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Sunday,23-January-2022

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Barack Obama’s book unleashes Western stereotype of violence, caste in India

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Former US President Barack Obama unleashes the West’s worst stereotypical picture of India as a country with “all-too-pervasive” violence and politics revolving around “religion, clan, and caste” in his latest memoir and yet in the same breath talks about Sonia Gandhi, a “mother of European descent”, emerging as the most powerful politician who is able to appoint Manmohan Singh from a minority as prime minister.

“Across the country, millions continued to live in squalor, trapped in sunbaked villages or labyrinthine slums, even as the titans of Indian industry enjoyed lifestyles that the rajas and moguls of old would have envied,” he writes in his new memoir, “A Promised Land”.

He writes, “Violence, both public and private, remained an all-too-pervasive part of Indian life.”

Obama, the son of a Kenyan father and a White American mother, with a sometime Indonesian step-father, pretending to labour under the time-worn cliche of bearing the “Whiteman’s burden”, in a broad sweep encapsulates the nation in its entirety with these images.

The image of India he offers up with supercilious condescension to his readers is not something he had seen for himself, as he acknowledges not having travelled to the country before becoming president, although “the country had always held a special place in my imagination”.

“Expressing hostility toward Pakistan was still the quickest route to national unity” in India, he writes.

As if India shouldn’t develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent to Pakistan’s N-bomb, he writes, many Indians take “great pride in the knowledge that their country had developed a nuclear weapons program to match Pakistan’s, untroubled by the fact that a single miscalculation by either side could risk regional annihilation”.

He cannot ward off the temptation to lay on stereotypes, although he starts off acknowledging that “in many respects, modern-day India counted as a success story, having survived repeated changeovers in government, bitter feuds within political parties, various armed separatist movements, and all manner of corruption scandals”.

“The transition to a more market-based economy in the 1990s had unleashed the extraordinary entrepreneurial talents of the Indian people — leading to soaring growth rates, a thriving high-tech sector, and a steadily expanding middle class… and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s economic reforms lifted millions out of poverty”, he writes.

But reverts to stereotype: “Despite its genuine economic progress, though, India remained a chaotic and impoverished place: largely divided by religion and caste, captive to the whims of corrupt local officials and power brokers, hamstrung by a parochial bureaucracy that was resistant to change.”

Obama and his wife reportedly received $65 million as advance from their publisher for their memoirs.

“A Promised Land” ends with 2011 and the next volume is to pick up after that. For that reason Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not figure in the book.

The ascent to prime ministership by Singh, a member of “often persecuted Sikh religious minority,” he writes, “sometimes heralded as a hallmark of the country’s progress in overcoming sectarian divides, was somewhat deceiving”.

“More than one political observer believed that she’d chosen Singh precisely because as an elderly Sikh with no national political base, he posed no threat to her 40-year-old son, Rahul, whom she was grooming to take over the Congress Party,” Obama writes.

But Obama is smitten with Singh, whom he describes as “wise, thoughtful, and scrupulously honest” and “man of uncommon wisdom and decency” with a white beard and a turban that “to the Western eye lent him the air of a holy man”.

He writes that with Singh, he developed “a warm and productive relationship” and forged agreements for cooperation on counterterrorism, global health, nuclear security, and trade despite a bureaucracy’s historic suspicion of the US”.

Already in 2010, when they had a private chat without their aides before a dinner, Obama indicates that Singh had premonition of the rise of the BJP and Obama writes that he too “wondered what would happen when he left office”.

“Somehow, I was doubtful” that the baton would be passed on to Rahul Gandhi according to his mother’s plan “and preserving the Congress Party’s dominance over the divisive nationalism touted by the BJP”.

He says it wouldn’t be Singh’s fault and wonders if “violence, greed, corruption, nationalism, racism, and religious intolerance” were “too strong for any democracy to permanently contain”.

