Cover Story en Sun Nov 20 12:24:51 IST 2022 congress-president-mallikarjun-kharge-exclusive-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Exclusive Interview/ Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress president</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The crucial Karnataka assembly elections, on May 10, will set the tone for a hectic electoral season culminating in the Lok Sabha polls of 2024. That Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress president, is from the state makes it all the more significant for him that his party defeats the ruling BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview at his Bengaluru home―where he made a pit stop before embarking on another election tour―Kharge spoke to THE WEEK in great detail about not just the Karnataka campaign, but also the national issues that confront him and his party. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Congress has set a target of 150 [of 224] seats in Karnataka. What makes you confident of achieving this target?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>We want nearly 150 because, nowadays, governments with a thin margin are unstable, particularly after the BJP has come to power at the Centre. They are misusing various agencies to topple state governments. They ask MLAs to merge with their party, resign and get re-elected on their ticket. Therefore, we have set a target of 150 seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is there a fear that the BJP could launch ‘Operation Lotus’ in Karnataka yet again?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Their track record is like that. Not only Karnataka, they have done it in Maharashtra, they tried it in Rajasthan, they have done it in Manipur, in Goa. That is why, to have a stable government, it is necessary that we have these many MLAs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ This election must be especially significant for you not just because you are Congress president, but also because this is your home state.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I worked here for nearly 40 years as a legislator, as an opposition leader, as a minister, as state Congress president, and then I went to Delhi as an MP. And now, fortunately, with the blessings of Madam Sonia Gandhi and other delegates, they supported me and I got elected as AICC (All India Congress Committee) president. But I alone cannot bring 150 or a majority. I believe in collective leadership unlike some others who declare <i>‘Main akela hi bhari padta hoon sab pe</i> (I alone am enough for everyone; in reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech in Parliament)’. That shows ego.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We should also recognise the work done by our grassroots-level workers. On the day of polling, our workers have the main role. They are our main pillars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The BJP’s election management is often talked about. How do you plan to counter that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> For five years, all our leaders in the state―our Congress Legislature Party leader, state president and others―have toured entire Karnataka. But yes, I agree that we do not have muscle power or money power or the ED or the CBI. That is with the BJP, and they are misusing the institutions and threatening our people. You must have seen how Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification was carried out with lightning speed, like a surgical strike.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Would the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi as a Lok Sabha member be a factor for the voter in Karnataka?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We do not want to talk about it much here. We will fight in the house and outside through party programmes. Here, we will fight on the issues of Karnataka, like corruption or how the government did not care about law and order or improving infrastructure or bringing in investment. Whatever we have here is because of the previous Congress governments. I saw on television that [Union Home Minister] Amit Shah was talking about bringing a metro [rail system] here. But the metro is already running in Karnataka. They talk about double-engine sarkar, but they do not release money for MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) and other programmes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Would Prime Minister Modi’s campaign make any impact?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> He has visited Karnataka six or seven times in the past three months. Parliament was in session, but he was inaugurating something or the other here. Every government function that the prime minister attended was paid for by the taxpayers and was converted into a campaign rally. But he will be exposed. People will see through his hollow talk. Unfortunately, he does not take questions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Basavaraj Bommai government changed the reservation policy, doing away with reservation for Muslims and rejigging the quota for SC/ST communities and others.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> As for SC/STs, you have to give reservation proportionate to population. That was pending. About quota for the minority community, their status is the same as dalits or backward class people. That is why 4 per cent quota was given by the Congress government. They snatched it. They did this to polarise [voters]. They are insulting the minorities and we are fighting for them. Definitely, when we come to power, we will give reasonable reservation to everybody who needs it, according to the rules.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the alternative model of governance the Congress is offering?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The Congress model of governance has always emphasised on inclusive and equitable growth, industrialisation, and health and education for all. We have given four guarantees: ‘Gruha Jyothi’―200 units of free electricity every month to every household, ‘Gruha Lakshmi’―Rs2,000 each month to the female head of every household, ‘Anna Bhagya’―10kg rice to every member of the family, every month, and ‘Yuva Nidhi’―Rs3,000 for every unemployed graduate and Rs1,500 for every unemployed diploma holder every month for a period of two years. We will implement these guarantees in our first cabinet meeting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There are many chief minister aspirants in the Congress. The focus is especially on the rivalry between Siddaramaiah and D.K. Shivakumar.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Nobody is above the party. Individuals may be aspirants. Ultimately, the legislature party and the high command will decide who the chief minister should be. I congratulate both of them (Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar). They are working for the party. There are others also whose names may not be coming to the forefront. We have good teamwork.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is there a possibility that you could become the next chief minister of Karnataka?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>No. I have worked for the party for 52 years. If a man, when he wanted or desired something, did not get it at the time, there is no point in coming back to it. I have gone to the Himalayas. Now, I do not want to come to Kanniyakumari. As Congress president, I am responsible for bringing the Congress to power in the state elections and eventually at the Centre in 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will this remain an unfulfilled dream then?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Part unfulfilled. When I joined the party in 1969, it was because Indira Gandhi’s 10-point programme and Nehruvian ideology attracted me. I became block Congress president, DCC (District Congress Committee) president, PCC (Pradesh Congress Committee) president and now AICC president. If the ideology I believe in is implemented by X or Y, that is enough for me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So you are saying that you are above the fray?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>It is like [the life of] Babasaheb Ambedkar. He did not become prime minister. He was not aspiring to be cabinet minister. His sole objective was to get into the constituent assembly and fight for dalits’ rights. That is my motto, too. Article 371J (granting special status to backward districts in Karnataka), which I brought, no chief minister could have done.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you feel the Karnataka elections are going to be important in terms of national politics?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> If the Congress wins here, its effect will definitely be all-India. The mood of the people will be known. And apart from that, also whether people want change or the same corrupt government and the politics of exploiting caste and religious sentiments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Bharat Jodo Yatra passed through Karnataka. In this election, are you seeing any impact of the yatra?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yes. There is tremendous impact. Rahul Gandhi’s yatra united people and created awareness in the country, not only for the Congress. It awakened citizens to their rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The yatra had one of the longest spells in Karnataka. From the first week of last October, our leaders and cadres have been active on ground.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Has it had an impact on Rahul Gandhi’s own image as a leader?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Some people are determined to destroy his image. While we in the party always knew about his commitment to people’s causes, and his fearlessness, what has been a revelation to the world is his resolve and endurance. He walked 4,000km at a stretch, meeting and interacting with millions of people. He brought the cadre and civil society from across the country together. He is our force unifier. The impact of the yatra has been huge. That is why the response from the BJP government also has been so huge. Every day, the BJP deploys a dozen Union ministers and chief ministers only to comment on Rahul Gandhi. These people who cannot walk even 50km criticise him and say he was born with a silver spoon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why does the BJP criticise only him? Because in their mind, if the image of Sonia ji or Rahul ji is damaged, the entire Congress will be finished.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will there be part two of the Bharat Jodo Yatra soon?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Yes, the second phase will be there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Congress says Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification as MP is political vendetta. But the BJP says it is the result of a legal process.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I will give you one instance from Gujarat in 2013. A case was filed against Naranbhai Kachhadiya (MP from Amreli). He slapped a dalit doctor. He was convicted by the magistrate court. His appeal was not upheld in the sessions court. He appealed in the High Court, which also rejected it, and he got punishment of three years and 10 months. Modi was kind enough to continue him as an MP. Not only that, in 2019, he was again given a ticket. So, you have one law for your man, another law for the opposition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul Gandhi is speaking the truth. You do not tolerate it. You want to finish him. He should not attend Parliament, that is your motive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Okay, that is in the hands of law. But why did you ask him to vacate his house within 30 days? You did not ask the others, your pet people. You gave them an extension. [Even] his phone was disconnected that very day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Any concerns that he might not be able to contest the 2024 Lok Sabha elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The fact that he is the only person in India’s history to have been sentenced to two years for defamation makes it a case of disproportionate punishment. We are confident that the honourable judges will notice this. He specifically mentioned three names. None of them filed a case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The disqualification has brought opposition parties together. You hosted a dinner meeting for them.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We want to unite all of them to save democracy, protect the Constitution and protect citizens’ rights. Whoever wants to support this idea can join in. I am thankful to all the political parties. They responded well and put forth their views. We are trying to call everybody and have unity based on a common minimum programme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Leaders like Nitish Kumar and Sharad Pawar have talked about reaching out to parties like the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Trinamool Congress. Can some electoral understanding be possible with these parties?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I had requested Nitish Kumar (Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (United) chairperson) to talk to some parties with whom he is comfortable. I also requested Pawar ji (Nationalist Congress Party president) to talk to some people who are comfortable with him. Suppose Mamata (West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress chairperson) is comfortable with Nitish or Pawar, let them speak to her. I have also spoken to many people. We are trying our best to unite everybody.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is a proposal about having one opposition candidate per seat against the BJP.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Let us see what programmes come up in the meeting [of opposition parties] after the Karnataka elections. Then I will speak on this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, all likeminded parties have to agree to do so. It is largely possible. Everyone will need to pay a small price, but that price is nothing before the larger cause.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ At the national level, there is this perception that Modi is still unchallenged.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> What percentage of the vote has he secured and what percentage has the opposition secured? He did not cross 50 per cent. He is at hardly 36 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, look at his conduct in Parliament. He is taking Parliament for granted and in turn taking the public for granted. He will not reply to even one question the opposition asks. It is because he knows that if he places wrong information on the floor of the house, he will be challenged unlike in his public rallies. Rahul Gandhi asked him questions, I asked him questions, what was his response? Both our questions got expunged. Finally, Rahul Gandhi is disqualified as MP. Modi is just a PR bubble that will burst one day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In Karnataka, you have spoken about a caste census. Will that be the main plank of the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections, too?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We will talk about it everywhere because a caste census will give you a better idea about forming new schemes. We will know how particular castes have fared after independence, their per capita income, how many are landless, how many are graduates, how many are employed. And then, you will have better planning for those sections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is the Adani issue resonating with the public?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We are not raising the issue much here (Karnataka). We are concentrating on local problems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Beyond Karnataka, would it be a major issue for you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It will, because it is about people’s money being at risk. How they (the Modi government) have behaved so far (with regard to the demand for a joint parliamentary committee to investigate the Adani issue), you people have seen it. They did not even spare journalists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see the revelations made by former Jammu and Kashmir governor Satyapal Malik on the 2019 Pulwama attack?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> If we would have said something, they would say <i>‘Desh drohi jaise baat kar rahe hain’</i> (they are talking like traitors). Their own man is speaking. After all, Prime Minister Modi personally appointed him governor. Now that same person has raised questions related to national security. What Malik has said is very serious.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We stand with the government on all issues of national security, but when a person who was the constitutional authority raises some questions, the government has a duty to be accountable to the nation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In another election-going state, Rajasthan, there is a tussle for power between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his former deputy, Sachin Pilot.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The Congress government in Rajasthan is doing good work. Their landmark decision to announce 19 new districts and the Right to Health Scheme are extremely popular. People have welcomed the old pension scheme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are some issues regarding the demand for investigation into allegations of corruption in the previous Vasundhara [Raje-led BJP] government. I am told that the allegations are being inquired into.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are efforts being made to resolve the differences?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The party is much bigger than an individual. Whatever differences there are will be settled internally. We are confident that all leaders will come together and the Congress will be re-elected.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Congress Working Committee elections did not take place at the Raipur plenary. Political observers call it a lost opportunity.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We had a proper organisational election that proves there is internal democracy in the party. In view of the current circumstances, all AICC members decided to authorise the Congress president to nominate CWC members. It is not a lost opportunity. It is an opportunity to ensure that a CWC that represents all sections of society is in place to guide the party to fight the 2024 elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ It is proving to be a long wait for the new CWC to be formed.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We will do that soon. There were important events, the Bharat Jodo Yatra, the disqualification issue and the JPC, which we were fighting for. Therefore, it got delayed. I realise that. I also feel sorry about that. But we will do it quickly after these elections.</p> Sat Apr 29 09:27:04 IST 2023 congress-unifier-mallikarjun-kharge-responsibilities-strategies <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge has a patriarch-like presence in his party’s Karnataka election campaign. The 80-year-old is leading from the front and has burnt the midnight oil―recently, there were visuals of him and other party leaders coming out of his Delhi residence after a meeting at 2am. Asked about this, he laughed and said that his office usually works late, but added it does not mean work does not start early. “As Congress president, I wanted to make sure that I am not found wanting,” he told THE WEEK. “I wanted the election committee, campaign committee and candidates’ names announced well ahead of time so that the candidates got ample time to campaign.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has been six months since Kharge was elected Congress president―he is the first non-Gandhi to occupy the post in two decades, the second dalit to do so after Jagjivan Ram, the second from Karnataka and the sixth from south India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And it is the southern face-off between the Congress and the ruling BJP in Karnataka that would set the tone for the coming election season. The two parties will be in direct contest in the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, and later in the Lok Sabha elections next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Karnataka, said state Congress leaders, Kharge has a calming effect on a state unit brimming with chief minister aspirants. It is believed that his presence has kept the various factions under check and has soothed nerves. He has also talked disgruntled leaders out of any plans of contesting against the party’s official candidates. Sources close to him, however, insisted that he had not micromanaged the election as he believes in collective decision-making and respects the role assigned to various leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior Congress leader in Karnataka said that Kharge has not been overbearing in ticket allocation, including in Gulbarga, which used to be his parliamentary constituency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is another matter that Kharge, who had in the past aspired to become Karnataka chief minister, has found himself fending off speculation that he could get the top job if the Congress wins.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the party does indeed dethrone the BJP, it would be a huge morale boost for the Congress as it would mean a BJP-less south India. “Mallikarjun Kharge is the senior-most Congress leader in Karnataka and one of the tallest dalit leaders in the country,” said senior Karnataka Congress leader M.B. Patil, who heads the campaign committee. “He is in the same league as Devraj Urs or R. Gundu Rao, considering his political and administrative experience. The Congress in Karnataka will definitely benefit from his guidance.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharge’s political career spanned more than 40 years in Karnataka before he arrived in Delhi as a Lok Sabha member in 2009. The son of a textile mill worker, he is highly regarded for having worked his way up the organisational ladder. He earned the sobriquet ‘Solillada Sardara’ (undefeated chief) for having won 11 elections in a row. He won the assembly elections in Karnataka nine times on the trot between 1972 and 2008. He then won the Lok Sabha elections from Gulbarga in 2009 and 2014, before being defeated in 2019 by a former loyalist who joined the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although he lost out to other leaders in the race to become chief minister at least three times, he did not work against the interests of the party. His loyalty became his USP and it has held him in good stead, especially after he moved to Delhi―he became a cabinet minister in the Manmohan Singh government. When the Congress was reduced to just 44 seats in the Lok Sabha in 2014, he was made the party’s leader in the lower house. After his 2019 loss in Gulbarga, he entered the Rajya Sabha and soon became leader of opposition. And though Kharge’s efforts to revive the Congress’s fortunes have brought him back to his home state, he insists that he will give the same amount of time and attention to every state election. “Whenever elections are held in any state, I will work 24 hours a day to ensure the Congress comes to power,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of these states is Rajasthan, which will go to the polls in December, and where there is a long-running feud between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his former deputy, Sachin Pilot. Setting the house in order is proving to be a difficult task for Kharge―he has to balance the need to back the Gehlot government with the aspirations of Pilot. The younger leader believes he should have been made chief minister in December 2018, when the party had won the assembly elections under his leadership as state party president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources close to Kharge said that, in the run-up to the Rajasthan elections, it is felt that the best bet is to not divert attention from the Gehlot government’s welfare measures. The terse message from the high command to Pilot is that the individual is not as important as the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharge, in his attempt to find a solution, has adopted a consensual approach. He has involved top leaders including Rahul Gandhi, party general secretary in charge of organisation K.C. Venugopal and party in-charge of Rajasthan affairs Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa. Kharge is also believed to have roped in veteran leader Kamal Nath in a bid to get Pilot on board and ensure that he does not get sidelined.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With little over a year left for the Lok Sabha elections, a key item on Kharge’s agenda is opposition unity. He has been convening meetings of opposition parties to work out a common floor strategy in Parliament. As leader of the opposition, he is highly respected in opposition circles and has brought about changes in the way the Congress deals with other parties. He has tried to assuage their concerns about what they feel is the big-brotherly attitude of his party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Kharge had taken over from Ghulam Nabi Azad as the leader of the opposition, other parties were sceptical. Azad had links in all parties and Kharge was a relative outsider. They did not know him personally. Within a week, though, the doubters changed their minds because of the manner in which he reached out to them and conducted meetings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per one opposition leader, it was a pleasant surprise to see that Kharge did not come to meetings with a pre-fixed agenda and would seek the views of the others first. “He has made an effort to ensure that all the parties have a say and the discussions are not led by the Congress,” said the leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharge has said that his party is ready to make sacrifices. He has been open to the idea of Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) chairperson Nitish Kumar and Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar reaching out to parties that are not comfortable sharing space with the Congress; these include the Trinamool Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Bharat Rashtra Samithi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It will, however, be a challenge to work out an electoral understanding with these parties. The state units of the Congress are unlikely to be on the same page as the central leadership on this. Also, parties that see the Congress as rivals in their backyards are also expected to try and diminish its standing in the anti-BJP bloc. For example, Trinamool Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee, after her recent meeting with Nitish, agreed on the need for opposition parties to come together, but suggested that the meeting be held in Patna rather than in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another crucial task on Kharge’s to-do list is reforms in the Congress. There have been no major changes in the organisation so far, and many feel that not holding elections to the Congress Working Committee and opting for the nomination method was a lost opportunity. “Election to the CWC would definitely have been good for the party,” said Congress leader Sandeep Dikshit. “When Mallikarjun Kharge was elected president, AICC delegates felt they were a part of the process. Similarly, had there been an election to the CWC, the delegates would have felt a sense of partnership with regard to the highest decision-making body in the party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Those who defend the nomination decision said it was essential not to ruffle feathers in the election-bound states. Sources close to Kharge said he was personally ready to hold elections to the CWC had it been the collective decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His supporters pointed out that Kharge has succeeded in ‘Congress Jodo’ to a certain extent, bringing on to the stage leaders who were identified with the Group of 23 (who wrote a letter of dissent) and were sidelined. Lok Sabha member Manish Tewari, once a regular at media briefings at the party headquarters, recently held a news conference at the AICC office after more than three years. Similarly, other members of the erstwhile G23, like former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and former Union minister Anand Sharma, too, have been mainstreamed. Also, Kharge took his rival in the Congress’s presidential election, Shashi Tharoor, with him on his plane when he travelled to Nagaland to campaign for the recent assembly elections. However, it remains to be seen if Tharoor will figure in the new CWC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among other reform decisions taken at last year’s Chintan Shivir, implementation of which are pending, was the setting up of an election management department dedicated to poll preparations and a public insight department that would gather feedback from people on different subjects to help with policymaking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Kharge ji as a Congressman has always held party organisation and its workers in the highest esteem,” said Pranav Jha, AICC secretary and coordinator attached to the office of the party president. “He often says that, as Congress president, he is expected to implement the resolutions adopted in Udaipur. He is committed to bringing about inner party reforms and wants to take everyone along in the decision-making process.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The key to Kharge’s functioning is the balance he strikes in his relationship with the Gandhis, especially Rahul. It is evident that Rahul, his leadership credentials burnished by the Bharat Jodo Yatra, will be the face of the Congress in the party’s public outreach. Kharge has to ensure that the organisation lives up to the electoral challenges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharge has the trust of the Gandhis. He has an excellent rapport with Rahul and fiercely defends him. A staunch secularist and a strident critic of the RSS and the BJP, he is also ideologically on the same page as Rahul. When Kharge talks about collective leadership, he is extremely clear that the Gandhi family has a pivotal role to play in it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharge is a unifier, something that his party and the opposition require. But the veteran leader, who was a sportsman in his youth and keenly follows cricket, needs to build partnerships and take the game deep.</p> Sat Apr 29 09:16:47 IST 2023 rohingya-refugee-crisis-bangladesh-cox-s-bazar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Hazy air encircles Camp 11 in the Ukhiya subdistrict of Cox’s Bazar, 400km south of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka. There is ash everywhere, covering the smouldering remains of hutments destroyed in a massive fire on March 6. A cloud of emptiness sits heavy on the inmates. Zuhura Begum’s eyes reflect it: they look vacant, just like the land around her, which hosts the world largest refugee settlement. Nearly 12 lakh Rohingyas from Myanmar live here in multiple camps; everyday life remains a struggle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“What is left?” asks Zuhura, leaning against the bamboo poles that once held her house together. Trying to console her five-month-old baby, Zuhura says she is not able to feed him. “I cannot produce any milk. The rations are not enough.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zuhura, 24, has been surviving on rations from the World Food Programme (WFP) of the United Nations. Her family has no source of income. The fire destroyed her shelter as well. Her only remaining possessions are in a trunk that she carried with her while fleeing Myanmar―mostly documents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A family of four gets about 10 kilograms of rice and lentils each month at the camp. But that is only for those with ration cards, which Zuhura’s family does not have. “We left everything behind in Myanmar and now what little we have is also taken. This is witchcraft,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some distance away, at Camp 4, we meet 25-year-old Anwar Hasan. He thought he had lost everything when he was in his homeland―the Rakhine state of Myanmar, which is about 100km from Cox’s Bazar. Nearly six years after he joined a huge wave of Rohingyas fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh following persecution from Myanmarese authorities, he is now worried about his future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In Rakhine, I lived near a police station and a school,” his memories race back. “On the night of August 25, 2017, security forces arrested a schoolteacher. They took him to the main road and killed him for no reason, in front of many people. After seeing this, people decided to flee. It was not safe anymore.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That day continues to haunt the refugees. “The military and the police started burning down our houses,” says Anwar. “One of the military officers called our local leader and asked him, ‘Which one of you is a terrorist?’ They kept saying that they will burn down our homes unless we identified the terrorist,” says Anwar, who now works as a technical assistant for a microfinance company. “They hate us because we are Muslims.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anwar recalls growing up in the village of Kyun Pauk Pyu Su, where he would play chinlone―Myanmarese football played with a ball made from interwoven pieces of cane. “Our school had a huge playground with a banyan tree. We would sit under its shade when it got too hot. There would be markets twice a week―on Wednesdays and Sundays. We would buy vegetables, fish and meat needed for the week,” Anwar remembers. Suddenly, unhappiness sweeps his eyes. “I don’t like living here. Life was a bit tough in Myanmar, but it was better. Life in the camp is merely survival.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The oppression of the Rohingyas worsened after the junta took over. Sectarian violence between the Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingyas erupted in June 2012. “I was a student then,” says Anwar. In August 2017, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a Muslim militant group, launched assaults on 30 police outposts and an army base. This triggered the brutal military crackdown, in which thousands were killed. Most Rohingyas soon fled across the border to Bangladesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the camps, there are fences everywhere. And they exist in the minds of people as well. Children can be seen scavenging through the debris left by the fire. I hear a scream, “Don’t go there, don’t touch that! It might still be hot!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fear is all pervasive inside the camps. As dusk settles, Fatima Khatun, 21, trundles back home. “It is time to head inside. It is not safe for us (women) after sunset. We live in seasons of fear―of being raped, of fire, of cold during winter, of floods during the monsoon. Then there is the fear of being turned away.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Living in squalid conditions, most refugees are hesitant to call Bangladesh home. It is only a temporary shelter for them, until they “learn to fly out”, in the words of 45-year-old Hasina Begum. For the past five years, they are surviving on handouts from the WFP and support from several NGOs, spending their days in an open prison.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“What kind of lives are we leading? Our children born in the camps have nowhere to go. They have no future,” says Ro Mehrouz, a 23-year-old poet. “They have not seen the inside of a proper school. They probably wouldn’t know that there is life outside. As they live such a life, in such conditions―in fragile homes, surviving on rations―what kind of persons would they be when they grow up? Would they fight for bigger things like their rights, or fight for a drop of water?” asks Mehrouz.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The human instinct makes many of them adjust, and even fight for themselves. At 15, when girls normally gear up for high school, Musana Ara rears pigeons for meat. The sole earning member of her family, she was given 10 pigeons by OBAT Helpers, a US-based non-profit organisation. She recently sold three pairs for about 2,100 taka (Rs1,600).</p> <p><br> Musana spent some of it to buy clothes and gave the rest to her father. Her family consists of five people, including her parents and two brothers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The shelters at her camp are cramped, often a family of seven or nine sharing a room. “It is difficult to prevent infectious diseases caused by overcrowding. There is lack of proper health awareness,” says Dr Jonayed Hossain, a health coordinator. “Some basic facilities are available, but they are not sufficient. Patients are often referred to a hospital in the town for better treatment. The process is time consuming. We also receive a number of patients who need psychological management, but the number of specialists is limited,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hossain recalls his meeting with a victim of marital rape. “Ayesha visited us with her mother. She complained of random pain, lack of sleep and loss of appetite. When the physician asked her more questions, her eyes welled up. After a lot of cajoling and reassurance, she talked of the incident that caused it. It was a case of ‘intimate partner violence’. She was referred for further treatment and counselling.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A doctor attached to OBAT Helpers says women are usually reluctant to report cases of domestic violence. “It is difficult for physicians to confirm whether a patient might have been abused,” he says. Adding to the woes is gang violence. “Dozens of community leaders have come under attack and several have been killed. There are reports of sexual violence, extortion, abduction and forced marriage,” says Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moriam Khan, 60, who came to Bangladesh in 1991 to escape persecution, says she fears for the safety of the women in her family. “The prospect of gang violence makes me anxious. I worry that my shelter might be burned,” says Moriam, who has spent more than three decades in a refugee camp. Fires have become commonplace in the camps. According to a report by the Bangladesh defence ministry, there were 222 fire incidents between January 2021 and December 2022, including 60 cases of arson.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There is no real opportunity for education and jobs, which leaves young people vulnerable to recruitment by criminal groups. In addition, there are various factions among the Rohingyas that target each other. There are groups that engage in human trafficking and smuggling of recreational drugs,” says Ganguly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mehrouz says the Rohingya youth do not abuse drugs. “They are made to carry drugs. Sadly, this is why drugs have become associated with the community. But law enforcement needs to understand that they only carry the drugs to survive―most of them are paid well to carry drugs. The gangs that force the youngsters should be arrested.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The main reason why many of them end up as drug traffickers is that there are no good employment opportunities or hobbies available for them. Mehrouz says the Rohingyas face a pitiful existence. “We wake up and have breakfast, depending on the rations we are given. Those who are employed will go for work―mostly as volunteers or some NGO job. They would return in the evening and go to sleep early, because there is nothing to do.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some see a silver lining amid such purposeless existence. Khatun is grateful that she is at the camp. “Life in Rakhine was not nice. We always lived in fear.” She is thankful to the Bangladeshi government for opening its doors. Khatun, who lives with her husband and two children aged four and 11 months, invites us home. Her hut is about 10sqft―a running cloth partitions the dwelling into living space and a tiny kitchen. There is an LPG stove on the floor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am making <i>dal</i> today,” she says, while her toddler plays on the floor littered with vegetable peels. “We are a family of four, but we manage.” Her immediate neighbours―her parents and her in-laws―peer through the door. “They have so many questions,” she says. Her toddler starts tugging at her skirt―he wants his mother’s attention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hasina Begum, who lives at a nearby hut, fled to Bangladesh because the Myanmarese military used to beat up her son and husband. Hasina, who suffers from Hepatitis C, says she would like to work. “They teach sewing at the women’s centre. I would like to earn a living,” says the 45-year-old. She hopes to get her daughter married when she turns 20. Her son, Abdullah, 16, says he wants to teach at a madrasa. “I want to spread the message of Islam as I am grateful to Allah.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are many more like Hasina who count their blessings amid the haze of hopelessness. Moriam Akhter, 18, who came to the camp in 2017, learnt stitching at the Rohingya Women Adolescent Empowerment Association. She wanted to learn stitching while she was in Myanmar, but restricted movement and lack of funds stopped her from doing so. When she reached Bangladesh, she heard that NGOs were providing training in stitching and she signed up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This is a dream come true,” says Moriam. The teenager, one of five siblings, lives with her mother. All her sisters and brothers are married. “I am likely to get married in two years. My skill will help my family―it will bring in some income, irrespective of whether my husband earns. Moriam stitches children’s clothes, kurtas and pants and earns up to 3,000 taka (Rs2,300) a month.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The women empowerment centre is busy―as we walk in there is the clatter of sewing machines melding with the chatter of women. There is a class in progress where girls are singing a Myanmarese song. Noor Akhter, the community leader, shows us around. “Making women aware of menstrual hygiene was a challenge,” she says. “They were given sanitary napkins, shown how to use it, but they were initially reluctant.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Akhter says most families do not send their daughters to schools, creating a major problem. “Even if they do, they usually study only till class five. Sometimes, even if girls get educated, they are not allowed to work. Then there are safety concerns―especially the threat of sexual violence. But now, such instances have come down. Domestic violence, however, is on the up. Often, men do not work due to lack of opportunities. Women bring in income with the help of livestock farming or stitching and this causes tension in the family. Husbands tend to physically abuse their wives,” says Akhter. Rafiqul Kader, a volunteer with the NGO Prantic, says the risk of human trafficking has grown, especially with the growing trend of migration, especially to countries like Malaysia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We come across a makeshift school, which is actually a shelter turned into a classroom. Children between ages seven and nine are singing Myanmarese songs. Mohammed Alam, 30, has been serving as a teacher since 2018. He did some of his training in Myanmar and finished it after coming to Bangladesh. “We are teaching the Myanmarese curriculum, not Bangladeshi. We want our kids to be equipped with what might be useful once they return home,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hope refuses to fade amid the difficult life. The Bangladesh government has introduced the new Myanmar curriculum for the Rohingya children. But the biggest challenge is to find teachers with minimum qualifications. “Another challenge is the lack of space at the learning centres,” says Masum Mahbub, chief operating officer of the NGO Human Concern International.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The innocence of the young still makes them dream. Nine-year-old Sajena Begum likes mathematics and English, and also Hindi movies. She wants to be a teacher when she grows up. Her schoolmate Gulam Subahan likes science, and he wants to be a doctor. There are thousands like Sajena and Gulam in the camps. They face the hazards of everyday life, yet they aspire to become someone, someday. They want to go beyond their past, beyond their fears and live in a better tomorrow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, they wish for a rainbow. At least for today.</p> Sat Apr 22 20:40:06 IST 2023 the-story-of-khushi-an-aspiring-lawyer-from-rohingya-community <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>At 23, Khushi has delivered around 5,000 babies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She has gained recognition as a midwife thanks to her experience working in health centres at the refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar. But Khushi is a woman on a mission; she wants to be a lawyer. She wants to learn human rights, educate her community and empower women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here’s her story:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>In the camp, education is available only till grade five. I did not want to stop there. I wanted to study more. I saw people working in the camps―they were from different organisations. They were helping people; speaking in English. This inspired me. Initially, I was shy. But I realised that if I study more, I will be able to help more people.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>So I sought the help of my teacher, a Bangladeshi national, to get admitted to a Bangladeshi school. They helped me gain a Bangladeshi identity. Rohingyas are not allowed to step out of the camp. At the time, though, the big influx of refugees had not happened. And so I was admitted to a Bangladeshi school, into grade six. I completed grade six and seven. The school was about an hour away.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>In the meantime, my aunt went to live in Canada as part of a UN resettlement programme. She married a Bangladeshi. So for a while, I lived with her relatives in Cox’s Bazar. Being educated till class seven was not enough for me. So I enrolled in a higher secondary school; I taught pre-KG students to pay my fees.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>My parents, especially my father, were not all that supportive. My father wanted to marry me off. But my mother stood her ground and often got beaten up. She would sell a portion of the supplies we got to help pay my fees. My main aim was, and is, to support other women in my community. I wanted to become a lawyer―I still do―and so I enrolled in Cox’s Bazar International University to study law.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>So many questions would rise in my mind―my community is human like all others, then why are they being treated differently? Why are they leading such a life?</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>I was doing well in law school. But, as I was about to start term three, my identity was revealed and I was suspended. I was naïve. A researcher was writing an article about the plight of the Rohingya in camps and I spoke about the plight of women. The article became viral online and my identity was revealed. This was in June 2019. I started getting a lot of rape and death threats. People even threatened to throw acid on me if I continued to study. Members of my community made rude comments about me and my family. They assaulted my character.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>My life has been in limbo; my dream to become a lawyer is paused. But I continue to do social work. I am 23 today. Women need to be empowered. A lot of women know nothing about family planning; they don’t know how to take initiative about it either. Women need to be made aware of different issues they face. They keep giving birth and, a lot of times, without the help of medical professionals. They get infected and suffer. They do not need to suffer.