India’s BJP releases election manifesto

BJP leaders display copies of their party’s election manifesto. (Reuters)
Updated 08 April 2019

India’s BJP releases election manifesto

  • The manifesto says the BJP government has been free of corruption past five years
  • Finance Minister: “A security doctrine is the hope for the future. Our new policy believes in striking at the origin of terrorism”

NEW DELHI: India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) released its election manifesto on Monday, with a strong focus on national security and tackling illegal immigration.

Listing the party’s achievements in the past five years, the manifesto says the BJP government has been free of corruption, and India has gained new recognition internationally because of its aggressive foreign policy.

With the BJP facing a tough challenge to retain power in 2019, its manifesto is aimed at its core constituency and is playing the nationalism card.

It also makes a string of promises to disaffected farmers, promising to double their income by 2022 and assuring them of a pension after the age of 60.

To win back small traders who were at the receiving end of the government’s new tax regime and its decision to demonetize the currency in 2016, the BJP has promised them easy access to bank loans and a pension scheme that will take care of them after the age of 60.

The manifesto promises to make India the world’s third-largest economy by 2030. “We commit to make India a $5 trillion economy by 2025,” it added.

However, the manifesto’s major focus is nationalism and national security. The BJP reiterated its commitment to build a Hindu temple at a disputed site in the eastern city of Ayodhya where the Babri Masjid mosque was destroyed by Hindu nationalists in 1992. 

The manifesto also promises a new law to regulate triple talaq (instant divorce) among Muslims.

“Let us work toward building a strong and inclusive India, whose citizens are assured of dignity, prosperity, security and opportunity,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote in the manifesto.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said: “A security doctrine is the hope for the future. Our new policy believes in striking at the origin of terrorism.”

The opposition Congress Party spokesman Randeep Surjewala said: “Jobs didn’t find any mention in the BJP manifesto, and the whole manifesto is a lie.”

He added: “The country remembers what the BJP promised five years ago. It hasn’t deposited the $21,000 it promised in each individual’s account, it hasn’t provided 20 million jobs, and it hasn’t doubled farmers’ income in the last five years.”

He said: “The BJP government has failed on all these promises. The people of the country won’t forgive it.”

Political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay said of the manifesto: “There’s no new idea on the table.” 

He added: “In 2014, the BJP came out with a manifesto on the very first day of the (election) campaign. This time, they’ve been forced to present a manifesto because the opposition (Congress) party’s manifesto is being discussed widely.”

Mukhopadhyay, who is coming out with a book on Hindu right-wing nationalists, said: “I feel this (BJP) manifesto is out of focus. The BJP feels that it would be difficult to build a national narrative on development and economics, as it did last time. That’s why there’s a fusion of populist nationalism and religious polarization.”

The first phase of voting starts on April 11, and the result will be announced on May 23. Most opinion polls give the BJP an edge over the opposition, but pollsters say the ruling party might lose a third of the seats it won in the 2014 general election.

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 22 January 2020

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.