Statescan en Wed Nov 02 10:26:28 IST 2022 lok-sabha-elections-tamil-nadu-bjp-political-scenario <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON FEBRUARY 26,</b> a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tiruppur, the state’s political circles were abuzz. “Wait and watch,” state BJP president K. Annamalai had said earlier. “Many big shots from dravida parties will jump ship and join the BJP.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The statement set off speculation about who the leaders were and why they were switching sides. Names of many former and incumbent AIADMK MLAs and MPs from western Tamil Nadu went around. The BJP even made arrangements for a grand induction ceremony in Coimbatore at 6pm on February 26.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Annamalai did not arrive for the event even an hour after the scheduled time. Instead, Union Minister of State L. Murugan and the BJP’s Coimbatore South MLA Vanathi Srinivasan walked in. Party leader K.P. Ramalingam soon announced, “The event is postponed. The date will be announced later.” Murugan, who had to field questions from the media, was so embarrassed at one point that he walked out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The following day, Modi arrived in Tiruppur and said the BJP would win 400-plus seats in the Lok Sabha polls. But for the party, Tamil Nadu remains a real challenge―the best the party could hope for in the state is to forge an alliance and increase its vote share. The BJP has never won an election in Tamil Nadu on its own, and its vote share has not touched the double-digit mark.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Why would anyone from our party join the BJP? Why would they want to quit a party with a strong vote bank and move to a party with a single-digit vote [share]? We have clearly said that we will not align with the BJP and no one from our party will defect to the BJP,” former minister and AIADMK spokesperson D. Jayakumar told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s vote share fell from 5.5 per cent in 2014 to 3.66 per cent in 2019. The party won the Kanniyakumari seat, but lost in the other five constituencies it had contested.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Annamalai says the BJP has become the “critical opposition” to the DMK government. Observers say his grassroots campaign, his interactions with people, and his vociferous opposition to the DMK have helped the BJP grow. A survey conducted by a Tamil TV channel predicted that the BJP will overtake the AIADMK to reach the second position with a vote share of 18 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But unlike dravidian parties, the BJP does not have a statewide vote bank. Nor does it have pockets of influence like the CPI(M), the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi do. But the BJP has managed to attract eyeballs under Annamalai’s leadership. His popularity has surged in the past two years, though he has been criticised for being loose with facts. Popularity alone might not help him win the polls. Winning a Lok Sabha or assembly seat in the state requires at least 35 per cent votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP sources said a survey that Annamalai’s team carried out in Lok Sabha constituencies in western Tamil Nadu suggested that he could pull 14 per cent votes in Pollachi and 18 per cent in Coimbatore. But in the absence of a poll alliance, Annamalai does not want to contest elections. But sources said that he would choose Coimbatore if the party’s national leadership asks him. In the 2021 assembly polls, Vanathi Srinivasan of the BJP had won from Coimbatore South. But she had the backing of AIADMK strongman and former minister S.P. Velumani. Also, if the DMK fields actor Kamal Haasan, Annamalai would be in a tough, three-cornered contest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AIADMK would also field a strong candidate in Coimbatore if Annamalai is in the fray. Sources said DMK leaders from the region have asked party leader and chief minister M.K. Stalin to not declare a candidate till the BJP announces its choice. According to the source, Annamalai is faking disinterest only to ensure that both the dravidian parties allot the seat to weak candidates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Incidentally, the DMK is yet to allot the seat to the CPI(M), its ally that had won from Coimbatore in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. “We have been allotted two seats,” said the CPI(M)’s state secretary K. Balakrishnan. “We don’t know if we can retain Coimbatore, as it is said Kamal Haasan will contest. The DMK is yet to confirm it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are rumblings in the BJP that Annamalai’s focus has only been on boosting his image rather than the party infrastructure across the state. Many partymen blame Annamalai’s abrasive behaviour as the reason behind the AIADMK’s decision to break its alliance with the BJP. He had described former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa as “corrupt”, and declared that “the BJP doesn’t need an alliance”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently said “the BJP is keeping its doors open for alliance partners in Tamil Nadu”. But none except Tamil Manila Congress leader G.K. Vasan was present on the dais when Modi addressed a rally at Tirunelveli on February 27.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>AIADMK general secretary Edappadi K. Palaniswami has ruled out joining hands with the BJP. Efforts to persuade parties such as the PMK, the DMDK and the Puthiya Thamilagam, and the AIADMK factions headed by O. Panneerselvam and T.T.V. Dhinakaran have not yet yielded results. The BJP apparently wanted candidates of the AIADMK factions to contest on its lotus symbol. Sources said the two leaders turned down the offer realising that it would be political suicide. PMK and Puthiya Thamilagam reportedly want assurances from the BJP on a Rajya Sabha seat and a cabinet berth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I wouldn’t say that the BJP is growing in Tamil Nadu,” said Ramu Manivannan, professor and head of the department of politics and public administration, University of Madras. “It is fattening [to the point of] obesity. This is not actual growth. Only because Annamalai is opposing the DMK every day that it seems that the BJP is growing. We will know their actual strength after the elections.”</p> Sat Mar 09 15:42:23 IST 2024 historian-and-author-vikram-sampath-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Interview/ Vikram Sampath, historian and author</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With elections looming, Varanasi is once again poised to become the epicentre of the discourse on a contentious issue. Historian Vikram Sampath's new book, <i>Waiting for Shiva</i>, contributes to the sparse literature on the Gyanvapi case. Sampath delves into historical records, scriptures and the competing claims presented in court to offer a comprehensive examination of the matter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an interview with THE WEEK, he suggested that Hindus and Muslims should engage in dialogue outside the realm of courts and political influence to resolve contentious issues amicably. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The demand for the Ram Temple became a movement. Similar support is missing in the Gyanvapi case.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think this is a better route. The Ayodhya movement was an important one to awaken the Hindu community, which was in a decades-long slumber. Now that they are awake, there is no need for such a big movement. That is where works like this (book) come into the picture, where civil society, scholarship step in and ensure that the message goes out to the masses. With social media and the proliferation of media, the message can reach a large number of people without actually making it a big movement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ We cannot delink the issue from politics. With elections approaching, the BJP is usually the beneficiary of a polarising debate. The government is also seen as supporting one side.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I am not a part of any political grouping. So I am not sure if the government or the party has any stated position on Kashi, though it is the prime minister's constituency. It is a legal matter. The politics will invariably come into it. That is why I think the best solution is to get out of the courts and for both communities to sit together. Say [that] there are certain places which mean a lot to the Hindu community and provide the evidence. So instead of getting politicians involved, instead of even getting the courts involved, let us do an out-of-court settlement in the larger interest of national unity and brotherhood. I think both communities must meet halfway.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What should be reclaimed? Undoing “mistakes” of the past maybe a potent idea, but can it not throw us into an unending cycle of strife?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I fully agree. And I think there is no easy answer to that. We do not even know how many temples were demolished in the first place. Some documents put it at 1,826, with evidence where mosques were constructed in its place. Some say it is 20,000; some say it is 40,000. We just do not know the numbers. It is my personal opinion that it is impossible to reclaim all these temples. Whichever temples are of paramount importance to the Hindu community and where the evidence is staggeringly large..., where there is historical evidence, <i>puranic</i> evidence, legal evidence and archaeological evidence. And, [places which] our ancestors never gave up on. Religious leaders can sit together and mediate a full and final settlement. The historians and civil society can play a role.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is that what you are attempting through <i>Waiting for Shiva</i>?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I would not be so presumptuous to think that it will lead to something so big. It is like a compilation of the facts and documents, right from the ancient times, drawing from various sources, scriptures, historical traveller's accounts, Persian accounts, British legal files from 1810 when there were riots in Varanasi over this to the latest ASI survey. Without a movement, there is not much of public consciousness on it. I think people do not know the background of why it is important and why we are fighting for this case. So, this book is just a way to ensure that this information reaches the common man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you taken a side in this debate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> No, I have tried my best to be objective. We all have biases, but as much as possible, I think the facts and documents need to speak for themselves. For every claim I am making, there is a source, there is a footnote and I am sure the readers will judge that. I have been unbiased, including in the 1936 case... the Muslim witnesses and their testimonies, equal space for every voice. I am sure the readers are discernible enough to make up their minds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In the past, coexistence of temples and mosques have been hailed as an example of our syncretic culture.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> When you demolish the most sacred shrine of another community and build a mosque, how can it be syncretic? Syncretism has to be a two-way street. We do not want bad relations with any community, for national unity, but both should meet midway.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But, minorities cannot be made to pay for events of the distant past.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I have said that Muslims cannot be made to pay for the happenings in the distant past, when an aggressor attacked. But, then they should not identify themselves with these [aggressors]. There should be de-hyphenation of communities today with invaders of the past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How can the conversation between communities take place so that issues are resolved?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> True conversation is not happening, but confrontation. That is where politicians enter the field and vitiate the atmosphere. Even this book is written not with a sense of confrontation. Let the civil society, historians, academics, scholars and religious gurus from both faiths sit together and have an open, candid conversation... for the next 100, 200 years and our future generations. Let us put these battles of the past behind us. Let us make peace with our past and move on to a better future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ During the Ram Temple debate, Muslims were told that if they gave up Ayodhya there would be no debate over Kashi or Mathura. So where does one stop?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Who promised that? It may be elements of the <i>sangh parivar</i>. They do not represent every Hindu and cannot promise on behalf of the larger community. There are many temples where local sentiments are involved. [But,] it should be addressed peacefully, either through court or through negotiations and discussions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You talk about the importance of the site. The Kashi temple is not as important as a birth place.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The site for a temple is chosen based on many considerations as defined in texts. Once it is consecrated, the deity is present there and the divine is invoked in the form of an idol. Even when an idol is removed, its energy is still there till formal <i>visarjan</i> is done. So once a temple, always a temple. That has been the Hindu thing. So, until a <i>visarjan</i> is done, the place is imbued with the divinity of the deity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ We are moving from discovery of India to rediscovery of Bharat.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Certainly, earlier a particular narrative was crafted. I think that was unchallenged for 70 years. There are voices coming up saying this is not how it was. There is another version which was suppressed all the time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Even your version may get challenged at some point.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>There is no final draft. As a famous historian said, every work of history is an interim report. So you keep revising it. However good, however well researched, written and accepted your book maybe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I may have not looked at [all] the evidence or I may be biased. Someone new may come and do better, make a new discovery. Then, my entire thesis can be thrown in the dustbin. That is the beauty of history. Otherwise, if everything about the past is already known, what do we historians sit and write? We will be out of a job.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Waiting For Shiva</b></p> <p><i>By Vikram Sampath</i></p> <p><i>Published by BluOne Ink</i></p> <p><i>Pages 368; price Rs699</i></p> Sat Mar 09 16:39:31 IST 2024 the-two-major-alliances-in-maharashtra-are-finalising-their-seat-sharing-formulas-for-the-lok-sabha-elections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Late in the evening on February 26, senior leaders and MPs of Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena faction went into a huddle at Varsha, the chief minister’s official residence atop Malabar Hill. They were there to discuss how their party could have the final say in the seat-sharing talks of the saffron grand alliance ahead of Lok Sabha elections. They told Shinde that the party must insist on 18 of the 48 seats. “As we are the official Shiv Sena, we must get what we got last time, 22 seats,” said one of the leaders. “But if the BJP is too adamant, we should not settle for anything less than 18.” The united Sena had won 18 seats in the 2019 elections; of these, 13 went with the Shinde faction, while five remained loyal to Uddhav Thackeray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Shinde faction, it is learnt, wants to stake claim on the Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg and Mumbai South seats, currently held by Uddhav loyalists Vinayak Raut and Arvind Sawant. Sena (Shinde) strongman Kiran Samant, elder brother of Minister Uday Samant, is keen to contest in Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg. His hoardings are up in many places across the constituency. The BJP, though, wants Union Minister Narayan Rane to contest from this seat; he was not given a second term in the Rajya Sabha for this reason. Rane himself, however, does not want to contest as he feels age and health are not his allies. However, bowing to the party’s wishes, he had met and requested Shinde to give up his claim on the seat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a similar story in South Mumbai, where the BJP wants to field either Speaker Rahul Narwekar or its senior minister, Mangal Prabhat Lodha. The Shinde camp does not have a strong candidate here, but has not given up on the seat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP plans to contest at least 30 seats, leaving 13 to Shinde and five to Ajit Pawar’s faction of the Nationalist Congress Party. The deputy chief minister has been asked to field candidates in the seats that the united NCP had won in 2019. So, in Baramati, which Supriya Sule has held since 2009, the name being floated is Sunetra Pawar, her sister-in-law and Ajit’s wife. In Shirur, Ajit’s son, Parth, might go up against Sharad Pawar loyalist Amol Kolhe. Sunil Tatkare―the NCP MP from Raigad, who is now with Ajit Pawar―seems to be in two minds about contesting from there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An insider from the Ajit camp said the two factions could reach a last-minute deal on the two seats so that Sule is reelected without bitterness in the family and Parth can launch his career from Shirur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This insider also pointed out that Jayant Patil, NCP heavyweight and Sharad Pawar loyalist, was likely to switch sides soon―he could either join Ajit or join the BJP. In either case, he could ask for the Sangli seat for his son. Patil, however, has said there is no question of him leaving the senior Pawar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the opposition Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi, on the other hand, the allies have agreed on nearly 40 seats, said a Shiv Sena (UBT) insider close to Uddhav. He said the Sena (UBT) has asked for 24 seats. “Last time, we contested in 23 seats,” he said. “This time we want one more seat―Mumbai North East―for Sanjay Dina Patil, who was NCP MP from that seat in 2009, but is now with us. The Sena is the big brother in the alliance in Maharashtra despite a split in our party. This is because there is no leader in the alliance, except Sharad Pawar, who has the statewide appeal of Uddhav Thackeray.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>MVA leaders met on February 27 to finalise the seat-sharing formula. The Congress and the NCP have said that, as Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi was included in the MVA on the Sena’s instance, it should get seats from the Sena’s quota. In 2019, the VBA had cut into the MVA’s votes in some seats, which cost senior leaders such as then Congress state president Ashok Chavan (now with the BJP) and Sushil Kumar Shinde.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The VBA has staked its claim for Akola in Vidarbha and Solapur in western Maharashtra. And while it might get Akola, where Ambedkar has previously won, time will tell if the Congress will give up its traditional hold on Solapur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Uddhav, meanwhile, has already appointed coordinators for close to 20 seats, even before seat sharing has been finalised. Of the remaining 28, the Congress has demanded a similar number, leaving eight or nine seats for the NCP, which is facing a battle for survival after Ajit broke away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul Gandhi recently called Uddhav as their parties had sought some of the same seats―Ramtek, Hingoli, Jalna, Mumbai North West, Mumbai South Central, Shirdi, Bhiwandi and Wardha. The Congress wants Mumbai’s six seats to be divided equally between the two, but the Sena wants four.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As of now, there is agreement on 15 seats for the Congress, 16 for the Sena (including one for VBA) and nine for the NCP. The Congress and the NCP are likely to leave Hatkanangle for Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana president Raju Shetti. What remains to be seen is how the other seats are thrashed out.</p> Sat Mar 02 15:47:01 IST 2024 how-tamil-nadu-is-pursuing-its-dream-of-a-dollar-one-trillion-economy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The year was 2015. Venkatachalam Viswanathan, 35, had just returned from the US after quitting his dream job there. An IT professional, Viswanathan wanted to launch an IT startup in Chennai. But, the environment in Tamil Nadu then was not conducive to such a firm. After a yearlong struggle, he returned to the US and found another job. In 2021, while visiting his parents, Viswanathan’s friends apprised him of the changes in the state’s industrial scenario. This reignited his dreams and now he is getting ready to launch his company―an AI-enhanced health platform and health care e-commerce startup.</p> <p>Viswanathan’s experience illustrates the transformation the state underwent in less than 10 years. It is then no surprise that the third Tamil Nadu Global Investors Meet, held in Chennai on January 7-8, attracted investment proposals worth Rs6.64 lakh crore. These are expected to generate close to 27 lakh jobs, direct and indirect. The government set itself an ambitious target of becoming a $1 trillion economy by 2030. The state’s gross domestic product for 2022-2023 was Rs23.5 lakh crore; $1 trillion at the current conversion rate is around Rs83 lakh crore.</p> <p>A manufacturing powerhouse known for its textile and automobile industries, Tamil Nadu has diversified to embrace growing sectors like sustainable mobility, electronics and medtech. It now hosts a range of industries from IT to health care and has a pool of skilled professionals.</p> <p>Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, who gave the keynote address at the event, told THE WEEK that Tamil Nadu had an outstanding bureaucracy which is supportive during times of trouble. “The infrastructure, port connectivity and power sector are ideal factors and the quality of human capital, driven by quality education, is the state’s <i>brahmastra</i> making it ideal for investments.”</p> <p>Traditionally, Tamil Nadu has built systematically on its strengths. For instance, it was an automotive component hub long before it started automobile manufacturing.</p> <p>This strength was leveraged to transform the state into an automobile manufacturing hub. And, now, from that platform, it is turning into an electric vehicle manufacturing hub. Similarly, in the electronics segment, it started as a component manufacturer and has now grown to be an electronics hub, housing the facilities of several majors.</p> <p>Industries Minister T.R.B. Raaja told THE WEEK that there is a focus on moving up the value chain and shifting from the current manufacturing jobs to more high-value jobs. “Our manufacturing ecosystem is becoming smarter and more efficient by embracing advanced manufacturing, and it is also moving into elite sectors like defence and aerospace,” said Raaja. “We are India’s electronics capital and we are gearing up to enter the semiconductor sector. We are also pushing for the textile sector to embrace technical textiles. Our health care ecosystem bolsters our medtech ambitions in a big way, too.” Notably, the recent investors meet saw the release of a semiconductor and advanced electronics policy.</p> <p>While Tamil Nadu is third in the manufacturing sector in India, behind Maharashtra and Gujarat, it has the highest number of factories―employing more than 2.9 crore. As per the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, around 25 lakh people got jobs between January 2022 and April 2023. Significantly, at least 50 per cent of them got into high-value jobs, mostly in the electronics and EV sectors.</p> <p>Moreover, the existing industries in the state were concentrated around a few regions, like the textile industry in and around Tiruppur and the automobile industry in/around Chennai and Coimbatore. But, the new industries are spreading out across the state.</p> <p>“Our chief minister is very particular about taking development to all,” said Raaja. “Especially to zones like the southern districts and the delta region. These are regions which haven’t seen much industrialisation. Our chief minister has given me a mandate to take industries to the south and do something for the delta region. So you see a lot of agritech industries coming to the delta and a lot of new industries coming into the southern districts.”</p> <p>The electronics sector in the state has been seeing massive investment. In 2019, Taiwanese contract manufacturer Foxconn repurposed a facility in Sriperumbudur, which earlier assembled Nokia mobile phones, for the assembly of Apple iPhones. This made other majors look towards Tamil Nadu. And the Taiwanese Pegatron Corporation set up its first manufacturing unit near Chennai in 2022 at a cost of Rs1,100 crore.</p> <p>Tata Electronics has signed an MoU with the government expressing interest to invest Rs12,082 crore to set up an electronics manufacturing and mobile phone assembly unit at Krishnagiri near Hosur. This is expected to generate 40,500 jobs.</p> <p>It is noteworthy that in the state’s electronics sector women employees outnumber men. These women, who are high school graduates or hold a diploma or a degree, have basic English knowledge. They are trained by electronics majors for three to five months. Foxconn employs about 35,000 to 40,000 women.</p> <p>All this has resulted in the massive jump in the state’s electronics export―$5.37 billion (around Rs45,000 crore) in 2023, from $1.86 billion in 2022―making it the country’s biggest electronics exporter. Its share is now around 30 per cent of India’s exports. In 2020-2021, the state’s contribution was only around 12 per cent. And, things look likely to get even better for the state in the sector. For instance, at the investors meet, Pegatron inked a pact to invest Rs1,000 crore on a computing, communications and consumer electronics unit near Chennai. It is expected to generate more than 8,000 jobs.</p> <p>Tamil Nadu is also emerging as one among the top 10 auto hubs in the world. It has emerged as the largest producer of EVs in India―40 per cent of all vehicles and 70 per cent of two-wheelers. Automobile majors operating in Bengaluru are looking at Hosur in Tamil Nadu as their next step to get into the EV market. Incidentally there is huge development happening in and around Hosur, which benefits the backward Dharmapuri region. EV players like Ola, Ather and Simple Energy chose Tamil Nadu over Karnataka because it is much cheaper. Ola alone has invested Rs10,000 crore in the Pochampally region in Hosur. Other investors include the EV arms of traditional Indian companies like TVS and Greaves Cotton. In response to the investments, the state government created an EV ecosystem, which included battery manufacturing units. This means that EV makers can get components from within Tamil Nadu.</p> <p>On the first day of the investors meet, Vietnamese EV maker Vinfast signed an MoU with the government to set up its plant in Thoothukudi with a proposed investment of Rs16,000 crore. Hyundai Motor India committed to invest Rs6,180 crore to make internal combustion engines, EV passenger cars and EV batteries in Kanchipuram. It will also collaborate with IIT Madras on hydrogen energy research. Unsoo Kim, MD and CEO, Hyundai Motor India, said the collaboration with the state government goes beyond mere investment. “It is a catalyst for cultivating robust hydrogen technology ecosystem that mirrors our commitment to sustainability and a green future,” he said. “We are confident that this collective effort will propel Tamil Nadu towards achieving the milestone of becoming a $1 trillion economy.”</p> <p>The state is also becoming home to several data centres and global capability centres. “The government is committed to developing a mature, efficient R&amp;D ecosystem,” said Raaja. “The objective is to handle sophisticated technologies and arrive at solutions for complex problems, while also creating in the process a practical business model.” The R&amp;D ecosystem has grown in the last two years to around 160 units, including global capability centres, creating more than 80,000 jobs. According to the NITI Aayog, the state now ranks second in expenditure on R&amp;D. It is also emerging as a hub for medical technology.</p> <p>Tamil Nadu has also diversified into renewables, green energy and solar power. A major solar power plant has been set up by Tata Power in Thoothukudi. Malaysian giant Petronas is looking to set up its green hydrogen plant in the same region. The investment in the solar power sector in the Thoothukudi region is close to Rs30,000 crore. During the investors meet, MoUs worth Rs1.35 lakh crore in the energy sector were signed. This will attract 14,609 jobs in the next few years. First Solar’s fully integrated solar manufacturing plant was also inaugurated during the event by Chief Minister M.K. Stalin. The company will further invest Rs2,500 crore to provide 350 jobs. JSW Energy is set to invest Rs10,000 crore to expand in Thoothukudi and Tirunelveli, providing employment to an additional 6,000 people.</p> <p>On the semiconductor front, huge growth is expected in the next few years with the government planning to sign MoUs with majors like Samsung. Polymatech, the chip maker which has been manufacturing semiconductors from its unit in Chennai since 2019, plans to invest Rs8,000 crore over the next two years.</p> <p>“Underlining all of this is Tamil Nadu’s transformation into a knowledge economy,” said Raaja. “The recent strides we have made in attracting R&amp;D centres and global capability centres of several major global corporations and the establishment of world-class centres of excellence speak volumes about our concentrated efforts towards that goal.”</p> Sat Jan 13 12:18:12 IST 2024 people-of-dharavi-are-unhappy-about-the-redevelopment-plan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is 9pm on a weekday. Around 10 women in their 50s and 60s, all seated cross-legged in a single row on the floor, are still at work, going through plastic waste inside a recycling unit in Dharavi, one of the world’s largest slums. They are immersed in the task; they don’t even smile much or make small talk.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are here from 9am to 10pm daily,” says 53-year old Laxmi Rahulkar, who takes a short break to talk to us. Most women who work in Dharavi live there, but a few like Rahulkar commute long distances. Rahulkar comes from Diva, travelling 40km one way, to earn Rs300 for a 12-hour shift.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We pay Rs500,” contests the owner, Farid Khan, who sits outside the unit on a plastic chair. The 30-year-old belongs to the third generation of the family that owns the unit. “We do business worth crores a year,” says Khan. “These old women who are past their prime are willing to do this type of job. They need it to survive. It helps us, too.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nothing is wasted in Dharavi; 60 per cent of Mumbai’s waste is recycled here. From car batteries to computer parts, from fluorescent lights to ballpoint pens, Dharavi processes everything. Many of its shacks are busy sorting, sifting, melting and recycling thousands of tonnes of waste generated every day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Going deeper into Dharavi’s innermost bylanes might feel like getting pulled into a black hole. A walk through Dharavi is a humbling experience―a stark reminder of the juxtaposition of poverty and industriousness coexisting in a limited space of a little over 2.3 square kilometres, shared by over a million inhabitants.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sheer scale of the number of people living in Dharavi has created a market which runs on the entrepreneurial spirit of its people. It drives diverse manufacturing industries such as leather, pottery, garments, food production and printing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dharavi, however, is in a state of flux. After Adani Properties has been awarded the right to redevelop the slum, many residents are worried about their future. On December 16, several thousand protesters marched to the Adani group offices in Mumbai, raising questions about the Rs23,000 crore redevelopment project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People are concerned that they could be thrown out of the prime property. “Whatever plans you have for us, please let us remain here where we have spent our entire lives. We do not want to go anywhere even if it is within a 10km radius of Dharavi,” says Raj Nadar, who owns a small leather shop on the 90 Feet Road inside Dharavi. He says he will rather compromise on the space that will be allotted to him, than move out of Dharavi altogether. “This shop was started in 1994 and continues to this day. We have a dedicated clientele and we earn handsomely,” says Nadar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan says Dharavi will continue to flourish only if the residents are allowed to stay. “Otherwise, the slum will die a silent death. All our workers are from here. We are a self-sufficient community. While we do not mind redevelopment, it should not be at the cost of our livelihood,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The workers are unhappy. “Where else will we get the convenience of being able to work and stay at the same place?” asks Rajul Bhai, who operates a printing press in his one-room shack which doubles up as his home. “We are not greedy, we are not asking for thousand-square-foot space. Our only demand is not to evict us from this place,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a paper titled ‘Dharavi Redevelopment Plan: Contested Architecture and Urbanism’, Vandana Baweja from the University of Florida says that the redevelopment project reduces slum rehabilitation to a simplistic problem of numbers. “There is no safety net in the Dharavi Redevelopment Project that ensures the residents that they will be able to continue their vocation in the same way as they have in Dharavi for several generations.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At a recent news conference organised by the Dharavi Redevelopment Committee, the one sentiment that was expressed widely was to allow the existing tenants to keep their holdings. Many attendees, meanwhile, felt that the project would remain on paper as of now and could take several years to be finalised. “There is no point thinking about it now,” says the owner of a leather manufacturing unit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, who heads a faction of the Shiv Sena, plans to lead a protest march against the alleged favouritism shown towards the Adani group. “In the middle of all these, it is us, the residents, who will suffer. The redevelopment project will never take off and we will continue to live in misery. We need clean water, a good house and a decent place to work,” says Nadar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahulkar agrees with him. “If we are plucked out of here, I do not know how to survive. Because here, inside the community, people know us and give us some work so that we can fend for ourselves,” she says. “Will this be possible otherwise? I don’t think so.”</p> Fri Dec 29 16:11:10 IST 2023 the-new-chief-minister-s-tick-all-of-the-bjp-s-boxes-but-only-their-performance-would-guarantee-their-survival <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN 2003, BHAJAN</b> Lal Sharma rebelled against his party, the BJP, and contested from Rajasthan’s Nadbai assembly constituency as a candidate of the newly floated Samajik Nyay Manch, a party dedicated to the welfare of upper castes. He got less than 6,000 votes and returned to the BJP. It was a humbling experience for the young leader. Two decades of dedicated organisational work later, he is now the Rajasthan chief minister―the first Brahmin to hold the post in more than 30 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a BJP general secretary, it was Sharma who had sent out the invite to the party’s central team of observers, led by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, to come to Jaipur. Long ago, Singh, as BJP president, had the tough task of getting the party to agree on Narendra Modi as its prime minister candidate. He now had a similar task at hand. He had to persuade former chief minister Vasundhara Raje to step aside for a new face. And as Raje came to know of the choice through a paper slip, a moment caught on camera, it marked a new beginning in the BJP’s politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In picking its three chief ministers for Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the party followed a few conventions and broke others. Apart from Sharma, a first-time MLA, the BJP picked three-time MLA Mohan Yadav, an OBC leader, in Madhya Pradesh, and Vishnu Deo Sai, a four-time MP from the tribal community, in Chhattisgarh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The method to picking these men can be understood in four Cs―caste, cadre, culture and convention. With an eye on the 2024 Lok Sabha election and keeping in mind the opposition demand for a caste census, the BJP kept local caste equations in mind while choosing the men and their deputies, two each.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Brahmin community, which despite voting for the BJP has rarely got the top roles, found two of its men―Rajendra Shukla (Madhya Pradesh) and Vijay Sharma (Chhattisgarh)―elevated to the post of deputy chief minister. Rajasthan now has a Brahmin chief minister and BJP state president, besides governor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The dalits, too, got two deputy chief ministers―Jagdish Devda in Madhya Pradesh and Prem Chand Bairwa in Rajasthan. The other deputy chief minister in Rajasthan, Diya Kumari, comes from the Jaipur royal family and the dominant Rajput community. In Chhattisgarh, Arun Sao, an OBC leader, fills in the second deputy chief minister slot; former Congress chief minister Bhupesh Baghel was also from the community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As is Mohan Yadav. And as is the BJP’s convention. Its previous picks in Madhya Pradesh―Uma Bharti, Babulal Gaur and Shivraj Singh Chouhan―were all from the OBC community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, picking a Yadav sends out another important message, especially to voters in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where the BJP’s principal opponents are Yadavs―Akhilesh and Tejashwi, of the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal. The BJP had tried wooing the non-Yadav OBCs in these states, but with limited success. Yadavs make up 19 per cent of the population in Uttar Pradesh, 14 per cent in Bihar and 16 per cent in Haryana. Mohan Yadav’s wife is from Uttar Pradesh’s Sultanpur, which gives the BJP a new star campaigner in the state’s son-in-law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Chhattisgarh, though, the BJP broke convention by making a tribal the chief minister for the first time. The BJP won all 14 seats in the tribal-dominated Surguja district and eight of 12 in Bastar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The choice of Sai is expected to be the BJP’s selling point in the assembly and Lok Sabha elections in Odisha and Jharkhand. Having a tribal chief minister, in addition to the fact that the Indian president is also from the community, would benefit the BJP in the 47 Lok Sabha seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes across several states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within the party, the biggest message has been that the ordinary party worker can rise to the top. As the BJP draws its cadre from the grassroots and the youth, it has rewarded those who have started from the bottom. Sharma started as a <i>panch</i> (member of panchayat) and then village sarpanch in Bharatpur district. Sai was a <i>panch</i> in Jashpur district. Yadav cut his teeth as an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad leader in Ujjain’s Madhav Science College.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The three chief ministers are known to follow party diktats. Sai was denied a ticket in 2019 and was removed as state party president in 2022. But, he did not protest; the top leadership took note of this. When Amit Shah campaigned for Sai this time, he told the people of Kunkuri that the party would make him a big man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The BJP is a big party,” said its national spokesperson Gopal Krishna Agarwal. “There are a lot of people who have been working behind the scenes for long. They have put in a lot of effort to bring the party up. To strengthen the party, different people have to be given different responsibilities. The message is that the party cares for everyone that works for it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It also helps that the three men are poster boys for hindutva. While Sai has worked in the tribal areas against religious conversion, Sharma was part of the Ram Temple movement and had courted arrest. Yadav, a wrestler from the holy land of Ujjain, has the image of a hindutva strongman. Along with Modi from Varanasi, Yadav would be a hindutva model for the electorate. Also, as state education minister, he had pushed for the inclusion of the Gita and the Ramayan in the school curriculum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, owing to local traditions, Yadav might not be able to stay in his hometown―Lord Shiva is considered the king of Ujjain and no other ruler can stay there. Apparently, any chief minister who spends the night in Ujjain will lose his chair, or so the belief goes. Yadav, however, has grown up with this belief and would know how to deal with his predicament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Ram Temple will be inaugurated in January and the BJP in its manifesto has promised to organise free trips to Ayodhya. Having three hindutva-forward leaders at such a time would only help.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has firmly implemented what is humorously called its ‘VRS’ plan: sidelining Vasundhara, Raman (Singh) and Shivraj Singh (Chouhan). The generational change means the BJP is focused on creating a new crop of leaders who could guide the party’s politics in coming decades. While Raman Singh would continue in Chhattisgarh as speaker, Chouhan and Raje might be deployed in national politics; the Lok Sabha elections are in a few months. The message for the old-timers is that they have to reorient to stay relevant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In September 2013, when Modi was made the BJP’s campaign committee chief, thus clearing his path to be the party’s prime minister candidate, he was the longest-serving BJP chief minister. This made him a natural choice. He pipped party patriarch L.K. Advani to the post as he had already won three elections in a row and was a mass leader. Were Chouhan to continue as chief minister, he would have been in the chair for 22 years by the time 2029 rolled around and a contender within the BJP for prime ministership. Raman Singh was chief minister for 20 years and Raje for 15.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The party looks into the aspirations, the requirements and communication from the ground,” said Agarwal. “Who gets support from the MLAs plays an important part. There is no issue of entitlement. It is a people’s party and their support and love are taken into consideration while deciding on who will lead the party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the three new faces, the average age of the 12 BJP chief ministers has dropped―all three are under 60. The Modi-Shah duo has shown that no chief minister’s post is permanent. They have not shied away from changing chief ministers to counter anti-incumbency. Gujarat has seen three chief ministers since Modi, and Uttarakhand has had three in the past seven years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP might have given a chance to new leaders this time, but only their performance will guarantee their survival. They would also need to keep the public sentiment pro-BJP in the run-up to the 2024 election. The prime minister had given the electorate his ‘Modi Guarantee’ while campaigning in these state elections. The three chief ministers have to fulfil that guarantee. Said a party leader: “Those who perform well on this count will go far.”</p> Fri Dec 15 19:19:44 IST 2023 bjp-shahpura-candidate-upen-yadav-paper-leaks-protest-rajasthan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT IS AROUND</b> noon, and the commercial centre of Khejroli, a sub-tehsil in Shahpura constituency, around an hour’s drive from Jaipur city, is bathed in the balmy winter sunlight. It comprises a smattering of shops and food stalls that are getting ready for the day’s business. In the centre of the small marketplace is a platform with cement benches built around an old banyan tree, forming the chaupal or the local meeting place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The place is abuzz, with the campaign offices of the BJP and the Congress situated not far away and with the candidates set to focus on Khejroli for the day. BJP workers, gathered in the courtyard of the party office, rush to welcome and garland their candidate―Upen Yadav. Upen, 33, is the BJP’s surprise candidate for Shahpura in the Jaipur Rural district. He has been a youth rights activist for the past 12 years and enjoys fame all over Rajasthan, especially for his protests on the issue of leaks of question papers of recruitment exams.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Upen has completed the morning leg of the day’s campaign, and has some time to relax before he proceeds on a road show along with Union Minister of Women and Child Development Smriti Irani. Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Union Law Minister Arjun Meghwal had also campaigned for him earlier. Upen says his goal is to visit every village in the predominantly rural constituency, and he is doing so barefoot. He shows his muddied feet, saying they hurt immensely, but this is his way of conveying to the voters that he can feel their pain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is a humbling experience and I want the people to know that I am ready to suffer for them,” says Upen. “I have a three-year-old daughter. It is not easy for me to forget about my family’s wellbeing and take on the establishment. But this is who I am.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is very much a son of the soil, he says, coming from a farmer’s family in Manoharpur village in Shahpura. “My rivals are calling me an outsider, which is a blatant lie. I grew up in Shahpura. I have walked 3km every day to go to school,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Upen has a diploma in elementary education and he shifted to Jaipur to prepare for competitive exams. However, moved by the travails of the unemployed youth and guided by his own experience of looking for a job, he ended up as an activist. He says he has held 300 agitations, sat on hunger strikes and been to jail a dozen times and has been to the ICU on four occasions. He has a massive social media following, with more than 9.7 lakh followers on X, rivalling the following of established politicians in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shahpura is in the eastern Rajasthan region where the BJP had not done too well in the 2018 elections. Among the main issues that the BJP has raised in this election is that of paper leaks and has alleged the involvement of Congress leaders. It is an issue that the BJP hopes will click with the people, especially considering that Rajasthan has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at 26.4 per cent. So it is only apt that the party has as its candidate the poster boy of the protests against paper leaks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I went to Ajmer to take the REET exam (teachers’ recruitment exam),” says Radha Mohan Yadav, 22, a resident of Khejroli. “I had attended coaching classes for six months for the exam and stayed in Jaipur in a rented accommodation. But all the effort and money put into the preparation was wasted since the paper was leaked. Upen Yadav has been that one person who has brought our problems to the forefront.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Upen claims that the Congress, too, had offered him a ticket, but he declined. “I feel BJP leaders were not involved in paper leaks. The same cannot be said about Congress leaders,” he says, also stressing that he has been a member of the BJP’s student’s wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During his campaign, Upen tells voters that, as their representative, he can put to use his vast experience of having agitated for the rights of the youth. “In my 12-year struggle, I have met many IAS and IPS officers; I know how the system works,” he says. “I can take up the issues of the people of the constituency effectively. I am not afraid of approaching anyone for their welfare.