Statescan en Wed Nov 02 10:26:28 IST 2022 the-story-of-oommen-chandys-evolution <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Few people leave a meeting with Oommen Chandy without having an anecdote burnt into their memory. I, too, had the privilege of going through the experience.</p> <p>It was April 2016―perhaps the cruellest month in Chandy’s long career. He was into his last weeks as chief minister, and his government was wracked by scandals and allegations of corruption. Chandy was popular as ever, but the faction-ridden Congress and its fickle allies were hindering his reelection bid.</p> <p>On April 10, there was a bolt from the blue: fireworks stored at a temple festival at Puttingal blew up, killing more than 100 people and injuring 400. Chandy was at the other end of the state in Kasaragod, Kerala’s northernmost district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He took an evening train out of Kasaragod, and arrived just in time for the emergency morning meeting at the government medical college in Thiruvananthapuram. Most of the injured were being treated there, and Chandy personally interacted with many of them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His official car, a well-used Toyota Innova, was waiting outside to take him to Puthupally, his hometown and assembly constituency in Kottayam district. I was in the car for a pre-arranged interview. After letting me in, his aides had asked me to sit right behind the driver. “Be ready for his entry,” they said. “There is always a commotion, but today is going to be tough.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They were right. A buzzing swarm of policemen, party workers, journalists and hospital staff blew out of the building, and at its centre was a solemn-faced Chandy. Amid the jostle to approach the car, he kept on patiently answering questions from reporters. The overnight train journey must have been exhausting, but Chandy looked oddly energised by the commotion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The four-hour journey to Puthupally involved several detours. Between taking calls, poring over files and answering my queries, Chandy would get out of the car at regular intervals and address poll rallies. Each halt involved a wave of excited party workers sweeping the chief minister off his feet and pushing him to the podium, and then depositing him back into the car after the speech. Mao Zedong had once said that a politician’s job is to move among people as a fish swims in the sea. Chandy was doing it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With each rally, though, his white khadi shirt became a little more crumpled, and his famously tousled hair a little more dishevelled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><a name="__DdeLink__9_2131702790" id="__DdeLink__9_2131702790"></a>A large package awaited the car at Kottarakkara, home to the famous Sri Maha Ganapati Temple. An aide took delivery and winked at me as he opened it. “Now, please don’t write about this,” he warned, as he offered me one of the choicest <i>nivedhyams</i> one could have from a Kerala temple. It was the Kottarakkara <i>unniappam</i>, a rice cake made of ghee, jaggery, banana and spices―first made centuries ago by the legendary master builder Perumthachan, whose work shaped much of Kerala’s architectural sensibilities.</p> <p>“Whenever the CM is in town, the <i>unniappam</i>s come,” said the aide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandy, though, declined to have one when he returned. He was apparently still soaking in the sweet sea of adulation. The <i>unniappam</i>s could wait.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>IT IS IRONIC</b> that Chandy’s entry into politics owed much to the fact that he stood out from the crowd at the right time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1957, when Chandy was a class 8 student, Congress firebrand M.A. John visited Puthupally to meet a prospective recruit―the student leader of the school that Chandy’s grandfather had built. It was a Sunday evening, and the school was closed. No one seemed to know where the boy was. Someone told John that a lanky lad on the roadside could be of help.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The lad, John would later recollect, was wearing an overlong blue shirt that made it look like there was nothing underneath. “I asked him whether he could help me, and he agreed,” wrote John in his autobiography. “We struck up a conversation as we walked, and I learnt that his grandfather was a member of the Travancore legislative assembly as well as the manager of the school. The boy was Oommen Chandy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>John had the subversive thought of inviting Chandy to a planned student protest. “He came to my office the next day, and I added his name in the list of people who would join the picket line,” wrote John. “Those days, arrested students would get jail time of two-three weeks. Chandy got two.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon after his release, Chandy joined the Congress-affiliated Kerala Students’ Union. Students in Kerala were an electorally unrepresented community, and KSU was founded to protect their interests. The communists, who had come to power in Kerala on the back of peasant movements and trade unions, initially neglected student politics. There were bigger fish to catch than from the narrow pool of 40,000 voting-age students.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>KSU started filling the void with small, surefooted steps. It formed a network of student leaders, printed pamphlets and organised impromptu strikes to work up a momentum. Within a decade, the strategy spawned KSU units in most of the 82 colleges in the state and a crop of idealistic leaders such as Vayalar Ravi and A.K. Antony emerged.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandy became KSU general secretary in 1964 and president in 1967. The crucible of student politics had by then become unusually hot. A police crackdown in Kochi had resulted in a pre-degree student falling into a ditch and later succumbing to his injuries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was time for a statewide showdown. As many as 130 elected college union leaders from 82 colleges met in Kochi and elected Chandy to be the convener of a prolonged agitation. As the left government under chief minister E.M.S. Namboodiripad threw its weight behind the police, violent clashes broke out in several districts. A slanging match between Chandy and Namboodiripad elevated not just the tensions, but Chandy’s stature as well. With public opinion beginning to turn against the government, the chief minister finally extended an olive branch on the 25th day of the agitation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was Chandy’s first big political victory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He followed it up with his own olive branch. In 1968, when the state was facing acute food shortage, KSU drafted a nine-point plan that called for the formation of farmers’ clubs in schools and colleges, the distribution of seeds and manure, and government support for selling the produce.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The plan was submitted to M.N. Govindan Nair, agriculture minister and communist stalwart. Nair was mighty pleased. He released two lakh seed packets, of which 70,000 went to KSU. M.K.K. Nair, the legendary managing director of the fertiliser company FACT, gave manure free of cost. The minister sowed the first paddy seeds at a field in Kunnamkulam, as Chandy, Antony and other Congress leaders looked on.</p> <p>The Congress had won just 9 of 133 assembly seats in Kerala the year Chandy became KSU president. In the next three years, KSU under him helped the party not just turn around its fortunes, but build a coalition government that became the first to complete a full term.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>IN TACTICS,</b> Chandy’s greatest frenemy in the party was K. Karunakaran, a trade union leader who went on to become the party’s longest serving chief minister. Much like Karunakaran, Chandy knew the importance of trade unions and cooperatives in electoral politics. Even as they fought wider political battles, Chandy’s organisational skills and negotiating abilities earned Karunakaran’s grudging respect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jos Dominic, managing director and CEO of the hospitality brand CGH Earth, recalled how Chandy negotiated the choppy union waters. “In 1972, we started Anjali Hotel in Kottayam, and Chandy became the president of the employees union,” he said. “He was dealing with my father at the time, and I still remember my father exclaiming, ‘Is this trade unionism? There are hardly any problems. Everything’s so fair, the discussions are so easy, and there is no bitterness.’ I think Chandy’s tact in dealing with the contrarian view was just remarkable.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That tact held him in good stead throughout the tumultuous political changes in the 1980s and the 1990s. The decades made him the commanding general of the ‘A’ faction in the Congress―so named after its leader, Antony. Their bond from the KSU days was so strong that, even though Chandy was an avowed anti-communist, he followed Antony into the left camp after the Congress split in 1980. The political experiment ultimately failed, but Chandy remained a staunch Antony loyalist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ‘A’ group subsequently merged with the Karunakaran-led ‘I’ group, leading to rich electoral dividends and two decades of fierce faction fights. The merger also birthed a lasting template in Kerala politics―a bipolar polity dominated by the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front. The UDF and the LDF alternately ruled Kerala for the next 40 years, until the latter retained power in the 2021 polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Chandy did not confine himself to theoretical complexities in his approach,” said Panakkad Sayyid Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal, state president of the Indian Union Muslim League, the Congress’s most prominent ally in the UDF. “His remarkable abilities in both thought and action, particularly his efforts to establish a strong connect between the UDF and the people, deserve special mention.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was in 2004, after he succeeded Antony as chief minister, that Chandy truly came into his own as the most popular face of the Congress. His mass contact programme set an example for other chief ministers, and his focus on bringing speedy and sustainable development to the state inspired many experts to lend a hand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I first met Chandy in Delhi in 2011, just after he became chief minister [for the second time],” said E. Sreedharan, former head of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. “‘Are you retiring this year?’ he asked me. I said I was. He said, ‘Sreedharan, you have done a lot of work for many states, but not for Kerala. So, if you are retiring, you must come back to Kerala and take charge of the construction of Kochi Metro.’”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandy ensured that construction of the metro began with Sreedharan in charge. By the time his tenure ended in 2016, Chandy had also flagged off a slew of development projects that would change the face of the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His strongest suit, however, remained his view of governance as a pay-it-forward game. In the 1970s, when he became minister for the first time, Chandy was assigned the task of guiding a young Haryana minister who was visiting Thiruvananthapuram to study a first-of-its-kind slum rehabilitation project his department had undertaken. For Chandy, the assignment came at a most inconvenient time―his first child was on her way, and he wanted to be with his wife, Mariyamma, when the moment came. But not one to neglect the call of duty, Chandy first played host to the Haryana minister before hurrying to the hospital.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Decades later, when the civil war in Iraq was raging, chief minister Chandy sent a plane to rescue 42 Malayali nurses trapped in Baghdad. But the mission ran into trouble. “The plane was barred permission to land in Iraq and the pilot was about to return,” Chandy recalled. “I was stunned. I did not know whom to turn to for help.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Luckily, the external affairs minister happened to be Sushma Swaraj, to whom Chandy had patiently explained the slum project the day he became a father. One phone call, and Swaraj took up the matter and began pulling strings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It was because of her help,” Chandy said in 2019, when Swaraj died, “that we could save those 42 angels and bring them back to Kerala’s soil.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, with Chandy gone, Kerala’s soil has lost an angel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>With Nirmal Jovial</b></p> Fri Jul 21 18:13:35 IST 2023 conflicts-in-manipur-pose-serious-threat-to-national-security <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is 3pm and the sun is blazing down. The lush green plains and paddy fields readied for sowing are in the shade of the mountains. A smartly dressed Rameshwar Basnet, 48, wearing sunglasses, staggers out from a hutment, seemingly quite drunk. Almost zombie-like, he asks: <i>“Daju</i> (elder brother in Nepali), could you lend me a tenner?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Basnet (named changed) is a resident of Kanglatongbi, a Nepali-dominated settlement near National Highway 37, located in a ‘buffer zone’ demarcating Meitei and Kuki areas. One could only guess what would make a man want to stay drunk all the time. After all, prolonged unrest has its own way of extracting a toll.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Edging close, a CRPF trooper, a rifle cradled in his thick arms, quietly says: “Why does the media not report about how bad things really are? You all say things are normalising. They are not.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After decades of insurgencies—Naga, Meitei and Kuki—Manipur had seen the green shoots of peace for the last six to seven years. But, the current ethnic turmoil has taken the state back to where it was. Moreover, it could be much worse as, unlike in the past, the social fabric is in tatters. Sapam Bishwajit Meitei, an Imphal-based senior advocate, says: “For the last few years, the long-suffering people saw hopes of peace returning and businesses flourishing. But these latest flare-ups have taken the state back to the late 1980s and early 1990s. Civil strife has set in. One can only hope and pray that sense prevails.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation in Manipur is a nightmare for both the North Block and the South Block. The North Block houses the home ministry, while the defence and foreign ministries are in the South Block. The crisis in the border state may have compelled India's defence secretary, Giridhar Aramane, to rush to Myanmar's capital Nay Pyi Taw on June 30 for a two-day visit. Manipur shares a 398km-long, heavily forested and porous international border with Myanmar; most insurgent groups active in the northeast have their main bases and training centres in Myanmar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An official press release said that Aramane met Myanmar's military ruler, General Min Aung Hlaing, and his defence minister, General (retired) Mya Tun Oo, and discussed issues relating to maintaining “tranquility in the border areas, illegal transborder movement and transnational crimes such as drug trafficking and smuggling”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A new dimension to the geopolitics in Myanmar is the entry of the US with its $136 million funding for pro-democracy groups and humanitarian aid. The possibility of the funding translating into military help to pro-democracy activists cannot be ruled out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China is observing the unrest in Manipur closely. State-owned media have published numerous articles deliberating the issue. The headlines are telling: “Next Ukraine? The gunshots sounded for the division of India…”; “The Indian ethnic conflict situation is completely out of control”. China’s influence with the Tatamadaw (Myanmar military) complicates things further.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China has been a big factor in the history of insurgency in the northeast. Mizos, Nagas, Meiteis, and Assamese have in the past sought weapons and arms training from China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The northeast region is surrounded by foreign countries on all sides and connected to the Indian mainland by just 2 per cent of the land boundary. All rail and road links run through this narrow “chicken’s neck” and it is well within the line of sight of the Jampheri Ridge—a highland in Bhutan. China’s desire to hold the high ridge is believed to be one of the main reasons for the 73-day Doklam standoff in 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lieutenant General Harjit Singh Sahi, commander of the Army’s III Corps, told THE WEEK: “Our preparedness on the India-Myanmar border to increase our deployment and surveillance is adequate to ensure that we are able to prevent any infiltration that can take place from the international border. We have taken a number of measures to enhance surveillance by way of remotely-piloted vehicles and quadcopters, and area domination patrols.” The III Corps, based in Dimapur, Nagaland, is responsible for the entire stretch of the Manipur-Myanmar border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the UN, after the February 1, 2021, coup in Myanmar, 8,250 (mainly Chin) refugees have entered Manipur—apart from another 40,150 in Mizoram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation in Manipur means that India’s Act East Policy is hit hard. The AEP seeks to leverage northeast India’s close cultural and ethnic ties with southeast Asian nations. It is through Manipur and Mizoram that the connect is sought to be established. Persistent instability in this area will cripple the AEP. “Proper activation of the AEP would have benefitted the region immensely,” says Angom Dilip Kumar Singh, who teaches physics at Manipur University. “With the current disturbance in Manipur, that is in question now. Also, the entire region has become a fertile ground for the interplay of global powers, including China, whose interest and influence in Myanmar are well-known. Of immense concern is the way narcotics trade and poppy cultivation have increased. Who is benefitting from it is a key question.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 35,000-strong Manipur Police is credited for having erected a robust security architecture in the restive state. But, this time, it was totally divided along ethnic lines and disintegrated. The lack of coordination among the paramilitary forces, too, was all but apparent. The near-collapse of the security architecture created a vicious circle—for peace, everyone should be disarmed and weapons looted from police armouries returned, but the public on both sides see arms as necessary to protect and defend.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The violence caused a two-way exodus—Kukis leaving the Meitei-dominated valley to return to the hills and vice versa. Brigadier Michael D’Souza, who commands the HQ 27 Assam Rifles at Churachandpur, tells THE WEEK: “Now even geography is accentuating the divide.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Meiteis are in the 2,400sqkm Imphal valley, comprising about 10 per cent of the state’s land area—almost like a football pitch surrounded by mountains. The hills begin about 50km, in any direction, from the centre of Imphal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fault lines between the two communities are not new. The genesis lies in the Treaty of Yandabo signed between the British and Burma in 1826. This pact divided the topography into spaces for communities based on ethnicity. But, with arable and fertile land gradually becoming scarce, the ethnic communities had to look for their own lebensraum or living spaces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meitei valley-based insurgencies peaked in the 2003-2012 period. Kuki outfits, too, took to the gun with demands ranging from greater autonomy to sovereignty. Valley-based insurgent groups lost relevance and faded out, and more than 20 Kuki outfits inked suspension of operation pacts. “But, the current turmoil brought these extremist elements of both sides to the forefront by making them relevant once more,” says a top military source. “Manipur is now fertile ground for secessionist ideology. The militarisation of society is complete. The big fear is that the conflagration in Manipur may now slip into the counterinsurgency/counterterror domain.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interactions by THE WEEK with the general public—both Meiteis and Kukis—the security personnel, and intelligence officials corroborated this fear.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Concomitant with a new lease of life for insurgent elements, the demand among the Kuki-Chin-Mizo group—collectively termed the Zo or Zomi—to seek a homeland has also gained ground. Since 1988, the Zo Re-Unification Organisation (ZORO) has sought one administrative umbrella for Zomi people across Myanmar, multiple Indian states and Bangladesh. George Guite, a ZORO general secretary, tells THE WEEK: “Our forefathers helped the Manipuri Meitei king ward off Burmese invaders. And then artificial boundaries drawn by the British divided the Kuki nation. This battle in Manipur will go on till the other side ceases to attack and we get a homeland.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chongboi Haokip, a Kuki student's organisation functionary, adds a feisty demand: “Before any reconciliatory moves, there will have to be administrative separation between the Kukis and the Meiteis. Only then we will sit down and talk.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are three vital points regarding the prevailing situation. Firstly, after being sparked by the May 3 protest march, the sudden speed and manner of the spread of the violence was remarkable. This indicates planning. Secondly, the failure of the intelligence agencies to report the build-up in both the hills and the valley and the quick emergence of the vigilante groups and civil society groups on both sides speak of high-level organising ability. Thirdly, it seems impossible that the Meitei-Kuki ethnic divide in the state police force would not have been noticed. This one factor hastened the erosion of the authority of the state apparatus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Manipur conflict has the potential to change the politics of the entire region and take it back to the days of widespread insurgency and the resultant strong-arm tactics by the state. Amid the enveloping air of despondency, the only glimmer of hope is the firm belief among small sections on both sides that the way out is a political solution, something most people THE WEEK spoke to on both sides of the divide agreed to.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, there is another battle—for medicines in relief camps. “We have a lot of ill people,” says Kennedy Haokip, information secretary of an NGO housing 12,000 displaced Kukis in Churachandpur. “A few days back we had a death at childbirth as we did not have adequate facilities.” Unsurprisingly, the story in the relief camps in the valley is not much different.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A helpless and insecure people divided by partisan emotions; a broken state structure; a history of sub-nationalism and a sensitive, geostrategic zone, where global powers are eager to play their own games—the mix could not have been worse.</p> Sat Jul 15 17:37:53 IST 2023 ncp-leader-ajit-pawar-joining-nda-government-in-maharashtra-sparks-political-crisis-in-state <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Two weeks ago, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis gave an interview to a news channel to mark the first anniversary of the BJP-Shiv Sena government. When asked about the short-lived government he formed with the support of Nationalist Congress Party rebels led by Ajit Pawar in November 2019, Fadnavis said that NCP president Sharad Pawar had been in talks with the BJP to form government soon after the 2019 polls. A power-sharing formula, Fadnavis said, had been finalised, but the senior Pawar backed out at the last minute to cobble up the Maha Vikas Aghadi comprising the NCP, the Shiv Sena and the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the interview was aired, Sharad Pawar said he had indeed held talks with the BJP. But, he said, he had done so to expose Fadnavis’s hunger for power. “I was the president of the BCCI for a long time and know a few things about the game of cricket,” he said. “The batsman (Fadnavis) was willing to walk into the trap, so I bowled a googly and got the wicket.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 2, barely a week after Pawar spoke about his googly, his nephew Ajit Pawar and eight senior NCP legislators―among them were Pawar’s trusted aides such as Chhagan Bhujbal, Dilip Walse-Patil and Hasan Mushrif―took oath as ministers in the government led by Fadnavis and Chief Minister Eknath Shinde. Ajit became deputy chief minister for a record fifth time. Clearly, it was a clever delivery from Fadnavis that left the elder Pawar stumped.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajit’s second act of revolt was very much expected, especially since Sharad Pawar had made his daughter Supriya Sule the NCP’s working president a month earlier. What was not expected was the defection of NCP veterans such as Praful Patel, Sunil Tatkare, Bhujbal, Walse-Patil and Mushrif.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A top Congress leader said Supriya’s elevation sparked the rebellion. “Ajit Pawar and Praful Patel are not willing to accept Supriya’s leadership,” the leader told THE WEEK. “Ajit clearly felt slighted. He felt he was being relegated to a secondary role. The other seniors joined him because of the fear of central investigating agencies. It is not that Pawar senior was unaware of their moves; he had told them that he was clearly not in favour of joining hands with the BJP.”</p> <p>Ajit was humiliated in 2019 because he had made the mistake of taking his uncle’s support for granted. But his clout in the NCP was such that he could not be sidelined. That was why he was appointed deputy chief minister in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government led by Uddhav Thackeray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajit was not happy working under Uddhav, whom he considered as an inexperienced administrator. While Ajit would reach Mantralaya at 7am, Uddhav preferred to work from the comfortable confines of his residence. “Ajit was of the opinion that it was better to ally with the BJP, as it was in power at the Centre. But he could not convince party colleagues like Nawab Malik, Jitendra Awhad and Jayant Patil,” said a source.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That Ajit was biding time became clear after the Shinde-Fadnavis government was sworn in and he became the leader of opposition. Such was his friendship with Fadnavis that he continued to occupy Devgiri, the official bungalow usually allotted to the deputy chief minister. Even today, Fadnavis stays at Sagar bungalow, usually allotted to the leader of opposition, while Ajit stays at Devgiri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even though Ajit never missed a day of assembly sessions, there was talk that he was going soft on the government. Loyalists like Dhananjay Munde, now a cabinet minister, often had to defend Ajit saying his detractors were trying to vilify him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources close to Fadnavis said Ajit often spoke to him in anguish about the efforts being made to sideline him in the party. He said his uncle was giving undue importance to leaders like Jayant Patil, Jitendra Awhad and Anil Deshmukh. All three leaders have chosen to stay loyal to Sharad Pawar.</p> <p>Ajit’s maternal relatives are a reason for his proximity to the BJP. His maternal uncle has been a longtime <i>sangh parivar</i> functionary in Ahmednagar district, and his son is close to Ajit and was a BJP legislator. The family has been Ajit’s link to the BJP even before his first rebellion in 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In May, when Sharad Pawar announced that he was stepping down as NCP president, Ajit was the lone leader who said his uncle’s wish should be respected and that the younger generation should take charge. But after a public display of emotions by leaders and party workers―Jayant Patil and Jitendra Awhad cried on stage urging him not to step down―Sharad Pawar made a U-turn and decided to stay on. Apparently, it was his last effort to prevent Ajit from joining hands with the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It was planned that Pawar senior will step down and make way for Ajit and his team to take the party closer to the BJP,” said a source in the BJP. “That way, he could save his image by stating that the younger generation is now deciding the party’s course. But he did a U-turn exactly like he did in 2019. At that time, Ajit had expressed a wish to be made state party president. He was willing to give up the post of leader of opposition, but that was not done. Instead, Supriya Sule became national working president in charge of elections as well as Maharashtra. So Ajit made up his mind.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>ON JULY 3,</b> a day after Ajit rebelled, the Sharad Pawar side petitioned Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Speaker Rahul Narvekar to disqualify nine NCP legislators who took oath as ministers. Jayant Patil said that a party legislator, whom he did not name, had sought action against nine legislators led by Ajit for violating the party’s ideological position. Patil, who is state party president, also said party workers and office-bearers across districts are with Sharad Pawar, who has declared that he would take the battle to the “people’s court”. “Nine legislators do not constitute a party,” he said. “They have engaged in anti-party activity and we will take strict action against them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajit responded by replacing Patil with Raigad MP Sunil Tatkare as state party president. “We have also petitioned the speaker to disqualify Jayant Patil and Jitendra Awhad [as legislators],” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As speaker, Narvekar has to decide the battle of the Pawars. Narvekar is the son-in-law of NCP veteran Ramraje Naik Nimbalkar, who now supports Ajit. He told journalists that he would first have to ascertain whether the NCP is part of the government or the opposition before considering the disqualification petitions. This could very well mean a long delay, as Narvekar would first have to decide on the disqualification of Shiv Sena legislators―a matter that has been pending for months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>WHAT DOES AJIT</b> gain by raising the banner of revolt this time? First, he and the leaders who support him are facing various probes by Central investigation agencies. The agencies could well be prodded to put the cases on the back-burner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Second, if the rebellion is successful, he gets to mould the NCP in his style, without having to report to Sule or even Sharad Pawar. Third, Ajit’s sole ambition is to become chief minister, and if his coalition wins the assembly elections next year, the BJP’s national leadership can consider him for chief ministership, like they did with Shinde. Also, if Prime Minister Narendra Modi retains power after the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the NCP as a whole could join the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Sharad Pawar could retire from active public life and say the decision was taken by the new leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said the BJP had promised to make Ajit chief minister in two months. “That is why he has rebelled,” Chavan told THE WEEK. “We will see Shinde stepping down in a couple of months. I don’t think this move has the blessings of Pawar saheb.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A top BJP leader who was involved in planning the swearing in of Ajit and his party colleagues, however, said Shinde would remain chief minister. “If we ditch Shinde, the BJP would lose its credibility,” said the leader. “A message would go across the country that we use and throw away [allies]. That is certainly not our style. We are loyal to our allies. We will fight assembly polls in Maharashtra under Shinde’s leadership.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE DECISION</b> to induct NCP leaders into the government was taken at a meeting between Shinde, Fadnavis and Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi on the night of June 29. It was Ashadhi Ekadashi, considered one of the most auspicious days in the state. Shinde performed a puja at the Lord Vitthal Temple in Pandharpur before leaving for Delhi for the meeting. They returned the same night after Shah gave them the go-ahead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Amit bhai asked Devendra ji whether the planning was foolproof and whether everything would be smooth, unlike last time,” said a top BJP source. “Devendra ji told him that Ajit had the support of 43 MLAs, six MLCs and three MPs, and that they were keen to work under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s national leadership was keen to tie up with the NCP since 2014, when the Sena-BJP alliance broke down over seat-sharing in the assembly polls. Soon after the results came, the NCP offered outside support to the BJP to form a government led by Fadnavis. The Sena, which was in the opposition initially, joined the government months later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s national leadership had mooted a BJP-Sena-NCP coalition as it was seriously working on its plan of ‘Congress-<i>mukt</i> Bharat’. It was apparently keen to have Sule in the Union cabinet. The NCP was ready, but a section of the BJP’s state unit and the Sena were opposed to joining hands with the NCP, as their poll campaign had been against the corruption of the Congress-NCP government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the 2019 elections, the BJP leadership felt that the Sena under Uddhav Thackeray had stabbed it in the back by parting ways with it, while the NCP under Pawar had played a double game. Since then, it had been wanting to get even with both Uddhav and Pawar. Shinde’s rebellion struck the former; Ajit’s move has weakened Pawar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is not about the gains we make; it is about severely weakening the opposition to win the Lok Sabha polls in 2024,” said a BJP leader. “Another aspect of this is the destruction of the Pawar-Thackeray brand in Maharashtra politics. Our party reveres Balasaheb Thackeray, but his son is not worthy and we have shown him his place. Now Ajit Pawar has given us an opportunity to dismantle Brand Sharad Pawar.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP wants to win 45 of 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state. “With Ajit dada part of our government,” said a BJP leader, “we are now confident of giving a tough fight to even Supriya Sule in Baramati, a constituency which we or our allies have never won.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Ajit appointing himself as the NCP's national president, Pawar is facing one of the most difficult crises of his career. In 2013, when Pawar lured BJP stalwart Gopinath Munde's nephew Dhananjay away from the BJP, Munde had said, &quot;Pawar saheb, today you have broken my house. A day will come when your house, too, will break.&quot;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Munde’s words seem to have come true.</p> Sat Jul 08 17:23:53 IST 2023 dalit-bandhu-scheme-telangana-benefits-criticisms <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>KATUKOORI JAYARAJ HAS</b> not forgotten the times he had to beg at a railway station for survival. “It is embarrassing to share this part of my life but it is a fact,” he says. Today, Jayaraj, 28, is small-scale entrepreneur in Karimnagar in north Telangana, brimming with confidence in his neatly pressed semi-formal clothes. And he has only one person to thank for it. “It is KCR,” says Jayaraj, his voice full of gratitude.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jayaraj is one of the 38,323 beneficiaries of Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao’s flagship scheme, Dalit Bandhu. It offers Rs10 lakh to every eligible dalit family in the state. Rao launched it in 2021, just before the crucial by-poll in the Huzurabad constituency in Karimnagar. It is being implemented across the state in phases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The scheme seems to have hit the right notes in the dalit community, as they often struggled to raise money even for small ventures. Jayaraj said he was once kicked out of a public sector bank when he went to apply for a loan. Today he is the proud owner of a diagnostic centre, which earns him Rs40,000 to Rs1 lakh a month. And his marriage prospects have improved significantly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not too far away from Jayaraj’s diagnostic centre is Kalyan’s American Tourister showroom. It was the Dalit Bandhu cash assistance that helped him get the franchise. The annual turnover is about Rs70 lakh. Kalyan worked at another showroom of the brand for years before he started one on his own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government has kept the application process simple. Applicants will go through scrutiny, and the proposal is cleared by the district administration. The officials stress on sanctioning money to businesses that the candidate has some experience in. The sanctioned business assets include crop harvesting equipment, taxis, tea stalls, restaurants, DJ equipment and drones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It wasn’t a big task identifying the eligible candidates,” says R.V. Karnan, Karimnagar district collector, who has been involved with the scheme from inception. “We have analysts who verify details like ration cards and other information. In the Huzurabad constituency, all the 18,000 eligible dalit families received assistance from the Dalit Bandhu scheme.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Karnan said the scheme was the first of its kind in the country. “It is economically empowering and it breaks the caste structure. While the community has reservation in jobs and politics, there is no such system in entrepreneurship. We can see that 80 to 90 per cent of them are in blue-collar jobs or work as labourers. This scheme will help many of them transition from worker to owners,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao’s party, the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, lost the Huzurabad constituency by-poll in 2021, but the scheme’s larger implications seem to be working in its favour. The target is the 2023 assembly polls in which the BRS hopes to score a hat-trick. Telangana has around 54 lakh dalits, who make around 20 per cent of the electorate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BRS has been wooing dalits, and embracing B.R. Ambedkar. Rao named the new secretariat after him, and unveiled a 125ft statue. “Fifty per cent of dalits may vote for the BRS because of the scheme and also because of elevating Ambedkar’s status through the projects,” said Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, dalit writer and social activist. “The BRS is in an advantageous position as the dalits were earlier known to support the Congress.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But he is not sure about the long-term benefits of the scheme, and is of the opinion that the projects of the Andhra Pradesh government work better for the poor dalits in rural areas. “The Dalit Bandhu scheme does not improve the future of dalits. I don’t think it is a sustainable model with just Rs10 lakh. Also, the dalit entrepreneurs have to shift to semi-urban areas to be successful, whereas the Andhra Pradesh government’s welfare schemes target the health and education of the underprivileged sections and is contributing to the strengthening of the rural economy, which also comes back through GST. There is another fundamental difference; the AP schemes transfer money to the poor and lower castes whereas in Telangana, the money is flowing to the rich in a big way (with schemes like Rythu Bandhu, which covers landlords also) and poor in some way,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unsurprisingly, the scheme is causing friction between dalit groups and upper caste groups owing to the changing social dynamics. “It will now be difficult to find labourers. The government should also think about that. Who will do the farming work now?” asked a farmer from a backward community, who owns five acres in Warangal. Some feel that the scheme should be extended to other communities as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Rao launched the scheme, he had envisaged it as an idea of ‘uplifting the dalit community and empowering them’, rather than a freebie. The opposition, however, is questioning its implementation and its success as an uplifter of dalits. “They are not implementing the scheme at all,” said Congress leader Bhatti Vikramarka. “It is as good as the three-acre land that the CM promised to dalits, which was never fulfilled. Dalits have started feeling that they are being cheated. They would have benefitted more with the proper utilisation of SC/ST sub plan funds. But they are deprived of it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP alleged only BRS members are chosen for the scheme and it would start a campaign to enlighten the dalits about the ‘reality’ of the BRS. “The BRS is not honest about its intentions,” said S. Kumar, national secretary of the BJP’s SC Morcha. “KCR had promised to make a dalit the chief minister in Telangana, which he did not fulfil. In his cabinet, there was a dalit deputy CM; but he was removed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Telangana goes to the polls at the end of the year. Many of its 119 seats have significant numbers of dalit voters. And how they vote may decide if Rao gets another term.</p> Mon Jul 03 12:14:47 IST 2023 protests-against-ratnagiri-refinery-project <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On May 27, a sunny Saturday, some 30 men from the villages of Barsu, Goval, Shivane Khurd and Devache Gothane in Ratnagiri climbed atop the vast laterite plateau in their neighbourhood. They walked a mile further under the scorching sun and camped under a banyan tree, where they removed their shirts and lined up in front of a barber. He shaved their heads one by one and then they proceeded to a nearby site where a religious ceremony took place. “We have gathered here to perform the cremation rites of the state government,” said one of them. “This ceremony is called <i>‘pind daan’,</i> which is performed on the day of <i>‘varsha shraddha’,</i> the death anniversary of a deceased person. For us, the government of Maharashtra died when it announced that Barsu and nearby villages would be the site of the proposed Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited (RRPCL) oil refinery complex.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Most of the villagers are against this project,” said Krishna Arekar from Shivane Khurd. Surveyors had collected soil samples from various sites on the plateau and the police had been deployed to protect them. “A big protest took place to stop the survey,” said Arekar. “The police attacked protesting villagers. Women were dragged to police vans and taken away. Men were arrested and locked up till the survey was completed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The RRPCL project is a joint venture of Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum with investment from Saudi Arabia’s ARAMCO and the UAE’s National Oil Company. It was originally conceived in 2015 as a Rs3 lakh crore refinery complex at Nanar in Rajapur taluk of Ratnagiri, and was scrapped in 2019 because of the opposition from the locals and the Shiv Sena, which was the BJP’s partner in the Maharashtra government. The project was revived amid the pandemic when chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, heading a coalition government with the NCP and the Congress, wrote to the Union government in 2021 that the project could come up on the plateau near Barsu village. Nanar and Barsu are just 10km apart, separated by the Arjuna river.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The work on the project gained momentum after Thackeray was toppled by his associate Eknath Shinde with the help of the BJP in June 2022. The government did not expect much resistance as the project had been shifted to the Barsu laterite plateau. It was wrong. The villagers formed the Barsu Solgaon Panchkroshi Refinery Virodhi Sanghtana (BSPRVS) and declared that they would not allow it on their soil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde told THE WEEK that some 70 per cent of the villagers supported the project and he was confident that the government would convince the rest. The BSPRVS activists said 80 per cent of the villagers were opposed to the project. “If the government is so confident, why aren’t they holding a referendum on the issue?” asked Deepak Joshi of Goval village. “We asked the collector and other officials how this project suddenly became good for people. What makes them think that the project would turn environment friendly by shifting it just 4-5 km northwards? They had no answers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Barsu plateau has paddy cultivation, and mango and cashew plantations. It is also the source of potable water for all the villages at the foot. There are also hundreds of geoglyphs, unique Stone Age rock carvings. “All these will be destroyed if the project comes here,” said Joshi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The villagers are upset that the people of Konkan are being branded as anti-development because of their protest against the refinery. “What we are opposed to is polluting industries, as we have seen how they damage the ecosystem,” said Amol Gole of Shivane village. “We have many chemical factories in Lote Parshuram MIDC area in our district and the pollution because of them is a huge problem. If small companies can cause so much damage, imagine what a huge refinery can.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They are also not swayed by the promise of generating more than a lakh jobs and see no point in spoiling their environment for that. “During the mango harvest season, we have as many jobs,” said Gole. “People from Nepal and Uttar Pradesh come here for mango picking. Why is the government not getting projects, like the Vedanta-Foxconn [chip manufacturing facility], which would not have caused any pollution. We will oppose the refinery till our last breath, but if the government brings non-polluting projects, we will support it wholeheartedly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The villagers are miffed at the government calling their plateau barren land. “It is the source of our livelihood and the livelihood of the wildlife in this region,” said Satish Bane of Solgaon. “The villages get potable water from the streams that get water from this plateau. This source of water will get polluted if the refinery becomes operational.