Statescan en Sat Jun 22 12:01:58 IST 2019 no-alternative-to-bjp-when-it-comes-to-development <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Ever since he</b> succeeded Anandiben Patel as chief minister of Gujarat in 2016, Vijay Rupani has faced rumours that he is likely to be replaced. But Rupani, who is a close confidant of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, has managed to survive, and is now all set to lead the BJP’s campaign in the upcoming civic elections, along with state BJP president C.R. Patil.</p> <p>In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, the soft-spoken Rupani sounded confident about the BJP’s prospects. He refuted allegations that his government mishandled the response to Covid-19 and spoke at length about the achievements of his government.</p> <p>Excerpts:</p> <p>Q/<b>Civic elections will be held later this month. How is the BJP’s preparation?</b></p> <p>A/ In 2015, we performed badly in rural areas. But the situation looks good this time. We will win most of the district and taluka panchayats and municipal corporations. The Congress has not been able to perform in the district and taluka panchayats where it got an opportunity last time. It has been plagued by infighting and corruption. We will win the civic elections and the 2022 assembly elections. The popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is growing and his government has taken many decisions like building the Ram temple and has also introduced several schemes for the poor.</p> <p>In Gujarat, we paid Rs17,000 crore as support price to farmers in the last three years, and have brought in a new system for crop insurance. We are giving loans to farmers at zero per cent interest. As many as 1.6 lakh people have got government jobs, lakhs of people have been helped in businesses and to get private jobs. Our unemployment rate is 3.4 per cent, one of the lowest in the country. We have launched several welfare schemes for women.</p> <p>We have passed laws to deal with anti-social elements and to tackle cases of land grab, have given the anti-corruption bureau a free hand and have fast-tracked cases of rape of minors. We have made online the process to convert agricultural land into non-agricultural land, in order to eliminate corruption. The process, which used to take months, now takes only 48 hours.</p> <p>In the last five months, we have launched developmental works to the tune of Rs 27,000 crore, which includes the 30,000 MW hybrid renewable energy project in Kutch, the world’s largest such initiative. During the Congress rule, projects used to take years to be completed and the costs often escalated. We invite tenders only after checking everything and the projects get completed in a time-bound manner.</p> <p>Five desalination plants are under construction, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences is coming to Rajkot. Farmers are getting electricity in their fields during the day, so they do not have to work at night. By 2022, we plan to extend this to all 18,000 villages in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>The BJP has been in power for about 25 years. Aren’t you worried about anti-incumbency?</b></p> <p>A/ No, not at all. We have performed well. People believe that only the BJP will be able to provide development. Under the Congress regime, development was stagnant. In the last five years, people have seen the Congress rule in district and taluka panchayats. This is why our election slogan is Gujarat <i>makkam</i>, BJP <i>saathe adikhaam</i> (Gujarat is firm that it is solidly with the BJP).</p> <p>Development is the only issue. We have constructed many overbridges to ease congestion in our cities. Surat alone has more than 125 overbridges. Civic amenities have improved and four of our cities are in the top 10 in India when it comes to cleanliness. People have been seeing things like the Sabarmati riverfront project, the Ahmedabad bus rapid transit system, the Ahmedabad metro and the Surat diamond hub.</p> <p>Q/<b>What is the focus of your election campaign?</b></p> <p>A/ Our focus will be on development. As our slogan indicates, there is no alternative to the BJP when it comes to development.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, the Aam Aadmi Party and other smaller parties plan to contest this time. Will it affect the BJP?</b></p> <p>A/ This is a cause of concern for the Congress. The BJP has its committed vote bank, which has strengthened further. The votes captured by these parties will damage the Congress. Gujarat has always believed in two-party politics. In the past, stalwarts like Chimanbhai Patel, Keshubhai Patel and Shankersinh Vaghela had floated new parties. But Gujarat did not respond much to them. This time, too, parties are making attempts. But the BJP will be in power and the Congress will be the opposition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>What will be the selection criteria for candidates for the civic polls?</b></p> <p>A/ Our effort will be to ensure that more youth get tickets. There is no age limit. Clean image and the ability to win will be taken into consideration. The aspirants’ contributions to strengthen the party will also be considered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>How is the coordination between the party and the government, especially after the appointment of the new state president?</b></p> <p>A/ There is complete coordination. We discuss issues and take decisions together. The new president has formed page committees (each page on the voters’ list will have a committee), which will strengthen the party. Till now, we used to have page presidents.</p> <p>There have been instances of ministers being summoned to the state party headquarters to redress grievances.</p> <p>It was a new system and hence it was criticised. It was a facility to redress people’s grievances. There is nothing wrong with it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Do you see yourself heading the election campaign in 2022?</b></p> <p>A/ The only leader in the BJP is Narendra Modi and it is under his leadership that we contest elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>What are the chances of the BJP winning again in 2022?</b></p> <p>A/ There is not an iota of doubt about our victory. We will win with more seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Initially, your government had received flak from various quarters for your pandemic management. Will it have an impact on the election results?</b></p> <p>A/ People are happy with the way we are handling the Covid-19 pandemic. For eight months, we supplied the poor with free grains. We arranged special buses and trains for more than 25 lakh people to return home. Most of them have now come back. We set up more hospitals. Tocilizumab injections were given free of cost (to the needy). We have already spent Rs95 crore from the chief minister’s relief fund.</p> <p>Our Covid-19 recovery rate has reached 97 per cent and the mortality rate has come down to 1.7 per cent. Our efforts have been appreciated by the Supreme Court, IIM Ahmedabad, NITI Aayog and the AIIMS.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>How is the Covid-19 vaccination progressing in Gujarat?</b></p> <p>A/ As on January 30, more than three lakh people have been vaccinated. We are trying to get one lakh people vaccinated daily. After covering over 8.5 lakh health care workers and frontline workers, we will go ahead with the vaccination drive as per the permission given by the Central government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>With schools being reopened, when will teachers and students get vaccinated?</b></p> <p>A/ We are restarting classes in a phased manner and, fortunately, Covid-19 cases have been declining, while the vaccination drive is picking up. I feel that the situation will be totally under control in two months. Masks are mandatory. According to the Central government, the impact of Covid-19 in young people is very less. At the moment, vaccination is not necessary for them. Schools and colleges are safe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>The Vibrant Gujarat summit had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. Has it affected investments?</b></p> <p>A/ We will organise it in 2022. As per the latest reports, Gujarat accounts for 52 per cent of total foreign direct investment received by India. That process continues. Industries are exiting China and we have taken into consideration such factors in our new industrial policy. We are in touch with the companies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>You have renamed dragon fruit as </b><i>kamalam</i><b>. Do you plan to rename any more fruits and vegetables?</b></p> <p>A/ I do not understand why the media has taken up this issue. Dragon fruit is a Chinese name. In our culture, the word dragon has a different connotation. The fruit looks like lotus and hence we named it <i>kamalam</i>. There is nothing political about it. Let me know if there are other fruits and vegetables with Chinese names.&nbsp;</p> Thu Feb 11 17:59:23 IST 2021 hands-shaky <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Gujarat normally sees</b> two parties dominate electoral politics, with smaller parties standing little chance. So the entry of Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is being keenly watched. The AIMIM has joined hands with Chhotu Vasava’s Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) for the civic polls. And, the response to Owaisi’s rallies in Bharuch and Ahmedabad was good, considering that these were one of the first rallies post the Covid-19 peak in Gujarat.</p> <p>The pandemic delayed the polls from December. Elections to the municipal corporations of Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot, Vadodara, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar—all controlled by the BJP—will be held on February 21. And, 31 district panchayats, 231 taluka panchayats and 81 municipalities will go to the polls on February 28. The results of the civic corporation polls were to be announced on February 23, but the Congress moved the High Court requesting that they be declared only after February 28.</p> <p>The Congress, which put up a good show against the BJP in the civic polls five years ago and the subsequent assembly elections, fears that the results of the corporation polls would affect the outcome of other elections. Rightly so, as the AIMIM-BTP alliance can dent its core vote bank—tribals (15 per cent of the state’s population) and Muslims (9 per cent). The alliance reminds one of how Congress stalwart Madhavsinh Solanki won 149 of 182 assembly seats in 1985 by wooing kshatriyas, dalits, adivasis and Muslims. No one, including Narendra Modi, has been able to beat that record.</p> <p>The Aam Aadmi Party, too, is in the fray. So is the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), which has fielded candidates in nine seats in Ahmedabad. The Congress has much to lose—it controls 19 of the 31 district panchayats and more than 135 taluka panchayats.</p> <p>Gujarat Congress working president Hardik Patel called the AIMIM-BTP alliance the BJP’s “B-team”. He admitted that even a loss of 1,000 votes can damage the Congress, but he said that it would create awareness among the masses. “Tribals are not fools,”he said. The Congress, which has lost several MLAs to the BJP since the 2017 assembly elections, has come out with a declaration form for poll aspirants, which states that they will not leave the party after getting a ticket.</p> <p>The AIMIM, meanwhile, has appointed former Congress MLA Sabir Kabliwala as its state president. Aurangabad MP Imtiaz Jaleel, who is in charge of the civic polls, told THE WEEK that until now the AIMIM was considered an untouchable, but was now being wooed by smaller parties. The offer for the alliance in Gujarat came from the BTP, he said.</p> <p>State Congress president Amit Chavda, however, said that the presence of these parties, which have no cadre, would not make much difference. Agreed BJP’s former spokesperson Bharat Pandya. Nonetheless, BJP’s state leaders are camping at the district headquarters and meeting party workers and people.</p> <p>Political observer Vidyut Joshi said that the AAP, and not the AIMIM-BTP alliance, was likely to do more damage to the Congress, thanks to its initiatives like mohalla clinics. AAP’s state media convener Tuli Banerjee said they would focus on the lack of education, high electricity bills and the condition of hospitals.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Ikram Khan of SDPI said that contesting civic polls would make the cadres confident. “We will be then in a [better] position to contest the [assembly] elections,”he said.</p> <p>No doubt, in the absence of a strong opposition, every party wants to try its luck.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Feb 11 17:48:59 IST 2021 quota-quandary <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Panchamasalis</b>, a dominant sub-sect of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, are on a 450km <i>padyatra</i> to Bengaluru from Koodalasangama in Bagalkot, the resting place of Basavanna, the founder of Lingayatism. Their demand—a move from 3B (which assures 5 per cent reservation) to 2A category (15 per cent) within the state’s OBC quota.</p> <p>At present, Karnataka has a 15 per cent quota for scheduled castes (101 castes), 3 per cent for scheduled tribes (50 groups) and 32 per cent for OBCs (207 castes). There are five sub-categories within the OBCs. The numerically strong Panchamasalis currently share their 5 per cent reservation with various other caste groups, besides Marathas, Jains and Christians.</p> <p>“The Panchamasalis are farmers and a majority are socially, economically and educationally backward and need reservation under 2A,” said <i>padyatra</i> leader Basava Jaya Mrutyunjaya Swami of Panchamasali Peetha in Koodalasangama.</p> <p>The march has embarrassed Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, the tallest Lingayat leader in the state, at a time when the ruling BJP is searching for his political successor. It has been only a few years since the community—encouraged by Congress ministers M.B. Patil and Vinay Kulkarni—had demanded a minority religion tag for itself. While that movement seems to have fizzled out after the Congress lost 14 seats in the Lingayat belt (Mumbai-Karnataka region) in the assembly elections, Yediyurappa is finding it difficult to hold on to the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, a force in over 100 assembly constituencies.</p> <p>In November, Yediyurappa had pushed for Veerashaiva-Lingayats to be included in the Central OBC list; this would have given them a share in the 27 per cent quota in Central government jobs and educational institutions. However, the party’s central leaders reportedly killed the move. Yediyurappa then hastily set up a Veerashaiva-Lingayat Development Corporation with a corpus of Rs500 crore to pacify the community.</p> <p>In 1996, Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda had used his political clout to include the Vokkaligas, a landholding community, in the Central OBC list. Decades later, his Janata Dal (Secular) still reaps political gains.</p> <p>“The Lingayat community has 99 sub-sects, but the Panchamasali sub-sect accounts for 80 per cent, with a population of nearly 85 lakh,” said Swami Vachanananda, pontiff of Panchamasali Jagadguru Peetha, Harihara. “The community has had great leaders like Akka Mahadevi, Rani Keladi Chennamma, Rani Belawadi Mallamma and, of course, chief ministers S. Nijalingappa and J.H. Patel. [But] it lacks adequate political representation.”</p> <p>The stakes are high for Yediyurappa. The Panchamasali pontiffs who used to back Yediyurappa—who belongs to Ganiga (oil-pressers) sub-sect—are now rallying behind Panchamasali leaders and BJP ministers C.C. Patil and Murugesh Nirani, and Yediyurappa’s bitter critic and Vijayapura MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal.</p> <p>The chief minister is visibly stressed. Recently, when Yatnal confronted Yediyurappa on the reservation issue in the assembly, the latter retorted: “The BJP is a national party. This decision should be taken in consultation with central leaders. I do not have the powers to decide. Yatnal is free to take any of the 25 BJP MPs to meet the central leadership.”</p> <p>The statement miffed Panchamasali seers, who told him to either fulfil the demand or resign. “Let the prime minister, [BJP president J.P.] Nadda or [Union home minister] Amit Shah give Yediyurappa an honourable exit and install a capable Lingayat leader in his place,” said Jaya Mrutyunjaya Swami.</p> <p>Within hours, Yediyurappa retracted his statement and ordered the Karnataka backward classes commission to prepare a report on the inclusion of Panchamasalis in the 2A category. The community has urged the chief minister to place the demand before the cabinet to avoid further delay. If the Panchamasalis have their way, the 102 castes under 2A would naturally be upset.</p> <p>The other challenge for Yediyurappa is the Kuruba community’s demand to be included in the scheduled tribes category. On February 4, a 21-day-long march led by Sri Niranjananandapuri Swamiji of Kanaka Guru Peetha from Kaginele, the birthplace of 16th century saint-poet and Kuruba icon Kanaka Dasa, culminated in Bengaluru. The march has united Kuruba leaders across parties, and has put pressure on the BJP leaders. Several party leaders, including four Kuruba ministers, have backed the demand.</p> <p>The Kurubas’ demand has also rankled the community’s top leader in the state—former chief minister Siddaramaiah. He skipped a large Kuruba convention in Bengaluru on February 7; he reportedly suspects the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh of backing the agitation to dwarf him politically. “I support the demand,” he said, and dared fellow Kuruba leader K.S. Eshwarappa to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to secure the scheduled tribe tag instead of staging protests.</p> <p>Siddaramaiah, who had come to power thanks to a coalition of minorities, backward classes and dalits—together called Ahinda—cannot be seen as favouring just the Kurubas. On the other hand, being a leader of the community, he cannot deny support to the Kuruba cause.</p> <p>In 2017, Eshwarappa, who hails from Yediyurappa’s Shivamogga district, had floated an organisation called Sangolli Rayanna Brigade to consolidate the backward class votes. The Brigade had invoked the Kuruba icon Rayanna, an 18th century warrior, to counter Siddaramaiah’s Ahinda politics. Siddaramaiah lost the 2018 assembly elections.</p> <p>The current agitation has united caste leaders across parties whom Siddaramaiah had overshadowed for long. The movement promises to bring in a new leadership and perhaps carve out a new political constituency by breaking the Ahinda coalition.</p> <p>The Kurubas, the third largest community after Veerashaiva-Lingayats and Vokkaligas, are under the 2A category of OBC reservation. The scheduled tribe tag would give them reservation in education and jobs, and also political representation; there are 15 reserved assembly and two Parliament constituencies in the state. Moreover, Valmiki leader and state Social Welfare Minister B. Sriramulu is leading a parallel movement to increase the scheduled tribes quota from the current 3 per cent to 7.5 per cent, proportional to their population in the state.</p> <p>“An anthropological study is unnecessary as it is needed only in cases where a community is to be added to the SC or ST list for the first time,” said Eshwaranandapuri Swami, seer of the Hosdurg Mutt. “Our demand is that Kuruba be recognised as equivalent to Kuruman, which already figures in the ST list. In fact, Kuruba is identified as Kuruman in Kerala, Kurumbar in Tamil Nadu, Gonda in Hyderabad-Karnataka region and Jenu Kuruba and Kadu Kuruba in Mysore region. They are all in the ST list in some states and a few districts in Karnataka like Bidar, Kalaburagi, Yadgir and Kodagu. We want all Kuruba names to be brought under the ST tag.”</p> <p>He added that Siddaramaiah’s earlier recommendations to the Centre had not been accepted.</p> <p>The Panchamasali and Kuruba agitation aside, both scheduled castes and scheduled tribes have been seeking to increase their quotas based on their population in the state. The Maadigas, a marginalised community of “untouchables” within the scheduled castes, are also seeking sub-quota within the reservation as the dominant castes have cornered the reservation benefits.</p> <p>A major hindrance to accepting these demands is the 50 per cent cap on reservation imposed by the 1992 judgment of the Supreme Court. The Justice H.N. Nagamohan Das Commission, which the previous JD(S)-Congress government had constituted, has recommended a hike in quota for scheduled castes from 15 per cent to 17 per cent and for scheduled tribes from 3 per cent to 7 per cent.</p> <p>The Siddaramaiah government, in 2015, had carried out a caste census (socio-economic survey), a first since 1931, at a cost of Rs158 crore. Interestingly, it has not been made public by subsequent governments as it reportedly debunks the claims of some dominant communities.</p> <p>The caste cauldron could pose a major hurdle to Yediyurappa winning his target of 150 of the 224 seats in the 2023 assembly elections&nbsp;</p> Thu Feb 11 17:46:46 IST 2021 twist-in-the-east <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Even as millions of refugees in West Bengal await the speedy implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the Narendra Modi government appears to be in no hurry, possibly keeping in mind the implications the move will have on neighbouring Assam. Assembly polls are due in both states, and opposition to the Act is growing in Assam, especially against the provision of legalising encroachments by refugees.</p> <p>Lakhs of Bengali refugees, mostly from the Matua community, have sought an urgent meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah, demanding the speedy implementation of the CAA, which was passed by Parliament two years ago. “My supporters would decide the future course of action if the CAA is not implemented immediately,” said Shantanu Thakur, a BJP MP who belongs to the community. Shah sent his crisis manager, Mukul Roy, to Thakur’s house in North 24 Parganas to mollify the angry leader.</p> <p>In Assam on the other hand, Shah is being forced to deal with the growing demand to scrap the Act. The powerful All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) has launched a new political party, the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP), which plans to contest the assembly elections against the alliance of the BJP and AGP (Asom Gana Parishad). The AGP was formed 35 years ago by AASU leaders, following the historic Assam Accord. It has given Assam several prominent leaders including its youngest chief minister, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, and Sarbananda Sonowal, the incumbent chief minister who is now with the BJP.</p> <p>But Sonowal might find the going tough with opposition parties considering a <i>mahagathbandhan</i> (grand alliance). The Congress, the left parties and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) have already joined hands. Political observers are watching whether they can rope in the AJP and the Gana Mukti Sangram of Asom (GMSA)—the party headed by peasant leader and activist Akhil Gogoi, who enjoys the support of the Bengali-speaking community in lower Assam. The Congress and the AIUDF are also talking to the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), which used to be a member of the National Democratic Alliance.</p> <p>The BJP, however, remains confident of its prospects as the state government remains popular. Sonowal is perceived as pro-development, thanks to a series of infrastructure projects launched with generous Central support. The Sonowal government has completed four major flyover projects, including one across the Brahmaputra. Several smaller projects, too, have been completed successfully.</p> <p>Sonowal has also initiated peace talks with militant organisations, but he is seen as a person who keeps the interests of the state paramount, capable of resisting unnecessary interference from Delhi. While the negotiations have not been completely successful, Sonowal has managed to keep Assam relatively peaceful.</p> <p>The Sonowal government has successfully implemented several direct cash transfer schemes. Apart from various Central government schemes, it has launched the Arunodoi scheme through which nearly 40 lakh people receive around Rs10,000 a year towards nutritional and medicinal support. During the Covid-19 lockdown, the poor in the state were given Rs2,000. For the young, Sonowal has drawn up the Swami Vivekananda Assam Youth Empowerment Movement (SVAYEM), a direct cash transfer scheme to start a service or manufacturing business.</p> <p>“People are receiving the benefits at the ground level. The projects are not just on paper, which was the case when the Congress was in power,” said Akram Hossain, a civil rights activist. “I think this government is far ahead in serving the poor and the needy. Its biggest achievement is the proper utilisation of Central government funds. Its leaders have not stolen money from the poor.”</p> <p>Assam BJP general secretary Rajdeep Roy, who represents Silchar in the Lok Sabha, said there was a pro-incumbency wave in the state and that the BJP would win more than 100 seats in the 126-member assembly. “Our government has never discriminated on the basis of caste, creed, religion and ethnicity. Be it women, students, youth, migrant labourers or the middle class, everyone has benefited,” said Roy. “At least 80 lakh people have benefited from the pro-poor and pro-middle class drive of the state government.”</p> <p>The opposition Congress, however, called the BJP’s claims bogus and said there was rampant misuse of funds. “Apart from the CAA and the National Register of Citizens of Assam (NRC), we have a range of issues such as the lack of development and unemployment,” said Debabrata Saikia, leader of the opposition in the assembly.</p> <p>State Congress president Ripun Bora said the BJP was trying to keep the NRC issue alive for electoral gains. “Had the NRC been completed, they would not have had any other issue. So they are keeping it alive,” said Bora, referring to the Sonowal government’s decision to not implement the NRC.</p> <p>But he conceded that the upcoming election was going to be the most challenging one in the history of the Congress. Bora said his party was forced to form an alliance with the AIUDF because the BJP was polarising Assam. “The NRC and the CAA are related to polarisation. We will go to the people and tell them that although they had participated in the NRC exercise [suffering much hardship], it bore no fruit,” said Bora.</p> <p>Roy, however, said the BJP did not want to keep the issue alive unnecessarily. “We have told the Supreme Court that there should be 20 per cent revision of the NRC in the border areas and 10 per cent revision in the central areas. The matter is before the Supreme Court. Let it take a final call. There is no need to politicise the NRC.”</p> <p>For the Congress, the major challenge is to find a mass leader to match Sonowal, who is extremely popular. His charisma is backed up by the organisational support provided by his second-in-command, Himanta Biswa Sarma, who used to be a close confidant of former Congress chief minister Tarun Gogoi. The Congress and the AIUDF are increasingly worried about Sarma’s political skills.</p> <p>The Congress is facing an intense factional feud after Gogoi’s death in November from Covid-19 complications, with three leaders vying for the top post. Gogoi’s son, Gaurav, and former chief minister Hiteswar Saikia’s son, Debabrata, represent the new generation of Congress leadership in the state, while the old guard is represented by Bora. Another likely chief ministerial candidate is Lok Sabha MP Pradyut Bordoloi, who was a trusted lieutenant of Tarun Gogoi.</p> <p>Bora said Gogoi’s absence was unlikely to cause much trouble. He said, “There is a vacuum. But people knew that Tarun Gogoi was sick and ageing and that he would not be a face in the future. We have enough faces to put up in the election.”</p> <p>None of the leaders revealed much about the leadership tussle. Another possible reason for their reluctance is the fledgling alliance with the AIUDF. Its leader Badruddin Ajmal, too, has an eye on the top post. Ajmal, who represents Dhubri in the Lok Sabha, is extremely popular in the Muslim-majority areas of lower Assam and in the Bengali-dominated Barak valley, which, too, has a significant Muslim presence. He has been described by the Amman-based Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre as one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world.</p> <p>Ajmal runs a number of NGOs which provide financial support for educating the youth. But some of the NGOs are now under investigation by Central agencies. According to a report by the Union home ministry, they received money from some organisations which also funded insurgent activities. The BJP wants the National Investigation Agency to probe Ajmal’s NGOs. The Congress, however, said the investigation was political vendetta. “Ajmal being a businessman, there would have been some [acts of] omission and commission,” said Bora. “But the BJP should not politicise that and should deal with him like it does with other businessmen.”</p> <p>Saikia said a section of the Congress workers was opposed to the alliance, but the high command insisted on opposition unity to defeat the BJP. “Our workers had a point. In many constituencies, both the Congress and the AIUDF are strong. But we decided in favour of an alliance for the sake of opposition unity.” The Congress is also worried that in the absence of an alliance, the AIUDF might try to polarise Muslim voters. “Any attempt on the part of the AIUDF to polarise the voters would be resisted,” said Bora. “Assam is a secular society and there is no room for such politics.”</p> Thu Feb 11 17:35:41 IST 2021 mahagathbandhan-is-the-need-of-the-hour <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>You have managed to form an alliance with the Congress this time.</b></p> <p>Yes, we are ready for a coalition. A coalition is based on mutual trust that works on the ground.</p> <p><b>So there is no trust deficit now?</b></p> <p>Things are looking positive. But a lot more work needs to be done. We need to build up a big front against the BJP by bringing together the remaining parties.</p> <p><b>Are you looking at a </b><i><b>mahagathbandhan</b></i><b> (grand alliance)?</b></p> <p>That is the need of the hour. The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and the Congress alone will not be able to defeat the BJP. We have to work with Akhil Gogoi and many others. Otherwise it will not work.</p> <p><b>Why did you fail to form a coalition in the Lok Sabha elections?</b></p> <p>Let me be frank. We were tagged as Muslims. The Congress felt it would be blamed for being pro-Muslim and, therefore, many senior Congress leaders tried to scuttle my attempts to form a coalition. And they were successful.</p> <p><b>Who are those leaders?</b></p> <p>I will not name them. You are intelligent enough and have enough resources to find that out.</p> <p><b>So what made the alliance possible this time?</b></p> <p>I made them understand that the BJP can be defeated only by all opposition parties joining hands and forming a common front.</p> <p><b>After the demise of senior leaders like Tarun Gogoi, you are emerging as a key opposition figure.</b></p> <p>I don’t want to forcibly assume that mantle. The election will decide who is popular and who is not.</p> <p><b>I am just telling you what I hear from people.</b></p> <p>My people, too, are saying so. But I will ask you to wait till the elections, which is the real test. People will give you the crown or will snatch it away. If I declare myself to be the king and if the people snatch that crown away, what will I do? So let the people decide.</p> <p><b>Will the Citizenship Amendment <br> Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens of Assam (NRC) be campaign issues?</b></p> <p>Absolutely. The CAA and the NRC will be there. But more important are issues like development. The BJP will fight Badruddin Ajmal as a Muslim leader, but I will not fall into their trap.</p> <p><b>Are you afraid to fight the BJP on those issues?</b></p> <p>The government is closing down the madrassas. We are going to the Supreme Court on the issue. The BJP only plays religion, but I will include other issues like the absence of jobs caused by the lack of industrialisation and the closing down of paper mills. People are not getting <i>patta</i> for their land. We will take all these issues to people.</p> <p><b>There are allegations against your NGOs, especially regarding funding.</b></p> <p>The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) will decide if there is any wrongdoing. If there is anything wrong, then the Central government is to be blamed as it obviously failed to implement FCRA properly. Where is my fault?</p> <p><b>The BJP wants the NIA to investigate.</b></p> <p>They can come and see everything, anytime. Political conspiracy will not work. They want to deface Badruddin Ajmal and his image. That is their single-point agenda. And they want to finish me politically.</p> <p><b>So your focus would be on issues other than the NRC and the CAA.</b></p> <p>Other issues will also be there. But how can I forget the harassment people faced in the name of the NRC and the division and polarisation that took place in the name of the CAA? Himanta Biswa Sarma must know that when there is polarisation on one side, it would happen on the other side, too. So it is better not to play such games.</p> <p><b>Will you be going to Bengal for the election campaign?</b></p> <p>No. I have no stakes there. But, obviously, I will pray for someone’s win and someone’s defeat in Bengal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Feb 11 17:31:52 IST 2021 the-yadadri-gambit <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Yadagiri is a popular name in Telangana, across castes and classes. So is its female variant, Yadagiriamma. The popularity of the names highlight the widespread devotion to the deities of the Yadadri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple—the Narasimha avatar of Lord Vishnu and his consort, goddess Lakshmi. The temple itself stands on Yadagirigutta; Yadagiri is another name for Narasimha and <i>gutta</i> means hill. The temple town, also known as Yadadri, is about 60km from Hyderabad—and is home to India’s most expensive religious complex project.</p> <p>In 2015, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi government decided to upgrade the Yadadri temple complex on the lines of the Tirumala temple in Andhra Pradesh. Yadadri Tourism Development Authority (YTDA) was formed to run point on the project, which was expected to cost around Rs2,000 crore. Five years and Rs1,200 crore later, the complex is ready.</p> <p>Yadagirigutta mirrors the rocky terrain seen across the Deccan plateau. Previously, a narrow road from the highway, flanked by small shops, led to the foot of the hill. From there, ghat roads led to the top. The temple was perched on one corner of the hill. The sanctum sanctorum was a small cave in which stood a stone with engravings of Narasimha. Temple authorities and locals say it has been a pilgrimage site for centuries, visited by thousands of devotees daily.</p> <p>In 2017, the original site was closed, and work began; a temporary temple was put up for pilgrims. Overseeing the hundreds of sculptors, labourers, engineers and artisans was Kishen Rao, vice chairman of YTDA. The retired IAS officer made his name by executing landmark projects such as the Shilparamam handicrafts exhibition and the promotion of the Chowmahalla Palace as a venue for events.</p> <p>In Yadadri, his challenges were manifold as he had to raise an “ancient era-styled” temple complex. “We followed architecture from the time of the Kakatiyas,” he said. “Bricks and cement were not used; we got sculptors from Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu and from Andhra Pradesh, apart from Telangana.” Black granite, locally known as <i>krishnashila</i>, was brought in from quarries in Guntur district, Andhra Pradesh. Anand Sai, a popular art director in south Indian movies, was roped in to design the temple.</p> <p>D. Babu Rao, a consultant engineer involved in the project said that a laboratory was set up on Yadagirigutta. “We tested materials on a daily basis,” he said. “We did ultrasonic testing of all the beams to make sure they are defect-proof. The site had loose boulders, so we had to dig up the foundation and use technology for stitching and grouting of rocks. It is difficult terrain.”</p> <p>The new complex begins with an outer <i>prakaram</i> (courtyard) with entrances from the four cardinal directions. The main entrance is the 22m-high east gate, flanked by two stone elephants. The complex has six <i>gopurams</i> or entrance towers, including two for the inner compound. The most popular motifs in the complex seem to be elephants, lions and flowers. For example, stone lions line the inner <i>prakaram</i>. An engraving of Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao’s likeness was removed after protests erupted.</p> <p>In the main temple’s hall, there are smaller temples dedicated to lesser deities, like the one dedicated to Lord Hanuman. The pilgrim hall is 33m wide; its walls feature carvings and the arches depict the avatars of Lord Vishnu. Just above the entrance to the sanctum sanctorum is a bronze sculpture depicting the epic tale of Prahlada, the devotee to whom Lord Vishnu first revealed the Narasimha avatar. Elsewhere in the complex there are larger-than-life statues of the 12 alvars—the Tamil poet-saints who revived the <i>bhakti</i> movement with their hymns in praise of Lord Vishnu.</p> <p>Velu Anandacharyulu, chief architect of the temple, said that this is the only temple in the world to have used <i>krishnashila</i> from the basement to the top. And the mortar was made from an ancient recipe, he added. Anandacharyulu, who holds a PhD in temple architecture, said, “Inknut, jaggery and aloe vera have been used to bind the stone. The (mortar) keeps the indoors cool in summer and warm in winter.”</p> <p>A senior official associated with the project, who requested anonymity, said: “Lime, jaggery and sand were used for the construction of ancient temples. This mixture would be trampled by buffaloes. Later, jute, jaggery, aloe vera, and burnt and powdered bricks were used. Muslim rulers increasingly used egg whites and ripe bananas.” Around 2,500 tonnes of aloe vera, inknut, jaggery, lime and jute went into the mortar for the Yadadri temple complex.</p> <p>Each ingredient in the mortar is reportedly chosen for multiple properties. For example, while inknut helps in warding off coughs and promotes immunity, it is adhesive and also helps repels insects that could be attracted to the jaggery. Aloe vera has both herbal and adhesive properties, and jaggery provides strength to the mixture. “We have built the temple to last at least 1,000 years,” said Anandacharyulu. The authorities are expecting 35,000 devotees a day, up three times from the current 10,000. Collections are estimated to go up by 40 per cent.</p> <p>YTDA has acquired close to 1,900 acres around the temple, including on the surrounding hills, for commercial projects. Temple City, a housing project for devotees, is ready; ring roads around Yadagirigutta are nearing completion. The better roads, green spaces and rejuvenated water bodies have boosted the local real estate business. T. Rambabu, managing director of local real estate firm Vasavi Ventures, said that many residential projects were coming up within a 10km radius of the temple. “Five years ago, a square yard was Rs3,000, but now, it is Rs10,000,” he said. “Prices of plots have jumped from Rs50 lakh per acre to Rs2.5 crore. Software employees and investors form a significant chunk of prospective buyers.” He added that half the farmland in the area had gone commercial because of increased demand.