Current en Sun Nov 20 12:01:30 IST 2022 congress-leadership-image-repaired-through-bharat-jodo-yatra <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A thick carpet of snow covered Srinagar on the morning of January 30. And snowflakes kept falling. The white and cold drape on the city formed the backdrop for the conclusion of the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who was journeying through the length of the country braving the heat and the rain, shared his feelings about the yatra at the Sher-i-Kashmir stadium as snow interspersed with raindrops fell down incessantly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The crowd in front of the dais was sparse, huddled underneath a thicket of umbrellas. Party leaders said it was partly because of the snowfall and the tight security restrictions in Srinagar. The leaders on the stage too, their numbers affected by the inclement weather, kept their speeches brief. Rahul wore a grey ‘pheran’, a tribute to his Kashmiri roots and a marked departure from his T-shirt and track pants routine on the yatra. Waving away a security person who had rushed to him with an umbrella, he made an unhurried speech in which he talked about the rigours of the long walk from Kanyakumari to Srinagar and highlighted that he had walked through the valley despite security threats and had got only love in return from the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The imagery of the leader, at the end of the 135-day yatra that began on September 7 at the southernmost tip of the country and passed through 12 states and two Union territories covering 3,900 km, was that of a person who was ready to endure hardship and pain in solidarity with the issues of the people. Early on during the yatra, he called himself a tapasvi and described the experience as a sort of penance. The salt and pepper beard that grew long as the journey progressed would have added to the image.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was political talk, too, as Rahul took on the Narendra Modi government over income disparity and the border row with China. He underlined the bread-and-butter issues of unemployment and inflation. He also dealt with questions on squabbles within the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although Rahul denied that the yatra had an electoral purpose, what was largely left unstated and meant to be conveyed through his demeanour was that he was a leader who connected with the people and was committed to their cause. The effort was to portray him as someone who was completely different from the ‘Pappu’ or the entitled dynast that his political opponents had insisted he was.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest achievement for the Congress is that the image of its leader has been repaired through the walkathon. It has come as a huge relief to his supporters in the party who now feel that it will be easier to defend him in the face of attacks from political rivals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Telangana Congress president Revanth Reddy said the manner in which Modi and the BJP reacted to the yatra was the most accurate indication of its success. “Soon after Rahul Gandhi had passed through the southern states, Modi made a highly publicised tour of the south. Why did he feel the need to do so when there were no elections in the southern states at that time? He was unnerved by the huge support that Rahul ji had got,” Reddy said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the Congress basks in the glow of a task well finished, the real test for both the party and Rahul would be to take forward the goodwill generated by the yatra in the form of tangible gains. According to Congress leader Chandy Oommen, who walked the entire distance of the yatra from Kanyakumari to Srinagar, and did so bare feet, the yatra has re-energised the cadre. “For party workers to see their leader, who they view as the future prime minister, walk with them has been an experience to cherish and something that will boost their morale,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The test for Rahul, who described the yatra as just the beginning and the first step in a series of actions, would be to take forward the gains by emerging as a viable alternative to the leadership model provided by Modi and having in place a narrative that resonates with the people. Congress leaders are aware that while Rahul’s popularity has increased, Modi continues to tower over other leaders in the popular mindscape. Also, while issues of unemployment and price rise are talking points in the popular discourse and can be decisive in state elections, at the national level, an effective counter to Modi’s template of a strong and decisive leader coupled with themes of hindutva and nationalism may still not have been found.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The successful completion of the yatra, meanwhile, has made it clear that within the Congress, Rahul is the undisputed leader. His in-house critics are now expected to lie low. Also, the group of 23, which was perceived as having reservations with Rahul’s leadership, has ceased to exist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has become clear that Rahul, with his crowd-pulling ability proved by the yatra, will be the face of the Congress electorally, while party president Mallikarjun Kharge is likely to deal with the business of running the party. The dynamics of this arrangement will be evident at the party’s plenary session in Raipur from February 24. The success of the yatra is expected to loom large on the session and how the party can build upon the momentum will be a major talking point in the meeting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party’s real test in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections in 2024 would be to register victories in the assembly elections that will take place in 2023. The party has described the yatra as a non-electoral exercise, but there is keen interest within the party on ensuring that it can be built on electorally. Also, the yatra did pass through Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, three states that will go to polls this year. The plenary session of the party will be held in Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh, the fourth important state that will have assembly elections right before the general elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it is still debatable if there will be electoral gains as a result of the yatra. According to a leader from a southern state, poll management is a completely different ball game compared with organising the yatra. “It is a war out there. We are up against the mighty poll machinery and limitless resources of the BJP,” he said. Party leader Alka Lamba, however, said the yatra would create an electoral impact. “I walked through six states, starting with Rajasthan. And the response that I saw on the ground was overwhelming. It has to translate into greater voter support for the party. The impact of the yatra will definitely be seen in the elections to come.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress leader Pranav Jha said the response in Srinagar, despite the security restrictions, was heartwarming. “The scene at Lal Chowk when Rahul Gandhi unfurled the national flag gave one goosebumps. Ordinary Kashmiris turned up to support the yatra. It was clear that no matter who forms the government in Jammu and Kashmir, the Congress will be an important element in it,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Crippling disunity could, however, pose serious problems for the Congress in poll-bound states. The party paid dearly for the intense infighting in Madhya Pradesh as the Kamal Nath government was brought down. Rajasthan, too, faces a major crisis. To balance competing claims and ensure that the infighting does not hamper the party’s chances is a major challenge for the leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On January 26, the Congress launched a two-month-long ‘Haath se Haath Jodo’ campaign to take forward the gains of the yatra politically. The effort will involve party workers reaching out to people in 6.5 lakh villages. They will carry with them a letter by Rahul and a chargesheet against the Modi government. The aim is to activate the organisation and reach out to the people, thereby sustaining the momentum created by the yatra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has proved through the yatra that it has the capability to carry out a sustained exercise to reach out to the people across the country. It stuck to the course during the yatra and mobilised its cadre and dealt with logistical challenges. “The organisation has to now sustain that momentum. We have to be on the ground. Rahul Gandhi will not be everywhere,” said Oommen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, in the din of the yatra, what remains unaddressed are the many concerns about internal reforms in the party. The much-awaited organisational overhaul and the changes promised at the Udaipur Chintan Shivir remain unfulfilled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also the question of opposition unity and the Congress’s place in the anti-BJP space. The party’s expectation is that Rahul should be taken more seriously as a challenger to Modi after the yatra’s success. The responsibility of getting the opposition together is that of the Congress, hence the importance of its leader gaining credibility. However, as the party’s failed attempt to get a show of opposition unity in place at the culmination in Srinagar showed, it would be extremely optimistic for the Congress to expect Rahul’s leadership to be accepted by other parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bharat Jodo Yatra has been successfully completed. But there is quite some distance left before Rahul can challenge Modi and the BJP.</p> Sat Feb 04 14:40:01 IST 2023 how-the-bharat-jodo-yatra-has-changed-rahul-gandhi-and-congress <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FOR ME,</b> the yatra has been a way of thinking. It is a way of acting. Walking across this country has been an extremely humbling experience. It is one thing as a politician to go somewhere by car or plane, and meet people and listen to them. You learn quite a lot like that. You can also sit with a farmer and talk to him. But it is a completely different thing when you are walking on the road. And particularly when you are walking for 100 to 120 days in a row, and you are feeling a bit of pain and pressure. So that has been one very humbling thing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The second thing is, when you are walking, you see the difficulty that people in India face. This includes farmers, unemployed youngsters, labourers, and small and medium businesses. And the thing that has amazed me is the amount of strength and resilience our country and our people have.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other day, I made a statement that I do not think the west can take on the Chinese. India can. I said that after seeing our country. The amount of pressure our people can take with a smile is completely mind-boggling. It is a tragedy that we are wasting this potential. It is a tragedy that 1 per cent of India owns 40 per cent of its wealth. It is a tragedy. One, because it is unfair; two, because you are stifling the growth of this country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I met so many small and medium business owners. And I asked them a question―“Do you think you can become a Rs1,000 crore or a Rs2,000 crore or a Rs10,000 crore business?” All of them said, “No, it is impossible.” Why so? “We do not have the connections to do it,” they told me. “We simply cannot enter the political space. The doors are closed for us. We cannot do it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is an acceptance. But you cannot build India like that. Twenty people are not going to be able to build India. You need tens of thousands of solid business people to build this country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are heading towards an accident on multiple fronts, including in employment and China relations. That to me is visible when I am walking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>―<b>As told to Soni Mishra</b></p> Sat Feb 04 14:37:23 IST 2023 narendra-modi-set-clear-objectives-for-2024-elections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On April 11, 2019, as the Lok Sabha elections commenced, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his first tweet of the day, urged first-time voters to vote in large numbers. In 2019, there were 8.4 crore first-time voters―a decisive and, largely, enthusiastic constituency. To put this number into context, the BJP got 22.9 crore votes, while the Congress got 11.9 crore. So, the party getting the bulk of first-time votes will be well-poised to rule India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi has this constituency in mind for the 2024 elections, too. Those turning 18 in January 2024 will be eligible to vote, and he has been arduously wooing them with events like Pariksha Pe Charcha. This is also the age group that would be the most aspirational. India is set to become the most populous country and the number of first-time voters in 2024 is likely to surpass the 2019 figure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, there is a catch. These first-time voters may not remember the UPA government or its policy paralysis against which the BJP often rails. Therefore, the BJP will engage with the 18-25 age group throughout the year to remind them of those days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a learning from the party’s experience in Bihar in 2020. BJP ally Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) had already ruled the state for 15 years by then and not many remembered the ‘jungle raj’ of Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad. His son Tejashwi Yadav was careful not to invoke his father’s name too much. As a result, the RJD emerged as the single largest party, though the BJP and JD(U) went on to form the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Only 400 days remain for the next elections, we need to work hard,” said Modi, during the BJP’s two-day national executive meeting in Delhi. “The youth between 18 and 25 years have not witnessed the mis-governance of the UPA, and how this government transformed the country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP would do more than just remind the aspirational class about the negatives of the UPA government. The positive messaging will come in the Union budget on February 1. Unlike in the previous budget exercises, no feedback was taken from the party. Instead, sources revealed, Modi asked the BJP to fan out across the country and hard-sell the budget. This points to the possible nature of the budget, especially following an increase of 22.6 per cent in the government’s revenue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A party leader said there would be “heavier spends on infrastructure to fuel growth, which, in turn, will create jobs and pass on the benefit to the social sector. In the election year, it will be a pro-people budget, as the government focuses on self reliance in manufacturing and building infrastructure, and to cushion people against any likely recession.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In light of India’s presidency of the G20, there may be provisions for environment, climate change and farmers. The challenge before the government would be to increase social sector spending without being seen as doling out revdi (freebies).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As prime minister, Modi has benefited immensely from the strength of the party organisation. The well-oiled party machine has taken forward the governance message. This is an asset the earlier BJP government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not have. Party president J.P. Nadda has been given an extension of tenure till June 2024, by which time a new government would have been sworn in. Nadda has worked assiduously to build on the organisation his predecessor, Home Minister Amit Shah, had left for him. For instance, Modi had set a target of strengthening the party in 70,000 election booths across the country; Nadda covered 1.32 lakh booths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Central government and the organisation have coalesced into one. The initiatives of the government are taken forward by the party. Now, the challenge before Nadda is to take forward Modi’s latest message: engagement with social groups like pasmanda (socially backward and dalit) Muslims, Bohra Muslims (concentrated in Gujarat), Christians and Sikhs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pasmanda Muslims constitute over 80 per cent of the Muslim population in India. Thanks to government schemes targeting them, they are another constituency―labarthi or beneficiary―nurtured by the BJP. The strategy had reaped dividends as the BJP won assembly and Lok Sabha seats in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, breaking the hold of Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi had spoken about holding sneh milans with pasmanda Muslims during the last BJP national executive in Hyderabad in July 2022. And the party has already held such meetings with this group, which often feels left out. Representatives of the group were also given government posts, including in the cabinet in Uttar Pradesh, where pasmanda Muslims constitute 85 per cent of the Muslim population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi’s “statesmanly” message for the BJP to engage with minority communities has a dual purpose. It counters Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra and the criticism from foreign countries regarding the treatment of minorities in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The BJP is no longer a political movement, but a social movement working to transform socioeconomic conditions,” Modi said. “We should aim to build relationships with all sections of society with sensitivity. We have reached all sections, but remove any gaps. We should not focus only on votes, but also build society. We have to change the nation and society.” This statement places the BJP in the same position the Congress was post independence. What was left unsaid was that the natural corollary of such efforts would be votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no doubt that the BJP will go all out to act on the prime minister’s words. Party spokesperson Shazia Ilmi said the message of ‘Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat’ was the biggest takeaway from the national executive meeting. The vision will be implemented through the party’s elected representatives, grassroots-level programmes and regular events in the border areas. Political parties often neglect the border areas, but the BJP understands that they are fertile grounds for nationalism. The RSS, too, has been conducting programmes along the border areas. Last year, it even engaged with Muslim leaders to bring about harmony.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another of the BJP’s big missions is the south. Though it is in power in Karnataka, the BJP’s reach has generally been limited in the southern states owing its image of being a predominantly north Indian party. The saffron party is looking at the south to make up for any shortfall of seats in rest of the country.</p> <p>The party will go on yatras in the southern states. The focus, according to a senior party leader, will be on Telangana and Tamil Nadu. Telangana BJP president Bandi Sanjay Kumar has made inroads. “The party will send representatives from various units to join his yatra to learn how he is building the party there,” said the senior leader. But, before Telangana, the BJP needs to retain Karnataka, where it is going solo despite overtures by the Janata Dal (Secular). General secretary C.T. Ravi expressed confidence that the party would win the elections under the leadership of Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To overcome language and cultural barriers, the BJP will focus on cross-cultural programmes and exchanges on the lines of the Kashi-Tamil Sangamam held in Varanasi, the prime minister’s constituency, in November 2022. Even if the number of participants is not high, the social engagement can help the BJP make inroads.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the BJP goes to the polls, it will have twin messaging. This was clear from the symbols at the meeting venue. As cultural symbols, the BJP displayed images of the Kartarpur Corridor in Gurdaspur, the Mahakal Corridor in Ujjain, the Kashi-Vishwanath Corridor in Varanasi, and statues of Subhas Chandra Bose and Vallabhbhai Patel. New India was represented by BrahMos missiles, ISRO satellites, Rafale jets, TAPAS drones and INS Vikrant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three state party presidents came in for praise at the meeting: Bandi Sanjay Kumar, West Bengal’s Sukanta Majumdar and Gujarat’s C.R. Paatil. Paatil spelt out the BJP’s successful strategy in Gujarat. He talked about how the work done by the party and the government for tribals and scheduled castes, to provide water and other amenities, helped the party scale new heights. Perhaps, a bigger reward awaits Paatil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ilmi said there was complete clarity in Modi’s vision and that he talked about better cohesion in opposition-ruled states, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Elections in nine states are scheduled in 2023; most of them will be keenly fought. They may show how ready the opposition is to take on Modi next year. He will be fighting to become the first prime minister to win three consecutive terms since India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.</p> Sat Jan 21 15:30:41 IST 2023 ghulam-nabi-azad-party-crisis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>GHULAM NABI AZAD’S</b> Democratic Azad Party (DAP) has begun to implode. The former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister had launched the party after quitting the Congress in August. His supporters, however, have already begun deserting him. More than 30 of his loyalists have rejoined the Congress in the past few weeks, leaving Azad and his party rattled. For the Congress, it has been a shot in the arm as Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra is set to enter the Union territory on January 19.</p> <p>Azad had positioned the DAP as an alternative to the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir. But the defections to the Congress, and the possibility of more leaders following suit, have dented the party’s prospects. On January 6 alone, 17 DAP leaders joined the Congress in Delhi. They included former deputy chief minister and DAP vice chairman Tara Chand, and former ministers Balwan Singh, Manohar Lal Sharma and Peerzada Muhammad Sayeed. They were expelled by the DAP on December 22 for “hobnobbing” with the Congress and engaging in “anti-party activities”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>AICC general secretary K.C. Venugopal welcomed the leaders, saying it was a happy day for the Congress as they had returned before the start of the Kashmir leg of Bharat Jodo Yatra. “This is only the beginning. When the yatra enters Jammu and Kashmir, all people who follow Congress ideology and those who want a united India will join the party,” said Venugopal. “[The leaders who have rejoined] had gone on leave for two months.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chand said they were “carried away by the friendship and loyalty towards Azad”, and that their decision to quit the Congress was a mistake. “I am a born Congressman who has worked throughout my life to strengthen the party,” he said. “We will work to strengthen secular forces in J&amp;K.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A dalit leader, Chand represented Chhamb constituency from 1996 to 2014. He was defeated in the 2014 assembly polls, the last to be held in Jammu and Kashmir. Last year, the delimitation commission redrew boundaries of all 83 assembly seats in the Union territory. The total number of seats went up to 90, with new constituencies carved out in six districts. The number of reserved seats also went up, but Chhamb is no longer one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently, the uncertainty over seats is a major reason for the defections. Sayeed, who represented Kokernag in the assembly in 2002 and 2008, was reportedly upset about Azad not promising him a ticket. After delimitation, Kokernag is one of the three constituencies in Kashmir reserved for the scheduled tribes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sayeed’s return to the Congress is a setback to the DAP as he was the face of the party in Kashmir. He is also said to have influenced the decision of Gurjar leaders Nizamuddin Khatana and Choudhary Gulzar to quit the DAP. The Congress is also reportedly trying to woo DAP leaders Muhammad Amin Bhat and Haji Abdul Rashid, with whom Sayeed has good relations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The DAP is losing leaders in Jammu as well. M.K. Bhardwaj, president of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association, left the DAP for the Congress reportedly because he was unhappy about not being promised a party ticket from Vijaypur assembly seat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Bharat Jodo Yatra set to enter the Union territory on January 19, with a grand concluding function in Srinagar on January 30, more DAP leaders are expected to support the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Azad has put up a brave face on the desertions. “I do not worry whether 10 or 12 leaders go to Delhi,” he said a day after 17 DAP leaders joined the Congress. “As long as voters are with me, I do not worry about leaders. You (voters) make the leaders. I used to give tickets, you made them win.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>DAP treasurer Taj Mohiuddin said the defected leaders were politically insignificant since they had lost constituencies. “Tara Chand’s constituency is no longer reserved after delimitation. What will he do now?” asked Mohiuddin. He said Khatana quit the party because he needed Sayeed’s support in Kokernag. “They were senior leaders, but they wanted hegemony,” said Mohiuddin. According to him, senior Congress leader Raman Bhalla will have a tough time in Jammu as his Gandhinagar constituency has also been redrawn.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is worrying the DAP is that, even though it has managed to gain a toehold in Jammu and Kashmir’s political landscape, it has not been able to attract big names from parties other than the Congress. Its chances lie more in Muslim-majority districts such as Poonch and Rajouri in Kashmir, and Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban in Jammu. After delimitation, though, chances of non-Muslim candidates winning the polls have improved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Azad had launched the DAP when the two major regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir―the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party―were weakened because of the revocation of Article 370. But then, both the NC and the PDP have survived tough times, and the feeling of disempowerment in the valley and anti-incumbency against the BJP are likely to help them in the polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Observers say Azad has failed to lure leaders from non-Congress parties because he has been soft on the BJP. He is keen to join hands with the NC and the PDP, but both the parties have lent support to the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Farooq Abdullah of the NC had joined the yatra as it passed through Uttar Pradesh, signalling his party’s priorities. Under the circumstances, the path ahead for Azad seems unsteady.</p> Sat Jan 21 15:18:32 IST 2023 bhupesh-baghel-chhattisgarh-cm-congress-election-strategies <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Anticipation and enthusiasm was high in the Mathpara locality of Chhattisgarh capital Raipur on the morning of January 6 as a crowd, holding bamboo trays full of rice and vegetables, waited for Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel. They were celebrating Chher Chhera, a post-harvest local festival. Baghel soon made an entry and received the gifts, a key feature of Chher Chhera, which is now a public holiday in Chhattisgarh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A day later, Baghel travelled to Rajim―a holy city located about 50km from the state capital―to inaugurate a 25ft-tall Ram idol. It was the third such idol to be installed in the state in the past few months under the ambitious Ram Van Gaman Path, a project aimed at developing 75 spots in the state linked to Ram’s vanvas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Baghel returned to the capital a few hours later and met Union Home Minister Amit Shah at the airport, presenting him with a package of millets grown in the state. He wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi the next day, urging him to include millets in the list of grains distributed under the National Food Security scheme. Later in the day, Baghel inaugurated the first ‘Chhattisgarhiya Olympics’, a three-month-long traditional games competition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In between all these engagements, Baghel also found time to criticise the “anti-constitutional stand” of Governor Anusuiya Uikey, following her refusal to sign two bills that proposed hiking caste-based quota in the state to 76 per cent―32 per cent for scheduled tribes and 27 per cent for OBCs. He also blamed the BJP for the recent communal flare up in Narayanpur of Bastar region over the issue of conversion of tribals to Christianity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Baghel is working with a focused strategy of cultivating pride in Chhattisgarh’s identity, promoting welfare measures for rural people and taking on the BJP aggressively to ensure that his government is returned to power when the state goes to polls later this year. Observers believe that the Congress is well on its way to retain power, although it may not be easy for Baghel to match the party’s performance in 2018 when it won 68 of 90 seats. A surprisingly weakened BJP adds to its chances. The Aam Aadmi Party, which made some noise initially, does not seem to be doing well, while the Janta Congress of Ajit Jogi is in tatters after the demise of its popular founder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“With his well-planned sociocultural and political steps, Baghel has not only emerged as the undisputed face of the Congress, but has also blunted the edge of the opposition challenge. The Congress looks well placed for another term and Baghel will be its face in every way,” said political analyst Diwakar Muktibodh. He highlighted Baghel’s welfare schemes aimed at farmers and women and his promoting the culture and traditions of the state. These include the Godhan Nyay scheme that seeks to boost rural economy by purchasing cow dung and cow urine and involving women’s self-help groups to make value-added products out of them. In the next step, cow shelters are being turned into rural industrial parks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government offers subsidies to paddy farmers, cash assistance to landless agriculture labourers and has introduced health and nutrition facilities. It promotes local traditions by giving additional public holidays for local festivals, highlighting the significance of local games and cuisine and introducing a state song and a state icon. By taking up projects like the Ram Van Gaman Path and cow protection initiatives, Baghel has not allowed the BJP to play up the hindutva card.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The chief minister is in constant touch with the voters through his ‘Bhent-Mulaqat’ programme, under which he has already visited more than 50 assembly constituencies. Slowly, Baghel, who was earlier known as dau, a term used for influential landholders, has transformed into kaka (uncle), underscoring his growing bond with the electorate. Though some people feel that Baghel is short-tempered and arrogant, those close to him say he is very sensitive and emotional.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Baghel hails from a family of rich landholders belonging to the socially influential Kurmi caste. He comes across as a quintessential family man, often sharing photographs of his wife, Mukteshwari, on social media and expressing his love and gratitude for her. Mukteshwari is the daughter of the late music composer and litterateur Narendra Dev Verma, whose composition “Arpa-Pairi ke Dhar” is the state song of Chhattisgarh. Her uncle Swami Atmananda was a revered spiritual leader. This association gives Baghel an added sociopolitical advantage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Muktibodh said all these made Baghel far more influential and popular than when he started as chief minister five years ago. After the Congress won in 2018, Baghel had to deal with three other contenders for the chief minister’s post. Of these, Charandas Mahant was made speaker and Tamradhwaj Sahu was given the home portfolio. T.S. Singh Deo, however, refused to relent. There was said to be a deal between him and Baghel about sharing the top post for two and a half years each. Singh Deo was reportedly slotted for the first half, but Baghel managed to convince the Congress high command otherwise. Once he got the chance, Baghel made sure that the post stayed with him, while Singh Deo was given the health portfolio.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Baghel has clearly emerged as a favourite of the Gandhi family, working with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra during assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. “His stature has grown locally and nationally and he has become one of the key leaders in the Congress,” said Muktibodh. He, however, warned that Singh Deo’s continuing discontent might dent the Congress’s prospects, especially in his stronghold Surguja, which accounts for 14 seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political commentator Shashank Sharma said issues like caste-based reservation and religious conversion which flared up recently could prove costly for the Congress. “Tribals are deeply angered by what they see as attempts by Christian missionaries to alter their identity. Also, civil society organisations, which have considerable influence over the tribals, are upset with the Congress government for failing to fulfill poll promises regarding tribal rights. The dalits are angered by the proposed reduction of caste-based quota from 16 per cent to 13 per cent,” said Sharma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political analyst Sanat Chaturvedi, however, said the impact of issues like reservation and conversion would be short-term. “Anti-incumbency, the support of the RSS and the BJP’s own strength in urban areas will help the party improve its performance compared with 2018, but because of its weak leadership, it probably will not be able to push the Congress out of power,” he said. Despite dominating the national political scene, the BJP has been in a free fall in Chhattisgarh after its humiliating defeat five years ago. Dharamlal Kaushik, who was made leader of opposition, and Vikram Usendi and Vishnu Deo Sai who led the state unit of the party after the poll debacle, failed to take on the Baghel government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>About six months ago, the BJP went for a total overhaul of its organisational and legislative leadership. Ajay Jamwal, who has RSS links, was made zonal general secretary (organisation) for Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Bilaspur MP Arun Sao replaced Sai as state president and Narayan Chandel took over from Kaushik as leader of opposition. Also, D. Purandeswari, the party general secretary in charge of Chhattisgarh, was replaced by Om Mathur, a confidant of Modi and Shah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is attempting a fightback under Sao’s leadership. He said Chhattisgarh was a hub of peace and harmony under the BJP government, but the Congress made a mess of it. “Earlier, conversions were common only in the tribal areas, but now they are being done near Raipur and Bilaspur,” he said. On the issue of caste-based reservation, Sao said the Congress was just doing politics and had no intention of giving people their due.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Corruption is rampant in every sector, the law and order system has collapsed, poll promises were not fulfilled and development has totally stopped. The Congress government has not been able to construct even a single school, a single health centre or a single road. Rather, it stopped the extension of Central government schemes to the poor people,” said Sao.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP state chief denied any weakness in his party organisation and said workers and leaders were working aggressively towards winning the 2023 polls. “We had a historically successful public meeting of Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Korba on January 7. The response from the people was tremendous. Senior leaders will continue with their visits and this will motivate our workers further.”</p> Sat Jan 14 15:10:09 IST 2023 chhattisgarh-chief-minister-bhupesh-baghel-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ Your government is into the final year of its tenure. What are your biggest achievements?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Our biggest achievement is that we have been able to convince the people of Chhattisgarh that this is their state. This feeling of ownership was lacking for 18 years since the formation of the state. The people had a feeling of alienation towards the government. I am happy that we could remove this feeling and make people sense their democratic power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have covered more than 50 assembly constituencies under the ‘Bhent-Mulaqat’ initiative. What are the key issues you noticed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Economic self-reliance has increased in villages. Rural people are more confident and farmers’ trust on farming has revived. Women have become stronger. During our interactions in villages, it is the women who retain the mikes for the longest time. When they stand up and put across their views confidently, I feel that our policies and schemes are successful. Change in the lives of women is the indicator of societal change. In general, I am getting very good feedback on all the schemes. People demand more bank branches and paddy purchase centres in or near their villages. Such demands are indicative of rising prosperity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have won multiple bypolls, but incumbents often fail to do well in subsequent assembly polls.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>We did not win consecutive bypolls because we are in power, but because people have expressed faith in our policies and schemes. In these four years, people have experienced that there is no difference between our talk and action. We promised that our government would prioritise work for the welfare of the deprived sections and people saw how the lives of farmers, rural folk, women, tribal people, labourers and artisans have changed. They also saw how excellent systems in the education and health sectors are established at par for all. In the assembly polls, too, people will vote for us for our work. What the BJP could not do in the past 15 years, we did in four years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You say your target is to maintain the current Congress MLA count in 2023.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>We will perform better than last time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There were reports that an internal survey showed poor performance by 40 per cent of your MLAs and you asked them to introspect and improve.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I am the leader of the Congress legislative party. I am the team leader and it is my responsibility to motivate the team. Introspection and improvement are constant processes. The success of the team is dependent on collective energy, collective confidence and a collective sense of responsibility. I myself keep introspecting and improving. As for the 2023 polls, the decision to give or deny tickets is a matter of organisational decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The BJP accuses your government of many things such as corruption, failure to keep election promises, poor law and order, fanning anti-majority communalism and pushing the state into debt.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>It is the job of the BJP to keep accusing us. We have replied to each one of the accusations, either through the media or in the assembly. I have always said that factual questions are welcome. But when the BJP does not have facts, it resorts to rumour-mongering. Now less than a year is left for assembly elections, so their rumour-mongering is only gaining momentum. Actually, BJP politics is about spreading rumours and hate in the entire country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Senior officers―some linked to your office―have been arrested on corruption charges.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Whatever is happening, the people of Chhattisgarh are also watching and understanding. The entire country knows how the BJP-led government makes political use of Central agencies. My image and my government’s image are made by our work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The BJP may be counting on the ‘differences’ between you and minister T.S. Singh Deo.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>T.S. Singh Deo ji is our senior minister and a senior Congress leader. There are no differences of any kind between us. As for the BJP, its plan of breaking up the Congress will never fructify.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You said the Narayanpur communal violence was a political conspiracy of the BJP.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Playing the communal card is nothing new for the BJP, but in Chhattisgarh this card never worked. During the past four years, the BJP tried it many times, but the citizens here always managed to defeat its schemes. The people of Chhattisgarh believe in peace, love and harmony―this is the local culture. Since the BJP has never been linked to the roots of Chhattisgarh, it keeps on forgetting that its fake nationalism will never work with our people. Despite this, if the BJP tries to use its traditional ploys, it should be prepared to face defeat once again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is your promotion of ‘Chhattisgarhi identity pride’ a way to counter the ‘nationalistic/communal’ agenda of the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Chhattisgarh’s pride and fake nationalism of the BJP are two totally different things. Only a Chhattisgarhia can understand the pride, self-respect and dignity of the state. This is an issue linked to the dreams of our ancestors. This is the foundation of the formation of separate Chhattisgarh. The matter of regret is that for 18 years after the formation of the state, the dreams of Chhattisgarh people could not be realised. They were forced to live with a feeling of alienation in their own state. When the Congress promised to establish ‘Nava (new) Chhattisgarh’, it was a promise to fulfill those dreams of our ancestors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are the strong and weak points of the BJP as an electoral opponent?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>In Chhattisgarh, the BJP and its leaders have been totally unmasked. Farmers, tribals and rural people have understood well as to how the BJP fooled them for 15 years. People are also seeing the work of the Congress. They are witnessing the difference in the ethics and intentions [between the BJP and the Congress].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Despite the big win in the assembly polls, the Congress got only two MPs from Chhattisgarh.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>There is a huge difference in the situation then and now. This difference is at the national level and the state level, too. Doubtlessly, the atmosphere today is far stronger in favour of Congress policies. We will perform better in the Lok Sabha polls as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have always said that over Rs30,000 crore belonging to Chhattisgarh is pending with the Central government. The BJP, however, accuses you of burdening the state with huge debt.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I have cited data several times as to under what heads should we get funds from the Centre. Recently, while making suggestions for the Union budget for 2023-24, I have once again made a request to release pending funds to Chhattisgarh. Replying to BJP allegations during budget discussion last year, I mentioned that we inherited 50 per cent of the current debt from the BJP government. We have to take loans because the Central government forces us to do so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you plan to resolve the issue of caste-based reservation, given the reluctance of the governor to sign the relevant bills and the Supreme Court’s stand on 50 per cent bar on total reservation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I still trust the governor to sign the bills, because she herself comes from the deprived sections. She must understand their struggle and the necessity of the bills passed unanimously by the state assembly. However, I feel that the BJP is trying to influence her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you feel the Bharat Jodo Yatra will help in improving Congress’s poll performances?