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are, however, many villagers who are willing to trade these for development. Siddhesh Marathe of Shivane, for instance, believes that the refinery will bring development to the region which is now dependent on Ratnagiri city, which is 60km away, for everything. “All big hospitals, schools and colleges are in Ratnagiri. The refinery has promised to build a 500-bed hospital here. They have also promised to build a kindergarten-to-graduation educational complex. Our boys will get jobs here and will not have to migrate to Mumbai,” said Marathe, whose family owns 50 acres of mango orchards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The division runs deep in the villages. Marathe said he did not get local labour for his mango plantation because he was a refinery supporter. “Many people are secretly supporting the project but not taking an open stand because they fear boycott and other measures,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is said that there are many fence-sitters. “Once the government announces a compensation package, many more will join the supporters,” said Gaurav Paranjape of Goval village. Hanif Musa Kazi, former president of Rajapur municipality, said that those who opposed the project were people who did not own land.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Big projects have always faced opposition in the Konkan region. A copper smelter project by Sesa Sterlite was abandoned. An Enron power project at Dabhol faced huge opposition from the BJP and the Shiv Sena. The saffron alliance swept the region on this plank in the 1995 assembly elections and eventually came to power in Maharashtra. It is a different thing that their government revived the project, which became operational as Dabhol Power Corporation. The Jaitapur nuclear power project, which is stuck at discussion with France, faced stiff local opposition. The only big project that the people of Konkan have supported is the Konkan Railway, where they wholeheartedly offered land for construction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, the Shiv Sena opposed the refinery project when it was part of the Devendra Fadnavis government “because the people of Konkan did not want it”. When the Sena broke the alliance and Thackeray formed a government with the Congress and the NCP, he suggested the project could come up in Barsu. Now he is again opposing it, claiming that he was misled by traitors (meaning Shinde and other rebels). The Congress and the NCP have taken the stand that the project can be implemented after convincing the local people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vandana Kharmale, regional officer of the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation for Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg region, said that the project would be hugely beneficial for the region. “The Konkan region has always known for its money-order economy; people migrate to Mumbai and send money home. That will stop as they will get jobs locally. People here are happy and content. They are supporting the project but are afraid that their village community might boycott them if they come out in open,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharmale said the geoglyphs―some 200 of them―would be protected. “The refinery will require 5,000 acres. It will be a 20 mmtpa refinery and not 60 mmtpa as originally planned. We will acquire land from Barsu, Dhopeshwar, Khalchi Vadi, Varchi Vadi and Goval villages. Shivane and Devache Gothne are not part of the refinery,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Engineers India Ltd drilled 82 spots on the plateau for soil samples. They have been sent to a lab in Hyderabad. “If the report is positive, MIDC will hold public hearings to ask people what all should be included in the compensation package and then the government will formulate the package,” said Kharmale.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sat Jun 24 13:10:49 IST 2023 insurgency-in-northeast-india-will-be-exploited-by-china <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>MANIPUR IS ON</b> the boil with the Meiteis and the Kukis at each other’s throats. Sectarian policies adopted by the N. Biren Singh government has furthered the distrust among the two communities, leading to so many deaths and thousands being displaced from their homes. What is extremely worrying is that many people have crossed over to Myanmar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What both the Union government and the state government have apparently not kept in mind is that there is a cross-border presence of tribal groups in Myanmar committed to carrying out acts of violence against India. Like those of Manipur origin―the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and the United National Liberation Front.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian insurgents operating out of Myanmar are fully armed and materially supported by Beijing. The equipment and training being carried out by China’s proxies among Myanmar’s ethnic groups―the Wa and the Kokang.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What’s more, in strife-torn Myanmar, where the people are at war with the military junta and the Tatmadaw, large-scale engagements are taking place in the Sagaing division where the Bamar-composed People’s Defence Force (PDF) and the Kachins are fighting the Tatmadaw. Here, what should worry us is that the Tatmadaw has been utilising the services of the Indian insurgent groups like the PLA against the PDF. This has resulted in such groups being armed with more sophisticated weapons and gaining experience in tactics that they could use against India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With an open border between India and Myanmar, that is over 1,600km long, any policy that sows distrust among the ethnicities in the northeast only results in strengthening the insurgents with more people being enabled to join their ranks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The turmoil created by the acts of omission and commission by the state government in Manipur has gifted China another opportunity to exploit in the sensitive northeastern states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Union Home Minister Amit Shah has spoken of fencing the border as a solution. This, even if fully implemented, would be a mere palliative. The tradition of open borders is one thing that would come in the way, then there is the disputed tri-junction that could not be fenced, and with China bent on creating mischief for India in the northeast, this would remain an area that it could continue to exploit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One solution that is open to the Union government is for it to refrain from supporting sectarian policies being followed on its behalf by state governments, as in Manipur, to deny additional avenues to be exploited by the Chinese, in the support that they are extending to the Indian insurgent groups operating out of Myanmar. The other is to up the ante with the junta to prevent its use of these insurgent groups in the civil war that it is waging against the people of Myanmar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under no circumstances should Delhi ignore the fact that every opportunity created by its sectarian policies in the insurgency prone states shall be exploited by China to further its policy to pressurise and weaken India. Ladakh is not the exception but the rule. As is also what China is trying to achieve in the Chumbi Valley to threaten the Siliguri Corridor and thus further intensify its threat to India’s northeast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Malik</b> <b>was ambassador to Myanmar from August 1990 to September 1992.</b></p> Sat Jun 24 13:02:12 IST 2023 chhattisgarh-greater-capital-region-infrastructure-and-connectivity-development <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Blink and you will miss it. As you drive along the 40km-long west-east stretch of NH-53, the boundaries blur and you wonder where Chhattisgarh’s twin cities of Durg-Bhilai end and where its capital Raipur begins. It can prove illusory even to an alert traveller, as it is one long urban sprawl with wide roads, flyovers, commercial establishments, beautified public spaces and, of course, the quintessential city traffic. And, though further ahead, roughly 10km of the 25km stretch between Raipur and the newly developed Atal Nagar-Nava Raipur is not yet fully urbanised, it still seems like you are traversing through a single mega city instead of four different cities. The import of this organic merging of cities was not lost on the government, which hopes to harness the unique potential it offers to come up with a greater capital region (GCR). The government is planning to merge Raipur, including Nava Raipur, with the neighbouring Bhilai, Durg and smaller towns to form a GCR. “The State Planning Commission has already prepared its recommendations in this direction, which are being reviewed,” Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel told THE WEEK in an exclusive interview.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once it comes into being, the GCR will not only be the first such mega urban agglomerate in central India, but also only one of its kind outside the metro capitals of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. This is because the GCR will be based on organic urban clustering of cities and towns in two neighbouring districts in a small state that is still considered to be developing, said experts.</p> <p>The GCR, according to experts, is a practical proposition as the cities and towns being considered for it fall in a 65km linear stretch. In the two decades since Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000, there has been rapid urbanisation in and around Raipur. Nava Raipur was developed with an aim to replace Raipur as the capital. Meanwhile, Raipur along with Nava Raipur organically expanded into Durg and Bhilai. The twin cities were already quite urbanised because of the presence of the iconic Bhilai steel plant and continued to grow when the new state was formed, said Abir Bandopadhyay, professor of architecture at the National Institute of Technology, Raipur, who specialises in urban planning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from Raipur, Durg and Bhilai, Baghel said that the government plans to include Birgaon and Mana Camp in Raipur district and Risali, Kumhari and Bhilai Charoda in Durg district in the GCR. All of these are governed by municipal corporations, except Mana (nagar panchayat) and Kumhari (municipal council). As per projections based on Census 2011, the region has a collective population of about 35 lakh, thereby constituting more than 40 per cent of the state’s urban population. The Nava Raipur Development Plan (2031), however, puts the estimated population in the belt (within 50km radius of Raipur) at over 38 lakh in 2021. Given the urbanisation trend, the geographical area and the population, the GCR may turn out to be the biggest among cities in central India. Madhya Pradesh’s Indore and Maharashtra’s Nagpur are said to be the biggest urban centres in the region. They have an estimated urban population of 33 lakh and 30.40 lakh, respectively. According to the Nava Raipur Development Plan, the total urban population in the Raipur-Durg-Bhilai belt will be over 55 lakh in 2031; it will be around 40 lakh each for Indore and Nagpur. Moreover, both are non-capital cities and thus have limitations for future growth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts see huge potential in the Raipur GCR. “Although a predominantly rural, forested and tribal state, the young state of Chhattisgarh has potential for industrialisation and concomitant urban development, especially along the Raipur-Durg-Bhilai region, which is linear along the stretch of the Mumbai-Nagpur-Kolkata National Highway and the main railway line,” said Vishwanath Sista, officer on special duty (land pooling), Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA). “But it will require a proper institutional outfit to implement the development plan, perhaps on the lines of the Delhi National Capital Region.” He added that it may be called the Chhattisgarh State Capital Region and can include planning and development powers and legal instruments like that of the HMDA Act, 2008.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress government in the state seems intent on giving a push to urban development, especially in services and infrastructure domains, along with focusing on the agro-based economy of the state. In the 2023-2024 state budget, Rs5,361 crore was allocated for urban development, more than double the amount in 2022-23. Baghel, who also holds the finance portfolio, announced a light metro service between Durg and Nava Raipur. Also, with a 92km-long six-lane expressway being constructed from Durg to Arang (beyond Raipur) under the Centre’s Bharatmala project, the region’s development will gather pace in the coming years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts, while welcoming the idea of the GCR, also point out some loopholes that need to be plugged in before moving ahead with the mega plan. Sandeep Bangde, chief town planner of Chhattisgarh and chairman of the state chapter of Institute of Town Planners, India (ITPI), said that the most important thing would be to have a metropolitan council that will work as a single coordinating policy-making body, planning agency and provider of essential services for the entire region. “Also, it is important to have a plan for the whole region to be divided into dedicated sectors for different activities like trading, wholesale market, agro-based activities and steel plant-based activities,” he said. “Piecemeal planning will not work and it has to be coordinated by a single agency.” Bangde also emphasised on the need for a bypass road between Durg and Raipur, so that long-distance traffic could be diverted and local transportation made easier. This would also help in coal transportation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bandopadhyay, who is a former chairman of ITPI, said that while planning a GCR, attention has to be paid to the availability of basic civic amenities and on proper road designing and connectivity. “Currently, even in Raipur, we have no walk-able roads as there are no footpaths on major thoroughfares,” he said. “Also, local mass transport facilities are not available and therefore private vehicles clog the roads.” He also pointed out that one of the reasons why Nava Raipur, a well-planned and beautiful city, failed to replace Raipur as the state capital was because of the lack of connectivity between the old and new capital.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Author Diwakar Muktibodh also underlined the need for connectivity between Raipur and Nava Raipur, and development of markets and services in the planned city. “Many people have purchased houses in Nava Raipur, but are averse to moving there as there are no markets or daily service facilities,” he said. “Even government employees go to the office in Nava Raipur in special buses and return to the old city in the evening. Nava Raipur becomes deserted after office hours. This needs to change.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Baijendra Kumar N., former chairman of Nava Raipur Development Authority, said that Nava Raipur is the most inclusive, smart, well-planned, greenfield city in India, with great and unlimited potential for organic urban development of the region. “However, the growth and development of Nava Raipur and surrounding towns will depend on political will, proper funding and budget support,” he said. “If starved of funds, the dream city may not be a certainty.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Citizens, for now, see the GCR as a great opportunity for development. Pallavi Verma, 23, a medical graduate who is preparing for the civil services, said, “This will not only give a boost to the image of Chhattisgarh, but also lots of opportunities for younger people.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gaurav Chakraborty, 38, who works with a private firm, said it would give the state a pan-Indian identity. People from other states tend to have preconceived notions of Chhattisgarh being a tribal, rural state that has been fighting Maoists for long. “At present, when I go to, say, Kolkata, people often don’t know about Chhattisgarh and Raipur and we have to give details about its geographic location and specialties,” said Chakraborty. “I am sure this will change if we get such a big, modern capital region with all the facilities.”</p> Sat May 20 12:43:05 IST 2023 chhattisgarh-chief-minister-bhupesh-baghel-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><a name="__DdeLink__11_1981993896" id="__DdeLink__11_1981993896"></a> <b>Q Raipur, including Nava Raipur, along with the twin cities of Durg and Bhilai have organically merged and seem to have potential to become a greater capital region.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>More than 40 per cent of the urban population in the state is concentrated in the eight urban local bodies (Raipur, Mana Camp, Birgaon, Kumhari, Bhilai Charoda, Bhilai, Risali and Durg―all in Raipur and Durg districts), which can be merged into the greater capital region (GCR). Or, a conurbation plan can also be created with a nodal agency looking after the development. The State Planning Commission has already prepared its recommendations in this direction and a task force was formed, which has submitted its report to the respective departments for their views and actionable outcome.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q What is your vision and plan for a formal merger of these urban areas?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> Chhattisgarh is a mineral-rich state with surplus power. Our income is not dependent on agriculture, we also have large-scale industries. To open a new avenue of income for the citizens of the state, it would be prudent to have one large urban agglomeration, which shall bring in the service industry, specifically IT and banking, for diversification of the modes of economic activities. Hence, to tap the potential of urban development, unlock the value of the land and for faster development of Chhattisgarh, the State Planning Commission was instructed by my office to work in this direction. Their recommendations are being reviewed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q So, is a GCR on the anvil?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>We are thinking in the direction of having a GCR, which shall capture the hidden potential of this region. However, we would have to be cautious enough to not convert the lush green area we have into a concrete jungle. Hence, all steps in this direction shall have sustainability and safeguarding the environment at its core. We are currently one of the greenest states in India, and we wish to maintain that status while we urbanise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Do you think the GCR could change the perception of Chhattisgarh being a rural, tribal state?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> That is a wrong perception of Chhattisgarh and we don’t wish to focus our energies in changing such perceptions. However, we intend to synergise our energies in bringing new and upcoming industries and technologies in the state like IT, banking and other service-based startups. They need various types of infrastructure, policies and human resource for efficient functioning and my government is already working in this direction. The GCR shall surely provide impetus in such activities and it shall act as a catalyst in our development journey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q You have already taken many steps to strengthen the rural and agriculture-based economy. Will your next focus be rapid urban development?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> Our focus has never been just on the development of rural or agriculture-based economy. We have made exemplary developments in the urban domain as well. Our cleanliness initiatives have fetched us the title of the cleanest state for three consecutive years. Our initiatives like Narwa-Garwa-Ghurwa-Badi (for farmers), providing better medical infrastructure and doorstep delivery of government services have brought laurels to the state. Our belief is in the development of services and infrastructure that brings direct benefits to the citizens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q You recently announced a light metro project between Nava Raipur and Durg. Should it be considered a step towards possible merger of these cities?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> A considerable proportion of population commutes on this route daily for their educational and professional needs, and for work. We believe it would not only reduce their travel time, but also reduce the burden on their pocket. Therefore, this decision has nothing to do with the merger of cities and you can consider it to be an inter-city transport service, which we feel is the need of the hour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q What will be the benefits of the proposed 92km, six-lane expressway between Durg and Arang?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> It would be a mistake to see this just as a 92km stretch of road. It is a development project that would impact around 40 per cent of our urban population, and shall also improve the movement of goods in and out of the state. This stretch passes through eight urban local bodies and is near one of the largest steel plants in India―the Bhilai steel plant. So, I believe it is not just a road project, but an infrastructure project that would better connect the growth centres of Chhattisgarh and unlock their hidden potential.</p> Sat May 20 12:33:56 IST 2023 manipur-riots-pose-threat-to-national-security-situation-analysis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On May 4 and 5, Union Home Minister Amit Shah was expected to be in Karnataka, taking part in the BJP's final push to retain power in the state. But as riots continued to spiral out of control in Manipur, he was forced to cancel his plans and oversee security efforts from Delhi along with Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Chief Minister N. Biren Singh. The riots also prompted a visit by Lieutenant General R.P. Kalita, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Army's Eastern Command, to the region to assess the preparedness of the forces near Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By then, the Army and the Assam Rifles had deployed 125 columns to rein in the rioters. Thirteen companies of the Central Reserve Police Force and large contingents of the Manipur Rifles now assist them. They have already rescued nearly 23,000 civilians and relocated them to Assam Rifles’ camps and other military establishments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is unfolding in Manipur is an ethnic clash between the two large communities―the largely Hindu Meiteis, who live in the plains, and the Christian majority Kukis, who dominate the hills. The Meiteis make up 53 per cent of the population of the state and the Kukis and the Nagas, who are Scheduled Tribes, constitute 40 per cent. The valley, dominated by the Meiteis, constitutes just about a tenth of Manipur’s total land area, but it is the most fertile region of the state. The Meiteis also dominate the state’s sociopolitical and economic landscape.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ethnic riots are not new to Manipur, caused by the lingering tension between the inhabitants of the hills and the valley, often on account of claims and counter claims regarding land, revenue and economic opportunities. One of the reasons behind the ongoing conflict is the widespread infiltration of Kukis from neighbouring Myanmar, with which Manipur shares a 550 km-long border. THE WEEK, in its cover story dated January 9, 2022, had reported how thousands of minority Kukis from Myanmar were making their way to India through Manipur’s porous borders. Some of them even dug underground tunnels to reach India and find shelter among their kinsmen. The villagers chose not to complain to the security forces, instead they supported the refugees. And Manipur seems to be paying the price now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The world received information about the Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh. But the news about those coming to India’s northeast has been largely unreported because of the ethnic similarity on both sides of the border,” said an official from the Manipur chief minister’s office. Chief Minister Biren Singh accepted that there is massive infiltration from Myanmar. He felt Manipur needed to implement the NRC (National Register of Citizens) to identify the intruders and initiate the process of sending them back to Myanmar. &quot;They are eating up our limited resources,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh's office said it was not easy for the government to identify the illegal Kukis as they live among the legal Kuki residents of the state, who are settled in districts like Churachandpur, Bishnupur and other hilly areas like Tengnoupal and Senapati. The government is concerned that the intruders have links with insurgent groups in Myanmar and are involved in poppy cultivation inside Indian territory. &quot;They are out to destroy our next generation by occupying land in the semi-hilly areas inside the forests and cultivating poppy. It is their biggest source of income,” said Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior officer from the chief minister's office said that China, too, was a player in the poppy trade taking place in the Myanmar-Laos-Thailand golden triangle. The Assam Rifles had alerted the government about the trade of drugs from the golden triangle as China was trying to regain the hold it once enjoyed along India’s northeast border. The director general of Assam Rifles, however, refused to comment on the issue when THE WEEK reached out to him. In fact, both civilian and military officials have stopped explaining what was going on in Manipur. Through an official order, the Manipur government has asked the media to report “sensibly” on the issue. Journalists have been prohibited from visiting hotspots and flashpoints.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh refused to comment further about the Myanmar situation as it comes under the remit of the ministry of external affairs. But his government is already facing the repercussions, especially as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has been withdrawn from the state. Local people say the Manipur government woke up late to the reality of ethnic tensions because of political reasons. Singh heads a government comprising Meitei, Kuki and Naga MLAs. So, it is not easy for him to take stern action against the rioters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior Army officer said the root cause of the problem was the land laws drafted in 1965 which gave land rights in the hills to the Kukis and the Nagas. “They were also given Scheduled Tribes status by the Union government. The Meiteis, who are the majority in the plains, did not have that status. And the situation worsened as the Kukis started coming down to the plains with the increase in their numbers. It made the Meiteis angry,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Modi government’s soft stand towards Myanmar further complicated the situation as it decided to give refugee status to a section of Kuki intruders from Myanmar. The state government, meanwhile, finds it difficult to accommodate the refugees and provide them employment opportunities and other benefits. “The state government never supported such a move by the Centre. But we had to accept the decision,” said a state home department officer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ironically, the growing trend of poppy cultivation saw some sort of understanding between certain Meitei groups and the Kuki intruders which was evident from the ambush of Colonel Viplav Tripathi, commandant of 46 Assam Rifles, along with his wife, son and four soldiers, in November 2021. He was working to stop the poppy cultivation in Churachandpur, a key base for illegal immigrants from Myanmar. But the colonel’s ambush was masterminded by the People’s Liberation Army, an insurgent group dominated by the Meiteis. After his reelection last year, Biren Singh launched an eviction drive against the encroachers and poppy cultivators in the hills. But, as the move resulted in the eviction of a large number of tribals from their villages inside the reserve forests, the Kukis reacted strongly, leading to widespread protests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to observers, the Kukis started emerging as a major force in the 1990s, when the junta reigned supreme in Myanmar. “Their numbers have grown into several lakhs,” said a state land tribunal member. M. Mohan, an ethnic Tamil resident from the Tengnoupal district bordering Myanmar, said the ethnic clashes began in 1992 as the Kukis from Myanmar started entering the state through the Moreh border and clashed with the Nagas. Clashes with the Meiteis started two years later and soon there were fights with Gujaratis, Bengalis, Tamils, Biharis and Nepalis settled in Moreh. “Unable to fight the Kukis, non-tribal groups like us fled to Myanmar to save our lives. The Myanmarese government was lenient and gave us shelter,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The already tense situation came to a head on April 19 after the Manipur High Court asked the state government to convey its opinion to the Union tribal ministry about a proposal to give the Meiteis Scheduled Tribe status. The directive led to widespread protests by the Kukis, especially in the hill districts. With the Kukis targeting the Meiteis in the hills, retaliation came from the plains, where the Meiteis enjoy a significant majority. Singh said the demand for ST status was not justifiable. Moreover, a constitutional amendment would be required to grant Meiteis Scheduled Tribe status.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mohan said the ongoing riots were unprecedented, even in the context of Manipur's fragile ethnic balance. “In Tengnoupal, which is a Kuki-dominated district, Meitei houses were burnt. As fire does not distinguish between ethnicities, it spread to our houses, too. The Kukis did not wish to touch the houses of non-Meiteis, but the fire spread accidentally,” said Mohan, who fled to his friend’s house in Tamil Nadu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Those who were not lucky like him are stuck in the middle of the devastation and a stringent curfew, which has led to the cancellation of flights, trains and even local commutes. The Army and the Assam Rifles have moved to every corner of Manipur where the Kukis and the Meiteis stay together. Both communities have attacked each other’s houses, businesses and places of worship. There are also reports about attacks on women. Around 250 Meiteis in Tengnoupal district were forced to cross the border and seek protection in Myanmar, unable to the bear the torture at the hands of the Kukis. “It is difficult to know where they are. They might be in trouble there as well,” said Mohan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the Meiteis took up arms, they easily outnumbered the police and police stations were set ablaze. Some Kukis burnt Modi and Singh in effigy. Reports indicate that the collapse of law and order has led to a rise in infiltration from across the border. Even more alarmingly, what began as an ethnic clash is now being portrayed as a communal riot. “I strongly condemn any attempt to give this riot a communal tag,” said Singh. “It would be handled strictly by the security forces.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest challenge for the Union and state governments is that while the Army has managed to take control of the situation, the troops could not be deployed forever in the absence of AFSPA and political talks should begin as early as possible. Politically, Singh is already on a sticky wicket as many of his MLAs have resigned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Army is worried about the security threats caused by the riot and its underlying causes. “We have our own challenges as far as security is concerned. But if we are involved in internal security matters for long, insurgent groups will take advantage of that, especially when Myanmar is in trouble and Indian underground groups are active there. Our focus must be on not giving those groups the chance to fish in troubled waters,” said an Army officer of the Eastern Command. Security agencies believe that the issue in contention is land as several underground groups in Myanmar are out to redraw the international border by grabbing Indian territory, perhaps egged on by Beijing. If that happens, Manipur will become yet another national security headache for India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>THE WEEK, in its cover story dated January 9, 2022, had reported how thousands of minority Kukis from Myanmar were making their way to India through Manipur’s porous borders. Some of them even dug underground tunnels to reach India and find shelter among their kinsmen. The villagers chose not to complain to the security forces, instead they supported the refugees. And Manipur seems to be paying the price now.</b></i></p> Sat May 13 12:11:45 IST 2023 manipur-government-security-adviser-kuldiep-singh-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Manipur government has appointed Kuldiep Singh, former chief of the Central Reserve Police Force, as security adviser to contain the spiralling violence in the state and to liaise with the Union home ministry. Speaking to THE WEEK from Imphal, Singh said the fresh bout of violence had brought three major security challenges to the fore: underground groups and insurgents fishing in troubled waters, cross-border migration of refugees, and illegal poppy cultivation. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q Is there intelligence about armed insurgent groups indulging in violence?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> There have been intelligence reports of underground groups and insurgents trying to create trouble. It is natural for miscreants and armed insurgent outfits to use this as an opportunity to further their agenda. Right now, we are only trying to douse the fire and help those who are stranded in different places to reach their homes safely. Whether the violence was sporadic or whether organised groups were involved will be a matter of investigation. Only then will we get a better idea about the involvement of underground groups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q The free movement regime (FMR) on the Manipur-Myanmar border has allowed refugees into the state. How are you dealing with illegal migration?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> The border movement is an issue that needs to be resolved. There are concerns about outsiders coming into the state and indulging in illegal activities, cross-border smuggling of narcotics and arms that is disturbing the local population. Nobody likes foreign nationals entering unlawfully and settling in their areas. All these issues are being looked into by various agencies as well as the central government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q The state government has been cracking down on illegal cultivation of poppy in the hill districts of Manipur.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A</b> The drug problem in Manipur is an issue of deep concern for the state government. The smuggling of drugs from across the border and its consumption and the illegal cultivation of poppy in the border areas are significant threats. The government is taking every action to destroy illegal poppy cultivation. The Narcotics Control Bureau and the local police have joined hands to act against the drug mafia and cross-border smuggling rings operating in Manipur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q But the tribals living in the hill districts are worried about state action.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>Those who are indulging in illegal poppy cultivation or any other illegal activity in the border areas are miscreants who are deliberately defying the law. Only such miscreants are resorting to violence or trying to use the present situation as an opportunity to counter state action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q The people of Manipur are unhappy with the internet shutdown.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A </b>The state government has set up village peace committees to spread the message of peace. We are appealing to people to maintain peace and harmony and not pay attention to rumours. People are being asked to contact the verified helpline desk to help their friends and family. If all goes well, we will be able to normalise the situation within a week. But the internet will remain shut for the time being as social media is being misused to spread rumours and mischief mongers are putting up distorted news and fake videos to create panic and unrest. While internet remains shut, landline and broadband facilities are available in Manipur. The focus is to restore normalcy as soon as possible and ensure violence does not resurface.</p> Fri May 12 13:26:40 IST 2023 sharad-pawar-ncp-maharashtra-politics-strategies <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FORMER UNION MINISTER</b> and founder president of the Nationalist Congress Party, Sharad Pawar, is adept at killing many birds with one stone. His decision to step down from the post of president of the NCP is one such move. The Maratha strongman announced his decision to quit on May 2 at the release of the updated edition of his autobiography in Mumbai. A stunned audience, comprising party leaders and office-bearers, had tears in their eyes and started raising slogans urging him not to resign. Pawar, accompanied by his wife, Pratibha, sat through the event, but made no commitments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pawar and his family have been dropping hints about a major decision for the past few days. He recently repeated his famous statement that it was time to flip the bread on the pan or it would get burnt. Pawar has used this analogy many times in the past when he wanted to effect major changes in the government or the party. So, while NCP members were expecting some major announcement, they were hardly prepared for the news that Pawar was stepping down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the move appears to have been carefully planned. Pawar’s family was clearly in the loop as his daughter, Supriya Sule, said a couple of weeks ago that there would soon be a “big explosion” in Maharashtra politics. His nephew, Ajit Pawar, said that the decision was expected on May 1 itself, but it was delayed by a day to make sure that a major Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) rally planned for the day would not get affected. Interestingly, as leader after leader urged Pawar not to resign, Ajit was the only one who supported his uncle’s decision. He told NCP workers that Pawar was not retiring from politics and would be there to guide the party and its new president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pawar has named a committee to elect the new president, comprising 12 senior NCP leaders including Sule, Ajit, party vice president Praful Patel and Maharashtra chief Jayant Patil. But as several party leaders asked Pawar to rethink and even tendered their resignations, he said he would take a couple of days to give it a second thought. The committee is likely to meet on May 5 or 6. Pawar said the committee’s decision would be acceptable to him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, will Pawar relent? “Unlikely,” said political analyst Pratap Asbe. “Pawar has rarely gone back on his decisions. He has been wanting to hand over the baton to the next generation for some years. That is why he stopped contesting Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and moved to the Rajya Sabha. Now he has announced that this will be his last term in the upper house as well. Clearly, Pawar appears to have made up his mind. But this does not mean that he is retiring from politics. He has moved to the role of the elder statesman who will be the guide and mentor to the new leadership.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior Congress leader who has worked with Pawar said in political parties dominated by one family or one person it was very rare to see the leader deciding to step down. He, however, pointed out that the decision could affect the MVA and former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray. “Pawar was the glue that kept the MVA together and Uddhav’s leadership was accepted only because Pawar suggested his name as chief minister. The MVA may stay together for some time but Uddhav certainly will not be its leader. Ajit Pawar and Jayant Patil have far better political acumen and experience than Uddhav,” said the Congress leader. He said Pawar offered to rethink his decision only to defuse the situation. “He will also make sure that the committee announced to elect the new president will essentially fall back on him to make the choice.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The new president has his task cut out as the NCP is trying to regain its national party status. It may require attracting leaders who are unhappy in the Congress and also in parties from the non-BJP bloc. Pawar has always played his politics in such a manner that while the Congress has remained an NCP ally, the BJP has not exactly been its enemy. So, the new president has to be someone who has the ability to pull off this trick. “Right now, there is no such leader who has Pawar’s ability. So, Sule could be made working president and will be asked to work in Delhi while Ajit would control the state as he has no national ambitions,” said the Congress leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With his move, Pawar has checkmated the group of NCP leaders who have been thinking of taking the party closer to the BJP. NCP leaders do not like to remain out of power for long. That is why a large group in the NCP was trying to shift to the BJP camp to enjoy the benefits of power and to steer clear of the corruption cases being probed by Central agencies. It could have caused a split in the NCP. Now, with Pawar’s decision to step down, there is a sympathy wave in his favour and no NCP leader can think of breaking away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Through his latest announcement, Pawar has made sure that politics in Maharashtra will continue to revolve around him. It is a message to the BJP, the Shiv Sena factions, the Congress and also to his own party colleagues. But what is interesting is that he has also left the door open for a possible political realignment between the NCP and the BJP. And if it were to happen, Pawar could well say that it was the decision taken by the new leadership and he was just a guide and mentor. That way, he will be able to make sure that his image of a secular statesman remains unaffected.</p> Fri May 05 18:53:28 IST 2023 karnataka-elections-bjp-and-congress-political-scenario <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Even as the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress in Karnataka are engaged in a tough fight in the assembly polls being held on May 10, both parties agree on at least one issue. They have been asking the voters to avoid supporting the regional player―the Janata Dal (Secular)―to avoid a hung assembly. Both national parties are vying for a 3 per cent to 4 per cent increase in their vote share and to form a government on their own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is aiming for 140 seats in the 224-member house, although its best performance till date has been the 110 seats it won in 2008. The Congress hopes to emulate its 2013 performance, when it won 122 seats. For the JD(S) led by former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda and his son H.D. Kumaraswamy, the primary task is to safeguard its Vokkaliga vote bank and its current vote share of 18.3 per cent. “A strong opposition and a stable government are a must for democracy and development,” said Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge. “People have realised this and will vote decisively to prevent a hung verdict.” Former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa of the BJP, too, made a similar assessment. He said BJP workers should convince the people that a hung verdict would lead to chaos.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>B.L. Santosh, the BJP’s national general secretary (organisation), said the party’s performance in Old Mysuru would determine whether it would retain power. The BJP got 1.8 crore votes in the 2014 general elections and it could cross the half-way mark in the assembly polls by polling about 1.5 crore votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Internal surveys of the Congress showed that the party would get 135 seats, according to Chittapur MLA and Congress spokesperson Priyank Kharge. “In the past few elections, we have consistently got a vote share of 38 per cent. The idea is to push it up to 42 per cent and the swing is going to come from Kalyana Karnataka and the Belagavi regions where we performed average to low last time,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, meanwhile, has reached saturation levels in the Mumbai-Karnataka Lingayat belt and also the coastal and central Karnataka regions. It is eyeing new frontiers, like the Vokkaliga heartland with 59 seats, which is the stronghold of the JD(S). The Congress is relying on the ‘Ahinda’ (minorities, backward classes and dalits) vote base and is also eager to eat into the Lingayat and Vokkaliga vote banks. To offset the JD(S)’s influence among the Vokkaligas, the Congress has elevated D.K. Shivakumar as its state party chief. But the party is worried about the BJP chipping away at its ‘Ahinda’ vote bank with its social engineering experiments. The recent hike in quotas for the SCs and the STs and the internal reservation among the SC communities are seen as a step in this direction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The JD(S) is also trying to expand its vote bank, giving tickets to as many as 18 Muslims. But the party seems hurt by the political narrative set by the national parties. For instance, Congress leader Siddaramaiah calls the JD(S) the BJP’s ‘B team’ , which alienates Muslims from the party. The JD(S) could, however, benefit from the BJP’s plan to drop tainted leaders and non-performers and the Congress’s efforts to balance caste equations. The entry of disgruntled leaders from both parties could offer a fresh lease of life for the JD(S). Priyank, meanwhile, said the rebellion in the national parties would not benefit the JD(S) because of the consolidation of dominant communities like Lingayats and Kurubas in Old Mysuru.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP hopes that the social engineering experiments initiated by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai would work to its advantage. He scrapped the 4 per cent reservation for Muslims and moved them to the 10 per cent pool for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). The abolished quota was split equally between the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas. Bommai has also increased SC/ST reservations and has tweaked the internal quota for the SCs to reward communities that back the BJP. While this could affect the Ahinda platform of the Congress, there could be a backlash against the BJP from the dominant SC communities like the Bhovis and the Banjaras.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priyank said the BJP’s reservation policy failed on two counts. “The enhanced reservation to the SCs, the STs and the OBCs has fallen flat as the BJP does not intend to increase the 50 per cent cap on reservation. The Supreme Court has observed that taking away the 4 per cent reservation from the Muslims to redistribute it among Lingayats and Vokkaligas is unscientific. The internal quota in the SC reservation has aggrieved Bhovi and Banjara communities.