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But winning Shahpura will not be easy for Upen. The constituency is Jat-dominated, with around 40 per cent of the voters belonging to the caste. Yadavs are the next, with 30 per cent. The sitting MLA, Alok Beniwal, an independent who had supported the Ashok Gehlot government, is a Jat. He is contesting again as an independent. He had been defeated by BJP’s Rao Rajendra Singh, a Rajput, in the 2013 elections when he had contested on a Congress ticket. In 2018, Beniwal had won, with Manish Yadav of the Congress coming second and Singh ending up third. Manish Yadav has been again fielded by the Congress while Singh, a Vasundhara Raje loyalist and a fomer deputy speaker of the Vidhan Sabha, has had to make way for Upen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is palpable disenchantment against Beniwal this time over his alleged failure to get certain works done for the constituency, such as alleviate the problem of water scarcity, ensure that Shahpura was demarcated as a separate district or set up a women’s college. However, he is still expected to corner a chunk of the Jat votes, and there is a fight on between Upen and Congress’s Manish Yadav for the OBC votes. Also, Manish is widely recognised in the constituency as having worked hard to reach out to the people and take up their issues in the last five years since his defeat in the 2018 election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am 100 per cent confident of winning,” says Manish. “I lost the last election by a very slim margin. Since then, I have not gone away from Shahpura. I have continued to work for the people. I know their issues. Be it Covid or the losses due to the lumpy disease, I have been with the people of Shahpura.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, there is said to be disgruntlement among BJP workers and its dedicated voters with regard to denial of ticket to Singh, and this could work against Upen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Upen though is convinced that this election, regardless of the result, is only the beginning of his journey as a politician. “No matter what the result is on December 3, come December 4, I will be someone the people of Shahpura can count on to take up their issues,” he declares. “I am not going anywhere.”</p> Sat Nov 25 12:13:26 IST 2023 telangana-congress-president-a-revanth-reddy-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A. REVANTH REDDY</b> is a busy man. The Telangana Congress president finished two media interactions in 45 minutes at his office in Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad, and was ready for a third one as he got into his car. He speaks in a low tone as he has to protect his voice and “sustain it until the elections are over”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reddy is the spearhead of the Congress’s aggressive campaign in the assembly elections. In fact, he is the one who turned it around for a party plagued by infighting and defection till a few months ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reddy talks about his party’s chances in the polls, the opposition and the key issues in the state. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Chief Minister KCR has criticised the Congress by evoking the Babri mosque demolition and the alleged communal riots and killings of naxals during Indira Gandhi’s rule. How do you respond to that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> He can go back to the time of freedom struggle and even beyond that and talk about monarchs. But what is the point of discussing it now? We have to learn from history and move forward. That is how politics and governance have evolved over time. People have judged the political consequences of this country, overcame it and made India the strongest democracy in the world. At a time when people want to know what KCR has done as chief minister, he is busy distorting facts and blaming the Congress. His behaviour shows that he has already accepted defeat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How seriously will the issue of unemployment influence the polls?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The PRC (Pay Revision Commission) constituted by this government gave a report that there were two lakh vacant government jobs. Whether it was in 1969 or 2009, the street agitations by students and the unemployed youth for a separate Telangana state centred on government jobs. When Telangana was created, the vacant jobs were one lakh, which has increased in the past 10 years and now stands at two lakh. For denying jobs to the eligible youth and destroying their lives, 30 lakh unemployed voters will throw out KCR.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ It is natural for anti-incumbency to set in after nine years. Are the section of voters moving towards you anti-BRS or pro-Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>The Congress is not fighting this election on the plank of anti-incumbency. We are seeking positive votes based on our six guarantees, manifesto and all the important projects we had taken up during the Congress rule between 2004 and 2014, be it successfully getting investment and creating employment or filling up government recruitments in a proper way or providing free power to farmers. We are going into elections presenting our track record and our policy document for the future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why are you contesting from two seats?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>The party high command thought it was the right move to contest against KCR and defeat him in the court of the public.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will you become chief minister?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The Congress follows a certain process to elect its chief minister and there will be no exemption for Revanth Reddy from that. The party will decide who will be the chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The AIMIM and its friendly party BRS are confident of getting minority votes.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>The contest is between the NDA coalition and INDIA alliance. The BRS, the BJP and the AIMIM are in the NDA coalition whereas the Congress, the CPI and the Telangana Jana Samithi are in the INDIA alliance. The NDA coalition has been in power in the centre as well as in the state for 10 years. People have decided to vote against their inefficient administration and flawed policies. So, the Congress and its allies are coming to power in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You could not accommodate the CPI(M) in your alliance.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We will work with each other in the Lok Sabha elections. The communist parties are natural allies of the Congress. We may not fight together in these elections but we have a broader understanding and agreement on issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ It has been two and half years since you became the party president. How do you rate your tenure?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I would like to believe that I passed with distinction even though I wanted to score 100 out of 100. I will work harder in future. I have a few more months in the three-year term, during which I will address the pending issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have promised 10g of gold for eligible brides. What is the significance of this poll promise?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> For women, there is a sentiment attached to gold. During weddings, parents follow the custom of offering gold to the brides. We felt that through our gold promise, parents would get a great amount of financial relief and it would add to their happiness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Congress lost the assembly elections twice even after helping the creation of Telangana.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The Congress did not address the Telangana issue for political gains. The party thought that it was necessary to recognise the legitimate right of the people of Telangana. The Congress weighed pros and cons and gave Telangana with the sole intention of giving people what was rightfully theirs. The people gave KCR two chances after that, but he turned out to be a failure. After 10 years, people have now got clarity that it is time to give a chance to the Congress under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What will be the impact of Telangana elections on the Lok Sabha elections next year?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Karnataka was the first step. And Telangana is the second. To unfurl the flag of the Congress in Delhi in 2024, these steps are crucial. The decisive result of Telangana elections will be a turning point in national politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How many seats will you win?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>We are forming the government with absolute majority. We will get 80-85 seats (of total 119), and the BRS will not cross 25.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will you welcome back the leaders who had defected from the Congress to the BRS if they want to return?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We have devised a special strategy to ensure they do not enter the assembly this time. They cheated the party and the cadre, and abandoned them during tough times. We will not forgive them and there is no question of allowing them back into the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What political developments do you expect after December 3, the day the results come out?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Faced with a humiliating defeat, BRS leaders will withdraw from public. They thought that they were the kings and people were slaves. But those who they treated as slaves would teach KCR and his family a lesson. The BRS will be reduced to an insignificant entity. A Congress government will be formed on December 9―it is an auspicious day for Telangana, as the state was announced on that day in 2009. It is also the birthday of our leader, Sonia Gandhi.</p> Sat Nov 25 11:12:38 IST 2023 telangana-assembly-elections-bjp-candidates-challenges <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On entering Kamareddy town, it feels as though Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao is personally welcoming you―the cutouts are everywhere. A campaign van in BRS pink zooms past, blasting a party song. KCR, evidently the most popular politician in Telangana, is contesting from Kamareddy for the first time; his other seat is his traditional constituency of Gajwel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the terrace of an unassuming house in Kamareddy’s NGOs Colony is a beedi-rolling unit. Thousands across the constituency work in the sector. “This occupation affects our health,” said Rajeshwari, head of the women-only unit. “Almost all of us have severe back pain, difficulty moving our fingers and breathing issues.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But that is not the most serious problem the women are facing. In almost every household here, there is a rift between the young and the old. “These people are happily lapping up Rs2,000 pension and trading it for our precious youth,” said her daughter, Shruthi, pointing at the women. The BRS government gives a monthly pension to beedi workers, the elderly and the handicapped, which has in turn given the party a reliable vote bank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I have three children who are unemployed and are waiting to get married,” said Varalakshmi, another beedi worker. “It is fine if the government wants to scrap the pension scheme. Take back Rs2,000, but give our youngsters jobs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The youth, especially in rural districts, have started a campaign within households, telling people that the KCR government was giving pensions to elders in lieu of jobs for youth to reduce government expenditure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Telangana Congress president A. Revanth Reddy, who is taking on KCR in Kamareddy, would hope to capitalise on this sense of anti-incumbency. The Congress’s machinery is at work to also rope in disgruntled elements and snatch the seat from the BRS. Revanth is also contesting from his traditional seat of Kodangal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The maximum noise in the constituency, however, is coming from the camp of the BJP candidate, Venkata Ramana Reddy. We stopped by his house, which resembled a mini-resort with lawns and an open lounge area for visitors. Among the stream of visitors were men with skullcaps. Ramana Reddy, who has an edge as a local, is popular across all communities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I have not planned any special strategy just because KCR or Revanth have got tickets from here. It is all social media hype,” said Reddy. He has released a personal manifesto which promises free medical treatment and farmer welfare programmes, which could cost him Rs150 crore. “The people you see in BRS and Congress meetings are the same set of people,” he said. “They might attend these meetings, but will ultimately vote for me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The adjoining constituency of Sircilla is also in the spotlight. State IT Minister and BRS working president K.T. Rama Rao is the sitting MLA, and his work shows. There are open-air gyms, clean roads, and pretty installations at crossroads. However, all is not hunky-dory for the chief minister’s son, as a section of the Padmashalis (weavers’ community) is unhappy with the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The region is known for its power looms, and we visited one. Two weavers came out to talk. “There is nobody to voice our concerns,” said 53-year-old A. Tirupathi, who has been a power loom worker and weaver for two decades. Like him, many of the constituents complain that KTR is not accessible. “I have not still been given a 2bhk house for the poor as promised,” he said. “I am just introspecting on whether my life improved after we got Telangana.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ruling party is also feeling the heat from another section of voters―Gulf returnees. According to some estimates, there are close to 20 lakh people from Telangana working in the Gulf, a lot from the northern part of the state, and most often under stressful conditions. J. Madhu, who has worked in Saudi Arabia for 18 years and represents the Gulf workers, has filed his nomination to take on KTR. He is an independent. “Before KCR became chief minister, he promised a welfare board with Rs500 crore for Gulf workers. But, even today, if any of our workers die in the Gulf countries, we pool in money and bring their body back. I am going to every village and creating awareness on how this government has neglected us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress candidate K.K. Mahender Reddy is one of the favourites here, but the BJP’s Rani Rudrama is also making waves with her articulate and fiery speeches. We saw her in action at Almaspur. At the village centre, her convoy of half a dozen vehicles came to a halt. An intoxicated man came in front of her open-top van and got emotional about his problems while the villagers broke into laughter. Rudrama took the mic and tried to pacify him. “Vote for the lotus, and I promise your problems will be addressed,” she said, before criticising the BRS at length.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most exciting battle this election, arguably, is in Gajwel. Here, KCR will take on former associate and now BJP strongman Eatala Rajender. Gajwel seems to have flourished under KCR; well-laid roads, integrated government complexes and institutions stand out. KCR has won the seat twice, but it will not be easy this time. Rajender is a mass leader from the Mudiraj (fishermen) community, which has close to 50,000 votes. This is Rajender’s second seat; he is comfortably placed in his traditional constituency of Huzurabad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There is a leader for the Mudiraj community in every <i>mandal</i>, and we are closely working with them,” said BJP leader Shankar Mudiraj, who is also the secretary of the Mana Mudiraj Mahasabha. “I have personally addressed meetings in 25 to 30 villages where Mudiraj members dominate the population. Our aim is to ensure that the entire Mudiraj vote bank supports Rajender.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is another group of people working for Rajender―around 200 Osmania University students are camping in Gajwel to campaign for him. “When we were arrested during the Telangana agitation, it was Rajender who spent his own money and bailed us out,” said Dr Nehru Naik, founder-member of the Osmania University Joint Action Committee. “What did KCR and his family do except for buying farmhouses and occupying powerful posts?”</p> Sat Nov 25 11:09:46 IST 2023 arvind-menon-bjp-s-telangana-co-in-charge-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE BJP’S STRATEGY</b> for the Telangana elections has been difficult to decode. When it removed the firebrand leader Bandi Sanjay as the state president, it was interpreted as an olive branch to the BRS. But it then fielded strongman Eatala Rajender against Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, which was by no means a goodwill gesture. In fact, the party is fighting a war on two fronts―it wants to ensure that the Congress is kept out of power, but does not want an overwhelming BRS victory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the war room at the BJP headquarters, national secretary Arvind Menon, who is the Telangana co-in-charge, is chalking out plans to increase the party’s tally in the state. He throws light on the expectations and challenges in an exclusive interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are the BJP’s prospects in constituencies like Gajwel, Sircilla, and Kamareddy, where KCR and his son, K.T. Rama Rao, are in the fray?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We are winning in all the seats you mentioned. Add more seats to it, like the one contested by BJP ex-president Bandi Sanjay. In Kamareddy, our candidate is a local who enjoys the goodwill and he is accessible to voters, whereas KCR and Revanth Reddy are outsiders. In Gajwel, our senior leader Eatala Rajender will defeat KCR, and in Sircilla, our spokesperson Rani Rudrama will perform well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What changes have you seen on the ground after Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended meetings aimed at the support of backward classes and scheduled castes?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We can see a significant shift of BC and SC voters in Telangana to the BJP. After the prime minister spoke about them and gave them assurances, both communities have embraced the BJP, and this will reflect in the upcoming elections. Other political parties have cheated them, and people have realised that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Who is your biggest enemy―the Congress or the BRS?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The Congress and the BRS are connected by commonalities―corruption and dynastic politics. They both have caused significant damage to Telangana by not delivering what they promised to youth, women and other sections. They function similarly. If you vote for the Congress, the BRS will resort to under-the-table dealings with the Congress and will rule indirectly. A vote for the Congress will be a vote for KCR, and vice versa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Congress alleges that the BJP and the AIMIM are working together.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Under no circumstances will we join hands with them. We would rather die than work with them. How can we favour a party that carries the legacy of the betrayers of the nation?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How important is Telangana for the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Telangana is of utmost importance to the BJP. You can look back and see that it is the BJP that has been celebrating ‘liberation day’, which marks the liberation of Hyderabad from the Nizam, leading to the merger with India. None of these parties gave importance to that day until we did. It is a matter of self-respect for every person in the Telangana region, but these parties took it for granted. There is only one party that is fighting honestly against KCR, and that is the BJP. Underline these words: KCR is losing badly this time.</p> Sat Nov 25 11:00:26 IST 2023 legacy-of-a-naxalite-past-lingers-in-the-telangana-assembly-elections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE MULUGU REGION</b> in north Telangana, a Naxal hotspot in the 1990s, saw many a battle between the state and the insurgents. Once, a gun battle ensued between the People’s War Group, now known as Maoists, and Janashakthi, another faction of extreme leftists. There were multiple casualties. A group of senior communist leaders and civil society members reached the forest to resolve the conflict. After much debate, the two groups decided to divide the areas of operation to avoid future violence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>About 25 years later, the legacy of the rivalry has spilled on to the political field―Telangana goes to the polls on November 30. In a high-intensity fight for the Mulugu assembly constituency, the Congress’s sitting MLA Seethakka, alias D. Anasuya, will take on the Bharat Rashtra Samithi’s Bade Nagajyothi, a former sarpanch and relative newcomer to politics. Both belong to the Gutti Koya tribe and both were shaped by left insurgency. Seethakka was a commander in the Janashakthi group, whereas Jyothi’s father and uncle led the local branch of the People’s War Group. Both have lost family members to encounters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, they are a testament to the shrinking influence of left extremism in the region. “She (Seethakka) has killed people. My father did not murder anyone. He used to only warn those on the wrong path,” Jyothi told THE WEEK. Her father, Bade Nageshwar Rao, aka Prabhakar Anna, was a former Naxalite who was popular among the tribals. He died in an encounter. “There are five mandals that are influenced by my father’s image,” she added. “I am getting to know a lot about my father during campaigning as people recollect how helpful he was.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jyothi claimed to have seen her father only three times, including once as a child when she was taken deep into the forest by her relatives. Her grandfather, aunt and a few other extended family members work for the government. But her father’s brother, Bade Chokka Rao, is now a senior Maoist leader. Local sources said he was backing her candidature.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jyothi has based her campaign around two polar opposite figures―her father, and Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao and his welfare schemes. Mulugu is one of the largest constituencies in Telangana; it has 75 per cent forest cover. Of the 2.2 lakh voters, tribals make up 35 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is for helping these tribals that Seethakka has become popular in the constituency. The former guerilla fighter, who now has a law degree, caught the attention of many during the pandemic when she ventured deep into the forests to deliver rations to tribals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seethakka was in her teens when she joined the movement. After losing her husband and brother in police encounters, she laid down arms and accepted government amnesty. She subsequently took the political plunge and won on a Telugu Desam Party ticket in the 2009 assembly elections. She later moved to the Congress, where she has now become a favourite of the high command. Senior leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra started their Telangana campaign with a public meeting in Mulugu, where they appreciated Seethakka’s contributions. State Congress president Revanth Reddy said that she could even be a probable chief minister candidate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mulugu used to be part of the former Warangal district. In the same region lies the Huzurabad constituency, represented by former finance minister Eatala Rajender. Before entering politics, he was a leader of the Progressive Democratic Students Union (PDSU), a student organisation, which once was known for following extreme left ideology. Today, he leads the BJP campaign as its election management committee chairman. He will take on the chief minister in Gajwel and will also contest from his home constituency of Huzurabad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajender is not the only one whose favourite colour changed from red to saffron. To some extent, Karimnagar, Nizamabad and Adilabad, once the epicentre of the Naxal movement in the state, have seen a saffron shift through their three parliamentarians, all from the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Analysing these dynamics, Professor M. Kodandaram, a leading civil society voice and founder of Telangana Jana Samithi, pointed out that the <i>sangh parivar</i> was always active in the region, but the three MPs won more so because they exploited local factors. “In Nizamabad, people were against the behaviour of K. Kavitha, the chief minister’s daughter, who was the candidate,” he said. “In Adilabad, there was an issue between the tribals―Gond and Lambada―which the BJP effectively used by giving a ticket to a vocal voice, Bapu Rao. In Karimnagar, voters were against feudal families who held power. Although not all the BJP winners adhered to the ideological framework of hindutva, they all came from backward sections, which helped them win.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite having three MPs, the BJP does not have MLAs in these regions. The party has asked these MPs to contest in the assembly elections. Former party president Bandi Sanjay will contest from Karimnagar, Soyam Bapu Rao from Boath and Dharmapuri Arvind from Koratla.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Arvind defeated Kavitha in 2019 and, having fulfilled one of his most important campaign promises―the establishment of a Turmeric Board―he is confident of another win. “The dream has been fulfilled by Prime Minister Modi, who has a farmer-oriented attitude,” he said. “It is definitely an advantage for the BJP, and we are in a strong position in my constituency, with the Congress in third place.” He brushed off the topic of Maoists; he said his generation would be the last to talk about them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Nizamabad region, too, will see a prestigious fight. Chief Minister Rao is contesting in two seats, one of them being Kamareddy in Nizamabad. Sources said the Congress is looking to field a formidable candidate against him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In recent elections, Telangana has seen a growing culture of inducements, whether in the form of cash or extravagant feasts in exchange for votes. Alcohol, in particular, has become hugely influential in getting votes. This, however, is not a recent phenomenon; in the 1990s, a considerable number of employees at Singareni Collieries, which operates coal mines across Karimnagar, Warangal, Nizamabad, Adilabad and Khammam, developed alcohol addiction. The People’s War Group banned the sale and distribution of liquor in the region, garnering overwhelming support from women, and achieving a successful prohibition. This ban remained in force for nearly a year before the government removed it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khammam was another region where multiple extreme leftist groups thrived. It was also a stronghold of the communist parties, which led to friction. In the mid-1980s, Naxalites murdered Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders B. Bhishma Rao and B. Chandan Rao; the Praja Pantha (another left radical group) killed around half a dozen Communist Party of India members over ideological differences. “At one point, the CPI and CPI(M) had seven MLAs in this district. A lot changed after money flowed into elections,” said Kunamneni Sambasiva Rao, CPI state secretary. Currently, Khammam has no communist legislators, but Rao said the left parties still have a vote bank of close to 25,000 in every constituency in the region. Perhaps that is the reason the Congress might allocate the left bloc one seat here as part of a seat-sharing agreement. The extreme left might be on the wane in the region, but echoes of the past do remain.</p> Sun Nov 05 14:54:08 IST 2023 can-nda-make-everyone-feel-the-developmental-experience-of-making-a-new-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE VISIONARY</b> leader Kanshi Ram, who founded the Bahujan Samaj Party in 1984, influenced Indian politics for decades. He used to say, “We will not form an alliance with political parties; we will form an alliance with the public.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The public is becoming political day by day. With seven decades of democratic experience, they have become politically literate and mature. As the Bollywood song goes, <i>Ye public hai, sab janti hai, ye public hai</i>. (This public knows everything.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The political public is not homogenous. It is a divided public. Political parties that aspire for power need to form rainbow alliances to win them over. They do it in two ways. One: through direct alliances by mobilising them on political agendas and programmes. Two: through alliances with small and regional parties that claim to represent one or the other section of the public.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political strategists assume that the easiest way to win over the divided public is by approaching them through such small parties. But, the influence of most such parties is limited to certain castes, certain social groups and certain regions. Any public mobilisation acquired through them may only be a fragmental mobilisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The political insight of Kanshi Ram comes to mind when we see political groups in power and in the opposition competing with each other to extend their alliances. Recently, the opposition parties met in Patna and in Bengaluru to discuss their rainbow of alliances. They formed a political group of 26 parties and adopted the name Indian National Development Inclusive Alliance and the acronym INDIA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other side, the National Democratic Alliance, led by the BJP, has attracted 39 political parties to its fold. Most of the parties in these two alliances are small parties active at the regional or state level.</p> <p>While embracing such parties, the BJP is also trying to develop a holistic identity of a development-seeking public. It is appealing to these ‘labharthi’ by implementing social development schemes. Besides, the BJP is redefining ‘the poor’ as a homogenous, aspiring class of poor people irrespective of their caste, community and region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP came to power with the aspirational metaphor of development. It is now trying to evolve new categories to concretise this developmental experience of the public―categories such as ‘labharthi’ and Garib Kalyan communities, the mobile middle class and the constant achiever higher class.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a political analyst, I believe the Lok Sabha election in 2024 is going to be a contest between two narratives: the opposition INDIA group’s narrative of saving democracy, Constitution and law, and the ruling NDA’s narrative of giving the public a tangible developmental experience, of projecting people as the makers and achievers of a new India, and of enhancing public aspiration for a developed India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has often done ‘politics of the past’. But during Narendra Modi's prime ministership it is also doing politics of the future. He recently said India would become the third largest economy in his third term in office. He has often said that India will be a developed country in the next 25 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The politics of the future was not very vocally present earlier in India. We have been doing politics of the present or around the present. In 2024, too, the political diction of opposition-led alliances is going to be focused on worries and anxieties of the present.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In contrast, Modi's NDA will paint itself as a great achiever working for a great India. It will use a sharper political diction of hope, in a grand narrative of the future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us wait and see whether the opposition alliance will listen to the grassroots and make an effective plan to do holistic politics. And whether the NDA can make everyone feel the developmental experience of making a new India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer </b>is director, G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.</p> Sat Nov 04 13:43:59 IST 2023 v-k-pandian-tipped-as-naveen-patnaik-s-political-heir-will-be-more-active-after-his-voluntary-retirement <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FORMER BUREAUCRAT</b> Wajahat Habibullah, while serving as director of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie, called up his school friend, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, saying that he was sending to him a freshly-minted IAS officer, who also writes movie scripts, an interest they all shared. Tamil Nadu born V.K. Pandian was initially allotted the Punjab cadre. But when he got married to his batchmate, Sujata, who was from Odisha, Habibullah suggested an inter-cadre transfer, and Pandian got his first posting in 2002.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his 21 years of service in Odisha under one of India’s longest-serving chief ministers, Pandian, 49, has proven his mettle as an efficient administrator. In the last 12 years, he has worked directly with Patnaik, overseeing the development work in Odisha, and earning the chief minister’s complete trust.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Patnaik prepares to make a bid for his record sixth term in the 2024 assembly polls, which would make him India’s longest-serving chief minister by next August, Pandian, too, is making an audacious career move by opting for voluntary retirement from the IAS. His application was cleared in a day by the Centre, waiving the mandatory notice period―a rarity―as Patnaik is learnt to have intervened at the highest levels on his behalf. Pandian will now have a more active role in the administration, overseeing the 5T (Transformational Initiatives) and Nabin Odisha, a concept aimed at transforming the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pandian is likely to join the Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal soon. The move has taken everyone by surprise, causing a political storm in the state known for its sober politics. Will Pandian be the political heir to 77-year-old Patnaik? This seems to have become the talking point across the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The shift began in March when Pandian undertook a tour across the state to engage directly with the people. The reception he got was unprecedented. People showered flowers on him, women wanted to talk to him, while the youth wanted selfies. Once during a meeting in Puri a person threw ink on him and the women assembled there tied rakhis on him for “protection”. The red threads could be seen on his hands in subsequent meetings, too. In 62 days, Pandian covered 147 constituencies, addressing 200 meetings and engaging with 25 lakh people of which nearly 70 per cent were women. When he went to Kendrapara, he was greeted with chants of jamai babu (son-in-law) as his wife hails from the district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pandian went as an emissary of the chief minister, a babu who could “break the silos” that existed in various departments and act as single-window solution for people’s problems. But as more and more people gathered to listen to him, he emerged as a leader. Patnaik and Pandian came under sharp attack from the opposition as they blamed Pandian for carrying out what was clearly “political work”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pandian has now quit the bureaucracy, and his focus is likely to be the upcoming Lok Sabha and assembly elections. “The chief minister’s vision is to have a new Odisha. He wants to achieve 5T, which is teamwork, technology, transparency, transformation and timeliness. My job is to fulfil it. It is not a scheme, but a dream for an empowered Odisha,” Pandian told THE WEEK. “Now, I will have more freedom to fulfil this. It is a blessing to work with the chief minister.” He was tight-lipped about his political role, but there is enough indication that Patnaik has picked him to be his Chanakya. But despite his sharp political sense and the ability to deliver, Pandian has his task cut out. He matches Patnaik with his frugal lifestyle, sticking to his trademark untucked white shirt, beige trousers and sandals. And he compliments Patnaik’s reclusive persona as he engages with people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But can a Tamil be accepted in Odisha, which is culturally so different? Pandian is well-versed in Odia language, is married to an Odia and is a staunch devotee of Lord Jagannath, the presiding deity of the state. He visits the temple in Puri every Saturday, “surrendering” himself before the divine presence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Odisha’s Jagannath culture adds to the state’s inclusivity and helps people shed their outsider tag. The BJP’s charge in the state is led by Aparajita Sarangi, a former IAS officer who is married to an Odia officer. She belongs to Bihar and now represents Bhubaneswar in the Lok Sabha. Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, also a former IAS officer, was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Odisha, although he is from Rajasthan. The next elections will witness an interesting play as retired IAS officers strategise for opposing camps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pandian will be encouraged by the fact that the outsider tag has never been a major problem in Odisha, which has two Sikh MLAs. Former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao was elected to Lok Sabha from Berhampur in 1996. “Pandian is the son-in-law of the state. It would have been better had he left the job earlier to do the work for the state. He is here in Jagannath temple every week,” said Kunu Palakdhari, a sevayat (a person who performs ritual services) of the Puri temple. “Patnaik started the temple corridor work. It is after 600 years that work is being done here at the temple. Once the heritage corridor is complete, people will praise the government. Both Patnaik and Pandian have Jagannath’s blessings.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On October 28, Pandian was at the temple early in the morning―a style of work that has earned him the 4am-officer sobriquet―for assessing the work on the heritage corridor. He has ordered the project, which has cost the state 03,200 crore, to be completed by December 15 for its likely opening in January. If Prime Minister Narendra Modi is highlighting the opening of the Ram temple in Ayodhya and his dream of making India a developed country by 2047 as his key campaign slogans, Patnaik is likely to focus on the heritage corridor and the Nabin Odisha scheme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pandian is in charge of Nabin Odisha, a project which aims to transform Odisha in terms of delivering development by scale and speed. Earlier, the state government upgraded high schools by providing IT-enabled classrooms, followed by senior secondary schools and now colleges. A similar initiative is being launched to make government hospitals at par with the private sector.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the BJP working aggressively to make inroads, the BJD may go for a major overhaul ahead of the elections, bringing in fresh faces. “Pandian has the blessings and the complete confidence of the chief minister. He is perfectly positioned to take forward the chief minister’s vision for the state and the government. He is the ideal glue for the party to thrive,” said BJD spokesperson Sasmit Patra. Pandian has age on his side, and he might be able to bring in some freshness and dynamism to the BJD as two decades in power has resulted in some rot. But for that to happen, Patnaik will have to announce a political role for him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pandian has handled multiple roles in the past, flitting from one job to the other with ease. As a young student, he was enrolled in a sports school in Tamil Nadu because he wanted to make a name as a middle-distance runner. He later moved to Delhi to study plant physiology at the prestigious Indian Agriculture Research Institute. Although he cleared the civil services examinations, he was also interested in filmmaking. Those close to him say that he wanted to try his hand at filmmaking, but destiny willed otherwise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As an IAS officer, Pandian’s pioneering work in multiple fields won him accolades, including the Helen Keller award for his proactive role in ensuring benefits for persons with disabilities in Mayurbhanj district when he was district collector. In 2007, when he was posted in Patnaik’s home district, Ganjam, his work among the disabled and the HIV patients got noticed at the national level. He successfully implemented the pilot project for transferring MNREGA wages directly into beneficiaries’ accounts, which was the precursor of the current direct benefit transfer scheme. It was during his posting in Ganjam that Patnaik called him to the state capital to work as his personal secretary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Pandian has quit the IAS and is expected to take the political plunge, his first big test will be the Lok Sabha and assembly elections. A winning start will clearly set him up for a for a rewarding innings in politics.</p> Sat Nov 04 13:38:37 IST 2023 films-with-political-thriller-themes-set-in-andhra-pradesh-and-telangana <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN MARCH 2011,</b> when Telangana was still a part of Andhra Pradesh, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy raised the banner of revolt in the Congress and launched a new political party. A month later, a multilingual political thriller―titled <i>Rangam</i> in Telugu and <i>Ko</i> in Tamil―was released in theatres. It had actor Jeeva as a journalist who goes against his longtime friend and budding politician, played by Ajmal Ameer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The film was an instant hit, but Jagan’s party took time to find success. In 2019, five years after Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated, he led his party to victory and became chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is strange coincidence that both Jeeva and Ameer are now portraying Jagan in two separate films that will soon be released. Ameer is Jagan in <i>Vyooham</i>, and Jeeva plays the same part in <i>Yatra 2</i>, the sequel to the 2019 biopic of Jagan’s father, former chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. The two films come at a crucial time―elections to the Andhra Pradesh assembly and the Lok Sabha are due next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Vyooham</i> will be released on November 10. It is directed by Ram Gopal Varma, who gave final touches to the film’s first trailer at RGV Den, his workplace in Hyderabad. He has included the remixed version of the popular poll campaign song ‘Ravali Jagan, kavali Jagan’ (We will bring Jagan, we need Jagan) in the trailer.</p> <p>The original song was produced in 2019, by the political strategy firm I-PAC. It bolstered Jagan’s campaign to become chief minister, and was such a runaway hit that even opposition leaders found it catchy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Is <i>Vyooham</i> a straightforward biopic? No, says Varma; it is a “political thriller”. “My intention is to capture the behind-the-scenes development of a certain political event that happened in 2009, with the death of YSR (Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy),” he says. “When a leader dies in an accident, everybody is unprepared, and a lot of people will jump into the fray to take advantage of the new situation. There are people trying to do things, implement strategies, counter-strategies, or work with an agenda.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Vyooham</i> will have a sequel, <i>Shapadham</i>. The two films, shot back to back, will cover key political moments such as Jagan’s arrest by the CBI in 2012, his fight against the Congress, his padyatra that led to him becoming chief minister, and the recent arrest of former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu. Going by the trailer and movie stills, one can expect Sonia Gandhi, Pawan Kalyan and Naidu to get significant screen time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But how factual will be the story? Varma, in his trademark style, says that everybody believes in their truth in today’s polarised world. His narrative is based on his research and understanding of situations. “This is what I believe happened. Now, I can’t guarantee that this is what happened. But neither can anybody prove that this did not happen,” says Varma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The thought that Jagan’s political journey would make for a great film first came to Varma nine years ago. He shaped <i>Vyooham</i> in his head in the past two years and, finally, shot it in just six months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Part of the movie was shot in Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh’s capital. Varma has a reputation for selecting actors who can resemble real-life people, and <i>Vyooham</i> offers the best example. Varma has moulded Dhananjay Prabhune, a former hotel owner, into Naidu on screen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why these movies are being released now is a no-brainer. The opportunity is not just political, but financial as well. Topical and easily marketable, these films can fill theatres.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is Varma’s unfiltered opinion of Jagan? “I think he is an incredibly confident person. He thinks through a lot, listens to everyone very seriously, and then makes a call. When he tells you the reason why he has taken certain decisions, it is compelling. He is a simple man with a simple attire―rare in politics. He doesn’t try to stand out as others do,” says Varma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Yatra</i>, directed by Mahi V. Raghav and featuring Malayalam star Mammootty as YSR, was released just before the 2019 assembly polls. The movie focused on the padyatra that YSR undertook in 2003, which transformed him from opposition leader to chief minister. With <i>Yatra 2</i>, Raghav is now focusing on Jagan’s own rise as a mass leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Scenes from the movie’s shoot, which have Jeeva emulating Jagan’s bearing and mannerisms, have social media abuzz. The film will be released in February. Mahi describes it as “political drama” inspired by real people and events, but fictionalised enough to make it more dramatic and appealing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Do movies like <i>Yatra</i> have an impact on poll outcomes? “Movies do not have any impact on elections,” says Mahi. “If films were taken so seriously, then why do we have actors who are struggling in politics? Voters are well-informed and shrewd. They know movies are just for entertainment. I feel it is an insult to their intelligence to think they can get carried away.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With two movies on Jagan clashing at the box office, is Mahi worried? No, he says. “Ultimately, if the movie is good, it will work,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Telangana politics, too, is set to be jolted by a Telugu film. A movie related to the history of the erstwhile Hyderabad State will be released in November, when the state will go to the polls. Titled <i>Razakar</i>, the film reportedly portrays the events that led to the integration of Hyderabad State into India, especially the alleged atrocities of the Razakars, the private militia of the Nizam, who was opposed to merging with India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The film will be dubbed in five languages, and is produced by BJP leader Gudur Narayana Reddy. Its trailer has stirred controversy, with critics saying that <i>Razakar</i> is aimed at polarising communities and stirring up communal passions for the BJP’s benefit. The Bharath Rashtra Samithi, which is in power in the state, has already threatened legal action, but the team behind <i>Razakar</i> is determined to release it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reddy says that the film is close to his heart, as his grandfather had fought the Razakars in his village. He also insists the film does not have anything to do with the polls. “I am not making the movie for elections,” he says. “We want to educate the younger generation about Hyderabad’s history. There was a genocide, and there is a risk of it repeating, given what is happening around the world. The [BRS] does not talk about it and wants to keep it under wraps.”</p> Sun Oct 22 10:20:40 IST 2023 poll-strategists-about-telangana-assembly-elections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A FEW POPULAR HINDI</b> crime-drama series on streaming platforms are rooted in college and university life in Uttar Pradesh. The antagonist or the protagonist is usually exposed to the world of politics in their campuses, which marks the turning point in their lives. Preetham Gampa, too, was introduced to politics at his campus―IIT Kanpur―and has ended up working for politicians. Though he studied chemistry, he decided to become a poll strategist. Looking back, the 28-year-old said: “My future would have been different had I graduated from any other IIT.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ahead of the 2017 assembly elections, IIT Kanpur saw a flurry of political activity―awareness sessions, discussions and party-sponsored meetings. A startup Preetham and friends had launched on campus around the same time took on a political hue as his seniors sub-contracted promotional work for a national party to him. Soon, Preetham appeared for the campus interview of Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC and cracked it. At the renowned political consultancy firm, he gained invaluable experience.