Current en Sun Nov 20 12:01:30 IST 2022 ajit-pawar-s-entry-to-maharashtra-government-effect-on-shinde-camp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On July 16, a day before the start of the monsoon session of the Maharashtra legislature, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde made an interesting remark at the customary media briefing. Explaining how his government’s two deputy chief ministers would work together, Shinde said, “Ajit <i>dada</i> [Pawar] is known to start working from early morning, I work late into the night and Devendra ji [Fadnavis] is an all-rounder who can tackle any issue at any hour of the day.”While the remark caused some laughter, many observers felt it was an attempt to cover up the unease within the Shinde camp following the induction of Ajit Pawar and his group of Nationalist Congress Party legislators into the state government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The spin doctors of the ruling alliance are hyping up the grouping of the Shinde-led Shiv Sena, the Ajit Pawar faction of the NCP and the BJP as a ‘Maha Yuti’―grand alliance―which will fight the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi, comprising Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena faction, the Sharad Pawar faction of the NCP and the Congress in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. However, not everyone is convinced about how the new alliance would work on the ground.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the BJP’s central leadership is elated by Ajit’s rebellion and his faction’s entry into the government, the same cannot be said about Shinde and his party. A few days after Ajit and his eight colleagues took oath as ministers, Shambhuraj Desai, Shinde loyalist and senior cabinet minister, said there was no need to expand the ruling alliance as it already had a comfortable majority. “Now if the Shiv Sena (Uddhav faction) reaches out to us with sincerity, we will certainly think about responding positively,”said Desai. Shinde faction MLA Sanjay Shirsat said if everything had to be shared with the Ajit faction, there was no point in being in power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the MVA was in power, many Sena legislators had complained to Uddhav that Ajit, who held the finance portfolio, was not giving them funds for development works. They were even unhappy with their own leadership for being too close to the NCP. Sena legislators from Raigad district were upset that after a party meeting in the district in March 2022, Uddhav’s son, Aditya Thackeray, ignored them and went to have lunch with NCP MP Sunil Tatkare and his minister daughter, Aditi. Those legislators are now with Shinde, and they are being forced to work with the Tatkares, who have joined the Ajit faction; Aditi has been made minister once again. “We will have to share our bread now. Earlier we had a full bread, but now we have to be satisfied with a half. Those who had half a bread earlier will have to satisfy themselves with just a quarter now,”Bharat Gogawale, one of the MLAs from Raigad, reportedly said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, on the day the NCP ministers were sworn in, a senior Shinde loyalist got a message to reach the Raj Bhavan quickly. He thought he was being made a minister as he had no clue about the revolt by Ajit. He reached the Raj Bhavan wearing the special dress he had ordered for the occasion. It turned out to be a major disappointment for him as he was made to sit in the front row and watch Ajit and eight of his party colleagues being sworn in by the governor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajit, who has been given the coveted finance portfolio once again, is trying to make peace with fellow legislators of the ruling coalition by sanctioning funds worth hundreds of crores of rupees, despite the opposition crying foul. Gogawale got more than Rs100 crore for his constituency, while Prashant Bamb, a BJP legislator from Aurangabad district, was sanctioned Rs700 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To accommodate Ajit and his faction, the BJP has had to part with crucial portfolios like finance, energy, cooperation and medical education. This was done after Ajit’s discussions with the BJP’s central leadership. Ajit is an excellent deal maker and got what he wanted, as the state BJP leadership did not have much of a say in the process. For the BJP’s central leadership, the focus is on finding new allies in order to secure a record third term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Ajit’s induction, local BJP leaders and Shinde loyalists are facing a major challenge. Those who lost to NCP candidates in the 2019 assembly elections―especially to Ajit loyalists―will find it nearly impossible to stake claim to those seats next time. A senior BJP leader cited the example of the tribal-dominated Akole constituency in Ahmednagar district. It is represented by Kiran Lahamate, an Ajit loyalist. Lahamate was originally with the BJP and was hoping to contest the seat in 2019. But the BJP opted for Vaibhav Pichad, son of NCP veteran Madhukar Pichad, who joined the party in 2018. Lahamate responded by joining the NCP and defeating Vaibhav in the assembly polls. Lahamate is likely to contest again as part of the new alliance, and Pichad, who has been preparing for the polls, may have to explore other options.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another leader facing a similar predicament is the BJP’s Samarjeet Ghatge from Kagal constituency in Kolhapur. He belongs to the Kagal royal family and is a sworn opponent of the incumbent MLA, the NCP’s Hasan Mushrif. Ghatge, who is close to Fadnavis, lost narrowly to Mushrif in 2019. Since then, he has been working to unseat Mushrif in the next assembly polls. However, Mushrif, who is an Ajit loyalist, is now with the BJP front and has landed a key porfolio. It is not going to be easy for Ghatge to outmanoeuvre Mushrif and get the seat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pankaja Munde, daughter of former BJP stalwart Gopinath Munde, too, faces a similar challenge. In the last elections, she lost to her cousin Dhananjay Munde, who was the NCP candidate. Dhananjay, a close associate of Ajit, is now a member of the cabinet. The BJP has been grooming Pankaja to take on Dhananjay and reclaim the Parli seat, her home turf. In the process, she was twice denied a seat in the legislative council as the party wanted her to focus on the assembly seat. But with Dhananjay turning a BJP ally, the party has named her national secretary, indicating that she will have to shift to national politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Snehalata Kolhe, the BJP MLA who represented Kopargaon from 2014 to 2019, the situation is equally difficult. In 2019, she lost narrowly to NCP’s Ashutosh Kale. As Kale is now with Ajit, Kolhe has realised that she may not get the BJP ticket in the 2024 elections. Her son, Vivek, allied with the Congress in the local sugar cooperative body election and won against the panel floated by Kale. “Snehalata will either join the Congress or contest as an independent in 2024,” said an NCP leader from Pune.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like the local BJP leaders, the Shinde camp, too, is worried. Rajabhau Waje, Shiv Sena MLA from Sinnar constituency during the 2014-2019 term, lost the 2019 elections to Manikrao Kokate, an Ajit loyalist. Waje was all set to join the Shinde camp and the details were being worked out when the Ajit faction switched to the BJP alliance. Waje has subsequently put his plans on hold as he and Manikrao are traditional rivals in Nashik.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sanjay Kokate, who lost to veteran NCP leader Babanrao Shinde in the Madha assembly seat in 2019, too, is worried about his political future. He is now with the Eknath Shinde faction, but with Babanrao joining the BJP-led alliance, he is worried that his claims for the seat will be overlooked. Sanjay has already warned that his Sena faction will not work for the BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate in Madha in 2024. “If you are going with those who fought us tooth and nail, we will have no option but to work against you,” said Sanjay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior political analyst Ravikiran Deshmukh said Ajit’s entry had created a wave of resentment among local leaders of the BJP and the Shinde faction. He said their core voters were upset because Ajit had the image of a corrupt politician. “Ajit and his faction were brought into the alliance because the BJP realised that Shinde was not able to garner votes,” said Deshmukh. “This became clear in the Kasba Peth assembly bypoll which the Congress won, despite the chief minister campaigning hard. The Sena vote, which has always helped the BJP win the seat, did not get transferred to the BJP candidate. It remained loyal to Uddhav by and large. Similarly, the BJP has become tired of the bullying tactics of the Shinde faction’s MLAs and ministers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of Shinde’s close aides said the chief minister never wanted the Ajit faction to join the coalition. “They accepted it looking at the larger national picture that Modi should get a third term. The prime minister knows that if the BJP dumps Shinde now, a very bad message will go across the country and among the NDA allies,” he said. “That is why he hosted Shinde and his family for more than an hour in Delhi. Another plus point for Shinde is his acceptability with the RSS. Whatever the BJP’s Maharashtra leaders may say, it clearly shows that Shinde is far more valued in the BJP than Ajit Pawar.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, with Lok Sabha elections coming up in just a few months, Maharashtra politics is clearly in a state of flux. No one is quite sure about what manoeuvres might come next from Ajit’s uncle, Sharad Pawar. The BJP is clearly focused on shoring up as much support as possible for Modi’s third term. The Sena factions, meanwhile, have an unsettled look. The Ajit rebellion clearly seems just the opening act of another season of political theatre.</p> Sat Aug 12 13:37:59 IST 2023 granting-tribal-status-to-paharis-in-kashmir-controversy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A CLOUD OF</b> suspicion hovers in Jammu and Kashmir, and it emerged from the stormy monsoon session of Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 26, the Union government introduced four bills in Parliament that would restructure reservation and representation in the Union territory. These bills―the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (amendment) Bill; the Constitution (Jammu and Kashmir) Scheduled Tribes Order (amendment) Bill; the Constitution (Jammu and Kashmir) Scheduled Castes Order (amendment) Bill; and the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (amendment) Bill―are critical and contentious, having raised apprehension among certain groups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Take, for instance, the ST amendment bill. Tribals in Jammu and Kashmir have taken to the streets in protest, as it proposes to include Paharis (a linguistic group), Gadda Brahmins, Kolis and Paddaris in the ST category. They fear the inclusion of Paharis, some of them upper caste Hindus and Muslims, will impact their 10 per cent reservation in government jobs and admissions in professional colleges. They argue that the move is aimed at dividing the Muslim, tribal and Pahari votes in the Muslim-majority Pir Panjal region of Jammu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Observers say that the ST status to Paharis will boost the BJP’s chances in the assembly elections in Pir Panjal, as it has five of the nine seats reserved for the scheduled tribes―three in Rajouri and two in Poonch―in the 90-member assembly. The remaining four are in Kashmir. The nine seats were reserved by the Delimitation Commission, set up after the revocation of Article 370 in August 2019. The commission also reserved seven seats for the scheduled castes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Muslims, Gujjars, Bakerwals and Paharis form 90 per cent of the population in Poonch and 62 per cent in Rajouri. Unlike other parts of India, all Gujjars and Bakerwals in Jammu and Kashmir are Muslims, while Paharis include Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Hindus and a good number of Pahari Muslims in Pir Panjal will support the BJP in the assembly elections on all reserved seats owing to the ST status to Paharis,” said a political leader in Rajouri. “Winning seats in Muslim-majority Pir Panjal can be a game changer for the BJP and can significantly reduce the chances of the National Conference, the Peoples Democratic Party and the Congress.” Also, the way the delimitation was carried out, especially in Pir Panjal, has given the BJP an edge over the other parties. Before delimitation, Rajouri district had four assembly constituencies―Nowshera, Kalakote, Rajouri and Darhal. Post delimitation, a new constituency, Thanamandi, was carved out and reserved for the scheduled tribes, along with Darhal and Kalakote. Nowshera remains a Hindu-majority constituency after delimitation. In the Kalakote constituency, 51 per cent of the population was Muslim. Eight in 10 Muslims belong to the scheduled tribes. However, the Delimitation Commission severed the Sunderbani tehsil, with 86 per cent Hindus, from Nowshera and attached it to Kalakote, thus ensuring a 64 per cent Hindu majority in Kalakote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajouri constituency had 70 per cent Muslims and 28 per cent Hindus. The Muslim population in the constituency is concentrated in four Muslim-majority <i>patwar halqas</i> or administrative units―Doongi, Fatehpur, Sohna and Bagla. The commission moved all four units from Rajouri to the Thanamandi constituency, giving Hindus electoral heft in Rajouri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Talib Hussain, a Gujjar leader and founder-member of the All Reserved Categories Joint Action Committee, said that the ST amendment bill was aimed to “manufacture ethnic divisions” in the Muslim-majority region. “The BJP wants to repeat the Manipur experiment in Jammu and Kashmir for political dividends,” he told THE WEEK. “Our unemployment rate is the highest in the country and people are unhappy. Even the Dogra vote bank is slipping from the BJP’s hands―they have lost business and other opportunities to non-locals because of the government’s ill-conceived policies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Gujjar-Bakerwal tribes and the Paharis share a similar sociocultural milieu and are settled in mountains and forested areas of Jammu and Kashmir. The Gujjars and Bakerwals shuttle between Kashmir and Jammu with their livestock. The Paharis, meanwhile, are a stationary community and are better off economically and socially.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On December 25, 2019, a delegation of Paharis met Union Home Minister Amit Shah, demanding ST status. A month later, Paharis were given 4 per cent reservation in the OBC category. A year later, the J&amp;K Commission on Socially and Educationally Backward Classes, headed by G.D. Sharma, was set up. In its 2022 report, the commission recommended ST status for Paharis, Paddaris, Kolis and Gadda Brahmins. The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes supported the proposal following the recommendation of the Registrar General of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“G.D. Sharma is a Gadda Brahmin. He recommended the ST status for his own community,” said Hussain. “The ST status to Paharis will benefit upper caste Pahari Muslims and Hindus. There is no provision for reservation within a reservation. It will hit tribals very hard.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, Haroon Chaudhary, president of the BJP’s ST Morcha, said that these fears were unfounded. “I have checked with Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh, BJP MP from (Udhampur in) Jammu, and there is no dilution in the reservation to Gujjars and Bakerwals,” he said. “The ST status to Paharis will be called ST(P).” But he did agree that the move would reap electoral benefits for the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the SC category, with 8 per cent reservation, will now include Valmikis along with Churas, Bhangis, Balmikis and Mehtars. The reservation amendment bill seeks to change the nomenclature of the other social (underprivileged) castes, with 4 per cent reservation in Jammu and Kashmir, to the other backward classes. And, as per the reorganisation amendment bill, two Kashmiri Pandits, one of whom will be a woman, and a PoJK refugee will be nominated to the assembly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bill was opposed by Anantnag MP Hasnain Masoodi of the National Conference on the grounds that the J&amp;K Reorganisation Act, under which Jammu and Kashmir was split into two Union territories (the other being Ladakh), has been challenged in the Supreme Court. “Introduction of the bill is constitutionally suspect,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CPI(M) leader M.Y. Tarigami, spokesman of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), questioned the tabling of the bills on Jammu and Kashmir in the absence of an assembly. Calling for elections in Jammu and Kashmir, he said all decisions should be taken by representatives of the people.</p> Sat Aug 12 13:29:38 IST 2023 chief-of-meitei-leepun-m-pramot-singh-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A large section of the Meitei community regards M. Pramot Singh―chief of Meitei Leepun, a radical cultural organisation―as a hero and a philosopher. He has influenced the Meitei youth with the finesse of a Pied Piper. His supporters guard him diligently at his resort-like office atop the Meitei Langhol hill in Imphal. He keeps a loaded gun nearby; occasionally, he gives instructions to his people through a wireless set.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh is one of the most controversial figures in Manipur as Kukis accuse him of instigating violence. They say his cadres are embedded with the Manipur police. Many also raise concerns about his proximity to Chief Minister N. Biren Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meitei Leepun has amassed a large following, and many of its members are armed. Singh says over a thousand members of his group are trained in handling arms; he calls them “lallois,” a term derived from Manipur’s warrior culture. “We have more than a thousand lallois and around 14,000 paojellois in Imphal. Paojellois serve as evangelists, spreading my message far and wide. Their numbers are increasing by the day,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Singh says the Meiteis are the true indigenous people of Manipur and that the ongoing war is unavoidable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How can you justify the war when women are being stripped naked, paraded and raped?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> As I mentioned, when dialogue and the Army’s efforts fail to protect us, we, the Meiteis, are left with no choice, but to defend ourselves. Our village defence volunteers are safeguarding our land. However, in times of war, many incidents can occur, and being new to this, people are now learning from their experiences, understanding the dos and don’ts. The recent incident―the viral video of two women being stripped and paraded―served as a wake-up call. It made us realise the importance of proper training before engaging in a conflict. We are having internal discussions, recognising that our society is complex and advanced, with a rich civilisation. What happened goes against Meitei values and principles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In an earlier interview you said you were well aware of a possible attack. Was the Meitei Leepun getting ready for a fight?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I do not lie, and when I need to, I prefer to remain silent. Being well-connected, I have friends from all communities, including Kuki groups. Some Kuki groups, dissatisfied with their general style of functioning, have informed me about their plans. Many Kuki organisations are not supporting the Kuki militant-driven agenda. They disclosed that on May 3, under the pretext of a tribal solidarity march, certain Kuki groups were targeting Meitei houses, and that was when the violence began. Despite these circumstances, I still receive calls from my Kuki friends.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why are you so angry with the Kuki people? What are the Meitei Leepun’s objectives?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Manipur is an idea that embodies oneness in diversity. We are a welcoming community, which is why Kukis, who are not natural inhabitants of Manipur, have settled here. However, our main concern is that the Chin Kukis are still crossing the India-Myanmar border, moving to the hills, and later infiltrating the valley. The border has been neglected, allowing people to cross freely, leading to lawlessness in the area. Kuki militants are extorting people, and both the government and the Army have failed to stop this illegal migration and address related issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We, the Meiteis, consider ourselves warriors, following in the footsteps of our forefathers who protected our land for thousands of years. It is our duty to uphold our age-old tradition and reintroduce the lallup-kaba system (it required Meitei men to work in distant lands or the army), which the British abolished, calling it forced labour. This system is now embraced as a means to safeguard our land. We, the Meitei Leepun, stand united as a movement for this cause.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Kuki organisations are accusing Chief Minister Biren Singh of having a role in the ethnic clash.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>When the nation gained independence, we, the Meiteis, were not adequately prepared to embrace a democratic system, and we were under the illusion of ruling our territory. Biren Singh opened our eyes to reality. He took stringent action against forest encroachment and poppy cultivation, and also started addressing the issue of illegal immigration by considering the introduction of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). This has made the Kukis feel unsafe for the first time. They became fearful and planned the riot. It is our duty to support Biren as he works for the betterment of Manipur. Being an elected leader, we should allow him to lead us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Some say the RSS is involved in radicalising the Meitei community.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The RSS is a nationalist movement. We, too, are committed to the integrity of the nation. Our work is aligned with the idea of India and nationalism, but it does not imply that we are affiliated with the RSS.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Kukis demand separate administration, saying it is unsafe to live with Meiteis.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Kukis were brought by the British, and now their population is increasing. Over the years, they gained dominance in Manipur’s hills, displacing Nepalis and, later, pushing out Meiteis. Consequently, we, the Meiteis, have become refugees in our own land. The older Kukis arrived just a hundred years back, yet they audaciously claim to be indigenous people. We, the Meiteis, are the true indigenous people of Manipur, and the Kuki communities have no right to demand anything. And I am telling you, they will see what we do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ After three months of ethnic clashes, we are witnessing widespread human suffering and opposition parties are highlighting the government’s failure.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Over the years, mainland India, including the media, has fallen into a trap regarding northeast India. The prevailing belief is that to stand with the people, one needs to be anti-establishment. This narrative has persisted for several decades, but it is time to change the outlook towards this region.