Current en Sat Sep 21 17:28:53 IST 2019 forced-exit <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>For more than</b> four decades, Satpal Nischal had been running a jewellery shop on Hari Singh High Street, one of Srinagar’s prominent commercial hubs. On December 31, a gunman entered his shop and shot him dead. “At 6:10pm, I heard a (popping) sound twice. I thought it came from the electric wires,” said Rakesh, Satpal’s elder son. “Then I saw a boy firing at my father with a pistol.”</p> <p>Rakesh said several bullets also hit the spot where his son Param was seated minutes before the attack. “Since it was closing time, Param had gone to fetch the car from the parking lot,’’ he said. “We rushed daddy to the hospital where doctors pronounced him dead.”</p> <p>The cold-blooded murder of the 70-year-old jeweller has created widespread fear in the area. Satpal is the first person to be killed apparently for having obtained a certificate under the new domicile law which was introduced after the revocation of Article 370. The new law allows people who have lived in Kashmir for more than 15 years to buy immovable property. Earlier, only permanent residents could buy immovable property in Jammu and Kashmir. (A permanent resident is someone who was a state subject on May 14, 1954, or has been a resident of the state for 10 years and has lawfully acquired immovable property.) Both separatists and local political parties are opposed to the new law and have accused the BJP of using it to change the demography of Jammu and Kashmir.</p> <p>The Resistance Front (TRF), a new militant group which has become active after the revocation of Article 370, has claimed responsibility for Satpal’s murder. The police believe that the new group is the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in disguise. “The Resistance Front conducted an intelligence-based operation in Srinagar in which an RSS agent, who was posing as a businessman, was neutralised,” said a statement by the group. “The individual was an active participant in the demographic change and settler colony project run by hindutva fascists to alter the demography of Kashmir. The Resistance Front had already warned that any Indian national irrespective of faith, caste or colour, who comes to Kashmir to settle here, will be treated as an agent of the RSS and not as a civilian.”</p> <p>The police are investigating the claim made by TRF and also possible business rivalry in Satpal’s killing. They have collected CCTV recordings from the area. Cameras installed by the Nischals have been out of service since December 18.</p> <p>Sitting at his home in Indira Nagar, an area administered by the Cantonment Board of 15 Corps, Rakesh said the family had been living in Kashmir since the 1970s and considered themselves Kashmiri. “We are originally from Sialkot in Pakistan and came to India after the Partition,’’ he said. “I was born in Srinagar, attended school and college here and then joined my father’s business.’’ He ruled out the possibility of business rivalry being the reason for his father’s murder.</p> <p>Rakesh said the family sold its second jewellery shop at Jehangir Chowk two years ago and purchased another one on Hanuman Mandir Lane, a famous jewellery market in Srinagar. “But what is wrong with that? Even this house is in the name of our uncle who is from Jammu,” he said.</p> <p>He said he was thankful to the local people who condoled his father’s death. “The people of Kashmir are extremely humane and we are here because of their support,’’ he said. “Otherwise I would have rented out this house and lived a peaceful life.’’</p> <p>Satpal’s killing has brought the focus back on the unpopular domicile and land laws introduced after J&amp;K’s political reorganisation on August 5, 2019. It remains to be seen what impact TRF’s threat will have on the Centre’s ambitious industrial policy for J&amp;K, which envisages allotting around 6,000 acres to leading business houses of India. The land will be rented, leased or sold. Negotiations are on with business houses like the Tatas, Reliance and the Hinduja Group. The government hopes to secure investments worth Rs30,000 crore in the next two years. It wants to boost horticulture in Kashmir and is roping in online retailer Flipkart to showcase products of local artisans and craftsmen.</p> <p>The J&amp;K government has issued over 20 lakh domicile certificates against the 21.99 lakh applications it received till September. As many as 16,27,461 of those certificates were issued to permanent residents and their children, while 1,72,565 were issued to state subject applicants and non-state subject applicants and their children.</p> <p>Tehsildars started the process of issuing domicile certificates last June. But it was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic. As per the new domicile law, any person who has been living in Kashmir for 15 years or more is entitled to obtain a domicile certificate. For the employees of the Central government, public sector undertakings and nationalised banks, the residency requirement is only 10 years. Students who have passed their class VIII and X examinations from educational institutions in J&amp;K are also eligible to obtain a domicile certificate, which is mandatory for government jobs.</p> <p>Going by the 2011 Census, of the 29 lakh non-Kashmiris working in J&amp;K, 14 lakh are eligible for domicile certificates under the new law. Most of them are from the states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. They were drawn to J&amp;K by its better wages, pleasant climate, low crime rate and free education till the university level. But the murder of a non-Kashmiri for obtaining a domicile certificate could complicate matters for them and also for the security establishment.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jan 07 16:23:26 IST 2021 hasty-shot <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>“<b>I am hurt</b>. Indian science is getting bashed up,” said an exasperated Dr Krishna Ella, managing director of Bharat Biotech. He was addressing a news conference on January 4, a day after the Drugs Controller General of India approved two Covid-19 vaccines, including Covaxin, which was developed by his company in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research.</p> <p>Ella’s worked-up state was the result of a spate of criticism his company faced after Covaxin got the DCGI’s approval. Bharat Biotech had submitted to the regulator data from phase 1 and 2 trials; this includes safety and immune response generated among the population under trial. However, no efficacy data, or phase 3 data, was submitted. Ella said the approval was given under the provisions of the New Drugs and Clinical Trials Rules, 2019, and that Russia and China, too, had granted approval for their vaccines without phase 3 data. He said the company had already recruited over 23,000 volunteers for the phase 3 trials as against a target of 26,000 people.</p> <p>Still, the DCGI’s approval for Covaxin in the absence of any phase 3 data has left experts puzzled. “This is nothing but an enormous dilution of the regulatory processes,” said Dr Satyajit Rath, former professor, National Institute of Immunology, Delhi. Emergency approvals are being given all over the world. “But we know the rationale behind those decisions,” he said. “Here, we don’t know what data, evidence and cost benefit analysis were taken into account. Such conduct encourages vaccine hesitancy.”</p> <p>The approval for Covaxin is based on a certain provision in the new rules which permit approvals if “remarkable efficacy is observed with a defined dose in the phase 2 clinical trial of an investigational new drug for the unmet needs of serious and life-threatening diseases”. Dr Balram Bhargava, director general of ICMR, said Covaxin got restricted approval as it was proven to be safe and showed strong immune responses. Moreover, the manufacturing company managed to enrol more than 23,000 participants for the phase 3 trials. Bhargava also cited high efficacy in animal challenge models as a key feature of Covaxin. The vaccine will be administered in the “clinical trial” mode, said government officials. “It implies that it will be given with consent, there will be no placebo (no control arm) and there will be closer follow up,” said Bhargava.</p> <p>This new protocol, too, has left experts befuddled. “It is unclear whether this is an expanded phase 3 trial or a modified phase 4 trial, or a new trial per se. In the absence of such details, there are only conjectures and confusion,” said Dr Anant Bhan, a Bhopal-based researcher in bioethics and global health. Emergency approvals for vaccines after completion of phase 2, and with phase 3 trials ongoing, have been given in the past as well, for instance, during the ebola outbreak. “But the considerations were different back then, given the much higher mortality [50 per cent], was only given to a few people and monitored closely,” said Bhan.</p> <p>It appears that the subject expert committee (SEC) which examined the Covaxin application was initially hesitant in giving its approval in the absence of any efficacy data. “We are perplexed by the abrupt change in the SEC’s thinking. On December 30, it asked Bharat Biotech to provide the efficacy data, in addition to the safety and immunogenicity data for further consideration of its application,” said Malini Aisola, co-convener, All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN). On January 2, when the SEC met again, Bharat Biotech requested further consideration of its proposal, keeping in mind the mutated strain of Covid-19. “At this stage, the SEC appears to have relented and recommended granting restricted approval,” said Aisola.</p> <p>AIDAN has also raised concerns about Covishield, the other vaccine approved by the government. The Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) is doing a bridging study for the Indian version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Participants in the study are being given two standard doses 28 days apart. However, there is “no corresponding efficacy analysis” reported for such a dosing regimen in the published data of the UK and Brazil trials, said activists from AIDAN.</p> <p>India approved Covishield two days after the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine received approval in the UK. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) of the UK assessed the efficacy of the vaccine based on 131 symptomatic cases in a group of 11,636 people, merging data from two trials held in the UK and Brazil. “In these data, there were wide variations in the interval between doses (from four weeks to 26 weeks) and in the strength of the doses. There were also differences in the designs of the UK and Brazil trials, and between them and the SII’s Indian trials,” said activists.</p> <p>In India, the protocol approved is two doses, given four to six weeks apart. An interim analysis of two full doses at an interval of less than or equal to six weeks showed that the efficacy estimate was 53.4 per cent, based on 28 symptomatic cases among the 3,400 trial participants (aged 18 to 55 years) in the UK and Brazil. The sample, however, was too small to provide a robust estimate. In that context, it is unclear how the current dosing regimen and time interval between the doses was arrived at, said activists. Covishield received the approval based on immune response data from 100 participants.</p> <p>In a few days, India will begin what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has described as the largest vaccination programme in the world. The CoWin software is being fed with the details of about 3 crore health care and frontline workers who will be the first recipients. Indian manufacturers will soon start exporting their vaccines to several countries across the world as well. History will, however, record that India failed in adopting a fair and transparent regulatory process, which is integral to the success of any major vaccination initiative.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jan 07 16:05:55 IST 2021 strain-spotting <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Covid-19</b> story had begun to appear hopeful with early approval for at least two vaccines and over 4.4 million doses administered already. But on December 14, scientists in the UK sounded the alarm once again. SARS-CoV-2, they said, had acquired several mutations, giving it the ability to spread faster. First spotted in September, mutations in SARS-CoV-2 were seen in two-thirds of the cases in London by mid-December. Since then, many countries reported the presence of the new variant, indicating its rapid spread. On December 29, India joined the list—of the 114 UK returnees who tested positive, six had the new variant.</p> <p>The new strain has 17 mutations that are significant, to the extent that they have rendered the virus more contagious (by up to 70 per cent), reports from the UK suggest. No effect on the severity of disease, change in symptoms or mortality has been found, yet. But scientists say that early studies show it is better at entering human cells and infecting them. “Three main mutations are important. The N501Y mutation seems to be responsible for the efficient binding of the receptor-binding domain of SARS-CoV2 spike protein with the ACE2 receptor,” said Dr Sunit Singh, professor, Banaras Hindu University. The ACE2 receptor is a protein on the surface of many cell types and provides the gateway for SARS-CoV2 to infect the cell.</p> <p>“The second mutation (amino acid deletions) might be responsible for helping the virus evade the human immune system,” said Singh. “The third mutation, P681H, might be helpful in the cellular entry of this virus after infection.”</p> <p>Viruses mutate all the time, said Singh. The flu virus changes often and demands a tweaked vaccine for protection almost every year. “The degree of mutations may differ,” he said. “Each virus is different. For the most part, mutations are deleterious for any virus. Under exceptional circumstances, though, they may help the virus in adapting better in causing infection.”</p> <p>A growing concern is the potential impact of the mutations on the vaccines, given that the changes have occurred in the virus’s spike protein area, an area most vaccines are targeting. But some experts feel otherwise. “The SARS-CoV-2 spike is a big protein,” said Dr Nimesh Gupta, head, vaccine immunology laboratory, National Institute of Immunology. “The new variant may escape few antibodies that are made against the ‘old unmutated parts’ of the virus, but it cannot escape the large number of antibodies targeting different parts of the virus spike protein. So, any such variant with few mutations is not alarming for the ongoing vaccines.”</p> <p>Despite the reassurances, experts concede that an evolving virus, which is trying hard to evade the body’s immune system, remains a matter of concern. In India, it has brought to fore the need to enhance genomic surveillance; the logic being if you look hard enough, you may find something. “But we have not even been looking,” said Dr Rakesh Mishra, director, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad. Sequencing a proportionate number of positive samples is part of a routine surveillance strategy. According to the WHO, between 5 to 10 per cent of all SARS-CoV-2 viruses have routinely been sequenced in the UK. In India, 0.05 per cent of samples were being sequenced until now, which is low, said Mishra.</p> <p>“We have the second largest number of infections in the world,” said Mishra. “There is a chance that the virus might be undergoing changes here as well. Doing whole-genome sequencing (WGS) as part of routine surveillance helps plan better. It can help us catch any significant mutation early, and design our containment strategies better.” The importance of doing WGS can also be understood from the fact that the mutation acquired by the new variant has also helped it trick diagnostics. “Tracking any new mutation early is absolutely crucial so that the diagnostics can also catch up,” said Mishra.</p> <p>On its part, the government seems to have finally “woken up”. Last week, members of the National Task Force for Covid decided that routine genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 from representative samples is essential. A plan to conduct WGS for five per cent of Covid-positive samples was agreed upon.</p> <p>A genomic surveillance consortium under the National Centre for Disease Control, New Delhi, too has been proposed. The exercise will help understand the spread of the virus and in locating any changes to the genetic code. Generating data from genomic surveillance can be immensely useful. For instance, it can be used to identify super-spreader events, outbreaks and trends in mortality.</p> <p>The new variant has also sparked a debate on the role of immunocompromised patients. “In the current scenario, it seems like the evolution of this virus happens within the immunocompromised hosts during an extended period of infection,” said Gupta. “It seems that the virus has got an opportunity to make it a ‘better fit’ while staying in the body for a long time without any resistance from the already compromised immune system. This may happen in any part of the world.”</p> <p>India, too, has to watch out for the immunocompromised hosts. “We should be more careful now and any immunocompromised patient with Covid-19 should be managed with adequate treatment in a very controlled manner,” he said.</p> <p>As far as the new variant’s impact on patients goes, Gupta feels that there might be hope for Indians. “If we are able to control the virus in the early phase, either by some cross-reactive protection or by having a well-synchronised immune response, we will have an advantageous outcome,” he said. Strong traits of both the cross-reactive and SARS-CoV-2 specific protective immunity in Indian patients have been seen, Gupta said. “Most of us with a competent immune system should be able to mount strong immune responses to any such variant,” he added.</p> <p>But Gupta cautions that with this variant there will be higher chances of the virus spreading to the vulnerable population. “So, until we start with the vaccination, any variant with higher transmissibility is indeed a major concern,” he said. “Vaccines may come, but [precautionary] measures still remain crucial to containing the pandemic,” said Mishra. Despite an evolving foe, the fight can still be won.&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 31 14:05:01 IST 2020 pandemic-paradigm <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>It was a common</b> sight in college campuses—students streaming through the corridors from one lecture room to another. But as educational institutions reopen, this may no longer be the norm; at least until herd immunity to Covid-19 is achieved. For now, lecturers will go to students. This is one of the measures that colleges are implementing to ensure student safety.</p> <p>St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, is planning to hire additional security; they would be authorised to check students’ timetables and usher out those who have finished their day’s classes. All co-curricular activities will be held online, and the canteen and library will not have seating facility. Moreover, furniture in common rooms will be reduced so that they are used only for essential activities and not as gathering spots.</p> <p>Rajendra D. Shinde, principal, St. Xavier’s College, said that learning will be blended, with 40 per cent of teaching remaining online. “[On campus], we have planned for open-door lecture rooms or auditoriums with the AC strictly switched-off,” he said. “If possible, lectures with a smaller number of students would be conducted in spaces with shade or even in the main hall or the main library.”</p> <p>The new normal is here to stay. In college libraries digital infrastructure is being upgraded and administrative offices are using more online transactions. Shinde said this would save time and energy for applicants as they could submit documents or make payments round-the-clock. Colleges are also planning to implement staggered attendance and mandatory health screening.</p> <p>Chocko Valliappa, vice chairman, The Sona Group of educational institutions, said there would be more project-based work. “I feel [the] classroom will become a place more to discuss doubts and the teacher will become less of a sage on the stage and more of a guide on the slide,” he said. The focus on online learning will continue for most institutes. Prof Madhu Veeraraghavan, director, TAPMI, Manipal, said that the b-school had introduced an “industry-guided course of independent study”. “The guidance will be via technology enabled platforms,” he said. “We are also introducing project-based courses which will leverage technology. However, online classes will be continued based on regulatory requirements and guidelines. We see critical processes like summer placements and final placements still being conducted online. We are working on processes to augment our online student admission process.”</p> <p>There is no doubt that institutions will need to continuously benchmark and upgrade their systems, processes and structures. “We will embrace a hybrid teaching-learning model that combines the positive aspects of technology with in-person mentoring and hands-on experimentation,” said Rupamanjari Ghosh, vice chancellor, Shiv Nadar University. “We believe that 2021 needs to be a reset for higher education. University education should drive, and not just respond to, industry and technology.”</p> <p>Online internships and placements are likely to continue in 2021. Deepon Das, a final year MBA student at TAPMI, did his internship online with Bosch. It involved market research, where he had to interact with car dealers and bike workshop owners virtually. “The internship began in April and ended in June,” he said. Das has been staying at his home in Chennai ever since he left the campus in March. He said that his final placement also happened online. “Links were sent to the candidates,” he said. “I was placed in an IT company after rounds of discussions and online interviews.”</p> <p>There was concern about the job prospects of students in tier-2 and tier-3 cities. But, Anchal Kamboj, from Seth Jai Parkash Mukand Lal Institute of Engineering and Technology, Yamunanagar, Haryana, said she got offers from three IT firms, including Infosys and TCS. However, she says that there is a drop of at least 50 per cent in the number of companies visiting campus and a majority of the students are yet to be placed. “The uncertainty for students continues,” she said.</p> <p>Valliappa said that students at the Salem-based Sona College of Technology have been placed in companies such as Infosys, Virtusa and Hexaware with an “average salary of 05lakh per annum”. He said that students with specialisations in cloud computing, cyber security, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics process automation, data science and, especially, health care analytics, are getting better starting salaries.</p> <p>Many institutes have also realised that placement opportunities are comparatively less and are going the extra mile to help the students. For example, TAPMI is carrying out extensive research on potential recruiters and is speaking to many sources and tapping into their alumni network to help the students. “The students should never let a crisis go waste and rather they should use this time to build skills through certification and online courses,” said Veeraraghavan. “While building new skills, they should always work to find a match between their preferences and market opportunities. In this new global environment where VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) reigns supreme, those who can best understand the complexity and develop expertise in decision making under these conditions will be the ones who can lead.”</p> <p>IIT Kharagpur is tackling the new normal with innovations such as a digital pad to do board work online and evaluation through time-bound online tests. The institute will also conduct open-book exams where students have to email soft copies of their answers to the professors.</p> <p>Syllabus completion is on track and as institutes reopen only practical classes are pending, in most cases. “Prior to the reopening we took feedback from parents, students and faculty members and then formed the guidelines,” said Prof V.A. Kothiwale, registrar, KLE Academy of Higher Education and Research, Belagavi. “We also conducted online sessions with parents to alleviate their concerns and queries. The students have been given the flexibility to work at their own speed.”</p> <p>At the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), final year exams have been prioritised. Most of the final semesters ended with only a few days of delay. “There is no delay as far as the final semester exams are concerned,” said Prof M. Rizwan Khan, chairperson, department of English, and director, Internal Quality Assurance Cell, AMU. “The classes ended in the second week of December. For medical students, we are following the regulations of the medical council and likewise for engineering courses, the guidelines of the regulatory bodies are being followed.”</p> <p>The new mode of learning also had its share of positives. As Ruhi Jain, a final year economics and statistics student at St. Xavier’s College, said: “Online classes saved me from daily commute in crowed Mumbai local trains.” But, she still misses the campus. “Being around friends and meeting them regularly and now being restricted to Zoom calls... it has been an altogether different experience,” she said. Despite the threat of the pandemic, there is a longing among students to go back to campuses. The young are restless and want to get on with life.&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 31 13:45:06 IST 2020 stainless-steel <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was a punishing year in more ways than one. Raging street protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Indian Citizens flagged off a crisis-ridden year. Then the country shot up to the top of the Covid-19 charts, while the economy plunged. Border tensions with China soared. The spectre of lakhs of migrants trudging back to their hometowns and villages in the wake of a strict lockdown became the defining picture of the country's fight against the pandemic. Unemployment figures reached an all-time high.</p> <p>If the year began with protests, the final month provided Prime Minister Narendra Modi his biggest challenge of 2020 as thousands of farmers laid siege on the national capital, seeking a repeal of three contentious farm laws passed by the Centre.</p> <p>Despite the crises, his popularity remains untarnished, save for the effects of the farmers' unrest, the full political impact of which is yet to be ascertained. Opinion polls in recent months, including in the run-up to the assembly elections in Bihar, showed that the prime minister still commanded high approval ratings. The National Democratic Alliance retained power in Bihar riding on the back of the goodwill Modi continues to enjoy among the electorate.</p> <p>Brand Modi appears to have come out stronger than ever, providing for a compelling exercise to understand what makes Modi so popular despite the hardships people have faced this year.</p> <p>In a political landscape where chief ministers Arvind Kejriwal, Pinarayi Vijayan, Uddhav Thackeray and Mamata Banerjee all saw their graphs fluctuate thanks to a mixed report card on fighting the pandemic, and where efforts made by Rahul Gandhi to turn a new leaf in Covid times brought him limited success, Modi remained head and shoulders above the political repercussions of the times. So, what makes Brand Modi seemingly unassailable?</p> <p>The virus attack in the early months of 2020 brought the nationwide anti-CAA-NRC agitation to a halt. Not that the ruling dispensation was worried about any negative impact of the protests as it would have only helped consolidate its voter base. The contentious legislation was in sync with the ruling party’s hindutva agenda. Also, much to the discomfort of Modi's opponents, Covid-19 also provided the Modi government with a reason to blame the economic downturn.</p> <p>Modi's ability to communicate and convince is well known; like with demonetisation in 2016, when people, though inconvenienced, were convinced that the prime minister’s war on black money was for their own good. Similarly, despite the hardships of the lockdown, the prevailing sentiment was that tough measures were required to control the pandemic.</p> <p>The prime minister took complete political ownership of the hard lockdown announced in March. He said he had drawn a <i>lakshman rekha</i> at the doorsteps of the people to save their lives. He promised that a complete 21-day closure of the country would break the chain of infection.</p> <p>The sudden lockdown announced by Modi, however, is understood to have had a huge economic cost and his critics say it caused one of the biggest humanitarian disasters. Medium- and small-scale enterprises were hit hard, unemployment levels soared and lakhs of stranded migrant workers were forced to trudge thousands of kilometres to their villages. However, Modi eloquently spoke of the need to make sacrifices in tough times and explained to the masses that the situation would have been even worse if it was not for the lockdown.</p> <p>Also, if the perceived success of the initial lockdown was attributed to Modi—which included rallying the people to light diyas or clang utensils to signify unity against the virus and pay tribute to health care workers—he distributed the political costs of extending the lockdown by involving the state governments in the decisions taken thereafter. Chief ministers of opposition-ruled states complained that while Modi took the credit for all the good work, the heavy lifting was left for them to do, without financial support from the Centre.</p> <p>Modi announced a special financial package of 020 lakh crore, or 10 per cent of the country's GDP, to tide over the economic impact of Covid-19, and even as critics said it was just smoke and mirrors, he made it seem like a grand project that would make India great again. He invoked themes of nationalism and <i>atmanirbharta</i> (self-reliance) by calling for promoting local manufacture.</p> <p>The failures of the machinery of governance could not be pinned on him. He was above criticism. There were numerous accounts of stranded migrant workers who blamed their home state rather than the Centre for their plight. If the traders had a problem with a decision by the Centre, they blamed the finance minister or the commerce minister for their troubles.</p> <p>Modi kept himself above the nitty-gritty of the fight against Covid-19 or the measures taken to deal with the economic slump. He stuck to addressing the nation with big announcements.</p> <p>When questions were raised on the Chinese intrusions, Modi again deftly avoided going into the details. He urged the people to go local—to replace Chinese products with Indian alternatives. The tweaking of the FDI policy with regard to Chinese investments and the ban placed on Chinese apps were aimed at sending a message to the domestic audience as much as giving a signal at the international level. He got into the strongman mode with his visit to Ladakh and the much-publicised tank ride in Jaisalmer on Diwali.</p> <p>The Bihar elections presented in a microcosm the secret of his success. There was tremendous anger among the migrants, but they blamed Chief Minister Nitish Kumar or even local functionaries for their problems. If the people failed to get the benefits announced by the Centre during the pandemic, including free rations or money transfers, they were convinced that the fault was that of the state administration. Moreover, all the schemes that they have benefited from—be it gas cylinders, toilets or housing facilities—were identified with Modi. Bihar was evidence of Modi's publicity infrastructure succeeding in establishing him as the main benefactor of the people and the political dividends that can be incurred by focusing on the last-mile delivery of schemes.</p> <p>All the same, over the last few months, Modi has attempted to recraft his image as a hindutva icon. With his flowing white beard and long hair, Modi donned a sage-like look in time for the <i>bhoomi pujan</i> (ground breaking) ceremony for the Ram Temple in Ayodhya that marked an important milestone for the BJP and the RSS. The transformation was further emphasised by the images of Modi feeding peacocks in the lawns of his official residence, making him appear as a leader detached from worldly vices.</p> <p>Helping Modi's cause is the failure of the opposition to counter him. Over the last six years, the opposition has failed to put enough pressure on the Modi regime. Moreover, opposition unity has been elusive when needed the most, and tenuous if at all the so-called like-minded parties came together on a common platform. The prime minister has remained unmoved and unruffled by their demands and protests. His political rivals have been circumspect in taking him on directly on account of his popularity, fearing that it may backfire on them. This was seen in Bihar again, where the NDA's campaign was powered by Modi, but the rival camp desisted from attacking him and stuck to local issues.</p> <p>An exception has been the Congress' Rahul Gandhi, who donned a new avatar during the pandemic, engaging with issues of current importance and critiquing Modi’s handling of the pandemic, the migrant crisis, the Chinese intrusions and the farmers' protests. However, the effectiveness of Gandhi's attacks has been questioned by his own party colleagues, who doubt the political prudence of taking on Modi directly. Inherent in their questioning of the former Congress president's strategy is the perception that Gandhi—or any other leader for that matter—cannot match up to Modi or be considered by the people as a credible alternative to him on the national scene.</p> <p>The only real scare for Modi was the farmers’protest outside Delhi. The lengths to which Modi has gone to convince farmers about his government's intent on passing the agricultural laws show how serious the trust deficit is among the farming community. Speaking in Varanasi, where he attended the Dev Deepawali event, Modi said his government's intention was as “pious as the Ganga <i>jal</i>”. “Some farmers are sceptical as they have been duped for decades,” he said. In his Mann Ki Baat address earlier, he said his government was committed to the welfare of farmers and defended the passing of farm bills.</p> <p>What makes it especially challenging for Modi is that he is facing open criticism from a non-political quarter that does not belong to the liberal side that opposes his ideology and policies anyway. In an unprecedented call, the farmers announced a boycott of BJP functionaries.</p> <p>While agreeing to repeal the farm laws would amount to a huge loss of face for him and make him come across as someone whose hand can be forced, not bending to the farmers' demands also has its political risks. Modi's critics say it was his over-confidence that brought him to this juncture, pointing out that the bills were passed despite the reservations of the farming community. He now runs the risk of looking disconnected from ground realities for underestimating the response of the farming community.</p> <p>In adverse circumstances, Modi has so far succeeded in emerging more popular than before. However, tomorrow is another day. &nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 17 22:54:10 IST 2020 divided-over-a-house <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Sir Herbert Baker, the architect of the Parliament house, had originally envisaged a triangular structure. But Sir Edwin Lutyens, who designed New Delhi, proposed a circular design and prevailed upon his junior to alter the plan. And thus was built the Colosseum-like building, said to have been inspired by the Chausath Yogini Temple in Madhya Pradesh. Then, in 1928, just a year after the building was inaugurated, Lutyens conceptualised a mirror image of it to be constructed at a stone’s throw from the original structure to house the secretariat of the then Council House.</p> <p>Over nine decades later, as the designs of the new Parliament house, envisioned as a triangular edifice, were unveiled and the foundation of the structure laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the throwback to the past was unmistakable. In its vision and scope though, it is a break from the old and seeks to represent, in Modi’s words, the aspirations of a new India, even as the proposed Parliament building and the Central Vista Project that it is a part of have been mired in controversy. Questions abound with regard to the concept, intent and the procedures adopted. There are also allegations that it is guided by political agenda.</p> <p>The new Parliament house is grand in scale. A 64,500sqm, four-storey building, it will seat 888 members in the Lok Sabha chamber, with an option to increase it to 1,224 seats during joint sessions. The Rajya Sabha chamber will seat 384. To be built at an estimated cost of Rs971 crore, it is scheduled to be ready in time to commemorate India’s 75th Independence Day in 2022.</p> <p>HCP Design, Planning and Management, the design consultant for the project, said the architecture of the new building is similar to the present one but does not mimic it. “It emerges from the logic and exigencies of modern construction. The architectural strategy is to harmonise the two buildings such that they work in conjunction,” the firm said in an e-mail response.</p> <p>The building, as per HCP, will take reference from the present structure and other buildings of the Central Vista, and the classical, folk and tribal arts and crafts of India. The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha interiors will have reference to the national bird and flower respectively and the national emblem will crown the new Parliament house. HCP said the plot on which the new building is proposed is triangular in shape, therefore a triangular building makes the best use of the available space.</p> <p>The ruling dispensation insists that there is an imperative need for a new building since the present structure is unable to cope with the growing demands of space, amenities, security arrangements and technology. The Lok Sabha Secretariat, in a statement, said that there were not enough seats for members; during joint sessions, temporary seats had to be arranged in the aisles. Also, being a heritage building, there was difficulty in meeting fire safety norms, and the electrical, air-conditioning and plumbing systems were proving to be costly to operate and maintain, it said. The building did not conform with the requirements of Zone V seismic vulnerability, it pointed out. Another argument in support of a new building is that the number of members will increase when a delimitation exercise is carried out, and the present building will not be able to accommodate the additional members.</p> <p>“We kept making changes in the Parliament building to meet the growing demands in terms of creating more space and facilities,” said Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla. “At first, it was a single-storey building, then it became two and finally three floors. Due to the alterations carried out, the basic nature of the building also changed. The need for a new Parliament has been felt for many years now.”</p> <p>However, experts opposed to the project are not convinced about the need for a new building. “No study has been carried out with a view to retrofitting or making adaptive reuse of the Parliament building, which is a norm for all buildings all over the world,” said Lt Col Anuj Srivastava (retired), an architect from the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi. “Several parliament buildings internationally are much older. This building is less than 100 years old. It is not enough to just say that we are running out of space and hence we will build a new Parliament.”</p> <p>According to the Lok Sabha Secretariat, the custodian of the building, studies undertaken by various agencies have pointed out that the building will have to be vacated for 18-24 months to carry out structural retrofitting, relaying of electrical and mechanical services and air-conditioning. “The need for a new Parliament building was recognised by previous speakers, too, who sent their proposals to the government for a new Parliament house to be constructed,” said Birla.</p> <p>In 2016, then Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan had written to the Union urban development ministry, proposing the need for a new Parliament house. Her predecessor Meira Kumar had said that the building was “weeping” from overuse and structural deterioration. Her proposal for a new building had, however, run into opposition from the left parties.</p> <p>Srivastava, who is one of the petitioners in the Supreme Court against the project, questioned the delimitation argument. He said the exercise was caught in a debate as it was seen as rewarding states with a poor record in population control. “There is no confirmation on when and if at all the delimitation exercise will be undertaken,” he said. “In 2001, the exercise was put off for 25 years. Also, according to the Economic Survey, the population of India will start declining in 2061. So do we really need this huge building?”</p> <p>The criticism is that the Rs20,000 crore Central Vista Project is being carried out without adequate public consultation or discussion with experts or a parliamentary debate. Birla, however, said that all stakeholders were consulted. “A proposal for the new Parliament building was made by the presiding officers in both houses of Parliament, after which it was taken up by the general purposes committee, in which leaders of different political parties and chairpersons of parliamentary committees are present,” he said.</p> <p>There is outrage over the project getting cleared during the Covid-19 lockdown—the Central Vista Committee, in an online meeting on April 23, cleared the new Parliament building. The decision was taken in the absence of the panel’s non-governmental members, including representatives of The Indian Institute of Architects and the Institute of Town Planners, India.</p> <p>Balbir Verma, who represents The Indian Institute of Architects in the committee, said, “We, the non-governmental members, sent a letter seeking a postponement of the meeting. But the government went ahead with it. We received the minutes of the meeting, but we could not raise objections. How could we? We had not seen the plan. We were not present in the meeting.”</p> <p>Verma said that at the very start, experts had raised the issue of flawed criteria for selecting the design consultant. Instead of an open competition, as has been the norm, a procedure akin to a tender was adopted, and there were six competitors. “There ought to have been an open design competition on the lines of what was done for the National War Memorial or the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts,” said Verma. “And the criteria were flawed. It was how much was their financial turnover. How can you have a financial criterion while selecting a design?”</p> <p>According to Rajeev Suri, a petitioner in the Supreme Court against the project, the procedural requirements for an environment impact assessment have been flouted by the government. As per the rules, there should have been a cumulative impact assessment for the entire project. “However, the impact assessment was done only for the Parliament [house] and approval sought in a piecemeal manner,” he said. “The assessment, as per the rules, should have been conducted by the state government and not the Centre. Also, the expert advisory committee took over the role of appraiser and cleared the project.”</p> <p>Suri said that there were grave concerns with regard to the impact on the ecosystem of the area. “The trees in the area are home to a number of birds and other creatures,” he said. “We moved an urgent application in the Supreme Court, and it took cognisance of the uprooting of trees for the project. But the damage was done by then. As many as 404 trees had been uprooted.”</p> <p>The Central Vista Project has been criticised for seeking to alter the historical character of New Delhi. “This is how India and the world knows New Delhi,” said historian Sohail Hashmi. “When people outside of India think of us, two images that come to their minds are the Taj Mahal and then the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the two secretariat buildings. This is the profile of Delhi. You are going to do away with it without any consultation.” HCP, however, said that none of the original Lutyens and other key buildings would be demolished.