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Preetham, who hails from Telangana, was involved in two of the biggest <i>padyatras</i> in recent years in the Telugu states. In 2018, on behalf of I-PAC, he was on the ground coordinating with local leaders of the YSR Congress Party during then opposition leader and current Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s <i>padyatra</i> in Andhra Pradesh. Between 2021 and 2023, as an independent consultant and strategist, he was in-charge of the route map and other logistics for YSR Telangana Party founder Y.S. Sharmila’s <i>padyatra</i> in Telangana.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When I am active on the field, I often skip lunch as there is simply no time to eat,” he said. “In this field, there are no fixed working hours. You can expect a call in the dead of the night or receive a dressing down early in the morning.” There are times when he yearns for the corporate sector―“on scorching summer days, I think I should have taken up a job that would require me to be in an AC office”. But, on most days, Preetham’s passion outweighs the challenges. “I have learned to be patient as things work slowly in politics,” he said. “I have also understood how to execute big jobs with small teams.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After Sharmila’s party engaged with the Congress for a merger, Preetham moved on and is now gearing up to assist a senior leader of a regional party in the upcoming assembly polls and general elections. Even as the candidates battle it out, Preetham will face tough competition from his own peers―a new crop of young strategists, survey experts, consultants, social media marketers, researchers and data analysts. I-PAC is not in the fray, but there are at least two dozen individuals and startups working for various candidates, both party-affiliated and independent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In political consultancy circles, there is a joke that beneath the surface of every firm lies the same repository of data. This voter-specific data apparently covers crores of voters and is used to plan strategies and campaigns. It is an open secret in the industry that when employees switch roles or jobs, the data follows. This has raised concerns about leaks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mohammed Khurshid Hussain, who runs YAM consultancy, said that upholding trust and integrity is key to maintaining significance. To address the anxieties of clients, he limits data access within his team and assesses trustworthiness of recruits. Khurshid, who is currently working with six candidates from the same political party, said the hype surrounding data is overrated as it can only be used to understand the facts and is not a major factor in influencing the results.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among the services offered by his 30-member team is data analysis for customising apps for the candidates, conducting surveys, gathering intelligence, managing social media accounts, content creation, digital marketing, campaign design, strengthening party cadre and liaising with the media.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An engineering graduate with seven years of experience in this field, Khurshid has been involved in numerous state elections, including the recent Karnataka polls. He believes in following a “bottom-to-top” approach, focusing on MLA candidates and lower-ranked politicians and eventually evolving to handle political parties. He said his drive comes from wanting to help the public. “Since we have data and intelligence reports, we can tell politicians what to do and they will listen,” he said. “This way we can solve problems faced by the people.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Few can dispute the influence of social media during campaigns. The in-house teams of political parties are trying to outdo each other in increasing their online reach and crafting a favourable public image. The Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) has adopted a multifaceted approach in the virtual world, live streaming their events, reaching out to informed audience on LinkedIn and having dedicated social media warriors. Over the last six months, the social media team has come up with a fresh strategy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In 2018, our primary focus was Facebook,” said a BRS social media team member who requested anonymity. “Now, Facebook is almost obsolete. This time, our focus is on Instagram reels and YouTube shorts.” The source also added that the posts on the party’s pages, which used to get few thousands of views, is now crossing a million― a sign that they are grabbing the attention of the youth. The party has also come up with a unique initiative to educate first-time voters on its history and Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao’s struggle for a separate Telangana. To achieve this, old photos and videos are being recycled to connect emotionally with the target demographic. A dedicated, 25-member team manages the pages across platforms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is also crucial for the parties to monitor their competitors closely. In this elections, two national parties are receiving support from two big organisations. The Congress has engaged Sunil Kanugolu’s Mindshare. Kanugolu’s role in the party’s campaign saw him being elevated to the role of chief adviser to Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. The BJP is assisted by Nation with Namo, which conducts competition analysis and develops strategies based on the opponent’s moves. Though the narrative revolves around Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it also handles local social media pages and churns out Telugu content.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What about the money? How financially lucrative is this career? “The financial part is tricky,” said A. Satheesh Kumar, a poll strategist who is working for half a dozen clients. “If the money is legitimate, then there is no issue. But if the client wants to link your fees to his black money, then it causes a headache. Timely payments can also be problematic as the industry is not yet fully professional.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Satheesh, a journalist-turned-poll strategist, transitioned into the role after gaining experience and building a network while covering multiple elections in different states. He believes that outsourcing election work has become mandatory for leaders in today’s political landscape. Given the demand for people with diverse skill sets, he is in the process of hiring nearly 100 people. He says the lack of proper training institutions compels him to assume the role of trainer as well. “There are few institutes that provide training in psephology or election-related specialities,” he said. “I have no choice but to train people after I hire them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One notable aspect of this group of election professionals is the lack of female representation. The field remains predominantly male-dominated, with only a few women found in larger teams. Sathya N.S.R. is an exception. A US-trained software engineer, she later pursued public policy studies at Osmania University in Hyderabad. After a stint as a public policy researcher at former bureaucrat and politician Jayaprakash Narayan’s Foundation for Democratic Reforms, she ventured into the world of election strategy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Talking about the dearth of women in the field, she said gender bias and stereotypes could influence how women were perceived in political settings. “Additionally, the unpredictable nature of work meetings, which can extend late into the night, and the possibility of encountering unsafe environments, especially crowded or isolated interiors, can limit opportunities to build a professional network or move up the ladder,” she said, adding that her defence background helped her to be resilient and find her footing in the industry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sathya hopes that the system develops a more inclusive environment for women as she feels that women with good communication skills and emotional intelligence can be valuable assets in the field.</p> Sat Oct 14 13:32:43 IST 2023 bjp-s-role-suspected-in-former-andhra-cm-chandrababu-naidu-s-arrest <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was an unforgettable weekend for Andhra Pradesh. Around 6am on Saturday, September 9, former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, 73, who was on a political tour of Nandyal, was arrested for the first time in his life. He was driven to Vijayawada and when he reached there in the evening the streets teemed with people curious to see the political behemoth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the time of Naidu’s arrest, Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy was in London on a personal visit; Governor S. Abdul Nazeer was in coastal Visakhapatnam on an official visit and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was busy with the G20 summit in Delhi. Whether the arrest was well timed or not, it got the complete attention of the people of the two Telugu states. They were glued to their screens till Sunday night, when the Telugu Desam Party president was lodged in Rajahmundry central jail. In many households, live coverage of the arrest had precedence over the India-Pakistan cricket match at the Asia Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ever since Reddy came to power in the state in 2019, Naidu’s name has cropped up in multiple scams, either through allegations or through investigations ordered by the YSR Congress Party government. This had called into question Naidu’s claim of being untainted by corruption anytime during his three terms as chief minister. Finally, the arrest was made in a Rs370-crore “skill development scam”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the special investigation team of the state police CID, during his last term as chief minister, Naidu deviated from his previous government’s orders and bypassed standard procedures to facilitate “unjustifiable” sanction of funds to a private firm called DesignTech. It partnered with global major Siemens to set up skilling centres across the state. A part of the funds, the police said, was siphoned off to shell companies using fake invoices, converted into cash, and transferred to Naidu and his associates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A fraud in the project was first detected by the GST intelligence wing in 2017 and then by the Enforcement Directorate, which also made arrests. Reddy informed the legislative assembly that Siemens had, after conducting an internal inquiry, admitted wrongdoing by its senior executives. The CID took up the case in 2021 and, after a two-year investigation, declared Naidu the “prime accused.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Anti-Corruption Bureau court in Vijayawada heard the case for more than eight hours before sending Naidu to a 14-day judicial remand. The arrest shocked Naidu’s cadres while Reddy’s burst crackers in jubilation. For the TDP, more disappointment followed as its call for statewide bandh got a lukewarm response. It called the case false, and Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh, who is party general secretary, warned of serious consequences. But, the authorities have already moved on to the Inner Ring Road scam; officers say Naidu was involved in a quid pro quo in the scam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A puzzling question was: why arrest the leader of the opposition at this juncture―the assembly polls are due in 2024―and risk triggering sympathy among voters? “Sympathy does not operate in a vacuum,” said K. Nageshwar, senior political analyst and former member of the Telangana legislative council. “It should have a political context. For instance, in 2003, Maoists made an attempt on Naidu’s life, yet he lost the election in 2004. Anti-incumbency [overshadowed] the incident. The level of anti-incumbency against Reddy will determine the sympathy for Naidu.” He said the state was completely polarised between two communities and leaders, leaving hardly any sizeable number of swing voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the first to condemn the arrest was actor Pawan Kalyan, leader of the Jana Sena Party. Kalyan is based in Hyderabad in Telangana. While he may or may not contest in the Telangana assembly polls this December, he supported Naidu without thinking about the risk of losing votes if he were to contest. Two former TDP leaders who are now in Telangana, D. Seethakka of the Congress and M. Krishna Rao of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, both MLAs, had faced mild criticism from party workers after expressing their sympathies for Naidu. Playing the hero, Kalyan tried to enter Andhra Pradesh, but was restrained at the border, citing law and order issues. He lay down on the road in protest and warned Reddy’s party of consequences once it lost power. Kalyan’s party supported the bandh called by the TDP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kalyan, a BJP ally, has been trying to bring the TDP back into the National Democratic Alliance. Naidu, too, had indicated that he was not against the NDA and has kept away from opposition fronts. Naidu not being part of INDIA or NDA also meant that national parties’ reaction to his arrest was delayed. Only West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee promptly came out in support of Naidu. Others joined in eventually. From the NDA, there were no major voices of support, except for BJP state president Daggubati Purandeswari, who happens to be Naidu’s sister-in-law. But, she made it clear that the BJP would not support the bandh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a result, there is confusion and distrust of the BJP among cadres of Naidu’s and Kalyan’s parties. There are also suspicions that the BJP had played a role in the arrest. The argument is that the arrest could not have been made without the BJP’s consent as it came during the G20.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Jagan Mohan Reddy must have informed the BJP government,” said Telakapalli Ravi, senior political analyst. “It has become clear that the BJP is playing political games. This case originated at central agencies and a recent IT notice to Naidu [highlighted] it.” Though invisible, the BJP, he said, played a big role.</p> Sat Sep 16 12:59:18 IST 2023 maharashtra-politics-bjp-challenges-eknath-shinde-and-ajit-pawar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A FEW WEEKS AGO,</b> after the tragic death of nearly 20 people in a day at the municipal general hospital at Kalwa in Thane city, there was a spat between Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar. After a cabinet meeting, Ajit asked Shinde how so many people could die in a single day at a hospital in ‘his’ Thane. A visibly irked Shinde told Ajit that he was chief minister not just for Thane, but for entire Maharashtra. Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had to step in to salvage the situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recent developments in Maharashtra point to persistent unease and increasing friction between Shinde and Ajit. Another example of the growing tension is the chief minister’s note asking all files from all departments to him to be routed through Fadnavis. It effectively means that Ajit, who holds key portfolios such as finance and planning, cannot send his files to the chief minister directly, but only through Fadnavis. To be fair to Shinde, he used to follow this practice earlier, too―but it was before Ajit and his team of Nationalist Congress Party rebels were inducted into the cabinet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The political and administrative situation in Maharashtra has changed quite a lot after Ajit’s entry. His ambition to become chief minister is an open secret. He blames his uncle, Shard Pawar, for not being able to give Maharashtra a chief minister from the NCP. Similarly, he has also publicly said that he is not interested in continuing as deputy chief minister for long. “I, too, have a vision for the development of the state and I want to see it implemented,” he once said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among the major changes that Ajit initiated after taking over as deputy chief minister was to set up a project monitoring unit to keep track of all big development projects. It was seen as a ploy to get back at Shinde as it is the chief minister who usually monitors all big projects. The chief minister’s war room is where all big projects are born and nurtured. Ajit has now set up an office close to the chief minister’s war room to take stock of these projects. He has already conducted a couple of meetings to evaluate 34 major infrastructure projects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajit used to hold similar evaluation meetings when he was deputy chief minister under Uddhav Thackeray. But Uddhav was not an active administrator and hardly attended office because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Ajit, on the other hand, attended office every day even during the peak of the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within days of Ajit holding the evaluation meeting, Shinde made his displeasure public by staying away from the high profile inauguration ceremony of a flyover at Pune’s Chandani Chowk on August 12. It was Shinde who had expedited the project after getting stuck in traffic at the spot a year ago. Ajit, however, said Shinde skipped the event because of health reasons. Three days later, Ajit lost the chance to hoist the national flag in Pune on Independence Day. Instead, he was dispatched to Kolhapur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vijay Wadettiwar of the Congress, who is leader of opposition in the assembly, said a cold war was brewing between Shinde and Ajit and the state was suffering because of that. An NCP leader who insisted on anonymity concurred with Wadettiwar’s views. “Earlier Ajit <i>dada</i> was the last word for us because he was Sharad Pawar’s nephew,” he said. “Nobody spoke a word against him. That was how the NCP could keep Congress leaders like Harshvardhan Patil out of the cabinet. Congress leaders used to say there was no point opposing Ajit. Pawar <i>saheb</i> was his <i>kavach kundal</i> (protective shield). Now that is not there. It is the chief minister who issued the diktat [asking all files to be routed through Fadnavis], but it has the blessings of the BJP as Fadnavis is the one who will play the deciding role. If this is not clipping Ajit’s wings, I do not know what it is.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mahesh Tapase, chief spokesperson for the Sharad Pawar faction of the NCP, too, argued that there was a cold war. “The Maha Vikas Aghadi has great respect for the Pawar surname and so does Maharashtra. But the order by the chief minister to route all files through Fadnavis clearly shows that they hardly have any respect for the name. It is clearly an attempt to clip Ajit <i>dada</i>’s wings,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior BJP leader said the cold war could aggravate soon. Both Ajit and Shinde want to be the Maratha face of the Maha Yuti (saffron grand alliance). Earlier, Shinde was the only Maratha face of the alliance, but Ajit’s entry has complicated the situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, Bharat Gogawale, a legislator from the Shinde camp, said there was no truth to the cold war talk. “These kind of arrangements [like routing the files] are done so that there is no mismanagement in running the departments,” he said. But the Shinde camp continues to be wary and watchful. Sources close to the chief minister said that he would not deliberately step on someone else’s toes, however, if someone did that to him, he would not take it lying down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“People underestimate Shinde as a politician. He is very shrewd. He is a mass leader like his mentor Anand Dighe and also an administrator like Ajit. He wants his tenure to be remembered, so he will not needle anyone unnecessarily,” said a Shinde aide. “His eyes are set on the Lok Sabha and assembly elections, and he wants to make sure that his flock gets elected once again. If Ajit has other plans, then Shinde knows how to safeguard the interests of his group.”</p> Sat Sep 09 12:34:59 IST 2023 telangana-assembly-elections-december <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On the southern edge of the British embassy in Tehran lies the Tehran War Cemetery, with remnants of a time and lives gone by. Row after row of tombstones commemorate the valour of 500 plus soldiers, including Indians, who fought the two World Wars. One of them bears an inscription: ‘And all our calm is in that balm; not lost but gone before.’ The words, borrowed from English writer Caroline Elizabeth Norton’s poem, aptly describe Feroze Bapooji Chenai, a doctor from the erstwhile Hyderabad state. According to the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, 30-year-old Chenai died in 1919 while serving in the Indian Medical Service.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chenai has another tombstone in Isfahan in central Iran, where generations of a family remember him for trying to save a kin from typhoid. It is said that Hyderabad’s design was inspired by Isfahan. During Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah’s reign (1580-1612), Hyderabad was built as a new city to decongest Golkonda and replace it as the capital. From a mere 7.7sqkm, it grew into a metropolis of 875sqkm, what is today Greater Hyderabad. Between the monumental Charminar in the old city and the futuristic HITEC City in the west, more than 10 million people live here. And, it is through these people, from various ethnicities and nationalities, that you understand the city’s history and diversity―its cosmopolitanism evident in its 24 assembly constituencies, which will go to polls in December.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chenai’s family in Hyderabad lives in the Sindhi Colony, which, as the name suggests, was once a large settlement of Sindhis. A gateway to Secunderabad―Hyderabad’s twin city―it also had Parsis staying here in elegant bungalows. One such bungalow belonged to Shapoor Toorkey, grandson of Chenai’s brother. Today, it has made way for apartments. Toorkey’s flat is quite spacious―the balcony itself is the size of an average 2BHK flat. Sitting close to a century-old roller desk, Toorkey recalls a cousin’s visit to Iran, where she met the family that is preserving Chenai’s legacy in Isfahan. “He saved the lives of many locals at that time,” says Toorkey. In 2018, Cobra Beer founder Lord Karan Bilimoria, cousin of Toorkey’s wife, mentioned Chenai during a debate in the House of Lords. Bilimoria referred to the portrait of Chenai in the fire temple in Secunderabad, one of the three places of worship in Hyderabad for the nearly 1,200 Zoroastrians in Telangana.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Chenai is not the only Parsi par excellence. There is Khan Bahadur Taraporewala, economic adviser to Mir Osman Ali Khan, the last nizam. Legend has it that Taraporewala preferred being tortured than reveal secrets to the Indian army that had marched into the state soon after independence. Then there is Param Vir Chakra awardee Lt Col Ardeshir Burzorji Tarapore, who died in the 1965 war but not before blowing up Pakistani tanks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Black-and-white family portraits, taken by the nizam’s court photographer Raja Lala Deen Dayal, adorn Toorkey’s wall. Toorkey’s grandfather was the first mint master for the nizam. His father was part of the inaugural faculty at the elite Jagirdar’s College. Now called the Hyderabad Public School, the 100-year-old institution in Begumpet boasts an enviable list of alumni, from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayan to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, former chief minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Talking of politicians, among the first set of Rajya Sabha MPs representing Hyderabad in 1952 was a Parsi statesman, Dinshaw D. Italia, who previously served as defence and railway adviser to the nizam. His grandson Omim Maneckshaw Debara lived in a colonial bungalow. Dressed in the traditional Parsi attire, he sat besides a lamp, a cherished item from his parent’s wedding. An advocate of heritage conservation, he had filed 30 public interest litigations. The retired engineer even moved the court to halt the renovation of the camp office-cum-residence of Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, as it involved demolishing a part of the IAS officers’ club, a heritage structure. He lost the case, but won the one closest to his heart. “During Covid-19, the Telangana government claimed that all hospitals were full,” said Debara, 77. “I went to court against two private hospitals that were allotted land at a cheap price long ago. There was a condition that they allocate 15 per cent of beds to the poor, which had not been followed even after 40 years. I won that case, and the government passed an order to fulfil that condition.” A few days after THE WEEK met him, Debara died.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Less than a kilometre from Debara’s house is an iconic site on Bank Street in Koti. It is here that Hyderabad’s oldest bar, Rustom Fram, stood. The Parsis, with their enterprising spirit, took to distilling spirits. Started in the mid-1880s, the century-old R.P. Rustom Fram shut shop, initially following prohibition order and later because of excise laws. Another liquid elixir that found its way from Iran, through the Shia Muslims in this case, was the Irani chai―a key stimulant at any intellectual discussion or left party meet in Hyderabad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Debara lived in Parsi Gali, an enclave of identical bungalows located in Abids, a commercial hub. The area, too, has an Iranian connection. Isfahan-born Albert Abid of Armenian ancestry was a valet to the sixth nizam Mahboob Ali Pasha, who never repeated his clothes, not even socks (clearly, sustainability was not in vogue then!). An astute Abid later opened a store to suit European sensibilities in the 1880s-1890s. Abid was not the only Armenian in the land of nizams. In Uppuguda, 3km from Charminar, is a cemetery with 20 graves belonging to Armenian traders who came here during Qutb Shahi’s rule four centuries ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE STORY OF</b> modern Hyderabad would be incomplete without the British. As part of an arrangement with the nizam in the 19th century, the British were allotted a cantonment in Secunderabad. Soon, the Garrison club, now the Secunderabad club, came up for the British employed in different services. Till date, the club is considered to be one of the finest in the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The British way of life is kept alive by the small Anglo-Indian community―there are about 50,000 Anglo-Indians in Hyderabad. The community is in despair after the Narendra Modi government scrapped reservation for Anglo-Indians in the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies in 2019. “Anglo-Indians were service-oriented and contributed a lot to the Indian society, especially in the fields of medical service and teaching,” said Christine Lazarus, a two-time MLA in united Andhra Pradesh. “Modi wants to finish off our identity.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Lazarus and her community are trying to figure a way out of this political logjam, residents of Secunderabad are stuck in traffic jams. A large part of Secunderabad continues to be Cantonment area, which falls under the defence ministry. For years, military personnel closed the city’s arterial roads citing security reasons, which led to increased traffic snarls. After much negotiation, the roads were open to public. Now, the state government is planning two new road projects from Paradise junction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“But we need 150 acres to execute it, of which 120 acres is defence land,” says Bharat Rashtra Samithi leader Rajashekar Reddy. “We wrote many letters to the ministry, but there has been no response. If these projects are completed, vehicular traffic will be smooth and it will also develop the north part of this city.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>BUT THERE WAS</b> no such friction when the Marwaris came to old Hyderabad. The Nizams welcomed them, and they set up shops that have now become iconic. In Afzal Gunj, for instance, there is Munnalal Dawasaaz, which has been selling ayurveda and herbal products since 1844. In neighbouring Begum Bazar is the mansion where former president Zakir Husain was born; it now lies in ruins. Some of these areas come under the Goshamahal assembly constituency, represented by T. Raja Singh, MLA, who was suspended for hate speech. The BJP has been winning the constituency since 2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here, the political fight is largely between the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and the BJP. At the AIMIM’s office―Darussalam―its seven legislators and lone MP, Asaduddin Owaisi, regularly meet people, who come with issues related to ration cards, domestic disputes, civic issues, and even for Tirupati <i>darshan</i> letters. “The party constitution was drafted in such a way that it wanted to work for not only Muslims but also other minorities and weaker sections, like the scheduled castes,” says AIMIM’s former legislator Syed Aminul Hasan Jafri. He points out that in the 1959 Hyderabad municipal polls―the AIMIM’s first ever election―it fielded two candidates, a Hindu and a Muslim. “The party gave Hyderabad three dalit mayors,” said Jafri. “Even in the assembly polls, dalits get tickets.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A majority of the 24 MLAs from Hyderabad are from the ruling BRS. Apart from the AIMIM’s seven legislators, the BJP has one MLA, the Congress none. Though the AIMIM has never had a formal alliance, it has maintained friendly ties with the BRS and the Congress. And, the BJP is using that to target both the AIMIM and the BRS.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The chief minister says that the AIMIM is a friendly party. Then why does he put up candidates against it?” asks BJP leader N. Ramchander Rao. “The AIMIM has seven seats, of which three have 50 per cent Hindu voters. The BRS is dividing the Hindu votes for AIMIM’s advantage. We want to tell people that the BRS is biased against Hindus.” The BJP is also using the dispute over the Bhagyalaksmi temple abutting the Charminar for its campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>TO THE SOUTH</b> of Charminar is Barkas, a miniature version of Yemen. Barkas is derived from the word Barracks, and guards from Yemen who served in the nizam’s army used to live here. Today, their descendants―more than a lakh― continue to preserve the Arab culture. Many of them are wrestlers, and men in lungi, vest and a headgear are a common sight here.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Mandi cuisine and Harees (sweet dish) travelled to other parts of Hyderabad from here. Hyderabadis swear that once you have the Barkas guava, no other fruit will taste as sweet. At one point in time, every house here used to grow fruits and sell it in the local market. Grand mansions and modest houses coexist in narrow lanes that cannot even accommodate a car. There are horse stables, too, as people are passionate riders. These days, many youngsters from the area are employed in the Middle East, which has significantly improved the living conditions here.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>BARKAS HAS A</b> connection to the A.C. (African Cavalry) Guards, where descendants of Africans who served in the nizam’s army live. Most of them belong to the Siddhi community, an ethnic group from Ethiopia and surrounding areas such as Zanzibar. Mohammad Bin Omar Bin Khalifa is one of the few residents here of Yemeni origin. Like other families in Barkas, his paternal lineage traces back to the Hadhramaut region of Yemen. His mother is Somalian.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A former professional hockey player, he is among the few from his community to venture into politics. He contested the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections in 2009 on a ticket from actor Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party. He claimed that another party asked him to stay away from the polls, and that his campaign team was compromised. “Jagan is the best leader of our generation,” says Khalifa, who has also worked with Jagan’s sister Y.S. Sharmila.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has a black-and-white photo of a Siddhi posing with former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru after a Marfa performance. “We were told that he enjoyed the performance and couldn’t hold himself back from swaying to the music,” says Khalifa. As elsewhere, traditions are dying here, too. “All the elders who knew our history have died,” says a Siddhi youngster. “There is nobody alive to talk about it. You can only read about it on the internet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many Siddhis look African, but their heart is Hyderabadi. Take, for instance, the burly, 6-ft tall Sajjad bin Mahmood aka Laddoo from Banjara Hills. His forefathers came from Sudan. “The moment people see me they ask me whether I am an African,” he says. “When I talk in the local language, they are surprised.” He was part of the security ring at a recent public meeting of Rahul Gandhi and was also a bouncer at Congress state president A. Revanth Reddy’s walkathon. He is married to a Hyderabadi Muslim. “I am a pakka Hyderabadi and I like my biryani,” he says. “Right from what I eat to the way I talk, there is not much of Africa left in me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE NIZAMS HAVE</b> long ceased to be rulers, but they are an integral part of Hyderabad. Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh and last recognised nizam, briefly held the position of Rajpramukh after Hyderabad’s merger with India. His grandson Mukkaram Jah died early this year in Turkey and was buried at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad’s old city. Following his demise, a faction of the family acknowledged his son Azmet Jah, a Hollywood cinematographer, as the ninth nizam. But, a few days later, another section anointed Raunaq Yar Khan as the new nizam. Raunaq traces his lineage to the daughter of the sixth nizam. He owns 80 acres in Jubilee Hills, which, by his own estimate, is worth more than the annual budget of the Delhi corporation. It is another story that the legal challenges may hinder its commercial use.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Raunaq insisted on meeting atop a hill in his property instead of his residence, which has been converted into a hall for events. The view at the top shows a Hyderabad in contrast. On one side is the Moula Ali hill, with the tomb of Maha Laqa Bai, a courtesan of the second nizam, at its foothill. On the other side are the soaring towers of a rapidly changing Hyderabad, propelled by the IT boom.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Raunaq, dressed in a red sherwani, pulls up in a car that he says is 15 years old. “As you can see, I am a simple man,” he says. “I don’t even have security.” Raunaq, a bachelor known for his parties and appearances at social events, insists he is not the ninth nizam, as it is constitutionally invalid. The title is only used within his family which will help him voice their cause. So, what does he seek? He wants the properties of the first seven nizams to be redistributed among the royal descendants, who now number around 5,000, with many living in deplorable conditions. Does he intend to support any political party in the upcoming elections? “If any party wants me to campaign, then I don’t mind,” he says. “However, they should assist us in some manner to reclaim our rightful share of assets.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The posh Jubilee Hills is not only home to erstwhile royals but present-day royalty, too―film stars and politicians. With lush greenery and distinctive rock formations, the region is hot property. And, saving this unique landscape from the realty sector is Frauke Quader, a German.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Quader, founder of the Save the Rocks Society, lives in a house that is also her office, though it looks more like a retreat. She is unhappy with the way successive governments have permitted the removal of rocks from various locations. “We identified 25 spectacular rock formations and requested the government to save them from development,” she says. “But the government doesn’t listen to us. We hope there is better planning to preserve these rocks.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Quader, however, managed to persuade the government to preserve the rocky landscape surrounding Durgam Cheruvu, a lake that connects Jubilee Hills with the IT corridor of Madhapur via a cable bridge. During the Qutb Shahi rule, Durgam Cheruvu used to supply drinking water to the Golkonda fort through a concealed channel. That is how the city within its walls survived even as Aurangzeb tried to blast his way through the fort during his south India campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The IT corridor of Madhapur, Kondapur and Gachibowli falls under the Serilingampally assembly constituency represented by BRS MLA Arekapudi Gandhi. “From slums to high-end gated communities, small shops to multinational IT companies, all are located here,” he says. “The profile of my voter varies from a software engineer to a worker in a company. During Covid, people form other states, especially north India, saw how hard we worked to make them comfortable. Even they are with us this time.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His constituency also has a large population of Andhra settlers. Gandhi, who was a businessman, has Andhra roots. In 2014, Gandhi was with the TDP and won with the highest margin, reflecting the local Andhra community’s anti-bifurcation sentiment. However, in the subsequent election, Gandhi joined the BRS and won comfortably.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the vicinity is the northwestern suburb of Hyderabad, which is renowned for its asceticism, rooted not in religious principles but in ideology. In Pragathi Nagar, it was blasphemous to operate liquor outlets or tobacco shops. The residents religiously followed the plastic ban and kept the streets clean. Pragathi Nagar was established by the CPI(M)-led trade union of Allwyn factory, which used to manufacture refrigerators. The communists claim credit for transforming a hilly barren land into a full-fledged residential colony that won the ISO 9001:2000 standard rating. This area now provides affordable housing to IT employees.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the lakes in and around Pragathi Nagar are falling prey to encroachments. Amber Cheruvu is a Qutb Shahi era tank, which is part of chain-linked lakes and tanks that ultimately empty into the Hussain Sagar lake. A movement to protect the lake has gathered momentum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The heart-shaped Hussain Sagar, another marvel of the Qutb Shahis, has a deep emotional connect with the citizens. If the lake is all about the heart, then the grand Secretariat across its banks embodies the government’s mind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The electoral battle of 2023 will be a battle of hearts and minds that will determine the future of Hyderabad.</p> Sat Sep 09 15:30:54 IST 2023 the-uncharacteristic-disorder-in-gujarat-bjp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>How do you raise the bar when you have 156 of the 182 assembly seats and all the Lok Sabha seats in a state? Gujarat BJP president C.R. Paatil seemed to have found the answer. He has been exhorting the rank and file to retain all 26 seats in next year’s general election while winning with a margin of five lakh votes in every seat. In light of the overwhelming support from the electorate in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, everything seemed perfect for the party, till recently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the last two months, the Gujarat BJP has been dealing with corruption charges, suspensions, resignations and even arrests. The latest came as a shocker―Pradipsinh Vaghela’s resignation. The 43-year-old was one of the most influential party general secretaries. While the party has said that he resigned because of personal reasons, the grapevine has it that he was asked to leave following allegations of corruption in land deals and his alleged involvement in matters pertaining to the Gujarat University.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vaghela, a confidant of Paatil, could not be reached, despite several attempts. Shortly before the Vaghela episode, there was the worry over a pen drive and pamphlets, which reportedly contained material to defame Paatil. Surat Police arrested three persons, including a close aide of former cabinet minister Ganpat Vasava.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Evidently, all is not well within the state BJP. Since Modi’s rise to the top rung of the state unit around the turn of the millennium, there had been great emphasis on the discipline of the cadres. Therefore, the recent disorder is noteworthy. But, it is unlikely to dent the BJP’s image among the electorate. The Congress has to try, of course, to use this perceived weakness to its advantage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Absolute power corrupts,” said Manish Doshi, chief spokesperson, state Congress about the ruling party which has been in power since the mid-1990s. “The corruption is at every level in the BJP. In the past, too, we have highlighted the corruption of the BJP and we will continue to do so.” he further added. New entrant Aam Aadmi Party, too, is trying to milk the issue. AAP state general secretary Sagar Rabari said that his party would make representations to investigating agencies to escalate the issue of corruption.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior BJP leader, who requested anonymity, admitted that discipline had suffered in recent years and that personal ambitions are becoming increasingly discernible. In the case of Vaghela, even senior party leaders do not know what happened, but they are clear on one thing―instructions came from New Delhi. Paatil has been silent on both Vaghela’s resignation and the alleged attempt to defame him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been many raised eyebrows over Vaghela being asked to leave when he is not the only BJP leader facing allegations. Vaghela, who hails from Bakrana village in Ahmedabad, was seen as an ambitious person. He has also been accused of being arrogant. A student leader who came through the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, he held several positions in the BJP, before being appointed general secretary in 2020 after Paatil took over as state president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With absolute power and virtually no opposition, there is more ambition within the BJP’s rank and file. After the Lok Sabha polls next year, the elections to municipal corporations are scheduled for the end of 2025. All municipal corporations in Gujarat are, unsurprisingly, governed by the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Discontent is also creeping in within the leaders as not all 26 sitting MPs are likely to be repeated. Sources in the BJP claim that at least 20 would be changed. As a result, there is hope and some acrimony. The Saurashtra region has seen an MP and an MLA hurling accusations at each other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ahmedabad-based political analyst Ghanshyam Shah said he is not surprised by what is happening in the BJP. “It is a power struggle,” he said. “It was observed during the mid-1990s when Shankersinh Vaghela rebelled against the BJP.” Shah said it was too early to say if it would tarnish the image of the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yamal Vyas, chief spokesperson of state BJP, also recalled Shankersinh Vaghela’s rebellion and said such issues were also seen then. “The party has a robust system in place,” he said. “It keeps imparting training to the workers on various issues. It will identify the people responsible.”</p> Sat Aug 12 13:32:35 IST 2023 himachal-pradesh-cm-sukhvinder-singh-sukhu-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE RECENT RAINS</b> in Himachal Pradesh, the heaviest in 50 years, left a trail of destruction not only in the state, but also downstream in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. The horrific videos reminded the country of another hilly state, Uttarakhand, in 2013. But, unlike in Uttarakhand, where reportedly more than 6,000 people died, the casualties in Himachal were under 200. The state evacuated more than 75,000 people in 48 hours. The World Bank praised Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu for his role in handling the situation, and also offered help.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Sukhu, barely eight months into the job, this was an uphill task. He was stationed in the flood-hit areas for several days as he supervised the rescue operations. He personally managed traffic at Ramshila Chowk near Manali as tourists were stranded in jams for over 10 hours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest challenge was rescuing 290 tourists stranded at the picturesque Chandra Tal Lake, at 14,000 feet, because of unseasonal snow. Often billed as a secret lake, it is located near the Kunzum Pass―which connects Lahaul and Spiti valleys―and has low oxygen, and low atmospheric pressure and temperature.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE WEEK spoke to Sukhu about the heroic rescue operations and whether the state had been set back several years as many roads have been washed away. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How much is the damage so far?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The roads have been badly damaged and our drinking water supply has been wiped out. Electricity and irrigation have suffered. We estimate the loss to be at more than Rs8,000 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Horrific pictures emerged from the state, but your government rescued a lot of tourists. Can you tell us about the operation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Our priority was to first rescue people who had been caught in the floods; 80 were rescued. We then focused on the evacuation of tourists. I was stationed in Kullu for three days to oversee the operations. The evacuation started despite the roads being damaged. We built link roads and moved out 75,000 tourists and 15,000 vehicles in 48 hours (all over the state, but mostly in Kullu and Lahaul and Spiti districts). All ministers were involved in the operations. There was a 20km-long line of vehicles. We [gave them] food and told them to be patient as we were working on restoring the route.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Chandra Tal Lake rescue operation was dangerous.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> [As many as] 290 tourists from various parts of the country were trapped there after unseasonal snowfall of four to six feet. We asked the Air Force for help. They undertook one sortie and brought back seven passengers. They told us it was difficult as there was no helipad, and that they were willing to risk their lives, but the lives of tourists could also be endangered. That was a big challenge. There was an oxygen problem and the temperature was below minus four degrees Celsius. Had we been late even by a day, it would have been disastrous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I did the recce and sent two of my ministers (Jagat Negi and Sanjay Awasthy). They started from Losar with three JCBs to clear the snow on the roads. It took them 20 hours to clear 14km. They reached there at 2am. They called me on a satellite phone and I asked them to leave early. They left by 5am and reached Losar by 4pm. People were happy and many had tears in their eyes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Being a hilly state, is Himachal equipped to handle such a crisis?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We handled the situation in 48 hours. It is [proof] that we can handle such crises. It was notable that there was no hue and cry as there used to be in the past. You can even ask the tourists for feedback. We focused on rescue, evacuation and restoration. In 48 hours, we restored drinking water, electricity, and 70 per cent of mobile services. I had deputed 1,000 officers from nearby districts for the rescue mission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What steps are being taken to rebuild the state?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It will take over a year to rebuild the state. But we will make it functional. The first step will be to restore confidence among people. Then, roads have to be built. All the village roads have been washed away. It was for the first time in 50 years that we saw such heavy rainfall across the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your demands from the Centre?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari called me and assured me of all help. The Central team came fast for the assessment of the damage. I am thankful to them. I am hopeful that they will give us adequate funds for the restoration of the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The mainstay of Himachal’s economy is tourism. People would now be wary of visiting.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Tourism will be impacted, no doubt. The most impact would be on Kullu, Manali and Mandi. But we will open tourist places. Places like Dharamshala are open. Air and road connectivity is good. Palampur and Kangra valley are open, as is Dalhousie. We welcome tourists. ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ is our motto.