Statescan en Wed Nov 02 10:26:28 IST 2022 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 aap-gujarat-cm-candidate-isudan-gadhvi-interview <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Were you expecting to be projected as chief ministerial candidate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No. Never. I knew that people have been showering their love on me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are your priorities?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To ensure that the party wins the maximum number of seats and to strengthen the party. If the government is formed, then the priority is to waive off farm loans, ensure 12 hours of electricity to farmers and provide water for irrigation in such a manner that crops can be sowed thrice a year. Safety of businessmen will be considered and closed circuit cameras will be installed to ensure that they are not harassed. All vacancies will be filled between next February and November, and fast-track courts will be set up to give justice in crimes like gang rape. An anti-corruption phone number will be announced and complaints about anyone taking bribes can be registered on it. Good hospitals will be set up in all 182 assembly segments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How many seats do you hope to win?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party’s popularity graph is rising and so are people’s hopes. We still have a month to go during which the party will be strengthened further. People are unhappy with unemployment, the five lakh government employees are unhappy, 53 lakh farmers are unhappy. They have hope in Kejriwal. The poor need electricity among other things. People want change. For them, the BJP and the Congress have been the same all these years. As per our internal survey, we have hopes of a complete majority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A majority of the AAP’s candidates are new faces. People do not even know them.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The people will vote for our candidates because they are new. They are fed up of listening to ‘xyz was a minister for these many times and an MLA for these many terms’. In Punjab, the AAP won 92 seats; 82 were first timers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Prime Minister Narendra Modi can sway the votes in the BJP’s favour at the last moment.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Narendra Modi is India’s prime minister. He cannot be the chief minister of Gujarat. Here in Gujarat you have C.R. Patil. Let us make it. The people have to decide whom do they want.</p> Sun Nov 13 10:22:46 IST 2022 himachal-pradesh-polls-whats-worrying-the-bjp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The only thing swadeshi about the apples are the soil and the water we use,” says Rohit Verma, an apple grower in Sarion village, near Theog in Himachal Pradesh. “The fertilisers, micronutrients, pesticides and even the tools are from Europe and America. The war between Ukraine and Russia has had a cascading impact as costs of materials soared. The government increased GST on packaging material by 6 per cent. Now, even the high-yielding apple saplings are imported from Italy. Apples might be identified with Himachal Pradesh, but the farmers suffer. Even if we discount our labour, we are not able to recover our costs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His neighbour Joginder Singh chips in. “For a smaller farmer who produces up to 400 boxes of apples, it is no longer possible to sustain his family,” he says. “There should be a support price.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the apple belt of Himachal Pradesh, one hears sentiments similar to those found during the massive farmers’ movement in Punjab. Perhaps the apple growers here drew energy from their brethren. The rising input costs, low yield because of climate change, and entry of private players―which tends to benefit big farmers―are worrying apple growers in the hill state. The only cash crop in Himachal is said to be a Rs6,000 crore industry, and impacts lakhs of lives. The apple aside, the state relies on tourism and government jobs as main sources of livelihood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The life of an apple plant is 25 to 30 years. It has to be nurtured throughout the year with high-quality products. The irony is that low-quality fruit that ripens early gets a higher price, but the good-quality apple―which hits the market later―gets a lower price,” says grower Prem Kumar. “As the market decides the rates, the fixing of apple prices by Adani this year (Adani Agri Fresh is one of the biggest corporate buyers in Himachal) led to a crash in the overall buying prices, leading to disenchantment among farmers. The apples from Iran’s mechanised farms cost less than the labour-intensive Indian ones. Indian tools and chemical products just do not match the quality. We need government help, and would vote for those who promise to help.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The impact of the price crash is seen at the Himachal-Haryana border. Here, liquor makers from states like Uttar Pradesh buy low-quality apples at Rs2 a kilo. Thousands of sacks lie in the open as more trucks roll in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Says Harish Chauhan, convener of the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 27 farmers’ groups: “We are waiting for political parties to include our demands in their manifestos before we decide whom to support.” Any such call could have an impact in the upper districts, which include Shimla, Kinnaur, Sirmaur, Kullu and Solan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ruling BJP knows that the state has alternated between two parties―the BJP and the Congress―since 1985. And so, the BJP’s slogan this time is ‘Raj nahi, Rivaaj Badlenge (changing not the regime, but tradition)’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur dismisses the talk of discontent. “The protests were started by political players. It was not an issue for all, but some. Their main protest was against the increase in GST on packaging material from 12 per cent to 18 per cent, for which our government decided to compensate the farmers,” he tells THE WEEK at his official residence ‘Oakover’, previously owned by the Maharaja of Patiala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thakur is currently addressing more than four rallies a day, apart from several smaller congregations. “It is a tough fight, but we will improve our performance,” he says. A five-time MLA, Thakur enjoys a clean image and is part of the second rung of leadership the BJP has promoted as veterans like Prem Kumar Dhumal and Shanta Kumar have faded.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thakur’s challenges are many, including some from within. Nearly 20 rebels and 11 MLAs, including a minister, were denied tickets; two ministers have been moved to other seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest headache, though, is the rising drug abuse; the state borders Punjab and there is cross-border smuggling. “If there is one issue I would like to address, it is that of drug abuse among the youth. It is destroying families,” says Sanjay Sood, a former tea seller and the BJP candidate from the prestigious Shimla seat. A former councillor with declared assets worth more than Rs2.7 crore, Sood says the party rewards hard work and grassroots workers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On November 1, when Home Minister Amit Shah in his Kasumpti rally promised to stem the drug menace, the Congress leapt at the opportunity. It said it would set up a new ‘anti-drug abuse enforcement agency’ if voted to power. “Unlike in other states, this body will be headed by a judge. Owing to its climate, Himachal is an ideal state for rehabilitation,” says Himachal Congress war room in-charge Gokul Butail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was part of the party’s Punjab campaign, and has learnt from that experience. “We gave 10 guarantees [to the voter] two months in advance. Already seven lakh women have filled forms for the monthly cash stipend we have promised,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress’s hopes lie in the anti-incumbency factor. It has sided with the people when it comes to the main pain points, including on the Old Pension Scheme. The Congress governments in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have already announced a return to the old scheme. The party is also buoyed by its win in four byelections in the state last November.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“People are fed up with the government,” says Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, the party’s campaign committee chief. “It has not done anything, and is seen as weak on various fronts.” Sukhu is a frontrunner for the chief minister’s post if his party wins.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What would worry the BJP is that, of the 55 lakh eligible voters, more than four lakh are state government employees and pensioners―many of whom want the Old Pension Scheme to be reinstated. Add their families, and they could impact many seats where the margin of victory is small. “Employees have always agitated against the incumbent government on one issue or the other,” says Thakur. “We have set up a committee to study the demand for OPS.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not something he can promise, given that the Centre does not want to return to the old scheme. “We are waiting for the prime minister’s rallies,” says a government lecturer. “If he announces a return to the OPS, the BJP has a chance.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another issue the state government cannot do anything about is the opposition to Agniveer, the new military recruitment scheme. Himachal sends many of its boys to the Army―particularly from districts like Hamirpur, Bilaspur, Mandi and Una, which cover more than 50 per cent of the state’s 68 assembly seats. In a state where unemployment is a problem, a short-tenured, pension-less job would face resistance. Not only that, the Himachalis are now extolling the contribution of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), which was a Congress project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is relying on the firepower of its big guns like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, and party president and Himachal’s son J.P. Nadda. The Congress’s star campaigner is Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. She has a house near Shimla, and is addressing four rallies a day in the absence of her brother Rahul, who is busy with the Bharat Jodo Yatra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At a well-attended rally in Mandi, Priyanka said, “It is only when governments change that politicians stay in check. This state is the land of tradition. It should maintain the tradition of changing the government.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was in Mandi that Rahul had asked for votes for party veteran Virbhadra Singh in 2017. The former chief minister died last year and, though his wife, Pratibha, won the byelection, the party is feeling his absence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has not announced a chief minister candidate; neither has the AAP. “We are fighting under a collective leadership. The chief minister will be picked after the polls,” says Rajeev Shukla, the state Congress in-charge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Besides not having a chief minister candidate, both opposition parties have another thing in common. They have given the voter guarantees (the Congress, 10; the AAP, 11), which include more jobs, free power and financial help for women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A good AAP performance would help the BJP; it would divide the anti-incumbency vote. But the AAP, which started well in Himachal soon after its Punjab win, has not sustained the momentum despite visits by chief ministers Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann. Both the BJP and the Congress say the AAP is more focused on the Gujarat elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In a state where victory margins are low, any good showing by the AAP is bound to impact the Congress,” says a BJP leader. “It is beneficial to us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>AAP state president Surjeet Thakur says the campaign is getting huge traction. “I have been involved in various elections in Punjab and Delhi, and have managed four in Himachal. We are confident of doing well.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The elections are on November 12, and each day leading to it is throwing up new problems for the BJP. The party will need more than an apple a day to keep its troubles away.</p> Sun Nov 06 13:07:39 IST 2022 we-are-seeing-pro-incumbency-himachal-cm-jai-ram-thakur <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ Your first election as chief minister. How confident are you?</b></p> <p>A/ We are very confident. No party has [retained power] since 1985. A start has to be made, [and] it will happen here. The same government (BJP) was repeated in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.</p> <p><b>Q/ Who is your main opponent?</b></p> <p>A/ The Congress has been working hard, and we know the elections are difficult. When our government was formed, we did not work with a sense of vindictiveness against the Congress. Instead, we focused on work.</p> <p><b>Q/ What about the AAP?</b></p> <p>A/ There appears to be a deal between the Congress and the AAP. The AAP has left Himachal for the Congress, while the Congress has left Gujarat for the AAP. The AAP never really had any traction here.</p> <p><b>Q/ Will Prime Minister Narendra Modi save the day for the BJP?</b></p> <p>A/ Our double-engine government works under his leadership and guidance. He gifted the state a medical college, the Bilaspur AIIMS, a bulk drug park and a Vande Bharat train. The people will give him a return gift.</p> <p><b>Q/ People talk about anti-incumbency.</b></p> <p>A/ The state is seeing pro-incumbency for the first time. In every constituency, development work worth Rs150 crore to Rs200 crore has been done. Even Congress leaders have acknowledged this.</p> <p><b>Q/ We hear about charges of corruption, inflation and lack of jobs.</b></p> <p>A/ Inflation is troubling the whole world, [but] I believe this period will not last long. [As for employment,] we started the Swavalamban scheme, [under which] more than 10,000 people have got employment.</p> <p><b>Q/ The BJP lost four byelections in 2021.</b></p> <p>A/ The issues are different during byelections and assembly elections. In the Mandi Lok Sabha [byelection], the Congress sought votes on an emotional issue (death of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh). We experimented in some seats, which did not pay off. That is history now.</p> <p><b>Q/ The Congress and the AAP appear to adopt soft hindutva.</b></p> <p>A/ The Congress is confused. It adopts this strategy during the elections only to desert it later. For us, these are core issues.</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your main plank?</b></p> <p>A/ For different government schemes... the state has spent over Rs1,033 crore. [These have] more than 10 lakh beneficiaries.</p> <p><b>Q/ The return to the old pension scheme seems to be a factor.</b></p> <p>A/ The Congress government closed the old pension scheme (in 2004). We are trying to find a practical solution regarding the OPS. Only a double-engine government can solve this issue.</p> Sun Nov 06 13:07:20 IST 2022 agniveer-will-impact-over-50-seats-in-himachal-polls-says-congress-leader <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ The Congress has not declared a chief minister candidate. Will that be a disadvantage?</b></p> <p>A/ It is a good thing. This is what I told the high command. The chief minister will be elected from the elected MLAs.</p> <p><b>Q/ The AAP has grown at the Congress’s expense in some states. How do you view its entry into Himachal?</b></p> <p>A/ It has failed in Himachal. It was raising slogans without the work to back it up.</p> <p><b>Q/ This election looks like a tough contest.</b></p> <p>A/ It is a contest against the inefficiency of Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur. Our strategy is proving right... and we will get the majority.</p> <p><b>Q/ So, it is in keeping with the trend of alternating governments.</b></p> <p>A/ The BJP wants to turn the fight into Modi versus state leaders. But that election is in 2024. Now, it is Jai Ram Thakur versus the Congress.</p> <p><b>Q/ The BJP has ridiculed the others for promising freebies.</b></p> <p>A/ What about the [Centre’s] Kisan Samman Nidhi and even Jan Dhan? The AAP [in Punjab] gives 300 units of free electricity after buying from the power companies. Himachal is power surplus. Can we not give 300 units of free power to the population?</p> <p><b>Q/ The Congress gave 10 guarantees; some of them are your ideas.</b></p> <p>A/ Yes, those on changing the rural landscape and revitalising the rural economy. The guarantees include restoration of the old pension scheme, Rs1,500 monthly assistance for women, 300 units of free power, fixing MSP of fruits and Rs680 crore in interest-free loans for startups.</p> <p><b>Q/ How is your campaign different this time?</b></p> <p>A/ The political dynamics have changed after 2014. The younger generation relies more on social media. Now, the big rallies by national leaders are for cadre mobilisation. So, Modi’s big rallies are for cadre movement and [have no] effect on the ground. The [number of] perceptional voters is increasing; [voting is no longer] cadre-driven. For example, a voter is supporting the Congress in one election and the BJP in another.</p> <p><b>Q/ The BJP often relies on hindutva. Is Himachal any different?</b></p> <p>A/ These issues do not work in Himachal as 97 per cent of the state’s population is Hindu. Secondly, it is the caste factor that dominates.</p> <p><b>Q/ What are the other factors that could influence the elections?</b></p> <p>A/ The police [recruitment] paper leak case is a serious one; no action has been taken. There is anger among the youth because of the Agniveer scheme. It will have an impact in over 50 seats in Hamirpur, Bilaspur, Kangra and Una districts. We may even sweep these areas.</p> Sun Nov 06 13:07:02 IST 2022 himachal-polls-people-ready-to-reject-bjp-and-congress-says-aap-leader <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ What is your party’s main plank?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Arvind Kejriwal has given 11 guarantees. This includes Rs1,000 a month to women, unemployment stipend of Rs3,000 for those below 40, six lakh jobs, and MSP for fruits and vegetables. We will fulfil these and ensure a corruption-free state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Two parties have always ruled the state. How much hope do you have?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The kind of support we are getting, it looks like it is a one-way fight. People are telling us there is an undercurrent. The AAP will gain majority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The BJP has accused your party of starting a freebie culture.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ When people’s money is used for people, it is not a freebie. For example, if we have taken Rs100 from the people, we spend Rs90 on hospitals or schools or roads. The remaining Rs10 is given back to them in the form of free electricity or stipend for women. Freebies are when loans worth thousands of crores are waived off for your friends.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The AAP has always presented a chief minister candidate, but not in Himachal. Why?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The chief minister will be chosen from the elected MLAs, based on the central leadership’s decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Who is your main opponent?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Congress is finished because of its own doing. Our main opponent is the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The AAP is always accused of eating into Congress votes.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Wherever the AAP is preferred by the people, the Congress becomes a zero, and the BJP becomes a scooter party (they only have a couple of MLAs). Look at Delhi and Punjab. The same will happen in Himachal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ We saw that Punjabis were angry with the established parties and political families. This is not visible in Himachal.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Himachal is a peace-loving state. People are cautious when it comes to criticising anyone. The undercurrent is for change. The people of Himachal have seen two parties for 42 years. They are ready to reject these parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your opponents claim your party is focusing more on Gujarat.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ This is BJP propaganda. In the past 25 days, we have done door-to-door campaigns. All the central leaders will campaign here. Unlike other parties, which go for big events, we go local.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Hindutva has been an issue in Hindi-speaking states. It is not as potent in Himachal.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The literacy rate is very high here. Whatever they wanted to extract out of religion has been done. This issue will not have an impact as people here are aware.</p> Sun Nov 06 13:06:18 IST 2022 gujarat-election-aap-bjp-campaigns <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SHENAZ BIHARI</b> is keen to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The 29-year-old, who recently joined the BJP in the presence of Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel, is a beneficiary of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019. Her advocate, Govind Makwana, said that Sarfaraz Khan, her husband and a government employee, gave her talaq and eloped with a Hindu girl three years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan is now in jail and has been suspended from service. He is appealing and Bihari, mother to an 11-year-old girl, will need support. She is likely to find it in her new party. Her cousin, Jamsher Khan, too, joined the BJP. Both claimed that they used to be Congress supporters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They are not the only voters the Congress is likely to lose to the saffron party. Twenty MLAs and leaders have left it to join the BJP since the 2017 elections. Hardik Patel, who was key to the party’s 77-seat haul in 2017, is now with the BJP. Moreover, the Congress has been out of power in Gujarat for 27 years. So, at a glance, winning the polls may seem like a cakewalk for the BJP. But, that is not how it is approaching the contest. Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah are campaigning and supervising electioneering―a bad showing in his home turf can dent Modi’s image ahead of the 2024 general elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The prime minister started campaigning in Gujarat around six months ago, soon after the results in Uttar Pradesh. Then, Gujarat BJP president C.R. Patil had claimed that the party would win 150 of 182 seats (the record is the 149 seats won by the Congress under the leadership of former chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki in 1985). Recently, Shah, while flagging off the Gujarat Gaurav Yatra―to showcase achievements of the state and Union governments and thank the masses―said that the party will form the government by over two-thirds majority―which comes to around 122 seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are reasons behind the reduced projection. One is the entry of the Aam Aadmi Party into the fray. To make things more complicated for the BJP, there is a growing dissatisfaction among various sections of society and among government employees over long-pending demands. There has been unrest in the police force, and among school teachers, ASHA workers, doctors, cattle breeders and farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police force, for example, wanted a grade pay revision. AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal promised them a grade pay at par with the best in the country. The jubilant force celebrated by posting Kejriwal’s photograph on its social media handles. Within two days, the government announced a Rs550-crore package for the police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last month, the government was forced to withdraw the Cattle Control Bill, aimed at prohibiting the movement of stray cattle on roads, after cattle breeders threatened to cut the supply of milk to dairies. Similarly, the government has tried to pacify various agitating sections by meeting their demands.</p> <p>“The issue is that their demands were suppressed for years,” remarked Hemant Shah, Ahmedabad-based academician and political analyst. “It is all about political market. You are seeing the new entrants (the AAP) making inroads. The BJP cannot afford fence-sitters, who perhaps would have voted for the Congress last time, voting for the AAP,” he said. A small swing here or there can make a difference, Shah added. As a BJP leader who requested anonymity remarked: “If the demands were met a couple of years ago, then it would not have made much impact like it will probably do now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Babubhai Raval, 69, from Vadgam, is a retired Army man and he has been steadfast in his support of the BJP. He said the party would need to work harder this time as the AAP is promising a lot of freebies. “Inflation is everywhere,” he said. But, he pointed out that people have got benefits because of the double-engine government. Seventy-year-old Dhanabhai Raval is an example. He and his family of five lived in a tin shed till around five years ago. They now reside in a house built under the government’s housing scheme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the AAP announced, among other things, 300 units of free electricity a month, and monthly assistance of Rs3,000 to unemployed youth and Rs1,000 to women, the Congress, too, followed suit with its own set of announcements. The BJP, which had been overlooking the AAP, has been forced to acknowledge it. Regardless of whether the AAP’s reach translates into votes, it has caused discomfort in the BJP camp.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a recent meeting, Modi came down on free electricity without naming the AAP. While declaring Modhera as the country’s first solar village, he said that the village can also sell extra electricity to the state and added that there was no burden on the masses. The BJP has also targeted old social media posts of Gujarat AAP president Gopal Italia. The posts have adverse remarks on Modi and his mother, Hiraba. The prime minister said that the Congress had outsourced “the contract to abuse him”. Moreover, Delhi minister Rajendra Pal Gautam had to resign after a video of him attending a programme in which Hindus converted to Buddhism went viral.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has often taken drastic steps. A year back, former chief minister Vijay Rupani and his entire cabinet were shown the door. Now, when these former ministers are not given tickets, there will be resentment and they may stay away from electioneering. Therefore, Amit Shah will have to personally handle the situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the Gujarat Gaurav Yatra is covering 144 assembly segments. Gordhan Jhadafiya, senior BJP leader in-charge of the yatra, said it would cover areas where the BJP does not have MLAs. “The work done by the state and Union governments is being highlighted to defeat anti-incumbency,” he said. The double-engine pitch does work and when it comes to Modi, there is an emotional appeal. The BJP is trying to utilise this fully―Union Minister of State (Fisheries, Animal Husbandry, Dairying) Sanjeev Balyan said during the yatra: “UP gave two-thirds majority to the BJP. Now, it remains to be seen how many seats Gujarat gives.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from reaching out to the masses, the BJP is also pursuing its go-to strategy―weakening the opposition’s ranks. The biggest example is Hardik Patel, who is said to have joined the BJP fearing the cases against him (he denies this and says there was no pressure). However, Patel has not got a prominent role since the switch earlier this year. Former Congress MLA Ashvin Kotwal also joined the BJP this year. There is a belief in the BJP that Kotwal can swing at least 50,000 votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior BJP leader and former MLA Bharat Pandya said that the party will be victorious because of Modi’s leadership, the state government’s performance and the strength of the workers. He added that the Congress was still a bigger threat than the AAP, but said that it was fragmented both at the national and state level.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nonetheless, the BJP is not underestimating the Congress. The prime minister has warned party workers not to be complacent and has pointed out that the Congress has changed its strategy and is holding meetings in villages rather than holding news conferences.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political analyst Hari Desai said the BJP would form the government “by hook or by crook”. He added that it had “agents” in the Congress and “moles” in the AAP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another political analyst Ghanshyam Shah, too, said that it seems likely that the BJP would return to power. However, he said the hindutva card seems to be exhausted. “The party cannot say that the people will vote only for it,” he said. But, he added: “Amit Shah is micromanaging.”</p> Fri Oct 28 16:53:20 IST 2022 bjp-leadership-west-bengal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Last year, soon after the results of the assembly elections in West Bengal were out, state BJP president Dilip Ghosh was held liable for his party’s poor show. Ghosh, in turn, blamed scores of Trinamool leaders who had defected to the BJP in the run-up to the elections. He said he had not wanted Trinamool defectors to be part of the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He told [BJP national president J.P.] Nadda ji and [national general secretary B.L.] Santhosh ji to not be so mesmerised by newcomers from Trinamool,” said a leader close to Ghosh. “But they did not understand the severity of the problem. We would have come to power had we relied upon our own leaders and workers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, as the BJP’s national leadership saw it, poaching from the Trinamool was a “political necessity” to attract various communities in the state and ensure the party’s all-round growth. But, the results and their aftermath vindicated Ghosh―many defectors went back to the Trinamool in the months following the polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, within the BJP, Ghosh could not see the writing on the wall. In September last year, Ghosh was removed as state BJP president months before he could complete his term. His noncooperation with Trinamool defectors and open criticism of their entry into the BJP were cited as reasons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghosh had been state BJP president since 2015. Mindful of the fact that he had helped build the party from scratch in Bengal, Nadda and Santhosh had sounded out Ghosh on choosing a successor. He had recommended Sukanta Majumdar, Balurghat MP and his confidant. But what Ghosh could not foresee was that Majumdar would be made president even before his tenure ended.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Majumdar now coordinates electoral strategies with Amitava Chakraborty, general secretary in charge of the BJP organisation in Bengal. Chakraborty is tasked with maintaining the synergy between the RSS and the BJP at the state level―much like Santhosh does at the national level. He never had a cordial relationship with Ghosh; in fact, he replaced Ghosh’s ally Subrata Chattopadhyay in the run-up to the 2021 polls. Like Ghosh, Chattopadhyay had also opposed the entry of Trinamool defectors into the BJP. He was asked to step down soon after he alleged that Suvendu Adhikari, former Trinamool minister who joined the BJP, was involved in the Narada sting operation scandal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, with a number of Trinamool turncoats having returned to their parent party, the RSS has done a course correction: it has appointed Chattopadhyay as head of the RSS organisation in the state’s eastern region. Ghosh, who is the BJP’s national vice president in charge of eight states, has been made part of the BJP’s core commitee in West Bengal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fashion designer Agnimitra Paul, who won from Asansol South last year, has become the BJP’s most prominent woman leader in Bengal. She replaced actor-turned-politician Locket Chatterjee, who lost the assembly polls from Chunchura, as head of the Mahila Morcha. After Chatterjee made her displeasure known, she was appointed state general secretary and was given charge of the party in Uttarakhand. Trinamool leaders have been making overtures to her, but she has vowed not to quit the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another prominent woman leader who is unhappy with the state leadership is Roopa Ganguly, whose tenure as Rajya Sabha member ended in April. Known for her rivalry with Chatterjee, Ganguly has accused the party’s state leadership of “resorting to dirty politics”. She recently met Trinamool general secretary Kunal Ghosh at her residence in Kolkata.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Paul, Chatterjee and Ganguly at odds with each other, the BJP leadership is facing a difficult situation. It also does not help that ties between Majumdar and Ghosh―who maintains good relations with both Chatterjee and Ganguly―have become frosty. Recently, after Majumdar failed to invite Ghosh to an important party meeting, Ghosh said “the new president” had still not understood the “proper process” of running the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Amit Shah was the BJP’s national president, Ghosh had full control of the party’s West Bengal unit. Even Subrata Chattopadhyay used to follow Ghosh’s advice while suggesting changes to Ram Lal, who for 13 years was national general secretary in charge of organisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Santhosh having replaced Lal, equations in the BJP have drastically changed. Apparently, Santhosh’s suggestions carry more weight than Nadda’s in party affairs. “Santhosh ji draws up roadmaps by giving long speeches at party meetings. Nadda just concludes the meetings with short speeches. It has become the norm these days,” said a senior BJP leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from Ghosh, the BJP’s national secretary Anupam Hazra has also come out against Majumdar’s leadership. Recently, he publicly criticised Majumdar for not informing him while leading a rally in his hometown, Birbhum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nadda and Santhosh appear to be clueless about how to solve the leadership tussle. A senior leader pointed out that even though Santhosh has brought in many changes in the party―such as opening a ‘research team’ in each state and giving more responsibilities to young and educated leaders―he is not in the habit of giving a patient hearing to visitors. “Many leaders do not even get appointments in Delhi,” said the leader. “He tells them through his secretaries that they should go back to their states and work hard. Ram Lal ji was the opposite. He used to listen to everyone, and that is the reason he created a successful election machinery.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That the party’s national leadership is struggling to steer state leaders in the right direction became clear when it withdrew Kailash Vijayvargiya and Arvind Menon as in-charges of Bengal early this year. Menon has been deputed to Telangana, while Vijayvargiya is expected to be tasked with coordinating the campaign for Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh polls. With the Lok Sabha polls drawing close, the party will have to try hard to match its performance in 2019, when it bagged 18 of 42 seats in West Bengal, riding on the campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In August, Nadda gave the charge of West Bengal to Sunil Bansal, who also coordinates party affairs in Uttar Pradesh. But, after holding a meeting in Kolkata, Bansal recommended that the party appoint a full-time in-charge who would solely focus on Bengal. Nadda and Santhosh then decided to appoint three: Mangal Pandey, former president of the BJP’s Bihar unit; Alka Lakra, party leader from Jharkhand; and Amit Malviya, national convener of the party’s IT cell.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Pandey is a good leader, but he would require great experience to address issues in Bengal,” said a state party leader. “The appointment of the Jharkhand leader as one of the in-charges is an indication that the party is eyeing seats in the western part bordering Bihar and Jharkhand. It has no plan for south Bengal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior BJP leaders in Delhi said the party, especially Santhosh, is betting big on two leaders―Mithun Chakraborty and Jagannath Chattopadhyay. Chakraborty, 72, has long been well-versed in Bengal politics and is now the party’s national secretary. A journalist-turned-politician, Chattopadhyay, 43, is a strategist with deep connections in Bengal’s administrative sphere. He has been appointed as state general secretary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chakraborty is close to Modi and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. He has been tasked with poaching Trinamool leaders and weakening the state government. He has apparently convinced the BJP’s top brass that the party cannot achieve a turnaround in the state without luring Trinamool leaders again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There are 38 Trinamool leaders who are in direct contact with me,” Chakraborty recently said. “There will be many more. Just wait and watch.”</p> Fri Oct 21 19:51:06 IST 2022 shiv-senas-faction-feud-turns-bitter <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The battle between the two factions of the Shiv Sena—one led by Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and another led by former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray—is getting dirtier and murkier by the day. The controversy over Sena’s trademark Dussehra rally is only the latest in a series of spats between the two groups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On October 2, M.K. Madhavi, former corporator of Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation, levelled a serious charge against Shinde and Deputy Commissioner of Police Vivek Pansare. (Elections to the NMMC, which is presently being run by an administrator as its tenure has ended, are due in October.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Madhavi claimed that Pansare, on Shinde’s instructions, threatened to extern him from Navi Mumbai. In a news conference attended by Thane MP Rajan Vichare, a Thackeray loyalist, Madhavi recalled Pansare’s words: “Police will extern you and do your encounter if you do not join CM Shinde saheb soon.” He added that Shinde, too, had called him. “‘Don’t go to Matoshree (Thackeray residence), come to me. It will be beneficial to you and your activists. Your family and activists will not face any trouble,’ threatened CM Shinde,” said Madhavi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Madhavi told THE WEEK that what he had told the media were not mere allegations or accusations. “I have stated only facts,” he said. “I am not joining the Shinde group, I am loyal to Matoshree.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Shinde has not responded to Madhavi’s claims, Pansare told THE WEEK that his allegations were baseless. “He is a politician with a criminal background,” he said. “He has 12-13 cases against him, including extortion and rioting. The police had issued an externment notice to him almost 10 days ago and that is why he is making these allegations. The police are acting as per the law.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Madhavi’s claims are an example of how bitter the rivalry between the Shinde faction and Thackeray faction has become. To cite a few more examples in Thane and Navi Mumbai, the hotel run by Shiv Sena’s Navi Mumbai district chief Vitthal More was raided twice, claimed Vichare, as he had not joined the Shinde group. Similarly, a gymnasium started by the late Anand Dighe and run by Shiv Sainiks in Thane has been sealed, as the local cadre has remained loyal to the Thackeray faction. Also, a jhunka-bhakar centre (affordable meal canteen) in Thane, run by members of the women’s wing of the Shiv Sena—Samidha Mohite and Anuja Panjari—has been sealed on Shinde’s instructions, said Vichare.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the Ganesh festival, a street fight broke out between Shinde supporters and Thackeray loyalists in Mumbai. During the fight, MLA Sada Sarvankar from the Shinde camp allegedly fired shots in the air. The police then summoned Sarvankar and seized his pistol for examination by ballistic experts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In another incident that took place in Pune around a month ago, the vehicle in which Industries Minister Uday Samant was travelling was attacked and pelted with stones by Thackeray loyalists. Samant escaped unhurt, and his security was beefed up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At a public meeting on the outskirts of Mumbai, Magathane MLA Prakash Surve asked Shinde supporters to break the hands and legs of Thackeray loyalists. “I will take care of the bail and other formalities, don’t worry,” he said. “Hit back hard if you are targeted by them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Marathwada region, where maximum number of Sena legislators joined hands with Shinde, verbal spats and fisticuffs between supporters of the two factions occur almost every week, said a Sena insider.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When MLA Sanjay Bangar from the Shinde faction reached Anjangaon Surji village in Amravati on September 25, an angry mob of Thackeray loyalists shouted slogans against him and blocked his vehicle while it was negotiating a turn. Bangar was one of the last legislators to join the Shinde camp as he switched sides overnight, just before the legislative assembly session in July.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“They are threatening loyal Shiv Sena cadres, telling them that they will not spare us and teach us a strong lesson,” said Harshal Pradhan, Thackeray’s media secretary and party spokesperson. “This fight between supporters of two factions, both essentially Maharashtrians, is happening because the chief minister and his ministers are misusing power and the government agencies under their control and using the money gained from power. All this is happening with the blessings of the BJP, [which] is enjoying the fights. We are waiting for elections to happen. We are confident that all rebels will be defeated.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political analyst Abhay Deshpande said that the fight between the rival factions could intensify further as elections to municipal councils and municipal corporations are just a few months away. Both groups will want to assert their control across cities and towns ahead of these elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Thackeray group seems to be gaining lost ground, thanks to sympathy among Shiv Sena voters,” said Deshpande. “There have been violent clashes whenever any leader has quit the Shiv Sena with his supporters. We have seen this happen at the time of Chhagan Bhujbal, Narayan Rane and Ganesh Naik. The element of ferocity and violence is inbuilt in Sena’s style of politics. The results of municipal elections and Shiv Sena’s success rate in the elections will decide whether the situation and atmosphere cools down or remains tense till the next assembly elections.”</p> Sat Oct 08 16:39:48 IST 2022 shiv-sena-and-sambhaji-brigade-in-a-marriage-of-convenience <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>DESPERATION</b> and helplessness seem to have gripped Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. His recent decision to join hands with the Sambhaji Brigade, a militant organisation of Maratha youth, is a clear signal that Uddhav will join hands with anyone who helps the Sena recover lost ground after Eknath Shinde raised the banner of revolt and joined hands with the BJP to become chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sambhaji Brigade, named after the elder son of Chhatrapati Shivaji, is an offshoot of the Maratha Seva Sangh. The MSS was founded by Purushottam Khedekar, a retired chief engineer in the public works department. Khedekar’s wife, Rekha, was a BJP legislator when Gopinath Munde and Pramod Mahajan controlled the party’s state unit. When the coalition of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party came to power in the state, though, the MSS moved closer to the NCP. It grew rapidly in western Maharashtra and Marathwada.