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Lotus bloom in West Bengal

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Lotus bloom in West Bengal

In the last six months, especially after the Lok Sabha election, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Muslim membership in the State has seen an unprecedented growth

Yeh kya ho raha hai? (What is happening?) It is raining Alis for the BJP,” tweeted a Bharatiya Janata Party supporter. Discussions and statements such as this, arguing the pros and cons of inducting Muslims into the BJP, are flying thick and fast on social media, all seeking answers to one question: Is the BJP becoming another Congress?

In the last six months, especially after the Lok Sabha election, the BJP’s Muslim membership has seen an unprecedented growth in West Bengal. “Primary membership has doubled,” said BJP State president Rahul Sinha.

Till December 2013, 6.06 per cent of the “increased” primary members of the BJP were from the minority community. As of June 20, 12.38 per cent (60,172 people) of new members of the party are Muslims. “Most of the new members joined after the elections,” said Ritesh Tiwari, media-in-charge of the party in the State.

The data may make traditional supporters anxious, but BJP leaders are less worried. “Muslims cannot be wished away in Bengal,” former State president, Tathagata Roy, said.

Out of the 341 development blocks in West Bengal, about 140 blocks have a 42 per cent (average) Muslim population, which translates into 25-30 per cent votes in the State. “So, we have to explain to supporters that we are not an anti-Muslim party. However, we will not extend any undue advantages like ‘religious quota’ to Muslims,” said Mr. Roy.

Anxiety in the party

An article published in the July 14 edition of Swastika, the Bengali mouthpiece of the Hindu nationalist organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), stated that the BJP’s success is “facing a crisis.” Analysing the nature of this crisis the writer of the piece argued, “Unruly Communist Party of India(Marxist) cadres joined the All India Trinamool Congress and sidestepped the original [AITC] workers, thus creating chaos in the party.” Without naming any community, the columnist also said “many are migrating to [the] BJP to create similar chaos,” thereby endorsing the anxiety of the average tweeter.

Mr. Sinha accepted that the minority community’s interest in the BJP is “perhaps unique to Bengal” but refused to accept that within the BJP and the RSS, many are questioning the policy of inducting Muslims. “The CPI(M)’s A.B. Ansari [arrested later] in Burdwan wanted to join us; we refused. We are not accepting tainted leaders,” he said. “But we welcome Muslims as long as they are not anti-national. [This] will not affect [the] traditional vote base.”

Sadeq Ali (name changed), a middle-aged father of three in Choto Jagulia village in North 24 Parganas, is no average political activist. A staunch CPI(M) activist who owns about 50 acres of land, Mr. Ali has “ensured” victories for the Left Front constituent, the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) in his area for years. On a rainy afternoon a few weeks ago, Mr. Ali rallied nearly 300 AIFB supporters to join the BJP. “They all are Muslims,” he said, while instructing his son to celebrate Eid in the neighbourhood “to ensure security.”

The village stretches for about one kilometre and houses offices of two political parties — the Congress and the CPI(M) in the east and west end of the village. After the 2011 Assembly poll, the Congress office was occupied by AITC’s local leaders; the CPI(M)’s office was torched. Mr. Ali’s brother’s cable television network was seized and he left Choto Jagulia for two years. But he has his past to reconcile with.

“Do not forget that Sadeq was the biggest strongman during CPI(M)’s time,” said Qasem Molla (name changed), an AITC supporter, while reiterating that the AITC cadres are committing “mistakes.”

“My prayer to Didi’s (Mamata Banerjee’s) brothers is to stop the attacks on the CPI(M). They will increasingly join the BJP, and leftists are adept at conducting polls,” warned Mr. Mollah. It is now evident in districts across West Bengal that Muslims and Hindus are leaving the Left Front en masse to join the BJP, as Left leaders are failing to guarantee security. But this may not be helping AITC. “In a way, the strategy to decimate the Left by force has boomeranged,” said a senior leader of the AIFB on condition of anonymity.

Senior CPI(M) leader Nepaldeb Bhattacharya said that the Muslims, however, are not leaving the party.

One of the key Muslim faces of the AITC, Ahmed Hassan Imran, a journalist and Rajya Sabha MP, also echoed the same sentiments.

“Muslims are not leaving the AITC; we checked facts. Only one or two persons have joined the BJP,” he said, also explaining why Muslims cannot join the BJP. “None of the BJP’s nearly 300 MPs represents the community. Neither [can] the memories of Gujarat be erased…But I agree that in some places Muslims are targeted…party chief Mamata Banerjee is looking into the issue,” he said.

