Current en Thu Oct 14 19:24:31 IST 2021 delimitation-draft-proposal-further-divides-j-k-regions-say-political-parties <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE BOUNDARIES OF</b> assembly seats in Jammu and Kashmir are being redrawn, and that has led to battle lines being drawn politically.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On December 20, the Delimitation Commission shared a draft proposal with MPs from Jammu and Kashmir—three from the National Conference (Farooq Abdullah, Mohammad Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi) and two from the BJP (Union Minister Jitendra Singh and Jugal Kishore Sharma). The MPs are associate members of the commission, which was set up following the revocation of Article 370 that accorded special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The commission is headed by Justice (retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai and has Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and state election commissioner as members.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The draft proposal recommends increasing the number of assembly seats in Jammu from 37 to 43 and in Kashmir from 46 to 47, taking the strength of the assembly to 90 from 83 (earlier, the assembly had four seats for Ladakh, which is now a Union territory, and 24 seats were reserved for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir). As per the draft proposal, Jammu will have one new constituency in the districts of Udhampur, Kathua, Samba, Doda, Kishtwar and Rajouri and Kashmir will have one in Kupwara district. The commission has also reserved nine seats for the Schedule Tribes and seven for the Scheduled Castes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delimitation exercises are not new to Jammu and Kashmir—they have taken place in 1963, 1973 and 1995 when the erstwhile state was under President’s rule. The past exercises had slightly differed from the way it was done in the rest of the country owing to the state’s special status. Until then, the delimitation of Lok Sabha seats in Jammu and Kashmir was governed by the Indian Constitution, but the delimitation of the state’s assembly seats was governed by the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution and Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act, 1957. The Jammu and Kashmir Assembly had frozen the delimitation from 2001 to 2026, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court. But then the BJP-led Union government brought in the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, stripping it of its statehood and autonomy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Major political parties in Jammu and Kashmir have rejected the Delimitation Commission’s draft proposal, saying it favours the Jammu region over the Muslim-dominated Kashmir and aims to tilt the electoral balance in the former’s favour. The People’s Alliance For Gupkar Declaration (PAGD)—an alliance of regional parties that seeks the restoration of Article 370 and statehood to Jammu and Kashmir—accused the commission of acting on the BJP’s behest and ignoring the fact that Kashmir’s population was 15 lakh more than Jammu’s as per the 2011 Census.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the 2011 Census, Muslims in the erstwhile state constitute 68 per cent of its 1.25 crore population. Kashmir accounted for 56.2 per cent of the total population, and Jammu 43.8 per cent. The seat share of Kashmir was 55.4 per cent and Jammu’s 44.6 per cent. A delimitation based on the 2011 Census would have increased the seats in Kashmir to 51 and Jammu’s to 39.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once the draft proposal is implemented, Kashmir’s seat share will come down to 52.2 per cent while Jammu’s will rise to 47.8 per cent. The commission has adopted a criteria rarely applied before. Instead of population and area, it has accorded primacy to hardships faced by the people along the Jammu border area due to treacherous terrain, remoteness and the shelling from Pakistan. This has riled up political parties and people in Kashmir and deepened the sense of disempowerment after Jammu and Kashmir was brought under the direct rule of the Centre in August 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former chief minister and vice president of the National Conference Omar Abdullah said the commission’s recommendation was unacceptable. “It is deeply disappointing that the commission appears to have allowed the political agenda of the BJP to dictate its recommendations rather than the data [of 2011],’’ he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A similar sentiment was echoed by Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti. “My apprehensions about the Delimitation Commission were not displaced,’’ she said. “They want to pitch people against each other by ignoring the population census.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even Peoples Conference chief Sajad Gani Lone, who broke away from the PAGD in January 2020, said the proposal smacks of bias. “It is a slur on those people who are in graves because they took a bullet for India,’’ he said, referring to politicians who had earlier advocated for Kashmir to peacefully remain a part of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Masoodi said the commission informed them to file objections by December 31. The National Conference had initially refused to meet the commission saying that the constitutional validity of the J&amp;K Reorganisation Act—under which the panel was set up—was pending before the Supreme Court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghulam Nabi Azad, a member of the Congress’s dissident group (G23), who is holding impressive rallies in Jammu, has asked the commission to come clean on the criteria it adopted for the delimitation. “Population and area of the constituency are always considered as the main parameters for creating a new assembly segment. But here, we are unable to understand which criteria have been adopted while increasing seven assembly seats,’’ he said. “Increasing seats in Doda, Kishtwar, Rajouri or Udhampur is obvious because they are large districts. But what is the rationale behind increasing one seat in a small district like Samba where two constituencies already exist?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CPI (M) leader M.Y. Tarigami said population is the main criteria for delimitation. “Other factors like terrain and area are secondary considerations,’’ he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP leaders, however, welcomed the draft proposal. “The process is transparent and the commission has made recommendations only after studying the ground realities in both Jammu and Kashmir regions,” said Jammu and Kashmir BJP president Ravinder Raina. Harsh Dev Singh of the Jammu-based Panthers Party, said that Jammu deserved more than six additional seats. A senior National Conference leader said that despite having less population than Kashmir, Jammu had benefited more in the past three delimitation exercises. He said after the 1981 census, a delimitation commission was set up in Jammu and Kashmir under the chairmanship of Justice J.N. Wazir. “The commission gave its final order in 1992, delimiting the total number of constituencies to 87 by increasing 11 seats,” he said. “In 1995, the report was implemented and five seats were increased in Jammu, four in Kashmir and two in Ladakh.” He said the BJP and the RSS have always tried to work out means to offset the demographic superiority of Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir. “Nearly all Scheduled Castes in Jammu and Kashmir are non-Muslims,’’ he said. “But given how the commission is working, we might end up having reserved constituencies for Scheduled Castes in Kashmir.” He said there are 15 Muslim-majority seats in Jammu and if their boundaries have been redrawn in a manner that they cease to be Muslim-majority, that will reduce the representation of Muslims from Jammu in the assembly from districts like Doda, Kishtwar, Rajouri, Poonch and parts of Banihal and Reasi. “As per the rule, seven seats with the highest population will have to be reserved for the Scheduled Castes and they are all in Jammu,’’ he said. “But there is apprehension that this precedent may not be followed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delimitation has been undertaken in Jammu and Kashmir when it does not have an assembly to represent the people. The five associate members of the commission do not have any voting rights. The commission’s recommendations enjoy the force of law and cannot be challenged. They can only be altered through a new delimitation commission, which is highly unlikely.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Kashmir’s population is more than that of Jammu, it is spread across only 15,520sqkm whereas Jammu has an area of 26,393sqkm. But a large chunk of the area in Jammu falls in Muslim-majority Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley districts. While Kashmir’s population is entirely Muslim, 35 per cent of Jammu’s population is Muslim. Jammu’s Hindu population is concentrated around the Jammu-Samba-Kathua belt and parts of Udhampur district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political observers opine if terrain, remoteness and hostility from Pakistan are criteria in delimitation, then north Kashmir’s border districts of Baramulla, Kupwara, Bandipora are worse off than Jammu’s. For example, most areas close to the Line of Control in Kupwara like Karnah, Keran, Dardipore and Gurez remain cut off during winters from the rest of the Valley. The population is solely dependent on the Army’s help in winter that lasts for four months. And most of these areas are under direct fire from Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This is not delimitation; it is gerrymandering done for obvious reasons,’” said a political commentator. “Same thing was done in Northern Ireland to increase the political heft of the Protestant Unionists.” Also, he said that the reservation of constituencies for the Scheduled Tribes will pit other tribes like Gaddis in Jammu against Gujjar and Bakarwals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the BJP having achieved its goal of offsetting the political heft of regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir through delimitation, the party is well on its way to installing the first Hindu chief minister in Jammu and Kashmir with the help of allies like Sajad Gani Lone and Apni Party’s Altaf Bukhari in Kashmir.</p> Sat Jan 01 15:16:29 IST 2022 india-delta-exposure-may-ensure-omicron-will-not-create-havoc <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The latest season of variant vs vaccine is playing out. While the vaccines are still running on the original version, the variant is on to its third aggressive update. The vaccines were designed with the original Wuhan template, even though they factored in the possibility of virus mutations. Yet, the Delta variant, which emerged last winter, succeeded in breaching the vaccine immunity. Omicron, this season’s buzzword, is not just three times more infectious than Delta, but has around 30 mutations, because of which it is not just breaching the vaccine barrier, but also the immunity acquired from a past infection.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government is rolling out two new vaccination schemes—inoculation of the 15-18 age group and a booster or protection dose for frontline workers and senior citizens from the new year. With new developments daily on Omicron’s superpowers in breaching barriers, the question that naturally pops to mind is just where are we headed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With less than a thousand Omicron cases reported in the country (the overall cases are still around 75,000), it may be too early to say what is in store for India, although studies like those of IIT Kanpur are predicting the wave to peak in February. The good news, say experts, is that Omicron, while a furious spreader, appears to be milder. “Unlike Delta, which went straight for the lungs and took the breath away, Omicron shows an affinity for the upper respiratory tract, causing more symptoms of cough and cold,” said Jayaprakash Muliyil, chair of the National Institute of Epidemiology’s scientific advisory committee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Omicron’s mildness, however, could be deceptive. “Mild symptoms mean that people may not go for testing, thus the RT-PCR numbers may not be an accurate indicator of the spread,” said Rakesh Mishra, director, Tata Institute for Genetics and Society, Bengaluru. Take the present reported figure, less than a thousand for a country of India’s size in two weeks since the first reporting. This, when the west is reporting a doubling every second day. So, are we still too early to see the doubling, or are we missing out on the positive cases by a huge margin already? The variant’s mildness might morph into something serious, one cannot say. “Thus, the authorities need to train their eye on hospital admissions. The trend will emerge from there,” said Muliyil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many experts believe that India’s Delta exposure itself may ensure that Omicron will not create a public health havoc. Around 145 crore vaccine doses have been administered, a majority has received the two shots. In addition, repeated seropositivity tests indicate that around 80 per cent of the country has antibodies—either through infection or vaccination. Vaccines, as Mishra emphasised, are known to reduce the severity of the disease, and lower hospitalisation rates massively. Thus, the dominant argument right now is that while Omicron will certainly spread, its impact on public health will be minimal. Most patients might just escape with a more serious version of the common cold. “Omicron might just erase the immunological gap in the population, I do not see it as a variant of public health concern,” said Muliyil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A small study in Kerala bolsters this confidence. Rheumatologist P. Shenoy in Kochi was studying immunological responses to the vaccine among his patients, and he discovered that those who had acquired “hybrid immunity’’ had the highest titers of antibodies against the Sars-Cov-2 virus. “We were studying patients on immune response and we discovered that those who had got the infection, and then, one dose of the vaccine, had the highest titer of antibodies, almost 25 times higher than those who had got two vaccine doses but no infection,” said Shenoy. The study was published in the medical peer journal Lancet some weeks ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The discovery is significant from the Indian perspective because thanks to the two waves—caused by the original Wuhan strain and Delta variant—a large swathe of Indians has infection-acquired antibodies. Asymptomatic infection was a characteristic of the original Wuhan strain. The steady vaccine coverage also means that a significant population has received at least one shot. Thus, Indians are, in a sense, super-powered with hybrid immunity. South Africa had a similarly bad Delta wave, but it was not followed up with robust vaccination coverage. The UK and Israel, on the other hand, had good and early vaccination coverage, but their infection rates were also low, explained Shenoy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vaccination and masks remain the most important defence against the virus still, emphasised Mishra. “Repeated studies show vaccines reduce the severity of the infection and the need for hospitalisation,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Delta experience in the summer of 2021, however, shows that a certain smugness could be fatal. Authorities this time aren’t taking the chance. If the virus has shown one pattern, it is to expect the unexpected. A third wave was predicted, and the country had worked towards stocking up supplies and ramping infrastructure towards this eventuality. The national capital has already declared a yellow alert and imposed a mini lockdown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It may be too early to say whether India manages its third wave well. But Omicron indicates that the virus hasn’t tired yet, it is not at the end of its evolutionary journey and may have many more nasty surprises in store. The foreseeable future appears to be one where Covid appropriate behaviour and booster doses will dominate. And just how long could the battle between vaccine and variant continue? Till a time when the virus tires and settles into a non-aggressive existence. Or a time when humans develop a vaccine that gives lifelong immunity against this virus. It is a sobering thought that there isn’t a vaccine against many viruses yet, including HIV. On the other hand, this was the first time in human history that vaccines rolled out within a year of a new disease. And this is only the first version of the vaccine.</p> Sat Jan 01 12:47:50 IST 2022 planning-for-omicron-should-have-started-in-november <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>DELTA WAS FIRST </b>detected in India in December 2020. It caused a wave by the end of March this year. Now, think of Omicron. It was first detected in Karnataka on December 2 and then in Delhi, Maharashtra and other states. An avalanche begins at the top of the mountain with a few snowflakes. A wave of Covid-19 builds up like an avalanche. We cannot predict what Omicron will do, but we can anticipate the range of what it can do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It can create an avalanche of infections. Omicron will definitely reach everybody. It will hit 100 per cent of us. Because it spreads faster than Delta, I expect a surge in infections in late January. I do not think it would be delayed beyond February. But, a surge in infections is not a wave; a surge in disease is. There can be infection without disease. However, as more people get infected, the elderly and others who are more at risk, are also likely to get infected. This can lead to disease and even death. So, if we let the surge in infections become real, that could lead to a wave of disease.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Therefore, while it is not possible to predict whether Omicron will lead to a third wave, it is wise to take precautions. Only 44 per cent of India has received the second dose. The government will give data about the adult population because, by policy, vaccination was only given to adults. If we consider only that number, the percentage will be higher because we are reducing the denominator by including only adults. That’s unscientific and untrue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We should have created immunity in a larger number of people. And, we should not have left our children unimmunised. All this was known. This is not the way of handling an impending crisis. Now, the urgent need is to think in terms of the probability of a third wave, its magnitude, how it will affect senior citizens and others at risk. We have already lost time. On December 2, when Omicron was reported in India or on November 26, when the WHO declared it a variant of concern, we should have been planning from then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Had I been the decision maker, there would have been a blitzkrieg of messaging about vaccination. It should have said that if you are not vaccinated, and if you get sick, you are on your own. But, if you have got at least two doses, and preferably a booster, then, if you fall sick, we will look after you. In certain types of vaccines, the virus multiplies inside the body. This could lead to lifelong immunity. But, mostly boosters would be needed. In fact, the term fully vaccinated itself is wrong. It is a continuum. If you give two doses, it is only the beginning of vaccination.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b><i>Dr T. Jacob John is retired professor and former head of department, clinical virology and microbiology, CMC Vellore</i></b></p> <p><b>—As told to Pooja Biraia Jaiswal</b></p> Sun Jan 02 11:07:20 IST 2022 theatre-commands-the-next-logical-step-chief-of-naval-staff-admiral-r-hari-kumar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Admiral Radhakrishnan Hari Kumar, who took over the reins of the Indian Navy on November 30, has clear views on the need for theatre commands and the role aircraft carriers can play in safeguarding India’s maritime interests. In an exclusive interview, the chief of the naval staff also talks about the Navy’s modernisation, new aircraft carrier Vikrant, and gender equality. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Some experts call aircraft carriers ‘sitting ducks’.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Aircraft carriers are central to the Navy’s concept of operations and the Navy considers carriers inescapable to safeguard maritime interests against the backdrop of the changing geopolitics in the Indian Ocean region and beyond. The Carrier Battle Groups (CBGs) are a significant source of power projection and provide freedom of manoeuvre in the vast area of operations or interest. There are no alternatives to CBGs. Shore-based aircraft have a limited reach in our vast maritime area of interest. They can provide air defence to the fleet only when it is operating close to the coast, which is a rarity in the naval concepts of operations.</p> <p>Similarly, in the maritime strike role, shore-based aircraft have limited range with inherent time delays considering the distance to targets at sea. The surety of support from a shore-based fighter is intrinsically linked to the unpredictable factor of weather at the launch point as well as the intervening airspace between the launch point and the target. Accordingly, the relevance and importance of aircraft carriers have been acknowledged world over. Thus, many major maritime powers, such as the US, the UK, Italy and France, operate aircraft carriers. China is also building a large number of carriers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When can we expect IAC Vikrant to join the Navy fleet?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The maiden sea voyage of IAC Vikrant was conducted on August 21 as a check sortie for trials of hull, navigation and communication propulsion systems. These trials have established confidence in the ship design. This was followed by the second sea trials sortie in late October and early November. The carrier would continue to undergo further sea trials to comprehensively benchmark performance of equipment and systems before handing over the ship to the Navy. Delivery and commissioning of IAC 1 is being planned as part of the ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ celebrations to commemorate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see the plan for the theaterisation of the Indian military?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> India is faced with tremendous security challenges, both traditional and non-traditional. The ongoing flux in the geopolitical situation and its security implications require India to adopt an integrated approach towards development of combat capability and its application, to protect its national interests. Hence, effective application of ‘Joint Force for Joint Effects’ across all domains is the pre-requisite for winning future wars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Indian context, the raising of theatre commands is the next logical step in the ongoing reforms in defence organisation of the country and culmination of a long consultative and introspective process and validation/ trials of many models aimed at achieving jointness among the three services.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Does the Indian Navy have any roadmap for unmanned technologies?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ An ‘Integrated Unmanned Roadmap for the Indian Navy (IN)’ was released by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on October 18, 2021. It provides a comprehensive unmanned systems roadmap in consonance with the Indian Navy's Concept of Operations, and also evaluates the current state of unmanned systems and autonomous technology across the globe. The focus remains on providing overall guidance as a Capability Development Document for the Indian Navy over 10 years and caters to induction of unmanned systems in all domains of maritime warfare. A reference version of this roadmap will also be promulgated in the near future for the benefit of our industry to focus its R&amp;D efforts, which will promote Aatmanirbhar Bharat vision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Please throw some light on the Navy’s modernisation plan.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Navy’s modernisation and expansion follow a long-term perspective plan based on the Integrated Capability Development System (ICAD) process, focused on being a future-ready force, with the capability and capacity to meet evolving challenges. We currently have 39 ships and submarines under construction, with Indian shipyards building 37 of these, contributing significantly to the government’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of our key projects is the first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier, being built at Kochi. The ship has undergone extensive sea-trials, and is scheduled to be commissioned in August 2022, giving a major fillip to the Navy’s ability to protect, preserve and promote our national interests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among other major projects are four Project 15B destroyers, of which, the first ship, INS Visakhapatnam, was commissioned on November 21. Seven frigates of Project 17A Class, scheduled for induction from 2022, are also under construction. Further, 16 Anti-Submarine Warfare Shallow Water Craft have also been contracted. Among submarine projects, the fourth submarine of six under Project 75, INS Vela, was commissioned on November 25.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from vessels under construction, ‘Acceptance of Necessity’ has also been accorded for another 43 ships and six Project 75 (India) submarines to be built in India. In the aerospace domain, HAL has been awarded a contract to deliver 12 Dorniers, 16 Advanced Light Helicopters and eight Chetak. Further, AoNs also exist for procurement of 111 Naval Utility Helicopters under the Strategic Partnership Model.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Navy is working closely with DRDO and the industry to enhance the technological base in the country. Concurrently, there is a need to enhance the capacity and expertise of our public sector shipyards to reduce build-times, and also involve the private sector to make good current short-falls in our force levels. Naval force modernisation and force accretion is a slow and deliberate process, and the Navy has continued to focus on self-reliance and indigenous solutions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Compared to China, our submarine strength is small. How are you planning to bridge the gap?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ As on date, the Indian Navy has 17 submarines in commission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As far as the expansion plans of the submarine arm are concerned, the first three P-75 submarines were commissioned between December 2017 and March 2021. The fourth submarine Vela was commissioned last month and the fifth submarine is at an advanced stage of trials. The RFP for a new class of submarines under Project 75 (I) has been issued.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Construction of all submarines of P-75 (I) will be carried out in India under the Strategic Partnership (SP) model. Additionally, the government has also approved a proposal for extending the service life of four Sindhughosh class and two Shishumar class submarines. As part of this, two submarines have already arrived in India post completion of Medium Refit cum Life Certification (MRLC) at Russia. MRLC of the third and fourth submarine are ongoing and are likely to be completed by mid-2022.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the submarine force level is adequate to respond to current threats, we need to expeditiously progress planned acquisition progress to be future ready. The required force levels of our submarines and strategy of their operation in the future are in accordance with the overall naval plans of countering threats to national interests close to the coast as well in distant waters. Most of our submarines have been modernised and upgraded in terms of their weapons-sensors suite as well as their crew-support system. The Indian Navy’s submarine arm is a potent force, fully capable of accomplishing a wide range of operational tasks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Indian Navy's engagement has grown significantly in the recent past through its Mission Based Deployment. What is the Navy gaining from these?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> In order to protect and safeguard our national maritime interests in the Indo-Pacific region, the Indian Navy transitioned to Mission Based Deployment (MBD) in 2017. These deployments facilitated deploying mission-ready ships and aircraft to maintain continuous/ near continuous presence in critical shipping lanes and choke points across the IOR. Mission Based Deployments essentially cover all choke points, International Shipping Lanes of interest in the IOR and enable our ships to swiftly transform their roles from military to constabulary to diplomatic to benign, as required, and undertake a variety of missions from HADR to Anti-Piracy. These deployments have also provided opportunities for better interaction with our maritime neighbours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Through these deployments, we are able to establish a visible, credible and responsive presence, augment Maritime Domain Awareness, monitor Extra Regional Forces and potential adversaries, and respond to emerging situations and crises in the form of military operations, constabulary intervention, opportune collaborative engagements with like-minded navies, etc. It has helped increase our familiarity with the area of operations and also helped assure friendly nations, through rapid response, that we are ready to assist when called upon. They have also significantly re-oriented fleet deployments, so as to pursue our neighbourhood-first policy. These deployments are in consonance with the prime minister’s vision of ‘Security And Growth for All in the Region’ (SAGAR) and our efforts to be the ‘Preferred Security Partner’ in the IOR. The initiative is also in sync with the latest UNSC presidential statement (under India’s presidency) on maritime security that recognised the importance of enhancing international and regional cooperation to counter threats to maritime safety and security.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Few major operations undertaken by Indian Navy ships while deployed on MBDs include HADR assistance to Mozambique during Cyclone ‘Idai’ in March 2019 and Madagascar during Cyclone ‘Diane’ in January 2020; security escorts to UN World Food Programme (UN WFP) vessels in December 2018, December 2019 and June 2020; assistance to distressed dhow Al Hamid off Somalia in January 2020; delivery of medical assistance to various friendly countries during Operation Samudra Setu II; and escorting ships as part of Op Sankalp.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Several women officers have gone to court accusing the Services of bias.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Navy has steadfastly proven that there is no gender discrimination between male and women officers at the recruitment, training or employment stage. The recent court case involving the Navy was with regards to whether the 2008 policy letter was to be applied retrospectively or prospectively and had nothing to do with gender discrimination. The apex court in its judgment dated March 17, 2020 held that the letter is to be applied retrospectively to both male and female SSC officers. Post judgment, the Navy concluded a Selection Board on December 18, 2020 wherein 80 officers (including 41 women officers) merited selection for permanent commission. We have employed women officers in combat roles such as pilots, observers and posted 29 women officers onboard warships, at par with male counterparts. The service conditions, infrastructure and resources are being upgraded to increase the intake of women officers in the Navy.</p> Sat Jan 01 13:16:36 IST 2022 lakhimpur-kheri-case-union-minister-ajay-misra-caste-is-protecting-him <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>KNOWN IN HIS</b> constituency—Kheri, Uttar Pradesh—as Teni Maharaj, Ajay Misra being a Brahmin came as a surprise to those who were not well-acquainted with him. To most casual observers, he had always been Teni. However, it was in the expansion of the Union cabinet in July 2021 that the less-used Misra surname became important.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few months before the expansion, Misra had won the Sansad Ratna award for 100 per cent attendance in the Lok Sabha and for asking the most public interest questions. That made him the first ever MP from Uttar Pradesh to receive the honour. But, his inclusion in the cabinet as minister of state for home affairs was driven more by the BJP’s aim of bagging the Brahmin vote in the state (around 10 per cent) in the 2022 assembly elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On October 3, Misra’s reputation was blown away as cars—one of them allegedly driven by his son Ashish—mowed down three farmers and a journalist during protests over the now repealed farm laws. The special investigation team which is probing the incident has damningly held that the violence was planned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Numerous non-political sources THE WEEK spoke to in Lakhimpur Kheri district said that the intention had been to clear the crowds so that Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya could reach a designated meeting spot. Routes were also changed at least twice; but, both times the farmers got wind of the alternatives and moved to obstruct them. Ashish is one of 13 people accused of the violence. Section 307 (attempt to murder) is likely to be added to the charge-sheet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No one in Lakhimpur Kheri is quite sure how their Teni Maharaj got embroiled in this murky deed. On the day of the murders, colourful banners with “Teni Maharaj zindabad” had been fluttering across his village Banveerpur, the nagar panchayat of Tikunia and the tehsil Nighasan. Locals concede that he always had the image of a strongman, but also said that he was accessible and willing to help.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surendra Kumar Tiwari, a native of Lakhimpur Kheri, whose wife retired as a homeopathic doctor from the state’s medical services, remembers how difficult it was for him to get her pension released. “I even went to the [controller of pension] office in Allahabad,” said Tiwari. “At the local office, I was told—milke baat karenge (we shall meet and talk)—a euphemism for a bribe.” Misra was not a minister then and Tiwari’s residence fell in the neighbouring constituency of Dhaurahra. Yet, he took his case to Misra, whom he had never met. “In front of me, he called the director and said the matter must be expedited,” said Tiwari. “Within three days, my wife received her pension.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Demands for Misra’s removal have been relentless and vociferous. The BJP has not responded to these. In October, at a worker’s conference of the party, Misra stood between Home Minister Amit Shah and state BJP president Swatantra Dev Singh, his importance seemingly undiminished and his party defiant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Misra comes from a family of immense clout. In Banveerpur, his was one of three Brahmin households. The others in his village are Yadavs and scheduled castes. His father and grandfather were notorious as part of the land mafia. “They were involved in the illegal felling of trees in the surrounding jungles,” said a resident of Tikunia, who requested anonymity. “No one could stand up to them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Elders say the family had a tradition of the dolis (palanquins) of new brides from lower castes first stopping at their doorstep. The women would spend the night at the Misra home before being seen off with a gift of new clothes the next day. No one says it explicitly, but the purpose of this halt could well have been to enable the men of the household to sexually exploit the women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Teni’s upbringing makes him terribly obstinate,” said a local resident who was unwilling to be identified. “If he wants something he must have it.” The perception is that an increase in political power unleashed the worst in him. Misra rose in politics from the vice chairman of the district cooperative bank, Kheri, to member, zilla parishad, Kheri. He was part of the assembly from 2012 to 2014. The first of his two consecutive stints as member of parliament started in May 2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On Misra’s Lok Sabha profile, the 61-year-old describes himself as an introvert and an “ordinary student having been interested in studies and also showed keen interest in sports”. However, one former classmate remembered that he was so disinterested in coming to school that he had to be, at times, dragged by the household help to classes and would come kicking and screaming. His profile further reads: “Later on during professional life, moved by social inequalities and deprivation of people of human rights, joined politics and started a political career as BJP District General Secretary....”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sports is Misra’s great love. He organises tournaments of cricket, powerlifting and wrestling. In these, he often does commentary. As a student, he participated in powerlifting and volleyball tournaments till the district level, while he played cricket for his university at Kanpur. His other interests include “study of different cultures, staging plays and classical music. Study of literary stories and articles”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Misra’s caste gives him unique protection in a state where Brahmins are perceived to be treated unfairly. In August 2020, Deomani Dwivedi, a Brahmin MLA from Lambhua (Sultanpur), wrote to the principal secretary of the assembly to give notice of a question that demanded to know the situation of Brahmins in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The question read: “In the more than three and a half years of the tenure of the BJP government, how many Brahmins have been killed in the state, how many killers have been arrested? How many killers have been successfully punished...? What is the government doing to protect Brahmins? Will the government give arms licenses to Brahmins on a priority? How many Brahmins have applied for arms licenses and how many have been given these?