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The MSS and the Sambhaji Brigade are known for harbouring strong anti-Brahmin sentiments. There is a difference between being opposed to brahminism and being anti-Brahmin; the MSS and its offshoots take pride in belonging to the latter group.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sambhaji Brigade achieved notoriety in 2004, when it ransacked the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, a premier historical research institution in Pune. The Brigade members said the institute’s scholars helped American academic James Laine write the book Shivaji: The Hindu King In Islamic India, certain portions of which they found offensive. In 2017, they destroyed a statue of eminent Marathi playwright Ram Ganesh Gadkari, accusing him of having portrayed Sambhaji in bad light in an unpublished play written more than a hundred years ago. Interestingly, the Brigade members were unaware that Gadkari was not a Brahmin, but a “CKP”—Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu, a community to which the Thackeray family also belongs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because of its opposition to Brahmins, the Sambhaji Brigade once also destroyed a statue of Dadoji Kondadeo, who some experts say was Shivaji’s tutor. The Brigade’s position is that Shivaji’s only tutor was his mother, Jijabai, and that Dadoji Kondadeo, a Brahmin, was a just a member of the staff appointed by Shivaji’s father, Shahaji Bhonsale.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Shiv Sena and the Sambhaji Brigade maintain some contradictory positions. For instance, the Brigade accuses Babasaheb Purandare, a historian and theatre personality whose work focused on Shivaji’s life, of falsifying history to glorify Brahmins. The Shiv Sena, on the other hand, respects Purandare for his contributions in popularising Shivaji’s history across Maharashtra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2014-15, there was an informal split in the Sambhaji Brigade over entering politics. A faction dominant in western Maharashtra led by Pravin Gaikwad moved closer to the NCP: the Manoj Akhare and Gangadhar Banbare-led faction that dominated the Marathwada region, however, decided to enter active politics. It is with the Akhare-Banbare faction that Thackeray has now formed an alliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A major reason behind the tie-up is the Sena’s need for new leaders and support base, especially in Marathwada. Eknath Shinde is a Maratha, and many of the influential Maratha leaders in the Sena had joined him in the revolt against Uddhav. A few Maratha leaders who have remained loyal to Uddhav, such as Subhash Desai, have no clout in the community. Uddhav and his close aides feel that the Sambhaji Brigade could help him reclaim lost political ground.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to political analyst Prakash Akolkar, the Shiv Sena had never been a casteist organisation. “When Balasaheb was heading it, its leaders and cadres came from all sorts of castes and communities—Marathas, Brahmins, CKPs, Pathare Prabhus, Kunbis, Bhandaris, Vaishya Vanis, Other Backward Classes, etc. Uddhav has now joined hands with a purely caste-driven organisation like the Sambhaji Brigade. What more proof do you want that he is fighting for his survival?” said Akolkar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are many areas where differences in opinion can emerge between the Sena and the Brigade. For one, the Sambhaji Brigade does not believe in hindutva, which is the Sena’s ideology. The MSS had launched a new religious movement called Shiv Dharma, entered around subaltern icons, more than a decade ago. Sambhaji Brigade president Manoj Akhare said that the Shiv Sena’s hindutva was now acceptable to his party because it adheres to Uddhav’s grandfather Prabodhankar Thackeray’s model rather than the BJP-RSS one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another area of divergence is that the Sambhaji Brigade calls itself a progressive organisation. The Shiv Sena, however, cannot qualify as one. Even Uddhav has said that words like ‘progressive’ are too heavy for the Shiv Sainiks. “We believe in hindutva and Marathi pride,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sena did not consult its Maha Vikas Aghadi partners before joining hands with the Sambhaji Brigade. NCP state president Jayant Patil has expressed displeasure over it. The Eknath Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena, for its part, has accused Uddhav of deviating from the principle of casteless politics advocated by Prabodhankar and Balasaheb Thackeray. “It is known in Maharashtra that the Brigade is the NCP’s B-team,” said Sheetal Mhatre, the Shinde group spokesperson. “People are also aware who controls the outfit and issues instructions to them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For now, the bedrock of the Sena-Brigade alliance seems to be their reverence for Shivaji and Sambhaji. “We have come together to save the Constitution and fight for regional pride,” said Akhare. “Some forces in India are out to crush regional identity and pride, and we will fight it out.”</p> Sat Sep 10 16:27:49 IST 2022 a-tribal-village-in-uttar-pradesh-pins-its-hopes-on-president-droupadi-murmu <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>LAXMI DEVI VIVIDLY</b> remembers the day she first heard that Droupadi Murmu was the National Democratic Alliance’s president candidate. She was at a meeting of grassroots functionaries when the district panchayat chairman made the announcement. “An electric current went through me. It was as if my insides were lit up. I thought to myself, finally someone like us will occupy the country’s highest office,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>President Murmu is a Santhal, the country’s second largest tribe. Laxmi Devi, 57, is a Tharu, a tribe much smaller in number. Yet, she feels a deep sense of kinship with the president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“She is of my caste,” said Devi, the four-time head-woman of Bela Parsuwa village in the Nighasan block of Lakhimpur Kheri, a district 129km from state capital Lucknow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The last 19km stretch to the tribal village is more potholes and less bitumen. It is not an easy journey. Which is probably why Shashank Verma, the BJP MLA elected from Nighasan, made just one trip to the village to ask for votes. He did promise to remedy all of the villages problems, though.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Devi’s hopes, however, rest with Murmu, whom she has invited to see the plight of the locals. There is, of course, that non-existent road. There is no primary health centre; on good days, the power supply lasts for three to four hours; and there is no school beyond class eight for girls, forcing them to either drop out or migrate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bela Parsuwa’s knottiest problem, however, is a lack of mobile connectivity. In case of an illness or a crime, there is no way to call for help. The police station, Chandan Chowki, is 14km away, and the route there leads through the Dudhwa National Park. Since the villagers are not allowed to take that route, they take another one almost nine times the distance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nepal is less than a kilometre from the village. And it is from there that some residents get SIM cards with the help of generous Nepalese citizens. The two most common service providers used are NCell and Namaste. The Kailali district of Nepal, which adjoins Bela Parsuwa, has electricity round the clock. Residents claim that it is supplied by India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are two mobile towers in Bela Parsuwa. One is of the long defunct WLL (Wireless in Local Loop) services, and the other belongs to the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). The latter is equipped with a 400Ah (ampere hours) battery bank, which serves as a backup in case of a power failure. In a hamlet where power supply exists only to fail, the battery bank is useless.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the last week of July, the government announced a Rs1.64 lakh crore package for the revival of BSNL. “…Viability gap funding for rural wireless operations” is one of the challenges this funding would address.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mobile connectivity is no luxury. When the country was reeling under Covid-19, children received education online. Not the students of Bela Parsuwa, though. Aleesha and Amrita Kathariya, two siblings aged 12 and eight, said they did not understand maths anymore, and that their teacher beat them when they failed to answer questions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And thus the invite to Murmu (July 25, 2022), which reads, “Your kind visit... will not only be a morale booster for our community… but shall also be a far-reaching step towards our real empowerment and resolution of our concerns.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lawyer Syed Mohammed Haider Rizvi, who helped Devi draft the letter, said, “The right to communicate is a facet of the right to life guaranteed to every Indian citizen.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the ministry of tribal affairs data, Uttar Pradesh has 16 tribes, which make up 0.57 per cent of the state’s population. This is the lowest percentage in any state or Union territory. The ministry’s ‘Statistical Profile of STs 2013’ reports as NA (not available) the data on primary health centres in the state’s tribal areas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mobile connectivity in far-flung villages is not an impossible demand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) under the telecommunications department operates with the specific intent of providing “widespread and non-discriminatory” quality information and communication services at affordable prices to rural and remote areas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rizvi has sent two representations on the matter to the telecommunications minister. The first, in June 2021, drew attention to the “apathetical attitude of the powers that be”. The second, in June 2022, added that banking, revenue, and schemes of the Central and state government were rendered useless in the absence of mobile connectivity. Neither got a response.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In July 2021, Rizvi wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, marking copies to the ministers of telecommunication and of tribal affairs and the minister of state for home affairs. The last is Ajay Mishra Teni, MP from Kheri. (Teni’s son Ashish is the prime accused in the deaths of four farmers and a journalist on October 3, 2021, during a protest against the farm laws). Once again, he got no response.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In June 2021, BSNL responded to a complaint, admitting that the battery backup at Bela Parsuwa was only for two hours; the Chandan Chowki tower, too, had only two hours. It also read, “demand for new battery bank has already been submitted”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 29, BSNL sent another reply to Rizvi. It noted that the backup for Chandan Chowki was “0.50 hours only” and that for the village tower was “about 1 hr only”. It ended with the same assurance that the demand for a new battery bank had already been submitted. Thus, by BSNL’s own admission, while the duration of the back-up had dwindled, the simple task of installing a new battery bank was still tied up in red tape.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apprised of the situation, Asim Arun, minister for state (independent charge) for scheduled castes and tribes welfare in the state government, said, “There is neither a dearth of will nor money for their welfare. Our focus is on education, health, livelihood and infrastructure”. The minister has communicated with BSNL on the issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Arun, a former police officer, understands the perils of using a foreign cellular service provider. “Anyone using a network outside our zone of surveillance is a danger when dealing with crime and terror,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Devi, meanwhile, is sure that the president will understand their plight better than anyone else. “The day she comes here,” she said, “we shall celebrate both Holi and Diwali.”</p> Sat Sep 10 16:24:08 IST 2022 bjps-jharkhand-strategy-is-nuanced-here-is-why <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WHEN BIHAR CHIEF</b> Minister Nitish Kumar severed ties with the BJP and joined hands with the Rashtriya Janata Dal last month, eastern India became BJP-mukt for the first time in two decades. The party is currently not part of governments in Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha. Earlier, it had ruled Jharkhand on its own, and was part of Bihar and Odisha governments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP remains a force in all four eastern states, but the satraps have ensured that it does not hold as much sway in the east as it does over other regions. The situation has presented a worrying possibility for the saffron party: If it loses Karnataka after the assembly elections next year, it can again be labelled as a north Indian party. Politics is about perception, so the BJP is fighting to ward off that tag.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hence, the BJP is eyeing Jharkhand with anticipation. The state is in the midst of a governance crisis, as the Election Commission recently recommended that Chief Minister Hemant Soren be disqualified as MLA for having allotted a mine to himself while in office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the BJP, weakening the coalition government led by Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha is an excellent opportunity to gain the upper hand in the tribal-dominated state. It is the third state in as many months to witness political upheavals. The other two—Maharashtra and Bihar—witnessed realignment of alliances and formation of new governments. The BJP hopes for a repeat in Jharkhand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Let the law take its own course. We are not saying anything more than that,” said state BJP president Deepak Prakash. Apparently, the party does not want to be seen as having engineered the crisis for breaking the ruling coalition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation marks another episode in the BJP’s clash with opposition parties, especially regional ones that dominate some states. In its national executive meeting in July, the BJP had calibrated its strategy to target regional parties that posed a challenge to its expansion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Soren government has been under pressure because of investigations into mining-related allegations. In May, the Enforcement Directorate arrested IAS officer Pooja Singhal, who was mining secretary, on charges of money laundering and embezzling funds allotted for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The ED seized Rs17 crore in cash from Singhal’s residence and other locations. In July, the agency arrested Pankaj Mishra, Soren’s political aide, in another money laundering case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The complaint against Soren was filed by BJP leaders. The Election Commission soon conducted an inquiry and its recommendation is now with the governor. If Soren is disqualified as MLA, he would have to resign as chief minister as well. If the governor’s recommendation is limited to cancelling his election victory, Soren could continue as CM by having the party elect him once again as leader of the legislative party. He would then have six months to win an assembly seat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speculation is rife that, if forced to step down, Soren would instal his wife, Kalpana, or younger brother Basant as chief minister. His father, Shibhu Soren, would also have a say in the matter. But, whoever becomes chief minister, the reins of the government would be with Hemant. “Hemant Soren is the chief minister; he will remain chief minister,” said Vinod Kumar Pandey, JMM general secretary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government recently called a special session of the assembly to conduct a floor test. While it did not serve any real purpose, the vote of confidence was a victory for Soren in terms of perception.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We have told the governor that the political uncertainty in the state is his doing, as the Raj Bhavan has taken no action on the Election Commission’s recommendation,” said Pandey. “Selective leaks are damaging the atmosphere. Development of the state is getting hampered. We had to take our MLAs [to safety] because of threats from the BJP. They are responsible for this crisis.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 81-member assembly, the JMM has 30 seats. Its allies, the Congress and the RJD, have 16 and 1, respectively. Though the BJP has just 26 seats, the ruling coalition fears a repeat of what happened in Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where governments fell after legislators abruptly switched sides.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has ruled Jharkhand for around 13 of 22 years of its existence. Party leader Raghubar Das was the first to complete a full five-year term in office. The state has 14 Lok Sabha seats, of which the BJP won 12 in the previous two polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Soren is punished, the JMM could make a retaliatory move in the assembly. The speaker has reserved judgment in a complaint regarding leader of the opposition Babu Lal Marandi’s alleged violation of the anti-defection law. Marandi was the leader of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha when he and two of his party colleagues won assembly seats in 2019. The two colleagues later joined the Congress, while Marandi joined the BJP. An influential Santhal leader, Marandi was Jharkhand’s first chief minister. He defeated Shibhu Soren, also a Santhal, which enabled his swift rise in the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Marandi is important for the BJP, as the party had failed to retain power with a non-tribal as chief minister (Raghubar Das). A similar experiment in Maharashtra had also yielded the same result. The BJP now supports a Maratha chief minister (Eknath Shinde), while the Brahmin face that headed the previous BJP-led government (Devendra Fadnavis) has been made deputy chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tribals constitute more than 26 per cent of Jharkhand’s population. The BJP has been wooing them for the past two years with a number of initiatives. It was with an eye on the tribal votes that the BJP made Droupadi Murmu India’s first president from the tribal community. That the state has 40 per cent of the country’s mineral resources also makes it attractive to political parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is banking on help from constitutional bodies, because it does not want to be seen as eager to dislodge a government headed by a tribal. In the previous elections, the JMM-led coalition had won 25 of 28 reserved seats, while the BJP could manage to win only two. It was tribals who voted the BJP out of power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from raising corruption allegations, the BJP is highlighting the poor law-and-order situation in the state. Party leaders allege that the Soren government is doing “appeasement politics” and that there have been cases of love jihad in the state. “The state is hit with multiple cases [of love jihad], and the chief minister says these incidents keep on happening. What kind of CM is he?” said Prakash.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By appointing Prakash, a non-tribal leader, as state BJP chief and Marandi as the leader of the opposition, the BJP is trying to carefully balance its politics. Allegations against the Soren government are being levelled with much care, as the party does not want to be accused of targeting tribals. It also plans to play the nepotism card if Soren instals a relative as chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For now, rumours are rife about why the governor is delaying his decision on disqualifying Soren. In July, as the BJP’s state unit was going hammer and tongs against the government, Soren visited Amit Shah in Delhi. The same month, Modi visited Jharkhand and surprisingly spared Soren in his aggressive speech against opposition parties. This had led to talk that the JMM and the BJP, which had been allies earlier, were moving closer again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the governor delaying his decision, observers now have one big question: Is there a surprise in store?</p> Sun Sep 11 11:42:38 IST 2022 kerala-power-struggle-in-universities-trigger-political-row <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In August, the simmering feud between Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan and the CPI(M)-led state government reached boiling point. The government wanted the governor to urgently re-promulgate 11 ordinances notified on February 7; Khan said he would do it only after examining whether “any urgency exists”. Amid the governance deadlock, the ordinances lapsed on August 8, forcing the government to hurriedly call a special session of the assembly for tabling bills.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most controversial among the lapsed ordinances was the Kerala Lok Ayukta (Amendment) Ordinance, which diluted the powers of the anti-corruption body and gave the government an option to ignore its rulings. The opposition alleged that the ordinance was meant to shield Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan from complaints pending before the Lok Ayukta. Apparently, the government did not want a repeat of what happened to K.T. Jaleel, former higher education minister who was forced to step down in April last year, after the Lok Ayukta found him guilty of abuse of power in a case related to irregularities in the appointment of his relative in a state-run corporation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the controversial ordinance having lapsed, a bill curtailing Lok Ayukta’s powers with retrospective effect was tabled by the government at the special session of the assembly that began on August 22. The provisions of the bill have triggered a war of words between the opposition and the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lapsed ordinances have prompted CPI(M) leaders to launch into tirades against the governor. They say Khan is an RSS agent who is implementing the Union government’s plan to topple the state government.