Current en Mon Mar 14 11:08:12 IST 2022 criminal-procedure-Identification-act-can-help-indian-agencies-but-there-are-pitfalls <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>India’s criminal justice system is undergoing a major churn. The legal edifice built by the Britishers is being replaced brick by brick, with laws that are in sync with modern times and Indian conditions. Home Minister Amit Shah and Law Minister Kiren Rijiju are the architects, and have been brainstorming for the past one year to bring about this paradigm shift. In focus are the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860; the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973; and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On April 18, President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill, 2022, ushering in the first big change. Opposition parties and critics called the legislation “draconian” and “unconstitutional”, and said it could be used to create a surveillance or police state. Policymakers and law enforcement bodies, on the other hand, called it a progressive law that brings Indian agencies at par with their counterparts in the US or the UK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US Federal Bureau of Investigation, for instance, has a centralised database of even shoe prints. “The US Secret Service has a database on almost every article today. Digital prints are available for everything from a shoe and wall paint to a deleted tweet,” said senior IPS officer Muktesh Chander, former director of the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre in Delhi. With this, sleuths can match the shoe prints at the crime scene with their central database, identifying the makers and when that particular shoe was sold from which outlet in which part of the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“India needs to keep pace with the changing times where the five big technology giants like Google already have a database of individuals,” said Chander. “We have only taken a baby step in that direction.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He added that the new law would help the government achieve the “one nation, one database” mantra wherein the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) and Crime and Criminal Tracking Networks and Systems (CCTNS)—which links data records in every police station in the country—will get a wider array of details including even sweat and semen matches in cases where the offence attracts a jail term of more than seven years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently, different government bodies keep different details. For example, the Election Commission and passport authorities have photographs of citizens, and the Aadhaar database has iris scans. During the 2020 Delhi riots, the Delhi Police had asked the Election Commission for access to its electoral rolls to match the faces that were captured on CCTV cameras. After public furore, the commission had to clarify that it had followed legal guidelines to assist the law enforcement agency. A senior home ministry official said the IPC and the CrPC allow the government to seek any information from other departments in matters of national security.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Y.C. Modi, former chief of the National Investigation Agency, said the new law would certainly help in speedy investigation. “Crime is a dynamic situation and criminals are adopting new methods every time,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NIA’s probe into the 2019 Pulwama terror attack had begun as a blind case in the absence of any proof against the perpetrators. The agency collected more than 4,000 fingerprints, but did not have a corresponding national database to cross-match. Finally, it used DNA profiling and other forensic tests to identify Adil Ahmad Dar as the suicide bomber who had rammed the explosive-laden car into the Central Reserve Police Force convoy. The biological traces were the only evidence left on the spot of the carnage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“A lot of information is already available with the government and police agencies directly or indirectly,” said M.L. Sharma, former CBI special director. “So, the problem is not who will access it, rather what kind of personal information should they access keeping in mind the nature of the crime. It is this thin line that makes the law draconian.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He, however, said the constitutional validity of the current law cannot be questioned. “No doubt, privacy is a fundamental right, but it is not absolute and it is subject to the dictates of law and order and public peace,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Where the law flounders, Sharma said, is that it permits taking measurements like fingerprints and retina scans in all offences, even petty ones. “The act says only biological samples cannot be collected for lesser offences,” he said. This could intrude into the privacy of citizens, he added.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920, which has been repealed, covered only those offences that were punishable with at least one year of jail and only included fingerprints, footprints and photographs. “The current law may be conducive to public order, but the rigour of this law should be applied only to serious offences that are cognisable and punishable with imprisonment of three years or more,” said Sharma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prashant Mali, a cyber crime lawyer in the Bombay High Court, said that, under the new law, the measurements of a person may be used against him in trial. However, Article 20(3) says that a person cannot be forced to be a witness against himself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, if a person is granted bail, he can still be arrested if he refuses to provide the measurements as per the new law, he said. “The purpose of the bail provisions will be defeated,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts also feel the implementation of these provisions would burden the police in routine cases. It would also entail considerable public expenditure without corresponding gain to public peace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former home secretary G.K. Pillai recalled that the collection of biometrics for the Aadhaar database had to be scrapped some years back as the technology was not easily available at all centres. There was also the problems of authentication and storage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Lastly, the new law also needs to be in sync with the proposed data protection law that is aimed at making citizens aware of their right to consent in the ever-evolving digital ecosystem. Accountability will have to be fixed against misuse or leak of personal data,” he said. The government will also have to specify what kind of measurements will be preserved for 75 years, which could last the entire lifetime of the accused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The devil lies in the details. Said Pillai: “Technology alone cannot control crime. So while the new law will provide a tool to police forces and Central agencies to track criminals and crack cases, the lawmakers and law enforcers need to be equally focused on regaining the credibility of the institutions using these tools.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Inter-agency rivalries, centre-state battles and leakage of critical details in sensitive cases are some of the ills plaguing the criminal justice system today. A glaring example is that almost all opposition-ruled states have withdrawn their consent to the CBI to investigate cases in their states. “The bill is very wide and ambiguous and can be misused by the state and the police. It is against the right to be presumed innocent till proven guilty,” said Congress leader Manish Tewari.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Pillai: “The trust deficit between the Centre and states needs to be bridged first, and the Central agencies need to win the confidence of the people for successfully implementing any law.”</p> Fri Apr 29 18:03:35 IST 2022 exclusive-rijiju-says-new-criminal-identification-law-wont-violate-anyones-privacy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>How will you ensure that the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act is not misused?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Act is the need of the hour for the country. It is a progressive law and is timely as it is necessary to provide law enforcement agencies with tools to act against criminals appropriately and investigate crimes swiftly in sync with modern times. The Union home minister (Amit Shah) has addressed this issue in Parliament. He has said that while framing the rules, the provisions in the Act and its objectives would be properly incorporated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How does the new law not clash with the data privacy rules and the right to privacy of citizens?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This law is not going to violate the privacy of any individual because the data collected will be completely secure. We must understand that the government is following international best practices followed by other countries in the area of evidentiary proof for solving crimes. As technological advancements have been made, the crime trends have also undergone technological and scientific changes, and the laws have to keep pace with them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So, the current laws were inadequate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Identification of Prisoners Act was formed in 1920. The Act provided for the collection of only fingerprints and footprints, and is very narrow in its scope to collect the biometric and physical information of the accused/convicts. After the law commission examined the issue, it proposed changes. Discussions took place multiple times on the various provisions in the law to enforce the collection of such information. The law has been passed after due diligence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What about political detainees?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government has made it clear that no person involved in a political agitation will have to give any physical or biometric measurements. The law is clear that such (biological) details can only be collected for criminal offences punishable with more than seven years of imprisonment. However, if there is a criminal case and a political leader is arrested in the criminal case, then he will be treated at par with citizens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Your government had said it will repeal all obsolete, British-era laws. What is the progress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As on date, 1,486 laws have been repealed and the process is on to remove all obsolete laws brought in by the British. We are also looking forward to the removal of laws that are not in sync with the present situation. All statute books are being reviewed to ensure that obsolete laws are removed quickly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is there a need for parliamentary oversight of the judiciary?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The judiciary should remain independent, and I believe no step should be taken to dilute the independence of the legislature, executive and judiciary, equally, for a healthy democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you agree that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is draconian? Is it time to do away with it completely?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Act was brought into force in 1958 by the then Congress government to quell insurgency activities in Nagaland and other northeastern states. But now... the law and order situation is much better. Since the [Narendra] Modi government came to power, the government has removed the application of AFSPA from large parts of northeastern states. It has been completely removed in Tripura, Mizoram, Meghalaya and is only in force in three districts of eastern Arunachal Pradesh... and two police stations adjoining these districts. It has also been removed from most places in Assam, Manipur and large areas in Nagaland.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you agree that the law has been misused?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were cases of collateral damage because whenever there is a strong law, there is always a strong possibility of innocent people [getting caught] in the crosshairs during security operations. This is the reason the government has initiated peace talks with a large number of insurgent groups in the northeast. Enforcement of a harsh law is the last resort because security forces need protection to operate in difficult areas, and the flip side is that there are cases of human rights violations. The government policy is to ensure use of minimum force; we are trying to bring all rebel groups to the<br> negotiating table.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>When will there be peace and stability in Jammu and Kashmir so that AFSPA can be withdrawn there as well?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The question is not about the law itself, but bringing peace and security to the people, whether it is in Jammu and Kashmir or the northeast. This means that when the situation is peaceful on the ground, the need for AFSPA will cease to exist. As compared with the past, the situation has improved tremendously.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>China has constantly claimed Arunachal Pradesh as part of south Tibet and issued official names for places there last year. After the withdrawal of Article 370, how is the government dealing with the constant threat on the western and eastern frontiers?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China’s claims are an attempt to dilute the ground situation, but it will not affect the ground reality. The focus of the government is to take steps for the development of the border areas, which has been neglected in the past. I can say that after the removal of Article 370, the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are properly getting benefits of the Central government schemes. The policy of the previous Congress government was not to develop the border areas, but the Modi government is creating infrastructure in the border areas, whether it is the western or eastern frontier. Earlier, the Central funds and facilities were being siphoned off by the local government and authorities. But now all the constitutional guarantees that apply to people across the country are also applicable to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not want to talk about external aggression; rather, we focus on providing justice to the people who are citizens of the country. The decisions taken by the government are not an attempt to send signals to neighbouring countries.</p> Sun May 01 13:04:54 IST 2022 many-kashmiri-pandits-are-planning-their-return-with-or-without-the-govt-help <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>EVER SINCE MILITANCY</b> forced Kashmiri Pandits to leave the state in the late 1980s, they have found themselves at the centre of debates in places big and small, from tea stalls to newsrooms to Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest debate stemmed from the film The Kashmir Files, which its makers and some politicians, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, described as the correct portrayal of atrocities the militants committed against Kashmiri Pandits. Social media burned for weeks with users lobbing allegations from both sides. There were calls to rehabilitate the Kashmiri Pandits and punish those who hurt them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the film’s success and the impending elections in Jammu and Kashmir could speed up the Pandits’ return to Kashmir, several of them have already, quietly, been making their way back. Satish Mahaldar, for one, believes it is time to shun the bitterness and move on. He heads the Jammu and Kashmir Peace Forum (JKPF), which works for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits. The organisation wants the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir government to take steps for the return of the Pandits without delay. Mahaldar has been visiting Kashmir regularly and claims that even separatists are on board with his plans. In 2019, separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told a JKPF delegation that Kashmiri Muslims were incomplete without Kashmiri Pandits, and that the Hurriyat would do everything for their safe return.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mahaldar told THE WEEK that the JKPF had gathered support from a variety of Kashmiris, but the administration was not cooperating. A few years back, he said, 106 Kashmiri Pandit families were ready to return with the JKPF’s help. “The plan was to buy land and start the project with the help of the Jammu and Kashmir Housing Board under the build, operate and transfer model, but they refused,” he said. The revocation of Article 370 and the Covid-19 pandemic did not help.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>About two years on, the JKPF has now resumed work. On April 2, it organised an event to celebrate Navreh (Kashmiri Pandits’ new year) in Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir Park. The festival saw many migrant Kashmiri Pandits returning and mingling with the locals. “I am happy to be here,” said Monica Koul, who came from Delhi with her daughter, a Class 9 student. “My childhood friend Sumaira Zahoor is also coming here. She lives near Dargah Hazratbal.” Koul also re-established contact with childhood friends and the teachers who taught her at Vishwa Bharti, a school in Srinagar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The last time Koul was in Kashmir, she met the neighbours who had bought her childhood house at Ali Kadal in Srinagar after her family left Kashmir. The neighbour’s house had burnt down. “They came looking for us in Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh and requested my father to sell the house,’’ she said. “My father agreed as we needed the money. Until he died in 2019 of Parkinson’s, he kept a pair of keys to the house with him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“[The neighbours] received me with open arms and said you are always welcome. I told them if they decide to sell the house, I would like to buy it. After all, roots are roots. When my son was with me here for a week, he told me, ‘Now I realise why you crave for Kashmir’.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anjali Ada, a social activist who came from Delhi to attend the festival, once had a house at Barbuj Kocha in Habba Kadal in Srinagar. “I come to Kashmir every year,” she said. “I have also brought my team from Delhi. We get a lot of love from the people here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She said Kashmiri Pandits were waiting for the government to help them return. Some others, however, have been more enterprising. Sandeep Wali, who works in an insurance company, visits Kashmir regularly and has made many friends. He was six when militancy forced his family to flee from Nuner, a village in Ganderbal in north Kashmir, to Jammu in the south. “My father was in his late thirties when we left,’’ he said. “Despite working as a chief accounts officer in the government, he had to invest 15 years and his savings to build a house in Jammu.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Is security not an issue anymore for those wanting to return? Last year, several Kashmiri Pandits, including noted chemist M.L. Bindroo, were killed by militants. “His killing was tragic, but our feelings about Kashmir are such that I cry when I see the photos of our house [even though] I have no recollection as I was too young when we fled,” said Wali. “I never faced any problem in Kashmir. Also, problems are part and parcel of life; it is better to ignore them.” He added that politicians should think beyond their own benefit. “The wise men of our community must find a way out. Everybody wants to return, but what would they do without housing and jobs?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajay Raina, a civil engineer, is also not depending on the government. Two years ago, he bought land at Zewan on the outskirts of Srinagar to build a house and enrolled his two daughters in Delhi Public School, three kilometres from Zewan. “Some Kashmiri Pandit families are already living in Zewan,” he said. “The village also has a temple.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said he knew many Kashmiri Pandits willing to return, despite the perceived security threat. He added that, currently, several migrant Kashmiri Pandits in IT, pharmaceutical and travel companies rent houses in Kashmir for the summer and move out before winter. “There has been some impact of that (the killings of minority community members), but I do not feel threatened,” he said. “I feel safe in Kashmir. Once, some [outsider] colleagues and I ran into a protest, but after seeing me, they (protesters) let us go saying I was their bate boye (Pandit brother).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An important facet of the return journey is the relations between the minority and majority communities in Kashmir. Ramesh Koul, a director at Kashmir Box, an online platform for Kashmiri-made products, said his perception of Kashmir changed after meeting two Kashmiri Muslims, Mehraj and Ishfaq, for a business proposal in Delhi in 2012. “When I met them, I felt as if I had returned to my roots,” he said. Koul said Kashmiri Pandits never felt insecure until the advent of the gun; he had left Pulwama in south Kashmir when he was in Class 7. Like most migrant Kashmiri Pandits, his family faced many hardships in Jammu, not least the heat. “It took us ten years to build a house in Jammu,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Through Mehraj and Ishfaq, he made friends with more Kashmiri Muslims. “I began to appreciate their side of the story,” he said. He now visits Kashmir often, sometimes with his family. “Whenever I visit Kashmir, I stay at my friends’ homes,” he said. “I enjoy working with Kashmir Box as it has reconnected me with my land.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said he knew several Kashmiri Pandits who had bought land in Kashmir to resettle there. “My kids’ education is holding me back for now,” he said. “After that, I will settle in Kashmir.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The longing to return is more intense among the older Kashmiri Pandits. Rattan Lal (name changed), makes occasional trips to catch up with old friends and neighbours. He also joins the annual congregation at the Mata Kheer Bhawani temple in Ganderbal. “We used to live in a village at Qazigund in Anantnag before migration,” said the retired government employee. “Later, we sold some land because we needed the money. The rest of the land and our house is still there. The house needs some repairs, after which we will stay there in the summers. One of my sons is a chartered accountant; I want him to cater to clients in Kashmir, too.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ashok Tickoo, a retired ITC employee who had moved from Srinagar’s Habba Kadal to Jammu during the militancy, said he was optimistic about the Pandits’ return. “Our security is our Muslim brothers,” he said. “If the government makes arrangements, Kashmiri Pandits will return.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Shivani Bakshi, who returned to Kashmir a few years ago: “Muslims also saved Pandits. Everyone is not the same. All Kashmiri Pandits should return.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bakshi used to live at Dal Hassanyar in Srinagar before they moved to Jammu. She now lives with her husband and children at Barzulla, an upscale locality in Srinagar, and works in the Union territory’s finance department. “I do not think I am working in a different environment,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like Bakshi, Nanji Dembi has also quietly returned. “We have been living a normal life here for eight years now,” he said. “We are originally from Tregham in Kupwara, but before we left for Jammu, we used to live at Chota Bazar, Karan Nagar in Srinagar, which is where we live now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon after his return from Jammu, his wife Rajni Kumari was elected sarpanch of Tregham. She has been allotted a flat in Srinagar. “Kashmir is safe. I request all migrant Kashmiri Pandits to ignore the propaganda about Kashmir and return to their homes and live peacefully,” said Kumari.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am the same Nane bate (short for Nanji) that my Muslim friends used to call me,” said Dembi. “We are all Kashmiris and we should all live together in harmony.”</p> Sun Apr 24 10:37:23 IST 2022 a-unifie-opposition-needs-the-congress-sanjay-raut <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SANJAY RAUT,</b> Rajya Sabha member and editor of the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana, is known for being blunt. He minces no words while attacking the BJP, especially its leaders in Maharashtra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Raut is one of the architects of the Maha Vikas Aghadi, a coalition of the Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress that has been in power in Maharashtra since 2019. A close confidant of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Raut recently came under the Enforcement Directorate’s scanner. The ED has attached his properties, including the flat where he lives in Mumbai. Not one to feel afraid, Raut continues to take on the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When not busy with politics, Raut can be found at the office of Saamana, writing editorials and going through pages as they are being made. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, he spoke on a variety of issues, including the allegations against him and Thackeray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The MVA government is completing two and a half years. The BJP keeps saying that the government will collapse because of internal clashes, but nothing of that sort has happened. Who should be given credit for forming this unlikely alliance?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The credit goes to BJP leaders in Maharashtra, and their ego and arrogance. [BJP president] Amit Shah and Uddhav Thackeray had decided [before the 2019 assembly polls] that theirs will be an equal distribution of power. But during seat-sharing talks, Sena got fewer seats than it deserved. Then there were efforts to defeat Sena candidates in various constituencies. Despite that, we won 56 seats. The BJP leaders’ attitude was, ‘We will manage them (the Sena) easily; they will have to bow to our wishes; where will they go?’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This hurt us immensely. It was clear that they wanted to finish us off. So, out of this attitude of the BJP to finish off every other party, including an old ally like us, this alliance was born.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But who made the first move? Did you approach the NCP first, or did the NCP approach you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ As the election results came and no one from the BJP approached us, it became clear in my mind that the government cannot be formed without the Shiv Sena. Since there was no move from the BJP’s side, I went to Sharad Pawar’s residence that evening and asked him whether something can be worked out. That is how the ball was set in motion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If we had not gone to the NCP, the BJP would have gone to the NCP. When our alliance broke in 2014, the BJP had formed government in Maharashtra with outside support from the NCP. Even as we were talking with the Congress and the NCP [in 2019] Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP formed government with [NCP leader] Ajit Pawar. So it is certainly not true that the BJP is dead against the NCP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ BJP leaders call you Pawar’s man. They say that you broke the Sena-BJP alliance.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am very close to Pawar; what is wrong in that? Pawar has 55 years of experience in parliamentary politics. He is among the tallest leaders in India. He has done immense work as chief minister of Maharashtra, and then as Union minister. His contributions in the fields of agriculture, education and women’s development are immense. So, if I get to learn something by being close to him, what is wrong in it? If that makes me Pawar’s man, so be it. In that case, even Prime Minster Narendra Modi is Pawar’s man because he had openly said that Pawar is his guru.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When Balasaheb Thackeray was alive, the saffron alliance was governed by one principle—that the BJP will manage the nation and the Sena will handle the state.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Exactly. Balasaheb told the BJP that they should look after national politics and leave Maharashtra to the Sena. This was the understanding between Atal ji (Atal Bihari Vajpayee), [L.K.] Advani ji, Pramod ji (Pramod Mahajan) and Balasaheb. But, as you are witnessing, the BJP has changed for the worse. They want Delhi; they want Maharashtra; and now Mumbai, too (in the upcoming Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation polls).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the difference between the BJP of Vajpayee and Advani and the BJP of Modi and Shah?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The BJP of Atal ji and Advani ji had respect for the space of others. They never wanted to crush other parties, or for that matter, grow at the cost of their allies. The BJP of Modi and Shah does not believe in such niceties; it is ruthless and power-hungry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is surprising is that it does not mind making adjustments for leaders like Nitish Kumar, who had openly opposed Modi ji’s candidature for prime minister. It does not mind sharing power with Mehbooba Mufti in Jammu and Kashmir. But, when it comes to the Shiv Sena, its oldest ideological ally, they were not willing for equal distribution of power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The house where you live has been attached along with eight other properties in the Patra Chawl redevelopment case.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I don’t even know where Patra Chawl is. I have never been there. Central agencies claim that Rs55 lakh was deposited in my wife’s account by the wife of one of my acquaintances. They don’t tell you that the money was repaid. I have mentioned every detail of this in the affidavit that I have to file as a member of the Rajya Sabha. We are middle-class people. I have done everything legally. Every record has been placed before the Rajya Sabha. I have nothing to hide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the ED is so concerned about illegal money, why doesn’t it investigate how crores of rupees were deposited in banks in Gujarat after demonetisation. A senior officer in one of the Central agencies told me that they have a target given by their political bosses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The income tax department recently raided properties allegedly belonging to Sena leader Yashwant Jadhav. They found a diary that had notes such as ‘Rs2 crore paid to Matoshree’, and ‘Watches worth Rs50 lakh given to Matoshree’.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Nonsense. Nothing was paid to Matoshree. Show me the diary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Surprisingly, Uddhav Thackeray is silent on this issue, as well as on the issue of the ED attaching properties of his brother-in-law Shridhar Patankar.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Why should he react to ridiculous allegations? He will speak at an appropriate time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ BJP leader Kirit Somaiya has been targeting the Shiv Sena and MVA leaders.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I don’t have anything personally against Somaiya. But he has gone mad. He is thoroughly corrupt himself. He talks so much about the PMC Bank fraud case, but he put pressure on the Wadhawans (businessmen Rakesh and Sarang Wadhawan, who were accused of defrauding the bank) and cornered plots of land in the Vasai-Virara belt for his son’s construction company. I have also exposed how he collected money by claiming that it would be used to save INS Vikrant from scrap dealers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Could you please elaborate on the INS Vikrant issue?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Somaiya had launched a ‘Save INS Vikrant’ campaign and collected some Rs57 crore [to prevent the decommissioned aircraft carrier from being torn down]. He said that the money will be handed over to Raj Bhavan. But Raj Bhavan sent me a reply that they never received the money. This is not our Raj Bhavan mind you; it is their Raj Bhavan. (Governor B.S. Koshyari has been accused of acting in a partisan manner.) I want to ask him: where is the money that he had collected?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You spoke about ‘their Raj Bhavan’. The conflict between the governor and the MVA government seems to be unending.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The governor is responsible for this. He has been against our government right from the beginning. He has not nominated 12 legislators for almost two years now. He recently walked out of the state legislature even before the national anthem was played. Is this constitutional behaviour?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Coming to the question of opposition unity to take on the BJP in 2024, what is on the table for discussion?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is necessary to have a strong, united opposition to defeat the BJP in 2024. Leaders of all opposition parties must come together and chalk out a plan. And this unity cannot work without the Congress. The Congress has presence in every constituency. All other parties should work together with the Congress to help the party strengthen itself. Only then can a unified opposition take shape.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Who will lead the opposition?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We will have to find a candidate who is acceptable to all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Sharad Pawar?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Pawar saheb has said that he is not interested. But if you ask me, he is the tallest leader among us. He has the stature, experience, acceptability and ability to bring all parties together and lead them.</p> Sat Apr 16 14:48:46 IST 2022 is-naresh-patel-the-key-to-ruling-gujarat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ELECTIONS IN GUJARAT</b> have traditionally been direct fights between the BJP and the Congress. However, the 2022 assembly polls, expected to be held in November-December, are set to be different after the Aam Aadmi Party announced that it will contest all 182 seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ruling BJP is attempting to win an absolute majority for the seventh consecutive time. It is also aiming to win 150 seats to beat the record 149 seats that the Congress got under the leadership of former chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki in 1985.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2017, the Congress won a respectable 77 seats. But that has fallen to 65 after 12 MLAs deserted it. As things stand, the Congress is leaderless and clueless in Gujarat and has nothing to lose; even an improvement of one seat in its tally would be a face-saver for the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It seems to be pinning its hopes on the possibility of Naresh Ravjibhai Patel, an influential Patidar leader from Saurashtra, joining it. Patel, a Leuva Patidar, heads the Shree Khodaldham Trust that manages the temple of Khodal Mata, the main deity of his subcaste. Around two months ago, he announced his inclination to join politics. Ever since, there has been speculation about him joining the Congress or the Aam Aadmi Party. The importance of Patel, 56, can be gauged from the fact that no political party has said anything negative of him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gujarat BJP president C.R. Paatil had expressed hope that Patel, an ardent devotee of Shiva, would join the BJP. Hitesh Patel, member, BJP media cell, Gujarat, said that any person who accepts the party’s ideology and the local and central leadership is most welcome. The Congress’s Sukhram Rathva, the leader of the opposition in the assembly, has said that any party that Patel joins would win the election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patel, an industrialist, heads Patel Brass Works Pvt Ltd, which was founded in 1948 as a small foundry. Today, it has a joint venture with Federal-Mogul Powertrain—a leading global supplier of engine components. Patel Brass Works also exports bearings for high-speed engines, compressors and earth movers to markets including the US, Canada, Latin America and Europe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One reason Patel did not take the political plunge earlier could be his family. Sources who know the family said they had been against him joining politics. But, his wife, Shalini, recently said that if he wanted to enter politics, they had no issues with it. It is learnt that Patel recently had a meeting with Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and election strategist Prashant Kishor. The grapevine has it that if Patel were to join the Congress, one of the pre-conditions would be that he be made chief minister if the party comes to power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patidars hold sway in around 50 seats in Gujarat, the majority of which are in the Saurashtra region. The two major subcastes—Leuva and Kadva Patidars—constitute around 15 per cent of the state’s electorate. Neither the BJP nor the Congress has held back in projecting their commitment towards the Patidars. Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel is a Kadva Patidar. So is the Congress’s firebrand leader and working president Hardik Patel. Recently, the Congress named a Leuva Patidar—Jenny, daughter of MLA Virji Thummar—the president of its women’s wing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the case of Naresh Patel, while his caste will help him politically, the work he has done is also vital. “Patel’s strong point is that more than him, his work speaks,” said Yashpal Baxi, who has written a book on him. “He heads many trusts and set up one of the first blood banks in Rajkot. He would be in office till 3pm and then listen to grievances of the people.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Khodal Mata temple at Kagvad, near Rajkot, has been visited by political leaders cutting across party lines, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Politicians have often boasted about their closeness to Patel, but sources close to him said that he has never been close to any politician. However, in 2017, he did support his close friends who were candidates of various parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has been holding arbitration forums, which have resolved issues before they reached the courts. A person close to Patel told THE WEEK that a day before he visits any village, a messenger would go and inform the villagers about the planned visit. The next day, the atmosphere would be similar to that of an important ceremony. He also mediated the withdrawal of cases against Patidars (resulting from the Patidar agitation).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patel clearly commands huge respect and can certainly be a game-changer for the party he joins. Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said that the announcement is likely to happen soon. It is rumoured that Patel is most likely to join the Congress (his father, Ravjibhai, leaned towards the Congress’s ideology); it is believed that people close to him have advised him that joining the AAP would also benefit the BJP by splitting votes. However, in the current scenario in Gujarat, Patel may not be able to ignore the BJP completely. His office said he would not comment on the issue as a survey was underway to get the opinion of his community on which party he should join. It would be difficult for any political party to pressure him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As political parties wait for Patel to announce his decision, there has been another development that carries weight politically—Patel was recently seen in a meeting with leaders from the Koli community (classified as OBCs in Gujarat). Analysts feel that if Patel and the Kolis unite, it can be a deadly combination, especially in Saurashtra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Naresh Ravjibhai Patel, 56</b></p> <p>Leuva Patidar from Saurashtra region</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>* Heads the trust that manages the temple of Khodal Mata—main deity of Leuva Patidars. The temple has been visited by leaders across parties, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>* Profession: Industrialist; heads Patel Brass Works Pvt Ltd, which has a JV with global leader Federal-Mogul Powertrain and exports to markets including the US and Europe</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>* Patel has been holding arbitration forums. He also mediated withdrawal of cases against Patidars after their agitation</p> Sat Apr 16 14:43:15 IST 2022 hijab-to-halal-bjp-sdpi-gain-from-communal-polarisation-in-karnataka <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>BEVU-BELLA,</b> a mixture of neem flowers and jaggery eaten on Ugadi, signifies the sweet and bitter experiences of life, and the value of equanimity. This year, though, the Hindu new year festival was more bitter than sweet in Karnataka. After the recent hijab row and the ban on Muslim vendors on temple premises, the call to boycott halal meat has fanned communal flames in the southern state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the eve of Ugadi, April 1, Vishva Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal workers distributed handbills to convince meat-eating Hindus to boycott halal; they were asked to choose jhatka meat to celebrate Hosa Thodaku, the customary non-vegetarian feast prepared on the day after the new year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Halal meat is creating a parallel economy where Muslims get to dominate the business,” said BJP national general secretary C.T. Ravi. “Halal meat is dear to Muslims as the animal is slaughtered as per Islamic norms and offered to their god (Allah). For Hindus, halal meat is somebody’s leftover food and cannot be offered to our gods or eaten. While religious harmony is necessary, it cannot be one-way. There is nothing secular about halal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While halal (permissible) refers to meat from an animal killed by cutting the carotid artery, the jugular vein and the windpipe—allowing the animal to die a slow death as the blood drains out—jhatka refers to killing the animal with a single blow. There is no consensus on the less painful method. A Central government order under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughter House) Rules, 2001, mandates stunning (electric shock) the animal before slaughter. But the rule exists only on paper; most meat stalls and abattoirs prefer halal as Hindu customers have not opposed it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Mohan Gowda, state spokesperson of the right-wing Hindu Janajagruti Samiti: “For a meat product to be halal, the animal must be slaughtered only by a Muslim. This deprives Hindus of jobs, especially some dalits who were traditionally butchers. The halal economy is not just restricted to meat products, but also extends to pharmaceutical products, personal care products, cosmetics, housing, hotels and hospitals. This parallel system of certification is also creating a parallel economy, which excludes non-Muslims. Most businesses run by Hindus get halal certification for the lure of a larger market as they cannot have two supply chains—halal and non-halal meat. This is not only imposition of Islamic beliefs and lifestyle on non-Muslims, but also a stealthy way to extract money from Hindu-run businesses in the name of halal certification. The money earned through the certification is used to convert India into an Islamic state and fund anti-national activities.