Statescan en Sun Aug 21 08:20:18 IST 2022 shiv-sena-and-sambhaji-brigade-in-a-marriage-of-convenience <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>DESPERATION</b> and helplessness seem to have gripped Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. His recent decision to join hands with the Sambhaji Brigade, a militant organisation of Maratha youth, is a clear signal that Uddhav will join hands with anyone who helps the Sena recover lost ground after Eknath Shinde raised the banner of revolt and joined hands with the BJP to become chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sambhaji Brigade, named after the elder son of Chhatrapati Shivaji, is an offshoot of the Maratha Seva Sangh. The MSS was founded by Purushottam Khedekar, a retired chief engineer in the public works department. Khedekar’s wife, Rekha, was a BJP legislator when Gopinath Munde and Pramod Mahajan controlled the party’s state unit. When the coalition of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party came to power in the state, though, the MSS moved closer to the NCP. It grew rapidly in western Maharashtra and Marathwada.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The MSS and the Sambhaji Brigade are known for harbouring strong anti-Brahmin sentiments. There is a difference between being opposed to brahminism and being anti-Brahmin; the MSS and its offshoots take pride in belonging to the latter group.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sambhaji Brigade achieved notoriety in 2004, when it ransacked the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, a premier historical research institution in Pune. The Brigade members said the institute’s scholars helped American academic James Laine write the book Shivaji: The Hindu King In Islamic India, certain portions of which they found offensive. In 2017, they destroyed a statue of eminent Marathi playwright Ram Ganesh Gadkari, accusing him of having portrayed Sambhaji in bad light in an unpublished play written more than a hundred years ago. Interestingly, the Brigade members were unaware that Gadkari was not a Brahmin, but a “CKP”—Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu, a community to which the Thackeray family also belongs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because of its opposition to Brahmins, the Sambhaji Brigade once also destroyed a statue of Dadoji Kondadeo, who some experts say was Shivaji’s tutor. The Brigade’s position is that Shivaji’s only tutor was his mother, Jijabai, and that Dadoji Kondadeo, a Brahmin, was a just a member of the staff appointed by Shivaji’s father, Shahaji Bhonsale.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Shiv Sena and the Sambhaji Brigade maintain some contradictory positions. For instance, the Brigade accuses Babasaheb Purandare, a historian and theatre personality whose work focused on Shivaji’s life, of falsifying history to glorify Brahmins. The Shiv Sena, on the other hand, respects Purandare for his contributions in popularising Shivaji’s history across Maharashtra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2014-15, there was an informal split in the Sambhaji Brigade over entering politics. A faction dominant in western Maharashtra led by Pravin Gaikwad moved closer to the NCP: the Manoj Akhare and Gangadhar Banbare-led faction that dominated the Marathwada region, however, decided to enter active politics. It is with the Akhare-Banbare faction that Thackeray has now formed an alliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A major reason behind the tie-up is the Sena’s need for new leaders and support base, especially in Marathwada. Eknath Shinde is a Maratha, and many of the influential Maratha leaders in the Sena had joined him in the revolt against Uddhav. A few Maratha leaders who have remained loyal to Uddhav, such as Subhash Desai, have no clout in the community. Uddhav and his close aides feel that the Sambhaji Brigade could help him reclaim lost political ground.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to political analyst Prakash Akolkar, the Shiv Sena had never been a casteist organisation. “When Balasaheb was heading it, its leaders and cadres came from all sorts of castes and communities—Marathas, Brahmins, CKPs, Pathare Prabhus, Kunbis, Bhandaris, Vaishya Vanis, Other Backward Classes, etc. Uddhav has now joined hands with a purely caste-driven organisation like the Sambhaji Brigade. What more proof do you want that he is fighting for his survival?” said Akolkar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are many areas where differences in opinion can emerge between the Sena and the Brigade. For one, the Sambhaji Brigade does not believe in hindutva, which is the Sena’s ideology. The MSS had launched a new religious movement called Shiv Dharma, entered around subaltern icons, more than a decade ago. Sambhaji Brigade president Manoj Akhare said that the Shiv Sena’s hindutva was now acceptable to his party because it adheres to Uddhav’s grandfather Prabodhankar Thackeray’s model rather than the BJP-RSS one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another area of divergence is that the Sambhaji Brigade calls itself a progressive organisation. The Shiv Sena, however, cannot qualify as one. Even Uddhav has said that words like ‘progressive’ are too heavy for the Shiv Sainiks. “We believe in hindutva and Marathi pride,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sena did not consult its Maha Vikas Aghadi partners before joining hands with the Sambhaji Brigade. NCP state president Jayant Patil has expressed displeasure over it. The Eknath Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena, for its part, has accused Uddhav of deviating from the principle of casteless politics advocated by Prabodhankar and Balasaheb Thackeray. “It is known in Maharashtra that the Brigade is the NCP’s B-team,” said Sheetal Mhatre, the Shinde group spokesperson. “People are also aware who controls the outfit and issues instructions to them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For now, the bedrock of the Sena-Brigade alliance seems to be their reverence for Shivaji and Sambhaji. “We have come together to save the Constitution and fight for regional pride,” said Akhare. “Some forces in India are out to crush regional identity and pride, and we will fight it out.”</p> Sat Sep 10 16:27:49 IST 2022 a-tribal-village-in-uttar-pradesh-pins-its-hopes-on-president-droupadi-murmu <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>LAXMI DEVI VIVIDLY</b> remembers the day she first heard that Droupadi Murmu was the National Democratic Alliance’s president candidate. She was at a meeting of grassroots functionaries when the district panchayat chairman made the announcement. “An electric current went through me. It was as if my insides were lit up. I thought to myself, finally someone like us will occupy the country’s highest office,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>President Murmu is a Santhal, the country’s second largest tribe. Laxmi Devi, 57, is a Tharu, a tribe much smaller in number. Yet, she feels a deep sense of kinship with the president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“She is of my caste,” said Devi, the four-time head-woman of Bela Parsuwa village in the Nighasan block of Lakhimpur Kheri, a district 129km from state capital Lucknow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The last 19km stretch to the tribal village is more potholes and less bitumen. It is not an easy journey. Which is probably why Shashank Verma, the BJP MLA elected from Nighasan, made just one trip to the village to ask for votes. He did promise to remedy all of the villages problems, though.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Devi’s hopes, however, rest with Murmu, whom she has invited to see the plight of the locals. There is, of course, that non-existent road. There is no primary health centre; on good days, the power supply lasts for three to four hours; and there is no school beyond class eight for girls, forcing them to either drop out or migrate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bela Parsuwa’s knottiest problem, however, is a lack of mobile connectivity. In case of an illness or a crime, there is no way to call for help. The police station, Chandan Chowki, is 14km away, and the route there leads through the Dudhwa National Park. Since the villagers are not allowed to take that route, they take another one almost nine times the distance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nepal is less than a kilometre from the village. And it is from there that some residents get SIM cards with the help of generous Nepalese citizens. The two most common service providers used are NCell and Namaste. The Kailali district of Nepal, which adjoins Bela Parsuwa, has electricity round the clock. Residents claim that it is supplied by India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are two mobile towers in Bela Parsuwa. One is of the long defunct WLL (Wireless in Local Loop) services, and the other belongs to the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). The latter is equipped with a 400Ah (ampere hours) battery bank, which serves as a backup in case of a power failure. In a hamlet where power supply exists only to fail, the battery bank is useless.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the last week of July, the government announced a Rs1.64 lakh crore package for the revival of BSNL. “…Viability gap funding for rural wireless operations” is one of the challenges this funding would address.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mobile connectivity is no luxury. When the country was reeling under Covid-19, children received education online. Not the students of Bela Parsuwa, though. Aleesha and Amrita Kathariya, two siblings aged 12 and eight, said they did not understand maths anymore, and that their teacher beat them when they failed to answer questions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And thus the invite to Murmu (July 25, 2022), which reads, “Your kind visit... will not only be a morale booster for our community… but shall also be a far-reaching step towards our real empowerment and resolution of our concerns.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lawyer Syed Mohammed Haider Rizvi, who helped Devi draft the letter, said, “The right to communicate is a facet of the right to life guaranteed to every Indian citizen.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the ministry of tribal affairs data, Uttar Pradesh has 16 tribes, which make up 0.57 per cent of the state’s population. This is the lowest percentage in any state or Union territory. The ministry’s ‘Statistical Profile of STs 2013’ reports as NA (not available) the data on primary health centres in the state’s tribal areas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mobile connectivity in far-flung villages is not an impossible demand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) under the telecommunications department operates with the specific intent of providing “widespread and non-discriminatory” quality information and communication services at affordable prices to rural and remote areas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rizvi has sent two representations on the matter to the telecommunications minister. The first, in June 2021, drew attention to the “apathetical attitude of the powers that be”. The second, in June 2022, added that banking, revenue, and schemes of the Central and state government were rendered useless in the absence of mobile connectivity. Neither got a response.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In July 2021, Rizvi wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, marking copies to the ministers of telecommunication and of tribal affairs and the minister of state for home affairs. The last is Ajay Mishra Teni, MP from Kheri. (Teni’s son Ashish is the prime accused in the deaths of four farmers and a journalist on October 3, 2021, during a protest against the farm laws). Once again, he got no response.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In June 2021, BSNL responded to a complaint, admitting that the battery backup at Bela Parsuwa was only for two hours; the Chandan Chowki tower, too, had only two hours. It also read, “demand for new battery bank has already been submitted”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 29, BSNL sent another reply to Rizvi. It noted that the backup for Chandan Chowki was “0.50 hours only” and that for the village tower was “about 1 hr only”. It ended with the same assurance that the demand for a new battery bank had already been submitted. Thus, by BSNL’s own admission, while the duration of the back-up had dwindled, the simple task of installing a new battery bank was still tied up in red tape.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apprised of the situation, Asim Arun, minister for state (independent charge) for scheduled castes and tribes welfare in the state government, said, “There is neither a dearth of will nor money for their welfare. Our focus is on education, health, livelihood and infrastructure”. The minister has communicated with BSNL on the issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Arun, a former police officer, understands the perils of using a foreign cellular service provider. “Anyone using a network outside our zone of surveillance is a danger when dealing with crime and terror,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Devi, meanwhile, is sure that the president will understand their plight better than anyone else. “The day she comes here,” she said, “we shall celebrate both Holi and Diwali.”</p> Sat Sep 10 16:24:08 IST 2022 bjps-jharkhand-strategy-is-nuanced-here-is-why <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WHEN BIHAR CHIEF</b> Minister Nitish Kumar severed ties with the BJP and joined hands with the Rashtriya Janata Dal last month, eastern India became BJP-mukt for the first time in two decades. The party is currently not part of governments in Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha. Earlier, it had ruled Jharkhand on its own, and was part of Bihar and Odisha governments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP remains a force in all four eastern states, but the satraps have ensured that it does not hold as much sway in the east as it does over other regions. The situation has presented a worrying possibility for the saffron party: If it loses Karnataka after the assembly elections next year, it can again be labelled as a north Indian party. Politics is about perception, so the BJP is fighting to ward off that tag.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hence, the BJP is eyeing Jharkhand with anticipation. The state is in the midst of a governance crisis, as the Election Commission recently recommended that Chief Minister Hemant Soren be disqualified as MLA for having allotted a mine to himself while in office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the BJP, weakening the coalition government led by Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha is an excellent opportunity to gain the upper hand in the tribal-dominated state. It is the third state in as many months to witness political upheavals. The other two—Maharashtra and Bihar—witnessed realignment of alliances and formation of new governments. The BJP hopes for a repeat in Jharkhand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Let the law take its own course. We are not saying anything more than that,” said state BJP president Deepak Prakash. Apparently, the party does not want to be seen as having engineered the crisis for breaking the ruling coalition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation marks another episode in the BJP’s clash with opposition parties, especially regional ones that dominate some states. In its national executive meeting in July, the BJP had calibrated its strategy to target regional parties that posed a challenge to its expansion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Soren government has been under pressure because of investigations into mining-related allegations. In May, the Enforcement Directorate arrested IAS officer Pooja Singhal, who was mining secretary, on charges of money laundering and embezzling funds allotted for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The ED seized Rs17 crore in cash from Singhal’s residence and other locations. In July, the agency arrested Pankaj Mishra, Soren’s political aide, in another money laundering case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The complaint against Soren was filed by BJP leaders. The Election Commission soon conducted an inquiry and its recommendation is now with the governor. If Soren is disqualified as MLA, he would have to resign as chief minister as well. If the governor’s recommendation is limited to cancelling his election victory, Soren could continue as CM by having the party elect him once again as leader of the legislative party. He would then have six months to win an assembly seat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speculation is rife that, if forced to step down, Soren would instal his wife, Kalpana, or younger brother Basant as chief minister. His father, Shibhu Soren, would also have a say in the matter. But, whoever becomes chief minister, the reins of the government would be with Hemant. “Hemant Soren is the chief minister; he will remain chief minister,” said Vinod Kumar Pandey, JMM general secretary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government recently called a special session of the assembly to conduct a floor test. While it did not serve any real purpose, the vote of confidence was a victory for Soren in terms of perception.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We have told the governor that the political uncertainty in the state is his doing, as the Raj Bhavan has taken no action on the Election Commission’s recommendation,” said Pandey. “Selective leaks are damaging the atmosphere. Development of the state is getting hampered. We had to take our MLAs [to safety] because of threats from the BJP. They are responsible for this crisis.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 81-member assembly, the JMM has 30 seats. Its allies, the Congress and the RJD, have 16 and 1, respectively. Though the BJP has just 26 seats, the ruling coalition fears a repeat of what happened in Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where governments fell after legislators abruptly switched sides.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has ruled Jharkhand for around 13 of 22 years of its existence. Party leader Raghubar Das was the first to complete a full five-year term in office. The state has 14 Lok Sabha seats, of which the BJP won 12 in the previous two polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Soren is punished, the JMM could make a retaliatory move in the assembly. The speaker has reserved judgment in a complaint regarding leader of the opposition Babu Lal Marandi’s alleged violation of the anti-defection law. Marandi was the leader of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha when he and two of his party colleagues won assembly seats in 2019. The two colleagues later joined the Congress, while Marandi joined the BJP. An influential Santhal leader, Marandi was Jharkhand’s first chief minister. He defeated Shibhu Soren, also a Santhal, which enabled his swift rise in the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Marandi is important for the BJP, as the party had failed to retain power with a non-tribal as chief minister (Raghubar Das). A similar experiment in Maharashtra had also yielded the same result. The BJP now supports a Maratha chief minister (Eknath Shinde), while the Brahmin face that headed the previous BJP-led government (Devendra Fadnavis) has been made deputy chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tribals constitute more than 26 per cent of Jharkhand’s population. The BJP has been wooing them for the past two years with a number of initiatives. It was with an eye on the tribal votes that the BJP made Droupadi Murmu India’s first president from the tribal community. That the state has 40 per cent of the country’s mineral resources also makes it attractive to political parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is banking on help from constitutional bodies, because it does not want to be seen as eager to dislodge a government headed by a tribal. In the previous elections, the JMM-led coalition had won 25 of 28 reserved seats, while the BJP could manage to win only two. It was tribals who voted the BJP out of power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from raising corruption allegations, the BJP is highlighting the poor law-and-order situation in the state. Party leaders allege that the Soren government is doing “appeasement politics” and that there have been cases of love jihad in the state. “The state is hit with multiple cases [of love jihad], and the chief minister says these incidents keep on happening. What kind of CM is he?” said Prakash.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By appointing Prakash, a non-tribal leader, as state BJP chief and Marandi as the leader of the opposition, the BJP is trying to carefully balance its politics. Allegations against the Soren government are being levelled with much care, as the party does not want to be accused of targeting tribals. It also plans to play the nepotism card if Soren instals a relative as chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For now, rumours are rife about why the governor is delaying his decision on disqualifying Soren. In July, as the BJP’s state unit was going hammer and tongs against the government, Soren visited Amit Shah in Delhi. The same month, Modi visited Jharkhand and surprisingly spared Soren in his aggressive speech against opposition parties. This had led to talk that the JMM and the BJP, which had been allies earlier, were moving closer again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the governor delaying his decision, observers now have one big question: Is there a surprise in store?</p> Sun Sep 11 11:42:38 IST 2022 kerala-power-struggle-in-universities-trigger-political-row <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In August, the simmering feud between Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan and the CPI(M)-led state government reached boiling point. The government wanted the governor to urgently re-promulgate 11 ordinances notified on February 7; Khan said he would do it only after examining whether “any urgency exists”. Amid the governance deadlock, the ordinances lapsed on August 8, forcing the government to hurriedly call a special session of the assembly for tabling bills.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most controversial among the lapsed ordinances was the Kerala Lok Ayukta (Amendment) Ordinance, which diluted the powers of the anti-corruption body and gave the government an option to ignore its rulings. The opposition alleged that the ordinance was meant to shield Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan from complaints pending before the Lok Ayukta. Apparently, the government did not want a repeat of what happened to K.T. Jaleel, former higher education minister who was forced to step down in April last year, after the Lok Ayukta found him guilty of abuse of power in a case related to irregularities in the appointment of his relative in a state-run corporation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the controversial ordinance having lapsed, a bill curtailing Lok Ayukta’s powers with retrospective effect was tabled by the government at the special session of the assembly that began on August 22. The provisions of the bill have triggered a war of words between the opposition and the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lapsed ordinances have prompted CPI(M) leaders to launch into tirades against the governor. They say Khan is an RSS agent who is implementing the Union government’s plan to topple the state government.</p> <p>Opposition parties are not buying it, though. “CPI(M) leaders always preach parliamentary democracy and the power of the legislative assembly,” said state BJP president K. Surendran. “But they are bringing out all these ordinances to protect their interests. By labelling the governor as an RSS-BJP person, they are trying to divert people’s attention.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, it is not the governor’s role as constitutional head of the government that has precipitated the current governance crisis; it is his repeated efforts to assert his statutory role as chancellor of universities. Khan had written a sharply worded letter to Vijayan last December, hinting that the government was undermining his authority as chancellor while making appointments in universities. He recommended that the chief minister amend university laws to appoint himself as chancellor, so that “universities come under the direct control of the government, [and] there will be no scope for anybody to make allegations of political interference”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan wrote the letter after the government forced him to extend the tenure of Prof Gopinath Ravindran as vice chancellor of Kannur University. He had earlier publicly opposed the government’s decision to give four more years to Ravindran, saying the vice chancellor was past the stipulated age limit of 60. “Higher education in Kerala is going to the dogs,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vijayan wrote a series of letters to placate Khan, who apparently extracted a promise from the chief minister that the government would no longer interfere with his powers as chancellor. Despite the assurances, though, the government appears determined to gain more influence in university appointments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The sangh parivar is trying to smuggle the hindutva agenda everywhere,” Higher Education Minister R. Bindu told THE WEEK. “If they become successful in placing their people in key positions, like that of vice chancellor in universities, it would affect Kerala.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government’s move seems to have provoked Khan into action. On August 5, he constituted a search committee for selecting the successor to V.P. Mahadevan Pillai, whose tenure as Kerala University vice chancellor ends in October. The search committee usually consists of three members: nominees of the governor, the University Grants Commission and the university senate. The committee Khan notified, however, has just two members now. The nominee of CPI(M)-dominated senate—state planning board vice chairman V.K. Ramachandran—has declined to join the committee, apparently to buy time for the government to pass the Universities Laws Amendment Bill, expand the search committee, and give the government more leverage in appointing vice chancellors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Providing ammunition to the governor in this battle is the Save University Campaign Committee, a whistleblower group that advocates reforming the state’s higher education sector. The SUCC alleges that the recent selection of Priya Varghese, spouse of CPI(M) leader and chief minister’s private secretary K.K. Ragesh, as associate professor in Kannur University is a clear case of favouritism. According to an RTI document obtained by the group, Varghese had the lowest research score among the six eligible candidates for the post, but she came first in a provisional rank list prepared by the university after conducting interviews. The university maintains that Varghese was selected on the basis of her performance in the interview. The governor, however, has stayed her appointment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The university used a loophole in UGC regulations which say that the research score shall be considered only for shortlisting candidates for interview, and that selections shall be based only on performance in the interview,” said R.S. Sasikumar, SUCC chairman. “The interview process was rigged. Varghese did not have the required eight years of teaching experience to apply for the post. She earned a PhD (a basic qualification for the post of associate professor) in 2019. She has worked in a teaching position only for 20 days since then. Her experience as student services director at Kannur University (from August 2019 to June 2021) and assistant director at Kerala Bhasha Institute (from July 2021 to the present) cannot be counted as teaching experience.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bindu, however, said the SUCC was driven by political agenda. “Just because a person’s husband is a CPI(M) leader, can they not apply for a job? When a woman secures a position with her academic qualifications, people attribute it to her husband’s influence. It is outrageous and painful,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 16, Ravindran wrote to the governor that there was no irregularity in the selection process. The same day, the state cabinet cleared the Universities Laws Amendment Bill. Khan shot back by announcing a “full-fledged inquiry” into allegations of nepotism in all universities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shino P. Jose, member of Kannur University’s academic council, said Ravindran’s “arrogance” had worsened the row. “As vice chancellor, Ravindran has not allowed the council to vote on a single resolution. Things are run according to his whims and fancies. It is this attitude that made the spat more personal,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jose was one of the petitioners who moved court against Ravindran’s apparently unilateral decision last year to reconstitute the board of studies of Kannur University. In March, the Kerala High Court quashed all appointments made by Ravindran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Only the chancellor has the power to reconstitute the board, and the VC bypassed him to make the appointments,” said Jose. “Around 68 people nominated by the VC did not have even basic qualifications prescribed by the UGC. Around 50 of them were from CPI(M)-controlled self-financing colleges.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The legal setback apparently did not prevent Ravindran from asking the governor to approve the same list of members. “The governor returned the list saying it is his prerogative as chancellor to nominate members,” said Jose. “But the VC wanted to prove that his selections were correct. So he sent the same list again, this time asking that the governor ‘nominate’ the people on the list. It is with the governor now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>George Poonthottam, senior advocate in the Kerala High Court who has appeared in cases related to university appointments, said vice chancellors in universities in Kerala were controlled by a cohort affiliated to the CPI(M). “Vice chancellors do not show spine,” he said. “Most VCs in Kerala are outstanding academicians and scientists. But, as administrators, they are weak.”</p> Sat Sep 03 13:52:22 IST 2022 proud-of-my-relationship-with-rss-kerala-governor <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In mid-August, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan stayed the appointment of Priya Varghese, wife of CPI(M) leader and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s private secretary K.K. Ragesh, as associate professor at Kannur University. He termed the appointment as a case of “favouritism and nepotism”, even as Vice Chancellor Gopinath Ravindran maintained that there was no irregularity in the selection process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The row has further worsened the strained ties between the governor and Vice Chancellor Ravindran. Khan recently called Ravindran a “criminal”, saying he behaves more like a party worker than an academic. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, he spoke in detail about his differences with the CPI(M)-led government, and denied allegations that he was acting on behalf of the RSS. “I am not a member of RSS, but I have great respect for the RSS,” Khan said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The CPI(M) alleges that you are acting as an RSS-BJP tool to topple the government.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is nothing new about this allegation. When I was appointed governor, I had said that I was not a member of any political party. In fact, I had decided in 2007 to withdraw from electoral politics and devote the rest of my time to the study of Indian culture and civilisation. I had also said that I was not a member of the RSS, but I have great respect for the RSS. I admire their work, particularly in education. It is true that, after 1986, I have addressed many meetings organised by the RSS and its affiliates. I was also an occasional contributor to Organiser and Panchjanya, their official organs. I am proud of my relationship with them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The government has introduced a bill to limit your powers as chancellor. Do you think this would boost nepotism in universities?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ As chancellor, I have received many complaints related to irregularities in university appointments. In fact, things reached boiling point [in December 2021] when I wrote to the chief minister that he take over as chancellor and appoint men of his choice directly instead of asking me to do so. He tried to reason with me in three letters, saying that the government has a role to play but they want me to continue as chancellor. I rejected the proposals and made it clear that the convention of making the governor the ex officio chancellor was to ensure that the executive does not interfere in university matters and academic autonomy is preserved. He finally wrote to me assuring noninterference; only then did I agree to continue as chancellor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But now, despite this assurance, they have crossed all limits. The vice chancellor of Kannur University decided to appoint the spouse of the chief minister’s private secretary as associate professor, disregarding all norms and rules. The appointment appeared to be a case of gross favouritism and nepotism; I had no option but to stay it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few months earlier, the vice chancellor of Kannur University had constituted the board of studies in utter violation of the provisions of the law. He misled the university syndicate to exercise powers that belonged to the chancellor. The matter went to the High Court and his decision was set aside.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The vice chancellor of Kannur University does not behave like an academic; he behaves like a political party worker.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your decision to not re-promulgate 11 ordinances—including a controversial one that curtailed the Lok Ayukta’s powers—forced the cabinet to call a special assembly session. Do you consider this as a victory for democracy? Also, what is your expectation from the government for ending this particular tussle?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am very happy that the government summoned the assembly session to pass the bills, which they had earlier proposed to be issued as ordinances. The assembly has full right to adopt these measures. But my duty is defined by my oath. I need to satisfy myself that these measures do not contravene the Constitution and its spirit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You said the Kannur University vice chancellor was a “criminal”. Why?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The vice chancellor had invited me to Kannur University to inaugurate the Indian History Congress in 2019. It was his duty to ensure that there was no departure from the approved minute-to-minute programme, which was for 60 minutes. Yet [historian] Irfan Habib was allowed to speak for more than half an hour. In his speech, Habib directed many critical questions to me. I listened to them patiently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, after I rose to speak and respond to the critical remarks, Habib rose from his seat in less than five minutes and charged towards me. My aide-de-camp, Lt Manoj Yadav, did not allow him to come near me. Habib tore his shirt and then tried to assault me. He grappled with the security personnel for a few minutes, and they pushed him back into his seat. The meeting was disrupted and I had to cut short my speech without being able to answer the questions Habib had raised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian Penal Code clearly lays down in section 124 that anyone who attempts wrongfully to restrain, or overawe by means of criminal force, or attempts to overawe the governor, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term that extends to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine. Despite this provision, the vice chancellor did not report the matter to the police. In fact, when Raj Bhavan asked him to send the report of this attempted assault, he wrote that he is not a security expert to write such reports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact is that the VC knew about the assault plan and he invited me to Kannur University so that Habib and others on the dais could carry out the plan. This should not surprise anybody, as Habib and his associates subscribe to a political ideology that endorses the use of force against those who do not agree with their politics and ideology. If one is a party to a conspiracy to assault and overawe someone for political reasons, then it is a criminal action, pure and simple.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The VC recently constituted the university’s board of studies and misled the syndicate to exercise powers that belonged to the chancellor. His order was set aside by the honourable High Court. In the matter of appointing an associate professor, he simply ignored all norms and rules to please his political masters. In this case again, the honourable High Court passed a stay order. How will you describe a man who habitually breaks the law and becomes party to a conspiracy hatched to assault the chancellor by inviting him to the university?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think the state government is resorting to extraordinary measures to attain its goals?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In the matter of universities, their only interest is in appointing vice chancellors, which according to law is the responsibility of the chancellor. Even the proposed [amendment to] the university law deals only with the constitution of the selection committee, for the appointment of pliable vice chancellors. If I had not stayed the appointment of associate professor at Kannur University, they would not have brought this bill.</p> Sat Sep 03 13:48:37 IST 2022 governor-defaming-higher-education-sector <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ Governor Arif Mohammad Khan has made statements against the higher education department. Has the government taken steps to solve the matter?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Our government gives great emphasis to higher education. The budget has allotted more than 01,000 crore [to the sector]. We are trying to boost research and promote experiential learning. A paradigm shift is happening. The governor should ideally support this paradigm shift, but instead, his comments are defaming higher education in Kerala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I admit there are issues in the higher education sector. But compared with other states, we have the best educational institutions. Four of our universities feature in the top 100. And 17 of our institutions feature in the top 100. We have a system to ensure quality education. But statements that attract national attention are being aired to defame the domain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In the assembly, you said the governor was using constitutional bodies to smuggle hindutva agenda into higher education.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ My words were not that the governor is doing it. [Sangh parivar] is trying to smuggle hindutva agenda, not just through the office of the governor, but in many other ways.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If people who subscribe to hindutva ideology come to occupy key positions [in universities], it would be detrimental. We can see such smuggling of hindutva ideology across the country. Hindutva is trying to capture all our knowledge centres and reestablish archaic social systems. There is an effort to smuggle hindutva agenda into Kerala also, but I did not say the governor had done it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There are allegations that CPI(M) is dominating executive bodies of universities and even controlling the vice-chancellors.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ This is wrong. I was also a syndicate member [in a university]. I know well that nothing can be done by the syndicate [to influence appointments]; only the interview board has the power to make appointments. Vice-chancellor has a key position on interview boards. VCs are acting independently in our universities. Also, since we came to power, we have appointed only those with the top academic background as VCs in our universities. It was not so during the reign of the UDF. I have mentioned that in the assembly. They have appointed even a DCC secretary [as VC]. Also, VCs appointed by the UDF, like Abdul Salam (of Calicut University), used to behave in an autocratic manner. The current VCs are not taking any such stance. There have been more than 1,000 postings in the universities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But now, pointing out just one posting—that of Priya Varghese (wife of chief minister’s private secretary K.K. Ragesh)—there are efforts to defame the entire higher education section. How can they say that? How can someone allege that Priya does not have the required qualification just because she is the spouse of a political leader? Consider her educational qualifications. Among those in that rank list, only Priya had first class for BA and MA. The person who came second on the list had only second class. Also, he had not cleared NET. I am not trying to defame him, but we have to check Priya's qualifications. The appointment was made according to the 2018 UGC regulations. It says that only 75 marks are required as a research score. She has claimed a score of over 150. Whatever it may be, the interview score is the only criterion for appointment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Priya Varghese got the PhD only in 2019. Save University Campaign Committee says she does not have the required 8 years of experience.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Teaching experience is considered from the time a person joins the lectureship. If they (Save University Campaign Committee) have any objections, let them challenge it in court. And, let the court decide it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it is not right to defame the entire higher education sector based on a single appointment. Just check the qualification of the VCs we have appointed. Kannur VC Gopinath Ravindran is a postdoc from the London School of Economics. He is an emeritus professor there even now. Kalady Sanskrit Univerity VC M.V. Narayanan took PhD from the University of Exeter, UK. He has taught at Miyazaki University and many other prestigious institutions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Reappointing a vice chancellor is not common in Kerala. But the government decided to do it in the case of Prof Gopinath Ravindran at Kannur University.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ He was reappointed because he is an eminent academician with international exposure. He is an expert in Indian history. It is not easy to bring such eminent people to Kerala as vice chancellors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But, at the time of his reappointment, he was past the stipulated age limit of 60.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ When it is a continuous term, it is not an issue. [The reappointment] was an extension of his term. Multiple courts have examined the issues involved, and none has found any error.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The High Court quashed the VC’s decision to reconstitute the university’s board of studies without consulting the chancellor, as was required by law.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In that case, a mistake was made. The court made the decision; we accepted it. The VC has his reasons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The VC sent the same list that the court rejected to the governor for approval.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There was nothing wrong with the list.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ It allegedly had people who were not qualified. Persons from CPI(M)-backed self-financing colleges were in the list.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is no law that says that teachers from self-financing colleges are not allowed to be on the board of studies. If there are good teachers from self-financing colleges, we should accept them. I have not studied the required qualification for joining the board of studies at Kannur University. My understanding is that those who were in the list were qualified. But the fact that the list was not submitted to the governor for approval was a technical error on the university’s part.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The governor recently said that the government forced him to reappoint Ravindran.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We did not force the governor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ During the Kalady Sanskrit University VC selection, the government recommended only one name instead of submitting a panel of selected applicants. The governor returned the file citing the same. Was it not required to submit a panel of selected applicants?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is no law like that. Until there is a law which says that a panel should be submitted, we do not require to give a panel. M.V. Narayanan is an apt person to be the VC for Kalady University. There is no question about that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The governor may not sign the University Laws Amendment Bill.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ If he is not signing it, he should cite concrete reasons for it. It is his constitutional duty to sign the bills passed by the legislature.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There have been several allegations regarding the appointment of spouses of CPI(M) leaders in universities.