Perhaps in a dig at Donald Trump, who succeeded him, he writes that “they seemed to lie in wait everywhere, ready to resurface whenever growth rates stalled or demographics changed or a charismatic leader chose to ride the wave of people’s fears and resentments”.

Obama describes meeting Sonia Gandhi at a dinner hosted by Singh, calling her “a striking woman in her sixties, dressed in a traditional sari, with dark, probing eyes and a quiet, regal presence”.

It was clear, he writes, that the power of the “former stay-at-home mother of European descent” could be attributed “to a shrewd and forceful intelligence”.

During the dinner, Obama says that Sonia Gandhi deferred to Singh on policy matters, but tried to steer the conversation to her son.

Obama describes Rahul Gandhi as seeming to be “smart and earnest, his good looks resembling his mother’s”.

He spoke about “progressive politics,” Obama write, “occasionally pausing to probe me on the details of my 2008 campaign”.

“But there was a nervous, unformed quality about him, as if he were a student who’d done the coursework and was eager to impress the teacher but deep down lacked either the aptitude or the passion to master the subject,” Obama concludes.

He mentions that his introduction to India from Indian and Pakistani college friends who had “taught me to cook dahl and keema and turned me on to Bollywood movies”.

And, growing up in Indonesia, he writes, he had listened to the Mahabharata and Ramayana.

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Trinamool to go for organisational polls in next 2 months

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At a time when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is going for her overzealous plan to reach beyond the boundaries of the state, Trinamool Congress for the first time since its inception in 1998 has decided to go for an organisational election – a move indicative enough that the party is trying to put up democratic face.

Recently the party general secretary Partha Chatterjee said that the party’s organisational polls will be conducted soon. This will be for the first time that the party would be selecting the members of the National Working Committee selected by the members of the party. The party sources indicated that there will be a huge reshuffle in the party hierarchy in the next three months.

“The delegates and voters’ list will be finalised by the end of January and the name of the poll observer will be announced. The entire process of the election and the formation of the new committee will be completed by March 31. A notification on the organisational polls will be issued soon,” a senior party leader told IANS on condition of anonymity.

Political experts are of the opinion that Trinamool Congress established by Mamata Banerjee who owned her political lineage from Congress prior to the forming had its ideological roots on her genetic acceptability. “She was successful in creating an image that has been wholeheartedly accepted by the people of West Bengal but when she is trying to reach out to the people of the nation – the party image will become more important than her personal charisma and this is perhaps why Trinamool Congress is trying to give the party a democratic face,” a senior political expert said.

In the last few months Trinamool Congress after coming to power for the third time has tried to use the political vacuum created by Congress. The party has worked extensively not only to expand its base in the North-Eastern states but also in the Western tip of the country like Goa.

She has already roped in Sushmita Dev, the former Congress MP and ironically a close aide of Rahul, to enlarge TMC’s footprints in Assam and other northeastern states. So far Goa is concerned TMC is likely to use it as a launching pad in national politics and brand itself as a vibrant opposition against the BJP, expediting induction-spree across the country.

In Goa, where the TMC is eyeing to take a frog jump in national politics, it has inducted many influential faces including former CM Luizinho Fuleiro, tennis player Leander Peas, actor Nafisa Ali and Mirinalini Deshprabhu.

The Mamata Banerjee-led party also plans to traverse through all the prominent states of north India. “The TMC has a brain behind it to make it a national party with national and secular outlook and acts,” said a TMC leader.

In its south India move, the TMC’s first focus is on Karnataka and efforts are on to induct some Congress leaders. “There is also a plan to take the TMC into the next Assembly polls due in 2023 in the state. So, the party is zeroing on an influential face,” reliable source said.

Now some questions automatically arise. The first is what is going to be new in the organisational polls that will make Trinamool Congress more acceptable at the national level.

“Previously Trinamool Congress made some experiments to move beyond the state but that was not successful but now they are making serious attempts to take advantage of the political situation. In that case if the leaders from outside the state are not allowed to enter into the decision-making body and responsible posts, then the party is sure to lose its steam on the national platform. So, the party is bringing in major changes in the constitution to include the national leaders into the party-fold,” a senior political scientist said.

