Current en Sun Jul 31 13:37:39 IST 2022 how-aap-has-made-congresss-do-or-die-battle-in-gujarat-harder <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Fifty truckloads worth of publicity material dispatched from Ahmedabad, including a crore leaflets, are part of the Congress’s plan to end its 27-year power drought in Gujarat. In late September, workers will fan out all over Gujarat, highlighting the party’s programmes and the ruling BJP’s “failures”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the Congress comes to power, it has promised to implement the old pension scheme (like it did in Rajasthan), give gas cylinders at 0500, 300 units of free electricity every month, open new schools, waive farm loans, and introduce schemes for tribals and fishermen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Notably, this time, the Congress is expected to select candidates based on surveys done at the grassroots level. The state unit is currently waiting for the result of the Congress presidential elections, which would help bring clarity to its campaign plan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If holding on to power in its model state is important for the BJP, especially ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, winning Gujarat is no less crucial for the Congress. It had given the BJP a scare in 2017, winning 77 seats in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and holding his party to under 100. A better performance this time would not only boost the Congress, but could also strengthen the idea of a united opposition ahead of 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party had done well in Saurashtra and Kutch in 2017. Of the 77 seats it won, 32 came from the 54 seats there. In North Gujarat, it won 22 of the 53 seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, much water has flown under the Sabarmati bridge since. More than a dozen lawmakers, and also Patidar leader Hardik Patel, left the Congress for the BJP. There has also been the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party, which is likely to hurt the Congress more than the BJP. The AAP is focusing on the areas where the Congress is strong, and it sees a chance of finishing second, if not winning, in these seats. The fight is close in certain seats like Vadgam, where MLA and dalit leader Jignesh Mevani will be pitted against the BJP, the AAP and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trying to play down the presence of the new entrant, Gujarat Congress president Jagdish Thakor alleged that it was the BJP’s “B” team (see interview). However, a senior Congress leader, requesting anonymity, conceded that, “We have to forget Gujarat if we do not win this time”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are opportunities, though. Thousands of government employees, including state transport employees, policemen, and anganwadi and health care workers, have been agitating over the old pension scheme. The BJP is rattled by the protests and has been trying hard to pacify the agitators.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress’s challenge would be to convert this sentiment into votes, especially with the AAP on the move. On September 10, the Congress called for a statewide four-hour bandh to protest price rise, corruption and unemployment. It got a positive response in many places. “We got good support from unexpected quarters. People supported us and downed their shutters,” said Ami Ravat, opposition leader in the Vadodara Municipal Corporation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former state Congress president Arjun Modhwadia said he was confident that the party would better its performance across regions. He said the party would reach out to every household under the programme “My booth, my pride”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party’s state women’s wing president, Jenny Thummar, who has been holding meetings across the state, claimed that people have been telling her that they want to oust the incumbents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lalit Kagathara, an MLA from Saurashtra and once a close aide of Hardik, said that the Modi bubble had burst, and that “farmers and the middle class are the most affected and fed up”. However, he did admit that there could be some problems within the party; after all, the masses had not trusted it for 27 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another concern for the Congress is that political analysts are not giving it a chance. Said political observer Hari Desai, “I do not fancy the Congress’s chances. The AAP will help the BJP to come to power.” He added that, more importantly, the party lacked a killer instinct and a united front.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What makes the Congress’s task more difficult is the absence of a mass leader acceptable to all Gujaratis. Said political observer Ghanshyam Shah: “The party should have geared up long ago. I do not rule out the BJP coming to power again.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That the Gujarati public is frustrated is clear. Who can take advantage of this remains to be seen. Notably, as of now, Arvind Kejriwal has made more trips to the state than Modi and Rahul.</p> Sun Sep 25 14:09:48 IST 2022 we-will-win-125seats-gujarat-congress-president-jagdish-thakor <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q. What are the Congress’s chances in the upcoming assembly elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. I see a very good chance as the people’s expectations of the BJP have not been [met]. We did not see any relief from the government during demonetisation and Covid-19. There are no jobs. People do not get compensation for damage caused by natural calamities. A select few have a hold over the administration and only a few get relief. People in the state are in a mood to change the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How many seats does the Congress expect to win?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. We will win 125+ (of 182) seats. In the last elections, we lost about 18 seats by a margin of 3,000 votes. There are 40 to 50 seats we have not won in the past several elections. Then there are about 25 seats that history-sheeters or headstrong BJP people have contested. Usually, we take up selection of candidates on these seats at the last moment. However, this time, we have already started discussing names.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. What issues will your party raise during the elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. There are a lot of [areas] where the state government has failed. We are committed to creating 10 lakh jobs, opening 3,000 new schools and giving free education to girls. We have also committed to waive loans worth 03 lakh for each farmer and give 300 units of free electricity to people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. What challenges does your party face in these elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. The BJP does not have an issue [to take] to the electorate. It will polarise the electorate on the basis of religion. It has done so in five states. We are devising a plan to tackle it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Why should people vote for the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Twenty-seven years of rule is not a small period. People have [voted in] the BJP with the hope that it would deliver. The people now feel that this party only holds functions and does not believe in the wellbeing of the masses. People feel that [the BJP] takes care of [only] select industrialists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How will the AAP’s presence affect your party’s prospects?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. The AAP has been fighting elections since 2014. In the past, [leaders such as] Shankersinh Vaghela, Keshubhai Patel and Chimanbhai Patel also had their own parties. The people in the AAP have not risen from its cadres. Its candidates are the ones who did not get tickets from the BJP or the Congress. Looking at the results, it is clear that the fight is between the Congress and the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. The BJP’s network, down to the booth level, seems unmatchable.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. It is just publicity. Page leaders, micro-planning, booth management, these are [all just] decorative words. All [these terms] are used on social media, media houses and in government publicity. I personally feel that the BJP’s cadre is finished during its [more than two decades] in power. The cadres that brought the BJP to this stage are unhappy; they are not heard and their dreams have not been fulfilled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Why has the party failed to stop its workers and leaders from quitting?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Nobody will be able to stop that. My question is different. The BJP has a thumping majority, even at the national level. Do we see democracy through the lens of the attempts that have been made in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Goa to topple the governments by luring and threatening lawmakers? This is not the way governments are formed. The issues that arise from these developments are serious in nature.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Who will be your chief minister candidate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. No one. There will not be a face. The elected MLAs will decide the chief minister candidate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. The Congress is going through a crisis at the national level. How has this impacted things in Gujarat?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. I feel that most of the issues have been resolved. Unlike the BJP, we do not have a dictator. There is total democracy, and in democracy these issues are discussed. It should not be deduced that there are differences within the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. What will be the criteria for the selection of candidates?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. The ability to win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Why have the people not reposed faith in the Congress in the past 27 years?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Since 2002, the BJP’s seats have decreased in every election. In 2017, we fell short by about nine seats [in our quest] to form the government. This means the people want to change the government. However, in the last 15 days or a month [before voting], the BJP has succeeded in dividing the electorate on the basis of religion and community. It does damage the Congress. We are moving ahead in such a manner that this [would] not damage us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why is the BJP bringing in [Asaduddin] Owaisi? The AAP is also the BJP’s “B” team. The BJP will adopt every method to divert the Congress’s votes. May that be [through] Owaisi, the AAP, independent or even social organisations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Unlike the BJP or the AAP, the Congress does not have a face that can bind everyone within the party.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Rahul and Sonia Gandhi are our topmost leaders and under them the entire Congress is united. Senior leaders, who have some problems, can raise the issues in the party forums. The ones who are not getting Rajya Sabha tickets or are unable to win are leaving the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. In Gujarat, one sees only the BJP and the AAP on social media.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. The kind of language that the BJP’s organisations use, the Congress can never use. If the media or intellectuals try to give a new direction [to an issue] and if any kind of opposition to the BJP is seen, they hurl abuses and even threaten [those people]. The Congress cannot stoop to such levels.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. If the Congress falls short by a couple of seats, will it join hands with the AAP to form the government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. The Congress will form the government with 125 seats. So, there is no question of going with any party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How is the Congress keeping alive its workers’ enthusiasm?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. I would put it in a different way. Our party worker is more powerful than the leaders. For the past 27 years, the workers have faced a lot of vengeance. Say, for example, a Congress worker’s auto was snatched away. Yet, the way the workers came out in large numbers during Rahul Gandhi’s rallies in Dahod and on the Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad shows their enthusiasm. The credit of forming the government will go to the workers in villages and mohallas.</p> Sun Sep 25 14:05:52 IST 2022 attention-grabbing-inductions-are-helping-bjp-trump-opposition <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The road to the</b> 2024 Lok Sabha elections is paved with possibilities. The Congress is trying to reinvent itself by organising the Bharat Jodo Yatra and preparing to elect a new president—perhaps the first non-Gandhi in nearly 25 years. The BJP, ever on expansion mode, continues to bring in leaders from diverse political parties, even from those that are not ideologically compatible.</p> <p>Since Rahul Gandhi began his walkathon, two former Congress chief ministers have joined the BJP. In Goa, Digambar Kamat switched sides with seven other MLAs; in Punjab, Amarinder Singh and four of his family joined the BJP, merging with the saffron party his 11-month-old Punjab Lok Congress, which he had floated after quitting the Congress. With these attention-grabbing inductions, the BJP has been able to steal the mind space.</p> <p>The hardcore BJP worker may view the induction of non-hindutva leaders into the party fold with apprehension. But then, the BJP itself has been widening its reach since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Minister Amit Shah took the leadership reins. Since 2014, as many as 10 former Congress chief ministers have joined the BJP. Apart from Amarinder in Punjab and Kamat in Goa, there has been Giridhar Gamang in Odisha, S.M. Krishna in Karnataka, Vijay Bahuguna in Uttarakhand, Ravi Naik in Goa, K.L. Chishi in Nagaland, N.D. Tewari in Uttarakhand, Narayan Rane in Maharashtra and Pema Khandu in Arunachal Pradesh. Another former chief minister who has quit the Congress and may soon ally with the BJP is Ghulam Nabi Azad.</p> <p>Gamang’s induction has been especially interesting. When he was named Odisha chief minister in 1999, Gamang was a member of the Lok Sabha. And though he was preparing to become a member of the state assembly, he voted against the A.B. Vajpayee government in a trust motion in Parliament. The government fell by one vote, leading to mid-term polls. By inducting him, the BJP seems to have now forgiven Gamang.</p> <p>Amarinder has become the third prominent royal in two years to join the BJP, after Jyotiraditya Scindia and R.P.N. Singh. Pedigree is not the only thing that binds the three together; they are also alumni of the prestigious Doon School, and like other royals and Doscos, had found their political calling in the Congress. But with the fall in the grand old party’s political fortunes, and the loss of their pocket boroughs in elections, they have chosen the winning side. “My relationship with the Congress is almost zero,” said Jammu and Kashmir royal Karan Singh recently. His son Ajatshatru Singh had joined the BJP in 2014.</p> <p>Some of these royals share family ties. Amarinder Singh’s grandson Nirvaan Singh, who is now in the BJP, is married to Mriganka, daughter of Karan Singh’s son Vikramaditya Singh. Mriganka’s mother, Chitrangada, is Jyotiraditya Scindia’s sister. Nirvaan’s mother, Jai Inder Kaur, is also in the BJP. Her second son, Angad Singh, is married to Aprajita, daughter of former Himachal chief minister Virbhadra Singh. Virbhadra’s wife, Pratibha Singh, is now president of the Congress’s Himachal Pradesh unit. Amarinder’s son, Raninder, who is president of the National Rifle Association of India, joined the party with his father.</p> <p>Kamat has attributed his decision to jump ship to divine intervention, but most Congress defectors cite the BJP’s focus on nationalism and Modi’s leadership as reasons for their decision. Amarinder was left with “no choice” after he suffered the humiliation of being removed unceremoniously as chief minister. With his entry, the BJP has gained its biggest Sikh leader since its inception. But, though he is suave and bold, Amarinder’s political heft has been on the wane in recent years. In his last stint as chief minister, he was accused of closeting himself in his farmhouse and running the administration through his coterie.</p> <p>The BJP was marginalised in Punjab after the farmers’ agitation resulted in the breaking of ties with its oldest ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal. The party has been focusing on inducting Sikh faces to overcome the gap. Most of the Sikh leaders who joined BJP in the past few months are close to Amarinder. Whether Amarinder, who is now 80, would be able to campaign in 2024 remains to be seen, but the BJP now has a leader who can present its side in the Sikh-dominated state.</p> <p>Amarinder’s wife, Preneet Kaur, remains a Congress MP from Patiala. “It is not necessary that a wife may do as her husband does,” said Amarinder. Only one of his two children may get BJP ticket to contest elections. Said Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar: “Amarinder Singh’s thinking has always matched with the BJP. For him, too, it was nation first.”</p> <p>The BJP has been undergoing a change since it won the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. It has been aggressively bringing in fresh talent. Several of the old faces have lost berths in the cabinet and in the BJP’s top decision-making bodies such as the parliamentary board and the national executive. When BJP president J.P. Nadda reconstituted the national executive by including first-timers like Scindia, Brajesh Pathak, Dinesh Trivedi, Kushboo Sundar and Vijayashanti, it became clear that the party was looking to expand its base in areas where it was either weak or yet to find its feet. The reconstituted national executive has younger leaders, new faces and broad representation of different castes and communities.</p> <p>“The secret of Modi’s success in ground-breaking methodological innovation is remarkable flexibility,” writes author Ajay Singh in his recent, acclaimed book <i>The Architect of the new BJP: How Narendra Modi Transformed the Party</i>. “The underlying pragmatism of the RSS encourages and welcomes creative and radical departures from the playbook. Ever since his induction in the party, Modi has deployed unorthodox techniques, caring little for the old-fashioned dogmatic ways of expanding the organisation.”</p> <p>The rewards for joining the BJP have been varied. Some leaders have received quick Rajya Sabha nominations owing to their stature within their communities, while others have had to go through cooling-off periods before getting ministerial berths. Himanta Biswa Sarma, who quit the Congress to join the BJP in 2015, became Assam chief minister. In Maharashtra, Shiv Sena rebel Eknath Shinde, too, was rewarded with the top post.</p> <p>The BJP’s message is clear. “It is the winning party,” said a senior leader, “and it can the change of fortunes of those joining its fold.”&nbsp;</p> Sun Sep 25 13:53:30 IST 2022 bengaluru-rains-how-rampant-corruption-led-to-massive-encroachment-on-lakes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>One night of relentless rain, and even the richest tech bosses were stranded in knee-deep waters in their plush homes, looking for coracles to reach safety. According to the India Meteorological Department, Bengaluru received 370mm of rainfall this August (131.66mm on August 30), falling just short of the all-time record of 387mm in August 1998.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This day was expected. Over the years, rampant corruption in the civic body had led to massive encroachment on lakes, lake beds, rajakaluves (storm-water drains) and the buffer zone, concocting a recipe for disaster.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the skies emptied, the floodgates opened on social media. Photos of a rain-lashed Bengaluru spread worldwide, calling into question its status as the country’s IT capital.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, as the water clears, the city has to work overtime to safeguard its image globally. “For the first time in Bengaluru’s history, people have fled their homes on boats,” said former chief minister and senior Congress leader Siddaramaiah. “The flooding of the IT corridor has affected Brand Bengaluru.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The blame game continued. While state Congress president D.K. Shivakumar asked what stopped the ruling BJP from clearing the encroachments, former chief minister and Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy dared Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai to release a white paper on the encroachments and the names of those guilty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bommai, upset with the negative headlines, asserted that only a part of the city was flooded and blamed the previous Congress government. “These were unprecedented rains,” he said. “Only two zones (of the eight) have faced flooding. The Mahadevapura zone has 69 tanks, all of which have breached. We are installing sluice gates for these tanks. The previous Congress government... gave permission for construction even in the lake bed, tank bunds and buffer zone. I have... given Rs1,500 crore to develop storm water drains and Rs300 crore to remove encroachments.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bengaluru has an 859km-long storm-water drain network connecting the four major valleys—Vrishabavathi, Challaghatta, Koramangala and Hebbal. But only around 440km is free from encroachment and diversion. The valleys are highly polluted today because solid waste and untreated sewage are dumped there. Climate change is another factor—the infrastructure is not designed to handle so much rain in a short span, say experts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The politician-bureaucrat-builder mafia is being widely blamed for dynamiting Bengaluru’s civic infrastructure. “Every contractor has a godfather who is a politician,” said BJP leader and former corporator N.R. Ramesh. “The contracts are awarded to a coterie of contractors and the bills are settled even before the completion of the work. For instance, a Rs840 crore package for storm-water drains was awarded to contractors in 2016 and the full payment was released in 2017. Only 60 per cent of the work is complete. The contractor falsely claims to have de-silted the drains and dumped it in in two quarries.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Srikanth Narasimhan, general secretary of the Bengaluru NavaNirmana Party: “Our analysis shows that the BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) has spent about Rs3,200 crore on storm-water drains in the past five years, but they are neither connected to the lakes nor carry water from water-rich lakes to water-deficient ones.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Taking aim at Bommai, AAP state convener Prithvi Reddy said: “The Captain Raja Rao committee report on road construction and management of primary, secondary and tertiary drains has been gathering dust since 2006, despite the High Court’s direction to implement the recommendations. The chief minister continues to hold the Bengaluru development portfolio and we demand it be given to someone who can devote time to [it]. A separate commission should be set up to tackle the encroachments.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the politicians bickered, the corporates flagged their concerns about Bengaluru’s infrastructure. That the pandemic-induced work-from-home model was in place was the only saving grace that rainy day. In a letter to Bommai, the Outer Ring Road Companies Association (ORRCA) indicated that IT companies might “seek an alternate destination” if the situation did not improve. “Our member IT firms have suffered a loss of Rs225 crore on August 30,” read the letter. “We generate revenue of $22 billion per annum (32 per cent of Bengaluru’s revenue) and are the highest tax contributors. The lack of focus on the development of infrastructure in this corridor is appalling.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former Infosys director T.V. Mohandas Pai launched a social media campaign with ‘#SaveBengaluru’ and talked of Bengaluru’s crumbling infrastructure and lack of governance. The campaign irked the BJP. Ramesh accused Pai of “tarnishing” the city’s image. “The IT companies have themselves to blame for the mess,” he claimed. “At least 79 companies affiliated to ORRCA, 250 firms of Electronic City Industries Association and 100 companies in ITPL, Mahadevapura, are guilty of encroaching on the storm-water drains and the buffer zone. The total built-up area of tech parks is around 9.85 lakh square feet, and 25 per cent of the buildings [here] are on encroached lakes or drains. Such rampant encroachments were allowed by corrupt officers and some dishonest elected representatives.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramesh also reminded the corporates that the Karnataka government had always supported the IT industry. “Between 1999 and 2004, the Bengaluru civic body allowed laying of OFC (optical fibre cable) ducts for 4,500km without charging any road-cutting fee for the benefit of the IT-BT companies and tech and business parks,” he said. “The government also bore the road restoration cost of Rs3,000 crore.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mahadevapura MLA Aravind Limbavali, however, defended the IT companies, saying that they had only rented or leased the buildings. The builders, he said, were responsible for the encroachments. “Most residential and office complexes have either diverted the storm-water drains or encroached on them, thus reducing their width,” said the BJP leader. “We want builders to put in place a system to drain out rainwater from their premises. The drains can then be connected to the common duct, which the government will build.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To limit the damage, Karnataka IT Minister Dr C.N. Ashwathnarayan urged the chiefs of IT companies to help build Brand Bengaluru and assured them of monthly virtual meetings to discuss the progress of the development projects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Infosys cofounder Kris Gopalakrishnan, who heads the state government’s IT Vision Group, appealed to the companies to not lose heart. “I feel Brand Bengaluru will remain intact,” he said. “Any city would come to a standstill in the face of such a heavy downpour. While 80 per cent of the city had no problems, Mahadevapura faced an unexpected situation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>State Industries Minister Murugesh Nirani was sunnier in his assessment. He said that no harm was done to Brand Bengaluru and that investors were making a beeline for the city. “In fact, we are now incentivising investors who choose to invest outside Bengaluru, as part of our Beyond Bengaluru policy,” he said. “We are promoting the ‘walk to work’ concept by encouraging self-sustaining townships on the outskirts to reduce pressure on the city.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many industry experts THE WEEK spoke to felt that Bengaluru’s brand image was too strong to be affected by rain. “Flooding can happen due to heavy rains and, in the peak of summer, there could be water shortage,” said Dr H.S. Srivatsa, professor, Faculty of Management and Commerce, M. S. Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences, Bengaluru. “IT hubs in other states also face similar conditions. That does not mean Bengaluru will lose its focus as a startup and IT city. Even cities like California face many a blip like this.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He felt that the administration, politicians and citizens must work together to design new water channels to divert excess water safely. “Let good civil engineering technology and social sciences solve this problem,” said Srivatsa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sanjay Motwani, president of the Bangalore Commercial Association, said: “On a long-term basis, the government has to take this alarm seriously and work towards building infrastructure that can handle extra growth. Investments will be affected in the near future if the government does not do the needful.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He added that only certain areas such as Whitefield and Bellandur were flooded, and the central business district and even south Bengaluru, to an extent, were unaffected. “The outskirts, where exponential growth has been [achieved] flouting all rules in the past two decades, are the areas that are affected,” he said. “Low-lying areas and lake beds were encroached upon to build apartments and sewage treatment plants.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Girish Linganna, director, ADD Engineering Components Limited, pointed out that no one had left the city when the Bellandur lake was burning. “We cannot rebuild an ideal Bengaluru, but we can make a sincere effort to improve infrastructure and mass transit,” he said. “Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari has suggested many solutions to the Bommai government. We have to see how many would be implemented. Unfortunately, the government is seeing the problem only from an industry point of view. Who is talking about the urban poor? Those on the margins are further marginalised.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Linganna felt that though there was no immediate threat to Brand Bengaluru, “investors will look for options, startups or otherwise”. However, he added that Bengaluru got investment not only because of weather or infrastructure, but also for reasons such as quality manpower, cosmopolitan outlook, top educational institutes, science and technology research wings, and the English-speaking culture. “Each area of Bengaluru is like a city,” said Linganna. “There is hardly any alternative to Bangalore. Even the Japanese, French or Germans can live here without communication issues. Bengaluru, hence, will continue to get investments.”</p> Sat Sep 17 13:34:20 IST 2022 bengaluru-needs-five-corporations-says-t-v-mohandas-pai <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>T.V. MOHANDAS PAI</b> is a Padma Shri awardee and a former chief financial officer and board member of Infosys. He was born in Bengaluru and has seen the city grow in the past few decades. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will the recent flooding adversely affect Brand Bengaluru?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Flooding has had a negative impact on Brand Bengaluru, but it all depends on the next three to six months, [and whether the city can] improve the infrastructure in parts that were affected by flooding. A lot of pictures of flooding have [gone] all across the world, and people are angry and upset. It will now depend on how the government reacts and cleans up everything. People living in the flooded areas... feel they have been cheated. Many high-net individuals are looking to relocate. This is because there is no improvement in the infrastructure; there is nothing dramatic happening.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We need a strong city government. The state government always says that it will do something, but when? We have been waiting for more than 20 years for things to improve. There has to be a strong leadership in Bengaluru. At present, there is no strong political leadership as many politicians look at Bengaluru as a source of money. For them, [flooding] does not matter. It is, in fact, a very sad reality in urban India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What steps can the government take?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There has to be rule of law. There is corruption in giving building approval, construction licence and water approval. Builders do what they want because they have bought over the approving authorities. All this is a result of the deep-rooted corruption in the corporation. Corruption involves politicians, ward councillors, MLAs and bureaucrats. [Regarding] the places where all this flooding happened—the Ecospace [tech park, for instance], one must ask who owns the place and how they encroached on the rajakaluve (storm water drains).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The flooded place was an area of lakes and each lake was connected to the another so that the [excess] water goes downstream. Now, if you have built on the area of the rajakaluve or you have reduced the area of the rajakaluve, it will result in a flood as the drainage capacity will be reduced. If there is no heavy rain every year, there will be some amount of flooding, but it will go away in a few hours. This time, however, [there was] flooding because the entire drainage channel had been [encroached upon]. On top of that, the existing drains were blocked with loads of muck and dirt, bringing down their capacity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Any concrete steps the government can take?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ What the government has to do is clear. The BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) is too big to be governed by one commissioner. They have a mayor who is there for one year. Local elections have not been held for two years because I am told that the MLAs in the city do not want the elections as they are happy making more money. Now, the courts have forced them to have elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We want five corporations in Bengaluru and five full-time mayors so that they will all work in their entire area and do well. As much as 60 per cent of Karnataka’s GDP comes from Bengaluru alone. It also has one of the highest per capita incomes in India with $10,000 to $11,000 (Rs7.9 lakh to Rs8.7 lakh) a year. But, we do not have any governance. Singapore has 60 lakh people, which is half of Bengaluru’s population. They have a prime minister, a legislature and a full government there. The city is run well. Look at Bengaluru. The [municipal] commissioners stay here for one to two years as they get transferred if they do not bow to political power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will Bengaluru’s image as India’s start-up capital also be affected?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It will be affected if remedial action is not taken. Bengaluru is attractive as it has high-quality talent. It has more people in technology than any other city in the world. It is not that everyone will go away, but growth will be limited.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why do you think tier-2 and tier-3 cities in Karnataka are not attractive for companies?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The government must use money to develop the infrastructure in tier-2 and tier-3 cities. For the past 20 years, the talk has been restricted to a few seminars. Only now there are some steps by the Karnataka Digital Economy Mission to make something happen, and hopefully something will happen. However, good talent is not available in smaller towns. So, why would people go there?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was born here. I have seen the city grow, but the problems have remained the same. The bus transport system has not improved in 10 years, our metro is behind schedule, and traffic has grown and is mismanaged. On the top of that, corruption has increased manifold. What has happened to Bengaluru is mainly due to inadequate governance and corruption.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sat Sep 17 13:28:02 IST 2022 queen-elizabeth-was-more-than-the-institution-she-represented-amish-tripathi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There is certainly sadness on the streets of London. Many people are reacting to that spontaneously, which shows the affection and respect they had for Queen Elizabeth II.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We were actually in the middle of a programme at the Nehru Centre when the news came. There were senior people in attendance, including industrialist Sunil Kant Munjal and former chief economic adviser K.V. Subramanian, who will soon be India’s executive director at the International Monetary Fund. We quickly had a word with all of them and felt it was inappropriate to carry on. We ended with a minute of silence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were a few Britons in the audience, as well as a former high commissioner of the UK to India. But it was largely an Indian audience. An audience that had just discussed how disastrous the British Raj was.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And I agree, the Raj was a complete and unmitigated disaster for India. Mike Davis’s Late Victorian Holocausts makes it clear that anywhere between 30 and 50 million Indians were killed in manmade famines. Millions perished in the aftermath of the first war of independence. Despite this, [even a critic of the Raj] like me has to acknowledge that Queen Elizabeth II was very remarkable in the way she conducted herself. She had grace, self-control and was disciplined with an old-world charm. She was in the public eye for 70 years and she took not one false step. She was worth admiring.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II had very long reigns. Victoria’s reign saw the rise of the UK and Queen Elizabeth’s witnessed the relative decline of the UK and its empire. Countries on the decline can have a lot of dissonance. Wars and violence are not triggered by a country that is self- confident and rising. But often, by insecure powers who think they are losing their power. That did not happen in the UK. I think a large part of the credit is due to her. She had a sense of calm.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Queen Elizabeth helped the UK transition and find a new role and new purpose. The UK is still economically strong despite having fallen behind India this year. Culturally, they are certainly a superpower and probably will remain so for a generation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Queen was a uniting figure. One can sense that within the UK as well; with the Scots, Irish and Welsh joining the English in mourning her, whatever the views may be on other aspects. The main reason for that is that she represents values that have, sadly, in this modern world, gone out of fashion. It sounds very cool to be disrespectful, iconoclastic and nihilistic, but you know, frankly, see the chaos in cities that have taken nihilism to an extreme, including some in the west. There is a value to old-world tradition, a sense of duty, discipline. A sense of continuity, while still adapting to modern times. A balance. The Queen represented that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the last few days, newspapers have written beautiful [pieces] about the way she used to conduct herself. Even in private. I was particularly struck by an incident. There were these two Americans. The Queen was walking with [her royal protection officer]. This was outside Balmoral and these two Americans met her and asked, “Doesn’t the Queen live here?” The Queen replied, “Yes, apparently she lives close by.” They then asked her, “Do you know her? Have you met her?” She said, pointing to the valet, “I’ve never met her. But he meets her very often.” She had a sense of humour. I think in many ways, she was even more than the institution she represented.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the question of how the Commonwealth countries will react.... There is clearly mourning for her. But going forward, how states will react will be based on pragmatism and their understanding of their supreme national interest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In some ways, this could be a uniting moment for the UK. Shared grief has created that emotion, it seems, at this time. The last time a new ruler was crowned was decades ago. Most people do not have a living memory of the rituals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Any change is difficult. But the speech that King Charles III made on the passing of the Queen was actually very well received. He was clearly emotional. But he held himself, as he should have, and that has been seen positively. The UK is a partner of India. So we certainly look forward to them managing this process of change well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tripathi is a best-selling author and director of the Nehru Centre in London.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>As told to Mandira Nayar</b></p> Sun Sep 18 10:49:11 IST 2022 charles-is-a-transitional-monarch-tina-brown <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The great thing about the Queen was that while all the madness happened in the 1990s, she was at the centre of the storm. Everything would be okay ultimately, because she was there to keep calm and carry on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most poignant example of that was the image of the Queen sitting alone at her husband’s funeral... married for six decades, but couldn’t sit with any friends or family. It was a tiny little funeral, because she was so dutifully following the Covid rules. That night before, [prime minister] Boris Johnson had hosted a bibulous party at Downing Street breaking all of his own Covid rules. It was such a sort of duality, and it was interesting that the only person who got booed at at the Platinum Jubilee was Boris Johnson. Harry, Megan... all got cheered but Boris Johnson, he got booed. And that really said a great deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Charles is a transitional monarch. We don’t know how short his reign will be. He is stepping into the role at a time when his own passions—organic farming, climate change—are also those of the nation and of the world. He will use his position as king and the Buckingham Palace to bring together people who share views about the environment and its protection, and about youth unemployment, which he cares enormously about.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is going to have to downsize as well. He is already talking about making Balmoral Castle a museum in honour of the Queen. He prefers Burke Hall, which is the house far on the estate that used to belong to the Queen Mother. He is very happy there. His reign ought to be about preparing things for William. And if he can do that successfully, and then step out, things will be fine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>[Marriage is one of the most important decisions a monarch makes.] For the Queen, it was one of the few times she decided she wasn’t going to listen to anybody. This was a great marriage, [but] it had its problems. Philip did have, as everybody around him said, something of a roving eye. But he was absolutely devoted as a consort and the spouse that she required. He was funny, abrasive, and in his own way, of course, did very embarrassing or politically incorrect things. But he kept her real. And she knew he would always tell her the truth. And he did. He vowed to be her Leigh Lord who would serve her to the end. It is a very moving story, because she adored him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>[For] 70 years she had been there. Now we are at a moment when things are fragile, but we will not have her to keep calm and carry on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Brown is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>AS TOLD TO MANDIRA NAYAR</b></p> Sat Sep 17 11:51:32 IST 2022 youtubers-in-kashmir-provide-relief-comic-and-otherwise <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>MAKING COMEDY</b> in conflict-ridden Kashmir is no laughing matter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But a bunch of YouTubers from the Valley—all in their 20s—are doing just that, earning both fame and a living. With little access to movie theatres and other sources of entertainment, people in Kashmir are turning to YouTube channels to find some relief, comic and otherwise. What make these channels popular are their comic content, simple language and good acting, taking one back to the 1980s and 1990s when Kashmiri serials on Doordarshan and actors like the late Shadi Lal Koul and Nazir Josh were quite popular.</p> <p>But these videos are not just for laughs; they have a message at their core. For instance, in Berozgar Ti Azuk Jawan (Unemployment and Today’s Youth) by Kashmiri Rounders, a man meets the father of a girl whom his son, an unemployed doctor, wants to marry. The girl’s father refuses to let his daughter marry an unemployed man, but agrees to marry her off to the man’s elder son, who is disabled but a well-paid engineer. The channel, with more than 9.5 lakh subscribers, is among the most popular Kashmiri YouTube channels.