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Rahul ji’s Bharat Jodo Yatra is a campaign against hatred. Doubtlessly, positivity has increased in the social atmosphere of the state because of the yatra. When positivity increases in society, the parties engaging in positive politics will certainly benefit. The yatra has nothing to do with elections, but it will certainly lead to the strengthening of Congress ideology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you see any chance of a Congress comeback in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The Congress will certainly make a comeback.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you looking at a national role for yourself in the future?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think I am better off in Chhattisgarh. I have complied with any orders that the organisation has given me. I will do the same in future.</p> Sat Jan 14 16:43:08 IST 2023 karnataka-opposition-party-leader-siddaramaiah-congress-chief-minister-dreams <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A CIVIL COURT</b> in Bengaluru passed a restraining order on January 9, staying the publishing, sale and display of the book, Siddu Nija Kanasugalu (Siddu’s real dreams), which is said to be critical of former chief minister Siddaramaiah. The order came just a few minutes before the book’s official launch by Higher Education Minister C.N. Ashwath Narayan, after the court took up a petition filed by Siddaramaiah’s son and Varuna MLA Yathindra who had alleged the book had “defamatory” content. The title of the book is similar to another controversial book, Tippu Nija Kanasugalu, by Addanda C. Cariappa and it is suspected that it targets Siddaramaiah’s brand of ‘Ahinda’ politics which relies on minorities, dalits and OBCs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddaramaiah has reasons to worry as he has constantly been the target of both the BJP and the Janata Dal (Secular). After his ouster from the JD(S) in 2005, Siddaramaiah’s growing animosity with JD(S) patriarch and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda cost him dearly. It antagonised the Vokkaliga community that dominates the Old Mysuru region. Siddaramaiah’s defeat in the Chamundeshwari assembly constituency in 2018, his home turf where he had won five times in the past, was a fallout of his souring relations with Deve Gowda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Kuruba strongman continues to fight the ‘outsider’ tag within the Congress. His surprise elevation to the chief minister’s post in 2013, bypassing veterans like Mallikarjun Kharge, G. Parameshwara, K.H. Muniyappa and D.K. Shivakumar was resented by many. Parameshwara, who lost the Koratagere seat in 2013 and hence the top post, suspects Siddaramaiah’s hand behind his defeat. Muniyappa holds Siddaramaiah’s close aide and former speaker Ramesh Kumar responsible for his defeat in Kolar in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Shivakumar sympathisers recall how he was kept out of the cabinet by Siddaramaiah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fear of sabotage had forced Siddaramaiah to contest from two seats in 2018―Badami in Bagalkot and Chamundeshwari in Mysuru. He was defeated in Chamundeshwari apparently due to the mobilisation of Vokkaliga votes against him by the JD(S). He scraped through in Badami with a margin of 1,699 votes. The eight-time MLA is once again searching for a ‘safe seat’ which would give him time to campaign all over the state. A hung verdict is bound to scuttle his chances of becoming the chief minister as the JD(S) would end up being the kingmaker.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddaramaiah has not yet filed an application for a ticket before the Congress screening committee (which received 1,490 applications for 224 seats), apparently to closely study his options. While there is speculation that he could be pitched against B.Y. Vijayendra, state BJP vice president and son of Lingayat strongman and former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa, in Varuna, Siddaramaiah is not keen on moving his son out either. In Badami, his re-election seems tough, given that former minister B.B. Chimmanakatti, a five-time MLA who gave up the seat for Siddaramaiah in 2018, has openly declared that he was “not welcome” this time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On January 9, Siddaramaiah announced that he was keen to contest from Kolar, but added that his candidature was “subject to approval” from the high command. Kolar is certainly looking promising owing to the large presence of Muslim and Kuruba voters. Siddaramaiah is hoping to draw the support of the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and the OBCs. Infighting and factionalism could, however, be a headache in Kolar as Muniyappa and Ramesh Kumar are at loggerheads. Siddaramaiah might also use his seniority to bargain for a second seat despite state Congress chief D.K. Shivakumar’s announcement that no leader would be allowed to contest from two seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddaramaiah’s popularity rankles the ruling BJP. Unlike Shivakumar, who is battling a slew of cases filed by the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI, Siddaramaiah has had a clean image and is popular among the Ahinda voters. The saffron party keeps on fiercely attacking Siddaramaiah, equating him to Tipu Sultan and labelling him “anti-Hindu” as part of its polarisation strategy to consolidate Hindu votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP blames Siddaramaiah, a vocal critic of hindutva politics, for the growth of the Popular Front of India, a radical outfit banned by the Union government last year for its alleged terror links. Union Home Minister Amit Shah said when Siddaramaiah was in power, his government had withdrawn 1,700 cases filed against members of the PFI, a charge Siddaramaiah vehemently denies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While, Shivakumar has consciously avoided being labelled as “anti-Hindu”, fearing backlash from the majority community, Siddaramaiah has never shied away from raking up sensitive issues like the anti-conversion bill, the hijab ban, the campaign against halal food, and the ban on Muslim traders in Hindu temple festivals. He has even criticised his own party’s reluctance to take a clear stand on communal issues. “The Congress has the responsibility to protect the minorities, the OBCs and others. We must be aggressive as it is not the politics of appeasement, but our commitment to protecting secularism in the Constitution,” said Siddaramaiah at a party meeting attended by Rahul Gandhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While many compare Siddaramaiah’s Ahinda experiment in social engineering with D. Devaraj Urs’ attempt to consolidate SC, ST and OBC voters by extending reservation benefits, his secular credentials are now being increasingly questioned. “As a former chief minister, Siddaramaiah should have been confident of winning from any seat if he has worked for all communities without any favouritism,” said BJP spokesperson Tejaswini Gowda. “Why is he hunting for a safe seat with a sizeable Muslim population now?”</p> Sat Jan 14 15:00:46 IST 2023 internal-conflicts-in-bjp-and-congress-madhya-pradesh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON THE LAST DAY OF 2022,</b> Congress leader Rahul Gandhi managed to ignite the political situation in Madhya Pradesh with a prediction that his party will sweep the assembly polls in the state due later this year. “The BJP will not be seen anywhere there.... There is a total undercurrent in Madhya Pradesh, a [Congress] storm out there,” Rahul said at a news conference in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul’s assertion came just a few days ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit to Madhya Pradesh, his third in the past five months. The BJP government in Bhopal led by Shivraj Singh Chouhan is banking heavily on Modi’s visit. The prime minister will inaugurate the Pravasi Bharatiya Sammelan (PBS) in the state’s commercial capital, Indore, and will later kickstart the annual Global Investors Summit (GIS), virtually. The twin mega events from January 8 to 12, which will focus on the sociocultural and economic incentives and political gains, is expected to herald the campaign call of the BJP. And the focus will be on Modi, the party’s electoral trump card. In a recent meeting of its senior state leaders, the BJP gave the slogan, ab ki baar 200 paar, (going beyond 200 seats this time).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chouhan has been at his aggressive best during the past few months, participating almost every day in events related to implementation of welfare schemes, extension of services, awareness programmes in tribal areas and honour day (Gaurav Diwas) celebrations. He has changed his style of functioning, and is getting stricter with erring officials, sometimes even issuing suspension or transfer orders on public platforms. Rahul’s prediction of a Congress sweep and a claim by state Congress chief and former chief minister Kamal Nath that his party will win an overwhelming majority in the assembly polls seem to have irked the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, still basking in the warm response to the Bharat Jodo Yatra that passed through the state a month ago, observed the new year day as ‘Sankalp Diwas’ (resolution day). The party has announced that it will fight the assembly polls under Kamal Nath’s leadership. Supporters put up hoardings hailing him as the next chief minister, something unheard of in the Congress. A similar campaign is also under way on the party’s social media platforms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ‘Sankalp Diwas’ event saw rallies and public meetings in which Congress leaders criticised the “anti-people” policies of the state and Central governments. They reiterated that as soon as a Congress government was formed in Bhopal, the promises made ahead of the 2018 elections, which were left unfulfilled because the Kamal Nath government was toppled by the BJP, would be fulfilled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his new year message, Kamal Nath said the Congress would uphold its promises like the farm loan waiver, jobs for the youth, implementation of the old pension scheme and 100 units of electricity for 1100. He has also been holding public meetings in different districts and is working to bring together people who are angry with the Chouhan government. He is expected to visit all districts at least once during the coming months to hold one-to-one meetings with party workers and to engage with voters. He will also address an OBC convention of the Congress in Satna on January 5.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political observers feel that at the moment, there are no major issues that the Congress and the BJP could highlight and, therefore, they are focusing on strengthening their arsenals and observing each other’s moves and planning strategies accordingly. “The BJP and its government will certainly expect events like GIS and PBS, which will see the participation of a good number of prominent non-resident Indians, foreign dignitaries and business stalwarts and another visit by Modi to give them the perfect start to the election year. As for the Congress, Rahul’s expression of confidence is a shot in the arm for the cadre and state leaders. The party has started the new year on an aggressive footing,” said political commentator Manish Dixit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the bravado, both parties know that what matters the most is concrete planning on the ground. Internal surveys conducted by the Congress and the BJP have shown that several incumbents are not so popular and could be denied tickets. According to sources, Chouhan and Kamal Nath have warned those who have turned out to be weak performers in the surveys to improve quickly or be prepared to drop out. The Congress is, however, likely to accommodate more sitting MLAs and will drop only 15 to 20 of its worst performers. Kamal Nath has denied reports about internal surveys and said Congress members were working towards forming a majority government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP could deny tickets to 30 to 40 per cent of the incumbents, including at least a dozen ministers, to beat anti-incumbency. A final cabinet reshuffle is also on the cards. “The survey and warnings are expected exercises, but for the BJP, another major undercurrent is the impact of the Gujarat election results. They are [keenly watching whether] the BJP higher-ups decide to make changes to the government or to the organisation going into the polls,” said Dixit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Chouhan is in his fourth term with a total tenure of almost 17 years, state BJP chief Vishnu Dutt Sharma’s three-year term comes to an end in February. Party insiders told THE WEEK that the chances of replacing Chouhan are just 50:50 as he does not carry any negative baggage despite his long tenure. As for Sharma, there is a feeling that although he has strong RSS backing, his performance as president has been lacklustre and he has not been able to gel well with party functionaries and cadre. Political analyst Girija Shanker said the Gujarat model was not replicable in Madhya Pradesh. “Also, major changes in the Gujarat government came 14 months before elections and in the case of Madhya Pradesh, that time is well past,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for the Congress, the most interesting development this time is that the party has named Kamal Nath as its chief minister face. Although the former chief minister will be 77 by the end of the year, the party knows that only he has the required political and financial wherewithal to take on the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is some speculation that a younger leader could be brought in as state party chief. Former state president Suresh Pachouri, however, said Kamal Nath would continue to lead the party as well. Congress media cell chairman K.K. Mishra said while some organisational changes were expected, Kamal Nath would continue as state president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As expected, both the BJP and the Congress are banking on their strong network of party workers. “We are approaching the 2023 polls on the basis of our immense organisational strength. Through this network, which works till the polling booth level, we are carrying the message of the welfare schemes of the Central and the state governments to the voters,” said Sharma. “Another strength for us is the huge faith that people have in Prime Minister Modi. To achieve the goal of crossing the 200-seat mark, we have fixed a target of 10-11 per cent increase in vote-share at each polling booth. This will ensure as big a win as in Gujarat,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pachouri said the Congress was focusing on strengthening the organisational structure from polling booths up to state level. “Also, we will reiterate the promises that we made before the 2018 polls, especially the ones that remained unfulfilled because our government was pulled down. We managed to fulfill 365 promises in 365 days of our government and we are committed to fulfilling all of them,” said Pachouri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul’s prediction of a Congress sweep has made it clear that the party is hoping to gain from the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Officially, however, the party sticks to the stand that the yatra is apolitical. “The entire country and its democracy will benefit from the yatra. This is the best outcome,” said Mishra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the BJP and the Congress deny any serious infighting in their state units, political watchers feel that internal bickering might be one of the biggest challenges for both parties. Shanker referred to the recent no-confidence motion in the assembly moved by leader of opposition Govind Singh, which made news because Kamal Nath chose to stay away. A recent tweet by MLA Lakshman Singh, brother of former chief minister Digvijaya Singh, questioning the Congress leadership for the poor performance of over 40 per cent of its MLAs as indicated in the internal survey shows that all is not well in the party. During the presidential polls in July, some Congress MLAs went against the party whip and voted for Droupadi Murmu. Yet, the Congress managed to keep its flock together while the Bharat Jodo Yatra passed through the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for the BJP, Shanker pointed towards the formal complaint sent by former minister Deepak Joshi to the prime minister, alleging massive corruption in the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana in his home district, Dewas. Former chief minister Uma Bharti’s moves will also be watched closely. She recently hinted that her community might not necessarily vote for the BJP and warned that the saffron party did not own the right of devotion to Ram and Hanuman.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also speculation that some of the ticket aspirants in the BJP could revolt if they are sidelined to accommodate Congress turncoats who came with Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia in 2020. The “anti-party” stand taken by former minister Jayant Malaiya that led to the defeat of BJP candidate Rahul Lodhi from Damoh during in the 2021 bypolls is cited as a warning. “The Congress and the BJP need to resolve their internal strife before they move ahead with poll preparations,” said Shanker. “That will be the biggest challenge for both parties.”</p> Sat Jan 07 16:31:43 IST 2023 karnataka-elections-old-mysuru-vokkaliga-community <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Old Mysuru has become the new battleground in Karnataka politics. The region, which has 59 seats spread across nine districts, looks set to witness a fierce, triangular contest between the Janata Dal (Secular), the Congress and the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reason is that the Vokkaliga community, politically dominant and numerically strong, appears torn between its love for JD(S) patriarch and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda and the fresh overtures of the Congress and the BJP. The Congress has taken the gamble of elevating Vokkaliga leader D.K. Shivakumar as state party chief, while the BJP is mixing its development mantra with invocations of “Vokkaliga pride”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having reached saturation point in the rest of the state, the BJP is hoping to make inroads into Old Mysuru. Despite winning 104 seats and emerging as the single-largest party in 2018, the party was unable to form government. It had to ‘import’ 17 Congress and JD(S) legislators―several of them Vokkaligas―to finally come to power in 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That the BJP has its eyes on Old Mysuru became clear on December 31, 2022, when Union Home Minister Amit Shah visited Mandya, a district in the region, to sound the party’s poll bugle. “A vote for the JD(S) is a vote for the Congress,” he told voters. “Vote for the Congress, and H.D. Kumaraswamy [of the JD(S)] will sit on the Congress’s lap. Give the BJP a chance to form government with full majority, and we will end corruption, dynastic politics and casteism in five years.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is eyeing 54 of 59 seats in the region. Currently, the JD(S) holds 27 seats; the Congress and the BJP have 17 and 13, respectively. Two seats are with independents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Vokkaligas are the largest community in Karnataka after Lingayats and Muslims. Most Vokkaligas identify themselves as “anti-Congress” and support the JD(S). The community’s shift away from the Congress started in the 1970s, when chief minister D. Devaraj Urs was seen as appeasing dalits, tribals and backward communities when he extended reservation benefits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Vokkaligas have also not supported political experiments to expand the JD(S)’s reach. In 2005, Kuruba leader Siddaramaiah, who was then with the JD(S), held ‘Ahinda’ conventions to consolidate minority, backward class and dalit votes. The move was perceived as “anti-Vokkaliga” and he was expelled from the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddaramaiah joined the Congress in 2005. He felt the Vokkaliga heat again in 2018, when he was forced to hunt for a safe seat in Old Mysuru after he was perceived to have “badmouthed” Deve Gowda. As incumbent chief minister, he lost elections in his home turf, Chamundeshwari, part of the Mysore Lok Sabha constituency, because of a mass mobilisation in the community. A victory in Badami in Bagalkot district, part of north Karnataka, helped Siddaramaiah retain a seat in the assembly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gowda, 89, is undoubtedly the tallest Vokkaliga leader. Known for being simple, sharp and proficient in English, he relentlessly champions the cause of farmers, especially those in the Cauvery basin. In fact, Gowda owes his political rise to the Cauvery water-sharing dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The dispute has its basis on two agreements signed between the erstwhile princely state of Mysore and the Madras presidency in 1892 and 1924. The agreements bar Karnataka (the upper riparian state) from building dams across the Cauvery without the consent of Tamil Nadu (one of the two lower riparian states).</p> <p>“At 31, the first-time legislator Gowda moved a private member’s resolution on harnessing Cauvery waters to utilise it for the betterment of the people in the river basin, especially in Hassan, Coorg, Mysore, Mandya, Tumkur, Chitradurga and Bangalore districts, which were dominated by the Vokkaliga community,” writes Sugata Srinivasaraju in Furrows in a Field: The Unexplored Life of H.D. Deve Gowda. “Then chief minister S. Nijalingappa and PWD minister Veerendra Patil, both Lingayat leaders who controlled north Karnataka, asked Gowda to withdraw the resolution, sensing it would make the north-south divide in Karnataka more obvious. The Cauvery issue became the cornerstone of Gowda’s politics.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An adamant Gowda forced the government to build the Harangi and Hemavathy reservoirs, which brought riches to Old Mysore’s sugarcane belt. He built a political movement around Cauvery that revived the Vokkaliga hopes of weilding political power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1994, Gowda became chief minister almost four decades after Kadidal Manjappa, a Vokkaliga who last held the post. Later, Karnataka saw two more Vokkaliga chief ministers―S.M. Krishna of the Congress and H.D. Kumaraswamy of the JD(S).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>C.S. Dwarakanath, former chairperson of the Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes, said Vokkaligas revere Gowda for his key role in including Vokkaligas in rural areas in the Central list of Other Backward Communities. “The community was included in the Central OBC list after [the implementation of] the Mandal Commission report. In fact, Deve Gowda included several communities―such as Halakki and Sarpa Vokkaligas, and Bunts―in the OBC list,” he said. “Today, Vokkaligas are demanding an enhanced quota―from 4 per cent to 12 per cent―that is proportional to their estimated population.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gowda’s popularity grew with his efforts to organise the community. “Subcastes like Gangatkar, Marasu, Musuku, Dasa, Kunchitiga and Beralukodo Vokkaligas were united,” said Dwarakanath. “The Adichunchanagiri Mutt emerged as a unifying factor. Also, Gowda boosted the community’s claim to political power when he appropriated Nadaprabhu Kempe Gowda (a chieftain under Vijayanagara empire) as a Vokkaliga icon. Till then, Kempe Gowda was claimed to be ‘Thigalar Gowda’ by the Thigala (horticulturists) community.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the years, Gowda’s penchant for putting family ahead of politics has led to an erosion in the JD(S) support base. Many prominent leaders have quit the party in the past two decades. Gowda himself was defeated in the Tumakuru Lok Sabha seat in 2019, exposing the resentment against his family in the JD(S).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A section of Vokkaligas is now eyeing the Congress because it has appointed Shivakumar as the state party chief. “The Vokkaliga community would shift its loyalties only if convinced that a fellow Vokkaliga is projected as the CM candidate. But both the Congress and the BJP have shied away from it,” said Dwarakanath.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The infighting within the Congress has cornered Shivakumar and given the upper hand to legislative party leader Siddaramaiah, AICC chief Mallikarjun Kharge and former deputy chief minister G. Parameshwara. Both Kharge and Parameshwara are dalits. Also, Shivakumar is busy battling a slew of cases filed against him by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate. Given the circumstances, a section of Vokkaligas are most likely to tilt towards the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is trying hard to push the message that there is little difference in voting for its rivals. In his speech on December 31, Shah recalled how the JD(S) and the Congress had come together to form a coalition government in 2018, after the BJP fell eight seats short of majority. He said the JD(S) had “blackmailed” the Congress into giving it the chief minister’s post, even though it won only 37 seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Political instability is not good for development,” said Shah. “Here is an opportunity to settle scores with those parties who win a handful of seats and resort to blackmail.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, however, has long been accused of playing Lingayat-centric politics. The saffron party holds sway in the Lingayat-dominant north and central Karnataka, apart from its dominance in coastal Karnataka, which is perceived as a hindutva laboratory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party’s national leadership has been trying to wean the state unit off its over-dependence on one community. In July 2021, in an effort to expand its reach and diversify its leadership, the BJP elevated two Vokkaliga faces: Malleswaram legislator C.N. Ashwath Narayan was appointed as a deputy chief minister, and Chikmagalur MLA C.T. Ravi was made the party’s national general secretary. Also, Lingayat strongman B.S. Yediyurappa was replaced as chief minister by fellow Lingayat leader Basavaraj Bommai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Urban Vokkaligas now openly support the BJP, but rural voters have chosen to remain with the JD(S). In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP led in more than 170 assembly segments. This has apparently prompted the party to rely on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the run-up to the polls, instead of projecting Bommai as its face.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP also appears to be attempting an ideological merger between “Vokkaliga pride” and its hindutva agenda. In November last year, Modi unveiled a 108ft bronze statue of Kempe Gowda, called the Statue of Prosperity, near the Bengaluru International Airport. Ashwath Narayan, one of its Vokkaliga faces, recently sprang a surprise when he proposed an “Ayodhya-like Ram temple” at Ramadevarabetta in Ramanagara district. The state leadership is reportedly planning to invite Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to lay the foundation for the temple. The strategy, apparently, is to highlight the ‘Nath panth’, a Shaivite sub-tradition shared by Gorakhnath Math in UP (where Yogi was the head priest) and the Adichunchanagiri Mutt in Karnataka, a Vokkaliga mutt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Communal polarisation is part of the mix. The BJP has been painting Tipu Sultan, the 18th-century ruler of Mysore, as a religious bigot, and portraying two Vokkaliga soldiers―Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda―as heroes who killed the Muslim ruler. “The next election is between Tipu Sultan and Mysuru Wadiyars,” said C.T. Ravi while addressing a rally in Mandya. “Wadiyars, and not Tipu, contributed to [the development] of Mandya. It wasn’t Tipu who was the tiger; the tigers were Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The JD(S) has swung into action to neutralise the saffron threat. Kumaraswamy has begun a tour to reach out to voters, while Deve Gowda has been placating disgruntled JD(S) leaders. Said Kumaraswamy: “If the BJP thinks they can win over Vokkaligas by erecting statues or promising to build a Ram temple in my constituency, it is only an illusion.”</p> Sat Jan 07 16:26:52 IST 2023 will-the-congress-benefit-from-the-bharat-jodo-yatra <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE BHARAT JODO</b> Yatra has been an underlying constant in the politics of the country over the past few months. It has simmered under the surface since September 7, 2022, when former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his fellow Bharat yatris began their long march from Kanyakumari, India’s southern tip. Now, as the yatra nears its culmination in Srinagar, it is building to a crescendo. Surrounding the build-up to the finale are questions on how much of the intended purpose, stated and unstated, has been achieved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest takeaway for the Congress has been the impact that the endeavour has had on Rahul’s image. The party and Rahul himself insist that the BJP has made strenuous efforts and spent vast sums of money trying to reinforce the Congress leader’s ‘Pappu’ image. At his news conferences, Rahul has claimed that the BJP has spent around Rs5,000-Rs6,000 crore, or may be more, to mar his image.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, the yatra has taken place at a time when questions were being asked both within and outside the Congress about Rahul’s leadership. It is felt that Rahul’s effort of having trudged more than 3,000km over the last few months in solidarity with people’s issues has made people look at him differently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The very fact that Rahul has stuck to the mission of walking the distance has, according to party leaders, gone a long way in demolishing his critics’ attacks on him with regard to his perceived lack of seriousness about politics. His interactions with the people during the yatra have been an effort at showcasing him as a leader who is empathetic to the issues of the people. Rahul has described the yatra as tapasya (penance) and said that the physical rigour of the long march has helped him better understand the problems of the people. His overgrown salt-and-pepper beard and his insistence on continuing to wear his yatra attire of T-shirt and track pants even in the cold climes of north India―he claims he has so far not felt the need to wear woollens―are seen as strengthening his image as a selfless leader who is not concerned about his own comfort, as opposed to the image of being an entitled dynast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress leader Kanhaiya Kumar, who is among Rahul’s fellow yatris, said it was wrong to say the yatra had improved Rahul’s image. “It has in fact brought to the fore the real Rahul Gandhi and allowed people to see what he really is―a leader who is empathetic and caring,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party is happy with the buzz that Rahul has generated. According to a party leader, the relentless attacks of the BJP on Rahul and the yatra―be it with regard to his clothes or the people he has met or the nature of the containers in which the yatris have retired for the day or the alleged security breach by Rahul―only show that the yatra is having an impact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior Congress leader Rajani Patil, who is AICC in-charge of party affairs in Jammu and Kashmir, spoke about the numerous questions that she has been bombarded with in her recent interactions with women’s groups in her home state, Maharashtra. “They want to talk to me about Rahul Gandhi ji only,” she said. “They ask me how he is managing to walk for so long and how does he keep so fit. All this shows that people are now looking at him in a different light.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another major takeaway for the Congress is the articulation of the party’s ideology in contrast to that of the ruling dispensation, as has been outlined by Rahul during the yatra. It is about inclusivity, resisting divisive forces and non-tolerance of all kinds of communal extremism. Rahul has been steadfast in his opposition to the right-wing politics represented by the RSS-BJP. However, a reset of the ideological compass of the Congress is not going to be easy with leaders not comfortable with the immediate political costs of a secular agenda as articulated by Rahul, as was reflected in the furore over Rahul’s comments about V.D. Savarkar as the yatra passed through Maharashtra. Also, it was amid the yatra that veteran Congress leader A.K. Antony initiated a debate with his comments that ignoring Hindus in a bid to neutralise attacks of indulging in soft hindutva will only help Prime Minister Narendra Modi retain power in New Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The yatra has repeatedly focused on bread-and-butter issues such as unemployment and price rise and the articulation on economic issues is headlined by the party’s opposition to crony capitalism, thus setting the agenda for the party with regard to the economy. On foreign policy, Rahul has repeatedly attacked the Modi dispensation for weakening India’s stance with regard to disputes with China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The messaging of the yatra, according to Congress leaders, has resonated with the people. “The yatra is a significant milestone for the Congress party,” said K.C. Venugopal, AICC general secretary (organisation). “The participation of people has far surpassed our expectations. Around 70 per cent of the people who participated in the yatra are less than 35 years old. Young India has supported the yatra. And so have women, farmers, small traders and people from all walks of life.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for the impact on the Congress, leaders say a programme of this nature was bound to bring feet on the ground and re-energise the party and its workers. For example, in Maharashtra, a senior leader believes that the Congress now has a spring in its step and is “back in the reckoning”. However, a recurring question through the course of the yatra has been whether it will help the Congress win elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are doubts over whether the turnout witnessed in Rajasthan will translate into a win for the party in the assembly elections scheduled for late 2023. The state has a record of voting out the incumbent and the local party unit is riddled with the intense factional fight between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party has distanced the walkathon from any electoral motives. Rahul himself has insisted that the yatra does not have an electoral purpose and that it has a larger goal―undoing the damage done by politics of division. However, the Congress has pinned hopes on the yatra to improve its political standing in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, though there has been a mixed response from opposition parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Every programme conducted by a party has an impact,” said Venugopal. “And this is the biggest programme of its kind conducted by a political party. Its motive was never to make an electoral impact. However, it is natural that the party will benefit from the yatra, electorally, too.” While the yatra has helped Rahul salvage his image, it will be a long haul before the party benefits from it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>INTENSE EXERCISE</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>STATISTICS FROM THE BHARAT JODO YATRA</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>3,122km</b></p> <p>Distance covered till Dec 24 (108 days)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>49</b></p> <p>Districts covered in nine states and one Union territory till<br> Jan 3</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>87</b></p> <p>Sitting interactions with various groups of people</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>200</b></p> <p>Planned walks with smaller groups, including activists, celebrities, opposition leaders and local people</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>95</b></p> <p>Corner meetings</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>10</b></p> <p>Large public meetings</p> Sat Jan 07 16:22:05 IST 2023 india-china-border-clash-arunachal-pradesh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN CHINESE FOLKLORE,</b> the mythical dragon represents strength, nobility of intention and good luck. As China’s most recognisable emblem from the Qing dynasty (1636-1912), the dragon has negative attributes, too―arrogance and impatience.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has been witnessing the dragon’s negative qualities of late. Arrogance, however, could signal the beginning of the end, and impatience breeds costly mistakes. That could well be the story of China’s perceptible shift in focus from eastern Ladakh in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in the east.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bilateral ties have been deteriorating since May 5, 2020, when a border squabble on the northern bank of Pangong Lake in eastern Ladakh sparked off a fistfight between the two sides. Hostilities peaked on June 15, 2020, when 20 Indian soldiers died in a hand-to-hand night combat with the Chinese army in the cold and treacherous Galwan Valley. China reported four dead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two harsh winters have since passed, and a third is under way. Seventeen rounds of military commander-level talks have taken place. Both sides have agreed to a buffer zone at many points of dispute.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This has had the effect of ‘fixing’ the blurry border while blocking off Indian troops from areas that they could earlier patrol. Tricky issues such as settling the Depsang and the Demchok border were being addressed when news of fresh trouble broke on December 11, 2022. Another bout of border fisticuffs had taken place two days earlier. Many troopers were injured on the high-altitude Yangtse ridge in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang sector.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ridge has long been coveted by China; the last attempt to wrest it from Indian control was on September 28, 2021. The Yangtse ridge is strategic because its commanding heights (17,000ft at its highest point) offer a clear view of the lower terrain on both sides of the border, including the tracks that lead into Tibet’s Cona county.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A standoff had reportedly taken place a few days earlier in Sikkim, near the border area under the Indian Army’s 33 Corps. But it was resolved swiftly after Indian troops stood their ground. The area is not far from Doklam, which had seen a 73-day face-off between Indian and Chinese troops in 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China is known for making moves that are well thought out. “The Yangtse, northeast of Tawang, has been witnessing such incidents for many years,” said retired Lt Gen S.L. Narasimhan, former defence attache in the Indian embassy in Beijing. “It is an area that the Chinese claim to be theirs. To keep the claim intact, they make these attempts to unilaterally change the status quo.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Narasimhan, India should have a holistic view of the Line of Actual Control. “The G-695 highway on the Chinese side runs almost parallel to the LAC; there are the Xiakong (moderately prosperous) villages that are coming up [along the highway]. There is a lot of infra improvement in those areas. We need to keep an eye on it,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chinese transgressions have been taking place for years, but now the environment has drastically changed. “It is very difficult to comprehend Chinese strategies,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, an expert on China’s foreign and security policies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. “From 2020 onwards, they have militarised the entire LAC―from Galwan to the Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh frontier.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to him, the Tawang issue does not mean that China has shifted its focus from Ladakh. “All 70,000 troops that China had deployed in and near Galwan remain there. India positioned 1.2 lakh troops to stall a possible China advance. A shift would have entailed a shift in the deployment as well,” said Kondapalli.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Each sector has its own dynamics. “In the middle sector, China is keen to control passes like the Mana Pass. But in the eastern sector, they want to control the heights and valleys below, including the Tawang tract,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest provocation in the Arunachal frontier has several serious implications that require a closer examination. One, by sparking incidents in the eastern theatre, China is stretching Indian forces all across the LAC. Incidents such as the one in Yangtse will necessitate more deployment in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. Permanent deployments in such difficult terrain will lead to mounting expenses and physical and psychological costs. Also, China’s border terrain is not as challenging as it is on the Indian side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two, unlike in the case of eastern Ladakh, China has never agreed to any kind of negotiations over Arunachal Pradesh, which it continues to claim. Even now, China issues stapled visas to people from Arunachal Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three, the link between India’s mainland and the northeast is tenuous at best. The narrow, 22km land corridor that connects the mainland to the northeast, called Chicken’s Neck, is vulnerable to enemy gunfire. In the event of a conflict, China can block supplies from the mainland to the northeast. In fact, China’s southward push in the Chumbi valley in the Doklam region is aimed at establishing a position at Jampheri Ridge, a high point from where it can monitor all Indian activity in the Chicken’s Neck area.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Four, the northeast has a long history of violent sub-nationalism. Many of the region’s insurgency movements have close contacts with China, which can create conditions for destabilising the northeast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Five, by changing focus towards the east, China is seeking to drive a wedge between India and the US, and thereby cripple America’s Indo-Pacific policy that is aimed at strategically encircling China. Beijing apparently hopes that brewing trouble on the LAC would make India realise that the US would be of little help in India’s land rivalry with China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Six, the northeast has been priority geography for the Narendra Modi government. On December 18, the prime minister said in Shillong that his government had invested seven lakh crore rupees for developing infrastructure in the northeast. In Arunachal Pradesh alone, the Border Roads Organisation has built 64 roads totalling 3,097km in the past five years. Interruptions in the infra buildup will affect the setting up of military stations and deployment of cutting-edge technology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seven, with its Act East Policy (AEP), India has been trying to leverage the northeast’s close cultural and ethnic ties to connect with southeast Asian nations. China’s efforts to rake up border rows will blunt the initiatives under the policy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tension in the northeast will also aid China’s control over Myanmar, which has emerged as a pivot in AEP. With Myanmar’s cooperation, China has already overcome the ‘Malacca Dilemma’―its geographical incapability to bypass the Malacca Strait while carrying out trade with West Asia, Europe and the Atlantic region. The recent completion of a multimodal (sea, rail and land) route through Myanmar to China’s Yunnan province enables China to finally bypass the Malacca Strait.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In August last year, China conducted a successful dry run of a new trade route from Singapore to Chengdu, capital of China’s landlocked southwestern province of Sichuan. The test cargo set sail from Singapore to Myanmar’s Yangon port, from where it was ferried by road to Lincang in China’s Yunnan province, and then by rail to Chengdu. The new rail link that was used was inaugurated the same month. Lincang is located opposite a Myanmarese border town in Chin Shwe Haw Shan state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The infrastructure growth in the hotly contested region may only speed up the growing rift between the Asian giants. Also contributing to the trend is the emergence of new power blocs amid the continuing churn in geopolitics. Russia and China seem be to warming up to each other in an anti-west consolidation, even as regional powers like Iran and Turkey are leveraging their diplomatic positions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For India-China ties, the road ahead looks certainly thorny if not insurmountable.</p> Sat Dec 31 13:40:06 IST 2022 india-china-tawang-conflicts <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE TUMULTUOUS STORY</b> of present-day Tawang starts with a darbar on the cold, barren heights overlooking the Tawang Monastery. On February 2, 1951, Major Ralengnao (Bob) Kathing, the handsome young Tangkhul Naga officer from Manipur, informed senior Tibetan officials from Tsona and local Monpa chiefs that the Indian government would now administer the area directly. Until then, Tawang was administered by the Lhasa-controlled Tawang Monastery, despite the Shimla conference of 1914 clearly demarcating the regions between India and Tibet with the McMahon Line.