Statescan en Sat Jun 22 12:01:58 IST 2019 ghettoisation-of-pandits-will-defeat-the-purpose <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A fresh initiative for the return of Kashmiri Pandits to Kashmir has been set in motion. On June 12, a delegation of the Pandits met Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who is custodian of the historic Jamia Masjid and chairman of Awami Action Committee (AAC), a faction of the separatist Hurriyat Conference. The delegation sought the help of the Mirwaiz for the resettlement of Pandits. The two sides agreed to form an inter-community committee to take the initiative forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Satish Mahaldar, who led the Pandit delegation, told THE WEEK that the committee will also discuss peace and development of Kashmir. Some Pandits have been calling for a separate homeland within Kashmir; Mahaldar said he was aware of the demands of the “fringe” elements. “Whether today or tomorrow, everybody has to fall in line for the sake of peace,” he said. He said that creating separate colonies for Pandits is impractical and not achievable. “We have proposed that some land be allotted in six to seven districts in Kashmir where Pandits can live in flats in multi-storey apartments. That is workable and noncontroversial.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the 2014 Kashmir floods, the AAC paid for the reconstruction of 100 houses in Srinagar. The first house it chose was that of professor Moti Lal, a Kashmiri Pandit, at Basant Bagh in Srinagar. Lal was among a few thousand Pandits who stayed put in Kashmir braving militancy and fear. “Kashmiri Pandits whose children are well settled outside will not return,” Lal said. “They took the right decision to leave Kashmir.” He said it was a wrong decision for him to stay put. “My wife is the only Kashmiri Pandit woman who continues to wear a sari,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP's plan to build separate colonies for Kashmiri Pandits has not won the support of the separatists or successive governments in Jammu and Kashmir. The separatists are wary that the BJP will use the resettlement of Pandits as a ploy to implement its agenda. If the state uses its power to bring them back, it is likely to leave resident Kashmiris anxious. Thus, the Mirwaiz's fresh initiative to explore their return is the state's best bet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This initiative comes at a time when the BJP government at the Centre has come down hard on separatists. Except for Mirwaiz Farooq and the ailing Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who heads the other faction of the Hurriyat, most members of the two groups have been arrested for terror funding and disrupting peace. They have worked under the banner of the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) since the 2016 uprising triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. Since 2017, security forces have killed 733 militants in Kashmir, including 35 senior commanders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Centre has initiated a multi-agency crackdown against persons<br> involved in terror funding and stone pelting. Mirwaiz Farooq was also<br> questioned in Delhi by the National Investigation Agency. In an exclusive interview to THE WEEK, the first after he was questioned by the NIA, the Mirwaiz spoke on a range of issues. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What was discussed at the recent meeting with the delegation of Kashmiri Pandits?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We decided to form a committee to take the initiative forward. We will try to get representation from all sections of society in the committee, including religious organisations, traders and political forces like the Hurriyat Conference, to build trust and restore communication that has broken down for many years between the two communities. We believe the interaction between Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims have to increase through people-to-people contact. Everybody across the board believes this is a humanitarian issue. We believe we must not link the return of Kashmiri Pandits to Kashmir with the resolution of the Kashmir issue as it will take time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think this initiative will counter the feeling that separatists are opposed to their return?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think so. A wrong perception has been created that Kashmiri Muslims are against the return of Pandits. I can tell you that there is a consensus among all sections of society in Kashmir that they need to come back. Separate colonies and ghettoisation of Kashmiri Pandits will defeat the purpose. That will not give them that feeling of being home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You command influence in Kashmir, but does the delegation you met enjoy the backing of their community?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think it is important to distinguish between people who want to come back and live here and those who are using this issue for their own self-interest. Some of them [from the second set] can be seen on television. I firmly believe that such people are harming the cause of Kashmiri Pandits by increasing the acrimony between the two communities. The delegation that met us acknowledged it. They said they do not represent them. They said they want to take the initiative forward and work with the people in Kashmir. Nobody can accuse us of playing politics on this issue. We are neither contesting any election nor do we want to win any seats. The delegation said they are disappointed in the Peoples Democratic Party, the National Conference and others. Whoever has come back in the last 20 years has come on their own. The government has done nothing for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The ACC helped rebuild many houses that were damaged in the 2014 floods. The first one was of a Kashmiri Pandit.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes. We also helped some Pandit families settle [down] back in Budgam. Their land had been usurped, and we ensured it was returned to them. We believe that Kashmiri Pandits will also have to take a call and not get exploited [by people with agendas].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think this initiative will help soften the stand of hardliners in New Delhi, and they would think of the Hurriyat as an entity they can do business with?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ You cannot ignore the fact that the Kashmir problem has a humanitarian angle. There are Kashmiri Pandits, divided families straddling the Line of Control, missing persons and refugees. We have made a [start] and we will take this process forward. We had a very cordial meeting with this delegation. Next time they come, I am going to call the ulema, traders and the civil society for interaction. We will take this forward step by step.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Centre recently said dialogue with the Hurriyat will be held within the ambit of the Indian Constitution, after you expressed readiness for talks.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think it is for the BJP to decide what course they want to take. The election rhetoric is over and the BJP won comfortably. I think they are in a much better position than Atal Behari Vajpayee, in terms of strength and numbers. I think it is a test of [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi's leadership whether he can graduate from being a leader to a statesman. I honestly believe that Vajpayee had laid a foundation on which we can engage with each other. Not only with Delhi but also with Islamabad. One thing is very clear that there is no military solution to this problem. The BJP is using the media to somehow brush aside all the historical aspects of the Kashmir issue. The latest UN report on human rights in Kashmir has firmly said that the Kashmiri struggle is based on certain legal aspects, and justice has to be done with the right of self-determination. So, no matter how hard they try to ignore the realities of the Kashmir dispute, they cannot do so. The only way forward is engagement. If there is a forward movement from New Delhi, the Hurriyat will give a positive response.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You said Modi has the mandate, but what according to you is holding him back on Kashmir?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Many people say he needs time. It has been only a month or so since he won a second term. Time is key here, because in times of relative peace you build a process. Unfortunately, the Kashmir situation is so unpredictable that tomorrow we will be in a situation where we will be firefighting again. When you have anger on the streets, you cannot engage with each other. New Delhi has to understand that this problem will not go away by arresting Hurriyat leaders, maligning them, using the NIA, the Enforcement Directorate and other pressures tactics. They should have appreciated the fact that the Hurriyat Conference, to some extent, was a buffer for them. In the last 10 years, we have seen the rise of militancy and the anger of the youth. In the last 10 years, New Delhi has completely sidelined the Hurriyat Conference. They have to understand that the more they push the political forces aside, the more difficult it will be for them to deal with the situation on the ground. And tomorrow, there will be nobody to talk to them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you manage to carry on when most of your colleagues have been arrested?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is difficult. The police and the Criminal Investigation Department are always on the prowl. In the long run, this issue is not going to go away. We do not want our youth and another generation to get consumed in this conflict. We want a peaceful solution. And I believe if there was some movement forward on the political level, we can even try to get those young boys to engage politically rather than militarily. But right now, there is absolutely no initiative. They want to continue with the iron fist policy, which is not helping. They claim every day this or that area is militant-free, yet we see young boys leaving families, academics and careers to join militant ranks. That is a big challenge for all of us as a community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you arranged for a legal defence for your colleagues who have been arrested?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes, we have. But the process is very slow. At the end of the day, it is a political call. It is very clear that the NIA and other agencies are working under the instructions of the government. The process is so slow that even in the main case the hearing has not started as yet. It is political vendetta. There is nothing they can prove against our colleagues who are in jail and they are trying to prolong their detention on one pretext or the other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will the Hurriyat be able to draw young boys away from militancy if the Centre offers talks on Kashmir?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think the Hurriyat Conference is the only platform or party that can play a role because it represents the sentiment and aspirations of the people. Even parties like the BJP acknowledge that fact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think there is any common ground between the Hurriyat and political parties regarding Article 35A?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Certain guarantees were given to [mainstream parties] by the government of India, [during the accession]. It is for them now to [take to the streets]. Article 35A ensures that demographic changes will not happen. People who are saying Article 370 is temporary must know it was temporary because a plebiscite was to be held. People are watching how the NC and PDP will follow up on this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see the rise of the BJP in J&amp;K? The RSS is planning to open units in Kashmir also.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ They are definitely trying to make inroads. They have the resources and are using the system to their benefit. I do not know how far they will be successful, but it is very clear that people are also becoming aware. The BJP has completely polarised the state. The Hurriyat Conference has always rejected a solution on communal grounds. As a Mirwaiz, I have always maintained that Kashmir is a political problem. But we are seeing that the BJP and RSS are trying to whip up emotions and are giving the issue a Hindu-Muslim colour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Last December, a few Islamic State (IS) members had barged into Jamia Masjid, of which you are the custodian. Is the threat of IS gaining ground in Kashmir?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Because of the lingering conflict in Kashmir, a few youth are driven by this ideology. They have access to social media and have come to their own understanding. It is very important for us to [make it] clear that our struggle has no international agenda. It is a political problem which is rooted in the history of the subcontinent. It has a context and a background. And in that context and background, we want to address it as per the aspirations of the people.</p> Sat Jul 20 17:47:41 IST 2019 knocking-naidu-down <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AN UNEASY CALM</b> prevails in the Telugu Desam Party, as the fate of N. Chandrababu Naidu’s riverfront residence at Undavalli village near Vijayawada hangs in the balance. The former Andhra Pradesh chief minister lives in a bungalow on the banks of the Krishna, and it was allegedly built flouting environmental laws. The allegation has the TDP on the back foot, when it is yet to recover from the drubbing it got in the recent Lok Sabha and assembly elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naidu and his partymen have not been able to counter the offensive launched by Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy and the YSR Congress. Having won a huge mandate, Jagan has taken a number of bold decisions within a month of taking charge. An eviction notice recently stuck outside Naidu’s home has so unsettled the TDP that it is yet to make a counter move.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There are two views within the party,” said a TDP leader. “One section wants Naidu to make it an issue and capitalise on it to get people’s support. The other leaders want Naidu to quietly move out. Whatever stand we take, the structure will be razed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naidu had moved into the bungalow in 2015, amid criticism from environmentalists and opposition leaders. A year later, he built a huge hall called Praja Vedika near the bungalow to hold official meetings and events. Praja Vedika, too, was constructed illegally, and the state government demolished it on June 26.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>TDP leaders insist that their muted response to the demolition is part of a wider strategy. “We have decided to not criticise the new government for the first six months,” said TDP legislator Buddha Venkanna. “They spent around Rs1.5 crore for the demolition. Why should they spend so much public money? They could have used it for some other purpose instead. Whether it is legal or illegal, the owner of the land will fight it out in court.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By going by the rule book to corner Naidu, Jagan has projected himself as a strong and decisive chief minister. The state government has also issued notices to around 60 properties in the Krishna basin. Much of the credit for highlighting the illegal construction in the region goes to Alla Ramakrishna Reddy, the YSR Congress leader who defeated Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh in the Mangalagiri assembly constituency. RK, as Ramakrishna Reddy is popularly known, had petitioned the court over the issue two years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“These constructions clearly violate the 1984 River Conservation Act,” said Reddy. “The structures are located between the river and a bund; as per the act, there should not be any kind of activity in this area, as it will change the course of the river. Praja Vedika didn’t even have permission from the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority. Worse, Naidu used the premises for party activities, while it is supposed to be used only for official meetings.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Reddy, Naidu’s residence was also constructed illegally. “I don’t know why he is still staying in the house,” he said. “His followers said it had permission from the panchayat, but so far no documents have been furnished as evidence.”</p> <p>Naidu had earlier said that the property and surrounding land was acquired for building Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh’s planned capital city. But in 2015, when the TDP was in power, notices were issued against all buildings built on the river basin, including the bungalow built by Naidu. The same year, the irrigation minister said all properties that were issued notices were illegal ones, but the controversy died down after Naidu moved into the bungalow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The flip-flops by the original landowner, Lingamaneni Ramesh, has not helped Naidu’s defence. Ramesh had earlier said that he had no connection with the property, as he had given it away to the state government. He now says the property is legal.</p> <p>Environmentalists are pleased with Jagan’s decision to go after illegal constructions. “We have been opposing [Naidu’s residence] from day one,” said Bolisetty Satyanarayana, who petitioned the National Green Tribunal against illegal constructions in the Krishna basin. “If one were to look at a map in the state’s 2010 disaster management plan, 70 per cent of the proposed capital city of Amaravati was inundated in the 2009 floods. These low-lying areas are part of the floodplain. Any construction in that zone will destroy the river ecology. We are hoping that the state government would demolish Naidu’s residence and all other illegal properties. If exemptions are given, the practice [of flouting rules] would continue.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jagan has also won praise for banning bauxite mining in forested areas of Visakhapatnam district—a decision that the tribal community has long been demanding. Jagan’s style of functioning makes it clear that he is on a mission to prove himself. Within days of taking charge, he transferred nearly 80 IAS and IPS officers, and declared that he wants to be called the best chief minister within a year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It looks like Jagan is making his moves carefully,” said political analyst Pentapati Pullarao. “He is making sure that he is not doing anything wrong. As far as Chandrababu Naidu is concerned, he had spent a lot of money. He lost even after he transferred money to voters under various schemes just before the elections. He is not in a great position, and it will be interesting to see how he re-establishes himself.”</p> Sat Jul 13 11:12:41 IST 2019 relentless-rebellion <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>KARNATAKA IS ONCE</b> again staring at a constitutional crisis, as the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress coalition government is on the brink, following a spate of resignations by rebel MLAs. With two independent MLAs withdrawing support and 16 rebel MLAs—13 from the Congress and three from the JD(S)—resigning, the H.D. Kumaraswamy government has been reduced to a minority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the sinking coalition is blaming the opposition BJP for the political coup, the leadership crisis in the Congress, constant friction between the coalition partners and the dominance of the Deve Gowda family in governance, too, have been factors that triggered the rebellion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The overall strength of the 224-member Karnataka Assembly has been reduced to 208 following the resignations. The BJP has 107 seats, while the ruling combine has come down to 101. The coalition leadership is desperately trying to woo back the rebels, who have moved out to a Mumbai hotel. None of the senior Congress leaders, including the party’s famous troubleshooter D.K. Shivakumar, have so far managed to mollify them, although Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar’s decision to “examine” each resignation individually has given a breather to the distraught coalition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The spate of resignations started with the Congress MLA from Vijayanagar, Anand Singh, quitting on July 1, followed by Gokak MLA Ramesh Jarkiholi. Other Congress MLAs to resign were Pratap Gowda Patil, B.C. Patil, Mahesh Kumathalli, Shivaram Hebbar, Ramalinga Reddy, S.T. Somashekhar, Byrathi Basavraj, Munirathna, Roshan Baig, K. Sudhakar and M.T.B. Nagaraj. Three JD(S) MLAs—Narayan Gowda, K. Gopalaiah and H. Vishwanath­—have put in their papers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The timing of the resignations, when Kumaraswamy was away in the US and state Congress president Dinesh Gundu Rao was on a European trip, raised suspicions of a political coup orchestrated by the BJP, which has tried to poach coalition MLAs several times in the past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The speaker has so far given appointments to only eight MLAs who have resigned. He said eight others, who did not submit their resignations in the prescribed format, would have to tender their resignations afresh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has appealed to its members to come back or face action under the anti-defection law. “Our MLAs have been trapped by the BJP,” said former chief minister Siddaramaiah. “We urge them to come back. We will induct them into the cabinet, based on merit,” he said. All ministers except the chief minister have already resigned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior Congress leaders including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel, Anand Sharma, P. Chidambaram, Motilal Vora, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Randeep Surjewala held meetings to discuss the crisis. Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, mother Sonia and sister Priyanka stayed away from these meetings. Subsequently, Congress general secretaries Mallikarjun Kharge and K.C. Venugopal rushed to Karnataka. It was, however, felt that the response was not particularly swift, and this was blamed on the leadership vacuum at the centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The JD(S), which has moved its MLAs to a resort in Nandi Hills near Bengaluru, has given an ultimatum to the Congress to bring its rebels back. Gundu Rao, meanwhile, has petitioned the speaker to disqualify the Congress rebels, except veteran leader Ramalinga Reddy. The rebels, however, say they have quit only as MLAs, but not from the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Legal experts as well as BJP leaders are unhappy about the speaker’s decision to examine each resignation individually, calling it a “delaying tactic”. “There is no question of rejecting the resignation letters,” said BJP MLA Basavaraj Bommai. “It is only a futile attempt by the Congress and the JD(S) to bypass the Constitution to stay in power.” Senior advocate K.V. Dhananjaya said the speaker only had to verify whether the resignations were given under duress. “The move to examine the resignations without any sense of urgency smacks of mischief,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP said the crisis was caused by troubles within the Congress. “You have to keep your house in order rather than blame the BJP,” said state BJP president and former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa. A BJP delegation led by Yeddyurappa met Governor Vajubhai Vala on July 10, seeking his intervention to resolve the crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rebels blamed the crisis on the manner in which the coalition was being run. Some are angry about being kept out of the cabinet, while some are unhappy about the lack of coordination between the Congress and the JD(S). Many Congress leaders believe that the coalition was imposed on the state leaders by the high command, to send a signal that the Congress would be an “amicable” alliance partner ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. But after the alliance suffered a major debacle in the Lok Sabha elections, winning just two of 28 seats, many of them are not inclined to continue the arrangement as they feel it endangers their political survival. They believe that the Congress is accruing anti-incumbency, while reaping little benefit from being a part of the ruling coalition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Resigned JD(S) leader Vishwanath said fellow Kuruba Siddaramaiah, who heads the alliance coordination committee, was responsible for the “failure”. “The coalition experiment has failed in Karnataka,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also speculation that Siddaramaiah is behind the coup as he is feeling suffocated in the coalition. MLAs close to Siddaramaiah blamed the interference by the JD(S), especially by PWD Minister H.D. Revanna, and the non-allocation of funds for their constituencies. Munirathna said funds were not given for development work in his constituency. “I was not consulted before finalising the detailed report for the proposed elevated corridor project. The coalition has neglected the Bengaluru MLAs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddaramaiah loyalists, meanwhile, flirted with the idea of bringing back their leader as chief minister after offering Revanna the post of deputy chief minister. The plan failed to take off because of objections from Deve Gowda, who hinted that he would prefer Kharge, if a change was indeed required.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress MPs have been aggressive in the Lok Sabha on the issue, putting the blame on the BJP. On July 9, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, asked his MPs to raise slogans in protest after Speaker Om Birla denied him permission to speak on the issue. Rahul Gandhi was among the MPs who took part in the protest. Surjewala blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the crisis, calling the mass resignations “Modi Orchestrated Defection in India”. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh denied the charge, saying the BJP did not indulge in horse-trading. “My party is committed to maintaining the dignity of parliamentary democracy. Rahul Gandhi has started the trend of resignations in the Congress,” said Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It may not be easy for the BJP, however, to deny its role in the crisis as the rebels flew out of Bengaluru on chartered flights and were seen rubbing shoulders with BJP leaders in Mumbai. Independent MLA H. Nagesh, for instance, was escorted by Yeddyurappa’s personal assistant N.R. Santosh on a private jet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a bid to woo the rebels back, Shivakumar flew to Mumbai on July 10, but he was denied permission by the police from entering the hotel where the rebels were staying, citing a complaint by the MLAs, who said they feared for their safety. Shivakumar and former Mumbai Congress chief Milind Deora were later detained by the police for violating prohibitory orders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rebels moved Supreme Court on July 10, complaining that the speaker acted in a partisan matter and was deliberately not accepting their resignations. A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said it would consider taking up the issue the next day. Kumaraswamy has convened a cabinet meeting the same day, and is likely to decide whether to step down or pursue the rebels. A final resolution to the crisis, however, is likely only after the legislature session begins on July 12 and the speaker orders a floor test.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>WITH SONI MISHRA</b></p> Sat Jul 13 11:13:22 IST 2019 investigation-why-two-thirds-of-bihar-children-are-deprived-of-nutrition <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is early morning, but heat and humidity hang heavily over the Musahar settlement of Manjhi Tola of Harivanshpur panchayat, Vaishali district. As we make our way to the house of Sunny Kumari, one of the seven children in the panchayat who died in the Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) outbreak in June, what is more oppressive is the destitution enveloping every individual, especially kids. Naked and mud-caked children—many of them with obvious signs of malnourishment like shrunken limbs, dilated stomach and discoloured hair—dot the settlement, mostly in the care of slightly older sisters. A few roam around aimlessly, while others eat whatever they have—from dry, leftover chapatis to palm fruits and rice soaked in water. Three lucky ones, however, happily munch on mini snack packages, probably from a roadside kiosk.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>About a kilometre away, in anganwadi number 91, helper Sona Devi claims she has made khichdi for children—providing a “hot cooked meal” is part of the supplementary nutrition programme of the Integrated Child Development Services. But a peek into her aluminum vessel reveals nothing more than boiled rice, just enough for seven children. There is not even dal. In the outer room, nine girls wait for this “nutritious diet”. None of them is from Manjhi Tola, even though the settlement falls under the anganwadi’s jurisdiction. Sona defends the meagre quantity of food, saying not many children visit the centre, but she is unable to explain the menu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back in Manjhi Tola, we meet Sunny’s grandmother Munakia Devi, who lives in a concrete house built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. Most houses here are brick structures, but many do not have doors. Munakia says her house gets flooded during rains. Her daughter, she adds, left for her in-laws’ village soon after Sunny’s death as she was worried about the health of her two other children. Munakia insists that Sunny was quite healthy and had dinner the night before she died. Did they always have enough to eat? A tentative yes is her answer. Was Sunny enrolled in the local anganwadi? A firm no is the reply.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sunny, as per her Aadhaar card, turned six this May. She had never been to the anganwadi, nor had the six other children who died in the panchayat—four of whom were below six years. “They were not registered as they were healthy,” says anganwadi worker Ibha Kumari. But, how does one define healthy? Close to Sunny’s house live Anushka Kumari, 3, who looks younger because of her shrunken body, and her pregnant mother Mintu Devi, 20. They, too, have not been registered at the centre, says Mintu. Several other Musahars, a highly deprived Scheduled Caste community, here say that their children have never been to the anganwadi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This deprivation is because Bihar has a shocking system in place. Under ICDS, which is now covered under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, all children who are six months to six years old and all pregnant and lactating women should get supplementary nutrition, either as take-home ration or hot cooked meal from the local anganwadi. They are also entitled to regular growth monitoring and severe acute malnutrition management.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Manjhi Tola reveals a different reality. Ibha says the anganwadi covers about 230 children and 37 pregnant and lactating women in the settlement. But she provides take-home rations to only 45 children under three years and 16 women, and hot cooked food to 35 children of three to six years. “That is the norm,” she says. So, 150 kids and 21 women are simply left out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The children are selected through a quarterly survey, says Ibha; their weight is checked and the weaker ones included in anganwadi. Inquiries reveal similar limiting of numbers at several anganwadis across Muzaffarpur, Siwan, Gopalganj, Saharsa and Madhepura. In some of them, the limit was even lower at 30 children in the two categories.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, it seems a tragedy—government-made and far bigger than the AES outbreak—is silently unfolding in the villages and urban settlements of Bihar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The state already bears a terrible ignominy: it has the highest percentage of stunted (48.3 per cent) and underweight (43.9 per cent) children in the country, as per the National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-2016). This means almost half its kids are in the grip of acute malnutrition. So, it is no surprise that a study of 92 AES deaths from 2015 to 2017 by a team at Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital, Muzaffarpur, found that the deceased were all malnourished.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In this backdrop, THE WEEK’s investigations reveal an appalling fact—about two-thirds of the children below six years are being deprived of supplementary nutrition. As stated on, the Bihar ICDS directorate has fixed the number of beneficiaries at 80 children (40 children each in the two age groups), eight pregnant and eight lactating women and three adolescent girls per anganwadi centre. This, irrespective of the number of eligible children and women in its jurisdiction. On ground, the number of beneficiaries further gets reduced.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per ICDS’s website, there are only 79.40 lakh beneficiaries at the 99,583 operational anganwadis. Deduct the number of pregnant women and adolescent girls—10.95 lakh—and only 68 lakh children benefit from the scheme. That is just about 36 per cent of 1.91 crore children below six years in the state (2011 census).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This, say experts, is a gross violation of not only the Supreme Court directives on universalisation of ICDS, issued between 2004 and 2006, but also the food security act, which guarantees the right to food and nutrition to all. “This is systemic exclusion of needy children that could be termed nutrition apartheid,” says activist Sachin Jain of Right to Food Campaign. “There is an immediate necessity for a social audit of child health and nutrition programmes in the state.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rupesh Kumar, former state adviser to Supreme Court commissioners in the Right to Food case, says, “Our work on ground and studies, too, reveal that only about 35 per cent children in Bihar are covered under ICDS, which is indicative of their nutrition condition. No wonder they are susceptible to diseases, including AES.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rina Devi Sahni of Mallah Tola in the same village would agree. Her sons, Prince, 7, and Chhotu, 2, died of AES on consecutive days. She has sent her three other children to her parents’ home. Her sons, too, did not go to the anganwadi or receive the rations. “It is quite far from our home, too,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mohua Chatterjee, programme head of east India operations at CRY (Child Rights &amp; You), says while the state has taken some positive steps, the ground reality is different in many districts. “The need of the hour is to reach out to the last child and ensure the right to food and nutrition is translated into reality, which means ensuring ICDS coverage for all children in every remote hamlet,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>State authorities, however, deny that there was a cap on the number of beneficiaries. While social welfare minister Ramsewak Singh categorically says there is no such order, ICDS director Alok Kumar, in a reply to THE WEEK’s email, says, “ICDS services in Bihar have been universal since June 2014. To implement the National Food Security Act, 2013, ICDS Bihar had universalised its service to all through letter no. 3429 dated 19-06-2016.” As for the beneficiary figures on its website, he says “it is for budgetary provision”. “Some average number of beneficiaries has to be considered,” he says. “This is a moving average and the actual numbers at anganwadi centres could be different.” He did not explain why anganwadi workers adhered to the number fixed on the site.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among the bigger states with poor health indices, Bihar is the only one where women and child development falls under the department of social welfare, showing a lack of focus on the sector. And Bihar’s ICDS directorate is headed, strangely, by an Indian Forest Service officer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This lack of focus on women and child care translates into grim statistics. As per NFHS-4 data, only 34.3 per cent children received supplementary nutrition. As for growth monitoring, only 23 per cent of children were weighed at anganwadis. Every anganwadi is allotted Rs19,200 per month for supplementary nutrition, which is directly transferred to the account of workers. Some workers complain that they do not get the funds every month. There are allegations of corruption and payment of a “share” to higher officials. Moreover, Bihar’s contribution to the honorarium of anganwadi workers and helpers is the lowest among bigger states—Rs750 and Rs375, respectively—over the Central grant of Rs4,500 and Rs3,500. In Madhya Pradesh, the state share is Rs7,000 and Rs3,500, respectively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a report of the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, the budget outlay for direct nutrition interventions (DNIs) in Bihar for 2017-2018 was Rs2,687 crore—1.5 per cent of the budget. It was 1.9 per cent of the budget in 2014-2015. Also, the highest resource gap for DNIs was in the treatment of severe acute malnutrition cases. In 2017, only Rs8.9 crore was allotted against a requirement of Rs185 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These gaps are manifested in the condition of children at Vaishali district’s Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) at Mahua. When we reach there around 7pm, a frail Seema Devi, 18, looks crestfallen as she holds her seven-month-old daughter, Anupriya. Despite being admitted to the NRC a few days ago, the baby looks extremely malnourished. And, there is only Bina Devi, the cook, to take care of her and 14 other severely malnourished children. The 20-bed centre has only one feeding counsellor and a cook-cum-caretaker—the requirement is two each—and a medical social worker. The posts of two medical officers, eight nurses and two attendants lie vacant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is very difficult. I will be on 24-hour duty today as the social worker is not present,” says Bina. She seems helpless, but so are the parents. “I want my child to be healthy, but she seems to be deteriorating by the day,” says Anupriya’s father, Ranjan Kumar. His voice is dejected, but it is haunting and resonates across Bihar’s most deprived districts. Only, the state seems to be deaf.</p> Sat Jul 06 23:05:05 IST 2019 our-target-is-to-cover-100-per-cent-children-under-icds <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>When there is a provision for universalisation of the Integrated Child Development Services in the country, why is Bihar giving benefits only to selected children?