Monday, June 22, 2020

How COVID-19 helped Netanyahu beat Benny Gantz for Israeli prime ministership

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Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz | Source: US Department of State via Wikimedia

In March 2020, when COVID-19 was causing the near collapse of health systems across the world, Israel had just voted third time in the parliamentary election for the third time in less than a year. This was so because no political party was able to muster the majority in Knesset (Israeli parliament) after earlier elections in April 2019 and Sept 2019. Benjamin Netanyahu has been acting Prime minister since the time when he went for the dissolution of Knesset December 2018 with a hope of securing an extended majority for his right wing coalition. However he failed to secure even the simple majority in three elections on April 19, Sept 19, and March 20. Then came the COVID-19 and he sensed an opportunity to make a comeback from the brink of political disaster to reclaim the prime ministership of Israel.

The COVID-19 pandemic tested the Israeli citizens just like the other countries and  Benjamin Netanyahu kept on telling that unless it is effectively controlled, there will be devastation not seen since the Middle Ages. He also stressed that even the First world countries such as the US and UK are at the brink of losing control. Many Israelis expressed admiration towards Netanyahu’s quick response to the pandemic which helped to contain the pandemic in earlier stages. They flattened their curve by shutting down public places such as parks, schools, educational institutions, and the hotspot areas. He followed two stage strategies — first, to locate and isolate the infected population and then to engage the healthy population in economic activities during the conditions of a semi-lockdown. These steps were taken to save the economy. His plan also carried a huge amount of tests in the hope that it could be established that some people were developing antibodies to resist the virus and could safely be “freed” from isolation. Although the steps being acknowledged, they still raised a lot of questions against Netanyahu. He was supposed to be facing charges for breach of trust and bribery in the month of March. The court shutdown ordered by Israeli Law minister delayed Netanyahu’s charges by two months. Israel also used the cell phone of citizens to monitor their movement to track the spread of pandemic for which he was criticised for breaching the citizen’s privacy. Yohanan Plesner, the president of the Israel Democracy Institute said that Israelis trust the Shin Bet to protect them and not to abuse that trust, and the cellphone monitoring may have serious long-term effects on that trust. Netanyahu, however, defended himself with usual combativeness by stating that the courts were under a temporary shutdown and he has received permission from the General Attorney for cellphone usage data which was valid for 14 days. He also said “If the Shin Bet is to

infringe on our basic privacy, they could have done it many years ago”.

After managing to convince the citizens that he had handled the COVID-19 situation effectively, he quickly approached the rival Benny Gantz with a proposal to form an “emergency unity government”. As part of the deal he offered to share the power with Gantz’s Blue and White party for three years during which Netanyahu was to be prime minister and Benny Gants Dy prime minister for the first 18 months and the role reversal afterwards. He kept on harping the disastrous consequences of the virus and mentioned “It could affect 60-80% of the population” and said “nobody knows” how devastating the virus would ultimately prove. 

It was not easy for Benny Gantz to accept the proposal to align with Netanyahu as his whole campaign was on the issue of never supporting Netanyahu. However Netanyahu, who is acknowledged by friends and foes alike as a shrewd politician willing to go to any extent in safeguarding his own interest, finally won the war of attrition. Benny Gantz accepted the deal offered by Netanyahu and agreed to let him continue to be the prime minister for the first 18 months of the alliance period. The COVID-19 calamity has effectively turned into an opportunity for Netanyahu to hold on to the power and continue to be the prime minister of Israel.

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October 18, 2020 6:46 PM

Bhagat Singh: The Man, The Life, And The Beliefs

Bhagat Singh is one of the ‘big names’ immortalised in the history of India’s freedom struggle and eternally cherished even after almost ninety years of his martyrdom. What makes him stand out is his popularity among the masses being almost on par with the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, despite his beliefs and actions being diametrically opposite to theirs.

Of the freedom fighters who remain mainstream in today’s India— a crowd predominantly made up of politicians with center or right of centre leanings, Bhagat Singh occupies a relatively lonely spot as a young, staunchly left-wing revolutionary who outrightly rejected Gandhi’s philosophy, and preferred direct action over politics.

