Statescan en Sun May 08 12:00:03 IST 2022 thackerays-can-blame-only-themselves-for-eknath-shinde-revolt <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE SEEDS OF</b> revolt in the Shiv Sena over the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi were sown even before the coalition was formed in 2019. Eknath Shinde, who was then the most important person in the party after Uddhav Thackeray, had urged the party leadership not to join hands with the ideologically incompatible Congress and Nationalist Congress Party. Thackeray ignored the advice, but he made Shinde swear he would remain loyal to the party. More than two and a half years later, Shinde has broken that promise. On June 21, he asked Thackeray over phone from a five-star hotel in Surat, Gujarat, to break ties with the Congress and the NCP. Shinde, who is urban development minister in Thackeray’s cabinet, claimed support of 35 of the Sena’s 55 members in the assembly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The drama began unfolding on June 20, when the BJP’s Prasad Lad defeated Congress candidate Chandrakant Handore in the Legislative Council elections. Just 10 days earlier, the BJP’s Dhananjay Mahadik had defeated the Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Jadhav in the Rajya Sabha polls. On both occasions the BJP candidates did not have the required votes, but sailed through with the help of independents and cross-voting from the Congress and the Shiv Sena.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A week before the Rajya Sabha elections, a delegation of MVA leaders—NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal, Congress leader Sunil Kedar and Sena leader Anil Desai—had met BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis and appealed to him for a consensus in the elections. Fadnavis told them if they allowed the BJP to retain three Rajya Sabha seats, the party would not field a candidate in the MLC polls. The MVA rejected the offer. The BJP fielded an extra candidate each to the Rajya Sabha and the MLC and both won. The BJP has 106 legislators. It got 123 votes in the Rajya Sabha elections and 134 in the MLC elections, as most of the independents and five MVA members (two of the Congress and three of the Shiv Sena) voted for BJP candidates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the results of the MLC elections were emerging on June 20, a group of Shiv Sena legislators left Mumbai for Thane, Shinde’s home turf. All of them had switched off their cell phones. They soon set out for the Maharashtra-Gujarat border in the neighbouring Palghar district in seven SUVs. As their vehicles crossed the border, a convoy of Gujarat Police made a protective ring around them. They reached Surat early in the morning and checked in at Hotel Le Meridian. Gujarat BJP president C.R. Patil, a Maratha, spoke to Shinde as soon as the group reached the hotel where 30 rooms had already been booked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The legislators’ absence was first noticed at a meeting at midnight, but the party leaders thought they might have gone to sleep as the Shiv Sena’s two candidates had won and the Congress candidate’s defeat was expected because the coalition was short of eight votes. However, around 12:30am, Uddhav called a meeting of senior MVA ministers to find out how cross-voting happened. The meeting, attended by Congress and NCP leaders including Irrigation Minister Jayant Patil and Supriya Sule, MP, went on till 2:30am. During the meeting, Sule and Patil raised the alarm and asked Uddhav to contact the legislators. They were not reachable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon the news emerged that Shinde and his group were revolting, and rumours started taking rounds about how many legislators he had in Surat.Three Sena ministers—Sandipan Bhumre, Abdul Sattar and Shambhuraj Patankar—had joined hands with Shinde.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the gravity of the situation dawned on the Sena leadership, Uddhav sent his close aide Milind Narvekar and Ravindra Phatak, who is said to be close to Shinde, to placate the rebels. The duo traveled to Surat but had to wait for an hour to meet Shinde. After the meeting, which went on for more than an hour, Narvekar told Shinde that Uddhav wanted to speak to him over phone. Shinde greeted Uddhav in the traditional Sena style greeting, “Jai Maharashtra Saheb”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde’s is the biggest rebellion in the Sena’s history. The earlier ones, led by Chhagan Bhujbal, Ganesh Naik, Raj Thackeray and Narayan Rane, pale in comparison because Shinde could split the Sena across Maharashtra, as the rebels came from all regions. On June 22, Shinde claimed from Guwahati in Assam, to where the group was shifted from Surat, that he had 46 legislators with him. He also said that he had not split the party and remained a staunch Shiv Sainik.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That the Sena was fast losing the game became clear on June 22 when Aditya Thackeray, Uddhav’s son, removed ‘minister’ from his Twitter profile and party MP Sanjay Raut tweeted that the crisis in Maharashtra was heading in the direction of dissolution of the assembly. The party issued a whip to all its MLAs, asking them to attend a party meeting in the evening. The letter said if they failed to attend it would lead to disciplinary action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde and his group’s main grouse had been that the Sena was playing second fiddle to the NCP. It is an open secret that Ajit Pawar, finance minister and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar’s nephew, runs the show in Maharashtra. Many legislators had repeatedly complained to Uddhav about the finance ministry diverting funds meant for their constituencies to those represented by the NCP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sena has three MLAs in Raigad district, all of whom defeated NCP candidates in the 2019 elections. After the MVA was formed, the NCP’s Aditi Tatkare, daughter of NCP leader Sunil Tatkare, became minister of state in the government. The senior Tatkare had been a bitter rival of the Sena in Raigad for two decades. When the the first Covid lockdown was lifted, the Tatkares organised an event in Raigad and invited Uddhav. The three Sena MLAs pleaded to the chief minister not to attend it, but he ignored them. The MLAs boycotted the event.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly, in Ratnagiri district, Yogesh Kadam of the Sena defeated Sanjay Kadam in Dapoli in the 2019 elections. But Ajit Pawar has been helping Sanjay to undermine Yogesh, who has been complaining about not getting adequate support from his party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Those who have not joined the Shinde camp also have not been happy. Deepak Kesarkar, an MLA from Sindhudurg district, openly supports Shinde’s demand that the party snap ties with the NCP and the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NCP was the Sena’s main rival when it was in alliance with the BJP, as they mostly contested against each other, while BJP candidates fought against Congress candidates. The fact remains that in 45-odd constituencies Sena MLAs might have to fight NCP rebels, aided by Pawar, in 2024, even if both are in alliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Thackerays can blame only themselves for the mess. Uddhav and Aditya were inaccessible to not just Sena legislators but also most ministers. Sharad Pawar and Congress leader Balasaheb Thorat, on the other hand, are available on the next day for meetings. Even Sharad Pawar got angry a few months ago when Uddhav skipped meetings on a few occasions. During the Covid crisis, it was said that the chief minister did not even take calls from Health Minister Rajesh Tope. He sent a text to Tope to leave a message with his personal assistant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde has more personal grouses. There has been constant efforts to downsize him in the party and the government. He was elected legislative party leader in 2019 and he hoped to become chief minister as Uddhav till then had maintained that he would make a common Shiv Sainik chief minister. Shinde had no complaints when Uddhav became chief minister as he was clearly the second in command. But the induction of Aditya Thackeray to the cabinet upset the hierarchy. Soon Aditya and minister Anil Parab began interfering with Shinde’s urban development portfolio. Instructions were given to Shinde not to take any major decision without Aditya or Uddhav’s consent. He was not even given a freehand in appointments of bureaucrats in his bastion, Thane. Recently, Shinde was told that the upcoming municipal corporation elections would have to fought in alliance with the NCP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the planning of the Rajya Sabha and MLC elections, Shinde was treated just as another legislator, and all the election management was done by Varun Sardesai and Suraj Chavan, close aides of Aditya from the Yuva Sena. Despite being legislative party leader, he was kept out of meetings of the Thackerays and Parab.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde’s revolt can lead to many possible scenarios in Maharashtra. Uddhav recommending dissolution of the assembly to the governor is a likely possibility. But Governor B.S. Koshyari may not accept it. He will consult legal experts and could ask the government to prove majority on the floor of the house.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the governor asks the chief minister to face the floor test, a special session of the state legislature will be called. The Shiv Sena will issue whips and try all out to woo the rebel MLAs. If Shinde manages to get 37 of 55 Sena MLAs, his group will not face anti-defection law provisions and the government will fall. If he fails to get 37, the Shiv Sena leadership will deal with rebels under anti-defection law provisions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Shinde challenges the whip and his removal as legislative party leader, it could lead to a long legal battle, as a legislative party leader can be removed only after a meeting of all party MLAs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If he has the support of 37 legislators, Shinde could also form a separate group and join hands with BJP to form the government in Maharashtra. If he cannot manage 37, those who are with him can resign and remain absent on the day of floor test, thus reducing the strength of the house. If the strength of the house comes down from 287 to say 261, the majority mark will be 131. The BJP already has the support of 134 MLAs, as proven during legislative council elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eknath Shinde’s journey from being a common Shiv Sainik to Uddhav Thackeray’s chief troubleshooter and to his chief troublemaker has taken him to a point of no return. What remains to be seen is whether Shinde sinks or sails.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>With Nachiket Kelkar</b></p> Fri Jun 24 15:17:31 IST 2022 son-of-the-soil <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ONCE UPON A TIME,</b> Eknath Shinde was an auto-rickshaw driver in Thane. He was born and brought up in Satara in western Maharashtra, but had to leave the village as a child to make a living. During those Thane years he was in touch with the RSS, but he soon distanced himself from it as he found the Shiv Sena and its ‘sons of the soil’ ideology more attractive. He became a Shiv Sainik and started working for the party. Soon he was made shakha pramukh. His diligent work was spotted by Anand Dighe, a Sena heavyweight who was the party’s district chief.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A tragedy struck Shinde in 1999; he lost two of his three children in a drowning accident in his village. Shinde was depressed. He even contemplated quitting politics and moving back to Satara. But Dighe dissuaded him. On Dighe’s request, Rajan Vichare, the Sena’s group leader in the Thane Municipal Corporation, vacated his seat for Shinde. It worked and Shinde immersed himself in party work to get over his grief.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Dighe died in an accident in 2001, Shinde naturally became his successor and led the Sena in Thane. Impressed by his work, Bal Thackeray gave him a party ticket to contest the assembly elections in 2004. Shinde won comfortably.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde kept the party unit in Thane intact when Sena biggies like Raj Thackeray and Narayan Rane rebelled against Uddhav Thackeray, whom Balasaheb had made his successor. In return, Uddhav gave him a free hand in Thane. Shinde soon became a go-to man for Sena and BJP legislators in Thane and Navi Mumbai region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2009, after getting elected to the assembly for the second time, Shinde got an offer from the Congress to become a minister. But he declined it. The loyalty brought him even closer to Uddhav who was still rebuilding the party after the rebellions by Raj and Rane.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As second-term MLA, Shinde developed excellent equations with other Sena legislators. He also did not ignore the needs of the organisation and was always ready to provide “men, money and material”. In 2014, after a brief stint as the leader of opposition, he became a minister in the Devendra Fadnavis government. He had an excellent rapport with Fadnavis unlike most Sena leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2019, when Sena snapped ties with the BJP and formed the MVA government, Shinde became a minister with the urban development portfolio. Interestingly, the BJP never targeted Shinde though it unleashed central agencies against many MVA leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde recently produced a Marathi film, Dharmaveer: Mukkam Post Thane. Based on Dighe’s life, the film, with the tagline ‘Gaddarana Mafi Nahi (No Pardon for Traitors)’, has become super hit. Now many Shiv Sainiks are raising questions about his loyalty.</p> Fri Jun 24 15:12:14 IST 2022 why-forest-fires-are-ravaging-uttarakhand <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>PERSISTENT AND PERSISTENTLY</b> misunderstood. That, in a nutshell, is the story of forest fires in Uttarakhand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fires break out each year between March and mid-June, before the onset of the monsoon. They spawn headlines like ‘Forest fires rage across Uttarakhand’ and ‘State loses hundreds of hectares of green cover in 24 hours’. Hyperbole, misinformation and poorly explained science paint a picture of roaring fires devouring trees and animals, and destroying property and livelihoods.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The forest fires of Uttarakhand are nothing of the kind, though. For starters, they are not ‘crown fires’, which spread to the top of the trees. They are, in fact, ground fires that feed on fallen pine needles. Mostly man-made, the fires are aided by high temperatures and winds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The number of forest fires varies every year. In 2002, there were 1,401 such incidents. In 2016, the figure went up to 12,958, and then fell to 2,158 in 2019. As of June 2022, there have been 2,131 forest fires, affecting more than 3,348 hectares and causing a loss of Rs87.31 lakh. Uttarakhand has a forest cover of 53.48 lakh hectares.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Periodic fires are needed to maintain ecological balance and lower the possibility of larger, uncontrolled fires. But what makes recurring fires a matter of concern is that it produces black carbon—sooty material that not just pollutes the atmosphere, but warms it as well, leading to the melting of Himalayan glaciers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A major factor behind forest fires in Uttarakhand is the chir pine, a conifer with slender leaves that grows in abundance on lower altitudes (500m to 2,000m) of the Himalayas. Some people call the chir pine a “dangerous beauty”, as the needles shed by the tree can catch fire easily. The tree itself is a hardy one, impervious to fire because of its thick bark. That is the reason fires do not burn trees up their entire length to the crown, unless the trunk has been weakened by resin tapping.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Resin from the pine is used for making adhesives, turpentine oil and binders. Pines have other uses, too. Its needles serve as bedding for livestock while timber is used for flooring, roofing and making furniture. Its green branches also have cultural significance—they are used in religious ceremonies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pines grow fast, absorbing atmospheric carbon much faster than other species. They also have great adaptability. They require little moisture and grow abundantly under a fierce sun, denying the space for other species to grow. Pines were planted on a large scale by the British to make sleeping berths in railway coaches. Over time, this led to the shrinking of areas covered by oaks and others trees native to the Himalayas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ecologist Rajeev L. Semwal, who was part of a task force under the National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem, said one tree species cannot be allowed to substitute another indiscriminately. Also, scientists believe that oak has better water retention capabilities than the chir pine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Chir pine creates conditions suitable for fires, which help expand its territory by replacing less fire-resistant species such as oaks,” said Semwal. “Therefore, there must be scientific studies on what should be the ideal spatial proportion of pines in Uttarakhand’s total forest cover.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The gap between science and policymaking also needs to be addressed. Policymakers often do not have an adequate grasp of science, which hampers optimal decision-making. For instance, even if pines are invading oaks, a ban on felling of trees above 1,000 metres in the Himalayas precludes the possibility of chopping off pine trees.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Elimination of pine trees from higher altitudes is also not a solution, as the floor fires that pine needles facilitate could be replaced by large-scale fires (because of sustained accumulation of fuel in the form of dried leaves and twigs on the forest floor) that cause greater damage. Surendra Pratap Singh, former vice chancellor of Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University and council member of the NGO Central Himalayan Environment Association, said forest fires were misunderstood as a “seasonal activity” and, hence, there was no longterm policy to tackle them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Whenever fires occur, the only measure is the loss they create. No one asks questions about what happens after the fires—like how species respond and how their composition changes,” said Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh also pointed out that farmers no longer used forest litter as fertiliser. Agriculture in the hills and livestock population have been declining, and its effect on forest fires needed to be studied.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also the growing rift between people and forests. From a state that once had people hugging trees to prevent them from being chopped, Uttarakhand has become a land of strict conservation laws that have created great distance between humans and the wild. Forests are now considered dreaded patches of green, setting foot on which could invite fines and punishment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There are far too many provisions that keep people away from forests,” said Vishal Singh, research director at the Centre for Ecology Development and Research, a nonprofit in Dehradun. “Wildlife protectors, biodiversity conservationists and pseudo-stewards of forest back these policies without understanding the ground realities. The solution lies in collaboration between communities and the forest department, incentive mechanisms, protection for communities against draconian policies, and shared ownership.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The discovery of fire was a turning point in mankind’s evolution. Perhaps, the next landmark is gaining a proper understanding of forest fires.</p> Sun Jun 26 15:34:35 IST 2022 we-need-to-change-the-nature-of-community-forestry-subodh-uniyal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ Uttarakhand has always suffered from forest fires. Are the occurrences steadily rising?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The number and intensity of forest fires have varied. The figures were very low in 2012-13 and 2013-14. Then there was a sudden leap. In 2020, the lowest number of cases ever were recorded. Department officials told me that this was because of Covid-induced migration. But that makes no sense, as people came back to their villages and there was no restriction on agriculture activities. There has to be another reason, which is now being studied.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This year, we have faced about half the number of fires we faced last year. There are many reasons for forest fires. The farming economy is not very strong, so farmers depend on jungles to feed cattle. In the summer months, the availability of green grass goes down, and the community itself starts off fires so that the soil becomes nutrient-rich to produce grass in the next season. There are mischievous people who start fires just for fun. Then there is carelessness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What measures has the government taken to contain fires and minimise losses?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have taken many innovative measures. For instance, district-level disaster management committees, involving district magistrates, have been given the responsibility of managing fires. The benefit of this is that emergency financial and manpower needs will be met at once.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our long-term policy is to have a forest fire management committee in every village. Headed by the gram pradhan (village headman), it will have panchayat members, Yuvak Mangal Dal, Mahila Mangal Dal (groups of youth and women), and employees of the revenue and forest departments. The benefit of this is that people will understand that they, too, are responsible for tackling forest fires.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We need to survey different locations to identify their fire histories. We will also set up tanks to harvest rainwater in villages. They will help increase the moisture content in the soil, which in turn, will help control the spread of fires.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are already using drones to identify the location of fires. The challenge is to reduce the response time so that the fires do not spread. In addition to the cooking gas cylinders being made available under the Ujjwala Yojana, we have also started providing three more cylinders to all families covered under the Antyodaya scheme, so the dependency on forest wood is reduced.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have van panchayats (village forest councils, formed for sustainable management of forests and natural resources) failed in their duties?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Van panchayats need incentives to play their role effectively. I have studied the schemes of the government of India and found that a provision of Rs15 lakh can be made to each panchayat. This will make the panchayats economically stronger. We also need to change the nature of community forestry to plant more fruit-bearing trees, which can be a source of revenue for the villages. I am also in talks to plant rudraksh (stonefruit used as Hindu prayer beads) with a buyback guarantee. If a village has 1,000 such trees, it would earn Rs50 lakh.</p> Sun Jun 26 15:33:47 IST 2022 the-troubles-of-pinarayi-vijayan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN KERALA, BIRYANI</b> is traditionally cooked in a sealed cauldron over an open fire. On June 7, demand for biryani cauldrons shot up, as opposition parties started using them as props to launch a novel agitation against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Fiery protesters across the state held rallies and demonstrations holding aloft the cauldrons. But what they craved was not biryani; it was Vijayan and his Left Democratic Front government that they really wanted cooked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The cauldron of anger began boiling over a scandalous allegation. Swapna Suresh, a key accused in the 2020 case related to the seizure of gold from a diplomatic bag in Thiruvananthapuram airport, said weighty biryani vessels containing “metallic objects” were moved several times from the UAE consul general’s residence in Thiruvananthapuram to Cliff House, the chief minister’s official residence. She said M. Sivasankar, Vijayan’s former principal secretary with whom she had links before the smuggling case was registered in 2020, knew about it. She also alleged that he had asked her in 2016 to deliver a bag in Dubai on short notice. “We sent a diplomat to take the bag to Dubai,” she told journalists on June 7. “When the bag was scanned at the consulate, we knew it contained currency.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Swapna, who was granted bail in the smuggling case last November, made the allegations after recording a statement before a magistrate under section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. She also accused Vijayan’s wife, Kamala, and daughter Veena, his additional private secretary C.M. Raveendran, former minister K.T. Jaleel and former chief secretary Nalini Netto of being involved in corrupt deals. Swapna is currently an employee of the Highrange Rural Development Society, an NGO with sangh parivar links.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vijayan has dismissed the allegations as political conspiracy. “An accused in the [gold smuggling] case is repeating the same charges she had levelled against us [in 2020]. There is not a shred of truth in them,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government seems worried, though. It registered a case against Swapna under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 153 (provocation with intent to cause riot) of the Indian Penal Code. It also removed M.R. Ajith Kumar, IPS, as director of the Vigilance and Anti-corruption Bureau, after it came to light that he had been in touch with a person who was accused of threatening Swapna. The bureau had also detained, allegedly unlawfully, one of Swapna’s colleagues who also happened to be a co-accused in the smuggling case. “Ajith Kumar was removed after it became clear that the government had sent him as a middleman [to strike a deal with Swapna],” alleged state BJP president K. Surendran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the row over Swapna’s allegations hog headlines, the LDF government is tackling deeper challenges. An immediate worry is that the Union government’s compensatory payouts to states under the goods and services tax (GST) regime will end on June 31. For the past five years, the Centre had been compensating the states for loss in revenue because of GST implementation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“If the compensation is stopped, Kerala would face a revenue shortfall of Rs10,000 crore this year,” Finance Minister K.N. Balagopal told THE WEEK. “Considering the pandemic and worldwide economic crises, the Union government must extend the compensation for another five years. Otherwise, the state’s economy will suffer.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jose Sebastian, economist and director of the Institute for Enterprise Culture and Entrepreneurship, said the government would find it difficult to pay salaries and pensions on time if GST compensation is discontinued. “This, despite the government recording a rise of 20.77 per cent in revenues in 2021-22,” he said. “People had contributed more to the exchequer, but the government spent the money on pay hikes to government employees, keeping elections in mind. This caused an additional expenditure of Rs24,563 crore—a whopping 52.63 per cent increase in expenditure.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former finance minister T.M. Thomas Isaac saw no harm in the hike in salaries. “Half [the additional expenditure] is going to education and health care. It is not a wastage of money,” he told THE WEEK.</p> <p>But the issue, according to Sebastian, is that this increased expenditure would not immediately boost the ailing economy. “The government has cut expenditure on development projects and welfare activities,” he said. “Unless ordinary people get more money to spend, the market will not get any fillip. For instance, if you increase the social welfare pension [for the poor], that additional amount will immediately flow to the market. A salaried employee would not spend as much extra income on consumption as ordinary people would. But in the last budget, the government failed to raise the welfare pension even by Rs100.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The financial woes could be further hampered by the Centre’s move to impose severe restrictions on state borrowings. Kerala can take loans equivalent to 3.5 per cent of its GSDP in the current financial year—which translates to just Rs32,435 crore. It spends more on salaries, pensions, subsidies and interests every three months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To make matters worse, the Centre wants to count all “off-budget borrowings”—loans taken by state government agencies that are not accounted for in the budget—to be within the ambit of the state’s borrowing limit. It means that government-run entities such as KIIFB (Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board), whose borrowings have been funding most infrastructure projects in the state, will not be able to keep on borrowing and transferring money to the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last November, a comptroller and auditor general report warned that the state may be approaching a debt trap. The report said the government, in a single fiscal year, had borrowed Rs1,930.04 crore through KIIFB, and another Rs6,843.65 crore through Kerala Social Securities Pension Ltd, just to pay salaries and fund development projects. “If the government increasingly resorts to these off-budget [loans], the state’s liabilities may increase substantially… leading to a debt trap, without the legislature even knowing [about it],” said the report.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>KIIFB has sanctioned projects worth around Rs71,000 crore, even though it has no revenue of its own, save for petroleum cess and a share of motor vehicle tax that the government gives every year. The CAG has pointed out that KIIFB loans are repaid by the government, “but the government’s financial documents do not reflect these borrowings”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Balagopal said counting KIIFB loans as the state’s direct borrowings was against the principles of development economics. “It is a model that can be seen everywhere in the world,” he said. “The government does not have direct liability, as the agency itself will take care of the debt. Considering the longterm repayment structure, this is a good model. The Union government is trying to destroy it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mary George, former chairperson of the Kerala Public Expenditure Review Committee, said Kerala’s total outstanding debt will cross Rs3.7 lakh crore this year. “It is 37.18 per cent of our GSDP—already far higher than the mandated level of 29 per cent,” she said. Only Punjab (53.3 per cent), Rajasthan (39.8 per cent) and West Bengal (38.8 per cent) had higher debt ratios.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A controversial rail project is set to add to Kerala’s debt burden. At around Rs64,000 crore, Silverline is the biggest infrastructure project in Kerala’s history. It envisages a 530km dedicated rail corridor from north to south, enabling trains to run at 160kmph and cover the distance in less than four hours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government says Silverline will need borrowings of around Rs34,000 crore. But E. Sreedharan, former Delhi Metro Rail Corporation managing director, estimates the cost to be around Rs1.22 lakh crore. “The government will have to borrow at least Rs80,000 crore,” he told THE WEEK. Until this loan and its interest are paid back, in 25 to 30 years, the state government will not be able to take up any major development work.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to opposition leader V.D. Satheeshan, instead of embarking on Silverline, the government should first help the crisis-ridden Kerala State Road Transport Corporation. One of India’s oldest state-run bus transport services, KSRTC operates around 8,500 buses for 13 lakh commuters every day. It has been recording losses for the past 10 years, and its huge debt burden has resulted in nonpayment of wages to its 26,000 employees and 42,000 pensioners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government has so struggled to solve the crisis in KSRTC that all workers’ unions, including the CPI(M)-backed one, recently went on strike. A petition was also filed in the Kerala High Court seeking payment of salaries on time. Curiously, the KSRTC management responded to the petition by filing an affidavit saying payment of salaries was not on its priority list.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Hardworking employees form the backbone of all profit-making organisations,” said the affidavit. “But instead of [working hard], KSRTC employees are threatening to call indefinite strikes, putting passengers in a spot.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Satheeshan of the Congress, the response shows that the government’s development agenda is a sham. “What is happening in KSRTC proves it,” he told THE WEEK. “They (the government) are not pro-worker. Nor are they pro-dalit, pro-women or pro-development. Their idea of development is just archaic.”</p> Sun Jun 19 11:40:49 IST 2022 is-pinarayi-vijayan-anti-black <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WHAT IS IT</b> with Pinarayi Vijayan and the colour black?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2013, he publicly endorsed black-flag protests against then chief minister Oommen Chandy, asking, “Is showing black flags a criminal offence? Is it not a form of protest?” That waving black flags is a democratic way of protesting was a belief held by his party, the CPI(M), as well. And, in January, Vijayan became the first chief minister in the state to choose a black Toyota Innova Crysta as his official vehicle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, Vijayan and his party have now been accused of being “anti-black”. The reason is that the police, on June 11, began preventing people wearing black clothes and black face-masks from approaching venues of the chief minister’s events. The police apparently wanted to avert black-flag protests against Vijayan and provide “enhanced security” to the chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police action soon went beyond the absurd. Near a metro rail station in Kochi, where Vijayan was expected to attend an event, two transgender women, Avantika Vishnu and Anna Raju, were arrested by the police for wearing black clothes. “Both of us are members of political parties; I am a BJP member and Anna belongs to the Congress,” said Avantika. “But we did not go to the metro station to protest. The police asked us why we were wearing black dresses. We replied: ‘Should we go without any dress then?’”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Avantika said the police roughed them up. “And then we decided to protest—not against the CM, but against the police.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police’s anti-black drive continued for two days, despite the government issuing a statement that there was no such directive. Opposition parties went to town embracing the colour—leaders and workers hit the streets wearing black clothes and face-masks, and there were incidents of black-flag protests against the chief minister’s convoy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 12, the convenor of the ruling Left Democratic Front, E.P. Jayarajan, added insult to the government’s public-relations injury by trying to justify the anti-black drive. “Why are people so adamant about wearing black clothes and black masks?” he asked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 13, Director-General of Police Anil Kant finally issued a statement saying people will not be prevented from wearing black. He also sent show-cause notices to four district police chiefs for carrying out the anti-black drive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CPI(M) Polit Bureau member M.A. Baby said the protests against Vijayan were unjustified, and that they were all based on frivolous charges related to the 2020 gold smuggling case. “It does not matter whether it is a red-flag protest or a black-flag protest,” he told THE WEEK. “These protests are just ridiculous. And they are becoming violent.”</p> Sat Jun 18 16:02:40 IST 2022 we-are-spending-on-developing-human-capital <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>K.N. Balagopal has his task cut out. As Kerala finance minister, he is in charge of steering the state away from a debt crisis and funding the state’s development dreams. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The GST compensation to the states will end this month. How will it add to the woes of the state which is already reeling under severe financial constraints?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ If the Union government stops giving GST compensation, all states including Kerala will face major financial distress. With the implementation of GST, the entire right to charge tax [on different commodities] was transferred to the GST council, where the Union government has an upper hand. We had apprehensions about it from the starting phase itself. A lot of states feared that their revenue will be hit [because of GST implementation]. We used to see around 14 per cent growth in tax collection year-to-year before the implementation of GST. Kerala’s average was more than that. The Centre had made the assurance that this 14 per cent growth will be maintained. The government had also given the assurance that if this growth rate is not achieved—because of systemic troubles—it will give compensation to ensure an assured return of 14 per cent. And, they decided to give this compensation for five years. But then we faced two bad years because of Covid-19. In the current situation, there is a huge gap. We are not getting as much revenue as we used to get earlier.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, Kerala demands that the Union government should continue GST compensation for another five years. Other states including BJP-ruling states have asked for it. Kerala alone will face a shortfall of around Rs 10,000 crore in revenue [compared to the old tax system] this year if GST compensation is stopped.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before the Lok Sabha elections, the GST council decreased the tax rate of certain commodities as per the wish of the Union government. And that is one of the reasons for the shortfall in the revenue. Such unilateral and unscientific decisions were made before the elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Technical difficulties in the implementation of the GST tax regime also continue. The [tax collection] system is not intact even now. It has not improved and is still in the preliminary stage. So, considering the Covid-19 situation and the economic crisis all over the world, the Union government must extend the GST compensation for another five years. Otherwise, the entire economy will suffer.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We cannot reduce the basic revenue expenditure—salaries and money for day-to-day activities—and if the Union government stops GST compensation it will affect our development activities. Kerala is a state that does numerous social services activities as part of the plan. All these activities will be affected.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The state’s revenue grew by 20.77 per cent in 2021-2. But expenditure, too, went up. There is a view that the government could have postponed pay revision, and used the money for an economic rebound.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In Kerala, we give pay revisions every five years. What government employees deserve should be given to them; that is the state’s attitude. But our income, too, should increase and better services should be provided. Our population-to-employee ratio and population-to-schools/colleges ratio are high. That is part of our policy. We want to give the best to the student community and develop human capital. And, for that, there are expenses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What measures have been taken to reduce expenditure?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is an effort from the government to reduce unwanted expenditures, such as the overuse of [government] vehicles or the purchase of new vehicles. We have already issued instructions regarding austerity measures.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Union government wants Kerala to include off-budget borrowings in fiscal-deficit calculations. How would this affect the state’s development?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ This is a move against development economics. Spending more and attracting more investments is a way out of the crisis. [Off-budget borrowings] are used for construction and infrastructure development. It will create employment opportunities.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Centre is not giving enough money to state governments. It is not even allowing us to borrow. The borrowing limit has been decreased—from 5 per cent [of the gross state domestic product] to 3.5 per cent. And, they (the Centre) have plans to reduce it further to 3 per cent.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First, they snatched our right to collect taxes. Now they are trying to take away many other rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is the Centre curbing the fiscal freedom of states?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ What the Union government is doing is dangerous. Their economic policies are affecting federalism. They don’t have any regard for the dignity and autonomy of states. They are not considering the dignity of the people of these states.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Kerala has to take more than Rs 30,000 crore foreign funds to build the K-Rail, which, the state government says, will bring massive development and employment opportunities to the state. But Kerala has an ageing population. Will it be an impediment to meeting the expected level of economic progress by the time K-Rail is completed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ K-Rail is a project that would help long-standing developments in the state. Our existing railway system is outdated. Also, our roads are choked. And, since our population density is high, we cannot think about building more highways. Kerala is a densely populated state. It is only in a populated place that this sort of project gains success as it will have a lot of passengers. Also, you pointed out the demography. Our new generation is migrating to places like Europe, US, Australia and Canada. So, if we provide better infrastructure here in Kerala, our best minds will be able to work and settle here. And, for that high-speed travel infrastructure is very important. If we have a good infrastructure here, more opportunities will be created here. We can develop the knowledge economy here itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The government declared a decent compensation package for those getting displaced because of K-Rail. But, for a lot of people, it is not just the monetary factor, but attachment to their home and locality. The government had earlier tried to install survey stones with the help of the police. And that had given rise to a lot of protests. What is the stance of the government now?</b>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We see K-Rail as a project that must be implemented only with the support of the people. The government belongs to the people. We believe that we will get cooperation from the people. If the people do not want this, then for whom we are doing this? To move forward with this project without the support of people is not part of our concept.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The compensation package declared for K-Rail is attractive. A lot of people will have emotional attachment and nostalgia related to their home, and I agree. But they will get good compensation and will be able to move to a place close to their previous home.</p> Sat Jun 18 15:58:56 IST 2022 interview-congress-only-wants-politics-of-opposing-says-hardik-patel <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Hardik Patel was barely 22 when he became the face of the Patidar agitation demanding reservation in Gujarat in 2015. The agitation, which had turned violent in between, leading to the death of 14 people, was mostly successful, as the Centre agreed to most of the demands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The stir helped the Congress reap electoral benefits in the 2015 panchayat elections and in the 2017 assembly elections. In 2017, it won 77 of 182 assembly seats, its best performance since 1985. Hardik joined the Congress ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, but the party drew a blank in the state. Though he was made working president of the state unit, he continued to grumble about not getting any responsibility and quit the party on May 18.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an interview, Hardik talks about the Congress, the BJP and the many allegations against him. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You said you did not get to work in the Congress.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ No, not at all. There is no planning. There is nothing to do with people’s sentiments. If they had people’s sentiments in mind, a former Union minister (Bharatsinh Solanki) would not have said that dogs peed on the bricks gathered for the Ram temple. The bricks were gathered by people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ As working president, shouldn’t you have been the one delegating work?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I never had such power as working president. Even if I had to get someone into the Congress fold, I had to ask for the state Congress president’s permission. If he said no, then I could not. One example is that of an incumbent corporator from Rajkot who was taken into the Congress by me. I had to fight for a ticket for him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Were you not aware about these things when you joined the party in 2019?