</p> Fri Aug 04 16:55:30 IST 2023 manipur-terror-sexual-violence-rape-situation-analysis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>“<b>THIS IS A</b> man-made problem. Now we, the women, will solve it,’’ said Hoirem Binodini Devi, co-convener of the Khwairamband Ima Keithel Joint Coordinating Committee for Peace, a powerful body of Meitei women in the Imphal valley, referring to the ethnic violence plaguing Manipur since May 3. They are hoping for a solution through a dialogue between the women of both communities―the Meiteis and the Kukis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, for the Kukis, who constitute 16 per cent of Manipur’s population, it is an unacceptable offer. According to Kuki women’s organisations, it is unimaginable to sit with Meitei women who, they say, perpetrated heinous crimes against them. Many Kuki women survivors say it was the Meitei women who handed them over to the male crowd, inciting them to rape and kill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In conflicts across the world, including in Manipur, it is the women who suffer the most. According to statistics provided by the tribal communities, 27 Kuki and Zomi (another minority ethnic group) women were killed and many more were raped. Eight women were bludgeoned to death, two burnt alive, five shot dead and three lynched. The status of the remaining victims remains unspecified.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amidst several complaints about rape and murder of women, it was a video that surfaced on July 19 that finally compelled everyone to address the atrocities against women. It shed light on the dire situation, where men, women and children were butchered mercilessly. It forced the Union government to acknowledge and confront the grave situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is an incredibly painful video, but we cannot deny that there seems to be some form of divine intervention at play. The fact that the video emerged two months after the incident has brought the heinous killings and torture endured by the tribal communities of Manipur into global spotlight,” said Ngainei Kim, president of the Kuki Women Organisation for Human Rights. Kim said there were many cases of rape of tribal women during the ethnic conflict. Many victims are, however, hesitant to report it for fear of reprisal and death and social taboos.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many FIRs and zero FIRs (a first information report that can be filed at any police station, regardless of jurisdiction) have been registered in different parts of the state. Yet, Chief Minister N. Biren Singh said there was only one case of sexual assault. Hundreds of zero FIRs are still being filed daily by Kukis and Meiteis who have been displaced from their land.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rape has long been used as a weapon during conflicts, and this disturbing reality is glaringly evident in Manipur. “Recognised as weapons of war, acts of sexual violence during armed conflict are intentionally designed to inflict bodily harm on primarily, but not exclusively, female victims. These acts also serve to terrify and humiliate not only the individuals targeted, but also their families and communities,” said UN Women, a United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sexual violence during conflicts is not a new phenomenon in Manipur. The naked protest by Imas (mothers) over the murder and alleged rape of Thangjam Manorama (2004) by the armed forces stands as a stark reminder. In the Tipaimukh area of Outer Manipur, 21 tribal women of the Kuki-Zomi-Hmar-Mizo ethnic group were subjected to mass rape in 2005-2006 by Meitei militants.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, in a surprising twist this time, Meitei women known as Meira Paibis (torch-bearing women), have been accused of instigating rape against tribal women. Ironically, Meira Paibis have made headlines in the past for their courageous stance against drug mafias and social evils. On June 29, they confronted the police who obstructed Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s peace mission. But now the Kukis accuse them of brutally targeting their women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two Kuki girls, aged 19 and 20, who had stayed at a nursing institute hostel in Porompat town in Imphal, said Meira Paibis handed them over to an angry crowd after brutally beating them. They said one woman even shouted, “Why are you still keeping them alive? Rape them, cut their bodies into pieces, and burn them alive.” They recalled their assailants’ accusations that the Kukis had raped Meitei women in Churachandpur and murdered Meitei children.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two women, aged 43 and 21, were stripped and paraded, as seen in the July 19 video. They were gang-raped by a mob of Meitei men on May 4, a day after the ethnic clashes started. Tragically, during the attack on their village in Kangpokpi district, a father and son who bravely tried to intervene were hacked to death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE WEEK reported the incident in its issue dated July 16, prior to the video’s leak and its rapid spread on social media. A zero FIR was filed by a family member of one of the victims on May 18 at the Saikul police station in Kangpokpi district, and a regular FIR was registered more than a month later, on June 21, at the Nongpok Sekmai police station in Thoubal district. After the video surfaced, the Manipur police started taking action, leading to the arrest of six people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chief Minister Biren Singh said his government would not spare anyone involved in crimes against women. The husband of one of the victims, who is a veteran of the Kargil War, said while addressing the media in Churachandpur, “I served my country, but I failed to save my wife.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To ensure the safety of the victims, Vaiphei (a Kuki ethnic group) organisations have relocated them to an undisclosed location. “Their lives are under threat. We have placed them at a secure place, and have not disclosed the location even to our own community members,” said Lalal, president of the Vaiphei Students’ Association. The young victim, who got married after the incident, was unaware of the virality of the video because of the internet ban in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Being tribals, ours is a closed society, and our orthodox ways often keep us isolated. We were deeply concerned about how to inform these two women and their families about the video,” said S. Lianboi Vaiphei, spokesperson for the Vaiphei Students’ Association. But the compassionate response of the victim’s father-in-law, upon hearing about the video, brought tears to their eyes. “Please take care of my daughter,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meira Paibis responded to the video by demolishing the house of the main accused, Huirem Herodas Meitei. Kuki organisations, however, accused Meira Paibis of staging a drama and said they were the actual perpetrators of the crime. Denying the allegations, Binodini Devi said the Manipuri women had always stood for human rights. “We condemn this incident. As Imas, we cannot accept any kind of crime against women, regardless of their caste, ethnicity or religion. We will be satisfied only when the culprits receive the appropriate punishment as prescribed by the law,” she said. The Imas of Nongpok Sekmai said they had rescued two women from an angry crowd who had stripped them naked and paraded them publicly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Women of both communities are suffering because of the ethnic tension. “We, the mothers, can resolve the issue. We will sit together and sort out the problems. We will not allow politicians to intervene,” said Binodini Devi. She said many Meitei girls, too, were raped, but the outside world had not heard about it because of the internet ban.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Kuki women, however, challenged the Meitei accusation. “We will not misbehave with any women,” said Kim. “Let them bring a single case where Meitei women have been raped by a Kuki boy. The Meitei women are strong and have even dared to do naked protests against the Army. Why would they hide if something wrong happened?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During her visit to Manipur, Rekha Sharma, chairperson of the National Commission for Women, urged all women to come together and initiate peace talks. But it is unlikely to happen anytime soon. “We clearly informed the NCW chairperson that no Kuki woman can sit with the Meira Paibis as they are the perpetrators of the crime. Many tribal women have spoken about the involvement of the Meitei women in these crimes. They only asked for our daughters to be raped and killed,” said Kim.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many crimes against women are cold-blooded. In a heart-wrenching incident, two girls were raped and killed at a car washing centre in Imphal. The mother of one of the victims spoke to THE WEEK at the Kuki Women Union office in Sadar Hills about her desperate attempts to reach her daughter on May 4. She called many times, but the phone just kept on ringing. After half an hour, a woman answered the phone, asking, “Do you want your daughter alive?” The call ended abruptly, and the phone remained switched off thereafter. The distraught mother said she never got any information about her daughter’s whereabouts, and did not even get the chance to see her body.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is evident that what has come out now is just the tip of the iceberg. Many crimes were committed against women, which may surface sooner or later,” said Kimngjou, a Kuki girl from Kangpokpi, who had worked in the development sector and had studied at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. “We are always treated as inferiors, and the majority community call us ‘Hao’, which means untouchable,” she said. “Rape is always a weapon against vulnerable communities.”</p> Sat Jul 29 13:38:13 IST 2023 bajrang-dal-leader-prakash-sharma-accepts-the-week-s-apology <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE WEEK</b> was praised for its sincerity, unbiased reporting and a willingness to accept and apologise for its mistakes. In the issue dated July 24, 2022, THE WEEK had published an illustration of the Goddess Kali obtained from the visual images company Getty Images, which had described it as a centuries-old work of Kangra art. Upon objections to the image, THE WEEK immediately removed it from its online editions, besides publishing an apology on the website and in the magazine. By then, however, Prakash Sharma, former convener of the Bajrang Dal, had filed a complaint at Kanpur’s Kotwali police station.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A year later, Sharma announced that he had been impressed by THE WEEK’s determination to make amends. “I am a follower of the Ramcharitmanas, and, as Lord Ram said, anyone who comes to apologise with an open heart deserves immediate forgiveness. If we don’t forgive, then we are the sinners,” he said at a function organised in Kanpur on July 22. It was attended by prominent leaders of the Vishva Hindu Parishad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sharma said that it was just a perception that a publication is biased against Hindus on the basis of just one article or picture. THE WEEK had disproved this perception. “The editors have been in touch with us very humbly, with a large heart and with an open mind,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Explaining the rationale behind asking for a public apology, Sharma said that many of his associates had participated in demonstrations against the magazine and thus they deserved to know the outcome, instead of a compromise being struck without their knowledge. He said that he had been in touch with the BJP's top brass, who had described the magazine as very objective in its reporting. Sharma also said that he and his colleagues would withdraw the police complaints filed in Kanpur, Fatehpur and other places, if any, that they had lodged against THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also present on the dais were Rajeev Mahana, Kanpur prant VHP president; Virendra Pandey, Kanpur prant VHP vice president; Rajeev Porwal, Kanpur prant VHP secretary; Sharad Sharma, VHP spokesperson for Awadh prant, and Dilip Kumar Dubey, senior legal counsel, besides senior representatives of the magazine. Senior journalist Mahesh Sharma, who was invited to the dais, said, “THE WEEK walks on the razor’s edge in its reporting. It is stationed in Kerala, where politics is between the Congress-led front and the communist-led front, and the publication has maintained its objectivity in reporting. The group’s history bears testimony to its unbiased reporting.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>V.S. Jayaschandran, Editor-in-Charge, THE WEEK, read out the apology letter which said, “… the publication was not intended to hurt the sentiments of any community or persons; it was done in good faith, without ill will.” He also said appropriate disciplinary action had been taken within the organisation. The apology was duly translated into Hindi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mahana said the whole episode bore testimony to the fact that people would not, under the guise of secularism, remain inactive when their religion was offended. “The fact that THE WEEK’s representatives have come here is testimony to their sincerity and we welcome it. The message of this episode will be heard throughout the country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The function concluded with THE WEEK’s representatives handing over the letter of apology. They were given framed images of the Goddess Kali.</p> Sat Jul 29 13:31:09 IST 2023 what-are-indias-top-secret-directed-energy-weapons <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It could have been the veritable storm in a teacup. Or, perhaps, it was an acknowledgement of the induction of disruptive military technology of game-changing proportions. On March 21, speaking at a public event in Delhi, Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhuri said India had tested and deployed Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs) and hypersonic weapons. For the assembled defence journalists and members of the strategic community, it came as a big surprise. But soon came the clarification from IAF sources: the chief was just pointing out that such weapons had been “tested and employed” by many countries, and not particularly by India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE WEEK has, however, learnt that DEWs are now very much part of India’s elaborate security architecture, although there has been no official declaration to this effect. DEWs refer to weapon systems that direct devastating lethal force generated by concentrated laser, microwaves or particle beams onto a target at a great speed. DEWs have many key advantages over conventional weapons. There is unmatched accuracy, low cost per shot, logistical benefits and low detectability, besides the lightning speed at which the death rays hit the target. But most significantly, DEWs seem to be the sole answer to the virtually ‘unstoppable’ hypersonic missiles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>DEWs are believed to have been first used by the Greeks in 212 BCE when scientist-philosopher Archimedes defended the city of Syracuse by re-directing sunlight with the help of curved polished mirrors. The sunbeams blinded the invading Romans and set the sails of their galleys afire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the development of these systems in India, it was the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and its adjunct, the Hyderabad-based Centre for High Energy Systems and Sciences (CHESS), that have played a key role. Several other entities, from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and the Army Design Bureau (ADB) to the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) are involved in different DEWs programmes. “CHESS has developed a laser-based anti-drone system which has been demonstrated successfully to potential users. An integrated anti-drone system including radar, jammer and laser-based hard kill capability has been developed and deployed,” said a book brought out by the Defence Scientific Information and Documentation Centre. The Bengaluru-based Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) has been entrusted with the manufacturing and supply of these weapons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Multiple sources, requesting anonymity, told THE WEEK that DEWs had been part of the Indian arsenal for years now. These are the products of classified programmes like KALI (Kilo Ampere Linear Injector) and DURGA (Directionally Unrestricted Ray-Gun Array). Sources said several of these platforms had already been inducted, and the induction of a ‘major platform’ was likely in 2024. This system will be capable of annihilating incoming missiles and projectiles in the terminal phase of their flight, even at ranges of about 25km. Details of the operational range and other parameters of these platforms are closely guarded secrets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An off-shoot of the DEWs programme is an anti-drone system which has been deployed for the past two years at the Independence Day celebrations in New Delhi. Said Ravi Kumar Gupta, a military scientist who worked with the DRDO for 36 years, “The DRDO’s anti-drone system is a state-of-the-art product with both hard kill and soft kill options. It is being produced by BEL.” The intense and concentrated beams from DEWs would disrupt or jumble up communications and other command, controlling, positioning, navigation and timing systems in the target in what is known as a soft kill or even destroy the target in a hard kill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gupta said that during the early phases of developing laser-based DEWs, the focus was on gas dynamic lasers as the source, which soon shifted to chemical lasers because of higher efficiency. “It, however, involved storage and handling of extremely toxic and hazardous gases. Advances in solid state lasers and fibre optic lasers [have helped]. Further, their compactness and safety has resulted in most of the DEW systems being based on solid state laser sources,” said Gupta. He refused to comment more on the KALI and DURGA programmes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Captain Rajprasad, the inventor of ‘Shatrunash’, a handheld electromagnetic pulse gun that emits bursts of microwaves to disrupt IEDs and electronics, said, “Most DEWs are laser-based. It is difficult to work with microwaves because it is very dangerous even for those working on it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s efforts to develop DEWs began a couple of decades ago. Amitav Mallik, a military scientist who was the founder director of the Delhi-based Laser Science and Technology Centre (LASTEC), said, “The US experiment of destroying one of its own ageing satellites with ground-based laser weapons in 1996 alerted many nations with space assets about such security threats. That is when India started its own DEWs programme, and LASTEC achieved full-scale technology demonstration in an outdoor simulated environment at the Hindon air base near Delhi in 2001. Now the story is old enough to be de-classified.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mallik, who later worked with the National Security Advisory Board, oversaw the top secret demonstration in 2001 which was attended by the country’s top leadership including the chiefs of the Army, Navy and the Air Force. A 100 kilowatt laser beam was shot from an apparatus mounted on three trucks at an ‘eight inch by eight inch’ steel-plated target placed on a moving jeep, simulating the angular satellite movement. “The target disintegrated in a flash,” said Mallik. The top-secret project was named ‘Tri-Netra’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From 2018 onwards, LASTEC’s work was gradually divided between CHESS and Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory (TBRL) at Chandigarh. The Chandigarh lab’s work was later delegated to the Dehradun-based Instruments Research and Development Establishment (IRDE). The reason for the shifting was that the area around LASTEC in Delhi had become thickly populated and the space to test potentially dangerous technology became limited.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The development of DEW systems beyond a point required larger space. Hence CHESS was born,” said Gupta. “Like every large military system, DRDO’s anti-drone system, too, involved multidisciplinary efforts and hence multiple laboratories.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Worldwide, the two main options for DEWs have centred on high power lasers (HPL) and high power microwaves (HPM). HPLs, because of a narrower beam, would cover a smaller target area as opposed to HPM weapons which, because of their wider coverage area, could be more effective against a salvo of missiles or drone swarms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A laser ray of approximately 100 kilowatt can take down unmanned aerial systems and artillery. A laser beam of around 300 kilowatt could decapitate small craft, vehicles and cruise missiles, while lasers of one megawatt could devastate ballistic missiles and hypersonic weapons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>DEWs gained further traction in November 2020 during the Sino-Indian border standoff when Jin Canrong, a political strategist at Beijing’s Renmin University, made a claim on Chinese television that the PLA used microwave weapons in August 2020 to force Indian soldiers off the contested peaks in eastern Ladakh. “No shots could be fired, but you had to take the peaks back. It was very tough. Later on, the PLA came out with a wonderful idea. They discussed it with other troops. They used microwave weapons,” said Jin. “They emitted microwaves from the bottom of the mountain, turning the mountain top into a microwave oven. After 15 minutes, the Indian soldiers started throwing up…. Thus we took the hills back.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Jin’s claims were ridiculed by the Indian security establishment, including the then Army chief General Manoj Naravane, as being part of a propaganda war, it stirred a sense of unease. Just a year after Jin made his claims, the Indian defence ministry announced that the Navy was procuring the first-ever indigenously developed anti-drone system that “can instantly detect, jam micro drones and use a laser-based kill mechanism to terminate targets”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The development and manufacturing of DEWs was a collaborative effort at the highest level. The ‘comprehensive’ naval anti-drone system was birthed in the laboratories of the DRDO, but was manufactured by the state-owned BEL. DRDO Labs―Electronics &amp; Radar Development Establishment (LRDE) and Defence Electronics Research Laboratory (DLRL)―along with CHESS and IRDE were instrumental in developing the product. The drones were manufactured at BEL centres in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune and Machilipatnam. The Army and the Air Force are soon to follow the Navy’s footsteps in acquiring these systems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 11, 2022, the defence ministry announced the decision to identify 18 major platforms for industry-led design and development. It included DEWs of 300 kilowatt and more, and High Powered Electromagnetic Devices and High Powered Laser Devices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While India is racing ahead with research and development of DEWs, it faces stiff competition from other major powers. A US defence department report said China had multiple ground-based laser weapons of varying power levels to disrupt, degrade or damage satellites. “By the mid-to-late-2020s, China may field higher power systems that extend the threat to the structures of non-optical satellites,” said the report. It has already developed a system (LW-30) that can take out unmanned aircraft systems and precision-guided weapons. This was first unveiled at the International Aerospace Exhibition in Moscow in 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Chinese state-controlled media claims that the LW-30 can lock on a target 25km away in just six seconds before launching a laser beam to destroy it, offering assured defence against low-altitude air defence weapons and even cruise missiles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Russia, which is among India’s trusted defence partners, has been working on DEWs for more than half a century. While the earlier efforts largely focused on HPL weapons, the Russians are now showing interest in HPM weapons as well. In 2018, President Vladimir Putin unveiled a laser weapon for air defence and anti-satellite warfare called the ‘Peresvet’, after a legendary Russian warrior-monk.