Newspaper headline after Central Legislative Assembly non-lethal bombing

Bhagat Singh is most commonly and widely remembered in association with an incident where he, along with his friend and comrade B.K. Dutt dropped non-lethal smoke bombs into the Central Legislative Assembly from its balcony in 1929. They also scattered leaflets by the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), which he was a major part of and was aided by in orchestrating the bombings. He is said to have been inspired by French anarchist Auguste Vaillant, who had bombed the Chamber of Deputies in Paris in 1893.

The bombing gathered widespread negative reaction due to the use of violence, especially from those who supported the Gandhian method. While Bhagat Singh and the HSRA wanted to protest exploitative legislatures such as the Public Safety Act and the Trades Disputes Bill, it is also widely accepted that they additionally intended to use the drama and public attention of the ensuing trial to garner attention to socialist and communist causes. Bhagat Singh and Dutt did not escape under the cover of panic and smoke despite the former carrying a pistol, and waited for the police to find and arrest them. During the trial Bhagat Singh frequently chanted a variety of slogans, such as ‘Inquilab Zindabad,’ which is even today often raised in protests across India.  

March 25th Newspaper carrying the news about execution of Bhagat Singh | Source: Tribune India

However, this was not the trial that ended in Bhagat Singh receiving his execution sentence. Before the Assembly bombings, Bhagat Singh had been involved in the shooting of police officer John Saunders, in connection to the death of freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai. At that time he and his associates had escaped, but after Bhagat Singh was awarded a life sentence for the Assembly bombing, a series of investigations led to his rearrest as part of the Saunders murder case. It was this trial— generally regarded as unjust— that led to his much protested execution sentence.

Bhagat Singh was hanged to death on the eve of March 23rd, 1931 and he was just twenty-three years old.

Despite the criticism he received for his actions, his execution sentence was widely opposed and many attempts were made to challenge it. In fact, his execution came on the eve of the Congress party’s annual convention, as protests against it worsened. He was memorialised nationwide as a martyr, and is often addressed with the honorific Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh.

Apart from being a socialist, Bhagat Singh was attracted to communist and anarchist causes as well. In ‘To Young Political Workers,’ his last testament before his death, he called for a “socialist order” and a reconstruction of society on a “new, i.e, Marxist basis.” He considered the government “a weapon in the hand of the ruling class”, which is reflected in his belief that Gandhian philosophy only meant the “replacement of one set of exploiters for another.” Additionally, he wrote a series of articles on anarchism, wanting to fight against mainstream miscontrusions of the word and explain his interest in anarchist ideology.

Bipin Chandra, who wrote the introduction to Why I am an Atheist by Bhagat Singh | Source: Wikimedia

While writing the introduction to Bhagat Singh’s remarkable essay Why I am an Atheist in 1979, Late Bipan Chandra described the Marxist leaning of Bhagat Singh and his associates in the following way;

Bhagat Singh was not only one of India’s greatest freedom fighters and revolutionary socialists, but also one of its early Marxist thinkers and ideologues. Unfortunately, this last aspect is relatively unknown with the result that all sorts of reactionaries, obscurantists and communalists have been wrongly and dishonestly trying to utilise for their own politics and ideologies the name and fame of Bhagat Singh and his comrades such as Chandra Shekhar Azad.”

Bhagat Singh is often admired and celebrated for his dedication to the cause of liberation. However his socialist, communist and anarchist beliefs were suppressed by the successive governments in Independent India. This in a way is the suppression of a revolutionary who has the potential to inspire, unite and motivate the growing population of a spectrum of activists all over India, in direct response to the fast-spreading divisiveness and intolerance in the country, often patronised by the groups and organizations professing the right-wing fascist ideology.

Bhagat Singh’s dreams of a new social order live on, not just in his writings, but also reflected in the hearts of every activist, protester, and dissenting citizen. The fight for freedom, revolution, Inquilab, may have changed in meaning, but it is far from over.

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