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Likewise, ‘Before and after elections’ by Kashmiri Kalkharabs, which has more than 8.5 lakh subscribers, tells the story of an MLA making tall promises before elections. After getting elected, he mistreats his supporters, including a village elder who requests him for an irrigation pump for farmers. He tells him they should plant maize instead of rice, which needs less water. The video aims to highlight the hypocrisy of politicians and how they deceive people for power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kashmiri Comedy Kings’s Matlabi Dost (Selfish Friend) is the story of a boy who ignores his father’s warnings about his friends. Later, he finds out that a friend had misbehaved with his sister when she was alone at home. The video got more than four lakh views.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I was studying outside Kashmir when I saw people making videos and uploading them on social media,” said Mir Amir, founder of Kashmir Rounders. “After I returned home, I first opened a Facebook page and then started the YouTube channel in 2016 as I was unemployed.” A resident of Shangus village in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, Amir said his two cousins, Mir Owais and Azhar Shah, later joined him. “Our videos became very popular, and our subscription base swelled,” he said. “Now, earning from our channel is our main source of income.” His parents and wife have been supportive of his initiative. “I married three years ago and have a daughter,” he said. “My wife appreciates that I have a huge fan following, including many women.” He said they were pleased to know that people enjoyed watching their videos. “There is a lot of disturbance in south Kashmir, and we try to provide some entertainment to people,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the feedback has been largely positive, there has been criticism, too. “People said, ‘look at what they are doing after completing studies,” said Amir. “But that did not deter us as we are happy to make people laugh.” He and his cousins are now focusing on improving the quality of their channel and plan to get better recording and editing equipment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the content creation is not limited to comedy—there are popular gamers from Kashmir, too, like Bin Zaid (the gaming channel has 14.8 lakh subscribers)—the larger audience in Kashmir, especially in villages, is hooked to comic videos on different YouTube channels.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Grief has been our constant companion in Kashmir,” said Parvez Bhat of Kashmiri Kalkharabs. “People needed some respite.” Kashmiri Kalkharabs was started by five friends from Panzinara on the outskirts of Srinagar—Bhat, Showkat Ahmed, Jan Muhammad, Sabzar Ahmed and Muhammad Aslam—in 2018. Bhat said that initially their families thought that they were wasting their time but later came on board. The channel received a YouTube Silver Play Button for having more than a lakh subscribers. “We are aiming for a golden button [10 lakh subscriber mark],” said Bhat. “Recently, we got a letter of appreciation from a group of doctors who said our comic videos made their patients feel better.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kashmiri Kalkharabs are now planning to create content in Hindi. “The competition in Kashmiri is increasing,” said Bhat. “It is necessary to make videos in other languages to fend off competition.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thanks to these YouTube channels, many a talent has been discovered among the educated, unemployed youth of Kashmir. Apart from bringing them income, it has also brought them recognition. “People appreciate our work and treat us like celebrities,” said Muhammad Imran Thakru of Kashmiri Back Benchers. “Some ask for selfies.” Kashmiri Back Benchers, with more than 6.90 lakh subscribers, was launched by Thakru and his friends—Adil Yousuf, Shabir Bhat and Arif Nabi—after their graduation in 2017. Having tasted success, the four friends plan to start a web series. “This is our livelihood and there is great potential in it,” said Thakru, a resident of Kanelwan in Anantnag.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These channels are also proving helpful in promoting Kashmiri language and culture to a generation born and raised in conflict. Kashmiri Comedy Kings, with 2.70 lakh subscribers, aims to keep the culture of Kashmir alive through the use of social media, which has a wide reach. It was launched by three youths from Mujgund in Srinagar—Mir Parvez, Shabir Ahmed Dar and Sahil Suhail—before the reading down of Article 370 in August 2019. All three have a theatre background, and so acting comes natural to them. “We first thought of starting a Facebook channel, but then we decided to turn to YouTube,” said Parvez. “My grandfather, Muhammad Ismail Mir, was an artiste. He inspired me to take up acting. Our motive is awareness through entertainment. We tackle social issues through comedy and small skits.” Parvez also taught music at one of Srinagar’s leading schools but quit as he wanted to be independent and entertain people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Popular YouTube channels in Kashmir make money but not enough to save some for rainy days or to splurge. “Whatever we earn is divided among the people working together,’’ said a popular YouTuber. “A part of it is spent on making the video.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The channels carefully plan the content, keeping in view the sensitivities of people in Kashmir and the security situation. The other problem is the erratic internet service in Kashmir, which witnessed the longest-ever internet shutdown after the revocation of Article 370. The shutdown forced the closure of many businesses dependent on the internet, including startups and IT-related initiatives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the challenges, these YouTubers keep creating content. The social impact of their videos is a great motivation, they say. After a video on the evils of dowry, a viewer called a YouTube channel and thanked them for highlighting the issue and promised to marry an orphan girl. In another incident, a family in Kupwara in north Kashmir called up Kashmir Rounders to tell them that their son, who had shut himself in his room and would often turn violent, enjoyed their comic videos and was now behaving normally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No wonder, laughter is the best medicine.</p> Sun Sep 11 11:46:32 IST 2022 subhas-chandra-boses-family-finally-finds-closure <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>His death divided his family for more than 70 years. Finally, the family of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose has accepted that he died following an airplane crash at Taihoku in Formosa (now Taiwan) on August 18, 1945.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Everyone in the Bose family except his nephew Sisir, Sisir’s wife Krishna and son Sugata had rejected the air crash theory. The theory did not find much acceptance in Bengal and rest of the country, too. To add to it, there were conspiracy theories, that he had escaped the crash and fled to Russia, and unconfirmed sightings in different parts of the world, sometimes as a prisoner in a Russian gulag or as a godman in Uttar Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandra Kumar Bose, Bose’s grandnephew and chairman of the Netaji Mission, told THE WEEK, “We are very sad that we believed certain theories for all these years. It is [a] bitter truth that we would have to accept that Netaji died due to air crash.” Chandra Kumar is the grandson of Bose’s elder brother and closest ally Sarat Chandra Bose. The two brothers fled Kolkata together. Sisir is said to have helped them in their escape in 1941.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandra Kumar’s sister Madhuri is an advocate with a United Nations agency. “I have no doubt that Netaji died following the air crash,” she told THE WEEK from Geneva. “I have also recently found clear evidence of his death in the British Library, London.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The evidence she found also concerns her grandfather. “The British Indian government was determined not to release Sarat Chandra Bose, who was detained in Coonoor (since December 1941), until and unless they were certain that Subhas Bose was dead,” said Madhuri. “Therefore, they made all the inquiries necessary to be certain that Bose was no longer alive. When they were certain, they released Sarat Chandra Bose in September 1945. I have this information in writing, which will be released in a book on Sarat Chandra Bose, to be published by Routledge soon.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But this is not new information. It is all available in 304 files declassified by the Narendra Modi government in 2016. And, the recent change of mind in the Bose family could be attributed to those very files.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Netaji Mission set up a committee, headed by engineering professor and Netaji researcher Sumeru Roy Chowdhury, to review the declassified files. “The declassified files were from the Prime Minister’s Office, ministry of defence, cabinet secretariat and, more importantly, the ministry of external affairs, which comprised some foreign investigations—[unveiled] for the first time—regarding the disappearance of Netaji since the air crash,” said Roy Chowdhury.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Files related to Netaji were declassified twice earlier—in 1997 by the H.D. Deve Gowda government (990 files) and in 2012 by the Manmohan Singh government (1,030 files). The files declassified by the Gowda government were mostly from the ministry of defence, and those declassified by the Manmohan Singh government were from the ministries of home and defence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, too, had tried to declassify the Netaji files. “Bureaucrats prevented it saying it would invite unnecessary provocation across the country,” said Roy Chowdhury.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bose’s death has been a political issue ever since independence. Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru constituted the Shah Nawaz committee in 1956, and many close associates of Bose deposed before it. Bose’s brother Suresh was one of its members. Suresh rejected the committee’s report, which accepted the air crash theory. He said it was politically motivated. Prime minister Indira Gandhi constituted the G.D. Khosla commission in 1970, which reiterated the findings of the Shah Nawaz committee report. But these did little to quash the conspiracy theories.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1999, as directed by the Calcutta High Court, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government instituted the Justice Mukherjee commission, which said that Bose did not die in the plane crash and that the ashes in a temple in Tokyo were not his. The report was rejected by the Manmohan Singh government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime minister Morarji Desai refused to set up a committee, saying it would be a waste of money and time. However, former MP Prof Samar Guha, a close associate of Bose, persuaded Morarji to reject the Khosla commission findings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The last lot of declassified files made public by the Modi government put a lot of speculation to rest. These files include investigations not just by foreign governments but also by the Indian Independence League (IIL), the civil administration of Netaji’s Indian National Army.</p> <p>The first foreign report came from the Japanese government, which was made 12 days after the crash at Japanese-occupied Taihoku. It had eyewitness accounts and opinions of medics, paramedics and local administration. It confirmed that Bose died following the air crash.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Lord Mountbatten asked US army general [Douglas] MacArthur to access the report. But the British could get the report only after the fall of Japan,” said Roy Chowdhury. India could access the Japanese report much later. The British government, too, conducted a probe after the fall of Japan, said Roy Chowdhury, which confirmed the air crash theory in July 1946. The war correspondence of the United States with the British, too, confirmed the same. The fourth concrete report, according to Roy Chowdhury, was prepared by the US Central Intelligence Agency. It said that Bose did not survive the crash in Taiwan. “After that report, the Allied Forces stopped chasing Bose,” said Roy Chowdhury. “Netaji was termed as dead by the Americans in its future correspondence with the British government.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If one disputes these reports as western propaganda, then Roy Chowdhury points to the IIL report (1953). It not only accepts the crash theory but also reveals that a faction in the Japanese government, which was soft towards the Allied Forces, had allegedly plotted Bose’s death in the plane crash. The report says Japanese military officer Colonel Kagowa did coordinate with MacArthur and served as liaison officer with “enemy force”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian independence movement was at its peak then, and Bose wanted to return to India with Japanese help. The British were worried that his return would strengthen the freedom struggle. “Hence the diversion of the route of the plane in which Netaji travelled,” said the report. Bose had travelled from Bangkok to Saigon with six INA men. But from Saigon to Taihoku, he was allowed only to take one officer with him. “The act of leaving Captain Gulzara Singh, Col Pritam Singh, Major Abid Hassan and others at Saigon against the wish of Netaji and ourselves was a calculated plan,” read the report. “The facility extended to Shri S.A. Aiyer (another close ally of Bose) to proceed to Tokyo directly was a premeditated plan…. They allowed only one officer (Col Habibur Rahman) with Netaji to keep him as a witness.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From Taihoku, Bose and Rahman were headed to Dairen in Manchuria along with General Tsunamasa Shidei. The plane took off after refuelling only to crash within moments of being airborne. According to the report, the Japanese saw to it that the plane crash was not a full-blown one. They ensured it was “a short fall, manipulated only to cause bodily injuries to passengers”. They did so because they wanted Rahman to be a witness to the “death of Netaji caused by a plane accident”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This laid to rest a conspiracy theory that Bose had fled to the Soviet Union. It is true that Bose wanted to go to Russia from Japan and had sought help from the Japanese. But the Japanese government, while wishing him luck in his fight for liberation of India, wrote to Bose, saying, “Nippon government deems it almost without hope of success to get directly in touch with Soviet government on behalf of Your Excellency and it has no intention in doing so.” Roy Chowdhury said that Japan feared if it helped Bose to reach Russia, India would become a totally communist country post independence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the revelation that Japanese rebels might have orchestrated Bose’s tragic end, Chandra Kumar said, “We never imagined that before. Now it is very likely that he may not have died during the crash but because of its impact. We don’t rule out overdose of medicine at the hospital, which could have caused his death.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandra Kumar accepted that many made money from the conspiracies surrounding Bose’s death. “Many films were made,” he said. “Many people were blamed. Time has come to correct all mistakes. Many people duped our family to continue with their canard. We also got motivated as we had no information.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sugata Bose, a historian, said he stood vindicated. “I am not surprised,” said Sugata, professor of world history at Harvard University. “This information is nothing new to me. Every serious historian and scholar would know this. If you read my book—His Majesty’s Opponent—the last chapter talks about Netaji’s mortal end. My mother Krishna Bose’s book deals with the Taihoku tragedy. My father believed in the crash theory because he travelled to the place of the accident in 1965. I accompanied my mother on her trip in 2002 and read several material.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the Shah Nawaz committee report was the most authentic Indian report, and that all rumours about Bose’s death should be put to rest. “These canards are very much insulting to Netaji,” he said. “All conspiracy theories should be rejected. Unfortunately, in India there will always be a few people who will deliberately profess this theory for some more time, I fear. But reasonable people should come to terms with Netaji’s mortal end and celebrate his life rather.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Netaji family, including his daughter Anita Bose Pfaff, has written to Modi to bring back his mortal remains for final detection and immersion of the ashes in the Ganga. “Why not? He was a devoted Hindu who admired Ramakrishna and Vivekananda,” said Chandra Kumar. “He used to offer puja to Ma Kali. We would also like his last rites to be done now. And, the chief minister of Bengal should take a lead for that, though she would not accept this crash theory for obvious reasons.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The family is now calling out the Mukherjee Commission for rubbishing the plane crash theory. “I can say it (Mukherjee Commission) misleads to a great extent,” Anita Bose Pfaff told THE WEEK from Germany.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, lawyer Keshab Bhattacharjee of the Calcutta High Court, who was one of the advisers to the Mukherjee Commission, said, “The Bose family is again being misled. I doubt whether they have any more respect left for Netaji.”</p> Mon Sep 05 10:28:04 IST 2022 dna-test-must-be-done-at-the-earliest-anita-bose-pfaff <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Anita Bose Pfaff was elated when she was told about the broad agreement in the Bose family in Kolkata about her father’s death. She explained to THE WEEK over phone why the air-crash theory was a logical conclusion. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. The Bose family now unanimously accepts the air crash theory.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Our family is a large one and it would be difficult to agree on any issue. Chandra Bose and his family and many other groups in the family have now accepted it. It is relieving. What else can I say?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. But you accepted it many years ago.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Yes. That was because I personally interviewed survivors of the plane crash. So, for me it was convincing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. But the common Bengalis who worship Netaji are yet to respond. What do you feel their reaction would be?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Bengalis are known to have large joint families. And in that large family, disagreements are natural, particularly on big issues like the death of their idol. But one should agree that the remains of Netaji need to be back in India. His life and ideas are more important and they need to be professed rather than [debate about] how he died.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. The Indian government has in the past rejected all inquiries on Netaji’s death.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. That is surprising. However, some of the research done was not rational. So, in our family also a similar phenomenon took place. Some people did not know who my father actually was. They believed in cock and bull stories. Everybody thought they had a say on this subject.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. You have written to the prime minister to conduct a DNA test.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. People who are amenable to rational thinking will advise that. DNA tests must be done as early as possible. Chances are much better to ascertain whether the remains are of my father or not, than it was 20 years ago due to advancements in technology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Is the Japanese government interested in sending back the mortal remains?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. The Japanese wanted to return the remains to India for a long time. That is out of their belief and also for their religious purpose as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Did you do any research on your father's mysterious death on your own?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. When his death was officially declared on August 23, 1945, there were British and American investigations immediately. For the British he was a great problem. If the British had executed him, my father would have gained martyrdom and that would have had serious repercussions in India. However, those investigations were kept a secret and so people found the crash theory non-convincing. These documents were not published at that time. I was a child when the crash happened. My mother heard the news on the radio. My uncle [Sarat Chandra Bose] learnt about it when he was in prison. My mother and uncle were shattered. My mother started hoping against hope. But nothing sounded convincing to her. When the survivors’ interviews were taken in Japan, I was present along with my mother. That really made it more convincing personally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. But Sarat Bose, Amiya Nath Bose and Suresh Bose did not agree with you.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Many in our family were not convinced because they studied the issue a lot. Sarat Bose was a heart patient and he died in 1950. So, his family members wanted to keep the matter a secret from him in order to prolong his life. Also, the documents came much later. Suresh was a member of the Shah Nawaz Committee. After the final report prepared by the committee, I did not know for what reason, he prepared a dissenting report. His children and grandchildren also believed what their father and grandfather believed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Now the entire family, which earlier supported the Justice Mukherjee Commission, has rejected it.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. The Justice Mukherjee commission report was full of errors. Madhuri, my niece, found an annexure of a translated Japanese letter. When she got the Japanese document translated by an independent translator, she found the translation in the Mukherjee Commission report incomplete. The commission and the staff members had preconceived minds. Let us now see whether any other conspiracy theory is being cooked up or not. I am saying this because certain people in India had economic and political interests in Netaji's death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Did your mom believe in the air-crash theory?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Well, she hoped for some time that he might have survived. But when all the cock and bull stories came out, she accepted the fact, which was that my father died in the crash in Taiwan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Some people saw Jawaharlal Nehru’s hands in it.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Partly those are again fiction. There might have been a certain rivalry and a theory that Nehru’s political life would have been easier without my father. But they were close to each other. He looked up to Nehru like a brother. On the other hand, he was disappointed that Nehru did not support him in his second presidency term of the Indian National Congress. They certainly would not have been in the same line on the partition of India. Gandhiji accepted what he was dictated on partition. On this important issue, Congress leaders just ignored him. The Congress leadership agreed to everything against the wish of Gandhi. My father and Nehru were very close, but they would have been competitors at the same time in free India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. In what sense?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. If my father were there, he would have prevented the partition, maybe with Gandhi and Sarat Bose, by influencing Lord Mountbatten. On the other side, if partition happened, he would have been a potential competitor to Nehru. They otherwise had the same ideology, like having a secular, socialist and modern India. But that is not unusual in democracy. But Nehru assassinating my father or having any hand in it? That was nonsensical. When my father died, Nehru was in jail. He might have had jealousy but not to the extent of influencing the murder of a friend.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Was it not evident from the act of Indira Gandhi?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Yes. I saw her in 1955 when her father met us in Austria. My first visit to India was when I was 18. Then I saw Indira, and Rajiv, who was just 14 years old. When I got married, Indira sent me a congratulatory note. I returned to India again in 1979 during the Janata government, but I could not meet her then. She had neither good nor bad relations with me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How, according to you, India remembers Netaji?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. All of India followed a different path. Active Congressmen and communists opposed the British but they were indifferent towards him. Modern India has different views. Of course, he sided with fascists; that is why he received some bad name. What else could he have done? Could he have turned to the US and Russia? No, he could not. There was no support coming. Which were the countries India might have got support for independence?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Is your father still remembered in Germany and Japan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. He is a household name in Japan. In Japanese history, people of different generations read about him. By now he is forgotten in Germany. People on the street don’t know him, which was not the case till the 1960s and 70s. But yes, academicians know him.</p> Sat Sep 03 14:01:57 IST 2022 ghulam-nabi-azad-has-left-congress-but-moving-on-could-be-difficult <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Larger-than-life photographs of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi adorn the drawing room walls of Ghulam Nabi Azad’s official residence in Delhi. In the waiting room, copies of Congress Sandesh, the party’s official mouthpiece, are placed on coffee tables in neat little stacks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Azad, who recently quit the party after serving it for more than four decades, these are links to a time when his association with the Congress leadership was anything but problematic. His aides, it is learnt, asked him if he wanted the photos to be taken away. He angrily shot them down, saying, “They are not going anywhere. They are my mentors.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Photographs of the current leadership, of course, are absent. For Azad, 73, his time in the Congress seems to be split in two—before and after Rahul Gandhi. And while he continues to recall his association with Indira, Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi, and also Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi with fondness, the focal point of his criticism is Rahul.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ironically, the Congress is now claiming that Azad’s stay in the house—filled with his links to the party—is a sign of his alleged proximity to the Narendra Modi regime. Azad is no longer a Rajya Sabha member, but he continues to stay in the official house. The Congress says this is a favour from the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Azad’s exit, party leaders say, was expected. The schism between him and the party leadership had only widened since he had written to Sonia, along with 22 other leaders, seeking reforms in the party and a full-time, visible leadership. This was seen as questioning the Gandhis’ authority and raising doubts about Rahul’s leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The timing of Azad’s departure has discomfited the Congress, especially as the criticism—from someone once close to the Gandhis—comes when the party is about to embark on the Rahul-led Bharat Jodo Yatra and is also starting the process to elect its new president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has hit back strongly, as it is felt that most of Azad’s resignation letter was aimed at vilifying Rahul. The party has claimed that Azad’s attacks on its leadership are remote-controlled by the BJP. It also alleged that his bitterness had a lot to do with him not getting renominated to the Rajya Sabha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Responding to Azad’s grievances about being sidelined, a source close to Rahul claimed that he had phoned Azad many times when he visited the Union territory to keep him on board with the party’s plans. When it was conveyed to him that Azad was upset, Rahul is learnt to have asked Rajani Patil, the party’s Jammu and Kashmir in-charge, to talk to Azad and resolve his issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The content [of Azad’s letter] is not factually correct and the timing is awful,” said party general secretary Jairam Ramesh. He also tweeted: “After such a long career, courtesy entirely the party he’s been tasked to slander, by giving interviews indiscriminately, Mr Azad diminishes himself further. What’s he afraid of that he’s justifying his treachery every minute? He can be easily exposed, but why stoop to his level?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Azad, the problems in the party began when Sonia started making way for Rahul. “His only agenda was that whoever is over 60 is not required,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Azad also told THE WEEK that personal humiliation was a big factor in his decision to quit. The last straw, he said, were the committees formed for Jammu and Kashmir recently. (See interview).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, however, insists that Azad was consulted on the formation of the committees. “Four meetings were held,” said a senior leader. “The last such meeting was held on July 14. Ghulam Nabi Azad gave four names for the post of PCC president. He said the names were not given in any particular order, and any one of them could be chosen.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for the road ahead, Azad will soon launch a party in Jammu and Kashmir. He will address a public rally in Jammu on September 4, which will clash with a Congress rally on price rise featuring top leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Azad claimed that 95 per cent of the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir was with him, and also rubbished speculation that he would join hands with the BJP. Leaders in the Azad camp, however, admitted that it would be challenging for him to make a fresh start in Jammu and Kashmir, even though he would project himself as a bridge between the valley and Jammu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is never easy to start a new party,” said a leader close to Azad. “It is not just about leaders. You need boots on the ground and infrastructure. Also, it is stupid to say that we can have a tie-up with the BJP. We cannot help the BJP get Hindu votes. If we join hands with the BJP, we will lose Muslim votes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Azad has left the Congress. But moving on is another thing.</p> Sat Sep 03 13:38:38 IST 2022 ghulam-nabi-azad-interview-rahul-sidelined-senior-leaders <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ When did you decide that you cannot continue in the Congress?</b></p> <p>A/ It had been building up. When Rahul Gandhi became an MP in 2004, Mrs [Sonia] Gandhi’s consultations with senior leaders reduced drastically. She began consulting Rahul more. Over time, senior Congress leaders were sidelined and felt isolated because Rahul never had any interest in meeting anybody. There was a blanket rule on not entertaining people above 60. Mrs Indira Gandhi worked with three generations. Credibility and experience are more important than age. Of my age, I am the first person to leave. All the others who have quit are young leaders belonging to the so-called Team Rahul.</p> <p><b>Q/ So your angst is basically about Rahul’s style of functioning.</b></p> <p>A/ I do not have anything against him as a person. But politics is not his cup of tea.</p> <p><b>Q/ The G23 letter sent in August 2020 is believed to have only widened the divide.</b></p> <p>A/ Things were not moving for the past nine years. Recommendations made to revive the party were gathering dust. Then, I wrote a letter in my individual capacity and then the G23 letter was sent. A special virtual meeting of the Congress Working Committee was convened. And every leader, starting with Rahul Gandhi, attacked us. We were accused of writing the letter in consultation with the BJP.</p> <p>In December 2020, Mrs Gandhi called us for a meeting. It lasted seven hours. At the very outset, I made it clear that none of us was after any position. We suggested that the star campaigners committee be formed much in advance of the state elections due five months later. We asked to be put on the panel and said we would make our own arrangements for the campaign trips. The committee was formed only after the elections were announced. And, after 42 years, I was dropped from the list!</p> <p><b>Q/ It is said that you felt humiliated by the manner in which committees were set up for Jammu and Kashmir.</b></p> <p>A/ The committees were formed without my consent. I do not know about these 80 people in the committees. Yes, I had given four names for the PCC president’s post, but who was chosen? The youngest on the list. The only criterion that appeared to work for him was his age. I was already a member of the political affairs committee headed by Mrs Gandhi at the central level. And then I was made a member of the PAC in the state. I was made a member of a committee headed by a leader who came from the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) just three or four years back. This was utmost humiliation. This was the last straw that broke the camel’s back.</p> <p><b>Q/ It is alleged that you are bitter because you were not renominated to the Rajya Sabha.</b></p> <p>A/ When I first wrote to the Congress president in 2020, I was the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha. When the G23 letter was sent, I still had one year to go as a Rajya Sabha member. So, that was not a consideration. My only concern was the decline of the party.</p> <p><b>Q/ You have been accused of acting at the BJP’s behest.</b></p> <p>A/ I did not hug the prime minister. Aren’t those people whose decisions are leading to the Congress’s</p> <p>decline helping the BJP realise its dream of making India Congress-mukt (free)?</p> Sat Sep 03 13:34:47 IST 2022 ghulam-nabi-azads-new-party-could-ultimately-benefit-bjp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>After resigning from the Congress on August 26, veteran leader Ghulam Nabi Azad claimed that when the G23—a group of 23 leaders unhappy with the working of the top brass, especially Rahul Gandhi—flagged the abysmal drift in the party, the “coterie” unleashed its “sycophants” on them. “My mock funeral was held in Jammu,” said Azad. “Those who committed such indiscipline were feted in Delhi by AICC (All India Congress Committee) general secretaries and Rahul Gandhi.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, having said his piece, now wants to launch his own party. “I am in no hurry, but keeping in mind that elections are likely to be held in Jammu and Kashmir, I have decided to launch a unit there soon,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He will arrive in Jammu on September 4 for consultations with supporters on this issue. As many as 12 senior J&amp;K Congress leaders, including four former ministers, have left the party to join Azad. Scores of grassroots workers, too, have gathered by his side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Congress has lost its momentum in contributing towards the future of my state,” former minister R.S. Chib wrote in his resignation letter to Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi. “Keeping in view the turmoil that the J&amp;K has witnessed, the people require a decisive leader like Azad to guide them towards a better future.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former minister G.M. Saroori said that 2,500 political leaders and workers had already pledged their support to Azad. Before submitting their resignations, the Azad loyalists had met him in Delhi. “His (Azad’s) services are needed in Jammu and Kashmir,” said Saroori. “We are sure he will be the next chief minister.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to sources, more Congress leaders, like former deputy chief minister Tara Chand, former minister Dr Manohar Lal Sharma and former legislator Balwan Singh, are also thinking of quitting the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rattled by the desertions, Congress leaders alleged that Azad was working for the BJP. Said G.A. Mir, former state Congress president known to be close to the Gandhis: “The Congress has raised the flag to unite the country under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. Unfortunately, Azad has decided to move away from the Congress and join the other camp.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also called Azad’s future party a ‘maha offshoot’ of the BJP, and added that he had heard of the BJP’s B and C teams, but now the A (Azad) team was coming.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mir claimed that Azad’s exit would end factionalism in the Congress. “His resignation will give our workers motivation to fight the communal forces,” he said. “For the time being, some people will feel the party has been weakened, but in the long run, it will emerge as a strong force across Jammu and Kashmir.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Azad’s decision to leave the Congress followed his resignation as chairman of the Congress’s Jammu and Kashmir campaign committee on August 16. He was upset over the party’s decision to name Vikar Rasool, considered his loyalist, the J&amp;K Pradesh Congress Committee president. Sources said that Azad himself had suggested Rasool’s name, but he was unhappy over being side-lined on decisions regarding the JKPCC. He was also upset with many of the decisions the AICC had taken on Jammu and Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last November, Azad had become quite active in the Chenab valley, drawing thousands to his rallies. He talked about the restoration of statehood, jobs and development, and maintained a balanced tone on Article 370.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon enough, his loyalists revolted against Mir, who was then JKPCC president. They argued that the party had performed poorly in every election under Mir and said that, “Unscrupulous sycophants have captured and hijacked the functioning of the PCC”. They also pointed out that not only did Mir lose the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but his son also lost the 2020 District Development Council (DDC) poll in his home constituency in Anantnag district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political observers believe that with Azad throwing his hat into the ring, the upcoming elections would become a three-way contest. He is expected to eat into the votes of the fragile People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD)—led by National Conference president Farooq Abdullah—which would benefit the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Azad’s focus will be on the Muslim parts of the Chenab Valley and Pir Panjal, including the districts of Rajouri and Poonch, he also has influence among Hindu voters in Jammu. “During the DDC polls, the NC and the PDP won a good number of seats in Jammu, mostly in Doda, Kishtwar, Bhaderwah, Rajouri and Poonch, because they put up joint candidates,” said a senior PDP leader in Jammu. “That may not be possible this time because of Azad.” He added that the NC alone won 25 DDC seats in Jammu, which gave the BJP a big scare.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the Gupkar Alliance decides not to contest the polls unitedly, many leaders from regional parties would join Azad. “Many political leaders who had joined smaller parties under duress after Article 370 was removed are now looking to join Azad,” said a senior political leader. “Shoaib Lone, who had joined the J&amp;K Apni Party, is now planning to join Azad. There are others who are not feeling comfortable in smaller parties, including some leaders from north Kashmir.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Altaf Bukhari, J&amp;K Apni Party president, accused Azad of “striking a deal” with the BJP and helping it abrogate Article 370.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has cultivated a vote bank in the Dogra heartland of Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Udhampur and parts of Reasi district, but Azad can win over Hindu voters who are displeased with the BJP and do not like the Congress either.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Winning seats from Muslim-majority areas is key to the BJP’s target of winning more than 50 seats in Jammu and Kashmir. In that context, the party apparently feels that it can do business with Azad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After delimitation, the number of Muslim-majority seats in Jammu has been reduced to nine, from 13. If Azad’s party can win a chunk of those seats and a few in Kashmir, he will become kingmaker in the valley.</p> Sun Sep 04 11:18:23 IST 2022 j-k-voting-rights-to-non-locals-a-move-to-disempower-natives <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE</b> of Jammu and Kashmir is about to undergo a massive change. Non-locals, including armed forces personnel, public and private sector employees, students and migrant labourers, can now vote in the assembly elections in the Union territory. Announcing the change on August 17, Chief Electoral Officer Hirdesh Kumar said a domicile certificate was no longer needed for a person to become a voter, as the Representation of the People Act, 1951, had become applicable to J&amp;K after the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>J&amp;K has 98 lakh adults and 76 lakh voters, he noted. “We are expecting an addition of 20 to 25 lakh new voters in the final list,’’ he said. Political observers said that a 30 per cent increase in the number of voters would be unprecedented and would alter the Union territory’s political and demographic landscape to the detriment of natives. The move to include non-locals in the voter list has reignited anger in J&amp;K, the only Muslim-majority region in the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former J&amp;K chief minister Omar Abdullah of the National Conference wondered if the BJP was so insecure that it had to import temporary voters to win seats. “None of these things will help the BJP when the people of J&amp;K get a chance to exercise their franchise,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti of the Peoples Democratic Party said the announcement was the last nail in the coffin of electoral democracy. She said the decision to defer polls in J&amp;K was preceded by egregious gerrymandering. “Now, allowing non-locals to vote is to influence election results,” she said. “The aim is to continue ruling J&amp;K with an iron fist to disempower natives.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mehbooba discussed the matter with National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, who heads the six-party People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, which seeks restoration of Article 370 and statehood to J&amp;K. Later, he called an all-party meeting to discuss the fallout of the development and how to counter it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the meeting on August 21, Farooq said there was a unanimous agreement that granting voting rights to non-locals was unacceptable and that the alliance would go to court if needed. “Today, 25 lakh non-locals are being given voting rights,” he said. “Tomorrow it will be 50 lakh or one crore.” He said it would lead to the legislative assembly being controlled by outsiders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I wonder why J&amp;K was chosen for this,’’ he said. “There must be some motive.” He plans to invite leaders of national parties to Srinagar or Jammu in September for a briefing. Besides the National Conference and the PDP, the Congress, the left parties, the Awami National Conference, the Shiv Sena, the Janata Dal (United) and the Akali Dal attended the all-party meeting on August 21. The Peoples Conference, led by Sajjad Gani Lone, and Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party, both of which are not part of the Gupkar alliance, stayed away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, Lone also opposed voting rights to non-locals. He likened it to the rigged elections of 1987 that triggered militancy in Kashmir. “This is dangerous,” he said. “I do not know what they want to achieve.” He said democracy was a relic, especially in Kashmir. “Please remember 1987,” he said. “We are yet to recover from that. This will be disastrous.