Current en Thu Aug 19 17:57:31 IST 2021 renewed-infiltration-bids-threaten-the-calm-the-ceasefire-agreement-achieved <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On September 27, Ali Babar Patra became the first Pakistani militant to be caught in India since both countries agreed to uphold the 2003 ceasefire agreement in February. The Indian Army caught Patra and five others sneaking across the Line of Control in the Uri sector on September 18. While four of them turned back, two—Patra and Atiq-ur-Rehman, alias Qari Anas—snuck in. After nine days, the Army traced them down to the Salamabad Nallah (rivulet) in Uri. When challenged, Anas shot a soldier; he was shot down and Patra was captured alive.</p> <p>“I am 18 and a resident of Dipalpur, district Okara, Punjab, Pakistan,” Patra said in a clip the Army released three days later. “My father was Muhammad Lateef and my mother Shamima Bibi. My father died in 2014. After that, I quit school and worked in a garment factory in Sialkot. [That is] where I met Anas, who worked for the LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba). As I needed money, I went with him. He gave me 020,000 and said he would give me 030,000 more later.”</p> <p>He said he had undergone weapons training with eight others at camp Khyber Delihabibullah. “On September 18, Anas and I cut the fence (anti-infiltration fence at the LoC) at night and crossed in,” he said. “Four others retreated after the Army launched an operation.”</p> <p>He said the Army had treated him well. “They gave me food and tea and allowed me to offer <i>namaz</i> (prayer),” he said. “When I was being taken away in a vehicle, I saw a lot of rush in the markets and also heard <i>azaan</i> (call to prayer).” He also said he hoped to reunite with his mother, a widow, soon.</p> <p>A day after Patra was caught, Lieutenant General D.P. Pandey, general officer commanding of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps (Chinar Corps), visited Uri and said the troops were prepared to deal with any mischief along the border.</p> <p>Since February, when both countries agreed to cease fire, villagers close to the LoC have enjoyed a semblance of normalcy. Muhammad Subhan Dar, sarpanch of Hathlanga, a village in Uri, said the ceasefire had eased their lives. “When there is firing and shelling, people and cattle die and houses are damaged,” he said. “Some years ago, my daughter’s arm had to be amputated after a bullet hit her; my neighbour Ghulam Muhammad was killed when shells hit his house. We need concrete bunkers close to our homes. Ours is a zero-line village (right on the LoC). How can we leave our homes to take shelter in bunkers far away when there is shelling?”</p> <p>Five kilometres away at Telawadi village, Muhammad Yaqoob Qali said the ceasefire had put their minds at rest. “People work in the fields, graze cattle in the mountains and the children attend school without fear,” he said.</p> <p>Some villagers like Parvez Ahmed, however, have relocated with their families to lead a normal life, he said. “He (Ahmed) is a soldier in the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry,” Qali said. “He is posted in Kerala and has taken his family along. I look after his house.”</p> <p>In neighbouring Balkote, Bashir Ahmed said that, before the ceasefire, they would run for their lives whenever they heard a siren. “People would hide under a rock or a tree,” he said. “Shepherds would abandon their herds and look for cover. [But] now the cattle graze well, and the quality and quantity of milk has also improved.”</p> <p>Nishada Parveen, a member of the Block Developmental Council at Teetwal in Kupwara, said that people were enjoying weddings, night gatherings and folk music without fear after several years. Aijaz Ahmad Khan, a member of the District Development Council of Tulail in Bandipore, said there had been relative peace since February. “Due to the ceasefire, we are focusing on developmental activities,” he said. “Some projects are under the roads and buildings department, and some are under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. We are also working on a sports stadium.”</p> <p>Khursheed Ahmed Khan, a contractor, said he was building 13 community bunkers in Silkote (the closest village to the LoC in Uri), three in Mothun and four in Churanda. He said each bunker would be eight feet high, 31ft long and 17ft wide, with ventilators. He added that it had become much easier to find labourers following the ceasefire.</p> <p>The peace in the region might not hold for long, though. The recent rise in infiltration, including in the Muslim-majority districts of Rajouri and Poonch, could put the ceasefire under strain. The number of infiltration attempts has grown with the Taliban offensive in Afghanistan, which began in May. About 20 foreign militants snuck in in four infiltrations in June. Unlike local militants, foreign militants are tougher and better equipped. Since January, security forces have killed 113 militants in Jammu and Kashmir, most of them locals. Till July this year, eight foreign militants were killed. Another 13 have been killed in infiltration attempts since.</p> <p>Security forces believe that the LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad are likely to increase their activity in Kashmir. Major General Virendra Vats, general officer commanding of the 19 Infantry Division of Uri, said that the Army had noticed militant movement at launchpads across the LoC. He said five of seven militants neutralised in the nine-day operation, which started on September 18, were killed in Hathlanga. He said the Army recovered seven AK series rifles, nine pistols and 80 grenades from the slain militants.</p> <p>Security officials believe the JeM, which practises the Deobandi branch of Islam like the Afghan Taliban, has been emboldened after the Taliban took over Afghanistan. The JeM was behind the Pulwama attack of 2019, which claimed 40 Central Reserve Police Force men.</p> <p>With the Indian Army locked in a battle of nerves with China in Ladakh, Pakistan would feel more confident about launching attacks along the LoC.</p> <p>In view of this rising threat, though, the Army has increased its strength along the LoC. It is also strengthening its defence with a smart fence to beat infiltration.</p> <p>It remains to be seen whether the peace that the border villagers enjoyed was just the calm before the storm.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 07 17:35:09 IST 2021 permanent-commission-for-women-is-army-trying-to-hoodwink-supreme-court <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>LIEUTENANT COLONEL</b> Asha Kale of the Army Ordnance Corps was the first woman officer to be posted in Jammu and Kashmir on active counter-terrorism operations. She served in forward areas and was awarded a commendation card in 2020. Despite her exemplary service, she was denied a permanent commission in the Indian Army, which would have put her on the military’s promotion ladder. Lieutenant Colonel Navneet Lobana, too, has a similar story. She was the first woman garrison engineer in the Indian Army. She also raised a new unit in Udhampur and got an outstanding report for the same. But she, too, did not get a permanent commission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And now, Lt Col Kale and Lt Col Lobana, along with more than 100 other women officers, have moved Delhi High Court challenging the Army’s “systemic discrimination” in selecting candidates for permanent commissioning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For many years, women officers in the Army were allowed to join only under the short service commission (SSC) and could serve only up to 14 years. In a landmark judgement on February 17, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that all women officers should be considered for command roles and are eligible for permanent commission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Getting permanent commission is our due, but we have to knock the court’s door every time,” said Lieutenant Colonel Ankita Srivastava, an officer of the Army Ordnance Corps. “The Army headquarters has always misinterpreted the court verdicts [to ensure that] female officers do not come anywhere closer to male officers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two years ago, during his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made it clear that women officers recruited under the short service commission would be allowed to take up permanent commission. After the apex court verdict in February last year, the Army conducted the selection board in November. Out of 615 eligible women officers, only 277 were granted permanent commission in the first lot; 147 more were approved after the court intervened in March 2021. Among the rest, the results of 72 women officers—who had crossed the cut-off mark of 60 per cent in the selection board—were withheld citing “weak” or adverse remarks in their annual confidential records. The officers claim that these adverse comments were never communicated to them by their superiors during service. Twenty-eight officers were found unfit as they scored less than the cut-off marks. Eighty-six officers voluntarily withdrawn from the race and five were rejected on disciplinary grounds. In July, the Army filed a clarification in the Supreme Court explaining the grounds on which the selection board had rejected the 72 officers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Major Sudhanshu Pandey, counsel for the women officers in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court, said that the Army’s clarification had been dismissed by the apex court on August 2 for being devoid of any merit. The apex court had also asked the Army to consider all 72 officers in the further selection proceedings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Army headquarters is, however, trying to hoodwink the judiciary, according to the women officers. “These officers are now being kept under ‘suspended animation’, which has caused severe mental stress to them,” said Pandey. Calling it a deep-rooted prejudice against women officers, Pandey added: “Some army officials are trying to mislead the higher authorities to recommend rejection of permanent commission to these officers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Incidentally, the women officers had filed a contempt of court petition against the Army. Before approaching the court, the women officers had sent a legal notice to the army chief, the Union defence minister and the chief of defence staff explaining their grievances. But their plea was unheard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the Army headquarters has gone ahead with conducting a mandatory course for those shortlisted for permanent commission this year—for promotion to colonel rank. This indicates that no further candidates will be considered by the Army for permanent commission this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Delhi High Court, in 2010, first ordered that permanent commission be made open to women officers in all armed forces. While the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy implemented the order, the Army moved the Supreme Court against it. The apex court refused to stay the Delhi High Court order and asked the Army to keep women officers in service until their appeal was settled. Due to the Army’s reluctance to grant permanent commission to women officers, the number of women officers in the SSC increased; many had served for over 25 years without being considered for a higher rank. Eventually, in February 2020, the apex court refused the Army’s appeal and directed it to give permanent commission to all eligible women officers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We have given our prime to the Army. And, after serving the army for over two decades, now we are being told that we are not fit for permanent commission,” said a woman officer, requesting anonymity. “Then why did they make us serve for so many years? We were granted two extensions [one at 10 years and second at 14 years of service], applying those same policies and parameters.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August, Major Lekha Nair, a retired officer who is fighting gender inequalities in the Army, said the Army has displayed extreme disregard to the apex court’s verdict. Commander Prasanna Edayilliam, a retired naval officer who is at the forefront of the fight for women rights in the armed forces, said: “We should have a policy for women officers so that they can build their career at par with male colleagues.” She added that most of the wars in the future will be electronic and strategic, and women are capable of multi-tasking in various fields.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Army headquarters refused to respond to queries from THE WEEK citing that the matter is sub judice.</p> Fri Oct 01 14:16:50 IST 2021 farmer-protests-face-election-test <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In 2011, Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement captured the public’s imagination, forcing political parties to not just support the cause but align with its politics as well. The movement’s key leaders—Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav—did not want it to lose steam and be swallowed by political parties. So, they floated their own outfit, the Aam Aadmi Party, on November 26, 2012.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political parties born of mass movements have had mixed results in India. Asom Gana Parishad, which had its origins in the agitation against illegal migrants, went to form government in Assam before its stock diminished. A new political outfit in the state, born of the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, could barely register its presence in the assembly polls held early this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, as the country prepares for the next round of assembly elections due early next year, leaders of the ongoing farm protests are feeling the heat. Constituents and supporters alike are asking them a question: whether to actively influence the elections or not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Farmers are a politically influential group in at least three of five states where elections are due. As the pivot of the agitation, Punjab is likely to feel the farmer sentiment the most. Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where the BJP is in power, are also likely to feel it to some extent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Farmer unions have launched a mission in UP and Uttarakhand to defeat the ruling party. But in Punjab, where the Congress is in power, there is no such mission. In a clear exercise of its clout, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 32 farmer organisations, called a meeting of all constituents in Chandigarh on September 10 and asked all political parties in the state to desist from campaigning till the Election Commission officially announced the polls. Most parties agreed to it, albeit grudgingly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“People are emotionally attached to the movement,” said Balbir Singh Rajewal, chief of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Rajewal). “All discussions in villages revolve around the agitation. It is surprising that many political parties started their campaign several months ahead of the elections. This disturbs people. The political campaign tries to wean them away in different directions. It can change Punjab from continuing as the pivot of this movement. So, we told political parties not to hold rallies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajewal has 50 years of experience of working for farmers, and his ideological heft has made him the first among equals in the Morcha. According to him, the Morcha wants to stay apolitical. Said Jagmohan Singh, general secretary BKU (Dakaunda): “One thing is clear: all farmers cannot fight the elections jointly. According to our constitution, if anyone wants to contest elections, or support anyone in any election above the block level, that person has to resign. Some organisations want to boycott all parties, while others are keeping quiet. Some organisations had, in the past, openly supported the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Aam Aadmi Party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A huge farmers’ rally in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, last month has made the BJP wary. In 2013, a mahapanchayat of farmers in the region was followed by communal riots, which resulted in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance winning 73 of 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state the following year. This time, though, Muzaffarnagar’s Jat farmer leader Rakesh Tikait has given a call for Hindu-Muslim unity. The farmer unions in the state have also formed their own umbrella body and are holding rallies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Punjab, at least one BKU leader, Gurnam Singh Charuni, seems to have plans to enter politics. Charuni had in July given a call for “Mission Punjab”, telling farmers to contest elections; the Morcha responded by immediately suspending him. Chastised, he said he would not contest elections, and even rebuffed a businessman who wanted him to lead a political party and become chief minister. But Charuni has been touring Punjab and Haryana asking people to reject mainstream parties and field their own leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is not just a farmers’ movement; it’s a dharmayudh,” said Charuni. “In Uttar Pradesh, there are eight crore farmers. The state government was formed after [the ruling party] won 3.5 crore votes. In Punjab, there are 90 lakh farmers, and the party that won last time got 59 lakh votes. Farmers can change the political system. What has been happening in Punjab till now is that a person with money becomes a candidate and wins elections. What I am saying is that the voter should contest. Once you get power, you can reject the farm laws and force out corporates.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But other leaders point out that Charuni does not have a base in Punjab, as he is from Haryana. “Charuni was my acolyte,” said Rajewal. “His rallies are not drawing big crowds. He wants to toe a separate line, but the Morcha will be apolitical as our goal is the repeal of farm laws.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation in Punjab has echoes of what had happened in Delhi after the Hazare agitation. As Delhi chief minister, Sheila Dikshit had to bear the brunt of the anti-government sentiment. The Congress high command appeared to withdraw its support to her, and Kejriwal and the AAP defeated her in the ensuing assembly polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly, in Punjab, Amarinder Singh has had to step down as chief minister because of internal bickering in the Congress as well as the growing anti-incumbency, partly fuelled by the farmer agitation. The difference is in that the unions may not be able to oppose the new chief minister, Charanjit Singh Channi, as strongly as the AAP had done in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP fancies its chances in this politically fluid situation in Punjab. It is likely to field farmer leaders to contest the polls. Interestingly, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the party had fielded Charuni’s wife in Kurukshetra. Rajewal’s union had also supported it in the previous assembly polls. But the AAP would still need a credible chief minister candidate to build on favourable conditions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The farmer agitation, meanwhile, has completed one year. According to Rajewal, the resolution is bound to happen soon. “I am fully confident of it,” he said. “The lacunas in the law have been explained to the government, and the government itself agreed [that the lacunas existed]. It is just that the government wants an honourable exit. It’s their rajhath (royal obstinacy).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But has the movement achieved anything concrete so far? “Before the Morcha, the slogan was Modi hai toh mumkin hai (If it’s Modi, it’s possible). This agitation has broken the myth of his invincibility. He, too, can be challenged. This has given courage to many people across the country. The awareness of it has grown manifold,” said Rajewal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Union government has not shown any sign of relenting, though. But the Morcha remains resolute. “We are steadfast, as Punjab had shown during the time of the Mughals and the British,” he said. “Any leader who leaves the Morcha will be defeated in Punjab. They will lose face.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Jagmohan Singh: “The kind of response we have got during the agitation, it is our duty to give everything for this movement. If we do not get an honourable agreement, we do not have a moral right to return to our villages.”</p> Thu Sep 30 18:04:57 IST 2021 central-vista-project-landscape-architect-and-his-mission <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A STROLL AROUND</b> a monument can transport you to a bygone era. As the history and our common heritage sinks in, the aesthetics and, often, the greenery, help to make your visit an experience to cherish. Behind the design of these landscapes are meticulous minds like that of Prabhakar Rao, 60. He is the landscape architect for the tree scheme of the Central Vista project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao—who refused to talk about the Central Vista project, citing a confidentiality clause—worked in Dubai for several years before shifting to India in 2011. He has worked on many iconic projects, including the Statue of Unity. He was recently invited to join the Qutb Shahi tombs restoration project being carried out in Hyderabad by the Archaeological Survey of India and the Aga Khan Cultural Trust.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, the Bengalurean is perhaps better known for his interest in preserving seeds. He is, in fact, called “the seed saver”. His passion for Vedic agriculture has energised the Beej Raksha movement, which works with urban gardeners and 22 lakh farmers across India to preserve the rich gene pool of heirloom seeds and promote indigenous varieties of vegetables, pulses and cereals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao was mentored by scientists M.S. Swaminathan and M.V. Rao, who were among the architects of India’s Green Revolution. Among other things, the revolution also used chemical fertilisers and pesticides. But, Rao now advocates chemical-free farming.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“While the Green Revolution was a success considering its objectives, I had serious misgivings about the sustainability of what we were doing,” he said. “I changed my line of study and pursued landscape architecture. [When] I came back to Bengaluru, [I] started working on my farm on Kanakapura Road. I started promoting indigenous seeds and practised chemical-free farming and Vedic agriculture.” Rao, who has a doctorate in plant breeding and genetics, admits that it is the antithesis of what he propagated during the early years of his career.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was prompted to embrace natural farming because of soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, and land, water and air pollution. Most importantly, he was worried about the waning self-reliance among farmers. “Today, all seeds sold in the market are either hybrid or genetically modified,” he said. “Earlier, a farmer could make seeds from indigenous or native seeds which are open-pollinated. But the local seeds are no longer available in the market as the seed-keeping culture is fading. This means the farmer is forced to buy seeds every season.” He added that more than 99 per cent of biodiversity in vegetables is already lost. “We need to preserve what is left,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I look for indigenous seeds which are on the verge of extinction, procure them and try to stabilise them genetically and environmentally in my farm,” he said. “I share them with the seed-saver community as the idea is not to create a seed vault. I am keener on multiplying the seeds, to grow these rare vegetables and create a demand for them so that farmers can take the risk of growing them at scale.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao, who has a collection of 600 varieties of endangered, indigenous, vegetable seeds, has been successful in stabilising around 180 to 200 varieties. They are now available online for purchase. “This is one way of saving these seeds from going extinct,” said Rao, adding that stabilisation is a time-consuming process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a tough task to convince a farmer to part with heirloom seeds. “Mostly, I get only a few seeds of the rare varieties from tribal communities or farmers,” he said. “Of these, some will germinate. The plants grown from these seeds should resemble the mother plant. So, we grow the seed over five to six seasons to ensure that the plant is the same as the mother plant. There is always a chance of cross-pollination. Every season, we harvest the seeds from plants that resemble the mother plant to concentrate that particular set of genes. Then, we release it as a native seed. This follows the standard procedures and genetics of seed production.” Rao uses traditional storage methods like keeping the dried seeds in an airtight box with a pinch of asafoetida and two stalks of neem leaves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Preserving indigenous seeds is not a hobby, Rao asserted, but a mission. The native seeds are climate-resilient and drought-proof. They can combat oscillations of climate change. Losing these varieties will not only lead to permanent loss of the gene pool but also deprive us of vegetables with high nutritional value. “Hybrids and GMO seeds are bred in ideal conditions and are chosen for their ability to absorb nitrogen and commercial fertilisers to give higher yield,” said Rao. “But, in suboptimal conditions, their performance is inferior to native needs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao added that the loss of indigenous varieties also meant losing diversity in our food habits, the regional cuisines and healthy eating practices in tune with the seasons. Rao said that most recipes in Samaithu Paar—a treasure trove of traditional vegetarian recipes by S. Meenakshi Ammal, first published in 1951—can no longer be made as the vegetables mentioned are not grown in south India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“For instance, clove bean was widely being consumed in south India,” he said. “But one cannot find them in the local market any more. We sourced the seeds from the tribals along the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu border and are reviving the vegetable.” The supermarket culture, he said, has changed our food habits as seasonal crops are available throughout the year and the same set of popular vegetables are being consumed across different geographical regions. This is tweaking food habits, perhaps, making them uniform, he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao said that during monsoon, some rural communities continue to harvest certain leafy vegetables that are labelled as weeds in commercial agriculture. These were an intrinsic part of our diet that helped build immunity against seasonal endemics. Similarly, tribals in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, strictly follow the seasonal vegetable calendar, where they eat only specific vegetables in each Hindu month. For instance, they consume the cucumber family of vegetables only in February, March and April.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One simple strategy to preserve indigenous varieties is encouraging farmers to grow field crops, in which the volumes and returns are bigger. One such revival project happened in Punjab. A wheat variety called Sona Moti, which was on the verge of extinction after being in cultivation for 2,000 years, was grown. Rao said it has a good amount of folic acid and can be consumed even by people with gluten allergy and has now been revived. “The farmers have been selling it for 075/kg against a minimum support price of Rs20 and have been making profits for the last two harvests,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In Chhattisgarh, farmers are growing native varieties of pigeon pea (dal),” he added. “There is a huge demand as it cooks well, tastes good and is more nutritious than the hybrid dal. The black rice variety in the temple town of Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu is another success story.” Farmers in Chhattisgarh are also growing a flood-resistant rice variety—the plant grows taller than usual to escape floods. India is a biodiversity hotspot for pulses and has 35,000 indigenous rice varieties, too. If there is no intervention, they are at a risk of extinction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao, who is a part of the Paramparaagat Krishi Vikas Yojana, a government scheme to revive traditional methods of agriculture, emphasises on the need for a paradigm shift in agriculture—from ensuring food security to nutritional security. There is a huge burden of nutritional deficiency even among the affluent. As a result, the food supplement industry is thriving, said Rao.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He propagates practices based on Vriksha Ayurveda, an ancient compilation of scholarly commentaries. Rao said that a tradition that has survived 10,000 years in India uses nutrient solubilising microbes (NSMs) to break down the minerals like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. There are formulations which can introduce NSMs into the soil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Vedic agriculture protects the ecosystem and biodiversity, even as you grow crops to fulfil nutritional requirements,” he said. For instance, a person who normally eats five chapatis made of hybrid wheat will need to eat only two chapatis made of Sona Moti, he said. The body gets adequate nutrition and signals you to stop eating.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite his level of involvement in agricultural science, the landscape architect in Rao still has an appetite for challenges. He loves to talk about the Statue of Unity, which he calls an iconic monument for the vision with which it was implemented. “There were concerns over threats to the crocodile population, tribal habitations and biodiversity,” he said. “But today, you can see the transformation, which is in sync with tribal livelihood.” Rao added that you could spot a huge population of dragonflies in the area and that this was an indicator of the ecosystem’s health.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao said that for historical and cultural landscaping in restoration projects, getting into the skin of the original designer is important. “Often you realise the original design has been diluted, though not intentionally, but because people did not know any better,” he said. “There is a tendency to plant trees indiscriminately or for exotic trees to be introduced. So, we need to record the changes and the extent of deviation from the original design.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It pays to be a futurist while designing landscapes, said Rao. “I always envisage a design thinking how this landscape would look in 50 years,” he said. “Many trees will be reaching the end of their life cycle, too. So, we have to understand how we are going to tackle the current gaps and the gaps that will be created over the years. You must evolve a strategy where, over a period of time, you learn to reveal the layers of the original design.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao said indigenous trees are the most vibrant; there is also a wide variety in trees, shrubs and ground covers. “We don’t need to imitate the western concept of manicured lawns and hedges,” he said. “Every indigenous plant has a descriptor in Charaka Samhita (ancient Indian text on medicine), as every tree brings value to human life. You cannot say the same about a Gulmohar or other imported trees.” He added that trees like the Gulmohar tended to collapse during the monsoon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Native trees, like the kadamba, he said, have beautiful flowers, thick canopies, versatile timber and medicinal value. He added that our horticulture system follows a flawed approach and promotes exotic species. He wants to see native trees lining our streets. In Malleswaram, a suburb of Bengaluru, he said, we have the Margosa Road named after the indigenous trees lining the street. Rao asked: “Why can’t we have more neem, margosa, kadamba or arjuna for our avenues?”</p> Thu Sep 30 17:42:22 IST 2021 civilian-drones-new-laws-could-drive-rapid-growth-in-domestic-market <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Your food is</b> in the air! In the not so distant future, this could be Swiggy’s notification to customers. In May, the ministry of civil aviation cleared 20 entities to conduct experimental beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone flights. The online delivery platform is part of a consortium, led by ANRA Technologies, which is among the 20. “We are excited about the potential of drones and look forward to BVLOS trials for food delivery,” said Shilpa Gnaneshwar, principal programme manager at Swiggy.</p> <p>Commercial drones, initially perceived as little more than toys, are now being used by businesses in an attempt to increase efficiency and decrease costs. According to a report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and EY, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market in India is expected to touch $885.7 million in 2021, with the global market approaching $21.47 billion. A report by PwC India said that the drone segment was expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 18 per cent between 2017 and 2023.</p> <p>However, experts point out that India is at least 10 to 15 years behind the US and China in drone utilisation. China is the world leader in drone hardware, while the US has shown the most innovation in creating new applications. According to a report by Statista Research Department, from the 2017 fiscal year to the 2021 fiscal year, the US spent about $17.5 billion on drones. This was the highest expenditure on drones by a country and was followed by China ($4.5 billion) and Russia ($3.9 billion). During the same time period, India is estimated to have spent $2.5 billion on drones.</p> <p>Swapnik Jakkampuddi, co-founder and COO, Skye Air Mobility, said: “Certain nations such as the US, Scotland, Australia, Japan and [some countries in] Africa are ahead in some aspects of drone use for civilian population, but that is attributed to their unique geography (distances, inaccessibility to services in specific regions, and security and risk assessment specific to geopolitical environment enables faster adoption of drone friendly laws).” He said that delivery of vaccines and food has commenced in select regions of such nations.</p> <p>In India, drones are used most widely in aerial photography. It took off soon after the first consumer drones became available in the Indian market in 2015 and drones have now become a staple of the toolkit of wedding photographers.</p> <p>Nowadays, drones are not just used to get the aerial view, but also for more creative inputs, such as to carry rings and to create light and sound shows in the night sky. Road survey teams and real estate businesses, too, use drones. Entire businesses have emerged solely for processing drone footage and turning it into actionable insights, such as identifying landmarks or generating 3D models of buildings under construction. Then, there are the more industrially driven purposes such as stockpile evaluation.</p> <p>“In the past two to three years, the usage of drones in agriculture has also increased,” said Abhinav Rao Varrey, associate, business development and communications at Johnnette Technologies Limited, a drone manufacturer. He added that one of the first deliveries using drones was recently done in Bengaluru. Varrey said that drone deliveries in India were more likely to focus on medicines or vaccines rather than food or other packages.</p> <p>The use of drones by the government’s SVAMITVA (Survey of Villages Abadi and Mapping with Improvised Technology in Village Areas) scheme, the National Highways Authority of India, Indian Railways, police forces and state governments, in various projects, highlights an intent to leverage this technology. The purposes of these projects range from enhancing safety to reducing field visits (see graphics). The number of tenders being issued for drones and drone services has been increasing steadily.</p> <p>Omnipresent Robot Tech got permission to start trial deliveries of products purchased online and has already tested drone deliveries of medicines to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi. Its CEO and founder, Aakash Sinha, said the e-commerce sector would see huge usage of drones. “In India, there are more than one crore deliveries every day,” said Sinha. “The delivery segment is going to benefit immensely from drone deliveries. Asset management for factories and construction projects will also benefit from drone usage. Oil refineries, for instance, have tall structures that require regular maintenance. Usually, someone has to get up there; it is not only risky, but also depends on human input. So, in the future, every factory will have a drone.”</p> <p>Karan Kamdar, CEO of drone manufacturer 1 Martian Way Industries Pvt Ltd, said that drones would become an integral part of the smart home. “Autonomous smart devices will be used as a remote eye for security,” he said. “[Similar] drones are already available in the market, but with the rapid pace of Artificial Intelligence development, and facial recognition and other such technologies, the autonomy and sophistication of these drones will increase by orders of magnitude. As will their integration and communication with other smart devices.” Moreover, he added, with the ability to manipulate objects, one can think of a host of creative applications performed by drones, such as picking up smartphones and plugging them into their charging ports.</p> <p>One of the key applications that drone manufacturers in India are working on is their operation in spaces without GPS. Such operations can keep track of inventory in warehouses or, if fitted with the required sensors, monitor hazardous spaces inside factories. “These applications are yet to be considered by the directorate general of civil aviation because the rules currently have no provision to account for drones that work autonomously in the absence of GPS and NPNT (‘no permission; no take off’ protocol),” said Kamdar. “NPNT requires the drones to have an on-board GPS. Similarly, drone racing, which has become a global phenomenon, makes use of drones that cannot have GPS mounted on them. So again, they cannot operate if NPNT becomes an exclusive requirement without regarding the end utility of drones manufactured for different purposes.” Jakkampuddi said that areas like medical assists and scans, mining solutions, marine applications and exploration without human presence could use drones more.</p> <p>The government’s Drone Rules 2021 has been largely welcomed by the industry. There were apprehensions that the rules may be made stringent after the drone attacks in Jammu in June. However, there have been relaxations which would speed up the adoption of drones. For example, the number of forms that had to be filled has been reduced from 25 to five and the fee to be paid to operate drones has been reduced from Rs70 to Rs4. The rules are expected to make India a $5 billion-plus drone market in the next three years.</p> <p>As per the Drone Rules, a single-window platform would be developed for all the clearances that are required. Additionally, an interactive airspace map will be displayed on the platform showing yellow, green and red zones. These zones have been demarcated to tell drone operators where they can and cannot fly. The coverage of the rules has been extended to drones weighing up to 500kg, from the earlier 300kg. This would mean that drone taxis would also be covered by the new rules.</p> <p>“The new rules have abolished the requirement of several approvals which were earlier required,” said Abhishek Malhotra, managing partner, TMT Law Practice. “There is no need to seek certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, acceptance of existing drones, operator permit, authorisation of R&amp;D organisation and student remote pilot licence. [This] should enable growth in business and private participation.”</p> <p>Shivangi Tyagi, a research analyst with the political economy programme at Carnegie India, also said the new laws were significantly less burdensome than the old rules. “The new rules have made compliance easier,” she said. “It is important to note that the government had already been using drones for different operations. The new rules are a part of an ecosystem that is likely to boost drone usage in the private sector.”</p> <p>Experts feel that while there may be apprehensions about the possibility of more drone attacks, this does not overshadow the immense potential of the technology to solve problems. “In our assessment, we see the government taking steps to adopt more anti-drone technologies that will safeguard vital national assets,” said Jakkampuddi. “Strict action against violators and anti-national elements by enforcement agencies is the need of the hour, so as to dissuade any persons with mala fide intent.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Sep 23 16:20:11 IST 2021 indian-militarys-new-workhorse-mq-9-reaper-drones <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>On January 3,</b> 2020, US president Donald Trump took a brief break from his Christmas vacation at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to make a dramatic announcement. He told journalists that the US military had “successfully executed a flawless precision strike” that killed Qasim Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force that had allegedly injured or killed hundreds of American civilians and military personnel. “He was a monster, but he is no longer a monster,” Trump said. “He is dead.”</p> <p>Apparently, the operation was as dramatic as the announcement. Two MQ-9 Reaper drones had taken off from an airbase in Kuwait, travelled 600km to hover over Baghdad International Airport. When the green light came, the drones launched the missiles which took out two cars that were leaving the airport. The attack killed Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, head of al-Hashd al-Shaabi (popular mobilisation forces), an Iran-backed militia in Iraq. The Reapers’ precision stunned the world.</p> <p>Months earlier, Trump had cleared the sale of MQ-9 Reapers to India, making it the first non-NATO country to get the clearance. Now, India is concluding the acquisition process. The drones, also called Predator B, would be distributed among the three services­—10 each for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. The Reapers come fitted with smart bombs and Hellfire missiles, and will form part of India’s response to the Chinese combat drone Wing Loong II, which Pakistan is buying.</p> <p>The $3-billion deal will sharpen India’s offensive capabilities. At present, the Indian military operates drones only for surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The weaponised Reapers, say strategists, will give India the ability to remotely launch cross-border strikes and engage border targets. It will also help the Navy keep an eye on Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean.</p> <p>Last year, videos of Armenian tanks and artillery positions being decimated by Azerbaijan’s drones showed the world the changing character of new-age wars. It is estimated that around 2,000 attack drones and more than 80,000 surveillance drones will be sold around the world in the next 10 years. According to Lt Gen (retd) D.S. Hooda, the architect of the Army’s 2016 surgical strike across the Line of Control, it is now an essential capability for a modern military to take out targets deep behind the enemy lines with “minimal” risk. “It is a much more convenient option to send armed drones [instead of fighter aircraft] to hit the target,” he told THE WEEK. “Cross-border strikes and Balakot-type airstrikes can be done without risking lives and aircraft.”