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The immediate threat facing the BJP is the rebellion within the party after its experiment to “infuse new blood”. The ambitious experiment began with removing Yediyurappa from the chief minister’s post in July 2021. Many others like Madal Virupakshappa (Channagiri) and Nehru Olekar (Haveri) were dropped as they were facing corruption charges. Former deputy chief minister and five-time MLA from Shivamogga City K.S. Eshwarappa announced his retirement from electoral politics a few hours before the BJP announced its first list of 189 candidates on May 10. The Kuruba leader from the RSS stable vowed to help the party win a ‘clear majority’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP was jolted by the decision of veteran Lingayat leaders Laxman Savadi and Jagadish Shettar to join the Congress. Former deputy chief minister Savadi quit after he was denied the Athani seat in Belagavi. Shettar, who is former chief minister and six-time MLA from Hubballi Central, too, was unhappy about ticket distribution. The BJP denied tickets to as many as 21 MLAs, including ministers, bringing 72 fresh faces to the fray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress believes that Shettar and Savadi can help the party woo back a section of the Lingayats. While Savadi’s support can help the Congress improve its performance in Belagavi, a politically significant district with 18 assembly seats, Shettar’s clout is not strong enough to make any major impact in his Hubbali-Dharwad district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Savadi’s exit has brought the focus back on Belagavi, a region ruled by the “feudal” families who draw immense political clout through their sugar factories, cooperative banks and educational institutions. Savadi, who has no pedigree to boast, rose through the ranks and was elected thrice from Athani before Congress’s Mahesh Kumathalli defeated him in 2018. A year later, Savadi was forced to campaign for Kumathalli in the bypolls after he switched over to the BJP. To pacify Savadi, he was appointed as one of the three deputy chief ministers. Savadi’s quick elevation in Bengaluru sealed his fate in Athani as the party renominated Kumathalli, a close aide of Gokak MLA Ramesh Jarkiholi, who quit as minister following a sex scandal. While Jarkiholi’s ongoing feud with his friend-turned-foe Laxmi Hebbalkar (Congress MLA from Belagavi Rural) and Shivakumar is no secret, the Jarkiholi brothers, who belong to the numerically strong Valmiki (ST) community pose a challenge to prominent Lingayat leaders in the BJP as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Jarkiholi brothers tactfully identify with different political parties to ensure that their family enjoys uninterrupted power. Satish Jarkiholi, one of the state Congress working presidents, represents Yemakanmardi, a reserved seat. Ramesh and his younger brother Balachandra who are with the BJP represent general constituencies―Gokak and Arabhavi, which many believe should have been represented by Lingayat leaders. This has led to growing resentment within the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, which managed to win only 17 of the 50 seats in the Mumbai-Karnataka region last time, is hoping to increase its tally by welcoming the heavyweights from the BJP. It hopes that Savadi can win Athani and also pose a challenge to turncoats like Ramesh Jarkiholi and Kumathalli. The Congress has been trying to woo the Lingayats for quite some time. In 2018, it backed the Lingayat demand for a separate religion tag, but the move backfired. And as soon as Yediyurappa stepped down as chief minister, it alleged that Lingayat leaders were being sidelined by the BJP. Many Congress leaders, however, fear that the new entrants might upset the applecart as there is already a power tussle among Lingayat leaders in the party who might see the new entrants a threat to their political aspirations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mood in Hubballi is charged with Shettar joining the Congress. While the BJP urged him to make way for new faces, Shettar wanted one last shot at power. As he was rebuffed, he joined the Congress despite his long association with the RSS, ignoring offers like a Rajya Sabha seat, a berth in the Union cabinet or a governor’s post. “I built the party in north Karnataka under the guidance of Yediyurappa and Ananth Kumar. But the party failed to give me a graceful exit from electoral politics. I am hurt and so is my self-respect,” said Shettar. Yediyurappa blamed Savadi and Shettar for betraying the party and the people. “Shettar comes from a family associated with the sangh parivar from the Jana Sangh days. The party has given him ample opportunities―he was leader of the opposition, party president, minister, speaker and chief minister,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bommai, who visited Shettar’s residence along with Union ministers Pralhad Joshi and Dharmendra Pradhan for negotiations, said [Union Home Minister] Amit Shah and [BJP president] J.P. Nadda offered him a bigger post in Delhi, “but he behaved like an opportunist”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the Bommai government’s decision to hike the quota for Lingayats by 2 per cent has pacified the agitating Panchamasali Lingayats, the BJP’s challenges are far from over. The exit of Shettar, a Banajiga, and Savadi, a Gaaniga, might lead to discord among various smaller subsects in the community. The Congress is hoping to benefit from the rebellion and has put up 51 Lingayat candidates (10 more than the last time) compared with the BJP’s 68. Even a marginal split in the Lingayat votes could hugely benefit the Congress. The BJP, in damage control mode, keeps on reminding the Lingayats of the “insult” and “hurt” caused by the Congress to the community in the past, especially when it replaced Veerendra Patil as chief minister in 1989 and brought in S. Bangarappa, an OBC leader. Amid the chaos, former chief minister Siddaramaiah’s remarks on “corrupt Lingayat chief minister” has stirred a fresh row. Siddaramaiah, who was campaigning in Varuna, lost his cool when reporters told him that the BJP had dared the Congress to declare a Lingayat as its chief ministerial candidate. “We already have a Lingayat chief minister who has indulged in corruption and spoilt the state,” said Siddaramaiah. The BJP has demanded a public apology from Siddaramaiah and called his remarks an “insult” to the Lingayats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon after Savadi and Shettar quit, Nadda landed in Hubballi and visited the powerful Lingayat mutts―Siddaroodha and Moorusaavira. Yediyurappa held a meeting of Lingayat leaders to discuss the possible impact of the defections and to find ways to pacify the community. “We dare the Congress to declare that a Lingayat would become chief minister if it wins,” said Housing Minister and Lingayat leader V. Somanna, who is fighting Siddaramaiah, one of the leading chief ministerial aspirants of the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddaramaiah, a Kuruba strongman, and Shivakumar, a Vokkaliga, are the leading contenders for the chief minister’s post from the Congress. But both might lose out if the elections throw up a hung assembly as the JD(S) could emerge the kingmaker. In that case, Gowda might insist on a dalit chief minister like G. Parameshwara or Mallikarjun Kharge―or even pick a Lingayat leader like M.B. Patil, a five-time MLA from Babaleshwara, to dwarf the influence of the Congress bigwigs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the BJP, even as Yediyurappa is hoping to see his younger son and BJP state vice president B.Y. Vijayendra emerge as his political successor, there is a long list of chief ministerial aspirants. Arvind Bellad, a two-time MLA from the Hubbali-Dharwad West constituency, is among the leading contenders for the top post. He is the son of five-time MLA Chandrakant Bellad, a veteran RSS leader who helped the BJP expand in north Karnataka by bringing in the Lingayat votebank. Arvind, an engineering graduate and a businessman with a clean image, is said to be in the good books of Santosh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Industries Minister Murugesh Nirani is another contender. A three-term MLA from Bilgi constituency in Bagalkote, he is a successful industrialist. He has been backing the Panchamasali movement for higher reservation quota. Former Union minister and Vijayapura MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, a staunch hindutva leader and a vocal critic of Yediyurappa, too, is in the race. Housing Minister V. Somanna is another Lingayat leader with chief ministerial ambitions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s desire to reduce its dependency on the Lingayat vote bank might see Vokkaliga leader and four-time MLA from Chikkamagaluru C.T. Ravi making it to the top post. Also in the reckoning is Pralhad Joshi, the four-time MP from Dharwad, who is Union minister for parliamentary affairs. The Brahmin leader from the Lingayat heartland could end up as consensus candidate for the top post.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lingayats, however, still hold the edge. BJP general secretary and Karnataka in charge Arun Singh said the party had been enjoying overwhelming support from the community for three decades now. “Of the four BJP chief ministers, three have been Lingayats,” he said. “It is now a universal truth that the next chief minister from the BJP will also be a Lingayat.”</p> Fri Apr 28 16:18:12 IST 2023 karnataka-polls-defections-ego-battles-and-caste-based-tactics-set-up-key-contests <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>VARUNA</b></p> <p>Former chief minister <b>Siddaramaiah</b>, 75, ended his hunt for a safe seat by filing his nomination from Varuna in his home district of Mysuru.</p> <p><br> The incumbent MLA is his son Dr Yathindra. The Kuruba strongman will face Housing Minister V. Somanna, 72, a Lingayat leader who has been tactfully picked by the BJP to tie Siddaramaiah down in his own constituency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddaramaiah, who is embroiled in a power tussle with Karnataka Congress president D.K. Shivakumar, had hoped to contest from a second seat (like he had done in 2018, fearing sabotage). But, the party denied him a second ticket owing to pressure from his detractors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, Somanna, the MLA from Govindraj Nagar (Bengaluru), is also facing a challenging situation in his party. He is expected to prove his leadership by winning the seat for the party. And, the BJP has also tasked him with winning Chamarajnagar (a seat he wanted to contest). Both seats have sizeable Lingayat population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The JD(S) fielding Bharathi Shankar, a dalit candidate, would work in favour of the BJP as it would split the Congress’s dalit votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>KANAKAPURA</b></p> <p>Known as <b>D.K. Shivakumar’s</b> fiefdom, the constituency usually sees one-sided fights. But, this time, Shivakumar is facing fellow Vokkaliga and Revenue Minister R. Ashok. The BJP, similar to its tact in Varuna, is hoping keep the Congress candidate busy in his own constituency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shivakumar has won the seat in Ramanagara district seven times. Ashok is also contesting from his own constituency―Padmanabhanagar in Bengaluru. He is in the fray in Kanakapura as part of the BJP’s plan to expand in the Old Mysuru region―the Vokkaliga heartland. The aim is to increase its vote share and groom Vokkaliga leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>CHANNAPATNA</b></p> <p>Former chief minister and sitting MLA <b>H.D. Kumaraswamy</b> will be take on fellow Vokkaliga, former minister and BJP candidate C.P. Yogeeshwara, who has won the seat five times from different political parties. The Congress is fielding a Muslim candidate from the Vokkaliga-dominated constituency, effectively turning it into a straight fight between the BJP and the JD(S).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>HUBBALLI CENTRAL</b></p> <p>The poll to the seat, which is in the Lingayat belt, would have been uneventful if the BJP had given the ticket to former chief minister and six-time MLA <b>Jagadish Shettar,</b> 67. But its decision to blood a younger partyworker saw Shettar quit the party in a huff. The ticket went to state general secretary Mahesh Tenginkai, who belongs to the same sub-sect of Lingayats (Banajiga) as Shettar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To the shock of many in the saffron party, Shettar, whose family had been associated with the Jan Sangh and the RSS for long, joined the Congress. This, despite the BJP promising him a plum post at the Centre. The cadre must now decide whether to work for their leader who has joined the enemy camp or to ensure a win for the “ordinary” partyworker Tenginkai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>ATHANI</b></p> <p>The seat, which is in the politically significant Belagavi district, will see a battle of two egos. Former minister and ST leader Ramesh Jarkiholi secured the BJP ticket for his aide and sitting MLA Mahesh Kumathalli. But, as a result, former deputy chief minister <b>Laxman Savadi</b> quit the BJP to join the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumathalli was one of the 14 rebel Congress MLAs who joined the BJP in 2019 during “Operation Kamala”―the BJP toppled the JD(S)-Congress coalition and formed the government. Savadi, a Gaaniga Lingayat leader, rose through the ranks in the BJP. He was elected thrice from Athani before Kumathalli, a Panchamasali Lingayat, defeated him in 2018 on a Congress ticket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A year later, Savadi was forced to campaign for Kumathalli, the BJP candidate, in the Athani bypoll. To pacify Savadi, the BJP had appointed him one of three deputy chief ministers and also made him the transport minister. But, that was not enough to stop him from jumping ship after the party gave the Athani ticket to Kumathalli again.</p> Fri Apr 28 16:14:05 IST 2023 karnataka-elections-other-parties-that-could-hurt-the-main-contenders-congress-and-bjp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IMAGINE THE CONGESTED</b> Chickpet Market in Bengaluru getting a facelift like Delhi’s Chandni Chowk did. Or, all government schools in Karnataka getting an upgrade to become capable of giving private schools a run for their money. Or mohalla clinics that can save the poor from exorbitant charges at corporate hospitals. The Aam Aadmi Party is going all out to pitch its “Delhi model” to voters in Karnataka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s newest national party is fielding candidates in 213 of the 224 constituencies―a giant leap from 28 candidates in 2018. Then, it had lost deposits in all 28 seats and got 0.6 per cent of the vote. But, it continues to attract volunteers and members from the educated class.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Brijesh Kalappa, AAP candidate from Chickpet, said the people were unhappy with the older parties and that the AAP could hope for five to 20 seats, especially in three- or four-corner fights. AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal visited Davanagere district in March and set the tone for the campaign by targeting the BJP. But, the AAP does not have a popular face locally and is reliant on star campaigners like Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann. The party claims that there is an acceptance for alternatives in north Karnataka, owing to gross deprivation of basic amenities in backward areas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the Kalyana Rajya Pragati Paksha floated by G. Janardhana Reddy can be a problem for both the BJP and the Congress in Kalyana Karnataka (Hyderabad-Karnataka). The 56-year-old, who spent 42 months in jail in the Obulapuram Mining Company case, is out on conditional bail. He floated the KRPP after the BJP leadership snubbed his overtures and denied him a ticket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Janardhana is the youngest of the “Reddy brothers”―mining barons of the iron ore-rich Ballari district. They had a brief stint with the Congress, but their rise in politics came after backing Sushma Swaraj in her contest against Sonia Gandhi for the Ballari seat in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. They built the BJP in Ballari, till the mining scam set them back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, the BJP has given tickets to Janardhana’s brothers―Somashekhara and Karunakara. The KRPP is contesting 49 seats. Janardhana, whose entry into Ballari is restricted by court order, is contesting from Gangavathi in Koppal district. His wife Lakshmi Aruna will take on Somashekhara in Ballari City. While his party does not have the cadre strength to win seats, it can eat into the votes of the Congress and the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Karnataka Rashtriya Samiti, founded by techie-turned-anti-corruption-crusader Ravi Krishna Reddy, is fielding 199 candidates. Reddy, 48, who has earlier contested elections as an independent and on an AAP ticket, left his home last April to begin a state-wide election campaign. On April 24, he posted on Facebook: “I have not gone home for a year.... Family assets are dwindling and my blood pressure is shooting up. But, I am determined to pull through till May 10 as I have to continue campaigning and crowdsourcing (funds) for our candidates.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The KRS Facebook page has 3.5 lakh followers and it has around 40,000 volunteers. Whether it makes a dent electorally or not, Reddy and the KRS have already made a difference. Reddy has exposed corruption through videos of officials taking bribes and though his initiatives have resulted in half-a-dozen cases against him, he has also managed to get some corrupt officers suspended.</p> Fri Apr 28 16:09:24 IST 2023 ajit-pawar-maharashtra-politics-strategies <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When NCP leader Ajit Pawar held a closed-door meeting with a few legislators on April 18 at his office in Maharashtra’s state legislature, the state politics was abuzz with rumours of him crossing over to the BJP with a group of MLAs. But Ajit seemed unaffected by the speculation and was busy with legislative work and the grievances brought to him by his party legislators. He, however, sounded a bit upset when he hurriedly spoke to the media after the meeting. “I will remain with the NCP until my last breath,” he said. “There is not an iota of truth in the speculations. I do not have any letter signed by 40 legislators and there is no need for such a letter. I request you to stop these rumours. We are working as a family to strengthen the party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajit has been under a cloud of suspicion since he formed a government with the BJP in 2019, even as his uncle, NCP founder Sharad Pawar, was trying to cobble up a coalition with the Shiv Sena and the Congress to keep the BJP at bay. The senior Pawar’s will prevailed and the legislators who had gone with Ajit returned to the NCP camp, pulling the curtains on the Devendra Fadnavis government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pawar refrained from taking any action against Ajit, though, probably sensing the support his nephew enjoyed among party legislators. In fact, Ajit was made the deputy chief minister in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government led by Uddhav Thackeray. When the MVA government was toppled by Eknath Shinde and the BJP, Ajit returned to the state legislature as the leader of the opposition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That Ajit is lenient to Fadnavis is an open secret. During his speeches in the assembly, he would target Chief Minister Shinde, but spare Fadnavis and the BJP. This bonhomie fuelled the rumours that Ajit was again getting cosy with the BJP. Ajit clearly did not want to rub the BJP the wrong way, as an Enforcement Directorate investigation was progressing on the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank scam case. Also, it is said that a power tussle is going on in the Pawar family over succession.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajit has been worried about the growing influence of Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule, MP, in the party’s decision-making apparatus. Though Sule has always said that she was happy in Delhi, Ajit loyalists fear that if the NCP gets the chief minister’s post, Sule will be chosen over Ajit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajit’s ambition of taking over the reins of the NCP has never been a secret. In fact, in a meeting more than a decade ago, he had hinted that Pawar senior should move to the role of a mentor. But he still remains in the shadow of the powerful uncle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is also no secret that Ajit wants to be the chief minister of Maharashtra. He has been deputy chief minister four times and has held almost all important portfolios except that of home minister. He had a slim chance in 2004 when the NCP performed better than ally Congress. However, Pawar conceded the post of the chief minister to the Congress in exchange for three crucial portfolios. Ajit will get another shot in 2024, if the MVA wins the assembly elections and the NCP emerges as the single largest party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajit has been keeping his cards close to his chest after the fiasco in 2019. At least half of the 54 NCP legislators are his staunch loyalists. In fact, the NCP legislators can be broadly divided into three―those who will not go with the BJP at any cost, the pragmatic politicians who do not mind joining hands with the BJP and the hardcore Sharad Pawar loyalists. While loyalty to Sharad Pawar is the thread that binds all these segments, Ajit loyalists are mostly part of the second segment comprising pragmatic politicians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The speculation of Ajit jumping the ship started with a meeting between Sharad Pawar and Uddhav a while ago when Pawar told Uddhav that some of his party leaders were under pressure to join hands with the BJP because of the threat of agencies like the ED and CBI. It got currency when the ED did not include the names of Ajit and his wife, Sunetra, in the charge sheet it filed in the Jarandeswhar Cooperative Sugar Factory case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>NCP says it is all a creation of the media. “All is well within the NCP and the media should not spread false news,” said Dhananjay Munde, senior NCP legislator and a confidant of Ajit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, however, is more or less certain that Ajit was all set to chart a new course with the support of the BJP and that it was the BJP’s plan B if the Supreme Court verdict goes against Shinde and the other legislators who defected from the Shiv Sena. “Ajit and his group were ready,” said a senior party leader. “Maharashtra BJP was overjoyed, but the number one in the BJP (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) forced them to apply the brakes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior BJP leader, however, dismissed the Congress’s claims. “We are committed to Eknath Shinde and his group,” he said. “There is no question of giving chief ministership to Ajit Pawar at this stage. We also feel that the SC verdict will not affect the stability of the government. Ajit and his group could come with us in the future, around the time of the Lok Sabha elections and if that happens we will easily cross the 40 seat mark in Maharashtra.”</p> Sat Apr 22 17:23:10 IST 2023 rise-of-radical-threats-in-punjab-reasons-political-parties-failure <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>BHAGWANT MANN,</b> who was chosen as Punjab chief minister after the Aam Aadmi Party’s surprisingly decisive victory a year ago, had a lot of promises to fulfil. In fact, he had an eventful first year, though not exactly the way he would have liked it: A minister and a legislator from his party were arrested on corruption charges; another minister resigned after his name figured in an alleged extortion call; Mann’s close aide lost the by-poll in the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat that he had vacated; rapper Sidhu Moose Wala was gunned down by gangsters after the government withdrew his security; and the decision to elect ‘outsiders’ to the Rajya Sabha has not gone down well with the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The growing disillusionment with the Mann government has left a political vacuum, making the state a fertile ground for the self-styled separatist leader Amritpal Singh. In fact, the trucker-turned-preacher’s swift rise took the people of the state by surprise, leading to speculation that he was parachuted from outside. And his raid of the Ajnala police station on February 23 to free his associate brought back memories of the state’s chequered past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the Khalistan movement may not have many takers in the state, the polarisation and disenchantment with political institutions spells bad news. “Failure of moderate political parties to capture the space has led to the emergence of elements like Amritpal, as there was no group or process in the state to check it. There was no road block,” said Prof Pramod Kumar, director, Institute of Development and Communication, a Chandigarh-based think tank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a wider socioeconomic angle to the development as well. Punjab’s economy has moved on from being the food basket of the country. “The agriculture has turned from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market with the emergence of other wheat producing states like Madhya Pradesh,” said Kumar. “This impacts the economic status of the Jat Sikh peasantry. Even the political hegemony of the Jat Sikhs was being broken as dalits and Hindu groups are asserting their demands. So, the Jat Sikh peasantry are available as fodder. If they are not co-opted into the system, then they are available for others to co-opt them out of the system. So the role of the state and moderate political parties is important.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The state’s main political parties are all busy dealing with their own problems. The Shiromani Akali Dal has seen a massive erosion of its support base. The Congress has been in a state of flux. The BJP’s attempts are limited to invoking the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and co-opting Sikh leaders from other parties. It was this absence of the liberal political parties to catch hold of the narrative that led to Akali Dal (Amritsar) chief Simranjit Singh Mann, a vocal proponent of Khalistan, winning the Sangrur by-poll last July.</p> <p>Amritpal is thriving in the same vacuum. “The issue has exposed that all sections could not rise up to the occasion,” said Sunil Jakhar, former state Congress president, who is now with the BJP. “Be it the government, security agencies, intelligentsia, society or youth, no one reacted when they should have.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amritpal’s initial bravado when he spoke about Khalistan and taking on the might of the Indian state ended in a whimper as he started running. However, the police action to arrest and detain hundreds of his supporters led to the Akal Takht, the highest body of Sikhs, and the SGPC joining the chorus for releasing them. A section of the Sikh diaspora reacted with alacrity as police action fed into the anxiety of Sikhs being targeted by the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sikh historian and commentator Prof Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon puts the blame on the Punjab government for the current situation. “There is a feeling in the state that Bhagwant Mann is acting on the dictation of Arvind Kejriwal, which people do not accept. This has been rejected by the people of Punjab, the kind of mandate he got has already been lost. Mann is losing ground,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhillon said Sikhs were feeling alienated as the issues they raised remained unsolved. “The Sikh community all over the world is feeling hurt. They have to talk with open heart with the Sikh leadership across the table, and not just to those leaders whom they find amenable,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mann is still a crowd puller, thanks to the gift of the gab. The AAP claims that its internal surveys indicate that his approval rating are high. But it has more to do with the fact that there is no alternative yet. However, the work done by the AAP in health care and education is being overshadowed by law and order issues, as criminal gangs with drug, mafia, and terror links continue to hold sway.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>AAP’s chief spokesperson Malwinder Singh Kang said law would take its own course. “The Punjab government had made it clear from the first day that strict action would be taken against anyone disturbing the law and order of the state or trying to disturb the communal harmony,” he said. “Punjab Police will catch Amritpal soon. Look at this operation, neither a single shot was fired nor was there blood shed. If one looks at all police actions in the past, there have been atrocities against the innocent also. We have prevented that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next test for the state’s political parties is the Jalandhar Lok Sabha by-poll, necessitated by the death of Congress MP Santokh Singh Chaudhary during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. The Congress is fielding Chaudhary’s widow in the reserved seat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kang said the AAP would contest the election on the government’s performance in the fields of health, education, power and agriculture. While the polls may be interpreted as referendum on Mann’s performance, it is of importance for all parties ahead of the Lok Sabha elections next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But again, it is not just about winning elections. “The big lesson in the current Punjab situation is the that liberal political parties have to get active and get into the protests,” said Kumar. “They should mobilise and intervene wherever there is conflict so as to moderate its impact on society and politics.”</p> Sat Apr 08 14:49:23 IST 2023 effects-of-new-land-grant-rules-in-jammu-and-kashmir <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The arrival of spring usually brings cheer to Kashmir, as business and tourism pick up pace after the winter gloom. This year, though, the season has hundreds of hoteliers, traders and shop-owners worried. The reason is the Jammu and Kashmir government’s Land Grant Rules, 2022, which says all commercial leases granted by the government as per older rules “shall not be renewed”. The new rules are, in essence, an eviction notice to businesses operating from buildings constructed on land leased from the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government intends to form a committee to assess if the leaseholders have violated terms. It will also compensate those who have made “improvements”, including constructing a structure on the leased land. The new rules say all parcels of land whose leases expire, or have already expired, would be e-auctioned and used for infrastructure development, including “housing for ex-servicemen, war widows, families of deprived categories [and] migrant workers”, and for “any other purpose in the interest of Jammu and Kashmir”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Traders fear that the new rules will put hundreds of people out of business and radically alter the stake-holding of local people in all forms of commercial activity. They say similar auctions in recent times have given outsiders the upper hand in minerals and liquor businesses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An official of the Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation (KTMF) said the new rules would impact nearly half the businesses in Srinagar, including 2,000 small and medium businesses in the 1.8km stretch from Hari Singh Street to Polo View that serves as Kashmir’s commercial hub. “Some businesses have been operating from leased land for more than 70 years, or even before the partition,” he said. “What will happen to them if the new rules take effect?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A shopkeeper at Residency Road in Srinagar said the new rules affected livelihoods. “I purchased this small shop (140sqft) in 2002 after making a goodwill payment to the landlord,” said the shopkeeper. “[The landlord’s] lease had expired, but the rules then allowed renewal of expired leases. The deal was registered in the court without any hassle.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghulam Sarwar, owner of Kashmir Book Shop in Srinagar, said he had struck a similar deal. “I also paid the landlord, because the rules then allowed renewal of expired leases,” said Sarwar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khursheed Bhat owns a fabric store in Fair Deal Shopping Complex, a 35,000-sqft building housing 70 shops. According to Bhat, part of the shopping complex was built on nazool land, or state land, 28 years ago. Some of the shops in the complex, he said, had received notices from the government. “We have been telling the government for the past 14 years that the lease granted to this complex had expired. Tell us what we have to do,” said Bhat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said businesses built on nazool land became illegal occupants of government land after the J&amp;K State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001, was scrapped in December 2021. The act had allowed those who occupied nazool land before January 1, 1990, to secure ownership rights by paying a premium. The scheme was launched by the government to raise money to fund power projects. The target was Rs25,000 crore, but the government could raise just Rs75 crore because ownership rights were granted for free after the act was amended in 2004 and 2006.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Declaring the act as “null and void” in 2020, governor Satya Pal Malik ordered that land regularised under the act be retrieved in six months and encroachments removed. The order came weeks after the J&amp;K and Ladakh High Court ordered a CBI investigation into the allegation that the act had resulted in a Rs25,000 crore land scam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Inder Kishen, a Kashmiri Pandit who owns a stationery store at Polo View, fears that he would lose the business that his family had run for generations. “My grandfather Baljee Kundu started this business before the partition. It is our bread and butter,” said Kishen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Farhan Kitab, president of the Residency Road Shopkeepers’ Association, said leaseholders had sublet their property to businesses decades ago. “Business has suffered because of the situation in Kashmir and calamities like the 2014 floods; now these rules have come as another setback,” said Kitab. “Our appeal is that the government should either give us ownership rights against a premium―since we have already made goodwill payments for setting up our businesses―or [an opportunity to] enter into an agreement. Else, families will suffer and big land-grabbers could exploit the situation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the association met Lt Governor Manoj Sinha and senior government officials after the new rules came into effect. After the meeting, said Kitab, Sinha said small businesses would not be touched.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hoteliers are especially worried. Hotels in Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Udhampur and on Boulevard Road along Dal Lake will be up for grabs if the government decides to ignore their pleas. All hotels in Gulmarg, except for the five-star Khyber Resort, have lapsed leases. Mushtaq Chaya, owner of a chain of hotels in and outside Kashmir, said a delegation of hoteliers led by him discussed the issue with Sinha. “Of the initial 40-year lease period, there was no business for 30 years because of militancy,” said Chaya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several hoteliers in Gulmarg said they were witnessing impressive footfalls for the first time since the pandemic. “The government should renew the lease of hotels without delay,” said Imran Nazir, general manager of Heevan Retreat. “At a time when unemployment in Kashmir, at 21 per cent, is the highest in the country, each hotel employs hundreds of people directly and indirectly. Even a day’s disruption will have a serious impact on the industry.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Nazir, the number of affluent tourists visiting Kashmir has gone up for the first time in 30 years. “It started because of Covid, as people who couldn’t travel abroad for holidays turned to Kashmir,” he said. “They found the place more scenic, and affordable, than locations abroad. In a way, Covid was a blessing in disguise. Those who visited during the pandemic are making repeat trips and bringing friends and relatives along.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghulam Muhammad Malik, manager at the three-star Alpine Ridge, Gulmarg, said the property’s lease had lapsed in September 2019. “This hotel was built in 2013,” he said. “We have invested in this business [expecting] a 90-year lease. Hotel maintenance expenses in Gulmarg are very high because of heavy snowfall.” The government, he said, must consider the difficulties they have overcome in the past few decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The new rules may also affect the functioning of several schools in Kashmir. “The rules will impact nearly 650 schools, including Christian missionary schools,” said G.N. Var, head of the private schools association in Srinagar. Four prominent schools in Srinagar―Tyndale Biscoe and Mallinson Girls at Sheikh Bagh, Burn Hall at Sonwar, and Presentation Convent at Rajbagh―had leases that expired before 2000. Burn Hall and Presentation Convent renewed their leases three months before Article 370 was voided.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In April last year, the government asked all private schools to furnish details regarding their lapsed leases. As many as 400 schools that had renewed their registration faced the threat of closure. The government action, however, was stayed by the court and criticised by political parties. “The leases have expired, but people should get a chance for renewal,” said former chief minister Omar Abdullah. “Fix the rate and tell people to pay.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Altaf Bukhari of J&amp;K Apni Party said the new rules were draconian and inhuman. “If the government did not extend the leases, it is not the leaseholders’ mistake. [The new rules] cannot stand the scrutiny of law,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Peoples Conference leader Sajad Lone, the new rules have a sinister objective. “They are not without motives,” he said. “It may start the dark chapter of blatantly othering the Kashmiris.”</p> Sat Apr 08 14:02:13 IST 2023 punjab-security-issues-needs-to-be-solved-with-concerted-efforts-of-union-and-state-governments <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The shadow of Amritpal Singh looms over Punjab. The Waris Punjab De leader has been on the run for more than 10 days, and the hunt for him has prompted hundreds of young men who were once sympathisers to distance themselves from his radical path.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police have already nabbed hundreds of Amritpal supporters. Eleven of them have been charged under the stringent National Security Act. The last time a person in Punjab was charged under NSA was in 2001, when followers of a breakaway Sikh sect published their own holy book, sparking violence across the state. The founder of the sect, Piara Singh Bhaniara, was denounced by the influential Akal Takht and charged by the police under NSA after several incidents of sacrilege were reported.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than two decades later, another radical has the state on tenterhooks. Even if Amritpal is arrested soon, the disquieting situation is unlikely to be set right in the near future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police station at Jallupur Khera, Amritpal’s village, is receiving more visitors than usual. Elderly Sikhs comfort anxious young men summoned by the police. The men take pains to disavow Amritpal, saying they were miles away from him and his aides when they attacked the police station in Ajnala, some 10km from Jallupur Khera, with swords and sticks on February 23.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CCTV recordings of the Ajnala attack are being examined by the police to identify and arrest his followers. Amritpal himself has been absconding since March 18, and the continuing hunt for him has exposed a system that is grappling with social and religious tensions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 29, a video message from Amritpal shot in an unknown location surfaced on social media. In the video, he describes the crackdown on him as an attack on the Sikh community. “I appeal to the community in the country and abroad to participate in the Sarbat Khalsa programme on Baisakhi (April 14). For a long time, we have been taking up issues in small ways, but if we want to solve the issues of Punjab, we have to put up a united front,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amritpal has laid down conditions for his surrender, such as removing the NSA charges against his aides. Apart from the 11 aides booked under NSA, cases have been registered against 39 protesters and 31 Waris Punjab De members. As many as 360 others have been booked for breaking barricades, destroying public property, displaying arms and engaging in criminal intimidation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amritpal has left behind all but two of his followers―Pappalpreet Singh, an alleged Khalistani hand, and Bikramjit, a close aide who handles funds. The sundry criminals, aspiring gangsters and disillusioned youth who once followed him are scrambling to enlist the support of Sikh elders to distance themselves from Amritpal. The crackdown has been so extensive that the Akal Takht has demanded the release of “innocent” persons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I was standing far away when the Ajnala violence took place. I don’t have any links with any of the accused,” said Manjeet (named changed), one of the 360 accused. Manjeet had come to the Jallupur Khera station with a co-accused and a village elder. The elder was there to help the young men explain how they were mere bystanders when the violence erupted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The police have released 348 of the 360 persons arrested under preventive sections of the law,” said Gaurav Yadav, director general of police, to THE WEEK. “Directions have been issued to all police stations in the state to ensure no innocent person is harassed or arrested.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Police sources said the NSA detainees―all of whom are key aides of Amritpal―will have to face the iron hand of the law. Accused members of Waris Punjab De and the violent protesters will also not be spared, they said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ball is now in the court of the state government. Once the police charge a person under the NSA, the action has to be validated by the district commissioner within 12 days. After the commissioner validates it, the accused can be kept in custody for three months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the meantime, the government has to send all case details to an advisory board―a quasi-judicial body of three members headed by a retired High Court judge. The board looks at the grounds for the arrest, summons witnesses and analyses all evidence. Only if the board is satisfied that the police is allowed to implement the maximum detention period of one year under NSA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NSA is considered draconian, because the detainee cannot get bail, does not have immediate access to lawyers, and cannot appeal to the government against the decision of the board. There is legal recourse in the High Court and the Supreme Court, but the process takes time. In the meantime, the detainee can be shifted to a jail in another state, and can be arrested under sections of the Indian Penal Code if the detention is over.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Aam Aadmi Party, which came to power in Punjab last year, has to walk a tightrope between the need to release innocents and ignore the demands from pressure groups supporting Amritpal. The fact that Pakistan-backed Khalistani groups in Canada, the UK, the US and Australia are targeting Indian missions and running online campaigns in his support has been a wake up call for the Union and state governments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Even though Amritpal’s supporters and the forces behind him are trying to whip up pro-Khalistan sentiment abroad, the two worlds of Amritpal in Punjab and the pro-Khalistan supporters abroad are disconnected,” said G.K. Pillai, former Union home secretary. According to him, Punjab’s problems do not arise from any ideology or separatist sentiment, but from tangible and everyday concerns that can be addressed by the Central and state government together. “In fact, despite Pakistan-supported pro-Khalistan forces trying to fish in troubled waters, it still has no resonance on the ground,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The unmaking of Amritpal, said Pillai, will only be complete when the Punjab government is able to roll out a cohesive plan to stamp out the gangster network, drug mafia and lumpen elements who were attracted to Amritpal and his radical path.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police are apparently working on such a blueprint. “We are hoping that, in the next few months, the momentum [of the Amrtipal hunt] is maintained to focus on cracking down on illegal sale of drugs, gun-running, cross-border smuggling and financial flows to outfits like Waris Punjab De,” said a counterterrorism official. “This is to prevent the growth of radical elements like Amritpal, who can whip up sentiments to the extent that they become a threat to national security.”</p> Sat Apr 01 17:51:22 IST 2023 a-women-s-movement-in-kerala-against-muslim-inheritance-law <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Rubiya Sainudheen, 26, of Kochi is fighting an uphill battle. An only child, she lost her father, C.H. Sainudheen, to Covid in November 2020. Sainudheen was an entrepreneur who sold lottery tickets wholesale and had property worth 020 crore. He died without leaving a will and had a debt of Rs2 crore.</p> <p>Rubiya was divorced at the time. She later married a businessman, Shuhaib K.T., and they tried to settle the debt by selling some of Sainudheen’s assets. They found an unexpected roadblock. Sainudheen’s brother and son contested the sale, citing provisions of the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The act and its provisions are applicable to all cases where a Muslim dies intestate, leaving questions regarding succession and division of property. As per the law, the lone daughter of a father who died intestate is entitled to only half the assets owned by him. The rest is divided among his brothers. But, if the lone child is a son, the property can be passed on to him as a whole. Apparently, Muslim personal law discourages people from leaving a will that benefits only the children.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rubiya says the law is helping her relatives grab her father’s property. According to her, they were of no help when her father was alive and her mother was suffering from kidney disease. After he died, the relatives allegedly tried to maintain control over the assets by preventing her from remarrying.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shuhaib fully backs Rubiya in her battle. He said assets worth Rs6 crore sans liabilities, which her father had made by hard work, are now in dispute. “My father left home when he was just 18 because of family problems,” she said. “He created all this wealth by himself. We approached the mosque committee, but they supported my uncle.