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Brahmin equation in Uttar Pradesh is tricky. They may not be too many, but they are influential. It does not help that of the two deputy chief ministers, the Brahmin face, Dinesh Sharma, is hardly seen or heard from. Of the 24 ministers in Yogi Adityanath’s cabinet, four (besides Sharma) are Brahmins. The most recent inductee among these is Jitin Prasada, who holds the relatively minor portfolio of technical education. Prasada’s inclusion into the ministry soon after he left the Congress was a clear nod to the Brahmin voters in the state. Among the 21 ministers of state, three are Brahmins; of the nine ministers of state with independent charge, too, three are Brahmins.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bala Prasad Awasthi, BJP MLA from Dhaurahra, said he did not believe that his caste had been targeted in any way under the present regime. “There are unwanted elements in every caste,” he said. “Their elimination in no way represents how a caste is dealt with.” Awasthi’s reference is to Vikas Dubey, a gangster who was killed by the state police in July 2020. Dubey, a Brahmin, is often quoted as an example of how the caste is treated under the state’s Thakur chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Awasthi is, however, unwilling to comment on the impact of Misra’s continuance as a minister. “I have not been able to determine the sequence of events, so I cannot comment on the party’s thoughts on him,” he said. Misra’s removal is knotty. To save itself from any backlash, the party’s best hope could be that he would resign as the findings of the SIT have become more serious.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Misra himself is on edge. He was caught on camera rebuking a reporter for asking bewakoof (stupid) questions about his son’s involvement and went as far as calling Ashish bechara nirdosh (poor innocent). How close this edge is to a fall remains to be seen.</p> Thu Dec 23 17:55:18 IST 2021 modi-govt-at-its-weakest-point-but-opposition-finds-it-hard-to-challenge-the-bjp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As 2021 draws to a close, the Narendra Modi government is perhaps at its most defensive, after having been forced to repeal the three contentious farm laws. The move is perhaps the biggest about-turn by Modi, who has built for himself the image of a strong and decisive leader. And this has happened when other issues such as price rise, unemployment and the impact of Covid-19 on the lives and livelihood of the people are becoming common topics in public discourse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is also a time when the talk of opposition unity has become more fervent. Already, various permutations and combinations are being discussed for getting the anti-BJP bloc together for the Lok Sabha elections in 2024. However, despite the ruling dispensation being at its weakest point, Modi and the BJP, as of now, find no reason to be too alarmed. The opposition’s attempts, be it in terms of providing an alternative governance model or a leadership option, have failed to cause Modi any serious concern.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The basic premise of the talk of getting anti-BJP parties together is that in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, the saffron party won 303 seats and had 37 per cent vote share. It is argued that the opposition, with its 63 per cent vote share, represents a wider section of the population, and if these parties come together, they obviously will have a bigger support base than the BJP. To ensure that this vote share does not get divided, an ideal situation would be that there are one-on-one fights against the BJP and its allies. However, the catch lies in the near impossibility of getting the disparate forces and individual egos that constitute the 63 per cent vote share together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Whither the principal opposition party?</b></p> <p>A primary issue being discussed is where the Congress figures in the scheme of things. Is it failing in its role as the principal opposition party in posing a credible challenge to Modi and the BJP? Is it pulling down the anti-BJP bloc with its frailties and intra-party skirmishes? Whether regional parties can cobble together a viable non-Congress, non-BJP alternative? These are some of the questions being asked with regard to the Congress’s role in the opposition space.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 25, a meeting of opposition leaders held at the Delhi residence of Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar evoked much interest, especially since the Congress was not invited. It was described as an effort to explore the possibility of putting together a non-Congress, non-BJP front. However, with the event not garnering the desired response, its organisers promptly downplayed it and Pawar said that an opposition alliance without the Congress was not possible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress president Sonia Gandhi had on August 19, against the backdrop of the unprecedented unity shown by the opposition parties in the monsoon session of Parliament, convened a meeting of what are known as ‘like-minded parties’. The basic aim of the meeting was to emphasise the centrality of the Congress in any unified challenge mounted by these parties to the BJP regime. She said there was no alternative to working together and a decision was taken that the parties would hold joint protests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The plans, however, fell apart soon enough and there were no joint opposition protests. If Sonia had hoped for a repeat of her 2004 endeavour when her outreach to regional players had evoked a positive response, a similar reaction was not forthcoming this time. For one, the Congress is a much weakened entity, its national footprint has shrunk, its leadership does not enjoy as much authority now, and both allies and frenemies are not particularly interested in strengthening the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The talk of a front of regional parties without the Congress is refusing to die down, especially after the strong showing of regional satraps in the assembly elections in 2020, particularly Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee. Pawar, known to keep the Congress guessing about his moves and motives, has more than once since the damp squib of a meeting in June, described the grand old party as an “impoverished landlord who has lost all his land and who can’t even look after his house anymore”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The race to replace the Congress</b></p> <p>In the coming assembly elections, the Congress has a different worry besides taking on its main rivals. It is dealing with a situation involving non-BJP parties threatening to eat into its space. In Punjab, where the party would have preferred a direct fight with the Akali Dal, the Aam Aadmi Party has come up as a serious contender. In Uttarakhand, which has thus far seen a contest between the Congress and the BJP, the AAP threatens to eat into the anti-incumbency votes. In Goa, an already weakened Congress has to put up with not just the AAP, but also the Trinamool, which declared its entry into the coastal state by inducting veteran Congressman and former chief minister Luizinho Faleiro. The AAP with its noteworthy performance in civic polls in Gujarat has given the Congress reason to worry as the state goes to polls in late 2022.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Trinamool, which is making aggressive moves to be recognised as a replacement of the Congress in the opposition realm, has made clear its plans to expand in the northeast. Assam leader Sushmita Dev, who was known to be close to former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, has joined the party and could helm its expansion moves in her home state and also Tripura. The Trinamool is said to have eaten into the Congress’s vote share in the recent civic polls in Tripura. The Congress was dealt a blow by Mamata’s party in Meghalaya, when 12 of its 17 MLAs led by former chief minister Mukul Sangma walked over to the Trinamool, making it the main opposition party in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In recent times, the Congress has lost its entire vote bank to the AAP in Delhi and is now on the sidelines of the politics in the national capital. In Andhra Pradesh, post the split of the state, the YSR Congress has grown at the cost of the Congress. In neighbouring Telangana, where the Congress would have hoped to yield political dividends from the creation of the state, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti has been the main beneficiary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even if they may not have overt prime ministerial ambitions and may not be in a rush to occupy the pole position in the opposition space, most allies and rivals want to keep the principal opposition party in check in their respective territories. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu or the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar or the NCP in Maharashtra are not interested in a revival of the Congress. Even relations with Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, with which the Congress shares power in Jharkhand, have been fraught with tension. On the other hand, parties such as the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have kept their distance from the Congress, not willing to give it any space in Uttar Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Who will counter Modi?</b></p> <p>In 2014, Trinamool leader Derek O’Brien had suggested that the various parties that have emerged out of the Congress could form a front with Mamata leading it. Riding high on her success in the West Bengal elections, where she comprehensively defeated the BJP, Mamata is on a mission to be recognised as the leader best placed to take on Modi in 2024. She has been nominated as chairperson of the Trinamool parliamentary party to give her a national role. She has herself declared, taking off on her assembly poll slogan that now “Poore desh mein khela hoga (Now, the game is on, all over the country). Mamata has been outspoken about where she sees herself vis-a-vis the Congress and its leadership, criticising the party for failing to get its act together, ridiculing Rahul for his visits abroad and derisively asking if the United Progressive Alliance, a grouping of parties the Congress headed when it was in power from 2004-2014, still exists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mamata’s supporters say that her credentials as a leader capable of taking on Modi are indisputable given the gumption with which she fought the BJP in the assembly elections, that she heads a state which sends 42 MLAs to the Lok Sabha and that she has the required stature for other opposition leaders to rally around her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A little away from the opposition centrestage, AAP’s national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is attempting to emerge as an alternative at the national level, expanding to other states and hoping to win Punjab in the coming round of assembly elections. His supporters say he has national appeal and in the event of the AAP managing to emerge as the dark horse in Punjab and making its presence felt in the other states that go to polls in 2022, he would want to pitch himself as a challenger to Modi. He had taken on Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the AAP had contested seats across the country, but the results were disastrous. AAP leaders, however, claim that the party is now much better placed to be a serious contender with some ground work already done in several states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A point made by those raising doubts about the ability of the Congress leadership, more specifically Rahul, the party’s de facto president, is its failure to emerge as a weighty counter to Modi. Rahul’s supporters argue that he has been the most consistent among the opposition leaders in countering the BJP and the RSS, and that he has never desisted from taking on Modi. And while this may be correct, there is a feeling that his persona has so far failed to measure up to that of Modi and he has not been successful in convincing the people about his leadership abilities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The indispensability of the Congress</b></p> <p>The Congress has failed to recover from the debilitating defeats in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and 2019. There has been an exodus of leaders from the party and its leadership confusion continues, with Sonia holding interim charge of the party, but Rahul, for all practical purposes, being the go-to person for all important decisions and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra emerging as a key decision-maker and firefighter. In what has been seen as an open dare to the Gandhis, the so-called ‘Group of 23’ leaders have been demanding an overhaul of the party, elections at all levels in the organisation and a leadership that is visible and effective.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, while there are voices in the opposition that point out the shortcomings of the Congress to argue in favour of forming a front without it, what cannot be ignored is that it is the principal opponent of the BJP in a large swathe comprising states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana and Assam, as also one of the main players in Punjab. Also, in the Lok Sabha polls in 2019, while the Congress managed to win just 52 seats, its vote share was 20 per cent compared with the 37 per cent vote share of the BJP, showing that it still enjoys a substantial support of the people. It is said in favour of the Congress that it is the only opposition party with a pan-India identity unlike the regional players who are limited to their respective states. It is argued that a national party has to be the pivot of the opposition conglomerate for it to be a stable formation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Opposition’s challenge</b></p> <p>With the authority of the Gandhis on the wane, the opposition space suffers from the lack of a towering figure who can bring together the disparate forces. The main test before these parties is to provide a stable alternative to Modi and come up with a narrative that inspires confidence in the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another challenge before the opposition parties would be to counter Modi’s presidential style. The prime minister continues to be way ahead of other leaders in the popularity charts and his persona dominates the poll discourse and narrows it down to the question—if not Modi then who?</p> Sun Dec 19 17:52:15 IST 2021 black-box-and-beyond <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In September 1998, a helicopter that Group Captain R.K. Narang was flying suffered an engine failure. The military chopper, which was returning from a forward mission on the India-China border, crashed and broke into pieces. Narang, his co-pilot and a passenger escaped miraculously. After the crash, he logged more than 2,500 flying hours in the same type of chopper. “Accidents do happen; one has to find the cause and correct it,” he told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Air Marshal Manavendra Singh, the most senior helicopter pilot in the Indian Air Force, is heading a tri-service court of inquiry into the crash of a Mi-17V5 helicopter at Coonoor in Tamil Nadu on December 8 that killed the Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat and 13 others. Manavendra Singh has experience flying multiple variants of the Mi-17. He has also had multiple accidents. The inquiry will look at all the circumstances of the crash, and scrutinise technical and mechanical aspects. It will also check whether any standard operating procedure was violated. Even potential issues like the pilot being unwell or disoriented could be probed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Normally, a court of inquiry into a crash has to be completed in 30 working days and is headed by an officer of group captain or equivalent rank. But, as the CDS was fatally involved in the crash, the air marshal seems to be trying to complete the task even earlier. He is constantly in touch with personnel of the Delhi-based Institute of Flight Safety, which has expertise in investigation techniques for air accidents. The Mi-17 was manufactured by Kazan Helicopters at factories in Kazan and Ulan-Ude in Russia. Experts from the manufacturer will be called to join the probe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The black box of the helicopter was retrieved a day after the crash. It has two components—the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder (CVR). The CVR records conversation in the cockpit and communication with Air Traffic Control (ATC). The Air Force has classified the Nilgiri mountains as a grey zone—meaning that the area is prone to sudden changes in weather. The helipad at Wellington near Coonoor is only suitable for fair-weather landing. Therefore, the court of inquiry would also look at why the chopper was cleared to fly if the weather was bad. If visibility was the issue, then the instructions given to the pilot would be scrutinised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Narang said that Wing Commander Prithvi Singh, who flew the ill-fated chopper, was the commanding officer of 109 Helicopter Unit, based in the Sulur airbase, and that he was familiar with the route. However, the weather, he said, was unpredictable. “[Even] the best of pilots cannot understand the weather dynamics,” he said. “And, he was flying on the hills into a landing area that was boxed in from three sides.” Experts suspect that the chopper was flying at a low level. But, height and flypast are normally allocated by the ATC if a very important person is being flown. And the pilot cannot divert from the assigned altitude.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur, who was a helicopter pilot, said that the inquiry team would cover all aspects, from the safety of the chopper to human error. “The court of inquiry will investigate anything under the sun,” he said. The sabotage theory has not been ruled out, especially since General Rawat was working towards self-reliance in defence production.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The HF 24 Marut was India’s first locally developed fighter bomber and the first Asian fighter bomber to go beyond the test phase and into production and active service. It was, however, not inducted into the Air Force in a large way in the 1960s because a section wanted to give Russia-made MiGs more space. An officer, who requested anonymity, said: “We lost five decades to get to our own fighter (Tejas). It was certainly because of outside pressure. And General Rawat was pushing Atmanirbhar Bharat. Every aspect has to be thoroughly looked into.”</p> Sun Dec 19 12:01:05 IST 2021 photo-feature-for-the-love-of-libraries-and-why-we-need-them <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Some compare it with paradise, some find it a haven. For many it is a metaphor—a powerhouse that fuels the imagination, a window to the world, the greatest arsenal one can ask for. One would think libraries are shape-shifters, but what essentially changes is the effect they have on us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even time stands still here. The air breezes in, careful to not ruffle too many pages. The sun, too, turns mellow, streaming in through an open window and warming up a cheesy romance. The labels here help pick a friend, not brand an enemy. There is a place for every book, with identities separate but never suppressed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But is there a place for libraries in today’s world, a world that runs—never strolls—on algorithms? The British Council Library, for instance, shut its Pune branch and moved online in 2020. The pandemic, perhaps, only accelerated what was meant to be.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We should have seen it coming though. Many libraries have vanished or are languishing because of lack of funds. Worse, there is no data available on the per capita expenditure of public libraries, as per a 2018 paper (A Policy Review of Public Libraries in India). Only five of the 19 states that have passed library legislations have a provision for a library cess or tax levy. And, while private and community-owned libraries are trying to step in and up, it is not an easy task, for the very same reasons that plague public libraries. Even our waning interest in or lack of time for reading is somewhere to blame.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, as you will see in the following pages, libraries—public and private— can be stubborn. They are aware of their own silent power. That is why they pop up in places of resistance, be it Occupy Wall Street or our own Shaheen Bagh. That is why they are burnt, too—they bewitch you into believing the impossible. But they survive, despite everything. Because, as author Neil Gaiman said in defence of libraries in 2013, they tell us, everything changes when we read.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, that is the only reason we need.</p> Sun Dec 19 10:42:57 IST 2021 looking-for-the-oldest-public-library-in-india-head-to-thiruvananthapuram <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the heart of Thiruvananthapuram city stands India’s oldest library—the State Central Library. A traditional red-and-white Victorian-style building, it was built in 1829 during the reign of Swati Tirunal, the legendary musician king.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then British Resident Colonel Edward Cadogan was entrusted with the task of starting the library; Cadogan was the grandson of Sir Hans Sloane, whose vast collection became the founding collection of the British Museum. Only English books were initially available. The library was open only to British officers and local elite, despite being called Trivandrum People’s Library.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Opposing the elitist restriction, local residents formed their own People’s Library in the 1870s. The government took over the Trivandrum People’s Library in 1899 and opened it to the public, making it truly a public library. The current building was built in 1902 as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria and the People’s Library was merged with it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon, the library became a meeting point of brilliant minds of the period. “All prominent writers would spend hours here every day,” says Asokan P.U., deputy state librarian.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library went online a decade ago, providing bookings and renewals online. Even as reports lament the decline in reading culture, the library’s membership has only gone up—it has 1.5 lakh members now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Our’s is the only library with a separate building for children’s books,” says State Librarian Sobhana P.K. “We are also the only library that has been running the librarian course regularly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library runs a number of programmes to initiate young minds into reading, including a month-long children’s camp during summer vacation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library has three wings, with an exclusive wing for Malayalam literature. According to Librarian Ansar A.P., who is in charge of the Malayalam literature wing, novels are favourites. Translations from Bengali and Spanish literature have most takers. “Books of both new generation writers and stalwarts have many takers,” he says, pointing to the empty shelves named after them. “M.T. Vasudevan Nair is an all-time favourite.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As one walks through the premises dotted with a giant banyan and sandalwood trees, one can see readers of all ages walking in and out of the library. And, one realises what the librarians said was true: “Those who have visited this library will never say reading is dying.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sun Dec 19 10:32:15 IST 2021 how-syed-issac-is-rebuilding-his-public-library-in-mysuru-from-the-ashes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Daily wage labourer Syed Issac’s self-built library in Mysuru went viral on social media this April—when it was destroyed in a fire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Issac, 63, lives in Mysuru’s Rajeev Nagar, where 90 per cent of residents speak Urdu. Issac might have started out as an illiterate person, but he is no ignorant man. His lack of education prompted him to start a library in 2011, on a street corner near his home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His library then was two chairs and a couple of Kannada and Urdu newspapers tied to the branches of a tree. As days went by, his library attracted more readers. Most of them were people who frequented a nearby coffee shop. As more and more students and office-goers kept visiting, Issac identified an empty public plot nearby that was used as a dumping ground and set up a makeshift library. His library collection, too, grew, with 11,000 books in Kannada, Urdu and English, and 24 newspapers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the investigation concluded that the fire was an accident, Issac believes it to be a sabotage to silence him from enlightening minds. He thinks antisocial elements from his locality were behind the torching.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the incident has only fired him up. He is back on the streets with a few hundred books donated by well-wishers who saw his viral video. “All the hate and crime in the society is because of lack of proper knowledge. Books can help people expand their horizons,” says Issac.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His wife, Shaheen Taj, supports his devotion to the library. As Issac tends to his library from dawn to dusk, she rolls incense sticks to sustain the family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the government had promised to rebuild the library, he is still waiting for the promise to come true. A die-hard fan of Kannada actor Dr Rajkumar and former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Issac, meanwhile, is building his collection, book by book.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Wed Dec 22 13:16:37 IST 2021 warangal-regional-library-is-a-selfie-spot <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The first book to be included in the Government Regional Library in Warangal in north Telangana was&nbsp;Prashantha Paarijatham&nbsp;by Narla Venkateswara Rao. An eminent Telugu journalist and writer, Rao lived and died in undivided Andhra Pradesh. He was known to frequent libraries, and owned more than 20,000 books. The library staff takes pride in having his book, which was first published in 1959, as part of the collection. Unfortunately, there are no takers for the book because of the changing tastes of the younger generation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library has 70,000 books, including study material in its collection. An average of 200-300 people, mostly students, visit the library daily.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last year, during the pandemic, the library got a new lease on life. It is one of the few libraries that is directly funded by the state government. As part of the Smart Cities initiative, the district administration gave the library a facelift. The exterior and interiors of the library were redesigned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The outer wall has a huge mural of a girl, surrounded by bookshelves, reading a book on Kakatiya ruler Rani Rudrama Devi. Inside the library one can see portraits of freedom fighters, famous personalities and soldiers who were martyred. A few sections have a vibrant feel to them, thanks to walls decorated with famous quotes, and nature- and cartoon-themed illustrations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“A lot of people enter the library after seeing the murals,” says librarian M. Alivelu. “We see many youngsters taking selfies against the backdrop of the paintings. The makeover has certainly helped the library.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sun Dec 19 10:25:20 IST 2021 gnanalaya-library-in-tamil-nadu-is-a-collector-find <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Dravidian icon C.N. Annadurai was one of the best Tamil orators of his time. His narrative style was such that he would link world history to present-day politics, a style that was visible in his writings, too. For instance, his&nbsp;Makkal Karamum Mannan Siramum (1968) discussed the English Revolution in detail, in about 74 pages. But the second edition, published three years later, omitted those pages. The missing pages could very well have put the current linguistic politics in context. One place where you can see that rare first edition is in Pudukottai, an hour-long drive from Trichy in south Tamil Nadu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tucked away in the quaint little town of Thirukokarnam in Pudukottai, Gnanalaya (place for knowledge) is a treasure trove of rare books. And, the seeker of these rare finds is B. Krishnamurthy, who started collecting books while he was in college. Today, the library has more than 1.2 lakh books, including 80,000 in Tamil and 15,000 in English, making it one of the largest private libraries in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Krishnamurthy’s father was a district education officer, and that exposed him to Tamil literature and culture early, he says. “I was able to read lots of books other than the usual academic texts. The importance of books and reading was instilled in me at a very young age,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His first book came from his father—Swadesha Geethangal&nbsp;(freedom songs), a self-published anthology by poet C. Subramaniya Bharathiyar. The first edition had a poem by Muthukumarasamy Pillai, titled ‘Yen Magan (My Son)’. The second edition, however, did not carry this poem. “Bharathiyar used to earlier publish poems of others in his collection. But in the next edition, he published only his poems,” recalls Krishnamurthy,&nbsp;81, a retired government school teacher.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next book in his collection was also a rare one—Thanippadal Thirattu&nbsp;(solo collection of poems).&nbsp;It was&nbsp;signed by Ku Alagirisamy, a prominent Tamil writer who had reportedly told Krishnamurthy’s father that the book was extremely rare. And, thus began his quest for rare books. He would buy old books in Trichy, land up at old libraries that were closing down or in front of houses that were discarding their collection, and borrow books from family and friends. And, that is how his two-storey library came up. Gnanalaya also has a rare photocopy&nbsp;of the first-ever published Tamil book—Thambiran Vanakkam&nbsp;(1578), a translation of Doctrina Christam from Portuguese.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Krishnamurthy’s passion for Gnanalaya is shared by his wife, Dorothy, a retired professor of mathematics. The couple&nbsp;spend at least eight hours a day in the library.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Krishnamurthy has found a unique way of sharing his stories about the books. He now records them digitally. A digital recorder is placed on each shelf, giving details about the exclusivity and content of the books. Way to go digital!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sun Dec 19 10:21:05 IST 2021 the-history-of-david-sassoon-library-is-the-history-of-bombay <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In its more than 150 years of existence, the David Sassoon Library and Reading Room in Mumbai’s Fort area had never closed its doors to the public. And then Covid-19 showed up. “Even during the 1992 Bombay riots, we were open and let in students through the back door,” recalls Baldev Singh, honorary secretary of the library.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The story of David Sassoon Library is the story of Bombay. The library building, now a Grade I heritage structure, was one of the first buildings to come up in the area after the demolition of the fort walls—Bombay was a fortified city till the 1860s. As the walls came down, Bombay bloomed, taking over every inch of reclaimed land.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Parcels of land were auctioned, one of which was reportedly bought by David Sassoon, a Baghdadi Jew merchant and banker, to house the Bombay Mechanics Institute. The institute used to function from a room under the clock tower in the dockyard, and was the haunt of mechanics, shipbuilders, engineers and architects. It later came to be known as Sassoon Mechanics Institute, and was eventually renamed David Sassoon Library and Reading Room.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The building, constructed in Victorian Gothic style between 1867 and 1870, retains its colonial charm, with its pointed arches, animal motifs adorning its columns and Burma teak wood detailing in its trusses and ceilings. It is one of the few remnants of a Bombay that exists only in sepia-toned memories. The library has a garden, a peaceful patch of green in the heart of a dusty and bustling Mumbai. Even inside, the wooden patio chairs with plastic weave invite you to sit back and read against the backdrop of a city speeding by.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh says, in the 1990s, the library had stockbrokers, journalists, lawyers and former judges among its members. Now it is mostly students. The pandemic has also reduced the daily number of visitors—it has come down to 80 from around 125.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library is managed by a skeletal staff—10 people, some of whom have been working for nearly 20 years. It runs on membership fee (Rs3,600 per annum; Rs25,000 for lifetime membership).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though it has Wi-Fi, the library still wants to retain the human touch. If you need a specific book, you seek out the librarian, says Singh. Some things are better left untouched.</p> Sun Dec 19 10:18:11 IST 2021 uttarpara-Jaykrishna-public-library-in-kolkata-an-illustrious-seat-of-learning <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On the bank of the Hooghly, in a charming little town called Uttarpara in West Bengal, stands this imposing old library. Considered to be the first free public library in India, Jaykrishna Public Library was established in 1859 by Jaykrishna Mukherjee, a prominent zamindar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Influenced by industrialist Dwarkanath Tagore, Mukherjee turned to the British Public Library Act, 1850, to realise his pioneering vision for and interest in public education. Sprawled over an acre, the palatial building has tall pillars and wide, hanging verandas. The architecture bears resemblance to that of the splendid Kolkata Town Hall.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An illustrious seat of learning, the library was visited by the luminaries of pre- and post- independence India. Sir William Hunter and Reverend James Long found the answers to many of their scholarly questions in the magnificent portals of this library. Educationist and social reformer Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar visited this library with noted English educationist Mary Carpenter in 1866.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The iconic Bengali poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt stayed in the southwest upper storey room of the library for some three months on two occasions, in 1869 and in 1873. In 1909, Aurobindo Ghosh, after his release from prison, gave a speech on the grounds of the library.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From linguist Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay to former chief minister of West Bengal Jyoti Basu, many eminent people have demanded that it be declared a library of national importance to honour its rich heritage and exceptional collection of rare and old books and manuscripts. More than 60,000 of the 1.65 lakh books in its collection are considered to be rare.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future,” wrote T.S. Eliot. A living, breathing establishment such as the Uttarpara Jaykrishna Library probably takes us a little closer to understanding the full import of these lines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sun Dec 19 10:16:16 IST 2021 amir-ud-daula-public-library-in-lucknow-houses-many-a-rare-book <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Lucknow’s oldest library is housed in a white building, but its collection is anything but monochromatic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Amir-ud-Daula Public Library’s rich collection of original manuscripts written on copper plates includes The Dhammapada, an 18th century Buddhist text of proverbs and maxims written in old square Burmese characters, and the original copy of Inder Sabha by Agha Hasan Amanat. The latter is considered the first complete play written in Urdu. The play depicts a prince’s love story with fairies; Awadh’s last nawab—Wajid Ali Shah—performed the role of the prince.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library has books on almost every imaginable subject—from warfare to the occult; and from German secret service to the history of Urdu literature in Tamil Nadu. The fiction section packs in everything from Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales to Casanova: Adventurer and Lover by Joseph Le Gras. It also has census records dating back to 1391 (with a separate volume for caste census) and gazettes dating back to the 1700s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library was set up in 1868, but was thrown open to public—only students—in 1887. It is named after Mohammad Amir Hasan Khan, the erstwhile Raja of Mahmoodabad and then chairperson of the British India Association of Oudh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library premises are spread over 3,000sqm. Though constructed after the age of the Nawabs, the building, with Indo-Islamic architectural elements, blends into the surrounding structures that comprise the Qaiserbagh Heritage Zone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library is undergoing digitisation under the Lucknow Smart City Project. So far, 24,000 books have been digitised. A member of the digital team said that while the library contained books and documents ‘beyond imagination’ it was unfortunate that there was no library expert engaged in the task of digitisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic has forced members to stay away from the library and because of the ongoing digitisation, new memberships are on hold.