Category Archives: Politics

Ariel Sharon dies

Former Israeli Prime Mininster Ariel Sharon died after spending eight years in coma following a stroke.

 ‘Arik’ to his friends, the ‘Bulldozer’ to his critics.

Sharon was a commander of the Israeli army and fought in all of Israel’s major wars before beginning his political career after the 1973 war.

Sharon became the defense minister in 1981 and led the invasion of Lebanon a year later. He became the Prime Minister of Israel in 2001. A few months before slipping into coma, he completed a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Sharon served as the prime minister throughout the most turbulent times in Israel-Palestine history.

He has been accused of war crimes and human rights abuses following the 1982 Lebanon war. The Sabra and Shatila massacre witnessed the killing of between 750 to 3500 civilians mostly from Lebanon and Palestine.

Health issues

Sharon suffered his first stroke in December 2005. Seventeen days later, a bigger stroke left him in a vegetative state. Over the last one year, he suffered multiple organ failure. He spent months in a hospital in Jerusalem before being shifted to the Sheba Medical Centre, a long-term facility in Tel Aviv.

The soldier-politician was kept alive for eight years by a complicated network of ventilators and feeding tubes. Widowed twice, his sons Omri and Gilad tended to him while he was ill.

Death

Ariel Sharon died aged 85 years on 11th January following multiple organ failure after spending eight years in coma. His funeral is expected to take place on 13 January in accordance with Jewish burial customs. He will be buried at his family’s ranch in the Negev desert besides his wife Lily, the younger sister of his first wife Margalit. Sharon is survived by his sons Omri and Gilad.

British Prime Minister, David Cameron said, “Ariel Sharon is one of the most significant figures in Israeli history and as Prime Minister he took brave and controversial decisions in pursuit of peace, before he was so tragically incapacitated. Israel has today lost an important leader.”

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Jail term for Laloo Prasad Yadav

Indian MP, former Minister of Railway and Chief Minister of Bihar has been awarded a sentence of five year imprisonment and Rs. 25,00,000 (approx. £25,000) fine for his involvement in the Fodder Scam

The Fodder Scam

The Fodder Scam was a corruption scandal that involved the embezzlement of state funds to buy food for cattle. The corruption scheme involved fabrication of a herd of fictitious livestock for which fodder, medicines and animal husbandry medicines were supposedly procured. Rs. 944 crore (approx. £94m) was siphoned off from the animal husbandry department.

The scandal came to light in 1996.

The verdict

Seventeen years after the scandal broke, a special court in Ranchi delivered the verdict on 3rd October. This judgement is a landmark step in tackling rampant corruption among politicians in India. Laloo Prasad Yadav will lose his MP seat due to this conviction.

During the trial, 56 people were accused. Out of them, seven died during the course of the trial.

Former Bihar chief minister Jagannath Mishra and Janata Dal – United (JDU) MP Jagdish Sharma have been sentenced to four years imprisonment.

Appeal

Yadav’s counsel will appeal against the judgement in the Jharkhand High Court on 17th October. For now, he is prisoner no. 3312 at Birsa Munda jail in Ranchi.

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Scotland: In or Out?

Exactly a year from today, Scotland will hold a referendum to decide its independence from the United Kingdom.

The big question

The question to be asked at the referendum will be “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Image © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body – 2012. Licensed under the Open Scottish Parliament Licence v1.0

An agreement was signed on 15 October 2012 by David Cameron, the British Prime Minister and Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland. This agreement provides the legal framework for the referendum.

The referendum bill setting out the arrangements was put forward on 21 March 2013.

Who gets to vote?

Everyone above the age of 16 who lives in Scotland is eligible to vote. This means that the 800,000 Scots living in other parts of the UK will not be eligible to vote.

Eligibility to vote will also include members of the armed forces serving overseas who are registered to vote in Scotland.

What happens after Scotland gets a “Yes” vote?

If Scotland gets a “Yes” vote, the Scottish “Independence Day” will be in March 2016 just before the start of the May 2016 Scottish election campaign. Scotland will get its own written constitution.

