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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Modi in with India’s Hindu hardliners

Posted: 19 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

NAGPUR: Young men gaze reverently at the flame-shaped memorial to a Hindu supremacist in the grounds of India's biggest grassroots religious organisation, which prime minister-elect Narendra Modi joined as a boy.

In the city of Nagpur, opposite a black-painted statue of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) founder Keshav Hedgewar, the solemn tribute to his successor Madhav Golwalkar is a reminder of what critics say is the group's deep-rooted religious prejudice.

Back in 1938, Golwalkar said India's non-Hindus must adopt Hindu culture, language and religion – "they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment".

Across India, thousands of RSS followers campaigned for Modi ahead of his victory last week, which saw his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) win the first parliamentary majority in 30 years.

That effort, as well as longstanding ties with the BJP, raises questions about how much the group will influence its most famous alumnus.

"Since a person from RSS is going to be prime minister, we expect he will work not only for the nation, but also for RSS," said Rajeev Varma, a 23-year-old engineering student who campaigned for Modi.

But experts say Modi could disappoint the group and its four and a half million members, aware that his prospects depend first and foremost on meeting pledges of growth and development.

"He (Modi) has to win on the economy, and that's the thing on which he will be judged," Christophe Jaffrelot, a long-time expert on the Hindu nationalism movement said.

"What if he fails to relaunch the economy? The Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) plank is the plan B," added Jaffrelot, a professor from Sciences Po university in Paris and King's College London.

The RSS, whose members wear a uniform of khaki shorts and black hats, describes itself as a cultural outfit devoted to the betterment of the nation and upholding Hindu values.

Critics decry it as a pseudo-fascist organisation that has fuelled religious tensions.

After helping out as a boy, Modi became a full-time volunteer as a young adult – taking the requisite vow of celibacy – for more than 15 years before he joined the BJP.

He recently said the RSS "should be appreciated for their good work".

The group is widely described as an ideological parent of the BJP, although volunteers in Nagpur were wary of discussing the elections.

"When the RSS says we are a cultural organisation, it actually is," said Sameer Gautam, 39, who runs a software company – although he joked about "the wall" that comes down on inquiring journalists.

AFP was not allowed to film at the RSS headquarters, a closely-guarded compound in Nagpur, nor at one of the city's daily "shakhas" – a combination of physical training, yoga and religious chanting.

"Their approach is extremely secretive. Most of their communications are verbal," said Kumar Ketkar, a political analyst in Mumbai.

M.G. Vaidya, a prominent 91-year-old RSS activist, said it was difficult to understand the group "because it does not fit into the existing models of social, political or religious institutions".

"One basic value of Hindu culture is appreciation of the plurality of faith. Not only tolerance but appreciation," he said.

Critics such as Rupa Kulkarni Bodhi, a converted Buddhist academic, believe a more sinister agenda is at hand. She says the "dream" of the RSS and BJP is "to convert this nation into a Hindu nation".

At a rare post-election press conference in Nagpur, RSS general secretary Suresh Joshi denied his organisation would be a "remote control" over the new government, although he hinted at an advisory role.

The RSS has been banned three times since its inception, including after a former member assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 and the 1992 demolition of a mosque in Ayodhya.

Members have spoken out against concessions to religious minorities, homosexuality and the special constitutional status of Muslim-majority Kashmir. They favour a uniform civil code, the protection of cows – sacred to Hindus – and building a temple on the disputed Ayodhya site.

Jaffrelot said Modi would avoid building the temple and provoking tensions, but that he would probably use his power of patronage to pacify hardliners.

Poornima Joshi, who has written extensively on the RSS and BJP, said Modi might prove to be something of a let-down but the group would still welcome his elevation after the secular Congress party's 10-year rule.

"He may disappoint the RSS in some ways but they are a pragmatic bunch," said Joshi. — AFP

Sonia and Rahul offer to quit over Congress polls fiasco

Posted: 19 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

NEW DELHI: Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, leaders of India's defeated Congress party, offered to resign after last week's election debacle, but colleagues rejected their gesture, a senior party figure said.

"They both offered to resign but the party rejected it unanimously," member of parliament Amarinder Singh told reporters yesterday after a meeting of the Congress's top committee in New Delhi.

The Press Trust of India reported that the Congress Working Committee passed a unanimous resolution "expressing full faith in the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gan­dhi".

About a dozen supporters gathered outside the party's Delhi headquarters, shouting slogans – "Rahul-ji, continue to struggle, we are with you" – during the 150-minute-long meeting.

The mother and son, members of South Asia's most famous political dynasty, are facing unprecedented pressure from grassroots party workers and defeated ex-MPs over their failed campaign tactics.

Congress slumped to its worst poll result ever last Friday, winning just 44 seats in the 543-member parliament – less than a quarter of its tally in 2009 – as the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party swept to power with a landslide win.

Sonia, the 67-year-old Congress president, entrusted campaigning to vice-president Rahul, whose lacklustre performance failed to convince voters that the party deserved a third term in power. The defeat has raised questions over whether the dynasty can retain its grip over the left-leaning party. — AFP

Fingerprinting of foreign visitors may start in 2017

Posted: 19 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

SINGAPORE may soon join a small number of countries worldwide that ask visitors to have their fingerprints taken when they arrive.

The immigration authorities are considering setting up self-service kiosks to capture the fingerprints of foreigners arriving at Changi Airport's new Terminal 4 when it opens in 2017.

The move will speed up immigration clearance and strengthen border security, according to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority's (ICA) new operational plan.

The ICA confirmed the move, saying it "constantly reviews and refines" its processes to use technology to make immigration clearance faster and more efficient.

At least three countries scan the fingerprints of visitors: the United States started doing so in 2004 after the Sept 11 terror attacks of 2001.

Japan introduced fingerprint scans in 2007 and South Korea in 2012.

The ICA plan did not say how much the kiosks will cost or whether they would be implemented at other airport terminals or land checkpoints.

To prepare for the move, it approached contractors last week to retrofit an existing airport immigration counter for a trial.

Under the ICA plan, foreigners arriving at the new airport terminal will need to scan their completed immigration cards and fingerprints at self-service kiosks as soon as they arrive.

They then present their passports to immigration officers for checks.

Besides fingerprinting, foreigners could also have their photos taken or irises scanned at the kiosks.

Security expert Rohan Gunaratna supports the move to use fingerprints and other biometrics to cut down the use of stolen and forged passports or those that have been tampered with.

"In order for biometric technology to be effective, each traveller must be scanned every time he enters or exits the country," said the professor of security studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University.

Others, however, warned that it is important to ensure the new system works well and leads to shorter, and not longer, waits for visitors to Singapore.

The founder of local customer service consultancy Wow! Academy, Bentley Williams, said the system has to be fast and efficient. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network


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