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Harish Chandra, who is in charge of the library, said, “A library is like an ocean. Those who seek depth of knowledge will always need books. The internet can give you only [so] much.”</p> Sun Dec 19 10:11:46 IST 2021 at-delhi-public-library-you-will-have-books-and-more-for-company <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Though Irish playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw penned a passionate defence of public libraries in 1921, he did not want them to be chock-full of people. “A crowded public library is an absurdity, like a crowded laboratory or observatory,” wrote Shaw in The New Republic. He might be appalled to see the flurry of comings and goings on a typical day at the Delhi Public Library. With a colonial bank-like facade, the hallowed edifice has interwoven courtyards and arched corridors buzzing with students, readers and researchers across class and age-groups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 70-year-old institution has more than 35 branches and over 150 mobile service points spread across the national capital region. Its services used to be free when it was first set up as a joint venture between UNESCO and the ministry of education in 1951; annual membership fees which started at Rs2 have touched Rs100 now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At DPL, all fears around digital media, budget cuts, lack of a reading public, or empty-echoing-halls-with-spooky-shelves are laid to rest. It often seems like a sunny book market next to a university square with students milling around with campus coffee and chai. But even as in-person operations took a hit with Covid-19, DPL did not lose touch with its readers. “We followed the safety measures and operated virtually,” says R.K. Sharma, director general at DPL. “Book-borrowing dates were extended and we also waived off late fees. We have given links to various online resources through our webpage.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a 1961 paper written for The Library Quarterly by K. Ramakrishna Rao, who stresses that a library is a social institution, a distinction is drawn between the success of the DPL vis-a-vis the ambitious library development plan of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad across Baroda in 1910. The Central Library and its subsidiaries in the princely state could not be sustained because of the lack of a reading public, unlike in Delhi. Around 1955, the paper notes, DPL had a ‘bookmobile’, which serviced 15 places every week, and seven deposit stations. “It acts as a community centre to meet the cultural needs of the city,” wrote Rao. That tradition continues today, even under tremendous space constraints.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Babita Gaur, former senior librarian and information officer at DPL, had organised initiatives like ‘nukkad nataks’ (street plays), debates and cleanliness drives in slum areas. She left a year ago. Now there are free Wi-Fi services for readers in the central library and the Sarojini Nagar branch. The nine mobile library buses are fitted with GPS. These may sound rather modest additions, but are never easy for an old-fashioned public library in India to easily adopt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gaur recalls the time an MBBS student had posted a thankful message on DPL’s Facebook page when he landed a job. “All professions are born in the library, you know,” says Gaur, beaming with pride.</p> Sun Dec 19 10:09:36 IST 2021 sister-library-in-mumbai-south-asia-first-feminist-travelling-library <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Books take you places, but what if you took books to places? Not just as an ideal travelling companion, but more as a way to connect with the place and its people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Building connections is at the core of Sister Library, and that is why indigenous artist Aqui Thami conceptualised it as a travelling library that is also an evolving work of art.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Travelling, because accessibility is important,” says the 32-year-old PhD candidate at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. “And, I wanted to present a collected curation of printed material for every city we travelled to that responds to its locality. This display takes the form of an experimental reading and reflecting room.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library lived out of suitcases for a year or so before finding a stationary home in Bandra in 2019. And, while it may still be a man’s world out there, inside the bubble-gum pink walls of Sister Library, women and their work rule. As Thami says, it celebrates female excellence, making it the first travelling, feminist library in South Asia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The idea to start a library came to her while reading; reading women in particular. Thami started reading women exclusively as a practice seven years ago. “I started thinking of building a library of the books I was collecting,” she says. “The feeling grew stronger when I started to share these books with my friends. And, I started thinking about libraries, how I experience them, what do these spaces stand for, and conceptualised this art piece that contests these ideologies and presents a new way of experiencing a library.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library has travelled to seven cities in India, and to Kathmandu, Dhaka and Auckland. And, with each trip, works from the city, most of them independently published by women in the local language, became a part of the library. “The library is a living installation,” says Thami, “and it changes with every interaction and every journey.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the books are from Thami’s personal collection, some have come from friends and feminists. Writer Jerry Pinto contributed Rs10,000 to the library. And, more contributions are welcome, as it is a community-owned library with a monthly membership fee of Rs500.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thami sees the library as a space of joy and healing in the community. And so, there is more to it than just reading. Apart from a book club, there is a monthly feminist movie night, a feminist newspaper hot from its own press and open-access sessions where women are taught about printing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sister Library has a butterfly’s soul though, and is itching to travel. Next destination: northeastern India, pandemic permitting.</p> Sun Dec 19 10:06:47 IST 2021 a-nottingham-professor-built-a-library-in-his-village-to-make-all-kinds-of-books-accessible <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The idea for the Rural Development Library came to Arun Kumar when he visited a library for the first time. Now, his library is housed in a room of his ancestral home in Kalyanpur village of Mallawan block, Hardoi district, Uttar Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We did not know the relevance of a library in our village, because we never saw one. I studied in Delhi University, where I [first used a] library,” says Arun, who is professor of British imperial, colonial and postcolonial history at the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom. “I saw a gap between me, who had just got access to limited textbooks, and my classmates, who were well-versed in literature. There was a temporal gap between village children and urban schoolchildren. We thought that a library could bridge that gap by giving them access to quality literature, standard textbooks and free books.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Arun says his role is limited to getting the books that library in-charge Suneel Kumar asks for. For Suneel, a library is crucial to building a sense of community. “When children come here and read together, they form a bond that is stronger than any caste or other division,” says Suneel, who is preparing to become a teacher.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Rural Development Library is modelled on the district’s first community library at Bansa village, some 17km away. It is open from 2:30pm to 6pm (after school hours). In addition to fiction and subject-specific books, it has posters on issues like domestic violence and the right to marry. Like the library in Bansa, it aspires to have a student council, educational sessions and activities in the near future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among Arun’s favourite memories is one of an ageing carpenter, who had made cots in his home, coming to read the Ramayan at the library.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Talks are on with the village headman to shift the library to the Panchayat Bhawan, says Suneel, so that the challenge of space could be overcome. He adds that there has never been a need to call for reminders to return loaned books. “This is everyone’s library,” he says, “and everyone’s responsibility.”</p> Sun Dec 19 10:04:19 IST 2021 next-page-library-in-mumbai-a-world-of-knowledge-for-underprivileged-children <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Trust cats to pick the cosiest spots around you. And if you go by the picks of Winnie and her kittens—Wendy, Tiger and Lily—then the Next Page Library is the place to be in Shivaji Nagar, Mumbai. You can see them lolling about in nooks, behind and in between books.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the resident cats will have you believe that they are in charge, the library is actually run by Anoop Parik, 36, and his Next Page Community Foundation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The seed for the Next Page Library was planted when I was a school teacher,” says Parik, who has found his calling in the alternative education sector. “I noticed that those of my children who read were miles ahead of their peers in terms of understanding their world and themselves. This, coupled with the realisation that the formal education system in India does its best to stifle free thinking and creativity, made me want to start a library for young people in the community where I taught.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library usually sees school and college students using the space for studying and reading. Almost all of them come from underprivileged backgrounds. There is no membership fee and the library runs on donations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Every book in the library has its place, from NBT books and Amar Chitra Katha to books by Nobel laureates,” says Parik. “As a librarian, I feel the book that completes our library is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. It essentially gets to the core of what we hope to do—preserve the idea of reading and knowing stories in the hyper-digital world that surrounds us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The library, sandwiched among houses in an alley of Shivaji Nagar, opened its doors in the early days of the pandemic. The lockdown put a pause in their operations and donations. “Also, since most of our members are from migrant families, many left the city following the lockdown,” says Parik. “The silver lining was that children found a safe space to be themselves and carry on learning in a community atmosphere during the most difficult phase of their young lives.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And that is a priority for Parik. “A library must have a safe, welcoming, home-like environment that encourages children to learn freely,” he says. No glaring lights or rigid chairs, and no shushing librarians, too, he adds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The most important thing I have learnt from the library is that often simple things make the biggest difference,” says Parik. “As a school teacher, I would often wonder how I could get children to read and learn about the world. Now, it is obvious—give children, young and old, a welcoming space and oodles of books, and they will become readers and learners on their own.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sun Dec 19 10:44:09 IST 2021 vladimir-putin-delhi-visit-shows-india-a-key-priority-for-russia <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON DECEMBER 6,</b> Russian President Vladimir Putin flew for over six hours to spend just four hours in Delhi. During the brief visit, India and Russia signed 28 agreements, including one to manufacture AK-203 assault rifles jointly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The scale and scope of the agreements did not require Putin’s presence. But by choosing India to be his first destination for a bilateral visit after the pandemic struck, he was sending a larger message that he did not consider the world to be a bipolar one dominated by the US and China. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi shook hands with Putin and hugged him, he, too, was sending out a similar message.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin was accompanied by his Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The high profile visit saw India and Russia reinforcing their ties—with a military and technical cooperation pact which would run till 2031, and with a pledge to boost annual trade to $30 billion by 2025.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We perceive India as a great power, a friendly nation and a time-tested friend,” said Putin. Modi stressed on bilateral ties, saying both countries shared a “unique and reliable model of interstate friendship”. Moreover, the visit ended speculation about the durability of the bilateral partnership, especially because of India’s burgeoning ties with the US and Russia’s growing friendship with China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said while Putin’s visit was short, it was highly productive. Before Putin touched down in Delhi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Shoygu convened the Intergovernmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation, while External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar held discussions with Lavrov. Russia thus became the fourth country with which India has the ‘2+2’ dialogue which involves foreign and defence ministers of both countries; the other three countries—the US, Australia and Japan—are also members of the Quad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A much-awaited deal worth Rs5,100 crore for the joint production of more than five lakh AK-203 assault rifles at a facility in Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi district was concluded during the summit. The AK-203 rifles will replace the INSAS rifles, which were inducted more than three decades ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India and Russia are engaged in advanced talks for procuring the multirole fighter aircraft MiG-29K for the new aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, 50 Su-30 MKI fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force and more T-90 tanks. Discussions during the summit and the ‘2+2’ meetings could lead to some major announcements about defence purchases and initiatives like the joint human space flight programme, Gaganyaan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India, meanwhile, is ready to take delivery of the first squadron of S-400 air defence systems, which is part of a $5.4-billion contract for five squadrons. Yet another key deal which is going forward is that of the Tushil, the first of four Talwar-class stealth frigates for the Indian Navy, of which two are being built by Russia and two by India. The Tushil was formally launched on October 28 in Kaliningrad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the AK-203 contract was cleared during the summit, the two countries failed to conclude the Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics (RELOS) agreement. Shringla said the agreement was put off as both countries wanted more time to iron out a few more details. But he said RELOS, which would foster interoperability and allow the sharing of logistics between the armed forces of both countries, would be signed as soon as possible. India has similar agreements in place with the US, Japan, Australia and Singapore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both countries also failed to conclude the deal for the supply and licenced production of Igla-S man-portable air defence missile systems in India, because of some issues regarding the transfer of technology. Another deal which remains stuck is the one to purchase 200 Russian Kamov Ka-226T helicopters. The Army and the Air Force are keen to replace their Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, which are well past their service life. Although the deal was signed in 2015, it has not yet gone forward on account of issues regarding indigenous components of the choppers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maxim Sysoev, deputy director of the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said that although Putin’s visit did not result in major commercial agreements, the fact that it was one of the very few foreign visits this year by the Russian president showed the importance of relations with India. “This is a big foreign policy achievement for Modi,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sysoev said the strategic partnership could deliver more benefits for both countries in the long run.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Major General Shashi Asthana (retd), chief instructor at the Delhi-based United Service Institution of India, said India remained heavily dependent on Russia for technology, maintenance and procurement of hardware and spares, despite a 33 per cent decrease in import in recent years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Russia has been collaborating with India in manufacturing warships, nuclear-powered submarines, nuclear reactors, space programmes and missile programmes,” said Asthana. He said Russia’s new military strategy document, too, has named India as a partner, and that Moscow did not delay hardware support to India even during the standoff with China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sysoev, however, said the Indo-Russian strategic partnership was not a “marriage” between two countries. “India is rightfully choosing what is best for it, and has also started to produce more and more indigenous hardware,” he said. “It is for the Russian manufacturers to come up with more competitive and competitively-priced products.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The emerging geopolitical realities, however, seem to make things even more challenging for Modi and Putin. For instance, the US has embarked upon a rebalancing mission in the Indo-Pacific, and has formulated a China-specific containment strategy. While India stands with the US and the Quad in facing the China challenge, the Russian strategy in the region is more aligned with that of China’s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has opened up yet another challenge. It has created a vacuum and Russia is the only country which can fill the vacuum in Central Asia and Afghanistan. India is now much more dependent on Iran and Russia for its Central Asian strategy and access to the region. But the US policies in the Indo-Pacific and Central Asia, and the sanctions it has imposed on Russia, have pushed Putin closer to China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Retired diplomat Ashok Sajjanhar said Putin’s decision to invest time, effort and energy to visit Delhi for a few hours was his way of signalling to China that the relationship with India was extremely important. “Russia wants to broaden the relationship beyond defence partnership. Though the logistics agreement did not materialise, the two countries have spoken about trade and commerce,” said Sajjanhar. He said the biggest takeaway from the summit was that it actually happened despite all the challenges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not so long ago, Putin had refused to travel to Rome for the G20 summit and to Glasgow for the climate summit. He even cancelled his trip to Dushanbe for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit. “But he visited India, despite the high incidence of Covid-19 cases in Russia (more than 30,000 daily cases and 1,000 deaths) and the looming threat of confrontation on the border with Ukraine,” said Sajjanhar. “It is illustrative of the strategic value that Putin attaches to relations with India.”</p> Thu Dec 09 17:53:22 IST 2021 after-mon-massacre-bjp-has-an-afspa-dilemma <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was late in the evening when T. Chongmei, a 32-year-old small-time mining contractor in Oting village in Nagaland’s Mon district, went in search of his missing relatives. It was December 4, and news had spread of civilians being killed in an Army operation gone horribly wrong. Chongmei had walked barely five kilometres when he got caught in a clash between soldiers and protesting civilians. Shot in the foot, he fell to the ground. And the rest of the evening became a throbbing blur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thirteen civilians were killed that day. The reason: commandos of the Army’s 21 Para Special Forces had waited in ambush for militants belonging to a banned faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang). They apparently mistook for militants a group of eight miners returning from work. According to the Army, the vehicle carrying the miners was signalled to stop, but it “tried to flee”. Six miners died after soldiers opened fire. More lives, including a soldier’s, were lost in the violent protests after the botched operation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chongmei is being treated at the district hospital in Mon. He is mourning the death of his friend Hokup Konyak, whose wedding he had attended a few days before. He said some of the injured people might never be able to work and support their families. “I earn around Rs400 a day working in the fields,” Chongmei said. “We are not like farmers in north or south India, where they grow crops throughout the year. We get work for 3-4 months, and live in uncertainty after that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The incident has put renewed focus on the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives security personnel special powers to maintain public order in “disturbed areas”. “Someone must tell the government that Naga people are Indians, too,” said Wanthon, a relative of Hokup. “Instead of safeguarding us, we are being killed like flies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wanthon said the victims were not fleeing. “It is wrong to say that,” he said. “Why are all the bullet injuries not on their backs?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Mon massacre has put the BJP in a quandary. Before it came to power at the Centre in 2014, the party had talked about the possibility of removing AFSPA. For the past seven years, though, the Union government has been pressing ahead with the law. The Mon incident has prompted states like Manipur and Meghalaya, where the BJP is a partner in ruling coalitions, to decry AFSPA publicly. Apparently, the Union cabinet would now have to decide whether to remove AFSPA in certain areas in Nagaland and other parts of the northeast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior government official told THE WEEK that Naga interlocutor A.K. Mishra had been holding talks with the Isak-Muivah faction of the NSCN(IM) and various other political groups. The aim was apparently to give a final shape to the ongoing peace talks by the end of the year. “There was a view that the delayed Naga peace settlement should take final shape by December 25 as a Christmas gift to the Naga people,” said the official.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But with the furore over civilian deaths, Naga insurgent groups and political outfits have put withdrawal of the armed forces from Nagaland as a precondition for peace. The working committee of the umbrella body Naga National Political Groups said “military atrocities” were driving the Nagas further away from Delhi. “The destructive military tactics have belittled the political commitment of the Indian prime minister and home minister,” it said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>AFSPA, which came into effect in 1958, has long been a problematic law. Although it is the prerogative of the Union ministry to decide whether to declare a region as “disturbed”, the deployment of armed forces in such disturbed areas automatically brings AFSPA into effect. The risk of developing catch-22 situations is why successive Union governments have been reluctant to either curtail the provisions of the existing law or extend its scope by deploying the Army in troubled hinterlands. With the Nagaland tragedy, the ministry is now caught between a rock and a hard place—the security establishment is firmly against lifting AFSPA, even as sticking to it appears politically unfeasible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ministry will have to take a decision by December 30, because AFSPA was extended for the whole of Nagaland for six months on June 30. “A middle-way approach may be adopted in consultation with the defence ministry, as the demands are rising for its review,” said an official.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The killing of Naga civilians has also brought back bad memories. AFSPA has long been associated with many cases of fake encounters, executions with impunity, disappearances in custody and human rights violations. Some of the cases still remain unresolved and the perpetrators unpunished.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The security establishment, however, insists that AFSPA is necessary to maintain peace in insurgency-affected areas. “The insurgents are looking for a chance to discredit the security forces and stir up trouble once again,” said an officer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>D.K. Pathak, former chief of the ceasefire monitoring group in Nagaland, said the people and security forces needed to work together more closely against terror groups. “The peace process,” he said, “must continue.”</p> Thu Dec 09 17:00:39 IST 2021 telangana-farmers-in-a-lurch-as-centre-and-state-refuse-to-buy-paddy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>DURING THE RECENT</b> kharif season, K. Raji Reddy’s day would start early. The farmer from Gorrekunta village in Warangal district, northern Telangana, would reach his field by 5am. He would tend to his cattle, have a look around and head home for a quick breakfast. A little later, he would return to the field, walk around, rest under a shady tree, feed the cattle and return home by evening. Throughout the season, not once did he use pesticide or rely on electricity to water the fields. The two-acre paddy crop almost took care of itself, he said, and gave him good yield.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Life is easy when cultivating paddy,” said the 40 year old, who used to grow cotton and chillies for most of his life. “While cultivating chilli, I had to work on the farm all day.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Telangana was water-deficient for decades, paddy cultivation was sparse in the state. Coastal Andhra met Telangana’s rice needs. However, in the past few years, there has been a drastic shift. Currently, Telangana has 55 lakh farmers. And, according to rough estimates, almost 80 per cent of them now grow paddy. About five years ago, this figure would have been under 30 per cent. In 2015, paddy was grown on 53 lakh acres; now it is 1.05 crore acres. The total paddy production for this year’s rabi and kharif seasons was 2.5 crore tonnes, the highest in the state’s history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are many reasons for this boom, including new irrigation projects, better supply of electricity and improved machinery. A few years ago, Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao had raised the slogan ‘Koti Ekarala Magani’ (one crore acres of irrigated land). Work began on a war footing, and the state and political leaders encouraged farmers to grow paddy. Every season since, the administration has taken pride in announcing “bumper harvests” and assuring farmers that it would buy the yield.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This season was different. Rao himself asked the farmers to stop growing paddy. The state’s agriculture policy seems to have backfired; overproduction has imbalanced the demand and supply chain. Telangana’s godowns are overflowing with rice, while farmers wait for the state to buy their current harvest. Moreover, both state and Centre have told farmers that they will not buy paddy from the current rabi season.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, most farmers, including Raji Reddy, have refused to stop planting paddy. One such farmer—Manda Raja Mallu of Gopalpur in Karimnagar district—has eight acres under paddy. Earlier, farmers in the district used to grow sesame, corn and peanuts. “I can make a profit of 030,000 on every acre of paddy without working too hard,” said Raju. “Other crops are labour intensive and do not give good returns. For example, I grow vegetables on five acres and, for that, I have to search for labourers, who are hard to get. On top of that, I have to pay them Rs400 or more a day.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said he was hopeful of the Centre and the state changing their minds by harvest time. “I fear the worst if that does not happen,” he said. “The situation might get out of hand and irate farmers might attack agriculture officers and local leaders.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Telangana, only fine or ‘thin’ varieties of rice are grown during kharif season. These are eaten extensively within and outside the state, and hence have a good market. During rabi season, common variety or ‘fat’ rice is grown as it can withstand the sudden spike in temperature during summer (harvest time). But this variety has few takers; neither Telugus nor people elsewhere eat it much.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per the existing system, farmers take their paddy to procurement centres run by the state civil supplies department. From there, it is sent to rice mills. The Food Corporation of India (FCI) buys the milled rice for the public distribution system. The state usually does not buy paddy from farmers; it only forwards it to the FCI. The minimum support price of fine and common variety paddy is Rs1,960 and Rs1,940 a quintal, respectively. The farmers can try their luck in the open market if they are not satisfied with this price.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mills turn the common variety into parboiled rice through a three-stage process. The rabi season paddy is turned into parboiled rice (boiled and dried) to further overcome the problem of the rice breaking in the heat of summer. Parboiled rice is usually sent to the FCI’s central pool to be distributed in Tamil Naidu, Kerala, and parts of Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. But, local cultivation in these states has increased, and the FCI has said that it has enough stock to last it for years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The FCI’s refusal to procure the paddy has also brought into question the future of the 2,600 rice mills in the state; 1,500 of these are designed to process parboiled rice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Devender Reddy, former president of the United Andhra Pradesh Rice Millers Association, proposed that the governments reward farmers with direct money transfers based on the area of paddy grown, and demanded that the mills be permitted to sell the rice in the markets (currently, they can only sell it to the FCI). As for parboiled rice, he said that the Centre should sell it on the international market and kick-start the cycle of procuring like before.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The paddy issue has also triggered a political fight, with the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the BJP accusing each other of misleading farmers. The state government has criticised the Centre for not procuring enough from the state, like it does from Punjab. The Centre, however, said that it had informed the state well in advance that it would not procure parboiled rice and blamed it for not preparing for the eventuality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The farmers are caught in the crossfire. Kanneganti Ravi, state coordinator of the NGO Rythu Swarajya Vedika, said that the farmers would have to sell their produce at Rs1,500 a quintal or less in the open markets if the government does not buy it at MSP. “There will be more suicides,” he said. “The farmers will be forced to fight on the streets or face a severe loss. There might be a strong reaction, which can lead to an agitation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Agriculture experts blame both the state and the Centre. G.V. Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of the Hyderabad-based Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, called the obsession with paddy an “ecological crisis”. “There should have been a strategy to reduce the area under paddy and move to other crops,” he said. “The Centre is also buying only paddy, and not the other crops. One acre of paddy consumes as much water as 10 acres of other crops. Traditionally, in Telangana, pulses, millets and other crops were cultivated. The soil used for paddy cultivation is already too damaged to grow other crops. Also, where are the seeds to grow alternative crops?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The farmers are bracing for an uncertain future. “In the worst-case scenario,”said Raji Reddy, “I will store the rice that I grew and survive on it till I can.”</p> Tue Dec 14 17:40:49 IST 2021 the-centre-has-no-foresight <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/Do you think the state government was right in pushing farmers towards paddy in the past few years?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/It is not in our hands. When the Government of India changes its policy all of a sudden, what can we do? We have conveyed the same to the farmers. It is not our wish, having built projects and having given so many benefits to the farmers. The Centre cannot say godowns are full. That is its inefficiency. It should welcome the production and think of what can be done. [Union Minister] Nitin Gadkari has said that the Centre can produce CNG and ethanol (from rice). Agricultural produce can no longer be confined to the food sector alone. The Centre has no foresight and no international perspective.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The Centre has said that it had told the state last year that it would not be procuring parboiled rice. Is that true?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/That is true. But why has the Centre not appealed to the farmers across the country to not grow this crop? Parliament is in session now. Why can’t the Union agriculture minister appeal to farmers to not grow paddy in the second season? Why can’t the Centre be open about its policy? That is because it is politically motivated and is playing with farmers’ lives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Did the state government ask farmers to move away from paddy?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/For the past one year, we have been trying to convince farmers to go for other crops. We have distributed literature and conducted training camps. We can see the result as several other crops like black gram, groundnut and mustard have come up during this rabi season. Diversification has started, but paddy cannot be replaced overnight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/But many farmers have stuck with paddy.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/If they want to go ahead with paddy cultivation despite an appeal by the chief minister, it will be at their own risk. They will have to sell it in the open market at whatever price they get.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What are the alternative crops you want to focus on in the near future?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We have started palm oil cultivation. By next year, we should have 3.5 to 5 lakh acres under it; the following year, it should touch seven lakh acres. We will then concentrate on having 20 lakh acres. We also want to encourage the cultivation of cotton, red gram, pulses and other crops.</p> Thu Dec 09 16:46:33 IST 2021 repealing-farm-laws-alone-will-not-douse-ire-against-bjp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Eight years ago, when Amit Shah went to Uttar Pradesh as a BJP general secretary, he worked his magic to help the party win 71 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state. In 2017, as BJP president, he guided it to 312 out of 403 assembly seats. In the coming assembly polls, the home minister has picked the toughest assignment for himself—western Uttar Pradesh and Braj.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The electoral performance in western Uttar Pradesh, dominated by farming communities—especially the Jats—was key to the party’s success in both 2014 and 2017. But, the farmers’ protest changed things. Farmers in western Uttar Pradesh, perhaps inspired by the strategy of their counterparts in Punjab, were not allowing party leaders to campaign in their villages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In view of the resilience of the agitation, the BJP has made a strategic retreat by announcing that the three contentious farm laws would be repealed. Earlier, too, the Modi government has shown that it weighs in the political cost of its policy decisions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For instance, it went back on the land acquisition ordinance in 2015. It also made changes to the GST before the last assembly polls in Gujarat, to counter the anger among traders. With regard to the farm laws, BJP leaders said that “Hindu-Sikh unity” coming under threat weighed on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mind. “As the PM said, we tried to convince people, but we could not do so,” said Sardar R.P. Singh, BJP national spokesperson. “People were misled that their land would be taken by Adanis and Ambanis. We could not let [the situation in] Punjab go back to [the unrest in the] the 1980s and 1990s.