</i></p> Sat Apr 22 20:37:03 IST 2023 regina-de-la-portilla-unhcr-un-refugee-agency-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ What is the UNHCR’s view on the Rohingya crisis?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It has been over five years since 7.5 lakh Rohingyas crossed into Bangladesh and the numbers have increased since then. They need humanitarian and emotional support. A majority of them wants to return as long as they can live with dignity and safety. The UNHCR definitely hopes for repatriation with dignity. While resettlement is what some of the people want, it cannot be the ultimate goal. But we are grateful to the Bangladesh government for accepting the refugees in such large numbers and granting them space to live. Right now, we are focusing on developing skill-driven sustainable activities that will help when they go back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What about resettlement in the west?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>In December 2022, the US announced that it would take Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh. Again, we are very grateful for this. The numbers, as of now, might be small, but it will make a difference.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In the last five years, we have seen at least one fire incident each year in the camps.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Talks are on to make their shelters with more robust material. But, in the meantime, we have been training the youth in the camps, making them capable of dealing with natural disasters. For example, we are teaching them how to dismantle shelters quickly, so that they can be saved in case of a fire. We are also teaching them how to respond and help their community in case of a fire―like evacuation, first aid and so on. We are equipping them with tomtoms (a type of three-wheeler) that can act as water vehicles so that they can prevent the fire from spreading, rather than wait for help. The fire that took place recently was, in fact, managed well, compared with previous fires. It destroyed 3,000 shelters, but there were no casualties. We have also been training them on safely evacuating themselves in case of a flood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Media reports say there are insurgent groups operating in the camps.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The UN condemns any kind of violent or illegal activities. The Bangladesh government, I believe, is very much aware of such activities and are actively taking measures to control the law and order situation. The [refugees] need to be engaged on several levels, or such instances will continue to occur. And the UNHCR and several NGOs are working together to give them counselling-led psychosocial support. It is important to keep the youth engaged. Which is why various organisations are working to help them develop skills, give them education and provide them with livelihoods.</p> Mon Apr 24 10:49:06 IST 2023 bangladesh-disaster-management-and-relief-minister-enamur-rahaman-about-rohingya-refugee-crisis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A VAST MAJORITY</b> of the Rohingyas were forcibly displaced from Myanmar. The Rohingya population in Bangladesh has now grown to more than 12 lakh, of which 31,000 have been relocated to Bhasan Char (an island in the Bay of Bengal). The rest are settled in camps in Ukhiya and Kutupalong in Cox’s Bazar. They are being managed with the help of the army and the police. There is fencing around the camps and a watch tower.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Humanitarian aid is flowing from UN agencies, NGOs and the International Organization for Migration. There are schools in the camp, the Rohingyan youth are being given technical training. The children are educated using Myanmarese curriculum because that is what will help them once they go back. The government is trying to repatriate them. More bilateral talks will be held. Yes, fire hazard exists, but there is no plan to construct shelters with more durable material as the idea is to repatriate the Rohingyas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>―<b>As told to Sumitra Nair</b></p> Sat Apr 22 20:33:16 IST 2023 bangladesh-ministry-of-foreign-affairs-director-general-mainul-kabir-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ Is there progress in the talks with Myanmar on repatriation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Recently, there have been several rounds of discussions to resolve issues related to the verification of past residency of the Rohingyas in Rakhine, and to implement a successful pilot repatriation project and create a conducive environment in Rakhine. A technical team from Myanmar visited Bangladesh in March to verify past residency of the extended family members of the Rohingyas considered for the pilot project. We expect to continue discussions with Myanmar to ensure safe, sustainable, voluntary and dignified return of the Rohingyas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are western countries ready to accept the Rohingyas?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Bangladesh is in touch with western countries to ensure early commencement of repatriation of the Rohingyas and provide them humanitarian assistance while they are here. The creation of a conducive environment in Rakhine is another agenda of our engagement with western countries. The proposal of some western countries to resettle the Rohingyas in third countries is being discussed, too. However, Bangladesh has always made it clear that resettlement cannot be the solution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is repatriation the only way forward?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Sustainable repatriation is the only way to solve the Rohingya crisis. It will ensure their basic human right to live in their own country. Forced displacement from Rakhine and the temporary stay in Bangladesh are creating various challenges for Bangladesh and the Rohingyas themselves, which can destabilise the whole region. The Rohingyas have been displaced by Myanmar, falsely alleging that they are people from other places. Their stay outside their place of origin will legitimise Myanmar’s false claim.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There are reports of insurgent groups operating in the camps.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Cox’s Bazar hosts the largest refugee camp in the world, with one of the largest humanitarian operations. The situation is becoming increasingly untenable in the camps for both the Rohingyas and the host community. The prolongation of the stalemate in repatriation is leaving this vulnerable population more frustrated and is making them susceptible to unlawful activities. They are being used to smuggle drugs into Bangladesh. These can flare up the security situation in the region and beyond.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Various Rohingya miscreant groups are active inside the camps and they often engage in armed clashes with each other to take control of certain areas and illegal business including drug and arms trafficking. On several occasions, particularly during anti-drug operations inside the camps, our security personnel have come under attack by armed Rohingya criminals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bangladesh government has engaged about 3,000 security personnel, besides members of security agencies, to improve the security situation inside the 33 camps in Cox’s Bazar. Three armed police battalions are engaged to manage the law and order situation.</p> Sat Apr 22 20:31:26 IST 2023 rohingya-refugees-in-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Ramzan Ali was born on March 23, the day the holy month of Ramadan began. His father, 35-year-old Anwar Shah, was ecstatic as he held his fifth child in his arms. Had Ramzan been aware of where he was, he may not have shared his father’s happiness. Barely a month old, he lives amid squalor in a 9x9ft, tarpaulin-roofed hut in a slum at Madanpur Khadar in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramzan is country-less. Anwar, his father, was born in Chopudaung village near Buthidaung, a town in Myanmar’s restive Rakhine State, in 1987. Anwar fled to Bangladesh in 1994 to escape the campaign of the Myanmarese military (known as the Tatmadaw) against the Rohingya community. In 2003, Anwar became part of a group that was repatriated to Chopudaung.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“<i>Lekin zulm bardast nahin hua</i> [I couldn’t bear the atrocities],” he says. He went back to Bangladesh in 2006, and the Kutupalong refugee camp at Cox’s Bazar became his address for the second time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2012, Anwar crossed the open land border between India and Bangladesh, infamous for illegal immigration and contraband smuggling. He had hopes of finding a better life. Now, as part of a group of 52 families that live in the teeming Madanpur Khadar slum, he is more dazed than anything else at the turn life has taken.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anwar is part of the Rohingya community, regarded as the world’s most persecuted minority. The Tatmadaw and aligned vigilante groups have long been accused of carrying out a genocidal campaign against the community. But Anwar, having lived a precarious life in three countries, has no doubt where his heart lies. “It is in Burma (as Myanmar was known till 1989). This is despite our farm land being taken away, and despite being forced to till my own land for the new occupants,” he says, as tears well up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tasleema, 35, also wants to return to her village―Mundo near Buthidaung. “My home is Burma,” she says. Tasleema fled Rakhine when fresh violence broke out in 2012. After six months in Bangladesh, she found herself in Madanpur Khadar in 2013. Pleasant and talkative, her disposition masks her travails. As she stands outside her hut recounting her experiences, her husband yells at her to come back inside. Taslima scurries to obey the order. Patriarchy, it seems, thrives amid poverty and deprivation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The absence of toilets means women in the slum are forced to find ways to dispose of night soil. “Men can go anywhere, but where can the women go?” asks Nur Islam, a 35-year-old father of two who fled Myanmar in 2013. After a few months at Cox’s Bazar, he arrived in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In 2012-13, in my village in Muladaung near Buthidaung, no one could leave home between 6pm and 6am,” says Nur. “Markets, mosques―everything was closed down. People picked up by the Tatmadaw would simply disappear.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nur works as a furniture deliverer. “Work is tough, but I have two kids,” he says. His eyes light up as he talks about two-year-old Yashmin and three-months-old Shamim. “All of us are grateful to India for giving us shelter. We don’t want to be anywhere but in our homeland in Burma. But with conditions being as they are, we are just looking for a better life anywhere,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, even in this small community of around 260 people, planning for the future seems meaningless. As is the question why so many children are born in a place when even survival is at stake. “Every month five-six kids are born here,” says Anwar. “Marriages take place within the community, and with our brethren in other Delhi shelters like Vikaspuri, Khajuri Khas and Shaheen Bagh.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jammu and Hyderabad, too, have Rohingya settlements. There are an estimated 15,000 Rohingya in India. In the initial years, the community found it difficult to interact with local people. But the language barrier is more or less nonexistent now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“But getting regular work is not easy, as we are asked for identity cards that we are not entitled to,” says Nur. “Our entire existence is rooted in the card given by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees). That is why most of the men are doing odd jobs, or are employed as labourers in construction sites.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are safety concerns. “Our shanties have twice caught fire in the past. Every night, four of our young men stand guard and keep watch,” says Nur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The despondency is suddenly broken by a bunch of boisterous children playing the train game. The line snakes through the dark corridors between the shanties. “The children go to a local school,” says Anwar. “All of them are fluent in Hindi and have assimilated into their surroundings, unlike us adults. They do not realise that they don’t have a country to call their own.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India does not officially recognise the Rohingya as refugees, as there is no comprehensive refugee policy here. While India’s record in sheltering refugees is largely positive, it is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 and the 1967 protocol relating to refugees. Also, the process of framing and implementing decisions on refugees has been arbitrary. So different groups of refugees are treated differently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, according to Delhi-based human rights activist Ubais Sainalabdeen, India has had a long record of protecting refugees. “India is well known for her hospitality, and has followed the rule of <i>‘atithi devo bhava’ </i>for centuries, even before the UN enacted such a rule to protect the refugees,” he says. “India does not require such a pact because, traditionally, we have for years been extending such hospitality to persecuted people across the world.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, until a lot of things change, Ramzan Ali will grow up as a child with no country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Some names have been changed.</b></p> Sat Apr 22 20:28:57 IST 2023 what-makes-finland-the-happiest-place-on-earth <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Happiness is a journey, not a destination,” said the Buddha, addressing humankind’s eternal quest for happiness. It would take 2,500 years for science to catch up with his wisdom. But in the 21st century, happiness seems to have a destination―Finland. It is the happiest country on earth, and has been for six years in a row.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Located on the northern fringes of Europe, Finland with a population of nearly 56 lakh, is small, dark and cold with long winters. What’s there to be happy about? The only thing the world knew of Finland was Nokia. The Finns are not the easiest to talk to. Summer is beautiful, but danger lurks in the form of mosquitoes the size of fighter jets. Still, Finland tops the United Nation’s Happiness Index.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No one is more surprised by this coveted honour than the Finns, who do not see themselves as the happy, hugging, laughing type. Says philosopher Frank Martela, “When Finland first topped the happiness ranking, we were sceptical. We thought there must be a mistake. Being the happiest doesn’t fit in with our self-image of being calm, unsociable, even melancholic.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An enduring joke is about two Finns going to a bar for a drink. One says, “Cheers.” The other asks grumpily, “Have we come here to talk or to drink?” Says Merete Mazzarella, writer and professor of literature, “Look inside a Helsinki bus, the Finns look grimmer than most other people.” Choir singing is popular. “It is a good way for us to be social,” she says. “We don’t have to necessarily talk.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The annual World Happiness Report is produced by the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The rankings of national happiness are based on a worldwide ‘Cantril Ladder of life evaluation’ by Gallup, a global analytics and advice firm. Citizens are asked where they are on an imaginary ladder. The top rung rated 10 represents their best possible life and 0 their worst. Respondents can mislead, so the rankings are also anchored in solid social and economic data: life expectancy, social support, freedom to make life choices, generosity, absence of corruption and GDP per capita.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Happiness Report followed widespread complaints against the GDP rating of countries’ progress, which fails to examine issues like environmental damage and social inequality. In 2011, the UN adopted the ‘happiness resolution’, aiming for “holistic development”. Bhutan that propagates ‘Gross National Happiness’ played a key role. Explains American economist and coauthor of the Happiness Report Jeffrey D. Sachs, “The main message is that governments contribute to happiness or misery. Our national leaders seek wars. They should be trained in happiness before they blow us all up. The world must return to ancient wisdom.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, what makes Finns happy? They enjoy the small pleasures of life, as ancient wisdom advocates. They love vacationing in their mökki, or summer cottages, relaxing with family and friends for weeks. There are 32 lakh cottages in Finland, most of them located in forests near one of the 1.88 lakh crystal-clear lakes that bejewel the nation. Says schoolteacher Katriina Apajalahti, “In many cultures, forest is a scary, dark place. For us, it is a refuge.” Almost 80 per cent of Finland is forests. A survey asked Finns where they felt safest, the overwhelming answer: in the forest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Summer holidays are all about living a simple, rustic life, communing with nature without indoor toilets, electricity and running water. Says Finnish social scientist Roosa Tikkanen, “Nature makes us happy. We appreciate the silence, which is a big part of our culture.” Detox includes going offline and leaving behind the cares of the city. There is not much to do other than read and roam. Philosopher Bertrand Russell believed “a certain power of enduring boredom is essential to a happy life and is one of the things to be taught to the young. A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy can live”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hiking in pristine forests, picking berries, plucking mushrooms, fishing in rivers, chopping wood, kindling fire, playing outdoor games, barbecuing freshly caught perch with porcini and washing it down with beer and vodka―this is Finnish heaven. Highpoints of summer days include sweating in their saunas, beating mosquito bites with birch branches, then swimming in the adjoining lake and finally sleeping like a baby on a wooden cot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sauna is to the Finns what church is to Christians. It is a sanctuary for contemplation, purification and socialising; a spiritual place for warming the soul and heating the freezing bones. It is a retreat to inhale the löyly―the hissing vapour rising from throwing water on heated stones. Sauna is listed as an intangible Finnish cultural heritage. In the old days, it was the haven where people washed themselves, babies were delivered, multigenerational family members―men and women, from the scampering to the doddering―gathered on Saturday nights to sit together the way they were born―stark naked. “When it is cold outside, it is wonderful to sit in a hot sauna,” says Mazzarella.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The word ‘happiness’ grabs instant attention, but is misleading, especially to the Finns. Happiness is relative, shifting, fleeting and flighty to be measured; but ‘wellbeing’ or ‘life-satisfaction’ can be. Sachs explains, “When researchers talk about ‘happiness’, they are referring to satisfaction with the way one’s life is going. It is not a measure of whether one laughed or smiled yesterday.” Finns are not vivacious, but they are content, with a quiet sense of wellbeing. Says Martela, “We are good in delivering services, not joyful emotions. But now people understand why we are number one. It makes sense.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finnish wellbeing is rooted in strong social support from family, friends and government. High GDP ensures a good standard of living―three-fourth of all Finns own their homes. Civic trust enhances comfort levels. The countries topping the happiness index have one thing in common―an ‘infrastructure of happiness’: the nuts and bolts of good governance that improve people’s lives. Norway, the richest Nordic country, invariably tops the UN’s Human Development Index, popularly known as the Quality of Life Index (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland are Nordic countries). Says Sachs, “Unlike America’s winner-takes-all system, the Nordic social democracy is a different kind of prosperity, a more equal and shared prosperity.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nordic countries are consistent toppers in the Happiness Index, even though they are neither the richest nor the biggest. In happiness, the US ranks 15, UK 19, China 64 and India 126. Says Tikkanen, “The Nordic model is well-known for taking care of its citizens from cradle to grave, we have no fear of injury, sickness or losing jobs. Education is high-quality and free, so everyone gets an equal start in life.” It helps that Nordic countries are rich with small populations, but then again several small countries are at the bottom of the happiness ladder. “Happiness is not a ‘soft’ or ‘vague’ concept. It depends on basic needs being met, good health, good citizenship, civic virtue and good habits,” says Sachs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his new book The Earth Transformed, historian Peter Frankopan highlights the role wellbeing plays in the rise and fall of empires: “In times of stress and collapse, the distribution of welfare has been key for a nation’s survival.” British economist Richard Layard urges governments to make wellbeing the central goal of public policy. New Zealand, the UAE and the UK are establishing happiness―more appropriately life satisfaction―ministries. Wellbeing is national security. It is also politics. The Happiness Report notes, “wellbeing is more important than the economy in explaining election results. Low wellbeing increases support for populism.” In Finland, too, the anti-immigration party won handsomely in the recent elections. But in the past, coalitions of even six disparate parties have ruled cohesively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finland’s stature as the happiest nation is remarkable, given its brutal past. From the 12th century, it was part of Sweden and then Russia in 1809. A vicious civil war raged in Finland between the reds and the whites―communists and bourgeoisie―in the 20th century. Russia bombed historic city centres and severed chunks of Finnish territory in World War II. Instead of airbrushing, Finns confront reality. They personify their map as Suomineito, the maiden with an amputated left arm. But Finland succeeded in converting history’s pain into modern gain, opting for post-war military neutrality and business with Russia. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changed public sentiments.” Says Mazzarella, “The invasion revived our historical memories of an aggressive Russia. It didn’t take a day. On February 25 (the war on Ukraine started on February 24, 2022), we Finns wanted to be part of NATO.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The history of foreign interference forged Finnish nationalism, cemented also by a homogenous society. This has also led to charges of racism. Immigrants are fewer in Finland compared with Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden and Denmark). Located in the Soviet Union’s backwater, Finland was relatively isolated. Says Gunvor Kronman, CEO of Hanasaari, a Nordic cultural foundation, “Finland was poorer than its neighbours, so immigrants went to Sweden and Denmark for jobs. In fact, Finns themselves went to Scandinavia for work.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ancient wisdom from Aristotle to Buddha emphasised the need for civic virtue and good habits to be happy. The Finns rank high on civic honesty, trust, cleanliness and modesty. They do not brag or show off. Says Kronman, “We don’t flash wealth; it creates negative feelings between groups”. They are a close-knit community, bound together by Finnish, a difficult Uralic (non-Indo-European) language that no one else in the world speaks. So, they speak good English. Social media has certainly made Finns more social, especially younger women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thoughtful and self-critical, Finns admit their dark side. Among the Nordics, Finland has the highest suicide rate. Victims are mostly young men, who live alone and are reluctant to seek help. One reason is sun deprivation during the long dark winter that causes seasonal affective disorder (SAD), reducing the body’s neurochemical levels. Alcoholism is another. The authorities have implemented several successful measures, including the Sober Curious Movement to reduce alcohol consumption.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Literature contributes to shaping national identity. Unlike heroes who are superheroes in most mythologies, the Finnish epic Kalevala also depicts flawed characters. They perform noble exploits, but experience tragedy and humiliation, too. Instead of living up to impossibly high standards, there is a healthy realisation that life comes with defeat and dejection―for the mighty and the mortal. Realistic expectations contribute to happiness. All cultures have serious and lighthearted ways of looking at misery. A popular Norwegian saying is, “Happiness is good. But the misfortune of others should not be underestimated.” A popular Finnish proverb is, “Life is not a waiting room for better times. So just get on with it.” Finns value not heroism but sisu―doggedness when faced with adversity. It is not momentary courage but the ability to sustain that courage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finns tackle their problems with sisu. The whole society works towards a goal. After World War II ended, the state introduced the ‘baby box’, providing mothers with gifts for the newborn containing food, toys, diaper, creams, even outdoor clothes. Infant mortality fell. Mothers say how grateful they felt towards the government. Says former Norwegian ambassador to Finland Leidulv Namtvedt, “In the 1960s, we were all copying the crazy ideas coming out of Sweden, not the Finns. They were too poor to experiment. They focused on their two natural resources―forests and brains. They went about systematically building their society.” The Finns became rich and happy, content with berry-picking in summer and skiing in winter, keeping homes warm and enjoying hygge (popular Danish word for cosiness) with candles and cushions and flickering fires.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Happiness Reports have spawned a full-fledged hygge industry, especially in the US, promising to unlock Nordic secrets with branded products, baked goods, life coaches, cute quotes, glossy books and activities like sweating saunas and ice swimming. William Davies’s book The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being exploded the myth but did not dampen sales. But no ice or spice, berries or blankets, candles or cushions can fix the systemic causes of unhappiness, ranging from ill health, bad housing to poor wages―sorrows that governments can mitigate. The marketing bug has bitten even the Nordics, who use their ‘Luckyland’ status to tempt tourists into their honeytraps of happiness. Tourists welcome; immigrants, not so much.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The longest-ever scientific survey on happiness conducted by a Harvard team found the key to happiness lies in having close relationships. True. Modern rappers would distil Aristotle’s ancient advice, now proven by modern science: “Have Friends, Be Happy.” Environments contribute to happiness or misery. Happiness researchers have found some people have genetic variants making it easier to feel happy. Others are less fortunate. But the Finns show that lousy weather and grumpy genes can be overcome with grit and good habits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the structural level, the lesson Finland teaches is “build reliable, accountable, citizen-oriented institutions to provide people’s basic needs”, says Finnish diplomat Teemu Tanner. At the individual level, the takeaway is that happiness comes from leading a balanced life. An astonishing 90.4 per cent of Finnish respondents in the happiness survey said their lives were balanced. The Nordic ideal is not success but contentment, what the Buddha counselled and what the Swedes call lagom―enough.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finns who have lived abroad believe the 20th century American dream of stable, prosperous lives is failing. Notes Tikkanen, “We do not have a culture of brutal competition. In America, it is extreme. People are always worrying, working late, getting sick, insecure, saving money for children’s college fees. Finns don’t have to worry about all this.” Sachs agrees, “Nordic countries prioritise balance, which is the formula for happiness. They are not societies that are aiming to becoming gazillionaires; they are looking for a good, balanced life and the results are extremely positive.” As British politician Ed Miliband famously said, “If you want the American dream, go to Finland.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Pratap</b> is an author and journalist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE MEASURE OF PLEASURE</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How the World Happiness Report ranks countries</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>♦ The rankings are not based on an index, but on individuals’ assessments of their lives, and on one life-evaluation question in particular―rate your life on a scale of zero to 10</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>♦ The data is collected from nationally representative samples over three years</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>♦ Data on six factors are used to explain a country’s average life evaluation</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE SIX FACTORS</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>♦ <b>GDP per capita (purchasing power parity)</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>♦ <b>Social support:</b> National average of binary responses―yes (1) or no (0)―to the question, “If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>♦ <b>Healthy life expectancy:</b> How long people can live a healthy life, physically and mentally; derived from WHO data</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>♦ <b>Freedom to make life choices: </b>National average of binary responses to the question, “Are you satisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>♦ <b>Generosity:</b> Derived from donations to a charity in one month</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>♦ <b>Perceptions of corruption:</b> National average of binary responses to two questions; “Is corruption widespread throughout the government?” and “Is corruption widespread within businesses?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>♦ In Finland, GDP per capita is a less significant contributor to life evaluation than in Denmark (rank 2) and Iceland (3). <b>Residuals</b> are the single biggest factor in the top-ranked countries. They are components over- or under-explained by the six factors</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>TEXT <b>KARTHIK RAVINDRANATH</b></p> Fri Apr 14 16:57:48 IST 2023 what-finns-think-about-finland <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Ronja, 22&nbsp;</b></p> <p><b>teacher</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have long winters. We don’t take anything for granted and we learn to appreciate the small mercies of life. One great summer is enough to make the whole year feel fine. In some cultures, people stay at home in winter and wait for spring. We are not like that. We go out and enjoy the winter snow by skiing and having warm drinks. We are similar to Europeans, but we don’t do small talk and we are not excitable. Our quality of life is quite high. Art and nature are easily available. I love nature. When I was young I used to hang out in parks and beaches to study. It is peaceful, clean and good for you. Now I live near the beach. It kind of makes you philosophical. It is a constant sound that reminds me that the waves come and go. One day I won’t be here. But the waves will still come and go.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Markus Antinnen, 29 <br> economist working for the government</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The best part of living in Helsinki is that in 30 minutes you can reach beautiful forests and no wild animals. We love our summer cottages because it is therapeutic. We have limited internet access, so the big projects of the day are swimming, hiking and eating healthy. The bad part is the long winter. It messes up your metabolism. Most people understand happiness as dancing and jumping, and enjoying moment to moment. But we are not like that. We are reserved, pensive. When the whole family gets together, we may dance. The idea of fun for my generation was clubbing and partying. But now the younger generation has, to a great extent, stopped drinking alcohol. What I love about Finland is the punctuality. If a plumber says he will come at 10am, he is at the door at 10am. I worry about the future of the welfare state. There are challenging issues―ageing population, immigration, higher taxes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Iiris Harma, 52 <br> documentary filmmaker</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our number 1 happiness position is exaggerated. We don’t see ourselves as happy; maybe I don’t understand how this index works. But life is good in Finland. I travel a lot, and I see good and bad everywhere. What is good in our society is that everything functions well. We can trust the police, institutions and politicians. If something happens to us, we will be taken care of. Authorities are not corrupt. What shocks me is how dirty some foreign cities are, with piles of rubbish everywhere. Here, cleanliness is a civic virtue, keeping things clean is a natural habit. When the environment is taken care of, it is not only clean but you feel safe. I have three children and I feel so lucky. Children can walk to school, keep their bikes outside, take skis into the forest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Ella Palo, 25</b></p> <p><b>student of technology, engineering, global politics and communication at the University of Helsinki</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All my life I have lived in Finland, though I have been to Spain and Singapore as an exchange student. Then I realised how lucky I am to be a Finn. Education is free for us. I saw how students of all other nationalities really struggle, except the rich ones. I found this shocking. But I loved Spain (Spain ranks 32 on the Happiness Index). Things are happening all the time, people are more spontaneous. Maybe it is because of the weather. In Finland, you meet only your own circle. In Spain, you constantly meet and connect with strangers in bars, streets and restaurants. I miss this in Finland. The weather in winter here is gloomy, people tend to be depressed, tend to drink. But thanks to the Sober Curious Movement, youngsters have more options not to drink. They drink interesting mocktails instead of cocktails.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Jamal Aden, 32</b></p> <p><b>Somali-origin Finn, works in a warehouse</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My father was working in the Somali embassy in Helsinki when war broke out in Somalia. So my parents stayed on in Helsinki. We are four children, all born in Helsinki and all studied in public schools. Finland is a fantastic country. It is safe, clean and well-organised. There are many Indians working in IT, so there are Indian restaurants here. When I get holiday, I don’t go to cottages like the Finns. I go to Germany, France and Norway. My parents are retired and right now they are holidaying in warm Turkey. I speak fluent English, but Finnish is still difficult for me. I can even understand Swedish and Norwegian, but Finnish is a language no one else speaks in Europe. I have not experienced racism, and I have never heard local people say, “Go home”. If we go, what will they do? They need people like us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Emma, 23</b></p> <p><b>sociology student</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest difference I find when I travel to other countries is the safety and life security we have in Finland. When I moved from Helsinki to London to study, I was shocked that education was not free. Also, the quality of housing was poor. Helsinki is quieter, slower and less chaotic than London or Paris. I like that and that we have so much nature at our doorstep. I live in the southern coast of Helsinki. When you live close to nature, life is peaceful, slower. One of my fondest memories is picking blueberries with my grandmother around our summer cottage. She taught me how to pick mushrooms. It was such a beautiful experience of being calm and in nature. I read reports of Finn racism. I am a Sámi (indigenous community) and my father is Portuguese, I haven’t experienced it. Finns are introverted. The social circles are tightly knit, so it is hard to integrate. Finns don’t see it as rude if they don’t smile when they meet people.</p> <p><b>Photos by Anita Pratap&nbsp;</b></p> Fri Apr 14 16:55:10 IST 2023 decoding-the-nordics-infrastructure-of-happiness <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The ‘infrastructure of happiness’ is built on welfare ideals, what the Americans derisively call socialist or nanny states. The focus is on citizens’ wellbeing. In Finland, as in the other Nordic countries, the infrastructure includes democratic governance, well-functioning public services, human rights and free basic necessities. “Free education and health care, income security and pensions are guaranteed to everyone,” says Finnish diplomat Teemu Tanner. The five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) are in the top seven happiest countries in the world. The unhappiest people live in shattered nations―Sierra Leone, Lebanon and Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ‘infrastructure of happiness’ is anchored in civic virtues like honesty and equality. Says writer Merete Mazzarella, “Equality helps in societal happiness. When you see enormous difference in wealth, when you can’t make it no matter how hard you work, how can you be happy?” Equality is not a sentiment. It is law. Says teacher Katriina Apajalahti, “We have no poor, a few rich and no filthy-rich.” No Bezos and no beggars, but a support framework for all citizens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An American who loses her job must scramble to find a new one. A Norwegian gets a monthly dole of Rs3 lakh for two years, giving her time to find a new job. A not so well-off Indian breadwinner who gets cancer must sell his property. A Finn gets free treatment. Upon graduation, a British student has a degree, and debt. A Dane graduates with free, high-quality education and a secure job. Wellbeing depends on security replacing stress. Says cultural influencer Gunvor Kronman, “We are taken care of, we don’t feel abandoned.” Happiness is ephemeral, wellbeing is structural. Says Jeffrey D. Sachs, coauthor of the World Happiness Report, “In Nordic countries, people trust the government and the government delivers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hobbies and leisure are also part of the infrastructure of happiness. Studies show “downtime” is not time wasted. It refreshes, improving and not decreasing productivity. Nordic people work the least. In Norway, offices close at 3pm in the summer, enabling citizens to hike in the mountains or swim in the fjord; in winter people can ski. In Japan, India and the US, working late is a badge of honour. For Nordics, it is a sign of inefficiency. They get five weeks of paid vacation, while 23 per cent of Americans do not get paid vacation and those who do mostly get two weeks. Says Laurie Santos, Yale professor and author of The Science of Well-Being: “Science shows having a little bit more time makes us happy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That happiness comes from this holistic infrastructure is proven by the Nordic countries topping not just the happiness rankings but various wellbeing metrics. The Nordic social democracies are the world’s most stable, prosperous, least corrupt, well-governed countries with high salaries and standard of living, longest paternity and maternity leaves, high employment rates, strong political, civic and press freedom. Accountability is high, with prime ministers savaged for what would be considered minor misdemeanours in most countries. Gender equality, social justice, work-life balance and human development scores are also the highest in the world. Says social scientist Roosa Tikkanen, “The government’s social spending is high so the citizens’ quality of life is good.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Low crime rates mean high public safety and open societies. State buildings are not guarded. The new public library in Helsinki is the same height as the parliament building across the road. Tour guide Heidi Johansson said visiting Israelis were shocked, wondering how parliamentarians could be protected from snipers. Opposite the Helsinki presidential palace is a spa. Americans were amazed, saying, “If we got this close to the White House we would be shot.” An American anthropologist was stunned to see glass-encased emergency hammers in trains―“Can’t a crazy guy take this and kill other people?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trust is another civic virtue that binds Nordic societies. Citizens trust each other and the authorities. Says filmmaker Iiris Härmä, “Trust is an important part of our success. Welfare societies create trust.” In Nordic schools, cooperation, not competition, is the ideal. Politicians take public transport and mingle with people in the streets, forests and parks. Trust and high taxes go together. Says Apajalahti, “We pay our taxes happily because we get lifelong benefits in return. I can be sure I will get support when I need.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People are willing to pay high taxes also because there is accountability and no corruption. Says Tanner: “Surveys show 96 per cent of Finns believe paying taxes is an important civic duty and that taxes are important for maintaining Finland’s welfare state.” Like all Nordics, Finland has a high track record of honesty. Says Apajalahti, “Honesty is in our Lutheran mothers’ milk.” People forget laptops and mobiles in cafes, but are confident of finding them later. Mazzarella explains, “It is an old tradition. You don’t take what is not yours.” When Sweden’s longest serving Prime Minister Tage Erlander died in 1981, his widow, Aina, went to his office to return pencils he had taken while he served.</p> Fri Apr 14 16:50:58 IST 2023 why-are-nordic-countries-so-happy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>What is striking from the Happiness Index is the consistent success of the Nordic countries. The five Nordic countries―Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland―are all in the top seven of the world. In fact, ever since the World Happiness Report was first published a decade ago, the Nordic countries have always been in the top 10. So, when searching for an explanation for Finland’s success, I would focus on examining what the Nordic countries have done right compared with other countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The real reasons for the Nordics’ high rankings are more boring. It is the high-quality institutions that explain the high rankings. The institutions that are watchdogs of democracy, corruption, press freedom and so on simply work. Combine this with the welfare policies for which the Nordic countries are famous. When facing various challenges in life, the people can count on the institutions for help. Not perfect, but better than almost anywhere else in the world. When happiness is defined as a quiet satisfaction with one’s life conditions, then Finland, along with the other Nordic countries, might very well be the best place to live in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Finnish people might have one asset regarding happiness: our tendency to downplay our own happiness and the norm against too much public display of joy. This might actually make Finns happier. This is because social comparisons seem to play a significant role in people’s life satisfaction. If everybody else is doing better than you, it is hard to be satisfied with your life conditions, no matter how good they objectively are.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is why researchers are worried about social media. Here people are constantly exposed to idealised versions of other people’s lives. We know this makes people more unhappy, especially youngsters who spend more time on social media. By not displaying, let alone exaggerating, their own happiness, Finns might help each other to make more realistic comparisons, which benefits everybody’s happiness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When it comes to institutions, it is not about making people happy. It is about removing sources of unhappiness. Well-functioning institutions and welfare services can remove many sources of unhappiness from people’s lives. So citizen happiness should be a serious political goal. For too long, policy-makers have focused on economic metrics when assessing success and progress, which, of course, is an important factor in removing poverty. Politicians and policy-makers should remember the ultimate goal of politics, articulated by Adam Smith in 1759: “All constitutions of government are valued only in proportion as they tend to promote the happiness of those who live under them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Right now, the happiness ranking is too often treated as a fun triviality―reported in ‘lifestyle’ rather than ‘politics’ section in newspapers. Instead, we should take the happiness indices as seriously as we take metrics like GDP. Rise of citizen happiness should be celebrated, while a drop in average happiness should be treated as a national crisis, meriting serious attention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, the ultimate secret to Finnish happiness is simple but perhaps hard to put in practice―make institutions accountable to the citizens at large, not serve just a narrow elite within it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Martela</b> is a Finnish philosopher.</p> Fri Apr 14 16:49:25 IST 2023 why-finland-joined-nato <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Most adult Finns know the number 1,340. That in kilometres is the length of Finland’s border with Russia. Geography invariably produces some horrible histories. Finland is no exception, having lived through Russian war, invasion and bombing in the 20th century. Nevertheless, post-Cold War, Finland and Sweden preferred military non-alignment to joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the western military alliance―until Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. Says Finnish diplomat Teemu Tanner, “The invasion changed opinion remarkably quickly. There was almost a national consensus to join NATO.” On April 4, Finland joined NATO, becoming its 31st member.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Ukraine invasion was Putin’s plan to stop an expanding NATO in its tracks. It was counterproductive. The invasion further expanded, strengthened and unified NATO in ways not seen for a quarter of a century. Both Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO, making the world’s most powerful military alliance even more powerful. Says former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt, “Their inclusion will transform European security. It will deter Russian aggression.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finland knows what that looks like. It spent a century inside the Russian empire before gaining independence in 1917. During World War II, Joseph Stalin grabbed Finland’s territory, including its second biggest city Vyborg. Finland lost its foreign policy autonomy under the Cold War, was forced into a Friendship and Cooperation Treaty with the Soviet Union, endured restrictions on its armed forces and lived with a Soviet military base near its capital, Helsinki. The Soviet Union’s collapse enabled Finland to pursue a fully independent foreign policy and together with Sweden join the European Union in 1995.