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Just because a person’s husband is a CPI(M) leader, can’t they apply for a job? I have personally suffered because of such allegations. I believe I faced a lot of restrictions because I was the wife of a political leader (A. Vijayaraghavan). Groups like the Save University Campaign Committee, which are making these allegations, are full of malcontents. They have a clear political agenda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sat Sep 03 19:05:41 IST 2022 tough-job-ahead-for-nitish-and-tejashwi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>NITISH KUMAR’S FIRST</b> tenure as chief minister in 2000 was short-lived. He held the office for only seven days before Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad outmanoeuvred the National Democratic Alliance with the support of the Congress. Five years later, the elections again resulted in a fractured mandate. As a government could not be formed, fresh elections were held nine months later. The NDA got a clear majority with the Janata Dal (United) emerging as the largest party. Yet, there was no clarity on who the chief minister would be—Nitish’s colleagues like George Fernandes and Digvijay Singh were against him. It was the then BJP state president Sushil Kumar Modi who came to his rescue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The media was speculating on different names though he was the natural candidate as he had been CM in 2000,” Modi told THE WEEK. “But, no one was willing to take a call. I realised it would lead to the same uncertain situation of a few months ago. So, I unilaterally announced his name. His name was such that no one could oppose it.” On recent developments, Modi said that Nitish had now “betrayed the mandate three times”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This sense of betrayal runs deep in Bihar politics. Betrayals during realignments are called out, but astuteness shown in staying in power is rewarded. The late Ram Vilas Paswan is often credited with picking the winning side every time. This earned him the sobriquet mausam vigyanik (weatherman). In 2013, Nitish and the BJP parted ways after accusing each other of violating trust. But, in 2017, when Nitish severed ties with the RJD and Lalu accused him of betrayal, the BJP offered support. Now, as the BJP accuses him of betrayal, the RJD is back on Nitish’s side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nitish, too, has a list of people who betrayed him. “I gave [R.C.P. Singh] my position (party president); I told him to resign only when reports started coming out against him,” he said. “I asked the BJP for four cabinet posts, but they only gave one.” If Nitish was miffed with the BJP for undermining him, he was unhappy with the RJD in 2017 for being overbearing. A source said that he had then gone to meet Rahul Gandhi to ask him to rein in Lalu or tell him to respond to charges of corruption. But, Rahul refused to intervene and Nitish resigned a few days later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nitish’s return to the opposition camp has reignited hopes of unity. And he seems excited by the role he can play. During his first public function after taking oath as chief minister for a record eighth time, he spoke about his role in opposition unity in response to a question posed by THE WEEK. “I will try to bring all opposition parties together,” he said. “I want to connect everyone. We are doing a positive job. I am getting many phone calls, I am speaking to everyone. We will do it, before that, let us get the things in order here.” His quote immediately hit the headlines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Could he be the elusive opposition leader from the Hindi heartland who could be the prime ministerial candidate. “There is no such thing in my mind,” he said during the same interaction. JD(U) leader Upendra Kushwaha told THE WEEK: “We are not commenting on this (Nitish being a prime ministerial candidate) at the moment.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On Nitish’s latest switch sparking hopes of opposition unity, BJP’s Bihar president Sanjay Jaiswal said that he had doubts whether the opposition parties would trust Nitish. “He wanted to be vice president and is so unpredictable with his frequent U-turns,” Jaiswal told THE WEEK, from his party office, where the number of visitors has dwindled sharply since the party lost power. “The Congress position is different because its leadership, like Tejashwi Yadav, is accused in ED cases and would have to go to jail someday,” he added. “Even Sonia Gandhi would like to know how Nitish will save Tejashwi, which will help them in the future.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaiswal was at the forefront of what the JD(U) called the BJP’s “attack” against its own coalition’s government. The JD(U) saw this as a ploy to weaken it. But, Jaiswal said that Nitish ignored the fact that illegal liquor was being sold. “Not a single day passes when crime does not happen,” he said. “He (Nitish) was offended that we were raising these issues. But, the government was failing on the issue of law and order.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sudden change has left the leaders, the cadre and even the people on the ground uncertain about how the situation will pan out. Perhaps as a result of this uncertainty, the pulsating energy which is seen when a new government is formed was missing in Bihar; it is more of cautious optimism. Nitish’s famous statement during his days of struggle is often cited: “I will come to power by hook or by crook, and then, I will do good work.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, in the BJP camp, there is clear gloom at being outwitted by a regional satrap. Will there be more investigations by the ED and the CBI? “Already action is being taken against Lalu Prasad and Sonia Gandhi,” said Congress Bihar chief Madan Mohan Jha. “The government is targeting them. The Centre is vindictive. But, we will continue to do our work.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A number of politicians, both senior and mid-level, that THE WEEK spoke to appeared unsure of what was in store politically, despite their public posturing. On Patna’s Beerchand Patel Road, which houses most of the party offices, at a short distance from the BJP’s office, RJD state president Jagdanand Singh held fort. While the BJP has modernised its party offices across the country, offices of other parties like the RJD appear to be stuck in the past. Singh termed the return of the JD(U)-RJD alliance a return to the old values of socialism. “The message is clear,” he said. “This alliance stands against those trying to spread a communal message while sweeping issues of jobs and livelihood under the carpet.” As Nitish, 71, gets another run, he has governance issues to tackle and creating jobs is a primary concern.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tejashwi, the deputy chief minister, is the rising star of Bihar politics. He has charisma and has inherited his father’s legacy. But, he is also not shy of trying a different approach. During the 2020 elections, Tejashwi rarely mentioned his father. This was done to avoid negative sentiments associated with a convicted leader. The 32-year-old even apologised for mistakes made during the previous RJD rule, saying he was only three years old then. It is hoped that the chief ministership will pass to Tejashwi in 2025. The fact that there is no clear line of succession in the JD(U) improves his chances. “No one can make a prediction about such a distant thing,” said Jha. “Let us see how things work out.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In any case, there appears to be a move to protect Tejashwi from political attacks before he is ready for the top post. The RJD-led alliance had more seats than the JD(U)’s 45 in the 243-member assembly. Yet, they chose to give Nitish the top post as he has acceptance across the state. In the new 31-member cabinet, while the RJD got 50 per cent of the seats, the JD(U) kept home and finance—the two portfolios which had led to criticism of the RJD in the past. This means that the BJP can no longer target Tejashwi with charges of “jungle raj” or corruption. The deputy chief minister was also given Z-plus security.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tejashwi, articulate in the rustic idiom and in English, has caught the attention of the youth. They look at him with hopes of getting jobs. His promise of providing 10 lakh jobs has been questioned. But, Nitish came to his rescue by announcing that the government would not only provide 10 lakh public sector jobs, but would also create another 10 lakh jobs in the private sector. The BJP knows this crucial issue will help it to target the government, if it fails to fulfil the promise. “This is good for us,” said Jaiswal. “Voters have been enticed by the promise. Now, Tejashwi will get exposed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the BJP, the fall of Patna is crucial. It will rely on issues of bad governance, terror cases and the rise in deaths because of spurious liquor to target the grand alliance. For the JD(U) and the RJD, social engineering—evident in the choice of ministers—may help in the assembly elections. But, similar experiments, have not yielded the desired results, in the recent past (Uttar Pradesh, 2019).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the opposition camp says Bihar will set an example, like it did during the Emergency. The state is often called the cradle of democracy because it gave the country the earliest form of republic through the 16 mahajanapadas which functioned during the fifth and sixth centuries BCE. Can it become a turning point in the country’s current political path? Everyone will be watching.</p> Sun Aug 21 08:21:26 IST 2022 no-ideology-involved-in-nitish-u-turn-says-sushil-modi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ What is the reason for Nitish Kumar switching sides?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There are three reasons. First is Nitish Kumar’s ambition. He thinks that he has been chief minister for 17 years, and is now looking for a national role. That is not possible with the BJP as Narendra Modi is there. Second is the jealousy of [JD(U)] president Lalan Singh. He has been angry ever since R.C.P. Singh became Union minister. He thinks the BJP did not make him minister, but the truth is that the JD(U) never recommended his name. Since then, he had been trying to break the state government, and was working against the Centre. He even joined hands with Lalu Prasad. The third factor is the desperation of Tejashwi Yadav as he wanted his government. He had already reached 114 seats with allies and only needed a few more MLAs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All these factors came together to force this situation. Nitish had said in the past that he would die rather than join hands with the RSS/BJP, but he did. He said he would never go with Lalu, but he did. There is no ideology involved in the episode. It is because of these three factors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Nitish Kumar said the BJP tried to break his party.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ If we had broken his party, then how was our government formed? Even if all JD(U) MLAs merged with us, there would not have been a government (because of the lack of numbers). We have never split an ally. In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena was not our ally; Eknath Shinde came to us after breaking away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Since you were not part of the government, was the necessary glue missing?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I don’t think it is true. I made my best effort to ensure that the previous alliance could continue for 13 years without much conflict. But the BJP tried its best. The party has many able leaders who tried their best and were communicating well. [Union Minister] Dharmendra Pradhan came twice. But when Nitish’s ambition was ignited and he thought there was no scope for him in the NDA, he went to the other side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think there is a deal to make Tejashwi Yadav chief minister after 2025?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I cannot say what could be the deal between them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Nitish says he will strengthen opposition unity. Will he be successful?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ [West Bengal Chief Minister] Mamata Banerjee also tried it, but failed. She is more powerful than Nitish, she has more MLAs and MPs. KCR (Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao), too, has more MLAs and MPs, even he failed. Nitish can claim anything, but it does not mean anything.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Can Nitish Kumar be prime minister candidate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In the Lok Sabha, the face is Narendra Modi, there is no one else. There may be regional faces in states. Modi’s popularity graph is so high that there is no competition. Nitish’s backward votes had come to us in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when he got only two seats. Modi symbolises the backward community, so that chunk of votes have come to the BJP. He will be the face of the 2024 elections, too.</p> Sun Aug 21 07:48:35 IST 2022 nitish-has-all-qualities-to-be-pm <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ Why did your alliance with the BJP break?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Had we not separated from them, the BJP would have destroyed us. Since the 2020 elections, a conspiracy was on to weaken us. They sent their leaders to contest from another party (the Lok Janshakti Party) against our candidates. When they lost, those leaders returned to the BJP. Even in Manipur, they contested against us. [They also] criticised the government. So, what else could we have done?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is future of the new government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have the support of 164 MLAs. The government will be stable. Nitish Kumar is the most trusted leader in Bihar and the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the message that emerges from this new alliance?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The BJP has created tensions in society and obfuscated the real issues. The big message is against the BJP’s strategy of creating sentimental or emotional issues. Also that the BJP can be challenged; some thought it cannot be challenged.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Kumar said he would work for opposition unity. Is he a prime ministerial candidate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ He will work to create opposition unity. We are not commenting on that front (prime ministerial candidature). There are many parties and groups. We are not making any such claim. But he has all the qualities to become prime minister. He has the people’s trust.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What would be the new government’s immediate agenda?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The two issues of development and good governance are prime. This is what people expect from Nitish Kumar, and he performs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ It is being said that though Kumar is chief minister, Lalu Prasad’s family will be super Cms.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Opposition may say these things, but the public does not feel that way. The people have seen many times that [Kumar] does not compromise beyond a limit. So, one should not have any doubts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the outlook for the 2024 general elections and the 2025 assembly polls?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ If we are able to bring the entire opposition together, with all parties having a role—and everyone should think in that direction—then past results will not be repeated in 2024. But, there are a lot of challenges, and it is not easy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The BJP accuses Kumar of soft-pedalling on the recently busted terror module?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The BJP was part of the government, and even then they kept on making all sorts of allegations, since 2020. The law and order situation is under control. The BJP has control of Central agencies. Let them investigate the case.</p> Sun Aug 21 07:47:09 IST 2022 tejashwi-yadav-is-always-number-one-rjd-state-president <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ What is the message from the ongoing political developments?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The message is clear—communal-minded people cannot finish off the Constitution. Socialists went to jail during Emergency. Now it is even worse, it is against the Constitution. Bihar has given a new direction to the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So, this is a message for opposition unity?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes, it is. We have to work in tandem and in time to salvage the situation. If we fall short, history will be unkind to us. In every era, there is a time when there is no other way. Now is the time for opposition unity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Has the socialist movement in the country weakened?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Socialism is part of the people’s consciousness. Religious fanatics have pushed everything else under the carpet, but issues remain. The talk of Hindu versus Muslim or India versus Pakistan is pushed to the forefront, but at the end of the day, people cannot stay away from basic needs like food and development. Money may be printed by the Reserve Bank, but the production comes from our land. Agriculture is important, so these issues remain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The JD(U) and the RJD were together in 2015, but got separated in 2017. Will it happen again?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We will go towards our goal with the people’s support. Society always learns from its mistakes, there is no point wasting time on the past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will Tejashwi Yadav become chief minister in 2025?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I believe he is always number one. We may have slowed down, but Tejashwi remains focused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Nitish Kumar talks about opposition unity. What are his chances of becoming the opposition’s PM candidate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Lalu Prasad said the lesson he learnt during the JP movement was that when there was confusion, a revolutionary step would provide the answer. Communal forces want to take over. Look at what they did in Maharashtra. But Bihar will provide leadership as it had done in the past, like it did for Mahatma Gandhi or the Buddha. Even during Emergency, it was Bihar that provided direction to the country. Lalu stopped L.K. Advani’s rath yatra in 1990, saving the country from riots. Bihar is again offering a direction to work for the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The RJD regime is often criticised as jungle raj.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ What is jungle raj? It is the survival of the fittest. What is socialism? It works for an equal society. We have worked for an equal society—to give food, shelter and clothings to the poor. The allegations are made by communal elements who do not want to empower people. Lalu gave the slogan ‘study or die’. We did not walk on the path of survival of the fittest, but for the survival of all.</p> Sun Aug 21 07:42:33 IST 2022 people-of-himachal-will-never-disappoint-modi-cm-jai-ram-thakur <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE HIMACHAL PRADESH</b> assembly elections, scheduled to be held in November, are likely to witness a triangular contest, a first for the state. The Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party are making massive efforts to unseat the BJP. With just four months to go, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur is busy touring the state to hard sell his government’s achievements. THE WEEK caught up with Thakur while he was in Delhi to attend the recent NITI Aayog meeting which was chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/As chief minister, what has been your biggest challenge and achievement?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The biggest challenge has been Covid-19, which impacted the economy, and [during which the] working period was curtailed. The speed of the targeted projects was disturbed a bit. [But] despite Covid-19, we handled the economy very well; we were the first state to administer the first and the second dose [of the vaccine]. We have been successful to a great extent in completing all the new initiatives we started, and have achieved the target of bringing in private sector investment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/India is celebrating 75 years of independence. What does this mean for Himachal Pradesh?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We celebrated 50 years of statehood last year. Now, we will celebrate 75 years of organisation. (In April 1948, the chief commissioner’s province of Himachal Pradesh came into being.) We have planned 75 events in all 68 assembly constituencies, wherein we will talk about Himachal’s journey... especially [to] the younger generation. At that time, the literacy rate was a mere 4.2 per cent; it is now 83 per cent. There were only 228km of roads; now it is more than 39,500km. For all this, the credit goes to the people of the state and not to any leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The state has elected parties to power alternately in the past three decades. How big is the challenge?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/It is a challenge, no two ways about it. We have worked with honesty, and the state has grown and progressed. We have been able to bring development with the help of the Modi government. For the state’s future, Himachal needs the Modi government. Himachal cannot develop based on its own resources. It needs help from the Centre. Secondly, in our neighbouring states of Haryana and Uttarakhand, where governments used to change every five years, the BJP came to power for the second time. This trend will continue in Himachal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What will be your big promise before the elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/There cannot be a big promise. What we are saying is that the future of the state can be secured when we return to power. We are taking to the people what we have done till now. We are asking the people to give us another chance. Moreover, PM Modi has a huge, emotional connect with the state. The people of the state will never disappoint him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Who is your main opponent—the Congress or the AAP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Keeping in mind Himachal’s history, the contest has always been between the BJP and the Congress. No third party has been successful in the state. The AAP is trying, but it is very difficult for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Even Delhi and Punjab had a history of bipolar contests, but the AAP won there.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/In Himachal Pradesh, the margin of victory is 3 per cent to 4 per cent. In such a scenario, we are not taking anyone lightly. We are making full preparations and moving ahead. We have worked honestly for the poor. The people of Himachal will bless us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The BJP lost the byelections to four seats last November. The Congress says it is an indicator of what will happen in 2022.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Those polls were necessitated by the deaths of three big leaders, of whom two were from the Congress—Virbhadra Singh and Sujan Singh Pathania. That impacted the elections. The Congress won on a sympathy wave. But, this time, there will be no such atmosphere; the elections will be fought on issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Is the question of the chief minister candidate settled?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We will leave that decision to the party high command. Our responsibility is to bring back the BJP government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/These polls will see a generational change as state veterans will no longer be there.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/If you look at the state’s polity, relatively younger leaders are coming forward. The change is visible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/You have brought up the uniform civil code. What has been done so far?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We have said that we will not take any step in haste. We will first study the code in detail. I believe we should move forward on this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Will the state’s tribal communities and others agree to it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/That is why it is important to assess, and not take any step in haste.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Government employees form a big chunk of the state’s population that is demanding the old pension scheme. What is your stance on this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We have set up a committee. The old pension scheme was discontinued when the Congress was in power and Virbhadra Singh was chief minister. The Congress has been in power twice since then. Their leaders did not ask for the OPS. Now, Congress leaders are asking for it. If the Congress is going to contest elections on Virbhadra’s legacy, aren’t they they dishonouring him [by demanding the OPS]? We are in talks with the employees, and will see what the solution can be. The Congress says it will implement the scheme, but can it tell us if the OPS has been started in Rajasthan or Chhattisgarh?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The state’s main industry, tourism, was under stress because of the pandemic. Have things improved?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We are happy that we have seen a very positive trend. A large number of tourists have come to the state. Our tourism units are doing well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Apple growers are on a warpath, demanding relief from the Centre and the state.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/They are angry as GST has been increased to 18 per cent from 12 per cent on the packaging material. When the issue came to us, we said we will compensate them. The issue should have been resolved then, but now it is turning political as the Congress and the CPI(M) have come together ahead of the elections. This is not correct. Never before in the state has the government made an attempt to compensate the people for an increase in GST rates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Climate change and rapid urbanisation pose a threat to the ecologically sensitive state. Your take?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The environmental issues will be a challenge in coming times; they may not be immediate. Rapid urbanisation will cause damage to the state. In the NITI Aayog meeting, PM Modi said there is migration from rural areas to the city for better amenities, and that we should aim to provide better facilities in rural areas. If people are still moving from villages to cities, then the city’s development should be planned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Himachal, the trend is different. People from rural areas go to a city for work, but return. The issue of migration is not there in the traditional sense.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Can the changing law and order situation in neighbouring Punjab impact Himachal?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/There will always be a chance. I hope that the new government in Punjab will handle the situation. In the past, there were a few incidents—like painting of Khalistani slogans and hoisting flags in Himachal. But we tackled it effectively. We put those people behind bars. But, in Punjab, no action has been taken against them. Some people are trying to disturb the atmosphere, but we are vigilant. We will deal with it strictly.</p> Sat Aug 13 17:15:49 IST 2022 nitish-kumars-position-has-weakened-despite-his-latest-triumph <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On the muggy monsoon evening of July 26, 2017, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar called his ally, the Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad. He told Lalu that he was calling him for the last time and was going to resign as chief minister and sever ties with the RJD.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Goodbyes are not permanent, not in politics, and certainly not in Bihar. Last month, Kumar called on Lalu in hospital and offered to foot the medical bills. After the RJD supremo was discharged, an alliance was reforged by the two parties. Kumar had decided to break his Janata Dal (United)’s alliance with the BJP. On August 10, before taking oath as chief minister of Bihar for the eighth time, Kumar once again called his friend-turned-foe-turned-friend to brief him about the details of the pact between their parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both in 2017 and 2022, allies could sense Kumar’s unease, but did not really know whether he would dump them. The key difference is that last time the BJP had offered support, while this time Kumar had sounded out the grand alliance partners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP and the JD(U) had been drifting apart for some time now. The BJP’s recent national executive meeting in Hyderabad called for targeting opposition parties, particularly the regional ones, for being dynastic and corrupt. The coup by Shiv Sena rebel Eknath Shinde in Maharashtra, which coincided with the meeting, unnerved the regional outfits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What increased anxiety within the JD(U) was the growing closeness of R.C.P. Singh to the BJP. Singh, who recently quit the JD(U) after falling out with Kumar, was the Union steel minister for a year from July 2021. A former IAS officer, he was brought into politics by Kumar, and was made a Rajya Sabha member and JD(U) president. It is said that Singh negotiated the Union cabinet post without Kumar’s approval. Consequently, the JD(U) did not give Singh a Rajya Sabha ticket in 2022, forcing him to step down as Union minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh then appeared at the BJP meeting in Hyderabad and was even garlanded, leading to speculation that he had joined the party (denied by the BJP). But, his presence there increased the JD(U)’s mistrust of the BJP. “The BJP was trying to weaken us,” said JD(U) president Lalan Singh. “R.C.P. Singh sided with the BJP, working as its agent. Many BJP leaders had joined the Lok Janshakti Party to contest against us. All these leaders lost and again joined the BJP. Was this alliance dharma? Even Nitish Kumar did not want to be chief minister in 2020, but all these small leaders kept commenting against him.” In 2020, the JD(U) lost 28 assembly seats while the BJP gained 21.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the RJD, repairing the relationship with the JD(U) was logical as it had been feeling the heat from an aggressive BJP. RJD spokesperson Naval Kishore said the move was logical for the JD(U), too. “Look at all the BJP allies; it has either finished them or is doing so. Be it the PDP, the Akali Dal, the Shiv Sena,” he said. “The Eknath Shinde episode and the way R.C.P. Singh was propped up are omens. Look at the way Chirag Paswan [of the LJP] was propped up. He contested on all seats fought by the JD(U) in 2020.” Interestingly, the JD(U) and the BJP had won the last elections because of their repeated reminders to the people about the lawlessness during Lalu’s tenure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One key factor which could have led to the problems between the JD(U) and the BJP is that the BJP’s Sushil Kumar Modi was moved to the Rajya Sabha. He was an effective channel between Kumar and the BJP, and it is believed that he was moved because the saffron party wanted to grow in Bihar on its own. But, Modi’s absence caused a breakdown in communication between the parties and led to public barbs against each other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sushil Kumar Modi accused Kumar of betrayal. “Amit Shah had called Nitish Kumar to ask for a name for the Union cabinet expansion,” he said. “Nitish gave R.C.P. Singh’s name, and only then was he made Union minister. It is a lie that Singh was inducted without consultation. There have also been allegations that we broke alliances. The Shiv Sena was not our ally. We never broke alliances. The BJP has never betrayed anyone. We made Kumar chief minister five times. We were an ally for 17 years, but he broke away twice.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This realignment of partners ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections has evoked interest in the opposition space despite the drubbing in the presidential and vice presidential elections. And, as all Bihar’s regional parties have supported the JD(U)-RJD alliance, things will get tougher for the BJP. However, given that the party was already planning expansion in the state, it is both a challenge and an opportunity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP state president Sanjay Jaiswal said Kumar had betrayed the people’s mandate. “When we won in 2020, the mandate was for both the BJP and the JD(U),” he said. “He said he was under pressure, but if something bad happens in the state, should we not raise our voices? There were deaths after illegal liquor consumption.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Open clashes with the assembly speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha had diminished Kumar’s clout in the alliance. He had to abstain from the assembly for a week till the issue was resolved. Then came the Phulwari Sharif terror module case linked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Patna. BJP leaders, including Jaiswal, had come down heavily on the state home department under Kumar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, the alliance between the JD(U) and the RJD is still tenuous. The split in 2017 was bitter, with the RJD accusing Kumar of betrayal, similar to the BJP’s accusation now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ideologically, the JD(U) and the RJD are on the same side. Kumar has carved out his vote bank—extremely backward classes and women—through affirmative action. This vote bank came to his rescue when he was faced with anti-incumbency sentiment during the 2020 assembly polls. The RJD’s vote bank, the Yadavs, is largely intact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both the JD(U) and the RJD were in favour of a caste census, whereas the BJP was opposed to it. In fact, the RJD had effectively trapped Kumar by mooting the idea of a state-level caste census. Kumar, in his fear of the RJD capitalising on the issue, had readily agreed to it without consulting the BJP leadership. When Kumar announced an all-party meeting to discuss the issue, the BJP questioned his motives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ties between the JD(U) and the BJP were strained further when Bihar erupted in protests over the Agniveer recruitment to the military. Kumar remained silent and the protests were directed at the state BJP leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tejashwi Yadav, who took oath as the deputy chief minister, is seen as a rising star who led his party to a good performance in 2020. That, too, without his father, Lalu Prasad, campaigning. The sentiment of the vocal RJD cadre is that Kumar should hand over the baton to Tejashwi before the next elections in 2025.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the new alliance benefits Tejashwi’s profile and future, it puts more pressure on brand Nitish. The cyberwing of the JD(U)—the Nitish Sena—called him “Sushasan Babu”; sushasan means good governance. But, the name has not found takers on social media. More worryingly, “Paltu Ram” and “Kursi Kumar” have.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2017, Lalu called him Paltu Kumar after Kumar’s political somersault. Kursi Kumar became popular because of Kumar’s amazing skill in political musical chairs game. Now the second longest serving chief minister in India after Naveen Patnaik, Kumar has proved to be a survivor. But, his position has also weakened after every battle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no doubt that he is a master politician who can straddle ideological extremes at his discretion. But, for how long?</p> Sun Aug 14 12:42:15 IST 2022 ashok-gehlots-canal-politics <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot often writes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, raising issues that range from Covid management and Centre-state relations to the state’s share of the Goods and Services Tax. He has especially been prolific in writing about the Eastern Rajasthan Canal Project—an ambitious scheme to supply water from the Chambal basin to 13 eastern and southeastern districts.</p> <p>The Rs40,451-crore canal project has been stalled since 2017, when it was first proposed by the BJP government led by Vasundhara Raje. The delay in implementing the project is now a hot-button issue, thanks to Gehlot. He wants Modi, who had backed the proposal while campaigning for the 2018 assembly polls, to green-light the project immediately and grant it national status to ensure speedy implementation. With assembly polls due next year, Gehlot’s demands have sparked a war of words between the Congress and the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The project envisages a series of canals that would drain excess water from Chambal to other river basins, improving irrigation, ensuring drinking water supply, and meeting the needs of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor that passes through Rajasthan. The problem is that the Chambal water cannot be tapped without the Centre’s help. The area around Kota barrage, for instance, is a crocodile sanctuary where no construction is permitted within a radius of 1.5km from the centre of the river.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The original proposal was to complete the project in three phases from 2017 to 2023. Modi had declared his support for it in 2018. But, after the Congress defeated the BJP in the assembly polls, the project has seen little progress. It also lacked political buzz, until Gehlot revived it in a big way. The state government allocated around Rs9,600 crore to the project this year, even though the Centre is yet to approve it and sanction funds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gehlot is demanding national status for the project to ensure a Centre-state funding ratio of 90:10. Else, the Centre will only have to bear 60 per cent of the cost, with the state paying the rest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, the person responsible for clearing the project is Union Water Resources Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, who is a Gehlot baiter representing Jodhpur in the Lok Sabha. The water resources ministry recently asked Rajasthan to halt work on the canal citing lack of consent of Madhya Pradesh, a riparian state. It wants the state government to rework the project so that Madhya Pradesh’s concerns regarding water sharing are addressed. But Rajasthan has stuck to the original proposal, terming the concerns as baseless.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The project specifications are in keeping with the understanding reached at an interstate meeting in 2005,” said Rajasthan Water Resources Minister Mahendrajeet Singh Malviya. “Hence there is no need for a no-objection certificate from Madhya Pradesh.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>State Congress president Govind Dotasara said Shekhawat had no interest in implementing the project. “His ministry wrote to the state government to stop work on the project, even though it fulfilled all parameters. He should make full use of his power in the interest of the state, and get the rules amended to make up for technical deficiencies, if there are any,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dotasara said work on the project would not stop. “The state government is not begging for the national project status; we are demanding our right,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gehlot is keen to turn this into a win-win situation for himself. “If the Union government clears the project, he would take credit for it. If the Centre further delays the go-ahead, he would blame the BJP,” said political analyst Manish Godha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The personal rivalry between Gehlot and Shekhawat makes the battle even more interesting. Jodhpur is Gehlot’s stronghold and Shekhawat, who is viewed as a potential chief minister, had defeated Gehlot’s son Vaibhav in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Gehlot had also accused Shekhawat of stoking a rebellion against him led by former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot in 2020.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With protests being held by both the Congress and the BJP, the political activity around the canal project remains hectic. Having already held an all-party meeting to discuss the issue, the Gehlot government now plans to convene a special session of the assembly. Gehlot is trying to corner the BJP-led Union government, and the BJP is accusing him of playing politics to hide his government’s failure in not drawing up a sound proposal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The chief minister called the all-party meeting when both the leader of the opposition and the state BJP president were away on tour,” said BJP leader Abhinesh Maharshi. “It is evident that he only wanted to play politics. If he is sincere, he should ensure that the proposal sticks to the guidelines.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Observers say the wrangle over the canal project is rooted in electoral calculations. The 13 districts that stand to benefit from the project account for 40 per cent of the state’s population and 85 assembly seats. In 2018, the Congress had outperformed the BJP in this region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A state Congress leader said Gehlot’s crusade for the canal project is also aimed at blunting the challenge from Pilot, who wields considerable influence in several districts of eastern Rajasthan. The project has given Gehlot a political opportunity, and he apparently wants to make the most of it.</p> Sun Aug 07 15:11:46 IST 2022 changing-domestic-tourist-helped-rajasthan-tourism-during-covid <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>RAJASTHAN HAS OVER</b> the years been marketed to tourists as the most vibrant part of India that gives them a truly royal experience. The aggressive marketing had its impact; the number of tourists grew steadily year on year, till the Covid-19 pandemic hit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In March 2020, 43.27 lakh domestic tourists and 86,573 foreigners had come. However, in April, the number of travellers from within the country dropped to zero, while only 86 in-bound tourists visited the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The numbers for 2020, compared with 2019, showed a drop of more than 71 per cent. If 5.22 crore domestic tourists and 16 lakh foreigners had come to the state in 2019, their footfall in 2020 plummeted to 1.51 crore and 4.46 lakh, respectively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Rajasthan now comes out of the pandemic’s shadow and prepares for the upcoming tourist season, there is a re-orientation of focus and change in strategy. As recovery from the pandemic began in 2021, it was the domestic tourist who helped the tourism sector stay afloat. In 2021, 2.19 crore domestic tourists came to Rajasthan, compared to 35,000 foreigners. Compared with 2020, there was a 44.45 per cent increase in the number of domestic tourists in 2021, while the number of foreign visitors fell by more than 92 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The pandemic brought with it many lessons. It has taught us the importance of domestic tourism and has enabled us to better frame our marketing strategies for tourists coming from other states,” said Gayatri Rathore, principal secretary, Rajasthan Tourism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After two years, the Rajasthan Domestic Travel Mart was organised in Jaipur this July, and more than 9,000 structured business-to-business meetings were held. Around 200 tourism product suppliers such as hoteliers and tour operators, and around 300 domestic buyers participated in the event. The aim was to market Rajasthan to domestic tourists ahead of the tourist season in the state—from September to March.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A major reason for the boost in the number of domestic tourists in 2021 had been the restrictions on international travel. Chandan Singh, operations manager of Buena Vista Resort, said that if the hoteliers in Rajasthan realised that there was a domestic clientele for high-end luxury products, domestic travellers, too, discovered that they can get memorable holidays, with the added snob value, within India. “Tourism was the first industry to feel the impact of Covid-19,” he said. “While there was no income, there were expenses to be met, of maintenance, of paying salaries to the staff etc. The period of recovery has been an eye-opener, for us and the domestic tourists.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Players in the tourism sector changed their strategy, and came out of the pandemic better placed in their outreach to clientele. Many hoteliers were able to shrug off their dependence on travel agents and reach out to a wider range of customers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Angad Deo Mandawa, director, Mandawa Group of Hotels, said the pandemic was actually a blessing in disguise for the hotel group. “When two crore tourists could not travel out of India, it helped hotels like ours,” he said. “Also, one big healthy change is that we do not have to depend on agents. Business with them involved a credit line and it was always difficult to get money out of them. More than 80 per cent of the bookings are now done through online portals.