</p> <p>The project, it is alleged, is driven by a political agenda—that of Modi’s desire to leave his imprint on New Delhi, and in the process obliterate signs of the erstwhile dominance of the Nehru-Gandhis on the country’s power dynamics. His critics say it is a ‘vanity project’, with Congress leader Jairam Ramesh describing it as “Modi Mahals”. They say that the government’s priorities are misplaced, and it is heartless to spend so much on the project at a time when the country is going through an economic recession and fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. The timing of the <i>bhoomi pujan</i> for the new Parliament building was also not lost on his opponents, coming as it did amid a raging farmers’ protest.</p> <p>“The act of laying the foundation stone of a Rs971 crore Parliament building is equal to opening a cake shop after snatching the bread of the farmers,” said Congress’s Jaiveer Shergill. “At a time when the country is going through an economic recession and dealing with a pandemic, public money is being spent on constructing buildings merely to satisfy the government’s ego.”</p> <p>This journey from the old to the new is ambitious, yet deeply controversial.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 17 22:22:59 IST 2020 winning-alliance <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>US President-elect Joe Biden, in his acceptance speech after clinching the presidential polls, proudly proclaimed, “I am Jill’s husband,” bringing into focus America’s next first lady. In 2015, in an election of a smaller scale, a similar scene played out when Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party swept the assembly elections in Delhi. He pulled his wife Sunita in front of the cameras, introducing her to the world and thanking her for being a pillar of support for him. In the next state polls, Sunita, having resigned from the Indian Revenue Service, plunged into campaigning for her husband as he spent time campaigning for the party’s other candidates.</p> <p>The image of a politician’s spouse has traditionally been that of a smiling, hand-waving personality who surfaces during election time. They are seen as their partner’s main supporter, projecting him or her as a wholesome family person who can be trusted to take care of the constituents.</p> <p>But the role of the political spouse extends to much beyond that, bearing a greater share of the responsibility of looking after the home front. Their statements, attire and connect with the voters are taken note of.</p> <p>Political spouses do not come out of a common mould. In recent memory, Gursharan Kaur, known for her graceful demeanour, was seen as adding to the decency that former prime minister Manmohan Singh was known for. On the other hand, Rabri Devi, wife of Lalu Prasad, became a leading example of a spouse who would fill in for her husband when he was named in a case. There is also the case of Dimple Yadav, who emerged from the shadows of the family elders to support husband Akhilesh Yadav as he dissociated from the old guard of the Samajwadi Party.</p> <p>Some have developed an intense engagement with their partner’s constituency, too. They have their own voices and independent identities. Some are outspoken, like Amruta Fadnavis, wife of former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who has unabashedly been taking on her husband’s critics on public fora.</p> <p>For long, the focus had been more on political wives, with the husbands not subjected to the same level of expectation. Now, the husbands are more visible than before, be it Union Minister Smriti Irani’s husband, Zubin, or Sushma Swaraj’s husband, Swaraj Kaushal, who was a proud cheerleader for his wife. Kaushal was content to be in the background despite his own notable achievements as a Supreme Court lawyer and governor of Mizoram.</p> <p>A political spouse is under constant public scrutiny. Their conduct could impact the career of the politician and this often places restrictions on what they can or cannot do. Sometimes, the professional activities of the spouse proves to be a liability for the leader, like the allegations against Robert Vadra being an Achilles heel for Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.</p> <p>The world of the political spouse is indeed uneven and ridden with challenges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Best of both worlds</b></p> <p><b>Charu Singh Chaudhary, </b><i>wife of Rashtriya Lok Dal leader and former MP Jayant Chaudhary</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">The glittering world</b> of high fashion and the dusty hamlets of western Uttar Pradesh are worlds apart. However, straddling these two distinct realms forms a huge part of the life of fashion entrepreneur Charu Singh Chaudhary.<br> </p> <p>She curates collections of clothing and jewellery, as owner of the South Delhi fashion store Zooki, with the same ease as she dons the hat of <i>bahu</i> of the Chaudhary clan in the agrarian belt of Mathura and Baghpat. Charu says it is not so much of a leap for her since she is a small-town girl who grew up in different parts of the country. “They are very different worlds. But I am who I am,” said Charu. “I don’t lead a very glamourous life. I lead a quiet life. Even in my engagements, I am more entrepreneurial. At the end of the day, you cannot change who you are. I have grown up in small towns of the country. I have seen the real India.”</p> <p>Charu comes from a Punjabi family with no political connect. She and Jayant were classmates at Shri Venkateshwara College in Delhi University, where they fell in love. Charu was not apprehensive about getting married into a political family. “We married young. So, I really never thought about it like that. Also, our families were comfortable, and we sort of went with the flow,” she said.</p> <p>Passionate about fashion and design, Charu worked towards her aim of opening a multi-brand, multi-product store. She left a corporate job and pursued a jewellery design course from the London chapter of the Gemological Institute of America. But Charu had to put her dream on hold as she became preoccupied with her responsibilities as a mother of two girls. The store opened a few years ago in South Delhi. She had just moved it to a luxury mall when lockdown halted her plans to upgrade.</p> <p>“I see my role more as a facilitator and balancer for my husband,” said Charu, on her role as the spouse of a political leader. “In politics, the highs and the lows can be very dramatic. I try to ensure there is a comfortable space for him to come back to [at the end of the day].”</p> <p>Jayant entered active politics only some years after their marriage. Charu says the first public meeting she attended alone was a memorable one. “It was for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. My husband could not make it so I turned up alone. People were very kind to me. The response really stays with you,” she said.</p> <p>It was during her first roadshow for her husband in Chhaprauli, Baghpat, ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, that she fully understood the legacy of Chaudhary Charan Singh, Jayant’s grandfather and former prime minister of India. “It was unlike anything I had witnessed,” said Charu. “The number of people who turned up was mindboggling. It was supposed to be a six-hour roadshow, but it went on well past 1am. That was when I experienced the full extent of <i>dadaji</i>’s connection to that place. Up until then, it was theoretical.”</p> <p>At home in the world of fashion, Charu is also at ease on the campaign trail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Her city, her rules</b></p> <p><b>Maya Shankar, </b><i>wife of Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">After decades</b> of having an aversion to politics, Maya Shankar made the biggest turnaround of her life when she campaigned for her husband, senior BJP leader and Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. A loyal Patnaite, Maya recalls ribbing Prasad that if she did not canvass for him, he may not even win, as the city knew her better. Prasad retorted: “<i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Samay samay ki baat hai</i> (how times have changed).”<br> </p> <p>It was Prasad’s first electoral outing, having been a member of the Rajya Sabha prior to that. If he was recognised as a homegrown leader, Maya held her own as a history professor of four decades at Patna University and had an active social life in the Bihar capital. “The advantage of being a teacher is that you have a student in every house,” said Maya.</p> <p>As Prasad moved to Delhi in 2000 to involve himself in national politics, Maya stayed back and made a name for herself as an academic, a promoter of classical dance and music, and as a social worker as member of the All India Women’s Conference. “Women should have engagements that are independent of their husbands,” said Maya. “My identity is not dependent on my husband’s profile as a minister.”</p> <p>“I may be a minister’s wife, but I drive my own car. I like to do my own chores and go out to buy groceries. People are surprised. Some friends tell me I should keep security [guards]. I ask them, what for? I am in my own state, my hometown. I have nothing to fear,” she said.</p> <p>Maya met Prasad at Patna University. She was studying history, and he was a student of political science. Those were the heady days of the Emergency. Prasad plunged headlong into student politics, while Maya was more worried about the loss of two academic years as a result of the movement.</p> <p>“It was more like an arranged marriage,” said Maya. “Our families knew each other well. Our fathers were eminent lawyers in the Patna High Court. While my family was completely apolitical, Ravi’s family had a strong political legacy. His father was one of the founding members of Jan Sangh in Bihar.”</p> <p>Over the last two decades, with Prasad in Delhi, Maya divided her time between Patna and the national capital. She looked after the education of their two children. Maya speaks about the unseen restrictions that the spouse and children of politicians have to deal with. “Suppose I am teaching and an issue with political connotations comes up. I should not give people an opportunity to accuse me of any bias. Nobody should say that since my husband is in the BJP, I am going around with the hindutva card,” she said.</p> <p>For the same reason, even as she campaigned for Prasad in 2019, Maya did not skip a single lecture. “I was very particular about my responsibility towards my students,” she said. A proud academician and a woman of varied interests, she has held up the rear guard for Prasad in their city.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Rolling up her sleeVEs</b></p> <p><b>Chitra Singh, </b><i>wife of Congress leader and former MP Manvendra Singh</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Manvendra Singh</b>, son of the late BJP leader Jaswant Singh, made his electoral debut in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, contesting from Barmer in Rajasthan. Manvendra lost by just 16,000 votes. “He gave a good fight to the main opponent, who was a two-time MP from the area,” said his wife, Chitra. “But I could not get over the fact that he needed just 16,000 more votes to win. So, I set out to analyse the voting pattern and find out the reason for my husband’s defeat.”<br> </p> <p>When Chitra analysed the election data, she discovered that only 15 per cent of women turned up to vote. Women in the area, especially Rajput women, do not come out to vote, she was told. At once, Chitra started working on improving the voting turnout of the women in Barmer.</p> <p>She began holding separate meetings for women. “The first meeting was attended by about 50 women. The second meeting had more,” she said. “After four to five meetings, the men also wanted to come and listen to me. I said they could come, but there would be a barricade between them and the women. They came, but stood a little away from the tent.”</p> <p>Chitra’s meetings made an impact, and in the 2004 general elections, Manvendra won by 2.73 lakh votes. The voting percentage of women in Barmer had shot up to 65 per cent. “The Rajput women began relating to the fact that a <i>bahu</i> of a known Rajput family was going door-to-door and holding meetings. It made them feel that they, too, should come out and vote,” said Chitra.</p> <p>Born in a conservative Rajput family in Chittorgarh, Chitra was up against the traditional mindset that a girl’s domain was limited to domesticity. She feels this is destiny’s way of helping her fulfil her dream of becoming a civil servant.</p> <p>Chitra initially had apprehensions of Manvendra’s electoral plunge. “He was a journalist and a territorial army officer. When he contested his first election, I was carrying our daughter, and my son was only two. I was very nervous. I said to him, ‘How are we going to survive if you leave your job?’” said Chitra.</p> <p>Now, she is so popular in the constituency that there are demands to give her a ticket. “I have always told the people that one person from the family in politics is enough,” she said.</p> <p>The last few years have been a challenging time for the family with a string of defeats. Chitra says the most heart-breaking one was her father-in-law’s defeat in Barmer in 2014. Jaswant Singh, denied a ticket by the BJP, had contested as an independent. “For a man of that stature, someone who had worked so hard in the constituency, for him to lose at that age was tragic,” said Chitra. “I worked the hardest that time—18-20 hours a day. That was the first time an electoral defeat made me cry.”</p> <p>Manvendra switched from the BJP to the Congress in 2017, and ended up losing to BJP’s Kailash Chaudhary in 2019. “We have not given up,” said Chitra. “I tell the people that even if they did not vote for my husband, I will continue to work for them.”</p> <p>For Chitra, her tryst with Barmer goes beyond elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Constant&nbsp;</b><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">amid changes</b></p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Owen Roncon,</b> <i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">husband of Congress leader and former MP Priya Dutt</i><br> </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">The run-up</b> to their marriage in 2003 had plenty of drama. Priya Dutt’s family, especially her brother Sanjay, had reservations about Owen Roncon. And the years that followed their wedding have also been anything but placid. Though the Bandra boy won the confidence of the Dutt family, he and Priya had to deal with challenges of a different nature.<br> </p> <p>Two years after they tied the knot, Priya’s father Sunil Dutt passed away, and she was suddenly thrust into politics. Priya was fielded in the byelection from Mumbai North West, her father’s seat. Moreover, she was nine months pregnant. Owen was a pillar of support for her at the time, utilising his expertise in event management and marketing to manage her campaign. When Priya was back on the campaign trail just three days after her delivery, Owen took care of the baby.</p> <p>“In the next election, she was carrying our second child. I said to her, ‘Please do not fight any more elections,’” Owen joked.</p> <p>The two first met ahead of a fundraiser that Owen was managing for the Dutt NGO Adapt. “I had to meet the trustees to take the final approval on the project. Priya was a trustee, and we became really good friends,” he said.</p> <p>Though both Owen and Priya lived in the same area, they had different backgrounds. Priya bore the rich legacy of her famous actor parents. The family was known for its commitment to social and political causes. Owen came from a completely apolitical set-up. His father was a pilot for Air India, who, Owen remembers, blindly voted for Sunil Dutt.</p> <p>Owen’s first political assignment was his father-in-law’s campaign for the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. The campaign addressed the youth and was run mainly in colleges. Sunil won the election and was made Union minister of youth affairs. “Of course, I claimed credit for it, saying it happened because of the youth campaign,” said Owen.</p> <p>He admires the values that the Dutts stand for, especially Sunil. “He was a man of discipline. None of us could even touch his official car, let alone ride in it. If Priya was travelling back with him to Mumbai, he would downgrade himself to economy rather than upgrade her,” said Owen. He says Priya is like that, too. Though he helps his wife in her campaigns, he refrains from interfering in or even commenting on her decisions.</p> <p>One of the founders of Fountainhead, an event management company, Owen says the politics has had an impact on his professional sphere. There are companies that refuse to sign him on because of his political association. “There have been situations where government contracts have not come to me,” said Owen. “But there is no regret. Luckily, I have a strong group of business partners who take care of all the interaction with the government.”</p> <p>Despite all the tumultuous changes in their lives, Owen continues to be the same Bandra boy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The write path<br> </b><br> </p> <p><b>Renu Hussain</b>, <i>wife of BJP leader and former Union minister Shahnawaz Hussain</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their love story began with a chance meeting in a city bus. For the boy, it was love at first sight. The girl took her time to make up her mind. They soon exchanged letters. The boy proposed marriage in only his second letter. But they had to wait for nine years for it to happen. The religious divide, after all, had to be bridged.</p> <p>Renu Hussain (née Sharma) belongs to a Punjabi Brahmin family, while Shahnawaz Hussain comes from an aristocratic Syed family in Bihar. Their families opposed the alliance. BJP leader Uma Bharti, a good friend of the couple, tried to persuade the two families, but they would not budge. Acting on her advice, Shahnawaz and Renu got married in 1994. The kin eventually came around.</p> <p>“Love triumphed in the end,” said Renu. “My family dotes on him, and I get so much love and affection from my in-laws. I did have apprehensions about going into a different culture, but I was accepted wholeheartedly.”</p> <p>Tying the knot with Shahnawaz was only the beginning of some life-changing events for Renu. Four years after their marriage, Shahnawaz got his big break in politics. He was fielded by the BJP from Kishanganj in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. He lost that election, but won from the same seat the following year and was appointed a minister of state in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. In 2001, he became a cabinet minister.</p> <p>“Both our families had nothing to do with politics,” said Renu. “I used to think his inclination towards politics was a passing interest. He studied engineering and even had a job. But he surprised all of us as his involvement in politics grew.”</p> <p>As a teacher in a government school in Delhi and a known figure in Hindi poetry circles, Renu maintained her independent identity. “Shahnawaz asked me why I needed to continue working. But I was clear that I would not leave my job,” said Renu.</p> <p>In the collections of poetry she has published, she does not hold back from voicing her political opinions. “Writers are free in their thought process. No pressure works on them,” she said. “It is a writer’s duty to put a mirror to the society. If I am not honest in my writing, then what is the point of it?”</p> <p>Renu says Shahnawaz admires her passion for writing and her commitment to teaching, and they give each other space to revel in their interests. “I do not impose my literature on him just as he does not impose his politics on me,” she said. Love, said Renu, also teaches you to give your partner space.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Coach for life</b></p> <p><b>Virender Poonia</b>,<i> husband of Congress MLA Krishna Poonia</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Virender Poonia </b>is never seen on the campaign trail with his wife, the athlete-turned-Rajasthan MLA Krishna Poonia. It is a matter of ethics as he is employed with the Indian Railways. This is in contrast to Krishna’s career as a discus thrower, where Virender doubled as her coach. Virender played a huge role in honing Krishna’s skills, which resulted in international acclaim.<br> </p> <p>Virender, a hammer throw national champion, identified the potential in Krishna. She had participated in athletics in college, but it was only after marriage that she trained professionally. “She is six feet tall. She has a good arm span and I knew that with proper training she could [excel] in discus throw,” said Virender.</p> <p>When Krishna began training in 2000, the couple had to make a lot of sacrifices. Virender gave up his hammer throw career as they could not bear the costs of training two athletes. Krishna, a new mother then, also had to deal with the pangs of being away from her infant son.</p> <p>The hard work bore fruit. Krishna got noticed at the international level when she won the bronze medal at the 2006 Asian Games. Her moment of glory was winning the gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games (CWG). Krishna became the first Indian woman and the first Indian since Milkha Singh (1958) to win gold in a track-and-field event at the CWG. Virender won the Dronacharya award two years later.</p> <p>Back in Virender’s village, Gagarwas in Churu district, Krishna was celebrated as a role model. “She was the first woman in our village not to keep a <i>ghoonghat</i> (headscarf),” said Virender. “I did not want her to stay behind the veil. She was criticised for it. But now, villagers want their <i>bahus</i> and <i>betis</i> to be like Krishna.”</p> <p>She was offered a Congress ticket for the 2013 state elections. Originally from Hisar district in Haryana, she contested from Sadulpur, the constituency under which Gagarwas falls. She lost the election, but continued working in the area for the next five years, coming back to win in the 2018 polls.</p> <p>“Krishna worked really hard. She would leave at 7am and come back late in the evening. She met every person in the constituency. It was a difficult seat for the Congress to win. But she did it,” said Virender.</p> <p>He insists his involvement in her political career is limited to guiding her and taking care of backend operations. “I have never even attended a political rally,” he said.</p> <p>Accusations of him taking active part in her politics are done to tarnish their image, he says. And with them receiving death threats, too, Virender says they are still getting used to the “ups and downs of politics”. “The negativity can really bog you down,” he said. But he believes their sporting spirit will help them through the challenges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Enhancing engagement</b></p> <p><b>Meenakshi Seshadri, </b>wife of&nbsp;Congress MLA Krishna Byre Gowda</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Meenakshi Seshadri </b>met Krishna Byre Gowda in the US in 2002. She was an IT professional and he was working as a project associate. They fell in love, and soon got married in a modest ceremony back home in Bengaluru.<br> </p> <p>The couple returned to the US and had just started building a life together, far from the political activity of their families in Karnataka, when a phone call in 2003 shook them. It was the news of the death of Krishna’s father C. Byre Gowda, who was a minister in the Janata Dal state government until 1999.</p> <p>Krishna rushed to India to complete the final rites of his father, with a return ticket in hand. But he ended up staying back, acceding to the pressure to take over his father’s political legacy. Meenakshi says Krishna called her before deciding. She reluctantly agreed.</p> <p>Meenakshi’s grandfather H.S. Seetharam was once mayor of Bengaluru. “Both Krishna and I did not feel the political baggage till 2003,” she said. “We were encouraged to have a career [of our own]. In the US, we were far removed from what was happening in India.”</p> <p>As Krishna cut his teeth in his first election from his father’s constituency, Meenakshi learnt how to build a lasting connect with the electorate. She realised that she needed to constantly engage with the constituents. Krishna had to shift from Vemgal, a rural constituency, to Byatarayanapura in Bengaluru, in 2008 following delimitation, and Meenakshi worked out a range of activities for the urban seat.</p> <p>“I started finding things that I could get involved in, but I was clear that it would not be political. So, I have a team and we work on issues such as garbage management, environment and education,” said Meenakshi.</p> <p>She has been holding camps where services are provided to people, such as Aadhaar enrolment or help with pensions. “Our camps are open to all people. We hold them without a party symbol. My husband, as a representative of the people, is supposed to help everyone, not just the people who voted for him,” she said.</p> <p>Meenakshi feels that she is able to enrich her husband’s political involvement through her own understanding of the issues. “I can go deeper than him since I can devote more time and come back with a better insight. Also, women open up to me and share their ideas and thoughts,” said Meenakshi.</p> <p>She balances her work in the constituency with the demands of being an IT consultant, which requires travelling. There have been times when she has considered quitting her job to devote more time to the constituency. But Krishna does not encourage that.</p> <p>Meenakshi says the couple does not let politics dominate their lives. “Krishna and I take time out and indulge in activities such as biking or hiking or going on short vacations,” she said. While Krishna is a certified ocean diver, Meenakshi loves to go to yoga retreats. Her aim right now is to find the perfect work-life balance.</p> Thu Dec 17 18:05:56 IST 2020 i-am-in-favour-of-maximum-debate-but-not-disruption <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>With laws passed by legislatures and decisions taken by presiding officers coming under judicial scrutiny, there was a growing feeling that the balance between the three organs of the state—legislature, executive and judiciary—was being upset, said Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla. This, he said, was at the heart of the deliberations at the recent conference of presiding officers in Kevadia, Gujarat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a detailed interview, Birla further said a committee of presiding officers is looking at how to limit the Speakers' powers and its report will be submitted to the government for amending the law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Responding to the criticism that crucial bills were passed without being sent to parliamentary committees, Birla said that legislations that were extremely important and formed under special circumstances were passed following discussion in the house itself. He also added that the new Parliament building should be a matter of pride for us, and no one should object to it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Excerpts from the interview:</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the findings of the recent All India Presiding Officers' Conference?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first conference was held in 1921, when the National Assembly was in place. This was the centenary year and the 80th conference. The theme was the importance of the three organs of the state—legislature, executive and the judiciary—working in coordination. They should not encroach on each other's jurisdiction. There is a growing feeling that the balance is getting upset. Also, since our Constitution makers placed people at the centre of their endeavour, the legislature is the most important part of the Constitutional framework.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is there a concern with the decisions of the courts?</b></p> <p>Laws made by the legislature can be scrutinised by the judiciary. But the courts cannot make laws. However, it is not about making allegations and counter allegations. It is not about any specific court order. Sometimes, the executive or the legislature also overstep their bounds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Speaker's powers under the Tenth Schedule have been debated.</b></p> <p>At our 79th conference, we discussed the Tenth Schedule or anti-defection law. There was a consensus among presiding officers that our powers under the law should be limited, such as the number of days in which a petition can be decided. For the first time, an institution has said its powers be cut back. A committee under Rajasthan Assembly Speaker C.P. Joshi was formed to deliberate on it. When the committee submits its report, we will forward it to the Centre and the state governments for amending the law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Was this deliberation prompted by court orders?</b></p> <p>Under the Tenth Schedule, the Speaker has unlimited powers, and the courts have also commented on it. Questions have been raised on the powers the law endows upon the Speaker. However, the presiding officers felt that just as we do not comment on judicial orders, the judiciary should not encroach on our functioning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What challenges have you faced in ensuring smooth conduct of business?</b></p> <p>It is no doubt challenging. However, with cooperation of all, the house has functioned properly. While there was high productivity, we also followed the procedure. For every bill, be it Article 370 or Citizenship Amendment Bill or the law on Triple Talaq, the discussion exceeded the time allocated. Political parties have their own ideologies and manifestos, which reflects in the stand they take in the house. But there was cooperation from all on majority of the issues and most of the bills were passed unanimously, without division of votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is the role of Parliament during a pandemic?</b></p> <p>During a pandemic, the legislature has a huge role to play. Despite COVID-19, we convened Parliament, with all the safety measures in place. In ten days, 25 bills were passed. We sat for 36 hours more than was planned. The attendance during the session was higher than in normal times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The monsoon session was curtailed. Can the winter session be held?</b></p> <p>There was consensus among all parties that since there was a high risk of COVID infection despite the safety protocol in place, we should curtail the session. It is for the government to decide on convening a session of Parliament depending on the circumstances and based on discussions with other parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why can't a virtual session be held?</b></p> <p>We do not have a provision for holding a virtual session in our rules of procedure. We will have to amend the rules to allow for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There is a growing concern with regard to unruly behaviour by MPs in the house.</b></p> <p>In the past, we have seen furore in the Lok Sabha, sloganeering, waving of placards and adjournments. The people are not in favour of such behaviour. You are free to hold protests on the streets. I am committed to giving adequate time to all members to speak in the house. I am in favour of maximum debate, but not disruption.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is a common set of norms for the entire country being prepared to deal with house disruptions?</b></p> <p>At the 79th conference, a committee was formed under Uttar Pradesh Speaker Hriday Narayan Dikshit to discuss common rules for legislatures. For example, in Chhattisgarh, there is a rule for automatic suspension of members who enter the well of the house, so [we need to see] if it can be followed elsewhere, too. Another issue under our deliberation is the need for state assemblies to have a minimum number of sittings. In some places, the Assembly runs for just ten or 15 days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Opposition parties say bills are being passed without the scrutiny of parliamentary committees. The three farm laws, for instance.</b></p> <p>The farm laws were basically ordinances. Whenever the house demands, bills are sent to standing committees. Legislations which are extremely important and formed in special circumstances are discussed in the house itself and passed. The committee is only a smaller version of the house. In the committee, since the cameras are not there, members rise above politics and place their viewpoint.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has alleged that the opposition's voice is muzzled in Parliament.</b></p> <p>It is for everyone to see that I have always given the opposition members more time than is allocated. I have always given adequate time to the members of his party. Irrespective of which party a person belongs to, he is, for me, a Member of Parliament first.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You wrote to parliamentary committees, asking them not to take up issues pending in courts.</b></p> <p>The directive was in accordance with the rules of procedure of Parliament that issues pending in a court will not be taken up by a parliamentary committee. It was felt that I had stopped a committee from proceeding on a specific issue. However, it was not for any one particular panel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You initiated an exercise to assess the effectiveness of parliamentary committees.</b></p> <p>It was done to assess the execution of the recommendations of the committees—how many were accepted by the government and why some of them were not accepted—so that the effectiveness of the committees is maintained and their suggestions are implemented.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There is unrest in the committee on information technology. BJP MP Nishikant Dubey wrote to you, demanding the removal of Congress' Shashi Tharoor as its chairman.</b></p> <p>Correspondence keeps taking place. I have urged everyone to work, rising above politics, [and] that they should not play the role of government and opposition in the committee and discuss how development of the IT sector can happen. Members have a right to put forth their demands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The post of the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha has been vacant for a record time.</b></p> <p>It is for the government to initiate the process for appointment of the Deputy Speaker, just as they did for the post of the Speaker.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The foundation stone for a new Parliament House has been laid. Why do we need a new building?</b></p> <p>This Parliament building was built to house the National Assembly. Its construction began in 1921 and concluded in 1927. There has been a sea change in the circumstances since then. We kept making changes in this building based on our needs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From the security point of view, a new building is required. Members should get proper work spaces and be able to use new technology. Also, Delhi has Type V earthquake susceptibility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Parliament, on many occasions, the need for a new building was discussed. Speakers sent their proposals to the government. Both houses of Parliament had urged the prime minister regarding this, that when we are completing 75 years of our journey as a democracy, we should have a new Parliament building.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is the world's biggest democracy and our Parliament House should reflect the diversity of our country, its diverse arts and crafts. When we complete 75 years of our independence in 2022, both houses of Parliament will meet in the new building.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What about the present Parliament building?</b></p> <p>We will discuss with all the parties how the present Parliament House can be used.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There is criticism about the expenditure on the project when the country is fighting COVID-19.</b></p> <p>If infrastructure will not be developed, how will we generate employment? As many as 2,000 people will be employed directly and 9,000 indirectly. More than 200 industries will be employed. The funds for the pandemic are not being cut to construct the Parliament. It involves a cost of only Rs 982 crore. The new Parliament House should be a matter of pride to us. No one should object to it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Fri Dec 11 19:04:07 IST 2020 headstand-hoo-ha <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Recently, actor Anushka Sharma, who is now in the third trimester of pregnancy, posted a throwback picture on Instagram, in which she is seen performing shirshasana, or a headstand. Even though the post had all necessary disclaimers in place, it was anything but convincing to see a pregnant Anushka, who has less than a month to go for her due date, pulling off a headstand (albeit with support from her husband, Virat Kohli). This, when most expecting mothers decide to stay away from anything that would involve risk of injuries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I was astonished,” said Dr Ranjana Sharma, a consultant gynaecologist in Apollo Hospitals, Delhi, “She is almost full term now. Why take such a huge risk, especially at a time when the body’s balance is compromised? One needs to know one’s limitations as an expecting mother.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was not the first time Anushka tried the headstand. As she claimed in her post, shirshasana has been a part of her yoga routine for years, and her doctor recommended that she “do all the asanas she had been doing pre-pregnancy, barring twists and extreme forward bends.” Which is why when the couple was having a routine practice session at their home in Dubai, with Sharma’s long time yoga teacher, Eefa Shroff, on a Zoom call, Eefa promptly captured “their moment together”, without giving it a second thought.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Eefa to THE WEEK, “The picture was actually taken to capture and showcase the couple’s extraordinary chemistry and the perfect alignment that looked so beautiful with the two of them at the opposite ends of gravity. The headstand has always been a part of Anushka’s normal workout routine. She has done it several times, and there was nothing extraordinary about it, except that she pulled it off so well with a weight over five kilos as an expecting mother.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anushka’s undeterred passion for fitness has sparked off a heated debate among her fans, yoga experts, doctors, fitness gurus, and, most importantly, expecting moms. They argue that even if the inversion is indeed helpful or even beneficial for the physiology of an expecting mother, is it worth taking the risk?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Swati Singh, 35, is in the third trimester of her pregnancy, and due early next year. But, unlike Anushka, Swati is treading cautiously when it comes to practicing her asanas. “I was shocked at first, but then it was also inspiring to see Anushka pull it off so brilliantly,” she said, “I don’t think I have half the fitness she has to take this big a risk.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Swati attended a yoga camp in Ghaziabad in the fifth month of her pregnancy, and recalls being asked to “strictly avoid shirshasana as it falls under the high-risk category of asanas for pregnant women” and, instead, was encouraged to practise numerous other poses that “provide more benefits and are least risky”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as prenatal yoga as a wellness exercise for expectant mothers—that encourages stretching, relaxation and focused breathing while reducing anxiety and stress—has been hailed by one and all across the board, yoga experts such as Hrishi Yogendra contest an “over-cautious approach.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Hrishi, “In pregnancy, doing any inversion is never a challenge. It is because of the fear of injuries that most people avoid it. But, doing an inversion is actually good for the overall physiological health of an expecting mother. Even if she [Anushka] does an inversion just a day prior to the delivery, it is perfectly fine.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Namita Piparaiya, yoga and ayurveda lifestyle specialist, said doing a headstand during pregnancy has more risks than benefits.... “It is okay if headstand does not feature in your list of yoga asanas to do during pregnancy,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What makes shirshasana so pertinent for an expecting mother is its impact on the body’s lymphatic system, which plays a key role in removing wastes and toxins and in maintaining immunity against pathogens. Said Hrishi, “Yoga works to increase the flow of lymph and relieve lymphatic congestion through inversions, which reverse the effect of gravity and drain lymph and used blood from the legs and stimulates the flow of lymph up through the core of the body. Also, it helps in pulling blood back to the heart, at a time when too much blood is going down to the limbs. This way the circulation improves, the nervous system calms down and the entire body is in complete relaxed mode.” He said one has to practise the headstand regularly even before pregnancy, so as to be comfortable doing it and avoiding injuries. “You cannot possibly start off experimenting a headstand for the first time in your pregnancy because there is no doubt that the risk of injury is extremely high in a headstand,” said Hrishi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, getting into an inversion is one thing and holding onto it is quite another. And, that is where one’s mental strength comes into play. Said Eefa, “One has to train the mind or the psyche to be able to sustain shirshasana for a longer period of time and Anushka has oodles of both, mental and physical strength. She does headstands at least once a week and stays put in the position for about a minute. Through all of her second trimester, we have worked on strengthening her shoulders and back. But she’s always been in the best of health. Now in the last trimester, we are doing tons of hip-openers including janu shirsasana and upavistha konasana.” Eefa has been training Anushka for over six years and has been into yoga for the last 20 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“But the question still remains, why do it unless it is a matter of life and death? asked Sharma, “One of the biggest risks of an inversion caused in a pregnant woman is the looming risk of the baby turning upside down inside the womb. What does one do then? Additionally, because of a change in hormones during pregnancy, the joints and ligaments in the body are loose and more vulnerable to disbalance. In addition, in an inversion, the placenta, uterus and the baby are together, adding so much more weight on the woman’s diaphragm, which is very risky.” Her voice finds an echo in Dr Rajeshwari Pawar, a gynaecologist from Pune’s Motherhood Hospital. “It makes sense only for those who have done that. This is not a good time to experiment,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Goa-based Samita Sethi, mother to a nine-month-old daughter, took to a number of other asanas during her trimesters in order to overcome the inactivity, lethargy and mood swings that are usually associated with pregnancy. She did the sarvangasana, which comes very close to shirshasana, and is a safer alternative to it, offering the same benefits and minimal chances of injury. Sethi also regularly practiced a lot of asanas for pelvic opening or hip-opening to create space for the baby to come out easily including bhadrasana or the auspicious pose, the paryankasana, malasana and veer bhadrasana, or the warrior pose, which is ideal for pregnant women during the first and second trimesters to help build leg strength in order to support the growing baby. However, during the third trimester, the pose is likely to become more challenging.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Sethi, “I also took up leg strengthening postures as well as asanas such as ushtrasana, which can help in relieving back pain that is very common during pregnancy due to increased weight, specifically on the belly region.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts concur that a pregnant lady can do all kids of asanas, and that only forward bending asanas, extreme back bends, side bends or twists of any kind have to be avoided. Hip-openers do help a lot. “But we advise women to really start exercising much before pregnancy and continue thereafter so that they have a smooth journey. Exercising or yoga is not limited to a particular circumstance in life, it needs to be an on-going routine. When expecting one need perform only those asanas which help in the smooth growth and delivery of the baby,” said Pawar.