Indian election parties hit by TV and funding clampdown

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures while speaking at an election rally during the first phase of the Indian general elections in Bhagalpur, in the Indian state of Bihar on April 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Bangalore City Railway Station porters try the vote casting process during a demonstration organised for the members of the public during Systematic Voter's Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) regional outreach, in Bangalore on April 12, 2019, for the ongoing general election in the country. (AFP)
Updated 12 April 2019
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Indian election parties hit by TV and funding clampdown

  • The ruling BJP is the biggest beneficiary of the bonds, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), one of the groups behind the case
  • According to the ADR, the BJP — the world’s biggest political party — received about $150 million in total donations in 2018, of which more than half came from anonymous sources

NEW DELHI: India’s Supreme Court on Friday ordered parties to name anonymous donors behind tens of millions of dollars in funding as hostilities intensified in the country’s mega-election.
The order came ahead of the second round of voting and after the election watchdog called for a clampdown on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal television channel, saying it breached campaign rules.
While Modi and his opposition rival Rahul Gandhi returned to the campaign trail, the country’s top court gave parties seven weeks to name people who have bought “electoral bonds” in recent months.
Rival parties are said to be spending up to $7 billion on the election, which started Thursday and runs through to May 19, and funding sources have come under the spotlight.
The bonds — bought for between $15 and $140,000 and then given to a designated party — are controversial because they are anonymous.
India’s election commission and watchdog groups which took the case to the Supreme Court said the bonds should be ended because of the risk of businesses making secret contributions to influence decisions.
Modi’s government, which introduced the bonds in 2017, opposed naming donors. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the biggest beneficiary of the bonds, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), one of the groups behind the case.
More than $150 million in bonds were bought in 2018, according to the Factly Indian data journalism portal.
Experts estimate that at least the same amount was bought in the months ahead of the election.
According to the ADR, the BJP — the world’s biggest political party — received about $150 million in total donations in 2018, of which more than half came from anonymous sources. Congress brought in about $30 million and about 60 percent was anonymous.
The prime minister, who won a landslide in 2014 and is considered frontrunner in this race, faced increased pressure after the election commission said his NaMo TV breached campaign rules.
The commission ordered NaMo TV, which is sponsored by the BJP, to submit all of its content for approval.
Under Indian election rules, any content deemed campaign material — including adverts, films and even social media — needs permission from the independent watchdog.
NaMo TV shows 24-hour programs on Modi rallies, speeches, and even rap songs and dance routines devoted to the normally austere leader. It was being broadcast as normal on Friday.
The order was the commission’s second blow to the Modi campaign in 48 hours, after it postponed the release of a flattering movie about the 68-year-old prime minister until after voting finishes.
Producers of the film insisted they had no links to the BJP. But the commission said the film “PM Narendra Modi,” which tells of the Hindu nationalist leader’s ascent from selling tea at a train station to prime minister, could not be released during the election.
Modi and Gandhi kept up their punishing schedule of rallies ahead of the next vote on April 18.
Modi has sought to portray himself as tough on national security, particularly against Pakistan, which India accuses of fueling an insurgency in Kashmir. The two countries came close to a new war in February after a suicide attack in the disputed territory.
“To kill terrorists in their dens is a policy of a new India,” Modi thundered at an election rally Thursday referring to an airstrike inside Pakistan.
Gandhi and Congress have sought to focus on the economy and the fate of India’s many minorities who say they feel more threatened under the Hindu nationalist government.
“This is the ‘New India’ they want, one completely devoid of unity and brotherhood,” said Congress.
In Thursday’s first day, voter turnout averaged 66 percent, according to the Hindustan Times daily, compared to 70% in the 2014 polls.
The first day of polling saw two supporters of rival parties die in Andhra Pradesh state and a teenager killed in clashes with security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.


UN: Pro-government forces kill more Afghans than insurgents

Updated 32 min 50 sec ago
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UN: Pro-government forces kill more Afghans than insurgents

  • The report says 1,773 civilians were hurt or died in the first three months
  • This is a significant drop from the same period last year when 2,305 civilians were killed or wounded

KABUL, Afghanistan: Afghan and international forces had killed more civilians than insurgents in the first three months of the year, the UN announced Wednesday, the first time the deaths caused by the government and its allies exceeded their enemies.
Still it was insurgents who were responsible for the majority of dead and wounded civilians combined, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s report, which was released in Kabul.
The report said 1,773 civilians were hurt or died in the first three months, which is a significant drop from the same period last year when 2,305 civilians were killed or wounded. Last year, many brutal suicide bombings were blamed for the high casualties.
Between Jan. 1 and March 31, the report said 581 civilians were killed and 1,192 were hurt. While insurgents caused a significant majority of the injuries, it was pro-government forces, including NATO, whch killed the majority of civilians. They were responsible for 305 civilian deaths, nearly half of them in airstrikes. The other heavy death toll took place during searches, according to the report.
At the same time, the government and international forces injured 303 civilians, compared to insurgent attacks that injured 736, the report said.
It’s the first time since 2009, when the UN began compiling statistics on civilian casualties, that the deaths as a result of actions by the government and its allies exceeded their enemies.
Most of the deaths were the result of aerial attacks, which were most often carried out by international forces. While the report does not identify the United States, it is the US that carries out airstrikes when called in to assist Afghan forces. It also follows a trend reported in last year’s UN annual report on civilian casualties, which showed a dramatic hike in civilian deaths by pro-government forces including more than 1,000 civilian casualties from airstrikes, the highest since the UN began keeping track 10 years ago.
In September last year, Masih Rahman’s entire family of 11 __ his wife, four daughters, three sons and four nephews __ were killed when a bomb flattened their home in Mullah Hafiz village in the Jaghatu district of Afghanistan’s central Maidan Wardak province.
“It’s not just my family, there are dozens of families just like mine who have been lost in bombings,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.
Rahman was working in Iran when he was told his entire family had been killed in an airstrike on his village, which is controlled by the Taliban. Rahman has sought redress from the United Nations. He has taken his case to Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, which put out its own report on civilian casualties on Tuesday.
In that report, the commission said 11,212 civilians were hurt or wounded between March 31, 2018, and March 31 this year. In just the last 10 years of Afghanistan’s 17-year war, the commission said 75,316 Afghan civilians had died.
“A shocking number of civilians continue to be killed and maimed each day,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan.
He said that anti-government elements need to stop deliberately targeting civilians and using improvised bombs, which cause indiscriminate harm, while pro-government forces are called upon “to take immediate measures to mitigate the rising death toll and suffering caused by airstrikes and search operations.”