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>M.Y. Tarigami, a senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said the Union government, in the absence of any representative government in J&amp;K, had been exercising undiluted bureaucratic control in the region since June 2018. Rajani Patil, Congress leader in charge of J&amp;K, said it was illegal to grant non-locals voting rights. “We will fight the issue legally,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chowdhary Lal Singh, former minister and leader of Jammu-based Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan Party, said outsiders were already occupying most businesses and jobs, as well as much of the land, in Jammu. “Giving voting rights to outsiders is an attempt to disempower the people,” he said. “I appeal to the prime minister to declare Jammu a separate state and give protection to land, jobs and identity under Article 371.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following the backlash, the government advertised a clarification in local newspapers. It said a revision of the electoral rolls had led to the “misrepresentation of facts by vested interests”. “This revision of electoral rolls will cover existing residents of the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the increase in numbers will be of voters who have attained the age of 18 years as of October 1, 2022, or earlier,” it said. But the clarification did not specify whether outsiders without a domicile certificate could register.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress spokesperson Deepika Singh Rajawat, who is a legal expert, said the move was a misinterpretation of the Representation of the People Act. After Article 370’s abrogation, she said, a person was entitled to domicile in J&amp;K after 15 years of residency, but, under the new policy, a temporary resident could also get voting rights. “To my knowledge, there is no such provision in the Act,” she said. “Let the government publish the names of those who have deleted their names from the voting list at their native places to register as a voter in J&amp;K, and on what grounds.” She warned that a volcano was simmering in J&amp;K as a result of the move.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has defended voting rights to non-locals. Its J&amp;K president Ravinder Raina asked why the National Conference, the PDP and the Congress were troubled by the idea of Gorkhas, Valmikis and refugees getting the right to vote. He said nobody objected to the many J&amp;K natives who were working and living in other states and had bought property. “Why should non-locals be denied such rights in J&amp;K? Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mufti Muhammad Sayeed contested polls outside Kashmir; nobody opposed them,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The granting of voting rights to non-locals comes after the controversial delimitation exercise, which caused an uproar in Kashmir because the less populated Jammu got six additional seats, while Kashmir got only one additional seat. This means a 4 per cent increase in the seat share of Hindu-majority Jammu in the 90-member assembly and a 3.4 per cent decrease in that of Kashmir. The delimitation reduces the chance of Muslim representation in the assembly from Jammu because of the way boundaries have been rearranged in Muslim-majority regions. For example, in Chenab Valley, seats have been increased from six to eight. According to PDP leader Firdous Tak, before delimitation, five of the six seats had a Muslim majority. Now, five of the eight will have a Hindu majority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Delimitation Commission also recommended nominating two Kashmiri Pandits to the assembly with voting rights and asked the government to consider giving representation in the assembly to Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK)—24 seats are officially kept vacant for the constituencies in POJK. There is a high chance of the Union government accepting the recommendations. This will also benefit the BJP and increase its political heft to counter the regional parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Voting rights to non-locals will, however, have far-reaching consequences not only for the politics and demography of J&amp;K but also for its security. There are fears that militants will intensify their attacks on non-locals in Kashmir, most of whom work during the summer months and leave before winter.</p> Sat Aug 27 13:41:29 IST 2022 initial-decisions-of-shinde-govt-show-bjp-has-upper-hand-in-maharashtra <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>CHIEF MINISTER EKNATH SHINDE</b> must have realised that helming the coalition government in Maharashtra is not going to be an easy task after the cabinet expansion on August 9 and portfolio allocation five days later. His decision to induct Sanjay Rathod and Abdul Sattar—former ministers and influential members of the Shiv Sena faction loyal to him—into the cabinet attracted widespread criticism almost immediately. Harsh words came not just from Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), but also from a section of his own ally, the BJP. Sattar and Rathod were among the 18 legislators who got ministerial berths, which were distributed equally between the two alliance partners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sattar and Rathod were ministers in the previous Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government as well. Rathod was shown the door in February last year following the mysterious death of Pooja Chavan, a 22-year-old student from Pune. BJP state vice president Chitra Wagh, who carried out a relentless campaign demanding justice for Pooja, alleged that Rathod was involved. Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who was then opposition leader, had strongly backed Wagh. So it was natural that she was upset at Rathod’s inclusion in the Shinde cabinet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sattar, who is the Shiv Sena’s lone Muslim MLA, got into trouble when it came to light that his daughter benefited from the teachers eligibility test scam and was declared qualified despite having failed the test. The scam is now being probed by the Enforcement Directorate. Uddhav’s Shiv Sena has alleged that Sattar misused his position as a minister in the MVA government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP was reportedly not in favour of inducting Rathod and Sattar. Shinde, however, argued that the police had given Rathod the clean chit and that the allegations against Sattar were politically motivated. He is also learnt to have pointed out that the BJP had nominated Vijaykumar Gavit, former NCP minister who was accused of corruption during his tenure as tribal development minister between 2004 and 2009. Gavit joined the BJP in 2014 and his daughter, Heena, is party MP from Nandurbar. Wagh, however, is in no mood to relent. “I have not seen any clean chit by any agency or court,” she said. “My fight against Rathod will continue in court.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a former BJP minister, Sattar put immense pressure on Shinde and got his name included at 3am on the day of cabinet expansion. Shinde must have realised that if Sattar could ditch Uddhav, he could very well leave him, too, perhaps with a few other disgruntled MLAs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another senior BJP leader said the decision to accommodate tainted leaders was the result of coalition compulsions. “Both Sattar and Rathod are powerful leaders in the Marathwada region. Rathod enjoys the support of the Banjara community. Just like we were forced to include Gavit to strengthen our base among tribal communities, the inclusion of Sattar and Rathod was Shinde’s compulsion,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde, meanwhile, has left out all independent MLAs—those from his camp and also those close to the BJP. Even Bachchu Kadu, who was a minister in the MVA government, was not included. A visibly upset Kadu told journalists that he had offered Shinde issue-based support, but that was not to be taken for granted. He met the chief minister and expressed his displeasure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Barring independents, all MVA ministers who switched to the Shinde camp found a place in the cabinet. These include Gulabarao Patil, Dada Bhuse, Shambhuraj Desai, Sandipan Bhumre and Uday Samant, along with Rathod and Sattar. The new additions from the Shinde group include Deepak Kesarkar and Tanaji Sawant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surprisingly, none of the Shinde group MLAs from Mumbai—Sada Sarvankar, Prakash Surve, Mangesh Kudalkar, Dilip Lande and Yamini Jadhav—were included. Shinde may have to induct one of them soon to strengthen his hold over Sena units in Mumbai, which, so far, have remained loyal to Uddhav.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The newly-inducted BJP ministers include Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, Sudhir Mungantiwar, Chandrakant Patil, Girish Mahajan, Suresh Khade, Ravindra Chavan, Atul Save, Mangalprabhat Lodha and Gavit. While Vikhe-Patil and Chandrakant Patil are Marathas, Mungantiwar and Mahajan are OBCs. Khade belongs to a scheduled caste community, while Gavit is from a scheduled tribe. Lodha, a Marwari Jain who heads the Mumbai BJP, has been included with an eye on the Mumbai municipal elections. Lodha also happens to be the richest minister in the cabinet with assets worth over Rs400 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The cabinet does not have any woman representation. NCP leader Supriya Sule said it showed that the Shinde government was not serious about women empowerment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has an upper hand in the allocation of portfolios. Fadnavis will be in charge of key ministries such as home, finance and planning, law and judiciary, water resources and housing. Although Shinde has kept for himself urban development, others from his faction have not been given any key portfolios.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although the cabinet was formed after a significant delay, Shinde and Fadnavis have been active from the day they took charge, reversing many of the decisions of the MVA government. The duo, for instance, decided to shift the proposed car shed of Mumbai Metro III back to the Aarey forests in suburban Mumbai. Fadnavis had chosen Aarey as the location for the car shed while he was chief minister. The decision, despite being upheld by the National Green Tribunal and the Supreme Court, faced stiff opposition from environmentalists, who enjoyed the backing of Uddhav’s son, Aditya. When Uddhav became chief minister, one of his first decisions was to move the car shed out of Aarey to Kanjurmarg in central Mumbai. With Shinde and Fadnavis reversing the decision, the issue has once again reached the Supreme Court, which has banned all tree felling in Aarey, till it reaches a final decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The metro car shed location is not the only MVA government decision that Shinde and Fadnavis have reversed. The new government has reinstated voting rights to farmers in the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) elections and restored pensions to people who opposed Emergency. It has also ruled that village sarpanch and municipal council presidents will be elected directly by voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political analyst Abhay Deshpande said although Shinde was the chief minister, it was the BJP’s original agenda which was being implemented. “The BJP will make sure that it keeps all key portfolios it held during Fadnavis’s tenure. It will also fast-track projects like the bullet train in which the Uddhav government had shown no interest at all,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde recently announced the cancellation of the Uddhav government’s decision to increase Mumbai’s municipal wards. The MVA government had raised the number of wards from 227 to 236, to help the Sena retain its edge in the upcoming Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections. Interestingly, the Congress has welcomed Shinde’s move. Former Union minister Milind Deora and Mumbai Congress president Bhai Jagtap were very critical of Uddhav’s decision, pointing out that Sena was the sole beneficiary of the reorganisation, while the Congress got a raw deal. Deora tweeted his satisfaction within hours of Shinde reversing the MVA decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly, in the bullet train issue, the state government has given all permissions to fast-track the project. It has also decided to transfer 4.2 hectares in the Bandra Kurla Complex to the National High Speed Rail Corporation to construct an underground terminus for the project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ironically, Shinde was a party to all the decisions. “He was part of the decision-making team when Fadnavis was chief minister, he was with Uddhav when the decisions were reversed and now, as CM, he is restoring those decisions,” said Deshpande. “So it is very clear that the BJP is in the driving seat and is dictating terms to Shinde. How long he allows that to continue will be interesting to see.”</p> Sat Aug 20 13:42:04 IST 2022 how-ed-and-cbi-investigations-are-hurting-trinamool-congress <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AFTER YEARS OF SLOW</b> progress in investigating cases, the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate have swung into action in Kolkata. Dozens of high-profile cases—ranging from coal pilferage and cross-border cattle smuggling to money laundering and political murder—are keeping the central agencies busy and the West Bengal government worried.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both the ED and the CBI in Kolkata have had a makeover in recent times. The CBI has set up a new team of investigators, headed by joint director N. Srinivasan. The ED has received a reinforcement of around 100 officers from Delhi, who have been tasked with clearing bottlenecks in ongoing investigations in cases registered across West Bengal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most such cases are not new; but the doggedness with which the agencies are pursuing them is. The ED, which had been probing allegations that 19 ministers in the Trinamool Congress government had assets disproportionate to their known income, made its first big arrest last month. Partha Chatterjee, Trinamool veteran and number two in Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s cabinet, was nabbed on July 23 in a case related to irregularities in the recruitment of schoolteachers. The ED also arrested Chatterjee’s associate Arpita Mukherjee, and unearthed around 050 crore in cash and gold from various properties linked to them. The CBI has arrested two former members of the West Bengal School Service Commission for making “improper” recruitments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chatterjee is the fourth Trinamool minister to be arrested in the past 10 years. The other three have been Madan Mitra (in 2014, in the Saradha chit fund case), Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim (both in 2021, in the Narada sting tapes case). The Trinamool had termed the arrests of Mitra, Mukherjee and Hakim as political vendetta, and allowed them to continue as ministers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chatterjee, though, was shut out of the party and the government soon after his arrest. The Trinamool leadership—under Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, MP—even issued a public apology in response to the allegations against Chatterjee. “We are ashamed of what Partha Chatterjee has done. This is not the Partha we know,” said Hakim, who is still an accused in the Narada case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The teacher recruitment scam allegedly began in 2016, when Chatterjee was minister of education. Apparently, hundreds of ineligible candidates were appointed as teachers in state-run and government-aided schools, ahead of those who scored high marks in recruitment tests. The ED and the CBI are now investigating whether the illegal appointments happened with the knowledge of Mamata and top Trinamool leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mamata got another jolt on August 11, when the CBI arrested one of her most trusted aides, Anubrata Mondal. A Trinamool heavyweight known for his fundraising abilities, Mondal controls the party in Birbhum, Purba Burdwan, Paschim Bardhaman, Nadia and Jhargram districts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the CBI, Mondal was involved in the illegal trade of cattle into Bangladesh. Every year, tens of thousands of cattle from West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Assam are reportedly smuggled across the 2,200km-long India-Bangladesh border. The racket reportedly makes around Rs10,000 crore a year, and it allegedly includes politicians, government officials and police, Customs, and Border Security Force personnel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CBI says Mondal’s personal guard Sehegal Hossain was in touch with the racket’s kingpin, Enamul Haque. During interrogation, Sehegal reportedly told investigators that he took bribes from Haque for each cattle smuggled across the border from Birbhum and Murshidabad districts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ED and the CBI are also investigating Mondal’s role in the alleged pilferage of coal from the state-run Eastern Coalfields Limited. The CBI has already arrested four ECL officials, including a general manager, and several Trinamool leaders close to Abhishek Banerjee. Mondal, however, has received Mamata’s strong backing. Critics attribute it to the fact that Abhishek and his wife, Rujira, were also questioned in the same cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mondal’s arrest seems to have unnerved Mamata. With panchayat elections due early next year, Mamata and Abhishek have started efforts to revamp the party by replacing tainted veterans with younger leaders. Mamata apparently expects more party leaders to be arrested in the next few months. The ED recently sent a notice to Public Works Minister Moloy Ghatak in connection with the coal pilferage case. A few Trinamool legislators are also reportedly under the ED and CBI scanner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“With these investigations under way, the criminals [in the Trinamool] would all go to jail one by one,” said Dilip Ghosh, national vice president of the BJP. “Also note that this time, there has been no resistance from her party against central agencies. The agencies are carrying out the arrests with the help of Central Reserve Police Force personnel.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior Trinamool leaders, however, are confident that the party would weather the recent setbacks. The leadership changes in the grassroots are expected to strengthen the Trinamool ahead of the panchayat polls. “[Abhishek Banerjee] has decided that there would be no repeat of the violence in the 2018 panchayat elections,” said Sougata Roy, party leader and Lok Sabha member. “Opposition parties would get the opportunity to fight the election, and there would be a level playing field.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to him, the Trinamool would continue benefiting from Mamata’s image, which apparently remains untarnished. “So long as she is there,” said Roy, “these arrests by central agencies would not have any impact politically.”</p> Sat Aug 20 13:15:32 IST 2022 gangs-of-punjab-criminals-wanted-in-india-hide-and-fire-from-abroad <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WHEN PUNJAB </b>DGP Gaurav Yadav first saw Lawrence Bishnoi a fortnight ago, he was not impressed. The dreaded gangster stood at 5.5”, weighed 50kg and was unassuming enough to pass off as any guy off the road. He was timid and shifty, and lacked the swagger expected from the boss of a transnational network of criminals that spreads from Moga in Punjab to safe-houses in Pakistan, all the way up to Canada.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Punjab Police had arrested Bishnoi after he claimed to have masterminded the May 29 murder of Punjabi rapper Sidhu Moosewala. He has been in custody since June. Every day, he is interrogated along with other gangsters—many of them are seated across the table from him to unravel the conspiracies behind the recent gangster killings that have rung alarm bells in Delhi. Bishnoi is partly responsible for a flurry of activity that has begun on the diplomatic and security front.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the Punjab Police, he runs an international extortion racket, headed by Satinderjit Singh alias Goldy Brar in Canada and Harjot Singh Gill in the US. Brar and Harjot seem to have fallen out over money matters, though.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Brar was a known local gangster in Punjab since 2012; he came in contact with Bishnoi in 2020, allegedly when he sought help to avenge his cousin's murder. Brar’s father, an assistant sub-inspector in the state police, was dismissed because of his son's criminal activities. Today, the father lives alone in Punjab while the rest of the family has moved out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Harjot, from a village in Fazilka, Punjab, moved to the US and allegedly runs a music company with his brother Jaspreet in Fountain Valley, California. He last visited India in 2018-19, and stayed for six months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bishnoi gang, though, is just one piece of the foreign-based gangster puzzle. A common link between the gangsters in India and those in Canada and the west is Harwinder Singh Sandhu, aka Rinda—a Pakistan-based gangster-turned-terrorist who allegedly masterminded the rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) attack on the Punjab Police's intelligence headquarters in Mohali on May 9. Reportedly, Harjot provided two men for the RPG attack.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rinda is wanted by the Punjab Police in 22 cases and by the Maharashtra Police in two. Originally from Tarn Taran in Punjab, he had migrated to Nanded in Maharashtra many years ago. He is said to be in Pakistan now, with an Indian passport he got with a fake identity, and is reportedly sheltered by Pakistan-based terrorist groups and the Inter-Services Intelligence. The RPG attack came after several failed attempts by his foot soldiers to attack police buildings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With all this coming to light, security officials say that the old Khalistan-ISI nexus is far from dead; only the original leadership, nurtured by the ISI, has grown old, and a new team had to be created. This new group consists of at least 34 new faces—including Bishnoi and Brar—who are based in the US, the UK, Canada, Germany and some other European countries. The new set has stylish branding and westernised names like Brothers Keepers, Hell's Angels and Red Scorpions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The distinction between gangsters and terrorists is fast vanishing,” Yadav told THE WEEK. “Rinda is in close proximity to Babbar Khalsa International chief Wadhawa Singh Babbar and the ISI. But they do not operate directly in India, and instead use foreign shores to contact their close associates who have mercenary motives as well as ideological reasons to assist their nefarious designs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rinda crossed over to Pakistan through Nepal a couple of years ago, and is learnt to be staying in a posh house in an upmarket location with several other terrorists who fled India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While investigating the cross-border links behind the RPG terror attack, the Punjab Police also found Nishan Singh from Tarn Taran and his foreign handler, Lakhbir Singh Landa—a history-sheeter who used to live in Tarn Taran before he fled to Canada in 2017. He allegedly arranged the safe home, an assault rifle and the RPG for the accused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to investigators, the Bishnoi gang, Rinda and the Canadian gangsters have several meeting points. It was Bishnoi's childhood friend Naresh, alias Arjun, who introduced him to Rinda; Arjun had met Rinda at a hideout in Amritsar years ago. Over time, Satveer, alias Sam, an active member of the Bishnoi gang, was asked to stay in touch with Arjun, who went on to expand Rinda's terror ring for financial gains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Besides Landa, other 'A' category criminals on India's wanted list who have found a safe haven in Canada are Brar, Charanjit Singh aka Rinku Bihla, Arshdeep Singh aka Arsh Dalla, and Ramandeep Singh aka Raman Judge. There is also Gurpinder Singh aka Baba Dalla and Sukhdul Singh aka Sukha Duneke, who are uncategorised criminals wanted in India for targeted killings. Hardeep Singh Nijjar of the Khalistan Tiger Force—against whom there are at least 10 FIRs in Punjab and Haryana, and who is on the National Investigation Agency’s wanted list—is learnt to be living in Surrey, British Columbia, on a Canadian passport.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian government has reportedly sent dossiers to different countries with proof against these men, but they are yet to consider extradition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Veteran Canadian Broadcasting Corporation journalist Terry Milewski said his country does not see the Khalistani-terrorist nexus as a serious problem. The gangster activities are dealt with as “routine police problems”. “In Canada, certain politicians are against defining the [Khalistan] problem as a national security threat,” he told THE WEEK. “That does not match Delhi's expectations. But the fact remains that Canada safeguards freedom of speech and, legally, the country is correct to say that merely advocating a separate Sikh state and shouting 'Khalistan Zindabad' is not a crime.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most gangsters on India's wanted list are Canadian citizens and, unless they commit a crime on Indian soil, Indian authorities cannot ask for their deportation or extradition. Western countries have also quoted their privacy laws for not sharing any information about citizens in their countries, even if they have links in Punjab. The other problem is the vast legal paperwork that comes into play, in each case, to prove the identity of the accused. Every year, many people from Punjab try to get citizenship of countries like Canada, the US, the UK and Germany. Intelligence agencies have noticed instances of some of them applying for political asylum later using assumed identities. This makes it difficult for Indian missions to confirm their Indian nationality. In case asylum is rejected, they need to be deported. At this juncture, the deporting country sometimes proves that the asylum seekers are Indian citizens, but the Indian agencies do not know how, say security officials. This puts them in a spot as they still want the asylum seekers to be deported.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Though Indians may have a good reason to complain, sometimes the distant connections of these individuals with gangs and terror outfits do not violate the free-speech protections, and that prevents any action against them,” said Milewski.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But when some stray bullets hit people of the host country, a crackdown becomes inevitable. The July killing of Ripudaman Malik—who was acquitted in the 1985 Air India terror bombing case—has caught the attention of the Canadian police. Security experts felt that Malik, a Canadian citizen, was keen on exposing the nexus between the ISI and Khalistani groups. He was unguarded as he enjoyed the freedom Canada was offering him. Days later, on July 24, Brothers Keepers member Meninder Dhaliwal and his friend Sat Gill were shot dead in a police encounter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though pro-Khalistani elements account for only a fraction of the Indian community in Canada, they have an outsized influence in community affairs, said a security official. They gain legitimacy by acting as vote banks in various foreign countries, and remain a potent force that is being tapped by anti-India elements, added the official.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shuvaloy Majumdar, senior fellow and head of Macdonald-Laurier Institute's foreign policy programme, said there is light at the end of the tunnel given the Canadian interest to partner more closely with India. “For Canada, Pakistan has increasingly become an economic colony and military vendor for China,” he said. “Economic diplomacy and potential [of cooperation] with Delhi is vast. There are constant efforts to improve ties with India by addressing shared security concerns.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, he said there was just a minuscule lot that demands a separate Khalistan today. “The Khalistan Referendum by Sikhs for Justice has been an utter failure in India and abroad. So, the issue has completely failed as a geopolitical matter today,” he said. The need of the hour, he said, was strategic and diplomatic cooperation to weed out the criminal elements, funded by global terror groups, who are trying to disturb the social fabric of all countries involved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, with Indian intelligence now claiming that the gangster-terror groups have co-opted the human trafficking and narcotics networks—thereby adding more money and muscle power—it is a wake-up call for all parties involved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back home, the Punjab Police has put the pedal to the metal in its clean-up drive. However, the Bhagwant Mann government and the Centre would have to set aside their political differences and get on the same page to beat the security threat. Yadav said they are on strict vigil and these networks would be dealt with an iron hand. For example, on July 20, Punjab Police neutralised Jagroop Singh (from Tarn Taran) and Manpreet Singh (from Moga) in Amritsar. They were involved in Moosewala’s shooting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, back in jail, Bishnoi has pleaded to his interrogators that he loved his country, honoured religious sentiments and was simply fulfilling friendships made during his Panjab University days. It was there he had his first brush with politics and gang wars as president of the students’ organisation. His dark side was nurtured ever since, as friends turned gangsters and gangsters turned terrorists, quietly aided and abetted by outfits sitting across the border.</p> Sat Aug 13 17:26:33 IST 2022 vp-jagdeep-dhankhar-will-be-a-textbook-rajya-sabha-chairman <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>JAGDEEP DHANKHAR</b> is a quick learner. Within months of joining the Sainik School in Rajasthan’s Chittorgarh as a class five student, he became proficient in English. “During the summer vacations when he was home, he was called to speak before visiting government officials to display his skills. For the villagers, he was always the boy who spoke English well,” recalled Randeep Dhankhar, Congress leader and the new vice president’s younger brother.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At Sainik School, he was also the best cadet of Sanga House—named after Maharana Sangram Singh—and was selected to the National Defence Academy. “They (cadets) are highly motivated by the deeds of this brave ruler and they are also determined to win every battle of their life and are ready to face any challenges to realise their cherished goal in life,” reads the school description.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Dhankhar had other battles in mind. He did not join the NDA. “He wanted to study more,” said Randeep. The young Dhankhar’s career graph was nomadic—he went on to study Physics for graduation and pursued a law degree from Rajasthan University. He found his calling in the latter. He had a thriving practice, and people would “wait in queues” to hire him as a lawyer, said Randeep. He was later elected Rajasthan High Court Bar Association president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Randeep said his brother is fond of children and loves talking to them. Dhankhar, 71, has a daughter who is married to a Supreme Court lawyer; he had his son when he was 14. Both brothers had gotten married on the same day, though in different locations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his mid-30s, Dhankhar had a thriving practice in Jaipur when the country’s politics was on the boil. The Bofors scandal, the Sri Lankan civil war and militancy in Punjab were troubling the Rajiv Gandhi government. Then Defence Minister V.P. Singh had quit the government to float the Janata Dal. Jat strongman Devi Lal was scouting for leaders, and Dhankhar’s name was suggested to him. Dhankhar took a large number of supporters to Delhi to participate in Devi Lal’s birthday rally in 1989.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The same year, Devi Lal asked Dhankhar to contest from the Jhunjhunu Lok Sabha seat. He won. However, as Devi Lal (then deputy prime minister) fell out with prime minister V.P. Singh, Dhankhar followed his mentor. He became minister of state for parliamentary affairs in the Chandra Shekhar government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After losing in the next general elections, he joined the Congress and became an MLA in Rajasthan. His political career plateaued in the party, and he resumed his practice—he became a lawyer in the Supreme Court and moved to Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2003, he joined the BJP. As a lawyer, he came close to senior BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leaders. But, it was only when Narendra Modi came to power that the utility of Jat leaders as formidable administrators was recognised. In 2017, the BJP had picked Satya Pal Malik—another Jat leader—as Bihar governor when Nitish Kumar ran the state government with the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress. He was later made governor of Jammu and Kashmir. Dhankhar, too, had a tough assignment—as West Bengal governor, he had to take on an aggressive Mamata Banerjee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, Dhankhar becomes Rajya Sabha chairman when the country’s polity is deeply polarised. His role will be visible during the winter session of Parliament, which is set to be historic. It will take place in the new Parliament building, and Dhankhar will preside over the first sitting of the House there. The BJP has just lost an ally in the Janata Dal (United), and the political redrawing of battle-lines will be reflected in the manner the opposition takes on the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhankhar would have a tough task managing the opposition’s demands, but his deep knowledge of the Constitution will come in handy. He will be a textbook Rajya Sabha chairman who would wave the rulebook at the opposition, just like he did to Banerjee as governor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We have high hopes from him,” said Congress Rajya Sabha member Shaktisinh Gohil. “We hope that he will listen to our legitimate demands and allow us to raise issues.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Running the House when the numbers are not with the ruling party needs a deft hand. Former Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari had, in 2011, adjourned the House sine die citing disruptions before voting on the Lokpal Bill could take place. The following year, he asked the privileges committee to study the series of wrong replies given by various ministers in the Upper House, much to the UPA government’s embarrassment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Outgoing Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu, too, left his mark on the office. A proactive presiding officer, he wrote and spoke extensively on the government’s policies. “Venkaiah ji is probably the first chairman to have cared so much about the functioning of parliamentary committees,” Modi said during his farewell. Under Naidu, the productivity of the Rajya Sabha increased by 70 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhankhar’s tenure will end in 2027, three years into the next government’s term. While he himself will be apolitical, his Jat roots and Rajasthan connection will help the BJP when it campaigns in areas where the community is strong. The party has already marketed his farming background, calling him ‘Kisan Putra’. Also, with him not having a Sangh background, the BJP is sending a message to potential allies and leaders—ahead of the 2024 elections—that they could be rewarded even if they make a lateral entry into the party. This was on display when Eknath Shinde was made Maharashtra chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Our father was a farmer,” said Randeep. “I joined politics before him (Dhankhar). I was chairman of the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation in the last Ashok Gehlot government.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The brothers may be on opposite sides in terms of ideology, but that does not prevent them from having a cordial relationship. The opposition would hope for the same.</p> Sat Aug 13 16:55:56 IST 2022 why-emergence-of-obcs-as-pressure-group-in-mp-is-a-challenge-for-parties <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The rainy evening of July 20 witnessed a rare post-poll scenario in Madhya Pradesh as celebrations erupted simultaneously at the BJP and Congress headquarters in Bhopal, situated within 3km of each other. The ruling BJP claimed that it swept the local body polls, winning up to 90 per cent of the seats (at ward level) and nine of the 16 mayoral posts. The Congress said the BJP actually suffered a big setback, losing seven mayor posts, including those in cities like Gwalior and Jabalpur, which the saffron party had won in the 2014-15 polls. Five of those seats were won by the Congress; the Aam Aadmi Party took Singrauli and an independent won Katni. The Congress lost two mayoral seats (Burhanpur and Ujjain) by wafer-thin margins.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP said the “historic win” was a big show of faith by the voters in its leadership and its development policies. The Congress countered that the big losses demonstrated that the people were turning back to the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political watchers felt that the BJP would have to introspect about its losses, especially in the mayor posts, while the Congress needed to assess the obvious lack of support at the urban ward levels. Both parties, in the view of analysts, would have to seriously consider the sudden emergence of the OBCs (Other Backward Classes) as a separate sociopolitical group or a “vote base”. The simmering resentment of the OBCs on the quota issue might have served as an undercurrent in the polls, especially precipitating losses for the BJP in urban areas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The OBCs seem to have the potential to seriously impact the 2023 assembly elections if their demands—especially that of political, academic and job quotas—are not taken seriously. The threat is more alarming for the BJP, as the OBCs are, in general, considered close to the party. “The BJP tried to reach an understanding with the OBCs before the polls, but could not douse the resentment completely,” said political analyst Ravindra Jain. Another analyst Manish Dixit said while the BJP might continue to woo the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe voters, the party could not afford to take the OBC voters for granted. “The BJP suffered setbacks in the mayoral polls in big cities, despite being considered as a party with a strong urban base. A significant chunk of the OBC voters were not very happy,” said Dixit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP and the Congress, however, dismissed the argument. But it might not be easy for them to ignore the numerically significant OBCs. The OBC Mahasabha, a Madhya Pradesh-based group with a pan-India network, seems ready to take on both parties. The group made its electoral debut by contesting a few seats in the panchayat polls and managed to win several of them. Dharmendra Kushwaha, core group member of the group, told THE WEEK that its electoral debut, which damaged the prospects of several candidates supported by the two major parties, especially the ruling BJP, was just a trailer of what could happen in the assembly polls. “The political parties should ignore us at their own peril,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>OBCs constitute about 48 per cent of the state’s voters (as per the recent report of the MP Backward Classes Welfare Commission submitted to the Supreme Court). They include about 64 different Hindu communities, apart from the scheduled castes who converted to Christianity and Islam. Over the past two decades, the OBCs were thought to be aligned with the BJP. The fact that all three BJP chief ministers of the state since 2003 (Uma Bharti, Babulal Gaur and incumbent Shivraj Singh Chouhan) were OBCs speaks volumes about the importance of the group.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In these two decades, the BJP did not have to make any special effort to woo the OBCs and probably never considered them a vote base in the social engineering sense, though powerful communities like the Lodhi, Kirar, Patel, Gurjar, Kalar and Meena were always given extra attention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the sudden change in the scenario over the past year has underlined the importance of keeping OBCs in good humour ahead of the 2023 polls. This is more so because Muslims constitute only 6.5 per cent of Madhya Pradesh voters and a divisive communal agenda might not work as it did in other states like Uttar Pradesh. Therefore, much depends on social engineering within the Hindu vote base.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The OBC factor in Madhya Pradesh emerged suddenly in mid-2021 around the time when the BJP, following the coup that ousted the Kamal Nath-led Congress government, started to focus on gaining back its lost vote bank. The party was working solicitously on wooing tribal voters after having lost 31 of 47 ST-reserved seats in 2018.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having understood the importance of the crucial tribal votes, the BJP started out with a well-planned strategy for the 2023 polls. Tribal heroes suddenly took centre-stage, key places and institutions were named after them, the biggest faces of the BJP—Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah—participated in big tribal events in the state and Chouhan announced the long-pending implementation of PESA (Panchayats—Extension to Scheduled Areas—Act) rules.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But even as the saffron party focused on this crucial vote bank, the far bigger OBC groups started to grow restive over the lingering issue of 27 per cent quota in government jobs. The 15-month Congress government had made this provision through an ordinance, but the MP High Court almost immediately issued an interim stay order. While the Congress failed to do much legally in the matter when it was in the government, it decided to play up the issue after losing power. The party took up the matter in a big way in the 2021 monsoon session of the assembly, forcing adjournments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The issue flared up unexpectedly with demands of a 27 per cent quota not only in government jobs, but also in academics and political representation. Chouhan responded by engaging a prominent legal team. However, since the matter was linked to a constitutional limit of 50 per cent total quota, reservation higher than 14 per cent did not look possible. The only way out was the inclusion of the provision in the ninth schedule of the Constitution, which contains a list of Central and state laws that cannot be challenged in courts. The BJP government, however, did not take any step towards this possibility, but kept on assuring the community that it was trying its best. It also highlighted the fact that the Union government had made provisions for a 27 per cent OBC quota in the Central pool of medical seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as the issue continued to fester, the MP government decided to conduct the long-pending panchayat polls and the schedule was announced in November 2021. However, the ordinance on rotation and delimitation of seats was challenged in the Supreme Court. On December 17, 2021, the court ordered a stay on OBC quota seats in the panchayat polls, saying that in many cases it exceeded 50 per cent of total reservation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All hell broke loose as OBC organisations and the Congress launched huge protests. Considering the huge political ramifications, the government agreed to pass a unanimous resolution in the assembly that the polls would not be held without OBC quota. The panchayat polls scheduled for January-February 2021 were thus cancelled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government also initiated a process of fulfilling triple-test norms laid down by the apex court, including a detailed enumeration of OBC population/voters through the State OBC Welfare Commission. After some delay, the commission presented its report to the Supreme Court on May 6, presenting the data of 48 per cent voters and recommending a 35 per cent political quota. But on May 10, the court ruled that the commission’s report was incomplete and ordered the notification of both panchayats and urban local bodies’ polls, without OBC quota, within two weeks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This sent the BJP government scampering. A review petition was filed in the Supreme Court and further detailed data was presented. Finally, on May 18, the apex court allowed OBC quota in the local body polls, but capped it at 50 per cent, which meant that the OBCs effectively got an average 14 per cent quota. The Chouhan government claimed this ‘reinstatement’ of OBC quota as a big win. But the Congress and the OBC organisations were quick to point out that the average 14 per cent quota was in place for the last three decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The OBC Mahasabha called for a bandh on May 21 to express its resentment. It put forth a list of demands including total implementation of Mandal Commission recommendations, reservation on 353 seats in Lok Sabha and similar representational quota in state assemblies, census for OBCs and consequent representational reservation in legislature, judiciary, executive as well as in private sector, doing away with creamy layer rules and immediate filling up of backlog of reserved posts in Central and state government recruitments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sensing the resentment, the Congress announced that it would give 27 per cent tickets in the urban local bodies’ polls to OBC candidates. The BJP said it would give more than 27 per cent. Also, in a surprise move, the BJP nominated an OBC woman (Kavita Patidar) and a dalit woman (Sumitra Valmiki) to the two available Rajya Sabha seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite this, the OBC Mahasabha fielded candidates in the panchayat polls. “We won 63 seats of zilla (district) panchayat members (out of 200-odd who contested), 217 janpad panchayat members (out of around 500 candidates) and 432 sarpanch posts (out of 600-odd candidates). We also won a seat each for the janpad president and vice president,” said Kushwaha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the OBC Mahasabha would hold a convention in Bhopal in August and issue an ultimatum to the government. “We have been taken for a ride for a long time. Neither the BJP, nor the Congress has done anything concrete for us,” said Kushwaha. “But since the BJP is in the government, we will be putting our demands before it and if those are not fulfilled, we will take necessary steps ahead of the 2023 assembly polls.