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Hindu groups have claimed that the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, one of the oldest halal-certifying trusts in India, has extended legal support to accused in terror cases. “Hindus are indirectly funding terror by opting for halal certification,” said Sri Ram Sene chief Pramod Muthalik. He added that the economic boycott of Muslims was the only “effective tool” to change their “separatist” mindset. “The Muslims are rejecting our judiciary, they block cities for months protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act,” he said. “They called for boycotting Patanjali products during the anti-CAA protests. Last October, Muslims had boycotted fisherwomen at Gangolli fishing port as they had taken part in an anti-cow slaughter protest march.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some Hindu activists also brought up jizya—a tax non-Muslims had to pay under Islamic rule—saying that companies now had to pay for halal certification even though clearance from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India was the only official accreditation needed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In January 2021, India’s Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority had removed the word “halal” from its manual on red meat. Instead, it said that animals would be slaughtered according to the requirements of the importing country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, with Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai saying that his government would look into “serious” objections to halal food, state ministers have started openly supporting the boycott. “The government is clear that food is a personal preference,” said State Revenue Minister R. Ashoka. “It is up to the citizens to decide what they will buy and from where. Nobody has the right to snatch away this choice.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said State Endowment Minister Shashikala Jolle: “The halal vs non-halal debate is an issue in coastal Karnataka and Hindu outfits are spreading awareness about the ‘jhatka cut’ because it has to be offered to God.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>State BJP president Nalinkumar Kateel has hinted that, like in the hijab case, the government would seek a ‘legal solution’ to the halal row, signalling regulation of halal certification.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other side, the Social Democratic Party of India—the political wing of the Islamic organisation Popular Front of India—has threatened state-wide protests. “Any boycott is a criminal offence,” said SDPI state president Abdul Majeed. “The agenda-driven campaigns are emerging out of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) headquarters to divert people’s attention from real issues like price rise, economic slump and unemployment. Ban on Muslim vendors in temple fairs is also part of this campaign. It is not a Hindu-Muslim issue; they have peacefully co-existed in the state. This is part of the conspiracy hatched by the Sangh Parivar. I urge the police to register suo motu cases against those spreading hatred.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy even called Bommai a “puppet” in the hands of right-wing Hindu groups. “The divisive campaign affects the society as there is a symbiotic relationship between the two communities,” said the former chief minister. He also recited Kannada poet Kuvempu’s line—‘Sarva janangada shantiya thota’ (a garden of peace for all religions)—to describe Karnataka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, though, is a divided house; its two tallest leaders—state party president D.K. Shivakumar and former chief minister Siddaramaiah—are not on the same page on most issues. While the former has steered clear of contentious issues fearing a backlash from Hindus, which could damage the party’s prospects in next year’s elections, Siddaramaiah has criticised the BJP government and also his own party’s indecisiveness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recently, during a party meeting that Rahul Gandhi attended, Siddaramaiah said: “The Congress has the responsibility to protect minorities, OBCs and others. We must stop overthinking and should have clarity. Minorities are afraid and want us to stand with them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The current communal polarisation in Karnataka started in January. Six students from a government college in Udupi opposed the institute’s ban on wearing hijab inside classrooms, triggering the pro- and anti-hijab protests statewide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 15, a three-judge bench of the Karnataka High Court—hearing a bunch of petitions challenging the hijab ban—ruled that wearing the hijab was not an “essential religious practice” in Islam. Two days later, many upset Muslims closed their shops in protest and some challenged the order in the Supreme Court. Several girls refused to remove their hijabs and chose to skip classes and also final exams. The Campus Front of India, the Popular Front’s student wing, gained traction among Muslims with its pro-hijab protests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP claimed that the SDPI had triggered the hijab controversy for political gain. The High Court, too, observed that the way the episode had unfolded gave room to suspect that “unseen hands” were at work to engineer social unrest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In “retaliation”, Hindu outfits called for a ban on Muslim vendors in temple fairs and festivals. The Hosa Marigudi temple in Udupi district was the first to do so; during its annual fair, it not only barred Muslim vendors, but also barred sub-contracting of the shops to non-Hindus. “The local devotees were outraged when Muslims shut their shops on March 17 to support the bandh to protest the hijab case verdict,” said Prakash Kukkehalli, an office-bearer of the right-wing Hindu Jagaran Vedike, Mangaluru. “We welcome the temple committee decision.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hindu activists met major temple committees in the state, asking them to do the same. In Shivamogga, they even cited the killing of Hindu activist Harsha (on February 20), allegedly by radical Islamists, as the reason to bar Muslim vendors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>State Home Minister Araga Jnanendra called the ban only a “reaction” to the protests against the High Court order in the hijab case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Karnataka Law Minister J.C. Madhuswamy defended the ban citing rule 12 of the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 2002. “The rule states that no property, including land, building or sites situated near temples, shall be leased to non-Hindus,” he said. “The rule was not brought by the BJP, but by the S.M. Krishna-led Congress government in the state.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Majeed, however, said, “We had staged a peaceful bandh against the High Court verdict as it ruled that wearing a hijab was not an essential religious practice. The community was hurt and bandh was a legal way to express it. When the Babri Masjid verdict was out, Muslims did not protest. But when the Supreme Court gave its verdict in the Sabarimala temple entry case, there were massive protests in Kerala by the BJP.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even non-politicians weighed in on the matter. Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw called for an end to “communal exclusion”. “If IT-BT (information technology-biotechnology) became communal,” she tweeted, “It would destroy our global leadership. @BSBommai please resolve this growing religious divide.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amit Malviya, in-charge of the BJP’s National Information and Technology department, counter-tweeted: “It is unfortunate to see people like Kiran Shaw impose their personal, politically coloured opinion, and conflate it with India’s leadership in the ITBT sector. Did [she] speak up when a belligerent minority sought to prioritise hijab over education or the Congress framed rules excluding non-Hindus from Hindu institutions?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A delegation of 61 writers, activists and academics also wrote to Bommai, raising concerns over the “deliberate attempt to fuel communal hatred in the state” and asked him to uphold constitutional values and act against those fuelling communal hatred.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP government’s plans to introduce Bhagavad Gita lessons in schools and tone down Tipu Sultan’s “glorified content” in school textbooks have also riled opposition parties and intellectuals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The question is: Will the communal divide bring political dividends?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the BJP has been the direct beneficiary of the communal polarisation, the SDPI—the new kid on the block—is threatening to dislodge parties like the Congress and the JD(S). Kumaraswamy has sensed trouble brewing in the Vokkaliga heartland, which has always backed the JD(S). The BJP’s rise is threatening his party’s space. His frequent outbursts against “fringe” hindutva activists and his attacks on the Congress for its “reluctance” to take a stand on communal issues are seen as a bid to woo the Muslims. The Congress, however, is unclear on which vote bank to woo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The garden of peace, meanwhile, is being infiltrated by weeds of hate.</p> Thu Apr 07 18:04:42 IST 2022 why-everyone-loves-the-old-pension-scheme <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has let out a genie. His government recently announced that it was restoring the old pension scheme (OPS) for its employees, thereby discarding the contributory scheme that had come into effect after India initiated bold pension reforms nearly two decades ago. Several state governments, especially those ruled by parties opposed to the BJP-led Union government, are preparing to follow Gehlot’s lead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Economists have pointed out that such a populist move would be retrograde, as it can drain state finances. Several states have latched on to the idea, though. In Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh, where the party’s flagship income guarantee scheme NYAY is being implemented for farmers and the landless, the restoration of OPS is set to become a pillar of the party’s evolving alternative economic model. The Congress has already promised to bring back OPS if it comes to power in Himachal Pradesh, where elections are due later this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>DMK-ruled Tamil Nadu and YSR Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh have also promised to revert to OPS. The Samajwadi Party’s campaign promise to restore OPS in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls helped it win a majority of postal votes (51 per cent) cast by government employees. For political parties, the electoral gains to be had from backing OPS seem evident now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the rising cost of living hits the middle class, OPS and the assured pension that comes with it (equivalent of 50 per cent of last-drawn pay) is an attractive proposition. Under the contributory scheme called National Pension System (NPS), which has been in effect since 2004, employees contribute 10 per cent of their monthly salary and the government pitches in with 14 per cent. The money goes to pension funds run by private companies. Once they retire, employees can withdraw 60 per cent of their contribution, while 40 per cent goes to annuity funds that provide monthly pension.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because of several shortcomings, though, NPS has not been working well for employees, a good number of whom would start retiring in the 2030s. Vijay Kumar Bandhu, a teacher in Uttar Pradesh, has been fighting to get OPS restored. He is president of the National Movement for Old Pension Scheme, a nationwide organisation set up seven years ago. “We want social security, which is missing under NPS,” he said. “There are numerous examples of people retiring and getting very little. What we get is a pittance. Our pension is left at the mercy of markets. Only a few per cent of the country’s population invests in markets. If I retire at a time when there is a market crash, my pension money would also go down.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bandhu made several arguments against NPS—that the pension does not increase with subsequent pay commissions; there are few benefits in case of death while in service; and employees have to deal with private insurance companies, and not the government, in case of a dispute.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than 78 lakh government employees (22.74 lakh at the Centre and 55.44 lakh in state governments) come under NPS. Their total contribution till February 28 this year has been Rs4 lakh crore. Reverting to OPS would mean that employees not contribute 10 per cent of their salary to the pension fund, while the government’s share be deferred and later paid as full pension.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the Reserve Bank’s 2019 report on state finances, the total pension bill was more than 04 lakh crore in the fiscal year 2021-22. Economists estimate that the figure would rise by more 6 per cent if OPS is brought back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s pension reforms started almost inadvertently in 1998, when Union minister Maneka Gandhi set up a panel to implement ‘Project Oasis’—acronym for ‘old age social and income security’. The panel was chaired by Unit Trust of India chairman Surendra Dave, and its report was forwarded by Maneka Gandhi to finance minister Yashwant Sinha to take over the issue of pensions in its entirety.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I examined India’s pension system in great detail,” recalled Sinha. “Everyone came to the same conclusion, that the Indian government would be paying more in pensions than in wages and salaries. This would have made the budget go haywire. With all studies backing that conclusion, we decided that instead of a fixed pension scheme, we should go for a contributory pension scheme.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After consultations with prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Sinha gave shape to the scheme in his 2001 budget. Employees began joining the scheme from January 1, 2004. “We had proposed that we will make investments in stock markets and other financial instruments based on the choice made by the pensioners,” Sinha said. “If he wanted security, the money would be invested in government securities; or if he wanted take a little risk, in stock market.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Sinha, the move to shift to OPS is retrograde. “OPS will, over time, make government finances unsustainable. State government finances are not always in the pink. They depend largely on Central funds. Therefore, if there is any extra burden, their financial situation would become unsustainable. It is long-term economic reforms versus populism,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bandhu, however, argued that there would be no extra burden on state governments. “For example, there are 10 lakh employees in Uttar Pradesh under NPS. An employee pays 10 per cent of his salary, and the government contributes 14 per cent. This 24 per cent—which is government money—is given to private companies,” said Bandhu. “On an average, a UP government employee pays Rs7,000 to Rs8,000 a month as part of NPS. Multiply Rs8,000 by 10 lakh… look at the amount that is contributed. If the government were to use this money, and invest it by itself, it could foot the pension bill.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But experts support Sinha’s view. “OPS is fiscally unsustainable because of demographic transition,” said Renuka Sane, associate professor at National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi. “There are more old people now. You are paying through the tax revenue system, as there is no contribution. Earlier, people would live five to 10 years post retirement. Now, people live 25 years post retirement. Then their family or spouse will live another five years. So the obligation on the government becomes huge.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sane pointed out that Rajasthan was spending more than 60 per cent of its revenue on wages and pensions. “So how is this fair that 6 per cent of the workforce gets 60 per cent of government revenue?” she asked. “That is something fundamentally wrong about this system.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Various policy lacunae have created problems for NPS. The system was designed for those who join when they are 25, and then makes contributions to market-linked pension funds for 30 to 40 years. Serving employees who were 40 years or older were later forced to join NPS, which meant that they did not have adequate time to build a healthy pension fund. Another problem afflicting NPS, highlighted earlier by a report by the comptroller and auditor general, is that state governments have not been disciplined in making contributions to the pension funds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Union government has denied that it was considering restoring OPS. The Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority is apparently planning to come out with more attractive pension plans with an assured rate of interest for those who do not feel comfortable with market volatility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Look at how much pension a former MP or MLA gets,” said Bandhu. “In Punjab, former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, who had been elected MLA several times, was getting Rs5.75 lakh a month as pension. The people who are getting pensions are saying that we should not get pension. MPs get Rs25,000 as pension for five-year terms, and another Rs200 extra for every additional year served.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have been many experiments with pensions in various countries since the idea of giving pensions was first proposed by German chancellor Otto von Bismarck in 1881. Governments are toying with different ideas to make pensions fiscally feasible. In that regard, the Indian experiment with NPS needs further tweaks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It has been 18 years [since the inception of NPS]; let’s look at how things have worked out,” said Sinha. “I strongly recommend that an independent committee be formed to look at the whole thing. Let them give a report to the government on the functioning of the new scheme. And if there are shortcomings, let them make recommendations on how it could be improved.”</p> Sun Apr 10 12:13:24 IST 2022 nda-has-edge-in-presidential-polls-but-opposition-can-test-a-joint-front-for-2024 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>NUMBERS DICTATE CHOICES.</b> In July 2002, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam became a bipartisan choice for president as the ruling Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance did not have enough votes to get anyone from its ideological family elected. Fifteen years later, the NDA led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was much better placed, yet it tried for a consensus pick.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though there was no consensus, the NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind got the support of friendly regional parties. This year, the NDA will again need support from regional parties to get its choice elected as the 15th president of India. It may make an effort towards consensus, though it is likely to be dismissed as tokenism by the opposition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>President Kovind will complete his tenure on July 24. A president who often insisted on following constitutional morality, Kovind has had a successful and controversy-free tenure, so far. He made 29 foreign visits till December and rejected all seven mercy petitions that came before him. The official website says that he has discharged his duties with “foresight and humility”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kovind was a surprise pick, but fit well into the BJP’s outreach to dalits. He was only the second dalit to occupy the post after K.R. Narayanan. There is already much discussion regarding whether Kovind will get the NDA’s backing for a second term. Given Modi’s style of secrecy, no one is willing to guess. In fact, in 2017, in an informal setting, then BJP chief Amit Shah had teased journalists about how none of them could guess Kovind’s name before he was picked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gubernatorial appointments are another indication into Modi’s style of functioning. In the eight years of NDA rule, most of the governors have been replaced after a five-year term so that veteran politicians could be rewarded with the post. While leaders who are 75 or older are not part of the Union cabinet, there are half a dozen governors who are over 80. Kovind himself is 76.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After Rajendra Prasad, the first president of India, no other president has had a second term. But that may not stop Modi and Shah from nominating Kovind again. Another convention has been to pick a governor, a vice president, or a senior minister for the top constitutional post. The only two prominent groups not to be represented in the president’s office are OBCs and tribals. In 2017, the name of BJP’s tribal leader Draupadi Murmu had made the rounds. If a new candidate is picked, the choice will be politically significant and will be used to send a message to voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vice President Venkaiah Naidu’s tenure will also be over by August. Naidu has been an active vice president, commenting on government policies, and pushing and praising it. As Rajya Sabha chair, Naidu has been a stickler for the rulebook and has managed the house amid incessant protests. He has also not shied away from commenting on social issues like when he lashed out against hate speech in January.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the past, only two vice presidents have got a second term—S. Radhakrishnan, the first vice president, and Hamid Ansari—while several others were promoted to the top post. If the NDA is looking for a new presidential candidate, Naidu is also in contention. The vice president’s election is easier for the NDA to win as the electoral college comprises only MPs, unlike the president’s election where the MLAs also vote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It goes without saying that the ruling party has the advantage [in the president’s elections],” said Rajiv Pratap Rudy, MP, BJP spokesperson and former Union minister. “With the [NDA’s] numbers, there shouldn’t be an issue. Presidency is not a political post. So, a lot of effort and compromises go into it.” He added that the selection of the candidate is decided at the highest level—“the PM level”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The political landscape has changed much since 2017. The BJP has lost allies like the Shiv Sena, the Akali Dal and the Telugu Desam Party. The BJP has also lost states. But, the party’s recent good showing in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur has put the BJP-led NDA in a comfortable position, though short of majority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The gap to the halfway mark though has widened after the BJP lost seats in multiple states. For example, the 312 seats that it had in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 has fallen to 255. An Uttar Pradesh MLA’s vote has the highest value at 208 (assigned based on the population of states). But, the BJP has also gained 60 MPs in both houses since 2017. The party is also expected to gain more in the Rajya Sabha as 75 seats will go to polls before the presidential election. MP votes have a value of 708.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the ruling party will still need support to get the president of its choice elected as it needs around one per cent more for a majority. In 2017, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the Biju Janata Dal and the YSR Congress had also voted for Kovind, helping him to win over 65 per cent of the votes (the requirement was 50 per cent plus one vote). The YSR Congress and the BJD are still friendly. The YSR Congress has 28 MPs and 151 MLAs (vote value: 159), adding up to around 4 per cent of the value vote. The BJD has another three per cent (21 MPs and 114 MLAs at a value of 149).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the numbers stand, unless the joint opposition is able to wean away BJP-friendly parties, its nominee stands no chance. However, the election would still be politically significant as it would provide the anti-BJP parties an arena to test their affinity for an alliance ahead of the 2024 general elections. But, efforts are still at a nascent stage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the presidential election looking favourable to the NDA, a consensus pick is unlikely. “It is not a difficult situation for the NDA at all,” said P.D.T Achary, former secretary general, Lok Sabha. “[But,] there has never been a consensus president. There have mostly been contestants in the polls.” Indeed, only two presidents have ever been elected unopposed. Prasad in 1950 and Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy in 1977, when 36 of the 37 nomination papers were rejected. Brace for an interesting contest ahead.</p> Sat Apr 02 12:39:19 IST 2022 raghav-chadha-the-aap-rising-star <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT WAS THE FAG END</b> of the India Against Corruption movement led by social activist Anna Hazare. Raghav Chadha, who was 22 back then, had begun his practice as a chartered accountant. He sought an appointment with Arvind Kejriwal, the prime mover of the campaign. And the rest is history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like many young professionals who were drawn to the Anna Andolan, Chadha, too, was deeply influenced by it. Fresh from the UK after completing his master’s in finance from the London School of Economics, Chadha was looking to establish his practice as a CA, but he felt he could chip in with a few hours of voluntary work. What began as four hours of work in a week for the anti-corruption cause turned into a full-time commitment and an entry into politics when the Aam Aadmi Party was formed in November 2012.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, if the AAP is recognised as the fastest-growing political start-up, and its victory in Punjab has provided it with a perch outside the national capital, Chadha has had a crucial role to play in the journey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was recently elected to the Rajya Sabha unopposed, along with four other nominees of the AAP for five seats from Punjab that are falling vacant in April. From a political novice representing a fledgling AAP before the news cameras, Chadha has risen rapidly to become the youngest member of the 'house of elders', the Rajya- Sabha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Chadha, 33, being an achiever is somewhat of a habit. Just before he joined the Anna Andolan, he was one of the youngest to get a licence to practice as a CA. After being appointed national spokesperson of the AAP at the age of 22, he was appointed national treasurer at 26.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chadha recalls sharing the stage at an event with former Congress treasurer, Motilal Vora, who was in his nineties, and the contrast between the two was too much for the media to ignore. “We are a young nation, but there is under-representation of youth in politics,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a member of the national executive, he was part of the team that drafted the party's manifesto for the assembly elections in Delhi in 2013. Chadha was also adviser to Manish Sisodia, Delhi’s deputy chief minister. He assisted Sisodia in cleaning up the capital's budget by removing unnecessary expenditures. Chadha was in-charge of litigations at a time when Kejriwal fought a defamation case filed by former Union finance minister Arun Jaitley.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chadha fought the Lok Sabha election in 2019 from South Delhi, and lost to BJP's Ramesh Bidhuri. However, he won the assembly elections the following year from Rajinder Nagar, where he grew up. He was appointed vice chairman of the Delhi Jal Board and headed the Vidhan Sabha's committee on communal harmony that grilled Facebook representatives about the Delhi communal riots of 2020.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chadha describes the Punjab assignment as a big leap in his growth as a politician. “Kejriwal ji entrusted me with such a big responsibility. I was merely an implementor of ideas on the ground and took care of running the campaign. He was the chief strategist,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been some chatter about whether Chadha’s rapid climb has been due to his proximity to Kejriwal. “I am a student of the Kejriwal school of politics. He is my mentor, my ideal. For someone like me who comes from a non-political family to be able to get this kind of opportunity could have happened only in the AAP,” says Chadha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His supporters say Chadha has earned the trust of Kejriwal through his meticulousness and penchant for perfection. For example, as head of the assembly panel probing the riots in Delhi, Chadha was particular that the live broadcast of the proceedings matched the quality of Congressional hearings in the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chadha—an alumnus of Modern School (Barakhamba Road) and Delhi University—says that a career in politics was nowhere on the horizon when he was growing up. In school, he excelled in debating and took part in badminton tournaments. Each time he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would say he wanted to join the armed forces. “Ten years ago, had I told my parents that I wanted to join a mainstream party like the Congress or the BJP, I would have been scolded and perhaps even disinherited,” he quips.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chadha's family background is quite apolitical. His father is a businessman, his mother a homemaker, and his sister a CA. Also part of the family is a 12-year-old Lhasa Apso named Crunchy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Life for Chadha has changed phenomenally and there is a price to pay for it—sacrifices on the personal front. “I have lost contact with so many good friends from school and college. I love travelling, but in recent times I have travelled only for work. The last show I watched on TV was Peaky Blinders, which was two years ago,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chadha, a familiar face on TV, was initially teased by his party colleagues for his chocolate boy looks before he became better known for his well-articulated arguments. However, it was in keeping with his image as a good-looking young achiever that he walked the ramp at the Lakme India Fashion Week as a showstopper for designer Pawan Sachdeva, who is his maternal uncle. Clips of Chadha, dressed in a black leather jacket and pants, with an orange belt and lining on the shoulders, went viral.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, for the most eligible bachelor in the AAP, there is pressure from parents, and boss, Kejriwal, to get hitched. Chadha hinted that wedding bells will soon be ringing, but did not reveal further details. “All I will say is that it will happen soon,” he says.</p> Sat Apr 02 12:34:38 IST 2022 lessons-india-can-learn-from-the-west-economic-war-on-russia <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Raghuram Rajan recently sent out a dire message about weapons of mass destruction. “When fully unleashed, (these) WMDs… destroy firms, financial institutions, livelihoods and even lives. They inflict pain indiscriminately, striking both the culpable and the innocent,” he warned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The former Reserve Bank governor was not talking about nukes or chemical agents or bioweapons; his warning was about the dramatic and sweeping set of economic sanctions that the western powers have slapped on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“If used too widely, they could reverse the process of globalisation that has allowed the modern world to prosper,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a warning for India, too. “India was a closed economy once, but our global integration has increased over the last 30 years and is now very high. So the impact on a globally interconnected economic system is going to be severe,” said Pradeep Multani, president of the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the government played down a similar scenario battering the Indian economy, it has not stopped future possibilities being played out where India bears the brunt of a similar economic chokehold, over its nuclear arsenal or maybe Kashmir. “The sanctions by the US and other western countries against Russia have triggered a fresh debate on international trade,” said K.R. Sekar, president of the Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce and partner at Deloitte India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even a cursory evaluation shows how India, since the liberalisation of the economy in the 1990s, has transformed itself from a near-closed socialist economy into near-laissez-faire. It also means dependence on other countries. A major chunk of raw materials that go into India’s manufacturing sector is imported, primarily from China. Active pharmaceutical ingredients to make drugs, which used to be sourced locally before globalisation, are mostly imported from China now. Components for anything from mobile phones to automobiles are imported, while the dependence is near total in petroleum products (85 per cent).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adding to the alarm levels has been the scale of weaponisation of economics. While sanctions have been imposed by the US on its adversaries all the time—the economic blockade of Cuba started when it was taken over by Fidel Castro’s band of communists in 1959—the range and potency have never been this sweeping as in the case of Russia. A series of actions aimed at weakening, if not crippling, Russia economically was set in motion by the US and its allies straight off after the invasion started.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It started with cutting the access of Russian banks to SWIFT, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications. The ban will squeeze not just transactions to and from Russia, but also its international trade, with Russian companies unable to pay for imports or receive cash for exports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Russia’s dollar reserves were frozen, and assets of Russian oligarchs (with connections to Putin) and some military companies were seized. The Russian rouble is today non-grata in the global financial system, with the US even banning its citizens and firms from buying or trading in gold owned by Russians. The world’s top three credit card payments providers—Visa, Mastercard and American Express—have withdrawn their services from Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A series of cutting off of business ties followed, ranging from aircraft manufacturers like Boeing all the way down to fast-food giant McDonald’s suspending their operations in Russia. Almost all countries to its west shut their airspace on the Big Bear, while brands like H&amp;M and Apple shut their retail stores from the Urals all the way across to Siberia. The US also ordered a ban on Russia’s most valuable export, its oil and gas. Europe, though, is dilly-dallying because of its dependency on Russian gas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a fit of masochistic lash out, Russia banned Facebook, Instagram and Google News from the country (WhatsApp was spared). With the likes of Amazon, eBay, Netflix and Spotify already suspending their operations in Russia (some have cut off Russian ally Belarus, too), questions over the ‘global’ credentials of Big Tech have also popped up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not a new scenario for India. The country was subject to sanctions by many countries after the Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998. However, those were government-led sanctions on defence materials and technologies and loans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what has changed now is that it is now a double-barrel weapon—not only is India now an economy interconnected with the global economy, the tech advances of the past decade have made it deeply dependent on American Big Tech players like Google and Meta.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“India is now the fastest-growing major economy in the world and it is greatly interconnected, particularly with the advanced economies—16 per cent of our exports are to the US while China is our major source of import with 16 per cent share,” said Multani. “If we merge our current account and capital account payments and receipts together, it is more than our GDP.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The stakes are high. And forget the likes of Cuba and Iran which have been labouring under US sanctions for long and how their economies have been in a quagmire, even the immediate impact on Russia has been telling. The value of the rouble has crashed and prices have sky-rocketed in Russia within days of western sanctions. Diffident as it may be on the war front, a desperate Russia has been offering deep discounts on its oil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Expected economic consequences of sanctions lead to currency depreciation, higher inflation rates and a significant drop in income levels,” said Sridevi Varanasi, dean, IFIM School of Management. “The impact of sanctions on Russia will be long-lasting.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>‘What if it happens to us’ may be conjecture, but in a world where friends turn foes overnight and an invisible virus can bring the entire world to a halt, nothing is now out of the realm of possibility. Interestingly, while globally there has been a move to decouple from the dollar and the western financial system ever since the global financial crisis of 2008, the economic ‘soft war’ could well speed things up. “It is a tightrope situation for India to preserve its strategic autonomy and safeguard its interests,” said Kapil Kaul, president of the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reaction in India has been on the expected lines of strengthening Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Atmanirbhar Bharat resolve. India’s vulnerability when it comes to the dependence on imports from China was laid bare post-Covid and after the worsening of relations between the two countries after the Galwan incident. Since then, the Modi government has embarked on a regime of imposing additional duties on imports from China, banning Chinese companies from the automatic route to start a business in India and setting up a production-linked-incentive scheme to encourage domestic manufacturing of items.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The west unleashing its money power to browbeat the bear could add to the urgency. Modi has been a proponent of the RuPay domestic card payment system. RuPay is already the market leader by numbers in India with 60 crore cards in circulation in the country, though these are primarily debit cards linked to low-value Jan Dhan accounts pushed by the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other vexing matter is the acceptance of the dollar as a global standard of currency. About 85 per cent of India’s imports are invoiced in dollars. State Bank of India last week released a report suggesting that this could be the right moment for India to explore ‘internationalising’ the rupee. “The changing world order and the emergence of Asia will act as an enabler for countries like India to look for an alternative financial currency and alternative financial markets,” said Sekar. More direct currency swaps than using dollars as an intermediary may well increase. India already has agreements with countries like Japan and the UAE.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But not all agree that India needs to get hyper and sew up its trade flanks. Multani pointed out how the economy was not dependent on global consumption, but on domestic demand. “We have our own source of consumption, and also, being an agrarian economy, we actually have a great opportunity there,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A balanced and shrewd geopolitical and trade strategy may well keep India in better stead than trying to protect oneself by foolishly trying to be self-sufficient in everything. “Dependencies on other countries are inescapable,” said Pranay Kotasthane, chairperson of the High Tech Geopolitics Programme at the Takshashila Institution. “Plurilateral collaboration is a necessity, not a choice.” He suggested a blueprint. “What India needs to do is dominate in areas where the west is relatively disadvantaged—the IT industry, for example,” he said. “The lesson we need to learn is to build up our atma shakti (self strength), not atma nirbharta (self-reliance).”