</p> <p>Under Project Cheetah, the Air Force is looking to upgrade its existing fleet of Heron drones for offensive missions. The medium-altitude, long-endurance Israeli drones, which serve all three services of the Indian military, are being fitted with laser-guided bombs and air-to-ground and air-launched anti-tank missiles. The Air Force, which is the lead agency for the project, will spend Rs5,000 crore on upgrades. India is among the few modern militaries that do not have armed drones. Even smaller countries like Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan and South Africa have been using weaponised drones.</p> <p>Manufactured by San Diego-based General Atomics, the Reaper has an endurance of 48 hours, and can carry a 1,700kg payload for more than 6,000 nautical miles. It comes with nine “hardpoints”—slots on an airframe designed to carry loads—that are capable of carrying sensors, missiles and laser-guided bombs. It can operate in adverse weather and is designed to survive lightning strikes.</p> <p>According to Vivek Lall, chief executive of General Atomics Global Corporation, India-US defence ties are the result of decades of dedicated efforts by both countries to overcome traditional mindsets and align on common goals. “This is validated by the volume of trade and technology transfer existing today between the two largest democracies in the world,” he told THE WEEK. “We fully expect this trend to continue, and the fact that defence cooperation remains high on the list of priorities for bilateral relationship is a sign of these mutual security objectives.”</p> <p>The Reaper platform has been a workhorse of the US military, producing models that have flown more than seven million hours, most of them in combat situations. The platform currently accounts for 11 per cent of all US air force missions, but only 2.6 per cent of total costs. The USAF drone fleet accumulates around three lakh flight hours a year, making it a favourite of military commanders around the world.</p> <p>“No other family of platforms comes close to providing the capability, response, interoperability and utility of these aircraft, and we believe India will receive the same high value for investment that the US and other nations currently receive,” said Lall.</p> <p>India had acquired its first unmanned vehicle in 1996—the Israeli Searcher Mk-I. Even now, drones India has are mainly Israel-made. The Defence Research and Development Organisation’s Nishant and Rustom drones are also used for surveillance and intelligence-gathering. India recently signed multiple contracts together worth Rs500 crore to buy Israeli “kamikaze drones”, which are essentially munitions that can search for and destroy targets.</p> <p>Last year, the Navy had leased two Reapers for surveillance operations in the Indian Ocean. With its capacity to remain in the air for long, said Hooda, the Reapers can monitor and defend the China border. “It brings enormous offensive capabilities,” he said. “It is not going to replace manned fighter jets, but it brings advanced and additional capabilities.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Sep 23 15:53:17 IST 2021 chhattisgarh-the-curious-case-of-baghel-vs-baghel <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE TWITTER</b> bio of Nand Kumar Baghel reads thus: “Proud father of Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The description smelled faintly of irony on September 7, when Nand Kumar, 86, was arrested and remanded to judicial custody in Raipur for making comments that allegedly showed the Brahmin community in poor light. At a public event in Uttar Pradesh, he had reportedly described Brahmins as “foreigners” and urged backward communities to “boycott” them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his six-decade-long career as a crusading socialist, Nand Kumar has got himself into trouble a number of times for his anti-caste tirades. This time, though, was different. A father being arrested and sent to jail by a government headed by his son was a first in India. It attracted a lot of public interest. Bhupesh defended the arrest saying he could not ignore acts that could upset public order. “No one, including the father of the chief minister, is above the law,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is no secret that the Baghels have bitter ideological and political differences. But when he was granted bail four days after his arrest, Nand Kumar weighed in on the arrest with equanimity. He told THE WEEK that his son had only discharged his duty as chief minister. A first information report registered in a police station in Raipur had necessitated the arrest. What Bhupesh did, said Nand Kumar, was not political. “There might be ideological and political differences between us, but that does not alter the father-son relation,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nand Kumar has long been unapologetic about airing his unconventional views in public. A follower of Vinoba Bhave’s Sarvodaya and Bhoodan movements, and of socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan, he is known for his vehement criticism of the Hindu caste system. His speeches and writings often dub Brahmins as foreigners who must be expelled from the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has also made comments regarding Hindu deities that were perceived to be deeply offensive. One of his biggest provocations was publishing the book Brahman Kumar, Ravan ko Mat Maro, a critical analysis of, among others, the Manusmriti and Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas, considered to be one of the greatest epics in Hindu devotional literature. The book was banned in 2001, soon after the Congress came to power in the newly formed state. Nand Kumar’s long legal fight against the ban ended in 2017, when the High Court finally dismissed his petition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An affluent farmer who owns more than 400 acres in Durg district, Nand Kumar belongs to the Kurmi community—traditional cultivators who are part of the Other Backward Classes. People close to him say that his politics is driven by the historical injustices that “lower castes” have had to suffer. He has made his life’s work to mobilise dalits, tribals, backward communities and minorities, and ensure that they receive adequate political representation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is also president of the Matdata Jagriti Manch (voter awareness forum) and the Akhil Bharatiya Kurmi Kisan Mazdoor Mahasabha, which works for the welfare of farmers, labourers and backward communities. The teachings of the Buddha have deeply influenced Nand Kumar, even though he has not converted to Buddhism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ashish Dubey, a political analyst based in Durg, has known the Baghels for more than three decades. He said Nand Kumar’s defiance and outspokenness stem from his standing as an affluent and influential farmer. “He is the typical dau, as influential farmers are locally called,” said Dubey, who is a Brahmin associated with several community organisations. “Now he is ageing and, perhaps, failing to get his ideas and agenda against the upper castes mainstreamed. So, his comments are getting shriller and somewhat offensive.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Umesh Niwal, a Durg-based writer of politics, said there had been several instances of open disputes between the Baghels. The ugliest squabble, according to Niwal, happened in July 2019, when Nand Kumar’s wife and Bhupesh’s mother, Bindeshwari Devi, died. The father and son divided the mortal remains and performed the last rites according to their own beliefs. Bhupesh reportedly performed the last rites in Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh as per Hindu rites; Nand Kumar did the same according to Buddhist rites at the Khubchand Baghel barrage in Dhamtari district in Chhattisgarh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the run-up to the 2018 assembly polls, Nand Kumar had written to the Congress leadership demanding that the party allocate 85 per cent of seats to candidates belonging to dalit, tribal, backward and minority communities. It prompted Bhupesh, who was state Congress chief at that time, to issue a public statement pointing out that his father was not even a primary member of the party to make such demands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Niwal, Nand Kumar’s politics and his book on Ravan is rooted in the views of a section of marginalised communities who have long opposed the tradition of burning Ravan in effigy and celebrating Mahishasura’s killing on Dussehra. Apparently, the problem is that Nand Kumar’s choice of words are sometimes unfortunate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time, though, Bhupesh has managed to take advantage of the difficult spot that his father had put him in. “Nand Kumar going to jail certainly benefits Bhupesh, as it shows the chief minister’s determination to uphold law and order,” said Niwal. “Even if the opposition calls it a political stunt, he has certainly won brownie points this time.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political analyst Rasheed Kidwai said the arrest has created a buzz in favour of Bhupesh, who was on the back foot politically because of the intra-party tussle over the chief minister’s post. “His action sends out a very strong message that when most ideology-based parties are trying to protect their own, and are becoming accommodative of anti-social elements, here is a chief minister who has the courage of conviction to show that no one is above the law,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhupesh has also helped prevent the caste dynamics from harming the Congress. “He has proven himself to be an astute politician by scoring on the ‘duty of the ruler’ count,” said Kidwai. “He also gave out the message of him being a caste-neutral politician—a useful move ahead of the assembly elections Uttar Pradesh, where no party wants to alienate any caste or community.”</p> Thu Sep 16 19:15:40 IST 2021 i-want-bhupesh-model-across-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ You did not apply for bail when arrested, but did so in four days. Why?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I fell ill eating jail food and applied for bail to save my life. I have a blood sugar level of more than 400mg/dl and no teeth, so eating jail food was harmful and difficult. Now, after consulting doctors, I am feeling better.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But you have been in jail several times earlier.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I can’t remember the number of times I have been jailed across the country. I have never been afraid of [going to jail]. Also, the cops have always treated me well, because I consider them as my own. Most of them are sons of farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Many people, mainly BJP leaders, say the arrest was a political gimmick.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ My son did his duty as chief minister. I want to thank him for that. There is nothing political about this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your Twitter bio says ‘Proud father of Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel’. But you were always opposed to his ideology and politics.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is nothing uncommon about a father and son having ideological and political differences. Each individual’s life and ideas are shaped by the circumstances he or she goes through. But this difference does not mean that the father-son relation is altered. When Bhupesh was 18, I had questioned his decision to give up academics and enter politics. I asked him whether he could become a CM by doing so. He touched my feet and vowed that he would become one. He did it and I am certainly proud of him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you view your son’s performance as chief minister?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I have only one complaint: that he supports the chutiadhari people (Brahmins who have a lock of long hair). Our difference on this is so much that we had a tiff over immersing the mortal remains of my wife, Bindeshwari.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you converted to Buddhism?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ No, I did not actually go about converting to Buddhism, but I follow the teachings of the Buddha and the principles of Buddhism. One of his main teachings is about making use of one’s own mind, intellect and discretion to make decisions in life, and not blindly follow what others, including religious texts, say. I followed this strictly, and even gave the same advice to Bhupesh when he promised to become CM.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What spurred you to the kind of politics you espouse?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I had passed matriculation with 84 per cent marks from the Central School in Raipur. A book on Acharya Vinoba Bhave was given to me as a prize for winning a debate competition. The book said that one keeps learning through life. I decided to follow this and left academics, and got involved in the work of Acharya Vinoba.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your larger goal?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I want to ensure that dalits, tribals, Other Backward Classes, minorities and farmers get their due rights and political representation. I want the Bhupesh model of farm-based economy to be implemented across India. This would mean focus on cattle and farm and allied activities, and assurance of higher minimum support prices for crops.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I will be fielding candidates for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls after my SOM Party (named after the acronym for SC/ST, OBC and minorities) gets registered, and then tie up with like-minded parties after the results.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will you consider a tie-up with the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Certainly not. It is a party that does the politics of religion and misleads people by focusing on temples and mosques. It is because of them that the situation in the country is so bad today. We have to unite to fight the BJP in the coming Lok Sabha polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you thought of joining the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ After Bhupesh joined the Congress, I, too, wanted to do so. But [former Madhya Pradesh chief minister] Digvijaya Singh, [former Union minister and Bhupesh’s mentor] Chandulal Chandrakar and [former Chhattisgarh chief minister] Ajit Jogi were all terrified of my proposal. They could not digest my views and style.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your book Brahman Kumar, Ravan ko Mat Maro was banned. Did you want to republish it in a different way?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes, earlier I had written the book with the consideration that Ravan was a Brahmin. But now I know that he was a moolniwasi (a tribal) of the Gond community, who wanted to protect cattle and prevent them from being killed. His brother Kumbhakarna invented the plough, so that people did not have to eat animal meat. I want to bring all this to the forefront. I want to say that there is nothing special about the Brahmins, that they should be treated on par with all. If they think of us as untouchables, then we would also consider them as untouchables.</p> Thu Sep 16 19:09:44 IST 2021 taliban-unfit-to-run-a-government-says-brother-of-ahmad-shah-massoud <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Today it is our </b>problem, tomorrow it can be yours,’’ said Ahmad Wali Massoud, quoting his late brother Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Afghan resistance leader who was known as the ‘Lion of Panjshir’. He was referring to the resurgent Taliban, which seems to be consolidating its hold over Afghanistan. It claimed on September 6 that it took control of the Panjshir Valley, killing key leader Fahim Dashty and several others. But the resistance movement—led by Ahmad Shah Massoud’s son, Ahmad Massoud—has declared that the fight will continue from the mountains.</p> <p>Speaking exclusively to THE WEEK from an undisclosed location, Ahmad Wali Massoud said his brother had warned against the dangers of sheltering Osama bin Laden, which came horrifyingly true when the 9/11 attacks happened. “In the same way, today we are saying be careful of the Taliban,” he said. Massoud, who was Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, said regional countries, especially Pakistan, could play a crucial role in putting pressure on the Taliban and helping bring an inclusive government to power.</p> <p>Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q.<b> The resistance forces are witnessing military setbacks and killings.</b></p> <p>A. It does not matter who is winning or losing on the military field. What really matters is that the resistance will stay alive. This is the resistance of the people who want to defend their own homeland, their lives and their family. There have been successive attacks on resistance forces in the Panjshir Valley. Panjshir has become the symbol of resistance. Each voice being raised against the Taliban is part of the resistance. The women of Afghanistan constitute half of the population and they are against the Taliban’s beliefs. So they are part of the resistance. The young generation, the civil society and the media are part of the resistance. Therefore, the resistance has already expanded a lot. Initially it was confined to one place, but now it is everywhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q. <b>How do you feel about the role played by the west, especially the US, in the present situation?</b></p> <p>A. The way the US left Afghanistan after 20 years was very disappointing. Probably they thought they would exit in a fashion where their people would not be shot and they could find a way out, but that did not happen. A lot of people got caught within Afghanistan itself. But now there are voices coming from different corners of the western world in support of the resistance. But what everyone must realise is that the people of Afghanistan had put their trust in the west, but that trust was broken altogether.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q. <b>Do you think Pakistan will ever let anyone govern Kabul peacefully?</b></p> <p>A. The role of Pakistan is very important as far as peace is concerned, because Pakistan is our neighbour, sharing a 2,400km-long border. So its role in peace is very crucial. Therefore, we made a trip to Pakistan and talked to the military and the political leadership. We asked them to use their influence on the Taliban to bring peace in Afghanistan. It will be best for both countries and the entire region. Let us hope that it brings some results. But it seems the Taliban may not listen to them and do something because what has happened in the Panjshir Valley means that the promises have not been kept.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q. <b>Are you ready to negotiate with the Taliban?</b></p> <p>A. We have already said, ‘Let us talk.’ Before the Taliban came to Kabul, there were talks in Doha and in different places but it did not work out. This means that the Taliban mindset is not for peace. It is a warring faction, a theological group which is very extremist. These are not the people who can make a government. That is why the entire peace process of the past one and half years and the efforts of the international community have failed. The Taliban will continue with the war which is very unfortunate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q. <b>The Taliban says it will respect women’s rights and is keen to form an inclusive government.</b></p> <p>A. What we are really looking for is peace. So we have tried to work out a system through which the people can exercise their rights. There are more than 30 ethnic groups in Afghanistan. What kind of government or political system can we have to respond to these issues? Can we work out a system where we can have an understanding between all of them? The Taliban represents only one ethnicity. We can only hope and look forward to an inclusive government where all beliefs, ideas, dreams and desires of the people can come together. But we do not know whether the Taliban will accept it. The group has its own ideology and knows only one kind of structure to govern. The show by the Taliban of getting different people to support it is just to portray a different image. But we have not seen any change in its attitude.</p> <p>Q. <b>How do you see India’s efforts in securing peace in the region? Are you in touch with New Delhi?</b></p> <p>A. I am not in close touch with Indian officials, but I know that all the regional countries, especially those countries who were involved in the development of Afghanistan, will continue to play an important role. For a long time, we have been saying that countries who are fighting each other should avoid making Afghanistan the theatre for their rivalry.</p> <p>We want all countries, especially those in the region, to reach a consensus as far as Afghanistan is concerned because the process of peace has two pillars. One pillar is peace inside Afghanistan, where the different ethnicities must come to a consensus to make a system through which they can live with one another. The second pillar is the consensus among regional powers to come to some sort of consensus on Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q. <b>Will Taliban 2.0 be different and more successful than Taliban 1.0?</b></p> <p>A. I do not see any difference. Do not forget that the Taliban is an ideological movement. When you have an ideological movement, you cannot really change yourself so easily. So you stick with your own ideology and when you stick with your own ideology, naturally you become very extreme and very fanatic. We have not seen any change in its practices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q. <b>In your view, what caused the rushed exit of the US?</b></p> <p>A. We really do not know; it does not have any logic. Some feel the US lost to terrorism, while some others say the reason was economic. Others attribute it to regional conflict and the fact that the US wants to start a new chapter. But it does not seem logical to leave everything once again to the Taliban after 20 years of investing in Afghanistan. The US sold out all the values it invested in the last 20 years—democracy, elections, women’s rights and educational rights. The US came to fight terrorism and after taking out the Taliban, it gave the country back to the Taliban.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q. <b>What is your message to the world community?</b></p> <p>A. Do not forget that Afghanistan is very important as terrorism really takes root here. All countries need to ensure that it does not become a hub of terrorism. Twenty years ago, when my brother was alive, he gave a message to the world when he came to Europe. “Terrorism is our problem today, but tommorrow it could be yours,” he said. Nobody listened, and look what happened in 20 years. In the same way, today we are saying that the world should be careful of the Taliban. It has got lots of terrorist groups within itself and they are all interconnected. We need to put pressure on the Taliban and ensure that there is an inclusive government in Afghanistan. If the Taliban goes to war, then the world will have to stand against it, not because we are saying it, but because it is against the universal beliefs and ideals of freedom of speech, democracy, human rights and women’s rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q. <b>What is your biggest worry?</b></p> <p>A. If the Taliban is allowed to take root in Afghanistan again along with terrorist groups from across the world, it will make Afghanistan a hub of terrorism and we won’t know how many people in how many countries will be affected. That is something everyone needs to think about. Of course, we have lost a lot of people, and we have already lost Afghanistan, but what about regional countries and extra-regional countries? The world still needs to worry about it and take action to curb the spread of terrorism and extremism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q. <b>How do you see the relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban after 20 years of the 9/11 attacks?</b></p> <p>A. That relationship is unbreakable. The Taliban has not broken its ties with terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda. The world knows that the Taliban cannot get rid of them and it is also not willing to get rid of them. The Taliban cannot get rid of them because they are an integral part of the whole Taliban movement. So they are there to stay and will continue to grow. The terrorist groups which have come to Afghanistan are there not to create trouble within Afghanistan, they are there to use Afghanistan to spread their extremist ideas and terrorism to other parts of the world.&nbsp;</p> Thu Sep 09 19:55:57 IST 2021 resistance-forces-locals-in-panjshir-plan-to-fight-the-taliban-to-the-very-end <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>It took almost</b> two days to get a response from Hamid. His friends and relatives in Kabul were worried about his fate. Hamid, who works for an international NGO in Kabul, volunteered to take up arms in Panjshir, his home province, and join Ahmad Massoud’s National Resistance Front (NRF) to fight the Taliban. As news trickled in that the Taliban captured most of the valley, Hamid made a phone call from one of the mountain heights. “We are alive and we are fighting. The war is not over till we surrender or die. Do not believe rumours,” he told his family. The call was brief as he had to get back to the battlefield. Locals say the Taliban has cut off electricity, disabled mobile networks and internet, and stopped the supply of essentials to the valley.</p> <p>The Panjshiris are shattered that their unique identity of being the only territory in Afghanistan that was never occupied by the Taliban or the Soviet forces has been lost. Hamid’s mother said she sent her son to the valley knowing he might die to keep the Taliban out of their “heaven”.</p> <p>The people of Panjshir, which means the land of five lions, take their legacy seriously. They are evidently proud of former mujahideen and Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated in 2001. Now, they unitedly follow his son, Ahmad Massoud, who is leading the fight against the Taliban.</p> <p>The most effective tactic of the resistance forces has been to allow enemy troops to enter the small valleys and then cut them off through ambushes. Sources in the resistance forces say they captured hundreds of Taliban fighters in this manner.</p> <p>A fighter of the resistance forces, however, conceded that the arrival of foreign troops in the valley caught them by surprise. “We are facing a barrage of reinforcements of Pakistani militants. We have killed and injured a number of foreign fighters including Chechens and Arabs. A large number of fighters have descended into the valley from every side possible,” he said.</p> <p>Fahim Fetrat, a journalist and a member of the NRF, said the valley recently experienced drone strikes. Other sources, too, confirmed that they were aware of drones flying over key strategic positions. The overwhelming impression is that the Pakistani military is very much involved in the latest phase of clashes.</p> <p>The intense clashes have been hard on the civilians. Many of them have vacated their houses and moved into the mountains, despite the absence of basic facilities. A Turkey-based Panjshiri who manages social media pages of the resistance forces said, “It has been days since I contacted my family. I just know that they left for the mountains. My school has been completely destroyed. Who knows, right now, the Taliban might be sitting in my house.”</p> <p>Mohammed is another young man who managed to escape. “A few days ago, my friend and I went towards a mountain near my house. I did not see anyone around but a bullet whizzed past us. After a few seconds, we saw someone firing at us from a distance,” said Mohammed. He is now in Kabul, while his family has moved to the mountains.</p> <p>Despite being under siege, the Panjshiris display indomitable fighting spirit. A mother, whose three boys are fighting with the resistance forces, said, “The Taliban forces have come here to get their long locks chopped and my sons will do that free of cost for them.” Another young supporter of the resistance forces, too, sounded optimistic. “For every Panjshiri martyr, 10-100 Taliban soldiers have lost their lives,” he said. “Although the world has turned a blind eye towards us, we have shown how to fight the Taliban.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Sep 09 19:50:27 IST 2021 bjps-performance-in-assembly-polls-would-define-contours-of-national-politics <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>While an impressive </b>victory in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 marked the beginning of an era of the BJP’s dominance in Indian politics, it was the saffron party’s spectacular show in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2017 that triggered an all-out attempt to push its ideological agenda. The party won 312 of 403 seats in the state, setting the tone for another thumping victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Now, just about six months remain for the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, and the results will define the contours of the country’s politics in the next few years.</p> <p>Assembly elections will also be held in Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur in 2022. These states account for 102 Lok Sabha seats. Later in the year, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat will go to polls.</p> <p>Interestingly, these elections will be a test for four first-time BJP chief ministers—Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh, Pushkar Singh Dhami in Uttarakhand, Pramod Sawant in Goa and N. Biren Singh in Manipur. Unlike the Lok Sabha elections, most assembly elections since 2014 have been tricky for the BJP, especially in states where it was in power. It either lost them or came back with a diminished mandate—or with the help of turncoats.</p> <p>In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP struggled to deal with the disgruntlement that followed the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the restiveness in certain castes and communities in the state. After a series of meetings and detailed discussions between party leaderships in Delhi and Lucknow, a course correction was initiated—from giving representation to 20 different OBC communities in the Union cabinet to reaching out to other groups. On the insistence of the central leadership, BJP state president Swatantra Dev Singh has been filling vacancies in the organisation at a frenetic pace.</p> <p>The BJP has been reaching out to various communities and opinion-makers in the state. It started meetings early this month to engage with writers, intellectuals and professionals. The party hopes to overcome anti-incumbency through such meetings, and to pacify Brahmins, who have been miffed with the Adityanath government.</p> <p>Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party was the first to hold an outreach meeting with Brahmins, in Ayodhya in July. Alok Awasthi, the spokesperson for the BJP, said his party’s meetings were not caste-specific. “Key people from all fields are invited and made aware of the work done by Modi ji and Yogi ji. These meetings will be held in all 75 districts of the state and addressed by senior leaders from the state including the CM, deputy CMs, state president and organisation secretary,” he said. These meetings will be followed by <i>sammelans</i> for the OBCs. The party is trying to wean the non-Yadav OBCs off the Samajwadi Party and the non-Jatav dalits off the BSP.</p> <p>Akhilesh Yadav’s SP has emerged as the BJP’s key challenger in the state, as the party won majority seats in the panchayat polls. The BJP has trouble at hand in western Uttar Pradesh, where farmers are agitating against the new laws. The party had reaped the rewards of communal polarisation in the region after the 2013 riots in Muzaffarnagar. However, the Jat farmer leader Rakesh Tikait chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and ‘Har Har Mahadev’ in the same breath might mean a change in the equations.</p> <p>The entry of Asaduddin Owaisi has complicated things further. His AIMIM is planning to contest the elections in alliance with the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party and the Azad Samaj Party of dalit leader Chandra Shekhar Azad. It may spell trouble for opposition parties as this alliance will eat into their vote share.</p> <p>The BJP’s modus operandi in Uttarakhand is likely to be the same as that in Uttar Pradesh. “We will hold intellectual <i>sammelans</i>, women meets, OBC <i>sammelans</i>, Vidhan Sabha <i>sammelans</i> and booth <i>sammelans</i> to prep up our cadre and voters,” said Uttarakhand state BJP chief Madan Kaushik.</p> <p>The voters, however, seem confused as it saw three chief ministers in a year owing to the BJP’s internal politics. Kaushik, however, does not see any problem. “Elections are fought on manifestos,” he said. “We have fulfilled all the promises. The 21-year-old state has a 45-year-old CM. Our focus is on the youth. Dhami is a young face and people are liking him.”</p> <p>Among the five states going to the polls early next year, the biggest challenge for the BJP is in Punjab; it is also its biggest opportunity. It will fight in all 117 seats on its own for the first time, as the Shiromani Akali Dal walked out of the NDA last year. It does not stand a chance in the Sikh-majority constituencies, especially after the way it dealt with the farmer agitations. The party will focus on Hindu-dominated seats, and it has nuanced its strategy by speaking in favour of dalits and OBCs, who, despite forming a significant chunk of the population, have never been politically strong.</p> <p>“The BJP is looking at the big slice of the voters who have not been partaking in political parties, be it the dalits or OBCs. They are frustrated that they don’t have a role in building Punjab,” said BJP state president Ashwini Sharma.</p> <p>Sharma does not see much in the infighting in the Congress. “It is a fixed match. They are following a written script,” he said. “The government has not been able to do anything on issues on which it came to power. Now, they are trying to pin all the blame on Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and become martyrs in the process. They want to go to people with the same issues. But they will not succeed.”</p> <p>The Aam Aadmi Party, however, seems to be cashing in on the situation, as it is trying to emerge as a key force in Punjab and Uttarakhand. It also fancies a chance in Goa, where the BJP has been in power for 10 years.</p> <p>In Goa, the BJP finished behind the Congress in the elections in 2017, but retained power with the help of defectors. It will be a challenge for Sawant to improve upon the current tally of 28, which also includes 13 defected Congress MLAs. “We have given a stable government,” said Goa state BJP chief Sadanand Tanavade. “A stable government is our USP.”</p> <p>Like Goa, the Congress lost Manipur by a whisker in 2017. Former Congress leader N. Biren Singh, who switched sides to the BJP, is its first CM in the state. The BJP installed a woman party president, Sharda Devi, in the state to cash in on the women voters who have proved crucial in many an election. “The elections will be fought on the work done by the state and the Centre,” said Devi.</p> <p>The assembly elections in early 2022 will be a semifinal for the Narendra Modi government before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. It remains to be seen if the BJP can continue its winning streak.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Sep 09 19:29:33 IST 2021 uddhav-thackeray-is-not-going-to-be-in-power-forever-says-narayan-rane <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is always interesting to talk to Narayan Rane, former Maharashtra chief minister and the incumbent Union minister of micro, small &amp; medium enterprises (MSME). He has been at loggerheads with the Shiv Sena ever since he quit the party in 2005, over differences with Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. Rane rarely minces words while criticising the Sena.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Addressing a rally at Mahad in Raigad district on August 23—a stop on his Jan Ashirwad Yatra—Rane said that he would have slapped Uddhav for not remembering the year of India’s Independence. Shiv Sainiks across Maharashtra protested his remarks and four cases were filed against him. He was arrested in the case registered at Mahad, but was released on bail in a couple of hours. He took a short break from the Yatra, and resumed it again on August 27. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Rane spoke about his arrest, his plans for the MSME ministry and the performance of the Central and the Maharashtra governments. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What has been the impact of Covid-19 on the MSME sector?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I took charge of the ministry on July 7. The very next day I held a meeting of the officials to understand the ministry and to assess the impact of the pandemic. The officials briefed me about the budgetary provisions for the department. I told them that our effort should be focused on the growth of MSMEs so that there is employment generation and an increase in GDP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic has hugely affected the MSME sector. We need to provide relief for the affected industries and I have asked the officials to get the necessary data and details. Once I get those, I will meet Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and urge her to provide relief to the affected units so that they are able to stand on their own feet again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Do you have a relief package for the MSME sector in mind?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I have two things on my mind: insurance and credit from banks. The finance ministry has a big role to play. So, I will request the finance minister to call a meeting of insurance and bank officials and get their views on how much loan can be given, and whether it can be given at a lower rate of interest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The common complaint of MSME entrepreneurs is that it is tough for them to get bank loans. Banks are generally reluctant because of the lack of collateral, and small loan amounts.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/MSME entrepreneurs are already suffering because of the pandemic. If they face harassment from banks, they should approach me through their associations. I can then inform the concerned bank that its approach is wrong; if the harassment continues, I will have to take action against them. I plan to open a grievance cell for MSME entrepreneurs, and I will look into those complaints as a matter of priority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What can be done to help MSMEs achieve their potential and contribute to national growth?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/In order to fully achieve their potential, it is important to train MSME entrepreneurs, improve their skills and educate them about the benefits of automation and modern machinery available across the globe. All of these will help them increase the quality of their products and improve output. This, in turn, could double their profits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The Union finance minister recently announced the Ubharte Sitare Fund (Rising Stars Fund) for MSMEs. Do you have any such scheme lined up?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I have been discussing certain schemes with department officials, schemes which should be implemented in a time-bound manner. If you give a loan now and then take two years to complete other formalities, then the entrepreneur is already facing the loan burden. So, give them finance, complete the formalities quickly and tell the entrepreneurs that we would like to see the unit becoming productive soon. Then our officials will go and inspect it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/About the Mahad incident. You were arrested for your remarks against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, too, has criticised you.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Let Pawar criticise, I don’t have to say anything. He has the right; he is senior in age and experience. But he should have sought information about the entire chain of events before criticising me. That would have been the right thing to do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/You said Uddhav used similar language about Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I don’t want to get into that now. All I am saying is that I said, ‘Had I been there with him...’ This is important. I did not say that ‘I will do such a thing’. How can it be a crime? How is it a crime to say that ‘Had I met you 50 years ago, I would have beaten you up or killed you’. So, the action against me was totally wrong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Now, the Shiv Sena wants cases of some deaths in Sindhudurg to be reinvestigated. Is it an attempt to target you further?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/This is the politics of revenge, but let them do it. We can also do it. And he (Uddhav Thackeray) is not going to be in power forever. Today he is in power, but tomorrow he will be out of it. Everyone should be well aware of this fact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Coming back to your remarks, was it an emotional outburst?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/No, not at all. It was not an emotional outburst. I spoke out of my love for the nation. My nation is my first priority, I will not tolerate it if you say anything wrong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/So, you do not regret those remarks even now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Not at all. What kind of regret? There are many respected people who agree with my statement. Almost everyone feels that action against me was wrong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Is the government in Maharashtra stable?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/No, it is not. It will collapse soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Can you give a timeline?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/No, I do not wish to share it so that others may benefit from our plans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How do you rate the performance of the Thackeray government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/There is nothing to say. The government is being run by three parties. The Shiv Sena has its chief minister. But his style of functioning is such that it will not take the state to higher levels of growth. The chief minister is just not capable, he does not have the (wide) knowledge required to run a government successfully. He does not take advice from anyone. That is causing all the problems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How do you think the state government handled the pandemic?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/It is a 100 per cent failure. Covid caused deaths of 1.57 lakh people in Maharashtra, which is highest in the country. Why did people have to die? There is no infrastructure to deal with the pandemic, there is a shortage of doctors, nurses and medicines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What do you think of the performance of the Central government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The performance has been very good. Modi ji has announced around 25 key schemes for the upliftment of the downtrodden. He wants the implementation in a time-bound manner. He is aware of the performance of every ministry. In the case of my ministry, he wants MSMEs to be export oriented so that we can contribute to our nation’s growth story.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/You are a member of the Rajya Sabha. On August 11, there was a major ruckus in the house, with the opposition alleging that the government brought in outsiders to deal with the situation.