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kushwaha said the BJP kept on harping that the party had given three consecutive OBC CMs, but asked what they had done for the OBCs. He also revealed that an OBC Rajya Sabha member was nominated from the state only after a letter was sent by the OBC Mahasabha to BJP president J.P. Nadda. “We also wrote to Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi, but the party ignored our demand,” said Kushwaha. “Both the parties will have to face the consequences in 2023, if they keep on with their attitude.”</p> Fri Aug 05 15:53:39 IST 2022 every-section-of-society-is-against-bjp-kamal-nath <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The BJP claims to have won 90 per cent seats in the polls.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why 90 per cent? It should say it won 100 per cent. I mean the results are there. We won seven [mayoral seats], the AAP won one seat and one went to an independent. The BJP won one seat (Burhanpur) by about 500 votes, another one (Ujjain) by manipulations, so how many has it won actually? It won just five (out of 16 seats). The BJP now, even as we speak, is buying janpad members, zilla panchayat members… to somehow get a majority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is the BJP buying members to form local councils?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No. I do not say that. But it is trying to see whether it can buy someone at the janpad level who is poor. But then it cannot purchase someone’s heart, mind and soul.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But the BJP says it won most of the wards.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t know the minute details. But the question is not how many seats the BJP won, but what we were in the past. We were at zero. So this result (mayoral wins) is a very big jump for us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are the results a boost for the 2023 assembly polls?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Obviously this will be helpful for us in the 2023 polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you feel OBC discontent was a factor?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Every section of society is against the BJP. It has got only police, paisa (money) and prashasan (administration).</p> Fri Aug 05 15:46:01 IST 2022 bjp-has-support-of-all-communities-vishnu-dutt-sharma <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>You claimed to have won about 90 per cent seats in the local polls.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, we have released the figures. This is the first time that the BJP has won such a large number of urban local bodies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But there were losses of mayoral posts.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the mayoral seats, even where the Congress has won by mistake, the BJP is forming the councils, [having won the majority of wards]. It is like in the 2018 assembly polls when the BJP got the higher vote percentage, but the Congress formed the government. People gave the mandate and a higher number of seats to the BJP, but in some mayor seats, there were some pluses and minuses for local reasons, because of which we lost.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why big losses in the Gwalior-Chambal belt, despite the presence of stalwarts like Jyotiraditya Scindia?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some situations sometimes develop during elections. We will analyse the reasons in that belt, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Did OBC discontent create any problem for you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not at all. The BJP has the support of all communities. Our basic motto is ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ and we go by that completely.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So, there will not be any change in the strategy for the 2023 assembly polls?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are always prepared for all polls. Just see how well the BJP’s organisational system is working on the ground level, which got us so many seats in the local bodies. This is the preparation for 2023. We projected a 51 per cent vote share and in municipal corporations we have reached 52 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is there a fatigue among people towards the leadership?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course not. Our big win shows the complete faith in the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. People are highly appreciative of the development work done by the Union and the state governments.</p> Sun Aug 07 11:43:24 IST 2022 manipur-on-edge-over-killings-of-two-indian-tamils-in-myanmar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A BIRTHDAY PARTY</b> invitation ended on a tragic note for M. Aiyanar, 28, and his close friend P. Mohan, 25.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Residents of Moreh in Manipur, Aiyanar and Mohan belonged to Tamil families that had fled Myanmar. The duo were allegedly shot dead in Myanmar’s Tamu, some 20km from Moreh, on July 5.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both their wives were unhappy about their Tamu visit. Aiyanar’s wife, Gurmeet Singh, had dissuaded him from travelling to Tamu, considering the volatile situation there following the military coup in February 2021. Theirs was a love marriage; they courted for three years and were married for another three. They have an eight-month-old son. Gurmeet, a Sikh, too, has her roots in Myanmar.</p> <p>“In Tamil Nadu, it is rare for a Tamil Brahmin to marry someone from another caste or religion,” said M. Mohan, Aiyanar’s neighbour. “But in Moreh, it is possible as we are all from refugee families, having been uprooted 60 years ago.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>P. Mohan’s was an arranged marriage, unlike Aiyanar’s. He married Meenakshi this June. With Covid-19 on the rise, the couple had postponed their honeymoon by a few months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But neither Mohan nor Aiyanar—both of whom had shops in the Moreh market—had any qualms crossing the border to attend a friend’s birthday party. The Indo-Myanmar border is an open border with free movement regime that allows residents on both sides to travel 16km into either country without visa. Covid-19 had halted this movement since March 2020. Border security was further tightened following the coup. “But my son was desperate to go to Tamu,” said an inconsolable M. Devi, Mohan’s mother.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE WEEK, in its cover story dated January 9, 2022, had written about the tunnel used by Myanmarese to reach Moreh to buy and sell goods. All such tunnels were recently destroyed by the Assam Rifles, which is in charge of border security. Despite that, the movement of people across the border continues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“How much ever the security forces try, people of both sides with ethnic links cross the border often,” said K.B.S. Maniam, general secretary of the Moreh Tamil Sangam. “It was good for both sides as otherwise people living on either side could not do business and survive.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tamils in Moreh and Myanmar are bound by ethnicity, as their ancestors were first taken to Yangon by the East India Company as labourers along with people from present day Punjab, Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. Several Tamils returned to India and made Moreh home after the military junta toppled the government in 1962. There are around 5,000 Tamils in Moreh now. Many Tamils, however, chose to stay back in Myanmar. Today, around 10 lakh Tamils live in Tamu and Yangon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Myanmar’s radical Buddhists are against Christians and Muslims and they have tried to drive them out. But they never ill-treated Tamil Hindus in the past,” said Maniam, who also taught Aiyanar and Mohan in school. “This is for the first time that Tamils have been attacked.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the National Unity Government (NUG), Myanmar’s government-in-exile, Aiyanar and Mohan were brutally beaten up and then hanged before being shot. Tamil Sangam representatives said that the duo was suspected to be agents of the People’s Defence Force (PDF), the armed wing of the NUG that has been fighting the military junta. The junta, in turn, created a militant group called Pyu Saw Htee to resist the PDF. Aiyanar and Mohan were allegedly killed by Pyu Saw Htee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My students could not trace the exact location of the birthday party,” said Maniam. “Their friends told them that it would be at a Buddhist temple. Our Tamil sources there told us that the military council-backed people shot them from close range, in broad daylight. It speaks volumes of the greatest human rights violation happening in Myanmar, which the world is not taking note of.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NUG, in a statement, said, “At the behest of military council, Indian insurgents, who are part of Pyu Saw Htee, are also behind the killing.” It claimed it had a record of the killings, arbitrary arrests and torture in jails by present military authorities in Myanmar. The killings of the Indian Tamils, said NUG, show that what was happening in Myanmar was no longer an internal matter, and that there was a security threat to India as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to an Indian Army officer, Pyu Saw Htee “carry sophisticated arms given by China”. THE WEEK, in its January cover story, had reported on how Indian intelligence agencies and the Army think China could have orchestrated the coup in Myanmar to push drugs, arms and terrorists into India through the porous border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pyu Saw Htee, however, publicly denied the execution of Indian Tamils and instead accused the PDF of killing them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what surprised India was that despite several requests, Myanmar did not hand over the bodies of Aiyanar and Mohan. According to the NUG, the bodies were cremated the same day in Tamu. “That is very unethical and inhuman on the part of a country that claims to be a Buddhist state,” said a Manipur minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the Assam Rifles refused to comment, an officer of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army, which supervises anti-insurgency operations in the northeast, said, “The incident took place in an area where neither the Army nor the Assam Rifles has control. The matter will be handled by the two countries at the appropriate level.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Agreed Manipur’s Tribal Affairs and Hills Minister Letpao Haokip. “I cannot say anything now as the matter has gone to Delhi for consideration,” said Haokip, MLA from Tengnoupal, under which Moreh falls. He visited the two families with Chief Minister N. Biren Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following the killings, the Tamil community in Manipur took to the streets. The state government sent police and local officers to diffuse the tension. Days before the killings, the state had written to the Union home ministry, asking it to stall the border fencing—around 390km of the Indo-Myanmar border is unfenced—as there were protests over the position of some border pillars. A civil society group had alleged that some pillars were far inside the Indian territory from the actual border, and had even threatened to recruit suicide squads. But the home ministry continued constructing the fence in Moreh.</p> <p>For the Tamils in Moreh, there is no fencing out the fear. “Our community was largely uprooted from Sri Lanka after a bloody war,” said M. Mohan. “We fear that if such a thing happens in Myanmar, then it would become another Sri Lanka.”</p> Sun Jul 31 13:38:43 IST 2022 people-in-border-areas-should-not-go-to-myanmar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ Two Tamils have been killed. What is the state doing about it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/This is very unfortunate. This was hardly expected from Myanmar, as they are a friendly country. But, at the same time, this is a bilateral issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why do you say it is a bilateral issue?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Talks to prevent such incidents from happening in the future have to be carried out by the two governments. The external affairs ministry is dealing with the issue through the Indian embassy in Myanmar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What have you done at a personal level?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I met victims, consoled the families. Also, we will do what needs to be done at the state government level. My ministry is engaged with the Central government on this. I cannot intervene in a bilateral issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There were reports of Myanmarese entering India.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/A high number of intrusions have taken place. We have mostly land borders, so it is easy for intruders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How are you tackling it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The police and intelligence agencies are on the ground. We are carrying out checks across the border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you intercepted anyone during these checks?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Yes, many people have been arrested. We arrested 80 Myanmarese from Churchandpur district recently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The actual number of intruders could be higher.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Yes, it would be several times higher; could be thousands of people. There is a massive influx into Manipur from the other side of the border. I have alerted the Central government on this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What will be their fate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/They are eating our food and encroaching into our land. I cannot allow them to do that. Through the ministry of external affairs, each one of them would be sent back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Recently, there was massive outrage over the fencing of the border. Your government had notified the Centre about it.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Yes, despite that the fencing has started. The home ministry said that the project has to be finished.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But there is dispute over the position of some border pillars, with some groups threatening to recruit suicide squads.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Leave that to me. I will never allow that to happen. I will firmly deal with that and would help the Central government to finish the fencing of the India-Myanmar border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Given the situation, are you planning to close the border?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/No, I would not ask to close the border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But then the killings could continue.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/No, I have ordered people living in border areas to not to go to Myanmar. Trade can continue, but people should not cross over and stay in Myanmar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The killings have exposed the security on the border.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The Indian Army and the Assam Rifles are doing their best. The main reason for intrusion or for our people going to Myanmar side is that around 390km of our border is unfenced. Once that is done, most problems would be solved.</p> Sun Jul 31 13:36:15 IST 2022 ed-questioning-sonia-has-pushed-congress-out-of-its-comfort-zone <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Sonia Gandhi was not offered any food, not even tea, while being interrogated in the National Herald case. The Enforcement Directorate was told that it was against the interim Congress president’s security protocol, and the agency did not want to take any chances.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So there sat Sonia, 75 and recovering from Covid-19, in a small ventilated room with a typist and the interrogating officer. The ED had summoned her in the money laundering case a while back, but Sonia first reached the agency’s office on July 21. The interrogation continued on July 26 and 27.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The agency followed all the protocols—Covid tests were done, a government doctor and an ambulance were kept on standby, and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was allowed to wait on her mother, with a medicine kit, in another room. Priyanka was also allowed to meet Sonia in between and took her home for lunch. This was in contrast to what the ED had done during Rahul Gandhi’s questioning in the same case in June. It had stopped Priyanka at the gate then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On day one, Sonia answered 28 questions; on July 26, she answered 50, and was determined to do so with clarity and conviction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The big question haunting the Congress top brass at its Udaipur Chintan Shivir in May seemed to have followed the Gandhis to Delhi. The question being, how did the party lose its connection with the common man and what has it done to revive it? Ironically, the ED seemed to have hit upon the same question, albeit in a different way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The alleged money laundering took place during the “revival” of Associated Journals Limited (AJL), the publisher of the English newspaper National Herald, which Jawaharlal Nehru had launched to be the voice of the “common man”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sonia is learnt to have told the ED that the Congress had given a Rs90-crore, interest-free loan to AJL to nurse the ailing newspaper back to health. However, investigators said that when AJL failed to repay the loan, the All India Congress Committee, the party’s apex body, executed a formal deed on December 28, 2010, assigning the entire loan amount to Young Indian, a company set up in November 2010 that had Sonia and Rahul as its majority shareholders. Investigators said that Young Indian, with a share capital of Rs5 lakh, did not have deep enough pockets to buy the loan, and that is where the role of the alleged Kolkata-based shell companies came into play.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ED has rejected the AJL revival story; it feels that the huge amount of money was meant to revive the fortunes of the Gandhis and not the newspaper, which is not seen on the streets today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The disconnect, said the ED, happened when most of the prime properties AJL had acquired—by sale or lease from Central and state governments to publish the newspaper—started acting as golden gooses in the real estate market to earn income for the company.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ED claimed Sonia and Rahul took over commercial properties worth around Rs800 crore belonging to AJL, allegedly using fraudulent means, to accrue illegal benefits of Rs414.40 crore in the form of several immovable properties. Both Sonia and Rahul have denied all charges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Gandhis maintained that Young Indian was created under Section 25 of the Companies Act as a not-for-profit company and no dividend could be given to its shareholders or directors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sonia was polite yet firm when repeatedly asked to explain why the actions to revive AJL should not be linked to any financial gains enjoyed by the majority shareholders of Young Indian. “At times, she claimed to have forgotten the minute details of the transfer of shares but stuck to the argument that the aim was to revive AJL,” said an investigator.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under criminal law, the onus of proving an offence is on the prosecution and not the accused. The ED team had come prepared with material evidence and had transaction details, annual income tax returns reports and documentation of AICC’s transfer of the entire loan amount of AJL to Young Indian for only Rs50 lakh. The company had allotted more than nine crore shares to Young Indian in lieu of the loan, said an investigator familiar with the questioning. Subsequently, the authorised capital of AJL was raised from Rs1 crore to Rs10 crore, and 99 per cent of AJL’s shares were transferred to Young Indian. The investigators alleged that the transfer of shares led to financial gains for the Gandhis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sonia, however, stuck to her guns. She is learnt to have told the ED that AJL was incurring huge financial losses. The publication of the newspaper had to be stalled on many occasions and finally got suspended on April 2, 2008. All employees took voluntary retirement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the time, Congress leaders Motilal Vora and Oscar Fernandes were managing director and director of the company that had properties in Delhi, Patna, Lucknow, Panchkula (Haryana) and Bandra (Mumbai).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ED wanted to know, even if Vora handled the AJL-Young Indian business, were the Gandhis not aware of the finer points of the transfer of shares to them? Both Sonia and Rahul have decried attempts to attribute criminal motives to the transfer. Vora’s son, Arun, a party MLA in Chhattisgarh, had also taken objection to his late father’s name coming up in the case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whether it is before the ED or the court, the Gandhis seem to have a long road ahead. The reason—it is not only the ED that is scrutinising the Gandhis. The predicate offence, which allows the ED to carry out a money laundering investigation, is in the Delhi Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court order of 2014. In it, the court took cognisance of offences under sections 403, 406, 420 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), relating to Young Indian’s takeover of AJL properties. The Gandhis’ appeal against the magistrate’s judgment was dismissed by the Delhi High Court and also the Supreme Court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>ED officials claimed that the offences under section 420 and 120B fall into the category of “scheduled offence under the PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act)”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Since Young Indian has taken over properties worth more than Rs800 crore as sequel to these offences, accordingly, the amount of 0800 crore is being treated as ‘proceeds of crime’ under the PMLA,” a sleuth said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the ED, the National Herald case is a fitting example of how properties acquired at a minimal price have been put out for commercial use to earn rent. The agency has dismissed the argument that Young Indian would use the financial gains, if any, for charitable activities; it cited a lack of records of any charitable work the company had done since 2010.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A shot in the arm of the ED probe is the order of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal this March, which spoke of a “corporate veil” used in this case to hide the proceeds of crime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following the ED’s questioning, the next big challenge for the Gandhis would be to come clean before the courts. Politically, the Congress does not have much time to waste—it has to fight elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh later this year, and nine states, including its own strongholds of Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 27, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said the ED was being used to collapse governments. “They called Rahul Gandhi for five days,” he said. “Now they have called Sonia Gandhi for the third time. The ED has created terror in the country. The Supreme Court should decide quickly on the matter.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Sonia’s questioning took place, Rahul and other MPs assembled in Parliament and marched to Rashtrapati Bhavan to draw the attention of the newly appointed president, Droupadi Murmu, towards the government’s alleged misuse of Central agencies. The Delhi Police detained him, but let him go later in the day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the past one month, the streets of Delhi have seen more Congress leaders than ever before. Clearly, Sonia’s deposition before the ED seems to have pushed the party out of its comfort zone and on to the streets. Also, several opposition parties have rallied around Sonia by issuing a joint statement as a show of strength against a government that it claims has unleashed “A relentless vendetta against political opponents through the mischievous misuse of investigative agencies”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What remains to be seen is whether, in a dynamic political arena, the Congress has the mettle to fight the long battle ahead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sun Jul 31 11:50:14 IST 2022 ladakhis-are-unhappy-with-centres-promises <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON JULY 15,</b> the Dalai Lama began a month-long tour of Ladakh. The visit, his first outside Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh since the start of the pandemic, comes at a time when Ladakh is locked in a standoff with the Centre over the demand for constitutional safeguards to preserve its identity, culture and land.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ladakh became a Union territory when Article 370 was abrogated and Jammu and Kashmir was cut into two Union territories on August 5, 2019. The Buddhist majority Leh district had welcomed the move, but the Muslim majority Kargil had denounced it. The excitement in Leh, however, waned after it was announced that Ladakh would have no assembly and the administration would be in the hands of bureaucrats, many of them outsiders, and the lieutenant governor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the past two years, Home Minister Amit Shah and Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai have met representatives of Leh and Kargil, but their promises have not satisfied the Ladakhi leaders. The visit of the Dalai Lama could break the ice as he is revered by both the Buddhists and the Indian government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During his stopover in Jammu, the 87-year-old Nobel Peace prize winner said that he was not seeking independence but “meaningful autonomy for Tibet and ensuring preservation of Tibetan Buddhist culture.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was talking about Tibet, but the message was in sync with the demands of Ladakhi Buddhists—they wanted a Bodoland Territorial Council-like arrangement under the sixth schedule (of the Constitution) to protect their distinct identity from outsiders. The sixth schedule allows the restriction of land ownership and government jobs to residents of tribal areas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Centre had woken up to the Ladakh issue after political parties in Leh, including the BJP and the Congress, together with religious and social groups, formed the People’s Movement (PM) and announced a boycott of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council elections in Leh in 2020. In Kargil, parties and religious and social groups launched the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) to press for statehood and restoration of Ladakh’s special status. Many others in Kargil want it to be part of Jammu and Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The boycott of the elections was called off after Shah promised the PM leaders “sixth schedule-like” protections for Ladakh. The BJP won the polls with 15 seats, and the Congress bagged nine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In January 2021, the home ministry announced the formation of a committee under the then Minister of State for Home G. Kishan Reddy to address the issues related to Ladakh. The announcement came after a delegation of BJP leaders from the region met Shah in Delhi again to press for their demands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reddy met the leaders of the KDA in July 2021 and promised them that they would also be part of the committee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, days before the second anniversary of Ladakh as a Union territory, the PM and the KDA joined hands to seek full-fledged statehood along with constitutional safeguards. They also agreed to seek one more Lok Sabha seat, two Rajya Sabha seats, and 10,000 job vacancies for local Ladakhi youth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few weeks later, the two bodies called for a Ladakh bandh to protest the delay in accepting their demands when Rai, who replaced Reddy, arrived in Leh. The two bodies accepted his invitation for a meeting and put forward their four demands. “He (Rai) assured us that he would constitute a joint committee of the home ministry and representatives of Ladakh and frame a recruitment policy for the youth soon,” said Asgar Karbalai, former MLA and KDA co-chairman, adding that the bandh had forced the Centre to call a meeting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to sources, after Rai visited Leh, the two bodies sent nine names—five from Leh and four from Kargil—to be part of the joint committee last August. The committee has not met yet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This June 13, Shah invited Thupstan Chhewang—the chairman of the PM’s apex body and president of the Ladakh Buddhist Association—for talks in Delhi. “He (Shah) offered all safeguards under Article 371 to Ladakh, but said no to the sixth schedule,” he told THE WEEK. “Such safeguards can be diluted any time. That is why we demand the sixth schedule.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chhewang said he insisted on the sixth schedule status as 97 per cent of the population in Ladakh is tribal. “When there is an exclusive provision for tribals in the constitution, why is that not being applied to Ladakh?” he asked. “Under the sixth schedule, the hill development councils in Leh and Kargil will have the power to make laws for customs, language and land, and collect taxes. But Article 371 will not allow for such powers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the body would decide on its next step after the Dalai Lama’s visit. A senior KDA member said he understood that the Centre would not accept the demand for statehood. Some observers agree; they believe that the demand for statehood aims to pressure the Centre into including Ladakh in the sixth schedule. They also feel that if the Centre can satisfy the Buddhists in Leh, the standoff would end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior political leader in Leh said that, as the Union territory of Ladakh was created without a legislature, the sixth schedule would confer legislative status to the hill councils in Leh and Kargil. “Otherwise, we will have no control over happenings in the region,” he said, adding that some outsiders had bought land to set up hotels in Leh. Locals in the hospitality industry have apparently said that they would not provide these outsiders with any service.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes had recommended the inclusion of Ladakh under the sixth schedule, noting that it was predominantly tribal and its distinct cultural heritage needed preservation. Currently, the sixth schedule applies only to the northeastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura, but the government can amend the constitution if need be.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some political leaders in Leh believe that the Centre is not ready for the sixth schedule status as it wants direct control of the strategic region. However, with the military standoff with China, the Centre is careful to not antagonise the people in Leh who do not sympathise and identify with Kashmir, like those in Kargil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most people in Leh acknowledge that the Union territory status has benefited Ladakh. Funding for infrastructure development, education, and health have increased manifold. The Sonam Norbu Memorial district hospital in Leh has been equipped with state-of-the-art machines. Last year, the Centre sanctioned the first medical and paramedical college and a 500-bed hospital for Ladakh. Work has quickened on the strategic, 18-km Zojila tunnel connecting Ladakh and Kashmir, and it will be ready by 2025. “This will reduce travel time by two and a half hours,” said Harpal Singh, project in-charge of Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited, which is building the tunnel. “It will be ready for use by the defence forces by 2024 to ferry troops and heavy equipment. The engineering marvel will increase connectivity between Kargil and Kashmir during winters and will be a boon for patients seeking help in Srinagar. The Union territory government has also initiated the process to provide government jobs to local youth.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, after Shah’s clear no to the statehood demand and inclusion in the sixth schedule, the unease in Ladakh has grown. “Ladakh is united in support of our agenda,” said Karbalai. “We will not budge on that and will mobilise people if the Centre does not address our concerns.”</p> Sat Jul 23 16:05:40 IST 2022 why-the-next-british-pm-needs-to-be-a-repairman <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Best, because Boris Johnson finally resigned as UK prime minister. Worst, because he lasted this long, damaging his high office, his Conservative Party and his country. “It would have been better for the country if the Johnson era had ended months ago,” said British newspapers. But Johnson hung on till the bitter end. British peer Camilla Cavendish derided: “Even when they left the revolver and bottle of whisky on the table, Boris Johnson couldn’t take the hint. Ministers could no longer stomach his rule. But the prime minister clung on, convinced they were jealous of his genius.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After two tense days of fears that Johnson may attempt a Trump-style putsch, Britain’s 77th PM resigned. But only after an avalanche of resignations by ministers and top bureaucrats. Quipped Leader of Opposition Keir Starmer of the Labour Party: “The ships were deserting the rat.” Reviled by opponents and revered by fans, Johnson was colourful, cavalier and controversial. He was also the most consequential British prime minister in recent times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2019, he won the biggest election victory for the Tories in three decades. And then, for better or worse, he delivered on his promise to “Get Brexit Done”, and took his country out of the European Union in 2020. “He will go down as a significant prime minister, but not seen as good for the country. He never was any good at actually governing,” said Conservative politician David Lidington.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But “Teflon Boris” weathered scandals that would have destroyed any other prime minister. The scandals were of his own making, consistently revealing his character flaws—lying and rule-breaking. A “passing acquaintance with truth” and “rules are for fools” seemed to be his philosophy. The lie that nailed his coffin was his claim that he was unaware of his loyalist Chris Pincher’s misconduct when he appointed him to oversee party discipline as deputy chief whip.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A drunken Pincher had aggressively groped two men in a private club. A top civil servant disclosed in Parliament that Johnson had been briefed when Pincher committed a similar offence in 2019. Johnson joked, “Pincher by name, Pincher by nature”, admitting, in “hindsight”, that appointing Pincher was “wrong”. Wrong only because he got caught lying. Critics say Johnson’s lack of a moral compass is his core problem. Journalist Marc Roche’s verdict: “Johnson is Britain’s worst prime minister because he is a serial liar.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Pincher episode was the nail, but the coffin was prepared by his Tory party when Johnson lost two Conservative seats in the parliamentary byelections in June. Lies, sleaze and scandals are tolerated, but not election defeats. Johnson had become a political liability, exactly as the legendary Tory leader Margaret Thatcher was in 1990. She, too, was knifed by her partymen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from Brexit, Johnson’s successes include spearheading a world-class Covid vaccination rollout. His £70 billion “furlough” avoided mass unemployment by paying 80 per cent of wages during lockdown, protecting 11.6 million jobs. He was the first world leader to risk full opening of the economy, scrap travel restrictions, home office mandates, face masks, and self-isolation restrictions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He talked about “levelling up” economically neglected parts of Britain and, unlike other global populists, advocated mitigating climate change. He vigorously supported Ukraine with money, weapons and fiery rhetoric. He imposed tough sanctions on Russia and mocked “shirtless” Vladimir Putin’s “toxic masculinity”. Putin responded, “A shirtless Boris Johnson is disgusting.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Brexit aside, Johnson’s reign will be remembered for its failures and flaws. It collapsed under the weight of his deceit, contradictions, his readiness to outsource hard work to aides, and his disrespect for conventions and rules. Notwithstanding the vaccination campaign, Johnson fumbled his way through Covid, his libertine instincts at odds with restrictions and lockdown mandates. Health experts say his U-turns and delays led to Britain’s high death rate—the seventh highest in the world, with more than 1.71 lakh deaths. Paul Goodman, editor of the website ConservativeHome, says Johnson is like a “Turkish sultan or a Tudor monarch, ruling by whim, constantly changing his mind, with no clear strategic direction”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pincher was not the only dubious party loyalist whom Johnson tried to save by bending and flouting rules. Johnson survived “partygate”, “wallpapergate” and many other “gates”. He violated his own ban on partying during Covid by attending 20 office parties—and then denying he attended any. A party donor funded a £1,12,549 (more than Rs1 crore) redecoration of his Downing Street apartment, which included £840-a-roll (Rs80,000) gold wallpaper. Johnson’s aides nicknamed his new wife, Carrie, “Marie Antoinette”. Said Starmer: “Johnson was always unfit for office. He has been responsible for lies, scandal and fraud on an industrial scale.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Johnson’s rule-breaking was both domestic and international. He broke his own Brexit treaty with the European Union that demarcated an international trade border between Britain and the insurrection-prone Northern Ireland. Under Johnson, the unity of the union strained to breaking point, with the pro-EU Scotland announcing a referendum on independence from Britain, scheduled for next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite his bluster and bombast, his gambles and gaffes, and dishonesty and devilry, Johnson is a historic figure, in a way few of his predecessors are. His immediate predecessor, Theresa May, cut a sorry figure. Spurned by people, parliament and her party, she resigned tearfully. Her Tory predecessor as prime minister, David Cameron, ended his stint in a morass of defeat. Rather than internally resolving the Conservative Party division between leaving and staying in the EU (as he wanted), he thrust the dilemma onto the nation by calling a referendum. The toxic result was a bitterly divided Britain, still battling painful Brexit consequences that are far from resolved. Cameron resigned when the Brexiteers won resoundingly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cameron’s predecessor, Gordon Brown, who headed Britain’s last Labour government, was thrown out for being indecisive. But he, too, seemed to have a penchant for throwing things—mobile phones, papers and even a printer—at his aides. Brown’s predecessor, Tony Blair, who served two terms, began well by implementing minimum wages and investing in education. But his popularity crashed when he bought George Bush’s lies about weapons of mass destruction and supported the Iraq war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bar was low for Johnson when he came in; the bar is even lower for his successors. While “Bojo” always cloaked his ambition, several Tory leaders have already announced their intentions to succeed him. Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the Indian-origin leader whose resignation was critical to Johnson’s collapse, is a frontrunner. If he succeeds, critics have a field day headlining “colony strikes back”. Foreign minister Liz Truss is a candidate; so is former foreign minister Jeremy Hunt, and the eloquent Tory MP, Tom Tugendhat. The expectations from the next PM are few: Restore standards. Rule with integrity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Tory succession process can last until September, spooking several leaders who fear Johnson’s capacity to poison the well. Beneath his breezy bonhomie, Johnson can be vengeful. He spent the night before his resignation “sacking the snake”—Michael Gove, his one-time Brexit ally who demanded his resignation. Fearing Johnson, several Tory leaders demand a “swift succession”. One Tory leader said, “It’s like one of those horror movies when you think the baddy has been killed, but then he comes back out of the grave.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rather than haunt, Johnson in his next avatar, is more likely to regale… and make loads of money. He has often complained there is no money in being the prime minister. With two children born while in office, and several more from his wild past, Johnson has grumbled that life is expensive. A lucrative writing and speaking career awaits this “Great Entertainer”. A Boris book on Brexit and breaches, jokes and jibes, deceit and deceptions, puns and prose, gore and giggles, is a guaranteed bestseller. Or, to quote him, his future could be messy—“as I have discovered myself, there are no disasters, only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Britain’s future is grim. Despite its economic damage, Brexit is now embedded. The Bank of England warns that Britain’s economy would suffer deeper and longer than other European economies. Public services struggle with backlogs, labour shortages and strikes. The next British PM has to be a repairman—mending relations not just with the EU, the US, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but also with Big Business (Johnson’s business policy was “F*** Business”) and the British Remainers who were opposed to Brexit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Johnson’s successor must deal with the aftershocks of Covid-19, the war in Ukraine, climate catastrophe and a full-blown ‘cost of living’ crisis, with spiralling energy and food prices. At 9.1 per cent, inflation in the UK is likely to stay higher than for comparable nations. Britons worry about making ends meet. As Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev said, “People don’t fear the end of the world, they fear the end of the month.