The BJP’s fault lines

During the election campaign, many BJP candidates said they would “ban cow slaughter and exports along the border,” if elected. The campaign has not gone down well with Muslims and even some Hindus who survive on both local consumption and export of beef.

“Beef export or supply is one of the few businesses controlled by Muslims. If banned, it may cause problems for the party,” said Arif Khan (name changed) of Tentulia village in North 24 Parganas, soon after shifting to the BJP from the Congress. A senior BJP leader told The Hindu, slaughter “will not be banned” as it may affect the leather industry. “It will affect livelihood and we are aware that the economy has linkages with social harmony,” he said.

Interestingly, a section of the city’s intelligentsia is not averse to Muslims joining the BJP. Anthropologist M.K.A. Siddiqui welcomed “the trend.” “If a community is keen to learn about a legitimate political party, why is it worrying?” he asked.

Muslims who are joining the BJP are predominantly from the Bengali-speaking communities outside Kolkata. In Kolkata, Muslims are mostly from Urdu-speaking communities, more aligned with the AITC.

“Bengali Muslims are tired of non-Bengali Muslims [9 per cent] controlling their thoughts and culture and hence turned to the BJP to have their aspirations addressed,” said Sabir Ahmed, a senior researcher on minority issues. Sadeq Ali had another interpretation: West Bengal’s Muslims stayed with the ruling coalition for security.

“Day-to-day security is important for us; we need to rethink about the BJP in Bengal,” he stated.

Perhaps traditional Hindu supporters of the BJP need to rethink about the Muslims of Bengal as well.

~ Suvojit Bagchi 

Canadian News

Joint statement from the Greater Toronto Area & Hamilton Mayors and Chairs

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left, and Toronto Mayor John Tory
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left, and Toronto Mayor John Tory take part in a candlelit vigil to honour the victims of a deadly shooting in Toronto on Wednesday July 25, 2018. Ten-year-old Julianna Kozis of Markham, Ont., and 18-year-old Reese Fallon of Toronto were killed in Sunday's shooting attack, and 13 other people were injured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

We are united in fighting COVID-19 – protecting our residents and saving lives.

While the measures we have taken to stop the spread of the virus have made a difference, this virus has still taken far too many lives in our communities and continues to threaten the lives of our residents.

At the same time, there is no denying the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the economy. Jobs have been lost, many businesses have closed or are at risk of closure, and many families are worried about their financial future.

We’ve been hit hard but that’s why it is so important that we keep moving forward and come back as strong as possible.

Today, the GTHA Mayors and Chairs met to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on the region and how our municipalities can work together on the economic restart and recovery.

We know the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area alone is projected to lose 355,000 jobs and 28% of GDP along with $894 million in lost wages and $3.7 billion in revenue losses for businesses. This will be felt right across the GTHA but it also threatens the provincial and national economies.

A strong recovery right here in the GTHA is crucial to healing the economic damage done by COVID-19 and helping the families and businesses all governments have been working to protect throughout this emergency.

Ontario’s economy and Canada’s economy need the GTHA to come back stronger than ever when the restart begins.

We are determined to deliver this recovery and we agreed today that the GTHA municipalities will be working together to successfully and smoothly reopen our vital regional economy when the time comes.

We also discussed how we can in a consistent way achieve significant, necessary financial support from the other governments to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and protect our ability to contribute to the recovery. A strong recovery needs strong cities and regional governments.

We have agreed we will work together to share information about our respective financial positions and explore together measures we can advocate to the other governments which will help to ensure the financial stability of local and regional governments in the GTHA.

Our child care and recreation programs help parents get back to work.

Our emergency services keep people safe.

Our transit systems get people to work and home safely.

Our major infrastructure projects – often built in conjunction with the other governments – will help kick-start the recovery and create countless jobs.

Our economic development activities attract jobs and investment.

We built a strong and vibrant GTHA and we know that we will need to come back even stronger and as quickly as we can in order to keep Canada’s economy going.

With the cooperation and support of the provincial and federal governments, we are ready to rise to this challenge.”

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Canadian News

Four People Charged in Mississauga Pedestrian Fail to Remain Fatality

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Investigators from the Major Collision Bureau have charged four people in Mississauga’s most recent fatal fail to remain collision.

On Thursday, February 15, 2018, at approximately 8:40 p.m., the victim, a 61 year-old female from Mississauga, was struck by a south bound vehicle as she was crossing Mavis Road in the area of Knotty Pine Grove in the City of Mississauga. The vehicle did not remain and the victim, having suffered major injuries, was pronounced dead at the scene.