</p> Fri Dec 11 11:39:24 IST 2020 battle-of-bunker-hill <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Temperatures in eastern</b> Ladakh have dipped to -20 degrees Celsius, but the spirit of the Indian Army is soaring. Apart from keeping a check on enemy troops, Indian soldiers are guarding themselves from the fierce Himalayan winter.</p> <p>Extreme winter clothing, sleeping bags, highly nutritious food, drinking water, kerosene—these are some of the basic items that soldiers in 8x8ft bunkers on the Rezang La heights need to survive. To fight, he needs compact battle kits containing weapons, ammunition and communication equipment.</p> <p>With more than 50,000 troops deployed on the India-China border—the biggest such deployment since 1962—the Army is looking for ways to ride out the harsh winter. Defence scientists are offering multiple solutions to keep soldiers fighting fit for high-altitude warfare. Laboratories of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) are looking at ways to reduce the acclimatisation period of troops and help soldiers keep themselves mentally and physically fit.</p> <p>In early October, a team of DRDO scientists visited the Army’s 14 Corps headquarters in Leh. They proposed more than two dozen winter-gear accessories and other inventory that would help soldiers survive extreme weather conditions. The proposals include a high-altitude water purification system, oxygen-enriched shelters, space heating devices, sleeping bags that can be used at -50 degrees Celsius, high-nutrition quercetin bars and solar-powered shelters.</p> <p>Ladakh has low oxygen levels and extreme weather. According to defence scientists, the atmosphere in eastern Ladakh, which is 15,000ft above sea level on an average, can have adverse physiological, psychological and hormonal affects that can lead to acute mountain sickness, high-altitude pulmonary oedema and high-altitude cerebral oedema. At present, the Army follows an 11-day acclimatisation regimen for its troops, done in three stages at different altitudes (9,000ft, 12,000ft and 15,000ft).</p> <p>Though the Indian Army has four decades of experience in deployment in Siachen, the number of troops deployed there is much less than the deployment in Ladakh this time. Three new approaches have been proposed to the Army to reduce the acclimatisation period and speed up deployment. Prior deployment of soldiers at a moderate altitude, putting them through intermittent hypoxia (as training to survive in low-oxygen atmosphere) and providing oxygen shelters are the new methods.</p> <p>Dr A.K. Singh, director-general of life sciences at DRDO, said maintaining optimal combat efficiency in extreme weather has for long been an objective for the Army. A similar rapid deployment, he said, was last attempted in 1999, during the Kargil war. “Our scientists are working with military doctors for enhancing troop acclimatisation by physical, physiological and psychological interventions,” said Dr Singh.</p> <p>Indian and Chinese troops have been engaged in a standoff in Ladakh since May. The deployment of troops in eastern Ladakh is being done on the lines of the Siachen pattern—a 90-day deployment cycle before a soldier is replaced by another one. Military strategists believe that, with the trust deficit between the two sides, large-scale deployment of troops will be the new normal on the Line of Actual Control.</p> <p>The Indian Army has just completed setting up habitats for troops in eastern Ladakh. But these habitats are only at the base camps, not at forward posts. Also, 11,000 sets of special winter clothing have been brought from the US. “Due to the unforeseen situation on the border, the Army had no option but to go for emergency purchase from foreign players. But we have the capability to produce such winter clothing,” said a DRDO scientist. “We are already in touch with the local industry to make it available. And we would be able to provide such clothing in the next six to eight months.”</p> <p>The extreme winter clothing produced by the Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences (DIPAS) in Delhi is a three-layered modular system. Each kit weighs around 5kg. The clothing is waterproof, breathable, abrasion resistant and effective even in -50 degrees Celsius.</p> <p>“It is almost one-fourth the cost of winter clothing that we import,” said the scientist. “All [extreme winter] clothing requires down feathers (fine bird feathers found under the tougher exterior feathers) to minimise heat transfer and keep it lightweight.” To tackle the issue of availability of feathers, scientists are exploring whether duck feathers can be used, since they are water repellent.</p> <p>Another helpful tool is a space heating device that runs on kerosene. The devices are efficient and they do not release hazardous carbon monoxide. The Army has placed a Rs267-crore order for them.</p> <p>To provide drinking water on icy heights, DIPAS has come out with a solar snow melter. Trials at Khardungla in Ladakh and Tawang found that these portable, manually operated snow melters are very helpful. “The issues faced by soldiers may not be new, but the scale is different this time,” said Singh. “All efforts have been made to cater to the requirements of the Indian Army, as the logistics burden has increased manifold.”</p> <p>Defence scientists have set goals for themselves to develop new systems in the next few months. In the pipeline are modular garages for tanks, diesel generators that work at -50 degrees Celsius, solar-power shelters, rugged battery chargers, portable mobile cuboids and crevasse cross-bridges.</p> <p>“Every solution cannot be a panacea for all problems,” said a defence scientist. “To meet future requirements, there is a need for more synergetic efforts between the DRDO, the armed forces and industrial partners, wherein the services and the industry view DRDO not only as developers, but also as their collaborative partners.”</p> <p>An Army also marches on its stomach. A soldier needs to have around 4,500 calories a day to survive in high altitude. So the ration includes energy bars, chocolates, fruits and vegetables. O.P. Chaurasia, director of the Leh-based Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR), says his laboratories are providing at least 28 types of vegetables to the Army. Set up after the 1962 war, DIHAR conducts research on agro-animal activities in extreme cold and high altitude. “In Ladakh, hydroponics (growing crops without soil) and micro-farming seem the only viable options,” said Chaurasia. “With this, limited quantity of fresh vegetables can be grown and it is developed to suit the Ladakh condition.”</p> <p>Researchers at DIHAR have used their technology to grow vegetables like radish, broccoli and cabbage using low-intensity lights and limited amount of water. DIHAR scientists have also been researching on whether Bactrian camels in the Nubra valley, whose double humps can carry a load of 170kg, can be trained to transport ration and weapons. During the Kargil war, said Chaurasia, DIHAR researchers had successfully trained Zanskar ponies with the same objective.</p> <p>Surviving in a bunker at -40 degrees Celsius is like living the life of a caveman, said Major General Amrit Pal Singh, former chief of operational logistics of 14 Corps. “We (the Army) are holding hilltops, peaks and clifflines. And you cannot carry stores to those points. You are actually living like a caveman by crawling into the hole and making a little warm space for yourself. Good clothing, nutritious food and frequent rotation to avoid physiological and psychological ailments are the only ways to protect the soldiers.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 03 19:16:03 IST 2020 military-r-and-d-is-a-continuous-and-time-consuming-process <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A few months</b> ago, Ajay Kumar Singh, director-general of the life sciences wing of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, was heading a team of defence scientists to innovate affordable medical equipment for Covid-19 management. But with India and China still locked in a standoff at the border, his team has been tasked to step up efforts to equip soldiers for high-altitude warfare. In an interview with THE WEEK, Singh shared his views. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>After the Ladakh standoff, has the DRDO been asked to carry out innovations and studies for the benefit of soldiers?</b></p> <p>A/ The DRDO’s life sciences labs proactively provided habitability solutions like improvised space-heating device, oxygenated shelters, anti-frostbite formulation, and fresh and nutritious food in collaboration with several stakeholders. Our high-altitude region labs have contributed in developing technologies that ensure availability of fresh produce to armed forces throughout the year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Can you share some special efforts made by defence life sciences scientists for the Indian Army for high-altitude operations?</b></p> <p>A/ A team of scientists recently visited forward posts in a high-altitude region. Several products have been delivered to the troops for their trial and use and it is also planned to oxygenate existing shelters. DRDO has provided ergonomically designed backpacks and sleeping bags suitable for temperatures up to -50°C. Research and development (R&amp;D) is also underway to develop extreme winter clothing using indigenous textile technologies.</p> <p>DRDO life sciences labs have been working in close collaboration with the Army for enhancing troop acclimatisation by physical, physiological and psychological interventions. Different modalities like pre-acclimatisation of soldiers at moderate altitude, use of Intermittent Hypoxia Training (IHT) in the plains and use of pharmacological agents as strategies have been suggested for rapid induction of troops after extensive R&amp;D. In addition, the recommendation of tenure of posting at different altitudes and of nutritionally balanced ration scales has been made and are being followed by the Indian Army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>DRDO scientists are often criticised for disappointing armed forces when it comes to meeting their requirements.</b></p> <p>A/ Military R&amp;D is a continuous and time-consuming process, which involves synergy between various stakeholders. The R&amp;D contributions made by DRDO are palpable and are acknowledged by the armed forces. However, to meet futuristic requirements, there is a need for more synergistic efforts between the DRDO, armed forces and industrial partners, wherein the services and industry view DRDO not only as developers, but also as their joint collaborative partners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 03 19:12:41 IST 2020 a-permanent-void <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The shock that </b>Ahmed Patel’s demise has evoked in the Congress is a testimony to his stature in the party. A recurring theme in the tributes was the sentiment that it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to replace Patel, and that the crisis-ridden party needed him most at this juncture.</p> <p>The significance that Patel succeeded in endowing the post of political secretary to the Congress president with was best expressed in an evocative homage penned by Sonia Gandhi, where she described him as her most trusted colleague, who she could depend on without any questions being asked.</p> <p>The Gandhis will miss Patel when it comes to reaching out to the dissenting voices. After all, Patel was a friend of many of the 23 writers of the ‘letter of dissent’, and acted as a bridge between them and the party leadership. He had the authority and the political resourcefulness to deal with such situations.</p> <p>There is a vacuum in terms of whom the leaders should approach to have their grievances heard.&nbsp;At the moment, it is felt that there is no one in the party with the same level of authority.&nbsp;</p> <p>Said senior leader Digvijaya Singh, “At a personal level, I have lost a friend and a colleague who I trusted, and in whose political analysis and decisions I had deep faith. The Congress has lost its most trusted and committed leader at a time when it needed a person like him the most.”</p> <p>Patel’s passing marks the end of an era for the Congress since he represented a certain way of functioning, which is expected to see a change with Rahul making a comeback as president. The generational change will be best evident when the party gets into negotiations to form alliances for the assembly elections in early 2021. There will be no Patel, who could leverage the goodwill and respect that he enjoyed beyond party lines, and had great shrewdness to reach out to allies to drive a hard bargain.&nbsp;</p> <p>Gen-next leaders Jitin Prasada and Dinesh Gundu Rao—who were given the charge of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, respectively—would be at the helm of alliance discussions. Similarly, it will be up to Rahul’s confidant—Jitendra Singh, who is in charge of Assam—to prepare the party for assembly elections post-Tarun Gogoi, and to deal with the various factions in the state unit.</p> <p>Said senior leader Saifuddin Soz, “While it is a great loss to us, the Congress has to rise to the occasion…. In two to three months, many outstanding issues are expected to be thrashed out.” They say it is an exercise in futility to talk about substituting Patel since he fit perfectly into the role designed specifically for him, in a structure that Sonia had put in place, reflecting her style of functioning, and that it is not necessary that Rahul should follow the same format.</p> <p>“Patel&nbsp;was the bridge between the party leadership and the party. Sonia<i> ji </i>had created the structure. This kind of a structure was unique to the leadership of Sonia<i> ji,</i>” said Sanjay Nirupam, senior leader from Maharashtra.</p> <p>It is being discussed now whether veterans such as Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot or former finance minister P. Chidambaram may have a greater role to play as crisis managers. After all, Gehlot has doused many a fire and is known for his connections beyond the party. Chidambaram is a well-regarded persona, and had a role to play in keeping Sachin Pilot in the Congress when the young leader rebelled.</p> <p>There is also speculation over who will be Rahul’s Patel—whether it will be K.C. Venugopal, who has emerged as a key link between the party and Rahul, or Randeep Singh Surjewala,&nbsp;who enjoys Rahul’s confidence and had the biggest promotion in the recent reshuffle.&nbsp;</p> <p>Among the other names being discussed are Rajeev Satav, who is known to be close to Rahul and is amongst his fiercest defendants; Jitendra Singh, a long-time Rahul confidant, and bureaucrat-turned-politician K. Raju, an eminent member of Rahul’s office and a key advisor.</p> <p>It is not necessary that Rahul will have a political secretary. He can do away with the post, and instead place a team that he reposes his trust in.&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul’s inner circle may not have the same kind of political tact or authority that Patel had to deal with leaders within and outside the party. Critics of the present style of functioning also say that now is the time for the party leadership to get truly hands-on instead of depending on a go-between.</p> <p>However, there is also a view that a leader needs a person or persons to act as a link between him and the party.&nbsp;“As a leader of the party, you have to deal with multiple issues. You need someone who is like a go-between or a shock absorber. And, to serve this purpose, you need someone trustworthy,” said a leader close to Rahul.</p> <p>The Patel era is over, and with the Sonia era, too, coming to an end soon, it remains to be seen if Rahul rises to the occasion and gets the party to rally around him.&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 03 18:56:34 IST 2020 win-either-way <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FOR THE FIRST</b> time since the revocation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, major regional parties in Kashmir are returning to electoral politics. Elections to the newly-created District Development Councils (DDCs) are being held in eight phases from November 28 to December 22.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 280 DDC seats—14 each in 20 districts—were created after the Union government amended the J&amp;K Panchayati Raj Act in October. Elections will also be held to fill more than 12,000 vacant seats in panchayats and over 230 seats in urban local bodies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What has made the election politically significant is the decision of the members of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration to fight the polls together. The declaration, which reaffirmed support for Article 370, was signed by seven parties—the National Conference, the People’s Democratic Party, the J&amp;K People’s Conference, the CPI(M), the Awami National Conference, the J&amp;K People’s Movement and the Awami Ittehad —at National Conference president Farooq Abdullah’s Gupkar Road residence in Srinagar on August 4, 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The seven parties formalised the alliance this October with Farooq as president, former chief minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti as vice president and JKPC leader Sajad Lone as spokesperson. Initially there was a feeling that the alliance would boycott the polls, but on November 7, it announced the decision to join the fray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP said the “Gupkar gang” wanted foreign forces to intervene in Jammu and Kashmir. “The Gupkar gang also insults India’s tricolour,” tweeted Union Home Minister Amit Shah. “Do Sonia ji and Rahul ji support such moves?’’ Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala denied that the party was a member of the alliance. His party's president in J&amp;K, Ghulam Ahmad Mir, however, said the Congress had “district-level alliance" with individual parties of the alliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former chief minister Omar Abdullah of the National Conference said he understood Shah’s frustration. “He had been briefed that the alliance was preparing to boycott the elections. This would have allowed the BJP and the newly-formed king's party a free run in J&amp;K. We didn't oblige them,” Omar tweeted. The king's party jab was aimed at the JK Apni Party formed by former PDP leader Altaf Bukhari with the backing of the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political observers said the decision of the alliance to contest the elections had disrupted the BJP’s plan to extend its reach to another layer of power in Jammu and Kashmir and render the National Conference and the PDP irrelevant at the grassroots. They said the alliance would win a major chunk of seats in the Kashmir region and pose a challenge to the BJP in Jammu with the support of the Congress. But it may not be easy. “A boycott or low turnout will cause problems for the alliance,” said an observer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the absence of a legislative assembly, the DDCs are likely to emerge as major power centres. Council members will get direct funding from the Union government for development work. Winners will also get a head start when assembly elections are held.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has named Union Ministers Anurag Thakur and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and the its national spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain to oversee the campaign. South Delhi MP Ramesh Bidhuri, a prominent Gujjar leader, has been tasked with mollifying the Gujjar-Bakarwal tribes who are angry about the demolition of their hutments in the forests of Pahalgam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The main plank of the BJP campaign continues to be the abrogation of Article 370. “The Congress’s alliance with the Gupkar gang proves beyond doubt that it is seeking support from those who seek the support of China and Pakistan to bring back Article 370,” said Thakur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the contest in Kashmir is largely between the alliance and the smaller parties and independents, the fight is more intense in Jammu. Some constituencies are even witnessing intra-family battles. Nadeem Azad and Mustafa Azad, nephews of Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, are pitted against each other in Changa constituency in Doda district. At Kalkote in Rajouri, Anita Thakur and Sushma Thakur, whose husbands are brothers, are involved in a close contest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Union government has deployed 25,000 additional personnel of the Central Armed Police Forces to beef up security. Many candidates have been housed in cluster accommodations because of security concerns. Mushtaq Ahmed, the PDP candidate contesting panchayat elections from Khaigam in Pulwama, said he had not been allowed to go home since November 9. Another candidate said the police would sometimes ask them to finish their campaign and return to the hotel by 4pm. “How can we cover all the villages in our constituency and report back on time,” he complained.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Omar and Mehbooba said the government was locking up candidates opposed to it, using security as an excuse. “If the security situation is not conducive for campaigning, what was the need to announce the elections,” tweeted Omar. A senior officer, however, said the security threat was real. “This year, more than 12 political activists, most of them belonging to the BJP, were killed by militants,’’ he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the high threat perception, the DDC polls have attracted many young men like Hamid Rather and Javid Ahmed. Rather, a 30-year-old doctoral scholar, is contesting from Pattan in Baramulla as an independent candidate. He said the elections presented an opportunity to better the lives of the people in his area. “I can't imagine women in our villages going out to fetch drinking water for their families,’’ he said. Ahmed said his motivation to jump into the poll fray was to combat the growing menace of drug addiction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The active participation of the independent youth and the coming together of the regional parties may have foiled the BJP’s plan to push them to the fringes of the political landscape. But their participation in the DDC polls has not only lent credibility to the exercise, but also legitimised the administrative changes imposed in Kashmir. It will also help the BJP counter international criticism over its handling of the Kashmir issue.</p> Thu Nov 26 19:33:22 IST 2020 system-revamp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THERE IS AN</b> apocryphal story about how Kashmir has politically engaged with Delhi over the years. In the early 1950s, prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru asked Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad how much public support he had. Bakshi replied that all 40 lakh people in the state supported him. Nehru posed the same question to Sheikh Abdullah and got the same answer. Bakshi had dislodged the Sheikh, with the help of Delhi, to become prime minister of the state. Nehru sought to know how both of them could claim the same number. They told Nehru that it was possible, as everything depended on whom Delhi supported.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Delhi’s support has been crucial to who runs the show in the state. The politics of the state since the beginning has been such that people also look towards the person who has Delhi’s support,” said a veteran RSS leader who worked in Jammu and Kashmir. “This time, Delhi has made it clear that it is not with anyone. And this has opened up a whole range of possibilities.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Home Minister Amit Shah is monitoring the BJP campaign, as the poll results will be billed as a referendum on Article 370 that had given special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Also, a favourable result will strengthen the party’s nationalism pitch elsewhere in the country, particularly in states where elections are due next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government’s aim is clear: create a new breed of leaders from the grassroots who can challenge the existing players, and subsequently build an ecosystem where the talk of independence or autonomy is no longer relevant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“These elections will give birth to new leaders who are intelligent and pragmatic,” said Union Minister of Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. The biggest takeaway from these elections, he said, was how people were participating in the process instead of listening to the separatists or alliance leaders. “Their influence is on the wane,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has seized the opportunity to attack the Abdullahs and the Muftis, the two political families that have ruled the erstwhile state. Tarun Chugh, who is in charge of BJP affairs in the Union territory, said two private companies, Abdullah &amp; Sons and Mufti &amp; Sons, had wrecked Jammu and Kashmir, both administratively and economically. “The 025,000-crore land scam under the Roshni scheme points the finger at the two families who built their own empires,” he said. The CBI is investigating the scam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Union government’s Kashmir policy will be tested through these polls. “It is the first real test for local self-governance in Jammu and Kashmir and it is a good sign,” said former home secretary G.K. Pillai. “But we must remember that nothing works perfectly the first time.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In its mission to herald political change, the Union government has lent support to independent political initiatives and candidates. The BJP is also keen that the smaller Muslim groups like Gujjars, Bakarwals and Shias gain prominence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mohammad Abdullah Paswal, 25, contesting as an independent in Bandipora Arin, is the only candidate from the Gujjar-Bakarwal community in the area. Paswal hails from Kundara village, which got electricity only in 2018. “My village is in such a far-flung area that no one has even heard of it. Development is a far cry, and illiteracy is rampant,” he said. “Electricity, health and education systems are missing. The DDC polls are an opportunity to alleviate the suffering of my people.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A home ministry official said that the Kashmir policy used to be largely related to internal security, Pakistan and Article 370, but now it was only about development. The next big challenge for the home ministry, which controls key administrative functions in a Union territory, is the effective devolution of powers to local bodies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mir Junaid, president of the newly formed Jammu Kashmir Workers Party, said one of the main reasons for democratic processes not being successful there was electoral infrequency. “Another flaw was that the local bodies had near zero role in the developmental process.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Junaid said the new laws and the inclusion of a new chunk of people in the voter list had made the DDC polls unique and exciting. Paswal, who has a master’s degree in economics, said many educated youth were in the fray this time to shape the future of Jammu and Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ansari, a former interlocutor of Jammu and Kashmir, said the DDC elections should have followed assembly elections. Not much had changed on ground since the dissolution of the PDP-BJP government, said Ansari. “For DDC elections, most contestants are unable to campaign owing to militancy and government-imposed restrictions on mass canvassing,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While a heavy troop deployment is expected to curb terror attacks, security officials said parties should abstain from labelling rivals as anti-nationals and creating divisions on cultural identities. “Only an unrestrained and free election campaign, mobilising public opinion and dialogue for peace, can motivate people to step out and cast their votes in a free and fair manner,” said an official.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Will these elections herald political change in the troubled region? The process, however slow, may have started.</p> Thu Nov 26 19:30:29 IST 2020 article-370-has-been-buried-370km-deep <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>UNION MINISTER MUKHTAR</b> Abbas Naqvi kickstarted the BJP's campaign for the local bodies elections in Jammu and Kashmir with a series of rallies and meetings in the Union territory. He drew crowds and listened to people's complaints about hardships due to the internet ban and the Covid-induced economic slowdown. He said people treated Article 370 as history and were asking what it had got them in the past 70 years. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is your feedback from the state?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest takeaway is the involvement of people in the political process. The elections are being held to the district development council for the first time in 70 years. People from far-flung areas, be it Uri, Baramulla or Kupwara, are participating in the process. This is a very positive message. The results will be good for the BJP. These elections will break the arrogance of the family parties. These parties thought people would not participate so they had decided to boycott the polls. But they were forced to change their stance when they witnessed the crowds. We see this as victory before the elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What does the BJP intend to achieve through these elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The (Gupkar) alliance leaders claimed that the BJP would not even find candidates in the valley. Today the BJP is contesting in more than 95 per cent of the seats. This has demolished their assumption. The BJP is getting, thanks to Prime Minister Modi, an enthusiastic response. People see him as a big world leader. The issues like communalism and separatism are in decline.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Gupkar alliance is pitching for the restoration of Article 370. Is it an emotional issue for the people?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the end of Article 370, over 370 problems of the people have been solved. All Central government schemes are getting implemented there. People have found this to be a very positive development. Article 370 has been buried 370 kilometres below the ground, and even 370 births will not bring this provision back. So, people are looking at Article 370 as history. The alliance may be raising the issue, but it is not finding any traction among people. People are asking what they have got in 70 years. Only political families gained.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Will these elections be a referendum on the Article 370?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It will be a referendum on people's participation in the democratic process. How strong and effective it is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The BJP has always been seen as a Hindu party. Is the perception still the same in the valley?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modiji's image is visible in the valley. People believe in him. The party has never indulged in communal campaign. People feel that development is happening without discrimination, and that they are getting empowered. All the schemes were implemented there. The impact is visible on the ground. People have isolated the separatists. In earlier elections, the separatists always played a role. But in this elections they are not to be seen.</p> Fri Nov 27 11:05:06 IST 2020 left-in-a-muddle <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Being a communist, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan may not believe in good times and bad times. But he will certainly approve of the famous quote by Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky that “everything is relative in this world, where change alone endures”. For Vijayan and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government, the past few months have been more than enough proof of Trotsky’s concept of change.</p> <p>The slide in the political fortunes of the LDF government has been dramatic. Not so long ago, it was winning accolades from everywhere, even internationally, for the effective handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and for the social welfare measures it launched during the lockdown. A survey held in July by a television channel had predicted that the LDF could even break Kerala’s 40-year-old record of voting out the incumbent government. Nearly 86 per cent of the respondents wanted Vijayan to be chief minister again.</p> <p>But all that changed on July 5 with the seizure of 30kg gold from a diplomatic consignment addressed to the United Arab Emirates consulate in Thiruvananthapuram. The smuggling case took a political turn once it was revealed that the main accused, Swapna Suresh, had a close relationship with Vijayan’s all powerful principal secretary M. Sivasankar. Though Sivasankar was removed from the post the very next day, the damage was done.</p> <p>The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is now probing the case and other Central agencies like the Enforcement Directorate, the customs department and the CBI are also involved, with a special focus on the chief minister’s office.</p> <p>Disowning Sivasankar was not an easy task for Vijayan. The chief minister had earlier defended him when he was blamed for signing a data-handling contract with a US-based firm called Sprinklr without following due procedure. Even the CPI, the second major constituent in the LDF, had come out against the contract, but Vijayan said Sivasankar just made an “error in judgement” under pressure from the rising Covid-19 numbers. “The chief minister trusted Sivasankar absolutely as he had been a major asset to the government. The fact that both are very much result-oriented brought them closer,” said a source who had interacted with both closely.</p> <p>A former chief secretary said Vijayan was an efficient administrator with attention to minute details. “It is unbelievable that he failed to notice such a huge mistake happening right under his nose. It is certainly his failure as an administrator,” he said. The former bureaucrat could be right as the opposition continues to target Sivasankar to get to Vijayan. “The chief minister is trying to escape by blaming everything on a government official. Who is more tainted, the administration or the party, that is the only dispute,” said opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala.</p> <p>The Enforcement Directorate said Sivasankar had shared confidential information pertaining to major government projects and had intervened to clear the baggage containing the smuggled gold. Sivasankar’s case, however, seems to be just the beginning of the woes in store for the Vijayan government. Higher Education Minister K.T. Jaleel, who has been assigned the task of capturing the Muslim vote bank, is now a “person of interest” in cases of illegal import of food material and religious texts through diplomatic cargo sent to the UAE consulate without prior permission from the Union government—violating the Customs Act, the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). The opposition says some of the packets Jaleel received contained gold. The NIA, the ED and the customs department have questioned him and investigations are still on.</p> <p>The biggest setback for the Vijayan government has come, perhaps, in the LIFE Mission case. The Livelihood Inclusion and Financial Empowerment Mission, popularly known as LIFE Mission, is one of the flagship projects of the government, which is aimed at providing low cost housing to the homeless. According to the ED, Suresh, who was then officially affiliated with the UAE consulate, received a commission of Rs4.48 crore from a construction company called Unitac Builders for a project to construct 140 flats in Thrissur district and a share of it went to Sivasankar. The flats were sponsored by the Emirates Red Crescent, a humanitarian organisation under the UAE government.</p> <p>The ED arrested Sivasankar after it found material and digital evidence that showed that he had assisted Suresh in money laundering. ED officials said there was corroborative evidence to show that Sivasankar introduced Suresh to his chartered accountant, and asked him to help her with her finances. According to investigators, the chartered accountant and Suresh opened a joint locker at a State Bank of India branch in Thiruvananthapuram. Each time money was deposited or withdrawn, Sivasankar was informed about the transactions. An ED official said Sivasankar, who was holding an important position in the government, did not ask for the source. “This implies that he helped Suresh in laundering money which was the proceeds of crime,” said the official.</p> <p>Another allegation against Sivasankar is that he leaked confidential information of prospective bidders in the LIFE Mission project to Suresh, who allegedly used it to swing deals. The ED accessed hundreds of WhatsApp chats between Sivasankar and Suresh from April 2018 to July this year, which showed that Sivasankar allegedly shared information of prospective bidders and quotations under the project. It was found that 26 of 36 projects went to those whose names were mentioned by Sivasankar even before the tender was opened. “There is corroborative evidence of kickbacks received by Suresh. The Unitac CEO has also admitted that payment was made to Suresh and she has confessed to receiving it,” said an investigator. The ED is likely to examine all major government projects overseen by Sivasankar.</p> <p>Adding to the woes of the chief minister, the ED has issued summons to his additional private secretary C.M. Raveendran. Chennithala said Vijayan was worried as the probe had almost reached him. But an undaunted chief minister hit back saying the summons by an agency did not make Raveendran a culprit. Meanwhile, Raveendran has informed the ED that he has tested positive for Covid-19 and the agency has asked him to report after he is medically fit.</p> <p>The CPI(M) believes there is a political understanding between the BJP and the Congress to malign the LDF. “It took only a day for the Narendra Modi government to order a CBI inquiry into the LIFE Mission project, which has built thousands of homes for the poor,’’ said former MP and CPI(M) state committee member M.B. Rajesh.</p> <p>The state government has de cided to take on the Central government over what it feels is vindictive targeting of the only left government in India. It has revoked the general consent given to the CBI to take up any case in the state without prior permission. An LDF MLA moved a privilege motion alleging that the ED’s inquiry halted the state government’s project to provide free housing for the poor. The ED said it had the legal authority to ask for the files related to the project as the financial transactions were suspicious. A senior ED official said section 23 of the PMLA gave the ED the mandate to probe the LIFE Mission project and related monetary transactions. “Investigation into the alleged kickbacks does not stall the project and the state government should not try to impede the probe,’’ said an official in New Delhi.</p> <p>The ED is racing to file its prosecution complaint against Sivasankar as it is required to file a chargesheet within 60 days from the date of arrest under PMLA. The NIA, too, is likely to file its chargesheet in December since the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), mandates the agency to file a chargesheet within six months of registering a first information report. This is the first time UAPA has been invoked to investigate a gold smuggling operation, deeming it to be detrimental to economic stability. The NIA has so far arrested 21 persons out of 35 public and private individuals who are under investigation, while 12 persons are on bail.</p> <p>Critics of the Vijayan government blame the extreme centralisation of power under the chief minister for the crisis. “Whenever a left government is in power, the CPI(M) has always had the upper hand in all matters. But this time, the party and the government are under Vijayan’s tight fist. All these lapses happened because of that,” said political observer Joseph C. Mathew. “Earlier, the personal secretary of the chief minister would invariably be a senior party leader. But Vijayan wanted a professional for reasons better known to him and the results are there for everyone to see.”</p> <p>Senior journalist B.R.P. Bhaskar, too, said Vijayan’s centralisation tendencies led to the present crisis. “We all know that Vijayan took all the decisions related to the government and the party,” he said. “That may have made the system more efficient for a short period, but on the whole, it has led to huge flaws.”</p> <p>Even more devastating for the government was the arrest of Bineesh Kodiyeri, younger son of CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. Bineesh was arrested by the ED in Bengaluru after his name came up in a Narcotics Control Bureau investigation. It forced Kodiyeri to step down from the post of party secretary, although he cited health reasons for the unprecedented step.</p> <p>State Congress president Mullappally Ramachandran said the government had lost the moral right to continue. “It is so shameful to say that the son of a senior party leader has been arrested for <i>benami</i> transactions,” he said. Kerala BJP spokesperson Sandeep Warrier said the people had realised that the LDF government was just as bad as the Congress-led United Democratic Front government.</p> <p>The sudden change in the fortunes of the LDF government is something hard to miss. “Unfortunately for the LDF, all these controversies have happened at a time when a second term was almost certain. Now the government and the CPI(M) are under a thick cloud of suspicion,” said political commentator Jacob George.</p> <p>The controversies have raised a question mark about the “left character” of the Vijayan government, according to some left sympathisers. “I have heard many comrades saying that the allegations were nothing compared with what UDF governments had to face in the past. But they forget that it is the moral correctness that makes the left stand apart,” said Mathew. “The left should do some serious introspection. If not, a plight worse than what they experienced in Bengal and Tripura awaits them.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Nov 19 19:10:44 IST 2020 son-set-boulevard <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>One of the</b> more circulated photos on social media these days in Kerala shows Bineesh Kodiyeri, the younger son of former CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, standing at the entrance of AKG Centre, the party’s state headquarters. With the image of the party symbol—hammer, sickle and star—right above his head, Bineesh exuded power and confidence.</p> <p>But Bineesh is no longer in Kerala. Nor is he free. He was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on October 28 in a money-laundering case linked to a Bengaluru-based drug trafficking racket, which was busted by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB). Mohammed Anoop, who was arrested by the NCB, said Bineesh used to finance his businesses. The ED believes that Anoop is Bineesh’s benami partner and said it found cash deposits worth more than 05 crore in Bineesh’s three bank accounts in the last seven years against his total declared income of 01.2 crore. Under pressure, Kodiyeri has already stepped down from the party secretary’s post, citing health reasons.</p> <p>Bineesh, 36, has always been a flamboyant character. He buys fancy numbers for his cars. He bought two established cricket clubs in his cricket-obsessed hometown Thalassery and named those after him. Always eager to flaunt the power of their surname, Bineesh and his elder brother Binoy have frequently courted controversies. When his father was home minister of Kerala, Bineesh ventured into the real estate business, and his name got linked to many shady deals. Bineesh also acted in small roles in Malayalam movies. Though his roles were insignificant, he was close to industry bigwigs. Bineesh is also part of the cricket administration in Kerala.</p> <p>While the CPI(M) said Bineesh should be punished if he was found guilty, his wife, Renita, said the BJP was using the ED to settle political scores. “The allegations that Bineesh is a don and that he has huge assets are lies. He owns a hotel, which was bought by pawning my mother’s land,’’ she said.</p> <p>The BJP, however, said the ED would prove that Bineesh was into drugs and illegal businesses. “He roamed free till now because of the unethical arrangement between the UDF and the LDF,’’ said BJP state president K. Surendran.