</p> <p>Politically, the project is important for the chief minister. The BJP gained ground in recent polls and has accused the ruling TRS of minority appeasement. “KCR has said on record that he is a bigger Hindu than anyone else,” said political analyst Telakapalli Ravi. “Others in his party have also said that they do not need RSS as KCR is an ardent follower of Hinduism. He will definitely make it a big religious event and project himself as the champion of Hindus.” Ravi added that he was not sure if Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy could save Rao politically. “These initiatives do not have [a lasting] impact on the minds of the people,” he said.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jan 28 15:35:42 IST 2021 lows-of-expansion <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—W.B. Yeats</p> <p><b>EVEN A CENTURY</b> after Yeats penned his famous lines, it still holds true in politics. The ruling BJP in Karnataka is once again witnessing anarchy after Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa recently inducted seven ministers to his cabinet. The expansion was expected to energise the government, which was bogged down by dissent, corruption charges, floods, drought and the Covid-19 pandemic. But the move has brought the simmering dissent in the party to a boil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Legislators who failed to make it to the cabinet said Yediyurappa picked “blackmailers” and the “corrupt”. At least 20 MLAs have protested the chief minister’s “unusual” decision to induct five MLCs (members of the legislative council). Three of the new ministers were made MLCs after they lost the assembly elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The divisions within the party run deep. The mass migration of rebel MLAs from the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular), which led to the collapse of their coalition government in July 2019, has created deep fissures within the BJP. But what has rattled party cadres and leaders alike is the vitriolic attack against Yediyurappa by Vijayapura MLA Basangouda Patil Yatnal and party hopper MLC A.H. Vishwanath. They said an objectionable CD of Yediyurappa was being used to blackmail him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Earlier, the BJP had quotas for loyalists, for castes and districts and for people who helped install its government. But Yediyurappa has come up with a new quota for those who blackmail him with CDs and for those who bribe his son, Vijayendra,” said Yatnal. “I am shocked to see that people who met me at a guest house in Nelamangala four months ago (saying they wanted) to pull down Yediyurappa have been made ministers. Had I joined them in blackmailing the CM with a CD, I could have become deputy chief minister.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not the first time that a CD is causing a flutter in Karnataka politics. A few months ago, Yediyurappa’s grandnephew N.R. Santhosh, who is also his political secretary, had allegedly tried to commit suicide by consuming sleeping pills. State Congress chief D.K. Shivakumar said the attempt was connected to a “leaked video” of Yediyurappa. “The CD has reached the BJP high command. This appears to be a case of blackmailing and needs to be probed,” he said. Yatnal called the CD “unwatchable” and dared the Congress to make it public, like a responsible opposition party. “Congress leaders, too, have been getting more funds, and I suspect Yediyurappa has bought them,” said Yatnal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Opposition leader Siddaramaiah challenged Yediyurappa to sue the blackmailers, while Shivakumar demanded a probe by a sitting High Court judge. “The BJP is now officially the Blackmailers Janata Party, as its own MLAs and leaders allege that the chief minister is being blackmailed and is being paid bribes,” Shivakumar said. “The Enforcement Directorate and the income tax department must suo motu register cases.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddaramaiah also demanded a probe into Water Resources Minister Ramesh Jarkiholi’s claim that newly-inducted minister C.P. Yogeshwar had borrowed 09 crore from M.T.B. Nagaraj to help the BJP form the government in 2019. Nagaraj, perhaps the richest legislator in Karnataka, had made it to the cabinet via the legislative council route. “This is an admission that the BJP resorted to Operation Kamala to topple the coalition government,” said Siddaramaiah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yediyurappa’s critics said the chief minister made a big mistake by inducting five MLCs into the cabinet despite the BJP having 104 MLAs in the 224-member assembly. They said Yediyurappa went against the BJP tradition by making defeated leaders like Vishwanath, Laxman Savadi, Nagaraj, Yogeshwar and R. Shankar MLCs. All of them except Vishwanath are now ministers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The regional divide, too, is glaring. Of the 31 districts in the state, only 16 are represented in the cabinet—Bengaluru got eight berths and Belagavi five. There are two ministers from Yediyurappa’s home district, Shivamogga.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The high command had not agreed to induct all 12 party hoppers and suggested that only six to eight should be accommodated. But Yediyurappa was adamant,” said a party insider. “Even during the appointments to boards and corporations, he did not consult anyone. Party workers who toiled hard have been ignored. Moreover, the chief minister should not have publicly announced the cabinet expansion before getting the nod from Delhi. Now, legislators are making public statements against the CM and about the change of leadership. This is setting a wrong precedent in the party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yogeshwar’s elevation, for instance, has met with stiff resistance from many legislators. Vishwanath said Yediyurappa had become Yogeshwar’s puppet. “Why are you accommodating a fraud like Yogeshwar? The cabinet is dominated by Lingayats and Vokkaligas,” he said. “Is this your concern for social justice? The Yediyur Siddalingeshwara (deity) will not forgive you.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former minister S.A. Ramdas, who represents Krishnaraja in the assembly, tweeted to hint that a few people had entered the cabinet through wrongful means. Bommanahalli MLA Satish Reddy said Yediyurappa was ignoring party loyalists. “I have been part of the BJP since 1993. Today, I am feeling the void left behind by my mentor, the late Ananth Kumar,” said Ramdas. “I would like to ask Yediyurappa what is the yardstick to become a minister in his cabinet?” Chitradurga MLA G.H. Thippareddy, too, slammed the chief minister for inducting Yogeshwar. “I feel like I have wasted 50 years of my political career,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest reshuffle has also upset the caste equilibrium in the cabinet. Lingayats have the highest representation with 11 ministers, Vokkaligas have seven, Kurubas and Scheduled Castes have four each, Brahmins and Scheduled Tribes two each, and Billavas, Marathas and Rajputs have one minister each.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yatnal, who is also a Lingayat, said Yediyurappa was “arm twisting” the central leadership by claiming the complete support of the politically significant Lingayat community. Lingayat leaders across the parties have been trying to dislodge Yediyurappa as the tallest leader of the community. Congress veteran M.B. Patil spearheaded such a movement ahead of the 2018 assembly polls, but it backfired. BJP leaders Murugesh Nirani and Yatnal have been backing the demand for including Panchamasalis (a Lingayat subsect) in the 2A category of backward classes, hoping that it will help them emerge as new leaders of the community. Yatnal said the Yediyurappa family had hijacked the BJP and the entire Lingayat community was forced to hang its head in shame because of the family’s corruption. “Yediyurappa must step down immediately,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is not the first time Yatnal is targeting Yediyurappa. In October he said the BJP’s central leadership was “fed up” with Yediyurappa, and that he would not last long in the CM’s post. He even claimed that a Lingayat leader from north Karnataka would become chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddaramaiah called out the BJP on family politics and said there were two chief ministers in the state, a de jure CM and a de facto CM. “The real power is in the hands of Yediyurappa’s son,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yediyurappa, however, remains unfazed. He asked the aggrieved legislators to “approach” the party leadership instead of making public statements. And, he has found support from unlikely quarters. Rural Development Minister K.S. Eshwarappa—a Kuruba leader from Shivamogga who is engaged in a silent power tussle with Yediyurappa—told the dissidents that the BJP had a forum to express grievances and that going public only dented the party’s image. Vijayapura MP Ramesh Jigajinagi, too, asked his colleagues to resolve their differences within the party. “I had warned Yediyurappa against inducting Yatnal into the party. He did not listen to my words,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The central leadership of the BJP has been uncharacteristically silent on the issue, something intriguing and unusual for a party which claims to have a zero tolerance towards indiscipline. Some party insiders, however, suspect that Yatnal’s frequent outbursts are part of a strategy to cut Yediyurappa down to size. But the central leadership is careful not to antagonise Yediyurappa and the Lingayat community. The last time it happened, the BJP suffered a major electoral reversal in Karnataka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who was in Karnataka on January 16 and 17, praised Yediyurappa for his successful handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has quietened the voices of dissent for now. But Shah’s message on the chief minister’s future was cryptic. He said the BJP government in Karnataka would complete its full term. But he did not specify how long Yediyurappa will remain at the helm.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jan 21 18:00:09 IST 2021 pit-looms-to-pret <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IF FABRICS WERE HEROES,</b> khadi would be a superhero.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For how else does one describe a fabric which gets better with age, is skin friendly, adapts to the weather, does no harm to the environment and lasts a really long time?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now the fabric, long overlooked in favour of its snootier cousin linen, is “going places”, said Navneet Sehgal, additional chief secretary, Uttar Pradesh Khadi and Village Industries Board (UPKVIB).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a fabric that gets its name from khad—the Hindi/Punjabi for ‘pit’. It was originally called khaddar—born of the pit loom on which its earliest versions were woven.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even though the most popular identification of khadi is with Mahatma Gandhi and the freedom struggle (and thus the Gandhi ashrams which retail the fabric and other hand-made products), in his autobiography, Gandhi writes that he had no recollection of when he first saw a charkha. But by 1908 it was clear to him that the surest way to attain freedom was to climb out of poverty by harnessing traditional skills. Weaving was one such skill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, it took Gandhi’s associates a long time to find charkhas—and when they finally did so in the Bijapur village of the erstwhile Gaekwad state, they discovered that these had been discarded for there was no one to pay for the labour of the weaver. And, thus, was born the push to spin one’s own yarn as a marker of national pride. Self-reliance in clothing by assuring an income to weavers as against mills which spun fabric from foreign-acquired threads was just one of the many strands that went into fuelling the Swadeshi movement against the British. Its guiding light was “atmashakti” or self-reliance, cast now as ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus, there is no time as favourable as now for a return to and reinvention of khadi—for what could be more local than a fabric that is spun across states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, Uttar Pradesh has taken the lead in this revival. During the pandemic the state became the first to produce khadi masks through self-help groups. At the last count, the UPKVIB had supplied 3.43 lakh metres of khadi which had been fashioned into some 27 lakh masks by 2,086 SHGs with 20,380 women. Total sales stood at Rs 3.67 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The khadi resurrection in the state began almost as soon as the current government led by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath—himself an unwavering wearer of handmade fabric—was installed. The first step was the introduction of the Pandit Deendayal Khadi Marketing Assistance Programme which provided, through the year, a rebate of 15 per cent on all khadi production. One third of this rebate is deposited directly in the bank accounts of the spinners and weavers. The rest is to be utilised, in equal parts by khadi institutions for sales and promotion, and management of resources and infrastructure. Till date, 217 institutions and 98,048 artisans have benefitted from the scheme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The uptick of this scheme is that, unlike the rest of the country which offers a rebate on khadi products only for 100 days from October 2, Uttar Pradesh has a year-round rebate. This has translated into greater sales—from Rs590.16 crore in 2017-2018 to Rs 950.79 crore in 2019-2020 and a steady rise in those employed by the sector from 4.50 lakh to 6.50 lakh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sehgal said the scheme also nixed a long-standing problem. “People were bringing khadi clothes from other states for sale in UP to claim the subsidy on sale,” he said. “As a result, most khadi units in the state had stopped production. It was a big racket which the production-based rebate system corrected.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khadi, somewhat like religious affairs, has for the most part been a pushover department. But when given charge of it, Sehgal looked for ways to innovate. One of these innovations was to study how production costs of blankets could be brought down in the state’s eight factories which produced these (khadi can be woven into cotton, silk and wool). “By minutely studying the production process we were able to bring down the cost from Rs 800 to Rs 499,” he said. Seven such factories have been revived.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another out-of-the-box idea was to introduce khadi into the fabric mix used to produce school uniforms. Thus, from 100 per cent polyester, the mix went to 70 per cent cotton and 30 per cent poly-khadi. So far 2,00,752 such uniforms have been provided under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and have generated a revenue of Rs6.02 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sehgal, himself an ambassador of sorts, often clad in khadi, said, “The possibilities are immense. Just on the school uniform front, for instance, we could produce 10 times more”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khadi has moved beyond traditional uses in the state. At Kanpur, a 23-year-old footwear and footwear component company, Arvind Footwear Private Limited, has started to use khadi to line its shoes. Rajendra Kumar Jalan, the CEO of this firm, said that the pandemic had forced him, like the rest of the world, to think of sustainable and eco-friendly products. “I read of a big shoe brand trying to make shoes from plastic bottles picked up from beaches,” he said. “So, I thought, why not make shoes from what was locally handmade.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In May, the company started sampling materials and is now ready to export cowboy boots to the United States. The upper of the hand-sewn boots is made of power loom fabric, the sole of natural rubber and husk, and they come packaged in recycled paper. Jalan has set himself a unique challenge to ensure that his products are eco-friendly—he has buried a shoe on the factory premises. “In one year, it should all be gone. That is how we will know that it is completely biodegradable and sustainable,” he said, adding that the company’s demand for khadi was met by the government without delay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two years ago, the government mounted a glittering fashion show of khadi bridal wear. Rina Dhaka, a designer of international repute, was part of the show. Dhaka said she was “impressed with how the state government was pushing and pushing khadi”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Khadi needs to be fashioned and marketed as a product desirable to the youth,” she said. “The information that it is homegrown, handmade and beneficial to the skin needs to be aggressively promoted. We need to look at making hoodies, track pants, boxer shorts and the like.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another state government initiative gets weavers to train at the Raebareli campus of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). Bharat Sah, the director of the institute, said that though the government did not have a written agreement with the institute, it had set aside an ever-increasing budget for such trainings which take artisans through all stages of fabric construction from surface designing to pattern making. For most weavers such training is their first time ever in an academic setting, and the NIFT’s responsibilities extend to hand holding them after the training and getting constant feedback. So far, 300 artisans have been trained in batches of 30. “We had been showcasing khadi apparel even before this government, but now this has been pushed to a new level,” said Sah. “We have been told to design projects without the fear that we will not get funds for them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manish Tripathi, a Lucknow-born designer aiming to make the world’s largest fabric mask (of area 100 square metres), recently received 150m of khadi from the state government, sourced from all the 75 districts. Thus, what was to be a mask showcasing various fabrics and arts of India, will now essentially be a khadi mask with symbolic representation of other crafts such as Madhubani painting from Mithila.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tripathi, who is designing a range of corporate wear from khadi, said, “Wearing khadi should make the statement, ‘Hey, I am a responsible citizen’. And the only way to do that is to educate people on what to expect from the fabric—to understand that its creases, folds and imperfections are essential to its beauty.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, there remain knotty problems in the state’s push for khadi. For one, the salaries of those who run the Gandhi ashram stores remain low. A manager at one such store in Lucknow said, “I was pushed into working here by my grandfather who was a freedom fighter and had an emotional bond with khadi. I earn less than Rs7,000 a month and am the only employee at this outlet. My daughter is of marriageable age, but I have to think a hundred times before I can pick up my motorcycle and fill it with petrol to go and look up any match for her. Gandhiji lives on through the Gandhi ashrams—through us. Millions are spent on his birth anniversary celebrations. Why not spend some of that money to increase our wages?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, for khadi to be a life-saver, such concerns must be addressed.</p> Thu Jan 21 22:30:34 IST 2021 the-bjp-wants-to-cage-me-again <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>After her </b>release from detention last October, Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party president, has been relentless in her attack on the BJP. She has also been active as vice president of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration. Excerpts from an exclusive interview with THE WEEK:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Are you satisfied with the performance of the alliance in the District Development Council (DDC) elections?</b></p> <p>A/Given more time and a level playing field, the alliance would have definitely fared better. The elections came as a surprise, and then our candidates were not allowed to move freely to campaign. We needed more time to unite our grassroots workers.</p> <p>Q/<b>How were the candidates prevented from campaigning?</b></p> <p>A/The government detained many of our candidates at different venues under the pretext of security and did not allow them to move out for campaigning. Candidates who were at their homes were not allowed to visit their areas. The location and distribution of polling booths [deliberately] favoured particular parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>You said the government was using the police to coerce your elected candidates to change loyalties.</b></p> <p>A/The government machinery is being used to tempt and intimidate the DDC members to switch sides and stop the alliance from getting the chairmanship. The police have got involved at the top level in this notorious operation. The choice is, you either fall in line and take the money or you go to jail. Those police personnel who don’t want to play ball have to face the music in different ways. Whatever good the government of India tried to portray by conducting these elections has been squandered away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>A majority of voters in the Kashmir valley stayed away from the polls.</b></p> <p>A/As usual, people in the valley stayed away from the polls in certain areas. The reason being the hurt of August 5, 2019 [when Article 370 was revoked] and their disillusionment with the process itself. They feel more alienated from the system today than they did two years ago.</p> <p>Q/<b>Some people say the parties in the alliance had joined hands more for their own political survival than to fight for the restoration of Article 370.</b></p> <p>A/The restoration of our special status is about the survival of our identity as a people and thus a much larger issue than our individual survival. When we initiated this move, it wasn’t done for our parties, but for our state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>By participating in the DDC polls, has the alliance legitimised the scrapping of Article 370?</b></p> <p>A/Our participation in these elections was only to deny the BJP and its proxies any democratic space that they could have used to further disempower our people. I think we have succeeded in our purpose.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Why didn’t the PDP perform to its full potential in the DDC polls?</b></p> <p>A/We fought on 61 seats and won 27. The results in two seats are still awaited and I am hopeful. Also, we did not want to get into petty infighting over seat-sharing. As I said, the alliance has a larger purpose than elections and short-term electoral gains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>How will the alliance counter the changes that the BJP has initiated through a slew of laws, including the domicile law and land laws?</b></p> <p>A/The alliance alone cannot fight everything. It has to be a collective effort. Unless all the stakeholders get together, we will not be able to stop this onslaught by Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>What gives you hope that the removal of the special status will be reversed?</b></p> <p>A/Nothing is set in stone. Something that the people of the state have not accepted and has been done illegally, violating their wishes, has to change. It may take time but it will be returned. People were already alienated from the rest of the country, this has further added to that. So any power in Delhi who wants to keep the country together along with Jammu and Kashmir has to listen to the hurt voices here.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>The National Investigation Agency has charged PDP youth leader Waheed Parra with terror funding.</b></p> <p>A/Waheed is just a pawn to get me and the PDP linked to terror. He is a great believer of dialogue and reconciliation, and has brought thousands of youth into the mainstream. Today, he is languishing in jail just because they have not found anything against me to blackmail me into submission. Now they are going after my family, friends and staff.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>On December 23, you called the BJP cowards and wondered whether it would be your last news conference. What made you say that?</b></p> <p>A/The way they are harassing and targeting my family, friends and even my staff, it seems they have not been able to find any corruption or financial misappropriation [involving] me. So they are combing through my brother’s, mother’s and sisters’ bank accounts. Moreover, I am using my democratic right to voice my opinion on different matters which they label as antinational. They want to cage me again. But you can jail a person, not the ideas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>You said financial help to militant families was given through proper bank accounts during your rule. Then why are you fearing arrest?</b></p> <p>A/I said that during Mufti [Mohammed Sayeed] <i>sahab</i>’s first tenure we had identified hundreds of destitute families, mostly those of deceased militants. During my tenure, we again decided to distribute financial aid to destitutes like widows, orphans and the handicapped through proper bank accounts. This was done through my colleague and friend Anjum Fazli, and now even she is being grilled by the Enforcement Directorate. So it is not about whether you have done anything wrong, it is more about which side of the fence you are on. Dissent has been criminalised and people have been put behind bars under draconian laws like Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act just for disagreeing with the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>A lot of people in J&amp;K hold regional parties responsible for their miseries and disempowerment.</b></p> <p>A/It is wrong to blame the mainstream [parties] for every problem in J&amp;K. We have been the buffer between J&amp;K and the rest of the country. People here consider us as pro-India, and Delhi thinks of us as less Indian, not trustworthy and also antinational. We have always stood for more empowerment and resolution of the Kashmir issue. Had Delhi listened to us, things would have been different.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Do you regret your alliance with the BJP after the 2014 assembly elections?</b></p> <p>A/Hindsight is always 20/20, but it was a decision taken by my father for a larger cause. His only desire in his later years was to see Kashmir out of bloodshed and alienation. He wanted to bridge the gulf between Kashmir and Jammu, between J&amp;K and the rest of India and finally between India and Pakistan. He thought that the BJP had got a popular mandate and, like Vajpayee <i>ji</i>, Modi <i>ji</i>, too, could rise to the occasion and take the political process initiated earlier to its logical conclusion. Unfortunately, the BJP could not think beyond its party politics to win elections.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jan 14 14:18:56 IST 2021 masters-plan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>After the All </b>India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen impressed with five seats in the Bihar assembly polls, party president Asaduddin Owaisi said: “I will go from village to village and [highlight] the condition of Muslims in Bengal.” He may still do that, but he will be playing second fiddle to a local party. On January 3, Owaisi quietly visited Furfura Sharif—a village in Hooghly district, which is a pilgrimage site for Bengali Sunni Muslims—and met Abbas Siddiqui, a religious leader from the village who is on the warpath against West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.</p> <p>During the meeting, Owaisi and Siddiqui inked an alliance, though the latter’s newly formed political party is yet to be recognised by the Election Commission of India. Said Owaisi: “My party will contest the election under the leadership of Abbas <i>bhai.</i>” The MP added that the AIMIM would abide by Siddiqui’s decisions in all matters pertaining to the polls, including alliances. Siddiqui is much like Owaisi in his scathing attacks on the BJP; the only difference is that while Owaisi has been opposing the Congress, too, Siddiqui is lenient towards the Congress and the left.</p> <p>Months ago, both the AIMIM and Siddiqui had reached out to the Trinamool Congress to discuss a potential electoral understanding. But, Banerjee was not willing to share seats with either party. She even spoke out against Owaisi, without naming him. “Some radicals from Hyderabad are trying to create trouble in Bengal; please be alert,” she said.</p> <p>As a result, Owaisi was expected to come out swinging ahead of the assembly polls in West Bengal. But, the AIMIM lacks organisational strength and connections in the state. “As a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, he (Owaisi) gets along with Urdu speaking Sunni leaders; [therefore] he has knowledge about Bihar,” said an AIMIM member, who requested anonymity. “But, he lacks knowledge about Bengal and does not know many Bengali Muslim leaders.”</p> <p>This was evident when Owaisi said, after the Bihar elections, that he would come to the fortress of Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury in Murshidabad, a Muslim-dominated district. Chowdhury has little political control in Murshidabad today and it has become a Trinamool bastion. Owaisi was also seemingly blindsided by a dozen of the AIMIM’s Bengal leaders defecting to the Trinamool. That included senior leader Sheikh Anwar Hussain Pasha, who said that he joined the Trinamool to ensure that Muslim votes did not get fragmented as that would help the BJP. “This is the most crucial time for Bengal since independence,” said Pasha.</p> <p>Owaisi realised that he needed a local ally. Siddiqui has emerged as a strong leader, banking on the disillusionment among a section of Muslims. None of his followers have been lured by the Trinamool. In fact, they were allegedly attacked, charged with “false cases” and even warned of “social isolation”. Siddiqui told THE WEEK: “Despite such attacks and torture, my men stood firm and they will do that in the future, too.” He ruled out any alliance with the Trinamool. “I wanted an alliance,” he said. “But, Mamata Banerjee rejected that, perhaps thinking that we Muslims have no right to float our own political party. My party has not only Muslims but also backward classes and adivasis.” However, he is open to joining forces with the Congress and the left. “I am interested in them because they have not attacked my party men,” he said.</p> <p>Senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Pradip Bhattacharya said that his party would not support the alliance between the AIMIM and Siddiqui. “The Congress thinks that the AIMIM’s agenda is communal,” he said. “Also, it divides the anti-BJP votes.” He said that if the alliance dents the Trinamool’s Muslim vote bank, the ruling party will be in trouble. He added that he was sure the left would not ally with Siddiqui and the AIMIM.</p> <p>Despite Owaisi being fully committed to the alliance, it has not gone down well with some members of the AIMIM. Its Bengal president Syed Zameerul Hasan said that Owaisi had not taken into account the sacrifices made by leaders like him. “I am a businessman,” he said. “I spent from my own pocket to fund the party’s activities. I was arrested on false charges and lost lakhs of rupees. My sons and other party men were arrested, too. I don’t know how Owaisi saab could be so ill advised.”</p> <p>Siddiqui is affiliated to a small sect of Islam (peerage of Furfura Sharif) which has followers in only three districts of Bengal. Hasan said he could not accept directions from Siddiqui as he was not a follower of the sect. If disgruntled leaders like Hasan leave the AIMIM, the obvious destination would be the Trinamool. Siddiqui said he would not propagate the ideas of his sect among others and reiterated that his party included non-Muslims, too. “If the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act are implemented in Bengal, they would not care which sect the Muslims belong to,” he said. “Our brothers should understand that.” He added that an estimated six crore people would be affected if the NRC was implemented in Bengal and that they would mostly be Muslims and lower caste Hindus.</p> <p>Trinamool leaders feel that the involvement of the AIMIM and the Furfura Sharif sect in the elections would not alter the scenario. “Muslims will vote for the TMC as they have tasted us,” said Firhad Hakim, Trinamool leader and cabinet minister. “We have addressed all the issues of minorities. Why would there be a need for another party?” Siddiqui has launched a massive campaign in rural Bengal. The AIMIM will get involved in the coming months and also help financially. If Muslims in West Bengal respond to Siddiqui and Owaisi, Banerjee must worry. &nbsp;</p> Thu Jan 14 14:09:59 IST 2021 courting-trouble <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>On December 23,</b> the Central Bureau of Investigation submitted a 271-page application in the Supreme Court, claiming that the constitutional machinery in West Bengal had collapsed and alleging that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was involved in the 2013 Saradha scam. The Supreme Court had asked the CBI to investigate the case; initially, a special investigation team headed by Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar had probed it.</p> <p>The application also sought custodial interrogation of Kumar. The CBI accused him of not investigating the Saradha scam case and of even returning crucial documents and laptops to the prime accused.</p> <p>Banerjee could have a troubling January as the apex court is also set to hear a handful of other cases related to the state administration. This includes a case the BJP filed regarding “rampant violence” during the 2019 elections.</p> <p>The application, a copy of which THE WEEK has, details the alleged mistreatment CBI officials faced while investigating the multi-crore Saradha scam. In February 2019, the state police had stopped CBI officials from interrogating Kumar. “[This] clearly points [to] the concerted institutional connivance [in the state] and a complete breakdown of the rule of law and constitutional machinery,” read the application.</p> <p>In an interview with THE WEEK (issue dated January 3, 2021), West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar had also claimed such a “breakdown of the constitutional machinery”. He said he had flagged it in a report to the Centre.</p> <p>The CBI’s application comes weeks before a full bench of the Election Commission is scheduled to visit the state. Sudeep Jain, the deputy election commissioner who recently visited north and south Bengal, reportedly told his officers in the state: “The commission would not accept a single deviation from the rule.”</p> <p>The state BJP, meanwhile, does not want the upcoming assembly elections to be held under the Trinamool’s administrative control. Said BJP national spokesperson Raju Bista: “The state administration should in no way control a single officer during the elections. If that means imposition of President’s rule, then so be it.”</p> <p>As for the Saradha scam, the CBI said in the application: “[There is] a larger conspiracy between highly placed state authorities and companies under the investigation, which requires full and thorough investigation by the CBI; [the investigation] is being deliberately scuttled by the concrete efforts of the state authorities/contemners.”</p> <p>The agency also brought up the 93-page letter Trinamool leader Kunal Ghosh, an accused in the case, had written to it in 2014; he had then called Banerjee the “biggest beneficiary” of the scam. The CBI also cited the interrogation of Ghosh by the Enforcement Directorate in 2013, which seemed to have revealed more information. Importantly, under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, confessions or statements made before an ED official are admissible in court; this is not the case with other agencies.</p> <p>The CBI also claimed that, despite the gravity of Ghosh’s allegations, the state police made him withdraw his application for recording his statement, under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code.</p> <p>Asked about this, Arindam Das, senior advocate at the Calcutta High Court, said: “Of course, the state police is liable to answer why Ghosh’s statement was not taken when he wanted it to be taken during his long stay in police custody.”</p> <p>Quoting the ED’s interrogation, the CBI said in the application: “[The] West Bengal chief minister and the promoter of Saradha Group Sudipta Sen had [a] very good relationship. [She] used to talk to Sen using [Ghosh’s] phone. It is submitted that call detail records of two numbers of Sen, spanning one year, revealed that Ghosh and [he] had contacted 298 times on one number and 9 times on the other number.”</p> <p>The CBI said that the ED investigation revealed that Sudipta Sen and Alchemist Group chief K.D. Singh—who was accused in a money laundering case and later became a Rajya Sabha member (with Trinamool’s support)—funded the 2011 state elections “to the tune of crores of rupees”. “Kunal Ghosh said that Rajat Mazumdar (former Bengal IPS officer) and Mukul Roy (currently BJP national vice president) were the key players in this election funding by Saradha group Ponzi companies,” said the application. “[A] minimum of 205 candidates were given Rs25 lakh each in cash, other than the overall expenditure.”</p> <p>In the application, the CBI also cited the ED interrogation of another witness—Safiqur Rehman, a senior employee of Saradha Group, had reportedly told the ED: “When [the] chief minister contested [the assembly election], Sudipta Sen was forced to sponsor all the (Durga) pujas of Bhawanipur, Kolkata.”</p> <p>The CBI also claimed: “More than Rs6.21 crore has been paid [from] the chief minister’s relief fund (for disasters) to Tara TV, which was a media company under the Saradha Group.” The agency said it had sent letters to the state chief secretary in this regard, but the responses were “evasive”.</p> <p>In another startling accusation, the CBI said that, apart from the Saradha Group, several other companies such as Rose Valley Group, Tower Group, Pailan Group and Angel Agro Group had paid lakhs of rupees for Banerjee’s paintings, “steered by certain persons linked to the highest state authorities”.</p> <p>Ghosh said that the CBI submitting the application was a judicial matter that should not be discussed now. “I want Mukul Roy to be arrested,” he said.</p> <p>Roy was not available for comment, but the state BJP said in a statement: “The law would be same for everyone. The CBI would have every right to interrogate Mukul Roy again if the need arises.”</p> <p>The application also detailed how the Bengal police “harassed and tortured” CBI officers on February 3, 2019. On February 4, the CBI had filed a contempt petition in the Supreme Court against top state officials, but had not given details of the “harassment”.</p> <p>CBI officer Tathagat Vardan and CBI (East) Joint Director Pankaj Srivastava have attached letters describing their experience, along with the CBI’s application.</p> <p>Said a CBI source: “Our prime intention was not to focus on the assault. Our intention was to bring the issue of custodial interrogation of Kumar to the apex court. Once the court accepted that prayer, we are highlighting our harassment issue so that hindrances can be eradicated.”