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This momentous event apparently went unnoticed in Peking until the Dalai Lama’s surprise escape through the Tawang route. He reached Khinzemane on the McMahon Line on March 31, 1959, where he was received by the Indian political officer in Tawang, T.S. Murty, and then escorted by 5 Assam Rifles till Tezpur. Meanwhile, Lhasa erupted in revolt against the Chinese occupation, and Tawang acquired notoriety in the eyes of the Chinese, even before the 1962 war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Historical context</b></p> <p>For the 1962 war in Arunachal Pradesh, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) assembled forces in Lhasa and Tsetang. Located north of Tawang on the Tibetan side of the McMahon Line, Tsetang had been the seat of ancient emperors and the cradle of Tibetan civilisation. King Trisong Detsen built Tibet’s first monastery near Tsetang, at Samye, in 779 CE with the assistance of a professor from Nalanda University―Padmasambhava (Tibetan name Rinpoche)―who overcame ‘evil forces’ and subsequently introduced tantric Buddhism in Tibet. From Tsetang, the Forward HQ of Tibet Military Command under Gen Zhang Guohua moved to Lepo near Khinzemane on October 14, 1962, where the Indian Army had staked its claim to the Thagla Ridge and established the now famous Dhola Post.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Major conflicts in the Tawang sector</b></p> <p>While the events after the 1962 war are well known, what is perhaps not so well known is that Yangtse (Tibet name: Dongzhang) is the only area in Tawang sector where the Chinese could not initiate operations and where the Indian Army always prevailed. Of five major sub-sectors in Tawang, the PLA initiated operations in all except Yangtse, owing perhaps to the extreme terrain friction and alpine weather conditions. The conditions in the higher reaches of Yangtse―15,000 to 17,000 feet―are similar to Siachen and in the lower reaches―10,000 to 11,000 feet―akin to the Line of Control in the Kashmir valley.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Namka Chu and Bumla were attacked in 1962, Tulung La and Sumdorong Chu were addressed by the PLA in 1975 and 1987 respectively. After thwarting the Chinese intrusion in Sumdorong Chu in 1987-88, the Indian Army preemptively captured the Yangtse area, thereby foreclosing the avenue of approach for the PLA to Tawang from the east, as also opening up an alternate avenue into Tibet’s historical Tsetang sector for the Indian Army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yangtse has very substantially negated the advantageous position gained by the PLA after the 1962 war. Combined with the phenomenal improvement in the capabilities and infrastructure in the other sectors, the Indian Army has now attained a very domineering position in the Tawang sector. In the military history of Tawang region, Yangtse stands as the pillar of strength and glory, and a testimony to the Indian Army’s steadfastness under extreme and trying conditions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Emerging situation</b></p> <p>The Lhasa-Tsetang area is the cultural, economic and strategic core of Tibet with immense political significance. Tsetang has also been active in anti-Chinese protests and demonstrations, even in the recent past. A militarily weakened or a politically compromised position in the sector is, therefore, not an acceptable option for China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Chinese have accordingly initiated numerous infrastructural and dual-use projects opposite Bumla, Yangtse and Tulung La. Yangtse stands at the centre of Indian capability development efforts in the sector and has the potential to frustrate any misadventure by the PLA in the entire region east of Tawang. The comprehensive ‘rout’ of the PLA soldiers on December 9, 2022, is a testimony to this emerging truism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook projections of early 2022, the growth rate of India and China is likely to be above 4 to 5 per cent, not so much for other large economies. The global economic growth is now intrinsically linked to the growth of India and China, which, in turn, necessitates greater amity between the two countries. The scope for cooperation as also competition between these two Asian giants is resultantly high. The issue, however, is whether their growth will be harmonious or acrimonious. Stability in Yangtse and in other recent flashpoints like Galwan and Doklam plays a significant role in ensuring contemporary balance in the geo-strategic space, thereby obviating acrimony and imbalance in the more important economic domain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, what will China do in the emerging politico-strategic environment? How significant is the military weakness imposed by the Yangtse rebuff in the security domain vis-à-vis its economic situation, especially when its large state-owned projects are facing debt-servicing problems and returns from external investments, including the Belt and Road Initiative or the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, continue to be lethargic? Higher cognisance to security challenges on the Line of Actual Control also has the potential to attenuate China’s potential on its eastern seaboard, especially pertaining to Taiwan and contests with US Inc. The resulting dilemma for China is likely to be high.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In summation, economic exigencies for China are perhaps more important today than security issues. China’s emerging economic challenge and self-imposed security obligation in the east have high probability of restricting the PLA’s misadventures along the LAC. While the LAC may still witness a few face-offs and contests at the tactical level, the frequency and intensity of large intrusion attempts may reduce. On ground, the PLA will perhaps soon realise the futility of attempting intrusions akin to the one in Yangtse or earlier ones in Galwan and Doklam. Contextually, India’s capability in the security domain is likely to improve at a pace faster than that of China as long as the latter’s eastern seaboard and Taiwan challenges persist or till China agrees to resolve the LAC and the border issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>―<b>The writer is former deputy chief of Army Staff. Before his retirement on October 31, 2022, he commanded the Gajraj Corps in 2020, with responsibility over the Tawang-Yangtse sector, among others.</b></p> Sat Dec 31 13:35:44 IST 2022 why-china-has-shifted-focus-to-arunachal-frontier <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>CHINA HAS SHIFTED</b> its focus aggressively to the eastern sector (Arunachal Pradesh frontier). The main reason is that talks are going on in the Eastern Ladakh sector. The 17th round got over on December 20. In Ladakh, disagreement over some ‘disputed’ spots has already been settled; two places (Demchok and Depsang) remain to be agreed upon. In these circumstances, it would have been strange if China had intruded further in Ladakh, jeopardising the talks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not the case in the eastern sector, particularly in the Tawang area, because there are [still] differences in perception in several places about the alignment of the border. After the invasion of Tibet in 1950, no agreement has been signed on the boundary. In the Tawang sector, the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is disputed at three places―Khinzemane, Sumdorong Chu valley and Yangtse. It was expected that something would happen in one of these three places.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It would be more of a psychological or cultural advantage for China to capture small areas in this sector―cultural advantage because of the presence of the Tawang Gompa (monastery), the largest in India, and psychological because China claims the entire state of Arunachal as its own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Based on my interactions, Arunachalis are a very patriotic lot, starting with Chief Minister Pema Khandu. Further, he understands defence problems. His father, former chief minister Dorjee Khandu, served in the Indian Army before joining politics. Pema Khandu is also the only chief minister to have a military adviser.</p> <p>When it comes to infrastructure along the LAC, India has taken tremendous steps, but 20 to 30 years too late. Moreover, because of the nature of the terrain, India can never match China’s infrastructure. But, for a few years now, the mindset of the government has changed and serious efforts have been made to have a decent infrastructure in border districts/circles. For example, the recent opening of the Hollongi Greenfield Airport, also called ‘Donyi Polo’ Airport, near Itanagar. On November 2, a Dornier D-28 aircraft landed at the Ziro Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) in the Lower Subansiri district; commercial operations are expected to start soon. The same 17-seater aircraft is already operational at Pasighat and Tezu airports. Arunachal Pradesh now has four airports (Itanagar, Ziro, Pasighat and Tezu) and nine ALGs―Aalo, Mechuka, Pasighat, Tawang Air Force Station, Tuting, Vijaynagar, Walong, Ziro and Daporijo. A number of helipads have also been built near the McMahon Line.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While most existing roads have been improved, many new ones have been built closer to the LAC. Further, the traffic on the Bomdila-Tawang road will greatly improve with the opening of the tunnel under the Sela pass early next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, the government has a new grand project―the Arunachal Frontier Highway from Tawang to Vijaynagar. The 1,748 km-long highway will cost some Rs40,000 crore. It is a highly challenging project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>―<b>As told to Sanjib Kr Baruah</b></p> Sat Dec 31 14:25:02 IST 2022 new-covid-wave-in-china-vigilance-needed-in-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On December 7, China relaxed the zero-Covid policy that it had strictly enforced in the past three years. Testing requirements and travel restrictions were reduced; people with Covid-19 who had mild or no symptoms were allowed to isolate at home instead of in centrally managed facilities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts in the country immediately warned of a rise in infections and resultant overload on hospitals. Within a fortnight, the cases shot up. By December 21, there were 5,944 cases (as per Our World in Data). A high number of cases were reported in Japan, South Korea and Thailand, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his last ‘Mann Ki Baat’ radio address of the year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked citizens to follow Covid protocols. The Union government soon announced preventive measures: all international passengers arriving from China, Japan, Thailand and South Korea will now be screened; testing has been ramped up; and aggressive campaigning has resumed for administering booster shots and adopting Covid-appropriate behaviour. The government’s mantra has been to prepare but not panic. Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said that the government was prepared to handle any situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But even as the cases are rising in China because of the “highly infectious and transmissible” BF.7 sub-variant of the Omicron BA.5 strain, experts say it is unlikely to trigger another wave in India. India has so far reported four cases of BF.7.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In China, the continuation of the zero-Covid policy was not logical,” says public health expert Chandrakant Lahariya, who was formerly associated with the World Health Organization. “The pandemic response has to be based on emerging evidence. Over time, especially post Omicron, it became clear that China should not have continued with its harsh policy. The country is facing this wave so late because the population has not been exposed to the virus.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, the efficacy of the Chinese vaccine, he adds, is lower. “But I believe that even if cases rise, the severity of the infection will be relatively low,” he says. “The country’s hospitals will not be overburdened as [being projected], but the infection transmission rate will be undoubtedly high.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Owing to the zero-Covid policy, China lacks natural immunity, developed as a result of exposure to the virus, and hybrid immunity, developed as a result of vaccination and previous infection. Experts say that China has now reached a stage where the doubling time is just a few hours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This has rendered it impossible to calculate the R number―the rate at which an infection spreads. “This is why in that population any sub-variants of Omicron will behave like the parent SARS-CoV-2,” says a scientist from the Indian Council of Medical Research. “All sub-variants of Omicron are highly transmissible and infectious, and December is the time when most variants come to the fore because of the weather.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though there has been no scientific data from China on the current outbreak, the ICMR scientist says that the rise in cases is because of BN.1.3, also a sub-variant of Omicron, and not the dominant BF.7. “The China outbreak is owing to a cocktail of viruses,” she says, “which behave differently due to local epidemiology.” In India, she adds, there are two possibilities. “One, the variant is already here and we have all become immune to it,” she says. “Two, because of very low genomic surveillance, we really do not know the variants doing the rounds.” In India, the virus has mutated to a much milder form, and a large number of Indians have acquired hybrid immunity, following exposure and vaccination.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But that does not mean we let our guard down. The government needs to closely monitor serious hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19, says Dr Rahul Pandit, who serves on the Covid-19 task force in Maharashtra. Merely recording the number of cases and test positivity rates is not enough, he says. “We isolated BF.7 in India some months ago, so we should not panic,” he says. “What is required is good vigilance and some amount of personal responsibility in following Covid protocols. It is highly unlikely that the variant that caused havoc in China will cause severity in India. But a non-Omicron variant, which is completely new, might. But, as of now, we do not know. Genomic surveillance has to be done aggressively to identify any new variant that might be doing the rounds here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Virologist Dr T. Jacob John says, “We have never been good at speeding up our genomic surveillance. It is time to [do so] and keep the momentum going.” John is not convinced about reports from China regarding dead bodies piling up in crematoriums and hospitals being overburdened. It could be a deliberate attempt to mislead the world, he says. “This feeling is because Omicron is not a major killer at all,” he says. “Neither does it cause low oxygen levels nor does it cause bilateral pneumonia.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We do not have to worry about infections from China causing a surge here, says John. “Omicron BF.7 is not a big killer,” he says. “While South Korea managed very well in 2021, their worst scenario happened this year. It is not surprising because once Omicron enters a population, it infects everybody. We, in India, have been having very low numbers since this January, and we are the first country in the world to become endemic, followed by South Africa and Israel.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India continues to witness a downward trend in Covid-19 cases, with a seven-day average of 172 cases during the week ending on December 25. As per government figures, India has used more than 220 crore vaccination doses. “But the second dose coverage is less than 72 per cent,” says John. “Boosters are even fewer―hardly 10 per cent. That means what happened in India is that the virus did whatever it wanted to do and went away. Now the situation has become endemic.” It may not be endemic in most countries, but as John adds, “Mortality-wise, everywhere the numbers are low, except if it is the elderly who fall in the co-morbid category and contract serious infections.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Chinese government is insisting on a second booster shot, preferably of mRNA vaccines, and not the recombinant protein-based vaccines in use. As China plans to reopen its borders on January 8, overseas travel will become easier for Chinese citizens and visitors to China. India has asked for a negative Covid test on arrival for travellers from China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore. The US, which is seeing a spate of infections owing to respiratory syncytial virus, influenza and Covid-19, is also mulling similar measures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such safety measures are clearly necessary―in Tamil Nadu, a woman and her daughter, who returned from China via South Korea and Sri Lanka on December 27, have tested positive. The Union health ministry has already directed states to keep oxygen cylinders in stock. “Though Covid cases in the country are low… to face any challenges arising in the future, the operationalisation and maintenance of medical infrastructure is of utmost importance,” said additional secretary (health) Manohar Agnani. India also got its first nasal vaccine for Covid-19 in Bharat Biotech’s iNCOVACC. The Drugs Controller General of India has authorised it for emergency use and it is available on the CoWIN website. It can be used as a booster for adults, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what is perhaps crucial is following Covid protocols. As NITI Aayog member (health) Dr V.K. Paul said, people should take the jab and wear masks in crowded places. It’s back to basics.</p> Sat Dec 31 12:57:32 IST 2022 charles-sobhraj-arrest-prison-personality <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN 1985,</b> a woman living in Hyderabad dreamt of marrying Charles Gurmukh Sobhraj while the French criminal was in prison in India. Unknown to her, a short distance from her house was a budding journalist who would send her love interest to prison in Nepal 18 years later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The “bikini killer” is now a free man in France, after the Supreme Court of Nepal ordered his release considering his age (78) after a 19-year incarceration. But, there is no trace of Vaishali Reddy, who once exchanged a string of love letters with Sobhraj. In the early 1980s, Vaishali was a lecturer in Nizamabad, now in north-western Telangana. She taught botany at Narayan Reddy Women’s college and was well-liked on campus, according to former students and members of the management.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“She was graceful but reserved,” said an acquaintance, who requested anonymity. “I cannot recollect her having friends in the teaching faculty. She was professional and we never felt something was wrong with her.” After a short stint at the college and a broken marriage, she left for Hyderabad. By then, Sobhraj was a high-profile convict in Tihar jail, Delhi, and was accused of more than 20 murders in various countries, including India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By her own admission to journalists and police officers, Vaishali was intrigued by Sobhraj’s personality after she read about him in news reports. She wrote to him and he responded. Soon, she, like many before her, fell for his charm. Vaishali visited him in jail and then gave interviews at her two-storey house, publicly admitting her love for Sobhraj and claiming that he reciprocated her feelings and was keen on marrying her. However, the relationship turned sour in less than a year and communication between the two came to a grinding halt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A former student of Vaishali said: “We were quite shocked after reading the news about her. Even now, it is hard to believe that the teacher I had respect for did something like that.” Her acquaintances said she broke ties with friends and family and slipped into oblivion after the ‘break-up’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Around the same time, in 1986, Sobhraj made a dramatic escape from Tihar jail, which was his address for a decade. He gave sweets laced with sedatives to prison guards and broke out once they passed out. A manhunt was launched and Vaishali, too, came under the scanner. Sobhraj was later arrested in Goa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After his jail term ended in 1997, Sobhraj was arrested in Nepal in 2003 for crimes committed in that country and charged with murder. Instrumental in his arrest was Joseph Nathan. Born and raised in Secunderabad, Nathan now lives in Kathmandu. In 1985, he was an intern at a news agency located less than 2km from Vaishali’s house in Hyderabad. Nathan worked for a leading English daily in Hyderabad till the 1990s and moved to Delhi and then to Nepal, where he founded The Himalayan Times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sobhraj, who had gone back to France after his incarceration in India, surfaced in Nepal a few years later. Nathan came face-to-face with Sobhraj in Kathmandu. He vividly remembers the day he visited a casino to grab a meal. His appetite vanished after he spotted Sobhraj, who was still wanted in Nepal, gambling inside the property.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“After I broke the story, the police raided all the casinos,” said Nathan. Sobhraj was picked up from the Casino Royale in the Yak Yeti hotel in Kathmandu in September 2003. Nathan regards the story, which landed Sobhraj in a Nepalese prison for nearly two decades, as one of the biggest scoops of his career. After being released from jail, Sobhraj was deported to France on December 23.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He was a suave criminal,” said Nathan. “He is a simple, old guy now. He is not the same Charles of Tihar jail.” He dismissed any chance of Sobhraj holding a grudge against him. So, does he want to meet him? Nathan is not sure, but does not rule out the possibility. “Who knows,” he says, “if I go to Paris, I may interview him.”</p> Sat Dec 31 12:51:47 IST 2022 farooq-abdullah-jammu-kashmir-assembly-elections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON DECEMBER 5,</b> former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah was reelected unopposed as president of the National Conference for the fourth time. The election was held at the lakeside mausoleum of his father, the party’s founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, at Hazratbal in Srinagar, on his 117th birthday. Party spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar said Abdullah, 85, was the unanimous choice of the delegates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party had announced a fortnight earlier that Abdullah would not stand for election. He has been its president since 1981, except during 2002-09 when his son, Omar, held the post. Abdullah, however, opted for yet another term, possibly to stop the BJP, which is going all out to win the upcoming assembly elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Abdullah’s reelection is expected to rejuvenate National Conference supporters, who see the BJP as their biggest challenge. He is also the president of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, which seeks the restoration of Article 370 of the Constitution and statehood to Jammu and Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gupkar Alliance members like the National Conference, the Peoples Democratic Party, the CPI(M) and the Jammu and Kashmir Awami National Conference are likely to join hands with the Congress and the Democratic Azad Party of former Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad to keep the BJP at bay, although they will not be fighting the elections together. Azad and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP have hailed Abdullah’s reelection.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Abdullah urged his supporters to remain steadfast in their fight against the BJP. He asked them to emulate the Bengalis who supported Mamata Banerjee. He said the BJP had tried to buy legislators in Telangana and other places. “They will try such things here as well,” he said. “We have to be steadfast.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Abdullah said the Union government had given key posts of secretaries and police superintendents to people from outside Jammu and Kashmir. “Are we so dumb that we cannot handle our affairs? We are being enslaved. This, too, shall pass. Our oppressors will rot in hell,” he said. He warned the Modi government and the Army against interfering in the assembly polls. “Otherwise, there will be a storm that you will not be able to control,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the bifurcation of the Jammu and Kashmir state into two Union territories, the Modi government has linked the restoration of statehood to the completion of delimitation and the holding of elections. The delimitation commission submitted its final report in May. The special summary revision of the electoral rolls was completed in November.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The delimitation commission was constituted by the Union government after reading down Article 370 and amending the J&amp;K Representation of the People Act (1957). Delimitation, however, became controversial after the commission increased six assembly seats in Jammu, but just one in Kashmir. Jammu, where the BJP enjoys the upper hand, now has 48 per cent of the Union territory’s seats, despite having only 44 per cent of its population. Kashmir, with 56 per cent of the population, has got only 52 per cent of the seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Questions are also being raised about delinking the delimitation exercise in J&amp;K from the rest of the country where it will take place only in 2026. Regional parties have accused the delimitation commission of working at the behest of the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The revision of the voters’ list, too, has become controversial after J&amp;K’s chief electoral officer Hirdesh Kumar said in August that non-locals living ordinarily in the Union territory and armed forces personnel posted there would be allowed to register as voters. It caused a furore, with regional parties calling it a BJP ploy to bring in outsiders to influence the outcome of the elections. The government then clarified that ordinary residents would not be able to register as voters unless they got their names deleted from other places where they were already listed as voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following these changes, J&amp;K’s electoral roll has had an increase of 7.72 lakh voters, the highest-ever increase. It is a significant increase of 10.19 per cent. Kumar was elevated as deputy election commissioner at the Election Commission of India in September.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delimitation and voter rolls revision having been completed, the Election Commission could hold the assembly elections after winter. Political parties are already organising meetings and reaching out to supporters. Regional parties are, however, worried that the BJP might use the ‘system’ to gain an unfair advantage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tarun Chugh, the BJP’s J&amp;K in-charge, met with his party’s newly elected district presidents and other key functionaries at the party headquarters in Trikuta Nagar, Jammu, on December 9. He was confident that assembly elections would be held soon. “Delimitation and enrollment of voters have taken place. The voters’ list will be given to political parties for filing their objections,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the Union government has taken several steps to attract investments in Jammu and Kashmir by unveiling a new industrial policy that offers land and subsidies to industrialists, the progress has been slow. Political observers believe that addressing the feeling of disempowerment caused by the absence of an elected government is the need of the hour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Abdullah’s reelection as the National Conference president has come at a time when the political and administrative landscape in Jammu and Kashmir has changed completely. The assembly elections could be his biggest political fight. He not only has to steer his party to a respectable performance, but also has to carry along other regional parties in their battle against the BJP.</p> Sat Dec 24 13:29:09 IST 2022 rahul-gandhi-and-arvind-kejriwal-modis-biggest-challengers <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On December 8, 2013, the results of the assembly elections in Delhi were announced, and, for the Congress there was nothing to cheer about. The party ended up with just a handful of seats after having ruled the state for 15 years. The then Congress vice president, Rahul Gandhi, appeared before the media at the party headquarters, putting up a brave front; he talked about transforming the organisation. The arrival on the scene of a new political party—the Aam Aadmi Party—was not lost on him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The challenge posed by AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal was on top of Rahul’s mind. It was apparent in his reaction even as he struck an optimistic note. Said Rahul, “I am going to make sure that a transformation happens, and I will do it in ways in which you cannot even imagine. We will involve people in a way you cannot even imagine. I think the AAP has involved a lot of people, which the traditional parties did not. Both the major parties [the BJP and the Congress] are thinking about politics in a traditional way in Delhi. The Congress needs to change that.” If Rahul had inherited a traditional party well past its prime and struggling to reinvent itself, Kejriwal led a party that promised to do things differently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon, in the Lok Sabha polls in 2014, it was apparent that the transformation in the Congress had not happened and the leadership credentials of Rahul were hit hard. The Congress registered its worst ever performance in a general election and plummeted to its least ever number of seats. On the other hand, Kejriwal got a rude reality check as his party fell flat on its face in its effort to punch way above its weight. The bureaucrat-turned-activist-turned-politician was dealt an extremely humiliating defeat by the BJP’s poster boy, Narendra Modi, in Varanasi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since then, the journeys of Rahul and Kejriwal have been disparate even as their paths crossed and their fortunes intertwined. The AAP has sought to occupy the Congress’s space in its endeavour to grow. Kejriwal has made no secret of his ambition to be seen as the prime challenger of Modi, a position which the Congress insists belongs to Rahul. Rahul has had to deal with the ignominy of a series of electoral defeats topped by the humiliating loss in the Lok Sabha polls of 2019 and the ever growing questions about his leadership abilities. Kejriwal, buoyed by the AAP finding a perch outside Delhi, is looking to make the giant leap onto the national centrestage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections in 2024, the two leaders present a compelling study in contrast. They are, arguably, the two most prominent leaders vying for the position of Modi’s prime challenger. Rahul’s claims arise from the fact that he is the leader of the principal opposition party, and that he belongs to the Gandhi family. On the other hand, Kejriwal, who has painstakingly fashioned himself as the aam aadmi, has entered politics in an effort to reform the system. He is keen to be seen as Modi’s main opponent on the basis of the growth of his party and his own stature over the last decade. Regional stalwarts like Mamata Banerjee, K. Chandrashekar Rao and Nitish Kumar have made moves to be perceived as an alternative to Modi at the national level. But, where they fall short is having a pan-India recognition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the story of Rahul is dealing with themes of survival and redemption, for Kejriwal it is about fulfilling an ambition and taking the tale of an outsider emerging as an unlikely political hero to its logical conclusion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With a little over a year remaining for the next Lok Sabha elections, Rahul has hit the streets. At a time when nothing seemed to work, with regard to either repairing his own image and being seen as a dependable leader or helping his party get back to winning ways, the only option left for Rahul was to go to the people. He has done exactly that by embarking on a cross-country Bharat Jodo Yatra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Questions were increasingly being asked, within and outside the Congress, about whether Rahul was proving to be a liability rather than an asset for the party, and whether he could take the grand old party through its darkest phase yet. Congress leaders hope that the yatra will help Rahul get rid of his image problem. His direct connect with the people during the yatra should help him to be recognised as a leader who is making a supreme effort to bring the focus on the issues of the common man. He is striving to come across as empathetic to the problems of the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sporting an overgrown beard, Rahul is seen interacting with varied sections of society, the routine followed everyday since September when the yatra began. There is an expectation in the party that he will be seen by the people in a different light and the slights of political rivals will have no impact. It is also felt that by the very act of completing the 3,200km-long yatra, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, Rahul would have established his claims to being committed to the cause of the people and dealt with the criticism that he has thus far not been consistent and reliable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul and his party insist that the yatra cannot be seen in the context of polls in any one particular state. For the party, it is a desperate move to keep its head over water and stay relevant in the national consciousness. There is also the hope that the yatra will re-energise the organisation and give a sense of direction to the demoralised party workers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the Congress’s decimation in Gujarat has prompted questions about the purpose of the yatra. Critics have questioned Rahul’s decision to stay away from the campaign. While he did not campaign in Himachal Pradesh and left it to sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to be the face of the party’s electioneering there, in Gujarat, Rahul made a cameo appearance. A contrast was drawn with the last elections in Gujarat, where Rahul had led a high-decibel campaign for the Congress and came close to winning. He is also faced with questions on why the party failed to build on the momentum created by the party’s surprisingly good performance in 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kejriwal, on the other hand, is building up his party and his own image through electoral gains. Soon after winning Delhi in February 2020 for a second time, he declared his party’s expansion plans, launching a nationwide membership drive and stating that the AAP would contest most of the state elections in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls in 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP’s aggressive campaign in Modi’s home turf, Gujarat, was part of its plan to be seen as a national entity. Having Kejriwal as the face of the campaign amounted to pitting him directly against Modi and the electoral gains in the state—five seats and around 13 per cent vote share— did help the AAP gain the stature of a national party. To have that label is important for the AAP in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul is faced with the grim scenario of the Congress’s shrinking national footprint, and hence a dearth of governance models to present to the people as an alternative to the BJP regime. In the case of Kejriwal, the AAP’s Delhi model of governance, with its populist measures, has been taken to other states in the form of ‘Kejriwal’s guarantees’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul has, consistently, spelt out his opposition to what he describes as the divisive politics of the RSS-BJP. However, both Rahul and the Congress have been accused of indulging in soft-hindutva in a bid to blunt the BJP’s allegations that the principal opposition party has been practising appeasement of minorities. The party grapples with a lack of clarity on how to deal with the majoritarian politics of the BJP, since it is wary of polarising the discourse. Polarisation of election narrative, it knows, works to the advantage of the saffron party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kejriwal, who had declared himself a Hanuman bhakt (devotee) and recited the Hanuman chalisa hymns during the campaign for the assembly elections in Delhi in 2020, in a bid to snub the BJP’s efforts to paint him and the AAP as anti-Hindu, has taken a distinctive right turn, ideologically, since then. From his entire cabinet holding a televised Diwali pujan (worship) along with him, to visiting the Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya, to sponsoring the pilgrimage of senior citizens, and to demanding that currency notes should bear the images of Hindu divinities Lakshmi and Ganesh, Kejriwal has worn his Hindu devoutness on his sleeve.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The liberal camp, which had cheered his victory over the BJP in the assembly elections in Delhi, were disappointed with his cautious tightrope walk over the communal riots in northeast Delhi. The AAP has been described by political analysts as a softer version of the BJP, and the Congress has accused it of being the B team of the BJP. However, AAP leaders insist that the party is different because it has always talked about peace and brotherhood, and that the minorities do not feel threatened by it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP has got the recognition of being a state party in four states—Delhi, Punjab, Goa and Gujarat. It was, realistically, aiming to dislodge the Congress as the main opposition party in Gujarat. While it fell way short of that aim, prompting rivals to say that Kejriwal’s claims cannot be taken seriously, AAP leaders say the party has breached the fortress in Gujarat and will work on the gains made.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the run up to the Lok Sabha elections, for Kejriwal’s plans to work, a lot would depend on how the Congress performs electorally hereon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bharat Jodo Yatra could help Rahul establish himself as a leader who, in contrast to the image of being a dynast who got power on a platter, will perform tapasya (penance) for the people. While he would have accomplished the arduous task of walking thousands of kilometres in solidarity with the issues of the people, winning assembly elections that take place before the Lok Sabha polls would be important for the Congress to offer any sort of challenge to Modi and his party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nine states go to the polls in 2023: Tripura, Meghalaya, and Nagaland in Feburary; Karnataka in May, and Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Mizoram in the fag end of the year. These are states where the AAP does not have much of a presence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Kejriwal has appointed in-charges for the election-going states, making a splash will not be easy, with state-specific factors coming into play. The AAP’s electoral outing in Punjab in 2017 had not lived up to the hype, and it was only five years later that it could win the state, aided by the strong resentment among the people towards the traditional parties. In Goa, the AAP has failed to make a mark despite running a high decibel campaign in two consecutive state polls, although it did win two seats in its second attempt in early 2022. In Gujarat, the high-octane campaign ended up being grossly disproportionate to the seats AAP gained ultimately.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul and Kejriwal are two leaders with contrasting backstories and whose politics could not be less different from each other, but whose futures are interlinked.</p> Sat Dec 17 20:40:28 IST 2022 tawang-clash-china-strategy-against-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE WISE SAY THERE</b> is method in madness, or even in mayhem. For about 45 minutes on December 9, it was pure mayhem as punches and melee weapons like clubs flew free in the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh. It was a brutal hand-to-hand combat between a company of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and a company of the Indian Army, comprising soldiers from the Sikh Light Infantry, Jat Regiment and Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry. A company usually consists of about 80-100 soldiers. But reinforcements rushed in, and the brawl only got more ferocious, resulting in significant injuries on both sides.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A reliable source told THE WEEK that the clash began with a war of words when the PLA patrol team transgressed into a well-manned Indian Army post. It eventually led to fisticuffs and a physical brawl using clubs. The Indians had an upper hand for most of the fight. “When the PLA beat a hasty retreat, a few PLA soldiers and an officer were made to remain with the Indian soldiers for a few hours. Later on, of course, they were allowed to leave,”the source said. It took a flag meeting between local commanders on December 11 to ease the tension.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sparring spot is a usual suspect: Yangtse, which has the Bom 6 peak—about 17,000ft high—and ridges that provide commanding views of both Indian and Chinese territories. But more importantly, a few of these ridges offer a clear view of the tracks that lead to Tibet’s Cona County. This is not the first time Yangtse has witnessed a clash—on September 28, 2021, the PLA had tried to occupy the peak but was beaten back by an alert Indian Army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yangtse is about a day’s perilous drive northeast from Tawang. It is located north of a scenic waterfall that is considered to be a sacred spot for the Monpas, a local tribal community that follows Tibetan Buddhism. The waterfall, just south of Bom 6, is located at about 14,500ft. Legend has it that the waterfall was created after a mythical showdown between Padmasambhava, one of the most revered masters in Tibetan Buddhism, and a high priest of the Bonpa sect that ruled supreme in Tibet and surrounding areas including Arunachal Pradesh in pre-Buddhist times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yangste is situated almost on the McMahon Line that divides Indian and Chinese-controlled territories and is considered the de facto border between the two Asian giants. The Indian Army built a post here only after 2014. Till then, it used to be a stopover on an arduous and rugged mule track.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China has a sound, even if familiar, strategy behind these skirmishes—one that yields dividends either way. It is a strategy with a four-pronged approach. First, had the Indian Army given up its positions on December 9, the PLA would have gleefully occupied the highest and dominant feature on the stretch. It would have given China significant military advantage thereon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Second, the clash will result in the Indian Army setting up permanent deployment posts at Yangtse. The usual practice has been to leave these super-high altitude positions unmanned and unpatrolled during winter owing to the inclement weather. A winter deployment in these inhospitable areas would entail huge costs to the exchequer, besides posing additional challenges for soldiers, who would have to battle not only a hostile neighbour but also the rough weather and terrain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Third, the initiation of the clash by the PLA may also be owing to its ongoing efforts to stretch the Indian Army too thin by forcing it to deploy men all along the Line of Actual Control and the McMahon Line. Ever since the border row sparked off in May-June 2020, followed closely by the Galwan valley clash of June 15, 2020, India and China have deployed and mobilised about one lakh soldiers and additional military equipment along the LAC. Apart from the strain on the public exchequer, it involves a huge logistical challenge for India. It is not so for China, as the terrain is much more hospitable on its side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fourth, the PLA might have tried to cock a snook at the growing bonhomie between the Indian Army and the US military. China was already upset over the Yudh Abhyas joint military exercise at Uttarakhand’s Auli, just 100km from the LAC, which was held from November 17 to December 2. This Chinese strategy stems from its belief that the US would not come to India’s help if and when tensions escalate along the LAC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian Army, however, has been cautious in its reaction to the incident. It played it down in a statement: “In certain areas along the LAC in Tawang sector in Arunachal Pradesh, there are areas of differing perception, wherein both sides patrol the area up to their claim lines. This has been the trend since 2006.”On ground though, reinforcements, including reserve troops airlifted from Guwahati, have already been mobilised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The clash also became a hot topic during the winter session of Parliament. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was more forthright in informing the Lok Sabha that PLA troops tried to transgress the LAC in Yangtse and unilaterally change the status quo. “The Chinese attempt was contested by our troops in a firm and resolute manner,” he said. “The Indian Army prevented the PLA from transgressing into our territory and compelled them to return to their posts.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China, meanwhile, accused Indian troops of crossing the border illegally. “The Chinese troops made professional, normative and resolute response, bringing on-site situation under control,” said PLA’s Western Theatre Command spokesperson Senior Colonel Long Shaohua. “At present, the Chinese and Indian troops have disengaged.”Its foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said: “The China-India border areas are generally stable. The two sides have maintained smooth communication on boundary-related issues through diplomatic and military channels.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The apparently tepid positions adopted by both India and China may be indicative of the reluctance on the two sides to escalate while keeping the border issue alive for strategic reasons. While it accords China with the opportunity to assert itself in south Asia, it allows India to balance its relations with the US and Russia with “strategic autonomy”as the main mantra. In other words, the optics of the incident becomes much more important than the incident itself.</p> Sat Dec 17 19:37:40 IST 2022 the-rise-of-himachal-cm-sukhvinder-singh-sukhu <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Congress seems to have a new strategy for selecting leaders. The grand old party chose Mallikarjun Kharge, a dalit leader, as its president a few months ago, putting an end, though symbolically, to the Gandhi family’s 24-year reign. This December, it appointed Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu as Himachal Pradesh chief minister. Son of a state transport bus driver, Sukhu has risen through the ranks in the party and is a quintessential organisation man. The Congress’s last chief minister, Virbhadra Singh, was a Rampur Bushahr royal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 2017 elections, Sukhu was the state Congress chief but Virbhadra wanted him removed. The Congress partly succumbed to the six-time chief minister’s demand and removed Sukhu as campaign committee chief but retained him as party chief. The party lost the election, though.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following Virbhadra’s death in July 2021, his wife, Pratibha Singh, was made party chief. After the recent assembly election, she wanted to be the chief minister, but the party leadership ruled in Sukhu’s favour. He had the support of most of the MLAs, whom he had chosen as candidates and nurtured.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sukhu’s rise to the top post heralds a generational change in the state politics as well as in the Congress. His humble origins are expected to be the party’s calling card in the days to come as it nuances its politics at the national level. A similar strategy was tried in Punjab when a dalit leader, Charanjit Singh Channi, was chosen to replace Patiala royal Amarinder Singh as chief minister in 2021.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I have worked for 40 years in the state politics. I have given it all. We will work to restore people’s confidence and provide a honest and transparent government,” Sukhu told THE WEEK after the Congress’s victory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sukhu’s mother, Sansar Devi, said he had gone through a long struggle. “He gave up jobs, even his legal practice, to pursue politics. He is a driver’s son. He should work for the development of the state,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sukhu entered politics when he was 17, and became students union general secretary in Government College, Sanjauli. When he ran for students union president in 1984, the rival candidate was Naresh Chauhan. Sukhu beat Chauhan, but they soon became close friends. The first appointment he signed after becoming chief minister was to make Chauhan his media adviser.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Sukhu was studying law in Himachal Pradesh University, he was appointed state president of the National Students Union of India. He ran for the post of university students union president in the same year. “The elections were held in 1989 and student politics at that time was dominated by the left. I won and Sukhu lost,” said Sanjeev Bhushan, a lawyer and left activist. “[But] it was the start of worker-oriented politics in the Congress in the state.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sukhu later won two consecutive terms in the Shimla Municipal Corporation and became the state Youth Congress president in 1998. Five years later, he returned to his home district, Hamirpur, where he was elected from the Naduan assembly constituency for two terms. Though he lost the assembly election in 2012, the party reposed its faith in him and made him its state president next year. After serving two terms he was replaced in 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the factors that worked in Sukhu’s favour is that he is a Rajput, a politically dominant caste in the state. About 35 per cent of the population is Rajput, and all Himachal chief ministers barring Shanta Kumar, a Brahmin, were Rajputs. Sukhu comes from the lower Himachal region, the area that was added to the state after its formation, while most chief ministers had come from the upper Himachal region. Sukhu’s proximity to Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also might have played a part in his selection as chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the assembly election campaign, Sukhu had asked the leadership not to declare a chief minister candidate to avoid feuding. He pushed for ideas to recharge the state’s rural economy. His suggestions were among 10 guarantees that the Congress gave the electorate. His big challenge, in the days to come, will be fulfilling those promises.</p> Sat Dec 17 19:34:04 IST 2022 thackeray-maharashtra-government-political-dispute <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE FEUD BETWEEN</b> Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena and Maharashtra’s ruling coalition led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena faction and the BJP is fast turning into a personal battle among the key protagonists. Addressing a news conference on November 29, Uddhav’s son and former minister Aditya Thackeray said Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was responsible for allowing Gujarat to walk away with the Vedanta-Foxconn semiconductor project, which was initially said to be coming up in Maharashtra. Aditya said the details he got under the RTI (Right to Information) Act showed that the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation had invited Vedanta and Foxconn to sign an MoU for the proposed factory. A joint news conference with the chief minister was also scheduled to make the formal announcement. “But Fadnavis held a meeting with Vedanta’s Anil Agarwal and then everything changed,” said Aditya. “Where was this meeting held, what was the agenda, what was discussed, was it held to bring Vedanta-Foxconn to Maharashtra or send it away to Gujarat? Was Shinde aware that such a meeting had taken place?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Fadnavis did not respond to the charges, the BJP hit back immediately, alleging that the Uddhav-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government had caused a loss of Rs10,000 crore to the exchequer by shifting Mumbai’s metro-3 car shed from Aarey to Kanjurmarg. Keshav Upadhye, chief spokesperson for the Maharashtra BJP, said the Thackerays made it an “ego issue” and hence shifted the car shed to Kanjurmarg, ignoring a report by additional chief secretary Manoj Saunik. “The report had clearly mentioned that Aarey was the best possible location and advised against the shifting. Uddhav Thackeray suppressed this report and moved the project to Kanjurmarg,” said Upadhye. “Now our government has once again decided to construct the car shed in Aarey. Two and a half years were wasted and the cost of the project shot up by Rs10,000 crore. The Thackerays alone are responsible for this cost escalation.” The BJP now wants this amount to be recovered from the Thackerays and their Shiv Sena faction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the slugfest continues, both sides are building up their arsenal keeping in mind the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) elections, likely early next year. Meanwhile, there is a lot of heartburn within the Thackeray family and the Sena faction it controls. First, they lost power in Maharashtra. Second, Shinde split the party to become chief minister. And finally, there is the realisation that even if the MVA returns to power in the 2024 elections, there is no guarantee that Uddhav’s Sena will get the chief minister’s post as the NCP could emerge as the biggest party in the alliance. So the Thackeray family’s–especially Uddhav’s wife, Rashmi’s–wish to make Aditya chief minister is unlikely to materialise. Aditya keeps blaming Shinde and his “monstrous ambition” and believes that Fadnavis is running the show.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Uddhav group is trying to build a narrative that Fadnavis is the super CM and Shinde is just a puppet,” said political analyst Abhay Deshpande. “Uddhav’s Sena is creating an image that with Shinde in power, Maharashtra is at a disadvantage, while states like Gujarat are benefitting. The Thackerays will continue to build this narrative and mount a spirited attack on the BJP ahead of the BMC elections.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, meanwhile, is looking at the CAG audit of BMC projects undertaken during the pandemic. The allotment of Covid centres, the purchases made, the road works carried out and the alleged irregularities in giving ‘mobile tablets’ to school students are likely to be scrutinised by the CAG. “If we dig into each and every department and scrutinise the decisions taken during the MVA rule, then Uddhav Thackeray and other MVA leaders will not be able to show their faces in Maharashtra,” said state BJP president Chandrashekhar Bawankule. He has mooted the idea of the government presenting white papers on the alleged mismanagement in every department.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A step in that direction has already been initiated by the Shinde–Fadnavis duo. After facing a lot of heat following the flight of big ticket initiatives like the Vedanta-Foxconn semiconductor plant and the Tata-Airbus aircraft project to Gujarat, Industries Minister Uday Samant was asked to conduct a probe into whether his department lost any projects during the MVA rule. “A white paper on the subject will be prepared by a committee of experts in 60 days. The committee will have two retired bureaucrats, who will examine the MoUs finalised in the last two and a half years and assess how much investment came to our state and went to other states,” said Samant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is also keenly watching the public interest litigation filed by Dadar resident Gauri Bhide in the Bombay High Court seeking a probe into the Thackeray family’s wealth, said to be accumulated over the years. The PIL is likely to come up for hearing on December 8.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As allegations keep flying thick and fast, the political battle is unlikely to get over any time soon. Any semblance of peace can only be expected after the elections to the BMC and other municipal corporations.</p> Sun Dec 11 13:17:53 IST 2022 appointment-of-judges-judiciary-political-interference-from-government <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>How appointments would be made to two crucial Constitutional institutions―the higher judiciary and the Election Commission―was at the centre of some of the most engrossing discussions in the Constituent Assembly as it drafted the Constitution. The debates dealt with the correlation between the method used to appoint these officials and the impact this might have on their independence and impartiality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Constituent Assembly did debate whether the judiciary should be given primacy regarding the appointment of judges and whether it should initiate the process rather than the executive. Members emphasised the need to preserve the independence of the judiciary by insulating the process from political influences. Ultimately, the Constituent Assembly rejected the proposal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It stated, under Article 124(2) of the Constitution: “Every Judge of the Supreme Court shall be appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal after consultation with such of the Judges of the Supreme Court and of the High Courts in the States as the President may deem necessary for the purpose and shall hold office until he attains the age of sixty five years: Provided that in the case of appointment of a Judge other than the Chief Justice, the Chief Justice of India shall always be consulted.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for the Election Commission, the Constituent Assembly had discussed ways to preserve the independence of elections from interference by the executive. According to the original draft of the Constitution, the Chief Election Commissioner and the election commissioners were to be appointed by the President. Members of the assembly voiced their concerns over giving the government the sole say in the choice of the CEC. The draft was eventually amended to read, as under Article 324(2) of the Constitution: “The Election Commission shall consist of the CEC and such number of other election commissioners, if any, as the President may from time to time fix... and the appointment of CEC and other election commissioners shall, subject to the provisions of any law made in that behalf by Parliament, be made by the President.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The concerns of the 1940s have now returned amid tensions between the judiciary and the government. The Supreme Court recently heard cases relating to these appointments, and the sticking point is whether the system in place needs change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the centre of the debate over appointment of judges is the collegium system, which has been criticised for lack of transparency. It has often been described as a procedure of judges appointing judges, but its defenders say the process protects the independence of the judiciary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, in a recent media interaction, asked: “You tell me under which provision [of the Constitution] the collegium system has been prescribed.” He added that it was alien to the Constitution and that, prior to 1993, the government appointed all judges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Critics of the collegium system point out that Article 124 of the Constitution, which deals with appointment of judges, does not include the word ‘collegium’. What has been debated is whether the Supreme Court, through the judgments in the Second Judges Case (1993) and the Third Judges Case (1998)―which institutionalised the collegium system―indulged in over-reach and gave to itself a function that was not originally, in the Constitutional scheme, a part of its jurisdiction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2014, the Narendra Modi government’s first legislation was meant to create the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), which would have three judges, the law minister and two eminent persons. The Supreme Court struck it down in 2015, saying that it posed a threat to the independence of the judiciary. In a recent hearing, the Supreme Court observed that the government was sitting on appointments to the higher courts because it was not happy that the court had struck down the NJAC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The honourable law minister is completely wrong,” said senior advocate and former Additional Solicitor General Bishwajit Bhattacharyya. “The collegium is very much Constitutional. The Government of India had lost the case (NJAC) before the Supreme Court on October 16, 2015. It does not behove a high functionary of the government, least of all the law minister, to make such remarks.” Bhattacharyya was one of the petitioners who had challenged the Constitutionality of the NJAC before the apex court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court Justice Govind Mathur, however, says that while it would not be appropriate to call the collegium system unconstitutional, he thinks that the system is neither apt nor in consonance with the Constitutional intent. “Chapter IV of part III of the Constitution does not prescribe any administrative work of the Supreme Court,” he said. “The intent was to keep Supreme Court judges involved in their judicial work without any administrative stress. Our Constitution demands only consultation by the President of India with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and certain other authorities. By a judgment, this consultation has been made concurrence of the Supreme Court. A good number of judges who are supposed to remain busy with judicial work are carrying the stress of making appointments of judges to Constitutional courts, which is certainly a work that demands huge time and energy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mathur said that a fair method of appointment could entail not involving Supreme Court judges except the CJI. “In fact, the collegium system is causing several serious ailments to the judicial system, including delay in appointments and delay in justice delivery,” he said. “I hope Parliament reconsiders the entire issue and comes up with a fair mode of appointment.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for the Election Commission, the apex court has reserved for judgment a petition seeking the constitution of an independent committee for appointing commissioners. The petitioners have pointed out that the Constitution asks the Parliament to pass a law institutionalising the procedure for appointment of ECs, but it has not been done. They also say that the current system of appointments is unconstitutional and that by giving the executive the sole discretion in the appointment process, the system is made vulnerable to manipulation and partisanship. This becomes significant as questions have been raised about the commission’s impartiality, especially in the past few years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There is no doubt that to ensure the purity of the election process, it was thought by our Constitution-makers that the responsibility to hold free and fair elections should be entrusted to an independent body insulated from political and/or executive interference,” reads the petition filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The court observed during the hearing that the government was only paying lip service to the concept of independence of the ECs, and suggested that including the CJI in the selection process could ensure that the commissioners are appointed in an impartial and independent manner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Centre’s contention, as spelt out in the court, is that the current system is in keeping with the Constitution. It also said that the issue of whether a law should be framed for appointment of the ECs is a matter of policy that lies in the exclusive domain of the legislature.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mathur says that if an appointment to the EC is not in accordance with the norms or has been made in a malicious or unfair manner, it can certainly be set aside by the Constitutional courts, but it would not be appropriate to provide a different method of appointment by the Supreme Court beyond what is provided for in the Constitution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhattacharyya, however, said, “The authority of the judiciary to interpret the Constitution reigns supreme. Parliament can enact and amend laws, but whether they are in keeping with the Constitution is for the Supreme Court to interpret.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the midst of the stand-off between the judiciary and the executive, how you view and interpret the Constitution depends on where you stand.</p> Sat Dec 10 18:23:14 IST 2022 unsung-heroes-of-qatar-world-cup <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Three-Lungs Park is a lucid nickname. It is clear what the player who earned such a moniker―Park Ji-sung―would be all about. Speed, energy, stamina and hard work. Italian legend Andrea Pirlo said Park, who man-marked him more than once, was one player he could not get the better of.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wayne Rooney, who played with Park for Manchester United, said the South Korean midfielder was as important to the club's success as Cristiano Ronaldo. In his column in The Sunday Times, Rooney wrote that players like Park were overlooked because they consistently sacrificed themselves for the team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, Park, 41, is now widely admired for his selfless feats of grit and discipline for the great United side of the late 2000s. In that regard, Park was lucky, because there are many workhorses who never got the recognition they deserved. This World Cup, too, has seen its share of such unsung heroes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Rodrigo De Paul</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE ARGENTINE</b> did receive due credit after the team's Copa America triumph in 2021. But, he had a bad World Cup debut against Saudi Arabia. He has recovered since then and was at his best against Australia in the round of 16―his pressing forced the error from the goalkeeper that led to his team's second goal. But, the headlines, deservedly, belonged to Lionel Messi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The central midfielder's contribution to Argentina's progress in Qatar has not got the attention it merits. He was the only Argentine midfielder to play every minute of the team's campaign in the first four matches. This is because he is key in allowing Messi to conserve his energy for when Argentina need their talisman most. He runs more so that Messi can walk. “The analysis that I do [during matches] leads me to try to make him run less,” he told The Athletic ahead of the World Cup, adding this was to reduce Messi's “wear and tear” and to give him more space to play with.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The numbers make this abundantly clear. He ran 44.08km, including the round of 16, more than any other Argentina player. De Paul also had the most sprints in the team (230). He led the count for offering himself to receive a pass (436) and for the number of defensive pressures on opponents (119). And, he had the most passes (384) and the most completed line-breaking passes (86).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>De Paul, 28, was handed his Argentina debut in 2018 by Lionel Scaloni. He has since developed into the engine of Scaloni's midfield. It was primarily his performances for Argentina that raised his profile and earned him a transfer to Atletico Madrid in 2021. Prior to that, he spent five seasons at Italian club Udinese, captaining the team for his last six months there. De Paul is a graduate of the Buenos Aires-based Racing Club.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Luke Shaw</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>WHEN A LEFT-BACK</b> is called “Shawberto Carlos”, it seems odd to suggest that he is an unsung hero (though the nickname is widely seen as a joke). However, Luke Shaw’s performances for England in Qatar have gone largely unnoticed. This is primarily because the sensational, 19-year-old central midfielder Jude Bellingham has hogged the headlines. Defensive midfielder Declan Rice, too, has caught the eye often. Shaw, meanwhile, has been working away in the background to create England’s scoring chances, on top of his defensive duties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Bellingham scored England’s opening goal of the tournament against Iran with a brilliant header, it was Shaw who picked him out with a precise cross. The game’s second goal came after Shaw found Harry Maguire from a corner-kick; Maguire nodded the ball down for Bukayo Saka to smash in. In the 0-0 draw against the US, Shaw created England’s three best chances to score. In the 41st minute, after a one-two with Raheem Sterling, Shaw dribbled the ball through an American defender’s legs before setting up Saka, who blasted over. Five minutes later, he played a line-breaking pass that led to a shot on target by Mason Mount and in the 93rd minute, an accurate free-kick by Shaw was headed wide by Harry Kane.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Overall, the defender had the most crosses (15) for England, including the round of 16; an impressive feat in a team with wingers like Sterling, Saka and Phil Foden. Crucially, Shaw who had a good relationship with Sterling has also linked up well with Foden since the latter took over Sterling’s starting berth in England’s last two matches. He played a key pass to Foden in the build up to England’s first goal against Senegal in the round of 16. Shaw also averages around 10km a match and provides defensive stability to England’s left flank; he is the team’s only left-footed defender.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The football world first took note of Shaw, now 27, in 2014, when he became the most expensive teenager in world football. Manchester United bought him from his boyhood club Southampton for around £30 million. Shaw, who is still at United, has done well to return to high-level football after a twin leg fracture in 2015; he had to be given oxygen on the pitch and required the attention of nine paramedics before he was stretchered off. Rehabilitation included four surgeries, learning to walk after six months on crutches and counselling to regain the courage to play.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Marcelo Brozovic</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>WHEN CROATIA</b> beat England 2-1 in the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup, winger Ivan Perišic´ was chosen as the man of the match. He had scored once and assisted the late winning goal. But, away from the England goal, holding the fort in Croatia’s midfield was Marcelo Brozovic´. The defensive midfielder ran 16.34km in that match. It was a new World Cup record―the Croatian blew past the old record, which was just under 15km. Four years on, the now 30-year-old Brozovic´ bettered his record by running 16.64km in Croatia’s 1-1 draw against Japan in the round of 16 (if he had run north in a straight line, he would have reached Doha from Al Wakrah, where the match took place). He then calmly walked up to hit a penalty down the middle as Croatia eliminated Japan in a shootout. Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic´ saved three penalties and was the hero of the night. But, Brozovic´ had been key in Croatia’s game management after Perišic´ drew Croatia level.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Qatar, Brozovic´ has been Croatia’s most important player during the transition from defence to attack. In the first four matches, he had the most passes (363) and had offered himself to receive a pass the most times (409). He had also, unsurprisingly, run the most―56.26km. “Epic Brozo”, as he is known, was the only player in Croatia’s midfield or attack to play every minute. This, too, is unsurprising, as Croatia does not really have a replacement for him, yet. Moreover, Brozovic´ is a versatile player who can slot into other midfield roles when required.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born in Zagreb, Brozovic´ dropped out of school because his father―a butcher―said that football and school do not go together. He graduated from Hrvatski Dragovoljac, a club based in the Novi Zagreb (New Zagreb) neighbourhood. He has been contracted to Italian giants Inter Milan since 2015.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sofyan Amrabat</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE MOROCCAN</b> defensive midfielder revealed after the round of 16 that he and the team physio were up until 3am on the morning of the match, trying to resolve a fitness concern. “An injection before the game, too,” he said. “It was a question whether I could play this game. [But,] I can’t abandon the guys and my country.” From the way he played, it would have been impossible to guess he had any fitness issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amrabat played the full two hours against Spain, running 14.67km. This included 55 sprints with a top speed of 31.9km/h. He was also, arguably, Morocco’s best presser in the match. This doggedness allowed him to outperform his defenders in terms of tackles, winning the ball with 80 per cent of his attempts. Bayern Munich defender Noussair Mazraoui was second-best with a 50 per cent success rate. Amrabat also made three crucial blocks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was the team’s most important player out of possession, making 99 forward runs without the ball. Paris Saint-Germain’s Achraf Hakimi, who is among the world’s best attacking wing-backs, was second with 80 runs. Amrabat also played a few key line-breaking passes and stood out for his ball-carrying ability. This meant that even as the goalkeeper’s heroics in the shootout was being celebrated, Amrabat, too, got overdue recognition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, his performance against Spain was not a one-off. In the first four matches at the World Cup, Amrabat played every minute and he has been the pillar supporting the team’s tactical setup, which conceded only once, that, too, an own-goal. This is made possible by the fact that there seems to be no glaring weaknesses in his game. He gets around the pitch well (his 48.10km in Qatar is the most for Morocco), can pick a pass and is neat and tidy in possession of the ball.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born in the Netherlands to parents of Moroccan descent, Amrabat was eligible to play for the Dutch and did turn out for the team at youth level before choosing to represent the African team. His football education began with HSV De Zuidvogels, a lower-tier club, but he was later accepted at the youth academy of top-tier Utrecht; he made his senior debut for the club in 2014. Now 26, he stars for Fiorentina in Italy and is said to be wanted by English giants Liverpool.</p> Sat Dec 10 17:48:43 IST 2022 what-indian-football-can-learn-from-morocco-and-japan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The World Cup is a great leveller. More so in Qatar 2022. Three teams from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) made it to the second round for the first time. Iran and Saudi Arabia came close to progressing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This had briefly silenced the detractors of Asian football, till they were back in full force after the round of 16. True. South Korea were outclassed by the best team in the world; Australia’s heroic effort was not enough to contain, arguably, the greatest player of all time; and Japan, unlucky not to win before the penalty shootout, did not deserve to go through with their dismal kicks from 12 yards out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The African story of grit and graft at Qatar 2022 also looked to be heading the Asian way until the Atlas Lions eliminated Spain in the round of 16. The eliminated African teams, too, gave a good account of themselves. In short, 10 of the 11 sides from the two largest continents did well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact that Asian and African teams have become capable of challenging the European and South American teams is especially relevant ahead of the 48-team World Cup in 2026. There are those who say the expansion would result in more also-rans from Asia and Africa qualifying. But the determination of the Japanese and the fierce resistance of the Moroccans will inspire other Asian and African teams in future World Cups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, both these countries benefited from the European football ecosystem. Here is a closer look at the two successful models.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Japan: A league of their own</b></p> <p>Brazil legend Zico, who has become a football guru of sorts for Asia, once said that India should learn from Japan when it comes to football. During its recovery from World War II, Japan had made progress in the sports arena, too. But, domestic football was played at an amateur level till the start of the 1990s. Everything changed after Japan won the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in 1992. The Japanese wanted more. They realised that a professionally run domestic league was needed for the national team to be competitive outside Asia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus, in 1993, the J.League was officially launched. In 1998, Japan became the 10th Asian team to play at the World Cup, 60 years after the first Asian team­ ―Indonesia (as Dutch East Indies)―had debuted. Japan has qualified for all six subsequent World Cups and reached the knockout phase in 2002, 2010, 2018 and 2022. It also finished second to France in the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup and co-hosted the World Cup in 2002.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Key to Japan’s rapid rise was its “100 year vision”. The J.League started with the target that there should be 100 professional football clubs in Japan by 2092―there are already 60 in the J.League’s three-tier system. The development of such an ecosystem transformed Japanese football culture and produced quality players. This attracted the attention of foreign clubs, who started scouting and recruiting Japanese players. And the exposure Japanese players got playing in Europe helped strengthen the national team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the 26 players who were in Japan’s squad at Qatar 2022, 19 were from European leagues; 15 from Europe’s top five leagues. The tactical awareness of these players was evident in Japan’s performances against stronger European teams. Also, the focus in the development of the domestic league has been on quality. This is clear from the players who have come to Japan―Zico, Gary Lineker, Dunga, Hristo Stoichkov, Michael Laudrup and Andrés Iniesta, among them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Morocco: Diaspora-driven strength</b></p> <p>The heart is the symbol of love in most parts of the world. In Morocco, it is the liver. This difference in culture is also reflected in Moroccan football. Watching the Casablanca derby between Moroccan clubs Raja and Wydad is not for the lily-livered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This has resulted in an emphasis on bravery in Moroccan football culture and this came in handy at Qatar 2022, grouped as Morocco were with the second- and third-placed teams from 2018. After topping the group, Spain stood in their way. But, perhaps familiarity and proximity gave Morocco an advantage over their more illustrious opponent. On a clear day, Moroccans can see Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar and key players, including goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, ply their trade in Spain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Morocco is an old force in African football. They were the first African team to qualify for the World Cup (1970). In 1986, Morocco finished ahead of England, Poland and Portugal to become the first African team to top a World Cup group. In 1998, the team also became the first side from the continent to break into the top 10 in world rankings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Morrocans are a scattered people and many in the new generation were born and brought up in European countries. And, crucially for the national team, they also received a European football education. Morocco realised the importance of the country’s diaspora, and the federation started inviting players of Morrocan descent to represent the national team. In 2020, they fought and lost a legal battle to get Barcelona academy product Munir El Haddadi into the national team. But, they were eventually successful, thanks to a FIFA rule change. Interestingly, El Haddadi was not selected for Qatar 2022.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 26-member squad, which reached the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time in the country’s history, has 16 players born or brought up in Europe. The captain Romain Saïss was born in France. Superstars Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi were born in the Netherlands and Spain, respectively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Calling on the diaspora is something India can do to great effect, as many players of Indian origin have played in foreign leagues over the years. The Indian team needs steady players more than superstars. An example is English centre-back Danny Batth, who is of Punjabi descent. The 32-year-old never played for England at any level, but he would have been a bulwark for India. But, Batth’s attempt to play for India in 2017, when he was captain of Wolverhampton Wanderers, ended in frustration because of India’s residency rules and passport regulations.</p> Sun Dec 11 11:44:52 IST 2022 bjp-challenges-in-saurashtra-gujarat-morbi-bridge-collapse <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Giant LED screens at Sardar Chowk in Morbi beam public meetings of Kantilal Amrutiya, the BJP candidate from the Morbi constituency. Frame after frame showcases the high points of his public life, including his interventions from the 1979 Machchhu dam tragedy, the 2001 earthquake and the Covid-19 pandemic. Desert coolers keep the temperature pleasant while caterers serve party workers and guests. In a makeshift room, Amrutiya discusses poll strategy with his supporters, and leaders representing the paper and ceramic industries. He is reluctant to give an interview as he does not want to speak about the recent bridge collapse. After much cajoling, he agrees to an interview on condition that no questions will be asked about the tragedy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amrutiya, 60, is pitted against Jayanti Patel of the Congress and Pankaj Ransariya of the AAP. Choosing Amrutiya, a former MLA from Morbi, over Brijesh Mareja, the sitting Congress MLA who switched sides, is seen as a BJP masterstroke. But explaining the bridge collapse which happened on October 30 in which 135 people, including more than 50 children, died could prove to be a challenge. Amrutiya reached the accident spot within minutes and even jumped into the river to help the victims. While his efforts were much appreciated, he does not speak about the tragedy while campaigning, as he knows that it could hurt his chances.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kishor Solanki, 47, lost three extended family members in the tragedy, all aged between 16 and 20. “We have been supporting the BJP, hoping for further action. I just returned from Union Minister Parshottam Rupala’s meeting. But I know nothing will happen,” he said. Halima Kumbhar, who lost her married daughter and her family members, said she was angry and did not know what to do. “The ones who have gone will never return,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dr Pravin Barasara and his family survived the tragedy because of sheer luck. They got delayed as Barasara’s bike broke down and then they were caught in traffic. “I am a doctor. I have seen many tragedies, but nothing like this before,” said the ayurvedic practitioner. “I could not sleep for two days.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Morbi tragedy happened at an inopportune moment for the BJP. It actually led to a brief delay in announcing the poll dates. Despite the anger and resentment about the tragedy, however, many people think that it is unlikely to have much of an impact on the polls. Lalji Parmar, a 70-year-old paan shop owner near the bridge, said people’s memories were short. “Unless you have lost a loved one, you do not care much,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Morbi is part of the politically significant Saurashtra region and the opposition is trying to use the bridge collapse issue against the government. The BJP, however, is confident that with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, other Union ministers and chief ministers from BJP-ruled states painting a picture of development, it will do well in the region and also across Gujarat. To prevent any last-minute hiccups, party leaders are talking up issues favoured by their hindutva base, such as the Gujarat riots.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Saurashtra has 48 seats in the 182-member assembly and the BJP is expected to improve its tally despite anti-incumbency. In 2017, the Congress won 28, the BJP 19 and the NCP one. This time, the AAP could gain substantially, and the number of votes it polls may well make or break the fortunes of the BJP and the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Saurashtra has remained politically significant right from the days of Mahatma Gandhi. The region, which had over 200 rajwadas (princely rulers), merged with the Bombay state in 1956, and then Gujarat and Maharashtra were formed in 1960. The region was also the hub of RSS activities, with Chimanbhai Shukla, the Maniar family and Keshubhai Patel hailing from the region, said columnist Jay Vasavda. “There is anger and there are undercurrents in the region, but nobody has been able to channelise it. For the BJP, Modi remains the ‘X’ factor,” he said. In his view, one key difference this time is that social media campaigns have not remained one-sided.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the absence of any wave, like the Patidar agitation that helped the Congress in 2017, there are not many major issues that people are openly talking about. The AAP has raised the issue of question paper leaks of various examinations and the alleged poor quality of education. Their leaders, including Arvind Kejriwal, have been getting good response.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had just one public meeting in the region. In fact, Rahul had only one other meeting in entire south Gujarat. More campaign visits are said to be unlikely. Lalit Kagathara, the Congress candidate from Tankara, said it was good that Rahul is keeping away. “Had he come more often, Modi would have upped the hindutva and terrorism planks, using him,” said Kagathara. In Rahul’s absence, the Congress campaign is headlined by its newly elected president Mallikarjun Kharge. In Ahmedabad and south Gujarat, he questioned the unease in the BJP and asked why Modi was campaigning from “ward to ward”, leaving all his national and international engagements behind. The Congress feels that the BJP has no local leadership capable of handling the campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former chief minister Vijay Rupani, however, said the Congress was fighting for its existence and was not showing any fighting spirit, like it did in 2017. Rupani spoke with THE WEEK after addressing a campaign event for Dr Darshita Shah, BJP candidate from Rajkot (West), the seat from which he “opted out”. In the past, this high profile seat has seen Modi winning his first ever election after becoming chief minister in 2001 and former Karnataka governor Vajubhai Vala winning six times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A pathologist by profession, Shah speaks about her work as deputy mayor and seeks votes in the name of Modi. “It is a high profile seat. I do not take my opponents lightly. I also promise to tackle local issues and improve Rajkot’s position when it comes to cleanliness,” she said. In Rajkot (East), the BJP has fielded former mayor Uday Kangad, who is pitted against Indranil Rajyaguru of the Congress. Rajyaguru, who spent a few months in the AAP, now calls Kejriwal’s party the BJP’s ‘B’ team. He said his margin of victory would be better than what he managed in 2012. In 2017, he lost to Rupani from Rajkot (West). “Ninety-nine per cent of the Sardar Sarovar dam work was done by the Congress,” he said. “Gujarat was good in education and now the BJP is privatising schools.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the rural pockets, the Congress still has some hold, but it remains to be seen whether it can stop anti-BJP votes from going to the AAP. In a few seats, AAP candidates are likely to win a few thousand votes, which could affect the final results, especially in smaller constituencies. Khambhalia in Dwarka district is one seat that the AAP is confident of winning. Here, the party’s chief ministerial face Isudan Gadhvi is locked in a three-cornered fight against sitting MLA Vikram Madam of the Congress and Mulubhai Bera of the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, which is always in election mode, is not taking anything lightly, although its leaders and workers are visibly confident. “The Congress is finished and the AAP is a new entrant,” said Rupani. “The challenge before us is to ensure that our workers do not become overconfident.”