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before the Ukraine invasion, only 30 per cent of Finns supported NATO membership. The majority saw a smarter role for Finland as the economic and diplomatic bridge between Russia and the west. Finland’s head of state, President Sauli Niinistö, knows Putin well (even played hockey with him) and was seen as a political interpreter in relations between Europe and Russia. Despite old trauma, Finland pragmatically did business with Russia, which became one of Finland’s top five trade partners. But that is history now. First the pandemic and then the EU sanctions destroyed bilateral business. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also destroyed the 30-year post-Cold War order in Europe,” says security expert Kimberly Marten.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Finland’s accession to NATO was ratified by its 30 member states, Sweden’s path was blocked by Turkey for providing “sanctuary to its Kurdish rebels”. But working with NATO, the two Nordic countries have already provided substantial weapons to Ukraine. As German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, the Ukraine invasion was a “Zeitenwende” (turning point) in Europe. American presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump had been urging European member states to increase defence spending to two per cent of GDP. The Europeans who were dragging their feet fell into lockstep when the invasion happened, and increased their defence budget.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Being under the NATO security umbrella reassures, but proximity to Russia increases Finnish threat perceptions. Finland’s NATO aspirations propelled Moscow into moving additional heavy weapons systems and missiles toward the Finnish border. Experts believe this is sabre-rattling. With Russia bogged down in Ukraine, it is unlikely that Moscow will open a new warfront.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Besides, since Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea, Finland’s 2.80 lakh-member defence forces have been rejigged to respond to Russian-style hybrid warfare. Finland had served earlier on NATO-led missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq, and substantially hiked its defence budget. It also nurtures close defence ties with both the UK and the US. Last year, Finland ordered 64 American F-35 fighter jets, its largest military procurement ever, and one of the largest in Europe. Says Marten, “The inclusion of Finland and Sweden will alter the balance of power in the region.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Finland and Sweden are unlikely to needle Russia. Geographically, they live like conjoined twins. Russia has major nuclear capabilities in the Kola Peninsula, which is close to both Finland and NATO Norway. It also hosts Russia’s Northern Fleet with its nuclear submarines. Finland shares land and sea borders with Russia in the Gulf of Finland, close to Russia’s massively fortified Kaliningrad area. This is where Russian missiles, the Baltic Sea fleet and military barracks are located.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Putin, NATO membership for Finland and Sweden is bad news. In the event of a war with the west, the corridor that links Kaliningrad to the rest of Russia would now be surrounded by NATO countries. Says Max Bergmann, former US state department official, “NATO is experiencing a renaissance. The war in Ukraine has drawn Washington’s attention back to Europe in ways not seen since the 1990s, when the United States orchestrated NATO’s eastward expansion and fought two wars in the Balkans.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>NATO’s northern expansion tightens the choke on Russia. Putin announced he was moving nuclear weapons to southern Belarus that borders Ukraine. NATO’s northern grip intends to keep Russia at bay also in the Arctic. The ice-melt caused by climate change opens up sea routes and competition for vast, lucrative marine resources.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the focus on the northern flank leaves Europe’s soft underbelly―the Mediterranean―dangerously exposed. It, too, is an area where western interests will be contested in the months and years to come. Europe cannot ignore the messier challenges in the Mediterranean, warns Thibault Muzergues, author of War in Europe? From Impossible War to Improbable Peace. Europe desperately needs oil from north Africa following its ban on Russian oil imports and it needs to keep out the desperate migrants, fleeing war and famine, and crossing the Mediterranean in leaky dinghies into Europe. Russia has been increasing its foothold in the region, in Syria, Libya, the Sahel and oil and natural gas-rich Algeria.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A bigger problem, however, is what former NATO secretary general Lord George Robertson, called “American schizophrenia”―America’s strong but contradictory impulses to invade and exit. Others call it America’s geopolitical attention deficit disorder. Its short attention span: invade, make a mess, abandon. Even as the war with Russia rages, American confrontation with China intensifies. Says Bergmann, “There is no way Washington will be able to maintain the current level of diplomatic engagement. The risk of conflict in Asia, where China may attack Taiwan, could abruptly reshuffle the US’s priorities. China’s continued rise will pull the US’s attention back to the Pacific.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When that happens, military experts say, Europe will lose out on US attention and resources. Besides, politics is unpredictable. The next US president could be an anti-Atlanticist like Donald Trump or Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Republican Senator Josh Hawley even voted against Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership. When it comes to choosing to fight the Russian Bear or the Chinese Dragon, the American Bald-Eagle would dismiss Putin as a paper tiger. That would leave the Europeans without a paddle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For now, Finland and Sweden are mindful of the present―the gift of security and support that NATO membership brings. History produces strange geographies. Helsinki is closer to Putin’s hometown St Petersburg than it is to Sweden’s Stockholm. Of all European countries, Finland has the longest border with Russia. A NATO that includes Finland overnight doubles the alliance’s land borders with Russia. Now for Putin, too, 1,340 is a troubling statistic.</p> Fri Apr 14 16:48:02 IST 2023 what-makes-himachal-pradesh-the-happiest-state-in-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Even the gods call it home, they say.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nestled in the lap of the Himalayas, Himachal Pradesh has nature in all its diversity―from snow-capped mountains that meet the sky and desert valleys carved by gushing rivers and streams, to lush green deodar forests, apple orchards and terrace farms. It is as if nature has cocooned it from the harshness of modern-day life―soundproofed, slow and simple.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The yearning for all things slow and serene was beautifully captured by singer-songwriter Salman Elahi in his 2020 single ‘Mera Dil Kahi Pahadon Mein Kho Gaya [My heart is lost somewhere in the mountains]’. It soon became the mountain anthem for anyone who wanted to escape the chaos of cities during the Covid-induced lockdown―the work-from-home policy offered freedom of mobility, and while many returned to their hometowns, some moved to the mountains, seeking calm. For Manju Jaidka, the song sums up her bond with the quiet city of Solan, some 45km from Shimla. Originally from Chandigarh, she moved to Solan shortly before the lockdown was announced to begin her second innings as an academic post retirement. She is now senior professor and dean at Solan’s Shoolini University and helped set up its liberal arts department. Initially, she thought that the people of Solan were laidback but her views changed as she understood the place and its people better. “The beauty of the city is not limited to its locations. The people here are very simple, hardworking, have few needs and are not superficial,”she says. “They can bond with anyone. That’s the life I wanted to live.”The only drawback, she says, is the lack of proper medical facilities, which makes her children worry for her at times. But Himachal’s clean air and water would keep half the ailments away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It, therefore, comes as no surprise that Himachal Pradesh tops the 2023 ‘The State of Happiness’rankings, conducted by human resources firm HappyPlus Consulting; it did so last year, too. The parameters considered for the survey include life ladder, social support, freedom of choice, generosity, perception of corruption, cost price index, state domestic product, literacy rate, life expectancy, poverty and health indices. Himachalis live a simple, uncomplicated life, making enough for themselves and their families. Tourism is a big contributor to the state’s economy, as are agriculture and apple production. While it is prone to natural disasters, Himachal has also seen lesser mishaps compared with Uttarakhand. The government’s developmental efforts, too, have made Himachal a people- and tourist-friendly space. For one, connectivity has improved, thanks to the construction of the Atal Tunnel, under the Rohtang Pass in the eastern Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas on the Leh-Manali Highway.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what brought Pradeep, 59, to Himachal is art. When Covid-19 hit, the Pune-based IT employee wanted to move either to Kerala or Himachal to explore a new profession in the arts. He zeroed in on Andretta village in Himachal, and learned pottery from scratch. Today, he excels in making designer home décor, crockery and pots. His wife is an IT professional, and his daughter is in a college in Delhi; they visit him in the summers. He does not plan to go back to Pune. Why would he? Life is easy here, he says, the cost of living reasonable, and there is no traffic or pollution. Suraj Dikonda, 32, too, found work and home in Himachal. He moved to Bir with his family to set up a south Indian café―AVVA. He had first visited Bir as a paragliding tourist in 2017, and sensed a business opportunity. He asked his parents to move to Bir in 2018 and run the café while he continued to work as an advertising professional. “We come from a middle-class family and needed assurance first,” he says. “My mother, who hails from Nizamabad in Telangana, has always been a great cook. For six months, she experimented with recipes, understood the local taste and sourced ingredients.” In 2020, Suraj moved to Bir to expand the business and later that year quit his job as the caféreally took off. Apart from the cold weather and the difficulty in sourcing local ingredients, Dikonda says they did not face any challenges and that the people were hospitable and kind. The pandemic also allowed those from the mountains living in cities to return home. Ashish Thakur, a merchant navy officer, spent a few years in Himachal as a child before moving to Mumbai, where his father was posted as a customs captain. After saving enough money, the family built a house in Dharamshala. “In Himachal, people treat you like family,” he says. “There is peace of mind, culture, good atmosphere and the energy levels stay the same throughout the day. One never gets tired of exploring.” His happy places in Himachal are the temples in Kangra, monasteries in Dharamshala, nightlife in McLeodganj, sunrise and sunset views and the waterfalls. For author, screenwriter and journalist Meghna Pant, who was born in Shimla but spent most of her life in Mumbai, her hometown is all about memories. She remembers visiting her maternal grandmother’s “lopsided”house in Chota Shimla and playing hide-and-seek with her cousins every summer. And, she can still smell the spices wafting from the kitchen and taste the mango lassi and aloo paratha, and see the grazing goats, the slanted houses, the teashops and the valleys full of deodar, pine and rhododendron―all in her mind’s eye.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pant says that Shimla gets its name from Shyamala Mata, a fearless incarnation of Goddess Kali. Happiness resides where there is no fear, she says, thereby making Himachal the happiest state in India.</p> Fri Apr 14 16:46:25 IST 2023 karnataka-lok-sabha-elections-bjp-strategies-to-retain-power-b-s-yediyurappa-relevance <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Wearing a spotless white safari suit and a dot of vermillion on his forehead, B.S. Yediyurappa walked out of the puja room and through the corridor of his Bengaluru home. He glanced at the verandah and the meeting rooms full of people, but headed straight to the cowshed in the backyard to pet the new calf before heading back in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Come election season, and ‘Cauvery’―the official residence of the former chief minister in the capital―is once again at the centre of all the action. The BJP has pulled Yediyurappa out of a near two-year hiatus to lead its campaign alongside Prime Minister Narendra Modi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Just last month, Modi had walked hand in hand with Yediyurappa after inaugurating the new airport in Shivamogga, the veteran’s home turf, on his 80th birthday. It was a rare spectacle that pointed to Yediyurappa’s relevance in state politics; he is still synonymous with the BJP in Karnataka. The airport, under the Centre’s UDAN scheme, is expected to boost tourism in the Malnad region. Yediyurappa’s return is expected to boost the BJP’s chances in the elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the dais, Modi asked the audience to switch on their phone lights to show their appreciation for Yediyurappa’s contributions to the state. The camaraderie between the two leaders was, as BJP IT cell chief Amit Malviya tweeted, “An acknowledgement of BSY’s seminal role in opening the gates of south India for the BJP.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The gesture reasserted the Lingayat strongman’s uncontested stature as a mass leader who, like Modi, is a vote catcher. The old war horse continues to have a stranglehold on the party’s core vote bank, the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, which makes up 17 per cent of the state’s population and holds sway in at least 100 of the 224 assembly seats. It has given Karnataka nine of its 23 chief ministers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was in 2008 that Yediyurappa installed the first BJP government in south India. Now, a decade and a half later, he is trying to do it again, though this time not as a candidate (he has retired from electoral politics). Karnataka will go to the polls on May 10.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s desperation to hold on to the Lingayat support is obvious; the community is still miffed with the party for removing its tallest leader from the chief minister’s post.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation is reminiscent of 1990, when the Congress, led by Rajiv Gandhi, removed an ailing Veerendra Patil as chief minister. Gandhi had announced the decision to replace Patil with S. Bangarappa, a backward class leader, at the Bengaluru airport. The Lingayat community immediately switched to the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And after it found a strong leader who could “protect their interests”―Yediyurappa―the community never left his side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the 2008 victory, Yediyurappa became so popular that he overshadowed the BJP in Karnataka. He was a moderate in a party that preached hindutva, and had the courage to take decisions independent of the national leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But his tenure was marked by charges of corruption and he had to, reluctantly, step down as chief minister after the Lokayukta indicted him in an illegal mining case. After spending time in jail, a bitter Yediyurappa left the BJP to form the Karnataka Janata Paksha; he took with him several BJP leaders. The party contested the 2013 assembly elections and cornered 10 per cent of the votes. The BJP, reduced to 40 from 110, realised it needed him back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yediyurappa merged the KJP with the BJP in 2014; the BJP made him state president in 2016. Under his leadership, the party won 104 seats in the 2018 assembly elections, but could not form the government―the Congress and the JD(S) formed a coalition government, but it fell in 2019, thanks to the BJP’s machinations. Earlier in the year, Yediyurappa had led the BJP to wins in 25 of 28 Lok Sabha seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two years down the line, though, there was speculation that there would be a change in leadership. Yediyurappa has crossed 75 (the BJP’s cut-off age for those in office) and he still carried the scars of the corruption scandal. Basavaraj Bommai was named his successor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few days before Yediyurappa stepped down as chief minister (July 2021), pontiffs of the various Veerashaiva-Lingayat mutts landed at ‘Cauvery’ to express their solidarity. They warned the BJP leadership against the decision and demanded a full term for their man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few days later, Yediyurappa broke down during his farewell speech in the assembly and said that his tenure had been a “trial by fire”. The ensuing resentment forced the BJP top brass to go into a huddle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Bommai was also a Lingayat, he has not been able to fill the vacuum Yediyurappa left behind. He has only been an administrator and his government, too, has been fighting corruption charges and possible anti-incumbency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite broad-basing the party and grooming new leadership―both Lingayat and non-Lingayat―the BJP has still not weaned itself off its dependence on one community (Lingayats) and one leader (Yediyurappa).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so, despite the baggage he carries, the BJP feels that it needs the veteran. For he, the party expects, will also carry it to victory. “It was my personal decision to step down as chief minister and to also announce retirement from electoral politics,” he told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once back in action, his first task was to assure the Lingayat community that it would not be neglected. The Congress has alleged that the BJP has ignored the Lingayats and the JD(S) claims that Bommai will be replaced by a Brahmin chief minister soon. Yediyurappa is fighting these claims as he travels across the state, and has told the community to not fall prey to the opposition’s traps. BJP insiders said the Lingayat votebank is volatile; Yediyurappa is on the job.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His role, however, is apparently not restricted to Karnataka. At least that is what the BJP wants to convey. Last August, gauging Yediyurappa’s importance, the BJP inducted him into its top decision-making bodies―the parliamentary board and the central election committee. Giving Yediyurappa a more proactive role, said party insiders, would help the BJP counter the opposition’s claims that he had been sidelined and that he was only being resurrected to avoid an electoral disaster.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The popularity of BSY has not just remained intact, but has increased after he stepped down,” said his son, B.Y. Vijayendra. “Usually, when a person resigns as chief minister, people tend to forget him within no time. But the people of Karnataka have loved him irrespective of what position he holds. He has a great connect with people of all communities, and not just the Veerashaiva-Lingayats. He charted his own path in politics by fighting for the rights of every community. If his popularity can benefit the party in elections, why not [have him campaign]?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not everyone is as chuffed as Vijayendra. Along with the allegations of corruption, nepotism is also a charge levelled against Yediyurappa. In fact, when he announced his retirement from electoral politics, Yediyurappa had declared Vijayendra the party candidate from his pocket borough Shikaripura.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This desire to see Vijayendra as his political successor has miffed many senior state leaders in the party. “No decision in our party is taken in the kitchen,” said BJP national general secretary C.T. Ravi. “The decision to give a ticket to Vijayendra will be taken by the parliamentary board based on the survey and winnability [factor].”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP had denied Vijayendra a ticket from the Varuna constituency in the 2018 assembly elections. But things have changed. The party’s central leadership elevated him to the post of state vice-president and also gave him the key responsibility of ensuring the party’s win in the byelections to KR Pet (Mandya) and Sira (Tumkur) in 2019 and 2020. The central BJP also made Vijayendra the head of morcha conventions, signalling his growing importance within the party. “I was appointed the convener of morchas―yuva, mahila, SC, ST, OBC and minorities―and I am holding morcha samavesh (conventions) in each district to reach out to all the communities and inform them about the various benefits (schemes) the Centre and state governments have given them,” said Vijayendra. “We will be covering more than 200 assembly constituencies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s surprise breakfast meeting with Yediyurappa at his official residence in late March was a reminder to the latter’s detractors that he was still crucial to the BJP’s plans. Shah also acknowledged Vijayendra’s role when he asked Yediyurappa to hand over the bouquet―which Yediyurappa was to present Shah―to his son. Shah posed for a picture with them as father handed over the bouquet to the son, much to the father’s amusement. Yediyurappa then handed over another bouquet to Shah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE WEEK met Yediyurappa at his home on March 20 for an exclusive interview ahead of the elections (page 26). The walls of his study had photographs of him with Modi, Shah, Arun Jaitley and other senior BJP leaders, and also with former prime minister Manmohan Singh. At the dining hall, his staff was waiting to serve him hot paddus (a steamed rice and lentil snack) with coconut chutney and potato gravy, upma, and a bowl of dry fruits and nuts. He ate with an eye on the television, monitoring the news developments of the day. The meal done, he popped half a dozen pills―for various age-related illnesses―and signalled that he was ready to hit the road. “My favourite hobby is reading newspapers for an hour every morning,” said the early riser. He rarely misses his morning walks and enjoys watching Kannada movies as much as reading books.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the conversation, the veteran recalled his long career while frequently reiterating his commitment to ensure “Modi’s victory” in 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After wrapping up the interview, Yediyurappa got into a chopper to Chitradurga to lead two road shows and a public meeting. Once there, he seemed suddenly energised at the sight of the cheering crowd. Bhagyamma, a housewife, rushed to the street in her nightie to catch a glimpse of the leader. “I had no time to change into a sari,” she said. “The BJP exists in Karnataka because of Yediyurappa ji. The local MLA (Poornima Srinivas) has done good work. For the first time in many years, the Vani Vilas Sagar dam is full and every house is getting drinking water. There were rumours of her joining the Congress, but after seeing Yediyurappa ji campaigning for her, I am relieved.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP hopes to feel the same sense of relief come May 13.</p> Sun Apr 09 07:25:49 IST 2023 karnataka-former-chief-minister-b-s-yediyurappa-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently walked hand in hand with you after inaugurating the Shivamogga airport on your 80th birthday. What is your equation with him?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>Modi ji has a lot of faith in me. The whole world lauds his leadership and we see people giving him and [Union Home Minister] Amit Shah a rousing welcome everywhere [they go]. At the Shivamogga (airport) function, around one lakh people had to go back as there was not enough space to hold them. That is the extent of people’s support to the party and its leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q You have retired from electoral politics, yet the BJP projects you as its main leader in Karnataka. Does it imply that the party has no one to match your popularity?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> Modi ji might be talking about me because of his affection for me. But you cannot overlook the fact that Basavaraj Bommai has done commendable work as chief minister. In fact, his decision to enhance the quota for the SC and ST communities is historic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q What are the BJP’s prospects in the upcoming assembly elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> I am confident we will win 130 to 140 seats. I say this because I have toured more than 60 constituencies and everywhere there was a crowd of 15,000 to 20,000.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q The BJP’s best performance was 110 seats in 2008. Where and how will you get the rest for a majority (113)?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> I am confident that all our sitting MLAs, barring a couple, will win. We are focusing on another 35 to 40 seats across the state where we stand a good chance. That makes it 130.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q The BJP is hoping to win seats in the Old Mysuru region, which usually sees a fight between the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular). Will the Vokkaliga belt see a triangular fight this time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> We did not get huge support [from the region] last time. But this time, we are concentrating on the region, especially in the Mysuru and Chamarajanagar districts. Also, many Vokkaliga leaders have joined our party and we are hopeful of winning many more seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q There is speculation that the Lingayats are moving towards the Congress as they feel sidelined, especially after you stepped down as chief minister.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> I have already clarified to the various Veerashaiva-Lingayat mutt heads that I voluntarily resigned as chief minister and it was my personal decision to not contest the assembly elections. I do not plan to retire soon. I will tour the state to help the party secure a majority and, God willing, will do so next time, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q The Congress says the BJP is neglecting Lingayats. The JD(S) claims the BJP plans to install a Brahmin chief minister and sideline the Lingayat leadership. Will such campaigns disturb the Lingayat vote?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> There is no truth in what the Congress is saying. The Lingayat community has backed the BJP from the beginning and nothing will change this. When they see me touring the state, the community will be convinced that it was all false propaganda by the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q How will you pacify the Lingayats?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> It is only a matter of time before I reach out to these mutts, which are mostly in north Karnataka. The situation is already encouraging and I will focus more on the region during the election tour. I am confident it will end all apprehensions. We will focus on Mysuru and Chamarajanagar (with sizeable Lingayat population), too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Have the Lingayats accepted Bommai’s leadership? There is speculation that they are looking for their next leader and would support the party that gives them prominence.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> Bommai and Yediyurappa are not separate. We are two faces of the same coin. We have no difference of opinion on any issue. Wherever I find a gap (between the community and the BJP), I will rectify it. I will always be there for the community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Will Modi’s rally help the BJP campaign, even in a state election?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> Modi’s image is unbeatable. Who are the big leaders in the Congress? Can you compare Rahul Gandhi with Modi ji? Siddaramaiah and D.K. Shivakumar might be touring here and there, but none of that will impact the elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Will the opposition’s ‘40 per cent sarkar’ jibe be an effective issue?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> These are all false allegations (the Congress alleged that BJP leaders took 40 per cent of the tender amount as bribe from contractors for government-funded projects). People know it is only an election stunt by the Congress. These charges will have no impact on the polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Will Siddaramaiah’s Ahinda politics affect the BJP’s outreach to the SC, ST and OBC communities?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> The Congress has done nothing to stake claim to the Ahinda vote bank. Siddaramaiah has only gone around posing as an OBC leader. What benefits did he give to the community?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Will the power tussle between Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar benefit the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> Both leaders are dreaming of becoming chief minister. The differences [between them] will surely help the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q What will be your role in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> The BJP holds 25 of the 28 seats and retaining all of these will be a gift we will give Modi ji. The support of the sangh parivar and the hard work of our party workers will make it happen. No other party has such a dedicated cadre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q What does it take to become a mass leader?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> For nearly five decades, I have been travelling the length and breadth of the state, visiting every village. I have noticed people, including women, refer to me as ‘Namma Yediyurappa (our Yediyurappa)’. This is the bond I share with the common man and the popularity is a result of hard work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q In your farewell speech in the assembly, you thanked the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. How has the sangh influenced your life and career?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> I am what I am today only because of the RSS. They nurtured me and are the force behind my elevation, power and position in the party. I drew my inspiration for hard work from the sangh. Success does not come easy. My discipline and commitment to work have stayed intact all these years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q You had to step down as chief minister and spent time in jail in an illegal mining case. You also floated your own party, the Karnataka Janata Paksha. Do you have any regrets?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> I believe quitting the BJP to build a new party was an unpardonable crime. I still regret it. Some people might have lodged false cases against me for various reasons and I have endured hardships. But it is all behind me now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q You are accused of doing dynastic politics. Your elder son, B.Y. Raghavendra, is an MP and you have said you will vacate the Shikaripura seat for your younger son, B.Y. Vijayendra.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> I am not contesting elections this time. So, Vijayendra will replace me. Moreover, Vijayendra is not just my son, but also vice president of the state BJP. He is very popular among the youth. I feel the respect and confidence he has earned will benefit the party. He has started focusing on Shikaripura and will not change his constituency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q You are seen as a leader of all communities and a moderate in a party labelled “communal”. What is your definition of hindutva?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> Hindutva is misunderstood. It only means being all-inclusive. I believe all Hindus, Muslims and Christians are children of the same mother and should live in harmony. I have never discriminated against people based on their religion or caste. For instance, the Bhagyalakshmi bond scheme (01 lakh for the girl child) is for all communities and nearly 40 per cent of the beneficiaries are Muslim women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q How do you react to issues like the hijab and halal ban?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> The society is more aware today. People will not fall for fake propaganda and it will have no impact on society. Nobody can break the unity among the people. During the last assembly elections, the Congress tried to create differences among the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community for political gains. Ultimately, it did not succeed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q You brought several social welfare schemes as chief minister. Which of those make you most proud?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> I feel the Bhagyalakshmi scheme was effective. I came up with the scheme at a time when parents used to cry at the birth of a girl child. In the next few years, lakhs of families will be availing the bond on maturity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Extending support price to milk producers or the free power to irrigation pump sets has benefited lakhs of farmers, and are still talked-about schemes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q There is growing apprehension that the BJP under Modi is against freebies as it believes in making people self-reliant. Karnataka has many freebie schemes. Are you in favour of these?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> The existing freebie schemes will continue as they are necessary. The Congress feels we are against freebies or pro-people schemes. I would like to ask both Siddaramaiah and D.K. Shivakumar as to what programmes they came up with when the Congress was in power. We can name at least 10 pro-people programmes of the BJP government. Even Siddaramaiah’s Anna Bhagya (free rice to poor families) was given by the Modi government (during the pandemic, the Centre gave free rice to the poor all over India). The Congress promising 10kg of free rice per person is an effort to mislead people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Who is your role model?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> I consider only Narendra Modi my role model. Ever since he became prime minister, we have not seen him take rest even for a single day.</p> Sun Apr 09 07:27:34 IST 2023 karnataka-congress-leader-siddaramaiah-challenges-before-assembly-elections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A poster of Leader Ramaiah, a biopic on former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah, was released on Ram Navami. It described him as a “king raised by the people”, and highlighted the message that the film was about a person named after Ram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddaramaiah, the Congress’s mass leader and the only Karnataka chief minister to have completed a full term in the past 45 years, is facing several challenges before the elections, one of them being the perception that he is “anti-Hindu”. The BJP has accused Siddaramaiah of minority appeasement, and even his own party men are shying away from endorsing his views fearing backlash from the majority community. The poster, perhaps, was to address all this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It started in 2015, when the Siddaramaiah government decided to celebrate Tipu Jayanti. The BJP was up in arms, saying that the Congress was portraying a “religious bigot” as a “nationalist”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP also alleged that Siddaramaiah had withdrawn cases against Popular Front of India and Social Democratic Party of India activists, whom it called “communal” and “anti-national”. Siddaramaiah has vehemently denied these charges, but he finds himself isolated in a party that, under state president D.K. Shivakumar, has been accused of practising “soft hindutva”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also the memory of the 2018 Lingayat movement, demanding a separate religion tag, which the Siddaramaiah government allegedly fuelled to divide the BJP’s Lingayat vote bank. It backfired as the Congress lost the elections; it was seen as a verdict against the “divisive politics” of Siddaramaiah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Heading into these elections, the Kuruba strongman once again finds himself at a crossroads. His long hunt for a “safe” seat is reminiscent of the 2018 elections, when he, as chief minister, searched for a safe seat fearing sabotage by detractors from within and outside his party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time, he has zeroed in on two seats―Varuna, the constituency in Mysuru currently held by his doctor son Yathindra, and Kolar, for which he is yet to get the high command’s nod. He has, notably, abandoned his plan to seek re-election from his current seat, Badami.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2018, he had lost from Chamundeshwari, a constituency in Mysuru he had won five times. The Vokkaligas mobilised against him and gave the win to his friend-turned-bitter rival G.T. Deve Gowda, a Janata Dal (Secular) leader from their community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Badami had saved him the blushes. But there, too, he had won only by a margin of around 1,700 votes against the BJP’s B. Sriramulu, a popular ST leader. This was despite the seat being in the Lingayat heartland and having a sizeable Kuruba population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Insiders said that Siddaramaiah’s constant attacks on former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda’s family―including calling on his party workers to “put an end to the reign of the Gowda sons”―turned the community against him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There seems to have been more scouting in 2023. Siddaramaiah picked Varuna and Kolar after a whirlwind tour of potential constituencies and a series of secret meetings with local leaders. And though this would mean that his son would be left without a constituency, the plan is for the father to win both seats and vacate Varuna for Yathindra in the byelection that would follow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A defeat in either, however, would threaten his chances of becoming chief minister, even if the Congress gets a clear majority. As it is, the Congress has been called the ‘party of chief minister aspirants’, and pre-election surveys indicating a comfortable win for the party has only made it more anxious.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar aside, the other hopefuls include Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and former deputy chief minister Dr G. Parameshwara, both dalit leaders. They have long resented the “outsider” Siddaramaiah―who came from the JD(S)―becoming chief minister “out of turn”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Parameshwara, who lost from Koratagere in 2013, suspects Siddaramaiah’s hand in his defeat. Former Union minister K.H. Muniyappa holds Siddaramaiah’s close aide and former assembly speaker Ramesh Kumar responsible for his defeat in Kolar in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Shivakumar supporters recall how Siddaramaiah kept him out of the cabinet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was also speculation that Siddaramaiah had a secret pact with the BJP to fell the Congress-JD(S) government in 2019. He apparently did not want to share power with the JD(S), which had come third in the elections but got itself the chief minister’s chair. The BJP, led by B.S. Yediyurappa, had engineered a mass defection of Congress and JD(S) legislators; most of the Congress defectors were from the Siddaramaiah camp. A few months before the coup, a video of Siddaramaiah predicting the coalition’s premature collapse had widened the rift between the partners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The animosity between Siddaramaiah and the Gowda family has only grown. Recently, he mocked the JD(S), saying it would not win more than 20 seats this time. Irked, senior JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy dared Siddaramaiah to float a new party and win at least a couple of seats to prove his mettle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When a JD(S) MLA recently joined the Congress, Siddaramaiah said he, too, was “forced out” and that the Deve Gowda clan had harassed him. Kumaraswamy shot back saying it was Siddaramaiah who was using the JD(S) as his fiefdom and was arm-twisting party president Deve Gowda to have his way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking of the party presidents, the Siddaramaiah-Shivakumar tussle has become a major headache for the Congress. Last August, Siddaramaiah turned his 75th birthday celebrations in Davanagere into a show of strength. It was a counter to Shivakumar’s ‘Mekedatu Padayatra (campaign for water)’ in the Vokkaliga heartland, through which he projected himself as the undisputed Vokkaliga leader in the state and also the next chief minister. Such is the rivalry that former Congress president Rahul Gandhi has on multiple occasions called for a truce between the two leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, even as “original” Congressmen are opposed to Siddaramaiah as chief minister, there has also been a whisper campaign against him by leaders lobbying for a dalit chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In what could be another blow to Siddaramaiah, the BJP has been trying to lure smaller SC, ST and OBC communities away from the former chief minister’s Ahinda block.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Basavaraj Bommai government recently enhanced the SC and ST quota, and also rejigged the OBC list to fulfil long-pending demands for a hike in quota by the politically strong Vokkaligas and Lingayats. Moreover, the implementation of the internal quota in the SC reservation to provide a level playing field for non-influential SC communities has further divided the Congress’s dalit vote bank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, an internal Congress report said that Siddaramaiah’s Ahinda politics is apparently alienating dominant castes like the Vokkaligas and the Lingayats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Siddaramaiah, who got power through Ahinda politics, ended up fragmenting the communities once he came to power through his divisive policies, favouring only a few communities,” said BJP national general secretary C.T. Ravi. “He defeated dalit leaders of his own party and kept them out of the cabinet. His only achievement was building a corrupt team in the party and the government.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Challenges are not new to Siddaramaiah. From cowherd to chief minister, the 75-year-old has fought several battles on his way to the top. This time, though, the battles seem to be piling up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sun Apr 09 07:14:00 IST 2023 karnataka-elections-2023-jds-challenges <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The two national parties―the BJP and the Congress―are asking voters for a clear mandate to avoid a hung assembly. In theory, the Janata Dal (Secular) is also doing the same―former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, 63, who is leading the JD(S)’s campaign, has set an ambitious target of 123 seats. But, in reality, the party is focused on bagging 30 to 40 seats. That could make it kingmaker or even king.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is no wishful thinking as the JD(S) has proven. It shared power in 2004 and 2018 after winning 58 and 37 seats, respectively. But, 58 is still its best tally almost 20 years later as it has been unable to expand effectively beyond Old Mysuru; in 2018, 29 of its 37 seats were in the Vokkaliga heartland (the region has 59 seats). JD(S) patriarch H.D. Deve Gowda continues to be the tallest Vokkaliga leader in the state and commands enormous respect from the community, but that alone is now not enough to hold the Vokkaliga votes intact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The emergence of Vokkaliga leaders in the Congress and the BJP, the exodus of JD(S) leaders and growing resentment among party workers over family-centric politics and nepotism have left the party in an existential crisis. The bigger challenge currently is the feud between Kumaraswamy and his elder brother and Holenarasipur MLA H.D. Revanna. The latter wants his wife, Bhavani, to contest from Hassan; Kumaraswamy is adamant the ticket should go to H.P. Swaroop, son of former MLA H.S. Prakash.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To make matters worse, Bhavani declared her candidature and claimed senior leaders would soon make the announcement. Kumaraswamy refused to budge. If given the ticket, Bhavani would be the eighth family member to enter electoral politics―Anitha, Kumaraswamy’s wife, is an MLA and their son, Nikhil, is set to contest from her seat (Ramanagara), Prajwal, Revanna’s younger son, is Hassan MP and his brother Suraj is an MLC. Interestingly, Anitha announced her decision to vacate her seat for her son at a rally, much like Bhavani’s unilateral announcement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I agree that the family has stepped in and fielded a member when the party faced a crisis,” said Kumaraswamy. “But, this is not one such situation. We should avoid giving anyone a chance to call us a family-centric party.” His fear is not baseless. Deve Gowda lost in Tumakuru in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and Nikhil was beaten by Sumalatha Ambareesh―clear signs of the winds of change sweeping through the Vokkaliga belt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, Prajwal threatened to resign as MP if his mother was not given the ticket, only to be rebuked by his uncle for blackmailing. Revanna expressed his annoyance over Kumaraswamy’s stand and said he was boss in Hassan. Political analyst Ravindra Reshme said Kumaraswamy is trying to clean the taint of nepotism, but has been cornered by his elder brother’s family. “The family has managed to keep the party afloat and continues to be relevant in state politics, but family-centric politics will be the party’s undoing,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An ailing Deve Gowda has largely stayed away from the campaign. Kumaraswamy, who himself has undergone two heart surgeries, has kept the show going. The JD(S)’s Pancha Ratna Yatre, promising reforms in education, health, agriculture, employment and housing, has completed 90 days and covered 70 constituencies. The yatra broke records for most garlands received (close to 800) in 90 days of a political rally. The JD(S) will now be hoping for just enough seats to have a say.</p> Sun Apr 09 07:06:57 IST 2023 political-parties-regions-and-tactics-in-karnataka-assembly-elections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Eight years ago, Gorata―an inconspicuous village in Karnataka’s Bidar district―woke up to a unique event. Hundreds of youth chanting “Vande Mataram” gathered at the village to mark BJP president Amit Shah laying the foundation stone for a martyrs’ memorial. It honoured villagers killed by the nizam’s men in 1948 for hoisting the Indian flag.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 26, Shah returned to Gorata, now as Union home minister. He hoisted the tricolour to a height of 103 feet to inaugurate the memorial and a 20ft statue of Vallabhbhai Patel alongside it. Shah promised to develop the place into a national memorial if the BJP retained power in Karnataka. Shah sounding the poll bugle from Bidar, close to Hyderabad, is indicative of the BJP’s future aspirations. He even said: “The Telangana government did not celebrate Hyderabad Liberation Day. If the BJP comes to power there, we will.