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All eligible children are to be covered under the ICDS through anganwadis. We have a target to cover 100 per cent children. We have been sanctioned one anganwadi per ward. Though earlier the numbers were less, we now have over one lakh anganwadis; a few more are under construction. We are taking all steps for proper implementation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But, we were told that there is a department order to give benefits to only fixed number of children and pregnant or lactating women.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no such order. All those who are eligible are to be covered. Provide me with details of the place where you found the lacuna and I will get it checked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Malnutrition has been found to be a common factor in the Acute Encephalitis Syndrome deaths. ICDS targets malnutrition, but its poor implementation has proved fatal. What do you plan to do about it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have initiated a joint inquiry with other departments, especially health, in five blocks of the worst-hit Muzaffarpur district to find out where we went wrong. The anganwadis had a mandate to create awareness for prevention of AES. We want to find out whether there was some negligence by our department and whether ground workers took due interest in the task. The inquiry report would be out soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Bihar has the highest number of stunted and underweight children in the country, indicating high malnutrition. How will you tackle the same?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The very mandate of our department (ICDS directorate) is to combat malnutrition and reduce stunting. We are taking all possible steps for that. Anganwadi workers are conducting counselling sessions for parents. There is no dearth of funds, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Yet, do you think a special plan could be chalked out given the poor indices?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our department is providing livelihood options to women’s ‘jivika’ groups (under National Rural Livelihood Mission) and ensuring pension for all those over 60 years who do not take benefit of other schemes. This will strengthen the families economically and help the children too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>In most of the states, women and child development is a separate department with a separate minister, but not so in Bihar. Do you think the focus gets wavered?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no problem with the focus. We have separate officials for different sections. My focus is on every front. Bihar has probably the most number of special schemes for women like the Mukhyamantri Kanya Utthan scheme. We will be doing our best.</p> Sat Jul 06 21:48:58 IST 2019 problems-galore-for-cpi-m-in-kerala <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IF CPI(M) </b>leaders in Kerala thought that the drubbing in the recent Lok Sabha elections, where the party won just one of 20 seats, was the nadir, they were horribly mistaken. Barely a month after the debacle, on June 18, a young entrepreneur in Anthoor, Kannur, took his life after the municipality ruled by the party refused to give the clearance for an auditorium he had built with his life’s savings. Then came the real stinker. A day earlier, an English daily had published a crime story in its Mumbai edition, which concerned a complaint filed by a 33-year-old woman from Mira Road. She accused a certain Binoy Vinodini Balakrishnan alias Binoy Balakrishnan Kodiyeri of rape and cheating among other things. It did not initially create a stir because the news item did not identify the father of the accused: Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, former home minister and currently secretary of the CPI(M)’s state unit. The moment the identity was known the following day, it became fodder for the media.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The woman, who hailed from a low income family in Bihar, was a dancer at a bar in Dubai when she met Binoy in 2009. According to her complaint filed at the Oshiwara police station, Binoy, who posed as a builder from Kerala, plied her with expensive gifts and compelled her to quit dancing and join him, which she ultimately did. She did not know that Binoy was already married, and that his father was the home minister in the V.S. Achuthanandan government in Kerala. On Binoy’s suggestion, the couple moved to Mumbai, where a son was born to them in 2010. When she renewed her passport four years later, Binoy’s name was added in the space provided for spouse. According to the complaint, things took a turn for the worse in 2015 when Binoy stopped providing for her and disappeared from her life. She hunted him down on Facebook, and sent a legal notice last December, following which Binoy’s mother travelled to Mumbai to broker peace. She failed after the girl allegedly demanded a one-time settlement of Rs 5 crore. The case was registered in the second week of June and all hell broke loose for the Kodiyeri family and the CPI(M).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Binoy acknowledged that he knew the girl, he refuted the rape charges. He said the girl was trying to extort money from him. Binoy has now appraoched the Dindoshi district court in Mumbai seeking anticipatory bail. The court will take up the petition on June 27.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources who know the couple said everything went on smoothly so long as Binoy was making monthly payments to the girl. But that stopped as his business in the Gulf floundered. The girl also pressed him to legalise their relationship. All these apparently messed up the relationship which would have completed a decade this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Balakrishnan, however, has refused to take responsibility for his son’s alleged actions. “Neither I nor my party will do anything to protect my son. If he has done something wrong, he should pay for it,’’ he said. “How is it possible for a father to know everything that happens in the personal lives of their children?’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Binoy went incommunicado as a Mumbai Police team reached Kerala looking for him. Lokanath Behera, director-general of the Kerala Police, did not respond when asked about the case. “It is not our case,” said Behera. “I cannot comment.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CPI(M) cadre, however, are fuming. “The party has lost face. After the election drubbing, we all were desperately trying to keep up the morale of ordinary workers. And then, such nasty issues come up,’’ said a former leader of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), who is very close to the party leadership. “Binoy is the son of the state secretary of the CPI(M) and the party cannot just wash its hands of the issue just like that.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But this sentiment is not shared by the top brass, at least not officially. “Binoy is an adult and he lives independently. How can his acts be used to criticise the CPI(M),’’ asked P. Jayarajan, who, till recently, was the Kannur district secretary of the party. “Our party secretary has made it clear that the party will not support him.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is not the first time that Balakrishnan’s sons have caused trouble for the CPI(M). Last year, Binoy’s name figured in a financial dispute with an Arab entrepreneur, who lodged a formal complaint against him. That matter was settled after much effort. His younger brother Binesh, too, had been allegedly involved in financial improprieties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adding to the party’s woes, P.K. Shyamala, the municipal chairperson involved in the controversy of the young entrepreneur’s suicide in Anthoor, belongs to the CPI(M) and is married to M.V. Govindan, a central committee member of the party. Similarly, the attack on C.O.T. Naseer, a former member of the party who contested against Jayarajan from the Vadakara Lok Sabha constituency, has caused further trouble for the CPI(M). The former driver of an MLA was arrested in this connection.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The CPI(M) has never stooped to this level before,” said state Congress president Mullappally Ramachandran. “In the past, whenever it had made some mistakes, the party leadership used to have serious introspection and would come up with corrective measures. But that is not seen with the present leadership.” Ramachandran said if the party secretary could not control his sons, he had no moral right to head the ruling party. “He must resign immediately,’’ said Ramachandran. Senior BJP leader Kummanam Rajasekharan, too, demanded Balakrishnan’s resignation. “The government should not try to help the culprit just because he is the son of CPI(M) state secretary,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political commentator N.M. Pearson said similar developments had taken place in West Bengal before the downfall of the party there. “Nandigram and Singur were party strongholds. At a time when the morale of its cadre is at an all-time low, the CPI(M)’s prime priority should be to save the party, not to protect the relatives of party leaders,” said Pearson. “All these are symptoms of degeneration and the party will eventually pay the price for it.”</p> Fri Jun 28 14:38:30 IST 2019 congress-in-telangana-is-staring-at-existential-crisis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>HYDERABAD’S IT CORRIDOR</b> is 12km away from the Congress party office in Telangana. What connects them though is a common problem—a high attrition rate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the last assembly elections held in December, the Congress won just 19 seats in the 119-member assembly. Six months later, it is in a pitiable state. Twelve of the 19 MLAs have crossed over to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). State Congress chief N. Uttam Kumar Reddy, who was an MLA from Huzurnagar, resigned after being elected as an MP from Nalgonda. That brought down the party’s tally to six. Now, two Congress MLAs have hinted that they may join the BJP. The mood in the Congress camp is sombre, and party leaders seem to be directionless.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Till the time somebody leaves the party, we do not know about it. I would not be surprised if a few more MLAs leave,” said a Congress leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, the 12 MLAs who defected to the TRS gave a representation to the assembly speaker to merge the Congress Legislature Party with the ruling TRS. The speaker accepted their request, leading to the Congress losing the status of main opposition party. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, said to be friendly to the TRS, became the second largest party in the assembly, with seven seats. The state, therefore, no longer has a formidable opposition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior Congress leaders took to the streets, protesting against the speaker for not accepting their petition to disqualify the “poached” MLAs. They had also approached the high court, which served notices to the defected MLAs. “This is a deliberate attempt to weaken the spirit of democracy,” said Dasoju Sravan Kumar, national spokesperson of the All India Congress Committee. “The TRS wants to be as big as possible. When they have a majority, what is the reason for promoting defections? Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao is intolerant to alternate views and does not like to be questioned. He wants to establish a dictatorial regime. Since there are court orders on the defections, we submitted a representation to the speaker to disqualify [the MLAs]. But, he played a dubious role.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumar added that it was “sheer opportunism” on part of the BJP to lure its MLAs. He wondered how the MLAs who plan to join the saffron party would fight the TRS when they failed to do so while being in the Congress, which had a strong structure in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, the big question is why are Congress MLAs and leaders leaving the party in hordes? Some political analysts point out that most of these leaders have business interests, and therefore migrate to the ruling party either to better their financial position or to escape future probes on their establishments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“If an MLA spends Rs 20 crore to Rs 30 crore on his election, he has to recover or repay that money once he gets elected. The defections may have helped,” said a Congress candidate who had contested the last assembly elections. “Also, opposition party MLAs are not taken seriously even by a lower-level government official. It makes sense for them to cross over to the ruling party and get the work done in their constituencies and keep voters happy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a way, the inability of the Congress leadership to stop the desertions has been exposed in a big way. A senior Congress leader narrated a recent incident involving an MLA who switched over to the TRS. When the party got news that he was about to join the ruling party, the high command asked one of the leaders to talk him out of it. “We called the MLA, who said that he was literally being kidnapped and forced by the TRS leaders to join the party,” said the leader. “His phone was switched off for a few hours. In the evening, we watched him on TV, flashing a smile and standing amid the leaders of his new party. If public representatives behave this irresponsibly, how can we engage with them?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the BJP is upbeat about its own prospects in the near future. “The Congress is in the doldrums,” said Ravula Sridhar Reddy, state BJP spokesperson. “Those who want to fight KCR are looking towards us. We have emerged as a strong alternative in Telangana.” He added that even MLAs from the TRS are in touch with senior BJP leaders. “It is only a matter of time before leaders from other parties join the BJP,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, some are still hopeful that it is not the end of the road for the Congress. Political analyst K. Nageshwar said that defections were common when a party loses. “The losing party will be vulnerable. What matters is people’s support, and not the leaders,” said the former member of the legislative council. “In Andhra Pradesh, 23 YSR Congress Party MLAs joined the Telugu Desam Party. Did it make any difference? The YSR Congress registered a huge win. In the recent general elections, the Congress won three seats, despite many party MLAs joining the TRS.”</p> Sat Jun 22 11:21:04 IST 2019 how-radhakrishna-vikhe-patil-departure-is-a-big-blow-to-congress-in-maharashtra <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On June 17, when Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, who was sworn in a day earlier as minister for housing, came to the assembly, opposition members shouted “Aayaram Gayaram, Jai Shri Ram”. They were referring to his entry into the cabinet, less than two weeks after his resignation from the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vikhe Patil, a seasoned player with more than three decades of political experience, did not pay much attention to the sloganeering. That Vikhe Patil would dump the Congress was clear right from the day his son, Sujay, chose to contest the Lok Sabha elections on a BJP ticket. Vikhe Patil had tried to get him the Congress ticket from Ahmednagar constituency, which was with the Nationalist Congress Party. He had even urged the party’s central leadership to get the NCP to exchange it for another seat. The Pawars, however, refused to budge, although Vikhe Patil had requested Sharad Pawar to end the political rivalry between the two families and make a fresh start.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, which spotted an opportunity, deputed Irrigation Minister Girish Mahajan, a close confidant of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, to approach Sujay. After Sujay got the BJP ticket, Vikhe Patil, who was leader of opposition in the legislative assembly, announced that he would not campaign for the NCP candidate from Ahmednagar. Since then, it was a only matter of time that he quit the Congress and joined the Fadnavis cabinet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vikhe Patil’s departure is a big blow to the Congress, which is yet to recover from the crushing defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. The party organisation is a shambles and workers are demoralised. To make things worse, at least five or six more Congress legislators like Abdul Sattar, Jaykumar Gore and Kalidas Kolambkar are keen to emulate Vikhe Patil and cross over to the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Vikhe Patils have dominated Maharashtra’s socio-political space for more than five decades. The family first came into prominence when Vithalrao Vikhe Patil started Asia’s first cooperative sugar factory at Loni in Ahmednagar district. Vithalrao laid the foundation of the family’s cooperative empire. Today, it comprises prominent educational institutions, sugar factories and dairy and farmers’ clubs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Members of the Vikhe Patil clan have never shied away from switching parties. Vithalrao’s son Balasaheb was the first rebel in the family. In his younger days, Balasaheb was a communist. He then joined the Congress and became a zilla parishad member and legislator. When Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency, he quit the Congress and joined the Maharashtra Samajwadi Congress. He returned to the Congress following Indira’s massive victory in the 1980 elections. He later set up the Congress Forum for Action with the support of 45 MPs when Rajiv Gandhi was Congress president. After his defeat in the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, he accused Sharad Pawar of sabotaging his election. Thus began the rivalry between the Vikhe Patils and the Pawars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vithalrao, who stayed away from active politics, was always close to the Congress ideology. Said political analyst Abhay Deshpande, “It was Balasaheb who first rebelled to quit the Congress. As he grew old, his son Radhakrishna rebelled and joined the Shiv Sena and became minister for agriculture in the first Sena-BJP government (1995-99). Balasaheb followed in the footsteps of his son and joined the Sena. He won the 1999 Lok Sabha elections from the Kopargaon constituency and became minister of state for finance in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Now it is Sujay’s turn to lead the rebellion and his father has followed him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, even as Balasaheb was with the Sena, Radhakrishna had returned to the Congress when it came to power in 1999 in Maharashtra. He subsequently became a minister and held important portfolios. Balasaheb returned to the Congress in 2004 and was elected from the Kopargaon. He died in 2016.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party-hopping ways of the Vikhe Patils have always been questioned by their critics. Former minister Balasaheb Thorat, who is the new Congress legislature party leader in Maharashtra, had warned the party’s central leadership not to rely on the Vikhe Patils. Their critics say the Vikhe Patils are power hungry, always chasing positions of influence to keep their Ahmednagar fiefdom intact. “Their cooperative empire is worth around a few thousand crores,” said a source, who has known the Vikhe Patils for a long time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said Radhakrishna’s exit was expected. “He was unhappy after the NCP refused to leave the Ahmednagar seat for his son. He did not campaign in Ahmednagar and Shirdi constituencies and his network made sure that his son won from Ahmednagar and Sadashiv Lokhande (Shiv Sena) won from Shirdi. As leader of opposition, his performance was not that great. He had shared dais with the chief minister, claiming that the CM was his personal friend. So we had sensed that this was coming,” said Sawant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Deshpande said the BJP was trying to take away from the Congress its most important leaders who had the ability to revive the party. “The BJP snatched away Narayan Rane, a powerful leader with a mass base and the ability to revive the party. They are doing the same with Vikhe Patil,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Water Supply Minister Babanrao Lonikar said Vikhe Patil’s entry into the cabinet had completely crushed the morale of the Congress. “Vikhe Patil is a powerful name. He is a Maratha, an eminent sugar baron with huge clout. It will certainly benefit the BJP not just in Ahmednagar district, but also in the neighbouring Marathwada and north Maharashtra. It is like we have snatched a Congress senapati,” said Lonikar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A BJP legislator, however, chose to disagree. “It is fine with Vikhe Patil. His entry has a huge demoralising effect on the Congress. But we are worried about other Congress-NCP legislators who are keen to join,” he said. “The BJP will get only 144 seats to contest in the assembly elections after the seat-sharing pact with the Sena. We already have 123 legislators of our own, and seven independents. If we welcome leaders from other parties, when will our loyal cadre get a chance to contest elections?”</p> Sat Jun 22 12:00:30 IST 2019 government-engineered-the-poor-voter-turnout <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency is always in the news during the election season, largely because of the threat of militancy. It was in the news this time, too, by registering only 8.76 per cent voter turnout, the lowest in the country, and also because of the stunning upset of former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti of the Peoples Democratic Party. Anantnag chose National Conference nominee Hasnain Masoodi, a retired judge of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, as its MP. Masoodi polled 40,180 votes, while state Congress chief G.A. Mir got 33,504 votes and Mehbooba 30,524 votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Masoodi started his career as a munsif and was elevated as additional judge of the High Court in 2009. He shot to fame in 2015 after he ruled that Article 370, which guarantees the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, has attained permanency in the Constitution. The National Conference hopes to leverage his victory to shore up its position in south Kashmir, a stronghold of the PDP. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Masoodi shared his vision for Kashmir and what he intends to achieve as a parliamentarian.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Less than 10 per cent of the voters turned up to vote in Anantnag.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a state-engineered boycott. People did not come out to vote because of the clubbing of the polling booths. Some polling booths were shifted a day before voting, without informing people. Shifting does not happen after the booths are notified. Second, such shifting needs the consent of the chief electoral officer. That did not happen. The polling booth at Nallah Awoora in Pahalgam was moved to a place which was eight kilometres from the nearest habitation. In Shopian, polling booths were shifted from areas where people generally vote in higher numbers to areas that are known for boycott. The administration ensured that voters had to travel four to five kilometres to cast their votes. And en route, they were harassed, abused and heckled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are you saying that the administration wanted to favour some candidates?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I cannot tell you that. Maybe the administration wanted to help those who did not enjoy public support. There was a kind of breeze, if not a wave, in our favour. That can be one of the reasons. Accessibility to polling booths was reduced and steps were taken to ensure that people stayed indoors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you think you would have still won had the turnout been higher?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, and with a thumping majority. It would have been historic. Not because there is something great about me or the party, but because we were able to tell the people about the challenges that lay ahead, and connect with them. We were proven right after the administration banned civilian traffic twice a week on the Jammu-Srinagar highway. The Army and the CRPF said they never asked for it. I think it was a message to the people from the administration on what it can do. It can get even worse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>As a first-time MP from south Kashmir, how do you plan to provide succour to its people who have suffered the most in recent times?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People are not aware of the level of atrocities in south Kashmir. There are boys who have been jailed without even a case being registered against them. When an effort is made to get them out on bail, cases are registered against them. When the court grants bail to someone, the police will say they have one more case against him. The government has given the powers of an NIA court to only one court in Jammu. Poverty-stricken families of arrested boys have to travel all the way to Jammu for the hearings. The Constitution guarantees the fundamental right to life and personal liberty. The Supreme Court has said that accessibility to justice is a component of this right. When someone from the remote areas has to attend a court in Jammu, it is denial of justice. I demand that such powers be given to every court. We are planning to provide free legal aid in such cases. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act is another issue that we want to focus on. Its scope is so wide that if you cough, even that comes within the definition of an offence under it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Can the BJP revoke Article 370 of the Constitution, which you ruled in 2015 has attained permanency in the Constitution?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The judgment on Article 370 was based on argument; it was not an emotional outburst. I said you could not tinker, modify or amend, let alone abrogate Article 370. I said it is a permanent feature and could have been done away only by the constituent assembly of Jammu and Kashmir. When the constituent assembly was dissolved without touching Article 370, we have to presume that they thought over it and decided to keep it. That judgment is not overset, upset and remains valid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What would be Jammu and Kashmir’s relation with India if the BJP goes ahead and abrogates Article 370?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No article of the Indian Constitution is directly applicable to Jammu and Kashmir—except through Article 370. Article 1 of the Constitution says Jammu and Kashmir is a part of India. If Article 370 goes, so does Article 1. I hope and pray that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah use the huge mandate to carve out a place for themselves in history so that people remember him (Modi) as the man who brought peace to south Asia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The BJP wants the delimitation of constituencies. Can it be done when Parliament and the J&amp;K assembly have put a bar on delimitation until 2026?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP cannot do it. Now if the J&amp;K assembly is elected and wants to advance the delimitation date, then that is a different matter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The state is under president’s rule and the governor has legislative powers. Can he not order delimitation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, he cannot. You must differentiate between legislative and constitutional powers. The governor has legislative powers, but the delimitation is a constitutional issue. He may amend the Peoples Representation Act that concerns delimitation, but that is not the answer as there is a bar by Parliament on delimitation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But if there is a disparity in the number of assembly segments between the Jammu region and Kashmir, what is wrong in setting it right?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Constitution does not permit it. Once the Constitution is amended by the authority competent to do so, then it is okay.</p> Sat Jun 15 15:54:26 IST 2019 is-bjp-making-mamata-lose-her-grip-over-west-bengal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THREE WEEKS AFTER</b> the Lok Sabha elections, West Bengal resembles a war zone. As many as 15 people have lost their lives in political violence across the state. Thousands have been injured and rendered homeless. Unlike in the past, however, a considerable number of victims also include Trinamool workers, with the BJP unrelenting in its retaliation. Moreover, the police is no longer reluctant to take action against Trinamool leaders accused of violence.</p> <p>Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is all set to launch a tour across the state to boost the morale of her beleaguered comrades. “From now on, I will govern less and do party work more,” she said. It may not be an easy task as the Trinamool is increasingly losing control over the bureaucracy and the police. Several senior ministers reportedly complained to the chief minister that senior police officers and IAS officers were refusing to obey “orders”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mamata openly acknowledged the problem after an administrative review meeting on June 10. “It seems many officers are doing a balancing act. We need to tackle that,” she said. Senior BJP leader Mukul Roy said Mamata should have resigned before making such comments. “This means she has lost all control and has no right to be chief minister,” he said. Mamata’s concern is understandable as the bureaucracy and the security apparatus are increasingly refusing to toe the Trinamool line.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 9, Sandeshkhali block of Basirhat district witnessed an upsurge of violence as Trinamool and BJP workers exchanged gunfire. The BJP said two of its workers died on the spot and three were missing. “We believe that they were finished off,” said Sayantan Basu, state general secretary of the BJP, who lost from Basirhat in the Lok Sabha polls. The Trinamool said one of its workers was killed and two were missing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police lodged first information reports against BJP workers for the murder of Qayum Mollah of the Trinamool. Another FIR was filed against the local panchayat chief of the Trinamool, Shajahan Khan, for the murder of the two BJP workers, Sukanta Mondol and Pradip Mondol. This was in sharp contrast to the manner in which the police acted in the wake of rampant violence during last year’s panchayat elections. The BJP had then alleged that 80 of its workers were killed, but the Trinamool government rubbished it as fake statistics in its report to the Union home ministry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Roy said the BJP would project Mamata as a “murderer” just as she did with her predecessor, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. “She said Buddhadeb babu’s hands were stained with blood. Today her sari is stained with blood,” said Roy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Union Home Minister Amit Shah has asked his officials to take the situation seriously. His ministry has already sent a harshly-worded advisory to the state, asking for stringent action against “delinquent” officers. In an unprecedented move, West Bengal chief secretary Malay De, against whom a contempt petition is being heard in the Supreme Court for his participation in a political meeting against the CBI, wrote a carefully-worded reply to the Union home secretary. “I am directed to refer to your letter dated June 9, 2019, and to inform you that while there have been a few stray post-poll clashes in the state perpetrated by some anti-social elements, the law enforcement authorities have been taking firm and appropriate actions in all such cases without any delay.” De made it clear that he was writing the letter under the instructions of the chief minister. On several occasions in the past, the state administration had chosen not to respond to letters from Delhi about the “degrading law and order” situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most political observers blame Mamata for mishandling the situation after the Lok Sabha elections. She herself took to the streets against the chanting of “Jai Shri Ram” by BJP workers, who were baiting her. On a few occasions, Mamata got out of her car and threatened people with dire consequences. Many of them were sent to jail. “There was no need of such an outburst. She spoiled the situation on her own,” said Pradip Bhattacharya, senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP. “How can Mamata deny the fact that it was she who helped the BJP grow in Bengal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mamata has also antagonised non-Bengali settlers by calling them outsiders, and threatening to throw them out whenever she wished. The move could help the BJP, which is on a high following the impressive performance in the Lok Sabha polls. It took control of two dozen panchayats in the last two weeks with support from members belonging to other parties. “There are more in the line,” said Roy. “Mamata will have horrific days ahead.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the Trinamool and the BJP continue their fight, Governor K.N. Tripathi met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah on June 10. He submitted a 43-page report to the home minister on the law and order situation in West Bengal. Back in 2017, Tripathi had called up Mamata demanding impartial action following riots in Basirhat. Mamata then said the governor was acting like a “BJP block president”. This time, Tripathi did not call up the chief minister; he sought information from the chief secretary and filed a critical report.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To defuse the crisis, Tripathi has invited representatives of the Trinamool, the BJP, the Congress and the CPI(M) for a meeting. All parties except the Trinamool have confirmed participation. Tripathi had earlier refused to rule out recommending president’s rule in the state. But, he was reportedly advised by Modi to manage the situation through consultation with all parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Arvind Menon, the state co-in-charge of the BJP, said his party had no plans to destabilise the government. He asked Mamata to take advice from people like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Baba Ramdev instead of Prashant Kishor, who was roped in to manage the Trinamool’s 2021 campaign. “She needs remedies from these people as her mind got completely polluted,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Menon said the BJP would wait till 2021 when people would “dislodge” Mamata. “We may be patient, but she will not be,” he said. “The way Mamata is behaving, she will fall before the 2021 elections.”</p> Sat Jun 15 19:51:27 IST 2019 cornered-gehlot-will-not-give-in-without-a-fight <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SOON AFTER</b> he was appointed chief minister of Rajasthan in December last, Ashok Gehlot held a griha pravesh puja at 8, Civil Lines, Jaipur, the official residence. The Gehlots moved into the plush bungalow only on June 6, as the intervening period was marked by hectic electioneering for the Lok Sabha polls. The homecoming, however, has been anything but happy and peaceful for the veteran politician.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress’s dismal show in the elections has deepened the existing divisions in the party, and Gehlot baiters have become more vocal. The party lost all 25 Lok Sabha seats in the state. What was even more embarrassing for Gehlot was his son Vaibhav’s loss in his stronghold Jodhpur. At the Congress Working Committee meeting held on May 25 in Delhi, party president Rahul Gandhi reportedly criticised three senior leaders, including Gehlot, for having put their sons before the interests of the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Voices seeking that accountability be fixed were also heard in Jaipur, which included ministers Udailal Anjana and Ramesh Meena. Legislator Prithviraj Meena went to the extent of seeking a change of guard. He has been issued a show-cause notice by the party leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Four ministers have gone public with their complaints against the ‘high-handedness’ of the bureaucracy, a thinly veiled attack on the chief minister. “I toured seven districts during the election campaign and found that bureaucrats were not paying heed to the issues raised by the Congress workers or the people. The bureaucrats are dominating the show in the state. This should come to an end,” said Ramesh Meena.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former director general of police Harish Meena, the Congress MLA from Dausa, has been on the warpath against the Gehlot government, criticising the law and order situation in the state. Tagging Rahul Gandhi, he tweeted that the response of the Rajasthan Police in the Thanagazi gang-rape case and to a murder in Tonk were shameful. He had earlier sat on a hunger strike against police atrocities. Gehlot holds the home portfolio.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But soon, a cornered Gehlot countered the attacks. In a television interview he said Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, who is president of Rajasthan Congress, should at least own responsibility for the loss in Jodhpur since he had guaranteed Vaibhav’s win. It was clear that the gloves are off in the intense tussle for power between the two leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The genesis of the face-off between the two was Gehlot’s ascension to the top job. Pilot and his supporters felt cheated, as he had worked hard to bring the Congress back from the brink by taking up people’s issues. He was the face of the party in the assembly elections. “Pilot worked really hard,” said Rajendra Chaudhary, vice president of Rajasthan Congress. “When he was not made chief minister, the people felt cheated. The youth turned away from the party. So did the Gujjars. The change of face led to our support base getting eroded.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many Congress leaders are worried that the infighting would affect the preparations for the assembly byelections and the local body polls, which are scheduled to be held in November. “The party needs to form a new strategy so that the workers will get a new direction and get down to work,” said Archana Sharma, the party’s state vice president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Those who support Gehlot have adopted a cautious approach. However, a leader close to the chief minister said that replacing him at this juncture would send a wrong message. “It will look like the party leadership is making him the scapegoat,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Gehlot camp discounts any threat to his chair, as he enjoys the support of 12 independent MLAs. The Congress won 99 seats in the Assembly elections, and one more in a bypoll, barely making it to the majority mark in the 200-member Vidhan Sabha. Also, the Gehlot camp says, Pilot failed to win Lok Sabha seats for the party in eastern Rajasthan, his stronghold. “So fingers cannot be pointed at any one person. The entire leadership is responsible,” said a party leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Owing to the infighting, the government did not get the kind of start that it wanted. Despite the big-ticket schemes of waiving off farm loans and giving unemployment allowance, the regime has not been able to capture the imagination of the people. Health Minister Raghu Sharma said it would all change soon. “Governance will begin only now,” he said. “We have just come out of three months of model code of conduct. We had only made a vote on account. We will come out with our actual budget.