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I experienced it more when I saw the party from close quarters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Could you not bring changes in the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is no change happening in the Congress and that is the reason I quit. They do not want to change. They only want to bring 65 seats so that they get two Rajya Sabha seats. They do not want to fight to get power. They do not want to think about the interests of the people. They have nothing to do with the masses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ During the Patidar reservation stir, you spoke a lot against the BJP. How would you justify your decision to join the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Why did we fight against power? We have a saying in Gujarati: ‘Mangya vagar ma pan nathi pirasti (Even mother does not serve without you asking for it)’. We had fought for the rights of poor Patidars. The same people in power ended the agitation by giving 10 per cent reservation and Rs1,000 crore Yuva Swavlamban Yojna, and setting up a commission for non-reserved category. You have to fight if you want to get it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During an agitation one could have spoken with aggression as a youth. This was not the first agitation. Similar things have happened in the JP agitation. People who had spoken against Indira Gandhi had also joined the Congress later on and some others formed new parties. The fight is issue-based. You are not opposed to anyone for a lifetime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We thank the prime minister, who gave the reservation. It was society’s demand. Anyone who needs reservation on an economic basis should get it. When we went to the people, we realised that it was not just Patidars who are poor; Brahmins are also poor. We did not say that we want reservation only for Patidars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Wasn’t the BJP an option when you joined the Congress in 2019?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The issues of Article 370 and Ram temple came up after I joined the Congress. At that point in time, I had appreciated it even while remaining in the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did the change of heart happen because of Article 370 and Ram temple?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ For any work, you need to have firm determination. The BJP showed that. There has to be firm determination or ideology in the Congress. What is its stand? The Congress just could not clear the stand. It does not want to do anything other than politics of opposing. Does the Congress have anything other than abusing Narendra Modi? Can’t you say that Article 370 is a right issue and it is good? And at the same time also speak what else was necessary to do along with it. The politics of opposing does not work in everything.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ If you are in the ruling party, will you be able to highlight pressing issues like price rise and inflation? That, too, in a ‘disciplined’ party like the BJP.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ One should be disciplined. In the Congress, people who have damaged the party headquarters were given posts in the Ahmedabad city unit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you mean people would not have raised these issues in the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I do not want to get into the past. I am talking about the present. I will surely try to explain the issues to the party leaders and also give suggestions. Politics works in this manner, by talking to the smallest worker, understanding him and seeing what he thinks of a particular issue. Gone are the days when governments fell when onion prices increased.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have claimed that you were never afraid of the court cases against you.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Today I have 22 cases against me. Had I been afraid, I would have made an arrangement then itself so that the two-year sentence period is stalled. I am not scared. I was behind bars for nine months. How many more months will you put me in jail? I have not murdered or raped anyone, I have not wielded weapons. Cases against me are political.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ By joining the ruling party, wouldn’t things become easy?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Well, yes, if you say so. Why should we suffer? We are here to do good for society. Lakhs of people are taking the benefit of the schemes. Why should Hardik Patel and 200 others get troubled?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you justify your lifestyle? You have a modest middle-class background.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ My father is not that poor, though he cannot keep his son like a king. I have said this earlier also. Who should be bothered about my lifestyle? Probably, someone who has given me money to buy a pair of shoes. He can ask. When you become a social and political face there are a lot of people who support you as their aspirations are associated with the person. The ones who have helped do not have questions but the ones who have not given anything have a lot to ask. I am least bothered by what people think. For this, I follow Bal Thackeray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If someone has given me a Toyota Fortuner and I travel in it, does that improve my lifestyle? Should we take a bus to attend 10 programmes in a day?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The lavish wedding of your sister is also talked about.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ What difference does it make? Will any politician want his sister’s marriage to be held like that of a pauper’s sister? In villages, don’t you borrow Rs5 lakh to marry off a family member? You have aspirations. These questions aren’t important for today’s politics. Such questions should not be there. You do not need to go and check someone’s bed to see whether he is with his wife or his girlfriend. You might be going around with 10 girlfriends, but you have an objection when your leader is with a girlfriend. You enjoy booze, but if your leader has it then you have a problem.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What will be your role in the Gujarat assembly polls?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ More than the role, I will have responsibility for the cause of the state. That is what I can see.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What if you are also ‘finished’ like Alpesh Thakor (who is struggling after jumping from the Congress to the BJP)?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Nobody gets finished like this in politics. The biggest example is late chief minister Chimanbhai Patel. When he had to leave in 1974, did anyone think that in 1990 he would become the chief minister again?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is the death of 14 people in the Patidar agitation still relevant?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The financial aspect has been completed. The then deputy chief minister Nitin Patel had promised semi-government jobs for a dependant of each of the deceased. This is after the necessary educational qualification is attained. Remaining small issues need to be sorted out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There are allegations that you siphoned off funds received during the Patidar agitation.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There was no account or structure. No account was opened. There was nothing like a trust formed. For example, funds came for public meetings.</p> Fri Jun 03 15:20:52 IST 2022 moosewalas-murder-drives-demand-for-societal-curbs-on-punjabs-gun-and-gang-culture <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In May 2020, when India was under the pandemic-induced lockdown, a video of popular Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala went viral. The 28-year-old singer was pictured firing an AK-47 rifle at a shooting range in the presence of a few Punjab Police personnel. The policemen in the video were subsequently suspended and Moosewala was booked under the Arms Act and the Disaster Management Act. A day after getting anticipatory bail in the case, Moosewala released another song on his YouTube channel, comparing himself to actor Sanjay Dutt, who was jailed under the Arms Act back in 1993.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moosewala, the enfant terrible of the Punjabi music industry, was always unapologetic about his promotion of guns and gangs. Ironically, he was gunned down on May 29 in what was said to be a gang hit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu in a Jat Sikh family in Punjab’s Mansa district, Moosewala went to Canada in 2016 after finishing his B.Tech degree. He released his first song, ‘G Wagon’, while he was in Canada. His first hit track, ‘So High’, came in August 2017. Moosewala’s irreverent take on life, his rivals and society added to his appeal. During the farmers’ agitation, he hit a defiant note by telling Delhi that Punjab was not like Kashmir, and could not be suppressed. His decision to join the Congress last December and to contest the assembly polls showed that the cultural icon was ready for the political track as well.</p> <p>Moosewala’s murder happened after Punjab’s two-month-old Aam Aadmi Party government under Bhagwant Mann withdrew security cover to 424 people saying that it was doing away with the state’s ‘VIP culture’. Inexplicably, the government revealed the names of the 424, including Moosewala. He was shot dead a day after the names were made public.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My son used to get extortion calls and threats from the Lawrence Bishnoi group, which was why he got a bullet-proof car. As he was at home, his cousin and friend came to meet him. He left the house with them on a Mahindra Thar to meet his aunt. I followed him with two gunmen,” said Moosewala’s father, Balkaur Singh, according to the FIR. Director General of Police V.K. Bhawra said Moosewala was tailed by a white Corolla and was blocked by two other cars. The assassins opened fire and fled. He was taken to the Civil Hospital in Mansa, where he was declared dead on arrival.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are working on all angles. The Lawrence Bishnoi/Goldy Brar gang has taken responsibility,” said Mansa senior superintendent of police, Gaurav Toora. Bishnoi, currently lodged in Delhi’s Tihar jail in another case, denied any involvement. Brar, Bishnoi’s key associate based in Canada, however, claimed through an unverified social media post that Moosewala was killed because of his links to the murder of Youth Akali Dal leader Vicky Middukhera, who was close to Bishnoi. He was killed last August allegedly by gangsters belonging to the Davinder Bambiha group.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite Davinder’s death in an encounter in 2016, the Bambiha gang is still thriving and remains the most notorious gang in Punjab, Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan, along with the Bishnoi gang. Other gangsters have alliances with these two gangs, ensuring pooling of resources and sharing of booty. As Punjabi songs, films and sports are major revenue earners, people working in these fields become obvious targets for extortion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike gangsters from elsewhere in the country, gang leaders from Punjab announce their kills on social media, and routinely share pictures from inside the jails. After Middukhera’s murder, the Bishnoi gang had vowed revenge, according to social media posts. There were allegations that Moosewala’s manager, Shagunpreet Singh, had a role in Middukhera’s murder. Shagunpreet fled the country after his name came up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Mann government has set up an anti-gangster unit to tackle the menace, but with the Moosewala hit, it is clearly on the back foot. “It is the utter failure of the Mann government and the DGP. It is a political murder,” said opposition leader Partap Singh Bajwa of the Congress. “They are trying to give a spin that it is the handiwork of gangsters. We have demanded a probe by the National Investigation Agency about the withdrawal of security cover.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, too, has blamed the AAP government. “They should answer why Moosewala’s security was withdrawn and a case should be registered against Mann,” said BJP leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP is finding it difficult to explain the withdrawal of security cover and the publicising of the names. AAP spokesperson Malwinder Singh Kang said gangsters flourished in Punjab in the past one decade because of political patronage. “There is a trend of students-turned gangsters trying to associate themselves with film stars, sportsmen and singers. Moosewala became a victim of such organised crime.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>AAP leaders said the traditional political class was turning against the party as the Mann government started reclaiming encroached land and curtailing illegal sand mining. “These parties do not have any sympathy for Moosewala, they are trying to target us because they have been deprived of their influence. The Mann government will not spare anyone or give patronage to anyone as it happened in the past,” said Kang.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the AAP government has a difficult mission in the aftermath of Moosewala’s gruesome murder, demand for societal curbs on the gun culture and gangs are growing. “As long as we celebrate gun culture, we will not be able to control it,” said Bhim Inder Singh, professor at Punjabi University, Patiala. “Just like there is a censor board for films, we should have a culture commission to keep in check the excessive celebration of guns and gangs in popular media.”</p> Fri Jun 03 15:13:51 IST 2022 west-bengal-recruitment-scam-two-ministers-feel-the-heat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Paresh Adhikari, minister of state for education in the Mamata Banerjee government, and his daughter, Ankita, a school teacher, boarded the Padatik Express from Jalpaiguri on May 18. They were supposed to get off at Sealdah, but they did not. The Eastern Railway’s CCTV showed them at the Burdwan station, around 700km away from Jalpaiguri. They vanished from the station.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adhikari was expected at the CBI’s state headquarters at Nizam Palace later that day in connection with the alleged teacher recruitment scam. The CBI had filed an FIR against the duo, and the Calcutta High Court had ordered him to appear before the CBI. Ankita allegedly was appointed violating many norms. “She got the job just because she is the minister’s daughter,” said Babita Sarkar of Siliguri, who did not get a job despite having scored more marks than Ankita.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thousands of eligible candidates like Babita had moved court alleging irregularities in recruitment. A battery of lawyers, led by CPI(M) leader Bikash Bhattacharya, fought their case in the High Court. Around 10,000 teacher appointments and around 900 non-teaching staff appointments (group C and D) are under the scanner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay pulled up Adhikari and Partha Chatterjee, who was education minister when the irregularities happened, and asked a committee led by former judge Ranjit Bag to investigate it. The committee’s report on group C and group D appointments said that the signature of Kalyanmoy Ganguly, president of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (WBBSE), was misused to commit the crime. Apparently, Ganguly’s signature was scanned and stored in a server for generating appointment letters from the soft copy of the data received from the School Service Commission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The WBBSE, which makes the appointments, allegedly received fake data of fake candidates from the School Service Commission (SSC), the recruiting body. “According to school service commission rules of 2009, we would like to hold the chairman of the central commission and regional commissions responsible and liable for dereliction of duty and for violating the rules of school service commission. We don’t want to hold the staff members of both central commissions and regional commissions responsible,” said the report. SSC chairman Sidhartha Majumder resigned after the storm broke.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition parties allege that it would not have happened without the knowledge of the Trinamool leadership. “It is well known that the top echelons of the government were involved in the scam,” said CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty. “No doubt that instructions were given to the education minister to recruit candidates who did not pass at all.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adhikari reappeared two days after he went missing, and was grilled by the CBI. It is said that he had made a deal with the Trinamool leadership for a ministerial berth for himself and a government job for his daughter when he jumped ship to the Trinamool from the All India Forward Bloc in 2015. “The entire blame is on the people who agreed to Adhikari’s conditions,” said a Trinamool leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bag committee recommended administrative action against the individuals involved by the disciplinary authority or pension sanctioning authority; those who got the jobs, too, could face criminal charges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Justice Gangopadhyay has allowed the CBI to arrest Chatterjee, who is currently the commerce and industries minister and the virtual number two in the government. The CBI is also questioning education department officials who had worked under Chatterjee, including his secretary and officer on special duty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CBI has also been asked to investigate the money angle and to check if the Trinamool had asked Chatterjee to make speedy appointments. “Instruction was sent to Partha babu from Kalighat (the chief minister’s residence),”said BJP state president Sukanta Majumder. “Party leaders received Rs10 lakh to Rs15 lakh each from the fake job holders. Now you know how the party runs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chatterjee denied the allegations. “If money came to my account then it is corruption. Let the CBI probe that,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trinamool spokesperson Kunal Ghosh reacted more cautiously. “I think it was a mistake at that time,” he said. “The current education minister (Bratya Basu) can no way be responsible for it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The onus is now on the CBI. “Hope it would not be like the Saradha scam investigation conducted by the CBI,” said student leader Moidul Islam. “We want justice and jobs.”</p> Fri May 27 13:12:10 IST 2022 jignesh-mevani-fears-similar-fate-as-dabholkar-and-kalburgi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON JULY 11,</b> 2016, a mob of upper-caste men at Una town in Gujarat’s Gir Somnath district attacked seven members of a dalit family who were skinning a dead cow. They were stripped of their clothes, tied to the back of a car, and beaten with sticks and iron pipes. Videos of the violence went viral.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The incident changed Jignesh Mevani’s life. Until then, he had been just another dalit activist fighting for the uplift of his community. Born in a lower middle class family in Mehsana district, he was a graduate in English literature and law, and had worked briefly as a journalist and lawyer. The Una incident so moved him that Mevani mobilised a mass movement and led a 400km padyatra to Una. He also set up the rights platform Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch, becoming the face of the dalit struggle for land in Gujarat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mevani, 41, now represents the Vadgam constituency in the Gujarat assembly. A vociferous critic of the BJP, he was recently arrested and charged with criminal conspiracy by the Assam Police for a tweet criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mevani said in the tweet: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who considers Godse as his god, is going on a tour of Gujarat from April 20. I appeal to him that he should appeal for calm in Himmatnagar, Khambat and Veraval, where communal violence broke out. Can we at least hope for this much from the maker of the grand temple?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mevani was charged with trying to “incite hatred” and “destroy the social fabric”. But a district court in Assam said the arrest was unlawful and granted him bail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was re-arrested after a lady police officer alleged that Mevani had harassed and threatened her while being in custody in Assam, but the court again granted him bail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Days later, a magisterial court in Mehsana convicted Mevani and nine others, and sentenced them to three months in prison, for holding a rally in 2017 without requisite permission. The court also granted a stay on the order to allow him to move a higher court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mevani clearly has his hands full as he prepares for the assembly elections in Gujarat, due later this year. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Mevani talked about his political and legal challenges, his plans to join the Congress, his future in politics, and the continuing fight against the RSS.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did you expect that the tweet will get you arrested?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Obviously not. It does not contain anything for which an FIR can be attracted. It should rather be appreciated that I appealed to the prime minister to make an appeal to the people of Gujarat to maintain peace and harmony.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How did you feel when you were arrested?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I felt that [this was] fascism. These people (the BJP and the RSS) can go to any length. Groups that are ideologically affiliated to the BJP and the RSS have killed Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh. They have put Sudha Bharadwaj, Hardik Patel and Akhil Gogoi behind bars. They have arrested journalists, activists and politicians. We are living in an era of fascist people. Anything can happen. So when the police came and arrested me, I was not surprised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why do you think you were arrested? It is not obviously because of the tweet.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I was arrested because they wanted to teach me a lesson. They want to persecute me because I have been solidly against the BJP and the RSS, not just in Gujarat but across India. They know I am a threat to them in the long run. There is also the fact that elections are due in Gujarat. Above all, they have become arrogant; they think that they can get away with anything.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You were also convicted for holding a rally without permission.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I would probably be the only MLA in India convicted for holding a rally without permission. Such rallies happen on a daily basis, but since this is Jignesh Mevani, they are taking it seriously. The way they have been conspiring against me, the RSS may have a plan to kill me. They may physically eliminate me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you informed the police of this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ No, because [the RSS] can do this to anyone. Justice B.H. Loya can be killed; Gujarat home minister Haren Pandya can be killed; there are serious doubts about the death of Pramod Mahajan and many others; and we already have cases related to the deaths of Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh. What happened to them can happen to me as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why do you feel it can happen to you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I feel so because that is what the RSS is—extremely fascist in nature. It is obvious that I am a much bigger threat than Dabholkar, Kalburgi, Pansare and Gauri Lankesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The way you have been hounded, do you feel that it would improve your stature in politics?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It has definitely helped me politically. People in Gujarat really came out in my support. There was a lot of love and affection, and genuine anger against the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How are you going to capitalise on the trust that people have in you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I have gained their trust by working day and night for them. And if I keep doing it—and I will—their faith in me will certainly grow. I will tell the people of Gujarat, particularly dalits and the people in my constituency, the story of what happened to me and how they (the BJP) targeted me. They are completely exposed by the judiciary in Assam. It was almost established by the court that there was a conspiracy to implicate me in criminal cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>[That the police came] all the way to Gujarat, covering 2,500km, shows how desperate they are. And what their priority is. Insurgency and drug peddlers are not the priority of the Assam Police. They travel 2,500km to arrest an MLA on the basis of a tweet, and it speaks volumes about what they have become.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How will the trial affect your campaign?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I will have to go [to Assam]. It will affect my campaign, and the Congress. And that is what the plan is. But what can one do? One has to face it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What will be your role in the Congress in the run-up to the elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I will be one of their leading campaigners—one of the star speakers. I will try to shape the campaign and the party’s manifesto.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Within the Congress in Gujarat, there is a divide between the elder and younger generations. How do you plan to bridge this gap?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am a lucky chap in that sense. I am loved by the old guard as well as the younger lot. I will try and bridge the gap by bringing in more people like me, and giving them the space to fight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your friend and party colleague Hardik Patel has been having some issues with the state leadership. Have you spoken to him?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I have not spoken to him at length. Everybody knows he is angry. But it will be taken care of. Hardik will remain with the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Where do you see yourself five years from now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think I will be able to grow in Gujarat and nationally. This is because my base is increasing both ways. My acceptance is steadily growing nationally, and I have been able to consolidate in Gujarat as well. Hopefully, there will be more cases, more persecutions and more harassment, giving me more sympathy, more limelight and more attention (laughs).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your five major achievements in Vadgam constituency?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We could generate the highest number of jobs in north Gujarat as part of the National Employment Guarantee Scheme. My constituency is number one [in that regard]. We have been able to generate jobs for 12,000 people through the scheme, and this includes not just Vadgam but Banaskantha as well. During my tenure, 500 people got housing plots. The people of Vadgam had been demanding that the Narmada canal network be extended to the Mukteshwar dam, which we could achieve.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We could set up Gujarat’s biggest oxygen plant in my constituency; it is in a primary health centre at Chhapi, with a refilling capacity of more than 700 jumbo cylinders. I have become the voice of lakhs of dalits in Gujarat and India. We—the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikaar Manch—could ensure the transfer of 2,500 acres to landless dalits. No other dalit leader in the state has been able to do so in two decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How will you ensure your victory in Vadgam this time? You will have to be away because of the cases against you. The BJP is all out to get this seat, and the Aam Aadmi Party is also in the fray.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Since the BJP is so desperate, the people of Vadgam will also go all out against the BJP. Last time, I contested as an independent. Now, I will have a party symbol. As for the AAP, [the impact] won’t be big.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you do when you take time out from politics?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I like poetry. Poetry in any language—Gujarati, Hindi, Urdu, English. Mareez in Gujarati, and Ghalib, Gulzar, Shahryar, Kaif Bhopali, Kaifi Azmi and Javed Akhtar. I love poetry, theatre and cinema. I love Chaplin and Van Gogh. I love to be with friends, idling away hours and having chai ki tapri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your favourite dishes?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Dal is something that I love, but [the dish] should not be sweet. I also like fish, chicken and green vegetables.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You are an eligible bachelor. When are you getting married?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Assam judiciary has let me be a free bird; I would request you to let me remain a free bird (laughs).</p> Sun May 15 12:14:29 IST 2022 lion-population-at-gir-growing <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was a chilly winter morning and strong winds were expected. As I hopped into an open jeep and trundled into the woods, I was anxious, curious and excited. After all, it is not often that you have a date with the king of the jungle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier, the manager of the Asiatic Lion Lodge in Sasan Gir, where I was put up, suggested that we do not bathe before the safari. I did not listen. Much later, when I was literally out in the cold, I realised he had a point. Thankfully, I had listened to the instructions about woollen wear and the need for covering our heads and ears. We left the lodge at the crack of dawn. It was a 6km-drive to Sinh Sadan, from where the journey into the wild would begin. The manager of the lodge completed the formalities at Sinh Sadan on our behalf and an open jeep arrived. I called shotgun and gleefully claimed the seat. The jeep held half a dozen people, including a forest guard, Ghanshyam Baria.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The driver, a local resident, drove slowly on one of the 13 designated safari routes. We had chosen the first safari of the day, the best time to spot lions. The Gir National Park offers three safaris, two in the morning and one late in the afternoon. As the jeep trudged on, Baria softly asked us to look to the left. “A lioness and two cubs,” he said. We did not see them immediately, but then the first rays of sun illuminated the deciduous forest and them. The cubs were playing, but the lioness was evidently unhappy with the call of the crows.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Next, we were greeted by a herd of spotted deer, always alert to the slightest of sounds. Gir, famous across the world as the last home of the Asiatic lion, is also known for its rich flora and fauna. Pointing out a tiny bird, Baria said there were 39 animal species, 300 bird species and 3,500 tree species in Gir. He added that renowned ornithologist Salim Ali had once said that had it not been for the lions, Gir would have been known for its birds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hearing the roars of the lions from a distance, punctuated by the chirping of the birds, was in itself a moving experience. But, we were about to hit the jackpot. A lion was sitting on our path. Even as we were processing that, another one emerged from the bushes and walked towards our stationary jeep.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The cameras were clicking away furiously. Baria and the driver told us not to move. The driver then started to reverse the jeep slowly. “They must be brothers,” said Baria, adding that lions generally do not remain together unless they are kin and even then, not for too long. We waited and watched from a distance until the lions left, and then moved forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We proceeded towards the Kamleshwar Dam, coming across many herbivores on the way. The watchtower at the dam gave a panoramic view of the forest. It was the perfect setting for selfies. After returning, we felt immensely lucky to have spotted the lions within the first 30 minutes of the three-hour safari.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, it was perhaps the result of a lot of hard work. In recent years, Gir has seen a steady rise in the number of lions. Mohan Ram, deputy conservator of forests, Sasan Gir, said that the 2020 census recorded 674 lions, of which at least 250 were females. He added that as the numbers were increasing, the lions were regaining landscape and can currently be found in nine districts of Saurashtra. They are residents in five districts and can be spotted seasonally in the rest. The protected area holds 52 per cent of the lion population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from the conservation efforts, the support of local residents has been key to the increasing number of lions. In 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi acknowledged and appreciated the support of the local population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Ram, Gir attracts 5.25 lakh tourists annually. The development and conservation model, and tourism model is inclusive. Locals have not only been trained and recruited as guides, they also drive the safari vehicles. The drivers are paid Rs2,000 of the Rs3,400 charged for the safari. Guides get Rs400, and Rs1,000 is the permit fee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The region thrives on agriculture, but thanks to the lions, tourism is also a major source of revenue. According to conservative estimates, there are about 400 facilities, including five-star hotels, tent stays and quite a few ecotourism properties, like the Asiatic Lion Lodge, in and around Sasan Gir. Some facilities prop up without proper clearances, but the authorities are quick to crack down on these.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The local residents, whether they be the Maldharis or the Siddis, who trace their origins to southeast Africa, are proud of the lions. Nathiben Khodiyadhar, 65, from Haripur village, on the fringes of the protected area, has fenced her kaccha home to protect the cattle from lions. But, she said she is not afraid of lions and added that they were the pride of the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The villagers often lose their livestock to lions. However, they are compensated by the forest department. Alimaben Majbul, from Jambur, one of the villages where the Siddis reside, said: “Nobody hurts lions. The forest department gives us compensation if lions kill cattle.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from Gir, lions can also be spotted at the Devalia Safari Park, about 12km west of Sasan Gir. The park, which is spread over 4.12sqkm, also houses leopards. Quite a few can be seen in moated enclosures; a guard explained that the leopards in the enclosures were man killers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As things stand, the population of lions is only set to increase further. The Gujarat government has sought more funds from the Centre under Project Lion. The effort is to increase the population, create gene pools and better medical facilities, manage increased areas and carry out other mitigation measures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gir can be reached by road from Ahmedabad; the drive is about eight hours. Visitors can also fly to Rajkot, which cuts the travel time by more than three hours. Amitabh Bachchan says in an advertisement for Gujarat Tourism: “Kuch din toh guzaariye Gujarat mai (Spend a few days in Gujarat)”. And Gir certainly warrants a few days from your busy schedule.</p> Sun May 08 12:02:04 IST 2022 the-case-of-nimisha-priya-the-indian-nurse-facing-the-death-penalty-in-yemen <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>PREMAKUMARI, 56, IS</b> on tenterhooks as she desperately waits for the external affairs ministry’s clearance to travel to strife-torn Yemen. The purpose of the trip is an onerous one, involving a matter of life and death. Premakumari wants to make a last-ditch effort to save her daughter, Nimisha Priya, who has been sentenced to death for murdering Yemeni citizen Talal Abdo Mahdi in 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Premakumari, a domestic help in Kerala’s Ernakulam district, weeps often as she talks about her only child. She wants to appeal to Mahdi’s family for mercy. “I will ask their forgiveness,” she said. “I will tell them that Priya has an eight-year-old daughter who is waiting for her mother. They can take my life if they want.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priya’s daughter is expected to accompany Premakumari to Yemen; the mother’s appeal is perhaps the only lifeline left for the 32-year-old nurse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to legal experts and activists involved with the case, this is perhaps the only instance of an Indian being sentenced for murder in Yemen. It is also a rare instance in the Middle East of an Indian woman facing the death penalty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In August 2020, a trial court found Priya guilty of murdering Mahdi by injecting him with sedatives. Mahdi’s body was found in pieces, in a water tank. A Yemeni nurse, who was found guilty of helping Priya, was sentenced to life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priya’s death sentence was upheld by an appeal court on March 7, 2022, but the court threw Priya a lifeline, saying that Mahdi’s family could pardon her, if they so wished. Under Islamic law, the death penalty can be waived if the victim’s family pardons the convict, and this can involve payment of “blood money” (compensation paid to the victim’s family).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priya, who hails from Kollengode in Palakkad district of Kerala, had migrated to Yemen with her husband, Tomy Thomas, in 2011. There she worked in private hospitals, while her husband found work at a petrol pump. Priya’s daughter was born in Yemen in 2013, after which Thomas quit his job to look after the child. In 2014, Thomas and the child returned to India because of financial reasons, while she stayed on. Thomas now drives an autorickshaw for a living.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per Priya’s version of the events, in 2015, she and Mahdi together set up a clinic in the Yemeni capital Sana’a. She sought Mahdi’s help as only Yemeni nationals are allowed to set up clinics. A labour contractor had put her in touch with Mahdi, who ran a textile shop. In 2015, Mahdi accompanied Priya to Kerala when she came on a month-long holiday. As per Priya, during the visit, Mahdi stole a wedding photograph of hers, which he later morphed to claim that they were married. Later, according to Priya, the relationship between them deteriorated as Mahdi began stealing money from the clinic. She claimed that he began torturing her, threatened her at gunpoint, confiscated her ornaments and passport. She also claimed that he would bring his friends to her house at night and force her to have sex with them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priya had stated in her defence that she did complain about Mahdi to the police, but instead of taking action against him, they put her in jail for six days. In July 2017, she took the help of a warden of a jail near her clinic, where Mahdi had been jailed in the past under various charges. The warden, she says, suggested that she sedate Mahdi and retrieve her passport. However, Mahdi died of an overdose when she tried this; Priya maintains that Mahdi’s death was an accident.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a handwritten message penned in Malayalam before her case came up for appeal—addressed to the ‘Save Nimisha Priya International Action Council’, a forum launched in 2020—Priya said: “I did not commit murder. For making our lives better, with my husband’s permission, I took a certain path. But I fell into the trap of certain people I trusted and ended up in a tragic situation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Subhash Chandran K.R.—a Delhi-based lawyer who represented the action council in the Delhi High Court recently to seek the Union government’s intervention in the matter—a seven-member delegation has been chosen to meet Mahdi’s family. The list includes Premakumari and Priya’s daughter; Chandran and Deepa Joseph, another Delhi-based lawyer who is the vice president of the action council; Babu John, the convenor of the council; Rafeek Ravuther of the Centre for Indian Migrant Studies, and Nizar Kochery, an Indian lawyer based in Doha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There has been a ban on Indians travelling to Yemen,” said Chandran. “When we approached the Delhi High Court seeking the Union government’s intervention, they [the government] assured all assistance such as permission to travel, and also the services of an interpreter. However, the government has stated that it cannot be involved in the negotiation for pardon.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the team wants to travel to Yemen at the earliest and begin negotiations immediately. “A pardon during the month of Ramzan is given a lot of importance,” said Chandran. “We would want to begin the negotiation before Ramzan ends.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The assistance sought from the Union government also includes help in enabling the payment of money that Mahdi’s family may demand, since financial transactions to Yemen are also restricted by Indian authorities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The matter has been discussed at the highest levels in the ministry of external affairs,” said a source at the MEA. “The relevant authorities have been asked to look at ways to help Priya and expedite the process to get her out.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, giving a boost to the campaign, former Supreme Court judge Justice Kurian Joseph has agreed to lead the mediation efforts, although he will not be travelling to Yemen due to health reasons. “If my involvement will in any way help the process or augment it, I will be very happy about it,” he told THE WEEK. “I do not believe that eye for eye or tooth for a tooth is the remedy... I am not inclined to believe as of now, going by the documents, that she intended to commit the murder.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Yemen-based activist Samuel Jerome—the first person Priya reached out to for help when she was arrested in 2017—an informal interaction had taken place with Mahdi’s family before the case was taken up by the appeal court. “At that time, they had said that they wanted the trial to finish first,” he said. “What gives us hope is that all along, they have not shown any animosity towards us when we have met in court.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jerome said the negotiations will involve getting in touch with Yemeni tribal leaders, too, apart from the family. “Our argument will not be that Priya has not committed the crime,” he said. “After all, we are seeking forgiveness. It could take a month, two months or even six months.