</p> <p>Interestingly, Srivastava was moved out of Kolkata to Delhi earlier this year; he is overseeing the investigation from there. When asked why such a step was taken, a home ministry official told THE WEEK that the state police had attacked Srivastava’s family, including his wife and young child. “They cannot live there without fear,” said the source. “The child has had psychological problems since that evening.”</p> <p>The application also described in detail how CBI officers were detained by the state police. When Vardan and other CBI officials reached Kumar’s home, a security personnel asked them to accompany him to a state police vehicle parked across the road. There, the CBI officers were whisked away in the vehicle.</p> <p>The CBI alleged that Kolkata Police officers held senior CBI officer V.P. Singh “by the throat”. The CBI apparently asked K. Jayaraman, additional commissioner of Kolkata Police, for protection, but it was not granted. The Central Reserve Police Force was then deployed to control the situation.</p> <p>In another allegation, the CBI said that the Intelligence Bureau had, in 2009, written to the Bengal chief secretary, warning him of several Ponzi companies. The CBI later asked the chief secretary about this, but apparently got no reply. “Saradha chit fund [operated] from 2008 to 2013,” said the application.</p> <p>The CBI also alleged that Banerjee defended the Kolkata Police’s actions. “[Shortly after the violence,] the chief minister visited the residence of Kumar [and] described him as one of the best police officers in the world,” said the application. “She delivered a provocative public speech terming the CBI action illegal. Thereafter, she staged a <i>dharna</i> at Metro Channel, Kolkata, which was attended by top police officers in uniform.”</p> <p>Banerjee has been in a fight with the Centre for long. Now, she could be looking at another battle. All eyes are on the Supreme Court.&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 31 16:10:33 IST 2020 the-dying-lake <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Haseen taaron ki aankhon <br> se bahaa, aab</i></p> <p><i>Qile ke pass us paani ka talaab</i></p> <p>(The water shed from the eyes of beautiful stars/ that lake near the fort)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Poet Inayatullah Khan</b> ‘Naadaan’ described Bhopal’s Upper Lake thus in 1785. The lake has found reference in other literary works, too, like in poet Basit Bhopali’s 1950s couplet, where he wonders, “<i>Talaab ka paani hai ki chandni sayyal</i>&nbsp;(Is it the lake’s water or liquid moonlight)….”</p> <p>It is not just&nbsp;<i>shayars</i>&nbsp;(poets) of yore, but also today’s young who cannot stop gushing about the lake.&nbsp;Ananya Choudhary, 12, is a regular visitor to the lake. “This is such a beautiful lake and so many people get drinking water from it, too,” she says. “I want it to remain safe and beautiful so that future generations can also see the lake and benefit from it.”</p> <p>With a catchment area of 361sqkm and spanning Bhopal and Sehore districts, the Upper Lake or Bada Talaab is the capital’s lifeline. It provides drinking water to one-third of the city’s population. Together with the Lower Lake (Chhota Talaab), it is a designated wetland (Bhoj Wetland) and a Ramsar site. The lake got the international tag owing to its biodiversity and for being a habitat of the endangered sarus crane.</p> <p>As per popular lore, the lake was commissioned by&nbsp;Raja Bhoj in the first half of the 11th century. But historian Syed Ashfaq Ali, in his&nbsp;<i>Bhopal: Past and Present&nbsp;</i>(1969), attributes its construction to Kalyan Singh, the king’s minister. <i>The Imperial Gazetteer of Central India</i> (1908), too, states the same, but credits the construction of a bigger lake—Tal Lake near Bhojpur—to the monarch, who reportedly filled it to ward off a curse. But a report on Malwa and adjoining districts by British administrator Sir John Malcolm, who was made in-charge of central India in 1818, suggests that the now non-existent Tal Lake “might be of an earlier date”. Likewise, Shyam Munshi, in his 2017 book, <i>Bhopal: Sirf Naksh-e-Qadam Reh Gaye</i>, says that the Bhopal lake was built by Gond rulers, much before Raja Bhoj’s time, and that it was the Bhojpur lake that was commissioned by the king.</p> <p>The current dispute surrounding the lake, however, has little to do with its past and everything with its future. According to various studies quoted in an unpublished draft report by the CEPT University in Ahmedabad, the lifespan of the lake could be anywhere between&nbsp;21 years to 555 years. Based on the varying figures in the studies, the report—submitted to the state government in 2015—puts the average lifespan of the lake at 222 years. As writer Shams Ur Rehman Alavi says, “It is depressing to think that a lake that has survived for 10 centuries and gives so much to the residents of Bhopal could be facing a threat just because of bad management and planning in the last three to four decades.”</p> <p>Experts say that the lake is shrinking, getting shallower and its water quality worsening owing to sedimentation, encroachment and inflow of untreated sewage from nearby settlements.&nbsp;For several years, there has been rampant illegal construction on the northern side of the lake. In July 2014, the central zone bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the state to ban all construction within 300m of the full tank level (FTL) of the Upper Lake, but to no avail.</p> <p>“What is more shocking is that in the name of development, even the Bhopal Municipal Corporation and other government agencies have encroached upon the lake,” says environment management expert Pradip Kumar Nandi, who was closely associated with the Bhoj Wetland Project on the Upper Lake. The state tourism department, for instance, constructed a boat club on the lake’s southern side and an entertainment park along its spill channel. This led to an increase in commercial activity. The Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC) leased out land near the boat club for restaurants and food joints and also installed the state’s largest musical fountain near the boat club, without assessment of their impact on the lake.</p> <p>Recently, the BMC constructed a 2.5km-long walkway from Khanugaon to Karbala along with a wall on the edge of the lake, part of which was within the full tank level. Following protests, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan visited the site and ordered the demolition of the wall. After a brief halt, the BMC went ahead with the construction and extended the wall to VIP road.</p> <p>Moreover, the flow of untreated sewage water continued even after the implementation of the sewerage scheme in 23 wards under the Bhoj Wetland Project. All because the BMC did not connect the houses with the main line.</p> <p>There is also concern that the BMC put up faulty FTL demarcation pillars in 2012-2013. Following heavy rains in July 2016, the water level in the lake rose to 1,662.20ft (less than the FTL of 1,666.80ft), but many pillars got submerged. This indicates faulty demarcation. The NGT, in July 2016, ordered the BMC to properly demarcate the FTL for defining the ‘no construction zone’ around the lake. But many pillars were again found submerged during the monsoon in 2019 and 2020.</p> <p>What has irked environment experts and citizens the most is the draft Bhopal Development Plan 2031. The Bhopal Citizens’ Forum has challenged it in the High Court. The draft plan proposes to expand the planning area from 601.06sqkm (as in BDP 2005) to 1,016sqkm through inclusion of villages falling in the catchment area. The plan ignores various encroachments around the lake and rather proposes relaxation of rules for construction in the catchment area, say experts.</p> <p>Also, a 45m-wide road is proposed over and across the Upper Lake on the southern side, which will destroy the thick vegetation around the lake. Objection has been raised against the draft plan misrepresenting an area on the banks of the lake—currently being used illegally as a “marriage garden”, along the Bhopal-Indore Road—as a residential area, and allowing “permissible activities” on the 24m-wide road. The forum has called this a clear attempt to regularise the marriage garden “at the cost of life and ecology of the lake”.</p> <p>IPS officer Arun Gurtoo, who filed the PIL on behalf of the forum, says that Bhopal’s unique climate, temperature balance, tourism attraction and even its significant drinking water needs are closely linked to the Upper Lake. “Unfortunately, people have not realised its importance,” says Gurtoo, who retired as director general of the state’s Lokayukta police establishment. “More unfortunately, the people in powerful positions are least bothered.”</p> <p>A member of the State Wetland Authority, Abhilash Khandekar is worried about the threats being posed to the lake by government agencies. “I appeal to the chief minister to save the lake as without it, Bhopal’s identity will be under threat,” he says.</p> <p>Nandi, who is director general of the National Centre for Human Settlements and Environment, an NGO, has a few suggestions to save the lake, starting with imposing restrictions on activities in the catchment area and preventing encroachment within the buffer zone and flow of untreated sewage water into the lake. Also, regular de-silting and de-weeding should be done, he says. Historian Rizwanuddin Ansari, citing a project on a manmade lake in Belgium, suggests creating a 50ft-wide green belt or park around the lake, so that it works as a ‘green barrier’ against encroachments. &nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 31 16:03:34 IST 2020 government-is-committed-to-conservation-of-upper-lake <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Q/<b>What is the government doing to tackle encroachments, flow of untreated sewage water and drying up of feeder rivulets to the Upper Lake?</b></p> <p>A/Demarcation of full tank level of the Upper Lake has been completed. The Bhopal district administration and the Bhopal Municipal Corporation regularly undertake anti-encroachment drive around the lake. We will ensure that such drives are taken up more stringently. Steps are being taken to ensure that sewage does not flow into the lake. A sewage project is underway in the city, which will prove beneficial for the lake.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>The recently published draft of the Bhopal Development Plan 2031 allows more construction around the lake, thereby reducing the green belt.</b></p> <p>A/As per the rules, a public hearing has been conducted on the draft BDP 2031. Further process according to the rules is underway. The government will approve the plan only after looking into the pros and cons. If there are any objections to the draft plan, then they would be redressed keeping in mind the conservation of the lake.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>The Upper Lake is a wetland, a Ramsar site and is home to many birds and other life forms. But the conservation efforts do not match up to its importance.</b></p> <p>A/The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, have been notified under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The draft&nbsp;BDP&nbsp;2031 will be reviewed in the context that the Upper Lake is also part of the Bhoj wetland. Provisions will be made in the draft plan for the wetland area according to the advice of the Madhya Pradesh State Wetland Authority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>According to a draft report by the CEPT University in Ahmedabad, the lake might cease to exist in 200 years without proper conservation. Will the government take remedial steps?</b></p> <p>A/All steps will be taken to conserve the Upper Lake, and wherever necessary, provisions will be made in the rules. The government has already initiated steps in this regard. Experts have been nominated on the State Wetland Authority from the fields of hydrology, fisheries, wetland ecosystem, landscape planning, socio-economy and other co-opted members. The conservation plans will be taken up with their guidance only.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>What other steps does the government propose for conservation of the Upper Lake?</b></p> <p>A/As of now, the BDP 2031 has not been approved. The state government is committed to conservation of the Upper Lake. The chief minister has also accorded priority to lake conservation. All factors will be taken into consideration before approving the BDP draft.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 31 15:04:39 IST 2020 murder-for-medals <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Jammu and Kashmir</b> Police have charged an Indian Army officer—Captain Bhoopendra Singh alias Major Basheer Khan of 62 Rashtriya Rifles—and two civilians—Tabish Nazir from Chowgam, Shopian, and Bilal Ahmad Lone from Nikas, Pulwama—for killing three Rajouri youth in a fake encounter on July 18 at Amshipora, Shopian. The victims—Abrar Khan, Abrar Ahmed and Imtiaz Ahmed—were cousins.</p> <p>After the encounter, the Army had released a statement calling the victims “three unidentified terrorists”. “During the search, terrorists fired upon Army personnel and the encounter started,” said the statement. It also mentioned that arms and ammunition were recovered from the site of the encounter.</p> <p>Local residents and regional political parties were furious about the incident. Soon it became the first fake encounter case registered in Jammu and Kashmir after it was made a Union territory, after the families of the victims claimed that the trio were ordinary labourers.</p> <p>The families had filed a missing person’s report on August 9. The following day, when photos of the “militants” killed in Amshipora appeared on social media, they were shocked to see the resemblance with their sons. Soon they went to the police and urged them to trace the trio.</p> <p>The Army was quick to initiate a court of inquiry into the incident. After the DNA samples of the trio matched the samples taken from the families, the allegations of a fake encounter gathered substance.</p> <p>Nazir and Lone were taken into judicial custody on July 28, while Singh is yet to be formally arrested because of the immunity he enjoys under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.</p> <p>The informers in Jammu and Kashmir are paid cash rewards for providing intelligence on militants, and the security forces teams that carry out the operation receive bounties placed on militants based on the grade—A+, A, B+, B and C. The charge­-sheet filed in the court of the chief judicial magistrate in Shopian on December 26 accuses Singh of furnishing “false information” to mislead senior officers, and of getting an FIR lodged to further his motive of claiming the bounty.</p> <p>According to the charge-sheet, the victims were abducted from their rented accommodation at Chowgam by the accused, taken in a car and executed. Allegedly, illegally procured weapons were planted on them. “The vehicle... with registration number DL 8CU 0649, which was used for abduction and transportation of the victims, was seized as evidence,” says the charge-sheet.</p> <p>The accused have been charged with murder, criminal conspiracy and destruction of evidence. The charge-sheet says Imtiaz had been working with a person named Muhammad Yousuf from Chowgam since 2018. His cousins had joined him there for work. Khan’s father, Muhammad Yousuf Khan, said he was satisfied with the investigations. “The captain who killed my son should be hanged,” he said. “They killed him in cold blood along with the other two boys for money and medals.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 31 14:25:10 IST 2020 red-bricks-and-brickbats <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Raghuram Rajan,</b> Mallika Sarabhai, Kiran Karnik, Arvind Subramanian, Ajaypal Singh Banga, Harsha Bhogle, Chetan Bhagat.... These are a few of the names that are part of the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad’s 33,000-strong alumni base.</p> <p>But, that base is now divided over IIMA’s decision to demolish and rebuild at least 14 of the 18 dormitories in the iconic red-brick campus designed by American architect Louis Kahn. Kahn’s children wrote to IIMA director Errol D’Souza, urging him to reconsider the decision and preserve the legacy of their father, who died 46 years ago.</p> <p>On December 23, D’Souza wrote to the alumni informing them of the circumstances that led to the decision. He explained that the buildings were dilapidated and also shared the advice given by international restoration consultants. What seems to have irked many is D’Souza’s statement that the bricks used by Kahn were not “best in class”; he cited Indian Standards (IS 3102-1971) to say the bricks were second class.</p> <p>Architect B.V. Doshi, who had convinced Kahn to take on the IIMA project, said that the American architect had spent 14 years to make the campus what it is. The Padma Bhushan awardee said Kahn had agreed after he was told that Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier had designed buildings in Ahmedabad. He added that Kahn only charged travelling expenses to and from the US for the job.</p> <p>Doshi said that Kahn had used the best bricks available at the time and had adapted to local conditions. Nothing has happened to the brick arches, he said. “It is not a question of quality and nothing is [about] to collapse the way it is being talked about,” said Doshi. He added that if the argument was that the buildings are harmful to students, then all historical sites are harmful and should be closed to the public.</p> <p>Professor Anil Gupta, visiting faculty at IIMA said: “There have been instances wherein portions have fallen off, but there hasn’t been any serious consequences. But then, safety of students is paramount.”</p> <p>Sarabhai said that she was against the current proposal. “For someone who led a march in 1973 to have a dorm for women on the campus, I strongly feel that they should not be destroyed,” she said. She added that other buildings of this age have been restored. IIMA is a symbol of transparency and this decision was sudden, she said.</p> <p>Architect Mansee Bal Bhargava said: “We are talking about two things—the legacy of the architect and the liveability of the building. The latter has been discussed internally but has not come out.” She added that there was no denying that the condition of the buildings were not good, but it is important to know what the new design will be. (It is too early for details of the rebuilding to be made available; as of now, IIMA has invited architects from across the world to present options that are in sync with the “grammar” that Kahn envisioned.)</p> <p>Kalpen Shukla, president of the Mumbai chapter of IIMA’s alumni association, said there was due consideration to retain Kahn’s legacy. “We saw the structural damage that has taken place,” he said. “Dorm 15 was taken up as a case study. It was estimated that the cost of restoration/reconstruction would be 03 crore to 05 crore.” According to him, the earthquake in 2001 had damaged the plaza and adjoining structures. In 2017, IIMA had sought funding support from the public for conservation and restoration of the heritage campus and had received substantial funds. The institute restored the library; the Louis Kahn Plaza, where the convocation takes place; and Dorm 15. The other three dormitories being restored are Dorms 16 to 18, which along with Dorm 15 and the Louis Kahn Plaza are the first buildings that a person entering the campus would see.</p> <p>Shukla said that the storm of negative reactions could have been avoided with more inclusiveness. D’Souza told THE WEEK that stakeholders were invited to a “roundtable reflection on the conservation of dorms” in November 2017. “Their inputs were considered in meetings of the building committee and board,” he said. “The institute has made consultation a part of the process.” T. Muralidharan, chairman, TMI Group, and an alumnus of IIMA, said: “The board is very competent and they have come to a conscious decision. We have no business to advise them. They won’t do it casually.”</p> <p>D’Souza said IIMA was always receptive to suggestions. “Even now, given that some feel they have not been heard, a forthcoming meeting of the board will take note of the recommendations that are coming in and will deliberate on the way forward,” he said. If so, why the controversy? “Beats me,” said D’Souza. “Ask those who created it.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 31 14:22:37 IST 2020 panchayats-unlimited <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Matta rice</b> Rs11.60/kg; sugar Rs9.60/kg; milk Rs5/l; onion Rs5/kg; shallots Rs15/kg; coconut oil Rs44/l. It is not the price list at a grocery store; it is the election brochure of the Twenty 20, a party which won four panchayats in the recent civic polls in Kerala. The brochure also tells the story of how a corporate-sponsored outfit is capturing the imagination of highly politicised Malayalis.</p> <p>The Twenty 20 was born in 2013 as the welfare arm of Kitex Garments, a prominent exporter. A year later it became a political party and promised to turn Kizhakkambalam panchayat, where the company has been based since 1968, into a world-class village by 2020. In the 2015 local body polls, it registered a landslide victory in the panchayat.</p> <p>“Our decision to enter politics was accidental,” said Sabu M. Jacob, chief coordinator of the Twenty 20. “All we wanted was to ensure the welfare of the people around us, but the high-handed attitude of the then ruling party in our panchayat forced us to enter politics.” Jacob is the managing director of Kitex Garments, the world’s second largest infant wear producer and a major supplier to Walmart and Amazon. Kitex’s parent company, Anna Group, is one of the largest employers in the state.</p> <p>The Twenty 20 did turn Kizhakkambalam into a model village with squeaky clean roads, housing projects for the poor and a food security market. The panchayat was also turned into one with surplus funds, a rarity in the country. “Our model panchayat could be replicated by anybody provided they have the vision, planning and disciplined execution, and a will to root out corruption,” said Jacob.</p> <p>The food security market, which can be accessed with a consumer card allotted by the Twenty 20, was the highlight of it all. Entirely sponsored by the corporate social responsibility fund of the company, the market offers huge discounts on essentials. “When others buy rice at Rs60 a kilo, we buy it for less than Rs10,” said Achamma Kora, a resident of Kizhakkambalam.</p> <p>In the 2020 local body polls, Twenty 20 spread its wings to the neighbouring panchayats, winning three more of them. “My family voted for the first time for a party other than the Congress,” said Saramma Elias of Aikaranad panchayat, where the Twenty 20 swept the polls.</p> <p>Now the party has big plans, with Jacob announcing its decision to contest in the upcoming assembly elections. “I am getting calls from all over the state. It is evident that the people of Kerala are fed up with the existing political parties and are eager for a change. We are ready to take up the challenge,” he said.</p> <p>The political parties, obviously, are not happy.</p> <p>“Jacob is using his money power to win votes and to cover up the violations of his company,” said Elias Karipra, Congress unit president in Kizhakkambalam. “They win only because they offer freebies.” He alleged that the Twenty 20 used the consumer card to trap the voters and threatened to withdraw it if they did not vote for the party. “Jacob rules Kizhakkambalam like a king. Nothing happens here against his wishes,” he said.</p> <p>Jins T. Musthafa, secretary of the CPI(M) local committee, said Jacob was using the loopholes in the system to his advantage. “He is exploiting the poor people, and he makes clever use of the popular construct that all politicians are bad,” he said. “Kitex pays additional salary to the elected members of the panchayat. Will they be loyal to the people or to the company?”</p> <p>Jacob denied that panchayat members were on his payroll. “Yes, we reimburse their expenses, as the honorarium of Rs 7,000 that they get from the government is not enough for the effort they put in,” he said.</p> <p>Interestingly, political commentators are yet to figure out the Twenty 20 phenomenon. Activist C.R. Neelakandan said it was the failure of the traditional political parties that led to the growth of apolitical parties like Twenty 20. According to J. Prabhash, former head of the political science department at Kerala University, the victory of Twenty 20 is “political and apolitical at the same time”. “People’s decision not to vote for the Congress or the CPI(M) is certainly a political act,” he said. “But their decision to opt for a party which has no ideology or political position is certainly apolitical.”</p> <p>Prabhash said the Twenty 20 would have to rethink its political positioning if it was planning to branch out to other parts of the state. “Ruling a panchayat without an ideology is fine, but if it is planning to expand in the given format, it will be exposing itself too much,” he said.</p> <p>Jacob, however, asserts that the ideology of his party is “peace, happiness and security”. “Is there anyone who does not want development and happinesses?” he asked.&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 31 14:17:26 IST 2020 people-are-impatient-for-change <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/How would you explain the Twenty 20’s impressive performance?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>We won because people trust me. They know I am someone who delivers what I promise. Our victory in four panchayats proved that the people of Kerala are fed up with the existing political parties and are impatient for change. The Twenty 20 is the change that the people of Kerala are waiting for.</p> <p><b>Q/How will you explain the financial model?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>There is no magic. We achieved it through financial discipline and long-term vision. Also, it is important to weed out corruption from the system. If all the above three are there, Kizhakkambalam model can be emulated by anyone. The CSR funds helped in running the food security mission, which ensures that our people get quality food at a discounted rate.</p> <p><b>Q/Women seem to be the torchbearers of Twenty 20.</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>Yes. All our panchayat presidents are women, and nearly 70 per cent of our voters are women. They are the ones who prioritise their families before anything. While men can be easily swayed by many things, including politics, nothing is more important for women than the welfare of the family. They vote Twenty 20 because they know that our party will ensure high quality food in their kitchen and a much better living standard.</p> <p><b>Q/There are allegations that you floated a party to protect your company from government interventions.</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>If I had anything to cover up, do you think I would dare to take on the political parties ruling the state. By logic, any businessman will only try to buy the politicians, which is far easier than fighting them. My adversaries are national parties and it would not have been possible if my slate was not clean.</p> <p><b>Q/Will any of the panchayats ruled by the Twenty 20 go against Sabu M. Jacob?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>Panchayats no longer have the powers they used to have to intervene in any business initiative. So there is no conflict of interest. Yes, I may have a greater say in all the decisions, but I rarely intervene unless it is absolutely necessary. I believe in collective decision making, but I will ensure that what we have promised is delivered.</p> <p><b>Q/If Mukesh Ambani or Gautam Adani forms a political party, will you vote for it?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>Why not? I cast my vote depending on the person’s intentions and not by his background. Being a businessman does not stop anyone from entering politics. If I feel that a party is good for me and my country, I will definitely vote.&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 31 14:12:56 IST 2020 into-the-endgame <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>T</b>he BJP’s old warhorse in Karnataka seems to be fighting his final battle. Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, 78, is on a sticky wicket as the rift between him and the party’s central leadership is becoming evident. The saffron party looks like it is planning a graceful exit for the Lingayat strongman, who is its tallest leader in the state. For the party, which is preparing for a southern surge, Karnataka will be a crucial anchor and strong leadership in the state is vital. The last year has seen dissent and resentment brewing within its ranks. The BJP’s image has also been affected by poor governance and allegations of corruption.</p> <p>In March 2020, an unsigned letter doing the rounds, calling for the chief minister’s replacement. It was the second anonymous letter in a month seeking a change in leadership, which exposed the brewing factionalism within the Karnataka BJP. The letter heaped praise on Yediyurappa, but also expressed concern over his age and health, and sought an “honourable exit” for him. The letter also dubbed the chief minister’s younger son B.Y. Vijayendra, 44, BJP state vice president, as the “super CM”. Senior party leaders felt side-lined after Yediyurappa inducted turncoats into the cabinet to “reward” them for helping install the BJP government following the political coup which toppled the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress coalition government in July 2019. The voices demanding a change in leadership have only grown louder ever since. Now, Yediyurappa finds himself isolated within the party. It is said that his coterie, too, has been alienated owing to Vijayendra’s growing clout within the party and the government.</p> <p>The allegations of corruption against Vijayendra, many leaders fear, might be Yediyurappa’s undoing. Leader of the opposition Siddaramaiah has alleged that Vijayendra, Yediyurappa’s son-in-law Virupakshappa Maradi and grandson Shashidhar Maradi accepted kickbacks worth 017 crore in a housing project. Yediyurappa’s first stint as chief minister in 2009 ended when he was forced to step down following corruption charges, while his detractors criticised caste and family interference in administration. It had devastated the BJP’s state unit. This time, the party is hoping to save itself by initiating a change of guard well ahead of the 2023 assembly elections.</p> <p>Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, former Union minister and two-time BJP MLA from Vijayapura, said that the BJP leadership is fed up of Yediyurappa and that he will not last long in the chief minister’s chair. The problems between Yediyurappa and the central leadership is obvious in the cold responses to the chief minister’s requests. In August 2019, Yediyurappa was left to fight a lone battle as two-thirds of the state was devastated by floods. The Centre’s alleged delay in releasing flood relief funds gifted political opponents the ammunition to target Yediyurappa.</p> <p>In 2020, the central leadership delayed a cabinet expansion for almost 25 days, even though the chief minister was juggling more than 15 portfolios. When it happened, there was a last minute surprise—the appointment of three deputy chief ministers, Govind Karjol, 68, a five-time MLA; Laxman Savadi, 59, a three-time MLA; and Dr Ashwathnarayan C.N., 51, a two-time MLA. The party leadership also overlooked the chief minister’s suggestions for Rajya Sabha seats and nominated relatively junior party workers to the upper house and, subsequently, even to the legislative council.</p> <p>It is learnt that Yediyurappa has been advised by BJP president J.P. Nadda to involve state president Nalin Kumar Kateel and Karnataka in-charge Arun Singh in decision making. Signalling revolt, Yediyurappa appointed the heads of boards and corporations with little consultation. To placate the legislators disappointed over not being inducted into the cabinet, Yediyurappa doled out cabinet ranks to 13 legislators heading the various boards and corporations and four others were given junior minister ranks. This drew criticism as the state is reeling under a financial crisis because of floods and the pandemic.</p> <p>Recently, the chief minister’s plan to grant other backward castes status for Lingayats was scuttled by the party leadership, which feared it would be a dangerous precedent as similar demands would surface from the Marathas in Maharashtra and the Patels in Gujarat, among others. Amid stiff opposition from his own party, Yediyurappa constituted the Lingayat Veerashaiva Development Corporation with a corpus of 0500 crore. The move has led to other dominant communities like the Kurubas and the Vokkaligas demanding a similar caste-based corporation. Yediyurappa’s decision to form a Maratha development corporation has irked the pro-Kannada activists. While the chief minister says that the communities are socioeconomically backward, the opposition sees it as a gimmick ahead of the upcoming bypolls.</p> <p>In the last two months, Yediyurappa has also been cosying up to the JD(S). The camaraderie between Yediyurappa and former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, and the JD(S) supporting a contentious land bill and pressing for the removal of the legislative council chairman (Pratapchandra Shetty, a Congress MLC) has led to speculations of a possible coup—if Yediyurappa is forced to step down. The constant friction and verbal battles between Siddaramaiah and Kumaraswamy have helped Yediyurappa deflect attention from his own shortcomings. “The Yediyurappa government is yet to take-off,” has become a common phrase, even in BJP circles.</p> <p>Even as the BJP scouts for Yediyurappa’s political successor, it acknowledges him as the leader who changed its fortunes in a Congress-ruled state. It is also aware that it cannot afford to antagonise the Lingayat community, which holds sway in at least 100 assembly constituencies in north Karnataka. The politically strong Lingayats have had eight chief ministers. The other seven were B.D. Jatti, S. Nijalingappa, S.R. Kanthi, S.R. Bommai, Veerendra Patil, J.H. Patel and Jagadish Shettar. Veerendra Patil was unceremoniously removed from office by former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. This led to the community shifting its loyalty from the Congress to the BJP.</p> <p>Considering Yediyurappa’s political astuteness and popularity, it was no surprise that the party forgave his rebellion (he quit the BJP and floated a new party—Karnataka Janata Paksha—in 2011) and welcomed him back into its fold in 2014. The KJP took 10 per cent of BJP’s vote share in the 2013 assembly polls, reducing the national party to 40 seats. The BJP later made another exception for Yediyurappa and allowed him to become chief minister at 76 (the unwritten rule in the BJP prevents those above 75 from holding office).</p> <p>In a bid to change the rules of engagement with its state leaders and wean the party off its dependency on any one community or leader, the party is aiming for collective leadership. It is bringing in fresh faces to add vigour to the party and drafting young leaders into leadership roles (like Bengaluru South MP Tejasvi Surya). The three deputy chief ministers are a good example of the new strategy. Karjol is a dalit leader, Savadi a Lingayat leader and Ashwathnarayan a Vokkaliga. The appointment of Kateel, a hindutva leader and three-time MP from Dakshina Kannada, as state president is in line with the party’s attempt to balance the caste equation as the dominant communities have always controlled crucial posts (Kateel belongs to the small Bunt community).</p> <p>The big question if the party decides to replace Yediyurappa is: Will he go quietly? Party insiders hint that his elder son B.Y. Raghavendra, 47, a three-time MP from Shivamogga, might be drafted into the Central cabinet to placate Yediyurappa. While the party has no ready replacement to fill Yediyurappa’s big shoes, it has a long line-up of senior leaders to consider. This includes former chief ministers D.V. Sadananda Gowda and Shettar, former deputy chief ministers R. Ashok and K.S. Eshwarappa, Union minister Pralhad Joshi, BJP national general secretary C.T. Ravi and the three deputy chief ministers. However, in the BJP, the chances of a dark horse emerging cannot be ruled out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 24 18:55:43 IST 2020 waiting-for-upgrade <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The 1980s had</b> been a turning point in Kerala history. It was the decade in which Mammootty and Mohanlal established themselves as the undisputed superstars of the Malayalam film industry. The decade also saw Kerala’s predominant political formations—the Congress-led United Democratic front (UDF) and the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF)—becoming entrenched in the state’s political landscape. The people of Kerala loved this duopoly—in politics and in cinema. Well, at least, till recently.</p> <p>The Malayalam film industry is undergoing a huge churn. A new generation of filmmakers and actors are changing the very lingo and grammar of the industry. Something similar is happening to the UDF-LDF binary, too. The duo had been the only players in Kerala politics, capturing power alternately in every election held since 1980. The BJP has been trying to break their dominance and establish itself as a major player, backed by its undisputed hold over power in Delhi. The saffron party’s presence is gradually changing the way politics is being played out in the state.</p> <p>The BJP has just one seat in the Kerala legislative assembly, but it has broken the political equilibrium the state maintained for the last 40 years. The party enjoys an oversized presence in the media, which has forced the opposition Congress to repeatedly insist that it is the primary challenger of the ruling LDF.</p> <p>“The fight is between the LDF and the BJP. The UDF is a distant third,” BJP state president K. Surendran told THE WEEK. “Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala only repeats what I say in news conferences. The 2021 assembly elections will seal the fate of the decades-long UDF versus LDF pattern.”</p> <p>Surendran’s talk, however, do not match the returns his party got in the recent local body elections. The ruling LDF swept the elections, while the UDF managed to slightly improve its tally in the panchayats when the results were announced on December 16. The BJP finished way behind the two major fronts. But the party is no longer an ‘also-ran’ in Kerala. It is already a big winner in the battle of perception and with unstinted support from Delhi—in terms of money and access to power—the party’s presence is getting wider and deeper.</p> <p>“The so-called ‘apolitical/neutral’ voters, who are decisive in every election, see both the UDF and the LDF as corrupt. There is a strong chance that they may prefer a third front, provided the BJP has a winning quotient,” said writer and political commentator M.N. Karassery. “I will not be surprised if the BJP replaces one of the existing coalitions by the 2026 elections,” he said.</p> <p>The UDF and the LDF have realised that the performance in this year’s assembly elections will be a matter of survival for both. They are worried that if one of them loses by a huge margin, the losing coalition’s demoralised followers may drift to the BJP, especially if it retains power in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP’s growing presence has already compelled both fronts to resort to unprecedented manoeuvres. The LDF’s decision to induct the Kerala Congress (M), a party against which it had run strident anti-corruption campaigns in the past, to the coalition and the UDF’s move to have an informal alliance with the Welfare Party of India, backed by the Jamaat-e-Islami, should be seen in this context.