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/With the help of agencies like the Intelligence Bureau, we had already come to know about the opposition plan to disrupt the house. The opposition was saying, ‘See what happens on the 11th’. And that is what it did. Whatever the opposition members may say about their behaviour on that day, it was not good. It did not match the standards of parliamentary tradition and culture.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Do you think the BJP will win the elections in 2024 at the Centre and in Maharashtra?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Yes, the BJP will win both.</p> Thu Sep 02 18:17:02 IST 2021 monetisation-pipeline-planning-and-implementation-will-be-key-to-success <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>PRIME MINISTER</b> Narendra Modi often asks ministers to think big, and deliver even bigger results. Scale defines his public policy initiatives. True to form, the Modi government is embarking on an ambitious project: unlocking the potential value of government assets and raising around 06 lakh crore in four years. The money will fund infrastructure, create jobs and give a booster shot to the sluggish economy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The big-ticket plan involves the creation of new sources of revenue by leasing of underutilised public assets to private-sector players. To better understand what it means, think of the government as an individual who is struggling to maintain or make money from his property. He decides to lease out the assets for a specified number of years in exchange for an amount paid up front. The property does not change hands, but the tenant can invest in it to generate revenue while discharging his duty to maintain the property.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The national monetisation pipeline, recently unveiled by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, takes this middle-of-the-road approach to monetising public assets. It stops short of the stigmatised avenues of privatisation and disinvestment, both of which involve selling assets, and focuses instead on ensuring “private participation” in managing assets in a more efficient and profitable manner. It means the government will give up control over 20 asset classes—ranging from highways, railways and power transmission lines to hotels, telecom facilities and stadiums.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The list of such assets is quite long. It includes 25 airports, 400 railway stations, 90 trains, four hill railways, more than 26,000 kilometres of highways, around 28,000 circuit kilometres of power lines, more than 8,000 kilometres of natural gas lines, around three lakh kilometres of optical fibre cables, cell phone tower assets numbering around 15,000, hotels owned by the Indian Tourism Development Corporation, ports, coal projects and stadiums under the Sports Authority of India. As much as 81 per cent of the aggregate value of the monetisation pipeline comes from five sectors—roads (27 per cent), railways (25), power (15), oil and gas (8) and telecom (6).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government intends to raise Rs88,000 crore in the current fiscal. The corpus of Rs6 lakh crore to be raised over four years will fund the national infrastructure pipeline, which Modi had announced in 2019 as an umbrella body of projects that will together cost Rs100 lakh crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Predictably, the scale of the pipeline has the opposition crying foul. The government, it says, is trying to sell the “family silver”—public assets that were created over the past 70 years under successive governments. After the three farm reform laws of 2020 that continue to generate political heat, the monetisation pipeline may provide opposition parties another platform to join forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the economy front, experts have given the pipeline a cautious welcome. Execution, they say, will be key. That the government’s disinvestment plans for Air India and Bharat Petroleum are caught in red tape may dampen the private sector’s enthusiasm for the monetisation project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The monetisation pipeline is a good, innovative idea; but I won’t call it a bold one,” said Madan Sabnavis, chief economist, CARE Ratings. “It is not a case of selling government silver, but of getting regular income while keeping the title. We need innovative ideas to generate resources. But whether it would work, we are not sure. I am a bit sceptical of the target of Rs88,000 crore for this fiscal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Saugata Bhattacharya, executive vice president and chief economist of Axis Bank, said analysts had long been pushing for monetisation of dormant and inefficiently used public assets. “The idea is to unlock the value of operational projects and use the proceeds to fund fresh capital expenditure. In the current phase of economic recovery, public-sector and government funding will be the main sources of finance, with private-sector capex likely to come in only gradually. Given the fiscal constraints, asset monetisation will open up a source of revenue for the government,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have been past experiments to monetise public assets. The National Highways Authority of India has monetised highways. In June last year, the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation awarded rights to collect toll on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and the old Mumbai-Pune corridor (NH-48) to IRB Infrastructure Developers. The deal was for Rs8,262 crore; it included an upfront payment of Rs6,500 crore, with the balance to be paid over three years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The monetisation pipeline, however, draws mainly from Australia’s experience of running an asset recycling initiative from 2013 to 2016. “Three billion Australian dollars in incentives were paid to participating states and territories over the life of the scheme,” said NITI Aayog in its framework report on the monetisation pipeline. “This helped in unlocking more than $17 billion in new infrastructure development across Australia. The initiative helped in enhancing investments on new transportation infrastructure by states through sale or lease of assets.” Apparently, similar experiments have been carried out in economies like the US and Indonesia, with varying degrees of success.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Asset monetisation comes with a set of challenges. “It is not always a straightforward process,” said a 2018 report from Marsh McLennan, a professional services firm. “Australia’s asset recycling scheme may not have reached initial government investment targets, but it is broadly considered to have been a success. Australia’s experience has provided a number of valuable lessons for other governments and private investors. A key takeaway is that asset recycling is not always a suitable solution to a country’s infrastructure needs. The decision-making process must take account of future infrastructure needs and the government’s ability to fund those needs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Asset monetisation can backfire if poorly negotiated. Critics often cite the example of parking meters in Chicago. In 2009, authorities got $1.16 billion for leasing out parking meters in the city to a private company for 75 years. The company managed to recoup investments in just 10 years, leading to a public outcry. The deal also drove up parking fees.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The success of India’s monetisation pipeline will depend on how assets are packaged, priced and presented to private players. “Designing awards and operating environments for leased infra assets will be crucial in successfully optimising productivity,” said Bhattacharya. “Much of these assets have the nature of economic monopolies—roads, power lines, gas pipelines, etc—which will require effective oversight to minimise distortions in how the services are priced for consumers. Attracting a large pool of bidders will also help in realising the best value for assets.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Opposition leaders allege that the pipeline is designed to create private monopolies. “The whole idea behind this exercise is to create monopolies that benefit three or four people,” said Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. “Young people who are today searching for a job cannot find it. This is not just a gifting of India’s assets; this is also going to ensure that the youth will not be able to find jobs in the future.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is trying hard to battle the perception that the Centre is on a privatisation spree. “The Congress is spreading a false narrative,” said BJP spokesperson Gopal Krishna Agarwal. “The monetisation pipeline is aimed at unlocking the potential of brownfield projects to fund infrastructure, fight Covid-19 and run social welfare programmes.”</p> Thu Sep 02 18:09:49 IST 2021 bjp-is-struggling-to-fill-the-political-vacuum-in-j-and-k <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>There were great</b> expectations from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with mainstream politicians from Jammu and Kashmir on June 24. Modi had told the leaders that the government was keen on ending <i>dil ke doori and dilli se doori</i> (distance of the hearts and distance between J&amp;K and Delhi). After giving them a patient hearing, he had promised that assembly polls would be held soon and statehood would be restored at an “appropriate time”.</p> <p>Addressing the political vacuum in Jammu and Kashmir had been the BJP’s biggest challenge since August 2019, when Article 370 was voided and Jammu and Kashmir was divided into two Union territories. As the decision to strip Kashmir of its statehood and limited autonomy fuelled widespread anger, the party made several attempts to restore normalcy. It had first backed a new political outfit­­—the Apni Party, led by former minister and Peoples Democratic Party leader Altaf Bukhari. But when it failed to win mass support, the Centre held the first-ever elections to the district development council last year, hoping to create a new grassroots leadership and isolate rivals. But that plan, too, failed. The six-party Gupkar Alliance, which had been demanding statehood and special status, won 110 of 220 DDC seats.</p> <p>Modi’s June meeting was, therefore, billed as a fresh start. But, in the absence of any follow-up moves from the government since, it has not had the desired result. In fact, the anger and frustration among leaders and supporters have only grown.</p> <p>Several Kashmiri leaders said they had expected the Centre to take positive steps to ease the crisis—such as releasing political prisoners and ending the use of stringent laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to silence critics. “<i>Kaun se doori khatam huva hain?</i> (Which distance has been bridged),” asked Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister and president of the National Conference.</p> <p>CPI(M) leader M.Y. Tarigami said Modi’s meeting had only increased the <i>doori </i>(distance) between Delhi and J&amp;K. According to him, the continuing political killings in Kashmir belied the BJP’s claim of having restored peace in the Union territory. “Peace can be restored only by involving the people,” he said.</p> <p>National Panthers Party leader Bhim Singh said Jammu and Kashmir was now like a colony of the BJP. “This is an RSS government,” he said. “Everybody knows what they want. They will hold elections only when it suits them.”</p> <p>Though he has differences with the Gupkar Alliance, Bukhari, too, wants speedy elections. But he did not want to link elections to the statehood issue. “In the meeting with the prime minister, it was decided that elections would be held after delimitation is completed,” he said. “As for bridging the gap between J&amp;K and New Delhi, the prime minister said it was his mission. We want the restoration of democracy at the earliest.”</p> <p>The Gupkar Alliance wants the Centre to restore statehood before the polls. The Congress has supported the demand. During his recent two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said his party had been unambiguous in its position that statehood must be restored and elections held in a free and fair manner. The demand for statehood was also raised in a virtual meeting of 19 opposition parties, including the PDP and NC, on August 20. Interestingly, the restoration of Article 370 was not discussed.</p> <p>People’s Conference leader Sajjad Lone, who broke away from the Gupkar Alliance in January, suggested that the alliance was dithering about its stand regarding Article 370. “The BJP’s anti-Article 370 stance is clear,” he tweeted. “What is the national opposition’s stance?”</p> <p>Lone has become politically stronger after quitting the Gupkar Alliance. Important leaders such as former NC minister Basharat Bukhari and former PDP leaders Safeena Baig, Nazir Laway and Mir Muhammad Fayaz have joined his party, which is influential in northern districts like Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipora. Sources say the BJP is banking on Lone and Bukhari to form a coalition government after the polls. “The Gupkar Alliance and the Congress will not join hands with the BJP,” said an observer. “So Lone, Bukhari and a few others are the BJP’s only option to cobble together an alliance.”</p> <p>The Gupkar Alliance does not have any party from Jammu. But the region has also been feeling politically and economically disempowered. Social activist Sunil Dimple alleged that the BJP misled the people on the issue of voiding of Article 370. “This is worse than British rule,” he said. “We feel like bonded labourers.”</p> <p>The Covid-19 lockdown has made matters worse. Though restrictions on high-speed internet has been lifted, small businesses and startups are struggling to survive. Khalid Ahmed, who used to run a call centre in Srinagar, said most of the 30 registered call centres and business processing units in the IT sector have either shut down or shifted to Delhi because of the prolonged internet disruption.</p> <p>“Before the internet was shut down, our business was booming and we had 40 employees,” said Ahmed. “We used to design websites with our US partners for Time Warner, and provide back-end support to Dish TV in Kashmir. [When the shutdown began] our partners suffered because of our inability to communicate with them and provide support. By the time the internet was restored, our business had folded.”</p> <p>According to Dimple, people are losing jobs, businesses and land. “There are 30 lakh unemployed youth in J&amp;K, and our resources are being offered to outsiders,” he said. “I doubt whether the BJP would hold elections since they have transferred the assembly secretariart staff.”</p> Thu Aug 26 17:55:21 IST 2021 institutions-supposed-to-uphold-constitutional-rights-have-bee-talibanised <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Mehbooba Mufti,</b> Peoples Democratic Party president and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, has emerged as the strongest voice against the revocation of Article 370. She has vowed not to contest assembly polls until Jammu and Kashmir’s special status is restored.</p> <p>In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Mufti spoke on a range of issues, including why the government has frozen her bank account and blocked her passport. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/ <b>Has there been any follow up by the Centre after the prime minister’s meeting with the Gupkar Alliance in June?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ No, none at all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/ <b>Where does that leave the prime minister’s statement—on bridging </b><i><b>dil ke doori aur Dilli se doori?</b></i></p> <p><b>A</b>/ The bare minimum expectation was that the government of India would follow this all-party meeting with some confidence-building measures like releasing prisoners, putting an end to the daily farmans (orders) from Delhi that further disempower the people, and ending the rule of suppression to let people breathe easy. But nothing happened. On the contrary, more stringent actions were taken to further terrorise people into submission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/ <b>Why does the PDP believe that the formation of the delimitation commission in Jammu and Kashmir is a sham?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Every action that has followed the illegal and unconstitutional scrapping of our special status has been aimed at weakening the people of J&amp;K further. This delimitation commission, created in a tearing hurry, is no exception. It is to divide J&amp;K further on communal, regional, sectarian and ethnic lines, and thus weaken the position of the majority.</p> <p><b>Q</b>/ <b>You are a former chief minister and yet your bank accounts have been frozen, and your passport and that of your mother have been blocked. Do you think it is politically motivated?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ It shows how even a former CM is denied fundamental rights. This model of criminalising dissent has been enforced across the country. All Central agencies meant to deal with terror charges and serious corruption cases have been let loose on opposition parties, activists, students, journalists, and so on. Unfortunately, all the institutions that are supposed to uphold the constitutional rights of the people have been Talibanised. They work only to implement the BJP’s divisive agenda</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/ <b>PDP youth leader Waheed Parra has been charged with terror-funding and having links with militants and Pakistan?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ As I said earlier, anyone who dares to go against the BJP’s agenda and narrative is punished for daring to do so. Draconian laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act have become the BJP’s tool to jail opponents. Waheed’s case is no different. Had he agreed to toe its line on J&amp;K and peddled its fake normalcy narrative, he would have been a free man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/ <b>You have repeatedly said that the decisions regarding Jammu and Kashmir that the Centre took on August 5, 2019, will have to be reversed. But history shows that the Centre has not reversed its decisions on J&amp;K since 1947.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ History is also filled with examples that show sacrifices and non-violent struggles do not go waste. What matters is our collective will to struggle and resist this onslaught firmly. There was a time when the government of India was ready to negotiate even with militants to resolve the Kashmir issue. But, unfortunately, the stakeholders here at that time felt too powerful to come to the negotiating table. Today the BJP feels the same way, and you never know when the tables will be turned on them. So I feel confident that not only will they have to reverse the August 5 decision, but also do much more for the resolution of the larger issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/ <b>The BJP says the revocation of Article 370 has integrated J&amp;K with the rest of India and ended the dynastic rule here.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Well, what can I say, the statistics speak for itself. J&amp;K stood far ahead of many other so-called progressive states in terms of development indices. Since the BJP, because of its inept and unsound fiscal policies, couldn’t bring other states up to our standard—be it in poverty alleviation, education, health and development—it has brought J&amp;K down to an abysmal level. As far as dynasties are concerned, I am proud to carry forward the mission of my father and his vision for a progressive J&amp;K.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/ <b>Preparations for the assembly polls are on. Will the Gupkar Alliance contest the polls together?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ We have not discussed it yet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/ <b>You have said that you would not contest the elections until Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood is restored. But there are now apprehensions that the statehood could be restored without granting much powers. What would be your stand then?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ I never said that I would not contest polls till statehood is restored. Rather, I said I wouldn’t contest till our special status that existed before August 5 is restored.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/ <b>How do you see the coming together of Sajjad Lone’s People’s Conference, the Apni Party and others?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ We are living in a democracy only on paper. It is actually getting weakened every passing day. Having said that, everyone has the right to align with whoever they feel is right.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/ <b>Many people believe that the PDP’s decision to form a coalition with the BJP in 2015 precipitated the current crisis in J&amp;K.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ I believe otherwise. We took a huge risk that came with a huge cost to thwart this tragedy by allying with the BJP. My father had anticipated that, if let free, the BJP would create mischief and go for its ultimate goal. That is why as long as the government lasted they did not dare revoke Article 370.&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 26 20:18:22 IST 2021 the-bjp-is-going-all-out-to-woo-obcs-ahead-of-the-polls-next-year <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN HIS EIGHTH</b> Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said handholding was key to bringing neglected castes into the country’s development journey. In this regard, he recounted the number of steps taken by his government—passing the 127th Constitution Amendment Bill that allowed states and Union territories to prepare their own list of backward classes, providing quota in medical seats and picking 27 OBC ministers for his government. If the first year of NDA 2.0 was defined by the push for its ideological agenda in the form of abrogation of Article 370, the Citizenship Amendment Act and the ban on triple&nbsp;talaq, its third year has a distinct social engineering touch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP government’s focus on other backward classes (OBCs) is a political move, aimed at including a large chunk of this unrepresented section in the power structure. The implementation of the Mandal Commission report in 1992 changed the country’s polity, particularly in the Hindi heartland. Key castes like the Yadavs and Kurmis benefited the most, rising to power, but other castes remained in the shadows.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The need for a shift in its politics was felt within the BJP soon after the party lost to Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal this May. Modi spent hours closeted with Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda to decide the contours of the shift. It started with picking 27 OBC ministers from key Hindi heartland states. These 27 ministers represented 20 different caste groups within the OBCs. In Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had tried a similar experiment as he brought in a separate category of extremely backward castes in 2007. These EBCs helped him retain power despite a strong anti-incumbency factor, even as the politically strong Yadavs sided with the Rashtriya Janata Dal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP will now take these 27 OBC ministers and 12 dalit ministers across the country to spread Modi’s message of affirmative action. The BJP says this will serve two purposes—create a new rung of OBC leaders, and also counter the influence of Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, represented by the Samajwadi Party and the RJD respectively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP OBC Morcha president K. Laxman said OBCs would play a vital role in the upcoming elections next year. “We will organise community-wise meeting, explain to them how the Congress has betrayed OBCs and treated them as vote-bank,” he said. “It is Modi ji who is focused on the marginalised sections. The so-called champions of OBCs like Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad did not do anything when they were in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Even if there is a law, it is of no use till it is implemented, as executive agencies are not sincere at all. It was the Modi government that gave Constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest test for the BJP will come in Uttar Pradesh, where elections will be held early next year. More than 54 per cent of the state’s population is OBCs, of which 35 per cent are non-Yadavs. In 2016, Shah had appointed OBC leader Keshav Prasad Maurya as state BJP chief. The BJP went on to ally with the Apna Dal and Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party, who represented Kurmis and Rajbhars respectively. Shah’s strategy got the party 306 seats in the 2017 polls. The castes that supported the BJP in 2017 and in 2019 Lok Sabha polls were given representation in state and Union cabinets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today though, the Yogi Adityanath government is being criticised for its handling of the second wave of Covid-19. And, the other castes are restive. This OBC outreach is to woo them. With Mayawati losing political steam, it is Samajwadi’s Akhilesh Yadav who may emerge as the main opposition to the BJP. The BJP’s OBC outreach, however, could confine Akhilesh to his Yadav caste.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, the BJP did not shy away from taking credit for the decision allowing 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in the all India quota for medical seats, even though it came about following the court’s nudge. A similar reservation was made for OBC students in Kendriya Vidyalayas, Navodaya Vidyalayas and Sainik Schools. The BJP will use these to remind OBCs, most of whom will be first-time voters in 2024, of Modi’s efforts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi’s key decision to bring the 127th Constitutional amendment bill will have immediate effect on some key castes that did not benefit in the post-Mandal Commission era. The amendment was brought in after the Supreme Court, this May, struck down the Maharashtra government’s decision to give reservations to Marathas, saying that the OBCs list can only be decided by the Centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If politically strong Marathas demanded OBC status in Maharashtra, Patels agitated in Gujarat and Jats in Haryana. Now, the state government will have no choice but to give in as these castes are numerically strong and can help make electoral gains. Owing to the farmers’ agitation, the Jats had turned against the BJP. But this new reservation promise can bring them back into the BJP’s fold.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it is not just the BJP that is eyeing the caste quota. In an otherwise washed-out monsoon session of Parliament, the amendment bill was supported by all political parties; none of the members present in both the houses opposed the bill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But this outreach by the Modi government has had an undesired after-effect—a demand for a fresh caste-based census. Leaders from across parties, from Akhilesh to Lalu to NCP chief Sharad Pawar, have asked the government to conduct a caste census along with the 2021 census. Replying to a question in Parliament, in July, Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai, who belongs to the OBC, said the government had taken a conscious decision not to conduct fresh caste census, but would continue with counting Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Why is the government running away from caste census?” asked Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi in the Rajya Sabha. He said that the government, despite a demand for a caste census from BJP allies (like Nitish Kumar and Union Minister Anupriya Patel) and its MP (Sanghamitra Maurya), was quiet because it would increase the reservation to 35 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The last caste-based census was done in 1931, which put the population of OBCs at over 50 per cent. The UPA, following a raucous debate, did conduct a caste census, though separately from the 2011 census. It, however, did not publish that report, saying there were many gaps in it. The real worry for mainstream parties is that the caste census may show that the OBC population has gone up substantially, which would translate into demands for increased reservation. Many states, based on their regional surveys, have already overshot the 50 per cent quota limit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP-led government might find itself cornered over the increasing demands for a caste-based census. The RJD has initiated state-wide protests, while Nitish Kumar has sought time from the prime minister. Parties like the JD(U), the RJD and the Samajwadi Party emerged in the aftermath of the Mandal Commission, as it sent the aspirations of the backward classes soaring. Now, when the BJP is eating into their vote-bank, a fresh caste-based census could revive these parties and change the country’s political landscape once again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We have a backward caste person as a prime minister, but they [opposition] only think in terms of their family and dynasty,” said Laxman.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there is no denying that the BJP will have a hard time countering the demands for a caste census. A caste-based census will harm its homogenous hindutva appeal. The RSS, too, is against it as it may cement caste identities, but it has clarified that reservations should continue. Laxman said that there were many legal and operational issues in conducting a caste census. “But we are not against it,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ball is now in the opposition’s court.</p> Thu Aug 19 17:53:46 IST 2021 we-are-not-against-any-caste-based-census <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>What is the message behind the government’s initiatives for the OBCs?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been focusing on people neglected for decades by the earlier rulers. The Congress was never in favour of OBCs, either for uplift or empowerment. In 1953, prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru set up Kaka Kalelkar panel (first backward classes commission). Dr B.R. Ambedkar pushed for adopting its recommendations, but it was not accepted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The second backward classes commission (Mandal Commission) was set up during the Janata Party regime. The Congress did not implement recommendations of the two commissions even when Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were in power. It was the non-Congress government, led by V.P. Singh, that implemented the Mandal Commission recommendations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even the National Commission for Backward Classes was toothless, till Prime Minister Modi came to power. He passed the bill to give Constitutional status to this commission. The Congress and left parties opposed it in Parliament. After this, the reservation has been raised to nearly 22 per cent (of the mandated 27 per cent). Some gap is still there, it is being handled….</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What new programmes will the BJP launch?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Delhi, we felicitated 27 OBC ministers…as the Congress did not allow the prime minister to introduce his ministers in Parliament. We will take all these ministers around the country to show how the BJP is working for their cause. Now, 20 different communities are represented in the 27 ministers, primarily from extremely backward classes. Their community was never represented in governance…. We will take Union Minister Nityanand Rai not only to Bihar, but also to Uttar Pradesh and Telangana so that the entire community feels that our man in at the helm of affairs. The OBCs will play an important role in upcoming elections in five states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The demands for conducting a fresh caste census are growing.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are not against any data based on caste, but the question is how it will be possible and feasible, practically, technically and legally. The Central government will look into it. When the caste data had not been updated since 1931, why did the other governments not do it? When the UPA did caste census in 2011, why didn’t they publish it? What moral right do they (the Congress) have to ask us, when they remained in power for 50 years?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are not against any caste-based census, but modalities have to be worked out. No government in the past has taken decisions for the OBCs, like what Modi did. We have a backward caste person as prime minister, but they (opposition) only think in terms of their family and dynasty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>During the Mandal Commission, it was said that the BJP tried to counter it with hindutva assertion.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the Mandal Commission report was tabled in Parliament, it was Rajiv Gandhi who opposed it. He spoke for two hours. We were part of the government when V.P. Singh implemented its recommendations…. I have always said that even the poor from the upper castes should be given quota under economically weaker sections. This is what Modi did…. Modi has constituted Justice Rohini Commission or sub-categorisation of OBCs. He wants that even the last among the OBCs should get justice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Can the BJP government’s OBC focus be called Mandal 2.0?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi thinks for the poor, marginalised and dalits. For the first time, there are 12 dalit ministers, 27 OBC ministers, 11 women and five from the minorities. For the Congress, minorities mean only Muslims. But we have ministers who are Sikh, Buddhist and Christian. This is called percolation of good governance—sabka saath, sabka vikas.</p> Thu Aug 19 17:50:29 IST 2021 it-is-important-to-identify-rohingyas-and-send-them-back <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AFTER FOUR AND</b> a half years of trials and tribulations, N. Biren Singh seems to have emerged confident and assertive. The Manipur chief minister, who has been leading a coalition government, wants a majority for the BJP on its own in the next elections, and he is confident that the people of Manipur would grant his wish. He said the Inner Line Permit, brought in by the BJP in four northeast states to safeguard the rights of the indigenous people, had allayed the concerns over the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, Singh faces many challenges. There is trouble on the international border with Myanmar, where there is an influx of refugees. Currently, there are around 6,000 refugees, many of them Rohingyas, in the state. Singh has asked the Centre to stop the Free Movement Regime on the India-Myanmar border. “We have to do a door-to-door survey to identify Rohingyas and send them back,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from an exclusive interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The BJP-led coalition government in Manipur faced a lot of troubles. What are the plans ahead of the 2022 assembly elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ When we formed the government in 2017, our numbers were less [than required]. The coalition government was formed and we managed somehow. It is natural to have some tussles in a coalition but we overcame them in the last four and a half years. In the coming elections, it depends on the wisdom of the central leaders. But, as far as the present situation is concerned, I believe the BJP can fight alone. A decision will be taken by the central leadership.</p> <p><b>Q/ How many seats do you expect for the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Out of 60 assembly seats, though I cannot pinpoint an exact number, 40 or 45. But I am sure the BJP will get an absolute majority.</p> <p><b>Q/ Six MLAs have been disqualified under the anti-defection law.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Three MLAs from the Congress who joined BJP and three others who joined the Congress were disqualified. One more MLA was disqualified for filling up wrong information in the nomination form. That way the law is doing well in the state.</p> <p><b>Q/ The office of profit case in the Supreme Court is another challenge before your government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The matter regarding (the appointment of) 12 BJP MLAs parliamentary secretaries is pending in the Supreme Court. The matter will come up for hearing on August 28. It is a Constitutional procedure. Since the case is in the Supreme Court, I do not want to comment. But a similar case was there against Congress president Sonia Gandhi, but she was not disqualified. In my opinion, we have a similarity with the Sonia Gandhi case and there is a precedent.</p> <p><b>Q/ Can their disqualification impact the stability of your government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think we have enough numbers for a majority and no problem will be there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see former Manipur Congress chief Govindas Konthoujam joining the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The slogan of Congress-mukt Bharat is coming true and a former Congress state president joining the BJP is a great achievement for the BJP. It clearly shows the confidence the people have in the BJP. Not only the people but also the opposition leaders are showing confidence in the BJP.</p> <p><b>Q/ Don’t you think an early solution to the Naga issue is the need of the hour?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is a long process and as a state government we want to be apprised of any developments impacting our state. The talks are being held between the Central government and the NSCN(IM). We were asked to share our opinion. Unofficially, we have been consulted on the matter and we have expressed our stand to the Central government. We welcome an amicable solution. But, at the same time, we welcome a peaceful solution without affecting the state of Manipur.</p> <p><b>Q/ Is a final settlement to the Naga insurgency likely soon?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We hope there is a solution at the earliest. But definitely, whatever decision is taken will be without affecting anything in Manipur.</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your concerns about the activities of insurgent groups in Manipur?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In the last four years, there has been a drastic decline in insurgency related violence in the state. Some insurgents have surrendered, others have been captured and no unwanted incident has taken place. Some incidents involving the Suspension of Operations (SoO) groups and illegal activities by NSCN(IM) groups have taken place and these cases have been handed over to the National Investigation Agency. But the law and order is far better in the state than in previous years.</p> <p><b>Q/ There are concerns about journalists being booked for sedition and under the National Security Act?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Following the Supreme Court directions, we released some of them. But as per the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), a chargesheet has been submitted against them and the trial will begin. Even within Article 19(2) of the Constitution, there is a provision to maintain decency, morality and public order through reasonable restrictions. So, the Constitution has given us certain provisions and we have used it. We will not allow them to escape easily and fight the case legally since some of those booked under these laws are habitual offenders.</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think the sedition law is needed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Laws like sedition are needed sometimes to prevent flaring up of communal tension and maintaining public order. If the Constitution does not allow NSA or sedition, then we need some other act to control this kind of inflammatory news and speeches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Manipur was brought under the Inner Line Permit regime after anti CAA protests. How is it helping the state?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ After providing ILP, we are able to convince the people that the Central government has made provisions to protect the indigenous rights of people and the CAA will not impact the state in a negative way. Earlier, ILP was in force in Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and now it is in force in Manipur. It does not prevent tourists from coming in. We have opened up counters in Manipur Bhawan and passes are being issued at the airport. It is only due to Covid that tourism is affected; otherwise, there is an influx of visitors and tourists.</p> <p><b>Q/ How are you dealing with the influx of refugees from Myanmar?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ That has become a big concern for us. Since it comes under the Foreigners Act, I have raised the issue of the influx of Myanmarese and Rohingyas with the Central government. I have requested the Centre to stop the Free Movement Regime that allows people living within 16km of Manipur-Myanmar border to travel back and forth. Since they belong to the same community, it is very difficult to identify them. Stopping their free movement can prevent the Myanmarese, foreigners and Rohingyas from entering illegally.</p> <p><b>Q/ Is the Centre inclined to stop the Free Movement Regime?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think seeing the ground reality and practically analysing the situation, the Central government will review the situation. It has to be a permanent solution. The border fencing is already underway. The 398km Manipur-Myanmar border is very long. In the 100km area that is most vulnerable, 40km border fencing has been sanctioned by the Centre. Only when that is completed, we can check the influx of immigrants. Stopping the Free Movement Regime has to be a permanent solution that will not only stop illegal migration but also check smuggling of drugs, weapons and other illegal items.</p> <p><b>Q/ What will replace the Free Movement Regime?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There will be the opening of a gate and issuing of passes for people to move across. We should have the mechanism to identify who is coming and going on the international border.</p> <p><b>Q/ How big a concern are the Rohingyas in Manipur?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We had arrested 70-80 Rohingyas, which was unexpected and has highlighted the gravity of the problem. At the moment, we are not looking inside villages, but we need to carry out a house-to-house verification. It is important to identify them and send them back.</p> <p><b>Q/ If Myanmar does not want them back, what is the option?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ That is an international issue. But we cannot keep them in Manipur.</p> <p><b>Q/ If there is peaceful coexistence between the people of hill and valley, should Article 371(C) continue in Manipur?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is a Parliamentary Act passed in 1971-72. As of now, it is protecting the hill people. But today, all the people of hill and valley are coming together and there are no divisions. Everyone is joining hands for the development of Manipur.</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see the BJP’s focus on the northeast?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is for the first time in the political history of India that five ministries in the Central government have been given to leaders from the northeast—one from Arunachal, two from Assam, one from Manipur and one from Tripura. Two are cabinet ministers—Kiren Rijiju for law and justice, and Sarbananda Sonowal for shipping. Both are big portfolios. So, it reflects the confidence and care of the BJP government towards people of the northeast.