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some estimated sums have been reported as the amount that may be required to be paid as blood money. However, Chandran said that the family has not spoken about any amount so far, as the question of payment of blood money will arise only when negotiations take place and Mahdi’s kin agree to pardon Priya. According to him, the indications from Mahdi’s family so far are that they are inclined to enter into pardon talks. “The family can agree to pardon Priya while not accepting any money,” said Chandran. “They may accept a token payment of one rial or quote a certain amount. It is all up to them,”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the need arises, the action council will launch a fundraiser to raise the blood money as Priya’s family is impoverished. The additional challenge in this case is the huge public outcry that the murder evoked in Yemen. According to those involved with the case, there was a sense of betrayal as Indians are well-regarded by Yemeni society. Also, since it is a patriarchal society, if the culprit is a woman, the crime becomes all the more condemnable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alongside the efforts to secure a pardon for her, Priya’s lawyers are ready to file an appeal in the Supreme Judicial Council of Yemen and are waiting for a printed copy of the judgment of the appeal court. However, the apex court rarely sets aside the verdict of the appeal court; it only examines procedural errors and does not go into the merits of the case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, reacting to a view expressed in certain quarters about why a campaign is being waged to save a convict, Deepa, who has helped Priya build her defence before the appeal court, said: “It is true that Priya’s confession to the killing is part of legal records. But she has maintained that it was unintentional. Also, one has to take into account the fact that when the trial began, Nimisha did not get any support. She was all alone in a foreign land. She did not understand the language. She did not get adequate legal aid. She was not defended properly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She further said that it was after the action council took it up with the Union government that a lawyer was appointed to represent her in the appeal court. “Her contention that she was being tortured by Mahdi was not properly appreciated,” said Deepa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, moving beyond the merits of the case, the matter has now narrowed down to whether Priya will be pardoned by Mahdi’s family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>CHRONOLOGY OF THE CASE</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>April 2016</b></p> <p>India issues a travel advisory asking Indian nationals to avoid travelling to Yemen, after Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, a priest from Kerala, gets abducted by Yemeni terrorists</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>July 2017</b></p> <p>Nimisha Priya gets arrested in Sana’a for murdering a Yemeni national, Talal Abdo Mahdi</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>October 2017</b></p> <p>India bans travel of Indian nationals to Yemen</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>August 2020</b></p> <p>A trial court in Sana’a sentences her to death; Priya files an appeal</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>September 2020</b></p> <p>An action council to save Priya starts functioning</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>March 2022</b></p> <p>The appeal court upholds the death sentence; the action council files a writ petition in Delhi High Court seeking the Union government’s help to negotiate with the victim’s family</p> Fri Apr 29 16:45:15 IST 2022 the-case-that-exposed-the-politician-contractor-bureaucrat-nexus-in-karnataka <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON APRIL 12,</b> Santosh K. Patil, a civil contractor from Belagavi, was found dead in a hotel room in Udupi. Two weeks before his death, the 37-year-old Patil, who was also a BJP worker, had accused rural development and panchayat raj (RDPR) minister K.S. Eshwarappa of harassing him for a “40 per cent commission” to clear pending bills worth 04 crore for civil work done in Hindalga village in Belagavi. A WhatsApp message from his phone to his friends and a section of the media said he was ending his life, and held Eshwarappa responsible. While corruption charges against politicians and bureaucrats are not new, the death of a party worker has been unsettling for the ruling BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last November, the Karnataka State Contractors’ Association (KSCA) alleged that its members were forced to pay “40 per cent commission” in government contracts. It expressed disappointment that despite writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about “rampant corruption”, especially in the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike and departments like PWD, irrigation, RDPR and health, the PMO remained silent. The association said bills worth Rs22,000 crore were pending before the government for the past 30 months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>KSCA president D. Kempanna threatened massive agitation if the Karnataka government failed to put an end to corruption. “The contractors always take the blame for substandard work. But corruption has been part of every regime and now it stands at 40 per cent. Often we cannot prove corruption charges for want of evidence,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP government has labelled the contractors as “Congress agents”. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has promised to constitute a committee headed by a retired High Court judge to “review” government tenders costing Rs50 crore or more to prevent “escalation” and “exaggeration” of project cost. Patil’s suspicious death has given the Congress a chance to corner the BJP at a time when growing communal polarisation in Karnataka is working in favour of the saffron party in an election year. It launched a dharna in front of the Vidhana Soudha, demanding Eshwarappa’s ouster from the cabinet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eshwarappa, a prominent Kuruba (OBC) leader with an RSS background, refused to quit initially, saying that Patil had no work order to do civil work. However, he changed his mind quickly and announced his resignation to avert any “embarrassment” to the BJP. A day before the party’s state executive committee meeting in Hosapete (which was attended by the BJP’s national president J.P. Nadda), Eshwarappa returned to Bengaluru from his home town Shivamogga with a sea of followers and handed over his resignation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress launched district-level agitations demanding Eshwarappa’s arrest, after an FIR was filed based on a complaint by Patil’s family. The FIR named Eshwarappa and his aides, Basavaraj and Ramesh, as accused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bommai, who is being blamed for letting communal polarisation intensify in the state, found the “40 per cent commission” charge unpalatable. After all, corruption was a key poll plank for the BJP in the 2018 assembly elections and Modi had fiercely attacked the then chief minister Siddaramaiah in his election rallies, asking people to dismiss the “10 per cent sarkar”. In a twist of fate, the BJP, which replaced B.S. Yediyurappa with Bommai last July promising “clean governance”, finds itself on the wrong foot now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as BJP leaders defend Eshwarappa, saying that the contractors had provided no evidence to prove the bribery charges, the controversy has dented the image of the party and the government. Irked by the Congress’s high decibel campaign, Bommai has challenged Congress leaders to “count the skeletons in their cupboard”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Congressmen are taking out a yatra as if they are saints. They are trying to set a narrative, but the people of Karnataka have seen them for many years. We will go to the people and expose the scams of Congress leaders,” said Bommai. According to a BJP insider, the party is compiling documents pertaining to the scams that took place under the Siddaramaiah government from 2013 to 2018.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former chief minister and Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy demanded a thorough probe into Patil’s death. “It has raised suspicion as he had accompanied two of his friends to Udupi and chose to stay in a separate room. It is not clear who gave him permission to do the civil work without a work order and a work estimate. Then there are charges of 40 per cent commission, too. All these should be probed,” said Kumaraswamy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Aam Aadmi Party, meanwhile, blamed both national parties. Prithvi Reddy, the AAP’s Karnataka state convenor, said the Congress and the BJP had lost the moral authority to talk about corruption. “The BJP is sidestepping the issue, hoping that it will end with Eshwarappa’s resignation. But it is not just a matter of corruption in one department, but against the entire BJP government,” he said. “We demand a Supreme Court-monitored probe into the case and also into other corruption charges. Also, we want Eshwarappa to be arrested as he is charged with abetting suicide, which is a non-bailable offence. Patil had been flagging the issue for long, had threatened to commit suicide and had also directly named the minister. Eshwarappa is powerful and can influence the witnesses and the evidence.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amid the political storm, Patil’s family has expressed suspicion that his alleged suicide could be murder. “My husband was upset that Eshwarappa was asking for a 40 per cent cut to clear pending bills worth 04 crore. He had met the minister several times in Bengaluru. He even pledged my jewellery for the work. The last time he called, he told me that he was travelling to Udupi with two friends,” said Patil’s wife, Jayashri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patil’s younger brother Basanagouda, too, suspects foul play. “My brother had taken two of his friends to Udupi. One of them (also named Santosh) was Eshwarappa’s man. On April 12, we learnt about my brother’s death from television channels. We were also informed by the Udupi police. We saw the body lying on the bed in the hotel room. The police told us that he had consumed poison. The friends who had accompanied him told us that Santosh had asked them to take separate rooms as he was expecting another friend,” said Basanagouda, a police inspector in Bengaluru.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Hindalga gram panchayat president Nagesh Manolkar, Patil had taken up 108 projects worth Rs4 crore ahead of the Sri Lakshmi Devi jatre (a local fair), as asked by Eshwarappa. “I was with Patil and a seer when they met Eshwarappa in his Bengaluru office. Patil had raised loans to carry out the work,” said Manolkar. A few days before Patil’s death, the RDPR department ordered a probe into the road work in Hindalga as he had not taken any prior approval for the work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The government follows a thorough procedure to award contracts,” said BJP leader N.R. Ramesh, a whistleblower who has exposed several scams. “The work estimate and action plan is prepared, a tender is called, technical and financial bids are opened and then the lowest bidder’s document is put up before the empowered committee for approval. This is followed by an agreement with the contractor and a work order is issued. Any work taken up without a work order is illegal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has announced compensation worth Rs11 lakh to Patil’s family, and the contractors’ association has demanded Rs2 crore as compensation and the settlement of pending bills of Rs4 crore, but not everyone shares similar sentiments. Ravikrishna Reddy, anti-corruption crusader and founder of the Karnataka Rashtra Samiti (KRS), said people should have no sympathy for contractors who took up projects without work orders. “It is not only a criminal offence, but also the main reason for substandard work. Every contractor must display a banner giving out cost of the project, the dates of commencement and completion and work order details,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While anti-corruption activists warn that work without competitive and transparent bidding will result in nepotism, substandard work and corruption, contractors argue that they are forced to take up projects based on oral instructions from politicians and senior officials. “A majority of works are taken up without a work order, based on assurances by politicians, and later ratified to make the payment. The payment is also delayed for years,” said Kempanna.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A closer look at Bengaluru’s potholed roads and the BBMP budget for roads paints a clear picture of nepotism and corruption. A study by Bengaluru Navanirman Party found that Rs21,000 crore was allotted for roads between 2015 and 2020, and yet city roads remained as pathetic as ever. “Of the 63,629 road projects worth Rs21,000 crore approved by the BBMP, 28,314 projects worth Rs10,018 crore were awarded to a single agency, the Karnataka Rural Infrastructure Development Limited,” according to the study.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BBMP follows the “27 per cent commission system”. A corporator takes 3 to 4 per cent on every bill, the assistant engineer charges 5 per cent commission to make an entry in bill register, another 5 per cent for bill registry (BR) approval, the executive engineer charges 4 per cent (for measurement book and to release the cheque), the executive engineer office staff take 0.5 per cent, the chief engineer takes 1 per cent and his office 0.5 per cent, the joint commissioner 1 per cent and the chief accounts office 6 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dingaleshwar Swamiji of the Balehosur mutt in Gadag district alleged that the grants given to the religious mutts, too, were not spared as they had to pay “30 per cent commission” on most projects. The Lingayat pontiff said he was once asked to pay a bribe of Rs25 lakh for a grant of Rs75 lakh. “The grant sanctioned by the Kumaraswamy government for the construction of Yatri Nivas has still not been released in full as the Land Army engineer demanded 30 per cent,” said the pontiff. He, however, clarified that his allegations were not related to the grants being disbursed by the endowment department to the mutts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some activists blame the defanging of the lokayukta by the Siddaramaiah government for the unabated corruption. The quasi-judicial lokayukta was stripped of its police (investigative) powers and the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) was made to take its place. While the ACB raids on officials were talked about a lot, the conviction rate has remained at around 35 per cent. Of the 310 cases registered over the last five years, 223 are awaiting government sanction to initiate criminal prosecution against erring officials. Social activist S.R. Hiremath said if the lokayukta got police powers back and if a man of integrity were to head the organisation, up to 90 per cent convictions were possible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kempanna said local contractors were being elbowed out of the bidding process. “The government now entertains only new licensees from states like Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. The package system (bundling of work) keeps smaller local contractors out of the game. The tender conditions are being tweaked to favour some contractors. In fact, Health Minister Dr K. Sudhakar’s family has picked up 60 per cent of the health department building contracts. We will soon release evidence against five or six ministers and around 20 MLAs who are demanding cuts,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reacting to the complaint raised by the contractors, activists said the system was run by a syndicate of criminals. “These contractors are stooges who have fallen out of their master’s favour and are looking for a new master,” said Reddy. “They are part of the nexus and have long been indulging in corrupt practices and sharing the loot with politicians and bureaucrats. It is an irony that the ones who flout the rule book are seeking justice now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Fri Apr 22 14:21:34 IST 2022 red-alert <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THERE WERE SEVERAL</b> new elements at the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s 23rd party congress in Kannur, Kerala­—from the unisex uniforms of the volunteers (red shirt and khaki trousers) and increased participation of women to the unusual pomp and show on display. The most obvious change, though, was the show of unity from the leaders. “There were discussions, but no differences. That is the speciality of this party congress,” said party general secretary Sitaram Yechury.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The comrades all spoke in one voice. That voice, though, was of the Kerala unit. “The congress saw a complete domination of the Kerala unit over the rest of the party,” said activist and writer M.N. Pearson. “Whether it be the issue of an alliance with the Congress or its approach towards development, everyone listened to the comrades in Kerala because they had come to power for a second time when party units in the rest of the country were languishing. Only the winners get to be heard.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The story had been different at the previous two congresses. At the end of both, the party was a divided house with bitterness between the factions led by Yechury and former general secretary Prakash Karat. The bone of contention was an alliance with the Congress. While Yechury and the West Bengal faction batted for it, Karat and the Kerala team said no.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time, the issue seemed to be settled; the party would not have a pre-poll alliance with the Congress. “Defeating the BJP is our top priority and we will do that by organising all secular and democratic forces in the country,” said Yechury on the last day, April 10. “Alliances would emerge only after elections.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Asked specifically about the Congress, he said: “The Congress should set its house in order first. Compromising attitudes can only lead, as experiences have shown, to an exodus to the BJP.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several developments have contributed to this change within the CPI(M), said political observers. “Primarily, the position and credibility of the Congress have taken a severe thrashing in the past few years,” said political observer Jacob George. “Second, the Bengal leaders have realised the futility [of a Congress alliance] as it has yielded them no results in any of the elections in Bengal. Third, and more important, Kerala is the only place the party is in power and it did not want to upset the Kerala unit, which is in direct confrontation with the Congress. It was a pragmatic thing to do.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The central leadership’s admiration of the Kerala unit was evident when senior leader Brinda Karat said: “The LDF government led by [Chief Minister] Pinarayi Vijayan is a beacon of hope for all of us. A resolution was passed saluting the LDF government and it has been decided to spread the government’s achievements to other parts of the country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar was also all praise for the Kerala government. “The fact that the LDF could create history by coming back to power for the second time underlines the success of its alternative policies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Kerala unit not only returned to power, but also increased its cadre strength. The organisational report released during the congress showed that, of the total 9,85,757 party card holders in the country, 5,27,174 were from Kerala. The total number of cadres came down from 10,07,903 during the 2018 congress in Hyderabad, but Kerala saw an increase in the number of cadres from 4,89,086 to 5,27,174.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, outside of Kerala, the party’s prospects seem quite bleak. Even the organisational report said that the party was going through its “most challenging phase” since its formation in 1964. “Two of three strong bases of the party—Bengal and Tripura—are under severe attack, and there has been an erosion in our mass base and influence,” the report noted. “There is a general decline in the strength of the party all over the country with the exception of Kerala.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Bengal, where the party had ruled for decades, the number of party card holders is now 1,60,827; it was 1,92,454 in 2018. In Tripura, the number fell from 73,678 in 2017 to 50,612 in 2022. There was a similar decrease in most states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The real strength of the left party, despite the poor electoral results, was political credibility, said George. “They may be insignificant in most states,” he said, “but the consistency and credibility of the CPI(M) and its leaders have won them leverage among all political parties and this would help them act as a glue in stitching up anti-BJP alliances.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the CPI(M) should not have looked at national politics through the prism of Kerala, said Pearson. “What the party is doing may be helpful electorally in Kerala, but it will not help the CPI(M) politically,” he said, adding that the country was going through an Emergency-like situation. “Every political party had come together against Indira Gandhi in 1977. The current situation demands such a drastic political move if we are to save our democracy. The CPI(M)’s decision to keep the Congress out of the alliance is a political blunder.”</p> Sat Apr 16 14:37:21 IST 2022 ed-closes-in-on-thackerays-bjp-hopes-to-cash-in-on-it-electorally <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SOMETHING UNTHINKABLE</b> happened in Maharashtra politics on March 22. The Enforcement Directorate provisionally attached 11 residential flats belonging to Shree Saibaba Grihanirmiti Pvt Ltd—owned and controlled by Shridhar Patankar, brother-in-law of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray—in the Pushpak Bullion money laundering case. The message was clear: the Thackerays were no longer untouchable. The development assumes significance as the ED had so far restricted its action to Shiv Sena and NCP leaders without venturing anywhere near Maharashtra’s first family and its close relatives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ED had recorded a money laundering case against Pushpak Bullion and subsidiaries on March 6, 2017. After demonetisation was announced, Pushpak Bullion is alleged to have sold 258kg of gold and accepted payments in demonetised currency. The ED has already provisionally attached immovable and movable properties of Pushpak Bullion worth 021.46 crore. The Pushpak Group is controlled by chartered accountants Mahesh Patel and Chandrakant Patel, and their family members.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>ED investigations further revealed that Mahesh had siphoned off funds from Pushpak Realty in connivance with Nandkishore Chaturvedi, an accommodation entry provider (providing accommodation entry entails breaking up large amounts of money into smaller, less-suspicious amounts). In the garb of a sale, Pushpak Realty is alleged to have transferred Rs20.02 crore to entities controlled by Chaturvedi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the ED, Chaturvedi operates a number of shell companies. And, it is through one of them—Humsafar Dealer Pvt Ltd—that he transferred money, masked as an unsecured loan of Rs30 crore, to Shree Saibaba Grihanirmiti Pvt Ltd. “Thus the money siphoned off by Mahesh Patel in connivance with Chaturvedi was parked in the real estate project being developed by the Patankar-controlled Saibaba Grihanirmiti,” the agency said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patankar is the youngest brother of Uddhav’s wife, Rashmi. They have a sister—Swati Sardesai, whose son Varun is close to Tourism and Environment Minister Aditya Thackeray and is general secretary of the Aditya-controlled Yuva Sena. However, Patankar has always maintained a safe distance from politics. He keeps a very low profile and has business interests in the real estate sector. Rashmi, Swati and Patankar are known to be very close. Patankar earlier lived in Dombivali, where the siblings grew up. After Rashmi’s marriage to Uddhav and the growth of his own business, Patankar moved to Bandra east, where the Thackerays also live.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the day the ED provisionally attached the 11 properties, an upset Patankar apparently told Rashmi that he had done nothing wrong and that he had disassociated himself from the said company long ago. Rashmi, who carries immense weight in the Thackeray-Patankar family matters, was furious. She told her brother to stay calm and not to talk to anyone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That the ED action had hurt the Thackerays became clear on March 25 when Uddhav launched a spirited attack on the BJP and Central agencies on the floor of the state legislature. “You want power, take it,” he said. “I am willing to come anywhere with you, even to jail. But don’t harass relatives, don’t defame them. Did any one of us defame your family and relatives? Your fight is with me, so don’t trouble my relatives and my Shiv Sainiks through investigating agencies. I may not be Krishna of Mahabharat, but you are certainly acting like King Kansa by targeting innocents.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Uddhav knows that his political heft lies in his surname, but he is also aware that he is not a patch on his father, Bal Thackeray. Nonetheless, he has told senior party leaders that the Shiv Sena will launch a statewide agitation if Patankar or any of the Sena leaders like Transport Minister Anil Parab or MP Sanjay Raut are arrested. On April 5, the ED provisionally attached Raut’s eight properties in Alibaug and a flat in Dadar where he lives in connection with another money laundering case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The investigating agencies, meanwhile, are casting their net far and wide. Their latest catch is Yashwant Jadhav, Shiv Sena’s standing committee chairman in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. His wife, Yamini, is a Shiv Sena MLA from Byculla in Mumbai. In a raid on Jadhav’s residence, income tax authorities found a diary, which had entries like Rs2 crore (to Matoshree), and wristwatches worth Rs50 lakh. Matoshree means mother in Marathi. It is also the name of the Thackeray residence in Bandra east. Jadhav told IT officials that he had made a donation of Rs2 crore on his mother’s birthday. He, however, has not been able to convince the officials about gifting his mother the expensive watches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a source, the list of Shiv Sena leaders on the radar of investigating agencies include Parab, his close associate Sanjay Kadam; Raut; Industries Minister Subhash Desai and his son Bhushan Desai; Urban Development Minister Eknath Shinde and his close associates like Ajay Ashar, a real estate businessman; Bhupal Ramnathkar, Uddhav’s friend; the Jadhavs, and party secretary Milind Narvekar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), and the Shiv Sena in particular, has decided to hit back at the BJP by targeting its leaders like leader of opposition Pravin Darekar and legislative council member Prasad Lad. “We also have files related to Chandrakant Patil (BJP state president) when he was revenue minister and we will not spare even Devendra Fadnavis,” said a Shiv Sena insider.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the war between the Shiv Sena and the BJP gets fiercer by the day, the BJP has decided that it does not want to topple the MVA government anymore. The party instead will focus on damaging the image of the government and the Shiv Sena. The BJP wants to create a narrative that the MVA government is thoroughly corrupt, has elements linked to the underworld and Islamic terrorists and is totally inefficient.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The thinking in the BJP is that if it tries to topple the government, the MVA will get people’s sympathy. But if the BJP continues to target them on issues like corruption, the people will favour it in the 2024 assembly elections. Said a BJP leader: “Uddhav Thackeray is the most inefficient chief minister leading a corrupt and disgraced government. We will take this message to the nooks and corners of the state in coming months.”</p> Thu Apr 07 17:59:14 IST 2022 himachal-the-effects-of-generational-change-in-bjp-congress-and-aap-entry <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>TWO DAYS AFTER</b> the Aam Aadmi Party’s massive victory in Punjab, Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Jain held a celebratory road show in Shimla. Much to the consternation of BJP and Congress supporters, Jain declared that the AAP would contest all seats in the assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh, due in October this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The hilly state offers the best chance for the Congress to make up for its poor show in Punjab and Uttarakhand. The BJP, for its part, will try to break the state’s three-decade-old pattern of not re-electing the ruling party. The state’s bipolar polity has alternated between Congress and BJP governments since 1990.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 2022 elections also mark a departure from previous polls. Virbhadra Singh of the Congress and Prem Kumar Dhumal of the BJP, who had long been the state’s tallest leaders, will not have a face-off this time. Dhumal fell off the radar after losing his seat, even as the BJP won the polls in 2017. Virbhadra Singh died last year. The elections this year, therefore, has been billed as a generational change in state politics—one in which new leaders will be tested in the absence of veterans who dominated politics for four decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both parties are looking for a new idiom to mark this change. The BJP, fresh off its victory in four states, hopes that Himachal will go the way of Uttarakhand, where the party made history by winning a second consecutive term. “Himachal Pradesh represents the same thought process,” said Sanjay Tandon, co-in charge of the BJP’s state unit. “We will be re-elected. The BJP has good organisation on the ground. This is our inherent advantage. Our cadres are excited after the results in four states. We are starting meetings with them in all four parliamentary constituencies here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP hopes its ’double-engine’ slogan will work its magic again, as a lot has been done on the ground in terms of delivery of Central and state government schemes and free distribution of ration during the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, both the BJP and the Congress have similar views of the AAP. “No third party has made any progress in the state,” Tandon said. “It has been a bipolar polity.” Sanjay Dutt, the AICC secretary in charge of the state, said: “The AAP is more hype than reality. It has no organisation structure or known face across Himachal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, according to Ramesh Chauhan, professor at the department of political science, Himachal Pradesh University, the tremors from Punjab are being felt in the state. “People have started talking about the AAP. But it is yet to be seen how far will the AAP influence Himachal Pradesh. It will have some impact, as many of the state’s districts border Punjab,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rebel candidates, who tend to contest in 40 per cent of seats, are likely to influence results. Those who are denied tickets by the BJP and the Congress will now have a choice in the AAP. Also, in the absence of veteran leaders, the generational change in both the Congress and the BJP has been mired in faction feuds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress draws hope from the success it had in November last year, when the party won all seats—one Lok Sabha and three assembly constituencies—in a round of byelections. The results had signalled anti-incumbency against the Jairam Thakur government and infighting within the BJP. “These bypolls were won in the absence of Virbhadra Singh and other veteran leaders. It broke the myth that the Congress can only win with Virbhadra Singh’s help,” said Congress legislator and former state party president Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dutt said the Congress was conducting agitations to motivate its cadres. “We are not complacent; we are taking up the people’s causes,” he said. “The Congress suffered in some states as it did not focus on grassroots organisation, while the BJP had panna pramukhs monitoring voter lists. We are in the process of setting up booth committees, and involving all party units and front bodies to campaign for the elections.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among 50 lakh voters in the state, more than three lakh are state government employees. Employee unions have always played a key role in the elections, as the government is a major employer apart from the tourism sector. Taking a cue from the party-ruled states of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, which are set to replace the existing contributory pension scheme with the old pension scheme, the Congress in Himachal Pradesh, too, has promised to restore the old scheme if voted to power. In the contributory pension scheme, which the BJP government had brought in, it is the employees who contribute towards their retirement fund instead of the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To counter the BJP’s messaging that the cow is sacred, the Congress is working on its own narrative that, according to Sukhu, would transform the state through its focus on rural economy. “We will propose that milk be bought at Rs40 per litre, and vegetables at Rs20 per kilo. This will be the first time in the country where a minimum support price will be paid. This will generate employment and rejuvenate the rural economy, as 90 per cent of the state’s population depend on it,” said Sukhu. “This will lead to an additional cost of Rs150 crore, as the state produces three lakh litres of milk, but it will not be a strain as we will rework other subsidies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hindus make up 97 per cent of the state’s population. Unlike the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh or Uttarakhand, where the BJP’s Hindu nationalism has been aggressive, Himachal Pradesh is calmer. Rajputs comprise more than 35 per cent of the population, followed by nearly 25 per cent dalits. The BJP recently chose a dalit candidate, Himachal Pradesh University vice chancellor Sikander Kumar, as its Rajya Sabha nominee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The constituencies in upper Himachal have been Congress strongholds, while districts in lower Himachal that adjoins Punjab, such as Hamirpur, Bilaspur, Chamba and Una, veer towards the BJP. Lower Himachal has the bulk of assembly seats—46 of 68 constituencies. So, if the AAP eats into anti-incumbency votes, the Congress would be affected.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the BJP, the 2022 elections will be a litmus test of Jairam Thakur’s leadership. He was chosen as chief minister after the BJP won the previous polls. Last year, as the party began evaluating the performance of its chief ministers, there was strong buzz that Thakur would be replaced. But he survived.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the BJP will rely on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charm to see it through, the polls are also of great importance to party president J.P. Nadda, as he hails from the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Elections to the Shimla Municipal Corporation, due in April, will be the acid test for all stakeholders before the assembly polls. Being the capital, Shimla has people from all parts of the state, and has a large population of government employees. What happens there will indicate which way the wind is blowing. “As far as gauging the mood of the people is concerned,” said Ramesh Chauhan. “the Shimla elections will be the semi-final before the final.”</p> Sun Mar 27 12:29:35 IST 2022 people-like-those-who-support-nation-first-theory-shivraj-singh-chouhan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On March 17, the eve of Holi, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was doing what he does best. Clad in colourful traditional outfits, Chouhan and his wife, Sadhna, danced merrily to tribal music at the Bhagoria fair in Barwani. Later, he addressed the people, asking them to enjoy Holi as, after two years, Covid-19 was not casting a shadow on the festivities. He also announced welfare measures for the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chouhan, who was just a week short of completing the second year of his fourth term as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, had, on the day, crossed a personal milestone. The 63-year-old became the BJP’s longest serving chief minister as he crossed former Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh’s mark of 15 years and 10 days. But, there was no mention of this at any level. Chouhan himself told THE WEEK that personal achievements were not significant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the fact that Chouhan has successfully administered a big, politically key state like Madhya Pradesh for such a long time cannot be ignored. Chouhan got his fourth term after the Congress government collapsed within 15 months of taking charge in 2018. Because of that loss, the BJP is assessing his potential to win in 2023. After the BJP’s leadership changes in states like Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Karnataka, there have been speculations of a new face replacing Chouhan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, including senior leaders like Digvijaya Singh, have been talking about the threat to Chouhan from Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, who left the Congress two years ago with his supporters to help the BJP return to power. But, experts do not agree. Political commentator Manish Dixit said Chouhan’s improved relations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a major plus. “The fact that Chouhan is not seen as a challenger to central leadership also works in his favour,” he added.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rasheed Kidwai, political analyst, however, said that if Chouhan had assumed a brand value as a strong OBC leader with a pan-India identity, the BJP could easily move him into a central role, as party president or a Union minister and go with Scindia in Madhya Pradesh. But is that likely? Kidwai said that depended on the sangh parivar’s outlook ahead of the 2023 polls. “They will assess the situation and decide only after the Gujarat polls,” he said. “Unless they consider Scindia a long-term national asset, and have some other role in mind for him, will they be willing to make him chief minister to hone him all-round.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chouhan waived off the speculations, saying that there was no competition among colleagues in the BJP and that the party decided the roles to be played by its leaders. He said that the comments from the Congress fold only indicated the frustration within the grand old party. The Congress is very much a scattered camp with no effective second line of leaders. Kamal Nath, who turns 77 in 2023, is going to lead its campaign, according to K.K. Mishra, general secretary, state media cell of the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, Nath looks terribly alone going into the tough battle. Digvijaya Singh is considered a liability as far as campaigning goes. So, as things stand, Nath, who is not a populist or lucid leader, will have to take care of the campaigning and raise election funds. The BJP, with its coffers full, is active on the ground around the year. It also has multiple influential leaders, apart from Chouhan and Scindia, like Narendra Singh Tomar, Prahlad Patel and Kailash Vijayvargiya. Moreover, the BJP has been making consistent efforts to woo key electorates like the tribals and the OBCs. This was reflected in Chouhan’s Bhagoria participation, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ruling party is also allocating huge budgets for religious projects and taking a hard line against crime, similar to the Uttar Pradesh model. Therefore, the situation seems quite favourable to both the BJP and Chouhan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview, Chouhan talks about his achievements, working style, dynasty politics and the opposition. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have completed two years of this term. What has been your focus?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Ever since I started my political journey, my only focus has been serving my people, society, and my country. People are like God to me. My only focus when I took over as chief minister was to safeguard the life of my people as the deadly Covid-19 was knocking on our doors and the state was not ready for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress government was busy in the event management of the IIFA awards, and medical facilities were lagging. So, my only focus was to protect the people and to maintain the state’s stability. Thankfully, through public participation, we overcame the tough times.</p> <p><b>Q/ What will be your focus in the coming months as assembly polls are just a year and a half away?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The BJP is always prepared to serve the people, and the people, too, know it well. Our focus is the betterment of the country, and people are in the mood to support those who support the theory of ‘nation first’.</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your three biggest achievements as chief minister?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I do not look at them as personal achievements, rather as achievements of Madhya Pradesh. There are many: we have extended the irrigated area of the state from 7.5 lakh hectare to around 43 lakh hectare. We have started numerous welfare schemes like ‘Ladli Lakshmi Yojana’ for women, especially our daughters. There is ‘Mukhyamantri Medhavi Vidyarthi Yojana’ for talented students, Sambal Yojana that supports the deprived section of society from birth to death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My only achievement is the effort to ensure prosperity and happiness of my state and people. When we started, it saddened me to hear Madhya Pradesh being referred to as a backward state. So as chief minister, I decided that our Madhya Pradesh will change for sure. We can proudly say that the state has transformed tremendously today owing to people’s willpower.</p> <p><b>Q/ You are known as a man of the masses. Did it come naturally to you? Or, did you have to work on it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The basic tenet of democracy is of the people, by the people, for the people. I am in public life as part of this vibrant democracy, so it is my duty, both morally and ethically, to have a strong bond with my people as their representative. I come from a village; I am a farmer’s son. These are my roots. How can you know the pulse of the people, their wishes, their aspirations, their problems until you meet them? If you want to serve the people, then you need to come out of air-conditioned cabins and reach the masses.</p> <p><b>Q/ You completed 15 years as chief minister, and have become the longest-serving BJP chief minister. Whom do you credit for your political success?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is not the number of years one rules that matters, but the effort put in for the betterment of people in those years. I think the policies of the BJP government have complemented well with people’s mandate. I express my gratitude to the senior leaders of the party, the charismatic leadership of our beloved Prime Minister Narendra Modi and dedicated party workers for their continued support.</p> <p><b>Q/ Who or what has been your inspiration in political and social life?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ My father was my first inspiration. Then, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been my source of inspiration since childhood. Seven years with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad was a great learning experience. Swami Vivekananda’s thoughts have left a deep impression on me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Powerful and inspirational words of (former BJP president) Kushabhau Thakre—“Bhashan nahi acharan mahatvapurn hota hain (Behaviour, and not speech, is the most important)”—played a significant role in my life. The ekatam manavvad (integral humanism) of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, charisma and visionary thoughts of (former prime minister) Atal Bihari Vajpayee inspired me a lot, too. And, I am glad that we are now working under the leadership of the prime minister, who is an inspiration for the whole nation.</p> <p><b>Q/ There are speculations that you might be considered for an organisational role—may be party president—in the future.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The BJP is a big family. Here, the role is chosen by the party, not by the individual. My only focus has been to do justice to whatever post/position I have held.</p> <p><b>Q/ There are talks that your working style, especially your dealing with the bureaucracy, has become a lot more straightforward in this term. Also, your accessibility has reduced.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ People of the state have again put their faith and trust in me and shown enormous love and support…. It is not about being straightforward, it is just that my people and their welfare are my top priority, and we want to deliver on our promises in a time-bound manner.</p> <p><b>Q/ The opposition often tries to pitch Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia as your probable competitor for the CM’s chair.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is no competition as such among our party colleagues. The Congress is frustrated, which is why it is making such comments. In the BJP, collective decision-making prevails. Here, everyone is equal and are friends. Scindia is now a member of the BJP family. This is the party where basic workers rise to the highest positions. It is not a family affair like the Congress’s, where sincere workers are ignored. The BJP ethos is reflected in the results of the recently concluded assembly elections.</p> <p><b>Q/ What will be the impact of the recent assembly polls on national and state politics?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Today, the flag of the BJP is flying high across the country simply because we have always prioritised national interest. We have tried to fulfil our aim of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas (support of all; development for all)’ in the best possible way. We fought the polls in five states on the plank of development and the results are there to see. There has been unprecedented development work under the leadership of the prime minister and the election results show that people’s trust is with us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2023, too, only development plank will be effective, not casteism, nepotism, dynasty politics or appeasement. The BJP will secure an effective win as per its goal.</p> <p><b>Q/ The BJP and the Congress has been wooing the tribal community and the other backward classes in the state. Would caste and community politics play a role in 2023?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have never attempted to lure any community, but only did what is our duty. The BJP government in its 17 years has opened ways for holistic development of all communities; attempted to bring them into the mainstream and made them feel honoured. The Congress ruled for years, but never worked for the welfare of these communities and is now making alluring promises just for political gains. As for 2023, the BJP has never done casteist politics and never will. It is the Congress that is the inventor of casteism and appeasement. We work for ‘antyodaya’ (welfare of the last person) and focus on development.</p> <p><b>Q/ There seems to be a focus on religious projects like the Mahakal temple and Shankaracharya statue. Is this in preparation for 2023, keeping in view the success of the strategy in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and other states?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Not at all. Our government has focused on spiritual and religious tourism along with development right from the start. Our aim is to conserve our ancient culture and traditions and make youth aware of them. The Mahakal temple and statue of Shankaracharya are focal to our faith, and people from across the country are connected to it. Due to these projects, the cities will develop and there will be a direct or indirect boost to religious tourism and employment.</p> <p><b>Q/ With the Congress performing badly in most states now and Madhya Pradesh being a bipolar contest, do you think the BJP’s prospects look brighter for the 2023 assembly polls?