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ It must have been a big challenge for you as it happened just months into your tenure.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>I had organisational experience. There are challenges, but we have to face them. We don’t run from them. The biggest challenge was the Chandra Tal rescue.</p> Fri Aug 04 16:51:57 IST 2023 the-story-of-oommen-chandys-evolution <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Few people leave a meeting with Oommen Chandy without having an anecdote burnt into their memory. I, too, had the privilege of going through the experience.</p> <p>It was April 2016―perhaps the cruellest month in Chandy’s long career. He was into his last weeks as chief minister, and his government was wracked by scandals and allegations of corruption. Chandy was popular as ever, but the faction-ridden Congress and its fickle allies were hindering his reelection bid.</p> <p>On April 10, there was a bolt from the blue: fireworks stored at a temple festival at Puttingal blew up, killing more than 100 people and injuring 400. Chandy was at the other end of the state in Kasaragod, Kerala’s northernmost district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He took an evening train out of Kasaragod, and arrived just in time for the emergency morning meeting at the government medical college in Thiruvananthapuram. Most of the injured were being treated there, and Chandy personally interacted with many of them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His official car, a well-used Toyota Innova, was waiting outside to take him to Puthupally, his hometown and assembly constituency in Kottayam district. I was in the car for a pre-arranged interview. After letting me in, his aides had asked me to sit right behind the driver. “Be ready for his entry,” they said. “There is always a commotion, but today is going to be tough.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They were right. A buzzing swarm of policemen, party workers, journalists and hospital staff blew out of the building, and at its centre was a solemn-faced Chandy. Amid the jostle to approach the car, he kept on patiently answering questions from reporters. The overnight train journey must have been exhausting, but Chandy looked oddly energised by the commotion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The four-hour journey to Puthupally involved several detours. Between taking calls, poring over files and answering my queries, Chandy would get out of the car at regular intervals and address poll rallies. Each halt involved a wave of excited party workers sweeping the chief minister off his feet and pushing him to the podium, and then depositing him back into the car after the speech. Mao Zedong had once said that a politician’s job is to move among people as a fish swims in the sea. Chandy was doing it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With each rally, though, his white khadi shirt became a little more crumpled, and his famously tousled hair a little more dishevelled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><a name="__DdeLink__9_2131702790" id="__DdeLink__9_2131702790"></a>A large package awaited the car at Kottarakkara, home to the famous Sri Maha Ganapati Temple. An aide took delivery and winked at me as he opened it. “Now, please don’t write about this,” he warned, as he offered me one of the choicest <i>nivedhyams</i> one could have from a Kerala temple. It was the Kottarakkara <i>unniappam</i>, a rice cake made of ghee, jaggery, banana and spices―first made centuries ago by the legendary master builder Perumthachan, whose work shaped much of Kerala’s architectural sensibilities.</p> <p>“Whenever the CM is in town, the <i>unniappam</i>s come,” said the aide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandy, though, declined to have one when he returned. He was apparently still soaking in the sweet sea of adulation. The <i>unniappam</i>s could wait.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>IT IS IRONIC</b> that Chandy’s entry into politics owed much to the fact that he stood out from the crowd at the right time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1957, when Chandy was a class 8 student, Congress firebrand M.A. John visited Puthupally to meet a prospective recruit―the student leader of the school that Chandy’s grandfather had built. It was a Sunday evening, and the school was closed. No one seemed to know where the boy was. Someone told John that a lanky lad on the roadside could be of help.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The lad, John would later recollect, was wearing an overlong blue shirt that made it look like there was nothing underneath. “I asked him whether he could help me, and he agreed,” wrote John in his autobiography. “We struck up a conversation as we walked, and I learnt that his grandfather was a member of the Travancore legislative assembly as well as the manager of the school. The boy was Oommen Chandy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>John had the subversive thought of inviting Chandy to a planned student protest. “He came to my office the next day, and I added his name in the list of people who would join the picket line,” wrote John. “Those days, arrested students would get jail time of two-three weeks. Chandy got two.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon after his release, Chandy joined the Congress-affiliated Kerala Students’ Union. Students in Kerala were an electorally unrepresented community, and KSU was founded to protect their interests. The communists, who had come to power in Kerala on the back of peasant movements and trade unions, initially neglected student politics. There were bigger fish to catch than from the narrow pool of 40,000 voting-age students.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>KSU started filling the void with small, surefooted steps. It formed a network of student leaders, printed pamphlets and organised impromptu strikes to work up a momentum. Within a decade, the strategy spawned KSU units in most of the 82 colleges in the state and a crop of idealistic leaders such as Vayalar Ravi and A.K. Antony emerged.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandy became KSU general secretary in 1964 and president in 1967. The crucible of student politics had by then become unusually hot. A police crackdown in Kochi had resulted in a pre-degree student falling into a ditch and later succumbing to his injuries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was time for a statewide showdown. As many as 130 elected college union leaders from 82 colleges met in Kochi and elected Chandy to be the convener of a prolonged agitation. As the left government under chief minister E.M.S. Namboodiripad threw its weight behind the police, violent clashes broke out in several districts. A slanging match between Chandy and Namboodiripad elevated not just the tensions, but Chandy’s stature as well. With public opinion beginning to turn against the government, the chief minister finally extended an olive branch on the 25th day of the agitation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was Chandy’s first big political victory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He followed it up with his own olive branch. In 1968, when the state was facing acute food shortage, KSU drafted a nine-point plan that called for the formation of farmers’ clubs in schools and colleges, the distribution of seeds and manure, and government support for selling the produce.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The plan was submitted to M.N. Govindan Nair, agriculture minister and communist stalwart. Nair was mighty pleased. He released two lakh seed packets, of which 70,000 went to KSU. M.K.K. Nair, the legendary managing director of the fertiliser company FACT, gave manure free of cost. The minister sowed the first paddy seeds at a field in Kunnamkulam, as Chandy, Antony and other Congress leaders looked on.</p> <p>The Congress had won just 9 of 133 assembly seats in Kerala the year Chandy became KSU president. In the next three years, KSU under him helped the party not just turn around its fortunes, but build a coalition government that became the first to complete a full term.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>IN TACTICS,</b> Chandy’s greatest frenemy in the party was K. Karunakaran, a trade union leader who went on to become the party’s longest serving chief minister. Much like Karunakaran, Chandy knew the importance of trade unions and cooperatives in electoral politics. Even as they fought wider political battles, Chandy’s organisational skills and negotiating abilities earned Karunakaran’s grudging respect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jos Dominic, managing director and CEO of the hospitality brand CGH Earth, recalled how Chandy negotiated the choppy union waters. “In 1972, we started Anjali Hotel in Kottayam, and Chandy became the president of the employees union,” he said. “He was dealing with my father at the time, and I still remember my father exclaiming, ‘Is this trade unionism? There are hardly any problems. Everything’s so fair, the discussions are so easy, and there is no bitterness.’ I think Chandy’s tact in dealing with the contrarian view was just remarkable.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That tact held him in good stead throughout the tumultuous political changes in the 1980s and the 1990s. The decades made him the commanding general of the ‘A’ faction in the Congress―so named after its leader, Antony. Their bond from the KSU days was so strong that, even though Chandy was an avowed anti-communist, he followed Antony into the left camp after the Congress split in 1980. The political experiment ultimately failed, but Chandy remained a staunch Antony loyalist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ‘A’ group subsequently merged with the Karunakaran-led ‘I’ group, leading to rich electoral dividends and two decades of fierce faction fights. The merger also birthed a lasting template in Kerala politics―a bipolar polity dominated by the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front. The UDF and the LDF alternately ruled Kerala for the next 40 years, until the latter retained power in the 2021 polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Chandy did not confine himself to theoretical complexities in his approach,” said Panakkad Sayyid Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal, state president of the Indian Union Muslim League, the Congress’s most prominent ally in the UDF. “His remarkable abilities in both thought and action, particularly his efforts to establish a strong connect between the UDF and the people, deserve special mention.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was in 2004, after he succeeded Antony as chief minister, that Chandy truly came into his own as the most popular face of the Congress. His mass contact programme set an example for other chief ministers, and his focus on bringing speedy and sustainable development to the state inspired many experts to lend a hand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I first met Chandy in Delhi in 2011, just after he became chief minister [for the second time],” said E. Sreedharan, former head of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. “‘Are you retiring this year?’ he asked me. I said I was. He said, ‘Sreedharan, you have done a lot of work for many states, but not for Kerala. So, if you are retiring, you must come back to Kerala and take charge of the construction of Kochi Metro.’”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandy ensured that construction of the metro began with Sreedharan in charge. By the time his tenure ended in 2016, Chandy had also flagged off a slew of development projects that would change the face of the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His strongest suit, however, remained his view of governance as a pay-it-forward game. In the 1970s, when he became minister for the first time, Chandy was assigned the task of guiding a young Haryana minister who was visiting Thiruvananthapuram to study a first-of-its-kind slum rehabilitation project his department had undertaken. For Chandy, the assignment came at a most inconvenient time―his first child was on her way, and he wanted to be with his wife, Mariyamma, when the moment came. But not one to neglect the call of duty, Chandy first played host to the Haryana minister before hurrying to the hospital.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Decades later, when the civil war in Iraq was raging, chief minister Chandy sent a plane to rescue 42 Malayali nurses trapped in Baghdad. But the mission ran into trouble. “The plane was barred permission to land in Iraq and the pilot was about to return,” Chandy recalled. “I was stunned. I did not know whom to turn to for help.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Luckily, the external affairs minister happened to be Sushma Swaraj, to whom Chandy had patiently explained the slum project the day he became a father. One phone call, and Swaraj took up the matter and began pulling strings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It was because of her help,” Chandy said in 2019, when Swaraj died, “that we could save those 42 angels and bring them back to Kerala’s soil.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, with Chandy gone, Kerala’s soil has lost an angel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>With Nirmal Jovial</b></p> Fri Jul 21 18:13:35 IST 2023 conflicts-in-manipur-pose-serious-threat-to-national-security <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is 3pm and the sun is blazing down. The lush green plains and paddy fields readied for sowing are in the shade of the mountains. A smartly dressed Rameshwar Basnet, 48, wearing sunglasses, staggers out from a hutment, seemingly quite drunk. Almost zombie-like, he asks: <i>“Daju</i> (elder brother in Nepali), could you lend me a tenner?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Basnet (named changed) is a resident of Kanglatongbi, a Nepali-dominated settlement near National Highway 37, located in a ‘buffer zone’ demarcating Meitei and Kuki areas. One could only guess what would make a man want to stay drunk all the time. After all, prolonged unrest has its own way of extracting a toll.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Edging close, a CRPF trooper, a rifle cradled in his thick arms, quietly says: “Why does the media not report about how bad things really are? You all say things are normalising. They are not.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After decades of insurgencies—Naga, Meitei and Kuki—Manipur had seen the green shoots of peace for the last six to seven years. But, the current ethnic turmoil has taken the state back to where it was. Moreover, it could be much worse as, unlike in the past, the social fabric is in tatters. Sapam Bishwajit Meitei, an Imphal-based senior advocate, says: “For the last few years, the long-suffering people saw hopes of peace returning and businesses flourishing. But these latest flare-ups have taken the state back to the late 1980s and early 1990s. Civil strife has set in. One can only hope and pray that sense prevails.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation in Manipur is a nightmare for both the North Block and the South Block. The North Block houses the home ministry, while the defence and foreign ministries are in the South Block. The crisis in the border state may have compelled India's defence secretary, Giridhar Aramane, to rush to Myanmar's capital Nay Pyi Taw on June 30 for a two-day visit. Manipur shares a 398km-long, heavily forested and porous international border with Myanmar; most insurgent groups active in the northeast have their main bases and training centres in Myanmar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An official press release said that Aramane met Myanmar's military ruler, General Min Aung Hlaing, and his defence minister, General (retired) Mya Tun Oo, and discussed issues relating to maintaining “tranquility in the border areas, illegal transborder movement and transnational crimes such as drug trafficking and smuggling”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A new dimension to the geopolitics in Myanmar is the entry of the US with its $136 million funding for pro-democracy groups and humanitarian aid. The possibility of the funding translating into military help to pro-democracy activists cannot be ruled out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China is observing the unrest in Manipur closely. State-owned media have published numerous articles deliberating the issue. The headlines are telling: “Next Ukraine? The gunshots sounded for the division of India…”; “The Indian ethnic conflict situation is completely out of control”. China’s influence with the Tatamadaw (Myanmar military) complicates things further.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China has been a big factor in the history of insurgency in the northeast. Mizos, Nagas, Meiteis, and Assamese have in the past sought weapons and arms training from China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The northeast region is surrounded by foreign countries on all sides and connected to the Indian mainland by just 2 per cent of the land boundary. All rail and road links run through this narrow “chicken’s neck” and it is well within the line of sight of the Jampheri Ridge—a highland in Bhutan. China’s desire to hold the high ridge is believed to be one of the main reasons for the 73-day Doklam standoff in 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lieutenant General Harjit Singh Sahi, commander of the Army’s III Corps, told THE WEEK: “Our preparedness on the India-Myanmar border to increase our deployment and surveillance is adequate to ensure that we are able to prevent any infiltration that can take place from the international border. We have taken a number of measures to enhance surveillance by way of remotely-piloted vehicles and quadcopters, and area domination patrols.” The III Corps, based in Dimapur, Nagaland, is responsible for the entire stretch of the Manipur-Myanmar border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the UN, after the February 1, 2021, coup in Myanmar, 8,250 (mainly Chin) refugees have entered Manipur—apart from another 40,150 in Mizoram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation in Manipur means that India’s Act East Policy is hit hard. The AEP seeks to leverage northeast India’s close cultural and ethnic ties with southeast Asian nations. It is through Manipur and Mizoram that the connect is sought to be established. Persistent instability in this area will cripple the AEP. “Proper activation of the AEP would have benefitted the region immensely,” says Angom Dilip Kumar Singh, who teaches physics at Manipur University. “With the current disturbance in Manipur, that is in question now. Also, the entire region has become a fertile ground for the interplay of global powers, including China, whose interest and influence in Myanmar are well-known. Of immense concern is the way narcotics trade and poppy cultivation have increased. Who is benefitting from it is a key question.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 35,000-strong Manipur Police is credited for having erected a robust security architecture in the restive state. But, this time, it was totally divided along ethnic lines and disintegrated. The lack of coordination among the paramilitary forces, too, was all but apparent. The near-collapse of the security architecture created a vicious circle—for peace, everyone should be disarmed and weapons looted from police armouries returned, but the public on both sides see arms as necessary to protect and defend.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The violence caused a two-way exodus—Kukis leaving the Meitei-dominated valley to return to the hills and vice versa. Brigadier Michael D’Souza, who commands the HQ 27 Assam Rifles at Churachandpur, tells THE WEEK: “Now even geography is accentuating the divide.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Meiteis are in the 2,400sqkm Imphal valley, comprising about 10 per cent of the state’s land area—almost like a football pitch surrounded by mountains. The hills begin about 50km, in any direction, from the centre of Imphal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fault lines between the two communities are not new. The genesis lies in the Treaty of Yandabo signed between the British and Burma in 1826. This pact divided the topography into spaces for communities based on ethnicity. But, with arable and fertile land gradually becoming scarce, the ethnic communities had to look for their own lebensraum or living spaces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meitei valley-based insurgencies peaked in the 2003-2012 period. Kuki outfits, too, took to the gun with demands ranging from greater autonomy to sovereignty. Valley-based insurgent groups lost relevance and faded out, and more than 20 Kuki outfits inked suspension of operation pacts. “But, the current turmoil brought these extremist elements of both sides to the forefront by making them relevant once more,” says a top military source. “Manipur is now fertile ground for secessionist ideology. The militarisation of society is complete. The big fear is that the conflagration in Manipur may now slip into the counterinsurgency/counterterror domain.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interactions by THE WEEK with the general public—both Meiteis and Kukis—the security personnel, and intelligence officials corroborated this fear.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Concomitant with a new lease of life for insurgent elements, the demand among the Kuki-Chin-Mizo group—collectively termed the Zo or Zomi—to seek a homeland has also gained ground. Since 1988, the Zo Re-Unification Organisation (ZORO) has sought one administrative umbrella for Zomi people across Myanmar, multiple Indian states and Bangladesh. George Guite, a ZORO general secretary, tells THE WEEK: “Our forefathers helped the Manipuri Meitei king ward off Burmese invaders. And then artificial boundaries drawn by the British divided the Kuki nation. This battle in Manipur will go on till the other side ceases to attack and we get a homeland.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chongboi Haokip, a Kuki student's organisation functionary, adds a feisty demand: “Before any reconciliatory moves, there will have to be administrative separation between the Kukis and the Meiteis. Only then we will sit down and talk.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are three vital points regarding the prevailing situation. Firstly, after being sparked by the May 3 protest march, the sudden speed and manner of the spread of the violence was remarkable. This indicates planning. Secondly, the failure of the intelligence agencies to report the build-up in both the hills and the valley and the quick emergence of the vigilante groups and civil society groups on both sides speak of high-level organising ability. Thirdly, it seems impossible that the Meitei-Kuki ethnic divide in the state police force would not have been noticed. This one factor hastened the erosion of the authority of the state apparatus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Manipur conflict has the potential to change the politics of the entire region and take it back to the days of widespread insurgency and the resultant strong-arm tactics by the state. Amid the enveloping air of despondency, the only glimmer of hope is the firm belief among small sections on both sides that the way out is a political solution, something most people THE WEEK spoke to on both sides of the divide agreed to.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, there is another battle—for medicines in relief camps. “We have a lot of ill people,” says Kennedy Haokip, information secretary of an NGO housing 12,000 displaced Kukis in Churachandpur. “A few days back we had a death at childbirth as we did not have adequate facilities.” Unsurprisingly, the story in the relief camps in the valley is not much different.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A helpless and insecure people divided by partisan emotions; a broken state structure; a history of sub-nationalism and a sensitive, geostrategic zone, where global powers are eager to play their own games—the mix could not have been worse.</p> Sat Jul 15 17:37:53 IST 2023 ncp-leader-ajit-pawar-joining-nda-government-in-maharashtra-sparks-political-crisis-in-state <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Two weeks ago, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis gave an interview to a news channel to mark the first anniversary of the BJP-Shiv Sena government. When asked about the short-lived government he formed with the support of Nationalist Congress Party rebels led by Ajit Pawar in November 2019, Fadnavis said that NCP president Sharad Pawar had been in talks with the BJP to form government soon after the 2019 polls. A power-sharing formula, Fadnavis said, had been finalised, but the senior Pawar backed out at the last minute to cobble up the Maha Vikas Aghadi comprising the NCP, the Shiv Sena and the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the interview was aired, Sharad Pawar said he had indeed held talks with the BJP. But, he said, he had done so to expose Fadnavis’s hunger for power. “I was the president of the BCCI for a long time and know a few things about the game of cricket,” he said. “The batsman (Fadnavis) was willing to walk into the trap, so I bowled a googly and got the wicket.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 2, barely a week after Pawar spoke about his googly, his nephew Ajit Pawar and eight senior NCP legislators―among them were Pawar’s trusted aides such as Chhagan Bhujbal, Dilip Walse-Patil and Hasan Mushrif―took oath as ministers in the government led by Fadnavis and Chief Minister Eknath Shinde. Ajit became deputy chief minister for a record fifth time. Clearly, it was a clever delivery from Fadnavis that left the elder Pawar stumped.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajit’s second act of revolt was very much expected, especially since Sharad Pawar had made his daughter Supriya Sule the NCP’s working president a month earlier. What was not expected was the defection of NCP veterans such as Praful Patel, Sunil Tatkare, Bhujbal, Walse-Patil and Mushrif.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A top Congress leader said Supriya’s elevation sparked the rebellion. “Ajit Pawar and Praful Patel are not willing to accept Supriya’s leadership,” the leader told THE WEEK. “Ajit clearly felt slighted. He felt he was being relegated to a secondary role. The other seniors joined him because of the fear of central investigating agencies. It is not that Pawar senior was unaware of their moves; he had told them that he was clearly not in favour of joining hands with the BJP.”</p> <p>Ajit was humiliated in 2019 because he had made the mistake of taking his uncle’s support for granted. But his clout in the NCP was such that he could not be sidelined. That was why he was appointed deputy chief minister in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government led by Uddhav Thackeray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajit was not happy working under Uddhav, whom he considered as an inexperienced administrator. While Ajit would reach Mantralaya at 7am, Uddhav preferred to work from the comfortable confines of his residence. “Ajit was of the opinion that it was better to ally with the BJP, as it was in power at the Centre. But he could not convince party colleagues like Nawab Malik, Jitendra Awhad and Jayant Patil,” said a source.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That Ajit was biding time became clear after the Shinde-Fadnavis government was sworn in and he became the leader of opposition. Such was his friendship with Fadnavis that he continued to occupy Devgiri, the official bungalow usually allotted to the deputy chief minister. Even today, Fadnavis stays at Sagar bungalow, usually allotted to the leader of opposition, while Ajit stays at Devgiri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even though Ajit never missed a day of assembly sessions, there was talk that he was going soft on the government. Loyalists like Dhananjay Munde, now a cabinet minister, often had to defend Ajit saying his detractors were trying to vilify him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources close to Fadnavis said Ajit often spoke to him in anguish about the efforts being made to sideline him in the party. He said his uncle was giving undue importance to leaders like Jayant Patil, Jitendra Awhad and Anil Deshmukh. All three leaders have chosen to stay loyal to Sharad Pawar.</p> <p>Ajit’s maternal relatives are a reason for his proximity to the BJP. His maternal uncle has been a longtime <i>sangh parivar</i> functionary in Ahmednagar district, and his son is close to Ajit and was a BJP legislator. The family has been Ajit’s link to the BJP even before his first rebellion in 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In May, when Sharad Pawar announced that he was stepping down as NCP president, Ajit was the lone leader who said his uncle’s wish should be respected and that the younger generation should take charge. But after a public display of emotions by leaders and party workers―Jayant Patil and Jitendra Awhad cried on stage urging him not to step down―Sharad Pawar made a U-turn and decided to stay on. Apparently, it was his last effort to prevent Ajit from joining hands with the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It was planned that Pawar senior will step down and make way for Ajit and his team to take the party closer to the BJP,” said a source in the BJP. “That way, he could save his image by stating that the younger generation is now deciding the party’s course. But he did a U-turn exactly like he did in 2019. At that time, Ajit had expressed a wish to be made state party president. He was willing to give up the post of leader of opposition, but that was not done. Instead, Supriya Sule became national working president in charge of elections as well as Maharashtra. So Ajit made up his mind.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>ON JULY 3,</b> a day after Ajit rebelled, the Sharad Pawar side petitioned Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Speaker Rahul Narvekar to disqualify nine NCP legislators who took oath as ministers. Jayant Patil said that a party legislator, whom he did not name, had sought action against nine legislators led by Ajit for violating the party’s ideological position. Patil, who is state party president, also said party workers and office-bearers across districts are with Sharad Pawar, who has declared that he would take the battle to the “people’s court”. “Nine legislators do not constitute a party,” he said. “They have engaged in anti-party activity and we will take strict action against them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajit responded by replacing Patil with Raigad MP Sunil Tatkare as state party president. “We have also petitioned the speaker to disqualify Jayant Patil and Jitendra Awhad [as legislators],” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As speaker, Narvekar has to decide the battle of the Pawars. Narvekar is the son-in-law of NCP veteran Ramraje Naik Nimbalkar, who now supports Ajit. He told journalists that he would first have to ascertain whether the NCP is part of the government or the opposition before considering the disqualification petitions. This could very well mean a long delay, as Narvekar would first have to decide on the disqualification of Shiv Sena legislators―a matter that has been pending for months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>WHAT DOES AJIT</b> gain by raising the banner of revolt this time? First, he and the leaders who support him are facing various probes by Central investigation agencies. The agencies could well be prodded to put the cases on the back-burner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Second, if the rebellion is successful, he gets to mould the NCP in his style, without having to report to Sule or even Sharad Pawar. Third, Ajit’s sole ambition is to become chief minister, and if his coalition wins the assembly elections next year, the BJP’s national leadership can consider him for chief ministership, like they did with Shinde. Also, if Prime Minister Narendra Modi retains power after the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the NCP as a whole could join the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Sharad Pawar could retire from active public life and say the decision was taken by the new leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said the BJP had promised to make Ajit chief minister in two months. “That is why he has rebelled,” Chavan told THE WEEK. “We will see Shinde stepping down in a couple of months. I don’t think this move has the blessings of Pawar saheb.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A top BJP leader who was involved in planning the swearing in of Ajit and his party colleagues, however, said Shinde would remain chief minister. “If we ditch Shinde, the BJP would lose its credibility,” said the leader. “A message would go across the country that we use and throw away [allies]. That is certainly not our style. We are loyal to our allies. We will fight assembly polls in Maharashtra under Shinde’s leadership.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE DECISION</b> to induct NCP leaders into the government was taken at a meeting between Shinde, Fadnavis and Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi on the night of June 29. It was Ashadhi Ekadashi, considered one of the most auspicious days in the state. Shinde performed a puja at the Lord Vitthal Temple in Pandharpur before leaving for Delhi for the meeting. They returned the same night after Shah gave them the go-ahead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Amit bhai asked Devendra ji whether the planning was foolproof and whether everything would be smooth, unlike last time,” said a top BJP source. “Devendra ji told him that Ajit had the support of 43 MLAs, six MLCs and three MPs, and that they were keen to work under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s national leadership was keen to tie up with the NCP since 2014, when the Sena-BJP alliance broke down over seat-sharing in the assembly polls. Soon after the results came, the NCP offered outside support to the BJP to form a government led by Fadnavis. The Sena, which was in the opposition initially, joined the government months later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s national leadership had mooted a BJP-Sena-NCP coalition as it was seriously working on its plan of ‘Congress-<i>mukt</i> Bharat’. It was apparently keen to have Sule in the Union cabinet. The NCP was ready, but a section of the BJP’s state unit and the Sena were opposed to joining hands with the NCP, as their poll campaign had been against the corruption of the Congress-NCP government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the 2019 elections, the BJP leadership felt that the Sena under Uddhav Thackeray had stabbed it in the back by parting ways with it, while the NCP under Pawar had played a double game. Since then, it had been wanting to get even with both Uddhav and Pawar. Shinde’s rebellion struck the former; Ajit’s move has weakened Pawar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is not about the gains we make; it is about severely weakening the opposition to win the Lok Sabha polls in 2024,” said a BJP leader. “Another aspect of this is the destruction of the Pawar-Thackeray brand in Maharashtra politics. Our party reveres Balasaheb Thackeray, but his son is not worthy and we have shown him his place. Now Ajit Pawar has given us an opportunity to dismantle Brand Sharad Pawar.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP wants to win 45 of 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state. “With Ajit dada part of our government,” said a BJP leader, “we are now confident of giving a tough fight to even Supriya Sule in Baramati, a constituency which we or our allies have never won.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Ajit appointing himself as the NCP's national president, Pawar is facing one of the most difficult crises of his career. In 2013, when Pawar lured BJP stalwart Gopinath Munde's nephew Dhananjay away from the BJP, Munde had said, &quot;Pawar saheb, today you have broken my house. A day will come when your house, too, will break.&quot;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Munde’s words seem to have come true.</p> Sat Jul 08 17:23:53 IST 2023 dalit-bandhu-scheme-telangana-benefits-criticisms <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>KATUKOORI JAYARAJ HAS</b> not forgotten the times he had to beg at a railway station for survival. “It is embarrassing to share this part of my life but it is a fact,” he says. Today, Jayaraj, 28, is small-scale entrepreneur in Karimnagar in north Telangana, brimming with confidence in his neatly pressed semi-formal clothes. And he has only one person to thank for it. “It is KCR,” says Jayaraj, his voice full of gratitude.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jayaraj is one of the 38,323 beneficiaries of Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao’s flagship scheme, Dalit Bandhu. It offers Rs10 lakh to every eligible dalit family in the state. Rao launched it in 2021, just before the crucial by-poll in the Huzurabad constituency in Karimnagar. It is being implemented across the state in phases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The scheme seems to have hit the right notes in the dalit community, as they often struggled to raise money even for small ventures. Jayaraj said he was once kicked out of a public sector bank when he went to apply for a loan. Today he is the proud owner of a diagnostic centre, which earns him Rs40,000 to Rs1 lakh a month. And his marriage prospects have improved significantly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not too far away from Jayaraj’s diagnostic centre is Kalyan’s American Tourister showroom. It was the Dalit Bandhu cash assistance that helped him get the franchise. The annual turnover is about Rs70 lakh. Kalyan worked at another showroom of the brand for years before he started one on his own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government has kept the application process simple. Applicants will go through scrutiny, and the proposal is cleared by the district administration. The officials stress on sanctioning money to businesses that the candidate has some experience in. The sanctioned business assets include crop harvesting equipment, taxis, tea stalls, restaurants, DJ equipment and drones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It wasn’t a big task identifying the eligible candidates,” says R.V. Karnan, Karimnagar district collector, who has been involved with the scheme from inception. “We have analysts who verify details like ration cards and other information. In the Huzurabad constituency, all the 18,000 eligible dalit families received assistance from the Dalit Bandhu scheme.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Karnan said the scheme was the first of its kind in the country. “It is economically empowering and it breaks the caste structure. While the community has reservation in jobs and politics, there is no such system in entrepreneurship. We can see that 80 to 90 per cent of them are in blue-collar jobs or work as labourers. This scheme will help many of them transition from worker to owners,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao’s party, the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, lost the Huzurabad constituency by-poll in 2021, but the scheme’s larger implications seem to be working in its favour. The target is the 2023 assembly polls in which the BRS hopes to score a hat-trick. Telangana has around 54 lakh dalits, who make around 20 per cent of the electorate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BRS has been wooing dalits, and embracing B.R. Ambedkar. Rao named the new secretariat after him, and unveiled a 125ft statue. “Fifty per cent of dalits may vote for the BRS because of the scheme and also because of elevating Ambedkar’s status through the projects,” said Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, dalit writer and social activist. “The BRS is in an advantageous position as the dalits were earlier known to support the Congress.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But he is not sure about the long-term benefits of the scheme, and is of the opinion that the projects of the Andhra Pradesh government work better for the poor dalits in rural areas. “The Dalit Bandhu scheme does not improve the future of dalits. I don’t think it is a sustainable model with just Rs10 lakh. Also, the dalit entrepreneurs have to shift to semi-urban areas to be successful, whereas the Andhra Pradesh government’s welfare schemes target the health and education of the underprivileged sections and is contributing to the strengthening of the rural economy, which also comes back through GST. There is another fundamental difference; the AP schemes transfer money to the poor and lower castes whereas in Telangana, the money is flowing to the rich in a big way (with schemes like Rythu Bandhu, which covers landlords also) and poor in some way,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unsurprisingly, the scheme is causing friction between dalit groups and upper caste groups owing to the changing social dynamics. “It will now be difficult to find labourers. The government should also think about that. Who will do the farming work now?” asked a farmer from a backward community, who owns five acres in Warangal. Some feel that the scheme should be extended to other communities as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Rao launched the scheme, he had envisaged it as an idea of ‘uplifting the dalit community and empowering them’, rather than a freebie. The opposition, however, is questioning its implementation and its success as an uplifter of dalits. “They are not implementing the scheme at all,” said Congress leader Bhatti Vikramarka. “It is as good as the three-acre land that the CM promised to dalits, which was never fulfilled. Dalits have started feeling that they are being cheated. They would have benefitted more with the proper utilisation of SC/ST sub plan funds. But they are deprived of it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP alleged only BRS members are chosen for the scheme and it would start a campaign to enlighten the dalits about the ‘reality’ of the BRS. “The BRS is not honest about its intentions,” said S. Kumar, national secretary of the BJP’s SC Morcha. “KCR had promised to make a dalit the chief minister in Telangana, which he did not fulfil. In his cabinet, there was a dalit deputy CM; but he was removed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Telangana goes to the polls at the end of the year. Many of its 119 seats have significant numbers of dalit voters. And how they vote may decide if Rao gets another term.</p> Mon Jul 03 12:14:47 IST 2023 protests-against-ratnagiri-refinery-project <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On May 27, a sunny Saturday, some 30 men from the villages of Barsu, Goval, Shivane Khurd and Devache Gothane in Ratnagiri climbed atop the vast laterite plateau in their neighbourhood. They walked a mile further under the scorching sun and camped under a banyan tree, where they removed their shirts and lined up in front of a barber. He shaved their heads one by one and then they proceeded to a nearby site where a religious ceremony took place. “We have gathered here to perform the cremation rites of the state government,” said one of them. “This ceremony is called <i>‘pind daan’,</i> which is performed on the day of <i>‘varsha shraddha’,</i> the death anniversary of a deceased person. For us, the government of Maharashtra died when it announced that Barsu and nearby villages would be the site of the proposed Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited (RRPCL) oil refinery complex.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Most of the villagers are against this project,” said Krishna Arekar from Shivane Khurd. Surveyors had collected soil samples from various sites on the plateau and the police had been deployed to protect them. “A big protest took place to stop the survey,” said Arekar. “The police attacked protesting villagers. Women were dragged to police vans and taken away. Men were arrested and locked up till the survey was completed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The RRPCL project is a joint venture of Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum with investment from Saudi Arabia’s ARAMCO and the UAE’s National Oil Company. It was originally conceived in 2015 as a Rs3 lakh crore refinery complex at Nanar in Rajapur taluk of Ratnagiri, and was scrapped in 2019 because of the opposition from the locals and the Shiv Sena, which was the BJP’s partner in the Maharashtra government. The project was revived amid the pandemic when chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, heading a coalition government with the NCP and the Congress, wrote to the Union government in 2021 that the project could come up on the plateau near Barsu village. Nanar and Barsu are just 10km apart, separated by the Arjuna river.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The work on the project gained momentum after Thackeray was toppled by his associate Eknath Shinde with the help of the BJP in June 2022. The government did not expect much resistance as the project had been shifted to the Barsu laterite plateau. It was wrong. The villagers formed the Barsu Solgaon Panchkroshi Refinery Virodhi Sanghtana (BSPRVS) and declared that they would not allow it on their soil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde told THE WEEK that some 70 per cent of the villagers supported the project and he was confident that the government would convince the rest. The BSPRVS activists said 80 per cent of the villagers were opposed to the project. “If the government is so confident, why aren’t they holding a referendum on the issue?” asked Deepak Joshi of Goval village. “We asked the collector and other officials how this project suddenly became good for people. What makes them think that the project would turn environment friendly by shifting it just 4-5 km northwards? They had no answers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Barsu plateau has paddy cultivation, and mango and cashew plantations. It is also the source of potable water for all the villages at the foot. There are also hundreds of geoglyphs, unique Stone Age rock carvings. “All these will be destroyed if the project comes here,” said Joshi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The villagers are upset that the people of Konkan are being branded as anti-development because of their protest against the refinery. “What we are opposed to is polluting industries, as we have seen how they damage the ecosystem,” said Amol Gole of Shivane village. “We have many chemical factories in Lote Parshuram MIDC area in our district and the pollution because of them is a huge problem. If small companies can cause so much damage, imagine what a huge refinery can.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They are also not swayed by the promise of generating more than a lakh jobs and see no point in spoiling their environment for that. “During the mango harvest season, we have as many jobs,” said Gole. “People from Nepal and Uttar Pradesh come here for mango picking. Why is the government not getting projects, like the Vedanta-Foxconn [chip manufacturing facility], which would not have caused any pollution. We will oppose the refinery till our last breath, but if the government brings non-polluting projects, we will support it wholeheartedly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The villagers are miffed at the government calling their plateau barren land. “It is the source of our livelihood and the livelihood of the wildlife in this region,” said Satish Bane of Solgaon. “The villages get potable water from the streams that get water from this plateau. This source of water will get polluted if the refinery becomes operational.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are, however, many villagers who are willing to trade these for development. Siddhesh Marathe of Shivane, for instance, believes that the refinery will bring development to the region which is now dependent on Ratnagiri city, which is 60km away, for everything. “All big hospitals, schools and colleges are in Ratnagiri. The refinery has promised to build a 500-bed hospital here. They have also promised to build a kindergarten-to-graduation educational complex. Our boys will get jobs here and will not have to migrate to Mumbai,” said Marathe, whose family owns 50 acres of mango orchards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The division runs deep in the villages. Marathe said he did not get local labour for his mango plantation because he was a refinery supporter. “Many people are secretly supporting the project but not taking an open stand because they fear boycott and other measures,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is said that there are many fence-sitters. “Once the government announces a compensation package, many more will join the supporters,” said Gaurav Paranjape of Goval village. Hanif Musa Kazi, former president of Rajapur municipality, said that those who opposed the project were people who did not own land.