</p> Thu Aug 19 20:10:56 IST 2021 india-is-waiting-for-mamata-says-yashwant-sinha <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FORMER UNION MINISTER</b> Yashwant Sinha claims that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has acquired a national image after her remarkable victory in the assembly elections. Sinha, who joined the Trinamool Congress early this year, says that based on her vast experience as chief minister of a major state and as a Union minister, she is a better qualified prime ministerial candidate than Narendra Modi was in 2014. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Sinha asserts that the Congress has a central role to play in an anti-BJP grouping. He says only a strong Congress can provide the opposition parties with a fulcrum on which they can rest their unified campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ A huge gap opened up between the government and the opposition in the monsoon session of Parliament.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Disruption of Parliament is not new. In 2011, when the BJP was in opposition, the entire winter session was wiped out because we were demanding a JPC on 2G and the government would not concede. Ultimately, it did concede. My long parliamentary experience would suggest that the responsibility to run Parliament rests squarely on the government, and it must be accommodative of the opposition. In the just concluded session, the opposition demanded that we first discuss the Pegasus controversy. The government should have felt no difficulty in conceding the demand. But it was stubborn.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So, the government is to blame for the washout?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The A.B. Vajpayee regime was very accommodative of the opposition. Not only did he speak to Sonia Gandhi and other opposition leaders on major issues affecting the country, but also in Parliament he had no difficulty in accommodating the wishes of the opposition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This government has scant regard for the opposition or for Parliament. Bills are not referred to standing committees. And now Parliament itself is not functioning. The fulcrum of parliamentary democracy, which is Parliament in all its manifestations, has ceased to exist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Was it a good strategy to disrupt Parliament over Pegasus and not discuss other pressing issues?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Of course. It was not a bad strategy. Pegasus is a big issue. It affects the right to privacy of the entire population of India. We know governments eavesdrop, but Pegasus is a dangerous malware. If it has been used by the government, it is a very serious matter of national security and of privacy. If the government has not used it, [we want to know whether] a foreign power used it, which would be even more dangerous. The truth must be uncovered and placed before the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There are doubts if Pegasus would resonate with the people.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Some people thought that Bofors would not resonate with the people. What have people got to do with Bofors guns, it was said. But it did resonate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How can the opposition unity be taken forward?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Opposition unity will require many issues to be sorted out. I have maintained that the opposition should not let the best be the enemy of good. So don’t wait for all the parties to come together. Let us make a beginning with whoever is willing, and if it resonates with the people, others will join.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The opposition is criticised for failing to take the joint protests beyond Lutyens’ Delhi.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Ultimately, the opposition parties must hit the streets. The pro forma protests in Lutyens’ Delhi, marching from somewhere to Parliament, is not going to help. That may be important during the session. But going forward, the opposition will have to work out a campaign to tackle the government on the ground.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Can Mamata Banerjee be the face of the opposition against Narendra Modi?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ After the stunning Bengal victory, Mamata has acquired a national image. It appears to me that India is waiting for her. The timing, of course, is very important.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mamata has the experience of running an important state. She spent 27 years in Delhi as a minister and a parliamentarian. When Modi became prime minister, he did not have any experience of government of India. So Mamata is many times better as a prime ministerial candidate than Modi was in 2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, when parties come together, we will have to see what everybody agrees upon. My own recommendation is that the opposition should not fall into the BJP trap of declaring a prime ministerial candidate. We are a parliamentary democracy, not a presidential democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is opposition unity possible sans the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I will dismiss the idea right away. When we talk of opposition unity, we are talking of various regional parties. However weak the Congress might have become, it is still the only other national party. So, the Congress not only has to join the coalition of parties, it must be at the centre of it. At the same time, it is the responsibility of the Congress leadership to strengthen the party. A weak Congress will not be able to provide the fulcrum that the opposition unity needs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Sushmita Dev has recently joined the Trinamool Congress. Will that not hurt your equations with the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ These things go on. The Congress contested elections in West Bengal against the Trinamool in alliance with the left. It is not that we are in government together and are poaching their members. We are two separate parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So, there are inbuilt differences in the opposition space.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ When we talk about parties coming together, the most important thing is a common programme. There cannot be opposition unity without a convincing common programme to take India forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What issues will be important in challenging Modi in 2024?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In the run-up to the 2014 elections, corruption had already become a major issue. Modi only encashed it. My own feeling is that the 2024 elections will also be contested on one single overriding issue. But I can’t say today what that issue will be. It could be corruption; it could be Pegasus. Suppose some devastating revelations were to come out in Rafale, won’t it affect the people?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you look at the BJP’s thrust on OBC matters?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It will not wash. Who has done more for OBCs than V.P. Singh? What happened to the Janata Dal in the 1991 elections? I used to work with Karpuri Thakur as his principal secretary in Bihar. He was the pioneer in bringing OBC reservation. But he lost. Karpuri Thakur losing Bihar and V.P. Singh losing India are prime examples that people will be happy for the time being, but may not vote for you. Without jobs, reservation has no meaning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you view the initiative shown by Rahul Gandhi in the Parliament session?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is a very welcome development. I would expect him to do much more. A strengthened Congress must be at the centre of opposition unity.</p> Thu Aug 19 17:55:58 IST 2021 why-iaf-has-an-edge-over-chinese-air-force <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Early this year, when satellite images showed two Chinese J-20 stealth fighters parked in Hotan airfield in China’s restive Xinjiang region, a senior Indian Air Force officer said, “Relax, China would never want an aerial skirmish with India, as it could expose its ‘hyped-up’ capabilities.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When it comes to air power, India is hard to beat, says key IAF men. Air Chief Marshal (retd) B.S. Dhanoa, known as the architect of the Balakot strikes, says India’s adversaries would think twice before starting a war as the IAF holds a major edge in the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reason behind the swagger: the IAF has acquired some of the world’s best aircraft in less than 12 months. Thanks to Dassault’s Rafale jets (two squadrons raised), Boeing’s Apache and Chinook helicopters and a modern fleet of transport aircraft, it has become a reliably mighty force. India has also integrated its formidable missile arsenal with the IAF fleet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the 15-month-long border tensions between India and China begin to ease, experts say the IAF’s show of power prevented any Chinese misadventure. Unlike 1962, when air power was not used, IAF fighters and attack helicopters had made their presence known during the Ladakh standoff. The new acquisitions and upgrades of existing capabilities have given the IAF the visible ability to strike deep even in a contested airspace. “It’s good that we are getting the best available aircraft in the world,” said a former air chief. “It gives technological advantage over our immediate neighbours. But, I believe we need more numbers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So the focus is now on gaps and deficiencies. With more than 1,700 aircraft—around 900 of them fighters—the IAF is the world’s fourth largest air force. It has a mixed inventory sourced from the US, Russia and Europe. The IAF is now streamlining and upgrading its fleet of Jaguar, Mirage-2000, MiG-29 and Sukhoi-30 Mki fighters. Half of the 116 Jaguars are being given DARIN III (Display Attack Ranging Inertial Navigation) upgrades, which involves providing a new radar, a fully integrated electronic warfare suite, smart multi-function displays, new avionics and a new attack system. There is also a plan to have a more powerful engine (Honeywell F-125IN) for 80 Jaguars. IAF officials say they are not in hurry—the fleet still has 15 more years of life. Also, apart from upgrades planned for 59 existing MiG-29s, the IAF is also acquiring 21 more MiG-29s and has issued a tender for 114 fighter jets to be manufactured in India on a transfer-of-technology basis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts say the IAF can match, or even better, the Chinese air force in a limited air war. The missile arsenal also gives the IAF a strong advantage. Integrated with fighter jets are a variety of missiles—from the deadly BrahMos and the Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM) to the long-range, air-to-air Python 5 and MICA missiles. The Air Force also has SPICE 2000 air-to-ground missiles (of Balakot fame) and HAMMER (Highly Agile and Manoeuvrable Munition Extended Range) air-to-ground precision-guided weapon systems. “Most fighter jets have been integrated with these missiles systems,” said a top IAF officer. “It enhances not just the firepower multiple times, but also the morale of our pilots.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China has more than 2,000 combat aircraft, including J-20, J-10, J-11 and Su-27 fighter jets. It also has a long-range strategic bomber fleet, around 20 AWACS (airborne warning and control system) aircraft, and a variety of combat drones. The Chinese air force may have a numerical advantage, but military observers say it suffers from a lack of combat experience. Moreover, most Chinese fighters are a result of reverse-engineering, making it less reliable than a western aircraft.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Dhanoa, the combat experience of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force remains sketchy. Since its bombing mission in the Korean war, the PLAAF has not carried out any offensive missions. “The IAF is now fully capable of sorting out both Pakistan and China,” said Air Marshal (retd) S.B.P. Sinha, former deputy air chief who played a key role in bringing Rafale into India. “With its current strength of fighter aircraft, the IAF will get stretched to an extent in a collusive two-front scenario, but it will still manage because of its excellent training and operational preparedness.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The induction of Rafale jets and the formation of the second squadron of the LCA Tejas boosted numbers. “The Rafale brings in game-changing capabilities,” said Air Marshal (retd) Anil Chopra of the Centre for Air Power Studies. “Rafale is better than anything that the PLAAF has to offer.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Private industry is also helping enhance the IAF's combat abilities. Larsen &amp; Toubro has been part of various prestige military projects. &quot;For the LCA programme, L&amp;T supplies complete wings,&quot; said J.D. Patil, board member and whole-time director (defence and smart technologies), L&amp;T. &quot;We are also a production partner in a range of airframes, fuselage composite structures, control surfaces and stabilisers and flight control linkages for Advanced Light-utility Helicopter (ALH) and Light Combat Helicopter (LCH). L&amp;T’s contribution to the Mirage upgrade is through supply of under-wing launchers and MICA missile sub-systems through offset from MBDA.&quot;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first regimental set of the S-400 air defence system will be delivered this year. It has short-, medium- and long-range missiles, with ranges going up to 400km. “It has a phenomenal capability that will pose a serious threat to China’s H-6K bombers and their AWACS and flight refuelling aircraft. It will deter fighter strikes,” said Chopra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The location of the airfields, perhaps, gives the IAF its biggest advantage over China. Indian airbases are within 100km of each other, while Chinese bases in Tibet are as far apart as 400km. Fighter operations need deployments in airfields that offer mutual support.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Frank O’Donnell, non-resident fellow of the Stimson Center’s South Asia Program, China is still in the process of developing less-scripted exercises for its pilots and integrating its land and air defence systems. “The force-to-force balance between India’s China-facing air combat platforms and China’s India-facing ones still favours India,” he said, “if both are strictly limited to those within India’s western, central and eastern air commands and the Chinese western theatre command.”&nbsp;</p> Fri Aug 13 17:53:41 IST 2021 congress-elated-with-rahuls-new-proactiveness-other-opposition-parties-not-so-much <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Congress President </b>Sonia Gandhi made her first appearance in the monsoon session of Parliament on August 9, 21 days after it started. She had stayed away because of health reasons and was welcomed to the house by the Congress members. Among the leaders who ushered her in was her son, former party chief Rahul Gandhi, who has emerged out of her shadows in the session, showing not just his willingness for deeper involvement in his party’s parliamentary strategy but also a confidence to engage with other opposition players.</p> <p>Though Rahul had earlier refused to take over as the Congress’s leader in the Lok Sabha in the monsoon session, he displayed a newfound proactiveness in all parliamentary matters. The changes include a much-improved attendance (he had missed most of the session last year when he accompanied Sonia to the US for her medical check-up), the regularity with which he has been asking questions and, more significantly, his emergence as a key strategist for the party as well as coordinating with other opposition parties.</p> <p>Rahul had long been criticised for his seemingly indifferent attitude to Parliament, and his detractors gleefully pointed out his below-par attendance and the low level of involvement in parliamentary procedure.</p> <p>The Congress leader held meetings with opposition leaders and addressed media conferences, and his performance in Parliament was complemented outside with a tractor rally to express solidarity with the protesting farmers and a cycle ride to highlight the issue of high fuel prices. He also visited the parents of a girl who was allegedly raped and murdered in the capital and attended the farmers’ mock Parliament session, held to protest the three contentious farm laws.</p> <p>If the Pegasus snooping scandal provided the opposition ammunition to attack the government, it formed the backdrop in which Rahul enhanced his engagement with other parties. As he addressed a media conference on the issue, there was a conscious effort to come across as a leader who takes everyone along. He insisted that the other opposition leaders also share their views.</p> <p>The much-hyped breakfast meeting Rahul hosted for opposition leaders, which was attended by about a 100 MPs from 15 opposition parties, was apparently his brainchild. It marked a departure from his earlier reticence in engaging with opposition leaders and also heralded his entry into a domain that has long been Sonia’s forte.</p> <p>An enthused Congress described it as a “historic day” and a “trailer for 2024”. Party leaders pointed out that, unlike Rahul’s Rafale campaign, when he was alone in his attacks on the Modi government, his call for a unified opposition strategy on Pegasus has found far greater support. And there is speculation whether political consultant Prashant Kishor, who is learnt to be on the verge of joining the Congress, played a role in crafting Rahul’s new approach.</p> <p>The Congress’s whip in the Lok Sabha, Manickam Tagore, however, insisted that Rahul has not changed and has been consistently taking on the Modi government. “Mr Gandhi has consistently focused on the anti-people, anti-democratic policies of the Modi government. He met the opposition leaders and his message to them was that we might have political or ideological differences, but in the backdrop of Pegasus, which is nothing less than treason, the parties have to occupy the common ground, sit together and decide a coordinated strategy,” he said.</p> <p>While the transformation in Rahul is a positive one, the real test for him is to keep the momentum going, said political scientist Abhay Kumar Dubey. “A major complaint about Rahul Gandhi is that he lacks consistency. A politician’s job is 24x7. You cannot do it according to your whims and fancies and go on vacations at crucial junctures. While he has delivered telling blows to Modi in the past, such as the ‘suit boot ki sarkar’ jibe, he has been a politician in the stop-start mode,” he said.</p> <p>Meanwhile, it is felt that Rahul’s display of proactiveness has much to do with the Mamata Banerjee effect and the fear in the Congress on the buzz that regional parties were looking at possibilities of forming a front. Buoyed by her victory over the BJP in the assembly elections in Bengal, Mamata is attempting to project herself as a challenger to Modi and a convenor of opposition unity.</p> <p>“Mamata Banerjee’s visit to Delhi has had a positive impact on opposition unity,” said a Trinamool Congress leader. “The Congress getting its act together in Parliament has a lot to do with her appeal to the Congress leadership for the need for all of us to get together.”</p> <p>The complicated nature of the Trinamool’s association with the Congress or the uncertainty about the Aam Aadmi Party’s support to Congress-led initiatives or the distance maintained by Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party point to the inherent contradictions among the anti-BJP players. Elamaram Kareem, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s floor leader in the Rajya Sabha, said it would not be correct to say that the opposition unity was because of the initiative of a single person. “From the beginning of the session, the opposition parties have demanded a discussion on the important issues of Pegasus, the farmers’ plight, inflation and Covid-19. Throughout the exercise, right from the beginning, there has been opposition unity on these issues,” he said. He said the decision to visit the farmers’ protest was a collective one, but the presence of Rahul did help in getting media attention.</p> <p>Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Rajya Sabha member Manoj Jha also disagreed with the view that there was a change in Rahul and sought to put the focus on the “excellent floor coordination” of the opposition parties. “It is just that the lens through which Rahul Gandhi is being viewed is different. I don’t find anything fundamentally new in him,” he said.</p> <p>Jha said the parties need to get over a person-centric discourse. “I have been saying this, and I said it at the breakfast meeting, too, that before we form an alliance of parties, there should be a coalition of ideas and a coalition of struggle. We have to take away politics from this highly person-centric discourse, which does immense damage to the institutional framework which is supposed to sustain democracy,” he said.</p> <p>Also, while the situation is being extrapolated to 2024, doubts remain over the acceptance of Rahul by other opposition parties. There is a wide gap when it comes to the popularity of Narendra Modi and Rahul. The presence of prominent opposition leaders like Sharad Pawar, Akhilesh Yadav and Derek O’Brien at the dinner hosted by Congress leader Kapil Sibal has been taken note of and comparisons were being made with Rahul’s breakfast do.&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 12 16:50:18 IST 2021 arjun-tanks-to-mark-the-finest-chapter-in-make-in-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>If tanks succeed, victory follows,” said Heinz Wilhelm Guderian, a German general during World War II. A tank warfare strategist, Guderian was a firm believer in the utility of the armoured behemoths.</p> <p>India’s own main battle tank has been in the making for 50 years. In November last year, while visiting soldiers at the border town of Longewala in Rajasthan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rode an armoured beast—Arjun Mk-IA, a third-generation main battle tank indigenously designed, developed and manufactured by the Defence Research and Development Organisation, in association with 15 academic institutions, eight labs and several micro, small and medium enterprises. Modi’s ride was a proud moment for the team of 500 scientists and technicians who developed Arjun. The Army will now order 118 units of the upgraded tank, in what is expected to mark the finest chapter in the Make in India story.</p> <p>With around 4,300 tanks and 8,700 armoured vehicles, India’s armoured strength is one of the best in the world. “Though every country boasts tank capability, the way Arjun has been tested is beyond what any army in the world can do,” said V. Balamurugan, director of Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE) at Avadi near Chennai, the DRDO’s lead laboratory that designed the tank. “Arjun (upgraded version) has done over 7,000km of trial runs, which does not happen in any country. It is on par with other main battle tanks in the world.”</p> <p>When THE WEEK visited Avadi, the mood was upbeat. The developers expect Arjun to replace the Russian T-72 that is still in service. And when it happens, it will be a dream come true. The need to develop a battle tank had become clear in 1971, when India fought its last full-fledged war with Pakistan with the help of Russian tanks.</p> <p>Tank development is based on two philosophies—eastern and western. The eastern philosophy, dominated by the Russians, lays stress on smaller, lightweight tanks for en masse attacks. The western philosophy, followed by the British, Americans and Germans, focuses on heavy tanks. While building Arjun, the DRDO chose the western philosophy—and emulated German tanks in particular.</p> <p>A tank requires firepower, mobility and protection as basic features. The specifications for Arjun, however, kept changing for more than two decades as the Army kept upgrading requirements. Also, India’s diverse terrain conditions—from the rocky parts of Jammu and Kashmir to the alluvial soil of Punjab and northern Rajasthan to the marshy Rann of Kutch—posed a huge challenge in terms of cross-country mobility capability. Though India had been making Vijayanta tanks under license from Vickers in the UK, developing a main battle tank was an altogether different ball game.</p> <p>In 2007, almost 24 years after its first prototype rolled out, and four years after it formally entered service in the Army, Arjun was fielded against the Russian T-90 and T-72 in Rajasthan. Unimpressed, the Army pointed out several deficiencies—inadequate fire control system, inaccurate guns, low speeds in tactical areas, and persistent inability to operate in temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius. Within two years, though, the DRDO solved the problems.</p> <p>It was initially named Chetak (after the horse of Maharana Pratap). But, by then, automobile manufacturer Bajaj Autos had launched its scooter by the same name. It was General A.S. Vaidya (then army chief), in 1985, who suggested the name Arjun.</p> <p>India's armoured fleet has names like Bhishma (Russia's T-90) and Ajay (T-72) and Vajra (the latest K9 155 self-propelled artillery gun).</p> <p>With the induction of the first batch of Arjun, India entered a select group of 10 countries that have designed and developed their own main battle tanks. The group includes the UK, France, Germany, the US, Israel, South Korea, Russia, Japan and China. As it prepares to become India’s main battle tank, Arjun would also have to face additional threats from air, particularly from low-flying aircraft. “Therefore, an air-defence gun would have to be added,” said Balamurugan.</p> <p>The latest version of Arjun (Mk-1A) is considered to be one of the world’s most advanced tanks. It carries 39 rounds of different types of ammunition, including thermobaric shells designed as bunker-busters. It is also armed with a 12.7mm anti-aircraft gun that is remotely operated from within the crew compartment.</p> <p>Arjun weighs 68 tonnes, though, making deployments tough. Existing culverts and bridges are not designed to carry such a heavyweight tank. The DRDO says the upgrade is heavier because of modifications sought by the Army and the stipulated inclusion of an extra crew member. Unlike Russian tanks, which has a crew of three (commander, driver and gunner) Arjun has to accommodate four (including a loader). Russian tanks are autoloaders.</p> <p>“With additional protection and armaments, the tank’s weight increased,” said V. Balaguru, additional director of CVRDE. According to him, though, Arjun’s weight is more or less equal to that of several main battle tanks. Challenger 2 of the UK weighs 62.5 tonnes (combat-ready weight of 75 tonnes), Leopard 2A6M of Canada weighs 62.5 tonnes and Abrams M1A1 of the US weighs 67.5 tonnes.</p> <p>Arjun’s suspension running system—which stabilises the tank while firing—was one of the most difficult technologies to develop. “Besides providing a stable platform to the tank that is essential for ensuring fire-on-the move capability, it also gives excellent ride comfort for the crew, minimising fatigue even on extended runs,” said S. Ganesan, additional director (mechanical), at CVRDE.</p> <p>In 2000, the Army had inducted 124 Arjun Mk-1 tanks, with 62 per cent of equipment sourced from abroad. More than two decades later, the DRDO is preparing to roll out the next-gen Arjun. Four years from now, most of the items that are currently imported will be manufactured in India as part of the Atmanirbhar initiative.</p> <p>“We have waited 22 years to convince the military that Arjun (with 81 improvements) is the best tank,” said Balamurugan. “And finally, we are getting an order for 118 units.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 12 20:43:12 IST 2021 with-growing-support-from-regional-parties-mamata-eyes-chance-to-lead-anti-bjp-front <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>During the course of a conversation with this correspondent several years ago, former West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray explained why he could never become prime minister despite being one of the most powerful politicians of his generation. “How could I have become prime minister? Indira Gandhi outpaced everyone,” said Ray. Jyoti Basu of the CPI(M), who succeeded Ray as chief minister, had a realistic chance to occupy the coveted post. But his own party scuttled the move. Former president Pranab Mukherjee was quite candid in his assessment. “I cannot bring enough MPs from my home state to make myself a choice for prime minister,” he said.</p> <p>Where many illustrious Bengali men have failed, a woman now stands a chance to be successful. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is being talked about as a possible prime minister candidate to take on the BJP in 2024. Regional parties, especially from north India, believe that Mamata, who dealt the BJP a crushing blow in this year’s assembly polls, is best suited to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.</p> <p>The attempt to project Mamata as a national leader started soon after her resounding electoral victory. Her rapprochement with Mukul Roy, who had joined the BJP, was a step in this direction. Roy has excellent ties with leaders from across the political spectrum. The fact that the West Bengal government recently floated a tender to lease a 10-seater aircraft, too, did not go unnoticed.</p> <p>Forest Minister Jyotipriyo Mullick said making Mamata prime minister was the key mission for the Trinamool Congress. “Mamata <i>didi</i> is quickly completing the work she has promised Bengal. Then it will be another fight, which will be fought nationally,” he said. Mamata’s political mentor, Subrata Mukherjee, too, said she had a fair chance of becoming prime minister. “If leaders of the parties opposed to the BJP can bury their ego, Mamata could be the consensual choice,” said Mukherjee. The veteran politician dismissed fears that she would be unable to hold a rainbow coalition because of her short temper and aggression; he said her three consecutive victories in West Bengal were enough proof.</p> <p>Both Mukherjee and Mullick, however, said that the Congress might not support the move. “The Congress needs to understand that accepting Mamata would be better for it to tackle the BJP. Attempts by the Congress for the last seven years have fallen flat,” said Mukherjee.</p> <p>Mullick conceded that only the Congress has the ability to put up candidates from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. “We are trying to convince Congress leaders that Mamata would be the best choice, given her fight against the BJP and her aggressive pro-poor policies,” he said. Mamata’s cordial ties with Sonia Gandhi might help, although her relations with Rahul Gandhi have been somewhat patchy.</p> <p>Regional parties like the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party are impressed by the way Mamata handled Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. RJD’s chief spokesperson Bhai Virendra said the Congress needed to be realistic and accept Mamata. He cited Mamata’s assembly win to argue that she was the best placed politician in the country to challenge the BJP. “Modi <i>ji</i> grew his beard like Rabindranath Tagore to win Bengal. Look at the way Mamata <i>ji</i> gave him a befitting reply. Should we waste this opportunity? There has to be a coalition at the Centre with the Congress, which will be led by <i>didi</i>,” said Virendra.</p> <p>The JMM, too, echoed similar sentiments. “After seven years, it seems Indian politics is becoming issue-based, with people talking about rising prices and health concerns. Mamata needs to be given credit for this change,” said Vijay Kumar Hansdak, the MP from Rajmahal. Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren campaigned extensively for the Trinamool Congress in the tribal belt of West Bengal during the assembly elections. “The opposition will have to sit down and accept the mandate of Bengal as a national referendum,” said Hansdak.</p> <p>Kiranmoy Nanda, national vice president of Samajwadi Party, said if Mamata was accepted by others, his party would have no problem in doing so. “The country would never forget the Bengal elections where the people upset all calculations,” he said. Sources confirmed that Mamata would campaign in a big way in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.</p> <p>While the communist parties are opposed to Mamata in West Bengal, they could join hands with her nationally to oust the BJP. The Trinamool Congress is in touch with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar. Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy have so far been noncommittal, but Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin and Telugu Desam chief N. Chandrababu Naidu would have no objection in accepting Mamata. She is also said to be in touch with the Akali Dal and disgruntled leaders of the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar, and enjoys good ties with Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.</p> <p>Poll strategist Prashant Kishor, who was among Mamata’s key advisers during the assembly campaign, is said to be playing a key role in exploring her chances at the national level. “He is on the job to launch a front before 2024, where Mamata would be the key choice,” said a source close to Kishor.</p> <p>On July 23, the Trinamool Congress parliamentary party met in Delhi and elected Mamata as its leader. While the move is not without precedent, it is rare for political parties to nominate leaders who are not MPs to the position. It is probably the clearest indicaton yet from Mamata that she is ready for a national role. There are rumours in Kolkata that Mamata will give up her chief minister position a year before the Lok Sabha polls in favour of her nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, and undertake a nationwide campaign.</p> <p>The Congress, however, is wary about the claims of Mamata being the alternative to the BJP. “Don’t the Trinamool Congress leaders know that we have a huge presence in so many states in north and south India? Any formation which is not led by the Congress would be a disaster. Those who try otherwise would cause harm to the secular formation and help Modi,” said Congress leader Pradip Bhattacharya.</p> <p>The BJP, meanwhile, said the move to project Mamata might even be beneficial for the party. “Mamata has proved herself to be an anti-Hindu face,” said a national executive member of the BJP. “How many Hindu votes did she receive in Bengal? How can she claim that she represents everyone in the state? We will tell everyone about her support for jihadi groups.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 29 19:49:54 IST 2021 mamata-banerjee-is-one-adversary-the-congress-would-want-to-keep-close <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>On February 13,</b> 2019, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was in the Central Hall of Parliament, catching up with the members of the house. The country was gearing up for the Lok Sabha elections, and Mamata was in Delhi on a mission to prop up a ‘United India Opposition’.</p> <p>She bumped into Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who warmly reached out to her. But Mamata was visibly upset. A short while earlier, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had launched a fierce attack on her and the Trinamool Congress over the Saradha chit fund scam. Sonia tried to placate her, saying that despite the differences their parties had, they were friends.</p> <p>The piquant nature of the relationship between the Congress and the Trinamool was evident in the episode—rivals in West Bengal but in search of a common space in national politics. Though they have never been comfortable in each other’s company, they both know that they need each other.</p> <p>Mamata’s efforts in 2019 might not have been successful, but riding high on her spectacular victory in the assembly elections, things were quite different in her recent Delhi visit. She was back in the capital again on a mission to bring the anti-BJP parties together. And there was far greater hype surrounding her endeavour even as her national ambitions were all the more evident.</p> <p>The run-up to Mamata’s visit was marked by an unusual bonhomie between the Congress and the Trinamool. A day ahead of her arrival, the Congress tweeted about her nephew, Trinamool Congress general secretary Abhishek Banerjee, being a suspected target of the alleged snooping using Pegasus spyware. The Trinamool responded by tweeting ‘Khela Hobe’ (The Game is On), a reference to Mamata’s dare to the BJP in the West Bengal elections.</p> <p>Interestingly, Chowdhury, a staunch Mamata critic, said the Congress should not put up a candidate against her in the Bhawanipur byelection. The Congress had even considered replacing Chowdhury as its leader in the Lok Sabha because it felt that his antagonistic relationship with the Trinamool was impeding the coordination between the two parties on the floor of the house.</p> <p>In Delhi, Mamata met senior Congress leaders Kamal Nath and Anand Sharma, and lawyer-politician Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who is a Rajya Sabha member from Bengal and had appeared for the Trinamool in many cases. But the most anticipated meeting was with Sonia.</p> <p>A Congress leader said that it was premature to comment on the impact the meeting would have on opposition unity, but it was clear that Mamata had realised that there could be no viable anti-BJP bloc without the Congress. He said that the meeting of opposition parties at NCP supremo Sharad Pawar’s residence recently proved that any attempt at forming a non-Congress front was a non-starter.</p> <p>Also, election strategist Prashant Kishor, who worked with Mamata in the assembly election and has agreed to extend his services till the Lok Sabha elections in 2024, recently met the Gandhis. It is crucial because he had said that there could be no successful coming together of opposition parties if the Congress was not included. He is said to have played the role of an emissary between the top leaders of the two parties.</p> <p>“When different political parties, with varied agenda, have to be united, it requires a national party to act as a glue. We may not be as strong as we used to be, but it is only the Congress that has a pan-Indian identity and around which other parties can assemble. I believe that an opposition front can be coalesced only under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi,” said senior Congress leader Pradip Bhattacharya.</p> <p>Even as the Congress would want to stress that Mamata’s victory in Bengal and her national endeavour are entirely different ball games, it is handling her with utmost care. The party has been alarmed by the talk of regional parties exploring the possibility of a non-Congress front. It wants to be seen as engaging with Mamata, a vocal critic of the Modi government. Also, in the near term, the Congress hopes that a better rapport with her will allow for greater coordination among the opposition parties in Parliament.</p> <p>The Congress, while keeping Mamata in good humour, is watching her moves closely. “This is not the right time to talk about who will be the face of the opposition,” said Bhattacharya. “Let Mamata try her level best. We are waiting to see how successfully she can gear up to the situation.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 29 19:47:31 IST 2021 my-abduction-was-outsourced-by-indian-agencies-to-an-english-company <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi is accused by Indian law enforcement agencies of defrauding Punjab National Bank. The government of India is pursuing his extradition from Antigua, where he has been a citizen since 2017. He mysteriously disappeared from Antigua this May, only to be found a few days later in Dominica, also an island in the Caribbean. He was in custody for illegally entering Dominica. Choksi, now back in Antigua on bail, spoke at great length on how he went missing. Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Your wife told me that you left your house around 5pm on May 23 to go out for dinner, and you did not come back. You went missing. Your wife, with a couple of other people, went to the police station and lodged a missing person’s report. The Antiguan police could not find you that night. Then the next thing we heard was that you were in Dominica. This was a few days later. What happened after you left the house on May 23?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Basically, I was to meet Barbara and we were to go for dinner. Normally, every day I go for a walk around [that] time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> You are talking about?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>Barbara Jarabik. And I took my car and went to pick her up. She opened the [door] and said, “Why don’t you come in for a few minutes?” I thought that maybe she was preoccupied; there was nothing wrong. I parked my car opposite her house. I walked back and entered her house, and she was having a glass of wine. She walked around and she made me sit on a sofa. Just after three-four minutes [of] my sitting [down]—she was also sitting there and looking at the doors on both sides of the house—I heard a huge noise coming from the main door. The house is such that on one side there is a road and on the other side is a marina. This is how most houses in Jolly Harbour (in Antigua) are. It was like an event management—people dressed in blue, the jersey was maybe grey or light blue. Tall, big guys—seven to eight of them—entered, mostly from the main door, and two or three came from the marina side. They said, “We know who you are, you are Mehul Choksi, and we are taking you for interrogation.”</p> <p>And they just took over—two of them [held] my hands, two of them [held] my legs, one person put his hands around my neck, and I was totally taken over by them. I tried to fight, because this kidnap story was on for the last three years, since the end of 2018 when the whole election thing in India was coming up. I was told the plane was arriving, [that] they were sending a plane to pick&nbsp;me up. Many people used to say they are watching you, they will pick you up, they will kill you. All these rumours [would keep on coming] again and again every three months.</p> <p>Some of my good friends here—business people—told me, “This is a safe place. Nothing like this could happen. Don’t worry about it.” And that made me bold. My main activity was mostly walking on the island because of my health. So, I could imagine this was going towards kidnapping. I was trying to fight…. Since the vaccination (for Covid-19, provided to Antigua by India), people told me, “This vaccination is given in return for you.” It is also on Facebook. If you [search for] ‘India is giving vaccination’, you would see [a post saying] this is being given [to Antigua] in exchange for Mehul Choksi, something like that.</p> <p>I tried to push my legs, bite on their hands around my neck, and they were very angry and they beat me like anything. Then somebody came with a knife, [another] with a taser. The electric taser was like a huge horse-shoe with a pipe in the front…. I have not seen anything like [that]—a machine [with] electric sparks. They would just put it on my hand. For a second, I would become unconscious. When I was more aggressive, they would use [it]. They used it on my hands maybe three-four times, on my face—on the left side between the nose and the eye (points to the exact spot with his fingers), and even on the leg. They took total control. By that time, I was perspiring and almost unconscious. I said, “OK, OK, do what you want, please don’t beat me anymore.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> All this was happening in your friend Barbara’s sitting room? Is that correct?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ That’s correct. She moved out somewhere. She was not at the scene, but she was in the house. I could not see her. She did not protest, she did not do anything at all.