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 12, Rubiya went public against Muslim inheritance law. She spoke about her experience at an event organised by the newly formed Forum for Muslim Women’s Gender Justice (FMWGJ). The event―held at Kozhikode and named ‘Uyirppu 2023’ (uyirppu means revival in Malayalam)―resolved to reform Muslim inheritance law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Four days before Uyirppu, a unique revival of vows was held at the office of the sub-registrar at Hosdurg in Kasaragod district. Actor-lawyer Shukoor and his wife, Sheena Shukoor, who heads the department of legal studies at Kannur University, registered their marriage under the Special Marriage Act, 1954. Shukoor had shot to fame last year after he portrayed his alter ego in the hit courtroom drama Nna Than Case Kodu (Sue Me). He posted on Facebook that he was opting for “a second marriage”; the bride, he said, was his own wife of nearly three decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shukoor said he was “remarrying” because his three daughters stood to lose a share of their inheritance to his brothers. By re-registering the marriage under the Special Marriage Act, he wanted to ensure that the Muslim inheritance law did not apply to his family. “Don’t you think that our life’s earnings should go to our daughters? Under the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, it will not happen,” he wrote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Shukoor, the Muslim inheritance law is discriminatory. “The 1937 act does not clearly define the sharia,” he wrote. “And, according to the approach taken by our courts based on the book Principles of Mohammadan Law, written by Sir D.H. Mulla in 1906, only two-thirds of the share of our property will go to our daughters after our death. The rest will go to our brothers. The only reason for that is that we have no sons.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In India, marriages can legally happen in two ways: the customary way, or marriage under personal law; and marriage under the Special Marriage Act. When it comes to inheritance, section 21 of the Special Marriage Act stipulates equal share to men and women under the Indian Succession Act, 1925.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My [customary] marriage in 1994 still has legal standing, but section 15 of the Special Marriage Act offers the provision to reregister the marriage,” said Shukoor. “[If a Muslim couple opts for it], the inheritance law applicable in their case will be the Indian Succession Act.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shukoor and Sheena’s decision caused an uproar on social media. A section of Muslim clergy, activists and politicians accused the couple of misleading believers. “Our viewpoint is that gender equality is not practical; what should be done is gender justice,” said T.K. Nishad Salafi, general secretary of Wisdom Islamic Youth Organisation, which is part of the conservative Mujahid movement in the state. “Shukoor’s thinking is based on certain liberal ideas that are intended to attack the base of Islam and the moral structure of society. These liberal ideas make you think that there is inequality in Muslim personal law. What we really require is gender justice, and the inheritance laws in Islam ensure justice.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Council for Fatwa and Research at the Darul Huda Islamic University in Malappuram, which is affiliated to the influential Sunni Mahallu Federation, said Shukoor was being self-centred. “It is an irony that a person who claims to be a follower of Islamic laws has remarried under the Special Marriage Act. It is his narrow-minded desire that his siblings should not receive even a fraction of his assets that has compelled him to resort to this action,” it said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jafar Hudavi of the Council for Fatwa and Research said: “In Islam, you cannot marry a woman who is someone’s wife. Shukoor and Sheena are already married, so there is nothing significant about their new marriage. That is how it is from a religious point of view.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shukoor, however, believes that the “marriage” served a purpose. “I did not remarry; I just re-registered my 1994 marriage under the Special Marriage Act,” he told THE WEEK. “I announced it as a ‘second marriage’ just to spark a conversation [about the inheritance law].”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shukoor and Sheena are part of FMWGJ, which organised the Kozhikode event. Khadeeja Mumtaz, vice chairperson of FMWGJ, said what they did was symbolic. At Kozhikode, the organisation passed a resolution saying sections in Muslim personal law be either abolished or updated in accordance with the contemporary social conditions of Muslims in India. “If Muslim personal law is updated and codified comprehensively in accordance with constitutional values, then all arguments regarding [the need for] a uniform civil code would become insignificant,” it said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>FMWGJ is the brainchild of V.P. Suhara, 73. A veteran activist, Suhara founded the progressive women’s forum NISA in 1997. In 2015, she impleaded herself in a special leave petition filed in the Supreme Court, which said the existing Muslim inheritance law was discriminatory and based on misrepresentations of various Quranic principles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The petition was earlier filed by the Khuran Sunnath Society, an organisation founded by reformist cleric Chekannur Maulavi. A popular figure, Maulavi disappeared in 1993; it is alleged that he was murdered.</p> <p>The Khuran Sunnath Society had earlier moved the Kerala High Court saying the current inheritance law was violative of Articles 14 (equality before law), 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of sex), 19 (freedom of expression), 21 (protection of life and personal liberty), and 25 (freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion) of the Constitution. The High Court, however, rejected the petition saying it was up to the legislature to enact a law to resolve the matter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Supreme Court recently heard the special leave petition in which the Khuran Sunnath Society and Suhara are parties. The court asked the state government to file an affidavit, and the government consulted a dozen Muslim organisations. Sources said the government had decided to stick to the stance it had taken in the High Court―that it vouched for the validity of the existing law, and that it will not involve itself in any matter related to Muslim personal law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We failed to get a proper response from the government,” said Suhara, who plans to start a stir if the government submits an affidavit favouring conservatives. “The government says that it can only give the same affidavit filed earlier. Our understanding is that the legal advice that the government received is also to vouch for the continuation of the current system.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was the crucible in which FMWGJ was born. “I wanted a wider group of likeminded people coming together to raise the issue,” said Suhara. “And it led to the formation of the Forum for Muslim Women’s Gender Justice. A lot of victims of the inheritance law began contacting us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aishumma’s was the first case that the FMWGJ highlighted. A Muslim widow at Tanur in Malappuram, Aishumma has three daughters and no son. A part of her late husband’s property would go to her brother-in-law. “My husband was a labourer in the Persian Gulf,” she told THE WEEK. “With his sweat and blood, he raised our daughters and married them off. He could not complete the construction of our house in his lifetime. After his death in 2019, we took a loan of Rs8 lakh to finish the work.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over time, Aishumma found herself unable to pay off the growing debt. She decided to sell the property and settle the debt. “But now, my husband’s brother is not ready to sign the sale documents,” she said. “I am a Class 2 dropout, so I do not understand the complex laws affecting the division of the property. I told him to sell the property himself and give a share to us, but I was asked to wait till certain other property-related matters in his family were resolved. How long do I have to wait? This was the property my husband and I built. Today, I am waiting for their mercy; tomorrow my children would also be in the same situation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The FMWGJ cites Aishumma’s case as proof that the inheritance law needs to be reformed. It points out that, in nuclear families, women are also employed and bear financial responsibilities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most clerics, however, are against amending the law. “Muslim personal law is based on the Quran and the Prophet’s verses. None other than Allah can change the sharia. So there is no question of changing it to suit the times,” said Onampally Muhammad Faizy of Sunni Yuvajana Sangham, an offshoot of the Samastha Kerala Jem-iyyathul Ulama, Kerala’s most influential body of Muslim scholars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Faizy said the law gives Muslim women “financial rights, but not financial responsibilities”. “The Islamic concept is that it is not the woman who has to bear financial responsibilities. She gets a share that can be kept by her, and she can do anything with it as long as it adheres to moral values. But it is a man―as brother or husband―who has financial responsibilities. He may have to protect his wife, sister, daughter or granddaughter. Islam sees that the responsibility is more on men,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With a middle ground proving elusive, the CPI(M)-led government finds itself in a tricky situation. The party has been trying to woo the Indian Union Muslim League and other major community organisations in the state into the left fold. Recently, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan even went to the extent of asking why the practice of instant divorce among Muslims was criminalised “when divorces happen in all religions”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said CPI(M) state secretary M.V. Govindan: “Those from the Muslim community themselves have to bring forward ideas for reforms. The CPI(M) has always stood for democratisation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Suhara, the political atmosphere makes it difficult for the government to take a progressive stance. “The CPI(M) wants to stay in power, so it will not be ready to antagonise religious organisations,” she said. “But this a left-front government, so we have some hope. We think the government would hear the growing strength of our voices.”</p> Sat Mar 25 13:43:48 IST 2023 bjp-targeting-woman-voters-in-madhya-pradesh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FEBRUARY WENT BY</b> in a flurry of felicitations for Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. While many of them were initiated by BJP leaders, some were organic. Former chief minister Uma Bharti, too, had planned one on February 25, but it was cancelled owing to a road mishap the previous day in Sidhi district that killed 14 people. He visited her residence on February 27, where she felicitated him; she also held a public felicitation on March 11.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The public praise for Chouhan came in the wake of two announcements by his government. The first one was the Chief Minister’s Ladli Behna Yojana, announced on January 29, that aims to provide Rs1,000 per month to women from economically backward groups. The second one was the new excise policy, announced on February 19, which called for a closure of ahatas (open drinking places linked to liquor shops), and increased the distance between liquor shops and religious and educational establishments from 50m to 100m.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The two decisions seem to have hit a chord with women, with many tying Chouhan rakhi in person or sending the thread and greetings by post. An elated Chouhan took to social media to share the greetings and gratitude he had received. Then the civic bodies―all 413 of them―joined in, organising felicitation programmes to thank Chouhan for the new excise policy on February 22. Even Bharti’s felicitation was an appreciation of the new excise policy. Her endorsement is significant because she had been up in arms against the government’s old liquor policy. Some say the change in policy was because of pressure from her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chouhan claims that the Ladli Behna Yojana was brought in to financially empower women and the new liquor policy to discourage drinking. He said the government plans to spend Rs60,000 crore on the Ladli Behna scheme in five years. About one crore women are likely to benefit from the scheme. The government has allotted Rs8,000 crore for the scheme in the 2023-2024 budget. More than Rs1 lakh crore of the Rs3.14 lakh crore budget is for women’s welfare, said Chouhan. He has also been holding ‘Ladli Behna’ camps across the state, and held an outreach programme at CM House in Bhopal on March 22. Political thinkers have termed Chouhan’s strategy as yet another masterstroke that might help the BJP win the assembly elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the 5.40 crore voters in the state, 2.60 crore (more than 48 per cent) are women. The turnout of women voters has consistently risen over the years, and in the 2018 polls it stood neck to neck, at 74.3 per cent, with that of men (75.9 per cent). No wonder, the BJP is going all out to woo them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the strategy is a game-changer, it is not new. As political commentator Manish Dixit said, Chouhan had launched flagship schemes like Ladli Laxmi Yojana (financial support for education of girls) and Kanyadan Yojana (marriage support for girls) ahead of the 2008 assembly polls, too―the first he faced as chief minister. “Not only did the schemes help Chouhan beat anti-incumbency but they also gave him the enduring image of ‘Mama’(maternal uncle) that stood him in good stead for the next elections (2013), too,” said Dixit. “Therefore, it makes sense for him to make these pro-women political moves at this juncture.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the run-up to the assembly polls, scheduled for this November, the ruling BJP has several challenges, the foremost being anti-incumbency. The party has been in power for nearly 18 years; it was marginally defeated in 2018 but returned to power in March 2020 after a section of Congress leaders, led by Jyotiraditya Scindia, defected to the BJP. Chouhan has been chief minister for 16 of those 18 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the party has been making efforts to strengthen its base―from projecting a hardcore hindutva face to wooing crucial tribal and dalit voters through multiple sops―and focusing on developmental works, sources said the feedback of its internal surveys as well as response to the government’s Vikas Yatra have made the BJP somewhat jittery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Vikas Yatra was organised from February 5 to February 25, with ministers, MLAs, BJP leaders and workers reaching out to the electorate with the government’s development works and welfare schemes. However, the yatra faced people’s ire in many places, much to the glee of the Congress. Former chief minister Kamal Nath claimed that there were protests in at least 160 places and it clearly showed people’s mood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus, reaching out to women voters is as much a safety bet as it is a well-thought-out political decision. “The voting trends of past few years and the analyses by prominent psephologists show that the women voters’ turnout is increasing year by year,” BJP state secretary Rajneesh Agrawal told THE WEEK. “Also, there is clear indication that women voters lean towards the BJP. So, on the national spectrum as well as in the state, we make efforts to take pro-women decisions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, however, termed the recent announcement, especially the liquor policy, as eyewash. “The BJP government has actually managed to double the number of liquor shops in the state by opening composite shops of foreign and country liquor,” state Congress chief Kamal Nath told THE WEEK. “The BJP policy is simple: offer cheap liquor and expensive ration, and indulge in the usual theatrics while doing it. As for the cash assistance scheme for women, it remains to be seen how effective the implementation is.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the scheme does seem to have rattled the Congress. On February 27, Nath told the media that the Congress, too, would give monthly allowance―Rs1,500―to women who were homemakers as proposed at the Congress plenary session in Raipur, and cooking gas cylinder at Rs500 if it came to power. It would be included in the poll manifesto, he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, women seem to have welcomed the Ladli Behna scheme, but are apprehensive when it comes to the new excise policy. Bharti Thakur, 28, a domestic help residing at Banganga in Bhopal, said, “The Rs1,000 cash assistance will certainly be helpful for me as prices of essential commodities are rising day by day. I only hope my husband does not take this money, too, away from me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thakur’s husband Sunil, a driver, is an alcoholic and tends to spend all available cash on alcohol. So, she is wary about the decision to close down ahatas. “At present, he does not drink at home and yet sometimes gets violent with me and my two young sons,” she says. “If ahatas close and he starts drinking at home, it will be a very bad influence on my boys and I also fear an increase in his violent behaviour.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Somvati Kondar, 34, of Ranipur in Panna district, too, sees the Ladli Behna scheme as a blessing for her five-member family that earns its living by farming a small piece of land and doing manual labour. “I would probably be able to give a little bit of better food to my three children and meet some sudden expenses,” she says. She hasn’t given much thought to the new liquor policy as her husband is not addicted to alcohol, but she, too, thinks that closing down ahatas could lead to men drinking at home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there are some misgivings about the Ladli Behna scheme, too. Activist Sachin Jain says that the big question is whether the scheme will bring about any sustainable change in the socioeconomic condition of women. “Rather if the same amount is invested in schemes for higher education, self-employment generation, health care and other empowerment measures, there can be long-term, sustainable change possible for women,” he said. Citing the state’s economic situation, he felt funding of other welfare schemes might get curtailed because of the new scheme. “When the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi (cash assistance to farmers) worth roughly Rs72,000 crore was launched, diesel and fertiliser subsidy to farmers worth Rs2.5 lakh crore was discontinued,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Social activist Upasana Behar said that as women are not decision-makers in their household, the money could easily be misused. As for the liquor policy, she said that half-baked measures like closing down ahatas or merely increasing distance of liquor shops will not prevent access to liquor and therefore will not stop violence and compulsive spending of money on liquor.</p> Sat Mar 25 13:02:20 IST 2023 tamil-nadu-bjp-state-president-annamalai-criticisms <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON MARCH 10,</b> the BJP organised a demonstration in Chennai against the DMK government for allegedly hounding its state president K. Annamalai. The event witnessed an unusual incident. A local BJP functionary declared that his party was the “real” opposition in Tamil Nadu, casting aspersions on ally AIADMK and its leader, Edappadi K. Palaniswami. BJP vice president Karu Nagarajan soon grabbed the mike and ended the leader’s runaway speech, as leaders like Khushboo looked on bemused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tensions in the BJP-AIADMK alliance have been simmering for long. On March 5, more than a dozen BJP functionaries, including IT cell chief C.T.R. Nirmal Kumar, defected to the AIADMK. Nirmal’s resignation letter accused Annamalai of having underhand dealings with DMK ministers. “The party is led by a mentally stunted person,” he wrote, “and it is inching towards destruction.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A day after Nirmal jumped ship, several of his former colleagues followed suit. Nirmal said Annamalai had humiliated the IT cell through actions and words. Apparently, he once hurled a dossier across a desk and blamed the IT cell for not boosting his image. “I have been tolerating everything for the past one and half years, but there is nothing more petty than spying on one’s own party cadre,” Nirmal told THE WEEK.</p> <p>Sources in the BJP said that Nirmal had first approached Palaniswami three months ago. The AIADMK leader was apparently reluctant to take him in. He relented only after receiving an internal report that said Nirmal could help strengthen the AIADMK’s IT wing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Nirmal’s colleagues who switched over to the AIADMK are very active online, they do not have ground support. But the defections are significant, because of the nature of allegations against Annamalai, a former IPS officer. “He is completely jittered,” said a senior BJP leader. Annamalai’s news conferences in the two days following the defections showed how unsettled he was. “I am also a leader; a leader like [former chief ministers] J. Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi. Tamil Nadu politics revolves around me,” he declared during a conference.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amar Prasad Reddy, Annamalai’s confidant and president of the BJP’s sports and skill development cell in Tamil Nadu, accused the AIADMK of poaching. “As an alliance partner, the AIADMK should not have done this,” he recently tweeted. Referring to the AIADMK’s recent rout in the bypoll in the Erode East constituency, he wrote, “The voters have shown the exit door to those who considered the Kongu region as their citadel. They made them lose with a margin of around 66,000 votes. The BJP is the only future for Tamil Nadu.”</p> <p>Nirmal said Annamalai’s leadership style was divisive. “The BJP has had many leaders. Under Tamilisai Soundararajan, the party’s membership increased. L. Murugan kept party cadres vibrant. But Annamalai always behaved like a police officer. He was never pleasant. He used to shout and chase leaders out of his room, even those who came from far-off districts to take a photo with him,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Nirmal, Annamalai runs his own 24x7 war room to boost his image, and has little patience for resolving party issues. He also has no qualms about muzzling dissenting voices. Apparently, veteran leaders such as Pon Radhakrishnan, Vanathi Srinivasan and Nainar Nagendran have either been sidelined or ignored.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In December, for instance, BJP leaders C.P. Radhakrishnan and Srinivasan wanted to capitalise on the news of a car explosion at Coimbatore’s Kottaimedu region. After apparently obtaining Annamalai’s consent, Radhakrishnan told journalists in Coimbatore that the party had called for a day-long bandh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“But the very next day,” said a senior BJP leader, “Annamalai informed the High Court that the BJP was against the hartal.” The result was that Radhakrishnan’s credibility took a huge hit, and he had to leave electoral politics to take charge as governor of Jharkhand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources said work pressure had forced Annamalai to seek the BJP’s national leadership’s permission for a fortnight’s leave. Apparently, the request was denied and it was suggested that he quit if he could not handle pressure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior BJP leader said Annamalai did not have his ear to the ground. “There are many issues in the party―faction feud, differences between party functionaries, and so on. Though he is the party leader, Annamalai does not know what his own partymen are doing,” said the leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ties between Annamalai and Palaniswami have long been strained. Both belong to the Gounder community; some analysts believe that the BJP is using Annamalai to keep Palaniswami on his toes. Currently, though, Palaniswami has the upper hand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The AIADMK is not a mirror; it is an ocean,” D. Jayakumar, party spokesperson and former minister, told THE WEEK. “Stones thrown at the ocean can only sink. People are joining us on their own will. Annamalai should have the maturity to accept that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>AIADMK leaders have criticised Annamalai for comparing himself with Jayalalithaa. “Amma (Jayalalithaa) was the tallest leader the state has ever had. Annamalai has been in politics for just two years,” said former minister Kadambur C. Raju.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though AIADMK leaders are upset, they do not want the party to break off the alliance. A top-level source in the BJP said Palaniswami had a hotline to the BJP leadership in Delhi. Apparently, it is Palaniswami’s son who attends calls and translates messages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both the AIADMK and the BJP want to defeat the DMK-led alliance in the Lok Sabha polls next year. “There is no rift in the alliance,” said Jayakumar. “The AIADMK remains part of the National Democratic Alliance and the BJP remains our ally in Tamil Nadu. Just because of few senior members have joined our party doesn’t mean that we are targeting the BJP.”</p> Sat Mar 18 19:00:09 IST 2023 the-hunt-for-diamonds-in-panna-madhya-pradesh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On a vast tract of reddish yellow land dotted by small pits and heaps of rocky soil, 72-year-old Puran Patel is hard at work. The sun is merciless at Pati Bajariya, about 10km from Panna town in Madhya Pradesh. Puran, clad in a short white dhoti, with a yellow t-shirt slung over his right shoulder, repeatedly shakes a sieve full of pebbly soil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is only when his name is called out twice or thrice does his concentration break, and he reluctantly agrees to a short conversation. After all, taking a break means losing precious minutes that could be used to find a diamond that might change his life forever.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given his advanced age, it is surprising to see Puran doing the tough work of digging a pit, separating the rocky alluvium layer that looks promising, breaking it into smaller fragments, washing off the soil in a metal sieve, separating the pebbles spreading them out to dry and then sifting through the spread minutely, hoping to spot that life-changing glitter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But for Puran it is a labour of love―a divine one. Having completed his duties towards his wife, two sons and two daughters, he moved to an ashram near his home seven or eight years ago. But he now wants to go to Rameshwaram on a pilgrimage. As he was short of money, he decided to try out his luck in Panna―the diamond bowl of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus Puran left his village, which is about 100km away, and came to Panna alone, carrying just a hoe, some dry rations and Rs200 in cash. “I had heard about the diamond fields of Panna very early in my life, but I never felt like coming here, as I was involved with farming and my family. Now I have come here because of a divine push. I am certain that I will get a diamond good enough to sponsor my Rameshwaram visit,” said Puran. Like many resource-strapped hunters, he has built a temporary shack near his small mining claim leased from the government. He cooks basic meals himself and spends all day looking for diamonds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>About 20km away, 11-year-old Pawan Kushwaha comes running down the rocky sloping banks of the Runj river, carrying a small bamboo basket. He is helping his mother and grandmother look for diamonds. The family came here after they heard that dam construction work had thrown up mines of ‘diamond-bearing’ alluvium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A student of class six at a private school at Khajuraho, Pawan said he had taken a three-day leave of absence to join his family’s quest. Does he know how to find diamonds? “I can easily learn by looking at what others are doing. If we are lucky, we will get the diamond in an hour, let alone three days,” said Pawan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Puran and Pawan are among the numerous diamond hunters who descend on the diamond bearing areas in Panna, about 450km from Bhopal from various parts of north India. The National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) stopped mining in January 2020, after its forest clearance expired. Following a recent order of the Supreme Court, it is likely to restart in July.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Presently, artisanal-scale shallow-pit mining (ASM), facilitated by the Madhya Pradesh directorate of geology and mining, is the only source for indigenous diamonds in India. ASM refers to mining by individuals, groups, families or cooperatives with minimal or no mechanisation. The sector is usually highly labour-intensive and does not require much investment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Panna diamonds have not made a buzz in India or abroad because the stones are of ‘average’ quality, but that does not stop the rush. Ravi Patel, the Panna district diamond officer, said the best stones found in the district usually fell in the ‘G’ grade on a D-Z scale of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) colour-scale. According to the GIA scale, ‘D’ (colourless) grade diamonds are the highest valued while ‘Z’ (light coloured) are of the lowest value. The ‘G’ grade diamonds of Panna are considered just average. But a stone worth lakhs of rupees or even above a crore of rupees is found once in a while. It is such finds, which receive big publicity, that lure in the miners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite searching for years spending a lot of money and labour, most hunters remain empty-handed. Yet, a majority of them are unable to give up. “I feel as if I am ill if I do not go to my small diamond mine the first thing in the morning,” said 63-year-old Prakash Kumar alias Kakku Sharma. “The addiction is just like alcoholism; despite grave losses financially and health-wise, one cannot simply give up. You will understand the level of my addiction when I say that I have not married because of this.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kakku, a resident of Janakpur on the outskirts of Panna town, has been hunting diamonds since 1978, but has not got much to show for his efforts. He got some very small stones initially that pushed him to keep looking and he got a 4.0 carat diamond about 20 years ago. Enthused, he kept on the hunt till he and his two partners were rewarded with a 12.58 carat diamond in 2018. It fetched around Rs46 lakh, and Kakku spent a part of his share―of around Rs15 lakh―on repairing his ancestral house. He reinvested the rest in more mines. In the past two years, Kakku and his partners have spent around Rs12 lakh, without much luck.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It does not matter. We will keep looking. Maybe tomorrow I will get a big one,” said Kakku, who stays with his brother’s family. Though Kakku might be a carefree man because of the lack of any pressing domestic responsibilities, another avid diamond hunter, Sitaram Ahirwar of Bajariya village, does not have any such luxury. The 47-year-old landless man, who sustains a family of seven by farming on leased land on a shared basis and doing manual labour part time, became a diamond hunter at the age of 15.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When he was 19, Sitaram and his partners got a 7.5 carat stone that fetched Rs40,000. A young bachelor then, he spent his share of Rs12,000 on the expenses related to his nephew’s birth. He has not had any luck since then. “My marriage seems to have changed my luck for the worse,” he said. Yet what keeps him going? “Well it is him (pointing towards the sky) who gives and takes everything. So I keep hunting with faith in him,” he said. Rajesh Gond, 32, of Kalyanpur, too, is in a similar situation. A landless tribal, he works as a labourer for other diamond hunters. He has also taken small mines on lease, but in the past nine years, he has not got anything. Rajesh and his wife, Shakuntala, wake up every day at 4am and dig for diamonds in their own plot till around 8am. They then go to work as daily labourers for other bigger hunters. Despite facing extreme poverty, Rajesh does not even have a ration card. But he is not ready to give up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is probably the good fortune of people like Pratap Singh Rana and his wife, Meena, of Sector 49, Noida, that keeps many of these diamond seekers going. Rana, a building contractor, heard of the Panna diamonds from his worker Manoj Das who hails from the diamond-bearing Bargarhi village. They invested in a mine on private land in October 2021, but got nothing. In January 2022, they leased another one in Meena’s name and luck turned for the couple. They landed seven diamonds of various sizes during the past few months―the biggest among them being a 9.64 carat stone, estimated to be worth Rs50 lakh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rana has deposited the stones with the district diamond office, but because of the low bids by traders in the auction held in October, he is yet to get any money. “I have already spent about Rs40 lakh. I hope it gets a good price at the next auction,” said Rana. “By the luck of your (THE WEEK reporter) arrival, I found a diamond today, just a while ago. Though it is a small one, it has broken the dry patch of the past few weeks as our last diamond was in September,” said Rana.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A small stone glitters as a nose pin on the pretty face of Priya Majumdar, the 16-year-old daughter of Prakash Majumdar, resident of Jaruapur village in the buffer zone of the Panna Tiger Reserve. Prakash, who belongs to a poor Bengali refugee family, has got as many as nine diamonds during the past three years, the biggest of them being a 7.74 carat stone in 2020.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prakash started off as a supervisor at the stone mines of Panna more than 20 years ago, earning barely Rs1,000 a month. He slowly rose up the ranks and became a partner with his employer in brick kilns. Three years ago, he decided to try his luck with diamond mines and hit pay dirt. “I earned about Rs50 lakh in these three years by investing around Rs20 lakh,” said Prakash, who was elected sarpanch of Jaruapur last July. Though he built a spacious house in the village a few years ago, he has not demolished the small, dilapidated house where he grew up. “This old house keeps me and my children grounded despite our recent good luck,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the end of the rainy season of 2022, Panna has faced an unusual diamond rush near the dam under construction on the Runj River near Ajaigarh. It has put the focus squarely on the shallow-pit artisanal-level diamond mining in Panna once again. The dam work started in the diamond bearing belt in 2020 and with a huge quantity of excavated alluvium available, locals had been visiting the site to hunt for diamonds, but the lockdown of 2020 and 2021 kept things under control. After the 2022 monsoon, the site suddenly reported a huge influx of people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Normally, poor people from the area, who migrate to other states for work, return for the farming season during monsoon and stay back till the winter farming season. With the lockdown restrictions gone, hordes of locals have descended on the dam site after monsoon farming work. It has now reached a level that a law and order situation could arise any time,” said Ravi Pathak of the NGO Prithvi Trust.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pathak said several people got diamonds, but since mining was illegal, people sold most of the diamonds found there illegally in the open market. “But a few who wanted publicity deposited the diamonds at the district diamond office, claiming that those were found on leased mine plots. Media reported the matter and it attracted more diamond hunters,” said Pathak.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE WEEK team found a veritable human settlement thriving at the spot. Pawan Kushwaha and his family live in temporary shacks. Under the harsh sun, members of the family strain the sand for bigger gravelly fragments, then dry them out and sift through the mix for diamonds. Temporary shops selling daily essentials have come up along with those selling snacks and tea and cheap meals. The most thriving business seems to be that of selling jugaad sieves made on the spot by punching holes into big aluminium vessels. While proper sieves cost Rs450, the makeshift sieves are sold for just Rs80.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Krishnakumar Sahu and his two brothers have put up a traditional snack and sweet shop at the site. Sahu had his shop in Ajaigarh town, about 12km away, but since most local people moved to the Runj site in search of diamonds, he decided to follow his customers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since diamond hunting is illegal in the area, forest officials are trying to evict the people―some have even ventured into nearby protected forests. Divisional forest officer Punit Sonkar said the issue was becoming a cause of concern. In a recent meeting he had with Mineral Resources Minister Brijendra Pratap Singh, it was decided that a joint action of the district administration, forest and police departments with the help of local village forest committees (VFCs) will be initiated to evict the people engaged in illegal activity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The entire area was under the jurisdiction of the forest department but the dam site was handed over to the water resources department. Much of the area where the diamond hunt is currently happening is in a submergence area and if valuable resources like diamonds are taken out of there and deposited with the government in a legal manner, it is actually a helpful thing,” said Sonkar. “But people venture into the surrounding forest areas, thereby posing a threat to wildlife. They themselves are under threat from animals.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sonkar also pointed out that the huge influx of outsiders is disrupting the law and order in the area. “Recently, one of our officers and his team were mobbed during an inspection visit. Therefore, it is important to regulate the flow of people there. We are thinking of putting up barriers and introducing a pass system for locals,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two days after THE WEEK visited the area, the district administration and forest department evicted people and removed temporary infrastructure put up by them. Sonkar said with coordinated action by various government departments, most encroachers had been driven out. “Section 144 has been announced in the area by the district administration and a 10-member team of forest department has been permanently posted to keep an eye on the situation,” said the DFO. However, even if the situation improves temporarily, the government will find it difficult to stem the persistent illegal buying and selling of diamonds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The diamond officer, Ravi Patel, said people who got the diamonds tended to sell them in the open market, despite getting very low prices. This causes huge losses in royalty to the government. “The government process takes some time for the sale and for money to come, despite us holding quarterly auctions. We do not sell the diamonds if the bids come in low and people have to wait. To improve the situation we are thinking of introducing monthly auctions soon,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The officer said efforts were on to digitise the entire auction and payment process. At present, traders make security deposits before auction through bank challans, and the finders are paid through cheques. Digitisation could speed things up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ravi Patel said it was difficult to monitor all illegal activity as the district diamond office had just two field staff against a sanctioned strength of nine. Earlier, there was also a provision for 27 ‘sepoys’ to monitor illegal mining. In their absence local people regularly dig up areas that are not on lease and pass off the diamonds found there as those from legally leased claim.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A diamond trader from Surat, who was in Panna, told THE WEEK that often the seller and buyer found it easy to operate out of the government system. “People are in a hurry to sell off what they find because of economic requirements and safety issues. Most of them do not have the expertise to know the value of their find. So it depends on whether the seller is cleverer or the buyer. Whoever is cleverer manages to hog the profit,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite being famous for its diamonds, Panna is one of the backward districts in Madhya Pradesh, performing poorly on income and human development indices. Malnutrition and anaemia are common, while the people engaged in diamond and stone mining work are getting afflicted by long-term lung diseases like silicosis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Prithvi Trust, which conducted a survey on silicosis in 40 villages in Panna block, found as many as 163 cases of silicosis. Government figures based on a 2017 survey is just 26. “There have been constant deaths and many are suffering badly, putting families in further economic jeopardy,” said Pathak. People have been demanding proper surveys to identify patients, provide free diagnostic and treatment facilities and due compensation.”</p> Sun Mar 19 12:16:52 IST 2023 bjp-defeat-in-kasba-peth-assembly-elections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A week before the assembly byelection in Kasba Peth, Pune, senior BJP Minister Chandrakant Patil was asked whether Ravindra Dhangekar of the Congress would be a formidable opponent. “Who is Dhangekar?” he shot back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On March 2, Dhangekar beat BJP man Hemant Rasane by around 11,000 votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sure, the BJP defeated the Nationalist Congress Party to retain Chinchwad, but that was a pyrrhic victory. Kasba Peth had been a BJP bastion for close to three decades and it also houses the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Maharashtra headquarters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The byelection was necessitated by the death of Mukta Tilak, the sitting BJP MLA. The great granddaughter-in-law of freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mukta had trounced her Congress-NCP opponent in the 2019 elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, Dhangekar had approached the state BJP leadership for a ticket ahead of the election. A four-term corporator in the Pune Municipal Corporation, Dhangekar was earlier with Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. He joined the Congress only in 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A down-to-earth leader with a ‘can do’ spirit, Dhangekar moves around Pune on a two-wheeler and keeps his office open to the public from 8am to midnight. He spends close to 10 hours a day listening to people, calling up municipal authorities to solve their problems and simply chatting with his supporters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his previous electoral efforts, Dhangekar had finished runner-up to BJP-Shiv Sena candidate Girish Bapat in the 2009 assembly election, leaving behind the Congress hopeful. In 2014, when all parties fought the state elections on their own, Dhangekar had come a close third, polling close to 26,000 votes. So, he was always a strong candidate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What his win now has shown is that Kasba Peth was a saffron bastion and not a BJP one as the party had believed. And leaders like Patil are the ones to blame.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All previous BJP legislators from Kasba Peth were Brahmins. The community accounts for about 14 per cent of the constituency. Marathas and OBCs together form a major chunk of the population. And though from a particular caste, the previous BJP winners had an excellent personal equation with all communities and parties, which helped them a lot. This is where Rasane fell short. An OBC candidate, Rasane paled in comparison to Dhangekar, also an OBC, in terms of personal popularity, and lost despite BJP heavyweights pouring in time and resources into his campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another important factor for the BJP’s past success in the seat has been the Shiv Sena vote bank of around 15,000. When the BJP and the Sena put up a joint candidate, the Sena votes would invariably go to the BJP. But, with Uddhav Thackeray now with the Maha Vikas Aghadi, a majority of the Sena votes went to Dhangekar. This clearly meant that Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, despite winning the Shiv Sena symbol and camping in Pune, could not transfer the Sena votes to Rasane. Of the 15,000-odd votes Bapat used to poll from this base, Rasane could corner only about 9,000.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most crucial takeaway from the Kasba Peth result, said political analyst Abhay Deshpande, was that, in the case of a straight fight between the BJP-Shinde alliance and the MVA, the latter seems to have a distinct edge. “The claim that Kasba Peth was a BJP bastion is a half-truth,” he said. “Post 2009, the BJP has been winning there because of the division of anti-BJP votes among strong candidates. So, if the MVA puts up a strong candidate and ensures that no other strong candidate is in the race, the BJP will be at a disadvantage in many constituencies across the state in both the Lok Sabha and assembly elections.” Shiv Sena (Uddhav) leader Sanjay Raut has already predicted that the MVA will win 38 to 40 (of 48) seats in the general elections and around 175 (of 288) seats in the assembly polls. Keeping aside the exaggeration in Raut’s claims, Kasba Peth would be a wake-up call for the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former deputy chief minister and senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar said Kasba Peth had shown the way forward for the MVA leadership. “We have to stay united, give tickets only to candidates with elective merit and make sure that there is a direct contest with no strong third candidate,” he said. “If so, victory will be ours in both the Lok Sabha and assembly elections.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also pointed out that, in Chinchwad, the MVA candidate Nana Kate lost to the BJP’s Ashwini Jagtap because of the sympathy factor. It was the death of Jagtap’s husband, Laxman, that necessitated the byelection. Also, there was a strong independent candidate, Rahul Kalate, who got around 44,000 votes. Kalate and Kate had both asked for the NCP ticket; Kate got it and Kalate fought on his own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP admitted there was sympathy for Ashwini, but said that the Kasba Peth defeat was a one-off. Keshav Upadhye, chief spokesperson of the Maharashtra BJP, said the defeat did not mean that the MVA would beat the BJP-Shiv Sena (Shinde) alliance in the upcoming elections. “Kasba Peth was lost more due to Dhangekar’s personal network, accessibility and track record as an effective leader,” he said. “Our efforts fell short. Also, this was a byelection where the voting percentage was less than in assembly or Lok Sabha elections. If the MVA thinks that this is their victory and results will be similar next year, let them continue to dream.