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Big projects have always faced opposition in the Konkan region. A copper smelter project by Sesa Sterlite was abandoned. An Enron power project at Dabhol faced huge opposition from the BJP and the Shiv Sena. The saffron alliance swept the region on this plank in the 1995 assembly elections and eventually came to power in Maharashtra. It is a different thing that their government revived the project, which became operational as Dabhol Power Corporation. The Jaitapur nuclear power project, which is stuck at discussion with France, faced stiff local opposition. The only big project that the people of Konkan have supported is the Konkan Railway, where they wholeheartedly offered land for construction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, the Shiv Sena opposed the refinery project when it was part of the Devendra Fadnavis government “because the people of Konkan did not want it”. When the Sena broke the alliance and Thackeray formed a government with the Congress and the NCP, he suggested the project could come up in Barsu. Now he is again opposing it, claiming that he was misled by traitors (meaning Shinde and other rebels). The Congress and the NCP have taken the stand that the project can be implemented after convincing the local people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vandana Kharmale, regional officer of the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation for Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg region, said that the project would be hugely beneficial for the region. “The Konkan region has always known for its money-order economy; people migrate to Mumbai and send money home. That will stop as they will get jobs locally. People here are happy and content. They are supporting the project but are afraid that their village community might boycott them if they come out in open,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharmale said the geoglyphs―some 200 of them―would be protected. “The refinery will require 5,000 acres. It will be a 20 mmtpa refinery and not 60 mmtpa as originally planned. We will acquire land from Barsu, Dhopeshwar, Khalchi Vadi, Varchi Vadi and Goval villages. Shivane and Devache Gothne are not part of the refinery,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Engineers India Ltd drilled 82 spots on the plateau for soil samples. They have been sent to a lab in Hyderabad. “If the report is positive, MIDC will hold public hearings to ask people what all should be included in the compensation package and then the government will formulate the package,” said Kharmale.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sat Jun 24 13:10:49 IST 2023 insurgency-in-northeast-india-will-be-exploited-by-china <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>MANIPUR IS ON</b> the boil with the Meiteis and the Kukis at each other’s throats. Sectarian policies adopted by the N. Biren Singh government has furthered the distrust among the two communities, leading to so many deaths and thousands being displaced from their homes. What is extremely worrying is that many people have crossed over to Myanmar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What both the Union government and the state government have apparently not kept in mind is that there is a cross-border presence of tribal groups in Myanmar committed to carrying out acts of violence against India. Like those of Manipur origin―the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and the United National Liberation Front.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian insurgents operating out of Myanmar are fully armed and materially supported by Beijing. The equipment and training being carried out by China’s proxies among Myanmar’s ethnic groups―the Wa and the Kokang.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What’s more, in strife-torn Myanmar, where the people are at war with the military junta and the Tatmadaw, large-scale engagements are taking place in the Sagaing division where the Bamar-composed People’s Defence Force (PDF) and the Kachins are fighting the Tatmadaw. Here, what should worry us is that the Tatmadaw has been utilising the services of the Indian insurgent groups like the PLA against the PDF. This has resulted in such groups being armed with more sophisticated weapons and gaining experience in tactics that they could use against India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With an open border between India and Myanmar, that is over 1,600km long, any policy that sows distrust among the ethnicities in the northeast only results in strengthening the insurgents with more people being enabled to join their ranks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The turmoil created by the acts of omission and commission by the state government in Manipur has gifted China another opportunity to exploit in the sensitive northeastern states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Union Home Minister Amit Shah has spoken of fencing the border as a solution. This, even if fully implemented, would be a mere palliative. The tradition of open borders is one thing that would come in the way, then there is the disputed tri-junction that could not be fenced, and with China bent on creating mischief for India in the northeast, this would remain an area that it could continue to exploit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One solution that is open to the Union government is for it to refrain from supporting sectarian policies being followed on its behalf by state governments, as in Manipur, to deny additional avenues to be exploited by the Chinese, in the support that they are extending to the Indian insurgent groups operating out of Myanmar. The other is to up the ante with the junta to prevent its use of these insurgent groups in the civil war that it is waging against the people of Myanmar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under no circumstances should Delhi ignore the fact that every opportunity created by its sectarian policies in the insurgency prone states shall be exploited by China to further its policy to pressurise and weaken India. Ladakh is not the exception but the rule. As is also what China is trying to achieve in the Chumbi Valley to threaten the Siliguri Corridor and thus further intensify its threat to India’s northeast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Malik</b> <b>was ambassador to Myanmar from August 1990 to September 1992.</b></p> Sat Jun 24 13:02:12 IST 2023 chhattisgarh-greater-capital-region-infrastructure-and-connectivity-development <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Blink and you will miss it. As you drive along the 40km-long west-east stretch of NH-53, the boundaries blur and you wonder where Chhattisgarh’s twin cities of Durg-Bhilai end and where its capital Raipur begins. It can prove illusory even to an alert traveller, as it is one long urban sprawl with wide roads, flyovers, commercial establishments, beautified public spaces and, of course, the quintessential city traffic. And, though further ahead, roughly 10km of the 25km stretch between Raipur and the newly developed Atal Nagar-Nava Raipur is not yet fully urbanised, it still seems like you are traversing through a single mega city instead of four different cities. The import of this organic merging of cities was not lost on the government, which hopes to harness the unique potential it offers to come up with a greater capital region (GCR). The government is planning to merge Raipur, including Nava Raipur, with the neighbouring Bhilai, Durg and smaller towns to form a GCR. “The State Planning Commission has already prepared its recommendations in this direction, which are being reviewed,” Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel told THE WEEK in an exclusive interview.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once it comes into being, the GCR will not only be the first such mega urban agglomerate in central India, but also only one of its kind outside the metro capitals of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. This is because the GCR will be based on organic urban clustering of cities and towns in two neighbouring districts in a small state that is still considered to be developing, said experts.</p> <p>The GCR, according to experts, is a practical proposition as the cities and towns being considered for it fall in a 65km linear stretch. In the two decades since Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000, there has been rapid urbanisation in and around Raipur. Nava Raipur was developed with an aim to replace Raipur as the capital. Meanwhile, Raipur along with Nava Raipur organically expanded into Durg and Bhilai. The twin cities were already quite urbanised because of the presence of the iconic Bhilai steel plant and continued to grow when the new state was formed, said Abir Bandopadhyay, professor of architecture at the National Institute of Technology, Raipur, who specialises in urban planning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from Raipur, Durg and Bhilai, Baghel said that the government plans to include Birgaon and Mana Camp in Raipur district and Risali, Kumhari and Bhilai Charoda in Durg district in the GCR. All of these are governed by municipal corporations, except Mana (nagar panchayat) and Kumhari (municipal council). As per projections based on Census 2011, the region has a collective population of about 35 lakh, thereby constituting more than 40 per cent of the state’s urban population. The Nava Raipur Development Plan (2031), however, puts the estimated population in the belt (within 50km radius of Raipur) at over 38 lakh in 2021. Given the urbanisation trend, the geographical area and the population, the GCR may turn out to be the biggest among cities in central India. Madhya Pradesh’s Indore and Maharashtra’s Nagpur are said to be the biggest urban centres in the region. They have an estimated urban population of 33 lakh and 30.40 lakh, respectively. According to the Nava Raipur Development Plan, the total urban population in the Raipur-Durg-Bhilai belt will be over 55 lakh in 2031; it will be around 40 lakh each for Indore and Nagpur. Moreover, both are non-capital cities and thus have limitations for future growth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts see huge potential in the Raipur GCR. “Although a predominantly rural, forested and tribal state, the young state of Chhattisgarh has potential for industrialisation and concomitant urban development, especially along the Raipur-Durg-Bhilai region, which is linear along the stretch of the Mumbai-Nagpur-Kolkata National Highway and the main railway line,” said Vishwanath Sista, officer on special duty (land pooling), Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA). “But it will require a proper institutional outfit to implement the development plan, perhaps on the lines of the Delhi National Capital Region.” He added that it may be called the Chhattisgarh State Capital Region and can include planning and development powers and legal instruments like that of the HMDA Act, 2008.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress government in the state seems intent on giving a push to urban development, especially in services and infrastructure domains, along with focusing on the agro-based economy of the state. In the 2023-2024 state budget, Rs5,361 crore was allocated for urban development, more than double the amount in 2022-23. Baghel, who also holds the finance portfolio, announced a light metro service between Durg and Nava Raipur. Also, with a 92km-long six-lane expressway being constructed from Durg to Arang (beyond Raipur) under the Centre’s Bharatmala project, the region’s development will gather pace in the coming years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts, while welcoming the idea of the GCR, also point out some loopholes that need to be plugged in before moving ahead with the mega plan. Sandeep Bangde, chief town planner of Chhattisgarh and chairman of the state chapter of Institute of Town Planners, India (ITPI), said that the most important thing would be to have a metropolitan council that will work as a single coordinating policy-making body, planning agency and provider of essential services for the entire region. “Also, it is important to have a plan for the whole region to be divided into dedicated sectors for different activities like trading, wholesale market, agro-based activities and steel plant-based activities,” he said. “Piecemeal planning will not work and it has to be coordinated by a single agency.” Bangde also emphasised on the need for a bypass road between Durg and Raipur, so that long-distance traffic could be diverted and local transportation made easier. This would also help in coal transportation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bandopadhyay, who is a former chairman of ITPI, said that while planning a GCR, attention has to be paid to the availability of basic civic amenities and on proper road designing and connectivity. “Currently, even in Raipur, we have no walk-able roads as there are no footpaths on major thoroughfares,” he said. “Also, local mass transport facilities are not available and therefore private vehicles clog the roads.” He also pointed out that one of the reasons why Nava Raipur, a well-planned and beautiful city, failed to replace Raipur as the state capital was because of the lack of connectivity between the old and new capital.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Author Diwakar Muktibodh also underlined the need for connectivity between Raipur and Nava Raipur, and development of markets and services in the planned city. “Many people have purchased houses in Nava Raipur, but are averse to moving there as there are no markets or daily service facilities,” he said. “Even government employees go to the office in Nava Raipur in special buses and return to the old city in the evening. Nava Raipur becomes deserted after office hours. This needs to change.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Baijendra Kumar N., former chairman of Nava Raipur Development Authority, said that Nava Raipur is the most inclusive, smart, well-planned, greenfield city in India, with great and unlimited potential for organic urban development of the region. “However, the growth and development of Nava Raipur and surrounding towns will depend on political will, proper funding and budget support,” he said. “If starved of funds, the dream city may not be a certainty.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Citizens, for now, see the GCR as a great opportunity for development. Pallavi Verma, 23, a medical graduate who is preparing for the civil services, said, “This will not only give a boost to the image of Chhattisgarh, but also lots of opportunities for younger people.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gaurav Chakraborty, 38, who works with a private firm, said it would give the state a pan-Indian identity. People from other states tend to have preconceived notions of Chhattisgarh being a tribal, rural state that has been fighting Maoists for long. “At present, when I go to, say, Kolkata, people often don’t know about Chhattisgarh and Raipur and we have to give details about its geographic location and specialties,” said Chakraborty. “I am sure this will change if we get such a big, modern capital region with all the facilities.”</p> Sat May 20 12:43:05 IST 2023 chhattisgarh-chief-minister-bhupesh-baghel-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><a name="__DdeLink__11_1981993896" id="__DdeLink__11_1981993896"></a> <b>Q Raipur, including Nava Raipur, along with the twin cities of Durg and Bhilai have organically merged and seem to have potential to become a greater capital region.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>More than 40 per cent of the urban population in the state is concentrated in the eight urban local bodies (Raipur, Mana Camp, Birgaon, Kumhari, Bhilai Charoda, Bhilai, Risali and Durg―all in Raipur and Durg districts), which can be merged into the greater capital region (GCR). Or, a conurbation plan can also be created with a nodal agency looking after the development. The State Planning Commission has already prepared its recommendations in this direction and a task force was formed, which has submitted its report to the respective departments for their views and actionable outcome.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q What is your vision and plan for a formal merger of these urban areas?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> Chhattisgarh is a mineral-rich state with surplus power. Our income is not dependent on agriculture, we also have large-scale industries. To open a new avenue of income for the citizens of the state, it would be prudent to have one large urban agglomeration, which shall bring in the service industry, specifically IT and banking, for diversification of the modes of economic activities. Hence, to tap the potential of urban development, unlock the value of the land and for faster development of Chhattisgarh, the State Planning Commission was instructed by my office to work in this direction. Their recommendations are being reviewed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q So, is a GCR on the anvil?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>We are thinking in the direction of having a GCR, which shall capture the hidden potential of this region. However, we would have to be cautious enough to not convert the lush green area we have into a concrete jungle. Hence, all steps in this direction shall have sustainability and safeguarding the environment at its core. We are currently one of the greenest states in India, and we wish to maintain that status while we urbanise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Do you think the GCR could change the perception of Chhattisgarh being a rural, tribal state?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> That is a wrong perception of Chhattisgarh and we don’t wish to focus our energies in changing such perceptions. However, we intend to synergise our energies in bringing new and upcoming industries and technologies in the state like IT, banking and other service-based startups. They need various types of infrastructure, policies and human resource for efficient functioning and my government is already working in this direction. The GCR shall surely provide impetus in such activities and it shall act as a catalyst in our development journey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q You have already taken many steps to strengthen the rural and agriculture-based economy. Will your next focus be rapid urban development?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> Our focus has never been just on the development of rural or agriculture-based economy. We have made exemplary developments in the urban domain as well. Our cleanliness initiatives have fetched us the title of the cleanest state for three consecutive years. Our initiatives like Narwa-Garwa-Ghurwa-Badi (for farmers), providing better medical infrastructure and doorstep delivery of government services have brought laurels to the state. Our belief is in the development of services and infrastructure that brings direct benefits to the citizens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q You recently announced a light metro project between Nava Raipur and Durg. Should it be considered a step towards possible merger of these cities?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> A considerable proportion of population commutes on this route daily for their educational and professional needs, and for work. We believe it would not only reduce their travel time, but also reduce the burden on their pocket. Therefore, this decision has nothing to do with the merger of cities and you can consider it to be an inter-city transport service, which we feel is the need of the hour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q What will be the benefits of the proposed 92km, six-lane expressway between Durg and Arang?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> It would be a mistake to see this just as a 92km stretch of road. It is a development project that would impact around 40 per cent of our urban population, and shall also improve the movement of goods in and out of the state. This stretch passes through eight urban local bodies and is near one of the largest steel plants in India―the Bhilai steel plant. So, I believe it is not just a road project, but an infrastructure project that would better connect the growth centres of Chhattisgarh and unlock their hidden potential.</p> Sat May 20 12:33:56 IST 2023 manipur-riots-pose-threat-to-national-security-situation-analysis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On May 4 and 5, Union Home Minister Amit Shah was expected to be in Karnataka, taking part in the BJP's final push to retain power in the state. But as riots continued to spiral out of control in Manipur, he was forced to cancel his plans and oversee security efforts from Delhi along with Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Chief Minister N. Biren Singh. The riots also prompted a visit by Lieutenant General R.P. Kalita, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Army's Eastern Command, to the region to assess the preparedness of the forces near Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By then, the Army and the Assam Rifles had deployed 125 columns to rein in the rioters. Thirteen companies of the Central Reserve Police Force and large contingents of the Manipur Rifles now assist them. They have already rescued nearly 23,000 civilians and relocated them to Assam Rifles’ camps and other military establishments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is unfolding in Manipur is an ethnic clash between the two large communities―the largely Hindu Meiteis, who live in the plains, and the Christian majority Kukis, who dominate the hills. The Meiteis make up 53 per cent of the population of the state and the Kukis and the Nagas, who are Scheduled Tribes, constitute 40 per cent. The valley, dominated by the Meiteis, constitutes just about a tenth of Manipur’s total land area, but it is the most fertile region of the state. The Meiteis also dominate the state’s sociopolitical and economic landscape.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ethnic riots are not new to Manipur, caused by the lingering tension between the inhabitants of the hills and the valley, often on account of claims and counter claims regarding land, revenue and economic opportunities. One of the reasons behind the ongoing conflict is the widespread infiltration of Kukis from neighbouring Myanmar, with which Manipur shares a 550 km-long border. THE WEEK, in its cover story dated January 9, 2022, had reported how thousands of minority Kukis from Myanmar were making their way to India through Manipur’s porous borders. Some of them even dug underground tunnels to reach India and find shelter among their kinsmen. The villagers chose not to complain to the security forces, instead they supported the refugees. And Manipur seems to be paying the price now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The world received information about the Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh. But the news about those coming to India’s northeast has been largely unreported because of the ethnic similarity on both sides of the border,” said an official from the Manipur chief minister’s office. Chief Minister Biren Singh accepted that there is massive infiltration from Myanmar. He felt Manipur needed to implement the NRC (National Register of Citizens) to identify the intruders and initiate the process of sending them back to Myanmar. &quot;They are eating up our limited resources,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh's office said it was not easy for the government to identify the illegal Kukis as they live among the legal Kuki residents of the state, who are settled in districts like Churachandpur, Bishnupur and other hilly areas like Tengnoupal and Senapati. The government is concerned that the intruders have links with insurgent groups in Myanmar and are involved in poppy cultivation inside Indian territory. &quot;They are out to destroy our next generation by occupying land in the semi-hilly areas inside the forests and cultivating poppy. It is their biggest source of income,” said Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior officer from the chief minister's office said that China, too, was a player in the poppy trade taking place in the Myanmar-Laos-Thailand golden triangle. The Assam Rifles had alerted the government about the trade of drugs from the golden triangle as China was trying to regain the hold it once enjoyed along India’s northeast border. The director general of Assam Rifles, however, refused to comment on the issue when THE WEEK reached out to him. In fact, both civilian and military officials have stopped explaining what was going on in Manipur. Through an official order, the Manipur government has asked the media to report “sensibly” on the issue. Journalists have been prohibited from visiting hotspots and flashpoints.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh refused to comment further about the Myanmar situation as it comes under the remit of the ministry of external affairs. But his government is already facing the repercussions, especially as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has been withdrawn from the state. Local people say the Manipur government woke up late to the reality of ethnic tensions because of political reasons. Singh heads a government comprising Meitei, Kuki and Naga MLAs. So, it is not easy for him to take stern action against the rioters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior Army officer said the root cause of the problem was the land laws drafted in 1965 which gave land rights in the hills to the Kukis and the Nagas. “They were also given Scheduled Tribes status by the Union government. The Meiteis, who are the majority in the plains, did not have that status. And the situation worsened as the Kukis started coming down to the plains with the increase in their numbers. It made the Meiteis angry,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Modi government’s soft stand towards Myanmar further complicated the situation as it decided to give refugee status to a section of Kuki intruders from Myanmar. The state government, meanwhile, finds it difficult to accommodate the refugees and provide them employment opportunities and other benefits. “The state government never supported such a move by the Centre. But we had to accept the decision,” said a state home department officer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ironically, the growing trend of poppy cultivation saw some sort of understanding between certain Meitei groups and the Kuki intruders which was evident from the ambush of Colonel Viplav Tripathi, commandant of 46 Assam Rifles, along with his wife, son and four soldiers, in November 2021. He was working to stop the poppy cultivation in Churachandpur, a key base for illegal immigrants from Myanmar. But the colonel’s ambush was masterminded by the People’s Liberation Army, an insurgent group dominated by the Meiteis. After his reelection last year, Biren Singh launched an eviction drive against the encroachers and poppy cultivators in the hills. But, as the move resulted in the eviction of a large number of tribals from their villages inside the reserve forests, the Kukis reacted strongly, leading to widespread protests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to observers, the Kukis started emerging as a major force in the 1990s, when the junta reigned supreme in Myanmar. “Their numbers have grown into several lakhs,” said a state land tribunal member. M. Mohan, an ethnic Tamil resident from the Tengnoupal district bordering Myanmar, said the ethnic clashes began in 1992 as the Kukis from Myanmar started entering the state through the Moreh border and clashed with the Nagas. Clashes with the Meiteis started two years later and soon there were fights with Gujaratis, Bengalis, Tamils, Biharis and Nepalis settled in Moreh. “Unable to fight the Kukis, non-tribal groups like us fled to Myanmar to save our lives. The Myanmarese government was lenient and gave us shelter,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The already tense situation came to a head on April 19 after the Manipur High Court asked the state government to convey its opinion to the Union tribal ministry about a proposal to give the Meiteis Scheduled Tribe status. The directive led to widespread protests by the Kukis, especially in the hill districts. With the Kukis targeting the Meiteis in the hills, retaliation came from the plains, where the Meiteis enjoy a significant majority. Singh said the demand for ST status was not justifiable. Moreover, a constitutional amendment would be required to grant Meiteis Scheduled Tribe status.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mohan said the ongoing riots were unprecedented, even in the context of Manipur's fragile ethnic balance. “In Tengnoupal, which is a Kuki-dominated district, Meitei houses were burnt. As fire does not distinguish between ethnicities, it spread to our houses, too. The Kukis did not wish to touch the houses of non-Meiteis, but the fire spread accidentally,” said Mohan, who fled to his friend’s house in Tamil Nadu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Those who were not lucky like him are stuck in the middle of the devastation and a stringent curfew, which has led to the cancellation of flights, trains and even local commutes. The Army and the Assam Rifles have moved to every corner of Manipur where the Kukis and the Meiteis stay together. Both communities have attacked each other’s houses, businesses and places of worship. There are also reports about attacks on women. Around 250 Meiteis in Tengnoupal district were forced to cross the border and seek protection in Myanmar, unable to the bear the torture at the hands of the Kukis. “It is difficult to know where they are. They might be in trouble there as well,” said Mohan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the Meiteis took up arms, they easily outnumbered the police and police stations were set ablaze. Some Kukis burnt Modi and Singh in effigy. Reports indicate that the collapse of law and order has led to a rise in infiltration from across the border. Even more alarmingly, what began as an ethnic clash is now being portrayed as a communal riot. “I strongly condemn any attempt to give this riot a communal tag,” said Singh. “It would be handled strictly by the security forces.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest challenge for the Union and state governments is that while the Army has managed to take control of the situation, the troops could not be deployed forever in the absence of AFSPA and political talks should begin as early as possible. Politically, Singh is already on a sticky wicket as many of his MLAs have resigned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Army is worried about the security threats caused by the riot and its underlying causes. “We have our own challenges as far as security is concerned. But if we are involved in internal security matters for long, insurgent groups will take advantage of that, especially when Myanmar is in trouble and Indian underground groups are active there. Our focus must be on not giving those groups the chance to fish in troubled waters,” said an Army officer of the Eastern Command. Security agencies believe that the issue in contention is land as several underground groups in Myanmar are out to redraw the international border by grabbing Indian territory, perhaps egged on by Beijing. If that happens, Manipur will become yet another national security headache for India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>THE WEEK, in its cover story dated January 9, 2022, had reported how thousands of minority Kukis from Myanmar were making their way to India through Manipur’s porous borders. Some of them even dug underground tunnels to reach India and find shelter among their kinsmen. The villagers chose not to complain to the security forces, instead they supported the refugees. And Manipur seems to be paying the price now.</b></i></p> Sat May 13 12:11:45 IST 2023 manipur-government-security-adviser-kuldiep-singh-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Manipur government has appointed Kuldiep Singh, former chief of the Central Reserve Police Force, as security adviser to contain the spiralling violence in the state and to liaise with the Union home ministry. Speaking to THE WEEK from Imphal, Singh said the fresh bout of violence had brought three major security challenges to the fore: underground groups and insurgents fishing in troubled waters, cross-border migration of refugees, and illegal poppy cultivation. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Is there intelligence about armed insurgent groups indulging in violence?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> There have been intelligence reports of underground groups and insurgents trying to create trouble. It is natural for miscreants and armed insurgent outfits to use this as an opportunity to further their agenda. Right now, we are only trying to douse the fire and help those who are stranded in different places to reach their homes safely. Whether the violence was sporadic or whether organised groups were involved will be a matter of investigation. Only then will we get a better idea about the involvement of underground groups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q The free movement regime (FMR) on the Manipur-Myanmar border has allowed refugees into the state. How are you dealing with illegal migration?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> The border movement is an issue that needs to be resolved. There are concerns about outsiders coming into the state and indulging in illegal activities, cross-border smuggling of narcotics and arms that is disturbing the local population. Nobody likes foreign nationals entering unlawfully and settling in their areas. All these issues are being looked into by various agencies as well as the central government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q The state government has been cracking down on illegal cultivation of poppy in the hill districts of Manipur.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> The drug problem in Manipur is an issue of deep concern for the state government. The smuggling of drugs from across the border and its consumption and the illegal cultivation of poppy in the border areas are significant threats. The government is taking every action to destroy illegal poppy cultivation. The Narcotics Control Bureau and the local police have joined hands to act against the drug mafia and cross-border smuggling rings operating in Manipur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q But the tribals living in the hill districts are worried about state action.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>Those who are indulging in illegal poppy cultivation or any other illegal activity in the border areas are miscreants who are deliberately defying the law. Only such miscreants are resorting to violence or trying to use the present situation as an opportunity to counter state action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q The people of Manipur are unhappy with the internet shutdown.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>The state government has set up village peace committees to spread the message of peace. We are appealing to people to maintain peace and harmony and not pay attention to rumours. People are being asked to contact the verified helpline desk to help their friends and family. If all goes well, we will be able to normalise the situation within a week. But the internet will remain shut for the time being as social media is being misused to spread rumours and mischief mongers are putting up distorted news and fake videos to create panic and unrest. While internet remains shut, landline and broadband facilities are available in Manipur. The focus is to restore normalcy as soon as possible and ensure violence does not resurface.</p> Fri May 12 13:26:40 IST 2023 sharad-pawar-ncp-maharashtra-politics-strategies <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FORMER UNION MINISTER</b> and founder president of the Nationalist Congress Party, Sharad Pawar, is adept at killing many birds with one stone. His decision to step down from the post of president of the NCP is one such move. The Maratha strongman announced his decision to quit on May 2 at the release of the updated edition of his autobiography in Mumbai. A stunned audience, comprising party leaders and office-bearers, had tears in their eyes and started raising slogans urging him not to resign. Pawar, accompanied by his wife, Pratibha, sat through the event, but made no commitments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pawar and his family have been dropping hints about a major decision for the past few days. He recently repeated his famous statement that it was time to flip the bread on the pan or it would get burnt. Pawar has used this analogy many times in the past when he wanted to effect major changes in the government or the party. So, while NCP members were expecting some major announcement, they were hardly prepared for the news that Pawar was stepping down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the move appears to have been carefully planned. Pawar’s family was clearly in the loop as his daughter, Supriya Sule, said a couple of weeks ago that there would soon be a “big explosion” in Maharashtra politics. His nephew, Ajit Pawar, said that the decision was expected on May 1 itself, but it was delayed by a day to make sure that a major Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) rally planned for the day would not get affected. Interestingly, as leader after leader urged Pawar not to resign, Ajit was the only one who supported his uncle’s decision. He told NCP workers that Pawar was not retiring from politics and would be there to guide the party and its new president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pawar has named a committee to elect the new president, comprising 12 senior NCP leaders including Sule, Ajit, party vice president Praful Patel and Maharashtra chief Jayant Patil. But as several party leaders asked Pawar to rethink and even tendered their resignations, he said he would take a couple of days to give it a second thought. The committee is likely to meet on May 5 or 6. Pawar said the committee’s decision would be acceptable to him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, will Pawar relent? “Unlikely,” said political analyst Pratap Asbe. “Pawar has rarely gone back on his decisions. He has been wanting to hand over the baton to the next generation for some years. That is why he stopped contesting Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and moved to the Rajya Sabha. Now he has announced that this will be his last term in the upper house as well. Clearly, Pawar appears to have made up his mind. But this does not mean that he is retiring from politics. He has moved to the role of the elder statesman who will be the guide and mentor to the new leadership.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior Congress leader who has worked with Pawar said in political parties dominated by one family or one person it was very rare to see the leader deciding to step down. He, however, pointed out that the decision could affect the MVA and former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray. “Pawar was the glue that kept the MVA together and Uddhav’s leadership was accepted only because Pawar suggested his name as chief minister. The MVA may stay together for some time but Uddhav certainly will not be its leader. Ajit Pawar and Jayant Patil have far better political acumen and experience than Uddhav,” said the Congress leader. He said Pawar offered to rethink his decision only to defuse the situation. “He will also make sure that the committee announced to elect the new president will essentially fall back on him to make the choice.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The new president has his task cut out as the NCP is trying to regain its national party status. It may require attracting leaders who are unhappy in the Congress and also in parties from the non-BJP bloc. Pawar has always played his politics in such a manner that while the Congress has remained an NCP ally, the BJP has not exactly been its enemy. So, the new president has to be someone who has the ability to pull off this trick. “Right now, there is no such leader who has Pawar’s ability. So, Sule could be made working president and will be asked to work in Delhi while Ajit would control the state as he has no national ambitions,” said the Congress leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With his move, Pawar has checkmated the group of NCP leaders who have been thinking of taking the party closer to the BJP. NCP leaders do not like to remain out of power for long. That is why a large group in the NCP was trying to shift to the BJP camp to enjoy the benefits of power and to steer clear of the corruption cases being probed by Central agencies. It could have caused a split in the NCP. Now, with Pawar’s decision to step down, there is a sympathy wave in his favour and no NCP leader can think of breaking away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Through his latest announcement, Pawar has made sure that politics in Maharashtra will continue to revolve around him. It is a message to the BJP, the Shiv Sena factions, the Congress and also to his own party colleagues. But what is interesting is that he has also left the door open for a possible political realignment between the NCP and the BJP. And if it were to happen, Pawar could well say that it was the decision taken by the new leadership and he was just a guide and mentor. That way, he will be able to make sure that his image of a secular statesman remains unaffected.</p> Fri May 05 18:53:28 IST 2023 karnataka-elections-bjp-and-congress-political-scenario <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Even as the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress in Karnataka are engaged in a tough fight in the assembly polls being held on May 10, both parties agree on at least one issue. They have been asking the voters to avoid supporting the regional player―the Janata Dal (Secular)―to avoid a hung assembly. Both national parties are vying for a 3 per cent to 4 per cent increase in their vote share and to form a government on their own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is aiming for 140 seats in the 224-member house, although its best performance till date has been the 110 seats it won in 2008. The Congress hopes to emulate its 2013 performance, when it won 122 seats. For the JD(S) led by former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda and his son H.D. Kumaraswamy, the primary task is to safeguard its Vokkaliga vote bank and its current vote share of 18.3 per cent. “A strong opposition and a stable government are a must for democracy and development,” said Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge. “People have realised this and will vote decisively to prevent a hung verdict.” Former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa of the BJP, too, made a similar assessment. He said BJP workers should convince the people that a hung verdict would lead to chaos.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>B.L. Santosh, the BJP’s national general secretary (organisation), said the party’s performance in Old Mysuru would determine whether it would retain power. The BJP got 1.8 crore votes in the 2014 general elections and it could cross the half-way mark in the assembly polls by polling about 1.5 crore votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Internal surveys of the Congress showed that the party would get 135 seats, according to Chittapur MLA and Congress spokesperson Priyank Kharge. “In the past few elections, we have consistently got a vote share of 38 per cent. The idea is to push it up to 42 per cent and the swing is going to come from Kalyana Karnataka and the Belagavi regions where we performed average to low last time,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, meanwhile, has reached saturation levels in the Mumbai-Karnataka Lingayat belt and also the coastal and central Karnataka regions. It is eyeing new frontiers, like the Vokkaliga heartland with 59 seats, which is the stronghold of the JD(S). The Congress is relying on the ‘Ahinda’ (minorities, backward classes and dalits) vote base and is also eager to eat into the Lingayat and Vokkaliga vote banks. To offset the JD(S)’s influence among the Vokkaligas, the Congress has elevated D.K. Shivakumar as its state party chief. But the party is worried about the BJP chipping away at its ‘Ahinda’ vote bank with its social engineering experiments. The recent hike in quotas for the SCs and the STs and the internal reservation among the SC communities are seen as a step in this direction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The JD(S) is also trying to expand its vote bank, giving tickets to as many as 18 Muslims. But the party seems hurt by the political narrative set by the national parties. For instance, Congress leader Siddaramaiah calls the JD(S) the BJP’s ‘B team’ , which alienates Muslims from the party. The JD(S) could, however, benefit from the BJP’s plan to drop tainted leaders and non-performers and the Congress’s efforts to balance caste equations. The entry of disgruntled leaders from both parties could offer a fresh lease of life for the JD(S). Priyank, meanwhile, said the rebellion in the national parties would not benefit the JD(S) because of the consolidation of dominant communities like Lingayats and Kurubas in Old Mysuru.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP hopes that the social engineering experiments initiated by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai would work to its advantage. He scrapped the 4 per cent reservation for Muslims and moved them to the 10 per cent pool for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). The abolished quota was split equally between the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas. Bommai has also increased SC/ST reservations and has tweaked the internal quota for the SCs to reward communities that back the BJP. While this could affect the Ahinda platform of the Congress, there could be a backlash against the BJP from the dominant SC communities like the Bhovis and the Banjaras.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priyank said the BJP’s reservation policy failed on two counts. “The enhanced reservation to the SCs, the STs and the OBCs has fallen flat as the BJP does not intend to increase the 50 per cent cap on reservation. The Supreme Court has observed that taking away the 4 per cent reservation from the Muslims to redistribute it among Lingayats and Vokkaligas is unscientific. The internal quota in the SC reservation has aggrieved Bhovi and Banjara communities.