On Saturday, February 17, 2018 shortly before 7:00 p.m., Satchithanantha VAITHILINGAM, a 60 year-old male from Brampton, and the driver believed to be responsible in this incident, surrendered to police at 22 Division. Satchithanantha VAITHILINGAM has since been charged with Fail to Remain Cause Death.

Hivissa SATCHITHANANTHAN, a 25 year old female from Brampton, Shajeetha SATCHITHANANTHAN a 28 year-old female from Brampton and Gowtham SATKUNARAJAH a 28 year-old male from Brampton have each been charged with Accessory After the Fact in relation to this incident.

Satchithanantha VAITHILINGAM will answer to his charge on March 12, 2018. Hivissa SATCHITHANANTHAN, Shajeetha SATCHITHANANTHAN andGowtham SATKUNARAJAH will answer to their charges on Monday March 26, 2018 at the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton

Anyone who may have witnessed the collision, have dashboard video footage of the incident or who may have any information regarding this incident is asked to contact investigators with the Major Collision Bureau at (905) 453-2121, ext. 3710. Information may also be left anonymously by calling Peel Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477), or by visiting www.peelcrimestoppers.ca or by sending a text message to CRIMES (274637) with the word ‘PEEL’ and then your tip.

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Canadian News

Justin Trudeau in India: Hug missing! Mounting pressure?

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The much publicized and anticipated visit of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to India was marred with questions. The questions were centered on the kind of welcome he would be given in the Sikh dominated state of Punjab. Also the famous hug by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was being anticipated. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finally made his much-touted visit to India. He landed on the Indira Gandhi Airport, New Delhi only to be received by Gajendra Singh Shekhawat not even a Cabinet Minister in Narendra Modi’s government.

He is presently the second rank Minister of State for Agriculture.  That comes in complete contrast to the warmth that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his NDA government has generally displayed towards the visiting dignitaries.  Only a couple of weeks ago, when the heads of the 10 ASEAN states arrived in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t receive Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the airport, as he has previously done with many leaders including Barack Obama, Xi Jinping, Shinzo Abe, and Benjamin Netanyahu.

The fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t join him is all surprising even when Prime Minister Trudeau visited Gujarat. This is unusual because the Indian Prime Minister has set a trend that he always accompanies head of the state when they visit his home state.

Even Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath did not show up, let alone accompany Prime Minister Trudeau to the Taj. However, during Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 15 January visit to the Taj Mahal at Agra, Yogi Adityanath had received Netanyahu and his wife and shown them around as well as hosted a lunch for them. For first three days, none from the executive or the elected representative held any meeting with the delegation.

Media in India is trying to spread a message that the cold treatment given by Prime Minister could be because two of the four Sikh members of Trudeau’s cabinet – Harjit Sajjan and Amarjeet Sohi – support the Khalistan movement. However, had that been the case his visit to Punjab would have got a similar response.  However, the Punjab Government led by Captain Amarinder Singh rolled out a red carpet during his stay at Amritsar and even the two leaders held some fruitful discussions.

Thus putting an end to those criticisms that that Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit was devoid of any warmth.  Chief Minister of Punjab Amarinder Singh, for instance who met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau setting aside his earlier prejudice that he exhibited during the visit of Defence Minister Harjeet Singh Sajjan.

In recent months, Gurudwaras (Sikh temples) in Canada, the United States and Australia have banned Indian officials from visiting gurudwaras and the moment started with Gurudwaras here in Toronto. Could that be the reason for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to not accord one of the warmest welcomes that he is known to provide?  Or the use by Canada’s parliament of the term genocide to describe mass killings of Sikhs in India in 1984 has left the Indian Prime Minister disturbed?  However, more than Prime Minister Modi, this could have left the Congress party in troubled waters, but that was also not the case as Amarinder Singh hails from the same party.

The lukewarm welcome to Prime Minister Trudeau can have its political ramifications too. Will it hamper the significant 2015 deal, in which Canada agreed to supply 3,000 metric tons of Uranium to power India’s atomic reactors?

Somewhere Prime Minister Modi has not taken the issue of non allowing entry of Indian officials to Gurudwaras and the statement on Genocide too lightly. Prime Minister Modi however has failed to understand that Canada cannot curtail the right of freedom of speech and expression of its citizen.

Two nations perhaps failed to resolve the matter before Prime Minister boarded the flight from Canada and not welcoming Prime Minister Trudeau could be a tactical decision to put pressure on him. With Prime Minister Modi preferring to meet him at the far end of the tour has conveyed a lot about the myopic approach of Prime Minister Modi.

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