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By-polls in demonetized India

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Amid politics over the Modi government’s demonetization drive, results for the by polls held in India’s six states and one Union Territory, announced on November 19, were on expected lines but the national ruling party BJP and its leader PM Modi seem to have failed to make any impact of its seriousness about the blackmoney drive with deadly negative consequences for the people on the national scene.

Indians are not much impressed by the Modi government’s anti-corruption move, though they want to make India free from rampant corruption to which the ruling parties, including the BJP, have driven the nation by promoting their own corporate favorites.

The government has not begun tracking the mafia networks spread in every field and domain across the nation. How can one expect the government to be sincere and honest when all sorts of fixings are allowed cricket, for example? Politicians also mint money from promoting fake cricket meant only to “garner” 50s and 100?

The abrupt announcement by PM Modi in the night, as the results of US presidency poll was pouring in, of ban on big currency notes without any homework on PM government’s part, has turned the nation upside down as people began running for cash. Modi and BJP did divert the Indian attention from US poll impact, but at a huge cost for the people and nation.

Conducted 10 days after the demonetization drive and held across six states and one Union Territory, the bypolls were seen largely as not exactly a referendum on Prime Minister’s daring move, however. The results succinctly explain the high frustration levels of opposition parties in MP and Assam who seem at their wits’ end to stop the Narendra Modi juggernaut. People suffer but the BJP run states have managed the show somehow.

In Tamil nadu, AIADMK sweeps the polls held in three Assembly constituencies– Thanjavur, Aravakurichi and Thiruparankundram. AIADMK wins by 26,483 votes on Thanjavur Assembly seat. In Puducherry CM Narayanasamy of Congress party wins Nellithope seat. Puducherry CM V Narayanasamy of the Congress defeated his AIADMK rival Om Sakthi Sekhar. Narayanasamy wins the Nellithope by a margin of 11,144 votes in the Puducherry by-election. The Puducherry incumbent CM secured 18,709 votes against Om Sakthi Sekhar’s 7,565 votes, out of a total of 26,564 votes polled. Narayanasamy, who did not contest in the 16 May elections, asked to be elected to the assembly within six months and took charge as the chief minister on 6 June, 2016. Lt Governor Kiran Bedi had administered the oath of office and secrecy to Narayanasamy and to five ministers

Trinamool Congress’ Dibyendu Adhikari wins Tamluk Lok Sabha seat by 4,97,528 votes. Trinamool Congress won Cooch Behar Lok Sabha seat.

BJP wins Shahdol Lok Sabha seat and retained the Nepanagar Assembly seat in Madhya Pradesh with party candidate Manju Dadu winning defeating her nearest Congress rival Antar Singh Barde by a margin of 42,198 votes- smaller margin than before. In Madhya Pradesh, BJP’s victory margin in Shahdol Lok Sabha came down to 60,000 from 2, 41,301 in the 2014 general elections. It bagged the Nepanagar Assembly seat, where it increased its winning margin to 42,198 votes as against 22,178. In Assam, BJP got the Lakhimpur Lok Sabha seat, Congress lost.

In BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, the party retained Shahdol Lok Sabha and Nepanagar Assembly seats at the cost of Congress. BJP’s Gyan Singh defeated Congress candidate Himadri Singh of Congress in Shahdol by a margin of over 60,000 votes. In the Nepanagar Assembly seat, BJP’s Manju Dadu defeated Congress rival Antar Singh Barde by a margin of 42,198 votes. The Shahdol Parliamentary seat fell vacant after the death of BJP’s Dalpat Singh Paraste.

In Assam, another BJP-ruled state, the party bagged both the Lok Sabha and Assembly seats. According to PTI, Pradan Barua retained the Lakhaimpur LS seat, defeating Congress’s Hema Prasanga Pegu by a massive 1, 90, 219 votes. The seat was vacated by Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. BJP’s Mansing Rongpi, who had deserted the Congress in July, won the Baithalangso Assembly seat beating nearest Congress rival Ruponsing Ronghang by 16,600 votes. In Arunachal Pradesh, BJP-backed Dasingu Pul, wife of former chief minister Kalikho Pul who committed suicide in August, won the Anjaw assembly seat by 944 votes beating Independent candidate Yompi Kri.