Scotland will retain cultural ties with the UK and will join the Commonwealth of Nations, the European Union and the NATO. The British monarch will be the ceremonial Head of State in Scotland as is the case with Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Scotland will continue to retain the pound sterling currency.

The Scottish National Party objects to having nuclear weapons on Scottish territory. However, Scotland will inherit the naval base of Faslane in the Firth of Clyde and the Trident Nuclear Missile System at Coulport.

The Scottish economy

Opinion polls have indicated that Scotland would perform better economically as an independent state. The public spending in Scotland is higher than England but Scotland also produces higher tax revenue compared to the UK average mainly due to production of oil from the North Sea.

The research paper Scotland Analysis: Macroeconomic and fiscal performance states that Scotland’s economic performance is stronger because it forms a part of the UK.

If Scotland becomes independent, a proportion of the UK national debt will be inherited, thereby starting a new nation with existing debt.

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Referendum on the AV system

Tomorrow is voting day in the UK to vote for or against the proposed Alternative Vote (AV) system.

The public is being asked whether they want to replace the existing method of first-past-the-post (FPTP) system of electing Members of Parliament (MP) to Westminster with the alternative vote system.

Under the FPTP system , the candidate who gets the maximum number of votes wins and is elected as the MP of his constituency.

Voters will be asked the question, “At present, the UK uses the ‘first past the post’ system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the ‘alternative vote’ system be used instead? Yes or No?”

The votes will be counted at 1600 BST on 6 May, a day after the poll.

What is Alternative Vote?

Under the AV system, voters can rank candidates in the order of preference. The number of preferences is unlimited.  However, only the first preference will be counted initially and the candidate with more than 50% majority is automatically elected.

If a candidate in unable to secure 50% of the votes, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. Votes for that candidate will be redistributed according to voters’ second preferences. There will then be a second round of counting. Again if a candidate is unable to secure 50% of the votes, another candidate with the least number of votes will be eliminated and a third round of counting will begin. This process will continue until one candidate gets more than 50% of the votes.

AV is currently being only is three countries in the world – Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

For AV

With the current system of first-past-the-post, there are times when a candidate with the highest number of votes wins with less than 50% support of voters. Thus candidates will have to work harder in order to win with a larger margin.

Smaller and lesser known parties will benefit from AV as they could be a second choice rather than not being considered from the beginning.

Against AV

If 50% of votes are not achieved in the first round of counting, the counting will continue until a candidate achieves it. This process is only complicated but also time consuming.

The FPTP system is considered as a fair form of election. All parties release their manifestos and voters vote for the candidate, party and manifesto that appeals to them the most. The person with the maximum number of votes wins while unpopular candidates are voted out. Thus, the winner takes it all.

The change of the AV system is estimated to cost Britain about £250m as local councils will have to buy new electronic voting machines and launch voter education campaigns.

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Why Should You Vote?

  • Casting a vote allows an individual to express a choice among candidates who wish to become government leaders.
  • Failing to register a vote is tantamount to saying you don’t care.
  • If you don’t vote, you are missing out on a great national privilege and a significant personal freedom
  • Voting provides a medium for citizens to support the democratic structure. If a majority of citizens choose not to vote, democracy might become a thing of the past and will be replaced by another form of government that might prove more elitist in nature.
  • Registering to vote means that you believe in the democratic process and will participate in it to represent your right to freedom of speech.
  • Showing that you care with your vote tells candidates that they must be accountable to the public.
  • Showing up at the polling booth on voting day sets a good example to others. Remember, your children observe all that you do and will learn from your example, right or wrong as it may be. Civic awareness is an important part of their training and one of the early steps on the road to maturity. Voting also sets a positive example to neighbours, friends, and family who may be uninterested in or unfamiliar with the electoral system.

If you don’t vote you really have no right to complain about government decisions you don’t like.

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Filed under International, Politics

The Plight of Refugees

Every year 20 June is celebrated as World Refugee Day in order to highlight the plight of all the refugees in the world. In order to commemorate this day, I am dedicating this week’s post to the cause of refugees.

