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31 January 2017 Editorial


31 January 2017

As bigotry becomes policy

American President Donald Trump implemented his campaign promise of “extreme vetting” on Friday when he announced that his administration had banned, for 90 days via executive order, travellers from seven Muslim-majority nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan were not on the list, perhaps owing to the close economic and strategic ties that Washington, and indeed the Trump Organization, have with some of these nations — although White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus indicated that Pakistan may be put on the list, going forward. Mr. Trump has placed on hold indefinitely the U.S.’s asylum programme for refugees from Syria, and suspended entry of all refugees to the U.S. for 120 days. While he may have enthused his core constituency of predominantly white, blue-collar workers, beset with economic and racial insecurities, his order sent shock waves at home and abroad, and sparked fears that it could create a recruitment bonanza for terrorists. Leading the liberal counterattack, the American Civil Liberties Union argued that Mr. Trump’s order represented constitutional and legal overreach. In response, a federal judge in New York ruled that sending back the travellers detained in airports may cause them “irreparable harm”, and that the government was “enjoined and restrained from, in any manner and by any means, removing individuals” with valid papers. Similar rulings came in Virginia, Massachusetts and Washington State.

Mr. Trump’s shock therapy for controlling immigration begs the question whether the order is constitutional. In 1965, Congress had deliberately circumscribed presidential power in this regard by stating that no one could be “discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth...” The order will probably have a wider fallout in the economic sphere — already Silicon Valley firms have scrambled to bring back their staff deployed in affected countries, and CEOs including Google’s Sundar Pichai, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, have expressed concern that the ban will affect their talent pools. More broadly, Mr. Trump’s order has done irreparable damage to America’s reputation as a melting pot of immigrants, a beacon for bright minds and a humane force against authoritarian excess abroad. No major attack has taken place on U.S. soil in the past eight years. Ultimately, Mr. Trump’s insistence on preferential treatment for Christian refugees makes a bogeyman of Muslims, a retrograde action that will exacerbate anti-Americanism worldwide.

The enemy within

Not ideological affinity, but prospects of power and pelf determine the making and unmaking of political alliances. The Shiv Sena is the closest to the Bharatiya Janata Party in terms of ideology and policies, but a parting of ways of the two parties was always just around the corner. Differences over seat-sharing for the polls to the urban local bodies in Maharashtra were inevitable as each party was seeking to expand its influence at the expense of the other. Quite understandably, the Sena is yet to reconcile itself to its situation as a junior partner of the BJP after the 2014 Assembly election, when it won fewer seats than the BJP did after contesting alone following a similar breakdown in seat-sharing negotiations. Having headed the government in 1995, the first time the alliance tasted power in the State, the Sena greatly resents the role of a minor partner of the BJP in the government. If the party does not win back its support base, ceded mostly to the BJP, it will not be able to reverse the power equation within the alliance. The results of the local body elections are significant in determining this equation. They will in all probability lay the basis for seat negotiations for battles with higher stakes: the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in 2019.

But embarrassingly for the two parties, the campaign is at a pitch that cannot be brought down. Both have indulged in name-calling and traded corruption charges, even while remaining partners in government. It is therefore difficult to imagine there will be no long-term consequences for the alliance in the run-up to the 2019 general election. The Sena, which played down the strident Marathi chauvinism of its early years in favour of Hindutva nationalism, knows its support base is vulnerable to poaching by the BJP. In alliance or out of it, the Sena is always under the threat of being subsumed within the BJP’s own political stream. Its efforts to expand beyond the cities and major towns of the State had put the Sena more in direct competition with the BJP than in conflict with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party. Unsurprisingly, the Sena campaign for the civic bodies has grown to include attacks on not only the failings of the Devendra Fadnavis government but also the record of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and its flip-flops on demonetisation. However, the real test for the Sena and the BJP will emerge after the dust settles, when they will have to resume work as partners in government following weeks of this hostile campaign. And also possibly, deal with a changed power equation within the alliance.


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