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Punjab, the BJP’s senior leaders will start campaigning only after the laws are repealed in Parliament and the farmers’ unions lift the ‘embargo’ on electioneering. However, the state leaders are watching the situation closely as they fear that an attempt may be made to stretch the agitation till 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It was not an agitation against the laws, but against Modi,” said senior BJP leader Harjit Singh Grewal. “Some people were trying to turn it into a Sikhs versus government issue. They were trying to discredit the government. These people may not call off the protest before 2024. But, if they do so, they will be exposed. People will turn against them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Grewal was one of two Punjab leaders who met Modi and Shah in January to provide feedback from the ground. “We had told the PM that it was a protest against him,” he said. “Farmers’ leaders have different ideologies and were against the PM. The famers were ready to fight to the death as they were misguided by the famers’ leaders that their land would be snatched from them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP also sees a chance to contest in all 117 seats in Punjab, up from the 23 it used to get from former ally Akali Dal. But, it has its task cut out in the state, where three other key contenders are in the fray: the Congress, the Akali Dal-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance and the Aam Aadmi Party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the decision to repeal the laws was a major victory for the farmers’ unions of Punjab, the farmers of western Uttar Pradesh feel they have not benefited as much. They had faced massive distress, were owed sugarcane dues and were forced to sell their wheat below the minimum support price (MSP). And, like the farmers in Punjab and Haryana, they, too, want a robust MSP system. Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait made the pitch for legal guarantee of MSP as a condition before the protests are called off. The farmers’ leaders in Punjab said they would support Tikait as he had supported them in the year-long agitation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation in western Uttar Pradesh seems to be getting more challenging for the BJP as the elections draw closer. The Jayant Chaudhary-led Rashtriya Lok Dal is drawing crowds in the region. The RLD represented the Jats, before they shifted en masse to the BJP. It had suffered electorally in the recent past as the religious polarisation wiped out caste parties. Now, with renewed hope, it will firm up its alliance with the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party, which is also drawing other smaller parties to its side. The RLD had put its weight behind Tikait, who became the face of the agitation in the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Even though the farm laws have been withdrawn, it is too late,” said RLD national spokesperson Surendra Kumar Sharma. “The voters have already made up their mind. The RLD is getting huge traction among farmers. The BJP will not benefit in western Uttar Pradesh.” The BJP had made gains in the state because of polarisation. But, Sharma said that no one would get distracted by it now. “The Muslim-Hindu communities are behind the RLD and SP,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is clear that it will take more deft manoeuvring from the BJP to reduce the antagonism against it. The party is trying to win over smaller castes. Shah, like in the past, is wooing the non-Yadav and non-Jatav castes and engaging with smaller caste parties. Even if there was Muslim-Jat unity in western UP, it may not be enough to counter the BJP, if it gets the support of other castes. Its messaging to the other castes would be based on development, hindutva and a stronger law and order scenario, the main planks of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s government. The party will soon launch yatras across the state to create a favourable atmosphere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajkumar Chahar, BJP Kisan Morcha chief and Fatehpur Sikri MP, reiterated that there was no political motive in introducing the laws or repealing them. “I can say with conviction that the BJP is very strong in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, and will form the government,” he said. “The situation is different in Punjab, but we will do well. We will do well in western UP, too.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The success of the farmers’ agitation is an important lesson on mass civic movements. If agitations remain non-violent and are sustained long enough, they can achieve the desired results, especially if they have the potential to harm the ruling dispensation politically. Now, politicians are even worried about the possibility of the farmers’ leaders entering politics.</p> Sun Nov 28 11:16:33 IST 2021 no-political-motive-in-repealing-farm-laws-says-president-of-bjp-kisan-morcha <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>What prompted the prime minister to repeal the farm laws?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The prime minister took the decision in national interest, despite knowing that the three laws would have made a big change in the lives of small farmers. It was done to preserve national security and integration. The prime minister is keen that there is harmony in the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is the way forward?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the farmers were in favour of the laws and were supporting the prime minister. One section of farmers, particularly those from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, were against the laws. We failed to convince them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The farmers had a lot of misgivings, which consumed them. They could not understand the benefits of these laws. We hope that when small farmers realise that the laws were in their favour, they would blame those who created so much ruckus on the issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The farmers are asking for an MSP (minimum support price) guarantee.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was never a law on MSP. It was introduced through an administrative order in 1965-66. It has many benefits and some disadvantages. The prime minister has announced the setting up of a committee. I welcome it as the committee will discuss with all farmer representatives, political parties, states and agriculture experts to arrive at a decision on MSP. The prime minister will then take a decision in favour of the farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Will you now go to farmers again to talk about the new decision?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We had already gone to farmers through various programmes like Kisan Samvad, tractor rallies and Kisan Chaupal. We tried telling them about the benefits. But because of the circumstances in the country, the prime minister has honoured the desire of the farmers. These reforms had come after 100 years. These were 100 per cent in favour of small farmers, whom everyone overlooked in the past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Will the reform process in the agriculture sector be derailed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now it may take time. When the prime minister gave three farm laws, it was a historic decision. Those had to be withdrawn as certain conditions were created, roads were blocked, protests were held, and despite talks, the farmers did not agree.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You said the decision was in national interest. Were there chances of disturbance in Punjab?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You have seen how Punjab was disturbed for such a long time. Some forces were active again. The prime minister has taken the vital decision keeping in mind the concerns at the highest level. We should not look at things from the prism of victory or loss. These things happen within the family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Will this decision help the BJP in the upcoming elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I will not say there was any political motive in bringing the laws or in withdrawing them. But I can say with conviction that the BJP is very strong in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur and will form the government. The situation is different in Punjab, but we will do well.</p> Sun Nov 28 11:15:10 IST 2021 democracy-is-safe-as-long-as-we-have-farmers-varun-gandhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The farm laws have been withdrawn, which is a big victory for agitating farmers.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I believe that this is just the beginning of a long struggle to reform Indian agriculture. We need to recast the economics of being a farmer, while addressing long-pending challenges associated with agricultural inputs, yield, distribution, processing, and MSP (minimum support price). We also need to realign incentives to ensure an adaptive cropping pattern as climate change hits India’s farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has the move dented the strong image of the Modi government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has a long history of governments reviewing existing policies to ensure that they are aligned with the interests of key stakeholders. It is heartening to see that the policy has been reviewed keeping farmers’ demands in mind. The focus should be on making the ordinary farmer “strong”, as opposed to categorising any government or its leadership as “strong”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You have been vocal on farmers’ issues, sometimes even taking a stance different from that of your party.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I believe that it is important to ensure a diversity of thought on important policy matters. I am happy to note that such views have triggered a healthy debate and resulted in outcomes that are conducive to the long-term economic interest of the marginal farmer. We must continue to encourage such diversity, letting a thousand flowers bloom.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you think the fear of disturbance in Punjab influenced the government’s decision?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Any review of laws associated with agriculture is always linked to feedback from the farmers themselves. It would be unkind to disparage the effort of the farmers by linking it to India’s numerous and credible security challenges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>In your letter to the prime minister, you asked for a law on MSP (minimum support price). Is a legal guarantee feasible?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, a legal guarantee is a feasible option on MSP; it will certainly take the debate on agricultural policy in a different direction, one focused on scaling up agricultural cooperatives, to correct for excesses in existing procurement networks and to make our farmers competitive for exports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>If India can create giants like Amul in dairy, why can’t our farmers compete with Brazil and China?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We already have one-third of all the arable area in the Asia Pacific; all that is needed is the government to focus on making the APMC (Agricultural Produce &amp; Livestock Market Committee) network stronger and providing investments to fix irrigation and cold storage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has the reform process in agriculture been halted with the repeal of these laws?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not really. However, a clear marker has been put down by India’s farmers: A push towards restructuring the agricultural market towards a contracting system—while offering no backstop in prices or resulting incentives/infrastructure—will not do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government cannot solve the agricultural crisis by giving it on a PPP (public-private partnership) basis to the private sector. It will have to do the same as other countries do—invest in mechanisation, in enhancing the cold storage network, in doing the hard ground work of building at scale agricultural cooperatives and finally, pursuing trade deals that give importance to the lot of the Indian farmer over all else.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How will the repeal of laws impact the upcoming elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think that the question of solving the agricultural crisis, for India’s marginal farmers, is above politics. Any short-term skew in voting patterns is a small matter in a generational movement.</p> Sun Nov 28 11:14:23 IST 2021 for-kin-of-deceased-farmers-neither-repeal-nor-recompense-can-make-up-for-loss <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Renu Rana from Pakasma village in Rohtak, Haryana, still cannot comprehend why her husband, Jai Bhagwan, consumed poison.</p> <p>On January 19, Bhagwan had a full breakfast, bid farewell to his wife and 11-year-old daughter, and left for Delhi’s Tikri border in a buoyant mood. He had done this every day for the prior two months; he was part of the protest against the Centre’s new farm laws and would ferry vegetables and milk on tractors to replenish stocks at the protest venues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, as evening set in that day, Renu started receiving videos that had gone viral on social media; videos of Bhagwan consuming sulphas tablets after making an emotional speech to a crowd. Reports said that there was a “suicide note”in his pocket, in which he lamented the futility of talks between the government and the farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“How could the media call it a ‘suicide note’?” says Renu. “It was the photocopy of a letter he had already discussed with me. He had listed out issues he felt strongly about. At the hospital the next day, he did not once wish to be saved or express sadness. He said this government was not listening to us while we were alive, perhaps it would listen to a corpse.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Renu says her husband idolised Bhagat Singh. She breaks down every time she remembers her idyllic life with Bhagwan, whom she met in 2008 through her parents and instantly fell in love with. “He encouraged me to study and work,” she says. “I finished my master’s in political science because of him. He was not the insecure type, even though he was less educated. He was quite intelligent, was good at maths and stayed up to date with current affairs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhagwan earned his living by farming a small patch of land for wheat and mustard. “He was such a staunch supporter of [Prime Minister] Modi, but then started wondering why Modi ji ignored his farmer brothers and went ahead with something the whole farming community was against,” she says. “Why did he not connect with farmers through [the radio show] Mann Ki Baat? If there were no farm laws, there would not have been any protests. And my husband would not have….”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She was shaken again a month ago when her daughter’s school van was almost toppled over in an accident; the girl also contracted Covid-19. In her grief-induced haze, she has tried cracking the Delhi Subordinate Services Selection Board teacher recruitment exams this year. “No compensation amount is ever going to be enough for such a loss. I cannot put a value to it. But, can this government give me a job I deserve?”asks Renu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Through rain and thunder, scorching summer and bone-chilling winter, disease and disorder, the farmers’ protest achieved victory after a year-long pitched battle. But the share of unfortunate deaths has hardly been accounted for.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few days after Modi announced the repeal of the three farm laws (November 19), Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut demanded that the families of the farmers who died in the protests should be given compensation from the PM CARES Fund. The families, however, can hardly bring themselves to ascribe a monetary value to the deaths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From November last year, Harinder Happy, a 24-year-old PhD candidate from Amritsar, along with his friend Anurup, has been updating a list of farmers who died in the protests. He has also worked with the Samyukt Kisan Morcha—a coalition of Indian farmers’ unions—to coordinate protests. He had, in January, put up the compilation as a blog. As of November 22, he has listed 675 deceased farmers, with their mugshots.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are doing this for humanitarian reasons,” says Happy, who comes from a family of landless farmers in Rajasthan. “We feared that the government could say that nothing happened or no one died. Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar has even replied in Parliament that the government did not have data on farmers’ deaths. Already NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) data, and unemployment and NSSO (National Sample Survey Office) reports come out so late.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For his thesis, Harinder is looking at agrarian policies and practices through a gender lens, and, this week, he hopes to publish a breakdown of his database on dead farmers. For instance, if one leaves aside those who died in police firing, accidents and by suicide, or the murder of farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri, most died because of heart attacks and pre-existing illnesses. He could find only 10 to 15 cases that could be attributed to Covid-19.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The stories of sudden deaths of the otherwise fit and strong are the most painful to recount. Like a 22-year-old national-level athlete taking his life at home. Or a female protester from Punjab being hit by a speeding truck in Tikri, while trying to go home. “Her husband had already succumbed to a snakebite in the fields. Her son was paralysed from an accident. Her daughter was about to be married. And she was trying to clear a bank loan of Rs10 lakh,” says Harinder. “Even after this movement is over, we will continue to collect and document data on farmers’ suicides. The real numbers are bigger than official counts.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On May 15, Major Khan from Jhandi Bhaini village of Patiala district, Punjab, succumbed to Covid-19 at a private hospital. Belonging to a landless Muslim family, he had retired from the Army as a subedar and had camped at Singhu border since November 26.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The day the government announced the repeal, his entire village took out a procession and gave him a martyr’s homage with flowers and flags.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He never came back once he left for Singhu. Even on his deathbed, he refused to return home,” says his 20-year-old son Amin, in Patiala. He is doing his BCA and is farming on the side to supplement a meagre pension. “I do not want any compensation,” Amin says with quiet dignity. His 72-year-old grandmother is preparing to attend the November 26 morcha to mark the completion of a year of peaceful protests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is best if we are given a job. We hardly make anything from tilling this 10-bigha land,” says Naveen, whose 31-year-old cousin Deepak fell 15ft from a trolley stacked with wooden logs, while unloading supplies at Tikri. No hospital in Delhi would treat him. He died in Rohtak. Naveen is also preparing for the march on November 26. “Our brother sacrificed his life for sewa (service),” says Naveen. “The farmers have not died for nothing. Why should we go back until our demand for guaranteed MSP (Minimum Support Price) is met?”</p> Thu Nov 25 17:45:52 IST 2021 the-controversial-hyderpora-killings-are-a-wakeup-call-for-the-bjp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON NOVEMBER 15,</b> at around 4:30pm, security forces launched a search operation at a commercial building in upscale Hyderpora, Srinagar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“A joint team of the police, 2 Rashtriya Rifles of the Army and the Central Reserve Police Force have launched an operation on a ‘specific input’about the presence of terrorists in an illegal call centre rented for business in a private building,”said a police statement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hours later, four people were declared killed in the encounter. Among them were building owner Altaf Ahmed Bhat and tenant Dr Mudasir Gul, a dentist-turned-real-estate-contractor with an office on the first floor of the building. The initial police statement called them ‘terrorist associates’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar said the other two casualties were a foreign militant called Bilal Bhai or Haider, and his associate Amir Ahmed, from Banihal in Jammu’s Ramban district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A more detailed police statement followed. “In order to show the suspect call centre in the building, the owner of the building, Altaf Ahmed Bhat, as well as the tenant, Mudasir Ahmad Gul, were called to accompany the search party,” it said. “As the search party approached a room on the top floor of the building, the hiding terrorists started firing indiscriminately towards the party, which retaliated. In the initial exchange of fire, both individuals accompanying the search party received critical gunshot injuries and succumbed to their injuries. In the ensuing encounter, both terrorists hiding in the room were eliminated and their bodies were retrieved from the site of the encounter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Amir Ahmed was a resident of Banihal who was earlier working as an OGW (over ground worker) of an LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba) commander. Preliminary investigation revealed that Gul was running an illegal call centre in the said building rented for business and was working as a terrorist associate. The recoveries and other digital evidence indicated that a fake call centre was established to provide logistical support to the active terrorists.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The statement also said that Haider was involved in the recent shootout at the Jamalatta area of Srinagar, and that Gul had helped him escape the spot in a Maruti Alto. Unlike the earlier statement, this one did not call Bhat a ‘terror associate’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was later revealed that Ahmed was a peon in Gul’s office and his full name was Amir Ahmed Magray. His father, Abdul Lateef, refuted the police claim that he was a ‘hybrid militant’ and demanded his body for burial. Families of Bhat and Gul did the same. The bodies of all four men had been buried at Handwara in Kupwara, 70km north of Srinagar. Since Covid-19 struck, security forces have not handed over bodies of slain militants to their families. This was done to avoid crowded funerals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a viral video that shocked and enraged many Kashmiris, Bhat’s 13-year-old daughter, Noha Altaf, described the moment she learnt about his death. “My chachu (uncle) got a call at around 10pm and he started crying,”she said, breaking down. She said a cousin, who is a witness, told her that her father was picked up three times that day. “Other witnesses were also killed,” she said. When she asked the security forces why they had thought her father was a ‘terror associate’, they apparently laughed at her. “What could I say to them?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She also spoke about Gul’s son, too. “My brother is in his class,” she said. “He is so young. What do we tell him? He is very close to his father. I am attached to my father. Now, what will I do? How do I take care of my mother?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The eyewitness account of the girl’s cousin was corroborated by witnesses who did not want to be named. They said that security forces had cordoned off the area when the operation started; workers from nearby shops were herded into an automobile showroom, and their phones were taken away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Bhat, who sold cement and paint from the ground floor of his building (and was in the showroom with the rest of the workers), was summoned twice by the search party to accompany them into the building,”said a witness. “When he was asked for the third time, he asked Gul to accompany him as the two got along very well.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The witnesses said that they heard gunshots from the building twice in five minutes. The men in the showroom had no idea what was happening. They were let out only around 11pm, and came to know of Bhat’s death from his elder brother, Abdul Majeed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They said Bhat, a resident of Srinagar’s old Barzulla, was a simple man who treated everybody with respect and even got along with the security forces; he sometimes offered them tea, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The families of Bhat and Gul staged a sit-in at Srinagar’s Press Enclave, in the biting cold, demanding that the bodies be returned. Members of civil society and political parties also joined in. “We want the bodies to receive last rites as per our religious obligations,”said Majeed, amid slogans of “Lashon par haq kis ka hain? Warison ka hain. Warison ka hain&nbsp;(Who has the right to the bodies? The families of the dead)”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Holding her 18-month-old daughter, Gul’s wife, Humaira Mudasir, sat in protest and refused to leave till his body was returned. “I want to see him one last time,”she said, sobbing. “I will prepare him for the grave like a groom.” She accused the police of changing their statements about her husband. “Sometimes they say he is a doctor, sometimes they say he is an OGW,”she said, hitting her face. “He was a BDS doctor and was also running a real estate business called Ababeel. He used to renovate and build people’s homes.”She said she had made plans to celebrate his birthday on November 27. “But now I am mourning his death.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She said the police were also lying about Ahmed. “He was working in our office; he also lived there. He was not a terrorist,”she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of Gul’s relatives, who did not want to be named, said that Ahmed had been frisked before everyone was taken into the showroom, and that the security forces had let him go. Later, possibly upon questioning Gul and realising his connection with Ahmed, they called the latter back; he was in the canteen of a nearby private hospital at the time. “Would he come back if he was a terrorist?” asked the relative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the protest gathered momentum, electricity to the area was snapped. The families continued the protest under the headlights of their cars. Sources said the police then told the two families that the bodies would be returned and asked them to end the protest. The families apparently wanted it in writing; the police evicted them forcefully and took them into preventive custody.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Politicians including Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti, National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader M.Y. Tarigami and Peoples Conference leader Sajad Lone urged the government to return the bodies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Abdullah called Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and requested him to order an investigation into the killings. Amid growing outrage across Kashmir, the police handed over the bodies of Bhat and Gul to their families on condition that the funeral would be a low-key affair. They were both reburied in their ancestral graveyards at Barzulla and Nowgam. Only family members, relatives and some neighbours were present.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ahmed’s body, however, was not exhumed. “I appeal to the government to return my son’s body for the last rites,” said his father. “I have myself killed a militant with a stone for which the state government and the Army gave me a bravery award. I have taken bullets and my cousin was also hit; after that we migrated [to Jammu] for 11 years.”He said he had travelled to Srinagar to get the body, but was denied. “I want my son’s body so that I can give him a proper burial,”he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given the outrage among the citizens, the government ordered a magisterial investigation and asked the authorities to submit a report within 15 days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Jammu and Kashmir administration reiterates its commitment to protecting the lives of innocent civilians and it will ensure there is no injustice,” read a statement from the lieutenant governor’s office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Hyderpora encounter is the third incident where families of the men killed in an anti-militancy operation have challenged the official version. Last December, Jammu and Kashmir Police had filed a charge-sheet against three people, including an Army officer, for killing three youth in an alleged fake encounter in Shopian.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In October, the family of Imtiyaz Ahmed Kakroo, in Bandipora, rejected police claims that he was an OGW for The Resistance Front (which security forces say is an offshoot of the LeT) and that he was involved in the killing of a civilian, Muhammad Shafi Lone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of late, with militants targeting civilians, especially the minority Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs, the terms ‘hybrid militants’and ‘terror associates’have gained currency among security forces. According to the police, a ‘hybrid militant’is a member of a militant group who has no police record and works under the radar. They are sympathetic to the militant cause and target civilians and even policemen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, human rights activists like Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, chairman of the International Forum for Justice and Human Rights, Jammu and Kashmir, said the security forces were using the terms to cover up intelligence failures and act against people at whim. “Action can be taken against anybody by labelling him a ‘hybrid militant’,”he said, adding that, if the police had information about Bhat or Gul being ‘terror associates’, why were they not arrested and dealt with according to the law?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>National Conference vice president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah also found the term ‘hybrid militant’baffling. “As chief minister, I chaired a series of Unified Headquarters meetings,”he said. “I have read so many intelligence reports and I do keep an eye on the happenings across the world, but I have not heard about ‘hybrid militants’.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political observers in Kashmir say that previous state governments had found civilian killings too hot an issue to handle, and that the Hyderpora killings were a wake-up call for the BJP, which thought it had controlled the situation in Kashmir after Article 370 was revoked in 2019.</p> Sun Nov 28 10:02:48 IST 2021 will-maoists-retaliate-after-the-gadchiroli-operation <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON THE EVENING</b> of November 11 Gadchiroli Superintendent of Police Ankit Goyal and his team received what seemed like routine intelligence input on Maoists. It said that a group of Maoists was moving from the Abujhmad region of Chhattisgarh to northern Gadchiroli in Maharashtra. Such sketchy intel is common in this Maharashtra district, plagued as it is by left-wing extremism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Goyal, however, acted upon the intel. He asked Additional Superintendent of Police Somay Munde, an IIT alumnus, to lead a team of C-60 commandos and other policemen, into the Kotgul-Gyarapatti forests in north-eastern Gadchiroli's Dhanora subdivision, close to the Chhattisgarh border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Munde and over 300 policemen set out on the night of November 12. They reached the dense forests in the early hours of November 13. In the hills near Mardintola village, they found signs where a large group had camped. Munde then asked his scouts to start searching.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Between 6am and 6:30am, the scouts came under heavy fire, as a group of 90-100 Maoists attacked them. “They fired to kill policemen and snatch away the arms and ammunition,” said a police officer from Gadchiroli. In the past, too, Maoists had camped in the area. This time, too, they had assembled for a brainstorming session ahead of “Naxal Week” observed by their party in December.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The police asked the Maoists to surrender. But they responded with more firing, so the police engaged them,” said a senior police officer. What followed was a textbook jungle war which lasted close to 10 hours. The Maoists, who commanded the heights, held the advantage in the initial stages. “If you had seen the terrain, you would have understood that it is almost impossible to carry out an engage-and-encircle operation,” said Goyal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police said that Maoists lobbed grenades at the commandos using an under-barrel grenade launcher (UBGL) and fired indiscriminately with sophisticated weapons like AK-47s and INSAS rifles. Despite four commandos being seriously injured, the police refused to concede ground and kept pressing forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The firing that had begun at around 6am stopped only after 3pm when a group of Maoists fled into the thick forests near the Chhattisgarh border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the shooting stopped, the police combed the area and recovered 26 bodies and a cache of sophisticated arms and ammunition. The bodies were then taken to Gadchiroli; insurgents who were already in custody identified the bodies for the police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was then that the police realised that they had killed Milind Teltumbde, a top shot in the CPI (Maoist). Teltumbde, who had a bounty of Rs50 lakh on his head, was a party central committee member. He headed the Maoist operations in the Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh (MMC) zone. His bodyguards Bhagat Singh and Vimla, too, died in the operation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Civil rights activist and scholar Anand Teltumbde, who is currently in jail in the Bhima Koregaon Elgar Parishad case, is Milind’s brother.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Teltumbde’s death is a huge blow to the Maoist network in Maharashtra,” said Goyal. Teltumbde left his native village in Maharashtra's Yavatmal district in the mid-1990s, after completing his education at a local industrial training institute. He was a union leader in Western Coalfields Ltd, one of the subsidiaries of Coal India Limited, for some time. Teltumbde was made a central committee member of the CPI (Maoist) in 2013. “Since 1984, he was a union leader,” said advocate Viplav, Teltumbde's nephew. “He left the house in 1996, which is when I last met him. He told the family that he was going to serve the poorest of the poor.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Viplav added that he has doubts about the police action. “Twenty-six people were killed, but no policeman was seriously injured,” he said. “We will wait for the post-mortem report, inquest panchnama and other documents, and then decide our course of action.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Teltumbde and wife, Angela Sontake—who was arrested in 2011—were instrumental in setting up an elaborate urban Maoist network in Maharashtra. Sandip Patil, deputy inspector general of police, Gadchiroli, said that Teltumbde was a Buddhist who enjoyed a sizeable following among dalits and Buddhists in the state. Patil added that Maoist units like Tipagad Dalam, Kasansur Dalam and the dreaded Company 4 participated in the shootout. “This operation has dealt a major blow to Company 4 that operates in northern Gadchiroli. It has killed almost 50 of our jawans since 2009,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The last time an operation of this scale had been carried out in the region was in April 2018, when 34 Maoists were killed in police action. Maoists had avenged that by blowing up a police convoy in May 2019, killing 15 police personnel and their civilian driver. Only time will tell whether Maoists will avenge the latest operation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Police, meanwhile, are now busy collecting more information about Maoists who had escaped from the battleground. It is believed that two senior divisional committee members, Sukhpal and Prabhakar, were in the band that fled into Chhattisgarh.</p> Sat Nov 20 17:29:48 IST 2021 colonel-killing-shows-insurgency-in-manipur-is-far-from-over <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WHEN 18 JAWANS</b> of the Army's 6 Dogra Regiment were killed in an ambush by Manipuri militants in June 2015, the Army responded with strikes on terrorist camps in Myanmar. A similar situation seems to be developing in Manipur after terrorists from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) gunned down Colonel Viplav Tripathi, commanding officer of 46 Assam Rifles, his wife, Anuja, and their six-year-old son, along with four soldiers on November 12.