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Retaining power in Karnataka is central to the BJP’s plans to make electoral inroads in south India. But, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has been accused of corruption and targeted for “poor administration”. The party is attempting to overcome the negativity by showcasing the achievements of its double-engine government and is using hindutva to consolidate votes in Malnad (region along the slopes of the Western Ghats) and Coastal Karnataka. Its social engineering has helped it garner support of smaller caste groups. The latest such initiative is the tweaking of the reservation matrix to benefit its core vote bank―Lingayats, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is hoping to make inroads into the Old Mysuru region, where the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Congress are both strong, and is wooing the dominant Vokkaliga community. The installation of the statue of Kempe Gowda I―a vassal of the erstwhile Vijayanagara empire and Bengaluru’s architect―at the Bengaluru international airport complex and the enhanced quota for Vokkaligas under the other backward classes list are aimed at yielding a better poll outcome in the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bommai scrapped the 4 per cent reservation for Muslims under the OBC quota, citing the lack of a constitutional provision for reservation for religious minorities, instead moving them to the 10 per cent pool for economically weaker sections. The abolished quota was split equally among Lingayats and Vokkaligas―7 per cent, up from 5 per cent, for Lingayats (who were demanding 15 per cent) and 6 per cent from 4 per cent for the Vokkaligas (against a demand of 12 per cent). The BJP, which had announced 75 units of free power to below poverty line SC/ST families, also hiked reservation for SCs from 15 per cent to 17 per cent and for STs from 3 per cent to 7 per cent. In short, it may well have breached the Congress’s Ahinda vote bank―minorities, dalits and backward classes. Moreover, implementing an internal sub quota for SCs helped the BJP to reward the marginalised, left-leaning SCs for their support. The internal quota issue was put on the back-burner by previous governments fearing a backlash from the dominant SC communities, which had cornered benefits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a 50 per cent cap on SC, ST and OBC reservation imposed by the Supreme Court in a 1992 judgement. But, the revised policy has taken the reservation tally in Karnataka to 56 per cent. So, the government will attempt to use the ninth schedule of the Constitution (which lists laws that cannot be legally challenged) to protect against judicial scrutiny. The BJP asserts the change is a move towards “social justice and inclusiveness”. Politically, it is a masterstroke.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress legislative party leader Siddaramaiah slammed the BJP for scrapping the 4 per cent quota for Muslims, alleging “hate politics”. Karnataka Congress chief D.K. Shivakumar pointed out that the enhanced quotas for Lingayats and Vokkaligas were well short of the demands of the two communities. “Reservation is not alms or the BJP’s family asset that can be redistributed at one’s whim,” he said. “Lingayats and Vokkaligas are the land-owning communities and farmers who provide food for the country. We are not beggars. Also, why did the government scrap the 4 per cent quota given to Muslims to hike the quota for Vokkaligas and Lingayats? It could have hiked the ceiling beyond 56 per cent and avoided depriving Muslims. This is a ploy to seed hatred between communities and deepen the communal divide.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, which has reached a saturation point in Coastal Karnataka, Malnad and Kittur Karnataka (formerly Mumbai-Karnataka) is looking at newer territories―the Vokkaliga heartland of Old Mysuru and Kalyana Karnataka (Hyderabad-Karnataka)―to get to the clear majority of 113. It is also hoping to add seats in Bengaluru, Bidar and Belagavi districts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Bengaluru, the plan is to focus on winning Congress-held constituencies. The BJP now holds 15 of the 28 seats. Meanwhile the Congress and the JD(S) have been reduced to 12 and one, respectively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Bidar, the BJP holds four out of the eight seats and Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers Bhagwanth Khuba represents the parliamentary constituency. During UPA II, the Kalyana Karnataka region, of which Bidar is a part, was accorded special status to allow reservation in education and jobs and an enhanced development fund of 04,500 crore was set aside. However, the region, which has been represented by political stalwarts like Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and former chief minister N. Dharam Singh, is developing rather slowly. In fact, a transfer there is considered a punishment by public servants.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Belagavi, the BJP holds 13 out of the 18 seats and is facing a leadership vacuum after the demise of sitting MLAs Umesh Katti and Anand Mamani recently, and MP Suresh Angadi during the pandemic. Also, MLA Ramesh Jarkiholi had to step down as minister following a sex scandal. There is also infighting between Lingayat leaders and Jarkiholi, who is from the ST (Valmiki) community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Congress, the infighting is at the top of the state leadership. The tussle between Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar is evident and concerning for the party as both leaders are important. Shivakumar’s elevation to state chief is expected to garner Vokkaliga votes, but the party will also need Ahinda votes, for which Siddaramaiah is key.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, despite facing opposition from within the Congress, Siddaramaiah is still popular among the masses. And this rankles the BJP, especially because he is a vocal critic of the BJP. Unlike Shivakumar, who is battling a slew of cases filed by the ED and the CBI, Siddaramaiah has a clean image. So, the saffron party is trying to label him “anti-Hindu”. It also blamed him for the growth of the now-banned Popular Front of India in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite soaring summer temperatures, political parties are crisscrossing the state on yatras. The BJP has brought in Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan as poll in-charge for Karnataka, a state where he has handled multiple crises in the past. The party has also roped in its Tamil Nadu president S. Annamalai owing to his prior bureaucratic experience in the state and his appeal among the youth. In Bengaluru, which has a sizeable Tamil-speaking population, Annamalai is expected to make an impact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has also rolled out its campaigns, led by Siddaramaiah in the north and Shivakumar in the south. It is promising five flagship schemes and “poll guarantees” of 200 units of power to all households, Rs2,000 monthly assistance to women head of every family, 10kg of rice to every member of a below-poverty-line household and unemployment benefits of Rs3,000 to graduates and Rs1,500 for diploma holders for two years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP mocked the ‘guarantees’ saying the Congress leaders could not be trusted because there was no guarantee of where they would be contesting from. On a visit to the state in March, Modi pointed out that the Congress had made similar promises in Himachal Pradesh, but have not kept them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The JD(S)’s H.D. Kumaraswamy, too, taunted the Congress saying that the state was already in a debt of Rs5.65 lakh crore and that the schemes for housewives and the unemployed alone would cost the exchequer Rs70,000 crore. He said that these were false promises. The JD(S) has promised reforms in crucial sectors―education, health, agriculture, employment, women empowerment and housing. This includes free education for all children until class 12, in both Kannada and English, housing for the poor, free health care facilities at the gram panchayat level, a job for every household and making every farmer debt-free and self-reliant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Deve Gowda, 89, made an appearance at a JD(S) rally in Mysuru despite his health problems. It was an emotional moment for his huge fan base. He appealed to the people to trust his party and later greeted the crowd from a wheelchair, accompanied by his family members. The JD(S) faces the twin challenges of retaining prominent leaders and keeping the feud between Kumaraswamy and his brother H.D. Revanna under wraps. The party is hoping to get back the full support of its core vote bank, the Vokkaligas. It has also appointed former minister C.M. Ibrahim (who quit Congress) as the party chief to woo Muslims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress and the JD(S) are both hoping that anti-incumbency thwarts the BJP. And with good reason―the state has a tradition of not returning the ruling party to power. Can Bommai break the jinx and become the first incumbent chief minister to return to power since 1985? The answer is getting closer.</p> Sun Apr 09 07:04:06 IST 2023 bjp-national-general-secretary-c-t-ravi-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A former student leader in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, C.T. Ravi, 55, rose through the ranks to become an MLA from Chikkamagaluru, Karnataka. He was a minister in the B.S. Yediyurappa cabinet when BJP president J.P. Nadda asked him to work for the organisation. Ravi accepted the new role and resigned from the cabinet in 2020. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, he shares his thoughts on the BJP's poll prospects and defends the saffron party’s policies and ideology. Excerpts:</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Q</b> <b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Some surveys are estimating a clean sweep for the Congress in the polls. What is your assessment?</b><br> </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> The Congress is known to make sound rather than work on the ground. After the Goa polls, a senior Congress leader from Karnataka flew to Goa in a special aircraft to install their government, but who finally formed the government? In Uttar Pradesh, they created enough noise during the ‘Ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon’ campaign. The Congress contested in 399 seats and lost its deposit in 387.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q What are the BJP's internal surveys saying?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> We will comfortably cross the magic number. Our target is 150 seats. In Old Mysuru, we are hoping to get 20-25 seats. In Kalyana Karnataka (formerly Hyderabad-Karnataka), we hope to win 25. In Bengaluru, we have 15 out of 28 seats and we will scale it up to 20. In the Coastal Karnataka and Central Karnataka we intend to retain existing seats. In Kittur Karnataka (Mumbai-Karnataka) we want to increase our tally to 40 from 30.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q BJP has emerged as single largest party twice but hasn't attained majority.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>We have started work early as we realised there was a need for course correction. In Old Mysuru region, the party was weak but today we are in a strong position. If the opposition parties are targeting us today in Mandya Kolar and Chikballapur, it is because we are in the mainstream now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q How will you improve your performance in Bengaluru, which is known for its ‘adjustment politics’ between sitting MLAs?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>Bengaluru has party-based voters who have confidence in Modi’s leadership, BJP and its policies. We just need to focus on picking the acceptable candidates to reach our target.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Will the election plank be development or hindutva?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> We are going to the people with our development report card. In every assembly segment, 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the people are beneficiaries of central schemes, be it toilets, gas connection, electricity, ration, free health insurance or the free Covid-19 vaccines. It is now the party’s responsibility to take this message to every home and convert the support into votes. Hindutva is cultural nationalism and it has been part of our ideology since the Jan Sangh days and we do not need elections to push forward our ideology. Hindutva is not communalism. We honour the likes of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Shishunala Sharif and Ibrahim Sutar, who are Muslims. But the Congress patronises the 'tukde tukde' gang. There is a big difference between what the Congress and the BJP patronise as role models.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Hindutva is considered a political tool to push through your ideology.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> No. We do not subscribe to extremism or resort to force. We push through our ideology within the framework of democracy. We have faith in the ballot and not bullets, but the leftists neither have faith in the ballot or the Indian Constitution. We go to people and place our ideology before them. The fact that we are in power shows there is acceptance of our ideology among the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q How has the state benefited from double-engine government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>The<b> </b>Centre gives similar funds for highways and railways projects wherever the state proactively provides land through acquisition. This time, Karnataka received record amount as development funds from the Centre as both levels of the government have the same mindset towards development.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q So, will the Modi government refuse development funds if Karnataka is ruled by a non-BJP party?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>No. The Centre will always want to provide adequate funds to the states for development irrespective of the party in power. But the lack of interest on the part of the state government has affected development. For instance, the Siddaramaiah government did not send the beneficiaries’ (farmers) data for Kisan Samman Yojna. Even the West Bengal government did not show interest in the scheme for political reasons. The farmers in these states were deprived of the direct benefit transfer for want of data. The state governments in question did not want the Modi government to get credit for the scheme. Those state governments chose politics over the welfare of people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q You may deny the “40% sarkar” allegation citing lack of evidence, but the BJP seems to have lost the perception battle.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>The Congress is indulging in toolkit politics and is the director, producer and actor in the case. I will not claim that there is no corruption in the system. It has impacted our government, too. But can the corrupt Congress be an alternative to the BJP? How can a tainted party make allegations of corruption against others?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q So, you are admitting there is corruption. Who should the citizens vote for when there is no proper alternative?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>In a democracy, people always select the “far better” option though they need the “good” option. By all means, BJP is better than the Congress, be it in our nationalism or policy implementation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Madal Virupakshappa’s arrest in a a bribery case gives an impression that BJP is no better than other parties.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>Madal Virupakshappa resigned from Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited immediately after the allegations cropped up. He cannot quit as an MLA pending inquiry. If Congress was in power, they would have given a clean chit to their tainted MLA by now. They weakened the Lokayukta so that their houses are not raided. They created the Anti-Corruption Bureau, which is not an independent body.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q What action has the party taken against Virupakshappa?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>The party’s disciplinary committee will certainly look into the issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q What are the challenges to delivering corruption-free and good governance?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>DBT or Sakala (time-bound government services) was brought in by the BJP to fight corruption and ensure transparency. The “Commission sarkar” charge is not justified as we have appointed a Tender Scrutiny Committee headed by a retired high court judge Justice Ratnakala to scrutinise tenders above Rs 5 crore. This is also part of good governance. We must not forget that the lawyers, police, teachers, journalists, just like MLAs and MPs, come from the society. So, there is need for an overall transformation in the society to curb corruption. Our education reforms aim at bringing in this change through moral education. One Modi cannot eradicate all corruption. If our party is in power for a few decades, it can certainly bring about visible changes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q The BJP government has not fulfilled a majority of the poll promises made in its 2018 manifesto, alleges Congress. So, what is the development report card you are referring to?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>Our schemes have focused on building basic infrastructure and providing schemes to ensure social justice. The state government is providing Rs 4,000 to every beneficiary of the Kisan Samman Yojana - minimum income support of Rs 6,000 given to small and marginal farmers by the Centre. The Raita Vidya Nidhi (scholarship to farmers’ children), interest-free loan of up to Rs 5 lakh or the enhanced reservation for SC/ST community are all new programmes which were not in the manifesto.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You must not forget that the BJP government came into existence only in 2019 after some members of Congress and JDS got disillusioned with their parties and joined the BJP. We have not been able to focus on delivering some of the promises as there was an urgent need to design new schemes based on the changing demands. During Covid, we had to invest in healthcare infrastructure in short time to save lives and post-pandemic, we had to invest in rebuilding the lives of people. So, naturally the priorities changed. Despite these challenges, we tabled a revenue-surplus budget.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Anti-incumbency is a factor in Karnataka. While you seem to be banking on development and welfare schemes to win this elections, we have seen Siddaramaiah government’s populist schemes like Anna Bhagya failing to bring the Congress back to power.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>Elections are fought on three aspects – ‘neeti’ (policy), ‘netratva’ (leadership) and ‘neeyat’ (integrity or credibility). The Modi government’s policy is inclusive – Sabka saat, sabka vikas. But Siddaramaiah government had come up with ‘Shaadi Bhagya’ scheme for Muslim girls to appease the Muslim votebank. Another scheme - Pravasa Bhagya, free excursion for students of Class 5 and 6, was meant only for children of particular communities. This kind of discriminatory scheme was an attempt to seed hatred in young minds. But none of our schemes are based on caste or religion. Siddaramaiah was found to favour a communal party like SDPI. He is accused of being responsible for his party colleague Dr Parameshwara’s defeat in the last polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In BJP, our leaders – Modi, Yediyurappa and Bommai - have acceptable leadership. Our commitment is towards the country and Congress’s is towards its votebank. In 1986, Rajiv Gandhi who was the PM, had said that out of every rupee spent by the Centre on welfare, only 15 paise reached the intended beneficiary. Ironically, it was the Congess party that was in power from panchayat to the Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Times have changed under the Modi leadership. Today, the Centre has distributed Rs 25 lakh crore through direct benefit transfer into the Jan Dhan accounts of nearly 45 crore beneficiaries, nearly 12.5 crore BPL families have got toilets under Swachch Bharat, 11 crore farmers are availing benefits under Kisan Samman Yojna and Ayushman Bharat (health insurance) covers 90 crore families and not a single rupee is being siphoned off. These reflect the BJP government’s honesty and integrity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q If BJP is pro-poor, why did they reduce the Anna Bhagya (free rice) quota from 7kg per person to 5kg?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>It is common knowledge how much rice an individual consumes in a month and we are fulfilling that need. There is no question of any shortage or scarcity. Freebies are a temporary solution to poverty. We believe in permanent solutions and intend to make every Indian self reliant. ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ is possible through Skill India, reforms to education, focus on infrastructure development and by attracting investments that create jobs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our slogan in the state is <i>‘Udyami aagu udyama needu’</i> (Become an entrepreneur, become an employer). Earlier, people used to run around looking for a job. Today, youth have enough confidence to become entrepreneurs as there is a provision like Mudra (loans) scheme and Start-up India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q A major allegation against the RSS-BJP combine is that they are anti-reservation as their policies favour privatisation. This will reduce the government jobs, which mostly impacts communities availing reservation benefits.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>No. The BJP government has enhanced the reservation quota. All communities can now aspire to be entrepreneurs and job creators as there is a provision to avail loan up to Rs 1.5 crore without guarantor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP believes in changing the mindset of people to make them job providers rather than job seekers. The Congress believes in making people dependant by giving alms as they consider people as mere votebanks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q B.S. Yediyurappa is the last of the mass leaders in the state. Is BJP relying on him and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to win the elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> Modi is a blessing to our party and country. And Yediyurappa has taken up the responsibility of ensuring the party’s victory in the polls though he himself is not contesting this time. We will certainly benefit from his able guidance. The party is going to the polls under Basavaraj Bommai’s leadership as he is our chief minister. No two leaders are the same.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Has Yediyurappa announcing his son Vijayendra’s candidature from Shikarpura embarrassed the party?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>In the BJP we follow a system to pick the candidates. Even Yediyurappa is on the parliamentary board that finalises the tickets. The state committee only recommends the names and the decision of the parliament board is binding.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q The BJP, known for its Lingayat-centric politics, now seems to be trying to reduce its dependance on one community. Have you succeeded?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> There is no doubt that the Lingayat community has supported the BJP in a big way. But, it is wrong to say other communities have not. Our ideology is not casteism, but nationalism that unites all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Karnataka is ruled by caste-based politics. Can you overlook this reality?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> Once we stabilise, we can think of social justice and equal representation. In Gujarat, too, we faced allegations that only the Patel community enjoyed power. Slowly, we changed the rules of the game. In Karnataka, too, all communities will get power and justice.</p> Tue Apr 11 16:35:18 IST 2023 ayodhya-ram-temple-construction-committee-chairman-nripendra-misra-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Not everyone gets to hold the most coveted bureaucratic post in the country, and then rise to occupy an even more exalted position and a place in history. Retired IAS officer Nripendra Misra managed to do both. After serving as principal secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 78-year-old Misra now serves as chairman of the Ram temple construction committee, which he defines as a “divine task”. Between managing diverse technical aspects required to build a temple that is expected to last a thousand years, and dealing with scores of religious leaders, local people and politicians, Misra has his hands full. “It has made me more humble,” he says, as he sits down in his office at Teen Murti Bhavan in New Delhi. Misra also serves as chairperson of the executive council of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. He oversaw the construction of the Pradhanmantri Sangrahalaya (Prime Ministers’ Museum) which has turned into a popular destination in the national capital.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Misra spoke exclusively with THE WEEK, explaining the intricacies of the Ram temple construction and the challenges he encountered. His current task involves travelling regularly to the construction site in Ayodhya, holding a review meeting every Saturday and making decisions when diverse opinions come in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The question on top of everyone’s mind is: When will the temple be ready for devotees?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The deadlines are set by the [Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra] Trust. The trust has already given a construction plan. As chairman of the construction committee, it is my duty to see that we adhere to this schedule. When they approved the design and details of the temple and the complex, three dates were given. The first is December 31, 2023. By this date, we are expected to complete the ground floor, except the iconography on the pillars. There are 160 pillars on the ground floor. Each pillar, as per shilp shastra, will have 16 figures. Carving them takes time. It has various constraints. For instance, one pillar has to be crafted by one person as far as possible. It is his hand that matters. If I put four people, it will obstruct the work and they will create different figures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mandap, ceilings, walls and the complete structure, including lighting and all other support structures, will be done by December 31, 2023. We will also have the deity in the garbh griha (sanctum sanctorum). The deity will be installed with pran pratishthan (consecration) and all the rituals, and the religious requirements would be completed by December. And the deity will move there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By January 14-15 next year, the temple will be opened for darshan for devotees also. That is when the sun is in the uttarayan (northward movement). In the second phase, the complete framework will be done, which means the first and the second floors, though the iconography will continue. But one will be able to see the complete temple. The lighting will also be done.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The outer parikrama boundary (parkota) will be complete. Those who want to do the parikrama will have the provision to walk 750m. The outer wall of the parkota will have provisions of murals made in bronze, depicting the value-based life of Ram. He is called maryada purushottam Ram, one having the highest form of maryada (righteousness). People can walk through it. If we include the parkota, we are talking about an area of eight acres. But when we talk about the temple, it is 2.8 acres.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The complex is 77 acres. In December 2024, the temple will be completed along with the parkota. By December 2025, one will see the complete complex which will have all facilities like the pilgrim facilitation centre, holding areas for devotees and facilities for personal requirements of devotees. The technical and security system will also become operational at that time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Apart from the original plan, are there any new additions being made to the temple?</b></p> <p><br> <b>A/</b> In the complex, there is a decision to make seven temples for Maharishi Valmiki, Shabri, Nishad Raj, Acharya Vashisht, Rishi Vishwamitra, Ahalya and Agastyamuni. In the parkota, on the outer side, there will be an arrangement for the distribution of prasad, which people can have after the darshan. All of this will be complete by December 2025.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the reason behind building these seven temples?</b></p> <p><br> <b>A/</b> The starting point was one of the review meetings with the honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi. When the progress was being conveyed to him, he observed that Ram really became maryada purushottam during his journey (exile) of 14 years. That was when he set the principles of social integration and the principle of how good wins over evil. On his return, Ram defined the role of a benevolent king. If you remember the line from Ramayan, Ram’s sense of justice is what you see in a human body.... It takes everything for energy, but it ensures distribution according to the needs of all parts of the body. It does not keep everything to itself. That is how a king should be. Ram is called the benevolent king, and has all the elements of democracy. The prime minister said the social cohesion of the temple had to give a message―it must not be just a place of worship, but it should also be a place to show how society developed. That is why he suggested that if you have these temples, then you will give a larger message to the people in terms of acceptance. In fact, that is another reason that we are also going to have gopurams, which is entirely a south Indian concept. When a man from south identifies himself with this, he feels that this is his place, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So, the suggestion for the gopuram came from the prime minister?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>All these ideas came from him, but he does not want to influence [our decisions]. He only puts forward his point and leaves it entirely to the trust, which, according to the Supreme Court, is an autonomous body.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Can you tell us about the challenges you faced in building the temple and explain the innovations you brought in?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The challenges start with the ambitions. If you don’t have any ambition, then you will not face a challenge. The first challenge was to make this temple to last a thousand years or more, like our ancient temples. Our problem was that there is not enough researched engineering material about ancient temples. There are certain beliefs, certain piecemeal information but there was no single place where we could find those. Many IITs have now requested us to keep records of our construction so that it could be added to the syllabus for civil engineering students. So the obvious challenges started in terms of engineering details and the materials used.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I will try and explain the first challenge. When soil was tested, it was found that it was unstable, so we referred it to IIT Madras and also formed a committee comprising Prof V.S. Raju, who is emeritus director of IIT Delhi, the directors of IIT Surat and IIT Guwahati and representatives from the Central Building Research Institute in Roorkee, L&amp;T and Tata Consulting Engineers. The question was: What would we do to this soil? An obvious choice was to provide pile foundation, and make it very strong. When that was tried at a few places and a certain load was created, it tilted a little. Many engineers were of the view that it could be structurally corrected and they asked us not to give up on pile foundation as it was the most established engineering requirement for high rises all over the world. The other choice was to address the improvement of the soil. So we requested IIT Madras for engineered soil which will have the features of stone. They asked us to first dig out and remove 15 metres of soil. It was like digging a well. Had we gone down a few metres more, we would have found water. Then on the recommendation of IIT Madras, engineered soil was brought in. The filling was done layer by layer. One layer of certain width was done and was compacted. Then a sample was taken after 14-28 days and tested in the lab to verify whether it acquired the features of stone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at the challenge we faced: If piles or rafts are used, what material should be used? What should be the specification to be achieved from the foundation, how strong should it be? There should be some technical parameters. There was a timing issue, too, as we had to complete the task before the monsoon. It required a combination of engineering, skills and knowledge. Another risk was that the committee of experts gave us both choices―it could be done either with piles or with engineered soil. They also said that there was some technology in London called rotary compacting scheme. Finally, a decision was made by the trust. In the raft, which is over the foundation, we decided not to use any iron. So it will not be RCC (reinforced cement concrete). After the raft, it was the plinth, which was 2.5m. The final decision was in favour of granite as it is the strongest stone for the plinth, and absorbs the least water and was the least reactive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, you know, these challenges are on a daily basis. The lighting on the facade was another challenge. One easy technology was to use projectors. There is also the monkey menace. But let us say we can overcome that. However, 80-odd projectors would not have been a beautiful sight. There is another technology which is for linear absorption of light. The projector would be utilised for the shikhar (tower) and the rest of the mandap. On the outer facade, linear light will be used. Then came the question of flooring. One also has to look at the cost. So it is a compromise between technology, timing, cost and making sure that the temple will last a thousand years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The challenges came, but everyone supported us wholeheartedly and came up with the best possible solutions. Details about all the decisions that we made have been recorded and the document is with the temple trust.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You say the temple would stand for a thousand years. Has it been equipped to withstand all challenges?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>The temple should be maintained, avoiding wear and tear. There could be earthquakes. So the CBRI got the data for the last 500 years and performed laboratory simulation about the kind of load. Then there was the question of floods and the effect of climate change. All these things were considered while making the choice of the material and technology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you drawn inspiration from ancient temple techniques in terms of material and construction?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It was decided that iron should not be used as it has a life of only 90 years. It was decided that stone should be used and not cement in the construction of the walls. About the type of stone, the major consideration was how long it will last. No cement is used for construction, but cement slurry is used for support in case there is a cavity between two stones, but it is not used in the walls. So, you could say that the choice of material was largely inspired by our ancient temples, but on the engineering side, as new technology is available, we depended a lot on our IITs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did you reach out to any international bodies?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We sought assistance from our tech institutes; they are among the best in the world. Another institution that was consulted to ensure that sunlight fell on Ram Lalla’s forehead was the CBRI, along with the Astronomical Institute in Pune.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Can you explain the process to ensure that sunlight falls on Ram Lalla’s forehead?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The sun’s rays will fall on Ram Lalla’s forehead every year on Ram Navami (Ram’s birthday). The challenge was that each year, there is a movement of the sun and the date of Ram Navami also changes. The rays have to come at 12 noon which is believed to be Ram’s time of birth. The sun will come up to a point in the shikhar. And then it will have to be diverted to fall on Ram Lalla’s forehead. The entire calculation has been done for 20 years by the CBRI and the Astronomical Institute. The rays have to come through the shikhar where the aperture has been made.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Can you give us an overview of material being sourced from different parts of the country and the stone being used for carving the main deity?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We have got the best granite from Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, marble is coming from the mines of Rajasthan and stone from the Bansi-Paharpur area of Rajasthan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will there be two idols in the garbh griha?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> When the devotees stand in the temple, they will be 30 feet away from the idol. They will not be able to see the present idol from that distance. So we have to create a standing Ram Lalla, which will be just behind the current idol. The devotees want two things: a blessing coming from the eyes of the lord. So, the eyes must lead the eyes. The average height of an Indian is 5 feet 7 inches. So from that point of view, that should be the height of the idol. Then there is samcharan―devotees should be able to pay their obeisance at the lord’s charan (feet). That is why a standing statue will be placed on a pedestal. The height and the age of the idol should depict the bhav (spiritual attitude) of five- or six year-old Ram Lalla.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So we will have an achal murti, and an utsav murti―one idol will be permanent and the other, which can be taken out during processions if needed, like in the case of Puri. The present idol will be utsav murti.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So, a new idol of Ram is being carved.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The initial question was about the stone to be used for carving the lord’s idol. We decided that the existing Ram Lalla’s statue be brought in on an ‘as is where is’ basis. But there will be a standing Ram Lalla with an age of four to six years and a height of 51-52 inches. The rays of the sun have to fall on the forehead of this standing idol, so this is important for the scientists to calculate. So only that stone is now under consideration. The idol must not absorb water, when it is given snaan (bath), and it should not react to atmospheric acidity or any chemical. The choice is stones found in some rivers of Karnataka, granite and marble from Rajasthan. There is also shaligram, from a river in Nepal. No decision has been made yet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The decision is to call six sculptors to Ayodhya and ask them to guide us, as the most important thing is the carving of the stone. They must test whether any kind of chipping will take place. That has to be completed. They will have the final say. We have to select two sculptors. You cannot depend on one. They must finally decide on the stone with which they are most comfortable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What will be the experience for a devotee?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Crowd management is going to be a challenge. We have given the crowd management study to RITES (Rail India Technical and Economic Service), a body under the ministry of railways. Their first test will be on Ram Navami which falls on March 30 this year. That day they will be able to find out the footfall in the makeshift temple, Hanumangarhi and the Saryu river. They will also get to know the [flow of devotees from] from Prayagraj, Lucknow and Varanasi. They will survey how these visitors come here, whether they first take a dip in the river, go to Hanumangarhi or directly come to the temple.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So, safety will be the key?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Nothing in the building should be so constructed that it becomes a challenge in safety. One example comes to my mind. The garbh griha has three doors and its chaukhat (threshold) must be according to shilp shastra. The threshold’s height is roughly two feet and its width is three feet. What is the challenge now? You can have the threshold here and no one would cross it. The mandap next to the garbh griha has nine doors, so the threshold was also constructed here. But when there are 2.5 lakh to 3 lakh devotees, there will be some pushing and jostling. So, the threshold in these doors could have led to a stampede even if one person were to fall. So, despite our architect sticking to shilp shastra, we took a decision that there will not be a threshold in any other part except the garbh griha. Here, vaastu and shilp shastra have been ignored and we are going by the safety of the pilgrims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you plan to regulate the entry of devotees?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> There will be a token system for people who want to deposit their stuff. There will be 60 counters for this at the pilgrim facilitation centre. As for allowing mobile phones, we have not yet made a decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The temple is going to be on the world map. What new facilities are being created?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is the biggest challenge for us. In one of his recent visits, the prime minister said that despite having a temple, if we do not have the necessary infrastructure and civic amenities, it will be a major failure. We need parking, hotels, water, sewage systems and wide roads. The state government is widening the roads. In many areas, the locals have agreed to donate land and roads are being widened to four lanes or six lanes. A smart city is also coming up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What about the temple timings?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It will be governed by the number of security people needed. At the moment, the temple opens at 6:30am and remains open till 8pm with an hour-long break in the afternoon. But on special days, we will have to keep it open for 14 to 16 hours. If five lakh people come, one visitor will have about 17 seconds to do the darshan. How is this satisfying? That is the challenge we are trying to address.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ With so many stakeholders involved, how do you ensure consensus?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> This is an entirely new experience for me. But this art of working with people of all faith and emotions is new for me. Their oldest feeling about Ayodhya is that they have launched the agitation and it is because of them that this day has come. They want a say in the construction as well. So, whatever decision is taken, it must appear that it is their decision, too. I have been extremely conscious and sensitive to their requirements. Whether I succeed or not, I will get to know only in the end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You were posted in Uttar Pradesh when the Ayodhya agitation started. How do you see your current role?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>This particular role is a totally divine one for me. I never thought this would come my way. After serving at the prime minister’s office, I had gone into some sort of hibernation. And then came the Supreme Court judgment which envisaged that there should be a chairman for the construction committee. And somehow it came my way. Today, I am a religious person. I have no hesitation to say this. And it is entirely devotional. If God desires it, it will be completed through my hands and I will have made some contribution. God willing, I will complete my devotion to the temple by December 2025.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Has this changed you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It has made me more humble. There are enough egos, emotions and challenges that come my way. If I react with the same ego and same emotions, then perhaps there will be confrontation.</p> Mon Apr 03 15:18:53 IST 2023 ayodhya-ram-temple-opening-impact-on-bjp-2024-election-campaign <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>January 25, 1987, marked the beginning of a new phenomenon in India’s socio-political journey. Starting that day, the country used to come to a standstill every Sunday morning for the next 78 weeks as the state-run broadcaster Doordarshan started airing episodes of Ramayan. Its religious appeal primed the country’s populace even as demands for a temple at Ram’s birthplace in Ayodhya grew. A year later, the BJP, which had only two Lok Sabha MPs back then, adopted a resolution at its Palampur national executive demanding the construction of the Ram temple. The fledgling party found its cause. On November 9, 1989, the shilanyas (foundation laying ceremony) was carried out at the site, and when Lok Sabha elections were held a few days later, the saffron party’s tally surged to 85, and it has not looked back since.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thirty-five years after the shilanyas, Ayodhya awaits the grand opening of the Ram temple after a series of legal and political battles. The temple is expected to open on Makarsankranti next January, ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Nripendra Misra, chairman of the Ram temple construction committee, said that by December 31 this year, the garbh griha of the temple would be complete and Ram Lalla’s idol would be moved to his permanent abode.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opening of the Ram temple will be a key element in the BJP’s narrative for its 2024 campaign. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the prime mover behind the building of the temple, is likely to be the main beneficiary of the public sentiment built around the religious issue. The Modi government has delivered on two of its core ideological promises ahead of the elections―building the Ram temple and the removal of Article 370. The temple will find resonance in the Hindi speaking states which have remained the saffron party’s core support base. The new temple could also attract voters from the southern states, especially on the cultural and spiritual fronts, by creating newer linkages for social integration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The issue is likely to reverberate during the assembly campaigns in heartland states like Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, which go to the polls later this year. Elections are due in Karnataka and Telangana, too, and the BJP hopes the issue will work there as well. During the election campaign in Tripura earlier this year, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had invoked building the Ram temple while attacking the opposition. The BJP performed well in the state and retained power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The excitement around the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation benefited the BJP and now it is time for its final result. Whatever the party promised, it delivered. The BJP will gain from the temple construction and also when it is opened to the public,” said Badri Narayan, director, Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad. “The BJP will bring the temple into the campaign in an organised manner. Even if it displays the picture of the completed temple, it will have an impact on the Hindu mind. The main impact will be felt in Hindi-speaking areas, but it will not be limited to those areas. The people in the south are also religious; they may vote for regional parties, but they look up to the temple, and thus it will have an impact. Modi will be the sole beneficiary.