</p> <p>Then a couple of people went out on the marina side and brought a wheelchair inside the house. They put me on this wheelchair. They [tied] me up [with a rope]. Remember, all the time they were beating me… and I was almost half unconscious at that time. Two people tied my legs, two [others] tied my hands to the chair. My body was also tied up and they suddenly got black glasses, which were opaque, so I could not see further. I was trying to get up and fight. Again, they would use a taser. Then they put a gag in my mouth. I was becoming breathless. With the dark glasses, I could not see anything. They moved me towards the marina side; this must have happened. That particular time they put a mask on me. They were afraid if I made a noise I would catch the attention of people. I did not see anything of this—I was completely pressed [down] at that moment—but I was put on a boat. I [had] not seen that boat. I was choking. I do not remember how long that particular boat ride was, but I could feel the boat because [I could hear a bit of the sea waves] and the boat noise. I do not know how long that trip was. When I [could see], I was in the middle of a huge boat…..</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> If I could stop you there, I want to show you something and then we can carry on from there. Do you recognise this person? </b><i>(A photo of Barbara Jarabik is shown to Choksi. She is named as a suspect in a complaint by his British lawyer Michael Polak to the Metropolitan Police in the UK, popularly known as Scotland Yard.)</i></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Yeah, this is Barbara Jarabik. I only knew her as Barbara. She told me about the Jarabik name this time—“how you spell my surname is you put J along with arabik, so it is Jarabik”.</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> So, you are 100 per cent certain that this is Barbara, the person you mentioned earlier about going to her house and being kidnapped in that house?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ That’s correct, that’s correct.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> How many people were on the boat?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ That particular time, I could only see three people—two Indians, tall guys, and one helper from a crew. Finally, I came to know that there were five people on the boat—two Indian guys and three others, of which one was the owner of the boat, one was a crew member and the other one was a captain.</p> <p>The two Indians were Punjabis. They said they were R&amp;AW (Research and Analysis Wing) agents. They have been in the Army. We [had a] conversation and they said they are taking me for interrogation. Again and again, they would be very tough with me and beat me, slap me and things like that. I asked them, “Where are we going?” They said, “It is none of your business; just keep quiet.” They were very rough and rude with me. The owner of the boat was an old gentleman with a beard and the crew was young. The two (Indian) guys were in charge of me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> How long was this journey?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ In my opinion, the journey was more than 15-16 hours. Then one by one, they went to their room, and came [out] in a kind of Pathani <i>salwar kameez</i>—Punjabi clothes. One was in black and the other guy was in dark blue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Let me just stop you there, because I want to show you something. Do you recognise these two persons? </b><i>(A photo of Gurmit Singh and Gurjit Bhandal, named as suspects in the complaint by Polak.)</i></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Yes, these were the dresses they were wearing. They took this photograph. I could hear from a cabin when they arrived in Dominica, somebody—a crew member or whoever—was clicking and clicking the photographs outside.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> So, these are the two people who were on the boat and who captured you and took you to Dominica? You remember them clearly? You can identify them clearly?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Very clearly, very clearly. I was till then under the belief that these were R&amp;AW agents. Finally, when I thought about it, the whole job was probably outsourced by the agencies. These were professional kidnappers or human traffickers, whatever you call them. This is what I hear now. I get it now. Then they handed their phone to me. The guy said, “I am Narendra Singh.” [He] was very official-like from India, who could be rough and polite. He said, “I am Narendra Singh and I am going to handle your case.” He gave me a few instructions. “When they interrogate you,” he said, “you please say that you were not kidnapped from Barbara’s house, that you met us in Jolly Harbour and I (Choksi) surrendered myself, (that) I (Choksi) want to go to India with you (authorities) and do not speak about what happened. Because of a white lady, your wife will feel bad. Besides, it is better to keep this matter out. If you do not do this, I will torture you and your family like anything.” May be half an hour later, the coast guard boat came. There were six-seven police [officers]. They were dressed in dark blue, kind of coast guard clothes. I thought these two Indian guys would also join me. But suddenly these two guys were not there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> So, who was behind your abduction?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ This was a job outsourced by Indian agencies. CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] and R&amp;AW outsourced [it] to an English company, an English abductor, who were professionals. People who make the law, who guard the law, they do such a criminal thing.</p> <p><i><b>Barbara Jarabik, Gurmit Singh and Gurjit Bhandal, as quoted in media, have denied the allegations against them.</b></i></p> Thu Jul 29 19:43:59 IST 2021 raj-kundras-arrest-reveals-the-ugly-underbelly-of-filmdom <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>It all began</b> in February when the Malvani police station in Mumbai got complaints from two small-time actors that they were lured into nude auditioning in exchange for a role in some web series. This was followed by a complaint to Maharashtra Cyber, the nodal agency for cybersecurity and cybercrime in the state, about some mobile apps streaming pornographic content. The Mumbai crime branch took over the case and arrested film director Tanveer Hashmi and Umesh Kamath, who was in charge of the India operations of a firm owned by British Indian businessman Raj Kundra.</p> <p>Though a case was registered against Kundra in February itself, he was arrested only on July 19. The charges included the production and distribution of pornographic films and content via apps, notably a mobile app called HotShots. Ten other people, including his associate and IT head Ryan Thorpe, are in police custody, too. Kundra is also being investigated for an alleged attempt to bribe Mumbai Police to evade arrest.</p> <p>Five days later, the police requested an extension of Kundra’s custody to investigate his financial links, including an alleged transfer of funds from a South Africa-based sports betting firm into his bank account and if the money he earned from selling pornography was used for online betting. The police told the court that the probe found that he set up Armsprime Media Pvt Ltd, which, through London-based Kenrin Pvt Ltd, bought the HotShots app to upload videos on social media. Kundra’s phone contained WhatsApp chats on Kenrin and its transactions. His brother-in-law Pradeep Bakshi, who is based in the UK, owns Kenrin.</p> <p>The investigation has revealed that Kundra and his associates bought more than 100 porn videos in the past one and a half years and uploaded them on HotShots, which had around 2 million subscribers. The police had seized 51 obscene videos from Kundra’s office. An employee who handled the accounts of HotShots reportedly told the investigators that between August 2019 and November 2020 the company had been making a monthly profit of £4,000 to £10,000. The police said Kundra and the team had a Plan B in place when Google Play took down HotShots for policy violations, which included launching a new application.</p> <p>In his defence, Kundra moved the Bombay High Court challenging his arrest, saying that the materials which the police claim to be pornographic do not “depict direct explicit sexual acts and sexual intercourse but shows material in the form of short movies which are lascivious or appeal to the prurient interest of persons at best.” His plea states that section 67A of the Information Technology Act (publishing sexually explicit content) cannot be invoked in the case. On July 28, a Mumbai court rejected Kundra’s bail plea.</p> <p>“There are two arguments here,” said cyber lawyer Debarati Halder. “One, whether Kundra indulged in erotica or pornography and two, whether either of those was practised with or without the consent of those who were participating in it. There is a thin line between erotica and pornography and the burden of proving it lies completely on the accused because the themes are subject to perception. But, while erotica can be a form of expression, pornography becomes problematic when it turns into a business and exploitation.”</p> <p>Kundra is married to actor Shilpa Shetty. The Crime Branch raided the couple’s posh bungalow in Juhu and seized 48 terabytes of content. Shetty admitted that she knew about the app but “not its contents”, and even spoke in her husband’s defence that what he did was ‘erotica’ and not ‘pornography’. HotShots, she said, was not managed by Kundra but Bakshi. The app was earlier owned by Armsprime Media, and Kundra was its co-owner. It was sold to Kenrin for $25,000.</p> <p>The police said money was being transferred from Kenrin’s bank accounts to 13 different accounts of Viaan Industries (owned by Shetty and Kundra) and subsequently to Kundra’s personal account. “The money was being transferred on the pretext of paying for software maintenance of the application,” said an officer. Shetty was one of the directors of Viaan Industries till 2020.</p> <p>A number of actors have come out against Kundra, blaming him for exploitation. Model-actor Sagarika Shona Suman filed a police complaint on July 24 that she received several “abusive and vulgar” calls after she complained against Kundra. She had said that Kamath contacted her with an offer for a web show but asked her to take off her clothes during the audition. Actors Poonam Pandey and Sherlyn Chopra blamed Kundra for their entry into the adult film industry. Chopra was paid Rs30 lakh for each project and she has worked on 20 projects for Kundra. “I had filed a police complaint in 2019 against Raj Kundra and subsequently registered a case at the Bombay High Court against him for fraud and theft. This matter is sub judice, that’s why I will limit my statements but I have full faith in the police and the judicial process,” said Pandey in a video she tweeted after Kundra was arrested.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 29 17:49:36 IST 2021 indian-seafarers-who-got-duped-in-iran-are-living-a-life-of-uncertainty <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN JULY 2019,</b> Aniket Yenpure, 29, and his friend Mandar Worlikar, 26, left Mumbai for Iran to join the crew of the MV Artin 10, an Iran-flagged bulk carrier. Their placement agent, Ajit Singh, had promised them jobs as sailors. Six months later, they were jailed in Chabahar, Iran—where India, Iran and Afghanistan are together developing a port. And, the Mumbaikars were not alone. The vessel had three other Indian sailors—Naveen Singh from Uttarakhand, Pranav Kumar from Bihar and Thamizhselvan Rengasamy from Tamil Nadu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sailors were jailed for 403 days and released in March 2021. But as the authorities have not returned their passports, they are stuck in Iran. What started as a journey of hope has turned into a nightmare for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a video message recorded on July 11, the group made an earnest appeal to the Union government for bringing them back to India. “Respected Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we are making this video for our repatriation,” Yenpure could be seen saying in the video. “We were jailed on false charges and [were] framed by our ship-owners and placement agents…. Please help us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It all started in early 2019 when Yenpure, who has completed Class 12, got in touch with Singh. The latter had promised him a “well-paying” job in the merchant navy for a fee of 05 lakh. Aniket’s family, residing in Mumbai’s Worli Koliwada, pawned gold to raise the money. Aniket convinced his friend Worlikar to do the same.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few days after they had paid up, Singh asked the youth to fly to Iran and join the Artin 10. The duo boarded the vessel in Chabahar and began their voyage. Both Yenpure and Worlikar were in regular touch with their families back in India and were “happy” of embarking on a new path. But as Yenpura’s father, Shyam Yenpure, says, the relief and excitement lasted only for a short while.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On February 20, 2020, around midnight, the ship dropped anchor about 140km off Muscat, Oman, and took on 300 gunny sacks from another vessel. Yenpura and other Indians were told that the cargo was rice. In reality, the sacks contained 1.5 tonnes of morphine. Sensing that something was amiss, the sailors shot the loading operation on their phones, intending to report it to the authorities at the nearest port.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, before they made port, Iranian authorities boarded the vessel near the Strait of Hormuz, found the drugs and charged the crew with “criminal conspiracy and smuggling narcotics”. “My son and other Indians were supposed to sign off from the ship in January 2020,” says Shyam. “But the captain informed them about a change in schedule saying that the ship will be docking in Oman to load cement bags and then in Kuwait to offload the cargo.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the arrest, the Indian crew members were not allowed to talk to their families for almost a month. In March, a local court in Chabahar pronounced them innocent and ordered their immediate release. However, the uncertainty continues as they are barred from leaving Iran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are literally at the mercy of the locals here,” Yenpura told THE WEEK. “We did not have any trouble inside the jail; they [Iranian authorities] gave us food and took care of us. But now that we have been acquitted, it is frustrating to be stuck here. Even now we feel as if we continue to be under their radar. With no money and no means to earn—because we have no documents—it is getting increasingly difficult to pass each day.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian embassy in Tehran has assured the families of the seafarers that their sons would be back home soon. “But the worry keeps mounting with each passing day,” says Shyam. Last month, he wrote to the ministry of external affairs and the prime minister’s office. But he is yet to receive a reply. On July 19, the families filed a public interest litigation in the Delhi High Court seeking legal and counsellor services for the seafarers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Indian embassy in Iran has not come to their aid,” says Shyam. “It is even more frustrating because we were duped of so much money, and my son did not even get any [countable] sailing experience.” He hopes that the Union government would soon take note of the plight of the five seafarers.</p> Thu Jul 22 19:51:49 IST 2021 why-pegasus-calls-for-a-robust-privacy-law-in-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE INDIAN</b> government’s response to the Pegasus Project, a global investigative effort led by the Paris-based non-profit Forbidden Stories into instances of alleged surveillance abuses by governments, has been strikingly dismissive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government says that, contrary to what the Pegasus report alleges, existing laws in India make it impossible for authorities to put politicians, journalists and activists under illegal surveillance. Union Home Minister Amit Shah even termed the project as a conspiracy to destabilise the country. “This is a report by disrupters for obstructers,” he said, referring to opposition protests over the issue in Parliament. “Disrupters are global organisations which do not like India to progress.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is unsurprising that governments would deny—like they have done for decades—the use of illegal surveillance tools like Pegasus, a spyware developed by Israel’s NSO Group that allows security agencies to covertly infect smartphones and access content. The Indian government had earlier done so in 2019, when WhatsApp first confirmed that Pegasus was used to target some of its users in India and abroad. But then, it is a fact that many ministers and top officials now scrupulously avoid using smartphones. Also, government warnings of possible cyberattacks and confirmed incidents of spyware infections have been on the rise in the past two years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Pegasus Project reports that around 50,000 cell phones across the world were targeted by the Israeli spyware. Among the 300 victims from India are 40 journalists, two ministers and three opposition leaders. The shadow of suspicion is on the government, since NSO maintains that Pegasus is an anti-terror software sold “solely to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of vetted governments”. “Due to contractual and national security considerations, NSO cannot confirm the identity of our government customers,” said an NSO spokesperson.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian government has denied unauthorised interception by security agencies. “In India, there is a well-established procedure through which lawful interception of electronic communication is carried out for the purpose of national security,” said a government statement. But then, there is a regulatory grey area since spywares are not part of the ambit of this lawful interception process.</p> <p>Currently, there are 10 agencies in India that are authorised to carry out surveillance. The list includes the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing, the Narcotics Control Bureau, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and the Directorate of Military Intelligence. According to the home ministry, all agencies have been following the old-school way of lawful phone tapping after obtaining mandatory permissions from state and Central authorities. There is also an oversight mechanism, whereby a committee headed by the Union cabinet secretary reviews all surveillance cases from time to time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Pegasus issue, however, has shed light on a grey area. The question is, how believable are claims that intelligence and law enforcement agencies shun advanced surveillance technologies developed by companies like NSO?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Every government uses surveillance technology,” said a senior intelligence officer. “It is the job of a spy to spy in the best manner possible. For national security purposes, the government can withhold information related to [how spying is done]. We do not disclose field formations and weapons of armed forces; how can we disclose our cyber weapons and tactics?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But apparently, there is no free rein to spy. “Surveillance technologies like Pegasus are extremely expensive and cannot be used for an unlimited period,” said an officer. “The targets have to be fixed, and the timeframe has to be short and precise, as high-end software can cost crores of rupees. One of them costs around 060 crore for a single use.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Mumbai-based cyber law expert Prashant Mali, the government needs to urgently bring in a data protection law to regulate the purchase and use of surveillance technologies by security agencies. “There is a difference between buying and using [such technologies],” said Mali. “Intelligence agencies may not have bought Pegasus, but could have accessed it through a third party. This is where the role of a data protection regulator comes into play.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former national cybersecurity coordinator Gulshan Rai said targeted journalists must approach the Computer Emergency Response Team, the nodal agency that deals with cybersecurity threats in India, to conduct an independent forensic analysis of possible spyware infections. He also raised doubts about the authenticity of the forensic analysis done by Amnesty International in the Pegasus Project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Allegations were made by Amnesty; the forensic analysis was done by Amnesty; and the conclusion was drawn by Amnesty. Does it not raise doubts about the veracity of the case?” he asked. “The entire forensic report needs to be made public. An independent forensic analysis should be done to find out how the spyware’s signature was matched with that of Pegasus.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ultimately, though, the need of the hour may be a comprehensive bill to protect both data and privacy of citizens. The Personal Data Protection Bill, tabled in Parliament a year after the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment in 2018 making privacy a fundamental right, is still stuck in Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“A right to privacy bill must be passed so that neither the government nor social media platforms can access and compromise an individual’s data without his knowledge,” said Rai. “I am against snooping by any government anywhere in the world. We live in a democratic country, where we are free to practice any profession, and express our opinions without fearing for our privacy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;***</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>‘I am against snooping on citizens by any government’</b></p> <p>Interview/Dr Gulshan Rai, former National Cyber Security Coordinator</p> <p><b>Q\ After 2019 WhatsApp breach by Pegasus, this is the second instance of data breach. How is the government safeguarding the privacy of citizens?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>A\ There is no mention of WhatsApp or any social media platform in the report of Amnesty. The released report is vague and does not stand on technical grounds. The versions of the software get updated over a period of time. The report is not specific on the version of software, the timing and number of attempts which were successful or not.&nbsp;</p> <p>It is surprising that after Amnesty collected devices from those persons whose devices were reported to be hacked, the hacking could not be confirmed after the tests on the majority of those devices.</p> <p>Either the entire testing process was wrong or something else is wrong. Amnesty needs to produce test processes and techniques used for testing. There is also no data on when the infection happened and when did Amnesty test the mobile devices.&nbsp;</p> <p>In the earlier case, WhatsApp had filed a complaint against NSO Group in a court in California for sending malware to 1,400 users worldwide and that case is still continuing. However, WhatsApp said though there were attempts to hack into those accounts but it never acknowledged that the intrusions were successful.&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ If Pegasus spyware was found on mobile phones of journalists, ministers and government officials, isn't it a matter of concern?</b></p> <p>A\ Amnesty International needs to come out and explain how did it recognise the Pegasus spyware? How did it come to the conclusion that it is Pegasus? Is Amnesty in possession of Pegasus?&nbsp;</p> <p>Drawing conclusions on the basis of transfer of data from a device to a C2 domain is faulty. Anyone can register a C2 domain and transfer the data. The details of the owner of the said C2 domain need to be published. In this case, as it appears, the allegations have been made by Amnesty, the forensic analysis is done by Amnesty and a conclusion is drawn by Amnesty. Does it not raise doubts on the veracity of the entire incident? Where is the guarantee that devices were not infected by some other malware and that malware may be transferring data to the C2 domain?&nbsp; How did Amnesty differentiate between the two infections without a reference point? The entire forensic report needs to be made public. An independent forensic analysis should be done to find out the signature of the spyware and how it was matched with Pegasus.&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Don't you think the government needs to inquire into the matter?</b></p> <p>A\ Anybody can raise any allegation. On mere hearsay, the government should not launch an investigation. There should be prime facie evidence. These are very serious allegations and evidence needs to be made public. The individuals who claim their mobile phones were infected should approach the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) or any independent lab for a forensic analysis and provide test results to the investigating authorities.</p> <p><b>Q\ The Parliament session has begun and the Opposition is alleging that the government is indulging in surveillance of its citizens.</b></p> <p>A\ I am not getting into the politics of the issue but why is it that the release of the report by Amnesty and other international media organisations was timed just ahead of the Parliament session? It was clearly a targeted attempt aimed at the government. It was an attack on the democratic structure of the country. The reports, if true, could have been done in a normal course and not timed.</p> <p><b>Q\ Don't you think there is an urgent need for a Right to Privacy Act?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>A\ Yes. The Right to Privacy Bill should certainly be passed so that neither the government nor the social media platforms can access and compromise any individual's data without his knowledge. I am against snooping on citizens by any government anywhere in the world. We are living in a democratic country where we are free to practise any profession, speak and write our opinions without fear or favour and safeguard our privacy.</p> Fri Jul 23 18:29:13 IST 2021 m-k-stalin-has-set-lofty-goals-but-success-will-depend-on-how-he-faces-challenges <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FEDERALISM</b> <b>IS</b> something Tamil Nadu holds close to its heart. Chief Minister M.K. Stalin made it loud and clear when his government officially started using ‘ondriya arasu’ (Union government) instead of ‘mathiya arasu’ (Central government). It was lauded by some and criticised by others. Stalin said his government was within its rights to make the change. “Our usage is legal and perfectly in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Indian Constitution,” he said, during the discussion on the motion of thanks to the governor’s address in the assembly on June 24.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When he met a delegation of journalists a day later, Stalin seemed ready to go beyond symbolism, as he explained his idea of governance. “Social justice, state rights and people welfare are my priorities,” he said. He soon constituted an economic advisory council (EAC) with economists Raghuram Rajan, Ester Duflo, Jean Drèze, Arvind Subramanian and S. Narayan. In the first meeting of the EAC, he stated his objectives clearly. “Employment opportunities should increase in Tamil Nadu. Per capita income should go up and the social status of people should improve. The economic growth of the state should be inclusive,” he told the members.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Stalin assured them that Tamil Nadu was ready for a drastic change to realise these goals, it might not be an easy task considering the state’s finances. Its fiscal deficit for the year 2020-21 was Rs92,305 crore. The state’s own tax revenue (SOTR), which usually accounts for 70 per cent of its total revenue, was flat at Rs1,01,140 crore. The goods and services tax collection declined by 1.12 per cent to Rs37,942 crore. Its share of central taxes, too, declined by 5.56 per cent to Rs24,924 crore. On the other hand, the revenue expenditure increased by 13.3 per cent to Rs2,30,332 crore. As per the interim budget presented in the assembly by the then finance minister O. Panneerselvam in February 2021, the debt burden of the state was expected to be Rs5.7 lakh crore by March 31.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Tamil Nadu is definitely a welfare state,” said Professor Ramu Manivannan, head of the department of politics and public administration at the University of Madras. “The new government has begun well. But to keep the momentum going, the state’s revenues will have to go up. You can’t go on with this revenue deficit budgeting.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Stalin has asked the EAC to guide the state to prosperity using its own revenue, as he pointed out that the Union government had “snatched the rights of states over levying tax by introducing the GST.” In fact, his finance minister, P.T.R. Palanivel Thiagarajan, raised some objections in the 43rd GST Council meeting. Thiagarajan said the GST system was designed badly and his state was against the one state one vote policy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Stalin has also revamped the Tamil Nadu Development Policy Council, which functions as the state planning commission, with economist Professor J. Jeyaranjan as vice chairperson and Professor R. Srinivasan of the University of Madras as a full-time member.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Stalin, by all means, has set lofty goals for his government. And he has made sure that everyone is on board. His ministers have been pressed to go the extra mile. The industries department, for instance, was on its toes when the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic peaked in the state in May and June. Minister R. Thangam Thennarasu and secretary N.Muruganandam worked tirelessly to ensure that production and supply of medical oxygen met the spike in the requirement. The department has also started working on building biotechnology industries in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Immediately after he took charge on May 7, Stalin installed a new set of key officials—chief secretary V. Irai Anbu, principal secretary T. Udhayachandran and secretaries P. Umanath, M.S. Shanmugam and Anu George. Also, Shilpa Prabhakar has been given charge of the new department ‘CM in your constituency’, which has been working on resolving public grievances within the first 100 days of the government. Stalin had promised this during his campaign for the assembly election. Some 70,000 petitions were heard and resolved in the first 45 days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of Stalin’s biggest challenges is dealing with bureaucrats who are AIADMK sympathisers. They make a significant chunk of the state’s government machinery, thanks to the decade-long AIADMK rule. Though Stalin’s long administrative experience might come in handy in dealing with them, he has already got a taste of what they are capable of. Officials recently found that data of several crucial departments like local administration, highways, public works, public health and revenue had been deleted from computers. Government receipts issued for purchases in these departments have been destroyed. “The hard disks have been formatted without backups,” said a senior official at the state secretariat. An internal circular has been sent to the officers in these departments to restore data between 2017-2020 from the files.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite such hiccups, Stalin has been able to make an impression that he means business. It remains to be seen if he will be able to keep the momentum.</p> Thu Jul 15 20:17:23 IST 2021 the-week-hansa-research-best-universities-survey-2021-sci-tech-to-remodel-curricula <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Tel Aviv University now has a course called ‘viruses and how to beat them’. It helps one to learn how to “make better vaccination decisions”. But, Indian colleges and universities need not feel far behind when we talk about a Covid-19-compliant curriculum. The pandemic has ushered in dramatic changes in the way we think about health and science as a scholarly preoccupation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last year, Lucknow University started a postgraduate diploma course on epidemiology and biostatistics. This has been made an integral part of its master’s in public health. Ambedkar University, too, rolled out a master’s in public health. Covid-19 has also left an imprint on the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati’s BTech, MTech and PhD courses as an elective on molecular virology of the coronaviruses has been added.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Only time will determine if these courses portend better preparedness to fight disease outbreaks, but it does indicate how higher education has to reckon with rapid changes driven by a global health disaster.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Universities and colleges are adapting to contemporary demands by introducing new academic courses. Emphasising the need to pivot to increased online learning, Professor S.C. Sharma, director, National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), holds out the ambitious hope for a digital transformation in higher education. “In the last two years, many factors, including the pandemic, have shaped the way higher education institutions (HEIs) are functioning,” he said. “There has been a perceptible shift in the mindset of students and academic fraternity as such and new-age courses based on the industry requirements have gained prominence. Some of them like artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics and robotics, have gained prominence because of inherent demand as well as the pandemic.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sharma added that NAAC has ventured into revised accreditation framework (RAF), a new way of assessment which is 70-80 per cent data based. “The RAF is objective and has resulted in drastic changes from qualitative peer judgment to data-based quantitative indicator evaluation,” he said. “This has enhanced objectivity and transparency.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 8, after the swearing-in of the new Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a larger role to be played by technological and research and development institutions, which will be heralding “India’s Techade”. IITs and the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore will soon offer online degree courses. IIT Kanpur is ready to start an e-master’s in cybersecurity communication, and IISc Bangalore will launch an e-master’s in data science business analytics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Technical and research universities are always at the forefront in offering forward-looking courses which respond to emerging needs and necessities. IIT Delhi is in the process of establishing a new department called the department of energy science and engineering to expand the scope and depth of activities being undertaken by its 45-year-old Centre for Energy Studies. The new department would offer a BTech in energy engineering starting from the 2021-2022 academic year, with an intake of 40 students qualifying JEE (Advanced). It is expected to open up design, analysis and research jobs in sectors such as defence, aerospace, automotive, shipping, biomechanics and biomedical devices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>IIT Delhi has also launched an undergraduate programme called BTech in materials engineering for JEE (Advanced) 2020 qualified candidates. The IIT’s spanking new centre for optics and photonics will study fundamental properties of light and how to harness them in practical applications. A new post graduate programme—MTech in electric mobility—is also on the anvil. It is multidisciplinary in nature and will cover aspects related to electric vehicles, drivetrain, charging infrastructure, automotive health monitoring, vehicular telematics and the like.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The institute will also start a new post graduate programme—master of public policy—with a focus on science, technology and innovation, and development. “The new courses have come after long-drawn internal processes and discussions which took almost two years to complete,” said Shantanu Roy, dean (academic), IIT Delhi. “The graduates who enter this year would complete their programmes only in two years (for masters) and four years (for BTech), by when we expect the situation to normalise and plenty of employment opportunities [to be available].”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Roy added that the courses were in line with the vision of the National Education Policy, 2020. He said that internal discussions were being conducted on the academic bank of credits (ABC). “The ABC standard will require the alignment of the credit systems in all participating institutions in the country and abroad,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the most bandied about features of NEP 2020 is its flexibility. The ABC is one of the ways to facilitate the movement of students in and out of programmes, and from one course to another, by letting them store and transfer “academic credits” in a so-called bank. Some universities say they are already offering students the flexibility enshrined in the NEP. “We have a choice-based credit system wherein an engineering student can learn vocal music,” said Bhaskar Chakravarty, director (admissions), Amity University, Noida. “In principle, we were already into it. NEP has given it a stamp of approval.” He added that relevant technology-focused courses had been rolled out in the last two years, including master’s in fields like medical microbiology and molecular chemistry, and bachelor’s in robotics and mechatronics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many of the reform-driven changes in education have been hotly debated for years, especially by liberal arts colleges and universities. But, the pandemic has suddenly forced everyone to adapt. The University Grants Commission’s draft rules for blended learning saw protests from several quarters around how the hybrid mode perpetuates a digital divide, but the need to evolve and prepare for a fuzzy future has been made all too present since 2020.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are a traditional university,” said Delhi University Vice Chancellor P.C. Joshi. “BA (hons) in political science, english, economics, physics and chemistry, are some of our most popular courses. There are progressive ideas in the NEP; we are trying to break away from the conservative way education was imparted, like being bound to a particular stream. With NEP, education will become more holistic and multidimensional. But at Delhi University, it will not be a total transformation. It will be taken up slowly, year by year, without drastically disturbing the existing structure.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, Joshi does not see any harm in blended learning. According to him, it facilitates transformation of pedagogy in sync with the available technology. “In the last one year, we have seen how we can link to the world,” he said. “We can have lectures from anybody, anywhere in the world whereas previously, when it was an exclusively physical mode, you had to invite somebody, arrange for their hotel and airfare and only then could they come. But, now, I look at department webinars and they are having the who’s who from the world in a hassle-free way. It is because of technology.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>P. Kaliraj</b></p> <p>Vice chancellor, Bharathiar University</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because of the critical health problem faced globally, more attention must be given to health care, which includes diagnosis (biotechnology, microbiology, nanotechnology), therapeutics and drug discovery (botany, chemistry, bioinformatics).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>***</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The younger generation, while choosing their career, should ascertain their domain strength and surmise the societal need in the long run.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aditya Berlia</b></p> <p>Cofounder and pro-chancellor, Apeejay Stya University</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because of the impact of Covid-19, information technology, data analytics, graphic design, health care, pharmaceuticals and allied fields have come front and centre. Further, because of global regulatory changes and a continuous increase in tax terrorism, there is a vast need for company secretaries and compliance officers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sunil Rai</b></p> <p>Vice chancellor, UPES</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aspirants should study the market and choose courses that are trending or are in high demand globally. Also, students may choose any field, [but] it is the responsibility of the universities to prepare them for the industry. Industry is continually moving towards new technologies that requires multidisciplinary knowledge covering technical and non-technical areas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Ashok Mittal</b></p> <p>Chancellor, Lovely Professional University</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At present, industry-driven courses are dominating the education sector. Industry-oriented education is where traditional subjects are taught in the context of application of that knowledge in industry. Needs of the hour can demand more revolutionary ways and trends of knowledge dissemination from us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Devinder Narain</b></p> <p>Director (corporate relations), Shobhit University</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first and foremost factor [in choosing a course/discipline] is understanding the course/discipline the student is interested in. Ask your parents, guardians, teachers and peers about the technology of the future. They must remember one thing, change is constant, but it has increased its speed, so students need to get ready for change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Satnam Singh Sandhu</b></p> <p>Chancellor, Chandigarh University</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The new education policy (NEP 2020) will equip students with the skills of the 21st century, which includes critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, curiosity and communication. The NEP offers flexibility and [focuses on the] development of industry-oriented skills for the students. It has been drafted keeping in mind the thoughts, needs and aspirations of today’s youth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>G. Jayakumar</b></p> <p>Registrar, Bharati Vidyapeeth</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary courses are on the rise. Transdisciplinary courses will be the future. Technological innovations will drive the demand for different courses. The trend will mostly be changing according to drastic global changes, but will always require focus on popularity of courses based on competency building, cognitive skill development, entrepreneurship and vocational courses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Prashant Bhalla</b></p> <p>President, Manav Rachna Educational Institutions</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A major contributing factor while selecting a course/discipline is the employability of students. The research and development strengths of an institution are another parameter. Fostering an ‘innovation’ eco-system is the need of the hour. And that is something every student must focus upon while deciding their area of interest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Research Methodology</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE WEEK and Hansa Research conducted the Best University Survey 2021 to rank the best multidisciplinary and technical universities in the country. Universities recognised by the UGC, offering full-time postgraduate courses in at least two disciplines, and having graduated at least three postgraduate batches were eligible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A separate list for emerging universities is included in the report. These are the multidisciplinary universities which have been established in 2010 and thereafter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A primary survey was conducted with 259 academic experts, spread across 15 cities. They were asked to nominate and rank the top 20 universities in India. Perceptual score for a university was calculated based on the number of nominations by the experts and the ranks they assigned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For factual data collection, a dedicated website was created and the link was sent to universities. Fifty-nine universities responded within the stipulated time; one was rejected as it did not meet the eligibility criteria. Factual score was calculated using the information collected from universities and other secondary sources on age and accreditation, infrastructure and other facilities, faculty, research and academics, student intake and exposure, and placements (only for technical universities).