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All this bad news is not new, but for months, the scandal-mired Johnson government delivered drift and disarray. For a brief, not-so-shining moment, Johnson was a lovable rascal. He is lovable no more. Labour unrest is spreading, war is raging in Europe, sterling is sliding, recession is creeping, and inflation is worsening.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not the best of times for Britain.</p> Sun Jul 17 18:09:48 IST 2022 meet-the-tories-who-are-in-the-fray-to-become-pm <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As many as eight MPs remain in the fray to replace Boris Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party and to become the next prime minister of the United Kingdom. The eight have the support of at least 20 MPs; they will require a minimum of 30 votes to advance further. From the next round onwards, the candidate with the fewest votes will be knocked out, till the field is whittled down to two, latest by July 21. Conservative Party members will then make the final choice through postal vote by September 5.</p> <p>Here are the brief profiles of the eight MPs who are fighting the first round on July 13. Most of them will either be voted out or will cut deals with frontrunners like Sunak, Truss and Mordaunt for key posts in the next government.</p> <p><b>Rishi Sunak</b></p> <p><b>42, former chancellor of the exchequer</b></p> <p>Sunak resigned on July 5 as chancellor of the exchequer along with health secretary Sajid Javid, triggering an avalanche of resignations leading to Johnson’s downfall. For a large number of Tory supporters, Sunak was Johnson’s presumed heir for a long time, his popularity burnished by his efficiency in offering a competent financial response to Covid-19.</p> <p>But he faces unexpected headwinds after revelations that his wife, Akshata Murthy, daughter of Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy, opted for non-domicile status, which allowed her to avoid paying tax in the UK. Adding to Sunak’s woes is the fact that he retained his US green card for a while even after taking over as chancellor and the fixed-penalty notice he received for attending booze parties during the lockdown.</p> <p>Some critics also pointed out that he was the first chancellor to find a place in the <i>Sunday Times</i> rich list and that he chose to build a £400,000 leisure complex at his £2million Yorkshire mansion, even as the UK faced double-digit inflation, showing that he is out of touch with the travails of the common man. His tax hikes as chancellor, too, have been unpopular. Moreover, Johnson’s inner circle is unhappy with Sunak, as they feel that the former chancellor was not sufficiently loyal and was planning his leadership campaign even as he served in the cabinet.</p> <p>Yet, Sunak remains consistently on top of opinion polls and remains the only Tory to have an edge in a head-to-head matchup with Labour leader Keith Starmer. His decision to quit the Johnson cabinet, too, has added to his popularity. Sunak is unwilling to lower taxes unless the economy improves or the government can find savings elsewhere. He, however, backs Johnson’s plan to cut down a fifth of civil service posts by 2025. Sunak has been endorsed by Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps among others.</p> <p><b>Liz Truss</b></p> <p><b>46, foreign secretary</b></p> <p>Truss, who served under three Conservative prime ministers, left the G20 summit in Indonesia midway, to return to London following Johnson’s resignation. Truss is an unusual Tory—her parents were Labour supporters, she was a Liberal Democrat in her late teens and she attended a northern comprehensive school. She, however, turned out to be a staunch Tory: a champion of free markets, low taxes and small government.</p> <p>Launching her leadership campaign, Truss has promised to cut taxes, reverse the recent National Insurance hike and reform business rates. Although she voted against Brexit in 2016, she has since become one of its staunchest proponents, making her increasingly popular among the Tory rank and file. A perennial advocate of enhanced defence spending, Truss was recently seen driving a tank wearing a headscarf, copying an iconic image of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher.</p> <p>Her leading role in supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia has won her more admirers. Her decision to challenge the European Union by unilaterally overriding the Northern Ireland protocol, too, has been hugely popular. Truss could also be the go-to candidate for Johnson loyalists who are angry with Sunak.</p> <p><b>Penny Mordaunt</b></p> <p><b>49, minister of state for trade policy</b></p> <p>On the day Johnson resigned, Mordaunt was the odds-on favourite among bookies to succeed the PM. An opinion poll held on July 11 among Conservative Party members, too, saw her finishing on top. The 49-year-old former navy reservist who serves as junior trade minister chose not to quit her post during the anti-Johnson rebellion, although she did not hesitate to criticise the PM during the partygate scandal. A prominent Brexiteer and eurosceptic, she is known for her pragmatic approach towards governance and is seen as a leader capable of uniting various Tory factions. Although she is a junior minister and not a cabinet member, her past experience include cabinet stints as home secretary and secretary for international trade. She also wields some influence as a member of the One Nation caucus that represents liberal Tory MPs. While Mordaunt’s candour, pragmatism and barrack-room humour are appreciated by a section of the party, her advocacy of transgenders could turn out to be a liability.</p> <p><b>Tom Tugendhat</b></p> <p><b>49, chairman of the foreign affairs&nbsp;committee of the parliament</b></p> <p>A retired military officer who heads the foreign affairs committee of the parliament, Tugendhat has been one of Johnson’s strident critics. He entered the Commons in 2015 after tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although he lacks any cabinet or shadow cabinet experience, Tugendhat has gained many followers on account of his articulation, especially while speaking on defence concerns and diplomacy. He has promised to tackle the cost of living crisis, reduce taxes and invest in the neglected regions of the country. Although he is seen as a relative wildcard by political observers, his support among the leftist and centrist Tories could turn him into a formidable contender.</p> <p><b>Jeremy Hunt</b></p> <p><b>55, chairman of the select parliamentary&nbsp;committee on health and social care</b></p> <p>Hunt, who headed the health and foreign departments under Theresa May and David Cameron, lost to Johnson in the last leadership elections. As he never served in the Johnson cabinet and always kept his distance from the prime minister, Hunt offers a clean break from the outgoing administration’s policies and legacy. He is the only experienced candidate from outside the Johnson government. Although he used to be a stalwart of the left-wing of the Conservative Party, Hunt has promised the lowest rate of business taxes in the western world to win over the Tory base.</p> <p><b>Nadim Zahawi</b></p> <p><b>55, chancellor of the exchequer</b></p> <p>Born in Iraq to Kurdish parents, Zahawi came to the UK at the age of nine, after his family was forced to flee Saddam Hussein’s persecution of the Kurds. After a degree in chemical engineering from University College London, Zahawi launched several successful business ventures, becoming a multi-millionaire in the process. He became a part of the Tory mainstream after Johnson appointed him vaccines minister during the peak of the pandemic. Zahawi became a member of the cabinet last September when he was given the charge of the education department. On July 5, Johnson elevated him as chancellor following Sunak’s unexpected resignation. Less than 48 hours later, Zahawi, too, joined the anti-Johnson rebellion, asking the prime minister to quit.</p> <p>Although he is a staunch Brexit supporter, Zahawi has a strong base among the moderates in the party. He will try to draw strength from his phenomenal personal story and his successful record in business and government. But his decision to accept the chancellor’s post during the cabinet revolt and the fact that he already had a campaign team in place could go against him.</p> <p><b>Suella Braverman</b></p> <p><b>42, attorney general for England and Wales</b></p> <p>The incumbent attorney general, whose parents are of Indian origin, announced her candidature even before Johnson decided to quit. Braverman joined politics after reading law at Cambridge and earning a master’s in European and French law at the Pantheon-Sorbonne University, Paris. She has been an MP since 2015, representing the Fareham constituency in Hampshire. A committed Brexiteer, Braverman has promised to stay true to Johnson’s 2019 Conservative manifesto. She has promised rapid and large tax cuts to ease inflation and has called for shelving the target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. She said she would scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol and promised to take the UK out of the jurisdiction of the European Convention on Human Rights. Braverman has also assured a tough line on immigration.</p> <p><b>Kemi Badenoch</b></p> <p><b>42, former minister of state for equalities</b></p> <p>Born in London to parents of Nigerian origin, Badenoch flipped burgers while in school to support herself. An IT professional-turned-lawyer-turned politician, she made a mark in national politics with her extraordinary performance in the parliament over the past three years. She launched her leadership campaign after quitting her junior minister post on July 6 and has promised a “strong, but limited government”, which would be guided by a “nimble centre-right vision”.&nbsp;</p> Sun Jul 17 18:27:33 IST 2022 bjps-south-india-plan-highlight-casteism-corruption-and-dynastic-politics <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The stunning turn of events in Maharashtra has sent out a larger political message. The BJP’s deft manoeuvring oversaw Shiv Sena rebel Eknath Shinde breaking away from the party and taking with him enough men to fell the Uddhav Thackeray government. The BJP not only rewarded Shinde with the chief minister’s post, but also made Devendra Fadnavis his deputy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The hidden message is to the leaders of all regional party-ruled governments. The BJP will support them if they want to switch sides, and also reward them politically,” a key party leader said in Hyderabad, where the BJP organised a two-day national executive meeting—July 2 and 3—to plan its southern expansion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mood at the meeting was upbeat, and a similar strategy was set in motion in Telangana, a day later. The state BJP unit appointed Eatala Rajender, a former state minister who had joined the party last year, as the in-charge of a panel on new entrants from other parties—a euphemism for poaching. Similar panels are expected in other states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party currently has only 29 of the 129 Lok Sabha seats in the five southern states (25 in Karnataka and four in Telangana), largely because it is seen as a north-Indian party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Telangana meeting hinted at its future plans in the region. As of now, the BJP does well in direct fights with the Congress, but hits a wall when faced with strong regional outfits. To take on these parties, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah presented a political resolution before the 340 executive members. “We want polity free of casteism, dynastic politics and appeasement,” Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said, quoting Shah’s message inside the meeting. Several southern BJP leaders whom THE WEEK spoke to repeated this message.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The sub-national pride of regional leaders means that they do not want to be seen as being subjugated by the BJP if it makes a pitch for hard nationalism,” a senior party leader said on condition of anonymity. “To bring these leaders along, they have to be showcased as key leaders and not subordinate to the Hindi-speaking leaders.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike in the rest of India, the southern states have performed well on key human development indices. “The BJP cannot target the ruling parties of the south when it comes to development or promising schemes,” said the senior leader. “Chances are they are already ahead, be it with midday meals or Rythu Bandhu (cash scheme for farmers in Telangana). So, the only strategy that remains is to target regional parties for being dynastic, caste-ridden or corrupt.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP will apply this messaging to target the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh, the DMK in Tamil Nadu, and the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Congress in Karnataka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another strategy would be to focus on the Hindu nationalism that comes with invoking local religious symbols and highlighting the atrocities of Muslim invaders. At the Telangana meeting, the BJP had put up replicas of the Golconda Fort, the Kakatiya Toranas (stone arches) and the Ramappa Temple, which was made a UNESCO world heritage site last year. The Golconda Fort replica had a BJP flag on top and a picture of Bharat Mata in front. An exhibition also highlighted the “atrocities” of the Razakars—a militia that supported the Nizam—before Hyderabad was merged with India. The issue still resonates with a section of the populace, especially in rural Telangana. Some leaders also flagged the rise of Muslim fundamentalist organisations in the south.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was also a pilot project, which Modi wants replicated in other states. Senior party leaders were called to Hyderabad two days ahead of the meeting. They were deputed to go to 119 assembly constituencies, spend two nights there and engage with local communities, party workers and intellectuals to make the party’s presence felt. In Hyderabad, a melting pot of cultures, ministers and leaders were asked to attend conventions organised for 14 communities that came from elsewhere but are now settled here. Modi also referred to Hyderabad as Bhagyanagar, drawing on its Hindu origins, and asked that this organisational penetration be extended and consolidated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The countdown of the state government has started. We had won bypolls in Dubbaka and Huzurabad, and even performed well in the Greater Hyderabad area,” said BJP national secretary and in-charge of party affairs in Telangana Tarun Chugh. “It is a sign of things to come. The sentiment is with the BJP. We will highlight the corruption and the dynastic politics of Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao’s party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The TRS has been ruling for 10 years, and the BJP wants to exploit any anti-incumbency there. Said Union Culture Minister G. Kishan Reddy: “It is a kitchen cabinet. KCR, his son and daughter hold their meetings around the dinner table. AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi has direct access to their home. He can ride his motorcycle there.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Andhra Pradesh, the Jagan Mohan Reddy government is seen as a BJP ally, but only at the national level; it has supported the Modi government on key legislations and even the presidential election. “There are no friendly parties,” said state party president Somu Veerraju. “We contest against YSR Congress. It is a corrupt and family-oriented party. We will take Modi’s message to the grassroots and employ the strategy discussed in the national executive meeting. We are aiming for the entire south.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But before all that, the BJP has to ensure that it retains Karnataka, which goes to the polls next year. Party sources said the Congress and the JD(S) were in contention there, even though the latter supported the NDA candidate for president. “If [the BJP] does well, that can have an impact on the Telangana elections, scheduled to be held in December 2023,” said a source.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Party general secretary and Karnataka MLA C.T. Ravi, however, said that BJP would easily win the state, echoing Shah’s earlier statement that it would get 150 seats there. The state had faced uncertainty when Basavaraj Bommai was brought in as the chief minister last July. It took a while before Bommai was seen as the one leading the party into the next elections. But with controversies like the hijab row and the anti-conversion law, his government took a distinct hindutva line, in consonance with the party’s larger goal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ravi, who is also in charge of Tamil Nadu, argued that the BJP was growing there as well. The party has piggybacked on the AIADMK, but the latter is now witnessing a power tussle between leaders E. Palaniswami and O. Panneerselvam. “Where is there no struggle? Even the Congress is seeing a struggle,” said Ravi, dismissing the battle over control of the AIADMK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP had played a key role in AIADMK affairs after J. Jayalalithaa’s death. It helped Palaniswami become chief minister, and Panneerselvam was made his deputy. “A strong BJP, with power at the Centre, can still choose to bless various factions and bring them to a truce,” said a party leader, adding that, officially, the party has a hands-off approach.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s foray into Tamil Nadu has been stonewalled because it is seen as a Hindi-speaking party. But after the previous state elections—the first in the absence of M. Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa—the BJP sees an opening, and has changed its messaging: it will no longer question the Dravidian ideology, but will instead link it to a Hindu identity. “It was the British who created this schism, saying that Aryans were outsiders and Dravidians were locals,” said Ravi. “The theory of raiding Aryans has been proved wrong. Dravidians are about local traditions and culture. They are staunch Hindus. They are religious. We will win in the state.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is easier for the BJP to take on the Congress in states where it is strong. However, in states where the BJP is not that popular, it prefers a multi-polar contest. “The bipolar contest makes it hard for us,” said a party strategist. “It means we have to get more than 45 per cent of the vote share. So, when other parties are present, like the TRS and the Congress in Telangana, or the JD(S) and the Congress in Karnataka, it is relatively easy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of all the states in the country, the BJP wants Kerala the most; it would be an ideological victory. The state features in most of the BJP’s resolutions, and the party’s cadre faces more violence in Kerala than in any other state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s strategy there is to achieve a larger consolidation of the Hindu vote, says party national secretary Y. Satya Kumar, who was in-charge of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections there. “More than 45 per cent of the votes in Kerala belong to minorities, including Christians and Muslims. Our focus is on the rest,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP state president K. Surendran admitted that Kerala’s demography prevented his party’s growth. “Moreover, in seats where the BJP has a chance, the UDF and the LDF transfer their votes to each other to stop us. This is an issue we have to handle, and chalk out a strategy. The BJP will come forward and get the people’s confidence.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within the Hindu population, Surendran and Kumar said the key Ezavaha community supported the LDF, while the Nairs supported the UDF. “We discussed how to improve our mass base in the state,” said Surendran. “That was the main concern in this meeting. Also, the atrocities against the BJP and the RSS workers in Kerala, especially from CPI(M) and PFI (Popular Front of India) workers. We will formulate our strategy in the next few weeks.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party is also eyeing a new constituency. “The BJP is trying to improve its ties with the Christian population in the state, which is facing trouble from the PFI. The community feels that there should be a larger coordination with the BJP,” added Surendran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently, the BJP is targeting the ruling Pinarayi Vijayan government for alleged corruption and for dynastic politics—Vijayan’s son-in-law is a minister. But the BJP hits a wall when it tries to claim the Hindu party space. “The CPI(M) plays cultural politics. It is a Hindu party as it moderates its messaging for the Hindu community,” said Surendran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As to the larger message from the national executive, BJP spokesperson Shazia Ilmi said that Modi clearly stressed that India cannot progress until everyone is together. “He said we look at numbers and caste figures, and we put the entire Muslim community together. Instead, let us look at Pasmanda (backward) Muslims. They have got nothing from anywhere. It is time we focus on and see what can be done. The Prime Minister is changing the terminology of politics. He talked about Sneh Yatra (Journey Of Love). That is what we need. Let us look at people with love and affection. We stand for sabka saath, sabka vikas.”</p> Fri Jul 08 14:43:42 IST 2022 zakia-jafri-and-the-unfinished-fight-of-gulbarg-survivors <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THERE IS AN</b> eerie silence in Gulbarg Society, part of the otherwise bustling neighbourhood of Chamanpura in eastern Ahmedabad. Kasam Mansuri and his daughter-in-law are the only permanent residents of the gated housing society that was once full of activity. The buildings, now decrepit with their burnt walls and broken doors and windows, and the uneven pathways overgrown with vegetation, tell a tale of something ghastly that happened two decades ago. The stillness is so uneasy and normal that even dogs that frequent the premises are scared to see visitors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tragedy had struck Gulbarg on February 28, 2002—the day after 59 persons on board the Sabarmati Express, mostly karsevaks returning from Ayodhya, were burnt alive at Godhra. The incident sparked communal riots across Gujarat, but Gulbarg residents thought they would remain unharmed as they had been during similar flare-ups earlier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was not to be. Gulbarg Society was attacked, and 69 Muslims, including former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, were killed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The relatives of the victims have since moved to other Muslim neighbourhoods in Ahmedabad, but they have not moved on from the dark memories of the massacre. On June 24, their long struggle for justice suffered yet another blow when the Supreme Court rejected a special leave petition filed by Jafri’s widow, Zakia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The petition had challenged a closure report, filed by the special investigation team that probed riots-related cases, that gave a clean chit to several individuals accused of conspiring to cause the riots, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was chief minister at the time. The three-judge Supreme Court bench rejected Zakia’s petition, and upheld the SIT’s view that there was no evidence of any conspiracy behind the riots.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A bigger shock to Gulbarg was the subsequent arrests of Teesta Setalvad and R.B. Sreekumar. Setalvad heads the NGO Citizens of Justice and Peace (CJP), and was Zakia’s co-petitioner in the case; Sreekumar was director general of police in Gujarat. Both of them are accused of fabricating evidence. Setalvad had earlier been accused of usurping funds meant for helping riot victims and setting up a museum in Gulbarg Society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first information report against them draws heavily from the 452-page Supreme Court verdict, which said Setalvad, Sreekumar and some “disgruntled officials” in Gujarat tried to “create sensation by making revelations which were false to their own knowledge”, and that they had been “fully exposed by the SIT after a thorough investigation” . The court said Setalvad and others had kept “the pot boiling” by making “wild and preposterous allegations”, and that “all those involved in such abuse of process need to be in the dock”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zakia’s son Tanvir said she was disappointed with the judgment. “My mother is pained to hear about the arrest of Teesta ji and Sreekumar, and her first priority is to get them out of custody,” Tanvir, who is in Mecca for the hajj, told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zakia last spoke to THE WEEK several years ago, when she still had faith in the Supreme Court. Oddly, the verdict has come as a closure of sorts—the focus is now on getting Setalvad and Sreekumar out of jail. Sanjiv Bhatt, former IPS officer who faces similar charges, is already behind bars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zakia’s legal options include filing a review petition in the Supreme Court. Said Mihir Desai, one of Setalvad’s counsels: “There are openings available, but I will not discuss them. I will not look at [the verdict] as a closure. Being a petitioner, Zakia Jafri has to decide if she wants to take things forward. It may not be the end of the road legally, but it can be if she does not want to go further.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One option is to request the Supreme Court to strike off the paragraphs that led to Setalvad and Sreekumar’s arrest. Desai said the kind of remarks made by the court in the verdict had no precedent. According to Desai, the Supreme Court’s observation that Setalvad and others had “kept the pot boiling” could have been more apt in the Ayodhya temple case. “Sajjan Kumar (the Congress leader who was convicted for his role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots) was arrested 35 years after the riots. A crime that leads to so many deaths is not covered by the statute of limitations,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Those involved in the case are waiting for Tanvir’s return to make a decision. “I will ask my mother what she wants to do,” said Tanvir, who spends Sundays looking into the legalities of cases that the family is involved in. He said one way of getting solace was to let history be the judge, since all documents related to the case are public.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“After the riots, there were many NGOs doing good work,” he said. “It was during that time that the CJP, headed by Setalvad, approached the victims and promised them help in fighting the case.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Tanvir, allegations that Setalvad had tutored his mother were totally baseless. “She had seen newspaper reports of no actions being taken. It was at that point that she decided to file a case,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Firoz Mohammed Pathan, 48, still vividly remembers the fateful day in 2002. “Jafri saab came and said that the police would be sent. But no one came,” he said. According to Pathan, a unit of the State Reserve Police deployed near Gulbarg was removed a fortnight before the riots broke out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Jafri was a former MP, most residents thought it would be safe to take shelter in his home. But even Jafri was not spared.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pathan said his mother was beaten to death just before entering the gate of Jafri’s bungalow; a small pouch containing her ornaments was snatched. Pathan, then 28, was hiding with his friends on the terrace of a nearby building. He could do little to save others. Residents of Gulbarg Society tried to hurl back stones pelted by the mob, but that it did not help. That day, Pathan lost five family members, including his mother and brothers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“If there used to be anything, we used to go to the Supreme Court. Now where would we go? If nobody is responsible, then who has done this (the killings)?” asked Pathan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kasam Mansuri, who along with is daughter-in-law are Gulbarg’s only permanent residents now, is still hopeful of getting justice. “There can be a delay, but ultimately truth will prevail,” he said, as he struggled to overcome emotions while showing photographs of 19 family members who died during the attack. Mansuri survived because he had been away when the mob descended on Gulbarg; one of his relatives was preparing to undergo surgery and Mansuri had gone to the hospital to donate blood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why does he still live here? “Where will I go? My family lived here,” said Mansuri. “Had it not been for people like Teesta and Father Prakash (Fr Cedric Prakash, human rights activist), we would not have got adequate compensation. And now, Teesta is behind bars.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mansuri is in the business of making swings. He has Hindus as employees, and allows people in the neighbourhood to park their vehicles and store things on the Gulbarg premises for a small fee. “I have to maintain relations with all,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amid the deserted buildings at Gulbarg stands a well maintained mosque, where prayers are offered five times in a day. Mansuri said he was now praying for the quick release of Setalvad and Sreekumar. Tanvir said he had the same wish in mind while doing tawaf in Mecca.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whether their prayers would be answered, remains to be seen.</p> Sun Jul 10 10:58:43 IST 2022 increasing-instances-of-lone-wolf-terrorism-in-india-is-a-major-concern <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Lone wolf terrorism is not a recent phenomenon, but India has largely remained immune to it. At least, until recently. The horrific beheading of tailor Kanhaiya Lal Teli in the tourist town of Udaipur in Rajasthan on June 28 has exposed the cracks in the country’s security and intelligence machinery. Extremist ideologies, propagated by global terror outfits and enabled by the internet and social media platforms, has condensed into a short attack plan that was executed swiftly in Udaipur before any law enforcement agency could respond.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The key accused, Mohammed Riyaz Akhtari and Ghaus Mohammad, were arrested within four hours by the Rajasthan anti-terrorism squad, but the grisly video of the killing, recorded and posted on social media by the fanatics, sent shock waves across the country. The damage was done: curfews, religious tensions, internet shutdowns and fear spread quickly in many parts of Rajasthan and other states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We treated the case as an act of terror right from the beginning,” said Ashok Rathore, chief of the Rajasthan ATS and special operations group. Keeping in mind that Ghaus was closely connected with a Karachi-based Islamist organisation called the Dawat-e-Islami, transnational links were investigated, he said. Investigation has shown that Ghaus visited Karachi in 2014. “We arrested four accused (including the two prime accused) and interrogated five people who are to be examined further by the National Investigation Agency,” said Rathore. “We are closely working with the NIA and other agencies,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>NIA officials said the accused, who had conducted a recce of Kanhaiya Lal’s shop, were in touch with several Pakistani numbers over social media platforms like WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook messenger and Snapchat. The digital footprints show a stamp of extremist ideology, posing a major challenge for law enforcement agencies. Even though the initial probe showed that the accused might not be active members of a terrorist organisation in the traditional way, they carry a high degree of ideological attachment and affiliation as lone wolves whose roots cannot be traced to a single source. While creating such hydra-headed monsters quickly is not hard, it is really difficult to eliminate them overnight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several lone wolf attacks have been traced back to Islamic State or Al Qaeda ideology like Omar Mateen who carried out a mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in 2016 or the 2020 knife attack in Nice, France, in which a woman was beheaded and two others were killed. But India’s geographical proximity with Pakistan and Afghanistan has made it a breeding ground for radicalisation of youth as they become easy targets of extremist literature and propaganda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The process of self-radicalisation over the internet makes it easy to meet fellow-travellers, giving people like Riyaz and Ghaus entry into a global community of extremists before they finally turn to terrorist activities, according to investigators. “When such self-driven fanatics find an enabling environment or a perceived injustice and are not bound by social and economic obligations, they carry out terror acts like the one witnessed in Udaipur,” said a senior counter terrorism official in New Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajasthan Director General of Police M.L. Lather said while it might be too early to pinpoint the role of a particular terrorist outfit, the fact that Ghaus visited Karachi, the headquarters of the Dawat-e-Islami, between December 2014 and February 2015, raised a red flag. “We have not found any terror links to Dawat-e-Islami. But the accused met different people when he visited Karachi to participate in the activities of the organisation and we are looking into it,’’ said Lather. He said the probe revealed that the accused were radicalised over the internet and social media. “All we can say is that they were in touch with at least a dozen Pakistani numbers. Further investigation will reveal more about their links,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Dawat-e-Islami, founded in 1981, is one of Pakistan’s largest Sunni-Barelvi organisations, with common roots on both sides of the border. After its name cropped up during the investigation, Maulana Mahmood Qadri, a senior leader at the Karachi headquarters, said there had not been a single incident where any of their students, followers or teachers were involved in any violent activity. “We are purely an educational, missionary and charity institution and preach peace in our lives,” he told a news agency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it has not been a smooth ride for the organisation. It was under scanner in 2011 after the killing of Punjab governor Salman Taseer by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri who described the murder as a punishment for blasphemy. The 2020 stabbing outside the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo put the organisation under global scrutiny. “Much like the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, who are co-Barelvis, they are extremely sensitive to anything perceived even remotely offensive about the Prophet,” said an intelligence official. The Indian wing of the organisation which is also known by the same name has, however, completely dissociated itself from the global organisation. Counter terrorism officials in Mumbai, where the Indian wing has its headquarters, said the ties were completely severed after the 1993 Mumbai bombings which first made New Delhi label Pakistan a sponsor of terrorism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Dawat-e-Islami has been running its activities in Kanpur and there is no restriction on the organisation. The Uttar Pradesh ATS, which has joined the multi-agency probe in Udaipur, is examining whether Kanhaiya’s attackers got any logistical aid from Kanpur. The focus, however, is more on online platforms where the faceless and the nameless continue to keep the pot boiling. Uttar Pradesh has been high on the radar of terror groups in the past as a fertile ground for the recruitment of disgruntled youth. The state has witnessed a noticeable change over the years. Police sources said thousands of online posts by radical groups are being detected every day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prashant Kumar, additional director general (law and order) in the UP police, said a specialised social media cell was monitoring online activities 24/7 and that no person misusing such platforms would be spared. A senior counter terrorism official said only a thin line existed between “radicalised elements” linked to a particular organisation wilfully executing a terror act and those who were “self-radicalised” and were using different organisations and platforms to remain under the radar of police forces. But in both cases, the outcome is the same—a brutal killing triggered by an event like the Nupur Sharma controversy, with a common goal of spreading terror and panic. The NIA has widened its probe to examine suspected linkages between the Udaipur hacking case and the June 21 killing of a shopkeeper Umesh Kolhe in Amravati in Maharashtra. Kolhe was on his way home after closing his shop when two men on a motorcycle allegedly stabbed him in the neck.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“If a similarity or trend emerges, it may point towards the creation of a new online terror module where self-radicalised individuals carry out brutal killings after online indoctrination and weapons training,” said an officer. Investigators said the need of the hour was not to jump into conclusions and label terrorists under a single brand name. Instead, it is important to bolster the capabilities of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to meet the changing face of terror in the country. “Just like The Resistance Front in Kashmir, which is a conglomerate of operatives from the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Hizbul Mujahideen, the urban terror outfits, too, have a history of operatives changing names and banners once they come on the radar of national and international counter terrorism organisations,” said former NIA special director N.R. Wasan. He said radicalised boys of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) formed the feeder line when the Indian Mujahideen was born. “What is important is to create conditions to steer the youth away from terror indoctrination,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Union home ministry is assisting states to undertake de-radicalisation programmes involving community elders, religious organisations and family members. States like Kerala have already undertaken such measures successfully, while others like UP and Rajasthan are striving hard to follow their lead. “It is an uphill task to identify the radicalised youth before they undertake some action. The challenge also lies in seeing how long can such attempts continue at a stretch,” said Lather.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mohammed Tahir Madani, director of Jamiatul Falah, the madrasa in Azamgarh in UP from where a number of SIMI leaders emerged, said blaming an entire organisation for the mistakes committed by a few was unfair and could drive a wedge between communities. “To associate any organisation with terror is a big allegation and it must be corroborated first. Secondly, any religious or holy texts are prone to wrong interpretation. But to say that the madrasas are teaching the youth to take law into their own hands sets a negative narrative,’’ said Madani.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is indeed a tightrope walk for investigators and governments to book the culprits and rope in the community to fight terror indoctrination and extremist ideology. It also requires political will to steer clear of the blame game. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who is facing flak from the BJP for allegedly indulging in appeasement politics, has demanded swift investigation by the NIA into the Udaipur murder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ashok K. Behuria, senior fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, said over-interpretation and attempts by the media to find causes at the wrong place could muddy the investigations. Behuria, who has researched extensively on sectarian conflicts in Pakistan, said whether the terror accused in Udaipur were lone wolves or were affiliated to some organisation would become clear once the NIA finished its probe. But before that, the challenge is to thwart online terror activities that have picked up after the murder. “The Udaipur killing is the worst kind of terror act and we all must condemn it,” said Behuria. “At the same time, we should allow investigations to be carried out without jumping into conclusions.”</p> Fri Jul 08 13:14:35 IST 2022 no-financial-consideration-behind-agnipath-navy-chief <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THOUGH THE PROTESTS</b> against Agnipath have subsided, the debate continues—not only among veterans and aspirants, but also among serving personnel. The concerns are mostly about Agniveers being without jobs after serving four years. There is also a fear that the scheme may bring an end to the century-old regimental ethos that made the Indian military one of the world's finest fighting machines. However, the military leadership has welcomed the scheme. Among the chiefs, Admiral R. Hari Kumar has been the most vocal, calling it “transformational”. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You called Agnipath transformational. Could you explain how it can transform the armed forces?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are four reasons. First, the scheme will reduce the average age of our services by about four to five years. This youthful profile, in itself, is a transformative change that we have been seeking for a considerable time, especially following the Kargil Review Committee recommendations. Second, Agnipath will enhance our combat readiness and operational effectiveness by tapping into our technologically savvy youth. The infusion of a greater number of Agniveers each year will give us an edge in rapidly evolving and technologically intense conflicts. Third, this scheme will lead to an optimal mix of a youthful cadre and experience. The permanent cadre would consist of experienced personnel enrolled after four years of service. The youthful cadre, serving for four years, will form the rank and file. Fourth, with a steady stream of trained, disciplined, skilled and motivated Agniveers joining the national workforce, the scheme will play a vital role in the growth, prosperity and transformation of our nation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The concern is about the 75 per cent who have to leave after four years. They would get preference in the paramilitary and police. But, the annual intake of these forces is not more than a few thousand personnel. Moreover, their training and operational philosophy are different from that of the armed forces.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There will of course be differences in terms of training and operational philosophy, but the commonalities will outweigh these. Let me elaborate. The efficiency of the paramilitary forces is dependent on the strength of their trained personnel. With an outflow of about 46,000 Agniveers per year, our paramilitary forces will be able to tap into this vast potential to strengthen their force levels with well-trained, weapon proficient and self-disciplined personnel in the prime of their youth, exposed to a plethora of disciplines, including operational deployments, disaster relief operations, rescue missions and administrative functions. Agniveers would only need a bridging course to fit into the paramilitary forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Serving in the military has been considered a prestige and honour in villages. Added to that is the attraction of pension, widow pension, the enhanced value in the so-called marriage market, medical facilities and liquor quota, etc, which an ex-solider gets. The Agniveer would not get any of these. Wouldn't he been seen as one who has lost his job.