</p> Sat Apr 02 11:54:10 IST 2022 russians-are-complaining-about-losses-in-ukraine-and-their-uncertain-future <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>NEWS ABOUT THE</b> war in Ukraine still occupies front pages, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for Russians to understand what really is happening. Even official reports from the ministry of defence—which hardly anyone believes—convey the impression that the “special operation” ordered by President Vladimir Putin has stagnated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Independent sources say that the war is, at best, moving into a protracted stage. Russian troops suffer losses, run into ambushes, face fierce resistance and are hampered by shortages from overstretched supply lines. There are also reports about the lack of fighting spirit among Russian soldiers as they grow increasingly dissatisfied with the faulty planning and the needless death of their comrades. Against this backdrop, Russian authorities are trying to show how much they value the military, but they have not been quite successful. On March 27, Alexander Fomin, the Russian deputy minister of defence, visited a hospital and presented medals to servicemen who became disabled in the Ukraine campaign. While the function was widely covered on national television, the public response was mixed. “The military has no idea what kind of hell the lives of soldiers have turned into. Being on a wheelchair in Russia is a losing war,” say those who know about the poor infrastructure for the disabled in the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Russians, meanwhile, have started complaining about rising prices caused by western sanctions and the weakening rouble, and, of course, their uncertain future. People are stocking up on food and essentials, leading to artificial shortages. It is early spring in Russia, and there are practically no local fruits and vegetables available. Everything is imported and payments are made in dollars. There is talk about switching to payment in roubles and other currencies—for example, in rupee with India—but this applies only to large contracts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is difficult to say whether such a situation favours Putin’s popularity. Due to the strengthening of the repressive apparatus and censorship within the country, many people prefer not to talk about their views. “It is forbidden by law to say what you think” has become a refrain across Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under the circumstances, there is no one to object to stories about the triumph of the “special operation”, while extremely unpleasant denunciations of those who are opposed it have become quite common. Some pro-government Telegram channels openly compile lists of “national traitors” (the term was first used in Nazi Germany and has been adopted by the Russian authorities). District police departments complain that they are inundated with alerts from people who want to report on suspicious statements from others, including their own neighbours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sociologists, however, believe that even among supporters of the war, the initial euphoria is on the wane, as they begin to see the dubious prospects. Vladimir Pastukhov, political scientist at the University College London, said the Russian people’s credit of trust to Putin would be exhausted by the middle of summer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the same time, the “special operations”, referred to as a blitzkrieg in the beginning, has acquired the features of an apocalypse. Increasingly, Russian officials are talking about the use of nuclear weapons. Former president Dmitry Medvedev, who is now the deputy head of the Russian Security Council, explained the conditions under which Moscow could use such weapons. These are: nuclear attacks on Russia or its allies, attacks on critical infrastructure that could paralyse Russia’s nuclear deterrence or an act of aggression against Russia or its allies that could threaten their existence. Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said that maintaining the combat readiness of strategic nuclear forces was one of the priorities for his ministry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One should, however, not conclude from all these that Moscow is preparing to start World War III. Most likely, such statements are a way to remind the west that despite Russia’s dubious successes in the war, it has something to fall back on in the event of direct aggression against it. But, such sabre-rattling, including the threat of using chemical weapons, adds to the nervousness of people, both in Russia and in Ukraine. In Russia, for instance, the use of alcohol, cigarettes and sedatives is rising fast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Regarding the advantages and disadvantages of the Russian military in Ukraine, experts highlight several points. The advantages include the presence of a large amount of modern equipment like missile systems, aviation, attack helicopters and good operational-tactical intelligence. The obvious disadvantages are the lack of drones and high-precision weapons, such as adjustable bombs and guided shells, the lack of modern armoured vehicles and inadequate preparedness for full-scale combat operations. And, most importantly, Ukraine enjoys the active support of NATO countries. It is not just about financing and supplying weapons, but also about the transfer of intelligence from NATO aircraft and drones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the same time, the goals of the “special operation” remain just as incomprehensible. Putin said in February that “denazification” and “demilitarisation” of Ukraine were his priorities. It implies establishing control over Ukraine, or at least over its large cities. But it is unlikely to happen in the current situation. Moreover, a vast majority of Ukrainians now have an extremely negative attitude towards Russia. Even if Russian troops manage a successful offensive, they will have to deal with the growing number of partisans, saboteurs and the attacks engineered by them. After World War II, despite the unconditional support of a majority of the local people, it took the Russian army and the KGB about a decade to subdue Ukrainian separatists. Such a strategy is unlikely to work this time.</p> Sat Apr 02 11:47:59 IST 2022 rajiv-gandhi-killing-the-six-hopefuls <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On March 9, Supreme Court granted bail to A.G. Perarivalan, a life convict in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Over the past several years, demands for the release of all seven convicts in the case have continued strongly, with the Tamil Nadu assembly and the state cabinet passing multiple resolutions seeking their release.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bail granted to Perarivalan alias Arivu, 51, has put the spotlight back on the convicts—Nalini Sriharan, Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalan, Ravichandran, Jayakumar and Robert Payas—who have been in prison for 32 years. It also marks a significant phase in Perarivalan’s long legal battle, which has seen many twists and turns in the past three decades. “Taking into account the fact that the applicant has spent more than 30 years in prison, we are of the considered view that he is entitled to be released on bail, in spite of the vehement opposition by the Centre,” said the interim order by the Supreme Court bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bail is the result of Perarivalan’s three-decade-old legal battle. He had filed a pardon request before the governor of Tamil Nadu in 2015, soon after the AIADMK government passed a resolution in the assembly. The Centre, however, objected to the release of the convicts, and Perarivalan once again chose to take the legal path. When his pardon request received no response, he petitioned the Supreme Court, which in 2018 deemed it a fit case for release and returned it to the governor to decide on the matter. The state cabinet soon passed a resolution recommending the release of Perarivalan and six others. But once again, the governor sat on the file.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was no progress for two and a half years. The Supreme Court then criticised the governor and rebuked the Union government for opposing the release of the convicts and for failing to make a time-bound decision. It also criticised the Centre for apportioning blame to the CBI. The Centre had said that the CBI failed to make any significant progress in its investigation into the larger conspiracy behind the assassination. The court, for its part, remarked that the multi-disciplinary monitoring agency set up in 1998 to probe the conspiracy “has done nothing, nor do they want to do anything”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Legally, Perarivalan and six others still remain prisoners with no reprieve. “Now, bail is a wrong term, because he has already served the sentence,” former Madras High Court judge K. Chandru told THE WEEK. “Now a parole or an amnesty terminating the punishment is the only reprieve.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Chandru, the matter has long been moving “in circles”. This is the third time that the state has passed a resolution and sent it to the governor, and the Supreme Court has heard the case and then the Centre refused. “The BJP here has its own agenda, which is not different from the Congress agenda in this case. For some reason, it is not willing to go by the sovereign government which is ruling the state,” said Chandru.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Perarivalan, the bail is still a huge relief. “It is not equal to getting released, but at least my son can live his life now,” Perarivalan’s mother, Arputham Ammal, told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perarivalan had been on parole for nine months when he was granted bail. His two-room house in Jolarpettai, 220km north of Chennai, had been a prison away from prison. He was confined to the first floor of his house, with no visitors other than close relatives. He underwent treatment for a bladder infection recently. Though the family now wants Perarivalan to get married, he is having second thoughts, fearing that the bail is just interim relief.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An atheist and an avid reader, Perarivalan doubts whether the bail would make much difference in his life. Prison had claimed a crucial period of his life. “The only difference now is that he can move around outside; in parole, he could not move out of the house,” said Arputham Ammal. “We patiently fought for the past 31 years in court and we are still awaiting justice for him. He is innocent; he got bail because of his good conduct in prison. I thank everyone who stood with me in fighting for my son in these 32 years. I want him to be acquitted now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bail granted to Perarivalan has legal implications for the six other convicts. All of them are likely to move court seeking bail. Already, the bail petitions filed separately by Nalini in Chennai and Ravichandran in Madurai are pending before the Madras High Court. Both Nalini and Ravichandran are on parole now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Ravi came out on parole four months ago,” Ravichandran’s mother, P. Rajeshwari, told THE WEEK. “He got treated for his chest pain caused by hypertension and stress—the outcome of long incarceration.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ravichandran, alias Ravi, who was accused number 16 in the case, became the first of the seven convicts to get parole a few years earlier, when his father died. He has been on parole for the past three months, and is hopeful that the High Court will soon grant him bail, like the Supreme Court did in Perarivalan’s case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Parole is just like being in prison,” said Rajeshwari. “There will be 30 policemen around us every time. If there is a visitor in the house, they would stay next to him. It is like jail away from jail.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ravi was accused of having close links to the leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka, and he allegedly knew Sivarasan, the mastermind behind the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. Charges of conspiracy against Ravi, however, were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1999, and his death sentence was commuted to life. Charges against him under the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act were also dropped the same year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ravi’s writ petition seeking bail is likely to be heard by the Madras High Court in a few days. “I believe the court will grant bail to my son, given the fact that the Supreme Court had granted it to Perarivalan,” said Rajeshwari.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nalini, too, is hopeful of attaining freedom. The 54-year-old was accused number one, and she married Murugan alias Sriharan, a Sri Lankan citizen who was also convicted in the case. Nalini is the lone surviving conspirator who was present at the site of the blast that killed Rajiv. She has had quite a dramatic life: before turning 25, she had played her part in the assassination plot, survived the explosion that killed Rajiv and 21 others, received the death sentence, loved and married a fellow convict and gave birth to a child in prison—only to be forced to live alone, and finally escape the noose.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nalini’s daughter, Harithra, is a doctor now. Harithra lived in jail till age five and was later united with Murugan’s mother in Sri Lanka and then moved to the UK. Nalini and Murugan were not able to meet their daughter for more than 25 years. But they were allowed to meet each other in prison once every 15 days for at least 15 minutes. But that, too, stopped after Covid-19 restrictions began.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources close to Nalini said she was suffering from severe trauma because of the long incarceration. “My daughter has suffered a lot in the past 32 years,” said Nalini’s mother, Padmavathi, who is ailing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nalini’s death sentence was commuted to life in 2000, following her plea to Sonia Gandhi. “She wants to live a peaceful life, away from prison. She wants to be with her daughter,” her younger brother, P.S. Bhagyanathan, told THE WEEK. Bhagyanathan and Padmavathi were among the 24 people arrested in the case and later released.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nalini got parole in December last year, after her mother Padmavathi filed a petition in the Madras High Court. This is the second ordinary parole since her incarceration in 1991. She got her first parole in 2019 for one month and 20 days. She also has had two emergency paroles lasting just hours—the first one to attend her brother’s wedding and the second to attend her father’s funeral in 2016. Nalini is now living with her mother, brother, sister and close relatives in Vellore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If granted bail by the High Court, she plans to spend time with her daughter. Harithra’s wedding was planned two years earlier and Nalini was granted parole then. The wedding, however, was called off.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Murugan is currently in Vellore jail. Unlike Nalini or Ravi, he has not seen the outside world in 32 years. His relatives say he has turned spiritual and has grown a long, godman-like beard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Santhan, who was accused number two, has been in jail since 1991. His death sentence was commuted to life. Like Murugan, he has never been granted parole, and nor has he had a family visitor calling on him in jail, except for a couple of occasions. Just months before the pandemic restrictions set in, Santhan’s younger brother Mathi Suthakaran, who lives in Jaffna with his mother, visited him once.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are helpless. We do not know how to get my brother back home,” Mathi told THE WEEK over phone from Jaffna. Mathi was just six when Santhan was arrested in Chennai. For many years, the family did not know that the CBI had arrested Santhan, whose Sri Lankan name is T. Suthenthiraraja. “I want my son back home,” said Santhan’s mother, Thillaiambalam Maheshwari. The 73-year-old fasts every Friday for her son’s well-being.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Mathi visited his brother in prison, Santhan asked him, “Did I deceive you, my brother?” According to Mathi, Santhan was referring to an incident that happened more than 30 years ago, when he left Jaffna for India. “I asked him for two balloons when he left home,” said Mathi. “He bought it for me. One balloon burst immediately.” Mathi kept the other balloon safe, believing that it would last till his brother returned home. “But then it did not last long. Not even for a month,” he said. “When I met anna, he remembered the balloons he got for me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Known to be a soft-spoken person, Santhan is now 53. “Why do they fear my son even now?” asked Maheshwari. “Do you think he can cause any harm to anyone any more? I am in the last phase of my life. I believe he will come back home and perform my last rites when I die. He could not perform the last rites for his father. We did not even inform him about my husband’s death.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Mathi, Santhan manages a temple inside Vellore jail and performs daily pujas. “He is deeply immersed in Hindu beliefs,” said Mathi. “I know my brother offers prayers every day at the prison, while my mother goes to the Nallur Murugan temple every day to pray for my brother.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Accused number nine and ten, Robert Payas and Jayakumar, are also hopeful of being granted bail. Payas and Jayakumar are brothers-in-law and Sri Lankan citizens. Payas, now 56, came to India in September 1990 with his wife and sisters. According to the CBI’s report submitted in the Supreme Court, he had links with the LTTE and was closely associated with Sivarasan. The court in 1999 observed that Payas faced atrocities at the hands of the Indian Peacekeeping Force, because of which he ended up losing a child.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Payas has a son, Thamilco, who lives abroad with his wife. Unlike other convicts in the case, not much is known about him. He was granted his only parole for 30 days in 2019, when his son got married. “Perarivalan got bail through his individual petition in the Supreme Court, based on his conduct in the prison and his long incarceration. It may not be applicable for all other prisoners, even when all the other six, including Payas have similar background and conduct,” said S. Prabu Ramasubramanian, advocate for Payas and Jayakumar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like Payas, Jayakumar, too, had close links with Sivarasan. His wife, Shanthi, is an Indian citizen who lives in Chennai with her son. She was also arrested in 1991 and released by the court in 1999.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jayakumar and Payas’s writ petition seeking release based on good conduct and long incarceration has been pending in the Madras High Court since 2011. “Jayakumar is like any obedient student in a classroom,” said Ramasubramanian. “He is not very intelligent, but a very responsible person.”</p> Sat Mar 19 15:17:59 IST 2022 the-week-in-warsaw-how-poland-is-going-all-out-to-help-ukraine <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Valentina Quinn has spent more than a week at the Warsaw West train station, distributing food and clothes to thousands of fellow Ukrainians arriving from across the border. She thanks her stars for having moved to Poland much before the war started.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When asked about her parents and siblings, she said they were trapped in Ukraine. “My father is disabled, he cannot walk,” she said. “He cannot even go to the shelter. My mother is with him in their fourth floor apartment in Poltava, a town in Ukraine’s east central region. They have sent my sister to the shelter.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Safely away from Russian shells and bullets, Valentina has no time to cry. “I am here to support my people to fight the war. People are running away; some have lost their homes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She has stopped watching the news, fearing that it cannot be good. She knows that the Russians have not made much progress even after two weeks. She knows that Kyiv is still holding on, with the Ukrainian army and citizens putting up a brave fight, led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. In a defiant address to the British parliament on March 8, Zelenskyy invoked World War II hero Winston Churchill, saying, “We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets. We will fight to the end.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Valentina’s hosts, the Poles, should know. For it was Hitler’s invasion of Poland that was the last straw for Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, who issued the ultimatum (to Germany) that started the war. But today, Europe does not have a leader to send such an ultimatum. Zelenskyy’s desperate pleas for NATO to get involved have invoked little response. The European Union and many of its members, including Germany, have offered arms; Poland has offered its old Russian-made MiG-29s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is all. And the Americans will not allow the Poles to send the MiGs. Zelenskyy’s request to declare the Ukrainian airspace a no-fly zone has been rejected by NATO, which has among its members three nuclear powers and some of the world’s richest and powerful countries. NATO’s assessment is that if it declares a no-fly zone, and if Russia violates it, its aircraft and missiles will have to intervene. That would escalate the war into—who knows?—a Third World War!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps, the most hostile signals are coming from Hungary, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is known to have a soft corner for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Orban, ridiculed as “Putin’s poodle” by the Hungarian opposition and the western media, has allowed NATO troops to be stationed in Hungary. But he has flatly refused to send arms to Ukraine, and has declared that he would oppose any move to admit Ukraine into NATO. “Hungary’s goal is peace, and that is why we refuse to supply arms to Ukraine and block military supplies to cross our territory,” said Tibor Kovács, former director of the Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre, New Delhi, over phone from Budapest. “Hungary, being a member of both NATO and the EU, has obvious obligations towards these organisations, but it also has the right to act according to its security and policy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are other reasons, too. “One reason this conflict had not happened earlier was that Hungary kept vetoing Ukraine joining NATO,” said Kovacs. “The reason for this is the treatment of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine. Their law deprives the minorities in Ukraine—including the two lakh Hungarian minority—of the right to study in their mother tongue. Hungary is obliged to secure these rights. The situation occurred after World War I when Hungary was penalised for being on the “wrong side”. We lost two-thirds of our original territory and one-third of our population which became part of the neighbouring countries that were created and benefited from annexations after the war.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>NATO says it is taking defensive and proportionate steps in response to the changing security environment. To the Ukrainians, who share borders with four NATO members— Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania—it means that the organisation would take up arms only against threats to its members. That includes Poland, which was once an ally of the Soviet Union. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated NATO’s support to the Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, during his visit to the region on March 7 and 8. The three erstwhile Soviet republics are worried that Russia could target them next for joining NATO. Ukrainians, however, view Blinken’s assurances only as NATO guarding its own back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was Poland which had taken the lead in breaking free of the shackles of communism back in the 1980s, with its Solidarity movement. Poland’s audacity, in fact, encouraged other Soviet allies to step out of the ‘Iron Curtain’ and join NATO. Again, it was Poland that led the rest of the world in recognising Ukraine as an independent country after it walked out of the Soviet Union. The Poles, therefore, think that they have a moral duty to help Ukraine in this moment of crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I was the spokesperson for Poland’s foreign ministry when Ukraine declared independence,” said Grzegorz Dziemidowicz, former director of the Polish National Diplomatic Academy. “Poland was the first country to recognise Ukraine; I wrote the announcement regarding this. It was an absolutely special moment in Kyiv, as they stopped radio and television programmes in order to read the Polish declaration and support for Ukraine.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With NATO throwing up its hands, Hungary remaining hostile and others not so keen, the Poles have resigned to bearing the brunt of Europe’s worst humanitarian crisis after World War II. Nearly half of the two million Ukrainian refugees have landed in Poland through the border points at Budomierz, Shehyni Medyka and Krakowiec. Kind Polish families are offering them meals and room. The government, too, is helping out. “Polish citizens who take Ukrainian refugees into their homes would be eligible for financial support for two months. They will be paid 40 Polish zloty per person per day (around 0700),” said Dziemidowicz. “The refugees will have to register themselves by showing their passports.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not that others are doing nothing. “Thousands of students, including Indians, arrived in Hungary and were taken to safety by the Hungarian and Indian authorities and volunteers,” said Kovacs. “The whole population and the administration stood up as one to relieve the difficulties these people face. They have been given food, accommodation and clothing. Special care is given to families with babies. All are being given information as to how to move on, and find their friends and relatives.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Poland is discussing a new law that would give legal status to Ukrainians who crossed over after February 24, the day on which Putin’s tanks rolled into Ukraine. That would entitle them to jobs, schools and social security. But that could also attract charges of racial discrimination as Poland had refused entry to refugees from the Syrian war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Ukrainians know that the recent pause in the Russian offensive is only a tactical one, forced on the Russians by military requirement rather than resistance from the Ukrainians or ethical considerations. “The final push could come any moment,” said a woman whose son is staying back to fight the Russians. “It is only a traffic jam to the north of Kyiv that is delaying the Russians.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or is there more? The Russians have given several offers of escape corridors for civilians trapped in Ukraine’s besieged cities. Anyone coming out unarmed would have a safe passage, according to the Russians. The invaders apparently know that they cannot go on killing the citizens, as they would be accused of a genocide. They would rather let the citizens get out and then take the cities. It is territory that Putin wants, not people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first two pauses failed. Hardly anyone came out through the corridors, and both sides blamed each other. Ukraine alleged that the Russians attacked the few civilians who attempted to come out in Mariupol. Russia, meanwhile, accused the Ukrainian army of using civilians as human shields by forcing them to stay, while Ukraine said the ceasefire was a farce. “An immoral stunt,” said Ukraine, pointing out that the corridors from Kyiv and Kharkiv, the country’s two largest cities, led to the Russian border where Ukrainians did not want to go.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ukrainian authorities have stopped the country’s able-bodied men from crossing over. “My father, Sergey, could not join us because he was asked by the authorities to join the fight,” said engineering student Sofia, who landed in Warsaw with her mother, Natalia, younger sister Maria, and the family’s god-daughter, Alice. But she is also happy that he would be there to look after her grandparents in Kharkiv, who are too weak to travel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At border points, men are turned away and pushed back into Ukraine. Women and children are given priority followed by foreigners, including several thousand Indian students. The 694 Indian students stranded in Sumy have finally broken out into the safety corridor. “The third pause in the operation has been helpful,” said Natalia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than the march of Russians, what the Poles and the rest of Europe worry about are the after-effects of the sanctions. “Russia delivers most of Europe’s oil and gas,” said Dziemidowicz. “It is a problem now. Look at a country like Bulgaria, a member of NATO and the EU. Without Russian gas, it just cannot exist.”</p> <p>All the same, Europe’s hope is that the pain of the sanctions will tame Russia, as would moral and political pressure from neutral nations like India and China. “After all, the two fast-growing economies cannot afford a global economic breakdown,” pointed out a Polish diplomat. “To that extent, most of Europe also welcomes India’s neutrality. More than anyone else in the rest of the world, it is India and China who need the world economy to grow at this juncture.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two weeks into the war, Ukraine has also begun to give up on its NATO dream. Zelenskyy has indicated that he is willing to give up the membership demand, and is even willing to negotiate over the two Russian-majority provinces that Moscow has declared as independent states.</p> Sun Mar 13 12:04:44 IST 2022 chinese-authorities-wanted-to-learn-from-operation-ganga-kiren-rijiju <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>This operation involving several countries for evacuation of our citizens from war-torn Ukraine was so large that it required intervention of the government at the highest level and the support of local authorities and additional support staff. In the scenario that was unfolding in Ukraine, a normal evacuation process would not have sufficed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the number of students stranded in Ukraine was so large, the evacuation also had to start immediately. A decision had to be taken quickly to fast-track it. So, when the prime minister decided to send senior ministers as government envoys to the neighbouring countries of Ukraine and lead the evacuation operation, the level of commitment at once went up for everyone involved. When an operation is being planned and led at the level of ministers, who are acting as special envoys of the government of India, then the respective countries and the local governments also have to respond at the highest level.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ground work was done by the ministry of external affairs, which was in touch with the local authorities and did all the preparation. Our task was to not waste any time in getting the citizens safely back home. Special aircraft were arranged to bring back as many Indians as possible at one time. I went on one of those flights to Kosice in Slovakia. My aim was not to lose any precious time and we were able to fly out Indian citizens who had reached the country by road from Ukraine in the same flight, the same day. Subsequently, seven aircraft were used to airlift more students every day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I cannot forget the faces of the students who were so happy and grateful to see us. All the students were given proper care and housed comfortably near Kosice before they left for India. Some people who were coming to this border had to be shifted to the other borders and since the airport is bigger in Budapest, we coordinated their evacuation from there. No country has gone to this extent in helping its citizens and planning the level of operations to this minute detail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, the Chinese embassy in Bratislava wanted to know from Indian authorities how we managed to carry out such a large-scale evacuation exercise. The Chinese team met the Indian officials at the airport and witnessed what was going on. They were so impressed with the way we planned it so quickly and smoothly. There is nothing wrong in cooperating with other countries in a difficult situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I would personally say that the prime minister's intervention made all the difference since all the countries extended cooperation at the highest level and we were able to sort out all the problems at every other juncture because of that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were moments of worry and concern since the circumstances were very challenging as firing and bombardment was underway while people were still stuck in the conflict zone. But, we assured everyone that we would not leave till each and every Indian was safe. I applaud the courage shown by the students in such trying circumstances and I am happy to say we have airlifted all 1,115 Indian citizens from the Slovakia border, and one Nepalese citizen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I must also say the unity shown by the Indian community was tremendous as many Indians residing in Slovakia helped us. Today, it is because of all these reasons that other countries are not only looking at us, but also looking forward to emulating India's example. The students are extremely grateful to the prime minister and government for these special efforts. Operation Ganga has lifted India’s capacity for massive evacuation to a different level.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>As told to Namrata Biji Ahuja.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Rijiju</b> is Union law minister.</p> Sun Mar 13 12:03:15 IST 2022 ukraine-prez-zelenskyy-ready-to-discuss-all-contentious-issues-with-russia <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Nearly two weeks have passed after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine. Along with soldiers and civilians, truth, too, has become a major casualty as both sides share diametrically opposite details about their campaigns. As the fight intensifies near Kyiv, in Kharkiv and in the Donbass, Russia acknowledged the loss of about 500 of its personnel and claimed that more than 12,000 Ukrainians were killed. The Ukrainians claim a similar number of Russian deaths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Russia stepping up its campaign, the civilian population is dying in huge numbers. The UN has confirmed 474 civilian deaths, while Ukrainian authorities said the number must be many times more. The UN, too, has conceded that the real numbers could be much higher and said a majority of the civilian deaths were caused by heavy artillery shelling, multiple launch rocket systems and air strikes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The main operations are being conducted in or near large cities, and the humanitarian corridors for the withdrawal of civilians almost do not work. Both sides accuse each other of disrupting agreements to evacuate civilians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Foreign students, too, have become hostages of the war, forcing countries like India to undertake massive evacuation efforts. The Ukrainian foreign ministry said it helped nearly 1.5 lakh foreign students escape.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ukrainians, too, are trying to escape from the conflict zone. According to the UN, as of March 7, more than two million people have left the country. Poland seems to be the preferred destination, followed by Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova and Romania.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several analysts have predicted that if the conflict drags on for another two or three months, the number of refugees could reach 10 million. It would have serious consequences for Europe, which has just begun to recover from the immigration crisis caused by the Syrian and Lebanese wars and the Covid-19 crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is staying back in Kyiv, has pointed out that the Russian air superiority is turning out to be the biggest challenge for his forces. He asked NATO to impose a no-fly zone and requested for more fighter aircraft. NATO and the US have, however, ruled out closing the Ukrainian airspace as it could lead to a direct conflict with Russia. The US also nixed a Polish proposal to transfer its MiG-29 fleet to Ukraine and in turn receive American F-16s to make up for its loss. Ukraine, however, continues to receive considerable military and monetary support from the west.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Russian ground troops, meanwhile, are closing in on Kyiv. Their main advance is carried out from the north, along both banks of the Dnieper. In addition, Russia is trying to impose a blockade on the capital from the south and the southeast. Despite their valiant fightback, the Ukrainian troops are on the backfoot because of the lack of air support.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Kyiv continues to fortify and prepare for the defence of the city,” said the city’s mayor, former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko. “All critical infrastructure, most grocery stores, hospitals and pharmacies are working.” The mayor assured that the humanitarian support systems, too, are fully functional.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from the defence of its key cities, Ukraine is also worried about the safety of its nuclear installations. Oleg Korikov, who is in charge of the country’s nuclear safety, said the Russian aggression not only risked radiation accidents and loss of control over radiation sources, but also posed unprecedented risks of a global nuclear catastrophe. He said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other international partners are yet to take any action on the issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The head of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, said he was holding consultations to ensure the security of Ukrainian nuclear facilities. He is also considering a visit to Ukraine to discuss further safeguards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the war grinds on, Putin has reiterated his conditions for a ceasefire. He wants Ukraine to stop its military campaign, enshrine political neutrality in its constitution, recognise the Russian occupation of Crimea and accept the rebel republics of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zelenskyy, meanwhile, stressed on more dialogue and said Ukraine was prepared to seek compromises, but was not ready to capitulate. Interestingly, perhaps for the first time, he publicly announced Ukraine’s readiness to give up its ambition to join NATO. “Regarding NATO, I lost interest after we realised that it is not ready to accept Ukraine. The alliance is afraid of confrontation with Russia,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zelenskyy also offered to discuss all contentious issues with Russia. “I think that we can discuss and find a compromise on the points about the temporarily occupied territories and unrecognised republics, which are not recognised by anyone except Russia. We can discuss with Russia about the future of Crimea and Donbass,” said Zelenskyy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also mooted a collective security agreement with all of Ukraine’s neighbours, including Russia, and also with the leading states of the world. He said the security guarantees would also apply to Russia, although he said he was not sure who Russia was protecting itself from.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zelenskyy has intensified contacts with several world leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But if it does not work, he said he was going to bypass the leaders and appeal to the people. “I will speak directly to the people if their leaders do not make every effort to stop this war. This is genocide,” he said. “There are things that are not decided in negotiations, which do not depend directly on us, but only on humanity.”</p> Sun Mar 13 12:01:29 IST 2022 russians-are-believing-putins-promise-of-emerging-out-of-crisis-renewed <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Everyone wants to know what will happen next in Ukraine, but no one has an answer. The Russian leadership has been vague about the operation, and it remains unclear what its territorial and time-related boundaries are.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Russian President Vladimir Putin said on February 24, on the first day of hostilities in Ukraine: “The goal of the operation is to protect people who have been subjected to abuse and genocide by the Kyiv regime for eight years, and for this we will strive to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to justice those who committed [crimes] against civilians, including the citizens of the Russian Federation.” Since then, the wording has not changed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Presumably, Moscow wants the military to take control of Ukraine from the region of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics to the Dnieper. But, currently, the offensive is underway in western Dnieper. Perhaps these strikes are only to significantly increase the damage to the Ukrainian army and nothing more. But these are just guesses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said on March 7 that Russia was ready to stop the military operation at any time, provided Ukraine recognises the independence of the Crimean peninsula and the Donetsk and Luhansk republics, and also amends the constitution, refusing to join any bloc (meaning primarily NATO).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently, most people are expecting negotiations with Ukraine and the cessation of hostilities. “Russia hoped to sign at least one protocol at the talks with Ukraine, but it failed to sign anything. Russia’s talks with Ukraine will continue in the future.” This is all that the head of the Russian delegation Vladimir Medinsky, the former minister of culture and now assistant to the president, could say at the end of the third round of talks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ukraine now feels the support of the whole world behind it and hopes that, faced with full sanctions, Moscow will be more amenable. It is difficult to say how true such a calculation is. Russia cannot now suddenly withdraw troops from Ukraine, having launched a special operation and quarrelled with almost the whole world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin needs to save face and get the opportunity to show himself as a winner, at least in the eyes of Russians. But Kyiv does not want to give him such a chance, so the only hope is pinned on intermediaries from other countries, such as Turkey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is almost impossible to understand what is happening in the areas where the fighting is taking place. Each side talks about their victories and the colossal losses of the enemy. But, judging by the leaks from military circles, confusion reigns in the combat area as the start of the special operation was announced unexpectedly and no detailed plans were developed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such uncertainty gives rise to a variety of theories. Those who support the special operation hope that Russian troops will take control of at least the eastern and central parts of Ukraine. And the most aggressive openly write on social media that it would be a good idea to enter Moldova, a small country between Ukraine and Romania. Moldova, until 1991, was one of the 15 republics of the USSR.