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A long march offers a glimpse of a post-Modi India

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In a deliberate emulation of India’s revered independence hero Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the country’s main opposition leader at present is on the final leg of a mammoth public walk across the length of the subcontinent.

Defying critics and sceptics, the 3,500km (2,175 miles) walk by Rahul Gandhi — no relation to the freedom fighter — has succeeded as both political protest and mobilisation. Over the last three months, the Bharat Jodo Yatra or the March for the Unity of India has been met with widespread enthusiasm.

Now in its last phase, the yatra entered the northern state of Punjab on Tuesday night as it makes its way to its conclusion on the high peaks of Indian-administered Kashmir. In walking so long, Gandhi — the face of the Indian National Congress — is offering the world’s largest democracy a new political vision and script pitched against the shrill political Hinduism or Hindutva of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The aim of the yatra, a term usually associated with a Hindu pilgrimage, is political redemption. It has reignited the Congress party that had been immobilised for a decade with serial electoral defeats. Mocked mercilessly by the BJP as an amateur politician, Gandhi has emerged today as a leader with mass appeal.

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With a simple message of interreligious harmony and prosperity for all, the epic walk has focussed on common human interactions. At each stop every day, Gandhi’s aides document and disseminate on social media the conversations their leader has with farmers and workers, young and old, men and women and children too about their shattered dreams under the Modi government. These capture a snapshot of the lived realities of the Indian economy, where unemployment and inflation are high, with a government that has been high on promises and low on their delivery.

Gandhi’s message is that Modi’s strident Hindutva is what is weakening the economic and social potential of India. All this and the accompanying clamour for hugs and selfies with the bearded opposition leader have charged a political and media landscape that has otherwise been monopolised by Modi. For the first time since his ascent, Modi has been rendered silent.

The political message is indeed that of a clash between a multicultural or secular polity on the one hand and Hindu supremacist policies on the other. But it is clear that the march is framing that battle as also being led by two very different kinds of men who now animate and divide Indians.

Modi and the BJP have long railed against India’s secular politics typified by Gandhi’s family as embodying corruption and decay that they claim have denied India its rightful place in the world order. Gandhi’s great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, grandmother Indira Gandhi and father Rajiv Gandhi all served as prime ministers.

Two massive majority mandates for Modi, in 2014 and 2019, have helped to cloak violent Hindutva in the guise of popular anger against entrenched political elites. Modi has fashioned himself as a strong but populist everyman who has risen against this so-called ancien regime.

Today, from laws to political rhetoric, Modi embodies an aggressive “Hindu first” agenda for India. From proposed legislation that introduces religious discrimination in citizenship to the routine violence against minorities, Modi’s agenda for cultural uniformity is seeking to drastically recast India.

At 52, Gandhi has long been vilified as a fourth-generation dynast. Yet precisely because of his family history, he has long and intimate knowledge of power and violence. Both his grandmother and father were assassinated. Shunning political office and the trappings of power, Gandhi has immersed himself in pursuing a direct relationship with the people. He appears to have understood that Modi’s strongman tactics can be countered only with the power of shared vulnerability that brings together everyone who is less than fully committed to Hindutva and has — as a consequence — felt the sharp wedge of authority that stalks India’s public life.

If Modi has expressed his political power through authority and populism, then Gandhi has sought a compassionate connection. In seeking a horizontal coalition of different sections of India, the yatra’s message is to empower a politics of fearlessness. In so doing, it seeks to rediscover the principles of diversity and equity that have been foundational to independent India. Strikingly, the yatra has emphasised a simple political script of emotions such as love, fellowship and sacrifice to blunt and counter the dominant narratives of violence and identity.

About a century ago, the famous salt march of Gandhi – the Father of the Nation – thwarted the British empire and Indian political elites alike as he shunned political office and power but lit up common Indians with audacious hope. He was searching for a transformation of politics and a redefinition of political relationships. He succeeded.

It would be ridiculous and foolhardy to compare the two Gandhis. The contest today is not about the overthrowing of a foreign imperial power. It is an entirely internal and intimate choice about the future identity of India.

But in offering a political paradigm different from that projected by Modi and the BJP, the Bharat Jodo Yatra has helped demarcate the battle lines for 2024, when the next national elections are scheduled to take place. After being overwhelmed by Modi and Hindutva for nearly a decade, Indian democracy might finally be ready for a real contest of ideologies, emotions and personalities.

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Parliamentarians kick off return to House of Commons with debate on child care

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Parliamentarians kick off return

The economy was top of mind for members of Parliament as they returned to the House of Commons Monday, with the Liberal government kicking off the new sitting with a debate on child care.

Families Minister Karina Gould tabled Bill C-35 last December, which seeks to enshrine the Liberals’ national daycare plan into law — and commit Ottawa to maintaining long-term funding.

The federal government has inked deals with provinces and territories in an effort to cut fees down to an average of $10 per day by 2026.

During a debate today, Gould said all parties should support the bill, and the national plan has begun saving families money.

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But Conservative MP Michelle Ferreri said the plan is “subsidizing the wealthy” while failing to reduce wait times for child-care spaces and address labour shortages in the sector.