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No. On the contrary, it would further enhance the status of Agniveers in our society. Firstly, serving the nation's military with a commitment to apply ordered application of force under an unlimited liability is an honour for any citizen. It is this unlimited liability that sets the military profession apart from all others. In India, a soldier, whether he has served for four years or 40, will always retain the honour and dignity accorded by an evolved and mature society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But he has no job after four years....</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During their tenure in the services, Agniveers will gain both tangible and intangible benefits, qualities and skills. On the tangible front, they will transform into experienced, capable, well-trained, highly skilled individuals who understand the dignity of labour. On the intangible front, they will gain immensely from some of the best leadership practices and management skills. Additionally, on completion of four years, they will be provided various levels of certification and credit points to enable further education. On exiting after four years, they will be ready to be absorbed in defence PSUs, the corporate world, government organisations and security agencies such as the CAPFs. Further, on completion of the engagement period of four years, Agniveers will be paid a one-time, tax free Seva Nidhi package of Rs11.71 lakh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There is also the issue of regimental culture. The soldier, it is said, fights for his buddy, the honour of his company, his regiment and so on. How can we expect a youth of 18 to 23 get these regimental values ingrained in his mind, only to forget all these after four years?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The issue of regimental culture relates to what is termed as social cohesion in managerial practices. In the armed forces, in addition to the social cohesion, we also seek task cohesion, which puts mission accomplishment as the primary source of motivation. In the Navy, we have been structured in such a manner that an officer or a sailor remains part of one team for about two to three years, sometimes even less, and then moves on to join another team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How is the cohesion achieved in such circumstances?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In each of our units we have a smaller cohesive unit called a division—usually about 11 personnel. The division is a group of junior sailors, senior sailors and a divisional officer who have a common professional task at hand. Task accomplishment drives their interactions leading to task cohesion. Working together leads to personal bonds or social cohesion. The team composition keeps changing, but the spirit of togetherness, in matters both personal and professional, endures. This would further ingrain teamwork and camaraderie in each Agniveer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>One of the main purposes of this scheme is to cut the pension bill. But as CDS, General Bipin Rawat had mooted the idea of raising the retirement age of soldiers from 55 to 58. Was that proposal considered?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As was briefed by the defence minister during the launch of Agnipath, there is no financial imperative or consideration attached to the scheme. The honourable minister had specifically mentioned that the government does not view the armed forces and the security of the nation from the financial perspective.</p> <p>The scheme has been launched to infuse a more youthful profile for the armed forces on the basis of recommendations of various committees such as the Kargil Review Committee. Raising the length of service was a different proposal and is not linked to the Agnipath scheme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There was little discussion in Parliament committee or think-tanks before the scheme was announced. Wouldn't such debate, as we had in the case of CDS and theatre commands, have helped smoothen the rough edges of the scheme?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let me assure you that there were extensive discussions, debates and deliberations within the armed forces right down to the field level, the ministry of defence and all stakeholder ministries, departments and agencies of government. It is only after such rigour over the last two years that the government has approved the scheme with the full concurrence of the armed forces.</p> Fri Jul 01 15:54:43 IST 2022 aspirants-and-veterans-are-not-convinced-agnipath-scheme-will-work <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Indian military has been fighting four enemies—the Chinese and the Pakistanis outside; and an ageing soldiery, and rising pay and pension bills within. To tackle the latter two, on June 14, the government announced the Agnipath scheme, or tour of duty. Under this, youth would be recruited between the ages of 17 and a half and 21, be trained for six months and be allowed to serve anywhere from Siachen to Secunderabad. After four years, though, three-fourth of them would be packed off with cheques for 011.71 lakh each, and whatever balance they had saved from their pay. Once out of the Army, they would not get any of the perks today’s veterans get.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hardly had the ministry made the announcement when all hell broke loose. Thousands of boys who had been cleared in physical and medical tests and had been waiting for the military’s call for the past two Covid years (when no recruitment took place) gave vent to their frustration on the streets. And veterans, even those who wore star ranks, denounced the scheme or suggested improvements.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government quickly moved to pacify the first group. A two-year relaxation of the upper age limit was announced for those who missed the call in the past two years. The government also promised quotas for demobbed Agniveers in the paramilitary and in civil jobs in the defence ministry and its PSUs. The offers clicked; protests died down. The veterans, however, are still divided over the efficacy of the scheme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Actually, there is nothing new in the Agnipath idea, except the nomenclature. The soldier has been ageing ever since the military extended colour service in the 1970s. The problem got aggravated in the early 1990s when those recruited in the 1970s were still found to be serving at 37 and 38, bringing the average age to above 30. “The Kargil Review Committee and the Arun Singh Committee had raised objections on the average age of soldiers, which was in the 30s, during the Kargil war; it is 32 currently,” said Lt Gen Anil Puri, additional secretary in the department of military affairs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pension bill, too, had been mounting, and the Modi government’s move to implement the long-deferred one-rank-one-pension promise sent it shooting up to more than a fourth of the total defence ministry spend.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The solutions now being offered are also old, and some of them were ignored by several expert committees. For instance, though the K. Subrahmanyam committee—which studied the national security apparatus after the Kargil war—had recommended that soldiers be demobbed after five years of service and be absorbed into the paramilitary, the L.K. Advani-led Group of Ministers that reviewed the recommendations found that the paramilitary was not willing to take the ex-soldiers. Several parliamentary committees that have looked into this suggestion have also reported the same.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The primary reason is that the paramilitary’s training and operational philosophy are radically different from the Army’s. “The soldier in the Army fights the external enemy; he is trained to kill,” explained a senior defence ministry officer. “He uses anything from a bayonet to a ballistic missile. The paramilitary’s primary weapon is the rifle; his operational training is to overpower the enemy and bring him to the law. It takes a lot to convert the Army sepoy or naik into a constable.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Agnipath scheme will also abolish the British Raj system of recruiting soldiers based on caste, religion, region and martial race, which has been in practice since Lord Roberts introduced it in the late 19th century. Currently, 70 per cent of the soldiers come from 168 out of 775 districts, most of them in the north. Agniveers, on the other hand, will be inducted based on an all-India, all-class basis, and posted into any battalion or regiment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The idea is to recruit 46,000 young men in the first year, through 83 recruitment rallies to be held from August to November. The Army, which will get a major chunk of them, expects to receive the first batch by December, and get them in the units after training by next July. There is no change in the process of induction, entry-level qualification, examination syllabus or medical standards. The Agniveer, however, will wear a distinctive insignia on his uniform. The Agniveer will be eligible for all the gallantry honours like the regular troops, and also perks such as the Siachen allowance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, most aspirants and even veterans are not convinced that the scheme will work well. “If I want to join the paramilitary or police or Assam Rifles, I can directly join them,” said 18-year-old Samarth Kumar, who hails from a village of veterans in Haryana’s Jind district. “That would also assure me a job till 55 or more, with full pay, pension and other perks. Why should I waste my first four years in the Army?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within the Army, too, there are concerns. If the regular trooper today is trained in basics like weapon handling and fieldcraft for 44 weeks, the Agniveer will receive only 26 weeks of training. “I have my doubts whether this is enough,” said a serving major-general. “The basic training, which is about weapons and military things, will hardly equip him for civil life. All the special skills that we impart to the soldier are done in the units.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Which means, even the so-called tech skills that should earn the Agniveer credits for his demobbed life are unlikely to come by in the six months training. “Repairing of aircraft, ships or radars, sonars, communication equipment etc are given on the job. These often take years. You cannot expect the Agniveer to be trained in these skills in six months,” said the major-general.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a colonel who is commanding an armoured regiment pointed out, “A recruit joining the Armoured Corps has to undergo about five months of basic training.... The young soldiers reach the regiments after nearly a year and a half from the day they get into uniform. Will this will be brought down to six months?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, Lt Gen J.S. Sandhu, former military secretary, allays such fears. “In most armies of the world, soldiers serve up to two or three years,” he said. “In today’s time, with one week of training, a person can handle drones. Ukrainian soldiers are firing missiles at Russian aircraft and tanks. The young soldier who has joined the service last year is doing this. Some worries will be there on maintenance of equipment, but the regular people can take care of it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A more serious concern is the question of trust. “There are several technical matters about aircraft maintenance and even gunnery skills that are classified. Would a CO (commanding officer) trust a fresher who will leave the service after a few months with these things?” wondered the major-general. “It costs a few thousand to fire a shell. Would the CO like to spend a few dozen shells to train a guy who he knows will leave in the next few months?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are also those who fear that demobbed Agniveers could be targets of espionage. “Someone at the age of 25 is attracted to money or may be honey-trapped. A soldier with 20 years of service with kids will be overcautious.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, the Army spends about Rs16 lakh to train a soldier, the navy Rs27 lakh on a sailor and the Air Force Rs39 lakh on an airman. “If the man is going to leave the service after four years, are we getting the value for the money we spent on him?” asked the major-general.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also criticism that the scheme has not been properly thought out or discussed. The ministry has not cited any committee or paper that has laid out the scheme, except broad recommendations that had been made and rejected by earlier committees. But the ministry denies this. “The services held 150 meetings of over 500 hours, while the ministry of defence had 60 meetings of 150 hours to work out the modalities of the scheme for the past two years,” said Lt Gen Puri. “The whole government, including all stakeholders, had 44 rounds of meeting in which 100 hours of discussions have taken place.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has, however, been little discussion outside. “The scheme can have more fallouts in the society than in the military,” said a BJP MP. “When you unleash several thousand arms-trained young men without jobs into the society, you should prepare the society. Sending a man into the Army is a matter of prestige in most north-Indian villages. With good pay, travel facilities, medical facilities, pension and even widow pension etc, an entire family is suddenly offered lifetime security. Let’s admit it, it even enhances his value in the marriage market. Now, what happens to the family, and even to the man’s self-esteem when he comes back after four years without even a job?” He said the scheme should have been discussed in parliamentary committees and also think tanks to assess the socio-economic fallout.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While everyone agrees that the Agnipath scheme will cut costs and improve the age profile of the military, many experts are worried whether it will also cut its fighting skill and spirit. “An under-trained soldier may put everyone’s life in danger,” said Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia, former director-general of military operations. A minor violation of the drill can alert the enemy, especially during night patrol, and endanger the lives of all others.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But more important is the question of military spirit and ethos. The military, especially the Army, puts a lot of premium on values like man-to-man bonding, honour and traditions of the battalion and the regiment, bonding between the commanding officer and the troops and so on. “Such values are imbibed over several years of training together, living together, working together and fighting together,” pointed out an officer. “It is these values that make even the battle-hardened troops implicitly obey the commands of the young officers fresh from the academy. We are an Army of officers who lead from the front, and that has made us the finest Army in the world. What we lack in terms of technology and weaponry, we make up with fighting spirit.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As commanding officers have been pointing out, the soldier essentially fights for naam, namak and nishaan—values that have been engrained in the soldierly mind over decades of combat and sacrifice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>With inputs from R. Prasannan</b></p> Fri Jun 24 13:29:01 IST 2022 agniveers-can-be-assets-to-paramilitary-forces-crpf-dg-kuldiep-singh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Centre has given a 10 per cent quota and upper age limit relaxation to Agniveers for recruitment into the Central Armed Police Forces. How will the CAPFs benefit from Agnipath?</b></p> <p><br> The paramilitary forces will get trained personnel at the pre-recruitment stage itself, which saves time and training costs. As the Agniveers will not be raw, we will already know their skills. With a short re-orientation, the Agniveer can become an asset to the CAPFs.</p> <p><b>How do CAPFs benefit from the scheme compared to direct recruits?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>The paramilitary forces will get the benefit of having trained personnel at the pre-recruitment stage itself, which saves the usual time taken to hire recruits and save the training costs involved before new recruits can be deployed on the field. Since Agniveers will not be raw and would have the experience, we will already know their skills. With a short re-orientation, the Agniveer can become an asset to the CAPF. These personnel will also have the spirit to perform .&nbsp;</p> <p><b>&nbsp;How will it help in job creation?</b></p> <p>While it provides employment opportunities to youth, it will also help fill up the vacancies in CAPFs. There are around 15,000 vacancies in the CRPF at the force level.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why do you think there are nationwide protests against it?</b></p> <p><br> To say that their future will be uncertain is a wrong narrative being built by inimical elements. For those who had genuine concerns, the government has explained the rationale behind the short-term recruitment.<br> <br> <b>Is there a danger of Agniveers becoming potential targets for espionage?</b>&nbsp;<br> <br> I do not think so. The Agniveers shall be imbibed with the value system and ethos of the Indian forces.<br> <br> <b>There is scepticism that the new short-term recruits will learn only odd jobs in the armed forces?</b><br> <br> Why are we sceptical at the first possible opportunity? World over, this is the method being followed. I think it is only misinformation that is leading to protests.<br> <br> <br> <b>What is the focus of the CRPF today ? Is it only training it’s personnel in law and order duties or is it focussing on cyber capabilities and new age warfare too? </b></p> <p><br> With the changing dynamics of national security, which gradually began shifting from the border pillars to the various grids of internal security, the government &nbsp; reposed its firm faith on CRPF and pinned the internal security duties on the shoulders of this much dependable, people friendly force. These newer challenges demanded fresh vision and renewed operational tactics. Today, CRPF has its footprints in almost all parts of the country, rendering service to the nation, in one form or the other.<br> &nbsp;Apart from their traditional role, law enforcement agencies have an arduous task of safeguarding the citizens from cyber criminals ensuring a safe cyber experience. The cyber infrastructure in CRPF is evolving continuously, covering all aspects of government, public, and private functioning, including infrastructural safeguards with the ever-changing scenario.<br> <br> <b>What are the technological advancements being made ?</b>&nbsp;</p> <p><br> To maintain an edge in our capability over potential opponents, constant efforts are required to upgrade technology. CRPF is switching to sophisticated technical equipments like use of various cameras, thermal scanners, NVDs, UAVs, Anti- Drone System, upgraded version of bullet-proof vehicles etc. Apart from this software based transfer posting, mobile app for all personnel, e- office (Paperless Office Management) are some of the initiatives which are taken to keep pace with digital world.<br> </p> <p><b>Being the largest paramilitary force, the CRPF will have the biggest chunk of Agniveers. How different is the training in the armed forces and the CRPF?</b><br> <br> The armed forces train with the enemy in mind while the CAPFs have a different mandate. While physical fitness and mental strength are mainstays in both, the conditions in which the forces operate are very different.</p> <p><b>What kind of training will be given to the Agniveers joining the CRPF?</b><br> <br> The CRPF has its own training centres catering to the basic training of constables, sub-inspectors and officers. We ensure that the personnel are put through rigorous in-service courses to enhance and upgrade their knowledge in keeping with the times. The challenges in various parts of the country are fundamentally different. We put our personnel through pre-induction training whenever they are deployed in a new theatre. It is important for us to ensure that the men on ground know exactly how to react. The CRPF has a history of being able to quickly shift gears and work on the security grid. I am sure the Agniveers will soon become part of our fighting force.</p> Mon Jun 27 17:17:12 IST 2022 dazed-and-confused <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The day the Agnipath scheme was announced, K. Ram went into shock. For the next two days, the 22-year-old had only one thought—how to commit suicide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2019, Ram, who lives in a village near Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh, first attended an open rally the Army held in a ground in Visakhapatnam. He had to cover 1.6km in a little more than five minutes. He overshot the deadline by a few seconds. Though dejected, he decided to soldier on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“After 2019, I discontinued my degree, focused on my running time and improved my physical health,” he said. “I took coaching from an academy to crack the written exam. After two years, there was a call for posts in the Army. I applied and even got the admit card number; the date of test was also announced. But it was cancelled at the last moment,” said Ram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His parents, daily wage labourers, borrowed Rs1 lakh to help him realise his dream though they did not approve of him joining the Army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am not not against the scheme,” he said. “I do not know why it is tough for everyone to understand that, for three years, we have been frustrated and desperate. Just hold the tests for the applicants who have already applied or have partially cleared the tests and then introduce any scheme you want.”</p> Fri Jun 24 13:20:59 IST 2022 long-time-no-cee <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Though he cleared the physical and medical tests for Army recruitment in March 2021, Devdutt P.G. is still waiting for the Common Entrance Exam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When I passed the tests, I dropped out of college to attend the CEE training sessions,” says the 21-year-old. He was studying BSc physics at Iqbal College, Thiruvananthapuram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Devdutt’s father is a headload worker and his mother is a panchayat member. He has a younger sister. To support his family, Devdutt works as a plumber now. On June 18, along with some friends, he attended an Army aspirants’ protest march in front of Kerala Raj Bhavan. “Unlike in many parts of the country, we did not resort to violence,” he says. The aspirants did a push-up challenge instead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vishnu Lal, 21, another Army aspirant, said that his main concern was not Agnipath, but the delay in the CEE. He, too, cleared the physical and medical exams in March 2021. “My father had a heart attack recently and is now confined to bed after an angioplasty. I have to work to feed my family. I go for catering, headload and masonry work.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He feels that Covid-19 was just an excuse. “Many exams were conducted during Covid-19. Perhaps the postponement of CEE had some connection to the announcement of the Agnipath scheme.”</p> Fri Jun 24 13:19:10 IST 2022 need-more-than-four <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Priyanshu Singh, who will turn 18 this year, has been living in Prayagraj for the past few months to prepare for the Combined Defence Services (CDS) exam. “I know those who have been preparing for the past four or five years,” he said. “They have cleared the written exam and the interview. With this announcement, the government has killed their dreams and hard work.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priyanshu moved to Prayagraj as back in Ballia, which borders Bihar, he found no space for himself in a family of eight; he lost his father a year ago. He said that for middle-class people such as him, the Army offered job security and a life of respect, in addition to the opportunity to serve the nation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, he does not believe that the Agnipath scheme would draw more people to the defence forces. “Only those who are motivated enough to join the services will come forward, as they are doing now. I want nothing other than a permanent commission with the Army. What will happen to those who serve just for four years? They will again face an uncertain future. There is no industry, no job opportunities [in Ballia]. The one hope that the young had (of joining the Army) has also been cruelly snatched away.”</p> Fri Jun 24 13:16:54 IST 2022 dream-come-true <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Mampi Biswas lives in Majhdia in Nadia district, close to the India-Bangladesh border, and is into the second year of her graduation programme. A cadet with the National Cadet Corps, she has dreamt of being in the Army since she was a child. “The Agnipath scheme is the stepping stone for me to achieve my goal,” she said. “I am surely going to enrol myself when recruitment starts in my area. I am sure I will be part of the 25 per cent who would make it to regular long-term service after the four-year training.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mampi said she is a nationalist and would like to save the country from “external enemies”. She said she had seen many bad things happening on the India-Bangladesh border, close to her door. She also deplored the burning of trains and buses in protest. “I think they have not read the policy,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shaon, 19, agreed. “Even if I would not stay on in the Army, the training would give me a chance to do a lot of things after the four years,” he said. “Agniveers would be given priority in all kinds of jobs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shaon, another NCC cadet, is the son of a schoolteacher. “What touches my heart is the posting in faraway places,” he said. “I can protect the country on the China border or even on the Pakistan border. We educated people living in villages have limited job options. Agnipath would change the entire scenario.”</p> Sun Jun 26 15:36:51 IST 2022 bjps-action-against-aggressive-spokespersons-may-have-doused-international-ire <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE BJP’S</b> 2018 training manual on media had guidelines for its leaders and spokespersons on how to navigate traditional news media and emerging social media. It talked about the need to focus on winning the perception war and setting the agenda. “We should as far as possible not be seen as reacting to issues. Rather build our brand in such a way as to make others change or imitate us so that the BJP brand dominates the discourse,” said the manual.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a section on handling television debates, it warned about facing a tough opposition. “Answer critical questions honestly without losing your composure. If you acknowledge that your opponent has a point, you will often win the confidence of the audience.” However, on May 26, during a polarising debate on the Gyanvapi mosque issue, BJP’s Nupur Sharma went against the official playbook, as she lost her composure. The firebrand national spokesperson’s statement was perceived as offensive and derogatory to Prophet Mohammed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A day later, Sharma’s comments started going viral on social media. At first, party leaders tried to downplay her comments and maintained that she had only exercised her freedom of expression. As she faced threats, BJP activists came out on social media in support. On June 1, Delhi BJP media cell in-charge Naveen Jindal posted a particularly offensive tweet against the Prophet. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ramnath Kovind were in Kanpur on June 3, protests and violence broke out after Friday prayers. Soon, protests were reported from other cities, and reactions started flowing from Islamic countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The National Democratic Alliance government, which celebrated its eighth anniversary on May 30, soon had a major crisis at hand. As the support earned from Muslim nations appeared to ebb away, the government and the party were forced to launch a damage control exercise. The ministry of external affairs said the statements were made by a “fringe,” while a signed statement issued by BJP general secretary Arun Singh said the party respected all religions. Sharma was suspended for expressing views contrary to the party’s position, while Jindal, a former journalist, was expelled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was clear that the government and the ruling party were under pressure to delink the comments from Modi’s image. The delayed action may have doused international ire to an extent, but the message has not gone down well with a section of the party cadre who are left confused over the decision. The general refrain was that Sharma defended the faith during a deeply polarising debate on the Gyanvapi mosque issue after a shivling was discovered during the court mandated video survey. Many questioned the decision to sacrifice her after facing pressure from the Islamic bloc.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Could Sharma’s statement be a tipping point for the BJP, which is forever looking for new territories to conquer, even as it consolidates its core? The polarising rhetoric, which got shriller during the Uttar Pradesh elections, started with the hijab row. It was followed by the Gyanvapi controversy, which spread across the country. Right-wing followers soon started demanding the restoration of temples which were believed to have been replaced by mosques in the last 1,000 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior BJP leaders, however, felt that the Sharma episode took the focus away from Modi’s performance and the government’s standing abroad. India faced criticism from international bodies over its track record concerning minorities. With the terms of its two Muslim MPs in the Rajya Sabha expiring soon, the ruling party will soon be without a Muslim MP, creating a perception problem. The Modi government’s decision to reconsider the sedition law after using it against anti-government activists and leaders seems to have been made with an eye on its international image.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s action against Sharma and Jindal assumes significance as it comes close on the heels of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement that courts will decide on all cases including the Gyanvapi mosque, and that Hindus should stop looking for a temple under every mosque. This nuanced appeal has been aimed at toning down the conflict on religious matters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within party circles and the government, aggressive statements are fine till the time they cause embarrassment to the Modi government and take away the focus from projecting work being done. Several leaders perceived to be aggressive communicators appear to have toned down. Through his speeches to party leaders at various forums, Modi has asked them to keep the focus on development, and shun unwanted statements. Spokespersons have been asked to be cautious in their approach and be careful about their rhetoric.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The message is very clear. The BJP respects all religions. Our focus is on development, good governance and antyodaya, benefiting the last person on the queue,” said BJP spokesperson Gopal Krishna Agarwal. But the party has always rewarded aggressive leaders. Sharma, for instance, was picked up for a key electoral battle against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in 2015, eight years after she was elected president of the Delhi University Students Union. She was appointed the BJP’s national spokesperson in September 2020.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Sharma’s political future appears uncertain for the time being, many leaders have expressed concern over her safety as she has been receiving death threats. Hard core party supporters, who often react emotionally on the issues of hindutva, may push for further consolidation of Hindu votes with an argument that while the episode united the Muslim world, the voices in Sharma’s favour remained subdued.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is the second time that protests by Muslims prompted the Modi government to take action. Earlier, sustained campaign on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act had forced the government to put the issue on the back burner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the BJP moves towards the 2024 elections, the government has made it clear that it will focus on job creation, which has been a sore point in the government’s development story. Modi has promised to fill 10 lakh vacant posts in the next 18 months, just in time for the Lok Sabha polls. Even a Tour of Duty scheme to recruit 45,000 youth every year to the armed forces is another attempt towards this goal. The outpouring of Muslim anger may, perhaps, force the government to be more circumspect while taking up controversial issues like the uniform civil code, believed to be the next on agenda.</p> Sun Jun 19 11:48:04 IST 2022 weapons-on-rent <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>LAST APRIL,</b> during his visit to France, Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria, the then Air Force chief, pitched an idea—he wanted to rent an Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport aircraft (MRTT) instead of buying one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2020, a batch of the Air Force's Rafales had flown non-stop (almost 7,000 km) from France to India with mid-air refuelling; the A330 MRTTs of the French and UAE air forces had helped do that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Air Force had made multiple unsuccessful attempts since 2007 to buy mid-air refuelling jets, but budget was always a hurdle. So, now, the Air Force is leasing an A330 MRTT from France.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The IAF might go in for five more A330 MRTTs later. Currently, the force operates six Russian Ilyushin-Il78 refuelling tankers, but these are facing service issues. Mid-air refuellers also help overcome the depleted combat strength, to some extent, as they allow the existing fleet to remain in the sky for longer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the Army, in 2021, finalised the lease of four advanced Heron Mark-II medium-altitude long endurance UAVs from Israel for better surveillance on the India-China border amid the military standoff in Ladakh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2020, the Narendra Modi government came out with new regulations that allow leasing of military equipment from friendly nations to plug critical operational deficiencies amid growing threats on the borders. Defence experts believe that operational preparedness and indigenisation do not go hand in hand. And so, India needs answers in the short term.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are two types of lease—dry and wet. The former allows use in wartime; the latter, in peacetime. India's new set of regulations allows for dry lease and, according to the new rules, provides a useful way to substitute huge initial capital outlays with periodical rental payments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Leasing would include the cost of maintenance during the lease period. In case of a crash, the entire cost would have to be paid to the foreign firm.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has allocated Rs5.25 lakh for the 2022-23 defence budget; 68 per cent of the capital budget will be set aside for buying from domestic industry. This leaves hardly any money to buy new weapons and military platforms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amit Cowshish, former financial adviser (acquisition) with the defence ministry, told THE WEEK: “If we had the money, we would have bought it (military platforms) anyway. In the absence, this options looks to be the most viable as you get it when you need it most.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Added Remi Maillard, president and managing director of Airbus India and South Asia: “India’s defence procurement process is robust and thorough. The inclusion of a full chapter on leasing in the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) underlines the government’s resolve to cater to the armed forces' need for mission-critical assets within a short timeframe but without incurring large capital expenditure. We believe that a take-off in leasing can contribute to unlock the potential of atmanirbhar Bharat in defence.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The concept of leasing is not new to the armed forces. India's first nuclear submarine, the Charlie class INS Chakra, was taken on lease from the Soviet Union in 1988. Later, an Akula II class submarine was leased from Russia, and was also named INS Chakra. The Navy is now negotiating with Russia for another Akula II submarine on lease. The difference now is that the leasing option is officially part of the DAP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Leasing has been introduced as a new category (as part of the DAP 2020) for acquisition in addition to existing ‘Buy’ and ‘Make’ categories,” read a defence ministry statement. “Leasing is permitted under two categories—lease (Indian), where the lessor is an Indian entity; and lease (global), where the lessor is a global entity.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per the DAP, cases where lease of equipment may be preferred are—(a) where procurement is not feasible due to time constraints, (b) where the asset/capability is needed for a specific time or would be underutilised if procured, (c) where smaller numbers of assets are needed and administrative/maintenance infrastructure expenditure would be high, (d) when service life lease rentals are a better option than a one-time acquisition cost, (e) to gain experience for operational exploitation of equipment, and (f) due to operational necessity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Cowshish: “It is not a bad idea when you require something in small numbers. Or in cases where the technology may be changing fast. Staggered payments are more affordable.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is one of biggest spenders on military equipment, but unlike, say, Saudi Arabia, it does have money constraints. Leasing becomes a viable option in this situation. Also, experts believe that major defence players like the US, Russia, France and Israel are quite keen on entering the leasing market.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In December 2020, the Indian Navy took two MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones on lease for two years from the US. The process took two months, which was unprecedented. Such procurement usually takes years. Experts also said that the Navy wanted to test whether the drones were suitable for bulk purchase in future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Navy has invited responses from foreign vendors for its planned five-year lease of 24 NUHs (Naval Utility Helicopters) and related support equipment to replace its fleet of legacy licence-built Chetak helicopters, inducted into service in the 1960s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lt Gen Anil Ahuja, however, believes that leasing should not be used to bypass the normal channel of acquisition. The former deputy chief of Integrated Defence Staff (policy planning and force development) said that it should only be a stopgap arrangement for something that is critically required for a short duration. “Any military platform or weapon system that gets inducted into the armed forces has a service life span of 30 to 40 years. Once you have acquired it, the window is closed for many years,” he said, adding that India should lease equipment till the time indigenous products are ready.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts, including Ahuja, said that leasing should not kill the indigenous defence sector. However, the indigenous players, including public and private ones, should be given a deadline to complete projects. “This option (leasing) should be resorted to as an exception, with strict time limits set, within which the domestic equipment must be made available to the services,” said Ahuja. “Penalties need to be considered in the event of unjustified slippages.”</p> Sat Jun 18 15:48:10 IST 2022 kashmiri-pandits-are-fleeing-the-valley-once-again <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>KASHMIRI PANDITS FLED</b> to different parts of India after the community was targeted by militants in the late 1980s. According to official data, 64,827 Pandit families left Kashmir back then. In 2008, the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government announced the prime minister’s package (PMP), offering 6,000 jobs, in an attempt to bring the families back. The project was working well until the revocation of Article 370 in August 2019. Soon, militants started targeting non-natives and minorities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last October, prominent Pandit businessman M.L. Bindroo, who never left Kashmir, was shot dead. Supinder Kour, principal of a government school in Srinagar, and her colleague Deepak Chand Mehra were killed a few days later. Kashmiri Pandits have been living in fear since then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fear turned into panic after Rahul Bhat, 35, a Pandit employed under PMP, was shot dead on May 12 at the Chadoora tehsil office in Budgam district. It triggered protests by Kashmiri Pandits, mostly government employees, in Budgam, Qazigund, Pulwama, Ganderbal and Baramulla. They blocked roads and threatened to leave Kashmir, unless the government relocated them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and Kashmir Divisional Commissioner Pandurang K. Pole met the protesters, and promised them security and postings in safe zones. On the heels of the assurances, Kulgam district saw two killings—on May 31, government school teacher Rajni Bala, and on June 2, bank manager Vijay Kumar. The police subsequently tried to seal migrant camps to prevent Pandits from fleeing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As protests intensified, Union Home Minister Amit Shah convened a meeting, which backed the J&amp;K administration’s plan to post minority employees in “safe zones” in district headquarters or within three kilometres of municipal towns. But the Pandits are not happy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sanjay Raina, who lives with his family in the government migrant employees camp at Vessu in Anantnag district, said the decision was unacceptable. “The government is not bothered about our safety,” said Raina. “It is not just about our postings. We have to go to the market and our children need to attend school. How will we manage that?” Arvind Pandita, president of the migrant employees’ camp at Haal in Pulwama district, said many Pandits had fled to Jammu. “The government should relocate us at least till the situation improves.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to observers, the recent spate of violence is rooted in fears about an impending demographic change in Kashmir. Along with Article 370, Jammu and Kashmir also lost its statehood and limited autonomy. The valley was numbed into silence because of the security lockdown and communication blackout, and senior leaders like Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti were kept in detention for many months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fears of demographic change grew further after the Centre announced new domicile and land laws. The domicile law allows anybody with 15 years of residency in Jammu and Kashmir—10 years in the case of Central government employees and staff of public sector undertakings and banks—to acquire domicile certificates. The new land law allows all Indian citizens to buy land in Jammu and Kashmir. Regional parties like the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party said the laws were amended to alter Kashmir’s demography. In Jammu, too, it raised anxiety about losing jobs and businesses to outsiders. The matter died down temporarily during the pandemic. But once the restrictions were eased, targeted killings resumed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Resistance Front (TRF), a new militant group which the police say is the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in disguise, started operating in Kashmir from August 2019. It is the first militant group to adopt a non-Islamic name after the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). After Bindroo’s murder, the TRF said he was an “RSS ideologue, involved in immoral trafficking and drug supply”. Kour and Chand were targeted because, according to the TRF, they had forced students to attend the Independence Day function at school.