</p> <p>The CPI(M), which has clear guidelines even on how the family members of its cadre should live, is feeling the heat. “The problem is that a certain image has been created in the media about Bineesh that anyone can raise allegations against him and people will believe it,’’ said a young state committee member of the CPI(M).</p> <p>Veteran journalist B.R.P. Bhaskar said Bineesh was morally bound to behave in a more responsible manner as the son of a left party secretary. “I am sure that Kodiyeri was aware of the perception about his sons,” he said. “If he did not do anything to correct them or he failed in doing so, he is also at fault.’’</p> Thu Nov 19 19:06:04 IST 2020 tragedy-of-errors <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>M. Sivasankar was</b> clad in a crumpled blue T-shirt with red and white stripes when he was brought to the Enforcement Directorate office in Kochi on October 29, the same dress he was wearing when he was arrested from a hospital in Thiruvananthapuram the previous day. Looking dishevelled, he was a far cry from the dapper, all powerful principal secretary of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.</p> <p>Sivasankar is currently in the ED’s custody in the gold smuggling case. The agency believes that he intervened to clear the diplomatic baggage containing smuggled gold at the Thiruvananthapuram international airport on behalf of Swapna Suresh, an accused in the smuggling case. Sivasankar had earlier appointed her in a key post in a project under the information technology department, although she did not have the required qualifications. The ED said Sivasankar shared confidential government information pertaining to major projects such as the LIFE Mission project with Suresh, which was used to swing deals.</p> <p>Sivasankar, who joined the state service as a deputy collector, was conferred with IAS in 1995. He was handpicked by Vijayan when he became chief minister in 2016. As the chief minister’s principal secretary, Sivasankar wielded immense power and he ran many of the flagship projects of the government, much to the displeasure of some senior IAS officers. “The IAS power centres never treated him as an equal as he was a ‘conferred one’. So when he got power, he used it to the hilt,” said an officer in the state secretariat.</p> <p>A retired revenue secretary said Sivasankar was a very able officer who left his mark in all posts he held. “I have worked very closely with him and I have never sensed any issues,” he said.</p> <p>Even opposition politicians do not question Sivasankar’s efficiency. “The Sivasankar I know is a brilliant officer. He was a man of action and was good at clearing bottlenecks,” said P.K. Abdu Rabb, who was education minister in the previous United Democratic Front government. Former electricity minister Aryadan Muhammed, too, shared a similar opinion.</p> <p>Sivasankar was not a stickler for rules. A retired IAS officer said he ignored procedures and was bothered only about results. And, he loved his drink. “It has been his weakness from the time he joined. He preferred to drink with his junior staff rather than with fellow IAS officers,” said a source.</p> <p>“What is happening with Sivasankar reminds one of Shakespeare’s dramas,” said a former chief secretary. “It is so dramatic and tragic.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Nov 19 19:03:21 IST 2020 sail-or-dive <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When HMS Hercules joined the Indian Navy as INS Vikrant in 1961, India became the first Asian power to have an aircraft carrier. That single carrier was enough for several decades, since no other Asian power wanted to control the Indian Ocean. Today, though, when the Chinese navy is projecting power with two carriers, while building a third and planning for two more, India is finding itself at sea.</p> <p>India’s second carrier—Vikrant, which is the first to be made in India—is getting fitted at Cochin Shipyard; naval engineers have been drawing up designs for a third. But in February, Gen Bipin Rawat poured cold water on their blueprint. As chief of defence staff, whose job is to prioritise military procurement, Rawat questioned the wisdom of having three carriers. Carriers, he said, were expensive and vulnerable to torpedoes. He favoured submarines, citing the Navy’s worries about its dwindling underwater capability. Or, he asked, why not develop shore-based capabilities?</p> <p>Rawat’s idea, apparently, is to build more submarines and develop islands in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea into “unsinkable strategic hubs”. He has left the call to the defence ministry, which he said might review its decision after INS Vikrant becomes operational.</p> <p>The main argument against carriers is indeed their cost. India’s lone carrier in operation, the Russian-made Vikramaditya, cost a whopping 012,500 crore ($2.35 billion). Vikrant is expected to cost 019,590 crore ($2.8 billion). Its sister ship, which naval designers have been working on since 2012 and want to name Vishal, is expected to cost between 075,000 crore and 01.5 lakh crore.</p> <p>Rawat’s comments have triggered a debate on whether carriers are white elephants. “They cost a packet and if hit by one enemy torpedo, all this will sink to the bottom of the sea,” said a Navy officer.</p> <p>Abhijit Bhattacharyya, member of the London-based think tank International Institute of Strategic Studies, said: “Between a submarine and an aircraft carrier, the former is comparatively economical and safer to operate, is difficult to be detected, and does not require an accompanying flotilla of surface vessels.” He added that the visible deterrence provided by a carrier battle group was something a submarine could not achieve.</p> <p>Unlike submarines, carriers operate in battle groups—with destroyers, corvettes and frigates accompanying them—and thus have no stealth element. They are visible, and therefore vulnerable, to ships, aircraft and submarines. Many maritime strategists, too, have been arguing for a submarine-centric force. The debate is as old as the start of the Cold War, when the US acquired carrier after carrier, while the Soviet Union went for fleet after fleet of silent submarines.</p> <p>The trends led to two rival maritime doctrines—of sea control (by American carriers) and sea denial (by Soviet submarines). The rivalry and divergence got reflected in the Indian subcontinent, too. While India went for a carrier as far back as 1961, the Pakistan Navy put a premium on submarines. After the 1970s, however, India acquired submarines, too.</p> <p>The doctrines also evolved out of geopolitcal compulsions. India, like the US, has a long coastline and, therefore, can have bases from where carrier battle groups can operate. Pakistan, like Russia, does not have much of a coastline, and thus cannot have many bases.</p> <p>All the same, most modern navies are seeking to balance both types of assets (carriers and submarines) and doctrines (sea control and sea denial). The oceans now have 41 aircraft carriers that belong to 13 navies. The US operates 11 carriers and 70 submarines. The Russians and the British, having toyed with the idea of making do without carriers for nearly a decade, are coming back with one carrier each. The Royal Navy commissioned the 65,000-tonne HMS Queen Elizabeth and a second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, is in its last leg of completion. Japan, which did not have any since World War II, now has three. Australia, France, Italy and Spain have one each. Even Thailand, which operates a helicopter carrier, HTMS Chakri Naruebet, may soon upgrade it to carry airplanes.</p> <p>The latest argument against carriers is that even if sea control is the preferred doctrine, it can be achieved by developing islands as bases, from where aircraft, surface ships and submarines can patrol thousands of sea miles around. But carrier enthusiasts argue that carriers are essentially tools for projection of power (“100,000 tonnes of diplomacy,” as Henry Kissinger said), which cannot be achieved with shore-, submarine- or island-based platforms. Also, carriers have full-length flight decks capable of carrying, arming, deploying and recovering aircraft. A carrier battle group (CBG) that has destroyers, frigates, corvettes and submarines provides operational flexibility, with an ability to relocate up to 500 nautical miles in 24 hours. It can sanitise more than 200 nautical miles around it at any given time. Its primary missions can switch dramatically from air defence and strikes against surface ships, to strikes on shore targets and hunting submarines. “The US achieved air superiority in the Gulf War with the use of aircraft from carriers,” said a rear admiral.</p> <p>India’s first Vikrant, a 20,000-tonne vessel, played a key role in enforcing the naval blockade of East Pakistan during the 1971 war, and its Hawker Sea Hawk planes struck Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar. Its crew earned two Maha Vir Chakras and 12 Vir Chakras. Vikrant’s successor, Viraat, did not get a chance to bloody itself in combat, but threatened to starve Pakistan with a blockade of the Arabian Sea during the Kargil war.</p> <p>General Rawat’s preference for shore-based facilities over carriers, said former navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash, was like comparing apples and oranges. “Shore-based strike has its own place to support naval operations and the aircraft carrier operating in the middle of the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean has a completely different role to play. To show that shore-based facility is a replacement of aircraft carriers is a complete fallacy,” he said.</p> <p>Naval officers say Rawat, being an Army officer, may not understand the imperatives of maritime strategy. “In an increasingly hostile operational environment, the aircraft carrier is the only platform that provides comprehensive access to littoral spaces, for surveillance and effective sea command,” said an officer.</p> <p>The Navy has been maintaining that it needs at least three carriers to fulfil the increasing demands that are made on it every day. It is now being asked to police not only the Arabian Sea against Pakistan, but also the Bay of Bengal, and virtually the entire Indian Ocean from Malacca Strait to the Persian Gulf against the Chinese and other hostile powers, including pirates, gun-runners and terrorists.</p> <p>While submarines are best for sea denial, carriers control seas and project power. “The carrier sits at the heart of India’s maritime strategy,” said Abhijit Singh, head of maritime policy initiative at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF). “Regardless of the debate surrounding [the new Vikrant], the Navy is unlikely to give up its demand for a third aircraft carrier.”</p> <p>The Navy says the cost argument is fallacious. The 65,000-tonne Vikrant, it said, will finally cost about 049,000 crore (without the aircraft), but the money has been spent over 15 years. Moreover, as the ship is expected to serve around 45 years (twice the life of any other warship), “the cost is peanuts”, said the officer.</p> <p>Vishal is expected to cost $7 billion to build, and the fighter jets, helicopters and reconnaissance aircraft will cost another $5-8 billion. Anticipating the high-cost objection, the Navy has already scaled down the number of fighters from 57 to 36.</p> <p>While India is caught in the desirability debate, China is seeking to permanently position three or four warships and submarines, including a nuclear one, in the Indian Ocean. “It is only a matter of time that this task force is replaced with a CBG,” said an officer. “By 2028, there could even be two Chinese CBGs floating around.”</p> <p>Said Admiral Prakash: “If China decides to send three aircraft carriers into the Indian Ocean, then no amount of submarines, destroyers or frigates can tackle it. Aircraft carriers are the only answer to such a situation.”</p> <p>The Navy also points out that building a carrier is in tune with the government’s Make in India policy. Today, only a handful nations—the US, Russia, Britain and France—can design and build heavy (40,000-plus tonnes) carriers; India is one of them. “A carrier-building project generates a lot of industrial skills and jobs, especially in the micro, small and medium enterprises sector,” said an officer in the Navy’s design bureau. The money spent, said the officer, will be mostly ploughed back into the country.</p> <p>Dr Harsh Pant, research fellow at ORF, said carriers should be prioritised over other capabilities. “It would boil down to an assessment of threat perceptions,” he said, “and what capabilities are best suited to manage them in the short to<br> medium term.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest argument against carriers is that even if sea control is the preferred doctrine, it can be achieved by developing islands as bases, from where aircraft, surface ships and submarines can patrol thousands of sea miles around.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Fri Nov 13 12:32:10 IST 2020 vote-of-no-thanks <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WITH JUST MONTHS</b> left for the assembly elections, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee stares at the possibility of losing a community she claims to have nurtured well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the forefront of the possible political realignment stands Furfura Sharif of Hooghly, a powerful Muslim shrine that had swung the community’s vote into Banerjee’s kitty in 2011.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Muslims in Bengal, who form close to 30 per cent of the population, largely follow either of two religious institutions—the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (which conforms to the Deobandi ideology) and Furfura Sharif.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While followers of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind are found mostly in Kolkata, Howrah, a small part of North 24 Parganas and the two Dinajpur districts in north Bengal, Furfura Sharif holds sway in south Bengal—in districts such as Hooghly, Burdwan, Murshidabad and North and South 24 Parganas—which account for 120 of the 294 assembly seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The followers of Furfura Sharif vastly outnumber those influenced by the Jamiat, whose leader in Bengal, Siddiqullah Chowdhury, is a minister in Banerjee’s cabinet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The strongest challenge to Banerjee comes from Abbas Siddiqui, a pirzada (religious leader) from Furfura Sharif, who has been holding congregations in remote villages of south Bengal and bashing her for not doing enough to uplift the community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddiqui first saw red when eight Trinamool Congress Lok Sabha members were absent during the voting on the Citizenship Amendment Bill last year. He had asked then why the chief minister had sent “such girls to Parliament who are useless?”He was referring to two of the MPs who were actors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddiqui, in his early forties, has been in touch with the Election Commission and hopes to launch a party in December. But even before that, he had put forward the idea of an alliance with Banerjee, asking for 44 seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) had also offered support in exchange for 50 seats. Said party state in-charge Syed Zameerul Hasan: “Ninety-four seats (AIMIM plus Siddiqui’s party) are nothing compared with the anti-incumbency she is facing. If she agrees, she can get the complete Muslim vote and defeat the BJP.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The negotiations are on, but Banerjee is apparently reluctant to share. “She wants all the power,” said Hasan. “Let the Bihar elections end. We will then have a final word with the TMC. Our party president will then decide the final course of action. Banerjee is not trustworthy.” While the Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM has not started its public campaign, it has been quietly contacting Muslims in the state for a year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddiqui, however, has not been so subtle. His congregations are openly political. In the past six months, he has conducted more than 40 rallies in North and South 24 Parganas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I do not need her (Banerjee),” he said. “I have told her that if she wants to keep the BJP at bay, she must come to an understanding with my party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Traditionally, Furfura Sharif leaders had been close to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) after independence. The shift happened because of the Sachar committee reports of 2006, which painted a bleak picture for Muslims in Bengal. The leaders then sided with Banerjee in the next elections in the hope of a better future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddiqui and his followers, however, believe that she has not done nearly enough. “For the past 10 years, the chief minister has done nothing good, not only for the Muslims, but also the poor dalits and adivasis,” said Siddiqui. “In fact, we are worse than before.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Muhammad Yahya, chairman of the Bengal Imams’ Association, agreed that there had been “hardly any change” in the past decade, but added, “At this moment, I doubt the efficacy of any political outfit emerging for Muslims as we face other threats. It is difficult to become successful.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That Siddiqui was a threat to Banerjee became evident when Trinamool workers reportedly attacked his congregation in Bhangar (South 24 Parganas) last month. “Yes, he speaks on politics in his religious meetings, and there can be arguments made against it,” said Mosharaf Hossain, a social activist in Bhangar. “But, no one should forget that he is our religious guru. People have not taken the attack on him lightly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In that light, Siddiqui told THE WEEK that if he did not reach an understanding with Banerjee, the chances of which seem high, he would put up candidates in most Muslim-majority constituencies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“You call her a Muslim lover,” he said. “But the way she tortured my Muslim workers and throttled democracy in Bengal is beyond imagination. I do not think after this [attack] there would be any chance of an alliance.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What about an alliance with Owaisi? “I have respect for him,” said Siddiqui. “But a decision on an alliance will be taken after I consult my party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not all in Furfura Sharif are happy with Siddiqui’s moves. “What he is doing is will help the BJP,” said his uncle, Toha Siddiqui. “How could he do that? We are totally frustrated.” He said that while some people do understand that Siddiqui might split the Muslim vote and help the BJP, a majority of Muslims in the rural belt still support him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Perhaps,” said Hossain, “they are more concerned about the corruption during Cyclone Amphan, handling of the pandemic and lack of development than the emergence of the BJP.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources said Siddiqui would string together an alliance with the AIMIM, various adivasi organisations in Bengal, particularly in Burdwan, Birbhum and North and South 24 Parganas. The AIMIM would field its candidates in the northern districts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In pre-independence India, the Muslim League had successfully brought together Muslims and downtrodden Hindu castes. “Those times were different” said Yahya. “Today is sharply different from those times—politically, historically and geographically.” He added that the dalits of today might not respond to the call for an alliance with Muslims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Mohammed Salim said that, for any talks to take place, Siddiqui would first have to assure them that he would not ally with either the Trinamool or the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the Trinamool currently controls the Muslim vote, a dip of even 5 to 10 per cent in the community’s support would land Banerjee in trouble. And she knows that. A few months ago, Banerjee started giving stipends to Hindu priests and doles to Durga Puja committees. She had earlier given money to Muslim clerics, but this was routed through the state waqf board.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“How can she give money from the government exchequer to Hindu priests or any other religious heads?” said Siddiqui. “Our Imam did not beg her. They are getting their rights from waqf properties.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddiqui has a clear agenda for Bengal. He will campaign for a liquor ban, death sentence for rapists and the handing over of Muslim and adivasi properties to the communities. “Muslims are not even recruited in government madrassas in Bengal,”said Siddiqui. “For long, [Banerjee] has been hitting us with the fear of the BJP. Those days have ended.”</p> Fri Nov 06 18:55:04 IST 2020 muslims-have-no-reason-to-desert-mamata <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/How do you see the current political situation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/All opposition parties are afraid today; we discussed this in our (recent Jamiat) central committee meeting in Delhi. If the Bihar elections give the BJP a major blow, we will be a bit relieved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What about in West Bengal?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/It cannot be different. Look at Murshidabad. The NIA has found Al Qaeda terrorists there. What could be more laughable?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Why do you say that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Bengal cannot have insurgency. I could have imagined [such a situation] in Kashmir, where there is ground for insurgency. Why should Muslims in Bengal wage war against their own country?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/But the NIA says there is evidence.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The only evidence is that the boys used to read books of Zakir Naik. Is reading a crime? They used to read the books and they used to converse over the phone about the good and bad [aspects] of that preacher.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Then why would the Central agency charge them?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Remember that [Home Minister] Amit Shah has not ruled out imposing president’s rule in Bengal. So it could be part of a larger game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/People feel the Muslim vote is going away from your party.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/If you are talking about Furfura Sharif, I can say that the situation is very unfortunate. The holy community is divided today. Old people are still leftists today. Another emerging section is blackmailing Mamata Banerjee to get power. The last section [consists of] opportunists and bribe takers. But, by and large, the followers are extremely secular and intelligent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Have you considered the effect of Asaduddin Owaisi and his party on Bengal?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Owaisi saab and his brother talk big and nothing else. He does not have a cadre base in India to convert his appeal into poll success. He is not a factor in Bengal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Will the Muslims remain with Banerjee in the upcoming elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/There would be some decline as there is an increase in the number of bribe-takers and blackmailers. But, overall, the Muslim has no reason to desert Mamata Banerjee.</p> Sat Nov 07 14:17:00 IST 2020 labour-pains <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>T</b>he Mahua assembly constituency in the fertile Gangetic plains, about 50km north of Patna, may well be representative of the intricate Bihar politics, which is always in churn. Dr Ashma Parveen, a local gynaecologist, is the candidate of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United). She is also the daughter of Mohammed Ilyas Hussain, a key aide of former chief minister Lalu Prasad. Hussain is serving a five-year sentence in the 22-year-old bitumen scam case, which took place when Lalu was chief minister. Parveen's candidature forced Lalu's eldest son, Tej Pratap, the sitting MLA of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, to move to Hasanpur in the neighbouring district, out of fear over a split in minority votes.</p> <p>On October 26, Nitish Kumar flew down in his AgustaWestland helicopter to campaign for Parveen. Kumar was met with a crowd not as enthusiastic as he would have liked. With several empty chairs staring at him, he highlighted the work done in the past 15 years—roads, education, empowering women, improving law and order. “The younger generation should take notice of our work,” he said. “Some people only believe in publicity. I believe in work.” The crowd mostly remained silent, but cheered when he promised solar street lights for every village in his “next term”.</p> <p>Some 100km away, Nitish’s main challenger is drawing bigger crowds and louder cheers. Tejashwi Yadav, Lalu’s younger son, is on the rise. “If I become the chief minister, with the first order I will sanction 10 lakh jobs,” he told a rapturous crowd. “There is 46.6 per cent unemployment in Bihar. For education you have to go out, for employment you have to go out and for health treatment you have to go out.”</p> <p>Tejashwi’s promise of 10 lakh jobs has become a talking point in Bihar. People are not paying much attention to Nitish’s questions on the economics of implementing such a massive project. The JD(U)’s ally BJP, however, reacted to it with a promise of creating 19 lakh employment opportunities.</p> <p>In all his meetings, Tejashwi raises his hand and moves it in a circular motion. “It signifies change,” he would explain. The crowds respond to it doing the same. And, from a formidable advantage for the BJP-JDU alliance, the situation on the ground has started changing. Tejashwi let go of two allies—Jitan Ram Manjhi and Upendra Kushwaha—to accommodate the left parties in his Grand Alliance.</p> <p>“The state certainly needs jobs, and better education opportunities,” said 21-year-old Kumar Vikram of Patna. “We hear a lot that things have changed as compared with the Bihar of the past, but it is when we travel outside that we realise that the state is still missing so much. Everyone wants things to happen quickly. While Tejashwi is saying a lot of things, we also need stability as Modi promises.”</p> <p>Nitish still remains the most recognisable leader in the state, but his party’s campaign has been more subdued than that of the BJP and the RJD. The 69-year-old socialist, known for sticking to propriety and sobriety in public life, was instantly noticed when he lost his cool on more occasions than one when some people interrupted his speech.</p> <p>As Nitish sticks to his speeches delivered with the sagacity of a veteran leader, the people, especially the aspirational youth, are impatient after months of lockdown, reverse migration, lack of employment and recurring floods. So, anyone promising them a change beyond the <i>bijli-pani-sadak</i> narrative is drawing the crowd, be it Narendra Modi or Tejashwi Yadav, or even late entrant Chirag Paswan. While unemployment has become an issue in the elections, Nitish Kumar does not appear to be convincingly addressing it, as he often skips mentions of Covid and migration.</p> <p>Sanjay Jha, minister and a close aide of Nitish, said all the opinion polls had predicted NDA’s victory. “Nitish Kumar has worked for 15 years,” he said. The glum faces at the party's Veerchand Patel Marg office, however, tell a different story. “There is a concern that the CM is not getting as much response as expected,” said an insider. The party is also worried about the strong anti-incumbency factor.</p> <p>The undercurrent for change has nudged the other parties to nuance their campaigns. The BJP is relying heavily on Modi's appeal. Its publicity materials have only Modi's pictures; Modi's cut-outs are used in all rallies attended by Nitish.</p> <p>In a slight change from the last time, the BJP's Bihar campaign is not as micro-managed by the centre leadership. Home Minister Amit Shah is yet to address a rally. Party chief J.P. Nadda, who had spent 20 years in Bihar as he grew up here, brings a local familiarity. The BJP is relying heavily on caste combinations. It has set up seven-member panels at booth level with representation from all castes. The saffron party seems to have realised that the message of development alone will not do. “The state has made up its mind,” said Nityanand Rai, Union minister of state for home. “It will elect an NDA government.”</p> <p>The BJP's campaign suffered a setback when several of its leaders, including Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, election in-charge and former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, and former Union ministers Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, tested positive for Covid. The party is banking heavily on 12 Modi rallies that would be telecast live in 300 locations simultaneously. Nitish Kumar on an average addresses half a dozen rallies a day, and Tejashwi around 12, criss-crossing the state on choppers.</p> <p>Chirag Paswan’s bold gamble to go alone in the state has attracted much attention. Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party’s move to support the BJP and oppose the JD(U) has played into the minds of the people drawing a distinction between the two allies. He is relying on his late father's appeal along with the understanding that he has the tacit support of the BJP. His road shows are drawing eyeballs as he has upped his attack on Nitish to the point of demanding the chief minister’s arrest. "The response is unprecedented, which I have never witnessed in the assembly elections,” he said. “The same enthusiasm was there for Modiji during the 2014 elections. See how the youth are excited in my rallies. This gives me hope that this CM will not continue.”</p> <p>The JD(U) sees Chirag’s moves as nothing more than an election stunt. “Every individual wants to have his political importance and his say in the election time. Chirag Paswan is also doing the same,” said Ashok Choudhury, minister for building construction and JD(U) working president. “He wanted something in the NDA as he didn’t get it. Will people take him seriously, and harm Nitish Kumar? The million-dollar question is, will he get political space? Nine months ago, he desperately wanted Nitish Kumar to campaign for him. What happened now? People understand all this.”</p> <p>Chirag has given tickets to some former BJP leaders—Rameshwar Chaurasia, Usha Vidyarthi and Rajendra Singh, among others. Veteran RSS worker Singh was even considered for the post of the chief minister in 2015. Chaurasia was co-in-charge of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh when Amit Shah was there, and Modi contested the elections twice. It has left many BJP voters confused, and no amount of assurance from the party has dispelled that.</p> <p>“It is apparent that the BJP is orchestrating the whole drama between the LJP and JD(U),” said Shefali Roy, head of the department of political science, Patna University. “It is likely to be a hung assembly. The people are not against the BJP, especially the upper castes, but they are against Nitish Kumar.”</p> <p>Nitish is pinning his hopes on women voters, extremely backward castes, mahadalits and the Kurmi-Keori castes. “I was attracted to Nitish Kumar's party because of his decision of prohibition. It changed the lives of people, especially women. No ordinary person can take such a step,” said Parveen, the Mahua candidate.</p> <p>Prohibition, however, has repeatedly been under attack from the opposition parties who accuse that a liquor mafia is thriving in the state. The Congress has promised that it would review the law. Fighting for its survival in the state, the party is contesting in 70 seats and the campaign is being managed by the central leaders. Rahul Gandhi has been addressing several rallies, targeting both Nitish and Modi.</p> <p>It took almost a month for the campaign in Bihar to warm up. It is likely to reach feverish pitch in the days to come. A lot can change between then and now.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 29 16:17:46 IST 2020 nitish-and-I-were-never-on-the-same-page <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Q/<b>You are in a hectic campaign just after a grave personal loss. How are you coping?</b></p> <p>A/Papa (Ram Vilas Paswan) gave me the strength to cope. It happened at a time when my party and I were going through a crucial phase. When I needed him the most, he was not around. But he prepared me, and continues to give me strength. He taught me to never compromise with ideology. Every night I speak to him, I sit in front of him (his picture), and every morning I gather myself to face the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Did he want you to walk out of the NDA alliance?</b></p> <p>A/He used to instigate me, saying, ‘I contested independently [in 2005]; what is stopping you? You are young, intelligent and brave enough to face the consequences.’ He drafted the whole idea. We sat and discussed the ‘Bihar First, Bihari First’ vision document. He was in hospital, but even then we discussed it threadbare.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>But still, why walk out of an alliance that would have benefited you?</b></p> <p>A/If I was to choose an easy way, I would have stayed. [When] I was part of it, the alliance was strong, but I cannot say that now after the LJP has left. Had we stayed, our strike rate would have been as good as [it was in the 2019] Lok Sabha elections (the party had won all six seats it contested). Our representation in the government would have been decent. But it was me who opted for a different path, a path of struggle. Even [Home Minister] Amit Shah ji said it was Chirag’s decision to go out of the alliance. I could not go ahead with a chief minister (Nitish Kumar) whose vision of development was against mine. He divided our state [along caste lines with] mahadalits and the extremely backward [castes], so I cannot associate with his kind of politics. At the national level, people are talking about jobs and metros, but in our state we are still talking about nalli-galli (building drains and streets).</p> <p>We were never on the same page. Even my tag line says that my fight is not to rule Bihar, but to take pride in the state and our identity. That is why I have added ‘Yuva Bihari’ to my social media account names.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>You accused Nitish Kumar of humiliating your father.</b></p> <p>A/Nitish Kumar said he (Ram Vilas Paswan) could not have become a Rajya Sabha member with just two MLAs, so he needed support. He was talking about my father who had won Lok Sabha elections nine times, and has his name in the Guinness book of [world] records for the highest winning margin (1977 Lok Sabha elections).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>What is your campaign message, and what has been the response?</b></p> <p>A/I have never witnessed [such a response] in assembly elections. The same enthusiasm was there for Modi ji during the 2014 elections. See how the youth are excited at my rallies. This gives me hope that the chief minister will not continue. I hope that it will be a BJP-LJP government in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Are you trying to steer your party away from its distinct dalit image?</b></p> <p>A/It is not a deliberate attempt. By nature, I do not believe in caste politics. I do not think you can make someone [part of] a vote bank by giving them freebies; you [have to] target the root cause, which can then bring change. The chief minister says a dalit can get a government job only if a murder happens (the state government recently said that it would give jobs to the next of kin of any SC/ST person killed in Bihar). What kind of thought process is that? I repeatedly say that there is only one caste, and that is poverty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>What do you prefer, state or national politics?</b></p> <p>A/The reason I am in politics is my state. I [have lived and worked in] Delhi and Mumbai, [and] that is where I saw how Biharis were treated and humiliated. That was the time I thought that I needed to go back to my state and fight for it. Here, people are treated based on their castes, but when they go out, they are treated as Biharis, [regardless] of their caste. I use the word Bihari deliberately, so that people take pride in it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Will these elections be a referendum on the state or Central government?</b></p> <p>A/Definitely on the state government. I do not remember if the chief minister ever travelled by road to meet people. He lands in a helicopter, goes to the stage, and says whatever he wants to without hearing [the people]. Even if there is anger in people, you do not give back anger; you listen to them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>You have taken a gamble. What if the results go against you?</b></p> <p>A/I am going to take responsibility for anything that happens, good or bad. It happened in 2014 also, when I supported Modi ji. At the time, no one knew that the NDA was going to come to power. I would not use the term gamble, but I have taken a bold step.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>What are your views on Tejashwi Yadav? Can there be a meeting of the minds now, or in future?</b></p> <p>A/There is not an iota of possibility of any post-poll alliance. Look at the history of our party since 2000. In all elections, there have been pre-poll alliances, never post-poll. From my side, it is a pre-poll alliance [with the BJP].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>The BJP says Nitish Kumar will be chief minister. If that alliance falls short, will you support it?</b></p> <p>A/We will cross that bridge when we come to it. I do not think [Nitish’s] party will get sufficient numbers [for him to] be made chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Some see you and your party as BJP’s plan B.</b></p> <p>A/This is definitely my plan. I am targeting the chief minister; he has not delivered. He says Bihar cannot have industry as it is landlocked. So are states like Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. He lacks vision. He never drafted a single-window policy for investors or had an investors’ summit. There should be land reforms to set up industry. This is my plan and I am supporting the BJP and Prime Minister Modi, as he has the vision.</p> Thu Oct 29 18:32:30 IST 2020 the-nda-is-contesting-on-all-seats-together <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <b>You promised jobs and vaccine in your manifesto. What is the feedback are you getting from the people?</b><br> <br> The people of Bihar have made up their mind. They have decided that they will elect the NDA government in the state. The people want to give Nitish Kumar the post of the chief minister again. The NDA will form the government.<br> <br> <b>The feedback we are getting is while people may be supporting the BJP, there seems to be anti-incumbency against the chief minister.</b><br> <br> There is nothing like this. All seats are of the NDA. NDA is contesting on all seats together, and they will win. The NDA will repeat the performance of 2010. People of the state are aligned with the name and work of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He is the epitome of development. Bihar and its CM Nitish Kumar have worked in tandem to bring about development. Bihar has been put on the road to progress. People of the state like development, and are not likely to be misled.<br> <br> <br> <b>The NDA is facing stiff competition from the RJD-led grand alliance. How do you view them? </b><br> <br> That alliance is one of dejected people. They do not believe in the development of the state or its progress. They, instead, aim to create tensions, create fear, and they mislead. They do not believe in safety or maintenance of law and order in the state. Their alliance based on false foundations. &nbsp;<br> <br> <b>During these elections NDA leaders are comparing the 15 years of NDA rule with 15 years of Lalu Prasad Yadav rule. Does that have resonance, as now we have a generation which may not have seen that rule?</b><br> <br> Please remember what happened during those years. The fifteen years (of Lalu Prasad Yadav) saw the collapse of all institutions and processes. There was no law and order. People started migrating. Unemployment increased rapidly, there was no electricity or roads, there were no schools or hospitals. People of the state had witnessed destruction. So, only when Nitish Kumar became CM that things started changing. Then we had development. And when Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government came in power it followed a path of progress. Then the state joined hands with Modi's work. Hospitals were improved, so were schools. Both governments worked with each other; law and order were restored.<br> <br> On the other hand, when they (RJD) had their 15 years of rule, they were not concerned with law and order, education, health or development. They were not concerned with progress. But things changed with Nitish Kumar. The Nitish Kumar government was for the development of the state, but that government was for the development of a family. &nbsp;<br> <br> <br> <b>Do article 370 and CAA have resonance in the state?</b><br> <br> BJP's resolve includes development, employment, development with self-respect and justice. Article 370 or other national issues have an emotional connect with the people. The people of the state are connected to them by themselves. When Article 370 was removed, people of Bihar accepted it as they were already aware of its implications. They knew that it was not good for the unity and security of the country. It was necessary to remove it to curb terrorism. This article was a hindrance in the development of Kashmir. It is on way to development. &nbsp; Thu Oct 29 16:04:28 IST 2020 the-bjp-is-in-three-alliances <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>What is the sense you get from people as you go for the election campaign?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The yearning for change is apparent, and is the writing on the wall. The people of Bihar are tired of the tried, tested, tired and retired leadership of Nitish Kumar and Sushil Modi. They want change to happen so that Bihar’s aspirations can be fulfilled. The corrupt administration of Nitish Kumar, the absolute malgovernance, no semblance of delivery has tired the people of the state, particularly the young. The government has failed, that's why the grand alliance of RJD, Congress and the Left parties is the only acceptable alliance on the ground.</p> <p><br> <br> </p> <p><b>NDA leaders are turning this election campaign into their 15 years’ of rule&nbsp; versus that of the RJD. What is your reaction?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This argument is per say obnoxious. Once in 2015, a government was elected and the democracy was hijacked in broad daylight. The BJP, after having been rejected by the people, usurped power through the back door. Nitish Kumar attained power immorally by compromising on scams like the Srijan scam. This is a government founded on corruption and back door entry by demolishing the democractic mandate. You will be tested on five years of delivery. So, when they don't want to be judged for the last five years or the five years before that, they bring in comparison. So, the 15 years argument is perverse and obnoxious. People want to know what you have delivered. The BJP's module is fear, while the grand alliance's module is fulfilling aspirations and development. The grand alliance is founded on aspirations, new ideas and freshness for building a new Bihar. That's the primary comparison between the two and tells the story of who has people's support. This is apparent from the crowd which both Tejashwi Yadav and Rahul Gandhi are drawing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You mentioned aspirations of the people. Are these elections also a fight between the old and the young?