Interestingly, the Congress party which promoted indirectly the Hindutva parties to threaten and terrorize Muslim minority as it hidden national policy has bit the dust as the BJP has wiped the Congress party out of the scene.

By polls were spread across six states — Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Tripura, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu — and one Union Territory, Puducherry, and had evoked additional curiosity in political and social circles because they were held exactly 10 days after the decision to discontinue Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes. Poll patterns and results were expected to be indicative of the popular mood, whether people have not yet fully lost trust in Modi and his capacity to deliver. But though the demonetization drive has been hard on people, forcing thousands to endure hours in queues at ATMs and banks, results of the bypoll can be considered as people continuing to be patient with the government and its policies. So although it’s perhaps too early to take it as a popular thumbs-up, it can still be considered that people tend to think of the move as being for the long-term popular good.

As expected, Trinamool Congress won both seats in West Bengal; three seats in Tamil Nadu went to AIADMK, proving that chief minister J Jayalalitha may have been in hospital for over a month, but her popular connect remains intact. Two Assembly seats in Tripura were won by the CPM, but the BJP did enjoy a massive upward swing in the vote share, while Congress’ share has ebbed to insignificant levels. BJP also has received encouraging trends coming in from Arunachal Pradesh and West Bengal.

In West Bengal, Trinamool Congress retained the Tamluk and Cooch Behar Lok Sabha and Monteshwar Assembly seats by huge margins, prompting Mamata Banerjee to say that the results were “a revolt against demonetization”. The Bengal CM’s comments are a stretch because if we look at the vote swing, as psychologist and CVoter founder Yashwant Deshmukh demonstrated on Twitter, the BJP with 21 percent votes has registered a positive swing of 10 percent relegating CPM, who suffered a massive downswing of 21 percent, to a miserable third place. Notwithstanding Mamata’s bluster, BJP seems to have gained in Bengal. In Tripura, the CPIM-led Left Front retained one seat and wrested another from the Congress. CPM’s Biswajit Datta defeated TMC’s Manoj Das by 16,094 votes in Khowai while in Barjala, CPM youth leader Jhumu Sarkar defeated BJP’s Shista Mohan Das by 3,374 Votes. CPI (M) wins both Barjala and Khowai Assembly seats in Tripura.

Trinamool Congress is firmly footed and enjoys all honors by winning seats, claiming it was a vindication of their stand on demonetization, as ruling parties in six states and Puducherry held sway in by-elections, retaining most of the 10 Assembly seats up for grabs. Trinamool Congress swept Tamluk and Coochbehar Lok Sabha constituencies in West Bengal by a whopping margin of over 4.9 lakh votes, almost doubling the gap from 2014 polls. Trinamool also won the Monteswar assembly seat with candidates of CPM, Congress and BJP losing their deposits. The ruling CPI (M) in Tripura wrested Barjala (SC) seat from Congress and retained Khowai.

In Tamil Nadu, AIADMK, whose supremo Jayalalithaa is hospitalised for two months, retained Thanjavur and Thirupparankundram Assembly seats and wrested Aravakkurichi seat from DMK by margins ranging from 20,000 votes to 42,000. Senior Congress leader and Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy won the bypoll to Nellithope Assembly seat defeating AIADMK’s Om Sakthi Segar by a margin of 11,144 votes.

The BJP retained Parliamentary seats in Sahdol, Madhya Pradesh and Lakhimpur in Assam. BJP won the Lakhimpur Lok Sabha seat in Assam, vacated by Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, by a margin of 1,90,219 votes and Shahdol Lok Sabha seat in Madhya Pradesh, both ruled by the party.

