits and made public statements declaring that the election was stolen by the Democrats. Trump got the highest number of votes secured by any sitting President at 71 million. Biden also secured the highest number of votes by any Presidential candidate. When all court challenges were refused, Trump even asked former Vice-President, Mike Pence, to refuse to the declare Biden as the President on January 6th formal counting of votes.
In his speech at Ellipse park, Trump reiterated that the election had been stolen, and blamed the Democrats, media and ‘big tech’ groups for it. He said he and his supporters will never concede a stolen election. He also urged his supporters to walk down to the Capitol, cheering. Therefore, initially the mob had taken out a public rally in support of Trump. However, upon reaching the Capitol, it turned into a siege of the building.
After the siege, there were widespread calls by Democrats to either impeach Trump or that Vice-President should invoke the 25th Amendment to declare him unfit to continue in office. Republicans flatly refused on both counts. Notably, even after the siege, many Republicans continued to be united behind Trump.
Democrats finally decided to initiate impeachment proceedings, for the second time in the course of Trump’s Presidency. In the House of Representatives, where there is a Democratic majority, the vote was 232-197 in favour of impeaching Trump, with 10 Republicans also joining the Democrats. In Senate, the impeachment proceedings are due to begin soon. Republicans are expected to defeat the motion to impeach Trump, thereby making the impeachment bid unsuccessful. One of the reasons for Republicans widely rallying behind Trump is because they fear losing favour with the electorate and further popularity, if they go against him.
Besides the impeachment, the Capitol siege has several implications for US polity. The impeachment bid itself is widely being seen as a tool through which Democrats would have prevented Trump from running for Presidential elections in 2024. The entire politics certainly reflects the widened and seemingly unbridgeable gap within a polarized population and system.
The fact that big technology companies that provide social media services – highly influential in shaping electoral outcomes by manipulating collective psychology – have banned Trump from their platforms and many of his supporters as well, has only further increased mutual hatred in the polity. These steps were also criticized by European governments that are highly suspicious of ‘Big Tech’. India and other countries too have woken up to the threat of technology companies interfering in elections in an openly biased manner. Ukraine even banned Twitter prior to its polls, as it was seen blocking government access. This increased polarization cannot go away easily.
According to a YouGov survey conducted after the storming of the Capitol,
- 45% Republicans actually support the Capitol siege.
- While among all registered voters, 71% opposed the siege, the number was 96% among Democrat voters.
- 90 percent of Democratic voters and 55 percent of registered voters blamed Trump “a great deal” for what happened.
According to a Reuters survey conducted in November 2020, only 3% Trump voters accepted the Biden victory as legitimate. 31% Trump voters said that Trump should fight it out in court until the states ratify the results,while 66% said that Trump should “never concede”.
More or less, the hard-core Trump base amongst the people remains intact, and so do the Republicans. While the Capitol siege was a shocking incident, subsequent polls do not reflect that it has made any dent in Trump’s base.
Gram Panchayat Elections in Maharashtra
Elections were held to 12,711 gram Panchayats in 34 districts in Maharashtra. The Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance of Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress won, with BJP emerging as single largest party.
|Party||No. of seats|
Municipality Elections in Rajasthan
Elections to urban local bodies were held in Rajasthan, across 3035 wards.
17 councillors, who had rebelled against Congress and won on NCP ticket, joined BJP, after declaration of the results.
Fake News Problem and Political Vendetta
Rampant fake news and increasing political immaturity has become a serious problem for the Indian media and opposition politicians. In a bid to satisfy political biases, even senior, well-known media-persons are rampantly engaging in spreading fake news. One such instance was witnessed on Subhash Chandra Bose’s birth anniversary, on January 23rd, declared by the government as ‘Parakram Diwas’.
On Parakram Diwas celebrations, PM Modi went to Kolkata to pay homage to the freedom fighter. He also delivered a speech at Victory Memorial in Kolkata, where he stressed upon India’s rising power in line with Subhash Chandra Bose’s vision. However, at the event, prior to Modi’s speech, West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Bannerjee, was to deliver her address. Upon taking the stage, she was greeted by chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ from the audience. This miffed her so much that she refused to speak, claimed that she has been insulted and walked off the stage. Few days later, the ruling TMC even attempted to pass a censure motion against the slogan ‘Jai Shri Ram’, but failed due to lack of support from all other parties. The incident betrays opposition’s unmasked frustration for anything even remotely related to Hindutva or Modi.
Not only the opposition, but even sections of media have been exposed in this. On ‘Parakram Diwas’ prominent mainstream media personalities spread the fake rumour that, in Rashtrapati Bhawan, the President of India had unveiled the portrait of a Bengali actor, Prosenjit Chatterjee who played the role of Subhash Chandra Bose in a movie, instead of unveiling the portrait of Subhash Chandra Bose himself. Taking the cue, opposition parties, such as Congress and TMC, began to mock the President and took jibes at his education.
After some time, it became clear – after clarification from Subhash Chandra Bose’s family and proofs of original portrait – that what was unveiled by the President was indeed the copy of the original potrait of Subhash Chandra Bose. The media giants who had attempted to discredit the President offered their apologies. However, after some days, Rashtrapati Bhawan sent a notice to the India Today group announcing the review of their engagement with the media house due to their former journalist’s, Rajdeep Sardesai, and many others from India Today, mocking of the portrait of Bose unveiled by the President, and spreading misinformation about the same.
Following the December 2020 election results in Myanmar, the country has witnessed a military coup. In the election results, Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won the majority of the seats to form the government. Winning 346 seats, it easily crossed the 322-seat mark needed to form the government. However, the military-backed opposition, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), claimed that the election was disputed and demanded a re-run of the election. This did not happen. Displeased with the results, Myanmar witnessed an unprecedented military coup few days back, wherein all the leaders of NLD, including Suu Kyi, were detained. Emergency was declared and social media was blocked.
Nearly all major countries, except China, have issued statements condemning the coup. India has expressed concern at the situation. The question for India is of the way forward. There are two key factors to be considered here:
First, India has been accustomed to dealing with Myanmar military and has close cooperation with it. Indeed, the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) has, in the past, been more suspicious of China and more comfortable with India. Together, Indian and Myanmar armies have nearly wiped out the border insurgency in north-east areas.
The military was never under the democratic government in any case. Indeed, crucial departments like foreign policy, home affairs and defence had always remained with the Tatmadaw, even when NLD was in power. Therefore, on ground, the coup would make little difference to India.
Second, it must be remembered that Suu Kyi’s policies were completely in sync with the Tatmadaw. She was criticized heavily by the West for presiding over the exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar during 2017-18, and for stoutly defending her country at various international fora on this issue. She had endeared herself to the Buddhist majority in Myanmar and was fully in sync with Buddhist nationalism. Therefore, there was little practical difference between Tatmadaw and Suu Kyi – except a game of power struggle, wherein Tatmadaw felt that Suu Kyi might usher constitutional changes to dilute military’s powers.