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Composite score = Perceptual score (out of 400) + factual score (out of 600)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some universities could not respond to the survey. For these universities, composite score was derived by combining the perceptual score for the university with an interpolated factual score based on their position in the perceptual score list.</p> Mon Jul 19 12:51:11 IST 2021 anger-grows-in-j-and-k-as-modis-all-party-meeting-fails-to-solve-issues <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There were great expectations from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s June 24 meeting in Delhi with 14 leaders from Jammu and Kashmir. The much-hyped meeting, which happened nearly two years after the Union government voided Article 370 and redrew the state into two Union territories, was expected to pave the way for the long-delayed assembly polls. But now, the dominant feeling, especially in the valley, is that the meeting achieved precious little. In Jammu, which had witnessed celebrations after Article 370 was voided, there is now growing unease over the BJP’s refusal to commit to a timeline for restoring statehood.</p> <p>“People are disappointed because nothing positive has emerged from the meeting,” said Bashir Ahmed, a houseboat owner. According to him, Kashmiris have been suffering since the 2014 floods. “Whatever business we had has been disrupted by the pandemic,” said Ahmed.</p> <p>Basheer Waza, a chef, said the situation was hopeless. “Inflation and unemployment have been rising for the past two years,” he said. “I am struggling to make ends meet. The situation was better before Article 370 was removed.”</p> <p>In Jammu, people are worried over the delay in restoring statehood. Prominent activist Zorawar Singh said the BJP must not procrastinate on the matter. “After delimitation [of assembly seats], statehood must be restored,” he told THE WEEK. “We need it back, so that our own people can run the administration.” Anil Suri, former president of the Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said assembly polls could wait. “First, the statehood needs to be restored; then elections can be held,” he said.</p> <p>There is resentment in Jammu over the way the BJP has handled issues. “Jammu people are nationalists,” said a trader. “We don’t want to hit the streets in protest because that would strengthen the separatists in Kashmir. But, after J&amp;K became a Union territory, Jammu has suffered immensely.”</p> <p>The Union government deems that the Delhi meeting has revived the stalled political process. Also, it has served to send a message to the international community that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is returning to normal.</p> <p>But the parties in Kashmir have apparently gained very little. During the meeting, the Congress and other opposition parties were united in demanding the restoration of statehood without further delay. But Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah linked the matter to the planned delimitation of assembly constituencies in the run-up to the polls. This had the Gupkar Alliance—a five-party alliance led by National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah—distraught.</p> <p>On his part, Modi spoke of reducing both “<i>dil ki doori, Dilli se doori</i>”—distance of the heart and distance from Delhi. But he offered no concession on the statehood issue. According to a leader who attended the meeting, Modi seemed keen on completing the delimitation process so that elections could be held.</p> <p>CPI(M) leader M.Y. Tarigami, chief spokesperson of the Gupkar Alliance, told THE WEEK that the meeting only added to a long list of disillusionments. If parties can wait for statehood, said Tarigami, then they can wait for elections as well. “We don’t want a truncated state; we want the state that existed earlier. That will give credibility to the electoral process,” he said.</p> <p>According to Prof Bhim Singh of the J&amp;K National Panthers Party, only Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti raised the matter of reinstating Article 370. “Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said his party will not talk about Article 370 as the matter is sub judice,” said Singh.</p> <p>According to sources, when Abdullah began speaking about restoring Article 370, former deputy chief minister and Congress leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig interrupted him, reminding him that the Supreme Court was considering the matter. “After that, Abdullah didn’t raise the issue,” said one source.</p> <p>Mehbooba reportedly pitched for talks with Pakistan and demanded that political prisoners be released. On May 5, separatist leader Muhammad Ashraf Sehari had died in detention in Jammu. His two sons were arrested after slogans were raised at his funeral. People’s Conference leader Sajjad Lone, who quit the Gupkar Alliance last year, turned emotional while recalling how his father was killed by militants, said sources.</p> <p>With the leaders failing to play hardball with Delhi, there are growing voices of dissent in the NC and the PDP. Veteran NC leader Aga Syed Ruhullah said the meeting benefited only the BJP. “It was a photo opportunity for J&amp;K leaders with Modi,” he said. “I don’t advocate statehood without the restoration of Article 370, but the leaders couldn’t get even that assurance.”</p> <p>There are demands that the Gupkar Alliance boycott the polls. Asked whether it would benefit the BJP, Ruhullah said, “What kind of a democracy is it where elected members have no power and a Union government-appointed—and not elected—lieutenant governor can veto everything?”</p> <p>While there is resentment among the NC cadre, party workers are also mindful that Abdullah is under pressure from the Enforcement Directorate, which is inquiring into the alleged misappropriation of 043 crore in the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association.</p> <p>Mehbooba, too, is facing an inquiry in a case related to money laundering. Her bank accounts have been frozen and her passport, along with that of her mother, have been blocked. Waheed Parra, a young PDP leader and Mehbooba’s confidant, is in the custody of the National Investigation Authority on charges of providing funds to separatists and contacting militants in Pakistan. Apparently, Mehbooba agreed to attend the meeting in Delhi only after the Union government released two senior PDP leaders from detention as a goodwill gesture.</p> <p>With the meeting failing to make any real headway, public anger at political leaders has only increased. Ghulam Nabi, a retired government employee, said the leaders had gone to Delhi “seeking re-employment”. “Currently, they are jobless. So they will do anything to get themselves re-employed,” said Nabi. “If they had cared for the people, they would not have submitted to the BJP.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 01 18:42:43 IST 2021 i-will-not-fight-elections-as-long-as-j-and-k-remains-a-union-territory <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and vice president of the National Conference, was among the politicians Prime Minister Narendra Modi met on June 24 to discuss the political future of J&amp;K. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Omar spoke in detail about the meeting and his concerns about Kashmir’s future.</p> <p>Edited excerpts:</p> <p><b>How was the meeting with the prime minister?</b></p> <p>It is a start. Most of us, except maybe one or two, have had no contact with the Government of India since 2019. To that extent, the onus was on the government to break the ice.</p> <p><b>Can you highlight a few achievements of the meeting?</b></p> <p>I think the prime minister heard first hand from the people of Jammu and Kashmir about the disquiet and unhappiness about what happened on August 5, 2019.</p> <p><b>CPI (M) leader M.Y. Tarigami, the chief spokesperson of the Gupkar Alliance, told THE WEEK that he returned empty-handed from the meeting.</b></p> <p>A/ That is for Tarigami sahib to explain. I am not a part of the Gupkar Alliance. I am the vice president of the National Conference. What Tarigami sahib says on behalf of the Gupkar Alliance or the CPI(M) has no bearing on what I think.</p> <p><b>Was there no agenda for the meeting?</b></p> <p>There was no agenda, which, in some ways, made it better as one could speak whatever one wanted to. If the agenda was limited to statehood or elections, then we would have been restricted in what we could or could not say. The participants could choose what they wanted to say and how they wanted to say it. In all fairness to our hosts, they did not interfere or try to silence anybody. Some of the participants did some plain-speaking on the extent of mistrust and anger in J&amp;K over what happened on August 5, 2019. I am sure these were not pleasant, but neither our hosts nor the political parties that are ideologically opposed to us tried to silence us.</p> <p><b>What do you have to say about the impression that the BJP is pushing its ideological agenda in the Muslim majority Jammu and Kashmir to disempower its majority?&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</b></p> <p>If you want to stop this disempowerment, then get some power back in your hands. If you have an elected government… an elected government that understands where the majority lies. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What becomes of the agreement your grandfather had with the Union of India that J&amp;K, a Muslim majority state, will enjoy certain powers?</b></p> <p>Accession was signed by the Maharaja, not by my grandfather. But the Constituent assembly he headed, ratified the accession.&nbsp; The J&amp;K constituent assembly ratified the accession. This brings us back to the point that the trust has been breached and that is why we are not willing to accept what happened on August 5, 2019.</p> <p><b>Was there a discussion on Article 370?</b></p> <p>Yes. At least four participants spoke in detail. One made a passing reference.</p> <p><b>There were reports that Muzaffar Baig of the People’s Conference interrupted Farooq Abdullah, saying the issue of Article 370 could not be discussed as it was sub judice.</b></p> <p>Dr Sahib (Farooq Abdullah) and Mehbooba Mufti Sahiba told Baig how his interventions in the meeting were contrary to what he had said earlier. He has worn different hats previously. On August 5, 2019, he was with the Gupkar Alliance. But he told the prime minister that he did not belong to any political party.</p> <p><b>Did the prime minister respond when Farooq Abdullah raised the revocation of Article 370?</b></p> <p>Our job was to put our point across. The prime minister and the home minister were there to listen.</p> <p><b>The meeting is over. What next for J&amp;K?</b></p> <p>I think to a great extent that depends on the Centre. The prime minister said he wants to remove ‘dil ke doori, dili se doori’ [ distance between hearts and distance from Delhi]. That being the stated aim, many speakers have talked about the mistrust and the reasons for it. Farooq sahib went all the way to 1947 and reminded the prime minister about the promises that have been made to the people of Jammu and Kashmir from time to time that never saw the light of the day. He told them the onus to remove the mistrust lies primarily with New Delhi. The prime minister was reminded that the BJP’s struggle to remove Article 370 lasted for 70 years. We are under no illusion that what we are trying to achieve will be achievable in 70 days or 70 weeks. But we are not going to give up.</p> <p><b>There is an impression that the Gupkar Alliance is sidestepping the issue of Article 370 and focusing on the restoration of statehood.</b></p> <p>Please tell me if the unanimous view of the people is that they are happy for the uncertainty to continue; if they are happy about unaccountable governance; if they are happy to be arrested for simply telling the truth to the officers; if they are happy about the breakdown of law and order; if they are happy about J&amp;K remaining an open-air prison where an officer can decide who will be detained and for how long. If they are happy, then it is fine.</p> <p>We will continue to suffer like this while we wage our long struggle. But assuming that this struggle is going to go on for a few years, should we not get relief where we can get it? If some amount of power can be returned to the people that they can use for relief, then what is the harm? I have made it very clear that I have no intention of fighting the elections for the time being, so I am saying this not because I am desperate to become chief minister.</p> <p>There is a general sense of unease about contracts, jobs and land being transferred to outsiders. If J&amp;K gets full statehood, most of these issues can be addressed by the assembly. Don’t think even for a moment that just because we are talking about full statehood, it is a compensation for what happened on August 5, 2019. Our political, legal and constitutional struggle to overturn what happened will continue. But if I can get relief for my people in the interim, then I think it is pragmatic to do that.</p> <p><b>How far is J&amp;K from full statehood?</b></p> <p>The prime minister and the home minister reiterated their commitment to restoring statehood to J&amp;K. In the meeting it was made clear by Ghulam Nabi Azad, representing views held by others as well, that the timeline should be statehood and then elections. We will continue on Q/</p> <p><b>Union Home Minister Amit Shah did talk in Parliament about restoring statehood, but he has linked it with delimitation and elections.</b></p> <p>The Government of India says delimitation is necessary as part of the J&amp;K Reorganisation Act. We were locked up at that time. We did not have the chance to see what it was. My point is that if the stated aim of the BJP is to bring J&amp;K at par with the rest of the country, the delimitation should be at par with the rest of the country and be held in 2026, based on the 2021 Census. Why are we having delimitation in 2021 based on the 2011 census?</p> <p>Was it brought to the home minister’s notice?</p> <p>Yes, it was. He said delimitation was a constitutional requirement.</p> <p><b>Is the NC now participating in the delimitation process?</b></p> <p>There has been no fresh move on the part of the Delimitation Commission. The party has authorised Dr sahib to take a view as and when necessary. When there is fresh communication from the commission, we will decide at that time.</p> <p><b>Will the NC contest the polls after the delimitation is completed?</b></p> <p>When the elections are announced, we will sit and take stock of the situation. We do not know under what circumstances elections will take place. That said, we have participated in the district development council (DDC) polls, but that does not mean we will participate in every election. We will wait and then take a call.</p> <p><b>So the NC may not take part in the polls?</b></p> <p>I do not want to make a headline that the NC will boycott the assembly elections. I am saying that as of now, we have no timetable for the elections, nor do we know the circumstances under which the elections will take place.</p> <p><b>Will it be the sole decision of the NC or the Gupkar Alliance whether to contest the polls?</b></p> <p>I have not attended the recent Gupkar Alliance meetings and I am not aware whether there has been any conversation about elections. That is a question for the members of the Gupkar Alliance.</p> <p><b>Critics say that by participating in the DDC polls, the Gupkar Alliance normalised the changes made by the Centre in J&amp;K.</b></p> <p>The BJP does not need us to normalise the situation. The same holds for everybody. The shopkeepers who opened their shops, the transporters, the tour operators who resumed their work—everyone will face the allegation that they have helped normalise the situation.</p> <p><b>How do relate people earning their daily bread to the political question and future of J&amp;K?</b></p> <p>Let me make a wider point. It is also important to show the BJP from time to time that people are not with what they did. I think to a great extent, the DDC polls did that.</p> <p><b>If the Gupkar Alliance has shown to the BJP and the world at large its strength, it can now stay from the assembly polls?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;Again, I am going to make the point that no election has been announced so far. It would be premature and irresponsible on my part to walk down any particular path. Who knows what circumstances will exist when polls are announced.</p> <p><b>You said you would not contest elections as long as J&amp;K remains a Union territory, irrespective of your party’s decision.</b></p> <p>Yes. I am not contesting.</p> <p><b>How would you explain not contesting the polls, if the party decides to contest?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For decades, you had the Shiv Sena contesting the polls and nobody from the Thackeray family participated. There are numerous other examples where parties have fought elections and the senior member of a family that the party is associated with have not contested the elections. My not fighting the polls has no bearing on the party. The party will make its own decision.</p> <p><b>Do you think if statehood is restored a lot of changes made by the Centre can be undone?</b></p> <p>I believe so. If states like Gujarat, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh can protect land and jobs for their state subjects and domiciles, then why not J&amp;K? I am not saying that statehood is a substitute for what has been taken from us over the decades. I am saying it is a stopgap arrangement right now to check the threat J&amp;K faces and it will give people a sense of relief. We will be once again able to protect lands, jobs and contracts for the bona fide domiciled residents of J&amp;K.</p> <p><b>In that case, wouldn’t statehood take precedence over the restoration of Article 370?</b></p> <p>No, it will not. This is why I keep making this point because I know it will be twisted. It will be risky if we were to say that everything else can wait until Article 370 is restored. We don’t know how long this fight will take. By then, we should not reach a point where turning back will be impossible. If we can take a corrective measure now, we should.</p> Thu Jul 01 18:38:27 IST 2021 why-modi-govt-needs-to-tread-a-fine-line-in-kashmir <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In June 2018, the BJP’s youth wing in Kashmir gave a rousing reception to Amit Shah, then BJP president. The workers took out a bike rally from the airport to a government guest house in Srinagar when Shah arrived. His visit followed the party’s withdrawal of support to the coalition government in the state, where it had been in power with chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party.</p> <p>Shah was in Kashmir to commemorate ‘Balidan Diwas’ on June 23, the day party stalwart Syama Prasad Mookerjee died in Srinagar in 1953. As the BJP was hoping to ride on a nationalistic wave in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Shah used the opportunity to reiterate his party’s commitment to Mookerjee’s dream of integrating Kashmir with India. That Shah had a time-frame in mind to fulfil that dream became evident on August 5, 2019, when the Union government voided Article 370 and bifurcated the state into two Union territories. Jammu and Kashmir has since been under the Union government’s direct control.</p> <p>On June 24 this year, Shah was once again at the helm of affairs when Prime Minister Narendra Modi called an all-party meeting in Delhi—the Centre’s first major political outreach in Kashmir in nearly two years. Shah, now Union home minister, told leaders that the process of national integration has to be completed by holding assembly polls. Only this time, a slew of challenges did not allow him to fix a time frame.</p> <p>First, there are legal hurdles that the home ministry must urgently overcome. Jammu and Kashmir was made into a Union territory without consulting the assembly, even though India’s federal setup does not allow the Centre to act in such a unilateral way. This is why Shah told the Parliament that statehood will be restored.</p> <p>In 2019, the Supreme Court had referred petitions challenging the presidential orders that voided Article 370 and bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories to a five-judge Constitution bench. The Union home ministry feels it may not be prudent to move a fresh bill for granting full statehood to Jammu and Kashmir, because it could warrant a second round of elections before the Union territory assembly completes its five-year term. “The proposed statehood bill can mention that the UT assembly will continue as the state assembly, but that may create further problems and resentment,” said an official.</p> <p>The last time the Union government bifurcated a state was in 2014, when Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh. The Union home ministry, however, was on a legally strong footing then because it had complied with the requirement to “consult” the assembly, even though the assembly had rejected the bifurcation proposal. In Jammu and Kashmir’s case, such a process did not happen. “If a majority government at the Centre is able to convert any state into a Union territory without consulting the state assembly, it violates the federal setup and can be struck down by the court,” said former home secretary G.K. Pillai.</p> <p>Shah has made it clear that the delimitation of assembly constituencies will be completed before elections are held. M.M. Ansari, former central information commissioner and interlocutor in Jammu and Kashmir, said the Union government expects the delimitation exercise to result in an increase in the number of legislators from the BJP and its allies. “If the Modi government does not get enough elected members to endorse its actions in J&amp;K, then it might not grant statehood, because the state assembly may take decisions that might embarrass the Centre,” said Ansari. Government officials say the delimitation will remove anomalies in the assembly. For example, the original J&amp;K assembly had 111 seats, with 24 ‘un-contestable’ seats which lie in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Now, with Ladakh being made a Union territory, the remaining geography merits a fresh look.</p> <p>The way forward for Shah is hardly easy. He has to tread carefully keeping in mind both domestic sentiments and international pressures. Anything that disturbs the delicately balanced situation in Kashmir will not only have a cascading effect on the security situation, but also spoil the BJP’s pitch that it has completed the integration process without spilling blood.</p> <p>Security agencies say there has been a huge drop in infiltration attempts from Pakistan, but the recent drone strike on the Jammu airbase is a reminder of the simmering unrest. “Whether it is a cross-border strike or an attack by a local, disgruntled group, the fact is that attempts are being made to disrupt the peace,” said a senior official.</p> <p>The fact that the Hurriyat Conference was not invited to the Delhi meeting makes it evident that Modi and Shah continue to be more hardline than their predecessors, A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani. “Though the government has tried to demonise the separatists by calling them corrupt, anti-national dynasts, they should have talked to them like Vajpayee and Advani had done,” said Ansari. “It is the separatist leaders who are considered part of the problem as far as security situation in J&amp;K is concerned.”</p> <p>The home ministry, however, feels that the Hurriyat leadership has been exposed. Many have been arrested, while others like Syed Ali Shah Geelani have distanced themselves from Hurriyat. “Talks cannot be held with those carrying guns,” said an official.</p> <p>The government is aware that India’s image as a stable regional power is linked to peace in Kashmir and normalcy in ties with Pakistan. The all-party meeting did not discuss the Pakistan issue, but the government recognises Kashmir’s significance in maintaining stability of geopolitical equations. “In any scenario,” said a home ministry official, “the sooner Jammu and Kashmir adopts a new assembly and completes democratic processes, the better it is for peace and stability.”</p> Thu Jul 01 18:31:49 IST 2021 no-party-is-averse-to-the-ongoing-delimitation-process <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There are speculations that the BJP is keen to appoint the first Hindu chief minister in Jammu and Kashmir. However, Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh rejects them by saying that the BJP does not believe in a Hindu or Muslim chief minister. “Such speculations are being carried out by pseudo-seculars,” he said. “The chief minister is to be elected irrespective of religion, class or creed.”</p> <p>Speaking to THE WEEK, Singh said the delimitation of J&amp;K is a vindication not only for the BJP but more so for other parties which have been in power in J&amp;K.</p> <p>Excerpts from an exclusive interview:</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Did domestic compulsions drive the government to talk to the Gupkar Alliance at this stage?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ No, absolutely not. On the other hand, it was forthrightly put across by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Jammu and Kashmir all-party meeting that he wanted to have this meeting much earlier. It would have taken place several months earlier or even a year back had there not been any Covid-19 constraints.</p> <p>Had it been driven by any compulsions, as is being made out by some, then this would not have been the approach. In fact, what is not being realised is that as soon as the Covid-19 restrictions were relaxed a little, this was the first meeting held by the prime minister with so many individuals under one roof, in one room. Most meetings of this nature have been held virtually so far.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> What was the aim of the meeting?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ As the prime minister said it is primarily inspired by two aspects related to J&amp;K. Firstly, his commitment and keen desire to strengthen grassroot democracy in J&amp;K. This commitment is evident from the fact that the district development council (DDC) elections have been held at the personal intervention of the prime minister. Secondly, to give impetus to development activities and bring equitable development to all the regions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> What will be the process going forward? Will assembly elections be held first?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ I think the most optimistic takeaway from this meeting is that leaders of all political parties were forthcoming in supporting the revival of state assembly through the democratic process of elections and were also ready to cooperate with the ongoing delimitation exercise. Nobody was averse to it. This amounts to endorsing the prime minister’s two-pronged thrust on grassroot democracy and development through elected representatives after completing the delimitation process.</p> <p>It is not a new initiation of the political process since DDC elections took place only five months ago and before that, the block development council elections were held. This is now being extended to assembly elections, which is currently not in existence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Have all parties agreed to delimitation and then assembly polls?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ I think it has a very sound rationale and reason for the simple fact that delimitation in J&amp;K is motivated by certain factors that may not have been relevant to other Union territories and states. The participants who wanted further clarification, I believe, went home convinced when Union Home Minister Amit Shah explained that there exists an anomaly for quite some time as far as the number of seats and distribution is concerned. Also, some more assembly seats needed to be added. This is something no political party has denied. I would say what the Modi government has opted for—to allow delimitation to happen—is a vindication not only for the BJP but more so for those political parties which have been in power in J&amp;K for most of the time. These political parties had been inviting accusations that they were not supportive of delimitation and were delaying it by design because they did not want the composition and number of assembly seats to change, since it would not be to their advantage. So, I think it is a huge vindication for all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> There are allegations that the BJP wants more seats for Jammu.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ The delimitation commission is an independent body and has its norms and parameters. We want a judicious outcome taking into consideration the laid down parameters including geography, accessibility of regions, the topography, the population spread and other relevant factors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> What about the demand for immediate restoration of statehood for J&amp;K?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ That issue stands adequately addressed from day one when on the floor of the house, Home Minister Shah had clarified and categorically said that statehood will be restored at an appropriate time. The same stand was reiterated by him during the all-party meeting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Will the government ensure the immediate release of all political prisoners?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ I think by and large all participants who took up the issue of political prisoners were agreeable to the view that those facing charges of terrorism, [the Jammu and Kashmir] Public Safety Act or hawala which warrant further investigation and prosecution and are being probed by the National Investigation Agency or other concerned agencies, need to go through the process and there cannot be an alibi for it. The home minister, in his reply, said that most of the prisoners have already been released in the last few months and only those facing serious charges like murder and killings, which were proven by evidence and warrant interrogation, by all means, were still behind bars. The home minister has assured that the lieutenant governor will constitute a committee to review their cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> What about local militancy and stone-pelting in Kashmir?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ By and large, militancy is on its way out in J&amp;K. It is in its last phase. Infiltration has gone down drastically and the liquidation of terrorist [groups] is happening at a rapid pace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Is there a demand for restoration of special status for J&amp;K under Article 370?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ I would not rake up this issue for the simple reason that no one raised it, and even those who obliquely referred to it said the matter is sub judice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> If a situation arises, will the BJP form a coalition government with the PDP or the National Conference?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ It is a hypothetical question. We will cross the bridge when we come to it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> There is speculation that the BJP wants to appoint its first Hindu chief minister in J&amp;K.</b></p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">A</b>/ The BJP does not believe in a Hindu or a Muslim chief minister. Such speculations are being carried out by pseudo-seculars. The chief minister is to be elected irrespective of religion, class or creed to lead the duly elected legislators.<br> </p> Fri Jul 09 16:20:11 IST 2021 india-is-bolstering-its-defence-against-small-drones <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Welcome to the</b> new era of terrorism in India,” said a key Indian military intelligence officer after drones dropped explosives on the Jammu Air Force station on June 26.<br> It exposed the chinks in the military’s armour. While India’s air defence mechanism of advanced radars and missiles can chase down fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and large unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), it is mostly ineffective against small drones. In Jammu, the drone managed to penetrate multiple layers of security and target the Mi-17 helicopters and transport aircraft parked at the station.</p> <p>“While such drones are easily available, the methods to counter them should be hi-tech,” said Lt Gen (retd) D.S. Hooda, former chief of the Northern Army Command. “Currently, the Army or the Air Force does not have the technology to counter small drones.” The defence establishment is worried that the low-intensity blast could be a trial to gauge penetration, signal links, blast effects and ground response.</p> <p>Within 24 hours of the Air Force station attack, two drones were spotted over the Kaluchak and Ratnuchak military stations in Jammu. Security personnel fired at them, but could not bring them down. The drone attacks happened on the day Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was visiting the Union territory of Ladakh.</p> <p>Small drones are cheap and easily available, and widely used by hobbyists and professionals. Some 24,000 drones are registered with the government. The use of these drones includes reconnaissance, imaging, damage assessment and payload delivery. Medicines from the Sky, for instance, is a Telangana government pilot project for delivering emergency medicines and blood to remote areas. It is estimated that the market potential for drones in India is around rupees three lakh crore, including defence and commercial purposes.</p> <p>An official blueprint prepared by some central agencies says that unregulated drones, UAVs and remotely-piloted aircraft are a potential threat to vital installations, sensitive locations and specific events. During an inter-ministerial discussion on unmanned aircraft system rules a week ago, the armed forces wanted drone operations to have at least 80km buffer from any military, strategic or high-value installations. As per the existing rules, any drone weighing more than 250gm can only be flown by a remote pilot with permission from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation for every flight.</p> <p>Security agencies are now in search of anti-drone technologies like sky fences, drone guns and drone catchers. Air defence systems like the Israeli Spyder or the Russian OSA-AK are not feasible for small drones. Derby missiles used by Spyder cost about $2 million. Helicopter fleets of Mi-17V5 and Apache can be effectively used against them, but the cost would be prohibitive. The Navy recently purchased the Smash-2000 fire control system from Israel, which can be used to thwart drone attacks. Last year, an anti-drone technology developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation was used for the first time at the Red Fort during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day address.</p> <p>Group Captain R.K. Narang, who has written a book on India’s quest for UAVs and the challenges in the journey, said the threat from drones is nothing new, but it becomes significant when it is posed by small, slow and low-flying drones. “Air defence mechanisms are meant to detect bigger airborne platforms that are coming at high speed. Size, altitude and speed are defining the new air-defence challenge. Now drones are lighter and made of materials that do not have a radar signature, and they fly low,” he said.</p> <p>There are fixed and portable RF (radio frequency) jammers capable of jamming the radio, global positioning systems (GPS) and mobile signals between the drone and the pilot. A virtual aerial fence system that uses signal disruptors to jam the flight path is another way to tackle a lethal drone. Then there are drone catchers which chase an enemy drone and grab it by throwing a net around it.</p> <p>While there is no clarity on which technology India would go for, trials are going on. Brigadier (retd) Ram Chillar, who works for C1 Cyber Solution at Crown Group, is developing a low-cost handheld anti-drone gun for the armed forces. “Handheld anti-drone systems are capable of detecting and neutralising drones. Weighing 3kg, this gun can easily be integrated into mobile platforms. It has a range of 2km, but we are trying to extend it,” he said.</p> <p>DRDO has developed two anti-drone, laser-based DEW (directed energy system) systems to engage aerial targets, but they are yet to be manufactured in large numbers.</p> <p>Meanwhile, fingers are being pointed at Pakistan, as intelligence agencies suspect the drone in Jammu might have crossed the International Border, which means it covered around 28km. The tracing of the drone’s path will be one of the major points of the investigation by the National Investigation Agency. The NIA has registered a case under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.</p> <p>—<b>With Namrata Biji Ahuja</b></p> Thu Jul 01 17:31:21 IST 2021 modi-should-engage-like-how-i-used-to <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Twenty-five years ago, in June, 1996, a quiet unassuming Kannadiga became yet another “accidental prime minister” of India. This, after veteran West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu proposed the name of Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda, the chief minister of Karnataka, as the leader of the United Front, an alliance of 13 parties, which had outside support of the Congress. Gowda's party, the Janata Dal, had only 46 MPs.<br> Today, when regional bigwigs like Mamata Banerjee, M.K. Stalin and Pinarayi Vijayan have given the BJP a drubbing, and have cornered the Congress in Kerala and West Bengal, the possibility of a third front coming to power in 2024, like in 1996, cannot be ruled out. But a coalition of regional parties tends to be fluid and unstable. Like it was in the case of the UF. Gowda was prime minister for less than a year; his government fell after the Congress withdrew support.<br> Sitaram Kesri, the then Congress president, said Gowda was a good-for-nothing who did not give him enough respect. Kesri said the Congress will rescind its decision if the UF replaced Gowda, which it did. Inder Kumar Gujral, Gowda’s external affairs minister, was sworn in as prime minister in April 1997. He, too, lasted for less than a year. Gowda, 88, refused to comment on who he thought was the apt regional leader to become prime minister in 2024.<br> In 1999, Gowda formed the JD(S) after the Janata Dal split. Since then, he has played the statesman, the power behind the throne, as the JD(S) formed ruling coalitions in Karnataka with both the Congress and the BJP.</p> <p>Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Gowda:<br> <b><br> Is the Union government to blame for the second wave of Covid-19? What were the drawbacks in the Narendra Modi government’s strategy?</b><br> I have stated repeatedly that I will not mix politics and the pandemic. However, it is important to acknowledge that people suffered, they are angry, and many lives were lost. Things could have been better. I think we grew complacent after the first wave, and prematurely declared victory against the pandemic.<br> We should have avoided super-spreader events. At the peak of the second wave, I wrote a letter to the prime minister. He responded positively.<br> I suggested things like decentralisation of Covid management, postponement of all by-polls and local polls for the next six months, to set deadlines for vaccination, to keep the poorest in mind when pricing vaccines, to drop identity proof for vaccination and to think of people who do not have access to the internet for vaccine registration.<br> I had emphasised to the prime minister that the virus does not understand political partisanship and we should fight it as one nation.<br> <b>What needs to be done to reduce the vaccine shortage in the country?</b><br> There is no one thing that can be done to reduce shortage. A lot of things have to be coordinated with great efficiency, simultaneously. Vaccines should be made locally or imported. Even to make locally, we need to import (raw material).<br> Bureaucrats and businessmen do not solve problems, politicians do. We are a poor and populous country and we should have invested in vaccines early. Ironically, India is one of the largest manufacturers of vaccines and we are facing the greatest shortage.<br> I am glad that steps are now being taken to resolve this. Hopefully, we will be in a better position in the next couple of months. I am also happy that the G7 countries have signalled positively on vaccinating the world.<br> <br> <b>You yourself were affected by Covid-19. How did you overcome it?</b><br> Luckily, my infection was mild. My wife suffered much more. By God’s grace we came out of it. I thank the doctors and nurses who treated me. My family is also full of surgeons and doctors—my son, sons-in-law and grandchildren are all in the profession. They monitored us. My belief in science and in God saved me.<br> <br> <b>The JD(S) was among the 12 parties which supported the farmers' nationwide protest call on May 26. If this had happened while you were in power, what would your response have been?&nbsp;</b><br> In the first place, I would not have tabled the farm laws without widespread consultation. Why was there the hurry to push it through Parliament? That apart, I would have met the protesting farmers and spoken to them right at the beginning. Often, meeting protestors may not resolve the problem totally, but engaging is important in a democracy. That is what I have believed in all through my seven decades of public life.<br> In fact, that was the method I adopted when I was prime minister. I met Sunderlal Bahuguna and convinced him to end his fast. I met Medha Patkar and engaged her on the Narmada issue, and I met Mahendra Singh Tikait when the farmers in Uttar Pradesh had a problem. I met everyone who came with a grievance. I have repeatedly asked for farmers to be treated with dignity.<br> <b><br> What does Modi need to do to end these protests?</b><br> He has to meet the farmers with an open mind and speak to them.<br> <br> <b>The Centre's negotiations with the NSCN(IM) of Nagaland have not made any headway. In 1997, you met these leaders, which paved the way for a ceasefire agreement. Why is this conflict lingering?</b><br> First, we have to admit that it is a complex problem. The issue has taken many turns since the framework agreement in 2015. I would not like to go into the details. However, in August 2020, I did make a statement, which was welcomed by Naga organisations. I said distrust had to be put aside and constructive diplomacy should be employed. When we negotiate there is always give and take, but in that process a balance has to be maintained. No party should feel it gave away too much. I had also urged that the talks should continue no matter how big the disagreements are, and that the progress made in the last 23 years should not be forsaken.<br> <br> <b>Karnataka assembly polls are due in 2023. The JD(S) has announced 'Mission 120' seats. How confident are you of coming back to power?</b></p> <p>We are working seriously and revamping our party organisation. People have begun to see value in a regional party. Southern India is mostly ruled by regional parties, and Karnataka will also elect a regional party in 2023.<br> <br> <b>Your son, H.D. Kumaraswamy, said he would have continued as CM if the JD(S) had maintained good relations with the BJP.