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yury Borisov, who was deputy prime minister in charge of military development, said last year that Russia deployed a few “wonder weapons” in Ukraine, including ‘Peresvet’ and another laser weapon called ‘Zadira’. Borisov said that while ‘Peresvet’ could “dazzle and blind” satellites placed up to 1,500km above earth, ‘Zadira’ would “burn and melt” targets. “If ‘Peresvet’ blinds, then the new generation of laser weapons lead to the physical destruction of the target. It involves thermal destruction. This is not some sort of exotic idea, it is the reality,” said Borisov.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US, which leads the global research on DEWs, was the first to develop the technology when president Ronald Reagan launched his strategic defence initiative (nicknamed the Star Wars programme). With its first-mover advantage, the US has made substantial headway. The present roadmap of the US defence department aims at increasing the power levels of DEWs from about 150 kilowatt to 300 kilowatt by the end of fiscal year 2023 (October 2022 to September 2023), to 500 kilowatt by FY 2025 and up to megawatt levels by FY 2026. The department has sought $669 million for unclassified DEWS research, development, test and evaluation, and $345 million for unclassified DEWs procurement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Besides the already deployed Tactical High-Power Microwave Operational Responder (THOR), some of the projects in various stages of development include Phaser High-Powered Microwave, Counter-Electronic High-Power Microwave Extended-Range Air Base Defense (CHIMERA), High-Energy Laser Weapon System (HELWS) and Self-Protect High-Energy Laser Demonstrator (ShiELD).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What nuclear weapons and missiles were to the Cold War, and satellites and communication technology are to the present times, DEWs will be for military capability of the immediate future and thereafter. No wonder every major world power is in pursuit of such weapons, with India, too, having made considerable progress.</p> Sat Jul 22 17:07:35 IST 2023 inside-story-behind-india-name-shows-oppositions-keenness-for-unity <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>INDIA, THE NEW</b> name for the opposition alliance, has got widespread coverage on the news already. But, the inside story of how the leaders of 26 opposition parties who gathered in Bengaluru for a two-day meeting arrived at the name Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance is a study in the dynamics of the varied outfits and the efforts underway to get over their differences, or, at least get the optics right.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is learnt that the name was originally the idea of former Congress president Rahul Gandhi. According to sources, on the evening of July 17, at the dinner hosted by Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah for opposition leaders attending the conclave, Rahul told a senior party leader that he was keen on the name INDIA, but he wanted West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee to suggest the name at the meeting the next day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Rahul to route the name through Mamata was an extremely interesting decision. The Congress state unit is up in arms agains the Trinamool in West Bengal, especially with regard to the violence that took place during the recent panchayat elections. Mamata and Rahul have not had a particularly cordial relationship in the past. However, during the opposition meeting in Patna, Mamata helped calm down matters when the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party got into an altercation over the Centre’s ordinance on Delhi’s bureaucracy. This gesture was appreciated by Rahul. Mamata suggesting the name was also perhaps intended to convey the impression that the leaders were keen to rise over differences.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mamata was not present at the dinner, so the name was conveyed to her through a party colleague. She liked the name, but was keen on replacing ‘National’ with some other word starting with N. The Congress is learnt to have disagreed with that suggestion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the meeting, after Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge’s opening remarks, Mamata suggested the name INDIA for the alliance, and the floor was thrown open for discussion. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was not completely convinced about the appropriateness of the name. Sources said he was of the view that it was not an apt name for a political alliance. Nitish is learnt to have suggested the name Indian Main Front.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The left leaders then pitched in, saying they too had a name in mind. While they said INDIA was alright, it would be better if it was called We for India or V for India. The other parties disagreed, saying it sounded more like a slogan than the name of a group of political parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At this juncture, Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti gladdened the hearts of the Congress leaders in the meeting with her suggestion. As per sources, she said that since the Bharat Jodo Yatra was a huge success, the alliance could be called Bharat Jodo Alliance. On expected lines, the other parties did not agree.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>National Conference leader Omar Abdullah is learnt to have told the gathering that the name should ring Indian.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, according to sources, said the name of the alliance was not such a big issue. He said the main issue is that of seat sharing and suggested that the talks for seat sharing should begin at the earliest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At this, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren is learnt to have said that if the name is not so important, why can’t the alliance simply be called United Progressive Alliance-3. This suggestion, however, did not find favour with the other leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar conveyed another opposition leader’s suggestion for a name to former Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Sonia, who in all probability was aware of Rahul’s idea, said she would prefer to let the other leaders decide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ultimately, Rahul spoke on the issue and supported the name INDIA. He said it was a great idea which Mamata had suggested. He said it was apt since it carried in it the essence of the purpose for which the opposition parties were coming together. He said that if the fight was to safeguard the idea of India, the name conveyed it adequately. He also said he was confident that it would lend itself well to slogans such as ‘INDIA vs NDA’. In the end, everyone came on board and accepted the name INDIA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bonhomie between Rahul and Mamata continued into the press briefing. Mamata was effusive in her praise of Rahul, and referred to him as “our favourite Rahul Gandhi ji”. She said the campaign of the parties will be under the banner of INDIA, and even coined a slogan on the spot, declaring, “INDIA jeetega, BJP harega (INDIA will win, BJP will lose)”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is a positive name,” said Congress general secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal. “It reflects what India stands for, which is love and brotherhood as against the hatred and divisiveness of the BJP. The difference between us and the NDA is clear.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The process of choosing the name reflected the keenness of the parties to come across as a united force despite the inherent differences among them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next meeting of the opposition parties will be held in Mumbai in around a month’s time, with the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi hosting the conclave. The choice of Mumbai as the venue of the next meeting was in view of the recent developments in the state and meant to be seen as a response to the ruling dispensation’s act of engineering a split in the Shiv Sena and the NCP. Pawar is learnt to have been rather quiet in the meeting and not his usual self.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another important takeaway was the tacit acceptance by the grouping of the Congress’s pivotal role in the alliance. Setting the stage for the meeting, Kharge, in his opening remarks is learnt to have said that the Congress was not interested in the post of prime minister. He reminded the leaders that he had said this at the birthday celebrations of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, too. Sources close to Kharge said the comment was aimed at disarming the Congress’s critics and also making it easier for the regional parties not comfortable with the Congress to be a part of the alliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to sources, Sonia’s role in the meeting was that of an ideal host who facilitated discussions without becoming an active participant herself. Hers was meant to be an overarching presence and she did not get into the nitty gritty of the decisions being taken.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the parties have got the optics right with regard to the name for the alliance, the more contentious issues have been left to be dealt with later. It was agreed in principle that the alliance will have an 11-member coordination committee. A secretariat that will be tasked with campaign management will be set up in Delhi, with members drawn from all parties. The specifics will be discussed in the next meeting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As regards the most challenging task of seat sharing, a general understanding among the parties is that it will be discussed state-wise and at the state level.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said that it was decided at the meeting that cooperation among the parties to unseat the BJP can work only at the state level. “The parties will now start discussions [at the state level] on what sort of electoral arrangements are possible to ensure the maximisation of the anti-BJP vote and the BJP not claiming advantage of the division of the opposition votes, like it did during the last 10 years,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Choosing a name was perhaps the easiest among the items on the agenda. The real challenge begins now.</p> Fri Jul 21 18:24:06 IST 2023 opposition-leaders-aware-of-sacrifices-that-will-have-to-be-made-tyagi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Are we witnessing a war of alliances―the NDA held a meeting on the same day as the opposition parties?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is in fact no comparison between the NDA and our alliance. This NDA is just a pale shadow of what the coalition was under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. They are flaunting certain numbers. But the exercise only betrays the fear of the BJP, the nervousness of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the Patna meeting and now Bengaluru.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The opposition grouping has gained strength after Patna, with the number of parties increasing from 16 to 26.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Patna, we had invited only those parties who were in agreement on the one-on-one contest against the BJP and in going into the Lok Sabha elections with a common agenda and a common programme. We did not invite parties like the BJD (Biju Janata Dal), the BRS (Bharat Rashtra Samithi), the YSR Congress or the Akali Dal since there was no agreement with those parties on having a common agenda. The Nitish Kumar formula for 2024 is to ensure that only one candidate from the opposition ranks takes on the BJP in as many seats as we can. And we are making progress on that front. After Patna, some more parties, especially from Kerala, had evinced interest in becoming a part of the exercise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you view the renewed efforts to consolidate the NDA?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you look at the constituents, it becomes clear that it lacks in substance. If we have Mamata Banerjee, they have Suvendu Adhikari, who broke away from the Trinamool. If we have Pawar, they have Ajit Pawar. If we have Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, they have Jitan Ram Manjhi and Upendra Khushwaha. From Uttar Pradesh, there are around five parties that are merely offshoots of the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, Modi had not long ago said he was ready to take on the opposition singlehandedly. Why is he now looking for comfort in numbers?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Bengaluru meeting took place in the shadow of the split in the NCP in Maharashtra.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What happened in Maharashtra is not a split in the NCP but a dacoity of MLAs. The stature of Sharad Pawar remains untouched. He is one of the seniormost leaders in the country and has maximum political experience. That is not going to change because of some MLAs leaving him. The people are with him. What actually triggered the developments in Maharashtra are a series of surveys showing that the opposition alliance was gaining in a big way. The people have made up their minds, and that will not change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are there any fears that the BJP could try a similar machination in Bihar?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no such fear in Bihar. We are confident that the BJP will not even be able to set the ball rolling in Bihar in this direction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Would local rivalries not pose a difficulty in the one-to-one contest plan? Can it happen in Delhi or West Bengal?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The top leaders of all the parties have declared their intent to come together over and above the local issues. They are aware of the sacrifices that will have to be made. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee is quite capable of defeating the BJP. I am sure she will get the required support from the Congress. I am confident that the leaders will work a way out.</p> Fri Jul 21 18:20:22 IST 2023 bjp-initiates-plans-to-review-the-national-democratic-alliance <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>POLITICS IS A GAME</b> of perception, and a clever turn of phrase can make or mar an election. During the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP used the <i>chaiwala and chowkidar </i>jibes against Narendra Modi to establish a connect with voters. For 2024, following the decision of the opposition parties to use the acronym INDIA to define their united front, Modi has come up with his own expansion for the NDA―New India, Development, Aspiration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Could the 2024 elections be a war between INDIA and New India, the jury is still out, but copywriters on both sides will be working overtime to come up with cleverer versions and slogans. But on the battleground, both sides have revealed their formations. As against INDIA’s 26 parties, the BJP-led alliance showcased 38 constituents, reviving the idea of the National Democratic Alliance, which is in its 25th year of existence. As the last two general elections have shown, the BJP has done well to secure a majority on its own. The major difference this time is the joint effort by the opposition parties to come together on a single platform, prompting the BJP to bring in smaller regional parties to bolster its chances in key states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra and also in the northeast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Conspicuous by their absence during the NDA meeting were former allies like the Telugu Desam Party and the Akali Dal. The Janata Dal (Secular), which has indicated that it might go with the NDA, also stayed away. These former allies are up against formidable challenges on their home grounds and could do well if they were to join the NDA. The BJP, however, senses an opportunity to expand its base in Andhra Pradesh and Punjab―an opportunity the party never had when the TDP and the Akali Dal were part of the NDA. In Karnataka, bringing the JD(S) in may help the Congress more, ironically. During the recent assembly elections, the JD(S) votes got transferred to the Congress as there was a perception that it was closer to the saffron party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the BJP, the alliances are also strategic. There are non-aligned parties like the YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh, the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha and the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, which are expected to halt the growth of the Congress-led alliance in their respective states. Moreover, these parties have sided openly or indirectly with the government in Parliament. The BSP with its captive dalit votes can eat into the Congress vote share in the upcoming assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP president J.P. Nadda said ideology was constant for his party. Only allies who abide by the ideology can come in, but the party’s political strategy is “dynamic”, changing with the situation on the ground. A closer look at its allies reveals regional parties like those led by Upendra Kushwaha, O.P. Rajbhar, Chirag Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi, with their own caste-based voters. The BJP hopes that they will come in handy in countering the joint opposition and its demands like the caste-based census. The party is aware that the demand could lead to a relaunch of the ‘Mandal versus kamandal’ debate, hurting its aggressive hindutva agenda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi’s televised speech during the NDA meeting set the tone for the BJP’s campaign. “It is a beautiful rainbow of regional aspirations,” said Modi, describing the NDA’s composition. It was a hint that the BJP celebrates diversity and honours local interests. It was also a slight deviation from the party’s earlier stance where it stressed on a bipolar polity, sidelining regional, caste-based and family parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi blamed the opposition for corruption and “opportunistic” alliances. The party hopes to highlight the contradictions among the opposition parties as many of them are opposed to each other during state-level elections. For instance, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party are bitter rivals in Delhi and Punjab, while in West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress is challenged by the left and the Congress. The BJP’s strategy would be to invoke the enmity between their cadres so that the transfer of votes is not easy. The alliance between the BSP and the Samajwadi Party appeared formidable on paper during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but the failure in transferring the votes resulted in the BJP winning comfortably.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s door remains open for former allies like the TDP and the Akali Dal and the final decision will be made depending on the evolving political situation. The draft of the Uniform Civil Code will have a bearing on how the Akali Dal will position itself. The party is unlikely to forget the setback it faced when it was part of the NDA government which passed the farm laws.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A bigger test for the BJP will come while sharing seats with its new allies. In Maharashtra, the Ajit Pawar faction of the NCP and the Eknath Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena will demand a decent share of seats. Haryana will pose another major headache even as the Jannayak Janata Party of Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala attended the NDA meet. The BJP had won all 10 Lok Sabha seats last time and the local unit of the party is against seat sharing. However, to let the alliance continue, there will be pressure on the central leadership to give the JJP a few seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is confident that the beneficiaries of the Central welfare schemes, especially dalits, women, tribals and the youth, will support the party. “History and chemistry is being seen by everyone, now arithmetic will be on our side,” said Modi. “The NDA had 37 per cent vote share in 2014, which rose to 45 per cent in 2019, and now in 2024, we are sure that people will give us over 50 per cent.”</p> Fri Jul 21 18:17:25 IST 2023 myths-broken-by-voters-in-karnataka <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE EMPHATIC VICTORY</b> of the Congress in the Karnataka election in May has broken several myths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Myth 1. Electronic voting machines are rigged</b></p> <p>Opposition parties blame EVMs when they lose elections. Even the BJP did so in 2009 when the Congress won elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh. Although allegations of EVM rigging had not a shred of evidence, many people believed them. But the Congress victory in Karnataka proves that EVMs are unfairly blamed, and that Indian elections are fair and transparent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, it behoves the Election Commission to order credible third-party audits periodically to certify the robustness and integrity of EVMs. The integrity of election commissioners, too, has been under a cloud. There is a perception that they are beholden to the ruling party and have often capitulated, and have not acted with independence in election disputes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, the commission has conducted flawless elections in states and to the Lok Sabha. Its task is herculean, considering the sheer number of voters (about one billion), the country’s vast and varied terrain, and the administrative complexity of deploying lakhs of polling and counting officials and security personnel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While international agencies paint India as an electoral autocracy and rank it poorly on the freedom index, it is heartening that India conducts its elections fairly and efficiently, and counts the votes and announces the results quickly―even in the communally polarised Karnataka, which went on to choose an atheist as chief minister. This yet again validates the vibrancy of our democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Myth 2. Modi magic works in any BJP state</b></p> <p>The confidence that Narendra Modi’s charisma will dispel voters’ anger over inept and corrupt governance in any BJP state has been busted. Intoxicated with power, BJP leaders in Karnataka gave a free rein to corruption. They went on a statue erecting spree―of Kempegowda, Basavanna, Kanakadasa, Valmiki―pandering to the dominant Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities. They forgot agrarian distress, jobless youth and Bengaluru’s crumbling infrastructure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To their shock, all dominant communities rejected them at the polling booth. Modi came, Modi saw. He rode the chariot, beat the drum, blew the conch, even invoked Hanuman, but could not conquer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi is repeating the past blunders of the Congress and even surpassing it. He has concentrated all powers of the party and the government in himself, as Indira Gandhi had done. He would do well to study his favourite bugbear Jawaharlal Nehru’s sagacity in politics, and his openness to debate and dissent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the Congress, the appointment of Mallikarjun Kharge as party president turned the tide. Kharge acted as a mature, accommodative politician, not given to impulsiveness. The Gandhis would do well to give him a free hand and not impose their will on him. He knows how to listen to leaders in the five states going to the polls this year and to help them set the theme for the elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul Gandhi got it right when he said Karnataka elections were not about Modi. Prudently, Rahul did not make himself the centre of the election battle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Myth 3. Money can win elections</b></p> <p>Emeritus professor James Manor of London University has studied Karnataka for four decades, from the time of Devaraj Urs, who was chief minister twice. Manor said: “In 2019 the BJP had 18 times more money to spend than all other parties combined, and the disparity has increased since then. And yet in Karnataka this time―as in 70 per cent of state elections since 1980―the party with more money has lost.