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Congress is on the verge of being finished, but not ready to learn lessons. It is a party of a single family. The condition of the state Congress is not hidden. There are one or two leaders who keep fighting to save their posts. There is no place for able people, and so no one wants to remain in the Congress. The BJP always lives in reality and our workers are always active…. Under Narendra Modi, a powerful, prosperous, glorious India is in the making. MP will play its role effectively in the making of Atmanirbhar (self-reliant) India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Congress often alleges that you and your government make many promises, but do not fulfil them on ground.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Congress itself is missing from the ground and talks about ground work of schemes. The results of our promises and schemes are before all; people are being benefited. The Congress only cheated farmers with the false loan waiver promise and engaged in the misdeed of closing down our welfare schemes. The Congress does not even have the right to make allegations. The 15-month-old Kamal Nath government only robbed the rights of the poor people.</p> <p><b>Q/ Though the BJP is against dynasty politics, several young leaders from political families, including those in the BJP, have potential. Should family ties hinder natural talent?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is true that the BJP is against dynasty and family politics. It is the only party where workers are put first, not families. We have always worked to nurture talents, not suppress them. There are several examples in the BJP where you will find family members or children of leaders in politics, but they are there on the basis of their talent, not due to family ties. They got tickets from the party and won, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/For more than a year, you have been planting a tree daily.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Last year, in February, while celebrating the Narmada Janmotsav in Amarkantak, I resolved to plant one tree a day. I am happy that common people have joined (my efforts) to protect the environment. As chief minister, it is my duty to ensure a better environment for future generations. Plantation, along with other measures, is the solution to mitigate global warming.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your government is also building CM Rise Schools. What is the vision behind this scheme?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ CM Rise School scheme is for making next-generation, resource-rich schools for the children of Madhya Pradesh. It aims to enhance the quality of education so as to make students future-ready through state-of-the-art infrastructure and highly skilled teachers. We have a target of 350 CM Rise Schools for the state, and currently around 50 schools are being established.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your future plans for Madhya Pradesh?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Our government’s future plan is to build ‘Atmanirbhar Madhya Pradesh’. The roadmap for this is ready and is based on the four pillars: economy and employment, governance, physical infrastructure and health and education.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It endeavours to empower our farmers, women and children, youth; expand road network; provide pucca and affordable houses to everyone, drinking water facility to every household; and ensure child safety. I have faith that the state’s contribution will go a long way towards the prime minister’s resolve of making India a $5 trillion economy.</p> Thu Mar 24 17:50:17 IST 2022 kerala-silver-line-project-is-invoking-memories-of-nandigram <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A Nandigram is in the making in Kerala; or at least, efforts are on in that direction. If the 2007 agitation against a planned chemical hub in West Bengal’s Nandigram village ended up uprooting the left front from a state it had ruled for decades, the ongoing protests against a high-speed rail project called Silver Line are posing challenges to the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front government in Kerala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Rs60,000-crore Silver Line project, aka K-Rail, is the biggest infrastructure project in Kerala’s history. It envisages a 530km dedicated rail corridor linking Thiruvananthapuram in the south to Kasaragod in the north, which will enable trains to run at 200kmph and cover the distance in less than four hours. An attractive proposition, considering that it currently takes 12 hours to travel from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasaragod. The proposed corridor will pass through 11 districts, and there will be 12 stations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The state government has begun the laying of survey stones to initiate the project’s social impact study, sparking protests across the state. People are preventing authorities from entering their property and laying the stones. Clashes have turned violent in some places.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government had announced an attractive compensation package for those affected by the project, but fears persist about delays in implementation, depreciation in land value on both sides of the tracks, and difficulties in securing land for resettlement. “The value of our land will nosedive,” said Mini P.C. of Alappuzha, an affected person. “This [rail corridor] cannot be compared with a road development project, as the value of land on both sides of the road would naturally increase in due course. But in a rail project, the value of land parcels go down as no development can take place near the track.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the 1,222.45 hectares that the project needs, as much as 1,074.19 hectares is private property. The government insists that only around 9,000 buildings, houses included, need to be taken over. Critics say that the actual number is much higher. Since Kerala is one of the most densely populated states in the country, rehabilitation also remains a major concern. “Kerala has no excess land available,” said Baburaj M.P., leader of the protest group K-Rail Virudha Samithi. “Even if we are compensated well, where will we all go?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Baburaj said the project comes with a huge environmental cost. “The state has witnessed two devastating floods in the recent past. It cannot afford a project like Silver Line that divides the state into two,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both the Congress and the BJP have joined the protests. “Silver Line will be the Nandigram of Kerala, and what happened to the CPI(M) in West Bengal will happen here,” said V.D. Satheesan, leader of the opposition in the assembly. “We warn [Chief Minister Pinarayi] Vijayan that the Congress-led front will not allow this project to go forward. Kerala will soon see unprecedented protests against this impractical project.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>State BJP president K. Surendran said Silver Line is going to be “another Sabarimala”, referring to the protracted row in 2018 over the state government’s decision to implement the Supreme Court verdict allowing women to enter the Sabarimala temple. “The LDF government had burnt its fingers in the Sabarimala case,” said Surendran. “Silver Line is going to be a repeat.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The LDF is in no mood to budge, though. “The opposition’s protest will be handled politically,” said CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. “The government is ready to hold talks with individuals who are directly affected by the project. Those who want to protest can protest. But if the police is prevented from doing their duty, they would take measures to resolve it. If the objective [of the protesters] is to have a police firing and create a Nandigram-like situation, then that is not going to happen.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Doubts continue to be raised about the project’s social, economic and environmental feasibility. A top bureaucrat said the state government cannot afford to antagonise the people if the project is to be implemented. “The government must ensure that there is more clarity on the project; the posturing, too, has to be correct if it is serious about going ahead with the plan,” the bureaucrat told THE WEEK. “The opposition will try to fish in troubled waters. But it is the government’s duty to keep the water clean.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CPI(M), however, is confident of winning the battle. “The Congress and the BJP had led a series of protests against national highway expansion and the laying of GAIL pipeline during the tenure of the previous LDF government,” said party leader K. Anilkumar. “But we could complete all those projects by winning the trust of the people. We will be able to convince the people about the benefits of Silver Line as well.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, for its part, insists that it is not against development projects. “We do realise that the state needs a speedy mode of transportation,” said Congress leader Rahul Mankoottathil. “But we are opposing K-Rail because it is not feasible—economically, socially or environmentally.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political observers blame both the ruling and opposition fronts for the current crisis. “Silver Line is an ambitious project capable of changing the face of Kerala,” said Sudha Menon, an Ahmedabad-based social researcher. “But the LDF government should realise that this is not the way to implement it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A way to solve the issue, according to her, is for the government to set up an expert committee for assessing the project’s socioeconomic and environmental impact. She also said the Congress was trying to be more leftist than the CPI(M). “The Congress has been a strong votary of all development projects,” said Menon. “Blindly opposing something like Silver Line will not earn it the appreciation of its traditional voters.”</p> Sun Mar 27 12:26:21 IST 2022 kaushik-basu-india-is-facing-gated-stagflation <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Kaushik Basu, former chief economic adviser to the government and former chief economist of the World Bank, is currently teaching at Cornell University in the US. In an exclusive interaction, he talks about the current challenges before the Indian economy and its future growth prospects. Excerpts:</p> <p><b>Q/ Is the Indian economy moving in the right direction?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The performance of the Indian economy is disappointing. It is sputtering in ways rarely seen before. We can see this from the international media. There is no longer the buzz as there once was about India’s phenomenal rise and of India as one of the growth leaders of the world. Even if you dismiss the international media as biased, though that is a dangerous path to go down, a study of the statistics pertaining to India’s economy makes it clear that the situation is worrying.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s growth in 2021-22 is expected to be high. The latest Economic Survey projects the growth to be 9.4 per cent. In itself this looks good. But as soon as you look at the previous year, it is clear that this is the effect of recovery from the crash of 2020-21. India’s economic crash was one of the biggest in the world. Just like climbing out of a well that you have fallen into cannot be described as mountaineering, this year’s growth cannot be described as a great economic achievement. In fact, over the two-year period, from 2020 to 2022, the annual compound growth rate of India’s national income is 0.7 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition to the low growth, all data coming out over the last year show that India’s unemployment is high and the level of inequality is getting worse. The World Inequality Report 2022, authored by Thomas Piketty and others, finds that India has become one of the most unequal nations in the world. An Oxfam study released earlier this year estimates that in 2021, 84 per cent of households in India saw their incomes decline.</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you think about the high inflation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In India inflation is picking up rapidly. Wholesale price inflation is at over 12 per cent per annum. This has not happened in the past 20 years. Retail inflation, which hits consumers directly, has just gone over 6 per cent per annum. And the inflation of household goods and services is even higher at 7.1 per cent. It has not been this high in the last 94 months.</p> <p><b>Q/ What are the challenges the Indian economy is facing?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The challenge India is facing becomes obvious when you look at the growth and inflation data together. Growth, as I just said, is low but positive. However, it is almost certain that this is because the rich are becoming so much richer. From what the Oxfam study shows, the bottom 84 per cent of India is showing negative growth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In short, India is facing an unusual situation, what I would describe as 'gated stagflation' whereby, the well-off are doing fine with stagflation confined to the middle and lower-middle classes. Since stagflation refers to inflation combined with negative growth in the whole nation, India is not in stagflation. But the bottom 4/5th of India is clearly caught in stagflation. This is a novel phenomenon and needs to be analysed and dissected in order to devise policy. Policy attention, at least in the immediate context, has to be directed to curing India’s crisis of gated stagflation.</p> <p><b>Q/ What can be done to address them?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/To understand what needs to be done, we have to go back a few years. It is true that the working classes and farmers have suffered hugely in recent times because the lockdown in 2020 was executed with no consideration of the suffering of the poor. But the overall deterioration of the economy began earlier, at least six or seven years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I believe that the budget just presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was a commendable one. She deserves praise. But I feel bad for her because the deepening crisis of India’s economy is largely beyond the reach of the finance minister. The political atmosphere in India has become so vitiated that the most important foundation of the economy, trust and cooperation in society, has become shaky.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is interesting, indirect evidence of this. Textbook economics tells us that one of the most important drivers of long-run growth of national income is the investment rate, that is, the fraction of the national income that is spent on investment—factories, machines, human capital, research and infrastructure. India historically did not have a high investment rate, certainly not compared with the East Asian economies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This began to change from around 2003, when A.B. Vajpayee was the prime minister. India’s investment rate began rising then, rose steeply after 2005 and crossed the 39 per cent mark in 2007-08. India was suddenly looking like an East Asian tiger. It held roughly there till 2012-13, when the investment rate was 38.7 per cent. Thereafter, it started declining steadily and by 2019-20 it was down to just over 32 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No one fully understands why this happened and I cannot give a definite answer. Investment is one of those indicators which depends on many factors but also on trust and cooperation in society. Once trust begins to erode, you cut down on investment, holding on to your money instead. It is likely that political polarisation, the rise of sectarianism and erosion of trust have shaken this vital pillar of a nation’s economic growth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There has been a lot of talk about a digital push and the central bank digital currency (CBDC). How far can such initiatives help the economy?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think India has done well on this front. The Reserve Bank is to be commended for recognising that digital currency is the way of the future. The whole world will go that way. I believe paper currency and coins will vanish altogether. Money will just be data stored in a massive computer and every time you buy and sell anything, the accounts in the digital data will be adjusted. This is the brave new world. You will have to go that way, but you need to do it with caution. The RBI’s plan announced last December—that it will announce an interim, basic CBDC before venturing into a full-fledged one—is the sensible way to go.</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you think about the government's disinvestment exercise?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ A certain amount of disinvestment is called for in India, and I think some of the moves are in the right direction. Air India was a huge drain on the government, and I am glad we have moved to privatise this. There is scope for doing this selectively in other sectors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But I have three concerns. Disinvestment must not become a way to fund fiscal expenditure or hide the fiscal deficit. The price of that will ultimately be paid by the common person, because it will fuel inflation, making the problem of gated stagflation worse. The second risk is that there will be big job losses associated with this, since private corporations tend to be more capital intensive. We will need to have policies to counter this problem which is already acute in India. Finally, and this is the biggest worry, this can lead to cronyism. India has always had a propensity towards crony capitalism, but there were some safeguards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I remember when I was the Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) to the government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh explicitly told me that we had to be vigilant about not sliding into cronyism. It was heartening to see such explicit awareness and open acknowledgment of the risk. Cronyism has become distinctly worse in recent times. If the divestment becomes a way of selling government assets to a few favoured business groups and that too at below full price, we will be going the route of full-fledged crony capitalism which will be devastating for the common person.</p> <p><b>Q/ Though the government is claiming that jobs are being created, many experts feel that much more needs to be done.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The data on this is clear enough. India is doing very poorly in terms of employment generation. India’s youth unemployment rate is shockingly high. To stay clear of the pandemic, let us look at 2019. Before that India’s youth unemployment had been rising every year for a long time, and in 2019 it reached the level of 23 per cent. This is the kind of unemployment figure you see in deeply troubled economies, like Yemen and Iran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once again, this draws attention to where our policy focus needs to be. It has to be on helping the poor and the middle classes with job creation and for that we need higher investment and an atmosphere where creativity and entrepreneurship flourish.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is unfortunate is that India has deep, fundamental strengths. It has historically had excellent higher education. The remarkable achievement of Indians around the world, especially in the US and Europe, is testimony to this. It has a huge managerial and administrative talent pool.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There can be no denying that there have been policy mistakes over the last seven decades, but since 2003, India’s economy was picking up and had become a global story that observers around the world were commenting on. That has, regrettably, stalled over the past few years. We must draw on the talent in the nation and reverse course before the damage becomes too deep.</p> Sun Feb 27 10:27:11 IST 2022 for-blessings-for-votes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Sant Niranjan Das looks benignly at his devotees. The 81-year-old is the head of Dera Sachkhand, Ballan, one of the largest religious centres in the Jalandhar region. He occasionally lends his ear to those who seek his counsel, but says little. Armed police personnel in the dera premises keep a watchful eye, and hymn singers recite verses of Guru Ravidass, a 14th-century mystic and social reformer. “You should partake of food from langar (community kitchen) first,” he says, as his aide introduces us to the seer. On the previous day, Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi had spent the night at the dera, which draws its followers prominently from the dalit community. The chief minister chose to sleep on the floor of Sant Niranjan Das’s room.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The followers of Guru Ravidass’s teachings are known by the name Ravidassias. The Election Commission (EC) had postponed the assembly polls in the state by one week, so that the Ravidassias could go to Varanasi to attend the Guru Ravidass Jayanti celebrations on February 16. It was primarily on Channi’s insistence that the EC had taken this decision. Every year, the Ravidassias board a special train, Begumpura Express, for Varanasi for the Jayanti. Sant Niranjan Das’s guru, Sant Sarwan Das, built the pilgrim centre at Seer Goverdhanpur—the birthplace of Guru Ravidass in Varanasi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During election season, political leaders of all hues would visit Dera Sachkhand. The dera, which manages several schools and other charitable institutions, has become a symbol of dalit assertion in the state. “There are around 22 crore dalits in India,” said Sat Paul Virdi, general secretary, Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan Charitable Trust. “In Punjab, over 35 per cent of the population are dalit. In Doaba region [districts of Jalandhar, Nawanshahr, Hoshiarpur and Kapurthala], our population is over 42 per cent.”</p> <p>The faithful from all over the region visit the dera regularly. On special occasions, dalits from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka also come. The influence of this dera can be further understood from the fact that it declared the Ravidassia a separate religion in 2010. In 2020, it had demanded a separate column of Ravidassia in the population census.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2009, Sant Niranjan Das and his deputy Sant Ramanand were attacked by the Sikh radicals in a gurdwara in the Austrian capital, Vienna. Ramanand died in the attack, while Niranjan Das suffered severe injuries from gunshots. The tragic incident resulted in the community’s split from Sikhism. “We replaced the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhism, with Amritbani Satguru Ravidass Granth, which carried the hymns of Guru Ravidass,” said Virdi. “Now, many of the gurdwaras belonging to Ravidassias have either Amritbani or both. And, the chief of Dera Sachkhand is like the Pope for us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Virdi added that after becoming a separate religion, the Ravidassias actively embraced their dalit identity and started taking pride in it. Retired Army officer Major Parshotam Thind, who manages the library at Dera Sachkhand, said this has changed the community. “We grew in confidence. Our youth gained pride,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All senior leaders from different parties—including the Badals, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Captain Amarinder Singh and Arvind Kejriwal—have found time to visit Dera Sachkhand in the last few months. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Sant Niranjan Das when the latter had fallen sick,” Virdi recalled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Punjab is a fertile ground for deras and sects. Helmed by living gurus, there are over 10,000 deras in the state. Some of the prominent ones apart from Dera Sachkhand include Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sansthan (DJJS), Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) and Dera Baba Mast Ram. There are also the deras of the Namdhari sect. There are many caste-based deras, too; they are often considered close to one particular party or other. The now jailed guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s DSS had supported the Congress and later the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most deras, however, try to stay politically neutral, as taking sides often comes at a cost. Punjab has seen the rise of Christian deras, too, in recent years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Dera Sachkhand is more like a traditional gurdwara or temple, the DJJS—founded by Ashutosh Maharaj—has a modern campus spread over 300 acres in Nurmahal, Jalandhar. Maharaj was declared “clinically dead” on January 29, 2014. However, his followers believe he is in samadhi—a deep meditative state—and would return one day. For the last eight years, his body has been preserved in a freezer. Every year, doctors from the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, inspect the body for any signs of decay, as per the court order.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hailing from Bihar, Maharaj made Punjab his home during the heights of the separatist movement. At DJJS, preachers would join first-time visitors to give an overview of the life and spirituality of Maharaj.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pracharak Ram Niwas explained to us the various work done by the Sansthan—courses for blind, children and prisoners to programmes for promoting ayurveda and organic farming. “We even run a cattle semen bank where we have 125 high-quality bulls. Our gaushala, which has over 900 Indian breed cows, has won an award,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Ram Niwas attended to other VIP guests, preacher Abhinavanand joined us. He gave us a 30-minute talk about the “spiritual journey” that would help in “practically experiencing and realising God”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is one of 10,000 preachers trained before Maharaj’s “samadhi”. “It is only when Maharaj returns from samadhi that new preachers will be ordained,” said Swami Girdharinand, who is part of the temple management at the DJJS. “Maharaj ji used to talk about samadhi and how several saints took it and returned after several years. At that time, we did not understand, but now we do. He will return.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>DJJS claims to have over 32 lakh followers—from different religions and castes—in Punjab alone; the organisation has 65 branches in the state. It has a presence in nearly 20 countries. The dera officials said several political leaders, including chief ministers, would visit the ashram during election time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many of these deras had faced opposition from the radical Sikhs at some point or other. Maharaj, too, faced problems following which he was provided Z-plus security. What attracts people to the deras is the community feeling they provide. Unlike traditional temples or gurdwaras, living gurus are available to people. A lot of these deras are syncretic—they mostly cater to the marginalised sections among Hindus and Sikhs. Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) is a good example. In 2016, Rahul Gandhi spent a night at the RSSB headquarters seeking support from the dera which attracts both Sikhs and Hindus alike. The Namdharis is another influential sect with a distinct identity. This community, which has made stellar contributions to classical music and sports, believes that the lineage of Sikh gurus did not end with the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh; they recognise a continuing line of gurus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dera Baba Mast Ram of Jatana Uncha village is a place where spirituality meets the spirits. This dera in Fatehgarh Sahib district distributes alcohol as prasad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Baba Ji [Mast Ram], who lived in a small hut before his death in 1954, was fond of alcohol,” said Manjit Singh, a volunteer at the dera. “So, devotees used to offer him liquor for their wish fulfilment. This tradition continued till recently. Baba ji used to stay naked in his hut, and covered himself only when women came seeking his blessings.” Singh looks after the current guru, who is now confined to his bed, but is open to blessing the faithful from a distance. Alcohol was banned inside the dera premises after a gurdwara was built next to it. Now, those hoping to get liquor prasad would wait patiently outside the compound of the dera.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Devotees bring new clothes and blankets also as offering at the dera. “The tradition is that we change the clothes of the idol of Baba Mast Ram every day at 4am after he is bathed with milk,” said Singh. “So, there will be a long queue of devotees who wait for their turn to offer newly stitched clothes and blankets to Baba ji.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When asked whether politicians would come to the dera, Singh said: “Oh, they come in droves, mostly asking for victory in elections. They come here quietly to offer prayers, as the dera does not support [any] one party.”</p> Sun Feb 13 11:57:14 IST 2022 weathering-the-broom-in-uttarakhand <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>UTTARAKHAND CHIEF MINISTER</b> Pushkar Singh Dhami is no stranger to the unpredictability that comes with inclement weather. That is why, after being forced to cancel a flight from Haridwar to Ranikhet on February 3 because of heavy rains and snowfall, he quickly made the most of his remaining day and travelled to his constituency—Khatima in Udham Singh Nagar district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khatima is around 250km from Haridwar. Because of the weather, Dhami could reach Chakkarpur, a village in Khatima, only at 9pm—six hours behind schedule. Despite the delay, more than 1,000 supporters were waiting to greet him when he arrived at the rice mill that was the venue of his rally. “I am glad to see your energy level,” Dhami told the audience amid cheers. “Even the rains have not stopped you. I feel energised by your presence. I am confident that no one can stop the BJP from coming to power.”</p> <p>Dhami, 46, is up against Harish Rawat, veteran Congress leader and former chief minister, and Col (retd) Ajay Kothiyal of the Aam Aadmi Party. The AAP is contesting for the first time in Uttarakhand, but the party is posing a stiff challenge to both the BJP and the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since its formation in 2000, Uttarakhand has alternated between the BJP and the Congress in assembly polls. Incumbent chief ministers have not returned to power. Nityanand Swamy lost in 2002, B.C. Khanduri in 2012, and Harish Rawat lost both the seats he contested in 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Uttarakhand has two administrative divisions: Garhwal and Kumaon. The Garhwal division has more political heft: 41 of 70 assembly seats are in the region. The BJP’s big leaders—such as former chief ministers Ramesh Pokhriyal, Tirath Singh Rawat and Trivendra Singh Rawat—are from Garhwal. The Congress’s prominent faces—such as Govind Ballabh Pant, N.D. Tiwari, Harish Rawat and Indira Hridayesh—have been from Kumaon. The state has had 11 chief ministers in 20 years; only one, N.D. Tiwari, completed a full term.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The past one year alone has seen three chief ministers. The controversy related to the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Act, which angered priests as it allowed the government to take control of major temples in the state, has been one of the reasons for the political turmoil. The mismanagement of the Kumbh Mela last year, and a Covid test scam that came to light during the time, provided opposition parties ammunition to attack the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP maintains that the uncertainties and the changes at the helm will not impact results. “Changing the CM is an internal matter of the party that should not have an impact on the voter’s mind. Uttarakhand has witnessed massive development work in the past five years,” Bansidhar Bhagat, minister and candidate in Kaladhungi constituency, told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The outflow of job aspirants from the state is a major poll issue. Demographic changes, poor infrastructure and connectivity, and inadequate health services have also become talking points. “Our fight is against the last five years of BJP misrule,” Harish Rawat told THE WEEK. “From large-scale unemployment to massive mining, the people of this devbhumi are completely frustrated.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has promised four lakh new jobs, 40 per cent reservation for women in government jobs, a new land reform law, improved facilities for pilgrims, LPG gas cylinders that cost less than Rs500, and an income guarantee scheme to help unemployed youth. The BJP, on the other hand, is banking on infrastructure projects that would offer better connectivity to far-flung areas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Observers say that the Modi wave that helped the BJP bag 57 of 70 seats in 2017 is not visible this time. People are assessing candidates rather than parties. Creating problems for both the BJP and the Congress are rebels and turncoats. Rebels have made things difficult for the BJP in 16 constituencies; the Congress is facing similar problems in 12.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Tehri, the BJP has fielded former state Congress president Kishore Upadhyaya, while the Congress candidate is incumbent MLA Dhan Singh Negi, who recently quit the BJP. Similarly, in Nainital, the BJP has fielded Sarita Arya, former chief of the women’s cell of the Congress, against Sanjiv Arya, son of former transport minister Yashpal Arya. Sanjiv and Yashpal had left the Congress and joined the BJP ahead of the 2017 elections. Last year, though, both of them returned to the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It was my biggest mistake to join the BJP, which is not a democratic party,” Yashpal, who is contesting from Bajpur, told THE WEEK. “I felt suffocated there. I am thankful that the Congress accepted me back.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP is expected to play spoilsport in most seats. Kothiyal, its chief minister candidate, is well-known across the state for his contributions towards reconstructing Kedarnath after the 2013 flash floods. Under him, the AAP has promised to end corruption and give free education, medical treatment and electricity to all. It has also offered monthly allowances of Rs1,000 to all women and Rs5,000 a month to all unemployed youth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am a fauji (soldier) who worked for the nation,” said Kothiyal. “Now I will work for my state.”</p> Thu Feb 10 17:30:22 IST 2022 our-opponents-are-nowhere-in-the-picture <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ You got hardly six months as chief minister. What is the unfinished task that you would like to complete if you return to power?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Our focus will be on sectors like tourism, health, education, power and employment generation. Many things related to land reforms and demographic changes are still pending. All departments have been asked to submit roadmaps to make Uttarakhand self-dependent. In 2025, when the state will mark its 25 years of origin, we want Uttarakhand to be among the best in all sectors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you the party’s chief minister candidate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I took more than 550 decisions for the welfare of the state. I would like to continue taking those [decisions] forward once I am back in office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi has promised 40 per cent quota for women in jobs in Uttarakhand. What is your response?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Congress is not giving tickets for women candidates and its leaders are talking about reserving jobs for women. The head of the Congress’s women wing in the state has joined the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your plan to tackle the massive unemployment in the state?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I agree that unemployment levels have gone up because of the pandemic. Distress migration is also a major issue. We have taken several initiatives for [providing] government jobs. We have started the process to fill 24,000 vacancies. But government jobs are certainly not enough. So, we are focusing on self-help groups to generate more jobs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Uttarakhand has always alternated between parties in assembly polls. Are you confident of breaking this pattern?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Ever since Narendra Modi became prime minister, all patterns have been broken. Before 2017, Uttarakhand never had parliamentarians from the ruling party. This is broken now. We are coming back to power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you tackle land reforms and migration issues?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ For land reforms, we have set up a committee and most of its work is done. To prevent migration, industries and developmental work will be our prime focus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will farm protests have an impact in Khatima, your constituency? Sikh farmers from Udham Singh Nagar district had participated in the agitation.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ All the Sikh farmers in the state are completely in favour of the BJP. I am from Udham Singh Nagar district and I am like family to the farmers’ community. They feel proud that a boy from their area has become mukhya sewak.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think that the armed forces community, which is quite large in Uttarakhand, is upset with not getting complete benefits from the ‘One Rank, One Pension’ scheme?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Most issues have been resolved. I am a son of a soldier myself and I am confident that all soldiers are with the BJP. We are not like the Congress, whose leaders had called Gen Bipin Rawat a ‘street hooligan’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you view rival parties such as the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Our opponents are nowhere in the picture. I have been through several constituencies and I can say quite confidently that the BJP will form the government again with a massive majority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you plan to counter the freebies that the AAP is offering?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The people of Uttarakhand have self-respect. They do not believe that anything is free. The BJP wants atmanirbhar Uttarakhand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are party rebels making things difficult for you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ours is a cadre party; rebels do not matter to us. If rebels don’t follow the party line, the party decides on them.</p> Sun Feb 13 11:52:43 IST 2022 uttarakhand-double-engine-government-has-failed-on-all-fronts <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ What are your main campaign issues?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Our fight is to protect Uttarakhandiyat (the spirit of Uttarakhand). Five years of BJP rule has mauled the foundation of Uttarakhand and destroyed Uttarakhandiyat. We are looking for an opportunity to restore it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You are leading the Congress campaign in the state. Are you the party’s chief ministerial face?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Congress high command has made me the face of our fight in Uttarakhand. The election is being fought under my leadership. So, it is purely a test of my leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your strategy to counter the BJP’s hindutva plank?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Congress agenda is development, communal harmony and welfare of all people. I am also a Hindu who follows sanatan dharma and the teachings of Swami Vivekananda. But I certainly do not [fit the image of] the Hindu that the BJP likes to portray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The BJP has been seeking votes in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. How do you counter this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The BJP has failed miserably in Uttarakhand in all respects. Development has been derailed, unemployment is at its peak, medical services collapsed during the pandemic, and corruption is at its peak. Rampant mining has affected the state’s ecological balance. People call Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami khanan priya mukhyamantri (pro-mining chief minister).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So, is this a Modi vs Rawat contest?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ No. My challenge is against large-scale unemployment, and to preserve the spirit of Uttarakhand, which the BJP government has destroyed. The so-called ‘double-engine’ government, driven by Modi, has failed on all fronts. This election is Harish Rawat vs the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have promised to take strict action against hate speeches in Haridwar if you come to power.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We will certainly take this very seriously. The act is an insult to the devbhumi of Uttarakhand. We want dharma sansad to be conducted again here, but not the way it did.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have said, using a cricket analogy, that the Congress party is not in form.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes, but we are the in-form batsman in Uttarakhand and Punjab. And in other election-bound states like Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Manipur, the Congress is just one match away from regaining form.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Has the Congress experiment of changing the chief minister in Punjab worked?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The decision to change the Punjab chief minister was based on public sentiment and the opinion of MLAs. Captain Amarinder Singh had refused to do anything for the party. He was behaving like a military general who was ready to surrender.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Has the move been successful?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It has become very successful and has changed the narrative in Indian politics. Punjab has got its first dalit chief minister—a historic event.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Deserters are causing trouble to the Congress. Does the party have any strategy to prevent further desertions?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ [Desertions] do not affect the party’s prospects in the polls. Some people have their own compulsions, while some have political ambitions. We take action accordingly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Aam Aadmi Party can eat into your vote bank. How do you see this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is up to Arvind Kejriwal to look into why he is being viewed as a vote-splitter. Why does his party only contest in places where the Congress can be weakened? Is it his ambition to weaken the Congress or defeat the BJP?</p> Sun Feb 13 11:52:12 IST 2022 faisal-ali-dar-j-k-1st-padma-winner-in-sport-is-also-a-humanitarian-champion <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FAISAL ALI DAR</b> watched Enter the Dragon when he was in class X. He was so enamoured by Bruce Lee that he started mimicking the martial arts master’s stunts. He persevered until he had perfected some of Lee’s on-screen moves. His friends and neighbours told him that his passion would bring him nothing. But he continued to pursue it with determination.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The journey that Dar embarked on in 2003, from a village boy to a martial arts trainer, motivational speaker and social worker, is a gripping tale of hard work, dedication and sacrifice. He started with wushu and switched to kickboxing in 2008. In 2010, he won silver medal in the Asian kickboxing championship. Initially, his efforts to woo youngsters to the sport did not evoke much response. “People thought it was a waste of time,”he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At his village of Bagh in Bandipora, 70km north of Srinagar, the lack of proper training and equipment impeded his efforts to establish himself as a kickboxer. “When I was training for kickboxing, I would use nylon slippers to practice punching with other kids, as I did not have money to buy pads and punchers,” he said. “I did not know the rules. I needed a coach and proper equipment which I could not afford.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Things changed when coach Kuldeep Handoo—the first Dronacharya awardee from Jammu and Kashmir—took him under his wings. “He worked on my fitness and training and also taught me the rules of the game,’’ he said. “I worked as a labourer to save money to travel to Jammu for training.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His family was supportive, but he did not want to burden them. “During the harvest, I would work in the orchards to load apples in trucks,” he said. The money was barely enough for his travel and stay, but he continued his training. He worked with building contractors to fund jerseys and equipment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was during this time that Dar realised the need for a training academy in Kashmir. “After participating in different tournaments, I realised that if our youngsters get proper training and support, they will make it big,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dar participated in four nationals and won two golds and one silver. He called it quits in 2013 so that he could devote himself to coaching youngsters at his Ali Sports Academy, named after his late grandfather, Muhammad Ali.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are 2,687 students registered in 17 clubs under the academy. Sixteen of them have participated in international championships, bagging four golds, five silvers and three bronzes in various events. “At the national level, 24 players have won gold, 33 silver and 56 bronze in different martial arts events,’’ he said.