</p> <p>Opposition parties are not buying it, though. “CPI(M) leaders always preach parliamentary democracy and the power of the legislative assembly,” said state BJP president K. Surendran. “But they are bringing out all these ordinances to protect their interests. By labelling the governor as an RSS-BJP person, they are trying to divert people’s attention.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, it is not the governor’s role as constitutional head of the government that has precipitated the current governance crisis; it is his repeated efforts to assert his statutory role as chancellor of universities. Khan had written a sharply worded letter to Vijayan last December, hinting that the government was undermining his authority as chancellor while making appointments in universities. He recommended that the chief minister amend university laws to appoint himself as chancellor, so that “universities come under the direct control of the government, [and] there will be no scope for anybody to make allegations of political interference”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan wrote the letter after the government forced him to extend the tenure of Prof Gopinath Ravindran as vice chancellor of Kannur University. He had earlier publicly opposed the government’s decision to give four more years to Ravindran, saying the vice chancellor was past the stipulated age limit of 60. “Higher education in Kerala is going to the dogs,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vijayan wrote a series of letters to placate Khan, who apparently extracted a promise from the chief minister that the government would no longer interfere with his powers as chancellor. Despite the assurances, though, the government appears determined to gain more influence in university appointments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The sangh parivar is trying to smuggle the hindutva agenda everywhere,” Higher Education Minister R. Bindu told THE WEEK. “If they become successful in placing their people in key positions, like that of vice chancellor in universities, it would affect Kerala.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government’s move seems to have provoked Khan into action. On August 5, he constituted a search committee for selecting the successor to V.P. Mahadevan Pillai, whose tenure as Kerala University vice chancellor ends in October. The search committee usually consists of three members: nominees of the governor, the University Grants Commission and the university senate. The committee Khan notified, however, has just two members now. The nominee of CPI(M)-dominated senate—state planning board vice chairman V.K. Ramachandran—has declined to join the committee, apparently to buy time for the government to pass the Universities Laws Amendment Bill, expand the search committee, and give the government more leverage in appointing vice chancellors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Providing ammunition to the governor in this battle is the Save University Campaign Committee, a whistleblower group that advocates reforming the state’s higher education sector. The SUCC alleges that the recent selection of Priya Varghese, spouse of CPI(M) leader and chief minister’s private secretary K.K. Ragesh, as associate professor in Kannur University is a clear case of favouritism. According to an RTI document obtained by the group, Varghese had the lowest research score among the six eligible candidates for the post, but she came first in a provisional rank list prepared by the university after conducting interviews. The university maintains that Varghese was selected on the basis of her performance in the interview. The governor, however, has stayed her appointment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The university used a loophole in UGC regulations which say that the research score shall be considered only for shortlisting candidates for interview, and that selections shall be based only on performance in the interview,” said R.S. Sasikumar, SUCC chairman. “The interview process was rigged. Varghese did not have the required eight years of teaching experience to apply for the post. She earned a PhD (a basic qualification for the post of associate professor) in 2019. She has worked in a teaching position only for 20 days since then. Her experience as student services director at Kannur University (from August 2019 to June 2021) and assistant director at Kerala Bhasha Institute (from July 2021 to the present) cannot be counted as teaching experience.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bindu, however, said the SUCC was driven by political agenda. “Just because a person’s husband is a CPI(M) leader, can they not apply for a job? When a woman secures a position with her academic qualifications, people attribute it to her husband’s influence. It is outrageous and painful,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 16, Ravindran wrote to the governor that there was no irregularity in the selection process. The same day, the state cabinet cleared the Universities Laws Amendment Bill. Khan shot back by announcing a “full-fledged inquiry” into allegations of nepotism in all universities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shino P. Jose, member of Kannur University’s academic council, said Ravindran’s “arrogance” had worsened the row. “As vice chancellor, Ravindran has not allowed the council to vote on a single resolution. Things are run according to his whims and fancies. It is this attitude that made the spat more personal,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jose was one of the petitioners who moved court against Ravindran’s apparently unilateral decision last year to reconstitute the board of studies of Kannur University. In March, the Kerala High Court quashed all appointments made by Ravindran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Only the chancellor has the power to reconstitute the board, and the VC bypassed him to make the appointments,” said Jose. “Around 68 people nominated by the VC did not have even basic qualifications prescribed by the UGC. Around 50 of them were from CPI(M)-controlled self-financing colleges.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The legal setback apparently did not prevent Ravindran from asking the governor to approve the same list of members. “The governor returned the list saying it is his prerogative as chancellor to nominate members,” said Jose. “But the VC wanted to prove that his selections were correct. So he sent the same list again, this time asking that the governor ‘nominate’ the people on the list. It is with the governor now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>George Poonthottam, senior advocate in the Kerala High Court who has appeared in cases related to university appointments, said vice chancellors in universities in Kerala were controlled by a cohort affiliated to the CPI(M). “Vice chancellors do not show spine,” he said. “Most VCs in Kerala are outstanding academicians and scientists. But, as administrators, they are weak.”</p> Sat Sep 03 13:52:22 IST 2022 proud-of-my-relationship-with-rss-kerala-governor <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In mid-August, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan stayed the appointment of Priya Varghese, wife of CPI(M) leader and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s private secretary K.K. Ragesh, as associate professor at Kannur University. He termed the appointment as a case of “favouritism and nepotism”, even as Vice Chancellor Gopinath Ravindran maintained that there was no irregularity in the selection process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The row has further worsened the strained ties between the governor and Vice Chancellor Ravindran. Khan recently called Ravindran a “criminal”, saying he behaves more like a party worker than an academic. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, he spoke in detail about his differences with the CPI(M)-led government, and denied allegations that he was acting on behalf of the RSS. “I am not a member of RSS, but I have great respect for the RSS,” Khan said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The CPI(M) alleges that you are acting as an RSS-BJP tool to topple the government.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is nothing new about this allegation. When I was appointed governor, I had said that I was not a member of any political party. In fact, I had decided in 2007 to withdraw from electoral politics and devote the rest of my time to the study of Indian culture and civilisation. I had also said that I was not a member of the RSS, but I have great respect for the RSS. I admire their work, particularly in education. It is true that, after 1986, I have addressed many meetings organised by the RSS and its affiliates. I was also an occasional contributor to Organiser and Panchjanya, their official organs. I am proud of my relationship with them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The government has introduced a bill to limit your powers as chancellor. Do you think this would boost nepotism in universities?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ As chancellor, I have received many complaints related to irregularities in university appointments. In fact, things reached boiling point [in December 2021] when I wrote to the chief minister that he take over as chancellor and appoint men of his choice directly instead of asking me to do so. He tried to reason with me in three letters, saying that the government has a role to play but they want me to continue as chancellor. I rejected the proposals and made it clear that the convention of making the governor the ex officio chancellor was to ensure that the executive does not interfere in university matters and academic autonomy is preserved. He finally wrote to me assuring noninterference; only then did I agree to continue as chancellor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But now, despite this assurance, they have crossed all limits. The vice chancellor of Kannur University decided to appoint the spouse of the chief minister’s private secretary as associate professor, disregarding all norms and rules. The appointment appeared to be a case of gross favouritism and nepotism; I had no option but to stay it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few months earlier, the vice chancellor of Kannur University had constituted the board of studies in utter violation of the provisions of the law. He misled the university syndicate to exercise powers that belonged to the chancellor. The matter went to the High Court and his decision was set aside.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The vice chancellor of Kannur University does not behave like an academic; he behaves like a political party worker.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your decision to not re-promulgate 11 ordinances—including a controversial one that curtailed the Lok Ayukta’s powers—forced the cabinet to call a special assembly session. Do you consider this as a victory for democracy? Also, what is your expectation from the government for ending this particular tussle?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am very happy that the government summoned the assembly session to pass the bills, which they had earlier proposed to be issued as ordinances. The assembly has full right to adopt these measures. But my duty is defined by my oath. I need to satisfy myself that these measures do not contravene the Constitution and its spirit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You said the Kannur University vice chancellor was a “criminal”. Why?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The vice chancellor had invited me to Kannur University to inaugurate the Indian History Congress in 2019. It was his duty to ensure that there was no departure from the approved minute-to-minute programme, which was for 60 minutes. Yet [historian] Irfan Habib was allowed to speak for more than half an hour. In his speech, Habib directed many critical questions to me. I listened to them patiently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, after I rose to speak and respond to the critical remarks, Habib rose from his seat in less than five minutes and charged towards me. My aide-de-camp, Lt Manoj Yadav, did not allow him to come near me. Habib tore his shirt and then tried to assault me. He grappled with the security personnel for a few minutes, and they pushed him back into his seat. The meeting was disrupted and I had to cut short my speech without being able to answer the questions Habib had raised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian Penal Code clearly lays down in section 124 that anyone who attempts wrongfully to restrain, or overawe by means of criminal force, or attempts to overawe the governor, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term that extends to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine. Despite this provision, the vice chancellor did not report the matter to the police. In fact, when Raj Bhavan asked him to send the report of this attempted assault, he wrote that he is not a security expert to write such reports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact is that the VC knew about the assault plan and he invited me to Kannur University so that Habib and others on the dais could carry out the plan. This should not surprise anybody, as Habib and his associates subscribe to a political ideology that endorses the use of force against those who do not agree with their politics and ideology. If one is a party to a conspiracy to assault and overawe someone for political reasons, then it is a criminal action, pure and simple.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The VC recently constituted the university’s board of studies and misled the syndicate to exercise powers that belonged to the chancellor. His order was set aside by the honourable High Court. In the matter of appointing an associate professor, he simply ignored all norms and rules to please his political masters. In this case again, the honourable High Court passed a stay order. How will you describe a man who habitually breaks the law and becomes party to a conspiracy hatched to assault the chancellor by inviting him to the university?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think the state government is resorting to extraordinary measures to attain its goals?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In the matter of universities, their only interest is in appointing vice chancellors, which according to law is the responsibility of the chancellor. Even the proposed [amendment to] the university law deals only with the constitution of the selection committee, for the appointment of pliable vice chancellors. If I had not stayed the appointment of associate professor at Kannur University, they would not have brought this bill.</p> Sat Sep 03 13:48:37 IST 2022 governor-defaming-higher-education-sector <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ Governor Arif Mohammad Khan has made statements against the higher education department. Has the government taken steps to solve the matter?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Our government gives great emphasis to higher education. The budget has allotted more than 01,000 crore [to the sector]. We are trying to boost research and promote experiential learning. A paradigm shift is happening. The governor should ideally support this paradigm shift, but instead, his comments are defaming higher education in Kerala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I admit there are issues in the higher education sector. But compared with other states, we have the best educational institutions. Four of our universities feature in the top 100. And 17 of our institutions feature in the top 100. We have a system to ensure quality education. But statements that attract national attention are being aired to defame the domain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ In the assembly, you said the governor was using constitutional bodies to smuggle hindutva agenda into higher education.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ My words were not that the governor is doing it. [Sangh parivar] is trying to smuggle hindutva agenda, not just through the office of the governor, but in many other ways.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If people who subscribe to hindutva ideology come to occupy key positions [in universities], it would be detrimental. We can see such smuggling of hindutva ideology across the country. Hindutva is trying to capture all our knowledge centres and reestablish archaic social systems. There is an effort to smuggle hindutva agenda into Kerala also, but I did not say the governor had done it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There are allegations that CPI(M) is dominating executive bodies of universities and even controlling the vice-chancellors.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ This is wrong. I was also a syndicate member [in a university]. I know well that nothing can be done by the syndicate [to influence appointments]; only the interview board has the power to make appointments. Vice-chancellor has a key position on interview boards. VCs are acting independently in our universities. Also, since we came to power, we have appointed only those with the top academic background as VCs in our universities. It was not so during the reign of the UDF. I have mentioned that in the assembly. They have appointed even a DCC secretary [as VC]. Also, VCs appointed by the UDF, like Abdul Salam (of Calicut University), used to behave in an autocratic manner. The current VCs are not taking any such stance. There have been more than 1,000 postings in the universities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But now, pointing out just one posting—that of Priya Varghese (wife of chief minister’s private secretary K.K. Ragesh)—there are efforts to defame the entire higher education section. How can they say that? How can someone allege that Priya does not have the required qualification just because she is the spouse of a political leader? Consider her educational qualifications. Among those in that rank list, only Priya had first class for BA and MA. The person who came second on the list had only second class. Also, he had not cleared NET. I am not trying to defame him, but we have to check Priya's qualifications. The appointment was made according to the 2018 UGC regulations. It says that only 75 marks are required as a research score. She has claimed a score of over 150. Whatever it may be, the interview score is the only criterion for appointment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Priya Varghese got the PhD only in 2019. Save University Campaign Committee says she does not have the required 8 years of experience.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Teaching experience is considered from the time a person joins the lectureship. If they (Save University Campaign Committee) have any objections, let them challenge it in court. And, let the court decide it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it is not right to defame the entire higher education sector based on a single appointment. Just check the qualification of the VCs we have appointed. Kannur VC Gopinath Ravindran is a postdoc from the London School of Economics. He is an emeritus professor there even now. Kalady Sanskrit Univerity VC M.V. Narayanan took PhD from the University of Exeter, UK. He has taught at Miyazaki University and many other prestigious institutions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Reappointing a vice chancellor is not common in Kerala. But the government decided to do it in the case of Prof Gopinath Ravindran at Kannur University.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ He was reappointed because he is an eminent academician with international exposure. He is an expert in Indian history. It is not easy to bring such eminent people to Kerala as vice chancellors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But, at the time of his reappointment, he was past the stipulated age limit of 60.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ When it is a continuous term, it is not an issue. [The reappointment] was an extension of his term. Multiple courts have examined the issues involved, and none has found any error.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The High Court quashed the VC’s decision to reconstitute the university’s board of studies without consulting the chancellor, as was required by law.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In that case, a mistake was made. The court made the decision; we accepted it. The VC has his reasons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The VC sent the same list that the court rejected to the governor for approval.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There was nothing wrong with the list.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ It allegedly had people who were not qualified. Persons from CPI(M)-backed self-financing colleges were in the list.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is no law that says that teachers from self-financing colleges are not allowed to be on the board of studies. If there are good teachers from self-financing colleges, we should accept them. I have not studied the required qualification for joining the board of studies at Kannur University. My understanding is that those who were in the list were qualified. But the fact that the list was not submitted to the governor for approval was a technical error on the university’s part.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The governor recently said that the government forced him to reappoint Ravindran.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We did not force the governor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ During the Kalady Sanskrit University VC selection, the government recommended only one name instead of submitting a panel of selected applicants. The governor returned the file citing the same. Was it not required to submit a panel of selected applicants?