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajasthan ranks sixth in terms of foreign tourists and tenth in terms of domestic tourists, but accounts for 75 per cent of heritage hotels in India. These have traditionally catered primarily to in-bound tourists. With regard to high-end hotels and resorts, majority of them falling in the heritage category, around 70 per cent of the guests were from outside India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Asked how the domestic clientele was different from foreign tourists, Farooq Qureshi, general manager, Rajasthan Tours Private Limited, said the perception about the former being unruly or stingy or not fully appreciative of the heritage properties is changing fast. “The tourists of today are vastly different from what they were like in the 1980s or 1990s,” he said. “They are ready to pay, but yes, they are more demanding and want better value for their money.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as the domestic tourists are being celebrated and wooed, the foreign tourist is much awaited. Karan Rathore, vice chairman, Services Export Promotion Council, said there was a need to regain the lost market, and for that the council has told all tourism stakeholders about a need to rebrand India as a must-visit destination. “Besides tourist attractions, we need to emphasise on the improved infrastructure and connectivity, as well as safety. An aggressive marketing of Incredible India as a global brand has to be done,” he said.</p> Fri Aug 05 15:00:24 IST 2022 women-in-black-yogis-female-commandos <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>It was raining bullets.</b> Chanchal Teotia rappelled down a multi-storey building, pulled out an MP5 submachine gun and shot down hostiles. She then smashed a window and entered the building to rescue hostages and neutralise the remaining hostiles. The building was secured in no time. Chanchal removed her headgear. The mock drill was complete.</p> <p>Her instructors know Chanchal as a quiet girl with limited vocabulary and unlimited courage. The 23-year-old hails from the outlying town of Bulandshahr, which sits on top of the crime charts in Uttar Pradesh. She is the youngest female commando of the state’s anti-terrorist squad (ATS) and the latest entrant to the elite all-women strike team being assembled by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.</p> <p>The team is part of Adityanath’s new security blueprint, which he unveiled after returning to power in March. It includes women police battalions across the state and the creation of women commando units, among other initiatives. Prashant Kumar, additional director general of police (law and order), Uttar Pradesh, said: “If women are present in a terror group, or there is a hostage situation in a house or public spaces like malls or cinema halls, where hostages taken are mostly women, our women commandos will be most effective in counter-terror action and negotiation.”</p> <p>It was former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa who formed India’s first female commando unit, in the 1990s. Assam, Nagaland, West Bengal, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Bihar followed suit. Kumar told THE WEEK that the Uttar Pradesh ATS’s women commandos were being trained to handle a range of equipment and weapons. “A good start was made when they completed training in Krav Maga,” he said. “They are now undergoing training with the National Security Guard, the Border Security Force, and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police.” Volunteers can apply for the ATS after six years in the police or provincial armed constabulary; age limit is 40 for constables and 45 for inspectors.</p> <p>Chanchal’s journey is just the beginning. “Coming from a humble background where neighbours never allow us to forget that we are women, I first try to prove myself and then prove my [aptitude for the] job,” she said. Trying to do both, they end up doing better than men, she added with a smile.</p> <p>Her friend and mentor, Priyanka Panwar, 31, is the first ATS woman commando. She joined the police force in 2011 and was selected to join the ATS in 2017. Born in Ghatayan village in communally sensitive Muzaffarnagar, Priyanka belongs to a farming family. But, she realised early in life that sports, like wrestling, was her calling. “I was a wrestler in university and represented the police team,” she said. “I wanted to do a tough job. When I got into the ATS, I was the only woman around. Sometimes, it was awkward when I did not see a single woman for days. But, when there are no barriers of gender or strength, you emerge victorious.”</p> <p>Nitika Sharma, 32, wanted to join the armed forces after her graduation from Khalsa College in Delhi. She is from Ghaziabad. Her mother is a government health worker and her father works in the private sector. “There are limited avenues for women who want to serve the country,” said Nikita. “In 2016, I joined the police, but I wanted to serve the country in a bigger way. Now, I know how to use firearms and I am training with the best of forces like the BSF and the NSG. The commando training has made me mentally and physically stronger.”</p> <p>Umang Tomar, 31, from the small town of Bagpat recalled her recent visit to DefExpo 2022, where she was treated like a hero by children who gathered around her seeing her black uniform. “There are moments during training when we feel tired and motivation goes down,” she said. “But, the respect we get as commandos is unparalleled and we regain strength.” Her father, a retired head constable from the state police, had told her that if she wanted to live a life of adventure, she could join the police.</p> <p>Anisha Mavi, 32, was training to become a Hindi teacher and wrote poetry till she joined the ATS in 2018. Today, she is proficient in lobbing grenades, riding bikes and firing guns. “Now, I don’t get time [for poetry],” she said, with a laugh. “I spend all my time rappelling or slithering.”</p> <p>None of the girls are married. “Settling down in one place is a problem,” said Anisha. “Moreover, a civilian man will get scared of my black uniform.” Umang felt it requires men of steel to marry the elite women commandos. “Let us hope we find them,” she said.</p> <p>Recent terror attacks in Rajasthan and Punjab and at the Gorakhnath temple (averted by the ATS) have once again put focus on the hotbeds of terror in the hinterland. The next postings for the women commandos will be in these pockets. Sleeper cells in the hotbeds have traditionally provided a feeder line to outfits like Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent and other groups backed by the Students’ Islamic Movement of India.</p> <p>The women commandos will also be deployed at ATS centres coming up at Aligarh, Agra, Azamgarh, Bareilly, Bahraich, Gorakhpur, Moradabad, Meerut, Varanasi, Shravasti, Saharanpur and Kanpur. The expansion of the ATS is a key part of Adityanath’s new security blueprint. Apart from the new centres, the ATS is also setting up new commando hubs (larger contingents) at Ayodhya, Rampur and Varanasi, along with special task force units to secure vital installations. These measures are in line with the vision to make Uttar Pradesh the biggest international Hindu religious circuit, and a major industrial hub, in years to come.</p> <p>D.S. Chauhan, director general of police, Uttar Pradesh, said: “In the coming years, the surveillance team will be exposed to new fields and threats like anti-drone attacks system, drone forensics, financial forensics and darknet patrolling,” he said. “On the other hand, the commandos will be imparted the best of training in field-craft and tactics available in the country and abroad.”</p> <p>Senior intelligence officials in the state said that the creation of local commando units of the ATS is beneficial since these commandos understand the complex social milieu. Counterterrorism efforts so far have lagged in the country because forces are deployed from outside a state and do not understand the language, thought or terrain. “Whether it is Jammu or Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh or Uttar Pradesh, the local commandos will always have a better grip of the ground situation and naturally develop intelligence networks that will help during a counterterrorist operation,” said K. Srinivasan, former inspector general, BSF, and former IG, Central Reserve Police Force, who set up intelligence wings in both the forces.</p> <p>The challenges are multifold in Uttar Pradesh where sustainable employment opportunities are still missing for a large segment of the population. Terror operatives and sympathisers are constantly scouting for vulnerable minds. The ATS is forming guidelines to launch a de-radicalisation programme and is roping in psychiatrists to help wean the youth away from extremist ideologies and violence. But, the ATS is also facing newer challenges.</p> <p>The latest intelligence reports point towards threats from illegal migrants, like the Rohingyas. The ATS is working on leads to detect the modules that are sponsoring their entry into the state and helping them procure fake identity cards and settle as labourers or students. Estimates with agencies point towards the presence of at least 500 people who have entered the state and the ATS is making a data bank to track each person. “Some are arrested if they are indulging in anti-national activities, while others need to be deported,” said an official, who requested anonymity. “The entire family has to be deported, so it is a big task to identify all the men, women and children in one family.”</p> <p>Meanwhile, there is silence in towns like Azamgarh, which came under the spotlight after successive terror bombings followed by the 2008 Batla House encounter. Indian Mujahideen operatives like Atif Ameen and Mohammed Sajid were killed in the encounter. While there were arrests like that of Mohammed Saif and Zeeshan Ahmad, others like Dr Shahnawaz and Mohammed Sajid fled the country. ATS chief Naveen Arora said a close watch is being kept on all the terror hotbeds. “The families of the absconding terrorists do not talk about them,” he said.</p> <p>For the newly formed ATS units and its commandos, the challenge will be to ensure that the silence is maintained.&nbsp;</p> Sun Jul 17 17:02:57 IST 2022 the-road-ahead-for-shinde-fadnavis-government <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AFTER PROVING MAJORITY</b> in the Maharashtra assembly on July 4, one of the first things that Chief Minister Eknath Shinde did was to visit the memorials of Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray and his mentor, Anand Dighe. The act was clearly aimed at conveying the message that he remained a Shiv Sainik, and that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Thackeray and Dighe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier in the assembly, Shinde had spoken in detail about how his rise in the Shiv Sena was hampered by the coterie around Uddhav Thackeray, Balasaheb’s son and Shiv Sena chief. Shinde, who was public works minister in the Devendra Fadnavis government from 2014 to 2019, said Union Minister Nitin Gadkari had told him that he would soon be promoted to deputy chief minister. “But that did not happen, as the [Sena] leadership made sure that the party did not take the deputy chief minister post. I did not protest or say anything, though. I obeyed party orders,” said Shinde in a candid and heartfelt speech.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said he could have become chief minister after the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) came to power in 2019. “But that, too, did not happen as we (Shiv Sainiks) were told that Pawar saheb (Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar) had told Uddhav saheb that senior NCP leaders like Ajit Pawar would not agree to work under anyone other than Uddhav Thackeray. Then Uddhav saheb became chief minister and we got down to work. A few months later, I casually asked Ajit dada whether he and other NCP leaders had made such a demand. To my surprise, Ajit dada told me that the NCP had not made any such demand, and nor had it opposed my name. He said the decision on who becomes chief minister was entirely left to the Sena leadership,” said Shinde.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He then lashed out at Uddhav without naming him: “We were not born with a silver spoon in our mouth, unlike some people,” he said. “We have toiled away for 40 years to make the Shiv Sena strong. We have been in jail several times and faced cases. Is it wrong for a common man to aspire to become chief minister?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The speech, which was Shinde’s first in the assembly as chief minister, left no doubt that he would continue to take on the Uddhav group. The next round of the Shinde-Uddhav battle will be fought in the Supreme Court on July 11, when petitions filed by the two sides come up for hearing. As the trust vote on July 4 revealed, as many as 40 of 55 Shiv Sena legislators are with Shinde, apart from 10 independent MLAs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several factors prompted the BJP’s central leadership to make Shinde the chief minister. One, he had successfully taken control of the Shiv Sena legislature party by ensuring the backing of 39 MLAs, nine of whom were ministers in the MVA government. The 40th MLA, Santosh Bangar, joined Shinde on the day of the trust vote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two, Shinde is a Maratha, while Fadnavis is a Brahmin. The BJP does not have a strong Maratha face. Indeed, state BJP president Chandrakant Patil is a Maratha, but he does not have enough political heft. Also, the agitation demanding reservations in jobs and education for the Maratha community had peaked during Fadnavis’s tenure as chief minister. Sensing the problem, the BJP’s central leadership had wanted Patil to come to Fadnavis’s aid and solve the issue. Patil did help Fadnavis, but he hardly had any influence over the Maratha community leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three, the BJP wants to support the Shinde group’s claim that they are the real Shiv Sena. The party apparently wants to uproot the Thackeray dynasty. Top BJP leaders feel that, under Uddhav and his son, Aditya—both of whom do not have the kind of charisma, influence and sheer will that the late Balasaheb had—the Sena organisation was being eaten away by Pawar and the NCP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP will provide all legal support to the Shinde group to prove before the Supreme Court that it is the real Shiv Sena. In case the claim is rejected, the Shinde group will be given the chance to merge with the BJP and contest the 2024 assembly polls on party tickets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fadnavis’s decision to accept the post of deputy chief minister was more surprising than Shinde’s elevation as chief minister. BJP leaders and legislators in Maharashtra were stunned into silence when Fadnavis announced that Shinde would be the next chief minister and that the BJP would join his government. “I will not be part of the government, but I will guide it from outside, and extend all possible help to ensure smooth governance,” Fadnavis said after the announcement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s central leadership soon intervened and forced Fadnavis to accept the post of deputy chief minister. It was the party’s national president J.P. Nadda who first asked Fadnavis to join the government. Fadnavis told Nadda that he would like to be appointed as state BJP president. He told the same to Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Fadnavis finally relented when Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally asked him to join the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A section of BJP leaders in Maharashtra saw that these developments have in a way clipped Fadnavis’s wings. After becoming chief minister, Fadnavis himself had cut to size party colleagues like Vinod Tawde, Pankaja Munde and Eknath Khadse. Even Sharad Pawar remarked that Fadnavis did not look happy while taking oath as Shinde’s deputy. “But, in his party, orders from Nagpur (the RSS headquarters) and Delhi are always to be obeyed,” said Pawar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The challenges before Shinde-Fadnavis government, already being called the ED government (Eknath and Devendra), will begin right from cabinet formation. “Shinde has to accommodate 50 MLAs who have backed him,” said political analyst Abhay Deshpande. “How he does this will be very interesting to see. Otherwise, they will be free to go back. Uddhav Thackeray has served disqualification notice to only 16 MLAs, leaving the door open for others.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Deshpande, the legal battle in the Supreme Court will decide the future of not just the government, but the Shinde group as well. “Then there are challenges like the grim financial situation of the state coffers,” he said. “But now, the Centre will make sure that it extends all possible help to the state government.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Deshpande pointed out that Shinde and Fadnavis make for a potent political combination. Shinde, who hails from Satara district in western Maharashtra, has mass rural appeal, while Fadnavis is hugely popular among the middle and upper classes. And both of them champion hindutva. “They have to make sure that there is a clear understanding between them, and that neither of them plays games of one-upmanship,” Deshpande said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP legislator Atul Bhatkhalkar said big development projects would have to be fast-tracked. “The immediate challenge before the BJP is elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and other municipal bodies,” said Bhatkhalkar. “With our government in power, it will be easier for us to wrest control of the BMC from the Shiv Sena, while the chief minister will make sure that the Thane Municipal Corporation remains with him in alliance with us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another BJP leader, however, expressed concerns about the emergence of two power centres in the government, as both Shinde and Fadnavis are known to be super-active. “In the previous government, Uddhav Thackeray was totally inactive while Ajit dada went on an overdrive, taking decisions and expanding his party. In the current government, though, both the chief minister and the deputy chief minister will have to maintain a very fine balance of power.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde and Fadnavis have already announced that they would scrutinise all decisions taken by the MVA government in the past fortnight. “Some 160 GRs (government resolutions) were passed in great hurry when this crisis was developing. So we will have to examine these decisions,” said Shinde.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The uncertainty over granting a quota to Other Backward Classes in local body polls is also something that the Shinde-Fadnavis government will have to handle delicately. OBCs, by and large, have always supported the BJP in Maharashtra politics. So the BJP wants to make sure that the empirical data that the SC had asked for—to allow the notification of polls after reserving seats for OBCs—is collected as soon as possible. The elections, which were due early this year, are likely to be held in October. But, if the government feels that it is unable to gather empirical data by then, it may further postpone the polls.</p> Fri Jul 08 13:25:14 IST 2022 how-an-innocuous-facebook-post-turned-ketaki-chitales-life-upside-down <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>KETAKI CHITALE HAD</b> just finished her lunch when a few policemen barged into her house on May 14. “The police came in, handcuffed me and asked me to accompany them without any explanation,” said Chitale, an actress and activist. She was not allowed to make any calls, not even to her parents who lived a few kilometres away from her rented apartment in Kalamboli, Navi Mumbai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her crime? She shared a post on Facebook the previous day, a poem on a fictional character holding a public office called Pawara. It had already been shared at least a hundred times and had some 4,000 reactions. About four hours after she shared it, an FIR was registered. In a span of 48 hours, 21 more FIRs were registered, her house was raided, and her phone and laptop were confiscated. She spent the next 41 days in jail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ordeal continued even after she got out on bail, as she was “misconstrued, misquoted and misunderstood”. Many news channels reported that she was molested by policemen, and while in prison. “I was not molested by the police at any point, neither inside the prison nor outside,” she said. “It was the mob that molested me while I was being taken from Kalamboli police station to the Thane police station. I was touched inappropriately and roughed up by the mob.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chitale’s lawyer, Yogesh Deshpande, alleged that it was “NCP workers who physically assaulted, slapped and molested her”. “They were wearing NCP IDs, they were all office bearers and gave interviews to the media later on, saying that they were on the lookout for her and were waiting for her to arrive at the police station,” he said. “These are the words of Aditi Nalawade, NCP’s MLC. We have that record with us. Despite Chitale filing a complaint against them, it was registered as a non-cognisable offence.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chitale is now with her parents, and she fears another arrest. Her father is a retired professor and her mother was a teacher. Her younger brother works in Singapore. She is barred from moving out of Maharashtra, she cannot access her email and she has to attend court proceedings and police interrogations almost on a daily basis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During conversation, Chitale breaks into laughs and giggles and maintains a chirpy tone. “You might be tempted to think that I’m a psycho. But trust me, this is my coping mechanism,” she said. “Crying won’t right all the wrongs I have suffered. But the least I can do is laugh them out to find my own inner peace. I was not the first and the only public figure to share that post. I do not know why I have been singled out and made to suffer.” The poem is still online and being shared. In circulation since 2020, it is signed by a lawyer called Nitin Bhave, who is said to be on the run.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Just before she went into prison, Chitale had signed up for a bartending course. She was learning glass flaring and was about to enter a competition and display her projects when life took a wrong turn. “I have lost almost all my savings in defending my case, when there should have been no case in the first place,” she said. “I have lost on multiple acting projects and have no way of getting back because I don’t have my phone with me. Life has come to a standstill and it feels very depressing right now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though “lonely and heartbreaking”, the prison life was not that bad. She started learning Spanish, devoured the books in the jail library, taught inmates a few subjects for their BA examinations and “learnt to value freedom we take for granted in everyday life”. She suffers from epilepsy and had four seizures in jail. “I was taken to the JJ Hospital against my will and without my knowledge for an EEG and was asked to take medicines even though I did not want to. I never took them,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The chief complainant, Swapnil Netke, is an office-bearer of the NCP from Kalwa in Thane. A complaint was registered under Sections 500 (punishment for defamation), 501 (printing matter known to be defamatory) and 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot). “The person who has been defamed hasn’t even come in front of the court, and under these sections this is a non-cognisable offence. Yet, she was arrested under Section 153A, which is ridiculous because the poem does not indicate or incite any enmity between any two groups,” said Deshpande.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It goes against the very principle of justice,” said D. Sivanandhan, former DGP of Maharashtra Police, on Chitale’s arrest. “Most of these cases are carried out for extraneous reasons than otherwise. Arresting and putting her behind the bars was done on judicial supervision. So the judiciary could have acted wisely even if the police had taken the wrong course.”</p> Fri Jul 08 13:20:41 IST 2022 aiadmk-in-its-50th-year-is-facing-a-mid-life-crisis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was 1977. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which had broken away from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in 1972, was getting ready for its first general elections under its founder, actor-politician M.G. Ramachandran. “You can erase one Ramachandran from Tamil Nadu politics, but a 1,000 more will emerge,” MGR, as Ramachandran is popularly known, had then told the roaring crowd at a rally in Madurai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 23, those who witnessed the chaotic AIADMK general council meeting, might be wishing that at least one of those 1,000 MGRs emerges soon. The party is turning 50 this year. But, the mood is not festive as it is facing a ‘mid-life crisis’ and is without a charismatic leader to take it forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former chief ministers O. Panneerselvam, 71, and Edappadi K. Palaniswami, 68, are now in an open tussle for the leadership of the party. Panneerselvam wants the existing dual leadership to continue, while Palaniswami wants to be the outright leader. “Both Palaniswami and Panneerselvam claim to be the leaders, but lack any skills,” said Durai Karuna, a Dravidian movement researcher and political analyst. “They are not capable of leading like MGR or J. Jayalalithaa.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The internal conflict seemed to begin in the first week of June when a poster was put up opposite Panneerselvam’s house in Theni. The poster called for unitary leadership under Palaniswami, who reacted to it from his hometown, Salem, saying: “Everything is fine now. Why should the AIADMK be a single-leader party?” But, within days, as the party’s district secretaries and officeholders met at the headquarters in Chennai, voices supporting Palaniswami to be the sole leader emerged.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of Palaniswami’s known lieutenants ‘Madhavaram’ V. Moorthy raised the issue first and others followed suit. When Panneerselvam’s supporters asked Moorthy why was he raising the issue now, Palaniswami intervened: “Let him speak. This is a democratic party; everyone has the right to express themselves.” Soon, at least 60 of the 72 district secretaries batted for Palaniswami’s leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Panneerselvam said he was ready for talks, but Palaniswami only sent emissaries—former ministers R.B. Udhaya Kumar and Sellur K. Raju (both are from Madurai and belong to Panneerselvam’s Thevar community). With the issue remaining unsettled, Panneerselvam moved court seeking a stay on the party’s general council meeting on June 23. But, the Madras High Court dismissed the petition on June 22—20 hours before the meeting—saying it does not have jurisdiction to get involved in a political party’s affairs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Panneerselvam faction responded with a writ petition before the court. It prayed that no resolution—other than the 23 resolutions already cleared by Panneerselvam—should be passed. The group also sought a direction from the court that party bylaws should not be amended at the June 23 meeting. They feared that Palaniswami would be elected the sole leader at the meeting. Surprisingly, the court granted the petition, just six hours before the meeting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, once the meeting began, the restrictions imposed by the court were not enough to protect Panneerselvam from the unruly behaviour of the Palaniswami camp. They chanted slogans against Panneerselvam, threw water bottles at him and refused to pass the 23 other resolutions till a resolution to make Palaniswami the sole leader was passed. When Panneerselvam supporter and former minister R. Vaithilingam came to the dais, he found the microphone switched off and water bottles flying at him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, Palaniswami proposed a resolution to appoint Tamil Magan Hussain as the party’s presidium chairman. (On June 28, the Panneerselvam camp moved court saying this resolution was in violation of the earlier court order).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The meeting concluded with Palaniswami’s supporters declaring that the general council will meet again on July 11 and a resolution to elect a sole leader will be passed. The day after the June 23 meeting, Palaniswami supporter and former law minister C.Ve. Shanmugam said that all posts created after 2017 were invalid, including coordinator and joint coordinator—the posts, held by Palaniswami and Panneerselvam, respectively; together, the posts have the powers of the general secretary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>K.C. Palanisamy, former MP and AIADMK leader, who was expelled from the party, said that if the appointments were invalid, then his expulsion, too, was invalid. “I was removed from the party in 2018,” he said. “V.K. Sasikala was removed in 2017. I am still a member, legally.” Then, so is Sasikala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sasikala, who has been silent since being released from prison in February 2021, recently set out on a roadshow. But, she may not be able put up a fight against Palaniswami or even the less-popular Panneerselvam. Her nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran had launched a new political party. Dhinakaran and Sasikala are also part of the Thevar community, but even if they join hands with Panneerselvam, the three of them may not be able to take over the party as none of them have wide support within the AIADMK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1973, MGR had created a 29-page policy document and called it Annaism. He explained that Annaism was a blend of the best aspects of Gandhism, communism and capitalism. “But the leaders and the officeholders have not only forgotten Annaism, but also Annadurai, who inspired MGR,” said Durai Karuna. He added that though the party had witnessed many rebellions, such as Jayalalithaa’s rebellion against MGR’s wife, Janaki, and multiple rebellions against Jayalalithaa herself, there were never ugly scenes like what transpired in the general council meeting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Consequently, the way Panneerselvam was treated has got him some sympathy. M. Sundaramurthy, a party member from Dindigul, who witnessed the general council meeting, said: “EPS has only gained. He was CM, CM candidate and is now opposition leader.” He added that Panneerselvam has given in to Palaniswami’s demands time and again. “If EPS had held talks and behaved graciously, OPS would have accepted this time, too,” said Sundaramurthy. “But, EPS is behaving in an atrocious way, which is unacceptable.” Sources said that the Palaniswami camp met on June 27; their plan is to expel Panneerselvam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Panneerselvam’s son, O.P. Raveendranath Kumar, told THE WEEK that the rejection of all the 23 resolutions at the meeting was unjust. “There were crucial resolutions, like condemning the DMK for maladministration and requesting the Centre to confer the Bharat Ratna on our leader Jayalalithaa in our golden jubilee year,” said Kumar, an MP. “But, by rejecting these, they have proven that they are against Amma and are indirectly supporting the DMK.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Party insiders allege that Palaniswami spent several hundred crores of rupees to buy district secretaries, officeholders and general council members. But, the fact remains that many partymen stand firmly behind him. Palaniswami’s plan to gain support was put into motion almost five years ago as he did not like the idea of waiting for Panneerselvam’s consent in deciding party affairs under the dual leadership system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This plan gained momentum before the 2021 election when strategist Sunil Kanugolu, who is now with the Congress, began working for Palaniswami.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kanugolu was in Chennai a week before the general council meeting and facilitated Palaniswami’s meetings with a few political leaders and media heads in Tamil Nadu. Party insiders say he also facilitated a telephone conversation with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, hours after the Madras High Court rejected Panneerselvam’s petition for a stay. Sources say the Rahul-EPS call annoyed the BJP leadership, who were tracking the developments in Tamil Nadu. Highly placed sources in the Panneerselvam camp say that Panneerselvam’s writ petition got immediate attention only because of the BJP’s annoyance at the said call. “Did EPS seek Rahul’s help? Did Delhi come to help OPS at the last minute? Interesting turn of events,” tweeted Aspire Swaminathan, former AIADMK IT wing secretary, who has remained on good terms with many officeholders in the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former minister and party spokesperson D. Jayakumar said unitary leadership would strengthen the party and added that Palaniswami had proved himself as chief minister. This endorsement is particularly significant because Jayakumar is upset at being overlooked by Palaniswami for a Rajya Sabha ticket and then for a senior party post.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Would a sole leader make the state’s prime opposition party, which commands 30 per cent of the votes, significantly stronger? Political analyst Raveendran Thuraisamy believes the opposite to be true. “AIADMK votes since 1998 are soft hindutva votes,” he said. “These voters have already accepted the BJP in 2019 and 2021. If you look at it caste-wise, the AIADMK has the support of the Gounders in the west and the Thevars in the south. Gounders back EPS, bringing in 5.5 per cent of the votes, while a section of the Thevars back OPS; this would translate to 3 per cent of the votes. So only a dual leadership can save the AIADMK at this point of time.”</p> Fri Jul 01 15:49:55 IST 2022 when-love-turns-murderous <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT IS ONE</b> of the more common tropes from true-crime TV shows. Not a mysterious serial killer or a tortured detective on his breakthrough case, but one of those plot-points that keep recurring in Agatha Christie’s Poirot or Miss Marple potboilers: the picturesque tranquility in a pensioner’s paradise is shattered by a heinous crime most uncharacteristic of the place, leading to incessant whispering, storefront chatter and the devious excitement of a whodunit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Something similar happened in the usually calm and serene city of Chandigarh on September 20, 2015. Around 9:30pm, in a public park in Sector 27, a handsome man of 34 was shot dead allegedly by a former girlfriend. There were at least four bullet wounds on the body; the killer had used a shotgun. The park was 7km from the girl’s house and 11km from the man’s. With the victim and the suspect hailing from influential legal families that knew each other closely for more than 30 years, this case of a jilted love story gets even more interesting when you throw in power and pressure into the matrix.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The slain Sukhmanpreet Singh Sidhu, more popularly known as Sippy Sidhu in Chandigarh, was a lawyer and a national-level rifle shooter. He was also the grandson of Justice S.S. Sidhu, a former judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, and the son of I.P.S. Sidhu, former additional advocate general of Punjab. Kalyani Singh, the accused in the murder, is an assistant professor of home science in a college in Chandigarh and the daughter of Himachal Pradesh acting Chief Justice Sabina Singh. At the time of the incident, Kalyani’s mother was a judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. On June 15, Kalyani was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation when her alleged involvement in the crime suddenly came forth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sidhu family in Mohali, after a sustained pitch to get Kalyani arrested, is breathing a sigh of relief. They are also prepping up for the battle ahead. “We have been saying from day one that it is not just Kalyani but her whole family that is involved in plotting the crime. Even Justice Sabina is involved. All of them hatched the conspiracy,” says Jasmanpreet Singh aka Jippy Sidhu on a Sunday at his bungalow in Mohali. A lawyer, Jippy is dressed in a well-tailored black jacket and trousers. Just back from the court of the special judicial magistrate in Chandigarh where he saw Kalyani fleetingly, Jippy looks tired. “The girl had relations with several other men, including her relatives. That is why my innocent brother did not want to marry her. And even after we refused the proposal of marriage from her family, Justice Sabina maintained friendly relations with us assuring us that she is still Sippy’s aunty,” says Jippy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seated next to him is his mother, Deepinder Kaur, who is holding pictures from a family album that show the Singhs and the Sidhus in good times—at social dos and holidays, with pictures of Kalyani in frocks and ponytails when she was no more than 11 or 12 years old. Ever since her son died, Deepinder has been regularly visiting the park on special occasions to hold candlelight vigils, blood donation camps and to read the path (prayers).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Justice Sabina is the acting chief justice now. We want Justice Sabina to go on leave. We will then meet the chief justice of India, the Union law minister and we will seek her impeachment. It will be a very long process,” Jippy shares his plan of action, reiterating with much confidence that Kalyani was looking for a suitable opportunity to execute the task from September 18 to 20, 2015.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it is hard to miss the dual narratives at play. The whereabouts of Sippy and Kalyani in the lead-up to the day of the murder are contradictory at best. While the family claims that Sippy was recovering from jet lag after returning from Canada on September 18, the CBI, in its remand report, has stated that Sippy met Kalyani on all three days from September 18 to September 20. On September 18, he was supposed to watch the film Everest at Elante Mall. Calls from a mehndi artist, Harishankar Gupta, the same day had upset Sippy a good deal. On September 20, Sippy told his mother that he was going to meet Kalyani at the Sector 27 park. It was at 7;30pm that his mother saw him last. When she called him at 11pm, she was informed about his death by a woman officer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was reported that an unknown accomplice had also accompanied the killer who used a .12 bore weapon from which the bullets were fired. Both immediately left in a car waiting outside the park. The police team investigating the case cited pressure from external forces and the case was transferred to the CBI in January 2016. Then in December 2020, the CBI filed an ‘untraced report’in a special court as sufficient evidence was not found to implicate the accused. But the investigations were kept open under Section 173 (8) of the CrPC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Advocate Sartej Narula, Kalyani’s counsel, said that 178 witnesses had been examined for six years before the CBI gave its ‘untraced report’in 2020. “Without any new evidence coming up, they pick her up and arrest her in 2022. Now they are trying to say they have a witness. Earlier the story was that she had hired a killer. Now they are trying to make up a story that she was there at the spot and they both shot at the boy. Can you suddenly have a witness after seven years?” asks Narula.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He reads out emails from Sippy to Kalyani from August 2015, clearly stating that it was he who wanted to marry her and she was the one who was avoiding him. “The boy had been sending the girl mails to get married to her, not vice versa,” says Narula. “The emails had been provided to the CBI six years earlier. And I read them out in court on June 19 this year.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He reads out a letter from August 18, 2015, where Sippy writes, “... if I was fooling you, why would I come to your house with rishta with mom... life is stranger than fiction... I may be a mean person and use people but I am very pakka in love.” And a mail sent on August 29, 2015, reads thus, “In the last seven years we were together, everything was like a celebration and we were 24 hours together and I didn’t go anywhere with anyone. All the things started after November when you left. Kalyani forgive me. Just give the directions from your side. I am trying hard to rectify my mistakes. Whatever wrong I did after November was because of you not being there.” Narula also points out that Kalyani was at her aunt’s place for a birthday celebration from 8pm on the day of the crime. At 9:11 pm, he says, she gets a message from her sister asking her to come to another room in the same house. Then at 10:21pm, there are photographs clicked of Kalyani with her entire family in that house. “So 9:11, she is there, 10:21 she is there. And in that period of one hour, she’s gone, she’s killed, she’s come back and attended dinner again, looking all normal with her hair and make-up intact? Is that possible if she had killed someone a few minutes earlier?” asks Narula.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Who really wanted to marry whom? Where was Kalyani on the day of the crime? Did the former lovers even meet that day? Matters of the heart are complex mazes. And with several high-stake suspects and complainants involved, this will be one prolonged ‘he-said, she-said’thriller denizens of Chandigarh might keep puzzling over like the morning crossword.</p> Sat Jul 02 11:02:06 IST 2022 thackerays-can-blame-only-themselves-for-eknath-shinde-revolt <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE SEEDS OF</b> revolt in the Shiv Sena over the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi were sown even before the coalition was formed in 2019. Eknath Shinde, who was then the most important person in the party after Uddhav Thackeray, had urged the party leadership not to join hands with the ideologically incompatible Congress and Nationalist Congress Party. Thackeray ignored the advice, but he made Shinde swear he would remain loyal to the party. More than two and a half years later, Shinde has broken that promise. On June 21, he asked Thackeray over phone from a five-star hotel in Surat, Gujarat, to break ties with the Congress and the NCP. Shinde, who is urban development minister in Thackeray’s cabinet, claimed support of 35 of the Sena’s 55 members in the assembly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The drama began unfolding on June 20, when the BJP’s Prasad Lad defeated Congress candidate Chandrakant Handore in the Legislative Council elections. Just 10 days earlier, the BJP’s Dhananjay Mahadik had defeated the Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Jadhav in the Rajya Sabha polls. On both occasions the BJP candidates did not have the required votes, but sailed through with the help of independents and cross-voting from the Congress and the Shiv Sena.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A week before the Rajya Sabha elections, a delegation of MVA leaders—NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal, Congress leader Sunil Kedar and Sena leader Anil Desai—had met BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis and appealed to him for a consensus in the elections. Fadnavis told them if they allowed the BJP to retain three Rajya Sabha seats, the party would not field a candidate in the MLC polls. The MVA rejected the offer. The BJP fielded an extra candidate each to the Rajya Sabha and the MLC and both won. The BJP has 106 legislators. It got 123 votes in the Rajya Sabha elections and 134 in the MLC elections, as most of the independents and five MVA members (two of the Congress and three of the Shiv Sena) voted for BJP candidates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the results of the MLC elections were emerging on June 20, a group of Shiv Sena legislators left Mumbai for Thane, Shinde’s home turf. All of them had switched off their cell phones. They soon set out for the Maharashtra-Gujarat border in the neighbouring Palghar district in seven SUVs. As their vehicles crossed the border, a convoy of Gujarat Police made a protective ring around them. They reached Surat early in the morning and checked in at Hotel Le Meridian. Gujarat BJP president C.R. Patil, a Maratha, spoke to Shinde as soon as the group reached the hotel where 30 rooms had already been booked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The legislators’ absence was first noticed at a meeting at midnight, but the party leaders thought they might have gone to sleep as the Shiv Sena’s two candidates had won and the Congress candidate’s defeat was expected because the coalition was short of eight votes. However, around 12:30am, Uddhav called a meeting of senior MVA ministers to find out how cross-voting happened. The meeting, attended by Congress and NCP leaders including Irrigation Minister Jayant Patil and Supriya Sule, MP, went on till 2:30am. During the meeting, Sule and Patil raised the alarm and asked Uddhav to contact the legislators. They were not reachable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon the news emerged that Shinde and his group were revolting, and rumours started taking rounds about how many legislators he had in Surat.Three Sena ministers—Sandipan Bhumre, Abdul Sattar and Shambhuraj Patankar—had joined hands with Shinde.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the gravity of the situation dawned on the Sena leadership, Uddhav sent his close aide Milind Narvekar and Ravindra Phatak, who is said to be close to Shinde, to placate the rebels. The duo traveled to Surat but had to wait for an hour to meet Shinde. After the meeting, which went on for more than an hour, Narvekar told Shinde that Uddhav wanted to speak to him over phone. Shinde greeted Uddhav in the traditional Sena style greeting, “Jai Maharashtra Saheb”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde’s is the biggest rebellion in the Sena’s history. The earlier ones, led by Chhagan Bhujbal, Ganesh Naik, Raj Thackeray and Narayan Rane, pale in comparison because Shinde could split the Sena across Maharashtra, as the rebels came from all regions. On June 22, Shinde claimed from Guwahati in Assam, to where the group was shifted from Surat, that he had 46 legislators with him. He also said that he had not split the party and remained a staunch Shiv Sainik.