Monday December 10, 2018
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Barbs, insults, abuses galore as Bihar goes to polls

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Patna: Some 66.8 million people would be eligible to vote from Monday in staggered Bihar assembly polls as the biggest popularity test is set to take place in the country after the Delhi thrashing of BJP and Congress in February.

After weeks of no-holds-barred campaigning in which the key players hurled real and perceived abuses at one another, the Bihar clash will show whether or not Prime Minister Narendra Modi still retains his charisma.

If pre-election surveys are to be believed, it will be no cakewalk for anyone including the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as well as the Grand Alliance of the ruling JD-U, RJD and Congress.

Some surveys have forecast a narrow win for the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar-led coalition in the 243-seat assembly. Others predict a win for the four-party alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The BJP allies are Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), the RLSP of union minister Upender Kushwaha and former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustan Awami Morcha (HAM).

The five-phase elections end on November 5. The vote count is due on November 8.

The Left parties have ended their long bonhomie with the JD-U and RJD, and are on their own, but unlikely to make a big impact. There is also a Third Front led by the Samajwadi Party. And, although it has put up only six candidates, the MIM of Asaduddin Owaisi is making waves.

However, everyone agrees that the main battle will be between Modi and Nitish Kumar, who once sailed in the same boat but are now bitter foes.

Modi is taking no chances. He is poised to set a record by addressing around 40 rallies in the state – the most by any prime minister.

Socio-political analyst Soroor Ahmad said no prime minister before Modi had visited Bihar more than two-three times during assembly elections.

“Modi’s credibility and charisma will be in doubt if the BJP suffers a defeat,” warned Jai Prakash, an activist.

After leading the BJP to a sensational victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Modi had been on a winning spree even in states.

That was till February 2015 when the Aam Aadmi Party stunned the BJP and Modi by winning 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi assembly. The BJP was left with just three seats.

BJP leaders admit that the need for a win in Bihar was important if only to prove that the Delhi rout was a fluke.

Backing Modi’s aggressive campaign are 13 of his 26 ministers, mostly from Bihar.

And BJP’s allied groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishva Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Durga Vahini are actively campaigning for the party.

The BJP is contesting 160 of the 243 assembly seats, its allies the LJP 40, the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) 23 and the HAM 20 seats.

Bihar is equally important for the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which have come together after years of hostility along with the Congress.

The JD-U and RJD have fielded 101 candidates each, and the Congress 41.

The main electoral planks on which all parties are seeking votes include economic development, job quotas and battle against corruption.

But political activists admit that in many places, caste equations will influence the voters more than any other issue.

Of the total 66.8 million voters, 13.5 million are eligible to decide the fate of 586 candidates in the first round of polling covering 49 constituencies on Monday.

Drones will be used for the first time for surveillance, officials said.

According to the Association for Democratic Reforms and the National Election Watch, as many as 130 candidates in the first round of polls face serious criminal charges including murder.

(Imran Khan, IANS)

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Tea Body of Assam Slam ‘Chaiwala’ Modi

The tea labourers of Assam live in the most deplorable conditions without some of the basic amenities, Gowala said

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Assam tea body slam 'chaiwala' Modi,

The largest tea body of Assam on Sunday slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who often refer to himself as a “chaiwala”, for not being considerate towards the state’s tea garden workers’ plight and urged him to implement the promised minimum wage of Rs 350 before the new year starts.

The Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) General Secretary Rupesh Gowala said while Modi often refers to himself as a “chaiwala”, he is yet make good on his promises towards a million tea garden labourers in the state in the last four years.

“Before the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, Modi addressed several rallies in Assam and assured that the tea garden labourers would be paid a minimum wage of Rs 350 per day,” Gowala said.

“If this happens, the 10,00,000 tea garden labourers will lose Rs 30 each day for two months. Is it a “chaiwala” Prime Minister who is doing this to his own community?” said Gowala.

The tea garden workers in Brahmaputra Valley in Assam are presently drawing Rs 167 per day while the tea garden workers in Barak Valley are getting Rs 145 per day.

“The existing wage agreement between the Assam government and the ACMS and other tea workers bodies expired on December 31, 2017.

Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi (Wikimedia Commons)

“The government had announced an interim hike of Rs 30 per day. The tea garden labourers are supposed to get this interim hike from January 1, 2018, but the government is saying the hike will apply from March 1, 2018.

“This would make them lose Rs 30 per day for two months,” he said.

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Assam is yet to fix that minimum wage, Gowala said, urging Modi to announce the promised Rs 350 per day minimum wage before 2019.

Gowala said the condition of all those tea gardens run by the Assam government was far worse.

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“While the labourers in company-owned garden are receiving a wage of Rs. 167 per day now, the 26,000 workers under the 14 gardens of state-owned Assam Tea Company Limited (ATCL) are receiving a wage of Rs 115 only per day,” he said.

Assam has over 800 medium and large size tea gardens that produces over 50 per cent of the country’s total tea produce.

The tea labourers of Assam live in the most deplorable conditions without some of the basic amenities, Gowala said. (IANS)