</p> Sun Dec 04 11:24:12 IST 2022 social-and-ecological-changes-in-coastal-kutch <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>MUNDRA LIVES UP</b> to its reputation of being an old coastal town. Dusty roads clear up occasionally to reveal an imposing clock tower, and at some distance away, the town’s decaying fort walls and gateway give away the age of the place. Mundra had a revival of sorts recently. The 17th-century town used to be a municipality, but a dwindling population brought it down to a nagar panchayat and eventually to a gram panchayat. Thanks to industrial activity in the last two decades, it is back to being a municipality today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mundra has become synonymous with its port. In 2006, the Gujarat government divested its stake in the port, making it an entirely private entity. The Mundra Port is the country’s largest private commercial port―run by Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd―and is spread across 8,400 hectares. The development of the port and its allied industry took place during the BJP rule in the state, and party supporters cite it as a glorious achievement as it led to employment opportunities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The people of Mundra and the Adani Group, owned by the richest man in Asia, Gautam Shantilal Adani, are inseparable, socially and economically. And, that bond is visible in the ‘Turkish’ village of Dhrub. The Turk connection is hard to miss here. It lends itself to names―of mosques, like the Turk Shahi Masjid, or medical stores, and of people―and blends in effortlessly. Ninety-five per cent of the residents here trace their ancestry to Turkey and most of them have stayed true to the traditional occupation of date cultivation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An approach road, lined with date palms, leads to the house of Hussain Dawood Turk, a village elder. He owns 800 date palms. Dawood lives in a traditional house with two smaller rooms running parallel to the main hall, with a closed and open kitchen on the outside. “I have seen the same style of construction in Turkey,” said Dawood, one of the few villagers to visit the land of his ancestors. He added that the Turks migrated to Kutch 450 years ago. The Turks, adept at firing cannons and handling weapons, were brought in by the local king to ward off pirates, he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not just his past, Dawood is equally proud of his present. He takes out his phone, scrolls through his photo gallery and shows a couple of pictures. “That’s me and Gautam Adani,” he said, proudly. “He invited me to a party recently, and I gifted him a box of dates. He is a simple man.” Dawood claims to know Adani since he took over the port in the 1990s. The port and the affiliated businesses here seem to have touched the life of each of the 2,000 residents and created goodwill for Adani. In the last few years, land rates have shot up from Rs50 lakh to Rs1.5 crore per acre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There are only gains because of the port and the industries,” said Dawood’s son Turk Mahmad Asharaf, who used to work as a security personnel in one of Adani’s business firms. He now works as a taxation and labour law consultant. “The locals have started benefitting after realising that they have to work as per the opportunities or else they will be left out,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mundra has a large Muslim population, and Asharaf said half of them would vote for the BJP in the upcoming elections. “Now, there is a huge migrant population here, too,” he said. “The only flip side is that the culture is getting diluted.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dawood and his community take pride in their culture and the communal harmony in the village. “There has not been a single communal riot here,” said Dawood, who took us to a Shiva temple at the village’s entrance. While entering the temple’s main precinct, he removed his footwear. He was greeted by Chudamani Goswami, a relative of the priest. The cost of the temple’s upkeep is borne by the locals, said Dawood. “When the head priest died, our entire community participated in the last rites and extended every help we could,” he said. “During our weddings or celebratory events, we send raw materials for a vegetarian feast to the priest’s family. Just because they do not eat non-vegetarian food, we do not alienate them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This culture of communal harmony extends to another industrial belt in Kutch. Jhangi village in southern Kutch is close to the Deendayal port in Kandla. For almost 450 years, there exists a symbiotic relationship between Fakirani Jats, who are Muslims, and Rabaris, a Hindu nomadic community―forged by a unique breed of camels. The Kharai camels can swim and thrive in mangroves. Kharai means salt, and these camels have been named so because they have adapted to saltwater. There are around 4,000 Kharai camels in and around Kutch. Unlike their cousins on the mainland, this breed cannot survive without mangroves or seawater. The Rabaris own these camels, while the Fakirani Jats rear them. Male calves are sold and the profits divided between the two communities; females are reared by the Fakirani Jats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As with Mundra, villages around Kandla port, too, are seeing a lot of industrial activity. But unlike in and around Mundra, not everyone is happy about it. More industrial activity has led to less green cover and disruption in water flow to the creeks, which, in turn, has polluted the habitat of camels and endangered their lives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“These species are only found in Kutch and other coastal parts,” said Ramesh Bhatti, programme coordinator of Sahjeevan, an NGO working for the conservation of Kharai camels. “They have a special relationship with mangroves and the sea. Unfortunately, mangroves are getting destroyed. This has disrupted the feeding habits of camels, and we are worried they will become extinct.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though there is a National Green Tribunal order directing the government to ensure there is no “obstruction to estuarine water in the creeks” and no activity in the mangrove area, it has not been followed through, said Bhatti. “We demand it be declared an eco-sensitive zone,” he said. “Only such stringent measures can protect the camels.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malti Maheshwari, BJP MLA from Gandhidham, under which the Kandla port falls, takes pride in her government’s policies that turned the region into a “mini-India”, employing not just Gujaratis but also outsiders. The government, she said, had decided to allocate Rs6,500 crore for the development of the Kandla port, which would lead to more jobs. When asked about environmental concerns and plight of Kharai camels, she said, “We are continuously engaged in afforestation programmes to protect the environment in this area. We are also making sure that regulations are followed by industries so that the camels are not affected.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To observe the camels in their natural habitat, we headed to Nimdivandh village in Abdasa taluk of western Kutch. The village is a staging point for local breeders of camels. Zigzagging through muddy backwaters, we reached the shore from where industries as well as mangroves were visible. A cement factory jutted out into the water, and standing before it was Noor Mohammad Mubarak, who owns 20 Kharai camels. We waited for almost four hours for the tide to rise so that we could take a speedboat to one of the islands where the camels awaited us in all their glory. Camels, too, prefer high tide as they can swim freely and not just wade. Around noon, we set off 3km into the sea, crossing mangroves and smaller islands. After a 30-minute ride, a group of camels was spotted on Hemthalbet island. The engine was turned off so as not to fluster them. Mubarak leapt into the sea and swam towards the island. He made a peculiar sound and the camels came running. Soon, Mubarak and the camels got into the water. The camels did a round of swimming, popping their heads out of the water once in a while to chomp on mangrove leaves. Mubarak usually camps on the island to tend to the camels.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My camels can estimate the depth of water or the type of mud that is underneath them,” he said. “No other camel breed is gifted with such traits. It can also predict rain accurately. Four days before it rains, they start sweating and shift to [land] far from the water.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two months ago, two of Mubarak’s camels―Kharayi and Manki―died. He blames the industries for their death. “The dust from the nearby factories sticks to the leaves and pollutes the mangroves,” he said. “The camels are having trouble grazing. When two of my camels died, a well-known expert examined their bodies and told me that they had pollutants in their stomach.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mubarak, therefore, is wary of the ongoing industrial development. “This is one of the few habitats that the camels can survive in,” he said. “If even this is polluted completely, then there is no chance of my camels surviving.”</p> Sat Dec 03 12:28:15 IST 2022 kutiyana-mla-kandhal-jadeja-election-campaigns-in-gujarat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ACCOMPANIED BY MUSCLEMEN,</b> Kandhal Jadeja, 50, enters the Lord Krishna temple after removing his footwear and sits before a handful of people of Teri village of Kutiyana assembly constituency in Porbandar district. Kutiyana has more than two lakh voters. With his gold-rimmed glasses, silver bracelet and vermillion tika, Jadeja, clad in a light saffron kurta and white salwar, stands out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I have nothing to say. If you have any problems, let me know,” says Jadeja. An aide joins in, “Bhai has done your work and he is accessible. Look at him and his work. Vote for the cycle. Why taste a new cobra? He is better.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jadeja is the son of Santokben Jadeja, the mafia queen on whose life the Shabana Azmi-starrer Godmother (1999) was based. Jadeja, a two-time MLA, is contesting on a Samajwadi Party ticket as the NCP, on whose ticket he won last time, refused to field him. In the past, he has voted for the BJP candidate in the Rajya Sabha elections and justified it, saying, “I want to get the work of my people done.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Santokben, a former MLA from Kutiyana, died of heart attack in 2011. She had picked up arms following the murder of her gangster-husband Sarman Munja, who had a change of heart after meeting Dada Bhagwan (Pandurang Shastri Athavale) of Swadhyay Pariwar. The family, including Jadeja, has had several cases against them. Jadeja has also had a jail stint. It is because of gangster families like Jadeja’s that Porbandar, once famous as Mahatma Gandhi’s birthplace, became infamous for its gang wars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jadeja is locked in a four-cornered contest, with Nathabhai Bhurabhai Odedara of the Congress, AAP’s Bhimabhai Makwana and Dheliben Maldebhai Odedara of the BJP. His main rival though is Dheliben, who, like Jadeja, is from the Mer community. The two are related, too―her father-in-law was Jadeja’s grand-uncle (grandmother’s brother). She was the municipality president for 27 years, and is fondly called fai (aunt). Her husband, too, allegedly has many cases against him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While campaigning in Bhiladi village, Dheliben, 58, says, “Do not fear any one. Ensure the highest number of votes.” Dheliben, draped in a pure georgette white sari, says there has been no development in the region and that unlike Jadeja’s, her house is open to everyone. She recently moved into a three-storey bungalow. “Call me any time and I, and not my personal assistant, will pick up the phone,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jadeja is unfazed by his opponent’s attack. “I concentrate only on my work,” he tells THE WEEK. “I do not speak ill of others, especially women.” He says that people vote him in because of his work. “In this fast-paced world, nobody will vote for you unless you work for them,” he says. His parents and uncle Bhura Munja, who had earlier contested and won from Kutiyana, inspire him, he adds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While it is said that one would need the blessings of both the Jadejas and Odedaras to operate in the region, the two are also reportedly regarded as Robin Hoods.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I cannot say who has an edge,” says villager Bhikha Dodiya, 56. “All I can say is that this time around the campaigning is more intense. Both candidates are bahubalis.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a region where people fear to spell out who could win, the AAP is trying to make inroads. “You never know what can happen,” says party worker Tejender Singh, who has been in Kutiyana for more than two weeks now. “Even in Punjab, there was fear and people voted for us.”</p> Sat Dec 03 12:22:52 IST 2022 increasing-demand-for-exotic-pets-in-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Want to keep</b> <b>a green iguana as a pet?</b></p> <p>Instruction manuals will ask you to keep a large space ready. The vegetarian lizard can grow up to six feet in a few years―like your own private Godzilla. Native to tropical Americas, these strong, sturdy, and mostly docile reptiles can deal out a bone-shattering blow with their tail when hungry or irritated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sheldon D’Souza, a 25-year-old entrepreneur from Chembur in Mumbai, reared five grown iguanas in his two bedroom flat during the lockdown months. At one point, his apartment was home to his mother, father, sister and himself, apart from two ball pythons, one tarantula, four hedgehogs, and the iguanas. “Pythons are useless. Hedgehogs can get aggressive. But nobody is scared of iguanas in my family. Even my dog is comfortable with them,” says D’Souza. They are fed a giant meal of coriander leaves, papayas, bananas, grapes and other vegetables and fruits every morning, lest they start jumping around like petulant little children, ready to bite.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>D’Souza, himself, behaves like a child in a candy store in pet shops at Crawford Market. His former girlfriend, he says, would often lose pace with him as he zoomed around looking for exotic animal babies. “Our five year relationship ended over my pets,” says D’Souza, who knew where his priorities lay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So tied up is D’Souza’s life with his menagerie that he cannot leave them alone in the house even for a day. When he visits his uncle, he carries the iguanas along on a motorcycle. Once he carried two adult iguanas on his shoulders, two smaller ones in a basket, and the fifth was swaddled by his father. “They are always calm and comfortable. They don’t mind new places. My cousins are fine with them,” says D’Souza nonchalantly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Expert climbers, the arboreal iguanas spend nights on top of the cupboards in the house. D’Souza wants to buy a tegu next. Unlike an iguana, the blackish, scaly tegu is a carnivorous lizard and costs a hefty 142,000 for a hatchling.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last we checked, it was the royalty or the rich and famous who cared about exotics. Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife Josephine had a collection which included black swans, llamas and kangaroos, among other curiosities. Queen Elizabeth II is believed to have held a funeral for her chameleon, which was a gift from Earl Mountbatten of Burma. Indian princes, noblemen and emperors often received them as gifts, like how Mir Jafar gifted a zebra to Jahangir, who was known to be a passionate naturalist. Michael Jackson gave interviews with his pet chimpanzee, Bubbles, and Mike Tyson once owned three Royal Bengal tigers!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Ambanis are building a 280-acre zoo and animal rescue centre in Jamnagar, Gujarat, where komodo dragons and African lions will be the highlights. A pet project of Anant Ambani, it has been dubbed the “the world’s largest zoo” and is expected to open in 2023.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But now exotic pets are accessible by all and sundry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the government came out with a one-time voluntary disclosure scheme for exotic animals in 2020, over 32,000 Indians (all private individuals) from 25 states and five Union territories signed up. The pets ranged from critically endangered species like the black-and-white ruffed lemur from Madagascar and beisa (an East African antelope) to bearded dragons, pythons, marmosets and what not. Today Instagram is smothered with cutesy images of exotic reptiles, birds, mammals, insects and amphibians posted by hobbyists, dealers and resellers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The growing demand for domesticating these exotics has created a whole new crisis in the world of Indian wildlife smuggling. Several illegal pet shops and animal markets are now cropping up all over the country, including in Murgi Chowk, Hyderabad, Mir Shikar Toli, Patna and Russell Market in Bengaluru. Twitter feeds and newspaper stories are throwing up news of dead reptiles seized from suitcases in airports and emaciated kangaroos being rescued on highway stretches. A quick Google search will reveal how the number of seizures of exotic wildlife in India has gone up since the amnesty disclosure scheme of 2020, especially in the northeast, with consignments pouring in via routes from Myanmar and Bangladesh. The Chennai airport is one of the biggest touch-points; the latest haul was on August 11, when a male passenger from Bangkok was caught with a De Brazza’s monkey, 15 king snakes, five ball pythons and two Aldabra tortoises. “Once these animals cross the border, there is no legal tool or authority in India to nab or track them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is no longer just a conduit country; it is actually a final destination for many of these species,” says Samyukta Chemudupati, head, wildlife forensics, Wildlife Conservation Trust in Mumbai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aside from the fact that these wild animals are rampantly objectified and commodified, they are kept and transported in stressful, inhumane conditions outside their natural habitats. “When the exotics come in, how do you raise them? What are their nutritional and dietary requirements, how do you care for them, how to keep them alive, all that standard operating procedure and expertise is not there in India,” says H.V. Girish, joint director at Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, under the environment ministry. “Veterinarians in India don’t even fully know how to care for our indigenous wildlife. So, how will they treat exotics? As a result, casualties are going up.” Girish talks about the complicated legal conundrum that India faces with respect to exotic animals. The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, is quiet on exotic wildlife while deeming the trade and possession of native wildlife species as illegal. Traffickers and traders, therefore, make the most of this legal loophole.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While India is a signatory to CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) since the 1970s, it is a category two country, and the regulations are, therefore, not fully implementable here. For India to become a category one country (like Chile, Malaysia, Morocco, Namibia or New Zealand), there is a need for a national legislation. The Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2022, which was recently passed by the Lok Sabha, has CITES requirements woven into the amendments. If the bill is passed by the upper house in the winter session of Parliament and becomes a law, India will become a category one country in dealing with exotic wildlife.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sumit Garg from Meerut has a farm in Bulandshahr where he stocks a full menagerie of giant iguanas, marmosets, porcupines, bearded dragons, tarantulas, hedgehogs and a variety of pythons. Exotic pets have been his passion and vocation for the last seven years. He is often seen cradling animals like the African spurred tortoise, the world’s third largest tortoise, or a pinstripe python on social media. “Trading of exotic pets is a big, big business in India. Some 60 per cent of my buyers are students who keep it as pets for a few months and sell it off at a neat profit. A morph of python, for example, typically sells for 040,000. We never know who the main guy procuring these animals are, but we are the second or third rung in the business. My buyers have a better knowledge of wild species and how to domesticate them than all the wildlife officers in India,” says Garg, before unveiling his plans. “People don’t respect wild things in this country. There is no awareness here. The closer you come to these animals, the more obsessed you will get. I will soon be building a mini zoo where I will teach children how to care for reptiles.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sanjeev Pednekar―founder of the Bengaluru-based pet sanctuary, Prani―got hooked when an education officer from World Wildlife Fund, M.K. Srinath, walked into his school with a three-foot rescued crocodile from Hebbar Lake. Today, Prani has 750 animals and 43 different species―from hedgehogs and emus to sting rays and lungfish. Most of them are exotics and 80 per cent of his animals are rescued or given up by people who could not take care of them, especially birds and red-eared slider turtles who grow out of standard aquariums as adults. There are no barricades or enclosures in Prani. Visitors learn how to approach and behave with these animals on the spot. “I will give you papers and a backstory for every animal I have. People can’t just leave their animals behind without doing a general power of attorney here,” says Pednekar, who gets slightly irritated when the question of legality comes up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pednekar jokes that the largest sellers of exotic animals must be the “custom guys” who do not know what to do with an undocumented animal once it enters India. “The Ambanis have the largest collection of exotic pets. Anant Ambani is sending private jets and housing everything in his house in Bombay. Is that illegal?” he asks categorically.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Snakes and lizards are the most traded exotic animals in the market right now because it is easy to smuggle them; they are easier to transport. “Just feed them one rat and they don’t need anything for 15 days. Some 200 kids who visited my sanctuary have already owned ball pythons for years,” says Pednekar who shows a video of a 10-foot-long reticulated python he helped rescue from the window sill of a house vacated by a 25-year-old tenant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Thilakrajkumar from Chennai, a 25-year-old engineer, living in a 3BHK flat with his parents and sister, talks about his Nile Monitor,&nbsp;&nbsp;the second-largest reptile in the Nile river,&nbsp;like it is as harmless as a cocker spaniel. Kumar and his brother are partners and between them, they manage nine farms in Chennai to grow their business of exotic pets. Not surprisingly, he has 80 pairs of iguanas, most of them are special mutations, like albino, crimson, snow or jet black.&nbsp; &quot;Breeding reptiles is easy and they adapt to the Indian climate like a breeze. There&nbsp;are so many exotic smugglers in Chennai. If they&nbsp;do the paperwork, it will cost them 1 lakh rupees.&nbsp; They buy it in bulk in Bangkok. Sometimes there are 1,000 pieces in a single shipment. It's like people won't have to go out now to buy these animals. All kinds of exotics are there in India now,&quot; says Kumar who currently lives with a red-handed tamarin&nbsp;and a marmoset in his bedroom. His iguanas are in his brother's farm in Madurai as it is the breeding season and they get mercurial at this time. His 2.5 feet Tegu, who once bit him, is also kept inside a medium-sized bedroom as it is their period of brumation (hibernation). His girlfriend also has a Tegu and a&nbsp; leopard gecko. Recently Kumar took his iguana for a class at&nbsp;Madras Veterinary College. He says the faculty there has introduced a special course on exotics. &quot;But I did not like the way they touch and screen and shake my pet. I can't see that. So I decided to stop going there,&quot; adds Kumar, also hinting at the well-nigh absence of veterinarians who can treat exotics in India, barring a few in Mumbai and Delhi. &nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nihar Parulekar, curator at the Indore zoo, believes this is a good time for the government to start educational campaigns around caring for exotic pets. A self-taught wildlife enthusiast, he is a mechanical engineer by profession. Apart from headlining animal acquisition and upkeep of animals in the zoo, Parulekar has his own four-acre farm with exotic and domestic animals. He knows all their requirements and designs the enclosures himself. Ever since he joined the zoo as a curator, he has chalked out ambitious plans to build the exotic collection. The same Indore zoo, also called Kamla Nehru Prani Sangrahalay, was in the news in May when it was reported that the municipal zoo was destination for a consignment of kangaroos who were abandoned in North Bengal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ashika Dhuri is one of the few exotic animal specialists in India. In her eight-year-old clinic in Kandivali, Mumbai, she gets about 30-40 cases of ailing exotics every day. “All the exotic animals have a very high demand and special requirements. And if those are not met, then it just amounts to animal cruelty. Our houses are becoming smaller and these animals of the wild just can’t be kept as dogs or cats,” says Dhuri, who adds that exotics need different enclosures, different diets which are almost never commercially available and a completely different standard of living. “In fact, 90 per cent of them who come in here suffer from nutritional and metabolic diseases. These kind of diseases don’t happen in the wild. Take any animal, from a mammal to a reptile, and they look so stunted and improperly grown when they come here and you just feel so bad because you see how it had the potential to grow into something so beautiful. Their reproductive abilities are affected in captivity and they also cannot be released back into the wild,” says Dhuri, who is most concerned about the declining wildlife population as more and more animals reach urban centres. “I can’t even imagine how high it will be if we actually knocked on everyone’s door to find out.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>BALL PYTHONS</b></p> <p><b>Origin:</b> West Sub-Saharan Africa to the Central African Republic</p> <p><b>Lifespan:</b> Can live up to 50 years in captivity, if cared for well. They grow up to five feet</p> <p><b>Diet:</b> Rodents 1 to 1.25 times the size of the midsection of the snake is ideal</p> <p><b>Price:</b> Rs30,000 for a snakelet</p> <p><b>Traits:</b> They eat and defecate once a week</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>TEGU</b></p> <p><b>Origin:</b> Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina</p> <p><b>Lifespan:</b> Around 12 years and can grow up to five feet</p> <p><b>Diet:</b> Omnivores. Need a combination of 60 per cent protein, 30 per cent vegetables and 10 per cent fruit in captivity.</p> <p><b>Price: </b>Rs40,000 for hatchlings; no fixed price for an adult</p> <p><b>Traits: </b>This large, intelligent, easily bored reptile has a voracious appetite with a stubborn attitude. They need proper enclosures with high, sturdy walls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>ALDABRA TORTOISES</b></p> <p><b>Origin:</b> Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles. Second largest tortoise in the world</p> <p><b>Lifespan:</b> 80-120 years; average weight of a male adult is 250 kilos</p> <p><b>Diet:</b> They are herbivores and feed on grass, flowers, cactus pads, leafy greens and “commercial tortoise food”</p> <p><b>Price:</b> Rs3 lakh for hatchlings</p> <p><b>Traits:</b> They will outlive their owners, so their future needs to be factored in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>BEARDED DRAGON</b></p> <p><b>Origin:</b> Australia</p> <p><b>Lifespan:</b> 8-12 years in the wild. They tend to live longer in captivity. Adults are 16 to 22 inches long</p> <p><b>Diet:</b> Juveniles need more insects; adults prefer plants and vegetables</p> <p><b>Price:</b> Rs15,000 for hatchlings</p> <p><b>Traits:</b> They don’t draw blood when they bite</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>HEDGEHOGS</b></p> <p><b>Origin:</b> Found across Europe and Africa</p> <p><b>Lifespan:</b> 25 years</p> <p><b>Diet: </b>They live under hedges, and hence feed on fruit, fungi, insects, mice, frogs, eggs, birds, reptiles, roots and snakes.</p> <p><b>Price: </b>Rs15,000 a pair</p> <p><b>Traits:</b> They make for bad pets as they sleep for 18 hours a day!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>IGUANAS</b></p> <p><b>Origin:</b> Parts of south America and the Caribbean</p> <p><b>Lifespan:</b> In the wild, 20 years on an average. In captivity―13 to 15 years, at best. Adult iguanas can grow up to six feet</p> <p><b>Price:</b> Red iguanas (hatchling: Rs15,000; adult: Rs1 lakh)</p> <p><b>Diet:</b> Mostly herbivores. Thrive on fruits, flowers and leaves.</p> <p><b>Traits:</b> Wild iguanas love hog plums. Iguanas do not like to be touched as petting them causes extreme stress to the animal</p> Tue Nov 29 14:19:13 IST 2022 climate-change-responsibility-taken-by-the-world-at-COP27 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FOR ONCE,</b> the rich countries of the world have accepted that the global environment cannot be seen in a piece-meal fashion―developed and developing countries―and in a historic decision at COP27 agreed to pay for the damage caused to developing countries by climate change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The meeting, which was held from November 6 to 20, in Egypt, understood the need and agreed to a special fund to cover loss and damages. The developed world, for the first time, quietly took ownership of being the main polluter and responsible for global warming and climate change. On the principle that the “polluter pays,” developed countries will mainly be contributing to the fund. Available funds were previously used for adaptation to climate change (preventive measures). Now it will be available also for those who suffered loss and damage due to climate change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The world leaders committed to setting up a financial support structure for the most vulnerable countries by the next COP in 2023. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the decision, which brought to close one of the most vexatious issues of climate change that has been stalling expeditious progress in this area for several decades. He expressed that the decision gives the required “political signal” to rebuild “broken trust” between the developing and developed world. However, COP27 shied away from using tough language on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India failed in getting a commitment from COP27 to phase out all fossil fuels though its commitment to phase down coal power remained. What irked climate advocates still was that by including “low emissions” energy resources alongside renewables of the future, a loophole has been left to bring all kinds of new fossil fuels in direct contravention of the guidelines of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Narendra Modi’s mantra, the LiFE movement―Lifestyle For Environment―got a boost when it was included in the cover decision of COP 27. India welcomed the inclusion of the transition to sustainable lifestyles and sustainable patterns of consumption and production, affirming its belief that, “We are trustees of this planet Earth.” India also appreciated that COP27 focused on climate change and agriculture by establishing a four-year work programme on climate action in agriculture and food security, given the dependence of millions of farmers on agriculture for subsistence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The farming sector is important because not only does it suffer some negative impacts of climate change, but it is also a source of emissions like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. High quantities of methane is exhaled by ruminant livestock into the atmosphere. The methane is produced by enteric fermentation that takes place in their digestive systems. Globally, around 32 per cent of methane emissions comes from livestock, due to enteric fermentation and their urine and manure being other sources of methane and nitrous oxide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A statement by Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav pointed out that Modi had pledged to net zero emissions in India by 2070 at COP 26, Glasgow. Within one year, India had submitted its long-term low emissions growth strategy indicating low carbon transition pathways in key economic sectors. He emphasised that India has been at the forefront as far as climate-related actions are concerned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has initiated new initiatives in renewable energy, e-mobility, ethanol-blended fuels, and green hydrogen as an alternate energy source. It has encouraged international coalitions like the International Solar Alliance and Coalition of Disaster Resilience Infrastructure at a global level. The significance of India’s efforts in climate change can be appreciated knowing that India’s contribution to the world’s cumulative emissions, so far, is less than 4 per cent and our annual per capita emissions are about one-third of the global average.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is assuming the presidency of the G20 in 2023 with the motto of ‘one earth, one family, one future’. As far as global climate change is concerned, we are all in one boat. Yadav stressed this in his statement at the international meet, “Our journey towards a planet safe for humanity is one that no nation can undertake alone. This is a collective journey to be undertaken with equity and climate justice as our guiding principles. We hope that the fight against climate change will unite the world as one family.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>―<b>The writer is an author and a former journalist.</b></p> Fri Nov 25 17:38:25 IST 2022 kerala-governor-arif-mohammad-khan-and-ldf-issues <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As the tussle between the governor and the government continues, the Pinarayi Vijayan cabinet removed Governor Arif Mohammad Khan as chancellor of Kerala Kalamandalam, deemed to be university, amending the rules of the institution. The ruling Left Democratic Front plans to replace Khan as chancellor of all state universities, as well. An ordinance to this effect was sent to the Raj Bhavan on November 12. As the governor is unlikely to clear the ordinance, the government is proceeding with the unusual move of convening an assembly session in December to pass a bill to that end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Law Minister P. Rajeev said that even if the governor kicked the ordinance upstairs to the president, there were no legal obstacles in passing the bill in the assembly. If an assembly session is convened in December, the government will also be able to avoid the governor’s customary policy address to the house in early 2023.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The LDF is also trying to ramp up political pressure against Khan. Under the banner of a non-political forum called Vidyabhyasa Samrakshana Koottayma (Save Education Forum), the front on November 15 organised a massive rally outside the Raj Bhavan, accusing the governor of acting against Kerala’s interests. The government, however, faced a major setback after the Kerala High Court quashed the appointment of K. Riji John as vice chancellor of Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, citing procedural violations. The verdict would strengthen the governor’s position that there has been executive interference in the matters of state universities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Khan said the Pinarayi Vijayan government wanted unrestrained freedom to appoint unqualified and under-qualified relatives of CPI(M) cadres to various positions in universities. He warned that if the universities were not allowed to function normally, it would be the beginning of the collapse of constitutional machinery in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The CPI(M) leadership supports the Kerala government’s move to remove you from the post of chancellor of state universities. Why do you think it is important that you stay in this statutory post?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is not correct to say that ‘I think it is important that I should stay as chancellor of universities’. I have never nursed such perceptions. For me, institutions are much more important than individuals. There is nobody who is indispensable as the saying goes: “The graveyards are filled with men the world could not get on without.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the state government, armed with the opinion of the advocate general, forced me to reappoint the vice chancellor of Kannur University against my own better judgment, I wished to be relieved of the duties of chancellorship, apprehending that they will continue to force me to do such things in future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was then that I wrote to the chief minister and requested him to make alternative statutory arrangements as I found it unacceptable to be used by the government to subvert the law and regulations to install under-qualified people to serve their political purposes. But the government soon realised that executive interference in universities will not be acceptable to the academic world and the UGC, on which they depend heavily for financial assistance. Therefore, the chief minister wrote letter after letter and finally―when they gave an unqualified written assurance that the government will not interfere in the matter of universities―I agreed to resume my duties as chancellor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What I am not able to understand is why they are always [making] threats? Why don’t they go ahead and pass a bill in the assembly and make new arrangements as they deem fit. They know their limitations, but, for the CPI(M), violence and pressure tactics are part of their political belief, so they continue this tirade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I can assure you that if they remove the governor from the position of chancellor, I shall not come in their way. I shall not try to be judge in my own case. But keeping in mind the recent judgments of the honourable Supreme Court, wherein it has been made crystal clear that the state government has no role in the appointment of the vice chancellors in the light of UGC regulations, I shall refer any such bill, if passed by the assembly, to the honourable president for her consideration and final decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Pinarayi Vijayan government is trying to project your actions as being against the people of Kerala. Do you think the LDF is using the people as a shield against you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We are a democracy and freedom of expression includes freedom of propaganda which often is not based on truth. I do not wish to join issue with them. What I am doing is performing my duties as enshrined in the oath I have taken and that is to protect, preserve and defend the Constitution and law, and serve the interests of the people of Kerala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their idea to “protect the higher education domain” is to have the unrestrained freedom to appoint the unqualified and under-qualified relatives in various positions in the universities. Any government is oath-bound to ensure equality before law and equal protection of laws. Do you have any idea about the number of cases where appointments to various posts have been challenged on the ground of political favouritism and nepotism?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not hold an elected post, then why do you need to mobilise people against Raj Bhavan? If I have breached any law, you can go to court; if I breach any propriety, go to the honourable president who has the power to discipline me. The need to go to people has arisen because now people of Kerala are asking whether all employment opportunities, right from universities to municipal corporations have been reserved for CPI(M) cadres. They are asking about personal staff of ministers becoming entitled to pension in two years time and each minister producing an army of 50 full time party workers who receive monthly salary in the form of pension. Never forget that even an Army man can avail the pension facilities only after completing ten years in service.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I feel ashamed that the main source of revenue in Kerala is liquor and lottery. It is the very poor who buy lottery tickets. Now people have also started seeing the connect between lottery and drugs. Some people who invest all their earnings in the lottery and win no prize become so desperate that they take to drugs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Do not think that people can be deceived forever. They have started asking these questions, and the government cannot evade responsibility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You said that the Kerala government has initiated a process that could lead to the collapse of constitutional machinery. Is it a sign that you would not even hesitate to recommend president’s rule?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Are you not reading the statements of the chief minister and other leaders of the CPI(M)? Every day they use violent language. The chief minister has gone to the extent of saying that the governor will face dire consequences. In another statement, he alleged that the governor had started making preparations for alternative arrangements in the universities three days before the Supreme Court judgment. So you may guess what he is trying to say.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They are issuing threats that acting vice chancellors shall not be allowed to enter the campus. If the universities are denied autonomy and normal functioning, then it is the beginning of the collapse of constitutional machinery. My statement is nothing more than an advice to the chief minister not to indulge in lawlessness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You mentioned that those who were appointed by you cannot criticise you. Do you think it is in line with democratic principles?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ First, I have not used the word “criticise”. What I said in my tweet was that if the ministers whom I have appointed on the advice of the chief minister try to lower the dignity of the office of governor, then I shall withdraw my pleasure. Secondly, it is not fair to equate ministers with any person or citizen. Criticism is the essence of democracy but certain discipline and respect for propriety is needed on the part of functionaries of the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I ask you whether your organisation will allow you to publicly criticise your editor. You will be shown the door. I disagreed with the prime minister in 1986, but before giving expression to my views, I resigned from the government. Can these ministers criticise the head of the government, that is the chief minister? No. Then how they become entitled to criticise the head of the state? Do not try to apply standards to me which your own organisation will not allow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is an observation from certain sections that this whole tussle has become personal for you.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ What do you mean by ‘personal’? I have no personal dispute with the chief minister. I am bound by my oath to ensure “rule of law” and not allow “the rule of the ruler”. It was my duty to stay the order appointing an under-qualified person in Kannur University and I did it. Now it is my duty to uphold the judgment of the honourable Supreme Court. The ruling of the highest court enjoys the same status as any law passed by Parliament. I am duty bound to apply the law as laid down by the honourable Supreme Court in the universities headed by me. For me, my personal likes or dislikes are immaterial, what is important is “be you ever so high, the law is above you”.</p> Sun Nov 20 12:02:11 IST 2022 british-pm-rishi-sunak-helping-extradition-of-indian-fugitives <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN AUGUST,</b> while he was campaigning to become prime minister, Rishi Sunak told a large gathering of British Indians that he wanted to transform India-UK ties into “a more two-way” relationship. “Aap sab mere parivar ho (You all are my family),” he said, after greeting the crowd with a traditional mix of namaste, salaam, khem cho and kidda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now that Sunak is finally in the saddle, hopes of improving the relationship are high. New Delhi already has a wishlist for the new prime minister, and both countries expect a proposed free trade agreement to add heft to the ties. A priority in the wishlist is the extradition of five fugitive economic offenders who found safe haven in the UK in the past few years. UK courts recently ruled in India’s favour in cases related to two of them: Nirav Modi, the diamond merchant accused in the Punjab National Bank loan scam case, lost his appeal against extradition on mental health grounds, while alleged arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari was ordered to be extradited to India for cases related to tax evasion and kickbacks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among the five fugitives in the UK sought by India, only Nirav Modi is in a UK jail (see graphics). Bhandari and liquor baron Vijay Mallya, accused in a multi-crore bank fraud case, are out on bail. The UK is yet to begin extradition proceedings against D-company gangster Iqbal Mirchi’s widow Hajra Iqbal Memon and their sons Junaid Iqbal Memon and Asif Iqbal Memon, all of whom reportedly entered the UK while facing charges under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With assets of more than 0100 crore each, all five have been declared fugitive economic offenders under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018, which allows confiscation of properties and assets in India and abroad by the Enforcement Directorate. Then there are others like Mehul Choksi, Modi’s uncle and co-accused in the PNB loan scam case, who has evaded extradition by taking shelter in Antigua and Barbuda, where the UK monarch is the titular head of state.