</p> <p>LDF leaders alleged that the BJP was attempting a ‘Bengal model’ against the front. “The BJP used Mamata Banerjee to gain a foothold in West Bengal. Once they succeeded in that, they turned against Mamata,” said M.B. Rajesh, CPI(M) leader and former MP. “Similarly, the BJP is tacitly using the UDF to defeat the left as it knows that it will not be able to capture Kerala’s secular space as long as the left is strong. The Congress leadership in Kerala is very myopic and is colluding with the BJP.”</p> <p>Writer Paul Zacharia said the left was the BJP’s arch enemy because its ideology had played a huge role in shaping Kerala’s secular space. “The left offers the strongest buffer against the BJP because of its ideology and the strong cadre. Once the left is decimated, Kerala would be a cakewalk for the BJP,’’ he said.</p> <p>Congress leaders, however, said the CPI(M) was targeting UDF leaders to help the BJP. “It is the CPI(M) which is trying to decimate the Congress to help the BJP,” said senior Congress leader V.D. Satheesan. But Surendran said the LDF government was forced to take action against UDF leaders accused of corruption because of the BJP. “But for our presence, the UDF and the LDF would have continued with their ‘adjustment politics’, which has been going on for the past four decades,” he said.</p> <p>The BJP has to a great extent managed to deepen the divide between Christians and Muslims, Kerala’s two powerful minority communities. Their presence has been a major stumbling block for the BJP to expand its reach in Kerala. The Christian and Muslim communities, which are politically and economically powerful, have been the backbone of the UDF despite the fact that there has not been much love lost between the two. “Common interests had brought the two communities together despite their mutual mistrust. But the BJP, which knows that it has to divide the two to capture Kerala, is using every possible tool—from the Hagia Sophia issue and the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict to controversies surrounding the alleged ‘love jihad’—to deepen the divide. And it seems to be succeeding,” said political observer A. Jayashankar.</p> <p>The BJP is also making inroads into Kerala’s sociocultural space. “Kerala’s cultural space is gradually welcoming the RSS and its ideology, which is happening in a subtle manner. This could have multiple repercussions as Kerala is one of those rare spaces where statements by literary and cultural personalities still get frontpage displays,’’ said writer Shajahan Madampat.</p> <p>A well-known filmmaker said being seen as an RSS sympathiser was no longer a stigma, a huge change for Kerala’s social psyche. “If symbols affiliated to the RSS were “smuggled” into Malayalam films or literature in the past, those are being openly paraded these days. It reflects the transformation the Kerala society is undergoing,” he said.</p> <p>The fact that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance managed to garner 15.2 per cent votes in the 2019 general elections is being looked at seriously by political observers. The saffron alliance polled 14.6 per cent votes in the local body elections. “Almost the entire chunk of its votes must have come from the Hindu community and it shows that nearly 30 per cent of the Hindus have accepted the BJP as their natural choice even when its winning quotient is very low,” said Madampat. He blamed the “overt religious posturing” and identity assertion of the minority communities—a very visible thing in Kerala—for helping the BJP in creating a divide between the majority and the minorities. “More than any proselytisation attempt, it is the extreme show of organisational might and material exhibitionism, thanks to expats in the Gulf and in the west, which helped the BJP make Hindus feel insecure,” he said.</p> <p>So, will the BJP capture Kerala? While the BJP’s presence is growing in all spheres—social, political and cultural—the party lacks winnability quotient. And its adversaries, despite their obvious weaknesses, are well entrenched. The Congress and the CPI(M) have strong organisational structures in Kerala which are active from top to bottom, unlike in other parts of the country. “The Congress that the BJP is fighting in Kerala is not a loose structure that it fought in other states. Similarly, the CPI(M) in Kerala is one of the strongest cadre-based parties in the country. So the BJP will have to really sweat it out to displace one of them,” said Satheesh Chandran, a political observer.</p> <p>Satheesan, too, echoed similar sentiments. “The BJP may be a strong presence on television screens and newspapers. But on the ground, apart from a few pockets, there are only two fronts in Kerala—the UDF and the LDF,” he said. The presence of the powerful minority communities, too, hinders the BJP’s progress. “The BJP may try all tricks possible to divide them but it will not work,” said C.P. John, a UDF leader.</p> <p>Most political observers believe that the BJP’s performance in the upcoming assembly elections is likely to resemble its performance in the 2019 general elections, when it spearheaded an aggressive campaign against the LDF government, especially on the sensitive issue of allowing women entry into the Sabarimala shrine. But it drew a blank, and the UDF swept the state with 19 of 20 seats.</p> <p>Kerala’s political history also does not favour the BJP. “Kerala has bucked the national trend except in the 1984 and 1991 general elections,” said political observer and academic K. Jayaprasad. “While most of India voted against Indira Gandhi in the 1977 elections after the Emergency, Kerala gave an overwhelming mandate for the Congress. In 1965, it gave more seats to communists [in the assembly polls], although the elections were held immediately after the war with China. The same happened in the 2014 and 2019 general elections. It is in Kerala’s political DNA to stand apart.”</p> <p>Jayaprasad said other than the presence of the minorities, what was hurting the BJP the most was the structure and character of the Hindu community in the state. “Kerala Hindus are deeply political and most of them are close to the left parties. Equally important is the fact that all communities within the Hindu fold are already powerful, both socially and economically. They do not need the BJP to empower them. That is why the BJP’s social engineering tactics, which is working elsewhere in the country, have failed in Kerala,” said Jayaprasad.</p> <p>The BJP also faces a major leadership crisis in Kerala. Jayashankar said the party was unlikely to win with its current crop of leaders. The recent local body elections have shown that there is no correlation between the BJP’s high decibel presence on television screens and social media, and the number of votes it polled. Still, the party managed to win two municipalities, four panchayats and is the single largest party in seven panchayats. It added 395 more seats compared with the 2015 local body polls. Still, the gains hardly match the massive effort put in by the party’s central leadership.</p> <p>“The BJP has become a strong presence in Kerala in the last few years. But this would be of no significance if it is not translated into votes,” said Zacharia. “After all, what ultimately counts is the number of seats you win.”</p> <p>A senior RSS pracharak told THE WEEK that not everything was going in the BJP’s favour at the moment. “There are many positive factors for the BJP in Kerala, but some stumbling blocks remain,” he said. When asked whether it was the much repeated ‘secular’ character of Kerala that is stopping the BJP, his answer was cryptic. “The RSS is a very patient organisation,” he said. “We waited for decades to get one seat in Kerala. We don’t mind waiting a few more years to capture the state.”</p> <p>The RSS is correct in believing that the political climate in Kerala is gradually moving away from the LDF versus UDF binary. The Malayalam film industry, too, has started looking beyond Mammootty and Mohanlal. Yet, for the time being, they are Kerala’s only superstars, just as the UDF and the LDF are the only political fronts that really matter.</p> Thu Dec 24 18:51:59 IST 2020 four-to-tango <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Veda Nilayam</b>, 36 Poes Garden in Chennai, is quiet. The black iron gates of the white mansion are closed, and only a couple policemen stand guard at what was once the city’s most famous address: the residence of chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, who died on December 5, 2016.</p> <p>The building, however, is at the centre of a dispute. The AIADMK government wants to make it a memorial, but her niece Deepa Jayakumar and nephew Deepak Jayaraman oppose the plan. The income tax department is also interested in it. It recently attached her bungalow at Siruthavoor near Chennai and her tea estate in Kodanad.</p> <p>“The Madras High Court declared us as her legal heirs in May this year,” said Deepak. “But beyond those papers, we have not received anything.”</p> <p>Soon after the verdict, Deepak took possession of Jayalalithaa’s vineyard in Hyderabad. Deepa said the authorities had denied them information about other properties. “I don’t understand what is happening,” she said. “The authorities are not even sharing the details of properties solely held by her, apart from those in Poes Garden and Hyderabad. We cannot even access the documents.”</p> <p>It is a knotty problem as some of the assets are registered in the name of companies co-owned by Jayalalithaa. Her assistant V.K. Sasikala, who has been in jail since 2017 after her conviction in a disproportionate assets case, holds stakes in several of these companies. So far, neither Sasikala nor her relatives have made any claim on the disputed properties.</p> <p>The High Court had in May ruled that Deepa and Deepak were entitled to inherit their aunt’s inherited and “self-acquired” properties. Since Jayalalithaa had inherited Veda Nilayam and the vineyard from her mother, the court order would mandate that the properties be passed on to these siblings.</p> <p>The income tax department, however, notes that it had attached Veda Nilayam in 2007, as Jayalalithaa had failed to pay her taxes on time. One of her former advocates said the long-pending case had been settled a year before her death. “In January 2015, she opted for an out-of-court settlement, and Rs2 crore was paid to the IT department. This was for the four cases registered against her and Sasikala in 1996 for not filing returns in 1993-94,” said the advocate. But apparently, the case that was settled in 2015 is separate from the one in which the IT department attached Veda Nilayam in 2007.</p> <p>In April 2019, the IT department filed an affidavit in the High Court stating that Jayalalithaa’s tax returns filed in March 2016 showed movable and immovable assets worth just Rs16.37 crore. “Her liabilities towards wealth and income taxes stand at Rs16.74 crore,” it said.</p> <p>As per the affidavit, the department attached Veda Nilayam and three other properties on March 13, 2007. In September this year, it filed another affidavit saying Jayalalithaa’s legal heirs should immediately pay her tax dues amounting to Rs36.87 crore. Properties in Siruthavoor and Kodanad, it said, had been attached under the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act.</p> <p>According to Deepak, the tax dues are a matter of dispute. “Last year, the IT department told the court that her dues were Rs16 crore. Now it says the dues are 036.87 crore. We want to know how the department arrived at that figure,” he said.</p> <p>In July this year, the state government deposited Rs67.9 crore in a civil court in Chennai to take possession of Veda Nilayam. N. Lakshmi, revenue divisional officer in charge of land acquisition in south Chennai, said, “the government has accorded administrative sanction for the acquisition of land and conversion of Veda Nilayam [into a] government memorial.”</p> <p>A 21-page document awarding the land to the government lists the objections and claims of the siblings and the IT department. “The claims are hereby referred to the principal judge, city civil court, Chennai, for proper adjudication under sections 76 and 77(2) of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013,” says the document. “The entire compensation amount of Rs67.9 crore is deposited. It is hereby ordered that the land vests with the government free from all encumbrances.”</p> <p>Apparently, Rs36.87 crore will be given to the IT department and the remaining amount to the siblings. But Deepa said she had turned down the offer and was preparing to take legal action. “The government just cannot take over the land and convert it into a memorial. The valuation is itself wrong,” she said.</p> <p>According to her, Jayalalithaa’s associates in the AIADMK had betrayed her. “They are doing this just to ensure that AIADMK cadres vote for them,” she said. “Veda Nilayam is our traditional house; it was where we grew up.”</p> <p>Deepak has filed a petition in the High Court saying some items had gone missing from house. “Gold jewellery, silver articles, artefacts and precious gifts are missing from the inventory submitted by the government to the court,” he said. Also missing were the four cars mentioned in Jayalalithaa’s election affidavit. “What happened to those cars?” asked Deepak. “No one from the government is answering our questions. They are not even hearing us.”</p> <p>Sasikala will come out of jail on January 27. A swanky two-storey house has been built for her opposite Veda Nilayam on a plot that once served as a parking lot for security vehicles. “The house painting will be over in a few days,” said a police officer. “Sasikala will live here.”</p> <p>Sources close to Sasikala said she was not interested in claiming any of the properties registered in Jayalalithaa’s name. The IT department, however, has sent notices to Sasikala and her relatives under the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, since they were part of the companies that owned the bungalow at Siruthavoor and the tea estate at Kodanad. Copies of the notices have been sent to Deepa and Deepak.</p> <p>“They were just informed,” said Deepak’s advocate S.L. Sudarsanam. “[Deepa and Deepak] are not party to the [benami transactions] case. Their claim on the property will not be hampered because of the attachment.” &nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 24 18:47:50 IST 2020 bittersweet-mandate <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>As expected</b>, the recent District Development Council (DDC) elections in Jammu and Kashmir turned out to be a direct fight between the BJP and the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, better known as the Gupkar Alliance. The 280 DDC seats—14 each in 20 districts—were created after the Union government amended the J&amp;K Panchayati Raj Act in October. The Gupkar Alliance of seven regional parties fought the elections on the plank of reinstating Article 370 of the Constitution. The BJP, on the other hand, said its policies helped integration of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of the country, opened up opportunities for development and ended political discrimination against refugees and women married to outsiders.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The two divergent narratives were duly reflected in the election results, with the Kashmir valley firmly siding with the Gupkar Alliance, and Jammu voting the BJP. The results have laid bare the deep communal polarisation J&amp;K has undergone after the administrative and constitutional changes introduced by the Narendra Modi government in 2019.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Gupkar Alliance won 110 seats, the BJP 74, independents 43 and the Congress 26. The alliance—comprising the National Conference, the People’s Democratic Party, the J&amp;K People’s Conference, the CPI(M), the Awami National Conference, the J&amp;K People’s Movement and the Awami Ittehad—won nine districts, all of them in the valley.&nbsp;The BJP won a majority in six districts in the Jammu region, despite the National Conference putting up a tough fight. It swept the districts of Jammu, Udhampur, Kathua and Samba, repeating its performance in the 2014 assembly polls and the 2019 general elections.</p> <p>The BJP also won eight seats in Doda district and seven in Reasi. The party opened its account in the valley for the first time, bagging three seats—Khanmoh-II in Srinagar, Tulail in Bandipora and Kakapora in Pulwama. The Congress once again failed to make an impression. The Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party, launched by former PDP leader Altaf Bukhari with the backing of the Union government, won just 10 seats. The National Conference emerged the key player in the alliance by winning 67 seats, and the PDP came second with 27 seats.&nbsp;</p> <p>Both the alliance and the BJP claimed victory. Union Minister Jitendra Singh said the results showed that the BJP was “acceptable”to the people of both regions of the Union territory. “Three BJP candidates have won from Kashmir,”&nbsp;he said. “It is a testimony to the fact that the people of Jammu and Kashmir believe in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision for the development of the Union territory.”&nbsp;</p> <p>National Conference vice president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah said he understood the BJP’s temptation to overplay the three seats it won in the valley, but asked why the party was underplaying the 35 seats his party won in Jammu. “People from Jammu as well as Kashmir have extended complete support to the Gupkar Alliance and have endorsed its plan to seek the restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status by giving a befitting reply to the BJP,”he said. PDP president Mehbooba Mufti tweeted that the alliance cadre worked tirelessly to ensure its success and that the people of J&amp;K rejected the unconstitutional decision to abrogate Article 370.&nbsp;</p> <p>Political observers believe that although the results did not throw up a clear winner, the Gupkar Alliance put up a credible performance. The BJP’s plan to render the National Conference and the PDP irrelevant failed to work as the two parties joined hands and worked with smaller parties to launch a common front. The results have boosted the morale of the alliance, especially as it came at a time its leaders are facing sustained pressure from Central agencies.&nbsp;</p> <p>On December 19, four days before the results were announced, the&nbsp;Enforcement Directorate&nbsp;attached properties worth 011.86 crore belonging to Gupkar Alliance president Farooq Abdullah under the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act in connection with misappropriation of funds in the J&amp;K Cricket Association. The attached properties include commercial buildings on Residency Road in Srinagar, land in four different locations in J&amp;K and a house each in Srinagar, Tangmarg in Baramulla and Sunjwan in Jammu.</p> <p>The ED said the house and the commercial buildings in Srinagar were built on state land obtained on lease, and the house in Sunjwan was on forest land. The Cricket Association, it said, received 0109.78 crore from the Board of Control for Cricket in India during 2005-2011. As the Cricket Association president, Farooq made “illegal appointments of office bearers”and gave them “financial powers for…laundering [the] funds,”it said, noting that Farooq was the beneficiary of the laundered funds.</p> <p>The PDP blamed Central agencies for arresting two of its senior leaders, Sartaj Madni and Mansoor Hussain Pir, just before the election results were announced. Its youth president Waheed ur Rehman Parra is already in the custody of the National Investigation Agency for his alleged links with militants. Mehbooba said rule of law was replaced by “gunda raj”in Kashmir. The National Conference and the PDP accused the BJP of political vendetta. Omar said the ED was targeting his father because the Gupkar Alliance chose to contest the DDC polls and refused to oblige the BJP, which wanted a free run. He said the attached properties were bought in the 1970s and that the family would legally challenge the move.</p> <p>The acrimonious post-poll exchanges between the BJP and the Gupkar Alliance notwithstanding, the successful completion of the DDC elections could help fill the political vacuum in Jammu and Kashmir created by the revocation of Article 370. &nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 24 18:28:36 IST 2020 scare-tactics <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Lately, Madhya Pradesh</b> Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s favourite line has been, “<i>Mai sajjano ke liye phool se bhi komal hun, aur dushton ke liye vajra se bhi kathor hun </i>(I am gentler than a flower with good people and tougher than a thunderbolt with criminals).” This is often repeated aggressively in Chouhan’s speeches and media statements.</p> <p>But Chouhan was not his usual aggressive self when he spoke about a recently reported communication from the Election Commission of India (ECI) recommending action against three IPS officers and a state cadre officer. They were allegedly involved in unaccounted cash transactions during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.</p> <p>“I am in a constitutional post,” Chouhan said to repeated questions. “I have asked my office to look into the communication. As soon as authorised information and facts are received, there will be strict action.”</p> <p>The role of the officers had allegedly come to the fore during a series of income tax (IT) raids on close aides of former chief minister Kamal Nath in April 2019. Following the raids, the IT department seized cash worth Rs14.6 crore and diaries and computer files detailing alleged illegal cash transactions worth over Rs280 crore. The department had then said that it had found a trail of Rs20 crore being allegedly moved to the “headquarters of a major political party in New Delhi”. It was widely speculated that it was referring to the Congress.</p> <p>In a follow-up to this case, the ECI recently directed the MP chief electoral officer (CEO) to register criminal proceedings against the police officers with the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of the state government, on the basis of a report by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT).</p> <p>It has been reported that apart from former chief minister Digvijaya Singh and about 50 other Congress leaders, the politicians named in the documents include three ministers and two former ministers of Chouhan’s cabinet and eight other BJP MLAs. All of them had recently switched camp from the Congress to the BJP and some are supporters of Rajya Sabha member Jyotiraditya Scindia.</p> <p>The reticence of the normally verbose Chouhan on a seemingly major issue of corruption that includes top Congress leaders has given rise to speculations that the sudden revival of the controversy might have more to do with politics of corruption rather than corruption in politics.</p> <p>BJP state chief V.D. Sharma and home minister Narottam Mishra bayed for the blood of Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh, calling them key players of the game. On his part, Singh raised questions on the impartiality and authority of the ECI in recommending lodging of criminal cases against police officials who are not directly linked to the Lok Sabha poll process. He also alleged that the police officers “targeted” by the ECI were involved in the probe of the Rs1,000-crore e-tender scam, in which several BJP leaders are allegedly involved. Singh also asked why he was not served a notice or questioned if his name figured in the CBDT documents.</p> <p>MP Congress media cell vice-chairman Bhupendra Gupta questioned the timing of the ECI communication—one-and-a-half years after the IT raids and ahead of civic polls in Madhya Pradesh—and called it a misuse of the ECI by the BJP.</p> <p>But political watchers feel that the CBDT report might have been deliberately leaked at this juncture to use the documents for political manoeuvres. Political commentator Manish Dixit says the case might be used by the BJP to ward off the pressure from Scindia to induct his supporters who won the recent bypolls into the Chouhan cabinet and the rehabilitation of those who lost in boards and corporations.</p> <p>“Now the BJP can internally claim that the involvement of Scindia’s supporters in this controversy has maligned the image of the party and not give them the posts that Scindia is pushing for,” said Dixit. “The responses of the CM and BJP state chief supports this conjecture. Getting politicians embroiled in a case will mean double benefit for them of having Congress leaders as well as Scindia supporters in a soup.”</p> <p>He also said that there might not be any solid case against the politicians as the IT department does not seem to have found the money trail linking them to the unaccounted transactions, and as the Supreme Court has rejected the diary and computer entries as substantial evidence. “I feel that as a criminal case, even this will culminate into nothingness like the long-running probes by the MP EOW into the honeytrap case and e-tendering scam involving top politicians,” said Dixit.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Gupta has alleged that the case is being used by the BJP to settle internal party scores. “They not only want to keep Scindia and his supporters under pressure, but state BJP chief Sharma and Home Minister Mishra also want to paint Chouhan in a bad light before the party’s central leadership by pointing out that Chouhan sat on the case for two months (the CBDT report is dated October 28),” said Gupta.</p> <p>Sharma however told THE WEEK that the conspiracy allegations are baseless. “There is no attempt to pressure or trap anyone,” he said. “Such talks are rubbish. The law will take its own course and the government will take action as per the direction of the ECI.”</p> <p>So does this mean action can be taken against BJP ministers and MLAs named in the report? Sharma said: “We are of the view that… everyone who is facing such allegations and who has played with democratic and constitutional norms should face due action.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 24 17:05:44 IST 2020 land-for-heart-and-soul <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A piece of land, shaped somewhat like an imprecise half of a set square, has put the small village of Dhannipur on the map. The plot of five acres was allotted by the Uttar Pradesh government for the construction of a mosque, as mandated by the Supreme Court. But, a 0.17-acre rectangular patch within the misshapen plot has drawn a steady stream of believers for as long as anyone can remember. This is the shrine of a seer now called Sharda Baba.</p> <p>The seer, whose actual name is Shahgada Shah, is known as a bestower of boons. People of all religions and sects visit his memorial, asking for wealth, children and health. Vimla Prajapati, a clutch of incense sticks in hand, said: “You come weeping, you will go smiling. The Baba never disappoints.” Prajapati comes from a village 10km away. Initially, she came every day for her failing health. Now better, she visits every Thursday—the most popular day at the shrine. When the mosque complex comes up, the shrine of Sharda Baba will remain intact.</p> <p>The grant of land to the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board was a pleasant surprise. Athar Husain, spokesperson for the Indo Islamic Cultural Foundation (IICF), which will oversee the construction of what is for now popularly known as the Dhannipur complex, said: “We had never expected anything in case we lost the suit. But in this decision, there is a sense that there were no losers.” Unlike the emphasis on grandness in the Ram temple coming up some 25km away in Ayodhya, the Dhannipur complex is to be an amalgam of the sacred and the secular. It will house a library, a publishing house, a community kitchen, a museum and a multispecialty hospital. It is the hospital that is most exciting to Dhannipur’s <i>pradhan</i> (village headman), Rakesh Yadav. “Imagine a hospital, nothing like this area has ever seen,” he said. Yadav felt that his village was poised for a greatness it had never known. “This village has had nothing,” he said. “It is known for nothing.”</p> <p>The road that leads to the plot falls in the village of Raunahi, which is in a different <i>gram panchayat</i>. But both villages are part of the same <i>nyaya panchayat</i> (judicial component of the village council system). Raunahi is more prosperous; dotted as it is with concrete houses—many of them palatial—and large cars. Dhannipur has just a primary school to show for development. Raunahi spreads over 399.84 acres, Dhannipur a mere 16.61 acres. In the 2011 census, Raunahi had 9,131 people—almost seven times Dhannipur’s population of 1,317.</p> <p>The two villages are bound by amity. In that dark winter of 1992, when the Babri Masjid was brought down, neither reported any violence or animosity. Both offered shelter to those who fled Ayodhya fearing violence. Biboo Khatoon, a 98-year-old from Raunahi, was in Bombay when the mosque was attacked. “My heart almost stopped,” she said. “The only way I could reconcile with what had happened was that it was Allah’s will. When that memory returns, I still feel very angry. But, not against all Hindus. Every religion has its share of troublemakers.”</p> <p>The choice of Dhannipur is fortunate. While the village itself might be bereft of much, the surroundings of the land granted to the complex evoke the famed “Ganga-Jamuni” <i>tehzeeb</i> of Awadh—a region that today covers six divisions of Uttar Pradesh. <i>Tehzeeb</i> is a word that does not lend itself to an easy translation. Part etiquette, part culture, part refinement, part civilisation—it is an amorphous entity fed by varying strands. Hence the name Ganga-Jamuni (the intermingling of the culture of those who lived by the Ganga and those who inhabited the banks of the Yamuna).</p> <p>Faizabad, the capital of the nawabs, was the earliest cradle of this unique confluence. But, in 1774, when Asaf-ud-Daula took over the reign of Awadh, he thought it best to pursue his pleasures away from the stern eye of his mother, Bahu Begum. So, he shifted his court to Lucknow (some 120 km away), taking with him the courtiers, the traders, the students and the culturalists, who, in time, made Lucknow’s court the most glorious in India.</p> <p>Between these two cities grew a deep and beautiful intermingling of beliefs and their manifestations. Thus, Lucknow’s oldest Hanuman temple was built by a Muslim begum, and the seers of Ayodhya only donned wooden strapless footwear crafted by Muslims. This confluence is not limited to Hinduism and Islam. Barely a kilometre from the plot for the mosque stands a massive Shwetambar Jain temple dedicated to the 15th Teerthankar. It oversees a Shahi Masjid. Chandrashekhar Tiwari, the priest of the temple, said: “I have been here for 29 years. Brotherhood and amity are the only two words I can think of to describe this place.”</p> <p>Some distance away is the Digamber temple dedicated to the same Teerthankar. It shares a boundary with the house of a Muslim family. The manager of the temple, Sunil Kumar Jain, had the same praise for his neighbours and the village. “We respect each other,” he said.</p> <p>Husain said the proposed complex would portray this <i>sanjhi virasat </i>(shared legacy). “This sharing was not confined to culture,” he said. “When Mahatma Gandhi came to Lucknow in 1919 [to sign an agreement between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League] he stayed at the Firangi Mahal, [where the ulema were] strong proponents of the Khilafat movement that stood against the extremist ideology of the Muslim League.”</p> <p>It is this splendid past that the complex is to reflect, while skipping over the years of controversy. “We look at this as a clean slate,” said Husain. “This is our chance to step out of all unpleasantness. The idea is to have a place that celebrates oneness and threads together the community, without giving the slightest chance to be a flash point.”</p> <p>Pushpesh Pant, a retired professor of international relations (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and a historian with a heightened interest in culinary traditions, has been appointed the curator of the museum that is to be part of the project. Pant said he was surprised to be chosen for the task. “Imagine a non-Muslim, that too a Brahmin, being asked to step in,” he said. “This is a great tribute to the syncretic traditions of this country.”</p> <p>The only request made of Pant was that there could be no archiving of dance and music as this would be against Islamic traditions. The archive he is planning, about 5,000sqft, will bring together exhibits of architecture, texts, embroideries, weaves, fabrics, utensils and much more. “The focus will be on Awadh but a person in Awadh should know what mosques elsewhere look like,” he said. “That need not be delivered like a history lesson—just a picture of a wooden mosque in Kerala (wood is not used in mosques in Uttar Pradesh) will open one’s eyes to the many great and little traditions that have shaped our ethos.”</p> <p>Mindful of his advancing years, Pant said that he was sharing his idea with many students who are as excited as him to be part of the project. “We are harking back to the time when mosques were not just places of worship but of congregation,” he said. “In this complex, one will be able to experience Awadh’s myriad delicacies—kebabs from Jaunpur one day, and <i>nimona</i> (ground green peas curry) from Banaras the next, while gazing at different facets of life in Awadh.” Space constraints mean that a large part of the exhibits will be displayed digitally.</p> <p>Syed Mohammed Akhtar, dean of the Jamia Millia School of Architecture, is the architect for the complex. He said he would bring an inclusivity to the project—the kind he has practised within the classroom. “Every year, I send my students to different directions of the country to soak in various influences,” he said. The aim of the complex, he said, was “to serve humanity and bridge the gap between communities”. He described the complex as Islamic in spirit and Indian in ethos.</p> <p>“It will be contemporary, with contemporary themes,” he said. “Architecture always creates newness, it does not replicate the past. As a contemporary complex it will be a reference for the world. The latest materials will be used. It will be a zero-energy building with immense foliage. Water conservation structures will be built into it.”</p> <p>That imprecise land will thus offer a precise glimpse into what it means to be secular and profoundly all-embracing of beliefs and manners.&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 17 17:31:16 IST 2020 bittersweet-music <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Begopara village in West Bengal’s Nadia district stands out in the region. The houses, many of them with gardens, indicate that the residents are wealthy. This oasis in the Ranaghat area owes its affluence to remittances from the Middle East.</p> <p>However, one woman was an exception. She had no one in the Gulf; her first husband died and she was deserted by her second husband and her four children. So, the woman, who is in her early fifties, lived alone in a shabby house. Then, her luck changed. Overnight, Ranu Mandal became an internet sensation.</p> <p>Her rendition of Lata Mangeshkar’s Ek pyar ka nagma hai… took the internet by storm. Soon, Mandal left Begopara for Bollywood. Money was flowing in and she was booked to perform countrywide and also abroad. But, even her fairy-tale story was not immune to Covid-19. Half-a-dozen stage shows—in Kerala, Hyderabad, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and two in West Bengal—were cancelled. Mandal, now back in Begopara, is confined to her old house. Perhaps unwittingly, she had not used her newfound wealth to improve her living situation. She was off chasing bigger dreams.</p> <p>The house was surrounded by bushes and the interior does not reflect what is expected of the quarters of a singer who had moved millions with her voice. Her only hope now, she says, is Jesus Christ, whose image hangs on her wall.</p> <p>“Christ has given me whatever I have received in my life,” says Mandal. “What is happening today is also perhaps because [I] deviated from his path of truth. He will not deprive me in the future, as I am [back] on the right path.” Her wealth has eroded considerably. Fearing rash decisions by her, the local cultural club has taken over her finances.</p> <p>“I do not have money to purchase anything,” says Mandal. “Whatever I need, I ask the club head Tapan [Das] and he brings it.” Das says: “The money is safe in our account. We give her everything she needs. The money is not being misused.” Das refused to disclose how much money she has, but said, the amount was “good”. “We will not waste the money and will not give it to the relatives who deserted her,” he says.</p> <p>Mandal was a professional singer when she was young and used to do shows with her first husband, Babu. Their children, a son and a daughter, are now married. After Babu’s death, Mandal married his cousin. He abandoned her after a few years. She has two children with him, too; both are well-settled in Mumbai. Her second husband, whose name she did not want to share, is a cook in Mumbai.</p> <p>None of her children were in touch with her. Her daughter from her first marriage, Elizabeth Sathi Roy, who stays in Birbhum, West Bengal, came to see her after recognising her in the video. Elizabeth alleges that the club has “destroyed” her mother’s wealth. “They have duped her and are not looking after her,” she says.</p> <p>“Ranu di’s daughter knew her mother was having a difficult life before her song went viral,” says Das. “Why did she not look after her mother all these years? Her mother used to beg at the railway station. Does she not know that?” Mandal prefers not to talk about her daughter’s allegations against the club and Das’s tough questions. “Please do not ask me these,” she says. “I have no idea about it.”</p> <p>The man who ‘discovered’ Mandal, Atindra Chakraborty, says she could be mentally unstable. Chakraborty, an electronics engineer from Ranaghat, heard her sing at the town’s railway station. “You would not believe how she looked,” he says. “Just watch my first video on the internet. She used to sit on the railway platform with a jute bag. People used to offer her food or money. In return, she sang some of Lata Mangeshkar’s all-time hits.”</p> <p>One day Chakraborty shot a video on his phone and uploaded it on social media. “I never thought it would go viral,” he says. The video reached Sony TV, who invited her to their music reality show. Chakraborty and Das took Mandal to Mumbai. Music director Himesh Reshammiya and lyricist Javed Akhtar were impressed with her. Reshammiya gave her a chance to sing in his project, Happy Hardy and Heer. “The song, Teri meri kahani, was shared 200 million times on social media,” says Chakraborty.</p> <p>He says that Reshammiya also arranged foreign tours. As Chakraborty did not have a passport, Das, who had been a cook in the gulf, accompanied Mandal to Dubai, Qatar, Oman, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia. Her voice caught the attention of the Indian community abroad and her rags-to-riches story was celebrated in the media.</p> <p>Mandal rented a flat in Mumbai; there was speculation that it was a gift from super star Salman Khan, who had met her at another reality show. But, this is not true. The sudden celebrity status was too much for Mandal to handle, says Chakraborty. He says she was rude to fans who tried to take selfies with her. “I tried to make her understand that she would have to accept it and take it in her stride as fans are everything in the lives of celebrities,” he says. “But, she refused to learn.” Chakraborty says she misbehaved with him, too, and though he understood her “mental condition”, it was too much to accept at times.</p> <p>“I think she was not at all mentally prepared for such a big leap in life,” he says. Her behaviour, like her songs, went viral on social media and was widely reported. Mandal’s image took a hit. Once she became unpopular, opportunities in Bollywood dried up. Chakraborty says that he suspects she may have misbehaved with Reshammiya and others in Bollywood, too. “Perhaps that is why they turned their backs on her,” he says.