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the attack, which took place in Churachandpur district near the Myanmar border, Manipur is teeming with security forces and capital Imphal is now a fortress. Choppers are airborne, performing aerial surveillance. "You cannot expect us to stay silent,” said an Army officer. “Our senior officer and jawans are gone. Even the child was not spared. We will pay back in the same coin." Sources said Army chief General M.M. Naravane had cleared the decks for action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chief Minister N. Biren Singh said those who were behind the attack wanted to destabilise Manipur. "I think some vested interests are behind the attack," said Singh. The people of Manipur expect a harsh response from the Army, especially because the family of a senior officer was targeted. "It goes against our ethics, as we never kill women and children,” said Nimbo Mar, a surrendered militant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The point man of the attack is allegedly Sanatomba Singh, a PLA commander who had surrendered last year. He returned to the jungles after a few months. The PLA is the armed wing of the Revolutionary People's Front (RPF), a Maoist-backed organisation formed in early 1980s. Most PLA cadre are Meiteis and the group has a broad spectrum of activists ranging from liberals to extreme radicals. The PLA also has Manipuri Nagas (mainly Tangkhul Nagas), but most of them feel alienated within the organisation. The PLA leadership has now launched a Naga insurgent group called the Manipur Naga People's Front (MNPF) to assuage their feelings. The November 12 attack is said to have been organised by the MNPF to remind the Union government about its demand for a sovereign Naga state. The talks between the Union government and the Naga rebels, meanwhile, are on the verge of collapse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Major insurgent groups in Manipur—like the PLA, the People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) and the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL)— have a common platform called Cor-Com (Coordination Committee). Earlier attacks by these groups were claimed by Cor-Com. But this time, the PLA has claimed responsibility. There are observers who wonder whether the PLA is getting out of Cor-Com and joining the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFWSEA), a joint front of armed groups headed by Paresh Baruah of the United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The manner in which the Churachandpur ambush was carried out resembles the brutality of the insurgency days of the 1980s. The militants first triggered IED blasts, then came out of the woods and shot the victims dead. The Assam Rifles, meanwhile, has issued a stern warning to the perpetrators. "Some people have claimed responsibility. But we do not believe their words. We will get to the bottom of it and bring the perpetrators to justice," the Assam Rifles told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Questions, however, remain about the sudden spurt of violence in Manipur as the state prepares for assembly polls. Singh, who knew the rebels well during his days as a journalist, had managed to calm things down as chief minister. He streamlined the surrender of many insurgents, including members of the PLA and the top brass of the RPF. The latest attack is perhaps a message from the militants that they are still capable of mounting an offensive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior officers of the Assam Rifles said its soldiers were involved in fencing the border with Myanmar. The attack has shown that the militants are prepared to escalate the situation to stop the fencing project. "Of the 90km border, only 40km could be fenced so far,” said Singh. “We need to finish the rest as early as possible."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Army must be wary of the fact that the PLA managed to launch such an audacious attack despite its earlier success in dismantling terrorist camps through cross-border strikes in 2015 and Operation Sunrise conducted on the Myanmar border (along with the Myanmar army) in 2019. But the insurgents seem to have escaped to Myanmar and managed to regroup. And with Myanmar now under military rule, the Union government has its task cut out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"Delhi needs to engage with the military rulers in Myanmar to finish the insurgents once and for all,” said a senior Congress leader from Manipur. “That would perhaps bring permanent peace to Manipur."</p> Sun Nov 21 10:01:30 IST 2021 bitcoin-scam-cmbommai-seems-more-worried-about-his-partymen-than-congress <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE BJP PULLED OFF</b> a ‘smooth transition’ in Karnataka in July when it replaced B.S. Yediyurappa, its tallest leader in the state, with Basavaraj Bommai as chief minister. Though a surprise pick, Bommai seemed the party’s best bet to retain power in the crucial state owing to his proximity to Yediyurappa (who still holds sway over the politically important Lingayat community), amiable nature, administrative experience and clean image. Even Union Home Minister Amit Shah gave him a rare endorsement when he announced that the party would go to the 2023 assembly polls under Bommai’s leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though he managed to steady the ship in four months, Bommai has now sailed into a storm with the opposition Congress alleging that his government protected those involved in an unfolding Bitcoin scam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Srikrishna Ramesh alias Sriki, 26, a self-proclaimed hacker from Jayanagar in Bengaluru, was arrested on November 4, 2020, by the Bengaluru Police’s Central Crime Branch (CCB) under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. He was accused of procuring drugs using Bitcoins and peddling them to high-profile clients. During interrogation, the CCB found that Sriki was involved in several other crimes, including the 2016 Bitfinex hack—one of the largest Bitcoin heists in the world— and the hacking of the Karnataka government’s e-procurement portal. Bommai was the home minister when he was arrested.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress alleges that Sriki, who was arrested along with associate Robin Khandelwal, was kept in prolonged police custody by slapping different cases on him. He was released on bail on April 17, 2021. But despite Sriki confessing to his involvement in the Bitfinex hack to a magistrate, the Yediyurappa government did not inform Interpol for five months. The Bengaluru police commissioner asked the Interpol Liaison Officer (CBI) to inform Interpol and other agencies only on April 24, 2021.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The BJP government did not inform the ED, CBI and SFIO, too,” said Randeep Singh Surjewala, Congress general secretary in-charge of Karnataka. He demanded a Supreme Court-monitored SIT probe into the scam and alleged that the Karnataka government was preoccupied with “Operation Bitcoin Cover-up” instead of conducting a fair investigation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surjewala said that @whale_alert—Twitter handle of Whale Alert, a blockchain tracker and analytics service, had flagged the transfer of the 14,682 stolen Bitfinex Bitcoins valued at Rs5,240 crore on two dates—December 1, 2020 and April 14, 2021—when Sriki was still in custody and wondered if some of the transferred Bitcoins were from Sriki's wallet. It calls for an independent investigation into the matter, he added.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Were the stolen Bitcoins transferred from the wallet of alleged hacker Srikrishna? How many Bitcoins and of what value? How does the Bengaluru police then suggest (in its third panchnama dated January 22, 2021) that the 31 and 186 Bitcoins allegedly transferred to the police wallet were lost or were found to be fake transactions?” asked Surjewala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress legislator Priyank Kharge, a former state IT minister, said Karnataka would get a “third chief minister” soon and he had enough reasons to suspect that the BJP government was attempting a “cover-up” in the Bitcoin case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rumour of a “third chief minister” got louder when Bommai met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 11. Though he asserted that Modi was “happy” with his work and had asked him to focus on administration and not “worry” about the Bitcoin issue, it was evident the scam had caught the attention of the BJP’s central leadership. A team was sent to Karnataka to gather information on the scam and the players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surjewala has questioned Modi’s silence on the issue and said the FBI had informed the prime minister about Sriki’s hacking crimes during his recent visit to the US. “It is a multi-country investigation and the truth must come out. The government is either colluding or is working shoddily in the investigation,” said Surjewala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, however, is in no position to take advantage of the situation, because of the turf war between state chief D.K. Shivakumar and former chief minister Siddaramaiah. The BJP is training its guns on Mohammed Haris Nalapad, son of Congress legislator N.A. Haris. Nalapad, who will be taking charge as president of the state Youth Congress in January, allegedly had links with Sriki. According to the police, Sriki was an accused in the Farzi Cafe brawl in 2018 involving Nalapad, but he evaded arrest till he secured anticipatory bail. Haris is Shivakumar’s choice to be the Muslim face of the party, while Siddaramaiah supports Chamrajpet MLA Zameer Ahmed Khan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Let the Congress explain what exactly is the scam and who all are involved in it,” said Bommai. “Let them provide documents as evidence to investigating agencies. No one will be spared. The BJP does not need to learn lessons from the Congress, which failed to bring Sriki to justice.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bommai, however, is worried about the whisper campaign against him in the party. Many senior BJP leaders resented the fact that the ‘outsider’ was chosen over them for the post of chief minister. “The government should thoroughly investigate and bring the guilty to book,” said a BJP leader who did not wish to be named. “The hacker seems unperturbed by anything and this is certainly a cause for concern. Many youths are today lured into the Bitcoin business without any knowledge about the risks involved. It is a question of our national security which threatens to jeopardise our economy and ruin our reputation as a country internationally.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sriki, who was again arrested on November 6 in a hotel brawl case and later let off on bail, said the Bitcoin scam was “all bogus and media creation”. His father, Gopal Ramesh, had moved the Karnataka High Court in February, seeking the transfer of all the cases against his son to the CBI. Ramesh alleged that the CCB investigation was “tainted” and done with “malafide intention”. In his appeal, he alleged that his son was given “mind-altering drugs” while in custody, specifically Alprazolam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bengaluru Police Commissioner Kamal Pant said Sriki had told the court that he was given Alprazolam while in police custody. The court asked the investigating officer to have his blood and urine samples tested. The forensic lab, however, said that no traces of said drugs were found in the sample.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharge, however, said the police had cooked the test results. “The police should explain the five-day delay in carrying out Sriki’s urine and blood test. The Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute, which was directed to conduct the tests, carried out a stomach wash to rule out poisoning before testing the samples for traces of drugs,” he said, producing documents to back his claim.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pant, however, vehemently denied the “distorted” versions being reported in the media on the case and said the investigation had been conducted in a “fair and professional” manner. He categorically denied that any Bitcoin was transferred from Sriki’s account and that the claim made by Whale Alert was “unsubstantiated”. He said there was nothing to suggest that the transfers had originated in Bengaluru. “The law enforcement agencies cannot act on unconfirmed social media inputs. Even though the arrest of Sri Krishna got wide media publicity, no foreign law enforcement agency or foreign companies, including Bitfinex, have approached the Bengaluru police,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pant said Sriki had made claims of high-volume hacking of websites. But preliminary investigations revealed that a majority of his claims were “unsubstantiated”. So the added procedure took time and Interpol was informed only after the digital evidence was carefully examined by cyber experts to confirm Sriki’s claims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the BJP and the Congress are busy fighting each other ahead of the crucial legislative council polls on December 10, which would set the tone for the assembly polls in 2023, JDS leader H.D. Kumaraswamy alleged that Sriki had hacked into Jan Dhan accounts and siphoned off money worth Rs6,000 crore. “The Congress will only derail the investigation into such a serious offence by politicising the issue,” he said.</p> Sun Nov 21 10:00:14 IST 2021 sameer-wankhede-corrupt-alleges-nawab-malik-clean-assert-his-well-wishers <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>That Maharashtra Minorities Minister Nawab Malik is furious is an understatement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He is in big trouble and I will not sit in peace until he is ousted from office. This is going to be a long show,” said Malik, referring to his very public spat with Narcotics Control Bureau’s Mumbai zone director Sameer Wankhede.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within days of arresting actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan and several others during a drug raid on the Goa-bound Cordelia cruise ship, Wankhede went from being the lead investigating officer to the one being investigated. He is now at the centre of three ongoing probes—one, the investigation by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes into allegations of forgery over his caste certificate; two, the NCB’s vigilance probe to verify the Rs25 crore extortion demand to let off Aryan Khan; and three, the Mumbai police probe into four separate allegations of bribery against him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once the blue-eyed boy of the NCB—it had recognised him as one of its best officers just a few months ago—Wankhede finds himself in a pickle, his credibility and credentials questioned. And at the heart of this mess lies a barrage of tweets, bytes and close to a dozen news conferences by Malik, who has been levelling charges against Wankhede and targeting him personally and professionally on an almost daily basis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest one accuses him of “kidnapping Aryan Khan for ransom in tandem with BJP leader and mastermind Mohit Kamboj”. On November 5, Wankhede was taken off the Cordelia case and five other high profile cases, which were transferred to the NCB’s special investigation team (SIT).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Barely an hour before he met THE WEEK at his office in Mumbai’s Kurla, Malik tweeted against Wankhede’s sister-in-law Harshada Redkar, demanding to know whether she, too, was “involved in the drug business”. He shared screenshots that showed one Harshada Dinanath Redkar listed under ‘respondent and advocate’ in a 2008 case registered under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act in a Pune court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I will not forget the way he (Wankhede) framed my son-in-law (Sameer Khan) and told him that he will oust me from my chair,” said Malik. He added that efforts were on to further expose “the man and his army of extortionists”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Malik-Wankhede feud started last year, when comedienne Bharti Singh and her husband Haarsh Limbachiyaa were raided and arrested for alleged consumption of cannabis. The raid was part of the then investigations into the Bollywood drugs case following actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the time, Wankhede was leading the raid, and Malik questioned the NCB’s “protocol and procedures that jailed addicts instead of rehabilitating them”. He also said that Wankhede was “unfairly chasing celebrities”. Malik said that to avenge him, Wankhede framed his “son-in-law in a fake drug-related case under the NDPS Act and kept him behind bars for eight months”. That is when Wankhede allegedly said that he would make sure that Malik lost his chair and public office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He has done everything he could to push me out,” said Malik. “But I will push him out. There is no way he will be proven innocent. Let him disprove even one proof that I have submitted to the media, be it relating to extortion or forgery of documents to get into the Indian Revenue Service.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as agencies probe Wankhede’s birth and marriage certificates to ascertain whether any forgery was involved, those close to him stand by him. “I can vouch for Sameer’s integrity,” said lawyer Dushyant Shingte, who practices in the Bombay High Court. He has known Wankhede since the 1990s when they were doing their bachelor’s in arts (history) at Ramnarain Ruia College, Matunga. They remained friends even after graduating in 2001.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He was a Hindu from the SC category and was never ashamed of his caste,” Shingte said. “His mother was Muslim and he was very close to her, and it was on her insistence that he married a Muslim woman. But he has never hidden any of this. He does not have a big group of friends because he is not that outgoing, but he makes it a point to keep his friends close.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shingte remembered Wankhede calling celebrities a “notorious lot” right from when his father was in the customs and a number of film stars would end up in the net for evading rules. “This entire notion that he is glamour-hungry is misplaced,” said Shingte. “He was never even money-minded because he had always been well-off. In college, when none of us could afford a mobile phone, he had one; he would come to college in his car, a Toyota Corsa.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He recalled the time when they were waiting in queue to submit their final year admission forms, and saw a student bribing a peon with Rs100 to hasten the process. “Sameer was staunchly against it and we waited it out for three hours,” said Shingte. “But he did not shell out money even when he had a lot of it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mohsina Mukadam, associate professor of history, Ruia college, recalled Wankhede being a shy and quiet student who was respectful, sincere and studious, and had full attendance. “Also, unlike many other alumni, Sameer always kept in touch with his alma mater and we even invited him to give motivational lectures to our students. A few years ago, we felicitated him with the ‘Rising Star of Ruia’ award. When he met me many years later, he reminded me of my classes on medieval India, which he always looked forward to.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wankhede’s former colleague at the Air Intelligence Unit said that he could “stick to his guns despite pressure from high-profile people”. “Why question his plum postings? He did a considerably good job, which was acknowledged, and that is how he got to where he is,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Dr Zahid Qureshi, father of Wankhede’s first wife Dr Shabana, shared a different view. “I cannot believe he is defending himself as a Hindu now,” he told THE WEEK. “To us, Sameer and his family had always been practicing Muslims, which is why I got my daughter married to him in the first place. Both our families have been living in the same area, within a walking distance of barely two minutes. Even today, his father is known as Dawood in the area. In fact, that is how I got introduced to him the very first time we met. I am quite shocked seeing him refer to himself as ‘Dnyandev’.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wankhede married Shabana, a gynaecologist, in 2006. He has a son from his first marriage. The couple divorced in 2016. Qureshi said he did not question Wankhede on how he got into government service because he seemed to be “a very promising and determined young man who could pull it off on his merit”. “I still cannot believe Sameer used a forged caste certificate just so that he could get into the services via quota. I thought he was better than that,” said Qureshi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the Wankhedes have turned to law to “tackle Malik and his charges”. A defamation suit has been filed against Malik, and a permanent injunction sought, restraining him and others “acting under his instructions” from publishing, writing or speaking in the media about the family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE WEEK last met Wankhede about a week before Aryan Khan’s arrest on October 3. It was late afternoon and he had not had lunch. But that did not stop him from discussing the NCB’s attempts to crack down on the city’s narcotics network. A few days ahead of our meeting, Wankhede and his team were attacked by a gang of foreign drug peddlers operating near the railway lines in Mumbai—the third such attack in nine months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“These people are fearless of the law. But we will not give up the chase,” Wankhede said. He seemed furious and agitated. “I will not hunt down people selectively,” he said. “I think that is the mistake we have been making so far—just going behind the biggies and ignoring the small fish. I will hunt even those with micrograms of contraband.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Animated so far, he suddenly paused, as if lost in thought. He snapped out of it and changed the topic. He began narrating a “disturbing incident” from the day before. His actor-wife Kranti Redkar was driving with their twins when she was intercepted by a traffic cop for “speeding and crossing lanes”. “Can you imagine her speeding with two little kids in the car? How bizarre!” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what troubled him more was that the cop had “demanded a bribe” even when his wife offered to pay the fine. When I said I had a similar experience, he said, “Do not give in to it. Corruption is rampant and it is a systemic problem. This attitude needs to be nipped in the bud and we should speak against it. Complain if you encounter corruption.” Ironically, he is now being accused of the very same thing he spoke so vehemently against.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On November 4, the state SIT, which is probing allegations of extortion in the Aryan Khan case, found CCTV footage placing the blue Mercedes—belonging to Shah Rukh Khan’s manager Pooja Dadlani—at Lower Parel. It is here that the money was allegedly collected by self-styled detective Kiran Gosavi to prevent Aryan’s arrest. The extortion demand came out in an affidavit filed by Prabhakar Sail, who was Gosavi’s bodyguard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sail added that Gosavi, Dadlani and one Sam D’Souza met at Lower Parel hours after Aryan was picked up by the NCB. Later, Sail claimed to have overheard a conversation in which Gosavi and others discussed demanding 025 crore, of which 08 crore was to be paid to Wankhede. Whether the money reached Wankhede or whether he was involved in the negotiations is for the agencies to find out, but there is no denying that he has become a polarising figure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the interview with THE WEEK, Wankhede had acknowledged all the publicity and attention he had received as the leading man at the NCB. “I know I will be called names,” he said, “but I am really only doing my duty as a government servant. I want to be answerable to my salary. I will fight the wrong at all times.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, like Malik said, this is going to be a long show, and looks like it will only get murkier with allegations and counter-allegations.</p> Thu Nov 11 17:44:04 IST 2021 ncb-vigilance-probe-against-sameer-wankhede-a-bid-to-salvage-reputation <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE HEADQUARTERS OF</b> the Narcotics Control Bureau in Delhi is in a tizzy. The situation has been so ever since Sameer Wankhede, the NCB’s Mumbai zonal director, was accused of wrongdoing in the investigation into the Cordelia Cruise drug case involving actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A 2008-batch Indian Revenue Service officer, Wankhede was leading the investigation in the case. A fortnight ago, he had called the NCB headquarters and sought help in completing procedural requirements in the investigation. Some of his requests were part of the NCB’s standard operating procedure—issuing legal notices, for instance—while others seemed hurriedly prepared. That he wanted to ask a foreign country to share information related to the case made it appear that Wankhede was getting ahead of himself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently concerned, the NCB top brass asked Wankhede to explain how he established a foreign link in the case against Khan, who was facing accusations of financing drug trafficking. Not convinced by his explanation, the headquarters decided to stall the move.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On October 28, Khan was granted bail after spending more than three weeks in Arthur Road jail. Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, who made submissions on Khan’s behalf, said the conspiracy charge was added as an afterthought by the NCB. It was not part of the arrest memo, he said. Also, the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act does not allow the NCB to imprison a person just because it feels that he can consume drugs if set free. WhatsApp chats have no evidentiary value, said Rohatgi, and the NCB had not recovered drugs from Khan’s person in the first place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NCB’s case against Khan is shaky now. But this is not the only reason why senior officers are unhappy. The case has been drawing a lot of unwanted publicity. Investigation methods adopted by Wankhede and the agency have come under scrutiny, and a barrage of allegations and counter-allegations—illegal phone tapping, false witnesses, incidences of extortion, nexus between drug dealers and politicians—are in the air. The NCB’s credibility has come into question.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It all began after Maharashtra Minority Development Minister Nawab Malik accused Wankhede of using forged documents to gain a government job and conspiring to implicate innocent people by planting drugs. Wankhede has denied the charges. The NCB, however, was forced to order a vigilance inquiry against him on October 25, after a witness in the drug case involving Khan filed an affidavit saying that an NCB official had demanded 025 crore to let Khan off the hook.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malik recently accused former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis of having links to an alleged drug peddler. He also named NCB officers who allegedly harassed his son-in-law as part of the investigation in a drug case a few years ago. Questions are now being raised about the credibility of the agency’s inquiries in several other cases as well, including the one against actor Rhea Chakraborty last year. The NCB had probed Chakraborty’s alleged role in the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput last year, after the Enforcement Directorate obtained her WhatsApp chats as part of its inquiry into a money laundering case. “It was not a case of drug peddling in the first place,” said an ED official. “The same Mumbai zonal unit [of the NCB] had investigated the case after the ED shared the evidence.” Chakraborty got bail after spending nearly a month in jail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wankhede’s supporters say he is being targeted for exposing the high and the mighty. All eyes are on the vigilance inquiry being carried out by Gyaneshwar Singh, the NCB’s chief vigilance officer and deputy director general of the northern region. A fair and transparent inquiry would be crucial in helping the agency weather the credibility crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to former NCB chief B.V. Kumar, the problem began when the agency decided to act on “sketchy” information and apprehended the accused before the alleged rave party on the cruise began. “The NCB team should have waited for the party to begin,” said Kumar. “If drugs and other narcotic substances were there for consumption, the agency could have gathered more evidence and recovered a larger amount of drugs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first setback came even before the case was registered. Drugs were not found in Aryan Khan’s possession, and only a small recovery was made from his friend Arbaaz Merchant. The case against them fell through in court simply because there was no credible evidence to prove the serious charges under the NDPS Act.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Charges of conspiracy, too, could not be proved. The quantity of drugs recovered was below the stipulated threshold and the evidence based on WhatsApp chats was insufficient and uncorroborated. “So, the Bombay High Court had no choice but to grant them bail,” said Kumar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the NCB had done “very good work” in the past, chasing small leads and converting them into major seizures after carrying out investigations systematically. “A single case like this won’t harm the agency’s reputation,” he said. “It is the political colour that the Aryan Khan case has taken that has brought some disrepute to the NCB’s Mumbai zonal unit.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress veteran and former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said the Union government was responsible for the mess. “It is not just the NCB, but the credibility of all Central investigating agencies has taken a hit,” said Chavan. “What happened to the ED case against former minister Chhagan Bhujbal? The NCP leader and family members were discharged by the sessions court recently. The problem is the misuse of Central agencies for political purposes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chavan said the political situation in Maharashtra has been turning ugly since 2019, with many politicians defecting to the BJP after cases were registered against them by Central agencies. “If the agency is inefficient, and if it hounds innocents until they are proven guilty, then action should be taken against errant officers. Heads should roll,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact that no such action has been taken, he said, indicates that the investigators are acting at the behest of their political bosses. He pointed out that assembly elections are due next year in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand. “The Aryan Khan case will remain a political hot potato till then,” said Chavan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Union Minister Ramdas Athawale, however, defended the Centre. “The NCB is an independent body. It has no connections with the BJP,” he said. “Malik is deliberately making false allegations against the BJP. The NCB is doing its work correctly.” The case, however, is getting more politicised after Wankhede visited the National Commission for Scheduled Castes to submit caste documents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The agency needs a shake up, especially in the way it is investigating cases. K. Srinivasan, former inspector general of the Border Security Force, said the NCB should focus on exposing drug kingpins and their trafficking network in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Punjab and the northeast. “These drug lords do not keep drugs in their homes, but operate a chain of command,” he said. “Instructions are given by word of mouth; they leave no trail either on WhatsApp or in rave parties.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Cordelia Cruise case, the NCB’s big hope will be on gathering foolproof digital and forensic evidence with the help of state-of-the-art labs run by agencies like the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence. “Using high-end investigation tools,” said Kumar, “the NCB can recover the evidence in very little time and then proceed with the investigation.”</p> Sat Nov 06 15:39:20 IST 2021 congress-buoyed-by-bypoll-results-bjp-eyes-local-issues-ahead-of-assembly-polls <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>NOVEMBER 2 WAS</b> a happy day for the Congress. Bucking the trend of the ruling party winning byelections in Himachal Pradesh, the Congress swept the four polls—one Lok Sabha and three assembly seats—and told its critics that, indeed, it could take on the BJP in direct contests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the overall results of the byelections to 29 assembly and three Lok Sabha seats were a mixed bag for the two national parties (the Congress won eight assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seat; the BJP, seven and one, respectively), the Himachal victory has buoyed the Congress. Pratibha Singh, the widow of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh, beat her BJP rival in Mandi—a seat the BJP had won by more than four lakh votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress retained the assembly seats of Fatehpur and Arki, and wrested Jubbal-Kotkhai from the BJP. The BJP candidate there even lost his deposit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With less than a year to go for the state elections, the 4-0 loss has embarrassed BJP president J.P. Nadda, who belongs to the state, and has rung alarm bells for first-time Chief Minister Jairam Thakur. A few months ago, Thakur had escaped the axe as the BJP changed its chief ministers in a handful of states. Mandi is Thakur's home turf.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the overall results can hardly be described as a microcosm of India's political scene, the bypolls carry significant messages for political players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Himachal result is very positive for the Congress,” said Rajeev Shukla, the Congress general secretary in-charge of Himachal Pradesh. “To win from Mandi also means that the people have voted against the Centre, and the victory in the Vidhan Sabha seats is a thumbs down for the state government.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the sympathy wave was a factor in the Congress's win—Virbhadra Singh died this July—the BJP admitted that price rise was also a major reason.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Himachal Congress had been riddled with infighting following Singh's death. Now, leaders such as Kaul Singh Thakur and Mukesh Agnihotri, who wanted to become power centres in the state, can build on the victory and hope it improves the morale of party workers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, it seems BJP rebels dented the chances of the ruling party in Himachal Pradesh. For instance, in Jubbal-Kotkhai, the party refused a ticket to Chetan Bragta, its state IT cell convener; the seat had fell vacant after the popular Narendra Bragta died of Covid-19. Chetan fought as an independent and got 42 per cent of the votes; the BJP candidate got less than 5 per cent. The situation was similar in Fatehpur, too. There were also two BJP rebels in Rajasthan's Vallabhnagar bypoll; the BJP came fourth there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The hill state aside, the Congress found another reason to be upbeat down south. In what was the first big electoral test for Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, the BJP wrested Sindagi from the Janata Dal (Secular), but lost the Hangal seat, which falls in Bommai's home district of Haveri, to the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Rajasthan, the Congress retained Vallabhnagar and snatched Dhariawad from the BJP. The wins were a shot in the arm for Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who has been facing a staunch challenge from arch-rival Sachin Pilot. “The result shows that there is no discontentment with the Gehlot government,” said state Congress president Govind Dotasara. “It shows that Gehlot's popularity has increased and that our government is doing a good job.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bright spot for the BJP was Assam, where Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma cemented his position; the BJP and its ally, the United People's Party Liberal, won all five seats. The Congress, on the other hand, is fast losing ground in the northeast. An indicator of this was that two of the BJP's winners in these byelections were Congress defectors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, given that people kept in mind issues such as soaring petrol and diesel prices, price rise and unemployment while voting, the Congress hopes that these results will have a bearing on the upcoming assembly elections in five states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Of course, the results are a precursor to what will happen in the assembly elections,” said Shukla. “Uttar Pradesh is an example. You can see how the BJP is antagonising people with its policies. The Congress is making gains, which can be seen in the crowds attending public meetings of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP's worries come from its inability to win in states where rivals are in power, especially in West Bengal. It had put up a good fight in the previous assembly elections there, but lost all the bypolls. The only seat the BJP could wrest from a ruling party was Huzurabad in Telangana, where it beat the Telangana Rashtra Samithi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, there was a ray of hope in Haryana. The BJP was expected to lose the Ellenabad assembly there, given the farmers' unrest. And it did. But, it was a close fight. The Indian National Lok Dal won; the BJP came second ahead of the Congress. The farmers' issue would be a key factor in the assembly elections in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Every state has its own local issues for bypolls,” said Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur. “Every political party brainstorms over it. As for Himachal Pradesh, the BJP will call a meeting and discuss the people's mandate. Steps will be taken to make necessary improvements so that lotus blooms once again in 2022.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The election results, especially in Himachal and Rajasthan, might force the central BJP to push for changes in the state units so that the party connects more with the people. It will also be forced to look at local factors like price rise and anti-incumbency as it goes to the polls in the five states.