Statescan en Thu May 13 18:07:45 IST 2021 gujarat-bjp-banking-on-patels-to-retain-power-in-gujarat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN 2016,</b> Anandiben Patel stepped down as Gujarat chief minister, citing age-related issues. The real reason though was her alleged mishandling of the Patidar agitation for reservation. Five years later, Vijay Rupani has resigned to appease the powerful Patel community. In a surprise move, the BJP named Bhupendra Patel, 59, a first-time MLA from Ghatlodiya in Ahmedabad, as chief minister. He was picked over many seniors, including deputy chief minister Nitin Patel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rupani, it seemed, was meant to be a stop-gap chief minister all along. Rumours of his replacement had been doing the rounds ever since he took the top job. But the BJP had been waiting for the right time to effect a change of guard. With the Covid-19 situation normalising in the state, it found its window ahead of the assembly polls next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rupani, who belongs to the Jain community, is said to be close to Union Home Minister Amit Shah. He was known as a “sensitive” chief minister. Even when at home, he would often spend time tracking the work of various departments on the ‘CM dashboard’, a real-time monitoring system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under his leadership, the state passed tough laws against cow slaughter and against conversion in inter-faith marriages. Before the second wave of Covid-19, he had ensured the party’s victory in civic body elections in February. But as the second wave peaked, the state government’s response was found wanting—there was shortage of oxygen cylinders and ICU beds and allegations of Covid-19 deaths being underreported. Replacing Rupani then would have meant admitting the state’s failure in controlling the situation. Thus, he got an extension.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This August, Rupani completed five years as chief minister, though his government’s term will end only next year. It was a feat worth celebrating, which the government did, as Narendra Modi is the only other BJP chief minister in the state to have been in office for five years and more. But the alleged lapses and failures of Rupani’s government overshadowed his achievements, and he was shown the door.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Rupani and Nitin are credited with ramping up the vaccination drive, they failed to minimise Covid-19 deaths, which led to bodies piling up at crematoriums. While oxygen plants are now being set up in the state, Rupani was criticised for buying allegedly substandard ventilators from a Rajkot-based firm. It was alleged that he had no control over bureaucrats or his ministers. Also, the chief minister and his deputy did not see eye to eye on several matters. Rupani does not share cordial relations with state BJP chief C.R. Patil, either. Moreover, it is said that Patidars learnt that Rupani was not keen on including the community in the OBC list.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What hastened the BJP’s decision to bring in a new face was the Aam Aadmi Party’s entry into Gujarat politics. Patidars, comprising nearly 14 per cent of the state’s electorate, are traditionally BJP voters. But post the reservation stir, the community had shifted its allegiance to the Congress. And now with the AAP’s entry, it has found another alternative. A few Patidars have already joined the AAP. In the Surat municipal polls, the AAP won 27 seats—leaving the Congress with none. It also did well in Ahmedabad and Godhra. But according to political analyst Vidyut Joshi, if the Congress wins 50 assembly seats, the AAP 20 and 10 seats go to BJP dissidents, it will spell doom for the Lotus in the 182-member house.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Rupani’s exit was imminent, it seemed like his deputy could very well take his place. Nitin was among the frontrunners for the chief minister’s post even in 2016—Anandiben had suggested his name then. Shah threw a spanner in the works by nominating Rupani. Anandiben reportedly walked out of the meeting, and returned only after repeated phone calls from Central leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time though, it is said that Nitin’s “rough” attitude towards party workers cost him his dream. In what was seen as a message to the party, a teary-eyed Nitin, a six-time MLA, said: “As long as you are in people’s heart, nobody can side-line you.” Moreover, Bhupendra is Anandiben’s close confidant and represents the constituency she vacated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naming a new chief minister, and a Patidar at that, does not mean the BJP will have a smooth ride in next year’s polls. The party will have to do a balancing act, giving equal representation to the OBCs in the cabinet. In the run-up to the elections, the opposition, too, will build pressure on the ruling party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>AAP leader Isudan Gadhvi told THE WEEK that the BJP had to bring in a new chief minister because AAP leaders had visited more than 550 villages in the last couple of months to meet families that had lost their loved ones to Covid-19. The Congress and the BJP, too, have now followed suit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He added that now that the party has appointed a Patidar as chief minister, it should rename Narendra Modi Stadium (earlier Motera stadium) as Sardar Patel Stadium. He demanded that girls and women who were beaten up during the Patidar agitation be given justice; he also sought help for family members of the Patidars who had died in the agitation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hardik Patel, working president of Gujarat Congress, told THE WEEK that notwithstanding the AAP’s presence, the Congress’ vote share has increased since 2002. Hardik, who had led the Patidar agitation under the aegis of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti, said that the people of Gujarat not only want a new chief minister but also a new party in power.</p> Thu Sep 16 19:00:44 IST 2021 tn-stalin-blunts-bjp-hindutva-ploy-by-engaging-with-tamil-hindus <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON AUGUST 14,</b> Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin handed over appointment orders to priests, 24 of them non-Brahmins, in temples that come under the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&amp;CE) department. Posts for othuvars (hymn reciters), poosaris, mahouts and garland stringers were also filled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“With these appointments, the wish of our leader Karunanidhi—who sought to fulfil Periyar’s dream of making people of all castes archakas (priests)—has been realised. It was achieved after drawn-out legal battles,” said HR&amp;CE Minister P.K. Sekar Babu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Periyar E.V. Ramasamy had held a meeting on the issue a week before his death in 1973. Karunanidhi had, in May 2006, passed a special government order facilitating the appointment of qualified archakas of all castes. A decade and a half later, Stalin has gone a step further with the appointments. “This has been a long battle and the new appointments are a triumph of Stalin and the DMK, who follow in the footsteps of Periyar,” says political observer and academic P. Ramajayam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A week after the appointments, a series of writ petitions were filed in the Madras High Court assailing the appointment of non-Brahmin priests. Stalin had challenged the domain of the right-wing groups, particularly the BJP, which had been trying to “liberate temples from the clutches of the government”. The party’s manifesto for this year’s assembly elections had promised to curtail the HR&amp;CE department’s powers. It proposed handing over administration of Hindu temples to a separate board consisting of Hindu scholars and saints.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Stalin, however, went the other way. In the past three months, the hitherto low-profile department has received attention like never before. Stalin chose provocative grassroots politician Sekar Babu and tech-savvy bureaucrat J. Kumaragurubaran as minister and commissioner of the department, respectively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Stalin, the successful functioning of the department is politically significant. The BJP’s efforts to make inroads into Dravida land had become stronger since the deaths of former chief ministers Karunanidhi and J. Jayalalithaa; at one point, Stalin was forced to clarify that the DMK was not “anti-Hindu”, and that it respected all religions. To further his point, he chose the HR&amp;CE office in Chennai to launch a drive to plant one lakh saplings on Karunanidhi’s third death anniversary on August 7.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After he took over, Stalin’s first salvo was against spiritual guru Jaggi Vasudev, who was campaigning to hand over temples to devotees. Finance Minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan called Vasudev a “publicity hound” and dismissed his campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within a fortnight, in his first meeting with department officials, Babu issued an order asking them to be transparent about assets held by temples and to upload all relevant documents online. All 44,121 temples under the HR&amp;CE department implemented the order. “Besides ensuring transparency, digitisation will leave no room for any further tampering of the documents,” a senior bureaucrat told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next announcement was the creation of a call centre to exclusively receive complaints or suggestions from devotees. The centre is located in Chennai and is open from 10am to 6pm on all working days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then came a slew of initiatives, including a drone and DGPS (digital global positioning system) survey of all temple land, asking every temple to clear encroachments on its land, and recruiting licenced surveyors to keep a tab on such encroachments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most important of these was the appointment of women priests and allowing priests to chant Tamil as well as Sanskrit mantras, while performing archanai (rituals), as preferred by the devotee. “It is my dream come true,” says Suhanjana Gopinath, who took over as the first woman othuvar at Dhenupureeswarar temple in Chennai on August 18. “To me, engaging women as priests is part of the larger social engineering initiative to ensure equal participation and to provide opportunities to women.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At least 47 temples have been allowed to perform Tamil archanai. “Our leader Karunanidhi had mooted the idea in 1971, and the then HR&amp;CE minister M. Kannappan had made an announcement. In 1974, a circular was sent to temples,” says Sekar Babu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though 24 non-Brahmin priests have been appointed for now, the second set of orders is imminent. To train them, the archaka payirchi palli (priest training schools, across castes) have been revived across the state. Though the previous AIADMK government had turned them into Veda patashalas (Vedic schools), the Stalin government wants to retain the patashalas and also run the training schools.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for encroachment, the HR&amp;CE department has reclaimed land worth Rs641 crore in the past three months; it plans to retrieve land worth more than Rs1,000 crore soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 13, the assembly passed a bill to make encroachment of properties belonging to religious institutions a cognisable and non-bailable offence. “The hindutva practised by the BJP since 1989 has not worked in Tamil Nadu,” says Ramajayam. “They might have won a few MLAs in 2001 and now, but that does not mean that the people have accepted their hindutva agenda.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The HR&amp;CE department has been tactful in its initiatives so as to not irk practising Hindus. The government has said that schools, colleges and libraries would come up on the retrieved temple land, a move that any opposition party would find hard to oppose. “Even if they oppose it, the practicing Hindus will stand behind the DMK as it is participative secularism,” says linguistic activist Aazhi Senthilnathan, who closely follows temple management practices in Tamil Nadu. “The DMK has only democratised the existing setup and ensured social justice. Tamil Nadu has the best temple management system and it is because of the HR&amp;CE department.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In this backdrop, the BJP’s ploy of gaining support in the name of religion seems to have hit a roadblock. Recently, when the DMK government banned public gatherings for Ganesh Chaturthi, state BJP president K. Annamalai called the move anti-Hindu and asked supporters to send Stalin Ganesh Chaturthi greeting cards. The protest found few takers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was because the DMK had consciously moved away from the days of Karunanidhi apparently calling Hindus thieves, and is now focused on being a secular guardian of religious practices. Sources close to the chief minister’s office told THE WEEK that Stalin’s very first instruction to a set of bureaucrats was to make people understand that he and the DMK were not against any religion. “The DMK’s ideals are social justice and rationalism, which are against superstitions and exploitation in the name of religion or God,” says Ramu Manivannan, head, department of politics and public administration, University of Madras.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like Mamata Banerjee in Bengal, Stalin wants to ensure that the BJP cannot put him on the back foot by playing the hindutva card. “The notion of hindutva is quite different from Hinduism,” Thiaga Rajan told THE WEEK. “What we are seeing in Tamil Nadu is Hinduism and not hindutva. Tamil Nadu has been the most practising Hindu state. From the 1920s onwards, the practice of Hinduism has been completely democratised. We are only following in the footsteps of our ancestors. Anna (C.N. Annadurai) came to power in 1967 and said we are the descendants of the Justice Party. My grandfather, as the HR&amp;CE minister, opened temple trusts to non-Brahmins. This was done to democratise temples. Then the DMK made the temple trustee board more inclusive by adding one Adi Dravida and one woman. This has been our agenda. The BJP was born only in the 1980s, but we have been practising Hinduism even before that.”</p> Thu Sep 16 18:53:00 IST 2021 geelani-leaves-a-yawning-void-in-kashmir-s-separatist-politics <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>With the death of Syed Ali Shah Geelani on September 2, Kashmir has lost the most visible face of hardline separatist politics. There is no one who can fill the 92-year-old’s shoes, and take forward his uncompromising stance that the only solution to the Kashmir issue is a UN-mandated plebiscite. Unapologetically Islamist and pro-Pakistan, Geelani had long opposed holding talks with the Union government until it accepted Kashmir as disputed region and Pakistan as being party to the dispute.</p> <p>Geelani was born in September 1929 in Zurmanz, a village on the banks of the Wular lake in Bandipora. Before partition, he studied at the Oriental School in Lahore. He entered politics through the National Conference, but soon shifted loyalties to the Jamaat-e-Islami—the largest socio-religious organisation in Kashmir. He opposed the NC’s mainstream stance and toed the Pakistan line that Kashmir was the partition’s “unfinished agenda”.</p> <p>He was elected thrice to the assembly before militancy erupted in the late 1980s. His last poll victory was in 1987, when he was one of the four Muslim Muttahida Mahaz (united front) candidates who managed to win. He resigned in 1989, after militancy gained momentum. For many militants, he was an influential and respected ideologue.</p> <p>When the Hurriyat Conference was formed in 1993, Geelani represented the Jamaat-e-Islami in the seven-member executive council. He was known for his hawkish positions. Geelani and his ally Muhammad Ashraf Sehrari were the only members to object to Jamaat-e-Islami chief Ghulam Muhammad Bhat’s decision to distance the organisation from the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen.</p> <p>The differences between Geelani and other Hurriyat members resulted in a moderate-hardline divide. The gulf widened in 2002, when the People’s Conference led by the moderate Abdul Ghani Lone fielded proxy candidates in the assembly polls. A year later, Geelani and Sehrari quit the Hurriyat and floated Tehreek-e-Hurriyat. Geelani, Sehrari and other hardliners like Masarat Alam of the Muslim League later formed a Hurriyat faction that elected Geelani as lifetime chairman. This led to the Jamaat suspending both Geelani and Sehrari.</p> <p>Geelani’s belligerence also resulted in strained ties with Pakistan when Gen Pervez Musharraf was in power. He was the only separatist leader in Kashmir who opposed Musharraf’s four-point formula for Kashmir—self-governance, demilitarisation, free movement of people across the Line of Control, and joint management of sectors like water resources. “When Musharraf told Geelani that he should restrict himself to Kashmir, Geelani shot back saying his relations were with the people of Pakistan, not the rulers,” said a source. “The incident happened at the Pakistan embassy in New Delhi.”</p> <p>Geelani often got carried away by his politics. “We are Pakistanis and Pakistan is us, because we are tied with the country through Islam,” he said in Srinagar in 2008. Two years later, when Kashmir erupted again after the Army killed three civilians in a fake encounter at Machil, Alam led a five-month-long agitation that nearly crippled the NC government.</p> <p>Geelani’s twilight years were marked by long detentions and poor health. Along with Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, he formed the Joint Resistance Leadership that led the fierce 2016 separatist agitation triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. Geelani even refused to meet a group of parliamentarians who had come to Kashmir to hold talks. “He felt the visit was a gimmick,” said a source.</p> <p>There is no one in Geelani’s family to take forward his politics. His elder son, Dr Nayeem Geelani, is part of the National Rural Health Mission, and his younger son, Naseem, is a scientist at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences in Jammu. The two brothers and their families have always given separatist politics a wide berth.</p> <p>Geelani’s death, however, has drawn the family into controversy; the police have lodged an FIR against family members for draping his body in the Pakistani flag. Last year, Pakistan had conferred the country’s highest civilian award, Nishan-e-Pakistan, on the separatist patriarch. “We don’t know who put Pakistan’s flag on my father’s body,” said Naseem. “The police themselves took Geelani sahab’s body along with the flag.”</p> <p>Naseem alleged that the police had forcibly taken custody of the body and prevented the family from attending the burial. “The police stormed into the room, along with commandos, and took the body away,” he said. “They kept on switching off the light in the room to prevent anyone from recording the scene. We requested them to keep the lights on for the sake of women, who were all terrified and crying. The next day, we had to search for our father’s grave as we had no idea where he was laid to rest.”</p> <p>Weeks before Geelani’s death, his family had removed the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat signboard near his house. Sources say they are now trying to lead a “normal life”, putting the problems of the past three decades behind them. With Sehrari having died in jail in May, observers say the only person who could take Geelani’s place is Alam. Known as a close confidant of Geelani, Alam has been in jail since 2015 and is facing several charges, including sedition. He is unlikely to be released anytime soon.</p> <p>What is certain for now, though, is that Geelani’s death has created a void in Kashmir’s separatist politics—one that will not be bridged soon.</p> Tue Sep 14 18:41:36 IST 2021 kodanad-case-why-palaniswami-is-rattled <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>On August 18,</b> as the legislative assembly was preparing to debate the revised budget estimates for the current fiscal year, opposition leader Edappadi K. Palaniswami brandished a poster condemning the DMK government. When Speaker M. Appavu denied him time to speak, AIADMK legislators led by Palaniswami raised slogans and walked out of the assembly. “The government is trying to foist false charges upon me and my partymen in the Kodanad murder case, even though the investigation in the case is over,” he told journalists outside the assembly.</p> <p>Palaniswami was referring to the break-in at former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa’s 800-acre tea estate in Kodanad in April 2017, which had resulted in the death of a security guard. It had happened when Palaniswami was chief minister, and he had told the assembly the day after the incident that it was a case of robbery gone wrong. “The men, while fleeing the place, were caught by the security guard. They killed him,” he had said.