</p> <p>Chakraborty said he is also staying away from her. “I am not famous, but I was worried that her behaviour would impact me and people would see me differently,” he says. “I go to meet her at her home, albeit rarely, but I do not take part in crucial decisions in her life.”</p> <p>Das said it would be unkind to call her mentally challenged. “She was neglected for years,” he says. “It is natural for her to react that way. We must understand that she could never be normal again. Her soul as a singer died long back and she does not have any aspirations. But what was not lost is her talent.”</p> <p>Perhaps surprisingly, no attempt was made to upload a fresh video of her singing during all the time she was confined to home. Das and Mandal felt that uploading more videos online would get them nowhere.</p> <p>Many residents of Begopara continue to visit Mandal. She often gets irritated when conversations with them remind her about her brief stint in tinsel town. “She asked me to visit her with things like biscuits and cake,” says Raju Banerjee, a businessman in Ranaghat. She would not sing for visitors unless they make her happy, he adds with a smile.</p> <p>Das says that once normalcy resumes Mandal will make a comeback. “And this time, things will be different,” he says. What does Mandal have to say about it? She smiles and says: “How can I know what will happen? Am I God? Only Lord Jesus knows what will happen in the future.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 17 17:22:36 IST 2020 pincer-movement <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Telangana BJP president Bandi Sanjay Kumar said, “Pakistan or India. Who will you support in this match?” The venue was a locality of middle-class residents in Hyderabad. “Pakistan”, most likely, was a reference to the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and its bastions, but “India” definitely meant the BJP. The “match” was the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is understandable why Kumar chose this metaphor. An India-Pakistan cricket match led to events that increased his political profile. In the 2011 cricket World Cup, India beat Pakistan in the semi-finals. During the victory celebrations in Karimnagar, in northern Telangana, locals spilled out onto the streets. They spotted a group of men with green flags. It was assumed that they were flying Pakistani flags; tempers ran high, leading to a scuffle. The police registered a case. Kumar, who had just finished his first term as a corporator, was one of the accused. The case is now a footnote in the story of the rise of Karimnagar’s “Hindu tiger”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Till about a year-and-a-half back, Kumar’s highest elected post was municipal corporator and the most significant position he held in the party was city president, Karimnagar. Even BJP cadre in rural parts of Karimnagar district did not know much about him. Now, Kumar, 49, is an MP and the president of the state unit. He is credited with turning the BJP’s fortunes in Telangana. A 10-day campaign by Kumar, filled with communal rhetoric and diatribes, is seen as a major factor in the BJP winning 48 seats in the GHMC elections this time from four seats in 2016. Its vote share increased from 10 per cent to 35 per cent, almost equalling that of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), which was the single largest party. It is the BJP’s best performance ever in the GHMC polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumar said that his party would conduct a “surgical strike” in the old city of Hyderabad to flush out illegal immigrants and “break” the headquarters of the AIMIM. As Kumar is not from Hyderabad, he did not have to balance politics with personal relations like how BJP leaders from the city had to, said a party insider. So, he spoke unabashedly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A mini version of this style of canvassing had already played out in Karimnagar. Kumar had contested the 2014 and 2018 assembly elections from there on a BJP ticket. A one-time aide of Kumar’s, who requested anonymity, said that his main election promise for both polls was that he would pull down the wall of an eidgah (enclosure for Eid prayers), which was disrupting traffic. “At one gathering he even said he will unfurl a saffron flag at the site,” said the former aide. “Sanjay has always been known to make aggressive communally sensitive statements and it definitely seems to have worked for him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An energetic speaker, Kumar has a penchant for catchy phrases and mannerisms. During the campaign for the civic polls, his signature move was grinding his teeth with an angry expression. He would ask the crowds to react the same way when members of the ruling party approached them soliciting votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s old guard in the state was reserved in its criticism of chief minister and TRS supremo K. Chandrashekhar Rao. Kumar, who took over as party state president in March, does not hold back. He has said that the initials KCR stands for kachara or trash and openly calls the chief minister a drunkard. Kumar’s knack for identifying elements that can stir up emotions was seen during the 2019 general elections. The TRS candidate was in an advantageous position until, ironically, Rao attended a public meeting in Karimnagar. He used the phrase “Hindu gallu... bondhu gallu” to drive home the point that the BJP was exploiting Hindus. This line caught on like wildfire and Kumar capitalised. The result was that a large number of Hindu youth rallied behind him and he won with a margin of more than 89,000 votes. In the build up to the civic body polls, Kumar announced that traffic challans of two-wheelers would be waived off if the BJP won the mayor’s post. He based this manifesto promise on the premise that youth in the old city were let off without traffic penalties, while others were being unnecessarily penalised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hailing from a middle-class family in Karimnagar, Kumar is known to be the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s blue-eyed boy and his sudden elevation is attributed to his RSS affiliation. According to people close to him, Kumar’s popularity in the initial days was more because of his religious activities than political work. He built Lakshmi and Saraswati temples in Karimnagar and organised Hanuman jayanthi rallies on a large scale every year. As a young kar sevak, Kumar went to Ayodhya to support the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Did the new version of the BJP, under Kumar’s leadership, disturb Hyderabad’s communal harmony? Kumar does not believe so. “I am only stating facts,” he said. “Is it not true that Rohingyas are staying in Hyderabad and are being used as vote banks? Why are the AIMIM and the TRS feeling bad if I use harsh words against illegal immigrants? If the TRS and the AIMIM is indulging in appeasement politics for 12 per cent Muslim voters, what is wrong if I ask Hindus, who constitute majority, to vote for the BJP? These parties are communal and not the BJP.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The central BJP leadership is said to be impressed with Kumar and have given him its blessings and a free hand. “They told me to keep fighting,” he said. “This is just the beginning. There will be an intense campaign leading up to the 2023 assembly elections.” He believes the BJP will come to power in Telangana, for the first time, in 2023.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from Kumar’s efforts, a major contribution to the BJP’s growth in the state has come from the TRS. In the last six years, the ruling party has opened its gates to more than 35 MLAs and MPs from the Congress, the Telugu Desam Party and the left parties. While these parties were weakened systematically, the BJP remained unscathed. The first signs of the BJP transforming from a party with negligible presence to a potential challenger were seen during the 2019 general elections. It won four out of the 17 seats. Among its winners was Dharmapuri Aravind, at Nizamabad. Like Kumar, the BJP propped up Aravind. He was so in demand as a campaigner for the civic polls that he attended more than 50 road shows and public meetings in 10 days. Aravind minced no words while attacking the Rao family and AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi and his family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Listen to me Akbaruddin (Asaduddin’s brother and MLA), once the BJP government comes to power in the state, I will keep you, your brother and your party near my feet,” Aravind said during a road show. This was in reaction to Akbaruddin saying that any chief minister in the state has to bend before the AIMIM. When asked about the strong language he used in his reaction to Akbaruddin, Aravind said he was an admirer of former Andhra Pradesh chief minister and Congress leader Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. “Our family was close to him,” said Aravind. His father, D. Srinivas, was state Congress president and a former minister. Srinivas is now a Rajya Sabha MP in the TRS fold. Aravind calls himself a “Modi follower” and believes that India is a “Hindu rashtra”, considering its composition and culture.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aravind said there was no correlation between the BJP’s ideology and the lack of Hindu-Muslim unity. “Communal riots have happened in this state and not in BJP-ruled states,” he said. “The chief minister or his son (cabinet minister K.T. Rama Rao) did not even visit the places where Hindus suffered. The definition of communal riots is not only when Muslims are affected.”</p> Fri Dec 11 18:22:34 IST 2020 cries-of-anguish <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>REKHA JAISWAL’S VOICE</b> trembles as she describes how her infant daughter died. A resident of Pongri village in Madhya Pradesh’s Shahdol district, Rekha was nearly eight months pregnant when she was induced.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The sonography report suggested that something was amiss with my child,” she said. “But even though Ritika weighed just 1.4kg at birth, she was otherwise normal. As she was born premature, Ritika remained in hospital for 13 days. Her health was improving when we took her home. Then, all of a sudden, she stopped drinking milk and was gone within two days.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ritika was just 40 days old when she died at the Shahdol district hospital on December 3. The authorities reported the cause of death as pneumonia, sepsis and hypothermia, but Rekha says the baby had no serious symptoms. The 25-year-old is inconsolable. Ritika was her fourth child, and the second one to dies. Her four-year-old son had drowned last year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two days before Ritika died, Rajesh and Guddi Bai Baiga of Semriha village lost their infant son in the same hospital. Anuraj was just three months old when he died of pneumonia at the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU). “My son did not seem to have any serious health problem, though he was constantly crying and heaving when we took him to the hospital on November 27. But his condition deteriorated quickly,” said Rajesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than a dozen infants—aged between three days and four months—have died in similar conditions at Shahdol district hospital since November 26. Since the hospital treats patients from four districts, and houses both PICU and a special newborn care unit, the deaths may not be ‘shocking’ statistically. But the statistics itself is. At 48 deaths per 1,000 live births, Madhya Pradesh has the highest infant mortality rate in India. Every day, around 183 infants die in the state; around 67,000 die every year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The deaths in Shahdol have raised a furore over the lack of basic facilities in the hospital. In the last week of November, the hospital admitted around 15 seriously sick children every day. But only three functional ventilators were available, and only three paediatricians were on duty. Five children died in the 48 hours between December 2 and 4.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The uproar over the deaths forced the district administration to post four more doctors—a retired doctor was called back into service—and put seven more ventilators in place. After Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan intervened, an inquiry was ordered. The inquiry team, however, soon gave a clean chit to doctors and hospital authorities, and blamed the deaths on the delay in bringing ailing children to hospital.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The inflow of children to the district hospital has increased, so we have decided to strengthen the infrastructure and human resources,” said Health Minister Dr Prabhuram Choudhary. “Also we have decided to link the doctors there with specialists and senior doctors in government medical colleges in Jabalpur and Bhopal, and with those in AIIMS, Bhopal. The Jabalpur doctors have been asked to set aside an hour every day to review serious cases in Shahdol.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said a door-to-door survey has been initiated in Shahdol and adjacent districts to identify ailing children, provide them medicines and, if needed, admit them to health care facilities. “In the first two days, we completed a survey of 385 [of 850] villages in the district and shifted 81 weak and ailing children to nutrition rehabilitation centres and other hospitals. We will complete the survey next week,” said Shahdol district collector Satyendra Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Activists, however, feel the government’s response is knee-jerk. Nutritionist Sachin Jain said the solution should be holistic—improving facilities at health care centres and ensuring timely hospitalisation and proper pre- and ante-natal care.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramesh Pandey, a health care activist in Shahdol, said the ante-natal care protocol is poorly executed in the district. “More often than not, ANMs (auxiliary nurses and midwives) just complete the formalities of immunising the women,” he said. “In the absence of required check-ups, issues like poor growth of foetus or other health complications are missed. Even if the ANMs do bring the women to health facilities for check-ups, doctors are often unavailable. The pandemic worsened the situation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition Congress has blamed the state government’s negligence for the deaths. Former chief minister Kamal Nath said the government was yet to allocate resources to hospitals and ensure that proper treatment is available. The party has constituted a team of two legislators and two senior leaders in the region to inquire into the matter. “Further steps will be taken on the basis of the team’s report,” said Narendra Saluja, Kamal Nath’s media coordinator.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2017, when a similar spate of deaths occurred in Shahdol, a non-governmental organisation called the MP Lok Sangharsh Sajha Manch had led protests and submitted an action plan to prevent more deaths. “We had made suggestions and recommendations following an in-depth study of the health centres in the district in 2018,” said Upasana Behar of the Manch. “But an action plan submitted by us, at the instance of district authorities, was not implemented. Now things are back to square one. So we have sent our recommendations to the authorities again, so that a permanent solution is found.”</p> Thu Dec 10 18:05:16 IST 2020 trouble-at-the-grassroots <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>On the day </b>Suvendu Adhikari resigned as West Bengal transport minister, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called a meeting at her residence, which was attended by her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, MP, ministers Partha Chatterjee, Firhad Hakim and Aroop Biswas, and Trinamool Congress general secretary Subrata Bakshi. Surprisingly, senior leader Saugata Roy, MP, who had been talking to Adhikari in an attempt to prevent him from quitting, was not invited to the meeting.</p> <p>“He had some grievances which I informed our leader of the party,” said Roy. “Talks are continuing, and I believe all is not lost.”</p> <p>Adhikari, the hero of the Trinamool’s epic movement against land acquisition in Nandigram in 2007, is the most popular leader in the party after Banerjee. She had never allowed a second power centre in the party and was said to be uncomfortable about Adhikari’s clout. “Mamata <i>di</i> knew that if she negotiated with Suvendu, he would not allow her nephew to grow in the party. Suvendu is a leader of the masses; he would have been the future of the party,” said Saumitra Khan, MP, who left the Trinamool for the BJP last year.</p> <p>The BJP hopes that Adhikari’s exit would nudge other unhappy leaders in the Trinamool to quit, and pave way for the opposition to bring a no-confidence motion against the government. While there are a number of Trinamool MLAs who have expressed their willingness to join the BJP (four of them, in fact, already did), only a mass exodus will overturn the Trinamool’s brute majority in the assembly. The party has 221 members in the 294-strong house.</p> <p>Mukul Roy, who was Banerjee’s eyes and ears for a long time before quitting the Trinamool and joining the BJP in 2017, was the first to mention that some 110 Trinamool MLAs were in touch with him. “Of course they are in touch with us,” he said. “What is wrong with it? They are feeling asphyxiated in their party.” The BJP hopes that Adhikari’s exit would open the floodgates.</p> <p>Whether it happens or not, Banerjee’s party is a divided force. Many senior leaders have been raising their voices against the unilateral decisions by the leadership. This is attributed to the rise of the BJP in the state, which has given Trinamool leaders an alternative. However, the blame has been put also on the functioning of the Trinamool. “Mamata Banerjee had once declared that the future of the Trinamool would be Abhishek Banerjee and Suvendu Adhikari,” said a senior leader who did not wish to be identified. “Suvendu would have accepted that if Abhishek and others gave him due respect. When that was gone, he decided to find his own path.”</p> <p>One of Adhikari’s biggest concerns was the collaboration between Abhishek and political strategist Prashant Kishor, which “created a parallel government” in the state. In fact, the chief minister has been going by what the duo suggested. While Kishor’s involvement has had a positive impact on governance, it has created unrest in the party, with many ministers expressing their resentment over the undue say he has. Some IAS officers also resisted the presence of Kishor’s team in the administrative buildings. Many have expressed their concerns to the chief minister, but she ignored them all.</p> <p>Adhikari, however, is not just another leader. Son of former Union minister Sisir Adhikari, he has considerable clout in East Midnapore and Junglemahal. The senior Adhikari, who was the Congress’s face in the region before he left the party with Banerjee, is a member of the Lok Sabha. During the Nandigram movement, the Adhikari family led the campaign against the CPI(M) and its powerful leader Lakshman Seth, who was called the king of the industrial belt of Haldia and East Midnapore. Nandigram, along with the Singur movement, gave Banerjee big political dividends.</p> <p>In 2009, Banerjee fielded Suvendu Adhikari against Seth in the Lok Sabha election and he scored a thumping victory against the communist heavyweight. When Banerjee came to power in 2011, she replaced Seth with Adhikari as the chairman of the Haldia Development Authority. Adhikari was reelected to the Lok Sabha in 2014, but he had had enough of Delhi and wanted to come back to Bengal. He contested and won the assembly election from Nandigram in 2016, and Banerjee made him a minister.</p> <p>While there are stories about Adhikari visiting some spiritual gurus while in Delhi and frequenting RSS <i>shakhas</i> in Midnapore as a teen, it is not yet clear if such things would have had a bearing on the political decisions he has to make. Also, he has significant clout among Muslims in East Midnapore. The Nandigram movement had a significant Muslim participation and Adhikari played a big role in swinging Muslim votes in favour of the Trinamool in the 2011 assembly election. “Even after he quit as minister, his meetings ended with <i>namaskar</i> and <i>salam</i>,” said a leader close to Adhikari. “He is a secular leader.”</p> <p>After the BJP’s spectacular show in the state in the Lok Sabha elections last year, Banerjee gave Adhikari the charge of three assembly bypolls; the Trinamool won all three, including the Kharagpur Sadar constituency vacated by the BJP’s state president Dilip Ghosh when he became a member of the Lok Sabha.</p> <p>There is a theory that the BJP has been putting pressure on Adhikari using the CBI investigation into the allegations of him taking money in the Narada sting operation. But, Banerjee is clearly not doing enough to keep him in her party.</p> <p>More than any such theory, what is important is Banerjee’s loosening grip on the party. Top leaders like Arjun Singh and Sovan Chatterjee have revolted against her, and only a few months are left for the assembly elections. It seems she is up against the biggest challenge in her long political career.&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 03 19:08:02 IST 2020 in-bad-faith <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>S</b>hrinkhala Gupta’s intent to marry Fahad Hydar was drowned by her father’s protests. This despite Hydar’s parents having no objection to their son converting to Hinduism for the nuptials. “My father’s discomfort with Muslims is something we grew up with,” said Lucknow-based Shrinkhala, whose Muslim wedding in 2003 took place without her parents’ approval. For the wedding, Shrinkhala was given a new name: Shireen. “To me, it was a name given out of love by my in-laws,” she said. “I saw no reason to oppose it. Taking my husband’s surname was also not a big deal.”</p> <p>Last week, the state government introduced the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, which aims to prohibit “unlawful conversion from one religion to another by… fraudulent means or by marriage and for the matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”. Although the ordinance brings into its ambit all religious converters, detractors widely perceive it as being targeted at specific religious groups.</p> <p>It is not a unique law. In 1967, Odisha enacted the&nbsp;Freedom of Religion Act, followed a year later by Madhya Pradesh. Both prescribed identical punishments and fines for conversions affected by fraudulent means. The UP ordinance is far stricter with a wider ambit (see box).</p> <p>Vinod Bansal, national spokesperson for the Vishva Hindu Parishad, said that Hindu women like Shrinkhala were especially vulnerable as they were brought up with a natural tendency to trust. Hence, their likelihood of falling prey to the unscrupulous.</p> <p>Bansal admits it is impossible to put a number to such cases. “However, if we add the murders, suicides, rapes and sale of women and look into the reasons behind them, a fair picture can emerge,” he said. “Love jihad… is a catastrophe which needs to be stemmed.”</p> <p>On why Muslim women who converted to Hinduism for marriage cannot be termed the victims of such “jihad”, Bansal said that for most Muslim women such a conversion was actually a matter of relief. “They know that the man cannot marry other women as is permitted in Islam, they get out of the fetters of the burqa and numerous restrictions, they are not made part of a contract which can be rescinded at will and they are not looked upon merely as machines to produce children,” he said.</p> <p>While the recent concern about 'love jihad' has been loudly expressed by the two BJP-ruled states of UP and MP, its bogey was first raised in Kerala. (The MP government will table a bill on the issue, unlike UP which chose the quicker ordinance route.)&nbsp;In 2010, CPI(M) leader and chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan had spoken of “money and marriages” being used on non-Muslims for the Islamisation of Kerala. That morphed into the more overarching phrase ‘love jihad’. It is a term that also finds its way to courts in often ambivalent decisions.</p> <p>On November 24, the Allahabad High Court said that two of its earlier decisions which prohibited conversions for the sake of marriage were essentially bad law as they violated the right to life and personal liberty. It is these earlier decisions that UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath cites to bolster his claims about the need for the current law.</p> <p>In 1996, Harshita Singh and Farrukh Rahman Khan, after months of unsuccessfully trying to convince their families, married in a nikah and then in an Arya Samaj temple. Before the couple could return to their families, religious hardliners from Gorakhpur—then the constituency of Yogi Adityanath—had set out to punish the two. For many weeks, they were on the run. “We would get onto any bus and remain on it till it reached its last destination,” recalled Harshita.</p> <p>It was only about a month-and-a-half after the nikah that they were able to register their union under the Special Marriage Act. The Khan household today is an amalgam of the Muslim call to prayer and the chants of Hindu mantras. “My in-laws never forced me into anything,” said Harshita, who took her husband’s last name. “It was my decision to soothe their fears and blend into their customs.”</p> <p>While both Shrinkhala and Harshita were protected by a cloak of education, the possibility of conversion under threat or allurement cannot be denied. And, while it is not gender specific, women are likelier to be more troubled by such conversions.</p> <p>The Special Marriage Act of 1954 offers individuals of different faiths the choice to marry without the need to change their religion. Yet, the act through its list of various dos makes such unions open to abuse. Anas Tanwir, founder of the&nbsp;Indian Civil Liberties Union&nbsp;(ICLU), said: “The act makes such unions difficult. For instance, under Section 19, any member of an undivided Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain family loses the right to inheritance. The present ordinance stipulates that any person can be an aggrieved party to the union under the blanket assumption that one’s religion is being threatened. So, what was a hurdle under that act has been made a steeper climb by this new draconian law.”</p> <p>Shrinkhala’s sisters-in-law are both married to Hindus. The eldest, Injeela, married to Neeraj Thapar, said that her father hosted a large reception. “Even the imam of the Jama Masjid attended it,” said Injeela who uses Hydar Thapar as her last name. “My father’s objective was to tell the world that the union had the family’s blessings so that no one dared harass us in any manner.”</p> <p>For interfaith couples, the ordinance is an attempt by the state to meddle into deeply personal issues. But personal issues often make for good politics.</p> Thu Dec 03 18:36:37 IST 2020 no-way-this-law-will-be-misused <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Q/<b>Why did UP choose to bring about an ordinance instead of a bill?</b></p> <p>A/ The Vidhan Sabha was not in session. Incidents of unlawful religious conversions were on the rise. There were times when it seemed that these could cause big law and order problems and riots.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>What data on conversions informed the government’s decision?</b></p> <p>A/ I cannot give exact figures. However, such conversions were often reported in the media and from many districts. Criminal acts were on the rise because of such instances. Hence the need to stop all forcible conversions immediately.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Though the ordinance speaks of all kinds of religious converters, there is fear that it targets certain religions.</b></p> <p>A/ There is a Hindi saying­—<i>chor ki daadhi mein tinka</i>&nbsp;(a guilty conscience needs no accuser). Those who are fearing this law are the ones who have been mostly responsible for these unlawful conversions. There have been no negative reactions from Christians, Parsis, Sikhs and Jains. We respect all religions and everyone has the right to live according to their faith. But the strictest law was needed to tackle forced conversions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Like MP, is conversion to Christianity also an issue that the state is worried about?</b></p> <p>A/ We cannot specifically name any religions. But now, no one will be able to force conversions through threats, allurement or by deceit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>Does the ordinance not concentrate too much power in the hands of district magistrates?</b></p> <p>A/ The DM will conduct a full inquiry into the matter and listen to all sides concerned. A DM is the administrative head of the district so the power to ensure implementation of the law is given to him, even though he might delegate the task further.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/<b>What safeguards will ensure that the ordinance is not misused?</b></p> <p>A/ If there are any lacunae in the ordinance, we will take stock of them and amend them. In a democracy, people have the right to modify laws. Even the Constitution is open to re-interpretation. For individuals, there is no way that this law will be misused. When the notice is given and duly investigated, trouble makers will be deterred from creating any nuisance. They will not be able to say that the conversion was forced as an afterthought. Through this ordinance, we have provided strong legal protection to those who wish to convert of their own volition.</p> Thu Dec 03 18:25:05 IST 2020 faded-memories <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>“<b>My childhood </b>was certainly golden; not a symbol, absolutely golden; not poetically, but literally, factually,” said Acharya Rajneesh, aka Osho, in a series of talks that were later compiled into the book <i>Glimpses of Golden Childhood</i> in 1998, seven years after he died.</p> <p>Connecting Osho’s words to Kuchwada, the village in Madhya Pradesh’s Raisen district, is difficult. Leading visitors to this dreary, dusty village is a 4km-long bumpy dirt track. There are no proper roads in Kuchwada, and the nearest railway station is 45km away. As one struggles to steer clear of a stream of sewage that has partly swallowed one of the bylanes, it is hard to meditate on what makes Kuchwada golden.</p> <p>Osho was born in Kuchwada on December 11, 1931. “My birthplace,” he wrote, “was a village with no railway line and no post office. There was no school, no road.”</p> <p>True, except that there is a higher secondary school in the village now. It is probably the only big government-initiated change in the village since Osho was born as Chandramohan Jain at his maternal grandparents’ house 89 years ago.</p> <p>At the centre of the village, and surrounded by the sewage-filled bylane, is an ill-maintained, two-storey house with black wooden doors and a tin roof. That is where the Osho story began. He was born to Saraswati Bai and Babu Lal Jain, in a ground-floor room in the back of the building. Twenty years ago, Osho’s disciples in Japan—led by Swami Satya Tirth, one of his early followers from Ahmedabad—bought the building and erected a metal fence around the compound. Villagers say the followers paid as much as 050 lakh to buy the house. The money appears to have gone now; the building is badly in need of maintenance.</p> <p>Shivkumar Soni, 63, farmer and goldsmith, said his father, Durgaprasad, and Osho played together when they were children. “Father was two years elder to Osho,” said Soni. Osho and his family left the village when he was seven, and the house was sold off in the 1970s. “We did not see him or even hear of him until Neebuswami (Satya Tirth) bought the house and set up an ashram. But then, too, we did not have much connection with the ashram as those people like to keep to themselves. They charged an entry fee, too,” he said.</p> <p>Visitors have become rare. “A decade ago, the birth anniversary celebrations attracted many followers, including celebrities like Vinod Khanna,” said Soni. “Last year, though, only 10-15 people turned up.”</p> <p>The ashram complex has a guest house, a pyramid-shaped meditation hall, and a library (the books were sold off two years ago, say villagers). Satya Tirth had also built a two-storey hospital named after Osho’s maternal grandmother, but it was shut down a year after its opening. “The villagers did not benefit in any way from the activities of the ashram or from the Osho legacy,” said Kuchwada sarpanch Narmada Prasad Lodhi.</p> <p>Satya Tirth died in January this year. An ashram worker said a Japanese follower of Osho was staying there, but the woman did not want to interact with anyone. Efforts to contact her and other ashram staff were unsuccessful.</p> <p>Apparently, Osho’s birth anniversary on December 11 may not be celebrated this time. But the villagers are hardly bothered. Saurabh Mirdha, a 15-year-old student, said he neither knew who Osho was, nor was he interested in learning about him and his work. Said Nishant Raghu, a 21-year-old undergraduate: “People tell us that Osho was born here. But I do not know who exactly he was and I did not try to find out, either. He might have been a big man, but his legacy has not helped the village.”</p> <p>The release of the Netflix documentary <i>Wild Wild Country</i> in 2018 kindled a renewed interest in Osho’s controversial legacy. In November this year, Ma Anand Sheela, who was Osho’s most prominent spokesperson, published her biography <i>By My Own Rules</i>. Kuchwada, however, still remains forgotten.</p> <p>Swami Narayan, an Osho follower who was close to Satya Tirth, said the situation was “sad”. He had spent time in the Kuchwada ashram from 2005 to 2007. “Swamiji (Satya Tirth) wanted to hand over the management of the hospital to Baba Ramdev’s trust, but could not get a response,” said Narayan. “He also wanted to open a school and had bought a petrol pump to make fuel available at a low price. But he sold it off later.”</p> <p>He said the ashram in Kuchwada used to be a great place for meditation. “It is sad to hear about its present state. It might be because of pandemic-related issues or other problems,” said Narayan, who has no connections with the Kuchwada ashram now.</p> <p>Amrit Sadhana, spokesperson for the Osho Commune in Pune, said the Kuchwada ashram does not follow Osho’s rules. “That property was purchased by someone personally and they conduct their affairs in their own way,” she said. “Since they don’t follow the rules of Osho, we cannot have any connection with them.”</p> <p>When he was alive, Osho had never thought of returning to his village. Now the village, too, would rather forget him. “I have not done anything about that village; I have not even visited it again,” wrote Osho. “Once is enough. I never go to a place twice. For me number two does not exist. I have left many villages, many towns, never to return again. Once gone, gone forever; that’s my way; so I have not returned to that village. The villagers have sent messages to me to come at least once more. I told them, through a messenger, I have been there once already, twice is not my way.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 03 17:54:40 IST 2020 promised-land <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Successive years of</b> crop failure and three suicides in the family would have forced any woman to sell her farm and abandon agriculture altogether. But not Jyoti Deshmukh, a resident of Katyar village in Maharashtra’s Akola district. “A day after we had performed the <i>tehravi</i> rituals (performed 13 days after the death of a person) for my husband, I shifted from our home to our farm,” said Jyoti. “My father told me to come home as I was just 41 then. But I urged him to give me one year to try my hand at farming.”</p> <p>Thirteen years after her husband, Santosh, took his own life, Deshmukh is a successful farmer today. Her story is a remarkable tale of determination and sheer hard work in the face of immense odds that a widow faces after her husband’s death.Jyoti’s father-in-law, Purushottam Deshmukh, died by suicide in 2001. As did her brother-in-law Sunil in 2004. “Not only did our crops fail, but his business failed too,” Jyoti said of Sunil. “He had turned cotton trader to supplement family income. He purchased cotton at Rs2,500 per quintal and hoped to sell to big traders at a profit of Rs250-300 per quintal. But the prices crashed and he was forced to sell his cotton at Rs1,400-1,500 per quintal. The loss was huge and he never recovered from it.”</p> <p>Then, in 2007, she lost her husband. “We own 29 acres of agricultural land. But we hardly got anything that year. My husband suddenly became silent. He was not himself. One day, he consumed pesticide and ended his life. I was devastated to witness three suicides in six years. I did not know what to do with life or how to take care of my son who was in Class 9,” said Jyoti. In the years that followed, Jyoti not only turned around her family’s agricultural fortunes, but also educated her son Hemant, who is an engineer in Pune now. Along the way, she constructed a concrete-roofed home and bought a two-wheeler and a Deutz-Fahr tractor. “I barely stepped out of our house until my husband’s death,” said Jyoti. “I did not know anything about farming. I was confined to the home and kitchen, and was raising my son. After my husband’s time, elders in the village advised me to sell the land. My father, too, said that I should return home with my son. But I wanted to try my hand at farming. I urged my father and others to give me one year. I told them that if the crop fails again, I would act as per their wishes.”</p> <p>Jyoti was encouraged by a local government official. He told her that women have started going to space and conquering many fields, and there was nothing wrong if she wanted to follow her heart.</p> <p>A majority of Jyoti’s land is <i>khar pan</i> land, which means the groundwater is saline and unfit for agriculture. One of the first things she did after moving to her farm was to survey the land and find a spot with sweet water. She dug a borewell there and planted gram and moong in the first year. “My moong failed completely; but the gram was a success. I managed to get 100 bags of yield. That was my first income in the year after my husband’s death,” said Jyoti.In 2009, she turned to soya bean. Vijayrao Deshmukh, a farmer from a neighbouring village, helped her with the soya bean crop. “Vijayrao gave me two bags of soya bean seeds and told me how to cultivate it,” she said. “When villagers came to know about it, they started laughing as nobody had cultivated soya bean in our village till then. But I persisted. Along with soya bean, I sowed moong again that year. Once again, the moong failed but the soya bean gave me a very good yield. I earned Rs85,000 after selling it in the market. This was my first success. It was a revelation for the village too. Those who had laughed at me came to me and asked how I did it.”</p> <p>Since then, Jyoti has not looked back. She has been cultivating crops with reasonable success every year. “Villagers made fun of me, told me to go away after selling my land. But my son told me not to sell even an inch of it. He likes farming. He said if we sell it now, we may get money, but we may not be able to buy so much land in future. He was studying back then. He told me, ‘Mother, I do not want anything extra. I do not mind even if we earn less, but please do not sell our farm,’” recalled Jyoti. Her annual agriculture income is around Rs6 lakh. Today, she cultivates cotton, soya bean, toor, gram and moong. She rebuilt her house in 2010. What used to be a <i>kachcha</i> village house is today a two-bedroom proper house with a compound wall. She bought her tractor in 2017 as villagers were hesitant to lend her their tractors. She used to plead with them for their tractors. They would not refuse, but would never give either. One day, in 2013, a villager agreed to help her with his tractor. “But he came late in the evening. It was almost dark and he did a shoddy job on my farm. The next day, after seeing what he had done, I realised that I would have to buy a tractor,” said Jyoti.