</p> <p>The academy’s training programmes have been popular with girls. “One of our trainees, Abida Akhtar, won a silver in the 48kg category wushu championship in Malaysia in 2017,” said Dar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The academy offers coaching at an annual fee of Rs50. “We have opened branches of our academy in eight districts now,” said Dar. “I believe athletes from Jammu and Kashmir, with proper training and physical fitness, can win Olympic medals.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dar took up another mission when he realised the depth of drug addiction in the valley. “We worked on de-addiction and then introduced them to sports so that they don’t return to drugs.” Dar and his volunteers played an active role in relief and rescue in the 2014 floods and during the Covid-19 pandemic. “During the pandemic, we mobilised our volunteers to distribute food and medicine to the people at their doorsteps.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dar has also been active in social projects like plantation drives, sanitation drives, blood donation camps, disaster management drives, female self-defence training camps, and women empowerment awareness campaigns. “We are honoured that he has been awarded Padma Shri,” said his father, Muhammad Shafi Dar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dar is the first Padma Award winner in sport from Jammu and Kashmir. “It is his hard work that has paid off,” said Arsalan Habib, a friend. “His contribution to the promotion of sports is exemplary.”</p> Sat Feb 05 11:59:35 IST 2022 bjp-is-battling-anti-incumbency-defection-of-key-leaders-in-goa <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On January 22, opposition leader Digambar Kamat, state Congress president Girish Chodankar and P. Chidambaram, Congress’s election observer for Goa, took 36 party candidates to the Mahalakshmi temple in Panaji. The candidates were made to swear that they would not defect to the BJP or any other party if they got elected. The ritual was repeated at the Bambolim Cross church and the Hamza Shah Dargah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having badly burnt its fingers in 2017 and 2019, when Congress legislators joined the BJP in groups, the party does not want to take any chances this time. Whether the candidates took the oath in all sincerity will become clear only after the results are declared on March 10. But this temple run speaks volumes about the Congress’s fear of the BJP, especially its ability to break parties to reach its goal of forming the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>‘Power at any cost’ seems to be the tagline of the BJP’s election campaign in Goa, which reflects in its selection of candidates, too. The BJP state leadership has realised that the task of retaining power in the ‘Sushegaat’ (relaxed) state will not be easy. And, it is not taking any chances, be it denying tickets to a few sitting MLAs, rejecting claims of aspirants like Utpal Parrikar, son of former chief minister Manohar Parrikar, or dumping former chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar, who lobbied hard for a ticket from his home turf Mandrem. Parrikar and Parsekar have since quit the BJP and have decided to contest as independents. But these are small hurdles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having ruled Goa since 2012, the BJP is facing a strong anti-incumbency wave this time. And, it has itself to blame, as people have not forgotten how the BJP formed the government in 2017 when it was the second largest party with 13 legislators, a good eight short of majority in the 40-member house. Subsequently, in 2019, it engineered a split in the Congress and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party to add 12 more legislators to its kitty. In doing so, it reduced the MGP to just one legislator and delivered a severe blow to the oldest Hindu party in Goa. No wonder the MGP has refused to ally with the BJP this time and has joined hands with the Trinamool Congress, which has vowed to oust the BJP from power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I do not think any party will get majority on its own this time,” says Sunil Naik, former sarpanch of Karmali village. “There is a lot of anger against the BJP in people’s mind. It is no more the party that Manohar Parrikar built and represented. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant does not enjoy that good an image. They say he has purchased a mine in neighbouring Maharashtra. He may still win, but I doubt the BJP will be able to form the government on its own.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Sunil, tourist taxi owners of Goa are angry with the BJP for hiring almost 1,500 taxis from Maharashtra for election-related work. There are about 25,000 tourist taxis in Goa and almost 75-80 per cent of the taxi owners are against the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Sawant dismissed the mine allegation, first raised by the Trinamool Congress, it is not the only allegation that is troubling the BJP. There is one involving former minister Milind Naik, too. In December 2021, Chodankar had accused Milind of sexually exploiting a woman from Bihar, following which Milind was forced to resign from the cabinet. Sawant had assured that a thorough inquiry will be carried out and appropriate action will be taken. However, so far, the Goa police has not registered an FIR against Milind. It said that the survivor had herself dismissed the charge levelled by the Congress. As a result, Milind has been given a BJP ticket to contest from his Mormugao constituency. His Congress opponent Sankalp Amonkar has now claimed that the government and the chief minister put pressure on the Goa police to not register the case so that Milind could contest again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another taint on the BJP is the alleged job scam in the public works department. The allegations were levelled against PWD Minister Deepak Pauskar by fellow BJP legislator Atanasio Monserrate and MGP legislator Sudin Dhavalikar. Monserrate claimed that the jobs were being given to the highest bidder, while Dhavalikar alleged that youth had been asked to shell out Rs25 lakh for employment in PWD. Pauskar denied the allegations, but Sawant ordered an inquiry. Pauskar was denied a ticket, and he quit the party. He is now planning to contest as an independent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>North Goa, with its 19 seats, has been a BJP stronghold for the past couple of decades. This time, however, it may not be smooth sailing for the party there, as Michael Lobo, who was minister in the Parrikar and Sawant cabinets, has jumped ship. Lobo had urged the BJP leadership to give his wife, Delilah, a ticket from Siolim or allow her to contest as an independent. The party refused, saying only one member from a family could contest. Lobo is now the Congress candidate from Calangute, and his wife is contesting from Siolim. Lobo asked why the ‘one family, one ticket’ rule was not applicable to the Monserrates and Ranes. Monserrate is BJP candidate from Panjim and his wife Jennifer from Taleigao. Likewise, Health Minister Vishwajit Rane is BJP candidate from Valpoi and his wife Deviya is contesting from Poriem, a seat held by her father-in-law and former chief minister Pratapsingh Rane for more than five decades. Citing the same rule, the BJP also denied a ticket to Savitri Kavlekar, wife of Deputy Chief Minister Chandrakant Kavlekar. Savitri has since resigned as vice president of the BJP Mahila Morcha and is all set to contest as an independent from Sanguem constituency in south Goa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lobo’s entry into the Congress has brightened the grand old party’s prospects in North Goa, especially in Bardez region that has seven constituencies. Lobo has told the Congress leadership that he will win at least three of the seven seats for the party. Another former BJP leader who joined the Congress is Carlos Almeida. Almeida quit the BJP in December 2021 and joined the Congress along with his supporters. He is now the Congress candidate from Vasco.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While it is welcoming leaders from the BJP, the Congress has closed its doors to legislators who had defected to the BJP in 2017 and 2019. Reacting to former chief minister Parsekar’s resignation from the BJP, Chidambaram said that the BJP has now started reaping the poison it sowed in the state. “What they did to us in 2017 and 2019 is coming back to haunt them now,” he said. “Their own people have started quitting the BJP.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also explained why the Congress cold-shouldered the proposal of an alliance with the Trinamool Congress. He said that the Trinamool had been poaching leaders from the Congress in Goa. “First, it was Luizinho Faleiro and then when we had announced our first list of candidates they poached Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco,” said Chidambaram. “The suggestion for an alliance came from the Trinamool on December 24 and soon after that they poached our leaders and cadre in Vasco and Mormugao. The Congress leadership was observing these developments and I had no instruction to hold any talks.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the absence of a grand alliance to take on the BJP, Goa will see a quadrangular fight between the BJP, the Congress (along with the Goa Forward Party), the Trinamool (along with the MGP) and the AAP in almost all 40 constituencies. The AAP cadre has been working silently and with all seriousness across all constituencies. AAP’s Goa in-charge Atishi and national convener Arvind Kejriwal are personally overseeing candidate selection, reviewing each candidate’s track record and background. Kejriwal has announced Amit Palekar’s name as the chief ministerial candidate. Palekar, a journalist-turned lawyer, became the face of people’s agitation last year when he sat on a hunger strike to oppose construction of a Mumbai BJP leader’s bungalow in Old Goa’s heritage zone. The state government had to buckle under popular pressure and cancel the permission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A surprise factor in the upcoming election could be the entry of Revolutionary Goans (RG), a new outfit. Founded by Manoj Parab, RG espouses the cause of the sons of the soil. Parab, whose meetings on the ground and on social media are getting good response, has announced that his party will give 100 per cent reservation in government jobs to Goans. He has also assured 80 per cent reservation in private jobs. Parab’s outfit is at present popular in North Goa and among Hindu-majority areas. If he continues to get good traction, his candidates could end up eating into BJP votes—a matter of concern for the saffron party.</p> Sun Jan 30 11:33:23 IST 2022 manipur-anger-of-naga-people-front-over-mon-killings-may-hit-bjp-poll-chances <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>EVERYONE IS FLYING SOLO</b> this time in Manipur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a major blow to the ruling BJP, one of its main allies in the North-East Democratic Alliance—the Naga People’s Front (NPF)—has decided to fight alone in 15 seats that have a Naga population in Manipur. Of the 15, 11 are dominated by Nagas, and if the BJP’s alliance with the NPF had remained, it could have swept the polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manipur has 60 assembly seats, of which 40 are in the valley and the rest in the hills. Apart from the Hindu Meitis, two major tribes have their presence in the valley and the hill districts—Kukis and Nagas, both of which are Christians, but follow different sects. Kukis belong to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, whereas the Nagas belong to the Council of Baptist Churches in Northeast India. Both the tribes have often resorted to violence over land and other social disputes in the hill districts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Kukis have been Congress supporters, with the community producing many a Congress stalwart. To counter that, the Nagas found a political ally in the BJP. The NPF has been extending crucial support to the BJP-led government in Manipur for five years. It was thanks to the NPF that the N. Biren Singh government managed to retain power as it came under fire from within the party and from its other ally, the National People’s Party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But that was six months ago. Today, the NPF’s support for the BJP is not very forthcoming. “It is because of the attitude of the Central government towards us,” says Honreikhui Kashung, general secretary of the NPF in Manipur. “We are alarmed and shaken by the way they killed innocent Nagas in Mon district of Nagaland, and then refused to do away with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The BJP-led Central government must pay the price for it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He, however, adds that the party “did not want the BJP to be punished by the Nagas as they are still better than the Congress”. But it is learning its lessons from Bengali politicians, he says. “The way they taught the BJP a lesson is a learning for us,” says Kashung. “We would also like to teach the same lesson to the BJP. BJP leaders in Delhi were humbled by Mamata Banerjee.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kashung says they are talking to smaller parties like the NPP. The Mon massacre has brought them closer to Kukis, too. The NPF is even considering supporting the Congress if the latter comes close to forming a government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2017, the Congress emerged as the single largest party with 28 seats and was just three short of majority. But the NPF and the NPP, which had four MLAs each, supported the BJP, which had 21 MLAs. The Nagas were angry with the Okram Ibobi Singh government and deputy chief minister Gaikhangam, a prominent Naga leader who was also the home minister. Gaikhangam had taken action against Naga extremists, earning the wrath of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), which is in peace talks with the Union government. The NSCN (IM) and the NSCN (Khaplang) tried to assassinate Ibobi Singh several times. The NPF was also against the Congress owing to its continuous support to the Kukis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the NPF is not ruling out a post-poll alliance with the BJP. “We are not saying that we will not support the BJP after the election, if the situation arises,” says Kashung. “But that support would be conditional, unlike before. The BJP undervalued the development in hilly areas, like the Congress. The chief minister is not responsible for that; the Union government is. We will sit with the Union government and seek its promise in writing. We would also like to see the Mon firing culprits punished and the AFSPA withdrawn from Manipur in a phased manner. Only then will we consider supporting the BJP again. The only positive thing we will say about the BJP is that it led a stable government, even though a coalition, in Manipur.” And for that the NPF would credit the chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The conflict with the Kukis, too, was about to end, thanks to Biren Singh, says NPF. “Biren worked hard to bring peace,” says Kashung. “He has been continuously working for the growth of Nagas. But what else would he do if the Union government pressured him to do otherwise. We understand his problem.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP admits there has been a gap in the development in the hills and the valley. “But that was solely because of the conflict between Biren Singh and another aspiring CM candidate Th. Biswajit Singh, who is the rural development minister,” says a party general secretary. Also, in the Naga-dominated Tamenglong district, a senior NPF leader, Athuan Abonmei, was killed during an alleged police firing, leading to huge resentment among the Nagas against the BJP. Though the BJP took action, like transferring the deputy commissioner and suspending the police officials on duty, it did little to pacify the Nagas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Biren Singh, in an interview to THE WEEK, had said that the hills would be his priority once they come back to power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the United Naga Council, a civil society organisation, has asked the NPF to rein itself in. While the UNC agrees that the BJP erred, it says that it is dealing with the Union government separately. “We have boycotted Republic Day this year, and will boycott Independence Day, too, if there is no concrete solution,” says Senthon Stephen, information secretary, UNC. “But how could we forget that it was the BJP that brought peace in our region? During the Congress rule, Manipur was constantly burning. But during the BJP’s time, calm prevailed as it addressed the issues of the Nagas. Yes, the Mon episode has soured the grand initiative of the Biren Singh government, but we must understand that he is not responsible for it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>National BJP leaders understand the situation. Though they have decided to go alone in the Naga-dominated areas, they are also working on extending an olive branch to the NPF. The BJP has inducted some prominent Naga leaders into the party in the last few years. It has pressed its Nagaland unit to have a discussion with the NSCN(IM), so that the latter can ask Nagas to vote for the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the prominent Naga leaders in the BJP fold is Gaidon Kamei, who would be fighting against Congress heavyweight Gaikhangam from Noney seat. “Some discussion is going on with NSCN(IM),”says Kamei. “I am also aggrieved over what happened in Mon. But the Nagas would never forget the development and peace that lasted overall. Manipur was never as peaceful as it has been in the last five years. There is an international conspiracy to oust the BJP to turn Manipur into what it used to be earlier.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Narendra Modi government formed a Special Investigation Team to probe the incident. The Army, too, is carrying out its own probe. The committee has travelled extensively to Mon district and is talking to eyewitnesses. “They are also video recording the statements of villagers and trying to identify whether our officers or jawans were at fault or not,” says a senior officer of the Eastern Command in Fort Williams, Kolkata.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, what has surprised many is the transfer of Eastern Army Commander Lt General Manoj Pande to Army Headquarters. Pande, who is from Engineering Corps, will take over as vice chief of Army staff. “It is debatable whether he received a promotion or was transferred for what happened in Mon,” says a defence ministry official. “As far as seniority is concerned, he is junior to Northern Army Commander Lt General Y.K. Joshi, who might replace General M.M. Naravane a couple of months later. A commander from the Engineering Corps becoming Army chief is rare.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So far, the BJP is targeting five of the 11 Naga-dominated seats—Chandel, Noney, Jiribam, Ukhrul and Senapati. NSCN(IM), which mostly consists of Tangkhul Nagas (predominantly Manipuri Naga), has a huge say in these seats. However, the BJP is trying to win maximum seats in the valley. But there, too, it will have to fight Conrad Sangma’s NPP, which has good organisation on ground. And, the Congress, under its three prominent leaders—Ibobi Singh from the Meitis, T.N. Haokip from the Kukis, and Gaikhangam from the Nagas—will put up a formidable challenge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, is Manipur heading towards a split verdict? “It is likely,” says social activist Kshetrimayum Gunamani, “even if the BJP breaks the Congress.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP will have to win 25 to 30 seats from the valley on its own, which, say political observers, looks difficult, if not impossible. Or, Union Home Minister Amit Shah will have to come to Imphal to negotiate with the Nagas. Shah may also have to make another renewed deal with Sangma, the new flame in Manipur politics today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Post polls, it could very well be a case of ‘birds of a feather flock together’.</p> Thu Jan 27 19:14:09 IST 2022 an-abruptly-ended-march-might-have-started-the-congress-redemption-in-karnataka <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When Karnataka Congress president D.K. Shivakumar, legislative party leader Siddaramaiah and the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge beat the nagari (drum) on the banks of the Cauvery at Sangam on January 9, it was a wake-up call for the party cadres. The leaders kicked off a 155km padayatra from Sangam to Bengaluru, demanding speedy implementation of the Mekedatu balancing reservoir project in Kanakapura.</p> <p><br> It was also a warning bell to the ruling BJP, and the Janata Dal (Secular), the third major party in the state, as it looked like the beginning of a revival of the Congress in the Old Mysuru region, the Vokkaliga heartland. The BJP and the JD(S)&nbsp;fear that the rally would galvanise the support of the politically significant Vokkaligas, the second largest caste in the state, for the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A padayatra in 2010 from Ballari to Bengaluru by Siddaramaiah, challenging a “corrupt” BJP government, had catapulted him to the chief minister’s chair in 2013. Shivakumar was hoping to tackle his opponents within the party and outside it with the ‘Namma neeru namma hakku (Our water is our right)’ padayatra. However, on the fifth day of the 11-day march, the party was forced to call it off as the Karnataka High Court rapped the government and the Congress over the massive rallies being held amid the pandemic. “We respect the sentiment of the people and the High Court and the opinion of our legislators. We believe we have a commitment towards the people and as a party that has made many sacrifices for the country, we have decided to sacrifice this rally, too, for the time being. But we will not stop the rally. We will resume it from Ramanagara once it is conducive,” said Shivakumar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The waters of Sangam, the confluence of the Cauvery and the Arkavathi, have been making political ripples in the state. Interestingly, it has also brought the Old Mysuru region into the spotlight as the new battleground for the next assembly elections, a departure from the state’s Lingayat-centric politics in the past few decades. The region is likely to decide if the BJP or the Congress crosses the majority mark, or the JD(S), once again, becomes the kingmaker.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>JD(S) patriarch H.D. Deve Gowda seems to have sensed it, as the party has announced a state-wide campaign for the completion of the pending irrigation projects in the state. “A padayatra is not good enough,” said H.D. Kumaraswamy, JD(S) chief and Gowda’s son. “Like my father, the Congress should fight long legal battles to ensure justice for Karnataka.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The JD(S), which draws its political strength from the Vokkaligas, has been in a crisis, with the Congress under Shivakumar trying to reclaim its support base in the community and the BJP looking beyond its Lingayat vote bank. In the 2018 election, the JD(S) won 29 of its 37 seats in the Old Mysuru region, which has 59 Assembly constituencies spread across the districts of Chamarajanagar, Mysuru, Mandya, Hassan, Ramanagara, Tumakuru, Chikkaballapur, Kolar and Bengaluru Rural. But many senior leaders have left the party citing neglect and ‘family-centric’ politics. Recently, Gowda’s grandson Suraj Revanna became the eighth member of the family to enter electoral politics by winning an MLC seat. Gowda’s defeat in the Tumkur Lok Sabha constituency in 2019 indicated the winds of change sweeping through the Vokkaliga belt, and that the community was willing to look beyond the family. The Congress gave them an option by selecting Shivakumar, a Vokkaliga, to lead the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is also playing the same game, hoping to clear the majority mark in the next election. It made C.N. Ashwath Narayan deputy chief minister in the B.S. Yediyurappa government and C.T. Ravi national general secretary (both are Vokkaligas) as part of its experiment of grooming new leadership and taking its support base beyond Lingayats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Mekedatu project, which has been a bone of contention between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, has suddenly become a flash point for the political parties in Karnataka. The Congress and the BJP are blaming each other for the delay in the implementation of the project that can provide drinking water to a third of Bengaluru and generate 400 MW power. The project is being favoured by farmers in the Old Mysuru region as well, as the new reservoirs will ease the burden on the four existing reservoirs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP called the padayatra a “political gimmick” and said the Congress did nothing to expedite the Mekadatu project when it ruled from 2013 to 2018. “The Congress wasted five years and it took them four years to prepare a detailed project report. We got the stay imposed by National Green Tribunal Chennai vacated on June 17, 2021. But the matter is still before the Supreme Court. After [former chief minister] B.S. Yediyurappa, I have been following up with central water ministry for the environmental clearance,” said Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former water resources minister M.B. Patil, however, said there had been no delay by the Congress government. “On October 25, 2014, we called for a global expression of interest to prepare a detailed project report. After the single bidder, WAPCOS, quoted 022.07 crore, we called fresh bids and EI Technologies bagged it on February 25, 2016. The detailed project report (DPR) was given in-principle approval by the state government on March 13, 2017, and was submitted to the Central Water Commission in June 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“But we were asked to revise the DPR as per the new CWC guidelines. We modified the DPR after the Supreme Court allocated an additional 14.75 tmc of water to Karnataka in February 2018. The revised DPR and pre-feasibility reports were submitted to CWC in August 2018. But since the Mekedatu project got exempted from pre-feasibility report clause as it had no irrigation component, we had to revise the DPR. It was submitted in January 2019, when Shivakumar was the water resources minister.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;Siddaramaiah said the BJP government was not keen on the project because the party wanted to expand its base in Tamil Nadu. “Tamil Nadu BJP chief K. Annamalai is protesting the project. BJP national general secretary C.T. Ravi is favouring Tamil Nadu,” he said. “The project will take care of the drinking water needs of Bengaluru for the next 50 years.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The final order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal in 2007 had failed to bring a closure to issues such as the division of surplus water. Tamil Nadu objected to Karnataka’s move to construct two balancing reservoirs at Mekedatu to harness the surplus water in good monsoon years and moved Supreme Court saying the construction of the two reservoirs would impound the flow into the intermediate catchment at Biligundlu, thus reducing the flow to the mettur dam. Karnataka’s contention is that releasing the monthly water quotas to Tamil Nadu is difficult in distress monsoon years, and the dam can help store surplus water in normal years and ensure the monthly quota every year. Also, there is no irrigation plan under the Mekedatu project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mekedatu, which means ‘goat’s leap’ in Kannada, is a narrow gorge on the Cauvery. Whether the padayatra can provide a giant leap to the Congress and Shivakumar remains to be seen.</p> Sun Jan 23 12:33:39 IST 2022 punjab-polls-aap-on-the-up <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT WAS JUST</b> the kind of morale booster that the Aam Aadmi Party needed ahead of the assembly elections in Punjab. The party emerged with the largest number of seats in the recent Chandigarh municipal elections, shocking the incumbent BJP and giving the Congress a reality check ahead of the assembly polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was described by the AAP leaders as the “trailer” before the assembly elections, and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal—the face of the party’s campaign—led a victory procession in Chandigarh. It may be argued that the civic poll results in the Union territory, a largely urban terrain, cannot be extrapolated to a state-wide election. But the results did give a fillip to the AAP’s campaign, despite the setback the party later received as it lost to the BJP in the fight for the mayor’s post.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP, which is believed to have missed the bus in the assembly elections in 2017 because of certain missteps, is once again viewed as a party that can emerge as the dark horse. Experts believe the party is primarily gaining from a deep discontentment among the people towards the traditional powers, the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party’s electoral journey in the state so far has been quite uneven. It began with a surprise haul of four seats in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. The party was seen as a frontrunner in the state polls in 2017, before it ended up with just 20 seats and got the consolation prize of becoming the main opposition party. However, the AAP went through a rather bad patch after that, the period marked by poll debacles and the defection of state leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the party had a vote share of 23.72 per cent. It got around 24 per cent votes in the assembly elections in 2017. However, the vote share dipped to just 7.46 per cent in the 2019 general elections. Also, while the party won 20 seats in the 2017 state polls, it is now left with just 11 MLAs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, amid the messy affair that the Punjab polls have become—as a result of the chaos in the ruling Congress, the breakup of the SAD-BJP alliance and the various twists and turns in the political scene over the past several months—the AAP is seen as a party that has managed to keep its head above water and carry out a well-charted campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP’s campaign, helmed by Kejriwal, is based on the belief that the people want to vote for change this time. The party’s main slogan is “Ik Mauka Kejriwal Nu (Give one chance to Kejriwal)”. He has unveiled in a step-wise manner a slew of “Kejriwal’s guarantees”, which involve promises on electricity and water supply, health, education, employment and women empowerment. The promises include 300 units of free electricity, free health care for all and Rs1,000 monthly payment to all women above 18.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP, according to Ashutosh Kumar, chairperson, department of political science, Panjab University, could gain from the people’s anger against the traditional parties. “The people of Punjab are in a very bad situation,” he says. “They blame the Congress and Akalis for the mess that the state is in. They want to teach them a lesson…. Agricultural income is on the decline. The youth does not have employment. There is a strong belief among the people that the Congress and the Akalis do not have the will to rid the state of the drug menace.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP is perceived as having learned from the mistakes it made last time. The NRI support has been kept at bay to dispel the notion that the party is supported by Khalistan sympathisers. That is believed to have resulted in the Hindu votes drifting away from the party. The party has also promised a Sikh chief minister for the state. Since Kejriwal was the face of the campaign in 2017, people believed that he was the de-facto chief-minister face, and they were not ready to have a non-Sikh, non-Punjabi person at the helm in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress’s decision to bring Charanjit Singh Channi at the helm is learned to have been dictated by the feedback from the ground that the AAP was gaining traction, and was eating into the Congress’ dalit support base.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The AAP is confident of winning in this election primarily because the people feel cheated by the Congress and the Akali Dal,” says Harpal Singh Cheema, leader of opposition in the Punjab assembly. “Promises were made that the culprits in the sacrilege issue or those responsible for the drugs menace would be punished. But till date, none of the culprits has been brought to book.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political analyst Harjeshwar Pal Singh, however, says that the AAP is yet to overcome issues like the absence of strong local leadership and organisational structure in the state. “The party in Punjab continues to depend heavily on the Delhi team,” he says. “Punjab has a very strong regional element, and the perception that the AAP is a Delhi-based party could hurt its chances.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, there is a discussion on the AAP not having declared a chief ministerial candidate yet, despite Kejriwal having given a public assurance as he kicked off the Punjab campaign a few months ago. There is speculation on whether the party will ultimately announce Bhagwant Mann—a crowd-puller and the party’s most popular local face—as its chief minister face.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP sources say that the party faces a dilemma about declaring a chief minister face since Kejriwal has been getting good traction. There is a fear that announcing a CM face would take the focus off Kejriwal and the other person would be compared with the bigwigs who represent the other parties. It is also felt that Kejriwal has been successful in convincing the people that a local face would be the chief minister if the party wins, even as he leads the campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kejriwal is being cautious—a victory in Punjab can be a springboard for his party onto the centre stage in national politics; a failure can mean a major setback to its ambitions to spread outside Delhi.</p> Sat Jan 15 15:16:25 IST 2022 it-is-kejriwal-vs-all-in-punjab-raghav-chadha-aap-co-in-charge <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ How confident are you about the AAP’s chances this time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Aam Aadmi Party will form the government in Punjab, because voters are fed up with traditional parties. They have seen 26 years of Congress rule and 24 years of Akali rule. There is a strong yearning for change because people identify the traditional parties with looting the state’s resources. The leaders of these parties are firmly entrenched in corruption and in furthering their businesses at the state’s expense. The people can relate to our slogan ‘Ik Mauka Kejriwal Nu’ (Give one chance to Kejriwal).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The AAP was the single largest party in the recently concluded Chandigarh municipal elections.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Our victory in Chandigarh is the trailer of what will happen in the assembly polls. The people of Chandigarh voted for change. Also, what is significant is that while the BJP lost, the people did not vote for the Congress as its replacement. They placed faith in the AAP. It is another matter that the traditional parties indulged in underhand means to deny the AAP the mayor’s post and other important positions in the civic body.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the AAP’s election plank?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Our campaign is marked by sincerity. We are not telling any lies and are not relying upon bluster. We have presented guarantees of what we intend to do. These are ‘Kejriwal’s guarantees’, which include electricity, health, education, problems of the dalits and women’s empowerment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your rivals call these promises blatant populism and ask where the revenue will come from to fulfil them?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ If our guarantees are sheer populism and are so impractical, why is everybody else trying to copy us? We have a blueprint ready on how we will fund these guarantees. We have the Delhi model of governance before us that proves that through efficient government functioning you can find the resources for these schemes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Who is your main rival, the Congress or the Akali Dal?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ All parties are our rivals. It is a case of Kejriwal versus all. We saw what happened in the Chandigarh mayoral election. We saw what happened in 2017, when everybody got together to form an unholy alliance to ensure that the Congress won, only to keep the AAP out. However, the people have made up their mind for a change this time. The Congress is busy fighting itself, while the Akalis are completely discredited. And the less said about the BJP-plus alliance, the better.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The AAP’s campaign relies heavily on Kejriwal. Will you have a chief ministerial face?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The AAP will have a chief ministerial face. The name will be announced at the right time and it will be from among the three crore Punjabis and will be from the Sikh community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will that face be Bhagwant Mann?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/All I can say is that we will soon announce a CM face.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will the repeal of the three contentious farm laws have any impact on the elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The repeal of the farm laws will not change anything for traditional players. They all stand exposed. The people realise that the BJP withdrew the laws only for the sake of elections and they continue to be angry with the party. They are also aware that both the Congress and the Akalis have been involved in the drafting of the laws.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will the AAP ally with the farmers’ groups that have entered the electoral fray?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We will let you know if there is any such development. So far, we have not talked to the farmers’ groups about an alliance.</p> Sat Jan 15 15:11:42 IST 2022 shiromani-akali-dal-wants-to-position-itself-as-sole-regional-party-for-punjabis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Ratan Singh, 80, has been with the Shiromani Akali Dal since he was a child. “Since voting began in the country,” he emphasises. A farmer who took land on contract, Singh rues that his ideological commitment has not passed on to his sons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The elder one rents out combine harvesters while the younger is a naib subedar in the Army. “I am a pucca Akali, but in the previous elections, my eldest son told me he would vote for the Congress as it had promised jobs for the youth. I could not stop him. Congress leaders took an oath on the holy book to catch the accused in the [2015] sacrilege case. People were taken in,” Singh recounted as he left Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal’s rally in Samana in Patiala district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Six months after the government was formed, I [mockingly] congratulated my son saying my grandson had been appointed a deputy (a euphemism for a police job). He was embarrassed as he did not get what the Congress had promised. Now, he spent 030 lakh to send his son abroad. I have also told my grandson from my second son to prepare for IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and also go abroad.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh’s predicament represents the larger issue in the state—the maniacal rush to go abroad. This is even influencing politics, particularly the country’s second oldest party, the Akali Dal. During the Samana rally, Badal repeated the promise he had been making everywhere. “We will give interest-free loans of Rs10 lakh to students who want to study in any university in India or abroad, for IELTS coaching, so that you do not have sell your land.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Punjabi heartland, affected by migration, a Rs10 lakh loan for education abroad resonates. And the party is just responding to the aspirations of the young.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Formed in 1920 as a volunteer force, the Akali Dal became a political wing to lend support to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, which took control of gurudwaras in Punjab after a long struggle. The party, which celebrated its 101nth anniversary year on December 14, faced an existential crisis when it was relegated to third place in the 2017 assembly elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It dropped 50 seats from its previous tally of 68 (of 117), finishing behind the debuting Aam Aadmi Party. Matters were made worse when the NDA government, which it was a part of, passed the three farm laws last year. The Akali Dal quit the alliance as it feared being wiped out. Now, as the assembly elections near, it is making a vigorous attempt to recover lost ground.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Strategy wise, Sukhbir draws inspiration from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who was able to ward off the BJP with her focus on regionalism. Sukhbir, too, wants to present the Akali Dal as the sole regional party of Punjab (like Banerjee had done with the Trinamool Congress). “In the past few years, we have seen the rise of regional forces, whether it is in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana or Bengal. Punjabis believe that they are not going to be ruled by anyone else other than their own,” said former Union minister and Sukhbir’s wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To become a party of the Punjabis, the Akali Dal is projecting itself as more of a secular party rather than just a panthic Sikh one. There are two reasons for this—the changing demographic profile of the state (more Sikh youth migrating abroad), and political stability, which comes when it has all communities, particularly the Hindus, by its side. The BJP tie-up had brought that stability in the past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The demography is changing. Sikhs have started going abroad. Workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are coming in large numbers. There is not much of a gap now,” said senior vice president Prem Singh Chandumajra. “The party is taking along traders and employees, and not just focusing on farmers.” Chandumajra is contesting from Ganaur in the Malwa region, where the Akali Dal has traditionally done well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The shift is visible, with the Akali Dal giving tickets to Hindu candidates, including dalits. “During a recent rally in Pathankot, I was worried if any people would come out. We did not have any cadres there (it was a BJP seat). But when I held a rally in support of our candidate Raj Kumar Gupta, a sea of people turned up,” Sukhbir Badal said at rallies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The alliance with the BJP was a game-changer for the party, as before that no Akali government could finish a full term. People had lost faith in the party; faction wars destabilised it. It was only after Parkash Singh Badal stitched an alliance with the BJP in 1997 that the Akali Dal completed a full term—the BJP brought in urban Hindu votes into the fold. Badal, former prime minister A.B. Vajpayee and senior BJP leader L.K. Advani had grown close because of their anti-Congress stance and held joint protests during the Emergency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, after quitting the BJP alliance, Sukhbir has tied up with the Bahujan Samaj Party to try and repeat the 1996 result—the parties allied for the first time and won 11 of 13 Lok Sabha seats. The coming together of Sikhs and dalits is numerically a game changer, but dalits have always voted for the Congress in the past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the 2017 assembly debacle forced the Akali Dal to pitch itself as the sole regional-secular party for the Punjabi, it was a similar poor show in 1972—when it won only 24 seats—that made it a more hard line party. The Anandpur Sahib resolution of 1973 talked about Sikh aspirations and greater power. It talked about Khalsa rule, which was later interpreted as a demand for a separate state of Khalistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, that issue stands weakened. “The Anandpur Sahib resolution talked more about panthic issues,” said Chandumajra. “Our party diluted its wording while keeping the intent of the resolution the same and shifted the focus to greater rights for states and federalism. The Parkash Singh-led Akali Dal presided over the conference on federalism that the then DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) supremo M. Karunanidhi organised in the 1970s.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Akali Dal’s break with the BJP has also given it a chance to explore uncharted territories. “Earlier, all our conferences took place in gurdwaras; now we are focusing on including people from all communities, including Hindus and dalits, in all party teams,” said Charanjiv Singh Lali, the party’s national vice president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Jalandhar, where he is based, Lali said the party was trying to strengthen its urban base. The BJP represented these areas. “Jalandhar city has three and a half assembly seats, where the base of the Akali Dal has been weak. After the alliance with the BSP, we are slowly building our base here. In the past two years, even the youth wings—the Students Organisation of India (SOI) and the Youth Akali Dal—have grown stronger in the Doaba region.