</p> <p>Extradition requests sent to the UK government are under various stages of scrutiny. Despite India and the UK having an extradition pact since 1992, the track record remains very poor. Defendants have cited poor jail conditions and human rights record and inhumane treatment as reasons to avoid extradition. In Mallya’s case, it was even alleged that the CBI was acting at the behest of “its political masters”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The winds are changing, though. On November 7, district judge Michael Snow cleared the way for Bhandari’s extradition while hailing the role of India’s “independent judiciary”. He observed that both the countries have a longstanding extradition arrangement that benefits from the presumption of “good faith”. Snow said India introduced the 2012 Prevention of Money Laundering Act and the 2015 Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act to align with “international standards” and address the significant crimes of tax avoidance and money laundering. Two days after Snow’s judgment, on November 9, Lord Justice Jeremy Stuart-Smith and Justice Robert Jay of the High Court in London ordered Modi’s extradition to India upholding the Westminster Magistrate’s Court ruling in February 2021.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not in the UK’s interest to keep Modi permanently. According to documents seen by THE WEEK, he has applied for the ‘citizenship through investment’ programme of the Vanuatu government, making him a potential flight risk. Official records say he invested $195,000 in Vanuatu through a Switzerland account. Modi also has visa and residency cards of various countries. Jaffrin Jiwani of Firestar International Pvt Ltd, Modi’s flagship firm, told law enforcement agencies that Modi had business interests all over the world, enabling him to have residency permissions and visas in a number of jurisdictions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A potential headache for the Sunak government is that Modi’s continued stay in Wandsworth prison in southwest London, where he has been lodged since 2019, is untenable as he has not been accused of any crime committed in the UK. Toby Cadman, who represented crown prosecution on behalf of Indian authorities, does not see many legal challenges coming in New Delhi’s way to lay its hands on Modi. “In the light of the recent high court ruling, there are now limited legal challenges that can be brought,” Cadman told THE WEEK. “Appealing to the supreme court, or ultimately seeking intervention of the European Court of Human Rights, will be very difficult based on the facts of the case and the high court ruling.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said when he appeared in the first hearing on behalf of the crown prosecution, Modi was refused bail because of the evidence before the court. “Ultimately, the court agreed that there was a substantial risk of interference or [Modi] fleeing the jurisdiction,” said Cadman.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But he also said that human rights concerns remain. “The English courts are required to consider the legal framework in India, and any shortcomings there may be,” said Cadman. “In my view, the shortcomings in India is the practice rather than the law.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Incidentally, Cadman has taken up the case of Christian Michel, who was extradited to India in 2018 after being charged in the AgustaWestland chopper case. Michel, who is now lodged in Tihar Jail, had written to Boris Johnson (when he was UK prime minister) alleging that he was illegally detained in the UAE and brought to India in 2018. “The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention upheld our complaint and still Indian authorities are wilfully ignorant. That will have an impact [on Modi’s case],” said Cadman.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the Sunak administration and the Indian government, the litmus test will be to tide over challenges thrown by the fugitives. The toughest challenge is from Mallya, who has sought political asylum in the UK. Apparently, the initial view of the UK government is not in Mallya’s favour. But the Indian government has to wait for clarity on the outcome, as the decision-making process is neither transparent nor time-bound.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is at this stage where diplomacy plays a vital role,” said Neeraj Kumar, former Delhi police commissioner whose charge-sheet against Sanjeev Chawla, the prime accused in the 2000 match-fixing scandal, led to his extradition―the first high-profile one from the UK. “The British system has many layers of appeals. Chawla could not go into a higher layer because of paucity of funds. But the likes of Nirav Modi can go into it like Mallya.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumar pointed out that British authorities are sticklers for protocols and processes. “Sunak will stick to the processes,” he said. “He will not take any radical step.”</p> Sun Nov 20 12:00:12 IST 2022 rajiv-gandhi-assassination-case-nalini-released <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>NALINI SRIHARAN WAS</b> 26 when she was arrested in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. She spent 31 years behind bars, making her India’s longest-serving woman prisoner, before she was released on November 12 on the orders of the Supreme Court. Five more life convicts–Nalini’s husband, Murugan alias Sriharan, R.P. Ravichandran, Santhan, Robert Payas and Jayakumar–were released along with her. As she stepped out of Tamil Nadu’s Vellore prison, she looked pale and disturbed. Seeing Murugan inside a police van, she walked up to him and held his hand through the van’s grilled window and talked to him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nalini said she did not feel much happy about her release. “What is there to be excited about? My husband and I want to go to the UK. We want to live with our daughter,” Nalini told THE WEEK. Their daughter, Harithra, is a doctor based in London. “She is a [permanent resident] and has assured that she will make all arrangements for us. I request the government to release my husband from the special camp,” said Nalini. Murugan, being a Sri Lankan national, is lodged at a special camp for foreign refugees in Tiruchirappalli. Other Sri Lankans released with him–Santhan, Payas and Jayakumar–are also at the same camp. “The government can allow them to travel by helping them get passports,” said Nalini’s lawyer Ananda Selvan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nalini, Murugan and 24 others were sentenced by a Chennai court in 1998 under the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, after finding them guilty in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) targeted Rajiv for sending the Indian Army to fight its guerillas in the Sri Lankan civil war. He was killed in a suicide bomb attack while attending an election rally at Sri Perumbudur near Chennai on May 21, 1991. Nalini, a graduate in English language and literature from Chennai’s Ethiraj College, was tasked with acting as a cover for the designated suicide bomber, Dhanu, and the backup bomber, Subha. She was indoctrinated by Murugan, whom she married later at the Tirupati temple amid heightened search operations following the assassination. The couple was arrested from Chennai on June 14, 1991. Nalini was pregnant at the time of the arrest and gave birth to Harithra, while in jail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Harithra initially grew up in jail with her mother, but was later taken to Sri Lanka and then to the UK by Murugan’s parents. “I cannot even recall those days inside the prison. It was like solitary confinement,” said Nalini. Murugan’s mother, who used to visit him and Nalini in prison, is unwell and is no longer able to travel. “The government should allow us to go and meet everyone,” said Nalini. “But my husband will not go to live in Sri Lanka. We want to be with our daughter.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nalini said she spent most of her time in jail studying and reading. She passed her MCA exams with distinction and has another master’s degree as well. She holds diplomas in fashion design, tailoring, home science, craft, first aid and yoga. Some of her favourite books include A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s Wings of Fire and Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. “I read all the five volumes of Ponniyin Selvan. I was quite stressed after finishing my MCA exams. The five volumes of Ponniyin Selvan gave me relief,” said Nalini. “My family used to get me the books I wanted. There was a person called Perumal who brought those books to prison. The books kept me alive inside the prison.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The trauma of spending such a long time in prison haunts Nalini. Not much help was forthcoming for her inside the prison, although she shared her worries with a few people whom she believed would help her. “The people whom I trusted cheated me. I cannot trust anyone now,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Nalini, the only memorable moment during the three decades she spent in prison was the visit by Rajiv Gandhi’s daughter, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. But she has not been willing to speak much about the visit. Her memoir compiled by journalist Egalaivan explains how she tried to convince Priyanka about her innocence. “Neither me nor my husband was aware of the conspiracy,” said Nalini in the memoir. “It was only a few minutes before the bomb blast that I told my husband that I was pregnant. He lifted me in joy and danced. We even discussed names for the baby.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Priyanka’s visit was the obvious high point for Nalini, she did not feel quite happy when her death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by Tamil Nadu governor Fathima Beevi in 2000. She was unhappy because her comrades still faced death penalty. “All along, we were seven convicts (In 1999, the Supreme Court sentenced four of them to death and three to life terms). And three were still facing death row. How could I feel happy about that?” she asked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Things started changing from 2014 when the Supreme Court commuted the life sentences of the remaining three. “Then came the resolutions brought in the assembly by chief ministers J. Jayalalithaa and Edappadi Palaniswami,” she said. “And now, the efforts by Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has helped us walk out of jail free.”</p> Sun Nov 20 11:57:41 IST 2022 kerala-governor-arif-mohammad-khan-and-ldf-issues <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In March 1957, around five months after Kerala was born, the results of the state’s first assembly polls were declared. The Communist Party of India bagged 60 seats―17 more than rival Congress, but four short of majority. Staking a claim to form government, the CPI roped in five independents and elected E.M.S. Namboodiripad as its legislative party leader.</p> <p>Governor Burgula Ramakrishna Rao, however, turned a blind eye and began meeting the independents one by one. All of them pledged support for the CPI, forcing Rao to finally invite the party to form government. He struck back two years later, though. He wrote to the president that the constitutional machinery in the state had broken down under CPI rule. The letter would lead to the fall of the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have since been a number of instances of the governor and the ruling party in Kerala locking horns. But never has it been as aggressive and ugly as the ongoing fight between Governor Arif Mohammad Khan and the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Disputes between the two sides had been simmering for a while. They reached a flashpoint in early August, when the government tried to bring a law curtailing the governor’s statutory powers as chancellor of state universities. Khan refused to give his assent, and accused the government of trying to regularise illegal appointments in universities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A Supreme Court verdict on October 21 armed the governor further. It quashed the appointment of Rajashree M.S. as vice chancellor of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Technological University in Thiruvananthapuram. The reason: the appointment violated norms of the University Grants Commission. The “search committee” that was tasked with finding three suitable candidates submitted only Rajashree’s name to Khan, the chancellor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I was included in the shortlist prepared in 2018 by the search committee,” said P.S. Sreejith, an academician of repute who filed the petition that led to the verdict. “They (the committee) called me several times for an interview, but the interview did not happen. Then suddenly, the committee was disbanded and a second notification [inviting applications] was issued. I applied again, but did not get any response. On February 19, 2019, I came to know through news reports that Rajashree was appointed vice chancellor. That was when I decided to challenge it in court.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan swung into action soon after the verdict, and asked vice chancellors in several state universities to step down, pointing out procedural violations that had happened during their appointments as well. The VCs, however, moved Kerala High Court, which held a special sitting on Diwali day to hear the case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hours before the hearing began, though, Khan issued show-cause notices to all VCs, asking them to explain why their appointments should not be considered void ab initio (void from the beginning). The court later extended the deadline set by the governor for responding to the notice from November 3 to November 7. All 10 VCs who were served notices have since submitted their response, and the court has directed the governor not to take any further action till November 17, when the hearing resumes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Pinarayi Vijayan government has made it clear that it will not allow Khan to appoint VCs of his choice. After Khan appointed Sisa Thomas, joint director in the technical education department, as interim VC of the technological university, the government moved court seeking a stay on the appointment. It had earlier recommended that the principal secretary of higher education be given temporary charge of the university.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The governor-government tussle was initially restricted to the higher education domain, but the past few weeks have seen the fight descending into a public slanging match. Vijayan accused Khan of acting on the behest of the RSS, and several ministers and CPI(M) leaders have cast aspersions on the governor for “misusing his office”. Khan has been vigorous in defending himself and attacking Vijayan and the CPI(M).</p> <p>On October 25, he made the unusual move of writing to Vijayan seeking action against Finance Minister K.N. Balagopal for making the “seditious” remark that those who come from states like Uttar Pradesh might find it tough to understand the working of universities in Kerala. (Khan hails from Bulandshahr in UP.) Khan also made the indirect threat that under Article 164 of the Constitution―which says that “ministers shall hold office during the pleasure of the governor”―he can dismiss ministers who publicly disparaged him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts have pointed out that Khan’s “pleasure doctrine” is not in line with the Constitution. But the CPI(M) has nevertheless found itself on the backfoot because of the governor’s allegations regarding illegal appointments in universities. Activists in the higher education domain have long alleged that only those who rubber-stamped the party’s decisions on university appointments are made vice chancellors.</p> <p>Complicating matters for the CPI(M) is the ongoing row over a letter that was recently leaked from the office of the Thiruvananthapuram mayor. The letter has the mayor “requesting” the district party secretary for a list of party workers who can fill temporary posts in the corporation’s health wing. The controversy has given a fillip to allegations about favouritism in government appointments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CPI(M) maintains that Khan’s accusations are harming the state, as the government is trying to make Kerala a “knowledge economy”. It has also accused him of trying to “saffronise” higher education and destabilise democracy. The party is preparing to organise a massive protest rally in front of the Raj Bhavan on November 15.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, the CPI(M) does not want to project it as a protest spearheaded by the party, but as a popular movement under the banner of a nonpolitical forum―Vidyabhyasa Samrakshana Koottayma (Collective to Protect Education)―comprising all left-leaning academicians and individuals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The actions of the governor are anti-democratic,” said M.V. Govindan, state party secretary. “Do you think that it is right for the CPI(M) to go it alone in opposing someone who is taking anti-people measures? So our idea is to bring together everybody who believes in democracy. We are welcoming everybody―even those from opposition parties―to join this huge movement. This campaign will have the participation of social activists, cultural leaders, film and theatre actors, and people from a wide range of backgrounds.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rally will be attended by the CPI(M)’s national leadership. Also present will be a representative of the DMK, which is currently in a tussle with Tamil Nadu governor R.N. Ravi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CPI(M) is also exploring legal options to take on Khan, who has vowed not to sign six contentious bills the government has passed. “The governor cannot withhold the bills forever,” said Govindan. “The Constitution itself says that the governor should act on the bills as soon as possible.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Law Minister P. Rajeev told THE WEEK that there had not been any discussion in the government regarding legal actions against the governor for withholding the bills. Apparently, the government has already sanctioned more than 045 lakh to pay legal experts for their advice in initiating legal actions against Khan. “It means that the legal system of the Kerala government is totally incompetent,” Khan said.</p> <p>With preparations for the protest rally in front of Raj Bhavan under way, there are no signs of a de-escalation in the fight. Khan has even dared CPI(M) workers to try and attack him on the street. “They have initiated the process of the collapse of constitutional machinery,” said Khan on November 7. “I would urge them to go ahead, create more problems, and barge into Raj Bhavan if they have the guts.”</p> Fri Nov 11 18:12:00 IST 2022 justice-d-y-chandrachud-is-known-for-giving-law-a-human-face <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I was discussing the entire board with my brother judge, sorry,” said Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud as he arrived one day in his court some months ago. He was late by ten minutes. It is not usual for a Supreme Court judge to apologise or offer an explanation if he or she comes late to the court. But Chandrachud, whenever he is late, apologises.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandrachud has endeared himself to a vast majority of court watchers with the manner in which he manages his court. His demeanour is said to be refreshingly different. If his humility is a rare quality in a person of his stature, he puts everyone at ease with his sense of humour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Often at 4pm, he asks the lawyers in his court, “Don’t you feel the urge for a cup of tea?” Some time back, as the clock struck four, he elaborated on his love for tea and spoke about how he felt a strong craving for the beverage at that hour, which also happens to be the time for the court to wrap up for the day. He recalled that when he was a lawyer in the Bombay High Court, he would have his tea in the staff canteen which was next to a courtroom. When he became a judge, he sat in the same courtroom, and while he could smell tea being brewed in the canteen next door, he could not just enter the canteen anymore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As chief justice of the Allahabad High Court, since the lawyers were more comfortable arguing in Hindi, he would help them shed their hesitation to switch from English to Hindi by starting off in his ‘Bambaiya Hindi’. Proceedings would commence in English, but would shift soon to Hindi and the lawyers appreciated the effort he took to make the situation more convenient for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has also won admirers with his ability to differ from the established ways of working. Recently, he observed in his court with reference to providing the larger population with access to court proceedings: “Yesterday, I saw someone using a mobile phone, perhaps recording what we were saying during the proceedings. Initially, I thought, how can he record the proceedings? But then, my thought changed. What is the big deal? It is an open court hearing. Nothing is confidential here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 63-year-old Chandrachud, who takes over on November 9 as the 50th chief justice of India, enjoys a rockstar appeal in legal corridors and beyond. It is as much for his youthful smile and non-stuffy persona as for his ability to empathise with human suffering, give law a human face and his commitment to safeguarding free speech and individual liberty. He has often made refreshingly new interpretations of the law even if it has meant differing from his brother judges or even the judgments of his father, former chief justice of India Y.V. Chandrachud. He is known as the judge who is not afraid to dissent, speaks truth to power while possessing a brilliant legal mind that stays true to the basic tenets of the Constitution. His judgments are seen as not only being in step with the times, but also future-ready. That he is supremely articulate and has given many a quotable quote as a speaking judge has only added to his popularity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, Chandrachud almost did not turn to law and would have instead made a career in economics. The Bombay boy, who came to Delhi as a teenager when his father got elevated to the Supreme Court, studied economics honours at the prestigious St Stephen’s College. He was among a minority of students who took up Hindi as a subsidiary subject, something he has spoken about as having held him in good stead decades later when he became the chief justice of the Allahabad High Court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Writing about his Delhi University days in an essay titled ‘A Tryst with Economics And Law’, part of a compilation, Delhi University–Celebrating 100 Glorious Years, which came out recently, Chandrachud recalls that after graduating at first position in first class from St Stephen’s, he had decided to pursue master’s in economics from the Delhi School of Economics. “Since classes were due to start in a few weeks, I began attending lectures at the Campus Law Centre (CLC). I was captivated by law and by the way it was taught by our teachers. They intertwined questions of policy and constitutional morality with the quest for liberty and freedom. A few lectures at CLC led me to make the career-altering choice of pursuing an LLB degree,” he writes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The time spent at Delhi University also exposed the Maharashtrian boy to the culture, diversity and stories of persons from different walks of life while also helping him acquire colloquial Hindi. It was also the Emergency years, and Chandrachud describes the atmosphere at the university as hushed, but notes that despite the curbs, vibrant meetings and gatherings happened, which set the tone for a society founded on the core values of liberty and free speech. These ideals have been at the heart of Chandrachud’s most significant judgments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandrachud did his master’s in law and also obtained a doctorate in judicial sciences at Harvard University. He began his career as an advocate practising in the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court. He has often spoken about having fond memories of the times he spent in the Bombay High Court, first as a lawyer and then as a judge. He was among the youngest to be designated a senior advocate at the age of 39 in 1998. He also served as additional solicitor general of India from 1998 to 2000, until he was appointed as a judge of the Bombay High Court. In 2013, he was appointed chief justice of the Allahabad High Court and was elevated to the Supreme Court in 2016.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandrachud, who is commonly referred to as ‘DYC’, is especially popular with the younger set. Law students and interns come to his court to hear him. The feeling is mutual as Chandrachud is described by his peers and juniors as being young at heart and keen to learn new things, be it in the field of law or even books, movies and music from the experiences of his judicial clerks who come from varied backgrounds. He always accepts invitations to speak at events in law colleges, but the same cannot be said about other events.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The multi-faceted man loves to read and travel but desists from socialising as it eats into his ‘me time’. If his original favourites in music included Bob Dylan and ABBA, he has kept up to date by listening to Coldplay and later on ‘Despacito’ by Luis Fonsi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandrachud’s family is originally from Pune; he was born and brought up in Mumbai. Both his parents were deeply immersed in Indian classical music. His father was trained in classical music, while his mother, Prabha, sang for the All India Radio. One of his prized possessions is an autograph from the legendary Kishori Amonkar. If music, besides law, formed the backdrop of his growing up years, there was also passion for cricket which he shared with his father. He was a big fan of Sunil Gavaskar and later Sachin Tendulkar, and his current favourite is Virat Kohli.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior advocate Ajit Bhasme, who grew up with Chandrachud in Mumbai and was two years his senior in school, remembers the judge as a good natured, sporty youngster who loved to play cricket in the building compound, his playmates including the likes of the children of film star Shashi Kapoor as also the kids from the servants’ quarters. “He is a hard worker. He has no vices except for his obsession with work,” said Bhasme. “He has the ability to build bridges and reach out to people who may not be in agreement with him. I am confident that as CJI he will be able to take along his judge colleagues and also reach out to the bar and resolve their issues.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandrachud’s first wife, Rashmi, had died from cancer in 2007. Some years later, he married Kalpana Das, who was formerly working with the British Council. His elder son, Abhinav, practises law at the Bombay High Court and younger son, Chintan, is employed with a law firm in the UK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandrachud, the judge with a vision for the future, is best understood when placed against the backdrop of the formidable legal legacy that he inherits from his father, who holds the record for the longest tenure as CJI―seven years. He has spoken about having imbibed from his father, whom he has described as his best friend, the importance of law having a human face. That said, it is also in having differed with his father’s judgments that he has established himself as a judge who is not afraid to offer a different opinion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is learnt that a fellow judge had even cautioned Chandrachud as he went on to overrule his father’s judgement with regard to adultery in 2018, saying that it was a well reasoned verdict. However, Chandrachud was convinced that it was erroneous. He was part of a five-judge Constitution bench that unanimously struck down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code as unconstitutional, thus decriminalising adultery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2017, while writing his separate yet concurring order in the apex court’s judgment that declared that privacy was a fundamental right, Chandrachud had overruled a verdict passed by a five-judge Constitution bench in 1976―that included his father―in the ADM Jabalpur case. The court had against the backdrop of the Emergency by a majority of 4:1 upheld a presidential order that barred anyone detained or arrested from seeking relief through a habeas corpus or any other writ filed in the high court. Overruling the ADM Jabalpur verdict, Chandrachud wrote, “The judgments rendered by all the four judges constituting the majority in ADM Jabalpur are seriously flawed. Life and personal liberty are inalienable to human existence.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Chandrachud takes over as CJI for a relatively long tenure of two years, there is great anticipation over the impact he will have on the functioning of the Supreme Court as also the judiciary as a whole. This has got a lot to do with the judgments passed by him during his stint as a judge in the apex court that began in 2016. His verdicts, whether dissenting or concurring, have been viewed with great interest. They have been described as progressive, upholding the rights of the individual and viewing those on the fringes of society or those who are in a disadvantaged situation with compassion and empathy.</p> <p>Senior advocate and former additional solicitor general Bishwajit Bhattacharyya said the task before Chandrachud was enormous and he would have to rise to the occasion to meet the expectations. “I am absolutely sure that he will give a new direction to the judiciary. He will primarily have to live up to the expectations of the litigants. The judiciary exists for the litigants,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Be it his judgment on privacy, that was viewed as having paved the way for the landmark verdict that decriminalised homosexuality, or his dissent in the Aadhaar case, where he said that the scheme reduced a person to a 12-digit number, or in the Bhima-Koregaon matter, where he said “dissent is a symbol of a vibrant democracy”, or the Sabarimala case, where lending his weight to the majority verdict he said excluding women from worship was to place them in a position of subordination, or more recently, in the abortion case, in which he said women who conceive out of marital rape could seek termination of pregnancy within the specified period, Chandrachud has come to be known as a judge with a progressive view of justice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the liberals have found a hero in Chandrachud, the verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi case, where it was widely speculated that he had authored the judgment, is among a clutch of decisions that has been welcomed by the other side of the divide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is clear that Chandrachud has generated great interest in the last six years as a Supreme Court judge and there is already immense anticipation with regard to his tenure as CJI as also great expectations. He has to deal with the two perennial issues of pendency of cases and vacancies in judicial positions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Ending the adjournment culture and ensuring increased supervision over lower judiciary, given that 99 per cent of pending cases are in the high courts and subordinate courts, have to be among the foremost priorities of Justice Chandrachud,” said Abhinay Sharma, managing partner, ASL Partners. Sharma said Justice Chandrachud would also have to ensure a smooth working relationship with the executive in terms of fast-tracking appointment of judges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Pratyush Miglani, managing partner of Miglani Varma &amp; Co, Chandrachud’s openness towards broadcasting constitutional bench hearings sets the expectation that the court’s functioning will become more and more transparent. “We have seen him bat for the need for law to keep up with technological progress, and for judicial institutions to shed inhibitions about using technology. That leaves us with tremendous hope that the court will adopt newer technology to improve access to justice for the masses, setting an example for courts below, including the high courts and district courts,” Miglani said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandrachud as head of the Supreme Court’s e-committee has been credited with putting in place a system that worked well during Covid-19 by ensuring the courts turned to the virtual mode. “Justice Chandrachud’s emphasis on finding technological solutions for the court’s problems is heartening. He has the will to bring about the necessary changes and is on course to making the court a paperless place,” said Pradeep Rai, senior advocate and vice president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sneha Kalita, advocate-on-record in the Supreme Court, said Chandrachud’s humane approach to running the court sets him apart. “He has a friendly approach, is accommodating and takes it upon himself to encourage young lawyers who appear in his court,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amidst the intense discussion over Chandrachud becoming the new CJI, former judge of the Delhi High Court Justice R.S. Sodhi said: “He has a daunting task ahead of him and I expect him to be ready with a plan to deal with the various issues that plague the judiciary. Cutting through the hype, he has to focus on his job as the administrative head of the judiciary.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandrachud had once said, “It is well for a judge to remind himself or herself that flattery is often the graveyard of the gullible.” The biggest challenge for him will be to live up to the expectations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Judge of character</b></p> <p>▸ <b>Justice Chandrachud</b> practised law at the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court</p> <p>▸ Designated senior advocate, at 39, by the Bombay High Court in June 1998</p> <p>▸ Additional solicitor general of India: 1998 until appointment as a judge</p> <p>▸ Judge of the Bombay High Court: March 29, 2000, until appointment as chief justice of the Allahabad High Court</p> <p>▸ Director of Maharashtra Judicial Academy</p> <p>▸ Chief justice of the Allahabad High Court from October 31, 2013, until appointment to the Supreme Court on May 13, 2016</p> <p><b>Quote unquote</b></p> <p>▸ “We will not adjourn the matter. We don’t want the Supreme Court to be ‘tareekh pe tareekh’ court. We want to change this perception.”</p> <p>▸ “It is well for a judge to remind himself that flattery is often the graveyard of the gullible.”</p> <p>▸ “History and contemporary events across the world are a reminder that blackouts of information are used as a willing ally to totalitarian excesses of power. They have no place in a democracy.”</p> <p>▸ “The essence of judging is compassion. You take out compassion from judging, and you will be left with only the husk.”</p> <p><b>Notable judgments:</b></p> <p>▸ <b>Right to Privacy:</b> “Privacy is a constitutionally protected right, which emerges primarily from the guarantee of life and personal liberty in Article 21 of the Constitution.”</p> <p>▸ <b>Euthanasia:</b> “…To deprive an individual of dignity towards the end of life is to deprive the individual of a meaningful existence.”</p> <p>▸ <b>Decriminalisation of adultery:</b> “Ostensibly, society has two sets of standards of morality for judging sexual behaviour. One set for its female members and another for males.”</p> <p>▸ <b>Entry of women in Sabarimala:</b> “To exclude women from worship by allowing the right to worship to men is to place women in a position of subordination. The Constitution should not become an instrument for the perpetuation of patriarchy.”</p> <p>▸ <b>Gender parity in armed forces:</b> “Women officers of the Indian Army have brought laurels to the force... Their track record of service to the nation is beyond reproach. To cast aspersion on their abilities on the ground of gender is an affront not only to their dignity as women but also to the dignity of the members of the Indian Army.”</p> <p><b>Batting for rights</b></p> <p><b>Aadhaar:</b></p> <p>▸ “The entire Aadhaar programme, since 2009, suffers from constitutional infirmities and violations of fundamental rights. The enactment of the Aadhaar Act does not save the project. The Aadhaar Act, the rules and regulations framed under it, and the framework prior to the enactment of the Act, are unconstitutional.”</p> <p><b>Bhima-Koregaon:</b></p> <p>▸ “Circumstances have been drawn to our notice to cast a cloud on whether the Maharashtra police has in the present case acted as fair and impartial investigating agency...Sufficient material has been placed before the Court bearing on the need to have an independent investigation.”</p> <p><b>Abortion:</b></p> <p>▸ “All women, whether married or in consensual relationships, including persons other than cis-gender women, are entitled to seek an abortion within 20-24 weeks of pregnancy. Also, women who conceive out of marital rape can seek termination of pregnancy within the specified period.”</p> Sun Nov 06 13:05:26 IST 2022 new-cji-should-build-litigant-centric-judiciary-deepika-kinhal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On November 9, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud will take oath as the 50th chief justice of India (CJI). As the son of the longest-serving CJI and having been a part of the judiciary as a lawyer and a judge for more than four decades, he is quite familiar with the powers of and the expectations from the top office of Indian judiciary. More significantly, however, Justice Chandrachud’s popularity precedes his ascent to the top post.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Through his judgments in landmark cases on privacy, homosexuality, adultery and abortion rights among others, Justice Chandrachud is known as a judge who upholds liberty. And, either by design or by accident, his judgments in cases such as Ayodhya have made him palatable to those on the other side of the political spectrum as well. Therefore, there is both a sense of hope and nervous energy associated with Justice Chandrachud’s assent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another rarity with Justice Chandrachud’s elevation is the expected length of his tenure. Unlike most of his predecessors, Justice Chandrachud will have two full years at the helm. Contrast this with the incumbent CJI, Justice U.U. Lalit. Even with a tenure of 73 days, he has ushered in a blitzkrieg of changes. The potential for Justice Chandrachud’s tenure, therefore, seems immense. However, even while Justice Lalit has showcased the extent of the power that the CJI’s office holds, it is anybody’s guess as to whether any of his measures will stick post his retirement―be it the rearrangement of listing practices or the resurrection of Constitution Bench matters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A rather unfortunate feature of the Indian judiciary is that each new chief justice can practically undo or abandon any action taken by his/her predecessor. Short tenures of CJIs (the average tenure of the last ten CJIs was around 11 months) combined with a complete lack of a common vision binding successive CJIs has meant that the changes to the judiciary have been ad hoc and inconsistent. This is another reason why Justice Chandrachud’s tenure holds promise. His two years are perhaps long enough to initiate and see through key reforms and even challenge the vision-less status of the judiciary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given the state of judiciary Justice Chandrachud is inheriting―with an all-time high pendency of over four crore cases―the temptation soon after assuming charge might be to act. It would, however, be wise if he takes inspiration from the saying, to take two steps forward, it is necessary to take a step backward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most CJIs have entered and exited their office in a fire-fighting mode. Justice Lalit, for instance, had to make a choice―a wise one at that―to focus on measures that could have an immediate impact with least resistance within and outside. Justice Chandrachud, on the other hand, has the luxury of time to do just the opposite. His biggest contribution can be to use his tenure to help build consensus around a vision for the 21st century judiciary that each and every component of the justice system strives to achieve year after year, CJI after CJI.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A vision which has been a long time coming is to build a ‘litigant-centric’ judiciary as opposed to the current colonial relic where an ordinary litigant ironically has the least agency. A judiciary centred on a litigant will be one where justice as a service is owed to the litigant and will also give litigants the tools and the agency to hold the system and its stakeholders accountable. Justice Chandrachud’s legacy could be that he took the first concrete steps towards this vision-driven transformation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Needless to say, the making of a ‘litigant-centric’ judiciary is going to be a long-drawn journey; it cannot be achieved in a single masterstroke. The vision itself needs to be broken into smaller, manageable milestones, ensuring steady progress combined with benefits along the way. This is where the ‘how’ of bringing in reforms becomes extremely critical.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So far, the problems plaguing the judiciary have been dealt with in silos and the focus has been on the symptoms rather than the root cause. Inordinate delays, high pendency, poor infrastructure, judicial vacancy and lack of transparency are interlinked manifestations of systemic issues in the judiciary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To ensure that the judiciary’s and his own time and efforts are spent judiciously, a key management principle that should guide Justice Chandrachud’s tenure is to ‘hire the right person for the right job with the right pay’. Even at a cursory glance, it is clear that almost all of the laundry list of problems above are non-legal in nature. Ironically, however, a judge primarily trained in law is expected to be an all-in-one expert vested with the responsibility of fixing them. How else can one explain the fact that the person in charge of implementing the e-Courts project in every state is a district judge on deputation as a chief project coordinator.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A right start for Justice Chandrachud’s tenure would be for him to build dedicated teams of experts to flesh out the vision of a ‘litigant-centric’ judiciary and curate a plan of action to incrementally achieve it. In parallel, he must identify ways and means of internally providing for the required expertise at all levels of judiciary, taking lessons from the failures of the court managers’ experiment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To be sure, maximum resistance towards decentralisation of responsibilities away from a judge will come from within since a judge’s non-judicial work is also a way of wielding power. Therefore, Justice Chandrachud should give primacy to consensus building. Towards this, the annual CM-CJ (chief ministers and chief justices of high courts) meeting can be a platform where details of the vision and the plans are presented to build consensus within the judiciary and the executive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With his popularity, long-term tenure and astuteness, Justice Chandrachud as the 50th CJI will surely leave a mark as a judge and an administrator. A long-term vision supported by the right team to realise it will ensure that the mark will be indelible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>The author leads judicial reforms work at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.</i></p> Sun Nov 06 13:05:05 IST 2022 justice-chandrachud-iews-india-as-a-melting-pot-of-diversity-former-law-clerk <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Even before joining Justice D.Y. Chandrachud as a judicial law clerk, I followed closely his work as a Supreme Court judge. I have always greatly admired him for his fearlessness and for speaking truth to power, among other things. While I was pursuing my masters in law at the University of Oxford, I was witness to the immense respect and admiration that he got even outside India. For instance, his judgment in the Navtej Johar case which decriminalised homosexual intercourse was spoken highly of in the common law world with regard to the application of constitutional morality and transformative constitutionalism to correct a social wrong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All this prompted me to apply to his office when I came back to India and wanted to start my career in litigation. I believed it would be a wonderful opportunity since I would get to view complex legal and human issues from the standpoint of a judge, especially someone whom I greatly admired. I also felt confident, going by his judgments on LGBTQ rights and gender justice, that he would ensure for me an accessible, inclusive experience as a disabled person aspiring to put his roots down in litigation. That is the reason why I applied to Justice Chandrachud to work as a judicial clerk.