</p> <p>Hers is the only tractor in the village with a woman’s name on it. “When I painted my name on the tractor that hurt a lot of male egos in the village,” said Jyoti. This year, Jyoti was felicitated by a number of organisations. Dr Panjabrao Deshmukh Agriculture University felicitated her for being a successful farmer, as did Bachchu Kadu, guardian minister of Akola. “The minister felicitated me recently. He came home and listened to my story patiently,” said Jyoti. The certificate given to her by Bachchu Kadu reads: “Sister, you have achieved a lot. You did not give up despite the death of your husband, you did not leave the fight midway. You began tilling the land and also took good care of your child. You are truly an inspiration.”</p> <p>The only thing that bothers Jyoti now is the attitude of the villagers. Earlier, they used to make fun of her. Now, they are jealous of her and trouble her in many ways. They do not allow her to park her tractor at her home. They have asked her not to bring it inside the village. On some days, vandals damage the power lines to her home, leaving her in darkness. “I don’t know what pleasure they get. I also try to give it back to them,” she said. “Normally, men in the village do not help with my farming. So, I have had to hire a farmhand from the neighbouring Amravati district.”</p> <p>Jyoti is firm that she will not sell her land. “There was a day, after my husband’s death, on which I, too, contemplated consuming pesticide,” she said. “But the thought of my son and our village deity, Lord Kateshwar, gave me the necessary strength to carry on. My son is in Pune now and I can go there to live with him. But what will I do there? I enjoy farming and this land has given me so much.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 03 17:40:22 IST 2020 love-and-laws <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On the eve of the bypolls in Madhya Pradesh, a stern-looking Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced: “Love ke naam par koi jihad nahi hoga (there will be no jihad in the name of love).” And, if someone tried to do it, he continued, they will be set right. “Legal provisions will be made for this,” he told the media. It did create a flutter, and might have helped consolidate the Hindu votes for the BJP. The party won 19 of the 28 seats, helping it attain a simple majority in the assembly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That statement by Chouhan, however, was a signal of things to come. On November 17, Home Minister Narottam Mishra announced the Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Bill, 2020. Chouhan, following the bypolls, was reportedly on a holiday then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mishra, considered close to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, said that under the proposed legislation, marriages by force, fraud or allurement for the purpose of religious conversion will be declared null and void. A non-bailable and cognisable offence, it would attract a rigorous imprisonment of five years, Mishra said. Also, the co-accused in the case would be awarded the same punishment. However, action would only be initiated on the complaint of the person who was converted or his or her immediate family. The district administration would have to be notified a month in advance of any such conversions. Mishra said that the bill will be tabled in the assembly in the upcoming winter session, to be held in December or January.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Activists and the opposition have raised questions over the need for such a bill. They said the state already has laws that prohibit religious conversion through force, fraud and allurement (Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act, 1968) and marriages through force or inducement (section 366 of the IPC).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Mishra told The WEEK that the bill will be an amendment to the 1968 act, additional chief secretary (home) Rajesh Rajora said that it would be a new law that would replace the 1968 act. “The name of the proposed legislation being the same (as the 1968 act) might have created the confusion,” he said. He added that the bill will focus on marriages through force, fraud and allurement for the purpose of conversion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Activists also questioned the constitutionality of provisions like prior intimation of inter-religious marriages to the district administration. But what miffed them the most was the use of the term ‘love jihad’ in the context of the proposed legislation, seeing it as an affront to the Muslim community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mishra, however, was cautious and disassociated himself from the term, saying it was coined by the media. “There has been an upswing in the cases (of religious conversions through marriages using force, fraud or allurement), which in your (media) language is called love jihad,” he had said. But, in his tweet, he clearly said that love jihad meant marriages through force or allurement for purpose of conversion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Activists said that there was no doubt that saffron outfits and the BJP had often used the term to describe marriages involving Hindu women and Muslim men. And the bill in Madhya Pradesh, like in many other BJP-ruled states, is an attempt to gain political mileage by opposing inter-religious marriages, they said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mishra told THE WEEK that the legislation was proposed now as several “such marriages” were being reported across the country. He added that the Madhya Pradesh government, too, had received intelligence reports about instances in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chouhan, too, told THE WEEK that the state had seen instances of conversions for marriages through force, fraud or allurement. “Our aim is to protect our daughters,” he said. “However, the modalities of the proposed law are still in process of finalisation and details will be shared at the right time.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Lajja Shankar Herdenia, national convener of All India Secular Forum, denied coming across any such incident in the state. “It is the habit of the BJP and the RSS to keep doing things that would create tension and division in the society,” he said. “This allows their governments to avoid talking about issues like unemployment and starvation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Herdenia added that all attempts to empower Hindu women have been historically opposed by the RSS. Even the Hindu Code Bill, which gave Hindu women the right to divorce, was strongly opposed by the RSS, the Hindu Mahasabha and other right-wing outfits, he said. The constitution of the RSS says that its membership is open only to Hindu men, said Herdenia, so they, of all people, do not have the right to talk about women’s rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Activist and writer John Dayal said that the concept of love jihad was being used by the RSS and the BJP as a political instrument to radicalise its core constituency, now that the Ram Mandir issue was over and the cow slaughter controversy had lost steam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the Muslim community is vocal about its objections. The Muslim Vikas Parishad in Bhopal has asked the state government to clarify the legal and constitutional definition of the word jihad. The Parishad’s objection is to the use of a “holy” word in the wrong context; it does not want the word to be used in the legislation and in public statements. It has also asked the government to publish the list of all inter-religious marriages cleared between January 2018 and November 2020, the details and reasons of all such marriages that had ended.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Supreme Court lawyer Haji Mohammad Haroon, who is also the chairman of the state unit of the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind, said the bill is unconstitutional and against freedom of religion. Marriage, he said, is a personal choice. Also, while there were several instances of conversions in interfaith marriages, there were also instances where the spouses, be it Hindu or Muslim, did not convert, he added. “The proposed law will simply be a way to harass the middle class, as no one bothers to see what is happening in poor settlements and no one dares to question the rich and the influential,” said Haroon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also said that jihad was being used to target Muslims. “Jihad has a totally different meaning as it connotes steps to be taken to eradicate religious evil,” said Haroon. “Eradication of evil could be through action, verbal opposition or even by thinking bad of the evil in one’s heart. It has nothing to do with terrorism, as is often [misconstrued]. In my view, the actual jihad was the one done by Lord Ram who waged a battle against the evil Ravana.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>J.P. Dhanopia, Congress spokesman and lawyer, pointed out that ‘love jihad’ had no legal definition and the BJP government would not be able to include it in the proposed legislation. “But they are playing the music of ‘love jihad’ big in the background of the proposed law with the clear intention of creating hate and division in the society, as is their agenda,” he said. He, too, questioned the need for another law when there were laws already in place to prohibit religious conversion and forced marriage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Old whine, new bottle</b></p> <p>Madhya Pradesh was among the first few states in the country to bring in a law against religious conversions through force, fraud or allurement in 1968. States like Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand have similar laws.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 1968 act was promulgated by the Bharatiya Jana Sangh-led Samyukta Vidhayak Dal government. Herdenia, who is also a veteran journalist, said that the act was brought in to stop the alleged conversions through allurement to Christianity in the state’s tribal pockets. The punishment accorded was imprisonment up to a year or a fine up to 05,000. In cases where minors, women and people belonging to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes were involved, the imprisonment could go up to two years and the fine up to 010,000. Also, the priest or the person who converts another had to notify the district magistrate within seven days of the conversion. The act, however, does not have any provisions on inter-religious marriages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1977, the High Court upheld the 1968 act, saying that the relevant sections “establish the equality of religious freedom for all citizens by prohibiting conversion by objectionable activities such as conversion by force, fraud and by allurement”. A constitutional bench of the Supreme Court also later upheld the act, saying that “right to propagate (religion) was distinct from right to convert”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the BJP government came to power in Madhya Pradesh in 2003, two unsuccessful attempts were made to make the 1968 act more stringent—both times Chouhan was chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In July 2006, the BJP government amended the act. As per the amendment, the priest had to notify the district magistrate about conversions a month in advance. Failure to do so would be punishable by one year imprisonment or a fine of Rs5,000. The person who is converting, too, would have to declare their intent before the district magistrate, or risk being fined Rs1,000. Once intimated, the district magistrate would have to ask the police superintendent to investigate the matter and report back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Herdenia said that they met the then governor Balram Jakhar and urged him not to sign the amendment bill. “The governor then referred the matter to the president of India and on the basis of the advice of the attorney general that it was ‘ultra vires and unconstitutional’, the president refused to grant it assent,” he said. The ground for holding the amendment unconstitutional was that it “violated the freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution because it insisted on prior permission (for conversion)”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In July 2013, the state assembly passed another amendment to the 1968 act, increasing the jail term to three years and the fine to Rs50,000. In case of minors, women and people belonging to SC/ST category, the imprisonment went up to four years and the fine to Rs1 lakh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We again approached the governor (Ram Naresh Yadav) and informed him about the earlier decision of the president. The governor did not sign the 2013 amendment bill,” said Herdenia. “We will do whatever is necessary to stall the proposed legislation of 2020, including the option of approaching the courts.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A push for power?</b></p> <p>Political analyst Manish Dixit has another take on the controversy. He looks at it as a game of one-upmanship between Chouhan, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and other second-rung BJP leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This is a preparation for the future, perhaps as early as 2023, when it seems Narendra Modi will not be the prime minister,” said Dixit. “Who will fill the vacuum then? Among BJP leaders, Chouhan, being a four-time chief minister, is politically more experienced than even Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda. He is popular, is an OBC and has a good RSS connect.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chouhan’s statement on the proposed legislation came immediately after Yogi announced his intention to bring in a similar law. He also constituted a cow cabinet and banned firecrackers that came from China and those that had pictures of deities on packets. He also got Congress MLA Arif Masood booked for leading a protest against French president Emmanuel Macron over his comments on Islam and even had Masood’s ‘illegal’ property partially razed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It looks like Chouhan wants to further impress the RSS and stamp his position as a Hindu leader. He also wants to keep the BJP top leadership happy by trying to implement its guidelines and decisions in the state with alacrity,” said Dixit. “In the past three terms, Chouhan maintained a moderate image, even hugging Muslims on Eid. A large chunk of Muslims here switched over to the BJP only because of Chouhan. Having done that, he does not want any minus marking on the RSS records and these are attempts in that direction.”</p> Thu Nov 26 19:47:08 IST 2020 the-hyderabad-crossfire <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>UNION INFORMATION</b> and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar recently took part in the BJP’s high-octane campaign ahead of the Hyderabad civic polls. The Union minister campaigning in a municipal election raised a few eyebrows, but his speech revealed the BJP’s game plan. “Do you want a BJP mayor or an MIM mayor?” he asked. He went on to unveil a “charge-sheet”, a booklet outlining the alleged failures of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi government. Occupying significant space on the front page alongside TRS leaders was the image of Asaduddin Owaisi, Hyderabad MP and president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), also referred to as MIM.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later, BJP state president Bandi Sanjay Kumar participated in a meeting attended by non-Telugu speakers and migrants. “How did the MIM win five seats in Bihar?” he asked. “The Muslims voted for that party. Same way, it is a good opportunity for the Hindus to consolidate and vote for the BJP. We cannot let the MIM take control of the nation.” Sanjay, who has been leading the BJP campaign to rename Hyderabad as Bhagyanagar, courted controversy on November 24 when he said that if the BJP gets the mayor’s post it would conduct a “surgical strike on the old city and throw out Rohingyas and Pakistanis”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s strategy for the civic polls, scheduled for December 1, became even clearer when Bengaluru South MP and the party’s youth wing president Tejasvi Surya landed in the city. “We will not let Islamisation happen,” he said. “A vote for Owaisi is a vote against India.” He continued, now emotionally: “Asaduddin Owaisi and Akbaruddin Owaisi, listen to me. This is not Nizam’s rule but that of Narendra Modi.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, which is riding high on the success of its recent bypoll win in Dubbaka, had started positioning itself as the primary challenger to the TRS. After the schedule for the civic polls was released, it initially targeted the TRS and occasionally took potshots at the AIMIM. But, now there is a marked shift in the party’s approach—it seems to have elevated AIMIM to the status of its principal foe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, the TRS is definitely not forgotten. The current messaging, delivered with a heavy dose of hindutva, is that a vote for the TRS will ultimately be a vote for the AIMIM. Though the two parties never had an alliance openly they are known to be on friendly terms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP targeting AIMIM is interesting because Owaisi’s party has no chance of holding the mayor’s office. Polls are being held for 150 wards in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC). In the 2016 elections, the TRS won 99, the AIMIM 44 and the BJP four. The GHMC, spread over 24 assembly constituencies and five Parliament segments, has around 75 lakh voters. With an additional 49 co-opted members who are MLAs and MPs, the total strength of the GHMC council is 199. Any party which needs to stake claim to the mayor’s post should have 100 members, and the AIMIM is only contesting in around 50 wards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reacting to the BJP campaign, an AIMIM leader who requested anonymity, said: “This is a first-of-its-kind provocative campaign by the BJP. Their leaders are asking people to choose between salaam and namaste. They cannot introduce communal elements into everything. These statements will put even the older generation of BJP leaders to shame.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Owaisi said: “If you wake up BJP leaders, they will say Owaisi. This is the first Baldia (GHMC) elections which are not being fought on local issues. The BJP is talking about Rohingya refugees and terrorism. Focus is on Hindu-Muslim division.” The BJP has devoted a significant share of its time and energy on the Owaisi brothers. But, will it pay dividends?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The BJP is over-projecting the AIMIM and itself,” said Telkapalli Ravi, a senior political analyst based in Hyderabad. “It is artificially motivated as an AIMIM member cannot be a mayor,” he said. “The campaign is positioned (to create) communal polarisation. The BJP is trying to create hype, but voters are more bothered about civic issues and what the BJP government at the Centre did for them. The mental makeup of Hyderabad is different as it has diverse communities and the hindutva card will not work here.” However, Ravi points out that even if the BJP betters its own performance in 2016, it will be “hyped up” as a success.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Stung by the BJP campaign, the MIM and TRS leaders have openly declared that they are not on the same side and are fighting against each other. Side-lined, the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party are fighting for visibility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, despite the BJP’s dominance in the mainstream media, it has its own headaches. In the recent past, a number of mid-level and senior opposition leaders—including a former parliamentarian, legislator and Hyderabad mayor—had joined the BJP. This has led to the number of ticket aspirants shooting up, leading to clashes led by dejected candidates and their followers. In some wards, the number of rebel candidates from the BJP has outnumbered candidates from all other parties together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the morale continues to be high among the BJP’s candidates and cadre. Mirza Akhil Afandi is the only Muslim candidate. He is contesting from Dabeerpura, in old Hyderabad. “I am planning to apply for a gun as I keep receiving death threats,” he said. “I have been associated with the party for 13 years and I am committed to its ideology. I was second in the last election, but this time I am confident of winning and my party looks very strong.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The old city is the AIMIM’s stronghold, but the BJP has boldly tried to make inroads into it. Its spokesperson Rakesh Reddy had said that the saffron party would go to areas where it did not go last time and motivate its members to fight the “atrocities of the MIM”. He was confident that there would be “consolidation of votes there”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The open political war between the BJP and the MIM may lead to gains for both parties. And this could hit the TRS, possibly making it difficult for it to improve or match its 2016 tally.</p> Thu Nov 26 19:42:43 IST 2020 odd-ordinance <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AS THE CONTROVERSIAL</b> amendment to the Kerala Police Act was creating headlines nationwide for all the wrong reasons, one of the most circulated memes showed Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan looking into a mirror and seeing Prime Minister Narendra Modi staring back at him. The meme was shared by thousands, including ardent left supporters. And, that was something unusual.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No wonder, the LDF government took a U-turn within 24 hours of it coming up with the ordinance that mandated a jail term for any offensive social media post. Explaining this turnaround, the chief minister said: “The amendment evoked varied responses from several corners. Apprehensions were aired even by those who support the LDF and profess to defend democracy. In these circumstances, the government will not go ahead with implementing the amendment.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He, however, defended the legislation, saying that it was brought in to check “malicious campaigns” on social media. He added that the fate of the ordinance will be decided after hearing opinions from all quarters, including a “detailed discussion” in the assembly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was on October 21 that the Kerala cabinet decided to amend the Police Act and incorporate Section 118(A) to curb social media abuse. The amendment was aimed at stop those who “produce, publish or disseminate content through any means of communication to intimidate, insult or defame any person through social media”. The punishment: imprisonment for up to five years or a fine of up to Rs10,000, or both. While the Congress slammed the move, the BJP complained to the governor. The state government finally brought another ordinance on November 24 to repeal the initial one—a rare practice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What prompted, or rather forced, the chief minister to go back on his decision—another rare event, considering his firm stance—was the fact that left sympathisers were leading the protests. Add to that the nationwide negative publicity for a government that is considered to be progressive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eyebrows were raised at the timing of the amendment, too, as the LDF government is facing a series of allegations. The chief minister’s former principal secretary has been in the Enforcement Directorate’s custody for the last one month. Bineesh Kodiyeri, son of former CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, is also in ED custody in a money laundering case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had tried to introduce the controversial Defamation Bill when the Bofors allegations came up. The left was at the forefront of the agitation against it then,” said left intellectual T.K. Vinodan. “The amendment that the Kerala government tried to bring was a way too similar to that, if not more Draconian. This was not expected of a left government.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from the public anger, what prompted Vijayan, according to sources, is the protest within the party. The party’s Polit Bureau, of which the chief minister is also a member, had incidentally resolved to oppose the Centre’s notification to bring digital media within the ambit of the information and broadcasting ministry—barely 10 days ahead of this amendment. Sensing that the party is in a spot nationally, CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury had openly said that the state government has been asked to reconsider its decision. CPI General Secretary D. Raja, too, was “uncomfortable” with the ordinance and the party had expressed its opinion to the state leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similar sentiments were raised within the CPI(M) state unit, too. “Many leaders pointed out to the chief minister what was wrong with the amendment in party forums after the controversy broke out. The chief minister was very receptive to what we said,” said a young state committee member.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was anxious whether the chief minister would go ahead unilaterally as he did in the Sabarimala case, where he was determined to implement the Supreme Court verdict allowing the entry of women into the shrine. “His position was progressive and legally correct on the Sabarimala issue. However, that was wide off the mark from ground realities as the Lok Sabha results showed. Like that, a law to protect common men and women from cyberbullying is much-needed. But this is not the way to implement that,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Vijayan firmly holds the reins of both the party and the government, this swift “course correction” was unexpected. “The recent attacks against the party and the government by the BJP government using various Central agencies had only made him stronger within the party, as nobody other than him would be able to withstand the onslaught from all fronts. So, when he readily agreed to go back on the amendment after the discussions, we were positively surprised,” said another left leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to officials in the know, the amendment was brought in without proper vetting. “There is no doubt that the said amendment was a bad decision,” said a senior official in the state law department. According to him, the most “foolish” aspect of the amendment was that the police could register cases against anybody suo motu even without a complaint. “This would give unrestrained power to the police and would lead to police raj,” he said. “It is unbelievable that the chief minister, who himself has been at the receiving end of police brutality during the Emergency, did not foresee this.”</p> Thu Nov 26 18:54:51 IST 2020 centre-did-nothing-but-issue-instructions-on-covid-19 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Chhattisgarh </b>Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel is extremely critical of the Narendra Modi government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, from the “aimless lockdown” to providing little assistance to states. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Baghel accuses the Centre of “siphoning away” money from public sector undertakings in the state as donations to the PM CARES fund. He also wonders if the free Covid-19 vaccine announcement in Bihar was a signal that states that do not have an upcoming election would have to pay for it. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Amid Covid-19 and the economic downturn, how effective has the Congress been as the main opposition party?</b></p> <p>A/ The Congress did a commendable job. Our leader Rahul Gandhi had warned the Modi government about Covid-19 in February. Unfortunately, they ignored the warning because of political reasons. When the disease started spreading, the prime minister went in for an aimless lockdown without any notice to citizens. Then too, the Congress leadership had warned that this kind of lockdown would be disastrous. Congress workers helped migrant labourers in all possible manner. In large states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where the Congress was not in power, our workers did exemplary work to help the people. When the Centre asked migrants to buy train tickets, our leader Sonia Gandhi asked the state units to pay for the tickets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>It was a time for Congress governments to lead by example. How successful were you in this?</b></p> <p>A/ When the prime minister shut down the country without any notice, we, in Chhattisgarh, consulted all stakeholders and decided not to shut down mines, mineral-based industries and crucial businesses. Chhattisgarh is a major contributor of coal and we could not disrupt coal supplies to power plants across the country. In April and May, Chhattisgarh was the biggest steel producing state. During the lockdown, we received several lakh people. A majority of them were just passing through the state. We could arrange food and vehicles for all of them. Labourers who returned to the state were provided jobs through Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. At one time, 25 lakh people were given jobs under the scheme, the highest in the country. We gave free food to the poor for three months. Since schools are shut, we have been giving dry ration to children as a substitute for mid-day meals. We continued the purchase of minor forest produce during the lockdown. It is telling that only 26,000 people went back to their home state.</p> <p>Q/ <b>How are you tackling the rise in Covid-19 cases post unlock?</b></p> <p>A/ Our handling of Covid-19 was so successful that when the Centre began the unlock, Chhattisgarh had only three active cases. But when air travel and railways resumed, there was a significant rise in cases.We asked the Centre for extra funds, but it was busy issuing orders and not willing to provide anything other than test kits and PPE kits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Your government implemented Nyuntam Aay Yojana. What has been its impact?</b></p> <p>A/ Had the Congress been in power at the Centre, NYAY, or cash transfer to the poor, would have been implemented across the country. Since that did not happen, we are implementing NYAY in parts.Rahul Gandhi has emphasised on providing cash to the poor, enabling them to survive the lockdown and unemployment. We launched Rajiv Gandhi Kisan Nyay Yojana and Godhan Nyay Yojana to give cash to farmers and landless labourers. We are giving Rs10,000 per acre to paddy and maize farmers and Rs13,000 per acre to sugarcane farmers per year. Under Godhan Nyay Yojana, we are purchasing cow dung at Rs2 per kg. There are six lakh beneficiaries in the state and 40 per cent of them are landless labourers and the poorest among the poor. The money then spent by these people has helped businesses. Our GST collection this September was 24 per cent higher than the previous year, and in October it was 26 per cent more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>You mentioned Rahul Gandhi’s inputs. However, be it Covid-19 or China, the BJP has strongly rebutted him.</b></p> <p>A/ Rahul Gandhi is a well-informed, learned and active leader of the opposition. As a responsible leader, he had warned the government about Covid-19, but the government did not listen. Then he asked questions on China, but the government lied and hid facts. Narendra Modi’s indifference to Rahul’s suggestions has cost the country a lot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>What has been the Centre’s stance when it comes to equipping the state to fight Covid-19?</b></p> <p>A/ The Centre did nothing but control everything and issue instructions. Even as we fight Covid-19, the Centre gave the same amount of money it does for disaster management every year. The only help we got was some test kits and PPE kits.The Centre even siphoned away money from PSUs of the state to PM CARES. It issued instructions to PSUs not to spend CSR (corporate social responsibility) funds in the state. This caused a major crisis for us. The BJP government at the Centre has even taken local area development funds of all BJP MPs from the state to PM CARES. The fact of the matter is that the prime minister does not care.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Have there been any Centre-state discussions on a Covid-19 vaccine strategy?</b></p> <p>A/ So far, the Centre has not held any deliberations with us on the Covid-19 vaccine. The only thing we heard was that it would be distributed free in Bihar. Was it a bribe for votes or a warning to all the non-election states that they should be ready to bear the cost of the vaccine?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>How successful have you been in weaning adivasi youth from Maoist influence?</b></p> <p>A/ The Maoist problem was being dealt as a law and order issue only. We decided to go to the root of the problem and deal with it as socioeconomic problem, too. We reopened schools that were shut for 15 years. We set up the Junior Grade Recruitment Board in Bastar. We have announced concessions for the local population in police recruitment. When there is any government civil construction work, we have made it compulsory to award it to local contractors only. Earlier, the government procured only 15 minor forest produce. We have expanded it to 23, and the procurement is on minimum support price.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Your views on the letter written by 23 dissident leaders to Sonia Gandhi</b>.</p> <p>A/ This issue has been discussed in the party at the appropriate forum. All answers have been given and I don’t think that we need to discuss it further.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>The letter has been described as a vote of no confidence in the leadership of Rahul Gandhi.</b></p> <p>A/ I don’t think so. I feel the issue has been resolved. It is not relevant anymore. &nbsp;</p> Thu Nov 19 18:31:22 IST 2020 having-a-child <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>We have always</b> struggled, but never faced such darkness,” said the father of a seven-year-old girl who was gangraped and killed in the village of Bhadras in Kanpur on November 14. The girl’s liver was carved out in a horrifying ritual that was supposed to help a childless couple beget an offspring.</p> <p>The girl hailed from the Kureel (or Kuril) dalit community, which is the third largest chunk of Bhadras’s population. It is a caste that has long worked in Kanpur’s leather industry and also participated in reform movements.</p> <p>The girl was the fourth of five children in the family. Her parents work as agricultural labourers on the farms of upper caste landowners in the village and as seasonal workers in brick kilns. The five people named in the initial First Information Report and those added in the amended FIR (which includes charges under the National Security Act) come from the same caste and similar economic background.</p> <p>On the evening of Diwali, the girl had stepped out of her house to play before the festivities began. She was allegedly lured by her neighbour Ankul with firecrackers. “We set out to look for her when it was time for the puja. A girl from the neighbourhood said she had gone with Ankul. We informed the police around 10pm and they too searched for her. But we could not find her,” said her father.</p> <p>The child’s naked, mutilated body was discovered the next morning in a wooded area adjacent to the village. Her blood-soaked slippers lay at some distance.</p> <p>Sanjay Kumar Agnihotri, the de facto headman of the village (the post is officially held by his wife, Suman), said the child had been split open. “It is not a sight I will ever forget. I kept thinking, it could have been my child,” he said.</p> <p>Incidents such as these, though aberrations, were born out of a ‘cultural lag’, said Dipti Ranjan Sahu, professor at Lucknow University’s department of sociology. “Despite advances in science and technology and a professed belief in the rule of law, there remains a variance in our knowledge, attitudes and practices. Belief systems in the supernatural and those that are driven by faith, not logic, and primordial instincts prevail across rural and urban India. The pace at which our mindsets should have changed to keep up with technological advancements has not happened,” he said.</p> <p>Such incidents are not born in isolation. For Parshuram and Sunaina Kureel, married for more than 20 years, there might have been years of pressure and ridicule about their childlessness. The desperation would have mounted after years of unsolicited advice and miracle concoctions offered by babas (holy men of dubious antecedents) bore no result. This would then have driven them to solicit help from Parshuram’s nephew Ankul (who, in turn, sought the help of his friend Beeran) after they read that eating a child’s liver would assure them a baby of their own.</p> <p>“While educational status and economic background play a role in such cases, the pressure of family and peers cannot be discounted.” said Sahu. “Being childless remains a stigma in most parts of the country.”</p> <p>“When any desire or ambition reaches the level of obsession, the mind justifies any act committed for the achievement of that desire,” said Krishna Dutt, former professor of clinical psychology at King George’s Medical University in Lucknow. “In this case, the couple would not have thought they were indulging in a crime. To them it was merely an act that would result in them having a child. The men who carried out the act would have thought that the child had to die anyhow, so why not rape her, too.”</p> <p>In July, a 60-year-old man in Gonda was beheaded by a man who wanted to appease a deity. In 2006, a three-year-old boy was sacrificed in a village in Khurja to appease the goddess Kali. In Bhadras, the child’s dead body was found near a Kali temple.</p> <p>“There is a tradition of sacrifice, but nowhere in the vedas is there a reference to human sacrifice,” said Hareeshwar Dixit, professor at the department of veda at Banaras Hindu University’s Faculty of Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vijnan. “Sacrifice is for self-defence but not to ensure one’s well-being at the cost of others. There is mention of animal sacrifice and that takes place even in Islam. But to believe that Ma Kali, who is a goddess of welfare and security, can be appeased by killing another human is blind faith which must be checked.”</p> <p>But to the unlettered parents of the girl, such reasons make little sense. “My child wanted firecrackers. I said we did not have the money for them,” said her mother. Still she took ten rupees and got something for herself. My last memory of her is an angry demand for firecrackers. If only we could have afforded that little happiness for her, we would not have been in this pit”. &nbsp;</p> Thu Nov 19 18:27:44 IST 2020 the-wild-wild-west <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Kuch din toh guzariye Gujarat mai (Spend a few days in Gujarat),” says superstar Amitabh Bachchan in his inimitable style in Gujarat Tourism promotion videos. The tagline has been a hit in the last couple of years and has had a magnetic effect to attract tourists. And now, as Covid-19 has relented, Gujarat is once again welcoming tourists with wide open arms.