</b></p> <p>I am not aware of this statement. I only know that he refused offers of support to his government from central BJP leaders, when our party was in a coalition with the Congress. He did not accept the offer because he did not want to hurt me. We have suffered at the hands of both national parties.<br> <br> <b>How do you look at the performance of the Yediyurappa government in Karnataka?</b><br> This question should be addressed to our state party president, H.K. Kumaraswamy, and H.D. Kumaraswamy. They have been critical of the performance of the Yediyurappa government, which has been beleaguered by dissidence.<br> <br> <b>How do you look back at your tenure as the prime minister?</b></p> <p>I have no regrets. I made the best use of the opportunity that God gave me. I was born into a poor peasant family in a remote corner of Karnataka and I never thought I would sit on the chair Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Morarji<b> </b>Desai sat on.<br> When I became prime minister, I worked hard with utmost sincerity for every section of the society. There was not a single scam during my tenure. I had the best officers in the PMO. If God had given me more time, I would have served the poor and the peasants even more.<br> <br> <b>Have you forgiven Sitaram Kesri?</b><br> He was a political colleague and whatever happened was political, not personal. I have no bitterness towards him or anybody.</p> Fri Jun 25 14:44:25 IST 2021 bjp-in-firefighting-mode-to-quell-dissent-in-state-units <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The second wave</b> of Covid-19 has brought to the fore the simmering unrest within the BJP’s state units. The central BJP has had to rush emissaries to at least three states—Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Tripura—to quell rebellion against chief ministers. The emissaries lent a sympathetic ear to the dissenters, but backed the heads of the states.</p> <p>Grumblings within the BJP grew louder as the second wave exposed limits of administrative reach. These voices gained momentum after the party’s poor show in local body elections, which was attributed to the respective chief ministers’ waning popularity. In Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party’s performance in panchayat elections hinted at its revival, while the Congress and the JD(S) gained in Karnataka local bodies polls.</p> <p>Similarly, Tripura, where the BJP had a dream run three years ago, saw the emergence of a new opposition in Pradyot Kishore Manikya Deb Barman’s The Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance; TIPRA won the crucial Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council elections. Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb is also facing a challenge from a group of MLAs, led by Sudip Roy Barman, who was earlier with the Congress and the Trinamool Congress before joining the BJP in 2017. He revolted against Deb after he was dropped from the cabinet.</p> <p>BJP general secretary B.L. Santhosh met leaders and MLAs in Tripura, and the party claimed that the matter was resolved. “In families, these things happen, but the matter has been sorted out,” said state BJP chief Manik Saha.</p> <p>As the assembly elections are due in 2023, the trouble for the BJP is far from over. Trinamool’s new war cry—Khela Hobe, Tripura (Game on, Tripura)—was aimed at the ruling BJP. With BJP national vice president Mukul Roy’s return to the Trinamool, the saffron party will have to be on guard to save its flock, particularly those who had switched sides before the polls. Roy is now determined to bring back the BJP MLAs to Trinamool.</p> <p>The RSS and BJP old-timers had raised concerns over the entry of turncoats into the party during elections. These turncoats had helped the BJP enter unchartered territories, but they also demanded a greater share of power in different states. Wherever those aspirations have not been fulfilled, the party has faced additional pressure.</p> <p>According to BJP general secretary Arun Singh, who is in charge of Karnataka, the revolt against Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa was led by a few leaders who had come from another party and were not aware of the saffron culture. After months of speculation over Yediyurappa’s continuance following allegations of nepotism and corruption, the party threw its weight behind the Lingayat strongman. The party realises his value in winning elections and forming a BJP government in the state. This consideration outweighs any rebellion against any of the chief ministers in the BJP-ruled states.</p> <p>In Uttarakhand, the BJP replaced Trivendra Singh Rawat with Tirath Singh Rawat, following feedback on his inept administration that could spoil the party’s poll prospects next year. A similar change in leadership was initiated in Gujarat when Anandiben Patel was replaced with Vijay Rupani just a year before the 2017 polls. The change in guard was carried out with electoral considerations in mind, and not because of dissent.</p> <p>Various state capitals have been abuzz about leadership change, but the BJP has made it clear that there is no move to dislodge the incumbents. But the political developments in Uttar Pradesh have caught everyone’s eye. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath appears to be firmly in the saddle, but the Covid management during the second wave has led to a lot of resentment on ground, including among party cadre and leaders. Santhosh visited the state twice in a month. There were speculations that former IAS officer A.K. Sharma could be inducted in the Yogi cabinet. The Modi aide, however, was made vice president of the state unit. His entry will add heft to the party organisation in the state.</p> <p>The BJP has been working hard to scotch rumours of a rift in the state unit, but cryptic messages from state leaders are keeping the buzz alive. State cabinet minister Swami Prasad Maurya, an import from the Bahujan Samaj Party during the last elections, said the BJP’s central leadership will decide the chief minister after elections.</p> <p>BJP state spokesperson Manish Shukla, however, said: “The organisation is involved in taking the good work done by the state government in the past four and a half years to the people. Even general secretary B.L. Santhosh’s visit is routine as part of organisational work. Elections are still (far) away.”</p> <p>While parties officially disassociate with dissenting voices, at times, there are attempts to keep the chief ministers under check so that they do not pose any threat to the central leadership. The BJP’s immediate prescriptive solution has been to rejig the party organisation, fill up vacant posts in the organisation, state corporations and boards so that people representing different pressure groups and ambitions are accommodated.</p> <p>What has given hope to party dissenters and will also keep several chief ministers in check is the Assam example. The BJP did not announce a chief ministerial candidate, to keep the peace in the state units. After elections, Himanta Biswa Sarma was picked over Sarbananda Sonowal for the chief minister’s post. Sonowal is expected to be accommodated in the impending Union cabinet expansion.</p> <p>To address power imbalances in several states ahead of the next round of polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and party chief J.P. Nadda have been engaged in intense discussions in the last few weeks. The course correction has already begun.</p> Fri Jun 25 14:40:36 IST 2021 how-pandemic-has-worsened-centre-state-ties <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On June 7, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared what was effectively a ‘one nation, one vaccination policy’ to defeat the pandemic. He announced a return to the original plan of procuring vaccines through a centralised plan. This was one Central intervention that the states welcomed. Opposition parties and non-BJP chief ministers were quick to remind the people that they had been demanding this for long. Many of them had also been highlighting the additional fiscal burden placed on the states by the vaccine bills. The burden had come at a time when their revenues had shrunk and the Goods and Services Tax dues had not been disbursed.</p> <p>That the states had welcomed the Central intervention was ironic. The Centre and the states, especially those ruled by the BJP’s rivals, have increasingly been at odds in recent years, with the states alleging that the Union government was intervening in policymaking and treading upon their jurisdiction. But then, the states had also been exasperated at the slow pace of inoculation, the shortage of vaccines, the harsh responses from the Centre when they asked for more doses, and the restrictions imposed on distributing vaccines. It was these factors that forced the states to demand a decentralised vaccination policy.</p> <p>The underlying tensions became evident during Modi’s speech on June 7. He took a dig at the states, saying the Centre had gone in for decentralisation of vaccine procurement because the states had asked for it, and that his government was now reverting to the original plan.</p> <p>The vaccine issue is just one example of how the already strained relations between the Modi government and some states have worsened during the pandemic, and could actually be damaging the fight against the virus. After the BJP’s defeat in the West Bengal assembly polls, states ruled by BJP rivals have become visibly emboldened. They have been pushing back on what they view as the Centre’s heavy-handedness in dealing with the shortage of vaccines, oxygen cylinders, medicines and equipment.</p> <p>There is huge resentment over the way the Union government has conducted itself during the pandemic. The Centre, specifically Modi, was in the driver’s seat when it declared the lockdown and decided the nitty-gritty of implementing it. But it soon withdrew from the scene when issues like the migrant-labour crisis and the economic fallout from the lockdown blew up.</p> <p>The opposition says the Centre did not do what was needed to procure vaccines, and it then conveniently put the blame on states by making them responsible for buying vaccines for the 18-44 age group. Even now, there is doubt whether the Centre can supply the requisite amount of vaccines.</p> <p>Chief Ministers Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal, Uddhav Thackeray of Maharashtra, Pinarayi Vijayan of Kerala, Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan, M.K. Stalin of Tamil Nadu, Arvind Kejriwal of Delhi and Hemant Soren of Jharkhand have been taking on the Centre. Even Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, seen as neutral, wrote to other chief ministers over the Union government’s Covid vaccination policy.</p> <p>Modi’s pandemic-related interactions have been described by the chief ministers as a one-sided process. His meeting with district magistrates has also not gone down well with them, as they feel it amounts to bypassing the authority of the state governments.</p> <p>“The coming days will prove how well the states are able to establish their place in the federal scheme of things,” said Tiruchi Siva, the DMK’s Rajya Sabha member. “The Union government has, in the past, passed laws that have trampled over the rights of states. This trespass will not be tolerated by the Stalin government.”</p> <p>The BJP has hit back by pointing out that states where its rivals are in power have recorded wastage of vaccines. BJP leaders have highlighted the allegation that hundreds of unused vaccine vials were found in garbage bins in Rajasthan. Recently, when shortage of oxygen cylinders resulted in the Delhi vs Centre tussle reaching the court, the Aam Aadmi Party accused the Union government of discriminatory policies. The BJP countered the charge by asking the state government why it had not utilised Central grants to arrange for adequate oxygen tankers or install oxygen plants.</p> <p>The Modi government has also criticised the Amarinder Singh government in Punjab for selling vaccines to private hospitals instead of giving them for free to the people. The BJP has dubbed it a “vaccine scam”. The state government has responded by withdrawing its order that allowed selling vaccines to private hospitals. The order, it said, was supposed to be a one-off measure to speed up the vaccination process.</p> <p>Senior BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain said non-BJP states were making complaints to score political points. “The Centre has helped the states to the fullest, be it in the case of oxygen or medicines. It mobilised all resources, and deputed the Army to help out,” he said.</p> <p>But, according to senior Congress leader M. Veerappa Moily, the pandemic has only exacerbated the fault lines that have appeared in the federal set up over the past seven years of the Modi government. “In his election rallies, the prime minister asks people to vote for a double-engine government. This is dangerous. Does it mean that if a state is ruled by an opposition party, it is a single-engine entity? This exposes the discriminatory attitude of Modi and the BJP,” he said.</p> <p>Moily said there was an urgent need to call a meeting of a body that is representative of the sentiments of all states, such as the National Integration Council. “The Centre cannot act like a big brother. It should look [towards] collaborating with the states,” he said.</p> <p>Instances of cooperative federalism turning to competitive federalism have been plenty in recent times. State governments where the BJP is not in power have withdrawn the general consent to the Central Bureau of Investigation; clashed over matters related to law and order, and transfer and appointment of officials; opposed the Union government’s contentious farm laws passed last year; and demanded larger shares of revenues from GST. The Centre has been criticised for taking measures that, in effect, reduces the share of the states in the divisible tax pool. It has also allegedly trampled on the powers of the states by introducing the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test and the National Education Policy.</p> <p>Majeed Memon, Rajya Sabha member of the Nationalist Congress Party, said the bitterness between the Centre and the states can be attributed to politics taking precedence over the need to follow Constitutional norms. “In its zeal to pursue its political goals, the Modi government has forgotten that it needs to respect the authority and autonomy of states,” he said.</p> <p>West Bengal has emerged as a focal point of the Centre-state tussle, with the Modi government and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee clashing over a slew of issues. The hostilities peaked when Mamata allegedly walked out of a meeting chaired by Modi to assess the impact of Cyclone Yaas. In the next meeting, chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay, too, left midway with Mamata.<br> Bandyopadhyay later quit IAS and was appointed adviser to Mamata.</p> <p>Trinamool Congress leaders say the BJP-led Union government has been trying to undermine the authority of the state government. They cite the inquiries by Central agencies against party leaders, and the regular interventions by Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar as evidence of this.</p> <p>“What the Centre is doing in West Bengal is a perfect example of what should not be done in Centre-state relations,” said senior Trinamool leader Saugata Roy. “They worked with a sense of hostility in their mad desire to win West Bengal. Now that they have been defeated, they have become vengeful.”</p> <p>Delhi has also been an arena of the Centre-state tussle. A recent amendment to the National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, which granted more powers to the lieutenant governor of Delhi, was the culmination of a long-drawn battle. The latest flashpoint is the Union government’s refusal to approve the AAP government’s scheme to ensure doorstep delivery of rations.</p> <p>“It has become normal for the BJP government at the Centre to slam the four or five state governments that are actually performing,” said Manish Sisodia, Delhi’s deputy chief minister. “The only common link between oxygen management, vaccines, ration and Covid management is the BJP’s deliberate inaction. It is not the Bharatiya Janata Party, it is actually the Bharatiya Jhagada (fight) Party.”</p> Thu Jun 17 20:48:06 IST 2021 modi-government-acts-like-a-domineering-big-brother-bhupesh-baghel <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Bhupesh Baghel says</b> the Centre has been creating hurdles for the states both financially and administratively. According to the Chhattisgarh chief minister, the Narendra Modi government has been responsible for the rise in Centre-state tensions during the pandemic. The Union government centralised all decision-making in the beginning, and when it came under criticism, chose to put the onus on the states. He said the parties heading state governments, even though they come from different ideological streams, will have to come together to safeguard states’ interests.</p> <p>Excerpts from an exclusive interview:</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Do you think the Centre-state relations have &nbsp;worsened of late?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ In a federal structure, the role of the Centre is that of a protective elder brother. But the Modi government has acted as a domineering big brother.</p> <p>Chhattisgarh is an agricultural state, and paddy is the main crop. The Centre said that if we pay a bonus to farmers, the crop will not be procured centrally. This year, 60 lakh metric tonnes rice was to be procured, but they are taking 24 lakh metric tonnes only. We were forced to auction the remaining quantity at Rs1,400 per quintal, incurring a huge loss.</p> <p>The Centre owes us Rs4,104 crore as fine collected from the mines in Chhattisgarh. We have been demanding it for the past two years. Similarly, we are yet to get our share of Rs18,000 crore from the Central excise pool. They have been hurting us financially, too.</p> <p>They are creating hurdles for all the states, whether they are BJP [ruled] or non-BJP [ruled].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> So both the BJP and non-BJP states are having problems.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Yes. For example, paddy cultivation takes place in Chhattisgarh, which is Congress-ruled, as also Bihar, which is under the [BJP-led] National Democratic Alliance. So both are affected. But when it comes to the central investigating agencies, they seem to focus only on non-BJP states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> The tension appears to have grown during the pandemic.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ The Centre is responsible for this. In the beginning, it kept everything under its control. We had to take permission from the Centre for declaring containment zones or opening testing centres. And, when they could not handle the situation, they left everything to us.</p> <p>Vaccines have always been provided by the Centre, be it for polio or other diseases. But, when it was felt by the Centre that it had bungled in procuring Covid-19 vaccines, it made the states responsible for procuring them. It was after the Supreme Court came down heavily on the government that the prime minister announced that the Centre will buy vaccines for all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> You had demanded Central financial assistance in the wake of the pandemic.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ We demanded Rs36,000 crore from the Centre, but we got funds only from the disaster relief fund. Apart from that, we did not get anything. We do not know whether the Centre will refund the money we spent on buying vaccines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Are you satisfied with the vaccination procurement policy announced by Modi?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ So far, there has been no discussion between the Centre and the states on how the vaccines will be distributed. Also, to limit vaccination to people with access to Cowin app is very restrictive. In my state, 40-45 per cent of the area is under forest. There are vast areas where—forget about internet connectivity—there is no phone connection. How will all these people get vaccinated?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> The Centre has been criticising the states for wastage of vaccines.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ The Centre is responsible for the wastage. When there was scarcity of vaccines in the country, they sent it abroad. Also, vials are marked for a certain age group. If there are doses remaining, we cannot administer them to another age group. The criteria are faulty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Recently, we saw intense confrontation between the Centre and the West Bengal government.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ If the prime minister holds a meeting with a chief minister, why should he call the leader of opposition to the meeting? And why did you then not call the leader of opposition to similar meetings in Odisha or Gujarat?</p> <p>Regarding transfer of IAS and IPS officers, concurrence of the state government is sought. It was highly irregular to transfer the West Bengal chief secretary one day before his retirement, and that, too, after you had yourself given him an extension in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Should the states come on a common platform to press their demands?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ There are parties with different ideologies. It has never been our aim to fight with the Centre. But, if all the states are getting affected [by one issue], we can come together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> The states have been up in arms in the Goods and Services Tax council.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ The finance ministers of Congress-ruled states had forcefully demanded reduction of GST on Covid medication and equipment. When a group of ministers was formed [to address the issue], the very people who had raised the demands were kept out of it. It was blatantly unfair.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> What is your advice to Modi on improving Centre-state relations?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ The Centre has wide powers. It should work as a protector and not be vengeful towards the states. The Centre is being vengeful towards the states, be it financially or administratively. &nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 17 20:48:56 IST 2021 india-says-hes-indian-choksi-says-hes-antiguan-dominica-has-to-decide <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Indian government</b> has landed virtually in Dominican courts to get Mehul Choksi deported. With its investigators failing to get their hands on the fugitive diamond trader, India has, for now, decided against dispatching a legal team to Dominica.</p> <p>But the long arm of the law is after him, with former solicitor general Harish Salve (Queen's Counsel) using video links to assist investigators in untying the legal knots Choksi has created to stay put in the Caribbean.</p> <p>India recently filed an affidavit in the Dominican high court—on behalf of the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate—claiming that Choksi was an Indian citizen who was fleeing the law. The CBI and the ED are investigating Choksi's role in the Rs13,500 crore Punjab National Bank fraud case; his nephew Nirav Modi is in a London jail in the same case.</p> <p>Investigators are confident that Salve's involvement will not only pave the way for Choksi's return, but will also set a precedent for those who buy a new nationality to escape the law after committing fraud.</p> <p>The ED is currently chasing another diamond trader who has given up his Indian citizenship for a Saint Kitts one. Another was trying for citizenship of Saint Lucia. The Caribbean, with its paid citizenship programmes, has been a favourite haunt of fugitives. Sleuths said facilities provided to passport holders of these tiny nations, like visa-free travel to more than a hundred countries, is a huge attraction for scamsters. Such citizenships can be retained by just spending a few days on the island.</p> <p>On June 14, after Choksi did not appear before it citing health reasons, the Dominican magistrate’s court adjourned the matter of his illegal entry into the country till June 25. “It is a matter of time. There are two main issues before the court to be addressed first,” said a senior Indian government official. First, Choksi has claimed before the court that he was not an “illegal entrant” in Dominica. In his plea, he claimed the Dominican law on visa allowed him entry into Dominica from Antigua without a passport. Second, he claimed he was kidnapped from Antigua and brought to Dominica against his will, which technically does not make him an illegal entrant.</p> <p>Whatever turn the case takes, Choksi has to be sent out of Dominica. Where he will be sent will depend on which country he is proven to be a citizen of. “If the Indian government proves Choksi's Indian citizenship in the Dominican court, his attempts to save his Antiguan citizenship (the country’s government has decided to rescind it) will also be thwarted, as it makes it easier for the host country to revoke it citing a false declaration he made,” said an investigator privy to the developments.</p> <p>Choksi's lawyer Vijay Aggarwal, however, insisted that his client’s citizenship issue could not be discussed in a Dominican court. “First, in bail proceedings, the question for determination is not citizenship. So this affidavit is uncalled for,” he said. “Moreover, as per section 9 of subsection 1 of the Indian Citizenship Act, Choksi is not a citizen of India and the affidavit is [based on a] fractured understanding of the law.”</p> <p>Interestingly, India submitted the affidavit in the Dominican court after it was legally vetted at the highest level. In the past fortnight, there have been hectic consultations between officials of foreign, home and law ministries; the CBI and ED top brass were also present to discuss the citizenship issue and other legal concerns like the possibility of Choksi seeking legal recourse in the UK’s Privy Council. This was where Salve came in. He helped the Indian agencies fine-tune their response.</p> <p>Union Home Secretary A.K. Bhalla said that, under section 8 of the Citizenship Act, 1955, the declaration of renunciation of citizenship should be registered; the process to do so is explained in rule 38, which says that such a declaration has to be made to the home ministry. The ministry, however, had declined Choksi’s declaration and conveyed its decision to the Indian High Commission in Guyana (where he had submitted his Indian passport). This meant that Choksi never ceased to be an Indian citizen.</p> <p>The Indian government's legal team has also countered Choksi's claim that the foreign ministry revoked his passport in 2018, which deterred him from returning to the country. “Revoking a passport does not mean revoking citizenship,” said an investigator. “Moreover, Choksi could have used an emergency travel document and come to India to face the courts.”</p> <p>But Choksi did not do so.</p> <p>“With citizenship comes certain responsibilities,” said a CBI official. “That is the logic behind being a citizen of any country. It cannot be thrown away after the person commits a crime and wants to get away.”</p> <p>Lennox Linton, leader of the opposition in Dominica, admitted that “rogues, bandits and vagabonds” buy his country’s citizenship and some of them even get diplomatic passports. He cited the examples of fugitives from the US, Italy and other countries being deported to face charges of fraud back home.</p> <p>Indian investigators aside, legal eagles across the world are watching the Choksi saga unfold. Michael Polak, the director of UK-based legal firm Justice Abroad, has insisted that his client was kidnapped from Antigua and should be sent back there so that due process can be followed. “We believe that the aim was for him to be whisked away to India, bypassing the proper legal process in Antigua and Dominica,” he said.</p> <p>All this has triggered a debate about the rights of a fugitive versus the rights of ordinary taxpayers who fell victim to a multi-crore scam. What happens in Dominica could have a ripple effect on cases featuring similar fugitives. The question is: what is more important, citizenship by investment or citizenship by responsibility?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 17 20:19:58 IST 2021 rogues-bandits-and-vagabonds-buy-our-citizenship <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Q/ <b>You said Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit knew of Mehul Choksi’s entry into Dominica.</b></p> <p>A/ Dominican law enforcement authorities received Choksi at sea on May 24, 2021, from two persons who had allegedly kidnapped him. [The two had earlier been] denied entry into Dominica on April 12, on suspicion that they were involved in human smuggling. The alleged kidnappers were allowed to enter Dominica [on May 24], and the yacht and crew were allowed to leave on May 26, no questions asked. On May 25, the national security minister declared Choksi a “prohibited immigrant” who is “not permitted to enter Dominica and the chief of police has been instructed to take all necessary action” to have him “repatriated”. Persons alleged to be involved in the kidnap, torture and forceful transfer of Choksi to Dominica are known to the prime minister and members of his administration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Do you think the Antiguan government knew of Choksi’s journey to Dominica?</b></p> <p>A/ I do not know.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Choksi is a fugitive in India with an Interpol red corner notice issued against him. Should he not be deported soon?</b></p> <p>A/ According to Interpol, a red corner notice is not an international arrest warrant. It is a request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action. Choksi is a citizen by investment in Antigua and Barbuda, where legal action to have him extradited to India is already in progress. Let Choksi and all citizens of the world enjoy the protection, privileges and sanctions of the rule of law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Were you in the courtroom in Dominica when Choksi was brought for the hearing?</b></p> <p>A/ As a Dominican citizen, I was in open court on June 2, following the proceedings in the habeas corpus petition of Choksi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>There are allegations that the opposition in Dominica has been bribed to support Choksi.</b></p> <p>A/ These allegations are totally unfounded and absolutely false.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Do you know Choksi’s brother Chetan? Has he contacted you?</b></p> <p>A/ I do not know Chetan Choksi. I have never met [or] spoken to him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>What is the process of getting Dominican citizenship?</b></p> <p>A/ To be eligible for citizenship under the 'citizenship by investment programme', interested persons must make either a contribution of $1,00,000 (around Rs73 lakh) into the Economic Diversification Fund (EDF) or an investment of $2,00,000 (around Rs1.46 crore) in designated real estate. The process involves an application to the Citizenship by Investment Unit. A letter of approval is given if due diligence confirms applicant to be a fit and proper person to hold Dominican citizenship. Then there is a payment of citizenship fees, followed by issue of certificate of naturalisation and a passport.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>You said that “bandits” enter Dominica with the citizenship. Can you recount some such instances?</b></p> <p>A/ I have said that rogues, bandits and vagabonds buy our citizenship and some of them are even given diplomatic passports (in violation of the UN Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations) to move seamlessly across international borders, committing crimes against humanity.</p> <p>Alireza Monfared, the holder of a Dominican diplomatic passport, is serving a 20-year jail sentence in Tehran for embezzling more than $2 billion from the oil sales of Iran. Another case is of Ng Lap Seng of Macau, the holder of a Dominican diplomatic passport, who was jailed in the US in 2016 for bribing UN officials. Francesco Corallo, the holder of Dominican diplomatic passport, was extradited to Italy from St Maarten in 2017 to face charges of money laundering, tax fraud and bribery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Can the Dominica court decide on Choksi's deportation?</b></p> <p>A/ Choksi has been brought before the magistrate’s court on the charge of illegal entry. I do not know the extent of the court’s mandate in terms of what it can and cannot decide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Do you think the Choksi episode will be a poll issue?</b></p> <p>A/ Elections are constitutionally due in Dominica by May 2025. I do not know whether the Choksi episode will be an issue at that time or whether it will be pushed aside by other more disgraceful behaviour of the ruling party in compromising the international rule of law and the security architecture.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>How are India-Dominica relations?</b></p> <p>A/ Very good.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Have you been to India or met any Indian leaders?</b></p> <p>A/ I have not been to India. I spoke very briefly with former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Vancouver, Canada, in 1987 (Linton was a cub reporter then).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>What are the travel rules from Antigua to Dominica?</b></p> <p>A/ For citizens of the Caribbean Community, travel from Antigua to Dominica requires a passport or driver’s licence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>What do you think should happen now? India wants Choksi back.</b></p> <p>A/ Dominica should return Choksi to Antigua and Barbuda, where he was resident at the time of his alleged kidnap and forced transfer to Dominica.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Is the final court of law for Dominica the Caribbean Court of Justice or the Privy Council in the UK?</b></p> <p>A/ The Caribbean Court of Justice.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 17 20:17:08 IST 2021 why-the-gehlot-pilot-tussle-has-reached-a-stalemate <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>While Congress leader Sachin Pilot camped in Delhi hoping to communicate his grievances to the party’s central leadership, his name began trending on Twitter. A hashtag created by his supporters, #JahanPilotWahanHum, topped the micro-blogging site. A reason for the trend was Jitin Prasada—a restive, young Congress leader like Pilot who, days earlier, had finally decided to cross over to the BJP.</p> <p>In fact, on the morning of June 9 when Prasada was preparing to join the BJP, word had spread about a prominent Congress leader from north India joining the saffron party. Many wondered if it was Pilot. Like Prasada, Pilot had been a member of ‘Team Rahul’, a group of young leaders led by former Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Once seen as the party’s future leadership, they are now unhappy with the present state of the organisation.</p> <p>Prasada’s defection has put the spotlight on Pilot, who has long been locked in a power tussle with Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. Pilot has a long list of grievances, which he says have remained unresolved. His patience is wearing thin.</p> <p>Discontent in the Congress’s Rajasthan unit had been gaining strength over the past weeks. Veteran party MLA Hemaram Choudhary, known to be close to Pilot, recently resigned from the assembly, and a few Pilot loyalists complained that the Gehlot government had neglected their constituencies. Almost a year after peace was brokered between Gehlot and Pilot, there was palpable restlessness in the Pilot camp. It culminated with Pilot openly complaining about the party high command’s unkept promises.</p> <p>Around this time last year, Pilot had raised the banner of revolt against Gehlot and had camped in Haryana along with 18 legislators. He was then removed as deputy chief minister and state party president. There was speculation if he would join the BJP, but AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra soon called a truce between the warring leaders. A three-member committee of Ahmed Patel, K.C. Venugopal and Ajay Maken, who is now AICC general secretary in charge of Rajasthan, was formed to look into the issue.</p> <p>With Prasada’s exit, alarm bells rang in the party’s state unit. Priyanka is learnt to have reached out to Pilot and assured him that his demands would be met. He is also learnt to have been offered an AICC post, but he may not be too keen. The outreach had its impact, with Pilot dialling down the event planned in Dausa to mark the death anniversary of his father and former Congress leader Rajesh Pilot. From a show of strength, the event was reduced to a symbolic function and Pilot attended the party’s protests in Jaipur against rising fuel prices.</p> <p>Pilot has ruled out joining the BJP. After Prasada’s exit, Pilot’s office released pictures of him attending the state Congress committee meeting in Jaipur. Sources close to Pilot say going to the BJP is not an option. He is not in a position to topple the Gehlot government, unlike Jyotiraditya Scindia, another former Team Rahul member whose exit from the party brought down the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh. At the same time, Pilot is not a political lightweight like Prasada; he has considerable influence in Rajasthan.</p> <p>The Pilot camp claims it was promised berths in the Gehlot cabinet, the state committee and government boards and corporations. Pilot loyalists have been accommodated in the organisation, but the other promises reportedly remain unfulfilled.</p> <p>“Sachin Pilot <i>ji</i>’s remarks are justified,” said Congress MLA Ramniwas Gawriya. “It took the efforts of lakhs of Congress workers to come to power. We placed their grievances before the high command. Eleven months have passed since the assurances were given, but the grievances have still not been resolved.”</p> <p>A leader close to Pilot pointed out that, in contrast to Rajasthan, a three-member committee formed by the high command in Punjab held meetings with state party leaders and submitted its report to the central leadership in just three days.</p> <p>As the politicking in the Congress gathers momentum, Maken has assured that a cabinet expansion and political appointments will take place soon. “All grievances will be dealt with and an amicable solution will be found,” he said.</p> <p>Nine berths in the Gehlot cabinet are lying vacant. The cabinet currently has 21 members. Pilot’s demand is that his loyalists should get at least six berths.</p> <p>State Congress president Govind Singh Dotasra, learnt to be close to Gehlot, said that the appointments to district committees and other party councils will be completed this month. The cabinet expansion and other appointments will be done in July. “Although this is the jurisdiction of the chief minister, Maken <i>ji </i>has himself said it would happen. So there should be no room for any speculation,” he said.</p> <p>But it is easier said than done. Those close to Gehlot cite the necessity to accommodate some of the 13 independent legislators who support the government and the six Bahujan Samaj Party MLAs who had joined the Congress. Also, a war of words continues between legislators loyal to Gehlot and those who belong to the Pilot camp. In the midst of the bitterness, the lingering mistrust became evident when an MLA known to be close to Pilot alleged that phones of Congress legislators were being tapped.</p> <p>Gehlot takes solace from the divide in the state BJP unit, believing that it would not be able to capitalise on the divisions in the Congress. His government is not under any immediate threat, even if Pilot and his supporters were to be counted out. And, in the changed political circumstances, the Gandhis are also learnt to be fully backing Gehlot, who has over the past several months emerged as a major supporter at a time when questions are being raised about their credentials to lead the party.</p> <p>Also, even as Pilot loyalists say they continue to stay united behind the former deputy chief minister, Gehlot has made attempts to win over some of them. MLAs known to be close to Pilot, such as Vishvendra Singh, P.R. Meena and Inder Ram Gujjar have made public statements that were seemingly in praise of Gehlot. Also, the chief minister has added to the uncertainty about the cabinet expansion by deciding not to have any in-person meetings for the next two months, citing doctor’s advice to prevent post-Covid complications.</p> <p>Both the camps are also factoring in the next assembly elections, due in 2023. While Gehlot would want to have complete control over the organisation in the run-up to the polls, Pilot would want to have a stake in it and demand a share of seats for his candidates.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the party high command is keen to ensure that Pilot does not go the Scindia-Prasada way. It has a rather difficult task: strike a fine balance between Pilot and Gehlot, one of the party’s only three incumbent chief ministers.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 17 19:36:43 IST 2021 the-bjps-motives-behind-jitin-prasadas-move-from-congress <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Jitin Prasada has had a troubled stay in the Congress in the last few years. He was restive and felt sidelined. It came as no surprise to the party when the Uttar Pradesh leader recently crossed over to the BJP. Though the BJP played it up, the party does not consider him a political heavyweight like Jyotiraditya Scindia.</p> <p>Prasada, 47, was one of the youngest ministers in the first Manmohan Singh government. But Congress leaders say his prominence was on account of his proximity to Rahul Gandhi and, in some measure, the political legacy of his father Jitendra Prasada.</p> <p>“He could not win the Lok Sabha election in 2019. Prior to that, he lost the assembly election in 2017. If such people leave the party, it is not going to make any difference,” said UP Congress chief Ajay Kumar Lallu.</p> <p>Prasada is learnt to have felt sidelined in party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s scheme of things in UP. He had almost switched over to the BJP ahead of the 2019 elections, but Rahul persuaded him to stay. He was among the G-23 signatories of the rebellious letter sent to party chief Sonia Gandhi in August 2020. And his appointment as West Bengal in-charge was seen as a way of plucking him out of Priyanka’s way.</p> <p>The BJP is looking to make some gains from this development. It is hoped that a prominent face from a rival party crossing at a time when the state government is criticised for its handling of the pandemic would shift the narrative. Also, the BJP sees Prasada as a saleable face from the Brahmin community as the Yogi Adityanath regime struggles to get rid of its anti-Brahmin and pro-Thakur image.</p> <p>Most important, the BJP hopes it would further damage the stock of the Gandhis as yet another leader close to Rahul leaves the party. For the Congress, while it has described Prasada’s exit as a non-event, questions abound on why leaders like Prasada were promoted despite their ineffectiveness and suspect loyalty.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 17 19:32:51 IST 2021 meet-srikanth-pai-the-man-who-developed-india-black-fungus-drug <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN 2011, A TEAM</b> of researchers at the Bharat Serums and Vaccines lab in Mumbai was basking in the afterglow of creating a generic drug to combat life-threatening fungal infections. Little did they know that, a decade later, their drug—liposomal amphotericin B—would be India’s answer to treating the dreaded black fungus (mucormycosis).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Srikanth Annappa Pai, who led the BSV research team, is happy to have helped, but is also concerned. India currently has about 28,252&nbsp;cases of black fungus, which affects the eyes, nose and eventually the brain of people with a suppressed immune system. The fungal infection is a post-Covid-19 complication, especially found in patients who were administered excessive and early steroids to treat the virus, say experts. The steroids likely led to uncontrolled diabetes. Many have succumbed to the infection, and many others have lost their vision to it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Worse, a severe shortage of the lifesaving drug has forced the Centre to augment its production and distribution, and also import it. The liposomal amphotericin B injection is out of stock, which has led to hoarding and black-marketing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given the huge disease burden and the fact that each patient would require at least 60 vials for a two-week treatment, India will need at least 16.95 lakh vials to treat the existing batch of patients. Notably, states such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Karnataka are reporting a spike in black fungus cases and are seeking a higher allocation of the drug.