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the cards are an expansion of the loan waiver scheme, a right to health bill and fulfilling a manifesto promise to medium and small scale industries of allowing new enterprises with mere self-declaration. “Twenty-one major decisions related to the welfare of the people were taken by the government within ten days of coming to power,” said Lokesh Sharma, officer on special duty in the chief minister’s office. “I believe, six months need to be given to assess the work done by the government. And, for all practical purposes, the government’s time starts now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pilot, meanwhile, has begun a rural outreach. The first leg of the programme involved field visits to western Rajasthan and the areas of focus included the progress made under MNREGA and the schemes for water supply. “Rajasthan is one of the few states in the Hindi heartland where we are in power,” said Raghu Sharma. “And it affords us the opportunity to showcase our commitment to our manifesto promises.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tussle for power between Gehlot and Pilot, however, could throw a spanner in the works.</p> Sat Jun 15 19:54:08 IST 2019 not-in-the-pink <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Has the Modi wave changed the colour and character of north Telangana? It seems so. Three of the four Lok Sabha seats the BJP won—Karimnagar, Adilabad and Nizamabad—fall in north Telangana and were once hotbeds of Maoist activity. Top Maoist leaders, including Kishenji and Ganapathy, hail from villages around Karimnagar town. The town is also home to intellectuals sympathetic to the cause. However, notably, the top issue during the recent elections here was the Hindu-Muslim divide. Many youth rallied behind BJP candidate Bandi Sanjay Kumar after social media posts of an attack on him—allegedly by All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen supporters—went viral. On March 29, Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao had said in a public meeting that he was more Hindu than Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This was taken out of context and was converted into a campaign tool. “He has become very close to [AIMIM president Asaduddin] Owaisi,” said a voter in Karimnagar. “This is the reason he was taught a lesson. As it was a matter of self-respect for Hindus, we voted for Modi.” Rao’s closest aide Vinod Kumar Boianapalli, former deputy leader of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi in the Lok Sabha, lost Karimnagar by a margin of almost 90,000 votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last December, in the assembly elections, the BJP’s vote share was 7.1 per cent. In the Lok Sabha elections, it was 19.45 per cent. Even the party was surprised with the performance. According to its internal assessment, a major factor was Modi’s image. Additionally, the BJP gained strength in constituencies with more Muslims, or in seats where the AIMIM had a presence. Said BJP national general secretary P. Muralidhar Rao: “In Telangana, there is a legacy of fighting the Razakars (a private militia), who belonged to the Nizams. This legacy can be owned by the BJP. This was an important freedom movement and, apart from the BJP, no other party has respected it. How are people going to forget it? The BJP’s growth should be a reality in one to two years.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Th recent success has emboldened the BJP to pursue its goal of making Telangana a “second gateway” to south India, after Karnataka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In some constituencies, the BJP candidates did not campaign and nobody even knew their names,” said a senior Congress leader, on condition of anonymity. “Even then, lakhs of votes were polled in their favour. This shows the power of Modi.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao’s daughter, K. Kavitha, who recently won the best parliamentarian award, lost to BJP candidate Arvind Dharmapuri in Nizamabad. Here, the local BJP leaders wooed sections of backward communities and the land-owning Reddys. The youth also supported the BJP. Apparently, some local Congress and TRS leaders also worked for the BJP’s victory, because of caste factors and resentment against the TRS.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Adilabad, the divide between the local adivasis and the Lambadas, both scheduled tribes, over sharing of government benefits, helped the BJP. While parties have usually been shy of taking sides, the BJP had fielded an adivasi candidate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, in the four seats that the BJP won, the Congress was a non-factor. Its candidates were almost invisible on ground. In Secunderabad, from where Minister of State for Home G. Kishan Reddy won, the Congress candidate Anjan Kumar Yadav, a two-time MP, looked like he was not even in the fray. This prompted the TRS to suspect a tacit understanding between the Congress and the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not long ago, the BJP and the TRS were accused of having a secret alliance. The TRS, which was hoping to sweep the state and prop up Rao as the prime minister face of a separate federal front, won only 9 of the 17 seats. And though still in power, the party is in a vulnerable position. In the last four years, the TRS did everything possible to weaken the main opposition party, the Congress, while the BJP reaped the benefits. This was also the time when the Modi-Rao bonhomie apparently peaked. The TRS “poached” several top Congress leaders, leaving the party a shambles. But the TRS, perhaps, did not sense the BJP’s game plan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, an upbeat state BJP, aided by bosses in Delhi, is gearing up for a showdown with the TRS, and has a well laid-out strategy for the next few years. “Our president Amit Shah is particular that we become a strong force in this state,” said state party president K. Laxman. “We are an alternative to the TRS as people have lost faith in the party because of its arrogance. The Congress leaders have vested interests because of their financial dealings and everyone knows they have been compromised.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next big step for the BJP is to bring in big names and popular leaders, and start an aggressive campaign. The party has already hinted that some surprises in the next few months will rattle their opponents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We will act as the main opposition party now,” said BJP strategist Muralidhar Rao. Laxman was more optimistic. “We will occupy the chief minister’s chair in 2023,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political analysts, however, say it would not be a cakewalk. “The BJP was the choice of the voters in the national elections,” said senior political analyst and former MLC K. Nageshwar. “The results do not indicate the growth of the BJP and only show the mood of the voter. These results may not be replicated in the assembly elections. Looking at the BJP’s priorities, it looks like it is still not serious about south India. Despite winning four seats in Telangana, the party did not give a cabinet post to any of the four MPs.”</p> Sat Jun 08 15:35:17 IST 2019 patchwork-vs-patience <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>After achieving the remarkable feat of winning 25 of 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka, BJP state president B.S. Yeddyurappa appears confident about returning to power in the state as well. The alliance between the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) looks shaky as the Congress is a divided house and both parties are facing an existential crisis as they thrive on the same vote base. But a triumphant BJP says it will wait for the coalition to crumble on its own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The coalition is worried about yet another round of ‘Operation Lotus’, the BJP’s plan to lure MLAs away from the coalition and bring the government down. Rebels led by Gokak MLA Ramesh Jarkiholi are often spotted in the BJP camp. The coalition leaders are trying to woo them back by offering them cabinet berths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a show of unity, state Congress president Dinesh Gundu Rao and Deputy Chief Minister G. Parameshwara pledged the party’s unconditional support to Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy. Marathon meetings were held at the residences of JD(S) patriarch H.D. Deve Gowda and former chief minister Siddaramaiah to avert the crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddaramaiah has been working hard to pacify the rebels, in a clear departure from his earlier stance questioning the stability of the coalition. Even after Kumaraswamy’s one-to-one meetings with the disgruntled MLAs and lengthy meetings in the presence of Congress general secretary K.C. Venugopal, there has been no consensus over the cabinet expansion. While Siddaramaiah is adamant about filling up only the three existing vacancies, Kumaraswamy wants to accommodate at least five dissidents even if it means dropping a few ministers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The move could, however, create fresh problems as a majority of the disgruntled MLAs are from a single region (Bombay Karnataka) and community (Lingayat) and their elevation could upset the regional balance and caste matrix. Moreover, Congress legislators are opposed to the move to “reward” the dissidents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While many in the Congress were worried that the alliance would be devastating for the party and wanted to part ways with the JD(S), the Lok Sabha verdict seems to have put an end to such plans. The BJP has not just increased its tally from 17 to 25 seats, it also swept its north Karnataka stronghold and also made significant gains in the Old Mysore region, once the bastion of the Congress and the JD(S). The phenomenal rise in its vote share—from 43 per cent to 52 per cent in five years—has given the BJP the confidence to go for early assembly polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s impressive performance is attributed to the Narendra Modi wave as well as the party’s single-minded focus on elections. For instance, it chose Y. Devendrappa, a Valmiki leader, to take on coalition candidate V.S. Ugrappa in Ballari. The move consolidated the Lingayat and scheduled tribe votes for the BJP. Similarly, the party fielded strong candidates like V. Srinivas Prasad (Chamarajanagar), A. Narayanaswamy (Chitradurga) and Umesh Jadhav (Gulbarga), helping it sweep these reserved seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Attempts by the Congress to divide and conquer the Lingayats by fielding candidates belonging to a subsect of the Lingayats—Panchamasalis—in Belgaum, Dharwad and Bidar failed. The community stood firmly behind Yeddyurappa, shutting the coalition out of the Lingayat heartland in north Karnataka. The Congress even lost some of its traditional Ahinda (minorities, dalits and backward classes) votes in the region, evident from the defeat of senior leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge in Gulbarga.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Old Mysore region, the BJP gained because of the infighting between the coalition partners, which resulted in mutual sabotage. It helped the BJP retain Mysuru and ensured the defeat of coalition stalwarts like Deve Gowda, Veerappa Moily and K.H. Muniyappa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Encouraged by the unprecedented victory, the BJP has its eyes set once again on capturing power in Bengaluru. Despite the failure of its earlier attempts, the party still hopes to pull down the coalition government. The BJP, which has 107 seats in the assembly (including two independents), needs to get 11 legislators from the coalition to resign. BJP insiders indicated that the party’s central leadership was not keen on toppling the coalition as it felt the government would collapse on its own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The possibility of fresh polls is unnerving to the JD(S) as it had won just 37 of 224 seats last year. The Congress, too, is unprepared, as it needs to evolve a strategy, sort out leadership issues and organise itself before taking on another electoral challenge. Moreover, the report card of the one-year-old coalition government is not quite reassuring.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few months ago, when the Congress unseated the BJP and came to power in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, it gave hope to Congress leaders in Karnataka who were unhappy playing second fiddle to the JD(S). Siddaramaiah, for instance, was seen in a video footage telling his aides that the coalition would last only till the Lok Sabha polls. But the BJP’s massive victory has upset the Congress’s calculations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Further trouble awaits the Congress as it is quickly turning into a club of chief ministerial aspirants. Water Resources Minister D.K. Shivakumar’s attempts to expand his clout in north Karnataka was one of the reasons behind the rebellion by the Jarkiholi brothers. Shivakumar has also been playing the Vokkaliga card, cosying up to fellow Vokkaliga Kumaraswamy to cement his own position in the party and the coalition. Parameshwara, a dalit leader who believes that he was defeated in 2013 by his own party members to scuttle his chances of becoming the chief minister, and M.B. Patil, who hoped to emerge as the tallest Lingayat leader in the party by demanding separate religion status for the community, have dropped hints about their ambitions. There is also speculation about Kharge’s entry into state politics, which can weaken the position of Siddaramaiah, who is eyeing a second term.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With too many power centres around, state leaders expect the high command to anoint someone who can keep the flock together and strengthen the party structure. After the drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls, coalition MLAs are ready for anything but fresh elections. Said a Congress leader, “Our MLAs are in no mood to face another election. Where is the money? What is the guarantee that they will win again?”</p> Sat Jun 01 15:46:09 IST 2019 high-five <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>He may be into his fifth term, but Naveen Patnaik believes that he has miles to go before he hangs up his sandals. For one, he has to beat the records of Pawan Chamling, Jyoti Basu and Manik Sarkar as India’s longest continuously serving chief minister. More than that, he has to take, rather drive, his cyclone-pounded Odisha into the 21st century.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patnaik appears to have already identified two engines for that growth drive. “Women will be one of his engines for growth; industry will be the other,” said one of the chief minister’s aides. Of the 7,000-odd guests who thronged his swearing-in ceremony in Fani-hit Bhubaneswar, more than half were women, and on the front rows were the who’s who of India’s chambers of commerce and industry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patnaik had given a third of his party’s Lok Sabha and assembly tickets to women. That paid dividends. Five of his seven women BJD candidates to the Lok Sabha won. Conceded a grudging Gokulanand Mallik, who lost on a BJP ticket from Polasara, “The BJD had nothing. Nothing except women.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to his aides, Patnaik who started as a welfare and development-focused ruler has been putting a premium on growth in the last few years, and will continue to do so in his fifth term. “But not at the cost of welfare,” as one of them hastily added. Farmer welfare schemes such as KALIA, insurance cover for self-help group members and such other schemes will continue to pour in, but the government’s focus will be on industrialising Odisha. “Being rich in minerals, Odisha is now offered to the world as an investment destination. We have been told, it is now or never,” said an aide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, the victory too was won on a now-or-never spirit. Though the 2014 Modi wave eluded Odisha, the BJP had been making inroads since then. The BJP’s harvest of 306 of the 853 zilla parishad seats in the 2017 local body polls shook the BJD camp. An upset Patnaik told his party MLAs then to “get reconnected to the people and workers at the grassroots level”. Through an intense publicity campaign, he reached out to the beneficiaries of his government’s welfare programmes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eventually, both parties had gains. The BJD won 12 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats, down by eight from 2014, and 112 out of 146 assembly seats, down by five. However, the BJD’s vote share in the assembly elections increased from 43.4 per cent to 44.7 per cent. On the other hand, the BJP that had won just one Lok Sabha seat in 2014, won eight this time, and 23 seats in the assembly, up by 13.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The loser has been the Congress with just nine seats in the assembly and none in the Lok Sabha from Odisha. “We gave up the campaign midway,” said a Congress leader. “Perhaps our Delhi leaders were banking on Naveen’s support in case the BJP did not get majority. But the game plan went totally wrong.”</p> Fri May 31 15:46:02 IST 2019 soaring-hope <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>An impressive performance in the Lok Sabha polls in Jammu and Kashmir seems to have given the BJP the high ground in the run-up to the assembly elections in the state. The party was ahead in 24 of 37 assembly segments in Jammu and Udhampur Lok Sabha constituencies, and three in four assembly segments in Ladakh, including the Muslim-majority Zanskar. It had 24 seats in the last assembly of 87 members, which was dissolved in November 2018.</p> <p>The BJP has increased its vote share to 46 per cent from 34 per cent in the assembly elections in 2014. In Jammu, the party overcame not just the consolidation of Muslim votes in favour of the Congress, but also the threat of a split in Hindu votes by the National Panthers Party, the BSP and the Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan. Both its sitting MPs, Jugal Kishore Sharma (Jammu) and Jitendra Singh (Udhampur), won by more than three lakh votes. In Ladakh, BJP candidate Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, chairman of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, took advantage of a divided opposition and won comfortably.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Kashmir, however, the BJP drew a blank as expected. All the three constituencies in the valley—Srinagar, Baramulla, and Anantnag—were won by the National Conference. It was not much of a victory, though, as the turnouts in the constituencies—14 per cent, 35 per cent and 8.7 per cent, respectively—were dismal. The National Conference was ahead in 31 assembly segments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The polls have also brought to the fore the possible political trajectory in the state. The People's Conference of Sajjad Lone, a BJP ally, and the Awami Itehad Party of Engineer Rashid could pose a challenge to both the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party in north Kashmir, comprising the districts of Kupwara, Baramulla and Bandipore, and in Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency. While the National Conference's Muhammad Akbar Lone bagged a 30 per cent vote share, the People's Conference candidate got 23 per cent and the AIP candidate 22.8 per cent. Rashid said his party had started mobilising workers for the assembly polls. “We wanted to win Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency, but fell short by a few thousand votes,” he said. “We had leads in segments where we did not expect.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Analysts say these two parties will pose a serious challenge to the National Conference and the PDP. In its stronghold Anantnag, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti came third. Most of the PDP supporters had boycotted the elections as they were upset with Mufti joining hands with the BJP after the last assembly elections. It remains to be seen if they have shifted loyalties. “We are calling a meeting of the party to discuss the situation. Then we will reach out to people,” said PDP spokesperson Rafi Mir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Buoyed by his party's success at the national level and the strong show in Jammu and Ladakh, BJP state president Ravinder Raina said it would form the next government in the state. He wanted the elections to be held after the autumn, when the nomads return to Jammu from Kashmir and Ladakh. “I am going to meet the prime minister in Delhi and discuss the issue of elections and other matters in the state,” he said.</p> Sat Jun 01 15:47:13 IST 2019 wilting-point <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As the Lok Sabha election results started trickling in on May 23, it was clear that the ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu was facing the worst-ever rout in its 47-year history. Yet, the mood at the party headquarters in Chennai was upbeat. Party workers were seen dancing and distributing sweets. They were possibly relieved that the AIADMK had managed to hold on to power in Tamil Nadu by winning nine of the 22 assembly seats where byelections were held.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We have not been defeated. People have voted in such a way that the Amma government in the state continues,” said AIADMK spokesperson and Fisheries Minister D. Jayakumar. But the AIADMK’s vote share came down to 18.48 per cent from 44 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The party managed to win just the Theni seat. Jayakumar said the drop was because the party fought the Lok Sabha polls as part of a coalition. In the assembly bypolls, which it contested on its own, the AIADMK secured 30.38 per cent votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There is no vertical or horizontal split as discussed by the media and others,” said AIADMK spokesperson A.S. Maheswari. “The percentages are just numbers which will go up or down. But the AIADMK is intact under Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several party members, from ordinary workers to office bearers, however, told THE WEEK that the AIADMK needed to introspect. Despite the show of unity put up by Palaniswami and Panneerselvam, infighting is rampant. Three days before the election results were announced, former minister N.D. Venkatachalam, who is the MLA from the Perundurai constituency in western Tamil Nadu, resigned from all party posts. He is said to be angry with Palaniswami for not inducting him into the cabinet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although the AIADMK won the Theni parliamentary seat, it lost from Andipatti and Periyakulam assembly segments which come under Theni. Andipatti was once represented by former chief ministers J. Jayalalithaa and M.G. Ramachandran. Periyakulam is Panneerselvam’s hometown. The party also lost from Edappadi, Palaniswami’s hometown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Panneerselvam’s efforts to secure a Union cabinet berth for his son, O.P. Raveendranath Kumar, a first-time MP, have been met with resistance in the party. A senior minister from western Tamil Nadu pointed towards the growing discord between Panneerselvam and Palaniswami. “Except their rhyming initials, EPS and OPS have nothing in common. The AIADMK is being led by someone else,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>T.T.V. Dhinakaran, who broke away from the AIADMK and floated the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam, polled 5.25 per cent votes, not an insignificant number for a one-year-old party, which does not even have a recognised symbol. “This is not a drubbing. Wait and see how things unfold. The AIADMK is still under the BJP. People will never accept this,” said Dhinakaran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP believes that the AIADMK did well in the assembly polls because of the alliance. BJP spokesperson Narayanan Thirupathy said the alliance did not work in the Lok Sabha polls because of the anti-Modi hate triggered by the opposition parties and the media. “This was not countered well by the AIADMK as it shared the same ideology like that of the DMK on issues such as Sterlite, NEET, Cauvery or Jallikattu,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is likely to demand a Rajya Sabha seat as six seats will fall vacant in July. The AIADMK will be able to get three candidates elected to the upper house. It has already promised one seat to the Pattali Makkal Katchi, which is likely to nominate former Union minister Anbumani Ramadoss. “The BJP will definitely demand one Rajya Sabha seat,” said an AIADMK minister. “And, we might not be able to refuse.”</p> Sat Jun 01 15:48:32 IST 2019 did-mamatas-key-man-rajeev-kumar-interfere-in-polling-process <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>PASSIONS RAN HIGH</b> in Bengal as BJP president Amit Shah led a road show in Kolkata on May 14, five days before the final polling day. His convoy was stoned at Calcutta University and Vidyasagar College, and the statue of cultural icon Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was broken in retaliatory violence. At a news conference in Delhi the following day, Shah accused the Election Commission of being “partial to the West Bengal government” and allowing rampant violence in all six phases of polling. The Union home ministry also wrote to the commission about the violence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The man behind the road show, the BJP’s star strategist Sunil Deodhar, told THE WEEK: “People wanted the prime minister to do the road show. Thank God I did not try it. I had a hunch that the Trinamool Congress would create trouble. There were issues of security clearance from the Special Protection Group [for the PM]. So, I decided to press for Amitji. But Trinamool rowdies tried to hurt him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hours after Shah’s news conference, the Election Commission curtailed campaigning in Bengal by a day and removed two officers—Principal Secretary (Home) Atri Bhattacharya and Additional Director General (Criminal Investigation Department) Rajeev Kumar, who was recently embroiled in the Saradha scam investigation. Both were known to be close to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. While Bhattacharya was removed for intervening in the election process, Kumar, in a historic yet controversial decision, was transferred to the home ministry in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On May 15, Bhattacharya had written to the commission about the “excesses” of the Central armed police forces deployed for election duty in Bengal. He had done so without informing state Chief Electoral Officer Aariz Aftab. Mamata had allegedly nudged Bhattacharya to do so, thus violating the model code of conduct.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“As she plunges into a deep crisis, she has lost her senses,” Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath told THE WEEK. “Can our party, which worships people like Vidyasagar, break his statue? It’s the handiwork of her own party men.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajesh Kumar, in his report to the commission, said that Rajeev Kumar, who was removed as police commissioner before elections were announced, continued to issue directives to police officers. He is said to have intervened in the poll process in all six phases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Deodhar: “We never wanted the campaigning to be reduced by a day. Even the prime minister is supposed to come tomorrow [May 16] and hold two rallies. But Mamata’s hoodlums are responsible for the mess. Bengal has earned a bad name because of her.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Trinamool has blamed the BJP for manipulating the commission. “I have said time and again that the BJP controls the commission,” said Mamata. “It has been proved.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She warned poll observers in the state and said the commission should have consulted the state government before taking such an unprecedented decision. “However, I am not going to the Supreme Court,” she said. “I will wait for the people’s verdict on May 23.”</p> Fri May 17 21:22:07 IST 2019 AAPs-perceived-decline-in-punjab-might-help-congress <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN MARCH 2017,</b> Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh led his party to victory in the assembly elections. That victory gave the grand old party hope that it can revive its fortunes if it approached the polls aggressively. In December that year, the Congress gained 20 seats in Gujarat, and a year later, it won three states in the Hindi heartland.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP adopted a simple two-point strategy. Push the nationalism narrative and make the elections only about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In Punjab, though, the elections are about Singh, too, a Patiala royal and former Army officer. Moreover, the anti-Pakistan sentiment is not as pronounced in Punjab as in the rest of the Hindi-speaking areas owing to its cultural ties with the western Punjab.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh is the main campaigner for his party and one of the main targets of attacks by the Akali Dal-BJP combine, which accuses his government of not fulfilling its promises. Congress state president and Gurdaspur candidate Sunil Jakhar told THE WEEK that Modi had run out of time, unlike Singh’s government. “Our tenure has just begun,” he said. Sukhbir Singh Badal, president of Shiromani Akali Dal and former deputy chief minister, countered: “Amarinder Singh is the worst chief minister since independence. The state is in paralysis.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three interesting contests are in three border seats of Punjab—Gurdaspur, Amritsar and Ferozepur. Gurdaspur shot into prominence after the BJP roped in actor Sunny Deol, a Jat Sikh, to take on Jakhar, a Hindu Jat and the sitting MP. Deol’s road shows are pulling in huge crowds, and Gurdaspur has fancied film stars in the past—Vinod Khanna won the seat four times. Deol has regaled the audience with his iconic dialogues like ‘Yeh dhai kilo ka haath’, and songs from his film Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (set during the partition) play at rallies. “On May 19, use a hammer to push the BJP button,” he told a largely appreciative crowd in Narot Jaimal Singh, near the Pakistan border. People bring hand pumps to rallies to greet him (in Gadar, Deol’s character uproots a hand pump to fight his opponents).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The actor has brought a team from Mumbai to assist him and has booked a village home-turned-resort to stay in Gurdaspur. “People ask what are the issues,” he said. “I am learning. I am not political nor do I read too much news. There is the drug problem and the issue of farmers.” The BJP leaders overseeing his campaign said that Deol was picking up the threads very fast. Deol said he would not be an absentee MP and would build a house in Gurdaspur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His opponent Jakhar, whose family and the Deols had good relations, took a jibe at him saying that the actor might be looking for a new career as his films were not doing well. If Deol is relying on his star appeal and Jat Sikh roots, Jakhar is banking on the MLAs to steer the campaign. “The electorate should realise that the state government is ours and most of projects are undertaken with its help,” he said. “So, electing a Congress MP would be beneficial for them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pathankot and Dinanagar, which witnessed terror attacks in the last three years, are both in Gurdaspur. These areas were also bombed during the 1965 and 1971 wars. Consequently, people are wary of the BJP’s chest thumping. The Sikhs are also worried that if this rhetoric continues, the Kartarpur Corridor—connecting two Sikh shrines on opposite sides of the border—will not be built.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In neighbouring Amritsar, Union minister Hardeep Puri of the BJP has the outsider tag. Interestingly, this is the first election for the 67-year-old former diplomat, thought to be close to Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Puri joined the BJP ahead of the 2014 elections and was drafted into the cabinet in 2017. It is an uphill task for Puri against sitting MP Gurjeet Singh Aujla (Congress). Puri, though, is leaving no stone unturned. His standard message at street meetings has been: “The people of Amritsar committed a mistake when they did not elect Arun Jaitley [against Amarinder Singh in 2014]. I am asking you not to commit the same mistake again. When I am elected I will take your problems directly to the cabinet.” He also came out with a vision document to transform Amritsar. His wife, the UN diplomat Lakshmi Puri, is also actively campaigning in the city known for its food, spirituality and fashion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The nationalism debate is low key in Amritsar, too, compared with state specific issues. But Puri said that the local traders accepted the importance of national security though they were badly affected after cross border trade was shut. “Modi has changed the way foreign policy is practised by calling out Pakistan’s empty threats,” Puri said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, bringing a candidate from outside the state could have its advantages for the BJP, given the ego clashes between local leaders, none of whom are high profile.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Ferozepur, Badal himself has entered the fray to wrest the seat from sitting MP and former Akali Dal leader Sher Singh Ghubaya, who joined the Congress in March. “I believe in leading from the front,” said Badal. Countering the BJP’s nationalism narrative, the Congress has promised to start cross border trade from the Hussainiwala border in Ferozepur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Other interesting contests in Punjab include the fight for Akali Dal’s pocket borough Bathinda, where Badal’s wife, Union minister Harsimrat Kaur, is defending her seat against Congress MLA Amrinder Singh Raja Warring. In the Union territory of Chandigarh Congress candidate Pawan Kumar Bansal, the former railway minister, seems to have a chance thanks to ‘anti-incumbency’ against the BJP’s Kirron Kher (critics said she shuttled between Chandigarh and Mumbai too often). Bansal had lost to Kher by more than 69,000 votes in 2014 after winning the seat three times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress hopes to improve its 2014 tally of three seats, but the Aam Aadmi Party, which won four, seems to have declined in Punjab as a result of mismanagement and dissensions within. Said Jakhar: “Through the AAP, people wanted a change from the police raj under the Akali government. Now, the Congress will benefit.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The wheat crop has been harvested in the agrarian state and the farmers, relatively free before they start sowing rice in mid June, are flocking to the political rallies. The Congress is promising Nyay and the Akalis are affirming their commitment to the farmers. And, the farmers will be influential in deciding which party prospers in Punjab.</p> Fri May 17 21:03:11 IST 2019 there-will-be-no-let-up-on-pakistan-in-modi-second-term <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>YOU ARE A Rajya Sabha member. Was it your decision or the party’s to contest the Lok Sabha elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was clearly the party’s decision. If your question is, did I seek the ticket, the answer is no. Did I know about the prospects of my contesting? Yes, I have been getting signals, including from the BJP’s Punjab unit. They were very keen that I contest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party’s high command took a decision that a Sikh face, someone who has administrative experience and someone who will convey the impression that he enjoys the confidence of the party leadership, should contest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Your opponents say you are an outsider.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They say I have been parachuted here. I tell them to be careful. The parachute regiments are the commandos in the armed forces. If you are saying that I am para representative, you better be careful. This election is very different from any other election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When people in Amritsar go to vote, they will be not only electing the next prime minister of India, but also having an opportunity to send to Delhi an MP who will take their voice direct into decision-making system. There is, according to me, not a hope in hell for the Congress to form the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The 2019 election is all about Modi. Nationalism is a huge issue. Is the issue finding resonance here?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a very important issue. The previous Congress governments in its ten years undermined national security. They were less than decisive or forthcoming [in responding] to the 26/11 attack. In Mumbai, we lost 300 lives. And, yet, other than making some noises, condemning terrorism, it was business as usual. In the case of the Modi government, after Pulwama, they carried out Balakot strike. It was a decisive turn.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You had a long diplomatic career. What major changes has this government brought?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The change that the Modi government brought in the foreign policy is qualitatively very different from the old policy. This is a prime minister who deals with the president of Russia directly. He deals with the president of the United States directly. He goes to the extent of picking up a phone and using that, and that is a cutting-edge difference.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When a prime minister can pick up a phone and speak to President Trump, or to President Xi or his friend Prime Minister Abe, you are conducting foreign and security policy at an entirely different level.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his second term, there is going to be no let-up on Pakistan and on cross-border terrorism. So the Pakistanis better realise as to what is coming.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>One issue which causes anxiety among people is the talk about Sikh separatism. Sikhs For Justice, a separatist organisation, is working for Referendum 2020—a campaign for “reestablishing Punjab as a nation state”.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has always been what I would call a reckless streak. I do not think it is a sentiment. It has been fuelled by the ISI in Pakistan, which is the core decision making machinery there. But more than that, I think this Referendum 2020 is an ISI plot. I am very happy to find that it has no takers. There are a few who receive payouts from them. Sikhs are very proud nationalist people. Punjab is all set to revive.