Battle for Karnataka: Who is winning?

Elections in India

By Jan Arden

From our neighbourhood in South Asia, State elections are held regularly round the country in India and the latest was held this week in Karnataka, a varied and complex electoral mix comprising the IT city of Bengaluru and Mysore, that regularly upends forecasts by changing local political leadership, irrespective of the national dispensation in power at the Centre. The BJP did its best to prevent such a fate to its local ally in power, but polls left no doubt that the Indian National Congress and allies were ahead, on the pitch of a corrupt local administration (the 40% commission jibe was biting) and, taking a leaf from the Aam Admi Party, from promised goodies for the poor and the women folk.

In the final stretch, the BJP threw in its political heavyweights and benefited from the Congress faux-pas over the purported ban on Bajrang Dal, placed on a par with the terror-linked Popular Front of India (PFI), which forced the Congress to back-pedal against a strong hindu backlash.

Nevertheless, the exit polls released on Wednesday do seem to indicate either a hung local parliament or the Congress retaining its forecast edge in seats, with a 40% vote share to the BJP’s 36%. Local allies and their shenanigans during their tenure in Karnataka may well have dented the BJP’s push to move south from its heartlands. It will be equally galling for the BJP high command that the battle might have been lost on grounds of what is perceived as a largely corrupt and graft-prone local government when the BJP is trying hard to make its national narrative about fighting corruption and nepotism.

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Pakistan in turmoil: Imran Khan’s arrest and power struggle

The riots that have been burning Pakistan since the Imran Khan’s arrest, in the midst of its economic mayhem and the volatility of its « hybrid » governance, hold no promise for an easy end

Pakistan has been suffering from its economic woes, the scarcity of foreign reserves and raging inflation, the consequences of a calamitous flood, and the absence of concrete progress in talks over the twenty-third request for bail-out funds from the IMF about a latest tranche of some $1 billion. That request has been made more difficult with the previous Imran Khan government signing accords with the IMF about necessary reduction of subsidies in food and fuel prices then reneging on them once the ground realities and public angst started biting in. That left the IMF questioning the credibility of its current political leadership in trying to get out of a national mess of its own making with an acute dependency and a lifestyle based on gifts or loans from friendly nations (the USA for decades, now the Saudis, Turks, China…).

The IMF misgivings were heightened by the raging tussle between Imran Khan and his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and Pakistan’s new ruling alliance, around the powerful Sharif and Bhutto families, voted in last year. The PTI since its dismissal from office was insisting in a series of highly virulent public gatherings for elections in the central state of Punjab and early general elections and Imran Khan was undoubtedly striking a popular chord with his loyal followers by treating all his opponents as economic « cheats, frauds and looters » who should be behind bars.

In that country’s « hybrid » government system, the powerful army and Secret Services (ISI) have found it more expedient to allow the political brass to try running the country on a budget that is estimated to be annually deprived of some 60% allocated de facto to the army/ISI. No questions can be asked by the political brass about the size and usage of the army budget, still less about army purchases/procurements or internal army matters of promotions and postings. Obviously, all matters of national security and defence are of the exclusive domain of army bosses, which incidentally makes it somewhat ridiculous for India to take seriously any offer for « talks » or other overtures from the Pakistani political brass who carry no weight in such matters.

Another consequence of that « hybrid » setup is the perceived need by all political players and would-be ones to avoid falling foul of the army and to seek their quiet blessing and behind the scenes assistance in ousting and replacing one political dispensation by another. Imran Khan was no stranger to those cuddly mores when he reputedly struck his own deal with General Bajwa, getting the PTI to power while Bajwa went on to become immensely wealthy within a few years.

Himself a wealthy land-owner with a lavish lifestyle and notorious philanderer, Imran Khan was granted space to brandish all his political opponents as corrupt crooks, a theme that resonated with the masses and some of the upper and middle classes not in the Sharif-Bhutto good books. The National Accountability Bureau (the Pakistani ICAC variant) was accordingly weaponised to take political opponents to court and former PM Nawaz Sharif was forced to flee to the UK on medical grounds, from where he is said to have planned the ouster of Imran Khan, who by that time was falling foul of the army for trying to poke his nose into army postings.

Having managed to establish a strong popular base by branding opponents as immensely corrupt, Imran Khan expanded his attacks on the army/ISI bosses, an unforgivable sin in Pakistan, thereby laying the groundwork for his eventual high-profile and brutal arrest by Army Rangers from the precincts of an Islamabad court this week. Since then the PTI faithfuls have been on rampage, venting their fury across all major cities with arson and riots, and going to the extent of attacking and burning army buildings and houses of commanders. From Lahore and Islamabad in the key state of Punjab, Karachi, the economic centre, to outlying Peshawar, the riots raged, and the country already mired in its economic mayhem is nearing chaos, unless the army or the Pakistani Supreme Court steps in to restore some semblance of normalcy at great costs. Meantime the National Accountability Bureau, with an Accountability Court concurrence, has placed Imran Khan under custody for 8 days pending further investigations into an alleged Al-Qadir Trust massive scam case with UK ramifications, in which the former prime minister and his wife have been accused of receiving “billions of rupees from a real estate firm for legalising a laundered amount of Rs 50 billion”.

The riots that have been burning Pakistan since the Imran Khan’s arrest, in the midst of its economic mayhem and the volatility of its « hybrid » governance, hold no promise for an easy end with the army promising crackdowns/curfews and applying nationwide internet lockdowns. Neighbouring countries like Iran, Afghanistan and India will naturally have to remain alert to any unwanted spillover of disturbances across their respective borders.

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The Police headquarters SST strikes again

As if to confirm the US State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights and its abuses, the Police headquarters Special Striking Team is living up to the negative image it has earned for itself given the manner in which it has handled a number of cases and that has given rise to accusations of selective activity and « planting » of drugs that have been made in courts and reported on a variety of social media. To single out the recent post of a well-known former journalist Harish Chundunsingh as grounds for arrest and treatment as some sort of local terrorist, with his house searched and laptops or mobiles seized and subjected to forensic examination is another marked drift into what is generally perceived as harassment of public figures known to be critical of the current government on specious ICTA provisions against freedom of expression that have yet to be tested in Courts.

All would have noted that, in parallel, statements have not yet been even recorded from Minister Gobin and PPS Dahlia, in a case of alleged bribery of some Rs 3.5 million towards the granting of a State land lease in the vicinity of Grand Bassin, still less have the mobiles, laptops and bank accounts of key protagonists been the object of attention by ICAC to date.

Harish Chundunsingh, accused by the SST of sharing a video of what was perceived as suspicious car activity around Vimen Sabapathi’s residence, has justifiably maintained his right to silence and was released on bail at the Curepipe District court against Rs 8,000 caution. It would be irregular and against all principles of natural justice if the SST, which arrested the former journalist on those grounds, would be the ones pursuing the investigation against him.

This morning we hear that Me Rama Valayden has been also summarily arrested by the same SST for having reportedly said he did not trust the SST. These astonishing moves of the Special Striking Team may continue to deepen the credibility crisis hitting at our institutions.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 12 May 2023

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