Modi’s victory inspires both hope and apprehensions

India is home to 170 million Muslims, the world’s second-largest Muslim population. (AFP)
Updated 24 May 2019
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Modi’s victory inspires both hope and apprehensions

  • BJP does not have any Muslim on its list of victorious candidates

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s landslide victory in the country’s general elections has met with mixed feelings over the future of the economy.

The premier has been re-elected with an overwhelming majority of 305 out of 545 seats in the Lok Sabha (lower house of India’s Parliament). With its alliance partner, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) now holds a commanding position.

The dramatic election win has sparked both hope and apprehension in India over the government’s plans for dealing with a slowing economy and growing unemployment, and the prospects for millions of Muslims living there.

Recent data leaked from the government-owned National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) revealed that the rate of unemployment was running at its highest level for 45 years. Industrial production was also shown to have dipped, with the automobile sector seeing a downward trend in the last two quarters.

“My time, energy and life are dedicated to the nation and I will leave no stone unturned to take the country to a prosperous path,” said Modi on Thursday evening in his victory speech in New Delhi.

However, Prof. Arun Kumar of New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), said: “The government should first admit that there is a huge problem of unemployment in the country and it should release the data to address it.”

Kumar told Arab News: “Now the elections are over, and people have reposed faith in the government, the Modi regime should come clean on the figure of unemployment and the actual GDP data, and only then would it be able to address the issue honestly.

“The big challenges the government faces are in the unorganized sector which got badly hit by the demonetization of currency in 2016 and the roll out of a new tax regime called GST (general sales tax). These unorganized sectors were the main job providers in small towns and rural areas.”

Prof. Sanjay Srivastava, of New Delhi-based think tank the Institute of Economic Growth, said: “The government will have to address the unemployment and farm crisis in an urgent manner to bring the economy on track.”

“To address youth unemployment, the government will have to streamline the skill development program very effectively to generate jobs. Besides that, the rural sector today is under great stress and the government’s first priority should be to address farmer suicides and their decreasing incomes.”

On the political front, one of the biggest challenges for Modi will be to calm the fears of 130 million Muslims in India who have been on the receiving end of political and social marginalization ever since his regime came to power in 2014. The Hindu nationalist party does not have any Muslims among its list of victorious candidates.

During his victory speech, Modi said that “no party can fool people in the name of secularism. Now secularism no longer becomes an election issue.”

Political analyst and former editor of English daily The Tribune, Harish Khare, said: “The 2019 verdict has a chilling message that the minorities’ votes do not count. The Muslims have been told to remain stranded in their own islands of resentments and grievances. They will have to reconcile themselves to a majoritarian polity.”

Prof. Afroz Alam, of Maulana Azad National Urdu University, said: “India cannot afford to cut off its largest minority from the wider political society. If it does so it cannot afford a sustainable growth. It’s time Muslims started looking at the larger picture. They should now look for greater representation in state and central-level jobs,” Alam told Arab News.

People in Kashmir are also apprehensive about their fate. In the last five years the central government has taken a tough approach to dissent in the valley, leading to higher casualties.

A suicide attack earlier this year on a convoy of paramilitary forces that claimed more than 50 lives, almost resulted in all-out war with Pakistan.

Data released by the Ministry of Home Affairs showed that between 2014 and 2018, there had been a 93 percent rise in the number of security personnel killed in terrorist incidents in Jammu and Kashmir, and a 176 percent increase in terrorist incidents in the state.

“Kashmir has no hopes,” said Prof. Sheikh Showkat of the University of Kashmir. 

“Kashmir bled in the previous tenure and it may bleed again unless good sense prevails, and they engage both Kashmiris and Pakistan in dialogue.”

Politician Shah Faesal said: “Narendra Modi might go for a measured reciprocation of (Pakistani Prime Minister) Imran Khan’s offer to work together. If it happens, Kashmir will benefit from that.

“We badly need some respite from the cycle of violence. A change in the policy of the central government can make that possible immediately,” added Faesal, who resigned from the Indian administrative service last year to form a new political party.


Destiny’s child: Philippines’ Robredo refuses to rule out presidency just yet

Updated 22 September 2019
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Destiny’s child: Philippines’ Robredo refuses to rule out presidency just yet

  • In an exclusive interview with Arab News, the vice president talks about her frosty relationship with Duterte and the need to ensure OFW rights

MANILA: She is one of his most vocal critics, while he never misses an opportunity to mock her in public speeches across the Philippines.

But when it comes to upholding the sanctity of their office, both President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo ensure they bring a finely scripted civility to the table.