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bihar has moved from the confines of fear and division on which the BJP and the JDU have thrived and survived. People are tired of the same repetitive ideas that do not see any fructification, despite years and years of promise. Nitish Kumar is losing his cool, rebuking the young who are asking for jobs. His response was “do not vote for me”. This is not the calm and cool-headed Nitish Kumar that people knew. This Nitish Kumar is tired and waiting to be retired.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are these elections a referendum on PM Modi or Nitish Kumar?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These elections are being fought on Bihar issues. The BJP is trying to put other issues in this basket as they have nothing to answer about 15 years of their rule. That's why the BJP will bring samshaan and kabristan, Hindu and Muslim, and all such divisive politics into play. But like Arjuna, our eye is on the target—the grand alliance's eye. Rahul and Tejashwi's eyes are centred on the eye of the fish, which is building a new aspirational Bihar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What does these elections mean for the Congress? Can the party consolidate its base here?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wherever politics of caste and religion became prominent, the Congress lost the centred space in that states’ politics. People are now tired of the same old story. We are now projecting a story of aspirations that cuts across religions, caste, regions and individuals. This alliance is founded on one thing—an aspirational, developing Bihar, and putting it in the forward league based on the insurmountably talented human resource the state has. If Biharis can run Bengaluru or Gurgaon or Mumbai or Kolkata or Hyderabad, then why can't they do the same in Bihar? The only people responsible for it are Nitish Kumar and Sushil Modi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you make of Chirag Paswan's stance on JDU and BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three things are clear. BJP's concerted conspiracy will throw JDU into the dustbin on November 5 (final phase of polling) after the last vote is polled. For the BJP, Nitish Kumar's utility is gone and their purpose is to dump him. They will dump him even before the counting. The BJP is trying to mislead the people with three alliances. First is BJP-JDU, second is BJP-LJP, and the third is BJP and (AIMIM chief Assadudin) Owaisi. Otherwise, what explains the 40 BJP candidates who are fighting on LJP’s ticket against the JDU? Why doesn’t the PM throw out Chirag Paswan from the NDA or the BJP pull up Chirag from using Modi's pictures?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, Owaisi is a BJP agent. He goes everywhere. Owaisi and the RSS are the two sides of the same coin. Owaisi adopts the Modi brand by polarising people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>After RJD promised 10 lakh jobs, the BJP came up with the 19-lakh promise. Is this the main election issue?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The RJD and Congress have promised 10 lakh jobs. The chief minister said these jobs cannot be given. Then Sushil Modi issued a press release saying not even five lakhs can be given. But, within 24 hours the BJP came up with 19 lakhs. How can they promise that when the CM and the deputy CM questioned it? Why has the BJP not given these jobs during the 15 years of their misrule?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our alliance said five lakh jobs are lying vacant. We will make Patna an IT hub, we will unleash Bihar's potential.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the Congress’s promises?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have promised to waive loans for farmers, like we have done in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Small farmers will be given Rs 6,000 in cash; electricity bills will be reduced to half.</p> Thu Oct 29 18:33:17 IST 2020 tight-embrace <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Hours before</b> attending the 2+2 dialogue with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark T. Esper visited the National War Memorial in New Delhi to pay tribute to India’s fallen heroes. “We visited the National War Memorial to honour the brave men and women of the Indian armed forces who sacrificed for the world’s largest democracy, including the 20 soldiers killed by the PLA in the Galwan valley,” said Pompeo, while issuing a joint statement after the dialogue at the iconic Hyderabad House.</p> <p>He said the Chinese Communist Party was no friend of democracy, rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation and a free and prosperous Indo-Pacific. “I am glad to say India and the US are taking all steps to strengthen cooperation against all threats and not just those posed by the CCP,” said Pompeo.</p> <p>During the ongoing Sino-Indian military standoff, the US has stood firmly with India. The political and military leaderships of the two countries are in constant touch, sharing information on the movement of Chinese troops and weapons along the Line of Actual Control.</p> <p>The US votes on November 3 to elect a new president, but military strategists believe that the results will not affect its growing defence ties with India. It is evident from the signing of BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement), the last of the four foundational military agreements, barely a week before the elections. Under the agreement, India gets access to advanced satellite imagery and topographical and aeronautical data in real time to guide its missiles and armed drones to their targets.</p> <p>The Manmohan Singh government was opposed to the foundational agreements, and had cited national security concerns. But the Narendra Modi government signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) for reciprocal logistical support in 2016, the Communications Compatibility and Security Arrangement (COMCASA) for greater access to niche military technology in 2018 and the Industrial Security Annex to the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) to allow private Indian companies to have partnerships with American firms in 2019. The GSOMIA was signed by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2002.</p> <p>“The relationship will continue to deepen regardless of the outcome of the presidential elections because of the common interests with respect to China and Russia’s growing bonding with Pakistan,” said Benjamin Schwartz, senior director for defence and aerospace at the Washington-based US-India Business Council.</p> <p>Although India is carefully balancing its growing defence ties with the US by continuing to purchase weapon systems from countries like Russia and France, the US now tops the list of its defence suppliers. From minor deals worth just $200 million in 2000 to a sprawling partnership worth $20 billion in 2020, the US has supplanted Russia as India’s predominant defence partner.</p> <p>Strategic analysts believe that bilateral ties have reached the point of significant strategic convergence. It is evident from the strong pro-India position adopted by Washington during the Sino-Indian standoff and the decision to send the nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Ronald Reagan to the Indian Ocean through the Strait of Malacca.</p> <p>Harsh V. Pant, who heads the strategic studies programme at the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, said that while Donald Trump or Joe Biden might have tactical issues to deal with initially, the strategic contours of the India-US relationship were quite well placed. “The challenge from China is so big and the realisation in America across the political spectrum is that China has to be managed robustly and profoundly. So, India-US relations will continue on the same trajectory,” said Pant. He said personalities tended to be peripheral when it came to India-US relations. For instance, Barack Obama came to the White House with a standard set of narratives about India on issues ranging from non-proliferation to Kashmir. But by the time he left office, Obama had turned into one of India’s greatest friends. “Similarly, Trump came to office after a campaign in which India and China were constant targets. And yet after four years, India has become America’s closest ally,” said Pant.</p> <p>The Obama administration gave India the designation of Major Defence Partner and the Trump administration further expanded the trajectory of defence cooperation. It renamed the US military’s Pacific Command as Indo-Pacific Command in a symbolic nod to India’s growing importance. The partnership is not without its share of disagreements. The US lobbied hard against New Delhi’s decision to deepen cooperation with Russia by buying the S-400 Triumf missile system worth $5.4 billion and leasing more Akula class nuclear-powered attack submarines. India, however, ignored American objections and went ahead with both deals.</p> <p>The disagreement did not affect the American decision to sell its Integrated Air Defence Weapon System for $1.9 billion. The system, which is capable of tracking and shooting down multiple aerial threats, is expected to expand India’s existing air defence architecture and neutralise threats posed by air attacks. The Trump administration has also approved the sale of MQ-9 Reaper drones to bolster India’s role as a net provider of security in the Indo-Pacific.</p> <p>The Indian Navy, which operates 12 P-8I aircraft to protect the country’s vast coastline and territorial waters, plans to acquire 10 more such aircraft from the US to enhance anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence gathering, maritime patrolling, and surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The Navy is also looking at a $2.6 billion deal for 24 MH 60 Romeo helicopters to replenish its ageing anti-submarine and multirole choppers. The Army has taken delivery of six Apache helicopters and the Air Force 22 helicopters, which are being used extensively in the Ladakh sector.</p> <p>India and the US have expanded the scope of bilateral and multilateral war games to improve cooperation and enhance interoperability. Both militaries participated in five major war games and executed more than 50 other military exchanges in the past year. The first ever tri-service exercise between the two countries named Tiger Triumph took place in the Bay of Bengal in November 2019. It saw the participation of 1,200 Indian troops and 500 US troops. Joint exercises like Malabar, Vajra Prahar and Yudh Abhyas demonstrate the growing operational cooperation between the two sides. And in what is seen as a response to the continuing Chinese aggression along the LAC, this year’s Malabar exercise will see the participation of Australia, along with regular partners India, Japan and the US.</p> <p>Frank O’Donnell, non-resident fellow at the Washington-based Stimson Center, said the US-India strategic relationship is one of the very few issues left in Washington that enjoyed genuine bipartisan support. “I doubt that a Biden administration would be any different from the Trump administration in terms of US military sales to India. A new administration, with new energy to it, may make a new push for the F-21 offer to India,” he said, referring to Lockheed’s multirole aircraft. “But the new administration will face the same limitations regarding what the US is willing to offer to India. So there will be no F-35s or naval nuclear reactor technological cooperation.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 29 14:34:33 IST 2020 too-many-cooks <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE ‘OM’ TATTOO</b> on her right hand, the black thread around the left ankle and a thousand dreams were burnt in the pyre of injustice on September 29. Three investigating agencies—the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Enforcement Directorate and the Uttar Pradesh police—are busy recreating the crime scene, collecting evidence and unravelling conspiracies hatched before and after the death of the 19-year-old dalit woman from Hathras village in Uttar Pradesh. She was brutally assaulted and allegedly gangraped by four men in millet fields on September 14. She was in a hospital bed with a broken back for two weeks. And her dead body was burnt into ashes by the police allegedly without the consent of her family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What has played out in the past month was a political carnival of upper caste mobilisation in favour of the accused, dalit politics by mainstream parties, a frenzied media in the middle, and a state government smelling an international conspiracy behind everything. And what has taken a backseat is any effort to give justice to the victim.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While all three investigating agencies believe that the issue is&nbsp;linked to attempts to disturb law and order in the state, create social unrest and discredit the Yogi Adityanath government, the horrific crime that led to the death of the woman continues to be a mystery. The UP police are investigating a larger conspiracy allegedly hatched by some radical outfits to instigate caste and communal riots. More than a dozen sections of the Indian Penal Code have been invoked to investigate sedition, unlawful gratification, criminal conspiracy, illegal inducements and spreading false and defamatory news against some of the accused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ED is looking into allegations that radical groups had received international funding to create unrest; these groups were already under the radar of the agency for allegedly funding the nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act earlier this year. “The social media engineering in the Hathras case is under investigation, and we have found links with radical outfits which were collecting funds and asking protestors to gather at various locations,” said an ED investigator. The ED is said to have recovered digital evidence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Computer Emergency Response Team of India (CERT-In) has also been roped in to analyse the traffic on a website that was allegedly using the Hathras case “to collect money and stir social unrest”. Investigators said the website had earlier used the Black Lives Matter movement and Delhi riots to raise money, which was diverted to “antinational activities”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On October 11, the CBI joined the bandwagon to probe the original case of the rape and murder. While none of these agencies has an answer yet, what seems to have passed hands is the responsibility to deliver justice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Department of Forensic Medicine at the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College in Aligarh, where the woman was treated first, had told the police in a report on October 3 that there were no signs of rape, but there was evidence of physical assault with injuries on the neck and the back. Another report—by the Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology at the Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi, where the victim was shifted to before her death on September 29—said that there were scabbed abrasions on her neck, and bruising and fracture of cervical vertebra. Other samples and viscera were handed over to the investigating officer of the UP Police for chemical analysis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now that the case has been transferred to the CBI, the forensic and post mortem reports, hospital records, material and electronic evidence and samples collected for chemical analysis are the case property of the central agency. Teams of both the CBI and the ED have landed in Hathras.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CBI is armed with the stringent anti-rape law drafted in 2013 after the gangrape of a woman in a moving bus in Delhi a year earlier. After the NDA government came into power in 2014, the home ministry carved out a separate women safety division, started distributing Sexual Assault Evidence Collection (SAEC) kits for collecting fingerprints and blood samples, set up a national database on sexual offenders and created an online portal called Investigation Tracking System for Sexual Offenders to monitor individual cases. A Directorate of Forensic Science Services was also created for collection, preservation and transportation of forensic evidence in sexual assault cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prashant Kumar, additional commissioner of police (law and order) in Uttar Pradesh, said the SAEC kits and the electronic databases were available to his force. But a home ministry official admitted that there was still less focus on forensics and more on statements of accused and victims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The laws are adequate; the police have the infrastructure. But when governments want to suppress truth, it becomes difficult to get to the bottom of the case and the investigations go bust,” said K.T.S. Tulsi, senior advocate in the Supreme Court. Now that the Hathras case has been transferred to the CBI, he is hopeful of a free and fair investigation. “I hope the witnesses will have the courage to speak truth,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At times, judicial scrutiny also keeps police investigations on track. The Supreme Court on January 7 directed that a statement, when being offered as a dying declaration and satisfies all the requirements of judicial scrutiny, cannot be discarded merely because it has not been recorded by a magistrate or that the police officer did not obtain attestation by any person present at the time of making the statement. “I have no doubt that the dying declaration of the victim in the Hathras case is sufficient to invoke capital punishment,” said Tulsi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ball, once again, is in the court of the investigating agencies.</p> Thu Oct 22 19:37:32 IST 2020 roots-of-rancour <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN JULY, WEST BENGAL</b> Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sounded a clarion call for those who had quit the ruling Trinamool Congress and joined the opposition BJP. “Outsiders won’t rule Bengal,” she said in a virtual rally, invoking Bengali pride against what she implied was a party of Gujaratis led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her speech apparently struck a chord. A good number of&nbsp;deserters&nbsp;heeded her call and returned to the Trinamool fold. Interestingly,&nbsp;so did scores of&nbsp;disgruntled BJP workers and mid-level leaders—many of them with an RSS background.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Around 100&nbsp;former&nbsp;saffron supporters have&nbsp;already&nbsp;pledged support to Mamata&nbsp;in the&nbsp;assembly polls due next year. More are expected to follow suit.&nbsp;Prominent among&nbsp;those who have joined the Trinamool&nbsp;is Krishanu Mitra, a former&nbsp;saffron&nbsp;ideologue&nbsp;who was inducted into the party&nbsp;by Partha Chatterjee, the state’s education minister. “Mitra&nbsp;has three decades of experience in&nbsp;the&nbsp;RSS and&nbsp;the&nbsp;BJP. He will try to work with us now,”&nbsp;said&nbsp;Chatterjee&nbsp;at the induction ceremony.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A former BJP spokesperson,&nbsp;Mitra&nbsp;had been&nbsp;side-lined since 2016.&nbsp;According to him, the&nbsp;BJP&nbsp;has&nbsp;turned&nbsp;anti-Bengali. “It&nbsp;is trying&nbsp;to import something&nbsp;that&nbsp;is&nbsp;not part of this soil,”&nbsp;he said. More than a dozen&nbsp;BJP workers&nbsp;in&nbsp;Kolkata, North 24 Parganas and Midnapore&nbsp;have&nbsp;followed in his footsteps&nbsp;and&nbsp;joined&nbsp;the Trinamool.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The saffron camp&nbsp;appears&nbsp;unfazed. “These are just exceptions,” said an RSS pracharak in Kolkata. “The&nbsp;RSS is not a&nbsp;political&nbsp;party; its members can&nbsp;join&nbsp;any party that suits them. But&nbsp;for&nbsp;us,&nbsp;the&nbsp;BJP is the ideal choice.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mitra&nbsp;said young BJP workers are&nbsp;gravitating&nbsp;to&nbsp;Mamata. “Workers from all around Kolkata&nbsp;have been&nbsp;joining&nbsp;the Trinamool,” he&nbsp;told THE WEEK. “I cannot&nbsp;say&nbsp;the same&nbsp;about leaders, because&nbsp;the&nbsp;BJP hardly have leaders in Kolkata.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mitra was reluctant to talk about plans because he feared that the BJP’s IT cell “might use a reporter to elicit information from him”. Interestingly, Mamata herself has&nbsp;asked&nbsp;party&nbsp;workers&nbsp;to&nbsp;be wary of the machinations&nbsp;of the IT cell.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But that did not stop&nbsp;Shailendra Singh of Kharagpur&nbsp;from explaining&nbsp;why he had quit the BJP and joined the Trinamool. Singh&nbsp;is&nbsp;one of the four BJP leaders in the region who switched sides last month.&nbsp;He&nbsp;had been a close associate of Dilip Ghosh, state BJP&nbsp;chief and former Kharagpur MLA. Ghosh&nbsp;had&nbsp;vacated the assembly seat after he was elected to the Lok Sabha last year, and the BJP lost the subsequent bypoll. Singh, a prominent trade union leader who was part of Ghosh’s office in Kharagpur, said&nbsp;he was made a scapegoat.&nbsp;“Dilipda&nbsp;started avoiding me,”&nbsp;he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh&nbsp;said&nbsp;Ghosh did not&nbsp;help after&nbsp;he was arrested&nbsp;in&nbsp;a clash with&nbsp;Trinamool workers. “I&nbsp;came&nbsp;out of prison&nbsp;after talks&nbsp;with&nbsp;Trinamool&nbsp;leaders,”&nbsp;he said. “They helped me a lot. I was hospitalised during the clash; Dilipda&nbsp;came to Kharagpur, but did not&nbsp;visit me&nbsp;in the hospital. I decided to quit the&nbsp;BJP&nbsp;after that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh, however, said he was&nbsp;still in touch with the RSS. “I&nbsp;hold meetings with&nbsp;[RSS members]&nbsp;regularly.&nbsp;Mark my words: Many&nbsp;of them will&nbsp;support&nbsp;the&nbsp;Trinamool Congress&nbsp;in the assembly elections next year.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently,&nbsp;Mamata’s ‘pro-Hindu measures’—such as granting a monthly stipend to Hindu priests and 050,000 each to&nbsp;all&nbsp;Durga Puja committees—have impressed many&nbsp;an&nbsp;RSS worker.&nbsp;More than 70 BJP members in Jhargram, a Lok Sabha constituency that the BJP had won last year, have joined the Trinamool.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of them is Kanchan Maity, who was the BJP’s district general secretary. Maity said the&nbsp;party began side-lining hardworking leaders like him after its&nbsp;good show in the Lok Sabha&nbsp;polls&nbsp;in the state. “We&nbsp;campaigned for months in the villages and powered the BJP to&nbsp;victory&nbsp;in the&nbsp;Lok Sabha&nbsp;polls. But the party refused to recognise our sacrifice,”&nbsp;he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Maity, the BJP’s district presidents have been behaving in a high-handed manner. “We, the trinamool (grassroots) leaders in the BJP are finding it tough to get access to state BJP leaders,” he said. “Of course, the party has grown big, but they should not have avoided the leaders who built the party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said he still nurtures links with the RSS. “The ties with the sangh parivar is beyond politics,” said Maity. “I won’t say that [my relation with] the BJP will end because I joined the Trinamool. I have not criticised the party, but the party should not have forgotten its footsoldiers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources said political strategist Prashant Kishor, who is coordinating Mamata’s poll campaign, had eroded the BJP’s support base in constituencies that it had won last year. The alleged disconnect between the party and the sangh parivar (the RSS and Bajrang Dal, specifically) is also an issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, however, denies such problems. “This is a tiny political shift,” said Biswapriya Roychowdhury, the party’s state vice president. “These [desertions] are just a fraction of the number of people who are joining our party. Our spread has been spectacular. We have made inroads in areas where we could not hold a rally last year. Of course, Covid-19 has hampered our growth a bit. But we will overcome it.”</p> Fri Oct 23 16:55:59 IST 2020 unfriendly-fire <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Indian Army</b> has deployed its T-90 and T-72 battle tanks in the Chumar-Demchok area in eastern Ladakh to deter any misadventure by Chinese troops. At 15,000 feet, it is possibly the world’s highest battlefield for tanks. But what perhaps worries the Indian soldiers more than the altitude and the threat from China could be the quality of their ammunition. According to a report prepared by the Army, faulty ammunition supplied by ordnance factories have caused more than 400 accidents in the past six years, resulting in 27 deaths and 159 injuries.</p> <p>“On an average, one accident takes place every week,” said the report, which also revealed that the Army has suffered a loss of Rs960 crore since 2014 on account of faulty ammunition. It said the Army could have purchased around hundred 155mm artillery guns with the money it lost. Former Army chief General (retd) V.P. Malik flagged the issue as a serious one. “It directly affects the morale of the troops and their confidence in their weapon systems,” he said.</p> <p>The ordnance factory board (OFB) refuted the allegations and said only 2 per cent of the accidents were caused by faulty ammunition. It blamed poor gun maintenance and faulty firing drills for the alarming numbers. The board also pointed out that between 2011 and 2018, more than 125 accidents were caused by ammunition procured from foreign and domestic sources other than the OFB. Responding to the Army’s view that it could have bought a hundred artillery guns with the money it lost, the OFB referred to the Army’s controversial purchase of ammunition from Russia during the Kargil war. By the same logic, it said, the “faulty Krasnopol ammunition imported from Russia during the Kargil war, amounting to Rs522.44 crore, could have financed another 55 artillery guns”.</p> <p>The OFB’s history goes back to 1775 when the British government officially recognised the East India Company’s Board of Ordnance in Fort William, Calcutta. The first factory, called the Gun Carriage Agency (now Gun and Shell Factory), was opened in 1801 at Cossipore in north Calcutta. The OFB now has 41 factories, 13 development centres and nine institutes of learning, which are administered by the department of defence production under the ministry of defence. These are divided into five operating divisions based on the products they offer, ranging from ammunition and explosives, vehicles and weapons, material and components, and armoured vehicles and equipment.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Some defence ministry insiders expressed concern that a corporate lobby was trying to weaken the OFB. “Currently, hundreds of thousands of (rounds of) defective imported ammunition are available in various depots,” said an OFB official. Malik said even a single accident was unacceptable. “It is the question of a rifle failing when a soldier is about to fire at the enemy. When the barrel bursts, not only does expensive equipment get damaged, but precious lives of soldiers are also lost,” he said.</p> <p>OFB officials said a decision was made in 2013 to test random samples whenever ammunition was handed over to the Army. They said the test had shown that up to 99.8 per cent of the samples did not have any problems and that most of the accidents happened because of training errors, expired ammunition and faulty, incompatible weapons.</p> <p>Hari Mohan, who retired in September as chairman of the OFB, told THE WEEK that there was a deliberate attempt to malign the ordnance factories. “First of all, the Army should have shared its report with the OFB.” He said ammunition supplied by the OFB was involved in only 19 per cent of the accidents, while the remaining cases were being ignored. Mohan also highlighted the fact that the OFB supplied ammunition at a much lower price compared with international market prices.</p> <p>The Army, however, said the OFB overcharged its products, hurting the defence budget. It also accused the board of maintaining a monopoly over several essential products, resulting in minimal innovation and slow technological development as there was hardly any incentive to improve quality, cost-efficiency and accountability.</p> <p>OFB sources said the Army had a mechanism to monitor the quality of the arms and ammunition it produced. The directorate general of quality assurance (DGQA), which is headed by a lieutenant general, certifies everything from ship to shoelaces made for soldiers. There are DGQA units in all ordnance factories, headed by a colonel-rank officer known as senior quality assurance inspector.</p> <p>Lieutenant General (retd) V.A. Bhat, who had served as director general of quality assurance, said the OFB was not owning up to its responsibility. “The first party quality check by the ordnance factory is practically absent. From empty shell check to field check, the ordnance factory has to inspect everything. The DGQA has only a limited role.” He blamed the OFB for not implementing the Six Sigma methodology recommended by multiple experts committees, which emphasised the reduction of faults and accidents to 3.4 occurrences per million units or events.</p> <p>OFB sources said the timing of the allegations against the board was suspicious as it coincided with the Narendra Modi government’s plans to corporatise the OFB. The Army said corporatisation would put the OFB at par with other defence public sector undertakings, which were managed by their own board of directors under broad guidelines from the government. The government hopes corporatisation will help the OFB improve its turnover from Rs12,000 crore to Rs30,000 crore by 2024-25.</p> <p>Lieutenant General (retd) Sanjay Kulkarni, who was director general of infantry, said corporatisation was the only way forward because of the trust deficit between the OFB and the Army. As part of the corporatisation plan, the Union government will support the OFB in case of losses, with a loan for 30 per cent of the total shortfall and equity investment for the remaining 70 per cent. The government will also provide working capital for the first five years as a one-time corpus fund.</p> <p>Subhash Chandra, who had served as secretary, defence production, said four committees had recommended the corporatisation of ordnance factories in the past. In August 2019, a cabinet note was prepared for the process. In September this year, the government constituted an empowered group of ministers (EGoM) under Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to oversee OFB’s corporatisation and also selected a consortium led by KPMG Advisory Services for assisting in the process.</p> <p>Opening up the ammunition sector to private players, the Army has recently given at least five contracts to private firms. “We want a parallel capacity to come up, although it may not be on the scale of the OFB,” said Lieutenant General Santosh Kumar Upadhyay, master-general of the ordnance, in a recent media interaction. OFB employee unions are opposed to the move. M.K. Ravindran Pillai of the Employees Federation of the OFB said the government was looking to encourage private participation as part of the Make in India initiative. “Recent trends in defence procurement have shown a shift away from heavy reliance on ordnance factories and defence PSUs,” said Pillai. OFB workers have meanwhile deferred their indefinite strike against corporatisation, which was scheduled to begin on October 12, after the defence ministry offered to negotiate with them. A. Bharat Bhushan Babu, additional director general (media and communication) in the defence ministry, said the ministry would not alter service conditions of the employees till the conclusion of the talks. “However, it will not affect the government’s decision to corporatise the ordnance factory board,” he said.</p> <p>Malik said the present controversy should not degenerate into a turf war between the Army and the OFB. “The defence ministry should have a composite committee to investigate the matter in a time-bound manner,” he said. “A detailed investigation will establish the exact cause of the accidents.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 15 20:46:28 IST 2020 heartless-in-hathras <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>“<i>Caught in emotions, she walked on unaware....waiting in ambush, a wolf lurked somewhere”.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The above lines could have been written for the 19-year-old from Hathras—allegedly raped and brutalised in the field from where she fetched fodder for her cattle.</p> <p>But these lines were not written for her.</p> <p>They are from a poem titled ‘Main Chamaron ki gali tak le chalunga aapko’ (I will take you to the lane of Chamars), by Adam Gondvi, a poet who wrote of dalit oppression and corrupt politicians.</p> <p>In the picture that Gondvi (born Ram Nath Singh) paints of the sweltering dalit life, the search for justice is futile. As far as the template of crimes against women in Uttar Pradesh goes, this is eerily familiar. When caste, power and politics are coded into that pattern, a toxic pit emerges. And justice is buried in its depths.</p> <p>The brutal injuries, the shifting between hospitals, the death, the hurried cremation, the threats, the blocking of access, a frenzied media and a political maelstrom—there are many offshoots of the Hathras crime.</p> <p>In its root lies fear.</p> <p>On September 14, the girl’s brother gave a handwritten complaint to the local police station at Chandpa, the village of which their hamlet is a part. It said that the siblings had gone to the millet fields with their mother. When the brother made a trip home to offload a stack of hay, one Sandeep tried to kill his sister. Read the complaint: “She shouted and my mother responded, ‘I am coming’. Upon hearing the voice, Sandeep ran away. The incident occurred around 9.30 in the morning.”</p> <p>At 10.30am, this complaint was converted into a police report. The sections applied were 307 of the Indian Penal Code (attempt to murder) and section 3(2) (v) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989.</p> <p>The victim was from the Valmiki caste—a people who have traditionally worked as sweepers and scavengers. The kind whom Gondvi’s poem describes thus: “Standing up to Thakurs, they think is child’s playì Such rascals have their bearings not at home, but in jail.”</p> <p>Sandeep and the other three accused—Luvkush, Ravi and Ramkumar—are Thakurs.</p> <p>On September 19, senior Congress leader Shyoraj Jivan Valmiki visited the victim at the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College in Aligarh Muslim University, where she was admitted after primary treatment at Hathras’s district hospital.</p> <p>“The family was scared,” said Valmiki. “The girl was in pain. Custom demanded that I do not speak much to her. But to the father and brother I said, speak the truth, do not be scared, we are all with you. They said she had been raped, but their hesitation over not mentioning it to the police was understandable.”</p> <p>After that visit at 3.30pm, Valmiki called the investigating officer. He was told that the victim’s statement had been recorded at 12pm the same day (September 19) and no mention of rape was made. On September 22, in another statement, the first mention of rape and four assailants was made.</p> <p>The medical report from AMU noted, “Opinion regarding penetrative intercourse is reserved pending availability of FSL (forensic science laboratory) report”. It added: “No secretions present 8 days past assault.” The forensic report read: “There are no signs suggestive of vaginal/anal intercourse. There are evidences of physical assault (injuries over the neck and the back).”</p> <p>These reports that the state has cited to bolster its ‘no rape was committed’ claim are legally tenuous as a dying declaration overrides medical examinations that negate rape.</p> <p>Rajkumari Bansal, a forensics expert from the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Medical College, Jabalpur, said, “Medical reports can be manipulated. It is foolish for the government to believe that people will accept its version.” Bansal stayed with the victim’s family for three days, driven by her desire to “prevent dalits from being systematically prosecuted”.</p> <p>The victim’s brother said, “I was terrified for my sister. She lay in blood without the clothes on the lower part of her body. I just wanted the police to help us get her to a hospital. But they said they would not do it without a written complaint. So, I scribbled something on a paper, adding towards the end our caste.”</p> <p>A pervasive fear of the police is commonplace in Uttar Pradesh where law and order lumbers to the tune of politics. During the previous regime of the Samajwadi Party, Akhilesh Yadav’s caste peers were stationed on all posts that involved direct contact with people. Thus, justice or its absence reflected this preference.</p> <p>Under Yogi Adityanath, the man who compared women to unbridled energy that needs control lest it turn dangerous, the police seem unconcerned about crimes against women. When those crimes are against the poor from backward castes, dalits or minorities, they matter even less. And when the state acquires for itself an unaccountable, unquestionable right to search and arrest without warrant through a special force (called the Uttar Pradesh Special Security Force), the fear grows deeper.</p> <p>Earlier this year, a report titled Barriers in Accessing Justice chronicled the experiences of 14 rape and gang-rape survivors in the state. Authored by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and the Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives, the study noted, “Survivors faced delay, derision, pressure and severe harassment when they approached the police to report complaints and seek the registration of a first information reportì (They) faced discrimination by the police on the basis of gender and caste, impeding their access to justice at the gateway to the legal system. These experiences amplified the trauma of survivors and affected their mental and physical well-being.” For the marginalised, these burdens are heavier.</p> <p>The 2019 report of the National Crime Records Bureau counted 11,829 crimes against SCs and STs in the state. This accounts for more than one fourth of all such crimes reported in the country. On the charge of assault on modesty of women from these communities, the state beats all others. It also has the highest number of cases being tried in courts for all crimes against SCs and STs.</p> <p>In the victim’s village, the Thakurs and Brahmins are more than two and a half times the SCs. But these upper castes are petrified by the hostile glare of the media and the politicians.</p> <p>Yogendra Singh Gehlot, the Hathras president of the Akhil Bhartiya Kshatriya Mahasabha, one of the organisations speaking for the hamlet’s Thakurs, said, “This case is born out of personal enmity. The victim’s family has been swayed by political forces. All we demand is a fair probe—through whichever agency.”</p> <p>Said Ramkumar’s father, Rakesh (he uses just one name): “Daughters have no caste, they are <i>saanjha </i>(shared). So, this is a crime against my daughter. The police say my son committed it. He is a quiet boy who keeps to himself. At the time of the crime he was at the dairy plant where he works. Check the attendance. If we are lying, hang us all. But do not threaten us in this manner.”</p> <p>His most pronounced point of reference is the Bhim Army. Its volunteers are rumoured to be lying in wait around the village, ready to attack when the police presence is thinner and the attention quieter.</p> <p>Vinay Ratan Singh, the national president of the Bhim Army, said that his organisation was interested in ensuring justice, not in fomenting trouble. To a question on why they had chosen to focus just on Hathras, Singh said, “This case deserves particular condemnation, but we go everywhere such cases are reported.”</p> <p>That everywhere includes Balrampur, where on September 29, a 22-year-old dalit woman was assaulted and allegedly gang-raped. A case just as horrific but one that did not tug at our conscience as sharply. (The state government has since assured the family of quick justice).</p> <p>Uttar Pradesh is strewn with such crimes that are forgotten by those who Gondvi calls “the contractors of religion, culture and moralityì the ministers in states and the government centrally”.</p> <p>In the state’s capital, on September 29, a 19-year-old dalit girl, after much dissuasion by the police, filed a report alleging that she had been kidnapped and repeatedly raped by two named and other unnamed persons. But no political or other indignation followed.</p> <p>Even cases that provoke anger, fade into oblivion.</p> <p>On December 5, 2019, a 23-year-old woman was set ablaze in Bhatan Khera, a hamlet in the Bihar block of Lucknow’s neighbouring Unnao district. Five Brahmin men were accused of the crime. The victim, who also alleged rape, belonged to a caste of blacksmiths. Four days later, the state’s law minister announced the setting up of 218 fast-track courts, of which 144 were to hear rape cases.</p> <p>Yet, the victim’s family waits to record its statements. On October 2 this year, the deceased’s six-year-old nephew went missing. Her family lodged a case of kidnapping, naming, among others, three relatives of the earlier accused.</p> <p>“We have been shunned by almost everyone in the village,” said the victim’s father. “They say we became greedy after my daughter’s death. They will not even talk to us for fear that we will complain to the police. But we are powerless people. Justice is not for us.”</p> <p>In Gondvi’s hamlet of the oppressed, a space that subsumes all of the state, this is expected. For, after all, it must be wondered, “what the world has come to the one beneath our feet till yesterday, have arisen today.” And that must not be permitted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>(Gondvi’s poem as translated by Lucknow-based activist Sangita Jaiswal.)</b></p> Sat Oct 10 11:58:50 IST 2020 house-of-grief <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>I</b>n one of the three rooms of her house, a dazed mother sits on the floor, her <i>pallu </i>pulled over her head. It has been more than a week since her 19-year-old daughter succumbed to injuries after being allegedly gang-raped and brutally tortured some 700 metres from her house in Boolgadi village of Hathras district in Uttar Pradesh.</p> <p>The stream of enraged, solicitous visitors—including politicians, reporters, activists, neighbours, district officials, protesters, policemen and investigators—has left her slightly immobilised. She sits with her hand on her head. The need to stitch a consistent narrative around her daughter’s assault has become more than urgent. There is no time to grieve a terrible loss from a horrific crime. Or even erase disturbing wounds from her memory. Because the mother was the first to see her daughter lying stripped, paralysed and maimed amid tall stalks of bajra (millet). Because the mother made desperate attempts to file a first information report, and seek medical treatment from one general hospital after another, even as her daughter flitted in and out of consciousness. Because she fed her biscuits and juice even as the daughter struggled to record her statement and name her assailants from her hospital bed. Because state authorities hastily cremated her daughter on September 30, in the secrecy of the night, without her consent. Because hers is a Valmiki family in a Thakur-majority village and years of accumulated anger over constant subordination can only end in <i>nyay </i>(justice).</p> <p>So, for the sake of an elusive <i>nyay,</i> the mother once again recounts the harrowing details when a political leader from Delhi comes calling on a Tuesday morning. She remembers how she panicked upon finding a single slipper of her daughter lying in the bajra fields, how when she peeked further in she found blood oozing from her daughter’s face, eyes and tongue. “Her spine was broken,” she says, letting out a long, deep wail. She recalls how she quickly covered her daughter’s body with her blood-soaked clothes and rushed to the local police station with her family members. And how the police made them wait even as blood kept dripping from her daughter’s body, how there was disdain on the faces of the policewomen, how she never got any written documents or medical slips, how she was not allowed inside the hospital room when her daughter recorded her statement. At one point, the mother loses her cool. “I am being made to answer the same questions again and again,” she says, before breaking into a searing lament. A group of women huddle around her with words intended to placate: “Calm down. They have only come for you.”