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another BJP leader felt that the Lok Sabha elections would be fought under Brand Modi, whereas assembly polls will be a test of the popularity of Shinde and his deputy Devendra Fadnavis. “People in Maharashtra vote differently for Lok Sabha and assembly elections,” said the leader. “So, if we have to work hard for the Lok Sabha elections, we will have to work doubly hard for the assembly elections.”</p> Fri Mar 10 17:37:55 IST 2023 shiv-sena-bjp-political-crisis-in-maharashtra <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Around 8pm on February 19, a group of Shiv Sena workers loyal to Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde tried to take control of the party’s central shakha office at Neral, a sleepy town located 85km southeast of Mumbai. Using sickles and hammers, the workers broke into the office controlled by the rival faction led by former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As news spread, workers loyal to Uddhav swarmed into the office premises, stormed the building, and threw out the Shinde loyalists. A day earlier, a similar clash had taken place at Dapoli, a coastal town in Khed assembly constituency in Ratnagiri district. Khed is represented in the assembly by Yogesh Kadam, who supports Shinde.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The clashes happened after the Election Commission recognised the Shinde faction as the official Shiv Sena and allowed it to retain the iconic ‘bow and arrow’ symbol. The Uddhav faction was given the name ‘Shiv Sena (Uddhav Bal Thackeray)’ and the symbol of ‘flaming torch’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The EC said it had applied three tests to resolve the matter―the test of aims and objects of the Sena constitution, the test of the constitution itself, and the test of majority. It said the results of the first two tests were “inconclusive”, while the third test, when applied only to organisational strength, “was not satisfactory”. But the EC said the third test did give a “clear answer” when applied to the legislative wing of the party. In short, the EC weighed the strength of the factions in the assembly to come out with the verdict. It said 40 of 55 Sena MLAs supported Shinde.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ruling has pushed Uddhav to the wall like never before. “Nivadnuk aayogane shen khalle (The EC has eaten cow dung),” an angry Uddhav told Shiv Sena (UBT) workers after news of the verdict broke. “Even if theft is given public approval, a thief will always be a thief. We will have to fight till the last breath. We have decided to challenge the EC decision in the Supreme Court.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon after the verdict, the jubilant Shinde went to Shivaji Park to pay tribute at the memorial of Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray. “The EC decision is very important because it shows that we are the real Shiv Sena, the inheritors of Balasaheb Thackeray’s thoughts, ideology and legacy,” he told supporters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sanjay Raut, MP and editor of the Shiv Sena (UBT)’s mouthpiece Saamana, alleged that the Shinde faction spent 12,000 crore to get a favourable verdict. He said he would soon give evidence supporting his claim. Clearly, Uddhav does not take Raut’s allegation seriously; there is no mention of it in the petition filed by the party in the Supreme Court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Shinde group now occupies the Sena office in the state legislature. The iconic Shiv Sena Bhavan in Dadar is in the name of the Shiv Seva Trust, headed by party veteran and Uddhav loyalist Subhash Desai. So, technically, the Shinde group cannot stake a claim as the property is not owned by the Sena.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde loyalist and Vidarbha MP Kripal Tumane said fence-sitters who were waiting for a clear signal would now switch over to the “real Shiv Sena”. According to him, “five-six legislators in the Uddhav camp would be ready to join Shinde. A couple of MPs would also make the move, said Tumane.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naresh Mhaske, Shinde loyalist from Thane, told THE WEEK that leaders across the state were in touch with them. “I can’t tell you their exact number, but many people are in touch with us and they will make the move at the right time,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Topmost in Uddhav’s list of options would be to escalate the tactic of playing the victim card, and garner as much sympathy as possible to retain cadre strength and vote base. He will now have to build a systematic campaign that portrays him as being hounded by Central agencies including the EC, and the BJP as a powerful force that is out to destroy the Thackerays and the Shiv Sainiks who remain with them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior Congress leader and former minister Balasaheb Thorat said that a Sena sans the Thackerays was unimaginable. “How can anyone separate these two? The EC seems to have given a one-sided decision, but the Sainiks are with Uddhav only,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>NCP president Sharad Pawar has reportedly reassured Uddhav that the loss of the name and the symbol does not matter as long as he commanded cadre support. He promised the NCP’s full support, and reportedly cited a similar crisis that the Congress faced during Indira Gandhi’s time. The split in the party had forced Indira to forgo the original symbol (a pair of bullocks) and choose a new one (a cow with a calf). There was again a change to the current hand symbol. The changes, Pawar said, did not affect the Congress at all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amit Samant, NCP state secretary who oversees the Konkan belt, told THE WEEK that district level units in the region have been told to extend all help to the Sena (UBT). “Konkan is the Sena’s bastion,” said Samant. “Shinde had thrice come to Sindhudurg district in the past one month, but only a handful of people accompanied him. Mark my words, Deepak Kesarkar, Shinde’s minister from Sindhudurg, will be defeated in the 2024 assembly polls. The Sainiks here fully support Uddhav, and we will give them all possible help.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>State Congress president Nana Patole said Uddhav should study how Indira revived the Congress after she lost the party symbol. “It is clear that the EC was under pressure when it gave this decision. Had that not been the case, the EC would have waited till the Supreme Court gave its ruling in the dispute-related case that is being heard by its five-judge bench,” said Patole. “So the only option before Uddhav is to fight back like Indira ji did. This is a battle to capture people’s minds.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political commentator Prakash Akolkar, who has written a book on the Sena, said Uddhav and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi were in a similar situation. “Most of the anti-Congress, anti-Indira Gandhi forces are now with Rahul Gandhi in opposing [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi and the BJP government. This was visible during the Bharat Jodo Yatra,” he said. “Similarly, most of the old anti-Shiv Sena forces such as the Congress, the communists and the liberals have sided with Uddhav in his fight against Shinde and the BJP. It is now up to Uddhav to capitalise on this.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Akolkar, Uddhav cannot keep playing the victim card indefinitely; he would have to fight the battle in people’s court even as the legal battle in the Supreme Court drags on. “He should start from scratch,” said Akolkar. “The only way to fight this battle is to come out of Matoshree (Uddhav’s residence) and hit the road. Gone are the days when he could relax in the warmth of Matoshree and issue diktats to the Sainiks. He must now go to where the Sainiks are, to every village and tehsil of Maharashtra. He could learn a lot from Jagan Mohan Reddy of Andhra Pradesh. If he is unable to travel because of health reasons, he should ask [his son] Aditya to take it upon himself.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Veteran journalist Sandeep Pradhan, who has been tracking the Sena since the mid-1980s, said Uddhav is fighting a do-or-die battle. “To survive, he will first have to identify the key people who will remain with him till the end, and empower them. Through them, he can rebuild his Shiv Sena across the state,” said Pradhan. “Secondly, he will have to maintain smooth relations with key allies like the Congress and the NCP, and not hurt them in any manner.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the BJP, which had earlier considered the Congress-NCP coalition as its main enemy, now wanted to finish off the Thackerays politically. “This is not just to occupy the hindutva space fully, but to avenge the way Uddhav ditched the BJP to form the Maha Vikas Aghadi government [with the Congress and the NCP]. So the only option before Uddhav now is to emerge as the pivot around whom the anti-BJP coalition can be built in Maharashtra. In order to become that pivot, he will have to be proactive, and much more accessible and communicative,” said Pradhan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He pointed out that Shinde, much like the BJP leadership, approaches politics as a 24x7 vocation. “There is a crowd at Shinde’s residence even after midnight, and he meets as many people as he can despite being chief minister. Uddhav will have to be one step ahead. He will have to completely change his style of functioning. Only then will people continue to back him,” said Pradhan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and other Sena-dominated urban civic bodies are likely to be held before the onset of monsoon. They will be the first test of the Shinde-BJP strategy to finish off the Thackerays.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sena’s first family has already begun preparations. Sources said Uddhav would hold a grand public meeting in Mumbai in March. With Sharad Pawar’s help, he is planning to invite Chief Ministers Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal, Nitish Kumar of Bihar, M.K. Stalin of Tamil Nadu, and Arvind Kejriwal of Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Uddhav strongly feels that the BJP is posing a very serious threat to democracy, and that what has happened to the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra can happen to other parties as well, if the BJP is not stopped by a united opposition,” said a source close to Uddhav. “There is also a plan to organise Shiv Sampark Abhiyans across Maharashtra, wherein our senior leaders will travel to tehsils across the state in the next one month.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both Uddhav and Aditya are set to address the Abhiyan rallies. The place that Uddhav has reportedly picked as the venue of the first rally is especially interesting. “The rally will be held on March 5 at Khed, where Yogesh Kadam has joined Shinde’s Sena,” said the source. “Uddhav will address the rally.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surely, the weeks ahead in Maharashtra politics are going to be interesting.</p> Sat Mar 04 15:06:51 IST 2023 siddaramaiah-karnataka-elections-political-strategies <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN THE ELECTORAL</b> arena of Karnataka, Siddaramaiah, 75, enjoys the image of an old warhorse. It is then only apt that the Congress leader should declare in the run-up to the assembly election that this would be his final electoral outing. While the declaration is an appeal to the voters for their support, it is also being viewed as a way of strengthening his claim to the post of chief minister in the event of his party’s win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Siddaramaiah, the coming assembly election is a chance at a last hurrah. He is aspiring to occupy the chief minister's chair a second and final time. The Congress senses an opportunity for itself since the ruling BJP is saddled with a clearly perceptible anti-incumbency, and the many corruption charges have only made matters worse for it. In such a scenario, Siddaramaiah is throwing in all his political might and is putting to use all his experience and guile.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siddaramaiah's short sprint with former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi as the Bharat Jodo Yatra passed through Karnataka was viewed with keen interest, especially by his in-house rivals. There was also the grand 75th birthday celebration in Davangere, which was attended by Gandhi and other senior leaders and was seen as a show of strength by the leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The former chief minister's supporters say his strengths include his mass appeal and his AHINDA (a Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and dalits) strategy. The man who has risen from extremely modest beginnings―born in a family from the Kuruba (shepherd) community in a remote village in Mysuru―relies on his rustic charm. He was the first person from his family to graduate from college―he got a BSc and later a law degree from the University of Mysore. The Kurubas form close to 10 per cent of the state’s population. However, he has chosen to broadbase his appeal through the AHINDA movement. Siddaramaiah, known for his plainspeak, has also not minced words in taking on the BJP-RSS over their allegedly divisive, hindutva-driven politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, his aspiration to become chief minister a second time faces challenges both outside and within the party. Siddaramaiah has his roots in socialist politics since he began his political career in the Janata Parivar. He was the second-in-command in the H.D. Deve Gowda-led JD(S) before he was expelled from the party in 2006. The bitter falling out between Siddaramaiah and the Gowdas has meant that the JD(S) has put all its might into making it exceedingly difficult for him to win from his old constituency, Chamundeshwari. In the previous election, Siddaramaiah had contested from Badami, and this time, he has shown interest in contesting from Kolar, which his critics describe as his hunt for a safe seat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If AHINDA has formed the foundation of Siddaramaiah's success as a leader, it is also seen as an alienating factor for communities such as the Vokkaligas and the Lingayats. His expulsion from the JD(S), whose main support base comprises the Vokkaligas, had followed AHINDA conferences that he had organised. Siddaramaiah's undaunted criticism of the hindutva brand of politics has, meanwhile, exposed him to attacks from the BJP, like questioning his devoutness as a Hindu and dubbing him anti-Hindu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has attempted to balance the aspirations of Siddaramaiah with the ambition of his in-house rival―state Congress president D.K. Shivakumar―for the top prize if the party wins. They are a study in contrast, and for the moment, a perfect foil for each other. Siddaramaiah's AHINDA appeal is balanced by the Vokkaliga identity of Shivakumar. And, Siddaramaiah's earthiness is in contrast to the flamboyance of Shivakumar. Thrown into the mix are also the aspirations of leaders such as M.B. Patil, a Lingayat face of the party who heads the state campaign committee, and the state manifesto committee chairman G. Parameshwara, a dalit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following the poor performance of the Congress in the state in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the fall of the Congress-JD(S) government shortly afterwards, Siddaramaiah went through a bad patch, with voices from within the party demanding his scalp. However, Siddaramaiah managed to convince the central leadership about the need to have him in a leadership position in the state and was appointed leader of opposition. And now, Siddaramaiah, who has the distinction of being only the third chief minister of Karnataka―after S. Nijalingappa and D. Devaraj Urs―to last a full term, is looking for a grand finale to his electoral career.</p> Fri Mar 03 18:50:47 IST 2023 karnataka-legislative-assembly-opposition-leader-siddaramaiah-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>How is the Congress placed in the coming assembly election?</b></p> <p>The Congress is placed comfortably in Karnataka. We have a fair chance of coming back to power. The main issues are the non-performance of the BJP government and corruption. Almost all government functionaries, including the chief minister and his ministers, are facing corruption charges. There is strong anti-incumbency against the government. People want the Congress to come back because now they are remembering our administration and our schemes for the poor, farmers, youth and women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is corruption as an election issue resonating with the people at the grassroots?</b></p> <p>It is not that corruption exists only at the higher levels in the government. It has percolated to the grassroots. People have to deal with it on a daily basis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Will polarisation be a factor? For example, we have a war of words over Tipu Sultan now.</b></p> <p>The people of Karnataka are politically mature. They understand what the real issues are. The BJP is trying to drum up hatred. But the people understand the games they are playing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There was a furore when you said that you are not anti-Hindu but anti-hindutva.</b></p> <p>Hindutva means manuvada (following the Manusmriti). Hindu dharma is different. I am a Hindu. It does not mean that I should not love people belonging to other religions. Does Hindu dharma say that? No religion in the world preaches hatred or encourages hate politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Your political opponents question your adherence to Hinduism and say you are an atheist.</b></p> <p>I am not an atheist. I believe in God. But you should not suppress the truth. What is the truth? It is that one must be humane and not hate others. Which God says one should hate others?&nbsp;</p> <p>Our Constitution talks about tolerance. Any government has to run according to the provisions of the Constitution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you view the challenge posed by the JD(S) in a triangular contest in the state?</b></p> <p>It looks like there is a triangular contest. But the BJP has no base in Old Karnataka. The fight is between the Congress and the JD(S) in Old Karnataka. As far as north Karnataka is concerned, the fight would be between the BJP and the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is the significance of the Karnataka elections in terms of national politics?</b></p> <p>The result of the assembly elections will definitely have an impact on national politics. This election is very, very crucial not only for Karnataka but for the entire country as we head towards the Lok Sabha polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is the reason behind your declaration that this will be your last election?</b></p> <p>This decision was made by me considering the age factor. But I want to make it clear that I am only retiring from electoral politics, not politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It is felt that the declaration was meant to put pressure on the party to allow you to become chief minister.</b></p> <p>The newly elected MLAs elect the leader of the legislature party. It goes to the high command. The high command then takes a decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You moved out of Old Mysuru in 2018. This time, you have said you want to contest from Kolar.</b></p> <p>I am a sitting MLA from Badami. But it is a far off place. I can't go there every week. I can't meet the people there. I am the leader of the opposition and party work is also there. That is why I am looking at a nearby place. The people of Kolar are requesting me to contest from there. All sitting MLAs, ex-MLAs, Parliament members, ex-Parliament members are asking me to contest from Kolar. It is a one-hour journey from Bengaluru. That is why I have decided to shift from Badami to Kolar. But this is subject to approval by the high command.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But your political opponents say that you are hunting for a safe seat.</b></p> <p>Badami is also a safe seat for me. There are more than 20 constituencies that are safe for me. Varuna is a safe constituency, so is Koppal or Chamrajpet or Ulsoor. Everybody is requesting me to contest from their constituency. Some days ago, over 2,000 people came from Badami came here requesting me to stay on in Badami.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>JD(S) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda has also been making an appeal to voters that they should vote for his party since this is his last election.</b></p> <p>H.D. Deve Gowda is a senior politician. I don't want to comment on him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What was the impact of the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Karnataka?</b></p> <p>It was only because of his willpower that Rahul ji walked from Kanyakumari to Srinagar. This kind of a padayatra has not taken place before. It had a specific purpose, which was to repair the damage to social harmony done by the BJP. Definitely, it made an impact on the people of Karnataka. It has energised and enthused the party cadre, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you view Rahul Gandhi's leadership post the yatra?</b></p> <p>Definitely, his image has enhanced because of the yatra. The BJP ran a vicious campaign against him. Now, they can't do it. Actually, as I have seen him, he is the most simple, straightforward, honest politician in the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It is still believed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is without a challenge at the national level.</b></p> <p>I don't share that view. Is the BJP there in all the states? No. Why was the BJP defeated in Himachal Pradesh or in Delhi or Punjab or in Chhattisgarh or many other states?</p> <p>Modi is a popular leader, no doubt. It does not mean that he will win again in 2024. Nitish Kumar rightly said that if non-BJP, secular parties come together, they can defeat the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Would the Modi factor be important in Karnataka?</b></p> <p>Modi factor will not make any impact in Karnataka. There is a strong anti-incumbency against the state government. Modi can't stop the defeat of the BJP government in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It is felt that the Congress in Karnataka is a divided house on account of the rivalry between you and state unit chief D.K. Shivakumar.</b></p> <p>No, there is nothing like that. We have been working together. He is the head of the Pradesh Congress Committee. I am the leader of the opposition. I have my own role; he has his role. With mutual understanding only, we are working together. It is only a creation of the press that there are strong differences between Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah and both of them are after the chief minister's post. No doubt, we are aspirants. In a democracy, anybody can become the chief minister. Recently, G. Parameshwara also said that he is an aspirant. Nothing wrong in it. If Shivakumar wants to become the chief minister, there is nothing wrong in it. If I want to become the chief minister, there is nothing wrong in it. Finally, it is up to the elected MLAs to choose their leader and the decision taken by the high command.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Your grand birthday celebrations were seen as a show of strength.</b></p> <p>I have never celebrated my birthday because I don't know the correct date. My parents were illiterate. They did not know my date of birth. When I joined school, the headmaster wrote down my date of birth. This time, my friends and well-wishers demanded that since I am completing 75 years, they want to celebrate it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the issues with which you are going to the people?</b></p> <p>We are focusing on real problems, such as unemployment, which is affecting the youth, or inflation, which is acutely felt by every household. Our farmers are facing problems. So are the backward communities. The government stopped the scholarship that was being given to the backward communities. My government was giving 7kg of rice free of cost to poor families. Now, they have reduced it to 5kg. We are promising that if we come to power, we will give 10kg of rice to every family that has a below poverty line card.</p> <p>We have also pledged 200 units of electricity free of cost to every household and also Rs2,000 to the female head of every family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What will be the focus of the Congress government if the party wins?</b></p> <p>We have promised that we will complete all the pending irrigation projects in five years by spending Rs2 lakh crore. We will concentrate on the development of the state, give more sops to the IT and BT companies, encourage the aerospace and pharma sectors. There is the issue of the pathetic state of infrastructure in the state capital. Also, our special focus will be on the needs of the farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you look at plans for a biopic being made on you?</b></p> <p>Some well-wishers have requested that they want to make a film about my life. So far, I have not given my consent.</p> Tue Mar 07 15:08:27 IST 2023 uttar-pradesh-global-investors-summit-2023 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The year was 2013.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sugar Technologists’ Association of India had organised a three-day international conference at Indira Gandhi Pratishthan in Lucknow. Some 120 exhibitors and 1,400 delegates from around the world attended.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anil Shukla, the then secretary general of the body, received a call around midnight saying that the chief minister, who was to inaugurate the meet, would not be able to make it. Shukla still remembers the embarrassment and panic that ensued. The morning after, the government sent in a replacement―the minister who held the portfolio for home guards. He delivered a generic welcome and best-of-luck speech. “What kind of impression would that have created?” Shukla still wonders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>This is 2023.</b></p> <p>Shukla now runs a startup called Officers’ Cricket Academy in Windsor, Canada. He had heard a list of positives about the state over the past few years. So when the state’s Global Investors Summit (GIS) was announced, he did not wait for a government invitation but registered on his own to attend.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Much has changed in the Lucknow he visited this February, after a three-year gap. “There is a sense of security among women. Police personnel are cordial. Ministers and bureaucrats are enablers―easy to approach and speak to,” Shukla said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To bring over ten country partners, more than 1,000 foreign delegates from 40 countries, four ministers from partner countries, 17 Union ministers, five ambassadors/high commissioners and some 25,000 delegates to showcase the changed state that Uttar Pradesh is has been the biggest achievement of the three-day GIS. At the event inaugurated by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on February 10, the power of the double engine was on full display. Among the galaxy of Union ministers who trooped in, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnav said that Uttar Pradesh had to be a model for the world; Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri labelled the state’s cities as the transformers of the economy; Sports Minister Anurag Thakur complimented the state on building a strong foundation for bringing more medals to the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prasun Mishra, an impact investor, who is the founding chair of the World Investors and Entrepreneurs Society (WISE), a Silicon Valley-based investment collective with a global footprint, sums up his experience at the summit thus: “I will be back”. For Mishra, there were cherries―the five-star tent city created to house delegates; the superior service; the variety of cultural programmes and the drone shows highlighting the power of the Modi-Yogi Adityanath duo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the substance, for the investor in him, lays in the summit’s ‘very informative nature’. “I enjoyed the opening ceremony, where the PM outlined his vision for India with UP as its growth engine and the work that the CM has done to groom the state as one of India’s leading investment destinations,” he said. “It was a great learning experience to hear from leading industrialists regarding their investment plans and experiences. The sessions on pharmaceuticals and MSMEs; and on Indian startups that became unicorns were excellent.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While an investor summit, however spectacular, is no guarantee of actual investment or of job creation, by being at it persistently―investor summits, ground breaking ceremonies, international and national road shows, district level investment meets―Uttar Pradesh has made it abundantly clear that it means business and is welcoming of business.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sachin Agarwal, chairman and managing director of the Lucknow-based high-end engineering components manufacturer PTC Industries, said that whenever he travelled within the country, the location of his business would draw disbelief. Access to capital was difficult, for instance, as was listing on the stock market. Uttar Pradesh was placed in the club of India’s worst states―the BIMARUs: the sick.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The first thing to be tackled was this problem of perception,” said Agarwal. “There are many who have questioned the money spent on the summit. But it is this show that has sent out the message that here is a state receptive to industries. That it is open to reaching out and listening. The initial hitch of doing business in UP is no longer there. The intent, the interest and the manpower is all here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The summit was the culmination of intense preparation. More than 25 sectoral policies―formulated by the Yogi Adityanath government in its first term―were re-cast and 16 international roadshows conducted. There was a lot of naysaying, but they fell by the wayside at the summit. Singapore, for instance, in addition to the industry memoranda of understanding, signed an agreement to implement a pilot project on the efficacy of smart water technologies for enhancing the state’s sustainability. A joint partnership committee will monitor the project. Alessandro Liberatori, the Italian embassy's trade commissioner, likened the pace of progress between the two countries to that of the speed of bullet trains, and he identified smart cities, mobility, smart grids for electricity distribution and storage, gas transportation and natural gas as new areas of cooperation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The triumph of perception that Agarwal refers to is established. Right after the GIS, Agarwal made his way to the Aero India Show in Bengaluru. Among those he met there was a former US ambassador to the country, who said, “I love Lucknow.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The scale of the organisation was unbelievable. Almost all my friends from the industry, in whichever part of the country they were, received invites,” said Agarwal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The summit was remarkable for the variety of investors it drew. Take sports, for instance. Rugby India inked an MoU to take the sport to selected regions. MotoGP Bharat committed to organising the world championship in Lucknow, with a proposed investment of 1473 crore that will generate jobs for 500 people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yannick Colaco, co-founder of FanCode, a live streaming platform for sports and sports fans, said, “The steps taken by the UP government to promote sports are highly commendable. We are honoured to sign an MoU to facilitate grassroots sports development and leverage technology to develop sports and a sporting culture, especially for underserved sports.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The state has followed up on the GIS success by steps such as announcing an early appointment of Udyami Mitras (friends of entrepreneurs) to get the investment intents on the ground; the forming of Investment Implementation Units in all departments; and the setting up of dedicated call centres for foreign investors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gaurav Prakash, chairman of the Confederation of Indian Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (CIMSME) said that the sheer scale of MOUs signed was ‘inspirational’ and ‘motivating’. “From a state of unlimited problems, we have transformed into a state of unlimited possibilities. But the key is that no time must be wasted. The translation of intent into investment and employment must take place at the earliest,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For all the laurels that Uttar Pradesh has picked up for the GIS, there remain many challenges. Manufacturing, for instance, is not the state’s strength, neither are exports. And policies need to be more granular in terms of identifying what specific gaps they address, not only within the country but outside it as well. Its manpower needs to have the requisite skills to get to the top of the job ladder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Good business at the end of the day is all about having goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely (SMART). The GIS has been that crucial step in proving that Uttar Pradesh is, indeed, smart. And that it can and will punch above its weight.</p> Tue Feb 28 17:47:00 IST 2023 meghalaya-assembly-elections-2023 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The British called Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, the Scotland of the East. Thanks to the cosmopolitan culture they left behind, the guitar is a mark of tradition here, and English is the state’s official language.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A lot has changed since the British rule, but some things remain the same. On January 26, when mainland India was celebrating Republic Day, Shillong had few signs of nationalism on display. Chief Minister Conrad Sangma gave the banquet at the Raj Bhavan a miss; he was at his residence in Tura, some 350km away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meghalaya will go to the polls on February 27, but the state is not yet in the grip of campaign fever. There are no huge rallies or sloganeering. People go about their business as usual. With tourists flocking to Cherrapunji and Mawsynram, the general mood is upbeat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tura is at the foot of the Garo Hills. The road to the town gives no sign that polls are round the corner. “This is not West Bengal, Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, where you will see rallies and slogans. Here churches determine how political parties function. They don’t interfere in any political activity, but they also don’t allow celebrating politics,” said G.K. Marak, who works at a church in Tura.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Marak belongs to the Garo tribe, one of three prominent tribes in Meghalaya. The others are Khasi and Jaintia tribes. The rest of the population includes people of smaller tribes, and Bengalis, Sikhs, Marawaris, Biharis and Gujaratis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tribals fear that they are losing their identity. This has led to a growing demand that Meghalaya implement the ‘inner line permit’ system, which makes it mandatory for non-residents to obtain a permit before entering the state. Currently, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland have it, and the Union government extended it to Manipur in December 2019. This has ignited hopes that it would be extended to Meghalaya as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Khasi tribe, which dominates the state’s eastern part, has made inner line permits a major poll issue. “Our tribe is at risk,” said Donald Thaba, general secretary of the Khasi Students’ Union. “Shillong and adjoining areas are witnessing an influx of foreigners and people from mainland India. Locals are unable to find jobs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Trinamool Congress has replaced the Congress as the state’s principal opposition party. Taking on the ruling coalition of the National People’s Party (NPP) and the BJP is Mukul Sangma, former chief minister who quit the Congress and joined the Trinamool in 2021. Interestingly, both Mukul and Conrad are residents of Tura. Conrad is the son of P.A. Sangma, former Lok Sabha speaker and chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite being home to the chief minister and the opposition leader, Tura remains underdeveloped. The town has no big hotels, and the eateries, parks, theatres and shopping centres are modest. The only remarkable structure is a 9,000-seat football stadium named after P.A. Sangma and inaugurated last year. “It’s big, and ready to organise international events,” said a member of the chief minister’s office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The residence of the chief minister is on the slope of a hill. A newly built mansion, it is surrounded by battalion offices of the Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force. It has marble-covered walls, an elevator, a terrace lawn that serves as an entry to the house, and exterior stairs that lead to a ground-floor drawing room and a separate office-cum-visitor area.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A graduate of the Wharton School, Conrad holds a master’s in business management from Imperial College, London. He seems all business as he comes out of the house wearing a jacket and holding a cup of black coffee. Around 70 people are waiting for him in the visitor area, their concerns ranging from laws and customs to livelihood and family disputes. Large tea machines, stacks of cups and bowls of biscuits have been arranged. There is also a buffet breakfast―rice, dal, vegetable curry and pork. The chief minister seemed to have found a sophisticated alternative to addressing noisy poll rallies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Visitors take turns to meet Conrad and lodge their complaints. He listens to them patiently, taking care not to give false promises. “I can only give assurances that I can keep,” he says. “There are plenty of personal problems, which people can solve themselves or with the help of their community. I can only guide them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mohammad Jameel, an NPP worker in Tura, wants Conrad to visit the area where he lives and allocate funds for the construction of a much-needed road. “I know that once it has been brought to his notice, he would do it. He means business,” says Jameel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Muslims have a good presence in the Garo Hills. Will they support the Trinamool like they do in West Bengal? “Not at all,” says Jameel. “The hills will vote for Conrad Sangma. He is accessible and he does not differentiate between people. We don’t need the Trinamool here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A number of Muslim women and children are also present. So are elderly people, some of whom have been supporters since the time when P.A. Sangma was Meghalaya’s tallest leader. “The son is like the father―suave and gentle, and fluent in Bengali, Khasi, Garo and even Hindi,” says Abdul Kareem, an elderly resident of Tura. “So there can be no choice other than Conrad. Let Mamata Banerjee work for Bengal and not bother about Meghalaya.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Mukul Sangma, a doctor by training, is up for a fight. He has levelled allegations of corruption against Conrad, saying his government had failed to stop rampant illegal mining in the Garo Hills. Mamata herself kicked off the Trinamool campaign last month by addressing a public meeting in Tura.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, can the Trinamool really make an impact? “It would be extremely difficult,” says Ashok Singh, a travel operator in Shillong. “She is targeting Bengali, Sikh, Bihari and Marwari votes. She also expects Khasi votes, as the tribe was earlier driven out of Bangladesh. But that vote bank is already with the BJP, the Congress and some other small parties.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Trinamool has also raised the issue of rising communal tensions. When Mukul was chief minister from 2010 to 2018, he had dealt with issues decisively. Critics say Conrad’s “softer touch” has resulted in radicals becoming more active.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The political strategy firm I-PAC is supporting the Trinamool’s membership drive to add young and first-time voters. Volunteers drawn from Bengali, Sikh and Khasi communities have been going door to door, making promises that each woman in a family would receive Rs1,000 month if the party comes to power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khushi Randhawa, a first-year undergraduate who was hurt during the attack on Sikhs in Shillong in 2021, said Mamata had become a symbol of unity. “I grew up during a time of peace and happiness, and I never saw an ethnic clash in Shillong―until the attack on the Sikh community by a dominant community here. Goons attacked our home, and I had to take shelter at our gurdwara. I stayed there for seven days,” says Khushi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to her, the state government did not take action against the rioters till the Sikhs hit the streets, with people from Punjab and Delhi also joining them. “This government must go,” says Khushi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Snigdha Das, a class 12 student, said she joined the Trinamool because Meghalaya needed “a person who would unite all communities”. “The situation here is not good; it resembles a volcano. So I have joined the Trinamool campaign in Shillong,” says Snigdha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Much like in the last elections, there are no pre-poll alliances between parties. Since 1972, no party in the state has won a majority on its own. Chances are slim that this time would be any different.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Does that mean the Congress and the Trinamool Congress could come together after the polls? Congress MP Vincent Pala says such an alliance cannot be ruled out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While it is certain that the chief minister would be from the Garo Hills, it would be the results from the Khasi and Jaintia regions that would decide the winning party. The BJP, which had won just two seats last time, is confident of putting up a good show in the two regions. “In the past 10 years, Meghalaya has seen what development means,” says state BJP president Ernest Mawrie. “So we will definitely win more than double the seats we won last time.”</p> Fri Feb 17 16:28:20 IST 2023 meghalaya-cm-conrad-sangma-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>CONRAD SANGMA LOVES</b> to be surrounded by people, but he is not a mass leader like his father, former Lok Sabha speaker P.A. Sangma, was. A foodie who loves to play guitar, Conrad has business degrees from Philadelphia and London, and a CEO-like style of functioning as chief minister. Gentle and serious-minded, he did raise his voice once during my interview with him. “Just shut up; don’t disturb,” he shouted, when people who had gathered outside his home clamoured for his attention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You ran a minority government that lasted five years. How was it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Meghalaya always had a fractured mandate since 1972. It was very difficult to run my government, but we managed somehow. The credit goes to my entire team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You won’t give credit to the BJP, your coalition partner?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Of course, the credit is for the coalition team. But we maintain the mandate. After the 2018 election, I said, “Forget it, we will work together.” And we got everyone to fulfil tasks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did you face any problem with the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Never. I have always believed that when you are leading a team, you need to carry along everybody. I always consult everyone while making decisions. I decentralise power a lot. I never interfere in the work of a minister. I deal with officers the same way, but I admit it is a great challenge to do that department-wise. Another important thing is to carry along the civil society and religious organisations. We took them on board.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You are not a rooted politician like your father. You studied abroad.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I never learned politics, but politics was in my blood. You will be surprised to learn that I started at the age of 12. I used to give speeches with my father. I followed him and tried to copy him. When I contested the first election, he asked me not to be disheartened if I lost. I did lose the election, but I realised what politics was all about, thanks to my dad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What did you learn?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I learned that you needed to be grounded to build relationships with people, and that you should maintain those relationships even during difficult times. I have been using the same mobile number for the last 18 years. People call me even at 2am. Small things matter; accessibility is important in political life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your tenure as chief minister has got mixed reactions. What are the three most important successes you have had?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> There are so many. But first, we managed to create a sense that the state can actually move forward. The old saying was that idhar kuch nahin hota (nothing happens here). But the continuous push from the team created momentum in governance. Five years ago, no one could have thought that Meghalaya could win a United Nations award for e-governance. We are now the top state in India in start-up businesses. We have received three successive bonuses for completing projects in the Jal Jeevan Mission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But there is criticism that social disharmony, once subdued, has again come to the fore.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I don’t think it was subdued. There was much more disharmony in the past; only, it did not come out on social media. The big picture is that the overall law-and-order situation has improved drastically. Insurgency, extortion, deaths related to crimes have all gone down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But there have been unrest and killings by militants. Strong administrative measures could have prevented protests and subsequent curfews.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> People don’t realise that a lot of things that could have happened did not happen. The internal security matter was taken seriously, and many things were stopped at the right time. I am not justifying things. We will ensure that such incidents do not happen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Khasis are demanding the implementation of inner line permits.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> This is a tribal-dominated state and we have customary laws. Identity is a major issue here. So it is natural that there is such a demand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But if ILP covers the entire northeast, where would investments come?