Hindutva leader BJP is making gains in Arunachal Pradesh a state bordering China where military altercations do take place occasionally and China claims the state. In fact, BJP makes inroads in all states that border or have proximity with neighboring nations like Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, etc. That was well planned and orchestrated by the ruling parties Congress and BJP. North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) candidate Dasanglu Pul of BJP won Hayuliang assembly by-poll in Arunachal Pradesh defeating her lone rival Yompi Kri, an independent candidate, by 942 votes. Pul is the youngest of the three wives of former chief minister Kalikho Pul. The bypoll was necessitated by his suicide. BJP leader and Union Minister Ananth Kumar said the BJP’s win in the bypolls showed that people have endorsed the government’s decision against black money and corruption. “BJP’s victory in by-polls is a clear indication that people are fully supporting the decision to demonetize Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes. It is people’s mandate for the Prime Minister’s decision of demonetization.”

West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee, however, termed the by-election result as a mandate against the Centre’s decision of demonetization. “The by-election result is a befitting reply against the anti-people demonetization by the Modi government. It’s a people’s revolt, rather a mass revolt against the Centre. BJP should take lessons from this mandate,” she told newsmen in Kolkata before leaving for New Delhi to join the protest by the Opposition.

Good news was delivered to Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa at Chennai’s Apollo Hospital today, with her party the AIADMK sweeping all three seats where by-elections were held on Saturday. While the AIADMK has retained the Thiruparankundram seat, which fell vacant after the party’s sitting lawmaker S M Seenivel died not long after being elected in May this year, it has also won Aravakurichi and Thanjavur, where assembly elections were cancelled amid allegations that both the AIADMK and the DMK candidates tried to bribe voters.

The chief minister has thanked voters as ecstatic AIADMK workers celebrated the victory across the state. “The by-poll victory gives me boundless joy and enthusiasm. The victory proves yet again that people are on my side. My work will continue in tune with people’s expectation,” Ms Jayalalithaa reportedly said in a statement from hospital. In her first statement since she was hospitalized on September 22, Ms Jayalalithaa had said last week that she was “waiting to hear news of an election victory,” and had encouraging the party to work hard for a win. She had described her recovery as a “rebirth” and thanked people’s prayers for it in that statement, saying was “waiting to fully recover and resume work soon.”

The chief minister has been treated for an acute lung infection and in multiple heath updates in the past few days, Apollo hospital has reported that she is better and can be discharged whenever she chooses to be. As by-elections were held, Ms Jayalalithaa was shifted to special room from the intensive critical care unit where she had been for weeks on respiratory support. The hospital said last week that she needs minimum time on the ventilator now. As before, the Finance Minister O Panneerselvam has been holding charge in Ms Jayalalithaa’s absence, chairing cabinet meetings and looking after the eight departments that she personally handled. With today’s wins, the AIADMK now has 138 seats in the 234 house assembly. In assembly elections held earlier this year, Ms Jayalalithaa had won an unprecedented second straight term as chief minister, her fourth.

The only consolation for the Congress is from the Union Territory of Puducherry, where Chief Minister V Narayansamy won.

Assembly poll in Uttar Pradesh is the big challenge the BJP is facing now. PM Modi and “friends” do not think that the results mean that they can now go to the people in a confident frame of mind, particularly in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh. Demonization drive has annoyed the people of the state as well. The party has several hurdles to cross and the problem of cash paucity has disrupted the daily life of ordinary citizens and even if the situation returns to normalcy, people would not forgive the BJP ad Modi if the stated anti-corruption and anti-blackmoney objectives are achieved.

The outcomes for 14 seats (four parliamentary and 10 Assemblies) clearly reveal that the people are closely watching the moves of the BJP and PM Modi and if they are allowed to suffer they would not hesitate to use their axe on BJP at the appropriate time. And they have done it before as in Delhi elections showed where both national parties that ruled the national capital state alternatively have been driven out of the state. Delhi people exposed the hidden nexus between Congress and BJP and reelected the Aam Admi Party of Kejriwal.

The story is that BJP now does not continue as a party on the rise and efforts of Congress to regain its lost ground have failed too. Since Congress never supports Muslims and remains essentially an anti-Muslim outfit like the BJP, Muslims have deserted it long ago. This slide has cost the party heavily in national and state elections. But now Congress is focused on somehow regaining the Hindu votes and hence it does not criticize the criminalism of Hindus and demolition of Babri Mosque which was originally the Congress party’s agenda but very tactfully handed over to BJP and other Hindutva outfits trying to destabilize the national ethos of Indian secularism propounded by Mahatma Gandhi till his last breath.