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Centre is in the process of importing 6.8 lakh vials, while ramping up domestic production to 2.55 lakh vials in June compared with 1.63 lakh vials in May.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Drugs Controller General of India recently granted approval to five more pharma companies to produce the drug; six are already doing it. The Centre has also imposed curbs on the drug’s export and has exempted it from the goods and services tax.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pai, a development pharmacist who has spent more than three decades in the field, said he was wary of fast-tracking drug development by new entrants as it might compromise the safety of the drug. He also stressed on the need for comparative studies on toxicity before new brands are given approval for emergency use. “[Old players like] BSV, Sun Pharma and Cipla already have the technology to produce liposomal amphotericin B and can ramp up production,” he said. “The emulsion-based variant of the drug (amphotericin B emulsion) can also be used for Covid-19 patients as it is found to be safe for HIV and other immuno-compromised patients. The production of amphotericin emulsion is a single-day process unlike the liposomal variant, which takes five days.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The emulsion variant was also used to treat kala azar (visceral leishmaniasis) in Bihar. “Earlier, the conventional drug was being administered for 30 days (0.5mg per day) and, hence, needed a longer hospital stay,” he said. “But our product (emulsion) could be administered in a single day (15mg), which reduced the hospital stay.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking to THE WEEK from his Mumbai residence, Pai reminisced about his journey from Gangolli, a small village in Udupi district of Karnataka, and his long association with BSV, which was producing biological products (not chemically synthesised) till Pai started the research and development department for tablets and capsules.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pai did his BPharm at the Government College of Pharmacy (1975) in Bengaluru and MPharm in Manipal before landing in Mumbai. “My elder brother studied medicine,” he said. “But I could not pursue MBBS as colleges were few and my family could not afford to pay donation. Those days, BPharm was not widely known. But my elder sister, a food technologist who was working in Mumbai, told me about the course. I got a merit scholarship from the state government. Once in Mumbai, I gained a lot of experience from pharma stalwarts Dr G.B. Rama Sarma and Dr R.S. Baichwal (Glaxo). BSV, under Dr Gautam Daftary as technical director, encouraged me to aggressively pursue innovation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the early 2000s, the drug AmBisome, a lipid-based formulation of amphotericin B, was being used to treat fungal infections. The US-based company Gilead Sciences owned the patent, but the European patent had expired in 2008. The BSV team was keen to develop a generic drug as the branded product was not only expensive, but difficult to get. Pai had worked with eight different companies, including Glaxo, before joining BSV in 1995.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It was a big challenge as India did not have the necessary technology to redevelop a drug,” he said. “Only a fundamental formula of the drug was given to us. So, we had to do all three stages of development ourselves and needed permissions from the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) and European Medicines Agency before the trials. We had started developing liposomal amphotericin B in 2004 and it took nearly eight years to launch the product.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pai was also involved in developing all four variants (injections) of amphotericin B at BSV. “Our generic product is a broad-spectrum antibiotic that remains in the blood for a long time unlike the conventional (original) drug, which disappears fast from the blood and gets excreted through the kidneys,” he said. “In the conventional drug, amphotericin was being dissolved in sodium deoxycholate, which is nephrotoxic (damaging to the kidneys) and usually 0.5mg is given per kilo of body weight. BSV developed a lipid complex amphotericin B (Ampholip), which was 20 times safer than the conventional one. We got a product-process patent for it. The liposomal amphotericin B was developed in 2011.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pai has filed 16 patents on BSV’s behalf, but the first one remains special. “I developed Propofol, an induction agent for general anaesthesia used in major surgery,” he said. “While developing amphotericin, the challenge was to prevent endotoxin (by-products of bacterial growth) from entering the product. The [making of the] liposomal product is a three-stage process. If we made a mistake at any stage, we would know only at the end of the process and would have to repeat all three stages.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the fact that BSV had a sound intellectual property cell, analytical development cell and the services of a patent attorney made all the difference. “For any generic drug, we need to verify if there is already a patent for the product, or the process,” he said. “Any infringement attracts huge damages in the global market. A patent attorney from Mumbai supported us with infringement opinion and freedom to operate in global markets.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since his retirement in 2012, Pai has been a freelance consultant working on a couple of projects in some European countries, Russia and Belarus. “In India, the drug manufacturers do not use the services of product developers after the transfer of technology,” he said. “India has many product researchers like me and I urge the government to avail our services by setting up a technology development centre to support innovation. We are retired professionals and cannot invest crores to build the centre. The drug developers do clinical studies abroad as it has wider acceptance and it is necessary for USFDA and EMA approvals. The trials are sometimes sponsored by government funding. Though India is as good as other countries, there is an inherent bias against us. I hope this mindset changes soon. The government must focus on product and technology development. A good product developed in the lab has no value if it is not commercialised.”</p> Thu Jun 10 18:16:48 IST 2021 the-campaign-against-the-administration-is-run-by-kerala <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For more than a month now, Lakshadweep administrator Praful Khodabhai Patel has been in the eye of the storm. Lakshadweep residents, including several BJP leaders, are unhappy over a slew of decisions taken by his administration. Patel, a former minister of state for home from Gujarat and a close confidante of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, denies there is any “saffron agenda” in his decisions. And, the fears of the islanders are unfounded, he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lakshadweep residents fear that their land will be taken away from them and given to outsiders in the name of development.</b></p> <p>This is due to a lack of information on their part. Development authorities are necessary. We want to bring well-planned development to Kavaratti and other islands. Hence, the proposal to form a [Lakshadweep] Development Authority. The fears are unfounded.</p> <p><b>Why not consult with local elected bodies and islanders?</b><br> The draft notifications have been kept in the public notice as per the rules. We received several objections. These objections were studied and then the proposals had been forwarded to the Centre. How would the objections come if they were not aware?</p> <p>My understanding is that the opposition [to the proposals] has begun from Kerala. The Union territory is independent. The campaign [against the administration] is run by Kerala.</p> <p><br> <b>You have banned beef and aided the sale of liquor on an island group with a 95 per cent Muslim population.</b></p> <p>Why is everything seen from a communal angle? It is to promote tourism. The permit for liquor is in resorts and for tourists. This has been clarified repeatedly.</p> <p><br> <b>What was the need to bring in the Goonda Act at a place where there is hardly any crime?</b><br> There is an international sea route. In the past, there have been instances of drugs, weapons and ammunition being caught. There have been cases of marijuana smuggling on the island.</p> <p>If murders are not reported in a particular state, then would that mean that one would do away with Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code? What is the point in bringing in law after something happens?</p> <p><b>Even the Lakshadweep BJP leaders are unhappy with your administrative measures.</b></p> <p>I would not know much about the BJP as I am on a constitutional post. I am not aware of it.</p> <p><b>What was the reason to do away with the mandatory quarantine in Kerala before coming to Lakshadweep?</b><br> <br> </p> <p>Not a single case was registered in Lakshadweep until December 2020 as inter-state boundaries were closed. Thereafter there were time-to- time instructions from the Government of India to open inter-state borders.</p> <p>The locals, too, [wanted to travel back and forth]. For the source of livelihood, they have to go to the neighbouring state. There is no alternative.</p> <p>We have followed the standard operating procedures of the Union government. Some had an objection and went to Kerala High Court. The court upheld the Lakshadweep SOP with relaxed guidelines. Later a division bench rejected the petition [challenging the revised SOP].</p> <p><b>Why have the rules been made stringent to airlift persons from one island to another?</b><br> There is nothing like this. From mid-May onwards, both sea and air travel get disturbed due to the monsoon. The all-weather vehicle is used to go from mainland to islands. These are the problems during the monsoon. Choppers can fly in clear weather.</p> <p><b>The proposed changes would have been thought over for quite some time. Were central leaders consulted?</b></p> <p>The question of consulting central leaders does not arise. We have sent a proposal. The decision to bring in a law, make changes or cancel it are taken collectively by looking into the local situation.</p> <p><b>Will the changes harm the coral reefs and damage the ecological balance of Lakshadweep?</b></p> <p>The face of Lakshadweep will change if we work in the field of tourism, coconut, fishing and seaweeds. We are working towards it. The Union ministry of environment [forest and climate change] has given clearance for the anchor projects. The people of Lakshadweep are very sober and good.</p> <p><b>Share your vision of developing Lakshadweep and how it will benefit the locals.<br> <br> </b>It has been only four months since I took charge as administrator of Lakshadweep. I have visited the place four times. I have visited all the 10 islands that are inhabited.<br> There has been hardly any development after 73 years of independence. Taking this into consideration, we have done planning. The airstrip is only 1,280 meters long. If you want to promote international tourism, you need to increase the length of the airstrip. Currently, there is only one flight in a day and that, too, has a capacity of 50. It is an ATR aircraft. We have sent a proposal to the Government of India to increase the length of the airstrip and that is in the pipeline.</p> <p><br> There are about 10.5 lakh coconut trees and these bear fruit nine times in a year. Unfortunately, despite so much production, nobody has taken special care. Had care been taken, local farmers would have benefitted much more, financially. We have had marathon meetings with Kerala’s Coir Board and have sought their support. We are looking towards setting up processing units in Lakshadweep.<br> <br> <br> </p> <p>According to scientists, the island can get a catch of one lakh metric tonnes, per year, of tuna fish. Currently, the catch is between 16,000 and 25,000 metric tonnes. It is a premium fish. It can get good rates in south east Asian countries.<br> <br> </p> <p>It is unfortunate that for 73 years, the fishermen did not have facilities to freeze adequate quantities of fish. We have set up three storage plants of five tonnes capacity. We have been wanting to see that fish is directly exported. Only a couple of days ago, one tonne of fish was exported to Japan from Agatti via Bengaluru. The fishermen fetched three times the price. Japan is one of the biggest markets for tuna fish and we are trying to build a supply chain based on what Japan wants. The new set up will bring in a change in the lives of fishermen.</p> <p><br> Lakshadweep is a place which can become the country’s biggest hub for the production of seaweed. A raft for this is in the making and the work will restart soon after monsoon. We will rope in women from the self-help groups and this would increase their per capita income.</p> <p><br> With the help of Niti Aayog, we are working on three anchor projects in Minicoy, Kadmat and Suheli. Global tenders of these should be possibly out by July end and this would help in giving employment to the locals.</p> <p>Till now there have been hardly any facilities for higher education in Lakshadweep. A polytechnic college has been planned in Minicoy. It will have streams of mechanical, marine, electrical engineering and hotel management. We have a shortfall of nurses and we get it from Kerala. We are starting a nursing college in Kavaratti from this academic session. We have introduced green and clean energy.<br> We are also upgrading hospital facilities at four places, including Minicoy and Kavaratti.</p> <p><br> <b>If national security was the concern, why not focus on the uninhabited islands?<br> <br> </b>Out of the 36 islands, 10 are habited. Out of the 26 remaining islands, from the reports that I have, I can say that six islands are almost submerged. On some of these islands we are planning tourism. We would not know the movements there. The Government of India has approved two seaplanes for inter-island connectivity.<br> Connectivity was so much of an issue there. In December 2020, the Government of India, at the cost of Rs 1,023 crore, approved submarine cable to enable good connectivity and network in the area in a bid to step up development.<br> We have asked the Indian Oil Corporation to put up retail outlets on the island. Why should the government manage oil and gas? It should be given to others.<br> Locals will get the benefit if development takes place in Lakshadweep.<br> What do I say when even Amul is opposed? Good pasteurised milk is opposed.<br> It is a development agenda. Wherever there are leakages, these need to be plugged. Such measures are double-edged swords.</p> <p><b>Are there cows in large numbers in Lakshadweep?</b></p> <p>There are 1,100 cow-owning families in Lakshadweep. There are bans on cow slaughter in many states. There are many such laws in different<b> </b>states of the country and this is one such.<b> </b>Take for example the mid-day meal scheme. Till now, beef was also<b> </b>served to students. Collector presides over the committee that decides<b> </b>on the menu. The idea is to provide nutrition. Now fish is being given. It<b> </b>has to do with nutrition and not the food habit. Beef has to be brought<b> </b>from the mainland.</p> <p>Some say that we are saffronising it. If we were to do it, would we not have made it all vegetarian? There is no need to give colour to it.</p> <p>The controversy is digital. What is the agenda behind the protest? They talk about the two-child norm [a law to disqualify those with more than two children from contesting in panchayat elections] but do not talk about 50 per cent reservation for women in elected bodies. Nobody is saying anything if the person has 25 children. The norm comes into force from the day the Act comes into force. Even Maharashtra has a similar Act.</p> <p><b>Is there an order that a government officer should accompany every fishing vehicle?</b></p> <p>Officers could have done the arrangement temporarily owing to security reasons. It is an administrative process based on the information received by the officers.</p> <p><b>Mohan Delkar, former MP from Dadra and Nagar Haveli, mentioned you in his suicide note.</b></p> <p>It is painful. The reason is that the incident itself is painful. But it is a fact that an FIR has been registered, naming the talati [village accountant], deputy collector, collector and law secretary.... My name is also in the FIR. The FIR is against the entire [administrative] hierarchy. I would not say anything as the matter is sub judice.</p> Thu Jun 10 20:18:19 IST 2021 hawala-scandal-multiple-bribery-charges-threaten-credibility-of-the-kerala-bjp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On March 25, a few days before the assembly elections in Kerala, state BJP president K. Surendran said his party would be making headlines once the results were out. His predictions have come true and how!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After hogging the headlines for losing the lone seat it had in the assembly, despite a high decibel campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the BJP is once again in the news, and for all the wrong reasons. The party is facing a hawala scandal and its senior leaders are being interrogated by the police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It all started with a highway heist in the wee hours of April 3, three days before the elections. Nine men intercepted a car—which was on its way from Thrissur to Ernakulam—at Kodakara, by staging a fake accident. They looted the money being carried in the car. The car belonged to Kozhikode resident Shamjeer Shamsuddin; the driver was Abdul Rasheed, also from Kozhikode.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Four days later, Shamjeer filed a police complaint stating that Rs25 lakh, belonging to his employer A.K. Dharmarajan, a real estate businessman, was looted from the car. Shamjeer told the police that the money was being taken to Kochi for a real estate deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Based on Shamjeer’s complaint the police registered a criminal case under Section 395 of the Indian Penal Code. “It looked like a highway robbery initially. But the picture changed as we started apprehending the robbers and recovering the money,” said a police officer. “The amount recovered was much more than what was stated by the complainants.” The police found that 03.5 crore was looted from the car, and this put the complainants under police radar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Upon further investigation, the police found that Dharmarajan was earlier into the liquor business and was jailed once for smuggling illicit spirit. Two cases are still pending against him. On being questioned, Dharmarajan said he got the money from Sunil Naik, former state treasurer of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha. Naik told the police that Dharmarajan was his business associate and that the money was meant for real estate business, as stated in the complaint.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Dharmarajan kept changing his statements and we felt that there were more skeletons in his cupboard. Gradually, the complainant became a suspect,” said the officer. Dharmarajan later claimed that he was a BJP leader with “connections” and that the money was for election expenses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dharmarajan said it was BJP’s Thrissur district secretary K.K. Aneeshkumar who had booked him a room in the city. Aneeshkumar confirmed it, but said he did so because Dharmarajan was in charge of supplying printed campaign material. “The BJP has no connection with the hawala robbery case,” said Aneeshkumar, who was the BJP candidate from Kunnamkulam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When questioned further, Dharmarajan said the money was meant to be handed over to M. Ganeshan, general secretary (organisation) of the BJP’s state unit. He said the BJP’s Alappuzha district treasurer, K.G. Kartha, too, was aware of the issue. Both leaders, however, denied the allegation and said they knew Dharmarajan only as the supplier of election material.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After analysing Dharmarajan’s call records, the police found that senior BJP leaders had contacted him on the days before and after the heist. The name of Surendran’s son, too, is said to be on the list. The police now believe that Dharmarajan brought nearly Rs10 crore to Thrissur. He handed over Rs6.30 crore to BJP leaders in Thrissur and it was the rest of the money that got robbed. In yet another twist in the case, Dharmarajan, Naik and Shamjeer filed a petition in a local court on June 8 to get back the money confiscated by the police, conceding that the car had, in fact, contained Rs3.5 crore. The petitioners claimed that the money was for business purposes and that they had the documents to prove its source.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The state government has set up a special investigation team under Thrissur range deputy inspector general A. Akbar and it has so far arrested 20 suspects. The Enforcement Directorate sought details of the case, which the police submitted on June 1.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as the state BJP has completely distanced itself from the hawala scandal, party circles are rife with conspiracy theories. While many point at the intense faction feud within the state unit as the main reason behind the controversy, some say the heist was an “inside job”. The issue got further complicated as Rishi Palpu, state vice president of the BJP’s OBC Morcha, alleged that some senior leaders were involved. Surendran expelled Palpu from the party within hours of his making the allegation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More trouble was in store for Surendran as K. Sundara, the BSP candidate from Manjeshwaram—one of the two seats from where Surendran contested—alleged that Surendran gave him Rs2.5 lakh and a smartphone to withdraw his nomination. Sundara said he was promised Rs15 lakh and a house and a wine parlour in Karnataka if Surendran won. Interestingly, in the 2016 assembly elections, Surendran lost from Manjeshwar by just 89 votes, while Sundara, who contested as an independent candidate, polled 467 votes. “Surendran felt that the similarity between our names might confuse voters and hence asked me to step aside,” said Sundara. Although Sundara withdrew, Surendran lost by a margin of 745 votes to United Democratic Front candidate A.K.M. Ashraff. The Kasaragod first class judicial magistrate has granted permission to file a case against Surendran under Section 171B of the IPC (bribery to sabotage electoral rights) following a petition by the CPI(M) candidate V.V. Ramesan, who finished third. The Kasaragod district crime branch is investigating the case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adding to Surendran’s woes is a leaked audio conversation between him and a close aide of tribal leader C.K. Janu of the Janadhipathya Rashtriya Party (JRP). Praseetha Azhikode, treasurer of the JRP, alleged that Janu had demanded Rs10 crore from Surendran to return to the National Democratic Alliance before the elections. According to the audio clip, Surendran offered Janu Rs10 lakh. The JRP returned to the NDA at the concluding function of the BJP’s Vijaya Yatra in Thiruvananthapuram on March 7.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Janu, who lost from the Sultan Bathery constituency in Wayanad district by a huge margin, however, denied the allegation. “If I needed money, I could easily ask Surendran…. I can even contact Shah. These are baseless allegations,” she said. Surendran, too, has denied the charges. “Neither did she ask me for money, nor did I give any. We had election expenses in Sultan Bathery, and everything was met as usual,” he said. Praseetha, however, said she was sure that Janu got the money and released more audio evidence against Surendran. “Am I a fool to raise baseless allegations against the state president of the party which rules the country?” she asked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surendran’s secretary and driver were already quizzed by the police. And there is a possibility of his son being questioned as well. When asked whether his son had called Dharmarajan, Surendran said it was for the police to find out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The morale of the Kerala BJP, which is at rock bottom following the devastating poll defeat, has been further affected by the fresh allegations. “Money was splurged like never before in the elections as the state unit had given an impression to the central leadership that the party would win at least 15 seats. Some leaders might have felt that nobody would notice if a few crores went missing from the huge amount provided,” said a senior BJP leader who is side-lined in the party now. “The party has lost its face, thanks to the selfishness of a few.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP state unit, however, said the state government was playing politics by targeting Surendran. “The CPI(M) is trying to demoralise our cadre by dragging the state president into the matter. Our party has no link to the hawala case,” said former state president Kummanam Rajasekharan. Union Minister V. Muraleedharan, too, said the police were deliberately focusing on Dharmarajan to trap BJP leaders. “Dharmarajan is the complainant in the case, but the police are tracing his call list instead of that of the culprits. They are being vindictive,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, however, alleged that there was an understanding between the CPI(M) and the BJP. Opposition leader V.D. Satheeshan said the government was going soft on the BJP and no top leader was arrested so far. “Everybody who is involved in the case must be brought to book,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP national leadership has stepped in finally, sensing the turmoil in the state unit. It has ordered an internal inquiry into the matter and has summoned Surendran to Delhi. State leaders have been asked to get their act together and not to air personal opinions on the matter.</p> Thu Jun 10 17:16:31 IST 2021 praful-patels-moves-a-threat-to-our-identity-say-lakshadweep-residents <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A week before the third year anniversary of the first Narendra Modi government, then BJP president Amit Shah landed in Lakshadweep. He spent three days there, attending public meetings and holding private sessions with a cross section of society. It was the first time a BJP national leader had set foot on the islands. And, the time Shah devoted for Lakshadweep, which has a single Lok Sabha seat, made many curious. During his visit—Modi soon followed suit—Shah called Lakshadweep “one of the most beautiful spots” in the world. Modi, too, visited the archipelago in 2017, immediately after Cyclone Ockhi hit the area.</p> <p>Today, it has become a hotspot of agitation and unrest, owing to a slew of measures initiated by the home ministry under Shah. The proposals—ranging from a ban on beef to disqualification of panchayat poll aspirants with more than two children—have led to turmoil in these serene islands. Introduced by administrator Praful Khodabhai Patel, these policy changes could allegedly change the very character of the fragile islands and its inhabitants, who are Muslims classified as scheduled tribes.</p> <p>On top of it, Patel introduced an anti-goonda act in a territory that has one of the lowest crime rates in the country. He also set up a development authority with unilateral powers to acquire land for “development purposes”.</p> <p>“We have been living in peace for ages and all the previous administrators have been so good to us,” said Padma Shri Dr S. Rahmath Beegum, the first woman surgeon in the islands. “How can they now make us feel like outsiders in our own homeland? They say all these legislations are meant for developing the island. But don’t they know that there is no meaning in development if the public is ousted from the process?” That is a common refrain one hears among islanders.</p> <p>“What we feel is that the ruling party wants to hand over the island to big investors by making us refugees in our own land,” said T.A. Faizal, a former panchayat representative. “The Lakshadweep Development Authority has been formed to usurp our land.” The administration, he said, had taken away all the powers that panchayat bodies once had.</p> <p>Lakshadweep is a group of 36 islands, of which only 10 are inhabited. Islanders said that the decisions to allow sale of liquor and to ban beef were deliberate. “As 97 per cent of inhabitants are Muslims, it is easy to give a communal colour to the whole issue. You bring in the term ‘beef’ and it is easy to polarise and divert the attention from the real issue,” said Dr Fausiya A.A., a postdoctoral fellow at IIT Kanpur. The motive behind these moves, she said, was to gain “complete control” over Lakshadweep. “It is ‘hot property’ with huge monetary value for them,” she said. “But this is our ancestors’ land and our attachment to it cannot be severed.”</p> <p>Political parties, including the Lakshadweep unit of the BJP, have opposed the moves. They have written to the Centre demanding that Patel be recalled and his proposals reviewed. “All these draft proposals have been introduced without consulting people. Everything smacks of an ulterior agenda,” said Lakshadweep MP Mohammed Faizal. The decision to serve liquor in inhabited islands, said the NCP leader, is meant to hurt sentiments. “If promotion of tourism is the real intention, then it is already being done in resorts in Bangaram island,” he said. “People are okay with it. Why bring it to the inhabited islands?”</p> <p>According to Lakshadweep Congress president Hamdulla Sayeed, Patel “is just executing what Shah has told him to do”. BJP general secretary H.K. Mohammed Kasim told THE WEEK that the party unit “will not allow anything that affects the harmony and peace of our land”.</p> <p>But BJP national vice president and <i>prabhari</i> of Lakshadweep A.P. Abdullakutty played the development card. “Lakshadweep is decades behind the mainland in terms of development and connectivity,” he said. “All these measures are intended to transform the islands into a sought-after tourist destination. The natives will only benefit from that.”</p> <p>Abdullakutty also highlighted the strategic importance of Lakshadweep, saying that it is very important from the naval point of view. “China has its base in Sri Lanka, so Lakshadweep has to be under watchful eyes,” he said.</p> <p>But experts are not willing to buy this line of argument. “The strategic significance of Lakshadweep has always been there,” said A.K. Ramakrishnan, professor, international relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Likewise with the Chinese presence. “Even if that is the real case, the issue can be addressed by upping the naval presence rather than unsettling the lives of the inhabitants,” he said.</p> <p>Meanwhile in Kerala, which is just 200km off the islands, all parties, except the BJP, came together to protest the “unilateral moves” of the “Sanghi administrator”. The state assembly passed a unanimous resolution demanding Patel’s removal.</p> <p>Film personalities, too, came out in support of the islanders, starting with actor-director Prithviraj, whose tweet brought the issue to public attention.</p> <p>Lakshadweep and Kerala have a historic relationship. The inhabitants of the islands are said to be migrants from the mainland, and the language they speak, except in one island, is a dialect of Malayalam.</p> <p>From 1500 to 1900, the islands were under the rule of Arakkal Beevi, a Kannur-based royal family that follows a matrilineal system. The title was transferred to the British in 1905 and in return, the family was promised an amount equal to Rs23,000 every year; it was brought down to Rs3,000 in 2018. According to Harshad Adiraja, a descendant, the Arakkal family used Lakshadweep as a transit hub for its international trade. “The Lakshadweep people are the most peaceful lot I have ever seen. There is no theft and every one feels safe there,” he said, adding that the family felt helpless at the current situation.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 03 16:05:19 IST 2021 lakshadweep-locals-are-not-buying-bjps-narrative-for-change-on-the-islands <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Lakshadweep erupted</b> in protest over the series of laws proposed for the islands. The opposition is aimed at new administrator Pratul Khoda Patel, who is close to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Patel has been rigorous in pushing the changes, as he had done during his tenure as administrator of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Daman and Diu. The earlier administrators at Lakshadweep were retired bureaucrats who engaged with the locals.</p> <p>Following the controversy on the islands, the government went into damage control. The Union territory administration stated that the proposed changes were done to provide a safety net for tourism activities. But it impressed no one. The BJP’s state leaders were rattled as several leaders resigned, fearing it would be difficult to engage with the closely knit society that has a population of just over 65,000 (Census 2011). The islands had earlier witnessed anti-CAA protests, and so, the opposition to the new rules was treated as an extension of that.</p> <p>Home Minister Amit Shah had to finally step in. A BJP delegation including party in-charge of Lakshadweep A.P. Abdullakutty and Lakshadweep party chief Abdul Khadar Haji first met BJP chief J.P. Nadda, and then Shah. The home minister also separately met Lakshadweep’s member of parliament, Mohammed Faizal P.P. of the NCP.</p> <p>Faizal said that while he sought the removal of Patel as administrator, Shah assured him that the changes in the proposed regulations would be carried out only after consulting local residents. “The notification will be sent back to Lakshadweep for scrutiny among panchayats and local people,” said Faizal. “Their views will be considered.” While Faizal’s opinion will matter among the people, the BJP has also reassured its local unit. “He has given assurance to an MP,” said Faizal. “We will give due respect to the home minister’s word, and wait and see how his promises go in the future.”</p> <p>Abdullakutty said that Shah told the BJP delegation that bureaucrats had created the proposal and the government would also give its suggestions. “We will collect people’s opinion, only then will it come before the ministry,” he said. BJP leaders say that opinion expressed within the party against the regulations showed the “democratic nature” of the party. The party’s claim is that the protests are being orchestrated from Kerala and not from within the islands. “In Kerala, the state assembly had earlier passed a resolution during CAA and demonetisation, like they have done now against the proposed regulations. They have turned the assembly into a public meeting ground,” said Abdullakutty.</p> <p>Faizal said they would continue their protests against Patel. “He enacted laws that are against the ecologically sensitive islands,” he said. “All issues started when he took over. We will launch a non-cooperation movement against Patel.”</p> Thu Jun 03 16:01:39 IST 2021 meet-praful-khodabhai-patel--the-controversy-king <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Eleven years ago,</b> when Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi handpicked Praful Khodabhai Patel as minister of state for home, it surprised many—even within the BJP. Not only was Patel a first-time MLA, he was chosen to succeed state home minister Amit Shah, who had resigned following his arrest in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh alleged fake encounter case. Patel was minister of state for home affairs from 2010 till the 2012 assembly election, which he lost.</p> <p>Two years later, Modi became prime minister and moved to Delhi. And in 2016, he named Patel administrator of Daman and Diu, causing eyebrows to be raised yet again. Till then, only bureaucrats were appointed to the post. That December, Patel was made administrator of Dadra and Nagar Haveli. When the two Union territories were merged in 2020, he was named its inaugural administrator. His stint in Lakshadweep began from December 2020.</p> <p>Patel has been controversial in all his postings. During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Dadra and Nagar Haveli collector Kannan Gopinathan alleged that Patel had issued directions that violated the Model Code of Conduct. This year, his name figured in the suicide note of MP Mohan Delkar. Now in Lakshadweep, citizens and activists are opposing several of his decisions.</p> <p>That Patel has Modi’s backing is quite evident. Modi was a regular visitor at his home, dropping in to meet Patel’s father, Khodabhai, an RSS man. Patel is said to be one of Modi’s trusted aides; he is also close to Union Home Minister Shah and former Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel. He reportedly helped Modi when the latter was banished from the state following a revolt within the party, and took care of his stay in Ahmedabad during his visits.</p> <p>Hailing from Umta village in Mahesana district, north Gujarat, Patel’s family owns a construction business. He has a bungalow in Himmatnagar, which was his constituency. In the mid 1990s, Patel was posted as personal secretary to Dilip Patel, then minister of state for Narmada Development. A diploma holder in engineering, he also worked in the public works department.</p> <p>A senior BJP leader told THE WEEK that Patel is a man who will do what is asked of him. “Power drunk and reckless,” he called him. Sources said that Patel would not have taken any of the decisions in Lakshadweep without Modi’s approval.</p> <p>If Patel has remained loyal to Modi, the latter, too, gave him a ticket in the 2012 polls, despite knowing that Patel would lose, said a senior BJP leader. The BJP, which had a hold in north Gujarat, won only one seat. Patel, who belongs to the Kadva Patidar sub-caste, allegedly created a rift between Thakores and Kshatriyas, which was one of the reasons for his defeat. While he listened to the people of his constituency, his arrogant and blunt nature worked against him. As minister, he is known to have been disrespectful to even the director general of police during meetings.</p> <p>Patel is not media friendly; he hardly addressed any news conferences as minister of state. He allegedly only spoke to journalists he was close to.</p> <p>No one agreed to speak on record about Patel, not even when they had good things to say. A person close to him said that Patel was committed to his work and took decisions in the larger interest of society. He loves home-cooked Gujarati food, and rarely dines out, said his friend.</p> <p>Patel’s only son Siddharth, 39, an engineer, did his higher studies abroad. Before joining the family business, he worked with a<br> leading IT company in India. He is now the social media in-charge of Gujarat BJP.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 03 15:58:02 IST 2021 lakshadweep-administrators-moves-threaten-to-displace-locals-wajahat-habibullah <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Praful KhodaBHAI Patel, </b>the administrator of Lakshadweep, on taking charge of the Union territory in December 2020, has set about producing drafts of regulations—the Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, the Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (also called PASA or the goonda act elsewhere), and an amendment to the Lakshadweep Panchayat Staff Rules—that have generated widespread anxiety in the islands.</p> <p>Claiming that there has been no development in Lakshadweep for the past 70 years, the administrator has proposed a cow slaughter ban in a territory where there are no cows, a preventive detention law where there is no crime, a draft law undermining tribal land ownership, ostensibly for land development, and plans for road widening on islands where the maximum road length is 11km. Patel’s occasional visits to the Union territory and the relaxation of quarantine restrictions have brought to Lakshadweep the deadly Covid pandemic, from which they had hitherto been free.</p> <p>What does Patel mean by “development”? Lakshadweep today has rainwater harvesting facilities, accessible in every home. Solar power covers 10 per cent of lighting needs in the islands. All islands are connected by helicopter since 1986, and high-speed passenger boats—purchased in the 1990s on an international tender. A study by the National Institute of Oceanography had helped redesign the tripods reinforcing beaches against erosion. The islands have total literacy. Kadmat has a degree college and Agatti the Rajiv Gandhi Speciality Hospital. Minicoy has one of the earliest Navodaya Vidyalayas in the country. Kavaratti also has a wind-powered desalination plant.</p> <p>Addressing the media in face of widespread criticism of these measures, Patel said he intends to develop Lakshadweep, like neighbouring Maldives, “a renowned international tourist destination”. Lakshadweep Collector Asker Ali said: “It was only in 2017 that the Centre constituted the Island Development Agency under the home minister for the development of the islands. Since then, we have been working on developing town and country planning norms.” The NITI Aayog in its report Transforming the Islands Through Creativity and Innovation (May 2019) called for Lakshadweep “to promote tourism in such a way, which is economically viable, environmentally sustainable, socially acceptable and culturally desirable”. Although the report is deeply flawed, as we shall see, in January 2020, the Government of India listed the islands in Lakshadweep for “holistic development” to promote tourism based on public-private partnership, and has offered facilities to export seafood and coconut products manufactured in the islands. Implementation of this programme is reported to have begun on five islands.</p> <p>In 1988, a specially constituted Island Development Authority for the island territories of India, chaired by the prime minister, had approved a framework for the development of India’s island territories, accepting that “an environmentally sound strategy for both island groups hinges on better exploitation of marine resources coupled with much greater care in the use of land resources”. Opening Lakshadweep to international tourism was planned not as a means of generating wealth for investors from elsewhere, but for bringing prosperity to the islanders. Specifically rejecting the Maldives model for Lakshadweep the plan required that the tourism industry stay people-centric, and protect the fragile coral ecology.</p> <p>The NITI Aayog report, however, declares that “the model [described in its report] may be replicated in other islands and also in other parts of the country”. This entirely contradicts the studies and research by outstanding environmentalists, including marine biologists, over the years that established that development paradigms for ecologically fragile island territories can never be even similar, let alone replicable.</p> <p>Lakshadweep is an archipelago of coral atolls, whereas Andaman and Nicobar Islands are volcanic outcrops. Water villas—favoured by the NITI Aayog, and an expensive concept which is hazardous to corals—would collapse in Lakshadweep’s turbulent monsoon.</p> <p>Given this background, the present administrator’s initiatives seem entirely misplaced, fulfilling no development needs, but threatening to disrupt and displace a peaceful tribal population.</p> <p>(With extracts from Wajahat Habibullah: <i>My Years with Rajiv: Triumph and Tragedy</i>, Westland 2020)</p> <p>—<b>Wajahat Habibullah was administrator of Lakshadweep from September 1987 to January 1990.</b></p> Thu Jun 03 15:51:51 IST 2021