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The immediate threat facing the BJP is the rebellion within the party after its experiment to “infuse new blood”. The ambitious experiment began with removing Yediyurappa from the chief minister’s post in July 2021. Many others like Madal Virupakshappa (Channagiri) and Nehru Olekar (Haveri) were dropped as they were facing corruption charges. Former deputy chief minister and five-time MLA from Shivamogga City K.S. Eshwarappa announced his retirement from electoral politics a few hours before the BJP announced its first list of 189 candidates on May 10. The Kuruba leader from the RSS stable vowed to help the party win a ‘clear majority’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP was jolted by the decision of veteran Lingayat leaders Laxman Savadi and Jagadish Shettar to join the Congress. Former deputy chief minister Savadi quit after he was denied the Athani seat in Belagavi. Shettar, who is former chief minister and six-time MLA from Hubballi Central, too, was unhappy about ticket distribution. The BJP denied tickets to as many as 21 MLAs, including ministers, bringing 72 fresh faces to the fray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress believes that Shettar and Savadi can help the party woo back a section of the Lingayats. While Savadi’s support can help the Congress improve its performance in Belagavi, a politically significant district with 18 assembly seats, Shettar’s clout is not strong enough to make any major impact in his Hubbali-Dharwad district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Savadi’s exit has brought the focus back on Belagavi, a region ruled by the “feudal” families who draw immense political clout through their sugar factories, cooperative banks and educational institutions. Savadi, who has no pedigree to boast, rose through the ranks and was elected thrice from Athani before Congress’s Mahesh Kumathalli defeated him in 2018. A year later, Savadi was forced to campaign for Kumathalli in the bypolls after he switched over to the BJP. To pacify Savadi, he was appointed as one of the three deputy chief ministers. Savadi’s quick elevation in Bengaluru sealed his fate in Athani as the party renominated Kumathalli, a close aide of Gokak MLA Ramesh Jarkiholi, who quit as minister following a sex scandal. While Jarkiholi’s ongoing feud with his friend-turned-foe Laxmi Hebbalkar (Congress MLA from Belagavi Rural) and Shivakumar is no secret, the Jarkiholi brothers, who belong to the numerically strong Valmiki (ST) community pose a challenge to prominent Lingayat leaders in the BJP as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Jarkiholi brothers tactfully identify with different political parties to ensure that their family enjoys uninterrupted power. Satish Jarkiholi, one of the state Congress working presidents, represents Yemakanmardi, a reserved seat. Ramesh and his younger brother Balachandra who are with the BJP represent general constituencies―Gokak and Arabhavi, which many believe should have been represented by Lingayat leaders. This has led to growing resentment within the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, which managed to win only 17 of the 50 seats in the Mumbai-Karnataka region last time, is hoping to increase its tally by welcoming the heavyweights from the BJP. It hopes that Savadi can win Athani and also pose a challenge to turncoats like Ramesh Jarkiholi and Kumathalli. The Congress has been trying to woo the Lingayats for quite some time. In 2018, it backed the Lingayat demand for a separate religion tag, but the move backfired. And as soon as Yediyurappa stepped down as chief minister, it alleged that Lingayat leaders were being sidelined by the BJP. Many Congress leaders, however, fear that the new entrants might upset the applecart as there is already a power tussle among Lingayat leaders in the party who might see the new entrants a threat to their political aspirations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mood in Hubballi is charged with Shettar joining the Congress. While the BJP urged him to make way for new faces, Shettar wanted one last shot at power. As he was rebuffed, he joined the Congress despite his long association with the RSS, ignoring offers like a Rajya Sabha seat, a berth in the Union cabinet or a governor’s post. “I built the party in north Karnataka under the guidance of Yediyurappa and Ananth Kumar. But the party failed to give me a graceful exit from electoral politics. I am hurt and so is my self-respect,” said Shettar. Yediyurappa blamed Savadi and Shettar for betraying the party and the people. “Shettar comes from a family associated with the sangh parivar from the Jana Sangh days. The party has given him ample opportunities―he was leader of the opposition, party president, minister, speaker and chief minister,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bommai, who visited Shettar’s residence along with Union ministers Pralhad Joshi and Dharmendra Pradhan for negotiations, said [Union Home Minister] Amit Shah and [BJP president] J.P. Nadda offered him a bigger post in Delhi, “but he behaved like an opportunist”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the Bommai government’s decision to hike the quota for Lingayats by 2 per cent has pacified the agitating Panchamasali Lingayats, the BJP’s challenges are far from over. The exit of Shettar, a Banajiga, and Savadi, a Gaaniga, might lead to discord among various smaller subsects in the community. The Congress is hoping to benefit from the rebellion and has put up 51 Lingayat candidates (10 more than the last time) compared with the BJP’s 68. Even a marginal split in the Lingayat votes could hugely benefit the Congress. The BJP, in damage control mode, keeps on reminding the Lingayats of the “insult” and “hurt” caused by the Congress to the community in the past, especially when it replaced Veerendra Patil as chief minister in 1989 and brought in S. Bangarappa, an OBC leader. Amid the chaos, former chief minister Siddaramaiah’s remarks on “corrupt Lingayat chief minister” has stirred a fresh row. Siddaramaiah, who was campaigning in Varuna, lost his cool when reporters told him that the BJP had dared the Congress to declare a Lingayat as its chief ministerial candidate. “We already have a Lingayat chief minister who has indulged in corruption and spoilt the state,” said Siddaramaiah. The BJP has demanded a public apology from Siddaramaiah and called his remarks an “insult” to the Lingayats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon after Savadi and Shettar quit, Nadda landed in Hubballi and visited the powerful Lingayat mutts―Siddaroodha and Moorusaavira. Yediyurappa held a meeting of Lingayat leaders to discuss the possible impact of the defections and to find ways to pacify the community. “We dare the Congress to declare that a Lingayat would become chief minister if it wins,” said Housing Minister and Lingayat leader V. Somanna, who is fighting Siddaramaiah, one of the leading chief ministerial aspirants of the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddaramaiah, a Kuruba strongman, and Shivakumar, a Vokkaliga, are the leading contenders for the chief minister’s post from the Congress. But both might lose out if the elections throw up a hung assembly as the JD(S) could emerge the kingmaker. In that case, Gowda might insist on a dalit chief minister like G. Parameshwara or Mallikarjun Kharge―or even pick a Lingayat leader like M.B. Patil, a five-time MLA from Babaleshwara, to dwarf the influence of the Congress bigwigs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the BJP, even as Yediyurappa is hoping to see his younger son and BJP state vice president B.Y. Vijayendra emerge as his political successor, there is a long list of chief ministerial aspirants. Arvind Bellad, a two-time MLA from the Hubbali-Dharwad West constituency, is among the leading contenders for the top post. He is the son of five-time MLA Chandrakant Bellad, a veteran RSS leader who helped the BJP expand in north Karnataka by bringing in the Lingayat votebank. Arvind, an engineering graduate and a businessman with a clean image, is said to be in the good books of Santosh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Industries Minister Murugesh Nirani is another contender. A three-term MLA from Bilgi constituency in Bagalkote, he is a successful industrialist. He has been backing the Panchamasali movement for higher reservation quota. Former Union minister and Vijayapura MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, a staunch hindutva leader and a vocal critic of Yediyurappa, too, is in the race. Housing Minister V. Somanna is another Lingayat leader with chief ministerial ambitions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s desire to reduce its dependency on the Lingayat vote bank might see Vokkaliga leader and four-time MLA from Chikkamagaluru C.T. Ravi making it to the top post. Also in the reckoning is Pralhad Joshi, the four-time MP from Dharwad, who is Union minister for parliamentary affairs. The Brahmin leader from the Lingayat heartland could end up as consensus candidate for the top post.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lingayats, however, still hold the edge. BJP general secretary and Karnataka in charge Arun Singh said the party had been enjoying overwhelming support from the community for three decades now. “Of the four BJP chief ministers, three have been Lingayats,” he said. “It is now a universal truth that the next chief minister from the BJP will also be a Lingayat.”</p> Fri Apr 28 16:18:12 IST 2023 karnataka-polls-defections-ego-battles-and-caste-based-tactics-set-up-key-contests <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>VARUNA</b></p> <p>Former chief minister <b>Siddaramaiah</b>, 75, ended his hunt for a safe seat by filing his nomination from Varuna in his home district of Mysuru.</p> <p><br> The incumbent MLA is his son Dr Yathindra. The Kuruba strongman will face Housing Minister V. Somanna, 72, a Lingayat leader who has been tactfully picked by the BJP to tie Siddaramaiah down in his own constituency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddaramaiah, who is embroiled in a power tussle with Karnataka Congress president D.K. Shivakumar, had hoped to contest from a second seat (like he had done in 2018, fearing sabotage). But, the party denied him a second ticket owing to pressure from his detractors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, Somanna, the MLA from Govindraj Nagar (Bengaluru), is also facing a challenging situation in his party. He is expected to prove his leadership by winning the seat for the party. And, the BJP has also tasked him with winning Chamarajnagar (a seat he wanted to contest). Both seats have sizeable Lingayat population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The JD(S) fielding Bharathi Shankar, a dalit candidate, would work in favour of the BJP as it would split the Congress’s dalit votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>KANAKAPURA</b></p> <p>Known as <b>D.K. Shivakumar’s</b> fiefdom, the constituency usually sees one-sided fights. But, this time, Shivakumar is facing fellow Vokkaliga and Revenue Minister R. Ashok. The BJP, similar to its tact in Varuna, is hoping keep the Congress candidate busy in his own constituency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shivakumar has won the seat in Ramanagara district seven times. Ashok is also contesting from his own constituency―Padmanabhanagar in Bengaluru. He is in the fray in Kanakapura as part of the BJP’s plan to expand in the Old Mysuru region―the Vokkaliga heartland. The aim is to increase its vote share and groom Vokkaliga leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>CHANNAPATNA</b></p> <p>Former chief minister and sitting MLA <b>H.D. Kumaraswamy</b> will be take on fellow Vokkaliga, former minister and BJP candidate C.P. Yogeeshwara, who has won the seat five times from different political parties. The Congress is fielding a Muslim candidate from the Vokkaliga-dominated constituency, effectively turning it into a straight fight between the BJP and the JD(S).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>HUBBALLI CENTRAL</b></p> <p>The poll to the seat, which is in the Lingayat belt, would have been uneventful if the BJP had given the ticket to former chief minister and six-time MLA <b>Jagadish Shettar,</b> 67. But its decision to blood a younger partyworker saw Shettar quit the party in a huff. The ticket went to state general secretary Mahesh Tenginkai, who belongs to the same sub-sect of Lingayats (Banajiga) as Shettar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To the shock of many in the saffron party, Shettar, whose family had been associated with the Jan Sangh and the RSS for long, joined the Congress. This, despite the BJP promising him a plum post at the Centre. The cadre must now decide whether to work for their leader who has joined the enemy camp or to ensure a win for the “ordinary” partyworker Tenginkai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>ATHANI</b></p> <p>The seat, which is in the politically significant Belagavi district, will see a battle of two egos. Former minister and ST leader Ramesh Jarkiholi secured the BJP ticket for his aide and sitting MLA Mahesh Kumathalli. But, as a result, former deputy chief minister <b>Laxman Savadi</b> quit the BJP to join the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumathalli was one of the 14 rebel Congress MLAs who joined the BJP in 2019 during “Operation Kamala”―the BJP toppled the JD(S)-Congress coalition and formed the government. Savadi, a Gaaniga Lingayat leader, rose through the ranks in the BJP. He was elected thrice from Athani before Kumathalli, a Panchamasali Lingayat, defeated him in 2018 on a Congress ticket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A year later, Savadi was forced to campaign for Kumathalli, the BJP candidate, in the Athani bypoll. To pacify Savadi, the BJP had appointed him one of three deputy chief ministers and also made him the transport minister. But, that was not enough to stop him from jumping ship after the party gave the Athani ticket to Kumathalli again.</p> Fri Apr 28 16:14:05 IST 2023 karnataka-elections-other-parties-that-could-hurt-the-main-contenders-congress-and-bjp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IMAGINE THE CONGESTED</b> Chickpet Market in Bengaluru getting a facelift like Delhi’s Chandni Chowk did. Or, all government schools in Karnataka getting an upgrade to become capable of giving private schools a run for their money. Or mohalla clinics that can save the poor from exorbitant charges at corporate hospitals. The Aam Aadmi Party is going all out to pitch its “Delhi model” to voters in Karnataka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s newest national party is fielding candidates in 213 of the 224 constituencies―a giant leap from 28 candidates in 2018. Then, it had lost deposits in all 28 seats and got 0.6 per cent of the vote. But, it continues to attract volunteers and members from the educated class.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Brijesh Kalappa, AAP candidate from Chickpet, said the people were unhappy with the older parties and that the AAP could hope for five to 20 seats, especially in three- or four-corner fights. AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal visited Davanagere district in March and set the tone for the campaign by targeting the BJP. But, the AAP does not have a popular face locally and is reliant on star campaigners like Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann. The party claims that there is an acceptance for alternatives in north Karnataka, owing to gross deprivation of basic amenities in backward areas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the Kalyana Rajya Pragati Paksha floated by G. Janardhana Reddy can be a problem for both the BJP and the Congress in Kalyana Karnataka (Hyderabad-Karnataka). The 56-year-old, who spent 42 months in jail in the Obulapuram Mining Company case, is out on conditional bail. He floated the KRPP after the BJP leadership snubbed his overtures and denied him a ticket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Janardhana is the youngest of the “Reddy brothers”―mining barons of the iron ore-rich Ballari district. They had a brief stint with the Congress, but their rise in politics came after backing Sushma Swaraj in her contest against Sonia Gandhi for the Ballari seat in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. They built the BJP in Ballari, till the mining scam set them back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, the BJP has given tickets to Janardhana’s brothers―Somashekhara and Karunakara. The KRPP is contesting 49 seats. Janardhana, whose entry into Ballari is restricted by court order, is contesting from Gangavathi in Koppal district. His wife Lakshmi Aruna will take on Somashekhara in Ballari City. While his party does not have the cadre strength to win seats, it can eat into the votes of the Congress and the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Karnataka Rashtriya Samiti, founded by techie-turned-anti-corruption-crusader Ravi Krishna Reddy, is fielding 199 candidates. Reddy, 48, who has earlier contested elections as an independent and on an AAP ticket, left his home last April to begin a state-wide election campaign. On April 24, he posted on Facebook: “I have not gone home for a year.... Family assets are dwindling and my blood pressure is shooting up. But, I am determined to pull through till May 10 as I have to continue campaigning and crowdsourcing (funds) for our candidates.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The KRS Facebook page has 3.5 lakh followers and it has around 40,000 volunteers. Whether it makes a dent electorally or not, Reddy and the KRS have already made a difference. Reddy has exposed corruption through videos of officials taking bribes and though his initiatives have resulted in half-a-dozen cases against him, he has also managed to get some corrupt officers suspended.</p> Fri Apr 28 16:09:24 IST 2023 ajit-pawar-maharashtra-politics-strategies <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When NCP leader Ajit Pawar held a closed-door meeting with a few legislators on April 18 at his office in Maharashtra’s state legislature, the state politics was abuzz with rumours of him crossing over to the BJP with a group of MLAs. But Ajit seemed unaffected by the speculation and was busy with legislative work and the grievances brought to him by his party legislators. He, however, sounded a bit upset when he hurriedly spoke to the media after the meeting. “I will remain with the NCP until my last breath,” he said. “There is not an iota of truth in the speculations. I do not have any letter signed by 40 legislators and there is no need for such a letter. I request you to stop these rumours. We are working as a family to strengthen the party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajit has been under a cloud of suspicion since he formed a government with the BJP in 2019, even as his uncle, NCP founder Sharad Pawar, was trying to cobble up a coalition with the Shiv Sena and the Congress to keep the BJP at bay. The senior Pawar’s will prevailed and the legislators who had gone with Ajit returned to the NCP camp, pulling the curtains on the Devendra Fadnavis government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pawar refrained from taking any action against Ajit, though, probably sensing the support his nephew enjoyed among party legislators. In fact, Ajit was made the deputy chief minister in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government led by Uddhav Thackeray. When the MVA government was toppled by Eknath Shinde and the BJP, Ajit returned to the state legislature as the leader of the opposition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That Ajit is lenient to Fadnavis is an open secret. During his speeches in the assembly, he would target Chief Minister Shinde, but spare Fadnavis and the BJP. This bonhomie fuelled the rumours that Ajit was again getting cosy with the BJP. Ajit clearly did not want to rub the BJP the wrong way, as an Enforcement Directorate investigation was progressing on the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank scam case. Also, it is said that a power tussle is going on in the Pawar family over succession.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajit has been worried about the growing influence of Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule, MP, in the party’s decision-making apparatus. Though Sule has always said that she was happy in Delhi, Ajit loyalists fear that if the NCP gets the chief minister’s post, Sule will be chosen over Ajit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajit’s ambition of taking over the reins of the NCP has never been a secret. In fact, in a meeting more than a decade ago, he had hinted that Pawar senior should move to the role of a mentor. But he still remains in the shadow of the powerful uncle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is also no secret that Ajit wants to be the chief minister of Maharashtra. He has been deputy chief minister four times and has held almost all important portfolios except that of home minister. He had a slim chance in 2004 when the NCP performed better than ally Congress. However, Pawar conceded the post of the chief minister to the Congress in exchange for three crucial portfolios. Ajit will get another shot in 2024, if the MVA wins the assembly elections and the NCP emerges as the single largest party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajit has been keeping his cards close to his chest after the fiasco in 2019. At least half of the 54 NCP legislators are his staunch loyalists. In fact, the NCP legislators can be broadly divided into three―those who will not go with the BJP at any cost, the pragmatic politicians who do not mind joining hands with the BJP and the hardcore Sharad Pawar loyalists. While loyalty to Sharad Pawar is the thread that binds all these segments, Ajit loyalists are mostly part of the second segment comprising pragmatic politicians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The speculation of Ajit jumping the ship started with a meeting between Sharad Pawar and Uddhav a while ago when Pawar told Uddhav that some of his party leaders were under pressure to join hands with the BJP because of the threat of agencies like the ED and CBI. It got currency when the ED did not include the names of Ajit and his wife, Sunetra, in the charge sheet it filed in the Jarandeswhar Cooperative Sugar Factory case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>NCP says it is all a creation of the media. “All is well within the NCP and the media should not spread false news,” said Dhananjay Munde, senior NCP legislator and a confidant of Ajit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, however, is more or less certain that Ajit was all set to chart a new course with the support of the BJP and that it was the BJP’s plan B if the Supreme Court verdict goes against Shinde and the other legislators who defected from the Shiv Sena. “Ajit and his group were ready,” said a senior party leader. “Maharashtra BJP was overjoyed, but the number one in the BJP (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) forced them to apply the brakes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior BJP leader, however, dismissed the Congress’s claims. “We are committed to Eknath Shinde and his group,” he said. “There is no question of giving chief ministership to Ajit Pawar at this stage. We also feel that the SC verdict will not affect the stability of the government. Ajit and his group could come with us in the future, around the time of the Lok Sabha elections and if that happens we will easily cross the 40 seat mark in Maharashtra.”</p> Sat Apr 22 17:23:10 IST 2023 rise-of-radical-threats-in-punjab-reasons-political-parties-failure <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>BHAGWANT MANN,</b> who was chosen as Punjab chief minister after the Aam Aadmi Party’s surprisingly decisive victory a year ago, had a lot of promises to fulfil. In fact, he had an eventful first year, though not exactly the way he would have liked it: A minister and a legislator from his party were arrested on corruption charges; another minister resigned after his name figured in an alleged extortion call; Mann’s close aide lost the by-poll in the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat that he had vacated; rapper Sidhu Moose Wala was gunned down by gangsters after the government withdrew his security; and the decision to elect ‘outsiders’ to the Rajya Sabha has not gone down well with the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The growing disillusionment with the Mann government has left a political vacuum, making the state a fertile ground for the self-styled separatist leader Amritpal Singh. In fact, the trucker-turned-preacher’s swift rise took the people of the state by surprise, leading to speculation that he was parachuted from outside. And his raid of the Ajnala police station on February 23 to free his associate brought back memories of the state’s chequered past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the Khalistan movement may not have many takers in the state, the polarisation and disenchantment with political institutions spells bad news. “Failure of moderate political parties to capture the space has led to the emergence of elements like Amritpal, as there was no group or process in the state to check it. There was no road block,” said Prof Pramod Kumar, director, Institute of Development and Communication, a Chandigarh-based think tank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a wider socioeconomic angle to the development as well. Punjab’s economy has moved on from being the food basket of the country. “The agriculture has turned from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market with the emergence of other wheat producing states like Madhya Pradesh,” said Kumar. “This impacts the economic status of the Jat Sikh peasantry. Even the political hegemony of the Jat Sikhs was being broken as dalits and Hindu groups are asserting their demands. So, the Jat Sikh peasantry are available as fodder. If they are not co-opted into the system, then they are available for others to co-opt them out of the system. So the role of the state and moderate political parties is important.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The state’s main political parties are all busy dealing with their own problems. The Shiromani Akali Dal has seen a massive erosion of its support base. The Congress has been in a state of flux. The BJP’s attempts are limited to invoking the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and co-opting Sikh leaders from other parties. It was this absence of the liberal political parties to catch hold of the narrative that led to Akali Dal (Amritsar) chief Simranjit Singh Mann, a vocal proponent of Khalistan, winning the Sangrur by-poll last July.</p> <p>Amritpal is thriving in the same vacuum. “The issue has exposed that all sections could not rise up to the occasion,” said Sunil Jakhar, former state Congress president, who is now with the BJP. “Be it the government, security agencies, intelligentsia, society or youth, no one reacted when they should have.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amritpal’s initial bravado when he spoke about Khalistan and taking on the might of the Indian state ended in a whimper as he started running. However, the police action to arrest and detain hundreds of his supporters led to the Akal Takht, the highest body of Sikhs, and the SGPC joining the chorus for releasing them. A section of the Sikh diaspora reacted with alacrity as police action fed into the anxiety of Sikhs being targeted by the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sikh historian and commentator Prof Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon puts the blame on the Punjab government for the current situation. “There is a feeling in the state that Bhagwant Mann is acting on the dictation of Arvind Kejriwal, which people do not accept. This has been rejected by the people of Punjab, the kind of mandate he got has already been lost. Mann is losing ground,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhillon said Sikhs were feeling alienated as the issues they raised remained unsolved. “The Sikh community all over the world is feeling hurt. They have to talk with open heart with the Sikh leadership across the table, and not just to those leaders whom they find amenable,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mann is still a crowd puller, thanks to the gift of the gab. The AAP claims that its internal surveys indicate that his approval rating are high. But it has more to do with the fact that there is no alternative yet. However, the work done by the AAP in health care and education is being overshadowed by law and order issues, as criminal gangs with drug, mafia, and terror links continue to hold sway.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>AAP’s chief spokesperson Malwinder Singh Kang said law would take its own course. “The Punjab government had made it clear from the first day that strict action would be taken against anyone disturbing the law and order of the state or trying to disturb the communal harmony,” he said. “Punjab Police will catch Amritpal soon. Look at this operation, neither a single shot was fired nor was there blood shed. If one looks at all police actions in the past, there have been atrocities against the innocent also. We have prevented that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next test for the state’s political parties is the Jalandhar Lok Sabha by-poll, necessitated by the death of Congress MP Santokh Singh Chaudhary during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. The Congress is fielding Chaudhary’s widow in the reserved seat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kang said the AAP would contest the election on the government’s performance in the fields of health, education, power and agriculture. While the polls may be interpreted as referendum on Mann’s performance, it is of importance for all parties ahead of the Lok Sabha elections next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But again, it is not just about winning elections. “The big lesson in the current Punjab situation is the that liberal political parties have to get active and get into the protests,” said Kumar. “They should mobilise and intervene wherever there is conflict so as to moderate its impact on society and politics.”</p> Sat Apr 08 14:49:23 IST 2023 effects-of-new-land-grant-rules-in-jammu-and-kashmir <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The arrival of spring usually brings cheer to Kashmir, as business and tourism pick up pace after the winter gloom. This year, though, the season has hundreds of hoteliers, traders and shop-owners worried. The reason is the Jammu and Kashmir government’s Land Grant Rules, 2022, which says all commercial leases granted by the government as per older rules “shall not be renewed”. The new rules are, in essence, an eviction notice to businesses operating from buildings constructed on land leased from the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government intends to form a committee to assess if the leaseholders have violated terms. It will also compensate those who have made “improvements”, including constructing a structure on the leased land. The new rules say all parcels of land whose leases expire, or have already expired, would be e-auctioned and used for infrastructure development, including “housing for ex-servicemen, war widows, families of deprived categories [and] migrant workers”, and for “any other purpose in the interest of Jammu and Kashmir”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Traders fear that the new rules will put hundreds of people out of business and radically alter the stake-holding of local people in all forms of commercial activity. They say similar auctions in recent times have given outsiders the upper hand in minerals and liquor businesses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An official of the Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation (KTMF) said the new rules would impact nearly half the businesses in Srinagar, including 2,000 small and medium businesses in the 1.8km stretch from Hari Singh Street to Polo View that serves as Kashmir’s commercial hub. “Some businesses have been operating from leased land for more than 70 years, or even before the partition,” he said. “What will happen to them if the new rules take effect?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A shopkeeper at Residency Road in Srinagar said the new rules affected livelihoods. “I purchased this small shop (140sqft) in 2002 after making a goodwill payment to the landlord,” said the shopkeeper. “[The landlord’s] lease had expired, but the rules then allowed renewal of expired leases. The deal was registered in the court without any hassle.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghulam Sarwar, owner of Kashmir Book Shop in Srinagar, said he had struck a similar deal. “I also paid the landlord, because the rules then allowed renewal of expired leases,” said Sarwar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khursheed Bhat owns a fabric store in Fair Deal Shopping Complex, a 35,000-sqft building housing 70 shops. According to Bhat, part of the shopping complex was built on nazool land, or state land, 28 years ago. Some of the shops in the complex, he said, had received notices from the government. “We have been telling the government for the past 14 years that the lease granted to this complex had expired. Tell us what we have to do,” said Bhat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said businesses built on nazool land became illegal occupants of government land after the J&amp;K State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001, was scrapped in December 2021. The act had allowed those who occupied nazool land before January 1, 1990, to secure ownership rights by paying a premium. The scheme was launched by the government to raise money to fund power projects. The target was Rs25,000 crore, but the government could raise just Rs75 crore because ownership rights were granted for free after the act was amended in 2004 and 2006.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Declaring the act as “null and void” in 2020, governor Satya Pal Malik ordered that land regularised under the act be retrieved in six months and encroachments removed. The order came weeks after the J&amp;K and Ladakh High Court ordered a CBI investigation into the allegation that the act had resulted in a Rs25,000 crore land scam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Inder Kishen, a Kashmiri Pandit who owns a stationery store at Polo View, fears that he would lose the business that his family had run for generations. “My grandfather Baljee Kundu started this business before the partition. It is our bread and butter,” said Kishen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Farhan Kitab, president of the Residency Road Shopkeepers’ Association, said leaseholders had sublet their property to businesses decades ago. “Business has suffered because of the situation in Kashmir and calamities like the 2014 floods; now these rules have come as another setback,” said Kitab. “Our appeal is that the government should either give us ownership rights against a premium―since we have already made goodwill payments for setting up our businesses―or [an opportunity to] enter into an agreement. Else, families will suffer and big land-grabbers could exploit the situation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the association met Lt Governor Manoj Sinha and senior government officials after the new rules came into effect. After the meeting, said Kitab, Sinha said small businesses would not be touched.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hoteliers are especially worried. Hotels in Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Udhampur and on Boulevard Road along Dal Lake will be up for grabs if the government decides to ignore their pleas. All hotels in Gulmarg, except for the five-star Khyber Resort, have lapsed leases. Mushtaq Chaya, owner of a chain of hotels in and outside Kashmir, said a delegation of hoteliers led by him discussed the issue with Sinha. “Of the initial 40-year lease period, there was no business for 30 years because of militancy,” said Chaya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several hoteliers in Gulmarg said they were witnessing impressive footfalls for the first time since the pandemic. “The government should renew the lease of hotels without delay,” said Imran Nazir, general manager of Heevan Retreat. “At a time when unemployment in Kashmir, at 21 per cent, is the highest in the country, each hotel employs hundreds of people directly and indirectly. Even a day’s disruption will have a serious impact on the industry.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Nazir, the number of affluent tourists visiting Kashmir has gone up for the first time in 30 years. “It started because of Covid, as people who couldn’t travel abroad for holidays turned to Kashmir,” he said. “They found the place more scenic, and affordable, than locations abroad. In a way, Covid was a blessing in disguise. Those who visited during the pandemic are making repeat trips and bringing friends and relatives along.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghulam Muhammad Malik, manager at the three-star Alpine Ridge, Gulmarg, said the property’s lease had lapsed in September 2019. “This hotel was built in 2013,” he said. “We have invested in this business [expecting] a 90-year lease. Hotel maintenance expenses in Gulmarg are very high because of heavy snowfall.” The government, he said, must consider the difficulties they have overcome in the past few decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The new rules may also affect the functioning of several schools in Kashmir. “The rules will impact nearly 650 schools, including Christian missionary schools,” said G.N. Var, head of the private schools association in Srinagar. Four prominent schools in Srinagar―Tyndale Biscoe and Mallinson Girls at Sheikh Bagh, Burn Hall at Sonwar, and Presentation Convent at Rajbagh―had leases that expired before 2000. Burn Hall and Presentation Convent renewed their leases three months before Article 370 was voided.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In April last year, the government asked all private schools to furnish details regarding their lapsed leases. As many as 400 schools that had renewed their registration faced the threat of closure. The government action, however, was stayed by the court and criticised by political parties. “The leases have expired, but people should get a chance for renewal,” said former chief minister Omar Abdullah. “Fix the rate and tell people to pay.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Altaf Bukhari of J&amp;K Apni Party said the new rules were draconian and inhuman. “If the government did not extend the leases, it is not the leaseholders’ mistake. [The new rules] cannot stand the scrutiny of law,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Peoples Conference leader Sajad Lone, the new rules have a sinister objective. “They are not without motives,” he said. “It may start the dark chapter of blatantly othering the Kashmiris.”</p> Sat Apr 08 14:02:13 IST 2023 punjab-security-issues-needs-to-be-solved-with-concerted-efforts-of-union-and-state-governments <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The shadow of Amritpal Singh looms over Punjab. The Waris Punjab De leader has been on the run for more than 10 days, and the hunt for him has prompted hundreds of young men who were once sympathisers to distance themselves from his radical path.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police have already nabbed hundreds of Amritpal supporters. Eleven of them have been charged under the stringent National Security Act. The last time a person in Punjab was charged under NSA was in 2001, when followers of a breakaway Sikh sect published their own holy book, sparking violence across the state. The founder of the sect, Piara Singh Bhaniara, was denounced by the influential Akal Takht and charged by the police under NSA after several incidents of sacrilege were reported.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than two decades later, another radical has the state on tenterhooks. Even if Amritpal is arrested soon, the disquieting situation is unlikely to be set right in the near future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police station at Jallupur Khera, Amritpal’s village, is receiving more visitors than usual. Elderly Sikhs comfort anxious young men summoned by the police. The men take pains to disavow Amritpal, saying they were miles away from him and his aides when they attacked the police station in Ajnala, some 10km from Jallupur Khera, with swords and sticks on February 23.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CCTV recordings of the Ajnala attack are being examined by the police to identify and arrest his followers. Amritpal himself has been absconding since March 18, and the continuing hunt for him has exposed a system that is grappling with social and religious tensions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 29, a video message from Amritpal shot in an unknown location surfaced on social media. In the video, he describes the crackdown on him as an attack on the Sikh community. “I appeal to the community in the country and abroad to participate in the Sarbat Khalsa programme on Baisakhi (April 14). For a long time, we have been taking up issues in small ways, but if we want to solve the issues of Punjab, we have to put up a united front,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amritpal has laid down conditions for his surrender, such as removing the NSA charges against his aides. Apart from the 11 aides booked under NSA, cases have been registered against 39 protesters and 31 Waris Punjab De members. As many as 360 others have been booked for breaking barricades, destroying public property, displaying arms and engaging in criminal intimidation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amritpal has left behind all but two of his followers―Pappalpreet Singh, an alleged Khalistani hand, and Bikramjit, a close aide who handles funds. The sundry criminals, aspiring gangsters and disillusioned youth who once followed him are scrambling to enlist the support of Sikh elders to distance themselves from Amritpal. The crackdown has been so extensive that the Akal Takht has demanded the release of “innocent” persons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I was standing far away when the Ajnala violence took place. I don’t have any links with any of the accused,” said Manjeet (named changed), one of the 360 accused. Manjeet had come to the Jallupur Khera station with a co-accused and a village elder. The elder was there to help the young men explain how they were mere bystanders when the violence erupted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The police have released 348 of the 360 persons arrested under preventive sections of the law,” said Gaurav Yadav, director general of police, to THE WEEK. “Directions have been issued to all police stations in the state to ensure no innocent person is harassed or arrested.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Police sources said the NSA detainees―all of whom are key aides of Amritpal―will have to face the iron hand of the law. Accused members of Waris Punjab De and the violent protesters will also not be spared, they said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ball is now in the court of the state government. Once the police charge a person under the NSA, the action has to be validated by the district commissioner within 12 days. After the commissioner validates it, the accused can be kept in custody for three months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the meantime, the government has to send all case details to an advisory board―a quasi-judicial body of three members headed by a retired High Court judge. The board looks at the grounds for the arrest, summons witnesses and analyses all evidence. Only if the board is satisfied that the police is allowed to implement the maximum detention period of one year under NSA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NSA is considered draconian, because the detainee cannot get bail, does not have immediate access to lawyers, and cannot appeal to the government against the decision of the board. There is legal recourse in the High Court and the Supreme Court, but the process takes time. In the meantime, the detainee can be shifted to a jail in another state, and can be arrested under sections of the Indian Penal Code if the detention is over.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Aam Aadmi Party, which came to power in Punjab last year, has to walk a tightrope between the need to release innocents and ignore the demands from pressure groups supporting Amritpal. The fact that Pakistan-backed Khalistani groups in Canada, the UK, the US and Australia are targeting Indian missions and running online campaigns in his support has been a wake up call for the Union and state governments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Even though Amritpal’s supporters and the forces behind him are trying to whip up pro-Khalistan sentiment abroad, the two worlds of Amritpal in Punjab and the pro-Khalistan supporters abroad are disconnected,” said G.K. Pillai, former Union home secretary. According to him, Punjab’s problems do not arise from any ideology or separatist sentiment, but from tangible and everyday concerns that can be addressed by the Central and state government together. “In fact, despite Pakistan-supported pro-Khalistan forces trying to fish in troubled waters, it still has no resonance on the ground,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The unmaking of Amritpal, said Pillai, will only be complete when the Punjab government is able to roll out a cohesive plan to stamp out the gangster network, drug mafia and lumpen elements who were attracted to Amritpal and his radical path.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police are apparently working on such a blueprint. “We are hoping that, in the next few months, the momentum [of the Amrtipal hunt] is maintained to focus on cracking down on illegal sale of drugs, gun-running, cross-border smuggling and financial flows to outfits like Waris Punjab De,” said a counterterrorism official. “This is to prevent the growth of radical elements like Amritpal, who can whip up sentiments to the extent that they become a threat to national security.”</p> Sat Apr 01 17:51:22 IST 2023 a-women-s-movement-in-kerala-against-muslim-inheritance-law <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Rubiya Sainudheen, 26, of Kochi is fighting an uphill battle. An only child, she lost her father, C.H. Sainudheen, to Covid in November 2020. Sainudheen was an entrepreneur who sold lottery tickets wholesale and had property worth 020 crore. He died without leaving a will and had a debt of Rs2 crore.</p> <p>Rubiya was divorced at the time. She later married a businessman, Shuhaib K.T., and they tried to settle the debt by selling some of Sainudheen’s assets. They found an unexpected roadblock. Sainudheen’s brother and son contested the sale, citing provisions of the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The act and its provisions are applicable to all cases where a Muslim dies intestate, leaving questions regarding succession and division of property. As per the law, the lone daughter of a father who died intestate is entitled to only half the assets owned by him. The rest is divided among his brothers. But, if the lone child is a son, the property can be passed on to him as a whole. Apparently, Muslim personal law discourages people from leaving a will that benefits only the children.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rubiya says the law is helping her relatives grab her father’s property. According to her, they were of no help when her father was alive and her mother was suffering from kidney disease. After he died, the relatives allegedly tried to maintain control over the assets by preventing her from remarrying.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shuhaib fully backs Rubiya in her battle. He said assets worth Rs6 crore sans liabilities, which her father had made by hard work, are now in dispute. “My father left home when he was just 18 because of family problems,” she said. “He created all this wealth by himself. We approached the mosque committee, but they supported my uncle.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 12, Rubiya went public against Muslim inheritance law. She spoke about her experience at an event organised by the newly formed Forum for Muslim Women’s Gender Justice (FMWGJ). The event―held at Kozhikode and named ‘Uyirppu 2023’ (uyirppu means revival in Malayalam)―resolved to reform Muslim inheritance law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Four days before Uyirppu, a unique revival of vows was held at the office of the sub-registrar at Hosdurg in Kasaragod district. Actor-lawyer Shukoor and his wife, Sheena Shukoor, who heads the department of legal studies at Kannur University, registered their marriage under the Special Marriage Act, 1954. Shukoor had shot to fame last year after he portrayed his alter ego in the hit courtroom drama Nna Than Case Kodu (Sue Me). He posted on Facebook that he was opting for “a second marriage”; the bride, he said, was his own wife of nearly three decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shukoor said he was “remarrying” because his three daughters stood to lose a share of their inheritance to his brothers. By re-registering the marriage under the Special Marriage Act, he wanted to ensure that the Muslim inheritance law did not apply to his family. “Don’t you think that our life’s earnings should go to our daughters? Under the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, it will not happen,” he wrote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Shukoor, the Muslim inheritance law is discriminatory. “The 1937 act does not clearly define the sharia,” he wrote. “And, according to the approach taken by our courts based on the book Principles of Mohammadan Law, written by Sir D.H. Mulla in 1906, only two-thirds of the share of our property will go to our daughters after our death. The rest will go to our brothers. The only reason for that is that we have no sons.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In India, marriages can legally happen in two ways: the customary way, or marriage under personal law; and marriage under the Special Marriage Act. When it comes to inheritance, section 21 of the Special Marriage Act stipulates equal share to men and women under the Indian Succession Act, 1925.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My [customary] marriage in 1994 still has legal standing, but section 15 of the Special Marriage Act offers the provision to reregister the marriage,” said Shukoor. “[If a Muslim couple opts for it], the inheritance law applicable in their case will be the Indian Succession Act.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shukoor and Sheena’s decision caused an uproar on social media. A section of Muslim clergy, activists and politicians accused the couple of misleading believers. “Our viewpoint is that gender equality is not practical; what should be done is gender justice,” said T.K. Nishad Salafi, general secretary of Wisdom Islamic Youth Organisation, which is part of the conservative Mujahid movement in the state. “Shukoor’s thinking is based on certain liberal ideas that are intended to attack the base of Islam and the moral structure of society. These liberal ideas make you think that there is inequality in Muslim personal law. What we really require is gender justice, and the inheritance laws in Islam ensure justice.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Council for Fatwa and Research at the Darul Huda Islamic University in Malappuram, which is affiliated to the influential Sunni Mahallu Federation, said Shukoor was being self-centred. “It is an irony that a person who claims to be a follower of Islamic laws has remarried under the Special Marriage Act. It is his narrow-minded desire that his siblings should not receive even a fraction of his assets that has compelled him to resort to this action,” it said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jafar Hudavi of the Council for Fatwa and Research said: “In Islam, you cannot marry a woman who is someone’s wife. Shukoor and Sheena are already married, so there is nothing significant about their new marriage. That is how it is from a religious point of view.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shukoor, however, believes that the “marriage” served a purpose. “I did not remarry; I just re-registered my 1994 marriage under the Special Marriage Act,” he told THE WEEK. “I announced it as a ‘second marriage’ just to spark a conversation [about the inheritance law].”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shukoor and Sheena are part of FMWGJ, which organised the Kozhikode event. Khadeeja Mumtaz, vice chairperson of FMWGJ, said what they did was symbolic. At Kozhikode, the organisation passed a resolution saying sections in Muslim personal law be either abolished or updated in accordance with the contemporary social conditions of Muslims in India. “If Muslim personal law is updated and codified comprehensively in accordance with constitutional values, then all arguments regarding [the need for] a uniform civil code would become insignificant,” it said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>FMWGJ is the brainchild of V.P. Suhara, 73. A veteran activist, Suhara founded the progressive women’s forum NISA in 1997. In 2015, she impleaded herself in a special leave petition filed in the Supreme Court, which said the existing Muslim inheritance law was discriminatory and based on misrepresentations of various Quranic principles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The petition was earlier filed by the Khuran Sunnath Society, an organisation founded by reformist cleric Chekannur Maulavi. A popular figure, Maulavi disappeared in 1993; it is alleged that he was murdered.