&nbsp;</p> Fri May 17 11:56:26 IST 2019 amarinder-must-stop-flirting-with-radicals <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>YOU HAVE ALWAYS focused on state politics. What prompted you to contest the Lok Sabha elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whatever the battle, I believe in leading from the front. That is the main reason for accepting the challenge of fighting the Amarinder [Singh] government during this elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the main issues put forward by your party?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One is that the country needs a clear-headed, strong and decisive prime minister, whom the country’s enemies fear and the world respects. Only Narendra Modiji fits that definition among the current crop of contestants. The other is to challenge Amarinder to make his two years of non-performance the key poll plank. He is not ready to accept my challenge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There is a feeling that the Congress will perform better this time.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I certainly do not think so. In Punjab, they will be decimated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you rate the Amarinder Singh government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not only is it the worst government but it is also the worst chief minister that Punjab has seen since independence. The government is in a state of utter paralysis. They have not started any development project or welfare measure. Most of the welfare schemes started by us have been shelved. People are feeling cheated because none of the promises they made in their manifesto has been fulfilled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Many senior leaders have left the Shiromani Akali Dal. Has it dented your party’s chances?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>None of those leaders have shown the courage to even contest the elections. You can make out the rest from this. They thought they were the Shiromani Akali Dal. The SAD is a people’s party. Only the people are supreme, not leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is the drug menace an issue now in Punjab?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We had brought the drug menace under check. You need to go and do a reality check now. Legislators of the ruling party and even their ministers are facing allegations of patronising drug lords.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The state has close cultural relations with Pakistan’s Punjab. How do you see the BJP’s aggressive anti-Pakistan stance?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP governments have always gone the extra mile in seeking friendly ties with Pakistan. Remember A.B. Vajpayee sahib’s bus yatra? And, Modi sahib made an unscheduled trip to Pakistan. But you need a positive response from the other side for things to move forward. If that is not forthcoming, what do you expect? The country has to give a firm and resolute response if challenged.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The BJP has fielded Sunny Deol and Hardeep Singh Puri. Opponents say both of them are outsiders.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Parliament elections, this outsider tag does not sell. Who is the Congress candidate against Sunny Deol? Sunil Jakhar. He, too, is an outsider. And, in Amritsar, Amarinder was an outsider when he contested, so was Navjot Singh Sidhu. Modi sahib won from Varanasi. Rahul Gandhi is contesting from the south [India].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There is a fear that terrorism might return to Punjab.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fear arises out of the open support that the Congress chief minister lends to radicals, just because they are opposed to the SAD. But Punjabis are opposed to terrorism. Therefore, no one can destabilise Punjab. However, Amarinder must be stopped from playing his dangerous games of flirting with radicals.</p> Fri May 17 19:49:51 IST 2019 three-can-play-that-game <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>During a padyatra through the narrow lanes of Seelampur, a massive unauthorised colony in northeast Delhi, Dilip Pandey makes an earnest appeal to the people: please do not vote for the Congress. “Please do not waste your vote,” says the Aam Aadmi Party candidate. “The Congress is trying its best to divide the votes so that the BJP wins.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He cites the recent assembly byelection in Jind, Haryana, where he claims the Congress helped the BJP win by splitting the opposition votes. He adds, derisively, that wherever there is a triangular fight, the Congress would come third. Delhi goes to the polls on May 12.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pandey's appeal reflects the AAP's main concern—that the anti-BJP vote would be split between his party and the Congress, helping the BJP no end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the East Delhi seat, for instance, BJP candidate and former cricketer Gautam Gambhir could benefit. Though AAP's Atishi has a remarkable track record, especially regarding improvement of schools, Congress's Arvinder Singh Lovely could dent her hopes. As a former MLA from Gandhi Nagar, which falls in the East Delhi constituency, he could win back a section of the Congress voters who went to the AAP. If this happens, Gambhir—who was a late entrant and has not had the time to talk to voters like his opponents—could win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress and the AAP had, after talks that spanned months, failed to seal an alliance. The AAP had made the first move, as its future depends on how it performs in the Lok Sabha elections in Delhi, its political base. A poor showing could affect its chances in the 2020 assembly elections there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, if the AAP put forward electoral data to push for an alliance, the Congress used the same to refuse it. The parties share the same vote-bank, which consists mainly of squatters, migrants, Muslims and dalits. In fact, the AAP won the 2015 assembly elections because it took away the Congress's core voters. The AAP's vote share was a mammoth 54.3 per cent, while the Congress's dropped to 9.8 per cent. The BJP polled 32 per cent of the votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress seemed to have won back some of its voters, albeit in the municipal elections in 2017, when it got 21.09 per cent of the votes. The AAP, contesting municipal elections for the first time, got 26.23 per cent. The BJP got a solid 37 per cent, winning despite huge anti-incumbency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Clearly, the splitting of the anti-BJP vote cost the other two parties. The BJP's support base has remained stable in the past few years, except for the surge in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, in which it swept Delhi with a vote share of 46.6 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the alliance talks falling through—possibly because of the AAP's keenness to spread the partnership to Haryana—Delhi is set for a triangular contest. The BJP starts as the favourite, with both its rivals claiming to be the main contender.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has put its best foot forward. It has fielded its senior leaders, including former chief minister Sheila Dikshit, former Union minister Ajay Maken, former Delhi Congress presidents J.P. Agarwal and Arvinder Singh Lovely, current working president of the state unit Rajesh Lilothia, and former MLA and popular Purvanchali leader Mahabal Mishra. It has added a dash of glamour to its challenge by naming boxing champ Vijender Singh as its South Delhi candidate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We were against an alliance with the AAP from day one,” says Lilothia. “We would have suffered had we gone for it. [AAP national convener] Arvind Kejriwal is not reliable. On paper, it is a triangular fight. But, in reality, the contest will be between us and the BJP.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress is focused on regaining the voters it had lost to the AAP, and to come second, if not win, wherever it can. An alliance with the AAP, the party feels, would affect its chances in the 2020 assembly elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress is banking on its veterans to unseat the AAP as the primary opposition, if not win. For instance, in the New Delhi seat, Maken is the bigger threat to sitting BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi than the little known AAP candidate, Brijesh Goyal, who could have backed out in case of an alliance with the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Dikshit recently taking over as Delhi Congress president, the party is also reminding voters of her prosperous 15-year rule as chief minister. The Congress is hoping that the traditional voters warm up to her presence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party also feels that its core voters, who had been feeling neglected, are steadily coming back to it. Moreover, the Congress is asking the voter to choose between the stability of Dikshit's rule and the constant tussle between Chief Minister Kejriwal and the Modi government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP, on the other hand, has claimed that people will vote for it based on its performance in the past four years, especially in education and health care. Its main election plank is full statehood for Delhi, a demand it says the others have ignored. “Neither the BJP nor the Congress has an agenda for Delhi,” says Gopal Rai, AAP's Delhi convener. “We have a separate manifesto for Delhi, and we are emphasising on full statehood, as without that, the people here are being treated as second-grade citizens.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party also hopes to reap the early bird advantage. Months before the elections, the AAP had announced poll in-charges, who were then nominated as candidates for five of the seven constituencies. This gave them ample time to reach out to voters. The AAP had done this before the 2015 assembly elections, gaining tremendously from the public outreach. Also, like in 2015, Kejriwal has asked AAP volunteers from all over the country to come to Delhi to help with the campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, meanwhile, has gone the expected way, emphasising the “strong and decisive” leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his “bold decisions” on national security. “I have been meeting people in my constituency for the last one month or so—people in slums, traders, the elderly, women, youth,” says Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan, who is defending his Chandni Chowk seat. “I found that they are even more enthusiastic than BJP workers about the idea of voting for Modiji as prime minister again.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the BJP's internal survey, there was huge anti-incumbency against at least three of its sitting MPs. Two of them—Udit Raj and Mahesh Giri—have been replaced by Punjabi folk singer Hans Raj Hans and Gambhir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently, the BJP's top leadership has told its Delhi leaders to make it a Modi election and to not focus on local issues. The BJP feels this would offset any anti-incumbency against its MPs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It seems the Delhi voter has three choices—the BJP's national appeal, the legacy of the 15-year Congress rule or the Delhi-specific promises of the AAP.</p> Fri May 10 14:38:43 IST 2019 division-of-favour <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE GLEAMING</b> Signature Bridge over the Yamuna, inaugurated last November, has become a hotspot for selfie seekers. It has made northeast Delhi much more accessible and has become a symbol for progress and modernity. The northeast region itself, however, has not kept pace with progress and lags other regions in Delhi on several parameters. It has some middle- and upper middle-class pockets, but most of the region is covered with slums, bad roads, congested lanes and open drains. And as the region, part of the North East Delhi constituency, prepares for a heated contest on May 12, these issues will play on the voter’s mind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former chief minister Sheila Dikshit, who has come out of semi-retirement to revive the Delhi Congress, is taking on incumbent and BJP state president Manoj Tiwari and former Delhi AAP convener Dilip Pandey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The constituency, carved out of East Delhi in 2008, is home to about 300 of 800 unauthorised colonies in the capital. J.P. Agarwal had won the 2009 Lok Sabha election, defeating BJP’s B.L. Sharma by more than 2.2 lakh votes. In 2014, Tiwari rode to victory on the Modi wave and his own popularity with the Purvanchali voters in the region. He beat Agarwal by more than 3.8 lakh votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Purvanchalis (people from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) form a major chunk of the 22.4 lakh population, and are an important vote bank. And the BJP feels that Tiwari, a famous Bhojpuri actor, will retain their votes. The AAP, knowing this, has fielded Pandey, who hails from eastern Uttar Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Purvanchalis, along with the sizeable Muslim and dalit population in the area, have traditionally voted for the Congress. Lately though, they have turned to the AAP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To regain these votes, the Congress has fielded the veteran Dikshit, who still has a lot of goodwill among the people of Delhi. Her main election plank is her proven history as an administrator. She reminds voters that though Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal inaugurated the Signature Bridge, it was her government that had commissioned it. She also plays up other achievements, such as the Sonia Vihar water treatment plant, and welfare schemes such as pension for widows and the elderly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sitaram Verma, a 32-year-old migrant from Ghazipur in eastern Uttar Pradesh, says that with Dikshit entering the fray, there is confusion among the voters. “The AAP has done some good work,” he says. “There is a lot of relief in electricity rates. Schools and hospitals have improved. But there is a lot of respect for Sheila Dikshit. It is unclear whom we will opt for.” Tiwari himself admits that, with Dikshit’s entry, “The fight is between the BJP and the Congress.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dikshit, however, has few kind words for her opponent. “The people of North East Delhi are angry with their current MP as he has failed in his duties,” she says. “I am pained to see that many areas in this constituency do not have roads. There is garbage piled up everywhere.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Tiwari’s campaign in not based on local issues; Prime Minister Narendra Modi is his trump card. “Only one line needs to be said in this election,” he says. “If in 2014, Modiji stood for hope, in 2019, he personifies trust.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This seems to be a smart move on Tiwari’s part, given that he is facing anti-incumbency. Says Narendra Kumar, a driver who came to Delhi from Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh two decades ago: “We have not seen him in the last five years. He appears only for Chhath Puja. But he might still get votes in Modi’s name.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pandey, on the other hand, has gone hyperlocal with his campaign. He has been campaigning ever since he was made Lok Sabha in-charge for the region, several months ago. According to his team, Pandey has been listening to voters’ grievances and providing solutions. The AAP even says that Pandey has done more for the constituency than Tiwari.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Says Shahrukh Shaifi, a first-time voter: “I am very impressed with the leadership of Arvind Kejriwal. Dilip bhaiya has already done a lot for our area.” He adds that Dikshit was too old to make an impact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This echoed the mood among the young Muslims of the area. The seniors in the community, however, prefer Dikshit. For instance, Islam Behrampurwale, 58, says he has always been a Congress voter and would remain so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And this split, not only among the Muslims, but across anti-BJP voters, has worried the AAP. Pandey has been appealing to the people not to vote for the Congress, and is dismissive of Dikshit. “She was not sure of where to contest from,” he says. “First, it was East Delhi, then Chandni Chowk and finally North East Delhi. She does not know the new party workers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The triangular fight in North East Delhi is certainly not easy to call.</p> Fri May 10 14:39:28 IST 2019 kejriwal-is-extremely-inept <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>CHIEF MINISTER</b> of 15 years, Sheila Dikshit is back in the electoral fray as a Lok Sabha candidate. The 81-year-old recently took over as president of Delhi Congress and is contesting the North East Delhi seat against BJP MP Manoj Tiwari and the Aam Aadmi Party’s Dilip Pandey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dikshit told THE WEEK that the BJP’s nationalism campaign was aimed at diverting attention from its failures and that there was no merit in the AAP’s demand for full statehood. Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How have people responded to your campaign?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am getting a wonderful response. There is a lot of warmth and affection. They remember the development work that was done when the Congress was in power in Delhi. The dominant feeling now is that the development has come to a standstill. There is tremendous dissatisfaction with both the BJP and the AAP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It is said you were initially reluctant to contest.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, I was not very keen on contesting. It was for personal reasons. But when the party leadership asked me, I said, OK. I obeyed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How have things changed in the national capital since the Congress lost in 2013?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Things have taken a turn for the worse in Delhi in several aspects. It is being regarded as one of the most polluted cities in the world. The condition of hospitals and schools has worsened. The urban infrastructure has to be revamped at constant intervals to deal with the growing demands of the city. That is just not happening.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest change that has taken place in Delhi, politically, is that there is a third force at play now, which is the AAP. However, Arvind Kejriwal has proved to be an extremely inept chief minister, blaming others for his government’s lapses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What about national issues? The BJP is running a campaign high on nationalism.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The people of Delhi would like to vote for a party which they are confident will deliver for them, be it at the state level or at the Centre. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP stand exposed in terms of not having fulfilled the promises made in 2014. Their seven MPs in Delhi are all extremely unpopular. The people of Delhi can see through the BJP’s effort to try and divert attention from its failings by harping on nationalism. They will not be fooled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The AAP’s main election plank is full statehood for Delhi.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Again, that is a ploy to divert attention from the local government’s failures. We worked in a similar situation and could bring about so much development in the capital. One needs to be practical. I do not think any Central government would be willing to concede this demand because of the simple reason that Delhi is the national capital.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why were you opposed to an alliance with the AAP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was my firm belief that the Congress would have benefited little from the alliance. The party is on a comeback trail in Delhi, and an alliance with the AAP would have been detrimental to its future prospects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, any talk of an alliance is based on the number of seats that the parties involved will get. What was proposed by the AAP was not at all a fair deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are there concerns that anti-BJP votes will get split between the Congress and the AAP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is true that if the votes get split, the BJP will have an advantage. However, I am confident that such a situation will not arise. The Congress is getting tremendous support in the capital, and it is best placed to unseat the BJP from the seven seats. Except for, maybe, the areas of electricity and water supply, the people are extremely unhappy with the Kejriwal government. I am quite sure that they are left with little support in Delhi.</p> Fri May 10 14:19:05 IST 2019 the-congress-does-not-want-to-defeat-the-bjp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WHY WAS</b> <b>the AAP keen on an alliance with the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We were keen on a pan-north India alliance—across Haryana, Punjab, Chandigarh and Delhi—because those are the seats where the BJP could have been defeated. We do not need an alliance with the Congress in Delhi alone, because the AAP can defeat the BJP in all seven seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why could the alliance not be formed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The main reason is that [Congress president] Rahul Gandhi and the Congress do not want to defeat the BJP. The gathbandhan, including the Congress, the AAP and the Jannayak Janta Party, would have defeated the BJP on 31 seats. Also, the Congress is trying to weaken the opposition in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Kerala. Why is Rahul Gandhi contesting from Wayanad? If he really wanted to defeat the BJP, he should have contested from Gujarat or Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress is in a direct fight with the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So the stage is set for a triangular fight in Delhi.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The third place is reserved for the Congress. It has a history of being third, if you look at the past four elections in the capital. Maybe all seven of their candidates will forfeit their deposits. The Congress has no presence on the ground. No Congress leader wanted to contest elections this time. Most of their candidates wanted an assurance from their party leadership that even if they lose this election, they will not be denied a ticket for the assembly polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you look at your rivals in East Delhi?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Arvinder Singh Lovely is likely to forfeit his deposit. We can just show photographs of what the schools used to look like in 2015, when he left as education minister. And unfortunately for [BJP’s] Gautam Gambhir, Delhi has never voted for celebrities. The likes of Shatrughan Sinha and Smriti Irani contested here and lost.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why should people vote for the AAP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>East Delhi is one of the most neglected parts of the city. It did not have proper educational or health care facilities. A lot of East Delhi lives in unauthorised colonies and did not have access to water supply or sewerage. Whatever development has happened is because of the AAP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there are so many things we are not able to do because the Central government disrupts our work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why is full statehood for Delhi the mainstay of the AAP campaign?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Women’s security is such a big issue. But the police here report to the Centre, not to the Delhi government. So, if women in the capital have to feel secure, the Delhi Police has to come under the elected government in Delhi. The youth in Delhi do not get admission in colleges here. They do not get jobs. The people do not get houses at affordable rates. This is the reason we are emphasising on full statehood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How will you do that, with just seven MPs at the most?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Modi government is not coming back and there will be a coalition government. And in a coalition government, seven seats is a huge number. We are not going to make any demands in terms of ministries or posts. We will support any non-BJP government that promises full statehood to Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What gives the AAP an edge over the others?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP does not contest elections in the last 15 days, with its candidates just waving their hands and [with] a media blitzkrieg. We have been working on the ground for more than eight months. I have been to every part of the constituency and I have conducted hundreds of meetings. A candidate who gets 15 days to contest is never going to reach those many people.</p> Fri May 10 14:15:47 IST 2019 the-public-has-started-rejecting-dynastic-politics <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>What are the issues on which you are asking for votes in Haryana?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2014, people showed faith in us. And we have delivered. The issue of nationalism was created by the opposition. The opposition raised doubts about armed forces operations, which people started taking seriously. So, we had no option but to clarify to the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You cannot ignore nationalism, as it is actually a fundamental character of the people of India. Thousands of soldiers have laid down their lives for the country, and Haryana is a land of soldiers. Here, at least one person from a family is in the armed forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The state government has been accused of mishandling the Jat agitation in 2016.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition is using the tactics of ‘offence as the best defence’. It is the Congress that had fuelled the agitation. Evidence of the direct role of several senior Congress leaders has surfaced. The opposition is only trying to create an atmosphere of communal divide to gain votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Haryana politics is dominated by Jats. As the first chief minister from the Punjabi community, did you face any challenge in running the government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First of all, I do not connect myself to a particular community. I am a Haryanvi first. Punjabi is an identity. It is not a community or caste. Those linked to Punjab are known as Punjabis. Haryana was part of Punjab before the bifurcation in November 1966. Since then, those belonging to this side started calling themselves Haryanvi. I have been telling the people that they should correlate themselves with the state. Like a Gujarati in Gujarat, Haryanvi in Haryana.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The BJP’s policy is not to give loan waivers to farmers in Haryana. Will it affect the party politically?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t think so. Our farmer is no longer illiterate or backward. Our primary aim was to address issues that led to poverty in the farming community. From raising the minimum support price to giving compensation under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna, we did a lot to improve their livelihood. In Haryana, we are giving additional financial assistance to not only farmers but also those below poverty line. I personally believe that a loan waiver makes a person lethargic. It does not address the core issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you see the challenge from the Congress’s NYAY (Nyuntam Aay Yojana)?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t see any benefit, as there is no clarity on it. In fact, the scheme is not viable economically. Unless the Congress has a shadow budget for this scheme, this cannot be possible. To implement it, the government has to stop all ongoing welfare schemes. But, can it afford to close them down?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda says the corruption cases against him are part of a vicious BJP campaign. What is your take on it, since you came to power on an anti-corruption promise?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First of all, I can assure you that corruption was an issue, is an issue and will remain an issue. The state government has provided documents related to the cases to the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate. Now, it is up to the investigating agencies to carry out the probe. Hooda, as chief minister, had said on the floor of the house that he is ready to face any probe. Why is he terrified now? The Dhingra commission, set up to look into the cases, is yet to give its report. The way Hooda is opposing the commission raises serious doubts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Congress has fielded heavyweight candidates for the Lok Sabha polls.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Candidate is not the lone factor in an election. [For the Congress,] heavyweights mean years of experience. They are not heavyweights in character. There are big question marks on everyone’s character.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is the mood of the public?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The people of India have decided to bring back Narendra Modi as prime minister, as there is no one else in competition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you see Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s entry into politics?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The public has started rejecting dynastic politics. I do not see her presence creating any impact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Congress has alleged corruption in the Rafale deal.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has always raised issues for which getting information is difficult—like Rafale and Balakot airstrike. To my knowledge, everything is documented in the Rafale deal. And, by raising questions about the authenticity of the airstrike, you are doubting the capability of our armed forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Rafale case, the Congress is demanding a joint parliamentary committee. Parliamentarians can never be investigators. The demand is only to get political mileage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>People call the Jannayak Janta Party, formed after a split in the Indian National Lok Dal, as a proxy for the BJP.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, there is a similarity between the INLD and the BJP. Both of us are anti-Congress. We have supported each other against the Congress on previous occasions. But the BJP is now capable enough to form the government on its own. We do not need their support. Now the INLD and the Aam Aadmi Party are fighting a battle for their existence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The assembly polls are due next year. Will the Lok Sabha election results have an impact on it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is very difficult to calculate the exact impact of the Lok Sabha results on the assembly polls. But, each victory has an impact on the next victory. In Haryana, we won the municipality and panchayat polls and, recently, the Jind assembly bypoll. Victory in Jind has created an atmosphere in favour of the BJP. By this logic, the Lok Sabha results will have an impact on the assembly polls. We are confident about the assembly polls as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you see yourself as the chief minister candidate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Everyone has aspirations; there is nothing wrong in having aspirations. But there is no power tussle in our party. If I get a chance, I will serve the public. Otherwise, I will wait for another opportunity and do whatever the party asks me to do.</p> Fri May 10 15:42:14 IST 2019 lok-sabha-polls-bjp-aims-to-stall-congress-winning-streak-in-rajasthan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Rajasthan has always voted out the incumbent. And, the state has favoured the same party in the Lok Sabha elections that it voted to power in the assembly. Four months ago, Rajasthan said farewell to the Vasundhara Raje government, and elected the Congress in the assembly polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In December 2008, the Congress won 96 of 200 assembly seats, and Ashok Gehlot became chief minister for the second time. In the Lok Sabha polls a few months later, the Congress won 20 of 25 seats in the state. In December 2013, the BJP won the assembly elections, reducing the Congress tally to 21 seats, and a few months later, won all 25 Lok Sabha seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Relying on this pattern, the Congress hopes to build on its recent assembly election win. However, there are indications that it would not be a cakewalk for the Congress this time, with the BJP pretty much back in the fight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was only a 0.5 per cent difference in the vote share of the two parties in the assembly polls. Asking votes in the name of national security in a state that has Pakistan as its neighbour, the saffron party is banking on the brand value of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a strong, decisive leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are telling people that this is not an election to ensure that the drain in your area gets cleaned. Agreed, that is also important. But, this election is to decide who will be prime minister,” said BJP’s Nirmal Kumawat, MLA from Phulera constituency in Jaipur Rural. “And, the people know that there is no one better than Modi to safeguard their interests.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, there appears to be a resonance to the BJP’s nationalism campaign. “Modi has made us proud with the strong response to Pakistan. The country’s prestige has gone up,” said Rajendra Singh, a marble trader from Pali district in the Marwar region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP argues that people were angry with the Raje government in the state and not with the Modi regime at the Centre and that they would still prefer Modi as prime minister. In support, BJP leaders cite a slogan heard during the assembly election: “Vasundhara, teri khair nahi; Modi, tujhse bair nahi (Vasundhara, you are done; Modi, we are not against you).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, on the other hand, is trying to counter the BJP’s hyper-nationalism campaign by talking about the welfare measures taken by the Gehlot government in the last three months. It says it has fulfilled promises such as farm loan waiver, unemployment allowance and pensions for the elderly and has offered poor families a minimum income guarantee through the proposed NYAY scheme. The Gehlot government, within two days of being sworn in, had announced a farm loan waiver of up to Rs 2 lakh each and unemployment allowance of Rs 3,500 for girls and Rs 3,000 for boys.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress accuses the Modi regime of aggravating agrarian crisis and unemployment, ruining the economy with demonetisation and a faulty Goods and Services Tax, and corruption. However, there is a distinct effort to keep the campaign local in contrast to the BJP’s focus on national security. It is also argued that invoking nationalism works better in urban and semi-urban areas, whereas it is the bread-and-butter issues that are important in the rural setting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Farmers want to hear about issues such as irrigation, power supply and what will be done to get us better returns for our crops,” said Rajendra Yadav, sarpanch of Baberi village in Jaipur Rural constituency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the border district of Barmer, too, people want to hear more about what will be done to end their water woes and improve livelihood opportunities. “There is hardly any agriculture in Barmer because of lack of water,” said Barmer City MLA Mewaram Jain of the Congress. “The youth want employment. The petrochemical sector promised jobs. But, the Modi government has not done enough in terms of encouraging work in this direction. The construction of Barmer refinery is yet to start.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress claims that the BJP is trying to hide its desperation behind its hyper-nationalism campaign. It sees it as a sign of weakness that the BJP has given the Nagaur seat to ally Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) in a state that is witnessing primarily a bipolar contest. But, the BJP’s alliance with the RLP—floated by prominent Jat leader Hanuman Beniwal—could spell trouble for the Congress, which has traditionally enjoyed the support of the dominant Jat community in the state. Both the Congress and the BJP are worried over the Bharatiya Tribal Party entering the poll fray. The party, which has its origins in neighbouring Gujarat, won two seats in the December elections in Rajasthan. It has emerged as a force to reckon with in the Mewar region, which has five Lok Sabha constituencies—Udaipur, Banswara-Dungarpur, Chittorgarh, Rajsamand and Bhilwara.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A bitter fight is assured in Rajasthan in this Lok Sabha election.</p> Sat May 04 11:35:11 IST 2019 sachin-pilot-interview-we-will-get-more-than-20-seats-in-rajasthan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Congress won the assembly elections. How is it poised for the Lok Sabha polls?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have just come out of a victory in Rajasthan and we have a clear majority government. In 2008, the Congress had 96 of 200 MLAs, and in the Lok Sabha elections we got 20 seats. I see no reason why we cannot do better than that. Rajasthan usually tends to give the windfall of seats to the party that has just been voted into power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have taken major steps towards fulfilling our manifesto promises, including Rs 18,000 crore worth farm loan waiver, unemployment allowance, pensions and procurement of crops. On the other hand, the BJP leadership in the state is quite directionless after Vasundharaji has been moved out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There was only a 0.5 per cent vote difference between the Congress and the BJP in the assembly polls.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2013, the Congress got 21 of 200 seats, and the BJP got 165. Now, they have 70-odd MLAs. We were 21 and now we are 101. From where we started five years ago, when I first took charge as party president, it is a 12.5 per cent swing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Post Balakot, nationalism is the BJP’s main election issue.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nationalism has been, is and will always be important for all Indians. When it comes to national security, anyone who raises an eyebrow towards our borders will get the same befitting reply, no matter who is the prime minister or who is in government. But, it is not fair for the government to hide behind the sacrifice and valour of our armed forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is using these issues because it cannot discuss unemployment being at a 45-year high or the negative impact of demonetisation on our economy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Modi is being projected as a strong, decisive leader.