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Opponents of the special operation believe that it will lead to the isolation of Russia from the world, the “Iron Curtain”, the collapse of the Russian economy, a protracted positional war in Ukraine with an unpredictable outcome, and, in future, the possible use of nuclear weapons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to public opinion polls conducted between February 25 and 27 by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), cooperating with the Russian presidential administration, about 70 per cent of Russians support Moscow’s recognition of the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics. Also, 71 per cent of the Russian population supports Putin’s actions. About 8 per cent do not approve of the recognition of the republics, and about 18 per cent do not trust Putin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It follows from the survey that most of the approval is expressed by residents of small towns, who have a secondary education, low income or the unemployed. They receive information through pro-state media (there is practically no other media left in Russia). Respondents with higher education, living in large cities, with a relatively high income, who receive information via the internet, are the least likely to approve of Putin’s moves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition, there are many Russian youth among those dissatisfied with Moscow’s actions. More than 30 per cent of respondents aged 18 to 30 called the military operation “wrong”, while 47 per cent approved it. The approval rating was higher in other age groups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Curiously, over the past two weeks, anxiety in Russian society has increased by more than 10 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Those who are dissatisfied with the actions of the Russian authorities periodically go to rallies demanding an end to hostilities. However, the authorities not only do not listen to them, but, on the contrary, transfer any speech demanding an end to the war into the category of violations of law and order, up to a criminal case. More than 5,000 people were detained at anti-war rallies held in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk (about 70 cities in total) on March 6. The police carried out arrests harshly, with the use of physical force and truncheons. In addition, the detainees reported that they were beat up and threatened with murder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As participants in anti-war demonstrations say, “We do not understand why we are being detained. Russia has always stood for peace, and suddenly, for calling for peace, we are arrested, beaten, threatened and fined!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the hastily adopted amendments to Russian legislation on March 4, “Public dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the armed forces” (that is, the publication in the media or social networks of information that the Russian authorities believe is unreliable) can result in up to 15 years in jail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For “public actions aimed at discrediting the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation in order to protect the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens and maintain international peace and security”, a fine of up to 50,000 rubles (more than 360 dollars at the current exchange rate) is due from an individual. In case of repeated violation, the jail term could be up to five years. Everyone who goes to rallies against the war falls under this article.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition, those “calling for sanctions against the Russian Federation” could be fined up to 5,00,000 rubles (more than $3,600).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is still difficult to understand how much the unprecedented sanctions imposed by many countries have affected Russia. A number of international brands closed their stores, but only a rather small portion of the population ever shopped there anyways. Mid-tier and lower-end stores are still selling old stock. True, judging by the words of businessmen, such reserves will not last long, and banking sanctions have already made it almost impossible to pay for new foreign supplies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To pay for goods, Russian companies are urgently looking for workarounds. Among them, payment in rubles or Bitcoins, as well as the conclusion of contracts for supply through Kazakhstan, which is part of the customs union with Russia and Belarus, but did not fall under sanctions. Russia is also negotiating with some countries, including India, on the sale of oil to them at a 25 to 27 per cent discount, subject to payment bypassing the SWIFT banking system of international payments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An interesting detail—many ordinary people on the streets of Moscow are beginning to blame the current difficulties on the European Union and the United States. For some reason, they forget that the sanctions were imposed due to the outbreak of hostilities by Russia in Ukraine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Optimists in Russia hope that the sanctions will lead to an explosive growth in development and production at home in everything from agriculture to space. Putin signs orders on benefits for various industries almost daily. But it remains unclear how domestic goods would suddenly appear, goods which could not be produced in the last 20 years? And who would set up production in a country where the purchasing power of the population is rapidly falling, and many representatives of big business are trying to leave Russia, fearing nationalisation?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under these conditions, many people in Russia prefer to close their eyes and believe Putin’s words that the country will come out of the current difficulties “renewed”. “We do not know how this is possible, but we believe that Putin has a plan. For example, China will support us,” they say.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps, their optimism is justified. Sanctions may indeed turn out to be short-lived, since they harm not only Russia, but also the countries that impose them. Oil and gas prices have skyrocketed, and according to the forecasts of the Russian ministry of energy, in the event of refusal to buy oil from Russia, the price per barrel of crude could rise to $300 internationally. A grain shortage is also expected. Russia contributes to the world market about 19 per cent of the total volume of wheat and a significant part of other grains. It also supplies Europe with about a quarter of its nitrogen fertilisers, plus natural gas and ammonia, two components needed for fertiliser production. If the sanctions continue, the deficit may also affect many other industries, including high-tech ones, since Russia occupies an important place in the supply of a wide variety of natural raw materials to the world market.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The economic impact of sanctions against Russia is already severe, the International Monetary Fund said, with prices for energy and commodities, including wheat and other grains, rising sharply. This exacerbates inflationary pressures caused by supply chain disruptions and the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Western analysts, for example from Morgan Stanley, believe that Russia may become bankrupt as early as mid-April, when it would have to pay bond coupons. However, in Russia in 1998, there was already a sovereign default on bonds, but the situation has improved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the meantime, optimists believe that the sanctions will not have such a strong impact on the Russian economy. And those who try to think more objectively hope that the country will be able to hold out until July, and before then something will happen—either sanctions will be lifted or aliens will arrive.</p> Sun Mar 13 11:59:48 IST 2022 germany-is-shedding-its-pacifist-doctrine-to-challenge-putin <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Just over a month before Vladimir Putin’s troops invaded Ukraine, the German navy chief, vice admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach, was in India for a brief visit. Delivering a lecture at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in Delhi on January 21, Schönbach said Putin would never invade Ukraine. What Putin really wanted, he argued, was respect. “It is easy to give him the respect he demands, and probably deserves,” said Schönbach. The lecture caused a major furore in Berlin, not on account of its contents, but because the admiral allowed it to be placed on record. Two days later, he was forced to resign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Schönbach lost his job for airing his views, it offered a rare glimpse into the minds of the normally taciturn Germans. To be fair to the admiral, till the moment Russian troops moved into Ukraine, the entire German leadership, including Chancellor Olaf Scholz, probably shared his assessment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, Scholz, who belongs to the traditionally pro-Russian wing of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), was in Moscow on February 15, hoping to find a solution to the crisis. After the formal discussions, Putin, who speaks fluent German, invited Scholz for a drink, and a word in private. Scholz later told his aides that he was sure that Putin was not going to war. Less than a week later, however, Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine. For Scholz, and for the entire German establishment, it came as a personal as well as political blow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The manner in which Putin played Scholz, who was just two months into his new job as chancellor, may or may not have played a role in the German response to the invasion. The German retaliation has been unprecedented, and could be considered a watershed moment in the nation’s history. Shedding its initial reluctance, Germany completely reordered its strategic doctrines and joined other key European powers against Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Scholz does not enjoy the reputation of being an inspiring speaker. His robotic monologues, closely resembling the style preferred by his predecessor, Angela Merkel, often put listeners to sleep. Yet, on February 27, when he addressed an emergency parliament session, the normally staid lawmakers stood up several times to applaud him. “February 24 marked a turning point in the history of our continent,” said Scholz. “Putin doesn’t just want to eradicate a country from the world map. He is destroying the European security structure and it is our duty to protect Ukraine.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With a single speech, Scholz signalled a “180-degree turn” of Germany’s post-World War II strategic and security policies. He announced that Germany would henceforth spend more than 2 per cent of its GDP on defence and that the provision would be written into the country’s constitution. He also announced a special €100 billion package to upgrade the German army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Germany also gave up its decades-old history of not sending arms to conflict zones. A few weeks ago, it had stopped Estonia and the Netherlands from transferring German-made weapons to Ukraine. That ban has been lifted. Germany, too, has stepped up its military commitments. From offering Ukraine 5,000 helmets—a move which led to much criticism; Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko ridiculed that the next German consignment would likely be pillows—it is now sending 1,000 anti-tank weapons, 500 Stinger surface-to-air missiles and 2,700 Strela anti-aircraft missiles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Ironically, Putin has done more to unite Europe and the west than anyone else. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is the most critical security challenge facing Europe since World War II. It has woken up the German government to break with its traditional cautious position,” said Harry Nedelcu, policy director at Rasmussen Global.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Scholz basically dismantled the foundations of German pacifism, which was a compulsion and a commitment because of the atrocities Germany committed in the two World Wars and also the Holocaust ordered by Hitler. It also marked the end of its special relationship with Russia, nurtured carefully by the German leadership because of the number of Russians who were killed by German troops in the Second World War.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In more pragmatic terms, it was also because during the days of the Cold War, West Germany was in the direct line of Russian fire. From the late 1960s, under SPD chancellor Willy Brandt, West Germany pursued “Ostpolitik (eastern policy)”, which was an attempt to cultivate friendly ties with the Soviet Union, especially through growing interlinkages in trade, commerce and energy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a unified Germany largely followed the same template, till Scholz sought to make a U-turn. However, it was not just the invasion that forced the German hand. US president Joe Biden, a staunch proponent of the trans-Altantic alliance, has been putting tremendous pressure on Germany to dial down its burgeoning ties with Russia. Ironically, Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, too, seems to have played a role in this policy shift as he had repeatedly berated Germany’s defence posture and spending, calling it a freeloader living off American largesse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Scholz has also been helped by the unprecedented unity in Germany over Ukraine. Both his coalition partners—the Free Democratic Party led by Finance Minister Christian Lindner and the Greens led by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock—have closed ranks behind the chancellor. Even the opposition Christian Democratic Union and the far right Alternative for Germany support the shift. Their decisions are certainly informed by the fact that nearly 80 per cent of Germans now support a hawkish policy towards Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hundreds of thousands marched in Berlin on February 27, endorsing the decision to export lethal weapons to Ukraine and to rearm Germany. The formidable German military industrial complex will also be happy about the decision. Although its military is chronically undermanned and underequipped (it has less than two lakh soldiers, just about 300 battle tanks, 230 warplanes and 60 ships), Germany is the world’s fourth largest exporter of arms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the economic front, Scholz dropped German objections to cut Russia off from the SWIFT transactions system and joined the European Union in imposing a wide array of sanctions. An even bigger decision was the cancellation of the $11 billion Nord Stream II pipeline. Considering Germany’s dependence on Russian energy, the move to decertify the undersea pipeline which was built to carry Russian gas directly to Germany, was critical.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Germany imports nearly 60 per cent of its gas, 50 per cent of coal (especially hard coal used in industries like steelmaking) and 30 per cent of oil from Russia. While federal law stipulates that strategic oil reserves must last for at least 90 days, in the case of coal and gas, there is no such requirement. German companies, therefore, failed to take action when Russia systematically reduced its gas supply over the past few months in an apparent bid to put pressure on Germany. Most of the major gas storage facilities in Germany are now empty, operating under 10 per cent of their capacities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As of now, Germany can import enough gas from Russia through the existing arrangements even without Nord Stream II. But the German government is thinking about diversifying its sources. Moreover, Putin could decide on weaponising energy and choose to punish Germany for its stand on Ukraine. As a result, Germany is considering several drastic measures, including delaying its nuclear and coal phase-out. After the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Germany had decided to shut down its nuclear plants—only three are left now—by the end of this year. And coal will be phased out by 2030 so that Germany can reach its climate change goals. A conflict with Russia could force Germany to revisit those goals and keep the plants running.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Russia closes down its energy supply, it could hurt German industries, too, leading to an economic meltdown. David Folkerts-Landau, the chief economist at Deutsche Bank AG, said such a scenario would result in “a very serious recession”. Considering the gravity of the situation, Germany is trying to augment energy imports from the Middle East and is also eyeing liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the US. To receive the American LNG, the government has ordered the construction of two terminals on the North Sea coast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Importing more oil and LNG would go against Germany’s stated climate change policies. American LNG is considered to be “dirty”, as it is produced by fracking, considered to be harmful to the environment. German climate activists in the past have been opposed to LNG, which is also more expensive than Russian gas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, many observers see a positive side to this predicament. “Putin may have indirectly reignited the conversation in Germany and also in the EU about switching to more renewable energy,” said Nedelcu. “The question over our dependency on Russia is reigniting the green conversation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The German leadership has finally agreed that instead of building gas reserves, the long-term solution is to expand renewable energy sources at a faster pace. The renewable sources, however, need critical minerals such as graphite, manganese, lithium, nickel and cobalt, and Germany is dependent on China for most of those, adding yet another dimension to the crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A third key element that will determine the contours of Germany’s declaration of strategic independence will be its policy towards the Indo-Pacific, where India is also a major stakeholder. As Russian forces moved into Ukraine, key Indo-Pacific countries were worried that the US, which is the prime mover behind the concept, would divert its attention back to Europe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US has deprioritised Asia-Pacific several times in the past as it had urgent business to address elsewhere, such as in the Middle East and in Afghanistan. The US has, nevertheless, declared that it will keep its focus on the Indo-Pacific, despite the crisis in Europe. “It’s difficult. It’s expensive. But it is also essential. We are entering a period where that will be demanded of the United States,” said Kurt Campbell, coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs on the US National Security Council at an event organised by the German Marshall Fund of the United States.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite Washington’s optimism, the west, at the moment, does not have the capability to deal with a belligerent Russia and a rising China, simultaneously. The German rearmament could, however, alter this scenario, said Uma Purushothaman, who teaches international relations at the Central University of Kerala. “Germany paying for its own defence frees up the US to focus on the Indo-Pacific.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As of now, the German interest in the Indo-Pacific is largely trade-oriented. But as the ongoing war in Europe has shown the Germans the limits of economic interdependence, Berlin could start looking at the Indo-Pacific and an increasingly bellicose China through the prism of strategic balancing. “Germany is watching very closely how China reacts to Putin’s war, but I don’t see a change of strategy right now. But, there is an awareness in Berlin that the change in relationship that just happened with Russia could happen with China tomorrow, if, for example, it invades Taiwan,” said Teresa Eder, who is with the Global Europe Program at the Wilson Center, Washington, DC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Germany has made the most significant and dramatic moves against Russia, the whole of Europe has come together in opposing Putin. The EU, which usually takes decades to arrive at important decisions, quickly set up a $500 million fund to arrange weapons for Ukraine, a first in the group’s history. Neutral players like Sweden and Switzerland, which refused to take sides even during both World Wars and the Cold War, too, have joined the anti-Russia front.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Switzerland’s decision to join the EU sanctions could affect Russian assets worth more than $11 billion in Swiss banks. Switzerland also banned five oligarchs close to Putin and closed its airspace to Russian flights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sweden has indicated that it would consider joining NATO, and is sending 5,000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, a first in 73 years. For the first time in history, a majority of Swedes want to join NATO.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In neighbouring Finland, too, a clear majority supports being part of the trans-Atlantic alliance. Finland has given Ukraine 2,500 assault rifles, 1.5 lakh cartridges and 1,500 anti-tank weapons. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto was in Washington, DC, on March 4, where he and Biden discussed further security cooperation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The accession of Finland and Sweden into NATO, which is first and foremost a military alliance, would have serious military-political repercussions that would demand a response from Russia,” said Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova. Both Finland and Sweden dismissed the Russian charges and indicated that they were on a gradual path to NATO membership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin’s unprecedented aggression has brought Europe together and it could potentially reshape the post-Cold War security architecture. Although Germany has become the engine of this unexpected churn, it remains to be seen whether it manages to stay the course.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given Germany’s aggressive past and its present position as the predominant European power in terms of population, economic might and technological edge, the remilitarisation could be a touchy subject for the continent in the long run.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Russia, meanwhile, could make the cost of the policy change prohibitively high for Germany. “There will be a lot of internal debate and pressure to reconsider some of these policy shifts,” said Eder. “It is still ingrained in German minds that they don’t want to be militarily engaged, for historic reasons. This does not change overnight and just because the chancellor announced the end of an era.”</p> Mon Mar 14 11:08:51 IST 2022 meet-the-indian-origin-doctor-who-stayed-back-in-ukraine-for-his-wild-pets <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In 2020, Dr Girikumar Patil sold his Mercedes to buy a ‘Jaguar’ variant. Nothing odd, except that he was not changing brands—he was buying a big American cat. The forty-year-old orthopaedic, who is originally from Andhra Pradesh and is now a Ukrainian, paid almost $35,000 (Rs26.23 lakh then) for the cat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The deal got him the 100kg cat, and a nickname—Jaguar Kumar. Patil says that his cat, Yasha, is a jagulep, born of a leopard and a female jaguar. Jaguleps are rare; Yasha is apparently the only one in Ukraine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few months ago, Patil emptied his garage once again; this time he sold a BMW to buy a black panther. He shelled out $20,000 (Rs15.31 lakh) for Sabrina. Patil and his cats have a dedicated fan following online, thanks to his YouTube channel that has nearly 85,000 subscribers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patil lives in a town called Harina in the Luhansk region that borders Russia. Luhansk and Donetsk are part of the separatist-controlled Donbas region. On February 21, Russia recognised the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic as independent states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When sirens go off every evening, most of Harina’s 18,000 residents move to safer places. But Patil crawls into his one-room bunker along with 20-month-old Yasha , six-month-old Sabrina and three Italian mastiffs. “You will not find a single soul in the town in the evenings,” he says. “There is a factory 400m from my house, the railway station is 500m away and the police station 400m. My house is a sitting duck as this area can be targeted by Russians.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patil and his pets stay in the bunker for at least 14 hours every day. At times, they hear explosions. While Yasha and Sabrina play with toys in their small cages, Patil sometimes records videos for his YouTube channel. He cannot sleep even for a second in the bunker, he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At around 6am, they emerge from the bunker. Patil lets out the two cats into a huge enclosure on his five-acre property. He then proceeds to catch a few winks. Once he wakes up, his days are now spent procuring meat—a mix of chicken, mutton and turkey. “I make at least 15 calls daily,” says Patil. “Due to the prevailing situation, I am only able to feed each of them 1kg to 1.5kg meat, which is enough to survive.” Usually, Yasha’s daily diet includes 5kg of meat, and Sabrina’s eats around 2kg.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The videos uploaded by Patil on YouTube show his love for the cats. He can be seen petting them, affectionately chiding them and taking them for walks in the woods. “I am your father and you have to behave,” he scolds Yasha in a video. In another one, he asks, “You love me, don’t you?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The videos also show the difficulties he faces while procuring meat. In a recent video, he was elated after getting 13kg meat, almost emptying a meat trader’s entire stock. In another video, he conveyed his desperation to keep the animals healthy; he managed to get milk and eggs that day. He spends Rs2 lakh per month on Yasha’s and Sabrina’s food—the money for all this comes from his government job, revenue from YouTube and meagre donations from subscribers. “I am not a rich guy,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the situation in Ukraine getting worse by the day, his family, subscribers and well-wishers want him to leave the country. Some suggested that he dump the two pets in a forest—a suggestion that upset him deeply. “They are like my children,” says Patil. “How can I leave them in a forest, where some poacher will kill them for their skin?” He says there have been attempts to kill Yasha, which is why he is quite protective of the jagulep.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patil cannot escape with his pets, as not many countries allow exotic or wild pets. He had approached the Indian embassy, but was denied permission. So, he has decided to stay put. “I am prepared to die for them,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patil says that patience and courage are key while handling big cats. Before the war, he would work for three hours and spend the rest of the day caring for them. Without any formal training, Patil says he trusted his instincts and common sense while taking care of Yasha and Sabrina. Did Yasha ever try to attack him? “Never,” he says. “He playfully licks or tries to nip. The key is to look for signs of aggression. Whenever I see him going into attack mode, I divert it. You have to show that you are more powerful, and at the same time be gentle and not hurt them.” Bath time is once a month. “They just love playing with water, but they do cooperate,” he says. “They create a fuss when I cut their nails.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patil’s love for wild cats has a filmi connection. He was into movies while growing up in a middle class family—his parents had government jobs—in Tanuku in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. He even tried his hand at acting, landing up in Hyderabad and doing side roles in TV serials for five years, before moving to Ukraine to study medicine like his elder brother. But it was actor Chiranjeevi’s Lankeshwarudu (1989) that left a lasting impact on him. In the film, Chiranjeevi was shown walking around with a cheetah. Patil dreamt of doing the same.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his 15 years in Ukraine, he not only learnt the local language, but also cultivated meaningful relationships with the residents. Perhaps, that is why Ukrainians wanted him to fight with them. “Many locals urged me to fight alongside them against Russia,” he says. “They reminded me that the country has given a lot to me. I told them that my pets needed care and that I could not leave them with anyone. Since Ukrainians are known animal lovers, they left me undisturbed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patil exhibits an unusual calm even amid a war. That is perhaps because he has seen violence from close quarters. He was in Luhansk in 2014, and the fight between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian forces had peaked that year. He was kidnapped along with other foreign nationals. He was in the custody of rebels for almost a month and was made to do physical labour. After pulling some strings within his network, he was let off. But his house and car were damaged during the clashes. “Financially, it was such a big hit,” he says. “I had to start from scratch.” He moved to Kyiv that year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within a year though, he moved to the quieter Harina. Here, he realised his dream of owning a wild animal. Initially, he had applied for a licence to buy a Bengal tiger and an African lion. His application for the African lion was rejected owing to his financial status. He, however, got permission to adopt a Bengal tiger. At that time, he came across the month-old Yasha, who was terribly sick as his owner could not feed him properly. Patil cancelled the application for the Bengal tiger and started the paperwork for Yasha. “I spent so many sleepless nights nursing him back to health,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yasha is now a favourite of his YouTube audience. A few months ago, Patil and Yasha did a live show with a Telugu news channel, where Yasha was seen tearing sofas, staring out of the window and occasionally staring at the camera. Patil’s dream is to start a mini safari on his five-acre property. He also planned to protect endangered cats. But all that was before the war broke out. Today, his priority is protecting his two cats. He only hopes that he, Yasha and Sabrina would make it out alive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patil has faith in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and believes that he will guide the country in the right direction. He has met the president once. In his early days in Ukraine, Patil had done bite-sized roles in local TV shows. “I played a very small role in one of the shows produced by Zelenskyy’s company,” he recalls. “One day, someone tapped me on the back, I turned around and saw Zelenskyy. ‘Hey, I know you,’ he said in a funny way and congratulated me and left. He is a humorous and nice person.”</p> Sun Mar 13 11:55:56 IST 2022 as-ed-targets-its-ministers-the-ruling-coalition-in-maharashtra-is-planning-a-counterattack <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Soon after Maharashtra</b> minister Nawab Malik was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on charges of money laundering and terror funding on February 23, the top leaders of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (the ruling alliance of the Shiv Sena, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party) went into a huddle. The first meeting was at the residence of NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, and the second at Varsha, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray’s official residence. They decided not to ask Malik to resign as it was felt that the charges against him were politically motivated.</p> <p>Malik is from the NCP. He has been accused of buying a property in Kurla in suburban Mumbai in 2005 at a throwaway price from an aide of the underworld don Dawood Ibrahim’s sister Haseena Parkar and another accused in the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts. Minister Chhagan Bhujbal said the government had decided to back Malik and pointed out that Union minister Narayan Rane was not asked to resign when he was arrested a year ago for making a remark against Thackeray. “This is an attempt to destabilise the MVA government and we will fight this together,” said Bhujbal.</p> <p>The show of unity, however, could just be a show, as two sections within the Shiv Sena have opposite views on the issue. While one section feels that the MVA must take on the BJP and Central agencies, the other section is of the opinion that Malik should resign as he has been arrested. Shiv Sena minister Sanjay Rathod was asked to resign over the death of a woman in Pune even though there was no case against him. The NCP had then pushed for Rathod’s resignation.</p> <p>The cracks in the MVA were apparent when ministers gathered for a public protest against Malik’s arrest. The only Sena minister present was Subhash Desai. While Aditya Thackeray and Sanjay Raut were in Uttar Pradesh campaigning for the Sena candidates in the assembly election, senior minister Anil Parab had gone on a pilgrimage to Aangnewadi in Sindhudurg. The chief minister stayed away despite being in Mumbai.</p> <p>The BJP, meanwhile, has announced a statewide agitation to press for Malik’s resignation. “Three bomb blasts took place in Mumbai after Malik’s deal with Dawood Ibrahim’s gang members. The government should immediately ask him to resign,” said the leader of opposition Devendra Fadnavis, who had exposed the alleged deal by Malik.</p> <p>The arrest has come ahead of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections, and the BJP is trying to corner the Shiv Sena by pointing out that it is sharing power with someone who is accused of terror funding and money laundering on behalf of Dawood. The Sena has always claimed that the Shiv Sainiks had saved Hindus during the 1992-1993 riots in Mumbai after the Babri mosque demolition in Ayodhya. The 1993 blasts are said to be Dawood’s retaliation to the riots.</p> <p>A Shiv Sena leader said the Central agencies were targeting the NCP because the party was the weak link in the alliance. “Many NCP leaders have skeletons in their closets, hence the agencies are targeting them. The BJP feels that if pressure is applied on the NCP, the party may walk out of the government and then the government will collapse. But nothing is going to happen. The more they attack us, the closer we are getting, and this government will become even stronger and stable,” he said.</p> <p>Also, the government is digging up cases against BJP leaders. “Everyone who enjoys power gets corrupted,” said the Sena leader. “We have files against BJP leaders Kirit Somaiya and his son Neil, Pravin Darekar, Prasad Lad, Girish Mahajan, Chandrakant Dada Patil and even Fadnavis. Soon you will see skeletons tumbling out of their closets.”</p> <p>A week after Malik’s arrest, the ED turned its attention to Prajakt Tanpure, another NCP minister. It attached properties of Tanpure’s sugar cooperative in Ahmednagar district in a money-laundering probe into the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank scam. Tanpure, minister of state for urban development and energy, was questioned by the ED.</p> <p>The ED said that 90 acres belonging to the erstwhile Ram Ganesh Gadkari sugar cooperative held in the name of Takshashila Securities and two parcels of nonagricultural land of 4.6 acres in Ahmednagar district belonging to Tanpure had been attached. The total value of the attached land is about Rs13.41 crore. The sugar cooperative was auctioned by MSC Bank in 2007 to Prasad Sugars and Allied Agro Products, a firm Tanpure owns, for Rs12.95 crore, when the reserve price was Rs26.32 crore. The ED probe found that Prasad Sugars was the sole bidder and due process was not followed. Tanpure is the third NCP minister to be targeted by the ED, after Anil Deshmukh and Malik.&nbsp;</p> Sun Mar 06 15:04:16 IST 2022 nse-scam-the-lady-the-yogi-and-the-fallen-stock <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was a chance discovery. In 2015, India’s market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, started an investigation into a whistleblower’s complaint about a few traders being given preferential access to the National Stock Exchange’s servers and co-location facilities. This access had given them a huge advantage over other brokers and traders in the time-sensitive trading. During this investigation, however, SEBI stumbled upon a far bigger conspiracy in the country’s largest stock exchange.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chitra Ramkrishna, managing director and chief executive of the NSE between 2013 and 2016, apparently, had been sharing confidential information to a mysterious Himalayan yogi and seeking advice from him for making professional decisions. She appointed Anand Subramanian, an executive who had little relevant experience, as her adviser. While all these happened, the NSE board and public interest directors look away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NSE was incorporated in 1992 and commenced its operations in 1994, as a response to the Harshad Mehta scam at the Bombay Stock Exchange in 1992. Mehta, a share broker, manipulated the prices of several stocks by illegally obtaining money using fake bank receipts. Eventually markets crashed and investors lost crores of rupees. That was a time when stocks were bought and sold on a trading floor where brokers gathered and traded using hand signals and by shouting across the room.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following the scam, the government felt the need to make trading more transparent. The NSE ushered in a satellite data and screen-based trading system. R.H. Patil, who was then the executive director of IDBI, set up the exchange and Ramkrishna, along with Ravi Narain and Ashish Kumar Chauhan, was part of his core team. Ramkrishna became deputy CEO in 2009 and succeeded Narain as MD and CEO in 2013. She was the first woman to head an Indian stock exchange and was credited for several initiatives, including screen-based trading.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NSE today is India’s largest financial market and the largest derivatives exchange in the world. But the exchange that was set up to make share trading transparent is now beset with controversies. In 2019, in the co-location scam case, SEBI ordered the NSE to pay up Rs624.89 crore along with 12 per cent annual interest from April 1, 2014 to SEBI’s investor protection and education fund. Narain and Ramkrishna were asked to deposit 25 per cent of the salary drawn for specific years to the fund and they were prohibited from associating with a listed company or market infrastructure institution for five years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was, however, just a precursor. While investigating the co-location case, SEBI figured out that Ramkrishna had been sending emails with sensitive information, such as organisational structure, dividend scenario, financial results and human resources, to the account A SEBI order says that the NSE and its board were aware of this exchange, but had taken a “conscious decision” to not report the matter to SEBI and “keep the matter under wraps”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In her response to SEBI, Ramkrishna identified the unknown person as a Siddha Purusha, or a yogi, who largely was dwelling in the Himalayas. She said she had sought guidance from him on many personal and professional matters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, the conversations do not just stop at sharing confidential information, but also become personal, as can be seen in excerpts released by SEBI. “…keep bags ready, I am planning to travel to Seychelles next month, will try if you can come with me...” reads one email from the unknown person to Ramkrishna on February 17, 2015. In another email the next day, the person says, “Today you are looking awesome. You must learn different ways to plait your hair, which will make your looks interesting and appealing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In April 2013, soon after Ramkrishna took over as MD and CEO, Subramanian was appointed consultant. He was earning Rs15 lakh a year at his previous company; NSE offered him Rs1.68 crore a year. This was increased to Rs4.21 crore in April 2016 “for part-time working as a consultant with a designation of Group Operating Officer and Advisor to the CEO at NSE”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Considering that he was just a part-time consultant, the compensation was disproportionate. Furthermore, SEBI states its investigation found that his previous experience was not relevant to the position for which he was appointed at NSE. SEBI said it was a “glaring conspiracy of a money making scheme”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, Subramanian’s wife, Sunitha Anand, was an employee at the NSE and a close friend of Ramkrishna’s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramkrishna had told SEBI that a requirement had been identified for the advisory and support function to the MD’s office and accordingly a human resources consultant had recommended Subramanian, and he was interviewed by the HR department. But, Chandrasekhar Mukherjee, then the NSE’s vice-president HR, countered it saying that Ramkrishna interviewed Subramanian and she insisted on giving him a five-year contract. The SEBI order says that the appointment was approved by Ramkrishna based on the delegation of powers to the MD and CEO that were approved by the NSE’s board back in 2005.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramkrishna resigned in December 2016. The SEBI order is critical of the NSE board for letting her go. “The act of concealing such irregularities is further blatantly evident by the fact that it is recorded in the minutes that the board appreciated her contribution to the organisation, giving the impression that (Ramkrishna) has resigned with a clean slate,” said the order.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Questions are being raised about why this order has taken such a long time and the SEBI has not filed criminal complaints yet. “SEBI also needs to justify why it is being lenient with the NSE. Fines worth a few crores won’t be enough. This governance issue runs deep and needs to be further investigated,” said Sonam Chandwani, managing partner of KS Legal and Associates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NSE has said it has “operationalised the directives of SEBI on various matters over the years and has taken various measures to strengthen the control environment including the technology architecture”. The exchange, however, did not respond to a mail seeking details of what exactly it had done to strengthen corporate governance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The investigation and the SEBI order have not answered many questions. For instance, who is the yogi with whom Ramkrishna was sharing information? A forensic investigation conducted by Ernst &amp; Young concluded that the yogi was Subramanian himself. “EY’s conclusion was based on the facts that the Skype accounts in the name of ‘anand.subramanian9’ and ‘sironmani.10’, which were found on Subramanian’s NSE desktop, were configured in the Skype application database and linked to the email ID ‘’, and Subramanian’s mobile number,” said the report.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, the document properties in some emails sent from the email ID indicated that the document author, document last modified by, document created date/time as Subramanian, said the EY report.