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That the Sena was fast losing the game became clear on June 22 when Aditya Thackeray, Uddhav’s son, removed ‘minister’ from his Twitter profile and party MP Sanjay Raut tweeted that the crisis in Maharashtra was heading in the direction of dissolution of the assembly. The party issued a whip to all its MLAs, asking them to attend a party meeting in the evening. The letter said if they failed to attend it would lead to disciplinary action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde and his group’s main grouse had been that the Sena was playing second fiddle to the NCP. It is an open secret that Ajit Pawar, finance minister and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar’s nephew, runs the show in Maharashtra. Many legislators had repeatedly complained to Uddhav about the finance ministry diverting funds meant for their constituencies to those represented by the NCP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sena has three MLAs in Raigad district, all of whom defeated NCP candidates in the 2019 elections. After the MVA was formed, the NCP’s Aditi Tatkare, daughter of NCP leader Sunil Tatkare, became minister of state in the government. The senior Tatkare had been a bitter rival of the Sena in Raigad for two decades. When the the first Covid lockdown was lifted, the Tatkares organised an event in Raigad and invited Uddhav. The three Sena MLAs pleaded to the chief minister not to attend it, but he ignored them. The MLAs boycotted the event.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly, in Ratnagiri district, Yogesh Kadam of the Sena defeated Sanjay Kadam in Dapoli in the 2019 elections. But Ajit Pawar has been helping Sanjay to undermine Yogesh, who has been complaining about not getting adequate support from his party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Those who have not joined the Shinde camp also have not been happy. Deepak Kesarkar, an MLA from Sindhudurg district, openly supports Shinde’s demand that the party snap ties with the NCP and the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NCP was the Sena’s main rival when it was in alliance with the BJP, as they mostly contested against each other, while BJP candidates fought against Congress candidates. The fact remains that in 45-odd constituencies Sena MLAs might have to fight NCP rebels, aided by Pawar, in 2024, even if both are in alliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Thackerays can blame only themselves for the mess. Uddhav and Aditya were inaccessible to not just Sena legislators but also most ministers. Sharad Pawar and Congress leader Balasaheb Thorat, on the other hand, are available on the next day for meetings. Even Sharad Pawar got angry a few months ago when Uddhav skipped meetings on a few occasions. During the Covid crisis, it was said that the chief minister did not even take calls from Health Minister Rajesh Tope. He sent a text to Tope to leave a message with his personal assistant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde has more personal grouses. There has been constant efforts to downsize him in the party and the government. He was elected legislative party leader in 2019 and he hoped to become chief minister as Uddhav till then had maintained that he would make a common Shiv Sainik chief minister. Shinde had no complaints when Uddhav became chief minister as he was clearly the second in command. But the induction of Aditya Thackeray to the cabinet upset the hierarchy. Soon Aditya and minister Anil Parab began interfering with Shinde’s urban development portfolio. Instructions were given to Shinde not to take any major decision without Aditya or Uddhav’s consent. He was not even given a freehand in appointments of bureaucrats in his bastion, Thane. Recently, Shinde was told that the upcoming municipal corporation elections would have to fought in alliance with the NCP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the planning of the Rajya Sabha and MLC elections, Shinde was treated just as another legislator, and all the election management was done by Varun Sardesai and Suraj Chavan, close aides of Aditya from the Yuva Sena. Despite being legislative party leader, he was kept out of meetings of the Thackerays and Parab.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde’s revolt can lead to many possible scenarios in Maharashtra. Uddhav recommending dissolution of the assembly to the governor is a likely possibility. But Governor B.S. Koshyari may not accept it. He will consult legal experts and could ask the government to prove majority on the floor of the house.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the governor asks the chief minister to face the floor test, a special session of the state legislature will be called. The Shiv Sena will issue whips and try all out to woo the rebel MLAs. If Shinde manages to get 37 of 55 Sena MLAs, his group will not face anti-defection law provisions and the government will fall. If he fails to get 37, the Shiv Sena leadership will deal with rebels under anti-defection law provisions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Shinde challenges the whip and his removal as legislative party leader, it could lead to a long legal battle, as a legislative party leader can be removed only after a meeting of all party MLAs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If he has the support of 37 legislators, Shinde could also form a separate group and join hands with BJP to form the government in Maharashtra. If he cannot manage 37, those who are with him can resign and remain absent on the day of floor test, thus reducing the strength of the house. If the strength of the house comes down from 287 to say 261, the majority mark will be 131. The BJP already has the support of 134 MLAs, as proven during legislative council elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eknath Shinde’s journey from being a common Shiv Sainik to Uddhav Thackeray’s chief troubleshooter and to his chief troublemaker has taken him to a point of no return. What remains to be seen is whether Shinde sinks or sails.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>With Nachiket Kelkar</b></p> Fri Jun 24 15:17:31 IST 2022 son-of-the-soil <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ONCE UPON A TIME,</b> Eknath Shinde was an auto-rickshaw driver in Thane. He was born and brought up in Satara in western Maharashtra, but had to leave the village as a child to make a living. During those Thane years he was in touch with the RSS, but he soon distanced himself from it as he found the Shiv Sena and its ‘sons of the soil’ ideology more attractive. He became a Shiv Sainik and started working for the party. Soon he was made shakha pramukh. His diligent work was spotted by Anand Dighe, a Sena heavyweight who was the party’s district chief.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A tragedy struck Shinde in 1999; he lost two of his three children in a drowning accident in his village. Shinde was depressed. He even contemplated quitting politics and moving back to Satara. But Dighe dissuaded him. On Dighe’s request, Rajan Vichare, the Sena’s group leader in the Thane Municipal Corporation, vacated his seat for Shinde. It worked and Shinde immersed himself in party work to get over his grief.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Dighe died in an accident in 2001, Shinde naturally became his successor and led the Sena in Thane. Impressed by his work, Bal Thackeray gave him a party ticket to contest the assembly elections in 2004. Shinde won comfortably.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde kept the party unit in Thane intact when Sena biggies like Raj Thackeray and Narayan Rane rebelled against Uddhav Thackeray, whom Balasaheb had made his successor. In return, Uddhav gave him a free hand in Thane. Shinde soon became a go-to man for Sena and BJP legislators in Thane and Navi Mumbai region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2009, after getting elected to the assembly for the second time, Shinde got an offer from the Congress to become a minister. But he declined it. The loyalty brought him even closer to Uddhav who was still rebuilding the party after the rebellions by Raj and Rane.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As second-term MLA, Shinde developed excellent equations with other Sena legislators. He also did not ignore the needs of the organisation and was always ready to provide “men, money and material”. In 2014, after a brief stint as the leader of opposition, he became a minister in the Devendra Fadnavis government. He had an excellent rapport with Fadnavis unlike most Sena leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2019, when Sena snapped ties with the BJP and formed the MVA government, Shinde became a minister with the urban development portfolio. Interestingly, the BJP never targeted Shinde though it unleashed central agencies against many MVA leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde recently produced a Marathi film, Dharmaveer: Mukkam Post Thane. Based on Dighe’s life, the film, with the tagline ‘Gaddarana Mafi Nahi (No Pardon for Traitors)’, has become super hit. Now many Shiv Sainiks are raising questions about his loyalty.</p> Fri Jun 24 15:12:14 IST 2022 why-forest-fires-are-ravaging-uttarakhand <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>PERSISTENT AND PERSISTENTLY</b> misunderstood. That, in a nutshell, is the story of forest fires in Uttarakhand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fires break out each year between March and mid-June, before the onset of the monsoon. They spawn headlines like ‘Forest fires rage across Uttarakhand’ and ‘State loses hundreds of hectares of green cover in 24 hours’. Hyperbole, misinformation and poorly explained science paint a picture of roaring fires devouring trees and animals, and destroying property and livelihoods.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The forest fires of Uttarakhand are nothing of the kind, though. For starters, they are not ‘crown fires’, which spread to the top of the trees. They are, in fact, ground fires that feed on fallen pine needles. Mostly man-made, the fires are aided by high temperatures and winds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The number of forest fires varies every year. In 2002, there were 1,401 such incidents. In 2016, the figure went up to 12,958, and then fell to 2,158 in 2019. As of June 2022, there have been 2,131 forest fires, affecting more than 3,348 hectares and causing a loss of Rs87.31 lakh. Uttarakhand has a forest cover of 53.48 lakh hectares.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Periodic fires are needed to maintain ecological balance and lower the possibility of larger, uncontrolled fires. But what makes recurring fires a matter of concern is that it produces black carbon—sooty material that not just pollutes the atmosphere, but warms it as well, leading to the melting of Himalayan glaciers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A major factor behind forest fires in Uttarakhand is the chir pine, a conifer with slender leaves that grows in abundance on lower altitudes (500m to 2,000m) of the Himalayas. Some people call the chir pine a “dangerous beauty”, as the needles shed by the tree can catch fire easily. The tree itself is a hardy one, impervious to fire because of its thick bark. That is the reason fires do not burn trees up their entire length to the crown, unless the trunk has been weakened by resin tapping.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Resin from the pine is used for making adhesives, turpentine oil and binders. Pines have other uses, too. Its needles serve as bedding for livestock while timber is used for flooring, roofing and making furniture. Its green branches also have cultural significance—they are used in religious ceremonies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pines grow fast, absorbing atmospheric carbon much faster than other species. They also have great adaptability. They require little moisture and grow abundantly under a fierce sun, denying the space for other species to grow. Pines were planted on a large scale by the British to make sleeping berths in railway coaches. Over time, this led to the shrinking of areas covered by oaks and others trees native to the Himalayas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ecologist Rajeev L. Semwal, who was part of a task force under the National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem, said one tree species cannot be allowed to substitute another indiscriminately. Also, scientists believe that oak has better water retention capabilities than the chir pine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Chir pine creates conditions suitable for fires, which help expand its territory by replacing less fire-resistant species such as oaks,” said Semwal. “Therefore, there must be scientific studies on what should be the ideal spatial proportion of pines in Uttarakhand’s total forest cover.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The gap between science and policymaking also needs to be addressed. Policymakers often do not have an adequate grasp of science, which hampers optimal decision-making. For instance, even if pines are invading oaks, a ban on felling of trees above 1,000 metres in the Himalayas precludes the possibility of chopping off pine trees.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Elimination of pine trees from higher altitudes is also not a solution, as the floor fires that pine needles facilitate could be replaced by large-scale fires (because of sustained accumulation of fuel in the form of dried leaves and twigs on the forest floor) that cause greater damage. Surendra Pratap Singh, former vice chancellor of Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University and council member of the NGO Central Himalayan Environment Association, said forest fires were misunderstood as a “seasonal activity” and, hence, there was no longterm policy to tackle them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Whenever fires occur, the only measure is the loss they create. No one asks questions about what happens after the fires—like how species respond and how their composition changes,” said Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh also pointed out that farmers no longer used forest litter as fertiliser. Agriculture in the hills and livestock population have been declining, and its effect on forest fires needed to be studied.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also the growing rift between people and forests. From a state that once had people hugging trees to prevent them from being chopped, Uttarakhand has become a land of strict conservation laws that have created great distance between humans and the wild. Forests are now considered dreaded patches of green, setting foot on which could invite fines and punishment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There are far too many provisions that keep people away from forests,” said Vishal Singh, research director at the Centre for Ecology Development and Research, a nonprofit in Dehradun. “Wildlife protectors, biodiversity conservationists and pseudo-stewards of forest back these policies without understanding the ground realities. The solution lies in collaboration between communities and the forest department, incentive mechanisms, protection for communities against draconian policies, and shared ownership.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The discovery of fire was a turning point in mankind’s evolution. Perhaps, the next landmark is gaining a proper understanding of forest fires.</p> Sun Jun 26 15:34:35 IST 2022 we-need-to-change-the-nature-of-community-forestry-subodh-uniyal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ Uttarakhand has always suffered from forest fires. Are the occurrences steadily rising?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The number and intensity of forest fires have varied. The figures were very low in 2012-13 and 2013-14. Then there was a sudden leap. In 2020, the lowest number of cases ever were recorded. Department officials told me that this was because of Covid-induced migration. But that makes no sense, as people came back to their villages and there was no restriction on agriculture activities. There has to be another reason, which is now being studied.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This year, we have faced about half the number of fires we faced last year. There are many reasons for forest fires. The farming economy is not very strong, so farmers depend on jungles to feed cattle. In the summer months, the availability of green grass goes down, and the community itself starts off fires so that the soil becomes nutrient-rich to produce grass in the next season. There are mischievous people who start fires just for fun. Then there is carelessness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What measures has the government taken to contain fires and minimise losses?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have taken many innovative measures. For instance, district-level disaster management committees, involving district magistrates, have been given the responsibility of managing fires. The benefit of this is that emergency financial and manpower needs will be met at once.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our long-term policy is to have a forest fire management committee in every village. Headed by the gram pradhan (village headman), it will have panchayat members, Yuvak Mangal Dal, Mahila Mangal Dal (groups of youth and women), and employees of the revenue and forest departments. The benefit of this is that people will understand that they, too, are responsible for tackling forest fires.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We need to survey different locations to identify their fire histories. We will also set up tanks to harvest rainwater in villages. They will help increase the moisture content in the soil, which in turn, will help control the spread of fires.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are already using drones to identify the location of fires. The challenge is to reduce the response time so that the fires do not spread. In addition to the cooking gas cylinders being made available under the Ujjwala Yojana, we have also started providing three more cylinders to all families covered under the Antyodaya scheme, so the dependency on forest wood is reduced.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have van panchayats (village forest councils, formed for sustainable management of forests and natural resources) failed in their duties?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Van panchayats need incentives to play their role effectively. I have studied the schemes of the government of India and found that a provision of Rs15 lakh can be made to each panchayat. This will make the panchayats economically stronger. We also need to change the nature of community forestry to plant more fruit-bearing trees, which can be a source of revenue for the villages. I am also in talks to plant rudraksh (stonefruit used as Hindu prayer beads) with a buyback guarantee. If a village has 1,000 such trees, it would earn Rs50 lakh.</p> Sun Jun 26 15:33:47 IST 2022 the-troubles-of-pinarayi-vijayan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN KERALA, BIRYANI</b> is traditionally cooked in a sealed cauldron over an open fire. On June 7, demand for biryani cauldrons shot up, as opposition parties started using them as props to launch a novel agitation against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Fiery protesters across the state held rallies and demonstrations holding aloft the cauldrons. But what they craved was not biryani; it was Vijayan and his Left Democratic Front government that they really wanted cooked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The cauldron of anger began boiling over a scandalous allegation. Swapna Suresh, a key accused in the 2020 case related to the seizure of gold from a diplomatic bag in Thiruvananthapuram airport, said weighty biryani vessels containing “metallic objects” were moved several times from the UAE consul general’s residence in Thiruvananthapuram to Cliff House, the chief minister’s official residence. She said M. Sivasankar, Vijayan’s former principal secretary with whom she had links before the smuggling case was registered in 2020, knew about it. She also alleged that he had asked her in 2016 to deliver a bag in Dubai on short notice. “We sent a diplomat to take the bag to Dubai,” she told journalists on June 7. “When the bag was scanned at the consulate, we knew it contained currency.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Swapna, who was granted bail in the smuggling case last November, made the allegations after recording a statement before a magistrate under section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. She also accused Vijayan’s wife, Kamala, and daughter Veena, his additional private secretary C.M. Raveendran, former minister K.T. Jaleel and former chief secretary Nalini Netto of being involved in corrupt deals. Swapna is currently an employee of the Highrange Rural Development Society, an NGO with sangh parivar links.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vijayan has dismissed the allegations as political conspiracy. “An accused in the [gold smuggling] case is repeating the same charges she had levelled against us [in 2020]. There is not a shred of truth in them,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government seems worried, though. It registered a case against Swapna under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 153 (provocation with intent to cause riot) of the Indian Penal Code. It also removed M.R. Ajith Kumar, IPS, as director of the Vigilance and Anti-corruption Bureau, after it came to light that he had been in touch with a person who was accused of threatening Swapna. The bureau had also detained, allegedly unlawfully, one of Swapna’s colleagues who also happened to be a co-accused in the smuggling case. “Ajith Kumar was removed after it became clear that the government had sent him as a middleman [to strike a deal with Swapna],” alleged state BJP president K. Surendran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the row over Swapna’s allegations hog headlines, the LDF government is tackling deeper challenges. An immediate worry is that the Union government’s compensatory payouts to states under the goods and services tax (GST) regime will end on June 31. For the past five years, the Centre had been compensating the states for loss in revenue because of GST implementation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“If the compensation is stopped, Kerala would face a revenue shortfall of Rs10,000 crore this year,” Finance Minister K.N. Balagopal told THE WEEK. “Considering the pandemic and worldwide economic crises, the Union government must extend the compensation for another five years. Otherwise, the state’s economy will suffer.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jose Sebastian, economist and director of the Institute for Enterprise Culture and Entrepreneurship, said the government would find it difficult to pay salaries and pensions on time if GST compensation is discontinued. “This, despite the government recording a rise of 20.77 per cent in revenues in 2021-22,” he said. “People had contributed more to the exchequer, but the government spent the money on pay hikes to government employees, keeping elections in mind. This caused an additional expenditure of Rs24,563 crore—a whopping 52.63 per cent increase in expenditure.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former finance minister T.M. Thomas Isaac saw no harm in the hike in salaries. “Half [the additional expenditure] is going to education and health care. It is not a wastage of money,” he told THE WEEK.</p> <p>But the issue, according to Sebastian, is that this increased expenditure would not immediately boost the ailing economy. “The government has cut expenditure on development projects and welfare activities,” he said. “Unless ordinary people get more money to spend, the market will not get any fillip. For instance, if you increase the social welfare pension [for the poor], that additional amount will immediately flow to the market. A salaried employee would not spend as much extra income on consumption as ordinary people would. But in the last budget, the government failed to raise the welfare pension even by Rs100.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The financial woes could be further hampered by the Centre’s move to impose severe restrictions on state borrowings. Kerala can take loans equivalent to 3.5 per cent of its GSDP in the current financial year—which translates to just Rs32,435 crore. It spends more on salaries, pensions, subsidies and interests every three months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To make matters worse, the Centre wants to count all “off-budget borrowings”—loans taken by state government agencies that are not accounted for in the budget—to be within the ambit of the state’s borrowing limit. It means that government-run entities such as KIIFB (Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board), whose borrowings have been funding most infrastructure projects in the state, will not be able to keep on borrowing and transferring money to the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last November, a comptroller and auditor general report warned that the state may be approaching a debt trap. The report said the government, in a single fiscal year, had borrowed Rs1,930.04 crore through KIIFB, and another Rs6,843.65 crore through Kerala Social Securities Pension Ltd, just to pay salaries and fund development projects. “If the government increasingly resorts to these off-budget [loans], the state’s liabilities may increase substantially… leading to a debt trap, without the legislature even knowing [about it],” said the report.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>KIIFB has sanctioned projects worth around Rs71,000 crore, even though it has no revenue of its own, save for petroleum cess and a share of motor vehicle tax that the government gives every year. The CAG has pointed out that KIIFB loans are repaid by the government, “but the government’s financial documents do not reflect these borrowings”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Balagopal said counting KIIFB loans as the state’s direct borrowings was against the principles of development economics. “It is a model that can be seen everywhere in the world,” he said. “The government does not have direct liability, as the agency itself will take care of the debt. Considering the longterm repayment structure, this is a good model. The Union government is trying to destroy it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mary George, former chairperson of the Kerala Public Expenditure Review Committee, said Kerala’s total outstanding debt will cross Rs3.7 lakh crore this year. “It is 37.18 per cent of our GSDP—already far higher than the mandated level of 29 per cent,” she said. Only Punjab (53.3 per cent), Rajasthan (39.8 per cent) and West Bengal (38.8 per cent) had higher debt ratios.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A controversial rail project is set to add to Kerala’s debt burden. At around Rs64,000 crore, Silverline is the biggest infrastructure project in Kerala’s history. It envisages a 530km dedicated rail corridor from north to south, enabling trains to run at 160kmph and cover the distance in less than four hours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government says Silverline will need borrowings of around Rs34,000 crore. But E. Sreedharan, former Delhi Metro Rail Corporation managing director, estimates the cost to be around Rs1.22 lakh crore. “The government will have to borrow at least Rs80,000 crore,” he told THE WEEK. Until this loan and its interest are paid back, in 25 to 30 years, the state government will not be able to take up any major development work.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to opposition leader V.D. Satheeshan, instead of embarking on Silverline, the government should first help the crisis-ridden Kerala State Road Transport Corporation. One of India’s oldest state-run bus transport services, KSRTC operates around 8,500 buses for 13 lakh commuters every day. It has been recording losses for the past 10 years, and its huge debt burden has resulted in nonpayment of wages to its 26,000 employees and 42,000 pensioners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government has so struggled to solve the crisis in KSRTC that all workers’ unions, including the CPI(M)-backed one, recently went on strike. A petition was also filed in the Kerala High Court seeking payment of salaries on time. Curiously, the KSRTC management responded to the petition by filing an affidavit saying payment of salaries was not on its priority list.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Hardworking employees form the backbone of all profit-making organisations,” said the affidavit. “But instead of [working hard], KSRTC employees are threatening to call indefinite strikes, putting passengers in a spot.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Satheeshan of the Congress, the response shows that the government’s development agenda is a sham. “What is happening in KSRTC proves it,” he told THE WEEK. “They (the government) are not pro-worker. Nor are they pro-dalit, pro-women or pro-development. Their idea of development is just archaic.”</p> Sun Jun 19 11:40:49 IST 2022 is-pinarayi-vijayan-anti-black <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WHAT IS IT</b> with Pinarayi Vijayan and the colour black?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2013, he publicly endorsed black-flag protests against then chief minister Oommen Chandy, asking, “Is showing black flags a criminal offence? Is it not a form of protest?” That waving black flags is a democratic way of protesting was a belief held by his party, the CPI(M), as well. And, in January, Vijayan became the first chief minister in the state to choose a black Toyota Innova Crysta as his official vehicle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, Vijayan and his party have now been accused of being “anti-black”. The reason is that the police, on June 11, began preventing people wearing black clothes and black face-masks from approaching venues of the chief minister’s events. The police apparently wanted to avert black-flag protests against Vijayan and provide “enhanced security” to the chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police action soon went beyond the absurd. Near a metro rail station in Kochi, where Vijayan was expected to attend an event, two transgender women, Avantika Vishnu and Anna Raju, were arrested by the police for wearing black clothes. “Both of us are members of political parties; I am a BJP member and Anna belongs to the Congress,” said Avantika. “But we did not go to the metro station to protest. The police asked us why we were wearing black dresses. We replied: ‘Should we go without any dress then?’”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Avantika said the police roughed them up. “And then we decided to protest—not against the CM, but against the police.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police’s anti-black drive continued for two days, despite the government issuing a statement that there was no such directive. Opposition parties went to town embracing the colour—leaders and workers hit the streets wearing black clothes and face-masks, and there were incidents of black-flag protests against the chief minister’s convoy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 12, the convenor of the ruling Left Democratic Front, E.P. Jayarajan, added insult to the government’s public-relations injury by trying to justify the anti-black drive. “Why are people so adamant about wearing black clothes and black masks?” he asked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 13, Director-General of Police Anil Kant finally issued a statement saying people will not be prevented from wearing black. He also sent show-cause notices to four district police chiefs for carrying out the anti-black drive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CPI(M) Polit Bureau member M.A. Baby said the protests against Vijayan were unjustified, and that they were all based on frivolous charges related to the 2020 gold smuggling case. “It does not matter whether it is a red-flag protest or a black-flag protest,” he told THE WEEK. “These protests are just ridiculous. And they are becoming violent.”</p> Sat Jun 18 16:02:40 IST 2022 we-are-spending-on-developing-human-capital <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>K.N. Balagopal has his task cut out. As Kerala finance minister, he is in charge of steering the state away from a debt crisis and funding the state’s development dreams. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The GST compensation to the states will end this month. How will it add to the woes of the state which is already reeling under severe financial constraints?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ If the Union government stops giving GST compensation, all states including Kerala will face major financial distress. With the implementation of GST, the entire right to charge tax [on different commodities] was transferred to the GST council, where the Union government has an upper hand. We had apprehensions about it from the starting phase itself. A lot of states feared that their revenue will be hit [because of GST implementation]. We used to see around 14 per cent growth in tax collection year-to-year before the implementation of GST. Kerala’s average was more than that. The Centre had made the assurance that this 14 per cent growth will be maintained. The government had also given the assurance that if this growth rate is not achieved—because of systemic troubles—it will give compensation to ensure an assured return of 14 per cent. And, they decided to give this compensation for five years. But then we faced two bad years because of Covid-19. In the current situation, there is a huge gap. We are not getting as much revenue as we used to get earlier.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, Kerala demands that the Union government should continue GST compensation for another five years. Other states including BJP-ruling states have asked for it. Kerala alone will face a shortfall of around Rs 10,000 crore in revenue [compared to the old tax system] this year if GST compensation is stopped.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before the Lok Sabha elections, the GST council decreased the tax rate of certain commodities as per the wish of the Union government. And that is one of the reasons for the shortfall in the revenue. Such unilateral and unscientific decisions were made before the elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Technical difficulties in the implementation of the GST tax regime also continue. The [tax collection] system is not intact even now. It has not improved and is still in the preliminary stage. So, considering the Covid-19 situation and the economic crisis all over the world, the Union government must extend the GST compensation for another five years. Otherwise, the entire economy will suffer.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We cannot reduce the basic revenue expenditure—salaries and money for day-to-day activities—and if the Union government stops GST compensation it will affect our development activities. Kerala is a state that does numerous social services activities as part of the plan. All these activities will be affected.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The state’s revenue grew by 20.77 per cent in 2021-2. But expenditure, too, went up. There is a view that the government could have postponed pay revision, and used the money for an economic rebound.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In Kerala, we give pay revisions every five years. What government employees deserve should be given to them; that is the state’s attitude. But our income, too, should increase and better services should be provided. Our population-to-employee ratio and population-to-schools/colleges ratio are high. That is part of our policy. We want to give the best to the student community and develop human capital. And, for that, there are expenses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What measures have been taken to reduce expenditure?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is an effort from the government to reduce unwanted expenditures, such as the overuse of [government] vehicles or the purchase of new vehicles. We have already issued instructions regarding austerity measures.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Union government wants Kerala to include off-budget borrowings in fiscal-deficit calculations. How would this affect the state’s development?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ This is a move against development economics. Spending more and attracting more investments is a way out of the crisis. [Off-budget borrowings] are used for construction and infrastructure development. It will create employment opportunities.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Centre is not giving enough money to state governments. It is not even allowing us to borrow. The borrowing limit has been decreased—from 5 per cent [of the gross state domestic product] to 3.5 per cent. And, they (the Centre) have plans to reduce it further to 3 per cent.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First, they snatched our right to collect taxes. Now they are trying to take away many other rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is the Centre curbing the fiscal freedom of states?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ What the Union government is doing is dangerous. Their economic policies are affecting federalism. They don’t have any regard for the dignity and autonomy of states. They are not considering the dignity of the people of these states.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Kerala has to take more than Rs 30,000 crore foreign funds to build the K-Rail, which, the state government says, will bring massive development and employment opportunities to the state. But Kerala has an ageing population. Will it be an impediment to meeting the expected level of economic progress by the time K-Rail is completed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ K-Rail is a project that would help long-standing developments in the state. Our existing railway system is outdated. Also, our roads are choked. And, since our population density is high, we cannot think about building more highways. Kerala is a densely populated state. It is only in a populated place that this sort of project gains success as it will have a lot of passengers. Also, you pointed out the demography. Our new generation is migrating to places like Europe, US, Australia and Canada. So, if we provide better infrastructure here in Kerala, our best minds will be able to work and settle here. And, for that high-speed travel infrastructure is very important. If we have a good infrastructure here, more opportunities will be created here. We can develop the knowledge economy here itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The government declared a decent compensation package for those getting displaced because of K-Rail. But, for a lot of people, it is not just the monetary factor, but attachment to their home and locality. The government had earlier tried to install survey stones with the help of the police. And that had given rise to a lot of protests. What is the stance of the government now?</b>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We see K-Rail as a project that must be implemented only with the support of the people. The government belongs to the people. We believe that we will get cooperation from the people. If the people do not want this, then for whom we are doing this? To move forward with this project without the support of people is not part of our concept.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The compensation package declared for K-Rail is attractive. A lot of people will have emotional attachment and nostalgia related to their home, and I agree. But they will get good compensation and will be able to move to a place close to their previous home.</p> Sat Jun 18 15:58:56 IST 2022 interview-congress-only-wants-politics-of-opposing-says-hardik-patel <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Hardik Patel was barely 22 when he became the face of the Patidar agitation demanding reservation in Gujarat in 2015. The agitation, which had turned violent in between, leading to the death of 14 people, was mostly successful, as the Centre agreed to most of the demands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The stir helped the Congress reap electoral benefits in the 2015 panchayat elections and in the 2017 assembly elections. In 2017, it won 77 of 182 assembly seats, its best performance since 1985. Hardik joined the Congress ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, but the party drew a blank in the state. Though he was made working president of the state unit, he continued to grumble about not getting any responsibility and quit the party on May 18.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an interview, Hardik talks about the Congress, the BJP and the many allegations against him. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You said you did not get to work in the Congress.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ No, not at all. There is no planning. There is nothing to do with people’s sentiments. If they had people’s sentiments in mind, a former Union minister (Bharatsinh Solanki) would not have said that dogs peed on the bricks gathered for the Ram temple. The bricks were gathered by people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ As working president, shouldn’t you have been the one delegating work?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I never had such power as working president. Even if I had to get someone into the Congress fold, I had to ask for the state Congress president’s permission. If he said no, then I could not. One example is that of an incumbent corporator from Rajkot who was taken into the Congress by me. I had to fight for a ticket for him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Were you not aware about these things when you joined the party in 2019?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I experienced it more when I saw the party from close quarters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Could you not bring changes in the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is no change happening in the Congress and that is the reason I quit. They do not want to change. They only want to bring 65 seats so that they get two Rajya Sabha seats. They do not want to fight to get power. They do not want to think about the interests of the people. They have nothing to do with the masses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ During the Patidar reservation stir, you spoke a lot against the BJP. How would you justify your decision to join the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Why did we fight against power? We have a saying in Gujarati: ‘Mangya vagar ma pan nathi pirasti (Even mother does not serve without you asking for it)’. We had fought for the rights of poor Patidars. The same people in power ended the agitation by giving 10 per cent reservation and Rs1,000 crore Yuva Swavlamban Yojna, and setting up a commission for non-reserved category. You have to fight if you want to get it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During an agitation one could have spoken with aggression as a youth. This was not the first agitation. Similar things have happened in the JP agitation. People who had spoken against Indira Gandhi had also joined the Congress later on and some others formed new parties. The fight is issue-based. You are not opposed to anyone for a lifetime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We thank the prime minister, who gave the reservation. It was society’s demand. Anyone who needs reservation on an economic basis should get it. When we went to the people, we realised that it was not just Patidars who are poor; Brahmins are also poor. We did not say that we want reservation only for Patidars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Wasn’t the BJP an option when you joined the Congress in 2019?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The issues of Article 370 and Ram temple came up after I joined the Congress. At that point in time, I had appreciated it even while remaining in the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did the change of heart happen because of Article 370 and Ram temple?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ For any work, you need to have firm determination. The BJP showed that. There has to be firm determination or ideology in the Congress. What is its stand? The Congress just could not clear the stand. It does not want to do anything other than politics of opposing. Does the Congress have anything other than abusing Narendra Modi? Can’t you say that Article 370 is a right issue and it is good? And at the same time also speak what else was necessary to do along with it. The politics of opposing does not work in everything.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ If you are in the ruling party, will you be able to highlight pressing issues like price rise and inflation? That, too, in a ‘disciplined’ party like the BJP.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ One should be disciplined. In the Congress, people who have damaged the party headquarters were given posts in the Ahmedabad city unit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you mean people would not have raised these issues in the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I do not want to get into the past. I am talking about the present. I will surely try to explain the issues to the party leaders and also give suggestions. Politics works in this manner, by talking to the smallest worker, understanding him and seeing what he thinks of a particular issue. Gone are the days when governments fell when onion prices increased.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have claimed that you were never afraid of the court cases against you.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Today I have 22 cases against me. Had I been afraid, I would have made an arrangement then itself so that the two-year sentence period is stalled. I am not scared. I was behind bars for nine months. How many more months will you put me in jail? I have not murdered or raped anyone, I have not wielded weapons. Cases against me are political.