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We have to do things accordingly and not misuse it. Bengalis, Maharashtrians, Biharis―all want to preserve their identities. ILP gives a small sense of protection to tribals and the state as a whole. The demand for it became stronger after the Citizenship (Amendment) Act was passed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Some people call you a ruthless politician who is in a hurry.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> No, I am not in a hurry. Why do you say that?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Because you spread your party across the northeast in such a short time.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>It would be unfair to compare me with P.A. Sangma. The situation is different; so are the times. I am not in a hurry, I only work hard. Ruthless is a very tough word. But I am very serious about my people and my party. I take decisions keeping my state and my country in mind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ While campaigning in Manipur, you said the BJP wanted to finish you off. And you had a kind of rivalry with Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma over border issues.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I have deep respect for Sarma. So far as electoral politics is concerned, we have a plan and strategy. The BJP also said so many things against me. They have their own strategy. I always tell my coalition partners that it is unfair to go for seat-sharing because we have different ideologies. Let people decide which ideology to choose.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see the rise of Mamata Banerjee?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I have a deep sense of respect for her because the kind of respect she gave to P.A. Sangma. But it would not be easy for the Trinamool Congress to be accepted here. Politics in the northeast is very difficult. A party here does not grow just because a few people have joined it. See what happened in Manipur a few years ago. The Trinamool had seven MLAs there, but all of them deserted the party and joined the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But your opponent here is a former chief minister. And the Trinamool has managed to break the Congress.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Two of them (Trinamool MLAs) have already joined us. More will join us after the elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you expect the BJP to fish in these troubled waters?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Of course, they will. And I don’t think it is wrong. If I were in their position, I would have done the same.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Mukul Sangma has alleged that your party is profiting from illegal coal mining.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> During his time [as chief minister], coal mining was banned. But according to the Supreme Court, 1.3 lakh tonnes of coal was transported out during his time. In our time, Coal India Ltd auctioned the coal, and there was no impropriety.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why don’t you let the CBI investigate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Is everything for the CBI to handle? It will create a bad precedent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your party’s stance in Tripura?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We had a plan for Tripura. But Tipra Motha has now moved in, and Pradyot Debbarma is doing well. So this time, it is not feasible [to make an entry]. In Nagaland, however, we are a commendable force.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Tura has given three chief ministers, but it lags in development.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Development is not about CMs. It depends on the system. The chief minister can only be a guide. Bureaucracy and departments would have to take the development work forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But I can say that ten years ago, the Garo Hills region was extremely bad. Today, Tura has a different look. Five years ago, the government’s expenditure in the state was just Rs9,000 crore. Today, it has doubled to almost Rs18,000 crore. But I cannot discriminate between regions; I am taking all regions together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your father once told me an interesting story. When he was chief minister, he went to Delhi and met a Union minister. The minister told him that he understood that Meghalaya shared a boundary with Tibet and Myanmar.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yes, I know. Even today, some people ask me how Manipur is doing. I have to correct them and say it is not Manipur but Meghalaya. But there are very few people like that today. In the past five years, the idea about the northeast has changed a lot. The credit for it goes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has put a sense of confidence into everybody in the northeast. Things have changed a lot under him.</p> Fri Feb 17 17:40:36 IST 2023 meghalaya-opposition-leader-mukul-sangma-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A DOCTOR BY</b> training, Mukul Sangma was chief minister of Meghalaya from 2010 to 2018. He quit the Congress and joined the Trinamool Congress in 2021.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mukul is known to be a good singer and is a Kishore Kumar fan. His father belongs to the Garo tribe and his mother is a Bengali Muslim from Assam. As opposition leader, he hopes to lead the Trinamool to its first election victory in the northeast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Five years ago, I saw you singing a Kishore Kumar song during an election campaign. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was with you, smiling. And now you are in the Trinamool. What happened?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> See, the purpose of life is to serve people. God has given me a life to serve people as a doctor and elected representative. When the election result was out in 2018, the Congress was the single largest party, and I was looking for [the party leadership in] Delhi to intervene so that a government could be formed to check the BJP. But they remained silent. It was pathetic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But you could have formed a party and waited for Mamata Banerjee to approach you.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The offer was there. I could not forgive my leadership for failing to hold talks with a secular party for government formation. Then the West Bengal polls happened. It was a historic one, and after that I took the decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ To jump ship?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I was the victim of circumstances. Also, there was despair among the youth in Meghalaya. There were no jobs, and corruption was rampant. Mamata Banerjee and I discussed the issue, and we decided to check social disharmony. We need to bring back the spirit of inclusiveness, which is most important for economic growth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you think of the Conrad Sangma government? The chief minister seems to be a suave, gentleman politician.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> If that be the case, then he is not at the helm of affairs and other politicians are using his name to fulfil their agenda. The chief minister must know what is happening in the state. Otherwise, he is not a chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What has he ignored?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Crime. Cognisable offences were not taken seriously. The police and the administration were put on silent mode. Then coal started disappearing from coal pits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What was the chief minister’s role in it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> This was brought to the CM’s notice. I myself did it in the assembly. But he was in denial mode.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What action did you want from him?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> He should have brought the criminals to book. It (the illegal mining) was bleeding the exchequer. We demanded that he order a CBI inquiry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will you bring the CBI if you return to power?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Of course, we will.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will the Trinamool be able to form its first government outside West Bengal?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> We will sweep this election. I am getting a huge response everywhere. People want us to form a government that at least unites all ethnic tribes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What about the Khasi demand for inner line permits?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> This demand is not new. They came to me when I was chief minister, but I told them that I could not do it alone, and that it is the prerogative of the Union home ministry. Why should I give them a false promise?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But the Congress was in power at the Centre when you became chief minister for the first time.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Our Central government had no intention of issuing fresh inner line permits to any state.</p> Fri Feb 17 16:18:49 IST 2023 rajasthan-congress-political-crisis-ashok-gehlot-budget <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Full-page advertisements, with a picture of a smiling Ashok Gehlot and the tagline ‘Bachat, Rahat, Badhat’ (savings, relief, growth), appeared in all major newspapers ahead of Rajasthan’s budget presentation on February 10. Never before has the state’s budget been heralded in this manner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So much so that colleges in the state were told to beam the presentation live to students. The speech was also telecast in all panchayats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And though the chief minister started with a faux pas―he began reading last year’s speech―it was clear that he was banking heavily on his final budget ahead of the assembly elections later this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Expectedly populist in nature, the budget aims to reinforce Gehlot’s image as a pro-welfare leader. He had earlier asked people to send suggestions for the budget directly to him. Its contents, as also the publicity efforts, are to emphasise his imprint on the financial endeavour. It is also an indication of Gehlot’s desperate need to retain power; his political survival depends on it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A major highlight of the budget is an inflation relief package of Rs19,000 crore. Other proposals include 100 units of free electricity a month for domestic consumers and 200 for farmers, and LPG cylinders at Rs500 to beneficiaries under the Ujjwala scheme, which would benefit around 76 lakh families.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Medical cover under the state’s Chiranjeevi health insurance scheme has been increased to Rs25 lakh from Rs10 lakh. Notably, the government has reverted to the old pension scheme, and free grocery packets would be provided every month to around one crore families under the National Food Security Act.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also announced was free bus travel for students for distances up to 75km, a 50 per cent concession in ticket fare for women in state roadways buses and free electric scooters to 30,000 girl students.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After presenting the budget, which took more than three hours, Gehlot said the announcements were pro-welfare measures and not revdi (freebies).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the fag end of his third term as chief minister, Gehlot has made it clear that he sees himself―and not in-house rival Sachin Pilot―leading the party into the state elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The chief minister has got the thumbs up from the party’s central leadership, which described the budget as being caring towards the people. That is what set it apart from the Union budget, they said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The budget contains the aspirations and feelings of the people,” said state Congress in-charge Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa. “After all, it was made after seeking their views on what the budget should include. BJP governments have never done this.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gehlot’s efforts to consolidate his position come in the backdrop of him having upset the central leadership ahead of the Congress presidential polls last year. His loyalists had openly rebelled against the high command’s moves to name Pilot as the new chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political observers feel that the manner in which the budget is implemented might have an impact, and also note that Gehlot has several months to ensure that the measures announced are executed well. “The new budget will come into force on April 1,” said political analyst Manish Godha. “So, the government has time to make sure that announcements such as free electricity or gas cylinder at Rs500 get registered in the form of some difference in the lives of the people.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sceptics, however, are quick to point out that Gehlot had carried out a similar exercise ahead of the 2013 state elections, but the party had plummeted to its lowest ever tally of 21. Gehlot has often blamed that defeat on the Modi wave, which also decimated the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“You cannot expect to win only on the basis of the budget,” said state Congress leader Rajendra Choudhary, who is a staunch critic of Gehlot. “In the present set of circumstances and with the current set of leaders at the helm in the state, the party cannot be expected to make the people vote for the Congress again.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The infighting, it is felt, might harm the party in a big way when the time comes to allocate tickets. The Pilot camp has kept up the pressure on the Gehlot government; a brief truce was called only to allow the Bharat Jodo Yatra to pass peacefully through the state. Pilot has, in an effort to prove his popularity and add heft to his demands for a leadership change, gone to the people and held a flurry of kisan sammelans (farmer meetings) in January. He is expected to resume the meetings soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A leader close to Pilot said that a change of leadership could still happen, adding that it was difficult for the Congress to win in the present circumstances. Also, he brought up the trend of alternating governments in the state and said that the Congress has to be disruptive to catch the voters’ attention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In this regard, there is talk of a cabinet reshuffle and organisational appointments. Also, there has been a flurry of appointments of block and mandal presidents that had been pending for long. The much-awaited appointment of district presidents could also happen soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his defence, Gehlot’s supporters say that the BJP is also dealing with internal differences and has been unable to put forward a face to take on the chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is now immaterial to talk about organisational appointments,” said Godha. “It all boils down to how the party will handle the allocation of tickets and the tussle between the two factions to get their candidates in. In the previous election, it was widely believed that the Congress would win around 120 seats. However, the tussle for tickets between the Gehlot and Pilot factions pulled the party down and it barely managed to get to the halfway mark.”</p> Fri Feb 17 16:15:22 IST 2023 bjp-political-strategy-in-rajasthan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FOR THE PAST 25 YEARS,</b> Rajasthan has oscillated between Ashok Gehlot and Vasundhara Raje. They are the most recognisable faces of their parties in the state, and are known to guard their turf zealously, even at the cost of defying their central leaderships. And now, both have rivals―younger leaders within their parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the state moves towards assembly elections later in the year, it will be a career-defining phase for the two veterans. With the incumbent government voted out in each election in the past few decades, the focus has shifted to the BJP camp.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ongoing Rajasthan assembly session has been an eventful one. While Chief Minister Gehlot unveiled a populist budget ahead of the elections, veteran Gulab Chand Kataria, leader of the opposition in the assembly, was appointed the Assam governor. Kataria, eight-time MLA and Raje’s rival, was backed by the RSS as a contender for the chief minister’s post. As the 79-year-old enters the category of veterans who get promoted to gubernatorial posts, it opens up space for change in the BJP’s local politics. This also means that several veterans might miss out on a ticket this time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kataria’s “transfer” draws from the BJP’s experiments in other states to bring about a generational change in the state units. The recent example is Gujarat, where former chief minister Anandiben Patel was made governor of Madhya Pradesh, and former chief minister Vijay Rupani and his deputy Nitin Patel pulled out of the 2022 state election race.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Rajasthan is slightly different. Raje is no pushover and has a proven track record of wins―2003 and 2013. Her supporters back her for a third try.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ever since the BJP lost the 2018 state elections, the party’s central leadership has been pushing for new leaders. But as the BJP has lost most of the bypolls since, Raje, who turns 70 in March, is making a comeback on the party’s official campaign material. She has also been holding meetings across the state to keep in touch with the voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, in all likelihood, will contest the elections without declaring a chief ministerial candidate. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will, as usual, be the prominent face. As the elections are being held along with those in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, a few months ahead of 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the results will be key. And Modi’s main message to the voters is that they will benefit more from a double-engine government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The issue of deciding on the chief ministerial face will be taken by the party’s parliamentary board at the appropriate time,” said state BJP spokesperson Abhishek Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among the main contenders for the post are Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, state BJP president Satish Poonia and Raje, among others.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Though the state has a history of electing a new government every election, the party also has challenges,” said a senior BJP leader. “Despite bickering within the Congress, it can pose a challenge. The BJP has to chart out a clear strategy that does not confuse the voters.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The state is important for the BJP, particularly for Modi’s campaign, as it gave the NDA all 25 seats in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Modi has made four trips to the state in the past four months to shore up the party’s chances among various communities. Notably, he picked Dausa―part of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra and Sachin Pilot’s stronghold―to launch the first stretch of the Delhi-Mumbai expressway. He also went to Bhilwara to participate in the 1,111th birth anniversary of Bhagwan Devnarayan, revered by the Gurjars, who make up more than 10 per cent of the state’s population. They had voted for the Congress in the last election hoping that Pilot would become chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The two recent appointees to the top constitutional posts in the country―President Droupadi Murmu and Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar―would also help the BJP in the state. Dhankhar, as a Jat leader from Rajasthan, might get support from the community, who account for more than 12 per cent of the state’s population. The tribals, who constitute nearly 14 per cent of the population, are likely to be wooed in Murmu’s name. Rajputs make up 8 per cent of the population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda, too, have made multiple trips to the state. Nadda, who has been insisting that the party units be more agile and engage with the people, has a special bond with Rajasthan―both his daughters-in-law belong to the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest advantage for the BJP is the infighting in the Congress and anti-incumbency. And one key issue it has been handed on a platter is the series of exam paper leaks in the state. There have been eight such instances, and even Pilot has hit out at the government on this issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The government has failed on two key fronts: law and order, and paper leaks,” said Singh. “The issue of the paper leaks is linked to employment and youth. These will be election issues.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the polls draw closer, the focus within the BJP will be on ticket distribution. How that process goes might decide which chief minister hopeful gets how many supporters in the fray. These supporters would be crucial when a chief minister is picked, if the BJP gets a majority. And so, before the BJP goes to polls, it has to set its own house in order and craft a clear message for the voters.</p> Fri Feb 17 16:11:32 IST 2023 maharashtra-crisis-in-police-and-bureaucratic-circles <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THERE IS NEVER</b> a quiet day in politics, especially so in a state such as Maharashtra. Two appointments made by the government have caused much heartburn in sociopolitical circles and the bureaucracy. The first was that of Ajay Ashar―by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde―as vice chairman of Maharashtra Institute for Transformation (MITRA), a planning body on the lines of NITI Aayog. And then, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis appointed senior police officer Deven Bharti as Mumbai’s special commissioner of police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the government notification on Ashar’s appointment describes him as a social worker and infrastructure expert, he, essentially, is a builder from Thane―Shinde’s home turf. A close associate of Shinde, Ashar began as a small-time real estate player. His rise in business ran parallel to Shinde’s growth in state politics. The covert alliance between builders and politicians has been a mainstay of Maharashtra politics since the 1990s. And now, some politicians even flaunt their relations with big builders. For instance, Congress’s Vishwajeet Kadam is the son-in-law of Avinash Bhosale, a real estate and infrastructure baron from Pune. Though Shinde and Ashar do not share familial ties, their friendship is no secret.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Considering this background, how appropriate was it for Shinde to appoint Ashar as vice chairman of MITRA? This was one of several questions raised over Ashar’s appointment, apart from whether a builder could provide a grand vision for the state for the next 50 years and whether there would be any guarantee that his vision would not unduly promote the real estate lobby.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Appointing a builder as vice chairman of MITRA, a body that the state government wants to raise to the level of NITI Aayog, is a classic case of intellectual bankruptcy,” said a Congress leader. “Clearly, the chief minister is favouring his friend. A body like MITRA should be headed by an eminent economist or a retired bureaucrat of the rank of chief secretary, who understands governance and policy-making.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sachin Sawant, general secretary of state Congress, said that during the Maha Vikas Aghadi’s (MVA) rule, there were allegations against some builders of earning huge profit as the government had reduced premiums on construction activity. “Then how ethical would it be to make one of them vice chairman of MITRA? A more important question is whether it makes any sense to hand over the state’s planning to a builder,” said Sawant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is reliably learnt that even the BJP is not happy with Ashar’s appointment. Fadnavis wanted to discuss the appointment in the state cabinet meeting, but Shinde did not allow it, saying that as chief minister and chairman of MITRA he had the authority to choose his team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Ashar as MITRA vice chairman would be a big joke on the people of the state,” said a senior BJP legislator. “Apart from building fancy towers in Thane, what has been his contribution? Everyone knows that as a builder his main interest is essentially real estate development. That is why we wanted a scholarly person to be second vice chairman of MITRA, but Shinde did not allow that either. Instead, he made former MLA Rajesh Kshirsagar (leader from Kolhapur belonging to Shinde’s Shiv Sena faction) as second vice chairman of MITRA on the grounds that he was chairperson of the state planning board in the MVA regime.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, Bharti’s appointment as special commissioner of police for Mumbai, too, has raised eyebrows. Greater Mumbai is divided into 12 police zones, each headed by a deputy commissioner of police. The deputy commissioners report to four additional commissioners, who head a region each. Above the additional commissioners are joint commissioners for crime, law and order and administration. And, heading this well-structured machinery is the commissioner of police. But now, a new post has been inserted, created on the lines of Delhi’s special commissioner of police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police fraternity is divided over the creation of the new post. While former Mumbai police commissioner Julio Ribeiro termed it an unwise move that would create friction between two topmost officers of Mumbai Police, former director general of police Praveen Dixit supported the move, saying crime investigation and law and order management in Mumbai were huge responsibilities that called for two commissioners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a senior police officer, Bharti―a 1994-batch IPS officer known to be one of Fadnavis’s most trusted men in khaki―was transferred along with other IPS officers but without a posting. He was additional director general of police with the state security corporation, a sideline posting given by the MVA government. On transfer, he was not given a posting immediately but was kept waiting till the new post was created by the state home department, headed by Fadnavis. “The original idea was to remove the current police commissioner (Vivek Phansalkar), but he is close to Shinde,” said the senior police officer, requesting anonymity. “Also, making Bharti the commissioner would have meant sidelining many IPS officers senior to him and that would have caused a major unrest in the IPS lobby. Perhaps that is why a post of special commissioner was created for Bharti. With all joint commissioners reporting to Bharti, the commissioner effectively loses control over the police machinery despite being head of the organisation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A section of serving IPS officers sees the creation of the new post as a purely political move. Political bosses often tinker with the existing hierarchy to create posts for their trusted men. With Fadnavis not being chief minister in this term, he is going all out to make sure that he has a firm grip over the Mumbai Police.</p> Sat Feb 11 16:43:12 IST 2023 bhuj-development-after-2001-gujarat-earthquake <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Home is where the art is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For residents of Ajrakhpur, on the outskirts of Bhuj in Kachchh district, art has been at the heart of their survival and revival. Almost all residents here are involved in Ajrakh―a unique style of block printing and dyeing. It is so intrinsic to their identity that when an earthquake flattened their ancestral village―Dhamadka―and they moved to a new village some 50km away, they named it after their 4,500-year-old art form.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On January 26, 2001, Gujarat saw its worst earthquake in 50 years, with its epicentre 70km northeast of Bhuj. In a matter of minutes, almost everything, living and otherwise, returned to dust. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives, more than a lakh were injured and there was destruction all around. Those that survived had to start from scratch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The residents of Ajrakhpur―all Muslims from the Khatri community―were no exception. Fortunately, their most valuable asset happened to be something intangible―their craftsmanship. But even before the earthquake, the villagers were looking for another place to settle and continue their craft because of the drought in Dhamadka. They collectively bought a huge tract of land and resettled in what is now Ajrakhpur. “This location satisfied different criteria like accessibility and proximity to the city, airport, schools and hospitals,” said Ismail Mohammed Khatri, a master craftsman with an honorary doctorate from a UK university. The Khatris trace their roots to Sindh in Pakistan, he added.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, some 200 independent houses, and 90 workshops and shops line the narrow lanes splotched with the remnants of dyes. Time moves at a leisurely pace in Ajrakhpur, perhaps in step with the slow process of the art that binds the village. Ajrakh is loosely derived from the Urdu phrase Aaj rakh (keep it for today). But the entire process, which involves various stages of dyeing and printing, could take way more than a day―16 days or more, depending on the design.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Near an open field outside a small unit, a worker starts the process by first washing a white cotton cloth to remove starch or any other residue. The cloth is then soaked in a mix of cow dung, castor oil and other ingredients and dried and later dyed with a solution of myrobalan, giving it a yellow tint. These steps are repeated multiple times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At a workshop nearby, the next stage begins―printing the cloth in various Ajrakh patterns using outlines and colour blocks. Indigo and other dark shades are mostly preferred for the print. The remaining stages include a repeat of drying, dyeing and boiling, which takes place at different locations in the village. The final product: handmade saris, dress material, shirts, kurtas, drapes, stoles and bedsheets. The annual turnover from the sale of these products is around Rs20 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What makes Ajrakhpur and its art distinct, said Khatri, was that almost all artisans apply the traditional method of producing and using natural dyes. Chemical dyes, he said, corrupted their craft from the 1940s to the 1990s. Even now, many Ajrakh artists in the district use chemical dyes, as it is easier and cheaper to produce.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the residents of Ajrakhpur rebuilt their lives thanks to a priceless legacy, a timeless beauty, or so it once was, lies in ruins in Bhuj. There is nothing queen-like about Rani Mahal, one of the three palaces inside the Darbargarh palace complex built by the Jadejas who ruled Kachchh between 1540 and 1948. Rani Mahal, like many portions within the complex, bore the brunt of the earthquake, its walls now cracked and weedy. But the other two palaces―Aina Mahal and Prag Mahal―were fortunate enough to be restored.</p> <p>Aina Mahal got its name because of its mirrored interiors, which was used to illuminate the palace majestically with less effort. Chief architect Ram Singh Malam designed the palace during the reign of Maharao Lakhpatji. The palace is now a museum, housing artefacts, a collection of rare ‘reverse paintings’, currencies, letters and mummified lions hunted by the royals. There is a touch of the palace’s European architecture even in the lounge―the mattress came from England. But the most unique artefact here, perhaps, is the lunar calendar-cum-clock, resembling a mini cupboard. It could once accurately predict the sunrise and sunset timings. It is thought to be the only such piece in the country. “During the earthquake, it crashed to the ground and stopped working,” said a palace staff. “For 20 years, many experts and representatives of watch brands have had a look at it but no one could repair it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prag Mahal, with its Gothic and Roman architecture, is relatively new. It was constructed around 150 years ago during the rule of Rao Pragmalji II. The durbar hall retains its past glory with chandeliers and statues; there are weapons and animal trophies on display, too. Its grandeur has also been captured on reel, like in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It, however, takes more than a village to rise from ruin. Devaraj from Chapredi village―not very far from Bhuj―would know. His four-room house collapsed like a house of cards during the 2001 earthquake. Devaraj and his family, like most in the village, were forced to take shelter in the fields. “We could have never afforded to build houses on our own,” he said. Within a year, the Malayala Manorama Charitable Trust―set up by THE WEEK’s parent company―stepped in and shouldered the responsibility of reconstructing the village. “The families became beneficiaries of high-quality houses which stand strong even now,” said Devaraj. “In a way, the project was also an equaliser as the rich and the poor both lived in the same type of houses.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, 650 people make up Chapredi village. “After the construction of new houses, people regained confidence,” said Shyama Rupa Alabhai, 76. Like many others in the village, Alabhai has two houses on his plot―one built by the trust and the other by him. The trust built 119 houses, roads, temple, mosque, park and also a community hall, which now hosts religious events and social gatherings (the trust also constructed 36 houses for Malayali families in Adipur).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An elegant birdhouse in the centre of the Chapredi village serves as a meet-up point for the elderly. As the birds chatter loudly, so do the men of the village. “This is an ideal place for us to catch up with friends and rest under the shade,” said Amira Velabhai, who along with other villagers makes it a point to regularly refill the bird feeder at the top. “I spend at least three to four hours here daily. This is almost like home for me.”</p> Sat Feb 11 11:58:21 IST 2023 jds-karnataka-bjp-congress-vokkaliga <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Janata Dal (Secular)’s election rally Pancharatna Yatre, which has promised reforms in five crucial sectors―education, health, agriculture, employment and housing―completed 50 days recently. While the yatra is drawing huge crowds, the ‘Mission 123’ roadmap of the JD(S), envisaging a clear majority for the party in the assembly elections, seems too ambitious. The JD(S) got only 37 seats in the 224-member assembly in 2018 and its highest tally was 58, which it won in 2004. Still, the JD(S) was in power twice, with H.D. Kumaraswamy serving as chief minister in two coalition governments–in 2006 and 2018, despite the party finishing third.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The oldest surviving regional party in Karnataka, the JD(S), nurtured by former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, continues to be a force to reckon with, especially in the Vokkaliga heartland of Old Mysuru. In 2018, the party won 27 of 59 seats in the region, although it failed to attract urban voters. It is facing multiple challenges this time. The Congress has elevated Vokkaliga strongman D.K. Shivakumar as its state chief and the BJP is focusing on the Old Mysuru region. The party is also troubled by the mass exodus of leaders, while its ‘family-centric’ politics is another major challenge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The JD(S), however, hopes that the BJP would suffer from anti-incumbency and expects trouble in the Congress camp following the tussle between Shivakumar and former chief minister Siddaramaiah. Party strategists believe that the Vokkaliga community is averse to Siddaramaiah’s brand of Ahinda politics, which banks on minorities, dalits and OBCs, and would back the Congress only if Shivakumar is projected as chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Besides consolidating the Vokkaliga votes, the JD(S) is hoping to woo the SC, ST and OBC voters. It is also trying to divide the Muslim vote by dubbing the Congress as a party that practises “soft hindutva”. It has named former Congress leader C.M. Ibrahim as its state chief and is fielding his son C.M. Fayaz from Humnabad in Bidar district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The JD(S) campaign is managed by 63-year-old Kumaraswamy, while his actor son, Nikhil Gowda, who is the JD(S) youth wing president, is sharing the burden by overseeing the campaign in 40 constituencies. Kumaraswamy seems to be connecting well with the common man through his ‘grama vastavya’ (village stay) and ‘janata darshan’ (public grievance redressal meeting)―the two campaigns that earned him huge popularity during his earlier stints as chief minister. The first phase of the Pancharatna Yatre has now progressed into Kalyana (Hyderabad) Karnataka after having covered the Old Mysuru region, and will soon be entering Kittur (Mumbai) Karnataka in the last leg of the campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rally has been a huge hit, and the fan frenzy even earned Kumaraswamy a place in the record books after he received 500 garlands in 33 days. Garlands made of apple, cucumber, jaggery, sugarcane and coins are being presented to him. The ‘Kumaranna for CM’ campaign, too, is catching up. While the common man pours his heart out to Kumaraswamy, some bizarre requests, too, are coming in. A youth in Kolar urged Kumaraswamy to ban inter-district marriages stating there was a severe shortage of brides for farmers in his district due to affluent grooms from neighbouring districts marrying girls from his district. Kumaraswamy said it was a reflection of the state’s failure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The JD(S) identifies itself as the crusader for the farming community and is focusing on assuring farmers a better life. Gowda reminded the farmers about the farm loan waiver of 125,000 crore implemented by his son. On January 16, Kumaraswamy celebrated Sankranti through a virtual meeting with farmers from 78 assembly constituencies at his Bidadi farm house.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The JD(S), however, seems to be troubled by an exodus of sitting MLAs and senior leaders. During the BJP’s Operation Kamala in 2019, three MLAs―party chief H. Vishwanath, Narayana Gowda and S. Gopalaiah―switched over to the BJP. Defections continue, with seniors leaders like Gowda’s close aide Y.S.V. Datta, Srinivas Gowda and S.R. Srinivas joining the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gowda is a member of the Rajya Sabha, while his sons Kumaraswamy and H.D. Revanna, and daughter-in-law Anitha Kumaraswamy are MLAs. Grandson Suraj Revanna is an MLC and another grandson Prajwal Revanna is an MP. In 2019, Gowda’s defeat in the Tumakuru Lok Sabha constituency and his grandson Nikhil Kumaraswamy losing in Mandya pointed towards the winds of change sweeping through the Vokkaliga belt. This time, the family has announced that Nikhil will contest from Ramanagara and the family feud might force the party to part with a couple more tickets to family members, according to sources.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“You cannot write the JD(S) off. It wiped out the Congress in Old Mysuru in 2018. Siddaramaiah, the sitting chief minister, was defeated in Chamundeshwari as he was believed to have enticed seven JD(S) MLAs even when his government had a majority,” said political analyst Ravindra Reshme. “The family has managed to keep the party afloat and continues to stay relevant in state politics. The Vokkaliga community, especially in rural areas, has remained loyal to Gowda and is not swayed by the hindutva ideology as they are followers of Kuvempu’s idea of ‘Vishwamanava’ (global citizen). The BJP’s failure to cash in on Modi’s popularity and the infighting in the Congress between Siddaramaiah, Shivakumar and now Mallikarjun Kharge, might benefit the JD(S).”</p> Sat Jan 28 15:59:12 IST 2023 erode-east-bypoll-aiadmk-dmk <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE ERODE EAST</b> assembly constituency has become the new battleground in Tamil Nadu politics. The only urban segment of the eight assembly constituencies in the Erode region, the constituency in western Tamil Nadu is facing a bypoll because of the death of incumbent MLA Thirumagan Evera of the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The DMK-Congress alliance has backed Thirumagan’s father, former Tamil Nadu Congress president E.V.K.S. Elangovan. His candidature was decided by the All India Congress Committee with consent from the DMK. “The Congress won from this constituency in 2021 and, as per the alliance agreement, our leader has given it once again to the Congress. The DMK will work for the Congress to win,” said DMK spokesperson A. Saravanan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The DMK, in fact, started the campaign even before the Congress named its candidate. And just hours after Elangovan’s name was announced, it constituted a committee with a dozen ministers and senior leaders to lead the campaign. Elangovan started his campaign by calling on Kamal Haasan and seeking the support of the actor’s political outfit, the Makkal Needhi Maiam. The MNM polled 10,005 votes in 2021, finishing fourth. Kamal said he would consult party colleagues and announce his decision. Elangovan also sought the support of Thol Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi and the left parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the bypoll is an opportunity for the DMK and the Congress to show their supremacy, it is an uphill battle for the opposition AIADMK, which is split into three factions under Edappadi K. Palaniswami, O. Panneerselvam and T.T.V. Dhinakaran. While Palaniswami claims to be the leader of the AIADMK and has called for applications for candidature, Panneerselvam said his faction would field its own candidate or would back the BJP if it fielded one. Panneerselvam visited the BJP state headquarters in Chennai and pledged his support to party president K. Annamalai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are ready to support the Palaniswami faction if it seeks our support. As the party’s coordinator, Panneerselvam is even ready to sign the candidate form. You cannot call him the disruptor,” said J.C.D. Prabhakar, former MLA. Panneerselvam’s strategy is aimed at saving his dwindling political career and nothing more. He is ready to field his own candidate or support the BJP or be a joint signatory on the nomination form of the AIADMK candidate fielded by Palaniswami. But if Palaniswami allows Panneerselvam to sign the form, it would mean acknowledging his claim to be party coordinator. “Panneerselvam can only field an independent candidate who will certainly lose his deposit. He is acting against the welfare of the AIADMK,” said former minister D. Jayakumar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Palaniswami, too, the bypoll is crucial as he has to prove his mettle as the sole leader of the principal opposition party. He has to retain the two-leaves symbol and convince the BJP to not field a candidate. “The interim general secretary case might be over, legally. But the case we are fighting in which we argue that Panneerselvam is the coordinator of the party is still pending in the Supreme Court,” said a source close to Panneerselvam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Erode East being the only urban segment in the Erode region, bringing down the DMK alliance will be a major challenge for Palaniswami as the AIADMK is known for its reliance over the rural vote bank. Though Palaniswami hails from western Tamil Nadu and the Kongu region is considered an AIADMK bastion, winning the bypoll or even matching the 58,000 votes its alliance polled in 2021 will not be easy for the AIADMK. In 2021, Yuvaraja of G.K. Vasan’s Tamil Maanila Congress, an ally of the AIADMK, contested on the two-leaves symbol and finished second. But this time, the TMC readily offered the seat to the AIADMK as Vasan was in no mood to waste his resources.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is assessing the situation, which is becoming challenging for the opposition alliance by the minute. “The AIADMK is the biggest party in our alliance. Looking at the situation in that way, we will have to support it,” said Annamalai in a news conference. He is, however, clueless about choosing a side in the AIADMK civil war. Sources say the BJP high command in Delhi wants to field its own candidate and add to the AIADMK’s woes. A section of the party feels that a divided AIADMK has opened up an avenue for the BJP to prove its mettle in western Tami Nadu. And with the Congress in the fray, there is added pressure to make it a contest between the two national parties. But for the BJP to win an election in Tamil Nadu with its meagre vote share is an herculean task. “The BJP cannot afford to contest without the support of the AIADMK,” said P. Ramajeyam, an academic from the Bharathidasan University.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As things stand now, the DMK-Congress alliance enjoys a clear edge. “The Erode bypoll is a sure victory for the DMK,” said political analyst Raveendran Duraisamy. “It remains to be seen if candidates of other parties, be it the BJP or the AIADMK, will be able to recoup their deposits.”</p> Sat Jan 28 17:23:18 IST 2023 women-leaders-discriminatory-treatment-in-karnataka <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON JANUARY 16,</b> Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra announced the ‘Gruha Lakshmi’ scheme, a promise to give Rs2,000 per month to every woman head of a household, in poll-bound Karnataka. The Congress said it was a guarantee to help women bear the “burden of inflation” imposed by the BJP government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The announcement has created ripples in political circles, with the BJP rushing in to advertise its “women-oriented” schemes in newspapers and hinting at a separate women’s budget and a poll manifesto. The Janata Dal (Secular) legislature party leader H.D. Kumaraswamy recently announced that he would appoint a woman as deputy chief minister if voted to power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Make this election about you. Demand politics that talks about your issues, progress, education and jobs,” said Priyanka. Ironically, Karnataka, which has 2.55 crore women voters of a total of 5.14 crore voters, scores poorly when it comes to women’s representation. Currently, the 224-member house has only 11 women legislators―six from the Congress, three from the BJP and one from the JD(S) and a nominated member from the Anglo-Indian community. The Basavaraj Bommai cabinet has a lone woman minister in Shashikala Jolle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2018, the Congress, the BJP and the JD(S), gave 16, 17 and 14 tickets to women candidates, respectively. This time, women leaders are keeping their fingers crossed. Said Pushpa Amarnath, president of the state Mahila Congress, “We have 109 women aspirants seeking tickets from 74 constituencies. We are hoping to get at least 30 tickets.