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Money helps in strengthening an organisation and amplifying one’s good work through clever use of the media. But money cannot buy hearts―certainly not when governance collapses, when institutions are compromised, and when there is joblessness, lawlessness, nepotism and venal politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Myth 4. Hard-selling of hindutva and demonisation of Islam will lead to electoral success</b></p> <p>Karnataka voters have burst this myth. They followed Basavanna and poet Kuvempu, who celebrated humanism. The voters ignored the BJP’s calls to vote on religious lines. But the party’s rivals will do well to remember that vote-bank politics and pandering to fanatics among the minorities will invite a Hindu backlash.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rise of Islamic fundamentalism has helped the RSS enlist more Hindus for its fight for a Hindu state. The propaganda that Hindus are under threat has had its resonance, even in the northeast where many Hindus eat beef. But we must not forget that Hindus dislike straitjacketing, that Hinduism is pluralistic and has absorbed alien thoughts and cultures, spawned other faiths from its womb, and is ever changing, ever renewing, ever nourishing itself and yet ever remaining the same. Attempts to homogenise it or make it rabid have failed. Nothing fails like excess.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Infusing people with a sense of pride in Hinduism, its great civilisational ethos, art and cultural heritage and the grandeur of its luminous spiritual quest to discover the mysteries of the universe, is necessary but by following oceanic minds like Swami Vivekananda. The fantasy of making Bharat great by injecting fanaticism will boomerang. The BJP can win if it practises what it preaches―Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, meaning the world is one family―and by mixing a bit of Nehru, a bit of Vajpayee and a large dose of<br> Vivekananda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author is a soldier, farmer and entrepreneur.</b></p> Sat Jul 15 17:10:36 IST 2023 charge-sheet-against-drdo-scientist-pradeep-kurulkar-reveals-a-grave-security-breach <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On May 3, the Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad arrested Pradeep Kurulkar, a top scientist of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Kurulkar, 59, was accused of leaking sensitive information to a female Pakistani intelligence operative. He has since been in judicial custody in Pune, where he was the head of the DRDO’s Research &amp; Development Establishment (Engineers).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 1, the Anti-Terror Squad filed a charge-sheet that runs into six volumes and more than 1,800 pages. It contains details of the alleged WhatsApp communication between Kurulkar and the intelligence operative, who went by the name Zara Dasgupta. Apparently, Kurulkar even shared the contact information of two other senior DRDO scientists, so that Dasgupta could establish contact with them as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The charge-sheet, part of which was accessed by THE WEEK, says Kurulkar and Dasgupta discussed missile systems, drones and even duty charts of the DRDO. In the WhatsApp chats, the duo address each other as “babe”. “The [missile] launcher is my design, babe,” reads one message from Kurulkar during a chat about a DRDO missile system. He says the DRDO’s Astra missile is more accurate and reliable than the Meteor missile made in Europe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A sample, from a chat related to Agni 6:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Dasgupta:</b> Your test was successful?</p> <p><b>Kurulkar: </b>The launcher is my design, babe.</p> <p><b>Dasgupta: </b>How was the test, babe?</p> <p><b>Kurulkar:</b> A great success.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The charge-sheet says Kurulkar and Dasgupta discussed BrahMos, Agni, Astra and Akash missiles, unmanned aerial vehicle Rustom, combat drones, quadcopters and related projects. As director of the Research and Development Establishment (Engineers), he held a diplomatic passport and was part of many strategic projects for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. He was also part of research into strategic projects such as missile launchers, military bridges and other mechanical systems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, Kurulkar had undergone training to avert honeytraps. Even though it was against the rules, he stored information on DRDO projects on his Android phone so that he could use it while chatting with Dasgupta. Video calls were apparently made through shady third-party apps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Investigators suspect that Kurulkar and Dasgupta were in touch since April last year. Initial exchanges through emails and Instagram allegedly helped Dasgupta win his trust. The ATS wants Kurulkar to undergo polygraph, voice layer and psychoanalysis tests, but he has objected to it saying it would be a violation of his rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the charge-sheet, forensic analysis of Kurulkar’s cellphone revealed that he had extramarital relations with two women. One of the women is a DRDO vendor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kurulkar allegedly added Dasgupta in a WhatsApp group named ‘Happy Morning’. He once told her that a leopard had entered R&amp;DE(E) premises at Dighi near Pune, and shared a duty chart with the names and contact details of two senior scientists—“Mr Bansode” and “Mr Ganguly”. On October 28, 2022, Dasgupta allegedly asked Kurulkar for more details of some missile system, but he said the information could not be shared on WhatsApp, and that he would pass it on when they met in person. He also regularly shared with Dasgupta all his work-related travel details.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The charge-sheet also says Kurulkar discussed confidential details about unmanned aerial vehicle Rustom, such as its test performance and availability. He allegedly sent her a few website links and answered her queries. He is also accused of divulging the test performance and capabilities of surface-to-air missiles and drones under development, and of sharing details about the CEO of a private company that was working with the DRDO on certain projects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Investigators found a WhatsApp number saved as Juhi Arora, another suspected Pakistani intelligence operative, in Kurulkar’s cellphone. Both Dasgupta and Arora had the same IP address in Islamabad. After learning that Juhi Arora was the name of the honey-trapper who was in touch with Nikhil Shende, a junior commissioned officer of the Air Force in Bengaluru, investigators made Shende listen to Dasgupta’s voice. Apparently, Shende recognised it as the voice of Arora, helping them conclude that Kurulkar and Shende had interacted with the same person.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The accused (Kurulkar) shared and discussed confidential and top secret information with her in order to develop intimate relations with her,” alleges the charge-sheet. “The woman was clearly using him in order to get classified information about Indian missile systems and other defence-related projects.”</p> Sun Jul 16 11:25:09 IST 2023 a-discovery-of-india-through-g20-meetings-across-60-cities <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>This April, India organised a moonlit diplomatic tea party at the Makaibari estate in Kurseong, West Bengal. Makaibari is perhaps the only legacy tea estate in the country that is devoid of a strong Raj influence. Barring a brief period of ownership by an Englishman, the estate has been run by Indians. The Modi government chose the Makaibari estate for the second G20 tourism working group meeting. Like the Boston Tea Party of 1773, this one, too, was somewhat about a political stirring. Not a rebellion, but a radical idea—of taking diplomacy beyond the confines of the national capital.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With 200 meetings across 60 cities, the G20 meetings have been a ‘Discovery of India’ exercise. From Sardar Patel’s Statue of Unity at Kevadia to the Mahatma Gandhi museum at Dandi Kutir (both in Gujarat), the venues have been chosen to project Brand India, Modi style. “Foreign policy has been the Modi government’s big success story,’’ said retired diplomat Gurjit Singh. “Modi is one of the senior-most leaders of the G20, along with Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. The upcoming summit is among the biggest diplomatic events that India can host.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A working group meeting on tourism was held in Srinagar in May—inarguably a diplomatic win for India, even though China and Turkey chose to stay away. Goa, too, hosted a tourism meeting. Kumarakom, in Kerala, was chosen for a G20 sherpas’ meeting. Jodhpur hosted the first employment working group meeting, while Kohima was the venue for the meeting on multilateral business partnerships in agriculture and food processing, tourism and IT. Indore hosted the first agriculture deputies’ meeting; Nagpur was selected for a civil society meeting, and Patna has been chosen to host a labour engagement group meeting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some of the events were intended to offer the delegates a totally different experience. For a working group meeting at the Rann of Kutch, a tent city was erected, which looked striking against the backdrop of an unending expanse of white sand. The delegates were later taken to the Smritivan Earthquake Museum, a memorial for the victims of the 2001 tragedy. At the education working group meeting in Amritsar, the delegates were taken on a trip to the Golden Temple. During the meeting of the supreme audit institutions hosted by the comptroller and auditor general of India in Guwahati, a trip to the Kamakhya temple and a cruise down the Brahmaputra were on offer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The initial briefing session for the G20 envoys was held last November on Havelock Island, a part of the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The location was chosen with care. “The island is strategically important,’’ said an official. “But it is also important to put Havelock on the tourism map. Ambassadors often don’t get to see the Andamans.” The northeast is another focus area, promoted under the Business20 events, in an attempt to boost the region’s economy. “There has been some interest for deals, for instance, in agro-processing,’’ said an official.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The presidency of the G20 is clearly a moment that spells India’s arrival on the global stage. But it is also an opportunity for the government to make the common man an important stakeholder in the country’s foreign policy. The process of ensuring public participation started with a selfie competition held last December when India took over the G20 presidency. Since then, there have been several attempts to make the common man a part of the G20 moment. The buzzword for the events has been <i>jan bhagidari</i> (public participation). “It is not limited to diplomatic efforts,’’ said an official. “The idea of crafting the programmes has also been focused on what the events mean for the common man.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been a big push to reach out to schools, colleges and universities. By June, 70 universities have joined the initiative, with diplomats engaging 1.5 lakh students. “With G20, India is effectively using the multilateral forum to democratise foreign policy and invigorate subnational diplomacy,’’ said public policy expert Sudarshan Ramabadran. “Through satellite events like B20 (business), Y20 (youth) and L20 (labour), everyone is an equal stakeholder in the discussions related to G20.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Going beyond big cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad, the G20 events are also held in smaller cities to showcase the history of India, which is very much at the heart of the BJP’s idea of Bharat. The chosen venues tell the story of India that the Modi government wants to project. A trip to the Narmada dam—Modi’s pet project as chief minister of Gujarat, yoga retreats in Rishikesh and Ganga <i>aartis</i> at Varanasi are all part of this strategy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is not the first time that Modi has chosen to go beyond Delhi and use a slice of history as a backdrop for his diplomatic engagements. President Xi sat on a swing in Ahmedabad and walked on the beach at Mahabalipuram, while former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe watched the Ganga <i>aarti</i> in Varanasi. Now the G20 provides the government an opportunity to offer the world a glimpse of the “civilisational’’ history of Bharat. “India is a civilisational state, not just a nation state. In essence, we have had nearly 5,000 years of continuity in terms of our civilisation,’’ said Ramabadran. “It is important that places like Varanasi, Mahabalipuram and Gandhinagar are selected. They ensure that not just our policies, but our values and culture are also conveyed to foreign diplomats and institutions. It is public diplomacy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, Hampi was a chosen destination for various events. The site, which blends myth with history, was a deliberate choice. “It is a medieval site which once belonged to the Vijayanagara empire,’’ said an official. “It was selected to display the progress India had achieved during medieval times. It is also linked to the mythological kingdom of Kishkinda, which is believed to be the birthplace of Lord Hanuman.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, the G20 summit is also a projection of India’s global power for the domestic audience. As foreign policy gets viewed increasingly through the prism of nationalism, a successful summit could further boost Modi’s image. “The summit comes at an inflection point when the world is witnessing India’s rise as a global power,’’ said Harsh Pant, vice president of studies and foreign policy at Observer Research Foundation. “The Ukraine war continues. And we have the Indo-Pacific emerging as an important area, and it does not exist without India.’’ Unlike other countries that looked at the G20 summit as just another diplomatic engagement, India has chosen to make it a political affair. It helps Modi and the BJP that it has come at a time when India is gearing up for key elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tourism event held at the Makaibari estate illustrates the care that has gone into the messaging behind the G20 meetings. Sipping Darjeeling tea at a lush green hill station, watching workers race at dusk carrying fire torches to pick the perfect leaves, is as much about the experience as it is about changing perceptions. China may be the biggest producer of tea in the world, but nothing can beat the mystique of the Darjeeling tea. It was perhaps a subtle message the Modi government was trying to convey to the diplomats gathered at Kurseong. “Exposing foreign delegates to different regions helps dispel stereotypes,” said Ramabadran. “It also helps promote cultural understanding.”</p> Sat Jul 15 16:59:02 IST 2023 interview-with-imran-khans-information-secretary-raoof-hasan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Imran Khan refuses to leave the pitch, even though many prominent leaders of his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, have left him. He is staring at an uphill battle in court on some 170 cases, and the odds are against him. But Raoof Hasan, his new information secretary, says Khan will continue to bat on. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><a name="__DdeLink__28_1963167594" id="__DdeLink__28_1963167594"></a><b>Q</b> <b>Many prominent faces have deserted the PTI in the past few months. Has this weakened the party?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> The party has been cleansed of rats, turncoats, fence-sitters and the so-called electables. We are back to our ideological moorings. I think the party that shall emerge out of this, or is possibly emerging at this moment, is going to be stronger, more viable and more credible, and it will be more rooted in the ideals for which the party was originally created by Imran Khan. On the one hand, I call it the meltdown moment and, on the other, I call it the phoenix moment. We have gone through the meltdown moment. It is the phoenix moment that we are living through.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Imran Khan himself has been a phoenix many times over. Every time they wrote him off, he came back. This time, it seems, he is seriously under difficulty. There are cases against him. How do you see his position right now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> Well, it is a difficult situation. I cannot hide that. More than 170 cases have been registered against him and he is virtually attending courts on a daily basis. It is taxing, exhausting and very frustrating, because these cases are flimsy, fake and fraudulent. For all the 70 years of his life, there was not even a single case registered against him. Unfortunately, this is not the background of most of the politicians in the country, who have lived through the world of crime. It is a very difficult situation, but he is there. He is not the kind of person to give up. There was pressure on him to leave the country just like there had been pressure on previous leaders who succumbed and then they negotiated and came back. He said, ‘No, I belong here. I’m going to live here and I’m not going out’. So, consequently, the only option is that he face the cases. He attends courts. He is on bail in most of these 170 cases. So, technically speaking, he is a free man, but virtually caged.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q There are reports that he is actually holed up at home. Does he still enjoy popular support?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> His ratings have gone up in most analyses published in the past six weeks, and he stands at over 70 per cent. That was not the case when he was ousted from power. There is absolutely no comparing him with anybody else. He sits on top. This is primarily because he has been put under this kind of pressure, or he has been subjected to such kind of conditions. He is being mistreated. That is why people are reacting by reposing confidence in his leadership. They want him to come back to lead this country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q He has in the past few months looked at building up international pressure. The IMF delegates also chose to consult with him.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> This by itself speaks of his relevance and his power as a political leader. Otherwise, what is the purpose? What is the need? Why did the IMF have to come and consult him? They are dealing with the government in power; they could have easily concluded the deal. They said they wanted his support. There was a conditional support that Imran Khan extended—conditional on the holding of elections on time, as per the constitutional provisions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As I understand, the distribution of the $3 billion, which has been promised to Pakistan, will be along the following lines: $1 billion will be disbursed to this government so as to carry forth its tasks till the holding of elections after completion of their tenure on August13; then $1 billion will be given to the interim government for the purpose of lasting through the period when it is taking steps to hold the elections, and $1 billion will be given to the government which is elected so as to tide over the initial financial things. This is very important. It speaks of his relevance in Pakistan’s politics. It also speaks of a perception which is growing with time, that he is the next prime minister of the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q If elections are held—the date that everybody seems to be talking about is mid-October—what are your expectations?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> It is a fluid situation. It is very difficult for me to make a statement. My contention, and that of most of the sane voices, is that the government will hold elections only when it is certain that Imran has been neutralised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a three-pronged strategy that they launched to neutralise him: First phase was political neutralisation, which they failed in accomplishing. The second attempt was physical elimination. There was one assassination attempt that he escaped. There were multiple other assassination attempts that were aborted. The third phase is what we are undergoing now. It is to have him implicated in cases and have him and his party banned from taking part in the election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t know whether this last phase is going to work or not. [But] whichever way you look at it, election in Pakistan without Imran Khan and the PTI will be no election at all. It is not going to be recognised by Pakistan as well as by most of the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think the orchestrators of this situation are also in a dilemma. It is very difficult for them to take a decision whether to continue with their agenda, or to take a step back, introspect and possibly come to a more pragmatic decision. The month of July is critical, much will happen during this month, which will shape things for the future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q There is a report of the Pakistan law minister saying former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif can come back and fight elections.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> We believe in free and fair elections. We believe that everybody who is eligible to participate should participate, including Nawaz Sharif. We are a political party, we are a democratic party, we believe in the ethos of democracy, and we will not deny the right to participate in elections to anybody. But it must also be said at the same time that in the past 15 to 18 months this government has been in power, they have done nothing except to have themselves exonerated from scores of cases of corruption. They have taken self-serving decisions, they have amended laws, rules, regulations and passed resolutions from the floor of the parliament. The purpose of all this has been to ensure that they are not held to account for the crimes that they have committed, and Nawaz Sharif is able to come back to Pakistan to take part in elections. We would still say let there be elections and let them be free and fair. This second part is something that I have serious doubts about.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q What are the biggest challenges facing Pakistan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> Economy is number one. We are teetering on the brink of default. The $3 billion IMF package is only going to help us tide over till the holding of elections. The second is, of course, the rule of law. You must have seen the collapse of institutions in Pakistan in the past 13-14 months. Look at the way the judiciary has been assaulted from the floor of parliament, look at the way the judges’ audios have been released, their videos have been released, they have been humiliated, they have been ridiculed, they have been threatened. It has been done in the open. Simultaneously, at a subsidiary level, all other state institutions have virtually collapsed. There is no rule of law in the country, there is no justice system in this country. And a country without justice system and without rule of law does not even qualify to be called a state. We are at that defining moment in our life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These are huge challenges and anybody who comes to power will have to face these challenges from day one. I am sorry to say this, but we are really looking into the abyss at this moment. If this continues another three months, or six months, if they decide not to hold elections, if they want to continue with this gang of criminals, we will sink deeper into the quagmire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q What are the challenges faced by Imran Khan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> What bigger challenge can there be than a threat to one’s life? He is living through it. He is not the kind of person to back off and he isn’t backing off. He was pressured to leave the country. But he refused. He insists on staying back. He is determined to stay back and live through the challenges that he faces.