First Voice, Last Word

Hindustan Times - HT Smartcast

In this weekly podcast on Indian politics. host Sunetra Choudhury, National Political Editor for Hindustan Times talks about her 2 decades of experience and realization that politics is often like reality TV, full of dramatic personalities making strategic moves. So, get ready as we take you inside the corridors of power to understand what the Netas are talking about and how their moves ripple effect on us. This is a Hindustan Times podcast, produced by HT Smartcast.

Gyanvapi and the fight for Places of Worship
6d ago
Gyanvapi and the fight for Places of Worship
This month, a court in Varanasi upheld the maintainability of a case filed by five Hindu women, demanding the right to pray and access to the Gyanvapi mosque. The mosque authorities are challenging the case in Supreme Court because they feel that this please will open a pandora's box and is essentially against the Places of Worship Act of 1991. The fight between Hindu and Muslim parties at Gyanvapi began exactly two years after the Supreme Court allowed the building of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya in 2019. In this week's podcast, we speak to one of the five Hindu petitioners, Manju Vyas about how the case started. Manju says it's when she realized that she could only visit the Shringar Gauri deity inside the mosque once a year. ''We all met while visiting the Shringar Gauri temple. It used to open up once every year. I was not sure about the exact place where I could get a ‘darshan’. I saw others praying at the outer premises. I was confused and started gathering information. I discussed this issue with other women. All temples in the nation are opened yearlong and deities are offered ‘bhog’ but people could only pray here from outside," she told HT The Places of Worship Act passed during Narasimha Rao's tenure in 1991 had made it very clear that Ayodhya was an exception and all other religious sites would stick to the same position they had at the time of independence. As the 2019 Ayodhya judgement said, "History and its wrongs shall not be used as instruments to oppress the present and the future,” Lawyers like Shadaan Farasat, who have tracked the case closely, believe that the Gyanvapi case may encourage other groups to challenge the status quo-"I do feel that the Ayodhya judgment has given a lot of energy and force to entities and groups who wanted to pursue such actions. Although the Ayodhya judgment and the Babri judgment itself recognise that this is clearly a one-off and for other matters, the Places of Worship Act protects and prevents such actions, but clearly that seems to have not happened. When the matter itself went to the Supreme Court, at that stage it was not fully stopped by the Supreme Court itself in the Gyanvapi case, lying on its own judgment. I think given all of that, the parties definitely feel that there are opportunities to initiate these kinds of disputes and pursue them." So what does the ongoing litigation mean for each of the parties and for us? Join Sunetra Choudhury as she explores this with all the stakeholders.
DANDI to RAM RATH to BHARAT JODO: What padyatras achieve?
19-09-2022
DANDI to RAM RATH to BHARAT JODO: What padyatras achieve?
On the 7th of September, the Congress party started one of their most ambitious campaigns till date. Led by their former chief and MP Rahul Gandhi, the party launched its mega plan to have workers walk from Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of the country to Srinagar in the North, covering 3500 km in 12 states over 150 days. The message was simple- to expose the BJP government's divisive policy with the countering slogan of - Bharat Jodo or Uniting India. Till now they're only in the second state, but already it's generating a lot of attention- from whether their accommodations and clothes are modest enough to the people that are meeting them along the way. The key question to consider is-will it hurt the Modi government at all? The idea of padyatra as a form of political express really started with Mahatma Gandhi in 1930. Bapu launched the Dandi March as part of his larger civil disobedience movement against the British. As our history books have taught us, Gandhi asked why the British had banned Indians from locally producing salt, forcing them instead to buy the imported variety that was heavily taxed and expensive. It was an issue that was festering for years, and when Gandhi decided to walk from his Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad to the coast in Dandi to make the salt, it set the ball rolling on a greater movement against the British. Political researcher and columnist Asim Ali joined Sunetra to explain how the crowds that the Mahatma drew with his walk and mingling with masses, inspired all the other padyatras that followed. He also explained some of the intrinsic factors that the Dandi March had which contributed to its success. ``Gandhi showed that for this sort of political mobilisation to succeed - message and medium need to be in sync. You need two things-one, you need a big message and two, you need a reason as to why you’re choosing this medium as opposed to others,'' said Ali. The next big padyatra was the one by Janata Party leader Chandrashekhar in 1983 to campaign against the Indira Gandhi government. He too started from Kanyakumari but he took a much longer route, covering more than 4000 kilometres, gathering crowds along the way. The impact wasn't very obvious because other factors like Indira Gandhi's assassination soon overtook events, but it's still remembered as the last, most ambitious on-foot campaign, and even Prime Minister Modi paid tributes to his efforts recently. The efforts of BJP veteran LK Advani are very strongly embedded in our memory but the key question is what is the end gain out of such large-scale efforts. ``The yatra that Advani Ji undertook and the huge response it received from people, it should have opened the eyes of Congres and others that this is an issue that is at the very heart of Hindu aspirations,'' said his former aide and activist Sudheendra Kulkarni. Listen to First Voice, Last Word to understand how the Bharat Jodo measures up to these earlier efforts.