</p> Sat Nov 06 15:33:36 IST 2021 bsf-wont-be-a-parallel-police-force <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON JUNE 26,</b> two explosions rocked the high-security technical area of the Indian Air Force Station in Jammu. Low-flying drones had dropped improvised explosive devices, and then flown off undetected by the radar—the first such aerial attack on a defence establishment in India. The attack flummoxed the police and intelligence agencies, while the government faced a big question: which agency is responsible for thwarting new-age threats like drone attacks?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Air defence is normally the responsibility of the Indian Air Force. But when low-flying drones breach the international border and fly several kilometres into Indian territory, the Air Force cannot tackle them alone. Especially so if the target is not an air base or a defence establishment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police, on the other hand, are not adequately equipped to handle a national security threat of this nature. That is why the Union home ministry decided to extend the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force, the first line of defence on the international border with Pakistan and Bangladesh. The ministry has allowed the BSF to operate in areas up to 50km inside the international border in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the move has resulted in a political slugfest, with state governments and political parties that are opposed to the BJP saying that the new rule can be misused. Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi has convened a special assembly session on November 8 to discuss concerns, while West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been flaying the Union ministry for allegedly trying to upset federal norms. Incidentally, former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, who recently quit the Congress, has backed the ministry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BSF director general Pankaj Kumar Singh said the aim of the new notification was to not only check infiltrators and illegal immigrants in states like Assam and West Bengal, where demographic changes are resulting in internal conflicts, but also neutralise aerial objects that pose a threat to border states. “If the state governments are well meaning, and if they have the interest of the state in mind, I do not see why they should oppose [the notification],” Singh told THE WEEK in an exclusive interview.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh’s father, ex-IPS officer Prakash Singh, pioneered police reforms in the country. The father had long tried to insulate security personnel from the kind of political crossfire that the son now finds himself in. “It is the prerogative of the government whether to authorise us or not,” said Pankaj Singh. “We will go as per the law of the land.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What prompted the Union home ministry to extend BSF jurisdiction in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There are only two acts—the Passports Act, 1967, and the Passport (Entry Into India) Act, 1920—where changes (in the BSF’s jurisdiction) have been made. The changes are in two specific sections in the Passports Act, and one section in the Passport (Entry Into India) Act. It is only with respect to three sections in two different legislations that [BSF’s jurisdictional boundary] has increased from 15km to 50km. As these laws suggest, it is for tackling illegal immigrants and nothing beyond that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>[The changes were] in light of infiltrators and drones coming deep into Indian territory and dropping weapons and drugs. If the BSF has requisite intelligence, it would be able to counter these threats up to 50km. The BSF will be handing over culprits or seized property to the local police, which will then carry out the investigation and make the case. The police will decide whether a charge-sheet needs to be filed and a trial conducted. The BSF will not act as a parallel police force.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Were Punjab and West Bengal unable to handle these threats?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In West Bengal, illegal immigration has long been going on because of a very porous border. The state police is handling it to a certain extent, but is unable to tackle it fully.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How big is the threat from illegal immigration?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In Assam and West Bengal, the demography has undergone such a major change that it has been the cause of agitations in Assam for long…. In normal times, at least 10,000 people along the Bangladesh border cross it from different points every day. These are people with a visa. So the number of people travelling to and fro is very large, and infiltration and petty smuggling are issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the main threat in Punjab?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There it is mainly drugs and weapons, which are coming in through drones at regular intervals. The drug problem in Punjab has reached worrying proportions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Does the BSF have anti-drone technology to thwart such attacks?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Anti-drone technology is basically of two types—hard kill and soft kill. Soft kill neutralises drones through frequency [jamming]; hard kill is shooting it down. We have some technology, but we are in the process of procuring more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is the BSF confident of handling the drone threats?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is no technology that is fool-proof. So there is a trade-off. If the drone is big and is carrying a huge payload, it will be easily visible. But if it is a small drone with a smaller payload, the detection system would miss it. So we have to look at our priorities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ If the Punjab government prevents the BSF from operating beyond 15km, can it not result in a clash with the police?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is the prerogative of the government to authorise us or not. We will go as per the law of the land. If the law authorises us, empowers us, we will go ahead. If the Central law bars us from increasing the domain of our operations, we will follow that. That decision lies with the policymakers.</p> Sat Nov 06 23:16:45 IST 2021 drugs-bust-case-spotlight-now-on-sameer-wankhede-and-not-aryan-khan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The sub-plot has taken centre-stage. From Aryan Khan, whom the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) arrested in a drug raid on a cruise ship on October 2, the focus has now shifted to the agency’s Mumbai zone Director Sameer Wankhede.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On October 26, Maharashtra Minorities Minister Nawab Malik forwarded a letter to NCB Director General S.N. Pradhan, alleging that the agency had been running an extortion racket and had framed a number of people in false cases in the past. Malik said he received the letter—which listed 26 cases of past wrongdoings by Wankhede—from an “unnamed” NCB official. “My fight is not against the NCB, but against this one man who has used a fake certificate to get this job and has illegally tapped phones of some people in Thane and Mumbai,” Malik said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NCB has now ordered a vigilance inquiry into the allegations against Wankhede, and the drugs case seems to have taken a back seat. On his part, the officer said it was personal vendetta as he had once arrested Malik’s son-in-law, Samir Khan, in a drugs case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest attack on Wankhede came from Shekhar Kamble, a witness who alleged that the officer had taken his signature on ten blank pages during a raid in an old case. Kamble also said that, after the Prabhakar Sail allegations, he was afraid that Wankhede might frame him in a false case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sail, who claims to be the bodyguard of K.P. Gosavi—one of NCB’s independent witnesses whose pictures with Aryan went viral—had said in an affidavit that Wankhede made him sign 10 blank papers and that he overheard a conversation between Gosavi and a Sam D’Souza about “demanding” Rs25 crore and settling at 018 crore because “we have to give 08 crore to Sameer Wankhede”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also said that he had collected “two bags filled with cash” from an unknown person on Gosavi’s orders and handed them to D’Souza. This was allegedly after a conversation between Gosavi, D’Souza and Shah Rukh Khan’s manager, Pooja Dadlani. “Gosavi is missing now and I fear that NCB officials and others involved might kill or abduct me like Gosavi,” he said in the affidavit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malik had earlier tweeted what he claimed was Wankhede’s birth certificate to show that his father’s name was Dawood Wankhede and that he was a Muslim. Malik also released details of Wankhede’s first wedding, including what he said was a nikahnama (wedding document), and alleged that the officer had claimed Scheduled Caste benefits to get into the Indian Revenue Service.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wankhede, in his reply, said his father is a Hindu and his mother is a Muslim. His father put out a video in which he says he was always a Hindu. Wankhede also said that he had split from his first wife in 2016. He is currently married to Marathi actor Kranti Redkar, who has been tweeting in support of her husband.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Claiming that there were threats to his life, Wankhede approached the Mumbai Police and also has filed an affidavit in the NDPS (Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act) court claiming that there was an attempt to botch the case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, this is not the first time Wankhede has set his sights on Bollywood. Earlier, as assistant commissioner of customs, he nabbed a number of Bollywood actors, including Ranbir Kapoor, for evading customs duty at the Mumbai international airport. In 2013, as deputy commissioner in the service tax department, he raided offices and homes of high-profile actors. At the time, director Mukesh Bhatt, then president of the Producers Guild of India, had accused the department of targeting the film industry. To this, Wankhede had replied, “We have no personal agenda against them, but we cannot stop our work.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2020, within ten days of joining the NCB, Wankhede arrested actor Rhea Chakraborty and her brother, Showik, in a drugs case related to the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput. He also led the questioning of actors Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan and Shraddha Kapoor in the case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I think the NCB has gone overboard. It has deviated from its administrative mandate and has stretched the law beyond reasonable limits,” said former IPS officer and lawyer Y.P. Singh. He added that Aryan should not have been arrested as no drugs were found on him and there was no proof of consumption. “One apparent motive could be that going all out in the arrest of a star kid would invite a lot of media attention and would bring fame and glory for the officer,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wankhede, speaking to THE WEEK, clarified: “This entire allegation that I am against the film industry or the elite class or a particular section of people is wrong. It is the media that highlights the drug cases pertaining to celebrities because of star value. For me, it makes no difference. [If] you possess, consume or peddle drugs, you are a criminal. I am only a government servant who is doing his job. If they call me Mumbai’s Singham, I am glad to hear that. But I will not stop until we finish off this entire (drug) menace.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born in Washim district in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region, Wankhede and his sister Yasmeen grew up in suburban Wadala in Mumbai, where his father was a senior inspector in the state excise department till 2007. Wankhede started his career with a posting in the Intelligence Bureau in Andhra Pradesh in 2006, after which he was moved to Delhi. He cleared the civil services examination in 2008 and was assigned to the IRS.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This August, the Union government had given Wankhede the ‘Home Minister’s Medal for Excellence in Investigation’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, though, the officer is facing the heat. On October 24, he wrote to Mumbai Police Commissioner Hemant Nagrale saying that threats of jail and dismissal had been issued against him by “highly respectable public functionaries”. He also asked Nagrale to ensure no “precipitate” legal action was carried out to frame him with ulterior motives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I feel targeted because this is a personal, below-the-belt attack,” Wankhede told THE WEEK. “Why is he (Malik) bringing up my family details, which have no bearing on the case? It is deplorable. They are not even leaving women. I am doing my duty with utmost dedication…. Does that warrant removal from the job? The allegations that I have forged papers to get into the IRS are absolutely false and I am willing to produce evidence whenever required. I am not scared of them.”</p> Thu Oct 28 16:08:07 IST 2021 family-of-the-murdered-dalit-sikh-seeks-speedy-justice <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A POLICEMAN FROM</b> the local intelligence unit stood outside the house of Lakhbir Singh, the dalit Sikh labourer who was allegedly murdered by the Nihangs. The charge is that the quasi-monastic order of Sikh warriors killed him at Singhu border, near Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lakhbir was killed for allegedly desecrating the Sarbloh Granth, a Sikh holy book. Lakhbir’s two-room house is in the Mazhabi Sikh cluster in Chima Kalan village, barely five kilometres from the Pakistan border in Punjab’s Tarn Taran district. The starkness of his room was unnerving. It was sparsely furnished, with just old pictures of Sikh gurus on the walls. Lakhbir’s sister, Raj Kaur, had gone to the bank, so her room was locked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kaur returned an hour later, along with her 11-year-old daughter. She is yet to recover from the shock of her brother’s death. “On October 10, Lakhbir asked me for some money so that he could go to a mandi in the nearby Chabal Kalan village to find work,”said Kaur. “I gave him 050. It was only six days later that I came to know what happened to him, when boys in the neighbourhood saw videos on their mobile phones.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kaur, who works at the village sarpanch’s farm, had repeatedly recounted her final meeting with Lakhbir to the police and other visitors. “I don’t know how he ended up at the Singhu border, or with whom he went, or whether he was lured by someone. But I am sure he cannot be involved in sacrilege,”she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kaur shared a special bond with her brother as the siblings grew up together in challenging circumstances. “I was adopted by my paternal aunt and her husband, Harnam Singh, who was with the BSF, as they did not have any children,”she said. “A few years later, they adopted Lakhbir as well. My biological father and our two brothers stay in a village a few kilometres from here. We rarely visit them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kaur said Lakhbir was a drug addict and an alcoholic. He started using drugs after cross-border smuggling increased. As his addiction became severe, his wife returned to her parents, with their three daughters. Kaur then moved in with Lakhbir as her husband had died a decade ago. Their adopted parents, too, had died by then, and the family gradually slipped into abject poverty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We supported each other. Sometimes when he earned, he brought home money; sometimes he took money from me. He used to drink and smoke, like most people here do. He loved my daughter, Priyanka. He often brought her chips and candies, her favourite snacks,”said Kaur. “Lakhbir was never a sociable person, he rarely went to meet relatives or hung out with friends, we don’t even have his pictures.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lakhbir’s brother-in-law, Sukhchain Singh, said his sister has been living with him for the past six years as Lakhbir had no steady income. “He has not met them for the past several years,”he said. “But what happened to him is wrong. If he had done something wrong, then he should have been handed over to the police. Everything looks fishy. They did not even allow us to hold Sikh prayers after his cremation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As sacrilege is a sensitive issue, and with elections around the corner, political parties are treading with caution. Former BJP MP and minister Vijay Sampla, who heads the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, had invited the family to Delhi. “He promised that the CBI would look into the incident,”said Sukhchain. “All four girls (Lakhbir’s daughters and niece) will get free education till graduation. One family member will get a job. We decided that Raj should get it as my sister is a bit hard of hearing. She will receive widow’s pension.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Leaders of dalit organisations, including Azad Samaj Party’s Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan, visited the family. But the family is being shunned by their neighbours, who are mostly upper caste Jat Sikhs. Some religious leaders even objected to Lakhbir’s last rites being performed according to Sikh rituals, forcing the family to do it hurriedly. Yet, not many people believe that Lakhbir could have done the alleged desecration by himself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, there is no clarity about how Lakhbir reached Singhu, which is nearly 450km from Chima Kalan. “Lakhbir was known to be an addict. He could not even go to a nearby city on his own. The matter needs to be investigated,”said Sonu Cheema, the village sarpanch. Two of Harnam Singh’s friends and colleagues, Gurmit Singh and Nirmal Singh, too, said it was hard to believe that Lakhbir was behind the sacrilege.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gurmit, who retired from the BSF, highlighted the vulnerability of border villages like Chima Kalan. “We have been witnessing smuggling from across the border since our childhood. Earlier it was gold, then weapons, drugs and even cattle. Now there are drops through drones,”he said. With such a long border, interception is not easy. “Smugglers have made huge fortunes, while local addicts readily become carriers,”said a villager.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the dalit Sikhs, who serve as farmhands, and Jat Sikhs, who are landowners, have always shared a tense relationship, the agitation against the Narendra Modi government’s farm laws brought them together. But the issue of sacrilege is a deeply sensitive one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Punjab witnessed widespread protests in 2015 when the Guru Granth Sahib—the holy book which is treated by Sikhs as a living guru—was desecrated on multiple occasions. Two protestors lost their lives in police firing back then and the issue turned out to be a major headache for the Akali Dal government and also for the Congress government which replaced it. In July this year, a soldier was lynched on suspicion of desecration inside a gurdwara in Gurdaspur district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sikh historian Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon said the Sikhs had earned the nation’s goodwill for their work during the pandemic, but Lakhbir’s murder had become a major blot. “It was wrong. God has given us life, but not the right to take someone’s life. The Sikh worldview is of love. This one act of the Nihangs has brought us discredit,”he said. “What is happening is beyond the comprehension of the Sikhs. At times it appears like a government conspiracy. Look at how a Nihang with several criminal cases was seen with the Union agriculture minister.”Dhillon was referring to a photograph showing Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar with Nihang leader Baba Aman Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The incident has brought the Nihangs under the scanner once again. A warrior group set up in the 17th century to assist Sikh rulers, defend Sikh territories and protect gurdwaras, the Nihangs still retain many of their age-old beliefs, customs and practices. Although the consumption of cannabis is banned in Sikh religion, the Nihangs use it for a special concoction, which they believe keeps them battle-ready. Their blue attire and massive turbans adorned with symbols of Sikhism have largely remained unchanged.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Nihangs played a stellar role in fending off attacks by foreign invaders, especially during the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839). Their exploits are part of the rich Sikh lore as they defended their faith and the Sikh empire. However, as the Sikhs lost political power, the Nihangs were relegated to the background. They, however, kept their sect alive, adding new recruits and also by maintaining their own gurdwaras and deras.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two Nihangs, Sarabjit Singh and Narain Singh, have been arrested in connection with Lakhbir’s murder. The Punjab Police and the Haryana Police are involved in the investigation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lakhbir’s family, meanwhile, wants speedy justice so that his name could be cleared of the allegation of sacrilege. “My brother will not return. The only thing I hope for is that his name is cleared of this grave charge,”said Kaur.&nbsp;“It is difficult to live with this stain.”</p> Thu Oct 28 16:03:38 IST 2021 bjp-faces-massive-anti-incumbency-in-uttarakhand-aap-keen-to-break-the-pattern <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE POLITICAL</b> upheavals in Uttarakhand have always outstripped the size of the state, and have become only bigger in the year before the state gears up to elect its fifth government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In July this year, Pushkar Singh Dhami became the third chief minister of the state’s fourth assembly. In 2017, Dhami’s party, the BJP, won an unprecedented majority—56 of the 70 assembly seats—in Uttarakhand. It had 46.51 per cent of the vote share—substantially more than that of its closest rival, the Congress, which got 33.49 per cent. This majority, however, brought no stability in a state where most chief ministers are believed to be jinxed as they do not complete their terms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trivendra Singh Rawat, the first chief minister of the fourth assembly, served for four years till he was removed in March 2021. Rawat maintains that he does not know the reason for his removal, but party members say he was unapproachable and that his public image was unimpressive. In came Tirath Singh Rawat, who served four months of gaffes, relied overtly on the bureaucracy and was unable to gain the confidence of the central leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A choice then had to be made of a candidate who was already a member of the assembly, and had an image acceptable to the party leadership. Pushkar Singh Dhami, with his roots in student politics, was this man. He had earlier served as officer on special duty to Bhagat Singh Koshyari (second chief minister of Uttarakhand) and thus knew his way around the bureaucratic tangle of the top post.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pleasant and affable Dhami has soothed ruffled feathers within the party. One BJP worker described the atmosphere in the party as “very positive” after his appointment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhami, however, bears a mammoth burden. He must undo the perceived failures of the first Rawat and the howlers of the second Rawat. He comes too close to the elections for major course corrections. Then there is the matter of his own image—he is not well known across the state, like say a Harish Rawat (chief minister in the previous Congress government). There are already reports of others vying for his job—among them most notably Anil Baluni, BJP national spokesperson.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Faced by a massive anti-incumbency, the BJP’s strategy will rely on denying tickets, specifically to those with ministerial posts. This will trigger defections. Such desertions have already started what with Yashpal Arya, minister for transport, joining the Congress and claiming that more will follow suit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Uttarakhand’s politics this is common. Arya, for instance, was with the Congress earlier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ganesh Godiyal, Uttarakhand Pradesh Congress Committee president, said there was massive disenchantment with the state government. Arya’s return to the Congress, Godiyal said, was because of disillusionment with the discriminatory attitude of the Central government towards the state, the three farm laws and the neglect of the rights of the Scheduled Castes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The issues of concern in the state are unemployment, price rise, farm laws and the Char Dham Devasthanam Board. The BJP, however, wants to stir up emotional issues. The ill-effects of such issues are long lasting,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One such emotive issue that the state government is underlining is a further tightening of the provisions of the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act of 2018 (popularly called the love jihad law).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“They have remembered it just before the elections,” Godiyal pointed out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since it attained statehood, Uttarakhand’s persistent challenges have remained unchanged. Between its two administrative divisions, Kumaon and Garhwal, both complain of being discriminated against. Districts in the hills battle inaccessibility and high rates of outmigration. Hundreds of habitations are now ‘ghost villages’ as no one stays in them. Its geographical vulnerability offers its biggest developmental challenge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Himachal Pradesh, a state similar to Uttarakhand in its geography, has seen better growth in many areas, and apparently draws more foreign tourists due to better infrastructure facilities. As per a government report that compares the two states, Uttarakhand has just 259 Primary Health Centres (PHC) against Himachal Pradesh’s 576, despite a larger population. For every one lakh people, Uttarakhand has 86 hospital beds against the 165 in Himachal Pradesh, while the infant mortality at 38 per 1,000 is much higher than the 25 for Himachal Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts point out that the development of the tourism sector has been ill-imagined and focused on cities such as Nainital and Mussoorie, which are already on the tourist map, while neglecting say the picturesque but comparatively difficult to access Pithoragarh or Chamoli.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajay Kothiyal, a retired Army colonel, who is the AAP’s CM face in Uttarakhand, said tourism had been imagined in very limited ways. “We could have disaster tourism, which showcases changes that take place naturally in the Himalayan region,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kothiyal is a local hero. He was the principal of the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering when the Kedarnath tragedy struck in June 2013. He oversaw relief and rescue operations, and the rebuilding of Kedarnath. He is also the founder of the not-for-profit Youth Foundation, which since 2015 has guided 10,000 youth to jobs in the armed forces. His campaign is drawing youth and women in droves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The issues we are talking about are those that the people have pointed out to us,” he said. This includes 300 units of free electricity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To those who say that the model adopted by the AAP in governing Delhi cannot be replicated in Uttarakhand, Kothiyal says there is a road map for how it can be done. “Compared with Delhi, Uttarakhand has more money to spend on every individual. If we reduce corruption and improve efficiency, it is possible to give wings to the dreams of the common people,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since April 2021, when Kothiyal joined the AAP, he has been relentless in highlighting the government’s failures. For raising the issue of inflated electricity bills (admitted by the government in the assembly) he has been arrested twice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP machinery has been to 5,000 villages to push its campaigns for electricity and employment. It has also set up isolation centres, equipped with ventilators, in villages in anticipation of a possible third wave of Covid-19.</p> <p>Whether the state’s people choose a break from the past or more of the same will be known in February 2022.</p> Sat Oct 23 11:13:13 IST 2021 face-has-changed-Uttarakhand-govt-hasnt-changed-cm-pushkar-singh-dhami <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>PUSHKAR SINGH DHAMI,</b> who was sworn in as chief minister in July, is the third to occupy the post since the BJP decisively won the elections in 2017. At 46, he is the state’s youngest chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Did your selection as chief minister come as a surprise?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I have been a soldier of the party for a long time. I have been attending programmes since I was 14. In this 30-year-old association, I have shouldered various responsibilities. The only thing surprising [about being selected CM] was that I did not know of it. The BJP is a party where people are neither told nor asked before being given a responsibility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How does your experience in the party organisation help you as chief minister?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Since childhood, we are taught that the country comes first, the organisation second and the individual last. This culture is embedded in us. Whatever circumstances one is in, the goal remains the same. Being part of an organisation has taught me how to adapt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a young chief minister? Has it been difficult for the seniors in the party to accept you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Being young means I have everyone’s affection and blessings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Despite having such a massive majority, the BJP could not provide a stable government and had to change CMs. How do you explain this to the electorate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/That question is not the one that the electorate is asking. Since taking over as chief minister, I have been to 35 constituencies. I see only tremendous enthusiasm among people. Whatever the BJP has been doing, our intent is clear to the people. They understand that only the face has changed, that the government remains the same.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Your guru and Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari has indicated that he would be returning to the state. How will it impact the party?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I have not heard anything of the kind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Climate change is a challenge worldwide and Uttarakhand is especially vulnerable to it. What new measures will you take to combat it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/When I took office, numerous people came to me with bouquets. I told them that if they must give me a gift, they should get small plants. All through the year, we plant trees. This year, we announced the Sundarlal Bahuguna Prakriti Sanrakshan Puraskar (conservation award with a prize money of Rs2 lakh). We have given the nod to e-vehicles with three different kinds of subsidies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What are the achievements this government can count as its own?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We have initiated the filling up of 24,000 government posts and increased the allowances of assistant teachers and grampradhans. For one year, we have waived all fees required to appear in competitive exams; we have also increased the age limit by a year. We have given Rs119 crore for self employment of women. We announced a package of Rs200 crore for those whose livelihoods are associated with the Char Dham yatra, which has been impacted by Covid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under the ‘Swasthya Yuva, Swasthya Uttarakhand’ initiative, we are setting up gyms in every village. We have an incentive package for health workers (ASHA, pharmacists, technicians and doctors) who did such good work during the pandemic. We are offering 207 medical tests free of cost in government hospitals. Uttarakhand is the first state to bring critical kidney-related illnesses under the ambit of Ayushman Bharat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The Char Dham Devasthanam Board (for management of temples and shrines) has been a controversial entity since its formation. Will the government scrap it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/A high-level committee is looking into all aspects of it. I am also talking to stakeholders. We will come up with a formula where everyone’s concerns will be addressed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What is the need to make even more stringent the already strict provisions of the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Based on the experience of implementing it in the past two years, we need to make some changes. Conversion is wrong. Why convert people when all religions are the same?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/You have been chief minister for just over two months and the opposition is already criticising you for being a khanan priya mukhyamantri (mining-loving chief minister).</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Earlier, MLAs could give Rs5 crore to the party which was in power and do anything. This government is functioning with complete transparency. Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others. If there is a genuine complaint or suggestion, send it in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Which opponent worries you the most—the Congress or the Aam Aadmi Party?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We are not in contest with anyone.</p> Sun Oct 24 11:00:36 IST 2021 aryan-khan-drugs-case-takes-political-turn-opposition-alleges-ncb-bjp-nexus <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As the Aryan Khan drugs-on-cruise case drags on in court—a special court in Mumbai heard his bail plea on October 13 and said it would continue the following day—the whole episode has taken on a political hue.</p> <p>The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) had arrested the son of actor Shah Rukh Khan and seven others from a Goa-bound cruise liner on October 2. During the 12-hour raid, the agency recovered a variety of drugs, including ecstasy, cocaine, mephedrone, hydroponic weed and charas, and Rs1.33 lakh in cash.</p> <p>Although it found no drugs on Aryan’s person, the NCB said he had confessed to consuming drugs, that his WhatsApp chats indicated he was in contact with drug peddlers and that his friend Arbaaz Merchant, who was with him, was carrying 6gm of charas.</p> <p>Nawab Malik, a senior Nationalist Congress Party minister in the Maharashtra government, said that the entire operation seemed “fake, motivated and one that exposed the BJP-NCB nexus”. He said that the arrest of Aryan was a “well-planned and targeted conspiracy”. He alleged that the NCB had let off three persons, including Rishabh Sachdeva, who is apparently a relative of Maharashtra BJP leader Mohit Kamboj.</p> <p>After a few days in NCB custody, a magistrate court in Mumbai had sent Aryan and the others to judicial custody for 14 days.</p> <p>On October 4, when the court first granted the NCB Aryan’s custody, the agency had argued that “regular students may get influenced due to the high-profile persons taking drugs”.</p> <p>Advocate Satish Maneshinde, who appeared for Aryan, had argued that his client was a special invitee on the cruise ship and that the witness testimony did not indicate anything seized from him except his phone.</p> <p>A few days later, the magistrate court rejected Aryan’s bail plea, saying that such cases could only be tried in the special sessions court under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. This was when Aryan’s team approached the special sessions court.</p> <p>Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale brushed aside Malik’s claims, saying that the anti-drug agency was an independent entity and that its activities had no connection to the BJP.</p> <p>But Malik was steadfast in his allegations. “For the past one month, information was being circulated to crime reporters that the next target was Shah Rukh Khan. This is nothing but a fake case for publicity. The videos of drugs the NCB shared were made inside the zonal director’s office; no drugs were found on any accused, at least not with Khan.”</p> <p>He also claimed that BJP ministers from Delhi had told NCB zonal director Sameer Wankhede to let go of Sachdeva, Aamir Furniturewala and Pratik Gaba, who reportedly got Aryan on the cruise. “Once they got him on board, their job was done and they were asked to go,” alleged Malik. Taking a dig at Wankhede, he told THE WEEK: “Those not eligible have been given the post. This is a very senior post and a very junior person has been assigned it.”</p> <p>Wankhede, known as Mumbai’s ‘Singham’, has gone all out the organised drug syndicate operating in Mumbai. He told THE WEEK that, from September 2020 to September 2021 alone, 35 to 40 per cent of those in the 18 to 25 age group were caught doing drugs. In the same time period, his office neutralised 12 gangs. “I’m going to go all out to finish the menace of drugs,” he said. “Drugs are a general problem and are everywhere. It is disturbing and traumatising to find youngsters doing drugs. A lot of women are also being caught nowadays, especially those with small children. It is painful.”