</p> <p>Round and round we have circled back to yet another horrific assault onÅÅwomanhood that has triggered national outrage and tapped into a collective grievance. The 2012 Nirbhaya case in Delhi, the 2014 Badaun gang-rape and murder case, the death of an eight-year-old in Kathua in 2018. Or the rape case of Unnao, where the victim was set ablaze on her way to a court hearing last year. Around the same time, the four accused in the gang-rape and murder of a 26-year-old veterinary doctor near Hyderabad died in an “encounter”. The cycle—a group of men asserting power against and instilling fear in a single woman in a deeply hierarchical society—recurs in the same framework with sensational plot twists and rumblings of state apathy. The 24x7 news cycle seems to become sword and shield.</p> <p>Says one of the four siblings of the Hathras victim, “There is a lot of attention from the media now. So we have enough police protection. But once the media is gone, that is when we will need all the protection. I fear for my mother, father and sister-in-law, who might end up suffering a similar fate like my sister.”</p> <p>The brother’s anxiety might remind one of the reports of District Magistrate Praveen Laxkar allegedly issuing veiled threats to the family. He had reportedly nudged them to support the government’s statement, reminding them that the media would soon leave.</p> <p>The brother vividly remembers the day, September 29, his sister died in Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital. She was brought there from the Aligarh Muslim University medical college. “It was around 11pm that we asked if the postmortem examination had been completed,” he says. “Some said the body had left the hospital, others said it was kept safe. We were being led astray. I do not know how they cremated her body without our permission; I do not know if they used kerosene or petrol or oil. We had said we would cremate her body with all the rituals in the morning. They did not listen to us one bit.” He keeps repeating the last line as his mother continues to recall more grisly details to gasps of surprise and horror from her listeners.</p> <p>Outside this small room, packed mostly with women in masks, there is a melee of male callers around the victim’s elder brother in the courtyard. A neat little segregation of the sexes has organically taken place. There, the victim’s sister-in-law quietly heats milk and tosses chapatis on a clay stove, clutching her <i>pallu</i>. “That day, on September 14, my sister-in-law woke up at dawn, made <i>todi ki sabzi</i> (ridge gourd), kneaded dough and left for the fields to cut grass. In fact, she woke up at the crack of dawn every day and took care of all the household chores. When I gave birth to a girl this August, she stepped in to take care of the house. My children were so fond of her. They never cried in her presence,” recalls the sister-in-law, before drifting off in her thoughts. “If only she had studied or gone to school, this would not have happened. We will not stop repeating ourselves until the truth comes out.”</p> <p>The family and neighbours deny any acrimony with members of the dominant Thakur caste. The five Valmiki (dalit) families live quietly, mind their own affairs and eat the labour of their hands, working on the farms of upper-caste men.</p> <p>“We are Thakurs, they are Harijans. How can we talk to them? We hardly have any interaction,” lashes out 65-year-old Rajwanti, the mother of Ramkumar, one of the four accused. She stays some 200m away from the victim’s home. “I understand the grief of a mother in the circumstances, regardless of caste, but how did my innocent son get stuck in this? Her mother could have shouted and raised an alarm just when she saw her daughter missing in the fields that day. She just went on cutting grass? Why did she not shout? If I was in her place, I would have raised hell. She did not do anything.” Rajwanti demands a proper investigation that would establish her 27-year-old son’s whereabouts on the day of the crime.</p> <p>The plight of the dalits is illustrated through the words of Charan Singh, chairman of the NGO Bharat Vasi Seva Sansthan, set up to handle issues of labour uplift in the dalit community. “Since the BJP government came to power in the state, NGOs like ours hardly get to do any work,” he says. “We are mostly keeping busy doing farm work. Our licence is not getting renewed.”</p> <p>Amid all this, an upper-caste Pandit neighbour sits outside his house in the afternoon heat, wearing a blank expression. He just wants to be left alone, and calls the matter a Valmiki-Thakur dispute. He complains how, since his village came into the spotlight, all farm work has stopped. There are no songs or serials on the television. Just this one news. “I do not understand this circus,” he says. “Aren’t the accounts of a grieving mother and her dead daughter enough to end this?” &nbsp;</p> Fri Oct 09 16:24:55 IST 2020 we-have-not-ruled-out-sexual-assault <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ Why was there heavy police deployment at the victim’s house?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>Soon after the incident on September 14, there were intelligence reports that said that certain sections were making deliberate attempts to stir up caste tensions and create communal discord. Based on intelligence inputs, the police were deployed to prevent any kind of threat to the victim’s family. If there had been any untoward incident, [like] a family member of the victim being attacked or certain groups attacking their house or setting it on fire, the police would have been blamed.</p> <p>It is the responsibility of the local police and the local administration to carry out a threat assessment and, based on that, provide safety to the family and the village.</p> <p><b>Q/ Why do you think certain groups are trying to stir up caste-based violence?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>If you see the track record of Uttar Pradesh in the past three and a half years, there have been no law and order problems, communal incidents or caste-based violence. So, certain elements and groups are making attempts to disrupt the peace.</p> <p><b>Q/ Why were the last rites conducted hurriedly, in the dead of night?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>It has already been clarified that the decision was taken at the local level by the administration, including the district magistrate and the superintendent of police, taking into account the law and order situation at the time. The last rites were performed according to religious customs in the presence of family members.</p> <p><b>Q/ Why did the police jump the gun to say there was no evidence of rape?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>The report based on the sample from the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College Hospital in Aligarh, which was sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory in Agra, said that no spermatozoa was found. These are the facts, but the media has misquoted me saying that I have said there was no rape. I am not saying it is not a case of rape. On the basis of the FSL report and the evidence being collected in the case, the investigating officer will list the offences and prepare his report. Everything will be included in the report and it is the legal duty of the IO to take into account all facts and evidence of the case.</p> <p><b>Q/ When will the report be finalised?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>Usually, the investigating officer has to prepare his report and submit it in court within 90 days of the arrest.</p> <p><b>Q/ Does the post mortem by doctors in Delhi contradict the FSL report?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>All reports are on the same page.</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you ruling out the possibility of sexual assault?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>Certainly not. We are probing the case and nothing has been ruled out yet.</p> <p><b>Q/ What are the charges pressed against the accused?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>The police has registered an FIR and added section 376D of the IPC, which deals with gang-rape, on the statement of the victim; various other charges are being investigated.</p> <p><b>Q/ Why is there a need for a CBI investigation?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>The Uttar Pradesh government is open to a fair investigation and it is all for transparency. Now, everyone should cooperate to bring out the truth of the case as the state government has recommended a CBI investigation.</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you identified the groups that were trying to incite caste-based violence?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>An investigation has been launched to probe the larger conspiracy. The UP Police have registered a separate FIR to probe the bigger conspiracy and we have definite leads on groups and individuals trying to cause trouble and disturb social harmony.</p> Fri Oct 09 16:14:17 IST 2020 silent-invader <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>There is an emerging</b> weed problem in north India. No, this one is not star-spangled like the one currently being exposed in Bollywood. The ramifications, however, could be much worse, as it could threaten India’s food security.</p> <p>Two studies in the recent years have flagged the emergence and spread of a hitherto lesser known plant, Emex australis, across the wheat fields of Haryana and west Uttar Pradesh. Both studies warn that, if left ignored, this plant could take over the fields and reduce crop yield.</p> <p>To the untrained eye, E. australis looks like a cousin of the spinach. In fact, in South Africa, where it is a native, its leaves are sometimes used as a vegetable. It is a sturdy plant which establishes itself in thick clusters and can deplete a field of nutrients meant for the crop. The weed has already spread across Australia, edging out both wheat and the sweet pasture grass. Known by various common names like cat’s head, bull head, devil’s thorn, spiny emex and goat head, this weed produces fruits called achene, which have three sharp spines, giving the plant yet another moniker, the three-cornered jack. In pasture lands, these spines can injure grazing cattle. Extremely resilient, the spines attach themselves to tractor tyres, shoes and even bare feet, and thus spread from field to field.ÅThey can even float on water, thus furthering the range.</p> <p>Jyoti K. Sharma, head of Shiv Nadar University’s Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering, said that they first noticed the plant during a field trip, when the students were documenting the flora of the area around the university campus in Greater Noida, way back in 2015. Later, they noticed some plants within the university campus, too, around the thematic botanic park that was being made. Soil for landscaping the park had been brought in from the neighbouring areas, and this is how the plant, too, must have come, they guessed.</p> <p>The university then surveyed Chithara village near the campus, where they found the plant to be growing extensively. Sharma, who is also the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s international forestry consultant to several countries in south and southeast Asia, said that the plant was not present in the regions previously; it has somehow established itself in recent years.</p> <p>It is not as if this plant is totally unknown in India. There is literature to show its identification in Bihar sometime in the 1980s. It has also been reported from Jammu and Kashmir since 1987. However, for reasons not yet explained, the plant did not spread itself across the country for decades, despite its innate ability to do so. How and when it reached the Gangetic plains and establishedÅitself are questions that require investigation.</p> <p>In a paper published in 2018 in the <i>Indian Journal of Plant Science</i>—by Sharma, and his colleagues Amit Kumar Tripathi and Mohammad Ahmad—the researchers warn that the plant is adaptable to different climatic conditions, has the potential to become highly invasive, and could edge out native species. It reproduces aggressively—each plant is capable of producing over 1,100 seeds during a lifetime. These seeds are able to persist in the soil for several years.</p> <p>Around the same time as the Shiv Nadar researchers were typing out their research, Virendra Kumar, a plant pathologist and assistant director at the directorate of plant protection, quarantine and storage, stumbled upon a clump of these pesky plants in a field at Chhainsa village near Faridabad. At that time, he was in the insecticide department, overseeing a field test on a new weedicide. “We were testing the weedicide when I noticed this plant, which I had not seen before,” said Kumar. “We sprayed the chemical on it, as well as on other known weeds. A week later, however, when we returned to see the results, the other weeds had perished—some had been chemically burnt, others had collapsed—but this clump was thriving.”</p> <p>Kumar then sprayed the clump with various concentrations of weedicides and studied it for several weeks. The cluster continued to thrive. Following this, Kumar, along with a colleague, assistant plant protection officer E. Kumari, did a survey of 35 adjoining villages and discovered that the weed had comfortably gone native and established itself in varying degrees of density in 25 villages. “Surprisingly, they were even better established than many of the known weeds in the fields,” he said. “This initial study is only a warning bell; agencies like the Indian Council for Agricultural Research should now do more detailed research and look for ways of tackling the problem before it blows up in our face.” Kumar published his discovery in the <i>Journal of Crop and Weed</i> in 2019. The two studies may be small, but they already indicate the spread of the weed across states.</p> <p>Invasive plants are those which come from other lands, their seeds usually riding piggy back on agriculture imports. Since these plants have no known control agents—for instance, bugs that feed on them—in their new homes, they spread rapidly, elbowing out native species. Kumar says wheat harvests can suffer in yield by as much as 62 per cent due to weeds. Almost all countries now have strict plant-quarantining rules, under which such imports are isolated and tested for presence of foreign pests, pathogens and weeds. In some agriculture-intensive countries like Australia, even shoes of passengers are checked to ensure there are no clinging burrs or achenes which could seed local populations of a foreign plant.</p> <p>In fact, in 2004, when Greece hosted the Olympics and decided to evoke the spirit of ancient Athens, it had not reckoned with the bio-security regulations of the modern age. Many countries frowned upon the olive wreaths that were presented to medal winners, mandating fumigation and other pathogen killing processes before being allowed in.</p> <p>Yet, in a mobile world, it is not so difficult for exotic species to infiltrate new lands. One of the most pervasive weeds in recent times is Parthenium hysterophorus or “Congress grass”, which is believed to have entered the country in the 1950s along with the wheat the United States sent to then impoverished India. Like E. australis,ÅParthenium grows densely, choking out any other plant that might even try to grow in the area. Worse, it triggers respiratory allergies in many people.</p> <p>Similarly, water hyacinth, a native of the Amazon, has strangulated water bodies across the country. It is said that the plant came to India because Lady Hastings was enchanted by its beautiful mauve flowers, and planted a few in her garden pond. Over 200 years later, the British Raj may have gone away but the plant has gone native with a vengeance. It is even a mariner’s nightmare as it gets caught in ship propellers.</p> <p>The multi-coloured lantana, too, was introduced to India in the 1800s as an ornamental plant. It became a garden escapee in no time and has overrun even forests now, edging out native species. Cutting down the woody shrub is of little use, as the cut branches begin sprouting leaves and shoots even before they can be disposed of.</p> <p>Prosopis juliflora or vilayati kikar is considered as one of the most hated trees in India. The Mexican import, again through the British, is a desert tree with little commercial use. Yet, it has edged out the kikar, babool and other acacias native to the land, each of which have a host of uses in medicine and other commercial products.</p> <p>E. australis is used for traditional medicine in Africa. However, the uses of the weed are limited, and the damage it can do to the fields is far more serious. In the land of <i>athithi devo bhava</i>, just how well will this uninvited guest thrive? We will know more in the years to come.</p> Fri Oct 09 15:29:44 IST 2020 safety-check <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>On September 26,</b> a group of public health experts wrote an open letter to Dr Albert Bourla, CEO of US pharma giant Pfizer, which is developing a Covid-19 vaccine candidate with German firm BioNTech. The company’s mRNA vaccine is one of the world’s leading candidates, and Bourla’s claims of a “clinical answer” to its phase 3 trials by October end has triggered safety concerns among a section of global experts. In the letter, they urge the company to wait until the end of November before seeking emergency authorisation for the vaccine to ensure that rigorous safety standards are followed and public trust and confidence in the vaccine is guaranteed.</p> <p>According to the WHO, 40 vaccine candidates are being clinically evaluated, of which 10 have entered phase 3 trials, which involve testing the vaccine on thousands of people. In that context, the next couple of months will be crucial for regulators, vaccine manufacturers and distributors across the world, and put the world’s best delivery systems to test. With emerging possibilities of emergency use authorisation (EUA) for multiple candidates, safety and immunogenicity data is also being closely evaluated.</p> <p>Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has said that India is considering EUA, too. An EUA allows the vaccine to be used before it is fully licenced, after conducting a risk-benefit analysis based on available data. Normally, the third trial [phase 3] takes about six to nine months. But if the government decides, this period can be cut short through an EUA, Vardhan said. “Any emergency authorisation is always done by adopting reinforced safeguards so that people do not worry about safety,” he said. “A high-level group has been formed to monitor the pace of the vaccine development under the direct guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There will be no shortcut on safety. EUA will be given only if it meets the standards.”</p> <p>Multiple candidates are undergoing phase 3 trials in India. After the Oxford-AstraZeneca candidate—currently being tested by Serum Institute of India—the Russian sovereign wealth fund, RDIF, which is backing the vaccine Sputnik V, also announced a tie-up with Hyderabad-based Dr Reddy’s for conducting phase 3 trials and distributing the vaccine. Bharat Biotech’s candidate, Covaxin, too, will begin phase 3 trials in Lucknow and Gorakhpur in October, according to UP Health Secretary Amit Mohan Prasad.</p> <p>With these candidates being fast-tracked, granting EUA to a vaccine and rolling it out initially to the vulnerable population, and then to the general population, will involve challenges on several fronts including regulation and logistics, experts say.</p> <p>“With any vaccine, monitoring safety and performance pre- and post-licensure is important,” said Dr Gagandeep Kang, professor, Christian Medical College, Vellore. “A vaccine should be used widely in the appropriate population at a point where regulators are convinced (even under an EUA) that the vaccine has a high likelihood of being safe and effective. The best safeguard is a strong safety monitoring system and an impact monitoring system.”</p> <p>According to her, India’s vaccine safety monitoring has improved significantly in the past decade. “But the focus, so far, has been routine immunisation in children. Building safety monitoring in other age groups will be challenging,” said Kang.</p> <p>She added that impact monitoring would most likely require phase 4 studies, or post-marketing surveillance, since there is no other way to monitor vaccine effectiveness.</p> <p>According to a draft note on regulatory guidelines for vaccine development, released recently by the central drugs standard control organisation, a Covid-19 vaccine should have 50 per cent efficacy. “To ensure that a widely deployed Covid-19 vaccine is effective, the primary efficacy endpoint estimate for a placebo-controlled efficacy trial should be at least 50 per cent,” it read. Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said the note was not final and that comments and feedback were invited.</p> <p>The overall efficacy endpoint is not a matter of concern. “These are first-generation vaccines, and this is a mucosal infection,” said Kang. “First-generation vaccines essentially should protect against disease and then we can think of improving performance through a range of approaches. Mucosal vaccines are unlikely to give perfect protection in any situation, so a 50 per cent requirement is acceptable at this time.” She added that the draft policy is aligned with WHO and FDA guidlines. “But it would be good to know what essential data is to be generated and what is recommended, but not essential,” she said.</p> <p>The draft policy note states that given the “urgent need” to provide a Covid-19 vaccine, clinical development programmes for Covid-19 vaccines might be “expedited”. Vaccine trials proceed in stages, where permission for each phase is preceded by evaluation of data. For an emergency situation such as Covid-19, the regulator proposes adaptive and/or seamless clinical trial designs that allow for selection between vaccine candidates and dosing regimens, and for more rapid progression through the usual phases of clinical development.</p> <p>But it is unclear as to what this seamless approach is in terms of clinical endpoints at the end of each trial phase, said a public health expert who did not wish to be named. For vaccine trials, endpoints would include side-effects, neutralising antibody titres and disease prevention. In the case of drug trials, the endpoints—preventing disease progression and death—are more clearly defined, the expert said.</p> <p>“The policy note also does not define what would happen if there were multiple vaccines with same levels of protection for authorisation,” said the expert. “Aspects such as the liability of a company or other stakeholders in case of a side-effect after vaccine has been administered have not been defined. It is a good start, though.”</p> <p>Vaccines take years to develop. With Covid-19, that time frame is being crunched to months. In a first-of-its-kind plan on vaccine regulation and shortening trials, top experts propose a plan where each phase incorporates parallel processes. For instance, phase 1 of human trials would not mean halting animal studies, rather those studies would continue even after the vaccine candidate has moved on to human trials.</p> <p>“To optimise time in a public health emergency such as the current one, several or all of the clinical evaluation, production planning, distribution strategy and safety evaluation steps of the vaccine development continuum could be conducted in parallel, rather than in a sequential manner,” wrote Dr Amit Kumar Dinda, department of pathology, AIIMS, Dr Santanu Kumar Tripathi, Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine and public health expert Dr Bobby John in the <i>Indian Journal of Medical Research</i>, the peer-reviewed journal of the ICMR. “This telescoped design will enable an earlier submission of safety and efficacy data, allowing for potential regulatory approval for an EUA for the candidate vaccine,” they wrote.</p> <p>Parallel processes also imply that manufacturing and distribution logistics be taken care of, even as several vaccine candidates are being tested. “In other countries such as the US, the UK, Japan and Australia, the level of preparedness is much higher, from pre-booking vaccines to ordering syringes,” said Pavan Mocherla, managing director (south Asia), BD India. “The understanding is that the vaccination would proceed in phases, where vulnerable sections would be administered in phase 1. For that, the requirement for syringes would be an estimated 150 million, and until now, the government has not formally reached out to us for any orders. Though the government must be working on a blueprint, private stakeholders have not been involved yet. Timely involvement of relevant firms would help expedite vaccine delivery.”</p> <p>With the world’s largest manufacturing capacity, India is set to make the Covid-19 vaccine for the world. Its own challenges though remain to be addressed—including making available Rs80,000 crore for mass vaccination in the next year, as estimated by Serum Institute chief Adar Poonawalla.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 01 16:59:40 IST 2020 ripples-of-the-ruling0 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Justice is a lonely being,</b> often condemned to trudging long distances in search of an elusive truth which not only seems true but can also be demonstrated to be so.</p> <p>On September 30, it completed a journey of 10,160 days to conclude that none of the 32 accused of having a role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya were guilty. The initial charges were filed against 49 people.</p> <p>To the tunnel vision of justice, the prosecutors had failed to bring such conclusive evidence that proved beyond a shred of doubt the role of those accused—a list which included India’s former deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani and former Union minister for human resources development Murli Manohar Joshi. The judgment did not say that the demolition was not a criminal act, or that the accused were not present when it happened. It concluded simply that the evidence did not prove guilt on any of the multiple charges under the Indian Penal Code. These charges included wrongful assembly; causing voluntarily hurt to a public servant in the discharge of his duty; action with intent to incite any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community; and criminal conspiracy.</p> <p>Krishna Kumar Mishra, one of the defence lawyers, said: “The reasons given by the court for the judgment are sterling. None of the evidence presented could be conclusively proven to be valid. The videos of the demolition, for instance, should have been seized, seizure memos prepared and the evidence sent for forensic testing. Instead the agency [Central Bureau of Investigation] randomly picked up evidence available from the market. It was not a failure of the investigating agency, but the circumstances were such that it was impossible to collect evidence in the midst of lakhs of people.”</p> <p>The videos Mishra referred to were those available in the immediate aftermath of the demolition. They had contained grainy images of the domes being hammered by <i>kar sevaks</i> and brought down amid lusty cries of <i>Ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid tod do</i> (Give one more push and bring the Babri Masjid down). They remain available in public domain till date under titles such as ‘Shri Ram Janmabhoomi ka Raktranjit Ithihas’ (The blood-soaked history of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi). Also, in evidence were scores of photographs provided by media persons. These were rendered useless by the non-availability of negatives.</p> <p>The judgment throws into question the methods involved in the investigation. At one point it quotes a member of the investigation team as saying that the cassettes with the alleged inflammatory speeches were not sent for forensic examination as it was clear that the incident had happened. At another place it quotes an investigator’s contention that many papers were seized from the house of Shiv Sena leader Moreshwar Save, but a number of these were found not related to the case upon examination later.</p> <p>The judgment dismisses all evidence provided through the media. For instance, in the case of then UP chief minister Kalyan Singh, the judgment says, “…the giving of a statement to a newspaper cannot be treated as acceptance or admission of a crime till strong evidence proves it”.</p> <p>This is not a novel observation. In many cases, courts have held that newspaper reporting, whether correct or not, is hearsay secondary evidence and not admissible unless the reporter is examined or any person before whom the incident has occurred is examined, and facts proven.</p> <p>Though a detailed reading of the judgment would require some time, Syed Mohammed Haider Rizvi, a Lucknow-based lawyer said: “On the face of it, the verdict acquitting all the accused and considering Babri Masjid demolition as a spontaneous incident and not a conspiracy comes in the teeth of the Supreme Court order dated November 9 , 2019, which clearly stated that the destruction of the mosque and the obliteration of the Islamic structure was an egregious violation of the rule of law.”</p> <p>The accused on many occasions, and with pride, claimed their role in bringing the Ram Mandir Movement to its conclusion.</p> <p>In his book <i>Ayodhya 6 December 1992</i> , P.V. Narasimha Rao, the prime minister of India when the demolition happened, wrote: “The BJP took ‘moral responsibility’ for the day’s developments in a statement issued by the party’s vice president S.S. Bhandari. L.K. Advani and M.M. Joshi were among the prominent BJP leaders present in Ayodhya at the time of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. As the <i>kar sevaks</i> chipped away at the structure, BJP-VHP-RSS leaders had pleaded in vain with them to stop.”</p> <p>But as the scales of justice are not tipped by morality, it remained unconvinced.</p> <p>Mahant Raju Das of the Ayodhya’s famous Hanuman Garhi Temple said: “Ram Mandir is only the start. We will adopt constitutional means to free Mathura, Kashi and the Tejo Mahalaya.” The first is a reference to the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple at Mathura, the second to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi and the third to the Taj Mahal in Agra (which some consider to originally be a Shiv temple).</p> <p>Sharad Sharma, the Vishva Hindu Parishad spokesperson in Ayodhya, however, said: “There is no dialogue on Kashi or Mathura. We are only celebrating. The Lord is truly free today.”</p> <p>On the same day, however, in Mathura—which is supposed to be the birthplace of Lord Shri Krishna—a petition made its way through the court of the civil judge, senior division. It asked the court to declare that “land measuring 13.37 acres… vest in the deity Lord Shri Krishna Virajman” and the removal of “construction encroaching upon the land… and to handover vacant possession to Shree Krishna Janmabhoomi Trust….” Those are words with a strong similarity to those used in the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi- Babri Masjid title suit. The “encroachment” is refering to the Idgah Mosque and the parties being asked to remove it are Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board and “Trust ‘alleged’ Shahi Masjid Idgah”. Notice the use of the word “alleged” by the plaintiffs.</p> <p>This position runs contrary to the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991. The Act prohibits “conversion of any place of worship and… [provides] for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August, 1947”. The Ram Janmabhoomi at Ayodhya was the only exception, expressly granted by the Act.</p> <p>Incidentally, the local court dismissed the Krishna Janmabhoomi petition, and the petitioners are now planning next steps. Ranjana Agnihotri, a Lucknow based lawyer who is among the eight plaintiffs to the suit describes herself (and five other co-plaintiffs) in it as “followers of vedic <i>sanatan dharam</i>, worshippers and devotees of Lord Shri Krishna…(who) profess, propagate and perform puja and other rituals of Lord Shri Krishna according to custom, traditions and practices of vedic <i>sanatan dharam</i> from the time of their ancestors”. It is their strong faith and belief that “<i>dharshan</i> puja at Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi is [the] way to acquire merit of salvation”. The first plaintiff in the suit is “Bhagwan Shri Krishna Virajman”. Just as was Shri Ram Lalla Virajman in the Ayodhya title suit—on which the Supreme Court adjudicated in November last year.</p> <p>Agnihotri said: “We are only seeking to correct a long standing wrong. The birthplace of Shri Krishna has special significance and we are within our rights to protect it and demand recovery of lost property”.</p> <p>The implications of the 2,300-page judgment on the Babri Masjid demolition, delivered by CBI judge, Justice Surendra Kumar Yadav, thus lie beyond his court.</p> <p>In justice’s lonely journey, this then could be a temporary halt, not its final destination.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 01 16:46:10 IST 2020 ripples-of-the-ruling <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A few months </b>after the BJP’s loss in the 2004 general elections, L.K. Advani became party president for the third time and explained the reasons behind the defeat in his address. “We assumed a direct correlation between good governance and the electoral outcome. We were not entirely correct,” said the 77-year-old leader, referring to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s India Shining campaign. “Unfortunately, good governance in a country as large and diverse as India does not generate a uniform effect.” He then came to the missing ingredient from the BJP’s messaging. “In BJP’s voyage from the fringe to the centre of the political stage, we aroused many expectations, some extremely emotive,” he said. “We were unable to fulfil some of these. The construction of a grand temple in Ayodhya was one such issue.”</p> <p>That was Advani’s call for a return to hindutva as an emotive issue, but it was something that even he did not push hard for. In an apparent bid for an image makeover, a few months later, he termed the demolition of Babri Masjid as the saddest day of his life. This left the BJP cadre confused till Narendra Modi rose to the top in 2014. Modi gave hope to the Hindu voters that he could fulfil their wish for a temple. As the prime minister laid the foundation of the Ram temple on August 5, Advani was missing from the ceremony.</p> <p>On September 30, 56 days after the ceremony, a special CBI court acquitted all accused in the conspiracy to demolish the mosque. The CBI charge sheet of October 1993 named 48 persons including Advani, M.M. Joshi, Uma Bharti, Kalyan Singh and Vinay Katiyar; only 32 of them are alive today.</p> <p>“The judgement vindicates my personal and the BJP’s belief and commitment towards the Ram Janmabhoomi movement,” said Advani, 92, after the acquittal. The BJP leaders were accused by many eye-witnesses of encouraging <i>kar sevaks</i> to bring down the mosque. But the court said the evidence produced by the investigating agency was not conclusive.</p> <p>Advani was the prime mover of the Ram temple movement as he brought the issue to the fore with his Rath Yatra. That was 30 years ago, on September 30, 1990, during his first term as party president. The original charioteer of the <i>yatra</i> may have faded from the political scene, but the impact of his initiative has had a lasting impact on the country’s polity and national consciousness.</p> <p>During the BJP rule under Vajpayee, the cause of hindutva was overtaken by the issue of nuclear tests and the Kargil war. The national security issues injected nationalism in large swathes of the population. The 10 years of the UPA government shifted the focus to development and rights-based policy. With Modi’s arrival as an unabashed champion of muscular nationalism, hindutva was back in currency, but with a stronger focus on national security, which was pushed as necessary to save cultural values. It made Modi the biggest beneficiary of the hindutva movement. And, he has delivered on the BJP’s core issues, be it the temple construction or the abrogation of Article 370.</p> <p>The November 2019 Supreme Court verdict to hand over the land in Ayodhya to the Hindu community and the recent CBI court verdict will bring into focus the aspirations of the Hindu majority. All parties, even those opposed to the BJP, have become conscious of the sentiments of the community. Even during the 28 years the court took to decide the matter, no political party pushed for a resolution, given how emotive the issue was.</p> <p>“The conspiracy theory was the handiwork of the then government on the insistence of left-leaning historians,” said BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Rakesh Sinha. “[The demolition] was not premeditated. The other objective of the episode was to revitalise and legitimise the appeasement theory. There was an attempt to compare the temple movement with violent agitations across the world that were anti-minority. Moreover, it was an attempt to put in the dock the main icons of the hindutva movement by presenting them as majoritarian. The [Ram temple movement] was liberating for the Hindu from the yoke imposed colonially and the Nehruvian definition of secularism.”</p> <p>The Vishva Hindu Parishad, one of the main drivers of the temple agitation, reacted favourably to the judgment. “The Supreme Court judgment of November 2019 unanimously settled that the subject land in Ayodhya does belong to Ram Lalla,” said VHP working president Alok Kumar. “[The latest] judgment has busted the conspiracy theory. It is time to eschew politics, shed prejudices and instead of looking into the past, look forward to work together for the unity and progress of our country.”</p> <p>Within the hindutva ecosystem, the matter had reached happy fruition. There have been many hardline Hindu groups who demand that focus now shift to “liberation of temples in Kashi and Mathura, which were demolished to build mosques”. But even the BJP would not want strife on its hand when the most contentious issue has been resolved, and these temples do not hold same weight as the Ram temple.</p> <p>The BJP is sticking to welcoming the court verdict for now. “The assembly was never declared unlawful by any authority, by any mode as prescribed in law,” said BJP general secretary Bhupender Yadav. “The organisers wanted to stop them (<i>kar sevaks</i>). But they were not allowed to go there. The court said the demolition happened in the spur of the moment. The truth has finally prevailed.”</p> <p>The judgments and the start of the temple construction will certainly be trumpeted by the BJP during upcoming election campaigns. The party hopes that the completion of the temple before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections will help create a cultural renaissance.</p> <p>This judgment frees BJP veterans of all charges. Party patriarchs Advani, Joshi and others who have been side lined in recent times will hope that history books will be kinder to them from now on.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 01 16:41:42 IST 2020 address-change <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Eminent jurist Fali</b> S. Nariman, in his memoirs <i>Before Memory Fades</i>, recalled his appearance before a judge who had just been promoted from the city civil court to the High Court. Nariman’s opponent kept calling him “Your Honour”. The judge grimaced at what he perceived as an indignity—the practice in India is to refer to judges in High Courts and the Supreme Court as “My Lord” or “Your Lordship”. “My opponent had a good case. But he lost! Judges are human,” wrote Nariman.</p> <p>Nariman advised aspiring lawyers to always address a court correctly and said judges in the upper courts must always be addressed as “Your Lordship”. He wrote in brackets: “Believe me, the judges simply love it.”</p> <p>Despite the growing unease with the titles, seen as colonial and carrying feudal overtones (some even say they are against the constitutional principle of equality), Nariman appeared to have been proven correct when Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde objected to a lawyer addressing him “Your Honour”, during a hearing on August 13. The CJI said it was an American usage. The lawyer said there was nothing prescribed by law as to how a judge should be addressed, but Bobde said it was a matter of practice of the court.</p> <p>It is, however, ironic that Bobde should have objected to being called “Your Honour”. In 2014, he was on a two-judge bench with the then chief justice H.L. Dattu which observed that the only expectation the judges had was that they be addressed in a dignified manner. The bench had disposed of a PIL filed by veteran lawyer Shiv Sagar Tiwari seeking a ban on the use of “My Lord” and “Your Lordship”. Tiwari had argued that the titles denoted slavery. The bench refused to ban the honorifics, but said: “When did we say it is compulsory? You can call ‘Sir’, it is accepted. You call ‘Your Honour’, it is accepted. You call ‘Lordship’, it is accepted.”</p> <p>“Your Honour” has been accepted in Indian legal practice as an appropriately modern substitute for “My Lord” and “Your Lordship”. The Bar Council of India on May 6, 2006, had passed a resolution stating that the form of address to be adopted in the Supreme Court and High Courts was “Your Honour” or “Honourable Court” and, in the subordinate courts and tribunals, it was “Sir” or the equivalent in regional languages.</p> <p>The resolution came after the Supreme Court, in February 2006, refused to ban the use of the titles. Disposing the Progressive and Vigilant Lawyers’ Forum’s petition seeking to end the use of the titles, the apex court said it was up to the bar council to resolve the issue.</p> <p>While the Supreme Court has chosen not to specify the correct way to address judges, the Rajasthan High Court, in 2019, issued a notice requesting lawyers and others appearing before the judges not to address them as “My Lord” or “Your Lordship”. It asked lawyers and litigants to call them “Sir” or “Shrimanji”. A resolution passed by a full bench of the High Court said the move was meant to honour the mandate of equality enshrined in the Constitution.</p> <p>Judges in their individual capacity have also been asking lawyers to desist from using “My Lord” or “Your Lordship” to address them. The most recent instance of this is Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan, who in July, said to officers of the district judiciary and the registry that they should address him as “Sir”.</p> <p>Interestingly, “My Lady” or “Your Ladyship” is not used often in Indian courts. Lawyers are not comfortable using the terms, while female judges are also known to have objected to the usage. A few years ago, in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Justice Daya Chaudhary strongly objected to being called “Your Ladyship” by Advocate General Atul Nanda. Nanda tried to reason with her by referring to the history of the usage of the term. However, Chaudhary was adamant, and Nanda said that he would avoid the usage.</p> <p>While the bar council’s resolution is clear on how the judges have to be addressed, it largely remains on paper. Even in Rajasthan, despite the High Court’s notice, at least 70 per cent of the lawyers still address judges “My Lord” or “Your Lordship”, said Syed Shahid Hasan, senior advocate and chairman of the Bar Council of Rajasthan. “Judges also like to be called that,” he said. “It is high time these titles are done away with. Judges have to be given respect, but they are not God.”</p> <p>Former Supreme Court judge Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan rejected the idea that judges like to be addressed in a certain manner. “I don’t think any judge would insist on being called in a certain manner,” he said. “All that is expected is that the chair is shown respect. ‘Your Honour’ is fine. Even ‘Sir’ is fine.”</p> <p>Lawyers feel the use of the titles has a lot to do with habit and training. The joke that goes around in legal circles is that if the two titles are done away with, majority of the lawyers will not be able to argue since they are so used to starting their argument with “My Lord” or “Your Lordship”. Supreme Court lawyer Sneha Kalita said most litigants use “Sir” to address judges. “They are not used to referring to judges as ‘My Lord’ or ‘Your Lordship’,” she said. “It is a habit we lawyers inculcate from the time we are in law college. A certain level of dignity and respect has to be maintained in the relationship between the bar and the bench.”</p> <p>Lawyers also talk about peer pressure as a factor determining the use of the titles—if they opt for “Your Honour” when the opposing lawyer is going for “My Lord” or “Your Lordship”, the judge may think they are trying to act smart.