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Ram temple will go beyond the symbolism of a Hindu deity to signal a larger message of cohesion and cultural synthesis. It is social engineering through invoking divinity. Based on Modi’s suggestion, the temple complex will have seven new temples dedicated to key characters in the Ramayan―Maharishi Valmiki, Shabri, Nishad Raj, Acharya Vashisht, Rishi Vishwamitra, Ahalya and Agastyamuni―who are revered by different castes and communities and in diverse geographic regions. Valmiki is revered by dalits, and so is Shabri. Surat has a temple dedicated to her, while the Sabarimala temple in Kerala is believed to draw its name from her. Nishad Raj is revered by the fishermen community. Acharya Vashisht was a Brahmin, while Vishwamitra belongs to the Kshatriya caste. Ahalya and Agastya have temples dedicated to them in various parts of the country. “The message is clear: maryada purushottam Ram is for all castes and communities within the Hindu faith. Shabri is an icon of the Musahar (rat catcher) caste. At the Jayapura village adopted by Modi, a temple dedicated to Shabri was built for the Musahar caste. This was done as a message to the marginal castes and communities,” said Narayan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly, Modi’s idea to link the Ram temple with the south through the use of gopurams―an architectural element found in temples in south India―aims to bring visual and cultural synchronisation across geographies. According to Misra, Modi wanted the Ram temple to go beyond being just a place of worship; he wanted it to be a place to show how society developed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is all set to invoke the cultural linkages with the new temple as the building materials are sourced from many of the poll-bound states. For instance, granite has come from Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and marble from Rajasthan. The Modi government does not want the young voters, who probably do not remember the UPA regime, to feel fatigued about the BJP rule. Building the Ram temple is one way to renew contact with young voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP knows that development alone does not win elections. Often, an emotive issue is also required. The party realised it after its loss in the 2004 elections, despite the ‘India Shining’ slogan. When L.K. Advani became BJP president for the third time, he said the party was wrong in assuming a direct correlation between good governance and electoral outcome. “In the BJP’s voyage from the fringe to the centre of the political stage, we aroused many expectations, some extremely emotive. We were unable to fulfil some of those. The construction of a grand temple in Ayodhya was one such issue,” he had said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi was part of Advani’s rath yatra where he learned to pick up the pulse of the people. Advani brought the Ayodhya issue to the fore of India’s political discourse with his rath yatra which was launched on September 30, 1990. The original charioteer may have faded away from the political scene, but the impact of his initiative has had a lasting impact on the country’s polity and national consciousness. It was Modi who fructified that dream.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the Ram temple has been the BJP’s biggest politico-cultural project, it is also keen on developing other religious sites like the Kashi Vishwanath corridor, the Mahakal corridor in Ujjain and the Kartarpur corridor, in an attempt to deepen its engagement with the electorate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Ram temple is not a political issue for the BJP. It is one of its commitments. The party always stood for due legal process given the fact that a wrong has been committed. The identity of Ram and what he stands for is part of India’s proud civilisational heritage,” said BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli. “The building of the Ram temple has been welcomed by all, including by those political entities who created every possible impediment when we tried to resolve the issue.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An RSS insider said that apart from the socio-cultural aspects, the construction of such temple complexes were important from an economic standpoint, too. “They bring in tourists and pilgrims in hordes which helps rejuvenate local and state economies. In the Kashi Vishwanath corridor, the government spent over Rs900 crore, which has already been recovered,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This means other political parties have no choice but to support it. Most political parties welcomed the Supreme Court verdict allowing the construction of the Ram temple. The Aam Aadmi Party led by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, for instance, built a replica of the Ram temple in Delhi and organised aartis. It made electoral sense as the AAP managed to wrest the coveted municipal corporation of Delhi from the BJP, which was in power for the past 15 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s weapons for the upcoming elections are welfarism and development backed by cultural and spiritual nationalism. The BJP has also been relentless in its attack on opposition leaders, with investigating agencies aggressively questioning and booking them on corruption charges. “Don’t you think action should be taken against them? People believe Modi when he attacks those indulging in corruption,” said a senior cabinet minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the sangh, which has been at the forefront of the Ayodhya agitation through its front organisations like the Vishva Hindu Parishad, the Ram temple is an important landmark for its formulation of Hindu rashtra. “The issue is not just of a temple, it is of Ram rajya, the ideals that Ram stood for,” said VHP international working president Alok Kumar. “There cannot be discrimination based on caste or community or economic conditions. We are not saying that Hinduism should be the national religion. All religions should get equal rights and be allowed to flourish, but no one should get more than others.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Milind Parande, general secretary of the VHP, said the Ram temple would emerge as the primary temple of the country. “Hindus had to fight for the Ram temple for more than 500 years. It has laid the foundation for Ram rajya, which will be good for everyone,” he said. “The temple construction should not worry the minorities as it is a cultural work that is not against anyone. It assimilates everyone.”</p> Sat Apr 01 17:57:04 IST 2023 ayodhya-transformation-to-a-different-city <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Every morning, the sun rises over the Saryu to see a different Ayodhya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>‘Grand’ is the word often used to describe this changing land of Ram. It is a word that transcends words like ‘piety’ and ‘humility’ that are more associated with the king of Ayodhya, the most human of Hindu gods, one bereft of the spectacular powers of fellow deities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One interpretation of the word ‘Ayodhya’ is that of a place which is not to be fought for, one that is invincible. But today there is a fight to draw up a different kind of Ayodhya where the comfort of the pilgrims is also taken care of.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest of these plans is the laying of three corridors for easy access to the Ram Janmabhoomi. The longest of these is the 13km-long Ram Path that extends from Sahadatganj to the Lata Mangeshkar Chowk. Here, instead of getting into the city, pilgrims will take a road which connects them directly to the Sri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The road could have been aligned differently as it is not part of any parikrama (circumambulation) route and, therefore, not sacrosanct. However, temples, mosques and gurdwaras on its path have been dismantled and rebuilding is not permitted. “We are still planning and might require more land,” is what local officials say. Nothing is committed on paper.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Devendra Nath Mishra of the Lal Mohariya Chah Bhaiyya Dharamshala―a property of the erstwhile royals of Nepal―struggled to describe how he felt about the destruction of the institution. “I am satisfied by the compensation, but I do not understand why the state is erasing heritage,” he said, pointing to the ornately carved boundary wall which had been demolished a while ago. “Foreigners are coming to see indigenous architecture, not modern doors,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the most puzzling of these demolitions has been that of the Singh Dwar, an iconic gateway to Hanumangarhi, the hilly fort from where Lord Hanuman keeps a watchful eye on the city. The dwar had carvings of the twin fish―the iconic symbol of Awadh’s might and glory, which is now used by the state government. It was one of Ayodhya’s most recognisable markers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To this new Ayodhya, which is readying an international airport to welcome visitors from across the world, have come offerings from Janakpur in Nepal, the birthplace of Sita. These are in the form of two shaligrams, weighing 26 tonnes and 14 tonnes. Shaligrams are rocks found at the bed of the Kali Gandaki, a tributary of the Gandaki in Nepal. The ammonite fossil is worshipped as representative of Vishnu and the natural lines they have are known as their markers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Satyendra Das, chief priest of the Sri Ram Janmabhoomi mandir, said, “Carving on these shila is ill advised as they are venerable in the form in which they exist.” It would also not have been easy to eke out forms from them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lallu Singh, BJP MP from the Faizabad (Ayodhya), said the plan for the city’s growth was an ever expanding one. “The railway station’s first phase was expected to cost Rs100 crore; it has now gone up to Rs240 crore. It will have the country’s largest air concourse which will connect platforms one to five,” he said. “A proposal of Rs360 crore has been sent to the Railway Board to develop the Cantonment railway station. The work of doubling the Barabanki-Ayodhya-Ambedkarnagar rail track route will finish by December this year.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>New roads are being built, new pipelines are being laid, tangled electricity wires are getting straightened, public conveniences are being created and the entire city is getting a makeover.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then why are not all residents happy?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nand Kumar Gupta, chairperson of the local traders association, said, “There were many sparsely populated alternatives available to make access to the temple easier. Those who have been displaced used to earn their livelihood here for generations. Once uprooted, they will not find a place as economically viable as this. The financial and the emotional void will never fill.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most shopkeepers who ply their trade do not own the buildings they operate from. The ownership is with erstwhile royalty, temple trusts or it is nazul land (government land not used for agriculture). Some 4,000 shopkeepers are affected by the demolition, but by the government’s calculation of ownership, only 700 qualify for compensation. Moreover, Ayodhya’s development does not square with the government’s plan to get the city the UNESCO heritage tag.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ayodhya is the city of a thousand suns, the representative of the dynasty to which Ram belonged. Every evening, when the sun sets over Ayodhya, it might look at and wonder at its huge lookalike that has come up on the façade of the revamped railway station. And also feel curious about the Ayodhya it will return to the next dawn.</p> Sat Apr 01 17:54:59 IST 2023 hunt-for-amritpal-singh-punjab-family-life-activities-khalistan-links <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Glittering bangles cover her thin wrists. Stars sewn into her blue salwar kameez sparkle. She sits, precariously, on the edge of a bed, like a ship anchored in a tumultuous sea. She is Kirandeep Kaur, wife of Amritpal Singh, radical Sikh preacher and India’s most wanted man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kirandeep, 29, married Amritpal in February, months after he took over as the leader of the radical group Waris Punjab De. The wedding took place in a gurdwara at Jallupur Khera, a village of 250 families in Punjab’s Amritsar district. She has been in Amritpal’s ancestral bungalow for the past two months, watching herself and the family plunge into crisis as Amritpal became a man on the run. “This is going to be my first long spell without him since I got married,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his absence, it is Kirandeep who is taking care of Amritpal’s distraught parents, sister-in-law and children. Outside the iron gate―which has the letters AKF etched on it, after the Anandpur Khalsa Army―CCTV cameras keep watch on every movement. It is a world far away from the one she grew up in.</p> <p>Born and raised in the UK, Kirandeep was a physiotherapist and interpreter when she met Amritpal online. She ran a radio programme on Punjab, titled Punjab Diya Leheran (The waves of Punjab). When she decided to marry Amritpal, she said, she knew that he was a man with a mission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;I understood and accepted it,&quot; said Kirandeep. &quot;He told me, ‘If I have to choose between panth and our relationship, panth would be first.' I knew I was his second priority.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Amritpal was also a caring husband. “Would I have married him if I knew he could not give me time and did not care about me? He really loves me and cannot bear to see me upset. He has always been gentle and caring,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The past two months, however, have been extraordinary for the couple. Amritpal, 29, started giving incendiary speeches, spreading fear and disharmony, and his supporters brandished swords and guns, attacking policemen and causing social unrest. The Punjab Police slapped six FIRs against Amritpal and arrested hundreds of his associates. As he went into hiding to evade arrest, the National Investigation Agency began investigating his alleged terror links. The Union government took unprecedented steps to catch him―lookout notices at airports, seaports and international borders, as Punjab witnessed the biggest manhunt since the dark days of terror in 1984.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kirandeep’s life has plunged into a deep well of uncertainty. Camping outside Amritpal’s home, a quiet place until recently, are dozens of journalists and cameramen who relentlessly chase the family for soundbites. The relatives hardly open the gate, except when they are forced to counter stories about Amritpal’s alleged terror links and anti-national operations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE WEEK met Amritpal’s uncle Sukhchain Singh. He reluctantly opened the gate when I told him that I had come only to listen. He led me to a veranda inside the compound, and offered me water. Near the veranda were stacks of mattresses―meant for Amritpal’s close associates who used to visit often.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sukhchain said he and Amritpal’s family had been residents of Jallupur Khera for nearly 25 years. Sukhchain lives in another house that the family owns nearby. “We made good money from a truck business in Dubai. We all have worked hard to build the wealth,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Sukhchain, the allegations against Amritpal are part of a political conspiracy hatched by the drug mafia in Punjab. “Amritpal was running a de-addiction campaign,” he said. “He rose in stature in the community so fast that powerful forces decided to go after him. He has not murdered or robbed anyone. He has given some statements, but he has not threatened to kill anyone.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Punjab Police, however, accuse Amritpal of having direct links with Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the US-based founder of the secessionist group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), which has huge traction in Canada. The police also say they have unearthed evidence of Waris Punjab De receiving funds from dubious sources. With the support of a section of the Sikh diaspora in the US, the UK, Canada, Germany, Greece and Australia, SFJ and similar outfits have been whipping up pro-Khalistan sentiments. The sentiment is yet to find organic traction in Punjab, though.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amritpal’s father, Tarsem Singh, has four brothers―Sukhchain, Harjit, Prem and Manjeet. Both Prem and Manjeet work with Tarsem in Dubai, while Sukhchain takes care of the family back home. Harjit, accused of being an old Khalistan hand who influenced Amritpal, was arrested in Jalandhar on March 20. Tarsem came to India early this year for the wedding, but he has since been busy handling Amritpal’s court cases. Sukhchain has been holding fort in Jallupur Khera in his absence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amritpal has two siblings―a brother who lives in Dubai and a sister in Canada. The family is well-knit, in personal as well as business matters. Amritpal was brought up by uncles, aunts and cousins, and he had little time to mingle with friends in the village before he left for Dubai after finishing school. He joined the family business after he failed to graduate from a polytechnic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently, his radical transformation began around this time. Amritpal’s mother, Balwinder Kaur, was the first to spot the troubling signs. “He cut his hair before he went to Dubai, and the family was very upset with him,” she said. “After that, I saw less and less of him. He was working and did not come to India often.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a child, said Balwinder, Amritpal was rather undemanding. “He would eat anything I cooked. I used to ask him [whether he wanted anything else] but he never demanded anything. In fact, when we used to fry pakodas, he would refuse to eat them,” she said. Apparently, Amritpal did not like fried food.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Dubai, Amritpal joined a gym to bulk up. “Once back home, he never had time to exercise. He used to sleep and wake up late,” said Balwinder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For a devout Sikh to not wake up to pray before sunrise is unusual, but Balwinder said Amritpal slept late because of his commitment to work. “He would be on his phone till late at night. He would wake up by around 11am sometimes,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Neighbours Parvinder Kaur and Rajwant Kaur have known Amritpal’s family for many years. Amritpal, they say, grew up in front of them. “My daughter studied with him in Class 5,” said Parvinder. “Amritpal was respectful towards his elders; he was a good child.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajwant said Amritpal was always courteous and appeared happy in helping his family business grow. The police, however, say he once angered elderly people during an event in Moga district. Apparently, Amritpal took away their chairs and asked them to squat on the floor like everyone else. Upset, the elders reportedly stopped following him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Did his followers lead Amritpal down the path of violent radicalism? “It appears that quite a few of them (followers) had criminal backgrounds and cases against them for indulging in vandalism and other crimes. Lumpen elements were getting attracted to him,” Amit Prasad, additional director general of police (counter intelligence) in Punjab told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior NIA officer in Delhi said Amritpal was not following the traditional Sikh way of life. “The Ajnala violence (the storming of the Ajnala police station in Amritsar by Amritpal and supporters), his gang of drug addicts and [instances of] car snatching by close associates do not match with the principles of any religion or with the sentiment he was trying to tap into. There was disconnect with the Sikh ideology as well as the masses,” said the officer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amritpal was also reportedly suffering from health issues. The police said he was admitted to a hospital last year when he was leading a religious procession called Khalsa Vaheer in Amritsar. The illness apparently forced him to a take a weeklong break. “We do not know if he had a headache or seizure, but there was some issue,” said an officer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shehnaz, Amritpal’s sister-in-law, said he underwent an eye surgery in Georgia. “He wanted to get his eyesight corrected to avoid wearing spectacles,” she said. According to Shehnaz, there is suspicion that Amritpal went to Georgia to receive terror training, even though there are records proving that he underwent the surgery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is little information about Amritpal’s activities abroad before he became infamous. Intelligence agencies have been poring over evidence, digital and physical, seized from Amritpal’s house to find out whether he was involved in anti-national activities. “Some old CDs, a pen drive with some songs, a few tablets used by my father and daughter were seized during searches,” said Shehnaz. The allegations against Amritpal, she said, had made life difficult; she has not been able to send her daughter to school since he went missing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There was tension in the area after the Ajnala incident,” said Harkrishan Singh, deputy superintendent of police in Jallupur Khera. “But there is peace in the area now. Almost 75 per cent of the population here is against him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An eerie calm now surrounds Jallupur Khera, some 10km off the highway from Amritsar. On the outskirts of the village is the gurdwara compound where Amritpal used to run his de-addiction centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sukhchain said their family always tried to give back to the community and Amritpal was doing the same. Starting a de-addiction centre in the gurdwara complex is unusual, but Amritpal did it. The police say it served as a front for setting up his own militia. Around 70 drug addicts were allegedly recruited and trained to launch a strike at short notice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Harkrishan, there were no medical professionals or facilities at the de-addiction centre. “It was an excuse to form a band of drug addicts that would work for him,” he told THE WEEK. “When a police team reached the place, we were told that the drug addicts living there had left.” He said the centre became empty after the Ajnala violence. The police later nabbed some of the inmates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gurmukh Singh, a sevadar (volunteer) at the gurdwara, said the centre had rehabilitated around 20 addicts. They would visit the centre and the adjacent langar (community kitchen) hall every day, and engage in activities like cleaning and serving food. “The activities used to keep them so busy that they ended up quitting drugs,” said Gurmukh. “Drug addiction is so rampant here that we even had a schoolboy come in here once.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Harpreet Singh, another sevadar, said Amritpal worked so closely with the addicts that he barely had time to pray or interact with the sevadars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Balbir Singh, a villager who regularly visits the gurdwara, said people came to the centre on their own. “No one was forced to come here,” he said. “Only those who really wanted to quit drugs came. They would spend 10 days to three months here before leaving.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The centre has been closed since February 15. A poster on the wall with Amritpal’s picture says it has been shifted to Moga district. But the sevadars say the Jallupur Khera centre was the only one run by Amritpal. Apparently, the Punjab government has taken steps to trace and shut down all de-addiction centres run by Amritpal or his associates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Neutralising Amritpal’s influence, which now extends beyond Jallupur Khera, would be a more difficult task. Amritpal has been projecting himself as a follower of militant leader J.S. Bhindranwale, who was killed during Operation Blue Star in 1984. News of his rise has reached Jasbir Singh, Bhindranwale’s nephew, in Rode village in Moga district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jasbir said Amritpal rose in stature because of his efforts to rehabilitate drug addicts. “Yes, he got emotional about certain issues and made strong statements,” said Jasbir. “Anyone can make a mistake. It is not that he has been working underground. Every meeting and programme was held in front of everyone.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jasbir has been under the scanner for allegedly supporting Lakhbir Singh Rode, his brother and chief of the separatist Khalistan Zindabad Force. Lakhbir, who is based in Pakistan, has been accused of being involved in several terror attacks in India and abroad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jasbir says he has met Amritpal. According to him, Amritpal is just one among many aspiring Bhindranwales in Punjab. “There is no successor [to Bhindranwale],” said Jasbir. “Bhindranwale was unique. But, there are many Amritpals. One has just gained limelight.”</p> Sat Mar 25 18:28:23 IST 2023 amritpal-singh-wife-kirandeep-kaur-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ You say Amritpal is innocent. Is he fearless, or has he failed to understand the law of the land?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Amrit told me anything could happen anytime. He was [aware of it]. If the government is against him, it can arrest him, but he never told me that he could be [pursued] in such a way. The way it is being done is illegal and it is not the correct way to try to detain someone. Obviously, with what he was doing, I knew there is a risk of him getting arrested. I used to ask him for my own peace of mind, “Amrit, will you be at risk?’’ He told me that risk was always there because he was preaching about Sikhism and the government did not like it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did you know about his preaching activities before you met him?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yes, I messaged him regarding one of the projects he was doing. He was about to go live on Instagram to discuss the issue of raising our voice for Sikhism and saving our language. That was how we got in touch. But, at that point in time, I never knew that we were going to get married.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Were you following him on social media?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yes, I have been following him on Instagram for a year. I saw that he was popular and his posts were being shared by many people. I sent him an appreciation message and told him that what he was doing was very good. I said he was powerful in his approach and that I would support him. It was just a supportive message.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did anyone share his social media posts with you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>No, he just popped up on my Instagram page. We had no common contacts and there was no third person involved in our marriage other than our families.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you think he liked about you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>I think he liked the fact that even though I was born and brought up abroad, I was deeply spiritual in my approach to life. I pray five times a day, look after the elderly, don’t drink alcohol and eat vegetarian food. I think it was a different image that he saw, compared with girls who live abroad. But I don’t think he married me because he wanted me to be a part of some jatthebandi (Sikh group). In fact, I asked him whether he was sure about marrying me as I was not as religious as him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When did your family move to the UK? Are they religious?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> My grandfather moved to the UK in 1951 when he was in his 20s. The family has been there since then. But we used to visit Punjab every two years or so, but as I became busy in life, I found less time to travel to India. Like many Sikh families abroad, I used to go to Punjabi classes at the gurdwara since I was 12, or perhaps even younger. So I learnt how to read and write the language. As a Sikh, you believe in your religion, but my family is not a family of preachers and we did not have such discussions at home. It was like any other regular household.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When you spent time with Amritpal, what did he talk about?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Whenever we spoke, it was not about jatthebandi. In fact, I used to avoid asking him deep questions because I knew he was already busy and would be tired after his programmes. So I wanted him to rest and not have just one thing on his mind all the time. Of course, when he was home, he was never doing anything that would cause any danger to anyone. He was so gentle and innocent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He told me that if he had to choose between the panth and our relationship, the panth would come first. I always knew that I was his second priority. But he really loves me and cannot see me upset, ever. Every girl, every woman wants a caring husband―if I knew he could not give me his time and did not care about me, why would I marry him? But it was my choice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you travelled with him during his programmes?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> He always wanted me to be safe. That is why he did not want to take me along during his programmes. I could still step out since no one recognised me and all the hate hitting him would not hit me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Does your family support you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> If they were not supportive, this marriage would not have happened. I told them about Amrit, but when we first spoke, the situation was nothing like as it is today. Amrit did not know that by coming back to Punjab, his image was going to become so big. We had other plans. We did not think we were going to live in Punjab forever. I left my job, my family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your main worry?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It has been so many days and we do not know about his whereabouts. If he is with the police, at least we know he is there, but the problem is that we do not know anything about him. There is no contact and I don’t know what state he is in. It is very hard for me and I just want him back home safe. I left everything to be with him. But I am not leaving Amrit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you plan to go back to the UK?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I am not going to run away from this situation. [There are] allegations that I have links in the UK or that I am doing something illegal. I am here legally, I can stay here for 180 days. I have been here for two months already. I will not go against the law and will not overstay beyond the stipulated period. This is my home now. Earlier, too, when I went back to the UK after staying here for six months, it was for a week to visit my family. Amrit said it was reverse migration. He did not go to the UK, I came here.</p> Sat Mar 25 18:23:23 IST 2023 punjab-police-in-hot-pursuit-for-khalistan-leader-amritpal-singh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Aam Aadmi Party government in Punjab led by Bhagwant Mann chose to join hands with the Union government to nab pro-Khalistan leader Amritpal Singh and his associates, despite the frosty ties between the AAP and the BJP. The Mann government was startled by the revelation that Amritpal, aided by Pakistan’s ISI, was trying to form his own armed militia called the Anandpur Khalsa Fauj.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The top security brass in Delhi has been watching Amritpal's rise for a while, but they chose to give the local police the opportunity to take the initiative. But with the security situation getting out of hand, the Intelligence Bureau and the National Investigation Agency have stepped in, backed by a political decision made at the highest level to assist the local police. Leading the operation is Punjab DGP Gaurav Yadav, a 1992-batch IPS officer, who is known for his suave style and swift moves. He leads an experienced counter-intelligence team that is tracking and tracing Amritpal and his associates, using technological tools and traditional policing methods.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The investigation is supported by the NIA, led by director-general Dinkar Gupta, a 1987-batch IPS officer, who was appointed as chief of Punjab Police in 2019. He was dropped from the post by the Congress government led by Charanjit Singh Channi in October 2021. Gupta was brought to Delhi to head the NIA in 2022. He had pioneered Punjab Police’s efforts to bust gangster-terrorist networks by making the force tech savvy. His involvement has made co-ordination easier for his former colleagues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Just as the joint operation was about to deliver results, Amritpal managed to give his pursuers the slip, putting the pressure back on the police. &quot;It is a critical time and I hope there is no blame game. The joint operations should continue to ensure the desired result,” said a senior official in Delhi. “Once the network is busted, the criminal elements will stop aligning with Amritpal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also much work ahead for Central intelligence agencies who have detected a sustained pro-Khalistan online campaign in support of Amritpal―coming from Canada, the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Even as internet services were shut down in Punjab, the pro-Khalistani alliance remained active abroad, throwing up links to the ISI-backed conspiracy of destabilising the border state. Most of the tweets supporting Amritpal and Khalistan have come from Canada and the US, where the organisation Sikhs for Justice is active.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A similar wave was seen in 2020 during the time of the farmers' protest, and pro-Khalistani accounts created at that time are still active.“On the face of it, everything seems independent to each other. But it has actually been part of a larger objective of the toolkit,” said an intelligence official. Several entities close to Amritpal also have links with the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF), which is banned by the Union home ministry. The KLF is run by Pakistan-based Lakhbir Singh Rode, the nephew of slain Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Amritpal has been heavily influenced by the life and ideology of Bhindranwale.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the notification banning the KLF, the home ministry blamed the outfit for killing innocent people, targeting police officers, bombing civilian targets, collecting funds for terrorist activities, bank robberies and for assassination attempts on important government functionaries. According to intelligence officials, Lakhbir's close associates played an important role in Amritpal's steady growth as a top rebel leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Lakhbir's family in Punjab does not support Amritpal, the police is investigating his links with some members of the Waris Punjab De (WPD) founded by Deep Sidhu. After Sidhu's death in a road accident, Amrtipal has taken over the organisation. Intelligence agencies are worried that the ISI is using WPD members to influence Punjab's disgruntled youth. An ISI officer code-named “Mirza” is learnt to have overseen WPD's funding activities since Amritpal came to India. Hawala networks are being used, said investigators, adding that a probe is on to bust these networks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The KLF and Lakhbir have been on the NIA's radar after multiple terror attacks in Punjab, like the 2021 IED blasts in a Ludhiana court complex. A year later , the name of Harwinder Singh Rinda, a member of the banned Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), came up in connection with the May 2022 grenade attacks on the intelligence headquarters of Punjab Police in Mohali. Rinda's alleged game plan was to tap into Punjab's gangster-terrorist network and the police is investigating possible links between him and Amritpal's associates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NIA has evidence of Lakhbir being assisted by cross-border smugglers to bring weapons into India. The fact that Amritpal's armed militia was carrying unlicenced weapons like 12 bore double-barrel guns has led investigators to probe his links with the BKI and the KLF. Sources said more details of the ISI's penetration into WPD activities would become clear once Amritpal was arrested and interrogated. So far, no direct handler has been identified, but several call records point towards the ISI's involvement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sidhu had brought the WPD under the scanner with his tractor rally on January 26, 2021, leading to unprecedented violence at the Red Fort, but his successor Amritpal has reshaped the organisation into one with suspected links to banned outfits and foreign entities which are now targeting Indian missions abroad.</p> Sat Mar 25 18:21:20 IST 2023 making-of-oscar-winning-indian-song-naatu-naatu <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Like the main dancer swaying at the festival of a local <br> goddess,</i></p> <p><i>Like an aggressive bull jumping in the dust of the fields,</i></p> <p><i>Like playing with a stick while wearing wooden slippers,</i></p> <p><i>Like young boys gathering in the shade of a banyan tree,</i></p> <p><i>Like eating a red jowar roti with red chilli paste,</i></p> <p><i>Listen to my song. Naatu, Naatu...</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On screen, brothers in arms Raju and Bheem made arrogant British men fall to their feet with their dance of rebellion. Off screen, cousins M.M. Keeravani and S.S. Rajamouli were in sync, too. Together, they and other members of their clan sculpted a film, in particular a song, that leapt across barriers of language and music to set feet tapping all over the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When we first saw the song on the screen, it gave me goosebumps,” said Jeevan Babu, a keyboardist who worked on RRR and who is a close associate of Keeravani. “It was as if all our hard work had paid off.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 12, powered by goodwill, countless TikToks and an intense PR campaign, ‘Naatu Naatu’ won best original song at the 95th Oscars―a first for an Indian production. “I’m on top of the world,” Keeravani told reporters afterwards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What worked for ‘Naatu Naatu’ could be any number of reasons: The urge to root for an underdog, the catchy tune with a repeatable chorus, the fantastic choreography, or even, as cynics might argue, the jury feeling good about themselves for being inclusive and voting for an outsider.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b><a title="How to do the 'Naatu Naatu' hook steps" href="">ALSO READ:&nbsp;How to do the 'Naatu Naatu' hook steps</a></b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“‘Naatu Naatu’ has all the flavour of a traditional Indian song,” said Malayalam lyricist M.D. Rajendran, who has worked with Keeravani. “That was the reason for its success. Keeravani has delivered a truly original Indian song.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whatever the reason, it was a proud moment for Indian cinema, especially for the Telugu industry, which has elevated mass cinema in recent years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The song, a complete story in itself, shows the heroes one-upping the villains through dance. It was shot in front of the presidential palace in Ukraine. Editor A. Sreekar Prasad, who cut RRR, told THE WEEK: “Rajamouli had set it up in a way that we would get the emotion right as the song is about friendship. The idea is that he (Raju) does not want his friend to be insulted in front of everyone. When the British insult him, it becomes about the rise of the native. Many songs can be made to talk about emotions and drama, but this is one in a billion.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also fan service in the video, as two huge stars of Telugu cinema―Ram Charan and NTR Jr―ultimately square off in dance. “Rajamouli decided the length and number of scenes in the song while shooting,” said Prasad. “He had shot more footage than a song usually has. When we were editing, Rajamouli actually told us not to worry about the length of the portions where the interaction between the heroes and the sacrifice happens (towards the end of the song, Raju falls down so that Bheem does not lose face in front of his lover). He told me to just use the rhythm of the song, which we call the track. I actually edited portions where there was no lyrics or music. It was only a beat track. Then Keeravani filled those portions with music. And those portions were extended [in the film] to get all the drama.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“For the story, it is actually a fight scene,” Rajamouli told Vanity Fair as he broke down the video. “They (heroes) cannot really fist fight and blow their cover. [So] it moves into a kind of competition. You see a dance, but in effect you get the emotion of a fight.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Getting the emotion right was crucial. And it took time. Though Keeravani and his team came up with the tune quickly, they produced more than 50 versions of the song over the course of a year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malayalam director Viji Thampi remembered a similar episode. “In 1992, my film Soorya Manasam was released with Mammootty as the lead,” he said. “He had worked with Keeravani for the Tamil movie Azhagan, and had suggested his name. At the time, Keeravani was not too well-known. A meeting was arranged in Madras to discuss the music. After listening to the situation and the story, Keeravani asked for three days to compose the tunes. Unlike the usual style of everyone staying together to compose, he preferred to work alone. We stayed back in Madras while he worked. When we returned after three days, Keeravani performed a puja and gave us 23 different tunes for the song ‘Tharalitha Raavil’. He played each tune on the harmonium and sang them for us. In my experience, I have never seen a music director work with such dedication and create so many different versions of just one song.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The choreography of ‘Naatu Naatu’, too, followed a similar path. “I came up with 120 movements, of which 96 were filtered out, and finally three were finalised,” Prem Rakshith told THE WEEK days before flying out to the US for the ceremony. “The hook step was from these, and it became a big hit.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rakshith, who had shopped for his Oscars outfit that day, has worked in about a hundred films, delivering some of the biggest hits in the Telugu industry. He has been active since 1993; Keeravani, even longer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Known as Maragathamani in Tamil and Malayalam, and M.M. Kreem in Hindi, Keeravani has nearly 250 films to his credit. He started with Manasu Mamata in 1990, but it was Ram Gopal Varma’s blockbuster Kshana Kshanam, the following year, that truly launched his career. Nearly every song in that film, starring Sridevi and Venkatesh, has great recall value.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Early in his career, Keeravani assisted revered musicians from the Telugu and Malayalam industries―K. Chakravarthy and Rajamani. In Tamil, his most popular songs came in K. Balachander’s Azhagan (1991) and Vaaname Ellai (1992). Having previously worked with Ilaiyaraaja on the musical hit Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal (1989), Balachander had creative differences with the musician. So, when he wanted to begin Azhagan, which was centred on music and dance, Balachander brought in Maragathamani. ‘Sangeetha Swarangal Ezhey Kanakka’, the most popular number in Azhagan, was unique in that it seamlessly blended in with the Doordarshan title music.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mahesh Bhatt’s Criminal, starring Nagarjuna, introduced Keeravani to Hindi audiences. ‘Tu mile’ was an instant hit, and this was when Keeravani and Bhatt became close. When the latter set out to make Zakhm, based on his own life, in the late 1990s, he signed up Keeravani. Bhatt counts ‘Gali Mein Chand Nikla’ from the movie as one of his favourites. They worked on several projects and, a few years ago, Bhatt flew down to Hyderabad to be on a talk show honouring Keeravani. “He is a special man,” Bhatt had said. “He is a national treasure. He is the man who came closest to my unuttered emotions as a filmmaker.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a career spanning more than three decades, Keeravani delivered some of the biggest hits in Telugu music while working with ace directors such as K. Raghavendra Rao and Ram Gopal Varma. Rajamouli has used him for all his movies, including the Baahubali franchise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Keeravani is someone who excels in melody,” said Malayalam lyricist Kaithapram Damodaran Nampoothiri. “After writing the songs for Soorya Manasam (1992), Keeravani himself sang the tracks.... I wrote the lyrics for the tune and rhythm that he sang to us in a studio at AVM. Although he had difficulty understanding some of the Malayalam words, he got the Sanskrit words as Telugu also includes many Sanskrit words. Filmmaker Bharathan is also a great admirer of melody and it is possible that he called on Keeravani to work in Devaragam due to his appreciation of Keeravani’s compositions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An expert violinist, the 61-year-old is also a master keyboardist; he sings and, at times, improvises lyrics. “For the song ‘Ya Ya Ya Yadava’ (Devaragam), he wanted to keep the ‘Ya Ya Ya’ bit,” said Rajendran. “The director wanted Malayalam words there, but Keeravani insisted on keeping the expression, saying that the girl was teasing her lover. So, he had that sense of lyrics. The emotions through the expression. He has got all the qualities of a singer, lyricist and musician. This trinity is hard to find. He was still in his early years and could have sung all the songs himself. But, he paved the way for others.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike popular composers, Keeravani has no fancy home studio. For him, music can be born any time, anywhere, as long as he is in the right mood. “He is the fastest composer I have worked with,” said Jeevan. “Working with him is like a picnic. He extracts work out of you like a good doctor administers an injection without pain.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources said that, while filming RRR, the pandemic-induced lockdown drove the team to Rajamouli’s farmhouse in Nalgonda, about 150km from Hyderabad. Here, a temporary studio was set up for Keeravani. When outdoor shoots were held in remote areas, Rajamouli was not able to physically attend music discussions. Hence, a caravan was transformed into a studio and was parked near the shooting location. Whenever Rajamouli found time, he joined Keeravani and tracked the progress of the music.