According to Euripides, “There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one’s native land”. This is often the case of a refugee. A refugee’ is defined as “a person who has fled his country owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable or, owing to fear, is unwilling to avail himself the protection of that country.” This definition is according to Article 7 of the 1951 Convention and Protocol relating to the status of refugees. However, India being home to about 3,30,000 refugees, considers them as “aliens”. India, despite completing 60 glorious years of Independence, does not have any special laws for the protection of these refugees. India deals with refugees under the Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939 and Foreigners Act, 1946 which is applicable to aliens.

However, the Government of India is empowered to regulate the entry, presence and departure of these aliens. In India, wage earning rights and work permits have no meaning for refugees. Hence, they have no way of supporting themselves and thus remain in poverty. When they just enter India, they are taken to a transit camp. There the necessities are not easily available. Over a period of time, they muster courage to move freely within the country and hence they do not have to live in transit camps.

People flee from their mother countries due to civil conflicts, massive violations of human rights, foreign aggression and occupation, poverty, famine, disease and natural calamities. Reasons such as famine, disease and natural calamities are just passing phases. After this, they return to their own countries whereas the other reasons are long standing anxieties that may or may not be solved.

The Sikhs and Hindus migrated from Pakistan to India and the Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. India and Pakistan readily accepted and rehabilitated these migrants. People of Indian origin were forced to leave Burma (now Myanmar) under the programme of Burmanization. During Bhutanization, the people of Nepali origin were pushed to India and Nepal. Sri Lanka upon becoming independent sent the Tamil plantation workers who were taken to the island by the British back to India. Bihari Muslims were sent to India during the liberation war of Bangladesh though they wanted to enter Pakistan. India continues to host and assist refugee population from different countries especially Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Tibet. Thus, India is diverse of refugee population.

Refugees undergo many trials and tribulations. There is arbitrary arrest of newly arrived young men on suspicion of rebel connection. Sometimes, they are even deported for security reasons. The host country does not welcome them willingly and hence they do not develop a sense of belonging towards the host country. When the refugees flee and seek asylum into another country, they come empty handed leaving behind their belongings. They have to start their life in the host country right from scratch. They are not granted refugee status or given citizenship easily as they are considered liabilities to the country. They are often targeted and accused in case of thefts or terrorist attacks. They are subjected to assaults, both physical and mental. Since they come empty handed, they do not have documentary evidence of their educational qualifications, income, proof of residence and so on. Sometimes even if they have documentary evidence, it is seized upon arrival in the host country. They are often denied accommodation, health facilities, education, protection and the like. Sometimes, they are separated from their families. Though they want to go back to their country, they have no option but to stay at the host country hoping that their own country will become safe one day. Sometimes, the country builds high walls to shut out refugees and asylum seekers. This insensitive gesture is not justified. The Sri Lankan refugees in India face problems of a different genre. They are firstly labeled as terrorists as people consider them as members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ellam (LTTE). A large number of them happen to be Dalits. They are forced to flee because of their caste, only because they are Dalits. They face the problem of apartheid.

Any person seeking refugee status has to approach the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). In spite of not being a member of the 145 – nation signed 1951 Geneva Convention, India has allowed the UNHCR to function in India through its offices in Delhi and Chennai. Many refugees have spent years waiting for resettlement but end up becoming a burden to the government. They are pleading with the Indian Government to grant them protection and refugee status.

The lack of legal provisions and policies on refugees is one of fundamental flaws of protection in India. At the same time, India cannot be blamed for this because many people take advantage of the hospitable nature of the Indian Government. They flee for better prospects and to enhance their quality of life. This is not forced migration but migration out of choice. Thus, the Government is very careful in granting refugee status.

I feel that safeguarding the refugees is the responsibility of the international community. It is high time India becomes a part of the UNHCR Convention of 1951. India should also consider amending its Foreigners Act, 1946 and differentiate between a “refugee” and a “foreigner”. We should realize that refugees are not born refugees; they are made refugees. Hence, we should not ostracize them. This will be possible only through awareness in refugee issues that will sensitize the people to give the refugees a hassle – free stay in India.

 

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