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I remember that, when I told Kate O’Regan, former judge of the South African constitutional court and director of the Oxford-based Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, that I was going to work for Justice Chandrachud, she said, half-jokingly: “Doesn’t everyone want to work for Justice Chandrachud?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our first interaction took place virtually in February 2020 when he interviewed me for the clerkship. Despite his reputation as a rockstar judge, his humility and simplicity shone through. Among other things, we spoke candidly about the reasonable accommodations I would need in his office. What particularly stood out in the interaction was his keen interest in ensuring that the case files that his judicial clerks would have to work on were made accessible to me and that I should have the same degree of choice as my sighted counterparts in choosing matters to assist him on, in keeping with my strengths and areas of interest. It is indeed a rare thought process about the capabilities of the disabled among people in positions of power, and it gave me immense confidence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In my work as a judicial clerk, I came across certain hurdles in terms of accessibility such as the Supreme Court website requiring every visitor to enter a visual captcha. It was impossible for me to go to the website and check case details. Justice Chandrachud personally intervened to ensure the introduction of an audio captcha on the website.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Justice Chandrachud also issued a direction that all files that are submitted as written submissions had to be emailed in PDF format which could be read through a screen reader. It was also instructed that the soft copies that were emailed were not scanned copies of the printed submissions. What generally happens is that court filings are printed and those printouts are then scanned and uploaded. Many a time, the quality of the scanning is very poor, making the document inaccessible to a visually-challenged screen reader user. If lawyers simply use digital signatures instead of physical signatures, they will not have to follow this process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On multiple occasions, we had discussions on the challenges I faced in terms of accessibility in my work. I also helped him with research on the best practices in other countries about the inclusion of the disabled. These issues were highlighted by him in his court and in his speeches at public events. Also, the e-committee of the Supreme Court, which is headed by Justice Chandrachud, has made a number of interventions to make the courts more disabled-friendly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During my clerkship, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Chandrachud reversed the judgment in the V. Surendra Mohan vs state of Tamil Nadu case in which the apex court had in 2019 ruled that a candidate whose visual or hearing impairment was in excess of 40-50 per cent could not discharge the responsibilities of a civil judge. Justice Chandrachud held that the principle of reasonable accommodation had to be applied [Vikash Kumar vs UPSC]. The Supreme Court passed an order in favour of the petitioner suffering from writer’s cramp and who had been denied a scribe by the UPSC. The court held that to deny the facility of a scribe in a situation such as this would negate the valuable rights and entitlements which are recognised by the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What makes Justice Chandrachud so popular and relatable is the fact that he does not have an air about him despite being in a position of power. He has a connect with the society which he has retained in his more than 20 years as a judge. He brings into his work a lot of passion and energy and is genuinely invested in every case. He is progressive and forward looking. His vision of Indian society as a melting pot of diversity and a bastion of plural, inclusive values shines forth in his judgments, be it with regard to the rights of the LGBTQ community, gender justice or disability rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>The author is a Rhodes scholar and attorney who worked as a law clerk for Justice Chandrachud.</i></p> Sun Nov 06 13:04:46 IST 2022 new-cji-needs-to-address-five-major-issues-deepak-gupta-former-sc-judge <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There are high hopes and expectations from Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud, who will take over as chief justice of India on November 9 and will have a relatively long tenure of two years. For three years, Justice Chandrachud and I were among the first to reach the judges’ lounge of the Supreme Court every day. We enjoyed freshly brewed coffee and exchanged notes on matters frivolous and serious. During those exchanges, I found him to be a true liberal who has empathy for the underprivileged and the marginalised sections of society. Many may not know that he and his wife, Kalpana, are bringing up two differently-abled girls as their own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Justice U.U. Lalit, in a short period, has done a wonderful job, on both judicial and administrative sides. The rate of disposal has increased. There is more transparency. Justice Lalit has taken firm decisions to uphold the independence of the judiciary. He has set the bar high. I expect Justice Chandrachud to raise it even higher. He has the intellect, the integrity and the heart to do so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My list of expectations from him would be as long as my arm. But I will confine myself to five major issues, which he needs to address as chief justice of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First, the Supreme Court of India is not only an adjudicator of disputes, but also the protector of the fundamental rights of the citizens of this country. The Supreme Court has to be more proactive while protecting the rights of the people. Justice Chandrachud has shown where his heart lies, be it the judgment on privacy, rights of women, rights of the LGBTQ community and other marginalised sections of the society. He has to carry the court with him to ensure that the marginalised and the underprivileged are not denied their rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Day in and day out one reads of instances from all over the country, regardless of the party in power, where the citizens are deprived of their basic liberties by those in power, especially by the police. In a country where rule of law is the golden thread that binds the Constitution, the powers that be cannot be permitted to take law in their own hands. Under our Constitution, there is no place for mob lynchings, bulldozer justice or misuse of archaic laws like the law of sedition to persecute and harass people. I fervently hope that Justice Chandrachud will take steps to ensure that rule of law is maintained and the harassment of citizens is stopped.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Second, I feel that steps need to be taken to uphold and maintain the independence of the judiciary. Unfortunately, there is a perception among some sections of society that the Supreme Court is not totally independent. This perception needs to be eliminated. All citizens should feel that the Supreme Court is truly independent. The chief justice has a very important role to play in this regard, both judicially and administratively. I would not like to comment on judicial pronouncements. The collegium under Justice Chandrachud will have some of the finest and most independent judges. I hope that they will ensure that the decisions taken by them are implemented by the government. The collegium must ensure that wherever it has reiterated its decision, the governments must make appointments. A case which immediately comes to mind is of Saurabh Kirpal, an extremely competent advocate who is openly gay and whose name has been recommended and reiterated by the collegium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Third, the functioning of the collegium system must be made more objective and transparent. The system, over the last few years, has attracted a lot of criticism, some of it well-founded. A beginning has been made and the collegium has introduced a more objective system of assessing judgments of judges under consideration for elevation to the Supreme Court. This system must be crystallised by having a permanent secretariat for the collegium which should examine the judgments of judges of the high court who are likely to be considered for elevation to the Supreme Court or as chief justice of a high court. All material, which are likely to impact the efficiency, integrity or suitability of any high court judge for elevation, should be available with the secretariat. Obviously, there has to be some secrecy attached to the proceedings of the collegium and everything cannot be made public. At the same time, efforts should be made to be as transparent as possible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fourth, the chief justice is the master of the roster and must draw up the roster. He has to decide which benches should hear which type of cases. Justice Chandrachud is very computer savvy. He should take steps to computerise the roster so that human intervention in allocation of cases to particular benches is reduced to the barest minimum. Once the roster is settled, the chief justice should also let the roster run by itself unless there are exceptional circumstances where the programme designed for the roster cannot assign a case to a particular bench.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, the Supreme Court is a very chief-justice-centric and registry-centric court. During my stint at the Supreme Court, the only full-court meetings held were either to fix the calendar or to designate senior advocates. The full court should meet more often to discuss important administrative issues. The Supreme Court comprises 34 judges. Most of them have been chief justices of high courts and have vast administrative experience. The benefit of this experience must be utilised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Each chief justice has his own ideas on how to run the Supreme Court. These ideas may be good, but more often than not when the chief justice retires, his successor will come up with his own ideas and discard the older ones. There must be continuity in the administrative functioning of the Supreme Court. The chief justice has too much on his plate. My suggestion is that a committee should be constituted, comprising five judges outside the collegium having the longest remaining tenure. This committee should aid and advise the chief justice as to how the functioning of the registry can be improved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am sure at least some of my dreams will come true and two years hence Justice Chandrachud will demit office in a blaze of glory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>The author was a judge of the Supreme Court.</i></p> Sun Nov 06 13:04:22 IST 2022 the-chandrachud-i-know <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On November 20, 2017, I reached Allahabad, after being transferred there from the Rajasthan High Court. That evening, I had a meeting with a young judge, who introduced me to the Allahabad High Court, its traditions and the individuals who contributed to its glorious history. The meeting lasted for more than 90 minutes, and the judge spent not less than 20 minutes talking about the imprint left on the court by Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud, who had been chief justice of the Allahabad High Court prior to his elevation to the Supreme Court in May 2016.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was certainly curious as well as interesting to hear about the judicial and administrative work of a judge who had left the court about one and a half years earlier. While working as puisne judge, I came across frequent references to the working style of Justice Chandrachud, not only by the judges, but also by members of the bar. In this way, even before meeting him, I had come to know about him quite well, both as a judicial administrator and as an individual.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The judicial capacity and capability of a judge reflects in the annals of justice through his or her judgments. Justice Chandrachud’s judgments have had a great impact in terms of how cases in other courts have been decided. The much discussed verdict of the Allahabad High Court in the case pertaining to the ‘name and shame’ posters, which was passed by a division bench of the court, found its conclusion on the judgment authored by Justice Chandrachud in the Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. vs Union of India and Ors. In a landmark order, he declared that the right to privacy is a fundamental right under the Constitution and “the constitutional core of human dignity”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On November 14, 2018, I took over as chief justice of the Allahabad High Court and in that capacity I had the occasion to look into several orders, directions, initiatives and actions taken by Justice Chandrachud in the court on the administrative side. I always found that there was a creative vision to deal with chronic problems of the system. He employed modern thoughts and technical solutions. He introduced digitisation of records on a large scale and also introduced the use of computer systems at every level of the administration. The credit for introducing the concept of e-courts in Allahabad and Lucknow goes to Justice Chandrachud.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Allahabad, he had made a mark with his humility but had also been firm when required. It was he who put a check on the strikes and the tendency to boycott courts by lawyers in Uttar Pradesh by constituting a seven-judge bench that dealt with different issues of the problem. On the one hand, this bench suggested various steps to redress grievances of lawyers and on the other, it also initiated stern action against persons causing grievous harm to the pious profession of advocacy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Justice Chandrachud also passed several effective orders in various PILs, including the case relating to cleaning the Ganga. The orders passed in various PILs reflect his extraordinary judicio-administrative capabilities. He knows how to draw an order and also get it implemented.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not surprising at all that there are great expectations from Justice Chandrachud’s tenure as CJI.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>The author was chief justice of the Allahabad High Court.</i></p> Sun Nov 06 13:03:54 IST 2022 congress-president-mallikarjun-kharge-future-challenges <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As the Bharat Jodo Yatra traversed Karnataka, veteran Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge found himself in a tricky situation. As the senior-most leader in the state, Kharge was expected to walk with Congress president Sonia Gandhi as she briefly joined the padyatra led by her son Rahul Gandhi. But then, Kharge was also a candidate in the party’s much awaited presidential election, and his participation would raise questions about the Gandhi family’s poll neutrality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the election drew close, though, Kharge chose to not just walk with Rahul, but also take part in a public rally in Bellary to mark 1,000 kilometres of the yatra. The sight of Kharge walking with Rahul was telling―both in terms of the poll process and what lies ahead for the new Congress president. It depicted Kharge in sync with Rahul, and gave a glimpse of the role of the new party chief as regards Rahul, whose image as the face of the party in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls is being burnished by the yatra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The presidential election was the first to be held in the Congress since 2000. The party wanted it to be seen as depicting internal democracy, blunting allegations that the Gandhis wielded dynastic control over the organisation. Every step in the poll process felt new. Directives had to be issued by the party’s central election authority (CEA) about according the two candidates―the “status quoist” Kharge and the “anti-establishmentarian” Shashi Tharoor―the same kind of reception when they visited the states to campaign. But it was only to be expected that there would be a favourite who would get special treatment. In this case, it was Kharge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both the candidates undertook a hectic campaign, visiting state capitals, addressing news conferences, reaching out through social media, and listing out their agenda as party president. In the end, as many as 9,385 of 9,915 delegates cast their votes in 67 polling booths across the country. Kharge won 7,897 votes―6,825 more than Tharoor. There were 416 invalid votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharge’s victory was never in doubt―he had overwhelming support of most party leaders, including members of “G23”―the group of 23 senior leaders who have been demanding large-scale changes in the Congress. From the very start of the campaign, it was clear that Kharge was the choice of the Gandhis and the party establishment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After 24 years, the Congress now has a non-Gandhi at the helm. Kharge is also the first dalit to become party president after Jagjivan Ram in 1970-71. The party would want this to be viewed as its commitment to the cause of the marginalised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With his valiant and spirited campaign, Tharoor grew in stature and consolidated support for his reformist ideas. Although he often had to plough his own furrow, with even his G23 colleagues abandoning him, Tharoor managed to pull in as many as 1,072 votes. To put things in perspective, Jitendra Prasada got only 94 votes against Sonia Gandhi in 2000. Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot got only 882 and 354 votes, respectively, against Sitaram Kesri in 1996.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An acknowledgement of Tharoor’s heightened influence came during the middle of the campaign, when the Congress named him head of the parliamentary standing committee on chemicals and fertilisers. There is now speculation that he could be part of the new Congress Working Committee to be set up under Kharge. He may even be included in the team of working presidents or vice presidents that could be formed to assist the new president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am thrilled with the result, and now there is an infusion of fresh blood in the grand old party,” Shashi Tharoor told THE WEEK. “The Congress is here to stay. Nobody should write us off. I will meet Kharge and offer him full support.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The task for Kharge, 80, is cut out. He is the first full-time Congress president in three years, succeeding Sonia who has been at the helm since 1998, except for one and a half years between 2017 and 2019 when Rahul was party chief. With his vast experience in governance and the organisation, Kharge assumes charge at a time when the Congress is at its weakest. The party is reeling from a series of electoral setbacks and the relentless exodus of leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharge’s immediate challenge: the assembly polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh later this year. In Gujarat, the party is widely viewed as having frittered away the gains of the previous polls, in which it had won 77 of 182 seats. There has since been an exodus of leaders from the Congress, which now has to deal with an aggressive Aam Aadmi Party as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Himachal Pradesh, the Congress is struggling to get over internal differences to take advantage of the anti-incumbency against the ruling BJP. Its most respected leader, Virbhadra Singh, died last year, and the party is unable to project a new face because of internal power tussles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the party performs poorly in the two states, Kharge and the Congress would start on the back foot in 2023―an electorally crucial year. Polls are due next year in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh―states where the Congress and the BJP will have direct fights. The outcome will have a bearing on the Congress’s preparations for the Lok Sabha polls in 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharge has been cautious in dealing with demands for an overhaul in the party, saying he would consult all senior leaders, including the Gandhis, before deciding on what needs to be done. He has said that he remains committed to implementing the Udaipur declaration on reforms, which was adopted after the party’s brainstorming conclave held earlier this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Kharge has the kind of experience that is required to run a party like the Congress,” said senior Congress leader Ambika Soni. “He has held various posts in his long political career. He has been a legislator, leader of opposition and cabinet minister. He inspires confidence and has the ability to take everyone along.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Providing the party with ideological clarity would be another challenge. The panel headed by Kharge at the Udaipur conclave had proposed that the Congress reaffirm its commitment to the Constitution, protect India’s federal structure, empower the downtrodden, and ensure liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The BJP is moving on the same path of oppression that the British trod earlier,” said Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Pramod Tiwari. “We firmly believe that Kharge can give a befitting reply to the BJP-RSS ideology. I have witnessed in the Rajya Sabha how he roars like a lion when taking on the ruling side.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A big question is, what would be the role of the Gandhis from now on? It is widely believed that the Gandhis will continue to greatly influence decision-making in the party. Also, Rahul is expected to be the face of the party in the Lok Sabha polls. Congress leaders have also pointed out that Kharge has an excellent rapport with Rahul.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Gandhi family’s contribution to the nation and the party is unparalleled,” said AICC treasurer Pawan Kumar Bansal. “We cannot forget the sacrifices that they have made for the country. Sonia Gandhi did not want to continue as party president. And we all urged Rahul Gandhi to come back as party president, but he said a firm no. Now, we have reposed our faith in a person with immense experience.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps, one can read into the enthusiasm of a group of drummers who gathered at the Congress headquarters in Delhi after the results were out. They celebrated Kharge’s victory by chanting Rahul’s name. Apparently, many of the invalid votes involved the delegates writing the name of Rahul on voter slips. The message being drummed home: Kharge may be the new party president, but Rahul continues to have an overarching presence.</p> Fri Oct 21 17:52:57 IST 2022 bharat-jodo-yatra-impact-karnataka-elections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AT NOON,</b> a sprawling camp dotted with white canopies in Jajirakallu village in Andhra Pradesh transforms into an oasis for the sun-tanned Bharat Jodo yatris who are back after walking 13km in the blazing sun. They look fatigued, but are in an upbeat mood. After savouring a sumptuous meal served on a plantain leaf, they retire into a giant tent for a power nap. Small teams of volunteers huddle together sharing notes, while the movers and shakers carefully factor in the rising mercury and logistics to revise the schedules. A team of doctors suggests quick fixes for minor ailments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The evening is ushered in by the beating of drums; folk artistes engage the teeming crowd, while the yatris line up once again to hit the road. Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who is leading the Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, steps out of the camp and his security cordon struggles to keep pace as he greets cheering crowds on either side of the road.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The yatra, which was flagged off on September 7, completed the 1,000-km mark at Ballari in Karnataka on October 16. While the yatra is perceived as a bid to resurrect the Congress ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, and perhaps to project Rahul as the prime ministerial candidate, it has led to a lot of intrigue in Karnataka, which goes to polls in seven months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Karnataka leg of the yatra put the organisational strength of the grand old party’s state unit to test, but it also re-energised party cadres. The ruling BJP, which is battling anti-incumbency, is visibly shaken. It is not just the huge turnout that is giving the saffron party sleepless nights, but Rahul’s new avatar as a leader who is both affable and assertive, and his instant connect with the common man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the yatra entered the state through Chamarajanagar, one of Karnataka’s backward districts, Rahul met the families of Covid victims awaiting compensation. At Badanavalu village, where Mahatma Gandhi set up a khadi centre in 1927, he said the yatra would fight the ideology that killed Gandhi and would “unite the people” of the country. Symbolically, he helped lay a road to connect Badanavalu’s dalit quarter to its Lingayat locality to end the decades-old animosity between the two communities. In March 1993, three dalits were murdered by a mob of Lingayats over dalits entering the village temple.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the yatra gaining momentum, Rahul met sanitation workers, tribal women and unemployed youth, farmers, fisher folk, construction workers, environmentalists, activists, teachers, educationists, artists, writers, journalists and intellectuals. He also took aim at the economic situation. “The massive concentration of wealth with a few individuals is destroying the backbone of the Indian economy­ ―the farmers and the small and medium business. This is resulting in the collapse of employment in India. And there is continuous and unrelenting increase in prices of commodities,” said Rahul. Youth Congress president B.V. Srinivas said the response to the yatra had been tremendous. “Not just the party workers, but the common man, too, is rushing to meet Rahul ji,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as the Congress upped its ante against the BJP, former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa and Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai chose to play down the yatra by calling Rahul a “bachcha (kid)”. The BJP’s Jan Sankalpa Yatra, meant to highlight the welfare schemes and achievements of the Central and state governments, ended up as a platform to target the Congress and its yatra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the eve of the convention in Ballari, Bommai said Sonia Gandhi had relinquished the seat she had won in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls and her party was making a desperate bid to woo the people of Ballari once again. Mallikarjun Kharge, who addressed the convention, set the record straight by saying that Article 371 (J) of the Constitution that accorded special status to the backward Kalyana Karnataka region was a “gift by Sonia Gandhi”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In poll-bound Karnataka, the districts mapped for the yatra―Chamarajanagar, Mysuru, Mandya, Tumakuru, Chitradurga, Ballari and Raichur―were the regions the Congress lost in the last elections. These are also the districts with considerable SC/ST and Vokkaliga population, which will be decisive in the upcoming elections. Walking hand in hand in solidarity with slain activist Gauri Lankesh’s mother and sister or tying the shoelace for his mother along the yatra in Mandya, or demanding fair compensation for the families of Covid victims who died because of oxygen shortage in Chamarajanagar, Rahul struck a chord with the common man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The yatra has given the Congress some much-needed oxygen after a series of electoral debacles and the power tussle among state leaders. While the cold war between D.K. Shivakumar and legislature party leader Siddaramaiah is no secret, Rahul’s constant endeavour to bring the two veterans together was unmissable. When a reporter asked him about the party’s chief ministerial candidate, it sure touched a raw nerve. “We have formidable leaders in Karnataka who are complementary and brilliant. Once we win the elections, the decision on who will be the chief minister will take place through a process,” said Rahul.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Redefining the rules of the game, Rahul has chosen corner meetings over mammoth rallies and has limited his interaction with mainstream media, while relying on social media for outreach and publicity. Rahul said the Congress had to resort to the yatra after democratic institutions, media and Parliament shut the doors on opposition parties. “The yatra gives me an opportunity for truthful conversation,” said Rahul. “I see a distance between the political class and our citizens. While I talk to the people I can share their suffering and also their wisdom. It is a powerful experience.”</p> Fri Oct 21 17:47:51 IST 2022 how-death-of-gambian-children-will-affect-indias-african-outreach <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FROM THE INDIAN</b> perspective, Bangladesh and The Gambia may be worlds apart. But, there are a couple of commonalities between the western African country and India’s eastern neighbour. First is India’s diplomatic outreach. ‘Neighbourhood First’ is among a slew of Indian initiatives in Bangladesh; The Gambia is a beneficiary of India’s Africa outreach policy and largesse, particularly the ‘vaccine diplomacy’ thrust.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, there is the shared suffering inflicted by Indian-made cough syrups. Both the International Narcotics Control Board and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime have documented the damage done in Bangladesh by a codeine-laced cough syrup. Codeine is an opiate. So much so that the Indian government prohibited its sale within 25km of the international border. But, the blue plastic bottles continue to reach Bangladesh. A long, porous border with India took care of supply, while a religious code that insists on abstinence from alcohol contributed to the demand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In The Gambia, Indian cough syrups have reportedly claimed the lives of 66 children from July to September. They were being treated for flu-like symptoms and became unable to pass urine after taking the cough syrup. Doctors suspect that the syrup caused kidney failure. Local police is investigating the cause of the deaths, as are Indian authorities, but bewildered Gambians do not know where to look for succour or who to blame.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Is it the fault of the Gambian government, which has not set up a lab to test imported medicines? Or is it the fault of the Gambian Medicine Control Agency, the importers, or the Indian drug maker, or New Delhi, which failed to regulate such drug manufacturers/exporters? No matter what they conclude, there is little doubt that the narrative of India being the world’s pharmaceutical capital has lost its sheen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s vaccine diplomacy was in keeping with its ambitions to expand its spheres of influence. In the African theatre, India came up against China, which added vaccine diplomacy to its already heavy investments in the continent. Till the start of 2022, India supplied more than 25 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to 41 African countries; nearly a million were grants. China supplied 125 million doses to 47 countries; 31 million doses were donations. Significantly, this ‘vaccine rush’ to Africa by India and China took place amid allegations of rich nations hoarding vaccines. But, now, the cough syrup controversy may prove to be a setback for India’s strategic goals in Africa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On October 5, the World Health Organization issued an alert headlined ‘Substandard (contaminated) paediatric medicines identified in WHO region of Africa’. It asked the regulatory authorities and the public to avoid four products and added that the manufacturer—Maiden Pharmaceuticals Limited (Haryana, India)—had not given guarantees to the WHO on the safety and quality of the products. The alert identified the products as Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup and Magrip N Cold Syrup—the same brands that were distributed in The Gambia. Combing operations have begun in the country’s pharmacies, markets and homes to recall the thousands of bottles that were already sold.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In India, the legal framework for drug testing and exercising regulatory control is a grey area under the concurrent list—which means neither the Centre nor the states bear complete responsibility. States control the production, sale and distribution of pharmaceutical drugs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A day after the WHO alert, on October 6, the Union health ministry said the onus of quality testing was on the importing country. Stating that the exact one-to-one causal relation of the deaths has not yet been provided by the WHO, the health ministry said the matter has been taken up with Haryana’s state drugs controller, which has jurisdiction over the Sonepat-based Maiden Pharmaceutical Ltd. The four medicines were cleared only for export and were not distributed in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 14, 2022, a Union health ministry notification asked manufacturers of 300 commonly-used drugs to print bar codes or QR codes on primary packaging labels. This code will have information on the unique product identification code, proper and generic name of the drug, brand name, details of the manufacturer, batch number, manufacturing date, expiry date, and the manufacturer’s licence number.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a way, this notification affirmed what may qualify as the worst kept secret in the Indian pharma sector—that questionable drugs exist. Dr Nabajit Talukdar, cardiologist at Delhi’s Batra hospital, says that presence of spurious and fake drugs is a long-known, but unaddressed problem that has plagued medical practitioners. “We can only prescribe the medicine,” he says. “We cannot vouch for the quality. Mushrooming of drug manufacturing units across the country that are unregulated in the backdrop of prevalent corrupt practices, present an ideal setting to make drugs of questionable quality.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a statement by the Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Dr Bharati Pravin Pawar in the Lok Sabha on July 27, in the three-year period from 2019 to 2021, 537 people were arrested for violation of licence conditions. In these three years, of the total 2,45,807 drug samples tested, 667 samples were found to be spurious or adulterated while 7,698 were declared of sub-standard quality. Against the backdrop of compromised state administrations, the genuineness of these numbers is anybody’s guess.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In retrospect, there is clearly a need for India to rethink on how to conduct trading and business activity with countries where it is looking for a firm foothold.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, on September 30, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is said to have told all ministries to keep India’s strategic point of view in mind while framing any policy and not to take lightly the background notes or other communication shared by National Security Council Secretariat and National Security Adviser.</p> Fri Oct 14 18:06:08 IST 2022 if-world-goes-into-recession-india-too-will-be-hit <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Jageshwar Sharma vacated his rented single-room tenement in Noida and took a bus to his village in Uttar Pradesh a month ago, after “waiting for weeks to get a new job”. The young man had gotten used to the cycle of getting low-paying jobs and being retrenched abruptly ever since the Covid-19 pandemic hit. His new plan is to try for a job closer to home. He has heard that there are many openings at the new Lulu Mall in the city. He is yet to get one, though. “It all gets rather exasperating at times,”he said.</p> <p>The life of Sijo John, another Noida resident, however, may seem a world apart. Executive assistant to the CEO of an entertainment and media giant, John, 34, did not have a pay cut during Covid like many of his friends, and his wife, Merin, who has a quasi-government job, even got a hike after the last Pay Commission. But he calls his financial status precarious. “The price rise has been so massive that my budgets have gone off tangent despite the double income,”said John. “It is not difficult to live by, but we are unable to save any money—for investments or for future expenses like kids’ education and medical.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These laments about jobs and inflation are not the usual litany we hear from time to time. There is something unusual happening around us—a looming global recession, no less, and it may have already bared its fangs upon India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Caught in a landslide</b></p> <p>The world’s biggest economy, the US, is technically in recession (negative growth for two continuous quarters) with factories dialling back production and job cuts increasing. In a desperate bid to prevent a ‘long recession’ expected by the end of this year, the UK a month ago went in for the sharpest interest rate hike in a quarter of a century, while Germany is seeing the biggest drop in consumer spending since 1980. The UN, in a report on October 3 warned that “monetary and fiscal policy moves in advanced economies risk pushing the world towards global recession and prolonged stagnation” and that it could inflict “worse damage than the financial crisis in 2008 and the Covid-19 shock in 2020.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The energy crisis in Europe could have a domino effect this winter, making a recession inevitable. The World Bank, in fact, warned as much, saying that all of the policy tweaking by governments may not stop a recession from hitting the global economy soon. “If the world goes into recession, don’t think that India can sit pretty,”said Subhash Chandra Garg, former finance secretary. “It is not good news for us at all.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Mama, life had just begun</b></p> <p>From becoming the fastest-growing major economy in the world last year, things could go awry for India if a global recession hits. Already the price rise of everything from petrol to edible oils has been among the sharpest in a decade. Retail inflation percentage remains above 7, and has been above 6, the upper limit of tolerance set by the Reserve Bank, for nearly a year now. The wholesale price index has been hovering around a crazy 14 per cent since last December.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Don’t forget that the estimated GDP growth of 7 per cent this year is coming on top of the last three years’ average growth rate of 1.7 per cent—that means we have been only growing at 4 per cent in four years. What growth can we achieve then?”asked Garg. “Inflation is a GDP deflator. India should not be too sanguine about this.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Industrial growth fell to 12 per cent in June, from nearly 20 per cent the previous month. It was one of the reasons that forced Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to ask Indian industry what was holding it back from investing. The value of the rupee against the dollar has fallen from 074 at the start of the Ukraine war to nearly 082 in the first week of October, while the overall profit of listed Indian companies (excluding financial firms) was down 17 per cent in the April-June quarter this year. Figures released last week show that output growth in core sectors is at its lowest in nearly a year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Exports, which hit an all-time high of $422 billion in the last financial year, are now slowing down due to “many economies entering recession while some advanced ones (are) already in one,” according to A. Sakthivel, president of the Federation of Indian Exporters’ Organisations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And we might not have seen the last of the price hikes. “These have been challenging times for the industry. The falling value of the rupee against the dollar is adding continued pressure on input cost by at least 1.5 per cent,” said Satish N.S., president of the consumer appliance company Haier India. “(This) may result in slight price adjustment in the coming months.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How did it all come about? In a way, it is a confluence of two perfect storms. First was the governments trying to avoid a crash from Covid lockdowns through financial stimuli. In many countries, it resulted in direct transfer to people’s accounts, which led to spending and consumption going up. The idea was that this support would be slowly withdrawn (tapering) once the economy recovered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Vladimir Putin put paid to that best-laid plan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“That process of normalisation got hit by the Ukraine conflict, hitting supply chains and commodity costs,” said Sunil Kumar Sinha, chief economist, India Ratings &amp; Research. “Prices did not just increase, they spiked!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For example, while crude oil prices were inching upwards post-Covid, the war caused it to sky-rocket, from $96 to $123 in just ten days. “It led to an oil crisis not seen by the advanced economies since 1973, pushing the global economy into a shock,” said Sinha. “It started manifesting in cost and availability of many goods and services, too.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Easy come, easy go</b></p> <p>What the Russian invasion did was to aggravate an already delicate post-Covid recovery—economies needed stimuli, but with the abrupt rise in prices, authorities had no option but to quickly ‘taper’it by raising interest rates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem? It made business investment and activity costlier. And also triggered a collapse in demand, with households cutting back on spending.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“If spending doesn’t grow, the government’s revenue (through taxes) also comes down and GDP falls,” said Sinha. “The severity of the situation is such that (many) economies are staring at a recession.”</p> <p>While many experts believe that India is unlikely to fall into a recession, there is no doubt that it will be affected. The question is, how much?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“At a time when the recession is already knocking on the doors of the west, I believe India is well poised and should be able to navigate the next several quarters with limited growth, but certainly, with no recession,”said Suyash Gupta, director general of Indian Auto LPG Coalition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is cold comfort, though. “Any event that results in volatility of the import items of India (oil, raw material for factories) or the export markets of India (iron, steel, jewellery), then we will be affected,” said Deepak Jasani, retail research head of HDFC Securities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In other words, India’s dependence on imported oil and gas does not augur well in a global recessive scenario. “We are ‘takers’,” Sinha explained. “If oil price shoots up, you may be able to do a little bit of adjustment, but you cannot say ‘I will not buy a gas cylinder anymore’.”</p> <p>The flow of investment into India could be another big casualty if the west slows down. “A sombre global investment sentiment can have an impact on the Indian markets. Startups are expected to feel the pain, as the case has been over the past few months,”said Sanket Sinha, executive director of Lighthouse Canton, a Singapore-based global investment institution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The number of new unicorns, startups with a valuation of more than $1 billion, has sharply come down in the recent months, with foreign investors tightening their purse strings anticipating a recession. Softbank, which counts the likes of Paytm, Flipkart, Ola and Swiggy in its portfolio, has already warned of a ‘funding winter’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Any way the wind blows</b></p> <p>The ray of light amid all the doom and gloom is the fervent optimism that India may just be better equipped to withstand the global tailwinds than most other countries. The government has been shouting from the rooftops the increase in direct tax and GST, and that there is no need to worry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, that may have more to do with post-pandemic recovery and more efficient tax collection methods than a robust economy, and it is no bulwark against future turbulence. Many rating agencies have already downgraded India’s GDP growth, along with that of the US, the Eurozone and China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Modi government’s best-case scenario will be keeping fuel prices and job losses under check and hoping that the increase in the repo rate (the rate of borrowing by banks set by the RBI, which impacts loan interest rates) have a magic wand effect. Interest rates have already been hiked above pre-Covid levels. The rest will be up to the industry to expand capacity and domestic demand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The new economy could also help. The growth in startup solutions, digital technology, renewable energy and environmental solutions could provide a buffer. “Wealth creation is going to happen in the new ecosystem of the new-age companies in the coming decade,”said Shashank Randev, co-founder of the venture capital firm 100X.VC. “International funds have not disappeared from India. They have just become cautious.