In fact both Congress and BJP – essentially the fake cricket parties- jointly make mockery of Gandhiism.

If the by-elections were a gauge of public mood on demonetization, it does not seem to be firmly behind the party or PM Modi. How can anion support when stiffens? And if the polls were a personal test for Modi, he has only complicated the life of common people of India. People have lost their savings unable to use it as the government is using it to promote corporate interests in India and abroad having suffered a lot, people want to see the results as quickly as possible. India is reeling.

PM Modi and RSS-BJP duo cannot take the nation for an easy ride as they have launched what became an the “axe” on Indian people without enough preparation for an alternative mode of cash operation or new sets of currency to replace the old ones withdrawn by the government over night. Banks then supplied Rs 2000 but people cannot do anything with that as no changes were available in shops.

People cannot be fooled just like, you see by bad political gimmicks that negatively affect normal life of common folk. .

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Increasing Data Accessibility and Usability for Prosperous Nepal

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Over 75 Nepali professionals from the academia, media, and private and non-profit sectors successfully completed the first phase of the Nepal Data Literacy Program today.

The first of the three-phase data literacy program which began on 23 June provided 40 hours of classroom-based introductory lessons on data analysis, visualization and data-driven decision making and storytelling to participants.

An initiative of the World Bank’s ‘Partnership for Knowledge-based Poverty Reduction and Shared Prosperity Project’ supported by DFID, the Nepal Data Literacy Program aims to sustainably transfer data literacy skills to Nepali professionals to strengthen their capacity to proactively engage in evidence-based policy making, increase data literacy of Nepalis, and support federalism in the country.

“Data literacy is an essential skill in today’s data driven world, especially for Nepal as the country works towards implementing its development vision,” stated Faris Hadad-Zervos, World Bank Country Manager for Nepal. “This presents a unique opportunity to build a consortium of data institutions from the public and private sectors and civil society to support evidence-based policymaking and innovations for the economic growth and wellbeing the people of Nepal.”

The curriculum developed through this course has been published in an open source format to be adapted and used to increase data literacy capacity for groups of diverse backgrounds. With the completion of the training, the participants are expected to provide data literacy training to their colleagues within their organizations while representatives from the academia are expected to incorporate concepts from the data literacy program in their existing courses.

“I have been impressed to see participants’ engagement at the program and to hear them voice their dedication toward engaging in evidence-based policy-making discourse. It was also really heartening to see the impact of the training on participants who came in quite nervous but went away much more confident in their ability to use data with new skills they had gained,” reflected Craig Irwin, Statistics Advisor, DFID UK in Nepal.

The next two subsequent phases of the program scheduled for July to September of 2019 will cover intermediate lessons and guide participants in writing contextual analysis papers and blog posts to get hands-on experience with data-driven storytelling and decision making.    

On the sidelines of the program, an interactive workshop on Open Government Data with officials from the Government of Nepal was also organized in Kathmandu on 26 June under this project in collaboration with the World Bank’s Public Financial Management Multi-Donor Trust Fund. The workshop discussed the importance of Open Government Data in accelerating government priorities and increasing access to government data in Nepal, together with ideas to pilot initiatives to increase quality use of government data in the country.

“Open Government Data has enormous potential in Nepal, and I look forward to partnering with the World Bank to make our data publicly available in a user-friendly way so everyone can benefit more from our data,” said Ramesh Siwakoti, Joint Financial Comptroller General.

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Afghan returnees face economic difficulties, unemployment

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Afghan refugees who returned to Afghanistan between 2014 and 2017 tend to be worse off financially and face multiple economic difficulties compared to refugees who stayed in Pakistan, finds a new joint report by the World Bank and UNHCR in Afghanistan.

The report entitledLiving Conditions and Settlement Decisions of Recent Afghan Returnees” is the first joint report resulting from the collaboration between UNHCR Afghanistan and the World Bank. The report analyzes the living conditions of the large Afghan refugee population that returned from Pakistan between 2014 and 2017.