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their discussions were not limited to songs. Keeravani is a stickler for what he thinks is a good script. In fact, during story discussions, especially for Rajamouli’s films, Keeravani inspects the script and provides inputs. Only if he is convinced of the story and the director does he commit to a project. He reportedly rejected seven or eight films last year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One man he does approve of is NTR Jr. (Bheem in RRR), with whom he has worked for about two decades. He even dedicated one of his songs to the actor after he was told that it was the latter’s favourite. Since then, Keeravani only sings ‘Raalipoye Puvva’, from Matru Devo Bhava (1993), with the actor’s permission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>NTR Jr was just out of his teens when he first worked with Keeravani. And, like him, Keeravani has helped nurture the young talent as a judge on talent shows on television. At home, he coached his son, Kaala Bhairava, to be a singer. He co-sang ‘Naatu Naatu’ and also performed it live at the Oscars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Keeravani and Rajamouli are part of a big joint family (see graphics) that is different compared with other, more glamourous Telugu industry families, say insiders. Every Sunday, 15 to 20 members of the family meet at one of their houses―most of them stay in flats―to play cards, joke around and gossip. Keeravani, who likes his humour subtle, is a regular at these meetings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He is a versatile musician dedicated to his work,” his cousin M.M. Srilekha, also a music director, told THE WEEK. “At the same time, you can always see him being jovial in the studios. While composing music, a word or two strikes him and he builds on it. You can never see him being arrogant or full of pride. “As a family, we feel blessed with the recognition we are getting. I can say that it is God’s miracle that, despite not being trained professionally for a long time, there are many musicians in the family. My father was spiritual and Keeravani follows him. Just like my father, he also observes lent by blindfolding himself for three days.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The family’s talent speaks for itself. Once, in the 1990s, the family of around 20, along with Keeravani’s core team, went to the Mookambika temple in Udupi, Karnataka. Each of them was given a specific task. Rajamouli, then in his 20s, was told to take photos. He apparently did a stellar job, offering a glimpse into his future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a way, the Keeravani-Rajamouli family could be India’s answer to the Coppolas or the Shearers―a family that has Oscar winners and nominees across generations. “I feel very happy that he got the Oscar,” writer and Rajya Sabha member Vijayendra Prasad, who is Rajamouli’s father and Keeravani’s uncle, told THE WEEK. “We feel fortunate as three generations of our family worked on RRR, including me. The Oscar award was a moment of pride for the Indian movie industry. It has opened a window to the western world and we can now look at it as a market. I have seen Keeravani grow. He was a shy boy. He was just four or five when he expressed interest in learning the violin and he was encouraged to learn the art.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The family originally hails from Kovvur, near Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh, but later moved to Amareshwara Camp near the Tungabhadra in Karnataka and bought 300 acres to farm. Keeravani’s father, Shiva Shakti Datta, along with Vijayendra Prasad, had cultivated another dream. They moved to Chennai to try their luck in the cinema industry. Once there, money ran out. They had to sell their land bit by bit to finance their ambition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under the screen name ‘Datta brothers’, they started selling stories to Telugu producers. Keeravani started assisting the top musicians of the time, and slowly built a name for himself. He brought stability to the family and Rajamouli later brought international fame.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soft-spoken, simple and modest, Keeravani is known to maintain relationships, personal and professional. “Human relations are very important to him,” said Geminiee Rao, a percussionist and longtime musical assistant to Keeravani. “He cares for his family and professional contacts and does not abandon relationships. He remains untouched by all the success that comes his way.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thampi, who has not worked with Keeravani since the 1990s, said: “He has a strong work ethic and remains dedicated to his craft. Even today, we maintain a strong connection and communicate via WhatsApp. He is someone who values relationships and works hard to maintain them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Keeravani has many labels: intellectual, deep thinker, eccentric, loner and spiritual. A devotee of Lord Shiva, he regularly visits Srisailam and Mantralayam in Andhra Pradesh. He has also released devotional albums, including Siva Basava in Kannada and Om Namah Shivaya in Telugu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Bharathan first met him at AVM while working on another project,” said Rajendran. “Having seen him once, he got the sense that this man had talent. Keeravani had a harmonium that had pictures of Mother Mary of Velankanni and Mookambika Devi. He was pious and humble, which was a rarity in the film field. Wearing saffron robes and with ash on his forehead, he looked like a sanyasi with a harmonium. But, a sanyasi who creates wonderful romantic songs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also a voracious reader, Keeravani enjoys his novels and has now moved to ebooks. A tech nut, he keeps up with all the latest trends in the industry. “Back when he was an assistant to Chakravarthy, he got himself a portable keyboard,” said Telugu producer B.V.S.N. Prasad, an old friend. “Till then, a range of instruments were used to create music. He is usually far ahead in terms of technology.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The one thing apart form music that can hold his attention all day, said a relative, is food. The Telugu industry has many stories about Keeravani’s love for “anything that tastes good”. Once, a director suggested he go on a diet and prescribed a light south Indian snack―a type of dosa called pesarattu, made from green gram flour―to avoid gaining weight. The only problem was that Keeravani liked it so much that he started bingeing on it, nullifying any weight-loss ambitions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another story is of him sitting with a producer friend for a meeting. As they talked, someone brought in ice cream. The flavour caught his fancy and the rest of the day was spent with dollops of the stuff.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Keeravani also has an interesting hobby―he documents his everyday life. Since 1979, he has written down every tiny detail of a day’s happenings in his personal diary. Today, he digitally records the details, covering both his personal and professional tracks. He has three or four backups of various moments of his life, which he does not want to lose at any cost.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>March 12, for sure, will be a special entry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>―<b>With inputs from Nirmal Jovial and Lakshmi Subramanian</b></p> Mon Mar 20 16:02:22 IST 2023 oscar-winner-indian-lyricist-subhash-chandrabose-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Telugu lyricist Subhash Chandrabose wrote about his village―Challagariga―in Telangana and won applause at the Oscars in Los Angeles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three years ago, Chandrabose was sauntering down the streets of Los Angeles with his friends after a hearty meal. But there was still some room for a visual treat. So, the group walked towards the permanent venue of the Academy Awards―the Dolby Theatre. An awestruck Chandrabose desired to step inside, but was turned away by the security.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back home, he went back to his roots to write ‘Naatu Naatu’, recollecting his rural upbringing, food habits and culture of his village. The song earned him an invite, a seat, and a shot at the Oscars. ‘Naatu Naatu’, which already had a Golden Globe to its name, went on to win the Academy award for best original song.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandrabose equates the Oscar journey to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “All I wanted was to win a national award. Now, I have got four international awards and recognition at the Oscars,” said Chandrabose, an engineer-turned-lyricist who has written more than 3,000 songs. Among other things, Chandrabose cherishes rubbing shoulders with actor Tom Cruise at the Oscars. A grounded personality, Chandrabose believes in popularising Indian tradition and culture through his work. ‘Naatu Naatu’ stands testimony to that. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why do you think ‘Naatu Naatu’ clicked with Hollywood?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>The beat and rhythm were new, and it had elements of local Indian music. They might not understand the lyrics, but the word ‘Naatu’ caught their attention. Since the word repeats, they liked that sound and got attracted to it. Of course, the synchronised dance also did its work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What was the brief given to you for the song? And, how did you compose it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I was told about the situation where the song was needed―the characters get humiliated, but they recover and perform a lively dance. I wasn’t given any instruction on what should be in the lyrics. But I was told not to criticise or insult any particular group or individual. After the meeting, I got into the car and started framing the lyrics in my mind. I had already got the hook [word]―‘Naatu’. I wrote most of the song in 45 minutes. I read it out to the team and they liked it. But we improvised it over a period of 19 months. We added the rap and the dialogues part to it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What was your first impression when you heard it in the studio?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I felt nice. There wasn’t any [big] reaction as we kept hearing it over a period of time. But I did not expect it to reach this stage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will the Oscar win reset your career goals?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is a great moment of pride for all of us. Since the world sat up and took notice of me, I will try to perfect my work from now on. It is a big responsibility…. I will try to do better with each project. My personal and professional goal is to enjoy writing every song. This goal will remain the same.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your favourite line from the song?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> There is a line that goes ‘Yerrajonna rottelona, mirapakathokku kalipinatu’. It is related to my eating habits when I was in my village. It means eating a red jowar roti with chilli paste. That one sentence summarises the food, nutrition, culture and economic status of someone from a rustic village. The song conveys that if you eat nutritious, locally grown food, you can dance energetically like the actors. The lyrics of the song are all memories of what I saw and experienced in my childhood. Art is great. This song took local culture and presented it on a global stage.</p> Sat Mar 18 18:30:31 IST 2023 emmy-winning-choreographer-napoleon-dumo-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The responsibility to showcase ‘Naatu Naatu’ on the Oscar stage fell on Emmy-winning choreographer couple Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo. With zero experience of choreographing an Indian film or folk song, the couple pulled off the feat with élan. Their popular stints include So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With The Stars. They operate under the brand name Nappytabs Creative Productions. Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Napoleon D’umo:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What was your reaction while watching the live performance of ‘Naatu Naatu’ at the Dolby Theatre? Were you expecting the song to win an Oscar?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We knew it would be well-received, but we didn’t expect a standing ovation for the performance. That is a difficult thing to accomplish at the Oscars. The Oscar audience tends to be a bit more reserved. We weren’t expecting the song to win, but we were very hopeful and equally excited when it won. It is a very contagious chorus along with a strong beat―two things we love in music.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How many dancers were on stage? Could you shed some light on the rehearsals and backstage preparations?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> [It had] 12 male dancers, eight female dancers, and two male singers. We had roughly 12 hours of rehearsal altogether with the full dance cast and one hour to block it on stage. In that one hour is when we had the two singers. Prem (Rakshith, RRR choreographer) sent us a tutorial of the original steps, and we staged, did transitions, blocked the dancers and camera moves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What were the challenges you faced while choreographing this song?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We were tasked with taking a six-minute narrative dance and making it into a two-minute live performance without losing the narrative. That in itself was the most difficult task. The dance is very energetic, and in the movie scene, it was shot in short sections. The dancers had a rough time doing it time and time again in its entirety. Prem had mentioned that they had originally rehearsed it for months. The dancers had a very limited time to not only learn it but perfect it and then deal with changes we made on the fly to react with camera shots.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is this your first brush with Indian cinema? If yes, what do you think about the music and dance sequence, which is an integral part of Indian movies?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> This was our first, and we were just honored to be a small part of the amazing music and dance. We have always been fans of Indian song and dance, and we love it! We learned the difference between Bollywood and Tollywood, the differences in different types of music and dance and their influences, so it was also very educational for us. Just hoping we can be a part of it in the future, as we are very addicted to it now. We love the narrative story through movement and song, and we thrive off its energy.</p> Sun Mar 19 12:47:00 IST 2023 the-elephant-whisperers-kartiki-gonsalves-guneet-monga-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>After The Elephant Whisperers won the Oscar for best documentary short film, director and cinematographer Kartiki Gonsalves thanked Bomman and Bellie, elephant caretakers and protagonists of her film from the Kattunayakan tribe, for their traditional wisdom that helped her in the making of the film. It marked a moment of glory for the indigenous community that inhabits the Nilgiris, and reaffirmed the friendship between Gonsalves and her “lifelong friends”. She grew up there and had to share their story with the world as a way of showing her gratitude. Being an ace cameraperson, she shot several long-form reels on her phone and other cameras and sent them to producers. Guneet Monga, with her keen eye, spotted the story as a “winner” and went all out to back it. In their first interview to an Indian publication post the Oscar win, the producer and director talk about what it takes to make an Oscar-winning film. Excerpts:</p> <p><b>Q/ Congratulations. Did you connect with Bomman and Bellie after the win?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ Gonsalves:</b> Sadly, just recently there was an electrocution of three elephants in Dharmapuri (northwest Tamil Nadu), so Bomman has been in the field. They are both overly excited about the journey. I have not personally spoken to them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ On one hand, we have a film portraying the bond between man and animals, and now we have this sad news. Did you come across such instances while making the film? Did you consciously edit it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> <b>Gonsalves:</b> Yes. One hundred per cent. Because I live in a place where animals coexist with nature on a whole different level. We have people and communities living on the periphery of the forest and it was a conscious decision to not go down the route of showing all the depressing things that were happening around. I wanted to focus only on the love and passion and the beautiful bond we share with the animals and to focus on the emotional intelligence of elephants. This, I believe, would also help in protecting the species and the landscape. So this film is an attempt at reaching out to every person, not just those from the wildlife fraternity. The film comes with a global message and resonates across continents. An example is the P-22 mountain lion in Los Angeles, which was euthanised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do the two of you plan to celebrate your victory in India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ Monga:</b> I plan to go to the Golden Temple the very next day after I land. I had said it at the Academy interviews backstage that I want to take the statuette with me to the Golden Temple. And then, when we are in Mumbai, we plan to hold big screenings, get the entire crew together from Delhi and Mumbai. And, above everything else, to go through the over 10,000 messages that are currently unread on my phone, and I am not kidding!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Gonsalves:</b> The first thing I would be doing is meet Bomman and Bellie. It has been three and a half months since I last saw them and I have been missing them throughout this journey. My parents are with me over here, so I am celebrating the victory with them right here. But once back, I would visit the forest department, and meet the elephants and share my joy with them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Any plans to help the tribals and the wildlife of the Nilgiris?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> <b>Gonsalves:</b> I did this documentary to help people understand elephants on a deeper level. The Tamil Nadu forest department is phenomenal. To me, they are the most hardworking and dedicated forest department in the country. At the same time, there are issues, too, that cannot be handled overnight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Monga:</b> Here in America, too, in the last one month we were asked if they could give money, what could they do to help... but they actually don’t need money. The Tamil Nadu forest department is doing a great job. We have recorded in the film how far they go to save elephants and to ensure they have everything they need. In fact, they put in all the efforts to send the elephants back into the wild. So this is more about love and acknowledgement than donating money.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What were your reservations before you invested in the film?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ Monga:</b> Absolutely none. Who can say no to baby elephants! And, Kartiki had amazing cinematography. She put together a reel that I saw and the potential of the story was evident to me right then. I was the first one to say that this is going to go all the way and will win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How difficult or easy was it to direct Bomman and Bellie? They come across as reticent.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ Gonsalves:</b> I grew up in this very space. The first time I ever went to the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve was when I was three. My father grew up there as well, so it is a place that I call home and it started out as a personal relationship with baby elephants; I was in love with them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And I also got to know Bomman. It was a friendship that evolved organically into what it is today. I think I found family friends in Bomman and Bellie and it is a lifelong bond that will continue to grow. And so because of the beautiful bond we shared initially, it was very easy to just go in and bring a camera in there because we had already built that trust and had the bond.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My background has been that of a natural history photographer. So, one of the things I tend to do is spend more time with my subjects, which helps in building trust and makes it easier to get into their lives and understand who they are and how they are as a people. Also, given that they are indigenous, I made sure I was listening to them and to their story rather than impose my own visualisation of their story.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was sure in my mind that I would not get any outside narrator who would take over their voice because it would act as a barrier between the subject and the viewer. No third person who was alien to them was allowed to come in as a narrator because that would take away from the emotional connect we wanted to build with the community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We did not have any sets; there were no actors and all we went in with was a lot of patience. It was unpredictable; we had to be there and not be there; we had to capture things and yet not go in with a large presence. We had one cameraperson, one sound person and one production person. And when we went into the forest, we had a naturalist, two camera people, and two more people, depending on the situation. We had a beautiful set of lenses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Bomman and Bellie got married on camera―the icing on the cake!</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ Gonsalves:</b> Yes, but it was a journey that unfolded over time. Initially, when I first met them they were independent people, but there was definitely this beautiful energy that was going around. They were both parents to Raghu (the elephant) and over the course of time we saw their bond getting stronger and stronger. Once Raghu was taken away, it was a big loss for them and you could just see how they connected with each other so beautifully over time. They did not show love the way we normally show love. They would snack together, fold clothes together. In fact, Bomman and Bellie were living together before they got married. We could literally feel their love on ground while we were around because the two of them shared so many beautiful moments together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have a good instinct when it comes to films, like Masaan, Lunchbox, Gangs of Wasseypur. How do you decide which scripts to green-light?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ Monga:</b> It is years of work and intuition combined. Further, conversations with the filmmaker help a lot. I think we are chosen to tell stories. We work hard. We show up every day. But above and beyond everything, I do think we are chosen to be a part of certain stories. There are so many stories around the world and I feel that there is this huge cloud of stories that we tap into and sometimes the right one clicks. There are so many people who have similar ideas. I think we are chosen, so I feel spiritual about this. From day one, this was a very spiritual and a sacred bond between Bomman and Bellie, and Raghu and Ammu, and I am grateful to have been a part of it and do my bit to throw a light on the story and to bring the laurels to our country. Netflix gave us a phenomenal platform. We had a fantastic back-end team―from Sikhya Entertainment [her production company], to the edit team, the camera team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Period. End of Sentence. (2018), in which you were the co-producer., had also won an Oscar. But the Academy does not acknowledge you in its records.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ Monga:</b> I was the executive producer for [it] and I have always mentioned this everywhere and on all my handles that I was not nominated. The Academy is not supposed to talk about me; it is supposed talk about the nominated people in the film. Even in this film, Achin Jain is my co-producer. Only one producer gets nominated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What does this victory mean to you? What does it change?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ Monga:</b> It encourages us to move on to our next project now.</p> <p>Gonsalves: It has given the confidence to people to go out there and tell the stories they wish to. No story is too small.</p> Sat Mar 18 18:23:28 IST 2023 raghu-and-ammu-bomman-and-bellie-the-elephant-whisperers-documentary <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Far away from the cries of joy at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles following The Elephant Whisperers’ historic Oscar win, Bomman was straining his ears for a different cry inside the Palacode forest in Marandahalli in Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri district. Bomman, one-half of the elephant whisperer couple featured in the Netflix documentary, had spent three sleepless nights searching for two baby elephants, who had lost their mother to electrocution. “How am I going to unite them with the herd? I am worried about the little one,” he tells THE WEEK. “The little one kept crying for milk and did not eat anything for the past three days. I kept coming back to the spot where the mother elephant and a Makhna (a male elephant without tusks) were buried. How can I eat or sleep after seeing this?” As he talks about the baby elephant, he remembers Raghu and Ammu, the calves he raised with his wife Bellie, in The Elephant Whisperers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bellie, meanwhile, is busy receiving plaudits for the Oscar nod from her indigenous Kattunayakan community in Theppakadu, near the picturesque Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in the Nilgiris. “I am overwhelmed as the world now talks about elephants and elephant caretakers,” she tells THE WEEK.</p> <p>Bomman left Dharmapuri only after Chief Minister M.K. Stalin asked him to come to Chennai. His phone has been ringing incessantly. “I have been getting congratulatory calls from everyone,” he says after meeting Stalin at the state secretariat in Chennai. “I am happy. But I will be very happy only when I am able to rescue the little one. I have to reunite it with the herd or take it to the Theppakadu elephant camp in the Mudumalai range.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sitting next to Bomman―his wiry hair oiled and neatly combed and with a dash of sandalwood paste on his forehead―is a smiling Bellie, clad in a red sari with a yellow towel on her right shoulder. She has come all the way from Theppakadu with her daughter Manju Sivakumar, 30. “I accompanied my mother as she hasn’t travelled anywhere out of Theppakadu,” Manju tells THE WEEK. Bomman and Bellie were brought to Chennai by forest officials as Stalin wanted to congratulate the couple. Bellie is confident that Bomman can unite the baby elephant with the herd. “If not, we can care for it and raise it, like we did with Raghu, if the forest department asks us to,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bomman and Bellie, both 54, are now superstars among the Kattunayakans, a particularly vulnerable tribal group that has settled in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Kattu or kadu means forest and nayakan means leader or chief, essentially connoting that Kattunayakans are lords of the forest―their sustenance comes from the forest and they, in turn, protect it. In Tamil Nadu, the Kattunayakans are traditional dwellers of the Mudumalai forests in the Nilgiris.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 40-minute documentary, directed by Kartiki Gonsalves and produced by Guneet Monga, is based on the life and work of Bomman and Bellie. Bomman hails from a family of mahouts. He took on the mantle after his father’s death. He is an expert in locating abandoned calves and uniting them with the herd, making him a favourite of the Tamil Nadu forest department. A few years before Raghu and subsequently Bellie and Ammu walked into his life, Bomman used to do odd jobs for the forest department; he had also separated from his first wife then. After Raghu’s arrival, his life changed, for the good.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Raghu came to Bomman injured, covered in bites by stray dogs. He was rescued by forest officials from Denkanikottai, a semi-urban panchayat town near Krishnagiri in north Tamil Nadu in 2017. “The calves get lost if they have an injury or cannot keep pace with the herd,” says a forest official who cared for Raghu along with Bomman and Bellie at the elephant camp. “Sometimes, after going deep into the forest, the mother elephant or the entire herd comes back to take the calf. Sometimes, the calf is abandoned. Raghu was one such abandoned calf, which got lost and then suffered injuries because of dog bites.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bomman was asked to foster Raghu, but because he was grievously injured, he needed motherly care and psychological support. And so, Bellie was brought in to help. Bellie’s first husband―Sennan―used to help the forest department in carrying out the wildlife census. She had three children―a son and two daughters. Her husband was killed by a leopard in the forest. “He died on the spot,” says Manju, who was all of seven then. “The leopard was sitting on a tree branch and he was standing under the tree. The leopard jumped on him and bit him in the neck. After his death, my mother raised us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bellie’s other daughter―middle child―died by suicide. She talked about losing her daughter in the documentary and how Raghu consoled her. Manju lives with her husband and daughter in Mudumalai. Her eyes light up when she talks about her daughter, who was in the documentary. Bellie’s elder son, Kaalan Sennan, works with the forest department at the Thepakkadu elephant camp. Today, both Bomman and Bellie have become elephant caretakers at the camp. “I am happy with the work I do,” says Bellie. And, it was while caring for Raghu and Ammu, who was brought to them in 2019, that love bloomed among the two―their wedding was also part of the documentary. “I have told him to do this job the forest department has given him,” says Bellie. “I told him that we can live together hereafter.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a mahout, Bomman knows well how to handle baby elephants. Under his care, Raghu and Ammu were fed milk and ragi balls as per the instruction of the veterinary doctors at the elephant camp. He would take them out on walks in the forest and also train them to live in the wild. Bellie initially had little knowledge about animals. Her first husband’s death had scared and scarred her. But Raghu and Ammu healed her―today, she is an expert in taking care of elephants. “If the elephant is sick or down with fever, its eyes will water nonstop, she says. “Its ears will turn warm. Elephants are just like human beings, and feel the same towards us like children feel for their parents.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The elephants usually learn a lot from herd members. So the younger ones are tutored and trained like being in a herd. After three to four years the elephant is given from one mahout to another and then left in the forest, only if they are willing to go. Likewise, Raghu and Ammu are now with another mahout at the camp. When Raghu was handed over to another mahout, it broke Bellie’s heart. “I was worried as Raghu got separated from me and was moved to the elephant camp,” she says. “He is my child. Raghu will recognise me wherever he is.” And, Bellie had a short but emotional reunion with Raghu and Ammu before she came to Chennai. “The forest department helped me in raising them and now when I wanted to see them they helped me again,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bond that the couple have with the animals and with each other shone through in the documentary. Gonsalves, says Bomman, knew him for some time. “She used to come to meet me,” he says. “One day she told me that she wants to film the way we raise the elephants. I said yes.” He remembers how just five people would come and film whatever they were doing for a week. “They will film us for a week, leave and then come back again,” he recalls. Bellie says that they were filmed for nine months. “I was as I used to be every day,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The elephant camp was set up in 1910 at Game Hut, where the Nilgiris begin, and then shifted to Thepakkadu in 1927. “We have rescued 84 elephants at the Mudumalai camp since 1910. Fifty-one baby elephants have been rescued and reunited with the herd,” says Supriya Sahu, additional chief secretary, department of environment, climate change and forests, Tamil Nadu. “We roped in Bellie because we wanted to give motherly care to Raghu. Bomman and Bellie lived with the calf. And, our Mudumalai camp has the best mahouts and cavadis (assistants).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 15, the state government announced Rs1 lakh each for the 91 mahouts and cavadis at the Theppakadu elephant camp and Kozhikamuthi elephant camp in Tamil Nadu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Oscar is bringing more than just recognition to these elephant whisperers.</p> Sat Mar 18 18:19:48 IST 2023 untold-story-of-the-legendary-taxidermists-in-mysore-van-ingen <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Edwin Joubert Van Ingen had a misleading surname and a truly extraordinary life. He was not from Ingen, Netherlands, as the name implied; he was born in Mysore, in an affluent family, in 1912. He was simply Joubert to his friends.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He fought in World War II, was captured by the Japanese in Burma, and found himself among the internees who built the bridge on the river Kwai in Thailand. After the war, he returned to Mysore, joined the family business and moved to a bungalow his parents had built at Nazarbad, a pleasant but fortified place that had several important government offices. The bungalow was named Bissal Munti, or “sunny hillock”, after the lay of the land.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Joubert quickly put the war behind him. With his two brothers, he expanded the family business of making animal trophies and became a renowned taxidermist himself. He hunted, feasted and raced horses, and became one of the co-founders of the Mysore Race Club. His family fortune was built on big-game hunting, but naturalists grudgingly respected him for his extensive knowledge of the wild.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He loved company, but remained a bachelor all his life. And it was a long life; he outlived all of his siblings and most of his friends. He finally died in his sleep on March 12, 2013, around four months before his 101st birthday.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Joubert was known to be a methodical man. But he made a number of strange decisions in the years before his death. As he became ill, he sold off property worth hundreds of crores―Bissal Munti, a taxidermy workshop adjacent to it, and a 236-acre plantation in Kerala’s Wayanad district―at unusually low prices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bissal Munti was bought by a friend, a reputable horse trainer in Bangalore named Michael Eshwar. They had known each other since 2002. After buying the bungalow in 2005, Eshwar moved in with his wife and two children.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Joubert lived with them under their care. He adopted one of the children, gifting him a private collection of more than 70 animal trophies. It was a priceless collection, aesthetically and historically. It not just reflected the finest work of ‘Van Ingen &amp; Van Ingen’, the trademark of Joubert’s family-run taxidermy business, but also represented an era when trigger-happy British officers, European aristocrats and Indian maharajas plundered the wealth of jungles in a race to decorate their walls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Joubert’s collection came with sheets of meticulous notes. They had information on who shot the animal, where it was killed, and how the body was converted into a trophy. This registry of crimes and craftsmanship occupied many shelves in Bissal Munti―records of tens of thousands of animals that Van Ingen &amp; Van Ingen had made into mounts before it closed down in the 1990s. The Eshwars became their new custodians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eshwar said Joubert did not just throw away his fortune. He had no living relatives he liked apparently, except for a nephew called Michael Van Ingen, who was in his eighties and visited his uncle once a week. “My uncle was a tough guy and very disciplined as he was influenced by his prisoner experience during the war,” Michael Van Ingen told a journalist in 2016. “He was careful with money, and not interested in women.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Joubert apparently trusted Eshwar with taking care of him and his legacy. “I was the right man at the right time,” Eshwar, 56, told THE WEEK. “He set a price for Bissal Munti, and I found it attractive and affordable. I sold the property I had near Nandi Hills, Bangalore, and bought the bungalow.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sale did not affect Joubert’s routine. He would wake up at 4am, warm up and circle Bissal Munti for an hour, have breakfast, and stick to the day’s itinerary. He did it till he became bedridden in 2012. “He was the most cordial man,” said Eshwar, “and he was very good to me and my family. We took good care of him throughout.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Joubert was not religious, but he took last communion. The Rev Devakumar of the Church of South India was in charge of the parish at the time. “I had never seen him in church,” the reverend said, “but some parishioners told me that the Van Ingens were members. So I went to Bissal Munti. He was in his bed and couldn’t speak. The cot had been shifted to a verandah, and there were four-five people beside him. I gave him communion. This was some months before he died.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Joubert’s death, Eshwar’s troubles began. It turned out that Joubert had lodged a police complaint against him two weeks earlier. “I remember him walking into the police station with three of his friends,” said G.N. Mohan, who was inspector at Nazarbad police station at the time. “He said Eshwar was trying to cheat him out of his assets, and that he needed help. We spoke for more than an hour, and his complaint was recorded in the station’s general diary.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A fierce legal battle thus began. As Joubert was being buried, the police registered a first information report charging Eshwar under sections 403 (dishonest misappropriation of property), 409 (criminal breach of trust), 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) and 464 (making a false document) of the Indian Penal Code. The police said Joubert’s grandniece Matilda “Tilly” Gifford of Glasgow, Scotland had accused Eshwar of harassing and defrauding him of family property.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My grandmother, Rosamond, was the only sister of the Van Ingen brothers,” Gifford told THE WEEK. “As the youngest of the siblings, she and Joubert were very close. My grandmother was sent to England as a teenager, which was quite sad but also a common thing in those times. But she and Joubert remained close, talking on phone and writing letters every week. They were in different places but they were very connected.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gifford said she was 16 when she first met Joubert in Mysore. “He was an amazing character. All his life was like clockwork. He would have breakfast exactly the same time, he had lunch the same time. There were no variables, as he had mostly himself to look after,” she said. “He was very warm, and he always involved me in everything―walking the dogs, going together in the jeep, sitting together in the evenings. After that, I would visit him once every year or two.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Gifford, Eshwar gradually cut Joubert off from friends and relatives and forged documents to take control of the assets. She said Joubert was too ill when he realised what Eshwar had done. “Eshwar created a very nasty situation, and I want him to be accountable for it,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eshwar alleged that he was framed by the police at the behest of politicians and bureaucrats who wanted to lay their hands on the estate. The FIR, he said, was completely fabricated; Joubert could not even get out of bed, let alone walk to the station. The police said Eshwar was a land shark and that the FIR was not fabricated; the issue, if anything, was the delay in acting on Joubert’s complaint.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the case dragged on, the Enforcement Directorate opened its own investigation after it was found that Joubert was not an Indian citizen. The RBI started looking into the matter as well, since the transfer of assets of a foreign national in India called for scrutiny under the Foreign Exchange Management Act.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In August 2017, the case reached the Supreme Court. Eshwar wanted the charges against him dropped, but the police wanted to continue the investigation. A three-judge bench noted that the probe had been hampered by “serious procedural lapses” and numerous errors of “omission and commission”. It ordered the Karnataka Police’s criminal investigation department, which had by then taken over the case, to file a report in 60 days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“[The CID inquiry] indicates a large volume of material facts surrounding the lodging of the FIR,” said the court, “and its authenticity needs to be investigated.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The truth, said the judges, must be unravelled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE DEAD AND THE BURIED</b></p> <p>There is truth, and then there is the ‘Indian truth’. In the Indian truth, said V.S. Naipaul, “too much that is overwhelming has been left out; too much has been taken for granted.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Popular stories about Joubert’s family and their legacy in Mysore existed mostly as Indian truths. Naipaul himself iterated a few when he visited the trophy room of the Mysore palace in the late 1980s. Among the dozens of hunting souvenirs in the room, he wrote in <i>A Million Mutinies Now</i>, was “the towering neck and head of a startled-looking giraffe… killed in Africa, and stuffed in Mysore”. There was also “the lower, curving half of an elephant’s trunk, made rigid and converted into an ash-tray or ash-bin, with an iron grille at the top for stubbing out cigarettes and cigars”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naipaul wrote that they were the work of “one of the world’s most accomplished taxidermists”. In truth, there was not one but four such taxidermists in Mysore. Two of them were still alive; Joubert and his elder brother.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Mysore, it was taken for granted that the Van Ingens were originally traders from the Netherlands. The clan was certainly of Dutch descent, but its Indian branch could trace its roots only to Galle, Ceylon, of the early 1800s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Galle was a favourite port of call of British explorers who hunted elephants for sport. The sport helped settlers clear forests and plant coffee. Some sportsmen became wildly successful. An army major shot 1,500 elephants in four years―roughly, an elephant a day―before he was decorated and shipped back to England.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Van Ingens left Galle for Bangalore in the early 1800s. Bangalore had by then become a garrison town. The British had secured control over Mysore State by eliminating a feared rival, Tipu Sultan, in 1799, and installed a five-year-old boy of the Wadiyar dynasty as the new king. For the service, the British charged one-fourth of state revenues as ‘annual subsidy’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>British India was on an expansion spree. As historian David Gilmour wrote, the wars against Tipu and other enemies brought Britain “such extensive new territories in southern, western and north-central India that, by the time of Queen Victoria’s accession (1837), the East India Company ruled nearly half of the Indian subcontinent and exercised indirect control over much of the rest through treaties with native rulers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a stunning military achievement. There were only 36,000 British troops in the whole of India―roughly one foreigner for every six Indians fighting on their side. Vast stretches of land were conquered simply by setting Indians against Indians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That strategy underwent a severe test in 1857, when Indian troops revolted and the British realised that they needed a safer troop ratio. The necessary surge in British strength was going on in 1865, when Eugene Melville, the first Van Ingen who would go on to become famous in India, was born in Bangalore. The town had by then become a sought-after destination; its combination of mild climate, western civilities, liberal women and superior rum held a certain allure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were abundant opportunities for ‘sport’ as well. Mysore State had vast forests and large swathes of hilly shrubland―which, as one writer put it, acted as a sylvan Petri dish for wildlife. A early British gazetteer in Mysore had counted “70 mammals, 332 birds, 35 reptiles, 42 fish and 49 insects”, before breathlessly declaring that “nothing less than a separate treatise, and that a voluminous one, could do justice to the marvellous wealth of the animal kingdom in a province under the tropics marked by so many varied natural features as Mysore.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The statement was no advertisement for game hunting, but sportsmen nevertheless took it as one. From the jungles of Mysore began a steady flow of carcasses to villages―deer, bear, bison and boar, and monkey, muntjac, crocodile, gaur and panther. Feasts were held, fur and fat collected, fancy boots and jackets made. To preserve memories of their glorious <i>shikars</i>, the <i>shikaris</i> gradually fostered a cottage industry―taxidermy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eugene moved to Mysore city to become a taxidermist in the early 1890s. Family records say he joined the workshop of the finest professionals of the time, the Theobald brothers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The brothers ran a fledgling operation. They employed local labourers to skin the animal, cut away all the flesh, scrape the bones clean, scoop out brains and eyeballs, extract teeth, wash the skull, and bleach, boil and paint body parts as required. A good taxidermist also needed to be a competent chemist to handle preservatives as varied as salt and pickle, ash and alum, and acid and arsenical soap. The Theobalds did rather well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or perhaps too well. By the 1890s, the brothers were struggling to meet the growing demand for expertly crafted trophies. They were also facing a supply-side problem―the increasing unwieldiness of manikins, or the rough figure used in stuffing the trophy. A lot of material went into making a good manikin for a mammal of average size―wood, sawdust, gum, glass, cloth, plaster of Paris, metal rods, grilles, wires and screws. The result was an expensive trophy that was both heavy and fragile, and difficult to ship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A solution was discovered over time―papier-mâché, or paper pulp obtained by boiling paper to which glue, and sometimes cloth, is added. Cheap, light-weight and non-flammable, papier-mâché is easily mouldable and surprisingly strong when dried. In short, an ideal composite material that reduces not just the equipment and effort that go into taxidermy, but the time and costs as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Mysore, the advent of papier-mâché seems to have had the effect of finishing off the Theobalds and heralding the rise of Eugene Van Ingen. From what can be gathered from historical records, Eugene started out on his own as a taxidermist around the time the Theobalds began using papier-mâché. They claimed they had patented the system, but later lost a legal dispute with Eugene over the matter. The Theobalds shut shop soon after Eugene quit and began making better-quality trophies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1896, the government museum in Mysore provided a telling evidence of Eugene’s newfound prominence as a taxidermist. In its annual report for that year, the museum said, “A number of decayed specimens [in the natural history wing] have been removed to make room for more worthy ones. In time, it is hoped to entirely remove the badly mounted exhibits, and have them replaced by the specimens of a competent taxidermist such as Mr Van Ingen. The museum official who is supposed to do this work is incompetent to undertake anything beyond cleaning and the merest rudiments of taxidermy, when it comes to anything larger than a crow.” The museum said it had purchased 139 new specimens, “the finest from Mr Van Ingen”, including bear and black panther, fox and peacock, and tiger and rhinoceros.