</p> <p>The charge-sheet against the 10 accused in the case was filed in September 2017. Palaniswami now alleges that the DMK government is trying to implicate him and party colleagues by reopening the investigation into the case.</p> <p>Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, however, said bringing out the truth in the case was one of the poll promises of the DMK. “There is no political motive or vendetta,” he said. “There is no need for anyone to express fear over this. The government will adhere to the law in the Kodanad case and bring the culprits to book.”</p> <p>Palaniswami appeared unusually nervous as he talked to journalists outside the assembly. AIADMK members boycotted the assembly the following day as well, and they submitted a memorandum to the governor against what they perceived as Stalin’s efforts to implicate party leaders in the case. Three days later, AIADMK spokesperson and former minister D. Jayakumar told journalists that the matter was sub judice and that it could not be discussed in the assembly.</p> <p>On August 24, three of the ten accused petitioned the Madras High Court seeking the re-examination of several witnesses, including Palaniswami and former AIADMK general secretary V.K. Sasikala. The petition said that only 41 of 103 witnesses in the case were examined during trial. It also cast aspersions on the investigators, and said they had failed to properly inquire into the circumstances that led to the death of S. Kanagaraj, Jayalalithaa’s former driver and the main accused in the case. Kanagaraj was killed in a road accident days after the break-in.</p> <p>Another plea was filed the same day by a prosecution witness, who wanted a speedy trial and a stay on further investigation. The advocate general opposed the plea, saying the police had received “certain confidential information” and that further investigation was “absolutely necessary”.</p> <p>The investigation into the case and developments related to it have for long been mired in mystery and controversy. Kanagaraj, who hails from Edappadi (Palaniswami’s home town near Salem), is alleged to have planned the robbery. According to the police, he was driving drunk when his motorcycle jumped lanes and rammed into a car near Salem. Kanagaraj’s brother S. Dhanapal, however, soon alleged that his brother was murdered. “I reached the spot within four hours, but there were no blood stains or tyre marks there,” he said.</p> <p>Dhanapal has petitioned the DMK government to inquire into the accident. “The political connections behind my brother’s death will have to be probed,” he told THE WEEK. “Why should Palaniswami get rattled when the matter is pending in court?”</p> <p>A day after Kanagaraj’s death, another accused in the case, Sayan of Madukkarai near Coimbatore, and his family also met with an accident in Palakkad in Kerala. Sayan’s wife and three-year-old daughter died on the spot, while he suffered grievous injuries. He was later arrested.</p> <p>A few weeks after that, a computer operator called Dinesh Kumar, who was in charge of CCTV cameras at the Kodanad estate, was found hanging in his house in Ooty. The family said Kumar did not have any reason to kill himself, and that the <i>lungi</i> with which he allegedly hung himself was not his. The police, however, allegedly closed the case in a hurry, saying Kumar had eyesight issues that prevented him from working. Interestingly, all CCTV cameras were switched off on the day of the break-in. The investigators, however, allegedly ignored the matter.</p> <p>After the charge-sheet was filed and the accused were put on trial, Sayan contacted Ashish Rawat, superintendent of police in Nilgiris district. He was reportedly questioned for more than three hours. He also moved court saying that he wanted to furnish “secret information” regarding the case to the police. Sayan was in custody till the first week of July this year; he was later granted bail by the Madras High Court. It was after these developments that the police petitioned the district court seeking permission to carry out further inquiries in the case.</p> <p>Under present circumstances, though, the case cannot be reopened. But the police can ask the court’s permission to file an additional charge-sheet. Also, the law can allow Sayan to become approver in the case.</p> <p>According to Aspire Swaminathan, former secretary of the AIADMK’s IT wing, who has been tweeting on the developments in the case, Palaniswami and the AIADMK have reasons to worry. “Three new witnesses; two have agreed to turn approvers; 17 new documents have now surfaced,” he tweeted recently. “Maybe the final nail in the coffin.”</p> Thu Aug 26 17:00:14 IST 2021 cryopreservation-why-gujaratis-are-embracing-sperm-egg-freezing-technology <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Early this year,</b> Covid-19 infections peaked in Gujarat, causing hundreds of deaths. Amid headlines about the shortage of ventilators, oxygen cylinders and hospital beds, one story stood out—a 29-year-old Vadodara woman’s plea in the Gujarat High Court to allow her to bank her husband’s sperm. He was critically ill with Covid-19. Her lawyer, Nilay Patel, told THE WEEK that the petition was filed as it was her right to have a child from her husband. The court granted permission, and doctors managed to collect and bank the sperm just hours before his death.</p> <p>Around the same time, a similar story surfaced. Hely Aerke, 36, wanted a child from her late husband. The Vadodara-based accountant and Sanjay were married in 2014. The couple had opted for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and the frozen embryos were kept at Dr Nayana Patel’s Akanksha Hospital and Research Institute in Anand. Covid-19 hit the couple with a double whammy—it delayed the IVF procedure and, sadly, claimed Sanjay on April 23.</p> <p>After Sanjay’s death, Aerke tried IVF, but failed to get pregnant. Now she is considering surrogacy. “It is an ultimate feeling when a child calls you mother,” she said, overcome by emotions. She added that she was capable of raising the child as a single mother.</p> <p>Stories of these women from Vadodara might sound unique. However, cryopreservation (the process of cooling and storing cells to maintain their viability) of sperm, eggs or embryos to have a biological child is nothing new in Gujarat. The city of Anand is called India’s surrogacy capital. According to Patel, many married men from the region—who are mostly employed away from home—bank their sperm. Several women, who wish to conceive at a later age, freeze their eggs.</p> <p>Patel said that now, due to increased awareness and societal acceptance, even unmarried men and women are coming forward to have their sperm and eggs stored.</p> <p>Dr Manish Banker of Nova IVF Fertility in Ahmedabad said that every month, at least four to five patients—in the 18-45 age group—come to his clinic for cryopreservation of their sperm. “Normally, these are men whose sperm quality is expected to deteriorate due to medical conditions like cancer,” he said.</p> <p>Jigar Khatri, 23, an Indian student in the United States, was diagnosed with colon cancer early this year. In April, he froze 10 sperm samples. “I had to undergo chemotherapy and radiation. I was told that it may affect sperm count,” he said. “I was taking it one step at a time with the final aim of getting cancer-free. Freezing sperm for future use did not even cross my mind then. Nevertheless, I followed what my oncologist suggested.”</p> <p>Dr Dinesh Suthar from Saurashtra had a condition called peripheral neuropathy, induced by vitamin B12 deficiency; a condition that could affect sperm quality. Unmarried and just 25 years old, he banked his sperm to be safe. “I was worried about my life post-marriage,” he said. “I was advised by a friend, and then I went ahead with the procedure following a discussion with my brother who is a physician.”</p> <p>Dr Himanshu Bavishi, founder of the Bavishi Fertility Institute (BFI) chain, told THE WEEK that the youngest person banking with BFI is a 16-year-old boy. “If the person has a partner, it is preferred to preserve the embryo, or else eggs and/or sperm can be kept frozen,” he said.</p> <p>Bavishi cited a case in which sperm stored for 12 years was used successfully. The female partner had a problem, and the couple was not sure about opting for surrogacy initially, he said. Later they changed their mind and used frozen sperm. Their child is five years old now.</p> <p>Bavishi points out that society’s acceptance was crucial for the popularisation of reproductive technology using frozen embryos, sperm or eggs. “Earlier, people used to murmur when wives of military men, seafarers or those living abroad used to get pregnant in the absence of their husbands. But that is not the case now,” he said.</p> <p>Freezing and storing semen is a simple process that costs around Rs2,000 to Rs5,000 per year. Compared with that, cryopreservation of eggs is complex and expensive. The cost of extracting and freezing eggs is almost equivalent to the cost of one IVF cycle, which comes to more than Rs1.25 lakh.</p> <p>“In Gujarat, you get donors easily and there are no inhibitions,” said Patel. “Necessary tests are undertaken before getting the samples.” At Indian Spermtech, a sperm bank in Ahmedabad, professional donors get anywhere between Rs500 to Rs2,000 depending upon their background and the quality of sperm. Ashok Patel, who founded Spermtech in 2000, said that the bank collects around 500 semen samples monthly. According to him, 90 per cent of the donors are professional donors, and they come from the age group of 21 to 35.</p> <p>Before using the sperm from professional donors, doctors and the recipients check several factors, including education, height, social and economic background, hair colour and eye colour. According to Dr Janki Bavishi, co-director of BFI, professional egg donors can get anything up to Rs1.25 lakh per egg, depending on the background.</p> <p>However, unlike men, who can give sperm a couple of times in a month, there is more screening for women. The procedure is also long. As per the American Society for Reproductive Medicine guidelines, an egg donor is allowed to donate only six eggs in her lifetime.</p> <p>BFI takes eggs only from donors who have already given birth to a healthy child in the past. This, Janki said, gives an added assurance about the egg’s quality.</p> <p>Dr Parth Bavishi, son of Dr Himanshu Bavishi and co-director of BFI, said: “By word of mouth publicity, technological advancement and increased expertise, more and more people are opting for semen freezing. Oncologists are also more proactive.”</p> <p>Dr Mansi Shah, oncologist at HCG Cancer Centre in Ahmedabad, said doctors have to brief patients about possible fertility issues that can arise due to chemotherapy. These are usually conveyed to them in the first or second counselling, she said.</p> <p>Shah added that while advancements in medical technology provided a better quality of life for cancer patients, fertility options gave them hope.</p> <p><i><b>Some names have been changed</b></i></p> Thu Aug 26 16:56:28 IST 2021 death-by-dread <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AT FIRST GLANCE,</b> the fourth floor of the newly built CSR block in Visakhapatnam’s King George Hospital (KGH) looks well-ventilated, its large, sliding windows allowing unhindered airflow. But, since April, those very windows have become gateways to death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CSR block in KGH, the largest and oldest government hospital in the coastal town, houses Covid-19 patients. Two patients—Venkata Ramani and Venkat Rao—died after allegedly jumping from its fourth floor on April 15 and 27, respectively. On May 30, V. Ramesh leapt to his death from the same floor. As per the police’s probe, all three died by suicide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramesh was a resident of the forested and hilly Araku village in Visakhapatnam district. He was a rural medical practitioner and also managed a small medical shop. Ramesh fell sick on May 11, said his father-in-law Chandu, and soon developed breathing issues. He was admitted to a local hospital, but was shifted to KGH on May 16. “I used to regularly make video calls to him. He told me he was doing fine,” said Chandu. “The day before he committed suicide, he told fellow patients that he was confident of getting discharged soon.” What transpired in the last moments of Ramesh’s life is a mystery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The hospital has been receiving bad press, especially because of the lack of safety grills on the windows. “These are sliding windows. As a temporary measure, we have fixed it in such a way that they do not move,” said P. Mythili, superintendent, KGH. “We wanted to install grills, but no worker was willing to enter the hospital (because of Covid-19).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What would drive Covid-19 patients to suicide? “Some of them are depressed as they are staying alone here,” said Mythili. “Since they are in a hypoxic (oxygen deficiency) state, they are in a state of confusion. This can be one of the reasons.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the onset of the second wave, a spate of suicides has rocked Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Between April and July, at least 40 people have killed themselves, either out of fear of contracting the virus or after catching it. And, 20-year-olds to 70-year-olds have fallen victim to that fear.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Take, for instance, S. Yoganand, 31, a resident of Uppal in eastern Hyderabad. In April, his mother contracted Covid-19. “He kept thinking whether he will survive if he tested positive,” said his cousin Teja M. One day, Yoganand went missing for hours but returned home later, said Teja. His relatives got doctors and police to counsel him, but he ran away again. His body was found the next day in a nearby lake.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fear of Covid-19 has led to mass suicides in Andhra Pradesh, too. Leela Prasad and Bharathi were found hanging at their Pedana town residence in Krishna district. The couple tested positive in May. “They were scared after getting Covid-19,” said sub-inspector T. Murali of Pedana police station. The couple left behind two daughters, both below 10 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reasons for the current suicides, said Dr Praveen Chintapanti, consultant psychiatrist, Tranquil Minds, Hyderabad, could be an individual level of helplessness and a high degree of negativity prevailing in society owing to conversations around the virus and the taboos. Psychiatrists say that for every suicide, there are hundreds who are contemplating the act to the degree of execution. On June 3, a woman tried to jump from the fourth floor of KGH. She was saved by alert nurses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, are existing systems enough to stop the spate of suicides?</p> Thu Aug 05 19:36:14 IST 2021 will-k-annamalai-realise-bjp-grand-plans-in-tamil-nadu <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE PICTURE SAID</b> it all. On July 15, at an event in which former IPS officer K. Annamalai took charge as president of the BJP’s Tamil Nadu unit, party veterans Pon Radhakrishnan and H. Raja were photographed looking at the sky mournfully. They stood in a corner of the dais as Annamalai sat on the president’s chair. The picture soon went viral on social media.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As state BJP president, the 36-year-old Annamalai succeeds L. Murugan, who was recently made Union minister. An articulate leader with a fan base among the youth, he is considered close to the BJP’s national leadership. “He is young and energetic,” said party spokesperson Narayanan Thirupathy. “Our leaders wanted a young face who can fight the major dravida parties in Tamil Nadu.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Annamalai’s political rise has been rapid. Before he joined the BJP in August last year, he was an IPS officer in Karnataka and was known to be close to B.L. Santhosh, the party’s national general secretary. A member of the dominant Gounder community in Tamil Nadu, Annamalai made a name for himself with his spirited, and often communally polarising, speeches against the dravida ideology in general and the DMK in particular. He was soon made the party’s state vice president. According to BJP sources, Annamalai has been promoted with the objective of side-lining veterans like Radhakrishnan and Raja, whom the national leadership consider a burden.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Annamalai is expected to fetch Gounder votes in the Kongu belt in western Tamil Nadu, which has long been an AIADMK stronghold. The region is dominated by three castes—Kongu Vellalar (Gounders), Arunthathiyar and Devendrakula Vellalar—and has 57 assembly seats, 41 of which were won by the AIADMK in the assembly polls this year. The party could win only 15 seats outside the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Murugan belongs to the Arunthathiyar community, which is part of the dalit fold. His elevation as Union minister is expected to win support of dalits, who make up 21 per cent of the state’s population. Currently, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi led by Thol Thirumavalavan, a DMK ally, enjoys a lion’s share of the community’s support. A vocal critic of hindutva politics, Thirumavalavan recently gave the BJP the thumbs up for inducting a dalit leader from the state into the Union ministry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently, the BJP’s immediate aim is to keep the AIADMK in check. “The BJP wants to send a message to former chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami that it can weaken the AIADMK in the region if it does not continue to ally with the saffron party,” said political analyst Raveenthiran Thuraisamy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AIADMK is in a spot because of the widening rift between senior leaders Palaniswami and O. Panneerselvam, and former party chief V.K. Sasikala’s plans to re-enter politics after being released from prison. “The BJP wants to keep the AIADMK tussle alive, as it would benefit the national party in the Kongu region,” said academic P. Ramajeyam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts say the BJP, which has been opposing dravida politics, is in no position to go it alone in the polls. “It cannot gobble up the AIADMK and come to power, when it is not even in the third position,” said political analyst Aazhi Senthilnathan. “How can the party grow when it talks against the state’s interests on every issue?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s national leadership, however, wants Annamalai to realise an ambitious goal: hard-sell its hindutva agenda. “I will take our ideology to doorsteps all over the state,” said Annamalai, who has set a target of 150 seats in the next assembly polls. Sources say he would remain president at least till the next Lok Sabha polls—in 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Annamalai’s first major move since becoming party chief, however, has turned out to be a damp squib. His call for a major protest against the construction of a dam across the Cauvery at Mekedatu in Karnataka has failed to garner support. Worse, BJP leader and Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has asked the Centre to ignore Annamalai’s opposition. “Let Annamalai protest; it is not related to us,” said Bommai. “We will build the dam. I don’t care what he says.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Annamalai also got into a war of words with DMK leader Dayanidhi Maran, who sarcastically suggested that the BJP chief can help solve the dispute by leading a delegation of party colleagues to Karnataka. Annamalai struck back saying he was “always ready for our farmers”, unlike Maran “who watches T20 matches in the middle of a pandemic”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Also, I request him to kindly loan his family’s personal jet so that my simple and humble farmer friends can reach there faster. Will his uncle, [Chief Minister] M.K. Stalin, agree to this?” he tweeted. DMK supporters later trolled Annamalai saying he could ask for the special aircraft used by the prime minister, as neither Stalin nor Maran owned a jet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Annamalai’s aggression may help him remain in the news, but whether he can convert it into votes remains to be seen. His elevation may also intensify intra-party feuds, as senior leaders and their loyalists are not happy with the new leadership. The BJP in the state has long been perceived as a party of, and for, Brahmins, but with Annamalai and Murugan coming to the fore, power equations have changed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political analysts say the BJP still has a long way to go before it can come to power in the state. “Mere manipulation to reach the first place cannot be called a strategy,” said Senthilnathan. “The party has so far been sticking to the strategy of using its power in Delhi to disintegrate one of the dravidian parties. It is a gross miscalculation.”