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ By joining the ruling party, wouldn’t things become easy?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Well, yes, if you say so. Why should we suffer? We are here to do good for society. Lakhs of people are taking the benefit of the schemes. Why should Hardik Patel and 200 others get troubled?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you justify your lifestyle? You have a modest middle-class background.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ My father is not that poor, though he cannot keep his son like a king. I have said this earlier also. Who should be bothered about my lifestyle? Probably, someone who has given me money to buy a pair of shoes. He can ask. When you become a social and political face there are a lot of people who support you as their aspirations are associated with the person. The ones who have helped do not have questions but the ones who have not given anything have a lot to ask. I am least bothered by what people think. For this, I follow Bal Thackeray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If someone has given me a Toyota Fortuner and I travel in it, does that improve my lifestyle? Should we take a bus to attend 10 programmes in a day?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The lavish wedding of your sister is also talked about.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ What difference does it make? Will any politician want his sister’s marriage to be held like that of a pauper’s sister? In villages, don’t you borrow Rs5 lakh to marry off a family member? You have aspirations. These questions aren’t important for today’s politics. Such questions should not be there. You do not need to go and check someone’s bed to see whether he is with his wife or his girlfriend. You might be going around with 10 girlfriends, but you have an objection when your leader is with a girlfriend. You enjoy booze, but if your leader has it then you have a problem.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What will be your role in the Gujarat assembly polls?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ More than the role, I will have responsibility for the cause of the state. That is what I can see.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What if you are also ‘finished’ like Alpesh Thakor (who is struggling after jumping from the Congress to the BJP)?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Nobody gets finished like this in politics. The biggest example is late chief minister Chimanbhai Patel. When he had to leave in 1974, did anyone think that in 1990 he would become the chief minister again?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is the death of 14 people in the Patidar agitation still relevant?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The financial aspect has been completed. The then deputy chief minister Nitin Patel had promised semi-government jobs for a dependant of each of the deceased. This is after the necessary educational qualification is attained. Remaining small issues need to be sorted out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There are allegations that you siphoned off funds received during the Patidar agitation.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There was no account or structure. No account was opened. There was nothing like a trust formed. For example, funds came for public meetings.</p> Fri Jun 03 15:20:52 IST 2022 moosewalas-murder-drives-demand-for-societal-curbs-on-punjabs-gun-and-gang-culture <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In May 2020, when India was under the pandemic-induced lockdown, a video of popular Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala went viral. The 28-year-old singer was pictured firing an AK-47 rifle at a shooting range in the presence of a few Punjab Police personnel. The policemen in the video were subsequently suspended and Moosewala was booked under the Arms Act and the Disaster Management Act. A day after getting anticipatory bail in the case, Moosewala released another song on his YouTube channel, comparing himself to actor Sanjay Dutt, who was jailed under the Arms Act back in 1993.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moosewala, the enfant terrible of the Punjabi music industry, was always unapologetic about his promotion of guns and gangs. Ironically, he was gunned down on May 29 in what was said to be a gang hit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu in a Jat Sikh family in Punjab’s Mansa district, Moosewala went to Canada in 2016 after finishing his B.Tech degree. He released his first song, ‘G Wagon’, while he was in Canada. His first hit track, ‘So High’, came in August 2017. Moosewala’s irreverent take on life, his rivals and society added to his appeal. During the farmers’ agitation, he hit a defiant note by telling Delhi that Punjab was not like Kashmir, and could not be suppressed. His decision to join the Congress last December and to contest the assembly polls showed that the cultural icon was ready for the political track as well.</p> <p>Moosewala’s murder happened after Punjab’s two-month-old Aam Aadmi Party government under Bhagwant Mann withdrew security cover to 424 people saying that it was doing away with the state’s ‘VIP culture’. Inexplicably, the government revealed the names of the 424, including Moosewala. He was shot dead a day after the names were made public.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My son used to get extortion calls and threats from the Lawrence Bishnoi group, which was why he got a bullet-proof car. As he was at home, his cousin and friend came to meet him. He left the house with them on a Mahindra Thar to meet his aunt. I followed him with two gunmen,” said Moosewala’s father, Balkaur Singh, according to the FIR. Director General of Police V.K. Bhawra said Moosewala was tailed by a white Corolla and was blocked by two other cars. The assassins opened fire and fled. He was taken to the Civil Hospital in Mansa, where he was declared dead on arrival.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are working on all angles. The Lawrence Bishnoi/Goldy Brar gang has taken responsibility,” said Mansa senior superintendent of police, Gaurav Toora. Bishnoi, currently lodged in Delhi’s Tihar jail in another case, denied any involvement. Brar, Bishnoi’s key associate based in Canada, however, claimed through an unverified social media post that Moosewala was killed because of his links to the murder of Youth Akali Dal leader Vicky Middukhera, who was close to Bishnoi. He was killed last August allegedly by gangsters belonging to the Davinder Bambiha group.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite Davinder’s death in an encounter in 2016, the Bambiha gang is still thriving and remains the most notorious gang in Punjab, Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan, along with the Bishnoi gang. Other gangsters have alliances with these two gangs, ensuring pooling of resources and sharing of booty. As Punjabi songs, films and sports are major revenue earners, people working in these fields become obvious targets for extortion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike gangsters from elsewhere in the country, gang leaders from Punjab announce their kills on social media, and routinely share pictures from inside the jails. After Middukhera’s murder, the Bishnoi gang had vowed revenge, according to social media posts. There were allegations that Moosewala’s manager, Shagunpreet Singh, had a role in Middukhera’s murder. Shagunpreet fled the country after his name came up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Mann government has set up an anti-gangster unit to tackle the menace, but with the Moosewala hit, it is clearly on the back foot. “It is the utter failure of the Mann government and the DGP. It is a political murder,” said opposition leader Partap Singh Bajwa of the Congress. “They are trying to give a spin that it is the handiwork of gangsters. We have demanded a probe by the National Investigation Agency about the withdrawal of security cover.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, too, has blamed the AAP government. “They should answer why Moosewala’s security was withdrawn and a case should be registered against Mann,” said BJP leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP is finding it difficult to explain the withdrawal of security cover and the publicising of the names. AAP spokesperson Malwinder Singh Kang said gangsters flourished in Punjab in the past one decade because of political patronage. “There is a trend of students-turned gangsters trying to associate themselves with film stars, sportsmen and singers. Moosewala became a victim of such organised crime.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>AAP leaders said the traditional political class was turning against the party as the Mann government started reclaiming encroached land and curtailing illegal sand mining. “These parties do not have any sympathy for Moosewala, they are trying to target us because they have been deprived of their influence. The Mann government will not spare anyone or give patronage to anyone as it happened in the past,” said Kang.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the AAP government has a difficult mission in the aftermath of Moosewala’s gruesome murder, demand for societal curbs on the gun culture and gangs are growing. “As long as we celebrate gun culture, we will not be able to control it,” said Bhim Inder Singh, professor at Punjabi University, Patiala. “Just like there is a censor board for films, we should have a culture commission to keep in check the excessive celebration of guns and gangs in popular media.”</p> Fri Jun 03 15:13:51 IST 2022 west-bengal-recruitment-scam-two-ministers-feel-the-heat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Paresh Adhikari, minister of state for education in the Mamata Banerjee government, and his daughter, Ankita, a school teacher, boarded the Padatik Express from Jalpaiguri on May 18. They were supposed to get off at Sealdah, but they did not. The Eastern Railway’s CCTV showed them at the Burdwan station, around 700km away from Jalpaiguri. They vanished from the station.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adhikari was expected at the CBI’s state headquarters at Nizam Palace later that day in connection with the alleged teacher recruitment scam. The CBI had filed an FIR against the duo, and the Calcutta High Court had ordered him to appear before the CBI. Ankita allegedly was appointed violating many norms. “She got the job just because she is the minister’s daughter,” said Babita Sarkar of Siliguri, who did not get a job despite having scored more marks than Ankita.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thousands of eligible candidates like Babita had moved court alleging irregularities in recruitment. A battery of lawyers, led by CPI(M) leader Bikash Bhattacharya, fought their case in the High Court. Around 10,000 teacher appointments and around 900 non-teaching staff appointments (group C and D) are under the scanner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay pulled up Adhikari and Partha Chatterjee, who was education minister when the irregularities happened, and asked a committee led by former judge Ranjit Bag to investigate it. The committee’s report on group C and group D appointments said that the signature of Kalyanmoy Ganguly, president of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (WBBSE), was misused to commit the crime. Apparently, Ganguly’s signature was scanned and stored in a server for generating appointment letters from the soft copy of the data received from the School Service Commission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The WBBSE, which makes the appointments, allegedly received fake data of fake candidates from the School Service Commission (SSC), the recruiting body. “According to school service commission rules of 2009, we would like to hold the chairman of the central commission and regional commissions responsible and liable for dereliction of duty and for violating the rules of school service commission. We don’t want to hold the staff members of both central commissions and regional commissions responsible,” said the report. SSC chairman Sidhartha Majumder resigned after the storm broke.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition parties allege that it would not have happened without the knowledge of the Trinamool leadership. “It is well known that the top echelons of the government were involved in the scam,” said CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty. “No doubt that instructions were given to the education minister to recruit candidates who did not pass at all.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adhikari reappeared two days after he went missing, and was grilled by the CBI. It is said that he had made a deal with the Trinamool leadership for a ministerial berth for himself and a government job for his daughter when he jumped ship to the Trinamool from the All India Forward Bloc in 2015. “The entire blame is on the people who agreed to Adhikari’s conditions,” said a Trinamool leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bag committee recommended administrative action against the individuals involved by the disciplinary authority or pension sanctioning authority; those who got the jobs, too, could face criminal charges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Justice Gangopadhyay has allowed the CBI to arrest Chatterjee, who is currently the commerce and industries minister and the virtual number two in the government. The CBI is also questioning education department officials who had worked under Chatterjee, including his secretary and officer on special duty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CBI has also been asked to investigate the money angle and to check if the Trinamool had asked Chatterjee to make speedy appointments. “Instruction was sent to Partha babu from Kalighat (the chief minister’s residence),”said BJP state president Sukanta Majumder. “Party leaders received Rs10 lakh to Rs15 lakh each from the fake job holders. Now you know how the party runs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chatterjee denied the allegations. “If money came to my account then it is corruption. Let the CBI probe that,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trinamool spokesperson Kunal Ghosh reacted more cautiously. “I think it was a mistake at that time,” he said. “The current education minister (Bratya Basu) can no way be responsible for it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The onus is now on the CBI. “Hope it would not be like the Saradha scam investigation conducted by the CBI,” said student leader Moidul Islam. “We want justice and jobs.”</p> Fri May 27 13:12:10 IST 2022 jignesh-mevani-fears-similar-fate-as-dabholkar-and-kalburgi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON JULY 11,</b> 2016, a mob of upper-caste men at Una town in Gujarat’s Gir Somnath district attacked seven members of a dalit family who were skinning a dead cow. They were stripped of their clothes, tied to the back of a car, and beaten with sticks and iron pipes. Videos of the violence went viral.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The incident changed Jignesh Mevani’s life. Until then, he had been just another dalit activist fighting for the uplift of his community. Born in a lower middle class family in Mehsana district, he was a graduate in English literature and law, and had worked briefly as a journalist and lawyer. The Una incident so moved him that Mevani mobilised a mass movement and led a 400km padyatra to Una. He also set up the rights platform Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch, becoming the face of the dalit struggle for land in Gujarat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mevani, 41, now represents the Vadgam constituency in the Gujarat assembly. A vociferous critic of the BJP, he was recently arrested and charged with criminal conspiracy by the Assam Police for a tweet criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mevani said in the tweet: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who considers Godse as his god, is going on a tour of Gujarat from April 20. I appeal to him that he should appeal for calm in Himmatnagar, Khambat and Veraval, where communal violence broke out. Can we at least hope for this much from the maker of the grand temple?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mevani was charged with trying to “incite hatred” and “destroy the social fabric”. But a district court in Assam said the arrest was unlawful and granted him bail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was re-arrested after a lady police officer alleged that Mevani had harassed and threatened her while being in custody in Assam, but the court again granted him bail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Days later, a magisterial court in Mehsana convicted Mevani and nine others, and sentenced them to three months in prison, for holding a rally in 2017 without requisite permission. The court also granted a stay on the order to allow him to move a higher court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mevani clearly has his hands full as he prepares for the assembly elections in Gujarat, due later this year. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Mevani talked about his political and legal challenges, his plans to join the Congress, his future in politics, and the continuing fight against the RSS.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did you expect that the tweet will get you arrested?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Obviously not. It does not contain anything for which an FIR can be attracted. It should rather be appreciated that I appealed to the prime minister to make an appeal to the people of Gujarat to maintain peace and harmony.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How did you feel when you were arrested?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I felt that [this was] fascism. These people (the BJP and the RSS) can go to any length. Groups that are ideologically affiliated to the BJP and the RSS have killed Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh. They have put Sudha Bharadwaj, Hardik Patel and Akhil Gogoi behind bars. They have arrested journalists, activists and politicians. We are living in an era of fascist people. Anything can happen. So when the police came and arrested me, I was not surprised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why do you think you were arrested? It is not obviously because of the tweet.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I was arrested because they wanted to teach me a lesson. They want to persecute me because I have been solidly against the BJP and the RSS, not just in Gujarat but across India. They know I am a threat to them in the long run. There is also the fact that elections are due in Gujarat. Above all, they have become arrogant; they think that they can get away with anything.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You were also convicted for holding a rally without permission.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I would probably be the only MLA in India convicted for holding a rally without permission. Such rallies happen on a daily basis, but since this is Jignesh Mevani, they are taking it seriously. The way they have been conspiring against me, the RSS may have a plan to kill me. They may physically eliminate me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you informed the police of this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ No, because [the RSS] can do this to anyone. Justice B.H. Loya can be killed; Gujarat home minister Haren Pandya can be killed; there are serious doubts about the death of Pramod Mahajan and many others; and we already have cases related to the deaths of Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh. What happened to them can happen to me as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why do you feel it can happen to you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I feel so because that is what the RSS is—extremely fascist in nature. It is obvious that I am a much bigger threat than Dabholkar, Kalburgi, Pansare and Gauri Lankesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The way you have been hounded, do you feel that it would improve your stature in politics?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It has definitely helped me politically. People in Gujarat really came out in my support. There was a lot of love and affection, and genuine anger against the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How are you going to capitalise on the trust that people have in you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I have gained their trust by working day and night for them. And if I keep doing it—and I will—their faith in me will certainly grow. I will tell the people of Gujarat, particularly dalits and the people in my constituency, the story of what happened to me and how they (the BJP) targeted me. They are completely exposed by the judiciary in Assam. It was almost established by the court that there was a conspiracy to implicate me in criminal cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>[That the police came] all the way to Gujarat, covering 2,500km, shows how desperate they are. And what their priority is. Insurgency and drug peddlers are not the priority of the Assam Police. They travel 2,500km to arrest an MLA on the basis of a tweet, and it speaks volumes about what they have become.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How will the trial affect your campaign?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I will have to go [to Assam]. It will affect my campaign, and the Congress. And that is what the plan is. But what can one do? One has to face it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What will be your role in the Congress in the run-up to the elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I will be one of their leading campaigners—one of the star speakers. I will try to shape the campaign and the party’s manifesto.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Within the Congress in Gujarat, there is a divide between the elder and younger generations. How do you plan to bridge this gap?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am a lucky chap in that sense. I am loved by the old guard as well as the younger lot. I will try and bridge the gap by bringing in more people like me, and giving them the space to fight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your friend and party colleague Hardik Patel has been having some issues with the state leadership. Have you spoken to him?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I have not spoken to him at length. Everybody knows he is angry. But it will be taken care of. Hardik will remain with the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Where do you see yourself five years from now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think I will be able to grow in Gujarat and nationally. This is because my base is increasing both ways. My acceptance is steadily growing nationally, and I have been able to consolidate in Gujarat as well. Hopefully, there will be more cases, more persecutions and more harassment, giving me more sympathy, more limelight and more attention (laughs).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your five major achievements in Vadgam constituency?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We could generate the highest number of jobs in north Gujarat as part of the National Employment Guarantee Scheme. My constituency is number one [in that regard]. We have been able to generate jobs for 12,000 people through the scheme, and this includes not just Vadgam but Banaskantha as well. During my tenure, 500 people got housing plots. The people of Vadgam had been demanding that the Narmada canal network be extended to the Mukteshwar dam, which we could achieve.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We could set up Gujarat’s biggest oxygen plant in my constituency; it is in a primary health centre at Chhapi, with a refilling capacity of more than 700 jumbo cylinders. I have become the voice of lakhs of dalits in Gujarat and India. We—the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikaar Manch—could ensure the transfer of 2,500 acres to landless dalits. No other dalit leader in the state has been able to do so in two decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How will you ensure your victory in Vadgam this time? You will have to be away because of the cases against you. The BJP is all out to get this seat, and the Aam Aadmi Party is also in the fray.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Since the BJP is so desperate, the people of Vadgam will also go all out against the BJP. Last time, I contested as an independent. Now, I will have a party symbol. As for the AAP, [the impact] won’t be big.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you do when you take time out from politics?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I like poetry. Poetry in any language—Gujarati, Hindi, Urdu, English. Mareez in Gujarati, and Ghalib, Gulzar, Shahryar, Kaif Bhopali, Kaifi Azmi and Javed Akhtar. I love poetry, theatre and cinema. I love Chaplin and Van Gogh. I love to be with friends, idling away hours and having chai ki tapri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your favourite dishes?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Dal is something that I love, but [the dish] should not be sweet. I also like fish, chicken and green vegetables.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You are an eligible bachelor. When are you getting married?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Assam judiciary has let me be a free bird; I would request you to let me remain a free bird (laughs).</p> Sun May 15 12:14:29 IST 2022 lion-population-at-gir-growing <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was a chilly winter morning and strong winds were expected. As I hopped into an open jeep and trundled into the woods, I was anxious, curious and excited. After all, it is not often that you have a date with the king of the jungle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier, the manager of the Asiatic Lion Lodge in Sasan Gir, where I was put up, suggested that we do not bathe before the safari. I did not listen. Much later, when I was literally out in the cold, I realised he had a point. Thankfully, I had listened to the instructions about woollen wear and the need for covering our heads and ears. We left the lodge at the crack of dawn. It was a 6km-drive to Sinh Sadan, from where the journey into the wild would begin. The manager of the lodge completed the formalities at Sinh Sadan on our behalf and an open jeep arrived. I called shotgun and gleefully claimed the seat. The jeep held half a dozen people, including a forest guard, Ghanshyam Baria.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The driver, a local resident, drove slowly on one of the 13 designated safari routes. We had chosen the first safari of the day, the best time to spot lions. The Gir National Park offers three safaris, two in the morning and one late in the afternoon. As the jeep trudged on, Baria softly asked us to look to the left. “A lioness and two cubs,” he said. We did not see them immediately, but then the first rays of sun illuminated the deciduous forest and them. The cubs were playing, but the lioness was evidently unhappy with the call of the crows.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Next, we were greeted by a herd of spotted deer, always alert to the slightest of sounds. Gir, famous across the world as the last home of the Asiatic lion, is also known for its rich flora and fauna. Pointing out a tiny bird, Baria said there were 39 animal species, 300 bird species and 3,500 tree species in Gir. He added that renowned ornithologist Salim Ali had once said that had it not been for the lions, Gir would have been known for its birds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hearing the roars of the lions from a distance, punctuated by the chirping of the birds, was in itself a moving experience. But, we were about to hit the jackpot. A lion was sitting on our path. Even as we were processing that, another one emerged from the bushes and walked towards our stationary jeep.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The cameras were clicking away furiously. Baria and the driver told us not to move. The driver then started to reverse the jeep slowly. “They must be brothers,” said Baria, adding that lions generally do not remain together unless they are kin and even then, not for too long. We waited and watched from a distance until the lions left, and then moved forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We proceeded towards the Kamleshwar Dam, coming across many herbivores on the way. The watchtower at the dam gave a panoramic view of the forest. It was the perfect setting for selfies. After returning, we felt immensely lucky to have spotted the lions within the first 30 minutes of the three-hour safari.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, it was perhaps the result of a lot of hard work. In recent years, Gir has seen a steady rise in the number of lions. Mohan Ram, deputy conservator of forests, Sasan Gir, said that the 2020 census recorded 674 lions, of which at least 250 were females. He added that as the numbers were increasing, the lions were regaining landscape and can currently be found in nine districts of Saurashtra. They are residents in five districts and can be spotted seasonally in the rest. The protected area holds 52 per cent of the lion population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from the conservation efforts, the support of local residents has been key to the increasing number of lions. In 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi acknowledged and appreciated the support of the local population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Ram, Gir attracts 5.25 lakh tourists annually. The development and conservation model, and tourism model is inclusive. Locals have not only been trained and recruited as guides, they also drive the safari vehicles. The drivers are paid Rs2,000 of the Rs3,400 charged for the safari. Guides get Rs400, and Rs1,000 is the permit fee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The region thrives on agriculture, but thanks to the lions, tourism is also a major source of revenue. According to conservative estimates, there are about 400 facilities, including five-star hotels, tent stays and quite a few ecotourism properties, like the Asiatic Lion Lodge, in and around Sasan Gir. Some facilities prop up without proper clearances, but the authorities are quick to crack down on these.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The local residents, whether they be the Maldharis or the Siddis, who trace their origins to southeast Africa, are proud of the lions. Nathiben Khodiyadhar, 65, from Haripur village, on the fringes of the protected area, has fenced her kaccha home to protect the cattle from lions. But, she said she is not afraid of lions and added that they were the pride of the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The villagers often lose their livestock to lions. However, they are compensated by the forest department. Alimaben Majbul, from Jambur, one of the villages where the Siddis reside, said: “Nobody hurts lions. The forest department gives us compensation if lions kill cattle.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from Gir, lions can also be spotted at the Devalia Safari Park, about 12km west of Sasan Gir. The park, which is spread over 4.12sqkm, also houses leopards. Quite a few can be seen in moated enclosures; a guard explained that the leopards in the enclosures were man killers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As things stand, the population of lions is only set to increase further. The Gujarat government has sought more funds from the Centre under Project Lion. The effort is to increase the population, create gene pools and better medical facilities, manage increased areas and carry out other mitigation measures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gir can be reached by road from Ahmedabad; the drive is about eight hours. Visitors can also fly to Rajkot, which cuts the travel time by more than three hours. Amitabh Bachchan says in an advertisement for Gujarat Tourism: “Kuch din toh guzaariye Gujarat mai (Spend a few days in Gujarat)”. And Gir certainly warrants a few days from your busy schedule.</p> Sun May 08 12:02:04 IST 2022 the-case-of-nimisha-priya-the-indian-nurse-facing-the-death-penalty-in-yemen <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>PREMAKUMARI, 56, IS</b> on tenterhooks as she desperately waits for the external affairs ministry’s clearance to travel to strife-torn Yemen. The purpose of the trip is an onerous one, involving a matter of life and death. Premakumari wants to make a last-ditch effort to save her daughter, Nimisha Priya, who has been sentenced to death for murdering Yemeni citizen Talal Abdo Mahdi in 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Premakumari, a domestic help in Kerala’s Ernakulam district, weeps often as she talks about her only child. She wants to appeal to Mahdi’s family for mercy. “I will ask their forgiveness,” she said. “I will tell them that Priya has an eight-year-old daughter who is waiting for her mother. They can take my life if they want.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priya’s daughter is expected to accompany Premakumari to Yemen; the mother’s appeal is perhaps the only lifeline left for the 32-year-old nurse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to legal experts and activists involved with the case, this is perhaps the only instance of an Indian being sentenced for murder in Yemen. It is also a rare instance in the Middle East of an Indian woman facing the death penalty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In August 2020, a trial court found Priya guilty of murdering Mahdi by injecting him with sedatives. Mahdi’s body was found in pieces, in a water tank. A Yemeni nurse, who was found guilty of helping Priya, was sentenced to life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priya’s death sentence was upheld by an appeal court on March 7, 2022, but the court threw Priya a lifeline, saying that Mahdi’s family could pardon her, if they so wished. Under Islamic law, the death penalty can be waived if the victim’s family pardons the convict, and this can involve payment of “blood money” (compensation paid to the victim’s family).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priya, who hails from Kollengode in Palakkad district of Kerala, had migrated to Yemen with her husband, Tomy Thomas, in 2011. There she worked in private hospitals, while her husband found work at a petrol pump. Priya’s daughter was born in Yemen in 2013, after which Thomas quit his job to look after the child. In 2014, Thomas and the child returned to India because of financial reasons, while she stayed on. Thomas now drives an autorickshaw for a living.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per Priya’s version of the events, in 2015, she and Mahdi together set up a clinic in the Yemeni capital Sana’a. She sought Mahdi’s help as only Yemeni nationals are allowed to set up clinics. A labour contractor had put her in touch with Mahdi, who ran a textile shop. In 2015, Mahdi accompanied Priya to Kerala when she came on a month-long holiday. As per Priya, during the visit, Mahdi stole a wedding photograph of hers, which he later morphed to claim that they were married. Later, according to Priya, the relationship between them deteriorated as Mahdi began stealing money from the clinic. She claimed that he began torturing her, threatened her at gunpoint, confiscated her ornaments and passport. She also claimed that he would bring his friends to her house at night and force her to have sex with them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priya had stated in her defence that she did complain about Mahdi to the police, but instead of taking action against him, they put her in jail for six days. In July 2017, she took the help of a warden of a jail near her clinic, where Mahdi had been jailed in the past under various charges. The warden, she says, suggested that she sedate Mahdi and retrieve her passport. However, Mahdi died of an overdose when she tried this; Priya maintains that Mahdi’s death was an accident.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a handwritten message penned in Malayalam before her case came up for appeal—addressed to the ‘Save Nimisha Priya International Action Council’, a forum launched in 2020—Priya said: “I did not commit murder. For making our lives better, with my husband’s permission, I took a certain path. But I fell into the trap of certain people I trusted and ended up in a tragic situation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Subhash Chandran K.R.—a Delhi-based lawyer who represented the action council in the Delhi High Court recently to seek the Union government’s intervention in the matter—a seven-member delegation has been chosen to meet Mahdi’s family. The list includes Premakumari and Priya’s daughter; Chandran and Deepa Joseph, another Delhi-based lawyer who is the vice president of the action council; Babu John, the convenor of the council; Rafeek Ravuther of the Centre for Indian Migrant Studies, and Nizar Kochery, an Indian lawyer based in Doha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There has been a ban on Indians travelling to Yemen,” said Chandran. “When we approached the Delhi High Court seeking the Union government’s intervention, they [the government] assured all assistance such as permission to travel, and also the services of an interpreter. However, the government has stated that it cannot be involved in the negotiation for pardon.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the team wants to travel to Yemen at the earliest and begin negotiations immediately. “A pardon during the month of Ramzan is given a lot of importance,” said Chandran. “We would want to begin the negotiation before Ramzan ends.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The assistance sought from the Union government also includes help in enabling the payment of money that Mahdi’s family may demand, since financial transactions to Yemen are also restricted by Indian authorities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The matter has been discussed at the highest levels in the ministry of external affairs,” said a source at the MEA. “The relevant authorities have been asked to look at ways to help Priya and expedite the process to get her out.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, giving a boost to the campaign, former Supreme Court judge Justice Kurian Joseph has agreed to lead the mediation efforts, although he will not be travelling to Yemen due to health reasons. “If my involvement will in any way help the process or augment it, I will be very happy about it,” he told THE WEEK. “I do not believe that eye for eye or tooth for a tooth is the remedy... I am not inclined to believe as of now, going by the documents, that she intended to commit the murder.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Yemen-based activist Samuel Jerome—the first person Priya reached out to for help when she was arrested in 2017—an informal interaction had taken place with Mahdi’s family before the case was taken up by the appeal court. “At that time, they had said that they wanted the trial to finish first,” he said. “What gives us hope is that all along, they have not shown any animosity towards us when we have met in court.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jerome said the negotiations will involve getting in touch with Yemeni tribal leaders, too, apart from the family. “Our argument will not be that Priya has not committed the crime,” he said. “After all, we are seeking forgiveness. It could take a month, two months or even six months.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some estimated sums have been reported as the amount that may be required to be paid as blood money. However, Chandran said that the family has not spoken about any amount so far, as the question of payment of blood money will arise only when negotiations take place and Mahdi’s kin agree to pardon Priya. According to him, the indications from Mahdi’s family so far are that they are inclined to enter into pardon talks. “The family can agree to pardon Priya while not accepting any money,” said Chandran. “They may accept a token payment of one rial or quote a certain amount. It is all up to them,”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the need arises, the action council will launch a fundraiser to raise the blood money as Priya’s family is impoverished. The additional challenge in this case is the huge public outcry that the murder evoked in Yemen. According to those involved with the case, there was a sense of betrayal as Indians are well-regarded by Yemeni society. Also, since it is a patriarchal society, if the culprit is a woman, the crime becomes all the more condemnable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alongside the efforts to secure a pardon for her, Priya’s lawyers are ready to file an appeal in the Supreme Judicial Council of Yemen and are waiting for a printed copy of the judgment of the appeal court. However, the apex court rarely sets aside the verdict of the appeal court; it only examines procedural errors and does not go into the merits of the case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, reacting to a view expressed in certain quarters about why a campaign is being waged to save a convict, Deepa, who has helped Priya build her defence before the appeal court, said: “It is true that Priya’s confession to the killing is part of legal records. But she has maintained that it was unintentional. Also, one has to take into account the fact that when the trial began, Nimisha did not get any support. She was all alone in a foreign land. She did not understand the language. She did not get adequate legal aid. She was not defended properly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She further said that it was after the action council took it up with the Union government that a lawyer was appointed to represent her in the appeal court. “Her contention that she was being tortured by Mahdi was not properly appreciated,” said Deepa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, moving beyond the merits of the case, the matter has now narrowed down to whether Priya will be pardoned by Mahdi’s family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>CHRONOLOGY OF THE CASE</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>April 2016</b></p> <p>India issues a travel advisory asking Indian nationals to avoid travelling to Yemen, after Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, a priest from Kerala, gets abducted by Yemeni terrorists</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>July 2017</b></p> <p>Nimisha Priya gets arrested in Sana’a for murdering a Yemeni national, Talal Abdo Mahdi</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>October 2017</b></p> <p>India bans travel of Indian nationals to Yemen</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>August 2020</b></p> <p>A trial court in Sana’a sentences her to death; Priya files an appeal</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>September 2020</b></p> <p>An action council to save Priya starts functioning</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>March 2022</b></p> <p>The appeal court upholds the death sentence; the action council files a writ petition in Delhi High Court seeking the Union government’s help to negotiate with the victim’s family</p> Fri Apr 29 16:45:15 IST 2022 the-case-that-exposed-the-politician-contractor-bureaucrat-nexus-in-karnataka <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON APRIL 12,</b> Santosh K. Patil, a civil contractor from Belagavi, was found dead in a hotel room in Udupi. Two weeks before his death, the 37-year-old Patil, who was also a BJP worker, had accused rural development and panchayat raj (RDPR) minister K.S. Eshwarappa of harassing him for a “40 per cent commission” to clear pending bills worth 04 crore for civil work done in Hindalga village in Belagavi. A WhatsApp message from his phone to his friends and a section of the media said he was ending his life, and held Eshwarappa responsible. While corruption charges against politicians and bureaucrats are not new, the death of a party worker has been unsettling for the ruling BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last November, the Karnataka State Contractors’ Association (KSCA) alleged that its members were forced to pay “40 per cent commission” in government contracts. It expressed disappointment that despite writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about “rampant corruption”, especially in the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike and departments like PWD, irrigation, RDPR and health, the PMO remained silent. The association said bills worth Rs22,000 crore were pending before the government for the past 30 months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>KSCA president D. Kempanna threatened massive agitation if the Karnataka government failed to put an end to corruption. “The contractors always take the blame for substandard work. But corruption has been part of every regime and now it stands at 40 per cent. Often we cannot prove corruption charges for want of evidence,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP government has labelled the contractors as “Congress agents”. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has promised to constitute a committee headed by a retired High Court judge to “review” government tenders costing Rs50 crore or more to prevent “escalation” and “exaggeration” of project cost. Patil’s suspicious death has given the Congress a chance to corner the BJP at a time when growing communal polarisation in Karnataka is working in favour of the saffron party in an election year. It launched a dharna in front of the Vidhana Soudha, demanding Eshwarappa’s ouster from the cabinet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eshwarappa, a prominent Kuruba (OBC) leader with an RSS background, refused to quit initially, saying that Patil had no work order to do civil work. However, he changed his mind quickly and announced his resignation to avert any “embarrassment” to the BJP. A day before the party’s state executive committee meeting in Hosapete (which was attended by the BJP’s national president J.P. Nadda), Eshwarappa returned to Bengaluru from his home town Shivamogga with a sea of followers and handed over his resignation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress launched district-level agitations demanding Eshwarappa’s arrest, after an FIR was filed based on a complaint by Patil’s family. The FIR named Eshwarappa and his aides, Basavaraj and Ramesh, as accused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bommai, who is being blamed for letting communal polarisation intensify in the state, found the “40 per cent commission” charge unpalatable. After all, corruption was a key poll plank for the BJP in the 2018 assembly elections and Modi had fiercely attacked the then chief minister Siddaramaiah in his election rallies, asking people to dismiss the “10 per cent sarkar”. In a twist of fate, the BJP, which replaced B.S. Yediyurappa with Bommai last July promising “clean governance”, finds itself on the wrong foot now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as BJP leaders defend Eshwarappa, saying that the contractors had provided no evidence to prove the bribery charges, the controversy has dented the image of the party and the government. Irked by the Congress’s high decibel campaign, Bommai has challenged Congress leaders to “count the skeletons in their cupboard”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Congressmen are taking out a yatra as if they are saints. They are trying to set a narrative, but the people of Karnataka have seen them for many years. We will go to the people and expose the scams of Congress leaders,” said Bommai. According to a BJP insider, the party is compiling documents pertaining to the scams that took place under the Siddaramaiah government from 2013 to 2018.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former chief minister and Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy demanded a thorough probe into Patil’s death. “It has raised suspicion as he had accompanied two of his friends to Udupi and chose to stay in a separate room. It is not clear who gave him permission to do the civil work without a work order and a work estimate. Then there are charges of 40 per cent commission, too. All these should be probed,” said Kumaraswamy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Aam Aadmi Party, meanwhile, blamed both national parties. Prithvi Reddy, the AAP’s Karnataka state convenor, said the Congress and the BJP had lost the moral authority to talk about corruption. “The BJP is sidestepping the issue, hoping that it will end with Eshwarappa’s resignation. But it is not just a matter of corruption in one department, but against the entire BJP government,” he said. “We demand a Supreme Court-monitored probe into the case and also into other corruption charges. Also, we want Eshwarappa to be arrested as he is charged with abetting suicide, which is a non-bailable offence. Patil had been flagging the issue for long, had threatened to commit suicide and had also directly named the minister. Eshwarappa is powerful and can influence the witnesses and the evidence.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amid the political storm, Patil’s family has expressed suspicion that his alleged suicide could be murder. “My husband was upset that Eshwarappa was asking for a 40 per cent cut to clear pending bills worth 04 crore. He had met the minister several times in Bengaluru. He even pledged my jewellery for the work. The last time he called, he told me that he was travelling to Udupi with two friends,” said Patil’s wife, Jayashri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patil’s younger brother Basanagouda, too, suspects foul play. “My brother had taken two of his friends to Udupi. One of them (also named Santosh) was Eshwarappa’s man. On April 12, we learnt about my brother’s death from television channels. We were also informed by the Udupi police. We saw the body lying on the bed in the hotel room. The police told us that he had consumed poison. The friends who had accompanied him told us that Santosh had asked them to take separate rooms as he was expecting another friend,” said Basanagouda, a police inspector in Bengaluru.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Hindalga gram panchayat president Nagesh Manolkar, Patil had taken up 108 projects worth Rs4 crore ahead of the Sri Lakshmi Devi jatre (a local fair), as asked by Eshwarappa. “I was with Patil and a seer when they met Eshwarappa in his Bengaluru office. Patil had raised loans to carry out the work,” said Manolkar. A few days before Patil’s death, the RDPR department ordered a probe into the road work in Hindalga as he had not taken any prior approval for the work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The government follows a thorough procedure to award contracts,” said BJP leader N.R. Ramesh, a whistleblower who has exposed several scams. “The work estimate and action plan is prepared, a tender is called, technical and financial bids are opened and then the lowest bidder’s document is put up before the empowered committee for approval. This is followed by an agreement with the contractor and a work order is issued. Any work taken up without a work order is illegal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has announced compensation worth Rs11 lakh to Patil’s family, and the contractors’ association has demanded Rs2 crore as compensation and the settlement of pending bills of Rs4 crore, but not everyone shares similar sentiments. Ravikrishna Reddy, anti-corruption crusader and founder of the Karnataka Rashtra Samiti (KRS), said people should have no sympathy for contractors who took up projects without work orders. “It is not only a criminal offence, but also the main reason for substandard work. Every contractor must display a banner giving out cost of the project, the dates of commencement and completion and work order details,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While anti-corruption activists warn that work without competitive and transparent bidding will result in nepotism, substandard work and corruption, contractors argue that they are forced to take up projects based on oral instructions from politicians and senior officials. “A majority of works are taken up without a work order, based on assurances by politicians, and later ratified to make the payment. The payment is also delayed for years,” said Kempanna.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A closer look at Bengaluru’s potholed roads and the BBMP budget for roads paints a clear picture of nepotism and corruption. A study by Bengaluru Navanirman Party found that Rs21,000 crore was allotted for roads between 2015 and 2020, and yet city roads remained as pathetic as ever. “Of the 63,629 road projects worth Rs21,000 crore approved by the BBMP, 28,314 projects worth Rs10,018 crore were awarded to a single agency, the Karnataka Rural Infrastructure Development Limited,” according to the study.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BBMP follows the “27 per cent commission system”. A corporator takes 3 to 4 per cent on every bill, the assistant engineer charges 5 per cent commission to make an entry in bill register, another 5 per cent for bill registry (BR) approval, the executive engineer charges 4 per cent (for measurement book and to release the cheque), the executive engineer office staff take 0.5 per cent, the chief engineer takes 1 per cent and his office 0.5 per cent, the joint commissioner 1 per cent and the chief accounts office 6 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dingaleshwar Swamiji of the Balehosur mutt in Gadag district alleged that the grants given to the religious mutts, too, were not spared as they had to pay “30 per cent commission” on most projects. The Lingayat pontiff said he was once asked to pay a bribe of Rs25 lakh for a grant of Rs75 lakh. “The grant sanctioned by the Kumaraswamy government for the construction of Yatri Nivas has still not been released in full as the Land Army engineer demanded 30 per cent,” said the pontiff. He, however, clarified that his allegations were not related to the grants being disbursed by the endowment department to the mutts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some activists blame the defanging of the lokayukta by the Siddaramaiah government for the unabated corruption. The quasi-judicial lokayukta was stripped of its police (investigative) powers and the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) was made to take its place. While the ACB raids on officials were talked about a lot, the conviction rate has remained at around 35 per cent. Of the 310 cases registered over the last five years, 223 are awaiting government sanction to initiate criminal prosecution against erring officials. Social activist S.R. Hiremath said if the lokayukta got police powers back and if a man of integrity were to head the organisation, up to 90 per cent convictions were possible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kempanna said local contractors were being elbowed out of the bidding process. “The government now entertains only new licensees from states like Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. The package system (bundling of work) keeps smaller local contractors out of the game. The tender conditions are being tweaked to favour some contractors. In fact, Health Minister Dr K. Sudhakar’s family has picked up 60 per cent of the health department building contracts. We will soon release evidence against five or six ministers and around 20 MLAs who are demanding cuts,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reacting to the complaint raised by the contractors, activists said the system was run by a syndicate of criminals. “These contractors are stooges who have fallen out of their master’s favour and are looking for a new master,” said Reddy. “They are part of the nexus and have long been indulging in corrupt practices and sharing the loot with politicians and bureaucrats. It is an irony that the ones who flout the rule book are seeking justice now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Fri Apr 22 14:21:34 IST 2022 red-alert <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THERE WERE SEVERAL</b> new elements at the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s 23rd party congress in Kannur, Kerala­—from the unisex uniforms of the volunteers (red shirt and khaki trousers) and increased participation of women to the unusual pomp and show on display. The most obvious change, though, was the show of unity from the leaders. “There were discussions, but no differences. That is the speciality of this party congress,” said party general secretary Sitaram Yechury.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The comrades all spoke in one voice. That voice, though, was of the Kerala unit. “The congress saw a complete domination of the Kerala unit over the rest of the party,” said activist and writer M.N. Pearson. “Whether it be the issue of an alliance with the Congress or its approach towards development, everyone listened to the comrades in Kerala because they had come to power for a second time when party units in the rest of the country were languishing. Only the winners get to be heard.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The story had been different at the previous two congresses. At the end of both, the party was a divided house with bitterness between the factions led by Yechury and former general secretary Prakash Karat. The bone of contention was an alliance with the Congress. While Yechury and the West Bengal faction batted for it, Karat and the Kerala team said no.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time, the issue seemed to be settled; the party would not have a pre-poll alliance with the Congress. “Defeating the BJP is our top priority and we will do that by organising all secular and democratic forces in the country,” said Yechury on the last day, April 10. “Alliances would emerge only after elections.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Asked specifically about the Congress, he said: “The Congress should set its house in order first. Compromising attitudes can only lead, as experiences have shown, to an exodus to the BJP.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several developments have contributed to this change within the CPI(M), said political observers. “Primarily, the position and credibility of the Congress have taken a severe thrashing in the past few years,” said political observer Jacob George. “Second, the Bengal leaders have realised the futility [of a Congress alliance] as it has yielded them no results in any of the elections in Bengal. Third, and more important, Kerala is the only place the party is in power and it did not want to upset the Kerala unit, which is in direct confrontation with the Congress. It was a pragmatic thing to do.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The central leadership’s admiration of the Kerala unit was evident when senior leader Brinda Karat said: “The LDF government led by [Chief Minister] Pinarayi Vijayan is a beacon of hope for all of us. A resolution was passed saluting the LDF government and it has been decided to spread the government’s achievements to other parts of the country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar was also all praise for the Kerala government. “The fact that the LDF could create history by coming back to power for the second time underlines the success of its alternative policies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Kerala unit not only returned to power, but also increased its cadre strength. The organisational report released during the congress showed that, of the total 9,85,757 party card holders in the country, 5,27,174 were from Kerala. The total number of cadres came down from 10,07,903 during the 2018 congress in Hyderabad, but Kerala saw an increase in the number of cadres from 4,89,086 to 5,27,174.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, outside of Kerala, the party’s prospects seem quite bleak. Even the organisational report said that the party was going through its “most challenging phase” since its formation in 1964. “Two of three strong bases of the party—Bengal and Tripura—are under severe attack, and there has been an erosion in our mass base and influence,” the report noted. “There is a general decline in the strength of the party all over the country with the exception of Kerala.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Bengal, where the party had ruled for decades, the number of party card holders is now 1,60,827; it was 1,92,454 in 2018. In Tripura, the number fell from 73,678 in 2017 to 50,612 in 2022. There was a similar decrease in most states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The real strength of the left party, despite the poor electoral results, was political credibility, said George. “They may be insignificant in most states,” he said, “but the consistency and credibility of the CPI(M) and its leaders have won them leverage among all political parties and this would help them act as a glue in stitching up anti-BJP alliances.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the CPI(M) should not have looked at national politics through the prism of Kerala, said Pearson. “What the party is doing may be helpful electorally in Kerala, but it will not help the CPI(M) politically,” he said, adding that the country was going through an Emergency-like situation. “Every political party had come together against Indira Gandhi in 1977. The current situation demands such a drastic political move if we are to save our democracy. The CPI(M)’s decision to keep the Congress out of the alliance is a political blunder.”</p> Sat Apr 16 14:37:21 IST 2022 ed-closes-in-on-thackerays-bjp-hopes-to-cash-in-on-it-electorally <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SOMETHING UNTHINKABLE</b> happened in Maharashtra politics on March 22. The Enforcement Directorate provisionally attached 11 residential flats belonging to Shree Saibaba Grihanirmiti Pvt Ltd—owned and controlled by Shridhar Patankar, brother-in-law of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray—in the Pushpak Bullion money laundering case. The message was clear: the Thackerays were no longer untouchable. The development assumes significance as the ED had so far restricted its action to Shiv Sena and NCP leaders without venturing anywhere near Maharashtra’s first family and its close relatives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ED had recorded a money laundering case against Pushpak Bullion and subsidiaries on March 6, 2017. After demonetisation was announced, Pushpak Bullion is alleged to have sold 258kg of gold and accepted payments in demonetised currency. The ED has already provisionally attached immovable and movable properties of Pushpak Bullion worth 021.46 crore. The Pushpak Group is controlled by chartered accountants Mahesh Patel and Chandrakant Patel, and their family members.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>ED investigations further revealed that Mahesh had siphoned off funds from Pushpak Realty in connivance with Nandkishore Chaturvedi, an accommodation entry provider (providing accommodation entry entails breaking up large amounts of money into smaller, less-suspicious amounts). In the garb of a sale, Pushpak Realty is alleged to have transferred Rs20.02 crore to entities controlled by Chaturvedi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the ED, Chaturvedi operates a number of shell companies. And, it is through one of them—Humsafar Dealer Pvt Ltd—that he transferred money, masked as an unsecured loan of Rs30 crore, to Shree Saibaba Grihanirmiti Pvt Ltd. “Thus the money siphoned off by Mahesh Patel in connivance with Chaturvedi was parked in the real estate project being developed by the Patankar-controlled Saibaba Grihanirmiti,” the agency said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patankar is the youngest brother of Uddhav’s wife, Rashmi. They have a sister—Swati Sardesai, whose son Varun is close to Tourism and Environment Minister Aditya Thackeray and is general secretary of the Aditya-controlled Yuva Sena. However, Patankar has always maintained a safe distance from politics. He keeps a very low profile and has business interests in the real estate sector. Rashmi, Swati and Patankar are known to be very close. Patankar earlier lived in Dombivali, where the siblings grew up. After Rashmi’s marriage to Uddhav and the growth of his own business, Patankar moved to Bandra east, where the Thackerays also live.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the day the ED provisionally attached the 11 properties, an upset Patankar apparently told Rashmi that he had done nothing wrong and that he had disassociated himself from the said company long ago. Rashmi, who carries immense weight in the Thackeray-Patankar family matters, was furious. She told her brother to stay calm and not to talk to anyone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That the ED action had hurt the Thackerays became clear on March 25 when Uddhav launched a spirited attack on the BJP and Central agencies on the floor of the state legislature. “You want power, take it,” he said. “I am willing to come anywhere with you, even to jail. But don’t harass relatives, don’t defame them. Did any one of us defame your family and relatives? Your fight is with me, so don’t trouble my relatives and my Shiv Sainiks through investigating agencies. I may not be Krishna of Mahabharat, but you are certainly acting like King Kansa by targeting innocents.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Uddhav knows that his political heft lies in his surname, but he is also aware that he is not a patch on his father, Bal Thackeray. Nonetheless, he has told senior party leaders that the Shiv Sena will launch a statewide agitation if Patankar or any of the Sena leaders like Transport Minister Anil Parab or MP Sanjay Raut are arrested. On April 5, the ED provisionally attached Raut’s eight properties in Alibaug and a flat in Dadar where he lives in connection with another money laundering case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The investigating agencies, meanwhile, are casting their net far and wide. Their latest catch is Yashwant Jadhav, Shiv Sena’s standing committee chairman in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. His wife, Yamini, is a Shiv Sena MLA from Byculla in Mumbai. In a raid on Jadhav’s residence, income tax authorities found a diary, which had entries like Rs2 crore (to Matoshree), and wristwatches worth Rs50 lakh. Matoshree means mother in Marathi. It is also the name of the Thackeray residence in Bandra east. Jadhav told IT officials that he had made a donation of Rs2 crore on his mother’s birthday. He, however, has not been able to convince the officials about gifting his mother the expensive watches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a source, the list of Shiv Sena leaders on the radar of investigating agencies include Parab, his close associate Sanjay Kadam; Raut; Industries Minister Subhash Desai and his son Bhushan Desai; Urban Development Minister Eknath Shinde and his close associates like Ajay Ashar, a real estate businessman; Bhupal Ramnathkar, Uddhav’s friend; the Jadhavs, and party secretary Milind Narvekar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), and the Shiv Sena in particular, has decided to hit back at the BJP by targeting its leaders like leader of opposition Pravin Darekar and legislative council member Prasad Lad. “We also have files related to Chandrakant Patil (BJP state president) when he was revenue minister and we will not spare even Devendra Fadnavis,” said a Shiv Sena insider.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the war between the Shiv Sena and the BJP gets fiercer by the day, the BJP has decided that it does not want to topple the MVA government anymore. The party instead will focus on damaging the image of the government and the Shiv Sena. The BJP wants to create a narrative that the MVA government is thoroughly corrupt, has elements linked to the underworld and Islamic terrorists and is totally inefficient.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The thinking in the BJP is that if it tries to topple the government, the MVA will get people’s sympathy. But if the BJP continues to target them on issues like corruption, the people will favour it in the 2024 assembly elections. Said a BJP leader: “Uddhav Thackeray is the most inefficient chief minister leading a corrupt and disgraced government. We will take this message to the nooks and corners of the state in coming months.”</p> Thu Apr 07 17:59:14 IST 2022 himachal-the-effects-of-generational-change-in-bjp-congress-and-aap-entry <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>TWO DAYS AFTER</b> the Aam Aadmi Party’s massive victory in Punjab, Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Jain held a celebratory road show in Shimla. Much to the consternation of BJP and Congress supporters, Jain declared that the AAP would contest all seats in the assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh, due in October this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The hilly state offers the best chance for the Congress to make up for its poor show in Punjab and Uttarakhand. The BJP, for its part, will try to break the state’s three-decade-old pattern of not re-electing the ruling party. The state’s bipolar polity has alternated between Congress and BJP governments since 1990.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 2022 elections also mark a departure from previous polls. Virbhadra Singh of the Congress and Prem Kumar Dhumal of the BJP, who had long been the state’s tallest leaders, will not have a face-off this time. Dhumal fell off the radar after losing his seat, even as the BJP won the polls in 2017. Virbhadra Singh died last year. The elections this year, therefore, has been billed as a generational change in state politics—one in which new leaders will be tested in the absence of veterans who dominated politics for four decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both parties are looking for a new idiom to mark this change. The BJP, fresh off its victory in four states, hopes that Himachal will go the way of Uttarakhand, where the party made history by winning a second consecutive term. “Himachal Pradesh represents the same thought process,” said Sanjay Tandon, co-in charge of the BJP’s state unit. “We will be re-elected. The BJP has good organisation on the ground. This is our inherent advantage. Our cadres are excited after the results in four states. We are starting meetings with them in all four parliamentary constituencies here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP hopes its ’double-engine’ slogan will work its magic again, as a lot has been done on the ground in terms of delivery of Central and state government schemes and free distribution of ration during the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, both the BJP and the Congress have similar views of the AAP. “No third party has made any progress in the state,” Tandon said. “It has been a bipolar polity.” Sanjay Dutt, the AICC secretary in charge of the state, said: “The AAP is more hype than reality. It has no organisation structure or known face across Himachal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, according to Ramesh Chauhan, professor at the department of political science, Himachal Pradesh University, the tremors from Punjab are being felt in the state. “People have started talking about the AAP. But it is yet to be seen how far will the AAP influence Himachal Pradesh. It will have some impact, as many of the state’s districts border Punjab,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rebel candidates, who tend to contest in 40 per cent of seats, are likely to influence results. Those who are denied tickets by the BJP and the Congress will now have a choice in the AAP. Also, in the absence of veteran leaders, the generational change in both the Congress and the BJP has been mired in faction feuds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress draws hope from the success it had in November last year, when the party won all seats—one Lok Sabha and three assembly constituencies—in a round of byelections. The results had signalled anti-incumbency against the Jairam Thakur government and infighting within the BJP. “These bypolls were won in the absence of Virbhadra Singh and other veteran leaders. It broke the myth that the Congress can only win with Virbhadra Singh’s help,” said Congress legislator and former state party president Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dutt said the Congress was conducting agitations to motivate its cadres. “We are not complacent; we are taking up the people’s causes,” he said. “The Congress suffered in some states as it did not focus on grassroots organisation, while the BJP had panna pramukhs monitoring voter lists. We are in the process of setting up booth committees, and involving all party units and front bodies to campaign for the elections.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among 50 lakh voters in the state, more than three lakh are state government employees. Employee unions have always played a key role in the elections, as the government is a major employer apart from the tourism sector. Taking a cue from the party-ruled states of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, which are set to replace the existing contributory pension scheme with the old pension scheme, the Congress in Himachal Pradesh, too, has promised to restore the old scheme if voted to power. In the contributory pension scheme, which the BJP government had brought in, it is the employees who contribute towards their retirement fund instead of the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To counter the BJP’s messaging that the cow is sacred, the Congress is working on its own narrative that, according to Sukhu, would transform the state through its focus on rural economy. “We will propose that milk be bought at Rs40 per litre, and vegetables at Rs20 per kilo. This will be the first time in the country where a minimum support price will be paid. This will generate employment and rejuvenate the rural economy, as 90 per cent of the state’s population depend on it,” said Sukhu. “This will lead to an additional cost of Rs150 crore, as the state produces three lakh litres of milk, but it will not be a strain as we will rework other subsidies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hindus make up 97 per cent of the state’s population. Unlike the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh or Uttarakhand, where the BJP’s Hindu nationalism has been aggressive, Himachal Pradesh is calmer. Rajputs comprise more than 35 per cent of the population, followed by nearly 25 per cent dalits. The BJP recently chose a dalit candidate, Himachal Pradesh University vice chancellor Sikander Kumar, as its Rajya Sabha nominee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The constituencies in upper Himachal have been Congress strongholds, while districts in lower Himachal that adjoins Punjab, such as Hamirpur, Bilaspur, Chamba and Una, veer towards the BJP. Lower Himachal has the bulk of assembly seats—46 of 68 constituencies. So, if the AAP eats into anti-incumbency votes, the Congress would be affected.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the BJP, the 2022 elections will be a litmus test of Jairam Thakur’s leadership. He was chosen as chief minister after the BJP won the previous polls. Last year, as the party began evaluating the performance of its chief ministers, there was strong buzz that Thakur would be replaced. But he survived.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the BJP will rely on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charm to see it through, the polls are also of great importance to party president J.P. Nadda, as he hails from the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Elections to the Shimla Municipal Corporation, due in April, will be the acid test for all stakeholders before the assembly polls. Being the capital, Shimla has people from all parts of the state, and has a large population of government employees. What happens there will indicate which way the wind is blowing. “As far as gauging the mood of the people is concerned,” said Ramesh Chauhan. “the Shimla elections will be the semi-final before the final.”</p> Sun Mar 27 12:29:35 IST 2022 people-like-those-who-support-nation-first-theory-shivraj-singh-chouhan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On March 17, the eve of Holi, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was doing what he does best. Clad in colourful traditional outfits, Chouhan and his wife, Sadhna, danced merrily to tribal music at the Bhagoria fair in Barwani. Later, he addressed the people, asking them to enjoy Holi as, after two years, Covid-19 was not casting a shadow on the festivities. He also announced welfare measures for the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chouhan, who was just a week short of completing the second year of his fourth term as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, had, on the day, crossed a personal milestone. The 63-year-old became the BJP’s longest serving chief minister as he crossed former Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh’s mark of 15 years and 10 days. But, there was no mention of this at any level. Chouhan himself told THE WEEK that personal achievements were not significant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the fact that Chouhan has successfully administered a big, politically key state like Madhya Pradesh for such a long time cannot be ignored. Chouhan got his fourth term after the Congress government collapsed within 15 months of taking charge in 2018. Because of that loss, the BJP is assessing his potential to win in 2023. After the BJP’s leadership changes in states like Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Karnataka, there have been speculations of a new face replacing Chouhan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, including senior leaders like Digvijaya Singh, have been talking about the threat to Chouhan from Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, who left the Congress two years ago with his supporters to help the BJP return to power. But, experts do not agree. Political commentator Manish Dixit said Chouhan’s improved relations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a major plus. “The fact that Chouhan is not seen as a challenger to central leadership also works in his favour,” he added.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rasheed Kidwai, political analyst, however, said that if Chouhan had assumed a brand value as a strong OBC leader with a pan-India identity, the BJP could easily move him into a central role, as party president or a Union minister and go with Scindia in Madhya Pradesh. But is that likely? Kidwai said that depended on the sangh parivar’s outlook ahead of the 2023 polls. “They will assess the situation and decide only after the Gujarat polls,” he said. “Unless they consider Scindia a long-term national asset, and have some other role in mind for him, will they be willing to make him chief minister to hone him all-round.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chouhan waived off the speculations, saying that there was no competition among colleagues in the BJP and that the party decided the roles to be played by its leaders. He said that the comments from the Congress fold only indicated the frustration within the grand old party. The Congress is very much a scattered camp with no effective second line of leaders. Kamal Nath, who turns 77 in 2023, is going to lead its campaign, according to K.K. Mishra, general secretary, state media cell of the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, Nath looks terribly alone going into the tough battle. Digvijaya Singh is considered a liability as far as campaigning goes. So, as things stand, Nath, who is not a populist or lucid leader, will have to take care of the campaigning and raise election funds. The BJP, with its coffers full, is active on the ground around the year. It also has multiple influential leaders, apart from Chouhan and Scindia, like Narendra Singh Tomar, Prahlad Patel and Kailash Vijayvargiya. Moreover, the BJP has been making consistent efforts to woo key electorates like the tribals and the OBCs. This was reflected in Chouhan’s Bhagoria participation, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ruling party is also allocating huge budgets for religious projects and taking a hard line against crime, similar to the Uttar Pradesh model. Therefore, the situation seems quite favourable to both the BJP and Chouhan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview, Chouhan talks about his achievements, working style, dynasty politics and the opposition. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have completed two years of this term. What has been your focus?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Ever since I started my political journey, my only focus has been serving my people, society, and my country. People are like God to me. My only focus when I took over as chief minister was to safeguard the life of my people as the deadly Covid-19 was knocking on our doors and the state was not ready for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress government was busy in the event management of the IIFA awards, and medical facilities were lagging. So, my only focus was to protect the people and to maintain the state’s stability. Thankfully, through public participation, we overcame the tough times.</p> <p><b>Q/ What will be your focus in the coming months as assembly polls are just a year and a half away?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The BJP is always prepared to serve the people, and the people, too, know it well. Our focus is the betterment of the country, and people are in the mood to support those who support the theory of ‘nation first’.</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your three biggest achievements as chief minister?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I do not look at them as personal achievements, rather as achievements of Madhya Pradesh. There are many: we have extended the irrigated area of the state from 7.5 lakh hectare to around 43 lakh hectare. We have started numerous welfare schemes like ‘Ladli Lakshmi Yojana’ for women, especially our daughters. There is ‘Mukhyamantri Medhavi Vidyarthi Yojana’ for talented students, Sambal Yojana that supports the deprived section of society from birth to death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My only achievement is the effort to ensure prosperity and happiness of my state and people. When we started, it saddened me to hear Madhya Pradesh being referred to as a backward state. So as chief minister, I decided that our Madhya Pradesh will change for sure. We can proudly say that the state has transformed tremendously today owing to people’s willpower.</p> <p><b>Q/ You are known as a man of the masses. Did it come naturally to you? Or, did you have to work on it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The basic tenet of democracy is of the people, by the people, for the people. I am in public life as part of this vibrant democracy, so it is my duty, both morally and ethically, to have a strong bond with my people as their representative. I come from a village; I am a farmer’s son. These are my roots. How can you know the pulse of the people, their wishes, their aspirations, their problems until you meet them? If you want to serve the people, then you need to come out of air-conditioned cabins and reach the masses.</p> <p><b>Q/ You completed 15 years as chief minister, and have become the longest-serving BJP chief minister. Whom do you credit for your political success?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is not the number of years one rules that matters, but the effort put in for the betterment of people in those years. I think the policies of the BJP government have complemented well with people’s mandate. I express my gratitude to the senior leaders of the party, the charismatic leadership of our beloved Prime Minister Narendra Modi and dedicated party workers for their continued support.</p> <p><b>Q/ Who or what has been your inspiration in political and social life?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ My father was my first inspiration. Then, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been my source of inspiration since childhood. Seven years with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad was a great learning experience. Swami Vivekananda’s thoughts have left a deep impression on me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Powerful and inspirational words of (former BJP president) Kushabhau Thakre—“Bhashan nahi acharan mahatvapurn hota hain (Behaviour, and not speech, is the most important)”—played a significant role in my life. The ekatam manavvad (integral humanism) of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, charisma and visionary thoughts of (former prime minister) Atal Bihari Vajpayee inspired me a lot, too. And, I am glad that we are now working under the leadership of the prime minister, who is an inspiration for the whole nation.</p> <p><b>Q/ There are speculations that you might be considered for an organisational role—may be party president—in the future.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The BJP is a big family. Here, the role is chosen by the party, not by the individual. My only focus has been to do justice to whatever post/position I have held.</p> <p><b>Q/ There are talks that your working style, especially your dealing with the bureaucracy, has become a lot more straightforward in this term. Also, your accessibility has reduced.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ People of the state have again put their faith and trust in me and shown enormous love and support…. It is not about being straightforward, it is just that my people and their welfare are my top priority, and we want to deliver on our promises in a time-bound manner.</p> <p><b>Q/ The opposition often tries to pitch Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia as your probable competitor for the CM’s chair.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is no competition as such among our party colleagues. The Congress is frustrated, which is why it is making such comments. In the BJP, collective decision-making prevails. Here, everyone is equal and are friends. Scindia is now a member of the BJP family. This is the party where basic workers rise to the highest positions. It is not a family affair like the Congress’s, where sincere workers are ignored. The BJP ethos is reflected in the results of the recently concluded assembly elections.</p> <p><b>Q/ What will be the impact of the recent assembly polls on national and state politics?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Today, the flag of the BJP is flying high across the country simply because we have always prioritised national interest. We have tried to fulfil our aim of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas (support of all; development for all)’ in the best possible way. We fought the polls in five states on the plank of development and the results are there to see. There has been unprecedented development work under the leadership of the prime minister and the election results show that people’s trust is with us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2023, too, only development plank will be effective, not casteism, nepotism, dynasty politics or appeasement. The BJP will secure an effective win as per its goal.</p> <p><b>Q/ The BJP and the Congress has been wooing the tribal community and the other backward classes in the state. Would caste and community politics play a role in 2023?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have never attempted to lure any community, but only did what is our duty. The BJP government in its 17 years has opened ways for holistic development of all communities; attempted to bring them into the mainstream and made them feel honoured. The Congress ruled for years, but never worked for the welfare of these communities and is now making alluring promises just for political gains. As for 2023, the BJP has never done casteist politics and never will. It is the Congress that is the inventor of casteism and appeasement. We work for ‘antyodaya’ (welfare of the last person) and focus on development.</p> <p><b>Q/ There seems to be a focus on religious projects like the Mahakal temple and Shankaracharya statue. Is this in preparation for 2023, keeping in view the success of the strategy in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and other states?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Not at all. Our government has focused on spiritual and religious tourism along with development right from the start. Our aim is to conserve our ancient culture and traditions and make youth aware of them. The Mahakal temple and statue of Shankaracharya are focal to our faith, and people from across the country are connected to it. Due to these projects, the cities will develop and there will be a direct or indirect boost to religious tourism and employment.</p> <p><b>Q/ With the Congress performing badly in most states now and Madhya Pradesh being a bipolar contest, do you think the BJP’s prospects look brighter for the 2023 assembly polls?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Congress is on the verge of being finished, but not ready to learn lessons. It is a party of a single family. The condition of the state Congress is not hidden. There are one or two leaders who keep fighting to save their posts. There is no place for able people, and so no one wants to remain in the Congress. The BJP always lives in reality and our workers are always active…. Under Narendra Modi, a powerful, prosperous, glorious India is in the making. MP will play its role effectively in the making of Atmanirbhar (self-reliant) India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Congress often alleges that you and your government make many promises, but do not fulfil them on ground.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Congress itself is missing from the ground and talks about ground work of schemes. The results of our promises and schemes are before all; people are being benefited. The Congress only cheated farmers with the false loan waiver promise and engaged in the misdeed of closing down our welfare schemes. The Congress does not even have the right to make allegations. The 15-month-old Kamal Nath government only robbed the rights of the poor people.</p> <p><b>Q/ Though the BJP is against dynasty politics, several young leaders from political families, including those in the BJP, have potential. Should family ties hinder natural talent?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is true that the BJP is against dynasty and family politics. It is the only party where workers are put first, not families. We have always worked to nurture talents, not suppress them. There are several examples in the BJP where you will find family members or children of leaders in politics, but they are there on the basis of their talent, not due to family ties. They got tickets from the party and won, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/For more than a year, you have been planting a tree daily.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Last year, in February, while celebrating the Narmada Janmotsav in Amarkantak, I resolved to plant one tree a day. I am happy that common people have joined (my efforts) to protect the environment. As chief minister, it is my duty to ensure a better environment for future generations. Plantation, along with other measures, is the solution to mitigate global warming.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your government is also building CM Rise Schools. What is the vision behind this scheme?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ CM Rise School scheme is for making next-generation, resource-rich schools for the children of Madhya Pradesh. It aims to enhance the quality of education so as to make students future-ready through state-of-the-art infrastructure and highly skilled teachers. We have a target of 350 CM Rise Schools for the state, and currently around 50 schools are being established.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your future plans for Madhya Pradesh?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Our government’s future plan is to build ‘Atmanirbhar Madhya Pradesh’. The roadmap for this is ready and is based on the four pillars: economy and employment, governance, physical infrastructure and health and education.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It endeavours to empower our farmers, women and children, youth; expand road network; provide pucca and affordable houses to everyone, drinking water facility to every household; and ensure child safety. I have faith that the state’s contribution will go a long way towards the prime minister’s resolve of making India a $5 trillion economy.