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They say that he is decisive. Agreed. But what about the decisions? Are they helping or harming the country? Is our relationship with our neighbours better or worse? Is the situation in the Kashmir valley better or worse? People should actually ask how 350kg of RDX was brought inside the country and our young soldiers were martyred in Pulwama. Why a BJP MLA was assassinated in Chhattisgarh? And, [he] had promised that post-demonetisation, naxalism and terrorism would get over.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>While people were angry with Vasundhara Raje, it is said that they are not so unhappy with Modi.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP brought in ‘notebandi’ and GST. Farmers’ suicides are still taking place. The economy is a shambles. There are no jobs. Just because they were extremely angry with Vasundharaji does not mean they are not angry with Modi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What response are you getting for the NYAY scheme?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a game-changer because the BJP has not been able to find an answer to it. People know about it in Rajasthan. There is a resonance to what we say on NYAY. The message is clear: if Modiji can waive 03 lakh crore for ten people, why not give Rs 3 lakh crore to the 20 per cent poorest people of India?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is the Congress in Rajasthan a divided house?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We decided to authorise Congress president [Rahul Gandhi] to decide who will lead the government. Within 48 hours, he made a decision. I was part of the decision. So, there is absolutely nothing to suggest, except media reports, that there is groupism. We had worked hard together. That is why we formed the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I went for Ashokji’s son’s [Vaibhav Gehlot] nomination, I said that as party president, it is my responsibility to see him through.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How many seats can the Congress win in Rajasthan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are getting a very good response. Our mission is 25. And, I think we should be able to get as close to it as possible.</p> Sat May 04 11:38:30 IST 2019 lok-sabha-polls-in-jaipur-rural-it-a-clash-of-olympians-rathore-and-poonia <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Jaipur Rural, which goes to the polls on May 6, will witness a clash of Olympians this time. The BJP candidate, sitting MP Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, is an Olympic silver medallist in shooting (2004, double trap). His prime challenger, Congress candidate Krishna Poonia (MLA for Sadulpur in Churu Lok Sabha constituency), has represented India in discus throw at three Olympics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The two Olympians are a study in contrast in their current political roles. People are in awe of Rathore and refer to the Union minister as “Colonel sahib” in deference to his Army background. Poonia is easygoing and aims to establish a connect with the electorate of the predominantly rural constituency by reminding them that she is a ‘kisan ki beti (farmer’s daughter)’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rathore, 49, is running a meticulously planned campaign, perhaps a takeaway from his military days. He has maintained a team in Jaipur to look after the constituency and has expanded it in the run-up to the elections. On the campaign trail, the support team is connected through walkie-talkies, and a mobile app tells them the location of their teammates in real time. Nothing is left to chance—Rathore’s entourage travels with a sound system (to ensure that his speeches are heard clearly) and an open jeep painted in BJP colours ready for doing a roadshow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His outreach hinges on Brand Modi. Rathore talks about how Narendra Modi has provided the country with a “strong government” and how he has put Pakistan in its place with his “bold action” after the terrorist attack in Pulwama. He tells the people to keep nation-building in mind, rather than local issues, when they vote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Poonia, 36, began her campaign much later than Rathore as her party announced her candidature only on April 1. But she has accepted the challenge of defeating Rathore and is attempting to win hearts by telling the people that she is one of them. Though Poonia hails from Haryana, her husband’s family is from Jaipur Rural. “This is my sasural (in-laws place),” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her outreach is informal. She mingles freely with the voters and, with folded hands, asks them to give her a chance. Aware that many of the villagers would be busy harvesting the wheat crop and hence not attending her meetings, Poonia makes several stops to meet farmers at work and empathises with them. “I come from an ordinary family in a village,” says Poonia at her meetings. “I know what life in a village is like. I understand your problems and issues.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To the women voters, she says that she is the first woman candidate in a Lok Sabha election from Jaipur Rural and asks them to come out in large numbers to support her. “It is a busy time for all of you,” she says. “There are weddings in your families. There is work to be done on your farms. But you have to come to the polling booth on May 6 and vote for me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rathore, who defeated former Union minister C.P. Joshi of the Congress in 2014 by a margin of 3.32 lakh votes, is banking on nationalism and the resumption of Army recruitment here. He points out that prior to 2014, no recruitment into the Army took place in Jaipur Rural for six years. The constituency has a strong pro-armed forces sentiment, with a large number of youth being in the Army or the paramilitary forces. Rohitash Lamba, a Pulwama martyr, hailed from a village in the area.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Union minister has built sporting facilities in the area, including mini stadia, fitness centres and open gyms. Poonia, however, says he is inaccessible to the people and unaware of their problems. “People are unhappy,” she says. “They say that Rathore has not fulfilled his promises. Be it education or infrastructure or farming, the people’s expectations have not been meet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The caste arithmetic in the constituency favours Poonia as her community, Jats, is dominant in the area. Rathore’s Rajput caste has far fewer numbers. Poonia is also counting on the Gujjars, Yadavs and scheduled castes, but Rathore hopes that the nationalistic fervour will trump the caste equations.</p> Sat May 04 11:41:06 IST 2019 rajyavardhan-rathore-interview-opposition-isolated-itself-by-questioning-air-strikes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>What kind of response are you getting during your campaign?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a very strong current in favour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. You have old ladies telling you: “Tera Modi bilkul acchha hai. Theek kaam kar raha hai. (Your Modi is very good. He is doing good work.)” His work has permeated through multiple layers and reached the hearts of the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The BJP lost the recent assembly elections in Rajasthan. What makes you optimistic about the Lok Sabha polls?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The assembly elections were on an entirely different agenda. The Congress literally went to every home and said ‘vote for us now, you can vote for whoever you want in 2019’. So there is no connection between the 2018 elections and these elections. These are the prime minister’s elections. The national elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the issues for the BJP in this election?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We brought development to every village. Every panchayat now has houses because of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. There are gas connections in every panchayat. The prime minister’s Ayushman Bharat has given strength to the people. The policies for the farmers are aimed at taking the benefits directly to them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Congress says that agrarian crisis and joblessness are the two biggest issues in this election.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The people know that there is only one person and one party with the vision to overcome these challenges. How have these challenges come about? Because of 50 years of bad governance. The large-scale corruption and lack of vision have created this situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The opposition charges the BJP with resorting to ultranationalism to divert attention from its failures.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our work has statistical evidence plus visual evidence if you go to any panchayat. On every scheme that we announced, we have delivered. We have also taken care of national security, which the UPA and the Congress ignored.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the Mumbai attacks happened, the Congress did not have the guts to put Pakistan in its place. We sent the message that for body bags coming here, you will have your own body bags reaching your homes. We isolated them internationally. For the first time, only China was standing with them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>[Former DRDO chief] V.K. Saraswat is on record stating that he sought permission to conduct the anti-satellite missile test in 2011, but they did not have the guts to do it. We have gone ahead and done it. This is all proof of what our government has achieved on multiple fronts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The BJP has been accused of playing politics over the achievements of the armed forces.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition is conveniently looking at only the post announcement scenario of the success of the strikes. It is a skewed opinion. Aircraft do not take off on orders from the Army or the Air chief. Soldiers do not cross [borders] because of the Army chief’s orders. They carry out the operation tactically. But the order is given by the prime minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whatever happens is on the prime minister. Imagine if there is a failure. If you think it was done for elections, what happens then? When he has the guts to take the blame, then he also has the privilege of being part of the victory. Our government’s ability to convert the capture of our pilot into our success speaks volumes of our prime minister’s ability to steer the nation into the future. The nation is safe in his hands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Questions were asked about the efficacy of the post-Pulwama action.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How naive can the opposition be, trying to divert people’s attention to the number of kills? We had a major policy shift, which is that terrorism will be responded to by attacking the root of terrorism. The opposition should have been together with the nation celebrating this achievement. But they have isolated themselves like pathetic losers by trying to find faults in a phenomenal success.</p> Sat May 04 14:05:56 IST 2019 lok-sabha-polls-mumbai-congress-president-milind-deora-has-his-task-cut-out <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WHEN MUKESH AMBANI</b> and Uday Kotak endorsed Mumbai Congress president Milind Deora’s candidature from Mumbai South, it was an unprecedented achievement in Indian politics. Never before has an industrialist of Ambani’s stature or a banking baron like Kotak publicly endorsed a politician in Maharashtra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The effects, obviously, will be both good and bad for Deora. On the one hand, the former Union minister and two-term MP from Mumbai South will be viewed as someone who understands the problems of businessmen, industrialists and traders, while on the other, there is a risk that he could be branded as an ‘Ambani man’ and the voice of the city’s elite. But, few know the problems faced by the city’s poor like Deora does. He and his father, Murli Deora, have won from this seat six times between themselves for the Congress. Shiv Sena’s Arvind Sawant beat Deora in 2014, and the two locked horns once again this time, when all six seats in Mumbai went to the polls on April 29.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recently appointed as president of Mumbai Congress, Deora, 42, is shouldering the responsibility with much enthusiasm. When he took over the reins, a clear message was conveyed to all the factions within the party that internal issues could be handled later; first, make party candidates win from Mumbai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Deora’s presence at the felicitation of actress Urmila Matondkar, the latest Congress entrant, in Borivali, showed that he meant business. He spoke slowly and cogently, welcoming her to the party with a bouquet of flowers. Though there was nothing effusive in his address, his voice exuded a certain warmth in welcoming the Marathi mulgi (girl) to the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He is a very young and good politician, and I have given my best wishes to him,” said former Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam. “I have also told him clearly that as Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have made him president, he would get my full support. I wish that, under his guidance, we win all six Mumbai seats.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Deora had been campaigning all over the city to achieve that target. He acknowledges the effect of the Modi wave in 2014, and how the Congress failed to make a mark in the Lok Sabha and Maharashtra assembly elections that year, but is optimistic this time. “Our vote share will increase, giving us electoral dividends. I am certain you will see a resurgent Congress especially now, when the Modi wave no longer exists,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Denying that the Congress in Mumbai was in disarray because of infighting, he said, “In a party like Congress, with strong democratic values, arguments or dissent cannot be construed as the party being in disarray. We set up coordination mechanisms for the smooth functioning of the party during and after the elections.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since Deora’s appointment as president, the conflicts seem to have reduced. During Nirupam’s term, senior leaders like Priya Dutt, Naseem Khan and Kripa Shankar Singh were not happy with the functioning of the party. Dutt was reluctant to contest elections this time, but the Congress high command intervened and convinced her to participate. Deora, on his part, made sure that Naseem Khan and Kripa Shankar Singh worked wholeheartedly for Dutt and buried their differences.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Asked whether Rahul Gandhi’s minimum income guarantee scheme is viable, Deora remains optimistic. “The Congress party does not believe in making jumlas (empty promises) and has thought through this initiative in consultation with economists and relevant experts in the field of finance and policy,” he said. “In my view, this is not a one-off decision. I remember, during UPA-I, the idea of transferring subsidies directly to the beneficiaries started and a big step towards it was Aadhaar. Minimum income guarantee scheme will fulfil the purpose of Aadhaar in the lives of marginalised Indians, bridging the gap between the rich and the poor.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Deora plans to address the housing and infrastructure issues that plague the city. “Ensuring 500sqft housing would be a priority for all redeveloped and rehabilitated buildings,” he said, emphasising how “urban infrastructure needs to take precedence over other emotive issues”. Also, as South Mumbai has witnessed a 172 per cent rise in crimes against women in the last five years, Deora says that women’s safety would be another important issue that he hopes to address.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Deora and the Congress-NCP alliance have a lot to prove as all six seats in the metropolis were pocketed by the BJP-Shiv Sena combine in 2014. On one hand, Deora has seasoned candidates like Eknath Gaikwad, Dutt and Nirupam; on the other, there is someone like Matondkar, who has no political experience. Much rides on the shoulders of the new Mumbai Congress president.</p> Sat May 04 11:55:17 IST 2019 omar-abdullah-interview-if-article-370-goes-india-kashmir-relationship-becomes-just-a-military-one <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>NATIONAL CONFERENCE VICE</b> president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah is touring Kashmir to shore up support for party candidates. The main focus of his campaign is the BJP’s challenge to Article 370, which gives autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir, and Article 35A, which allows the assembly to define permanent residents of the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With an eye on the assembly polls, which are expected to be held later this year, Omar has promised to work towards restoring autonomy and the post of prime minister of the state. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Peoples Democratic Party has fielded a weak candidate in Srinagar, where NC president Farooq Abdullah is contesting. NC has fielded retired judge Hasnain Masoodi against state Congress president Ghulam Ahmad Mir in Anantnag, which is likely to benefit the PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti. What is going on between PDP and NC?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are not alliance partners. We have made that very clear. We have chosen not to field candidates in Udhampur and Jammu for the same reason as the PDP’s—we did not want anti-BJP votes to get divided. We are fighting against the Congress in Srinagar and Anantnag, and we will fight against it in Leh-Kargil (Ladakh) seat. The Congress has chosen not to put up a candidate in Srinagar because of doctorsahab’s (Farooq Abdullah) seniority. But we are not partners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why don’t you and the PDP join forces if you really mean business on Article 370 and Article 35A?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We really mean business. But our sense was that the polity, particularly in the valley, requires a churning of ideas. The main political forces in the valley today are the NC and the PDP. If the parties were to come together, that would push the legitimate opposition in the state to the fringes. That is a mistake we committed in 1987, when the NC and the Congress came together. It is important that, in the valley at least, there are mainstream political alternatives available to the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You said you are not in an alliance with the Congress. So are you part of the mahagathbandhan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no gathbandhan. For want of a better term, it was stillborn. I always had reservations about this mahagathbandhan. I had maintained that the Congress is the only pan-India opposition party. Everybody else is a regional player. The only alliances that matter are those that the Congress was able to forge with regional players. What am I going to contribute to West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, etc?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Farooq Abdullah is campaigning everywhere.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Only in one place. Doctorsahab has been campaigning in Andhra Pradesh because of his friendship with Chandrababu Naidu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Other than Article 370 and Article 35A, what are the issues you are focusing on?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are focusing on the last five years. The security environment has deteriorated and the people of Jammu and Kashmir have been made to suffer under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, particularly Kashmiris in and outside Kashmir. Who can forget the onslaught on Kashmiris in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack? No less a person than the governor of a state called for an economic boycott of Kashmir. We are also talking about the failures of the PDP-BJP alliance. And how it has pushed the state to the wall.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is your prediction for the Lok Sabha elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t think anybody should make predictions. Different people from different states give us different feedback. The only thing I can say is that based on the prime minister’s body language, and based on the tone and tenure of his campaign, he is not a comfortable man. He doesn’t project that aura of confidence. What you saw in 2014 was a confident Narendra Modi. He was giving you a message of hope and a better tomorrow. What you see today is a Modi who is trying to instil fear in people: ‘If you do not vote for me terrorism can get worse. If you do not vote for me, Pakistan will win.’ It’s a different matter that Pakistan has said they want Modi to win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Farooq Abdullah has said that if Article 370 and Article 35A are revoked, Kashmir would be free.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not just Farooqsahab; mainstream politicians cutting across party lines have said exactly the same thing. Even Sozsahab (Saifuddin Soz of the Congress) has said the BJP is trying to demolish the bridge between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India. The sentiment is the same; the words used are slightly different.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is that your sense that this is what will happen?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All I would say is this: If Article 370 is the foundation of the constitutional relationship between the two entities (J&amp;K and Union of India), what is the relationship if that goes?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are you saying that if the constitutional link between Srinagar and New Delhi breaks, India will have no jurisdiction over Kashmir?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If there is no constitutional relationship—and clearly there is no emotional relationship—then what relationship exists? Only a military one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>In a sense, it will turn into military occupation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is what logic would dictate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You have been saying that one party should get majority to safeguard the interests of the state. Does it hold true for the PDP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not under the current PDP leadership. Whether Mehbooba Mufti has learnt her lessons during her tenure, I don’t know.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you have to say to Sajjad Lone’s statement that if his party comes to power in the state, it would order a probe into the rigging of 1987 elections, in which many people have implicated the NC?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By all means.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You are open to that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Come to power. Come to power. Who is stopping him? Win 44 plus seats, and do whatever you like within the norms of the Constitution. I myself have been saying that Jammu and Kashmir needs a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that starts from 1986-87.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a post-conflict measure. How can we have it when the conflict is going on?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Agreed. So let the conflict end. We came close to ending it in the past. Who knows, with Imran Khan batting for Modi, anything can happen.&nbsp;</p> Sat May 04 11:58:04 IST 2019 begusarai-battlefield-of-the-posters-boys-of-hindutva-the-left-social-justice <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On a muggy afternoon, Kanhaiya Kumar, the CPI candidate from Begusarai, was scheduled to speak in the Muslim dominated area of Laruara. Kanhaiya was surprised to see balloons at the venue. There was cake, too, as it was his birthday. Once the brief celebrations were over, Kanhaiya gave his speech. Before he could leave, his supporters wanted him to recite the famous azadi song, which he used to sing while leading students’ protests at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kanhaiya, who was president of the JNU students’ union, was the face of the anti-government protests, which erupted in JNU three years ago. As he sang the azadi song once again, the crowd joined him enthusiastically. The song, penned 35 years ago by activist Kamla Bhasin, is a highlight of Kanhaiya’s Lok Sabha campaign as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Begusarai lies on the northern bank of the Ganga, which divides the fertile plains of Bihar into two. Though it is only 130km from Patna, it often takes more than six hours to cover the distance because of traffic jams caused by thousands of trucks plying the single-lane highway. Development is slow in the agriculture-dominated landscape, despite the presence of a refinery and a fertiliser plant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP had swept the Hindi heartland along the Ganga from Uttarakhand to Bihar in 2014. And, Begusarai was no exception. This time, the constituency has attracted the attention of the entire nation because of the three-cornered contest in which the poster boys of hindutva, the left and social justice are fighting it out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Union minister Giriraj Singh, known for his incendiary rhetoric, is the BJP candidate. A strapping six footer with a prominent tilak on his forehead and beads around his wrist, he attracts immediate attention. He had courted controversy in the past by asking the critics of the BJP and the Narendra Modi government to go to Pakistan and by asking Hindus to produce more children. Giriraj is sure that his brand of politics will fetch him votes. “It is a fight between the cultural nationalism of the BJP and depraved nationalism. People who are so used to singing praises of Pakistan should take a visa and go there,” Giriraj told THE WEEK. He is relying on the BJP’s strong organisational presence and a mix of hindutva, promises of development and Modi’s popularity to see him through. Being a Bhumihar, he is likely to get the support of his caste brethren, who are present in sizeable numbers in Begusarai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the 19 lakh voters in the constituency, nearly 20 per cent are Bhumihars. Muslims constitute 15 per cent, Yadavs 12 per cent and Kurmis seven per cent. In 2014, BJP candidate Bhola Singh polled 4.28 lakh votes, Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tanveer Hassan, who finished second, got 3.69 lakh votes, while CPI’s R.P. Singh polled 1.92 lakh votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Giriraj, who won from Nawada in 2014, took some time to accept his candidacy from Begusarai. “I was hurt when they shifted me to Begusarai without taking me into confidence,” said Giriraj.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kanhaiya, who completed his PhD from JNU in February, is trying to position himself as Giriraj’s primary challenger. A known Modi critic, the 32-year-old is one of the most reviled opponents of hindutva groups. Scores of JNU students, activists like Jignesh Mevani, Shehla Rashid and Teesta Setalvad and celebrities like Swara Bhaskar and Javed Akhtar have been campaigning for Kanhaiya. He can count on the support of at least a section of the Bhumihars as he, too, belongs to the community. However, the CPI last won from Begusarai in 1967.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, the fight in Begusarai is not just between Kanhaiya and Giriraj. The RJD, which leads the anti-BJP coalition in Bihar, has once again put up Tanveer, who lost by less than 60,000 votes in 2014. Tanveer is dismissive of Kanhaiya’s chances, and is confident about the Muslim-Yadav vote bank of the RJD. “The fight is to save the Constitution and the institutions,” he said. “My fight is against fundamentalism. On the other side is the left. But it is me who covers all the space of socialism in between.” Like Kanhaiya, Tanveer, too, has a PhD. He was a student leader during the Emergency days. But the absence of RJD supremo Lalu Prasad from the campaign trail has been a huge setback for him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The left leaders were hoping that the grand alliance would support Kanhaiya, but that did not happen. “Why could not they spare one seat?” asked Kanhaiya. “It is up to them to reveal the real reason.” Political observers believe that Lalu did not want an articulate leader like Kanhaiya overshadowing his son and political heir Tejashwi on the national scene. He also probably did not want the charges of sedition against Kanhaiya hurting his alliance’s chances.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, too, indicated that its key opponent was Tanveer. Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi said the CPI had no existence in Bihar. “The CPI has not been able to win in the past five elections,” he said. The BJP camp hopes that the Muslim and Yadav votes will be split between Kanhaiya and Tanveer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kanhaiya, known for his sharp speeches and articulate rebuttal of Modi’s claims, is hoping for support from farmers, and workers from the oil refinery, fertiliser factory and the thermal plant. As he is the left’s star candidate, cadres and sympathisers are lending him moral and material support. He raised Rs 70 lakh through crowdfunding in a matter of days. He is gaining greater traction among those who are active on social media.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ground realities, however, continue to pose a challenge for Kanhaiya. “He still appears to be campaigning for a college election. He sounds very bookish,” said Rakesh Singh, a voter from Begusarai. “This is Bihar. Caste and religion do play a role here.”</p> Sat Apr 27 17:00:23 IST 2019 lok-sabha-polls-new-hassles-for-old-hands-deve-gowda-and-kharge <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In terms of experience and staying power, few politicians in India can match H.D. Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal (Secular) and Mallikarjun Kharge of the Congress. The stalwarts have been in electoral politics for around 50 years, and they are contesting the Lok Sabha elections together as part of the Congress-JD(S) alliance in Karnataka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gowda, 86, is contesting from Tumkur, having bequeathed his pocket borough (Hassan, from where he has won five times) to grandson Prajwal Revanna. The 77-year-old Kharge, whose lossless record includes eight assembly and two Lok Sabha wins, is now eyeing a hat-trick victory in Kalaburagi (Gulbarga).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Queering the pitch for them are political undercurrents and charges of nepotism. Gowda’s two grandsons—Nikhil, son of Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, and Prajwal, son of Public Works Minister H.D. Revanna—are making their electoral debuts. Kharge’s son, Priyank, is social welfare minister in the Kumaraswamy cabinet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A section of JD(S) leaders are unhappy over the Gowdas contesting from three of seven seats allotted to the party. The Congress is contesting from the remaining 21 seats in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This is an unabashed display of dynastic hegemony,” said political analyst Ravindra Reshme. “Deve Gowda is guilty of practising both caste and family politics. It is the decline of a great man, who has been indulging in compromise politics since 2004, when his party formed the government with the Congress.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Reshme, the hostilities between the two allies are growing. While Gowda considers Tumkur a safe seat, the ground situation indicates that it would be no cakewalk.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tumkur has traditionally been a Congress stronghold. It held the seat from 1952 to 1991, when the BJP won it for the first time. In 2014, Lingayat leader G.S. Basavaraju of the BJP was defeated by S.P. Muddahanumegowda of the Congress. He bagged 4.29 lakh votes to Basavaraju’s 3.55 lakh. The JD(S) won 2.58 lakh votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It remains to be seen whether the Congress and the JD(S) would be able to combine their vote share.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Muddahanumegowda rebelled after the seat was ceded to the JD(S). As the JD(S) did not have a strong candidate for the seat, it planned to rope in Muddahanumegowda to contest on its ticket. But he refused the offer. He and another Congress rebel, K.N. Rajanna, filed nominations independently, but withdrew after the party leadership intervened.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, now Gowda is up against Basavaraju, who has won Tumkur four times—thrice on a Congress ticket. Basavaraju is close to Congress leader and Deputy Chief Minister G. Parameshwara and state BJP president B.S. Yeddyurappa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The caste matrix of Tumkur—dominated by Lingayats, Vokkaligas and dalits—favours Gowda, the state’s tallest Vokkaliga leader. Parameshwara himself is leading the Congress campaign for Gowda, after the party’s high command asked the state leadership to ensure the victory of all coalition candidates. The Congress particularly wants to ensure Gowda’s win, as he could play a crucial role in stitching up a Congress-led post-poll alliance at the national level.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cross-voting remains a concern, though. Also, the animosity between the two parties in the Old Mysore region is growing. The Vokkaliga mobilisation against Congress leader and Kuruba strongman Siddaramaiah, which resulted in his defeat in Chamundeshwari in the assembly polls, has further widened the rift.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a confidence-building measure, Congress president Rahul Gandhi recently addressed a joint rally near Bengaluru, exhorting workers of both the parties to put up a united front. For his part, Gowda has promised to support the Congress in post-poll manoeuvres. “We have to stand by the Congress as the two national parties fight it out,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Gowda fights the outsider tag in Tumkur, Kharge faces intra-party challenges. His efforts to promote his son has alienated friends, triggered desertions and weakened the organisation in Kalaburagi, where the Congress has won 16 of 18 parliamentary elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bharatiya Janata Party has fielded Dr Umesh Jadhav, who had quit as a Congress legislator to join the BJP. Jadhav had opposed Kharge and Priyank, and was part of the group of Congress MLAs who had camped in Mumbai raising suspicions of a BJP operation to destabilise the state government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A dalit leader, Kharge faces a tough fight as major caste leaders who once supported him are now with the BJP. Kalaburagi has around 19 lakh voters—around five lakh Lingayats and an equal number of dalits, three lakh Muslims, 1.5 lakh Brahmins, one lakh Marathas and nearly four lakh Other Backward Classes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has the backing of Lingayats, Brahmins, Marathas and a section of the dalits. Kharge, who is relying on dalits, tribals, OBCs and Muslims, seems to be in trouble, say sources.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The SC votes are divided,” said veteran journalist M.B. Maramakal, who is from Kalaburagi. “After the demise of Gulbarga North MLA Qamarul Islam, the consolidation of Muslim votes, too, has become difficult. The Kolis (a backward community with nearly two lakh votes) are upset after their leader Baburao Chinchansur quit the Congress. They favour the BJP, which made Ram Nath Kovind president of India.” Kovind belongs to the Koli community, which is classified as dalits in Uttar Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jadhav’s exit was a blow to the Congress, as he is an influential leader from the Lambani community, which is part of the dalit fold. But, with Lambani leaders like Baburao Chavan and Subash Rathod crossing over to the Congress from the BJP, the Kharge camp is upbeat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as he dismisses Jadhav as a “kid playing politics on Modi’s lap”, Kharge is aware that the fight in Kalaburagi is no child’s play, especially at a time when desertions are plaguing the Congress. “My party is fighting to save democracy and the Constitution,” he said. “[BJP president Amit] Shah is coming with a lot of money raised from industrialists. Let them come. No one can stop me from winning as long as janata janardhan (the majority) wants me.”</p> Sat Apr 20 11:47:16 IST 2019 chidambaram-interview-upa-wont-scrap-rafale-deal-will-renegotiate <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>P. CHIDAMBARAM IS BUSY</b> campaigning in Sivaganga, from where his son, Karti P. Chidambaram, is contesting. At a public rally, Chidambaram asks people if they remember the demonetisation and its consequences. As the audience nods, he moves on to the Rafale deal. “Do you know the scam in the deal? Let me explain to those who do not know,” he says. In three minutes, he deftly outlines the specialities of the aircraft, the agreement during the Congress regime, what the Narendra Modi government did and what he claims the scam is. As he ends the speech, he says, “Karti is not new to this constituency. You all know him. He lives here in Managiri village. He will be at your disposal, if you vote for him.” Amid the hectic schedule, Chidambaram spoke to THE WEEK about everything from farmers’ distress to the Congress’s proposed minimum income guarantee scheme—NYAY—and from Modi’s chowkidar plank to money that was written off by the government in insolvency-resolved cases. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You travelled countrywide to prepare the Congress manifesto. What is the mood of the people?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress manifesto has become a talking point and its promises will have an impact on the way people vote. The people are extremely disappointed that Modi wasted a historic mandate. The unemployment [rate] is at an all time high in 45 years, small and medium businesses have been devastated, and there is a great sense of insecurity among all sections of the people, particularly women, dalits and minorities. The people expected the Congress party to present a bold and forward-looking manifesto that will address the real issues of the people—poverty among 20 per cent of the population, farmers’ distress and unemployment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You said Congress manifesto is the talking point now. And BJP seems to be rattled. Being the chairman of the manifesto committee, what do you have to say about the manifesto?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t claim the ownership of the manifesto’s ideas. It was a team effort. And ultimately the Congress Working Committee approved it. We are happy that we were able to capture the aspirations of the people of India and promise bold and radical measures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Will communal issues play a major role in this election?