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since Sukhbir took over from his 94-year-old father, he has been leaving his stamp on the party. He has focused his politics on development, has left the religious issues to the SGPC, and has built the SOI, which brings in a stream of youth to the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several party leaders, though, are not happy with the weakened focus on religion. Senior members such as Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and Manjinder Singh Sirsa have quit, accusing the Akali Dal of no longer representing Sikh interests. “The Akali Dal has a history of struggles and sacrifices,” said Dhindsa. “Its leaders went to jail during the gurudwara movement, the independence struggle and the Emergency. Has Sukhbir Singh Badal ever gone to jail? He and his coterie hanker after money. The party has given up on panthic issues.” Dhindsa recently floated his own party and it is in alliance with the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Akali Dal’s rich history of struggle is seen through the photographs that adorn its party headquarters in Chandigarh. Sikh politics always kept religion and politics together; Guru Hargobind, in his concept of Miri Piri, had said that unless you have raj (rule), you cannot have dharam (religion). “Dharam was always given importance,” said Dhindsa. “But they (Badals) had kept politics in the foreground. We want to prioritise religion over politics and take back the SGPC from them. The Akal Takht (one of the five seats of power in Sikhism) jathedar (a leader of the clergy) listens to the Akali Dal president. He should be a scholar and free from politics.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhindsa’s party has set up a panel to formulate the party line. Among other issues, he is demanding a change in Article 25 subsection 2 of the Constitution, wherein Sikhs are clubbed with Hindus. “We demand that the subsection be amended to recognise Sikhism as a separate religion. We also want to bring changes to the SGPC, which can be done when we have numbers in the assembly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This mixture of politics and religion has, in recent years, spelled trouble for the Akali Dal. “We lost [the 2017 elections] because of the [2015 sacrilege] incidents. We will work 24x7 to bring the perpetrators to book. We want to remove this stain,” said Harsimrat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In December 2021, mobs killed two men for alleged sacrilege in Punjab, marking a return of the issue to politics. “It is a conspiracy and appears to be pre-planned to disturb the peace in the state. The BJP had lost out because of the farm laws. It could be fomenting trouble,” alleged Lali, adding that the aim could be to polarise voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no doubt a churn in Punjab politics, and there seems to be no clear winner. The four-cornered contest—Congress, Akali Dal-BSP, AAP, BJP-Punjab Lok Congress—has a new entrant as 22 farmer bodies, who steered the year-long farmers’ protests, have also jumped into the fray. They have huge goodwill as they returned victorious, and they have a presence in rural Punjab, which has been a catchment area for the Akali Dal. Sukhbir might have more trouble at hand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We faced confrontation earlier, but that is coming down. We have been telling the farmers what all we have done for them. They are listening,” said Chandumajra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, will that change with the entry of a new party? “Everyone at the national level, though they were our political opponents, felt that the Akali Dal needed to be preserved and always be present as a face of Sikh nationalism; otherwise, radical elements can come forward,” he said. “It was after the Longowal accord that the Akali Dal decided that its interest lay with India. We believe in democracy and respect all religions and castes. The Akalis are against radicalism. Even the radicals know that the Akalis are a hurdle for them.”</p> Thu Jan 06 18:04:28 IST 2022 the-farmers-will-vote-for-us <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Shiromani Akali Dal recently celebrated 101 years of its formation. What does the party stand for?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress might be older, but the Shiromani Akali Dal can claim to be the oldest party formed by Indians. When the Akalis won the right to manage gurudwaras from the British, Mahatma Gandhi said the first decisive battle of independence had been won.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Akali Dal has followed Sikh principles such as Sarbat da Bhala (welfare for all) without any discrimination of caste, colour or creed. Neither oppress anyone nor be oppressed. The people who brought the farm laws should have known who they were taking on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has the party, essentially for the Sikhs, become more secular?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sikhism is a secular religion. Guru Nanak Dev’s companion was Bhai Mardana, a Muslim; the foundation of the Golden Temple was laid by a Muslim saint; our ninth Guru laid down his life for Hindus. That is why caste combinations never worked in Punjab, unlike in other states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier, the first child in Hindu families was christened a Sikh. Whenever a new president has taken over the reins, his belief system has also been incorporated into the party. Over time, we went into a dark period of terrorism and Pakistan was fomenting trouble; at that time, (Parkash Singh) Badal sahib brought about an alliance with the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But many Akali leaders such as S.S. Dhindsa and Manjinder Sirsa left the party saying it no longer served the Sikhs.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You are quoting people who have been BJP stooges in the garb of being Akali Dal [members]. They have backstabbed the Sikhs and the party that gave them so much.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are the doors for a future alliance with the BJP closed forever?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our party aligned with Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji to keep communal harmony and to make the [Hindu] minorities feel safe and secure. We stood with them through good times and bad. We were the best allies they had. But you saw all their allies like the TDP (Telugu Desam Party) and the Shiv Sena walk away. The Akali Dal was pushed away [with] the way these farm bills were brought in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I pleaded with them not to do it till all stakeholders were brought on board [and warned of a] huge agitation. I was given lip service. When it was passed in Parliament, I took sides and showed which side we were on. It became a national issue when a cabinet minister resigned. The wounds are deep. There is no question of going back to the alliance when they did not even listen to us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There is a certain anxiety when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh tries to present Sikhs as part of a larger Hindu identity.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a fear. We have a totally different identity. We have been demanding a different marriage act for Sikhs. There is a sense among Sikhs that they are not respected when someone says they are part of the Hindus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Akali Dal is a regional party. Can it take on three national parties?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Sukhbir Singh ji says, we are fighting three governments—Punjab, Delhi and the Centre. They have huge resources at their disposal. We are the only ones fighting with kirat kamai (hard work). They are using the CBI, the ED and the police. They are trying to finish the only regional party in Punjab.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the past few years, we are seeing the rise of regional forces against the manner in which the Centre is running the show, be it in Andhra Pradesh, [M.K.] Stalin in [Tamil Nadu], Telangana or Mamata Banerjee in Bengal. I can say with full assurance that this is going to be repeated in Punjab; Punjabis believe that they are not going to be ruled by anyone but their own. The Akali Dal has decided to give the deputy chief minister [posts] to a Hindu and a dalit from the BSP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Akali Dal finished third in the 2017 assembly elections. Has it recovered?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was a reason for that. Sacrilege incidents took place and every Sikh took that to heart. Both [the Congress and the AAP] joined to force the Akali government to hand over the probe to the CBI, saying that they did not have any faith in the state government. They filed PILs and went to the president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When we sent it to the CBI, the BJP sat on it. One year later, when the Congress government came, they said the state government would sort it out. The issue is revived every time there are elections to whip up emotions. People have seen through that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The High Court has passed strictures against the state SIT under [IPS officer] Kunwar Vijay Pratap. Now, he has joined the AAP, exposing them further.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is the Akali Dal still targeted for the sacrilege incident?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For five years, they (the Congress government) could not find the culprits. People understood that the Badals did not do it. We went to the Golden Temple to pray and ask for forgiveness as we could not solve the case. We prayed that whoever played politics over it would be destroyed. After that, see how these parties are getting exposed. We will work 24x7 to bring the perpetrators to book. We want to remove this stain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are you promising people in these elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We want to bring back peace and harmony to Punjab. [When] we left [the government], even the RBI said we were the best state; all indicators were the best. But now, debt has ballooned. We promise development. People know that the Akali Dal can make any sacrifice, as it did by walking out of the BJP alliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Some of the farmers’ groups might contest. Will that impact the elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their affiliations are well known. B.S. Rajewal wanted a ticket from our party; when he was denied, he joined the AAP. These leaders think they have become big, but the fact is that it was a public movement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People were there to save their land and livelihoods, [they were not there] at the call of any leader. Forming a party or contesting elections will expose them. The Akali Dal is a farmers’ party, and all our farmers were there (in Delhi). They will vote for us.</p> Sun Jan 09 10:56:46 IST 2022 manipur-internal-rivalry-in-bjp-could-help-congress-but-it-has-to-do-much-more <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON NOVEMBER 10,</b> Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi met senior leaders of the Manipur Congress. Okram Ibobi Singh, former three-time chief minister and the tallest Congress leader in the state, led the delegation to Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, former cabinet minister and former state Congress president T.N. Haokip skipped the meeting. “It is not about Madam Sonia,” he said. “She is a tremendously intelligent leader. But I do not understand the people who surround her. They do not understand the politics of the volatile state and make unsolicited interventions into the state’s organisation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Haokip said the upcoming assembly elections—due in March—were among the most crucial in the state’s history, and that the BJP was slightly ahead because of “money and muscle power”. However, the senior leader, who is equally popular with his Kuki tribe and the dominant Meiteis, said that the BJP was unsure of its victory, which is why it was trying to poach leaders from his party. Many senior Congress leaders, including the previous state party president, have defected to the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Anti-incumbency has made the state volatile again,” he said. “The Nagas and Kukis are angry with the BJP for playing up hindutva in the state. So, the Naga People’s Front (NPF) and National People’s Party (NPP), which are both Christian-dominated, are upset with N. Biren Singh’s government. Yes, they are part of the NDA (National Democratic Alliance), but if anti-incumbency hits the BJP hard, these partners would leave the alliance.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 2017 assembly elections, the BJP had got 21 seats, nine short of a majority. The Congress had won 28. Several Congress leaders were frustrated that Ibobi Singh had not tried to form the government; he needed only two MLAs. “He showed ethics, but such ethics are of no use today. Because of him, the party suffered for the past five years,” said a senior Congress MLA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress sources said Ibobi knew he would not get any financial support from the Centre had he cobbled together a post-poll alliance and formed the government. The northeast is usually ruled by either the party at the Centre or a party that is friendly with the one in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP had formed the Northeast Democratic Alliance (NEDA) in 2016 to bring together all the non-Congress parties in the region. The ruling parties in Nagaland and Mizoram—the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party and the Mizo National Front—are Christian-dominated, but are also part of the NEDA. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is the convener of the alliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the 2017 elections were declared, Sarma elbowed out the Congress and formed an alliance with the Naga People’s Front and Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma’s NPP. Though Sarma is now busier as chief minister, he will still campaign in Manipur; he has also deployed his cabinet minister and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh heavyweight Ashok Singhal to look after the day-to-day affairs in Manipur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The internal rivalry in the BJP, though, could help the Congress. Some supporters of Cabinet Minister Thongam Biswajit Singh, who had jumped ship from the Congress, have gone to Delhi a few times now to lobby for him. A section of the MLAs considers Biren a “dictator” who consults only bureaucrats and not cabinet colleagues. Home Minister Amit Shah met the delegation and called Biren to Delhi to douse the fire temporarily. Shah later sent Sambit Patra as the state in-charge to control the rebellion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources said that, in the meeting with Sonia, Ibobi has pushed for a pre-poll alliance with the NPF and smaller parties. He did not want to repeat his mistake. With major student bodies agitating against the alleged corruption at Manipur University and against the Citizenship Amendment Act, Ibobi wants all the anti-government support he could get. Sonia, however, seems to have turned him down, saying that the Congress was acceptable to all the tribes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is almost decided that we will go alone in the elections,” said Haokip. “We will have a post-poll alliance if needed. On any day, our organisation strength across the state is better than that of the BJP. It is limited to the valley where it plays strong hindutva. But Manipuri Hindus are different.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP apparently plans to contest a few seats in the hills, too. But the Naga-dominated parts of the region—which account for seven to 10 seats—could be against the BJP, especially after the botched Army encounter on December 4. The top leaders of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) are from Manipur, and the collapse of the Naga talks would impact the elections. The Congress and the NPF are expected to gain from this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the BJP is putting up a brave face. “Who told you we are not popular among the Nagas? We will fight this election in the Naga-dominated areas as well,” said senior BJP leader Loken Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress is hoping that the United Naga Council, the apex body of the Nagas, will ask the NPF to boycott the elections as the Naga talks are in limbo. “This will then be a direct fight between the Congress and the BJP in many seats. We will have a strong chance to form the government,” said Haokip.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several Congress leaders, however, told THE WEEK that their party had been sleeping for the past five years. It had not taken up any massive political movement and it did not have a street fighter like Mamata Banerjee, who stopped the BJP in its tracks in West Bengal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Many of us tried to wake up Ibobi and the others to hit the streets. But they remained under security cover all the time,” said a Youth Congress leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Admitted Haokip: “This is the difference between us and Banerjee. She violated all ethics of being a chief minister and hit the streets against the Centre. But we are old timers who played ethical politics. Perhaps we had to pay a heavy price for that. But I agree with the argument that the Congress would have to hit the streets with its allies before the elections if it is serious about winning any state, not only Manipur. Otherwise, you create a G23 or G25, it will not work.”</p> Thu Jan 06 17:43:59 IST 2022 i-need-to-bring-pro-india-nationalism-in-manipur <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ Many were surprised when you were chosen as chief minister five years ago. You had just joined the BJP after a long stint with the Congress.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ That is true. I did not expect that. In the late evening of March 8, 2017, I got a call from Amit Shah. He told me that the parliamentary board had chosen me as chief minister. I almost jumped in joy. That day I took an oath that I will not let them down. I worked 24x7 the past five years and you now are seeing the change. What the Congress could not do in 15 years, I have done in five.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But you were also a senior Congress minister for close to 15 years.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes, but I had no voice. That is why I left.</p> <p><b>Q/ Development has not reached every part of Manipur, especially the hills.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Once I receive official reports about this—that there is a gap—I will try my best in the remaining three months [before the elections].</p> <p><b>Q/ You have said that the Modi government has helped you in every way. Could you elaborate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ First, take the case of the highways. The Centre gave me Rs4,000 crore to build highways (Imphal to Moreh and Imphal to Dimapur). For water, I received Rs3,400 crore. So, I was able to get potable water for the poor. Before I assumed power, Manipur had only 5 per cent tap water supply. Today, it is more than 60 per cent.</p> <p><b>Q/ You seem to have handled the pandemic well. But, like in Bengal, cases could go up around election time.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ You are right. I am worried about it. But what can we do, elections have to be conducted. But I have told my officers that we should not let our guard down. We were successful because we drew up a plan when Covid-19 broke out in Wuhan. We started restrictions then. We had no oxygen plant in our state, but now we have one in every district. We were the first state to start door-to-door vaccination. Our double dose (vaccine) number is higher than the national average, almost touching 50 per cent. We will hopefully manage the third wave, too.</p> <p><b>Q/ Insurgency has come back to Manipur. The ambush by People’s Liberation Army rebels on the Assam Rifles convoy is being highlighted.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ This is not a sign of revival [of insurgency]. I think this is the work of a group with a vested interest, to damage the democracy of Manipur. So, they carried out an attack just before the elections. They might take another chance in the next few months. But I have called meetings with senior officials and armed officers. I will never let insurgents be successful. They targeted Army officers and the Army has every right to retaliate. But if they target common people, I will finish them off on my own without any help from the Centre.</p> <p><b>Q/ But why did it happen at all?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is inhuman that a child and a woman (Col. Viplav Tripathi’s family), who are not at all linked to the military crackdown, were killed in the ambush. I hung my head in shame. They probably wanted to target me.</p> <p><b>Q/ The prime accused, Sanatomba Singh, surrendered last year but returned to the jungles later.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ He did not surrender. The police arrested him from the Myanmar border.</p> <p><b>Q/ But why was he released? Was he given amnesty?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ No amnesty. That is what you need to ask the judiciary. This is a precarious situation. We cannot do anything here.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Home Minister Amit Shah has allowed Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to start a dialogue with United Liberation Front of Assam-Independent commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah. Should you not get the same power?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I have not told anyone this, but I have also obtained the same power from Amit Shah. In fact, I have already made many insurgents surrender.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Many people in Manipur see you as a dictator who puts people behind bars and slaps sedition charges on journalists.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why, of 300 journalists, are only two or three are repeatedly arrested? This is because they are habitual offenders. Journalism is a proud and noble profession. I am also a former journalist. If you read Article 19 of the Constitution (freedom of speech), you should also read the reasonable restrictions in it. Manipur is a sensitive state where peace has not come easily. They use social media to mock a dead person? (While condoling the death of a BJP leader, a journalist and an activist had said that cow dung and cow urine do not cure Covid-19). How can I accept that? They write articles while drunk. I have every right to take action as per the Constitution, and that is my duty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Some people accuse you of bringing radical hindutva to Manipur.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ This is rubbish. Why do Christians come to me then? Our Manipuri Hindus are different. They do not believe in radicalism. And our party does not play that card anywhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you sure you will get majority on your own this time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am 100 per cent sure. Look at the opposition. Everyone is coming to us. I have worked for people and they will bring me back to power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you have any interest in national politics?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ As of now, no. I have a lot of work pending in Manipur. I need to rebuild the state. For 30 years, people here were deprived of entertainment. The culture of Manipuris has come back with development and peace. I also have to work hard to bring pro-India nationalism to the minds of all Manipuris who feel alien even today. That is a big task for me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The political drama unfolding in Manipur is no less entertaining. MLAs are going to Delhi to complain against you.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ See, people work hard to get a ticket. Then they work hard to become MLAs, then ministers, then the chief minister. Ambition is natural. But one has to see how feasible that ambition is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You were a national-level footballer. So, you must be good at dodging.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes, not only dodging and tackling, I can defend as well. Only thing I could not do is save goals as I never played as a goalkeeper. Despite this, I will save the goal post of my party this time.</p> Sun Jan 09 10:30:51 IST 2022 ahead-of-assembly-polls-in-karnataka-bjp-focuses-on-pro-hindutva-legislation <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>KARNATAKA BECAME THE</b> ninth state in the country to introduce a bill to make forced conversion a cognisable and non-bailable offence. The “Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021” was passed in the assembly during the recently concluded winter session at Belagavi on December 23. However, the bill needs to be passed in the legislative council. The ruling BJP has decided to table the bill only in the next session as it lacks majority in the 75-member upper house.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bill tabled by Home Minister Araga Jnanendra was met with stiff opposition from the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular), while the Christian community has been holding a series of protests demanding its withdrawal. The proposed bill prohibits unlawful conversion by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means. It bans conversion for marriage, a long pending demand of right-wing activists who allege a spike in the ‘love jihad’ cases. Reconversion into Hinduism has been, however, kept out of its ambit as the BJP contends it is homecoming of Hindus who have converted to a religion of foreign origin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Leader of opposition Siddaramaiah said the bill was draconian and unconstitutional. He particularly objected to the provision which made conversion by or after marriage unlawful, calling it a violation of the fundamental rights of an individual to choose his or her partner. Law Minister J.C. Madhuswamy said although Article 25 of the Constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, it was subject to public order, morality and health. “In recent years the state has noticed many instances of conversion by fraudulent means and also mass conversions, disturbing public order. At present, there is no legislation to prevent these instances and to punish persons indulging in the act. So the Law Commission of Karnataka, too, recommended a new law,” said Madhuswamy. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, who termed religious conversion a “silent invasion”, said poverty and disabilities were being misused to lure people to change their faith and that a stringent law was needed to curb the practice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Karnataka going to polls in less than 16 months, the BJP is focused on pushing legislation that aligns with its pro-Hindu agenda. After passing the contentious law against cow slaughter, which had triggered debate over food choices of people, it has now pushed through the bill to “tackle” unlawful conversion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Peter Machado, archbishop of Bangalore and president of the All Karnataka United Christian Forum for Human Rights, said the Christian community was opposed to the bill as it would embolden Hindu fringe elements to attack missionaries and target pastors and nuns. “The first anti-conversion law was passed in Odisha in 1967. Attacks on Christians began from the 1970s, culminating in the Kandhamal genocide. The law gave a justification for the attacks on Christians,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Machado said there was no need for a new law as there were sufficient laws and court directives to monitor any aberration from existing laws. Siddaramaiah said, “In the new bill, the burden of proof to show that there was no illegal or forced conversion or a forced conversion through marriage lies on the person who carries out the conversion, or helps such a conversion. This contradicts the Indian Evidence Act.” State Congress president D.K. Shivakumar said the bill was the BJP’s ploy to disturb peace. “The Mughals, the British and the Portuguese ruled India but the population of Christians has not increased. The children of BJP leaders are studying in Christian educational institutions. I, too, studied in a Christian school. But no one preached Christianity to me or tried to convert me. If Christian institutions provide free medical treatment can you call it allurement? The bill is a blot on the state.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While many BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat have enacted laws to curb forced conversion, penal provisions in the Karnataka bill are more stringent. Any forced conversion of a person belonging to general category will attract a jail term of three to five years with a penalty of 025,000. However, the law prescribes severe punishment of imprisonment from three to 10 years and a penalty of Rs 50,000 for those who convert minors, women or people belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. ‘Mass conversion’, defined as conversion of two or more people, will attract a prison term of three to 10 years and a fine of 01 lakh. Under the provisions of the bill, people belonging to Scheduled Castes will lose their reservation benefits after conversion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddaramaiah questioned the wisdom behind prescribing more stringent punishment for converting people belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. “As Dr Ambedkar said, all are equal before the law and should get equal protection of law,” he said. “Why this discrimination?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bommai shot back saying the BJP was aware of ground realities. “Does Siddaramaiah have a problem if vulnerable groups get additional protection under the law? We are aware that these groups lag behind in education. They are ignorant and naive and some people are exploiting their helplessness.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once the new law comes into force, any person intending to convert will be required to notify the district magistrate a month in advance, failing which he or she will face a jail term of six months to three years. The person who conducts the conversion ceremony, too, should give a month’s notice, failing which he will be liable for a jail term of one to five years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The district magistrate has to conduct a police inquiry to find out the real purpose of conversion. A declaration would be put up on the notice board to check whether there are any objections. If there are objections, the district magistrate can order an inquiry through the revenue or social welfare department to check “genuine intention, purpose and cause” of the proposed conversion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once the conversion is cleared by the authorities, the converted person has to send another declaration and a copy of his or her identity card to the district magistrate within 30 days of conversion. This declaration will again be put up at the district magistrate’s office and people can send in their objections. The converted person also has to appear before the district magistrate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Machado, meanwhile, denied there were forced conversions in Karnataka. “If there was rampant conversion, the Christian population should have increased. According to the Census of India, the all-India percentage of Christian population in 2001 was 2.34 per cent, while it shrunk to 2.30 percent in 2011. In Karnataka, the Christian population which was 1.91 per cent in 2001, decreased to 1.87 per cent.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anil Thomas, state general secretary of the BJP Minority Morcha, said the Census did not give the real picture as converted Christians, especially those who belonged to Hindu castes and communities, refuse to give up their caste identities to continue to avail of reservation benefits. “You can find bishop Venkatesh Nayak, prophet Narayan Gowda and self-proclaimed bishops across the state. Officially, the state has only about 11.5 lakh Christians. But Christian religious leaders from prominent denominations like the Roman Catholics, Syrian Christians, Pentecostals, Methodists and Baptists each claim to have numbers not less than 10 lakh.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thomas said a caste census ordered by the Siddaramaiah government in 2016 had listed 40 Christian denominations, which included those converted from different Hindu castes. “The contention that conversions are happening because of caste hierarchy and discrimination in the Hindu society is not true. The caste survey shows it is not just ‘untouchables’, but also people belonging to other Hindu castes who have converted,” he said. BJP MLA Arvind Bellad, who represents the Hubli-Dharwad constituency, said discrimination was prevalent not just among Hindus and that several groups in Christianity and Islam practised untouchability.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the debate on the bill in the assembly, Siddaramaiah said, quoting Ambedkar, that to liberate dalits from slavery, conversion was necessary. Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri responded to Siddaramaiah’s argument by pointing out that Ambedkar was opposed to converting into a “foreign religion”. “Ambedkar refused to embrace either Islam or Christianity saying that accepting a foreign religion would not be merely a religious conversion (mataantara) but alienation from the nation (rashtraantara). The greatness of Ambedkar was that he worked for 20 years to fight the evils in the Hindu society before embracing Buddhism, a religion which originated in India,” said Kageri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dalit leader and Kollegal legislator N. Mahesh who joined the BJP after he was expelled from the BSP said that in Ambedkar’s view, Buddhism was 100 per cent Indian. “Babasaheb said he was going back to his original religion. He had cautioned dalits that converting to Islam or Christianity would denationalise the depressed classes,” said Mahesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As BJP prepares to get the bill passed in the legislative council, it needs the support of the newly-elected independent MLC Lakhan Jarkiholi, younger brother of party MLAs Ramesh and Balachandra Jarkiholi. The BJP’s strength in the 75-member house will go up from 32 to 37 on January 5, when 25 members would retire and new members would take oath. However, it will still be one short of a simple majority. It hopes to get the anti-conversion bill passed at the earliest by winning over Lakhan.</p> Sat Jan 01 15:10:03 IST 2022 how-a-tribal-village-in-telangana-turned-to-sikhism <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>TO REACH GACHUBHAI</b> Thanda, one has to follow the line of sight of a renowned Hindu saint’s statue. The 216ft-tall statue of saint Ramanujacharya, also called the Statue of Equality, will be unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in February 2022.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tribal hamlet and its neighbour, a spiritual mascot, lie in Shamshabad, a short drive from Hyderabad. A narrow, dusty lane off the Hyderabad-Bengaluru highway leads to the entrance of the settlement.&nbsp;But for the villagers, Gachubhai Thanda now exists only on paper, as they insist that they live in Guru Gobind Singh Nagar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is Sunday morning, and a middle-aged man donning a Patiala shahi pagg—a traditional way for tying the Sikh turban—with a&nbsp;kirpan&nbsp;slung across his chest, guides a heavy vehicle. A little farther away, a youngster in a&nbsp;gol parna&nbsp;(another Sikh turban style) stands outside a small concrete house.&nbsp;And, on reaching the open field, one can see six boys in&nbsp;patka—a smaller under-turban worn by children—playing cricket. One does not need to refer to official records to know that 90 per cent of residents here are Sikhs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The village has around 500 residents, almost all of whom are Lambadas, listed under the Scheduled Tribes. The conversion to Sikhism happened in the last 20 years or so. The villagers mostly speak Lambadi and a bit of Hindi and Telugu, but no Punjabi. The village has its own gurdwara—Gurdwara Saheb Dashmesh Darbar. The two-storied structure lies on one end of the village, surrounded by farmland.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In its vicinity lives Lakhvinder Singh, who was born Khetawat Deepla. All Sikhs in the village took new names when they embraced the new religion. Lakhvinder, 73, is president of the gurdwara committee. The gurdwara stands on land he donated five years ago. “Life became more meaningful after I converted,”says Lakhvinder, who was among the first converts.&nbsp;He points to a room in the gurdwara premises, and says, “That is where it all started for us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Inside the unused room is a two-feet-high tomb.&nbsp;“Our ancestors used to occasionally visit the Nanded Sahib in Maharashtra,”recalls Lakhvinder. “Around 50 years ago, they set a bull free, chanting the name of Guru Gobind Singh. When it died, they buried the animal and constructed a tomb. The elders then placed a picture of Guru Nanak above the tomb and conducted pujas for a long time. In 1996, we raised a roof and turned it into a small temple.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was another village elder—Bhagat Singh—who initiated the process of building a gurdwara in the village. Bhagat claims to have visited the Sikh holy sites in Pakistan and also stayed at a gurdwara in Hyderabad for nearly five years to get a deeper understanding of the faith and its tenets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In 2001, I consulted Sikh religious leaders on converting our small temple into a gurdwara,”recalls Bhagat, an auto driver. “We were told that it was better to embrace Sikhism if we wished to perform rituals at the gurudwara. Around 70 of us then got initiated into the faith, and we started carrying the five articles mandated by the religion.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Bhagat, their strength has grown from 70 to more than 400 now. “Inspired by us, a few from nearby hamlets have also converted,”he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A usual day at Guru Gobind Singh Nagar begins at 4am, with hymns and verses blaring from the gurdwara’s speakers. The gurdwara is open for all devotees till 7:30pm. On full moon days and special occasions, a langar is served. Guru Gobind Singh’s birthday is celebrated with aplomb every January 26, so as to not clash with the December birthday celebrations at other gurdwaras. Committee members say at least 5,000 people attend the day-long festivities, with&nbsp;kirtan&nbsp;specialists and religious leaders arriving from Punjab.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few donors help run the gurdwara, say villagers. “There was good support while constructing the gurdwara,”says Lakhvinder. “The planning and architecture was done by the team from Patna Sahib. A part of the construction material was donated by Nanded Sahib members. A person from Hyderabad, too, helped a lot while building the gurudwara.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mohan Singh, 30, is the&nbsp;granthi&nbsp;(priest)—the first from the village. He stayed and trained at a gurdwara in Hyderabad for 13 years before returning to his village. He is also one of the few who can read Gurmukhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We want the younger generation to follow our path,”says Mohan. “When I find time, I teach children about the principles of our religion and its importance. Sometimes, people from other gurdwaras come to teach&nbsp;kirtan&nbsp;or&nbsp;gatka&nbsp;(sword-fighting) to the youngsters.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The lifestyle and outlook of the villagers has also changed over the years. Tobacco is banned in the hamlet. “Whenever we see someone smoking, we immediately counsel them,”says Dharam Singh, who is in his 20s. “No shops here sell tobacco products. The same goes for alcohol and toddy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, meat is consumed only if the animal has been killed by&nbsp;jhatka&nbsp;or single strike. That is why some villagers volunteer as butchers from time to time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Considering the community is small, is it not difficult to find a bride or groom? Dharam says that they have help here, too. “Recently, an elderly Sikh woman from Hyderabad, who has supported us from the beginning, proposed that she could help us find the right match from other parts of the country, including Punjab. If you ask me, I am open to it,”he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But village elders say that it is better to marry someone from their own tribe. While many from nearby hamlets may not have converted to Sikhism, says an elder, they have no problem marrying the youth of Guru Gobind Singh Nagar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The villagers live in harmony with each other, irrespective of their faith. Kethavath Rahul’s family is among the few who have not converted to Sikhism. “My family had migrated to Pune and lived there for many years,”he says. “When we returned, it was a little difficult for me to adjust as everyone here was different. Now I am comfortable with them and I also visit the gurdwara.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even within a family, there are people of different faiths, as some members have chosen to convert and some have not. And, that is perhaps why one’s faith has never harboured hate for another here. The villagers proudly say that they have never experienced communal tensions or discrimination. For now, they are all upbeat about the new landmark that is visible from every house in the village—the Statue of Equality.</p> Sun Dec 26 10:22:30 IST 2021 we-proactively-engaged-with-tourism-industry-for-revival-aditi-tatkare <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Maharashtra’s tourism segment was badly hit during the Covid-19 pandemic. But the state tourism department, under the leadership of Minister of State Aditi Tatkare, took major steps to revive the industry, and their efforts are now bearing fruit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recently, the team led by the minister was able to create a “meaningful impact” in the Indian pavilion of Expo 2020 in Dubai. The tourism department’s roadshow, Maharashtra Unlimited @ Dubai, was the first of its kind that truly shed light on Maharashtra’s vast potential in the tourism sector. In an interview with THE WEEK, Taktare talks about the steps taken for the recovery of Maharashtra’s tourism sector. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How much impact has the pandemic had on Maharashtra’s travel and tourism industry?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maharashtra was hit hard. The state has around 10,500 hotels and 2.1 lakh restaurants. Out of which 30 per cent of hotels and close to half the restaurants had shut down. Around 50 lakh people are directly engaged in the hospitality industry in the state. The tourism sector is responsible for about 10 per cent of Maharashtra's GDP and has the largest share in the state’s employment generation. Covid-19 affected us in the worst way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the key recovery segments identified by Maharashtra tourism, and how does it intend to address these segments?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The post-Covid travel trends [suggest] that tourists want to avoid crowded places and travel in private vehicles rather than use public transport. Hence, caravan tourism is gaining a lot of demand. Similarly, tourists are interested in experiential tourism. They want to experience life in rural Maharashtra. These can now be experienced in our agro-tourism centres. There is [also] huge potential for coastal tourism. The beaches here are not only famous for their breath-taking views, but also for the temples. For instance, Ganpati temples at Ganpatipule beach and Ganeshgule beach, Lord Shiva temples at Harihareshwar beach and Kunkeshwar beach are examples. Konkan offers varied cultures of the Koli, Aagri and other communities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Kundalika River in Kolad offers one of the best white-water rafting experiences in the country, whereas Tarkarli Beach offers an excellent scuba-diving experience. Kamshet is popular for its paragliding. Places like Tsunami Island, Kashid, Diveagar and several others offer activities like parasailing, banana-boat rides, speed boat rides and jet-skiing. We are coming up with a homestay scheme that will especially serve people like trekkers, bird watchers, photographers and backpackers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you perceive current and future policies for reviving tourism?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Covid-19 hit us, the Maharashtra tourism department got busy with polishing its existing policies and creating new policies that would benefit people in the post-pandemic period. Hence, we came up with an agro-tourism policy, coastal tourism including the development of beach shacks, caravan tourism and adventure tourism policy. We announced industry status and ease-of-doing-business policy for the hospitality sector.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Departments like urban development, state electricity board, water supply and sanitation have helped us take the hospitality sector to a new level through industrial status policy. And, the good part is that industry and business are both picking up and are reaching pre-Covid numbers. We have proactively engaged with the industry in opening up restaurants, destinations and hotels.</p> Sun Dec 26 09:14:58 IST 2021 there-once-lived-a-mighty-shark-in-jaisalmer <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Krishna Kumar, 39, has a childlike sense of wonder about dinosaurs. A palaeontologist with the Geological Survey of India, he has been walking over their remains often. While at work, he calls them “vertebrate fossils assemblages from the Mesozoic era”.</p> <p>Unsurprisingly, back in 2017, when Kumar was doing his fieldwork in Rajasthan, scanning an uninhabited stretch along the Jaisalmer-Kanod road—about 3km southeast of Jethwai village—he was looking for dinosaur fossils. After all, the soil beneath his feet, composed of crushed yellowish limestone and marl, was splendidly fossiliferous—with organic remains ranging from early Jurassic to the Middle Eocene (250 to 40 million years). Instead, he stumbled onto a conical, white object embedded in a rocky outcrop. Shining in the sun, it looked remarkably well preserved.