</p> <p>However, Lokenath Chatterjee, advocate, Calcutta High Court, said a majority of the lawyers do not mind using the archaic titles. “It is linked to the majesty of the court and reflects respect towards the institution, and lawyers are a part of that,” he said.</p> <p>Breaking away from this practice will not be easy for Indian courts.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 01 16:17:31 IST 2020 unsettled-unsettling <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Virsa Singh Valtoha</b> is a polarising figure in Punjab politics. A two-time MLA, Valtoha, 57, is known as much for his alleged role in Sikh militancy in the heyday of the separatist movement as for the provocative statements he has made after entering the political mainstream. A leader of the Shiromani Akali Dal, he now holds the dubious distinction of being an accused in the oldest pending criminal case against a lawmaker.</p> <p>Valtoha’s claim to notoriety was discovered during the hearing of a public interest petition in the Supreme Court on September 9. A bench headed by Justice N.V. Ramana wanted to know the oldest pending criminal case against a lawmaker. The amicus curiae in the case, lawyer Vijay Hansaria, said it was a 1983 murder case in Punjab in which Valtoha was an accused. The judges were shocked; the proceedings in the case had been hanging fire for nearly four decades.</p> <p>The case relates to the murder of a doctor in Tarn Taran district. The first information report was filed in September 1983, and trespass and murder charges were framed this January 17. In the meantime, Valtoha got bail in 1991 and was twice elected MLA—in 2007 and 2012.</p> <p>The court has asked the state government’s counsel to apprise it of the status of the matter, even as Valtoha says he had been discharged in the case. “I was falsely implicated,”he said. “I was in jail from 1984 to 1991 in connection with other cases, so the question of my not participating in the trial in this case does not arise. The co-accused in the case got acquitted. Some months later, I got bail and was discharged from the case.”</p> <p>Valtoha was arrested in Operation Blue Star in 1984. He alleged that the murder case was being revived for political reasons. “My opponents are targeting me,” he said. “There are many people who cannot bear to see me in mainstream politics.”</p> <p>Valtoha may or may not be guilty, but his case is a prime example of the huge pendency of criminal cases involving incumbent and former legislators. They continue to contest elections and enter legislative bodies, even as cases involving them are stuck in courts.</p> <p>According to a report submitted by Hansaria to the Supreme Court, 4,442 cases are pending against sitting and former MPs and MLAs. In 2,556 of these, incumbent legislators are accused. In as many as 413 cases, the offences are punishable by life imprisonment; 174 of these cases are against sitting MPs and MLAs. In a large number of cases, charges have not yet been framed, and many are still at the appearance stage. In many of the cases, the matter is stuck at the “execution required of arrest warrant” stage. During the hearing in which the Supreme Court bench learnt of Valtoha’s case, a case from West Bengal was also mentioned. It involved charges far less serious, but it predated the Punjab case by two years. The charges against veteran Trinamool Congress leader Sisir Adhikari included rioting, being armed with a deadly weapon, unlawful assembly and endangering life or personal safety of others, and the FIR was filed in 1981. The case was disposed of a few months ago.</p> <p>“Of course, I would have liked the case to get over earlier,” said Adhikari, 79, a former Union minister who has been a Lok Sabha member since 2009. “I mentioned the case in my election affidavits. We know how overburdened our courts are. So I do not want to blame anyone for the time it took for the case to be disposed of. It was only after the court gave an order for the cases to be tried by special courts that the trial gathered pace.”</p> <p>A conviction in the case would not have resulted in Adhikari’s disqualification, since the punishment would have been less than two years in jail. But the case does serve as an example of criminal proceedings against lawmakers moving at a snail’s pace. According to the amicus curiae, the reasons for prolonged pendency include the accused trying to influence witnesses by using money and muscle power. He said the court should direct the authorities to strictly implement witness protection measures.</p> <p>In many cases, non-bailable warrants issued by the trial court for securing the presence of the accused were not executed. “There are serious issues involved in establishing evidence in these cases,”said advocate Sneha Kalita, who helped Hansaria prepare the report. “The accused do not appear before the court. Witnesses either do not turn up or turn hostile. So the case goes into a standstill at the evidence stage.”</p> <p>She also pointed out that there were not enough special courts to hear the cases. There are now 12 such courts, but the Supreme Court wants the Centre to consider increasing this number based on the district-wise breakup of pending cases. “There is also the issue of the investigating officer and the witnesses having to travel long distances to attend trial in the special courts. If more such courts are set up, this problem can be resolved,” she said.</p> <p>The amicus curiae has suggested setting up special courts in every district, giving priority to cases depending on the severity of the crime and punishment involved, reviewing the stay on a large number of cases, providing protection to witnesses, and asking the High Courts to monitor the progress in the cases. A larger issue arising out of this is the criminalisation of politics. What began as a criminal-politician nexus, say experts, has led to the criminal coming to the fore and fighting elections, with dons-turned-politicians like Mukhtar Ansari and Ateeq Ahmed completing the mainstreaming of crime in politics. Nearly half of the winners of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019 had criminal cases against them, according to a study conducted by the Association for Democratic Reforms. Of the 539 MPs elected in May 2019, 233 or 43 per cent were named in criminal cases. As many as 112 MPs (21 per cent) were accused of serious crimes. Maj Gen (retd) Anil Verma, head of ADR, said the Supreme Court should not leave it to Parliament to enact laws to clean up politics. “They (parliamentarians) will be the last people to do something about it, considering the large number of lawmakers who face criminal charges, and the prevalence of money and muscle power in elections,” he said.</p> <p>The oft-stated defence of politicians is that most such cases are politically motivated and that they should not be deprived of the ‘innocent till proved guilty’ principle. “Getting named in cases is an occupational hazard,” said Adhikari. “You take part in an agitation, and you risk being named in a case.”</p> <p>In February this year, the Supreme Court directed political parties to publish the criminal history of their poll candidates along with the reason for giving tickets to the accused. The order will be implemented for the first time in the assembly elections in Bihar, due later this month. The Supreme Court has, meanwhile, refused to pass an order to debar politicians facing criminal charges from contesting polls. It had ruled in 2013 that a legislator convicted of a crime and given a minimum punishment of two years in jail would lose his or her membership of the house immediately. Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Rasheed Masood of the Congress lost their seats in Parliament because of the order. The existing law states that convicted politicians cannot contest elections for six years after completing their sentence. There have been demands for barring politicians facing criminal charges from contesting polls, and banning convicted politicians from fighting elections.</p> <p>According to former chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi, such a ban would be unduly harsh. He said the current minimum ban of eight years—two years of minimum imprisonment, followed by a six-year ban—is enough to kill a political career. A way out, according to him, has three options. “One, political parties should themselves refuse tickets to the tainted,” he said. “Two, the Representation of the People Act should be amended to debar persons against whom cases of heinous nature are pending. Three, fast-track courts should decide the cases of tainted legislators quickly.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 01 16:01:33 IST 2020 opposite-leaves <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Nearly four years after her death, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is still struggling to fill the void left behind by former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa. The party, which will turn 49 in October, is plagued by a leadership crisis that is deepening by the day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 16, as the assembly proceedings came to an end, Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, as party coordinator, wanted to call a meeting of all AIADMK MLAs and senior leaders at the party office. But Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, as joint coordinator, refused to give consent. The tilt in the power equation within the party was for all to see. When the two factions headed by Panneerselvam and Palaniswami came together—brokered by the BJP, following Jayalalithaa’s death—the division of power was clear: Panneerselvam would control the party, and Palaniswami would head the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 17, Panneerselvam, also known as OPS, decided to convene an emergency meeting of party executives at the party office. In a first for the AIADMK, the notice was tweeted. Ahead of the meeting on September 18, there was much sloganeering at the headquarters—OPS supporters hailed him as “future CM” whereas Palaniswami’s aides called him the “permanent CM”. The three-hour long meeting, convened to broker a truce between the two, turned combative and ended inconclusively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The clash between the two factions is not new though. Soon after the merger in 2017, senior party leader V. Maitreyan posted on Facebook: “The factions have merged. Months pass by, but what about the hearts?” Even though there was a clear distinction of power between the two leaders, Palaniswami, aka EPS, started getting more support within the party. As a senior AIADMK leader said, “OPS decided to assert himself and take control of the party, but EPS was always accommodative of everyone.” Also, the 11-member steering committee, which was to be constituted during the merger, was never formed. Sources said that OPS had trouble recommending his aides for party posts as every decision required the joint coordinator’s consent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rift between the two widened this August, when senior ministers took sides on the issue of the party’s chief ministerial candidate for the 2021 assembly elections. While Minister for Cooperation Sellur K. Raju said that MLAs will elect the chief minister post the polls, Minister for Milk and Dairy Development Rajenthra Bhalaji said, “Let us face the election with EPS as the CM candidate.” These statements soon turned into a poster war, which soon spilled on to the streets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 15, Panneerselvam received the Chief Minister’s Best Practices Award for the total computerisation of the finance, treasury, human resources and pension management processes of the state. But soon there was frenetic activity outside the residences of the Panneerselvam and Palaniswami, both of whom live just a few metres away from each other on the Greenways Road in Chennai. Hectic parleys went on till late afternoon on August 16, with a group of ministers acting as interlocutors. The ministers were seen rushing in their cars from one residence to another to deliver messages. Later that day, the two leaders seemed to have arrived at a temporary truce. However, the EPS camp felt that OPS had his way as they could no longer project Palaniswami as the chief minister candidate, while Panneerselvam’s supporters were upset that he still did not have complete control of the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Days after the truce, Palaniswami reportedly visited party presidium chairman E. Madhusudhanan at his house in North Chennai. While it was supposedly to enquire about Madhushudhanan’s health, it was no courtesy call. Madhusudhanan, OPS and EPS were co-petitioners in the fight for the party’s two leaves symbol against Jayalalithaa’s close confidante V.K. Sasikala and her nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran. With that visit, the truce reportedly came to an end, and Panneerselvam then tweeted about the emergency meeting on September 16.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Party sources said that as soon as the meeting got under way, a Panneerselvam supporter raised the issue of the delay in constituting the steering committee. While J.C.D. Prabhakar and P.H. Manoj Pandian from the Panneerselvam camp were said to be quite vocal during the meeting, deputy coordinators K.P. Munusamy and R. Vaithilingam tried to keep the peace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A minister from a northern district pointed out that the party was being dominated by a particular community from west Tamil Nadu, which consists of the Kongu region—home to the Gounder community. Palaniswami and his lieutenants—S.P. Velumani and P. Thangamani—are from the Gounder community. A few days before the emergency meeting, three ministers from the Vanniyar community, hailing from north Tamil Nadu, had a closed-door meeting to discuss strategies to contain the growing clout of Palaniswami. Sources said that this meeting was convened after a Vanniyar minister was asked to approve a lucrative tender that was against the norms. With the failure of the emergency meeting, the party has called for an executive committee meeting on September 28.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, at a press meet hours before the emergency meeting, AIADMK’s Ramanathapuram strongman Anwar Raja said that Sasikala’s release from prison would have a huge impact on Tamil Nadu politics. On September 20, Dhinakaran is said to have taken a chartered flight to Delhi to meet a senior RSS leader, who is close to the BJP high command. This private meeting triggered speculations that the BJP was trying to merge Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam with the ruling AIADMK. The visit has also led to rumours of his aunt Sasikala’s early release from the Parappana Agrahara prison in Bengaluru. But the state prison department, in a reply to an RTI query, said that the “probable date of release is January 27, 2021”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sasikala’s release and Dhinakaran’s moves gain significance, as party insiders said that only a “single leadership” like MGR’s or Jayalalithaa’s could lead the party to victory in the 2021 elections. And Sasikala, they said, was aware of each party member’s strengths and weaknesses, including those of Panneerselvam and Palaniswami. Sasikala and Panneerselvam belong to the politically powerful Thevar community. And Panneerselvam’s rise in the party, it is said, in the early 2000s was thanks to Sasikala’s recommendations. “Wait for two more weeks. Much more drama combined with hectic parleys will unfold,” said a senior party functionary close to Panneerselvam. “He wants to lead the party and he is not averse to bringing back Sasikala’s family into the party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, Panneerselvam is keen on continuing the alliance with the BJP. His son P. Raveendranath Kumar, the party’s lone MP in the Lok Sabha, voted in favour of the farm bills. Rajya Sabha MP S.R. Balasubramoniyan, though opposed to the bills, voted for it, saying, “It is an order to vote for the bill from the party high command.” Sources said BJP state in-charge Piyush Goyal had spoken to Panneerselvam, seeking support for the farm bills.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Palaniswami, however, wants to ditch the BJP and go it alone for the upcoming polls. He thinks that the alliance would prove disastrous for the party, like it did in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. And, he has been taking on the BJP and its policies at the Centre. In August, he opposed the Centre’s three-language policy, and later prohibited Vinayaka Chathurthi processions in the state. He also got a Bharat Sena member booked under the National Security Act for defacing the statue of social reformer Periyar E.V. Ramasamy in Coimbatore. But Palaniswami has not declared an all-out war against the BJP for fear of raids from Central agencies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His actions though seem to have angered BJP leaders in Tamil Nadu, with state BJP president L. Murugan saying, “We can win 60 seats if we contest alone.”</p> Fri Sep 25 19:51:03 IST 2020 innocent-dead <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON SEPTEMBER 18,</b> the Army finally admitted that its personnel had exceeded the mandate of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1990 during an operation at Amshipora in Shopian on July 18, in which three “terrorists” were killed. It said that its statement was based on prima facie evidence found in an inquiry into the operation. The evidence also indicated that the “Dos and Don’ts of Chief of Army Staff”, as approved by the Supreme Court, had been “contravened”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Consequently, the competent disciplinary authority has directed [those concerned] to initiate disciplinary proceedings under the Army Act against those found prima facie answerable,” said Srinagar-based defence spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE WEEK spoke to the families of the dead and they told the story thus. In March, Abrar Ahmed—a resident of Peeri, Kotranka, in Rajouri district—had returned home from Kuwait. The 23-year-old was excited about building a small, three-room house and catching up with his ten-month-old son.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The construction soon began, but it could not be completed as Ahmed ran out of money in July. As he could not return to Kuwait because of the pandemic, Ahmed decided to go to Shopian, 80km from Rajouri, where his maternal uncle’s son, Imtiyaz Ahmed, a Class 12 student, was working as a labourer to pay his fees.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 15, a day before leaving for Shopian, Ahmed spent the night at his aunt and mother-in-law Sifat Jan’s house, also in Rajouri. The next morning, he left for Shopian with Jan’s son, a Class 10 student also named Abrar Ahmed. They took the Mughal Road and reached Shopian in the evening; Imtiyaz was waiting for them. The cousins then rented a room at Keegam for 01,600, and bought some rations. The following day, Imtiyaz called home and said that all three of them were fine. That was the last time their families heard from them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 18, the Army had said in a statement: “On a specific input by 62 RR (Rashtriya Rifles) about the presence of terrorists in the Amshipora area, an operation was launched by them. During the search, terrorists fired upon Army personnel and the encounter started. Later on, the police and the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) also joined. During the encounter, three unidentified terrorists were killed. Their bodies were retrieved from the site of encounter. The identification and affiliation of the killed terrorists are being ascertained.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The statement said that incriminating materials, including arms and ammunition, were recovered from the site of the encounter. It also said that the bodies of the terrorists were sent to Baramulla for their last rites after completing medico-legal formalities, including collection of their DNA. “In case any family claims the killed terrorists to be their kith or kin, they can come forward for their identification,” the statement said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 9, the cousins’ families filed a missing persons’ report; they had not heard from them in weeks. The following day, when photos of the killed “militants” first appeared on social media, they were shocked to see the resemblance. They went to the police and urged them to trace them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Army, having heard of the families’ reactions to the photos, said it was investigating the matter. “We have noted social media inputs linked to the operation at Shopian. The three terrorists killed in the operation have not been identified and the bodies were buried based on established protocols,” said Kalia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political parties in Kashmir reacted sharply to the possibility of a fake encounter. In a tweet from the handle of Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti, her daughter, Iltija, said the reports of the “staged encounter” in Shopian showed that the armed forces were operating “with impunity”. She said it explained why bodies were allowed to decompose at unknown locations, and demanded an investigation into recent encounters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader M.Y. Tarigami: “This is shocking and must be probed by a sitting High Court judge in a time-bound manner.” He added that, in the past, too, civilians had been killed in fake encounters for rewards and promotions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The National Conference said it had constituted a team to explore the possibility of moving court to know the truth about the encounter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 18, Kalia said that the Army’s high-level inquiry into the operation was in progress, and that the statements of key witnesses were being recorded. “Additional civil witnesses are being asked to depose before the court of inquiry,” he said. “Concurrently, the Jammu and Kashmir Police have collected DNA samples from Rajouri (on August 14) and sent them for matching with [those of] the terrorists killed on July 18.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The father of Imtiyaz (Sabr Hussain), the mother of the younger Abrar (Jan) and the father of the older Abrar (Muhammad Yousuf) attended the Army hearings. “I testified before the Army and told them that our children had no connection with militancy,” Yousuf told THE WEEK. “I told them they could have arrested them. Why did they kill them?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, he said he was satisfied that the administration and the Army had acted swiftly. “Those who killed our children should be hanged,” he said. “Only then will we have some peace. If we do not get justice, I will hold those responsible for the murder of our children before God on the day of judgment.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said that his son had brought a new phone from Kuwait, but had been locked out of it; Ahmed had forgotten the screen lock code and had taken the phone with him to Shopian to get it unlocked. “Before he left for Shopian, he told his wife that he would get the phone opened in Srinagar and then put a SIM card in it for her,” Yousuf said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jan told THE WEEK that her son wanted to earn money to pay for his studies. “I want the police to return the bodies of our children,” she said. “We will bury them ourselves, even if it is only a limb.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She said the police must match the DNA and release the results quickly. “Why are they delaying it? This delay is creating anxiety and doubts,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 18, Kalia said the evidence prima facie indicated that the three unidentified “terrorists” killed in the operation were Imtiyaz Ahmed, Abrar Ahmed and Abrar Ahmed, who hailed from Rajouri. “Their DNA report is awaited,” he said. “Their involvement with terrorism or related activities is under investigation by the police.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the Army was committed to ethical conduct in all counter-terrorism operations. “Cases where doubts are raised are investigated under due process as per the law of the land,’’ he said. “As the case is under investigation, further details will be shared periodically, as appropriate, without affecting due legal process.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 21, speaking in Parliament for the first time since his release from detention, National Conference president Farooq Abdullah said, “I am happy that the Army has admitted that three Shopian men were killed mistakenly. I hope the government gives [their families] a hefty compensation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He and party MP Hasnain Masoodi stood in front of the Gandhi statue outside Parliament with photos of the three Rajouri youth and Irfan Ahmed, who died in custody in Sopore, to highlight human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Amshipora encounter is the first of its kind after Jammu and Kashmir was made a Union territory last year. And as security now comes under direct control of the Union home ministry, the blame for fake encounters will be laid at its door.</p> Fri Sep 25 19:47:49 IST 2020 woman-of-substance <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Meeting Kamala Harris in the flesh is compelling. I experienced it first hand when I saw her take the stage for a fundraiser in New York two years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than 500 Indian Americans had gathered to meet one of their own. All of them must have had a Kamala in their circle of family and friends. In her genes and luminous smile, they found echoes of a shared past and ancestry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An Indian and Jamaican by birth, Senator Harris has been anointed vice presidential candidate and Joe Biden’s running mate in the US presidential election, due in November. Harris, 55, is the first woman of colour contesting the election for the second-highest job in the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Who would have thought that 2020 would be the year that all of America learned that Kamala in Sanskrit meant lotus flower. Most Americans find it difficult to pronounce the name correctly, but the fact that they are trying to do so represents the changing face and multicultural spirit of America.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, according to the Pew Research Center, hers is the face of the future. In a report about multiracial Americans, the researchers noted: “Biden’s selection of Sen Kamala Harris of California as his running mate in this year’s presidential election has sparked a conversation about multiracial identity in the United States. Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, is among a relatively small but growing group of Americans with a multiracial background.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2019, Harris wrote The Truths We Hold, a memoir that gives insights into her American journey—a rough and tough growing up in Oakland, California, living through segregation and the civil rights movement. She persisted and went on to become the first black and Asian woman to be elected attorney general of California, and the first south Asian woman to be elected to the US Senate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Kamala, as you all know, is smart. She’s tough. She’s experienced. She’s a proven fighter for the backbone of this country, the middle class,” said Biden while introducing her as his running mate in the virtual national convention of the Democratic Party in August. “She knows how to govern. She knows how to make the hard calls. She is ready to do this job on day one.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the convention, Harris showed how strong her Indian roots were by showcasing the biggest influence of her life, her mother Shyamala Gopalan. “She came here from India at age 19 to pursue her dream of curing cancer,” Harris said. “At the University of California Berkeley, she met my father, Donald Harris, who had come from Jamaica to study economics. They fell in love in that most American way—while marching together for justice in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In the streets of Oakland and Berkeley, I got a stroller’s-eye view of people getting into what the great John Lewis called ‘good trouble’.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Good trouble became a mantra of her life, which Harris has dedicated to fighting injustice and inequality. “My mother instilled in my sister Maya and me the values that would chart the course of our lives,” she said. “She raised us to be proud, strong black women, and she raised us to know and be proud of our Indian heritage.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In her speech, Harris said of her mother: “She taught us to be conscious and compassionate about the struggles of all people, to believe public service is a noble cause, and the fight for justice is a shared responsibility.” It led Harris to become a lawyer, a district attorney, attorney general and a United States senator. “And at every step of the way, I have been guided by the words I spoke from the first time I stood in a courtroom — Kamala Harris, for the people,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Biden’s choice has been well received. As the New York Times noted, “In announcing Ms Harris, 55, as his vice-presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden told supporters she was the person best equipped to ‘take this fight’ to President Trump, making space in a campaign premised on restoring American decency for a willing brawler who learned early in her career that fortune would not favour the meek among black women in her lines of work.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Harris has been hailed as the female Obama. She represents many different groups that see themselves reflected in her. Her family, too, is multicultural; her husband, Doug Emhoff, is Jewish and her stepchildren lovingly call her ‘Momala’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Impact, a leading Indian American advocacy group, an estimated 1.3 million Indian Americans are expected to vote in this year’s election, including two lakh in Pennsylvania and 1.25 lakh in Michigan, both must-win battleground states. “Kamala Harris’s story is the story of a changing, inclusive America. At a time of rapid change, she ties all our national threads together,” said Neil Makhija, Impact’s executive director. “She represents the future and promise of this country. Her candidacy is historic and inspiring, not only for black Americans but for millions of Asian American voters, the fastest-growing voting bloc in the country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manisha Sinha, professor of history at the University of Connecticut, termed Biden’s decision to pick Harris a “personal gift”. “Not only does she represent the very groups mocked and vilified by Trump—women, black people and immigrants—but also, as a woman of Afro-Indian descent, she might well be the future face of American politics,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Subodh Chandra, a civil rights lawyer and former law director of the City of Cleveland, Ohio, has seen Harris interacting with children and the elderly up close. She once met his elderly parents and immediately took to his mother, addressing her as aunty and interacting as if the two had long been relatives. When she met his three sons—triplets—there was so much hugging, and not of the kind meant for a politician’s photo op. “The sense you get from her is that she is someone who really values family, kids and good cooking,” said Chandra. “On Twitter, you have all these funny videos of her instructing her husband on food preparation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At work, he said, she exudes magnetism and positivity. She can quickly cut to the truth and expose someone who is talking nonsense. “These qualities are going to make her a magnificent candidate and asset to the ticket and the country. And, I think, eventually our first female president,” Chandra said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shelly Kapoor Collins, a venture capitalist who lives in San Francisco, has known Harris since 1998. Four years ago, when Harris ran for the Senate, Collins’s mother gave her a silver Lakshmi coin, saying she would go very far. The blessing seems to have worked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“You have to meet her to understand there is something very charismatic about her,” she said. “She is fierce—and I love that in a woman who is so strong and has paved the way for other women. She has a bold vision for the country and you believe her when she talks; her authenticity really comes through.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some feel that Harris is not Indian enough. Collins, however, disagrees with that view. “As Indian Americans, we need to rally around our candidate not because of shared heritage but because of shared values,” she said. “I believe in her vision. I believe in what she wants for America. The Indian American community needs to align itself with values, not just with identities.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who blogs at 'Lassi with Lavina'.</b></p> Fri Oct 02 12:29:50 IST 2020 sowing-anger <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>What happened in the Rajya Sabha on September 20 was unprecedented and against constitutional propriety. Both the government and the opposition agree on this, but for different reasons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The trouble started when Deputy Chairman Harivansh asked for proceedings to be extended to pass two crucial agriculture reform bills. The opposition resisted. As Harivansh persisted, agitated members of the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party rushed to the well saying the chair was being partisan. Some opposition members tore rulebooks, threw papers and advanced menacingly towards Harivansh before the marshals restrained them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The house eventually passed the two contentious bills with a voice vote. The opposition parties then boycotted the session. On September 22, the house passed another bill, again with a voice vote. “The division (voting) could not have been allowed when there was ruckus inside the house,” said Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. “The deputy chairman asked them to return to their seats 13 times.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Farming has always been a sensitive issue in India, especially politically. For instance, parties have often won elections by promising farm loan waivers; the Congress won Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in 2018, and the BJP won Uttar Pradesh in 2017 with a similar promise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No one wants to alienate the farmers, and the Modi government knows that. For the first time, the opposition may have an issue that it can use to mobilise crowds against the government; it failed to do so during demonetisation and the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, on the other hand, would need a massive awareness campaign to convince farmers that the bills would increase their incomes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been vocal about farmers’ interests, and said that the reform bills were “historic”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the bills, the most controversial was the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, which allows a farmer to sell his produce to anyone, anywhere. The existing Agricultural Produce Market Committee-run mandis and minimum support price would be kept intact. The farmer, however, would get the minimum support price only at the APMC mandis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“These bills will give more profit to farmers and ensure greater participation,” said BJP Rajya Sabha member Bhupender Yadav. “The opposition parties do not want more money for the farmers. The lies of the opposition will be exposed. The MSP will stay.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress disagreed. “The MSP will continue, but the government will reduce its procurement [of grains],” said Dr Amar Singh, Congress MP from Punjab and former Food Corporation of India chairman. “History will tell us. If procurement is not reduced, how will PDS (Public Distribution System) supply reduce? If the PDS supply is not reduced, how will the private players come in? The government should assure that procurement will not go down.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Politics aside, farmers’ organisations are on the warpath. A group of them has called for a bandh on September 25, and a meeting of all farmers’ unions in Delhi on September 27 to chalk out the course of action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said V.M. Singh, convener of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, an umbrella organisation of more than 250 farmers’ unions: “We have the example of Bihar, which had abolished APMC in 2006. There, crops are sold below MSP. The same will happen elsewhere. The AIKSCC warns the government of nationwide unrest if MSP is not guaranteed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Swadeshi Jagran Manch, which the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh backs, also has asked the government to guarantee MSP, even in the private sector. “The farmers have poor bargaining power,” said SJM national co-convener Ashwani Mahajan. “They could be exploited, and thus need government protection.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mandis are a source of revenue for state governments. In Punjab, for example, sale and purchase of agriculture produce at mandis attract a tax of 6 per cent, along with arhatiya (middleman) commission of 2.5 per cent. This earns the state around Rs4,000 crore a year. The state governments stand to lose this revenue as the new reforms would introduce zero-tax trade areas outside the mandis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another point of contention is that, according to the bill, a farmer with a complaint would have to go to a sub-divisional magistrate for redress. This might discourage the farmers and also burden the magistrate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other two bills—the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020—have not faced as much resistance. The essential commodities act, a socialist-era law enacted during the time of food scarcity, had become obsolete. On September 22, the Rajya Sabha passed the bill to remove cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onions and potatoes from the list of essential commodities. This would remove private players’ fears of excessive regulatory interference and would benefit a number of new agri-tech startups. Along with the</p> <p>Rs1 lakh crore agriculture infrastructure fund, this will help create more facilities for farmers.</p> <p>“Earlier, there was no clarity on the rules in different states,” said Karthik Jayaraman, CEO and cofounder, WayCool, a Chennai-based agri-tech startup. “Procuring was tedious. The new reforms will give greater freedom to us to expand, and source farm produce directly from farmers, instead of just the APMC. The farmers will benefit, so will new agri-tech companies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The second bill, for empowerment and protection of farmers, gives legal sanction to contract farming. This will allow big companies to sign contracts with farmers and use the land to grow crops of their choice. This is already done in several states. The government has also clarified that the farmer would not be at risk of losing his land, which many parties and farmers’ bodies had feared would happen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite disagreements on many aspects of the bills, most people seem to agree that the private sector would gain from them, which would in turn help the economy. The trouble, though, lies in convincing the farmers, and the Modi government will have to work overtime to do so.</p> Fri Sep 25 19:37:32 IST 2020 will-not-allow-implementation-of-the-bills <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>HARSIMRAT KAUR BADAL</b> quit the Union cabinet protesting that the farm reform bills were against farmers. The Shiromani Akali Dal, her party, has been part of the National Democratic Alliance since its inception, and had been the first to support Narendra Modi’s candidacy for prime minister. However, the Akalis could not lend their support to Modi this time as the party’s vote bank is largely made up of the Sikh peasantry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview, Badal explains the factors behind her resignation, and the way forward for her party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Why did you resign from the Union cabinet?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ My party and I are opposed to the three agriculture-related bills which are against farmers. When I could not convince the government, and the bills were going to be passed in the Lok Sabha, I had no option but to oppose the bills. So, I resigned as a minister and opposed the passing of the anti-farmer bills.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The SAD raised the need to address the apprehensions of farmers through all possible means. First, I raised it while giving my comments during the inter-ministerial consultations before ordinance came to the cabinet. I again expressed my apprehension in the cabinet meeting when it was tabled for discussion. After the ordinances were promulgated, the SAD took up the issue with the BJP top leadership. However, when the NDA government refused to address the matter, I did not have any option but to resign from my post and prepare to battle alongside farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\Other Union ministers say you were present in the cabinet when the bills were approved.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ I have never claimed not being present. Before, during and after the promulgation of the ordinances I continuously raised objections about the bills, and urged the government to address these apprehensions before bringing the bills. I tried for more than two months to make the government agree to critical changes for making the bills beneficial to farmers, but I could not convince them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\The government claims the bills are for farmers’ benefit.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ The cumulative impact of the three legislations will create serious problems. It is going to ruin agriculture of Punjab.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once the private players get established the state procurement system will first get weakened, and finally [will become] irrelevant. The state mandis and the infrastructure created to procure food grains, which has been established painstakingly over a period of 50 years, will be destroyed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\The SAD has been the oldest BJP ally. Will both parties continue their alliance in Punjab?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ This is a call which the party leadership will take collectively. We will discuss the issue with the party cadre as well as block and district level units before taking a final call on this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\What is your party’s future course of action on the farm reform bills?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ We stand firmly and strongly with the farmers. We will make sure that the anti-farmer bills are not implemented in Punjab. All efforts will be made to stop the implementation of these bills. Akali Dal is a party of warriors. We will lead the fight…. The party has already drawn an action plan to ensure that the voice of annadaata [farmer] is heard by the nation and its government. We have announced a chakka jam (stop the wheels) on September 24, and will hold a kisan march to Mohali on October 1, to hand over to the governor a memorandum for the president, from Sri Akal Takht, Sri Damdama Sahib and Sri Kesgarh Sahib. We will not rest till justice is done to the farmers.