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s attempt to polarise will work to some extent in the Hindi-speaking states of India’s heartland. It will have no impact in the southern states, on the states on the east coast and the states in the north.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is it like the Congress is trying to woo the minorities?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rubbish. Every party owes a duty to assure the minorities that they are safe in the country. A party that does not do this is violating the Constitution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The NYAY scheme promises Rs 72,000 a year to five crore “poorest families”. But, is it possible, given the financial situation of the country?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have done our math. We will implement the programme. The size of the GDP today is Rs210 lakh crore. In five years it will grow to Rs400 lakh crore. The scheme will cost only 03.6 lakh crore, after its full implementation, covering five crore families. That works out to be less than 1 per cent of the GDP. Is anyone seriously suggesting that India cannot or should not allocate less than 1 per cent of its GDP to meet the requirements of 20 per cent of the population?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But, the BJP says NYAY cannot be implemented.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It cannot be implemented by the BJP. They are not capable of doing that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>On the job front, the Congress says that the Modi government has failed. Can this be immediately corrected if the Congress comes back to power?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Modi government has failed the people of India. There are around 3.1 crore people looking for a job every day in India; 4.7 crore jobs were destroyed in the last five years. The picture is very stark. There are no quick fixes. We have a whole chapter [in our manifesto] on jobs. What we can do immediately is to fill the four lakh vacancies in the Union government and the 20 lakh vacancies in the state governments. Other steps will be taken one by one, and we hope that in five years we will be able to create a large number of jobs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Two important poll planks of the BJP are national security and patriotism. Your comment.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over 100 civil servants have petitioned the Election Commission. Are they patriotic citizens? Over 100 world renowned economists have cautioned about India’s economic future. Are they patriotic citizens? Over 100 eminent writers and poets have deplored the kind of hate that has spread across the country. Are they patriotic citizens? At the rate Modi and his party are dubbing people as unpatriotic, I am afraid at the end of the day only Modi and Amit Shah will be standing as patriotic citizens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The BJP says only it can deliver a strong response to terrorism.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Between 2004 and 2015, India was absolutely safe. There was not even a war-like situation between India and Pakistan. After 26/11 [2008 Mumbai attacks] there was not a [single] terrorist attack on Indian soil which was traced back to Pakistan. On the contrary, there were several attacks on Indian soil after Modi took over, which have been traced back to Pakistan. Examples are Uri and Pathankot. Infiltrations have increased, the number of casualties among civilians and security forces has increased and Jammu and Kashmir became more alienated than ever before. So, how does Modi claim that he has been able to fight terrorism better than the UPA?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said that Modi’s victory will revive peace talks.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is absolutely shocking. I think that tells this whole story. The Pakistan prime minister and the Indian prime minister seem to be embracing each other, even when terrorist attacks take place on Indian soil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>On Rafale, the Supreme Court is reviewing its earlier ruling.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a huge setback for the BJP. The government tried its best through the attorney general to stall the process of review. They went to the extent of accusing the petitioners of using “stolen documents”. It was an absurd argument. I am sure the attorney general knew the law, yet, stated a very different proposition before the Supreme Court. The next day he realised his error. He said the documents were not stolen, but only copied. The government is now putting up a brave face after the judgment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whatever be the Rafale judgment, there will eventually be a full and comprehensive enquiry into the Rafale deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you still insist on a parliamentary committee probe, after the Supreme Court verdict?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Absolutely. The parliamentary committee is the best instrument in any parliament democracy to look into such maleficent actions or alleged maleficent actions by the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Don’t you think judiciary will be the last resort?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I cannot hazard a guess, what the judiciary will do. I am sure the judiciary will do what it thinks is right. But whatever the judiciary does, it does not take away from the right of Parliament to look into an alleged scandal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Will the Congress scrap the agreement if it comes back to power?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No. We chose the Rafale aircraft and we believe it is a good aircraft. There is no reason to scrap an agreement in which we agreed to purchase 36 aircraft. We will try to renegotiate the agreement and acquire all 126 aircraft.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you have to say on Modi’s chowkidar plank?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chowkidars are appointed by rich people. So, if Modi is calling himself a chowkidar, evidently he is admitting that he is the chowkidar of the rich people. And, it is under his watch that Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi fled India. So we have a chowkidar for rich people. And, that chowkidar failed in his duty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Recently Modi asked first time voters to vote for the Pulwama martyrs, and for the servicemen who carried out the Balakot attack.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian Army is not contesting the elections. Therefore, to seek votes in the name of the martyrs is clearly exploiting the ultimate sacrifice made by young jawans. I think it is completely unethical.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you think demonetisation and GST will have a big impact on this election?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Demonetisation has devastated India’s economy. And GST ruined India’s trade and business, especially the micro, small and medium enterprises. I am confident that millions of people who were affected by demonetisation and GST will express their anger and opposition when they vote. People are asking why should their agricultural loans not be written off when Modi is willing to forgive or forget the huge amounts of money that were swindled by fraudsters, and the huge amount of money that was written off in insolvency-resolved cases. By the way, the latter amounts to, as of today, Rs 84,585 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What, according to you, is the status of the economy now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dismal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Coming to Tamil Nadu, the DMK-Congress alliance is looking for a sweep. Do you think it is possible?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The DMK-Congress alliance was forged for the first time in 1971, for the Lok Sabha elections. Since then this alliance has faced the Lok Sabha elections six times—1971, 1980, 1996, 1998, 2004 and 2009—and has won on all occasions. This is the seventh occasion, and I am absolutely confident that this alliance will do extremely well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are Karti’s chances in Sivaganga?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is a candidate of the secular progressive alliance. As I said, this is a formidable alliance. And, it will repeat its performance as in the past.</p> Sat Apr 20 18:05:17 IST 2019 chandrababu-naidu-interview-tried-my-best-to-connect-telangana-and-ap <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>At 68, Nara Chandrababu Naidu displays what he is made of. Despite temperatures touching 40°C in some regions, the president of the Telugu Desam Party campaigns for 12 hours straight across the state. Though far younger leaders are fainting because of dehydration and cancelling programmes to avoid the heat, Naidu has only upped his game with his aggressive speeches. "I do not have much choice, do I? I am a very positive person and mentally strong, too," he said. "I feel like a responsible village elder who has to protect and provide shelter to his entire village."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the day of this interview, Naidu had cancelled his morning programmes and staged a sit-in protest for an hour in Amaravati, alleging that the Centre was targetting TDP leaders with income tax raids. He then flew to Kurnool to address back-to-back public meetings. On the flight from Kurnool to Visakhapatnam that evening, he spoke to THE WEEK about his party’s prospects, allegations against him and the future of the Mahagathbandhan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you rate your party's chances this time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are definitely winning the elections. I have been in politics for 37 years and I have seen many elections. When you perform well, people will have a positive feeling. Despite many hurdles in the last four and a half years, we could perform well. Whatever was due was not given to us and we used our resources to the maximum. We have introduced welfare programmes like old-age pensions, which is better than what is being offered in Telangana. Wherever there was an issue, I addressed it because of which the delivery of services is very simple. There is no corruption anywhere and a feel-good factor is prevailing in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You say Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao is insulting the people of Andhra Pradesh. Are you suddenly discussing Andhra pride because the elections are around the corner?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I waited patiently all these years. Who developed Hyderabad? It was my brainchild. I did it for all the people living in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh. I took a risk and achieved everything one by one. I created a goldmine. The present government in Telangana has not added anything. Infrastructure has deteriorated. I want to ask, what is KCR's work? To abuse me? To raise sentiments? People in Telangana are getting carried away. Fine, it does not matter. But he is halting the progress of this state (AP). What is the need for him to interfere in the Polavaram project? He made sure AP did not get its quota. Just because we were in Hyderabad, he blackmailed us. Why should I surrender to him?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because my party is in Telangana, we contested the elections, but he exploited it. I am not interfering in Telangana affairs. At the same time, I have a responsibility to tell people in AP about the affidavits he filed. All this while, I tried my best to connect the two states. He did not cooperate.... KCR and [YSR Congress president] Jagan Mohan Reddy got together and are playing politics in this state. If they want to fight, let's fight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal and Farooq Abdullah have campaigned for you in Andhra Pradesh. Do you think it will influence the voters?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are united at the national level. We wanted to have a pre-poll alliance, but for some reason it did not materialise. We even wanted a common minimum programme. The only way forward now is a post-poll alliance. Wherever they want me to go, I will go. Ultimately, we are united. How to move forward or form a government, we will decide that after the elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Some regional parties do not seem to be happy with the Congress. What are you doing about the differences within the Mahagathbandhan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am trying my best to get these parties together. Other senior leaders are also working on it. The efforts will continue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>In case the BJP comes to power at the Centre and your party wins in AP, will you work with them for special category status?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We will not compromise and we will fight till we achieve it. There is no chance that the BJP will come to power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What about the financial condition of the state? Will Amaravati and numerous sops become a burden for the state treasury?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We got only 46 per cent revenue at the time of bifurcation for 58.3 per cent population. In welfare and development, we have done better than Telangana. Our growth rate is high and we rank high in ease of doing business. Our rural infrastructure is very good. I am confident we will generate income and at the same time we will also focus on welfare schemes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Opposition parties say you have secret pacts with the Congress, actor Pawan Kalyan and others.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why will I have secret agreements when I can openly go for alliances? They are fighting in this election and so are we. The parties you have mentioned have taken (poached) my candidates also. The opposition parties are looking for excuses as they are going to lose.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What about the phone-tapping charges against your government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Where is the proof? Who told them that we are tapping their phones? These are unnecessary allegations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you think only Rahul Gandhi can become prime minister or are there eligible seniors from regional parties in the Mahagathbandhan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We will sit together, arrive at a consensus and take a decision after the elections.&nbsp;</p> Sat Apr 13 20:27:10 IST 2019 jammalamadugu-shedding-its-bloody-past <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Much blood has been spilt on the dry soil of Jammalamadugu. Country-made bombs and firearms were put to use almost every day to settle scores. Some 100 people have lost lives in the long-standing feud between the families of two political leaders, Adinarayana Reddy and Ramasubba Reddy, as they fought for supremacy in the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Things, however, took a different turn a while ago. In the last assembly election, Adinarayana, a chemistry teacher, was with the YSR Congress Party and Ramasubba, an engineer, with the Telugu Desam Party. Adinarayana comfortably beat Ramasubba. Then, TDP supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu convinced them to bury the hatchet, and Adinarayana crossed over from YSRCP to TDP and even became a minister. This time, Naidu gave him the Kadapa parliament ticket and Ramasubba the Jammalamadugu assembly ticket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many people in Jammalamadugu, however, are not happy about the union. “Do you know how many people died on both sides? Around 100. Many more are in jail and many families have suffered. All this only because they were loyal to their leaders. One fine day they cannot become friends and tell everyone to forget whatever has happened. We are not able to digest this,” said a close aide of one of the politicians, who did not wish to be named.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The leaders had absolute control over many villages, and such places were no-go zones for the rival faction. Even the police and the media were cautious about venturing into these territories. “All these days, we were with one leader and one party,” said Rajaiah, 56, who runs a store in Pedhadandulur village, a stronghold of one of the leaders. “Now they want us to accept our enemy as our leader. How can we vote for him? My conscience won’t allow. These leaders might have got sold for money. If that is the case, then tell us openly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some women even questioned the leaders about their alliance. A woman showed her hands to the two leaders, when they were campaigning together, and told them that she was not wearing bangles because of them. “She was a widow. Her husband died for one of the leaders,” said a reporter working for a regional channel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some people, however, are relieved that the union has put an end to the violence that plagued the region for decades. Jagan Mohan Reddy, 30, was just an infant when he lost a few family members in an attack by the opposite group in 1989. A year later, his entire village was burnt down. Later, on a festival day, five members of his family were hacked to death. About a decade later, his father and uncle were killed. To avenge these killings, his brother participated in a deadly attack on the opposite group in 2010. He still remembers that day. “I was preparing for the entrance exams. I got to know about the attack from my mother. But I was made one of the accused. For the next five years I spent my time in courts and is trying to cool down the opposite group,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He got his name cleared, and has been busy with farming and social work in his village. “Factional violence has greatly disturbed our lives,” he said. “We live in poverty. I always wanted to go for post graduation in chemistry, but I had to stop my studies because of court cases. I was even given two gunmen by the police as they feared that I would be targeted. I had to compromise on my freedom.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jagan, who cultivates millets, is glad that the two leaders have made peace. “People who are unhappy or who want the enmity to continue are the ones who have not seen violence closely. I did. I know how it feels. I am just hoping that there is no more violence in this area,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The two Reddys, however, have a new challenger. The YSRCP candidate in Jammalamadugu is Sudhir Reddy, a young surgeon. He also hails from a political family and has been finding support among the disgruntled villagers. This has redrawn the political equations in this constituency.</p> Sat Apr 13 20:29:51 IST 2019 priya-dutt-hopes-to-reclaim-mumbai-north-central-seat-from-poonam-mahajan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is posh; it is poor. With high-rises and bungalows on one end and slums on the other, the differences are stark in Mumbai North Central constituency. The two prime candidates—BJP’s Poonam Mahajan and Congress’s Priya Dutt—have a few similarities though. Both their fathers, Pramod Mahajan and Sunil Dutt, were former MPs. Also, Poonam and Priya are seeking a second chance to serve the constituency—while Poonam is the current MP, Priya won the seat in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections (before that, she represented the Mumbai North West constituency following her father’s death in 2005).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Poonam’s first floor office in Santacruz is teeming with people, many with a list of problems in their area and others with requests to join the party. A bunch of people surround her in the cabin, too. She is sweetly reassuring a woman, who is here with her young son. Poonam turns to the boy and asks, “Chocolate khaya (Did you eat the chocolate)?” Surprised, the boy replies: “I didn’t get any chocolate.” Poonam, a tad upset, asks her assistants to get chocolates for the boy. Two assistants get two bars each, and Poonam hands them to the boy and hugs him. “Happy?” she asks. He grins.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In contrast to Poonam’s office, Priya’s is not as busy. There is a lot of movement, but people’s affection for her is on display only when she steps out. People gather around her car during her campaigns and want her to visit their side of the locality. At Kherwadi in Bandra (east), after her scheduled ten-minute stop, she is requested to garland a statue of B.R. Ambedkar nearby. She agrees and walks towards it as the crowd follows. Getting back into the car is not so easy though. Many from the crowd want to shake hands, some want to invite her to other nearby areas, and some complain of shortage of water and lack of toilets. As she gets into the car, she agrees to every offer and assures to take care of every problem.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The day we met, the Congress had unveiled its manifesto. “Ours (the manifesto) is a breath of fresh air,” she says. “It is really a people’s manifesto. It is what they want, as opposed to bulldozing [one’s] way through. That in itself is a huge difference,” she says, talking about the ideology of the two leading parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priya had announced a break from electoral politics, mainly to be with her two sons and to focus more on her Nargis Dutt Foundation. Her comeback, therefore, was a surprise. Congress president Rahul Gandhi reportedly asked her to reconsider her decision to not contest polls. “I also realised there was a lot happening in the country, which is not something we want to leave behind for our children,” she says. “The biggest issue is our freedom of speech, or our freedom in every way.” She takes out her phone and shows me a WhatsApp forward of a school textbook that has campaign material with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s photo, another is a pamphlet with his photo that was distributed in schools. “It is basically our democracy that is being attacked at every level. And, also our Constitution,” she says. She realised that like-minded people, who believe in secularism and an united India, had to make a difference. “I realised if this is my way, coming in [again] and fighting an election, I would have to do that. That is one of the very big reasons to fight this election,” she says. “I want my children to grow up in a country and see peace and harmony, happiness and love.... I know it is being too utopian.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Poonam and Priya were pitted against each other in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, too. While Priya was already a two-time MP then, Poonam was making her electoral debut. Poonam rode to victory on the Modi wave, winning with a margin of 1.86 lakh votes. Poonam garnered 56.6 per cent of the total 8.45 lakh votes, whereas Priya managed only 34.51 per cent. Candidates from other parties like the Aam Aadmi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party had almost negligible votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time, the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, in alliance with Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, has nominated Dr A.R. Anjaria, famous for his anti-terrorism campaigns. Anjaria hopes to win by a wide majority as the constituency has a considerable Muslim population. “These so-called secular parties only need our votes. They do not want to give us representation,” he was quoted in newspapers. Social activist Mayank Gandhi, a resident of Vile Parle East, however, begs to differ. “It is not a fight for religious representation, but for the restoration of civic and policy issues,” he says, adding that the last term was in good hands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before Poonam came in, Mumbai North Central was a Congress bastion. “This was a Congress fortress. That is what they used to call it,” she says, with amusement. “The BJP fought in 2009 and garnered a good amount of votes, but we did not win (BJP’s Mahesh Ram Jethmalani won 1.44 lakh votes and Priya 3.19 lakh votes then).” Poonam says that post the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP’s vote share has only been increasing, be it in the 2014 Vidhan Sabha elections or during the 2017 Mumbai civic polls. “Today, along with our alliance partners, we have that kind of connect with people. The scenario has completely changed from 2014. We have much more power, much more strength, and more people supporting us,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among her constituents, Priya is mostly remembered for being approachable, accessible and kind-hearted. But, Priya says, people remember her work, too. “Right now, they would have a comparison also on the basis of what has been done and what has not been done,” she says. “People will remember the work that has affected them personally. Otherwise, they may forget.” She cites her role in initiating the Milan flyover in Santacruz. “I can understand that people may not remember that, but the people who were rehabilitated during that time will definitely remember what I did. That affected their lives,” she says. “The Kurla Terminus was developed during my tenure, for which we raised funds from the railways. People would not remember who did it, but people will remember things like, ‘She came in when there was no water in our area’ or ‘There was no toilet in our area, she built that’. We have done a lot of that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Poonam, however, says that she saw discrepancies in policy issues during her 2014 campaign. Take, for instance the open defecation free campaign, she says. “Whichever place I went to, people told me, ‘Didi, ek achcha toilet bana ke do (Please build a good toilet)’. And, I got that demand from 500 different places. Each and every ward was asking me about it. I am now known as the toilet MP,” she says, boasting of the 1,428 toilets that she has built. She says she ensured the toilets were kept clean through the “public-politician partnership” model.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Social activist Lillian Pais, however, disagrees. “We did not have garbage dumps and too many toilets earlier. Now, even if they exist, their maintenance is a huge problem,” says the Bandra resident. Only 30 per cent of the population here contributes to keep the surroundings and toilets clean; the rest, residing in the slums, do not, says Lillian. “Who is policing it?” she asks. “It is not happening at the municipality level nor at the state level. There is no proposal for it. We continue to live around trash.” Also, development is an eyewash, says Farida Khanzada, a Vile Parle resident. “Roads are bad. Repair work is carried out only near election time,” she says. “Both the Ps [Poonam and Priya] are the same.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, these issues, says Gordon D’Souza of Citizens For Good Governance, Vile Parle, are to be addressed during civic polls. He wants this poll narrative to be shifted from a battle of ideologies to who would better utilise the MP funds. And so, he and other members from his community are trying to organise talks with both the leading candidates in his area. “The MPs have Rs 2 crore in the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme and we want to know what they plan to do with that,” he says. “The benefits have to come to the cross section of citizens. We want to make an informed choice based on that.”</p> Sat Apr 13 20:31:46 IST 2019 will-t-t-v-dhinakaran-and-ammk-pull-off-a-surprise-in-tamil-nadu <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Black and white flags, with the image of J. Jayalalithaa, line the streets of verdant Ooty. A huge crowd is raising slogans. They are waiting to welcome the new disruptor in Tamil Nadu politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A fancy tempo traveller, with speakers on all four sides, zooms in and skids to a halt. A few men in safari suits alight and form a barrier, holding the crowd at bay. The cadres cheer on as T.T.V. Dhinakaran pops up through the hatch on the roof. Thunderous applause follows, and slogans of ‘Makkal Selvar’ (prince of the people) and ‘Dravida Selvar’ (Dravida prince) rent the air.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The adulation makes the 55-year-old’s face glow. The founder of the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam is clad in a grey shirt with a Chinese collar. “This is not an election just to change the government at the Centre,” he says. “It is [an election] to liberate the people of Tamil Nadu. Vote for my candidates; [our symbol is] gift box.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the more powerful DMK and AIADMK have formed alliances for the upcoming elections, the AMMK is fighting alone. It has put up candidates in all 40 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, and in all 19 assembly constituencies going for byelections. The polls will be held together, on April 18.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhinakaran continues his speech, attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi for betraying the people of Tamil Nadu, and taking a dig at Congress president Rahul Gandhi, saying, “He does not seem like a prime minister candidate. [The alliance with the DMK] was created by M.K. Stalin for political gains.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhinakaran is all smiles. His next target is the man he helped claim the chief minister’s chair—Edappadi K. Palaniswami aka EPS. “AIADMK party cadres are with me. Only the tender parties are with EPS,” he says sarcastically, referring to allegations of corruption against the state government. “EPS needs eight more MLAs to stay in power (the AIADMK has 113 MLAs, three of whom are openly supporting Dhinakaran; with the byelections, the strength of the assembly will go up to 234, and the AIADMK would need 118 MLAs for a simple majority). There is no Modi wave. Only a secular man can become prime minister after this election.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhinakaran, who was expelled by the AIADMK in 2017 and formed his own party in 2018, wants to capture the vote bank of former chief ministers J. Jayalalithaa and M.G. Ramachandran. To do so, he often plays the victim card, telling the public that the AIADMK leaders had become “slaves” of the BJP, and had teamed up to keep him at bay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I follow in the footsteps of Amma, but I do not use her name to gain votes,” the R.K. Nagar MLA told THE WEEK. “I admire MGR, and my mission is to free the AIADMK from the clutches of corrupt politicians.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Rajesh Ramesan, an AIADMK member who came to watch Dhinakaran in Ooty: “I have been an AIADMK member for 28 years. I am missing Amma this time. There is no strong leader. Modi cannot be my leader. EPS and OPS (Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam) will only act on Modi’s words. But what happens to our party? I feel Dhinakaran can lead us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ooty aside, Dhinakaran has attracted crowds elsewhere, too. As he belongs to the influential Thevar community, he is seen as a strong leader in southern Tamil Nadu. The AIADMK, under Jayalalithaa, commanded more than 40 per cent of the votes in the Thevar heartland—Madurai to Thanjavur, and all the way till Kovilpatti. “Everyone says that my party is strong in south Tamil Nadu,” said Dhinakaran. “But, the AMMK has its organisation structure, like any other Dravidian party, in all districts. We have a strong cadre base, which everyone will realise soon.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the Thevar votes could go to the AMMK in the south, robbing the AIADMK off a huge chunk of support, in the north, where the DMK expects a huge win, Dhinakaran will eat into the anti-incumbency votes. “He will spoil the DMK’s fortunes,” said senior journalist Tharasu Shyam. “His AMMK will poll at least one crore votes across Tamil Nadu. The anti-DMK votes will not go to AIADMK, as it has no strong leader. And, as Kamal Haasan (Makkal Needhi Maiam) and Seeman (Naam Tamilar Katchi) do not have an organisational structure, Dhinakaran could grab all these votes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, with some election surveys calling him the dark horse of the elections, the party workers are upbeat. “T.T.V. is a completely different politician compared with the [ones the] state has seen in the past five decades,” says Thanga Tamil Selvan, the AMMK’s Lok Sabha candidate from Theni, who will take on Panneerselvam’s son, O.P. Raveendranath Kumar, and the Congress’s E.V.K.S. Elangovan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Theni, in fact, is considered Dhinakaran’s home base, as it was from there—he won the Periyakulam Lok Sabha seat in 1999—that he entered electoral politics, under Jayalalithaa. The major chunk of Thevar voters in Theni district, who have traditionally voted for O. Panneerselvam, are likely to turn to Dhinakaran. “He (Dhinakaran) did a lot for Theni when he was the MP from Periyakulam. OPS has betrayed us by going with Modi,” said Rajangam, a local AIADMK member.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Sivaganga, AMMK candidate V. Pandi seems to be gaining more attention than the big names—Congress’s Karti Chidambaram and the BJP’s H. Raja. The incumbent, AIADMK’s P.R. Senthilnathan, has been silent, and that has affected the AIADMK’s support to the BJP in the seat. Moreover, Pandi has a clean image, which has earned him a lot of goodwill. “If Modi becomes prime minister once again, Raja will become minister. But what will we get?” asked Saravanan Subbaiah, an AIADMK member. “Under [Dhinakaran], our party can emerge like how it did under Amma.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other constituencies where the AMMK is likely to have an impact include Thanjavur, Ramanathapuram, Tenkasi and Tiruchirappalli. According to AMMK insiders, Dhinakaran is concentrating on winning 11 seats in the south.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, he does have a headache heading into the elections. As the AMMK is not a registered party, his candidates will be treated as independents. This means winning MPs could go with any other party they choose. The AIADMK, especially, could woo the independents if it falls short of majority in the house.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We suspect external forces have plotted against us. But, we can still win with the new symbol,” said P. Vetrivel, former MLA and one of Dhinakaran’s lieutenants.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The silver lining, however, is that the Election Commission has given the AMMK candidates a common symbol—gift box—which means the party will not have to popularise different symbols in each seat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there is another problem troubling Dhinakaran—the tag of corruption associated with his Mannargudi family. He cannot distance himself from his aunt, the tainted yet popular V.K. Sasikala, but his call for a corruption-free state is affected by the association. “She is our party’s general secretary,” Dhinakaran told THE WEEK. “I met her before I started my campaign.”</p> Sat Apr 13 20:34:31 IST 2019 people-feel-we-are-ammas-real-successors <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Your party is contesting byelections in all 19 constituencies. But, all the MLAs with you have been disqualified. What would potential victories mean to them?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All my candidates who lost their MLA seats know that injustice was meted out to them. The people also know this. This government under Edappadi K. Palaniswami needs eight more MLAs to continue in power. So, they are open to all tactics, right from income tax raids to paying money for votes and even trying to stop the elections. But, the elections will be conducted and we will have a major victory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You seem to be a big crowd-puller. What explains your popularity?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The people of Tamil Nadu feel we are the real successors of Amma. They feel we are strong enough to fight the Centre and the state government, which they do not like anymore. The people feel we will not compromise and we will not let them down. More than 80 per cent of the people are supporting us, especially the women and the youth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are you staking a claim to Jayalalithaa’s legacy?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No. The people of Tamil Nadu feel the AMMK is Amma’s successor. It should be by the people and by the cadres. I cannot claim it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You are from the Mannargudi family and Sasikala is your aunt. How will you overcome the hatred towards her?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All allegations against Sasikala are false. People have realised this. The enemies even made the death of our leader a controversy for political gains. [People are not] against our general secretary. They expect her to come back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are you just a rebel leader?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opponents and their supporters have created this [movement]. If they thought I was a rebel, how [did people] elect me from Amma’s R.K. Nagar? It was a new record. This is going to happen all over Tamil Nadu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you aim to take over the AIADMK after the elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>About 95 per cent of Amma’s cadres are with us. The rest, apart from the betrayers, will also come to us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Who is your arch rival—the DMK or the AIADMK?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not think our opponents are strong. They seem to be so because they have floated alliances. People want to remove both the state and the Central governments; they feel good things will happen automatically after that. They want the real Amma’s government, which only the AMMK can give.</p> Fri Apr 12 15:58:17 IST 2019 aiadmk-spent-rs-641-crore-in-2016-to-bribe-its-way-back-to-power <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN TAMIL NADU,</b> the tradition of buying votes continues to flourish. With elections in 39 Lok Sabha constituencies and byelections in 18 assembly seats round the corner, the Election Commission and income tax department officials have seized a record Rs 137 crore of unaccounted cash from across the state.