</p> <p>The NCB countered Malik’s allegations with a statement saying that it was taking a professional and unbiased approach to tackling the drug menace in the country. “A total of 14 persons were brought to the NCB zonal office for examination,” said NCB Deputy Director General Gyaneshwar Singh. “All of them were served notices, examined thoroughly and their statements were recorded. Thereafter, eight were arrested and remaining six were let off as no incriminating evidence was found against them. All the allegations levelled against NCB are baseless, motivated afterthoughts and prejudiced in nature.”</p> <p>Earlier, Malik had posted video clips in which he claimed that two civilians, including a man named K.P. Gosavi and a BJP leader Manish Bhanushali were seen bringing in Aryan and Arbaaz Merchant to the NCB office. He asked the NCB and the BJP to clarify in what capacity they were there.</p> <p>He also claimed that, based on his Facebook profile, Gosavi was a private investigator employed at Sleuths India Detectives, a private detective agency. He was apparently booked for fraud after he reportedly duped a person of 03 lakh on the pretext of getting him a job.</p> <p>As for Bhanushali, Malik said he was the vice president of a certain BJP wing and he knew top BJP leaders including party president J.P. Nadda, Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.</p> <p>To this, the NCB said that nine independent witnesses were involved in the whole operation, and that Bhanushali and Gosavi were among them. “None of the independent witnesses were known to the NCB before the arrest,” said Singh.</p> <p>In support of Malik, Maharashtra Congress spokesman Sachin Sawant demanded that the state government, led by the Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray, conduct an investigation into the alleged links between the NCB and the BJP.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Shah Rukh Khan’s fans and several Bollywood stars have taken to social media with messages of support. Veteran actor and Congress leader Raj Babbar was the latest, tweeting: “I have known [Shah Rukh Khan] for [too] long to know hardships won’t deter his soul. As the world teaches his young boy through wounds, I am sure the fighter’s son will definitely fight back. Blessings to the young man.”</p> <p>The 23-year-old junior Khan, who has always seemed reticent and has preferred to stay away from the spotlight, unlike his parents and younger sister Suhana, is currently lodged in the Arthur Road jail in Mumbai.</p> <p>The spotlight is firmly on him for now.&nbsp; </p> Thu Oct 14 19:14:19 IST 2021 bjp-ideology-new-converts-unseat-old-timers <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>JYOTIRADITYA SCINDIA</b> waited for more than a year after quitting the Congress and joining the BJP, before he was made Union minister. It took another four months for him to gain entry into the party’s ideological high table. On October 7, he was made a member of the BJP’s core deliberative body, the national executive, thereby completing his integration into the saffron ideology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s national executive had long been the preserve of those who had risen through the party ranks after gaining a good grounding in the RSS philosophy. The composition of the BJP’s new national executive—comprising 80 regular members, 179 permanent invitees and 50 special invitees—shows that the situation has changed. The doors to the high table are now open for new converts. Ideological purity is no longer the all-important criteria; party membership would suffice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Namassivayam, Puducherry minister and former Congress president in the Union territory, is the newest BJP member to make it to the national executive. He had joined the party this January. Namassivayam’s inclusion shows that the BJP is pinning its Puducherry hopes on him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The new national executive has new faces, relatively younger leaders and broad representation of various castes and communities. The larger message is one that of inclusion, allowing lateral entry of leaders from organisationally uncharted territories, and raising a new rung of leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from Scindia, national executive members who do not have RSS or BJP roots include Union Ministers S. Jaishankar, Ashwini Vaishnaw and Hardeep Puri. Vaishnaw’s rise has been dramatic. Within two years of being handpicked for the Rajya Sabha by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the former IAS officer has been entrusted with key portfolios such as railways and information technology. Before he was inducted into the national executive, Vaishnaw was in charge of a bypoll in Dadra and Nagar Haveli.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The list of other national executive members who had joined the BJP in recent years include Lok Sabha MP and former IAS officer Sunita Duggal, former Bahujan Samaj Party leaders Swami Prasad Maurya, Brajesh Pathak, Dara Singh Chauhan, former Trinamool Congress leader Dinesh Trivedi, actor-turned-politician Mithun Chakraborty and former IPS officer Bharati Ghosh. The list of special invitees includes “metro man” E. Sreedharan and actors Kushboo Sundar and Vijayashanti.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some veterans were excluded. Among them are Subramanian Swamy, Maneka Gandhi, Varun Gandhi, Vinay Katiyar, S.S. Ahluwalia, V.K. Malhotra, Suresh Prabhu, Seshadri Chari, O. Rajagopal, Mahesh Sharma, M.J. Akbar and Birender Singh. Swamy, Birender and Varun were seen to be diverging from the party line on the farmer protests issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The national executive has 80 regular members, including Modi, Shah, former party presidents L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, Union Ministers Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman and Dharmendra Pradhan. Of the 229 special and permanent invitees are incumbent and former chief ministers, national office-bearers, state party presidents, and leaders in charge of states and various tributary organisations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP strategy of poaching leaders from other parties has paid rich electoral dividends. By drafting many of these leaders into the national executive, they would now become “ideologically closer” to the party, say sources. There is, however, concern—especially in the RSS and among veterans—that this could lead to dilution of the party’s core values.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seshadri Chari, former editor of the RSS mouthpiece Organiser, had in the past spoken about discontent among workers over the inclusion of too many outsiders into the party fold. Chari, however, said the reconstitution of the national executive was a good sign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“As a party, the BJP has to include new people,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that old people have been discarded. The old-timers are there in one form or the other. The national executive needs new members. There is nothing wrong in including people who are from other parties as long as they accept the BJP’s core principles.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the entry of too many outsiders into BJP fold may not always be welcome, he added. “It is a fact that somebody or the other will be unhappy within the party,” he said. “The party does not change its core principles even if they accept someone from the Congress or elsewhere. But the BJP has to see if these new entrants are useful.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>West Bengal holds a lesson. Ahead of the assembly polls in the state, the BJP had witnessed a huge influx of leaders from the Trinamool and other parties. But when the results came and the BJP was defeated, most of them returned to the Trinamool.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP spokesperson R.P. Singh said that changes in the national executive were part of the party’s expansion plans. “Even if such people (with non-BJP and non-RSS backgrounds) constitute 10 per cent of the party, it would not be an issue,” he said. “There have always been lateral entries at the organisation level. [The new members] are assimilated into the party and they work for it. Take Baijayant Panda. He came from the Biju Janata Dal. He was made party vice-president and was in charge of Assam and Delhi. He is doing well.”</p> Thu Oct 14 19:25:00 IST 2021 a-recent-invocation-of-right-to-be-forgotten-unearths-complicated-legal-issues <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In June 2009, reality television star Ashutosh Kaushik was arrested for drunk driving on a Friday night in Andheri, Mumbai. Reports said he had neither helmet nor licence. He paid a fine of Rs3,000, spent a day in jail and was then released. “I was caught and duly punished. But years after that one misdeed, I am still serving my sentence because of these videos and media reports on the internet,” says an agitated Kaushik on the phone from Saharanpur, his hometown in Uttar Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kaushik had won MTV Hero Honda Roadies 5.0 in 2007 and the second season of Big Boss in 2008. “My career was just taking off and then this happened,” says the 42-year-old. “Even now my mother can see these videos on her phone. She keeps asking me if it can be removed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 22, Kaushik filed a petition in the Delhi High Court, seeking removal of images, videos and articles of his past infamy. He said he had the Right to Be Forgotten (RTBF). His Google results on the drunk driving ruckus, Kaushik says, ensured that his future employers and matrimonial matches did not trust him in spite of his insistence that he was no longer the same person. “Only last year did I find a mature wife. But even today I get WhatsApp messages reminding me of what happened then. My sister has to suffer remarks like ‘Is this what your brother goes around doing?’If the law of the land has pardoned me, is YouTube bigger than the courts?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is confident that he will win the case and RTBF will become a law. “I will tell my MP (BSP’s Haji Fazlur Rehman),”he says. “He will take it to Delhi and then the whole country will demand it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>RTBF has become one of the trickiest constitutional questions in recent times. It entails a delicate balance between one’s right to privacy and the right to information. RTBF allows an individual to limit, delete or correct the disclosure of personal information or their controversial past from the web so that third persons can no longer trace them. It acknowledges beliefs like errors of youth should not haunt an offender for posterity; they have the right to evolve.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The current data protection regime in India, under the Information Technology Act 2000, does not uphold RTBF, but the Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 does. Section 20 of the latter allows for RTBF if certain conditions are met. It seeks to emulate General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the European Union law that allows for the right to erasure. However, an individual seeking removal of objectionable data in India (under the PDP Bill) has to go via government-appointed “adjudicators”and even then it is not an unfettered right.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“If this right conflicts with the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to information of any other citizen, the rights protecting the public good will prevail,”says cyber lawyer Vaishali Bhagwat. “It needs to be taken into account whether the public has a legitimate interest to know or any journalistic, artistic or literary interest has to be given due weightage while considering the right to be forgotten as it should not amount to rewriting history.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given that the PDP bill, in its present form, has triggered fears of a surveillance state—Justice B.N. Srikrishna, who drafted the original version, called it Orwellian—and the fact that it has been under consideration by a joint parliamentary committee for a long time, it is uncertain exactly how India will embrace RTBF when the bill does become law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Kaushik’s lawyer, Akshat Bajpai, is certain that with their case, India will finally have its moment of reckoning with RTBF. “As of today, there are four or five High Court judgments wherein if you have been acquitted by a competent court of law, then the courts have given a direction that the same records can be expunged or de-indexed from Google,”he says. “But they were all common citizens. Our case involves a celebrity and the stakes of invasion of privacy are greater.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bajpai says their legal notices to Google went unanswered or produced automated responses. “These big tech companies don’t really worry about our rights to privacy. We are far inferior compared with our European counterparts,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aaron Kamath, a data privacy lawyer at Nishith Desai Associates, says laws like the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 indicate that most internet platforms are in the mood to comply. The law gives social media intermediaries (or companies) legal protection from liability for third party content posted on their websites, if they follow some of these new guidelines. In fact, after these rules came into effect on May 26, Google was among the first large internet companies to release its monthly compliance report. It said that Google and YouTube had received 27,762 complaints from individual users in April 2021, resulting in the removal of 59,350 pieces of content.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“So tomorrow, if the right to be forgotten is fructified into law, and the orders are passed by the adjudicatory officer, I would presume that these would be well respected by the platforms and complied with,”says Kamath.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And what are the dangers? “You could have multiplicity of proceedings,”he says. “Today almost everyone has a digital footprint. The volume of requests that can go to DPA (data protection authorities) will be huge. You will also have privileged requests. It’s an entirely new procedural conundrum there.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian Kanoon, a free legal search engine, hosts more than 1.5 crore court orders on its website. It gets individual requests for removal of court judgments all the time. On its website, it cites the 1994 R. Rajagopal vs State of TN case where the Supreme Court defined the scope of Right to Privacy and how publication of court records does not constitute any violation of the right. “We are, however, of the opinion that in the interests of decency [Article 19(2)] an exception must be carved out to this rule, viz., a female who is the victim of a sexual assault, kidnap, abduction or a like offence should not further be subjected to the indignity of her name and the incident being publicised in press/media,”the judgment notes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sushant Sinha, founder of Indian Kanoon, says the Supreme Court is bound by this judicial precedent in the absence of any data protection law. “Public records cannot be taken down just like that,”says Sinha. “Because then it amounts to total censorship. They are running after me today, tomorrow they will run after the news media. I mean, if reputation only means positive news, then of course only good stories will be there. Go ahead and remove all the posts and only Facebook and Instagram will define reputations.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sinha stresses the need for courts and legislatures to urgently define the parameters of RTBF, keeping in mind the importance of public memory. “In the European Union now, everything is getting delisted from Google. And Google doesn’t care. Why should they take responsibility for public memory? Thousands of Indian Kanoon URLs are blocked in the EU region. Matrimonial and professional opportunities will keep coming.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ritesh Bhatia, a cybercrime investigator, wonders to what extent RTBF can help victims of child sexual abuse, explicit videos, morphed pictures and revenge porn. “Even when such material is removed from a Google search, the images and videos tend to crawl over to multiple websites, especially if they entail porn websites which are opaque in terms of regulations and IP addresses.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhatia points out another instance where RTBF might prove counterproductive to his work. “When I get cases to investigate on matters related to child sexual abuse material, or habitual offenders, because their information is available online, I am able to crack the cases faster via open source intelligence.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If a doctor is convicted for medical negligence, if a lawyer has been hauled by the Bar Council for unethical practices, if there has been actual conviction in a case, then such information needs to remain in the public domain, says Bhagwat, who believes Right To be Forgotten has to exist with reasonable restrictions and exceptions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The European Union was always better legislated when it comes to data protection which, for them, started way back in the 1990s with the EU Data Protection Directive,”says Bhagwat. “It got better crystallised with the GDPR. Social media intermediaries and internet platforms entered the market well-prepared and aware of these laws. We in India have begun asking these questions only now.”</p> Thu Oct 14 16:10:18 IST 2021 renewed-infiltration-bids-threaten-the-calm-the-ceasefire-agreement-achieved <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On September 27, Ali Babar Patra became the first Pakistani militant to be caught in India since both countries agreed to uphold the 2003 ceasefire agreement in February. The Indian Army caught Patra and five others sneaking across the Line of Control in the Uri sector on September 18. While four of them turned back, two—Patra and Atiq-ur-Rehman, alias Qari Anas—snuck in. After nine days, the Army traced them down to the Salamabad Nallah (rivulet) in Uri. When challenged, Anas shot a soldier; he was shot down and Patra was captured alive.</p> <p>“I am 18 and a resident of Dipalpur, district Okara, Punjab, Pakistan,” Patra said in a clip the Army released three days later. “My father was Muhammad Lateef and my mother Shamima Bibi. My father died in 2014. After that, I quit school and worked in a garment factory in Sialkot. [That is] where I met Anas, who worked for the LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba). As I needed money, I went with him. He gave me 020,000 and said he would give me 030,000 more later.”</p> <p>He said he had undergone weapons training with eight others at camp Khyber Delihabibullah. “On September 18, Anas and I cut the fence (anti-infiltration fence at the LoC) at night and crossed in,” he said. “Four others retreated after the Army launched an operation.”</p> <p>He said the Army had treated him well. “They gave me food and tea and allowed me to offer <i>namaz</i> (prayer),” he said. “When I was being taken away in a vehicle, I saw a lot of rush in the markets and also heard <i>azaan</i> (call to prayer).” He also said he hoped to reunite with his mother, a widow, soon.</p> <p>A day after Patra was caught, Lieutenant General D.P. Pandey, general officer commanding of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps (Chinar Corps), visited Uri and said the troops were prepared to deal with any mischief along the border.</p> <p>Since February, when both countries agreed to cease fire, villagers close to the LoC have enjoyed a semblance of normalcy. Muhammad Subhan Dar, sarpanch of Hathlanga, a village in Uri, said the ceasefire had eased their lives. “When there is firing and shelling, people and cattle die and houses are damaged,” he said. “Some years ago, my daughter’s arm had to be amputated after a bullet hit her; my neighbour Ghulam Muhammad was killed when shells hit his house. We need concrete bunkers close to our homes. Ours is a zero-line village (right on the LoC). How can we leave our homes to take shelter in bunkers far away when there is shelling?”</p> <p>Five kilometres away at Telawadi village, Muhammad Yaqoob Qali said the ceasefire had put their minds at rest. “People work in the fields, graze cattle in the mountains and the children attend school without fear,” he said.</p> <p>Some villagers like Parvez Ahmed, however, have relocated with their families to lead a normal life, he said. “He (Ahmed) is a soldier in the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry,” Qali said. “He is posted in Kerala and has taken his family along. I look after his house.”</p> <p>In neighbouring Balkote, Bashir Ahmed said that, before the ceasefire, they would run for their lives whenever they heard a siren. “People would hide under a rock or a tree,” he said. “Shepherds would abandon their herds and look for cover. [But] now the cattle graze well, and the quality and quantity of milk has also improved.”</p> <p>Nishada Parveen, a member of the Block Developmental Council at Teetwal in Kupwara, said that people were enjoying weddings, night gatherings and folk music without fear after several years. Aijaz Ahmad Khan, a member of the District Development Council of Tulail in Bandipore, said there had been relative peace since February. “Due to the ceasefire, we are focusing on developmental activities,” he said. “Some projects are under the roads and buildings department, and some are under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. We are also working on a sports stadium.”</p> <p>Khursheed Ahmed Khan, a contractor, said he was building 13 community bunkers in Silkote (the closest village to the LoC in Uri), three in Mothun and four in Churanda. He said each bunker would be eight feet high, 31ft long and 17ft wide, with ventilators. He added that it had become much easier to find labourers following the ceasefire.</p> <p>The peace in the region might not hold for long, though. The recent rise in infiltration, including in the Muslim-majority districts of Rajouri and Poonch, could put the ceasefire under strain. The number of infiltration attempts has grown with the Taliban offensive in Afghanistan, which began in May. About 20 foreign militants snuck in in four infiltrations in June. Unlike local militants, foreign militants are tougher and better equipped. Since January, security forces have killed 113 militants in Jammu and Kashmir, most of them locals. Till July this year, eight foreign militants were killed. Another 13 have been killed in infiltration attempts since.</p> <p>Security forces believe that the LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad are likely to increase their activity in Kashmir. Major General Virendra Vats, general officer commanding of the 19 Infantry Division of Uri, said that the Army had noticed militant movement at launchpads across the LoC. He said five of seven militants neutralised in the nine-day operation, which started on September 18, were killed in Hathlanga. He said the Army recovered seven AK series rifles, nine pistols and 80 grenades from the slain militants.</p> <p>Security officials believe the JeM, which practises the Deobandi branch of Islam like the Afghan Taliban, has been emboldened after the Taliban took over Afghanistan. The JeM was behind the Pulwama attack of 2019, which claimed 40 Central Reserve Police Force men.</p> <p>With the Indian Army locked in a battle of nerves with China in Ladakh, Pakistan would feel more confident about launching attacks along the LoC.</p> <p>In view of this rising threat, though, the Army has increased its strength along the LoC. It is also strengthening its defence with a smart fence to beat infiltration.</p> <p>It remains to be seen whether the peace that the border villagers enjoyed was just the calm before the storm.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 07 17:35:09 IST 2021 permanent-commission-for-women-is-army-trying-to-hoodwink-supreme-court <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>LIEUTENANT COLONEL</b> Asha Kale of the Army Ordnance Corps was the first woman officer to be posted in Jammu and Kashmir on active counter-terrorism operations. She served in forward areas and was awarded a commendation card in 2020. Despite her exemplary service, she was denied a permanent commission in the Indian Army, which would have put her on the military’s promotion ladder. Lieutenant Colonel Navneet Lobana, too, has a similar story. She was the first woman garrison engineer in the Indian Army. She also raised a new unit in Udhampur and got an outstanding report for the same. But she, too, did not get a permanent commission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And now, Lt Col Kale and Lt Col Lobana, along with more than 100 other women officers, have moved Delhi High Court challenging the Army’s “systemic discrimination” in selecting candidates for permanent commissioning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For many years, women officers in the Army were allowed to join only under the short service commission (SSC) and could serve only up to 14 years. In a landmark judgement on February 17, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that all women officers should be considered for command roles and are eligible for permanent commission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Getting permanent commission is our due, but we have to knock the court’s door every time,” said Lieutenant Colonel Ankita Srivastava, an officer of the Army Ordnance Corps. “The Army headquarters has always misinterpreted the court verdicts [to ensure that] female officers do not come anywhere closer to male officers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two years ago, during his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made it clear that women officers recruited under the short service commission would be allowed to take up permanent commission. After the apex court verdict in February last year, the Army conducted the selection board in November. Out of 615 eligible women officers, only 277 were granted permanent commission in the first lot; 147 more were approved after the court intervened in March 2021. Among the rest, the results of 72 women officers—who had crossed the cut-off mark of 60 per cent in the selection board—were withheld citing “weak” or adverse remarks in their annual confidential records. The officers claim that these adverse comments were never communicated to them by their superiors during service. Twenty-eight officers were found unfit as they scored less than the cut-off marks. Eighty-six officers voluntarily withdrawn from the race and five were rejected on disciplinary grounds. In July, the Army filed a clarification in the Supreme Court explaining the grounds on which the selection board had rejected the 72 officers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Major Sudhanshu Pandey, counsel for the women officers in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court, said that the Army’s clarification had been dismissed by the apex court on August 2 for being devoid of any merit. The apex court had also asked the Army to consider all 72 officers in the further selection proceedings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Army headquarters is, however, trying to hoodwink the judiciary, according to the women officers. “These officers are now being kept under ‘suspended animation’, which has caused severe mental stress to them,” said Pandey. Calling it a deep-rooted prejudice against women officers, Pandey added: “Some army officials are trying to mislead the higher authorities to recommend rejection of permanent commission to these officers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Incidentally, the women officers had filed a contempt of court petition against the Army. Before approaching the court, the women officers had sent a legal notice to the army chief, the Union defence minister and the chief of defence staff explaining their grievances. But their plea was unheard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the Army headquarters has gone ahead with conducting a mandatory course for those shortlisted for permanent commission this year—for promotion to colonel rank. This indicates that no further candidates will be considered by the Army for permanent commission this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Delhi High Court, in 2010, first ordered that permanent commission be made open to women officers in all armed forces. While the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy implemented the order, the Army moved the Supreme Court against it. The apex court refused to stay the Delhi High Court order and asked the Army to keep women officers in service until their appeal was settled. Due to the Army’s reluctance to grant permanent commission to women officers, the number of women officers in the SSC increased; many had served for over 25 years without being considered for a higher rank. Eventually, in February 2020, the apex court refused the Army’s appeal and directed it to give permanent commission to all eligible women officers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We have given our prime to the Army. And, after serving the army for over two decades, now we are being told that we are not fit for permanent commission,” said a woman officer, requesting anonymity. “Then why did they make us serve for so many years? We were granted two extensions [one at 10 years and second at 14 years of service], applying those same policies and parameters.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August, Major Lekha Nair, a retired officer who is fighting gender inequalities in the Army, said the Army has displayed extreme disregard to the apex court’s verdict. Commander Prasanna Edayilliam, a retired naval officer who is at the forefront of the fight for women rights in the armed forces, said: “We should have a policy for women officers so that they can build their career at par with male colleagues.” She added that most of the wars in the future will be electronic and strategic, and women are capable of multi-tasking in various fields.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Army headquarters refused to respond to queries from THE WEEK citing that the matter is sub judice.</p> Fri Oct 01 14:16:50 IST 2021 farmer-protests-face-election-test <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In 2011, Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement captured the public’s imagination, forcing political parties to not just support the cause but align with its politics as well. The movement’s key leaders—Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav—did not want it to lose steam and be swallowed by political parties. So, they floated their own outfit, the Aam Aadmi Party, on November 26, 2012.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political parties born of mass movements have had mixed results in India. Asom Gana Parishad, which had its origins in the agitation against illegal migrants, went to form government in Assam before its stock diminished. A new political outfit in the state, born of the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, could barely register its presence in the assembly polls held early this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, as the country prepares for the next round of assembly elections due early next year, leaders of the ongoing farm protests are feeling the heat. Constituents and supporters alike are asking them a question: whether to actively influence the elections or not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Farmers are a politically influential group in at least three of five states where elections are due. As the pivot of the agitation, Punjab is likely to feel the farmer sentiment the most. Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where the BJP is in power, are also likely to feel it to some extent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Farmer unions have launched a mission in UP and Uttarakhand to defeat the ruling party. But in Punjab, where the Congress is in power, there is no such mission. In a clear exercise of its clout, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 32 farmer organisations, called a meeting of all constituents in Chandigarh on September 10 and asked all political parties in the state to desist from campaigning till the Election Commission officially announced the polls. Most parties agreed to it, albeit grudgingly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“People are emotionally attached to the movement,” said Balbir Singh Rajewal, chief of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Rajewal). “All discussions in villages revolve around the agitation. It is surprising that many political parties started their campaign several months ahead of the elections. This disturbs people. The political campaign tries to wean them away in different directions. It can change Punjab from continuing as the pivot of this movement. So, we told political parties not to hold rallies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajewal has 50 years of experience of working for farmers, and his ideological heft has made him the first among equals in the Morcha. According to him, the Morcha wants to stay apolitical. Said Jagmohan Singh, general secretary BKU (Dakaunda): “One thing is clear: all farmers cannot fight the elections jointly. According to our constitution, if anyone wants to contest elections, or support anyone in any election above the block level, that person has to resign. Some organisations want to boycott all parties, while others are keeping quiet. Some organisations had, in the past, openly supported the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Aam Aadmi Party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A huge farmers’ rally in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, last month has made the BJP wary. In 2013, a mahapanchayat of farmers in the region was followed by communal riots, which resulted in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance winning 73 of 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state the following year. This time, though, Muzaffarnagar’s Jat farmer leader Rakesh Tikait has given a call for Hindu-Muslim unity. The farmer unions in the state have also formed their own umbrella body and are holding rallies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Punjab, at least one BKU leader, Gurnam Singh Charuni, seems to have plans to enter politics. Charuni had in July given a call for “Mission Punjab”, telling farmers to contest elections; the Morcha responded by immediately suspending him. Chastised, he said he would not contest elections, and even rebuffed a businessman who wanted him to lead a political party and become chief minister. But Charuni has been touring Punjab and Haryana asking people to reject mainstream parties and field their own leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is not just a farmers’ movement; it’s a dharmayudh,” said Charuni. “In Uttar Pradesh, there are eight crore farmers. The state government was formed after [the ruling party] won 3.5 crore votes. In Punjab, there are 90 lakh farmers, and the party that won last time got 59 lakh votes. Farmers can change the political system. What has been happening in Punjab till now is that a person with money becomes a candidate and wins elections. What I am saying is that the voter should contest. Once you get power, you can reject the farm laws and force out corporates.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But other leaders point out that Charuni does not have a base in Punjab, as he is from Haryana. “Charuni was my acolyte,” said Rajewal. “His rallies are not drawing big crowds. He wants to toe a separate line, but the Morcha will be apolitical as our goal is the repeal of farm laws.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation in Punjab has echoes of what had happened in Delhi after the Hazare agitation. As Delhi chief minister, Sheila Dikshit had to bear the brunt of the anti-government sentiment. The Congress high command appeared to withdraw its support to her, and Kejriwal and the AAP defeated her in the ensuing assembly polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly, in Punjab, Amarinder Singh has had to step down as chief minister because of internal bickering in the Congress as well as the growing anti-incumbency, partly fuelled by the farmer agitation. The difference is in that the unions may not be able to oppose the new chief minister, Charanjit Singh Channi, as strongly as the AAP had done in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP fancies its chances in this politically fluid situation in Punjab. It is likely to field farmer leaders to contest the polls. Interestingly, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the party had fielded Charuni’s wife in Kurukshetra. Rajewal’s union had also supported it in the previous assembly polls. But the AAP would still need a credible chief minister candidate to build on favourable conditions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The farmer agitation, meanwhile, has completed one year. According to Rajewal, the resolution is bound to happen soon. “I am fully confident of it,” he said. “The lacunas in the law have been explained to the government, and the government itself agreed [that the lacunas existed]. It is just that the government wants an honourable exit. It’s their rajhath (royal obstinacy).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But has the movement achieved anything concrete so far? “Before the Morcha, the slogan was Modi hai toh mumkin hai (If it’s Modi, it’s possible). This agitation has broken the myth of his invincibility. He, too, can be challenged. This has given courage to many people across the country. The awareness of it has grown manifold,” said Rajewal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Union government has not shown any sign of relenting, though. But the Morcha remains resolute. “We are steadfast, as Punjab had shown during the time of the Mughals and the British,” he said. “Any leader who leaves the Morcha will be defeated in Punjab. They will lose face.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Jagmohan Singh: “The kind of response we have got during the agitation, it is our duty to give everything for this movement. If we do not get an honourable agreement, we do not have a moral right to return to our villages.”