</p> <p>“My heart jumped and I knew this was it,” recalls Kumar, standing in the same spot on a crisp October morning this year. Four years ago, he couldn’t have known it was the tooth of a prehistoric shark called hybodont, which are the closest cousins of modern sharks and rays. Only when he came back to his lab in Jaipur, contacted experts and compared published literature did he grasp the rarity of his find. </p> <p>Hybodonts, known as “opportunist predators”, have been found in marine deposits of the western world. They are believed to have first appeared around 360 million years ago and became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous era, which was roughly 66 million years ago. But Jurassic-era hybodonts are very rare in the Indian subcontinent. There is one from the Kota formation of Pranhita-Godavari basin in the southern peninsula. </p> <p>“But the hybodont from the Jaisalmer basin is a much older one and an entirely new species,” says Kumar, dating the shark fossil from the desert back to at least 165 million years. Belonging to the genus Strophodus, which itself is a first such find in the Indian subcontinent, the hybodont teeth in Jaisalmer has a more intricate surface ornamentation with greater thickness, indicating a whole new species of shark. It was named Jaisalmerensis—a school of which is now believed to have roamed the seas in early Jurassic Rajasthan.</p> <p>Shuffling the varied, broken bunch of Jaisalmerensis teeth in his pocket, Kumar points to a hill in the isolated stretch of land not very far from the majestic Sonar Kella. “You see this hill over there? That’s where I found the first shark tooth,” says Kumar. Even before he is done pointing out the rock pile, he reacts to our feet crunching gravel. “That’s yet another hybodont you just stepped on,” he jumps with joy, his eyes sparkling with the thrill of a discovery as he picks up rock after rock studded with shark teeth of varying sizes and textures—rough and blunt to button-shaped shiny. </p> <p>Anterior-Lateral tooth meant for crushing the prey, just like human molars. “We have also found teeth as big as four centimetres, which might make the Jaisalmerensis about three metres in height,” says Kumar. And suddenly the rock formation around us, spread across seven to eight kilometres, seems like the turquoise of the sea.</p> <p><b>HARK! A SHARK</b></p> <p>From riverbeds and mountaintops to deserts and the Antarctic ice, shark teeth fossils are quite widespread in marine deposits. Sharks continuously produce and shed their teeth; a lemon shark variety produces 20,000 in half its lifetime. And the teeth fossilise better than the cartilaginous skeleton, which deteriorates once the animal dies. In parts of Jaisalmer, this cluster of teeth continues to be strewn around, casually jutting out of surface rocks. To an unsuspecting eye, they can be easily dismissed as pebbles or animal bones. “People should be able to find fossils later, too. We don’t take everything home. You are seeing this after millions of years. That is a magical thing,” says Kumar, who with his team of geologists collected 50 different types of hybodont teeth near Jethwai village and catalogued 34 such specimens in a paper published on Jaisalmerensis in August this year. The paper, published in Historical Biology, was co-authored by Kumar, Sunil Bajpai, Pragya Pandey, Triparna Ghosh and Debasish Bhattacharya, and was widely reported in the media.</p> <p>Bajpai, head of the department of Earth Sciences at IIT Roorkee, is one of the leading experts on fossils in India. He has been collecting some of the rarest ones for the last 35 years and has some 2,000 of them displayed in a museum at IIT Roorkee. He is also Kumar’s beloved mentor and guru who has been supervising the GSI project on hybodonts from the beginning. He says the last evidence of sea in the Jaisalmer region goes back to some 40 million years ago. A village in Jaisalmer district—Bandah—is where the youngest of shark teeth were found in 2016.</p> <p>Jaisalmerensis is 125 million years older than the shark remains found in Bandah. “But if we reported it for the first time doesn’t mean that a lot of people tried before us and failed. The fact is that not many people have tried looking for marine fossils in the Jaisalmer region,” says Bajpai, who informs that the Jaisalmer Formation (sedimentary basin) was first mapped and described by a British geologist Richard Dixon Oldham in 1886. “It’s the area he mentioned that we have gone back to. But he did not do much work on vertebrate fossils like sharks, which are typically found in pockets. And it always starts with scattered bones and teeth,” says Bajpai. </p> <p>The crusher teeth of Jaisalmerensis were flat, he says, which meant they used a good deal of brute force to crush and grind their prey—a mighty ferocious beast. “Judging by the size of the teeth we have found, they might have been like monsters,” says Bajpai. He says that they also found ancient wood fossils along with remains of other land animals. “This implies that these sharks roamed the shallow waters, near to shore,” he says.</p> <p>But what about ever finding other skeletal remains of this mysterious shark? Early this year, in fact, a team of palaeontologists from Austria and Switzerland unearthed a remarkably intact skeleton of a species of hybodontiform shark at least 150 million years old in the Solnhofen limestones of Germany. Called Asteracanthus, its full dentition could contain 150 teeth and it was up to 3m long. “Asteracanthus was certainly not only one of the largest cartilaginous fishes of its time, but also one of the most impressive,” says a January report on the first-of-its-kind discovery. </p> <p>Is it possible that a well-articulated skeleton of Jaisalmerensis lies hidden in the bowels of the rock piles of Jethwai? “If we find a skeleton we are very lucky. We have to estimate where we are likely to find it. Rock formation here is an admixture of many things. And sandstone doesn’t preserve fossils easily,” says Kumar. But Bajpai is more optimistic, banking on the patience and perseverance of a determined geologist. “If you are hardworking and lucky, you may hit upon a nice big skeleton, too,” he says.</p> <p><b>THE DEAD SEA</b></p> <p>A quick Google search on Kuldhara village in Jaisalmer throws up the haunted settlement shtick for tourists. An abandoned village with sandstone houses and façades in varied states of disrepair, an entire cast of Paliwal Brahmins left their houses overnight and disappeared some 200 years ago. The reason for their departure could be a drought or an earthquake or the repressive tendencies of a state minister. </p> <p>They say the Kuldhara village was cursed; even the treasures buried beneath its ruins cannot tempt locals to set up homes there. But few know about the cache of marine treasures that lie further down the village in a section called the Kuldhara Nala, which has come to be a geological hub. It is particularly known for an extinct marine mollusc called ammonite, which disappeared some 66 million years ago. </p> <p>The presence of these large spiral shells, coiled like a snake with sutures, pretty much always affirms the age of the rocks in which they solidify. Kumar digs out a perfectly patterned ammonite from the folds of the sand; it is the closest cousin of the living fossil nautilus. Sized 30-40cm, ammonite is one of the largest marine fossils quite easily available, so much so that peddlers often approach tourists visiting Kuldhara with fully formed fossils. </p> <p>“Students from every department of geology come here every year. There’s now a wealth of literature on the invertebrate fossil from the Kuldhara Nala section. Nala is the name of the Marsidi river that ran through this area centuries ago. You are sitting on a riverbed,” says Kumar as he plucks out brachiopods littered all over the ground—yet another marine animal which first appeared some 540 million years ago and are rarely found today in seas and oceans. These bottom-dwelling lamp shell-like creatures attached themselves to the substrate of the ocean floor. “There is a cremation site for the lost inhabitants of Kuldhara village nearby. But this is also a graveyard of brachiopods,” says Kumar, giving further evidence of a Jaisalmer residing beneath the dark blue waves.</p> <p>“Ammonites are extinct relatives of modern squids and octopus-like animals. When they appear, they appear in hundreds,” says Bajpai, who informs that these ammonites were possibly devoured by the Jaisalmerensis. “The sharks needed to break open their shells. And if you really want to break the surface shell in order to eat the animal inside then you have to have a tooth structure designed to crush it. And a flat surface can crush more efficiently; a needle-like pointed tooth can only puncture the prey.”</p> <p>But it was in the Bandah formation, two kilometres northeast of Bandah village in Jaisalmer district, that Kumar first found a smattering of shark teeth about 45 million years old in 2016. He takes us to the locality where he found a full bounty of vertebrate collection including whale bones, spinal column of a crocodile and a shark, rayfish teeth, catfish bone fragments, snails and slugs embedded in the rocks. “But when I first saw shark teeth here, I was jumping with joy. We had our camp in Ramgarh and we celebrated with a chicken party,” remembers Kumar as he digs out an assortment of teeth from the soil again, his trained eye easily identifying the small denticles with sharp, finely serrated edges.</p> <p>He soon picks up a handful of button-shaped benthic foraminifers fossils from the ground, which resembles a gravelly beach in the evening sun. The presence of formanifers, which are amoeba-like single-celled organisms, indicate a warm, marine environment going back to the middle eocene, that is around 45 million years ago. “We have taken out eight species of shark teeth here. This gave us the confidence to look for more. And then we found Jaisalmerensis. Who knows what’s next,” Kumar says; his face aglow with anticipation as he awaits the next day to revisit Jethwai and continue his search for the remains of Jaisalmerensis.</p> Mon Dec 20 11:40:31 IST 2021 fascinating-facts-about-some-of-the-most-iconic-buildings-in-lucknow <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Monument, memorial, mausoleum or landmark—no building is ever just that.</p> <p>From the depth of their foundations to the sweep of their canopies, buildings are dialogues embracing geographical and human spaces. They tell tales; some forgotten, some readily remembered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And many, like Lucknow’s Husainabad Clock Tower—India’s tallest mechanical clock tower—add to the script of some of the most important stories of the present. In January 2020, this tower became the backdrop to protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Standing at a height of around 220ft, it is referred to as the country’s Big Ben—a tenuous connect at best. It has a mix of various styles that influenced its architect Richard Roskell Bayne during his travels through Cordoba, Spain, and Marrakech, Morocco. (The Big Ben is in the Gothic Revival style).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2010, two Lucknow residents—Capt Paritosh Chauhan, who is serving in the merchant navy, and Akhilesh Agarwal, a mechanical engineer—volunteered to get the long-dead clock running again. They discovered that the original movement was gone; the bronze and gunmetal used in its six foot long and three foot wide clockwork was stolen. There were no original drawings and manuals to help. The best guide was the bench on which the clock rested, with holes for where the shafts of the movement had gone in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chauhan and Agarwal describe it as the “DNA of the clock”, from which they had to piece together a dinosaur-like being.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since 2012, when it started ticking again, the machine has been patchily managed. It works only intermittently. The duo says that the upkeep requires “the right attitude, commitment and skilled craftsmen”—which they cannot ensure, as they are not part of the Husainabad Trust that manages the tower and other properties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Somewhat better preserved is the Rumi Darwaza, a public gateway, which is the symbol most often used to depict Lucknow in travel literature. There is speculation that it is similar to a portal in Constantinople (now Istanbul)—in recognition of which the Darwaza was called Kustuntunia in the 19th century. Others have seen in it a resemblance to the Sublime Porte of the Ottomans. Regardless of its foreign references, behind the Darwaza’s construction by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula lay a humane story. In 1784, as a great famine swept through the land, the Darwaza was conceived to give employment to some 20,000 people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some monuments have a better chance of speaking for themselves. The Constantia, one of the homes of Lucknow’s most popular European resident Claude Martin, is one such landmark. A Frenchman, Martin became a major general in the British East India Company’s Bengal Army. The French Baroque building today houses La Martiniere College, one of India’s best-known schools for boys, and is a popular destination for movie shoots and magazine spreads.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The centrepiece of this two-century-old structure is a tower crowned by a dome. Under this dome is a chapel, adorned with figures and frescoes in the Wedgwood style. In 2013, the school’s current principal, Carlyle McFarland, initiated a restoration, driven more by urgent concerns such as crumbling walls. On a property that was originally around 400 acres, repairs were not new. However, the triumph of this restoration lay most visibly in its ornamental aspects and staggering attention to detail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>McFarland said the stucco work was as close to the original as available information revealed. Gone, for instance, were the mango leaves that had replaced the original acanthus leaves of the decoration, simply because artisans who made the interim repairs had no ready references for original Greek ornamentation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The restoration required “a sense of affection” apart from the more practical money and planning, said McFarland, who is an alumnus. In 2016, these efforts were recognised by the French government, which conferred a medal of honour for distinguished service on Ansaruddin, the painter who led the repairs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Château de Lyon, another home owned by Martin, has been put recently on the tourist map after the larger building it is part of was thrown open to the public. This Lucknow mansion is named after Martin’s birthplace in France.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prateek Hira, the president of Tornos, a company that describes itself as an ‘experiential travel company’, said that the residence offered a “fuller experience” of the evolution of Martin’s architectural style, which was perfected over several structures in and around Lucknow. It is thus a template from which Lucknow can be better understood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The wonders of the structure, better known as Kothi Farhat Baksh, are still being unravelled. Its unique feature was rooms that were submerged in the waters of the Gomti River; these rooms functioned as an automatic cooling system for the floors above.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, conversations about the schoolboys who walked Constantia’s hallways are carried on in one of Lucknow’s most visited landmarks—the Residency. The building was the official home of the British resident general at Awadh, and was besieged for more than five months during the revolt of 1857. It was here that the British suffered their worst losses, before recapturing the city on November 17, 1857.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This siege, the stuff of military folklore, also saw schoolboys being called upon to serve the British army—for the first time ever. The original Residency was a complex of 28 buildings, of which only six remain intact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Its importance however remains unchanged.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is as significant to the besieged and the besiegers,” said Vipul B. Varshney, the convenor of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, Lucknow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Varshney, who has organised heritage walks around the complex, said that if there was just one monument in Lucknow that the British tourists had on their must-visit list, it was the Residency—especially its cemetery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A different connection to the world is found at the Rauza-e-Kazmain, a replica of the mausoleums of the seventh and ninth Imams in Iraq. Unlike the city’s other, perhaps better known Imambaras, this one has two large minarets and four domes covered in brass—as opposed to the more commonly found stone. The ones in the original shrine are covered in gold.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Completed during the reign of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah in 1852, its building was initiated by one Jagganath Agarwal, a Hindu who upon conversion had taken the name Sharaf-ud-daullah. It is thus a fitting tribute to the city’s past of rich communal amity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Athar Abbas, a maulana who serves at the mausoleum, said that the replica in Lucknow, too, had wish-granting powers like the originals in Baghdad. “It is faith which makes it so beautiful,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Faith being just one element of the rich dialogues that these buildings symbolise and sustain.</p> Sun Dec 19 17:16:13 IST 2021 the-lost-city-of-zawar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Guest Column- The author is joint secretary in the ministry of coal and mines.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The best part about being a generalist in administration is the varied exposure one gets. When I moved from the ministry of culture to the ministry of coal and mines, I thought I had bid goodbye to heritage for a while. So imagine my surprise when work took me to a functioning mine which has global geo-heritage tags.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is the story of a lost city, a once-bustling centre of trade and pilgrimage, a prosperous mining region known for its magnificent silver jewellery, and a 2,500-year-old smelting technique which was lost to the world, a technique re-discovered by an Englishman in the 18<sup>th</sup> century.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recognition came rather late. In 1988, the American Society of Metals&nbsp;(ASM International) recognised Zawar Mine as an ‘International Historical Landmark’. The Geological Society of India recognised Zawar as a National Geological Monument/ Geo-heritage site in 2016.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ASM plaque reads: “At this site are preserved the zinc retort distillation furnaces and remnants of related operations. The village artifacts together with temple ruins attest to the success of this metallurgical technology. This operation first supplied the brass for fine instrument making in Europe, a forerunner of the industrial revolution.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zawar is in the south of Udaipur in Rajasthan and is also called Jawar. It is said it got its name from the Urdu word jawaharat or jewellery, as it was a flourishing centre for export of silver in the 13<sup>th</sup> century CE. Zawar was also an important pilgrimage centre in the medieval era, and the hills are dotted with the ruins of a hundred Jain and Hindu temples.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wrote the poet Somakirti in 1461 about Zawar being a famous centre of pilgrimage and metal trade:</p> <p><i>Jawur naam prasiddhje, tehna vishma khoh</i></p> <p><i>Tihaa avi munivar raha, moonh ki saghla moh.</i></p> <p>The first reference in a Persian text to zinc mined in India occurs in Abul Fazal’s Ain-i Akbari, mainly compiled in 1595. He says: “Zinc (jast) is deemed by some to be similar to mercury, by others to lead. Nothing about it is mentioned in scientific texts. It is mined near Jawar in the province of Ajmer.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The administrator Munhta Nainsi, writing around 1657, mentions that the Jawar mine yielded silver worth Rs400 to Rs500 per day, a big sum in those days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The British metallurgist William Champion patented a process in 1738 to distill zinc metal from calamine, using charcoal in a smelter. This process remained in use for more than 100 years. What Champion patented was essentially the same process of high temperature distillation and condensation that had been in use in Zawar since the first century AD.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>RETORTS, THE UNIQUE REVERSE DISTILLATION METHOD OF ZAWAR</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zinc occurs as a metallic element in nature, but can be obtained in pure form only by smelting ores that contain zinc. Extracting metallic zinc from ores posed a serious challenge to traditional metallurgy. Accidental melting of zinc ore in an open fire could never produce metallic zinc, unlike lead or tin.</p> <p>Zinc has a boiling point of 906°C. Therefore, it would be in gaseous form at the temperature required to reduce its oxide to metal (950°C-1100°C). In an open fire or furnace, unless the vapours are trapped by means of condensation equipment, converting the vapours in the course of cooling into metallic zinc, they will combine with carbon dioxide in the furnace and form zinc oxide. Therefore, procedures for obtaining metallic zinc appeared quite late in China, as elsewhere in the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The oldest distillation apparatus, found through excavation, was reported from Mesopotamia in the 3rd&nbsp;millennium BCE; they probably used this apparatus for preparation of perfumes, says Paul T. Craddock. As far as India is concerned, distillation process may have been used for preparation of alcohol such as sura, soma, madhya, etc; the oldest text which refers to soma&nbsp;is the Rig Veda, which dates back to the 1500-1000 BCE. The distillation process therefore seems to have been known to Indians since ancient times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Retorts are inverted clay pots used for distillation of zinc and are unique to Zawar. Said to have been invented by Bhil tribals who were the original inhabitants of the region, retorts were coated on the inside with condiments such as turmeric. Retorts were cylindrical with one end open, and were about 30cm long and 1cm thick with an internal diameter of 10cm.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After being charged with previously roasted ore together with charcoal and other ingredients, the clay cone-condensers were sealed at the open end. A batch of 36 such retorts was then placed in the furnace to rest on perforated clay plate with their necks protruding through the holes into a cooler chamber below the main furnace. On heating the furnace to 1000ºC-1150ºC, the zinc vapours permeated to the cooler region of the neck, where the metal liquefied and flowed into collecting vessels.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Used retorts were utilised as building materials by local people. Walls made of clay retorts are found even today all over Zawar, a fine example of sustainable mining and metallurgy practices which modern industry would do well to emulate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zinc was produced on a commercial scale in Zawar since the ninth century CE. Historians believe that a large number of Chinese monks, who visited India to study Buddhism, took back with them knowledge of medicine, astronomy, zinc and brass technology and alchemy. Scholars like Alfred Bonnin (1924) and Paul T. Craddock (1990) have established that prior to 16<sup>th</sup> century, zinc was an unknown metal in China. And it is also possible that metallic zinc reached China through the Portuguese (Craddock,1990), which is indicated by the remarks of Marco Polo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 16<sup>th</sup> century, China started exporting zinc to Europe under the name “tutenag”which is alien to Chinese language. Scholars are divided over whether this word is of Persian or Sanskrit origin. Bonnin draws the following conclusion:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The base of the word is no doubt the Persian Tutiya, Sanskrit Tutha, an oxide of zinc generally in India applied to blue vitriol or sulphate of copper.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zinc was called by similar names in the Deccan India: tutti-naga in Marathi, tuttunagam in Tamil and tuttunagamu in Telugu. Tuttha was used in the Rasa-ratna-samuchchya, a well-known alchemical text from the 14<sup>th</sup> century CE.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India had a flourishing trade with Persia. Literature reveals that Indian brass cups were found in the court of the Persian king Darius I (who invaded the Indus Valley area around 515 BCE). Therefore, it is likely that the name Tutiya/tutha/tuthanaga/tutenag originated in India and travelled to Persia and later China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus it can be safely presumed that zinc was first produced commercially and exported from Zawar to the rest of the world, and only much later from China to Europe. Several reasons are ascribed to the decline of mining and smelting of zinc in Zawar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By 1812, mining and smelting activities had almost completely ceased in Zawar. The four major reasons seem to be:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political instability. The invasion by Alauddin Khilji in 1301-1303, followed by a series of expeditions by rulers of Malwa and Gujarat and the Mughals, broke the back of the mining and smelting industry in Zawar, which had been largely insulated earlier.The Marathas, who were called upon by the rulers of Mewar to resist the Mughals, ended up ruining the economy by draining the treasury through payment of massive tributes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Decline in demand. William Champion’s discovery of distillation of zinc from calamine in 1730s, coupled with Chinese exports to Europe, seems to have resulted in the end of Zawar’s monopoly in zinc trade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Famine. From the 17th&nbsp;to 19th&nbsp;century, Mewar had to face brutal famines because of continuous drought-like conditions. The region was fully dependent on rainwater, which fed its rivers. Mining activities required a lot of water, and when crops failed for lack of rains, starving families were forced to move to nearby regions of Rajasthan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Increasing depth of underground mines. All mines have a finite life cycle. Because of limitations of techniques in use in medieval era, it became impossible to dewater the mines, or to continue mining beyond a certain depth. With poor ventilation and lighting and no safety measures in place, a whole lot of mines in Zawar had to be abandoned as they could no longer be safely mined by humans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although all mines of Zawar had completely stopped production by 1812,the glorious past of Zawar mines attracted miners as well as British officers. In 1818, a treaty was signed between officers of the British Crown and Maharana Bhim Singh of Mewar. Gradually, efforts for reviving the mines gained momentum. Despite favourable reports from various officers including those working for the Geological Survey of India, it wasn’t until World War II that pressure was mounted on the GSI to seek ways to revive the zinc mines, so as to ease the balance of payments situation of the Crown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the basis of a report submitted by C.S. Fox of the GSI, in 1942, the Mewar government withdrew the exploration licence issued earlier to Mewar Mineral Company (MMC) of Udaipur and handed the mines over to Government of India. In 1945, the government of India handed over the assets to Mewar after carrying out exploratory activities, for a sum of Rs3,75,000, and in the same year, the mines were handed over to public sector Metal Corporation of India Ltd (MCIL).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1965, the government nationalised the industry, and Hindustan Zinc Limited took over the mines. Vedanta (earlier Sterlite) is majority shareholder (64.92 per cent) in HZL since 2003 and operates four mines in the Zawar area, namely Mochia, Balaria, Zawar Mala and Baroi. Mining is done underground, and the main products are lead and zinc concentrate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>NATIVE SILVER OF ZAWAR</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Early silver mining at Zawar was done through handpicking or through using hammer or chisel, as was the case elsewhere in the world (Arizona, Colorado, Australia, Siberia). Broken up with antler tools, native/pure silver was handpicked; alternatively ore was crushed and smelted in clay crucibles. Ancient miners did not have bellows; therefore, the high temperature required for smelting was usually provided by several people blowing into the fire through tubes. Charcoal was used for fuel, where available.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thanks to the booming economy, Zawar became an important pilgrimage centre and it is believed that there existed 300 Jain and Hindu temples in the area (History of Zawar: Temple architecture and zinc smelting, Dr Arvind Kumar).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mythological demon king Hiranyakashyap, who was killed by Lord Vishnu in his Narasimha avatar, is said to have ruled in these hills of Zawar; there are ruins of a fort in Zawar known by his name. On the day of my visit, I was mesmerised to hear a group of local women singing songs in praise of the demon king as they came down the hill, past a cluster of Jain temples, and all the way down to Zawarmata temple on the banks of the Tidi river. It is the most revered temple in the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zawarmata, the reigning deity of Zawar, is an avatar of the goddess Durga (Mahishasura Mardini). The temple was possibly renovated extensively in the 16th&nbsp;century. To this day, important festivals such as the Navratras are marked with ritualistic sacrifice of animals such as goats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whether you are a believer, an atheist or an agnostic, you cannot but be moved by the deep love and respect the local people have for the deity. It is customary to pray to Zawarmata on every visit to Zawar, and I prayed to the goddess to protect all the miners, their families and local people whose livelihood has been deeply linked to mining activity for two millennia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another important temple in Zawar, the Ramanath or Ramaswamy temple, is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It has a kund (tank) inside the precincts of the temple. A Sanskrit inscription on black stone, which was penned by the poet Maheshwar Dashora in the reign of Maharana Kumbha, describes the beautiful temple and kund. After customary verses in praise of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Saraswati, it eulogises Ramabai, daughter of Maharana Kumbha and wife of Shri Mandalik, king of Girnar, Gujarat, for constructing &nbsp;the temple and tank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My journey ended on the other side of Udaipur, in the SK (Rajpura-Dariba) mines. According to executives of Hindustan Zinc Ltd, Dariba has one of the most modern mines in the world. It is in one such mine that I was driven one kilometre under the earth’s surface, by possibly India’s first certified female underground metal mine driver, Sakshi Gupta.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sakshi, drilling engineer at SK mines, is one of the pioneering Indian woman miners who are storming what was hitherto a strictly male bastion—underground mining. Had I visited the same mine two years earlier, I would have probably been the only woman underground at that point. The law forbade women from working in underground mines until 2019, when the Mines Act, 1952, was amended.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now the owner of a mine may deploy women between 7pm and 6am in any mine above ground. In the case of underground mines, women can be deployed between 7pm and 6am in technical, supervisory and managerial work where continuous presence may not be required. This change in the law is encouraging more women to take up mining engineering as their major subject at graduation level and beyond.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I had also met Sandhya Rasakatla, underground mining manager at Zawar mines. According to the operations head of Zawar Mines, the mines had seen a dramatic improvement in work culture since Sandhya, reportedly India’s first female underground mine manager, had joined.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zawar has a lesson for all of us. Many dynasties ruled over Mewar; they came, they saw, they plundered. These mighty kingdoms didn’t last, but the scientific, technical, geological as well as spiritual legacy of Zawar cannot be obliterated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My journey left me richer. I carried back unique treasures—two priceless pieces of our heritage. A piece of Galena rock with a sprinkling of native silver, and 2000-year-old artefact (clay distillation retort), both of which I hope will occupy pride of place in a science museum soon. What was even more precious, however, was my making the acquaintance of the jewels in the crown of mining industry in India, our trailblazing miner girls. Zawarmata would have been pleased.</p> Thu Dec 16 18:18:40 IST 2021 amarinder-singh-faces-the-toughest-test-of-his-political-career <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>GOOD TIMING IS</b> important in politics. And Captain Amarinder Singh, a veteran of many political battles, knows this well. In a calculated move ahead of announcing the formation of his new party and declaring that he was open to a seat-sharing arrangement with the BJP for the assembly elections due next year, Amarinder said that a resolution of farmers’ issues was in the offing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The former Punjab chief minister set the tone for the eventual repeal of the three contentious farm laws, thereby opening the route for a tie-up between him and the BJP. After he was unceremoniously ousted as chief minister in September, Amarinder has had a bitter parting with the Congress. Having formed a new party, the Punjab Lok Congress, he is now all set to enter the electoral fray as a distinct force. But, Amarinder needs the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Without an alliance with the BJP, he would cut a sorry figure. To launch a party and put in place a campaign, you need resources and vote mobilisers. It is not easy to put all this together at the age of 80. Amarinder is not Morarji Desai. He is very intelligent and a shrewd politician, but his physical fitness is not so good,” said Ashutosh Kumar, chair, department of political science at Panjab University.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now that the farm laws have been repealed, the BJP can hope to find an entry point into the electoral arena, and Amarinder’s presence in the camp would allow it to project a tall Sikh leader with secular credentials. Amarinder and the BJP are seen as natural allies since they have been on the same page on issues of nationalism. And the main aim of the tie-up would be to appeal to Hindu voters in urban centres. Also, Amarinder could be used by the BJP as a campaigner in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, which also go to the polls early next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, while Amarinder is bound to turn the elections into a multi-cornered contest, how effective he will be in winning seats remains doubtful. It is widely expected that he will play the role of a spoiler. And while he would want to damage the Congress’s prospects, his presence in the fray could end up spoiling the chances of its rivals, too. In close contests, if Amarinder’s outfit gets even 3 to 4 per cent votes, it could tilt the scales for other major players. The Shiromani Akali Dal and the Aam Aadmi Party could even feel the pinch if the votes against the Congress gets split on account of a new political formation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Amarinder carries the baggage of not having delivered in the four and a half years that he was chief minister,” said political scientist Harjeshwar Pal Singh. “At best, he can have an influence in and around Patiala, but at present even those he had appointed to party posts in the area continue to be with the Congress. As for the BJP, it is a marginal player having influence in some urban seats.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amarinder’s detractors point out that he has failed to get any of his ex-colleagues on board. There are also questions about whether he would be able to find candidates to field in the elections. Sources close to Amarinder, however, say he is in touch with Congress MLAs. His party could also attract leaders from the two breakaway Akali Dal factions and the AAP, they said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also speculation over why the BJP has still not acknowledged Amarinder as an ally. The saffron party could be waiting to see the kind of support Amarinder is able to garner. The BJP is also watching how the repeal of the farm laws is received on the ground before deciding on its next move.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is also unclear to what extent Amarinder will be able to take credit for the repeal of the farm laws, since the BJP appears keen on conveying that it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s magnanimity that resulted in the decision. What Amarinder is facing is possibly the toughest test of his political career, in what could well be his final electoral outing.</p> Sat Dec 04 15:07:11 IST 2021 congress-mlas-waiting-for-elections-to-join-my-party-says-amarinder-singh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FORMER PUNJAB</b> chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh does not fight to lose. With the assembly polls due in early 2022, he said his newly launched party, the Punjab Lok Congress, will join hands with the BJP and one of the breakaway factions of the Shiromani Akali Dal to ensure victory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Asked why no Congress legislator has joined his party so far, Amarinder said they were waiting for the election announcement to do so, because they apparently did not want to jeopardise the development work in their constituencies. He said his party was preparing a plan of action for the state, which would soon be made public.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Do you agree that the farmers forced the Union government to roll back the three contentious farm laws?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Negotiations were already going on between the government and the farmers. The government of India had always maintained that it was open to negotiations and discussions. It was good of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce the repealing of the three laws on the holy occasion of the Gurupurab of Guru Nanak Dev ji.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/You had met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in connection with the farm laws. What role did you play in the government’s decision?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Since most of the protesting farmers were from Punjab, I kept on talking to the Centre all through the agitation and brought to their notice the sensitivity of the matter. But negotiations were going on directly between farmers’ unions and the Centre, as they (the unions) did not want any political interference in the agitation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Would you now be open to a seat-sharing arrangement with the BJP for the assembly polls?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Of course, I have said that the day I announced the formation of the Punjab Lok Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/It is being said that electoral compulsions forced the Modi government to repeal the laws.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Why should every decision be viewed in electoral terms? There were more serious and sensitive issues involved. What matters is the prime minister’s nice gesture on the occasion of Gurupurab to repeal all three laws.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What should be the road ahead in farm reforms?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/It is not an easy road ahead. I am talking about Punjab and the same should hold true for the entire country. Land holdings are becoming smaller. Agriculture is no longer rewarding. Input costs are outweighing the output. We need to rethink the agriculture economy as the country continues to primarily remain an agrarian economy. We have to diversify. Despite being an agricultural economy, we are importing pulses worth 01.5 lakh crore every year. We can diversify and produce pulses here to save the huge foreign exchange. We can also save ground water. We have to focus on value addition to agricultural products so that the farmers, the original producers of food, get due benefits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What impact would the decision to repeal the farm laws have on assembly elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/As I have said earlier, such decisions, which are of national interest and concern, should not be viewed with electoral purposes. Yes, it will lead to an atmosphere of trust and confidence. Our farmers who have been camping on the Delhi border, hopefully, should return to their homes now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Would you be looking to bring on board any of the farmer leaders involved in the agitation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The agitating farmers and their leaders have been asserting the apolitical character of their agitation. It is for them to decide whether to take the political plunge or not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Your political rivals point out that none of your former colleagues have so far joined the Punjab Lok Congress.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Let us wait for the announcement of the election code of conduct. All of them are in the last lap of their term. I, as chief minister, had sanctioned 030,000 crore as local area development grant for the constituencies from the day I took over till July 31, 2021. If the MLAs decide to join me now, this government will stop all the development work in their constituencies, like they have done in my constituency, Patiala. So, wait and watch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/It is also being said that your party will only end up as a spoiler in the elections.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I am a lifelong soldier. Soldiers do not fight to lose. I have always fought to win and we will be winning hands down. By we, I mean, the Punjab Lok Congress along with the BJP and one of the Akali Dal factions. We will be fighting the polls together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What are the issues you will campaign on?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Issues are numerous. Agriculture is one of the main issues. As I said earlier, it is no longer remunerative or rewarding. We have to fix the economy. We have to generate employment. National security is also of prime concern as we have a hostile neighbour next door. We are already in the process of preparing our plan of action, which we will present before the people of Punjab very soon.</p> Sun Dec 05 11:33:47 IST 2021 mamata-and-kejriwal-are-political-tourists-goa-cm-pramod-sawant <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>PRAMOD SAWANT, 48,</b> is one of the youngest chief ministers in the country. He was handpicked for the post in March 2019 after the demise of then chief minister Manohar Parrikar, and has had less than three years to make a mark.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Goa gears up for elections early next year, Sawant is banking on multiple welfare schemes that he had launched during the pandemic to reduce financial stress on voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from an exclusive interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How are you preparing for the assembly polls?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We are ready for it, both as the government and as the BJP. In the last two-and-a-half years, and, overall, in the last 10 years [as MLA], I have served the people of Goa to the best of my ability.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are organising multiple events, along with Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, and 60th year of Goa’s liberation, to disseminate government’s welfare schemes. We are engaging with people through schemes like ‘Sarkar Tumchya Dari’ (Government at your Doorstep), and other flagship programmes. Through these events, we aim to reach out to the public.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why should people vote for you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I take credit for doing a good job on the Covid front, in dealing with Cyclone Tauktae, and in managing floods. Despite the financial crunch during the pandemic, we did not abandon social sector schemes. In fact, we launched several new schemes. Efforts were taken to provide stimulus to every key sector, including education.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the first time in 60 years, a government official visits every panchayat once a week to address people’s grievances. That official is responsible for delivering all Central and state government’s schemes to people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Through Swayampurna Goa and ‘Government at your Doorstep’, we are reaching out to people. We have also started schemes like ‘Laadli Laxmi Scheme’ and ‘Griha Aadhar Scheme’. So, I am confident that the people of Goa are behind me. People have benefited from these schemes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see new entrants like Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Goa is a tourist destination, and we believe in ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’. I would call their visits nothing more than ‘political tourism’. I think the TMC workers are here in Goa for sight-seeing for a few days. They will go back. Same is the case with AAP workers. I don’t consider the AAP and the TMC as challengers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Kejriwal has announced Delhi-model freebies and is calling the Congress the BJP’s ‘B’ team.