</p> <p>The single-largest haul was the Rs 11.53 crore seized from properties linked to DMK treasurer Durai Murugan, whose son Kathir Anand is the party candidate in Vellore. Durai Murugan alleges that the Central and state governments are playing dirty tricks. “The ruling AIADMK is bribing voters. But the DMK is being targeted,” said a leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was the DMK, however, that perfected the art of distributing cash for votes. In 2009, in the run-up to the assembly bypoll in Thirumangalam in Madurai district, the party allegedly distributed envelopes containing voting slips and Rs 5,000 in cash along with the newspaper. The experiment was so successful—the DMK won by nearly 40,000 votes—that it came to be known as the ‘Thirumangalam formula’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then the AIADMK scaled up the cash-for-votes enterprise. In the assembly elections in 2016, it allegedly gave Rs 250 each to voters across the state, which helped the party return to power by winning 134 of 234 seats. Documents accessed by THE WEEK show that as much as 70 per cent of voters in some constituencies were bribed by AIADMK leaders. Surprisingly, the Election Commission is yet to take any action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On May 9, 2017, the principal director of income tax (PDIT) sent a note to the director-general of income tax investigation, detailing the way cash was distributed to voters in the run-up to the assembly polls. The note cites documents seized in December 2016 from the Chennai offices of SRS Mining, in which controversial businessman J. Sekar Reddy is a partner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The PDIT wrote that SRS Mining “sourced” Rs 227.25 crore from housing minister R. Vaithilingam, Rs 197 crore from electricity minister Natham Viswanathan and Rs 217 crore from public works minister O. Panneerselvam. “The money so received (Rs 641.25 crore) was redistributed, apparently to various AIADMK candidates, by the employees and associates of SRS Mining and its partners,” said the note.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The preparations for bribing voters apparently started in 2015, when it became clear that the popularity of the AIADMK government led by chief minister J. Jayalalithaa was on the wane. By October that year, the party had prepared a detailed chart based on the voters list in each constituency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“[Documents seized] contain a table giving the following details,” said the note. “Column 2 gives the name of the constituency. Column 3 gives the number of polling stations in the constituency. Number of voters—male, female and others—and their total are given in columns 4 to 7. Column 8 contains a figure equalling 70 per cent of total voters. And column 9 contains a figure equalling [the figure in] column 8 multiplied by 250.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The voters were profiled based on their family background, financial requirements and political allegiances. Caste, community and the number of votes in each household were then factored in to decide on the amount to be paid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“[The money given by the three AIADMK ministers] were received by the employees/associates of SRS Mining outside its regular books of accounts,” said the PDIT note. “It is also pertinent to note that copies of many of the [documents] were seized from the residence of [SRS Mining employee] T. Shanmugasundaram in Chennai, [and they give] details of cash amounting from Rs 25 lakh to Rs 1 crore paid to various candidates.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE WEEK’s investigation revealed that bundles of cash were transported, at least three months before polling, to 226 assembly constituencies. The money was kept in houses owned by the AIADMK’s ward members and grassroots leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It was split, booth-wise, in each constituency,” a former AIADMK minister told THE WEEK. “Weeks before the election, it was distributed to party functionaries in charge of the booths. On May 14, two days before polling, they visited each household like a neighbour and gave Rs 250 per vote. If there were four votes in a house, we gave Rs 1,000.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In some constituencies, AIADMK leaders paid the visits as part of their morning walk. In some others, voters were called after 10pm. “We ensured that the money reached every voter whom we thought would vote for us,” said the former minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Documents seized from Shanmugasundaram’s house had acknowledgements from AIADMK candidates who received funds. “One such sheet carries the acknowledgment of Ms Rayane, daughter of R. Sarathkumar,” said the PDIT note. An actor-turned-politician, Sarathkumar had contested from Tiruchendur under the AIADMK symbol.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In April and May 2017, the IT department recorded the sworn statements of both Rayane and Sarathkumar, in which they admitted to having received Rs 2 crore from J. Sekar Reddy in May 2016. Sarathkumar said the transaction was not recorded in the books, and that he learnt of it while he was campaigning in Tiruchendur. “The cash was received by my daughter… who informed my staff about it,” he told IT officials. “The sum of Rs 2 crore was received towards acting and producing a film. I would account it as income in 2016-17 and pay the necessary tax at the earliest.”</p> <p>THE WEEK tried contacting Shanmugasundaram, but his whereabouts remain unknown. Sarathkumar suggested that the issue mentioned in the PDIT note was not relevant to the bribery charges. “My income tax matters have been explained to the concerned officers,” he informed THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The PDIT note cites the money received by Sarathkumar as clinching evidence of the money trail. “The information has been communicated to the director-general of investigations (IT department) for onward transmission to the Central Board of Direct Taxes for intimating the Election Commission of India,” the note said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior IT official in Chennai told THE WEEK that the department had raided properties belonging to “several VIPs” to corroborate their findings. “We found strong evidence of the AIADMK having spent huge money to bribe voters,” said the official. “The IT cases against the VIPs are ongoing. But it is for the Election Commission to take action as regards to bribing of voters.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The commission is yet to act. It has not even acknowledged THE WEEK’s RTI queries on the matter, which were filed on February 14.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When asked about the bribery allegations against him, Sekar Reddy said the IT department had not seized any incriminating material from properties linked to him. “The IT department never made inquiries on such lines,” he told THE WEEK. “The panchanama [a legal statement prepared after a seizure or arrest] given to me after the raids also do not mention this. I have already clarified that I do not have the habit of keeping a diary. So any note about these details in my account books is not true.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When asked about the PDIT note, Natham Viswanathan said, “There is no truth in it. We did not distribute cash. In 2016, the people wanted Amma (Jayalalithaa) to continue her welfare government. So we were voted back to power.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vaithilingam and Panneerselvam have not responded to THE WEEK’s queries. “I am campaigning. I do not have time to talk now,” said Vaithilingam. Ashok Thomas, public relations officer in the deputy chief minister’s office, said he had forwarded the queries to Panneerselvam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Election Commission had registered 101 cases of poll-related bribery across 98 constituencies in May 2016. Most of the cases are in limbo now. It had also countermanded voting in three constituencies, where it suspected that voters had been bribed. All three constituencies were won by the AIADMK in bypolls held later that year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In some places, the bribe went up to Rs 1,000 per vote,” said D. Ravikumar of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, who is contesting this Lok Sabha elections from Villupuram constituency as part of the DMK-Congress alliance. “The AIADMK distributed cash to win the 2016 assembly elections. We all witnessed it. I had contested from the Vanur assembly seat in Villupuram then. I was not able to fight the might of money.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps, the voters themselves are to blame. The blockading of a street in the run-up to the Pudukottai assembly bypoll in 2012 is a case in point. When the police turned up to disperse the crowd, they were shocked to hear demands for money. People complained that their relatives nearby had received cash for votes, and that they were left out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the years, the malaise has only worsened. “It is not just the downtrodden [who are demanding money],” said veteran journalist R. Ramasubramanian. “People belonging to the middle and upper middle classes have also started expecting cash. Politicians are looting our money, they say. So what is wrong in accepting what is basically our money?”&nbsp;</p> Sat Apr 13 20:37:50 IST 2019 alpesh-thakor-interview-give-respect-to-my-people <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>RADHANPUR MLA</b> Alpesh Thakor is a crucial figure in Gujarat politics. He represents the sizeable OBC community, and the membership in his organisations—the Kshatriya Thakor Sena and OBC SC ST Ekta Manch—runs into lakhs. Ever since he joined the Congress, ahead of the Gujarat assembly elections in 2017, he has remained in the news over alleged differences with the grand old party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On April 10, he quit the Congress, a day after the Kshatriya Thakor Sena asked him to do so, citing lack of respect for him and the members of the organisation. He also alleged that tickets were sold. With less than a fortnight left before Gujarat goes to the polls, the development was a major jolt for the Congress, as it lost the foot soldiers of the Kshatriya Thakor Sena. The OBC leader said that he was not resigning as MLA. Thakor added that he would not campaign for or against any party, but would work for the Kshatriya Thakor Sena candidates in Banaskantha Lok Sabha constituency and the assembly byelection in Unjha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking to THE WEEK in the last week of March, Thakor discussed his agenda, vision for the society, the issues with the Congress and why he refused to join the BJP in the past. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are your problems with the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People for whom I have come [into politics] should get representation in the system. They have been fighting for their rights, but until they get into the system, they will not be able to do anything. My demand is: give respect to them and proper representation depending upon their skills. Alpesh Thakor will speak up when he finds this lacking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What made you decide against joining the BJP in the past? Did you get any reassurance from the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, I did not get any reassurance from the Congress. I have not demanded anything. The whole issue is that it hurts me when people whom I represent do not get something. I have joined politics for them and if I have to leave politics for them, it will not bother me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reason for not joining the BJP is to ensure that I do not lose the respect of the people I represent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why are you not contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have said earlier also that I want to work in Gujarat. A lot needs to be done as an MLA. I have no dreams of becoming a national leader. The issues that I fight for concern the poor in Gujarat. If I run away without bringing a solution to the issues in Gujarat, then who will fight for the poor [here]?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am proud to be a Gujarati. I am also proud to be Indian, but my love towards the people of Gujarat binds me to this state. I fear that if I go to the Centre, my closeness with them will get affected. An autorickshaw driver or a tea-stall owner waves at me when I go out now. This is because they feel that I will do something for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I know I cannot give them anything now, because the government is not ours. But the whole idea is to talk about it so that whenever we are in power, their work is done first and they should feel that the doors have opened for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is your role in the Lok Sabha elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than my role, it is important to see what I am fighting for. I have entered politics for the poor and the backward. The idea is to highlight their problems during the current elections so that whichever government comes to power offers solutions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How will you ensure that the OBCs make the right choice?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Has the government brought any scheme for the progress of OBCs? We want an answer. The OBCs have not progressed. In Gujarat, OBCs have 27 per cent reservation. However, only 12 per cent to 15 per cent seats are filled in government jobs. Why? They say OBCs are educationally and socially backward. Has the government done anything for their education?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People are going for education in the private sector because good education is not available [in the public sector]. If you want the OBCs to progress, then there should be good education available in the public sector. We will ask such questions and, if the government cannot answer them, we will create awareness among the masses. The awareness will not come overnight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why is a section of the OBCs in Gujarat unhappy with you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>OBCs are the highest population in Gujarat. I can [answer you] only when I am shown which section is unhappy with me. There are 40 lakh youth in our organisational setup (Kshatriya Thakor Sena and OBC SC ST Ekta Manch) across 12,000 villages, 176 talukas and 26 districts. I am running a social organisation. People are free in social organisations. A handful may have their personal likes and dislikes, and personal ambitions, but, this does not mean that the society that you represent is against you.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is very clear in the Thakor community that it is the Kshatriya Thakor Sena that can do something for them. Kshatriya Thakor Sena and OBC SC ST Ekta Manch have been fighting for change. In the past, there were 12 to 13 Thakor MLAs in the 182-member assembly. Now, there are 27 Thakor MLAs. The numbers of OBC and SC/ST MLAs have also increased. Those who are unhappy with me should show me what they are unhappy with.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It is normally seen that Patels and OBCs vote for different parties. Your comments.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patels and OBCs are not enemies. There are two sections—the rich and the poor. The rich do not have the time to look towards the poor. The poor from all sections of society are one; the rich are one. Nobody is against anyone. However, there is a need to fight for the poor. Among OBCs, SCs and STs, 90 per cent are poor. In the non-reserved category, 10 per cent are poor. The poor in both these sections [are the same].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You will see this in villages and cities, but we label it as casteism. I clearly say that I am not casteist. Yes, I fight for OBCs, SCs and STs. But that does not mean that I oppose other sections of society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I want to leave behind me a state and country where the future generations and my children can live united. Nobody should tell my children that your father tried to break Gujarat’s unity. They should be told that your father fought for the rights of poor. My dream is only that.</p> Sat Apr 13 20:40:24 IST 2019 saradha-scam-how-cbi-has-the-upper-hand-in-the-tussle-with-west-bengal-govt <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>EVEN AS THE</b> first phase of the general elections commenced on April 11, trouble seemed to be brewing for the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. The reason: the state machinery’s tussle with the CBI over the latter’s probe into the Saradha case and other Ponzi scams.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On April 5, the CBI moved a petition in the Supreme Court seeking recall of the court’s order of February 5, which granted interim protection, from “coercive steps, including arrest”, to former Kolkata Police commissioner Rajeev Kumar (now additional director general (CID), West Bengal Police). The CBI said this was necessary to reveal the “entire gamut of larger conspiracy” as Kumar had looked after the day to day affairs of the special investigation team (SIT) that probed the Ponzi scams. The apex court, on April 8, sought Kumar’s response within four weeks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CBI also submitted a special prayer asking the court to direct authorities in West Bengal not to create hurdles for it, like the unprecedented incident on February 3, when the state police arrested and manhandled CBI officers who had tried to interrogate Kumar, who is known to be close to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The CBI also said its officers were slapped with fabricated cases whenever they tried to interrogate Trinamool members.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Ponzi scheme cases were transferred to the CBI by the Supreme Court in May 2014. The CBI has filed one charge-sheet and six supplementary charge-sheets in its primary case against the Saradha Group. It told the court that the principal amount collected in the Saradha scam was Rs 2,459.59 crore and the principal amount not refunded to investors was Rs 1,983.02 crore. (Including the interests promised, the unpaid amount is estimated to be around Rs 30,000 crore). And, though the CBI has arrested many prominent personalities, including MPs, MLAs and ministers, a senior CBI officer, on conditions of anonymity, said that there were bigger conspirators from “politics, social circuits and the cultural world” involved in the Saradha scam. The February showdown is therefore seen as an attempt to protect these people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following the stand-off, the CBI moved a contempt petition in the Supreme Court against West Bengal Chief Secretary Malay Dey and others, citing lack of assistance in its investigation. On March 19, the CBI submitted two documents—an affidavit by the CBI Director Rishi Shukla in relation with the contempt petition and a report on Kumar’s interrogation by the CBI in Shillong on February 9. Kumar had met the CBI after the court asked him to cooperate, while granting him interim protection. On March 26, after perusing the documents, the court said the revelations made by the CBI were serious. Interestingly, while the March 19 affidavit did not focus on Kumar, the plea filed on April 5 came down heavily on him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CBI alleged that Kumar did not tell the truth during the interrogation in Shillong, which lasted for over 40 hours across five days. The CBI said that he came without any documents pertaining to the SIT probe and that his tone and body language indicated that he was trying to shield somebody. The CBI added that other members of the SIT would have to be arrested, if the need arose.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CBI cited a letter written by Sudipta Sen, chairman and MD of Saradha Group, in which he had alleged former Trinamool Rajya Sabha MPs Kunal Ghosh and Srinjoy Bose, businessman Santanu Ghosh, Nalini Chidambaram (wife of P. Chidambaram), Assamese politician Matang Sinh and his wife Manoranjana had links with the Saradha Group. Kumar, said the CBI, conceded the fact that a copy of the letter was received by his office, but did not explain why all the allegations were not investigated. “Only Kunal Ghosh was charge-sheeted,” said the CBI.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CBI also said that a laptop and five mobile phones seized from Sen and Debjani Mukherjee, executive director of the Saradha Group, were returned to Mukherjee, while she was in judicial custody, without forensic examination. Kumar said he could not recall whether he had given permission to return them, said the CBI’s plea. However, the SIT gave a no-objection certificate. The CBI said this could not have happened without Kumar’s knowledge and argued that returning the items was a deliberate act done to damage the investigation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CBI also noted that the salaries of Tara TV, a channel owned by the Saradha Group, were paid from the chief minister’s relief fund. Dey said that the money—Rs 6.21 crore—was disbursed in compliance with an order by the Calcutta High Court. But the CBI quoted the order which said that the salary should be paid from available funds. The question now being why “available funds” was interpreted as the distress relief fund.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most crucial evidence for the CBI was the call details records (CDRs) of around 70,000 calls made from five mobile numbers belonging to Sen and Mukherjee. As per the CBI affidavit, the state police provided incomplete CDRs, after a 14-month delay, and there has been no progress since. The CBI also alleged that Kumar “pressurised” service providers not to issue CDRs. THE WEEK’s text message to Kumar seeking comments did not get a reply. The CBI even filed a case against two leading service providers for not giving it the full CDRs. The CBI compared the CDRs it received from the police to corresponding CDRs it received from service providers, and discrepancies were found for a number held by Mukherjee. According to a senior intelligence officer involved in call intercepting, such discrepancies are the fallout of “major tampering”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thanks to multiple anomalies, the CBI has cast a cloud on the SIT’s investigation into the Ponzi schemes. The outcome of this battle will depend on Kumar’s reply to the CBI’s plea. But it is starting to look like an uphill task.</p> Sat Apr 13 20:42:36 IST 2019 andhra-pradesh-of-secret-pacts-and-unholy-alliances <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>In March 2018,</b> popular Telugu actor and Jana Sena Party chief Pawan Kalyan sprung a surprise in Mangalagiri, in the Amaravati capital region. At a massive public meeting, he lambasted Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. &quot;Do you not know that your son is highly corrupt? What are you doing about it?&quot; he asked. In the 2014 elections, the JSP had partnered with Naidu's Telugu Desam Party (TDP). So the broadside was quite unexpected.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, weeks before the 2019 state and general elections, Mangalagiri is once again in the news. Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh, who is the IT minister and the party's general secretary, has chosen this assembly segment for his debut election. Interestingly, the state headquarters of the JSP is in the same region. Kalyan was expected to take on Lokesh, in light of his earlier remarks. But, neither did his party field a candidate there, nor is Kalyan criticising Lokesh nowadays. The CPI, which has a tie-up with the JSP, has fielded a candidate who had lost in the past. This pattern can be seen across the state. The politics of Andhra Pradesh has become a complex web of secret pacts and strange arrangements.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On paper, the ruling TDP, the main opposition party YSR Congress Party (YSRCP), the BJP and the Congress are contesting solo. The JSP has an alliance with CPI, CPI(M) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The situation on ground, however, is very different.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naidu seems to be the architect of the biggest unofficial alliance of the season as the Congress and the JSP-left-BSP combine are inclined towards the TDP. Almost every move made by these parties is looked at suspiciously in the state, as if it is controlled by Naidu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What seems to have strengthened this belief is the ticket distribution in these parties. Close to Mangalagiri is commercial hub Vijayawada, where the candidate of the JSP-left-BSP alliance was initially Chalasani Ajay Kumar of CPI. But, Kalyan unilaterally announced that JSP would be contesting this seat, and then nominated a lesser-known leader. This was allegedly done to help the TDP candidate, who belongs to the same community as the CPI candidate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former state minister and TDP leader Ghanta Srinivasa Rao, who is known to be close to Kalyan, has also had a say in matters. His close confidants and friends are reportedly contesting on Jana Sena tickets in Visakhapatnam and Nellore. At Narasapuram, where Kalyan’s brother, actor Naga Babu, is in the fray, the TDP changed the candidate at the last moment. Meanwhile, in various segments where senior TDP leaders are contesting, the Jana Sena is either fielding greenhorns or has left it to the BSP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is glaring is that Naidu and Kalyan have toned down their criticism of each other and have trained their guns on Jagan Reddy. But the two parties have not admitted that they have rekindled their romance. &quot;We are contesting individually,&quot; said TDP spokesperson Lanka Dinakar. &quot;The BJP and YSRCP are searching for reasons since they know they will be defeated. It is not us but YSRCP which is a B-team of BJP.&quot;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reacting to the rumours, JSP spokesperson Hari Prasad said, &quot;We have given tickets to newcomers and youngsters. These are the people who follow the ideology of Pawan Kalyan. We did not entertain rich candidates and instead gave chance to many poor candidates. It is not true that we are helping the TDP. We are criticising Jagan more because we feel YSRCP is a tougher opponent.&quot;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some Congress leaders are also unhappy with the alleged secret pact. &quot;The names that were decided by our local leadership were not okayed by the high command,&quot; said a young Congress leader, who requested anonymity. &quot;They were replaced by those who would help the TDP. We can see that Chandrababu has a lot of influence on our party.&quot;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political analysts say that Naidu's game plan is to split anti-incumbency votes and the Dalit and Kapu vote bank (which is the largest in AP) and ensure that YSRCP is not the lone beneficiary. Kalyan belongs to the Kapu community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In politics one plus [one] is never two. Statistically, what TDP is doing may look good, but practically, it is not that simple to benefit from it,” said Amarnath Kosuri, former member of the Press Council of India. “The anti-incumbency votes may split. The Kapu votes may go three ways between YSRCP, TDP and Jana Sena. But, the TDP may not get any new voters with this experiment. There is every chance that this can boomerang.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is another new entrant who seems to be on Naidu's side—K.A. Paul, a popular evangelist-turned-politician, who founded the Praja Shanthi Party. Paul now finds himself in the middle of an alleged conspiracy. His party will field 35 assembly candidates and four Lok Sabha candidates whose names are similar to those of the YSRCP candidates. Even the party's flag resembles that of the YSRCP. A worried YSRCP complained to the Election Commission, accusing Paul of helping Naidu split the YSRCP's votes by confusing voters. Paul denied the accusation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, Naidu has accused the BJP and the YSRCP of joining hands; Naidu is their common foe. The two parties seem to be restrained while criticising each other. But they do not admit to having a partnership. &quot;YSRCP and BJP are completely different parties. We are a hindutva party, whereas they are more of a Christian party. How can we be together?” asked Buddha Chandrashekar, BJP spokesperson. &quot;Chandrababu is a liar and he can do anything to win elections. But this time nobody can save him.&quot;</p> Mon Apr 08 12:59:21 IST 2019 what-makes-wayanad-a-perfect-choice-for-rahul-and-congress <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>RAHUL GANDHI</b> is not the first person to move to Wayanad. There have been many before him who put down roots in this northern district of Kerala—like Pathan missionaries from the Deccan plateau, Jains from Karnataka, Muslim traders from Malabar, members of the Chetty community from the plains, and Christian and Ezhava farmers from Travancore. All looking for greener pastures, much like the Congress president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Wayanad is the land of migrants. Many have come here and made it their home. Except for the adivasis, every single person in Wayanad is a migrant,” said Kalpetta Narayanan, author of many books on Wayanad, his home district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the Jains brought their strong liking for agriculture to Wayanad, Muslims with Arab connections established coffee plantations here. The British later expanded the plantations; the Christian migrants who came later took the plantations to the next level.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before all of them, though, this picturesque region in Western Ghats belonged to indigenous communities, such as the Paniyan, Kattunayakan, Kuruman and Adiyan tribes. At 18.5 per cent, the tribal representation in the district’s population is still the highest in Kerala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A mountainous tri-junction where Kerala meets Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Wayanad has been fought over by Tipu Sultan, the East India Company and Pazhassi Raja of the Kottayam kingdom. Rahul, too, seems to have chosen it for its strategic importance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wayanad has a long history of fighting colonial forces. Pazhassi Raja, whom ballads describe as the Lion of Kerala, is the only Indian ruler to have defeated Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington and a leading military strategist of 19th-century Britain, in a battle. Wayanad was also a beehive of activity during the Quit India struggle. “Wayanad’s significance in history is as a place with a strong anti-colonial history,” said O.K. Johny, author of Wayanad Rekhakal, which traces the history of the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The people of Wayanad are proud of its legacy. Case in point: A popular college in the district, run by a Christian management, is named after Pazhassi Raja, a Hindu king. “When the elders of the migrant Christian community decided to start a college, they did not think twice before naming it after the brave king who killed himself to prevent capture by the British. Every native of Wayanad, regardless of their migrant status or religion, is proud of Pazhassi Raja,” said Jibin Varghese, who teaches at Pazhassi Raja College at Pulpally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The influx of Christians from Travancore in the 1940s and 1950s saw Wayanad taking a right turn politically. But, in the 1970s, it took a drastic left turn as Naxals established a red corridor by linking the tribal hubs that bordered the Thirunelli forest. “It was the sad tryst with left extremism that consolidated the anti-left narrative in Wayanad, eventually turning it into a Congress bastion,” said Saju K., a senior journalist from Wayanad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to him, the tribal agitation for land, started by activist C.K. Janu in the 1990s, is another event that influenced Wayanad’s sociopolitical leanings. “Though the struggle was suppressed by the Congress government, it did bring self-respect among tribals,” said Saju. “They are no longer pushovers. Every political party is eager to listen to them.”</p> Thu Apr 04 16:34:31 IST 2019 is-rahuls-candidature-from-wayanad-a-congress-masterstroke <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Early this year, the journalism department at Pazhassi Raja College at Pulpally in Wayanad held a debate on the pros and cons of Rahul Gandhi contesting from the Lok Sabha seat named after the district. The debate, however, was not very vigorous, because all the students—a cross section of the electorate in Wayanad, comprising Hindus, Muslims, Christians and tribals—wanted the Congress president to contest from the constituency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Statisticians deputed by the Congress’s national leadership had by then begun making frequent visits to the district, sparking rumours that Rahul was considering the option. Speculation reached fever pitch in the past two weeks, as the Congress delayed announcing its candidate for the seat. In the end, Rahul took heed of the wave in Wayanad and chose it as his anchor point in south India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Rahul will win Wayanad with a record margin,” said Ramesh Chennithala, opposition leader in the assembly. His optimism is well-founded, as Wayanad has been a Congress bastion since its formation in 2009.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Wayanad constituency comprises seven assembly segments across three districts. Three of these assembly segments are in Malappuram district, the only Muslim-dominated district in Kerala. The fourth segment, in Kozhikode district, also has significant minority representation. The remaining three, all in Wayanad district, are Hindu-dominated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Wayanad constituency has 13.26 lakh voters—41.44 per cent Muslims, 40.13 per cent Hindus and 18.41 per cent Christians. The sociopolitical dynamics, which favour the Congress, make it a safe seat for Rahul. “We will ensure that Rahul wins the election with a majority that will not be surpassed in the near future,” said I.C. Balakrishnan, district Congress president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress hopes that the enthusiasm will spill over into the other 19 seats in the state. “We will win 20 of 20 seats,” said state party president Mullappally Ramachandran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The possibility of such a pan-Kerala effect has rattled the left. There is also the larger question of how Rahul’s decision would affect opposition unity at the national level. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was the first to question Rahul’s intentions. “Who is his enemy—the BJP or left parties? Rahul should make it clear,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the initial shock over the decision, the CPI(M) dismissed the Congress president as “just one of 20 rival candidates”. But the dismay still lingers, as evident from the recent editorial in the CPI(M) mouthpiece Deshabhimani calling him ‘Pappu’, and a social media post by former chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan, explaining why Rahul is an ‘Amul Baby’. “Rahul’s decision will have a devastating effect on the CPI(M),” said journalist Jacob George.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What worries the CPI(M) the most is Rahul’s impact on minority votes—especially Muslim youth, whom the party had been wooing for some time. “There is a strong possibility of Rahul affecting the party’s prospects in nearby constituencies like Kozhikode, Vadakara and Kannur,” said a CPI(M) state committee member. “But his arrival has made our cadres extra alert.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has fielded Thushar Vellappally of the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena in Wayanad, making the fight more difficult for the left. The NDA candidate had got more than 80,000 votes in 2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Conversations in teashops dotting the nine hairpin bends leading to the district reflect the intensity of the fight. While the communists question the “morality” of Rahul’s “below-the-belt blow”, Congress workers ask what is wrong in his decision to contest from their party bastion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During one such discussion, a person brought up BJP leader Prerna Kumari’s controversial tweet, which said people in Wayanad were celebrating Rahul’s decision by waving Pakistani flags. (The flags were of the Indian Union Muslim League, a Congress ally.) “The Congress has already asked the League fellows not to bring their flags for campaigning,” quipped a person who claimed to be “apolitical”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Everyone ponders over the possibility of Rahul preferring Amethi over Wayanad, if he wins both the seats. “We do anticipate that,” said Abin Varghese of Pulpally. “But Wayanad, one of the most backward areas in Kerala, will be close to his heart.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nobody is suggesting that Wayanad is not a safe seat for Rahul, but there is much talk about the tricky situations he may face here. One such challenge may come in the form of kappa biryani—a spicy dish made of tapioca and beef, the quintessential food of Wayanad. “What will Rahul do if someone offers him kappa biryani?” asked Jyothish R., a BJP supporter, as he stood next to a hotel that offered the dish. Everyone near him ignored the question.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are other political hot potatoes. The Supreme Court order permitting the entry of women into Sabarimala is one. Rahul and the Congress leaders in Kerala were not on the same boat regarding the state government’s decision to implement the order. “Unlike in Amethi, the people of Wayanad are politically very aware,” said author O.K. Johny. “Rahul should come prepared to face tough questions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Observers have also questioned Rahul’s political wisdom. “When our country is in such a precarious situation, Rahul should not have divided the opposition. It is also very bad for the state in the long run,” said author and political analyst Shajahan Madampat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the state, perhaps; but certainly not for the Congress in Kerala. The party had been struggling to retain its base in recent times, with both the CPI(M) and the BJP chipping away at it. The fierce intra-party rivalries had also taken its toll.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The demand for Rahul to contest from Wayanad was one thing that united the state Congress leadership. They camped in Delhi till Rahul agreed to be their “trump card”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As expected, the decision has rejuvenated the party not only in Kerala, but in neighbouring states as well. Grassroots workers in Nilgiri in Tamil Nadu and Chamarajanagar in Karnataka are especially enthused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is one of the brilliant decisions the Congress has made in the recent past,” said Kalpetta Narayanan, author from Wayanad. “Had it not happened, the party in Kerala would have withered away soon.”</p> Thu Apr 04 16:31:25 IST 2019 diarygate-is-propaganda-yeddyurappa-in-exclusive-interview-to-the-week <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>At 76 years of age, former chief minister Bookankere Siddalingappa Yeddyurappa, a mass leader and formidable force within the BJP in Karnataka, led his party to becoming the single-largest party in the assembly polls in May 2018. The BJP bagged 104 out of the 224 assembly seats, but fell short of a clear majority (113 seats) by nine seats.<br> <br> Though he staked claim to form the government and took oath as chief minister, Yeddyurappa stepped down within three days, as he failed to garner a simple majority.