The report shows that despite high poverty and limited employment opportunities, most Afghans returned to their home provinces, with Kabul and Nangarhar provinces together hosting a third of all returnees. According to the report findings, Afghans living in their province of origin were more likely to be employed, benefitting from established social ties. Lower access to education and healthcare services are other challenges faced by returnees and host communities, the report highlights.

“The living conditions of Afghan returnees are extremely challenging and require deep and urgent attention,” said Henry Kerali, World Bank Country Director for Afghanistan. “To understand the fundamental needs and challenges Afghan returnees face in their daily lives and to identify and agree on the best ways of addressing those challenges, access to accurate data and analysis is key. Our joint report with UNHCR helps increase coordination among partners and improve the work in support of Afghan returnees.”

In 2019, we are marking 40 years of Afghan displacement, and while several programs are in place to assist returnees and facilitate their sustainable reintegration in Afghanistan, much remains to be done,” said UNHCR’s Representative in Afghanistan, Caroline Van Buren. “The data and analysis in this report will be crucial to UNHCR and our partners, including the Government of Afghanistan, as we try to improve the way we support Afghan returnees.

The report assesses the existing challenges and identifies opportunities to further enhance returnees’ sustainable reintegration within Afghanistan’s socio-economic landscape. It recommends focusing on the voluntary and gradual repatriation of Afghan refugees as a long-term solution to forced displacement and encourages the Government of Afghanistan and its partners to put in place measures to facilitate the return in safety and dignity. The findings of the report will contribute to further expanding the close collaboration between UNHCR and the World Bank, including on projects that promote self-reliance and support the development of community infrastructure.

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A New Boost for Fiscal Federalism in Nepal

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World Bank Country Manager for Nepal, Faris H. Hadad-Zervos, and Secretary, Lal Shanker Ghimire during the project signing. Photo: Akash Shrestha/World Bank

The World Bank has renewed support to the Government of Nepal to strengthen the country’s efforts towards fiscal federalism and improving public financial management under the Second Programmatic Fiscal and Public Financial Management Development Policy Credit Project. The $100 million project is geared towards the accomplishment of reform actions coordinated by the Ministry of Finance which was built on reforms supported under the first Development Policy Credit project. The agreement was signed today at the Ministry of Finance by Secretary, Lal Shanker Ghimire and the World Bank Country Manager for Nepal, Faris H. Hadad-Zervos.

“We are thankful for the support of the World Bank and development partners in the ongoing and dynamic process of federalism in Nepal,” stated Secretary Lal Shanker Ghimire. “Coordination and capacity are one of the primary pillars for the success of Nepal’s three-tier government and it is important we build accountability with responsibility in our pursuance of the country’s development objectives.”

This project supports reforms to advance Nepal’s federalism agenda, under two pillars. The first pillar supports measures to establish fiscal federalism through various legislations, policies and regulations. An umbrella legislation, enacted at the federal level, will guide budget execution and improve the accounting and financial reporting framework, and will form the basis of model laws to be adopted by local governments, to govern their budget processes.

The second pillar supports reforms to strengthen the policy framework for public financial management at the subnational levels. This will be achieved through legislation and regulations that govern the budget cycle and promotes transparency and accountability to citizens, guides preparation of the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework, strengthens expenditure control, and supports the development of a revenue collection system. These reforms also include gender responsive budgeting, and measures to address Nepal’s vulnerability to climatic shocks and improve disaster risk management.

“Nepal’s transition to a federal state is an ambitious agenda and the World Bank Group is committed to support the government in fulfilling this goal,” stated Faris H. Hadad-Zervos, World Bank Country Manager for Nepal. “The sustainability of the proposed reforms under this budget support is a critical aspect. The partnership between the government and development partners will further enable strengthening of public institutions, inclusion and resilience as Nepal progresses with the federalism agenda.”

This project builds on the reforms supported by the first Development Policy Credit to establish the legal frameworks to govern resource allocation across the three tiers of government and guide operations of local governments. It also supported measures to strengthen budget execution and public financial management systems at the federal level.

Nepal’s transition to a federal state aims to bring services closer to the people and to increase the government’s effectiveness in the delivery of social and infrastructure services.

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