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ On every visit to Goa, Kejriwal is making new promises. He knows that he is not coming to power [in Goa], and there will be no obligation to fulfil promises. Instead of making false promises, he must focus on making Delhi a better place and pollution-free. Due to severe pollution in Delhi, and realising that Goa’s air and water are clean, Kejriwal visits Goa. He comes, rests, and goes back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The AAP is fielding anti-mining activist Puti Gaonkar against you in Sanquelim.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I have complete faith in my voters. I have been representing my constituency for the last 10 years. Besides working for the whole of Goa, I have done enough for my constituency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Any plans for a political alliance?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We are already in touch with like-minded political parties. Something will be lined up definitely.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The prime minister recently met Pope Francis in the Vatican. Do you think this meeting will have an impact on Goa elections as Christians constitute 26 per cent of the total electorate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We should know that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a global leader. He is not a Hindu leader. Modi and India believe in Sarva dharma samabhav (all religions are equal), and the meeting was based on the same philosophy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you see any national-level opposition emerging against the Modi-led government at the Centre?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The opposition has realised that they cannot take on [Modi] individually. So, they will certainly go for an alliance. But I don’t think such an alliance will have any impact on the outcome of the general election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Has Covid management and price rise dented the Modi government’s image and created an atmosphere of anti-incumbency?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The way Modi led the Covid management, I don’t think anyone else could have done better. India has gained a lot of praise globally for its vaccination drive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When talking about price rises, we should consider the increase in income. It is all linked to inflation. However, I do agree that the pandemic has impacted the income of people. Efforts should be made to overcome the monetary crisis due to the pandemic. I think the Central government is working on this aspect. It has helped people by reducing excise duty of petrol and diesel, and the BJP-ruled states, including Goa, followed by reducing VAT.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t think price rise is the only reason [for the setback in bypolls]. Many other local issues have contributed to the defeat of our candidates in Himachal Pradesh. I think the state unit will take corrective steps by reviewing the reasons for the defeat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do agree that after 10 years people will talk about anti-incumbency. But I don’t see any impact of it, because the prime minister is constantly launching new schemes. The government has invested 064,000 crore in health care sector alone, and also in PM Gati Shakti to enhance mobility across the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your unfinished task, if voted back to power?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ My focus is on infrastructure development and human development. Though we have done several infrastructure development projects, a lot more needed to be done. On human development, my government is working on a ten-point programme, including electricity, housing, sanitation, social security and financial security for all. We could not achieve 100 per cent this time, and will be able to get close to 80 per cent. I have a target to complete the remaining task.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In my next tenure, Mopa International Airport [in north Goa], which is an under-construction greenfield airport, will be completed, and that will further boost tourism [in the state].</p> Sun Dec 05 11:32:38 IST 2021 chandrababu-naidu-allegations-of-personal-attacks-may-not-yield-political-gains <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE SECOND DAY</b> of the winter session of the Andhra Pradesh assembly, on November 19, ended on a rather stormy note as leader of the opposition N. Chandrababu Naidu staged a walkout; he later vowed that he would not return to the assembly till he was voted back to power. A few hours later, the 15 reporters who gathered at the Telugu Desam Party’s office expected to hear him criticise the government. What happened though left them utterly surprised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few minutes into his address, the TDP supremo started sobbing. Senior journalists who had been tracking the TDP closely had never seen him emotional, let alone in tears. “They (the YSR Congress Party) are resorting to character assassination of my wife,” Naidu told the media moments after his breakdown. TDP media coordinator Prakash Reddy, who has been with the party since its inception, said he cried all day after seeing his leader so hurt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The gloves are off in Andhra Pradesh, where the political rivalry between the ruling YSRCP and the TDP is getting ugly and personal. After Naidu’s breakdown, curiosity peaked with regard to what exactly happened on the floor of the house. The YSRCP leaders quickly denied targeting Naidu’s wife, Nara Bhuvaneswari, daughter of the legendary Telugu actor and former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N.T. Rama Rao. They cited official records which did not show anything that corroborated Naidu’s claims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, a leaked clip showed someone from the YSRCP’s benches in heated exchange with Naidu while the mics were off. The clip was played repeatedly in news channels known to favour the TDP and shared widely on social media. A few weeks ago, rebel TDP MLA Vallabhaneni Vamsi had made offensive remarks about Bhuvaneswari to a private channel. And Naidu’s son, Nara Lokesh, has been body-shamed routinely by his father’s opponents. However, is this enough to break a veteran like Naidu?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The YSRCP called Naidu’s breakdown a “well-planned drama”, and accused Naidu of attacking Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s family members in the assembly on the same day. According to YSRCP leaders, Naidu spoke about Reddy’s uncle, former minister Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy, who was murdered, and his mother Y.S. Vijayamma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few weeks back, TDP spokesperson K. Pattabhiram had abused Reddy in front of the cameras. This had led to clashes between the cadre of the two parties. However, the TDP leadership did not condemn the actions of its spokesperson, who was arrested. The developments also opened up old wounds. Actress and senior YSRCP leader Roja came down heavily on Naidu for being a hypocrite. She accused him of instigating his party’s women legislators a few years back to say that she acted in erotic movies, thus damaging her image.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is problematic and objectionable to make personal comments like these,” said political analyst and former MLC K. Nageshwar. “There is room for political criticism, but that, too, within boundaries. If anything is spoken about people who are not a part of the house, then it brings down its dignity. This is a dangerous precedent and it has to be stopped by the respective leaders.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The alleged attack on Bhuvaneswari has also brought together her family in support of her, despite their differences or perceived differences with Naidu. Her sister Daggubati Purandeswari, who is now with the BJP and was a former Union minister of state in the UPA government, condemned the attacks on her sister. Purandeswari is not on good terms with Naidu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Actor N.T. Rama Rao Jr, grandson of the late Rama Rao, has a massive following. But, apart from briefly taking part in the TDP’s election campaign in 2009, he has kept himself away from politics. There has even been talk of him being side-lined by Naidu over the years. However, NTR Jr, too, came forward in support of Naidu. “Respecting women is part of our culture,” he said. “I hope politicians stick to discussing public issues.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Does the consolidation of NTR’s family hold any political significance for a party which is struggling? “NTR’s family only holds sentimental value,” said Hyderabad-based political analyst Telkapalli Ravi. “Naidu is stronger than them. He can support them and not vice versa.” Not coming to the assembly for the next three years may only be a loss for Naidu, he added.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, on the third day of the winter session, the state government made an unexpected move. Reddy held a cabinet meeting and then withdrew the controversial three-capital bill (which proposed three capitals, at Amaravati, Visakhapatnam and Kurnool), with the intent to present a new bill after wider consultations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Analysts said that the withdrawal of the bill had eclipsed the issues raised by Naidu, making his breakdown and the subsequent developments just a flash in the pan with no political gains.</p> Thu Nov 25 18:10:48 IST 2021 adityanath-supremacy-a-settled-matter-in-bjp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>YOGI ADITYANATH GREW</b> in strength and stature by opposing what he perceived was the BJP’s dilution of the hindutva ideology. The Hindu Yuva Vahini, a far-right outfit, was his answer to this dilution. He was open in his defiance of the BJP in his first decade in politics, going as far as opposing the party’s official candidates. He has not changed much even after the BJP made him the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has 304 members in the 403-member UP assembly. Its closest rival, the Samajwadi Party, has only 49. While political wisdom says disadvantages of anti-incumbency will reduce the BJP’s numbers, it looks thus far that the party will retain power in the elections expected in February.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adityanath has weathered many a storm as chief minister. The strongest of them was in January when Arvind Kumar Sharma, a bureaucrat from the Gujarat cadre, took voluntary retirement to join the party and moved to UP. Sharma was said to be the eyes and ears of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sent to keep a watch on Adityanath. The position of a deputy chief minister was also touted as a distinct possibility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adityanath was unperturbed. And Sharma had to be content with being the vice president of the party’s state unit, an ornamental post at best. It subtly showed the central leadership how difficult it was to override Adityanath’s wishes in UP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have been other blips, notably the stringent criticism by Keshav Prasad Maurya, one of two deputy chief ministers. Maurya is the party’s main leader from the Other Backward Classes and has maintained that the party has not taken a decision on the CM face for the assembly elections. He has ambitions for chief ministership and cannot be publicly ruffled because he is the best bet to get the keenly contested non-Yadav OBC votes. Adityanath, however, has made no overt measures to placate him, barring a visit to his home to bless his newlywed son and daughter-in-law in June.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adityanath’s continuation as chief minister after the elections is an almost settled matter in the party. Union Home Minister Amit Shah declared it publicly during his visit to Lucknow on October 29. Before that Modi had heaped praise on the development work carried out in the state. It is unlikely that they will risk muddying the scene by disturbing the broad contours of the state’s politics. Sitting MLAs will be dropped, though; some political observers put the figure at a third.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, if the party’s calculations in the state are upset, the blame will lie solely with Adityanath. The UP elections are touted as the vital semifinal before the Lok Sabha polls in 2024, and a substantial erosion in seats will be a potent weapon to bring down a notch his rising influence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Samajwadi Party may give a contest. Just by retrieving its lost support base, it will win more votes than the Bahujan Samaj Party. At its peak in 2012, the SP had 29.12 per cent of the votes. The BSP hit its peak of 30.43 per cent in 2007. Ten years later, in 2017, the BSP had 22 per cent and the SP 21.8 per cent, but the SP contested just 305 seats because of an alliance with the Congress. In terms of seats, though, the BSP had just 19, about a third of what the SP won.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>SP chief Akhilesh Yadav is on a Vijay Rath Yatra and people are turning up in big numbers to see him, bringing back memories of the cycle yatra which had catapulted him to power in 2012. Seniors in the party, however, rue that he is inaccessible and spends just four hours at the party office. If he does not make it up to the seniors, they point out, there will be barely anyone with a statewide appeal to hit the election trail and counter the BJP. Modi himself is planning to attend 50 rallies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Juhie Singh, the spokesperson for the SP, said the party had spread out throughout the state and was not depending only on the party chief to do the heavy lifting. “Locally recognised leaders are meeting people in smaller groups. This will help integrate our supporters,” said Singh, who, as the national president of the party’s women’s wing, has kept up a hectic schedule of reaching out to women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Women have been at the centre of the Congress’s plans as well, with general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra announcing that 40 per cent of the party’s candidates will be women. Congress state president Ajay Kumar Lallu said it was a “progressive” step that had women excited for the elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Party members, however, wonder from where the party is going to find as many women candidates. Those without a chance at winning are unlikely to earn the party the anti-BJP votes. While the mood in the party had been upbeat because of Vadra’s longer stays in the state, there was no organisation on the ground to sustain that enthusiasm, said a partyman. “We do not even have the strength to ensure proper verification of the voters’ list,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vadra draws attention because the BJP usually responds to her when she is around. That seems to be a ploy to shift focus away from the stronger opponents, the SP and the BSP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BSP chief Mayawati has been more critical of the SP than the BJP on social media, lashing out at the party for admitting deserters from her party. “The party should know that taking on selfish people and turncoats angers its long-time members, many of whom are in contact with BSP,” she tweeted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dharamveer Chaudhary, the spokesperson for the BSP, said that the party had been active at the booth, block and district levels. “We adhere to [party founder] Kanshiramji’s principle of eschewing the disruptive politics of agitation. Last time, we lost 88 seats within a 2,000-vote margin. This time we will gain those and more,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the elections come closer, familiar notes that have little to do with governance and development have begun to emerge. Every party proclaims its commitment to building the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya to honour the Supreme Court verdict. The communal violence in Kairana has been dug up to churn emotions. There is little to suggest that there is a major change in the manner in which electoral politics in the state will go. It is more of the same.</p> Sat Nov 20 16:41:18 IST 2021 uncertainty-over-amarinder-singh-impact-on-what-could-be-his-last-poll-battle <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>MILITARY JARGON</b> was widely used to describe the situation Captain Amarinder Singh found himself in after the Congress asked him to step down as chief minister. His supporters criticised the party for changing its general so close to the polls. He said he was a soldier who did not want to quit the field before winning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the face of it, Amarinder’s declaration that he is willing to share seats with the BJP seems suicidal. The BJP is, unsurprisingly, unpopular in Punjab ever since the farmers started their protests. This combined with anti-incumbency and the perception that Amarinder has not delivered on promises make the combination look like a non-starter. However, his capacity to damage the prospects of other parties, especially the Congress, is acknowledged, and no one is taking him lightly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political observers have described Amarinder’s potential alignment with the BJP as a homecoming, given his consistent articulation of nationalistic sentiments. The BJP was prompt in welcoming the declaration. It is felt that while the saffron party would get the tallest leader in the state, the former chief minister would get an ally that would help him with resources and boots on the ground. The immediate impact of Amarinder launching his own party—which he named Punjab Lok Congress on November 2 when he finally resigned from the Congress—and launching a front that also includes breakaway Akali groups would be to turn the coming elections into a multi-polar contest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amarinder has indicated that he could tie up with the BJP if the issues on which the farming community is agitating are resolved. If the farmers’ issues do get resolved, the key players in the polls will have to rework their electoral strategy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amarinder, it is felt, could be looking to appeal to the urban Hindu voters. “My basic training is that of a soldier. I have been home minister of Punjab for ten years. Nobody wants a disturbed Punjab,” Amarinder said at a news conference. He is believed to enjoy some support among the Hindu trading classes. It is felt that there is some resentment among the Hindus over the Congress choosing not to appoint a Hindu chief minister in place of Amarinder, and the senior leader could be looking to tap into this sentiment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a Punjab Congress leader, the party is concerned about the prospect of disgruntled leaders, especially those who will not get tickets for the coming elections, making a beeline for Amarinder’s party. Also, some farmer leaders could join his party if the farmers’ issues are resolved. Amarinder’s move prompted the Congress high command to hold back-to-back meetings with the state leadership to reach out to leaders known to be upset even as efforts were made to convince Amarinder to stay back. However, how much support Amarinder would be able to gain from within his parent party is debatable since his influence over the MLAs had decreased considerably.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Amarinder Singh ji should have acted as our margdarshak. Joining hands with the BJP would mean joining the enemy camp,” said Punjab Minister Dr Raj Kumar Verka. He admitted that Amarinder leaving would be detrimental to both the former chief minister and the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the initial dilly-dallying on part of Amarinder in announcing the name of his party is believed to be not so much on account of the leader awaiting clearance from the Election Commission as much as the difficulties associated with garnering adequate support. It is also felt that Amarinder is finding it extremely difficult to do a tightrope walk over the question of aligning with the BJP. Instead of an alliance, he now talks about a seat-sharing arrangement.</p> <p>The new AICC in-charge of Punjab, Harish Chaudhary, has held meetings with party MLAs to gather feedback on what impact Amarinder could make, the changes that the Congress needs to make to build bridges with Hindus and how the party’s strategy would need to be reworked if the Centre is able to come to an agreement with farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pramod Kumar, director, Institute for Development and Communication, Chandigarh, said there was a big if attached to how far Amarinder would be able to make people forget the anti-incumbency feelings against him and their resentment with the BJP-ruled Centre. “This combination of Amarinder’s Congress and the BJP can only acquire the role of a mega-spoiler,” he said. “He may not be able to become a major stakeholder or a kingmaker. He would be heading a party of dropouts and disgruntled elements with no cohesive ideological position.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is felt that in close contests, Amarinder, even if he gets three to four per cent votes, could end up damaging the prospects of the Congress. However, there is also an assessment that he could end up harming the Congress’ rivals, too, as had happened in 2012. Manpreet Badal left the Akali Dal, went alone and ended up damaging the Congress. “If there are sections looking at the Akali Dal as an option, Amarinder could cut into those votes, too,” said Ashutosh Kumar, chair, department of political science, Panjab University.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amarinder could also end up as a minor partner of the BJP and may not even be allowed to claim full credit for a potential resolution of the farmers’ issue. “An Amarinder-BJP combination will have no impact in the elections,” said Congress MLA Kuldeep Singh Vaid. “It is clear that the BJP has lost all credibility in Punjab. Amarinder Singh, too, is saddled with huge unpopularity.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A lot of muckraking is already taking place, with Amarinder’s former colleagues trying to diminish his patriotic image by dragging into the discourse his friendship with Pakistani journalist Aroosa Alam—now being described as an ISI agent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And while Amarinder has spoken about personal vindication, the people may not identify with it since they feel that he did not do much despite having had a good mandate. “Amarinder Singh failed miserably in the four-and-a-half years that he was chief minister,” said Harjot Singh Bains of the AAP. “It was for that reason that his own party showed him the door. Not a single Congress MLA supported him. He will end up as a B-team of the BJP.”</p> Sat Nov 06 15:22:56 IST 2021 bypolls-in-andhra-and-telangana-one-a-fight-of-money-power-other-a-virtual-walkover <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IF RIVAL CANDIDATES</b> of the Huzurabad bypoll would agree on one thing, it is that this could be the country’s most expensive election. A senior Congress leader, who is in charge of a segment within the constituency, even said, “US President Biden’s campaign would pale in comparison given all this spending.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Huzurabad, which votes on October 30, lies in Karimnagar district in north Telangana. Eatala Rajender had won the seat six times; the former health minister used to be a close aide of Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao. Earlier this year, Rao threw him out of the cabinet, citing allegations of land grab. Hurt by Rao’s haste, Rajender accused him of stifling dissent; he resigned from the party and the assembly, triggering the byelection.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As it stands today, Rajender will run on a BJP ticket; he is out not only to settle a personal score but also to secure his political future. The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi has fielded Gellu Srinivas Yadav, a youth leader and a former aide of Rajender. The party, however, is banking on Rao’s image. The Congress, in a surprise move, chose National Students’Union of India leader Balmoor Venkat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After Rajender resigned in early June, the state’s politics has centred on Huzurabad. In August, when the government launched the Dalit Bandhu scheme—a direct benefit transfer initiative—the opposition alleged that Rao was only doing this to appeal to the Dalits in Huzurabad, around 50,000 of the 2.3 lakh voters. Rao doubled down, launching the pilot in Huzurabad. He also said the government would spend Rs1.8 lakh crore on the scheme. The Election Commission of India has stayed the project for now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In the past four months, Rs400 crore has been released for various development projects and welfare initiatives in Huzurabad,” said a senior TRS leader from the area who is actively campaigning. “In Huzurabad town alone, Rs50 crore worth of beautification and civic work is going on. We are also extending financial assistance to communities, women self-help groups and the handicapped. Old bills are also being cleared so that local bodies get empowered and develop their villages. Priority is also being given to local beneficiaries of ongoing schemes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao’s nephew, Finance Minister Harish Rao, is closely monitoring the TRS campaign there, and around half of the state cabinet and many MLAs have already visited Huzurabad. The TRS is banking on two factors—the flow of funds, and the fact that more than half the voters have benefited from at least one government scheme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajender, on the other hand, hit the street right after he quit the TRS. In July, he went on a padayatra in his constituency; his family, too, is going door to door seeking votes. The BJP is confident that while other TRS leaders in Huzurabad did not follow him, the grassroots are still with Rajender. “For the past two decades, Rajender has never let anyone leave his house without eating with them at the same table,” said a BJP leader. “In case of medical cases, he arranges for the stay and treatment of the patient and family members. He knows local party workers by name. The emotional connect is just too strong for voters to let him down.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is clear that Rajender is banking more on his personal image than on the BJP, which is focussing on booth management, especially in the hours leading up to voting day. “Rajender’s network is smashed,” said a senior local journalist who works for a Telugu daily. “The TRS, by hook or by crook, stopped all of its sarpanches, zilla parishad leaders and ward members from following Rajender. The major question is, who will he depend on now?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The TRS had also lodged a complaint with the Election Commission that BJP leaders were opening bank accounts for voters to directly transfer money in return for votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP does not have a presence in the constituency; in the 2018 assembly elections, the party had got only 1,683 votes. The Congress had come in second with 61,121 votes, but that candidate later joined the TRS.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party seems to be lagging its rivals, and has accused the TRS and the BJP of using money power. “Leaders have been bought with packages,” said a senior Congress leader. “Recently, we went to a village to organise a lunch meeting and met a few locals. Within a few hours, they called and asked us to cancel the event as another party had called them. It feels like every village has been bought and there is no entry for other parties.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some people in Huzurabad said that festival season had come early as homes in the countryside had got free liquor and meat. The important business community has been noticeably quiet about which way it will vote, but local leaders said that several residents were expecting to be paid between Rs3,000 and Rs5,000 for a vote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“If Rajender loses, his political future is sealed,” said political analyst Telakapalli Ravi. “Having challenged KCR, he will be ridiculed if he loses. Those in the BJP will also try to eclipse him. KCR might project it as a case study to show what happens when someone goes against him. If Rajender wins, he would have only defended his position. There are no miracles waiting to happen; the BJP is still not a big party in the state. [But] if the TRS loses even after spending thousands of crores, the impression that KCR is a supreme leader will weaken and there can be rebellion within the party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is another byelection on the same day in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. The story there, though, is quite different. The election to the Badvel seat in Kadapa district came about because of the death of YSR Congress MLA Venkata Subbaiah in March. His wife, physician Dasari Sudha, has been given the ticket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) announced a candidate initially, it later withdrew citing a tradition of the party not contesting against family members of deceased leaders. The BJP offered the seat to its ally, the Jana Sena Party, but Pawan Kalyan’s party pulled out after initially being willing. It gave the same reason that the TDP did.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Caught by surprise, and with no choice left, the BJP named Suresh Panathala, an MBA and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad leader, as its candidate. The party had got less than 1,000 votes in the 2019 assembly elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The JSP tried to be clever by not contesting, said senior political analyst Purushotham Reddy. If it had contested and lost, it would have been seen as a weak ally. However, added Reddy, the JSP looks insincere as it is supporting the BJP’s candidate even though it goes against the “tradition”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, which has weakened considerably in recent years, has put up former MLA P.M. Kamalamma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The TDP did not want to lose face, so it boycotted the elections by playing the ‘tradition’ card,” said Reddy. “The ruling YSR Congress is strong because more than 50 per cent of the voters in the constituency are Reddys and minorities, who form its vote bank. Unfortunately, the TDP has given an impression that it is scared as it withdrew even without the YSR Congress requesting it to.”</p> Thu Oct 28 15:58:38 IST 2021 why-congress-bjp-are-showing-a-sudden-interest-in-teachings-of-saint-ramanujan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>PASSENGERS TRAVELLING</b> via the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad cannot miss the sight of a giant statue of a seated figure holding a flagstaff. This 216ft-tall monument—called the Statue of Equality—built at Srirama Nagaram JIVA Campus, Hyderabad, commemorates the millennium of the birth of saint Ramanuja, a tall figure of the Bhakti movement. Tridandi Chinna Jeeyar Swami, a scholar of Vaishnavism, is the designer and planner of the statue; on September 18, Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to inaugurate the statue during the festivities scheduled from February 2 to February 14, 2022.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The saint is revered by a large section of Hindus—both Brahmins and non-Brahmins—from Tamil Nadu. Modi’s first move to appease them was in 2016; he mentioned Ramanuja during his speech from the Red Fort on the 70th Independence Day. The following year, the Union government released a commemorative stamp on the birth anniversary of the saint. The sangh parivar is trying to position itself as the protector of the religion. But the question remains: How would Ramanuja’s teachings of equality of all and his love for Tamil fit into the sangh’s in its Hindi-Hindu-hindutva narrative?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu,—the birthplace of the saint—K. Selvaperunthagai, a dalit legislator from the Congress party, has launched Ramanujar Peravai, a forum to promote the saint’s philosophy. “He [the saint] showed through his life that the oppressed and backward communities were not to be hated and side-lined,” says the Congress leader. The walls of his office near the Rajiv Gandhi memorial are adorned with photos of Periyar—father of the Dravidian movement—Ramanuja and B.R. Ambedkar. “They are revolutionaries and icons of social reform,” says Selvaperunthagai. “Periyar said there is no God. He believed inequality stems from different religions and castes. But Ramanuja was a revolutionary in religion.” The Congressman recounts that his mother used to be a frequent visitor to the Adikesava Perumal Temple (also known as Ramanujar Temple) in Sriperumbudur, which is believed to be the birth spot of Ramanuja.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Ramanuja is widely worshipped in Tamil Nadu, many atheistic groups in the state see him as a social reformer. “He was a revolutionary saint. He made God accessible to all—through simple love,” says M. R. Srinivasan, a priest at the Ramanujar temple.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramanuja is known not only for his philosophical outlook, but also for ushering in significant reforms in religious practices. He wanted temples to be thrown open to all people, irrespective of caste—an idea that faces opposition even these days. Ramanuja’s movement was meant to unite people against conservatism. His Vishishtadvaita philosophy countered and competed with Madhava’s Dvaita (theistic dualism) and Adi Sankara’s Advaita (non-dualism) doctrines. Together, these three formed the greatest<br> Vedanta philosophies of second millennium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Selvaperunthagai’s initiative to launch the Ramanujar Peravai, to break the caste barriers and preach equality, has gained support from the followers of Ramanuja. Says S. Kalaiselvi, who has authored books on Ramanuja in Tamil: “I am a staunch follower of Ramanuja; he is my guru. I am a non-Brahmin by birth. But I took&nbsp;Pancha Samskara (five purifications to become Vaishnavite). I want people like Selvaperunthagai to take up and propagate Ramanuja, who travelled across the country to preach his simple philosophy of loving god and liberating human beings.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Tamil language was the vehicle that took forward his revolutionary ideas. The Nalaiyra Divyaprabandham—or the 4,000 hymns sung by 12 Alwars (followers of Lord Vishnu), one of the pillars of the Bhakti movement—propagated by Ramanuja, was written in Tamil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, even the Dravidian leaders who toe Periyar’s atheistic line revere Ramanuja. For instance, towards the end of his life, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam patriarch M. Karunanidhi had penned a script for a television serial based on Ramanuja’s life. Karunanidhi explained that “the DMK was not against Hinduism, but only against the fundamentalists who arrogated themselves to the role of protectors of religion.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political analyst R. Mani says that Karunanidhi may have had a subconscious push to erase a well-entrenched opinion that he was anti-Brahmin. “But whatever may be his unconscious or subconscious outings, the writing of the script for the serial on Ramanuja was a move to say that the DMK was not anti-Hindu,” he says. “Maybe the grand old man of Tamil politics wanted to sign off from public life with a positive contribution to the society by scripting this serial on one of the greatest sons of India.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramanuja’s legacy is seeing a resurrection in the southern state. But, is it just a political game or will anybody heed to his millennium-old call for social harmony and equality?</p> Thu Oct 28 15:49:28 IST 2021 goa-assembly-polls-will-the-anti-bjp-bjp-parties-be-able-to-form-a-grand-alliance <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The battle lines for the assembly elections are being drawn in Goa. In the fray are the old rivals—like the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress—and some new contenders. National Highway 66, which passes through the state, is flanked with hoardings featuring West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee. The Aam Aadmi Party, too, has put up posters promising up to 300 units of free electricity and an unemployment allowance of up to 05,000 per month.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Goa has 40 assembly seats, with around 20,000 to 22,000 voters in each constituency. As the pool of voters in each constituency is small, the difference of a couple of hundred votes can make or mar political careers. It also means that personalities count in these elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has been in power for 10 years here. In 2012, the party won a majority on its own. But in 2017, the Congress was the single largest party with 17 seats. The BJP, which finished second with 13 seats, engineered defections in the Congress and captured power. The party also sent Manohar Parrikar, then the Union defence minister, to take over as chief minister. After Parrikar’s death in 2019, there were fears that the government would collapse. But Chief Minister Pramod Sawant proved to be a smart operator.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the first things he did was to drop the Goa Forward Party (GFP) MLAs from his cabinet. With 10 Congress defectors in its kitty, the GFP’s support was no longer needed. Since then, GFP supremo Vijai Sardesai—who was deputy chief minister in the Parrikar government—has been keen to get back at Sawant, whom he calls an “accidental chief minister”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The assembly polls in February will not be easy for the BJP, especially in the absence of a tall leader like Parrikar. To counter the AAP’s promise of free electricity, the BJP has promised free water to every home and is working hard to deliver it. Sawant has promised 10,000 new government jobs by November, and has also launched the outreach programme, Sarkar Tumchya Dari (government at your doorsteps).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The soft-spoken Sawant enjoys the support of the RSS and the BJP’s central leadership. He belongs to the Goan Maratha community, considered to be part of Goa’s Bahujan Samaj. BJP national president J.P. Nadda naming Sawant as chief ministerial candidate has quashed any possible challenge from within the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, considering his young age and relative lack of experience, Sawant is likely to toe the Delhi line. Things were different with Parrikar, who could convince the central leadership to agree to his plans. He broadened the BJP’s base in Goa by reaching out to the Christians who comprise 30 to 35 per cent of the state and are part of the Goan elite. Former Mapusa MLA Francis D’Souza, a key Parrikar ally, was the first Christian legislator to win on a BJP ticket. After he died in February 2019—a month before Parrikar’s death—his son, Joshua D’Souza, won Mapusa for the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Almost half of the BJP’s incumbent MLAs are Christians; some of them, like Science and Technology Minister Michael Lobo, are well into their third terms. Notwithstanding its limited success in winning over the Christian minority, the BJP has always found it difficult to take Salcete, the Christian stronghold in south Goa, which has eight assembly seats. Yet, the BJP is keen to continue its Goa experiment to affirm that it is not an anti-minority party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another reason why the BJP is fighting hard for Goa is that the party does not want to lose control over another west coast state after Maharashtra. Till 2019, all west coast states, barring Kerala, were with the BJP. Losing Goa would be seen as a sign of the BJP’s loosening grip in the western belt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the central leadership has already named Sawant the chief ministerial candidate, old warhorses in the BJP have still not lost hope. Some of them are even pushing for tickets for their family members.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Health Minister Vishwajit P. Rane, who nurses chief ministerial ambitions, is keen that his wife, Divya, also be given a ticket. While he will contest from Valpoi, he wants her to run from the family seat of Poriem—currently represented by Rane’s father, former chief minister Pratapsingh Rane.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like Rane, Lobo, too, wants a ticket for his wife, Delilah. If the BJP denies Delilah a ticket, then Lobo, who is another chief ministerial aspirant, will most likely quit the party. It could hurt the BJP in all seven seats in the Bardez region where Lobo is quite influential.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another problem for the BJP is that Parrikar’s son, Utpal, has staked claim to Panaji, which his father held for 25 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP also seems confused about handling the 10 defectors from the Congress. The BJP has received feedback from the field indicating that most voters are upset with their defection.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sardesai, meanwhile, has been trying to build a grand alliance against the BJP. The GFP plans to contest 10 to 12 seats, and has reached out for an alliance with the Congress. “The accidental chief minister has put Goa on a fast-track sale,” said Sardesai. “He never had the mandate to rule, he became a chief minister because Parrikar passed away. He has made a mess of Goa.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He hopes that the Congress and the Trinamool will ally to take on the BJP. That is, however, easier said than done. The AAP, for instance, is planning to contest in all 40 seats. But Kejriwal has also had a couple of meetings with Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party chief Ramkrishna aka Sudin Dhavalikar. The MGP was once Goa’s ruling party, and the BJP entered Goan politics with its support. But after Parrikar’s death, the BJP burnt its bridges with the MGP by engineering the defection of two of four MGP legislators.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When Kejriwal came to Goa, Dhavalikar paid a courtesy visit,” said AAP’s Goa state convener Rahul Mhambre. “He also expressed the desire to form an alliance, but nothing is finalised.” The AAP has already conducted over 300 meetings across all constituencies. It is also starting a yatra against the rising unemployment in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the Congress is understandably wary about the Trinamool and the AAP, the BJP is worried about the Shiv Sena and the Revolutionary Goans, a new party that has been attracting the youth. The Shiv Sena plans to contest 22 Hindu-majority seats in an attempt to hurt the BJP. The party is also keen to follow the Maharashtra model if the post-poll situation is favourable. The Revolutionary Goans, launched by Manoj Parab, has been making its presence felt in north Goa where the BJP has a committed Bahujan Hindu vote bank. If it contests, Revolutionary Goans may upset the BJP’s chances in at least four to five seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has appointed former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis as its election in-charge in Goa. He has completed two tours of the state. Fadnavis and Sawant are busy making the party battle-ready. They want the BJP to win a majority on its own, which may not be an easy task.</p> Thu Oct 14 19:28:33 IST 2021 defectors-from-congress-will-not-be-readmitted-digambar-kamat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ What are the Congress party’s plans to take on the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The BJP has been ruling Goa for 10 years and has not been able to fulfil even one promise. The BJP promised petrol at 060 per litre irrespective of (crude) prices rising. Has it been fulfilled? They promised cooking gas at Rs450 per cylinder, has it been done? People are demanding the scrapping of linear projects [a Centre-funded project for the doubling of railway tracks, a national highway and the Tamnar power plant].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People do not want Goa to become a coal hub. Coal is being imported into Goa and transported to Karnataka, so why should Goans breathe coal dust? Obviously, double-tracking is being done only for coal transportation. The BJP has no guts to scrap the projects. In 2010, when I was chief minister, I scrapped 17 SEZs [special economic zones].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another example [of their mismanagement] is the handling of Covid-19. Goa had a test positivity rate of 51 per cent despite being such a small state. More than 100 people died of oxygen shortage. People will remember all these.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Aam Aadmi Party is making tall promises like free electricity and unemployment allowance.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Goans have seen Congress rule for many years. The last government ruled from 2005 to 2012. At that time no Goan asked for free power, free water or free ration. Goans never beg. My tenure [as the chief minister, 2007-2012] was a period of prosperity. After that, it has been a period of poverty, and people have been forced to ask for free power, free water and food.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What if the 10 MLAs, who defected in 2019, now want to come back to Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Goa state Congress has resolved that they should not be taken back and it has been endorsed by the central leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ It has been some time since Vijai Sardesai of the Goa Forward Party approached the Congress for an alliance.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ As far as the alliance is concerned, it will be the call of central leadership after discussion with [All India Congress Committee (AICC) election observer] P. Chidambaram and [AICC in-charge] Dinesh Gundu Rao.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why has the Congress not decided its chief minister candidate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We do not function that way. A Congress legislative party leader is always elected after the elections.</p> Thu Oct 14 19:26:09 IST 2021