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>NSE also has concluded that the person was Subramanian, and so there was no breach of confidentiality. There was also no damage caused to the market in any manner due to such correspondence, it said. However, the problem with this argument is that Subramanian already had direct access to this information given his position.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>SEBI feels the argument that Subramanian created the identity of the unknown person to guide Ramkrishna perform her duties according to his wish is unsustainable. Ramkrishna also denied in her response to SEBI that the person was Subramanian. She said she met the person at holy places and also attended a meeting with him at the Swamimalai temple in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Who is this person to whom confidential information was leaked and who benefited out of this confidential information, that SEBI should find out,” said Shriram Subramanian, founder and MD of corporate governance advisory firm InGovern. “More importantly, was the integrity of the NSE compromised? If so, then what steps were taken so that this will not happen in the future?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NSE board has representatives from large institutional shareholders and directors appointed by SEBI. InGovern’s Subramanian sees this case as the failure of the board of directors, too. “There were various levels of governance failures. The board does not seem to have done its job. They did not even bother to check the antecedents of Anand Subramanian, who was a key managerial personnel. That was a failure. Even after the scam came out, the board did not act with the urgency and the seriousness that it deserved to get to the bottom of the scam,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are also questions being asked about the power wielded by one person in an important organisation. Tarun Bhatia, MD and head of South Asia in the forensic investigation and intelligence practice of risk consulting firm Kroll, said the learnings from the NSE issue must be used to strengthen the broader corporate governance framework at regulated entities. “Was there any financial advantage to the company or individuals? That’s one aspect where there must be more scrutiny. There are questions regarding who in the NSE knew and their management of the situation and how board processes were run. In addition, from a regulatory perspective, there are questions whether the kind of penalty that has been imposed is commensurate to the events that unfolded. Clearly, none of the actors of the whole play have come out looking good.” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The income tax department and the Central Bureau of Investigation have opened parallel investigations into the matter following the revelations in the SEBI order. The CBI, which had been investigating the co-location scam, has questioned Ramkrishna and Narain. Look out notices have been issued against them as well as Subramanian so that they will not leave the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The income tax department conducted raids on the premises of Ramkrishna and Subramanian to gather information on financial irregularities. Separately, the corporate affairs ministry is examining whether there were any violations in the appointment of Subramanian.</p> Sun Feb 27 11:28:55 IST 2022 mamata-abhishek-it-aunty-vs-nephew-in-west-bengal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The many questions about Mamata Banerjee’s political successor seemed to have been answered for good when Suvendu Adhikari, her close associate for a long time, quit the Trinamool Congress in December 2020. Abhishek Banerjee— Lok Sabha member from Diamond Harbour, and son of Mamata’s brother Amit—looked all set to fill his aunt’s slippers when the time came. In fact, Abhishek’s writ ran large in the Trinamool even before Adhikari left, and that is said to be one of the reasons for his departure. Many other party veterans had also been unhappy that Abhishek was getting it on a platter, while it was their hard work and Mamata’s charisma that brought in votes. Their complaints were seldom heard and Abhishek’s grip over the party grew day by day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Things, however, seem to have taken a sharp turn as Mamata made a dramatic announcement on February 12, abolishing all posts in the party except her own. She then formed a new committee. Abhishek was removed as national general secretary, and his close associates Kunal Ghosh, Derek O’Brien and Mahua Moitra were dropped from the committee. Abhishek is part of the 19-member committee, but others are all staunch Mamata loyalists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the whiff of a rift between aunt and nephew had been doing the rounds, it became a spectacle only on February 2 at the Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata, where Trinamool leaders and workers gathered to elect Mamata as chairperson of the party—a post she has been holding since the party was formed in 1998. It was for the first time that a public event was organised for this, as if there was a need to tell the people who the leader was. And Abhishek was nowhere near Mamata on the stage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Abhishek, 34, had been steadily taking over the Trinamool, planting his own people, and openly seeking changes in the government and party to sideline senior leaders. The legal cell of the party has been revamped by him. Delhi-based lawyers were given prominence over the party’s long-term legal voice Kalyan Banerjee, who is also the chief whip of the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kalyan was the first to raise his voice against Abhishek, as he was miffed by the decision to take back turncoats like Mukul Roy and Rajib Banerjee without discussing it in the party. He said Abhishek did not have the maturity to run the party. When asked, Kalyan said he stood by what he said. “I have nothing to add,” he said. “Mamata di has asked me not to speak.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Abhishek publicly took a stand against Mamata when he called for stopping the Ganga Sagar Mela in the middle of the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. He set up separate testing protocols and administrative measures in Diamond Harbour, which, many say, was an attempt to show how his constituency was doing better than the rest of the state and, in turn, an insult to Mamata.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mamata, however, did not take any offence until she was snubbed by I-PAC, a consulting agency managed by poll strategist Prashant Kishor. Abhishek brought in Kishor as an adviser to the Trinamool in 2019, when the BJP shocked the party by winning 18 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Since then, he had been guiding Abhishek, rather than Mamata. I-PAC played a role in the Trinamool’s spectacular victory in the 2021 assembly elections. Kishor made “a great contribution” in the victory, said Saugata Roy, the party’s tallest leader in Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I-PAC has drafted candidate lists for the Trinamool in 102 municipalities that are going to the polls on February 27. The lists ruffled many feathers in the party and protests broke out all over the state. Mamata is said to have had a heated discussion with Kishor and there have been reports that he had ended the relationship. Kishor, however, told THE WEEK they were “nothing but highly speculative”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many senior leaders believe Abhishek is playing into the hands of the BJP. He has been a target of the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI in connection with coal and cattle smuggling cases. ED had questioned his wife, Rujira, in Delhi and Kolkata in money laundering cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Has he fallen into the trap of CAA and NRC?” asked former minister Madan Mitra. He said there was no question of accepting any leader other than Mamata. “I was in jail (in the Saradha scam case) for 23 months. I did not ditch her and she did not ditch me. Where is the question of having another leader? Abhishek is too young,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ironically, it was Abhishek’s ascent in the party that led to the exodus of many popular leaders. Those who remained in the party supported him, but now they are upset that the returned defectors are with Abhishek, and not Mamata.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Abhishek’s supporters, however, dismiss these theories. “The sole target of the BJP leaders was Abhishek,” said Jahangir Khan, a Trinamool leader in South 24 Parganas. “People rejected them, which means the allegations were fake. What is wrong with being his followers?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mamata and Abhishek are said to have different opinions on how the Trinamool should grow nationally. While he is in favour of going slow and being in alliance with the Congress, Mamata wants to go solo. Also, he expects to get the chief minister’s chair when she leaves for Delhi, but Mamata seems to have no intention of vacating it any time soon. In fact, Abhishek told his close circle that “all politicians should retire between 65 and 70”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mamata has started a clean up in the bureaucracy, and it said that she would remove all those close to Abhishek once she is back from campaigning in Uttar Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rift is a godsend for the BJP, which has been seeing large-scale defections after the big loss in the assembly elections last year. “Wait and watch,” said Dilip Ghosh, national vice president of the party. “Day by day, the fissure will widen. The Central agencies should have acted by now. I don’t know what is holding them back. Perhaps the Uttar Pradesh elections.”</p> Sat Feb 19 16:21:00 IST 2022 pegasus-investigations-worldwide-hold-a-crucial-lesson-for-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER</b> Naftali Bennett has opened a Pandora’s box with his recent decision to hold a nationwide inquiry into the illegal use of the Pegasus spyware by the police. Bennett’s move is significant because this is the first time Israel has officially acknowledged that the spyware—manufactured by the Herzliya-based NSO Group and sold to governments around the world—could have been misused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In India, a Supreme Court-appointed committee has been examining allegations that Pegasus was used to snoop on 400 citizens. Around the world, more than 50,000 people have reportedly been unlawfully targeted with the help of the spyware.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Calls for speedy justice have been growing in countries where governments have been accused of employing Pegasus. In India, concerns include the size of the potentially vulnerable population and the decades-old surveillance laws that are ineffective in blocking invasive technologies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Designed to fight terrorism and other serious crimes, Pegasus is not meant for use against citizens, which is why countries such as the US, France and Hungary have launched investigations into the spyware’s alleged misuses. On February 2, the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the US confirmed that it had bought “limited licence” to access Pegasus so that it could analyse the security concerns in the event of the spyware falling into wrong hands. That the FBI’s worries were not misplaced became clear on February 7, when Omer Barlev, Israel’s minister for public security, announced the setting up of a commission of inquiry to probe allegations that the police unlawfully used Pegasus to hack into smartphones of dozens of prominent activists and politicians, including former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In the past few days, there has been a lot of uproar across the entire political spectrum,” Nadav Eyal, a senior columnist at the national daily Yedioth Ahronoth, told THE WEEK. “The government has ordered a probe by a national state commission, which is the highest level of investigation in our democracy. I expect the matter will be investigated thoroughly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bennett’s call for action has not only sparked a domestic furore but put law enforcement agencies across the world in the dock. Israeli police has denied all charges, but a series of exposes by the newspaper Calcalist, explaining how Pegasus was used without warrants to break into smartphones, has widened the canvas of allegations and investigations around the world. The Indian government, for its part, has said that it had no knowledge of any purchase of Pegasus by any of its agencies. But the Supreme Court-appointed independent expert committee under retired judge R.V. Raveendran has not ruled out the possibility of the spyware’s misuse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anand Venkatanarayanan—strategic adviser at the Delhi-based think tank DeepStrat, who deposed before the expert committee—said he found infections in four of seven devices inspected. “So far I have analysed seven phones—two droids and five iPhones—and found four infections,” he told THE WEEK. Anand used the analogy of a murder investigation where there is irrefutable evidence that the crime has happened. “Since we are doing forensics on a dead phone, we cannot observe what really happened, or who put the toxin in the body. So we can only do deduction based on ancillary sources,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Anand, Pegasus is hardly a magical entity that is elusive. “It has six-plus years of malware analysis history prepared by several organisations, including Apple, Google, Citizen Labs and Amnesty Tech,” he said. Anand’s deposition, along with statements of at least six individuals before the committee, has spelt out an urgent need to update India’s surveillance and cyber laws. Assisted by members such as former Research and Analysis Wing chief Alok Joshi and cybersecurity expert Sundeep Oberoi, the expert panel is revisiting the laws to plug loopholes. In India, surveillance is governed by two laws—the Telegraph Act and the Information Technology Act. Under both the laws, committees headed by home secretaries at the Centre and in the states are mandated to clear surveillance requests from security and intelligence agencies on a case-to-case basis—that, too, for a limited period.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former home secretary G.K. Pillai said that the laws do not stipulate that the government disclose to Parliament or the public details about the technology used for lawful surveillance. But, according to him, any misuse can be traced if the government is serious about investigating it. “If the expert panel finds traces of spyware on targeted devices, it can go back and check records to see whether clearance was given for lawful interception to any agency,” said Pillai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If permissions were neither sought nor granted, it needs to be treated as a criminal case. “In such a case, the government can order a CBI probe,”said Pillai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have been many cases of illicit use of malware in the recent past. “The hacking of the nuclear plant in Kudankulam involved a malware,” said Saikat Datta, founding partner at DeepStrat. “But Pegasus is like a tsunami entering a weak house, bringing malware into personal devices, compromising everything from voice and email to financial transactions and personal photos, which is prima facie illegal under our current surveillance laws.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the spyware’s illegal use is established, said Anand, the expert committee’s investigation may widen to include the possible culpability of internet service providers. The IT Act forbids service providers from allowing their infrastructure to be used for hacking. “So far, we have not found any indication that network injection was used to serve malware, but it is evident that the infrastructure of internet service providers and telcos were used in the Pegasus setup and installation,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest task before the expert panel would be to probe NSO Group’s role in setting up a local system integrator—an entity that specialises in fusing component systems together and ensuring that they function together—to launch the spyware infrastructure. “Typically, intelligence agencies don’t have in-house expertise and bank upon a system integrator to take care of these aspects,” said Anand. “Hence, the role of a local system integrator cannot be ruled out.” NSO Group alone is not the problem, though. There are several other companies selling similar invasive technologies that need to be regulated. “The US and some other countries have tools they develop themselves,” said Eyal. “The fact that they are very efficient makes it equally frightening.”</p> Sun Feb 20 11:14:19 IST 2022 terabytes-for-mega-votes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>UP MEIN SAB BA</b> (UP has everything) sang popular Bhojpuri entertainer and BJP MP Ravi Kishan. The song, rendered in a catchy rap style, was released by the BJP on social media as a campaign anthem for the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. Its message: the state, under the Yogi Adityanath government, has seen tremendous development.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was soon countered with UP Mein Ka Ba (What is there in UP), sung by Bhojpuri singer Neha Singh Rathore. Rathore released the song on Twitter and YouTube; BJP’s rivals latched on to it and it became quite the rage on social media.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The musical duel filled digital media with the kind of razzle-dazzle that is associated with elections in India, but which is somewhat absent in the physical campaign for the coming assembly polls owing to Covid-19 restrictions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the restrictions on in-person campaigning by the Election Commission did not surprise political parties, which already had online and offline strategies in place. All major political parties are boosting their campaign using Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. Apart from releasing campaign songs online, posters, too, are being designed specifically for digital use. Virtual rallies are being planned and live video content is being posted online. Strategies also include recorded audio appeals by leaders and phone calls to voters. Most parties have also deployed vans fitted with LED screens to broadcast speeches of leaders and other campaign content.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is acknowledged to be far ahead of other parties in terms of infrastructure and digital-ready party workers or ‘cyber yodhas’ as they are referred to in party circles. In Uttar Pradesh, the party has more than a lakh WhatsApp groups and more than 100 Facebook pages. It has a minimum of five social media volunteers for every booth, and 14 lakh registered volunteers in the party’s digital force.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Our system is well-organised, be it in terms of infrastructure or trained party workers,” said Ankit Chandel, head of BJP’s social media department in Uttar Pradesh. “It is a tried and tested system. It was in the second wave of Covid-19 that the efficacy of the setup was tested during the party’s ‘Seva Hi Sangram’ campaign.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Samajwadi Party, the BJP’s main rival in the state, too, has formed WhatsApp groups at the regional, district and block levels. The party demonstrated its readiness for digital engineering when it broadcast live its chief Akhilesh Yadav’s Vikas Rath Yatra on various online platforms. It has also countered the BJP’s ‘Fark Saaf Hai’ online campaign, which aims to show the difference between the Yogi regime and the Akhilesh Yadav regime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is a mistake to assume that we are in any way lagging behind our competitors when it comes to using online media to reach out,” said Samajwadi Party’s Abhishek Mishra. “We have demonstrated that we are not just responding but in fact setting the agenda for the elections through our online campaign.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, meanwhile, is ready with a plan to broadcast virtual rallies on various platforms. “We have WhatsApp groups in place down to the booth level to convey the party’s message in a matter of minutes,” said social media department chairman Rohan Gupta. “We have social media war rooms operational in Delhi and in the state capitals.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who is leading the party’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh, had launched her virtual campaign with interactive sessions on Facebook and YouTube.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Punjab, the already hectic pace of online campaign received a fillip when the Aam Aadmi Party announced its state unit chief and Lok Sabha MP Bhagwant Mann as its chief ministerial face. If the AAP was prompt in outsmarting its rivals by sharing videos of its chief ministerial candidate on social media, its political opponents—the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal—almost instantaneously countered the move by putting out posts that focused on Mann’s alleged drinking problem or argued that he was only a front for ‘super chief minister’ Arvind Kejriwal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP has been running an aggressive online campaign, broadcasting live the speeches and press conferences of national convener Kejriwal, and now the Townhall interactions of Kejriwal and Mann. Its party leaders and workers have been keeping the online media abuzz with catchy hashtags and memes. “What sets apart the AAP campaign is the creativity and innovation, and that comes from the youngsters in our social media team,” said AAP’s state co-in charge Raghav Chadha. “We are not relying on any external agency for their inputs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even the Akali Dal, which has traditional moorings and is seen as an outfit representing the cause of the Sikh peasantry, has put together a well-organised social media team, with a central war room and 23,000 WhatsApp groups. “We have been ready for digital campaign for two years now, because of Covid-19,” said S. Nashattar Singh Gill, head of the Akali Dal’s IT cell. “For this election, we have already held one virtual rally of our leader Sukhbir Badal, and we plan to hold more virtual rallies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political strategist and cofounder of P-MARQ Abbin Theepura said that irrespective of Covid-19, parties are feeling the need to be in the online space primarily because of demographic reasons. “Almost everybody in the 18-30 age group has a smartphone,” he said. “Individual leaders, political parties and their chief ministerial face are all relying on social media tools to amplify their message, irrespective of Covid-19.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to industry estimates, a candidate could end up spending around Rs10 lakh for a digital campaign involving an external agency in his or her constituency, and parties might need to spend around Rs5 crore per constituency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Small parties or candidates who cannot match the resources of their better placed counterparts do find themselves at a disadvantage here,” said Mishra. “This is what Akhilesh Yadav was referring to when he asked the Election Commission to provide all parties with a level playing field.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even the relatively well-heeled parties think that the BJP has an advantage over the others in the online sphere, owing to its first-mover benefit and ample funds that would help it sustain a campaign over a multi-phase election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also the challenge of bridging the digital divide as a sizable chunk of the population is outside the ‘smartphone’. “Digital campaign cannot replace physical campaign,” said Theepura. “In any case, what we see on social media is a reflection of what is happening on the ground. I am sure parties will innovate and find ways to reach out to people, like carrying out door-to-door campaigns to give electioneering the much-needed human touch.”</p> Thu Feb 10 18:13:47 IST 2022 goa-polls-meet-the-first-time-candidates-who-are-not-new-to-politics <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is 6pm and Delilah Lobo—the Congress candidate from Siolim constituency in north Goa—is in Oxel village, campaigning from door to door. Politics is not new to Delilah; her husband, Michael Lobo, was a minister in the Pramod Sawant-led BJP government for almost five years. He quit in December 2021, to join the Congress. Lobo was with the BJP for more than a decade and was a trusted lieutenant of party stalwart Manohar Parrikar. Back then, Delilah used to help Lobo manage his constituency, Calangute. So, after a detailed discussion with her husband, she took the plunge into full-time politics. Delilah had decided to run as an independent, hoping that the BJP would support her candidature. But, when that did not happen, the Lobos quit the BJP and joined the Congress, which offered them tickets from Calangute and Siolim.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As dusk sets in, Delilah stood at the door of a house in Oxel. Photographers accompanying her told her the house was dark and they would not be able to shoot. She told them not to shoot pictures as she would be visiting a bedridden voter. Inside the house, Delilah chatted with the family for five minutes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her next stop was a nearby temple. From there she went to a locality behind the temple where a few Hindu families reside. “I have come here for the overall development of this constituency. A village in this constituency, Vella-Kanka, is next to my village, Parra. This constituency lacks basic amenities like good roads and a regular water supply. I want to take up these issues and fix them,” Delilah told THE WEEK, “In Calangute, whenever legislators of neighbouring constituencies failed to take up issues, people met Michael. So we know that good leadership that will solve people’s problems is lacking. That is why I am contesting.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The decision to join the Congress, she said, was well thought out. “In the BJP, we were guided by the ideals and values of our beloved leader [Parrikar],” she said. “You see what has happened to the BJP after his demise. Even his son, Utpal, has quit the party. The values and principles of Parrikar ji are lost today, and hence there was no point in continuing in the BJP.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Utpal, in fact, is yet another debutant. He wanted to contest in 2019, after his father’s demise, but was denied a ticket citing inexperience. He continued to work with the BJP and sought a ticket from Panjim this time. But the party favoured sitting legislator Atanasio Monserrate, alias Babush. Babush joined the BJP in 2019; until then he was a staunch opponent of the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My fight is against money power and muscle power,” said Utpal. An engineer by education, Utpal is a businessman. He sought the blessings of Goddess Mahalakshmi at a temple in Panjim before filing his nomination. “My father used to come here every time he took a major decision. As I begin a new journey, I have come to the temple to seek blessings. I am confident that people will support me just as they supported my father,” said Utpal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A large crowd of supporters gathered at the temple to cheer Utpal. Said Datta Palekar, an old BJP worker who was sidelined, “Enough is enough, we want Utpal. No more Babush.” Soon the crowd repeated what Palekar said. A visibly moved Utpal thanked his supporters. When I asked Utpal whether he will support a non-BJP government if elected, Utpal chose to remain silent—a clear indication that his heart is still with the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Utpal’s fight is with Monserrate and Elvis Gomes of the Congress. Both the Congress and the BJP have a solid support base in Panjim. Even when Parrikar was elected from here, the margin was never above 1,500 votes; except in 2012, when he won by a margin of over 6,000 votes. What remains to be seen is whether sympathy and affection for his father will help Utpal sail through.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Just outside Panjim is Santa Cruz, from where the AAP’s chief minister candidate, Amit Palekar, is contesting. A first-timer, Palekar is a lawyer who joined the AAP by breaking the family’s tradition of favouring the BJP. “I decided to join politics because I felt there is a limit to tolerating incompetence and corruption in the government. As an educated person I felt it was my responsibility to put a full stop to this and ensure a better future for Goa. I want to cleanse the system and do a lot of work for my constituency, which has been neglected so far,” Palekar told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Palekar had filed an intervention petition on the issue of Covid mismanagement in Goa. “My intervention exposed the oxygen shortage in Goa. We did a lot of work during the pandemic; I am part of the Rotary Club and we put up 185 beds for people affected with Covid.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also opposed the construction of a bungalow by BJP leader Shaina N.C. in the Old Goa heritage zone. Palekar sat on a hunger strike for five days and forced the government to order to stop the construction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Palekar was impressed with the AAP’s work in Delhi, especially in the education sector. “I was in Delhi and visited a government school attended by my friend’s daughter. I compared her government school with government schools in Goa and realised how our schools have not changed at all. That was the trigger,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Santa Cruz, Palekar said, has been deprived of necessities for ages. It is a stone’s throw away from Panjim, yet water and electricity supply remain an issue. “We don’t have a health centre, community centre, bus stop, and a market. I will address all these issues during my campaign and after I get elected,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Valanka Alemao, Trinamool Congress candidate from Navelim constituency, is also a first-timer, but from a strong political family. Her father, Churchill Alemao, a TMC candidate from Benaulim, is a former chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Valanka, “I have been part of my father’s political journey from quite a young age. I used to campaign for him. My father always taught me to reach out to people who cannot return anything to you for your help. My politics will be about helping the needy and the underprivileged.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Navelim, she said, was her father’s constituency from 2007 to 2017. “There are many things to do here. There is the issue of power fluctuations that affect people. There is also the issue of health care centres. There are so many open spaces, but they are not done up as grounds or parks,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I asked Valanka if her father would defect from the TMC if elected, she said, “Why do you even think of such a thing as defection? There is still a long way to go,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dr Divya Rane, the wife of health minister Vishwajit Rane, is another first-timer contesting on a BJP ticket from the Poriem constituency. Her father-in-law and six-time Goa chief minister, Pratapsingh Rane, represented Poriem for over five decades. The Congress stalwart is not contesting this time as his son [Vishwajit] warned him of a messy electoral fight if he chose to contest. An ambitious politician, Vishwajit announced his wife’s candidature from Poriem when the Congress declared his father as its candidate. Eventually, senior Rane backed out and the Congress had to go candidate hunting at the last minute.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Divya is an MBBS graduate and has been active in social work, taking up women’s issues and building networks of women in Poriem and Valpoi (Vishwajit’s constituency).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Ranes chose not to meet THE WEEK despite repeated requests. Poriem and Valpoi are part of the Sattari tehsil, where the Ranes command a lot of influence. Their ancestors were famous for rebelling against the Portuguese. Vishwajit is micromanaging his wife’s campaign. Instead of the door-to-door campaigns, they prefer a village-to-village campaign where small meetings of village elders are addressed by Vishwajit and Divya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Only the voters of Goa can tell us how many of these first-time candidates will get elected. Santosh G., who is from the Poriem constituency, told me that he has not been happy with the performance of the BJP government in the state. “I am a BJP voter by heart, so I will not vote for the Congress or any other party. This time I will vote for NOTA [None of the Above].” Another voter from the Santa Cruz constituency made fun of Palekar for not having enough Goans with him when he was out campaigning. “Most of the guys following him are either from Delhi or from out of Goa. He should have more Goan supporters around him when he is campaigning,” he said. Reactions of people are mixed, but most of them concur that no party will get a majority on its own this time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The guessing will end on March 10, counting day.</p> Sat Feb 05 14:46:23 IST 2022 netaji-was-not-a-fascist <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> At 79, Anita Bose Pfaff keeps on top of every development in India, specially those in connection with her father Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's legacy. She is thrilled that his statue will be put up at India Gate; it befits him, she says. In a video interview from her home in Stadtbergen, Germany, Pfaff speaks with THE WEEK on what Netaji's real legacy is.<br> <br> <br> <b>How does it feel to have your father's birth anniversary recognised as Parakram Divas? </b><br> <br> I am very pleased that Netaji's statue will be installed at India Gate. It befits him. Modern technology has allowed a quick installation by a hologram; it is very appropriate. The only other person who could be considered for this honour is Mahatma Gandhi. &nbsp;It feels very nice to know that my father is remembered by his people so long after he was around. I also feel good that so many common people remember him. I only hope they will also remember him by his ideals he stood for.<br> <br> <b>Which are those ideals?</b><br> <br> Three strike me, mainly because they are still an issue. One is communal harmony, I am quite distressed when I hear of communal conflict in India. Unfortunately, they have gone to a far degree, causing deaths. Leaders of parties and creeds should work on fostering harmony, but many exploit differences between religious groups.<br> <br> The second is that India has a bad reputation as a country of greatest violence against women. Netaji was a champion of gender equality, he was far more modern than many people today, not just in India but in many parts of the world. I don't attribute this violence to the leaders alone; there is is great potential for violence in the population.<br> &nbsp;<br> The third is emancipation and empowerment of disadvantaged people, both lower caste groups and people with low education.<br> <br> These are ideals that should be followed the world over, not just in India. But in a land where two of the most tolerant religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, arose, one would expect the country to be at forefront of peaceful existence. We cannot attribute it only to the Partition in 1947, but if you remember the violence that followed, how many people became murderers, it is upsetting. Mahatma Gandhi achieved, to a limited extent, in putting it down. Netaji was not alive then, one can only speculate if together, they would have been able to prevent the atrocities. Over the decades, however, the communal violence continues, and it is upsetting to me that part of the leadership played on exploiting it.<br> <br> <b>Do you feel Netaji's legacy is being politicised?</b><br> <br> It is quite unnecessary that celebrating the birth anniversary of someone who has been dead for so long, should cause arguments. It is rather petty. There was this controversy of the West Bengal government's tableau on freedom fighters not being allowed. Then it turned out there was a tableau the central government had on him and it struck me as a bit of a last minute thing. They were surprised by the Bengal tableau and thought they had to do something, and came up with what could be done at short notice.<br> <br> It would make more sense to cooperate in honouring him, but if they cannot agree to cooperate, then let them compete. It is better to compete in honouring him than not honouring him at all.<br> <br> The individual activities, I am not aware of all, are a great tribute to Netaji. It is amazing to know that people still have him in their hearts. Maybe I live in a bubble, but I feel that not all leaders from the freedom movement are capable of touching the emotions of people today, who have never met him before. Even earlier, I would to meet people who would say they only saw Netaji from a distance, but he changed their lives.<br> <br> <b>Were you invited for the Parakran Diwas event? Wouldn't you have liked to attend?</b><br> <br> No, I wasn't invited, and though I would have liked to attend, it would not have been possible because of the corona situation. I wanted to visit last year for my father's 125th anniversary, but the pandemic has not allowed that.<br> <br> It is not surprising I wasn't invited because things are not that well organsied in India. At the time of my father's centennary celebrations, I was keen to visit. But the invitation came just three days before the event, and I could not organise my travel at such short notice. But I was invited to a dinner by the Indian ambassador to Germany. I went with my daughter, grandson and his wife. I have given them letters from my parents to each other, photographs and other memorabilia for the exhibition.<br> <br> <b>How do you reconcile with the uncomfortable parts of your father's legacy?</b><br> <br> His association with Hitler is one reason why some people are hesitant to recognise his contributions, even today. I live in Germany, I have lived with these confrontations with history in a direct way. In many families, the young question the actions of their parents and grandparents. Many are upset to know their grandparents were involved in Nazi movement. But if there is a war and people are called up to fight, it is not a matter of choice, you were shot if you didn't go.<br> <br> Netaji, however, was not a fascist, but ask yourself, if he wanted to get support for India's freedom, where could he have turned to except to countries that were at war with Britain. The first choice was Soviet Union which I would consider just as horrible as Germany in terms of ideas and practices. But they were not willing to support India. Anyway, after the German invasion, they ended up on Britain's side of the conflict. The Soviet Union was a much more dangerous candidate, because there was a greater vicinity and we learnt later about a secret Hitler-Stalin pact to grant control of India to the Soviet Union. It was a very difficult situation, and only Germany, Italy and Japan could possibly be willing to work with India against the British. Call it a pact with the devil, but the choice of devils was not great. What were the alternatives? He was not like the rest of the Congress leadership to stay in jails. They made pacts of collaborating with Britain's war efforts in return for freedom, but collaborating with the British was not in my father's makeup.<br> <br> <b>The controversies over Netaji's death linger. You were keen to pursue the DNA analysis of the ashes kept at the Renkoji temple in Japan. </b><br> <br> Yes, I believe that a DNA analysis of the ashes should be done. I know that it is difficult to get DNA from charred remains, but technology is very advanced today, there are better chances of extracting DNA than ten years ago. In the past, there was hesitation, but now everyone in my family are agreed that there should be a DNA test. My older son is pressing me to get this closure, he says he doesn't want to inherit the controversy. If the DNA outcome turns out as I expect it to, then the rational people who have been denying the fact (that Netaji died in the plane crash in 1945) should be convinced and it should be a less controversial issue. Of course, there will always be people who wont believe.<br> <br> I was keen to visit India and meet prime minister Narendra Modi in this regard. I understand that the decision will require the consensus of the Indian and Japanese governments, I believe the temple was willing to hand over the ashes. The pandemic made travel difficult. But it opened up the possibility of virtual meets, maybe I should pursue that channel.<br> <br> <b>How has it been to learn about your father from other sources?</b><br> <br> It was difficult, but in my generation there were many fatherless children, as World War II had killed so many men. In my case, my father was also a public figure. I do remember wanting my father to come back. As I grew up, it became less relevant because you then begin to define your life not just with relation to your parents.<br> My children and grandchildren are proud of being Netaji's descendants, they try to learn and read and talk about him. The advantage of living away from India is that we were able to live our own lives, and not be in the reflected glory of Netaji.<br> <br> <b>What is your opinion of Narendra Modi?</b><br> <br> I have always kept away from commenting on Indian politicians.&nbsp; Sun Jan 30 18:25:31 IST 2022 will-the-exodus-of-obc-allies-erode-the-bjp-hindutva-vote-base-in-up <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Was it a trickle or a deluge for Uttar Pradesh’s ruling BJP, which saw over a dozen MLAs leaving it days before the party announced its first list of candidates for the assembly polls?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The answer varies, depending on whom one asks. For the BJP, these MLAs were rejects from its list of candidates. But the opposition, most crucially the Samajwadi Party to which most of the defecting MLAs have gone, believes this is the end of the BJP’s multi-caste vote base that flipped it to power in the 2017 elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The truth is more nuanced. Most of those who quit were not BJP veterans. The three ministers—Swami Prasad Maurya, Dharam Singh Saini and Dara Singh Chauhan—were in the Bahujan Samaj Party before the 2017 polls. Strictly from an ideological viewpoint, the Samajwadi Party’s socialism is a closer fit for those who have been Ambedkarites. Again, not all defectors belong to OBC (Other Backward Class).