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is no law like that. Until there is a law which says that a panel should be submitted, we do not require to give a panel. M.V. Narayanan is an apt person to be the VC for Kalady University. There is no question about that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The governor may not sign the University Laws Amendment Bill.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ If he is not signing it, he should cite concrete reasons for it. It is his constitutional duty to sign the bills passed by the legislature.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There have been several allegations regarding the appointment of spouses of CPI(M) leaders in universities.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Just because a person’s husband is a CPI(M) leader, can’t they apply for a job? I have personally suffered because of such allegations. I believe I faced a lot of restrictions because I was the wife of a political leader (A. Vijayaraghavan). Groups like the Save University Campaign Committee, which are making these allegations, are full of malcontents. They have a clear political agenda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sat Sep 03 19:05:41 IST 2022 tough-job-ahead-for-nitish-and-tejashwi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>NITISH KUMAR’S FIRST</b> tenure as chief minister in 2000 was short-lived. He held the office for only seven days before Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad outmanoeuvred the National Democratic Alliance with the support of the Congress. Five years later, the elections again resulted in a fractured mandate. As a government could not be formed, fresh elections were held nine months later. The NDA got a clear majority with the Janata Dal (United) emerging as the largest party. Yet, there was no clarity on who the chief minister would be—Nitish’s colleagues like George Fernandes and Digvijay Singh were against him. It was the then BJP state president Sushil Kumar Modi who came to his rescue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The media was speculating on different names though he was the natural candidate as he had been CM in 2000,” Modi told THE WEEK. “But, no one was willing to take a call. I realised it would lead to the same uncertain situation of a few months ago. So, I unilaterally announced his name. His name was such that no one could oppose it.” On recent developments, Modi said that Nitish had now “betrayed the mandate three times”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This sense of betrayal runs deep in Bihar politics. Betrayals during realignments are called out, but astuteness shown in staying in power is rewarded. The late Ram Vilas Paswan is often credited with picking the winning side every time. This earned him the sobriquet mausam vigyanik (weatherman). In 2013, Nitish and the BJP parted ways after accusing each other of violating trust. But, in 2017, when Nitish severed ties with the RJD and Lalu accused him of betrayal, the BJP offered support. Now, as the BJP accuses him of betrayal, the RJD is back on Nitish’s side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nitish, too, has a list of people who betrayed him. “I gave [R.C.P. Singh] my position (party president); I told him to resign only when reports started coming out against him,” he said. “I asked the BJP for four cabinet posts, but they only gave one.” If Nitish was miffed with the BJP for undermining him, he was unhappy with the RJD in 2017 for being overbearing. A source said that he had then gone to meet Rahul Gandhi to ask him to rein in Lalu or tell him to respond to charges of corruption. But, Rahul refused to intervene and Nitish resigned a few days later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nitish’s return to the opposition camp has reignited hopes of unity. And he seems excited by the role he can play. During his first public function after taking oath as chief minister for a record eighth time, he spoke about his role in opposition unity in response to a question posed by THE WEEK. “I will try to bring all opposition parties together,” he said. “I want to connect everyone. We are doing a positive job. I am getting many phone calls, I am speaking to everyone. We will do it, before that, let us get the things in order here.” His quote immediately hit the headlines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Could he be the elusive opposition leader from the Hindi heartland who could be the prime ministerial candidate. “There is no such thing in my mind,” he said during the same interaction. JD(U) leader Upendra Kushwaha told THE WEEK: “We are not commenting on this (Nitish being a prime ministerial candidate) at the moment.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On Nitish’s latest switch sparking hopes of opposition unity, BJP’s Bihar president Sanjay Jaiswal said that he had doubts whether the opposition parties would trust Nitish. “He wanted to be vice president and is so unpredictable with his frequent U-turns,” Jaiswal told THE WEEK, from his party office, where the number of visitors has dwindled sharply since the party lost power. “The Congress position is different because its leadership, like Tejashwi Yadav, is accused in ED cases and would have to go to jail someday,” he added. “Even Sonia Gandhi would like to know how Nitish will save Tejashwi, which will help them in the future.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaiswal was at the forefront of what the JD(U) called the BJP’s “attack” against its own coalition’s government. The JD(U) saw this as a ploy to weaken it. But, Jaiswal said that Nitish ignored the fact that illegal liquor was being sold. “Not a single day passes when crime does not happen,” he said. “He (Nitish) was offended that we were raising these issues. But, the government was failing on the issue of law and order.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sudden change has left the leaders, the cadre and even the people on the ground uncertain about how the situation will pan out. Perhaps as a result of this uncertainty, the pulsating energy which is seen when a new government is formed was missing in Bihar; it is more of cautious optimism. Nitish’s famous statement during his days of struggle is often cited: “I will come to power by hook or by crook, and then, I will do good work.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, in the BJP camp, there is clear gloom at being outwitted by a regional satrap. Will there be more investigations by the ED and the CBI? “Already action is being taken against Lalu Prasad and Sonia Gandhi,” said Congress Bihar chief Madan Mohan Jha. “The government is targeting them. The Centre is vindictive. But, we will continue to do our work.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A number of politicians, both senior and mid-level, that THE WEEK spoke to appeared unsure of what was in store politically, despite their public posturing. On Patna’s Beerchand Patel Road, which houses most of the party offices, at a short distance from the BJP’s office, RJD state president Jagdanand Singh held fort. While the BJP has modernised its party offices across the country, offices of other parties like the RJD appear to be stuck in the past. Singh termed the return of the JD(U)-RJD alliance a return to the old values of socialism. “The message is clear,” he said. “This alliance stands against those trying to spread a communal message while sweeping issues of jobs and livelihood under the carpet.” As Nitish, 71, gets another run, he has governance issues to tackle and creating jobs is a primary concern.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tejashwi, the deputy chief minister, is the rising star of Bihar politics. He has charisma and has inherited his father’s legacy. But, he is also not shy of trying a different approach. During the 2020 elections, Tejashwi rarely mentioned his father. This was done to avoid negative sentiments associated with a convicted leader. The 32-year-old even apologised for mistakes made during the previous RJD rule, saying he was only three years old then. It is hoped that the chief ministership will pass to Tejashwi in 2025. The fact that there is no clear line of succession in the JD(U) improves his chances. “No one can make a prediction about such a distant thing,” said Jha. “Let us see how things work out.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In any case, there appears to be a move to protect Tejashwi from political attacks before he is ready for the top post. The RJD-led alliance had more seats than the JD(U)’s 45 in the 243-member assembly. Yet, they chose to give Nitish the top post as he has acceptance across the state. In the new 31-member cabinet, while the RJD got 50 per cent of the seats, the JD(U) kept home and finance—the two portfolios which had led to criticism of the RJD in the past. This means that the BJP can no longer target Tejashwi with charges of “jungle raj” or corruption. The deputy chief minister was also given Z-plus security.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tejashwi, articulate in the rustic idiom and in English, has caught the attention of the youth. They look at him with hopes of getting jobs. His promise of providing 10 lakh jobs has been questioned. But, Nitish came to his rescue by announcing that the government would not only provide 10 lakh public sector jobs, but would also create another 10 lakh jobs in the private sector. The BJP knows this crucial issue will help it to target the government, if it fails to fulfil the promise. “This is good for us,” said Jaiswal. “Voters have been enticed by the promise. Now, Tejashwi will get exposed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the BJP, the fall of Patna is crucial. It will rely on issues of bad governance, terror cases and the rise in deaths because of spurious liquor to target the grand alliance. For the JD(U) and the RJD, social engineering—evident in the choice of ministers—may help in the assembly elections. But, similar experiments, have not yielded the desired results, in the recent past (Uttar Pradesh, 2019).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the opposition camp says Bihar will set an example, like it did during the Emergency. The state is often called the cradle of democracy because it gave the country the earliest form of republic through the 16 mahajanapadas which functioned during the fifth and sixth centuries BCE. Can it become a turning point in the country’s current political path? Everyone will be watching.</p> Sun Aug 21 08:21:26 IST 2022 no-ideology-involved-in-nitish-u-turn-says-sushil-modi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ What is the reason for Nitish Kumar switching sides?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There are three reasons. First is Nitish Kumar’s ambition. He thinks that he has been chief minister for 17 years, and is now looking for a national role. That is not possible with the BJP as Narendra Modi is there. Second is the jealousy of [JD(U)] president Lalan Singh. He has been angry ever since R.C.P. Singh became Union minister. He thinks the BJP did not make him minister, but the truth is that the JD(U) never recommended his name. Since then, he had been trying to break the state government, and was working against the Centre. He even joined hands with Lalu Prasad. The third factor is the desperation of Tejashwi Yadav as he wanted his government. He had already reached 114 seats with allies and only needed a few more MLAs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All these factors came together to force this situation. Nitish had said in the past that he would die rather than join hands with the RSS/BJP, but he did. He said he would never go with Lalu, but he did. There is no ideology involved in the episode. It is because of these three factors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Nitish Kumar said the BJP tried to break his party.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ If we had broken his party, then how was our government formed? Even if all JD(U) MLAs merged with us, there would not have been a government (because of the lack of numbers). We have never split an ally. In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena was not our ally; Eknath Shinde came to us after breaking away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Since you were not part of the government, was the necessary glue missing?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I don’t think it is true. I made my best effort to ensure that the previous alliance could continue for 13 years without much conflict. But the BJP tried its best. The party has many able leaders who tried their best and were communicating well. [Union Minister] Dharmendra Pradhan came twice. But when Nitish’s ambition was ignited and he thought there was no scope for him in the NDA, he went to the other side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think there is a deal to make Tejashwi Yadav chief minister after 2025?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I cannot say what could be the deal between them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Nitish says he will strengthen opposition unity. Will he be successful?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ [West Bengal Chief Minister] Mamata Banerjee also tried it, but failed. She is more powerful than Nitish, she has more MLAs and MPs. KCR (Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao), too, has more MLAs and MPs, even he failed. Nitish can claim anything, but it does not mean anything.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Can Nitish Kumar be prime minister candidate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In the Lok Sabha, the face is Narendra Modi, there is no one else. There may be regional faces in states. Modi’s popularity graph is so high that there is no competition. Nitish’s backward votes had come to us in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when he got only two seats. Modi symbolises the backward community, so that chunk of votes have come to the BJP. He will be the face of the 2024 elections, too.</p> Sun Aug 21 07:48:35 IST 2022 nitish-has-all-qualities-to-be-pm <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ Why did your alliance with the BJP break?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Had we not separated from them, the BJP would have destroyed us. Since the 2020 elections, a conspiracy was on to weaken us. They sent their leaders to contest from another party (the Lok Janshakti Party) against our candidates. When they lost, those leaders returned to the BJP. Even in Manipur, they contested against us. [They also] criticised the government. So, what else could we have done?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is future of the new government?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have the support of 164 MLAs. The government will be stable. Nitish Kumar is the most trusted leader in Bihar and the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the message that emerges from this new alliance?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The BJP has created tensions in society and obfuscated the real issues. The big message is against the BJP’s strategy of creating sentimental or emotional issues. Also that the BJP can be challenged; some thought it cannot be challenged.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Kumar said he would work for opposition unity. Is he a prime ministerial candidate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ He will work to create opposition unity. We are not commenting on that front (prime ministerial candidature). There are many parties and groups. We are not making any such claim. But he has all the qualities to become prime minister. He has the people’s trust.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What would be the new government’s immediate agenda?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The two issues of development and good governance are prime. This is what people expect from Nitish Kumar, and he performs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ It is being said that though Kumar is chief minister, Lalu Prasad’s family will be super Cms.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Opposition may say these things, but the public does not feel that way. The people have seen many times that [Kumar] does not compromise beyond a limit. So, one should not have any doubts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the outlook for the 2024 general elections and the 2025 assembly polls?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ If we are able to bring the entire opposition together, with all parties having a role—and everyone should think in that direction—then past results will not be repeated in 2024. But, there are a lot of challenges, and it is not easy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The BJP accuses Kumar of soft-pedalling on the recently busted terror module?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The BJP was part of the government, and even then they kept on making all sorts of allegations, since 2020. The law and order situation is under control. The BJP has control of Central agencies. Let them investigate the case.</p> Sun Aug 21 07:47:09 IST 2022 tejashwi-yadav-is-always-number-one-rjd-state-president <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ What is the message from the ongoing political developments?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The message is clear—communal-minded people cannot finish off the Constitution. Socialists went to jail during Emergency. Now it is even worse, it is against the Constitution. Bihar has given a new direction to the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So, this is a message for opposition unity?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes, it is. We have to work in tandem and in time to salvage the situation. If we fall short, history will be unkind to us. In every era, there is a time when there is no other way. Now is the time for opposition unity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Has the socialist movement in the country weakened?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Socialism is part of the people’s consciousness. Religious fanatics have pushed everything else under the carpet, but issues remain. The talk of Hindu versus Muslim or India versus Pakistan is pushed to the forefront, but at the end of the day, people cannot stay away from basic needs like food and development. Money may be printed by the Reserve Bank, but the production comes from our land. Agriculture is important, so these issues remain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The JD(U) and the RJD were together in 2015, but got separated in 2017. Will it happen again?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We will go towards our goal with the people’s support. Society always learns from its mistakes, there is no point wasting time on the past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will Tejashwi Yadav become chief minister in 2025?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I believe he is always number one. We may have slowed down, but Tejashwi remains focused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Nitish Kumar talks about opposition unity. What are his chances of becoming the opposition’s PM candidate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Lalu Prasad said the lesson he learnt during the JP movement was that when there was confusion, a revolutionary step would provide the answer. Communal forces want to take over. Look at what they did in Maharashtra. But Bihar will provide leadership as it had done in the past, like it did for Mahatma Gandhi or the Buddha. Even during Emergency, it was Bihar that provided direction to the country. Lalu stopped L.K. Advani’s rath yatra in 1990, saving the country from riots. Bihar is again offering a direction to work for the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The RJD regime is often criticised as jungle raj.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ What is jungle raj? It is the survival of the fittest. What is socialism? It works for an equal society. We have worked for an equal society—to give food, shelter and clothings to the poor. The allegations are made by communal elements who do not want to empower people. Lalu gave the slogan ‘study or die’. We did not walk on the path of survival of the fittest, but for the survival of all.</p> Sun Aug 21 07:42:33 IST 2022 people-of-himachal-will-never-disappoint-modi-cm-jai-ram-thakur <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE HIMACHAL PRADESH</b> assembly elections, scheduled to be held in November, are likely to witness a triangular contest, a first for the state. The Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party are making massive efforts to unseat the BJP. With just four months to go, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur is busy touring the state to hard sell his government’s achievements. THE WEEK caught up with Thakur while he was in Delhi to attend the recent NITI Aayog meeting which was chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/As chief minister, what has been your biggest challenge and achievement?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The biggest challenge has been Covid-19, which impacted the economy, and [during which the] working period was curtailed. The speed of the targeted projects was disturbed a bit. [But] despite Covid-19, we handled the economy very well; we were the first state to administer the first and the second dose [of the vaccine]. We have been successful to a great extent in completing all the new initiatives we started, and have achieved the target of bringing in private sector investment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/India is celebrating 75 years of independence. What does this mean for Himachal Pradesh?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We celebrated 50 years of statehood last year. Now, we will celebrate 75 years of organisation. (In April 1948, the chief commissioner’s province of Himachal Pradesh came into being.) We have planned 75 events in all 68 assembly constituencies, wherein we will talk about Himachal’s journey... especially [to] the younger generation. At that time, the literacy rate was a mere 4.2 per cent; it is now 83 per cent. There were only 228km of roads; now it is more than 39,500km. For all this, the credit goes to the people of the state and not to any leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The state has elected parties to power alternately in the past three decades. How big is the challenge?