</p> Thu Sep 30 18:04:57 IST 2021 central-vista-project-landscape-architect-and-his-mission <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A STROLL AROUND</b> a monument can transport you to a bygone era. As the history and our common heritage sinks in, the aesthetics and, often, the greenery, help to make your visit an experience to cherish. Behind the design of these landscapes are meticulous minds like that of Prabhakar Rao, 60. He is the landscape architect for the tree scheme of the Central Vista project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao—who refused to talk about the Central Vista project, citing a confidentiality clause—worked in Dubai for several years before shifting to India in 2011. He has worked on many iconic projects, including the Statue of Unity. He was recently invited to join the Qutb Shahi tombs restoration project being carried out in Hyderabad by the Archaeological Survey of India and the Aga Khan Cultural Trust.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, the Bengalurean is perhaps better known for his interest in preserving seeds. He is, in fact, called “the seed saver”. His passion for Vedic agriculture has energised the Beej Raksha movement, which works with urban gardeners and 22 lakh farmers across India to preserve the rich gene pool of heirloom seeds and promote indigenous varieties of vegetables, pulses and cereals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao was mentored by scientists M.S. Swaminathan and M.V. Rao, who were among the architects of India’s Green Revolution. Among other things, the revolution also used chemical fertilisers and pesticides. But, Rao now advocates chemical-free farming.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“While the Green Revolution was a success considering its objectives, I had serious misgivings about the sustainability of what we were doing,” he said. “I changed my line of study and pursued landscape architecture. [When] I came back to Bengaluru, [I] started working on my farm on Kanakapura Road. I started promoting indigenous seeds and practised chemical-free farming and Vedic agriculture.” Rao, who has a doctorate in plant breeding and genetics, admits that it is the antithesis of what he propagated during the early years of his career.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was prompted to embrace natural farming because of soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, and land, water and air pollution. Most importantly, he was worried about the waning self-reliance among farmers. “Today, all seeds sold in the market are either hybrid or genetically modified,” he said. “Earlier, a farmer could make seeds from indigenous or native seeds which are open-pollinated. But the local seeds are no longer available in the market as the seed-keeping culture is fading. This means the farmer is forced to buy seeds every season.” He added that more than 99 per cent of biodiversity in vegetables is already lost. “We need to preserve what is left,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I look for indigenous seeds which are on the verge of extinction, procure them and try to stabilise them genetically and environmentally in my farm,” he said. “I share them with the seed-saver community as the idea is not to create a seed vault. I am keener on multiplying the seeds, to grow these rare vegetables and create a demand for them so that farmers can take the risk of growing them at scale.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao, who has a collection of 600 varieties of endangered, indigenous, vegetable seeds, has been successful in stabilising around 180 to 200 varieties. They are now available online for purchase. “This is one way of saving these seeds from going extinct,” said Rao, adding that stabilisation is a time-consuming process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a tough task to convince a farmer to part with heirloom seeds. “Mostly, I get only a few seeds of the rare varieties from tribal communities or farmers,” he said. “Of these, some will germinate. The plants grown from these seeds should resemble the mother plant. So, we grow the seed over five to six seasons to ensure that the plant is the same as the mother plant. There is always a chance of cross-pollination. Every season, we harvest the seeds from plants that resemble the mother plant to concentrate that particular set of genes. Then, we release it as a native seed. This follows the standard procedures and genetics of seed production.” Rao uses traditional storage methods like keeping the dried seeds in an airtight box with a pinch of asafoetida and two stalks of neem leaves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Preserving indigenous seeds is not a hobby, Rao asserted, but a mission. The native seeds are climate-resilient and drought-proof. They can combat oscillations of climate change. Losing these varieties will not only lead to permanent loss of the gene pool but also deprive us of vegetables with high nutritional value. “Hybrids and GMO seeds are bred in ideal conditions and are chosen for their ability to absorb nitrogen and commercial fertilisers to give higher yield,” said Rao. “But, in suboptimal conditions, their performance is inferior to native needs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao added that the loss of indigenous varieties also meant losing diversity in our food habits, the regional cuisines and healthy eating practices in tune with the seasons. Rao said that most recipes in Samaithu Paar—a treasure trove of traditional vegetarian recipes by S. Meenakshi Ammal, first published in 1951—can no longer be made as the vegetables mentioned are not grown in south India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“For instance, clove bean was widely being consumed in south India,” he said. “But one cannot find them in the local market any more. We sourced the seeds from the tribals along the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu border and are reviving the vegetable.” The supermarket culture, he said, has changed our food habits as seasonal crops are available throughout the year and the same set of popular vegetables are being consumed across different geographical regions. This is tweaking food habits, perhaps, making them uniform, he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao said that during monsoon, some rural communities continue to harvest certain leafy vegetables that are labelled as weeds in commercial agriculture. These were an intrinsic part of our diet that helped build immunity against seasonal endemics. Similarly, tribals in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, strictly follow the seasonal vegetable calendar, where they eat only specific vegetables in each Hindu month. For instance, they consume the cucumber family of vegetables only in February, March and April.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One simple strategy to preserve indigenous varieties is encouraging farmers to grow field crops, in which the volumes and returns are bigger. One such revival project happened in Punjab. A wheat variety called Sona Moti, which was on the verge of extinction after being in cultivation for 2,000 years, was grown. Rao said it has a good amount of folic acid and can be consumed even by people with gluten allergy and has now been revived. “The farmers have been selling it for 075/kg against a minimum support price of Rs20 and have been making profits for the last two harvests,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In Chhattisgarh, farmers are growing native varieties of pigeon pea (dal),” he added. “There is a huge demand as it cooks well, tastes good and is more nutritious than the hybrid dal. The black rice variety in the temple town of Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu is another success story.” Farmers in Chhattisgarh are also growing a flood-resistant rice variety—the plant grows taller than usual to escape floods. India is a biodiversity hotspot for pulses and has 35,000 indigenous rice varieties, too. If there is no intervention, they are at a risk of extinction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao, who is a part of the Paramparaagat Krishi Vikas Yojana, a government scheme to revive traditional methods of agriculture, emphasises on the need for a paradigm shift in agriculture—from ensuring food security to nutritional security. There is a huge burden of nutritional deficiency even among the affluent. As a result, the food supplement industry is thriving, said Rao.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He propagates practices based on Vriksha Ayurveda, an ancient compilation of scholarly commentaries. Rao said that a tradition that has survived 10,000 years in India uses nutrient solubilising microbes (NSMs) to break down the minerals like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. There are formulations which can introduce NSMs into the soil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Vedic agriculture protects the ecosystem and biodiversity, even as you grow crops to fulfil nutritional requirements,” he said. For instance, a person who normally eats five chapatis made of hybrid wheat will need to eat only two chapatis made of Sona Moti, he said. The body gets adequate nutrition and signals you to stop eating.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite his level of involvement in agricultural science, the landscape architect in Rao still has an appetite for challenges. He loves to talk about the Statue of Unity, which he calls an iconic monument for the vision with which it was implemented. “There were concerns over threats to the crocodile population, tribal habitations and biodiversity,” he said. “But today, you can see the transformation, which is in sync with tribal livelihood.” Rao added that you could spot a huge population of dragonflies in the area and that this was an indicator of the ecosystem’s health.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao said that for historical and cultural landscaping in restoration projects, getting into the skin of the original designer is important. “Often you realise the original design has been diluted, though not intentionally, but because people did not know any better,” he said. “There is a tendency to plant trees indiscriminately or for exotic trees to be introduced. So, we need to record the changes and the extent of deviation from the original design.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It pays to be a futurist while designing landscapes, said Rao. “I always envisage a design thinking how this landscape would look in 50 years,” he said. “Many trees will be reaching the end of their life cycle, too. So, we have to understand how we are going to tackle the current gaps and the gaps that will be created over the years. You must evolve a strategy where, over a period of time, you learn to reveal the layers of the original design.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao said indigenous trees are the most vibrant; there is also a wide variety in trees, shrubs and ground covers. “We don’t need to imitate the western concept of manicured lawns and hedges,” he said. “Every indigenous plant has a descriptor in Charaka Samhita (ancient Indian text on medicine), as every tree brings value to human life. You cannot say the same about a Gulmohar or other imported trees.” He added that trees like the Gulmohar tended to collapse during the monsoon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Native trees, like the kadamba, he said, have beautiful flowers, thick canopies, versatile timber and medicinal value. He added that our horticulture system follows a flawed approach and promotes exotic species. He wants to see native trees lining our streets. In Malleswaram, a suburb of Bengaluru, he said, we have the Margosa Road named after the indigenous trees lining the street. Rao asked: “Why can’t we have more neem, margosa, kadamba or arjuna for our avenues?”</p> Thu Sep 30 17:42:22 IST 2021 civilian-drones-new-laws-could-drive-rapid-growth-in-domestic-market <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Your food is</b> in the air! In the not so distant future, this could be Swiggy’s notification to customers. In May, the ministry of civil aviation cleared 20 entities to conduct experimental beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone flights. The online delivery platform is part of a consortium, led by ANRA Technologies, which is among the 20. “We are excited about the potential of drones and look forward to BVLOS trials for food delivery,” said Shilpa Gnaneshwar, principal programme manager at Swiggy.</p> <p>Commercial drones, initially perceived as little more than toys, are now being used by businesses in an attempt to increase efficiency and decrease costs. According to a report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and EY, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market in India is expected to touch $885.7 million in 2021, with the global market approaching $21.47 billion. A report by PwC India said that the drone segment was expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 18 per cent between 2017 and 2023.</p> <p>However, experts point out that India is at least 10 to 15 years behind the US and China in drone utilisation. China is the world leader in drone hardware, while the US has shown the most innovation in creating new applications. According to a report by Statista Research Department, from the 2017 fiscal year to the 2021 fiscal year, the US spent about $17.5 billion on drones. This was the highest expenditure on drones by a country and was followed by China ($4.5 billion) and Russia ($3.9 billion). During the same time period, India is estimated to have spent $2.5 billion on drones.</p> <p>Swapnik Jakkampuddi, co-founder and COO, Skye Air Mobility, said: “Certain nations such as the US, Scotland, Australia, Japan and [some countries in] Africa are ahead in some aspects of drone use for civilian population, but that is attributed to their unique geography (distances, inaccessibility to services in specific regions, and security and risk assessment specific to geopolitical environment enables faster adoption of drone friendly laws).” He said that delivery of vaccines and food has commenced in select regions of such nations.</p> <p>In India, drones are used most widely in aerial photography. It took off soon after the first consumer drones became available in the Indian market in 2015 and drones have now become a staple of the toolkit of wedding photographers.</p> <p>Nowadays, drones are not just used to get the aerial view, but also for more creative inputs, such as to carry rings and to create light and sound shows in the night sky. Road survey teams and real estate businesses, too, use drones. Entire businesses have emerged solely for processing drone footage and turning it into actionable insights, such as identifying landmarks or generating 3D models of buildings under construction. Then, there are the more industrially driven purposes such as stockpile evaluation.</p> <p>“In the past two to three years, the usage of drones in agriculture has also increased,” said Abhinav Rao Varrey, associate, business development and communications at Johnnette Technologies Limited, a drone manufacturer. He added that one of the first deliveries using drones was recently done in Bengaluru. Varrey said that drone deliveries in India were more likely to focus on medicines or vaccines rather than food or other packages.</p> <p>The use of drones by the government’s SVAMITVA (Survey of Villages Abadi and Mapping with Improvised Technology in Village Areas) scheme, the National Highways Authority of India, Indian Railways, police forces and state governments, in various projects, highlights an intent to leverage this technology. The purposes of these projects range from enhancing safety to reducing field visits (see graphics). The number of tenders being issued for drones and drone services has been increasing steadily.</p> <p>Omnipresent Robot Tech got permission to start trial deliveries of products purchased online and has already tested drone deliveries of medicines to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi. Its CEO and founder, Aakash Sinha, said the e-commerce sector would see huge usage of drones. “In India, there are more than one crore deliveries every day,” said Sinha. “The delivery segment is going to benefit immensely from drone deliveries. Asset management for factories and construction projects will also benefit from drone usage. Oil refineries, for instance, have tall structures that require regular maintenance. Usually, someone has to get up there; it is not only risky, but also depends on human input. So, in the future, every factory will have a drone.”</p> <p>Karan Kamdar, CEO of drone manufacturer 1 Martian Way Industries Pvt Ltd, said that drones would become an integral part of the smart home. “Autonomous smart devices will be used as a remote eye for security,” he said. “[Similar] drones are already available in the market, but with the rapid pace of Artificial Intelligence development, and facial recognition and other such technologies, the autonomy and sophistication of these drones will increase by orders of magnitude. As will their integration and communication with other smart devices.” Moreover, he added, with the ability to manipulate objects, one can think of a host of creative applications performed by drones, such as picking up smartphones and plugging them into their charging ports.</p> <p>One of the key applications that drone manufacturers in India are working on is their operation in spaces without GPS. Such operations can keep track of inventory in warehouses or, if fitted with the required sensors, monitor hazardous spaces inside factories. “These applications are yet to be considered by the directorate general of civil aviation because the rules currently have no provision to account for drones that work autonomously in the absence of GPS and NPNT (‘no permission; no take off’ protocol),” said Kamdar. “NPNT requires the drones to have an on-board GPS. Similarly, drone racing, which has become a global phenomenon, makes use of drones that cannot have GPS mounted on them. So again, they cannot operate if NPNT becomes an exclusive requirement without regarding the end utility of drones manufactured for different purposes.” Jakkampuddi said that areas like medical assists and scans, mining solutions, marine applications and exploration without human presence could use drones more.</p> <p>The government’s Drone Rules 2021 has been largely welcomed by the industry. There were apprehensions that the rules may be made stringent after the drone attacks in Jammu in June. However, there have been relaxations which would speed up the adoption of drones. For example, the number of forms that had to be filled has been reduced from 25 to five and the fee to be paid to operate drones has been reduced from Rs70 to Rs4. The rules are expected to make India a $5 billion-plus drone market in the next three years.</p> <p>As per the Drone Rules, a single-window platform would be developed for all the clearances that are required. Additionally, an interactive airspace map will be displayed on the platform showing yellow, green and red zones. These zones have been demarcated to tell drone operators where they can and cannot fly. The coverage of the rules has been extended to drones weighing up to 500kg, from the earlier 300kg. This would mean that drone taxis would also be covered by the new rules.</p> <p>“The new rules have abolished the requirement of several approvals which were earlier required,” said Abhishek Malhotra, managing partner, TMT Law Practice. “There is no need to seek certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, acceptance of existing drones, operator permit, authorisation of R&amp;D organisation and student remote pilot licence. [This] should enable growth in business and private participation.”</p> <p>Shivangi Tyagi, a research analyst with the political economy programme at Carnegie India, also said the new laws were significantly less burdensome than the old rules. “The new rules have made compliance easier,” she said. “It is important to note that the government had already been using drones for different operations. The new rules are a part of an ecosystem that is likely to boost drone usage in the private sector.”</p> <p>Experts feel that while there may be apprehensions about the possibility of more drone attacks, this does not overshadow the immense potential of the technology to solve problems. “In our assessment, we see the government taking steps to adopt more anti-drone technologies that will safeguard vital national assets,” said Jakkampuddi. “Strict action against violators and anti-national elements by enforcement agencies is the need of the hour, so as to dissuade any persons with mala fide intent.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Sep 23 16:20:11 IST 2021 indian-militarys-new-workhorse-mq-9-reaper-drones <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>On January 3,</b> 2020, US president Donald Trump took a brief break from his Christmas vacation at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to make a dramatic announcement. He told journalists that the US military had “successfully executed a flawless precision strike” that killed Qasim Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force that had allegedly injured or killed hundreds of American civilians and military personnel. “He was a monster, but he is no longer a monster,” Trump said. “He is dead.”</p> <p>Apparently, the operation was as dramatic as the announcement. Two MQ-9 Reaper drones had taken off from an airbase in Kuwait, travelled 600km to hover over Baghdad International Airport. When the green light came, the drones launched the missiles which took out two cars that were leaving the airport. The attack killed Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, head of al-Hashd al-Shaabi (popular mobilisation forces), an Iran-backed militia in Iraq. The Reapers’ precision stunned the world.</p> <p>Months earlier, Trump had cleared the sale of MQ-9 Reapers to India, making it the first non-NATO country to get the clearance. Now, India is concluding the acquisition process. The drones, also called Predator B, would be distributed among the three services­—10 each for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. The Reapers come fitted with smart bombs and Hellfire missiles, and will form part of India’s response to the Chinese combat drone Wing Loong II, which Pakistan is buying.</p> <p>The $3-billion deal will sharpen India’s offensive capabilities. At present, the Indian military operates drones only for surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The weaponised Reapers, say strategists, will give India the ability to remotely launch cross-border strikes and engage border targets. It will also help the Navy keep an eye on Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean.</p> <p>Last year, videos of Armenian tanks and artillery positions being decimated by Azerbaijan’s drones showed the world the changing character of new-age wars. It is estimated that around 2,000 attack drones and more than 80,000 surveillance drones will be sold around the world in the next 10 years. According to Lt Gen (retd) D.S. Hooda, the architect of the Army’s 2016 surgical strike across the Line of Control, it is now an essential capability for a modern military to take out targets deep behind the enemy lines with “minimal” risk. “It is a much more convenient option to send armed drones [instead of fighter aircraft] to hit the target,” he told THE WEEK. “Cross-border strikes and Balakot-type airstrikes can be done without risking lives and aircraft.”</p> <p>Under Project Cheetah, the Air Force is looking to upgrade its existing fleet of Heron drones for offensive missions. The medium-altitude, long-endurance Israeli drones, which serve all three services of the Indian military, are being fitted with laser-guided bombs and air-to-ground and air-launched anti-tank missiles. The Air Force, which is the lead agency for the project, will spend Rs5,000 crore on upgrades. India is among the few modern militaries that do not have armed drones. Even smaller countries like Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan and South Africa have been using weaponised drones.</p> <p>Manufactured by San Diego-based General Atomics, the Reaper has an endurance of 48 hours, and can carry a 1,700kg payload for more than 6,000 nautical miles. It comes with nine “hardpoints”—slots on an airframe designed to carry loads—that are capable of carrying sensors, missiles and laser-guided bombs. It can operate in adverse weather and is designed to survive lightning strikes.</p> <p>According to Vivek Lall, chief executive of General Atomics Global Corporation, India-US defence ties are the result of decades of dedicated efforts by both countries to overcome traditional mindsets and align on common goals. “This is validated by the volume of trade and technology transfer existing today between the two largest democracies in the world,” he told THE WEEK. “We fully expect this trend to continue, and the fact that defence cooperation remains high on the list of priorities for bilateral relationship is a sign of these mutual security objectives.”</p> <p>The Reaper platform has been a workhorse of the US military, producing models that have flown more than seven million hours, most of them in combat situations. The platform currently accounts for 11 per cent of all US air force missions, but only 2.6 per cent of total costs. The USAF drone fleet accumulates around three lakh flight hours a year, making it a favourite of military commanders around the world.</p> <p>“No other family of platforms comes close to providing the capability, response, interoperability and utility of these aircraft, and we believe India will receive the same high value for investment that the US and other nations currently receive,” said Lall.</p> <p>India had acquired its first unmanned vehicle in 1996—the Israeli Searcher Mk-I. Even now, drones India has are mainly Israel-made. The Defence Research and Development Organisation’s Nishant and Rustom drones are also used for surveillance and intelligence-gathering. India recently signed multiple contracts together worth Rs500 crore to buy Israeli “kamikaze drones”, which are essentially munitions that can search for and destroy targets.</p> <p>Last year, the Navy had leased two Reapers for surveillance operations in the Indian Ocean. With its capacity to remain in the air for long, said Hooda, the Reapers can monitor and defend the China border. “It brings enormous offensive capabilities,” he said. “It is not going to replace manned fighter jets, but it brings advanced and additional capabilities.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Sep 23 15:53:17 IST 2021 chhattisgarh-the-curious-case-of-baghel-vs-baghel <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE TWITTER</b> bio of Nand Kumar Baghel reads thus: “Proud father of Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The description smelled faintly of irony on September 7, when Nand Kumar, 86, was arrested and remanded to judicial custody in Raipur for making comments that allegedly showed the Brahmin community in poor light. At a public event in Uttar Pradesh, he had reportedly described Brahmins as “foreigners” and urged backward communities to “boycott” them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his six-decade-long career as a crusading socialist, Nand Kumar has got himself into trouble a number of times for his anti-caste tirades. This time, though, was different. A father being arrested and sent to jail by a government headed by his son was a first in India. It attracted a lot of public interest. Bhupesh defended the arrest saying he could not ignore acts that could upset public order. “No one, including the father of the chief minister, is above the law,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is no secret that the Baghels have bitter ideological and political differences. But when he was granted bail four days after his arrest, Nand Kumar weighed in on the arrest with equanimity. He told THE WEEK that his son had only discharged his duty as chief minister. A first information report registered in a police station in Raipur had necessitated the arrest. What Bhupesh did, said Nand Kumar, was not political. “There might be ideological and political differences between us, but that does not alter the father-son relation,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nand Kumar has long been unapologetic about airing his unconventional views in public. A follower of Vinoba Bhave’s Sarvodaya and Bhoodan movements, and of socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan, he is known for his vehement criticism of the Hindu caste system. His speeches and writings often dub Brahmins as foreigners who must be expelled from the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has also made comments regarding Hindu deities that were perceived to be deeply offensive. One of his biggest provocations was publishing the book Brahman Kumar, Ravan ko Mat Maro, a critical analysis of, among others, the Manusmriti and Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas, considered to be one of the greatest epics in Hindu devotional literature. The book was banned in 2001, soon after the Congress came to power in the newly formed state. Nand Kumar’s long legal fight against the ban ended in 2017, when the High Court finally dismissed his petition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An affluent farmer who owns more than 400 acres in Durg district, Nand Kumar belongs to the Kurmi community—traditional cultivators who are part of the Other Backward Classes. People close to him say that his politics is driven by the historical injustices that “lower castes” have had to suffer. He has made his life’s work to mobilise dalits, tribals, backward communities and minorities, and ensure that they receive adequate political representation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is also president of the Matdata Jagriti Manch (voter awareness forum) and the Akhil Bharatiya Kurmi Kisan Mazdoor Mahasabha, which works for the welfare of farmers, labourers and backward communities. The teachings of the Buddha have deeply influenced Nand Kumar, even though he has not converted to Buddhism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ashish Dubey, a political analyst based in Durg, has known the Baghels for more than three decades. He said Nand Kumar’s defiance and outspokenness stem from his standing as an affluent and influential farmer. “He is the typical dau, as influential farmers are locally called,” said Dubey, who is a Brahmin associated with several community organisations. “Now he is ageing and, perhaps, failing to get his ideas and agenda against the upper castes mainstreamed. So, his comments are getting shriller and somewhat offensive.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Umesh Niwal, a Durg-based writer of politics, said there had been several instances of open disputes between the Baghels. The ugliest squabble, according to Niwal, happened in July 2019, when Nand Kumar’s wife and Bhupesh’s mother, Bindeshwari Devi, died. The father and son divided the mortal remains and performed the last rites according to their own beliefs. Bhupesh reportedly performed the last rites in Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh as per Hindu rites; Nand Kumar did the same according to Buddhist rites at the Khubchand Baghel barrage in Dhamtari district in Chhattisgarh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the run-up to the 2018 assembly polls, Nand Kumar had written to the Congress leadership demanding that the party allocate 85 per cent of seats to candidates belonging to dalit, tribal, backward and minority communities. It prompted Bhupesh, who was state Congress chief at that time, to issue a public statement pointing out that his father was not even a primary member of the party to make such demands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Niwal, Nand Kumar’s politics and his book on Ravan is rooted in the views of a section of marginalised communities who have long opposed the tradition of burning Ravan in effigy and celebrating Mahishasura’s killing on Dussehra. Apparently, the problem is that Nand Kumar’s choice of words are sometimes unfortunate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time, though, Bhupesh has managed to take advantage of the difficult spot that his father had put him in. “Nand Kumar going to jail certainly benefits Bhupesh, as it shows the chief minister’s determination to uphold law and order,” said Niwal. “Even if the opposition calls it a political stunt, he has certainly won brownie points this time.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political analyst Rasheed Kidwai said the arrest has created a buzz in favour of Bhupesh, who was on the back foot politically because of the intra-party tussle over the chief minister’s post. “His action sends out a very strong message that when most ideology-based parties are trying to protect their own, and are becoming accommodative of anti-social elements, here is a chief minister who has the courage of conviction to show that no one is above the law,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhupesh has also helped prevent the caste dynamics from harming the Congress. “He has proven himself to be an astute politician by scoring on the ‘duty of the ruler’ count,” said Kidwai. “He also gave out the message of him being a caste-neutral politician—a useful move ahead of the assembly elections Uttar Pradesh, where no party wants to alienate any caste or community.”</p> Thu Sep 16 19:15:40 IST 2021 i-want-bhupesh-model-across-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ You did not apply for bail when arrested, but did so in four days. Why?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I fell ill eating jail food and applied for bail to save my life. I have a blood sugar level of more than 400mg/dl and no teeth, so eating jail food was harmful and difficult. Now, after consulting doctors, I am feeling better.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But you have been in jail several times earlier.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I can’t remember the number of times I have been jailed across the country. I have never been afraid of [going to jail]. Also, the cops have always treated me well, because I consider them as my own. Most of them are sons of farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Many people, mainly BJP leaders, say the arrest was a political gimmick.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ My son did his duty as chief minister. I want to thank him for that. There is nothing political about this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your Twitter bio says ‘Proud father of Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel’. But you were always opposed to his ideology and politics.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is nothing uncommon about a father and son having ideological and political differences. Each individual’s life and ideas are shaped by the circumstances he or she goes through. But this difference does not mean that the father-son relation is altered. When Bhupesh was 18, I had questioned his decision to give up academics and enter politics. I asked him whether he could become a CM by doing so. He touched my feet and vowed that he would become one. He did it and I am certainly proud of him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you view your son’s performance as chief minister?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I have only one complaint: that he supports the chutiadhari people (Brahmins who have a lock of long hair). Our difference on this is so much that we had a tiff over immersing the mortal remains of my wife, Bindeshwari.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you converted to Buddhism?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ No, I did not actually go about converting to Buddhism, but I follow the teachings of the Buddha and the principles of Buddhism. One of his main teachings is about making use of one’s own mind, intellect and discretion to make decisions in life, and not blindly follow what others, including religious texts, say. I followed this strictly, and even gave the same advice to Bhupesh when he promised to become CM.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What spurred you to the kind of politics you espouse?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I had passed matriculation with 84 per cent marks from the Central School in Raipur. A book on Acharya Vinoba Bhave was given to me as a prize for winning a debate competition. The book said that one keeps learning through life. I decided to follow this and left academics, and got involved in the work of Acharya Vinoba.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your larger goal?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I want to ensure that dalits, tribals, Other Backward Classes, minorities and farmers get their due rights and political representation. I want the Bhupesh model of farm-based economy to be implemented across India. This would mean focus on cattle and farm and allied activities, and assurance of higher minimum support prices for crops.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I will be fielding candidates for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls after my SOM Party (named after the acronym for SC/ST, OBC and minorities) gets registered, and then tie up with like-minded parties after the results.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will you consider a tie-up with the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Certainly not. It is a party that does the politics of religion and misleads people by focusing on temples and mosques. It is because of them that the situation in the country is so bad today. We have to unite to fight the BJP in the coming Lok Sabha polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you thought of joining the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ After Bhupesh joined the Congress, I, too, wanted to do so. But [former Madhya Pradesh chief minister] Digvijaya Singh, [former Union minister and Bhupesh’s mentor] Chandulal Chandrakar and [former Chhattisgarh chief minister] Ajit Jogi were all terrified of my proposal. They could not digest my views and style.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your book Brahman Kumar, Ravan ko Mat Maro was banned. Did you want to republish it in a different way?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes, earlier I had written the book with the consideration that Ravan was a Brahmin. But now I know that he was a moolniwasi (a tribal) of the Gond community, who wanted to protect cattle and prevent them from being killed. His brother Kumbhakarna invented the plough, so that people did not have to eat animal meat. I want to bring all this to the forefront. I want to say that there is nothing special about the Brahmins, that they should be treated on par with all. If they think of us as untouchables, then we would also consider them as untouchables.</p> Thu Sep 16 19:09:44 IST 2021