</p> Thu Aug 05 19:25:22 IST 2021 why-bjp-picked-basavaraj-bommai-as-karnataka-chief-minister <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src=",.jpg" /> <p>I am just first among equals, said Basavaraj Bommai, who was sworn in as the 30th chief minister of Karnataka on July 28. The 61-year-old Lingayat leader from north Karnataka clinched the top post from a clutch of contenders.</p> <p>The BJP ensured a smooth and swift transition within 30 hours of its poster boy and Lingayat strongman Yediyurappa announcing his decision to step down as chief minister. Bommai’s anointment was undoubtedly a strategy to placate the politically influential Lingayat community that accounts for 17 per cent of the state’s population. The Veerashaiva-Lingayat community pontiffs, who were miffed with the BJP for dethroning Yediyurappa, can now find solace in his confidant occupying the top seat.</p> <p>Bommai is the son of former chief minister S.R. Bommai, who, along with J.H. Patel, H.D. Deve Gowda and Ramakrishna Hegde, founded the Janata Party. Bommai grew up in a joint family in Deshpande Nagar, Hubballi, did his schooling from Rotary School, mechanical engineering from BVB college and underwent technical training at Telco, Pune.</p> <p>Bommai dreamt of becoming an industrialist, but dived into politics, becoming political secretary to chief minister Patel in 1996. He also won two terms as a legislative councillor in 1998 and 2004 from Dharwad local authorities’ constituency. He lost the 2004 assembly elections from Hubli Rural (now Hubballi-Dharwad Central) to BJP’s Jagadish Shettar. In 2007, he took part in the 232km-long farmers’ <i>padayatra</i> from Dharwad to Naragund. He joined the BJP in 2008. He has won the Shiggaon seat in Haveri district for three consecutive terms.</p> <p>Given his background, Bommai’s move to the BJP was surprising. His late father was a follower of Marxist-turned-radical humanist M.N Roy, but Bommai, also a voracious reader, chose the public life inspired by socialist Jayaprakash Narayan. He belongs to the Sadar Lingayat sect. He is a moderate leader like his mentor Yediyurappa in the right-wing party. But it is his father he looks up to the most. “My father was a principled politician and I will walk in his footsteps,” said Bommai.</p> <p>His nuanced understanding of the irrigation sector and his previous stint as water resources minister (2008-2013) in the first BJP government is bound to benefit the state which is entangled&nbsp;in many legal battles with its neighbouring states over river water sharing (Krishna and Mahadayi rivers) or the Mekedatu reservoir project in the Cauvery basin with Tamil Nadu.</p> <p>In the recently dissolved Yediyurappa cabinet, Bommai handled home, law and parliamentary affairs. The way he handled the August 2020 attack on Congress MLA and Dalit leader Akhanda Srinivas Murthy was a high point in his stint as home minister. While the opposition blamed him for the intelligence failure, the Centre lauded the state for “averting” a major communal riot. During the pandemic, he handed over his Shiggaon house for use as a Covid Care Centre.</p> <p>Bommai is known for his simplicity and sobriety. The only time he raises his voice is perhaps inside the assembly, while defending his party or the government.&nbsp;His non-confrontational nature has earned him friends across parties and his socialist roots make him a “consensus” leader not only within the BJP, but also with the opposition. In a lighter vein, the Janata Dal claimed that both the Congress and the BJP are outsourcing their chief ministers from the Janata <i>parivar</i>—first Siddaramaiah and now Bommai.</p> <p>At a time when the BJP is witnessing the “insider-outsider” tussle with the influx of leaders from rival parties, the party leadership, by picking Bommai for the top post, is sending out a message that it will give recognition and post where it is due without discrimination.</p> <p>Bommai is considered a party loyalist. In 2011, Yediyurappa was forced to resign as chief minister after being indicted by the Lokayukta in the illegal mining case. He quit the BJP and formed a new party. Bommai, however, chose to stay with the BJP.</p> <p>Bommai’s family, including wife Chennamma, son Bharath and daughter Aditi, live in Hubballi. His house in Bengaluru was built by his father. The famed street in RT Nagar has housed five chief ministers—R. Gundu Rao, S.R. Bommai, M. Veerappa Moily, Dharam Singh and now Bommai. The only other family in Karnataka to have seen father and son as chief minister is the Deve Gowda family.</p> <p>While his family is happy with Bommai’s elevation, like his elder sister Uma Patil in Hubballi said, they “hope he completes two years, unlike father who was abruptly removed”.&nbsp;In 1988, S.R. Bommai became chief minister after Hegde resigned following allegations of phone tapping of politicians and businessmen. But he lost the chair after the Centre dismissed his government claiming lack of majority. President’s rule was declared. Bommai petitioned the Supreme Court, which ruled that&nbsp;a government’s majority should be tested only on the floor of the assembly, and not be based on the governor’s opinion. The case is often quoted in instances of arbitrary dismissal of state governments by a hostile Central government.</p> <p>The Bommai family keeps a low profile. Bharath, 32, says nothing will change for him as a son. “My father is like a friend to me,” said the industrialist and cricket enthusiast. “I still remember what he told me when I was going to the US for studies in 2008. It was what his father had told him—‘what you do is a reflection of who I am.’ I thought about it on my flight. It is a profound statement.”</p> <p>But Bommai was not the only candidate for the top post. The saffron party was keen on a “generational shift”, and wanted a fresh face with a clean image and commitment to the party ideology. Apart from Bommai, Union Minister Pralhad Joshi (Brahmin), BJP national general secretary C.T. Ravi (Vokkaliga), Dharwad-West MLA Arvind Bellad and Mines and Geology Minister Murugesh Nirani (both Panchamasali Lingayats) made it to the final list.</p> <p>While BJP insiders say that Yediyurappa was kept in the loop all along, his tearful farewell speech during the grand event marking two years of the BJP government triggered outrage in the Lingayat community. While Yediyurappa said he was stepping down “voluntarily” and “happily”, Lingayat pontiffs suspected that he had been forced to resign.</p> <p>In Delhi, Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP national president J.P. Nadda went into a huddle. Central observers were rushed to the state. The BJP was treading with caution as it did not want to repeat the mistakes committed by the Congress. The Lingayat community had shifted its loyalty to the saffron party after the Congress unceremoniously removed an ailing Veerendra Patil from the CM’s post.</p> <p>The BJP, therefore, played it safe by picking another Lingayat leader. Bommai, with his amenable nature, Yediyurappa’s trust and vast political and administrative experience became the safest and surprise pick. “This was totally unexpected. I had belief in my hard work. I will try to implement the schemes announced in the budget by Mr Yediyurappa,” said Bommai, who has assumed office at a crucial time when the state is reeling under economic crisis triggered by the pandemic and staring at devastating floods and threat of a third wave of Covid-19.</p> <p>Yediyurappa’s stature in the party is not diminished though. Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who was in Bengaluru with his cabinet colleague G. Kishan Reddy to oversee the election of the legislature party leader, said that no one could replace a tall leader like Yediyurappa. “Yediyurappa has resigned from chief ministership with grace to create new leadership, and set an example for all of us,” he told legislators at the BJP legislature party meeting.</p> <p>Yediyurappa was beaming with pride as he proposed Bommai’s name in the closed-door meeting at Capitol Hotel and also accompanied Bommai to Raj Bhavan. In a role reversal, he was seen prompting Bommai during the media briefing. Bommai, who is fluent in English and Hindi, used to be the communication link between Yediyurappa and the Central leadership.</p> <p>Yediyurappa, however, is not one to take the back seat, reiterating that he will not be retiring from “active politics” for another 10-15 years. “Whether I am in power or not, I will work for the party and ensure that it wins with absolute majority in the 2023 assembly polls,” he said, even as his role in the party remains a suspense. “I want to see Modi and Shah get re-elected in the 2024 parliamentary polls and for that the party should win 25 seats in Karnataka.”</p> <p>The biggest challenge before Bommai is to step out of Yediyurappa’s shadow, even as he tries to fill his shoes. The winds of change, however, indicate that with the exit of a mass leader like Yediyurappa, the high command will now have greater control over the state unit and the government, according to insiders. They say the party’s dependency over one community and leader would end in 2023, when it would move away from Lingayat-centric politics and broaden its base by assimilating all castes and communities to build a level-playing field for the ordinary party worker.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 29 18:21:55 IST 2021 navjot-singh-sidhu-could-be-amarinder-singh-successor <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>During India’s cricket tour of England in 1996, Navjot Singh Sidhu walked out of the series midway and returned home. He was angry with captain Mohammad Azharuddin for using a ‘slur’ while calling out to him on the field. It later turned out that Sidhu had misunderstood Azharuddin’s use of a Hyderabadi slang. Sidhu was let off lightly, and was back in the team six months later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the past two months and more, the cricketer-turned-commentator-turned-politician had been relentless in his onslaught against another captain—Captain Amarinder Singh. On Twitter and offline, he held the Punjab chief minister responsible for the power woes in the state and the setback in the probe into the alleged desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib in 2015. He said he was campaigning against the “system”, represented by Amarinder and the Badals. He accused Amarinder of letting the Badals go scot-free in the sacrilege matter and called him a liar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If after the England series in 1996, he was at least banned for 50 days, in the political arena, he was promoted after what looks like an act of indiscipline—publicly berating his own chief minister. A cursory look at the developments gives the impression that the Congress leadership, by appointing Sidhu as its Punjab unit president, has not only condoned his attacks on Amarinder but also rewarded him. Amarinder, on the other hand, appears to have been snubbed. Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, who was instrumental in bringing Sidhu into the Congress in 2016, is said to have backed him to the hilt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A deeper analysis, however, reveals hard-nosed political calculations that took into account several factors, from the ground situation to the chief minister’s political stock and Sidhu’s positioning as a rebel with a cause. The Gandhis have also succeeded in asserting themselves in the face of the growing influence of the satraps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The discussions the Congress high command had with state leaders over the last two months revealed that the problems were much bigger than just an Amarinder vs Sidhu fight. Legislators and ministers were concerned about the impact of the sacrilege issue on the party’s poll prospects. The Amarinder regime has been facing questions about unkept promises concerning the sacrilege issue, drugs menace, unemployment and free power supply.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A party leader said that it is not just the government but also MLAs who are facing anti-incumbency. This is precisely why the issues raised by Sidhu resonated with leaders cutting across factions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In this backdrop, Sidhu, who had been in hibernation since he quit the Amarinder cabinet in 2019 after being stripped off key portfolios, sprang back to life. He had been waiting for an opportunity to hit back at the chief minister. He projected himself as an anti-establishment hero waging a crusade to protect faith and public welfare. Any action against him would have only helped him emerge as a martyr. There was also the danger of the maverick Amritsar East MLA joining the Aam Aadmi Party to set up a delectable Amarinder vs Sidhu contest in the 2022 elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party leadership felt that promoting Sidhu would take the attention away from the perceived failures of the state government. Also, Punjab, as the epicentre of the farmers’ agitation against the three contentious farm laws, has emerged as a challenge for political parties. The people, especially in rural areas, are viewing conventional parties with distrust, making it difficult for leaders to reach out to them. In such a scenario, Sidhu, viewed as an outlier, could have greater acceptability.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The party high command has taken an absolutely correct decision,” said cabinet minister Charanjit Singh Channi. “They have gone by what the people want. Earlier, we had demanded that Amarinder Singh ji be made the Punjab Congress Committee chief because that was the demand of that time. Now, the demands are different.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sidhu has come a long way from being the shy, reticent cricketer who let his bat do the talking. He revealed his loquacious side post-retirement as a commentator, and later became a popular fixture on comedy shows on TV. In politics, too, his facility with language and his ability to come up with catchy one-liners or ‘Sidhuisms’ made him a crowd-puller.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Sidhu is a larger-than-life personality,” said political scientist Harjeshwar Pal Singh. “He is hugely popular and is seen as non-corruptible. He is a Jat Sikh who is acceptable to Hindus since his mother was Hindu. He has charisma and can sway crowds. And in the present circumstances, his image as a rebel could help his party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, Sidhu also has the image of being individualistic and unpredictable. His critics say he is not a team player. They point out that he quit the BJP in 2016 because the party gave his Amritsar seat to Arun Jaitley in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. He is believed to have been in discussions with the AAP before political consultant Prashant Kishor, who was helping Amarinder in his campaign for the 2017 state elections, convinced him to join the Congress. Since his entry into the Congress was facilitated by the Gandhis, he had expected to be made deputy chief minister. However, he felt side-lined by Amarinder as he was given a low-key portfolio in the cabinet reshuffle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sidhu has been the enfant terrible of the Congress. He was criticised for doing TV shows as a minister. His controversial visits to Pakistan were publicly criticised by the chief minister. Besides, according to Harjeshwar, Sidhu is seen as an elitist and he does not have a rapport with the MLAs. Moreover, there are several leaders who feel Sidhu has got what was rightfully theirs. “His problem is that he does not have a team,” said Harjeshwar. “Pargat Singh was the only MLA supporting him till recently. Of course, now there are several MLAs who are supporting him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sidhu is now trying to blunt the criticism about not being a team player. He is meeting MLAs, ministers and former PCC chiefs, posing for group photos with them and feeding them cake and sweets. Also, he has tried to get rid of the ‘non-Congressi’ tag. He released a photo of his father, who was a Congress leader, with former prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, getting Amarinder on board will be a huge ask. Amarinder had till the very end resisted Sidhu’s elevation. Moreover, he did not even get a say in the choice of the four working presidents appointed alongside Sidhu. His demand for a public apology from Sidhu for the damaging remarks against him, too, remains unfulfilled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the central leadership has stated that the party will go into the polls under Amarinder’s leadership, it is quite evident that Sidhu is being projected as his successor. It is also believed that there is a message for other regional satraps, especially Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who has been embroiled in a power tussle with his former deputy Sachin Pilot—the party high command is still supreme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sukhwinder Singh Danny Bandala, one of the new working presidents, said political rivalries are not a new thing in Punjab Congress, but the party has in the end always fought unitedly in elections. “The vast political experience of Amarinder Singh ji and the popularity of Sidhu ji will bode well for us in 2022,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, Congress leaders say Amarinder cannot be written off just yet. The veteran leader had sprung a surprise on his detractors by using the local body poll victory earlier this year to declare himself as the CM face for the 2022 polls. He had engaged the services of Kishor to design the election strategy for him. However, going by Kishor’s style of functioning—he believes in a presidential style of campaign—it is unclear whether there will be a repeat of Amarinder’s projection as ‘Punjab Da Captain’, since Sidhu has been projected as an alternative leader. Kishor is learnt to have conveyed to the party leadership that the two leaders must present a united face.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That will not be easy since Amarinder is clearly unhappy with the manner in which the changes were brought about by the party high command. He has still not congratulated Sidhu and a photo-op of the two leaders together is yet to happen. The battle-hardened Amarinder cannot be expected to give up easily and will draw a hard bargain in selection of candidates. Moreover, he is by default the chief minister under whom the party will go into polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He commands resources and the official set-up. He has unparalleled political experience,” said a party leader. “And in the event of the party falling short of majority, he can muster support.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Sidhu has got what he wanted, the journey from here on promises to be anything but easy.</p> Thu Jul 22 19:34:39 IST 2021 maharashtra-the-political-message-behind-central-agencies-targeting-mvn-members <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On June 24, the Maharashtra unit of the BJP passed a resolution at its executive meeting, seeking a probe by Central agencies against Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Transport Minister Anil Parab in connection with corruption and extortion charges levelled against them by dismissed police officer Sachin Vaze. A week later, the Enforcement Directorate attached the properties of Jarandeshwar Sahakari Sakhar Karkhana (SSK), a cooperative sugar factory in Satara district, now run by a company said to be related to Pawar and his wife, Sunetra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although the ED’s action against Pawar came in a different case, its timing took everyone—even some BJP leaders—by surprise. But no one missed the political significance of the action. The properties of Jarandeshwar SSK, including its land, building, plant and machinery worth 065.75 crore was attached under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering act. The assets are currently owned by a company called Guru Commodity Services Private Limited, which has leased them to Jarandeshwar Sugar Mills Private Limited. According to the ED, Sparkling Soil Private Limited, a company related to Pawar and his wife, is the majority shareholder of Jarandeshwar Sugar Mills Private Limited.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jarandeshwar SSK was auctioned off by the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank (MSCB) in 2010, allegedly at an undervalued price and without following due process. At that time, the Congress-NCP coalition was in power and Pawar was deputy chief minister. He was also on the board of the MSCB. Guru Commodities bought Jarandeshwar SSK at the auction for 065.75 crore and leased it immediately to Jarandeshwar Sugar Mills Private Limited. The ED thinks Guru Commodity Services is a dummy company set up to acquire Jarandeshwar SSK. The erstwhile cooperative was then used as a vehicle to obtain loans worth Rs700 crore from the Pune District Central Cooperative Bank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pawar denied having any links with Guru Commodity Services and said he had no idea why the company was being investigated. “This sugar factory was among the 14 mills which were sold after they failed to repay loans to the MSCB. The Bombay High Court had asked the bank to give them one year and put them up for sale if they could not clear the outstanding amounts in that period,” Pawar said at a news conference.