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sanjay Tickoo, leader of the Kashmiri Pandits Sangharsh Samiti, has sought the Jammu and Kashmir High Court’s intervention to relocate all religious minorities living in Kashmir to a safe place outside the valley. Tickoo said the Hindus living in Kashmir wanted to leave, but the government was not allowing them to do so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Observers said the killings would hit the government’s plan to attract investors to Kashmir. Last year, the J&amp;K government, with the support of the Centre, held the first-ever Real Estate Summit to encourage people from across India to invest in real estate in Kashmir. At the summit, it was announced that the requirement mandating investors to be permanent residents of Kashmir was relaxed to facilitate more participation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government also announced an ambitious industrial policy to create five lakh jobs. Around 400 companies, including JSW Steel, had responded favourably. According to government sources, JSW Steel was allotted 6.25 acres near Srinagar for setting up a steel plant. Shah himself handed over the documents when he visited Srinagar last October. But with the deteriorating security situation, the policy has come under a cloud.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2022 alone, Kashmir has seen 19 targeted killings, busting the myth of normalcy which was woven around a tenuous calm and the increase in tourist footfalls. The Centre’s iron-fist policy seems to have contributed to the growing insecurity. It has marginalised key stakeholders, like regional parties and separatists. In the past, the Centre could lean on these groups to soothe tempers. That element is missing now. Almost the entire separatist leadership is in jail. Yasin Malik, the leader of the JKLF, has been sentenced to life. Jamia Masjid, the seat of Kashmir’s most influential Hurriyat leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, has remained shut since Jammu and Kashmir became a Union territory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, Jammu and Kashmir has been without a representative government since 2018 and its people are feeling disempowered. The Delimitation Commission’s decision to grant six more assembly seats to Jammu while giving just one additional seat to Kashmir, despite the valley having more people, has strengthened the feeling of disempowerment among Muslims. The depiction of Kashmiri Muslims in the movie The Kashmir Files, which portrays the crisis faced by the Pandits, has hurt the sentiments of the community. The regular sacking of government employees from Kashmir without an inquiry by invoking Article 311(2)(c)—which permits such a measure in case the president or the governor is satisfied that in the interest of the security of the state, it is not expedient to hold such inquiry—has also alienated Kashmiris.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dissent has been criminalised across Kashmir. The Kashmir Press Club has been shut down and journalists are denied accreditation cards. People are detained every day under the Public Safety Act. Shouting slogans against the government attracts action under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior political leaders like the Abdullahs, Mehbooba and M.Y. Tarigami condemned the targeted killings, but blamed the BJP. The Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an alliance of regional parties seeking the restoration of Article 370 and statehood to Jammu and Kashmir, said the killings busted the administration’s narrative of normalcy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Bloodshed is a daily story in Kashmir,” said Tarigami, CPI(M) leader and spokesperson for the PAGD. “When the whole subcontinent was burning in 1947, Kashmir was the only place where no one suffered even a scratch. That is the tradition of Kashmir which we have to uphold and revive.”</p> Fri Jun 10 13:21:29 IST 2022 more-and-more-parties-want-a-caste-census-even-if-at-state-level <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>JOHN HENRY HUTTON,</b> an anthropologist-turned civil services officer, carried out the last caste-based census in India, during British rule in 1931. He did, however, face opposition—such enumeration would only perpetuate the system, said critics. “It is just as easy to argue, and with at least as much truth, that it is impossible to get rid of any institution by ignoring its existence like the proverbial ostrich.... Indeed the treatment of caste at the 1931 census may claim to make a definite, if minute, contribution to Indian unity,” Hutton wrote in the census report.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Almost a century later, Hutton’s concerns are relevant again. After several failed attempts, there is again a push to conduct a caste census. But, instead of a pan-India exercise, some state governments are saying that it can be done at the local level. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, for instance, has said that Bihar would conduct the census in the next nine months—this is to better understand the socio-economic status of various castes and to pass on the benefits of affirmative action to the marginalised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Karnataka government had conducted such a census in 2015, but never made the report public. Bihar, though, is likely to publish the report and set a model for the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the growing demand to conduct the census has come mainly from caste-based parties such as the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal (United), others like the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the YSR Congress, the Biju Janata Dal, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress are also on board. In fact, last November, the YSR Congress-led Andhra Pradesh government passed a resolution to conduct the census.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The United Progressive Alliance government had conducted a caste census in 2011, but the report was never made public owing to “discrepancies”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the main reasons for conducting a caste-based census is that the current affirmative action through government policies, and even politics in the country, are influenced by the 1931 census.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The regional parties feel that a caste census would give a fillip to OBC politics, which could be a counter to the BJP’s aggressive hindutva push. There had been a rise in caste-based parties following the implementation of the Mandal Commission report in 1990. Though many regional parties have stopped the BJP’s march into their states till now, the national party is closing the gaps with its social engineering.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, which was opposed to a caste census on the grounds that it would perpetuate the caste system and create fresher demands for reservations, seemed to have changed its stance. Though the party has said that the Centre would not conduct the survey on the national level because of technical issues, the BJP’s Bihar unit has supported a state-level census. “We have always supported conducting the caste census,” said BJP OBC Morcha president K. Laxman. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given full power to the states to include any community in the reserved category, as per the Constitutional (127th) Amendment Bill passed in Parliament. Let the states take up the census, as there are many complexities at the national level. We need proper scientific [methods] and thorough studies before a national level census takes place.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Laxman argued that the status of a backward class community varies according to the state. For example, the Vaishyas in Bihar are backward class, but they are not so in other states, he said. Some Brahmins in Uttarakhand are OBCs and Jats are OBCs in some states. Similarly, in south India, Reddys are backward in Karnataka, but not in other states. There are many such complexities and technical issues that can become legal problems, too. “So, the states should conduct it first,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bihar experiment is likely to cement Nitish’s hold on the state. He had earlier crafted a subcategory of “mahadalits”, who stood firmly behind him in the elections even as he faltered on several fronts. “Since the 1990s, Nitish has been pushing for it (census),” said former state minister and JD(U) leader Neeraj Kumar. “His governance model has given benefits to the marginalised sections. Our government works for communities. We have to improve our human [development] index. He took consent from all parties (for the census). We will conduct it with transparency and in a time-bound manner. We have set aside 0500 crore for it, and the data will be made public. We will set an example.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Rashtriya Lok Dal, a Jat-dominated party, has also demanded a caste-based census. In May, its president Jayant Chaudhary organised a national conclave inviting several parties, all of whom supported the demand and dismissed fears that it would lead to more casteism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We need fresh data as we do not have information about a big portion of the nation’s population,” said RJD spokesperson Nawal Kishore. “We need scientific data to achieve impactful policy. The inequality in society can be addressed through it. The argument that it will lead to more casteism is unfounded. If you take a village as a unit, everyone knows the castes that stay there. Does it lead to tension?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the BJP has made gains among the dalits and OBCs in recent years, it would need to work harder as fresh data will lead to more complex caste equations. “The BJP has opposed it since the beginning saying that the regional parties have their basis in caste,” said Kishore. “It is wrong to say people vote on the basis of caste alone.... To remove social inequality, [one has] to know the overall configuration of the society. Doing politics in the name of religion can yield electoral benefits, but there cannot be social benefits. The cure for caste-based polity is caste-based initiative. When we talk about religion, there is no inequality. It comes into being when we look at caste. A caste census will help remove the social inequalities in the Hindu religion.”</p> Fri Jun 10 13:16:39 IST 2022 malik-of-guns-and-guile <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On May 25, a National Investigation Agency court convicted Yasin Malik and sentenced him to two life terms. Malik is the leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which seeks independence for Jammu and Kashmir from India and Gilgit-Baltistan from Pakistan. Apart from the two life sentences that will run concurrently, Malik has to pay a fine of Rs10.65 lakh for funding terrorists and violating sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malik’s conviction has been hailed by some observers as a victory against separatism in Kashmir. The reality, however, is more complex.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malik, 56, grew up at Maisuma, a densely populated neighbourhood in Srinagar, and studied arts at Sri Pratap College, Kashmir’s oldest institute of higher education. A violent altercation in Srinagar between cab drivers and security forces in 1980 provoked him to take the political plunge. He joined the Tala Party, a separatist group of mostly young people that stoked public anger by staging protests, such as the one in Srinagar in 1984 against the hanging of JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1986, the party renamed itself the Islamic Students’ League, and Malik became its general secretary. The league campaigned for the Muslim Mutahida Mahaz (Muslim United Front, or MUF), a separatist coalition that challenged the dominant National Conference in the 1987 assembly polls. But the elections were rigged, the NC retained power, and MUF leaders and supporters were arrested and tortured.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A year later, Malik was among the first few groups of men that crossed the Line of Control (LoC) into Pakistan for arms training. He returned as commander of the JKLF’s famed HAJY group—comprising Hamid Sheikh, Ashfaq Majeed Wani, Javed Ahmed Mir and Yasin Malik—that inspired hundreds of Kashmiris to take up arms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malik was arrested in 1990, while fleeing from security forces during a raid at a safe house at Narwa in Srinagar. He jumped from the top floor of the safe house and was injured. He was released on bail in 1994, after which he publicly vowed to adopt nonviolent means to realise his goal of settling the Kashmir issue. He was subsequently removed as chief commander of the JKLF by the group’s patron, Amanullah Khan. But Malik, with his widespread support in the JKLF, retaliated by expelling Khan and taking control of the organisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources say the ceasefire announced by the JKLF in 1994 was the result of negotiations between Malik and the Centre. The talks were brokered by civil society members who had met Malik in jail. The Centre wanted militancy to end, and the ceasefire by the JKLF was a starting point.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malik was issued a passport in 2001 and allowed to travel to the US for medical treatment. In 2003, after the umbrella body of separatists, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, split into two factions—moderates and hardliners—Malik went his own way. He was part of a group of separatist leaders who travelled on a bus to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) in 2005 to promote a peace deal between India and Pakistan. The deal fell through after its proponent, Pervez Musharraf, was forced to resign as Pakistan president. In 2007, Malik launched a campaign called Safar-i-Azadi (journey of freedom) to garner support for the right of political self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2009, he married Mushaal Mullick, a Pakistani citizen and alumna of the London School of Economics. The couple has a daughter, Raziya Sultana, who lives with Mullick in Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NIA arrested Malik in February 2019, months before the Union government voided Article 370. He was charged under UAPA sections 16 (committing a terrorist act), 17 (raising funds for a terrorist act), 18 (conspiracy to commit a terrorist act) and 20 (being a member of a terrorist gang or organisation), and IPC sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 124A (sedition).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malik told the trial court that he had not committed any terrorist act after renouncing violence in 1994. He said he would not beg the court for mercy, hinting that he had no faith in the trial. If he was involved in terrorism, he said, why was he allowed to travel abroad, and why did seven prime ministers interact with him?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malik is the second JKLF leader, after Bhat, to be convicted on terrorism charges. His trial had attracted international attention. On May 17, UK Minister Tariq Ahmad told the House of Lords that the British government was monitoring Malik’s trial “very closely”. Pakistan recently wrote to the US regarding the trial, and Islamabad summoned India’s charge d’affaires and handed over a demarche conveying the Pakistan government’s “strong condemnation” of the framing of “fabricated charges” against Malik.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Organisation of Islamic Conference, too, issued a statement. “The general secretariat of the OIC expresses its deep concern over the pronouncement of life sentences for one of the most prominent Kashmiri leaders, Yasin Malik, who has been leading a peaceful freedom struggle for many decades,” it said. India’s ministry of external affairs slammed the statement, saying it was “unacceptable”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malik’s sentencing prompted protests and shutdowns in parts of Srinagar. His sister recited verses from the Quran and women of Maisuma sang ballads in his praise. Observers say Malik is a moderate who has helped the government several times to calm the situation in Kashmir. After he eschewed violence, he was widely seen as a voice of reason.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The valley has now lost that voice.</p> Fri Jun 03 15:34:24 IST 2022 the-fall-of-the-hurriyat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Nearly three decades since it was founded, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference finds itself at a crossroads. The reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir into a Union territory in August 2019, and the arrest and imprisonment of several Hurriyat leaders in the lead-up to it, have politically marginalised the once-powerful umbrella body of separatists. Chances of a revival appear rather slim, since several of its key members are either dead or facing long prison terms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Hurriyat was formed on July 31, 1993, by separatist parties with disparate ideologies. The objective was to create a political platform that would complement the armed struggle that took root in Kashmir in the late 1980s. The Hurriyat was the brainchild of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, preacher and custodian of the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, the most influential mosque in the valley. Mirwaiz was just 19 when he brought together separatist organisations on a common platform; his father, Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq, had been shot dead by unidentified gunmen nearly three years earlier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Hurriyat was considered the rebirth of the Muslim Mutahida Mahaz (Muslim United Front, or MUF), a coalition of parties with separatist leanings that challenged the National Conference in the 1987 assembly polls. The ruling coalition of the NC and the Congress had rigged the elections, sowing the seeds of militancy in the valley. After the polls, MUF supporters were among the first to cross the Line of Control for arms training.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Hurriyat had a two-tier structure—a seven-member executive body and a general council of nearly two dozen members. The executive body—which comprised Mirwaiz and separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Yasin Malik, Abdul Gani Lone, Prof Abdul Gani Bhat and Sheikh Abdul Aziz—took all decisions after consulting the general council.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Hurriyat’s constitution described it as a union of political, social and religious parties that waged a “peaceful struggle” for resolving the “Kashmir dispute”, either as per the UN resolution in 1948 (which had recommended that India hold a plebiscite) or through tripartite talks involving India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Hurriyat became a dominant force in the early 1990s, when insurgency was on the rise and the imposition of President’s rule sidelined mainstream political parties. It retained its influence even after the 1996 elections, the first in six years after the assembly was dissolved in January 1990.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Differences over the role of the armed struggle and the need for peace talks with New Delhi divided the Hurriyat into moderate and hardliner factions. The moderates, led by Mirwaiz, Bhat and Lone, supported talks with the Union government. The hardliners led by Geelani demanded that the 1948 UN resolution be implemented. As a precondition for peace talks, they insisted that New Delhi accept Kashmir as a dispute involving Pakistan. The stance struck a chord with militants and their supporters in Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ties between the two factions deteriorated after Lone was shot dead in Srinagar on May 21, 2002, at a rally organised to commemorate the death anniversary of Mirwaiz’s father. The split came a year later, when Hurriyat chairman rejected Geelani’s demand that Lone’s son Sajjad Lone be expelled for fielding proxy candidates in the assembly polls in 2002. Yasin Malik, a prominent member of the hardline faction, went his own way after the split. He later became leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The moderates backed Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf’s four-point formula on Kashmir, which envisaged demilitarisation and self-rule on both sides of the LoC, free movement across the LoC, and joint management of sectors such as water resources without changing existing international boundaries. Geelani rejected the plan. On January 22, 2004, deputy prime minister L.K. Advani hosted Mirwaiz and other moderates in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Peace talks with Hizbul Mujahideen, which had announced a ceasefire in 2000, continued even after the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance came to power at the Centre in 2004. In September 2005 and May 2006, prime minister Manmohan Singh met with a delegation of moderates led by Mirwaiz. The meetings resulted in the Centre allowing them to travel in a passenger bus connecting Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pak-occupied Kashmir, to mobilise support for a peace deal. The visit was considered an achievement for separatists, especially the moderates in the Hurriyat, and a step towards solving the Kashmir issue. Musharraf’s Kashmir formula, however, stalled after he lost power and New Delhi saw a change of guard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The hardliners clawed back in 2008, by launching an agitation against the decision of the state government to allot land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) in Ganderbal district. After more than 60 people were killed in firing by security forces, the government cancelled the allotment of land to defuse the crisis. Masarat Alam Bhat, who led protests against the Army for killing three civilians in a fake encounter at Machil in 2010, gained prominence as a possible heir to Geelani. Alam evaded arrest for four months, denting the credibility of the ruling NC-Congress alliance and forcing the Centre to call an all-party meeting on Kashmir in Delhi. In the four months before normalcy was restored, more than 100 people were shot dead by security forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the hardliners emerged stronger, the moderates faced internal issues. The crisis deepened after Bhat said that the 1948 UN resolution was outdated and impractical, and suggested creating a common minimum agenda with the NC and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party to settle the Kashmir issue. Bhat’s remarks led to a rebellion in the moderate ranks. Disillusioned with Mirwaiz’s leadership, many dissidents crossed over to Geelani’s side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite their differences, Geelani, Mirwaiz and Malik came together to form the Joint Resistance Leadership in 2016, after Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter. The aftermath left Kashmir scarred. More than 100 people were shot dead, and scores were wounded by pellets fired by security forces to quell protests. It created a rift in the BJP-PDP coalition, which had come to power in 2015. The BJP wanted to act against the separatists, but the PDP feared further damage to its image and refused to cooperate. The BJP had its way in 2017, when the National Investigation Agency arrested members of the Hurriyat and other separatist groups on charges of “terror funding”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malik was arrested in February 2019 for his alleged involvement in terrorism and secessionist activities. He also faced multiple charges under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. A month later, Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest socioreligious organisation in Kashmir that is sympathetic to the separatist cause, was banned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The arrest of Hurriyat leaders and the subsequent communication lockdown prevented a public backlash against the scrapping of Article 370 in August 2019. Geelani, who had once warned the government of dire consequences if Article 370 was annulled, said he was “distancing” himself from the Hurriyat. Weakened by years of detention at home, the patriarch of the separatist movement died in Srinagar on September 1, 2021, at the age of 91. His funeral was held under police supervision to prevent protests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malik was convicted on May 19 this year and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He is also being tried for his alleged involvement in the 1989 abduction of Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, and the killing of four Air Force personnel in 1990. Geelani’s death and Yasin’s conviction have dealt a double blow to the separatist cause.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the absence of Geelani and Malik, Mirwaiz has the difficult task of reviving the Hurriyat on his own. He has been in house arrest since August 5, 2019, while his seniormost colleagues, Bhat and former Hurriyat chairman Mohammad Abbas Ansari, are in their eighties and not keeping well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Known for his nuanced views, Mirwaiz has been guarded in issuing statements in the past three years. He has responded cautiously to the J&amp;K administration’s decision to disallow prayers at the Jamia Masjid over fears of separatist outpourings. The mosque, which doubles as the Mirwaiz family’s seat of power, has held Friday prayers only twice in the past 30 months. On April 9, a day after the prayer was last held, the police arrested 13 people and charged them under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) for allegedly raising anti-national slogans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government has been proactive in marginalising the separatists. It has been sacking government employees sympathetic to the separatist cause, and detaining suspects under the PSA. Around 500 Kashmiris have been charged under provisions of the law, and some are interned in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh because prisons in Jammu and Kashmir are full.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Observers say the Hurriyat’s silence on recent developments shows that it has lost its writ. “The Hurriyat has become redundant,” said Prof Noor Ahmed Baba, former head of the department of political science at the University of Kashmir in Srinagar. “Hurriyat leaders who are not in jail have not been active. As an organisation, the Hurriyat used to connect with the people, but that has not been the case for the past several years.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What are the chances of a revival? “None in the given political context,” said Baba. “That could be unfortunate, because extremists can fill the gap.”</p> <p>A senior JKLF leader and former militant commander said the Hurriyat had reached a dead end. It used to attract international attention—it was granted observer status in the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) at the instance of Pakistan, and American and European Union diplomats used to regularly meet Hurriyat leaders for briefings on Kashmir. The situation, however, has changed. “The Kashmir conflict is of no concern to the US and the EU,” said the JKLF leader. “Pakistan also has withdrawn support. So it became easy for the BJP to come down hard [on the Hurriyat].”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhat, however, said the Hurriyat needed to be understood not as a political structure but as the “manifestation of a collective sentiment rooted in the history of the Kashmir dispute”. “The sentiment sometimes assumes the form of a structure—like the Hurriyat or the Plebiscite Front,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It means the Hurriyat may have lost its relevance and influence, but the sentiment that it tries to represent remains widespread in Kashmir. A new separatist grouping, along the lines of the Hurriyat, could well emerge in the future.</p> Fri Jun 03 15:28:55 IST 2022 part-time-troops <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The name Agnipath evokes memories of the 1990 Bollywood movie starring Amitabh Bachchan. But, the word is about to become even more popular thanks to the Union government. Agnipath means path of fire; fire signifies struggle and purity. And this is the name of the Indian military’s new recruitment scheme for jawans. The recruits will be called Agniveers. The scheme is also called Tour of Duty (ToD).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under ToD, all soldiers, sailors and air warriors will be recruited for four years. The aim is to make the military lean and mean. That is, to reduce the pension bill (for FY 2022-2023, this is Rs1.2 lakh crore of the Rs5.25 lakh crore defence budget) and to assemble younger forces. For example, the average age of an infantryman is 35-36. With ToD, this is expected to drop to 25-26 in five years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The scheme will recruit undergraduate men, aged 18 to 21, on a contract basis, with no scope for promotion. The four-year stint will have around six months of training, and salary and perks would be almost at par with existing personnel. After the stint, 25 per cent of the jawans will be considered for permanent commission after fresh screening—so far, only officers were eligible for permanent commission. The other 75 per cent will be get severance pay of Rs10 lakh-Rs12 lakh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ToD concept was mooted about two years ago to allow those who do not want to become career soldiers to serve for three to four years. A major difference in ToD is the duration of training—26 weeks to be exact, as opposed to the existing module of 44 weeks (close to a year). The 44-week module at regimental training centres covers basics like fieldcraft and weapons training. It also allows bonding between cadets. After this initial training, jawans have more training with their units. It is only then that they become part of a section or platoon. Overall, it takes three to four years of service for a jawan to be integrated into a team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is a key reason for the opposition the scheme is facing from within the military fraternity. It is felt that the shorter training period will erode quality standards. There are also those who feel that the scheme would lead to demotivated soldiers and could even produce mercenaries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia, former director general of military operations, quoted a popular saying: The recipe for certain victory in war is American military hardware, British doctrines, German generals and Indian soldiers. He said that the dedication, zeal and professionalism of the Indian soldier is unmatched, as he fights for naam, namak and nishan. Naam (name) means the reputation of the paltan (regiment). Namak (salt) means loyalty, and nishan (sign) is the colours of the regiment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This ‘out-of-the-box’ solution (ToD) is purely based on a cost-benefit analysis without factoring in the adverse impact on combat effectiveness and operational readiness,” he said. He added that it was not in line with the ethos of the Indian armed forces. On the shorter training period, specifically, he said: “An under-trained soldier may put everyone’s life in danger.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhatia also said that there was no incentive for young men to join the military for only four years. A differing perspective, from an officer who requested anonymity, is that 75 per cent of the recruits—military-trained men—would return to society, add value and motivate others to enlist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An officer based at the Indian Army headquarters in Delhi said that the draft of the recruitment policy had been sent to the ministry of defence for approval and that the announcement was expected soon, after “minor modification”. The modification is expected to be just in the modalities. It remains to be seen whether the concerns of the military fraternity would be addressed. Recruitment under the scheme is expected to begin in September.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Covid-19 halted the Army’s recruitment for over two years. In 2019-2020, the Army recruited 80,572 jawans; there has been no entry since then. This has left 46 regimental training centres with no fresh batches. On the other hand, the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force has both recruited in the last two years—8,269 and over 13,000 personnel, respectively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Army’s inability to organise recruitment rallies has been targeted by political opponents of the NDA government. For instance, Congress general secretary Randeep Surjewala accused the government of taking advantage of the sacrifice and valour of soldiers politically, but not filling over 1.22 lakh vacancies in the Armed Forces. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, too, raised the issue on May 29. Even BJP MP Varun Gandhi criticised the government for not filling vacancies in the Army and “keeping unemployed youth waiting”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lt Gen Rakesh Sharma, former adjutant general, who was responsible for manpower planning, told THE WEEK that ToD was an attempt to make the short-service commission more attractive as it failed to attract youth in its existing avatar. Though ToD will initially focus on recruiting jawans, eventually, it can expand to other streams like armoured divisions and artillery. Sharma said the new policy would be “All-India, All-Class”, meaning recruitment will not be based on the regimental culture. “Soldiers will be a mix, unlike the Sikh regiment, which only has men from the Sikh community,” said Sharma. He added that the aim is to change the “pattern of north India dominating the Army”. He said that he sees a new Army in five to 10 years. “Characteristics of the Army will change,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Military observers believe that the idea of having soldiers for four years does not tally with the cost of training. The Navy spends around Rs27 lakh per cadet, the IAF 039 lakh and the Army close to Rs16 lakh. Even with a shorter training period there can be no dilution in basic requirements. A senior defence officer based in South Block said: “While the entire exercise is aimed to reduce cost (pension and salary bill), letting trained soldiers go after spending a massive amount on their training does not make any sense.”</p> Fri Jun 03 18:41:51 IST 2022 rajiv-gandhi-assassination-case-for-31-years-perarivalans-mother-never-lost-hope <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As she walks into a Chennai apartment complex with her son to call on a prominent Tamil nationalist leader, Arputham Ammal—in a white sari with big, blue printed flowers—cannot stop smiling. “Let him live his life. I will not interfere. But I will advise him when he is wrong,” the 74-year-old says about A.G. Perarivalan, also called Arivu, a convict in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The Supreme Court recently ordered his release; he had spent 31 years in jail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Arputham Ammal’s signature shoulder bag and anti-death penalty badge were missing. “My son said the bag was dirty and I had to wash it. It is at home,” she says with a smile. She also used to carry books for her son in the bag. “No, no. I cannot go around without my bag. I will reuse it,” she insisted. As for the badge, she says: “I am always against death penalty. Be it my son or anyone else, human life matters a lot.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the time being, she holds a small handbag. In it is some money and an old Nokia phone that rings nonstop. “I am overwhelmed by people’s support. I want to thank everyone who stood by my son,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born in a middle-class family in Vellore, Arputham Ammal married poet Kuyil Dasan, aka Gnanasekaran, when she was 20. For the next two decades and a half, she would spent her time raising her children and had little to do with the outside world. That changed the moment a CBI Special Investigation Team picked up Perarivalan from his house in Jolarpettai, about 200km west of Chennai. Since that day, it has been a non-stop journey in buses, trains and on foot to help her son get his freedom back. “They told me to pick him up at Malligai (in Chennai) the next day,” she recalls. When she reached there from Jolarpettai, she realised the severity of the case. She waited for several hours before heading back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later, after Perarivalan was moved to the Karaiyanchavadi sub jail near Poonamallee in Tiruvallur district, Arputham Ammal would routinely wait in front of the jail for hours on end. She would visit the sub jail every week. “Those days, people would never look at my face or even tell me the way,” she says. “If I said I wanted to go to the prison to visit my son, no one would talk to me. I had to somehow find the address. There were no Google Maps or phones.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few days after Rajiv Gandhi was killed, Arputham Ammal’s older daughter’s fiance showed her a copy of an English newsmagazine that had Perarivalan’s photo in an article about the suspects. Mother and daughter did not show any emotion. They told the would-be groom that they had already seen it and that there was no truth in it. It was up to him whether to believe him or not. Three months later, they got married.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perarivalan, however, could not attend. “Those were the most difficult times,” says Arputham Ammal. “We have never had any celebrations at home all these years.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since his sister’s wedding, before any important event, the entire family first visits Perarivalan. “We have always done so before any important thing in our lives,” says Sengai, his young niece.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1994, three years after the arrest, intelligence agencies and the police grew wary of visitors and had trenches dug up around the sub jail to prevent unauthorised vehicles. Security personnel were even instructed to open fire on trespassers. Under instruction from the Union home ministry, the sub jail was declared a prohibited area and cameras were installed. Security was beefed up as the trial was underway in a special court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Arputham Ammal, however, did not stop turning up. “He is my son. Who else will support him? I know he did not commit any crime,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former director general of police Jagan M. Seshadri recalls the days she had to walk many miles under a scorching sun to reach the jail. “There was no hope of her son getting out,” he says. “But even then she would be there every week. She would petition the court or the government saying her son was innocent.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once, in 2013, when this correspondent accompanied her to the jail to meet her son, the car broke down on the way. “Arivu will be waiting for me. I will not get time to talk with him,” the concerned mother had said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Every time she met him in jail, she would update Perarivalan about what was going on in the world. She would even carry the bus ticket with her and tell him how the fare had increased. She would explain the route she took to the jail and how a neem or tamarind tree had fallen on the way. “She always wanted me to know about the outside world,” says Perarivalan. “She was my pillar of strength and I was her confidence.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She would bring him books, weekly newsmagazines and newspapers. She would also carry an extra copy. “What if others in the prison also want to read?” she asks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perarivalan was especially fond of Russian novels. “My elder sister introduced me to them. These books gave me confidence,” he says. One of his favourites was Maxim Gorky. He first read The Mother before he was arrested. He read it again when he was an under-trial and, finally, when his death penalty was confirmed. With each reading, he got a different perspective about his own mother. “My only worry was that there should be no tragic end like in the novel,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perarivalan also kept a copy of the Thirukkural, with former acting chief minister V.R. Nedunchezhiyan’s explanation of the couplets, by his bed. “I used to refer to every couplet whenever there was any move forward or a step back in the case,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the books, Arputham Ammal’s aim was to ensure that her son never lost himself. “He was a friendly, jovial and innocent 19-year-old boy,” she says. “I wanted him to be the same innocent, ever-loving person even in prison.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before the case, when Perarivalan was home, mother and son used to often sing together. Even though her poet husband, now 86, was sick in those days, the songs would keep them going. In 2017, when Perarivalan first came home on parole, a few filmmakers had brought Arputham Ammal a keyboard and had asked the duo to sing. Perarivalan began with the song ‘Ponnu Pola Aatha’, which meant “A mother as pure as gold”. One of his friends, who does not want to be named, says: “The song brought tears to all of our eyes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The two most trying moments in her life, says Arputham Ammal, were when the death penalty was declared (1998) and when the president rejected his mercy plea (2011). She feared that the latter visit, to Vellore prison, might be the last time she saw him. But Perarivalan was confident. Both times, when she met her son, he would tell her, “Be cool, Amma. Nothing will happen. I will come back home.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru was hanged in 2013, she was scared again. She surfed through every news channel to hear about her son. “But as Arivu said,” she recalls, “his confidence was the ray of hope.”</p> Fri May 27 13:23:20 IST 2022 i-got-affected-as-i-was-ignorant-of-the-law-a-g-perarivalan-wants-to-be-a-lawyer <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A.G. PERARIVALAN</b> is finally back home, after having spent nearly 31 years behind bars. One of the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, he was initially sentenced to death; the Supreme Court later commuted it to life imprisonment. In March this year, he was granted bail and, on May 18, the Supreme Court ordered his early release.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of his time in prison was spent among books, educational and otherwise including Tamil and Russian literature. While in jail, Perarivalan also filed several petitions under the Right to Information Act, and review petitions in court. Following his long incarceration, he now wants to pursue a degree in law and work on prison reforms. But politics or social activism is of “no interest” to him, he tells THE WEEK. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You want to pursue a degree in law. Why?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I will have to answer the question in depth. Ignorance can never be an excuse. The law doesn’t accept anyone’s ignorance (as innocence). And people like me get affected only when they are ignorant of law. That is how I understand it. If I had known the law and known that the eight-day custody (when he was first picked up) was an illegal custody, I would have got released then itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Next, on June 19, 1991, they (investigating agency) got an order in Chengalpattu for a 15-day remand. The then chief investigating officer, K. Raghothaman, got the order extended to 30 days from the same judge, opposing the 15-day remand order. It was equal to illegal detention. After 2000, lots of judgments in this regard have come out. Many things that are wrong as per the law I have faced during the 31 years of my prison life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I should have known what the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act was and what a confession statement under TADA [means], and why we were asked to sign on blank papers. I asked one of my advocates about signing on papers before police officers, and he said that confession before police officer cannot be [counted as] evidence. Ours was the first case to [be booked under] TADA. No advocate in Tamil Nadu then had in-depth knowledge about TADA. Even the officer—V. Thiagarajan—who recorded my confession statement did not have an understanding about the act. The officer himself said that he never thought the case would go to the extent of death penalty and that my confession statement was only corroborative evidence. Everyone had a story to tell and I was affected because of it. So, I want to be a lawyer and practise law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How was life in prison? How did you keep your confidence even when public opinion was against you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I always had confidence in myself because the truth was by my side. In this case, nothing was in the hands of those who were arrested or involved in the case. It was only in the hands of the Special Investigation Team that probed the case. There were only a few media houses then and even they did not take our opinion. Because a tall leader was killed, there was huge public resentment towards us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Only after I went to the Supreme Court in the MDMA case in 2016 did the opinion start changing [the Multi Disciplinary Monitoring Agency was constituted to look into the larger conspiracy behind Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination]. Senior advocate Rajeev Dhawan appeared on behalf of me in the Supreme Court. Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Ranjan Gogoi first heard the case in 2016. Dhawan argued that in 1991 when the incident happened and the case was filed “it was only a boom theory”. He said those days were very sensational and only now ”we will come to the real bomb theory”. Convinced by this argument, the Supreme Court bench then issued notice and only that has led to the release now…. The CBI-SIT was also very strong in taking forward the case. But later even those officers felt that they have done injustice. This, I would say, was a big turning point in the case. It happened because this case saw the height of injustice…. Nowhere in the world have 26 people been given death penalty. That is why even the Supreme Court once called it a “judicial massacre”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How did the Right to Information Act help you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I was stressed, and being in prison hurt because I did not commit any crime. When there was a question if TADA would apply in this case, the three justices who heard the case said that there is no terrorist activity in the case. They made it clear this was just another murder case. It was made clear that it was a case under section 302 and just an Indian Penal Code offence. The judges came to this conclusion. After [that], we got confidence in the case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then came the Kaloo case in 1997 [Bilal Ahmed Kaloo, a Kashmiri, was booked under TADA and for sedition for inciting Muslim youth in Hyderabad to take up arms]. During the verdict in the case, the court said that TADA will not stand and offence recorded under TADA cannot be used as evidence in other cases. So confession also goes off when TADA doesn’t exist. But what happened in our case was that the justices took another stand. This was what Justice K.T. Thomas was against.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the RTI Act came into being in 2005, it was a tool for people like me. Since 2006, I have used it extensively. I got lots of information under the RTI Act. With regard to death penalty, we cannot get information about the decision taken in a cabinet meeting under the RTI Act. But when the cabinet comes to a decision, the supporting documents that led to the decision can be shared under the act. This was a historical verdict. This verdict was pronounced in my case, when I filed the petition under the RTI Act.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have read lots of books in prison. You read Maxim Gorky and many Russian novels. How did these books influence you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ My elder sister introduced me to Russian novels. I read it in Tamil, like How The Steel Was Tempered by Nikolai Ostrovsky, A Story Of A Real Man by Boris Polevoy and Maxim Gorky’s Mother. I have read Mother thrice. The first time I read it, I was 18…. I read Mother the second time when I was a remand prisoner. I read it again when the death penalty was declared. The third time I read it, I began comparing my mother with the character in the novel. But I felt that our story should not end the way it did in Mother.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from these, I always took refuge in Thirukkural. I [read] it with the explanation of Navalar Nedunchezhiyan, because he is basically an atheist. I have always travelled with Thiruvalluvar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you have to say about your mother?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It was mutual trust deficit—we have both lied to each other, saying that everything is fine. Amma would give me confidence and I would give her confidence in return. During my early days in prison, I would tell my jail mates that I would be released in three months. My jail mates would ridicule me when I told them that. But after eight years when the death penalty was confirmed, I understood the gravity of the case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I always believed that I would get bail and I could go home. I believed that I would get released through the lower courts. Then I believed that the Supreme Court would release me. It took me 18 to 19 years to realise that I had been caught in a storm and that coming out of jail would not be easy. After that, I read about the laws and understood that only legal fight could help me come out of jail. But my Amma was my confidence. Because all that had to happen outside prison would happen only through my mother. She would bring exactly what I wanted. She would bring me English newsmagazines—THE WEEK, Outlook, India Today. She would make me visualise the outside world. The prison authorities even used to ask me, “What do you and your mother talk about?” Amma was my pillar of strength.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What did you feel when an inmate was hanged or when you read about a hanging?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I have always felt that I have to fight against death penalty and to bring changes in this regard. Beyond death penalty and the pain it gives, I feel that an innocent should not be imprisoned. If I say death penalty is inhumane while being inside the prison, everyone would say that I am saying it because I am a death row convict. So I feel that innocent people should not be convicted. Imagine if an innocent person gets death penalty…. The magnitude of the crime always makes us take emotional decisions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you want to do now? Social activism?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ No, I don’t want to get into politics or social activism. I want to lead a normal life with my mother and my family. I want to thank everyone who stood by me. There are many people beyond Tamil Nadu, like in Punjab—particularly Jagmohan Singh—and Maharashtra, who helped me.</p> Fri May 27 13:18:10 IST 2022 the-curious-case-of-a-shivling <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Faith, that amorphous being of unpredictable consequences, is winding through the district court of Varanasi. The court is tasked with deciding whether a petition seeking worship rights near the western outer wall of the Gyanvapi mosque is maintainable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The petition, filed in August 2021 by five Hindu women (Rakhi Singh, Laxmi Devi, Sita Sahu, Manju Vyas and Rekha Pathak), follows the nebulous nature of faith. It essentially seeks rights for the daily worship of a deity—Ma Shringar Gauri—outside the mosque’s western wall. Currently, devotees are permitted to worship the deity only once a year. The petitioners want that “no interference be made” while worshipping “visible and invisible deities, mandaps and shrines” on the Gyanvapi premises, and that “the images of deities be not damaged, defaced, destroyed and no harm be caused to them”. They term the area as an “old temple complex” that was almost completely destroyed on orders of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in the 17th century.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The petition would not have attracted the kind of attention it got had a senior civil judge not ordered an inspection of the disputed site by three advocate commissioners. There had also been a pending petition, filed by the Hindu side, to get the area inspected by the Archaeological Survey of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the inspection, a circular object apparently made of stone was recovered from the wuzu khana (ablution pond) of the mosque. The petitioners have since been insisting that it is the original shivling (the phallic representation of Shiva) of the temple destroyed by Aurangzeb. Bolstering their claim is the longstanding assertion that a statue in the temple side of the complex—of Nandi, the sacred bull of Shiva—faces the mosque instead of the shivling in the adjacent Kashi Vishwanath temple. Nandi is always shown facing Shiva, so the position of the statue is cited to indicate that his master resides within the mosque, awaiting discovery. Interestingly, the petition has no mention of a shivling.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The symbolism of five married women asking for the right to worship a Hindu goddess outside a mosque is obvious. Whether the petitioners are legally literate, however, is not. “I cannot recall what the petition says,” said Sita Sahu, one of the petitioners. “For that, I trust the lawyers. I only know that it cannot be right that we can worship Ma only on one day in a year.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That one day is the fourth day of Chaitra Navratri, the nine-day worship cycle of different forms of the goddess. It falls somewhere between April and May, depending on the lunar calendar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The petition mentions “invisible” deities, but Sahu could not explain what it meant. She said there could be several other deities “hidden” in the mosque. She was also not sure whether there was a formal ban on worshipping Ma Shringar Gauri on other days of the year. (There is no legal ban, apparently; but the authorities have not been permitting daily devotions since the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lawyer Abhay Nath Yadav, who represents one of the respondents in the case (the Anjuman Intezamia Masajid Committee, the managing body of the mosque), said the plaintiffs were speaking in a language that was emotional but not legal, and that the courts could not be run on mere feelings. Yadav pointed out that Ma Shringar Gauri’s image exists almost eight feet beyond the barricades on the mosque premises. “It is completely outside the mosque, and the Muslim side does not have any claim on it,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The petition mentions a civil suit filed in 1936, by one Deen Mohammed, asking for the Gyanvapi complex to be declared a waqf site. The petitioners argue that the 1936 case was heard without “impleading any member of the Hindu community”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The argument appears tenuous, though. Yadav said the petition quotes the details of the case only selectively, and that it ignores the judgment entirely. “The judgement took into account 12 witnesses who attested to the presence of Ma Shringar Gauri and noted that ‘only the mosque and the courtyard with the land underneath are Hanafi Muslim waqf’,” said Yadav.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sudhir Tripathi, a lawyer for the petitioners, said the claim of the Hindu side was “very strong” and that religious texts such as the Skanda purana (named after Skanda, son of Shiva and Parvati) can be used as evidence. During the hearing of the case on May 23, Tripathi sought copies of thousands of photographs and hundreds of hours of video footage shot while the advocate commissioners carried out the inspection of the Gyanvapi premises. “The inspection is our strongest evidence,” he said. “We need to examine it in its entirety to ensure that whatever we have asked for has been carried out and reported.”</p> <p>Asked why the object that has now been ‘discovered’ was never spoken of earlier, Tripathi said, “It was Baba’s (Shiva) decision that it must be revealed now. It was Baba who inspired me to insist that the wuzu khana be emptied.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, the report of the commissioners does not refer to the find in definitive terms. It calls the object a “black, circular, stone-shaped figure… 2.5ft in height… On its top was a circular white stone with a round hole in the middle which was little less than half an inch…. The diameter of the base was found to be about 4ft.” The petitioners insist that this is a shivling; the respondents say it is an out-of-use fawarra (fountain).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rana Pratap Bahadur Singh, a retired professor of cultural geography at the Banaras Hindu University, drew attention to the oldest known drawing of the Kashi Vishwanath temple complex, made by the antiquarian James Princep in 1833. Princep’s drawing does not show a Nandi. Though Princep’s work has not been challenged, his reconstruction draws from the Kashi Khanda, a nearly 600-year-old text that does not fit in with the existing architectural practices. It is also true that the Kashi Vishwanath temple is built in a style that is different from similar, contemporaneous structures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is almost impossible to ascertain where the original shivling or the temple was,” said Singh, whose own research indicates that the oldest archaeological remains, dated fifth to sixth century BCE, are found at the Rajghat in the northeastern part of the city. These remains include a seal of Avimukteshvara, symbolising a form of Shiva who had not forsaken sacred territory. By the 12th century, however, this deity had been relegated to the margins.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The difficulty in ascertaining the original site of the shivling is also compounded by the fact that the original temple was destroyed multiple times. According to one legend, a temple priest leapt into a well in the compound to save the shivling, while another says that it was taken to Indore and subsequently restored to its original site by the Maratha queen Ahilyabai Holkar. It is this site that is now worshipped.</p> <p>The inquiry of the commissioners also throws up curious questions. Such as, if the original shivling is in fact the one discovered in the wuzu khana, what is the sacred status of the one that is worshipped now? Is it then not one of the 12 jyotirlings (pillars of radiance) of Shiva? Or, does the discovery mean that there are 13 such jyotirlings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These are cosmic concerns, though. There are more earthly questions that worry the youth of the city. Sabi Uddin, a final-year BA-LLB student at BHU, said that the flare-up of the issue had left him “disappointed”. Matters that were more important—such as shortage of potable water and the poor condition of roads—needed be addressed, he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to him, the Supreme Court had rightly observed in a 1994 case that mosque was not an essential part of Islam. “It is not space, but the direction that is of importance for the namaz,” said Uddin. “This is a live matter which I hope the courts will resolve at the earliest.”</p> Fri May 27 12:45:23 IST 2022 questions-are-now-being-raised-about-the-legality-of-the-places-of-worship-act-1991 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WHILE DELIVERING THE</b> historic judgment in the Ram Janmabhoomi case in 2019, the Supreme Court had reaffirmed the significance of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. It had said that the act, meant to preserve the religious character of places of worship as they existed on August 15, 1947, was vital to protect the secular features of the Indian polity. It had also stressed that the Ayodhya matter was the only exception to the law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, after that judgment, claims for restoration of the Hindus’ rights with regard to the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi and the Shahi Idgah Masjid adjacent to the Krishna Janmabhoomi in Mathura have been taken up in court. A similar plea regarding the Qutub Minar has also reached the court. While these claims are being critiqued and countered through the lens of the 1991 act, the legality of the law itself is being questioned now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Gyanvapi case, where the matter has progressed to the point of a court-mandated process to ascertain the religious character of the place of worship, and where a shivling was allegedly discovered during the survey, provides the most immediate and toughest test for the 1991 act.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Anjuman Intezamia Masjid management committee, which manages the Gyanvapi mosque, has challenged the survey in the Supreme Court; its contention is that the survey is barred under Section 3 of the 1991 act and also that the restrictions imposed amount to changing the character of the place of worship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, who was also on the bench that delivered the Ayodhya judgment, has said that ascertaining the religious character of a place of worship is not barred under the 1991 act, and has also refused to interfere with the order of the civil court in Varanasi to appoint a court commissioner to conduct a survey of the mosque.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there is also the Krishna Janmabhoomi case, where a lower court has said that the challenge to an agreement reached between the Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan and the Shahi Idgah Trust in 1968 did not lie within the purview of the 1991 act. The agreement had resulted in a portion of the land being conceded to the masjid. The plea now is for removal of the Shahi Idgah Masjid from the complex.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As these two cases present the possibility of taking on the same political and legal proportions as the Ayodhya case, the focus is on the 1991 act. The P.V. Narasimha Rao government had brought in the law at a time when the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was at its peak. The purpose of the law, in the words of then Home Minister S.B. Chavan, was to prevent new controversies from arising with respect to conversion of any place of worship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Supreme Court had in its Ayodhya judgment reaffirmed the essential nature of the law, saying, “The Places of Worship Act is intrinsically related to the obligations of a secular state. It reflects the commitment of India to the equality of all religions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, that has not stopped cases that raise questions about the character of places of worship from being filed in courts. The legality of the 1991 act has itself been challenged in the Supreme Court. In July 2020, Lucknow-based Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangh had filed a petition in the apex court claiming that the act barred the right of Hindus to reclaim religious property encroached upon by followers of another faith. In March 2021, advocate Ashwini Upadhyay approached the court saying that the law violated fundamental rights. Questioning the cutoff date of August 15, 1947, Upadhyay said, “The question is whether Hindus after independence cannot seek judicial remedy to undo through the legal process historical wrongs. Right to justice is violated by the 1991 act.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, alarmed at the recent developments, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board held an emergency meeting on May 17, in which it issued a strongly worded reaction to the survey at the Gyanvapi mosque and said, “The attempt to transform it into a temple is nothing more than a conspiracy to spread hate by communal forces”. It said the Centre needed to clarify its stand with regard to the 1991 act.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said S.Q.R. Ilyas, executive member of the AIMPLB: “The board has formed a legal committee that will look into the 1991 act and what the Ayodhya judgment says about it. All the cases related to mosques will be studied in detail and appropriate legal action will be determined.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former chief justice of the Allahabad High Court Govind Mathur said that the act is an important piece of legislation brought to strengthen the secular fabric of the nation and to ensure faith among the minorities to whom assurances were given in 1947 for a peaceful existence in democratic India. “The assurance so given was put under serious threat by communal hatred that spread during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. With newer claims being made about places of worship, it is time to invoke the authority under the act of 1991 to stop all efforts to interfere with the nature of religious places.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is for the courts to check and control the moves aimed at creating a communal atmosphere. They have to ensure adequate application of the 1991 act in its true spirit. Constitutional values and goals have to be upheld in the face of majoritarian mischief.”</p> Fri May 27 12:40:12 IST 2022 who-killed-shruti-hill-mp-hc-releases-ex-mbbs-student-after-nearly-14-years-in-jail <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On May 9—4,979 days after he was picked up from room number 61 in the B Block of Gandhi Medical College, Bhopal—Chandresh Marskole, 36, walked out of Bhopal Central Jail with a grocery bag full of personal belongings and some medical books. He was, finally, a free man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A Gond tribal from Doke village in Waraseoni in Balaghat district, about 480km from Bhopal, Marskole had been in jail for close to 14 years on charges of murdering Shruti Hill, his alleged girlfriend. “He has been a victim of truth being sacrificed at the altar of a motivated and malicious investigation,” said the Madhya Pradesh High Court on May 4. It also directed the state government to pay him 042 lakh as compensation within 90 days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 78-page order written by judges Atul Sreedharan and Sunita Yadav is a significant documentation of jurisprudence. It has all the makings of a crime thriller novel, given the detailing of the investigative loopholes and legal aspects. But, unlike in a whodunnit, the real murderer is still unknown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“From the material on record, we find the conduct of the police is malicious and the investigation has been done with the intention of securing the conviction of the appellant (Marskole) for an offence he did not commit and perhaps, for shielding [prosecution witness] Dr Hemant Verma, whose involvement in this offence is strongly suspected though there is no material to hold affirmatively against him as he was not on trial,” the court said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE CASE</b></p> <p>On September 20, 2008, the police picked up Marskole, a final year MBBS student, on the basis of a phone call and a written complaint; GMC senior resident Dr Hemant Verma had complained about Marskole to Shailendra Shrivastava, then inspector general of police, Bhopal. Verma also submitted a written complaint at the Koh-e-Fiza police station.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This written complaint was a key document in the case. In it, Verma said (as quoted in the High Court order) that on September 19, 2008, Marskole had asked him for his personal SUV (Toyota Qualis, MP04 HB 1550) to go to Hoshangabad, 77km from Bhopal. Verma loaned him the car and his driver, Ram Prasad. The following day, Ram Prasad told Verma that Marskole was carrying a bedding [from his hostel] and when the car reached Budhni (on the way to Hoshangabad), he asked the driver to take him to Pachmarhi (200km from Bhopal) instead. In the jungles of Pachmarhi, he asked the driver to stop the car. When the driver went a short distance away to relieve himself, “He (Marskole) took the bedding out of the vehicle and threw it into the ravine, which bedding was heavy (sic)”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Marskole and Ram Prasad returned to Bhopal at 10pm, continued the complaint, and the driver said the circumstances were suspicious. “The student (Marskole) was in a relationship for quite some time with a girl from Pachmarhi who used to visit him in the boys’ hostel and [used to] spend the night there,” read the complaint. “I (Verma) had to suddenly go out and when I returned in the evening [of September 20], my driver informed me. And so, I am giving the complete information to the police so that... the murderer is not able to hoodwink the process of justice.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 22, in the presence of Marskole and other witnesses, a joint team of Bhopal and Pachmarhi police recovered the body of a young woman tied up in black bedding from the ravines of Satpura. It was at Denwa Darshan, a scenic spot about 20km before Pachmarhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Marskole identified the body as that of Hill, 23; later in the day, her father, George Stevenson Hill, too, identified the body. Inquest proceedings by the police on September 22 recorded witnesses saying that, “[Marskole] had told them he had strangled the deceased and wrapped her body in the bedding and thrown it from the railing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 24, a postmortem examination was conducted and the cause of death was determined as “throttling (manual strangulation), homicidal in nature”. An FIR was registered on the same day at the Koh-e-Fiza police station and, on September 25, Marskole was formally arrested and charged with sections 302 (murder) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The case was tried by the 8th additional sessions judge, Bhopal, and, on July 31, 2009, the court sentenced Marskole to life imprisonment and fined him Rs5,000 for charges under section 302, and added another three years imprisonment for charges under section 201.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Marskole moved the High Court in 2009 itself, but the case dragged on till H.R. Naidu became his lawyer in 2017-18. “We tried to expedite the case, but the Covid-19 pandemic struck,” said Naidu. “Though online hearings were conducted, the case could not progress much because of its technical nature.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naidu argued in court that the case against his client was based on circumstantial evidence and there were no eyewitnesses to the murder or the disposal of the body. “Such cases are like big exams for us,” said Naidu. “The pandemic-induced delay gave me more time to prepare for the case and we could present our case well in court.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The High Court order ends by saying, “This is a case that has been deliberately botched up and the appellant falsely implicated to protect, perhaps, the actual perpetrators of the offence who may have been known to the higher echelons of the state police.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>R.R. Sahu, the investigating officer and then in-charge of Koh-e-Fiza Police Station, told THE WEEK that the police undertook a fair investigation and presented all the facts before the court. “It was on the basis of those facts coming out of investigation that the trial court convicted him,” he said. Sahu is currently a sub-divisional officer of police at Bada Malhera in Chhatarpur district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Verma, on his part, told THE WEEK that he generously allowed Marskole to use his car as he had said that he wanted to visit his ailing mother. Verma added that he was being a law-abiding citizen by filing the police complaint. “My role started and ended with the complaint,” said Verma, now a senior medical officer at the GMC. “I also cooperated fully with the investigation. I have and will always stand with the truth.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>HOW WAS MARSKOLE ACQUITTED?</b></p> <p>The High Court judges observed that the main witnesses for the prosecution were Ram Prasad and Verma, but neither was an eyewitness to the murder. In fact, there were no eyewitnesses in the case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The court pointed out that Ram Prasad’s statement said that Marskole brought down the bedding from his hostel on September 19 and loaded it into the boot of the car, but does not say whether he helped in loading it or even touched it. Later in his statement, he said that the bedding was heavy. However, the police failed to question Ram Prasad on how he knew it was heavy if he had not touched it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The court also questioned how Verma came to know that the bedding was “heavy”, as his complaint was based only on information provided by Ram Prasad, who himself had never touched it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE WEEK could not contact Ram Prasad for his version. But Verma said that the driver told him that he had seen Marskole “rolling down” the bedding at Denwa Darshan and surmised it to be heavy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The court also noted that the police did not question Ram Prasad on how Marskole opened the boot of the car at Denwa Darshan—it was locked, and the key was with the driver, as mentioned in the police statement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Verma said the driver had, as a matter of habit, left the car doors open, as is done when leaving the car for a brief time. Marskole might have used the boot door release button/lever near the driver’s seat to open it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The court also said that a receipt from a Pachmarhi toll booth on September 19 showed that the Qualis had four occupants, including the driver, but the police did not ask Ram Prasad about the two other occupants; in his statement, he mentioned only Marskole and himself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Verma said the driver always maintained that he took Marskole till Pachmarhi [after the bedding was allegedly dumped], where Marskole bought and drank a bottle of beer, and asked the driver to take him back to Bhopal. Ram Prasad told him that no one else was in the car, said Verma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The court also observed that Verma had said in his statement that he had gone to Indore for some personal work on September 19. But the police never interrogated him on the details of this trip and why he lent the car if he himself was travelling.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The toll receipt was “the largest hole in the prosecution’s case”, noted the High Court order, adding that it should have set alarm bells ringing in the mind of investigating officer. Also, given that Verma could not establish his journey or presence in Indore on the date, he should have been subject to rigorous interrogation to confirm or eliminate his presence in the Qualis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Verma said he had gone to Indore on September 19 to meet his wife and children, who were at his in-laws’ place. He also said that, whenever he had to travel alone, he preferred Volvo buses as it was convenient and cheaper; the buses passed in front of the GMC campus, where he stayed with his family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said Marskole had also promised to fill diesel in the car.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The court also asked how Verma concluded, as early as September 20, that Marskole was a “murderer”, why had he mentioned Hill and how had he arrived at the assumption that it was her body. Ram Prasad had not told Verma any of this, and the latter’s complaint was based on the information the driver had provided. The police should have interrogated Verma intensively on this aspect, but never did so, the court observed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Verma said that after Ram Prasad narrated the incident to him on September 20, he went to Marskole’s hostel room and talked to him casually. However, Marskole looked quite discomfited and did not even invite him into the room. Verma said he then spoke to some other hostel dwellers who told him about the girl who used to visit Marskole’s room. That girl had not been seen for a couple of days. It was then that Verma rang the Bhopal IG.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources said that Hill got to know Marskole at the GMC, which she used to visit as a patient. She used to live in Pachmarhi, where her mother was a missionary school teacher.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>QUESTIONS ON POLICE ACTION</b></p> <p>The court pointed out that it was clear from prosecution documents that Marskole was in illegal police custody from September 20 to 25, when he was formally arrested. Before the arrest, the court noted, Marskole was made to confess to the crime in custody, as reflected by the documents related to the identification of the body and the inquest report of September 22. “[This] clearly reveals the malice with which the police was conducting the investigation against the appellant,” said the court order.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, despite the forensic report disclosing the presence of semen on the lower undergarment of the deceased, the police failed to send the samples for DNA testing. The court said that if the sample was a match for Marskole’s DNA, his romantic relationship with Hill could have been proven. And if not, the scope of investigation could have been enhanced.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Qualis allegedly used to dispose of the body was seized on October 3, 2008; the rubber matting in the boot bore a mark of “secretion”. The matting tested positive for human blood, according to the forensic report, though the blood group was unidentifiable because the stain had disintegrated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The court raised questions on this delayed seizure of the car, and said that the “alleged discovery of human blood from the mat of the car is highly suspicious” because the antemortem (before death) injuries to the victim were abrasions and contusions, and could not have led to bloodstains on the mat, after seeping through the bedding (in which the body was wrapped).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The court also raised doubts about the use of word ‘secretion’ in Hindi by the police on the seizure memo, saying it was uncharacteristic. The police usually use the phrase khoon jaise dhabbe to describe ‘blood-like stains’. All these factors related to the seizure [of the vehicle and the mat] “[are] highly contrived and smack of manipulation by the police in fabricating and introducing extraneous evidence”, the court observed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The court said that the prosecution was also unable to prove Marskole’s motive to kill Hill. The judges said that the presence of a mangalsutra alongside the body, and the testimony by Hill’s father that the two wanted to marry, could have meant that they were married before the murder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>OBSERVATIONS ON TRIAL COURT</b></p> <p>The court pointed out that, in his statement under section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), Marskole said that Verma was vengeful towards him because of campus politics. He said that the prosecution witnesses were against him because of political rivalry. Marskole also said that Verma knew senior police officers, and with their help fabricated evidence against him to spoil his career.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The court said it was incumbent upon the trial court to deal with the allegation levelled by the appellant, especially when Verma himself stated that he had personally called Shrivastava. “Moreover, the Koh-e-Fiza police station, which conducted the entire investigation, was under the jurisdiction of Mr Shrivastava and, therefore, his influence in the case... was enough for the trial court to find that the entire investigation showed signs of manipulation though the same may not be directly attributable to Mr Shrivastava,” the court observed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Verma said he did not know Marskole well enough to have any rivalry with him. “He was eight years my junior and a studious boy hardly involved in campus politics,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for his links with Shrivastava, Verma said that he was active in student politics and had been the president of the Junior Doctors’ Association from 2005-07. He carried phone numbers of many senior police and administrative officials, as well as journalists. “I certainly did not know the IG personally, but I thought that the matter was too important to be discussed with junior cops.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shrivastava, who has retired as special director general of police, told THE WEEK in a written response: “Where am I wrong? Our mobile numbers were in the public domain. It was also written at the GMC police post. I attend all calls, known and unknown, and also call back even unknown numbers. It is unfortunate that this fact was not brought to the knowledge of the honourable High Court. When Dr Verma called me, I asked him to report the matter to the police station concerned and asked the police station officer to take everything in writing.... And that is it. After that I had no role in the investigation as I was neither the investigating officer nor the supervisory officer.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>SO, WHO KILLED HILL?</b></p> <p>Verma has already stated his case, and, after being released, Marskole refused to comment on who could have killed Hill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, unless there is a thorough reinvestigation, the answer to ‘Who killed Hill?’ will never be available. Reinvestigation, however, is not on the horizon as of now. The Madhya Pradesh government is yet to decide on filing an appeal against the judgment in the Supreme Court or on undertaking a reinvestigation. Sources said that the Madhya Pradesh Police are scrutinising the case and the Bhopal police commissioner has been asked to provide some information. “We will be seeking legal opinion in the matter before taking any further step,” Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Rajesh Rajora told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, there is no one to take the case forward on Hill’s behalf. Her only known relative, uncle G.P. Hill, told THE WEEK on call from Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh, that her mother had died of cancer before Hill’s death, and a brother died later of depression-related reasons. Her father, George Stevenson Hill, and another brother seem to have “disappeared”; they have not been in touch with the family for years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I hope Shruti gets justice,” said the uncle. “I do not know any details of the case or even Shruti to make any other comment. George was our eldest brother, but he and his family were not in touch with us. Last I heard, my brother and one of his sons were in Korba (Chhattisgarh) about 10 years ago.”</p> Sun May 22 16:29:01 IST 2022 sedition-law-sc-order-raises-more-questions-than-answers <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On May 9, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal informed the Supreme Court that the government wanted to review section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. A colonial-era provision, Section 124A says that “attempts to bring into hatred or contempt… or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government” are punishable with imprisonment up to a life term.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Drawing attention to the absurd use of “sedition law”, he cited the example of the Mumbai Police arresting Ravi Rana, an independent MLA in Maharashtra, and his wife, Navneet Rana, MP, for declaring that they would recite the Hanuman Chalisa in front of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s home. The couple wanted to mobilise protests against Thackeray, but the police saw it as an effort to overthrow the government. They were arrested on April 23 and, even though they had not recited the hymn, were charged with section 124A.</p> <p>Venugopal appeared before the Supreme Court four days after the Ranas were granted bail by a special court. He told the Supreme Court that the Centre was committed to protecting civil liberties, and said Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself had unequivocally expressed the government’s intention to shed the “colonial baggage” in India’s justice system. He pointed out that more than 1,500 outdated laws had been scrapped by the Centre since 2014-15; section 124A, after proper consultations with stakeholders, was apparently the next.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Centre’s decision—seen by some people as Modi’s masterstroke that denies the apex court an opportunity to assess the constitutionality of the controversial law—has brought cheer to the community of activists, journalists, filmmakers, intellectuals and free-speech champions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Filmmaker and activist Aisha Sultana, a Lakshadweep resident who was charged with section 124A last year for criticising the government’s handling of the Covid crisis, plans to approach the Kerala High Court. “It is a welcome decision from the Union government. I am hopeful that Aisha will get relief now,” said K.A. Akbar, her counsel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to him, candid and honest political criticism cannot be termed as seditious. “Aisha’s statements (she had likened the pandemic to a bioweapon) can at best be termed as an expression of disapprobation of the government’s actions, so that the prevailing situation could be addressed quickly and efficiently,” said Akbar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manipur-based journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem, who was arrested last year for a Facebook post that was perceived to be offensive, welcomed the order. “I hope that the government will act as per the wishes of the people when it reviews the sedition law. The practice of detaining activists, journalists and common people on the whims and fancies of the political class needs to stop,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kishorechandra was one of the petitioners who had challenged the controversial law in the Supreme Court. “My family has suffered a lot because of the case slapped against me. But I am trying to convert my trauma into positive energy by helping those who have been wrongly detained by the police,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the government, though, the review of the sedition law could open a Pandora’s box. According to official data, nearly 60 per cent cases invoking section 124A have attracted provisions under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Information Technology Act, as well as IPC sections such as 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth and residence), 153B (imputations and assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 295 (defiling a place of worship with an intent to insult religious beliefs).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vipul Mudgal, director of the NGO Common Cause, a petitioner in the sedition case, said the government would have to take into account all IPC provisions that predate independence when it reviews section 124A. “The constitutionality of these laws cannot be presumed in all cases,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From 2010 to 2021, as many as 13,000 people were charged with sedition. “It is disappointing that the onus is on the accused to approach the court if he is slapped with sedition charges, or wants to apply for bail in an ongoing case. Often, the accused do not have the money or resources to hire lawyers,” said Lubhyathi Rangarajan, a lawyer who heads Article 14, an initiative of lawyers, journalists and academicians to safeguard constitutional rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to officials in the Union home ministry, a draft of directives has been issued to state governments to prevent misuse of the existing law. “The apex court has cleared the draft and stayed trials where the only offence is sedition,” said an official. Apparently, the court order does not warrant the suspension of ongoing trials in which the accused have been charged with laws other than section 124A. It means cases related to the Bhima Koregaon violence in 2018 or the Delhi riots in 2020 can still be heard.</p> <p>According to Lubhyathi, the relief granted by the Supreme Court would be in effect till the court once again hears the case in the third week of July. What happens after it, however, is anyone’s guess. “Will the government promulgate an ordinance, or will it wait for the monsoon session of Parliament to commence?” she wondered. All eyes are on Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana. He heads the bench that is hearing the case and is set to retire on August 27.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lawyer Abhinav Sekhri, who represents the accused in the Delhi riots case, said the Supreme Court order leaves room for interpretation. “But right now, [the order] has just symbolic value,” he said. “For citizens to see its impact in all practical ways, we will have to wait for some years after the government takes a final decision.”</p> Fri May 20 14:41:16 IST 2022