</p> Thu Mar 24 17:50:17 IST 2022 kerala-silver-line-project-is-invoking-memories-of-nandigram <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A Nandigram is in the making in Kerala; or at least, efforts are on in that direction. If the 2007 agitation against a planned chemical hub in West Bengal’s Nandigram village ended up uprooting the left front from a state it had ruled for decades, the ongoing protests against a high-speed rail project called Silver Line are posing challenges to the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front government in Kerala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Rs60,000-crore Silver Line project, aka K-Rail, is the biggest infrastructure project in Kerala’s history. It envisages a 530km dedicated rail corridor linking Thiruvananthapuram in the south to Kasaragod in the north, which will enable trains to run at 200kmph and cover the distance in less than four hours. An attractive proposition, considering that it currently takes 12 hours to travel from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasaragod. The proposed corridor will pass through 11 districts, and there will be 12 stations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The state government has begun the laying of survey stones to initiate the project’s social impact study, sparking protests across the state. People are preventing authorities from entering their property and laying the stones. Clashes have turned violent in some places.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government had announced an attractive compensation package for those affected by the project, but fears persist about delays in implementation, depreciation in land value on both sides of the tracks, and difficulties in securing land for resettlement. “The value of our land will nosedive,” said Mini P.C. of Alappuzha, an affected person. “This [rail corridor] cannot be compared with a road development project, as the value of land on both sides of the road would naturally increase in due course. But in a rail project, the value of land parcels go down as no development can take place near the track.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the 1,222.45 hectares that the project needs, as much as 1,074.19 hectares is private property. The government insists that only around 9,000 buildings, houses included, need to be taken over. Critics say that the actual number is much higher. Since Kerala is one of the most densely populated states in the country, rehabilitation also remains a major concern. “Kerala has no excess land available,” said Baburaj M.P., leader of the protest group K-Rail Virudha Samithi. “Even if we are compensated well, where will we all go?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Baburaj said the project comes with a huge environmental cost. “The state has witnessed two devastating floods in the recent past. It cannot afford a project like Silver Line that divides the state into two,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both the Congress and the BJP have joined the protests. “Silver Line will be the Nandigram of Kerala, and what happened to the CPI(M) in West Bengal will happen here,” said V.D. Satheesan, leader of the opposition in the assembly. “We warn [Chief Minister Pinarayi] Vijayan that the Congress-led front will not allow this project to go forward. Kerala will soon see unprecedented protests against this impractical project.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>State BJP president K. Surendran said Silver Line is going to be “another Sabarimala”, referring to the protracted row in 2018 over the state government’s decision to implement the Supreme Court verdict allowing women to enter the Sabarimala temple. “The LDF government had burnt its fingers in the Sabarimala case,” said Surendran. “Silver Line is going to be a repeat.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The LDF is in no mood to budge, though. “The opposition’s protest will be handled politically,” said CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. “The government is ready to hold talks with individuals who are directly affected by the project. Those who want to protest can protest. But if the police is prevented from doing their duty, they would take measures to resolve it. If the objective [of the protesters] is to have a police firing and create a Nandigram-like situation, then that is not going to happen.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Doubts continue to be raised about the project’s social, economic and environmental feasibility. A top bureaucrat said the state government cannot afford to antagonise the people if the project is to be implemented. “The government must ensure that there is more clarity on the project; the posturing, too, has to be correct if it is serious about going ahead with the plan,” the bureaucrat told THE WEEK. “The opposition will try to fish in troubled waters. But it is the government’s duty to keep the water clean.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CPI(M), however, is confident of winning the battle. “The Congress and the BJP had led a series of protests against national highway expansion and the laying of GAIL pipeline during the tenure of the previous LDF government,” said party leader K. Anilkumar. “But we could complete all those projects by winning the trust of the people. We will be able to convince the people about the benefits of Silver Line as well.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, for its part, insists that it is not against development projects. “We do realise that the state needs a speedy mode of transportation,” said Congress leader Rahul Mankoottathil. “But we are opposing K-Rail because it is not feasible—economically, socially or environmentally.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political observers blame both the ruling and opposition fronts for the current crisis. “Silver Line is an ambitious project capable of changing the face of Kerala,” said Sudha Menon, an Ahmedabad-based social researcher. “But the LDF government should realise that this is not the way to implement it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A way to solve the issue, according to her, is for the government to set up an expert committee for assessing the project’s socioeconomic and environmental impact. She also said the Congress was trying to be more leftist than the CPI(M). “The Congress has been a strong votary of all development projects,” said Menon. “Blindly opposing something like Silver Line will not earn it the appreciation of its traditional voters.”</p> Sun Mar 27 12:26:21 IST 2022 kaushik-basu-india-is-facing-gated-stagflation <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Kaushik Basu, former chief economic adviser to the government and former chief economist of the World Bank, is currently teaching at Cornell University in the US. In an exclusive interaction, he talks about the current challenges before the Indian economy and its future growth prospects. Excerpts:</p> <p><b>Q/ Is the Indian economy moving in the right direction?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The performance of the Indian economy is disappointing. It is sputtering in ways rarely seen before. We can see this from the international media. There is no longer the buzz as there once was about India’s phenomenal rise and of India as one of the growth leaders of the world. Even if you dismiss the international media as biased, though that is a dangerous path to go down, a study of the statistics pertaining to India’s economy makes it clear that the situation is worrying.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s growth in 2021-22 is expected to be high. The latest Economic Survey projects the growth to be 9.4 per cent. In itself this looks good. But as soon as you look at the previous year, it is clear that this is the effect of recovery from the crash of 2020-21. India’s economic crash was one of the biggest in the world. Just like climbing out of a well that you have fallen into cannot be described as mountaineering, this year’s growth cannot be described as a great economic achievement. In fact, over the two-year period, from 2020 to 2022, the annual compound growth rate of India’s national income is 0.7 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition to the low growth, all data coming out over the last year show that India’s unemployment is high and the level of inequality is getting worse. The World Inequality Report 2022, authored by Thomas Piketty and others, finds that India has become one of the most unequal nations in the world. An Oxfam study released earlier this year estimates that in 2021, 84 per cent of households in India saw their incomes decline.</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you think about the high inflation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In India inflation is picking up rapidly. Wholesale price inflation is at over 12 per cent per annum. This has not happened in the past 20 years. Retail inflation, which hits consumers directly, has just gone over 6 per cent per annum. And the inflation of household goods and services is even higher at 7.1 per cent. It has not been this high in the last 94 months.</p> <p><b>Q/ What are the challenges the Indian economy is facing?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The challenge India is facing becomes obvious when you look at the growth and inflation data together. Growth, as I just said, is low but positive. However, it is almost certain that this is because the rich are becoming so much richer. From what the Oxfam study shows, the bottom 84 per cent of India is showing negative growth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In short, India is facing an unusual situation, what I would describe as 'gated stagflation' whereby, the well-off are doing fine with stagflation confined to the middle and lower-middle classes. Since stagflation refers to inflation combined with negative growth in the whole nation, India is not in stagflation. But the bottom 4/5th of India is clearly caught in stagflation. This is a novel phenomenon and needs to be analysed and dissected in order to devise policy. Policy attention, at least in the immediate context, has to be directed to curing India’s crisis of gated stagflation.</p> <p><b>Q/ What can be done to address them?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/To understand what needs to be done, we have to go back a few years. It is true that the working classes and farmers have suffered hugely in recent times because the lockdown in 2020 was executed with no consideration of the suffering of the poor. But the overall deterioration of the economy began earlier, at least six or seven years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I believe that the budget just presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was a commendable one. She deserves praise. But I feel bad for her because the deepening crisis of India’s economy is largely beyond the reach of the finance minister. The political atmosphere in India has become so vitiated that the most important foundation of the economy, trust and cooperation in society, has become shaky.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is interesting, indirect evidence of this. Textbook economics tells us that one of the most important drivers of long-run growth of national income is the investment rate, that is, the fraction of the national income that is spent on investment—factories, machines, human capital, research and infrastructure. India historically did not have a high investment rate, certainly not compared with the East Asian economies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This began to change from around 2003, when A.B. Vajpayee was the prime minister. India’s investment rate began rising then, rose steeply after 2005 and crossed the 39 per cent mark in 2007-08. India was suddenly looking like an East Asian tiger. It held roughly there till 2012-13, when the investment rate was 38.7 per cent. Thereafter, it started declining steadily and by 2019-20 it was down to just over 32 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No one fully understands why this happened and I cannot give a definite answer. Investment is one of those indicators which depends on many factors but also on trust and cooperation in society. Once trust begins to erode, you cut down on investment, holding on to your money instead. It is likely that political polarisation, the rise of sectarianism and erosion of trust have shaken this vital pillar of a nation’s economic growth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There has been a lot of talk about a digital push and the central bank digital currency (CBDC). How far can such initiatives help the economy?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think India has done well on this front. The Reserve Bank is to be commended for recognising that digital currency is the way of the future. The whole world will go that way. I believe paper currency and coins will vanish altogether. Money will just be data stored in a massive computer and every time you buy and sell anything, the accounts in the digital data will be adjusted. This is the brave new world. You will have to go that way, but you need to do it with caution. The RBI’s plan announced last December—that it will announce an interim, basic CBDC before venturing into a full-fledged one—is the sensible way to go.</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you think about the government's disinvestment exercise?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ A certain amount of disinvestment is called for in India, and I think some of the moves are in the right direction. Air India was a huge drain on the government, and I am glad we have moved to privatise this. There is scope for doing this selectively in other sectors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But I have three concerns. Disinvestment must not become a way to fund fiscal expenditure or hide the fiscal deficit. The price of that will ultimately be paid by the common person, because it will fuel inflation, making the problem of gated stagflation worse. The second risk is that there will be big job losses associated with this, since private corporations tend to be more capital intensive. We will need to have policies to counter this problem which is already acute in India. Finally, and this is the biggest worry, this can lead to cronyism. India has always had a propensity towards crony capitalism, but there were some safeguards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I remember when I was the Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) to the government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh explicitly told me that we had to be vigilant about not sliding into cronyism. It was heartening to see such explicit awareness and open acknowledgment of the risk. Cronyism has become distinctly worse in recent times. If the divestment becomes a way of selling government assets to a few favoured business groups and that too at below full price, we will be going the route of full-fledged crony capitalism which will be devastating for the common person.</p> <p><b>Q/ Though the government is claiming that jobs are being created, many experts feel that much more needs to be done.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The data on this is clear enough. India is doing very poorly in terms of employment generation. India’s youth unemployment rate is shockingly high. To stay clear of the pandemic, let us look at 2019. Before that India’s youth unemployment had been rising every year for a long time, and in 2019 it reached the level of 23 per cent. This is the kind of unemployment figure you see in deeply troubled economies, like Yemen and Iran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once again, this draws attention to where our policy focus needs to be. It has to be on helping the poor and the middle classes with job creation and for that we need higher investment and an atmosphere where creativity and entrepreneurship flourish.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is unfortunate is that India has deep, fundamental strengths. It has historically had excellent higher education. The remarkable achievement of Indians around the world, especially in the US and Europe, is testimony to this. It has a huge managerial and administrative talent pool.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There can be no denying that there have been policy mistakes over the last seven decades, but since 2003, India’s economy was picking up and had become a global story that observers around the world were commenting on. That has, regrettably, stalled over the past few years. We must draw on the talent in the nation and reverse course before the damage becomes too deep.</p> Sun Feb 27 10:27:11 IST 2022 for-blessings-for-votes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Sant Niranjan Das looks benignly at his devotees. The 81-year-old is the head of Dera Sachkhand, Ballan, one of the largest religious centres in the Jalandhar region. He occasionally lends his ear to those who seek his counsel, but says little. Armed police personnel in the dera premises keep a watchful eye, and hymn singers recite verses of Guru Ravidass, a 14th-century mystic and social reformer. “You should partake of food from langar (community kitchen) first,” he says, as his aide introduces us to the seer. On the previous day, Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi had spent the night at the dera, which draws its followers prominently from the dalit community. The chief minister chose to sleep on the floor of Sant Niranjan Das’s room.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The followers of Guru Ravidass’s teachings are known by the name Ravidassias. The Election Commission (EC) had postponed the assembly polls in the state by one week, so that the Ravidassias could go to Varanasi to attend the Guru Ravidass Jayanti celebrations on February 16. It was primarily on Channi’s insistence that the EC had taken this decision. Every year, the Ravidassias board a special train, Begumpura Express, for Varanasi for the Jayanti. Sant Niranjan Das’s guru, Sant Sarwan Das, built the pilgrim centre at Seer Goverdhanpur—the birthplace of Guru Ravidass in Varanasi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During election season, political leaders of all hues would visit Dera Sachkhand. The dera, which manages several schools and other charitable institutions, has become a symbol of dalit assertion in the state. “There are around 22 crore dalits in India,” said Sat Paul Virdi, general secretary, Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan Charitable Trust. “In Punjab, over 35 per cent of the population are dalit. In Doaba region [districts of Jalandhar, Nawanshahr, Hoshiarpur and Kapurthala], our population is over 42 per cent.”</p> <p>The faithful from all over the region visit the dera regularly. On special occasions, dalits from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka also come. The influence of this dera can be further understood from the fact that it declared the Ravidassia a separate religion in 2010. In 2020, it had demanded a separate column of Ravidassia in the population census.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2009, Sant Niranjan Das and his deputy Sant Ramanand were attacked by the Sikh radicals in a gurdwara in the Austrian capital, Vienna. Ramanand died in the attack, while Niranjan Das suffered severe injuries from gunshots. The tragic incident resulted in the community’s split from Sikhism. “We replaced the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhism, with Amritbani Satguru Ravidass Granth, which carried the hymns of Guru Ravidass,” said Virdi. “Now, many of the gurdwaras belonging to Ravidassias have either Amritbani or both. And, the chief of Dera Sachkhand is like the Pope for us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Virdi added that after becoming a separate religion, the Ravidassias actively embraced their dalit identity and started taking pride in it. Retired Army officer Major Parshotam Thind, who manages the library at Dera Sachkhand, said this has changed the community. “We grew in confidence. Our youth gained pride,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All senior leaders from different parties—including the Badals, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Captain Amarinder Singh and Arvind Kejriwal—have found time to visit Dera Sachkhand in the last few months. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Sant Niranjan Das when the latter had fallen sick,” Virdi recalled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Punjab is a fertile ground for deras and sects. Helmed by living gurus, there are over 10,000 deras in the state. Some of the prominent ones apart from Dera Sachkhand include Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sansthan (DJJS), Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) and Dera Baba Mast Ram. There are also the deras of the Namdhari sect. There are many caste-based deras, too; they are often considered close to one particular party or other. The now jailed guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s DSS had supported the Congress and later the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most deras, however, try to stay politically neutral, as taking sides often comes at a cost. Punjab has seen the rise of Christian deras, too, in recent years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Dera Sachkhand is more like a traditional gurdwara or temple, the DJJS—founded by Ashutosh Maharaj—has a modern campus spread over 300 acres in Nurmahal, Jalandhar. Maharaj was declared “clinically dead” on January 29, 2014. However, his followers believe he is in samadhi—a deep meditative state—and would return one day. For the last eight years, his body has been preserved in a freezer. Every year, doctors from the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, inspect the body for any signs of decay, as per the court order.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hailing from Bihar, Maharaj made Punjab his home during the heights of the separatist movement. At DJJS, preachers would join first-time visitors to give an overview of the life and spirituality of Maharaj.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pracharak Ram Niwas explained to us the various work done by the Sansthan—courses for blind, children and prisoners to programmes for promoting ayurveda and organic farming. “We even run a cattle semen bank where we have 125 high-quality bulls. Our gaushala, which has over 900 Indian breed cows, has won an award,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Ram Niwas attended to other VIP guests, preacher Abhinavanand joined us. He gave us a 30-minute talk about the “spiritual journey” that would help in “practically experiencing and realising God”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is one of 10,000 preachers trained before Maharaj’s “samadhi”. “It is only when Maharaj returns from samadhi that new preachers will be ordained,” said Swami Girdharinand, who is part of the temple management at the DJJS. “Maharaj ji used to talk about samadhi and how several saints took it and returned after several years. At that time, we did not understand, but now we do. He will return.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>DJJS claims to have over 32 lakh followers—from different religions and castes—in Punjab alone; the organisation has 65 branches in the state. It has a presence in nearly 20 countries. The dera officials said several political leaders, including chief ministers, would visit the ashram during election time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many of these deras had faced opposition from the radical Sikhs at some point or other. Maharaj, too, faced problems following which he was provided Z-plus security. What attracts people to the deras is the community feeling they provide. Unlike traditional temples or gurdwaras, living gurus are available to people. A lot of these deras are syncretic—they mostly cater to the marginalised sections among Hindus and Sikhs. Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) is a good example. In 2016, Rahul Gandhi spent a night at the RSSB headquarters seeking support from the dera which attracts both Sikhs and Hindus alike. The Namdharis is another influential sect with a distinct identity. This community, which has made stellar contributions to classical music and sports, believes that the lineage of Sikh gurus did not end with the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh; they recognise a continuing line of gurus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dera Baba Mast Ram of Jatana Uncha village is a place where spirituality meets the spirits. This dera in Fatehgarh Sahib district distributes alcohol as prasad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Baba Ji [Mast Ram], who lived in a small hut before his death in 1954, was fond of alcohol,” said Manjit Singh, a volunteer at the dera. “So, devotees used to offer him liquor for their wish fulfilment. This tradition continued till recently. Baba ji used to stay naked in his hut, and covered himself only when women came seeking his blessings.” Singh looks after the current guru, who is now confined to his bed, but is open to blessing the faithful from a distance. Alcohol was banned inside the dera premises after a gurdwara was built next to it. Now, those hoping to get liquor prasad would wait patiently outside the compound of the dera.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Devotees bring new clothes and blankets also as offering at the dera. “The tradition is that we change the clothes of the idol of Baba Mast Ram every day at 4am after he is bathed with milk,” said Singh. “So, there will be a long queue of devotees who wait for their turn to offer newly stitched clothes and blankets to Baba ji.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When asked whether politicians would come to the dera, Singh said: “Oh, they come in droves, mostly asking for victory in elections. They come here quietly to offer prayers, as the dera does not support [any] one party.”</p> Sun Feb 13 11:57:14 IST 2022 weathering-the-broom-in-uttarakhand <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>UTTARAKHAND CHIEF MINISTER</b> Pushkar Singh Dhami is no stranger to the unpredictability that comes with inclement weather. That is why, after being forced to cancel a flight from Haridwar to Ranikhet on February 3 because of heavy rains and snowfall, he quickly made the most of his remaining day and travelled to his constituency—Khatima in Udham Singh Nagar district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khatima is around 250km from Haridwar. Because of the weather, Dhami could reach Chakkarpur, a village in Khatima, only at 9pm—six hours behind schedule. Despite the delay, more than 1,000 supporters were waiting to greet him when he arrived at the rice mill that was the venue of his rally. “I am glad to see your energy level,” Dhami told the audience amid cheers. “Even the rains have not stopped you. I feel energised by your presence. I am confident that no one can stop the BJP from coming to power.”</p> <p>Dhami, 46, is up against Harish Rawat, veteran Congress leader and former chief minister, and Col (retd) Ajay Kothiyal of the Aam Aadmi Party. The AAP is contesting for the first time in Uttarakhand, but the party is posing a stiff challenge to both the BJP and the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since its formation in 2000, Uttarakhand has alternated between the BJP and the Congress in assembly polls. Incumbent chief ministers have not returned to power. Nityanand Swamy lost in 2002, B.C. Khanduri in 2012, and Harish Rawat lost both the seats he contested in 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Uttarakhand has two administrative divisions: Garhwal and Kumaon. The Garhwal division has more political heft: 41 of 70 assembly seats are in the region. The BJP’s big leaders—such as former chief ministers Ramesh Pokhriyal, Tirath Singh Rawat and Trivendra Singh Rawat—are from Garhwal. The Congress’s prominent faces—such as Govind Ballabh Pant, N.D. Tiwari, Harish Rawat and Indira Hridayesh—have been from Kumaon. The state has had 11 chief ministers in 20 years; only one, N.D. Tiwari, completed a full term.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The past one year alone has seen three chief ministers. The controversy related to the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Act, which angered priests as it allowed the government to take control of major temples in the state, has been one of the reasons for the political turmoil. The mismanagement of the Kumbh Mela last year, and a Covid test scam that came to light during the time, provided opposition parties ammunition to attack the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP maintains that the uncertainties and the changes at the helm will not impact results. “Changing the CM is an internal matter of the party that should not have an impact on the voter’s mind. Uttarakhand has witnessed massive development work in the past five years,” Bansidhar Bhagat, minister and candidate in Kaladhungi constituency, told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The outflow of job aspirants from the state is a major poll issue. Demographic changes, poor infrastructure and connectivity, and inadequate health services have also become talking points. “Our fight is against the last five years of BJP misrule,” Harish Rawat told THE WEEK. “From large-scale unemployment to massive mining, the people of this devbhumi are completely frustrated.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has promised four lakh new jobs, 40 per cent reservation for women in government jobs, a new land reform law, improved facilities for pilgrims, LPG gas cylinders that cost less than Rs500, and an income guarantee scheme to help unemployed youth. The BJP, on the other hand, is banking on infrastructure projects that would offer better connectivity to far-flung areas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Observers say that the Modi wave that helped the BJP bag 57 of 70 seats in 2017 is not visible this time. People are assessing candidates rather than parties. Creating problems for both the BJP and the Congress are rebels and turncoats. Rebels have made things difficult for the BJP in 16 constituencies; the Congress is facing similar problems in 12.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Tehri, the BJP has fielded former state Congress president Kishore Upadhyaya, while the Congress candidate is incumbent MLA Dhan Singh Negi, who recently quit the BJP. Similarly, in Nainital, the BJP has fielded Sarita Arya, former chief of the women’s cell of the Congress, against Sanjiv Arya, son of former transport minister Yashpal Arya. Sanjiv and Yashpal had left the Congress and joined the BJP ahead of the 2017 elections. Last year, though, both of them returned to the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It was my biggest mistake to join the BJP, which is not a democratic party,” Yashpal, who is contesting from Bajpur, told THE WEEK. “I felt suffocated there. I am thankful that the Congress accepted me back.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP is expected to play spoilsport in most seats. Kothiyal, its chief minister candidate, is well-known across the state for his contributions towards reconstructing Kedarnath after the 2013 flash floods. Under him, the AAP has promised to end corruption and give free education, medical treatment and electricity to all. It has also offered monthly allowances of Rs1,000 to all women and Rs5,000 a month to all unemployed youth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am a fauji (soldier) who worked for the nation,” said Kothiyal. “Now I will work for my state.”</p> Thu Feb 10 17:30:22 IST 2022 our-opponents-are-nowhere-in-the-picture <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ You got hardly six months as chief minister. What is the unfinished task that you would like to complete if you return to power?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Our focus will be on sectors like tourism, health, education, power and employment generation. Many things related to land reforms and demographic changes are still pending. All departments have been asked to submit roadmaps to make Uttarakhand self-dependent. In 2025, when the state will mark its 25 years of origin, we want Uttarakhand to be among the best in all sectors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you the party’s chief minister candidate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I took more than 550 decisions for the welfare of the state. I would like to continue taking those [decisions] forward once I am back in office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi has promised 40 per cent quota for women in jobs in Uttarakhand. What is your response?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Congress is not giving tickets for women candidates and its leaders are talking about reserving jobs for women. The head of the Congress’s women wing in the state has joined the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your plan to tackle the massive unemployment in the state?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I agree that unemployment levels have gone up because of the pandemic. Distress migration is also a major issue. We have taken several initiatives for [providing] government jobs. We have started the process to fill 24,000 vacancies. But government jobs are certainly not enough. So, we are focusing on self-help groups to generate more jobs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Uttarakhand has always alternated between parties in assembly polls. Are you confident of breaking this pattern?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Ever since Narendra Modi became prime minister, all patterns have been broken. Before 2017, Uttarakhand never had parliamentarians from the ruling party. This is broken now. We are coming back to power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you tackle land reforms and migration issues?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ For land reforms, we have set up a committee and most of its work is done. To prevent migration, industries and developmental work will be our prime focus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will farm protests have an impact in Khatima, your constituency? Sikh farmers from Udham Singh Nagar district had participated in the agitation.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ All the Sikh farmers in the state are completely in favour of the BJP. I am from Udham Singh Nagar district and I am like family to the farmers’ community. They feel proud that a boy from their area has become mukhya sewak.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think that the armed forces community, which is quite large in Uttarakhand, is upset with not getting complete benefits from the ‘One Rank, One Pension’ scheme?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Most issues have been resolved. I am a son of a soldier myself and I am confident that all soldiers are with the BJP. We are not like the Congress, whose leaders had called Gen Bipin Rawat a ‘street hooligan’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you view rival parties such as the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Our opponents are nowhere in the picture. I have been through several constituencies and I can say quite confidently that the BJP will form the government again with a massive majority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you plan to counter the freebies that the AAP is offering?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The people of Uttarakhand have self-respect. They do not believe that anything is free. The BJP wants atmanirbhar Uttarakhand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are party rebels making things difficult for you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ours is a cadre party; rebels do not matter to us. If rebels don’t follow the party line, the party decides on them.</p> Sun Feb 13 11:52:43 IST 2022 uttarakhand-double-engine-government-has-failed-on-all-fronts <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ What are your main campaign issues?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Our fight is to protect Uttarakhandiyat (the spirit of Uttarakhand). Five years of BJP rule has mauled the foundation of Uttarakhand and destroyed Uttarakhandiyat. We are looking for an opportunity to restore it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You are leading the Congress campaign in the state. Are you the party’s chief ministerial face?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Congress high command has made me the face of our fight in Uttarakhand. The election is being fought under my leadership. So, it is purely a test of my leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your strategy to counter the BJP’s hindutva plank?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Congress agenda is development, communal harmony and welfare of all people. I am also a Hindu who follows sanatan dharma and the teachings of Swami Vivekananda. But I certainly do not [fit the image of] the Hindu that the BJP likes to portray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The BJP has been seeking votes in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. How do you counter this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The BJP has failed miserably in Uttarakhand in all respects. Development has been derailed, unemployment is at its peak, medical services collapsed during the pandemic, and corruption is at its peak. Rampant mining has affected the state’s ecological balance. People call Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami khanan priya mukhyamantri (pro-mining chief minister).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So, is this a Modi vs Rawat contest?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ No. My challenge is against large-scale unemployment, and to preserve the spirit of Uttarakhand, which the BJP government has destroyed. The so-called ‘double-engine’ government, driven by Modi, has failed on all fronts. This election is Harish Rawat vs the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have promised to take strict action against hate speeches in Haridwar if you come to power.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We will certainly take this very seriously. The act is an insult to the devbhumi of Uttarakhand. We want dharma sansad to be conducted again here, but not the way it did.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have said, using a cricket analogy, that the Congress party is not in form.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes, but we are the in-form batsman in Uttarakhand and Punjab. And in other election-bound states like Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Manipur, the Congress is just one match away from regaining form.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Has the Congress experiment of changing the chief minister in Punjab worked?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The decision to change the Punjab chief minister was based on public sentiment and the opinion of MLAs. Captain Amarinder Singh had refused to do anything for the party. He was behaving like a military general who was ready to surrender.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Has the move been successful?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It has become very successful and has changed the narrative in Indian politics. Punjab has got its first dalit chief minister—a historic event.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Deserters are causing trouble to the Congress. Does the party have any strategy to prevent further desertions?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ [Desertions] do not affect the party’s prospects in the polls. Some people have their own compulsions, while some have political ambitions. We take action accordingly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Aam Aadmi Party can eat into your vote bank. How do you see this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is up to Arvind Kejriwal to look into why he is being viewed as a vote-splitter. Why does his party only contest in places where the Congress can be weakened? Is it his ambition to weaken the Congress or defeat the BJP?</p> Sun Feb 13 11:52:12 IST 2022 faisal-ali-dar-j-k-1st-padma-winner-in-sport-is-also-a-humanitarian-champion <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FAISAL ALI DAR</b> watched Enter the Dragon when he was in class X. He was so enamoured by Bruce Lee that he started mimicking the martial arts master’s stunts. He persevered until he had perfected some of Lee’s on-screen moves. His friends and neighbours told him that his passion would bring him nothing. But he continued to pursue it with determination.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The journey that Dar embarked on in 2003, from a village boy to a martial arts trainer, motivational speaker and social worker, is a gripping tale of hard work, dedication and sacrifice. He started with wushu and switched to kickboxing in 2008. In 2010, he won silver medal in the Asian kickboxing championship. Initially, his efforts to woo youngsters to the sport did not evoke much response. “People thought it was a waste of time,”he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At his village of Bagh in Bandipora, 70km north of Srinagar, the lack of proper training and equipment impeded his efforts to establish himself as a kickboxer. “When I was training for kickboxing, I would use nylon slippers to practice punching with other kids, as I did not have money to buy pads and punchers,” he said. “I did not know the rules. I needed a coach and proper equipment which I could not afford.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Things changed when coach Kuldeep Handoo—the first Dronacharya awardee from Jammu and Kashmir—took him under his wings. “He worked on my fitness and training and also taught me the rules of the game,’’ he said. “I worked as a labourer to save money to travel to Jammu for training.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His family was supportive, but he did not want to burden them. “During the harvest, I would work in the orchards to load apples in trucks,” he said. The money was barely enough for his travel and stay, but he continued his training. He worked with building contractors to fund jerseys and equipment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was during this time that Dar realised the need for a training academy in Kashmir. “After participating in different tournaments, I realised that if our youngsters get proper training and support, they will make it big,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dar participated in four nationals and won two golds and one silver. He called it quits in 2013 so that he could devote himself to coaching youngsters at his Ali Sports Academy, named after his late grandfather, Muhammad Ali.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are 2,687 students registered in 17 clubs under the academy. Sixteen of them have participated in international championships, bagging four golds, five silvers and three bronzes in various events. “At the national level, 24 players have won gold, 33 silver and 56 bronze in different martial arts events,’’ he said.</p> <p>The academy’s training programmes have been popular with girls. “One of our trainees, Abida Akhtar, won a silver in the 48kg category wushu championship in Malaysia in 2017,” said Dar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The academy offers coaching at an annual fee of Rs50. “We have opened branches of our academy in eight districts now,” said Dar. “I believe athletes from Jammu and Kashmir, with proper training and physical fitness, can win Olympic medals.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dar took up another mission when he realised the depth of drug addiction in the valley. “We worked on de-addiction and then introduced them to sports so that they don’t return to drugs.” Dar and his volunteers played an active role in relief and rescue in the 2014 floods and during the Covid-19 pandemic. “During the pandemic, we mobilised our volunteers to distribute food and medicine to the people at their doorsteps.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dar has also been active in social projects like plantation drives, sanitation drives, blood donation camps, disaster management drives, female self-defence training camps, and women empowerment awareness campaigns. “We are honoured that he has been awarded Padma Shri,” said his father, Muhammad Shafi Dar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dar is the first Padma Award winner in sport from Jammu and Kashmir. “It is his hard work that has paid off,” said Arsalan Habib, a friend. “His contribution to the promotion of sports is exemplary.”</p> Sat Feb 05 11:59:35 IST 2022 bjp-is-battling-anti-incumbency-defection-of-key-leaders-in-goa <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On January 22, opposition leader Digambar Kamat, state Congress president Girish Chodankar and P. Chidambaram, Congress’s election observer for Goa, took 36 party candidates to the Mahalakshmi temple in Panaji. The candidates were made to swear that they would not defect to the BJP or any other party if they got elected. The ritual was repeated at the Bambolim Cross church and the Hamza Shah Dargah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having badly burnt its fingers in 2017 and 2019, when Congress legislators joined the BJP in groups, the party does not want to take any chances this time. Whether the candidates took the oath in all sincerity will become clear only after the results are declared on March 10. But this temple run speaks volumes about the Congress’s fear of the BJP, especially its ability to break parties to reach its goal of forming the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>‘Power at any cost’ seems to be the tagline of the BJP’s election campaign in Goa, which reflects in its selection of candidates, too. The BJP state leadership has realised that the task of retaining power in the ‘Sushegaat’ (relaxed) state will not be easy. And, it is not taking any chances, be it denying tickets to a few sitting MLAs, rejecting claims of aspirants like Utpal Parrikar, son of former chief minister Manohar Parrikar, or dumping former chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar, who lobbied hard for a ticket from his home turf Mandrem. Parrikar and Parsekar have since quit the BJP and have decided to contest as independents. But these are small hurdles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having ruled Goa since 2012, the BJP is facing a strong anti-incumbency wave this time. And, it has itself to blame, as people have not forgotten how the BJP formed the government in 2017 when it was the second largest party with 13 legislators, a good eight short of majority in the 40-member house. Subsequently, in 2019, it engineered a split in the Congress and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party to add 12 more legislators to its kitty. In doing so, it reduced the MGP to just one legislator and delivered a severe blow to the oldest Hindu party in Goa. No wonder the MGP has refused to ally with the BJP this time and has joined hands with the Trinamool Congress, which has vowed to oust the BJP from power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I do not think any party will get majority on its own this time,” says Sunil Naik, former sarpanch of Karmali village. “There is a lot of anger against the BJP in people’s mind. It is no more the party that Manohar Parrikar built and represented. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant does not enjoy that good an image. They say he has purchased a mine in neighbouring Maharashtra. He may still win, but I doubt the BJP will be able to form the government on its own.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Sunil, tourist taxi owners of Goa are angry with the BJP for hiring almost 1,500 taxis from Maharashtra for election-related work. There are about 25,000 tourist taxis in Goa and almost 75-80 per cent of the taxi owners are against the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Sawant dismissed the mine allegation, first raised by the Trinamool Congress, it is not the only allegation that is troubling the BJP. There is one involving former minister Milind Naik, too. In December 2021, Chodankar had accused Milind of sexually exploiting a woman from Bihar, following which Milind was forced to resign from the cabinet. Sawant had assured that a thorough inquiry will be carried out and appropriate action will be taken. However, so far, the Goa police has not registered an FIR against Milind. It said that the survivor had herself dismissed the charge levelled by the Congress. As a result, Milind has been given a BJP ticket to contest from his Mormugao constituency. His Congress opponent Sankalp Amonkar has now claimed that the government and the chief minister put pressure on the Goa police to not register the case so that Milind could contest again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another taint on the BJP is the alleged job scam in the public works department. The allegations were levelled against PWD Minister Deepak Pauskar by fellow BJP legislator Atanasio Monserrate and MGP legislator Sudin Dhavalikar. Monserrate claimed that the jobs were being given to the highest bidder, while Dhavalikar alleged that youth had been asked to shell out Rs25 lakh for employment in PWD. Pauskar denied the allegations, but Sawant ordered an inquiry. Pauskar was denied a ticket, and he quit the party. He is now planning to contest as an independent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>North Goa, with its 19 seats, has been a BJP stronghold for the past couple of decades. This time, however, it may not be smooth sailing for the party there, as Michael Lobo, who was minister in the Parrikar and Sawant cabinets, has jumped ship. Lobo had urged the BJP leadership to give his wife, Delilah, a ticket from Siolim or allow her to contest as an independent. The party refused, saying only one member from a family could contest. Lobo is now the Congress candidate from Calangute, and his wife is contesting from Siolim. Lobo asked why the ‘one family, one ticket’ rule was not applicable to the Monserrates and Ranes. Monserrate is BJP candidate from Panjim and his wife Jennifer from Taleigao. Likewise, Health Minister Vishwajit Rane is BJP candidate from Valpoi and his wife Deviya is contesting from Poriem, a seat held by her father-in-law and former chief minister Pratapsingh Rane for more than five decades. Citing the same rule, the BJP also denied a ticket to Savitri Kavlekar, wife of Deputy Chief Minister Chandrakant Kavlekar. Savitri has since resigned as vice president of the BJP Mahila Morcha and is all set to contest as an independent from Sanguem constituency in south Goa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lobo’s entry into the Congress has brightened the grand old party’s prospects in North Goa, especially in Bardez region that has seven constituencies. Lobo has told the Congress leadership that he will win at least three of the seven seats for the party. Another former BJP leader who joined the Congress is Carlos Almeida. Almeida quit the BJP in December 2021 and joined the Congress along with his supporters. He is now the Congress candidate from Vasco.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While it is welcoming leaders from the BJP, the Congress has closed its doors to legislators who had defected to the BJP in 2017 and 2019. Reacting to former chief minister Parsekar’s resignation from the BJP, Chidambaram said that the BJP has now started reaping the poison it sowed in the state. “What they did to us in 2017 and 2019 is coming back to haunt them now,” he said. “Their own people have started quitting the BJP.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also explained why the Congress cold-shouldered the proposal of an alliance with the Trinamool Congress. He said that the Trinamool had been poaching leaders from the Congress in Goa. “First, it was Luizinho Faleiro and then when we had announced our first list of candidates they poached Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco,” said Chidambaram. “The suggestion for an alliance came from the Trinamool on December 24 and soon after that they poached our leaders and cadre in Vasco and Mormugao. The Congress leadership was observing these developments and I had no instruction to hold any talks.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the absence of a grand alliance to take on the BJP, Goa will see a quadrangular fight between the BJP, the Congress (along with the Goa Forward Party), the Trinamool (along with the MGP) and the AAP in almost all 40 constituencies. The AAP cadre has been working silently and with all seriousness across all constituencies. AAP’s Goa in-charge Atishi and national convener Arvind Kejriwal are personally overseeing candidate selection, reviewing each candidate’s track record and background. Kejriwal has announced Amit Palekar’s name as the chief ministerial candidate. Palekar, a journalist-turned lawyer, became the face of people’s agitation last year when he sat on a hunger strike to oppose construction of a Mumbai BJP leader’s bungalow in Old Goa’s heritage zone. The state government had to buckle under popular pressure and cancel the permission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A surprise factor in the upcoming election could be the entry of Revolutionary Goans (RG), a new outfit. Founded by Manoj Parab, RG espouses the cause of the sons of the soil. Parab, whose meetings on the ground and on social media are getting good response, has announced that his party will give 100 per cent reservation in government jobs to Goans. He has also assured 80 per cent reservation in private jobs. Parab’s outfit is at present popular in North Goa and among Hindu-majority areas. If he continues to get good traction, his candidates could end up eating into BJP votes—a matter of concern for the saffron party.</p> Sun Jan 30 11:33:23 IST 2022 manipur-anger-of-naga-people-front-over-mon-killings-may-hit-bjp-poll-chances <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>EVERYONE IS FLYING SOLO</b> this time in Manipur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a major blow to the ruling BJP, one of its main allies in the North-East Democratic Alliance—the Naga People’s Front (NPF)—has decided to fight alone in 15 seats that have a Naga population in Manipur. Of the 15, 11 are dominated by Nagas, and if the BJP’s alliance with the NPF had remained, it could have swept the polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manipur has 60 assembly seats, of which 40 are in the valley and the rest in the hills. Apart from the Hindu Meitis, two major tribes have their presence in the valley and the hill districts—Kukis and Nagas, both of which are Christians, but follow different sects. Kukis belong to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, whereas the Nagas belong to the Council of Baptist Churches in Northeast India. Both the tribes have often resorted to violence over land and other social disputes in the hill districts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Kukis have been Congress supporters, with the community producing many a Congress stalwart. To counter that, the Nagas found a political ally in the BJP. The NPF has been extending crucial support to the BJP-led government in Manipur for five years. It was thanks to the NPF that the N. Biren Singh government managed to retain power as it came under fire from within the party and from its other ally, the National People’s Party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But that was six months ago. Today, the NPF’s support for the BJP is not very forthcoming. “It is because of the attitude of the Central government towards us,” says Honreikhui Kashung, general secretary of the NPF in Manipur. “We are alarmed and shaken by the way they killed innocent Nagas in Mon district of Nagaland, and then refused to do away with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The BJP-led Central government must pay the price for it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He, however, adds that the party “did not want the BJP to be punished by the Nagas as they are still better than the Congress”. But it is learning its lessons from Bengali politicians, he says. “The way they taught the BJP a lesson is a learning for us,” says Kashung. “We would also like to teach the same lesson to the BJP. BJP leaders in Delhi were humbled by Mamata Banerjee.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kashung says they are talking to smaller parties like the NPP. The Mon massacre has brought them closer to Kukis, too. The NPF is even considering supporting the Congress if the latter comes close to forming a government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2017, the Congress emerged as the single largest party with 28 seats and was just three short of majority. But the NPF and the NPP, which had four MLAs each, supported the BJP, which had 21 MLAs. The Nagas were angry with the Okram Ibobi Singh government and deputy chief minister Gaikhangam, a prominent Naga leader who was also the home minister. Gaikhangam had taken action against Naga extremists, earning the wrath of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), which is in peace talks with the Union government. The NSCN (IM) and the NSCN (Khaplang) tried to assassinate Ibobi Singh several times. The NPF was also against the Congress owing to its continuous support to the Kukis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the NPF is not ruling out a post-poll alliance with the BJP. “We are not saying that we will not support the BJP after the election, if the situation arises,” says Kashung. “But that support would be conditional, unlike before. The BJP undervalued the development in hilly areas, like the Congress. The chief minister is not responsible for that; the Union government is. We will sit with the Union government and seek its promise in writing. We would also like to see the Mon firing culprits punished and the AFSPA withdrawn from Manipur in a phased manner. Only then will we consider supporting the BJP again. The only positive thing we will say about the BJP is that it led a stable government, even though a coalition, in Manipur.” And for that the NPF would credit the chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The conflict with the Kukis, too, was about to end, thanks to Biren Singh, says NPF. “Biren worked hard to bring peace,” says Kashung. “He has been continuously working for the growth of Nagas. But what else would he do if the Union government pressured him to do otherwise. We understand his problem.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP admits there has been a gap in the development in the hills and the valley. “But that was solely because of the conflict between Biren Singh and another aspiring CM candidate Th. Biswajit Singh, who is the rural development minister,” says a party general secretary. Also, in the Naga-dominated Tamenglong district, a senior NPF leader, Athuan Abonmei, was killed during an alleged police firing, leading to huge resentment among the Nagas against the BJP. Though the BJP took action, like transferring the deputy commissioner and suspending the police officials on duty, it did little to pacify the Nagas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Biren Singh, in an interview to THE WEEK, had said that the hills would be his priority once they come back to power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the United Naga Council, a civil society organisation, has asked the NPF to rein itself in. While the UNC agrees that the BJP erred, it says that it is dealing with the Union government separately. “We have boycotted Republic Day this year, and will boycott Independence Day, too, if there is no concrete solution,” says Senthon Stephen, information secretary, UNC. “But how could we forget that it was the BJP that brought peace in our region? During the Congress rule, Manipur was constantly burning. But during the BJP’s time, calm prevailed as it addressed the issues of the Nagas. Yes, the Mon episode has soured the grand initiative of the Biren Singh government, but we must understand that he is not responsible for it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>National BJP leaders understand the situation. Though they have decided to go alone in the Naga-dominated areas, they are also working on extending an olive branch to the NPF. The BJP has inducted some prominent Naga leaders into the party in the last few years. It has pressed its Nagaland unit to have a discussion with the NSCN(IM), so that the latter can ask Nagas to vote for the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the prominent Naga leaders in the BJP fold is Gaidon Kamei, who would be fighting against Congress heavyweight Gaikhangam from Noney seat. “Some discussion is going on with NSCN(IM),”says Kamei. “I am also aggrieved over what happened in Mon. But the Nagas would never forget the development and peace that lasted overall. Manipur was never as peaceful as it has been in the last five years. There is an international conspiracy to oust the BJP to turn Manipur into what it used to be earlier.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Narendra Modi government formed a Special Investigation Team to probe the incident. The Army, too, is carrying out its own probe. The committee has travelled extensively to Mon district and is talking to eyewitnesses. “They are also video recording the statements of villagers and trying to identify whether our officers or jawans were at fault or not,” says a senior officer of the Eastern Command in Fort Williams, Kolkata.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, what has surprised many is the transfer of Eastern Army Commander Lt General Manoj Pande to Army Headquarters. Pande, who is from Engineering Corps, will take over as vice chief of Army staff. “It is debatable whether he received a promotion or was transferred for what happened in Mon,” says a defence ministry official. “As far as seniority is concerned, he is junior to Northern Army Commander Lt General Y.K. Joshi, who might replace General M.M. Naravane a couple of months later. A commander from the Engineering Corps becoming Army chief is rare.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So far, the BJP is targeting five of the 11 Naga-dominated seats—Chandel, Noney, Jiribam, Ukhrul and Senapati. NSCN(IM), which mostly consists of Tangkhul Nagas (predominantly Manipuri Naga), has a huge say in these seats. However, the BJP is trying to win maximum seats in the valley. But there, too, it will have to fight Conrad Sangma’s NPP, which has good organisation on ground. And, the Congress, under its three prominent leaders—Ibobi Singh from the Meitis, T.N. Haokip from the Kukis, and Gaikhangam from the Nagas—will put up a formidable challenge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, is Manipur heading towards a split verdict? “It is likely,” says social activist Kshetrimayum Gunamani, “even if the BJP breaks the Congress.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP will have to win 25 to 30 seats from the valley on its own, which, say political observers, looks difficult, if not impossible. Or, Union Home Minister Amit Shah will have to come to Imphal to negotiate with the Nagas. Shah may also have to make another renewed deal with Sangma, the new flame in Manipur politics today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Post polls, it could very well be a case of ‘birds of a feather flock together’.</p> Thu Jan 27 19:14:09 IST 2022 an-abruptly-ended-march-might-have-started-the-congress-redemption-in-karnataka <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When Karnataka Congress president D.K. Shivakumar, legislative party leader Siddaramaiah and the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge beat the nagari (drum) on the banks of the Cauvery at Sangam on January 9, it was a wake-up call for the party cadres. The leaders kicked off a 155km padayatra from Sangam to Bengaluru, demanding speedy implementation of the Mekedatu balancing reservoir project in Kanakapura.</p> <p><br> It was also a warning bell to the ruling BJP, and the Janata Dal (Secular), the third major party in the state, as it looked like the beginning of a revival of the Congress in the Old Mysuru region, the Vokkaliga heartland. The BJP and the JD(S)&nbsp;fear that the rally would galvanise the support of the politically significant Vokkaligas, the second largest caste in the state, for the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A padayatra in 2010 from Ballari to Bengaluru by Siddaramaiah, challenging a “corrupt” BJP government, had catapulted him to the chief minister’s chair in 2013. Shivakumar was hoping to tackle his opponents within the party and outside it with the ‘Namma neeru namma hakku (Our water is our right)’ padayatra. However, on the fifth day of the 11-day march, the party was forced to call it off as the Karnataka High Court rapped the government and the Congress over the massive rallies being held amid the pandemic. “We respect the sentiment of the people and the High Court and the opinion of our legislators. We believe we have a commitment towards the people and as a party that has made many sacrifices for the country, we have decided to sacrifice this rally, too, for the time being. But we will not stop the rally. We will resume it from Ramanagara once it is conducive,” said Shivakumar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The waters of Sangam, the confluence of the Cauvery and the Arkavathi, have been making political ripples in the state. Interestingly, it has also brought the Old Mysuru region into the spotlight as the new battleground for the next assembly elections, a departure from the state’s Lingayat-centric politics in the past few decades. The region is likely to decide if the BJP or the Congress crosses the majority mark, or the JD(S), once again, becomes the kingmaker.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>JD(S) patriarch H.D. Deve Gowda seems to have sensed it, as the party has announced a state-wide campaign for the completion of the pending irrigation projects in the state. “A padayatra is not good enough,” said H.D. Kumaraswamy, JD(S) chief and Gowda’s son. “Like my father, the Congress should fight long legal battles to ensure justice for Karnataka.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The JD(S), which draws its political strength from the Vokkaligas, has been in a crisis, with the Congress under Shivakumar trying to reclaim its support base in the community and the BJP looking beyond its Lingayat vote bank. In the 2018 election, the JD(S) won 29 of its 37 seats in the Old Mysuru region, which has 59 Assembly constituencies spread across the districts of Chamarajanagar, Mysuru, Mandya, Hassan, Ramanagara, Tumakuru, Chikkaballapur, Kolar and Bengaluru Rural. But many senior leaders have left the party citing neglect and ‘family-centric’ politics. Recently, Gowda’s grandson Suraj Revanna became the eighth member of the family to enter electoral politics by winning an MLC seat. Gowda’s defeat in the Tumkur Lok Sabha constituency in 2019 indicated the winds of change sweeping through the Vokkaliga belt, and that the community was willing to look beyond the family. The Congress gave them an option by selecting Shivakumar, a Vokkaliga, to lead the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is also playing the same game, hoping to clear the majority mark in the next election. It made C.N. Ashwath Narayan deputy chief minister in the B.S. Yediyurappa government and C.T. Ravi national general secretary (both are Vokkaligas) as part of its experiment of grooming new leadership and taking its support base beyond Lingayats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Mekedatu project, which has been a bone of contention between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, has suddenly become a flash point for the political parties in Karnataka. The Congress and the BJP are blaming each other for the delay in the implementation of the project that can provide drinking water to a third of Bengaluru and generate 400 MW power. The project is being favoured by farmers in the Old Mysuru region as well, as the new reservoirs will ease the burden on the four existing reservoirs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP called the padayatra a “political gimmick” and said the Congress did nothing to expedite the Mekadatu project when it ruled from 2013 to 2018. “The Congress wasted five years and it took them four years to prepare a detailed project report. We got the stay imposed by National Green Tribunal Chennai vacated on June 17, 2021. But the matter is still before the Supreme Court. After [former chief minister] B.S. Yediyurappa, I have been following up with central water ministry for the environmental clearance,” said Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former water resources minister M.B. Patil, however, said there had been no delay by the Congress government. “On October 25, 2014, we called for a global expression of interest to prepare a detailed project report. After the single bidder, WAPCOS, quoted 022.07 crore, we called fresh bids and EI Technologies bagged it on February 25, 2016. The detailed project report (DPR) was given in-principle approval by the state government on March 13, 2017, and was submitted to the Central Water Commission in June 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“But we were asked to revise the DPR as per the new CWC guidelines. We modified the DPR after the Supreme Court allocated an additional 14.75 tmc of water to Karnataka in February 2018. The revised DPR and pre-feasibility reports were submitted to CWC in August 2018. But since the Mekedatu project got exempted from pre-feasibility report clause as it had no irrigation component, we had to revise the DPR. It was submitted in January 2019, when Shivakumar was the water resources minister.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;Siddaramaiah said the BJP government was not keen on the project because the party wanted to expand its base in Tamil Nadu. “Tamil Nadu BJP chief K. Annamalai is protesting the project. BJP national general secretary C.T. Ravi is favouring Tamil Nadu,” he said. “The project will take care of the drinking water needs of Bengaluru for the next 50 years.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The final order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal in 2007 had failed to bring a closure to issues such as the division of surplus water. Tamil Nadu objected to Karnataka’s move to construct two balancing reservoirs at Mekedatu to harness the surplus water in good monsoon years and moved Supreme Court saying the construction of the two reservoirs would impound the flow into the intermediate catchment at Biligundlu, thus reducing the flow to the mettur dam. Karnataka’s contention is that releasing the monthly water quotas to Tamil Nadu is difficult in distress monsoon years, and the dam can help store surplus water in normal years and ensure the monthly quota every year. Also, there is no irrigation plan under the Mekedatu project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mekedatu, which means ‘goat’s leap’ in Kannada, is a narrow gorge on the Cauvery. Whether the padayatra can provide a giant leap to the Congress and Shivakumar remains to be seen.</p> Sun Jan 23 12:33:39 IST 2022 punjab-polls-aap-on-the-up <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT WAS JUST</b> the kind of morale booster that the Aam Aadmi Party needed ahead of the assembly elections in Punjab. The party emerged with the largest number of seats in the recent Chandigarh municipal elections, shocking the incumbent BJP and giving the Congress a reality check ahead of the assembly polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was described by the AAP leaders as the “trailer” before the assembly elections, and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal—the face of the party’s campaign—led a victory procession in Chandigarh. It may be argued that the civic poll results in the Union territory, a largely urban terrain, cannot be extrapolated to a state-wide election. But the results did give a fillip to the AAP’s campaign, despite the setback the party later received as it lost to the BJP in the fight for the mayor’s post.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP, which is believed to have missed the bus in the assembly elections in 2017 because of certain missteps, is once again viewed as a party that can emerge as the dark horse. Experts believe the party is primarily gaining from a deep discontentment among the people towards the traditional powers, the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party’s electoral journey in the state so far has been quite uneven. It began with a surprise haul of four seats in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. The party was seen as a frontrunner in the state polls in 2017, before it ended up with just 20 seats and got the consolation prize of becoming the main opposition party. However, the AAP went through a rather bad patch after that, the period marked by poll debacles and the defection of state leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the party had a vote share of 23.72 per cent. It got around 24 per cent votes in the assembly elections in 2017. However, the vote share dipped to just 7.46 per cent in the 2019 general elections. Also, while the party won 20 seats in the 2017 state polls, it is now left with just 11 MLAs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, amid the messy affair that the Punjab polls have become—as a result of the chaos in the ruling Congress, the breakup of the SAD-BJP alliance and the various twists and turns in the political scene over the past several months—the AAP is seen as a party that has managed to keep its head above water and carry out a well-charted campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP’s campaign, helmed by Kejriwal, is based on the belief that the people want to vote for change this time. The party’s main slogan is “Ik Mauka Kejriwal Nu (Give one chance to Kejriwal)”. He has unveiled in a step-wise manner a slew of “Kejriwal’s guarantees”, which involve promises on electricity and water supply, health, education, employment and women empowerment. The promises include 300 units of free electricity, free health care for all and Rs1,000 monthly payment to all women above 18.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP, according to Ashutosh Kumar, chairperson, department of political science, Panjab University, could gain from the people’s anger against the traditional parties. “The people of Punjab are in a very bad situation,” he says. “They blame the Congress and Akalis for the mess that the state is in. They want to teach them a lesson…. Agricultural income is on the decline. The youth does not have employment. There is a strong belief among the people that the Congress and the Akalis do not have the will to rid the state of the drug menace.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP is perceived as having learned from the mistakes it made last time. The NRI support has been kept at bay to dispel the notion that the party is supported by Khalistan sympathisers. That is believed to have resulted in the Hindu votes drifting away from the party. The party has also promised a Sikh chief minister for the state. Since Kejriwal was the face of the campaign in 2017, people believed that he was the de-facto chief-minister face, and they were not ready to have a non-Sikh, non-Punjabi person at the helm in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress’s decision to bring Charanjit Singh Channi at the helm is learned to have been dictated by the feedback from the ground that the AAP was gaining traction, and was eating into the Congress’ dalit support base.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The AAP is confident of winning in this election primarily because the people feel cheated by the Congress and the Akali Dal,” says Harpal Singh Cheema, leader of opposition in the Punjab assembly. “Promises were made that the culprits in the sacrilege issue or those responsible for the drugs menace would be punished. But till date, none of the culprits has been brought to book.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political analyst Harjeshwar Pal Singh, however, says that the AAP is yet to overcome issues like the absence of strong local leadership and organisational structure in the state. “The party in Punjab continues to depend heavily on the Delhi team,” he says. “Punjab has a very strong regional element, and the perception that the AAP is a Delhi-based party could hurt its chances.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, there is a discussion on the AAP not having declared a chief ministerial candidate yet, despite Kejriwal having given a public assurance as he kicked off the Punjab campaign a few months ago. There is speculation on whether the party will ultimately announce Bhagwant Mann—a crowd-puller and the party’s most popular local face—as its chief minister face.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP sources say that the party faces a dilemma about declaring a chief minister face since Kejriwal has been getting good traction. There is a fear that announcing a CM face would take the focus off Kejriwal and the other person would be compared with the bigwigs who represent the other parties. It is also felt that Kejriwal has been successful in convincing the people that a local face would be the chief minister if the party wins, even as he leads the campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kejriwal is being cautious—a victory in Punjab can be a springboard for his party onto the centre stage in national politics; a failure can mean a major setback to its ambitions to spread outside Delhi.</p> Sat Jan 15 15:16:25 IST 2022 it-is-kejriwal-vs-all-in-punjab-raghav-chadha-aap-co-in-charge <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ How confident are you about the AAP’s chances this time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Aam Aadmi Party will form the government in Punjab, because voters are fed up with traditional parties. They have seen 26 years of Congress rule and 24 years of Akali rule. There is a strong yearning for change because people identify the traditional parties with looting the state’s resources. The leaders of these parties are firmly entrenched in corruption and in furthering their businesses at the state’s expense. The people can relate to our slogan ‘Ik Mauka Kejriwal Nu’ (Give one chance to Kejriwal).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The AAP was the single largest party in the recently concluded Chandigarh municipal elections.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Our victory in Chandigarh is the trailer of what will happen in the assembly polls. The people of Chandigarh voted for change. Also, what is significant is that while the BJP lost, the people did not vote for the Congress as its replacement. They placed faith in the AAP. It is another matter that the traditional parties indulged in underhand means to deny the AAP the mayor’s post and other important positions in the civic body.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the AAP’s election plank?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Our campaign is marked by sincerity. We are not telling any lies and are not relying upon bluster. We have presented guarantees of what we intend to do. These are ‘Kejriwal’s guarantees’, which include electricity, health, education, problems of the dalits and women’s empowerment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your rivals call these promises blatant populism and ask where the revenue will come from to fulfil them?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ If our guarantees are sheer populism and are so impractical, why is everybody else trying to copy us? We have a blueprint ready on how we will fund these guarantees. We have the Delhi model of governance before us that proves that through efficient government functioning you can find the resources for these schemes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Who is your main rival, the Congress or the Akali Dal?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ All parties are our rivals. It is a case of Kejriwal versus all. We saw what happened in the Chandigarh mayoral election. We saw what happened in 2017, when everybody got together to form an unholy alliance to ensure that the Congress won, only to keep the AAP out. However, the people have made up their mind for a change this time. The Congress is busy fighting itself, while the Akalis are completely discredited. And the less said about the BJP-plus alliance, the better.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The AAP’s campaign relies heavily on Kejriwal. Will you have a chief ministerial face?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The AAP will have a chief ministerial face. The name will be announced at the right time and it will be from among the three crore Punjabis and will be from the Sikh community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will that face be Bhagwant Mann?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/All I can say is that we will soon announce a CM face.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will the repeal of the three contentious farm laws have any impact on the elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The repeal of the farm laws will not change anything for traditional players. They all stand exposed. The people realise that the BJP withdrew the laws only for the sake of elections and they continue to be angry with the party. They are also aware that both the Congress and the Akalis have been involved in the drafting of the laws.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will the AAP ally with the farmers’ groups that have entered the electoral fray?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We will let you know if there is any such development. So far, we have not talked to the farmers’ groups about an alliance.</p> Sat Jan 15 15:11:42 IST 2022 shiromani-akali-dal-wants-to-position-itself-as-sole-regional-party-for-punjabis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Ratan Singh, 80, has been with the Shiromani Akali Dal since he was a child. “Since voting began in the country,” he emphasises. A farmer who took land on contract, Singh rues that his ideological commitment has not passed on to his sons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The elder one rents out combine harvesters while the younger is a naib subedar in the Army. “I am a pucca Akali, but in the previous elections, my eldest son told me he would vote for the Congress as it had promised jobs for the youth. I could not stop him. Congress leaders took an oath on the holy book to catch the accused in the [2015] sacrilege case. People were taken in,” Singh recounted as he left Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal’s rally in Samana in Patiala district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Six months after the government was formed, I [mockingly] congratulated my son saying my grandson had been appointed a deputy (a euphemism for a police job). He was embarrassed as he did not get what the Congress had promised. Now, he spent 030 lakh to send his son abroad. I have also told my grandson from my second son to prepare for IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and also go abroad.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh’s predicament represents the larger issue in the state—the maniacal rush to go abroad. This is even influencing politics, particularly the country’s second oldest party, the Akali Dal. During the Samana rally, Badal repeated the promise he had been making everywhere. “We will give interest-free loans of Rs10 lakh to students who want to study in any university in India or abroad, for IELTS coaching, so that you do not have sell your land.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Punjabi heartland, affected by migration, a Rs10 lakh loan for education abroad resonates. And the party is just responding to the aspirations of the young.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Formed in 1920 as a volunteer force, the Akali Dal became a political wing to lend support to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, which took control of gurudwaras in Punjab after a long struggle. The party, which celebrated its 101nth anniversary year on December 14, faced an existential crisis when it was relegated to third place in the 2017 assembly elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It dropped 50 seats from its previous tally of 68 (of 117), finishing behind the debuting Aam Aadmi Party. Matters were made worse when the NDA government, which it was a part of, passed the three farm laws last year. The Akali Dal quit the alliance as it feared being wiped out. Now, as the assembly elections near, it is making a vigorous attempt to recover lost ground.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Strategy wise, Sukhbir draws inspiration from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who was able to ward off the BJP with her focus on regionalism. Sukhbir, too, wants to present the Akali Dal as the sole regional party of Punjab (like Banerjee had done with the Trinamool Congress). “In the past few years, we have seen the rise of regional forces, whether it is in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana or Bengal. Punjabis believe that they are not going to be ruled by anyone else other than their own,” said former Union minister and Sukhbir’s wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To become a party of the Punjabis, the Akali Dal is projecting itself as more of a secular party rather than just a panthic Sikh one. There are two reasons for this—the changing demographic profile of the state (more Sikh youth migrating abroad), and political stability, which comes when it has all communities, particularly the Hindus, by its side. The BJP tie-up had brought that stability in the past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The demography is changing. Sikhs have started going abroad. Workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are coming in large numbers. There is not much of a gap now,” said senior vice president Prem Singh Chandumajra. “The party is taking along traders and employees, and not just focusing on farmers.” Chandumajra is contesting from Ganaur in the Malwa region, where the Akali Dal has traditionally done well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The shift is visible, with the Akali Dal giving tickets to Hindu candidates, including dalits. “During a recent rally in Pathankot, I was worried if any people would come out. We did not have any cadres there (it was a BJP seat). But when I held a rally in support of our candidate Raj Kumar Gupta, a sea of people turned up,” Sukhbir Badal said at rallies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The alliance with the BJP was a game-changer for the party, as before that no Akali government could finish a full term. People had lost faith in the party; faction wars destabilised it. It was only after Parkash Singh Badal stitched an alliance with the BJP in 1997 that the Akali Dal completed a full term—the BJP brought in urban Hindu votes into the fold. Badal, former prime minister A.B. Vajpayee and senior BJP leader L.K. Advani had grown close because of their anti-Congress stance and held joint protests during the Emergency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, after quitting the BJP alliance, Sukhbir has tied up with the Bahujan Samaj Party to try and repeat the 1996 result—the parties allied for the first time and won 11 of 13 Lok Sabha seats. The coming together of Sikhs and dalits is numerically a game changer, but dalits have always voted for the Congress in the past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the 2017 assembly debacle forced the Akali Dal to pitch itself as the sole regional-secular party for the Punjabi, it was a similar poor show in 1972—when it won only 24 seats—that made it a more hard line party. The Anandpur Sahib resolution of 1973 talked about Sikh aspirations and greater power. It talked about Khalsa rule, which was later interpreted as a demand for a separate state of Khalistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, that issue stands weakened. “The Anandpur Sahib resolution talked more about panthic issues,” said Chandumajra. “Our party diluted its wording while keeping the intent of the resolution the same and shifted the focus to greater rights for states and federalism. The Parkash Singh-led Akali Dal presided over the conference on federalism that the then DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) supremo M. Karunanidhi organised in the 1970s.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Akali Dal’s break with the BJP has also given it a chance to explore uncharted territories. “Earlier, all our conferences took place in gurdwaras; now we are focusing on including people from all communities, including Hindus and dalits, in all party teams,” said Charanjiv Singh Lali, the party’s national vice president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Jalandhar, where he is based, Lali said the party was trying to strengthen its urban base. The BJP represented these areas. “Jalandhar city has three and a half assembly seats, where the base of the Akali Dal has been weak. After the alliance with the BSP, we are slowly building our base here. In the past two years, even the youth wings—the Students Organisation of India (SOI) and the Youth Akali Dal—have grown stronger in the Doaba region.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since Sukhbir took over from his 94-year-old father, he has been leaving his stamp on the party. He has focused his politics on development, has left the religious issues to the SGPC, and has built the SOI, which brings in a stream of youth to the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several party leaders, though, are not happy with the weakened focus on religion. Senior members such as Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and Manjinder Singh Sirsa have quit, accusing the Akali Dal of no longer representing Sikh interests. “The Akali Dal has a history of struggles and sacrifices,” said Dhindsa. “Its leaders went to jail during the gurudwara movement, the independence struggle and the Emergency. Has Sukhbir Singh Badal ever gone to jail? He and his coterie hanker after money. The party has given up on panthic issues.” Dhindsa recently floated his own party and it is in alliance with the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Akali Dal’s rich history of struggle is seen through the photographs that adorn its party headquarters in Chandigarh. Sikh politics always kept religion and politics together; Guru Hargobind, in his concept of Miri Piri, had said that unless you have raj (rule), you cannot have dharam (religion). “Dharam was always given importance,” said Dhindsa. “But they (Badals) had kept politics in the foreground. We want to prioritise religion over politics and take back the SGPC from them. The Akal Takht (one of the five seats of power in Sikhism) jathedar (a leader of the clergy) listens to the Akali Dal president. He should be a scholar and free from politics.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhindsa’s party has set up a panel to formulate the party line. Among other issues, he is demanding a change in Article 25 subsection 2 of the Constitution, wherein Sikhs are clubbed with Hindus. “We demand that the subsection be amended to recognise Sikhism as a separate religion. We also want to bring changes to the SGPC, which can be done when we have numbers in the assembly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This mixture of politics and religion has, in recent years, spelled trouble for the Akali Dal. “We lost [the 2017 elections] because of the [2015 sacrilege] incidents. We will work 24x7 to bring the perpetrators to book. We want to remove this stain,” said Harsimrat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In December 2021, mobs killed two men for alleged sacrilege in Punjab, marking a return of the issue to politics. “It is a conspiracy and appears to be pre-planned to disturb the peace in the state. The BJP had lost out because of the farm laws. It could be fomenting trouble,” alleged Lali, adding that the aim could be to polarise voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no doubt a churn in Punjab politics, and there seems to be no clear winner. The four-cornered contest—Congress, Akali Dal-BSP, AAP, BJP-Punjab Lok Congress—has a new entrant as 22 farmer bodies, who steered the year-long farmers’ protests, have also jumped into the fray. They have huge goodwill as they returned victorious, and they have a presence in rural Punjab, which has been a catchment area for the Akali Dal. Sukhbir might have more trouble at hand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We faced confrontation earlier, but that is coming down. We have been telling the farmers what all we have done for them. They are listening,” said Chandumajra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, will that change with the entry of a new party? “Everyone at the national level, though they were our political opponents, felt that the Akali Dal needed to be preserved and always be present as a face of Sikh nationalism; otherwise, radical elements can come forward,” he said. “It was after the Longowal accord that the Akali Dal decided that its interest lay with India. We believe in democracy and respect all religions and castes. The Akalis are against radicalism. Even the radicals know that the Akalis are a hurdle for them.”</p> Thu Jan 06 18:04:28 IST 2022