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the MSCB floated a tender to which 15 companies responded and as Guru Commodity Services’ bid of 065.75 crore was the highest one, the bank sold the mill to the company. After taking over the mill, Guru Commodity Services leased it to Jarandeshwar Sugar Mill Private Limited, owned by the BVG group’s Hanmant Gaikwad and one of his directors, clarified Pawar. He said the new owners gave up after suffering losses in the first year of operations itself. “One of my relatives, Rajendra Ghadge, then took the company on lease and started running it, but he also suffered losses for some years,” said Pawar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The new management decided to expand the business to avoid further losses and approached banks for loans of 0300 to 400 crore, said Pawar. “Obtaining all necessary permissions and following all procedures, the management expanded the business by obtaining a loan and started a distillery of one lakh litre capacity, increased the per day capacity of sugar production to 10,000 metric tonnes and this is why the mill is currently in good condition,” he said. “I have not got into the details of why Guru Commodities is being probed by the ED because I do not have any relation with (the company).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajit is not the only Pawar who is under a cloud. Senior BJP leader Kirit Somaiya has asked the ED to probe the acquisition of Kannad Sahakari Sakhar Karkhana in Aurangabad district by Jamkhed MLA Rohit Pawar’s Baramati Agro for 050 crore. Rohit is the grandnephew of NCP supremo Sharad Pawar. Somaiya said the MSCB manipulated the auction to help Rohit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet another NCP leader who is facing the heat from Central agencies is former home minister Anil Deshmukh. He resigned in April after the CBI opened an inquiry into the allegations levelled by former Mumbai Police commissioner Param Bir Singh that he had asked Vaze to collect 0100 crore every month from bars and restaurants in Mumbai. The ED has already arrested Deshmukh’s key aides, Kundan Shinde and Sanjay Palande. A Mumbai court on July 6 extended their ED custody till July 20. Deshmukh himself has been summoned thrice by the agency, but he is yet to appear before it. He has moved Supreme Court appealing for protection from coercive action by the ED.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ED investigations have revealed the existence of several companies linked to Deshmukh—some of them operated directly by his family and some run by close associates. In its remand application for Shinde and Palande, the ED said it identified a trail of money from companies owned by Deshmukh’s close associates to companies directly controlled by the family. A reverse flow was also observed. Vikram Raj Sharma—a close associate of the family, who owns four such companies—told the ED that Deshmukh’s son, Hrishikesh, funded and controlled one of his companies, Qubix Hospitality. He said he signed cheques and other documents as per Hrishikesh’s instructions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sagar Bhatewara, another person investigated by the ED in the Deshmukh probe, told the agency about the purchase of four passenger vehicles, although his company, Sublime Warehousing, was engaged in transport business. One such vehicle was a Mercedes Benz GLE with the registration number MH 49 AS 1000, which is used by Hrishikesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ED has also recorded statements of bar owners and managers from Mumbai. They told sleuths that Vaze had summoned them for a meeting at his office when he was heading the Crime Intelligence Unit. After the meeting, two representatives of the bar owners, Jaya Poojary and Mahesh Shetty, paid Vaze 040 lakh in December 2020. Further payments of 01.64 crore and 02.66 crore were made in the following months. Vaze had informed the bar owners that the money would go to “number one”, allegedly referring to Deshmukh, and the crime branch and the social service branch of the Mumbai Police. Vaze handed over the money to Shinde in two instalments under instructions from Deshmukh, said ED officials. Police officers questioned by the ED told the investigators that Palande had called them and inquired about the details of bars in their jurisdiction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ED is also looking at Shri Sai Shikshan Sanstha, a charitable trust managed by the Deshmukh family. The trust runs several engineering and polytechnic colleges in Nagpur. The bank statement of the trust showed cheque entries amounting to Rs4.18 crore received from Delhi-based companies Reliable Finance, VA Realcon, Utsav Securities and Sital Leasing and Finance. The companies, which are owned by brothers Surendra and Virendra Jain, exist only on paper. The Jain brothers told the ED that a person from Nagpur contacted them and asked for transfer/adjustment entries as donations to Shri Sai Shikshan Sanstha. Accordingly, they received Rs4 crore by hawala route and it was channelled back to the trust as donations. The ED believes Hrishikesh oversaw the entire operation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior Congress leader Nitin Raut, who handles the energy portfolio, is also in the ED’s crosshairs. Tarun Parmar, a Nagpur-based lawyer, recently filed a complaint against him. “Nitin Raut, Deshmukh and senior IAS and IPS officers posted in Nagpur and their staff have been involved in corruption and money laundering,”said Parmar. “I went to the ED office in Mumbai on June 28, gave my statement and submitted all the facts and proof. This corruption and money laundering have been happening in various sectors, from cricket betting to illegal sand-mining. Even the Covid-19-related funds were misappropriated.”He said that Nagpur was the hub of nationwide illegal betting while the Indian Premier League games were in progress. The ED is likely to summon the minister for interrogation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Parab, who is a close associate of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, is in the dock for alleged illegal construction of a resort at Murud, a pristine village on the Konkan coast in Ratnagiri district. The resort was built on agricultural land during the Covid lockdown, allegedly violating Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms. Somaiya said he had written to the ED, the National Green Tribunal, the Central Board of Direct Taxes and Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar to probe the construction. “It is not known where the money came from. Parab sold [a portion of the plot] to his friend Sadanand Kadam for Rs1.1 crore. He held the property from May 2, 2017 to February 21, 2021. The property developed remained with him as a benami property and this also amounts to money laundering,”said Somaiya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The subplot behind all these developments is, however, political. And there are several intriguing layers to it. The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government formed by the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress has managed to complete 20 months in office without any major hiccups and the BJP seems frustrated that it has failed to topple the fragile coalition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another interesting element was Uddhav’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June amidst speculation that the BJP and the Shiv Sena are exploring the possibility of a patch up. Sharad Pawar, too, got into the act by hosting opposition leaders at his residence under the banner of the Rashtra Manch, possibly evaluating the chances of a united front against the BJP in 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior political analyst Abhay Deshpande said the ED investigations against MVA leaders were nothing but pressure tactics. “The focus of the BJP now is on the NCP and not on the Shiv Sena so much. It wants to wash away the stain of the 80-hour government that Devendra Fadnavis formed with Pawar. That is why Fadnavis recently said it was a mistake and that his image suffered a severe blow. Then, a few days ago, the BJP state executive passed a resolution asking Central agencies to probe Pawar. And, the ED acted within days,”said Deshpande.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior BJP leader said Pawar was at the receiving end because of two reasons: He did not stick with the BJP and failed to deliver on his promise that the entire NCP legislative party was with him. Second, it is a message to the Shiv Sena that its ministers could also be similarly targeted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Maharashtra BJP, meanwhile, is going ahead with its offensive. The party’s state president, Chandrakant Patil, thanked Union Home Minister Amit Shah for the ED action against the Jarandeshwar sugar factory. He also furnished a list of 30 other cooperative sugar factories which were purchased at auctions by relatives and associates of MVA politicians. “The state government was trying to protect the ministers who were on the board of the MSC bank when the said sugar cooperatives were auctioned,”said Patil in a letter to Shah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Raut, who is the editor of the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana, told THE WEEK that the BJP and the Modi government were trying to defame the MVA government. “Had the Shiv Sena continued its alliance with the BJP, we would not have been targeted. Similarly, had Ajit Pawar managed to run the government with the BJP, it would have treated him like a saint,”said Raut. “BJP leaders like Somaiya are making wild allegations against our minister Anil Parab. What is more shocking is that they seem to know what action the Central agencies are going to take. Are the agencies being run by leaders like Somaiya? This is a clear-cut agenda to defame and destabilise our government by hook or by crook.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>With Nachiket Kelkar</b></p> Thu Jul 08 20:09:38 IST 2021 maharashtra-government-will-complete-full-term <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Nana Patole is a man in a hurry. His task is to revive the Congress in Maharashtra, and for that he will have to take on the BJP as well as tackle his party’s partners in the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government—the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The blunt-talking Patole is different from his predecessor and current Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat. He pulls no punches, and he recently had words with NCP state president and state Water Resources Minister Jayant Patil. When he was with the BJP, Patole had stood up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on OBC and farmer issues before jumping ship. As Congress president, though, he cannot afford to upset the Shiv Sena or the NCP beyond a point, lest it affect the stability of the state government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an interview with THE WEEK, Patole spoke about a range of issues, including the performance of Congress ministers, the Sena’s suggestion to make Sharad Pawar the leader of the United Progressive Alliance and his conviction that the Congress has to contest elections independently if it wants to regain lost ground. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Congress has become aggressive under you. What is your aim?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I was made state president, I received Sonia Gandhi’s blessings. She told me that, historically, Maharashtra had always been with the Congress and that she wished to see the same again. It has been three and a half months since I took charge, and I have a team of six working presidents, each in-charge of one of the six revenue divisions in the state. All of them are working aggressively. I am touring the entire state and I have seen the enthusiasm of the people and our workers. People are eager to see the Congress making a comeback in Maharashtra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But this same aggression is not seen in the Congress ministers.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is a three-party government and we are the smallest partner. Had Covid not been there, and had our finances been healthy, you would have seen Congress ministers taking up development-related issues aggressively. A picture has emerged in the state that only one region and one community is getting the benefits of development. Our ministers would have taken up all these issues had Covid not been there. Our desire, at present, is to ensure that this government functions smoothly, and we are working accordingly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The BJP and Devendra Fadnavis have said that your government failed to protect the reservation for OBCs in local bodies.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the contrary, the Devendra Fadnavis government is responsible for the current situation. It is his sin. The RSS leadership has twice said that they want to do away with reservation—once in Rajasthan and then in Bihar. So, it is clear that it is the BJP that is opposed to reservation and it is pretending to launch an agitation on this issue. That is why the Congress did a counter-agitation to expose the BJP. The BJP is responsible for the nationwide losses of the OBC communities, and people are now realising it. We conducted a two-day all-party workshop on the OBC reservation issue in Lonavala, where we put across our point of view. People have accepted our thinking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Recently, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, in his column in Saamana, suggested that Sharad Pawar lead the UPA.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After writing this piece, Raut himself gave a clarification that if the BJP is to be ousted from power, then there is no alternative to the Congress and that the Congress has to take the lead. He also said that the Congress is the heart of the UPA. So, it is clear that Raut has realised what he was saying was wrong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But is the Congress open to the idea of having Pawar as UPA chairperson?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2019, the Congress received 19 per cent of votes. We have increased this by another 6 to 7 per cent today. So, in the coming years, even Pawar knows that a non-BJP government cannot be formed along with smaller regional parties. Even the Shiv Sena did not attend the recent meeting that Pawar hosted in Delhi. Pawar is the head of a regional party and he knows that only the Congress can lead the UPA. We would have been happier had he been with the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why are you constantly talking about fighting elections alone?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pawar has even answered this question. He himself has said that if anyone wants to strengthen his own party and is, therefore, talking about contesting elections solo, no one should have a problem with that. I am working as per the instructions of Sonia ji and I am taking the party forward. I will do everything necessary to take my party ahead. The next assembly elections are in 2024. Our people have started working in all assembly segments. I have taken the stand I had to. If I keep repeating it, it may lose its edge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Does this mean that the Congress will remain part of the alliance in 2024, but will work to be the largest in the group so as to have its own chief minister?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress believes in democracy. Alliances are not new for us. We had our chief ministers in 1999, 2004 and 2009 because we had more legislators. Now there is a chief minister from the Shiv Sena because they have more legislators. So, we will work hard to convince people to elect us in more numbers and, if that happens, we will have our chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So there is no danger to the state government from the Congress.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This government will complete its full five-year term. There is no danger. We will be with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. We will not oppose the government from within.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you fear that the Shiv Sena will desert you and go back to the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the Shiv Sena tomorrow feels that it should go back to the BJP, so be it. We will not allow ourselves to be dragged with them. We are where we were. Shiv Sena has come to this side. One thing is clear—we cannot ally with the BJP or allow ourselves to be dragged anywhere close to the BJP. But Uddhav Thackeray has also clarified that the Sena will not go back to the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Would you like to be chief minister if the Congress has the most legislators?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is for Sonia ji and the party high command to decide. I was the speaker of the legislative assembly. They asked me to become state president, I accepted it. So, the point is, I will do whatever the high command asks me to do.</p> Thu Jul 08 18:03:37 IST 2021 we-will-turn-every-congress-worker-into-a-prashant-kishor <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The appointment of A. Revanth Reddy as president of the Congress in Telangana seems to have energised party workers. Known for his sharp rhetoric and rebellious attitude, the 53-year-old MP has admirers cutting across party lines and a strong social media presence—qualities that set him apart from fellow Congress leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has been less than four years since he quit the Telugu Desam Party and joined the Congress. Reddy’s 15-year-old political career has seen several highs and lows. In 2015, he was arrested on charges of paying bribes to influence voters during the legislative council elections. Last year, a case was filed against him for allegedly flying a drone over a private property without permission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reddy says he has been a victim of political vendetta. He is now focused on a four-step plan to revive the Congress’s fortunes in the state. “Crisis makes leaders,” he says. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Many senior leaders were in the race for the top post. Why were you chosen?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no specific reason. We are in the opposition and we have to fight. That is the situation. When the party is in power, experienced leaders are needed to make key decisions. When in opposition, it is important to fight for people’s issues. [Chief Minister] K. Chandrashekar Rao has been misusing power and silencing the opposition. I have been given a chance since it is the right time to put up a committed fight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>In 2014, the Congress won 21 assembly seats. Today, the party has only six MLAs.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>KCR has used state machinery to encourage defections, disturb businesses owned by elected representatives of other parties and foist false cases on them. Those who could withstand the pressure are still in the party; those who could not have left. In 2014, the vote share of the Congress was 24 per cent; in 2018, it increased to around 29 per cent. Though we lost two seats, our vote share went up. (The Congress had won 19 seats in 2018, but 12 MLAs later joined the TRS. The Congress also a lost a bypoll in 2019.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the immediate plans for revival?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We will move forward with four steps. First is policy—regarding welfare and development. Second is calculation—exploring combinations of political parties and organisations [that can help us in polls]. Third is communication. We want to explain all our decisions to the people. We want every village and tribal hamlet to be aware of our efforts to develop the state and ensure the welfare of the people. Fourth is execution. We want to focus on poll management, right from the booth level. All rich and powerful political parties wish to hire strategists like Prashant Kishor, but we will focus on local issues and turn every Congress worker into a PK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You have the Telangana Rashtra Samithi on one side and a rising BJP on the other. Can the Congress withstand the threats?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A.B. Vajpayee twice formed governments at the Centre, and then lost in 2004. Then came two terms of Congress-led governments. After that, Narendra Modi won twice. The pattern is: two terms each for Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi. Now it is the turn of the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly, at the state level, the TDP was in power from 1994 to 2004; the Congress from 2004 to 2014; and the TRS from 2014 onwards. Whether you go by sentiment or political calculation, it is the turn of the Congress [in 2024].