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Identified on the basis of socioeconomic backwardness, Uttar Pradesh has 76 castes in the OBC list. While there is no exact figure for their numbers (as caste census has not been carried out), they account for about 40 per cent of the state’s population. As a bloc, they outstrip any other caste. Within this bloc, the Yadavs are the most prominent politically, even though the Samajwadi Party does not identify itself as a caste outfit. Political power to the Yadavs has been an offshoot of their dominant status in the local caste hierarchy where they have traditionally owned land and cattle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But when denied social and/or economic power, castes seek political power for upward mobilisation. One prominent example of this is the Apna Dal (S) formed in 1995 to garner the Kurmi votes. The rise and importance of that party can be gauged by the fact that its leader, Anupriya Patel, is currently Union minister of state for commerce and industry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus, political power is both a means and an end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Social organisation is the sweet poison of democracy if caste does not have political power,” said Sanjay Nishad, who founded the Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal (NISHAD) in 2016 to represent communities whose traditional occupations have been river-based, such as boatmen and fishermen. He started his political career with the Bahujan Samaj Party before floating the idea of a separate outfit to empower the Nishads. In 2017, the party won a single seat. Greater glory came to it a year later when it wrested the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat from the BJP in a byelection it fought in alliance with the Samajwadi Party. The winning candidate was Nishad’s son, Praveen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party is now fighting the election with the BJP. Though a formal seat-sharing announcement has not been made, Nishad said he had handed over a list of 24 probable candidates. He said his party workers were “active” at the sector level in 160 constituencies, where the party would ensure the victory of the alliance candidates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nishad’s phrase of choice is ‘pawaa pila ke jhawa bhar vote’ which roughly translates into a quarter of country liquor for a sackful of votes. “This is how we have been deluded for decades. Without political power, prestige and representation, there is no respect for our community. One of our party’s main programmes is to educate community members about our caste’s golden history, including its contribution to the freedom struggle,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The choice of the BJP is described by Nishad as the choice of being with a “sitting judge rather than a retired one”. It is this judge that Nishad hopes will fulfil the party’s demand of giving his community Scheduled Caste status and its attendant benefits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like Nishad who describes himself as a “kingmaker” in the forthcoming polls, another OBC leader who is similarly tagged is Om Prakash Rajbhar, president of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, founded in 2002.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajbhar’s political journey, too, had started with the Bahujan Samaj Party. In 2017, his party fought the assembly elections in alliance with the BJP and won four of the eight seats it contested. Rajbhar’s relationship with the BJP has since been fraught. This time, he has thrown his lot with the Samajwadi Party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Just like taking the name of Lord Hanuman fills one with immense power, our alliance with the Samajwadi Party has strengthened us. We shall show the BJP the path out of the state from the east through which it had entered,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajbhar said he was speaking on behalf of the most backward among the OBCs, who have not thus far had any voice. Of these, the Rajbhars account for 4.5 per cent of the electorate, but when they join hands with other castes such as the Banjaras and the Raghuvanshis, the vote share goes up to 20 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why seemingly small, caste-based outfits matter can be understood by a look at their performance in the 2017 polls. Rajbhar’s party had a vote share of 34.14 per cent in the eight seats it contested. The Apna Dal (S) had a share of 39.2 per cent in the 11 seats it fought on. Barring the BJP, which had a vote share of 41.57 per cent in the seats it contested, the performance of these smaller parties was better than that of major parties like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike Nishad, Rajbhar is not seeking seats this time. He said his goal was to save the Constitution. “The BJP is a party of jhooth (lies). Why has it not implemented the findings of the Social Justice Committee,” referring to a 2018 report that suggested providing reservation for the Most Backward Classes within the existing quota for the OBCs proportionate to their population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The growing voices of these outfits have led to the question whether this election will mark the end of the BJP’s hindutva vote bank that brings together upper castes, non-Yadav backward castes and non-Jatav Scheduled Castes and whether this will be a caste-based election instead of a religion-based one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shilp Shikha Singh, assistant professor of political science at the Lucknow-based Giri Institute of Development Studies and the author of a forthcoming study on political consciousness among Rajbhars, Mauryas, Patels and Nishads, said her field work for the study had revealed the grouses of members of these castes. Most of them believe that BJP wooed their leaders like Maurya and Chauhan with false promises, the biggest of which was that chief ministership would go to a non-Yadav OBC or a non-Jatav SC. But the post went to Yogi Adityanath, an upper caste Thakur, which, for them, was the most counter-productive move that the BJP could have made.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“After inducting mass leaders, the BJP cultivated direct connection with these communities, thereby sidelining the very leaders whose faces it had used to get votes. The BJP showed its character of being a self-dependent party. The leaders it had brought in remained [just on paper], failing to get anything done for their communities,” said Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That this leadership and its vote remains important for the BJP is evident from the fact that in its first list of 107 candidates, 60 per cent belong the OBCs. The challenge for the BJP is thus to charm the OBC voter without upending its own leadership.</p> Mon Jan 24 18:04:34 IST 2022 time-to-phase-out-cheetah-helicopters-which-have-become-death-traps <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Every time her husband—a Cheetah helicopter pilot of the Indian Army’s aviation wing—goes flying, even for a routine sortie, Meenal Bhonsle makes it a point to see him off. “It could be our last meeting, we never know,” she says. “It is a traumatising day for me when he is flying.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the years, the Cheetahs, which dominate the Indian military’s fleet of light utility helicopters (LUHs), have become a spot of bother. Last September, a Cheetah on a routine sortie crashed at Patnitop in Jammu and Kashmir, killing two Army officers. In February 2020, one crash-landed in Jammu’s Reasi area; there were no casualties. In 2019, another one crashed, killing two pilots—one from the Indian Army and the other from the Royal Bhutan Army—while flying over Sikkim, on the border with China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Quite often, there are no roads to strategic heights like Siachen, making the Cheetah a lifeline for India’s high-altitude operations. The primary workhorse for the Indian military has been serving high-altitude areas in observation, surveillance, logistics and rescue roles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the fleet has been plagued by frequent crashes and serviceability issues. The Army Aviation Corps and the Air Force operate close to 200 Cheetah helicopters. There have been more than 30 crashes in the last few years and close to 40 personnel, including pilots, have died; several others have been wounded. Almost 80 per cent of these helicopters have outlived their lifespan of 30 years; the rest will cross the 50-year mark in early 2022. In a 2015 internal communication, the Army headquarters had said that Cheetah helicopters have virtually become “death traps”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We will continue to fly these coffins at least for next few years, as there is no immediate replacement available for these choppers,” says Lt Gen B.S. Pawar, former director general of Army Aviation Corps. He has clocked more than 4,000 flying hours in the Cheetah. “It has created a big void in the Indian military’s operational capability, from surveillance to casualty evacuation,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian military was shocked by the crash of Mi-17V5 that killed chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat and 13 others on December 8, 2021. The tri-services court of inquiry ruled out mechanical failure, sabotage or negligence. It attributed the crash to an unexpected change in the weather, which resulted in the “spatial disorientation of the pilot”. The reason given was Controlled Flight Into Terrain, which means the aircraft, while in complete control of the pilot, was inadvertently flown into terrain, water or an obstacle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Russian Mi-17V5 was considered to be one of the safest aircraft in the world, with glass cockpit features, cutting-edge avionics, including four multifunction displays, night-vision equipment, onboard weather radar and an autopilot system. The improved cockpit lessens the workload of pilots. Inducted between 2008 and 2018 and part of the Air Force’s VVIP fleet, it is usually used by the president, prime minister and other dignitaries to fly short distances.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In contrast, the Cheetah and Chetak are single-engine helicopters with obsolete avionics, lacking key features like moving map display, ground proximity warning system and weather radar. They also lack an autopilot system, which aggravates the chances of mishandling of controls in case of pilot disorientation in bad weather.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the Chetak can only be operated in the plains, the Cheetah has proved its capability in remote and treacherous terrain. Military aviation experts believe that the Cheetah is unmatched in high-altitude operations. But they have passed their use-by date and the technology is not suited for modern warfare. Incidentally, General Rawat had miraculously survived a Cheetah crash in 2015.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Cheetah, in its original French avatar, was the Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama. Months before the 1971 war with Pakistan, the Indian government placed an order for 40-odd helicopters with France, which included an arrangement for indefinite licensed production of the SA 315B by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) at their facility in Bengaluru. The first Indian-assembled SA 315B flew on October 6, 1972, with deliveries starting in December 1973. The HAL-made helicopters were named Cheetah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Group Captain R.K. Narang, a former Cheetah pilot, says that the chopper has been used to spy on enemy territory and collect information about suspected enemy locations for artillery gunners and fighter pilots. This is besides its supply role and medical role, where it has picked up injured and dead soldiers in less than ideal conditions. The best feature about these helicopters is that they can land anywhere and do not need a helipad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the Kargil war, Cheetahs reported enemy positions to base, airdropped supplies to troops in the Dras and Batalik sectors and evacuated several injured soldiers. Flight Lieutenant Gunjan Saxena and her colleague Sreevidya Rajan flew their Cheetahs over treacherous mountain terrain, amid heavy anti-aircraft fire from the Pakistan army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But helicopter pilots say that each aircraft has a total technical life (TTL), and these choppers are flying way beyond their TTL. The airframe life of the LUH is about 4,500 hours, but most of the Army’s Cheetahs have logged over 6,000 flying hours. The engine life of the chopper is 1,750 hours and most have gone past that, too. Most have been overhauled at least five times, which is maximum for any aircraft engine. Getting spare parts is also a challenge, as their French manufacturers have shut down the plant. Owing to these, the strength of a helicopter unit has come down to three from five Cheetahs, with two helicopters per unit needing constant repairs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such issues have reduced the Army’s reconnaissance and observation capabilities by 25 per cent. “You cannot have a proper reconnaissance team,” says a Cheetah pilot. “Casualty evacuation suffers, as the chopper does not have the power to lift two casualties and a doctor along with it.” He adds that the helicopter’s radius of action has reduced as the pilot has to pick between carrying either load or fuel. To accommodate more people, pilots carry less fuel, which ultimately affects the helicopter’s range (distance or reach).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian military has tweaked the Cheetah’s engine for its operational needs. The Indian military has been flying these choppers beyond the manufacturer’s permissible limit as it has no other option. In the Siachen glacier, the Cheetahs, which have a flying ceiling of 17,000ft, routinely fly at over 20,000ft, risking both man and machine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Siachen or high altitude areas, choppers are not allowed to fly after noon, owing to turbulent weather conditions. Post noon, these choppers are only cleared for mercy missions, which means casualty evacuation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Army and the Air Force need approximately 500 helicopters to replace the existing fleet of Cheetahs and to cater to operational voids.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian military has been trying to replace its ageing LUH fleet for the last 20 years, but the acquisition process fell through because of repeated bribery scandals. Eventually in 2014, the defence ministry scrapped the Army’s contract to buy 197 such utility helicopters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2015, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Russia, India had inked an inter-governmental deal to procure 200 twin-engine Kamov Ka-226T helicopters, of which 135 were for the Army and 65 for the IAF. Even after six years, the contract is stuck in negotiations between HAL and Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, HAL is developing its LUHs, the first four of which are expected to be manufactured by late 2022. The defence ministry approved the procurement of 12 LUHs from HAL for around Rs1,500 crore, but the formal order is yet to be issued.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as they wait for new helicopters, pilots continue to fly the vintage Cheetahs. Meenal Bhonsle and 120 other women whose husbands are part of the Army’s Aviation Corps have formed a group called Indian Army Wives Association. The group has been raising the issue of obsolete Cheetahs at multiple platforms. “We lead a highly stressful life,” says a member. “We have been assured by higher authorities that the Cheetah fleet will be replaced soon. But, there is hardly any development on the assurance, and pilots continue to fly them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lt Gen Pawar says that a few months ago, the military raised an alarm over the Cheetah helicopters. It shows the gravity of the situation, as all Cheetahs would complete their extended lifespan by 2023. He says it will be next to impossible to service troops in Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield, without LUHs like Cheetah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though other choppers can drop rations, casualty evacuation would demand a nimble player like the Cheetah. “Our troops’ deployment is maximum on high-altitude areas of the Himalayas and I am worried in case a war breaks,” says Pawar, adding that India is not going to fight its next war in the plains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pawar suggests the government look at leasing a few helicopters already available in the market to tide over the crunch. “This is a viable option,” he says, “and needs to be explored by the government, till our forces get new choppers manufactured in India.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the armed forces got advanced light helicopters (ALH), designed and developed by HAL. But these helicopters can only fly to a certain ceiling. In August 2021, an ALH flying over Ranjit Sagar reservoir near Pathankot crashed, killing two young pilots.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Harish Chander Joshi—father of Jayant Joshi, one of the two pilots who died—wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind demanding accountability for the crash and stressing the need for immediate corrective action. In his letter, Joshi claims that the crash exposed glaring gaps in the safety processes followed by the Army Aviation Corps, and also revealed apathy and disregard for pilot safety and training needs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I have lost my son and he cannot return,” Joshi tells THE WEEK. “But I want the Army to take corrective measures so that no one else loses their son or husband.”</p> Sun Jan 23 12:22:51 IST 2022 delimitation-draft-proposal-further-divides-j-k-regions-say-political-parties <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE BOUNDARIES OF</b> assembly seats in Jammu and Kashmir are being redrawn, and that has led to battle lines being drawn politically.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On December 20, the Delimitation Commission shared a draft proposal with MPs from Jammu and Kashmir—three from the National Conference (Farooq Abdullah, Mohammad Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi) and two from the BJP (Union Minister Jitendra Singh and Jugal Kishore Sharma). The MPs are associate members of the commission, which was set up following the revocation of Article 370 that accorded special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The commission is headed by Justice (retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai and has Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and state election commissioner as members.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The draft proposal recommends increasing the number of assembly seats in Jammu from 37 to 43 and in Kashmir from 46 to 47, taking the strength of the assembly to 90 from 83 (earlier, the assembly had four seats for Ladakh, which is now a Union territory, and 24 seats were reserved for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir). As per the draft proposal, Jammu will have one new constituency in the districts of Udhampur, Kathua, Samba, Doda, Kishtwar and Rajouri and Kashmir will have one in Kupwara district. The commission has also reserved nine seats for the Schedule Tribes and seven for the Scheduled Castes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delimitation exercises are not new to Jammu and Kashmir—they have taken place in 1963, 1973 and 1995 when the erstwhile state was under President’s rule. The past exercises had slightly differed from the way it was done in the rest of the country owing to the state’s special status. Until then, the delimitation of Lok Sabha seats in Jammu and Kashmir was governed by the Indian Constitution, but the delimitation of the state’s assembly seats was governed by the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution and Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act, 1957. The Jammu and Kashmir Assembly had frozen the delimitation from 2001 to 2026, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court. But then the BJP-led Union government brought in the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, stripping it of its statehood and autonomy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Major political parties in Jammu and Kashmir have rejected the Delimitation Commission’s draft proposal, saying it favours the Jammu region over the Muslim-dominated Kashmir and aims to tilt the electoral balance in the former’s favour. The People’s Alliance For Gupkar Declaration (PAGD)—an alliance of regional parties that seeks the restoration of Article 370 and statehood to Jammu and Kashmir—accused the commission of acting on the BJP’s behest and ignoring the fact that Kashmir’s population was 15 lakh more than Jammu’s as per the 2011 Census.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the 2011 Census, Muslims in the erstwhile state constitute 68 per cent of its 1.25 crore population. Kashmir accounted for 56.2 per cent of the total population, and Jammu 43.8 per cent. The seat share of Kashmir was 55.4 per cent and Jammu’s 44.6 per cent. A delimitation based on the 2011 Census would have increased the seats in Kashmir to 51 and Jammu’s to 39.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once the draft proposal is implemented, Kashmir’s seat share will come down to 52.2 per cent while Jammu’s will rise to 47.8 per cent. The commission has adopted a criteria rarely applied before. Instead of population and area, it has accorded primacy to hardships faced by the people along the Jammu border area due to treacherous terrain, remoteness and the shelling from Pakistan. This has riled up political parties and people in Kashmir and deepened the sense of disempowerment after Jammu and Kashmir was brought under the direct rule of the Centre in August 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former chief minister and vice president of the National Conference Omar Abdullah said the commission’s recommendation was unacceptable. “It is deeply disappointing that the commission appears to have allowed the political agenda of the BJP to dictate its recommendations rather than the data [of 2011],’’ he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A similar sentiment was echoed by Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti. “My apprehensions about the Delimitation Commission were not displaced,’’ she said. “They want to pitch people against each other by ignoring the population census.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even Peoples Conference chief Sajad Gani Lone, who broke away from the PAGD in January 2020, said the proposal smacks of bias. “It is a slur on those people who are in graves because they took a bullet for India,’’ he said, referring to politicians who had earlier advocated for Kashmir to peacefully remain a part of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Masoodi said the commission informed them to file objections by December 31. The National Conference had initially refused to meet the commission saying that the constitutional validity of the J&amp;K Reorganisation Act—under which the panel was set up—was pending before the Supreme Court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghulam Nabi Azad, a member of the Congress’s dissident group (G23), who is holding impressive rallies in Jammu, has asked the commission to come clean on the criteria it adopted for the delimitation. “Population and area of the constituency are always considered as the main parameters for creating a new assembly segment. But here, we are unable to understand which criteria have been adopted while increasing seven assembly seats,’’ he said. “Increasing seats in Doda, Kishtwar, Rajouri or Udhampur is obvious because they are large districts. But what is the rationale behind increasing one seat in a small district like Samba where two constituencies already exist?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CPI (M) leader M.Y. Tarigami said population is the main criteria for delimitation. “Other factors like terrain and area are secondary considerations,’’ he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP leaders, however, welcomed the draft proposal. “The process is transparent and the commission has made recommendations only after studying the ground realities in both Jammu and Kashmir regions,” said Jammu and Kashmir BJP president Ravinder Raina. Harsh Dev Singh of the Jammu-based Panthers Party, said that Jammu deserved more than six additional seats. A senior National Conference leader said that despite having less population than Kashmir, Jammu had benefited more in the past three delimitation exercises. He said after the 1981 census, a delimitation commission was set up in Jammu and Kashmir under the chairmanship of Justice J.N. Wazir. “The commission gave its final order in 1992, delimiting the total number of constituencies to 87 by increasing 11 seats,” he said. “In 1995, the report was implemented and five seats were increased in Jammu, four in Kashmir and two in Ladakh.” He said the BJP and the RSS have always tried to work out means to offset the demographic superiority of Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir. “Nearly all Scheduled Castes in Jammu and Kashmir are non-Muslims,’’ he said. “But given how the commission is working, we might end up having reserved constituencies for Scheduled Castes in Kashmir.” He said there are 15 Muslim-majority seats in Jammu and if their boundaries have been redrawn in a manner that they cease to be Muslim-majority, that will reduce the representation of Muslims from Jammu in the assembly from districts like Doda, Kishtwar, Rajouri, Poonch and parts of Banihal and Reasi. “As per the rule, seven seats with the highest population will have to be reserved for the Scheduled Castes and they are all in Jammu,’’ he said. “But there is apprehension that this precedent may not be followed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delimitation has been undertaken in Jammu and Kashmir when it does not have an assembly to represent the people. The five associate members of the commission do not have any voting rights. The commission’s recommendations enjoy the force of law and cannot be challenged. They can only be altered through a new delimitation commission, which is highly unlikely.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Kashmir’s population is more than that of Jammu, it is spread across only 15,520sqkm whereas Jammu has an area of 26,393sqkm. But a large chunk of the area in Jammu falls in Muslim-majority Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley districts. While Kashmir’s population is entirely Muslim, 35 per cent of Jammu’s population is Muslim. Jammu’s Hindu population is concentrated around the Jammu-Samba-Kathua belt and parts of Udhampur district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political observers opine if terrain, remoteness and hostility from Pakistan are criteria in delimitation, then north Kashmir’s border districts of Baramulla, Kupwara, Bandipora are worse off than Jammu’s. For example, most areas close to the Line of Control in Kupwara like Karnah, Keran, Dardipore and Gurez remain cut off during winters from the rest of the Valley. The population is solely dependent on the Army’s help in winter that lasts for four months. And most of these areas are under direct fire from Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This is not delimitation; it is gerrymandering done for obvious reasons,’” said a political commentator. “Same thing was done in Northern Ireland to increase the political heft of the Protestant Unionists.” Also, he said that the reservation of constituencies for the Scheduled Tribes will pit other tribes like Gaddis in Jammu against Gujjar and Bakarwals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the BJP having achieved its goal of offsetting the political heft of regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir through delimitation, the party is well on its way to installing the first Hindu chief minister in Jammu and Kashmir with the help of allies like Sajad Gani Lone and Apni Party’s Altaf Bukhari in Kashmir.</p> Mon Jan 03 10:27:07 IST 2022 india-delta-exposure-may-ensure-omicron-will-not-create-havoc <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The latest season of variant vs vaccine is playing out. While the vaccines are still running on the original version, the variant is on to its third aggressive update. The vaccines were designed with the original Wuhan template, even though they factored in the possibility of virus mutations. Yet, the Delta variant, which emerged last winter, succeeded in breaching the vaccine immunity. Omicron, this season’s buzzword, is not just three times more infectious than Delta, but has around 30 mutations, because of which it is not just breaching the vaccine barrier, but also the immunity acquired from a past infection.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government is rolling out two new vaccination schemes—inoculation of the 15-18 age group and a booster or protection dose for frontline workers and senior citizens from the new year. With new developments daily on Omicron’s superpowers in breaching barriers, the question that naturally pops to mind is just where are we headed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With less than a thousand Omicron cases reported in the country (the overall cases are still around 75,000), it may be too early to say what is in store for India, although studies like those of IIT Kanpur are predicting the wave to peak in February. The good news, say experts, is that Omicron, while a furious spreader, appears to be milder. “Unlike Delta, which went straight for the lungs and took the breath away, Omicron shows an affinity for the upper respiratory tract, causing more symptoms of cough and cold,” said Jayaprakash Muliyil, chair of the National Institute of Epidemiology’s scientific advisory committee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Omicron’s mildness, however, could be deceptive. “Mild symptoms mean that people may not go for testing, thus the RT-PCR numbers may not be an accurate indicator of the spread,” said Rakesh Mishra, director, Tata Institute for Genetics and Society, Bengaluru. Take the present reported figure, less than a thousand for a country of India’s size in two weeks since the first reporting. This, when the west is reporting a doubling every second day. So, are we still too early to see the doubling, or are we missing out on the positive cases by a huge margin already? The variant’s mildness might morph into something serious, one cannot say. “Thus, the authorities need to train their eye on hospital admissions. The trend will emerge from there,” said Muliyil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many experts believe that India’s Delta exposure itself may ensure that Omicron will not create a public health havoc. Around 145 crore vaccine doses have been administered, a majority has received the two shots. In addition, repeated seropositivity tests indicate that around 80 per cent of the country has antibodies—either through infection or vaccination. Vaccines, as Mishra emphasised, are known to reduce the severity of the disease, and lower hospitalisation rates massively. Thus, the dominant argument right now is that while Omicron will certainly spread, its impact on public health will be minimal. Most patients might just escape with a more serious version of the common cold. “Omicron might just erase the immunological gap in the population, I do not see it as a variant of public health concern,” said Muliyil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A small study in Kerala bolsters this confidence. Rheumatologist P. Shenoy in Kochi was studying immunological responses to the vaccine among his patients, and he discovered that those who had acquired “hybrid immunity’’ had the highest titers of antibodies against the Sars-Cov-2 virus. “We were studying patients on immune response and we discovered that those who had got the infection, and then, one dose of the vaccine, had the highest titer of antibodies, almost 25 times higher than those who had got two vaccine doses but no infection,” said Shenoy. The study was published in the medical peer journal Lancet some weeks ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The discovery is significant from the Indian perspective because thanks to the two waves—caused by the original Wuhan strain and Delta variant—a large swathe of Indians has infection-acquired antibodies. Asymptomatic infection was a characteristic of the original Wuhan strain. The steady vaccine coverage also means that a significant population has received at least one shot. Thus, Indians are, in a sense, super-powered with hybrid immunity. South Africa had a similarly bad Delta wave, but it was not followed up with robust vaccination coverage. The UK and Israel, on the other hand, had good and early vaccination coverage, but their infection rates were also low, explained Shenoy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vaccination and masks remain the most important defence against the virus still, emphasised Mishra. “Repeated studies show vaccines reduce the severity of the infection and the need for hospitalisation,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Delta experience in the summer of 2021, however, shows that a certain smugness could be fatal. Authorities this time aren’t taking the chance. If the virus has shown one pattern, it is to expect the unexpected. A third wave was predicted, and the country had worked towards stocking up supplies and ramping infrastructure towards this eventuality. The national capital has already declared a yellow alert and imposed a mini lockdown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It may be too early to say whether India manages its third wave well. But Omicron indicates that the virus hasn’t tired yet, it is not at the end of its evolutionary journey and may have many more nasty surprises in store. The foreseeable future appears to be one where Covid appropriate behaviour and booster doses will dominate. And just how long could the battle between vaccine and variant continue? Till a time when the virus tires and settles into a non-aggressive existence. Or a time when humans develop a vaccine that gives lifelong immunity against this virus. It is a sobering thought that there isn’t a vaccine against many viruses yet, including HIV. On the other hand, this was the first time in human history that vaccines rolled out within a year of a new disease. And this is only the first version of the vaccine.</p> Sat Jan 01 12:47:50 IST 2022 planning-for-omicron-should-have-started-in-november <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>DELTA WAS FIRST </b>detected in India in December 2020. It caused a wave by the end of March this year. Now, think of Omicron. It was first detected in Karnataka on December 2 and then in Delhi, Maharashtra and other states. An avalanche begins at the top of the mountain with a few snowflakes. A wave of Covid-19 builds up like an avalanche. We cannot predict what Omicron will do, but we can anticipate the range of what it can do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It can create an avalanche of infections. Omicron will definitely reach everybody. It will hit 100 per cent of us. Because it spreads faster than Delta, I expect a surge in infections in late January. I do not think it would be delayed beyond February. But, a surge in infections is not a wave; a surge in disease is. There can be infection without disease. However, as more people get infected, the elderly and others who are more at risk, are also likely to get infected. This can lead to disease and even death. So, if we let the surge in infections become real, that could lead to a wave of disease.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Therefore, while it is not possible to predict whether Omicron will lead to a third wave, it is wise to take precautions. Only 44 per cent of India has received the second dose. The government will give data about the adult population because, by policy, vaccination was only given to adults. If we consider only that number, the percentage will be higher because we are reducing the denominator by including only adults. That’s unscientific and untrue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We should have created immunity in a larger number of people. And, we should not have left our children unimmunised. All this was known. This is not the way of handling an impending crisis. Now, the urgent need is to think in terms of the probability of a third wave, its magnitude, how it will affect senior citizens and others at risk. We have already lost time. On December 2, when Omicron was reported in India or on November 26, when the WHO declared it a variant of concern, we should have been planning from then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Had I been the decision maker, there would have been a blitzkrieg of messaging about vaccination. It should have said that if you are not vaccinated, and if you get sick, you are on your own. But, if you have got at least two doses, and preferably a booster, then, if you fall sick, we will look after you. In certain types of vaccines, the virus multiplies inside the body. This could lead to lifelong immunity. But, mostly boosters would be needed. In fact, the term fully vaccinated itself is wrong. It is a continuum. If you give two doses, it is only the beginning of vaccination.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b><i>Dr T. Jacob John is retired professor and former head of department, clinical virology and microbiology, CMC Vellore</i></b></p> <p><b>—As told to Pooja Biraia Jaiswal</b></p> Sun Jan 02 11:07:20 IST 2022 theatre-commands-the-next-logical-step-chief-of-naval-staff-admiral-r-hari-kumar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Admiral Radhakrishnan Hari Kumar, who took over the reins of the Indian Navy on November 30, has clear views on the need for theatre commands and the role aircraft carriers can play in safeguarding India’s maritime interests. In an exclusive interview, the chief of the naval staff also talks about the Navy’s modernisation, new aircraft carrier Vikrant, and gender equality. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Some experts call aircraft carriers ‘sitting ducks’.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Aircraft carriers are central to the Navy’s concept of operations and the Navy considers carriers inescapable to safeguard maritime interests against the backdrop of the changing geopolitics in the Indian Ocean region and beyond. The Carrier Battle Groups (CBGs) are a significant source of power projection and provide freedom of manoeuvre in the vast area of operations or interest. There are no alternatives to CBGs. Shore-based aircraft have a limited reach in our vast maritime area of interest. They can provide air defence to the fleet only when it is operating close to the coast, which is a rarity in the naval concepts of operations.</p> <p>Similarly, in the maritime strike role, shore-based aircraft have limited range with inherent time delays considering the distance to targets at sea. The surety of support from a shore-based fighter is intrinsically linked to the unpredictable factor of weather at the launch point as well as the intervening airspace between the launch point and the target. Accordingly, the relevance and importance of aircraft carriers have been acknowledged world over. Thus, many major maritime powers, such as the US, the UK, Italy and France, operate aircraft carriers. China is also building a large number of carriers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When can we expect IAC Vikrant to join the Navy fleet?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The maiden sea voyage of IAC Vikrant was conducted on August 21 as a check sortie for trials of hull, navigation and communication propulsion systems. These trials have established confidence in the ship design. This was followed by the second sea trials sortie in late October and early November. The carrier would continue to undergo further sea trials to comprehensively benchmark performance of equipment and systems before handing over the ship to the Navy. Delivery and commissioning of IAC 1 is being planned as part of the ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ celebrations to commemorate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see the plan for the theaterisation of the Indian military?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> India is faced with tremendous security challenges, both traditional and non-traditional. The ongoing flux in the geopolitical situation and its security implications require India to adopt an integrated approach towards development of combat capability and its application, to protect its national interests. Hence, effective application of ‘Joint Force for Joint Effects’ across all domains is the pre-requisite for winning future wars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Indian context, the raising of theatre commands is the next logical step in the ongoing reforms in defence organisation of the country and culmination of a long consultative and introspective process and validation/ trials of many models aimed at achieving jointness among the three services.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Does the Indian Navy have any roadmap for unmanned technologies?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ An ‘Integrated Unmanned Roadmap for the Indian Navy (IN)’ was released by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on October 18, 2021. It provides a comprehensive unmanned systems roadmap in consonance with the Indian Navy's Concept of Operations, and also evaluates the current state of unmanned systems and autonomous technology across the globe. The focus remains on providing overall guidance as a Capability Development Document for the Indian Navy over 10 years and caters to induction of unmanned systems in all domains of maritime warfare. A reference version of this roadmap will also be promulgated in the near future for the benefit of our industry to focus its R&amp;D efforts, which will promote Aatmanirbhar Bharat vision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Please throw some light on the Navy’s modernisation plan.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Navy’s modernisation and expansion follow a long-term perspective plan based on the Integrated Capability Development System (ICAD) process, focused on being a future-ready force, with the capability and capacity to meet evolving challenges. We currently have 39 ships and submarines under construction, with Indian shipyards building 37 of these, contributing significantly to the government’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of our key projects is the first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier, being built at Kochi. The ship has undergone extensive sea-trials, and is scheduled to be commissioned in August 2022, giving a major fillip to the Navy’s ability to protect, preserve and promote our national interests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among other major projects are four Project 15B destroyers, of which, the first ship, INS Visakhapatnam, was commissioned on November 21. Seven frigates of Project 17A Class, scheduled for induction from 2022, are also under construction. Further, 16 Anti-Submarine Warfare Shallow Water Craft have also been contracted. Among submarine projects, the fourth submarine of six under Project 75, INS Vela, was commissioned on November 25.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from vessels under construction, ‘Acceptance of Necessity’ has also been accorded for another 43 ships and six Project 75 (India) submarines to be built in India. In the aerospace domain, HAL has been awarded a contract to deliver 12 Dorniers, 16 Advanced Light Helicopters and eight Chetak. Further, AoNs also exist for procurement of 111 Naval Utility Helicopters under the Strategic Partnership Model.