</p> Sat Jul 15 16:48:39 IST 2023 zelenskys-10-point-peace-plan-explained <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AN OLD LATIN</b> adage says, <i>“Si vis pacem, para bellum</i> (If you want peace, prepare for war).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even during those fateful days of June 2023, when the world held its breath to watch the Wagner private military company’s short-lived mutiny against the Vladimir Putin-led Russian government— heavy fighting along the frontlines as well as drone and missile attacks all over Ukraine never stopped. Like background noise behind the existence of everything living and thriving in Ukraine, coexistence of peace and war is surreal. Ukraine appeals for arms to protect its sovereignty and searches for peace. On June 24, an unannounced meeting of national security advisers of several countries and top Ukrainian officials was held in Danish capital Copenhagen to discuss the future prospects of peace in Ukraine.</p> <p>A hush-hush summit, you may call it? Not this one alone. Recently, several secret meetings were revealed. Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, emissary of Pope Francis, travelled to Kyiv on June 5-6 and to Moscow. Around the same time, a secret trip by CIA director William Burns to Kyiv also signalled heightened backchannel negotiations. Earlier in April, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held talks with former US national security officials Richard Haass, Charles Kupchan and Thomas Graham. Secrecy is perennial in diplomacy, its level varies, pursuant to the decision-making style of countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Ukraine, common people do not like such secrecy, as they bear the brunt of Russia’s aggression with their lives, possessions and health. The 1994 Budapest Memorandum and later many treaties with Russia and the fugitive Ukrainian president Yanukovych’s backing out from the association agreement with the European Union in 2013 are fresh in memory. Time and again since the 1990s, Ukrainians organised uprisings—1990 Granite Revolution, 2004 Orange Revolution and 2013-14 Revolution of Dignity, forcing the government to reverse decisions and act responsibly. Today, the war’s irreversible trauma on the mental map of Ukrainians, rapid flow of information, presence of the media and civil society watchdogs shape the action of politicians, demanding accountability at each and every step. Ukraine’s policies cannot be agreed on secretly and imposed on its people anymore. In fact, this vox populi has enabled leaders to be unequivocal about no mediation on territorial issues and to agree to exchange of prisoners and the deported and negotiations only when “conditions are ripe”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To avoid all kinds of speculation, Andriy Yermak, head of the office of the president of Ukraine, shared many nuances of the secret Copenhagen summit in a frank conversation with journalists. Peace is like fresh air for Ukraine, suffocated by 15 months of war. Who needs more peace than the Ukrainians? But what kind of peace? The vision matters. Peace should be stable and meaningful. After failures of Minsk, Normandy and 180 more rounds of bilateral talks with Russia, Ukrainians are convinced of their futility. Yermak was clear about the fact that the blueprint for all talks is President Volodymyr Zelensky’s comprehensive 10-point peace plan, first announced at the November 2022 summit of G20 nations in Bali, Indonesia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first point in the plan is radiation and nuclear safety, focusing on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant—Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine, which is now occupied and controlled by Russia. Rumours are rampant that Russia has mined the plant, and Ukrainians are panicky, after the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, like a burnt child who dreads the fire. Other points of the plan are energy and food security, release of prisoners of war, return of adults and children forcibly deported to Russia, implementation of the UN Charter and restoration of territorial integrity, withdrawal of Russian troops, end of hostilities, justice and reparations, counteracting ecocide, focused on demining and restoring water treatment facilities. Many of these issues touch majority of the countries of the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since its announcement, Zelensky actively looked for a global summit to discuss all or part of his plan. Yermak confirmed that the Copenhagen meet was the first successful step in that direction. He was happy that apart from the G7 and most of the European countries, Brazil, India, Saudi Arabia and South Africa were present. He expects a continuation, with some 50 countries already supporting this initiative. Most nations voted in favour at the UN General Assembly resolutions on Ukraine, but some abstained. Copenhagen was a platform to get them together. Yermak thinks that the myth around Russia’s strength, credibility and image is busted, revealing political, strategic and military vulnerabilities. This will bring more countries along. More representatives of the Global South have seen the devastation with their own eyes in Ukraine and are aware of the imperialist nature of Russia’s policies. Yermak hopes another summit will be held before the end of 2023 and it might be in one of the countries of the Global South.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prior to this summit, Yermak disclosed that he had meetings on the ambassadorial level, where China participated. But in Copenhagen, China was invited but did not attend; Russia was not invited. Especially to be noted is India’s presence. Unlike the Holy See or the African leaders, India did not send peace envoys to Ukraine or Russia for mediation, although Prime Minister Narendra Modi openly told Putin at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Samarkand, “This is not an era of war.” India did not openly condemn Russian aggression, instead there were high-level telephone talks and later meetings on the sidelines of the G7 summit between Zelensky and Modi in Hiroshima. Responding to my question, Yermak warmly recalled each positive feedback and word of support during his telephone talks with his Indian counterpart, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, and pinned a lot of hope for potential cooperation with India. By the way, India was represented in Copenhagen by Sanjay Verma, secretary (west) in the ministry of external affairs, whose visit to Kyiv at the time of writing this column might break new ground. Foreign ministry officials confirmed that political consultations would be renewed between India and Ukraine after 11 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not all may agree with the whole peace formula, especially the justice, tribunal and reparation issues, but overall, the 10-point plan today is a shared global vision. While support to Ukraine mostly comes from the west, the Copenhagen meet showed that Ukraine is no longer a western issue, but a multilateral one, giving Ukraine the due agency and representation. Russia’s proposal for ceasefire and talks hinge on acknowledging the parts of Ukraine it occupied as “new reality”. But, such “new normal” are totally out of the table. Here lies the significance of the Copenhagen summit. The crucial problem though is that Russia is not in this peace platform yet, so it continues unabated missile strikes on Ukraine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus, to enable Ukraine’s win, the NATO moment has arrived. The Vilnius summit agreed on Ukraine’s fast-track entry but the timing is debated. Also, considering David Ukraine’s dependence on its allies on the quantity and type of weapons to fight Goliath Russia, Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny did not mince words in an interview demanding more weapons: “It is not a show the whole world is watching and betting on or anything. Every day, for every metre, blood is shed.” Fighters die. Civilians, too. Hundreds are injured. Among them, Ukrainians and foreigners. In the past week alone, 13 civilians died in Kramatorsk, including my acquaintance, award-winning Ukrainian writer Victoria Amelina. Among the injured are Colombians: writer Hector Abad Faciolince, peace commissioner Sergio Jaramillo and journalist Catalina Gomez. Another missile strike took the lives of 10 in Lviv, six more in Mykolayiv. Fighting a deadly war, Ukraine has to fight for and shape the peace it wants, leaving no stone unturned. Indeed, this is a tightrope walk of its destiny.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Mridula Ghosh, formerly with the UN, now teaches at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and also leads an NGO.</b></p> Sat Jul 15 16:21:00 IST 2023 ground-report-on-manipur-riots-violent-ethnic-clashes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A day before her birth, Nankhothing Vaiphee’s father died in a gunfight with British troops in Manipur. He was one of the Kuki youth who had joined the Indian National Army and was marching towards Kohima when he died. He was joyous, she said, when the INA tricolour was hoisted for the first time at Moirang, 45 km from Imphal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, at the age of 79, Nankhothing finds herself as a refugee in a camp in Tengnoupal, a district that shares the international border with Myanmar. She has lost everything: her father before her birth, and now her home, cattle and books to the ethnic clash between the Meiteis and the Kukis in Manipur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“They label us as illegal immigrants and narco-terrorists! But are we? If you visit the INA Memorial, you will discover the names of numerous Kuki people who sacrificed their lives for India’s freedom struggle,” said David J. Vaiphei, a lawyer from Moreh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manipur has been burning for two horrific months. I have been a regular visitor to this beautiful land of beautiful people, after Irom Chanu Sharmila began her fast against the misuse of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. I was one of the first few journalists to interview her after she ended her 16-year fast. When she stood against chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh in an election six years ago, I followed her closely.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I remember the day I saw her riding an old Hercules bicycle from Imphal city to Thoubal during her election campaign. She was all alone and looked as though she had been abandoned. In the end, she got 90 votes. That did not diminish my admiration for the women of Manipur. As a south Indian, I had been dumbstruck by the fighting spirit of the Imas (mothers) of Manipur. I have always believed that they are the most fearless fighters. Now, in the war zone that Manipur has become, it is the Imas who are leading the struggle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Imas or Meira Paibis (torch-bearing women) are making a powerful impact in Manipur. They are taking to the streets, and sitting there, determined to protect their people from attackers. They even clashed with the forces that obstructed Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s peace mission on June 29. The Spear Corps of the Indian Army has accused them of impeding the security forces, hampering their ability to prevent armed youth from setting fire to villages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Social activist Babloo Loitongbam told me, while we were sipping coffee in a canteen near the Imphal court a few years ago, that circumstances had made Manipuri women the bravest of fighters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the morning of July 2, we heard that three people had been killed in a gun battle at Khoijuman Tabi in Bishnupur district. Rushing to the spot, we found that both the Meiteis and the Kukis had built bunkers, like those seen at the India-Pakistan border, and were using machine-guns. The Kuki bunkers, positioned near the hillock, gave them a certain advantage due to their higher elevation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Immediately after our arrival, Chief Minister Biren Singh’s black Mercedes SUV passed by with heavy security. The bodies recovered from the hill were kept at the residence of the local MLA. Biren Singh visited the families of the dead and, being a former BSF jawan, attempted to visit the actual fighting area. However, machine-guns suddenly started firing from the hilltop. He was forced to return to Imphal, where he encountered blockades at multiple places by local people, who wanted to share their grievances.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Around 150 people have been killed in the ongoing ethnic clash that began in Churachandpur on May 3, after a High Court order to consider giving the Meitis scheduled tribe status. I had then visited Manipur, and now on my second visit to report the conflict, I find the deep-rooted mistrust between communities deepening in the absence of positive stories emerging from either side. Hatred has calcified, and the two communities have armed themselves for territorial defence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Newspapers in the valley portray the conflict as a struggle between “Kuki militants” and Meitei villagers. Conversely, Kuki social media platforms paint it as a confrontation between “Meitei militants” and Village Defence Volunteers. Geographically, Manipur is divided into hills and valley, and now the division has extended into the minds of the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When violence erupted in the Kuki-dominated Churachandpur hill district, the Meiteis retaliated in Imphal city by burning hundreds of Kuki houses and businesses. What could have been resolved as a local issue escalated swiftly into a war that spread across the state wherever the two communities coexisted. About 50,000 people have been displaced, and the government has yet to start the actual rehabilitation process. It may take several months to commence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government machinery has come to a standstill. When arson began, Kuki IPS and IAS officers in the state capital fled to Guwahati or Delhi. The director general of police, P. Doungel, who stayed back under heavy protection, was later removed to an unimportant post. In Kuki areas, Meitei houses, cars and godowns were burnt. Ministers’ houses were not spared.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“As officers, we have two primary aims every day: preventing attacks in our district and managing relief works,” said a district collector, on condition of anonymity. “We don’t have long-term plans. Each day presents new challenges. We are striving to establish networks with each community to maintain peace. However, some factors are beyond our control as people are emotionally charged.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No government schemes have been operational after May 3. The government has issued a ‘no work, no pay’ notice to force its employees to return to their offices. However, Kuki employees are unwilling to return to the valley, where most government offices are located. And Meiteis are unwilling to go to the hill districts dominated by the Kukis. To house displaced people, the government plans to build prefabricated structures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The nature of the district administration’s work has changed. Each day, the district collector is required to participate in two video conferences with the chief secretary and the security adviser. Officers from the Army, Assam Rifles, BSF and other security forces currently deployed in the district, too, attend these meetings. The objective is to assess the situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition to arson, the administration has to deal with road blockades. The villagers check all vehicles on the Dimapur-Imphal Asian Highway, which serves as the primary route to Manipur. The Meiteis have barricaded roads to the hill districts, where the Kukis reside. During our journeys to Moreh and Churchandpur, we encountered numerous checkpoints, where Meira Paibis, the torch-bearing women, called the shots. They studied our identification cards and checked our bags and vehicle, before giving us permission to proceed. Any items intended to help the affected regions, such as medicine or food supplies, would be confiscated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We found ourselves compelled to engage in clandestine measures to transport insulin for a young boy grappling with severe diabetes,” said Ashish Das, a dedicated IAS officer, currently serving as the sub-collector of Machi division in Tengnoupal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The men may be at the forefront of the war, and it is the women who are leading the public agitation. One can find a large crowd of Meitei women at every junction in the Imphal valley. Without their permission, one cannot move from one destination to another. “We are protecting our land. There is no other way,” said Kh Sapna, a Meitei woman leader in Khurkhul, Imphal West.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In general, Meiteis dislike the Central forces, particularly the Assam Rifles. They believe that the Central forces are supporting Kuki groups. Kukis dislike the Manipur Police, specifically the Manipur Commandos. They believe that the Manipur Police are collaborating with Meitei miscreants attacking Kuki villages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the buffer zones where the valley meets the hills, there is tension as the Assam Rifles and the Manipur Police stand face to face. The police are protecting territory from the Kukis residing in the hills. The Assam Rifles are safeguarding Kuki lands from potential Meitei attacks. In Kangpokpi, a few Meiteis were shot dead by security forces in a Kuki area.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the early hours of the day, I visited the Khurkhul Lamkhai area of Imphal West, where gunshots could be heard from the hillside. In Senjam Chirang village, there was a small camp of the 6th Manipur Rifles. It was at this spot that a merchant navy officer was killed in combat with Kuki groups. The old building of the Manipur Rifles was riddled with bullet marks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Inside the camp, a police officer sat in a bunker with a machine-gun, his eyes trained on the hillside. Two other officers peered through binoculars. An officer said there was daily exchange of gunfire. Most of the attacks happened late at night.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was unsettling to witness two forces of the same country pointing their guns at each other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trust in the security forces having eroded, both communities have deployed armed youth as village guards. Many people have found themselves holding a gun for the first time in their lives. While traversing the hills of Moreh, we came across two boys who had left college in Imphal and taken up the defence of their village, with locally procured firearms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am guarding my village; [I am here] not to initiate any attack, but to prevent miscreants from attacking us,” said one of them, holding a rifle. “I am not sure if I will return to college, but I prefer not to reveal my face to the public,” he said, covering his face with a mask. The chieftain of the village said, “These guns are licenced for hunting purposes. The Meiteis possess machine-guns and sniper guns. Unfortunately, we do not have sufficient arms and ammunition.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Around 4,000 firearms, including AK-47s, INSAS rifles and sniper guns, along with 5,00,000 bullets, were reportedly looted from the Manipur Police armoury. It was later revealed that the police had actually handed over these weapons to one community. Fewer than 1,100 of them were returned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Illegal arms are easily available in Manipur, and both communities have amassed them. “Previously, the price of an AK47 in black market was around 04-5 lakh. Now, because of high demand, the price has surged to 07-8 lakh,” said a police officer who worked in border villages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meitei organisations accuse former Kuki insurgent groups, which signed the Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement, of having procured a large stock of modern firearms from Myanmar and China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I visited Churachandpur multiple times, but people from the valley, including journalists and politicians, keep away from the place out of fear. Whenever I visited, I hired Meitei Pangals (Meitei Muslims) as car drivers, as they are acceptable to both communities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Churachandpur, various tribal groups, from Kuki to Zo communities, are working together in a well-organised manner. Initially, they used the newly opened Churachandpur Medical College as their temporary office and established different “departments” for relief work, communication and legal services. It resembles the initial setup of a new administration, which is one of their demands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Churachandpur is now known as Lamka. No one in the area wants their place to be known by its Meitei name. Tribal youth have removed the name Churachandpur from various locations, including the name board of the police station, and have spray-painted the name Lamka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A tribal awakening is spreading throughout the region, inspired by global indigenous movements. The youth express their tribal identity, emphasising their close connection to the forests, which they consider integral to their existence. They have written “Welcome to Tribal Land” in numerous places in giant letters. Many areas display the hashtag #SOS, symbolising the demand for Separation as the Only Solution. This is the ultimate demand of the Kuki organisations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ginza Vualzong, the media convener of the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum, said the trust between the tribals and the Meities had been irreparably shattered after the killings and rapes. “We cannot live with Meities any longer,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Just before reaching the main area of Churachandpur, we saw a massive protest by Kuki women, all dressed in black, in front of 100 coffins. These coffins represent the tribals who were killed in the violence, and most of the bodies are still kept in hospitals in Imphal. “With immense pain, we are protesting for our rights. We have lost our children and husbands,” said Kim, leader of the Kuki Women’s Rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The life in refugee camps is miserable. Hathyanwalk, a 40-year-old Kuki woman, recounted the experience of her relatives. They were living in a village in Kangpokpi. On the third day of the riots, miscreants attacked their village and burned everything. While many people ran away, a few hid in the forest. Among them were eight girls, and the father and brother of one of the girls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The miscreants looted everything, including livestock. One goat ran into the forest, and a person who pursued it discovered the girls and the two men hiding in the forest. He called out to the other looters. “They raped the girls and killed the father and son in front of them by beating them with an iron rod,” said Hathyanwalk. One girl who endured the mass rape lost her mental balance and is undergoing psychiatric treatment in Churachandpur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tinghoichong, 47, is a kidney patient who requires dialysis for her survival. Her husband, Salam Paton, is a farmer from Kangpokpi, and they managed to reach Tengnoupal. “We want to go to Churachandpur to save my wife’s life, but we are afraid to travel through the Meitei area,” he said. There is a quarry road to Churachandpur, but after monsoon, the Champai river overflows. It may drown their hopes of reaching there alive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hundreds of Meiteis are living in refugee camps in Moirang and other places. Their houses and shops were burnt. “I lost my home. I miss my pet,” said a little girl, Simran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I met Mairembam Ratan Singh in a relief camp in Moirang in May. His shops and houses in Churachandpur were burnt on the first day of violence. He had worked in an IT company in Delhi, returned home and developed two mobile apps―Needsfinder and Gosuccess―to help youth find employment within Manipur and beyond. Mairembam gave free coaching to young people in the villages. Not too long after, two people got Central service jobs, he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In July, I reached out to him and learned that he had relocated to Imphal city and was struggling to find a nurse’s job for his wife.