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Y.S. Sharmila, daughter of former chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, is an emerging opponent. Will it affect the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a lot of respect and love for Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy in Telangana. That does not mean that the family can do political business in Telangana. During the 2014 assembly polls, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, Sharmila and their mother, Vijayamma, extensively campaigned in Telangana, but still got only three seats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After seven years, Sharmila says she belongs here and wants to start a party. But she should first understand the fabric of Telangana. Playing with the public sentiment here will only lower YSR’s popularity. This is KCR’s plan to split the anti-KCR votes that go to the Congress, which include the votes of the weaker sections and YSR loyalists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Your past association with the RSS comes to the fore time and again. You were an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad leader.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Raghuveera Reddy, former minister and president of the Congress’s Andhra Pradesh unit, was a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha. Shankarsinh Vaghela, former legislative party leader of the Congress in Gujarat, was also with the RSS and the BJP. Siddaramaiah, who was a Janata Party philosopher, moved to the Congress and became chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even though I was associated with the ABVP, I have moved away from it and towards the Gandhi philosophy. I joined the Congress when it was in the opposition because of my belief in Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi’s leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you describe KCR’s seven-year rule?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>KCR’s rule in Telangana can be compared to that of Lalu Prasad’s administration in Bihar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are your views on Rahul Gandhi?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is a committed leader who wants to work for the country. Due to the existing permutations and combinations, there might be hurdles in implementing his vision. But there is no other leader in the country who has the integrity he has.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you see the plans to field a united opposition candidate against Modi?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no option other than Rahul Gandhi. Those outside West Bengal might not accept Mamata Banerjee; other regional leaders would face similar issues. Only a combination in which a bigger party has smaller parties as associates will be successful; bigger parties supporting smaller parties will not provide stable governance. Even [Nationalist Congress Party leader] Sharad Pawar recently said that there was no alternative without the Congress. At the end of the day, whatever the combination may be, the Congress has to lead.</p> Thu Jul 08 17:59:17 IST 2021 process-of-finding-yediyurappa-successor-has-probably-begun <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The BJP is at a crossroads in Karnataka. There is a simmering leadership crisis and frequent rebellion against Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, who is still the only mass leader in the party. The spotlight is also on his younger son, B.Y. Vijayendra, nicknamed “Super CM” by the opposition parties and Yediyurappa baiters within the BJP. They allege that he is a parallel power centre in the state, misuses his closeness to Yediyurappa and even side-lines his father at times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A law graduate, Vijayendra, 45, entered politics only in 2018; his elder brother B.Y. Raghavendra is a two-time MP from Shimoga.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Vijayendra shares his anguish of being “wrongly targeted” for being the chief minister’s son, and claims that the allegations against him were the continuation of a political witch-hunt of his family that started during Yediyurappa’s first term as chief minister. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Some leaders of your party have called you “Super CM”.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am only a protective son. Our family has endured a lot of pain during my father’s first stint as chief minister (2008 to 2011), and I am only trying to shield him from being targeted again. As a son, I wish to see my father retire as a statesman, because he is one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Whom are you protecting him from?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have seen how things went horribly wrong in 2011. We were slapped with 38 criminal cases. Barring one—the Rachenahalli land denotification case, which was an oversight—all other cases were frivolous and were meant to weaken Yediyurappa politically. His opponents knew that by breaking him, they could break the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Some of your party men have levelled allegations of corruption and gross interference in governance matters against you.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All allegations are politically motivated. I have kept silent for too long. The other day, I finally acted and filed a case against a person for misusing my name for extortion. It was only later that I learnt that he was a personal assistant to the minister [B. Sriramulu].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you think your father made mistakes in his first stint as chief minister? How did it affect your life?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He always trusted and continues to trust everybody. Maybe he trusted unworthy people. In 2011, after my father was forced to step down, the onus of fighting the legal battles fell on me. I lost 10 years of my prime trying to prove our innocence. However, that phase taught me some good lessons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Some MLAs allege they have no direct access to the chief minister, and blame you for it.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is not a first-time chief minister who needs help with the administration. I do not get involved in administrative matters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The opposition says Yediyurappa’s love for his son will be his undoing.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My father had quit the party but was welcomed back, made the party president and then chief minister. He was chosen to lead the party even after the age of 75. Why would I ruin everything for him and the party?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Have these allegations put you in a spot?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some people have painted me as the villain as it benefits them politically. Our central leaders have also heard about these allegations. I have apprised them about my position. None of the cases can be proved as there is not an iota of truth in them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Your father’s opponents say that he is too old and depends on his family to run the government.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>[The saying] ‘age is only a number’ holds true in his case. He leads a disciplined life; he is up early and starts meeting people and works long hours. He is never short on energy. He has taken huge risks, travelling to every corner of the state even during the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the recent Belgaum Lok Sabha byelection (following the death of Union minister Suresh Angadi), my father was running a high fever. But he slogged for long hours and held two roadshows. He told me he would not be able to face Modi ji if the party lost the seat. Soon after he returned to Bengaluru, he tested positive for Covid a second time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Leaders such as B.P. Yatnal, C.P. Yogeshwar and Arvind Bellad have revolted against Yediyurappa. How is the party leadership looking at it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party high command has made it clear that Yediyurappa will [complete his] term. The central leadership has also clarified that the party will go to the 2023 assembly elections under his leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Yediyurappa recently said that he would resign the moment the party high command asks him to. Is there a subtext to this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2011, when Yediyurappa ji stepped down, the circumstances were different. But today, he is prepared to step down whenever the party leadership wants him to. The party has given him everything and he is happy with it. At the same time, he understands what is expected of him. Last week, he said that it is his responsibility to bring the party to power in the state with absolute majority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So, has the crisis in the party ended?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The matter is sorted. Our national general secretary and Karnataka in-charge Arun Singh ji held a series of meetings with the MLAs, ministers, state office bearers and state core committee members to understand the ground realities. All speculations have been put to rest. I anticipate things will go smoothly both in the party and the government from now on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There are rumours that a compromise—like a Union cabinet berth for Raghavendra—is being worked out before replacing Yediyurappa.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No. Such claims have no substance. Any such trade-off will be insulting to the stature of both the party and a leader like Yediyurappa. He is pained to read such derogatory reports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>When did you decide to take the political plunge?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am a law graduate and politics just happened to me. I was always aware that a second or third person from the family would never get a ticket in the BJP, which is opposed to dynasty politics. But in 2018, I suddenly felt I should take the plunge and wanted to contest from Varuna (the party did not give him a ticket) to take on the sitting chief minister Siddaramaiah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Talking of dynasty politics, your elevation as state BJP vice-president has raised questions.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is an unfair argument. I am neither an MP nor an MLA. I have closely watched the elections since 1999, while helping out my father. In 2008-09, it was the party leadership, and not my father, that gave me the responsibility [of being] Yuva Morcha Bengaluru secretary and then [state] general secretary of the Yuva Morcha. Even today, it is the party that has appointed me as the state vice-president, perhaps taking note of my work in the bypolls. The party won KR Pete (2019) and Sira (2020), which are new territories for the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How was your experience of handling the byelection in KR Pete in Mandya, Yediyurappa’s native district?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I experienced the magic of connecting with the people. The other political parties seemed to have taken the non-Vokkaliga communities here for granted. For the BJP to succeed, it was important for us to gain the confidence of the people, identify local leadership and deliver on promises of development. Most development in KR Pete happened after Yediyurappa became chief minister. No other card but development will work now. People are fed up with caste-based politics as it is not bringing development.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The party has many chief minister aspirants. Is the party not searching for an alternative leader?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The process has probably already begun. I am confident the central leadership will come out with the right strategy at the right time. Only time will tell who the successor will be. There is nothing wrong if senior leaders want to stake their claim to the chief minister’s post. Leadership is not what you gain through your position but what is earned by virtue of your connection with the people and the cadres.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are you one of the contenders for the post?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If I claim to be a big leader today, I must be a fool. I have a long way to go.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Speculations about replacing Yediyurappa are bound to upset the Lingayat community, which holds sway in more than 100 assembly seats. Do you fear they might shift their allegiance if the next big Lingayat leader emerges from the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The entire Lingayat community backs Yediyurappa and the BJP, and it will stay that way. Moreover, the BJP has enough leaders from the community to retain their confidence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is stopping the BJP from reaching the magic number of 113 in the assembly elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The gap is only 20 to 25 seats (the BJP has 104). We can increase our tally by expanding the party in the Old Mysuru and Kalyana Karnataka regions. The BJP has never taken the Old Mysuru region seriously. If the party could win 18 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal and 62 seats in Uttar Pradesh, Old Mysuru need not remain a desert for the BJP. Today, I see a golden opportunity to tap into this region. I say this from my experience in KR Pete. We also won Sira for the first time. This proves that people are not averse to the BJP. We have to go closer to the voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Old Mysuru region is the Vokkaliga heartland and a fortress of the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Congress. How confident are you of breaching it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Bengaluru city, more than 23 per cent of Vokkaligas vote for the BJP, 60 to 70 per cent for the Congress and 10 per cent for the JD(S). I do not see why Vokkaligas in rural areas would not vote for the BJP. While caste combination plays an important role in politics, development is a good agenda for the BJP to break through in the Old Mysuru region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Will you be contesting in the 2023 elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am one of the hopefuls. I am keen to contest from a seat that has remained out of bounds for my party. I would like to step out of my father’s shadow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you admire most about your father?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People love simplicity and humbleness. My father’s leadership is a good template for young leaders like me to follow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is your equation with your father?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is a man of few words. Since Raghanna (Raghavendra) is busy in his constituency and I stay in Bengaluru (Vijayendra stays one street away from the chief minister’s official residence), I spend some time with my father every day, joining him on his morning and evening walks. He gives me no advice as he has confidence in his children.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I still cherish the one piece of advice he gave me. In 2008, he was performing puja at home just before taking oath as the chief minister. Our house was filled with people. He told me there would always be a stream of people coming to meet him and if one was to evolve as a leader, he must learn to live among the people, serve them as much as possible.</p> Fri Jul 09 19:32:31 IST 2021 tamil-nadu-is-not-a-freebie-state <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Tamil Nadu Finance</b> Minister P.T.R. Palanivel Thiagarajan has an unenviable task at hand—fixing the state’s finances without compromising on welfare programmes. He seems up to it. Recently the state constituted an economic advisory council with renowned economists Raghuram Rajan, Jean Dreze, Esther Duflo, Arvind Subramanian and S. Narayan for working out special welfare schemes while giving more attention to the state’s revenues. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Thiagarajan elaborates on the state’s finances, the hidden debts and the flaws of GST.</p> <p>Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> What prompted the formation of the economic advisory council and how did you rope in the economists?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Chief Minister M.K. Stalin [had been talking about it] after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It was very clear to me that we were going to win in 2021. But I was worried about what happens after that. Because we had been out of power for 10 years. Neither did we have that experience nor the connect with the IAS and IPS officers. I thought it was an uphill task. So, right then, I mentioned to the chief minister [Stalin] that we get as many inputs as possible.</p> <p>As soon as we won, he called me and asked me to get the panel in place. He personally approved the names. I must say that I hadn’t known [former finance secretary] S. Narayan before. One way or the other I was in touch with the other four because of my fan acquaintance with them. I reached out to them directly. Raghuram Rajan and Arvind Subramanian instantaneously said yes. We were very keen on getting Jean Drèze in the panel, because of his understanding of granular data-based reality and, of course, he is the architect of MNREGA. Rajan understands market credibility and market feel. Then you should also balance the panel with Arvind Subramanian. Ester Duflo has been working on and off with the Tamil Nadu government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> You had been saying that Tamil Nadu is in huge debts and there are hidden debts.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Let us talk quantitatively. The state government in its revised estimates announced that the debt is Rs4.85 lakh crore. In 2006, when the DMK government came to power, the debt was about Rs58,000 crore. It was only Rs1.01 lakh crore when we left office in 2011. Let us talk in absolute terms. It has gone above five times [from 2011 to 2021]. I say five times because the government’s revised estimates and personal accounts vary by 20 to 30 per cent.</p> <p>When they talk about debts, they only talk about public debts. They don’t talk about the total liabilities of the state. This is the problem with the way the accounting system is designed. For example, we all know that there are the so-called off-balance-sheet debts of TNEB and Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation. These are ultimately the liabilities of the government, held in PSUs. There is a lot more to it. As you saw in Delhi, the Union government was hiding a lot of its borrowings from the Food Corporation of India and others. Or liquidating cash reserves in big entities like ONGC or Indian Oil and taking them and using that to fudge the numbers. Of course, it is still not debt, it is taking cash.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> How do you differentiate between freebies and social investment?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ The word freebie itself is wrong. You say I choose to give a product without cost. Some people choose to give rice, some to give gas cylinders, some free noon meal scheme or televisions. Freebie is a wrong word because it is intended to bribe people or intended to buy a vote, intended to change their political standing. Freebies are irrelevant. The free noon meal scheme is not a freebie. In fact, we are the forerunners in giving free breakfast in schools. Those were the ways of enticing them to send children to school, and then it expanded to noon meal during the M.G. Ramachandran regime; Kalaignar (M. Karunanidhi) gave eggs in addition to lunch to increase their protein [intake]. Other states and countries are trying to emulate this. So that is not a freebie. In accounting terms, it is revenue expenditure. But in impact terms, it is capital investment in human beings.</p> <p>Free cycles, free laptops—that is investing in the future. For the state, it is revenue expenditure, for them, it is capital investment. They have got a capital infusion from the state government. Then there are the insurance schemes and the marriage assistance, which, in fact, Jayalalithaa expanded. [These] are risk management programmes. Most people do not have money and borrow at high interest rates. Pregnant mothers and new mothers get a kit; we call them social investment. Then there is the 100 days employment, from which we get returns in some way. All those schemes together are much less than we spend on salaries, pensions and interest payments.