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eugene was apparently so in demand that he could afford to refuse even the most important government work. An orangutang had died in the palace gardens in 1898, and Eugene was asked to make a specimen of it. “Mr Van Ingen was to have set up the specimen,” reported the museum’s report for the year, “but he found the skinning so badly done by the museum officials that he declined to undertake the work.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eugene prospered on the personal front as well. He married Adelina “Patti” Wheal, daughter of the Jaipur maharaja’s horse trainer John Wheal. They were married in Poona, where Patti was born.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the next few years, both Mysore and the Van Ingens marked a number of milestones. In 1902, Patti and Eugene had their first child, and Mysore became the first state in India where electricity was available. The Generate Electric company in New York had laid cables to power mining operations in the Kolar Gold Fields. In 1903, when the second child arrived, the kingdom found out that the hydroelectric project it had built for KGF was generating more power than needed. In 1905, when the couple had their third child, Mysore put the excess power to good use―Bangalore became the first city in Asia to light up its streets with electric lamps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patti and Eugene had four sons and a daughter. The last child, Joubert, was born two years before World War I began. After the war, three of the sons joined Eugene in the business. And thus emerged Van Ingen &amp; Van Ingen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE FORD OF TAXIDERMY</b></p> <p>In 1905, an engineer of the Ford Motor Company visited a slaughterhouse in Chicago. The first of its kind, the slaughterhouse was equipped with a long, overhead conveyor belt with metal rings for workers to hook up livestock.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The process was diabolically simple. As the belt begins moving, the first worker would hook up a live hog by its leg. When the hog reaches the second worker, its throat is cut. A third worker scalds the bleeding hog with boiling water to remove hair; and down the line would be more workers―to wash the hog, gut it, cut it into pieces, and freeze and process the parts separately. The belt was like a meat train, moving from workstation to workstation, disassembling as many as 5,000 hogs a day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many people were appalled by this modern “disassembly” line. One of them was the novelist Upton Sinclair, who wrote a novel about the horrors of the Chicago slaughterhouse. “There were high squeals and low squeals, grunts, and wails of agony,” he wrote in<i> The Jungle</i>. “There would come a momentary lull, and then a fresh outburst, louder than ever, surging up to a deafening climax. There was a long line of hogs, with squeals and life-blood ebbing away together; until at last each started again, and vanished with a splash into a huge vat of boiling water. It was all so very businesslike… It was pork-making by machinery, pork-making by applied mathematics.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Ford engineer was impressed. The company was struggling to meet the booming demand for motorcars, and the Chicago slaughterhouse offered a solution―reverse the principle behind the disassembly line, and an assembly line could be built to churn out motor cars. In 1913, the engineer helped Ford open the world’s first automobile factory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eugene was one step ahead of Ford. He opened the world’s first taxidermy assembly line in Nazarbad in 1912, clearing a large tract behind the newly built Bissal Munti. It was not the first time he had borrowed an American innovation; a Colorado taxidermist had been the first to use papier-mâché.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The working of the Van Ingen factory was a trade secret revealed only in 2003, eight years after it was officially closed. A British scholar of taxidermy named Pat Morris visited Joubert and obtained his permission to record how it had functioned for more than 80 years. According to Morris, the Van Ingens ran “very likely the largest and the most sophisticated taxidermy operation ever in existence”. The factory had dedicated workspaces for different stages of the taxidermic process, and more than a hundred skilled workers who were assigned to specialise, Chicago style, in sundry processes involved in making a trophy―from washing, de-boning and pickling, to clay-moulding, manikin-making and mounting. The animal bodies that moved along the line were referred to as ‘jobs’. Each job had a corresponding ‘job card’ containing information about who worked on each of the processes. Foremen helped the Van Ingens run the factory, which in its heyday churned out thousands of trophies a year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ‘raw material’ came from jungles across India. Both herbivores (deer, wild buffalo, gaur, blackbuck, rhinoceros) and carnivores (lion, leopard, tiger, wolf, hyena) were hunted and converted into trophies. All this was enabled by the Indian Forest Act, 1878, through which the colonial government assumed ownership of forests and wildlife across British India. The act carved forests into reserves, which in turn were divided into shooting blocks. The entry to the blocks was regulated by licences. For British and Indian nobility, obtaining game-hunting licences and collecting souvenirs became a mark of prestige. The booming <i>shikar</i> culture did wonders for the gun and taxidermy market.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Shikars</i> had a social utility as well. The colonial administration saw that they were useful in training soldiers and keeping British youth from gambling and drugs. In his celebrated 1859 book <i>Wild Sports of India</i>, Major Henry Shakespear advised British parents to instil in their children a love for hunting, for “this will keep them fit for their duty as soldiers, both in body and inclination”, and keep them “out of a thousand temptations and injurious pursuits [arising out of] ennui and thoughtlessness”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Between 1875 and 1925, the jungles paid a heavy price for curing the British of peacetime lethargy. As many as 80,000 tigers, 1.5 lakh leopards and two lakh wolves were hunted and killed. Dozens of small mammals became extinct, and dozens more were driven to near extinction. Lions, which once roamed forests in much of central and north India, almost became history. By 1888, there were no lions left outside the Kathiawar peninsula in Gujarat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maharajas, too, joined the British in the plunder. The king of Cooch Behar spent 37 merry years hunting big game all over India. He wrote a book about it. Maharaja Sadul Singh of Bikaner shot more than 50,000 animals and 46,000 game birds, and had the best of them mounted by Van Ingen &amp; Van Ingen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After 1912, more than half of all animals and birds that hunters wanted to convert to trophies came to the Van Ingen factory in Mysore. The family kept copious notes about the comings and goings―where each body came from, and in what condition, and where the specimen was destined for.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eugene became the Ford of the taxidermy business, with his own Model T―the mantled tiger. To be precise, snarling, lifelike tiger heads mantled to wooden shields. But unlike the iconic Model T, the world’s first affordable motorcar, the custom-made Van Ingen tiger trophy was so expensive that only the cream of the big-game hunters could afford it. But those who could competed to claim as many mounts as possible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The walls of the ‘tiger hall’ of the famous Hopetoun House in Scotland, for instance, have nine tiger heads from Mysore. They were owned by Victor Hope, aka Lord Linlithgow, viceroy of India from 1936 to 1943, who said “the destruction of these abnormal and dangerous animals is a service of great value” to the empire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Many Britons in India, especially visitors, were desperate to ‘bag’ at least one tiger,” wrote Gilmour, “and there were some dedicated tiger-slayers such as George Yule, a civilian said to have killed hundreds of these animals.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The British who had served in Mysore had a special reason to relish tiger hunting. Troops who had killed the Tiger of Mysore, Tipu, in 1799 had discovered a mechanical toy showing a tiger on top of a British soldier. The toy was encased in wood, and within it was a crankshaft and a pipe organ. When the crankshaft made one hand of the helpless soldier move, the pipe organ emitted a wailing sound from the soldier’s mouth and a grunt from the tiger. Nothing could have incensed the British more. After restoring the kingdom to the Wadiyars, and commemorating the victory with a medallion that showed the imperial lion of Britannia overpowering a tiger, the British started exterminating the beasts. Hundreds of tigers were slaughtered every year since 1800, most of them for no reason other than sport. Special rewards were given to kill tigresses and cubs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The <i>shikaris</i> were inspired by a booming literary genre of tiger-hunting tales. They often portrayed the animal as a crop-destroying man-eater whose killing was a service to humanity. In <i>Wild Sports of India</i>, Shakespear went to the extent of describing the tiger as a bloodthirsty vampire that “relished” bleeding its prey. “This is always done preparatory to eating,” he wrote, “by opening the jugular vein with his large fangs; and it is very commonly the case, that a tiger would satiate his thirst for blood and not eat for several hours after.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such hyperbole gradually became a key element of <i>shikar</i> tales. And the processes involved in taxidermy even contributed to it. For example, a recommended procedure before treating the tiger skin with preservatives was to stretch the skin. Some sportsmen stretched not just the skins, but their tales as well. The result was that impossibly large tigers began to be killed for the pleasure of readers hooked to hunting tales. The scam was later busted by a hard-nosed hunter-journalist, James Forsyth, who said skin measurements “have done more to extend the size of the tiger than anything else”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The skin of a 10ft tiger will easily stretch to 13 or 14ft, if required,” Forsyth wrote. “And if the natives are allowed to use the tape, they are certain to throw in a foot or two to ‘please master’. Master himself, no doubt, pleases himself in a similar manner.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Van Ingens, however, were sticklers for accurate measurements. Their assembly-line taxidermy called for shaping manikins that were as lifelike as possible. “Bones, bellies and skulls were measured in inches to make moulds of accurate size,” Manjula K., a third-generation employee of the Van Ingens who joined the factory in its sunset years, told THE WEEK. “Accuracy was crucial because these moulds were meant to replace body parts.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tiger hunting required long hours of simply waiting and watching, and sportsmen often opted for ‘soft kills’―that is, shooting the animal from a safe distance when it was in a vulnerable state, such as drinking water from a ditch or languishing under a tree in post-meal stupor. The challenge for the taxidermist was to make a trophy out of the animal that would give the impression that the hunter had killed it after a heroic struggle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Van Ingens were very good at making full-scale tiger trophies,” said Manjula. “Trophies would be ordered in particular poses―standing, running, leaping. This called for making accurate moulds and arranging the various parts in a particular fashion, at a particular angle. Reconstructing mouths was especially difficult. Closed mouths were easy, because workers didn’t have to work on the expression. But, for a snarling tiger, you had to get all the features, even the curve of the mouth, right. It was trophy-making by mathematics.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Van Ingens called it art. In 1928, the firm published a handbook called<i> Preservation of Shikar Trophies</i> to educate itinerant sportsmen on the prerequisites for getting a quality trophy. The handbook was signed ‘Van Ingen &amp; Van Ingen, artists in taxidermy’. “It is essential that skins and masks be in perfect condition if the finished trophies are to be a success,” read the preface. “Sportsmen should realise this, as the taxidermist cannot be expected to work wonders.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A key piece of advice for sportsmen was ensure cheap labour. “Every village has a chamar; they are very low jat Hindus. They are cobblers, tanners and dealers in raw hides on a small scale,” read a chapter. “The first thing a sportsman should do on getting into camp is to engage a chamar, either for helping to tie out baits or as a camp coolie.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Van Ingens also warned against being a generous employer. “Although the chamar is the best man you can obtain to help in preserving your trophies, leave nothing to his tender mercies. Like most [local] men, the chamar also has a little tired feeling. He should work under strict supervision…. If properly instructed, coolies can do a tiger in six hours at most.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Time was of the essence. Time meant decay and disintegration, and the whole point of taxidermy was to prevent time from spoiling precious trophies. Days at the factory would begin at 7.30am, with the loud clanging noise of metal rod against steel girder. Workers were strictly monitored to maximise output. The rigours of the assembly line often provoked rebellious workers into sabotaging valuable skins by making ‘accidental’ cuts. Hence, the gradual implementation of job cards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manjula was just eight when she joined the factory in 1987. She worked there till it closed down in 1999, acquiring enough skills to become a taxidermist herself. Her father, Kendaganna, was a true cog in the machine. He had joined when he was 10, when the factory was in its prime, and worked till he died. Kendaganna’s father, Biliaiah, was a hunter of repute who accompanied Eugene and Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar, the 25th maharaja of Mysore, on their expeditions. The elephant ash-tray that Naipaul saw was the result of one such expedition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kendaganna specialised in making glass eyes. The factory imported glass orbs of various sizes from Germany, and Kendaganna would paint them in a manner suiting the animal being stuffed. It was the eyes that animated a trophy, and he was a master in pouring life into them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mysore’s labour pool was large and cheap, so the Van Ingens could do away with men who did substandard work. Those who did good work were fully utilised. Manjula, 44, recalled living in the factory as a child, as the workload prompted Kendaganna to stay put several nights at a stretch. “The factory was seven long sheds built side by side,” she said. “The main shed was in the middle, with three sheds each on either side. The shed on the far left housed the ‘operation theatre’, for skinning and fleshing animals.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The factory made good use of the caste system. Sheds on the left side were meant for carrying out such unpleasant tasks as skinning and pickling, so they were tagged as unclean and assigned to untouchables. Sheds on the right were meant for skilled workers such as carpenters and modellers, with spatial arrangements reflecting the caste hierarchy. “It was the workers who kept the line moving with their range of skills,” said Manjula. “The segregation helped the Van Ingens make good use of them all.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The family banked on their social status as well. When Prince Edward of Wales, or the future king Edward VIII, toured India in 1921-22, Eugene Van Ingen was chosen as a member of the entourage. Politically the royal tour was disastrous, as Mahatma Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement completely upstaged it. But as the naturalist in the entourage, Eugene ensured that the prince had a wonderful time catching fish and hunting wild buffalo in the Cauvery basin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eugene died in 1928, leaving the reins of the factory to Patti and two elder sons, John DeWet and Henry Botha. The third son, James Krueger, joined an ordnance factory. Joubert was just 16.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The family’s extraordinary success was a product of the times, and perhaps the experience of running the factory made them realise it. DeWet and Botha became not just able managers but accomplished naturalists as well. They kept meticulous records about the diversity of flora and fauna across south India, and contributed to pioneering conservation efforts in Mysore State. In 1946, DeWet set a world record by catching a 54kg mahseer from the river Kabani. Considered by anglers as the largest and the most challenging freshwater fish in the world, mahseer has a local nickname―‘the tiger of the Cauvery’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 1930s, Botha was held captive by a woman who practised taxidermy of another kind. She was Barbara Flaherty, the daughter of Robert Flaherty, the legendary American filmmaker known as the father of the documentary genre. After releasing <i>Nanook of the North</i>, the world’s first commercially successful full-length documentary, Flaherty came to Mysore on the maharaja’s invitation to film Rudyard Kipling’s <i>Toomai of the Elephants</i>. He was accompanied by his wife and daughter, and they enlisted Botha’s help as the production coordinator.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The result, a piece of orientalist docu-fiction called<i> The Elephant Boy</i>, was released in 1937. It launched the career of the first Hollywood star from India, Sabu Dastagir, who played the title character. The film also changed Botha’s life. He was captivated by both photography, a sort of taxidermy of time and space, and Barbara, who was a photographer herself. They were soon married.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From the 1930s to mid-1950s, the factory churned out tens of thousands of animal trophies. They were shipped to royal families from Wankaner to Jaipur, officers and administrators from Peshawar, Ahmednagar and Lahore to Pachmarhi, Nagpur, Cochin and Ceylon, and museums in London, Sussex and New York. The family amassed considerable wealth in the form of sprawling plantations across south India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>World War II briefly interrupted their halcyon days. With the Japanese edging closer to India, Botha and Joubert joined the war to defend the colony. The brothers and the family reunited in 1946.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Joubert joined the business, but unlike Botha and DeWet who were focused on managerial matters, he followed in his father’s footsteps and became a professional taxidermist. He further streamlined the assembly line by borrowing principles of anthropometry―the study of human measurements for the purposes of understanding physical variation―and applying it to taxidermy. Moulds of ready-made sizes began to be made for each species, so that manikins could more easily be made and plastered with skins. The idea was to replicate what ready-made clothes had done to the fashion business.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But even though Joubert’s improvement had revolutionary potential, the factory could not reap much dividends from it. India became independent, <i>shikars</i> lost their colonial flavour, and conservation efforts gained momentum. The government soon banned hunting altogether.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It turned out to be the death knell for the factory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>END OF EMPIRE</b></p> <p>The foundations of the conservation movement in India were laid, ironically, by a group of British hunters who met in Bombay in 1811. They started an informal club to organise <i>shikars</i>. Their expeditions were successful, attracting more members to the club. The group gradually became the Bombay Natural History Society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BNHS was formally constituted in 1883. Academic-minded sportsmen would meet every month to “exchange notes, exhibit specimens and otherwise encourage each other”. A journal was started in 1886, and it quickly became one of the world’s best-known publications on biodiversity and conservation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was only natural for sportsmen to realise that the <i>shikars</i> could not go on indefinitely. Economic growth had resulted in shrunken forests and disappearance of entire species of wildlife. Railways accelerated the destruction, with each new mile of tracks uprooting 2,000 trees. The railways, said one study, “opened up vast tracts of land, increased the influx of sportsmen, and promoted an alarming decrease in game.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Worse, amateur hunters ended up merely injuring, not killing, big game. Robbed of the ability to hunt in the wild, tigers and leopards descended on villages and preyed on humans. Aggravating the crisis were waves of droughts and disease, such as the cholera and influenza epidemics that swept India in 1918.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>North India was the worst hit. Regions like Kumaon in the United Provinces became notorious for man-eating tigers. “A man-eating tiger is a tiger that has been compelled, through stress of circumstances beyond its control, to adopt a diet alien to it. The stress of circumstances is, in nine cases out of 10, wounds, and in the tenth case, old age,” wrote Jim Corbett in 1944.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like most hunters, Corbett had once believed that “tiger shooting is only incidentally a sport, and that its true nature was the protection of the empire”. He had made good money off the bounty system that the government had instituted for killing tigers to protect villages. But Corbett, much like the hunters who formed the BNHS, came to realise that the lasting solution to man-animal conflict was conservation of wildlife, and not its extermination. His advocacy resulted in the setting up of India’s first national park in 1936.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Corbett was a contributor to the BNHS journal. Joubert was a patron as well, even though he continued to profit from the destruction of wildlife. Joubert preserved landmark specimens for museums―such as the record mahseer caught by DeWet―and sent notes to the BNHS whenever he saw something extraordinary in the wild.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A rat snake coiled around a baby muntjac in his plantation in Wayanad, for instance, prompted a dispatch to the BNHS office in 1981. “Rat snakes are quite common on the plantation, and they probably live on birds and rats,” wrote Joubert. “But this is the first occasion I have known of a rat snake seizing a small deer for its prey.” The note was promptly published in the next issue of the journal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After independence, there was a wave of conservation efforts across India. In 1956, a year after Corbett died, the national park he had helped establish was named in his honour. Four more national parks were soon set up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 1970s, the conservation movement went mainstream. Women in Kumaon and surrounding regions started the Chipko movement, embracing trees to protect them against loggers. In <i>Zanjeer</i>, the 1973 film that made Amitabh Bachchan a star, a Pathan don named Sher Khan (<i>sher</i> means tiger in Urdu) reforms himself and refuses to kill the tiger-like hero. “A tiger doesn’t hunt another tiger,” says Sher. “As it is, there are very few tigers left in the country. I have even heard that the government has prohibited the hunting of tigers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sher was right. Heeding calls for conserving India’s remaining wildlife, the Indira Gandhi government had passed the Wildlife (Protection) Act in 1972 that banned hunting nationwide. A year later, Project Tiger was launched and Panthera tigris replaced the lion as India’s national animal―a change worthy of a grunt from Tipu’s toy tiger.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the demand for its signature tiger mounts gone, the Van Ingen factory began its decline. There was still good money to be made from hunting expeditions to Africa, where the Van Ingens had a network of sources and patrons who guarded the last outposts of colonialism. But that network, too, withered as newly independent countries like Kenya started banning hunting safaris.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By the 1980s, the factory resembled an automobile firm that had shut its sales division and lived off its servicing one. Most trophies needed chemical washes and other maintenance measures at least every three years, and the Van Ingens continued to make money servicing private collections and museums. The assembly line, however, drew to a halt and import of equipment largely ceased.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“On paper, the factory closed in 1995, as forest rules made it difficult to renew licences,” said a former employee. “But Joubert still ran it unofficially for three-four years, and shut it down only when he became too old. There were around 60 employees when the factory was closed for good.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Krueger was the first of the brothers to die, in 1981. DeWet died in 1993, and Botha in 1996. Rosamond, Joubert’s sister and Tilly Gifford’s grandmother, died in 2006. The children had long emigrated to Europe and North America. After Botha’s death, Barbara settled in Vermont, US, and became a renowned photographer. One of their grandchildren, Sami Van Ingen of Canada, followed in Robert Flaherty’s footsteps and became a reputable documentary filmmaker.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Botha and Barbara’s younger son, Michael, remained in India, occupying a bungalow near Bissal Munti. He kept Uncle Joubert company in his final years. Now in his eighties, Michael’s memory is fading. “He is suffering from dementia, and rarely speaks to outsiders,” said his caretaker.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before he died, Joubert himself reportedly became quite senile, often chasing away visitors to his bungalow by threatening to shoot them. But he did make one last noble gesture before he took leave―he agreed to donate part of the Van Ingen registry to the government. The records came in handy a few years ago, when the government launched a study to reintroduce cheetahs that had gone extinct in India in the 1950s. Researchers traced the animal’s extinction history using the records, and put together plans for arranging habitats that would be sustainable. In September 2022, cheetahs were finally reintroduced in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Van Ingen trophies, however, are slowly dying. After the British left, various government departments which had a good number of the trophies showed little interest in maintaining them. Thousands of trophies rotted away and some were actively destroyed. Some of the pieces were smuggled out of the country, and they gradually entered the mainstream art-history market.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tens of thousands of trophies still remained. Joubert donated part of his collection to the Regional Museum of Natural History in Mysore. DeWet’s mahseer is on display there. Some pieces went to the rest of the regional museums in western, eastern, northern and central India. A sizeable collection, perhaps the largest single one, was acquired by the National Museum of Natural History in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Joubert was on his deathbed, the Van Ingen collection in India was scattered across palaces, museums, heritage buildings, universities and government offices and guest houses. Army regiments also inherited numerous trophies. One of the largest collections is kept at the officers’ mess of the Madras Engineer Group’s training centre in Bengaluru.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There are more than 60 magnificent head mounts,” said Col M.K. Singh, who was in charge of maintaining the MEG collection. “We take care of them with routine dusting and cleaning, but it is Manjula that does the detailed maintenance and restoration work every two or three years.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Manjula, the Army is properly maintaining the trophies, but the same cannot be said of museums. She said Van Ingen mounts in many museums were in need of urgent restoration, while a number of trophies kept in godowns owned by the forest department were in various stages of decay. “Sometimes, authorities even issue orders to burn down trophies to save space,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last year, a group of former Van Ingen employees wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the destruction of the trophies was causing a huge loss to the exchequer. The letter said a full-scale Van Ingen tiger mount alone would fetch crores of rupees in the market, and that there were thousands of similar specimens of various kinds that the government could either auction off or exhibit in a museum. “If the government can show some interest on this issue,” said the letter, “then future generations can get to see and learn” about India’s natural history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But museums have not been up to the task. The National Museum of Natural History in Delhi, especially, has an abysmal record. In April 2016, a short-circuit in the museum building started a raging fire that consumed not just a 160-million-year-old sauropod fossil, but also the museum’s entire Van Ingen collection.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“A loss of a natural history collection at this scale has not been seen outside of war,” Prof Corrie Moreau of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago told <i>The Washington Post </i>as news of the fire broke. “Scientists around the world rely on natural history collections to serve as the archive and source of material for scientific research, and a loss such as this will have ripple effects around the globe, now and for decades, even centuries, into the future.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The National Museum is now history, but the government continues to run up administrative costs. Plans for constructing a new museum building are stuck in red tape, making India the only major country in the world without a national museum displaying its environmental heritage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Michael Eshwar continues to look after Joubert’s private collection at Bissal Munti. It has been 10 years since Joubert died, and a charge-sheet against Eshwar has been filed at the judicial first class magistrate’s court in Mysore. Tilly Gifford says she is determined to bring Eshwar to book.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I thought Joubert was getting old and paranoid when I visited him in the final years and he said he was in danger,” she said. “I was quite naive at the time, and I hadn’t really put the pieces together. I now regret not having intervened more to protect Joubert from Eshwar’s predatory behaviour.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eshwar said he was confident of proving his innocence in court. “The ED has closed the file on me,” he said. “The RBI, which looked into the FEMA matter, has concluded that the sunset clause in the legislation (the provision that sets an expiry date on investigations) prevents it from taking up the matter.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Eshwar, the Kerala government’s efforts to seize the estate in Wayanad had also failed. “The government had invoked the right of escheat (reversion of property to the state if the owner dies without leaving an heir),” he said. “But the court directed that the property be restored to me, as I am the rightful owner. What remains of the legal issue is actually purely civil, and not criminal in nature as the prosecution says.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Years after the Supreme Court directed it to file a report on the progress of the case, the Karnataka CID has now filed a charge-sheet in the trial court in Mysore. “To me, there is no doubt that he is a conman,” said Malagathi Basavaraj, former deputy police commissioner who oversaw the initial investigation after Gifford met him to file the complaint. Basavaraj said Eshwar had bribed police personnel in Nazarbad into bungling the FIR. “It was the FIR that weakened the whole case against Eshwar,” he told THE WEEK. “But the CID has now filed a watertight charge-sheet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Joubert gone, Bissal Munti is no longer the place it once was. The factory was demolished in 2011, and excavators buried what remained of the machines and moulds. It has been replaced by a glitzy shopping mall―Mysore’s fourth and biggest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Joubert himself has largely been forgotten in Mysore. Perhaps just one man living on a parcel of land on the Mysore-Bangalore road still remembers him often. His name is Antony, and he is a sexton at St Bartholomew’s Church, Joubert’s old parish.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Antony and his family live on church-owned land, and a portion of it serves as a graveyard. He came to know of the Van Ingens after Joubert’s death, apparently because people from abroad sometimes come visiting. “This is Eugene and Patti,” he said pointing to a large headstone, “and over there are his brothers. Here, right next to Eugene and Patti, is where Joubert is buried.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was no headstone; in fact, nothing that marked Joubert’s grave. Only a mound covered by overgrown grass, beside which a goat sat and chewed in contentment.</p> Sun Mar 12 10:08:05 IST 2023 want-to-help-create-inclusive-spaces-tanvi-sriramaneni <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Tanvi Sriramaneni, </b></p> <p><b>volunteer at Habitat for Humanity India</b></p> <p>Since her high school days in Hyderabad, Tanvi Sriramaneni, 19, had been taking part in several activities that allowed her to build sustainable houses for the poor. She worked at medical camps in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to gain insight into the number of people who needed medical care and assistance. Volunteering at Habitat for Humanity India—a non-profit organisation building homes and providing housing-related services to low-income families across India—gave her an opportunity to construct houses in Keesara, Telangana. Today, as an architect student at Syracuse University in New York, Sriramaneni is looking forward to building energy-efficient homes for low-income families and provide them with access to solar energy.</p> <p><b>The change I want to see</b></p> <p><i><br> It is important to use our knowledge and resources to help create inclusive spaces for those who are less fortunate. Homelessness is currently at an all-time high in India, and social housing is in short supply. Incorporating sustainability into the built environment is vital due to the climate crisis we are facing. It presents a significant challenge for cities and their poorest residents. Several migrants living under tarpaulin and tin sheets have scant protection against severe climate change. Thus, educating them about small steps can help in mitigating this issue. To take action, no matter how big or small, is crucial, as it creates a lasting impact.</i></p> <p><b>-&nbsp;Akanki Sharma</b></p> Tue Mar 07 12:06:20 IST 2023 parents-should-be-educated-about-breastfeeding-jincy-varghese <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Jincy Varghese,</b></p> <p><b>engineer, Mumbai</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jincy Varghese was four months pregnant in 2016 when she saw a WhatsApp message that a bill had been passed in Rajya Sabha approving six months of maternity leave. When she asked someone from her company's HR department whether this was true, they said that it would have to be passed by the Lok Sabha before it could become law. So, she started a petition to make this happen. It went viral, getting dozens of signatures. She wrote to Maneka Gandhi and got a reply from her. In March 2017, the bill was passed. Now, she is asking the government to make it mandatory for hospitals to ask for consent before they feed formula milk to newborns.</p> <p><b>The change I want to see</b></p> <p><i><br> My baby, who was in NICU, was fed formula without my consent. I realised this happens to a lot of mothers in India, so I started a petition in collaboration with BSIM (Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers). But now I am doing it in collaboration with BPNI (Breastfeeding Promotion Network Of India). It is not as straight-forward as the maternity bill, because sometimes it is vital for the baby's life to be fed formula. Another ask of the petition is to educate parents about breastfeeding. We don't realise that it can be difficult for a lot of people. So, awareness is important.</i></p> <p><b>-Sumitra Nair</b></p> Tue Mar 07 11:55:48 IST 2023 the-price-of-a-women-being-opinionated-and-outspoken <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>MORALITY TAKES A BACKSEAT</b></p> <p>If life is a tragi-comedy, then no one knew it better than American fiction writer Flannery O’Connor. She skilfully used satire to depict the soul’s struggle for redemption. One of her favourite themes was upending notions of right and wrong. Morality, in her world, was self-righteousness turned upside-down. A perfect example would be her short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find, which describes the encounter between a grandmother and a crook who calls himself ‘The Misfit’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the grandmother’s favourite topics to soliloquise on is that of “conscience”. She dangles it over her family like the rod of perdition. Do this and you will face the wrath of God. Do that and your soul will rot in hell. Even the way she dresses while going for a car ride―in a navy blue dress with a small white polka dots and a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim―was so that “in case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady”. In stark contrast, the Misfit, whom the family encounters when they meet with an accident, did not have on any shirt or undershirt. He had on a pair of blue jeans that was too tight for him and was holding a black hat and a gun. He spoke with a cockney accent and, unlike the grandmother, had no illusions about his own goodness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“You could be honest too, if you’d only try,” the grandmother tells him in a desperate attempt to convert him. “Think how wonderful it would be to settle down and live a comfortable life and not have to think about somebody chasing you all the time.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If we were to be true to ourselves, there is a little bit of the grandmother in most of us―in the rigidity with which we hold to our convictions and the way in which we believe we are right in what we do. And that is what the young women of today are rebelling against. If O’Connor’s story were to be a parable for our times, these women would identify more with the Misfit than with the grandmother. They are rejecting a strict definition of morality, at least in the way that society tries to impose it on them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“From my childhood, I was taught to do things a particular way,” says Ambika Rani, 25, an IT professional from Jaipur. “I have fought against this my entire life. If my relatives told me to serve the guests, I would rebel. Why can’t my brother carry the tray, I would ask. That is why I am stubborn about my career and my future. I have seen my mother struggle in her marriage, yet she tells me that I must ‘adjust’. I don’t want to adjust. I don’t want to make sacrifices. I don’t think there is anything wrong with living with your partner before getting married. This way you will be able to judge better whether you are right for each other. And I don’t believe that marriage is a life-time commitment. If it does not work, you should leave your husband and find someone else.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sexuality coach and TEDx speaker Pallavi Barnwal says that women are also becoming more open about their own sexual well-being and about expressing their desires. Barnwal started the community Yoniverse on Coto―a social app for women to have conversations about everything from health and finance to beauty and fashion. “Women today have an expectation that pleasure matters,” she says. “They tell men what they want in sex. I don’t know if our mothers could ever tell that to our fathers. So much so that they are ready to leave a marriage if they are not sexually satisfied. Many women come to me and ask whether it is ok to have an extramarital affair. I am dying to have sex, they tell me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dr Chandni Tugnait, life coach and Tinder's relationship expert, says that women today demand and exercise more choice and control over their life's decisions that any of the previous generations. Especially in relationships and their personal lives, they seek more equality, autonomy and flexibility. “This is especially true for women who have conventionally faced stronger barriers to having control over their life choices,” she says. “Societal factors like increasing gender equality, access to more educational resources and technology, increasing mobility and financial independence have contributed to this change. Gender norms are changing as society becomes more progressive and recognises the value of women assuming roles that are typically held by men.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a new study by the dating app Bumble, conducted with a sample size of 2,000 single adults, 81 per cent of the women surveyed in India claimed they were more comfortable being single and on their own. Sixty-three per cent of respondents were unwilling to compromise on their choices, desires and needs when dating someone. Thirty-nine per cent of people on Bumble have ended a marriage or serious relationship in the last two years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I do want to remain single for the foreseeable future,” says Meena (name changed), a 23-year-old college student. “I think it stems from women not wanting to be tied down while they embark on a journey of self-discovery in their personal and professional lives. Relationships today are super complex…. I have tried it, and the time and patience required are never enough. The endless pool of choices makes you think, ‘What if there is someone better out there?’ Play this game with each other, and you will be on the rockiest journey of love.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>SILENT NO MORE</b></p> <p>In 1994, a shocking sex scandal rocked Maharashtra. In the small town of Jalgaon, hundreds of women were blackmailed into having sex with powerful men. The women were often sedated and photographed in compromising positions. These photographs were later used to lure them into sex and slavery. According to newspaper reports, the Jalgaon sex scandal involved over 500 victims. The police had seized more than 189 prints and negatives involving some of the top businessmen and politicians of the region. Apparently, the racket had been going on for over a decade, with women being picked up from college campuses, ice-cream parlours, hospitals, and bus terminals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Dr Sameena Dalwai’s grandmother read of the case, she had one question: “Why didn’t any of those women go to their families instead of suffering abuse for so many years?” Dalwai, a professor at the Jindal Global Law School who specialises in gender, sexuality and law, offers an explanation―that the women were raised to bear the burden of honour in their families, so much so that they would rather silently endure abuse than expose their families to shame. Girls are taught to protect themselves from predation to the extent that if they are raped, they have no one to blame but themselves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In one sense, things have changed. Women today are more vocal about abuse, thanks largely to social media which has not only provided them with an outlet to express their grievances, but has also connected them with other women worldwide who might be going through similar experiences. “Why should I, as a feminist, bring women to the streets and perform a morcha, when I can garner as much support or do as much damage from my laptop sitting in my room?” asks Eysha Marysha, one of Dalwai’s students.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a forthcoming paper, Dalwai and Marysha discuss everything from the nuances of consent and campus rape to feminism and society’s good girl/ bad girl trope. Marysha cites several cases of women successfully calling out men on social media. On May 3, 2020, for example, an Instagram chat-room called ‘Bois Locker Room’, where south Delhi teenage boys allegedly shared lewd and objectionable content regarding minor girls, was exposed on social media. The next day, the Delhi Commission issued a notice to Instagram and the Delhi Police and an FIR was lodged. On May 5, a juvenile was arrested and other members identified. On May 6, the admin of the group was arrested. “Because of the public coverage that social media provided about the incident, the system, which is otherwise extremely arduous, had no option but to work promptly,” writes Marysha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Feminist writer Meena Kandasamy, 38, agrees. “When I had a #MeToo experience, I was afraid to speak about it, for fear that people would think that I was an attention seeker and they would not take my work seriously,” she says. “Today’s young women are unafraid. They would immediately tweet about it. In my time I was so concerned about being taken seriously―politically and intellectually―that I swallowed my pride even if I was treated as a second-class citizen along the way. I am not going to waste my time creating a problem, I told myself. Instead, I wanted to draw attention to the things I was saying. But women today will not tolerate any sh*t. They would take it up fearlessly and boldly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>IDEOLOGY IS BACK</b></p> <p>In an episode of the American show FRIENDS, titled ‘The One with the Male Nanny’, Rachel and Ross hire a nanny (played by Freddie Prinze Jr) for their baby daughter. His name is Sandy, he has got a degree in early child education and worked for his last family for three years. When he comes to be interviewed for the job, Ross is disillusioned. “Are you gay?” he asks him outrightly. Sandy replies that he is straight and is engaged to a woman named Delia. “So, you are just a guy who is a nanny?” asks Ross, his voice heavy with sarcasm. Rachel loves Sandy, but Ross is hesitant. “He is smart, he is qualified. Give me one reason we should not try him out?” she asks Ross. “Because it is weird,” replies Ross. “What kind of a job is that for a man? It’s like a woman wanted to be… king?