The making of a new Parliament
12-09-2022
The making of a new Parliament
On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the new Central Vista, the area in the Capital which marks the power centre with Rashtrapati Bhawan on one end and India Gate at the other, and all important government offices in the vicinity. The inauguration last week also heralds the end of another landmark- the 100-year-old Parliament building. In this episode of First Voice, Last Word, Sunetra Choudhury tells you all you need to know about this change. For instance, did you know that it was this circular Parliament building which also used to be the location of the Supreme Court of India? PRS legislative's Chakshu Roy tells us that the two institutions shared the same space till Supreme Court got its own building a few kilometres away. In fact, even the UPSC's predecessor, the federal service commission was also in the same building. Parliament sessions would be held here in winter, while in the summer, everyone would work from Shimla. However, as this colonial summer getaway didn't work post-independence, the building needed constant updates- from air conditioning, to phone lines to finally, the internet age. Till finally, the current government decided that it was time to move to a brand new building. This move has left all the MPs feeling very nostalgic. We speak to BJP's Prakash Javdekar, NCP's Supriya Sule and Congress' Kamal Nath. ``This round-shaped Parliament has a peculiar architecture and we enjoyed a lot. I used to take walk whenever I get time. The total round shape is 650 steps and that used to give us, 2 rounds make 1 km. That’s how we used to take 4,5,6 rounds whenever time permits. I found this habit with Ghulam Nabi Azad. He also used to take rounds and we used to chat,'' said Javdekar. ``I can’t explain it in words but, you know, you are so proud of hearing the national anthem if we hear it or sing it. Especially, when you hear it in Parliament, I don’t know happens, but it’s something very very special. I think, it emotionally just brings up all the moments one has read about, seen in visuals. Tallest leaders from all party sides, all ideologies have taken this vibrant democracy of 75 years that we are celebrating. I think, it all starts from there, the real story starts from that building. It’s a beautiful building because it’s even an architectural marvel,'' said NCP's Supriya Sule, who followed father's footsteps into Parliament. One of the longest serving MPs, Kamal Nath said, ``We need modernity but do we need a new building? You could build another annexe. I remember the annexe was built. When I joined Parliament there was no annexe then there was a new annexe. Because you don't play around with history.''
An officer and a lady: 30 year fight for equality in the Armed Forces
05-09-2022
An officer and a lady: 30 year fight for equality in the Armed Forces
2022 marks the 30th anniversary of the moment that the Indian Army started inducting women in branches other than the medical corps. This historic moment in 1992 was just the beginning of the journey that women would chart in the armed forces, with a slow progression to the present time where women are also allowed as personnel below officer rank (PBOR). It's been an epic journey, especially for the 615 women who fought for the permanent commission because the Ministry of Defence only allowed women to work for Short Service Commissions (SSC) which was initially just five years of service and then was gradually increased to 14 years of service. From 2003 to 2020, these pioneer women fought a long, lonely battle for equality, to get the same pay, same perks as their male peers. Even after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced it as a policy division in 2018, that women would be given permanent commission, it was still blocked in other ways in courts. In this week's episode, Sunetra Choudhury tells the story of the fight that went from Delhi High Court to Supreme Court. She also speaks to four women officers to tell their journey as SSC officers and what they feel about women getting equal rights and studying in the National Defence Academy for the first time. The podcast features : Greeshma Mannari, joined Indian Army under SSC in 2000 and served in the Western Sector Lt. Commander Seema Verma, joined Navy in 1993 and left in 2006 ahead of her 14 year tenure Sq Leader Sumedha Chopra who joined the Air Force in 2009 and completed her tenure of 14 years service Sq Leader Varlin Panwar who served for 10 years as fighter controller in the Indian Air Force
2012-2022: Congress’ decade of decline
29-08-2022
2012-2022: Congress’ decade of decline
The Congress is confronting its most serious crisis in its electoral history since 1951. Since the 2019 debacle in the Lok Sabha elections, the second in a row, it has not won a majority in a single state assembly election on its own. From 400 plus MPs in Lok Sabha in 1984, the current number of parliamentarians including the Rajya Sabha ones, is just 84 out of a total of 793. Never before in the history of the party, have, they had this low of fewer than 100 seats in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. In all the states across India, Congress has 695 MLAs while the BJP which has almost double that with 1383 MLAs. It's not surprising since they didn't win even one of the 5 states that saw elections recently — Uttar Pradesh (UP), Uttarakhand, Goa, Punjab and Manipur What's exacerbating the problem is the constant exit of high-profile leaders, the most recent