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Navy is working closely with DRDO and the industry to enhance the technological base in the country. Concurrently, there is a need to enhance the capacity and expertise of our public sector shipyards to reduce build-times, and also involve the private sector to make good current short-falls in our force levels. Naval force modernisation and force accretion is a slow and deliberate process, and the Navy has continued to focus on self-reliance and indigenous solutions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Compared to China, our submarine strength is small. How are you planning to bridge the gap?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ As on date, the Indian Navy has 17 submarines in commission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As far as the expansion plans of the submarine arm are concerned, the first three P-75 submarines were commissioned between December 2017 and March 2021. The fourth submarine Vela was commissioned last month and the fifth submarine is at an advanced stage of trials. The RFP for a new class of submarines under Project 75 (I) has been issued.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Construction of all submarines of P-75 (I) will be carried out in India under the Strategic Partnership (SP) model. Additionally, the government has also approved a proposal for extending the service life of four Sindhughosh class and two Shishumar class submarines. As part of this, two submarines have already arrived in India post completion of Medium Refit cum Life Certification (MRLC) at Russia. MRLC of the third and fourth submarine are ongoing and are likely to be completed by mid-2022.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the submarine force level is adequate to respond to current threats, we need to expeditiously progress planned acquisition progress to be future ready. The required force levels of our submarines and strategy of their operation in the future are in accordance with the overall naval plans of countering threats to national interests close to the coast as well in distant waters. Most of our submarines have been modernised and upgraded in terms of their weapons-sensors suite as well as their crew-support system. The Indian Navy’s submarine arm is a potent force, fully capable of accomplishing a wide range of operational tasks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Indian Navy's engagement has grown significantly in the recent past through its Mission Based Deployment. What is the Navy gaining from these?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> In order to protect and safeguard our national maritime interests in the Indo-Pacific region, the Indian Navy transitioned to Mission Based Deployment (MBD) in 2017. These deployments facilitated deploying mission-ready ships and aircraft to maintain continuous/ near continuous presence in critical shipping lanes and choke points across the IOR. Mission Based Deployments essentially cover all choke points, International Shipping Lanes of interest in the IOR and enable our ships to swiftly transform their roles from military to constabulary to diplomatic to benign, as required, and undertake a variety of missions from HADR to Anti-Piracy. These deployments have also provided opportunities for better interaction with our maritime neighbours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Through these deployments, we are able to establish a visible, credible and responsive presence, augment Maritime Domain Awareness, monitor Extra Regional Forces and potential adversaries, and respond to emerging situations and crises in the form of military operations, constabulary intervention, opportune collaborative engagements with like-minded navies, etc. It has helped increase our familiarity with the area of operations and also helped assure friendly nations, through rapid response, that we are ready to assist when called upon. They have also significantly re-oriented fleet deployments, so as to pursue our neighbourhood-first policy. These deployments are in consonance with the prime minister’s vision of ‘Security And Growth for All in the Region’ (SAGAR) and our efforts to be the ‘Preferred Security Partner’ in the IOR. The initiative is also in sync with the latest UNSC presidential statement (under India’s presidency) on maritime security that recognised the importance of enhancing international and regional cooperation to counter threats to maritime safety and security.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Few major operations undertaken by Indian Navy ships while deployed on MBDs include HADR assistance to Mozambique during Cyclone ‘Idai’ in March 2019 and Madagascar during Cyclone ‘Diane’ in January 2020; security escorts to UN World Food Programme (UN WFP) vessels in December 2018, December 2019 and June 2020; assistance to distressed dhow Al Hamid off Somalia in January 2020; delivery of medical assistance to various friendly countries during Operation Samudra Setu II; and escorting ships as part of Op Sankalp.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Several women officers have gone to court accusing the Services of bias.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Navy has steadfastly proven that there is no gender discrimination between male and women officers at the recruitment, training or employment stage. The recent court case involving the Navy was with regards to whether the 2008 policy letter was to be applied retrospectively or prospectively and had nothing to do with gender discrimination. The apex court in its judgment dated March 17, 2020 held that the letter is to be applied retrospectively to both male and female SSC officers. Post judgment, the Navy concluded a Selection Board on December 18, 2020 wherein 80 officers (including 41 women officers) merited selection for permanent commission. We have employed women officers in combat roles such as pilots, observers and posted 29 women officers onboard warships, at par with male counterparts. The service conditions, infrastructure and resources are being upgraded to increase the intake of women officers in the Navy.</p> Sat Jan 01 13:16:36 IST 2022 lakhimpur-kheri-case-union-minister-ajay-misra-caste-is-protecting-him <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>KNOWN IN HIS</b> constituency—Kheri, Uttar Pradesh—as Teni Maharaj, Ajay Misra being a Brahmin came as a surprise to those who were not well-acquainted with him. To most casual observers, he had always been Teni. However, it was in the expansion of the Union cabinet in July 2021 that the less-used Misra surname became important.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few months before the expansion, Misra had won the Sansad Ratna award for 100 per cent attendance in the Lok Sabha and for asking the most public interest questions. That made him the first ever MP from Uttar Pradesh to receive the honour. But, his inclusion in the cabinet as minister of state for home affairs was driven more by the BJP’s aim of bagging the Brahmin vote in the state (around 10 per cent) in the 2022 assembly elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On October 3, Misra’s reputation was blown away as cars—one of them allegedly driven by his son Ashish—mowed down three farmers and a journalist during protests over the now repealed farm laws. The special investigation team which is probing the incident has damningly held that the violence was planned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Numerous non-political sources THE WEEK spoke to in Lakhimpur Kheri district said that the intention had been to clear the crowds so that Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya could reach a designated meeting spot. Routes were also changed at least twice; but, both times the farmers got wind of the alternatives and moved to obstruct them. Ashish is one of 13 people accused of the violence. Section 307 (attempt to murder) is likely to be added to the charge-sheet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No one in Lakhimpur Kheri is quite sure how their Teni Maharaj got embroiled in this murky deed. On the day of the murders, colourful banners with “Teni Maharaj zindabad” had been fluttering across his village Banveerpur, the nagar panchayat of Tikunia and the tehsil Nighasan. Locals concede that he always had the image of a strongman, but also said that he was accessible and willing to help.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surendra Kumar Tiwari, a native of Lakhimpur Kheri, whose wife retired as a homeopathic doctor from the state’s medical services, remembers how difficult it was for him to get her pension released. “I even went to the [controller of pension] office in Allahabad,” said Tiwari. “At the local office, I was told—milke baat karenge (we shall meet and talk)—a euphemism for a bribe.” Misra was not a minister then and Tiwari’s residence fell in the neighbouring constituency of Dhaurahra. Yet, he took his case to Misra, whom he had never met. “In front of me, he called the director and said the matter must be expedited,” said Tiwari. “Within three days, my wife received her pension.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Demands for Misra’s removal have been relentless and vociferous. The BJP has not responded to these. In October, at a worker’s conference of the party, Misra stood between Home Minister Amit Shah and state BJP president Swatantra Dev Singh, his importance seemingly undiminished and his party defiant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Misra comes from a family of immense clout. In Banveerpur, his was one of three Brahmin households. The others in his village are Yadavs and scheduled castes. His father and grandfather were notorious as part of the land mafia. “They were involved in the illegal felling of trees in the surrounding jungles,” said a resident of Tikunia, who requested anonymity. “No one could stand up to them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Elders say the family had a tradition of the dolis (palanquins) of new brides from lower castes first stopping at their doorstep. The women would spend the night at the Misra home before being seen off with a gift of new clothes the next day. No one says it explicitly, but the purpose of this halt could well have been to enable the men of the household to sexually exploit the women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Teni’s upbringing makes him terribly obstinate,” said a local resident who was unwilling to be identified. “If he wants something he must have it.” The perception is that an increase in political power unleashed the worst in him. Misra rose in politics from the vice chairman of the district cooperative bank, Kheri, to member, zilla parishad, Kheri. He was part of the assembly from 2012 to 2014. The first of his two consecutive stints as member of parliament started in May 2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On Misra’s Lok Sabha profile, the 61-year-old describes himself as an introvert and an “ordinary student having been interested in studies and also showed keen interest in sports”. However, one former classmate remembered that he was so disinterested in coming to school that he had to be, at times, dragged by the household help to classes and would come kicking and screaming. His profile further reads: “Later on during professional life, moved by social inequalities and deprivation of people of human rights, joined politics and started a political career as BJP District General Secretary....”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sports is Misra’s great love. He organises tournaments of cricket, powerlifting and wrestling. In these, he often does commentary. As a student, he participated in powerlifting and volleyball tournaments till the district level, while he played cricket for his university at Kanpur. His other interests include “study of different cultures, staging plays and classical music. Study of literary stories and articles”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Misra’s caste gives him unique protection in a state where Brahmins are perceived to be treated unfairly. In August 2020, Deomani Dwivedi, a Brahmin MLA from Lambhua (Sultanpur), wrote to the principal secretary of the assembly to give notice of a question that demanded to know the situation of Brahmins in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The question read: “In the more than three and a half years of the tenure of the BJP government, how many Brahmins have been killed in the state, how many killers have been arrested? How many killers have been successfully punished...? What is the government doing to protect Brahmins? Will the government give arms licenses to Brahmins on a priority? How many Brahmins have applied for arms licenses and how many have been given these?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Brahmin equation in Uttar Pradesh is tricky. They may not be too many, but they are influential. It does not help that of the two deputy chief ministers, the Brahmin face, Dinesh Sharma, is hardly seen or heard from. Of the 24 ministers in Yogi Adityanath’s cabinet, four (besides Sharma) are Brahmins. The most recent inductee among these is Jitin Prasada, who holds the relatively minor portfolio of technical education. Prasada’s inclusion into the ministry soon after he left the Congress was a clear nod to the Brahmin voters in the state. Among the 21 ministers of state, three are Brahmins; of the nine ministers of state with independent charge, too, three are Brahmins.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bala Prasad Awasthi, BJP MLA from Dhaurahra, said he did not believe that his caste had been targeted in any way under the present regime. “There are unwanted elements in every caste,” he said. “Their elimination in no way represents how a caste is dealt with.” Awasthi’s reference is to Vikas Dubey, a gangster who was killed by the state police in July 2020. Dubey, a Brahmin, is often quoted as an example of how the caste is treated under the state’s Thakur chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Awasthi is, however, unwilling to comment on the impact of Misra’s continuance as a minister. “I have not been able to determine the sequence of events, so I cannot comment on the party’s thoughts on him,” he said. Misra’s removal is knotty. To save itself from any backlash, the party’s best hope could be that he would resign as the findings of the SIT have become more serious.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Misra himself is on edge. He was caught on camera rebuking a reporter for asking bewakoof (stupid) questions about his son’s involvement and went as far as calling Ashish bechara nirdosh (poor innocent). How close this edge is to a fall remains to be seen.</p> Thu Dec 23 17:55:18 IST 2021 modi-govt-at-its-weakest-point-but-opposition-finds-it-hard-to-challenge-the-bjp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As 2021 draws to a close, the Narendra Modi government is perhaps at its most defensive, after having been forced to repeal the three contentious farm laws. The move is perhaps the biggest about-turn by Modi, who has built for himself the image of a strong and decisive leader. And this has happened when other issues such as price rise, unemployment and the impact of Covid-19 on the lives and livelihood of the people are becoming common topics in public discourse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is also a time when the talk of opposition unity has become more fervent. Already, various permutations and combinations are being discussed for getting the anti-BJP bloc together for the Lok Sabha elections in 2024. However, despite the ruling dispensation being at its weakest point, Modi and the BJP, as of now, find no reason to be too alarmed. The opposition’s attempts, be it in terms of providing an alternative governance model or a leadership option, have failed to cause Modi any serious concern.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The basic premise of the talk of getting anti-BJP parties together is that in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, the saffron party won 303 seats and had 37 per cent vote share. It is argued that the opposition, with its 63 per cent vote share, represents a wider section of the population, and if these parties come together, they obviously will have a bigger support base than the BJP. To ensure that this vote share does not get divided, an ideal situation would be that there are one-on-one fights against the BJP and its allies. However, the catch lies in the near impossibility of getting the disparate forces and individual egos that constitute the 63 per cent vote share together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Whither the principal opposition party?</b></p> <p>A primary issue being discussed is where the Congress figures in the scheme of things. Is it failing in its role as the principal opposition party in posing a credible challenge to Modi and the BJP? Is it pulling down the anti-BJP bloc with its frailties and intra-party skirmishes? Whether regional parties can cobble together a viable non-Congress, non-BJP alternative? These are some of the questions being asked with regard to the Congress’s role in the opposition space.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 25, a meeting of opposition leaders held at the Delhi residence of Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar evoked much interest, especially since the Congress was not invited. It was described as an effort to explore the possibility of putting together a non-Congress, non-BJP front. However, with the event not garnering the desired response, its organisers promptly downplayed it and Pawar said that an opposition alliance without the Congress was not possible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress president Sonia Gandhi had on August 19, against the backdrop of the unprecedented unity shown by the opposition parties in the monsoon session of Parliament, convened a meeting of what are known as ‘like-minded parties’. The basic aim of the meeting was to emphasise the centrality of the Congress in any unified challenge mounted by these parties to the BJP regime. She said there was no alternative to working together and a decision was taken that the parties would hold joint protests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The plans, however, fell apart soon enough and there were no joint opposition protests. If Sonia had hoped for a repeat of her 2004 endeavour when her outreach to regional players had evoked a positive response, a similar reaction was not forthcoming this time. For one, the Congress is a much weakened entity, its national footprint has shrunk, its leadership does not enjoy as much authority now, and both allies and frenemies are not particularly interested in strengthening the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The talk of a front of regional parties without the Congress is refusing to die down, especially after the strong showing of regional satraps in the assembly elections in 2020, particularly Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee. Pawar, known to keep the Congress guessing about his moves and motives, has more than once since the damp squib of a meeting in June, described the grand old party as an “impoverished landlord who has lost all his land and who can’t even look after his house anymore”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The race to replace the Congress</b></p> <p>In the coming assembly elections, the Congress has a different worry besides taking on its main rivals. It is dealing with a situation involving non-BJP parties threatening to eat into its space. In Punjab, where the party would have preferred a direct fight with the Akali Dal, the Aam Aadmi Party has come up as a serious contender. In Uttarakhand, which has thus far seen a contest between the Congress and the BJP, the AAP threatens to eat into the anti-incumbency votes. In Goa, an already weakened Congress has to put up with not just the AAP, but also the Trinamool, which declared its entry into the coastal state by inducting veteran Congressman and former chief minister Luizinho Faleiro. The AAP with its noteworthy performance in civic polls in Gujarat has given the Congress reason to worry as the state goes to polls in late 2022.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Trinamool, which is making aggressive moves to be recognised as a replacement of the Congress in the opposition realm, has made clear its plans to expand in the northeast. Assam leader Sushmita Dev, who was known to be close to former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, has joined the party and could helm its expansion moves in her home state and also Tripura. The Trinamool is said to have eaten into the Congress’s vote share in the recent civic polls in Tripura. The Congress was dealt a blow by Mamata’s party in Meghalaya, when 12 of its 17 MLAs led by former chief minister Mukul Sangma walked over to the Trinamool, making it the main opposition party in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In recent times, the Congress has lost its entire vote bank to the AAP in Delhi and is now on the sidelines of the politics in the national capital. In Andhra Pradesh, post the split of the state, the YSR Congress has grown at the cost of the Congress. In neighbouring Telangana, where the Congress would have hoped to yield political dividends from the creation of the state, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti has been the main beneficiary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even if they may not have overt prime ministerial ambitions and may not be in a rush to occupy the pole position in the opposition space, most allies and rivals want to keep the principal opposition party in check in their respective territories. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu or the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar or the NCP in Maharashtra are not interested in a revival of the Congress. Even relations with Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, with which the Congress shares power in Jharkhand, have been fraught with tension. On the other hand, parties such as the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have kept their distance from the Congress, not willing to give it any space in Uttar Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Who will counter Modi?</b></p> <p>In 2014, Trinamool leader Derek O’Brien had suggested that the various parties that have emerged out of the Congress could form a front with Mamata leading it. Riding high on her success in the West Bengal elections, where she comprehensively defeated the BJP, Mamata is on a mission to be recognised as the leader best placed to take on Modi in 2024. She has been nominated as chairperson of the Trinamool parliamentary party to give her a national role. She has herself declared, taking off on her assembly poll slogan that now “Poore desh mein khela hoga (Now, the game is on, all over the country). Mamata has been outspoken about where she sees herself vis-a-vis the Congress and its leadership, criticising the party for failing to get its act together, ridiculing Rahul for his visits abroad and derisively asking if the United Progressive Alliance, a grouping of parties the Congress headed when it was in power from 2004-2014, still exists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mamata’s supporters say that her credentials as a leader capable of taking on Modi are indisputable given the gumption with which she fought the BJP in the assembly elections, that she heads a state which sends 42 MLAs to the Lok Sabha and that she has the required stature for other opposition leaders to rally around her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A little away from the opposition centrestage, AAP’s national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is attempting to emerge as an alternative at the national level, expanding to other states and hoping to win Punjab in the coming round of assembly elections. His supporters say he has national appeal and in the event of the AAP managing to emerge as the dark horse in Punjab and making its presence felt in the other states that go to polls in 2022, he would want to pitch himself as a challenger to Modi. He had taken on Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the AAP had contested seats across the country, but the results were disastrous. AAP leaders, however, claim that the party is now much better placed to be a serious contender with some ground work already done in several states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A point made by those raising doubts about the ability of the Congress leadership, more specifically Rahul, the party’s de facto president, is its failure to emerge as a weighty counter to Modi. Rahul’s supporters argue that he has been the most consistent among the opposition leaders in countering the BJP and the RSS, and that he has never desisted from taking on Modi. And while this may be correct, there is a feeling that his persona has so far failed to measure up to that of Modi and he has not been successful in convincing the people about his leadership abilities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The indispensability of the Congress</b></p> <p>The Congress has failed to recover from the debilitating defeats in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and 2019. There has been an exodus of leaders from the party and its leadership confusion continues, with Sonia holding interim charge of the party, but Rahul, for all practical purposes, being the go-to person for all important decisions and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra emerging as a key decision-maker and firefighter. In what has been seen as an open dare to the Gandhis, the so-called ‘Group of 23’ leaders have been demanding an overhaul of the party, elections at all levels in the organisation and a leadership that is visible and effective.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, while there are voices in the opposition that point out the shortcomings of the Congress to argue in favour of forming a front without it, what cannot be ignored is that it is the principal opponent of the BJP in a large swathe comprising states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana and Assam, as also one of the main players in Punjab. Also, in the Lok Sabha polls in 2019, while the Congress managed to win just 52 seats, its vote share was 20 per cent compared with the 37 per cent vote share of the BJP, showing that it still enjoys a substantial support of the people. It is said in favour of the Congress that it is the only opposition party with a pan-India identity unlike the regional players who are limited to their respective states. It is argued that a national party has to be the pivot of the opposition conglomerate for it to be a stable formation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Opposition’s challenge</b></p> <p>With the authority of the Gandhis on the wane, the opposition space suffers from the lack of a towering figure who can bring together the disparate forces. The main test before these parties is to provide a stable alternative to Modi and come up with a narrative that inspires confidence in the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another challenge before the opposition parties would be to counter Modi’s presidential style. The prime minister continues to be way ahead of other leaders in the popularity charts and his persona dominates the poll discourse and narrows it down to the question—if not Modi then who?</p> Sun Dec 19 17:52:15 IST 2021 black-box-and-beyond <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In September 1998, a helicopter that Group Captain R.K. Narang was flying suffered an engine failure. The military chopper, which was returning from a forward mission on the India-China border, crashed and broke into pieces. Narang, his co-pilot and a passenger escaped miraculously. After the crash, he logged more than 2,500 flying hours in the same type of chopper. “Accidents do happen; one has to find the cause and correct it,” he told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Air Marshal Manavendra Singh, the most senior helicopter pilot in the Indian Air Force, is heading a tri-service court of inquiry into the crash of a Mi-17V5 helicopter at Coonoor in Tamil Nadu on December 8 that killed the Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat and 13 others. Manavendra Singh has experience flying multiple variants of the Mi-17. He has also had multiple accidents. The inquiry will look at all the circumstances of the crash, and scrutinise technical and mechanical aspects. It will also check whether any standard operating procedure was violated. Even potential issues like the pilot being unwell or disoriented could be probed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Normally, a court of inquiry into a crash has to be completed in 30 working days and is headed by an officer of group captain or equivalent rank. But, as the CDS was fatally involved in the crash, the air marshal seems to be trying to complete the task even earlier. He is constantly in touch with personnel of the Delhi-based Institute of Flight Safety, which has expertise in investigation techniques for air accidents. The Mi-17 was manufactured by Kazan Helicopters at factories in Kazan and Ulan-Ude in Russia. Experts from the manufacturer will be called to join the probe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The black box of the helicopter was retrieved a day after the crash. It has two components—the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder (CVR). The CVR records conversation in the cockpit and communication with Air Traffic Control (ATC). The Air Force has classified the Nilgiri mountains as a grey zone—meaning that the area is prone to sudden changes in weather. The helipad at Wellington near Coonoor is only suitable for fair-weather landing. Therefore, the court of inquiry would also look at why the chopper was cleared to fly if the weather was bad. If visibility was the issue, then the instructions given to the pilot would be scrutinised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Narang said that Wing Commander Prithvi Singh, who flew the ill-fated chopper, was the commanding officer of 109 Helicopter Unit, based in the Sulur airbase, and that he was familiar with the route. However, the weather, he said, was unpredictable. “[Even] the best of pilots cannot understand the weather dynamics,” he said. “And, he was flying on the hills into a landing area that was boxed in from three sides.” Experts suspect that the chopper was flying at a low level. But, height and flypast are normally allocated by the ATC if a very important person is being flown. And the pilot cannot divert from the assigned altitude.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur, who was a helicopter pilot, said that the inquiry team would cover all aspects, from the safety of the chopper to human error. “The court of inquiry will investigate anything under the sun,” he said. The sabotage theory has not been ruled out, especially since General Rawat was working towards self-reliance in defence production.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The HF 24 Marut was India’s first locally developed fighter bomber and the first Asian fighter bomber to go beyond the test phase and into production and active service. It was, however, not inducted into the Air Force in a large way in the 1960s because a section wanted to give Russia-made MiGs more space. An officer, who requested anonymity, said: “We lost five decades to get to our own fighter (Tejas). It was certainly because of outside pressure. And General Rawat was pushing Atmanirbhar Bharat. Every aspect has to be thoroughly looked into.”</p> Sun Dec 19 12:01:05 IST 2021 photo-feature-for-the-love-of-libraries-and-why-we-need-them <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Some compare it with paradise, some find it a haven. For many it is a metaphor—a powerhouse that fuels the imagination, a window to the world, the greatest arsenal one can ask for. One would think libraries are shape-shifters, but what essentially changes is the effect they have on us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even time stands still here. The air breezes in, careful to not ruffle too many pages. The sun, too, turns mellow, streaming in through an open window and warming up a cheesy romance. The labels here help pick a friend, not brand an enemy. There is a place for every book, with identities separate but never suppressed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But is there a place for libraries in today’s world, a world that runs—never strolls—on algorithms? The British Council Library, for instance, shut its Pune branch and moved online in 2020. The pandemic, perhaps, only accelerated what was meant to be.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We should have seen it coming though. Many libraries have vanished or are languishing because of lack of funds. Worse, there is no data available on the per capita expenditure of public libraries, as per a 2018 paper (A Policy Review of Public Libraries in India). Only five of the 19 states that have passed library legislations have a provision for a library cess or tax levy. And, while private and community-owned libraries are trying to step in and up, it is not an easy task, for the very same reasons that plague public libraries. Even our waning interest in or lack of time for reading is somewhere to blame.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, as you will see in the following pages, libraries—public and private— can be stubborn. They are aware of their own silent power. That is why they pop up in places of resistance, be it Occupy Wall Street or our own Shaheen Bagh. That is why they are burnt, too—they bewitch you into believing the impossible. But they survive, despite everything. Because, as author Neil Gaiman said in defence of libraries in 2013, they tell us, everything changes when we read.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, that is the only reason we need.</p> Sun Dec 19 10:42:57 IST 2021 looking-for-the-oldest-public-library-in-india-head-to-thiruvananthapuram <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the heart of Thiruvananthapuram city stands India’s oldest library—the State Central Library. A traditional red-and-white Victorian-style building, it was built in 1829 during the reign of Swati Tirunal, the legendary musician king.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then British Resident Colonel Edward Cadogan was entrusted with the task of starting the library; Cadogan was the grandson of Sir Hans Sloane, whose vast collection became the founding collection of the British Museum. Only English books were initially available. The library was open only to British officers and local elite, despite being called Trivandrum People’s Library.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Opposing the elitist restriction, local residents formed their own People’s Library in the 1870s. The government took over the Trivandrum People’s Library in 1899 and opened it to the public, making it truly a public library. The current building was built in 1902 as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria and the People’s Library was merged with it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon, the library became a meeting point of brilliant minds of the period. “All prominent writers would spend hours here every day,” says Asokan P.U., deputy state librarian.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library went online a decade ago, providing bookings and renewals online. Even as reports lament the decline in reading culture, the library’s membership has only gone up—it has 1.5 lakh members now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Our’s is the only library with a separate building for children’s books,” says State Librarian Sobhana P.K. “We are also the only library that has been running the librarian course regularly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library runs a number of programmes to initiate young minds into reading, including a month-long children’s camp during summer vacation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library has three wings, with an exclusive wing for Malayalam literature. According to Librarian Ansar A.P., who is in charge of the Malayalam literature wing, novels are favourites. Translations from Bengali and Spanish literature have most takers. “Books of both new generation writers and stalwarts have many takers,” he says, pointing to the empty shelves named after them. “M.T. Vasudevan Nair is an all-time favourite.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As one walks through the premises dotted with a giant banyan and sandalwood trees, one can see readers of all ages walking in and out of the library. And, one realises what the librarians said was true: “Those who have visited this library will never say reading is dying.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sun Dec 19 10:32:15 IST 2021 how-syed-issac-is-rebuilding-his-public-library-in-mysuru-from-the-ashes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Daily wage labourer Syed Issac’s self-built library in Mysuru went viral on social media this April—when it was destroyed in a fire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Issac, 63, lives in Mysuru’s Rajeev Nagar, where 90 per cent of residents speak Urdu. Issac might have started out as an illiterate person, but he is no ignorant man. His lack of education prompted him to start a library in 2011, on a street corner near his home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His library then was two chairs and a couple of Kannada and Urdu newspapers tied to the branches of a tree. As days went by, his library attracted more readers. Most of them were people who frequented a nearby coffee shop. As more and more students and office-goers kept visiting, Issac identified an empty public plot nearby that was used as a dumping ground and set up a makeshift library. His library collection, too, grew, with 11,000 books in Kannada, Urdu and English, and 24 newspapers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the investigation concluded that the fire was an accident, Issac believes it to be a sabotage to silence him from enlightening minds. He thinks antisocial elements from his locality were behind the torching.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the incident has only fired him up. He is back on the streets with a few hundred books donated by well-wishers who saw his viral video. “All the hate and crime in the society is because of lack of proper knowledge. Books can help people expand their horizons,” says Issac.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His wife, Shaheen Taj, supports his devotion to the library. As Issac tends to his library from dawn to dusk, she rolls incense sticks to sustain the family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the government had promised to rebuild the library, he is still waiting for the promise to come true. A die-hard fan of Kannada actor Dr Rajkumar and former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Issac, meanwhile, is building his collection, book by book.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Wed Dec 22 13:16:37 IST 2021 warangal-regional-library-is-a-selfie-spot <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The first book to be included in the Government Regional Library in Warangal in north Telangana was&nbsp;Prashantha Paarijatham&nbsp;by Narla Venkateswara Rao. An eminent Telugu journalist and writer, Rao lived and died in undivided Andhra Pradesh. He was known to frequent libraries, and owned more than 20,000 books. The library staff takes pride in having his book, which was first published in 1959, as part of the collection. Unfortunately, there are no takers for the book because of the changing tastes of the younger generation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library has 70,000 books, including study material in its collection. An average of 200-300 people, mostly students, visit the library daily.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last year, during the pandemic, the library got a new lease on life. It is one of the few libraries that is directly funded by the state government. As part of the Smart Cities initiative, the district administration gave the library a facelift. The exterior and interiors of the library were redesigned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The outer wall has a huge mural of a girl, surrounded by bookshelves, reading a book on Kakatiya ruler Rani Rudrama Devi. Inside the library one can see portraits of freedom fighters, famous personalities and soldiers who were martyred. A few sections have a vibrant feel to them, thanks to walls decorated with famous quotes, and nature- and cartoon-themed illustrations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“A lot of people enter the library after seeing the murals,” says librarian M. Alivelu. “We see many youngsters taking selfies against the backdrop of the paintings. The makeover has certainly helped the library.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sun Dec 19 10:25:20 IST 2021 gnanalaya-library-in-tamil-nadu-is-a-collector-find <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Dravidian icon C.N. Annadurai was one of the best Tamil orators of his time. His narrative style was such that he would link world history to present-day politics, a style that was visible in his writings, too. For instance, his&nbsp;Makkal Karamum Mannan Siramum (1968) discussed the English Revolution in detail, in about 74 pages. But the second edition, published three years later, omitted those pages. The missing pages could very well have put the current linguistic politics in context. One place where you can see that rare first edition is in Pudukottai, an hour-long drive from Trichy in south Tamil Nadu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tucked away in the quaint little town of Thirukokarnam in Pudukottai, Gnanalaya (place for knowledge) is a treasure trove of rare books. And, the seeker of these rare finds is B. Krishnamurthy, who started collecting books while he was in college. Today, the library has more than 1.2 lakh books, including 80,000 in Tamil and 15,000 in English, making it one of the largest private libraries in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Krishnamurthy’s father was a district education officer, and that exposed him to Tamil literature and culture early, he says. “I was able to read lots of books other than the usual academic texts. The importance of books and reading was instilled in me at a very young age,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His first book came from his father—Swadesha Geethangal&nbsp;(freedom songs), a self-published anthology by poet C. Subramaniya Bharathiyar. The first edition had a poem by Muthukumarasamy Pillai, titled ‘Yen Magan (My Son)’. The second edition, however, did not carry this poem. “Bharathiyar used to earlier publish poems of others in his collection. But in the next edition, he published only his poems,” recalls Krishnamurthy,&nbsp;81, a retired government school teacher.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next book in his collection was also a rare one—Thanippadal Thirattu&nbsp;(solo collection of poems).&nbsp;It was&nbsp;signed by Ku Alagirisamy, a prominent Tamil writer who had reportedly told Krishnamurthy’s father that the book was extremely rare. And, thus began his quest for rare books. He would buy old books in Trichy, land up at old libraries that were closing down or in front of houses that were discarding their collection, and borrow books from family and friends. And, that is how his two-storey library came up. Gnanalaya also has a rare photocopy&nbsp;of the first-ever published Tamil book—Thambiran Vanakkam&nbsp;(1578), a translation of Doctrina Christam from Portuguese.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Krishnamurthy’s passion for Gnanalaya is shared by his wife, Dorothy, a retired professor of mathematics. The couple&nbsp;spend at least eight hours a day in the library.