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/It is a challenge, no two ways about it. We have worked with honesty, and the state has grown and progressed. We have been able to bring development with the help of the Modi government. For the state’s future, Himachal needs the Modi government. Himachal cannot develop based on its own resources. It needs help from the Centre. Secondly, in our neighbouring states of Haryana and Uttarakhand, where governments used to change every five years, the BJP came to power for the second time. This trend will continue in Himachal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What will be your big promise before the elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/There cannot be a big promise. What we are saying is that the future of the state can be secured when we return to power. We are taking to the people what we have done till now. We are asking the people to give us another chance. Moreover, PM Modi has a huge, emotional connect with the state. The people of the state will never disappoint him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Who is your main opponent—the Congress or the AAP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Keeping in mind Himachal’s history, the contest has always been between the BJP and the Congress. No third party has been successful in the state. The AAP is trying, but it is very difficult for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Even Delhi and Punjab had a history of bipolar contests, but the AAP won there.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/In Himachal Pradesh, the margin of victory is 3 per cent to 4 per cent. In such a scenario, we are not taking anyone lightly. We are making full preparations and moving ahead. We have worked honestly for the poor. The people of Himachal will bless us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The BJP lost the byelections to four seats last November. The Congress says it is an indicator of what will happen in 2022.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Those polls were necessitated by the deaths of three big leaders, of whom two were from the Congress—Virbhadra Singh and Sujan Singh Pathania. That impacted the elections. The Congress won on a sympathy wave. But, this time, there will be no such atmosphere; the elections will be fought on issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Is the question of the chief minister candidate settled?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We will leave that decision to the party high command. Our responsibility is to bring back the BJP government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/These polls will see a generational change as state veterans will no longer be there.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/If you look at the state’s polity, relatively younger leaders are coming forward. The change is visible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/You have brought up the uniform civil code. What has been done so far?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We have said that we will not take any step in haste. We will first study the code in detail. I believe we should move forward on this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Will the state’s tribal communities and others agree to it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/That is why it is important to assess, and not take any step in haste.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Government employees form a big chunk of the state’s population that is demanding the old pension scheme. What is your stance on this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We have set up a committee. The old pension scheme was discontinued when the Congress was in power and Virbhadra Singh was chief minister. The Congress has been in power twice since then. Their leaders did not ask for the OPS. Now, Congress leaders are asking for it. If the Congress is going to contest elections on Virbhadra’s legacy, aren’t they they dishonouring him [by demanding the OPS]? We are in talks with the employees, and will see what the solution can be. The Congress says it will implement the scheme, but can it tell us if the OPS has been started in Rajasthan or Chhattisgarh?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The state’s main industry, tourism, was under stress because of the pandemic. Have things improved?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We are happy that we have seen a very positive trend. A large number of tourists have come to the state. Our tourism units are doing well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Apple growers are on a warpath, demanding relief from the Centre and the state.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/They are angry as GST has been increased to 18 per cent from 12 per cent on the packaging material. When the issue came to us, we said we will compensate them. The issue should have been resolved then, but now it is turning political as the Congress and the CPI(M) have come together ahead of the elections. This is not correct. Never before in the state has the government made an attempt to compensate the people for an increase in GST rates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Climate change and rapid urbanisation pose a threat to the ecologically sensitive state. Your take?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The environmental issues will be a challenge in coming times; they may not be immediate. Rapid urbanisation will cause damage to the state. In the NITI Aayog meeting, PM Modi said there is migration from rural areas to the city for better amenities, and that we should aim to provide better facilities in rural areas. If people are still moving from villages to cities, then the city’s development should be planned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Himachal, the trend is different. People from rural areas go to a city for work, but return. The issue of migration is not there in the traditional sense.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Can the changing law and order situation in neighbouring Punjab impact Himachal?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/There will always be a chance. I hope that the new government in Punjab will handle the situation. In the past, there were a few incidents—like painting of Khalistani slogans and hoisting flags in Himachal. But we tackled it effectively. We put those people behind bars. But, in Punjab, no action has been taken against them. Some people are trying to disturb the atmosphere, but we are vigilant. We will deal with it strictly.</p> Sat Aug 13 17:15:49 IST 2022 nitish-kumars-position-has-weakened-despite-his-latest-triumph <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On the muggy monsoon evening of July 26, 2017, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar called his ally, the Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad. He told Lalu that he was calling him for the last time and was going to resign as chief minister and sever ties with the RJD.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Goodbyes are not permanent, not in politics, and certainly not in Bihar. Last month, Kumar called on Lalu in hospital and offered to foot the medical bills. After the RJD supremo was discharged, an alliance was reforged by the two parties. Kumar had decided to break his Janata Dal (United)’s alliance with the BJP. On August 10, before taking oath as chief minister of Bihar for the eighth time, Kumar once again called his friend-turned-foe-turned-friend to brief him about the details of the pact between their parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both in 2017 and 2022, allies could sense Kumar’s unease, but did not really know whether he would dump them. The key difference is that last time the BJP had offered support, while this time Kumar had sounded out the grand alliance partners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP and the JD(U) had been drifting apart for some time now. The BJP’s recent national executive meeting in Hyderabad called for targeting opposition parties, particularly the regional ones, for being dynastic and corrupt. The coup by Shiv Sena rebel Eknath Shinde in Maharashtra, which coincided with the meeting, unnerved the regional outfits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What increased anxiety within the JD(U) was the growing closeness of R.C.P. Singh to the BJP. Singh, who recently quit the JD(U) after falling out with Kumar, was the Union steel minister for a year from July 2021. A former IAS officer, he was brought into politics by Kumar, and was made a Rajya Sabha member and JD(U) president. It is said that Singh negotiated the Union cabinet post without Kumar’s approval. Consequently, the JD(U) did not give Singh a Rajya Sabha ticket in 2022, forcing him to step down as Union minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh then appeared at the BJP meeting in Hyderabad and was even garlanded, leading to speculation that he had joined the party (denied by the BJP). But, his presence there increased the JD(U)’s mistrust of the BJP. “The BJP was trying to weaken us,” said JD(U) president Lalan Singh. “R.C.P. Singh sided with the BJP, working as its agent. Many BJP leaders had joined the Lok Janshakti Party to contest against us. All these leaders lost and again joined the BJP. Was this alliance dharma? Even Nitish Kumar did not want to be chief minister in 2020, but all these small leaders kept commenting against him.” In 2020, the JD(U) lost 28 assembly seats while the BJP gained 21.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the RJD, repairing the relationship with the JD(U) was logical as it had been feeling the heat from an aggressive BJP. RJD spokesperson Naval Kishore said the move was logical for the JD(U), too. “Look at all the BJP allies; it has either finished them or is doing so. Be it the PDP, the Akali Dal, the Shiv Sena,” he said. “The Eknath Shinde episode and the way R.C.P. Singh was propped up are omens. Look at the way Chirag Paswan [of the LJP] was propped up. He contested on all seats fought by the JD(U) in 2020.” Interestingly, the JD(U) and the BJP had won the last elections because of their repeated reminders to the people about the lawlessness during Lalu’s tenure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One key factor which could have led to the problems between the JD(U) and the BJP is that the BJP’s Sushil Kumar Modi was moved to the Rajya Sabha. He was an effective channel between Kumar and the BJP, and it is believed that he was moved because the saffron party wanted to grow in Bihar on its own. But, Modi’s absence caused a breakdown in communication between the parties and led to public barbs against each other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sushil Kumar Modi accused Kumar of betrayal. “Amit Shah had called Nitish Kumar to ask for a name for the Union cabinet expansion,” he said. “Nitish gave R.C.P. Singh’s name, and only then was he made Union minister. It is a lie that Singh was inducted without consultation. There have also been allegations that we broke alliances. The Shiv Sena was not our ally. We never broke alliances. The BJP has never betrayed anyone. We made Kumar chief minister five times. We were an ally for 17 years, but he broke away twice.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This realignment of partners ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections has evoked interest in the opposition space despite the drubbing in the presidential and vice presidential elections. And, as all Bihar’s regional parties have supported the JD(U)-RJD alliance, things will get tougher for the BJP. However, given that the party was already planning expansion in the state, it is both a challenge and an opportunity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP state president Sanjay Jaiswal said Kumar had betrayed the people’s mandate. “When we won in 2020, the mandate was for both the BJP and the JD(U),” he said. “He said he was under pressure, but if something bad happens in the state, should we not raise our voices? There were deaths after illegal liquor consumption.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Open clashes with the assembly speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha had diminished Kumar’s clout in the alliance. He had to abstain from the assembly for a week till the issue was resolved. Then came the Phulwari Sharif terror module case linked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Patna. BJP leaders, including Jaiswal, had come down heavily on the state home department under Kumar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, the alliance between the JD(U) and the RJD is still tenuous. The split in 2017 was bitter, with the RJD accusing Kumar of betrayal, similar to the BJP’s accusation now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ideologically, the JD(U) and the RJD are on the same side. Kumar has carved out his vote bank—extremely backward classes and women—through affirmative action. This vote bank came to his rescue when he was faced with anti-incumbency sentiment during the 2020 assembly polls. The RJD’s vote bank, the Yadavs, is largely intact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both the JD(U) and the RJD were in favour of a caste census, whereas the BJP was opposed to it. In fact, the RJD had effectively trapped Kumar by mooting the idea of a state-level caste census. Kumar, in his fear of the RJD capitalising on the issue, had readily agreed to it without consulting the BJP leadership. When Kumar announced an all-party meeting to discuss the issue, the BJP questioned his motives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ties between the JD(U) and the BJP were strained further when Bihar erupted in protests over the Agniveer recruitment to the military. Kumar remained silent and the protests were directed at the state BJP leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tejashwi Yadav, who took oath as the deputy chief minister, is seen as a rising star who led his party to a good performance in 2020. That, too, without his father, Lalu Prasad, campaigning. The sentiment of the vocal RJD cadre is that Kumar should hand over the baton to Tejashwi before the next elections in 2025.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the new alliance benefits Tejashwi’s profile and future, it puts more pressure on brand Nitish. The cyberwing of the JD(U)—the Nitish Sena—called him “Sushasan Babu”; sushasan means good governance. But, the name has not found takers on social media. More worryingly, “Paltu Ram” and “Kursi Kumar” have.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2017, Lalu called him Paltu Kumar after Kumar’s political somersault. Kursi Kumar became popular because of Kumar’s amazing skill in political musical chairs game. Now the second longest serving chief minister in India after Naveen Patnaik, Kumar has proved to be a survivor. But, his position has also weakened after every battle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no doubt that he is a master politician who can straddle ideological extremes at his discretion. But, for how long?</p> Sun Aug 14 12:42:15 IST 2022 ashok-gehlots-canal-politics <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot often writes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, raising issues that range from Covid management and Centre-state relations to the state’s share of the Goods and Services Tax. He has especially been prolific in writing about the Eastern Rajasthan Canal Project—an ambitious scheme to supply water from the Chambal basin to 13 eastern and southeastern districts.</p> <p>The Rs40,451-crore canal project has been stalled since 2017, when it was first proposed by the BJP government led by Vasundhara Raje. The delay in implementing the project is now a hot-button issue, thanks to Gehlot. He wants Modi, who had backed the proposal while campaigning for the 2018 assembly polls, to green-light the project immediately and grant it national status to ensure speedy implementation. With assembly polls due next year, Gehlot’s demands have sparked a war of words between the Congress and the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The project envisages a series of canals that would drain excess water from Chambal to other river basins, improving irrigation, ensuring drinking water supply, and meeting the needs of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor that passes through Rajasthan. The problem is that the Chambal water cannot be tapped without the Centre’s help. The area around Kota barrage, for instance, is a crocodile sanctuary where no construction is permitted within a radius of 1.5km from the centre of the river.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The original proposal was to complete the project in three phases from 2017 to 2023. Modi had declared his support for it in 2018. But, after the Congress defeated the BJP in the assembly polls, the project has seen little progress. It also lacked political buzz, until Gehlot revived it in a big way. The state government allocated around Rs9,600 crore to the project this year, even though the Centre is yet to approve it and sanction funds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gehlot is demanding national status for the project to ensure a Centre-state funding ratio of 90:10. Else, the Centre will only have to bear 60 per cent of the cost, with the state paying the rest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, the person responsible for clearing the project is Union Water Resources Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, who is a Gehlot baiter representing Jodhpur in the Lok Sabha. The water resources ministry recently asked Rajasthan to halt work on the canal citing lack of consent of Madhya Pradesh, a riparian state. It wants the state government to rework the project so that Madhya Pradesh’s concerns regarding water sharing are addressed. But Rajasthan has stuck to the original proposal, terming the concerns as baseless.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The project specifications are in keeping with the understanding reached at an interstate meeting in 2005,” said Rajasthan Water Resources Minister Mahendrajeet Singh Malviya. “Hence there is no need for a no-objection certificate from Madhya Pradesh.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>State Congress president Govind Dotasara said Shekhawat had no interest in implementing the project. “His ministry wrote to the state government to stop work on the project, even though it fulfilled all parameters. He should make full use of his power in the interest of the state, and get the rules amended to make up for technical deficiencies, if there are any,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dotasara said work on the project would not stop. “The state government is not begging for the national project status; we are demanding our right,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gehlot is keen to turn this into a win-win situation for himself. “If the Union government clears the project, he would take credit for it. If the Centre further delays the go-ahead, he would blame the BJP,” said political analyst Manish Godha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The personal rivalry between Gehlot and Shekhawat makes the battle even more interesting. Jodhpur is Gehlot’s stronghold and Shekhawat, who is viewed as a potential chief minister, had defeated Gehlot’s son Vaibhav in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Gehlot had also accused Shekhawat of stoking a rebellion against him led by former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot in 2020.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With protests being held by both the Congress and the BJP, the political activity around the canal project remains hectic. Having already held an all-party meeting to discuss the issue, the Gehlot government now plans to convene a special session of the assembly. Gehlot is trying to corner the BJP-led Union government, and the BJP is accusing him of playing politics to hide his government’s failure in not drawing up a sound proposal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The chief minister called the all-party meeting when both the leader of the opposition and the state BJP president were away on tour,” said BJP leader Abhinesh Maharshi. “It is evident that he only wanted to play politics. If he is sincere, he should ensure that the proposal sticks to the guidelines.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Observers say the wrangle over the canal project is rooted in electoral calculations. The 13 districts that stand to benefit from the project account for 40 per cent of the state’s population and 85 assembly seats. In 2018, the Congress had outperformed the BJP in this region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A state Congress leader said Gehlot’s crusade for the canal project is also aimed at blunting the challenge from Pilot, who wields considerable influence in several districts of eastern Rajasthan. The project has given Gehlot a political opportunity, and he apparently wants to make the most of it.</p> Sun Aug 07 15:11:46 IST 2022 changing-domestic-tourist-helped-rajasthan-tourism-during-covid <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>RAJASTHAN HAS OVER</b> the years been marketed to tourists as the most vibrant part of India that gives them a truly royal experience. The aggressive marketing had its impact; the number of tourists grew steadily year on year, till the Covid-19 pandemic hit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In March 2020, 43.27 lakh domestic tourists and 86,573 foreigners had come. However, in April, the number of travellers from within the country dropped to zero, while only 86 in-bound tourists visited the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The numbers for 2020, compared with 2019, showed a drop of more than 71 per cent. If 5.22 crore domestic tourists and 16 lakh foreigners had come to the state in 2019, their footfall in 2020 plummeted to 1.51 crore and 4.46 lakh, respectively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Rajasthan now comes out of the pandemic’s shadow and prepares for the upcoming tourist season, there is a re-orientation of focus and change in strategy. As recovery from the pandemic began in 2021, it was the domestic tourist who helped the tourism sector stay afloat. In 2021, 2.19 crore domestic tourists came to Rajasthan, compared to 35,000 foreigners. Compared with 2020, there was a 44.45 per cent increase in the number of domestic tourists in 2021, while the number of foreign visitors fell by more than 92 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The pandemic brought with it many lessons. It has taught us the importance of domestic tourism and has enabled us to better frame our marketing strategies for tourists coming from other states,” said Gayatri Rathore, principal secretary, Rajasthan Tourism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After two years, the Rajasthan Domestic Travel Mart was organised in Jaipur this July, and more than 9,000 structured business-to-business meetings were held. Around 200 tourism product suppliers such as hoteliers and tour operators, and around 300 domestic buyers participated in the event. The aim was to market Rajasthan to domestic tourists ahead of the tourist season in the state—from September to March.