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The consensus is that while global recession will impact India, there is unlikely to be a recession in India. The worry would be slowing growth. “I don’t see India achieving more than 7 per cent for two years, and thereafter may slide, unless it takes up critical reform measures and we get investment flowing in infra, digital economy and environmental economy,” said Garg. “Or we could slip to 5 per cent or less, which would be bad for a country like India.”</p> Sat Oct 08 16:38:54 IST 2022 the-future-of-work <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The India growth story might be intact, but there is something that may still trip it up. The lack of jobs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Even if India grows, it is not translating into mass employment that it desperately needs,” said Sunil Kumar Sinha, chief economist at India Ratings. “The organised sector can spend for productive employment whereas the requirement of the job market is much larger—a large part of it was catered by the unorganised sector and MSMEs, which are not in a position to provide that right now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Consistent shocks to the unorganised sector, from demonetisation to GST to Covid lockdown, have affected creation of jobs in the informal economy. According to data by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), manufacturing jobs went down from five crore to three crore in the past six years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Private sector employment propped up the consumer economy since the liberalisation of the economy in the 1990s. But that is shrinking, and young jobseekers are now desperately seeking government jobs. Reconfiguring of the safety nets inherent in the public sector, as recently seen in the reaction to Agniveer scheme, has led to violent protests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The increasing worry is that a K-shaped recovery, with one class flourishing and the larger masses languishing in uncertainty, could turn out to be a powder keg. As Mahindra group chairman Anand Mahindra said in August at the company’s general body meeting, “With one of the largest youthful populations in the world, it is easy to imagine the potential for social unrest if jobs do not grow along with the youthful population.”</p> Sat Oct 08 15:38:00 IST 2022 daily-struggle <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>MANJU AJI, 40,</b> has a temporary job as a sweeper at a village office in Kerala’s Kottayam district, but it pays her only Rs1,000 a month. So, she is working also as a domestic help. Manju and her husband, Aji, have two children—the elder one is studying in an industrial training college and the younger one is in high school.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She ran a small shop near her house and Aji was a cook at a restaurant. But the pandemic hit them hard, as she had to shut down the shop and he lost his job. The crisis deepened when her mother’s heart ailment became severe. She lost her mother recently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I went for MNREGA work for some time, but you won’t get paid at the end of the month. They pay it as a lump sum after three or four months. Then I found a job at a shop, but they also closed down due to slow business. That’s when I got the job as a domestic help.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They have a one-bedroom house that gets flooded during the monsoon. Manju had pledged all the gold she owns—about 12g—in the last one year. “I pledged the last bit I had when my daughter joined college,” she said. “Now I am paying interest to save the gold. Every month, after paying lenders and local banks, we hardly have anything left. And, the price rise of essentials is making things worse.”</p> Sun Oct 09 13:22:20 IST 2022 exchange-blues <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AADITEYA TRIPATHI,17,</b> has left home to study in the US, and it is giving his father, Vivek, a government employee, sleepless nights. The reason? The sky-rocketing expenses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When we planned his study abroad, the rupee was at 74 against the dollar. As if it falling to 80 was not enough, the cost of everything, from Aaditeya’s accommodation at California State University to insurance and even food expenses, has shot up,” said Vivek.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aaditeya had looked for a private accommodation, as the university hostel was expensive. Though he found a place, the realtors kept increasing the rent. “Eventually, the hostel turned out to be cheaper than the rapidly rising rental outside!” said Vivek. “All our budgeting while planning to send him has gone off track with prices rising both in India and in the US.” This, despite a fee waiver from the university.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, it is just the first semester; there are seven more to go. “We are dipping into our savings,” said Vivek. “Not sure how we will work it out.”</p> Sat Oct 08 15:26:17 IST 2022 rough-season <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>NIRAV AMIN, 45,</b> had planned to finish repaying his home loan by the time he turned 52. However, with interest rates going up and inflation on the rise, he now feels it will take a lot longer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amin works in a big tours and travel agency in Ahmedabad. His finances were hit hard by the pandemic and he is yet to recover. His salary has still not been fully restored and as a result the family’s savings have also eroded. “We pay income tax and we pay taxes on everything,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has been very careful with money, bringing down discretionary spendings to the minimum. “Salaries are not rising, but everything is becoming costly,” he said. “Ultimately, it is the end user—the common man—who has to bear the brunt.”</p> Sat Oct 08 15:24:22 IST 2022 congress-presidential-poll-kharge-favourite-but-tharoor-candidacy-generating-buzz <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Veteran Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge won his first assembly election in 1972 and repeated the feat a record eight times. He won the parliamentary polls in 2009 and 2014; it was in 2019 that he suffered his first electoral defeat. In the Congress presidential election, scheduled for October 17, his opponent Shashi Tharoor is a relative newcomer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their political experience is not the only area where the two candidates differ—they also have distinct personalities and are from disparate backgrounds. They are the two poles in an election that has generated immense buzz. A key reason for the interest is novelty, because it is after 22 years that the grand old party is having a presidential election. And, it will be after 24 years that a non-Gandhi becomes president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharge, 80, who resigned as leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha after he filed his nomination, has vast experience as an administrator and organisation man. He was the home minister in the S.M. Krishna government in Karnataka and a Union minister in the Manmohan Singh regime. It is said that the one post he really wanted was chief minister of Karnataka, but he lost out to other claimants on more than one occasion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thiruvananthapuram MP Tharoor, 66, is a former international civil servant. A third-term MP, he has served as Union minister of state for human resource development and later external affairs in the Manmohan Singh government. Like Kharge, there is a post he coveted and failed to win—Tharoor finished a close second to Ban Ki-moon in the United Nations secretary general's election in 2006.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharge's image is that of a person from a humble background and a major part of his identity is that he is dalit, though he prefers not to be defined solely by his caste. Tharoor, in contrast, is perceived as being from privilege. Kharge is earthy and is known primarily for his hands-on style, while Tharoor's persona is more esoteric and intellectual because of his diplomatic and literary career. Kharge speaks in a simple and straightforward manner. Tharoor is flamboyant and is known for his oratory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, there are the differences which reveal who is expected to have an upper hand in the election. Although the Gandhi family has said that it will remain neutral, Kharge, evidently, enjoys the backing of the high command. His nomination saw the top rung of the Congress backing his candidature, including members of the so-called Group of 23. Tharoor had only a few significant names to show in his list of proposers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Mallikarjun Kharge is a highly experienced leader,” said senior Congress leader and AICC Treasurer Pawan Kumar Bansal. “I remember when I was minister in the UPA government and had gone to Karnataka, he had organised a well-attended meeting in a short period of time. He is in touch with issues of the poor and will take everyone along.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The surprise decision of the G23 leaders to support Kharge is learnt to have come after the veteran reached out to them. They decided that since their main demand of election to the post of party president had been met, they should back Kharge and ensure a say in reforms under the new president, including elections to the working committee and setting up the party's parliamentary board. Besides, the G23 leaders are learnt to be miffed by Tharoor not having consulted them on his candidature.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Having a presidential election was among our main demands,” said former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who was one of the signatories to the letter sent by the G23 to Sonia in 2020 demanding major reforms. “Mallikarjun Kharge reached out for support. We decided to back him taking into account his seniority and experience and we feel he can take everyone together. Now, we will press our demand for election to the CWC.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tharoor has positioned himself as a leader with a vision for the future, as someone who wants to change the status quo and bring in reforms in the party. He has described Kharge as representing continuity and insists that he himself stands for change. While he has spoken about the changes he wants to make, Kharge has been more cautious, stating that if elected he will consult other leaders, including the Gandhis, on the changes needed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lok Sabha MP Pradyut Bordoloi, among the proposers of Tharoor's candidature, said the party needed new ideas and a dynamic leadership. “I believe Shashi Tharoor is in sync with the aspirations of the new generation,” he said. “He is erudite, has clarity on the reforms needed and is a firm believer in liberal democracy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tharoor may not be wrong in describing Kharge as a protector of the status quo since fending off attacks of dynastic rule appears to be the most important aspect of having a non-Gandhi at the helm. Leaders agree that the Gandhis will continue to hold sway and have a unique position in the party. Rahul's ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra is cited as an example. It is believed that the yatra will help project Rahul as the challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2024. In such a scenario, the party hopes that an arrangement akin to the BJP, where J.P. Nadda runs the party and Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah provide political heft, will come into play for the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most senior leaders acknowledge that Kharge is the frontrunner. However, it is also felt that Tharoor being on the other side is leading to much-needed activity within the party. Veteran Kashmir Congress leader Saifuddin Soz, who, along with son Salman, signed as Tharoor's proposers, said: “I am committed to supporting [Tharoor]. But, I have great respect for Kharge ji. We have two different personalities with different qualities, making for an interesting election.”</p> Sat Oct 08 16:36:25 IST 2022 an-underdog-can-spring-a-surprise-tharoor <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Shashi Tharoor admits that he is the underdog in the Congress presidential election. But, he is confident that while Mallikarjun Kharge, his opponent, might have the support of senior leaders he has the backing of the ordinary party worker. He describes himself as an agent of change pitted against a system that protects the status quo. In an interview with THE WEEK, Tharoor says that no matter the outcome, the Gandhi family will remain the foundational pillar of the Congress, and the party's moral conscience and ultimate guiding spirit. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why contest?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There are three principal reasons. For one, I share the view of the Congress president and of Rahul Gandhi that a democratic contest will only strengthen the party. I am also contesting because I have several ideas to reform and re-energise our party, decentralise authority within it, increase consultative mechanisms and give our karyakartas more respect and access to the leadership at all levels. And finally, I’ve always felt that if one believes strongly enough in something, one must be prepared to stick one’s neck out for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your vision for the party?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The immediate priority, whosoever is elected, is to develop and implement a roadmap that will help the party find a way to appeal beyond the 19 per cent of the electorate that voted for us in 2014 and 2019. The party has to attract those who did not vote for it in those two elections and drifted to the BJP, most of them for reasons other than hindutva. This would require a leader who, while anchored in the history of the party, looks beyond the past to speak to the aspirations of young India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We need to both articulate a positive and aspirational vision for the nation and work to fix the organisational deficiencies that have impeded our recent efforts. The answer lies in a combination of effective leadership and organisational reform. We must decentralise authority and empower the grassroots workers. This will free the new leader from the onerous burdens of over-administration and help create a strong state leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A fresh leader, who has not been jaded by being entrenched in the current system for too long, could do both—energise the party and appeal to voters. I believe I can be that leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What kind of feedback have you got about your nomination?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It has been humbling to hear calls of support from workers, many of whom I have not even met. The rising groundswell of support is evident, whether through phone calls, on social media, or in person, as seen in the rousing reception I have received in the cities I have visited so far. I have, through my candidacy, sought to become a voice for the average Congress worker and the majority of those who have reached out believe in my vision for the party. The majority of those who signed my nomination are ordinary, and for the most part young, Congress workers seeking a reformed and revitalised Congress. I can only pay them back by putting in my best during the campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You met Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Was it to seek her assent?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ No. No 'green light' was needed. I had met with Mrs Gandhi for two primary reasons. One, in keeping with the Udaipur Declaration of 2022, which stipulated term limits of five years for those in leadership, I had gone to follow up my letter of resignation from my position as chairman of All India Professionals’ Congress. Mrs Gandhi had politely refused to accept my resignation, and asked me to continue in the post until the matter would be decided by the next Congress president. Second, as someone seeking to contest in the presidential elections, I felt that the decent and respectful thing to do was to inform the Congress president of my decision. I was touched by the warm manner in which she welcomed the idea and by her assurances that the Nehru-Gandhi family welcomes this election and would remain neutral so as to facilitate a free and transparent democratic process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Congress will now have a non-Gandhi president. Where would the Gandhis be in the scheme of things after this election?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Gandhis are indispensable for the Congress but I think the question of Gandhi or non-Gandhi is missing the wood for the trees. Our attention must be focused towards facilitating a democratic process that will strengthen the party and then, under the leadership of whosoever is elected, work towards reforming the party with a focus towards taking on the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The DNA of the Nehru-Gandhi family is inextricably intertwined with that of the Congress. Each of them will always hold a special place in the hearts of Congress members. Aside from the great legacy they have inherited from their illustrious forebears, they have consistently brought together the various groups, ideologies, geographies and communities that collectively make up the fabric of the party. They also have a great record of success and experience in leading the party, both when in government and during tough times in the wilderness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us not forget the magnitude of what they have achieved for the party, or the ultimate sacrifice paid by two former presidents from the family. This is why many of us had expressed our hope that Rahul Gandhi would resume his leadership. It would undoubtedly be the most popular choice among the rank and file of the party. Now that it appears unlikely, it is my belief that all will recognise that the family are and remain the foundational pillar of the Congress, our moral conscience and ultimate guiding spirit. They cannot and must not withdraw from that role, whatever the formal designations they choose to retain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you feel Rahul Gandhi ought to have come back as party chief?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ As I said, when after the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Rahul Gandhi offered his resignation as the party’s president, I was one of many who tried to talk him out of it. He stuck to his decision and we must respect that. That being said, the longer the Congress waits to get its act together, the greater the risk of a steady erosion of our traditional supporters and their gravitation towards our political competitors. Which is why I have long been an outspoken advocate for free and transparent elections within the party, including for the post of president—because a leader elected by the party workers will have a great advantage in addressing organisational challenges. Such a president would have extra legitimacy in reaching out to the public.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you view your rival Mallikarjun Kharge?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I have great personal respect for Mr Kharge. At the age of 80, which includes six decades and more in the party, he is a kind of Bhishma Pitamah for us. He certainly brings abundant experience to the table. My own strengths are in different domains. But we both share similar convictions and strong loyalty to the ideals of the Congress. This is not a battle between rivals but a contest between colleagues. The choice for our voting colleagues on October 17 is only on how to reform and run the party most effectively. Having a healthy and constructive exchange of ideas will strengthen the Congress and intensify the interest we command in the national consciousness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Looking at the show of strength for Kharge, is the playing field level?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In some quarters, it has been suggested that there will be an ‘official candidate’ backed by the leadership. On the contrary, it has been repeatedly stressed by the Congress president, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi in my conversations with them that the Nehru-Gandhi family welcomes these elections. They would like to see a diverse field of candidates and are neither directly nor indirectly backing any one candidate. I am happy to accept their assurances and remain convinced of the commitment of the party towards ensuring free and fair elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It does not bother me that many senior leaders have chosen to support Mr Kharge. I am seeking to represent the average Congress worker who desires change and recognises that business as usual will not take our party forward. Riding on the back of their widespread support, I am glad to move on with the election process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Many of the leaders of the so-called G-23 seconded Kharge's nomination.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The freedom to choose is the foundation of any democratic process, so I don’t have any specific take on who has publicly backed Mr Kharge or who has backed me. However, as I have repeatedly pointed out, the G-23 is not an organisation. The term is a creation of the media and a distraction from the larger cause of reviving the Congress, a priority shared by all Congress workers and not just a group of 23 people who happened to be in Delhi during the Covid lockdown to sign a letter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am neither contesting on G-23’s behalf nor sought any collective endorsement from them. My candidacy aims to revive the party, not to disrupt it. I am approaching these elections from the perspective of someone who has been advocating for a certain set of reforms as far back as 2014, much before there was any G-23.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Could your anti-establishment image become a handicap?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ That the establishment has rallied around the status quo doesn’t make me anti-establishment. It makes me an agent of change. Don’t forget I have spent a lifetime advocating personal beliefs that are also among the core convictions of the Congress. My writings and books speak of my profound commitment to a pluralist vision of India. My innings in Indian politics has been spent defending the values of inclusive India. I am contesting these elections principally because of my convictions. If that results in any negative reaction from certain quarters or tags, then so be it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do appreciate that I am widely seen as the underdog in this race, and that many people believe the establishment will come together to defend their own entrenched interests. But sometimes one must have the courage of one’s convictions to do the right thing, regardless of the likely outcome. And an underdog can always spring a surprise when the votes are counted!</p> Sat Oct 08 16:37:16 IST 2022 how-italy-under-giorgia-meloni-can-create-problems-for-eu <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Italy First. Across the world, variations of Donald Trump’s slogan have catapulted new governments into power. In Italy, the slogan achieved not only an electoral triumph, but also two other firsts. Giorgia Meloni is expected to take over as Italy’s first woman prime minister, and her party, Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), will be the first far right party to come to power in Rome since the days of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meloni’s right wing coalition includes former deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini of the Lega party, and Forza Italia leader and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi—he of the notorious “bunga bunga” parties with pole-dancing strippers dressed as nuns. This unholy trinity is nationalist, populist, anti-migrant, homophobic, Islamophobic and Eurosceptic. The European Union is worried that the trio could disrupt the ongoing economic reforms, spread illiberalism and try to alter the course of the Ukraine war. “Italy could really create problems for the EU,” said Stefano Stefanini, Italy’s former ambassador to NATO.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Italy is the EU’s third largest economy, its third most populous country and the second most indebted. Its massive, unsustainable debt revives nightmares of the 2012 Greek debt crisis that nearly wrecked the bloc. To bag the EU’s €200 billion Covid-recovery aid, Italy has pledged reforms. The EU calculates that Italy’s abject dependence on this aid will prevent Meloni from reneging. Meloni, meanwhile, has chastised the EU for freezing funds to Hungary and Poland for their illiberal, anti-democratic policies. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, has warned that the same “tools” will be used against Italy if it drifts towards illiberalism. “Italy will exit from the core of Europe. The European future will be less strong and less secure with Meloni,” said former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On Ukraine, the EU’s concern is that Meloni and her coalition partners have varying degrees of personal and party links to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Italy is also dependent on Russian gas, which has resulted in skyrocketing energy prices. Said Salvini, “Europe chose to impose sanctions on Russia. That is fine, but the price of sanctions cannot be paid by Italian families and businesses.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To soothe nerves, Meloni has reiterated her support for Ukraine. While she riles against EU’s “interference”, Meloni, like most far right leaders, admires military muscle and supports NATO. Experts hope that power will moderate or discredit her coalition partners as they start squabbling over turf and policies. But no one can be sanguine after the Trump experience. Steve Bannon, Trump acolyte and Meloni fan, is bullish: “I have said for years that Italy is the worldwide laboratory for the populist-nationalist revolution. Meloni is going to transform Italy from a failing, stagnant, bankrupt mess into Europe’s strongest economy with jobs and prosperity for all.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlikely. Voter turnout in the national elections held on September 25 was a low 64 per cent. Italy is split down the middle. Animosity between the left and the right runs deep. “The so-called progressives use the power of their mainstream media. They want a right wing on a leash, trained as a monkey,” said Meloni. Leftists warn the far right will curb personal freedom and democratic rights. They say Meloni and her team lack the experience and competence to navigate the economic crisis. “If you do not deliver economic growth, the endlessly protesting Italians will vote you out,” said economist Carlo Bastasin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fed up with corrupt, incompetent governments, voters have experimented for decades with new anti-establishment parties. Berlusconi, Salvini, the Five Star Movement, all started with less than 4 per cent vote share, only to get 25 per cent to 37 per cent within a decade and rule. Meloni got only 4 per cent in the 2018 elections, but now its her turn to try to revive the economy and solve the cost of living crisis. “Meloni has understood perfectly that Italians are sick of bombast. What we are going to see is ‘Italy First’,” said political analyst Catherine Fieschi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meloni’s 2019 speech in Rome has come to define her. “I am Giorgia, I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am Christian,” she said, touching all the ‘Italy First’ chords. DJs remixed it into an absurd techno-dance track that got over 12 million YouTube views. It was intended to mock her. Instead, Meloni’s popularity flew off the charts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meloni plays the conservative, religious card well, but her Christian, family-values are dubious. Her party’s anti-immigrant policy—withdrawing housing and food vouchers to immigrants during the pandemic—was described as “criminal” by one of her political opponents, Pierluigi Iannarelli. Pope Francis pointedly urged the new government to show “compassion” to immigrants. Meloni retorted that she did not understand this pope.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is also hard to see traditional family values in Meloni’s personal life. She chose not to marry the father of her six-year-old daughter. A firebrand opponent of abortion and homosexuality, Meloni woos Catholics. But Italy is not very Catholic these days. Abortion is legal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Embodying the rough and tough, no-nonsense street fighter spirit of the working class, Meloni was a nanny, a waitress, a nightclub bartender and a journalist before becoming a politician. She is feisty and fresh, a striking contrast to the dreadful parade of male Italian prime ministers who were mostly boring, bureaucratic or burlesque. “People respond to Giorgia because she is authentic and fierce,” said Alberto Rocco, a voter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though her party has neofascist roots, Meloni rejects being labelled far right. She calls her party “mainstream conservative”, sharing values with conservative parties in Israel, the UK and the US. That probably indicts more than it absolves. The name of the Brothers of Italy party that she cofounded in 2012 is taken from the Italian national anthem and the logo on its flag, the “tricolour flame”, is the symbol represented on Mussolini’s tomb. “It is a mistake to write off these movements as ‘nationalist’, drawing a straight line back to the horrible history of fascism and Nazism. Something else is at work. Italians want a responsive government,” said John Farina, who teaches religious studies at George Mason University, Washington, DC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Italy’s broken politics is the evil twin of its broken economics. Reconstruction in the post World War II years helped Italian economy boom. It began stalling in the 1990s, and after the 2008 financial crisis, Italy’s negative growth led to declining living standards, aggravating political instability. Said economist Eric Basmajian, “The ongoing Italian crisis is a toxic cocktail of excessive debt, political instability and poor demographics. Italy is running out of people.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Italy’s working population is declining. Poor growth makes it harder for young people to advance their careers, buy a home or start a family, resulting in declining fertility rates, lower births and a baby bust. Young men do not marry because jobs are hard to come by. Nearly 45 per cent of them prefer to live with their mothers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2020, Meloni was elected president of the European Conservatives and Reformists Parties, comprising more than 40 ultraconservative political entities, including the Republican Party of the US. She can galvanise the masses as she is a grassroots leader with far right credentials. Fluency in English, French and Spanish enables her to spread her wings in Europe, strengthening linkages in Hungary, Poland, Spain and France and forming a bloc within the EU to challenge Brussels over issues related to democracy and rule of law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Those who know Meloni say power is unlikely to rein her in. Valerio Alfonso Bruno, who is writing a book on Brothers of Italy, predicts trouble ahead. He expects Meloni and her international allies to create an illiberal Europe that deprives women, gays, immigrants and other minorities of their civil rights. For Europe, a bastion of liberal democracy, this would be a catastrophe.</p> Fri Sep 30 14:44:35 IST 2022 how-a-yoga-class-led-to-the-end-of-pfi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT WAS A ‘YOGA CLASS’ </b>at Narath in Kerala’s Kannur district that marked the beginning of the end of the Popular Front of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On April 23, 2013, the Kerala Police got a tip-off that PFI activists were using a building under construction in the town to conduct weapons training disguised as a yoga class. As the police raided the building, the two lookouts at the gates fled. Inside, the police found a jute sack spread over a table. On top of it were iron nails, pieces of glass, ash-coloured powder, a bundle of thread, and two live bombs.</p> <p>A thorough search of the site unearthed an iron sword, a petrol-soaked brick in a bucket fastened by metal wire, a wooden target shaped like a man, and five long wooden sticks. Also seized were raw material for making improvised explosive devices—aluminium powder, potassium chlorate and sulphur. The two live bombs were quickly defused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The building belonged to the president of the PFI in Kannur. Arrests were made and a first information report under the Arms Act, the Explosive Substances Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was registered. The National Investigation Agency soon took over the probe. On August 7, the NIA in Kochi re-registered the case, charging 24 people for “organising a terrorist camp, training youth in the use of explosives and weapons, and endangering the unity and integrity of the nation”. The accused included leaders of the PFI and its political offshoot, the Social Democratic Party of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Narath turned out to be the first nail in the PFI’s coffin. The last one was struck by security agencies a few days ago. In what was the biggest coordinated anti-terror crackdown, the NIA oversaw two rounds of raids against the PFI that began on September 23. More than 100 properties across 15 states were raided, and around 250 people were arrested. Subsequent protests by PFI activists turned violent, with PFI strongholds in Kerala and Karnataka witnessing arson, violence and destruction of public property. The Union government finally banned the PFI and several of its affiliate organisations on September 28, for carrying out unlawful activities “prejudicial to the integrity, sovereignty and security of the country”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For years, the PFI had occupied the top of the pyramid of radical Muslim organisations in India. The ban on it has therefore found widespread support. Major political parties have either voiced approval or given silent support. Mainstream Muslim organisations that had for long opposed the PFI’s politics—such as the Indian Union Muslim League and the Jamaat-e-Islami—have publicly backed the ban.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The roots of the crackdown on the PFI precede Narath. Investigating agencies did a decade of spadework using human, cyber and technical intelligence. Piles of evidence—related to the PFI’s holding of terror training camps and laundering black money to its establishing links with Islamic State and Al Qaeda—were gathered by the NIA, the ED and the Intelligence Bureau and submitted to Union Home Minister Amit Shah.</p> <p>As the agencies found out, the IS threat was closer home than imagined. With the deadly lone-wolf attacks in Rajasthan and Maharashtra a few months ago, intelligence agencies had anticipated a surge in IS and Al Qaeda modules in the Persian Gulf and Turkey, where the PFI runs a lucrative, well-oiled machinery that feeds extremism and promotes the common agenda of spreading Islamic rule. An NIA dossier said the PFI had formed “hit squads” to carry out “revenge attacks” on RSS leaders and Hindu activists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The PFI is alleged to have been behind several brutal killings in the past few years. Cases against PFI activists have been registered across the country—from Darbhanga in Bihar to Shivamogga in Karnataka and Kochi in Kerala. The NIA probe into the 2020 Bengaluru riots revealed the involvement of SDPI office-bearers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Security agencies began completing the jigsaw puzzle of terror charges against the PFI in 2021, when a special task force of the Uttar Pradesh Police arrested Rauf Shareef, national general secretary of the Campus Front of India, the PFI’s student wing. Shareef, who had earlier been arrested by the ED in a money laundering case, was charged with trying to incite communal violence in Hathras district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Investigators discovered that he also had links with Mohammed Shafeeque Dar Rahima, a Kannur native who collected slush funds for the PFI from abroad. Around the same time, explosives and extremist literature were recovered from the Padam forest area in Kollam district, a known PFI training site. The same year, Anshad Badruddin, national coordinator of the PFI’s physical education division, was caught carrying explosives and detonators.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In February this year, the ED mapped the money flow and sent an exhaustive note to the NIA. It had details of illegal funds collected by the PFI’s “district executive committees” in the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The activities of Ilyas Sayed Mohammed, a Malayali who was president of the PFI’s district executive committee in Riyadh, was cited as an example. In India, as many as 3,000 bank accounts belonging to 27 PFI members and 45 associates in 10 states were analysed to map the money flow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pervez Ahmed, president of the PFI’s Delhi unit since 2018, was soon arrested. He told investigators that the PFI did not issue receipts at the time of receiving donations. The practice, apparently, was to collect all contributions and transfer the amount to PFI district offices, where unit presidents would “issue” receipts. The trail of bogus donations and bank transfers has been corroborated by statements recorded by arrested PFI members. Also, many ‘donors’ have denied giving money to the PFI; many of them have even said that they did not have the wherewithal to make the kind of hefty donations that the PFI says they did. “These contributors were poorest of the poor who had no idea about the money flow,” said an investigator. “Their accounts had been opened at the behest of PFI, and the accounts were being used without their knowledge.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the ban on the PFI and its affiliates will have an immediate impact on the national security front, it is unlikely to resolve political challenges soon. The SDPI, a political offshoot of the PFI that carefully projected a secular outlook, has been growing in Kerala. In the 2010 local body polls, it had won just 11 seats. Currently, it has 103 members in local bodies across the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Karnataka, too, the SDPI has been mining political support amid the continuing polarisation on caste and communal lines, especially in the state’s coastal regions. There are also fears that the ban on the PFI would only result in the emergence of a more sophisticated militant outfit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For now, though, the focus of the security agencies is to gather as much evidence as possible to put the PFI’s main leaders behind bars. “With the arrest of the top leadership and the freezing of bank accounts,” said an investigator, “the outfit is expected to suffer a setback that takes it back almost a decade.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>With V.V. Binu</b></p> Sun Oct 02 11:48:16 IST 2022 how-aap-has-made-congresss-do-or-die-battle-in-gujarat-harder <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Fifty truckloads worth of publicity material dispatched from Ahmedabad, including a crore leaflets, are part of the Congress’s plan to end its 27-year power drought in Gujarat. In late September, workers will fan out all over Gujarat, highlighting the party’s programmes and the ruling BJP’s “failures”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the Congress comes to power, it has promised to implement the old pension scheme (like it did in Rajasthan), give gas cylinders at 0500, 300 units of free electricity every month, open new schools, waive farm loans, and introduce schemes for tribals and fishermen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Notably, this time, the Congress is expected to select candidates based on surveys done at the grassroots level. The state unit is currently waiting for the result of the Congress presidential elections, which would help bring clarity to its campaign plan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If holding on to power in its model state is important for the BJP, especially ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, winning Gujarat is no less crucial for the Congress. It had given the BJP a scare in 2017, winning 77 seats in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and holding his party to under 100. A better performance this time would not only boost the Congress, but could also strengthen the idea of a united opposition ahead of 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party had done well in Saurashtra and Kutch in 2017. Of the 77 seats it won, 32 came from the 54 seats there. In North Gujarat, it won 22 of the 53 seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, much water has flown under the Sabarmati bridge since. More than a dozen lawmakers, and also Patidar leader Hardik Patel, left the Congress for the BJP. There has also been the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party, which is likely to hurt the Congress more than the BJP. The AAP is focusing on the areas where the Congress is strong, and it sees a chance of finishing second, if not winning, in these seats. The fight is close in certain seats like Vadgam, where MLA and dalit leader Jignesh Mevani will be pitted against the BJP, the AAP and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trying to play down the presence of the new entrant, Gujarat Congress president Jagdish Thakor alleged that it was the BJP’s “B” team (see interview). However, a senior Congress leader, requesting anonymity, conceded that, “We have to forget Gujarat if we do not win this time”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are opportunities, though. Thousands of government employees, including state transport employees, policemen, and anganwadi and health care workers, have been agitating over the old pension scheme. The BJP is rattled by the protests and has been trying hard to pacify the agitators.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress’s challenge would be to convert this sentiment into votes, especially with the AAP on the move. On September 10, the Congress called for a statewide four-hour bandh to protest price rise, corruption and unemployment. It got a positive response in many places. “We got good support from unexpected quarters. People supported us and downed their shutters,” said Ami Ravat, opposition leader in the Vadodara Municipal Corporation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former state Congress president Arjun Modhwadia said he was confident that the party would better its performance across regions. He said the party would reach out to every household under the programme “My booth, my pride”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party’s state women’s wing president, Jenny Thummar, who has been holding meetings across the state, claimed that people have been telling her that they want to oust the incumbents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lalit Kagathara, an MLA from Saurashtra and once a close aide of Hardik, said that the Modi bubble had burst, and that “farmers and the middle class are the most affected and fed up”. However, he did admit that there could be some problems within the party; after all, the masses had not trusted it for 27 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another concern for the Congress is that political analysts are not giving it a chance. Said political observer Hari Desai, “I do not fancy the Congress’s chances. The AAP will help the BJP to come to power.” He added that, more importantly, the party lacked a killer instinct and a united front.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What makes the Congress’s task more difficult is the absence of a mass leader acceptable to all Gujaratis. Said political observer Ghanshyam Shah: “The party should have geared up long ago. I do not rule out the BJP coming to power again.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That the Gujarati public is frustrated is clear. Who can take advantage of this remains to be seen. Notably, as of now, Arvind Kejriwal has made more trips to the state than Modi and Rahul.</p> Sun Sep 25 14:09:48 IST 2022