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Geeta Vivekananda, a former corporator and president of the state BJP Mahila Morcha, said women leaders hoped to get at least one ticket in every district to begin with. “Unless there is reservation, no party will think of giving ticket to a woman. Winnability is a factor and finding the right constituency with a favourable caste combination is also crucial,” said Vivekananda. Often, the women who get lucky are those who belong to political families or are expected to fight the polls on sympathy factor, following the demise of a family member, the incumbent MLA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former BJP MLA from Dharwad Seema Masuti spoke about her debut in the 2008 assembly polls, when Sushma Swaraj came to campaign for her. Swaraj worked a miracle with her captivating speech, equating Masuti to “mahisha mardini” (demon slayer), and Masuti won by 800 votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I entered politics by chance though I belong to a political family. The party was finding it hard to find a candidate and picked me to contest the zilla panchayat elections from Uppin Betageri in 1998. Then I won from Garaga as there were no takers for the seat. But in 2008, I had to compete with four male aspirants to contest from the Dharwad Rural constituency. Women candidates have limited resources and supporters. It is the selfless work of the RSS cadres that comes to our rescue,” said Masuti.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some women leaders lament that the practice of leaders treating their constituencies like family fiefdoms is curbing new leadership. Some feel that there should be a cap on the number of times a person can contest elections. Most women leaders fail to identify a suitable constituency to nurture amid stiff competition from their male colleagues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has classified seats into A, B and C categories, depending on winnability. “The A-category seats are presently held by the party, B stands for seats where it is hopeful of winning with a little more effort and the C-category seats are the strongholds of rival parties. We hope to contest from the C-category seats and nurture them. We are confident that we can convert these seats in our favour with hard work and people’s support,” said Amarnath, who is hoping to contest from Mahadevapura (SC) constituency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For a woman politician, the 50 per cent reservation in local body polls has been a great opportunity. But caste politics, money and muscle power and gender bias are proving to be major hurdles. Cutting across party lines, women leaders have been demanding the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament. “Unless the bill is passed, no political party will voluntarily give us tickets. The Modi government has an absolute majority and it must pass the bill,” said Amarnath.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the Women Reservation Bill was stalled in the Lok Sabha, Congress MLA Sowmya Reddy proposed a private member’s bill in the Karnataka assembly, asking for 33 per cent reservation for women in the assembly. The bill also sought the rotation of reserved seats after every two rounds of assembly elections. The bill, however, was not taken up in the house.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tara Krishnaswamy, co-founder of Political Shakti, a non-partisan group that works towards increasing women representation in assemblies and Parliament, said the organisational structure and work culture in politics were not conducive for women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We always see men occupying all the spaces, while women leaders are relegated to the women’s wing. The culture where men get together at late hours for a drink and take crucial decisions, or them hogging the limelight during public events and crucial party meetings and the occasional physical jostling around men in power deny women their rightful place. Most men find it difficult to treat women as equals and as professionals,” said Krishnaswamy. “We need women to represent women as we are witness to many decisions that lack empathy and where inherent bias and misogyny are at play. For instance, sanitary napkins are taxed, there are not enough public toilets and crucial issues like child abuse, molestation or atrocities against women are not being dealt with sensitivity. Like an urban-bred leader cannot comprehend the challenges facing an adivasi, a man cannot always speak for women.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amarnath said the mindsets of people and political parties needed to change. “I am confident that an educated and empowered female electorate will support women leadership and also emerge as a strong lobby in the near future. We want to see more female chief ministers and prime ministers soon.”</p> Sat Jan 21 15:13:55 IST 2023 brs-leader-k-kavitha-telangana <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT WAS A SUNDAY</b> morning in mid-December. All eyes were on an independent house in the plush Banjara Hills locality of Hyderabad. A Toyota Innova packed with Central Bureau of Investigation officials reached the house and subjected Kalvakuntla Kavitha to seven hours of questioning. After the CBI team left, Kavitha―daughter of Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, and member of legislative council from Nizamabad―came out, smiling and waving at her supporters. The CBI was probing her role in the Delhi liquor scam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next day, Kavitha was seen on stage issuing a clarion call to her followers: “Another situation has arisen. What we did in Telangana, we may have to replicate across the country. Get ready to travel to other states.” Payback was palpable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kavitha was rousing the members of Telangana Jagruthi, a socio-cultural outfit floated by her in 2006, which soft-launched her into politics. It worked towards promoting the traditions, art and festivals of the Telangana region, before the state was born in 2014. One of its biggest successes was popularising Bathukamma―a traditional flower festival of Telangana―on a national scale and projecting it as an element of self-respect and assertion for the people of Telangana. Through activities in Jagruthi and its various verticals Kavitha’s identity as a leader grew.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2014, Kavitha was elected as an MP for the first time and Jagruthi continued to flourish. But, in 2019, she lost in Nizamabad and the downturn of the organisation began. “Within the BRS [then TRS], it was felt that the organisation was irrelevant and not in tune with the party’s interests. Kavitha’s position was the weakest in the party,” said a senior member of the BRS.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was in August 2022 that Kavitha’s name cropped up in the now-abandoned Delhi excise policy. BJP MP Parvesh Verma alleged that Kavitha was the linkwoman between the liquor mafia and the AAP government in Delhi. In the weeks that followed, Kavitha activated Telangana Jagruthi, and its offshoot, Bharat Jagruthi. At a meeting Kavitha said women in Telangana were not known to shed tears but sparks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are strengthening committees and a strong movement will be launched soon. Till the Lok Sabha elections, we have a strategy to conduct full-fledged activities across universities in the country and connect with the youth. Kavitha will be the face of the campaign that will create awareness about the BRS as a national party and target the Union government,” said a Jagruthi leader who is privy to the internal meetings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not just Kavitha, some other top leaders from her party, too, have been under the scanner of one or more Central investigating agencies. In November last year, state labour minister and BRS MLA Malla Reddy’s properties were raided for suspected tax evasion. In the same month, the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI raided the house of Gangula Kamalakar, Telangana civil supplies minister, for a case related to irregularities in his family’s mining business. The ED attached properties of BRS MP Nama Nageswara Rao in a money laundering case. The CBI summoned Rajya Sabha member Vaddiraju Ravichandra and grilled the personal assistant of animal husbandry minister, Talasani Srinivas Yadav, in separate cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the focus shifted to Kavitha in the second half of 2022, the opposition trained its guns on her. The Congress and the BJP targeted Kavitha after her name surfaced in the chargesheet. The politics of the state centred around her as she countered allegations, calling it a witch hunt aimed at derailing the national plans of the BRS. As the newspapers and social media discussed the case, many in her party rallied around Kavitha. Her public presence increased, and she was seen making appearances more frequently, subtly drumming up support.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Noted political analyst Telakapalli Ravi said the negative publicity of the opposition may not be working in this case. “Counter propaganda may be more effective when the BRS says they are being targeted,” he said, “If everything goes well, Kavitha can get sympathy. We have seen the case of Jayalalithaa in the past. Cases like these don’t matter much to the general public.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ravi said Kavitha has become the symbol of the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There seems to be solidarity for her within the party and [her father] KCR seems to be personally guiding her,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ever since she came under the scanner, Kavitha’s meetings with her father are being reported more prominently. Between 2019 and 2021, Kavitha was hardly noticed in party-related activities. She was also missing when the TRS made a formal announcement to officially rebrand itself to the BRS. Today, Kavitha is surrounded by ministers, MLAs and cadre. She is seen spearheading the attack against the opposition on behalf of the BRS.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest developments have reinstated Kavitha, who will become yet another family member to consolidate her position in the party ranks. With the assembly elections scheduled to be held later this year, Kavitha’s case would be an ideal example to showcase to the voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For now, Kavitha and her Jagruthi are on a mission to ‘awaken’ voters in the state and outside.</p> Sat Jan 21 15:10:44 IST 2023 joshimath-sinking-reason-future-solution <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>What is happening at Joshimath is nothing new. For at least the last 25 years, Molta and Mahamolta―villages with a population of about a 1,000 people and about 25km from Joshimath―have been sinking. I visited these villages sometime back. People are mostly not aware of what is happening. This phenomenon gets traction only when there is loss or displacement because of it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the sinking (subsidence) has been going on for some time, it never happened at this scale; a large area is affected this time. Clearly, it is alarming as many houses are already damaged and have been rendered unsuitable for habitation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Joshimath is located in the higher Himalayan region and there is a tectonic line just to its south called the Main Central Thrust. The older rocks, forming the basement in the crustal profile, have moved because of the compression resulting from the northward movement and subsequent collision of the Indian plate with the Eurasian plate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Himalayas are young fold mountains and the tectonic dangers have to be kept in mind. The Indian plate is moving northward against the Eurasian plate at the rate of 55mm per year. There is a buildup and accumulation of a lot of stress and pressure which is sometimes accommodated by faults, thrusts and tectonic movements. This entire belt―Pithoragarh, Uttarkashi, Bagheshwar, Chamoli, Rudraprayag―falls in zone 5, the highest category of earthquake prone regions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The thrust is a very large block of rock mass that has moved and has been, at times, active. It extends right up to Assam from Pakistan. It is a very big tectonic line. So, when there is a movement, the rocks move fast against each other along the fault lines. Therefore, the region is highly fragile and sensitive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Joshimath had become a shelter for visitors right from the times of Shankaracharya (CE 8th century) who set up a math at Badrinath. But over time, Joshimath grew. The soil that covers the slopes of the Badrinath region are glacial and are deposits from ancient landslides. So, these are loose materials. Another cause for the presence of glacial material is that during the last glacial age many of the mountain areas had huge snow cover. Although the snow is still there, it is not permanent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Year after year, buildings, power projects and even military structures have come up. Also, there is an increasing movement of tourists. The vibrations caused by vehicles and machinery moves through these fragile mountains and has made the area even more sensitive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The slopes in the region are also steep. Joshimath slopes, for example, are bulging; they are convex. The already unstable slopes are slowly creeping down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, Joshimath has no drainage management at all. The increasing water discharge and rain water is not properly disposed off. The water moves into the ground and as surface run-off, causing erosion. The percolating water moves through pores, fractures and joints. This movement is further triggered by the pore water pressure. Water goes into the fractures of the rocks, crevices and other places and creates tremendous pressure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The water that is oozing out of certain areas is turbid and muddy because the sediment particles are more buoyant and behave like fluids. So, there is a lot of sinking. In other words, it is a disaster waiting to happen. Thank God it is not the rainy season.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most significant is the heavy load on the slopes. You put a 5kg load on my back, I will be comfortable. But if you put a 50kg load, I will stoop and may even fall. The strength of the rocks is also reduced by water.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1880, there were 153 landslides in Nainital, which killed about 115 Europeans; local casualties may have been overlooked in the records. But, the British constructed 62 drains to dispose off the waste water. That is why Nainital is safe, otherwise the geology is fragile there, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So while evacuation and relocation is understandable in the short term, for the long term, we should have a complete plan for Joshimath that will address the slope problem, the geology, the bearing capacity of the rocks and drainage management. For that, technocrats, geologists and planners have to sit together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My personal opinion is that new, small and smart townships with all modern amenities be raised, so as to ease the pressure from highly pressurised centres like Joshimath.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the hill-stations were made by the British. After Independence, no new hill -cities have been made by Indians. So, we have to look for new sites where the rocks are sound and where the foundation is good. We cannot have large towns as the terrain has steep slopes and fragile systems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After Joshimath, there is no notable human settlement till Badrinath. It is just the wilderness. So, in between, there are areas where such small townships can be built.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nature always warns, but our memories are short.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is retired dean of science faculty, Kumaun University, and has worked on the Himalayas for 45 years.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>As told to Sanjib Kr Baruah</b></p> Sat Jan 14 14:57:45 IST 2023 jallikattu-2023-legal-issues-bull-breeds <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For Muthal Subramanian, January is a joyful month. The harvest festival Pongal ushers in the Tamil new year, and she gets to watch her favourite sport―the bull-taming jallikattu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Muthal, 69, is a smallholder in Sembanoor in Tamil Nadu’s Sivaganga district. Every January, a week before Pongal festivities start, she starts touring farms where bulls are trained for jallikattu. “It is a pleasure watching the tamers chase bulls, hop on to them, and hold on for dear life,” she says. “I have not missed jallikattu even once, except when it was banned.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jallikattu was banned in 2014 by the Supreme Court, which said it violated the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. Three years after the ban, Tamil Nadu brought in an ordinance, and later a bill, amending the act and allowing for the return of the sport. Petitions challenging the new law were soon filed in the Supreme Court, which formed a five-member Constitution Bench to hear the case. The bench reserved its judgment on December 8, 2022. It is expected to be delivered during this year’s jallikattu season, which lasts for four months in some parts of the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excited about the season, Muthal has already taken stock of the competition in her village. “There are more than 200 bulls in this region alone,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Around 65km from Sembanoor, on the Sivaganga-Madurai highway, is a sprawling farm at Karumbukkaal in Varichiyur village. The farm is owned by P.R. Rajasekaran, president of the Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Peravai, which has been fighting for jallikattu in courts. Rajasekaran owns a dozen bulls; two of them have fallen ill, but the rest are being trained for contests in Alanganallur, Avaniyapuram and Palamedu in Madurai district―the region’s three most popular jallikattu fixtures. They will be held on three days of Pongal festivities―January 15, 16 and 17.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The bulls are trained for at least 40 days ahead of jallikattu,” says Rajasekaran. “They are like our children―greater than God for us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two of the bulls, Appukutti and Sevalai, are ready for a long day’s work after having feasted on heaps of green grass while being tied to poles. They bellow as two attendees―Maari and Vishnu―untie them and make them walk. Appukutti leads; Sevalai follows.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Hold Appu with care,” shouts Sundara Valli, the farm’s caretaker, to Maari as he pulls the long rope tied around the bull’s neck. Valli then turns to the bulls. “It is swimming time,” she says soothingly. “Be calm. Don’t bellow.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pacified, Appu follows Maari. The bull’s strides are swift and vigorous, like that of a horse. Two kilometres later, Appu sees a lake and lets out an excited cry. Sevalai soon joins him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sevalai is slightly taller. He is a Kangeyam cattle, a breed popular in the western part of the state; Appu is of Pulikulam breed, popular in the Madurai region and widely used in jallikattu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three indigenous breeds are preferred for jallikattu―Kangeyam, Pulikulam and Umblachery (popular in the state’s coastal plains). Enthusiasts breed bull calves or purchase them from local markets based on size, alertness and agility. The bulls are trained to swim, walk long distances and jump from the vaadivasal, the enclosure that serves as the cattle entry point in jallikattu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Appu splashes into the lake, and water sprays out like a fountain. Vishnu and Maari hand over the rope to Veeranna Prakash aka Bavvu, who swims with the bull. “Santhoshama, Appu (are you happy now?)” asks Bavvu, as Appu swims across the lake.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fifteen minutes later, Appu comes ashore, and Vishnu and Maari tie him to a tree. It is Sevalai’s turn to jump into the water. Unlike Appu, he does not make any noise as he eases into the water with his huge hump, thick neck, wide chest and long, curved horns. “Sevalai is ferocious, unlike the others,” says Vishnu. Bavvu swims with Sevalai for 15 minutes. Both of them come ashore, but Sevalai suddenly dives into the water again. “Dei sevalai podum da [Enough, man],” says Bavvu as he tugs at the rope.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sevalai is pulled ashore again and the men take a coffee break. Later, the cattle are guided back to the farm. Every day, the bulls are made to walk at least 13km; every third day, they are taken for a swim to strengthen their hind legs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back in the farm, Appu, Sevalai and other bulls are given fodder―a mix of cotton seeds and corn and paddy residue. “We lower the carbohydrate content because it doesn’t add to the strength,” says Valli. Each bull is fed at least four kilos of protein-rich fodder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Around 16km from Madurai is the Alanganallur Veterinary Hospital, where a hundred bulls wait in line for fitness certificates. One of them tries to run away and four people give it a chase. A young man named Azhagar finally succeeds in grabbing the rope and ties the bull to a tree. Azhagar is an assistant in a private bank in Madurai. At 29, he is an experienced bull tamer registered with the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are given tokens every year based on body fitness,” says Azhagar. “We undergo a complete health checkup before being given tokens. This year, too, I will get a token to participate in the Alanganallur event, my favourite jallikattu.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are scars on his neck, shoulder and forehead. “These are certificates of my valour,” says Azhagar. In the Madurai region, around 70 per cent of men between ages 35 and 45 regularly participate in the sport. “We get hurt sometimes, but the injuries heal in a day or two,” says Veeraiyyan, one of the men who helped Azhagar tame the wayward bull. “Many regulations have recently been brought in to ensure safety of the tamers and the bulls.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The dangers, however, remain. In the first event of the jallikattu season, held in Pudukkottai district on January 8, around 500 tamers vied with each other to subdue 300 bulls in an open ground. More than 35 people, including spectators and police personnel, were injured.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At Alanganallur, government officials are taking measures to ensure all-round safety of man and animals. On January 6, Madurai district collector S. Anees Sekhar held a meeting with jallikattu organisers, bull owners and representatives of tamers to monitor preparations. “Every time, we check the medical condition of the bulls to ensure safety and prevent animal cruelty,” says Sekhar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jallikattu is both a religious and cultural event in rural Tamil Nadu. In Madurai, Ramanathapuram, Sivaganga and Dindigul districts, the influence of the sport cuts across caste, faith and economic status. At least 78 per cent of bull rearers in southern Tamil Nadu are backward caste Hindus earning less than Rs1.5 lakh a year. The rest are backward Christian farmers who organise bull taming events in their villages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The protests for and against jallikattu in recent years have made it a political hot button. Actor-politician Kamal Haasan, whose films like Thevar Magan and Virumandi celebrated the jallikattu culture, plans to seek approval from the state government to organise the sport in Chennai in partnership with Rajasekaran’s Jallikattu Peravai. “The craze for jallikattu across the globe has grown since 2017, particularly after the protests,” says Rajasekaran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the run-up to the 2021 assembly polls, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi visited Madurai to watch jallikattu with DMK leader Udhayanidhi Stalin. “Jallikattu is safe for both bulls and bull tamers,” said Rahul. “The BJP is trying to suppress Tamil culture.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Incidentally, it was in 2011, when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power, that Parliament passed an amendment that led to the jallikattu ban. In 2017, the DMK, which was part of the UPA government, extended full support to protesters who fought the ban. Now, having come to power in 2021, the DMK is planning to construct a stadium exclusively for the sport.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Jallikattu is our pride. The DMK’s efforts restored the sport to its full spirit,” says Karthikeya Sivasenapathy, DMK leader and executive trustee of the Kangeyam Cattle Research Foundation. Sivasenapathy was one of the faces of the pro-jallikattu protests in 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In southern Tamil Nadu, jallikattu holds sway on electoral politics as well. Be it the DMK, the AIADMK or the Congress, political parties know that opposing jallikattu can dent their support base. J. Jayalalithaa, who was chief minister when the ban on jallikattu was in effect, had earned the wrath of pro-jallikattu protesters. The risk of losing the party’s strong vote bank in Madurai, Theni, Ramanathapuram and Pudukottai districts had prompted her party to fight for the lifting of the ban. “It was the AIADMK which brought back jallikattu,” said AIADMK leader R.B. Udhayakumar at a rally in Alanganallur in the run-up to the 2021 polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an affidavit in the Supreme Court against the ban, the state government had said jallikattu was not just a “century-old practice symbolic of a community’s identity”, but “a tool for conserving precious, indigenous breeds of livestock” as well. A ban on the sport, said the government, was “hostile to culture and against the sensitivities of the community”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The legal battle had begun when a public interest litigation was filed by A. Nagaraja, whose 12-year-old son was killed in 2004 after being hit by a bull that ran out of the arena. The Supreme Court delivered a judgment banning jallikattu in 2014. The amendment enabling the lifting of the ban was passed in 2017, after statewide protests in favour of the sport.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The court battle is now in its final stage: the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has reserved its verdict, and the ongoing jallikattu season could well be the final one.</p> Sat Jan 14 13:00:23 IST 2023 rajouri-terror-attack-challenges-to-jammu-security-forces <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AT 7PM ON JANUARY 1,</b> terror struck Upper Dhangri village in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district. Under the cover of darkness, two masked militants attacked three houses standing 50 metres apart. The shooting lasted ten minutes, but the residents had no idea who the assailants were or why they were being attacked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The firing ceased after Balkishen, a member of the village defence committee (VDC), grabbed his .303 rifle and fired a few shots in the air. The militants fled thinking security forces had arrived. As the people in the houses began crying out for help, Upper Dhangri’s Hindu community of more than 5,000 people soon found out that 10 of them had been injured in the shooting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The victims were rushed to the government hospital in Rajouri. Three of them―Deepak Kumar, 23, Pritam Lal, 57, and Satish Sharma, 45―were declared dead on arrival. Pritam Lal’s son Shishu Pal, 32, died while being flown to Jammu in an Army helicopter. The others had suffered multiple bullet wounds, and are in government hospitals in Jammu and Rajouri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The morning after the attack, an improvised explosive device went off near Lal’s house. Two cousins―Vihan Kumar, 4, and Sumiksha Devi, 16―and five others, including two children, were injured. The device was aimed at security personnel inspecting the site.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Majority of the people in Jammu are Hindus, but in Rajouri and Poonch districts, which border Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), they are in the minority. Hindus in Rajouri were last targeted in 2002, when militants attacked a wedding party killing 16 people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Targeted killings of minorities and migrants started in Kashmir after the revocation of Article 370. The security forces have countered the threats well, but the Rajouri attack has come as a shock. Fear and anger have gripped the district, especially Upper Dhangri and neighbouring areas. After the attack, protesters raised slogans against the police and the administration. They carried the bodies of the victims and blocked the Rajouri-Kalakote road at Dhangri Chowk, refusing to cremate the bodies until Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha met them. Sinha later flew to Rajouri and met the families of the victims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We will settle scores with those involved in the act,” he said. “The Army is conducting an operation in the area and strong action will be taken in the days to come.” Sinha also promised 010 lakh to the victims’ families, and assured that his administration would strengthen VDCs, some of which have reportedly been disarmed. The VDCs, set up in the mid-1990s, have had success in deterring militants in Jammu’s border areas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After Sinha’s assurances, the six bodies were shifted to a government higher secondary school and cremated amid tight security on January 3. Security has been beefed up in and around Rajouri city and the police have announced a reward of 010 lakh for information about the killers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dilbag Singh, director general of police, also met the victims’ families. “It’s time to boost the VDCs,” he said. “If guns have been taken away [from VDC members], they will be returned, and more will be provided, if needed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political parties in Jammu and Kashmir were unanimous in condemning the attack. State BJP president Ravinder Raina, who had to face the ire of the people in Rajouri, said the militants had killed humanity. “Patriots have been targeted. The police and the Army have launched an operation and they will not spare the perpetrators,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eyewitnesses gave graphic accounts of the attack. “They first shot Kumar outside his house,” said an Upper Dhangri resident. “Kumar had recently been appointed in the Army’s ordnance department, but had not yet joined as he was collecting the documents he needed to submit. He died on the spot.”</p> <p>The militants then entered Pritam Lal’s house and shot him and son Shishu Pal. “Several blocks away, they fired at Sharma, a retired soldier who was closing the gate of his house after hearing the heavy gunfire,” said the resident. The militants fired at Sharma’s wife and son, and three others were also injured.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eyewitnesses said the militants then entered a house where an elderly woman lived alone. They spared her, but fired at her television. Apparently, if Balkishen had not fired in the air, militants would have killed more. “It could have been a far bigger tragedy,” said a resident.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ranjit Tara, a resident of Upper Dhangri, said it was a planned attack to target Hindus. He said the militants checked Pritam Lal’s Aadhaar card before shooting him. According to him, the militants want to spread fear in Jammu and force people to flee, like what had happened to Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir. “We appeal to the lieutenant governor that VDCs should be armed and strengthened,” said Tara.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dheeraj Sharma, sarpanch of Upper Dhangri, said all victims would have died if the villagers had not shown the courage to rush them to hospital. “There were bullet marks on the gates of the houses,” he said. “That tells a tale.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Upper Dhangri is just 8km from Rajouri city and houses the district jail. The Line of Control is around 50km from the village. “Chances of the militants being fresh infiltrators are low,” said a villager. “They seem to have carried out a recce, choosing evening time to flee with ease.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The incident comes two weeks after two civilians were shot dead on December 16 near the gate of an Army camp in Rajouri. Local people had blamed the Army for the deaths, but a third civilian, who was injured in the incident, later said in the hospital that it was militants who had opened fire. The Army camp is located on the banks of a river; Dhangri is on the opposite bank. It lends credence to the claim that the militants who attacked Upper Dhangri have been present in the area for some time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajouri has witnessed several militant attacks in the past two years. From March to April 2022, four blasts took place in the Kandi Koteranka belt in the district. The police cracked the case after it arrested Lashkar-e-Taiba’s top commander Talib Hussain Shah and his associates from Tuksan village in Reasi district. On August 11 last year, five soldiers and two militants were killed during an attack on an Army camp at Pargal village in Rajouri’s Darhal area. On August 13, 2021, militants lobbed a grenade at a BJP leader’s house in Rajouri; an infant was killed and seven others were injured.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The National Investigation Agency has now taken over the Upper Dhangri case. The NIA is likely to question Shah again to ascertain whether he has any information about the attack. The security establishment is working to prevent more such attacks. The BJP, too, would want them to succeed―the political fallout is detrimental to the party, which has been controlling the Jammu and Kashmir administration since 2018.</p> Sat Jan 07 16:17:50 IST 2023 maharashtra-cm-eknath-shinde-agriculture-minister-abdul-sattar-land-controversy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN THE TURF WAR</b> between the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi-led opposition and the state government, the latest battle is over land. The opposition has cornered Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Agriculture Minister Abdul Sattar with charges of corruption and favouritism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In early 2021, when Shinde was urban development minister in the MVA government, he allegedly allotted 4.5 acres belonging to the Nagpur Improvement Trust (NIT) to private individuals. This, despite the matter being sub-judice. The land was meant to be used for slum rehabilitation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The issue dates back to 2004, when an activist filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court after the Comptroller and Auditor General had found irregularities in the allotment of land by the NIT. In 2017, the Nagpur bench of the court set up a one-man committee under retired judge M.N. Gilani to investigate the issue. The committee found violations in the land allotment process and said, “prima facie, this is a blatant misuse of public property.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The court has been monitoring the allotment of NIT land for years, and has ordered status quo on Shinde's decision. It will next hear the case on January 4.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ambadas Danve, leader of opposition in the legislative council, was the first to raise the issue. He alleged that the land was given away for around 12 crore. “Its market value is 183 crore,” the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray) leader alleged. “This is a scam and Chief Minister Shinde has favoured individuals connected to the real estate sector.” Eknath Khadse, former BJP leader and now Nationalist Congress Party legislator, joined in, demanding that Shinde resign. In the legislative assembly, NCP’s Chhagan Bhujbal and Jitendra Awhad raised the issue. Awhad, who hails from Shinde's home turf of Thane, had met the petitioners and collected all the data to implicate the chief minister. Awhad and Shinde have had an up-and-down relationship over the years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde defended himself saying he had followed the procedure previous regimes had laid down. “My order clearly said that the applicant should be charged as per 2007 orders,” he said. “I have not recommended any reduction of charges.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition refused to budge. Sensing that Shinde was on shaky ground, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis rushed to his defence. “The court has asked the state to submit its response and maintain status quo in the matter,” he said. “When Shinde took the decision, the NIT had failed to inform him that a committee had been set up to inquire into the matter. Had it been placed on record, this decision would not have been taken. Our government will not give away plots at cheaper rates causing loss to the exchequer.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under pressure, Shinde later told the assembly that he had cancelled the allotment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shiv Sena (Thackeray) leader Sanjay Raut tried to create a rift between the Shinde faction of the Sena and the BJP by pointing out that three BJP legislators had originally brought up the NIT land allotment issue. “We just decided to take up the issue,” he said. “The BJP may be with the Shinde group, but its motives are sinister.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under fire, the Shinde camp went after the Thackeray family. Senior Sena (Shinde) leader Bharat Gogavale brought up the mysterious death of celebrity manager Disha Salian in June 2020. She was found dead after falling from the roof of a building. Her client, actor Sushant Singh Rajput, was found dead a few days later. Gogavale asked the government to reinvestigate her death and claimed that the Mumbai Police’s probe had been unsatisfactory and was aimed at shielding someone. BJP legislator Nitesh Rane, without naming Aaditya Thackeray, said that a minister from the MVA government had influenced the police investigation. He claimed that Salian was murdered and, to suppress that, the final post-mortem report had not been released and two investigating officers had been changed in quick succession. The government has announced the formation of a special investigation team to probe the death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the allegations against Shinde are a headache to the government, those against Sattar are a migraine. The agriculture minister allegedly regularised 37 acres of gairan (grazing) land despite a Supreme Court order prohibiting such actions. On June 17, 2022, two weeks before the MVA government fell, Sattar allotted the land in Washim district to a Yogesh Khandare. Sattar was then minister of state for revenue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Nagpur bench of the High Court recently held that Sattar took the decision despite being aware that the Washim court had disallowed Khandare’s claim over the land.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Leader of opposition Ajit Pawar alleged that the land was worth 1170 crore and wondered if Sattar had made money in the deal. The opposition demanded that Sattar be sacked immediately.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Sattar was aware of the strictures of the High Court and the Supreme Court,” said Pawar. “Despite this, he blatantly misused his ministerial position and allotted the land to Khandare. The Washim district court had rejected Khandale’s claim to the said land. The district collector had written to additional chief secretary (revenue) to inform him that the allotment was in violation of court orders. However, action has not been taken against Sattar.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The minister is no stranger to controversy. He was recently accused of making derogatory remarks against NCP MP Supriya Sule and of asking a district collector if he wanted to have a “drink” in the morning when the latter refused tea at a meeting. Sattar is also accused of forcing agriculture department officers to sell tickets to a farm fair that he organises in his constituency, Sillod, in Aurangabad district. The villagers had free entry, but the officers were told to sell tickets priced at 15,000, 10,000 and 15,000 to seed, fertiliser and agri-equipment suppliers. The target, according to the opposition, was to raise 115 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On December 28, Sattar said that the land was allotted as per the rules and denied any wrongdoing. However, shaken by the opposition's protests, Fadnavis said that the government would examine the High Court order and take strict action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is unlikely that Shinde, under a cloud himself, would ask Sattar to resign. In all probability, the land allotment would be cancelled. But, it remains to be seen what action will be taken against a minister whose brazenness has become his signature style of functioning.</p> Sat Dec 31 12:48:21 IST 2022 bjd-silver-jubilee-naveen-patnaik <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ELECTIONS IN ODISHA</b> may be more than a year away, but the Biju Janata Dal is an early riser. The party has been in power since March 2000 and is raring to win the assembly and Lok Sabha polls again in mid-2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The confidence was on display as 50,000 office bearers assembled in Puri on December 26 for a grand celebration of the party’s silver jubilee. The choice of the temple town as the venue added religious fervour to the event. After all, the BJP with its hindutva edge is its main rival in both elections. The BJD has drawn up a yearlong programme in all constituencies with an eye on elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJD’s main strength is the popularity of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. He was a reclusive writer based in Delhi when the Janata Dal made him its candidate for byelection to the Aska Lok Sabha seat on the death of his father, the legendary Biju Patnaik, in 1997. He won, but left the Janata Dal and founded the BJD the same year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The founding of the BJD was perhaps a political necessity to decimate the Congress. Foreseeing the rise of A.B. Vajpayee and the BJP, certain Janata Dal leaders in Odisha wanted to be on their side. The BJP, on its part, guessed that Patnaik would inherit his father’s political influence. So, in a symbiotic relationship, the two parties formed an alliance and won the Lok Sabha elections in both 1998 and 1999.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patnaik became cabinet minister under Vajpayee but shifted base to Odisha for the assembly elections in 2000, in the wake of the super cyclone of 1999. He led the alliance to a massive victory and became chief minister. Astounding people who thought he was a political innocent who could not even speak Odia, he advanced the next assembly elections by a year, clubbing it with the Lok Sabha polls of 2004, winning them both.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the BJP lost at the national level, the BJD retained Odisha largely because of the clean image of Patnaik, who had dismissed outright three ministers accused of corruption. He broke up with the BJP before the 2009 Lok Sabha election, after the Sangh Parivar was accused of communal violence in Kandhamal district. Going solo, the BJD won more seats than the alliance had won in the earlier elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since then the BJD has won all elections, fighting both the BJP and the Congress. Only in 2019 did its Lok Sabha tally decline; it won only 12 of 21 seats from Odisha. In the assembly election the BJP became the main opposition party in the state, pushing the Congress to a poor third slot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the alliance broke up, the BJD has remained equidistant from the ruling and opposition fronts at the national level. However, it has helped the BJP in passing bills in Parliament and in the election of presidents and vice presidents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was with the BJD’s support that Ashwini Vaishnaw, now railway minister, was elected to the Rajya Sabha as a BJP candidate in 2019. It indicated that the two parties were softening towards each other. Nonetheless the BJD scored a massive victory in the last civic elections, sweeping the BJP aside.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, in the recent byelections to the assembly from Dhamnagar in coastal Odisha and Padmapur in western Odisha, the two parties fought hard and retained their seats. For the victory in Padampur, however, the chief minister had to campaign rather vigorously; he has rarely campaigned in byelections to the assembly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Patnaik government has done well by promoting economic resurgence in a state known earlier for poverty and underdevelopment. It has raised revenues using the state’s mineral potential and invested them for infrastructure development, education, health and women’s empowerment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The state’s strategy of involving women in income generation programmes through Mission Shakti has helped the BJD politically. “If mothers bless, the party will remain in power for one hundred years,” said Patnaik at the silver jubilee celebration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patnaik also spoke about helping farmers, tribals and weaker sections and about success in handling natural calamities. Though he did not criticise the BJP or other parties, he said Odisha was not getting its due from the Union government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJD came into being when there was a political vacuum and the Patnaik government ensured growth for every sector, said Debiprasad Mishra, its senior vice president and legislator. “Its financial management is one of the best in India,” he told THE WEEK. “It is the only state which is reducing the loan burden, and its GSDP-loan ratio is the lowest. The state is going for massive industrialisation, and investment proposals worth 010.5 lakh crore were received at the recent Make in Odisha conclave in Bhubaneswar.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ranendra Pratap Swain, minister for agriculture, fisheries and animal resources development, said the state had achieved big success in agri production. He noted that the state had become the sports capital of India. Odisha has hosted several international events in the past few years, and the Hockey World Cup is starting there in January.