</p> <p>Gujarat boasts a wide variety of landscapes, monuments and wildlife. Tourism in the state received a great boost, with the construction of the Statue of Unity—world’s tallest statue at 182m—two years ago. But the state has always attracted travellers to its famed world heritage sites, beautiful palaces, places of worship and national parks. As the actor suggests, enjoying some of these to the fullest requires spending a few days in Gujarat and partaking of its warm hospitality.</p> <p>Gujarat has always considered the king of beasts to be its greatest attraction, the Gir forests being the only home of the Asiatic Lion in the world. Gujarat is also the world’s only abode of the Indian wild ass, another magnificent creature. Spotting the king of the jungle from close quarters in the deciduous forest is a soul-stirring experience, far away from the hustle and bustle of the cities and choking pollution.</p> <p>“Ever since the wildlife and bird sanctuaries were opened to the public, we have been following the SoPs laid down by the Union health ministry at the sanctuaries, parks, hotels and restaurants,” said Jenu Devan, Managing Director, Gujarat Tourism. “The tourism department has been conducting webinars to train the lower-level staff of restaurants and hotels on health measures in the context of Covid. At major tourist attractions like the Statue of Unity, sign boards regarding Covid-19 precautions have been put up. There were 35,000 tourists a day at the Statue of Unity during last Diwali vacation. But this Diwali we are not focussing on the numbers. Our focus is to provide the facility in a manner that all the guidelines are followed.”</p> <p>Devan says the tourist attractions have online booking and for the time being they are sticking to it to restrict the number of visitors and avoid rush.</p> <p>The Gir National Park and Sanctuary is located in Sasan, Junagadh, in the Saurashtra region. The park is inviting enough, but as seasoned travellers know, patience pays in wildlife tourism. If you are lucky, you can spot the Lion in the jungle safaris conducted by the forest department. The forest guards know the habits and movements of the Lions. But in case you aren’t lucky enough to spot the Lion, you won’t leave disappointed as the Devalia Interpretation Zone offers you a chance to see the Lion and capture it on camera.</p> <p>The population of the Lions has been steadily on the rise in recent years and currently stands at 523, as per Gujarat Tourism. Gir is also home to other animals like the Nilgai, Spotted Deer, Large Deer and a variety of bird species. Birdwatchers can spot more than 300 species in the habitat that has 258sqkm as national park and 1,153sqkm as wildlife sanctuary. With increasing number of tourists, numerous hotels have come up; one can find budget hotels to The Taj Gateway Hotel Gir Forest at Sasan Gir.</p> <p>The more adventurous travellers like the trip to be experiential and stay in the homes of local villagers who live close to where the lions visit. This is peaceful coexistence of man and beast, an elevating and humbling experience for the visitors. A viral video on social media recently showed a forest guard requesting a Lion, which was sitting in the middle of the road, to allow him to pass through. The Lion immediately made way for the guard.</p> <p>Gujarat has been a land of travellers from ancient times, and is blessed with good roads and connectivity. If you are flying in from some other state to watch the Lions, you may land in Rajkot, which is 170km from Gir. The train connectivity to Junagadh, which is 60km from Gir, is also good. By road, the distance from Ahmedabad to Gir is about 330km and it takes about eight hours.</p> <p>Many travellers who come to Gir find it rewarding to visit Somnath, one of the 12 jyotirlingas in the country. The temple also has historical significance as it has been attacked by many invaders, including Mahmud of Gazni, who plundered it. Reconstruction of the temple was ordered by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the former home minister of India.</p> <p>As fascinating as the Gir Lion is the Indian Wild Ass, which amazes you with its speed. It is seen in the Little Rann of Kutch and in the Wild Ass Sanctuary in Surendranagar, which is a few hours drive from Ahmedabad. As Bachchan jokingly says in one of the advertisements pointing at the Indian Wild Ass, “If next time someone calls you gadha (donkey), do not feel offended. It is not an abuse but appreciation.”</p> <p>In the white expanse of Rann, it is a treat to watch the Indian wild ass galloping along. This majestic animal can reach speeds of 70kmph, but it is easier to spot it than the Lion. You might sight this herbivore, moving alone or in a herd, crossing the road on your way to the Little Rann or Surendranagar. You will soon come across signboards asking you to drive slowly: you are moving closer to the home of the Wild Ass.</p> <p>Tourism officials would tell you that you can follow the wild ass either in the Little Rann of Kutch or in Surendranagar. Going to the Little Rann has an advantage of sorts as, if you time it well, you can also experience the Kutch Utsav, which is held in winter in Dhordo.</p> <p>Tourist packages for the Rann Utsav are usually for 1 night-2 days to 3 nights-4 days. Visits to craft villages and museums, live cultural programmes and camel rides form part of the package, and it makes you feel special to live in tents and cottages (traditional bhungas).</p> <p>Dhordo is 80km from Bhuj and is well connected by road, rail and air. And if one prefers to see more of the Indian Wild Ass, one can stay in Bhuj and see nearby areas, including the beach of Mandvi. Many hotels have sprung up in the city in the last two decades.</p> <p>The Wild Ass Sanctuary in Surendranagar is much nearer to Ahmedabad. Dasada, one of the entry points to the sanctuary, is just 95km away. So this is the best bet if you have only a day or two. There are good hotels in and around Surendranagar, which also has a few interesting temples.</p> <p>Explorers of the Gujarat wilderness rarely skip the Velavadar Blackbuck Sanctuary. Located in Bhavnagar district, it is about 150km from Ahmedabad and is very well connected by road. June to October is considered the breeding season of the blackbuck and hence the sanctuary remains closed during this period. Tourists normally visit the place from October 15 to June 15.</p> <p>Most travellers may not need more than a day in Velavadar. If you have reached Bhavnagar a night before, you can start trailing the Blackbuck the next morning. By late evening or night you can be back in Ahmedabad. But remember, the Blackbuck is a very sensitive animal and if you wish to spend some time observing it, you need to observe pin-drop silence.</p> <p>Apart from Gir forests, the Wild Ass Sanctuary and the Blackbuck Sanctuary, Gujarat has many more places that boast varied wildlife. The Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary is the largest wetland bird sanctuary in Gujarat and one of the largest in India. It is spread over 120sqkm and is about 65km from Ahmedabad.</p> <p>It is home to migratory birds during winter and spring, especially after the water levels in the wetlands come down, a couple of months after monsoon. Migratory birds come from as far as Siberia. Among the birds that are spotted here are rosy Pelicans, Herons and Flamingos.</p> <p>The best time to spot these birds is at daybreak. Many tourists start from Ahmedabad around 4am and reach the bird sanctuary on time. There is usually a long queue for tickets. Once the travellers are in, small boats take them around in the water body, for them to watch the hovering birds and to capture them on camera from close quarters.</p> <p>Travellers enjoy feeding the birds. These avians will eat whatever they are offered, right from biscuits and sev to popcorn. However, it is advisable to find out what these birds normally eat and feed them accordingly.</p> <p>For your own food at the bird sanctuary, there is an island in the centre of the wetland, where local people serve delicious Gujarati food, such as bajri na rotla, sev tameta sabji, and potato sabji, all nominally priced. Many travellers roam around on the island and return by dusk, so that they can once again watch the flight of the birds before bidding them goodbye.</p> <p>For birdwatchers, there are lots of lesser known places like Thol near Ahmedabad and Wadhwana and Timbi near Vadodara. These are places where one can go and return in half a day. The Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary and Narayan Sarovar are also there to see in Kutch.</p> <p>The Jamnagar Marine National Park near Dwarka has 42 islands offering a clear view of corals without one having to dive underwater. It is a pleasant but strange feeling as marine life swims around your feet, as you walk in the water during low tide. Besides corals, the park is home to Sponges, Prawns, Crabs, Turtles and Stingrays.</p> <p>Experiencing Gujarat’s wildlife would be incomplete without a visit to the butterfly park and the safari park at the Statue of Unity. The safari park has animals from all over the world. Central Gujarat has the Ratan Mahal Sloth Bear Sanctuary. South Gujarat, with its Purna Wildlife Sanctuary and the Vansda National Park, is also a delightful destination.</p> <p>“The Khushboo Gujarati Ki campaign had boosted tourism in Gujarat, thereby necessitating infrastructure development at places of tourist interest,” said Devan. “Under the Tourism Policy of 2015, private players are also being encouraged and they are being given incentives in 10 segments. A new Tourism Policy will be out soon.</p> <p>“For many months people had to stay put at home owing to Covid-19, but now they can step out with precautions. And, Gujarat provides many attractions where they can go without fear,” he said.</p> Fri Nov 13 16:02:56 IST 2020 Kerala-is-an-industry-friendly-state-now <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>What are your plans for Kerala’s industrial development in the post-Covid-19 phase?</b></p> <p>A/ Covid-19 has struck at a time when the state was making the right moves towards improving the industrial climate in the state. Now, in the changed scenario, our primary focus is on agriculture and industries that suit Kerala’s peculiarities. We realised the importance of self-reliance during the Covid-19 period. So that would be our primary prerogative. Covid-19 has opened new vistas and opportunities, too. Kerala has great possibilities in industries related to life science, bio-technology, medical equipment and electronics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Kerala had a low rank—28—in the investment-friendly index of the Union government.</b></p> <p>A/ It was an unjust decision. Our government has enacted a number of laws for ensuring the ease of doing business. Now no prior permission is required to start an MSME in the state; 3,559 new enterprises have been started in the last nine months. Since 2016, 58,137 MSMEs have been started and this accounts for the 40 per cent of total MSMEs in the state. This has brought investment worth 05,700 crore and created 2.5 lakh jobs. This being the situation, how can this ranking be justified?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the major steps you have taken to improve Kerala’s industrial climate?</b></p> <p>A/ Kerala is certainly one of the most industry-friendly states in the country now, thanks to the conscious efforts that the left government has taken in the last four-plus years. We have enacted seven new laws and 10 amendments to existing laws to [make the state industrial-friendly]. Single window clearance for industrial projects has been one huge step in that direction. Now anybody can start an enterprise in the state with a self-written affidavit and one needs to get clearance only in a stipulated time frame of three years. Even in this Covid-19 period, 3,000-plus people have used this facility.&nbsp;For projects worth 0100 crore, one can start business within a week and the licence period has been raised from three years to five years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The left governments have always been supportive of the PSUs. How good have the performances of PSUs been under you?</b></p> <p>A/ When this government came into power, most PSUs in the state were in pitiable state and had a collective loss of 0132 crore. Out of the 42 PSUs, only eight were profitable and most were on the verge of closing down. But in the last four years, they have all made huge progress. For the past two years, 13 PSUs have been reporting profits, and this number is expected to touch 20 in the coming years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Fri Nov 13 12:51:16 IST 2020 patna-puzzle <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>No chief minister in the Hindi heartland has had four consecutive terms in office. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had to resign in 2018, after his third term, though he returned to power in 2020. Former Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh, too, was ousted after three terms, as was Sheila Dikshit in Delhi. States like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan have mostly voted against incumbent governments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among current chief ministers, Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik is the only one who is in his fourth consecutive term. Other chief ministers who were in office for four consecutive terms are former Sikkim chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling—the longest serving chief minister in India (24 years and 5 months)—followed by Jyoti Basu (23 years) in West Bengal and Manik Sarkar (20 years) in Tripura.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nitish Kumar is already Bihar’s longest serving chief minister. But the 69-year-old’s appeal seems to be diminishing. Can he become the first chief minister in the Hindi heartland to win a fourth consecutive term? “These are plebiscitary elections for Nitish Kumar,” said Saibal Gupta, veteran political analyst and founder-secretary of Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), Patna. “These elections are witnessing a new trend—the entry of young players.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumar had been in a sulk after the Lok Janshakti Party chief Chirag Paswan separated from the National Democratic Alliance to launch a scathing attack on him. It was only after the first phase of the elections on October 28 that Kumar started giving interviews, at the insistence of members of his party, the Janata Dal (United), and BJP leaders. The NDA leaders, too, stepped up their attack on the opposition grand alliance. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s jibes like “yuvraj of jungle raj”, “double yuvraj” at Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tejashwi Yadav sharpened the BJP’s messaging against the grand alliance, at a time when Tejashwi was attracting crowds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“As the first phase polling showed, we are winning,” said JD(U) spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan. “Tejashwi Yadav is bringing crowds to his rallies, but that is not translating to votes.” But, more than what was seen during these elections, it is what was missing that could portent a change in the state’s polity. During the 2015 elections, Modi carpet-bombed the state with 40 rallies; this time, there were only 12. And, the BJP’s campaign was helmed by Amit Shah’s successor, J.P. Nadda. For the RJD, too, there was a major change—its founder Lalu Prasad was missing from the campaigns. He was even missing from the publicity material and Tejashwi rarely mentioned his father.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lalu’s absence was not an accident. It had a clear motive of distancing the campaign from the convicted leader’s image among non-Yadav voters, particularly the upper castes and the backward castes. Tejashwi tried to make up for Lalu’s absence by addressing over a dozen rallies a day, criss-crossing the state in a helicopter. He also broke Lalu’s 2015 record of 17 rallies in a day by addressing 19. The RJD was successful in ensuring that the debate revolved around development issues and not Lalu’s conviction. It was Kumar’s promise of bijli-paani-sadak (electricity-water-roads) versus the 10 lakh jobs promised by Tejashwi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another missing element was overt nods to castes. This is a break from the state’s political dynamics of the last 40 years. Bihar has been different from other Hindi heartland states in that coalition politics has been part of the state polity because caste allegiance plays a bigger part in deciding the voting pattern. During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and the 2015 assembly polls, Modi had referred to Hindu deity Krishna’s Yaduvanshi origins to woo the Yadav voters. The Congress, which is trying to find its feet in the state, could be an unintended beneficiary of the non-caste focus this time. “Wherever the politics of caste and religion became prominent, the Congress lost space,” said Randeep Surjewala, chief of the Congress’s election management panel. “People are now tired of the same old story.” He added that the Congress projected aspiration, “a story that cuts across religions, caste, regions and individuals”. Our focus was aspirational Bihar and developing Bihar, he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The aspirational Bihar sentiment was high in the state. Millennial voters are moved by dreams of jobs and better material comforts. This found expression in the campaigns of Tejashwi and the array of the BJP’s young candidates like Luv Sinha, Shreyasi Singh and Pushpam Priya Choudhary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The RJD-led alliance had strategically focused on local issues and on attacking Kumar, rather than raise national issues like China and the lockdown. The party strategists knew that raising national issues would mean the BJP would respond by playing the ultra-nationalism card and that this could only benefit the saffron party. “Nitish Kumar is tired now,” was Tejashwi’s oft repeated line. And while Paswan singled out the chief minister for criticism, he professed loyalty to Modi and the BJP and is hopeful that he will be the king maker when the results are announced on November 10.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the face of it, the BJP stood firmly behind Kumar as its Central leaders cited his name along with Modi’s. But, it is believed that it may have tacitly supported the LJP. “The LJP is promoted by the BJP,” said Gupta of ADRI. “The BJP hopes to gain more seats. It is testing the waters. It would like Kumar to react.” Paswan, meanwhile, has said that he is ready for the consequences of his “bold actions”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The apparent diminishing stature of Kumar is helping new leaders to emerge. But, the chief minister has his own following, which is perhaps not as vocal as that of the BJP or RJD. “Nitish Kumar has political honesty, transparency and foresight,” said Ashok Choudhary, Bihar’s minister of building construction and JD(U) working president. “He always conducts himself with decency and tries to help even his biggest critic or opponent. He has had a long public life and there has never been an allegation of corruption against him.” Choudhary added that Kumar addressed the issues of backward populations and women through policies and empowered panchayati raj.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The theme of humiliation is driving passions among Kumar’s political allies and opponents alike. BJP leaders, especially Modi, suffered humiliation when Kumar walked out of the NDA and opposed Modi’s candidature. Paswan has accused Kumar of humiliating his father, Ram Vilas Paswan, as he kept the latter waiting before assuring him of support to get elected to the Rajya Sabha. Tejashwi, too, has a grievance; Nitish left the grand alliance in 2017 even though Lalu made him the chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumar certainly seems to be on a sticky wicket. He is also on the cusp of history—breaking the jinx on the third consecutive chief ministerial term in the Hindi heartland. It remains to be seen whether his development agenda of the last 15 years and his loyal supporters can give him enough seats to remain in the chief minister’s office for a fourth consecutive term.</p> Fri Nov 06 18:57:32 IST 2020 people-see-what-nitish-kumar-has-delivered <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>How was the election campaign?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When there are elections, people create perception. Every political party does that. But in the last 15 years, there has been development. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is credible. He has delivered and people see what has changed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>NDA leaders reminded people about Lalu Prasad’s 15-year rule. Do you think that could have influenced voters?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There would have been new voters this time who were three years old when Nitish ji took charge in 2005. They did not see the RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) rule, but have seen the changes. There was a caste feud in the state; there were 118 massacres in central Bihar. There was state-sponsored criminal activity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First-time voters may not have witnessed this, but they are aware. They (RJD) want to come to power again. For what? Lalu Prasad is convicted for corruption. And the person who wants to become chief minister (Tejashwi Yadav), how old is he? What is his education? How much wealth has he accumulated? From where did he get all this? [From the] state exchequer. Voters would have considered all this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But Tejashwi Yadav’s offer—sanctioning of 10 lakh government jobs—became a talking point. Do you think unemployment is an issue?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bihar is a densely populated state, and the population of youth is very high. In the last 15 years, not everyone could be given jobs. But the chief minister has given ‘seven resolves’ in which he insisted on livelihood for and economic empowerment of the youth. Things cannot be done overnight, but the chief minister started the process. Earlier, charwaha vidyalayas (school for cattle grazers) were set up. Nitish Kumar set up IITs, NIT, MBA and law institutes and universities. He is working to skill and empower the youth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lok Janshakti Party chief Chirag Paswan is confident. Do you think he had the BJP’s tacit support?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Every individual wants to have his say during elections. Chirag is also the same. He was looking for a bigger chunk in the NDA, but he did not get it. So he is trying to create his own space in politics. But will that happen? Will people take him seriously? What happened during the Lok Sabha elections? Chirag was seeking Nitish ji’s help and urging him to visit his constituency and campaign there. Now, Nitish has become a bad person? People understand all this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are these elections a referendum on Nitish Kumar or will the regime at the Centre have an influence on the results?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nitish Kumar is the face of Bihar, and chief ministerial candidate. He has proved himself. When he took over, the growth rate was 3.3 per cent, now it is 12.8 per cent. Definitely, Nitish has done so much for the state, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done so much for the country. It is a double-engine government.</p> Sat Nov 07 14:15:38 IST 2020 strength-in-numbers <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>On October 15</b>, more than a year after Article 370 was revoked, political parties in Jammu and Kashmir formed the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration to fight for the restoration of the former state’s special status.</p> <p>The alliance consists of most of the regional parties that signed the Gupkar Declaration at former chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s home in Srinagar on August 4, 2019. The resolution warned against any change to the status of Jammu and Kashmir, saying that any such move would be tantamount to aggression against the people. The state was cut up into two Union territories the following day.</p> <p>Abdullah chaired the recent meeting of the signatories to the declaration at his residence on Gupkar Road in Srinagar. Among those present was Peoples Democratic Party president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who was released from her 14-month detention a day before.</p> <p>He said that theirs was a constitutional battle. “We want the government of India to return to the people of the state the rights they had before August 5, 2019,” he asserted, adding that the political problems had to be resolved as quickly as possible through dialogue with all stakeholders. Notably, nobody from the Congress, which had signed the Gupkar declaration, was present at the October 15 meeting. The party’s Jammu and Kashmir president Ghulam Ahmad Mir skipped the meeting because of medical reasons.</p> <p>On October 24, Abdullah and Mufti were appointed chairman and vice chairperson of the alliance. In her first interaction with the media after her 14-month detention, Mufti pointed to the Jammu and Kashmir flag on the table and said, “Until we get our own flag back, we will not raise any other flag. This flag forged our relationship with that flag (the tricolour). We will have to take back what Delhi snatched from us illegally, undemocratically and unconstitutionally.”</p> <p>Abdullah added that the BJP was spreading false propaganda about the alliance being anti-national. “I want to tell them this is not true,” he said. “There is no doubt that it is anti-BJP, but it is not anti-national.”</p> <p>Three days after the formation of the new alliance, the Enforcement Directorate had summoned Abdullah to its Srinagar office in connection with alleged misappropriation of funds in the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association during his tenure as its president. The officials questioned him again on his 84th birthday, two days later. On leaving the ED office, Abdullah said his resolve would not be crushed even if he was hanged.</p> <p>Mufti also weighed in. “The ED’s sudden summons to Farooq <i>sahib</i> displays the extent of [the] GOI’s nervousness about mainstream parties in J&amp;K fighting as one unit,” she tweeted. “[It] also reeks of political vendetta and won’t in the least blunt our collective resolve to fight for our rights.”</p> <p>Political observers in the region said that the alliance would pose a challenge to the BJP, which has had complete control of all matters for more than a year now. And, as the parties are standing together, it would be hard for the BJP to strike a deal with any single party to help it continue the status quo.</p> <p>For Mufti and People’s Conference president Sajad Lone, the alliance is an opportunity to redeem themselves in the eyes of their supporters, who were angered by their decision to ally with the BJP after the 2014 assembly elections.</p> <p>The alliance would also marginalise the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party, which former PDP minister Altaf Bukhari had founded with the BJP’s backing in early 2020. The Gupkar alliance is likely to get support in Jammu, especially in the Muslim-majority areas of Chenab valley and Pir Panjal, where people feel more threatened by the demographic change that could be brought on by the Centre’s new domicile rules.</p> <p>The last time such an alliance happened was in 1987, when several parties with a separatist ideology came together to form the Muslim United Front (MUF). After suspicions that the 1987 state elections were rigged in favour of the National Conference, one of the MUF candidates, Muhammad Yusuf Shah, joined militancy in 1990. He went on to become Syed Salahuddin, the supreme commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen.</p> <p>PDP spokesman Suhail Bukhari told THE WEEK that the formation of an alliance was the formalisation of the already announced intent of the Gupkar Declaration. “It was decided that if the special status is tinkered with, it would be considered as an act of aggression, and we would fight it unitedly,” he said.</p> <p>NC leader Imran Nabi Dar told THE WEEK that the alliance would fight for the dignity of the people. “We will have more meetings to discuss the future course of action,” he said. “We are not asking for anything outside the Constitution. It is not a separatist demand.”</p> <p>He added that the alliance had already got a lot of traction as everybody was concerned about their future within the changed setup. It is even believed that if the alliance contests the next assembly elections, it has a good chance of winning a majority.</p> <p>However, that might not matter. On October 17, the Centre amended the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, and the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Rules, 1996, paving the way for the creation of a new tier of governance—district development councils (DDCs)—whose members will be directly elected by voters in the Union territory. The 20 districts will be divided into 14 territorial constituencies each, and each DDC will have a five-year term. Each DDC will have jurisdiction over the entire district, excluding portions under a municipality or municipal corporation. Alongside the elected members, MLAs and chairpersons of block development councils (BDCs) will also be members of the DDCs. However, only the elected members will have the right to elect or remove the DDC chairperson/vice-chairperson.</p> <p>When Jammu and Kashmir was a state, the district planning and development boards (which the DDCs will replace) consisted of the chief minister, cabinet ministers and MLAs. They presided over the board meetings. In the DDCs, however, the powers of MLAs and MPs will be greatly diminished.</p> <p>In the absence of an assembly since 2018, the DDCs would assume more power. And, even if the alliance goes on to win a majority in the next assembly elections, it could end up being a powerless entity.</p> <p>With the Centre preparing to hold the DDC elections soon, it remains to be seen how the newly formed alliance tackles the issue.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 29 15:36:32 IST 2020 battle-for-the-centrepiece <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Dubbaka assembly</b> constituency in central Telangana is electorally significant because of the constituencies near it. Dubbaka borders Gajwel, represented by Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao aka KCR, to the south. To Dubbaka’s north is Sircilla—represented by KCR’s son, IT Minister K.T. Rama Rao—and in the east is Siddipet, held by Finance Minister Harish Rao, KCR’s nephew.</p> <p>Dubbaka fell vacant after the death of S. Ramalinga Reddy of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and the bypoll is scheduled for November 3. But, what could have been a comfortable win for the ruling party, riding on the emotions attached with Reddy’s death, is turning into an interesting political contest. The reason? The BJP and the Congress identified three poll issues—the three high-profile constituencies nearby.</p> <p>They have accused the three ministers of developing their own constituencies while “neglecting” Dubbaka, which was not held by a family member.</p> <p>The first mover was the BJP’s M. Raghunandan Rao, who hit the streets even before his candidature was announced. Raghunandan was once a close associate of the chief minister and held important posts in the ruling party. After joining the BJP, he lost both the 2018 assembly elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.</p> <p>“Gajwel looks like Jubilee Hills (an upscale area in Hyderabad), while Dubbaka looks like a poverty-stricken area,” says Raghunandan. “There are no decent roads or colleges.” He has been going from house to house with this message. “Since 2016, the district has received hundreds of crores in funds,” he says. “Why did the chief minister’s Gajwel get Rs434 crore and finance minister’s Siddipet Rs180 crore, while Dubbaka only got Rs10 crore? People are becoming aware of the neglect.” Raghunandan enjoys a favourable image among the youth. A lawyer, who has also worked as a journalist, he is known for his sharp oratory skills.</p> <p>The Congress candidate is Cheruku Srinivas Reddy, who was with the TRS until recently. He is banking on the image of his late father, former TRS leader and minister Cheruku Muthyam Reddy, who had endeared himself to the people of Dubbaka with his commitment towards its development. He is also pointing out the development in the Rao clan’s constituencies. “People have to decide if they want a rubber stamp or a genuine leader,” says Srinivas Reddy. “I am confident people will vote for me as they know that I will fight for funds and other allocations.”</p> <p>The Congress is looking at the bypoll as a first step towards its revival in the state; the BJP, which has just one MLA, is hoping to make this a building block for the 2023 assembly polls. For TRS, retaining the seat has become a matter of prestige. S. Sujatha, wife of the deceased MLA, has been given the ticket. And, master strategist Harish Rao is the face of the campaign. Aiding the finance minister are six MLAs.</p> <p>For Harish Rao, the bypoll is important at a personal level. For starters, Raghunandan is an old foe. Moreover, Harish Rao is seen as one of the top contenders to succeed KCR. A grand win in Dubbaka could cement his claim.</p> <p>Another factor is the Greater Hyderabad local body elections (likely to be held this year). Since Dubbaka is close to Hyderabad, it is believed that the results will have some impact on the civic body elections. Harish Rao is confident that the party will win the bypoll and “create a record”.</p> <p>There have also been allegations about misuse of power. Raghunandan alleges that Rs40 lakh, which was legal, was seized from him by the police and that the information was gathered by tapping his phone. He adds that those who want to join him are being discouraged by the TRS.</p> <p>A week before the bypoll, the police raided the house of a relative of Raghunandan and seized Rs18.67 lakh, saying that it was for bribing voters. But, BJP supporters confronted the police, snatched the currency bundles and fled. A few hours later, the BJP launched protests and state president B. Sanjay was arrested as he tried to reach the constituency. As the byelection date got closer, the Congress seemed to be missing in action, and it was more like a straight fight between the TRS and the BJP.</p> <p>Experts are not impressed by the opposition’s strategy of comparing constituencies. “Each constituency is different and cannot be compared like that,” says political analyst and former MLC Prof K. Nageshwar Rao. “I don’t think this campaign will have much impact on the elections.” TRS leader and chairman of Telangana State Forest Development Corporation Vanteru Pratap Reddy has been actively involved in the campaign. He is confident of victory. He says: “Every house in this constituency has benefitted from the welfare schemes of our party. Our win is inevitable. The BJP and the Congress are fighting for second place by talking about silly issues. For the opposition parties, it is a question of survival.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 29 15:02:30 IST 2020 switch-hit <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>On October 23,</b> the BJP in Maharashtra received a rude jolt. Its senior-most leader, Eknath Khadse, quit the party and joined hands with Sharad Pawar and his Nationalist Congress Party. Khadse’s exit is likely to hit the BJP very hard in north Maharashtra, where his acumen and organisational skills had consistently helped the party perform well in elections. A grassroots leader, Khadse had felt humiliated and alienated in the BJP since 2016, when he resigned as minister in the Devendra Fadnavis government.</p> <p>Khadse began his political career as a sarpanch more than four decades ago. He was instrumental in building grassroots reach for the BJP in Jalgaon, Dhule and Nandurbar districts. At various times, he was minister of finance, revenue and agriculture. In fact, it was Khadse and his late party colleague Gopinath Munde who took Fadnavis under their wings and brought the young legislator to the front benches in the assembly.</p> <p>After Munde died in June 2014, Khadse became the senior-most BJP leader in Maharashtra. He was also leader of the opposition. So when the BJP emerged as the single largest party after the 2014 assembly polls, Khadse hoped that he would be asked to form government. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose Fadnavis, and Khadse had to be content with being the number two in the cabinet.</p> <p>Thus began Khadse’s downfall in the BJP. A no-nonsense speaker, Khadse soon gained the reputation of a motormouth in cabinet meetings. He could never come to terms with the fact that he was serving under someone who was more than two decades his junior. Khadse began running more than a dozen ministries, as if he was the chief minister. The clashes were inevitable.</p> <p>Khadse had to step down as minister after it was alleged that he had allotted government land to his relatives and that he had links to the gangster Dawood Ibrahim. Fadnavis, who had earlier given clean chits to cabinet colleagues who faced corruption charges, forced Khadse to resign. As if the humiliation was not enough, Khadse also faced a corruption inquiry. The denial of a party ticket to contest the 2019 assembly polls was the last straw. The BJP gave the ticket to Khadse’s daughter Rohini, who was defeated by a Shiv Sena rebel.</p> <p>Khadse is the tallest leader of the Leuva Patil community, which belongs to the Other Backward Classes and has a strong presence in north Maharashtra. Natha <i>bhau</i>, as Khadse is popularly known, is the last word in many villages and taluk panchayats in the region. With Khadse gone, the BJP will now have to rely solely on Girish Mahajan—an OBC leader, but not a Leuva Patil. Mahajan is known as a troubleshooter, but local people say his clout is limited to Jamner, his assembly seat. Also, his words do not carry weight when the BJP is not in power.</p> <p>Khadse, however, is widely respected across north Maharashtra. The Leuva Patils, who are mostly farmers, had been Congress supporters before leaders like Khadse and Munde rose as a result of the BJP’s “social engineering”. Because the Marathas never voted for the party, the BJP had focused on OBC communities.</p> <p>BJP insiders see three long-term effects of Khadse’s exit from the party. First and foremost, its impact on the Leuva Patil community. Second, Khadse’s exit will strengthen the feeling that OBCs are not as dear to the party as they once were. The feeling was spawned when Khadse and Chandrashekhar Bavankule, minister and Teli leader in Vidarbha, were denied party tickets. The third effect is the possible disillusionment of party members who were denied their due when Fadnavis inducted outsiders and gave them plum posts.</p> <p>“So far, no big BJP leader had been able to quit the party and remain relevant in politics after joining other parties,” said a BJP source. “But Khadse has now shown the way. I won’t be surprised if other loyal OBC leaders who are feeling sidelined follow suit in the months to come.”