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A major reason for the boost in the number of domestic tourists in 2021 had been the restrictions on international travel. Chandan Singh, operations manager of Buena Vista Resort, said that if the hoteliers in Rajasthan realised that there was a domestic clientele for high-end luxury products, domestic travellers, too, discovered that they can get memorable holidays, with the added snob value, within India. “Tourism was the first industry to feel the impact of Covid-19,” he said. “While there was no income, there were expenses to be met, of maintenance, of paying salaries to the staff etc. The period of recovery has been an eye-opener, for us and the domestic tourists.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Players in the tourism sector changed their strategy, and came out of the pandemic better placed in their outreach to clientele. Many hoteliers were able to shrug off their dependence on travel agents and reach out to a wider range of customers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Angad Deo Mandawa, director, Mandawa Group of Hotels, said the pandemic was actually a blessing in disguise for the hotel group. “When two crore tourists could not travel out of India, it helped hotels like ours,” he said. “Also, one big healthy change is that we do not have to depend on agents. Business with them involved a credit line and it was always difficult to get money out of them. More than 80 per cent of the bookings are now done through online portals.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajasthan ranks sixth in terms of foreign tourists and tenth in terms of domestic tourists, but accounts for 75 per cent of heritage hotels in India. These have traditionally catered primarily to in-bound tourists. With regard to high-end hotels and resorts, majority of them falling in the heritage category, around 70 per cent of the guests were from outside India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Asked how the domestic clientele was different from foreign tourists, Farooq Qureshi, general manager, Rajasthan Tours Private Limited, said the perception about the former being unruly or stingy or not fully appreciative of the heritage properties is changing fast. “The tourists of today are vastly different from what they were like in the 1980s or 1990s,” he said. “They are ready to pay, but yes, they are more demanding and want better value for their money.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as the domestic tourists are being celebrated and wooed, the foreign tourist is much awaited. Karan Rathore, vice chairman, Services Export Promotion Council, said there was a need to regain the lost market, and for that the council has told all tourism stakeholders about a need to rebrand India as a must-visit destination. “Besides tourist attractions, we need to emphasise on the improved infrastructure and connectivity, as well as safety. An aggressive marketing of Incredible India as a global brand has to be done,” he said.</p> Fri Aug 05 15:00:24 IST 2022 women-in-black-yogis-female-commandos <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>It was raining bullets.</b> Chanchal Teotia rappelled down a multi-storey building, pulled out an MP5 submachine gun and shot down hostiles. She then smashed a window and entered the building to rescue hostages and neutralise the remaining hostiles. The building was secured in no time. Chanchal removed her headgear. The mock drill was complete.</p> <p>Her instructors know Chanchal as a quiet girl with limited vocabulary and unlimited courage. The 23-year-old hails from the outlying town of Bulandshahr, which sits on top of the crime charts in Uttar Pradesh. She is the youngest female commando of the state’s anti-terrorist squad (ATS) and the latest entrant to the elite all-women strike team being assembled by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.</p> <p>The team is part of Adityanath’s new security blueprint, which he unveiled after returning to power in March. It includes women police battalions across the state and the creation of women commando units, among other initiatives. Prashant Kumar, additional director general of police (law and order), Uttar Pradesh, said: “If women are present in a terror group, or there is a hostage situation in a house or public spaces like malls or cinema halls, where hostages taken are mostly women, our women commandos will be most effective in counter-terror action and negotiation.”</p> <p>It was former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa who formed India’s first female commando unit, in the 1990s. Assam, Nagaland, West Bengal, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Bihar followed suit. Kumar told THE WEEK that the Uttar Pradesh ATS’s women commandos were being trained to handle a range of equipment and weapons. “A good start was made when they completed training in Krav Maga,” he said. “They are now undergoing training with the National Security Guard, the Border Security Force, and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police.” Volunteers can apply for the ATS after six years in the police or provincial armed constabulary; age limit is 40 for constables and 45 for inspectors.</p> <p>Chanchal’s journey is just the beginning. “Coming from a humble background where neighbours never allow us to forget that we are women, I first try to prove myself and then prove my [aptitude for the] job,” she said. Trying to do both, they end up doing better than men, she added with a smile.</p> <p>Her friend and mentor, Priyanka Panwar, 31, is the first ATS woman commando. She joined the police force in 2011 and was selected to join the ATS in 2017. Born in Ghatayan village in communally sensitive Muzaffarnagar, Priyanka belongs to a farming family. But, she realised early in life that sports, like wrestling, was her calling. “I was a wrestler in university and represented the police team,” she said. “I wanted to do a tough job. When I got into the ATS, I was the only woman around. Sometimes, it was awkward when I did not see a single woman for days. But, when there are no barriers of gender or strength, you emerge victorious.”</p> <p>Nitika Sharma, 32, wanted to join the armed forces after her graduation from Khalsa College in Delhi. She is from Ghaziabad. Her mother is a government health worker and her father works in the private sector. “There are limited avenues for women who want to serve the country,” said Nikita. “In 2016, I joined the police, but I wanted to serve the country in a bigger way. Now, I know how to use firearms and I am training with the best of forces like the BSF and the NSG. The commando training has made me mentally and physically stronger.”</p> <p>Umang Tomar, 31, from the small town of Bagpat recalled her recent visit to DefExpo 2022, where she was treated like a hero by children who gathered around her seeing her black uniform. “There are moments during training when we feel tired and motivation goes down,” she said. “But, the respect we get as commandos is unparalleled and we regain strength.” Her father, a retired head constable from the state police, had told her that if she wanted to live a life of adventure, she could join the police.</p> <p>Anisha Mavi, 32, was training to become a Hindi teacher and wrote poetry till she joined the ATS in 2018. Today, she is proficient in lobbing grenades, riding bikes and firing guns. “Now, I don’t get time [for poetry],” she said, with a laugh. “I spend all my time rappelling or slithering.”</p> <p>None of the girls are married. “Settling down in one place is a problem,” said Anisha. “Moreover, a civilian man will get scared of my black uniform.” Umang felt it requires men of steel to marry the elite women commandos. “Let us hope we find them,” she said.</p> <p>Recent terror attacks in Rajasthan and Punjab and at the Gorakhnath temple (averted by the ATS) have once again put focus on the hotbeds of terror in the hinterland. The next postings for the women commandos will be in these pockets. Sleeper cells in the hotbeds have traditionally provided a feeder line to outfits like Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent and other groups backed by the Students’ Islamic Movement of India.</p> <p>The women commandos will also be deployed at ATS centres coming up at Aligarh, Agra, Azamgarh, Bareilly, Bahraich, Gorakhpur, Moradabad, Meerut, Varanasi, Shravasti, Saharanpur and Kanpur. The expansion of the ATS is a key part of Adityanath’s new security blueprint. Apart from the new centres, the ATS is also setting up new commando hubs (larger contingents) at Ayodhya, Rampur and Varanasi, along with special task force units to secure vital installations. These measures are in line with the vision to make Uttar Pradesh the biggest international Hindu religious circuit, and a major industrial hub, in years to come.</p> <p>D.S. Chauhan, director general of police, Uttar Pradesh, said: “In the coming years, the surveillance team will be exposed to new fields and threats like anti-drone attacks system, drone forensics, financial forensics and darknet patrolling,” he said. “On the other hand, the commandos will be imparted the best of training in field-craft and tactics available in the country and abroad.”</p> <p>Senior intelligence officials in the state said that the creation of local commando units of the ATS is beneficial since these commandos understand the complex social milieu. Counterterrorism efforts so far have lagged in the country because forces are deployed from outside a state and do not understand the language, thought or terrain. “Whether it is Jammu or Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh or Uttar Pradesh, the local commandos will always have a better grip of the ground situation and naturally develop intelligence networks that will help during a counterterrorist operation,” said K. Srinivasan, former inspector general, BSF, and former IG, Central Reserve Police Force, who set up intelligence wings in both the forces.</p> <p>The challenges are multifold in Uttar Pradesh where sustainable employment opportunities are still missing for a large segment of the population. Terror operatives and sympathisers are constantly scouting for vulnerable minds. The ATS is forming guidelines to launch a de-radicalisation programme and is roping in psychiatrists to help wean the youth away from extremist ideologies and violence. But, the ATS is also facing newer challenges.</p> <p>The latest intelligence reports point towards threats from illegal migrants, like the Rohingyas. The ATS is working on leads to detect the modules that are sponsoring their entry into the state and helping them procure fake identity cards and settle as labourers or students. Estimates with agencies point towards the presence of at least 500 people who have entered the state and the ATS is making a data bank to track each person. “Some are arrested if they are indulging in anti-national activities, while others need to be deported,” said an official, who requested anonymity. “The entire family has to be deported, so it is a big task to identify all the men, women and children in one family.”</p> <p>Meanwhile, there is silence in towns like Azamgarh, which came under the spotlight after successive terror bombings followed by the 2008 Batla House encounter. Indian Mujahideen operatives like Atif Ameen and Mohammed Sajid were killed in the encounter. While there were arrests like that of Mohammed Saif and Zeeshan Ahmad, others like Dr Shahnawaz and Mohammed Sajid fled the country. ATS chief Naveen Arora said a close watch is being kept on all the terror hotbeds. “The families of the absconding terrorists do not talk about them,” he said.</p> <p>For the newly formed ATS units and its commandos, the challenge will be to ensure that the silence is maintained.&nbsp;</p> Sun Jul 17 17:02:57 IST 2022 the-road-ahead-for-shinde-fadnavis-government <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AFTER PROVING MAJORITY</b> in the Maharashtra assembly on July 4, one of the first things that Chief Minister Eknath Shinde did was to visit the memorials of Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray and his mentor, Anand Dighe. The act was clearly aimed at conveying the message that he remained a Shiv Sainik, and that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Thackeray and Dighe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier in the assembly, Shinde had spoken in detail about how his rise in the Shiv Sena was hampered by the coterie around Uddhav Thackeray, Balasaheb’s son and Shiv Sena chief. Shinde, who was public works minister in the Devendra Fadnavis government from 2014 to 2019, said Union Minister Nitin Gadkari had told him that he would soon be promoted to deputy chief minister. “But that did not happen, as the [Sena] leadership made sure that the party did not take the deputy chief minister post. I did not protest or say anything, though. I obeyed party orders,” said Shinde in a candid and heartfelt speech.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said he could have become chief minister after the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) came to power in 2019. “But that, too, did not happen as we (Shiv Sainiks) were told that Pawar saheb (Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar) had told Uddhav saheb that senior NCP leaders like Ajit Pawar would not agree to work under anyone other than Uddhav Thackeray. Then Uddhav saheb became chief minister and we got down to work. A few months later, I casually asked Ajit dada whether he and other NCP leaders had made such a demand. To my surprise, Ajit dada told me that the NCP had not made any such demand, and nor had it opposed my name. He said the decision on who becomes chief minister was entirely left to the Sena leadership,” said Shinde.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He then lashed out at Uddhav without naming him: “We were not born with a silver spoon in our mouth, unlike some people,” he said. “We have toiled away for 40 years to make the Shiv Sena strong. We have been in jail several times and faced cases. Is it wrong for a common man to aspire to become chief minister?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The speech, which was Shinde’s first in the assembly as chief minister, left no doubt that he would continue to take on the Uddhav group. The next round of the Shinde-Uddhav battle will be fought in the Supreme Court on July 11, when petitions filed by the two sides come up for hearing. As the trust vote on July 4 revealed, as many as 40 of 55 Shiv Sena legislators are with Shinde, apart from 10 independent MLAs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several factors prompted the BJP’s central leadership to make Shinde the chief minister. One, he had successfully taken control of the Shiv Sena legislature party by ensuring the backing of 39 MLAs, nine of whom were ministers in the MVA government. The 40th MLA, Santosh Bangar, joined Shinde on the day of the trust vote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two, Shinde is a Maratha, while Fadnavis is a Brahmin. The BJP does not have a strong Maratha face. Indeed, state BJP president Chandrakant Patil is a Maratha, but he does not have enough political heft. Also, the agitation demanding reservations in jobs and education for the Maratha community had peaked during Fadnavis’s tenure as chief minister. Sensing the problem, the BJP’s central leadership had wanted Patil to come to Fadnavis’s aid and solve the issue. Patil did help Fadnavis, but he hardly had any influence over the Maratha community leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three, the BJP wants to support the Shinde group’s claim that they are the real Shiv Sena. The party apparently wants to uproot the Thackeray dynasty. Top BJP leaders feel that, under Uddhav and his son, Aditya—both of whom do not have the kind of charisma, influence and sheer will that the late Balasaheb had—the Sena organisation was being eaten away by Pawar and the NCP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP will provide all legal support to the Shinde group to prove before the Supreme Court that it is the real Shiv Sena. In case the claim is rejected, the Shinde group will be given the chance to merge with the BJP and contest the 2024 assembly polls on party tickets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fadnavis’s decision to accept the post of deputy chief minister was more surprising than Shinde’s elevation as chief minister. BJP leaders and legislators in Maharashtra were stunned into silence when Fadnavis announced that Shinde would be the next chief minister and that the BJP would join his government. “I will not be part of the government, but I will guide it from outside, and extend all possible help to ensure smooth governance,” Fadnavis said after the announcement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s central leadership soon intervened and forced Fadnavis to accept the post of deputy chief minister. It was the party’s national president J.P. Nadda who first asked Fadnavis to join the government. Fadnavis told Nadda that he would like to be appointed as state BJP president. He told the same to Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Fadnavis finally relented when Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally asked him to join the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A section of BJP leaders in Maharashtra saw that these developments have in a way clipped Fadnavis’s wings. After becoming chief minister, Fadnavis himself had cut to size party colleagues like Vinod Tawde, Pankaja Munde and Eknath Khadse. Even Sharad Pawar remarked that Fadnavis did not look happy while taking oath as Shinde’s deputy. “But, in his party, orders from Nagpur (the RSS headquarters) and Delhi are always to be obeyed,” said Pawar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The challenges before Shinde-Fadnavis government, already being called the ED government (Eknath and Devendra), will begin right from cabinet formation. “Shinde has to accommodate 50 MLAs who have backed him,” said political analyst Abhay Deshpande. “How he does this will be very interesting to see. Otherwise, they will be free to go back. Uddhav Thackeray has served disqualification notice to only 16 MLAs, leaving the door open for others.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Deshpande, the legal battle in the Supreme Court will decide the future of not just the government, but the Shinde group as well. “Then there are challenges like the grim financial situation of the state coffers,” he said. “But now, the Centre will make sure that it extends all possible help to the state government.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Deshpande pointed out that Shinde and Fadnavis make for a potent political combination. Shinde, who hails from Satara district in western Maharashtra, has mass rural appeal, while Fadnavis is hugely popular among the middle and upper classes. And both of them champion hindutva. “They have to make sure that there is a clear understanding between them, and that neither of them plays games of one-upmanship,” Deshpande said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP legislator Atul Bhatkhalkar said big development projects would have to be fast-tracked. “The immediate challenge before the BJP is elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and other municipal bodies,” said Bhatkhalkar. “With our government in power, it will be easier for us to wrest control of the BMC from the Shiv Sena, while the chief minister will make sure that the Thane Municipal Corporation remains with him in alliance with us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another BJP leader, however, expressed concerns about the emergence of two power centres in the government, as both Shinde and Fadnavis are known to be super-active. “In the previous government, Uddhav Thackeray was totally inactive while Ajit dada went on an overdrive, taking decisions and expanding his party. In the current government, though, both the chief minister and the deputy chief minister will have to maintain a very fine balance of power.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shinde and Fadnavis have already announced that they would scrutinise all decisions taken by the MVA government in the past fortnight. “Some 160 GRs (government resolutions) were passed in great hurry when this crisis was developing. So we will have to examine these decisions,” said Shinde.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The uncertainty over granting a quota to Other Backward Classes in local body polls is also something that the Shinde-Fadnavis government will have to handle delicately. OBCs, by and large, have always supported the BJP in Maharashtra politics. So the BJP wants to make sure that the empirical data that the SC had asked for—to allow the notification of polls after reserving seats for OBCs—is collected as soon as possible. The elections, which were due early this year, are likely to be held in October. But, if the government feels that it is unable to gather empirical data by then, it may further postpone the polls.