</p> <p>The Khuran Sunnath Society had earlier moved the Kerala High Court saying the current inheritance law was violative of Articles 14 (equality before law), 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of sex), 19 (freedom of expression), 21 (protection of life and personal liberty), and 25 (freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion) of the Constitution. The High Court, however, rejected the petition saying it was up to the legislature to enact a law to resolve the matter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Supreme Court recently heard the special leave petition in which the Khuran Sunnath Society and Suhara are parties. The court asked the state government to file an affidavit, and the government consulted a dozen Muslim organisations. Sources said the government had decided to stick to the stance it had taken in the High Court―that it vouched for the validity of the existing law, and that it will not involve itself in any matter related to Muslim personal law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We failed to get a proper response from the government,” said Suhara, who plans to start a stir if the government submits an affidavit favouring conservatives. “The government says that it can only give the same affidavit filed earlier. Our understanding is that the legal advice that the government received is also to vouch for the continuation of the current system.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was the crucible in which FMWGJ was born. “I wanted a wider group of likeminded people coming together to raise the issue,” said Suhara. “And it led to the formation of the Forum for Muslim Women’s Gender Justice. A lot of victims of the inheritance law began contacting us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aishumma’s was the first case that the FMWGJ highlighted. A Muslim widow at Tanur in Malappuram, Aishumma has three daughters and no son. A part of her late husband’s property would go to her brother-in-law. “My husband was a labourer in the Persian Gulf,” she told THE WEEK. “With his sweat and blood, he raised our daughters and married them off. He could not complete the construction of our house in his lifetime. After his death in 2019, we took a loan of Rs8 lakh to finish the work.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over time, Aishumma found herself unable to pay off the growing debt. She decided to sell the property and settle the debt. “But now, my husband’s brother is not ready to sign the sale documents,” she said. “I am a Class 2 dropout, so I do not understand the complex laws affecting the division of the property. I told him to sell the property himself and give a share to us, but I was asked to wait till certain other property-related matters in his family were resolved. How long do I have to wait? This was the property my husband and I built. Today, I am waiting for their mercy; tomorrow my children would also be in the same situation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The FMWGJ cites Aishumma’s case as proof that the inheritance law needs to be reformed. It points out that, in nuclear families, women are also employed and bear financial responsibilities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most clerics, however, are against amending the law. “Muslim personal law is based on the Quran and the Prophet’s verses. None other than Allah can change the sharia. So there is no question of changing it to suit the times,” said Onampally Muhammad Faizy of Sunni Yuvajana Sangham, an offshoot of the Samastha Kerala Jem-iyyathul Ulama, Kerala’s most influential body of Muslim scholars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Faizy said the law gives Muslim women “financial rights, but not financial responsibilities”. “The Islamic concept is that it is not the woman who has to bear financial responsibilities. She gets a share that can be kept by her, and she can do anything with it as long as it adheres to moral values. But it is a man―as brother or husband―who has financial responsibilities. He may have to protect his wife, sister, daughter or granddaughter. Islam sees that the responsibility is more on men,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With a middle ground proving elusive, the CPI(M)-led government finds itself in a tricky situation. The party has been trying to woo the Indian Union Muslim League and other major community organisations in the state into the left fold. Recently, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan even went to the extent of asking why the practice of instant divorce among Muslims was criminalised “when divorces happen in all religions”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said CPI(M) state secretary M.V. Govindan: “Those from the Muslim community themselves have to bring forward ideas for reforms. The CPI(M) has always stood for democratisation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Suhara, the political atmosphere makes it difficult for the government to take a progressive stance. “The CPI(M) wants to stay in power, so it will not be ready to antagonise religious organisations,” she said. “But this a left-front government, so we have some hope. We think the government would hear the growing strength of our voices.”</p> Sat Mar 25 13:43:48 IST 2023 bjp-targeting-woman-voters-in-madhya-pradesh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FEBRUARY WENT BY</b> in a flurry of felicitations for Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. While many of them were initiated by BJP leaders, some were organic. Former chief minister Uma Bharti, too, had planned one on February 25, but it was cancelled owing to a road mishap the previous day in Sidhi district that killed 14 people. He visited her residence on February 27, where she felicitated him; she also held a public felicitation on March 11.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The public praise for Chouhan came in the wake of two announcements by his government. The first one was the Chief Minister’s Ladli Behna Yojana, announced on January 29, that aims to provide Rs1,000 per month to women from economically backward groups. The second one was the new excise policy, announced on February 19, which called for a closure of ahatas (open drinking places linked to liquor shops), and increased the distance between liquor shops and religious and educational establishments from 50m to 100m.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The two decisions seem to have hit a chord with women, with many tying Chouhan rakhi in person or sending the thread and greetings by post. An elated Chouhan took to social media to share the greetings and gratitude he had received. Then the civic bodies―all 413 of them―joined in, organising felicitation programmes to thank Chouhan for the new excise policy on February 22. Even Bharti’s felicitation was an appreciation of the new excise policy. Her endorsement is significant because she had been up in arms against the government’s old liquor policy. Some say the change in policy was because of pressure from her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chouhan claims that the Ladli Behna Yojana was brought in to financially empower women and the new liquor policy to discourage drinking. He said the government plans to spend Rs60,000 crore on the Ladli Behna scheme in five years. About one crore women are likely to benefit from the scheme. The government has allotted Rs8,000 crore for the scheme in the 2023-2024 budget. More than Rs1 lakh crore of the Rs3.14 lakh crore budget is for women’s welfare, said Chouhan. He has also been holding ‘Ladli Behna’ camps across the state, and held an outreach programme at CM House in Bhopal on March 22. Political thinkers have termed Chouhan’s strategy as yet another masterstroke that might help the BJP win the assembly elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the 5.40 crore voters in the state, 2.60 crore (more than 48 per cent) are women. The turnout of women voters has consistently risen over the years, and in the 2018 polls it stood neck to neck, at 74.3 per cent, with that of men (75.9 per cent). No wonder, the BJP is going all out to woo them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the strategy is a game-changer, it is not new. As political commentator Manish Dixit said, Chouhan had launched flagship schemes like Ladli Laxmi Yojana (financial support for education of girls) and Kanyadan Yojana (marriage support for girls) ahead of the 2008 assembly polls, too―the first he faced as chief minister. “Not only did the schemes help Chouhan beat anti-incumbency but they also gave him the enduring image of ‘Mama’(maternal uncle) that stood him in good stead for the next elections (2013), too,” said Dixit. “Therefore, it makes sense for him to make these pro-women political moves at this juncture.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the run-up to the assembly polls, scheduled for this November, the ruling BJP has several challenges, the foremost being anti-incumbency. The party has been in power for nearly 18 years; it was marginally defeated in 2018 but returned to power in March 2020 after a section of Congress leaders, led by Jyotiraditya Scindia, defected to the BJP. Chouhan has been chief minister for 16 of those 18 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the party has been making efforts to strengthen its base―from projecting a hardcore hindutva face to wooing crucial tribal and dalit voters through multiple sops―and focusing on developmental works, sources said the feedback of its internal surveys as well as response to the government’s Vikas Yatra have made the BJP somewhat jittery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Vikas Yatra was organised from February 5 to February 25, with ministers, MLAs, BJP leaders and workers reaching out to the electorate with the government’s development works and welfare schemes. However, the yatra faced people’s ire in many places, much to the glee of the Congress. Former chief minister Kamal Nath claimed that there were protests in at least 160 places and it clearly showed people’s mood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus, reaching out to women voters is as much a safety bet as it is a well-thought-out political decision. “The voting trends of past few years and the analyses by prominent psephologists show that the women voters’ turnout is increasing year by year,” BJP state secretary Rajneesh Agrawal told THE WEEK. “Also, there is clear indication that women voters lean towards the BJP. So, on the national spectrum as well as in the state, we make efforts to take pro-women decisions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, however, termed the recent announcement, especially the liquor policy, as eyewash. “The BJP government has actually managed to double the number of liquor shops in the state by opening composite shops of foreign and country liquor,” state Congress chief Kamal Nath told THE WEEK. “The BJP policy is simple: offer cheap liquor and expensive ration, and indulge in the usual theatrics while doing it. As for the cash assistance scheme for women, it remains to be seen how effective the implementation is.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the scheme does seem to have rattled the Congress. On February 27, Nath told the media that the Congress, too, would give monthly allowance―Rs1,500―to women who were homemakers as proposed at the Congress plenary session in Raipur, and cooking gas cylinder at Rs500 if it came to power. It would be included in the poll manifesto, he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, women seem to have welcomed the Ladli Behna scheme, but are apprehensive when it comes to the new excise policy. Bharti Thakur, 28, a domestic help residing at Banganga in Bhopal, said, “The Rs1,000 cash assistance will certainly be helpful for me as prices of essential commodities are rising day by day. I only hope my husband does not take this money, too, away from me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thakur’s husband Sunil, a driver, is an alcoholic and tends to spend all available cash on alcohol. So, she is wary about the decision to close down ahatas. “At present, he does not drink at home and yet sometimes gets violent with me and my two young sons,” she says. “If ahatas close and he starts drinking at home, it will be a very bad influence on my boys and I also fear an increase in his violent behaviour.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Somvati Kondar, 34, of Ranipur in Panna district, too, sees the Ladli Behna scheme as a blessing for her five-member family that earns its living by farming a small piece of land and doing manual labour. “I would probably be able to give a little bit of better food to my three children and meet some sudden expenses,” she says. She hasn’t given much thought to the new liquor policy as her husband is not addicted to alcohol, but she, too, thinks that closing down ahatas could lead to men drinking at home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there are some misgivings about the Ladli Behna scheme, too. Activist Sachin Jain says that the big question is whether the scheme will bring about any sustainable change in the socioeconomic condition of women. “Rather if the same amount is invested in schemes for higher education, self-employment generation, health care and other empowerment measures, there can be long-term, sustainable change possible for women,” he said. Citing the state’s economic situation, he felt funding of other welfare schemes might get curtailed because of the new scheme. “When the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi (cash assistance to farmers) worth roughly Rs72,000 crore was launched, diesel and fertiliser subsidy to farmers worth Rs2.5 lakh crore was discontinued,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Social activist Upasana Behar said that as women are not decision-makers in their household, the money could easily be misused. As for the liquor policy, she said that half-baked measures like closing down ahatas or merely increasing distance of liquor shops will not prevent access to liquor and therefore will not stop violence and compulsive spending of money on liquor.</p> Sat Mar 25 13:02:20 IST 2023 tamil-nadu-bjp-state-president-annamalai-criticisms <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON MARCH 10,</b> the BJP organised a demonstration in Chennai against the DMK government for allegedly hounding its state president K. Annamalai. The event witnessed an unusual incident. A local BJP functionary declared that his party was the “real” opposition in Tamil Nadu, casting aspersions on ally AIADMK and its leader, Edappadi K. Palaniswami. BJP vice president Karu Nagarajan soon grabbed the mike and ended the leader’s runaway speech, as leaders like Khushboo looked on bemused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tensions in the BJP-AIADMK alliance have been simmering for long. On March 5, more than a dozen BJP functionaries, including IT cell chief C.T.R. Nirmal Kumar, defected to the AIADMK. Nirmal’s resignation letter accused Annamalai of having underhand dealings with DMK ministers. “The party is led by a mentally stunted person,” he wrote, “and it is inching towards destruction.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A day after Nirmal jumped ship, several of his former colleagues followed suit. Nirmal said Annamalai had humiliated the IT cell through actions and words. Apparently, he once hurled a dossier across a desk and blamed the IT cell for not boosting his image. “I have been tolerating everything for the past one and half years, but there is nothing more petty than spying on one’s own party cadre,” Nirmal told THE WEEK.</p> <p>Sources in the BJP said that Nirmal had first approached Palaniswami three months ago. The AIADMK leader was apparently reluctant to take him in. He relented only after receiving an internal report that said Nirmal could help strengthen the AIADMK’s IT wing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Nirmal’s colleagues who switched over to the AIADMK are very active online, they do not have ground support. But the defections are significant, because of the nature of allegations against Annamalai, a former IPS officer. “He is completely jittered,” said a senior BJP leader. Annamalai’s news conferences in the two days following the defections showed how unsettled he was. “I am also a leader; a leader like [former chief ministers] J. Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi. Tamil Nadu politics revolves around me,” he declared during a conference.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amar Prasad Reddy, Annamalai’s confidant and president of the BJP’s sports and skill development cell in Tamil Nadu, accused the AIADMK of poaching. “As an alliance partner, the AIADMK should not have done this,” he recently tweeted. Referring to the AIADMK’s recent rout in the bypoll in the Erode East constituency, he wrote, “The voters have shown the exit door to those who considered the Kongu region as their citadel. They made them lose with a margin of around 66,000 votes. The BJP is the only future for Tamil Nadu.”</p> <p>Nirmal said Annamalai’s leadership style was divisive. “The BJP has had many leaders. Under Tamilisai Soundararajan, the party’s membership increased. L. Murugan kept party cadres vibrant. But Annamalai always behaved like a police officer. He was never pleasant. He used to shout and chase leaders out of his room, even those who came from far-off districts to take a photo with him,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Nirmal, Annamalai runs his own 24x7 war room to boost his image, and has little patience for resolving party issues. He also has no qualms about muzzling dissenting voices. Apparently, veteran leaders such as Pon Radhakrishnan, Vanathi Srinivasan and Nainar Nagendran have either been sidelined or ignored.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In December, for instance, BJP leaders C.P. Radhakrishnan and Srinivasan wanted to capitalise on the news of a car explosion at Coimbatore’s Kottaimedu region. After apparently obtaining Annamalai’s consent, Radhakrishnan told journalists in Coimbatore that the party had called for a day-long bandh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“But the very next day,” said a senior BJP leader, “Annamalai informed the High Court that the BJP was against the hartal.” The result was that Radhakrishnan’s credibility took a huge hit, and he had to leave electoral politics to take charge as governor of Jharkhand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources said work pressure had forced Annamalai to seek the BJP’s national leadership’s permission for a fortnight’s leave. Apparently, the request was denied and it was suggested that he quit if he could not handle pressure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior BJP leader said Annamalai did not have his ear to the ground. “There are many issues in the party―faction feud, differences between party functionaries, and so on. Though he is the party leader, Annamalai does not know what his own partymen are doing,” said the leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ties between Annamalai and Palaniswami have long been strained. Both belong to the Gounder community; some analysts believe that the BJP is using Annamalai to keep Palaniswami on his toes. Currently, though, Palaniswami has the upper hand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The AIADMK is not a mirror; it is an ocean,” D. Jayakumar, party spokesperson and former minister, told THE WEEK. “Stones thrown at the ocean can only sink. People are joining us on their own will. Annamalai should have the maturity to accept that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>AIADMK leaders have criticised Annamalai for comparing himself with Jayalalithaa. “Amma (Jayalalithaa) was the tallest leader the state has ever had. Annamalai has been in politics for just two years,” said former minister Kadambur C. Raju.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though AIADMK leaders are upset, they do not want the party to break off the alliance. A top-level source in the BJP said Palaniswami had a hotline to the BJP leadership in Delhi. Apparently, it is Palaniswami’s son who attends calls and translates messages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both the AIADMK and the BJP want to defeat the DMK-led alliance in the Lok Sabha polls next year. “There is no rift in the alliance,” said Jayakumar. “The AIADMK remains part of the National Democratic Alliance and the BJP remains our ally in Tamil Nadu. Just because of few senior members have joined our party doesn’t mean that we are targeting the BJP.”</p> Sat Mar 18 19:00:09 IST 2023 the-hunt-for-diamonds-in-panna-madhya-pradesh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On a vast tract of reddish yellow land dotted by small pits and heaps of rocky soil, 72-year-old Puran Patel is hard at work. The sun is merciless at Pati Bajariya, about 10km from Panna town in Madhya Pradesh. Puran, clad in a short white dhoti, with a yellow t-shirt slung over his right shoulder, repeatedly shakes a sieve full of pebbly soil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is only when his name is called out twice or thrice does his concentration break, and he reluctantly agrees to a short conversation. After all, taking a break means losing precious minutes that could be used to find a diamond that might change his life forever.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given his advanced age, it is surprising to see Puran doing the tough work of digging a pit, separating the rocky alluvium layer that looks promising, breaking it into smaller fragments, washing off the soil in a metal sieve, separating the pebbles spreading them out to dry and then sifting through the spread minutely, hoping to spot that life-changing glitter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But for Puran it is a labour of love―a divine one. Having completed his duties towards his wife, two sons and two daughters, he moved to an ashram near his home seven or eight years ago. But he now wants to go to Rameshwaram on a pilgrimage. As he was short of money, he decided to try out his luck in Panna―the diamond bowl of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus Puran left his village, which is about 100km away, and came to Panna alone, carrying just a hoe, some dry rations and Rs200 in cash. “I had heard about the diamond fields of Panna very early in my life, but I never felt like coming here, as I was involved with farming and my family. Now I have come here because of a divine push. I am certain that I will get a diamond good enough to sponsor my Rameshwaram visit,” said Puran. Like many resource-strapped hunters, he has built a temporary shack near his small mining claim leased from the government. He cooks basic meals himself and spends all day looking for diamonds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>About 20km away, 11-year-old Pawan Kushwaha comes running down the rocky sloping banks of the Runj river, carrying a small bamboo basket. He is helping his mother and grandmother look for diamonds. The family came here after they heard that dam construction work had thrown up mines of ‘diamond-bearing’ alluvium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A student of class six at a private school at Khajuraho, Pawan said he had taken a three-day leave of absence to join his family’s quest. Does he know how to find diamonds? “I can easily learn by looking at what others are doing. If we are lucky, we will get the diamond in an hour, let alone three days,” said Pawan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Puran and Pawan are among the numerous diamond hunters who descend on the diamond bearing areas in Panna, about 450km from Bhopal from various parts of north India. The National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) stopped mining in January 2020, after its forest clearance expired. Following a recent order of the Supreme Court, it is likely to restart in July.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Presently, artisanal-scale shallow-pit mining (ASM), facilitated by the Madhya Pradesh directorate of geology and mining, is the only source for indigenous diamonds in India. ASM refers to mining by individuals, groups, families or cooperatives with minimal or no mechanisation. The sector is usually highly labour-intensive and does not require much investment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Panna diamonds have not made a buzz in India or abroad because the stones are of ‘average’ quality, but that does not stop the rush. Ravi Patel, the Panna district diamond officer, said the best stones found in the district usually fell in the ‘G’ grade on a D-Z scale of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) colour-scale. According to the GIA scale, ‘D’ (colourless) grade diamonds are the highest valued while ‘Z’ (light coloured) are of the lowest value. The ‘G’ grade diamonds of Panna are considered just average. But a stone worth lakhs of rupees or even above a crore of rupees is found once in a while. It is such finds, which receive big publicity, that lure in the miners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite searching for years spending a lot of money and labour, most hunters remain empty-handed. Yet, a majority of them are unable to give up. “I feel as if I am ill if I do not go to my small diamond mine the first thing in the morning,” said 63-year-old Prakash Kumar alias Kakku Sharma. “The addiction is just like alcoholism; despite grave losses financially and health-wise, one cannot simply give up. You will understand the level of my addiction when I say that I have not married because of this.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kakku, a resident of Janakpur on the outskirts of Panna town, has been hunting diamonds since 1978, but has not got much to show for his efforts. He got some very small stones initially that pushed him to keep looking and he got a 4.0 carat diamond about 20 years ago. Enthused, he kept on the hunt till he and his two partners were rewarded with a 12.58 carat diamond in 2018. It fetched around Rs46 lakh, and Kakku spent a part of his share―of around Rs15 lakh―on repairing his ancestral house. He reinvested the rest in more mines. In the past two years, Kakku and his partners have spent around Rs12 lakh, without much luck.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It does not matter. We will keep looking. Maybe tomorrow I will get a big one,” said Kakku, who stays with his brother’s family. Though Kakku might be a carefree man because of the lack of any pressing domestic responsibilities, another avid diamond hunter, Sitaram Ahirwar of Bajariya village, does not have any such luxury. The 47-year-old landless man, who sustains a family of seven by farming on leased land on a shared basis and doing manual labour part time, became a diamond hunter at the age of 15.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When he was 19, Sitaram and his partners got a 7.5 carat stone that fetched Rs40,000. A young bachelor then, he spent his share of Rs12,000 on the expenses related to his nephew’s birth. He has not had any luck since then. “My marriage seems to have changed my luck for the worse,” he said. Yet what keeps him going? “Well it is him (pointing towards the sky) who gives and takes everything. So I keep hunting with faith in him,” he said. Rajesh Gond, 32, of Kalyanpur, too, is in a similar situation. A landless tribal, he works as a labourer for other diamond hunters. He has also taken small mines on lease, but in the past nine years, he has not got anything. Rajesh and his wife, Shakuntala, wake up every day at 4am and dig for diamonds in their own plot till around 8am. They then go to work as daily labourers for other bigger hunters. Despite facing extreme poverty, Rajesh does not even have a ration card. But he is not ready to give up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is probably the good fortune of people like Pratap Singh Rana and his wife, Meena, of Sector 49, Noida, that keeps many of these diamond seekers going. Rana, a building contractor, heard of the Panna diamonds from his worker Manoj Das who hails from the diamond-bearing Bargarhi village. They invested in a mine on private land in October 2021, but got nothing. In January 2022, they leased another one in Meena’s name and luck turned for the couple. They landed seven diamonds of various sizes during the past few months―the biggest among them being a 9.64 carat stone, estimated to be worth Rs50 lakh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rana has deposited the stones with the district diamond office, but because of the low bids by traders in the auction held in October, he is yet to get any money. “I have already spent about Rs40 lakh. I hope it gets a good price at the next auction,” said Rana. “By the luck of your (THE WEEK reporter) arrival, I found a diamond today, just a while ago. Though it is a small one, it has broken the dry patch of the past few weeks as our last diamond was in September,” said Rana.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A small stone glitters as a nose pin on the pretty face of Priya Majumdar, the 16-year-old daughter of Prakash Majumdar, resident of Jaruapur village in the buffer zone of the Panna Tiger Reserve. Prakash, who belongs to a poor Bengali refugee family, has got as many as nine diamonds during the past three years, the biggest of them being a 7.74 carat stone in 2020.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prakash started off as a supervisor at the stone mines of Panna more than 20 years ago, earning barely Rs1,000 a month. He slowly rose up the ranks and became a partner with his employer in brick kilns. Three years ago, he decided to try his luck with diamond mines and hit pay dirt. “I earned about Rs50 lakh in these three years by investing around Rs20 lakh,” said Prakash, who was elected sarpanch of Jaruapur last July. Though he built a spacious house in the village a few years ago, he has not demolished the small, dilapidated house where he grew up. “This old house keeps me and my children grounded despite our recent good luck,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the end of the rainy season of 2022, Panna has faced an unusual diamond rush near the dam under construction on the Runj River near Ajaigarh. It has put the focus squarely on the shallow-pit artisanal-level diamond mining in Panna once again. The dam work started in the diamond bearing belt in 2020 and with a huge quantity of excavated alluvium available, locals had been visiting the site to hunt for diamonds, but the lockdown of 2020 and 2021 kept things under control. After the 2022 monsoon, the site suddenly reported a huge influx of people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Normally, poor people from the area, who migrate to other states for work, return for the farming season during monsoon and stay back till the winter farming season. With the lockdown restrictions gone, hordes of locals have descended on the dam site after monsoon farming work. It has now reached a level that a law and order situation could arise any time,” said Ravi Pathak of the NGO Prithvi Trust.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pathak said several people got diamonds, but since mining was illegal, people sold most of the diamonds found there illegally in the open market. “But a few who wanted publicity deposited the diamonds at the district diamond office, claiming that those were found on leased mine plots. Media reported the matter and it attracted more diamond hunters,” said Pathak.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE WEEK team found a veritable human settlement thriving at the spot. Pawan Kushwaha and his family live in temporary shacks. Under the harsh sun, members of the family strain the sand for bigger gravelly fragments, then dry them out and sift through the mix for diamonds. Temporary shops selling daily essentials have come up along with those selling snacks and tea and cheap meals. The most thriving business seems to be that of selling jugaad sieves made on the spot by punching holes into big aluminium vessels. While proper sieves cost Rs450, the makeshift sieves are sold for just Rs80.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Krishnakumar Sahu and his two brothers have put up a traditional snack and sweet shop at the site. Sahu had his shop in Ajaigarh town, about 12km away, but since most local people moved to the Runj site in search of diamonds, he decided to follow his customers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since diamond hunting is illegal in the area, forest officials are trying to evict the people―some have even ventured into nearby protected forests. Divisional forest officer Punit Sonkar said the issue was becoming a cause of concern. In a recent meeting he had with Mineral Resources Minister Brijendra Pratap Singh, it was decided that a joint action of the district administration, forest and police departments with the help of local village forest committees (VFCs) will be initiated to evict the people engaged in illegal activity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The entire area was under the jurisdiction of the forest department but the dam site was handed over to the water resources department. Much of the area where the diamond hunt is currently happening is in a submergence area and if valuable resources like diamonds are taken out of there and deposited with the government in a legal manner, it is actually a helpful thing,” said Sonkar. “But people venture into the surrounding forest areas, thereby posing a threat to wildlife. They themselves are under threat from animals.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sonkar also pointed out that the huge influx of outsiders is disrupting the law and order in the area. “Recently, one of our officers and his team were mobbed during an inspection visit. Therefore, it is important to regulate the flow of people there. We are thinking of putting up barriers and introducing a pass system for locals,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two days after THE WEEK visited the area, the district administration and forest department evicted people and removed temporary infrastructure put up by them. Sonkar said with coordinated action by various government departments, most encroachers had been driven out. “Section 144 has been announced in the area by the district administration and a 10-member team of forest department has been permanently posted to keep an eye on the situation,” said the DFO. However, even if the situation improves temporarily, the government will find it difficult to stem the persistent illegal buying and selling of diamonds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The diamond officer, Ravi Patel, said people who got the diamonds tended to sell them in the open market, despite getting very low prices. This causes huge losses in royalty to the government. “The government process takes some time for the sale and for money to come, despite us holding quarterly auctions. We do not sell the diamonds if the bids come in low and people have to wait. To improve the situation we are thinking of introducing monthly auctions soon,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The officer said efforts were on to digitise the entire auction and payment process. At present, traders make security deposits before auction through bank challans, and the finders are paid through cheques. Digitisation could speed things up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ravi Patel said it was difficult to monitor all illegal activity as the district diamond office had just two field staff against a sanctioned strength of nine. Earlier, there was also a provision for 27 ‘sepoys’ to monitor illegal mining. In their absence local people regularly dig up areas that are not on lease and pass off the diamonds found there as those from legally leased claim.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A diamond trader from Surat, who was in Panna, told THE WEEK that often the seller and buyer found it easy to operate out of the government system. “People are in a hurry to sell off what they find because of economic requirements and safety issues. Most of them do not have the expertise to know the value of their find. So it depends on whether the seller is cleverer or the buyer. Whoever is cleverer manages to hog the profit,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite being famous for its diamonds, Panna is one of the backward districts in Madhya Pradesh, performing poorly on income and human development indices. Malnutrition and anaemia are common, while the people engaged in diamond and stone mining work are getting afflicted by long-term lung diseases like silicosis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Prithvi Trust, which conducted a survey on silicosis in 40 villages in Panna block, found as many as 163 cases of silicosis. Government figures based on a 2017 survey is just 26. “There have been constant deaths and many are suffering badly, putting families in further economic jeopardy,” said Pathak. People have been demanding proper surveys to identify patients, provide free diagnostic and treatment facilities and due compensation.”</p> Sun Mar 19 12:16:52 IST 2023 bjp-defeat-in-kasba-peth-assembly-elections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A week before the assembly byelection in Kasba Peth, Pune, senior BJP Minister Chandrakant Patil was asked whether Ravindra Dhangekar of the Congress would be a formidable opponent. “Who is Dhangekar?” he shot back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 2, Dhangekar beat BJP man Hemant Rasane by around 11,000 votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sure, the BJP defeated the Nationalist Congress Party to retain Chinchwad, but that was a pyrrhic victory. Kasba Peth had been a BJP bastion for close to three decades and it also houses the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Maharashtra headquarters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The byelection was necessitated by the death of Mukta Tilak, the sitting BJP MLA. The great granddaughter-in-law of freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mukta had trounced her Congress-NCP opponent in the 2019 elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, Dhangekar had approached the state BJP leadership for a ticket ahead of the election. A four-term corporator in the Pune Municipal Corporation, Dhangekar was earlier with Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. He joined the Congress only in 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A down-to-earth leader with a ‘can do’ spirit, Dhangekar moves around Pune on a two-wheeler and keeps his office open to the public from 8am to midnight. He spends close to 10 hours a day listening to people, calling up municipal authorities to solve their problems and simply chatting with his supporters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his previous electoral efforts, Dhangekar had finished runner-up to BJP-Shiv Sena candidate Girish Bapat in the 2009 assembly election, leaving behind the Congress hopeful. In 2014, when all parties fought the state elections on their own, Dhangekar had come a close third, polling close to 26,000 votes. So, he was always a strong candidate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What his win now has shown is that Kasba Peth was a saffron bastion and not a BJP one as the party had believed. And leaders like Patil are the ones to blame.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All previous BJP legislators from Kasba Peth were Brahmins. The community accounts for about 14 per cent of the constituency. Marathas and OBCs together form a major chunk of the population. And though from a particular caste, the previous BJP winners had an excellent personal equation with all communities and parties, which helped them a lot. This is where Rasane fell short. An OBC candidate, Rasane paled in comparison to Dhangekar, also an OBC, in terms of personal popularity, and lost despite BJP heavyweights pouring in time and resources into his campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another important factor for the BJP’s past success in the seat has been the Shiv Sena vote bank of around 15,000. When the BJP and the Sena put up a joint candidate, the Sena votes would invariably go to the BJP. But, with Uddhav Thackeray now with the Maha Vikas Aghadi, a majority of the Sena votes went to Dhangekar. This clearly meant that Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, despite winning the Shiv Sena symbol and camping in Pune, could not transfer the Sena votes to Rasane. Of the 15,000-odd votes Bapat used to poll from this base, Rasane could corner only about 9,000.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most crucial takeaway from the Kasba Peth result, said political analyst Abhay Deshpande, was that, in the case of a straight fight between the BJP-Shinde alliance and the MVA, the latter seems to have a distinct edge. “The claim that Kasba Peth was a BJP bastion is a half-truth,” he said. “Post 2009, the BJP has been winning there because of the division of anti-BJP votes among strong candidates. So, if the MVA puts up a strong candidate and ensures that no other strong candidate is in the race, the BJP will be at a disadvantage in many constituencies across the state in both the Lok Sabha and assembly elections.” Shiv Sena (Uddhav) leader Sanjay Raut has already predicted that the MVA will win 38 to 40 (of 48) seats in the general elections and around 175 (of 288) seats in the assembly polls. Keeping aside the exaggeration in Raut’s claims, Kasba Peth would be a wake-up call for the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former deputy chief minister and senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar said Kasba Peth had shown the way forward for the MVA leadership. “We have to stay united, give tickets only to candidates with elective merit and make sure that there is a direct contest with no strong third candidate,” he said. “If so, victory will be ours in both the Lok Sabha and assembly elections.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also pointed out that, in Chinchwad, the MVA candidate Nana Kate lost to the BJP’s Ashwini Jagtap because of the sympathy factor. It was the death of Jagtap’s husband, Laxman, that necessitated the byelection. Also, there was a strong independent candidate, Rahul Kalate, who got around 44,000 votes. Kalate and Kate had both asked for the NCP ticket; Kate got it and Kalate fought on his own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP admitted there was sympathy for Ashwini, but said that the Kasba Peth defeat was a one-off. Keshav Upadhye, chief spokesperson of the Maharashtra BJP, said the defeat did not mean that the MVA would beat the BJP-Shiv Sena (Shinde) alliance in the upcoming elections. “Kasba Peth was lost more due to Dhangekar’s personal network, accessibility and track record as an effective leader,” he said. “Our efforts fell short. Also, this was a byelection where the voting percentage was less than in assembly or Lok Sabha elections. If the MVA thinks that this is their victory and results will be similar next year, let them continue to dream.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another BJP leader felt that the Lok Sabha elections would be fought under Brand Modi, whereas assembly polls will be a test of the popularity of Shinde and his deputy Devendra Fadnavis. “People in Maharashtra vote differently for Lok Sabha and assembly elections,” said the leader. “So, if we have to work hard for the Lok Sabha elections, we will have to work doubly hard for the assembly elections.”</p> Fri Mar 10 17:37:55 IST 2023 shiv-sena-bjp-political-crisis-in-maharashtra <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Around 8pm on February 19, a group of Shiv Sena workers loyal to Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde tried to take control of the party’s central shakha office at Neral, a sleepy town located 85km southeast of Mumbai. Using sickles and hammers, the workers broke into the office controlled by the rival faction led by former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As news spread, workers loyal to Uddhav swarmed into the office premises, stormed the building, and threw out the Shinde loyalists. A day earlier, a similar clash had taken place at Dapoli, a coastal town in Khed assembly constituency in Ratnagiri district. Khed is represented in the assembly by Yogesh Kadam, who supports Shinde.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The clashes happened after the Election Commission recognised the Shinde faction as the official Shiv Sena and allowed it to retain the iconic ‘bow and arrow’ symbol. The Uddhav faction was given the name ‘Shiv Sena (Uddhav Bal Thackeray)’ and the symbol of ‘flaming torch’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The EC said it had applied three tests to resolve the matter―the test of aims and objects of the Sena constitution, the test of the constitution itself, and the test of majority. It said the results of the first two tests were “inconclusive”, while the third test, when applied only to organisational strength, “was not satisfactory”. But the EC said the third test did give a “clear answer” when applied to the legislative wing of the party. In short, the EC weighed the strength of the factions in the assembly to come out with the verdict. It said 40 of 55 Sena MLAs supported Shinde.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ruling has pushed Uddhav to the wall like never before. “Nivadnuk aayogane shen khalle (The EC has eaten cow dung),” an angry Uddhav told Shiv Sena (UBT) workers after news of the verdict broke. “Even if theft is given public approval, a thief will always be a thief. We will have to fight till the last breath. We have decided to challenge the EC decision in the Supreme Court.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon after the verdict, the jubilant Shinde went to Shivaji Park to pay tribute at the memorial of Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray. “The EC decision is very important because it shows that we are the real Shiv Sena, the inheritors of Balasaheb Thackeray’s thoughts, ideology and legacy,” he told supporters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sanjay Raut, MP and editor of the Shiv Sena (UBT)’s mouthpiece Saamana, alleged that the Shinde faction spent 12,000 crore to get a favourable verdict. He said he would soon give evidence supporting his claim. Clearly, Uddhav does not take Raut’s allegation seriously; there is no mention of it in the petition filed by the party in the Supreme Court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Shinde group now occupies the Sena office in the state legislature. The iconic Shiv Sena Bhavan in Dadar is in the name of the Shiv Seva Trust, headed by party veteran and Uddhav loyalist Subhash Desai. So, technically, the Shinde group cannot stake a claim as the property is not owned by the Sena.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde loyalist and Vidarbha MP Kripal Tumane said fence-sitters who were waiting for a clear signal would now switch over to the “real Shiv Sena”. According to him, “five-six legislators in the Uddhav camp would be ready to join Shinde. A couple of MPs would also make the move, said Tumane.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naresh Mhaske, Shinde loyalist from Thane, told THE WEEK that leaders across the state were in touch with them. “I can’t tell you their exact number, but many people are in touch with us and they will make the move at the right time,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Topmost in Uddhav’s list of options would be to escalate the tactic of playing the victim card, and garner as much sympathy as possible to retain cadre strength and vote base. He will now have to build a systematic campaign that portrays him as being hounded by Central agencies including the EC, and the BJP as a powerful force that is out to destroy the Thackerays and the Shiv Sainiks who remain with them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior Congress leader and former minister Balasaheb Thorat said that a Sena sans the Thackerays was unimaginable. “How can anyone separate these two? The EC seems to have given a one-sided decision, but the Sainiks are with Uddhav only,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>NCP president Sharad Pawar has reportedly reassured Uddhav that the loss of the name and the symbol does not matter as long as he commanded cadre support. He promised the NCP’s full support, and reportedly cited a similar crisis that the Congress faced during Indira Gandhi’s time. The split in the party had forced Indira to forgo the original symbol (a pair of bullocks) and choose a new one (a cow with a calf). There was again a change to the current hand symbol. The changes, Pawar said, did not affect the Congress at all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amit Samant, NCP state secretary who oversees the Konkan belt, told THE WEEK that district level units in the region have been told to extend all help to the Sena (UBT). “Konkan is the Sena’s bastion,” said Samant. “Shinde had thrice come to Sindhudurg district in the past one month, but only a handful of people accompanied him. Mark my words, Deepak Kesarkar, Shinde’s minister from Sindhudurg, will be defeated in the 2024 assembly polls. The Sainiks here fully support Uddhav, and we will give them all possible help.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>State Congress president Nana Patole said Uddhav should study how Indira revived the Congress after she lost the party symbol. “It is clear that the EC was under pressure when it gave this decision. Had that not been the case, the EC would have waited till the Supreme Court gave its ruling in the dispute-related case that is being heard by its five-judge bench,” said Patole. “So the only option before Uddhav is to fight back like Indira ji did. This is a battle to capture people’s minds.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political commentator Prakash Akolkar, who has written a book on the Sena, said Uddhav and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi were in a similar situation. “Most of the anti-Congress, anti-Indira Gandhi forces are now with Rahul Gandhi in opposing [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi and the BJP government. This was visible during the Bharat Jodo Yatra,” he said. “Similarly, most of the old anti-Shiv Sena forces such as the Congress, the communists and the liberals have sided with Uddhav in his fight against Shinde and the BJP. It is now up to Uddhav to capitalise on this.