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party, which started its journey with followers of Biju Patnaik, has evolved over the years. Many leaders from other parties have migrated to the BJD and occupied important positions. In the process, many pioneers have left it or have been purged. The party solely depends on the popularity of 76-year-old Patnaik, who has not projected a successor. He has been more mobile than usual after the Covid years. This indicates that he will lead the election campaign in 2024.</p> Sat Dec 31 12:44:01 IST 2022 bjp-political-strategies-in-odisha <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>INTERESTING POLITICAL</b> shifts are under way in Odisha, some of them apparent and some hidden. Together, they may contribute to the making of a new political reality in the state. Signs of it can be seen in the byelections to the legislative assembly from Dhamnagar in November and Padampur in December.</p> <p>The Dhamnagar result is important for reasons. First, it was the first byelection the Biju Janata Dal lost after coming to power in 2019. Second, it showed that the BJD’s women vote base was getting fractured, with a section looking at the BJP as an alternative. Third, it dispelled the notion that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s charisma is unbreakable. Fourth, it generated a fear of loss in the BJD and strengthened the politics of possibility for the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This fear was noticed in the BJD’s campaign in Padampur. It made Patnaik give a lot of time to Padampur; he appeared at three public meetings there. State power was in action there in one form or another. Political analysts say the rallies and the presence of Patnaik in the constituency were crucial factors in his party’s victory in the election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But we need to study the Padampur result closely. Even though the BJP lost the election, its vote share increased. The BJP fought the election on various local and regional issues related to development, and showed its powerful presence as an opposition party with a well-conceived developmental agenda. The election result showed that there was a sharp decline of the Congress vote base. It suggested that the BJP is the only strong voice of opposition and the only powerful alternative in state politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A rural journalist in Padampur told me that the BJP was making a strong bid for power in the state with a visionary agenda of developmental politics. This may appear as politics of future possibility for the BJP in Odisha. This condition of immense possibility for the BJP is also evolving thanks to various welfare schemes for the poor (garib kalyan schemes) visualised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Implemented by the Central government, these schemes have benefited a large number of people, who vote beyond caste and community. Schemes such as PM Awas Yojana, Jan Dhan Yojana and Ujjwala Yojana are slowly changing the political landscape of Odisha and enabling the poor to opt for their own alternative for state power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is clear that the process of localisation of the BJP is going on. It means the BJP is trying hard to expand its strong organisational base at the local level. It is a kind of politics that does not evolve through charisma but through grassroot political actions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The vision that the BJP in Odisha is proposing is a combination of micro need-based local development and transformative mega development such as coastal highways, rail and petrochemical projects. On the other hand, the BJD is largely focusing on schemes of basic and immediate nature, instead of creating a long-term mega developmental vision for a Shreshtha Odisha. The BJP is also working to enhance Odia pride and identity, and make it part of Shreshtha Bharat. So the party is working to create a combination of pride, confidence and developmental aspirations as its political trajectory. The trust capital of Narendra Modi is also an important factor for providing winnability to the BJP in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, there are two kinds of politics in Odisha. One is charisma-based and persona-centric. The other is relying on organisational strength, with a new developmental vision. It is clear that the BJP has emerged in recent past as an assertive alternative in Odisha. Let us see how the politics of Odisha is going to reshape itself in the coming days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>―<b>The writer is director, G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad</b></p> Sat Dec 31 12:40:18 IST 2022 replicating-bjp-page-committee-model-gujarat-to-other-states <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT CAME AS NO SURPRISE</b> when Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised Gujarat BJP president C.R. Paatil for the party’s big win in the assembly elections, securing 156 of 182 seats and 52.52 per cent votes. It was a campaign model devised by Paatil―tried and tested in his Navsari Lok Sabha constituency―that helped the BJP register the thumping victory. He won the 2019 Lok Sabha election by a margin of 6.89 lakh votes without addressing even a single public meeting. In fact, he was barely there in the constituency, as he was busy managing Modi’s campaign in Varanasi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the electoral roll in Gujarat, there are 30 voters on one page. Paatil’s method involves identifying five voters from these 30 and asking them if they would like to become page committee members. One of these five is selected as the page president. This team works tirelessly in close coordination with the office-bearers of the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The system has been very effective in Gujarat, and the party is planning to use it in other states going to the polls this year, said Yagnesh Dave, one of the key persons who monitor the exercise in Gujarat. Uttar Pradesh already has page committee presidents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The page committee members remain constantly in touch with the other voters on the page and make sure that they cast their votes. “In this assembly election, the voting pattern was observed at each of the booths till 12pm. Wherever the voter turnout was weak, the party called up the page committee members to ensure voting,” said Dave.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With its characteristic efficiency, the BJP has outsourced to call centres the task of connecting to page members. Some of these call centres are not even in Gujarat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2020, the BJP used the system in the byelections to eight assembly seats and it won all eight. It was also used in the civic polls in the state. It is, however, not restricted to elections, as page committee members proactively try to address the problems of voters assigned to them. And there is a structured system to make it work. Above the page committee presidents, there are booth committee members and booth in-charges; then there is the district level support; and above that is the state executive committee, which reports to the state president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is about the organisation and administration working together,” said Kashyap Kotecha, a booth in-charge from Vejalpur constituency. “When we visit the voters, it results in an informal survey about what a person wants. We connect with the agencies concerned and try to resolve the problems as soon as possible.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While most political parties struggle to get volunteers during elections to handle booths, it is just another day for the BJP in Gujarat. The page committees are also a means to propagate the party’s ideology. “The page committee members get a feeling of family,” said Hitesh Patel, 60, a senior BJP member, who is also a page committee president. “Getting tiffins from home once or twice in a year and eating together in a group of 50 to 100 is something that happens only in the BJP―tiffin baithak.” The page presidents have identity cards and get greetings from the state party president on their birthdays and wedding anniversaries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Taking the system to other states, however, might not be that easy. The BJP already has a strong base in Gujarat and finding page committee members is not that difficult there. That might not be the case in other states where political affiliations and demographics vary. In fact, in a Muslim majority assembly constituency in Ahmedabad, most page committees are said to have just two members each for want of inclined voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, it is not easy to keep them active throughout. For instance, there are around 52,000 booths in Gujarat, and one booth has 30 to 35 pages. The BJP had 81 lakh page committee members and 15 lakh page committee presidents, said Dave. “We know that not all can be working when there is a programme or they are required. Some may be inactive and some may have genuine reasons. We estimate that 30 per cent of the members will be inactive and the enrolments are done keeping this in mind,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some critics say there were cases when people were made page committee members without their consent. The BJP, however, said the phone numbers and Aadhaar cards of the persons were verified before appointing page committee members.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political analyst Hari Desai said the system was effective in a way as it accommodated the so-called local leaders. “They think that they are holding some important position,” he said. “The members love to be associated with the BJP’s apparatus as the party has been in power for quite a long time.”</p> Sat Dec 24 13:25:33 IST 2022 how-women-in-kachchh-gujarat-are-finding-a-freedom-and-voice <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Rabari Manju could very well be a spy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 23-year-old is on a secret mission in her village in central Kachchh, Gujarat, and has already prevented 20 child marriages. Discreetly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I keep an eye out for freshly printed wedding cards circulating in the villages,” she says. “If it is going to be held in the fields, then it is most likely a child marriage. I immediately alert the authorities.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She also collects information about girls who have dropped out of school and tries to persuade their families to let them continue their education. “Sometimes, I face hostility, but I try my best,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manju’s mission is as much a social initiative as it is personal. She does not want another girl to have an experience like hers. She was betrothed to a boy when she was two years old in a custom called saata baata, where her brother was betrothed to her fiancé’s sister. Later, her schooling was cut short as her fiancé, too, was in the same school.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manju belongs to a pastoral community where child marriages, though illegal, are fairly common. And, it is a practice prevalent across villages in Kachchh. In Bhadroi village close to Anjar town, ten teenaged girls are attending classes at an anganwadi where the Kutch Mahila Sanghatan is running a learning centre. Almost all of them are dropouts, and married. Some were betrothed when they were just three.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though shy in the beginning, the girls start talking about child marriage. “This practice is wrong,” says Sita, 17 (name changed). “We want to choose our husbands.” Almost all the other girls nod in agreement. Says another girl. “We don’t have the courage to oppose our parents now. But the dialogue has started and hopefully the future will be better.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meghwal is a dominant community in the region known for its Pakko embroidery, using mirrors. But no embroidery, however pretty, can patch the patriarchal blind spots that exist in the community. There is an unofficial ban on photographing unmarried or young women of the community. “Earlier, local women used to happily pose for photos, without any objection,” says a trader. “But because of social media, all photos clicked by tourists immediately go online with hashtags and geotags. Families were worried that the pictures could be misused. Also, men of marriageable age objected to seeing their prospective brides’ photos in public domain.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the northern part of Kachchh is a verdant stretch, the Banni grasslands spread over 25 lakh hectares. It is a unique landscape where wildlife thrives, as do human settlements. The women here carry with them a pop of colour, threaded intricately into their traditional embroidered top and skirt. The homes―earthen, circular with thatched conical roofs―are called Bhunga. But there are only a few traditional Bhungas left; most are now made of bricks and tiles and are rented out as homestays or put on display for tourists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khammo, 75, lives in a traditional Bhunga in Bhirandiyara village. Eighteen members of his family live in half a dozen Bhungas next to his with their livestock. The houses are fenced in using sticks and branches of trees.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khammo’s two-decade-old Bhunga just has a room, but it brims with character. The walls are clothed in mirror embroidery and carvings. On one corner stands a ‘natural’ fridge, made of mud, with edible items stored inside. A window lets in light; a locker keeps its contents dark. Clothes, utensils and other belongings find their place on different mud shelves on the wall. The Bhunga keeps its inmates cool during summer and warm during winter; the slanted roof helps during monsoon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few kilometres away in Ludia village, Naveen Sawamwar, 20, and his family have turned their Bhungas into studios to sell their products. They make clothes in Pakko embroidery, towels, bed sheets, key chains, earrings and other handicrafts. Pakko embroidered clothes take months to make, says Naveen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Girls in the community start stitching their wedding dresses at a young age. “Some may take 15-20 years and some may take a few years,” says Naveen’s brother Heerabhai. “On the day of the wedding, they wear the dress they have been stitching.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ask him to show his wife’s wedding dress, and he says, “That’s not with us anymore. An English lady loved it so much that she paid Rs40,000 for it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Every community in Kachchh has a distinct style of embroidery. Jeevaben, in her sixties, is recognised in Bhadroi for her embroidery skill. She shows off her wall hangings in dark colours and a distinct asymmetric pattern. It takes her seven to eight months to make one piece, she says, and she sells it for Rs30,000 to Rs40,000. She, however, worries that the art form is dying, as the younger generation is not too keen on carrying forward the legacy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While it is a valid worry, women in Kachchh today seldom want to stay home, tied to traditions. Take, for instance, Chandni Bharat Parma, 22, the first woman to drive an auto-rickshaw in Bhuj town. She effortlessly manoeuvres the rickshaw through traffic and crooked lanes. She was only 18 when she decided to take up driving and be financially independent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My relatives and others in the neighbourhood reprimanded my family for allowing a girl to step out and drive a rickshaw,” she says. Her mother-in-law, too, gave her an ultimatum, but she remained unfazed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am perfect in my eyes,” she says. “Even if it is just my family and a few others who support me, that is fine. I have also resumed my studies. Some of my friends did not even study till class ten.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But her passengers, most often, have been kind and encouraging. Some wish her the best; while some others tell her, “Desh ka vikas ho raha hain (the country is progressing).” The daughter of a heavy vehicle driver, Chandni now wants to be the first woman to drive a bus in Bhuj.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This drive to do better is quite visible in Kukuma, one of the few villages on the outskirts of Bhuj, which boasts a balika panchayat that works towards the welfare and literacy of young girls. The Gujarat government introduced this parallel panchayat aimed at girls aged between 11 and 21, who can elect their sarpanch and ward members. Close to 600 girls elected Urmi Ahir, a final year science student, as the sarpanch. Every month, Ahir and ward members head to the panchayat office for a review meeting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ahir believes in the power of democracy and loves the respect she is getting as a sarpanch, which also makes her feel responsible. She proudly says that in her village, names of girl children are mentioned on the nameplates outside their houses. Also, girls who complete their education get prizes and free transport. Ahir recently conducted a women’s cricket tournament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I want to be the sarpanch of my village,” she says. After a pause, she adds, “Who knows, after that, I may want to become an MLA or an MP.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The women of Kachchh have not shied away from politics. Nimaben Acharya, the first woman speaker of the Gujarat assembly, was from Kachchh. There were three women among the six MLAs from Kachchh in the last legislature, including Nimaben. Now there is only one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Poonamben Veljibhai Jat was elected MP from Kachchh in 2009. “When I entered Parliament, there were only a few women MPs from Gujarat,” she says. “Today, there are a lot more. But, as a woman, I feel it is not enough. A vase will be beautiful if there are different types of flowers. Similarly, women from different communities and regions should also be there.”</p> Sat Dec 24 17:19:37 IST 2022 the-story-of-ravi-bapatle-saviour-of-hiv-positive-orphans <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Some events in life can shake you to the core. They can make you feel so sick about the society you are in that you start wondering how people can be so inhuman, uncaring and unconcerned. That is how Ravi Bapatle felt in 2006 when he witnessed the shocking death of a seven-year-old HIV-positive orphan who was abandoned by a village in Latur district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ever since his parents had died of AIDS, the boy had been living alone in a hut outside the village; the villagers treated him as an outcast. The boy died alone in that hut. “Nobody was willing to perform his last rites,” said Bapatle, 47, founder of Latur’s Happy Indian Village and Sevalay. “His body started rotting and stinking. That is when I called my friends and we performed the boy’s last rites.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back then Bapatle was a journalist with a local Marathi newspaper and was teaching journalism at a college in Latur. A couple of months after witnessing the apathy of the villagers, Bapatle devoted his life to the welfare of HIV-positive orphans. He resigned from both his jobs, informed his parents about his decision and told them that he would remain single as he was not sure of finding a partner who shared his vision. “My parents opposed my decision,” Bapatle told THE WEEK. “They tried reasoning with me. But I left our home in Udgir taluk, came to Latur and started living with my elder brother. I had made up my mind.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2007, Bapatle came to Hasegaon, a village 25km from Latur, with a six-year-old Shahaji Shinde. He spoke to his friends about his decision to set up a community for HIV positive orphans. They welcomed it. Manmathappa Mukta, grandfather of his friend Shanteshwar Mukta, donated six and a half acres. “The help from Manmathappa was a godsend,” said Bapatle. “With his support and blessing, I was able to start Sevalay, our first residential facility. Back then, it was just a big hut.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Bapatle went to the village panchayat to apply for an electricity connection, he was refused one. “The village panchayat told me that they will not allow HIV orphans to live in the village and I will not get any NoCs for Sevalay’s needs like water and electricity,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bapatle then met Latur district collector Eknath Dawle, who told the state electricity board to provide the connection immediately. After he got electricity and water, Bapatle built unpaved roads, small huts and a big hall. For a year, he and Shahaji were alone. “Shahaji is the first HIV-positive boy who came to me,” he said. “He was five-six years old when his mother put him in my care. She was suffering from AIDS and died a few years later. Soon the word spread and HIV-positive children began coming to Sevalay from the Marathwada region.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the number of children grew, Bapatle decided to admit them in the zilla parishad school at Hasegaon. The villagers feared that “his children” would spread HIV among the other children. “They shut down the school for almost two months,” he said. “Politicians exploited the situation. Local MLA Dinakar Mane demanded that Sevalay be shut down immediately. A team from MSACS (Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society) rushed to Hasegaon. Then, the villagers conducted a poll to decide whether to admit our children into the school and allow Sevalay to continue. Except the family that donated land, the entire village voted against me. Even BJP MLC Pasha Patel opposed strongly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bapatle approached each family in the village to create awareness about how the disease spreads. “I went to villagers and told them that my children will not infect anyone,” he said. “[That] HIV does not spread in this manner. ‘If you find that my children have infected anyone, you are free to hang me in the village square.’” It worked. Barring one influential family, almost everyone in the village agreed to allow Bapatle’s kids at school. “So, now the kids go to school in the village and then they go to Latur for college,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>College admissions were not easy either. In fact, Bapatle had to launch indefinite fasts two or three times to force the college administrations to pay heed. His ‘satyagraha’ won and colleges admitted his kids into their classrooms and hostels. But, Bapatle was not done yet. He began working to secure five per cent reservation in government hostels for HIV-positive children. That battle, too, was soon won.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My biggest worry was where will the kids go after they turn 18,” he said. “Because you can keep kids in a children’s home only till they turn 18, as per rules. So we needed a facility, a shelter for our children who had turned 18, as they were still not confident that society would accept them. So far, the needs like education, food and clothing were being met through the funds received from donations. But that money was not enough to build accommodation for those who had become adults.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So he formed a cultural troupe of Sevalay kids, which performed songs, ballads and a one-act play. The first show was received well. “We did more than 100 shows,” he said. “Toured Karnataka, Goa and Gujarat. The response was encouraging and we raised almost Rs1.5 crore to buy additional land near Sevalay.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bapatle began buying small parcels of land from 2014. By 2016, he had more than 15 acres, which he thought was sufficient to set up a community for HIV-positive orphans. He built separate hostels for girls and boys and a common community hall for meetings as well as dining. He also constructed cottages, for married HIV-positive couples who joined the community, which he had named Happy Indian Village. In 2017, Sevalay shifted completely to the new campus. “Today, we use (the old campus) for various educational courses that we teach our orphans and HIV-negative orphans who come to us for education,” he said. “We train tailors, beauticians, mechanics and drivers for earth-movers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The community now has 80 orphans and five couples. “The babies born to these couples are thankfully HIV negative as we follow a regimen that includes medicines, nutrition and exercise,” said Bapatle. Apart from the five couples who stay at Happy Indian Village, Bapatle has, so far, arranged the weddings of 11 HIV-positive couples. As the children under his care became adults, a need was felt to get them married to willing HIV-positive partners. He also began receiving marriage proposals for some girls in his care from HIV-positive men. HIV-positive girls under his care have married men in Karnataka, Solapur, Pune and are leading happy lives. “Earlier, the lifespan of HIV-positive children used to be 15-20 years,” he said. “But, with advances in medicine, the life span has increased. Similarly, latest medicines also ensure that babies born to HIV-positive couples are HIV negative. So, these couples are looking forward to life again. They know that their children can be negative even if they are positive.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Happy Indian Village has a lake that can store 1.5 crore litres of water. This lake was conceptualised by Bapatle in order to take care of water supply during Latur’s harsh summers, when the mercury crosses 40 degrees Celsius. The community has also planted a wide variety of trees to take care of their fruit needs. The trees have been destroyed many times by a group of Hasegaon villagers who continue to oppose him. “A couple of years ago, they destroyed almost 300 mango trees,” he said. “In May, they attacked me with weapons. A case was filed and some of them went to prison. As for me, I am ready to die for these orphans.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>IAS officer Abhinav Goel, who is CEO of Latur zilla parishad, told THE WEEK that his team regularly interacts with Bapatle. “Our effort is to help this institution in every possible way,” he said. “So, whenever they come to us with any issue or grievance we look into it immediately.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another IAS officer who had helped Bapatle in the initial years of his initiative said that Bapatle’s work has helped greatly in removing stigma around HIV in Latur. “He faced lot of stiff opposition, but does not harbour any ill will towards those who harassed him as he knows that it will only damage his work in the long run,” said the IAS officer, who requested anonymity. “In the initial days of the project, when he was harassed almost on a weekly basis, we had asked if he wanted to register a complaint against anyone. But, he declined and merely said he will continue doing his work and that people will eventually see the point.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All that Bapatle wishes for his children is that they grow up to lead a meaningful and dignified life. Vidya Kakade, a girl who has completed her diploma in beauty therapy and tailoring courses, came to Bapatle’s institution when she was 12. The government authorities closed down an institution named Jeevan Rekha in Parbhani as its work was not satisfactory and sent all 13 HIV-positive kids there to Bapatle. Vidya was among them. “I was born HIV positive and my parents succumbed to the disease,” she said. “I have been here eight years now. I have completed a diploma course and also a beautician’s course. I want to go to Pune and work there in a beauty parlour to gain experience. Eventually, I want to start my own parlour in Latur.” She understands that it will be a long road. “I know it is difficult,” said Vidya. “But, with baba (Bapatle) backing me, I will make it happen.”</p> Sat Dec 17 17:50:00 IST 2022 why-pakistani-tourists-are-thronging-the-loc <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ONE MOUNTAIN RIVER,</b> two names―the Kishanganga in India and the Neelum in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). A small bridge connects the two banks and thereby the countries, but a white line in its middle denotes the divide―no person on either side is allowed to cross the line.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Just across the gurgling waters of the Kishanganga, skirting the last Indian border outpost at Teethwal in Kashmir’s Kupwara, Pakistani trucks and civilian vehicles can be seen gently negotiating the slopes of the Lower Neelum Valley. Look up from the Indian position, and one can spot several newly constructed buildings, marked by fluttering flags.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“These are restaurants and resorts that have come up recently, in the past six to eight months, mainly to cater to the growing number of people from the other side who come to see the congregation of Indians this side of the Line of Control (LoC),”said a security officer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pakistanis have long been curious about Indians and their way of life. But what is bringing Pakistani tourists to the border now is an under-construction complex in Teethwal that houses a temple, a gurdwara and a mosque. The resorts in Pakistan have “view points”from where a growing number of Indian pilgrims can be seen visiting the multi-religious shrine. “The shrine and its construction have generated considerable interest in Pakistan. There are numerous blogs and YouTube videos on it already,”said the officer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The complex is coming up at a place, identified by the Waqf Board, that used to be the base camp for Kashmiri Pandit pilgrims visiting Sharda Peeth, about 60km in PoK’s Neelum district. The base camp was razed by Pakistan-aided tribal raiders in 1949.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“With the construction of the multi-religious structure having begun on December 2, 2021, 10-15 Kashmiri Pandits visit this site daily. This September 4 (the traditional date of the start of the yatra) and on Diwali, they came in hundreds,”said Ajaz Khan, who, along with two Muslims, five Kashmiri Pandits and a Sikh, is leading the effort to rebuild the pilgrimage centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, Sharda Peeth, once among the most prominent temple universities in the subcontinent, now lies in ruins. Sharda, another name for Goddess Saraswati, is a much-revered Hindu deity of learning who commands considerable devotion among the Pandits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prior to partition, thousands of yogis would flock to Sharda Peeth for meditation and yoga during summers, and during winters, they would come down to Tilla Jogian in what is now Pakistan’s Jhelum district. Believed to be about 2,000 years old, Tilla Jogian is a 975m-high mountain on the outskirts of Rawalpindi that once headquartered the ‘Kanphata yogis’or ‘Gorakhpanthis’. Besides Baba Gorakhnath, Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, is also believed to have practised meditation at Tilla Jogian.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Tilla Jogian is not very well-known and not many people go to the ancient ruins,”said ‘yogi’Shamshad Haider, who operates a chain of yoga centres across cities in Pakistan. “But even now the ‘energy’is very high and intense as I organise shibirs (camps) there.” He climbs Tilla Jogian barefoot, which often leave him with blisters and bloody sores. “Over the ages, this place has graced the feet of thousands of wise and evolved personalities,”he said. “How can I dirty it with my shoes?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Haider thinks that yoga is the “only way to unify the hearts of Indians and Pakistanis and to stop the persisting hatred”. “The mutual curiosity and interest between Indians and Pakistanis is there because the same blood runs in our veins. We are the same people with the same roots,”he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan, meanwhile, wants the authorities to enable free movement of people across the border. “Enable people from this side to visit the Sharda Peeth and vice versa, like in olden times,”said Khan. “After all, it is the religion of insaniyat (humanity) that matters the most. At the same time, with more tourists coming in, this backward region will also develop, like it is happening on the other side of the LoC.”</p> Sun Nov 20 11:20:18 IST 2022 separatist-leader-bilal-lone-kashmir-politics-changes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>KASHMIR’S POLITICS IS</b> likely to witness a major change, as separatist leader Bilal Gani Lone is preparing to bid farewell to separatism and enter the mainstream. Bilal is the elder son of Abdul Gani Lone, the Hurriyat Conference leader who founded the People’s Conference. Considered a moderate who had wide support across north Kashmir, Abdul Lone was thrice elected from Handwara in Kupwara district before militancy erupted in Kashmir. He was assassinated on May 21, 2002, during a rally at the Srinagar Eidgah.</p> <p>Sources told THE WEEK that Bilal would soon tour Kupwara and other districts in north Kashmir to reach out to his father’s loyalists and shore up support for his electoral plunge. The Centre has promised to hold the assembly polls early next year, after the electoral rolls are revised by the end of November.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bilal joined the Hurriyat Conference after hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani and his supporters demanded that the People’s Conference be expelled from the separatist grouping for fielding proxy candidates in the 2002 polls. Sajad Lone, Bilal’s younger brother, had by then become the head of the People’s Conference. When Hurriyat chairman Molvi Abbas Ansari rejected Geelani’s demand, the Hurriyat split into moderate and hardliner factions. Bilal joined the moderate camp while Sajad quit separatist politics and contested the 2009 Lok Sabha polls from north Kashmir. In 2014, Sajad won from Handwara and his People’s Conference bagged a second seat in Kupwara. He later joined the PDP-BJP coalition and became a minister.</p> <p>Sources said Bilal decided to enter mainstream politics after Sajad refused to field his elder daughter from Trehgam, a seat created after the delimitation of assembly seats. “[Sajad] flatly refused to accept Bilal’s request,” said sources.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently, Sajad had already picked the candidate for Trehgam, Handwara and Kupwara, where he believes his party’s chances are strong. If the People’s Conference can win three seats in the district, it would be able to bargain hard in a coalition government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But opponents can paint the People’s Conference as a BJP ally. It would harm the party’s prospects, given the anger and frustration among the people over the Union government’s August 2019 decision to take away Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and reduce it to a Union territory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources close to Bilal said he would seek votes in the name of his father. Addressing a gathering in Kupwara on October 25, he said he considers himself a political worker, not a leader. “Any political worker who leaves people to their fate in the present circumstances is not fair,” he said. “I have some plans that will move forward, only if you support me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bilal said “some difficult decisions” would have to be considered. “There are a lot of issues, but the question is: Are you going to walk along with me?” he asked. “Inshallah,” responded the crowd. “I will give you a call,” said Bilal, “and if your response is good, then we would walk together from one village to another.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bilal had, in 2019, changed the name of his party from the People’s Conference to the People’s Independent Movement. He said the move was necessitated “to end the confusion” with the Sajad-led People’s Conference. “I was very close to my father and, to avoid confusion in taking forward my father’s legacy, it was inevitable that I change the name of my party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike Sajad, Bilal is known for keeping a low profile and not courting controversies. A pacifist, he has supported all peace initiatives in Kashmir. He was part of the Hurriyat Conference delegation that met deputy prime minister L.K. Advani in Delhi in 2004.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bilal’s decision to enter mainstream politics has surprised the government and security authorities. Sources said the security agencies were convinced that his decision to bid farewell to separatist politics was his own, and not taken at the behest of anyone. Sources said Bilal had informed Hurriyat leaders that he would not be part of the group anymore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bilal’s decision to enter the mainstream has implications for separatist politics. Other separatists might take their cue from him and follow suit. Also, Bilal’s campaign will have a direct bearing on the People’s Conference chances in Kupwara district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Hurriyat had started to lose popular support long before Kashmir’s special status was withdrawn. The Union government has nevertheless has gone hard on separatists and their supporters. In September 2021, separatism took a hit when Geelani, considered the face of hardline separatist politics, died. Leaders like Yasin Malik have since been sentenced to death for “seditious activities”. Malik is also facing trial in cases related to his alleged involvement in terror funding, the kidnapping of Union home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s daughter Rubaiya in 1989, and the killing of IAF personnel in Srinagar in 1990.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That leaves Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the leader of the moderate faction to which Bilal belonged, to shoulder the burden of separatist politics. But, since August 2019, Mirwaiz has been under house arrest and has not led prayers at the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, Kashmir’s most influential mosque.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bilal’s move is significant in this background. “I have to discuss many things with you, but I first wanted to see whether the decision I am going to take has your support,” he told the crowd in Kupwara on October 25. “Now I have realised that we can go down this route.”</p> Fri Nov 11 18:02:42 IST 2022 aap-gujarat-elections-strategy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As one walks through the narrow lanes in Gulam Falia, Surat, it is easy to miss the Dutch cemetery, the final resting place of Hendrik Adriaan van Reede. Apart from his administrative acumen, the former governor of Dutch Malabar was also known for his botanical magnum opus, Hortus Malabaricus. Next to the Dutch cemetery is the Armenian cemetery. Both were lucky to survive the devastating floods of 2006. The British cemetery is only a few kilometres away. “These cemeteries tell us about Surat’s rich history. People from all over the world used to come here for trade,” said Sanjay Choksi, a photographer and history buff. The Surat port was famous worldwide and flags of 84 countries used to fly high here, giving it the name Surat Choryasi. And the prosperity still continues, with the city being India’s textile and diamond hub.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Gujarat prepares to elect a new government, Surat is in the thick of action, with the city being home to state BJP president C.R. Patil and several other stalwarts. With a network of flyovers, new housing projects, an upcoming metro system and the tag of being the second cleanest city in the country, development is visible across Surat, and the BJP is quick to claim credit. “We have the triple engine government. The BJP at the Centre, state and the municipal corporation,” said Niranjan Zanzmera, the BJP’s Surat unit president. “Our brahmastra is Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the 16 seats in Surat―12 in the city and four in adjoining areas―the BJP lost only one in 2017. The electoral importance of Surat and south Gujarat can be gauged from the fact that Modi’s first meeting after the election was declared was at Kaprada in Valsad district. “We are aiming to win all 12 seats in Surat city and we will get the other four, too. Our focus is on increasing the lead,” said Zanzmera.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it may not be an easy task, especially with the brewing resentment against the steadily climbing inflation. The Patidars are unhappy and so are those working in the diamond and textile sectors and the unorganised sector. Less than two kilometres from the BJP’s sprawling office in the city is where 62-year-old Devtadhin Dhobi works. A native of Raebareli in Uttar Pradesh, Dhobi is unhappy about many things, including the rising cost of cooking gas. An ironer of modest means, he paid Rs1,100 for a cylinder last month and wonders why the BJP government was unable to bring it down. The Congress has offered to make a cylinder of gas available for Rs500. “The railway season ticket which used to cost Rs300 now costs Rs1,700. Milk prices increase every two to three months,” he said. Development, in his view, is not just big stadiums, flyovers and statues. “I lost my house a couple of years ago for a flyover project. I had built it after struggling so much. I never got any compensation and now I stay at a rented place that costs Rs2,200 a month. It hurts,” said Dhobi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhobi refused to reveal his voting preference, but observed that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party had made some solid points. “Kejriwal is talking about 300 units of free electricity per month and lowering the property tax. It has happened in Delhi and Punjab.” Though the AAP is seemingly not targeting any particular strata of society, the middle class, the lower middle class and the poor are attracted by the party’s campaign promises.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On a small lane in the city, Shobha Chauhan, 50, assembles necklaces. She gets Rs60 for a thousand pieces, but it is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of her family of six. So she also sells pan masala. “Nobody helps the poor. We are made to run from pillar to post and now the quantity of grain that we receive from the ration shop has also worsened,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An indication of the challenge that the BJP could face in the city is evident from Varachha―also called mini Saurashtra―dominated by Patidars. Within two days of joining the AAP, Surat’s very own PAAS (Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti) leaders Alpesh Kathiriya and Dharmik Malaviya took out a bike rally and were given a rousing reception. “Varachha is a hotspot,” said Pradip Jadhav of Chai Makers by Engineers. Jadhav, 46, who started his restaurant business with his 24-year-old-engineer partner Ganesh Dudhnale a couple of years ago, said the AAP did quite well in Varachha in the last Surat municipal corporation (SMC) elections, when the party surprised everyone by winning 27 of 120 seats. While the BJP retained power, the Congress, for the first time, failed to open its account.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rakesh Hirpara, one of the key members of the AAP in Surat, said the party’s origins in the city could be traced back to 2013 when it started taking up issues like hike in power bills and property tax, and various alleged scams. During the first wave of the pandemic, AAP workers went from house to house with pulse oximeters to measure oxygen saturation levels of patients. The ones who needed attention were taken to hospitals. While the AAP’s initial electoral forays were unsuccessful, the last SMC elections brought in a change. “For the first time, women voters shifted in our favour. Normally, they vote for the BJP,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rachna Hirpara, a first time corporator, joined the AAP barely a month and a half before the elections as she was moved by the problems faced by the common man. “I did not even know what a corporation was and what a corporator was supposed to do,” said Hirpara, who has studied only till class seven. She and her 12-year-old son, Swayam, undertook a door-to-door campaign, although her husband, Ankur, was not sure about her success.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the upcoming assembly polls, the AAP was the first party to announce the list of candidates, and it relies heavily on the promises made by Kejriwal. The party tells voters that on the basis of the initiatives it announced in the fields of electricity, health, education and allowances to be given to the unemployed and women, a family will be able to save at least Rs2 lakh per year. Said Kiran Desai of the Centre for Social Studies in Surat, “Patels, who benefited from the land reforms, are a homogenous group. Yet, the results of the 2017 elections from Surat region were surprising.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP hopes that the work its corporators have put in at the SMC would translate into votes in the assembly polls. The party is eyeing voters like Shilpa Goyani and Kajal Gajera. Their families earn less than Rs20,000 a month and they used to find it extremely difficult to run their homes and educate their children. After the AAP representatives brought in changes in corporation-run schools, they enrolled their children in these schools and made big savings. Earlier, they used to pay beyond their means to keep their children in private schools. “There is corruption everywhere and we are made to visit government offices multiple times to get things done,” said Goyani and Gajera.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Patidar-dominated Varachha Road seat, the AAP has fielded Kathiriya, once a close aide to Patidar leader Hardik Patel, who switched over to the BJP from the Congress. Kathiriya, who was in jail for 14 months, also faced sedition charges. “I had offers from the BJP and the Congress,” he said, adding that he preferred the AAP so that he could join hands with the people in the struggle. “I am not afraid of the cases,” he said. The AAP’s Gujarat unit president Gopal Italia, meanwhile, is contesting from Katargam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the election office of Ram Dhaduk, the AAP candidate for the Kamrej seat, party workers are coordinating minor details for the upcoming rallies. Squatting on not-so-clean mattresses, their focus is to make use of available resources and manpower. The broken furniture and the electoral material strewn around reflect the chaos, but the mood is upbeat and the hopes are high.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has nothing to lose and any addition to its tally will be a plus. The party seems to have done its preparation well and has tried to come up with some good candidates. It is also making efforts to ensure that the AAP does not eat into its vote share, especially in those pockets that have been voting for the grand old party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gujarat Congress spokesperson Naishad Desai, who hails from Surat, said the party was hoping to win four to five seats in Surat and improve its performance in the adjoining areas. “People want change and they are fed up with the present government,” he said, and also alleged that Kejriwal was following in Modi’s footsteps. “It is like announcing that you will get Rs15 lakh in your accounts [like Modi did]. But you know these promises are never fulfilled.”</p> Fri Nov 11 17:55:49 IST 2022