</p> Fri Jul 08 13:25:14 IST 2022 how-an-innocuous-facebook-post-turned-ketaki-chitales-life-upside-down <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>KETAKI CHITALE HAD</b> just finished her lunch when a few policemen barged into her house on May 14. “The police came in, handcuffed me and asked me to accompany them without any explanation,” said Chitale, an actress and activist. She was not allowed to make any calls, not even to her parents who lived a few kilometres away from her rented apartment in Kalamboli, Navi Mumbai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her crime? She shared a post on Facebook the previous day, a poem on a fictional character holding a public office called Pawara. It had already been shared at least a hundred times and had some 4,000 reactions. About four hours after she shared it, an FIR was registered. In a span of 48 hours, 21 more FIRs were registered, her house was raided, and her phone and laptop were confiscated. She spent the next 41 days in jail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ordeal continued even after she got out on bail, as she was “misconstrued, misquoted and misunderstood”. Many news channels reported that she was molested by policemen, and while in prison. “I was not molested by the police at any point, neither inside the prison nor outside,” she said. “It was the mob that molested me while I was being taken from Kalamboli police station to the Thane police station. I was touched inappropriately and roughed up by the mob.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chitale’s lawyer, Yogesh Deshpande, alleged that it was “NCP workers who physically assaulted, slapped and molested her”. “They were wearing NCP IDs, they were all office bearers and gave interviews to the media later on, saying that they were on the lookout for her and were waiting for her to arrive at the police station,” he said. “These are the words of Aditi Nalawade, NCP’s MLC. We have that record with us. Despite Chitale filing a complaint against them, it was registered as a non-cognisable offence.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chitale is now with her parents, and she fears another arrest. Her father is a retired professor and her mother was a teacher. Her younger brother works in Singapore. She is barred from moving out of Maharashtra, she cannot access her email and she has to attend court proceedings and police interrogations almost on a daily basis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During conversation, Chitale breaks into laughs and giggles and maintains a chirpy tone. “You might be tempted to think that I’m a psycho. But trust me, this is my coping mechanism,” she said. “Crying won’t right all the wrongs I have suffered. But the least I can do is laugh them out to find my own inner peace. I was not the first and the only public figure to share that post. I do not know why I have been singled out and made to suffer.” The poem is still online and being shared. In circulation since 2020, it is signed by a lawyer called Nitin Bhave, who is said to be on the run.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Just before she went into prison, Chitale had signed up for a bartending course. She was learning glass flaring and was about to enter a competition and display her projects when life took a wrong turn. “I have lost almost all my savings in defending my case, when there should have been no case in the first place,” she said. “I have lost on multiple acting projects and have no way of getting back because I don’t have my phone with me. Life has come to a standstill and it feels very depressing right now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though “lonely and heartbreaking”, the prison life was not that bad. She started learning Spanish, devoured the books in the jail library, taught inmates a few subjects for their BA examinations and “learnt to value freedom we take for granted in everyday life”. She suffers from epilepsy and had four seizures in jail. “I was taken to the JJ Hospital against my will and without my knowledge for an EEG and was asked to take medicines even though I did not want to. I never took them,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The chief complainant, Swapnil Netke, is an office-bearer of the NCP from Kalwa in Thane. A complaint was registered under Sections 500 (punishment for defamation), 501 (printing matter known to be defamatory) and 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot). “The person who has been defamed hasn’t even come in front of the court, and under these sections this is a non-cognisable offence. Yet, she was arrested under Section 153A, which is ridiculous because the poem does not indicate or incite any enmity between any two groups,” said Deshpande.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It goes against the very principle of justice,” said D. Sivanandhan, former DGP of Maharashtra Police, on Chitale’s arrest. “Most of these cases are carried out for extraneous reasons than otherwise. Arresting and putting her behind the bars was done on judicial supervision. So the judiciary could have acted wisely even if the police had taken the wrong course.”</p> Fri Jul 08 13:20:41 IST 2022 aiadmk-in-its-50th-year-is-facing-a-mid-life-crisis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was 1977. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which had broken away from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in 1972, was getting ready for its first general elections under its founder, actor-politician M.G. Ramachandran. “You can erase one Ramachandran from Tamil Nadu politics, but a 1,000 more will emerge,” MGR, as Ramachandran is popularly known, had then told the roaring crowd at a rally in Madurai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 23, those who witnessed the chaotic AIADMK general council meeting, might be wishing that at least one of those 1,000 MGRs emerges soon. The party is turning 50 this year. But, the mood is not festive as it is facing a ‘mid-life crisis’ and is without a charismatic leader to take it forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former chief ministers O. Panneerselvam, 71, and Edappadi K. Palaniswami, 68, are now in an open tussle for the leadership of the party. Panneerselvam wants the existing dual leadership to continue, while Palaniswami wants to be the outright leader. “Both Palaniswami and Panneerselvam claim to be the leaders, but lack any skills,” said Durai Karuna, a Dravidian movement researcher and political analyst. “They are not capable of leading like MGR or J. Jayalalithaa.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The internal conflict seemed to begin in the first week of June when a poster was put up opposite Panneerselvam’s house in Theni. The poster called for unitary leadership under Palaniswami, who reacted to it from his hometown, Salem, saying: “Everything is fine now. Why should the AIADMK be a single-leader party?” But, within days, as the party’s district secretaries and officeholders met at the headquarters in Chennai, voices supporting Palaniswami to be the sole leader emerged.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of Palaniswami’s known lieutenants ‘Madhavaram’ V. Moorthy raised the issue first and others followed suit. When Panneerselvam’s supporters asked Moorthy why was he raising the issue now, Palaniswami intervened: “Let him speak. This is a democratic party; everyone has the right to express themselves.” Soon, at least 60 of the 72 district secretaries batted for Palaniswami’s leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Panneerselvam said he was ready for talks, but Palaniswami only sent emissaries—former ministers R.B. Udhaya Kumar and Sellur K. Raju (both are from Madurai and belong to Panneerselvam’s Thevar community). With the issue remaining unsettled, Panneerselvam moved court seeking a stay on the party’s general council meeting on June 23. But, the Madras High Court dismissed the petition on June 22—20 hours before the meeting—saying it does not have jurisdiction to get involved in a political party’s affairs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Panneerselvam faction responded with a writ petition before the court. It prayed that no resolution—other than the 23 resolutions already cleared by Panneerselvam—should be passed. The group also sought a direction from the court that party bylaws should not be amended at the June 23 meeting. They feared that Palaniswami would be elected the sole leader at the meeting. Surprisingly, the court granted the petition, just six hours before the meeting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, once the meeting began, the restrictions imposed by the court were not enough to protect Panneerselvam from the unruly behaviour of the Palaniswami camp. They chanted slogans against Panneerselvam, threw water bottles at him and refused to pass the 23 other resolutions till a resolution to make Palaniswami the sole leader was passed. When Panneerselvam supporter and former minister R. Vaithilingam came to the dais, he found the microphone switched off and water bottles flying at him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, Palaniswami proposed a resolution to appoint Tamil Magan Hussain as the party’s presidium chairman. (On June 28, the Panneerselvam camp moved court saying this resolution was in violation of the earlier court order).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The meeting concluded with Palaniswami’s supporters declaring that the general council will meet again on July 11 and a resolution to elect a sole leader will be passed. The day after the June 23 meeting, Palaniswami supporter and former law minister C.Ve. Shanmugam said that all posts created after 2017 were invalid, including coordinator and joint coordinator—the posts, held by Palaniswami and Panneerselvam, respectively; together, the posts have the powers of the general secretary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>K.C. Palanisamy, former MP and AIADMK leader, who was expelled from the party, said that if the appointments were invalid, then his expulsion, too, was invalid. “I was removed from the party in 2018,” he said. “V.K. Sasikala was removed in 2017. I am still a member, legally.” Then, so is Sasikala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sasikala, who has been silent since being released from prison in February 2021, recently set out on a roadshow. But, she may not be able put up a fight against Palaniswami or even the less-popular Panneerselvam. Her nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran had launched a new political party. Dhinakaran and Sasikala are also part of the Thevar community, but even if they join hands with Panneerselvam, the three of them may not be able to take over the party as none of them have wide support within the AIADMK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1973, MGR had created a 29-page policy document and called it Annaism. He explained that Annaism was a blend of the best aspects of Gandhism, communism and capitalism. “But the leaders and the officeholders have not only forgotten Annaism, but also Annadurai, who inspired MGR,” said Durai Karuna. He added that though the party had witnessed many rebellions, such as Jayalalithaa’s rebellion against MGR’s wife, Janaki, and multiple rebellions against Jayalalithaa herself, there were never ugly scenes like what transpired in the general council meeting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Consequently, the way Panneerselvam was treated has got him some sympathy. M. Sundaramurthy, a party member from Dindigul, who witnessed the general council meeting, said: “EPS has only gained. He was CM, CM candidate and is now opposition leader.” He added that Panneerselvam has given in to Palaniswami’s demands time and again. “If EPS had held talks and behaved graciously, OPS would have accepted this time, too,” said Sundaramurthy. “But, EPS is behaving in an atrocious way, which is unacceptable.” Sources said that the Palaniswami camp met on June 27; their plan is to expel Panneerselvam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Panneerselvam’s son, O.P. Raveendranath Kumar, told THE WEEK that the rejection of all the 23 resolutions at the meeting was unjust. “There were crucial resolutions, like condemning the DMK for maladministration and requesting the Centre to confer the Bharat Ratna on our leader Jayalalithaa in our golden jubilee year,” said Kumar, an MP. “But, by rejecting these, they have proven that they are against Amma and are indirectly supporting the DMK.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Party insiders allege that Palaniswami spent several hundred crores of rupees to buy district secretaries, officeholders and general council members. But, the fact remains that many partymen stand firmly behind him. Palaniswami’s plan to gain support was put into motion almost five years ago as he did not like the idea of waiting for Panneerselvam’s consent in deciding party affairs under the dual leadership system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This plan gained momentum before the 2021 election when strategist Sunil Kanugolu, who is now with the Congress, began working for Palaniswami.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kanugolu was in Chennai a week before the general council meeting and facilitated Palaniswami’s meetings with a few political leaders and media heads in Tamil Nadu. Party insiders say he also facilitated a telephone conversation with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, hours after the Madras High Court rejected Panneerselvam’s petition for a stay. Sources say the Rahul-EPS call annoyed the BJP leadership, who were tracking the developments in Tamil Nadu. Highly placed sources in the Panneerselvam camp say that Panneerselvam’s writ petition got immediate attention only because of the BJP’s annoyance at the said call. “Did EPS seek Rahul’s help? Did Delhi come to help OPS at the last minute? Interesting turn of events,” tweeted Aspire Swaminathan, former AIADMK IT wing secretary, who has remained on good terms with many officeholders in the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former minister and party spokesperson D. Jayakumar said unitary leadership would strengthen the party and added that Palaniswami had proved himself as chief minister. This endorsement is particularly significant because Jayakumar is upset at being overlooked by Palaniswami for a Rajya Sabha ticket and then for a senior party post.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Would a sole leader make the state’s prime opposition party, which commands 30 per cent of the votes, significantly stronger? Political analyst Raveendran Thuraisamy believes the opposite to be true. “AIADMK votes since 1998 are soft hindutva votes,” he said. “These voters have already accepted the BJP in 2019 and 2021. If you look at it caste-wise, the AIADMK has the support of the Gounders in the west and the Thevars in the south. Gounders back EPS, bringing in 5.5 per cent of the votes, while a section of the Thevars back OPS; this would translate to 3 per cent of the votes. So only a dual leadership can save the AIADMK at this point of time.”</p> Fri Jul 01 15:49:55 IST 2022 when-love-turns-murderous <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT IS ONE</b> of the more common tropes from true-crime TV shows. Not a mysterious serial killer or a tortured detective on his breakthrough case, but one of those plot-points that keep recurring in Agatha Christie’s Poirot or Miss Marple potboilers: the picturesque tranquility in a pensioner’s paradise is shattered by a heinous crime most uncharacteristic of the place, leading to incessant whispering, storefront chatter and the devious excitement of a whodunit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Something similar happened in the usually calm and serene city of Chandigarh on September 20, 2015. Around 9:30pm, in a public park in Sector 27, a handsome man of 34 was shot dead allegedly by a former girlfriend. There were at least four bullet wounds on the body; the killer had used a shotgun. The park was 7km from the girl’s house and 11km from the man’s. With the victim and the suspect hailing from influential legal families that knew each other closely for more than 30 years, this case of a jilted love story gets even more interesting when you throw in power and pressure into the matrix.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The slain Sukhmanpreet Singh Sidhu, more popularly known as Sippy Sidhu in Chandigarh, was a lawyer and a national-level rifle shooter. He was also the grandson of Justice S.S. Sidhu, a former judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, and the son of I.P.S. Sidhu, former additional advocate general of Punjab. Kalyani Singh, the accused in the murder, is an assistant professor of home science in a college in Chandigarh and the daughter of Himachal Pradesh acting Chief Justice Sabina Singh. At the time of the incident, Kalyani’s mother was a judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. On June 15, Kalyani was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation when her alleged involvement in the crime suddenly came forth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sidhu family in Mohali, after a sustained pitch to get Kalyani arrested, is breathing a sigh of relief. They are also prepping up for the battle ahead. “We have been saying from day one that it is not just Kalyani but her whole family that is involved in plotting the crime. Even Justice Sabina is involved. All of them hatched the conspiracy,” says Jasmanpreet Singh aka Jippy Sidhu on a Sunday at his bungalow in Mohali. A lawyer, Jippy is dressed in a well-tailored black jacket and trousers. Just back from the court of the special judicial magistrate in Chandigarh where he saw Kalyani fleetingly, Jippy looks tired. “The girl had relations with several other men, including her relatives. That is why my innocent brother did not want to marry her. And even after we refused the proposal of marriage from her family, Justice Sabina maintained friendly relations with us assuring us that she is still Sippy’s aunty,” says Jippy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seated next to him is his mother, Deepinder Kaur, who is holding pictures from a family album that show the Singhs and the Sidhus in good times—at social dos and holidays, with pictures of Kalyani in frocks and ponytails when she was no more than 11 or 12 years old. Ever since her son died, Deepinder has been regularly visiting the park on special occasions to hold candlelight vigils, blood donation camps and to read the path (prayers).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Justice Sabina is the acting chief justice now. We want Justice Sabina to go on leave. We will then meet the chief justice of India, the Union law minister and we will seek her impeachment. It will be a very long process,” Jippy shares his plan of action, reiterating with much confidence that Kalyani was looking for a suitable opportunity to execute the task from September 18 to 20, 2015.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it is hard to miss the dual narratives at play. The whereabouts of Sippy and Kalyani in the lead-up to the day of the murder are contradictory at best. While the family claims that Sippy was recovering from jet lag after returning from Canada on September 18, the CBI, in its remand report, has stated that Sippy met Kalyani on all three days from September 18 to September 20. On September 18, he was supposed to watch the film Everest at Elante Mall. Calls from a mehndi artist, Harishankar Gupta, the same day had upset Sippy a good deal. On September 20, Sippy told his mother that he was going to meet Kalyani at the Sector 27 park. It was at 7;30pm that his mother saw him last. When she called him at 11pm, she was informed about his death by a woman officer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was reported that an unknown accomplice had also accompanied the killer who used a .12 bore weapon from which the bullets were fired. Both immediately left in a car waiting outside the park. The police team investigating the case cited pressure from external forces and the case was transferred to the CBI in January 2016. Then in December 2020, the CBI filed an ‘untraced report’in a special court as sufficient evidence was not found to implicate the accused. But the investigations were kept open under Section 173 (8) of the CrPC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Advocate Sartej Narula, Kalyani’s counsel, said that 178 witnesses had been examined for six years before the CBI gave its ‘untraced report’in 2020. “Without any new evidence coming up, they pick her up and arrest her in 2022. Now they are trying to say they have a witness. Earlier the story was that she had hired a killer. Now they are trying to make up a story that she was there at the spot and they both shot at the boy. Can you suddenly have a witness after seven years?” asks Narula.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He reads out emails from Sippy to Kalyani from August 2015, clearly stating that it was he who wanted to marry her and she was the one who was avoiding him. “The boy had been sending the girl mails to get married to her, not vice versa,” says Narula. “The emails had been provided to the CBI six years earlier. And I read them out in court on June 19 this year.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He reads out a letter from August 18, 2015, where Sippy writes, “... if I was fooling you, why would I come to your house with rishta with mom... life is stranger than fiction... I may be a mean person and use people but I am very pakka in love.” And a mail sent on August 29, 2015, reads thus, “In the last seven years we were together, everything was like a celebration and we were 24 hours together and I didn’t go anywhere with anyone. All the things started after November when you left. Kalyani forgive me. Just give the directions from your side. I am trying hard to rectify my mistakes. Whatever wrong I did after November was because of you not being there.” Narula also points out that Kalyani was at her aunt’s place for a birthday celebration from 8pm on the day of the crime. At 9:11 pm, he says, she gets a message from her sister asking her to come to another room in the same house. Then at 10:21pm, there are photographs clicked of Kalyani with her entire family in that house. “So 9:11, she is there, 10:21 she is there. And in that period of one hour, she’s gone, she’s killed, she’s come back and attended dinner again, looking all normal with her hair and make-up intact? Is that possible if she had killed someone a few minutes earlier?” asks Narula.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Who really wanted to marry whom? Where was Kalyani on the day of the crime? Did the former lovers even meet that day? Matters of the heart are complex mazes. And with several high-stake suspects and complainants involved, this will be one prolonged ‘he-said, she-said’thriller denizens of Chandigarh might keep puzzling over like the morning crossword.</p> Sat Jul 02 11:02:06 IST 2022