</p> <p>A section of BJP leaders is questioning Fadnavis’s strategy to woo the Marathas. He brought in reservation for the community—something which even Maratha chief ministers had failed to do. The decision apparently alienated the party’s core OBC base. The BJP, which had single-handedly won 122 seats in 2014, could win only 105 seats even after joining hands with the Sena. “OBC alienation definitely had an impact in Vidarbha and north Maharashtra, where the party had sidelined veterans like Khadse and Bavankule,” said the party source.</p> <p>Khadse will be hoping to become a minister soon, even though there are no vacant berths in the cabinet. One of the NCP ministers will have to quit if Khadse has to be inducted. That may not happen anytime soon, but he will be rewarded with a seat in the legislative council.</p> <p>For now, Khadse has trained his guns on Fadnavis, who remains the tallest BJP leader in the state. He says he has no complaints about the BJP’s national leadership, and that his fight is with Fadnavis. “In every election since 1989, Jalgaon district has sent two BJP MPs to Delhi,” Khadse told Pawar after joining the NCP. “This will change: We will send NCP MPs in 2024.” &nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 29 14:50:49 IST 2020 bitter-battle <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Despite her two</b>-decade long political career, Imarti Devi, 45, minister for women and child development in Madhya Pradesh, was little known outside the state. But that changed last week. The veil of her sari intact on her head, vermillion smeared on the forehead and often wiping tears, she hogged news prime time after national channels latched on to the allegations of former chief minister Kamal Nath calling her an ‘item’ at an election meeting in Dabra on October 18.</p> <p>Within a few hours, however, Devi shed the victim’s image and started making equally obnoxious comments on Nath. She called him ‘an outsider from Bengal who does not have manners’, a madman, a drunkard and a<i> luchha lafanga</i> (loafer) and went on to say that his mother and sister might be ‘items from Bengal’. A day after Nath gave his explanation to the Election Commission’s notice on the ‘item’ jibe, the Congress lodged a complaint against Devi. The Election Commission sent her a notice, too, to explain her comments.</p> <p>The crucial bypolls to 28 assembly seats have seen probably the most degenerate campaign in the electoral history of Madhya Pradesh, and the Kamal Nath-Imarti Devi issue was just one of the many bitter exchanges. Leaders of both the BJP and the Congress have engaged in actions and language that have left a lingering bad taste. Starting from <i>gaddar </i>(betrayer) and <i>bikau</i> (on sale) to <i>dalal </i>(agent) and <i>kapat nath </i>(one who deceives), the language has touched rock bottom. Then there have been plenty of videos of candidates distributing money and clothes and threatening voters—at times with guns.</p> <p>Madhya Pradesh is used to mild and balanced political discourse owing to stable governments. “The developments that warranted these bypolls in the first place are unprecedented for Madhya Pradesh,” said political commentator Manish Dixit. “There was drama and bitterness and allegations and counter allegations as so many MLAs resigned and joined the rival party. It was natural for the discourse to get acrimonious after that, but that it will sink to such low level was not expected.”</p> <p>And, it turned out to be a tough election for both parties. Though the ruling BJP has a numerical advantage as it requires only eight seats to get to the majority mark of 115, it faces internal disquiet and anger of voters against the turncoats. The Congress will have to win almost all the seats to secure a majority. Given that those who left the party also took away a chunk of supporters and with the lack of popular faces in the campaign other than Kamal Nath’s, getting back to power looks like a long shot for the party.</p> <p>The bypolls have been expected ever since 22 legislators resigned from the Congress and joined the BJP in March. A lot has already been said and done by the parties in the form of informal campaigning, and both seem to have run out of solid campaign topics. Things naturally veered towards personal attacks and allegations.</p> <p>Political analyst Rashid Kidwai said the attempt to take the discourse towards trivialities and controversies seemed deliberate. “Both the parties have no substantial things to talk about in the present circumstances, especially to explain to the voters as to why the bypolls were required. The Congress has no excuse to offer as it failed to keep its own flock in order and the BJP cannot probably accept that it engineered the collapse of the government. So, both are engaging in frivolous talk and trying to divert the discourse,”he said.</p> <p>Voters also seem to have figured it out. Dr Chandan Singh Lodhi of Alampur village in Gairatganj, which is part of Sanchi constituency, said the controversies surrounding leaders’ cheap talk and videos were not decisive factors. “For a common voter, the important things are confidence in the candidate and the party’s willingness for local development,” he said.</p> <p>The Congress and the BJP blame each other for the situation. “The Congress started the personal attacks and trivial talk so that they do not have to be accountable for their pathetic performance while in government. They have insulted the chief minister, the people of the state, stalwarts like Tata, women and dalits. The party cadre and leaders are completely caught in internal politics and just trying to deceive and mislead the people,” said the BJP’s state president Vishnu Dutt Sharma.</p> <p>Congress spokesperson K.K. Mishra, however, said his party was always for modesty of language in public discourse. “The way the BJP diverted from real issues and initiated the low-level language discourse displays its frustration, fear of the impending loss in all seats and idleness,” he said. “They do not have anything to show on progress and development and thus are stuck on frivolousness. The voters of the state are quite aware and even if they might not be displaying their ideological commitment, they certainly are watching and understanding the happenings.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 29 14:39:45 IST 2020 audacity-of-hope <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There is a brashness about Tejashwi Yadav’s campaign, as there is about his character—the brashness of a youngster who has nothing to lose. Senior leaders may dismiss it as a sign of immaturity, but it has put worry lines on the brows of his opponents. For, the youth seem to like it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The son and political heir of Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Lalu Prasad, Tejashwi is attracting Bihar’s youth, mostly the unemployed among them, in thousands to his rallies. Despite the Covid-19 scare and the strict rules imposed by the Election Commission, they are thronging to his meetings, and cheering his brash talk. Borrowing more than a page from the immensely popular campaign style of his father who is currently serving a prison term, Tejashwi has made his rallies a sort of a dialogue with his listeners. While talking about lack of jobs, he would exhort: “How many of you here are without jobs? Let me see. Please raise your hands.” And promptly, thousands of hands would shoot up in the air.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adding to their anger, he would charge that four and a half lakh government posts have been lying vacant. Then, making the most out of the sentiment of anger and despair, he would offer hope. “If I become chief minister, the first cabinet itself will approve an order for creating a million jobs,” he promised, as applause and cheers rend the autumn air.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United)-BJP alliance had been counting on a fairly easy campaign till early this year with not much of an anti-incumbency feeling in the political atmosphere. The government had been doing well on most development scores, and even the opposition leaders had been privately conceding this. The desertion by Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party had not ruffled the alliance’s feathers much, confident as they were that the young Paswan was not much of a vote-catcher, unlike his legendary father Ram Vilas. However, Tejashwi’s brash style of campaign has whipped up a latent anger, especially over the government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the JD(U)-BJP lead campaigners have been stressing on the need for “double-engine progress”, meaning that it would help Bihar if there is a Centre-friendly government in Patna. However, Tejashwi has been picking out the instances of failures of the double-engine locomotive’s run in the last few years, especially how the Narendra Modi government at the Centre announced the lockdown like a bolt from the blue, and how the indigent Bihari workers who returned home on foot were beaten up by Nitish’s police. “This government does not deserve your forgiveness,” Tejashwi told the unemployed workers and their families. “I am only asking you to give me an opportunity to end poverty in Bihar, create jobs and bring about progress.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, the ruling alliance has been a bit complacent. They had been fairly certain of attracting votes in the name of the creditable progress that Bihar had made in the last decade and half of Nitish Kumar’s rule. Despite the BJP’s strong desire to have a BJP chief minister in Patna, they are loathe to express it in rallies or media interviews. On the contrary, they are at pains to reiterate that the alliance is contesting the polls under Nitish’s leadership and he will be their chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As much was clarified by none less than Prime Minister Modi himself. “Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has a very important role to play in taking Bihar forward on the path to progress,” he had declared in a meeting on September 13, setting the tone for a smooth campaign for the alliance. “We must ensure sushasan [good governance] in Bihar. The good work done in the last 15 years must continue.” The line has since been repeated by Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP President J.P. Nadda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There had been concern in the JD(U) circles that the BJP was engineering the seat division in such a way that the national party would end up with more seats than the local partner, and then stake a claim for chief ministership. The assurances from the top trio of the BJP seem to have allayed those fears, and the state leaders—of both the BJP and the JD(U)—are focused on a campaign that draws energy from their record of good governance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his rallies, Nitish has been listing his achievements, and claiming that he has been successful in ensuring development as well as social justice, the latter having been the main political plank of the RJD. “Bihar has been rescued from Lalu Prasad’s jungle raj and now we can have kanoon raj (rule of the law),” is the JD(U) refrain. To buttress the claim, they point to the fact that Bihar, which was once notorious for its lawlessness, is now 23rd in the list of states with high crime records.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps the biggest surprise, and the most colourful feather on Nitish’s cap, is his claim to have schooled, employed and empowered more women in the notoriously feudal-minded state. JD(U) leaders point to the fact that girls outnumbered boys in the list of successful candidates in the last matriculation examination, that half the seats in the panchayats and town councils have been reserved for women, and that 1.2 crore women have benefited from the Jeevika self-help groups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, women voters have been favouring Nitish in all the elections. And, this time he is going to the polls with a slogan ‘Sashakt Mahila, Saksham Mahila’(empowered women, able women), promising to grant Rs5 lakh and lend another Rs5 lakh to every woman who wants to set up a business. Grant to Class 12-pass girls has been hiked from Rs12,000 to Rs25,000, and for graduates from Rs25,000 to Rs50,000. The biggest promise, perhaps, is to reserve half the government jobs for women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the development front, Nitish is now promising to light up all the village roads with solar lamps, reach water to all farms, link all village roads to state and national highways, and better facilities and services in all village clinics. “In the last 15 years, Bihar has shown that development happens with the right government, decisions and policies,” Modi had pointed out. “Infrastructure has improved. New medical and engineering colleges, law institutes and polytechnics have come up. We are working for the growth of all sectors in Bihar.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, there is concern how all these would weigh against the miseries faced by millions in the Covid-19 season. Both BJP and JD(U) leaders are at pains to explain these. “Nitish Kumar took care of people during the Covid-19 crisis; financial assistance was also provided by his government to those outside Bihar,” Nadda claimed in his October 11 rally in Gaya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Leaders of the ruling alliance say that the youth are flocking to Tejashwi’s rallies more out of curiosity, which they believe will be on the wane soon. “Wait till the prime minister takes to the field,” said a BJP leader when asked about the huge rallies of Tejashwi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>With R. Prasannan</b></p> Thu Oct 22 19:47:39 IST 2020 nitish-will-be-cm-irrespective-of-the-number-of-seats-won-by-bjp-and-jd-u <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/How hopeful is the JD(U) of retaining power?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Those who have experienced life in Bihar 15 years ago know the value of Nitish Kumar. And the new generation is still hearing stories about the old days from their parents. During Lalu Prasad’s rule, industrialists and even professionals, like doctors and engineers, fled the state fearing for their lives. Life in Bihar was miserable, what with robberies, murders and kidnappings happening in broad daylight. Parents had no peace of mind till their children returned from school. Housewives would worry for the lives of their husbands if they would get a little late from work. After Nitish Kumar came to power, law and order came under the control of the police, and criminals and anti-socials went to jail. The people who want peace and development will vote for Nitish Kumar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Which sectors made progress under Nitish Kumar’s rule?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/He prevented dropout of girl students. When he gave free bicycles to girls, there was a demand that boys, too, be given bicycles. That was also granted. Today, schools in Bihar have good attendance percentage. Schools have basic facilities. Travel became smooth with new bypasses and flyovers being built. A metro project has been initiated in Patna. Roads have been built to connect most villages. Ensuring 24-hour power supply is a great achievement. The scheme to supply tap water to all homes has made much progress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Does Nitish Kumar have the support of the minorities?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Minorities know for sure that they would get justice under Nitish’s rule. It was after Nitish Kumar came to power that legal proceedings were initiated against those found guilty in the inquiry report on the Bhagalpur clashes. Those who had occupied the homes of Muslims who had fled Bhagalpur following the riots were evicted. And those who had fled were brought back and settled into their homes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hindu-Muslim riots came to an end during Nitish’s rule. The riots used to start from kabristan (graveyard) because it was a common practice to encroach on them. The Nitish Kumar government conducted a survey of about 8,000 Muslim graveyards and evicted encroachers. About 5,500 graveyards have been secured with walls built at government expense. With that, the clashes have also ended.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/It is alleged that migrant workers who returned to Bihar during the lockdown were harassed by the government.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/That is a baseless charge. As soon as the lockdown was announced, the bank accounts of 21 lakh migrants who worked in other states were credited with Rs1,000 each. About 22 lakh people had returned to Bihar in special trains. Of them, about 15 lakh—who came from places where the disease had already spread—were accommodated in quarantine centres for 14 days. The government spent Rs53,000 per person on this. A total of Rs10,000 crore was spent on Covid-19 services.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Was the Lok Janshakti Party’s decision to leave the alliance and contest against the JD(U) a setback?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We see the immaturity of LJP president Chirag Paswan in this. A few people may be misleading him so as to split the NDA vote. The confusion ended when BJP President J.P. Nadda and Union Home Minister Amit Shah made it clear that the LJP had no place in the NDA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/When the results come, are there chances of the BJP ending up with more seats than the JD(U)?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/None other than the BJP President J.P. Nadda has announced that the alliance’s chief minister will be Nitish Kumar, whatever be the number of seats that each partner wins.</p> Thu Oct 22 18:05:58 IST 2020 it-is-nda-money-power-against-the-grand-alliance-people-power <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/Would Tejashwi Yadav be able to challenge Nitish Kumar and the image he has built over the last 15 years?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/To measure the image of the Nitish Kumar government, you only have to look at the Muzaffarpur shelter home incident. What can be more shameful than orphan girls being exploited in a government-run institution? The Supreme Court had passed strictures against the Bihar government in this case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the Grand Alliance comes to power, we will bring out the harsh truths in the case. Nitish Kumar will even go to jail in several corruption cases. We don’t have to find out anything more to say about Nitish Kumar; we only have to pick from the charges that the BJP and the JD(U) had hurled at each other when Nitish Kumar was against Narendra Modi. The BJP had even ridiculed Nitish Kumar’s DNA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Is there an anti-incumbency factor in Bihar?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/People saw the true colours of Nitish Kumar during the Covid-19 lockdown. People won’t forget how the police were sent to the borders of Bihar to beat up poor migrants who were returning on foot from other states. Nitish was hiding like a rat during the first four months [of the lockdown] on the pretext of taking precaution against the spread of the disease.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now he has realised that people are turning against him. To show that he is still popular, he is running here and there, though the spread of Covid-19 is far more now. If the movement of trains could be stopped, the election also could have been postponed. Nobody is following Covid-19 guidelines at election rallies. Everyone, including the chief minister, is aiding and abetting breaking of the guidelines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Doesn’t the NDA have an upper hand in the campaign?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The fight is between the NDA’s money power and the Grand Alliance’s people power. Money power need not always win. The NDA is trying to flood Bihar with black money. They have inducted 10 helicopters into their campaign. But do you see in the NDA rallies the kind of enthusiasm and excitement that you see in Tejashwi’s rallies? The youth are thronging his rallies in thousands. They are excited about Tejashwi single-handedly taking on heavyweights including Central ministers and chief ministers. The youth want change in Bihar and they want Tejashwi as chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Is unemployment the Grand Alliance’s poll plank?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The fact that lakhs of youth are being forced to migrate to other states for jobs is the biggest proof of lack of development. It was with a sense of purpose that Tejashwi made the promise of giving jobs to 10 lakh people if elected to power. Tejashwi aims at the all-round development of Bihar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Why did some of the allies leave the Grand Alliance?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/New parties will jump at the offer of more seats. Shifting of allegiance need not always be due to ideological reasons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Several RJD MLAs have jumped ship and joined the JD(U). Is it not a setback?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/MLAs could be purchased, but the voting public can’t be purchased. Nitish had left the RJD alliance and allied with the BJP, violating the mandate of the last assembly election. It has become a habit with the BJP to capture power through horse-trading after losing elections. Not only have they done it in Bihar, but also repeated it in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. It just happened that they failed in Rajasthan. The country is intensely watching the Bihar assembly elections with hope. If Bihar could stop Narendra Modi’s (juggernaut) in the last assembly election, it will do it again.</p> Fri Oct 23 16:22:35 IST 2020 nitish-took-bihar-from-lantern-age-to-led-bulb-age <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/Is there a possibility of a BJP-LJP alliance post elections, as LJP leader Chirag Paswan claims?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The NDA is going to the polls proclaiming Nitish Kumar as its chief ministerial candidate. The central leadership of the BJP has clarified that those who do not recognise Nitish Kumar’s leadership have no place in the NDA. We are going to the polls projecting the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. We are seeking votes in the name of the good governance provided by the Central and the state governments. It was the Nitish Kumar government that took Bihar from the ‘lantern age’to the LED bulb age. Nitish Kumar should return to power for corruption-free governance to continue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Won’t the decision of the LJP to contest on its own help the opposition?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Which opposition are you talking about? The opposition line-up is in a shambles. Even Upendra Khushwaha and Pappu Yadav have formed certain fronts. Are they the opposition?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/I mean the Grand Alliance.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Look, Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha and Mukesh Sahni’s Vikassheel Insaan Party, which were part of the so-called Grand Alliance, are today with the NDA. The term Grand Alliance has no meaning any longer. The RJD has become a family party. The Congress is weak in Bihar. When was the last time the CPI won a seat in Bihar? The RJD’s ally is the CPI(ML), which had indulged in mass murders during the Lalu Prasad government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The opposition has alleged that unemployment has become worse following the lockdown.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Under the job guarantee scheme, the government is giving jobs to migrant workers who have returned from other states during the lockdown. They are also getting free rations. They are also being imparted skills and given incentives and loans to launch startups. The women’s self-help groups are creating job opportunities. The criticisms are being aired without looking at these initiatives. In 15 years, the Lalu-Rabri governments did not even provide one lakh jobs. The Nitish Kumar government has given jobs to 6.5 lakh people in 15 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/But the government has failed to find a solution for the recurring floods.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The floods in Bihar are a problem that ought to be solved at the international level. Floods hit Bihar when Nepal opens dams during the rains. This can be solved only through talks between India and Nepal. This year, the government put Rs6,000 in the account of every flood-affected person. Funds were also provided from the prime minister’s housing scheme for rebuilding homes.</p> Fri Oct 23 15:52:58 IST 2020 personal-purposes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON OCTOBER 10,</b> Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, dressed in a beige kurta and brown jacket, was seen kneeling on a dais with folded hands, his trademark smile pasted across his face. He was campaigning for cabinet colleague Hardeep Singh Dang in Suwasra in Mandsaur district, ahead of the byelections scheduled for November 3. That a four-time Madhya Pradesh chief minister would do this for a candidate who was an MLA in the rival camp till seven months ago made it all the more compelling.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress made fun of Chouhan, saying that he had been brought to his knees by the 15-month Congress rule under Kamal Nath. But, political watchers say that the act was significant in the context of the crucial bypolls to 28 seats. Rajya Sabha MP Jyotiraditya Scindia was the key player in the game that saw the BJP regain power in the state in March, but Chouhan is the key to sustaining its nascent government. With his on-stage antics, Chouhan indicated that he was willing to use his most trusted weapon—humility—to achieve his task.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as Scindia slogs it out in his stronghold, Gwalior-Chambal, to ensure that his supporters win most of 16 seats in the region, the BJP has officially decided to make “Shivraj hai toh vishwas hai (With Shivraj there is trust)” its battle cry. Chouhan is addressing 90 to 100 meets—an average of three to four meetings per constituency. These meetings will be mostly solo, with only influential local leaders joining him. Also, only images of Chouhan and state president Vishnu Dutt Sharma grace posters and banners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other side, Nath’s public meetings have picked up, albeit slightly marred by him seemingly referring to dalit leader and minister Imarti Devi as “item”. Scindia no longer seems to be the primary target and it is becoming clear that the battle of wits is between the two veterans, though it is probably Scindia who has more at stake. In what is being seen as a Congress strategy, the other big political face in its ranks, Rajya Sabha MP Digvijaya Singh, is strictly behind-the-scenes, despite BJP leaders baiting his “absence”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political commentator Manish Dixit says that the imminent polls are unprecedented as the future of a government in Madhya Pradesh has never hinged on bypolls. “But rather than the numerical outcome, the polls are far more crucial for three political stalwarts of the state,” he says. “It is about the popularity of Chouhan, the survival of Kamal Nath and the prestige of Scindia.” Senior political writer Rasheed Kidwai says that the results of the bypolls will decide if Scindia gets to move up in the BJP and adds that Nath will be giving his all in what could be the last battle of his career.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP chief spokesperson Deepak Vijayvargiya says that the campaign being focused on Chouhan is normal as the BJP’s campaigns are always led by the chief ministers in the states and the prime minister nationally. Scindia is a prominent leader and has a role to play, he says. Bhupendra Gupta, vice chairman, Congress media cell, says the party is projecting the achievements of Nath’s15-month government. He adds: “The BJP thought they had stolen a sword (Scindia), but it turned out to be [blunt]; they are forced to make do with their worn out coin (Chouhan).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP with 107 MLAs in the 230-member house needs nine wins in the bypolls for a clear majority. The Congress (88 MLAs) must win all 28 seats. But, the BJP has been forced to give 25 tickets to the Congress turncoats. This is thought to have made BJP cadre unhappy. If the Congress wins around 20 seats, the seven non-Congress opposition MLAs could come into play. The Bahujan Samaj Party, which has support in the Scheduled Castes-dominated areas of Gwalior-Chambal, is contesting in all 28 seats. It is likely to take its fair share of the votes in at least 10 seats in Gwalior-Chambal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Avadhesh Tiwari, 35, a farmer from Jaisinagar, Sagar (Surkhi constituency), says that people are upset at the way the BJP candidate (minister Govind Rajput, who followed Scindia to the BJP) dealt with rivals and constituents during the Congress rule. The Congress candidate (former BJP MLA Parul Sahu, who beat Rajput in 2013), he adds, is “nice”, but her family does not have a clean image. “People are mostly concerned about development and getting a minister as the representative helps,” he says. “It will be interesting to see what happens; the polls will not be one-sided.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Pohri, Shivpuri, NGO worker Ajay Yadav, too, feels that the development agenda is the biggest factor. “People are upset at their MLA (Suresh Dhakad) defecting, but now he is a minister,” he says. “Lots of developmental works have been announced by the current government and while people are wary about whether they will take off, these things make an impression. The Congress’s Harivallabh Shukla has been MLA twice, but he, too, has changed parties. People are silently watching everything and we can say that the contest is tough here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political analyst Shivanurag Pateriya says that during the last four assembly polls, the BJP got, on average, 6 per cent more votes than the Congress. It has also won 64 per cent of the seats. “But, if the people feel they were betrayed by their MLAs and upset BJP workers sit back at home, anything can happen,” he says. “If the turnout is 5 per cent more than the 2018 polls, the BJP should be alarmed, if not, it should rest easy.”</p> Thu Oct 22 19:45:05 IST 2020 battleground-ready <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Bihar is set</b> for an interesting, yet unpredictable contest. At the heart of the 2020 elections is a strong push to effect a generational change in the state dominated by Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan for the past three decades. In fact, this will be the first elections since the 1990s—when the Mandal Commission changed the politics of the Hindi heartland—without Paswan Sr and Lalu Prasad. The former had passed away in Delhi on October 8, while the latter, currently in jail, may only be released on bail just a day ahead of the election results—on November 10.</p> <p>This change was visible in the reshuffle of political alliances in the state ahead of the elections. The two major opponents—the NDA and the Grand Alliance—had witnessed the exit and entry of partners in quick succession. Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, now helmed by his son Chirag Paswan, made a curious decision which could impact not only the outcome of this election, but also the entire political scenario in the state.&nbsp;The LJP announced that it will contest alone in 143 of the 243 seats—primarily focusing on seats fought by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United). Chirag cited reasons for his stance against Nitish Kumar, saying the latter had humiliated his father. The letter Chirag had written to the BJP chief, J.P. Nadda, detailing the reasons behind his decision to go solo was made public sometime before Paswan Sr’s death. Chirag said that the LJP has full faith in the BJP. He also indicated that he will not even shy away from using the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the LJP’s campaign, which the BJP warned against. The BJP is pinning its hopes on Modi’s appeal to tide over any anti-incumbency that may be there in the state against Nitish.</p> <p>The LJP conundrum left the JD(U) leadership jittery as they saw it as an attempt to hobble it. Two days after the LJP’s decision, and after an internal decision, the BJP reaffirmed its faith in Nitish Kumar’s leadership. “There should be no confusion on the issue of leadership,” said Deputy Chief Minister and senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi. “Nitish Kumar is the chief minister candidate, and even in the post-poll scenario he will be chief minister. Four parties are contesting together—the BJP, the JD(U), the HAM (Hindustani Awam Morcha [Secular] led by Jitan Ram Manjhi) and the VIP (Vikassheel Insaan Party led by Mukesh Sahni). He will win with a three-fourths majority.”</p> <p>But the LJP’s move has given rise to speculation as both the BJP and the JD(U) are contesting on almost an equal number of seats. The JD(U) will have 122 seats to contest, of which it will give seven seats to the HAM, while the BJP will have 121 seats, of which it allotted 11 seats to the VIP. If the JD(U) were to get fewer seats because of the LJP, it may lead to clamour within the BJP for the top post. The LJP has already said it will support the BJP in the state after elections. This will fulfil the BJP’s desire to be the lead player in the state rather than play second fiddle to a regional satrap.</p> <p>On the other side of the political divide, the Rashtriya Janata Dal-led Grand Alliance lost three partners—Jitan Ram Manjhi, Upendra Kushwaha (Rashtriya Lok Samta Party) and Mukesh Sahni—as they dared to question the leadership of RJD’s de-facto supremo, Tejashwi Yadav. The RJD has now joined hands with the left parties; the Congress is already a partner.</p> <p>Smaller parties that command pockets of influence have also formed regional alliances to try out their luck. Kushwaha has aligned with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party to form the Grand Democratic Secular Front. Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and Devendra Prasad Yadav-led Samajwadi Janata Dal (Democratic) have also joined this alliance. Kushwaha is the chief minister face of this alliance.</p> <p>Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan’s new political outfit, the Azad Samaj Party, will make its electoral debut in alliance with Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party (Loktantrik) under the banner of the Progressive Democratic Alliance. The Social Democratic Party of India, the Bahujan Mukti Party and the Indian Union Muslim League are the other parties in this alliance.</p> <p>Another factor that is powering a change in Bihar’s electoral politics is the changing demography of voters. Since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the number of voters in the state has increased by over 20 lakh to reach 7.29 crore. This includes first-time voters, and over 2.3 lakh migrants who had returned home during the pandemic.</p> <p>The 29-year-old chief ministerial candidate of the Grand Alliance, Yadav, has already promised to create 10 lakh jobs if he comes to power. The RJD draws its power from the fact that nearly 9.5 lakh people have registered in its digital portal for unemployed youth, launched on September 5. The portal also got 13 lakh missed calls since its launch. Bihar has seen widespread loss of livelihoods and unemployment because of the Covid-19 pandemic. A recent&nbsp;Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy survey has pegged the unemployment rate in the state at around 46 per cent—three times that of last year.</p> <p>Yadav is cautious about seat sharing after the bitter experience of his father Lalu Prasad, who had said while accepting Nitish Kumar as chief minister candidate in 2015 that he was ready to drink any poison to keep communalism at bay. Though the RJD had won 80 seats, they accepted Nitish Kumar, who had 71 seats, as the chief minister. But Kumar left the Grand Alliance in 2017 to join hands with the BJP. The RJD realised that its votes helped alliance partners win, but the latter’s votes were not transferred to them during elections. So, this time the RJD will contest in 144 seats, the Congress in 70, and left parties in 29.</p> <p>In order to counter the RJD’s youth-centred approach, the BJP immediately sent its newly-appointed Yuva Morcha chief and Bangalore South MP, Tejasvi Surya, to Patna. “Tejashwi Yadav and Rahul Gandhi should not talk about employment,”said Surya. “They themselves are unemployed. It is the Narendra Modi government which has created jobs for the youth.”</p> <p>Like Yadav, Paswan Jr is also focusing on his image as a “young leader”. He has singularly made ‘Bihar First, Bihari First’, a slogan for change in the state, his uncompromising choice.</p> <p>The JD(U), on the other hand, is trying to build a narrative based on 15 years of rule of Nitish Kumar vs 15 years of Lalu Prasad. The effort is to revive the memories of the “poor law and order situation”in the state during Lalu’s “misrule”. But the campaign may have its limitations. Nitish Kumar has built his reputation around doling out development schemes where women are one of the biggest beneficiaries. During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the state witnessed higher women voter turnout as 60 per cent of them cast their votes.&nbsp;Coupled with Prime Minister Modi’s appeal, the ruling JDU-BJP combine is looking for an encore.</p> <p>What is worrying JD(U) leaders is the criticism over the state of affairs in terms of development and job creation. “Many people say that Nitish Kumar’s first tenure was better than his other terms,”said Sanjay Kumar Jha, state water resources minister and JD(U) general secretary. “It was better as he got the state in a hopeless condition, and he helped it get out of it. As he set the benchmark very high [during the first tenure], it led to higher expectations. Ask people what we have done. See how much work we have done in creating infrastructure.”</p> <p>Another big factor in the Bihar elections is caste. The NDA expects support from a bouquet of castes. Apart from the state leaders, the BJP has roped in former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Tejasvi Surya to handle the elections in the state. Both are brahmins—ideal choices—as the saffron party is trying to woo the forward castes. Meanwhile, the Grand Alliance’s focus is primarily on the Yadav and Muslim vote banks, which have 14 and 17 per cent population in the state, respectively. The Congress appeals to forward castes and dalits, too. The left parties are joining hands with the alliance as they also have pockets of influence across the state; the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) had won three seats in 2015.</p> <p>The parties are looking for emotive issues, too, to win over people. There were efforts to use Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, too, as an election issue, as the actor’s family hails from Purnea in Bihar.</p> <p>As the electioneering picks up amid the pandemic, the state claims to have recovered fast from infections. State Health Minister Mangal Panday said there were only 10,450 active cases in the state and it has a 94 per cent recovery rate—the highest in the country. But what remains to be seen will be the state government machinery’s ability to ensure a free and fair election, keeping social distancing norms in mind.</p> Thu Oct 15 21:53:21 IST 2020