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Krishnamurthy has found a unique way of sharing his stories about the books. He now records them digitally. A digital recorder is placed on each shelf, giving details about the exclusivity and content of the books. Way to go digital!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sun Dec 19 10:21:05 IST 2021 the-history-of-david-sassoon-library-is-the-history-of-bombay <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In its more than 150 years of existence, the David Sassoon Library and Reading Room in Mumbai’s Fort area had never closed its doors to the public. And then Covid-19 showed up. “Even during the 1992 Bombay riots, we were open and let in students through the back door,” recalls Baldev Singh, honorary secretary of the library.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The story of David Sassoon Library is the story of Bombay. The library building, now a Grade I heritage structure, was one of the first buildings to come up in the area after the demolition of the fort walls—Bombay was a fortified city till the 1860s. As the walls came down, Bombay bloomed, taking over every inch of reclaimed land.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Parcels of land were auctioned, one of which was reportedly bought by David Sassoon, a Baghdadi Jew merchant and banker, to house the Bombay Mechanics Institute. The institute used to function from a room under the clock tower in the dockyard, and was the haunt of mechanics, shipbuilders, engineers and architects. It later came to be known as Sassoon Mechanics Institute, and was eventually renamed David Sassoon Library and Reading Room.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The building, constructed in Victorian Gothic style between 1867 and 1870, retains its colonial charm, with its pointed arches, animal motifs adorning its columns and Burma teak wood detailing in its trusses and ceilings. It is one of the few remnants of a Bombay that exists only in sepia-toned memories. The library has a garden, a peaceful patch of green in the heart of a dusty and bustling Mumbai. Even inside, the wooden patio chairs with plastic weave invite you to sit back and read against the backdrop of a city speeding by.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh says, in the 1990s, the library had stockbrokers, journalists, lawyers and former judges among its members. Now it is mostly students. The pandemic has also reduced the daily number of visitors—it has come down to 80 from around 125.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library is managed by a skeletal staff—10 people, some of whom have been working for nearly 20 years. It runs on membership fee (Rs3,600 per annum; Rs25,000 for lifetime membership).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though it has Wi-Fi, the library still wants to retain the human touch. If you need a specific book, you seek out the librarian, says Singh. Some things are better left untouched.</p> Sun Dec 19 10:18:11 IST 2021 uttarpara-Jaykrishna-public-library-in-kolkata-an-illustrious-seat-of-learning <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On the bank of the Hooghly, in a charming little town called Uttarpara in West Bengal, stands this imposing old library. Considered to be the first free public library in India, Jaykrishna Public Library was established in 1859 by Jaykrishna Mukherjee, a prominent zamindar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Influenced by industrialist Dwarkanath Tagore, Mukherjee turned to the British Public Library Act, 1850, to realise his pioneering vision for and interest in public education. Sprawled over an acre, the palatial building has tall pillars and wide, hanging verandas. The architecture bears resemblance to that of the splendid Kolkata Town Hall.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An illustrious seat of learning, the library was visited by the luminaries of pre- and post- independence India. Sir William Hunter and Reverend James Long found the answers to many of their scholarly questions in the magnificent portals of this library. Educationist and social reformer Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar visited this library with noted English educationist Mary Carpenter in 1866.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The iconic Bengali poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt stayed in the southwest upper storey room of the library for some three months on two occasions, in 1869 and in 1873. In 1909, Aurobindo Ghosh, after his release from prison, gave a speech on the grounds of the library.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From linguist Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay to former chief minister of West Bengal Jyoti Basu, many eminent people have demanded that it be declared a library of national importance to honour its rich heritage and exceptional collection of rare and old books and manuscripts. More than 60,000 of the 1.65 lakh books in its collection are considered to be rare.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future,” wrote T.S. Eliot. A living, breathing establishment such as the Uttarpara Jaykrishna Library probably takes us a little closer to understanding the full import of these lines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sun Dec 19 10:16:16 IST 2021 amir-ud-daula-public-library-in-lucknow-houses-many-a-rare-book <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Lucknow’s oldest library is housed in a white building, but its collection is anything but monochromatic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Amir-ud-Daula Public Library’s rich collection of original manuscripts written on copper plates includes The Dhammapada, an 18th century Buddhist text of proverbs and maxims written in old square Burmese characters, and the original copy of Inder Sabha by Agha Hasan Amanat. The latter is considered the first complete play written in Urdu. The play depicts a prince’s love story with fairies; Awadh’s last nawab—Wajid Ali Shah—performed the role of the prince.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library has books on almost every imaginable subject—from warfare to the occult; and from German secret service to the history of Urdu literature in Tamil Nadu. The fiction section packs in everything from Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales to Casanova: Adventurer and Lover by Joseph Le Gras. It also has census records dating back to 1391 (with a separate volume for caste census) and gazettes dating back to the 1700s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library was set up in 1868, but was thrown open to public—only students—in 1887. It is named after Mohammad Amir Hasan Khan, the erstwhile Raja of Mahmoodabad and then chairperson of the British India Association of Oudh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library premises are spread over 3,000sqm. Though constructed after the age of the Nawabs, the building, with Indo-Islamic architectural elements, blends into the surrounding structures that comprise the Qaiserbagh Heritage Zone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library is undergoing digitisation under the Lucknow Smart City Project. So far, 24,000 books have been digitised. A member of the digital team said that while the library contained books and documents ‘beyond imagination’ it was unfortunate that there was no library expert engaged in the task of digitisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic has forced members to stay away from the library and because of the ongoing digitisation, new memberships are on hold.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Harish Chandra, who is in charge of the library, said, “A library is like an ocean. Those who seek depth of knowledge will always need books. The internet can give you only [so] much.”</p> Sun Dec 19 10:11:46 IST 2021 at-delhi-public-library-you-will-have-books-and-more-for-company <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Though Irish playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw penned a passionate defence of public libraries in 1921, he did not want them to be chock-full of people. “A crowded public library is an absurdity, like a crowded laboratory or observatory,” wrote Shaw in The New Republic. He might be appalled to see the flurry of comings and goings on a typical day at the Delhi Public Library. With a colonial bank-like facade, the hallowed edifice has interwoven courtyards and arched corridors buzzing with students, readers and researchers across class and age-groups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 70-year-old institution has more than 35 branches and over 150 mobile service points spread across the national capital region. Its services used to be free when it was first set up as a joint venture between UNESCO and the ministry of education in 1951; annual membership fees which started at Rs2 have touched Rs100 now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At DPL, all fears around digital media, budget cuts, lack of a reading public, or empty-echoing-halls-with-spooky-shelves are laid to rest. It often seems like a sunny book market next to a university square with students milling around with campus coffee and chai. But even as in-person operations took a hit with Covid-19, DPL did not lose touch with its readers. “We followed the safety measures and operated virtually,” says R.K. Sharma, director general at DPL. “Book-borrowing dates were extended and we also waived off late fees. We have given links to various online resources through our webpage.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a 1961 paper written for The Library Quarterly by K. Ramakrishna Rao, who stresses that a library is a social institution, a distinction is drawn between the success of the DPL vis-a-vis the ambitious library development plan of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad across Baroda in 1910. The Central Library and its subsidiaries in the princely state could not be sustained because of the lack of a reading public, unlike in Delhi. Around 1955, the paper notes, DPL had a ‘bookmobile’, which serviced 15 places every week, and seven deposit stations. “It acts as a community centre to meet the cultural needs of the city,” wrote Rao. That tradition continues today, even under tremendous space constraints.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Babita Gaur, former senior librarian and information officer at DPL, had organised initiatives like ‘nukkad nataks’ (street plays), debates and cleanliness drives in slum areas. She left a year ago. Now there are free Wi-Fi services for readers in the central library and the Sarojini Nagar branch. The nine mobile library buses are fitted with GPS. These may sound rather modest additions, but are never easy for an old-fashioned public library in India to easily adopt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gaur recalls the time an MBBS student had posted a thankful message on DPL’s Facebook page when he landed a job. “All professions are born in the library, you know,” says Gaur, beaming with pride.</p> Sun Dec 19 10:09:36 IST 2021 sister-library-in-mumbai-south-asia-first-feminist-travelling-library <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Books take you places, but what if you took books to places? Not just as an ideal travelling companion, but more as a way to connect with the place and its people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Building connections is at the core of Sister Library, and that is why indigenous artist Aqui Thami conceptualised it as a travelling library that is also an evolving work of art.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Travelling, because accessibility is important,” says the 32-year-old PhD candidate at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. “And, I wanted to present a collected curation of printed material for every city we travelled to that responds to its locality. This display takes the form of an experimental reading and reflecting room.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library lived out of suitcases for a year or so before finding a stationary home in Bandra in 2019. And, while it may still be a man’s world out there, inside the bubble-gum pink walls of Sister Library, women and their work rule. As Thami says, it celebrates female excellence, making it the first travelling, feminist library in South Asia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The idea to start a library came to her while reading; reading women in particular. Thami started reading women exclusively as a practice seven years ago. “I started thinking of building a library of the books I was collecting,” she says. “The feeling grew stronger when I started to share these books with my friends. And, I started thinking about libraries, how I experience them, what do these spaces stand for, and conceptualised this art piece that contests these ideologies and presents a new way of experiencing a library.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library has travelled to seven cities in India, and to Kathmandu, Dhaka and Auckland. And, with each trip, works from the city, most of them independently published by women in the local language, became a part of the library. “The library is a living installation,” says Thami, “and it changes with every interaction and every journey.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the books are from Thami’s personal collection, some have come from friends and feminists. Writer Jerry Pinto contributed Rs10,000 to the library. And, more contributions are welcome, as it is a community-owned library with a monthly membership fee of Rs500.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thami sees the library as a space of joy and healing in the community. And so, there is more to it than just reading. Apart from a book club, there is a monthly feminist movie night, a feminist newspaper hot from its own press and open-access sessions where women are taught about printing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sister Library has a butterfly’s soul though, and is itching to travel. Next destination: northeastern India, pandemic permitting.</p> Sun Dec 19 10:06:47 IST 2021 a-nottingham-professor-built-a-library-in-his-village-to-make-all-kinds-of-books-accessible <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The idea for the Rural Development Library came to Arun Kumar when he visited a library for the first time. Now, his library is housed in a room of his ancestral home in Kalyanpur village of Mallawan block, Hardoi district, Uttar Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We did not know the relevance of a library in our village, because we never saw one. I studied in Delhi University, where I [first used a] library,” says Arun, who is professor of British imperial, colonial and postcolonial history at the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom. “I saw a gap between me, who had just got access to limited textbooks, and my classmates, who were well-versed in literature. There was a temporal gap between village children and urban schoolchildren. We thought that a library could bridge that gap by giving them access to quality literature, standard textbooks and free books.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Arun says his role is limited to getting the books that library in-charge Suneel Kumar asks for. For Suneel, a library is crucial to building a sense of community. “When children come here and read together, they form a bond that is stronger than any caste or other division,” says Suneel, who is preparing to become a teacher.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Rural Development Library is modelled on the district’s first community library at Bansa village, some 17km away. It is open from 2:30pm to 6pm (after school hours). In addition to fiction and subject-specific books, it has posters on issues like domestic violence and the right to marry. Like the library in Bansa, it aspires to have a student council, educational sessions and activities in the near future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among Arun’s favourite memories is one of an ageing carpenter, who had made cots in his home, coming to read the Ramayan at the library.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Talks are on with the village headman to shift the library to the Panchayat Bhawan, says Suneel, so that the challenge of space could be overcome. He adds that there has never been a need to call for reminders to return loaned books. “This is everyone’s library,” he says, “and everyone’s responsibility.”</p> Sun Dec 19 10:04:19 IST 2021 next-page-library-in-mumbai-a-world-of-knowledge-for-underprivileged-children <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Trust cats to pick the cosiest spots around you. And if you go by the picks of Winnie and her kittens—Wendy, Tiger and Lily—then the Next Page Library is the place to be in Shivaji Nagar, Mumbai. You can see them lolling about in nooks, behind and in between books.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the resident cats will have you believe that they are in charge, the library is actually run by Anoop Parik, 36, and his Next Page Community Foundation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The seed for the Next Page Library was planted when I was a school teacher,” says Parik, who has found his calling in the alternative education sector. “I noticed that those of my children who read were miles ahead of their peers in terms of understanding their world and themselves. This, coupled with the realisation that the formal education system in India does its best to stifle free thinking and creativity, made me want to start a library for young people in the community where I taught.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library usually sees school and college students using the space for studying and reading. Almost all of them come from underprivileged backgrounds. There is no membership fee and the library runs on donations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Every book in the library has its place, from NBT books and Amar Chitra Katha to books by Nobel laureates,” says Parik. “As a librarian, I feel the book that completes our library is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. It essentially gets to the core of what we hope to do—preserve the idea of reading and knowing stories in the hyper-digital world that surrounds us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library, sandwiched among houses in an alley of Shivaji Nagar, opened its doors in the early days of the pandemic. The lockdown put a pause in their operations and donations. “Also, since most of our members are from migrant families, many left the city following the lockdown,” says Parik. “The silver lining was that children found a safe space to be themselves and carry on learning in a community atmosphere during the most difficult phase of their young lives.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And that is a priority for Parik. “A library must have a safe, welcoming, home-like environment that encourages children to learn freely,” he says. No glaring lights or rigid chairs, and no shushing librarians, too, he adds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The most important thing I have learnt from the library is that often simple things make the biggest difference,” says Parik. “As a school teacher, I would often wonder how I could get children to read and learn about the world. Now, it is obvious—give children, young and old, a welcoming space and oodles of books, and they will become readers and learners on their own.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sun Dec 19 10:44:09 IST 2021 vladimir-putin-delhi-visit-shows-india-a-key-priority-for-russia <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON DECEMBER 6,</b> Russian President Vladimir Putin flew for over six hours to spend just four hours in Delhi. During the brief visit, India and Russia signed 28 agreements, including one to manufacture AK-203 assault rifles jointly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The scale and scope of the agreements did not require Putin’s presence. But by choosing India to be his first destination for a bilateral visit after the pandemic struck, he was sending a larger message that he did not consider the world to be a bipolar one dominated by the US and China. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi shook hands with Putin and hugged him, he, too, was sending out a similar message.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin was accompanied by his Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The high profile visit saw India and Russia reinforcing their ties—with a military and technical cooperation pact which would run till 2031, and with a pledge to boost annual trade to $30 billion by 2025.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We perceive India as a great power, a friendly nation and a time-tested friend,” said Putin. Modi stressed on bilateral ties, saying both countries shared a “unique and reliable model of interstate friendship”. Moreover, the visit ended speculation about the durability of the bilateral partnership, especially because of India’s burgeoning ties with the US and Russia’s growing friendship with China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said while Putin’s visit was short, it was highly productive. Before Putin touched down in Delhi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Shoygu convened the Intergovernmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation, while External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar held discussions with Lavrov. Russia thus became the fourth country with which India has the ‘2+2’ dialogue which involves foreign and defence ministers of both countries; the other three countries—the US, Australia and Japan—are also members of the Quad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A much-awaited deal worth Rs5,100 crore for the joint production of more than five lakh AK-203 assault rifles at a facility in Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi district was concluded during the summit. The AK-203 rifles will replace the INSAS rifles, which were inducted more than three decades ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India and Russia are engaged in advanced talks for procuring the multirole fighter aircraft MiG-29K for the new aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, 50 Su-30 MKI fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force and more T-90 tanks. Discussions during the summit and the ‘2+2’ meetings could lead to some major announcements about defence purchases and initiatives like the joint human space flight programme, Gaganyaan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India, meanwhile, is ready to take delivery of the first squadron of S-400 air defence systems, which is part of a $5.4-billion contract for five squadrons. Yet another key deal which is going forward is that of the Tushil, the first of four Talwar-class stealth frigates for the Indian Navy, of which two are being built by Russia and two by India. The Tushil was formally launched on October 28 in Kaliningrad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the AK-203 contract was cleared during the summit, the two countries failed to conclude the Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics (RELOS) agreement. Shringla said the agreement was put off as both countries wanted more time to iron out a few more details. But he said RELOS, which would foster interoperability and allow the sharing of logistics between the armed forces of both countries, would be signed as soon as possible. India has similar agreements in place with the US, Japan, Australia and Singapore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both countries also failed to conclude the deal for the supply and licenced production of Igla-S man-portable air defence missile systems in India, because of some issues regarding the transfer of technology. Another deal which remains stuck is the one to purchase 200 Russian Kamov Ka-226T helicopters. The Army and the Air Force are keen to replace their Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, which are well past their service life. Although the deal was signed in 2015, it has not yet gone forward on account of issues regarding indigenous components of the choppers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maxim Sysoev, deputy director of the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said that although Putin’s visit did not result in major commercial agreements, the fact that it was one of the very few foreign visits this year by the Russian president showed the importance of relations with India. “This is a big foreign policy achievement for Modi,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sysoev said the strategic partnership could deliver more benefits for both countries in the long run.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Major General Shashi Asthana (retd), chief instructor at the Delhi-based United Service Institution of India, said India remained heavily dependent on Russia for technology, maintenance and procurement of hardware and spares, despite a 33 per cent decrease in import in recent years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Russia has been collaborating with India in manufacturing warships, nuclear-powered submarines, nuclear reactors, space programmes and missile programmes,” said Asthana. He said Russia’s new military strategy document, too, has named India as a partner, and that Moscow did not delay hardware support to India even during the standoff with China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sysoev, however, said the Indo-Russian strategic partnership was not a “marriage” between two countries. “India is rightfully choosing what is best for it, and has also started to produce more and more indigenous hardware,” he said. “It is for the Russian manufacturers to come up with more competitive and competitively-priced products.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The emerging geopolitical realities, however, seem to make things even more challenging for Modi and Putin. For instance, the US has embarked upon a rebalancing mission in the Indo-Pacific, and has formulated a China-specific containment strategy. While India stands with the US and the Quad in facing the China challenge, the Russian strategy in the region is more aligned with that of China’s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has opened up yet another challenge. It has created a vacuum and Russia is the only country which can fill the vacuum in Central Asia and Afghanistan. India is now much more dependent on Iran and Russia for its Central Asian strategy and access to the region. But the US policies in the Indo-Pacific and Central Asia, and the sanctions it has imposed on Russia, have pushed Putin closer to China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Retired diplomat Ashok Sajjanhar said Putin’s decision to invest time, effort and energy to visit Delhi for a few hours was his way of signalling to China that the relationship with India was extremely important. “Russia wants to broaden the relationship beyond defence partnership. Though the logistics agreement did not materialise, the two countries have spoken about trade and commerce,” said Sajjanhar. He said the biggest takeaway from the summit was that it actually happened despite all the challenges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not so long ago, Putin had refused to travel to Rome for the G20 summit and to Glasgow for the climate summit. He even cancelled his trip to Dushanbe for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit. “But he visited India, despite the high incidence of Covid-19 cases in Russia (more than 30,000 daily cases and 1,000 deaths) and the looming threat of confrontation on the border with Ukraine,” said Sajjanhar. “It is illustrative of the strategic value that Putin attaches to relations with India.”</p> Thu Dec 09 17:53:22 IST 2021 after-mon-massacre-bjp-has-an-afspa-dilemma <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was late in the evening when T. Chongmei, a 32-year-old small-time mining contractor in Oting village in Nagaland’s Mon district, went in search of his missing relatives. It was December 4, and news had spread of civilians being killed in an Army operation gone horribly wrong. Chongmei had walked barely five kilometres when he got caught in a clash between soldiers and protesting civilians. Shot in the foot, he fell to the ground. And the rest of the evening became a throbbing blur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thirteen civilians were killed that day. The reason: commandos of the Army’s 21 Para Special Forces had waited in ambush for militants belonging to a banned faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang). They apparently mistook for militants a group of eight miners returning from work. According to the Army, the vehicle carrying the miners was signalled to stop, but it “tried to flee”. Six miners died after soldiers opened fire. More lives, including a soldier’s, were lost in the violent protests after the botched operation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chongmei is being treated at the district hospital in Mon. He is mourning the death of his friend Hokup Konyak, whose wedding he had attended a few days before. He said some of the injured people might never be able to work and support their families. “I earn around Rs400 a day working in the fields,” Chongmei said. “We are not like farmers in north or south India, where they grow crops throughout the year. We get work for 3-4 months, and live in uncertainty after that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The incident has put renewed focus on the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives security personnel special powers to maintain public order in “disturbed areas”. “Someone must tell the government that Naga people are Indians, too,” said Wanthon, a relative of Hokup. “Instead of safeguarding us, we are being killed like flies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wanthon said the victims were not fleeing. “It is wrong to say that,” he said. “Why are all the bullet injuries not on their backs?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Mon massacre has put the BJP in a quandary. Before it came to power at the Centre in 2014, the party had talked about the possibility of removing AFSPA. For the past seven years, though, the Union government has been pressing ahead with the law. The Mon incident has prompted states like Manipur and Meghalaya, where the BJP is a partner in ruling coalitions, to decry AFSPA publicly. Apparently, the Union cabinet would now have to decide whether to remove AFSPA in certain areas in Nagaland and other parts of the northeast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior government official told THE WEEK that Naga interlocutor A.K. Mishra had been holding talks with the Isak-Muivah faction of the NSCN(IM) and various other political groups. The aim was apparently to give a final shape to the ongoing peace talks by the end of the year. “There was a view that the delayed Naga peace settlement should take final shape by December 25 as a Christmas gift to the Naga people,” said the official.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But with the furore over civilian deaths, Naga insurgent groups and political outfits have put withdrawal of the armed forces from Nagaland as a precondition for peace. The working committee of the umbrella body Naga National Political Groups said “military atrocities” were driving the Nagas further away from Delhi. “The destructive military tactics have belittled the political commitment of the Indian prime minister and home minister,” it said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>AFSPA, which came into effect in 1958, has long been a problematic law. Although it is the prerogative of the Union ministry to decide whether to declare a region as “disturbed”, the deployment of armed forces in such disturbed areas automatically brings AFSPA into effect. The risk of developing catch-22 situations is why successive Union governments have been reluctant to either curtail the provisions of the existing law or extend its scope by deploying the Army in troubled hinterlands. With the Nagaland tragedy, the ministry is now caught between a rock and a hard place—the security establishment is firmly against lifting AFSPA, even as sticking to it appears politically unfeasible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ministry will have to take a decision by December 30, because AFSPA was extended for the whole of Nagaland for six months on June 30. “A middle-way approach may be adopted in consultation with the defence ministry, as the demands are rising for its review,” said an official.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The killing of Naga civilians has also brought back bad memories. AFSPA has long been associated with many cases of fake encounters, executions with impunity, disappearances in custody and human rights violations. Some of the cases still remain unresolved and the perpetrators unpunished.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The security establishment, however, insists that AFSPA is necessary to maintain peace in insurgency-affected areas. “The insurgents are looking for a chance to discredit the security forces and stir up trouble once again,” said an officer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>D.K. Pathak, former chief of the ceasefire monitoring group in Nagaland, said the people and security forces needed to work together more closely against terror groups. “The peace process,” he said, “must continue.”</p> Thu Dec 09 17:00:39 IST 2021 telangana-farmers-in-a-lurch-as-centre-and-state-refuse-to-buy-paddy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>DURING THE RECENT</b> kharif season, K. Raji Reddy’s day would start early. The farmer from Gorrekunta village in Warangal district, northern Telangana, would reach his field by 5am. He would tend to his cattle, have a look around and head home for a quick breakfast. A little later, he would return to the field, walk around, rest under a shady tree, feed the cattle and return home by evening. Throughout the season, not once did he use pesticide or rely on electricity to water the fields. The two-acre paddy crop almost took care of itself, he said, and gave him good yield.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Life is easy when cultivating paddy,” said the 40 year old, who used to grow cotton and chillies for most of his life. “While cultivating chilli, I had to work on the farm all day.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Telangana was water-deficient for decades, paddy cultivation was sparse in the state. Coastal Andhra met Telangana’s rice needs. However, in the past few years, there has been a drastic shift. Currently, Telangana has 55 lakh farmers. And, according to rough estimates, almost 80 per cent of them now grow paddy. About five years ago, this figure would have been under 30 per cent. In 2015, paddy was grown on 53 lakh acres; now it is 1.05 crore acres. The total paddy production for this year’s rabi and kharif seasons was 2.5 crore tonnes, the highest in the state’s history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are many reasons for this boom, including new irrigation projects, better supply of electricity and improved machinery. A few years ago, Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao had raised the slogan ‘Koti Ekarala Magani’ (one crore acres of irrigated land). Work began on a war footing, and the state and political leaders encouraged farmers to grow paddy. Every season since, the administration has taken pride in announcing “bumper harvests” and assuring farmers that it would buy the yield.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This season was different. Rao himself asked the farmers to stop growing paddy. The state’s agriculture policy seems to have backfired; overproduction has imbalanced the demand and supply chain. Telangana’s godowns are overflowing with rice, while farmers wait for the state to buy their current harvest. Moreover, both state and Centre have told farmers that they will not buy paddy from the current rabi season.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, most farmers, including Raji Reddy, have refused to stop planting paddy. One such farmer—Manda Raja Mallu of Gopalpur in Karimnagar district—has eight acres under paddy. Earlier, farmers in the district used to grow sesame, corn and peanuts. “I can make a profit of 030,000 on every acre of paddy without working too hard,” said Raju. “Other crops are labour intensive and do not give good returns. For example, I grow vegetables on five acres and, for that, I have to search for labourers, who are hard to get. On top of that, I have to pay them Rs400 or more a day.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said he was hopeful of the Centre and the state changing their minds by harvest time. “I fear the worst if that does not happen,” he said. “The situation might get out of hand and irate farmers might attack agriculture officers and local leaders.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Telangana, only fine or ‘thin’ varieties of rice are grown during kharif season. These are eaten extensively within and outside the state, and hence have a good market. During rabi season, common variety or ‘fat’ rice is grown as it can withstand the sudden spike in temperature during summer (harvest time). But this variety has few takers; neither Telugus nor people elsewhere eat it much.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per the existing system, farmers take their paddy to procurement centres run by the state civil supplies department. From there, it is sent to rice mills. The Food Corporation of India (FCI) buys the milled rice for the public distribution system. The state usually does not buy paddy from farmers; it only forwards it to the FCI. The minimum support price of fine and common variety paddy is Rs1,960 and Rs1,940 a quintal, respectively. The farmers can try their luck in the open market if they are not satisfied with this price.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mills turn the common variety into parboiled rice through a three-stage process. The rabi season paddy is turned into parboiled rice (boiled and dried) to further overcome the problem of the rice breaking in the heat of summer. Parboiled rice is usually sent to the FCI’s central pool to be distributed in Tamil Naidu, Kerala, and parts of Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. But, local cultivation in these states has increased, and the FCI has said that it has enough stock to last it for years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The FCI’s refusal to procure the paddy has also brought into question the future of the 2,600 rice mills in the state; 1,500 of these are designed to process parboiled rice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Devender Reddy, former president of the United Andhra Pradesh Rice Millers Association, proposed that the governments reward farmers with direct money transfers based on the area of paddy grown, and demanded that the mills be permitted to sell the rice in the markets (currently, they can only sell it to the FCI). As for parboiled rice, he said that the Centre should sell it on the international market and kick-start the cycle of procuring like before.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The paddy issue has also triggered a political fight, with the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the BJP accusing each other of misleading farmers. The state government has criticised the Centre for not procuring enough from the state, like it does from Punjab. The Centre, however, said that it had informed the state well in advance that it would not procure parboiled rice and blamed it for not preparing for the eventuality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The farmers are caught in the crossfire. Kanneganti Ravi, state coordinator of the NGO Rythu Swarajya Vedika, said that the farmers would have to sell their produce at Rs1,500 a quintal or less in the open markets if the government does not buy it at MSP. “There will be more suicides,” he said. “The farmers will be forced to fight on the streets or face a severe loss. There might be a strong reaction, which can lead to an agitation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Agriculture experts blame both the state and the Centre. G.V. Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of the Hyderabad-based Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, called the obsession with paddy an “ecological crisis”. “There should have been a strategy to reduce the area under paddy and move to other crops,” he said. “The Centre is also buying only paddy, and not the other crops. One acre of paddy consumes as much water as 10 acres of other crops. Traditionally, in Telangana, pulses, millets and other crops were cultivated. The soil used for paddy cultivation is already too damaged to grow other crops. Also, where are the seeds to grow alternative crops?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The farmers are bracing for an uncertain future. “In the worst-case scenario,”said Raji Reddy, “I will store the rice that I grew and survive on it till I can.”</p> Tue Dec 14 17:40:49 IST 2021 the-centre-has-no-foresight <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/Do you think the state government was right in pushing farmers towards paddy in the past few years?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/It is not in our hands. When the Government of India changes its policy all of a sudden, what can we do? We have conveyed the same to the farmers. It is not our wish, having built projects and having given so many benefits to the farmers. The Centre cannot say godowns are full. That is its inefficiency. It should welcome the production and think of what can be done. [Union Minister] Nitin Gadkari has said that the Centre can produce CNG and ethanol (from rice). Agricultural produce can no longer be confined to the food sector alone. The Centre has no foresight and no international perspective.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The Centre has said that it had told the state last year that it would not be procuring parboiled rice. Is that true?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/That is true. But why has the Centre not appealed to the farmers across the country to not grow this crop? Parliament is in session now. Why can’t the Union agriculture minister appeal to farmers to not grow paddy in the second season? Why can’t the Centre be open about its policy? That is because it is politically motivated and is playing with farmers’ lives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Did the state government ask farmers to move away from paddy?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/For the past one year, we have been trying to convince farmers to go for other crops. We have distributed literature and conducted training camps. We can see the result as several other crops like black gram, groundnut and mustard have come up during this rabi season. Diversification has started, but paddy cannot be replaced overnight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/But many farmers have stuck with paddy.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/If they want to go ahead with paddy cultivation despite an appeal by the chief minister, it will be at their own risk. They will have to sell it in the open market at whatever price they get.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What are the alternative crops you want to focus on in the near future?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We have started palm oil cultivation. By next year, we should have 3.5 to 5 lakh acres under it; the following year, it should touch seven lakh acres. We will then concentrate on having 20 lakh acres. We also want to encourage the cultivation of cotton, red gram, pulses and other crops.</p> Thu Dec 09 16:46:33 IST 2021