<br> <br> Yeddyurappa, who installed the first BJP government in south India in 2008, has had more than his share of controversies. On July 31, 2011, he was asked to step down as chief minister by the BJP leadership after the Karnataka Lokayukta, investigating an illegal mining case, indicted him for illegally profiteering from land deals in Bengaluru and Shimoga.<br> <br> Yeddyurappa also faced corruption charges in the illegal iron ore export scam in Bellary, Tumkur and Chitradurga. He earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first sitting chief minister to be jailed on corruption charges. In November 2012, Yeddyurappa quit the BJP to float a new party—Karnataka Janata Party—and won six seats in the 2013 assembly polls. He came back to the BJP ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and led the party to winning 17 out of 28 seats.<br> <br> In recent months, Yeddyurappa has been accused of making attempts to destabilise the JD(S)-Congress coalition government by conducting “Operation Kamala” (poaching of rebel MLAs), a charge he vehemently denies.<br> <br> And in March, Yeddyurappa was at the centre of a new controversy as the Congress alleged he was recorded as paying hefty bribes, amounting to hundreds of crores, to BJP leaders during his tenure as chief minister in 2009. The controversy was referred to as 'Diarygate' by the media as the payments were allegedly recorded in a diary signed by Yeddyurappa. In February, Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy had released an audio clip that recorded Yeddyurappa allegedly offering to bribe the son of a JD(S) MLA. This controversy, not surprisingly, was referred to as Audiogate.<br> <br> While Yeddyurappa has been acquitted by the courts in all the cases, he remains a soft target to his political opponents.<br> <br> In an exclusive interview to THE WEEK, the Lingayat strongman says he is determined to ensure the BJP wins 22 seats in Karnataka to help his party cross the 300-seat mark in the Lok Sabha polls.<br> <br> Yeddyurappa delves on the current political developments and the precarious state of the JD(S)-Congress coalition government and why he believes voters would give Prime Minister Narendra Modi a second chance.<br> </p> <p><b>In the May 2018 assembly elections, the BJP bagged 104 seats, but fell short by nine seats. You are accused of attempting “Operation Kamala” many times to install your government.</b><br> <br> I did not attempt any Operation Kamala. More than 20 Congress MLAs are not ready to accept Kumaraswamy as their leader. The rebel legislators are quitting the Congress due to infighting. We are not attempting to grab power through the backdoor. We are working as any other opposition party would.<br> </p> <p><b>Why is your name being linked to the Audiogate and now Diarygate scandals?</b><br> <br> One must understand all these (allegations) are fabricated. The Diarygate was negative propaganda, which made national headlines for two days. We will file a defamation case against the people making false claims. The authorities concerned (Income Tax department) have clarified that the page (of purported bribes mentioned in a diary) was fake. I too provided them my signature sample, which was found to be forged. The Audiogate is a conspiracy of Kumaraswamy. The voice recording is doctored.<br> <br> <b>Why do you think people will vote the BJP back to power in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls?</b><br> <br> Five years back, when Modi came to power, he had made promises—of giving corruption-free governance and development programmes that can benefit the last man in society, of securing the country's borders and enhancing India's foreign relations. He has accomplished all these goals. Today, you see there are no corruption charges against Modi or any of his cabinet members. The economy of the country has improved. Traders have adapted to the GST regime and the economy of India has been equal to that of the US and China.<br> </p> <p><b>The opposition feels the Modi government's foreign policy and stand on national security is flawed.</b><br> <br> Post-Pulwama attack, the nations of the world stood with India in condemning Pakistan, which supports, trains and funds terrorists. Is this not a diplomatic victory of the Modi government? Today, it is a 'new India' that will not bend but retaliate strongly and firmly, when attacked. We must remember that the air strike and attack on the terror hub (in Pakistan) was planned in such a way that no civilian in Pakistan or Kashmir was harmed.<br> <br> <b>What has been the Centre's approach to tackling poverty?</b><br> <br> The prime minister believes in “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”. The income support scheme for farmers will ensure Rs 6,000 is directly transferred to every farmer's bank account. It is a historical decision as it extends a benefit of Rs 75,000 crore to 12 crore farmers. For the middle classes, the tax exemption is up to an income of Rs 6.5 lakh per annum. Tax exemption to small traders with a turnover up to Rs 45 lakh, monthly pension of Rs 3,000 to workers in unorganised sector, hiked pay to anganwadi workers, Ujjwala scheme (free LPG connections) to 6 crore beneficiaries and another 8 crore beneficiaries are in the pipeline. Around 8 crore toilets and 2.5 crore houses were built.<br> </p> <p><b>What about the economy and unemployment?</b><br> <br> In 2014, India stood 11th among all world economies and today, we are at fifth position. The forex has grown from $120 billion to $230 billion. The world has appreciated the economic policy of India and coined the term “Modinomics”. There is no leader who can be a match to Modi. People talk about unemployment, but they don't connect the dots. Before 2014, how many households had a bank account? Today, there are 30 crore new bank accounts and Mudra scheme has 13 crore beneficiaries. It is an indication that jobs have been generated.<br> <br> <b>Will the Rafale controversy dent Modi's image or impact the polls?</b><br> <br> Rahul Gandhi keeps talking about the Rafale deal. But the Supreme Court and the Comptroller and Auditor General find no substance in these allegations. In fact, the Rafale (allegations) has backfired on the Congress party.<br> </p> <p><b>Does the Modi wave still exist?</b><br> <br> I feel the Modi wave is stronger now than it was in 2014. We will win 300-plus seats in the Lok Sabha polls. In Karnataka, we will reach 22 seats easily.<br> <br> <b>Do you think the mahagatbandhan of opposition parties would make it difficult for the BJP to cross the magic number?</b><br> <br> When we are confident of winning 300-plus seats, why should we be bothered about their grand alliance's plans?<br> </p> <p><b>Where will the 300-plus seats come from?</b><br> <br> BJP will retain majority of its seats owing to the Modi government's achievements in the last five years. And there will be additions too, from the states of West Bengal, Odisha, Karnataka and others.<br> </p> <p><b>Have you accounted for the anti-incumbency factor?</b><br> <br> There is no question of anti-incumbency against the BJP. It is a conducive atmosphere. In Karnataka, the factors that will hugely benefit us are the achievements of the Central government, utter failure of the coalition government in the state and, of course, a host of good programmes given by the BJP government during our five-year rule.<br> <br> <b>What is your strategy in Karnataka?</b><br> <br> We will go door-to-door to highlight the achievements of our government.<br> </p> <p><b>Will the Congress-JD(S) alliance prove to be a threat to the BJP? Will the 20: 8 seat-sharing agreement benefit the coalition?</b><br> <br> The JD(S) has forcibly taken eight seats despite not having candidates in some constituencies. This has led to resentment and frequent fights between the allies. Pramod Madhwaraj (former Congress minister) was given the B form by JD(S) to contest from Udupi-Chikmagalur. The Congress ceded the Tumkur seat to JD(S) and their sitting MP, Muddahanumegowda, is now a rebel candidate. This is the case in many constituencies. The constant fighting between (Chief Minister) Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah will help us.<br> <br> <b>Will the JD(S)-Congress government survive after the Lok Sabha polls?</b><br> <br> This coalition is not stable. The differences between Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah will only grow bigger as they both are feeling suffocated in this 'unnatural' alliance. You can expect more allegations and counter-allegations. In fact, you don't have to wait till the polls to know what is in store. Even through the election process, you will sense it. The situation in Mandya and Mysuru perhaps sums up the internal turmoil and animosity between the allies. I foresee a lot of confusion in the state. Any alliance will work only at the leaders' level and not at the grassroots as party workers are not ready to reconcile. In this case, the party workers are not at all happy with the alliance.<br> </p> <p><b>The BJP has given tickets to party-hoppers from the Congress—Dr Umesh Jadhav, who will take on Mallikarjun Kharge in Kalburgi, A. Manju against Prajwal Revanna in Hassan and Devendrappa in Ballari. Does it mean BJP has a dearth of good candidates?</b><br> <br> No. Each of these leaders have joined the BJP as they have faith in Modi's leadership and BJP's ideology. We gave them tickets because they are all already very powerful leaders in their respective regions.<br> <br> In Kalburgi, Jadhav, a powerful leader and national president of Banjara community, joined the BJP after resigning from the assembly. We have strong leaders like Malaka Reddy, who wields immense clout in the region. All this will greatly benefit the party.<br> <br> <b>Is BJP making inroads into Old Mysuru region? Your candidate in Mandya bagged nearly 2.44 lakh votes in the last assembly polls in the JD(S) stronghold. What will happen in this Lok Sabha election?</b><br> <br> We will support independent candidate Sumalatha Ambareesh in Mandya, and we have very good candidates in Hassan and Ramanagara. In Chamrajnagar (veteran dalit leader and former minister), V. Srinivas Prasad will be contesting. I believe we have a bright chance of winning even in the strong bastions of the JD(S) and Congress. After our candidate, Preetam Gowda, won the Hassan seat in the assembly polls, the situation is conducive for us. Manju is a very strong leader, who can strengthen the BJP in Hassan.<br> <br> <b>In Old Mysuru region, the Vokkaliga leadership within the BJP has not been assertive enough compared with powerful leaders like H.D. Deve Gowda of the JD(S) or D.K. Shivakumar of the Congress.</b><br> <br> This is not true! There are equally good leaders from the community in the BJP like R. Ashok, Mysuru MP Pratap Simha and Udupi-Chikmaglur MP Shobha Karandlaje. It will take time for us to make a mark in the region.<br> <br> <b>In Mandya, you have decided to support Sumalata Ambareesh. But it appears to be a JD(S)-versus-Congress battle. Is it politically wise to support an independent candidate instead of fielding your own candidate?</b><br> <br> The Congress has not openly declared support to Sumalatha, but might be indirectly supporting her. But the BJP will openly support her. When Ambareesh was alive, they were praising him; when he died, they flew his body to Mandya to let his fans pay their last respects and shed tears. Later, they insulted him by asking what is Ambareesh's contribution to Mandya. Be it Revanna or Kumaraswamy, who badmouthed Ambareesh, the fact is people have revolted against them now. They stand exposed. BJP has decided to support Sumalata.<br> <br> <b>Karnataka is known as the gateway to south India. It was hard work by you and late Ananth Kumar that took the tally of the BJP from two seats to 110 seats in 2008? But you could not retain power?</b><br> <br> The BJP had no presence in Karnataka. I have toured the entire state on my cycle and built the party. With a lot of effort, a party with only two MLAs grew stronger each day and finally came to power on its own by bagging 110-plus seats in 2008. The most sensible thing I did to save my party was to pull out of the JD(S)-BJP coalition in 2007. Despite a power-sharing agreement in the coalition (20:20 month rule), the father (Deve Gowda) and son (Kumaraswamy) did not honour it. After enjoying power for 20 months, they put forth conditions to transfer power to me. They cheated us. Within a week after assuming charge, I stepped down. I once again toured every corner of the state and in the elections that followed, we won 110 seats and ruled for five years.<br> <br> <b>Do you consider the 20:20 experiment with the JD(S) a mistake?</b><br> <br> I believe that if I had stayed back with Kumaraswamy (in the coalition) after accepting their conditions, BJP would not have survived. They insisted on having portfolios of their choice, and wanted to include new conditions. I put my foot down and stepped down. Today, even a taluk panchayat president is reluctant to give up power, but as a chief minister, I chose to step down to save my party.<br> <br> <b>Kumaraswamy maintains neither you nor the BJP backed him, when BJP MLC from Ballari, G. Janaradhan Reddy, made grave allegations (of attempt to murder and Rs 150 crore bribery charges) against him.</b><br> <br> How can I stop anyone from making an allegation? It was not my responsibility. He could have acted against those who were making such allegations. In fact, the former MLC stands by his claims even today.<br> <br> <b>Is Janardhana Reddy still a part of the BJP?</b><br> <br> No. He is not with the BJP.<br> <br> <b>Why did the BJP lose the Ballari Lok Sabha seat to the Congress in the last bypolls?</b><br> <br> The local leaders were not happy with the choice of our candidate—B Sriramulu's sister. This time, we are fielding a candidate who is acceptable to all local leaders including Sriramulu. We will get back the seat.<br> &nbsp;<br> <b>The BJP as a party continues to carry the communal tag, despite its development narrative.</b><br> <br> Can you really call my party communal? The prime minister of this country is Narendra Modi, who works for all the communities. During my tenure as the chief minister too, I have never discriminated between people based on their caste or religion. Our welfare schemes have benefited all communities. In fact, nearly 40 per cent of the beneficiaries of the Bhagyalakshmi Yojane (Rs 1 lakh bond to every girl child) are Muslim women. Every girl on attaining 18 years of age will get Rs 1 lakh from the government.<br> <br> <b>The BJP cannot claim to be inclusive, when members belonging to the minority community don't get the party tickets to contest polls.</b><br> <br> No. I don't agree. BJP, at least in Karnataka, has not reached a stage where we can field a minority candidate and win the election, as we don't get the minority votes. However, I did induct a minority community member into my cabinet.<br> <br> <b>You got trolled on social media recently for retweeting Modi's tweet on 'Main Bhi Chowkidaar'. You have been constantly projecting as the face of corruption, be it the illegal land denotification cases, audiogate or the diarygate.</b><br> Show me one supportive document to prove I am guilty in any of the cases. Let them prove one case where I am involved in corruption. All the cases filed against me have been dismissed by the courts. It is only a political conspiracy.<br> <br> <b>Why is Yeddyurappa the target always?</b><br> <br> Yeddyurappa is a strong leader and they are desperately trying to tarnish his image. But people understand all this.<br> <br> <b>Is Yeddyurappa indispensable to the BJP in Karnataka? Will you be stepping aside since you have crossed (BJP's age limit for leaders of) 75 years?</b><br> <br> I am 76 years now. But I am confident I will continue to be in good health and be amid the people. I will be contesting the next assembly elections too. My party, party workers and leaders have immense faith in my leadership.<br> <br> <b>The BJP mocks the Deve Gowda family, accusing it of dynastic politics. But you faced a similar charge when your son Vijayendra's name cropped up for Varuna constituency in the last assembly polls.</b><br> <br> Vijayendra's name was proposed by the people and party workers, but I chose to abide by the party decision. To be frank, we would have won at least 5-6 seats more seats if Vijayendra had contested from Varuna and there would be a BJP government in Karnataka today. If Vijayendra had contested, Siddaramaiah's son would not have won and Siddaramaiah too could not have focused on Badami. My other son, Raghavendra, has worked in the constituency for the last 20 years and has been elected as MLA and MP. It is unfair to compare my family with Deve Gowda's family, where the sons, daughters-in-law and grandsons are in politics.<br> <br> <b>How do you think Karnataka should tackle the three big challenges—farm crisis, farmer suicides and recurrent droughts?</b><br> <br> The government should focus on irrigation projects that can replenish the water bodies and irrigate fields. Only when the price of agriculture produce is fixed scientifically, the farmers can live peacefully.<br> <br> <b>How have the previous governments fared in tackling the farm crisis?</b><br> <br> Kumaraswamy came to power by promising a total farm loan waiver of Rs 45,000 crore, availed from both nationalised banks and cooperative banks. But in the last nine months, only Rs 5,500 crore has been waived off. The farmers are not getting new loans. It is a total mess. Both the Siddaramaiah government and the coalition have ignored irrigation schemes, Mahadayi and Almatti issues. They have not created irrigation facilities or potential. The JD(S) has cheated the farmers.<br> <br> <b>It has been BJP's policy not to encourage farm loan waiver, but it has done it in many states including Karnataka?</b><br> <br> Yes. I too had waived off farm loans. But the income support scheme launched by the Modi government is not a small step as it gives an assured income of Rs 6,000 to every small farmer every year to meet exigencies.</p> Sat Mar 30 16:59:34 IST 2019 no-healing-time <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>VISHWA HINDU DAL</b> activists Bajrang Sonkar, Amar Mishra and Ambuj Nigam have been accused of attacking two Kashmiri traders in Lucknow on March 6. Sonkar, the main accused, is a history-sheeter. The Lucknow police arrested them after a video of them thrashing traders Afzal Nayak and Abdul Salam Nayak went viral and evoked widespread condemnation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the video, Sonkar and Mishra, wearing saffron kurtas, were seen hurling abuses at the Kashmiris and hitting one of them with a stick. But, what happened in Lucknow was not a standalone incident. It was one among many attacks on Kashmiris by right-wing mobs after the Pulwama terror strike on Valentine’s Day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On February 22, the Supreme Court directed ten states to take “prompt action” to prevent social boycott of Kashmiris. But, many believe that the attacks have intensified the feeling of alienation and victimhood among the Kashmiri youth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 9, while addressing a rally in Kanpur, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described Dal members as “crazed people” and urged state governments to take strict action against people who target “our Kashmiri brothers”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently, Modi’s statement came only after National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah criticised him for his silence. In an earlier incident, on February 18, a Kashmiri shawl seller, Javed Ahmed Khan, was beaten by a mob in Nadia, West Bengal, and was forced to chant Bharat Mata ki jai. A video clip of the incident, showing Khan with a bleeding nose evoked widespread condemnation. A day later, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told the media that those attacking Kashmiris in West Bengal would not be spared. According to an informed source, Khan has decided not to register a case against those who attacked him and continues to do business in Kolkata, where he has been working for the past decade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, what triggered an alarm and anger in Kashmir were the attacks on Kashmiri students in Uttarakhand and Haryana. A few Kashmiri students in these states were either suspended or expelled from their colleges for writing “offensive posts” on social media. Salman Shaheen, a Kashmiri from Baramulla who taught English at Lovely Professional University in Punjab, was also sacked for his Facebook comments. THE WEEK contacted Shaheen, but he refused to talk. A local daily in Srinagar quoted him as saying that his comments were morphed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nasir Khuhami of Kashmir Students Organisation (KSO), a union of Kashmiri students studying outside the state, said that the organisation had set up a helpline via WhatsApp after the Pulwama attack. “Several Kashmiri students were thrashed at different places by members of the Bajrang Dal and Vishva Hindu Parishad,” he said. “We have never faced such discrimination or inconvenience before.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What caused panic among Kashmiri students in Dehradun, the capital of Uttarakhand, was the 12-hour ultimatum given by right-wing activists to leave the city. Khuhami said that the mobs raided hostels where Kashmiri students were staying.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mob also pressured the management of Alpine Institute of Management and Technology, Dehradun, to expel its dean, Adil Kuchay, who is from south Kashmir. “[However], the management did not terminate my service. They issued a letter without any order and reference,” Kuchay told THE WEEK. “The college took great care to ensure that the students left Dehradun safely, in their own buses and with escort.” He added that the Dehradun police and social activists like Rashid Pahalwan, who hosted 300 Kashmiri students for several days, handled the situation well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A girl from Alpine Institute was suspended for a Facebook post. Kuchey said that she had put up the stickers of a former student of the college who had joined a militant outfit and got killed. “I asked her to focus on her studies,” he said.</p> <p>An estimated one lakh students from Kashmir are enrolled in different educational institutions across India, including beneficiaries of the Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS). Most of the students, who returned to Kashmir after attacks, are keen to return to their colleges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The PMSSS was launched by UPA-II in 2010, after a major conflict period in the valley in which 110 civilians were killed and hundreds were injured. Under the PMSSS, the Union government pays a student Rs95,000 towards college fees and Rs50,000 towards other expenses every year. The scheme aims to remove the sense of alienation among Kashmiri youth and help integrate them into the mainstream. Many students, especially those from the economically weaker section, have benefited from the scheme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At least five of the institutions where Kashmiri students were targeted are covered under the PMSSS. These include Geeta Engineering College in Panipat, Moradabad Institute of Technology (MIT), Quantum University in Roorkee, Bharat Institute of Technology in Meerut, and Shree Guru Gobind Singh Tricentenary University in Gurgaon—all of which either suspended or expelled Kashmiri students for their posts on social media. One student suspended from MIT and another suspended from Bharat Institute of Technology were PMSSS beneficiaries. Some of the colleges have also decided not to admit Kashmir students under the PMSSS from the next academic year. There are fears that the violence and retaliatory actions against Kashmiri students could undo the gains brought by programmes like the PMSSS over the years, and could further complicate efforts towards integration.</p> Sat Mar 16 14:05:08 IST 2019 defect-detect <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AHEAD OF THE</b> Congress Working Committee meeting on March 12, the Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan in Ahmedabad was buzzing with activity. Last-minute preparations were on at the party headquarters, with workers busy pasting posters on vehicles and, perhaps, sweeping the defection of its MLAs to the BJP under the carpet. The mood in the party was upbeat; the CWC was meeting in Gujarat for the first time since 1961. Also, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra chose the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah for her first election rally as Congress general secretary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the recent poaching by the BJP shows its desperation, the Congress will have to get its act together quickly to do well in the Lok Sabha polls. In the 2017 assembly elections, it had won 77 seats and restricted the BJP’s tally to 99 seats. Last week, in a span of four days, three of its MLAs—Jawahar Chavda from Manavadar, Purshottam Sabariya from Dhrangadhra and Vallabh Dharviya from Jamnagar Rural—joined the BJP. The BJP has been rewarding the turncoats with ministerial berths. Chavda was made cabinet minister within a day of joining the BJP. Another turncoat Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, who voted against Congress leader Ahmed Patel in the Rajya Sabha election in 2017, was made minister of state. He had won the 2017 assembly polls from Jamnagar (West) on a BJP ticket. Kunvarji Bavaliya of the Congress, who resigned as Jasdan MLA, was made minister within hours of joining the BJP last July. He retained the seat, winning the byelection in December.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil said the BJP poached 14 of its MLAs ahead of the 2017 assembly polls and three others before that. Albeit, only two made it to the state assembly. More than 70 per cent of the Vijay Rupani-led cabinet was made up of Congressmen at some point. “The BJP talks about Congress-mukt Bharat (Congress-free India), and it [poaches] Congressmen,” said Hari Desai, founding director of Sardar Patel Research Institute.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP won all the 26 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. A dip in the tally this time would reflect badly on the Modi-Shah leadership, said Desai. Sources said that the BJP decided to poach Congress MLAs soon after the 2017 polls. Its first catch was Bavaliya, whose clout in Jasdan is such that very few people turned up for Modi’s public meeting there ahead of the 2017 polls. In February, Dr Asha Patel, a first-time Congress MLA from Unjha in north Gujarat, joined the BJP. Asha, who had defeated BJP heavyweight Narayan Patel in the assembly polls, quit over disagreement with the local leadership, said a state Congress leader. “This was addressed, but it was too late by then,” he said. With respect to Chavda, the party was caught unawares. “I tried all his numbers, only to find those switched off,” said the Congress leader. He had resigned by then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is no coincidence that the BJP is poaching from Saurashtra and north Gujarat, where the party performed badly in the 2017 polls. The party also inducted Rivaba, wife of cricketer Ravindra Jadeja, from Saurashtra. State BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya, however, said that the newly inducted MLAs are from different sections of the society. “We cannot close our doors to those who want to join the BJP,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, however, cannot afford to ignore Hardik Patel, who spearheaded the Patel reservation stir. Hardik, who joined the Congress on March 12, had campaigned against the BJP in the 2017 polls, and that had an effect on the party’s performance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Hardik’s entry is a plus for the Congress, a senior leader said, “conflict management is lacking in the party”. It barely averted another setback by convincing OBC leader and Radhanpur MLA Alpesh Thakore to stay back. Several leaders said that there is no proper communication between senior leaders and state Congress president Amit Chavda and opposition leader in the state assembly Paresh Dhanani, who are both young. Also, the party does not have a popular face in the state. Desai said that things would have been different if Shankersinh Vaghela, who joined the NCP in 2017, were around. He quit the Congress as he was unhappy with the style of functioning of some state Congress leaders. Former state Congress president Arjun Modhwadia, however, is confident that the party will win more seats than the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls.&nbsp;</p> Sat Mar 16 14:06:40 IST 2019 is-it-a-crime-to-join-the-congress <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AT 21,</b> Hardik Patel became the face of the Patel quota stir that began from north Gujarat in July 2015. The community, which constitutes 12 per cent of the state’s electorate, was demanding reservation in education and jobs. Almost a month later, Hardik addressed a massive gathering in Ahmedabad. He was probably the only leader in the state after veteran politician Shankersinh Vaghela or Prime Minister Narendra Modi to attract such a crowd. The agitation turned violent when he was arrested and 14 people died in the police crackdown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hardik continued to remain in the news; cases were slapped on him, including two sedition charges. The BJP tried hard to ignore him and alleged that he was a Congress hand. There were even rumours that he was backed by the RSS. Hardik travelled nationwide and campaigned extensively in Gujarat, openly seeking votes for the Congress in the 2017 assembly elections. It paid off; the BJP was restricted to 99 seats in the 182-member assembly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now that he has joined the Congress, it remains to be seen how the Patidars react to him during the Lok Sabha elections. He is surely an asset for the Congress and a big nuisance for the BJP. It is not without reason that the BJP is trying to “win over” Congress MLAs from various strata of the society to counter Hardik.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was sentenced to two years imprisonment in a rioting case during the 2015 agitation. The High Court had granted a stay on the jail term, but not on the conviction. He has now filed an appeal seeking suspension of his conviction so that he can contest elections. He is likely to contest from the Jamnagar Lok Sabha seat or later from an assembly seat in north Gujarat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A day after joining the Congress, he spoke exclusively to THE WEEK. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What made you join the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When we got independence, five villages had electricity. What was the strength of our armed forces when we got independence? And what is the strength now? During 15 years of the Congress rule in New Delhi, the metro was introduced.... This is progress. There is hope and the party [Congress] has done work. I am often asked why I joined the Congress. I ask, is it a crime to join the Congress? Had I joined the BJP, then they would have said that I am a very nice boy and have the potential to take the country forward. But, when I joined the Congress, they alleged that I have betrayed the society. This should not be the politics in today’s times. Politics should be issue-based, and I have joined the Congress for issue-based politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why would people vote for the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whatever jobs you see now were created during the Congress regime. No new jobs have been created. A recent survey indicated that the unemployment figures in the last five years are the worst in 45 years. The BJP has leaders who can fetch votes, not run the country. The Congress has leaders who can run the country. They do not get into vote bank politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How will you be helpful to the party?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have been helpful for the last three and a half years (smiles).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Precisely. Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel alleged that the Congress now stands exposed.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When will the Anna Hazare chapter stand exposed? When the United Progressive Alliance was in power, was Hazare a BJP man? Is Baba Ramdev a BJP man? Was General V.K. Singh [when he was Army chief] a BJP man?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The question should be: what did we do in the last three and a half years? We worked honestly, without the fear of anyone. Congress MLAs switch over to the BJP and become ministers within hours. Efforts would have also been made to win us over.If the BJP is worried about some 2.20 lakh voters in an assembly seat somewhere, then it would definitely have done something about someone leading the whole community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why didn’t you join the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When a child is born in a population of 135 crore people, he has respect for the country. One should have that much rashtravaad (nationalism). I cannot sit with the killers of Mahatma Gandhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Now that you have joined the Congress, will the Patidars support you? They are traditionally BJP voters.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not written in property papers that if you are a Patidar you must wear saffron robes from childhood. Let the new generation decide what it wants to do. And we have come to change that only. This is what we have been telling the youth of the country—not to become anyone’s slave. Even though I have joined the Congress, I would not say that people should become a slave of the party. It is necessary for the masses to become aware. You have history. Read the history, understand it and then do what you feel is correct....</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Modiji had so much love for the poor, then why did he not announce 10 per cent reservation three and a half years ago? Why did he announce it after the Patidar agitation? If the BJP wants to take credit for giving 10 per cent reservation, then why did it slap cases on us? Why was I behind bars for nine months? Why was I being sent out of state for six months? The BJP is playing politics over those who died during the agitation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How can two swords—OBC leader Alpesh Thakore and you—remain in one sheath?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This might be your perception. I have no competition with anyone. Those who are weak will indulge in competition. I have said this earlier, too, that I am 25 and have joined the party with all seriousness and patience. Thakore is 40. I will be 40 after 15 years and Thakore will be 55.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Where will you contest from?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have not decided anything. Personally, I might think of some seat. There is a court matter also. I might be the first person who does not know whether he can contest an election or not. Yet, I have joined the party, which means that I have joined without any demand or bargaining.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the achievements of the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Has everyone received Rs15 lakh in their accounts? There cannot be a bigger achievement than this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Will the recent air strike become an election issue?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No. Did Narendra Modi fight in Balakot? The BJP speaks about Balakot, despite the Election Commission asking not to use the name of armed forces in elections. It means that the Election Commission is the BJP’s vice president. Why is it not taking action?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What will be your key issues?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Good education in my constituency, immediate jobs for the educated, ensuring that there are no farmer suicides and remaining in the constituency for at least three of the five-year term.</p> Sat Mar 16 16:22:44 IST 2019 deft-left-hand <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>LIKE MOST WHATSAPP</b> jokes, this one, too, is high on exaggeration, but it is not entirely far-fetched: “Aspirants in the Congress in Kerala have been fighting with each other to get a Lok Sabha seat. But ever since the CPI(M) named its candidates, they are fighting to get out of the list.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jokes apart, the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front seems to have come up with its best possible list of candidates. The CPI(M) is repeating six of its seven MPs and has nominated four MLAs. The list also has two former Rajya Sabha MPs and three former MLAs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The results are crucial for the CPI(M), which has only nine Lok Sabha MPs now. It needs a good show in Kerala to retain its national party status. The oft-repeated taunt that “the CPI(M) has become a Kerala party’’ rings truer than ever. Kerala is the only state where the party is in power and the survival of the entire mainstream left movement depends on its performance in the state. Hence, the CPI(M) is following a different strategy in Kerala. Usually, the party acts as a glue that brings together anti-BJP forces nationally, often under the Congress umbrella. But in Kerala, the CPI(M) clearly knows its enemy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Congress is our main opponent in Kerala,’’ said CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. About the party’s likely strategy to support the Congress at the Centre, he said the left’s support would have a constructive influence on policy-making, like it happened during the first United Progressive Alliance government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the left’s decision to field MLAs has been criticised by the Congress. “The CPI(M) used to ridicule us whenever we had put up MLAs. Now they are doing the same. It shows a lack of morality,’’ said state Congress president Mullappally Ramachandran. “It exposes the fact that the CPI(M) is short of good candidates.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress and the BJP, however, are yet to come up with their list of candidates. While most senior Congress leaders are reluctant to contest, the BJP is finding it difficult to identify good candidates. “The CPI(M) has certainly come up with its best,’’ said R. Mohan, a political commentator.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Certain names in the CPI(M) list, however, have attracted criticism. “It is unfortunate to see some names which have got nothing to do with the left or its ideology. People like P.V. Anwar (the nominee for the Ponnani seat) and actor Innocent, who have taken anti-women positions many a time, should not have found a place on the list,’’ said activist and writer M.N. Pearson.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CPI(M), however, said the only criteria it had in mind was winnability. “It is in the interest of the country that the left’s presence in Parliament is increased,’’ said M.B. Rajesh, the MP from Palakkad. “Defeating the Narendra Modi-led BJP is the most important thing now,” he said. “For that, we may support the Congress nationally. But the importance of the left can be understood if you see the difference between UPA-I, which introduced the Right to Information Act, the Right to Education Act and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, and the UPA-II, which is remembered only for its corruption.”&nbsp;</p> Fri Mar 15 12:55:51 IST 2019