</p> <p>Salaries and interest payments take away almost 100 per cent of the state’s own revenues. So we have to wait for our share of Central payments and grants and schemes. With that, we do capital investments and construction of projects. These spendings do not hamper our finances. But it makes our state better and more liveable with a brighter future.</p> <p>For instance, the free colour television scheme. I realised that there was a much deeper social value to this. It broke the difference in social strata and it was actually a social equaliser. Kalaignar was actually thinking about this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> In the 43rd GST Council meeting, you said there were many flaws in the goods and services tax.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ I am not the first one to say that the GST policy is flawed. This was the 43rd GST council meeting and, the DMK was representing Tamil Nadu in the council for the first time. It is not just me who had opposed it. Amit Mitra of West Bengal, Manpreet Singh Badal from Punjab and the finance minister of Chhattisgarh (Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel handles the portfolio) had been opposing it, saying that the risks were high and rewards were less. That has come true. The problem with the GST system is that some of it is good and some of it is designed badly. For instance, we are against one state one vote. There is a lot of inertia and the accidental thing will become a norm later, which we do not want. As I said, I registered our opposition to the fundamental flaws in the system using the opportunity given to me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Do you think the Centre will fix it?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ I don’t know. But I can say that even the BJP-ruled states have started to be a bit more open. I don’t understand how a state government just for its political unity can give up the welfare of its own people. I always wonder about this contradiction. For instance, the BJP is pro-beef in Goa and the northeast, but anti-beef in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. But, now I feel in the GST Council, too, there is a slight variation in the [attitude of] BJP-ruled states.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 01 17:46:09 IST 2021 centre-intervention-on-post-poll-violence-in-bengal-a-welcome-move <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The former Supreme Court judge A.K. Ganguly has headed many a Constitution bench. Though long retired, he is still heard with respect. He opened up on the post-poll violence in West Bengal and the Centre’s show-cause notice to chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay (now adviser to the chief minister) for skipping a cyclone review meeting held by the prime minister. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you see the Union government’s intervention on the alleged retributive post-poll violence in Bengal?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think [it] is a welcome move.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why so?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is because post-poll violence is not desirable in democracy in any circumstance. There can always be a change in the government and that is the beauty of our democracy…. Therefore, a party which has won the election and come to power has no right to come down on the people who perhaps opposed them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But should the Centre always intervene?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, not always. Just because of a particular political view, if some people are harassed, then the Centre has every right to intervene and the Constitution gives it those rights. One cannot see one’s house looted for being politically opposed to someone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What about the Centre’s decision regarding Alapan Bandyopadhyay?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That I think is too much. I could not support the Centre on [this] issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because he did not do anything wrong. He was involved in disaster management activities, and being the chief secretary he has to follow the direction of the chief minister. What is wrong in that?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But he did not take part in the meeting held by the prime minister.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, he was present. But he had to leave because the chief minister left the meeting. When the chief minister has left, how could he be present as he was the administrative head of the state? He had to follow the chief minister, who had another meeting that was also related to disaster management. I think there was no lapse on the part of the chief secretary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So, the chief secretary’s loyalty should be to the chief minister?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, there is no question of loyalty here. The prime minister came to hold a meeting. The chief minister also had a scheduled programme, which was also to manage the disaster. So both of them attended the meeting. And then the chief minister departed, and the chief secretary had to follow. In fact, he was forced to leave.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Coming to post-poll violence, do you think there is a need to enforce Article 355 (duty of the Centre to protect state from external aggression and internal disturbance)?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It depends on the Central government. Under Article 355, Centre can issue direction to the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>That could be an important step.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Post-poll violence disturbs Constitutional governance and rule of law…. I am completely disturbed when I try to understand how a person or his family can be victimised just because they might not have supported the ruling political party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>And that paves the way for Centre’s intervention under Article 355?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If being a victim, I have no [way of] redress, then of course the state is not run on the basis of Constitutional norms and rule of law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you think that is the state of affairs in Bengal?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If a case is made out to be like that, then the Central government can send a report to the state government, issuing guidance. I think the Centre’s and High Court’s interventions have shown some improvements, though such violence should [never] take place.</p> Thu Jun 10 18:23:01 IST 2021 punjab-farmers-protest-unsettles-parties-ahead-of-four-way-political-contest <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The harvest this year yielded a record production of wheat, resulting in a record procurement by government agencies. The full granaries provide a sense of security to the country during the Covid-19 crisis. Yet, farmers continue to be on the warpath.</p> <p>For over six months, farmers mostly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have been camping at Delhi’s borders—defying vagaries of weather, and in denial of Covid-19—demanding the repeal of the three contentious farm laws passed in Parliament in September 2020. Their numbers may have dwindled at the capital’s borders, but their resolve has not.</p> <p>The agitation, with its scale and strength, has already belied claims that it would fizzle out soon. “There are two options before us. Either to return victorious with the repeal of the laws or sit here till they are,” said farmer union leader B.S. Rajewal. “Our resolve has shown that after our delegations went to West Bengal, the political wave changed from pro-Modi to against him. If the prime minister does not listen to our demands, we will go to Uttar Pradesh too.”</p> <p>Despite calls from various quarters to curtail the agitation in light of the second Covid wave and to get vaccinated, the farmers have largely ignored such suggestions. “We have done enough to keep our people safe with medicines and immunity building,” said Rajewal.</p> <p>Most of the agitators still remain dismissive of the threat of Covid and the efficacy of vaccines. “Even the Central government agrees that there could be three fatalities in every 1,000 who are vaccinated,” said farmer union leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal. “There is no safeguard. If someone wants to have vaccination on his own, the organisations will not stop them. After the harvest, farmers will return to the movement.”</p> <p>The Centre has been indifferent to their demand for repeal and to the latest prayer from farmers to resume talks, resulting in the farmers adopting an agitationist stance ahead of state polls in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh in February-March 2022. The continued protests in Haryana and Punjab have kept the issue alive across these agrarian states, making it difficult for political parties to look away.</p> <p>While all non-BJP political parties across Punjab claim to be beneficiaries of this sentiment against the Central laws, there is also anxiety about the agitation dragging on. As most of the 32 farmer unions protesting at Delhi’s borders have largely stayed away from electoral politics, parties are worried that if they are forced to take a political call, the union leaders could rally behind a rival party or form a new front.</p> <p>As the situation appears in the state, it is likely to be a four-way contest between the Congress, Akali Dal, BJP and AAP. Some of the newly set-up parties may align with these players to try their luck. Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s Congress will seek a mandate based on its governance record and its proactive handling of Covid, while the Akali Dal and the BJP might find the going tough after their separation.</p> <p>The BJP fancies its chances in the Hindu-dominated areas and is actively wooing the 32 per cent dalit population, the highest among all states, with the promise of a dalit CM. The Akali Dal, too, is talking about a dalit deputy CM.</p> <p>The AAP, which emerged as the main opposition party after the 2017 elections, will try to field a Punjabi chief ministerial face to get an extra edge. The party feels that its big promise to give MSP for all crops could be a gamechanger.</p> <p>“No one can claim to be a beneficiary of the farmers’ agitation,” said Tript Singh Bajwa, Punjab cabinet minister for rural development. “It is too early to say what will happen. The Modi government has to make a move on the agitation. Moreover, it will depend on how farmer unions act during the polls.”</p> <p>Bajwa’s party, the Congress, which was considered to be in pole position a few months ago, appears to be in disarray over infighting. Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu has raised a banner of revolt over the clean chit given to former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal by a state-appointed special investigation team in a case over the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib, and the subsequent killing of protesters in police firing in 2015. Amarinder had promised to bring the guilty to book, including the Badals. However, in April, the Punjab and Haryana High Court set aside the report into the incident and called for a fresh probe. Rebellion grew against Amarinder as Sidhu alleged that the CM favoured the Badal family in the case. Since then, more Congress leaders, including ministers, have joined the rebellion. Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had to step in to request warring factions not to escalate matters.</p> <p>This negative publicity against the Punjab CM and Congress has worked in favour of the AAP. “The Congress was our main challenger till a while ago, but now they are facing in-house problems,” said Harjot Singh Bains, former AAP state chief and national executive member. “Now, they are not a challenge. The Akali Dal has resources to bring people to rallies, but anger has only increased against them even after four years.” To tide over the last elections’ missing element, Bains says even AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal has promised a local face as CM candidate.</p> <p>Coming to the farmers’ issue, the AAP leader said it is not just limited to politics, but had cultural and emotional touches. “We have been focussing on agriculture even during the last elections,” said Bains. “If you want to bring Punjab back on track, the focus has to be on agriculture. We are the only party that has been saying that we will give MSP for all the crops on our own. We will follow the Delhi model.”</p> <p>Bains claims in the last election there was a big wave in favour of the AAP. “The wave was more visible on the ground than this time. Last time, people were more vocal. This time, as I gather, they may not be vocal but are committed to our cause,” said Bains.</p> <p>The key player in Punjab politics, the Akalis, are trying to woo back not only their traditional support base—the Jat Sikhs—but also rebels like Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, who has floated his own party.</p> <p>Though it left the NDA and separated from the BJP, on the issue of the three farmer laws, it has a tough challenge ahead of it.</p> <p>“The Congress is our main challenger. The AAP and BJP are not in the picture. Farmers from all parties participated in the movement. When the elections come, they will move to their respective ideological camps. No one will stand with the BJP,” said Akali Dal vice president Daljeet Singh Cheema.</p> <p>The party’s main defence is that it left its oldest ally, the BJP, after the farm laws were passed, and its main offensive is that the Congress government had supported such amendments as it had amended the APMC Act.</p> <p>As the elections draw near, the Congress, AAP and Akali Dal will present themselves as sole representatives of the farmers’ cause. The BJP will be fighting with its back against the wall. The party, which always played a younger brother to Akali Dal in Punjab elections, is sticking to its line of Modi delivering goodies for farmers.</p> <p>“The farm laws were not a sudden decision. It was a well-planned move,” said BJP general secretary Tarun Chugh. “PM Modi had promised to double farmers’ income. His government had increased the farmers’ 2013 budget by [multiple] times. Modi took a stance to continue farmer subsidies despite demands by the WTO.”</p> <p>While the other three parties are eyeing the same farmers’ vote-bank, predominantly Sikhs, the BJP would look to other dominant groups like the Hindus and dalits. In Haryana, while the Congress and INLD focussed on the dominant Jat votes, the BJP wooed the Punjabi community, which voted it to power in 2014. The party is hoping a similar experiment would work in Punjab.</p> <p>“All other parties are working under the banner of farmers, while the BJP is the only one fighting under its own party flag,” said Dushyant Gautam, BJP in-charge for Punjab. “The farm laws are for the entire country, but only a section of farmers from Punjab are agitating. This is a planned agitation [by parties], and they will be exposed by the time elections come.”</p> <p>The farmer union leaders are wary. “All parties know now that it is a problem for the BJP and it is better to let them deal with it,” said Dallewal. “Because whoever comes to power, that party has to bring such laws under the pressure of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. All parties are shedding crocodile tears, but they all want these laws to be implemented.”</p> <p>The country already has two recent models before it. The AAP was borne out of the anti-corruption movement as it decided to cash in on the sentiment and went on to reap the political harvest. On the other hand, two political parties were set up in Assam to cash in on the anti-CAA sentiment. They ended up dividing the opposition votes against the BJP, and sunk without a significant show. The question is can the farmers’ movement throw up a new political formation or influence electoral outcomes in both Punjab and Uttar Pradesh? The next few months will be crucial as the Centre might be forced to deal with the issue.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 03 16:32:16 IST 2021 more-cm-candidates-have-sprung-up-in-congress <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> It has been six months. Is a resolution to the farmers’ protest expected soon?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ It is too early to say what will happen. The two-three months before the elections will be very crucial. What game will the Modi government play? What will be their Chanakya move? Moreover, in the movement, farmers with all shades of opinion and from all factions are there. It has to been seen if their organisations also jump into the electoral fray. Some of them don’t get involved in elections, as many do not believe in electoral politics. The last move has to come from Modi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Who will be the beneficiary of this agitation?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ At the moment, no one can claim to be the beneficiary. Captain Amarinder Singh has supported the farmers. He has asked the PM to repeal the laws. The Akalis first supported the laws but then pulled back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Earlier, the Akali-BJP alliance was viewed in terms of Hindu-Sikh unity. As they separate, can it lead to polarisation?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ It is most unfortunate that BJP’s politics is that of polarisation. But Punjabis are large-hearted and liberal. Even during the days of terrorism there were no riots. We pray that it never happens. The BJP pushes for religious polarisation. Bengal has stopped them. Even if we believe there will be polarisation, Hindus too need jobs and food to eat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> There appears to be a churn in Sikh politics. Is there a move towards radicalisation?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Even that will be unfortunate, if it happens. If one side gets radicalised, other sides would, too. Fundamentalism on all sides is bad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> There is churn within the Congress, too. There are many rebels.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ It is a part of every party. It also means more chief minister candidates have sprung up as most believe that the Congress will come to power. They are trying to outmanoeuvre each other. On the other [hand], internal fighting is always bad for the family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> So will Amarinder Singh be the CM candidate?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ It all depends on the high command. So far, no one can match his status or calibre. </p> Thu Jun 03 16:23:30 IST 2021 post-polls-kerala-sees-a-new-political-wave <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>LAST WEEK WAS QUITE</b> a turning point in Kerala’s political history. To begin with, a chief minister who completed a full term took oath for the second consecutive time—a first. It also saw the end of a four-decade-long practice of exchanging power between the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front. And then, the Congress high command demolished the age-old groupism in the party in a single sweep.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It all started with Pinarayi Vijayan taking oath as chief minister on May 20 for the second consecutive time. Along with him, 20 were sworn in as ministers; 17 of them are first-timers. The average age of the cabinet is 59—Pinarayi is the oldest at 76, and Health Minister Veena George is the youngest at 44. And for the first time, the state&nbsp;has three women ministers—R. Bindu as higher education minister and&nbsp;J. Chinchu Rani as minister for animal husbandry, dairy development and milk cooperatives, apart from George, a former TV journalist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The state had enjoyed political duopoly since 1982—the year the UDF and LDF had taken shape—with the two fronts alternately coming to power. But with the formation of the second LDF government, a new chapter has begun.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The state has entered a new phase in politics. The character of the new LDF government is an indicator of that,” said political commentator Joseph C. Mathew. According to him, it is one of the most inclusive governments. “The new cabinet represents the new politics of the CPI(M),” he said. “The CPI(M) seems to have shed its ideological rigidities to become more inclusive.” As an example, he cited the instance of CPI(M) ministers taking oath in the “name of God”. “It was unthinkable till now,” said Mathew. “This new all-encompassing look may make the LDF more attractive electorally, but whether it is good for left politics is another question.