“The relevance of Mamata Banerjee or her family will never lose its relevance in the family but the party is now going for a makeover to get a democratic look so that it becomes acceptable to the people of the country,” he added.

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TN announces compensation to owners of fishing boats in SL custody

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Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each to the owners of mechanised boats and Rs 1.5 lakh each to the owners of country boats that are presently in the custody of Sri Lankan authorities.

At least 128 mechanised boats and 17 country boats are in the custody of Sri Lankans at present.

The Chief Minister’s office made the announcement on Friday evening.

Stalin also announced a package of Rs 5.66 crore compensation for the 105 fishing boats and equipment that were damaged during the Northeast monsoon that lashed the state.

Fishermen association leader S. Bharathi said that the state government’s announcement is a major support to the beleaguered fishermen of the state who are being hunted down by the Sri Lankan Navy and police on trivial charges.

In 2021, five fishermen lost their lives during an attack by Sri Lankan authorities, including Naval personnel.

Sixty-eight fishermen were arrested and 15 were released from prison recently. The remaining 55 fishermen are still languishing in Sri Lankan jails.

The Union Ministry of External Affairs, has already entered a diplomatic discussion with the Sri Lankan authorities on the arrest of Indian fishermen and the complaints being lodged by the fishermen of Rameswaram, Mandapam, and other areas of Tamil Nadu who were facing tough times in the sea near the Katchatheevu island as well as the International Marine Boundary Line (IMBL).

Krishnaswami Rajendran, who is the owner of a fishing boat at Rameswaram, while speaking to IANS said: “The Sri Lankan Navy is creating problems with our fishermen and it is high time that the government of India takes stringent action against the perpetrators who are attacking Indian fishermen from Tamil Nadu regularly.

“There has to be an end to this. The real situation in the sea is really tough and we are being attacked regularly for no fault of ours.”

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Late Cong MP Rajiv Satav’s name cleared in complaint demanding his disqualification

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More than six months after his death, President Ram Nath Kovind has said that late Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Rajeev Satav had not incurred any disqualification from being a Rajya Sabha member “on the ground of holding subsisting contract with a Government company.”

“Satav has not incurred disqualification for being a Member of Parliament under article 102(1)(e) of the Constitution of India read with section 9A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951,” said the notification signed by the President on January 6 and published on Friday.

Satav had passed away due to post Covid complications during the pendency of the Petition on May 16, 2021.

The case pertained to September 2020, when Pawan Jagadish Bora and Dattatray Pandurang Anantwar jointly petitioned the President seeking Satav’s disqualification on the ground of holding subsisting contract with a Government company (Satav had a distributorship of Indian Oil Corporation. Incidentally, there is no mention anywhere as to who Bora and Anantwar are, what they do and where do they belong to.

The President had referred to their petition to the Election Commission of India in October 2020 seeking its opinion under relevant provision.

The Election Commission sent a letter in February 2021 seeking a reply from Satav, that is when he clarified in his reply in March 2021 that the details of said contract were declared while filing his nomination papers and the present reference case pertained to pre-election disqualification, which was outside the purview of articles 102 & 103 of the Constitution of India.

He had further claimed that the Indian Oil Corporation is not an “appropriate government” and the distributorship agreement with Indian Oil Corporation is not “works” within the meaning of section 9A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

The Election Commission, in the light of the observations made by the Supreme Court in the relevant judicial precedents, had rejected his claim but the Commission did opine that Indian Oil Corporation is not an “appropriate government” within the meaning of section 9A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

It had concluded that Satav had no subsisting contract with the appropriate government, which would attract disqualification under section 9A of the Representation of People Act, 1951.

Considering the opinion of the Election Commission, the President, under article 103 of the Constitution of India, held that Satav had not incurred disqualification for being a Member of Parliament under article 102(1)(e) of the Constitution of India read with section 9A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

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