</p> Fri Sep 25 19:32:36 IST 2020 uncompromising-position <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>PRIME MINISTER</b> Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping are likely to come face to face soon at the BRICS summit in Russia. The summit, which has been delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, is now expected to take place by the end of October. Modi and Xi have met 18 times since 2014. The 19th meeting is going to be a tough one, given the tense border standoff between India and China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Military commanders from both countries have been holding marathon deliberations, but they have not yet produced any tangible results. The sixth such meeting held on September 21 was also attended by Navin Srivastava, joint secretary in charge of east Asia at the ministry of external affairs. The MEA sent its representative to ensure that the Army and the political leadership were on the same page on the issue. Srivastava, who has been holding border talks with Chinese diplomats, had accompanied External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar during his recent meeting in Moscow with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India went with a bigger delegation for the sixth round of talks, which was the first one after the Jaishankar-Wang meeting. The team led by Lieutenant General Harinder Singh of the Leh-based 14 Corps consisted of commanders of the two divisions responsible for Ladakh, Major General Abhijit Bapat and Major General Padam Shekhawat. Lieutenant General P.G.K. Menon, who is expected to take over the command of the 14 Corps, was also present. The Indian side said the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was the aggressor and should withdraw first following the principle of ‘first in, first out’. At the end of the 14-hour-long meeting, the two sides agreed to “stop sending more troops to the frontline” and “refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on ground”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lieutenant General Harinder Singh and Major General Liu Lin of the South Xinjiang military district have now spent nearly 75 hours trying to negotiate a way out of the current impasse. “Such long hours indicate that there are too many differences between the two sides. The Indian side needs to change its approach while negotiating with the Chinese military,” said former northern army commander Lieutenant General (retd) D.S. Hooda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Military planners do not foresee any major breakthrough in the coming days. They are, in fact, apprehensive of further violent skirmishes before winter sets in. General (retd) V.P. Malik, who led the Indian Army during the 1999 Kargil operation, said eyeball-to-eyeball situations can escalate quickly. He mentioned the Nathula crisis of 1967 when an accidental firing by a Chinese soldier while setting up a fence escalated into heavy artillery exchange which lasted for four days. “We need to be on our highest level of alertness and should be prepared for winter,” said Malik. Citing the example of the Indian victory in Kargil, he said a robust defence was needed for diplomacy to succeed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Military strategists believe that India’s recent tactical gains have made China jittery. Operation Snow Leopard launched on August 29 has given the Indian Army control over the dominating heights in the Chushul region, bringing China’s Moldo garrison under its range of fire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Major General (retd) S.B. Asthana, an infantry leader with over 40 years of experience, said the PLA’s operational aim was to maximise its territorial gains on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and gain some tactically significant features crucial to India before the onset of winter. “It will exploit the remaining 30 to 45 days before heavy snowfall for the purpose, and will try not to give away any more critical heights,” he said. “We should raise the cost for the PLA for its gross violation of the LAC, even if it requires a long haul on the border and a few more military options.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the five-point agreement between Jaishankar and Wang in Moscow was nothing more than a diplomatic nicety, and was difficult to implement on ground. “We have had 22 rounds of diplomatic talks on border management, but failed to reach any consensus,” said Asthana. As the LAC is not clearly demarcated, there will be incidents of jostling. “Jostling is not a strategic, tactical or operational action. Talks have very little meaning without proper demarcation, but it requires political will on both sides.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malik said there was a complete breakdown of trust between the Indian Army and the PLA. “On the ground, they do the exact opposite of what they discuss during talks, like what happened in Galwan. Armies always hit their adversaries at their weak spots. For proactive defence, we need to look for soft spots on the other side. You cannot guard each and every inch of a high altitude mountainous border,” he said. He also warned about areas where India lacked adequate infrastructure and about posts which were thinly guarded.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian military planners think that a pullback from the border will be politically costly for Xi. The PLA, therefore, is unlikely to withdraw and may use the time for negotiation to bolster its logistics and beef up infrastructure support for its forward troops.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While India insists on unhindered access to the 15 Patrolling Points in eastern Ladakh currently blocked by China, the PLA wants India to vacate the strategic heights along the south bank of Pangong Tso. But giving up the newly occupied heights will be a strategic disaster for India. “If China does not agree to disengagement, then we should ask the PLA to thin down its troops close to the border. We need to rethink our negotiating position to break the logjam,” said Hooda. Many military strategists are, however, sceptical about the ongoing negotiations. “We should not go for a quick fix solution,” said Asthana. “It will turn into a major handicap in the future.”</p> Fri Sep 25 19:25:16 IST 2020 not-so-fast <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SHIVANI</b> (name changed) from Delhi was allegedly raped by a male acquaintance in 2012. She was purportedly given intoxicant-laced tea by the man, after which she passed out and was sexually assaulted. He threatened to make a video of the crime public if she spoke about it. However, Shivani, now 28, approached the police and a case was registered. It was assigned to a fast-track court (FTC) and the charge-sheet was filed in 2013. However, recording of evidence started only in 2017 and was listed for final arguments in early 2019. The wait for a judgment continues. The case highlights the irony of fast-track courts—set up to speed up the disposal of cases, but failing to provide timely justice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Statistics show that these courts take as long as ordinary courts, if not longer, to dispose of cases. For instance, nearly 34 per cent of the cases sent to fast-track courts in Bihar took more than 10 years to clear; in Telangana, 12 per cent of the cases went on for more than a decade. In the same duration, the lower judiciary as a whole cleared 48.75 per cent cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fast-track courts are also burdened with substantial pendency. According to figures provided by the Union law and justice ministry in Parliament, as of March 2019, the 581 fast-track courts that were then operational had a sizeable pendency of over 5.9 lakh cases. Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state, had over 4.25 lakh cases pending even after the state’s 206 fast-track courts disposed of 4.56 lakh cases from 2016 to 2018.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As on December 31, 2019, 828 fast-track courts were functional. They have been set up to try various kinds of cases, primarily those relating to crimes against women and children, and also criminal cases against MPs and MLAs, mob lynchings, riots, and atrocities against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fast-track courts were first set up in 2000; the scheme was initially supposed to end in 2005, but it was extended for another six years, and after that their fate was left to the states and High Courts. The brutal gang-rape and murder of a physiotherapy student in Delhi in December 2012 gave a new fillip to fast-track courts amid a public outcry for speedy justice. A fast-track court that was set up on January 2, 2013, decided that particular case within nine months. However, as statistics show, such speed is rare.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation led to the Supreme Court, in December 2019, setting up a two-judge committee to monitor, supervise and make suggestions for speedy trial in cases of rape and crimes under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012. As per the law, trials in rape cases have to be completed within two months, and in POCSO cases within a year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts say that problems arise from these courts being seen as a temporary arrangement; judges are drawn from the lower courts, and courts lack staff and infrastructure. “The number of judges is insufficient,” said Surya Prakash B.S., fellow and programme director, DAKSH, a civil society group that researches law and governance. “The expectation is that the judge would handle certain cases on a priority basis. But the judge is handling other jurisdictions also. So this becomes another case list for him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Human rights lawyer Olivia Bang said pendency of cases in the fast-track courts do not allow them to expeditiously hear matters. “Even in an FTC, the next date of hearing is often three or four months later,” she said. “And it is not surprising, since even in an FTC, on any given day, there are at least 15-25 matters listed for hearing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The pace of investigation could also be one of the possible bottlenecks,” said lawyer Nimisha Menon. The Supreme Court had in 2019 observed that in more than 20 per cent of POCSO cases, even the investigation was not completed within one year. Menon pointed out that forensic sample reports are also not processed expeditiously and added that setting up labs specifically for the investigation of crimes against women and children would expedite the process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lawyer Eliza Rumthao, who handled one of the first POCSO cases to be registered in Delhi, said that the case, which went to court in 2012, got completed only last year. “The delay is emotionally taxing for the victim,” she said. “In many cases, the family of the victim wants to give up fighting.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The examination of witnesses also delays matters further. Assam lawyer Bijan Mahajan, who represents the family of one of the victims in the fast-tracked Karbi Anglong mob lynching case, said: “Witnesses not turning up in the court delays the trial. And witnesses turning hostile damages the prosecution’s case.” Lawyers say that procedural changes need to be made to speed up the recording of evidence, which takes the most time in a case. “You cannot examine a witness in a day,” said lawyer Kamlesh Mishra. “Courts spend seven to eight months examining witnesses. If an alternative mechanism is devised for this, for example, if the registrar or the court commissioner is entrusted with the task of recording evidence, the disposal of cases can be expedited.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, experts say that no specific procedure is prescribed for fast disposal of cases by fast-track courts and they have no special powers. “These courts need a different set of procedural rules and [have to be] given powers such as being able to order a probe if the investigation is found to be lacking,” said Surya Prakash.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government had proposed the setting up of 1,800 fast-track courts for five years between 2015 and 2020 to deal with cases related to women, children, senior citizens and other vulnerable sections of society. The 14th Finance Commission endorsed the proposal that would require funds allocation of 04,144.11 crore to states. In August 2019, the Centre also announced its decision to set up 1,023 fast-track courts for disposal of pending cases related to rape and POCSO, at a cost of 0767 crore. As of January 2020, 195 of them have been set up. Out of the 1,023, 389 will exclusively handle POCSO cases, as directed by the Supreme Court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts highlight a fundamental flaw in the scheme. The courts are set up under a Centrally sponsored scheme, but the task of setting up fast-track courts comes under the domain of state governments. “The scheme requires even the state governments to pitch in funds and not all the states have the financial capacity to do so,” said Tarika Jain, research fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. She said that while setting a specific target of clearing 1.66 lakh cases might work for these courts, the scheme does not specify any special training for the judicial officers and it is unclear if any assistance for adequate legal representation for the parties will be provided. Such assistance can help dispose of cases in a timely and efficient manner. Jain added that no provision has been made to digitally record evidence and examine witnesses. “In sensitive cases, it might be critical for the victim to not come in contact with the accused,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a senior law ministry official, a decision has been taken to hire lawyers with up to eight years of practice to work as consultants to implement the scheme. They will be required to coordinate with registrar generals of High Courts to ensure that the timeline of completing the trial is followed. Also, each fast-track court will have one judicial officer and seven staff members, and no existing judge or court staff will be given additional charge of these courts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The recruitment of judges has to be carried out by the states. But there is already an alarming dearth of judges in the subordinate judiciary, and it is doubtful how effectively the states and the already burdened High Courts will find judges for these courts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The justification offered for setting up the 1,023 fast-track courts is that there are over 2.4 lakh cases relating to rape and POCSO pending. However, experts call for the overall strengthening and reform of the judicial system rather than trying to fix the problem of delays and pendency by setting up new fast-track courts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are fundamental problems with the rationale behind fast-track courts, said Alok Prasanna Kumar, senior resident fellow at Vidhi. “The idea that procedure is cumbersome and disposable in some kinds of cases is wrong and must be opposed,” he said. “And directing resources towards some kinds of cases over others creates inequalities in the system.” He said the focus should be on filling up all the vacancies in judges’ positions and providing for more judicial positions in the states where the pendency is heavy, building better courtrooms and equipping the existing judicial infrastructure, using modern technology and software for better court management, and increasing judicial budgets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, while there has been a demand for speedy and time-bound justice in the wake of the Unnao and Hyderabad rape and murder cases, it is also argued that the emphasis should be on timely justice rather than speedy justice as often the timelines set for the disposal of these cases are irrational and suggest that procedure is dispensable in deciding such matters. “Skipping procedural steps in hastening a case will not stand the test of the law,” said Shubhangi, who uses only one name, programme coordinator at the Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives. “Timely trial would mean there are no unnecessary delays. And it will give the victims an experience of justice. However, there are no guidelines on timely trial by FTCs, so how can you expect these courts to be any different?”</p> Fri Sep 25 18:23:00 IST 2020 states-and-high-courts-have-to-address-backlog <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>UNTIL DISPUTE</b> resolution is swift, the legal system is not credible. A backlog of around 3.5 million cases is horrendous. There is a long list of what should be done to fix the legal system, with reforms on both demand and supply. The idea of fast-track courts originated with the Eleventh Finance Commission (2000-2005). So, to evaluate the courts, we should consider what the commission visualised: “The demand made to us by the States... including establishment of new courts, sums up to Rs4,870 crores…. It goes without saying that the creation of these new courts would require very large recurring and non-recurring expenditure…. The Scheme is that instead of employing new judges, retired sessions judges and additional sessions judges be appointed as ad hoc judges for disposing of the pending sessions cases. A fixed tenure of two years would be an impetus to them to dispose of the cases early and not to linger on with an expectation of extended tenure.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Accordingly, the commission provided Rs502.90 crore for 1,734 fast-track courts. The funding for improving judicial infrastructure was not meant to come through the Finance Commission. Those funds flowed through the Planning Commission. Nor were broader judicial reforms part of what fast-track courts were supposed to do. The purpose was focus—specific money for specific cases. Though not mandatory, there were guidelines. Each judge should dispose of 14 sessions cases per month; 168 cases a year. Five judges per district, with 600 districts, would mean more than five lakh cases disposed of in a year; backlog reduced by two million in four years. At least, that is what the Eleventh Finance Commission thought. It said that if the experiment was successful, the model could be extended to other criminal (non-sessions) and civil cases; the work norm would be 20-25 cases disposed of per month.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Judiciary is reluctant to accept externally determined work norms. But, it is also not willing to evolve norms on its own. One can understand the difficulty of evolving work norms for complicated constitutional cases. But I have not understood why norms cannot be evolved for lower courts, where questions of fact, rather than the law, are involved, and where there is no need to write long and complicated judgments. (Do you remember a recent instance where Supreme Court judges sent back a Himachal Pradesh High Court judgment because they could not understand it? I wish more judges would write judgments like Lord Denning.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Be that as it may, the Eleventh Finance Commission money became additional funds, without work norms, used like a shotgun, in the hope that something sticks. The scheme should have ended on March 31, 2005. It did not, because of the Supreme Court’s judgment on May 6, 2002 (Brij Mohan Lal vs Union of India and Others). If you read the judgment, the tenor is that we need more courts and more judges and, to this end, any additional resources are welcome. The directions said that at least one administrative judge shall be nominated in each High Court to monitor the disposal of cases by fast-track courts. I suspect not much has happened in this direction. So, Union government funding continued till March 31, 2011. After that, in a view upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012, it was left to the states and High Courts to decide how to address the judicial backlog issue best.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 14th Finance Commission said that was the reason states have a higher share (42 per cent) in the divisible pool of taxes. It also said there were 699 fast-track courts which have worked well with a focus (crimes against women, disputes more than five years old). Hence, in 2019, there were 1,023 fast-track courts for rape cases and offences under Protection of Children against Sexual Offences. However, if a state wishes to continue with fast-track courts, these have to be made permanent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Debroy is chairman of the Economic Advisory Council to the prime minister.</b></p> Fri Sep 25 18:17:21 IST 2020 fast-track-courts-need-procedural-amendments <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>According to NCRB data for 2018, only 22 per cent of the cases in fast-track courts were disposed of within a year. How do you view this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fast-track courts have been set up to dispense speedy justice in heinous crimes against women and children. In 2019, the Supreme Court, in a suo motu case directed that all such cases, especially related to POCSO, be sent to the FTCs. The committee also examined and found that till December 2019, 828 FTCs were functional in 17 states and Union territories, and sufficient funding is available for these courts. The problem is that, even in the pursuance of the Supreme Court directions to set up these courts, the legal procedure for these courts is the same as the ordinary courts. Some suitable procedural amendments are required to allow speedy disposal of cases in these courts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It has been observed that these courts suffer from infrastructural deficiencies and the judges are drawn from the already thinly-staffed lower judiciary.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recently, our committee examined the issue of whether we can provide a special court management system. Artificial Intelligence is being used in various areas. We are looking at whether it can be used in court management, especially focusing on allocation and disposal of cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There are almost six lakh cases pending in these courts.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are various procedural issues that need to be streamlined, for example, examination of witnesses takes a lot of time, and it gets prolonged when witnesses do not turn up, and when medical reports are not submitted on time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How does the committee look at the scheme to set up 1,023 fast track courts to hear matters pertaining to crimes against women and children?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The parliamentary committee also recommended in its report that the impact of the scheme may be evaluated after one year of the scheme to identify the challenges, and the same may be apprised to the committee in the action taken reply filed by the department. Let us wait for the response of the Central government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has the committee gone into the progress made under the scheme?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The committee examined the allocation of funds under the scheme, and we feel that the government has provided sufficient funds for the setting up of courts. We feel that the setting up of these courts was needed as there is a huge pendency of cases of crimes against women and children, and especially, with regard to POCSO cases, the number of cases has gone up tremendously. But the main issue of how to ensure speedy disposal of cases remains, and it is a challenge before the system. The action taken report will throw more light on the practical difficulties involved in the functioning of these courts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Some experts question the setting up of fast-track courts. They say fast-tracking certain categories of cases creates inequality and hence is unconstitutional.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reasonable classification is recognised by the law under Article 14. We feel that certain cases are more important than others because of their social impact and hence there is nothing wrong in treating them differently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It is also said that instead of setting up fast-track courts, the entire judicial system should be reformed.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We need to reform our courts. We have entered an era when virtual courts have become a reality. Providing justice that is not just timely but is accessible and affordable should be at the centre of efforts to reform the judicial system.</p> Fri Sep 25 18:14:38 IST 2020 women-on-watch <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AN INSAS RIFLE</b> strapped to her shoulder, T. Lian Khan Ching is clad in military camouflage with a bulletproof vest, helmet, ankle-high service boots and a scarf that doubles as a face mask. Only her eyes are visible. And, they seldom stay still, darting from one woman or child to another as they disembark from vehicles for a security check at Sadhna Pass in Kashmir’s Kupwara district. Ching is part of an all-woman platoon from Assam Rifles deployed by the Army at the strategic Sadhna Pass since July 25. The purpose is to deter smugglers from using women and children to sneak in arms and narcotics into Kashmir from across the Line of Control. Prior to the platoon’s posting, women and children were exempted from security checks. This is the first time the Army has deployed women soldiers near the LoC in Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sadhna Pass lies 150km northwest of Srinagar. Located 10,000ft above sea level, it is surrounded by the LoC on three sides and connects one lakh residents of Tangdhar-Teetwal villages with the rest of the Valley. Locally, Sadhna Pass is called Nathi Chapa Gali or the pass that leaves one’s nose numb owing to the icy cold winds during winter; 20ft snow blankets the pass in winters when the temperature drops to -25⁰C. After the 1965 war, when Bollywood superstar Sadhna visited the pass to boost the morale of the troops, it came to be known as Sadhna Pass. Black-and-white photographs of the film star adorn the walls of the meeting hall at the pass alongside photos from the 1965 war and of soldiers in action against tribals from Pakistan who tried to annex Kashmir in 1947. There are also photos of India’s first defence minister Baldev Singh interacting with troops at the pass and at Teetwal after the tribals were pushed back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the nine riflewomen in the platoon hail from the northeast. Deployment near LoC comes with its own set of challenges—Pakistani artillery shelling, inclement weather, inhospitable terrain, minimum amenities and no recreation except watching television. But they have taken it all on the chin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 7, they had their first brush with shelling from Pakistan that killed one civilian and injured six others at Tangdhar. As soon as they heard the shelling, Ching and three others of her platoon—all members are in their 20s—rushed to the underground bunker some distance away from the check-post. “We stayed in the bunker for some time and then resumed our duty,” said Ching, who is from Nagaland. The shelling did not scare her, she said. “This is part of our job and that is what we have been trained for,” she said. She struggles with Hindi but is fluent in English. She applied for a job in the Army with four of her childhood friends, but only she got in. The opportunity to serve near the LoC has been a thrilling experience for her. “I tell myself, beyond those mountains is Pakistan,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Riflewoman Mevish Rongmei from Manipur has been serving in the Army for three years. “But this is the best experience to date,” she said. Her father, also in the Army, inspired her to don the olive greens. While the local people are cooperative, she said they had trouble understanding her Hindi at times. Joining the Army was L. Khongsai’s childhood dream. Her brother is in the Border Security Force, and that made it easier for her to join the Army after class 12, said Khongsai, also from Manipur. The platoon is led by Captain Gursimran Kaur of the Army Service Corps. She regularly interacts with the soldiers and also acts as a guide. To unwind, the soldiers watch television or surf the internet on cellphone. Sadhna Pass has good internet connectivity, thanks to a mobile network line close by.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior Army officer said the women soldiers adapted well to the situation near the LoC. More washrooms were made available in view of their deployment, he said. The platoon’s deployment, he added, had helped curb the use of women and children to smuggle arms and narcotics. They had also addressed “the gender sensitivity concerns of the female travellers,” the officer said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A day after the deployment of the platoon—on July 26—10kg of brown sugar, an AK-47 rifle, two pistols, 20 grenades and other ammunition were recovered from three persons who were travelling in two vehicles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An Army officer said that the narcotics and arms were seized during a routine checking of vehicles at night. He said the riflewomen work in shifts of three hours, from 6am to 9pm. “After that, all the checking is done by male soldiers,” he said. The presence of riflewomen seemed to have put pressure on the smugglers, he said, and that is why they were trying to smuggle drugs and weapons at night when women and children seldom travel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before deciding to post the women platoon at the pass, there were suggestions to deploy a contingent of policewomen at the check-post. However, the Army decided to bring in women soldiers, till the time the 100 women it plans to induct in the Military Police complete their training.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The women soldiers, meanwhile, are on watch. But guess what they are looking forward to? Snowfall in November. Said Rongmei: “It is going to be fun to witness snowfall here.”</p> Thu Sep 17 19:37:11 IST 2020 spaced-out <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>MISSION GAGANYAAN</b> will not take off this year. However, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is still hopeful that the last of the three flights in the mission, the one with Indian astronauts, should make it to the 2022 deadline, to coincide with the 75th anniversary of independence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first of the three flights of Gaganyaan was to have taken off this December, followed by another unmanned flight next year. The delay has been conveyed to the Space Commission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gaganyaan, India’s human space flight mission, is a three-flight programme, with only the third actually carrying the astronauts into a lower earth orbit. Given that India is not sending any animals to space before launching the astronauts, the first two flights are important for testing the organisation’s capabilities, including the life-support systems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead of astronauts, the first two flights will have on board Vyommitra, a “half humanoid” (as she does not have legs) to help check the systems in the crew module in situ, including temperature, pressure levels and oxygen availability. She will have some level of autonomy to communicate with the ground station.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>ISRO’s launch calendar has been heavily impacted by the pandemic, and there has been no launch from its spaceport, Sriharikota, this year. In fact, the only ISRO launch this year was G-SAT 30, but it was carried by a French rocket, Ariane, which took off from French Guiana on January 17. Although officials confirm that there may be around three to four launches before the year is over, they admit that the deadlines of several launches planned for the latter half of this year may slip into the next calendar year. This could have a cascading effect on the next year’s plans, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are hopeful that the final manned mission will take off as per the planned schedule, since we still have some time cushion for it,” said Vikas Singh, spokesperson, ISRO. At the time the project was announced in 2018, chairperson K. Sivan had said that it was possible to do the mission even earlier, given that the organisation had already done enough R&amp;D on it, and developed prototypes. However, that confidence had not taken into consideration the Covid-19 pandemic, which brought work to a complete halt initially, and even now, it is not business as usual.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from Gaganyaan, ISRO was scheduled to launch Aditya, its first probe to study the sun’s corona, too, this year. Chandrayaan-3 is listed for next year. This apart, there are several routine satellite launches, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>S. Somnath, director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, said that two rockets were already at the space port in Sriharikota, waiting to take off since March, but with lockdowns and restricted movement, it has been impossible to do anything. One of these is the first Geo-imaging satellite (GISAT 1), which was to be launched upon a GSLV rocket. The other is a PSLV.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The GISAT is the first of the earth observation geostationary satellites. So far, India has only had polar satellites for earth observation. It is meant for continuous, real time observations, and has applications for weather forecasts, disaster management, as well as military uses. The launch, scheduled for March 5, was called off mysteriously a day before, with ISRO citing technical reasons, and not specifying anything else. The secrecy over the cancellation led to a number of conspiracy theories.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The technical issues are resolved,” Singh said. “We are just waiting for travel to become easier.” Almost all of ISRO’s centres are involved in a launch, and it takes a minimum of a month’s work at the spaceport to “integrate” a rocket for take off—stacking the satellite, evaluating, testing and then when the countdown starts, fuelling. The components come from various places—rockets come from Thiruvananthapuram or Mahendragiri. The satellites are manufactured in Bengaluru, while the payloads may come from various other centres. “This requires the travel of officials to Sriharikota in various batches, across weeks, from different states. Sometimes, we also need international travel to our ground stations in Brunei and Indonesia,” explained Somnath. For weeks, the rocket manufacturing centre at Thiruvananthapuram itself was under triple and critical lockdowns.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While ISRO managed to shift a lot of its research to the work-from-home schedule, there are certain things that simply cannot be done from home. Launching a rocket is one of those. Interstate restrictions was one hurdle, the fact that many of the organisation’s own staff is affected by the infection, or in quarantine, creates further problems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Somnath said that the rocket for Gaganyaan’s first flight is almost ready. However, other technologies are not in the same phase of readiness, yet, say sources. A lot of the hardware manufacturing contracted to the private sector, too, has been affected by the pandemic. In fact, even the four test pilots of the Air Force, who were sent to Russia, for astronaut training in January, had to twiddle their thumbs for weeks with Russia itself under lockdown. The training has, since, resumed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, from other spaceports across the earth, some very interesting launches have happened. China has so far had 22 missions since January and reports say it is aiming for a record 40 launches by December. Its best year was 2018, with 39 launches, the highest in the world. China’s most prestigious mission, this year, was the July 22 launch of its Martian probe, Tianwen 1. This probe includes an orbiter, lander and rover.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The United Arab Emirates, too, sent a probe to Mars, the Hope Orbiter, from Japan in July. NASA launched its Mars 2020 mission, which included the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter, the first to attempt rotor blade flying in an alien atmosphere. All three spacecrafts are expected to reach Mars next February. They took advantage of a short window that happens every 26 months, when the two planets are closest to each other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier in June, NASA and private player SpaceX&nbsp;did the first human space flight from the US since 2011, sending astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA has just announced that the next SpaceX flight to the ISS will take off in late October, taking seven astronauts to the 20-year-old orbital laboratory. In October itself, NASA plans to send a probe to the asteroid Bennu, to return to the earth with a sample.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Russian space agency Roscosmos, too, launched a Proton rocket with two satellites from its Baikonur spacedrome in July and is planning, among other things, a flight to the ISS in September.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts say that unlike other countries, where facilities are in one place, India’s space centres are spread across several states, and the lockdown restrictions have made it impossible for such heavy interstate transport of components and humans. The European Space Agency (ESA) has not been able to do any launches, officials point out, since its spaceports are far away from the headquarters in Paris and their launches will require international travel, even more difficult in these times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh added that a lot of work has resumed in various centres as the country has begun unlocking in phases, and unless there is no other unforeseen event, ISRO should manage three to four launches by the year end. However, he said it was not possible to say which these launches would be, since they are all being readied simultaneously. It would depend on which gets ready, and also on the scheduling.</p> Thu Sep 17 19:37:53 IST 2020 heights-of-tension <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SIX MONTHS INTO</b> his tenure as the commander of Leh-based Fire and Fury Corps (XIV Corps), Lt General Harinder Singh faced the biggest challenge of his career—the Chinese transgressions at the border. Since May, he has engaged with his Chinese counterpart five times, without much success. But, after the Army’s latest offensive action, which gave it control over dominating heights in the region, Singh has more bargaining power in his negotiation with the Chinese. However, the tension on the border is unlikely to be resolved by the end of his tenure; normally, a corps commander’s tenure is 12 months. Negotiations hardly yield immediate solutions to military stand-offs. It took nearly six years to resolve the Sumdorong Chu incident (1986), where India and China had come close to war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Harsh Pant, head of strategic studies at Observer Research Foundation and professor of international relations at King’s College London, said: “India has wrested military initiative from the Chinese forces on the ground for the moment, but Chinese forces will be waiting for their turn,” he said. “There is going to be lots of turbulence going forward.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, after External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi met on September 10, on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet in Moscow, there is absolute calm on the border. A senior Army officer termed this “unusual”, given the experience of the past four months. There is apprehension that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is desperate not only to dislodge the Indian Army from strategic heights, but also to attempt to gain leverage in talks by taking other areas. As a result, Indian Army formations are on highest alert all along the border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One major development post Jaishankar and Wang Yi’s meeting is that China’s statement, quoting Wang Yi’s remarks to Jaishankar, does not say “responsibility entirely with India”; earlier, this had been a key part of China’s stance. However, the joint statement does not mention “status quo ante”, either.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The eight fingers of Pangong Tso, where slopes of barren mountains jut into the lake (tso), has been a bone of contention between India and China since the early 1960s. Traditionally, India claims the territory till the easternmost Finger 8. But, both sides reached an understanding that India would control Fingers 1-4 and China 5-8. In the last fortnight, the Indian Army took control of dominating heights in the Fingers area, along with at least six other strategic positions; this would enable India to oversee Chinese movement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An officer said that the action was in response to the PLA taking control over the ridgelines of Finger 4. “Indian Army climbed tough heights at the altitude of 19,000ft,” he added. This is nearly the altitude of some of the highest posts on Siachen—the world’s highest battlefield.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During talks, Chinese military had agreed to withdraw from Finger 4, but nothing has materialised. In the absence of a major breakthrough in the talks, the Indian military is prepared to face the harsh winter in Ladakh and, indeed, all along the Line of Actual Control. For the Chinese military, it would be the first experience of the difficulties of high-altitude deployment in sub-zero temperatures during winter. There is a belief that China may turn to cyber operations and a battle of perception in the winter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lt Gen (Retd) S.L. Narasimhan, member, National Security Advisory Board, told The WEEK: “Disengagement should be the immediate process, followed by de-escalation, which seems to be distant at the moment.” He added that it was evident both sides do not want escalation or war. But, he said, the number of troops the Chinese have brought into their depth areas and the Indian Army also mobilising equal numbers is worrisome. “Unless the complete de-escalation takes place in the depth area, one cannot be really sure of the situation,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pant said that given the trust deficit between the two sides, it will be a long haul both at the border and in the broader normalisation of bilateral relations. “India has stood up to China in ways that Beijing perhaps was not expecting,” he said. “And India is likely to make decisions assuming the worst about China.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Military planners believe that the mutual scramble for high ground and tactical advantage and the reports of warning shots being fired—the first gunshots along the LAC since 1975—indicate that the crisis is entering a more dangerous phase. Frank O’Donnell, non-resident fellow, Stimson Center South Asia Program, said that with firing of guns now becoming normalised, and tensions running high, the potential for an exchange of fire and casualties is increasing. “This in turn raises the risk of larger offensive military actions,” he said. He added that Chinese President Xi Jinping had publicised that there is an active military stand-off with India, meaning the political costs to him are high if he cannot hold the ground China has seized in perpetuity or exchange it for political or territorial concessions elsewhere. And India will not accept that, said O’Donnell. “This means China has very little room to back down from the position it is now in,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lt Gen (Retd) Anil Ahuja, former deputy chief of integrated defence staff, believes that while Xi can signal intent, military operations of the magnitude that would be required even for a full-scale sectoral offensive require much mobilisation and preparation. “The professional acumen of the Indian military and political leadership lies in being able to realistically evaluate his build-up capability, monitor it and assess what he can do with that,” he said. “He is unlikely to be able to take any substantial punitive action against India with any degree of guaranteed success.” He added that Xi could assure the plenum (meeting of the Chinese Communist Party’s central committee) of holding India on tenterhooks till the next campaigning season and then attempt to “teach India a lesson”.</p> Thu Sep 17 19:38:54 IST 2020