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many 1990s kids found the exchange funny. But we missed its casual sexism. We did not find anything wrong with the way in which Monica was fat-shamed, the way in which Ross hated his son playing with a doll or the way in which Joey obsessed over a lesbian exchange between Rachel and Monica. Whether it was the ideals of beauty we learnt from Disney, or the subtle ways in which we endorsed the slut-shaming of women like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, or the way in which we let Sex and the City bamboozle us into believing that a woman’s ultimate purpose in life was to win a trophy husband―1990s pop culture was rife with bubble-gum misogyny.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, however, such subliminal messaging would not find mainstream acceptance. FRIENDS would not be able to get away with many of its punchlines. “Women have more voice today,” says relationship counsellor Ruchi Ruuh. “Now, they see things as more black-and-white. They know what they want. They are more aware, and they will staunchly stand by what they believe.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 1990s was also a time when ideology took a backseat. There was a rejection of seriousness, sentimentality and sincerity. As Zoe Williams writes in The Guardian, if a magazine ran a piece on the “10 hottest academicians” and stuck in pictures of physicists in fishnets, you could not really raise a feminist objection. “There was a lot to love about the 1990s,” she writes. “They were puckish, they were skittish. A lot of the jokes were actually funny. Politically, though, it was more like a phase we had to go through to get somewhere more meaningful.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, ideology is back in fashion. Everyone has a stance on something. Issues like climate change, gender and mental health are important to the Gen Z. According to Tinder’s ‘Year in Swipe’ report of 2022, 75 per cent of singles were looking for a match who was respectful of or invested in social issues. In fact, so many Indian Tinder members mentioned LGBTQ, the environment, mental health, Ukraine and feminism in their bios last year that they all ranked in the top five local issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“How you envision your future is going to be greatly influenced by issues like the climate crisis,” says Dattavi Jariwala, 22. “I believe that having a partner who shares your beliefs and values regarding social and political issues that affect the world has a positive impact. This is preferable to someone who has no knowledge of these issues.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>GUILTED AND SHAMED, STILL</b></p> <p>When award-winning journalist and author Nilanjana Bhowmick was in college in the UK, she experienced a culture shock when all her friends went out drinking. Distressed, she called her father. “They are all drinking,” she told him. “What do I do?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Do they have brandy?” he asked her. When she replied in the affirmative, he told her, “Well, brandy’s not alcohol. You can have it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“For many years, I only had brandy because I thought it was not alcohol,” she says, reiterating how much her father―who was loving towards her while cruel towards her mother―had influenced her decisions. If earlier, patriarchy took the form of violence and subjugation of women, today it is much subtler, at least among the middle-class. “Its hold is so strong, it takes the guise of love,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Without realising it, families tend to guilt women into thinking they owe them a debt of gratitude. Even while women are taking bold decisions to sever these bonds and chart their own path in the world, they feel weighed down by this burden of love. “Sexuality, marriage and parenthood were key themes we differed on,” says Sneha (name changed), a 33-year-old group account manager from Mumbai. “My parents, initially at least, were influenced by my biological and societal clock than what I wanted in a partner.” She recounts the time when a “perfect” marriage proposal was brought for her and she was pressured by her family to accept. “One aunt joked about how she would teach me to make the best tea for when the groom came to see me,” she says. “I laughingly told her that I hoped the groom’s aunt would be teaching him to make good tea for me as well.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per the Bumble study, two in five daters in India claimed that their families pressured them into traditional matchmaking during the wedding season. “The need for family validation will always be there till we are fully liberated,” says Ruuh. “You might fall in love at 25 and be terrified of how your family will take it. Alternatively, you might be single and happy at 40, and still be made to feel bad about what society thinks. Our situations might change, but we will always be guilted and shamed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the end of O’Connor’s short story, the grandmother tries to bridge the gulf between her and the Misfit. “Why, you’re one of my babies,” she tells him. “You’re one of my own children.” She reaches out and touches him on the shoulder, trying to build a connection. The Misfit springs back as if a snake had bitten him and shoots her three times through the chest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“She was a talker, wasn’t she,” says Bobby Lee, one of the Misfit’s accomplices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“She would of been a good woman,” the Misfit tells him, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Some fun,” says Bobby Lee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Shut up, Bobby Lee,” says the Misfit. “It’s no real pleasure in life.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Much like the grandmother, we might be burdening our young women with our conviction that we know what is best for them. If we are not careful, they will turn that conviction right back at us. And pull the trigger.</p> Tue Mar 14 14:21:43 IST 2023 chats-with-psychologist-and-content-creator-divija-bhasin <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Divija Bhasin</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>psychologist and content creator, Delhi</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Divija Bhasin founded ‘The Friendly Couch’―a mental health organisation where she connects people with reliable therapists on her team. Her videos on Instagram―on subjects like mental health and feminism―are made with a light touch. In a world of quacks, her aim is to raise awareness on the importance of professional care for those with poor mental health.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The change I would like to see</b></p> <p>The first thing that needs to be done to develop this field further in India is to have government regulations and policies in place. There is no official licensing body for psychologists in India. If there is no law or law enforcement, there cannot be any real change. We also need large-scale awareness on what mental health actually is and how important it is to acknowledge it. We need to see it being given importance at the basic level, like in schools and colleges. I would also love to see more psychologists spreading awareness on social media.</p> <p><b>As told to Anjuly Mathai</b></p> Sat Mar 04 14:39:21 IST 2023 chats-with-podcaster-tenaz-shanice-cardoz <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Tenaz Shanice Cardoz</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>podcaster, Mumbai</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tenaz Shanice Cardoz gets people to talk about small acts of kindness in her monthly podcasts. Now, she also conducts a monthly “group hug” activity, where strangers come together to share something that has been bothering them, in five minutes or less. They are encouraged to tell about the kind of kindness that they are looking for. Cardoz essentially wants to bring about a change in the way people interact with each other. She also began ‘Kind Hearts Brigade’ in November 2020, where she shares stories of kindness on social media.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The change I would like to see</b></p> <p>There is a common notion that you need to be ruthless to get ahead, which is untrue; you can get ahead with kindness, too. This ranges right from the way we talk with each other in the lift or the way we interact with our friends and family to even the way we speak to our colleagues at work. I have realised how small acts of kindness have impacted micro-communities. My goal is to bring about a change in this culture of unkind behaviour at workplaces. I aim to design workshops which enable people to be kinder within their professional networks. I also want to ensure this in our everyday lives, and I am working on developing interactive products which will enable this.</p> <p><b>As told to Akanki Sharma</b></p> Sat Mar 04 14:36:10 IST 2023 chats-with-animal-rights-activist-priyanka-mehar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Priyanka Mehar</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>animal rights activist, Mumbai</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In her childhood, Priyanka Mehar always had a special connection with animals. As she grew up, she witnessed heart-breaking scenes of discrimination and cruelty against them every day. That is when she realised that society is plagued by a deep-rooted prejudice against animals, or what is known as ‘speciesism’―the assumption of human superiority that leads to the exploitation of animals. Mehar started rescuing stray animals and nursing them back to health when she was 10 years old. Soon, her work expanded to fostering and adoption. Mehar has been leading by example for almost 15 years now. She runs a rescue page on Instagram called ALIVE (All Life Is Valuable Everywhere), which provides updates and information about animal welfare.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The change I would like to see</b></p> <p>The biggest change required in animal welfare and animal rights is the realisation that humans might have colonised the earth, but they cannot use animals as resources to satisfy their hunger for food or entertainment. We don’t just need stricter laws, but also a change in attitude. The very idea of animal rights is based on the concept that animals have emotions, feelings, and the ability to suffer. We cannot call ourselves animal lovers if we ignore the suffering that we cause them through our dietary choices and other practices. Through my work with ALIVE and PETA India, I strive to spread awareness. I believe that education and outreach are crucial in bringing about the change.</p> <p><b>As told to Akanki Sharma</b></p> Sat Mar 04 14:33:33 IST 2023 chats-with-agra-biotechnologist-erum <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Erum</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>biotechnologist, Agra</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Erum strives to take people back to their roots, because she feels youngsters today have forgotten their history, culture and values. One day, while travelling in a bus, Erum, started interacting with some students. “What do you think about Agra?” she asked them. “Dirty, there’s nothing here,” came the response. Shocked, Erum decided to do something to change people’s perception about her city. She created a Facebook page― ‘Journey to Roots’―in 2013, which focuses on creating awareness and mapping the diminishing biodiversity, history, heritage and culture of the surrounding small towns near Agra. Today, the city has a thriving artists’ community. She also does history walks for tourists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The change I would like to see</b></p> <p>The major problem is that the people living in the city do not know how to look at it. There are multiple paradigm shifts needed at each level. While there are no established platforms here to showcase the arts as compared with Delhi or Lucknow, we have music, poetry, literature, and history that is unparalleled and can speak for itself. I agree that the city is dirty, the Yamuna is dead and we do not have shores as beautiful as Rishikesh. But, let us focus on what we can do about it. If it is dirty, we must clean it. A similar shift is needed for the underprivileged section. We need to visit slums to bridge this gap in our society. This is different from donating to the poor. It is about spending time with them, learning about their struggles and improving their future.</p> <p><b>As told to Akanki Sharma</b></p> Sat Mar 04 14:31:32 IST 2023 chats-with-writer-and-dalit-rights-activist-christina-dhanaraj <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Christina Dhanaraj</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>writer and dalit rights activist, Bengaluru/New York</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Christina Dhanaraj has more than a decade of corporate work experience in India, Singapore, China, and the Netherlands. She is the co-founder of the ‘Dalit History Month’ project and has published works on intersectional discourses between caste, gender, religion, race, and sexuality. She is currently a consultant for corporates and non-profits, advising on communications, organisational strategy, and caste-based diversity, equity and inclusion. She is also the convenor for the Global Campaign for Dalit Women, and is working on her first non-fiction book on dalit women and the fullness of life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The change I would like to see</b></p> <p>This year, the theme of the International Women’s Day is #EmbraceEquity. This is not an unfamiliar mandate. And yet, as a dalit woman, I find it hard to digest that IWD themes are not always perceived as being relevant to caste-marginalised women. Indeed, our stereotypical notions of gender, work, and womanhood are partly to blame. But we must also recognise that most of us interpret these themes while inhabiting our own social bubbles, which are bound by the contours of our caste, class, and gender.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This International Women’s Day, my hope is that we step out of our bubbles and wake up to the reality of caste-based sexual violence. A majority of dalit women in India are survivors (or victims) of some kind of sexual violence. According to the 2020 data of the National Crime Records Bureau, around 10 dalit women/girls are sexually assaulted every day in India. This is, of course, a grossly under-reported number, since most cases go unreported for fear of retaliation. And for those cases that make it to the police station and eventually, the court, justice is not always assured.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What does #EmbraceEquity mean in such a context? A context that is mired in helplessness and injustice? How can dalit women, as individuals and as communities, work towards empowering themselves? How do we adopt mechanisms that can achieve both equality and equity? And ensure safety, access, and dignity? How do dalit women live fully without fearing for their lives? These are some of the questions dalit women activists and thinkers will be grappling with this women’s day, and I hope you do too.</p> <p><b>As told to Nirmal Jovial</b></p> Sat Mar 04 14:29:19 IST 2023 chats-with-media-professional-sonika-bhasin <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Sonika Bhasin</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>media professional, Mumbai</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sonika Bhasin’s journey in sustainability began after the birth of her son, when she started using cloth diapers and learnt the problems caused by disposable ones. She realised that waste is a massive issue in India and that we are all contributing to it. She stopped using anything disposable, whether cotton balls or paper towels. She then started composting at home and recycling the dry waste. No waste went to the landfill. She also started buying everything package-free and shopping only from sustainable brands for home care and personal care products.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The change I would like to see</b></p> <p>The main change I wish to see is that sustainability become more mainstream. I hope more people take up sustainable living, reduce packaging and stop using single-use products. We are spoiling the environment and the planet just for the sake of convenience. The government and big corporations need to do more. Individuals cannot do much in terms of policy to reduce carbon emissions. Recently, a plastic ban was imposed, but it is sad to see that it has not been enforced. Single-use plastic is still being widely used.</p> <p><b>As told to Sumitra Nair &nbsp;&nbsp;</b></p> Sat Mar 04 14:27:13 IST 2023 chats-with-mumbai-lawyer-anandini-fernandes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Anandini Fernandes</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>lawyer, Mumbai</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anandini Fernandes was thinking of a systematic way of giving back to society when she got the idea for One Family Soup Kitchen, which started as a monthly meal drive. She first approached the Robin Hood Army, which helped her identify areas where she could distribute food. Soon, friends and family offered to be part of the drive. Strangers would call her and ask whether they could contribute, and thus the initiative gathered steam. Preparing 10kg of food will feed up to 250 kids and 110 adults, she says. Each person is given a rice-based hot meal, with a fruit and a raita. Following in her footsteps, two individuals have started soup kitchens on this model in Hyderabad and Bengaluru.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The change I would like to see</b></p> <p>I feel that hunger is one issue where demand is more than supply, so it has been a constant goal to step up my efforts. I hope to increase the quantity of food and the number of days when it is distributed, and bring about this change consistently and sustainably.</p> <p><b>As told to Sumitra Nair &nbsp;&nbsp;</b></p> Sat Mar 04 14:24:33 IST 2023 chats-with-health-influencer-and-author-tanaya-narendra-dr-cuterus <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Dr Tanaya Narendra</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>health influencer, author and medical education enthusiast, Prayagraj (Uttar Pradesh)</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dr Tanaya Narendra is an internationally trained doctor, author, embryologist, and scientist. An elected fellow of the prestigious Royal Society for Public Health, Narendra was the Health Influencer of the Year 2022 by the International Health and Wellbeing (IHW) Council, supported by the NITI Aayog and Ayushman Bharat. Through her channel, dr_cuterus―which has over one million followers on Instagram and over 50 million views on YouTube―she explains complex medical and sexual education topics with relatable and hilarious examples and jargon-free language. Narendra is also the author of the best-seller, Everything Nobody Tells You About Your Body.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The change I would like to see</b></p> <p>I want to see the HPV vaccine incorporated into the national immunisation protocol. HPV is a group of viruses that are known to cause a sexually transmitted infection, which can sometimes progress into cervical cancer, which is the most common cancer in rural Indian women and the second-most common cancer in urban Indian women. It is diagnosed so late that India has the highest rate of deaths from cervical cancer in the world. The HPV vaccine is very effective, but is expensive and inaccessible to most of the country. So, I wish to see this included as a part of the national immunisation protocol.</p> <p>Secondly, I wish to see sex education included as part of the national curriculum for students of all ages. This is important as we need to understand our bodies a little better―particularly sexual, reproductive and menstrual health. This is a conversation that is seriously lacking in our country.</p> <p><b>As told to Nirmal Jovial</b></p> Sat Mar 04 14:21:27 IST 2023 chats-with-academic-and-disability-rights-advocate-dr-sharada-devi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Dr Sharada Devi V.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>academic and disability-rights advocate, Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala)</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sharada Devi identifies as a “person with physical disability and a wheelchair user”, after a congenital condition that arrested bone growth left her physically impaired. Despite the challenges caused by an ableist society, she earned a PhD in disability studies and views her research and writing as part of her ongoing battle for disability rights. Devi’s aspiration is to become an assistant professor in English.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The change I would like to see</b></p> <p>“In India, we have the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Act that has provisions to help people with various disabilities. However, the country has failed to implement it, because the perspective of Indian society on disability is problematic. Even now, the public attitude towards disability is based on a charity discourse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Just like gender, disability is also a social construct. People can have different kinds of impairments, but persons with impairment become disabled only when society denies them an enabling environment that gives them a chance to lead a dignified life. What we see now is society trying to limit its accountability towards persons with disabilities by referring to them euphemistically as differently-abled. Persons with disabilities want neither sympathy nor glorification, as both are dehumanising.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, what I would like to see is an attitudinal change in society. And, there should be a rights-based approach to implementing the provisions in the RPwD Act. Every person should get a chance to lead a dignified life.”</p> <p><b>As told to Nirmal Jovial</b></p> Sat Mar 04 14:17:43 IST 2023 chats-with-artist-alappuzha-kajal-deth <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Kajal Deth</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>artist, Alappuzha (Kerala)</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kajal Deth completed her BFA in painting from RLV College. Born in Alappuzha, Kerala, known for its coir industry, much of her work documents the plight of coir workers, especially women. The industry is over 200 years old and has evolved from a domestic activity to a partially mechanised industry employing thousands of people. Seeing these workers’ affinity to life, despite their daily struggles, is her energy source.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The change I would like to see</b></p> <p>I want to bring awareness about the plight of coir workers through my work, whether it is photography or painting. What I do is almost like a social media experiment, documenting the sociopolitical changes of this area. Unfortunately, the coir industry has not been upgraded through mechanisation, although the scene is changing now. This yarn is so eco-friendly that I hope we get more orders from all over the world. The glory of Alappuzha is the coir industry. But the exporting of coir has diminished compared with 20 years ago. This situation should be rectified. Also, more women should be employed in this male-dominated industry.</p> <p><b>As told to Anjuly Mathai</b></p> Sat Mar 04 14:18:31 IST 2023 women-workforce-in-tamil-nadu-analysis-gender-pay-gap <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Uma Ganesan, 36, has been working in a garment factory in Tiruppur as an overlock tailor for the last 20 years. Her day begins at 4am. After completing her household chores, she goes to the knitwear factory where she works from 8am to 4pm―with only a 15-minute tea break in the morning and evening, and a 40-minute lunch break. Sitting at the sewing machine for hours is tiring, and sometimes she works overtime to help a colleague. “I used to get Rs45 per shift when I joined 20 years ago,” Ganesan tells THE WEEK. “Now, I get Rs350.” That day, she had stitched overlocks for 350 garments. “Even if I work very fast I can stitch for only 350 pieces a day,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few hundred kilometres away, Kalaiselvi Sundaram, 26, works at a spinning mill in Dindigul. Her routine is similar to that of Ganesan, but unlike her she earns only Rs4,000 per month. “There are more than 300 women who work with me. Only the supervisors here are men,” says Sundaram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Farther away, Valliamma, 56, is one of the 15,000 women employed in the salt pans of Thoothukudi. She earns Rs330 daily. Armed with her yellow pair of thick socks, Valliamma braves the elements every day to dry and pile the salt crystals, and then load them into a vehicle, along with her male co-workers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ganesan, Sundaram and Valliamma make up part of the largest women workforce in the country. According to data from the Annual Survey of Industries (2019-2020), Tamil Nadu accounts for 43 per cent of the 1.6 million women factory workers in India. These women work mostly in the manufacturing sectors―garments, knitwear, textiles, electronics, footwear and salt pans. Many of them are also in housekeeping. According to a study by the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) firm, Avtar Group, which ranked 111 cities based on their social and industrial inclusion parameters towards nurturing a conducive ecosystem for women, Tamil Nadu ranks the best. Eight cities from the state― including Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai―are among the safest places for women to work. “One of the reasons why Chennai has emerged as a gender-inclusive city traces back to the fact that the state has had very powerful women leaders driving the inclusion agenda through encouraging girls' education early on,” says Dr Saundarya Rajesh, founder, Avtar Group. “Women's workforce participation in the state is 36.2 per cent, which is much higher than the national average. Chennai as an inclusive city is the culmination of years of effort by organisations, governments and women themselves, who have remained intentional in their pursuit of contributing to the country's GDP.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dr M. Vijayabaskar, professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) and a member of the State Planning Commission, adds that one of the reasons for the high participation of women in the workforce here is also the state's socio-economic status. “The social dimension in south India is completely different from the north,” he says. “The education level of women in Tamil Nadu is relatively higher. We allow our women to go out to study and then to work. People live close to the factories which are decentralised. The transport infrastructure is also very good.” He says the gender ratio in the manufacturing sector, particularly the garment industry, is unique to south India. Incidentally, the state also has the highest number of industries. As per the RBI’s Handbook of Statistics on Indian States 2021-2022, Tamil Nadu has 38,837 factories, which are spread across various districts where mostly women work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The women are more accountable and responsible,” says feminist writer Shalin Maria Lawrence. While women in the electronics sector are mostly between 18 and 24 years old, those in garment factories and leather industries are mostly middle-aged. Many of the women working in the salt pans of Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi are in their late 50s and 60s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While safety, education and family conditions are major reasons for the women to work, the other important factor is the nature of the industry. In the weaving and spinning mills, for example, the atmosphere is very women-friendly. Another factor is that factories are spread across the state and there are women-friendly growth centres across all districts, even backward ones like Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri, says Vishnu Venugopal, CEO of Tamil Nadu’s Guidance Bureau, which is the state government's nodal agency for investment promotion and facilitating single window approvals for industries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from these, new-age factories in the technology, electronics and automobile sectors in the Sriperumbudur region―like Nokia, Foxconn and Hyundai―employ women in large numbers. “In the automobile sector, it is because of the women friendly set-up and the availability of transport and accommodation,” says Vijayabaskar. For Jayasudha Raja, 22, who works in a mobile phone assembling unit in Sriperumbudur, the accommodation, food and transport provided by the company help her save money to send back home. “It is a very small amount. But it supports my family living in Tiruvallur and contributes to my brother’s education,” she says. “We are provided with hostel-like sheds to live in, but I am happy because of the money I am able to save.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The policy interventions by the state government have also helped the women. For instance, the free bus pass offered by the state government helps women like Muthumaari Saravanakumar, 41, who works in a leather factory in Madurai. Saravanakumar travels 35km daily by bus from Melavalavu to Madurai town for work. “My salary is just 06,000 per month,” she says. “I was spending nearly 070 for commuting from home to work daily. But now the free bus ride helps me save this money, with which I can buy vegetables and groceries.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Until four years ago, Saravanakumar was happy as a homemaker taking care of her daughter. But everything changed overnight when her husband, a former cab driver, died in a road accident just days before the pandemic. There was no one in her family to help her. But now, her job is her lifeline. “I do many hard tasks,” she says. “Actually, the men around me who do the same tasks earn more. But I don’t want to fight, as I might lose this job if I do.” She manages to make ends meet through loans from the self help group she is part of. The scheme that gives free bicycles to girl students, instituted during chief minister Jayalalithaa's tenure, also helps. “My daughter is in class 12,” says Saravanakumar. “She still uses the cycle to go to school.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But these policy interventions and socio-economic indicators might only be the band-aid for a bigger problem, say experts―the huge pay disparity and gender discrimination. “This is universal and we cannot single out one particular industry or region,” says Sujata Modi, president of the garment and fashion workers union. “This is because of an underlying patriarchy covertly prevalent at all levels of society.” According to M. Chandra, the programme manager at Vizhuthugal, an NGO in Tiruppur that works among women workers in the garment factories, the pay gap is huge in the knitwear segment. The men get between Rs450 and Rs550 for 12 hours of work, while the women get only 0350. “They say the women are not capable. But the women can stitch 350 pieces in 12 hours, the same as a man,” says Chandra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, many women like Renuka Palanichamy, 36, who used to work in a knitwear factory as an overlock tailor, quit their job because of the pay difference. “My husband and I were working in the same factory and doing the same work. I was paid a daily wage of Rs350, while he got Rs550. So, I quit the job and now I do piece checking at home, for which I get the same amount per day,” says Palanichamy. She gets 400 to 500 finished garments every day from a nearby factory and she has to ensure the quality of stitching, check for damages, fold them neatly and then send them back to the factory. “I get 50 to 60 paisa per piece. If I check 600 pieces I get the same money I am paid in a factory. I need not do the hard tailoring job,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandra is also concerned about the health of the women. She says that women in the textile industry who spend long hours standing or sitting could develop menstrual trouble, for which they do not get any help. She recalls the story of a 34-year-old woman who came to their NGO recently for help. “After the pandemic, she gets work only once or twice a week and gets paid a measly Rs700 per week. Her husband died recently. She has much debt. But now, because of menstrual issues, she is not able to sit or stand for long hours. She cannot afford treatment. This is the condition of most women. They won’t get support from the factory management except for one day's leave,” says Chandra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other aspect is that the number of women in vocational education programmes and training institutes is much less compared with men. These programmes should be integrated with secondary education so that the women are better skilled, says Lawrence. This can help them fight for their rights. Despite all their difficulties, these women are entering the workforce in large numbers, wanting independence and financial security for themselves and their families. Now, it is our job to ease the path for them.</p> Sun Mar 05 13:48:15 IST 2023 women-taking-control-of-their-finances <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A FEW WEEKS</b> ago, India’s Under-19 team led by Shafali Verma outplayed England in the final and won the inaugural ICC Women's U-19 T20 World Cup. And now, the Women’s Indian Premier League has become a reality. I am sure we all already have our favourite teams and players!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Off field, too, women have been achieving impressive milestones, and a generational shift in mindset is under way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The female labour force participation rate rose to 25.1 per cent in financial year 2020-21, up from 18.6 per cent a year earlier. Payroll data released by the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation shows that the share of women among new joinees rose to 27 per cent in financial year 2021-22, up from 21 per cent a year earlier. The ratio of women in leadership positions is also on the rise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A direct consequence of more women entering the workforce is that they have started taking control of their finances. There is an increased propensity to save and invest as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An LIC survey in 2022 said that 91 per cent women believed life insurance was necessary. Another survey, released in 2023 by Max Life Insurance, said that the life insurance ownership was similar for both men (74 per cent) and women (71 per cent), with women closing in swiftly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But we need to remember that a key step in achieving financial independence and creating wealth is portfolio diversification. It reduces the dependence on a single asset class, optimises returns, and protects against asset specific underperformance. Simply put, a well-diversified portfolio enables sustainable wealth creation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is where we see a considerable gap. While traditional investment avenues like bank deposits and physical gold continue to be the preferred choice for women, the importance of investing in equities is not being fully realised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the Reserve Bank's estimates, the average inflation rate in India is 6.7 per cent for FY23. Inflation can impact one’s purchasing power and lower the real returns. So, in order to not lose money, women need to ensure that the interest earned exceeds the inflation rate. The interest rate on savings account was around 3 per cent, and for fixed deposits, it was around 6 per cent in 2022. Also, gold, which is considered to be a hedge against inflation, has severely underperformed at times. This means, investing only in traditional instruments, your savings are losing value with each passing year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Equities, however, is an asset class that has given returns substantially higher than the inflation in five of the past six years. For wealth creation, capital appreciation is as important as capital protection. Equities are thus a must-have in every portfolio, along with other asset classes like debt and precious metals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>START EARLY, STAY INVESTED</b></p> <p>It is advisable for women to start investing in equities early on. The younger they are, the higher can be the allocation to equities as the threshold for risk is higher.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, by starting young, the capital has more time to appreciate due to the power of compounding. The table shows that to reach a corpus of Rs4.67 crore by the age of 60, you need to invest Rs2,050 a month, if you start investing at the age of 20. To reach the same corpus, you need to invest Rs8,400 a month, if you start at the age of 30!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is also a great time to begin one’s journey in the Indian markets. Our economy has remained resilient, despite a global slowdown. Tailwinds of demographic advantage, strong consumption and supportive government policies will continue to trigger growth in the years ahead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is chairperson and MD of Prabhudas Lilladher Group.</b></p> Sat Mar 04 12:20:51 IST 2023 women-progressing-in-education-dr-vidya-yeravedkar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I have always felt immense pride in being an Indian. But now, when I see women progressing in the field of education and becoming more empowered every day, I feel even more proud.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per statistics, the rate of literacy among women is 70.3 per cent. Over the years, I have noticed that more women are coming to the forefront. This is because they are intrinsically motivated and are driven to perform well in all fields. Another remarkable aspect is that the massive divide that existed between urban and rural women is quickly disappearing. Earlier, urban women were self-reliant or entrepreneurs, but the present scenario is different, as even rural women are finding their place in society. The government plays a significant role in this area as it encourages rural women to participate in governance through its many schemes, whether it is in the gram panchayats, the state assemblies, or even the Central government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even our social structure has been changing. Parents want to educate their daughters and make them independent and empowered. There are instances where even people from lower-income groups save money to send their daughters to good schools and private colleges. Earlier, such expenditures would only be incurred for the sons; parents would wait for the daughters to turn 18 and then marry them into a better household.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Across various strata of society, the education of women has become an important aspect. People have understood that if the daughter is educated and empowered, she can empower the family into which she is married, and thus the next generation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We, at Symbiosis, have always believed in and encouraged women's empowerment. At the Symbiosis Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, many women from the villages neighbouring Lavale are taught how to start their businesses. They are supported in skill enhancement and initial funding. Apart from this, we run a research programme for women's empowerment with Deakin University, Australia. We also work closely with the NITI Aayog for women's empowerment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Symbiosis's most laudable effort for women's empowerment has been the Symbiosis Medical College for Women. It is the first-ever private college in India that is only for women. However, out of the large number of girls who take up medicine, only a dismal 17 per cent continue to practise. To prevent this, Dr S.B. Mujumdar, the founder of Symbiosis, established the college. We feel so happy to see 150 girls walk into it every year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I grew up in an environment that breathes women's empowerment. My parents have always motivated, encouraged, and supported my sister Swati and me to become capable and independent. I hope that we have been able to fulfil our parents' wishes. At the same time, I also wish that more women pursue education, as it is the only route to true empowerment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Dr Vidya Yeravdekar </b>is pro chancellor, Symbiosis International (deemed university).</p> Sat Mar 04 12:17:46 IST 2023 the-way-cinema-treats-women <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WOMEN ON SCREEN</b> are stepping out, going beyond the limits of home and patriarchy. They are rising, above inhibitions (personal) and conventions (social). They seek no pedestal but power and respect; they are no goddesses, just women, real and raw.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Bengali cinema, for instance, you have strong female characters, like in Satyajit Ray’s Charulata (1964) and Kaushik Ganguly’s Bishorjan (2017), in which a Hindu widow from Bangladesh becomes the love interest of a Muslim from India and later takes on a dark and headstrong avatar from that of a docile young bride. In Marathi cinema, too, women-centric storytelling has evolved over the years. We now have Jhimma (2021), where the storyline revolves around seven women and their battles during a planned tour of Britain. Meanwhile, the leading ladies of Punjabi cinema are claiming their rightful space, both on and off screen. In a considerably close-knit industry, where the film financier calls the shots, women are taking it upon themselves to become producers and tell stories that they want to bring to the fore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ayushi G., department of media, University of Delhi, wrote a research paper on ‘analysing the portrayal of women in Bollywood cinema’, from “old classical Bollywood (1950s) to current Bollywood”. So, we had Mother India (1957), in which Nargis plays the dutiful wife and mother who is bound to a life of sacrifice, whereas Tabu’s character in Astitva (2000) walks out of her marriage to look for an identity of her own. Bollywood has since then churned out films like Queen (2013), in which a small-town girl asserts her independence and agency when she goes on a honeymoon all by herself after being dumped by her fiance a day before the wedding, and Pink (2016), which reinforced the message that a ‘no means no’, and even Pathaan (2023), in which Deepika Padukone’s character is cleverly etched out as an intelligence agent who is suave and sexy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With more women filmmakers taking charge of the narrative and female actors venturing into production across all cinemas, there has been a significant shift in the way women are portrayed on screen. Director Aparna Sen (36 Chowringhee Lane, 1981, and Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, 2002) brought out some of the most versatile and authoritative women characters; so did filmmakers like Alankrita Shrivastava (Lipstick Under My Burkha, 2016) and actors like Alia Bhatt, who became a producer with Darlings (2022), a quirky tale of domestic violence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there is still a long way to go, especially when it comes to the south Indian film industry as a regional monolith, says Srinivas S.V., professor, Azim Premji University. “Among hyper masculine films from different southern industries, there has been only a trickle of films that have strong female characters,” he says. “We have films like Penguin (2020), a taut women-centric investigative thriller (in Tamil) based on a pregnant woman’s worst nightmare, alongside mainstream commercials like Pushpa (2021) and RRR (2022). Yet, the numbers are very low and always below that of superhero films featuring major male stars.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nonetheless, the women on screen are stepping out, mirroring and meeting the women off it.</p> Fri Mar 03 19:30:25 IST 2023 punjabi-actress-sargun-mehta-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT WAS WHILE</b> filming Cuttputlli (2022), a big-budged Bollywood film starring Akshay Kumar, that Sargun Mehta, 34, first “grasped” the magnanimity of a Hindi film set. In her first Bollywood project, which is a remake of the Tamil film Ratsasan (2018), Mehta plays Kumar’s boss in the police force as they hunt down psychopath-serial killers. It was a relatively meatier role in which she had a voice of her own, something that is rare in a film helmed by Kumar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cuttputlli was shot in London and, on her days off, Mehta shot for a Punjabi film as well. The differences were quite stark. While the Hindi film set had vanity vans, a crew of 300-odd people, elaborate spreads that had everything from the exotic to the healthy, the Punjabi film set had none of that. “We visited the local neighbourhood pubs when we wanted to use the washrooms [and] ordered pizzas,” she recalls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not really fair to compare the two industries. Until 2011, Punjabi cinema was the least noticed among regional cinemas in India, with no more than 10 to 12 film releases in a year on lean budgets. As Mehta puts it, “It was considered unusual for Punjabis themselves to watch Punjabi films. We were the Bollywood loyalists. People felt this was too small an industry to consider at Rs50 crore (annually) as against Hindi cinemas’ Rs4,000 plus crore. I don't remember the last time anybody in Punjab signed a [film] agreement. We don't even have legal people on our teams because there was never a paper to sign. We have no structure, and the process is simple―make a call, talk, discuss and finalise an entire film and fees on the phone.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was in 2011 that the wheel of fortune turned for the industry―17 films were released, with Jihne Mera Dil Luteya and Dharti becoming blockbusters and finding an audience among the diaspora in Britain, Canada and Australia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Mehta entered Punjabi cinema from the television space, her first film, Angrej (2015), was the second highest-grossing Punjabi film that year. In the next two years, she delivered two more blockbusters. With those films, she had established herself as the industry’s superstar. By the time Kala Shah Kala (2019) came to her, her rates had skyrocketed. And, she decided to take the big leap―become a producer. “Women talking business is unheard of in patriarchal, male-dominated regions of Punjab,” she says. “But once you are successful, people listen to you. I decided to be a producer so that I could call the shots. Otherwise, it was always the hero along with those who were financially involved who would get to decide on the dates, scenes, etc.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After Neeru Bajwa, Mehta is the only Punjabi actress to venture successfully into production. Her third production Saunkan Saunkne (2022), grossed 058 crore worldwide within 45 days of its release―an unprecedented box-office hit for the industry in all these years. “When I asked people to invest in my films… nobody was ready because they were wary of a woman stepping in as a producer,” says Mehta. “After a lot of convincing, the team came together and I could finally hold the reins. I think success changes everything, especially people's perceptions about you.”</p> Sat Mar 04 12:15:31 IST 2023