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That the state politics has undergone a total overhaul is a view shared across party lines. “A new era has begun,” said C.P. John, chairman of the UDF manifesto committee. “We will get to see many unprecedented things in the coming days and every&nbsp;political party will have to develop new&nbsp;skillsets to&nbsp;adapt to it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the second coming of the LDF government under Pinarayi was indeed a game-changer, what was equally interesting was the appointment of V.D. Satheesan, 56, as the new opposition leader. The Congress high command overruled the opposition of the two tallest leaders in the state—former chief minister Oommen Chandy and former opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, thereby putting a question mark on their clout within the “new Congress party”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Satheesan represents a new era in Congress politics, which will take the party to greater heights,” said newly elected MLA Mathew Kuzhalnadan. “The new age requires new leaders and a fresh political lingo and grammar.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What prompted the high command—read Rahul Gandhi—to crush the infighting was the party’s dismal performance in the recently held assembly elections. Despite contesting in 93 seats against an incumbent government, the Congress won only 21. Heads had to roll, and Chennithala, the opposition leader for the last five years, was removed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The appointment of Satheesan has certainly energised the Congress cadre. But the sulking among old timers is for all to see. “It was RG and his team that took every decision in this election,” said an MLA who had argued in favour of Chennithala. “Right from candidate&nbsp;selection to campaign modules, everything was decided by the All India Congress Committee team. We obeyed everything they said as we knew it was a fight for survival. But now, one person has been made the scapegoat. It is not fair.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But a youth MLA who supported Satheesan said it was imperative that a new team leader head the new team. “Leaders like Chandy and Chennithala belong&nbsp;to the UDF-LDF duopoly times,” he said, adding that politics had changed, and hence the need for a new leader who understands that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the BJP, which had a high-decibel campaign, is on silent mode. What has its leaders worried more than the loss of its lone seat is the reality that the vote share of the National Democratic Alliance fell from 15.2 per cent to 12.47 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said a top RSS functionary, “There is a credibility crisis for the party. Had we won at least&nbsp;two seats, there would have&nbsp;been a huge inflow of leaders from the Congress. But since that has not happened, the road ahead seems to be tougher.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to political commentators, the striking feature of the “new politics” is that&nbsp;the CPI(M) has taken over the Congress’s political space. “The CPI(M) is no longer a communist party in the conventional sense,” said Mathew. “For instance, it implements Nehruvian socialism in a better way than the Congress. Also, the CPI(M), which has more or less shed its class politics, has become appealing to many sections who, hitherto, were UDF supporters. How the Congress will be able to tackle this will determine its future.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The new opposition leader, meanwhile, is determined to make a mark in the assembly&nbsp;bereft of the BJP. “I represent new politics,” said Satheesan. “The aspirations and concerns of the new age are different and our politics should reflect that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, it is not an impossible task, considering that the party alone won 25 per cent of the vote share despite the pro-LDF wave in the recent election. The Congress still has its loyal vote banks&nbsp;even though the CPI(M) has started making inroads.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“To survive, the Congress needs to remove the lens of the 1990s and start looking at politics with a fresh perspective,” said John. “It has to stop its overdependence on media and start strengthening the UDF structure from the ground.”</p> Thu May 27 19:29:12 IST 2021 west-bengal--mamata-banerjee-outwits-the-cbi-in-perceptions-game <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Mamata Banerjee has a reputation for being fiercely protective of those who matter to her. When the CBI arrested her political mentor Subrata Mukherjee and close associates Firhad Hakim and Madan Mitra on May 17, the West Bengal chief minister went straightway to the Nizam Palace, the agency’s eastern region headquarters in Kolkata. And when Banerjee goes somewhere, people follow. Hundreds of men marched with her to the CBI office.</p> <p>For Mukherjee, 75, who played a crucial role in bringing Banerjee to politics, it was the darkest day in his political career. He was arrested for taking a bribe during a sting operation carried out by Mathew Samuel of Narada News in 2016. It was probably the only blip in Mukherjee’s otherwise clean career. He was only 27 when chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray had entrusted him with seven departments. Today he is a key driver for rural growth in the Banerjee government. The CBI said he was “seen to have accepted the illegal gratification of Rs5 lakh”.</p> <p>Transport minister Hakim, who is also the administrator of Kolkata Corporation, plays a key role in the government’s drive against the Covid-19 pandemic in the city. He was not seen taking money in the sting video. The CBI said he was “seen to have agreed for acceptance of bribe money of Rs5 lakh”.</p> <p>Former transport minister Mitra was earlier arrested by the CBI in Saradha Chit Fund scam case and was in jail for almost two years. The CBI said he was “seen to have accepted the illegal gratification of Rs5 lakh”.</p> <p>The fourth man on the list, former Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee, was a minister when he was seen accepting money. He left the Trinamool for the BJP but quit the saffron party because he did not get the desired seat in the assembly election. Apparently, he wants to go back to the Trinamool. The CBI said he was “seen to have accepted illegal gratification of Rs4 lakh”.</p> <p>At the Nizam Palace, Banerjee demanded the release of her colleagues. She asked deputy inspector general Akhilesh Kumar Singh to arrest her as well otherwise. Singh even sent a message to Delhi asking how to handle her. The Trinamool’s legal team soon secured bail for Mukherjee, Hakim and Mitra from the CBI magistrate's court. Chatterjee could not be an exception and he also got bail along with the others.</p> <p>The CBI went to the Calcutta High Court the same evening against the bail order. It also complained to the court about the sit-in by Banerjee and some 3,000 of her supporters at the CBI office and requested it to shift the CBI court to a neighbouring state. The High Court ordered a stay of the bail the following day. The case most likely will be dragged to the Supreme Court.</p> <p>Banerjee has made her party’s position clear and her supporters argued that the arrests were ill-timed, particularly so in view of the pandemic. Her lawyers had also pointed out to the CBI court recent Supreme Court directives against making unnecessary arrests.</p> <p>Banerjee had assigned Kalyan Banerjee, her key legal aide, to fight the case in the court before she went to the CBI office. She had also consulted legal experts in Delhi on how to proceed, in case the bail application was dismissed. She declared: "The CBI has clearly been instructed by some people in the BJP. In Bengal, their biggest adviser is the governor, Jagdeep Dhankhar, who has no right to stay in this state."</p> <p>Banerjee had hit the streets in a similar way when Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar was wanted by the CBI in the Saradha case in February 2019. She played the same game that time—simultaneously creating public opinion and the legal defence. Kumar’s case is pending in the Supreme Court.</p> <p>The CBI has taken many a misstep in the case. Despite testing voice samples from the sting video, it dithered over arresting the accused at the right time. The agency said it had sent petitions to the Lok Sabha speaker and the West Bengal governor for permission to prosecute the people's representatives. “From the governor, we received the sanction just last week, on May 7,” said an officer.</p> <p>Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla is yet to give sanction for prosecuting four MPs accused in the case—Sougata Roy, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Aparupa Poddar and Suvendu Adhikari (he was MP in 2016). Mukul Roy, another accused, was a Rajya Sabha member. Interestingly, Adhikari and Roy are now BJP legislators. That the BJP was not serious about pursuing the case was evident when the previous parliament ethics committee under L.K. Advani was asked to look into the allegations against the MPs. “The committee met not even once," said an MP from Bengal.</p> <p>Arunava Ghosh, one of the two lawyers who had gone to court for CBI investigation of the sting operation, said waiting for permissions was nothing but a lame excuse by the CBI. “All these leaders could have been tried and prosecuted under the Prevention of Corruption Act long back. No sanction is required from the speaker, chairman or governor. The CBI could have acted long back. But it did not, and it became hyperactive during the pandemic,” said Ghosh.</p> <p>Kunal Ghosh, the spokesperson for the Trinamool, said if the CBI had guts it should arrest Adhikari and Roy as well. But the agency sources said there was a difference between what MLAs and MPs do and what ministers do. While ministers are government servants, MPs and MLAs are all people's representatives. Arunava Ghosh, however, refuted it, saying “the Prevention of Corruption Act cases don’t differentiate between ministers and people’s representatives.”</p> <p>The Trinamool says the sudden surge in the CBI’s interest in the case is nothing but political retaliation. “The truth is the CBI has become the puppet of the Modi government. There is rampant misuse of this autonomous investigating agency,” said Sougata Roy.</p> <p>An academic close to the Trinamool said the BJP was unable to handle the politics at the ground level, where its workers were fleeing, and the CBI was its weapon of resistance. The arrests, however, will remain a learning experience for India’s premier investigating agency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu May 20 17:39:33 IST 2021 it-is-_demonocracy-in-bengal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Shortly after the assembly election results were out on May 2, violence erupted in many parts of West Bengal. Many people were killed and hundreds displaced, and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar sought a report from the director-general of police and the chief secretary. Neither officer obliged: the government had asked them “not to share the report”. Dhankhar then took a tour of the trouble-spots on a BSF helicopter and met the victims, ignoring an incensed Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's letter asking him not to break the protocol.</p> <p>In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Dhankhar blamed Banerjee for the violence and made startling accusations that women were raped. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>You visited violence-ridden places. Shouldn't the officials and ministers have done that?</b></p> <p>A/ The unprecedented post-poll retributive violence in West Bengal poses the greatest ever threat to democracy and the rule of law. There is no semblance of constitutional norms. Targeted killings, violence and vandalism have been unleashed in savage ferocity by the ruling party and it was backed by the state apparatus. How can you expect them to visit these places?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>What is the situation on the ground?</b></p> <p>A/ I never ever imagined that the situation would nosedive to such alarmingly low levels where people would tell the constitutional head, ‘We will change the religion’ and ‘Help us to live’. The Preamble of the Constitution has been torn asunder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>But why would the ruling party unleash violence?</b></p> <p>A/ This is to teach a lesson and instil a mortal sense of fear in those who ‘dared’ to vote as per their volition and against the ruling party. Nothing can be more shameful in a democracy that people have to pay with life for voting with freedom. The enormity of the situation can be gauged from the fact that post-May 2, lakhs of people have fled from their homes fearing for their lives. Women and girls have suffered indescribable indignities including rape.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>That is a serious accusation</b>.</p> <p>A/ Yes. There has been extensive torching of houses, arson, loot, destruction of all means of livelihood to weaken people’s morale and faith in the rule of law and in democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>But the chief minister said the violence was contained once she took over.</b></p> <p>A/ Unfortunately, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has turned a Nelson’s eye to the horrendous woes of suffering people and trampling of democratic values. In the face of such a ghastly scenario, the governor cannot sit in the Raj Bhawan unmindful of his oath under Article 159 to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and serve the people of the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>She has accused you of interfering.</b></p> <p>A/ The stance of Banerjee on the role of the governor lacks elementary knowledge of the Constitution. The supremacy of the Constitution cannot be sacrificed. I wonder how an administrative order (regarding no report to the governor and then objecting to his tour) that has no legislative or Constitutional sanction can ever be above the Constitution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>The Trinamool Congress says it has the mandate to rule for five years and the Centre acting within 24 hours of the chief minister taking the oath is not justifiable.</b></p> <p>A/ The mandate requires conforming to the Constitutional norms. It was unfortunate that Banerjee, during electioneering, set ignoble standards that in any civil society would be reckoned as culpable. She, while being under the oath of the Constitution, had the audacity to indicate that the Central forces would not be here forever and, once they were gone, people would be made to suffer. She incited her partymen, and women, in particular, to take on the Central forces with all kinds of household items. Such conduct is unbecoming of a person holding a Constitutional position.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>So you hold the chief minister responsible for the violence.</b></p> <p>A/ The chief minister’s stand that the Sitalkuchi incident (where four people died in police firing and a man was gunned down by miscreants) was genocide and cold-blooded murder must be seen in the context of her silence in the wake of a number of murders, rapes, arson, loot and horrendous acts of vandalism and violence after the polls. Everyone has to be subject to the rule of law and no mandate gives impunity for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>You were accompanied by MPs and MLAs of one party. The Trinamool says the governor should have taken MPs and MLAs from other parties also.</b></p> <p>A/ I do not look at the political affiliation of public representatives. They represent the entire area. The chief minister is for the state and not just for her party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>What have been your findings?</b></p> <p>A/ The governance in the state is far distanced from Constitutional norms and the rule of law. The chief minister has failed to discharge her duties to the governor as indicated in Article 167 of the Constitution. Governance is like that of a state within a state with all trappings of a police state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Did the victims tell you that the state administration did not come to their rescue?</b></p> <p>A/ I witnessed in Cooch Behar, the Ranpagli camp in Assam and in Nandigram some scenes that will haunt me forever. The tales were heart-rending. How can such vandalism be allowed? Those in the silent mode are destroying democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>No case of rape has been lodged in any police station.</b></p> <p>A/ Wherever I have been to, people have narrated their heart-rending woes. The silence of the chief minister would haunt her for years to come, as by her stance she has become party to the destruction of democratic values and the rule of law. Several places I visited left me with no doubt that the marauders acted heartlessly to destroy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>What you say would have serious repercussions.</b></p> <p>A/ I do not wish to inflame passions by indicating all that I saw, heard and noticed. I am giving you the pathetic story I saw. To save themselves from further agony, all these people had raised on their houses the flags of the ruling party. They told me that even these flags could not save them from retribution of the worst kind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Television channels showed people falling at your feet and pleading. You mentioned they told you they would change their religion to save their lives.</b></p> <p>A/ I never imagined that I would ever face such a moment in life, that people would plead with me that they were prepared to change their religion to save their lives. I saw the entire Preamble of the Constitution collapsing before my eyes. It is my bounden Constitutional duty to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and serve the people of the state. I do not wish to go down as one who did not take the requisite Constitutional steps while West Bengal was [set] on fire by state-sponsored vandalism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>But why did not they go to a police station?</b></p> <p>A/ It is an open secret. Go to the police station and then face unbearable pain. It makes the accused out of the victim, and this is followed by punishing by the ruling party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Hundreds of people were displaced because of the violence. How can they be brought back to their homes? How can the offenders be punished?</b></p> <p>A/ Lakhs of people have been displaced. Some have even taken refuge outside the state. The government is on the path of teaching them a lesson of life so that they never ever dare vote against the ruling party, let alone punishing the offenders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Is this violence just political?</b></p> <p>A/ The entire premise of unleashing the unprecedented post-poll violence was to inflict unbearable atrocities on those who decided to vote as per their choice and against the ruling party. No democracy can blossom or flourish until this quintessential freedom is there. That the opposition has no space at all in democracy is indicative of authoritarianism and despotism. It can no longer be called a democracy. It is ‘demonocracy’. If people have to part with their lives, women have to pay with being raped, society has to pay with arson, loot, vandalism and extortion for exercising their right to vote, then we are seeing the end of democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>Will you send a report to the president?</b></p> <p>A/ I can only say, we are in a state of anarchy and lawlessness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>What about the role of the police?</b></p> <p>A/ West Bengal has highly politicised police and administration. They are more than political workers of the ruling party. People are in mortal fear of the police, and the police are in total captivity of the ruling party. Victims walking for justice to the police station come out as accused, only to face the unbearable reprisals at the hands of the ruling party goons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>What action would you take to stem the rot?</b></p> <p>A/ All steps will be taken to ensure people’s faith in democracy and confidence in the Constitution so that it is not shaken. Enough is enough.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>The ruling party said that the governor's actions were going to affect the Centre-state relations.</b></p> <p>A/ The governance here is like that of a state within a state. It has been perennially at loggerheads with the Centre and all national institutions without rhyme or reason and to the detriment of the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q/ <b>The prime minister called you after the violence broke out. What did he say?</b></p> <p>A/ Understandably, he is deeply concerned by the enormity of the post-poll violence and the indescribable suffering of the people. Obviously, his priority was to help restore normalcy and contain the menacing situation, to engage in rehabilitation and compensation, and to generate confidence-building measures. I took all initiatives by engaging with Banerjee on numerous occasions. There was no tangible step taken by her.