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the police in Bishnupur stopped Rahul Gandhi, former chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh rushed to the spot. There was high tension. During the confrontation, Ibobi Singh’s security personnel pointed guns at the police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A day after Rahul’s visit, there was high drama before the chief minister’s residence in Imphal. Biren Singh had apparently decided to resign, but his convoy to the Raj Bhavan was blocked by Meitei women and members of the Arambai Tenggol. They tore up the resignation letter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Can the Meiteis and the Kukis coexist peacefully once again? I have been posing this question to everyone. The Kuki and Zo people want a separate administration, while the government and the Meiteis want to maintain territorial integrity. This issue may persist for years, for such is the anger.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During my previous visit to Manipur, I had rarely seen the seven-colour Salai Taret flag, which represents the seven Meitei clans. Now it is prominently displayed in many places across the valley.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Law and order in the state is a shambles, but the chief minister appears unfazed. Biren Singh has emerged as the unchallenged leader of the Meiteis, the majority population. He exuded confidence when I met him on the lawns of his bungalow on July 3. On the same day, he presided over the unified security command, a role previously held by security adviser Kuldeep Singh, who was appointed by the Central government under Article 355 of the Constitution, which allows it to assume control over law and order in a state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Humans have hearts, too. Near Moreh town, I came across five Meitei families in the Kuki area of Sibong Khudengthabi village. Their Kuki neighbours were protecting them. “We have been living here for generations, and this place is our true home,” said Sangolsem Varni Singh, a Meitei.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We do not wish to leave,” said Tongbram Ibopisak Singh, another Meiti. “Our relatives in the valley often inquire about our well-being, and we reassure them that we are happy and safe.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the midst of challenges, such heartening stories remind us of resilience and the compassion that can exist between different communities.</p> Sat Jul 08 17:43:28 IST 2023 rahul-gandhi-s-visit-to-violence-affected-manipur <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WE WERE ALL</b> aware of the situation in Manipur, but when we visited the state with Rahul Gandhi, what we saw and heard was beyond our imagination. The state appeared to have abandoned its responsibilities to the people. The government neither tried to bring normalcy by bridging the schism between the two communities nor did it help the victims of the violence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The need of the hour is to ensure that the two communities sit together. The situation is so bad that officers from one community cannot even enter an area dominated by the other community. The government has failed miserably to bridge the gap between them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul visited Manipur to provide a healing touch to the people. He did not go there to do politics. He did not utter a single political statement during the visit. We went to the relief camps of both the communities and met the people. It was heartbreaking to hear their stories. They had lost everything―their homes, their belongings and their kin. Most of the people we met had lost a child, a sibling or a parent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The people reacted emotionally to Rahul. They broke down on seeing him, and the way they unburdened themselves before him showed how much they trusted him. Rahul provided them a shoulder to cry on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are aware of the BJP’s reaction to Rahul’s visit to Manipur. It is disappointing. Manipur has been crying out for help for so long, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not said anything that would show that he empathises with the people. His government has failed miserably in handling the situation, and has been unable to make any progress in controlling the violence or restoring peace. However, when another leader takes an initiative to reach out to the people, listens to them with an open heart and seeks to share their grief, he is attacked by the BJP. This is ironic and only exposes how petty their thinking is and how small their hearts are.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Efforts were made to place hurdles in Rahul’s path during the visit. Wherever we sought to go, we were stopped and we were told it would be better that we went there by helicopter. It was only a way to prevent us from making any meaningful contact during the visit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We called upon Manipur Governor Anusuiya Uikey to apprise her of our experience, and what the people had conveyed to us. We put forth the people’s needs before her. Most of the victims in the camps said they needed medicine, food, milk and supplies for children. Many women in the camps have newborn babies. We conveyed to her our belief that the faith of the people in the administration needed to be restored, and steps had to be taken by the government in this regard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We will continue our efforts. We discussed the situation in the meeting of the party’s parliamentary strategy group. We briefed our colleagues about our experiences during the visit. We will certainly raise the issue of the government’s failure in restoring peace in Manipur in the monsoon session of Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Venugopal</b> is general secretary (organisation) of the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>―<b>As told to Soni Mishra.</b></p> Sat Jul 08 17:33:50 IST 2023 former-asp-narcotics-and-affairs-of-border-thounaojam-brinda-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THOUNAOJAM BRINDA</b> was a nightmare for Manipur's drug cartel. She ventured into remote hills and destroyed hectares of poppy plantations, and arrested many VIPs who had links with the drug mafia. When she was the ASP of Narcotics and Affairs of Border, people affectionately called her Lady <i>Singham</i>, drawing inspiration from the movie Singham in which a courageous police officer fights corruption and injustice. After facing political interference, Brinda resigned and later contested in the assembly polls. She returned her gallantry award after the accused in a drug case was acquitted. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Does narco-terrorism exist in Manipur? Meitei civil society leaders and politicians are using the term extensively.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> In Manipur, I might have been the first person to use this term. There is evidence to suggest the existence of narco-terrorism. The typical characteristics associated with it, such as the utilisation of drug profits to acquire arms and the use of power and money to terrorise people, can be observed in the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do all stakeholders in the drug cartel―farmers, middlemen and international traders―belong to the same community as it is portrayed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The poppy cartel in Manipur can be divided into four distinct groups. First, there is the top-level group that reaps the maximum share of profits. Second, there are the financiers. Third, there are the militants, commonly referred to as narco-terrorists. Last, there are the farmers, who are the poorest among these groups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Farmers are the ones who work tirelessly, investing their labour and time in poppy cultivation. They face extreme poverty and struggle to provide even the basic needs of their children, such as warm clothing in the winter, which coincides with the poppy season. Middlemen then enter the picture, followed by militants and financiers. It is important to note that these groups comprise individuals from all communities. Affluent individuals from various communities actively finance the poppy business. Some of the wealthiest elites across communities are involved in supporting and investing in the poppy cartel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What role do politicians play in the narco-terrorism business in Manipur?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> A few months ago, the chief minister of Manipur acknowledged that militants under suspension of operation (SoO) agreements were involved in the drug business. These militants, who are considered narco-terrorists, have a ceasefire arrangement with the state and Central governments. The government of Manipur has custody over these militants. If individuals under the custody of the government are freely moving around with arms, collecting drug taxes, and involving themselves in the poppy cartel, it raises questions about the responsibility of the custodial authorities. It is the duty of the custodian to ensure that those under their custody are not engaged in illegal activities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Were these riots pre-planned? How did it escalate so quickly and result in the the deaths of around 150 people and the destruction of many villages?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>This crisis is being made into a personal fight between the common Meiteis and the common Kukis by the forces and the agents that perpetuated themselves with the blood and sweat of the people. Violence erupted on May 3, and by 2:30pm it had spread. My question is, why did the government of Manipur not take timely action to control the situation, considering that there was ample time to do so? The planning and execution of such operations by these groups usually require days or even weeks. It seems strange that the chief minister and the government of Manipur had no intelligence on these events.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By around 4pm on the May 3, everything had happened. Government offices were vandalised and government property was set on fire. The government has shown great efficiency in arresting people, even fake Facebook accounts, by tracking their IDs. They have also booked numerous individuals under the National Security Act for criticising them on social media. So, it is evident that they are capable of tracking down those they deem as unwanted elements.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given these circumstances, why did the government take so long to bring the chain of events under control before it went out of control? What role did they play in this entire conflict? It is said that when you remain silent in the face of injustice, you become an accomplice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ People from the Kuki community are accusing Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun of fuelling the unrest.</b></p> <p><b>A/</b> It has been reported that Arambai Thenggol and Meitei Leepun have been advocating for the collective interests of Manipur. As a Meitei and a patriot, I feel compelled to question everything happening in this critical situation that Manipur is currently facing. I want to know who is or who are the individuals behind Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun. Once we get that answer, we may find answers to all other questions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Both communities accuse the police and security forces of taking sides. In such a critical moment, when ordinary people are desperately seeking justice, do you regret resigning from the police?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> As someone who is not inherently obedient and who often questions various aspects of the system, I realise that I am not suited for a role within it. As a Manipuri, I am responding to the events unfolding around me. Recently, I lost my son, and I am currently mourning. I am just a mother, attempting to awaken the consciousness of other mothers. The crisis we are currently facing has the potential to shape the future of Manipur for generations to come. What we are confronted with is the scourge of narco-terrorism, which has plagued our state for the past three decades. It fills us with shame. I hope that all those who love Manipur will awaken and unite at this moment, to collectively make a U-turn and set an example of prosperity and harmony for our future.</p> Sat Jul 08 17:31:24 IST 2023 manipur-unrest-statements-from-bjp-modi-government-situation-analysis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh asked his secretary, N. Geoffrey, to draft his resignation letter late last month, panic engulfed the state secretariat. As soon as the news reached the BJP office in Imphal, the party asked civil society organisations to assemble outside the chief minister’s residence and dissuade him from going to the Raj Bhavan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thousands of people―most of them Meiteis―hit the streets quickly. Ironically, many of them had earlier asked the chief minister to resign as they felt the government failed to protect the interests of the Meiteis. They accused the Union government and its agencies of being soft towards the Kukis who they said had attacked them and destroyed their houses. But they came out in Biren Singh’s support after the local BJP leadership told them that if the chief minister resigned, the next option would be president’s rule. “It would mean an all out Army show. And the Meitei women would be in trouble as their protests would be dealt with harshly,” said a BJP functionary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the news reached Delhi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah intervened and asked the chief minister to continue. Meanwhile, a group of protesters snatched the resignation letter from Biren Singh and tore it. This correspondent asked the chief minister about the letter. “It was mine and it was genuine,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When violence broke out in early May, Biren Singh had put up a brave face. But things have become difficult for him as the Meiteis are clearly unhappy as they think the Army has not been harsh enough with the Kukis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi has been largely silent, although it appointed former director general of the CRPF, Kuldiep Singh, as security adviser to the state. Shah tapped Kuldiep, an IPS officer of the 1986 batch, to lead the uniformed forces. But the ministry of defence appears to be on a different page. “When the Army is present in an operation, it cannot work under the instructions of a retired IPS officer,” said a senior Army officer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Subsequently, the fight between the Meiteis and other groups has intensified. At a recent all-party meeting in Delhi convened by Shah, there was a demand to appoint another Meitei leader in Biren Singh’s place, said L. Jayantakumar Singh, president of the Manipur unit of the National People’s Party. “Nobody wants to replace Biren Singh with a Kuki leader. There is violence all through the region and the Meiteis have many grievances against the chief minister. So another Meitei leader would be fine,” said Jayantakumar, who had earlier served in the Biren Singh cabinet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Biren Singh, however, said the resentment among the Meiteis was against the Central forces who were not using lethal force against the Kukis. But the Meiteis are in no mood to listen. Jayantakumar said even the chief minister’s orders were ignored by the armed forces, leading most Meiteis to turn against him. “His own people are raising slogans against him. They also raised slogans against the prime minister and the home minister. It has left Biren Singh with no other option, but to resign.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Biren Singh is facing a major political crisis in Manipur, in Delhi, the external affairs ministry and the national security adviser are worried about the growing instability in neighbouring Myanmar. “The situation in Myanmar has changed completely in the past few years,” said an Army officer. “China enjoys a total grip over the Myanmar government as the country is economically unstable. The junta government even condemned the joint statement by Prime Minister Modi and President Biden about banks in Myanmar procuring arms from China.” The rising Chinese influence in Myanmar will affect the security situation in Manipur because of the long border and the ethnic similarities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet another concern for India is the well-developed road network it has constructed linking Manipur and Myanmar as part of the Asian highway. “It has been developed as an answer to China’s Belt and Road Initiative,” said a senior officer of the Eastern Command. But several key locations along the highway are inhabited by Kukis. “As Kukis block all entry points to Manipur, the state would be cut off from the rest of India,” said the officer. Such a situation arose in the 1980s in Mizoram during the Laldenga movement, when prime minister Indira Gandhi had to resort to airstrikes, forcing the militants to lay down arms and come to the negotiating table.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior BJP leader Loken Singh pointed towards the impact of mass migration from Myanmar after the junta takeover, accentuated by the impact of the Kuki customary laws. “Under their laws, the land occupied by the Kukis belong to village heads, who decide on everything from sanctioning Aadhaar cards and voter IDs and other government documents. As a result, the intruders have all the documents and it was ratified by the earlier Congress governments. Biren Singh took the oath a second time to change this situation,” said Loken Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the situation continues to remain tense, Shah has summoned senior leaders from the northeast to Delhi. He has also taken note of the fact that Kukis and other affected tribes have started moving to Mizoram and Meghalaya where they are finding support from the government and the local people, especially because of their ethnic connections. Protests are now being reported from these two states as well. It could force Modi and Shah to contemplate a new leadership in Manipur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior general secretary of the BJP said the regime change could not be ruled out. “The parliamentary board would decide. The leaders would have to think of the pros and cons of the decision,” he said. Sensing trouble, Biren Singh, who was largely confined to his office and residence ever since the riots broke out, has decided to tour the state, seeking a fresh start and also support from his people.</p> Sat Jul 08 17:28:02 IST 2023 brahmos-aerospace-ceo-and-md-atul-dinkar-rane-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>What do you do, a guest asked a young man at a party. The young man answered: “I am a missile scientist with the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation).” The retort, with a hint of accusation, was: “Don’t you feel guilty that you are creating a weapon of destruction which will be used to kill people?” The missile scientist’s response was swift and sure: “I do not work on killing people. I work to defend my nation. There is no conflict in my mind.” That clear focus has helped; three decades later, the scientist leads a missile project that is a game-changer for the Indian military and its industrial complex. Atul Dinkar Rane, 59, is now the CEO and MD of BrahMos Aerospace. Of disarming disposition, Rane has a throaty chuckle that he puts to frequent and easy use. Recently, he spoke to THE WEEK on the variants of BrahMos, export potential and going hypersonic. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><a name="__DdeLink__23_385213400" id="__DdeLink__23_385213400"></a><b>Q</b> <b>Called India’s brahmastra, the BrahMos is considered the decisive, war-winning weapon in the Indian armoury. What does it signify?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BrahMos is the best in its class. It is the only supersonic cruise missile in the triad of any armed force. There was literally no defence against it when we started. Today, we hear of a few anti-missile systems. But, we have not seen too much that would affect the operations of the BrahMos.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian Navy has called the BrahMos its frontline weapon. It is installing it on all ships capable of carrying it. The Indian Air Force already has a squadron and, in May, during our users’ meet, the IAF chief said they are going to look at many more Su-30 squadrons with the BrahMos missile. I continuously call it a tactical weapon, but the IAF chief corrected me and said that it was a tactical weapon by definition, but it was a deterrent. That shows where the BrahMos sits today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q China has deployed the Russian S400 air defence system. How effective will it be against the stealth-capable BrahMos?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Right now, only a few countries have the S400. Because of the [low] reaction time from the launch of BrahMos to its impact, it is difficult for any surface-to-air missile to intercept it. A cruise missile is totally different from a ballistic missile and that is why we looked at a cruise. We are at low altitude and at very high speed. Defending against it will be tough. A supersonic cruise missile is literally impossible to intercept. Even if it is intercepted, you may intercept one or two or three. But you would not intercept a barrage or a salvo of four, five, six. That would definitely slip through. That is the whole philosophy of a cruise missile system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q But why has Russia not thought of inducting the BrahMos into its military?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Russian P800 Onyx missile is the precursor of the BrahMos. The BrahMos is a much better version. The P800 was produced in Russia, it still is. They moved from P800 to another area of work and they are happy. We have been continuously looking at Russia as a market for the BrahMos. If they had purchased it then, they would have had a lot of things to use in the current situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the ongoing situation in Europe ends, we might get some orders from Russia, especially for the air-launched BrahMos. They do not have an equivalent. There is no equivalent to the air-launched BrahMos in the world. I see that as a game-changer in terms of exports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Which are the countries we have struck deals with for the BrahMos?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We did this first contract selling BrahMos to the Philippines Department of National Defence. It is meant for their marine corps. It is not a large order but it is a start. It has opened the doors for many other orders. Without doubt, the Philippines will be looking for more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People have showed a lot of curiosity. Be it NATO countries, many of the western countries, all across the world. They all want to have the BrahMos. One foreign naval chief said, 'I do not want to be on the wrong side of this missile. I want it on my side.'</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since we broke in with the Philippines, the southeast [Asian] nations are our first potential customers. Quite a few nations are talking to us. The Middle East is also interested. There are a couple of Latin American countries looking at it closely and we are in talks with them. There are a few African countries, too. So we are in talks with about a dozen countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BrahMos is expensive. The buying country has to think hard whether it needs the weapon. And also decide on whether there is a need to show a bigger alignment with the selling country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q What are the various variants of the BrahMos and what are the future plans?