Ferreri told MPs that the Conservatives would be presenting “strong amendments” to the legislation.

The debate comes amid concerns about a possible recession this year, with both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre saying their focus will be on the cost of living.

But Poilievre’s Tories may have little room to manoeuvre in the legislature.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters upon his return to the House of Commons that he does not believe there is any room to work with the Conservatives during the upcoming sitting.

Instead, the NDP says it plans to push the Liberals to fulfil the terms of the parties’ confidence-and-supply agreement, such as the planned expansion of federal dental care.

Under the deal signed last March, the NDP agreed to support the minority government on key House of Commons votes in exchange for the Liberals moving ahead on New Democrat policy priorities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023.

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Premier Heather Stefanson announces new cabinet Monday

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Manitoba’s premier is set to shuffle cabinet after her finance minister said Friday that he’s stepping down, following a list of Progressive Conservative caucus members who have announced their intentions to leave provincial politics.

Heather Stefanson will unveil her new cabinet at a swearing-in at 11 a.m. Monday at the legislative building in Winnipeg.

CBC Manitoba is livestreaming the news conference here, on Facebook and on CBC Gem.

Finance Minister Cameron Friesen announced Friday that he is stepping down to run for a seat in the House of Commons.

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Friesen’s decision was the latest in a series of recent similar announcements.

Four other cabinet ministers — deputy premier Cliff Cullen, Municipal Relations Minister Eileen Clarke, Government Services Minister Reg Helwer and Alan Lagimodiere, minister of Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations — have said they will serve out their terms but not run again.

Roughly one-third of the 36 Tory caucus members elected in 2019 have either quit in the last two years or have said they will not run again in the provincial election scheduled for Oct. 3.

A number of those announcements came earlier this month.

The governing Tories have been trailing the Opposition New Democrats in opinion polls for two years, especially in Winnipeg, where most legislature seats are.

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Biden Classified Documents Discovery Has Flummoxed the Political Press – Esquire

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You have to hand it to our elite political press corps, as long as “it” is a scorpion or a nice ball of buffalo dung. When they get together to prove that they’re above partisan politics and the petty concerns of democracy, they do a great job of it, while simultaneously making a dog’s breakfast of the really important stuff. From NBC News:

An equal number of Americans — 67% — say they are as concerned about classified documents found at President Joe Biden’s residence and former office as they are about those found at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, despite clear differences in how the two men responded to these discoveries[…]The poll finds an American public that’s equally concerned about the discovery of classified documents found at Biden’s and Trump’s homes, even though the current president and ex-president handled their situations in different ways. (Biden and his lawyers have argued that they turned over these classified documents — from his time as Barack Obama’s vice president — as soon as they were discovered and have cooperated with investigators, while Trump failed turn over all requested documents and has lashed out at investigators.)

The gates to Wonderland open wide about halfway through that passage, which taken as a whole is a perfect roadmap for a profession that seems completely adrift. For example, the dependent clause “even though the current president and ex-president handled their situations in different ways” is a kind of crossroads. The story can go two ways: The correct one is to explore why this important difference has come to naught in the public mind; the one that leads over a cliff—the one taken by NBC—is to cite the data and then throw up its hands, as though this statistical result is the enigmatic pronouncement of some ancient oracle. This leads us down the hellbound trail to…

…Biden and his lawyers have argued that they turned over these classified documents — from his time as Barack Obama’s vice president — as soon as they were discovered and have cooperated with investigators, while Trump failed turn over all requested documents and has lashed out at investigators….

It seems almost quaint to point this out, but the circumstances under review do not have their basis in anything Biden’s lawyers “have argued.” They derive from the fact that they are the circumstances that actually happened. Nothing recently has demonstrated the complete inadequacy of journalistic norms and customs to deal with the global threat of the former president* as clearly as the alchemical formula that turns undisputed facts into something that lawyers “have argued.” Democracy dies in nuance, as this NBC poll clearly indicates but dares not say outright.

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And how did we get here? Luckily, Peter Baker of The New York Times inadvertently provided a precise diagnosis the other day:

The cases are markedly different in their particulars, as has been noted repeatedly. Mr. Biden has cooperated with the authorities, inviting them to search his home, while Mr. Trump defied efforts to recover documents even after being subpoenaed, prompting a judge to issue a search warrant. But they are similar enough that as a practical matter Democrats can no longer use the issue against Mr. Trump politically, and investigators may have a harder time prosecuting him criminally.

Baker’s assertion about prosecutions is beneath idiotic. Trump would be prosecuted—assuming he ever is—because he actively conspired to keep from doing everything that the Biden people did, as Baker explains prior to running his argument over his own feet.

Then along comes David Axelrod at 10,000 feet to finish the job.

“I feel it’s likely that when the probe is done, the Biden case will wind up being one of unintended mistakes — carelessness but not willful defiance of the rules or law,” said David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama. “The Trump case is much different and more serious. But in the court of public opinion, those lines may now be blurred.”

Lines are blurred. Clouds are gathering. Doubts are raised. And American democracy blunders blindly further off down the road to dangerous irrelevance.

Charles P Pierce is the author of four books, most recently Idiot America, and has been a working journalist since 1976. He lives near Boston and has three children. 

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