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Akolkar, Uddhav cannot keep playing the victim card indefinitely; he would have to fight the battle in people’s court even as the legal battle in the Supreme Court drags on. “He should start from scratch,” said Akolkar. “The only way to fight this battle is to come out of Matoshree (Uddhav’s residence) and hit the road. Gone are the days when he could relax in the warmth of Matoshree and issue diktats to the Sainiks. He must now go to where the Sainiks are, to every village and tehsil of Maharashtra. He could learn a lot from Jagan Mohan Reddy of Andhra Pradesh. If he is unable to travel because of health reasons, he should ask [his son] Aditya to take it upon himself.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Veteran journalist Sandeep Pradhan, who has been tracking the Sena since the mid-1980s, said Uddhav is fighting a do-or-die battle. “To survive, he will first have to identify the key people who will remain with him till the end, and empower them. Through them, he can rebuild his Shiv Sena across the state,” said Pradhan. “Secondly, he will have to maintain smooth relations with key allies like the Congress and the NCP, and not hurt them in any manner.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the BJP, which had earlier considered the Congress-NCP coalition as its main enemy, now wanted to finish off the Thackerays politically. “This is not just to occupy the hindutva space fully, but to avenge the way Uddhav ditched the BJP to form the Maha Vikas Aghadi government [with the Congress and the NCP]. So the only option before Uddhav now is to emerge as the pivot around whom the anti-BJP coalition can be built in Maharashtra. In order to become that pivot, he will have to be proactive, and much more accessible and communicative,” said Pradhan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He pointed out that Shinde, much like the BJP leadership, approaches politics as a 24x7 vocation. “There is a crowd at Shinde’s residence even after midnight, and he meets as many people as he can despite being chief minister. Uddhav will have to be one step ahead. He will have to completely change his style of functioning. Only then will people continue to back him,” said Pradhan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and other Sena-dominated urban civic bodies are likely to be held before the onset of monsoon. They will be the first test of the Shinde-BJP strategy to finish off the Thackerays.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sena’s first family has already begun preparations. Sources said Uddhav would hold a grand public meeting in Mumbai in March. With Sharad Pawar’s help, he is planning to invite Chief Ministers Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal, Nitish Kumar of Bihar, M.K. Stalin of Tamil Nadu, and Arvind Kejriwal of Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Uddhav strongly feels that the BJP is posing a very serious threat to democracy, and that what has happened to the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra can happen to other parties as well, if the BJP is not stopped by a united opposition,” said a source close to Uddhav. “There is also a plan to organise Shiv Sampark Abhiyans across Maharashtra, wherein our senior leaders will travel to tehsils across the state in the next one month.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both Uddhav and Aditya are set to address the Abhiyan rallies. The place that Uddhav has reportedly picked as the venue of the first rally is especially interesting. “The rally will be held on March 5 at Khed, where Yogesh Kadam has joined Shinde’s Sena,” said the source. “Uddhav will address the rally.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surely, the weeks ahead in Maharashtra politics are going to be interesting.</p> Sat Mar 04 15:06:51 IST 2023 siddaramaiah-karnataka-elections-political-strategies <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN THE ELECTORAL</b> arena of Karnataka, Siddaramaiah, 75, enjoys the image of an old warhorse. It is then only apt that the Congress leader should declare in the run-up to the assembly election that this would be his final electoral outing. While the declaration is an appeal to the voters for their support, it is also being viewed as a way of strengthening his claim to the post of chief minister in the event of his party’s win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Siddaramaiah, the coming assembly election is a chance at a last hurrah. He is aspiring to occupy the chief minister's chair a second and final time. The Congress senses an opportunity for itself since the ruling BJP is saddled with a clearly perceptible anti-incumbency, and the many corruption charges have only made matters worse for it. In such a scenario, Siddaramaiah is throwing in all his political might and is putting to use all his experience and guile.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddaramaiah's short sprint with former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi as the Bharat Jodo Yatra passed through Karnataka was viewed with keen interest, especially by his in-house rivals. There was also the grand 75th birthday celebration in Davangere, which was attended by Gandhi and other senior leaders and was seen as a show of strength by the leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The former chief minister's supporters say his strengths include his mass appeal and his AHINDA (a Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and dalits) strategy. The man who has risen from extremely modest beginnings―born in a family from the Kuruba (shepherd) community in a remote village in Mysuru―relies on his rustic charm. He was the first person from his family to graduate from college―he got a BSc and later a law degree from the University of Mysore. The Kurubas form close to 10 per cent of the state’s population. However, he has chosen to broadbase his appeal through the AHINDA movement. Siddaramaiah, known for his plainspeak, has also not minced words in taking on the BJP-RSS over their allegedly divisive, hindutva-driven politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, his aspiration to become chief minister a second time faces challenges both outside and within the party. Siddaramaiah has his roots in socialist politics since he began his political career in the Janata Parivar. He was the second-in-command in the H.D. Deve Gowda-led JD(S) before he was expelled from the party in 2006. The bitter falling out between Siddaramaiah and the Gowdas has meant that the JD(S) has put all its might into making it exceedingly difficult for him to win from his old constituency, Chamundeshwari. In the previous election, Siddaramaiah had contested from Badami, and this time, he has shown interest in contesting from Kolar, which his critics describe as his hunt for a safe seat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If AHINDA has formed the foundation of Siddaramaiah's success as a leader, it is also seen as an alienating factor for communities such as the Vokkaligas and the Lingayats. His expulsion from the JD(S), whose main support base comprises the Vokkaligas, had followed AHINDA conferences that he had organised. Siddaramaiah's undaunted criticism of the hindutva brand of politics has, meanwhile, exposed him to attacks from the BJP, like questioning his devoutness as a Hindu and dubbing him anti-Hindu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has attempted to balance the aspirations of Siddaramaiah with the ambition of his in-house rival―state Congress president D.K. Shivakumar―for the top prize if the party wins. They are a study in contrast, and for the moment, a perfect foil for each other. Siddaramaiah's AHINDA appeal is balanced by the Vokkaliga identity of Shivakumar. And, Siddaramaiah's earthiness is in contrast to the flamboyance of Shivakumar. Thrown into the mix are also the aspirations of leaders such as M.B. Patil, a Lingayat face of the party who heads the state campaign committee, and the state manifesto committee chairman G. Parameshwara, a dalit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following the poor performance of the Congress in the state in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the fall of the Congress-JD(S) government shortly afterwards, Siddaramaiah went through a bad patch, with voices from within the party demanding his scalp. However, Siddaramaiah managed to convince the central leadership about the need to have him in a leadership position in the state and was appointed leader of opposition. And now, Siddaramaiah, who has the distinction of being only the third chief minister of Karnataka―after S. Nijalingappa and D. Devaraj Urs―to last a full term, is looking for a grand finale to his electoral career.</p> Fri Mar 03 18:50:47 IST 2023 karnataka-legislative-assembly-opposition-leader-siddaramaiah-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>How is the Congress placed in the coming assembly election?</b></p> <p>The Congress is placed comfortably in Karnataka. We have a fair chance of coming back to power. The main issues are the non-performance of the BJP government and corruption. Almost all government functionaries, including the chief minister and his ministers, are facing corruption charges. There is strong anti-incumbency against the government. People want the Congress to come back because now they are remembering our administration and our schemes for the poor, farmers, youth and women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is corruption as an election issue resonating with the people at the grassroots?</b></p> <p>It is not that corruption exists only at the higher levels in the government. It has percolated to the grassroots. People have to deal with it on a daily basis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Will polarisation be a factor? For example, we have a war of words over Tipu Sultan now.</b></p> <p>The people of Karnataka are politically mature. They understand what the real issues are. The BJP is trying to drum up hatred. But the people understand the games they are playing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There was a furore when you said that you are not anti-Hindu but anti-hindutva.</b></p> <p>Hindutva means manuvada (following the Manusmriti). Hindu dharma is different. I am a Hindu. It does not mean that I should not love people belonging to other religions. Does Hindu dharma say that? No religion in the world preaches hatred or encourages hate politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Your political opponents question your adherence to Hinduism and say you are an atheist.</b></p> <p>I am not an atheist. I believe in God. But you should not suppress the truth. What is the truth? It is that one must be humane and not hate others. Which God says one should hate others?&nbsp;</p> <p>Our Constitution talks about tolerance. Any government has to run according to the provisions of the Constitution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you view the challenge posed by the JD(S) in a triangular contest in the state?</b></p> <p>It looks like there is a triangular contest. But the BJP has no base in Old Karnataka. The fight is between the Congress and the JD(S) in Old Karnataka. As far as north Karnataka is concerned, the fight would be between the BJP and the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is the significance of the Karnataka elections in terms of national politics?</b></p> <p>The result of the assembly elections will definitely have an impact on national politics. This election is very, very crucial not only for Karnataka but for the entire country as we head towards the Lok Sabha polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is the reason behind your declaration that this will be your last election?</b></p> <p>This decision was made by me considering the age factor. But I want to make it clear that I am only retiring from electoral politics, not politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It is felt that the declaration was meant to put pressure on the party to allow you to become chief minister.</b></p> <p>The newly elected MLAs elect the leader of the legislature party. It goes to the high command. The high command then takes a decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You moved out of Old Mysuru in 2018. This time, you have said you want to contest from Kolar.</b></p> <p>I am a sitting MLA from Badami. But it is a far off place. I can't go there every week. I can't meet the people there. I am the leader of the opposition and party work is also there. That is why I am looking at a nearby place. The people of Kolar are requesting me to contest from there. All sitting MLAs, ex-MLAs, Parliament members, ex-Parliament members are asking me to contest from Kolar. It is a one-hour journey from Bengaluru. That is why I have decided to shift from Badami to Kolar. But this is subject to approval by the high command.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But your political opponents say that you are hunting for a safe seat.</b></p> <p>Badami is also a safe seat for me. There are more than 20 constituencies that are safe for me. Varuna is a safe constituency, so is Koppal or Chamrajpet or Ulsoor. Everybody is requesting me to contest from their constituency. Some days ago, over 2,000 people came from Badami came here requesting me to stay on in Badami.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>JD(S) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda has also been making an appeal to voters that they should vote for his party since this is his last election.</b></p> <p>H.D. Deve Gowda is a senior politician. I don't want to comment on him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What was the impact of the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Karnataka?</b></p> <p>It was only because of his willpower that Rahul ji walked from Kanyakumari to Srinagar. This kind of a padayatra has not taken place before. It had a specific purpose, which was to repair the damage to social harmony done by the BJP. Definitely, it made an impact on the people of Karnataka. It has energised and enthused the party cadre, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you view Rahul Gandhi's leadership post the yatra?</b></p> <p>Definitely, his image has enhanced because of the yatra. The BJP ran a vicious campaign against him. Now, they can't do it. Actually, as I have seen him, he is the most simple, straightforward, honest politician in the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It is still believed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is without a challenge at the national level.</b></p> <p>I don't share that view. Is the BJP there in all the states? No. Why was the BJP defeated in Himachal Pradesh or in Delhi or Punjab or in Chhattisgarh or many other states?</p> <p>Modi is a popular leader, no doubt. It does not mean that he will win again in 2024. Nitish Kumar rightly said that if non-BJP, secular parties come together, they can defeat the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Would the Modi factor be important in Karnataka?</b></p> <p>Modi factor will not make any impact in Karnataka. There is a strong anti-incumbency against the state government. Modi can't stop the defeat of the BJP government in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It is felt that the Congress in Karnataka is a divided house on account of the rivalry between you and state unit chief D.K. Shivakumar.</b></p> <p>No, there is nothing like that. We have been working together. He is the head of the Pradesh Congress Committee. I am the leader of the opposition. I have my own role; he has his role. With mutual understanding only, we are working together. It is only a creation of the press that there are strong differences between Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah and both of them are after the chief minister's post. No doubt, we are aspirants. In a democracy, anybody can become the chief minister. Recently, G. Parameshwara also said that he is an aspirant. Nothing wrong in it. If Shivakumar wants to become the chief minister, there is nothing wrong in it. If I want to become the chief minister, there is nothing wrong in it. Finally, it is up to the elected MLAs to choose their leader and the decision taken by the high command.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Your grand birthday celebrations were seen as a show of strength.</b></p> <p>I have never celebrated my birthday because I don't know the correct date. My parents were illiterate. They did not know my date of birth. When I joined school, the headmaster wrote down my date of birth. This time, my friends and well-wishers demanded that since I am completing 75 years, they want to celebrate it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the issues with which you are going to the people?</b></p> <p>We are focusing on real problems, such as unemployment, which is affecting the youth, or inflation, which is acutely felt by every household. Our farmers are facing problems. So are the backward communities. The government stopped the scholarship that was being given to the backward communities. My government was giving 7kg of rice free of cost to poor families. Now, they have reduced it to 5kg. We are promising that if we come to power, we will give 10kg of rice to every family that has a below poverty line card.</p> <p>We have also pledged 200 units of electricity free of cost to every household and also Rs2,000 to the female head of every family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What will be the focus of the Congress government if the party wins?</b></p> <p>We have promised that we will complete all the pending irrigation projects in five years by spending Rs2 lakh crore. We will concentrate on the development of the state, give more sops to the IT and BT companies, encourage the aerospace and pharma sectors. There is the issue of the pathetic state of infrastructure in the state capital. Also, our special focus will be on the needs of the farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you look at plans for a biopic being made on you?</b></p> <p>Some well-wishers have requested that they want to make a film about my life. So far, I have not given my consent.</p> Tue Mar 07 15:08:27 IST 2023 uttar-pradesh-global-investors-summit-2023 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The year was 2013.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sugar Technologists’ Association of India had organised a three-day international conference at Indira Gandhi Pratishthan in Lucknow. Some 120 exhibitors and 1,400 delegates from around the world attended.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anil Shukla, the then secretary general of the body, received a call around midnight saying that the chief minister, who was to inaugurate the meet, would not be able to make it. Shukla still remembers the embarrassment and panic that ensued. The morning after, the government sent in a replacement―the minister who held the portfolio for home guards. He delivered a generic welcome and best-of-luck speech. “What kind of impression would that have created?” Shukla still wonders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>This is 2023.</b></p> <p>Shukla now runs a startup called Officers’ Cricket Academy in Windsor, Canada. He had heard a list of positives about the state over the past few years. So when the state’s Global Investors Summit (GIS) was announced, he did not wait for a government invitation but registered on his own to attend.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Much has changed in the Lucknow he visited this February, after a three-year gap. “There is a sense of security among women. Police personnel are cordial. Ministers and bureaucrats are enablers―easy to approach and speak to,” Shukla said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To bring over ten country partners, more than 1,000 foreign delegates from 40 countries, four ministers from partner countries, 17 Union ministers, five ambassadors/high commissioners and some 25,000 delegates to showcase the changed state that Uttar Pradesh is has been the biggest achievement of the three-day GIS. At the event inaugurated by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on February 10, the power of the double engine was on full display. Among the galaxy of Union ministers who trooped in, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnav said that Uttar Pradesh had to be a model for the world; Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri labelled the state’s cities as the transformers of the economy; Sports Minister Anurag Thakur complimented the state on building a strong foundation for bringing more medals to the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prasun Mishra, an impact investor, who is the founding chair of the World Investors and Entrepreneurs Society (WISE), a Silicon Valley-based investment collective with a global footprint, sums up his experience at the summit thus: “I will be back”. For Mishra, there were cherries―the five-star tent city created to house delegates; the superior service; the variety of cultural programmes and the drone shows highlighting the power of the Modi-Yogi Adityanath duo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the substance, for the investor in him, lays in the summit’s ‘very informative nature’. “I enjoyed the opening ceremony, where the PM outlined his vision for India with UP as its growth engine and the work that the CM has done to groom the state as one of India’s leading investment destinations,” he said. “It was a great learning experience to hear from leading industrialists regarding their investment plans and experiences. The sessions on pharmaceuticals and MSMEs; and on Indian startups that became unicorns were excellent.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While an investor summit, however spectacular, is no guarantee of actual investment or of job creation, by being at it persistently―investor summits, ground breaking ceremonies, international and national road shows, district level investment meets―Uttar Pradesh has made it abundantly clear that it means business and is welcoming of business.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sachin Agarwal, chairman and managing director of the Lucknow-based high-end engineering components manufacturer PTC Industries, said that whenever he travelled within the country, the location of his business would draw disbelief. Access to capital was difficult, for instance, as was listing on the stock market. Uttar Pradesh was placed in the club of India’s worst states―the BIMARUs: the sick.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The first thing to be tackled was this problem of perception,” said Agarwal. “There are many who have questioned the money spent on the summit. But it is this show that has sent out the message that here is a state receptive to industries. That it is open to reaching out and listening. The initial hitch of doing business in UP is no longer there. The intent, the interest and the manpower is all here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The summit was the culmination of intense preparation. More than 25 sectoral policies―formulated by the Yogi Adityanath government in its first term―were re-cast and 16 international roadshows conducted. There was a lot of naysaying, but they fell by the wayside at the summit. Singapore, for instance, in addition to the industry memoranda of understanding, signed an agreement to implement a pilot project on the efficacy of smart water technologies for enhancing the state’s sustainability. A joint partnership committee will monitor the project. Alessandro Liberatori, the Italian embassy's trade commissioner, likened the pace of progress between the two countries to that of the speed of bullet trains, and he identified smart cities, mobility, smart grids for electricity distribution and storage, gas transportation and natural gas as new areas of cooperation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The triumph of perception that Agarwal refers to is established. Right after the GIS, Agarwal made his way to the Aero India Show in Bengaluru. Among those he met there was a former US ambassador to the country, who said, “I love Lucknow.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The scale of the organisation was unbelievable. Almost all my friends from the industry, in whichever part of the country they were, received invites,” said Agarwal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The summit was remarkable for the variety of investors it drew. Take sports, for instance. Rugby India inked an MoU to take the sport to selected regions. MotoGP Bharat committed to organising the world championship in Lucknow, with a proposed investment of 1473 crore that will generate jobs for 500 people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yannick Colaco, co-founder of FanCode, a live streaming platform for sports and sports fans, said, “The steps taken by the UP government to promote sports are highly commendable. We are honoured to sign an MoU to facilitate grassroots sports development and leverage technology to develop sports and a sporting culture, especially for underserved sports.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The state has followed up on the GIS success by steps such as announcing an early appointment of Udyami Mitras (friends of entrepreneurs) to get the investment intents on the ground; the forming of Investment Implementation Units in all departments; and the setting up of dedicated call centres for foreign investors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gaurav Prakash, chairman of the Confederation of Indian Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (CIMSME) said that the sheer scale of MOUs signed was ‘inspirational’ and ‘motivating’. “From a state of unlimited problems, we have transformed into a state of unlimited possibilities. But the key is that no time must be wasted. The translation of intent into investment and employment must take place at the earliest,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For all the laurels that Uttar Pradesh has picked up for the GIS, there remain many challenges. Manufacturing, for instance, is not the state’s strength, neither are exports. And policies need to be more granular in terms of identifying what specific gaps they address, not only within the country but outside it as well. Its manpower needs to have the requisite skills to get to the top of the job ladder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Good business at the end of the day is all about having goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely (SMART). The GIS has been that crucial step in proving that Uttar Pradesh is, indeed, smart. And that it can and will punch above its weight.</p> Tue Feb 28 17:47:00 IST 2023 meghalaya-assembly-elections-2023 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The British called Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, the Scotland of the East. Thanks to the cosmopolitan culture they left behind, the guitar is a mark of tradition here, and English is the state’s official language.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A lot has changed since the British rule, but some things remain the same. On January 26, when mainland India was celebrating Republic Day, Shillong had few signs of nationalism on display. Chief Minister Conrad Sangma gave the banquet at the Raj Bhavan a miss; he was at his residence in Tura, some 350km away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meghalaya will go to the polls on February 27, but the state is not yet in the grip of campaign fever. There are no huge rallies or sloganeering. People go about their business as usual. With tourists flocking to Cherrapunji and Mawsynram, the general mood is upbeat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tura is at the foot of the Garo Hills. The road to the town gives no sign that polls are round the corner. “This is not West Bengal, Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, where you will see rallies and slogans. Here churches determine how political parties function. They don’t interfere in any political activity, but they also don’t allow celebrating politics,” said G.K. Marak, who works at a church in Tura.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Marak belongs to the Garo tribe, one of three prominent tribes in Meghalaya. The others are Khasi and Jaintia tribes. The rest of the population includes people of smaller tribes, and Bengalis, Sikhs, Marawaris, Biharis and Gujaratis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tribals fear that they are losing their identity. This has led to a growing demand that Meghalaya implement the ‘inner line permit’ system, which makes it mandatory for non-residents to obtain a permit before entering the state. Currently, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland have it, and the Union government extended it to Manipur in December 2019. This has ignited hopes that it would be extended to Meghalaya as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Khasi tribe, which dominates the state’s eastern part, has made inner line permits a major poll issue. “Our tribe is at risk,” said Donald Thaba, general secretary of the Khasi Students’ Union. “Shillong and adjoining areas are witnessing an influx of foreigners and people from mainland India. Locals are unable to find jobs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Trinamool Congress has replaced the Congress as the state’s principal opposition party. Taking on the ruling coalition of the National People’s Party (NPP) and the BJP is Mukul Sangma, former chief minister who quit the Congress and joined the Trinamool in 2021. Interestingly, both Mukul and Conrad are residents of Tura. Conrad is the son of P.A. Sangma, former Lok Sabha speaker and chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite being home to the chief minister and the opposition leader, Tura remains underdeveloped. The town has no big hotels, and the eateries, parks, theatres and shopping centres are modest. The only remarkable structure is a 9,000-seat football stadium named after P.A. Sangma and inaugurated last year. “It’s big, and ready to organise international events,” said a member of the chief minister’s office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The residence of the chief minister is on the slope of a hill. A newly built mansion, it is surrounded by battalion offices of the Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force. It has marble-covered walls, an elevator, a terrace lawn that serves as an entry to the house, and exterior stairs that lead to a ground-floor drawing room and a separate office-cum-visitor area.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A graduate of the Wharton School, Conrad holds a master’s in business management from Imperial College, London. He seems all business as he comes out of the house wearing a jacket and holding a cup of black coffee. Around 70 people are waiting for him in the visitor area, their concerns ranging from laws and customs to livelihood and family disputes. Large tea machines, stacks of cups and bowls of biscuits have been arranged. There is also a buffet breakfast―rice, dal, vegetable curry and pork. The chief minister seemed to have found a sophisticated alternative to addressing noisy poll rallies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Visitors take turns to meet Conrad and lodge their complaints. He listens to them patiently, taking care not to give false promises. “I can only give assurances that I can keep,” he says. “There are plenty of personal problems, which people can solve themselves or with the help of their community. I can only guide them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mohammad Jameel, an NPP worker in Tura, wants Conrad to visit the area where he lives and allocate funds for the construction of a much-needed road. “I know that once it has been brought to his notice, he would do it. He means business,” says Jameel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Muslims have a good presence in the Garo Hills. Will they support the Trinamool like they do in West Bengal? “Not at all,” says Jameel. “The hills will vote for Conrad Sangma. He is accessible and he does not differentiate between people. We don’t need the Trinamool here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A number of Muslim women and children are also present. So are elderly people, some of whom have been supporters since the time when P.A. Sangma was Meghalaya’s tallest leader. “The son is like the father―suave and gentle, and fluent in Bengali, Khasi, Garo and even Hindi,” says Abdul Kareem, an elderly resident of Tura. “So there can be no choice other than Conrad. Let Mamata Banerjee work for Bengal and not bother about Meghalaya.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Mukul Sangma, a doctor by training, is up for a fight. He has levelled allegations of corruption against Conrad, saying his government had failed to stop rampant illegal mining in the Garo Hills. Mamata herself kicked off the Trinamool campaign last month by addressing a public meeting in Tura.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, can the Trinamool really make an impact? “It would be extremely difficult,” says Ashok Singh, a travel operator in Shillong. “She is targeting Bengali, Sikh, Bihari and Marwari votes. She also expects Khasi votes, as the tribe was earlier driven out of Bangladesh. But that vote bank is already with the BJP, the Congress and some other small parties.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Trinamool has also raised the issue of rising communal tensions. When Mukul was chief minister from 2010 to 2018, he had dealt with issues decisively. Critics say Conrad’s “softer touch” has resulted in radicals becoming more active.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The political strategy firm I-PAC is supporting the Trinamool’s membership drive to add young and first-time voters. Volunteers drawn from Bengali, Sikh and Khasi communities have been going door to door, making promises that each woman in a family would receive Rs1,000 month if the party comes to power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khushi Randhawa, a first-year undergraduate who was hurt during the attack on Sikhs in Shillong in 2021, said Mamata had become a symbol of unity. “I grew up during a time of peace and happiness, and I never saw an ethnic clash in Shillong―until the attack on the Sikh community by a dominant community here. Goons attacked our home, and I had to take shelter at our gurdwara. I stayed there for seven days,” says Khushi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to her, the state government did not take action against the rioters till the Sikhs hit the streets, with people from Punjab and Delhi also joining them. “This government must go,” says Khushi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Snigdha Das, a class 12 student, said she joined the Trinamool because Meghalaya needed “a person who would unite all communities”. “The situation here is not good; it resembles a volcano. So I have joined the Trinamool campaign in Shillong,” says Snigdha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Much like in the last elections, there are no pre-poll alliances between parties. Since 1972, no party in the state has won a majority on its own. Chances are slim that this time would be any different.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Does that mean the Congress and the Trinamool Congress could come together after the polls? Congress MP Vincent Pala says such an alliance cannot be ruled out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While it is certain that the chief minister would be from the Garo Hills, it would be the results from the Khasi and Jaintia regions that would decide the winning party. The BJP, which had won just two seats last time, is confident of putting up a good show in the two regions. “In the past 10 years, Meghalaya has seen what development means,” says state BJP president Ernest Mawrie. “So we will definitely win more than double the seats we won last time.”</p> Fri Feb 17 16:28:20 IST 2023 meghalaya-cm-conrad-sangma-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>CONRAD SANGMA LOVES</b> to be surrounded by people, but he is not a mass leader like his father, former Lok Sabha speaker P.A. Sangma, was. A foodie who loves to play guitar, Conrad has business degrees from Philadelphia and London, and a CEO-like style of functioning as chief minister. Gentle and serious-minded, he did raise his voice once during my interview with him. “Just shut up; don’t disturb,” he shouted, when people who had gathered outside his home clamoured for his attention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You ran a minority government that lasted five years. How was it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Meghalaya always had a fractured mandate since 1972. It was very difficult to run my government, but we managed somehow. The credit goes to my entire team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You won’t give credit to the BJP, your coalition partner?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Of course, the credit is for the coalition team. But we maintain the mandate. After the 2018 election, I said, “Forget it, we will work together.” And we got everyone to fulfil tasks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did you face any problem with the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Never. I have always believed that when you are leading a team, you need to carry along everybody. I always consult everyone while making decisions. I decentralise power a lot. I never interfere in the work of a minister. I deal with officers the same way, but I admit it is a great challenge to do that department-wise. Another important thing is to carry along the civil society and religious organisations. We took them on board.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You are not a rooted politician like your father. You studied abroad.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I never learned politics, but politics was in my blood. You will be surprised to learn that I started at the age of 12. I used to give speeches with my father. I followed him and tried to copy him. When I contested the first election, he asked me not to be disheartened if I lost. I did lose the election, but I realised what politics was all about, thanks to my dad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What did you learn?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I learned that you needed to be grounded to build relationships with people, and that you should maintain those relationships even during difficult times. I have been using the same mobile number for the last 18 years. People call me even at 2am. Small things matter; accessibility is important in political life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your tenure as chief minister has got mixed reactions. What are the three most important successes you have had?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> There are so many. But first, we managed to create a sense that the state can actually move forward. The old saying was that idhar kuch nahin hota (nothing happens here). But the continuous push from the team created momentum in governance. Five years ago, no one could have thought that Meghalaya could win a United Nations award for e-governance. We are now the top state in India in start-up businesses. We have received three successive bonuses for completing projects in the Jal Jeevan Mission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But there is criticism that social disharmony, once subdued, has again come to the fore.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I don’t think it was subdued. There was much more disharmony in the past; only, it did not come out on social media. The big picture is that the overall law-and-order situation has improved drastically. Insurgency, extortion, deaths related to crimes have all gone down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But there have been unrest and killings by militants. Strong administrative measures could have prevented protests and subsequent curfews.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> People don’t realise that a lot of things that could have happened did not happen. The internal security matter was taken seriously, and many things were stopped at the right time. I am not justifying things. We will ensure that such incidents do not happen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Khasis are demanding the implementation of inner line permits.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> This is a tribal-dominated state and we have customary laws. Identity is a major issue here. So it is natural that there is such a demand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But if ILP covers the entire northeast, where would investments come?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We have to do things accordingly and not misuse it. Bengalis, Maharashtrians, Biharis―all want to preserve their identities. ILP gives a small sense of protection to tribals and the state as a whole. The demand for it became stronger after the Citizenship (Amendment) Act was passed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Some people call you a ruthless politician who is in a hurry.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> No, I am not in a hurry. Why do you say that?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Because you spread your party across the northeast in such a short time.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>It would be unfair to compare me with P.A. Sangma. The situation is different; so are the times. I am not in a hurry, I only work hard. Ruthless is a very tough word. But I am very serious about my people and my party. I take decisions keeping my state and my country in mind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ While campaigning in Manipur, you said the BJP wanted to finish you off. And you had a kind of rivalry with Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma over border issues.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I have deep respect for Sarma. So far as electoral politics is concerned, we have a plan and strategy. The BJP also said so many things against me. They have their own strategy. I always tell my coalition partners that it is unfair to go for seat-sharing because we have different ideologies. Let people decide which ideology to choose.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see the rise of Mamata Banerjee?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I have a deep sense of respect for her because the kind of respect she gave to P.A. Sangma. But it would not be easy for the Trinamool Congress to be accepted here. Politics in the northeast is very difficult. A party here does not grow just because a few people have joined it. See what happened in Manipur a few years ago. The Trinamool had seven MLAs there, but all of them deserted the party and joined the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But your opponent here is a former chief minister. And the Trinamool has managed to break the Congress.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Two of them (Trinamool MLAs) have already joined us. More will join us after the elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you expect the BJP to fish in these troubled waters?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Of course, they will. And I don’t think it is wrong. If I were in their position, I would have done the same.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Mukul Sangma has alleged that your party is profiting from illegal coal mining.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> During his time [as chief minister], coal mining was banned. But according to the Supreme Court, 1.3 lakh tonnes of coal was transported out during his time. In our time, Coal India Ltd auctioned the coal, and there was no impropriety.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why don’t you let the CBI investigate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Is everything for the CBI to handle? It will create a bad precedent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your party’s stance in Tripura?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We had a plan for Tripura. But Tipra Motha has now moved in, and Pradyot Debbarma is doing well. So this time, it is not feasible [to make an entry]. In Nagaland, however, we are a commendable force.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Tura has given three chief ministers, but it lags in development.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Development is not about CMs. It depends on the system. The chief minister can only be a guide. Bureaucracy and departments would have to take the development work forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But I can say that ten years ago, the Garo Hills region was extremely bad. Today, Tura has a different look. Five years ago, the government’s expenditure in the state was just Rs9,000 crore. Today, it has doubled to almost Rs18,000 crore. But I cannot discriminate between regions; I am taking all regions together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your father once told me an interesting story. When he was chief minister, he went to Delhi and met a Union minister. The minister told him that he understood that Meghalaya shared a boundary with Tibet and Myanmar.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yes, I know. Even today, some people ask me how Manipur is doing. I have to correct them and say it is not Manipur but Meghalaya. But there are very few people like that today. In the past five years, the idea about the northeast has changed a lot. The credit for it goes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has put a sense of confidence into everybody in the northeast. Things have changed a lot under him.</p> Fri Feb 17 17:40:36 IST 2023 meghalaya-opposition-leader-mukul-sangma-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A DOCTOR BY</b> training, Mukul Sangma was chief minister of Meghalaya from 2010 to 2018. He quit the Congress and joined the Trinamool Congress in 2021.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mukul is known to be a good singer and is a Kishore Kumar fan. His father belongs to the Garo tribe and his mother is a Bengali Muslim from Assam. As opposition leader, he hopes to lead the Trinamool to its first election victory in the northeast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Five years ago, I saw you singing a Kishore Kumar song during an election campaign. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was with you, smiling. And now you are in the Trinamool. What happened?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> See, the purpose of life is to serve people. God has given me a life to serve people as a doctor and elected representative. When the election result was out in 2018, the Congress was the single largest party, and I was looking for [the party leadership in] Delhi to intervene so that a government could be formed to check the BJP. But they remained silent. It was pathetic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But you could have formed a party and waited for Mamata Banerjee to approach you.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The offer was there. I could not forgive my leadership for failing to hold talks with a secular party for government formation. Then the West Bengal polls happened. It was a historic one, and after that I took the decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ To jump ship?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I was the victim of circumstances. Also, there was despair among the youth in Meghalaya. There were no jobs, and corruption was rampant. Mamata Banerjee and I discussed the issue, and we decided to check social disharmony. We need to bring back the spirit of inclusiveness, which is most important for economic growth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you think of the Conrad Sangma government? The chief minister seems to be a suave, gentleman politician.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> If that be the case, then he is not at the helm of affairs and other politicians are using his name to fulfil their agenda. The chief minister must know what is happening in the state. Otherwise, he is not a chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What has he ignored?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Crime. Cognisable offences were not taken seriously. The police and the administration were put on silent mode. Then coal started disappearing from coal pits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What was the chief minister’s role in it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> This was brought to the CM’s notice. I myself did it in the assembly. But he was in denial mode.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What action did you want from him?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> He should have brought the criminals to book. It (the illegal mining) was bleeding the exchequer. We demanded that he order a CBI inquiry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will you bring the CBI if you return to power?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Of course, we will.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will the Trinamool be able to form its first government outside West Bengal?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We will sweep this election. I am getting a huge response everywhere. People want us to form a government that at least unites all ethnic tribes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What about the Khasi demand for inner line permits?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> This demand is not new. They came to me when I was chief minister, but I told them that I could not do it alone, and that it is the prerogative of the Union home ministry. Why should I give them a false promise?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But the Congress was in power at the Centre when you became chief minister for the first time.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Our Central government had no intention of issuing fresh inner line permits to any state.</p> Fri Feb 17 16:18:49 IST 2023