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The current BrahMos is capable of being land-launched from mobile autonomous launches in coastal battery formation or land attack formation. It is capable of being launched from ships for anti-ship or land attack, from the air―anti-ship and land attack. We have also proven underwater (submarine) capability.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Next is a miniaturised version―BrahMos NG (next generation)―for air launch. We see massive business sense in that. We are designing it for the LCA Tejas. It would be able to carry two BrahMos instead of just one now. We have finished the preliminary design and are getting ready to cut metal. We will be doing trials with the Su-30 first, not the LCA, because we know its interfaces well. We are designing for the LCA with the idea that it becomes a total package. LCA Tejas equipped with the BrahMos NG and the Astra missile, totally Indian, is what we are looking at.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After that we will move to other aircraft. The big advantage is that once we are able to put the BrahMos on the LCA, we will be able to put it on any western platform.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q We have a vibrant defence production ecosystem now. Did the BrahMos actually predate this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Exactly. When we began BrahMos, the industries said: 'Assure us a large order and then we get into production.' That was not possible because developing and designing a system takes time. Also, we did not know the numbers. Initially, our orders were just for 12 missiles for the Navy, 30 or 40 for the Army as a test case; later, expanded to a regiment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So the numbers were small. But it was the management of BrahMos Aerospace and the vision of those industry giants, who said that there seems to be some future in this article, that has been proven now. About 25 years later, we have been producing and integrating approximately 100 missiles a year. The numbers―missiles delivered and orders booked―are mind-boggling. If we calculate from day one, the revenue totals about $6 billion (close to Rs50,000 crore, at current conversion rate).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So the industry has learnt that we do not need to wait for a huge volume order. We can start small provided that we see that there is a future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Are you saying that the BrahMos spawned a kind of ecosystem in our defence industrial complex?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is right. With the formation of the BrahMos Aerospace, the idea was to get into production as soon as possible. Within three years, we managed to design the missile, integrate it and do a test in June 2001. And as early as 2004, we got our first order. At the start, the missile was only 13 per cent Indian. We have upped this to 76 per cent. This was possible because of the industries who chipped in almost immediately. The public sector, the private sector, all chipped in and literally became partners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was not that these companies were given money to start their manufacturing. They put in the money themselves. Today we have more than 200 manufacturing industries on board as part of our supply chain. This model was a first. In a way, we started the ‘Make in India’ movement and the ‘Atmanirbharta’ movement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Can the BrahMos be nuclear tipped?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our warhead is small, up to 200kg. That partly answers the question as a nuclear missile needs a bigger warhead. If it stays conventional, it can be used. The day it becomes nuclear-tipped, one would find it very difficult to be used.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Our neighbours are rapidly evolving into hypersonic missile technology. What is the shelf life of the BrahMos at its current state of development?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If we started out with deliveries in 2005, we are less than 20 years in. It is a missile which will be used for a long time. Even today subsonic missiles are being used all over the world. So the supersonic missile is always a plus. Hypersonic is another plus. The costs also go up the same way. Who knows, BrahMos [may] go hypersonic one day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are looking at the BrahMos NG first because that makes business sense. We will go hypersonic or look at hypersonic once the actual technology stabilises. Right now it is only R&amp;D. There is no cruise weapon as such inducted into the forces which is fully hypersonic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ballistic missiles are hypersonic, they go at Mach 6-plus. But they are not cruise missiles. The cruise hypersonic, which is the scramjet-based hypersonic (the ramjet can just about touch hypersonic), is still in R&amp;D. We are working on ramjet going to Mach 4.5 to Mach 5, which is the start of hypersonic. But, a lot of work is required.</p> Sat Jul 08 16:32:51 IST 2023 analysing-the-oceangate-titan-submersible-tragedy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The deep seas make up 95 per cent of all the space available for life. Yet, we know more about the surface of the moon than about the deep-sea plains. According to the nature documentary, <i>Our Planet</i>, until recently, we used to think the deep supported little life. But now, scientists believe there are 10 times more animals living here than previously thought. Like the dragon fish, which uses bioluminescence to attract prey to its terrifying teeth. Or the deep-sea angler fish, which uses an array of sensors to detect the movement of its victims. Or the chimaera, an ancient relative of the shark, which conserves<br> energy by slowing its pace on the barren sea floor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two years ago, I was privileged to see one of the deep-sea wonders in a glass jar―a strange shrimp-like creature with spindly legs and a clear and translucent body. “It is a hadal amphipod,” British businessman and adventurer Hamish Harding told me over Zoom. “They are creatures you can find only at the bottom of the ocean.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was in July 2021, four months after he and undersea explorer Victor Vescovo had set two new Guinness World Records―for the longest distance traversed at the bottom of the ocean (4.6km) and the longest duration spent there (four hours and 15 minutes). Harding and Vescovo were among the handful of people who had travelled to the deepest part of the ocean―a small valley called the Challenger Deep at the southern side of the Mariana Trench, 11km under the surface of the ocean. He had collected the amphipod from there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The pressure down there is 1,200 times more than the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level (equivalent to the weight of 8,000 double-decker buses pushing down on the submersible),” Harding told me. “These creatures survive by evolving bodies that allow the water to flow through them, to equalise the pressure. Nature cannot create a shell that is strong enough for them to withstand such pressure.”</p> <p>The passion in his voice was palpable. Yet, there was something measured in it, too. As though the magnitude of his undertaking had sobered him. His triumph was not that of mere thrill-seeking. There was a deeper and weightier dimension to it. I wonder now whether he ever saw the end coming. People who habitually risk death must have an intimate relationship with it, right?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 22, the US Coast guard declared that Harding, along with the four others onboard the Titan submersible, were believed to be dead. The submersible had lost contact with its support ship, the Polar Prince, during a dive to the Titanic wreckage site in the North Atlantic on June 18. It had been 3.5km below sea level. Its hull is believed to have collapsed due to the intense water pressure, leading to a catastrophic implosion. Onboard with Harding were Stockton Rush, the founder and chief executive of OceanGate Expeditions, the company that operated the submersible; Paul-Henri Nargeolet, a former French naval captain known as Mr Titanic due to his expertise of the sunken ship; and the father-son duo of Shahzada and Suleman Dawood, members of one of Pakistan’s wealthiest families.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The extensive media coverage for the submersible’s search operation did receive its share of criticism. Why was so much attention paid to the ultra-rich billionaires who might have “brought the tragedy upon themselves” and so little to the hundreds of migrants who lost their lives when the boat on which they were travelling sank off the Greek coast on June 14? asked the critics. Why were the explorers even allowed to travel in an uncertified vessel which, according to many reports that emerged subsequently, was flawed in its design? Finally, why would they want to go somewhere as dangerous as the bottom of the ocean to see a shipwreck and indulge in what many described as “grave tourism”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To answer that, one must go beyond the simplistic notion that they were merely thrill-seekers who were risking their lives for the sake of bragging rights. If that were so, they would not have staked their wealth, their reputation, and their time on this pursuit of new discoveries. Rush, for example, became the youngest person in the world to qualify for jet transport rating, the highest pilot rating obtainable, at the age of 19. Although initially he wanted to be the first person on Mars, he later realised that what thrilled him was not space, but exploration. “It was about finding new life-forms,” he said in an interview to CBS. “I wanted to be sort of the Captain Kirk [from Star Trek]. I didn’t want to be the passenger in the back. And I realised that the ocean is the universe.” In 2009, he founded OceanGate, a tourism and research company that offered trips to the deep sea at a price of $2,50,000 per trip. Interestingly, Rush’s wife, Wendy, is the great-great-granddaughter of Isidor and Ida Straus,</p> <p><br> two first-class passengers in the Titanic. Ida apparently refused to leave her husband and get onto the lifeboat, and the two were seen standing together on the deck of the sinking ship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for Nargeolet, who was one of the world’s foremost experts on the Titanic, his love for wrecks was triggered by his first dive in Morocco, when he was just nine years old. In 1987, he led the first recovery expedition to the Titanic. Since then, he has completed 37 dives to the site of the wreck and supervised the recovery of 5,000 artefacts from it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is also not that these men were rash adventurers who did not calculate the risks of what they were doing. Harding, for example, knew exactly what he was getting into. “If something goes wrong, you are not coming back,” he told me then, describing some of the dangers of their Challenger Deep mission, like how the thrusters they were using to move around could hit the silt on the floor of the ocean, which could potentially cloud their view. Then there was the risk of them getting entangled in the cables left there by the remotely operated vehicles of different countries. But the biggest threat they faced was when they suddenly discovered an unmapped undersea mountain the size of Table Mountain in Cape Town. “We encountered it while heading off in a direction that looked interesting on the sonar map,” he said. “Remember that there is no rain down there to weather down mountains, which tend to stay the way they were created. We did not know the cliff was there, because no one has been to that bit of the trench before.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>English writer G.K. Chesterton once said that the world would never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder. In this chaotic and tech-driven world, this is true of most of us. But not of these men. Their own impassioned descriptions of their experiences show that they were drunk not on thrill, but on wonder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Take the way Nargeolet describes the hushed awe he felt the first time he saw the wreck of the Titanic. “Using the sonar, we approached and, behind a mound, the hull appeared,” he told <i>Le Parisien</i>. “There were the anchor chains, the winches still shining, polished by the current, lit by our searchlights. A fantastic picture. We were overwhelmed, speechless. For ten minutes, there was no sound in the submarine.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whether it was Nargeolet’s search for the site of the mythical city of Atlantis or Shahzada’s work with the SETI Institute (which searches for extraterrestrial life) or Harding’s circumnavigation of the earth via the North and South poles, these men seem to have been wired a little differently. For them, this world was never enough. They were constantly hammering away at it, as though they had an inkling of what lay beyond. “Don’t adventures ever have an end,” Shahzada wrote in a Facebook post after a trip to Iceland, quoting Bilbo Baggins from <i>The Fellowship of the Ring.</i> “I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story.” So long, gentlemen! It is time for the story to move on.</p> Sat Jul 01 18:28:37 IST 2023 opposition-unity-ahead-of-2024-lok-sabha-elections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The air in Patna was thick with pre-monsoon moisture and a buzz about a meeting that could heavily impact next year’s Lok Sabha elections. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who played host at his 1 Anne Marg residence, had posters of several opposition party leaders put up throughout the city. The party units themselves put up banners welcoming their leaders; the BJP had posters deriding the alliance effort.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One such banner outside the Janata Dal (United) headquarters said, <i>“Aagaaz hua hai, badlaav hoga</i> (A beginning has been made; there will be change).” It aptly captured the message the participants wanted to convey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With less than a year to go for the national elections, top leaders of 15 political parties got into a huddle on June 23. It was the first such meeting of the anti-BJP bloc to work out a joint strategy against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It lasted nearly four hours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chief ministers, former chief ministers and regional stalwarts were among the 32 leaders at the meeting. The predominant sentiment was bonhomie and regard, even though there was a brief altercation between the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party over a Central ordinance. The aim of the meeting, as Nitish said right at the outset, was not to discuss a joint programme, but to assert that the parties were ready to come together for the big fight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patna was chosen as the venue because some parties were uneasy attending a meeting that the Congress, their political rival, would convene. It also gave the parties reason to recall that Patna was where earlier <i>jan andolans</i> had started. The reference was to Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement in the 1970s against the Indira Gandhi government; it had brought disparate parties together under a common Janata Party banner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There is consensus on fighting the election together,” Nitish said after the meeting. “Who will fight where will be decided in a meeting that will be held soon. But we have all agreed to be together.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nitish had criss-crossed the country in the past few months, meeting leaders of various parties in an effort to build a common platform. Going by the optics, he has been successful―top leaders of the Trinamool Congress and the left, and the Congress and the AAP, staunch rivals otherwise, united in the same room.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Freed from the need to get into issues such as seat sharing, the leaders went out of their way to come across as accommodating. After hosts Nitish and Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad spoke, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge was called upon to speak. The Congress was, after all, the largest party in the bloc. Kharge, however, reportedly said that his party would like to listen and speak at the end. The others appreciated this gesture. Sources said that Kharge and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal got into an argument over the ordinance, with the latter insisting that the Congress publicly state its stand on the issue the same day. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee stepped in as referee, suggesting that the two leaders discuss the matter separately over a cup of tea. She reportedly said Kharge had already promised that his party would not support anything unconstitutional. The Patna gathering, she said, was to look at issues of greater national importance. Rahul Gandhi, it is said, appreciated her intervention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was apparently no discussion on who the convener of the grouping would be; there had been speculation that the role would go to Nitish.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul, reportedly, said he had come to Patna with a clean slate and was not hanging on to past likes or dislikes. He also spoke of the need to be flexible in the face of inherent differences.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kejriwal also stressed on the need for a united fight. He apparently said that there should be a one-on-one fight, and that the nation came first and party second.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Communist Party of India general secretary D. Raja said the focus in Patna was on the larger perspective―the Constitution and democracy were in danger. “In a situation like this, it is important for all secular and likeminded parties to come together for the Lok Sabha elections,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, there were also indications of the difficulties that could come up as discussions progress. Lalu, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav and some others reportedly spoke of the need for the Congress to be largehearted. Mamata stressed that the strongest party in a state be supported by the others. Implied in the statements was the expectation that the Congress would allow the regional parties, like the Trinamool in Bengal, to have a one-on-one fight against the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In states such as Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, the parties already have an alliance; national elections-related talks could take off from the arrangement already in place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the intent to come together would be tested in states like Delhi and Punjab, where the local Congress units are in no mood to concede space to the AAP. The Congress has not made its stance clear on the Delhi ordinance because it has to keep its local leadership content.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In West Bengal, the divide between the Trinamool, the Congress and the left is all too visible. After the Patna meeting, Mamata accused the Congress and the left of working with the BJP for the panchayat elections. In reply, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury accused the Trinamool of throttling democracy and not allowing free and fair polling.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kerala is another state where problems could arise―the Congress and the left, traditional rivals, are unlikely to come together. This became evident as, on the same day as the Patna meeting, the state Congress president K. Sudhakaran was arrested for his alleged links with a fake antiques dealer Monson Mavunkal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the proposed alliance is to succeed, the parties would have to be more open. “Only those parties in favour of a one-on-one contest in the Lok Sabha elections were invited to the meeting,” said JD(U) spokesperson K.C. Tyagi. “A good beginning has been made. Seat sharing will be fine-tuned in further meetings.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2003, Shimla had hosted the Congress’s Chintan Shivir where the party decided to form an alliance for the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. The capital of Congress-ruled Himachal Pradesh will, in the second week of July, host the next meeting of the opposition parties. The talks then would move beyond niceties and involve hard-nosed negotiations.</p> Sat Jul 01 17:00:08 IST 2023 bjp-wooing-estranged-alliances-ahead-of-2024-lok-sabha-polls <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE SEASON</b> of political realignments is here. With less than a year to go for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, political parties are busy picking sides. With opposition parties banding together against the Narendra Modi government, the BJP is wooing its estranged allies, especially in opposition-ruled states. From the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh to the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab and a motley group of smaller parties in Bihar, there is an attempt to revive the spirit of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which completed 25 years this May. The shocker in Karnataka has only added to the urgency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When BJP leaders A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani formed the NDA in 1998 to take on the Congress, there were 24 parties in the fold. As the BJP began to aggressively expand its reach across the country, its relations with several allies, including the TDP, Shiv Sena, Janata Dal (United) and Akali Dal, soured, and many quit the alliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, after 10 years in power, the BJP is looking to foray into new areas, while retaining the old seats for a comprehensive win. But as the realignment talks progress with different political parties, some state units want to go solo as they think that allies may gain more at their expense. Also, the BJP needs to win the perception battle―that it has more parties on its side than the opposition. The sticking point though is who will get to play big brother.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This dichotomy is at play in states like Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. In the Karnataka assembly polls, the BJP retained its vote share. The JD(S)’s vote share though dropped by nearly 5 per cent; the difference went to the Congress. A senior BJP leader attributed it to the perception that the JD(S) was soft towards the saffron party. “During the last Lok Sabha elections, we got over 51 per cent vote share and won 25 of 28 seats,”he said. “The votes were for Modi. The JD(S) was not in alliance with us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That perception is not unwarranted as the JD(S) had supported NDA’s presidential candidate, Droupadi Murmu, and even attended the inauguration of the new Parliament building―as did the Akali Dal, the TDP and the BSP―when most in the opposition boycotted it. The JD(S) faces an existentialist threat and needs to pick a side to survive. Recently, JD(S) patriarch H.D. Deve Gowda, when asked about allying with the BJP, had said, “Show me one party that has done politics without establishing some kind of relationship with the BJP.” The top leadership will have the final say, said BJP leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But more than Karnataka, the BJP needs an ally in Andhra Pradesh, where the YSR Congress Party is in power. It already has Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party (JSP), but the actor-politician wants Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP, too, on board to avoid splitting of votes. The buzz around the three-party alliance grew stronger when Naidu recently met Home Minister Amit Shah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though TDP’s Rajya Sabha MP K. Raveendra Kumar said it was premature to comment on the alliance, he agreed that all opposition parties were working to avoid division of votes. “The state is in financial doldrums,” he said. “Law and order is out of hand. There is no development. There is only one thinking: how to get rid of the present government.