“I do not meet him often. I do not get invited to functions in the presidential palace, but I get invited to military events. I try as much as I can to attend ... and I see the president there. Our meetings have always been cordial. The president has been very civil when we see each other,” Robredo said in an exclusive interview with Arab News in Manila.

Robredo was elected separately to Duterte and was not his running mate. Amid rumors that she is the obvious choice to take on the mantle once Duterte finishes his term, Robredo says that she is not ready to rule out the idea just yet.

“I do not rule it out completely only because of what happened during the last two elections where I ruled out running for Congress and I ruled out running for the vice-presidency, and I had to eat my words after that,” she said, adding that as far as the Philippines is concerned, it’s all about “destiny.”

“Our history has shown that a lot of people have aspired for the presidency, but have not been successful. And we have had a lot of presidents who won the elections where they had not prepared as much as the other candidates. It is something that will be given to you if it is really meant for you. So there is no point in preparing for it at this point,” she said.

 

In recent years, Robredo and Duterte have had a frosty relationship over issues ranging from the government’s controversial war on drugs to the Philippines ties with China.

 

Recently, Robredo called out Duterte for his “shoot, but don’t kill” orders.

The president made his comments on Thursday during the inauguration of the Bataan government center and business hub dubbed “The Bunker,” urging Filipinos to “shoot but not kill” public officials who were demanding money in exchange for their services and vowing to defend any person who attacked a corrupt official.

The statement drew flak from several rights organizations and, most significantly, from the vice president herself.

“I do not agree with killings per se, whether they are against drug addicts or corrupt officials. We have laws; we have the judicial system, and we should make sure that we have a strong judicial system, safe from political intrusion and corruption,” she said.

Robredo also explained why she has been at loggerheads with Duterte over his stance on the South China Sea.

Last week, she described as “reckless” his suggestion that he would consider bypassing an arbitration ruling — in favor of the Philippines — over a territorial dispute with China in order to finalize an energy pact with Beijing.

“I have always been vocal about statements by the president, which may be interpreted in a manner that would be against the constitution. It has been the reason of some friction between us. There has been a lot of confusion as far as the seriousness of the president’s remarks is concerned. Whenever he makes controversial statements, some officials around him try to correct those statements,” she said, adding that her retorts have “been a source of criticism from many of the president’s supporters.”

Adding to their constant tug-of-war is the issue of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and sending manpower to countries in the Middle East.

The issue intensified with the murder of 29-year-old Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait last year. A Syrian woman, one of Demafelis’ employers, was found guilty of her murder this month.

Following the incident, the Philippines placed a ban on sending workers to Kuwait.

Duterte lifted the ban after Demafelis’ killer was tried, and there have been efforts to negotiate the terms and conditions of labor contracts by both the countries.

“The issues in Kuwait became a little too unbearable and we entered into a memorandum of agreement last year ... it was a reaction to many of the complaints that overseas Filipinos in Kuwait have. Some say that their passports are being confiscated by employers as soon as they reach Kuwait, and there are complaints about the working conditions, hours, etc,” Robredo said.

However, the agreement was a “short-term” initiative and a more formal bilateral agreement would have been “better in the sense that both countries will be made accountable,” she said.

“This is our desire not just in Kuwait, but also in many other parts of the Middle East, and in Saudi Arabia for example, where most of our Filipino workers are. There has been a UN convention on the protection of the rights of overseas workers — migrant workers — but, unfortunately, most of the countries hosting our migrant workers are not signatories to that convention yet,” she said.

Robredo described the agreement a “work in progress,” saying “it is something that we have been working on for several years.”

The Philippines signed two agreements with Saudi Arabia — the first in 2015, and another two years later —  on labor contracts and recruitment.

According to the Philippines Statistics Authority, the Kingdom continued to be the top destination for OFWs until May this year, with an estimated 2.3 million Filipinos working there.

Remittances from the period totalled P235.9 billion ($4.5 billion), up from P205.2 billion a year earlier.

“It is our desire that the countries hosting our migrant workers will be signatories to the UN convention because at the very least, the basic rights of our workers will be protected. It is something that not just our Foreign Affairs Department is working on, but our Labor Department as well,” she said, adding that this and a few other issues are subjects on which she and the president agree.

In June this year, when both Robredo and Duterte entered the final stretch of their six-year terms, the vice president said that she wanted a “better working relationship” with the president.

It is a sentiment that she voiced strongly while talking to Arab News as well.

“I think if our meetings are to be the gauge of our relationship, we are OK. It is just that there have been a lot of side remarks, issues and criticisms outside of our meetings that I think complicates the relationship,” she said.