is Ghulam Nabi Azad but there has been a flood- Jyotiraditya Scindia, RPN Singh, Sushmita Dev, Sunil Jakhar are just some of the leaders who have left for either the BJP or because they see no future in the Grand old party. The exits and public outbursts have become a major problem for the party trying to invent itself with a Bharat Jodo Yatra. Rahul Gandhi will walk from Southern India to the North, in an effort to galvanise people against the BJP but it's more of a non-political effort. The yatra will come also in the midst of the Congress' organisational elections and the Congress President will be announced in October. But in this episode, Sunetra Choudhury looks at the larger challenges that the new President faces. Speaking to the author and journalist Rasheed Kidwai, she distils Congress' problems to five major factors- Human Resources, Leadership Confusion, Communication, Lack of modern tools and finally, Funding. Listen for more
The Challenge Of Mamata Banerjee
22-08-2022
The Challenge Of Mamata Banerjee
If there's one person who has challenged the might of the Bhartiya Janata Party in the last year, it's West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The third time chief minister isn't just satisfied at having beaten the BJP severely in the state in the 2021 elections. The 67-year-old hasn't forgotten the way she was taunted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and the entire union cabinet which camped in the state ahead of the elections. On Independence day, Banerjee said that Modi and the BJP will not be returning to power in 2024. It's an assertion that comes after lots of activity in the past few weeks and months. Two of her closest aides Anubrata Mondal and Partha Chatterjee have been arrested by enforcement agencies on corruption charges but like other opposition leaders, Banerjee says it's a clear sign that the BJP is running scared of losing elections and that's why they are targeting her key men and she's not afraid. In this episode, we look at the various aspects of the Trinamool Congress versus Bhartiya Janata Party fight. The BJP may not have won Bengal, but they did manage to win 77 seats last year, which was a major jump from the 3 seats they held in the previous election. The BJP also won 18 of the 42 seats in the 2019 elections and if they improve this in 2024, it will be a major stepping stone towards the central rule. So, who's right- Mamata or Modi? We look at what the two have in common (you'd be surprised at how much they share) and where key differences lie. We also look at how Hindutva was tweaked in Bengal and now how it's playing out nationally. And finally, we look at the role of Abhishek Banerjee, her nephew and the party's general secretary with his national ambition. Journalist and author of Mamata: Beyond 2021 ( Jayanta Ghoshal and senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, Neelanjan Sircar, join HT's Sunetra Choudhury in this episode.
The Switch: Post Mortem of a Nitish-BJP Split
17-08-2022
The Switch: Post Mortem of a Nitish-BJP Split
It's been a week since Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar called it quits on his long-standing ally, the Bhartiya Janata Party(BJP). It's a game-changing moment in politics if ever there was one. That's because the state is extremely political and Kumar's entry into the opposition camp can completely change the game. Or is that just hype? In this episode, host Sunetra Choudhury who has reported on the state since Kumar first came to power in 2005, just focuses on the three principal players in this entire drama- Nitish Kumar, RJD leader and now deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav and their rival, the BJP. The post-mortem finds that out of all three, it is Tejashwi Yadav who stands to be the biggest gainer in this entire episode. He was just 28 when he was taken by surprise and jilted by Nitish Kumar. Five years later, he is far from being just his father's son. Yadav is now the party with the largest numbers in the state and he's got here, without the baggage of having to entice breakaways from the ruling party. Nitish Kumar has switched sides before but is the morality of being a party-hopper, really the most important point in this episode? Maybe not, considering that it comes so soon after the BJP's coup in Maharashtra. What's more pertinent is the manner in which the opposition has used it to launch the 2024 campaign. It is unclear if Kumar will be the opposition's face against Narendra Modi and if that will be a successful bid. However, the 2024 battle has certainly become much more interesting now. Finally, the takeaways for India's ruling party. The episode finds that just a month before the switch, party president JP Nadda had said this about BJP versus regional parties: ``We are such a party that is ideology-based, standing on ideological grounds. I always say this to people, if there was no ideology then we couldn’t have fought this huge fight. Everyone is sold out, and destroyed and those who haven’t will be destroyed. There will be one and only BJP that will exist. There is no such national party to fight against the Bharatiya Janata Party in today’s date. There’s no national party of any ideology left.'' These words have struck deep into the hearts of many party leaders. As Sunetra notes in the podcast, the BJP has been successful to reducing the Congress to a marginal player. So, will it do the same to marginal parties too? In this episode, Sunetra is joined by HCU Professor Tanweer Fazal and journalist Prakash K Rai