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The TDP and JSP may announce their alliance soon, and if the BJP joins them, then the state will see a three-cornered fight, with the Congress being the third key player. During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the TDP, Jana Sena and the BJP had contested independently. The ruling YSRCP had got nearly 50 per cent of the vote share, winning 22 of 25 seats, followed by the TDP (39 per cent). The JSP got more than five per cent and the BJP less than one per cent. As the Lok Sabha and assembly elections are held simultaneously in the state, the alliance would have an equal impact in both these polls. But before that, the BJP will have to forgive Naidu for walking out of the alliance and bringing a no-confidence motion against the Modi government in 2018, a first in 15 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s hesitation to ally with the TDP could also be because of the YSRCP’s constant support to the BJP at the Centre and in Parliament. The BJP would need YSRCP’s support in the Rajya Sabha, where the NDA does not have adequate numbers, to get two bills passed―the Delhi ordinance on defining powers of the chief minister and the uniform civil code.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the BJP’s expansion plans in the south, which has 130 seats, Tamil Nadu, where it is in alliance with the AIADMK, is crucial. The AIADMK won one of 39 Lok Sabha seats in 2019 and the BJP none. There have been murmurs of discord in the alliance owing to the BJP’s aggressive push to increase its base. The recent statement of state unit chief K. Annamalai on former chief ministers being convicted of corruption, seen as a dig at former AIADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa, caused a furore. The BJP subsequently issued a clarification. AIADMK spokesperson Kovai Sathyan said the controversy is over and that the alliance is strong. “Annamalai clarified that the AIADMK will lead the alliance in Tamil Nadu and we will win all the seats,” Sathyan said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, meanwhile, is going all out to woo the state, from holding cultural programmes like Kashi-Tamil Sangamam to installing the <i>sengol</i> in Parliament. But Sathyan said, “The national party has to ride on the shoulders of a Dravidian party.” BJP general secretary C.T. Ravi, who is in charge of the state, countered that it took 50 years for Dravidian politics to take root in the society, and it will take time to be taken out. “The BJP is getting space inch by inch,” he said. “We may not be at the political centrestage, but people are taking notice. There will be a time when we will be centrestage.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the AIADMK and the TDP were the BJP’s earliest allies, its alliance with the Akali Dal helped bring normalcy to militancy-hit Punjab. The Parkash Singh Badal-led government was able to complete its term for the first time (1997-2002), thanks to the BJP’s support. The relationship endured the test of time, till the Modi government brought in the three farm laws. The massive protest from its core constituency―farmers―forced the Akali Dal to part ways. And then reality hit hard―both the parties fought the 2022 assembly elections independently and lost.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There have been no talks till now. The BJP is the bigger party. The first move should come from them,” said Akali Dal leader Naresh Gujral, adding that with the laws being withdrawn, there was no point of contention between the parties. Following Badal’s death in April, Modi, Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda paid personal visits to the family, thus soothing any rancour over the breaking of alliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a lesson for the former allies in the results of the Jalandhar Lok Sabha bypoll. The AAP won the seat, a Congress stronghold, securing more than three lakh votes. The Congress got 2.43 lakh votes. The BJP, which went solo, got 1.34 lakh votes, and the Akali Dal, in alliance with the BSP, got 1.58 lakh votes. If the BJP and Akali Dal had joined hands, they could have come a close second.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Jalandhar showed us that if both the Akali Dal and the BJP come together, we will be a formidable force,” said Gujral. Union Minister Hardeep Puri of the BJP, however disagreed. “It is a simplistic reading of the results,”he said. In 60 booths where the AAP got 31 per cent votes, the BJP got 29 per cent votes, he explained. “The problem with our old alliance was that during (assembly elections), we got around 23 of 117 seats,” he said. “We did not have a presence in the rural areas.” He added that the BJP was now making its presence felt in rural areas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is also reaching out to the Sikhs through programmes like gurudwara visits and opening of the Kartarpur corridor. While Sikh leaders from the Akali Dal and the Congress have joined the BJP, it will still need an ally. BJP spokesperson R.P. Singh said he did not see an alliance with the Akalis before the 2024 elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s reluctance in ceding space to an ally comes from its Maharashtra experience. It was always a junior partner to the Shiv Sena. But when they contested independently in 2014, the BJP was able to grow like never before and had its first chief minister in Devendra Fadnavis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP will push till it gets a bigger share where it has marginal presence. And where it is in pole position, it can look the other way, as is happening in Haryana. The Manohar Lal Khattar government is in alliance with the Jannayak Janta Party, but when it comes to Lok Sabha, the BJP wants to go alone. Shah, during his tour to the state recently, asked people to give all the 10 seats to the BJP as they had done in 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another key state where the BJP is pushing to get more allies is Bihar, where smaller parties have captive caste vote banks. Leaders like Jitan Ram Manjhi, Chirag Paswan and Upendra Kushwaha are likely to return to the NDA fold.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over a dozen parties had left the NDA after Modi came to power in 2014. Though it hurt the BJP, it was able to improve its record in 2019 by winning more seats elsewhere. The party has focused on increasing its base among different caste and social groups rather than depending on regional parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Come 2024, regional parties will be forced to pick sides. “It will also depend on how the BJP will perform in the four key state elections later this year,” said an opposition leader. “If it wins, it will seek us on its terms, but if the results are as in Karnataka, it will be more amenable to alliances.”</p> Sat Jun 24 13:30:42 IST 2023 aiadmk-organising-secretary-d-jayakumar-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q Has the BJP-AIADMK alliance hit a rough patch after state BJP chief said that former chief minister [J. Jayalalithaa] was convicted for corruption?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> Our leader and mentor Amma is no more. It is unnecessary to talk about her. That is why we condemned it. Then state BJP leaders apologised for it. It was reported in the media. So the matter is over now. The alliance is going well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Recently, Home Minister Amit Shah set a target of 25 seats. How do you see the prospects?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> All leaders encourage their partymen through such remarks. He said that the alliance would get 25 seats, not the BJP alone. In Tamil Nadu, the NDA will be led by the AIADMK. In Delhi, it is the BJP-led alliance. So, all allies will contest under the AIADMK. The BJP is not the head of the alliance here, only our party is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Which parties comprise the NDA in Tamil Nadu?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> Now, it is the AIADMK and the BJP. Anything is possible in politics. Some (parties) in the DMK-led alliance may come to us. This is likely to happen close to the elections, as has happened in the past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q What will be the seat-sharing formula, as the BJP may ask for more seats?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> There is no complication. We know about all parties and their strengths. When elections are announced, we will constitute a committee for seat allocation. Parties will ask for seats, but we have to satisfy our partymen, too. It will be decided by the committee, but it will not impact our party or partymen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q The BJP may want all AIADMK factions, be it the O. Panneerselvam or T.T.V. Dhinakaran camps, to come together to avoid division of votes.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> Our general council unanimously ousted Panneerselvam and some others from the party. They are not with the party now. Our party is doing well under Edappadi Palaniswami.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q The BJP is wooing Tamil Nadu through cultural exchanges like Kashi-Tamil Sangamam and installing the sengol inside Parliament. How do you reconcile with their hindutva push?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> We have a saying in Tamil that the Tamil language is a sweet language and Tamil culture is the best. So when our culture is taken to other people, we appreciate it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Sometimes, there are remarks against the Dravidian ideology. How do you see it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> We condemn it. Their policies and principles are different from our policy and principles. Our alliance is only for election purposes. We draw our policies and principles from Periyar, Anna and Amma. We are firm on our policies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q What are the main grievances against the DMK government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A Under Amma, we ran a people’s government. We used to give money (Rs25,000 to Rs50,000) and 8g gold to girls getting married. But this government stopped it. The DMK made a lot of elections promises, like Rs1,000 [monthly assistance] for [1 crore women], but it has not been implemented. Law and order has collapsed. The DMK government is represented by 3Cs―corruption, commission and collection. DMK members are disseminating justice instead of civil courts. The poor are suffering. They promised to set up a committee under economists. Though eight people were appointed, nothing has come of it.</p> Sat Jun 24 13:18:49 IST 2023 sabarmati-ashram-complex-restoration-project <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT IS PAST NOON,</b> and the road outside the Gandhi Ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati in Ahmedabad is crowded. Noisy vehicles are all over the place. Less than half a kilometre away, a hotel hosts a wedding ceremony. If you are a visitor trying to experience the tranquillity of the ashram founded by Mahatma Gandhi, you will be disappointed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gandhi and Kasturba lived in the Sabarmati Ashram from 1917 to 1930. The ashram stands in a five-acre complex, which has a few other buildings of historical significance. The Gujarat government has now come up with a plan―originally a brainchild of Prime Minister Narendra Modi―to restore and refurbish the ashram and provide visitors a seamless experience. The project will be executed by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The design of the restoration project will be done by Ahmedabad-based architect Bimal Patel, who is also behind the design of Central Vista in New Delhi and the Kashi Vishwanath corridor in Varanasi. Under the plan, the existing five-acre area will be expanded to 55 acres. Gandhi’s residence Hriday Kunj, which is at the heart of the ashram complex, and other structures constructed before 1930 will remain untouched. However, 263 families―descendants of Gandhi’s associates who came to live here when the ashram was founded―are being moved out from the complex. The Rs1,200-crore project, supported by the Gujarat government, has a provision for fair compensation for these families.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kartikeya Sarabhai, chairman of the Sabarmati Ashram Memorial and Preservation Trust, said there were two key challenges in executing the project: resettling the inmates and closing down the four-lane road outside for vehicular traffic. “We have been able to convince the families and now only 15-odd families remain,” he said. Once the town planning scheme is complete, the road will be closed and traffic will be diverted to other roads.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The idea is to do the restoration in such a manner that the basic character of the place is retained, said Sarabhai. It often poses a challenge. He said there was a suggestion to place a red carpet near Hriday Kunj. The trust refused, and suggested a brown, inexpensive carpet that suited the environment. Sarabhai said the idea was to keep it simple and aesthetic, while meeting all the requirements.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under the plan, the other side of the four-lane road will also be modelled like the ashram complex. Currently, that area has houses of inmates, some khadi shops and a few restaurants, including one run by the government. Even the government restaurant will go, as it is not congruent with the restoration project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sudarshan Iyengar, one of the trustees and a former vice chancellor of the Gujarat Vidyapith set up by Gandhi, said the ashram required some peace and solitude and that the trust had been talking to the government about it for a very long time. He, however, wants more consultations with all stakeholders. “The 55-acre project should not intimidate ordinary souls who come to the ashram, considering it a pilgrimage,” he said. But he thinks the ongoing project is a step in the right direction. “Just because the government is right-wing, it does not mean that everything has to be doubted. The merit of the subject needs to be seen.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ahmedabad deputy municipal commissioner I.K. Patel said the heritage buildings in the ashram would be preserved. K. Kailashnathan, who heads the executive council of the Gandhi Ashram Memorial and Precinct Development Project, has told a section of the media that not one brick of the Hriday Kunj or any other heritage building that existed during Gandhi’s time would be touched. But not everyone is convinced. Gandhi’s great-grandson Tushar Gandhi went to the Gujarat High Court seeking a stay on the project, but it was not granted. More than 100 people, including Gandhi’s grandson Rajmohan Gandhi and historian Ramachandra Guha had claimed in a statement that the plan trivialised the importance of the ashram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the residents of the place, Hemant Chauhan, said the government paid different compensations to different inmates for moving out. He was one of the three inmates who resigned from the committee that was formed to coordinate with the inmates. He said there was no clarity in the plan. Chauhan runs a restaurant bang opposite the ashram. He said he would want to continue his business at the same place. Patel clarified that any takeover of property would be done only after proper counselling.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Restoring the ashram is one of the projects close to Modi’s heart. In the past there have been multiple attempts to restore the ashram, but no one was able to pull it off. If the ground work in the ashram can start before the Lok Sabha elections next year, it will be yet another key campaign plank for Modi and the BJP.</p> Sat Jun 24 12:57:32 IST 2023 the-role-of-women-in-manipur-ethnic-conflict <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Renu Takhellambam’s husband was killed in a “fake encounter” around 15 years ago. She is president of the Extrajudicial Execution Victim Families Association Manipur. Through massive protests involving women, the organisation has forced the Union government to act against more than 100 extra judicial killings dating back to the 1980s, and put pressure on it to withdraw the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, now, the same people who supported Renu after her husband’s killing have become her tormentors. “They set my house on fire, all documents of the illegal executions burnt down, a scooter and a car also set ablaze. Just because I belong to a Paite community house in Imphal,” says Renu, struggling to control her emotions. The Paite are part of the Kuki community. Renu is a Meitei, who married into a Kuki family. Renu, who had taken Manipuri women’s issues to the United Nations, is overwhelmed by the fact that her attackers were her friends, till recently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Did the mob have women, too? “The people who torched our house were primarily men,” she says. “But, there were women as well [in the group].” After being forced to take shelter at a relative’s house, Renu is planning to move to Delhi with her 17-year-old son.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hundreds of women, from 65-year-olds to 17-year-old girls, are on the streets of Imphal and the adjoining Meitei-dominated valley to obstruct security forces. Such protests were last seen in 1990s and the early 2000s―a backlash against the alleged atrocities faced by women under AFSPA. Their courage had then been widely praised, including outside India. But, today, many Manipuri Hindus think their stance is “irresponsible”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I think the women’s brigade should re-examine their policies,” says Dwijen Kshetrimayum, a prominent businessman. Dwijen understands that protests against security forces were needed as they failed to stop the mob of Kukis in the hills who “burnt houses and temples of Meiteis and raped their women mercilessly”. He says, “we can teach the Kukis a lesson”, but asks what harm did the forces do this time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has fled to Mumbai with his wife and daughter and says he does not know when he can return. “I do not think the trust deficit will be bridged soon,” he says. “Our state is marching back to what it used to be. India is progressing, but Manipur is not.” Dwijen spoke to THE WEEK for around 15 minutes. The entire time, his wife was weeping, standing behind him. He showed me a video of the “Meitei’s black army” (which Kukis allege is patronised by the state government) taking an oath to finish off the Kuki community. He also had footage of destruction of Meitei houses. He personally believes that a peaceful resolution would be better than taking revenge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Army and the Assam Rifles, along with the Central Reserve Police Force, were asked to take control of the situation on May 3. The forces were underprepared as there had been scaling down of the troops deployed under AFSPA in most areas of Manipur. “Getting them back to position took time, but we did that on a war footing and the Army and the Assam Rifles marched on Churachandpur where the first incidents were reported,” says an officer from the Kumaon Regiment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the Army’s Eastern Command―which supervises the operation of the Assam Rifles―sought reinforcements, the defence ministry, acting on information from the state government, was initially slow to appreciate the gravity of the problem. The information war fought by the Meiteis and Kukis was far ahead of the information war rooms and public information wing of the Army. Perhaps, Manipur was an eye opener for the Army―it changed two lieutenant generals, one in the information war room and the other in public information.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By the time 156 columns of the Army and the Assam Rifles took position at the riot hotspots, massacres had already taken place, as per sources in the security forces. The state police are said to have been in “mute mode”, with many officers applying for and being granted leave. “When incidents at Churachandpur happened, we were not there,” says an officer with the office of the Inspector General, Assam Rifles (South), which oversees operations in Manipur. “But, when we were called in, the Kuki religious minorities were being attacked. So, our responsibility was to save them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That antagonised the Meiteis. They held “peace meetings”, but those were really to chart out a plan against the forces, says the officer. When a church in Keithelmanbi was set on fire, reinforcements from Imphal West were rushing to the spot, but they were blocked at Imphal town by 100 women lying on the road. “Stooges of Kukis, go back, go back,” shouted a woman in her 50s. When a major tried to speak to them in Hindi, the woman shouted, “no Hindi, only English”. The contingent had a Manipuri soldier, but he did not attempt to speak as he would then be targeted for serving in the forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Instances are being reported from across Manipur over the past few days of women being employed in close coordination with mobs of youth,” says the senior officer of IGAR (South). “A frontline of armed personnel/militia lead the charge and drive away any armed resistance within the target villages. Once that is achieved, a mob of more than 500 youth sets upon pillaging the village. It is well known by now that the victims would immediately alert the nearest Army and Assam Rifles columns through helplines or contacts in other towns and villages.” Once the message is received, columns immediately leave for the target villages. “But, the masterminds anticipate the route and decide on the best spots where groups of women can form a blockade,” says the officer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not many of these women were willing to reveal their identity. But, one middle-aged woman, Laisram Kumba Devi, calls herself a “foot soldier” sent by God to finish the Kukis. “The Army is not our enemy,” she says. “But, they are helping Kuki terrorists. So, God has asked us to checkmate the Army.” It is tough to believe, but when a group of Meiteis attacked villages near Keithelmanbi in early May, female college students were part of it. They have since been accommodated at relief camps in Imphal to protect them from Kukis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Army says the modus operandi across the state is common, suggesting there is central coordination. The Kukis also have groups of women. “Women groups from the warring communities, who were absent at such scale until May 28, now uniformly use the same delaying tactics on columns of security forces―demand to see identity cards of all soldiers, check vehicles to see if members of the opposite community are being transported and whether relief material is being ferried for them,” says an Army officer of the III Corps, Dimapur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are trained to kill and use lethal weapons and hence are woefully disadvantaged against a mob of unarmed, elderly women at such close quarters. In one instance, an Army column requisitioned a local soldier on leave to negotiate on its behalf, but he was humiliated and branded a traitor by the women.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A report on the role of the women has been sent to the Army headquarters and the Union home ministry by the Assam Rifles. An officer, quoting the contents of the report, says: “The activities of women groups in Manipur over the past days have cast a dark cloud over their proud historical legacy.” In 1904 and 1939, the women of Manipur stood against tyrannical British policies. In recent decades, they have led successful drives against alcohol, drugs and domestic abuse, and have stood against wrongdoings by state and non-state actors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A serving brigadier says that a powerful group that always acted in the best interests of society is now being misused to attack villages of another community. “By employing their women as an instrument of these nefarious actions, the potential role of mothers in bridging the divide between communities is being foreclosed,” he says.</p> Tue Jun 20 15:23:52 IST 2023