&nbsp;</p> Thu May 20 17:31:43 IST 2021 bjp-challenges-in-bengal-saving-its-workers-from-violence-and-keep-its-flock-together <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ABUL KALAM MOLLAH</b> is not a BJP member, but he did campaign for the party in the recent state elections. “I was part of the election meetings in the area, and was labelled a BJP man,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On May 2, after the Trinamool Congress romped back to power by winning 213 of 294 seats, its party workers allegedly destroyed and ransacked Mollah’s home and stationery shop in Sandeshkhali, North 24 Parganas. “A gang of Trinamool men stoned me. They threatened me and asked me to leave the village. I left with my wife and children,” he said from an undisclosed location in South Bengal. “My family is with my wife’s parents now.” Mollah was afraid to reveal much, fearing the wrath of the newly elected government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While officials said that around 20 people had died in post-poll violence, the BJP said the number was much higher. It claimed that 90 per cent of those killed were its members, while a few Trinamool workers in North Bengal had died in counterattacks. According to party estimates, more than 50,000 people have been displaced internally in the state. BJP workers said the police refused to file any first information reports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said a senior police officer on condition of anonymity: “[Investigation of] murder cases would automatically begin [based on post mortem reports]. But cases of arson and loot would require further investigation. The police will definitely reach the victims and ensure rule of law.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police have also been dealing with fake posts and doctored videos on social media, which have been adding fuel to the fire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within a day of violence breaking out, the Union home ministry had sent a team to Bengal to assess the law and order situation. It also sought a report from Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, who called the situation “horrific” and blamed the administration for “lack of action”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like the home ministry team, Dhankhar will also travel across the state to review the situation. The last time a Bengal governor did something like this was in 2007, when Gopalkrishna Gandhi visited Nandigram after violence broke out there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The violence reportedly spread from North 24 Parganas to South 24 Parganas and then to most parts of South Bengal. BJP workers have sheltered fellow party men from Purba Bardhaman and Howrah districts in party offices at Kolkata’s Rajarhat New Town and Salt Lake. In Midnapore, Paschim Bardhaman, Cooch Behar and Alipurduar districts, several BJP workers have fled to Assam, Bihar and Jharkhand. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, too, highlighted this migration, especially to the bordering Dhubri district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said senior Trinamool leader and former North Bengal development minister Rabindra Nath Ghosh: “Things are being blown out of proportion. Attacks are minimum. The BJP is trying to give it a communal spin. Sporadic poll violence is nothing new in Bengal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Local BJP leaders, however, refused to buy this argument. “Just ask them to come to Basirhat and Sandeskhali,” said BJP leader Chinmay Sinha. “I am a block vice president of the party, but I was driven out of my village [on Baunia Island in the Sundarbans] and people from a particular community have asked me not to come back.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the party was informed about the attacks, but it could not give shelter to so many people overnight. “My party has asked us to arrange shelter on our own, till it comes up with other solutions,” he said. Sinha added that many Trinamool workers had come forward to help, “but the majority with a certain allegiance did not let that happen”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few years ago, Radharani Mandol of Harwood Point in South 24 Parganas joined the BJP after Trinamool workers allegedly grabbed her land. “The BJP leaders assured me of justice once they won Bengal,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unfortunately for her, that did not happen. On May 4, local goons attacked her home. “My husband (an ailing Pintu Mandol) was shaken seeing our daughter, just 14, being molested,” said the housewife. “They pressed her cheeks and tried to gag her.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Radharani called on her neighbours, also BJP supporters, to fight off the attackers. The attackers fled, but promised to return. “We told the Trinamool goons that we would also win one day,” she said. “[And] then we will take revenge. Such crimes cannot happen without [the knowledge] of [Chief Minister] Mamata Banerjee.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Giasuddin Molla, former minority affairs minister of state: “I admit that such incidents happened shortly after the results were out. This happened only because the BJP had created a tense situation ahead of the polls. It tried to cover Bengal with terror. So, people have shown their anger after the results.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Notably, many BJP workers have blamed their own leaders, too. “You (top leaders) have made an adjustment [with the Trinamool] and that is why you are not hitting the streets and seeking a recount,” said Raj Sarkar, a BJP worker in Raina, Purba Bardhaman, in a video online. “We at the ground level are suffering. Our homes are being attacked.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Bengal BJP vice president Biswapriya Roychowdhury: “This is the Trinamool’s terror tactic to force our supporters to desert us. It wants [to scare] our supporters [into returning to the Trinamool].”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior BJP leaders who were tasked with winning Bengal, like Dilip Ghosh, Kailash Vijayvargiya and Shiv Prakash, were called to Delhi for an emergency meeting. The party has to shield them from further flak from workers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Neither Vijayvargiya nor Shiv Prakash was available for comment. However, BJP national secretary Arvind Menon told THE WEEK: “The party won 50 seats in the zone where I worked. The Trinamool today is hitting our booth workers to finish us at the grassroots. We have the big challenge of retaining booth-level workers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the BJP went from three seats in 2016 to 77 this time, it conducted a small study to ascertain why it lost; the reasons include the side-lining of Mukul Roy, over-reliance on some defectors, the lavish lifestyles of certain leaders, the removal of some district presidents, and the lack of coordination between the Delhi, Kolkata and district offices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently, the BJP is busy keeping its flock together; there were rumours of a mass defection to the Trinamool, including by Mukul Roy, and Rajib Banerjee, a former Trinamool minister who had jumped ship a few months ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources said that Roy’s perceived closeness to Mamata in the past few months had created distance between him and the BJP central leadership. Suvendu Adhikari, who defeated Mamata in Nandigram, was given more prominence. This feeling was reinforced when Adhikari was named leader of the opposition in the assembly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the BJP seems to have made peace with Roy; he tweeted about his “continued struggle” for democracy as a BJP “soldier”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party workers, it seems, are not top priority at the moment.</p> Thu May 13 23:53:54 IST 2021 bengal-needs-president-rule <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ Thousands of threatened BJP workers in the villages have said that there is no help from the party.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ [It is a] very difficult situation for the party workers. I have no idea how to deal with it. We have already sent many [of them] outside the state. But we have our limitations. We need to act tough now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Workers want immediate relief from the party.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The situation is worse than Covid in Bengal. People became political refugees just because they voted for a party. Even [Trinamool] workers in many places are shaken seeing such brutality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How many complaints have you lodged?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The police have not filed any first information reports. They are driving away our workers who approach them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But the Trinamool says many complaints are fake.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Their party would say that. Why is the government machinery silent? They have a role to play in this crisis. Just go to the villages. In many places, they want to celebrate their victory and are asking our workers to pay Rs20,000 each as fine. Our workers are fleeing villages. To how many can we give shelter?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you alerted your party’s central leadership?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes, but I do not know what they would do. I have gone to Delhi to explain everything. I am keeping my fingers crossed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But party workers allege that senior leaders have only held symbolic protests.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ They are right to some extent. The party’s central leadership has to respond. A Central minister (V. Muraleedharan) was stoned. If this is not the time for them to wake up, when will it come?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How can the crisis be controlled?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Only the imposition of Article 356 (president’s rule) can alter the situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you told the central leadership?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I will tell them what needs to be told. Let us wait.</p> Thu May 13 23:53:18 IST 2021 how-bjp-failure-in-bengal-has-given-shivraj-singh-chouhan-breathing-space <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WHILE THE ENTIRE</b> nation waited expectantly for the assembly election results from West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry on May 2, it was business as usual for Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. He chaired a Covid-19 review meeting with senior ministers and officers, underlining the importance of “breaking the infection chain”. Finally, when the results came, there was no immediate reaction from Chouhan—despite the BJP’s poor performance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The loss in West Bengal turned out to be particularly devastating for the BJP, as it had invested a great deal of effort and money in the state. Although the party improved its tally significantly compared with the 2016 elections, it still lost to the Trinamool Congress by a huge margin. In Madhya Pradesh, too, the BJP performed poorly; the Congress’s Ajay Tandon won the Damoh assembly byelection by a margin of around 17,000 votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chouhan’s first reaction came almost 24 hours after the results were announced. He applauded the BJP wins in Assam and Puducherry, hailed the “miraculous growth” of the party in West Bengal and praised the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and party president J.P. Nadda. But there was not a word about the comprehensive defeat in Damoh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even a week later, Chouhan has not spoken, despite the BJP serving a show-cause notice to former minister Jayant Malaiya and expelling his son and four others for “anti-party activities” in the context of the Damoh defeat. The district collector and the superintendent of police of Damoh were, meanwhile, shunted out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is in stark contrast with Chouhan’s high-decibel campaign in Damoh and also in West Bengal and Assam in the first half of April, when Covid-19 cases were rising fast. Today, he quietly and diligently goes about reviewing the pandemic situation in Madhya Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Predictably, he reacted to the post-poll violence in West Bengal and to Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s unflattering tweet about Modi. Otherwise, Chouhan has kept his public statements strictly confined to pandemic-related issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While this uncharacteristic silence from the usually vocal Chouhan could be because of the stress of combating the pandemic, political observers say it could well be an expression of the relief that the mixed results for his party might have brought him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ahead of the assembly polls, there were whispers in Bhopal’s political corridors about the possibility of Chouhan being replaced, despite the fact that six months ago he had led a successful bypoll campaign and engineered a majority for the BJP. Leaders from Madhya Pradesh, who were playing key roles in the campaign in West Bengal and Assam, were said to be frontrunners for his post.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress even took a dig at the BJP, saying the ruling party had at least four ‘chief ministers-in-waiting’: Kailash Vijayvargiya (general secretary in-charge of West Bengal), Home Minister Narottam Mishra (in-charge of over two dozen assembly seats in West Bengal), Union Ministers Narendra Tomar (in-charge of Assam elections) and Thawarchand Gehlot, a prominent dalit face of the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It could be called speculative, but had the BJP won West Bengal, Vijayvargiya and Mishra would have emerged far stronger and there could have been the possibility of a leadership reshuffle,” said political writer Rasheed Kidwai. “But the results put the central leadership in check and brought down the graph of Shah to whom Vijayvargiya and Mishra are close. So, in that way, Chouhan has got his breathing space despite the big loss in Damoh.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political analyst Manish Dixit said the BJP’s loss in West Bengal and the prevailing Covid situation might help Chouhan thwart any likely political challenge. “Last year, while Vijayvargiya was quite engaged in West Bengal, Tomar and Mishra were favourites for the post of chief minister,” he said. “Yet, Chouhan was the choice of the party leadership because of his popularity among the masses and his administrative experience in the face of the first wave of Covid-19. So, it does not seem that in the current situation, the party will think of any changes.” Although Assam under Tomar brought good news for the BJP, the Bengal result and the public backlash against the pandemic management eclipsed the achievement, said Dixit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chouhan remains a target for the opposition Congress, nevertheless. “The BJP central leadership has never really favoured Chouhan and it is not happy with his performance even now. We have a feeling that once the present Covid-19 crisis blows over, internal attacks on Chouhan will increase at the state level and the leadership might go in for a political change,” said K.K. Mishra, state Congress general secretary in charge of the media cell. “For us, it would be quite beneficial if Chouhan continues as chief minister, because his popularity among voters and local BJP leaders is waning, and that will help the Congress in the next polls in a big way.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political observers say that in the past Chouhan had benefited from image building exercises led by senior bureaucrats close to him, which helped him emerge as a figure bigger than the party. But many of those officers are now retired, making things difficult for Chouhan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Deepak Vijayvargiya, the BJP’s chief spokesperson for Madhya Pradesh, said the state government was doing very well under Chouhan, especially in dealing with the pandemic, and that the party was completely behind him. “The gossip the Congress and others are indulging in does not matter. It is the nature of the Congress to engage in such speculative talk simply because its leaders have nothing else to do, having been rejected by the people completely,” he said. “It is a war-like situation with the pandemic and there is no question of any political activity.”</p> Thu May 13 18:01:44 IST 2021 after-drawing-a-blank-in-assembly-polls-kamal-haasan-has-dim-political-future <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON MAY 2, A VIDEO</b> of filmmaker-turned politician Kamal Haasan walking out of a counting centre in Coimbatore with a torch—his election symbol—in hand and a sombre look on his face, went viral. Kamal lost in the Coimbatore South constituency to the BJP’s Vanathi Srinivasan, after leading the race for most part of the day. The man who claimed the legacy of former chief minister M.G. Ramachandran and pitched himself as an alternative to Tamil Nadu’s established Dravidian parties fared disastrously in the assembly elections, with the remaining 153 candidates from his Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) losing their deposits. The MNM polled just 2.5 per cent of the votes compared with the 3.7 per cent it got in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, finishing behind parties like the Naam Tamilar Katchi and the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from the drubbing it received in the elections, the MNM is also facing a major internal revolt.&nbsp;Businessman R. Mahendran, who was the MNM vice president and candidate from Singanallur, quit, saying there was “no democracy in the party”. In an emotionally charged letter running into several pages, Mahendran, who was Kamal’s right-hand man, listed what he felt were Kamal’s failures and criticised him for relying entirely on the advice of an election management company called Sankhya Solutions. “I resign... because in the last one month after the assembly elections, I had lost all hope for any semblance of change in how the party is being run…. I am sad to say that there is a decline in your tenacity of purpose, which lies buried under a style of operation that reeks of a non-democratic manner of running a political party. I will leave you to decipher who your true loyalists are,” wrote Mahendran. Other senior leaders, including V. Ponraj, M. Muruganandam, A.G. Maurya, R. Thangavel, Umadevi, C.K. Kumaravel, Sekar and Suresh Iyer (the head of Sankhya Solutions),&nbsp;resigned from their party positions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The debacle was caused by the wrong strategies suggested by Sankhya Solutions. It ensured that people like me who were with our leader since the party was launched no longer remained in the inner circle,” said Mahendran. He revealed that Kamal initially had talks with poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC), but later hired Sankhya Solutions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mahendran had suggested that Kamal should contest from Velachery, a constituency in Chennai with a significant vote bank of IT professionals. But his strategy team chose Coimbatore South, where Mahendran had polled the highest number of votes for the party in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. “This was a wrong choice as Lok Sabha and assembly elections are viewed differently by the people,” said Mahendran. M. Tholkappiyan, vice president of the MNM’s media wing, too, blamed Sankhya Solutions and Iyer for the mess in the party.&nbsp;He said Iyer directed every move in the party and even spoke on Kamal’s behalf.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within a few hours of Mahendran’s resignation, Kamal released an emotional statement, calling his former colleague a “betrayer”. “He claims there is no democracy in the party. He is the biggest example of the fact that democracy sometimes fails. He has lied to the faces of the people who gave him identity. ‘Remove the betrayers’, resonated the unanimous voice of the party. Mahendran was on top of that list. Happy that a weed had removed itself,” said Kamal. Sankhya Solutions, too, released a statement, saying Kamal hired it as per party protocols and that the team only advised the MNM leadership without meddling in its internal affairs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mahendran’s long letter threw some light into the functioning of the MNM and of Kamal. MNM sources told THE WEEK that Kamal relished a demigod status and wanted to be like former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa. An office-bearer said Kamal would not even roll down his car windows while campaigning. “He would not shake hands with voters, saying he was a celebrity and people should not be able to reach him that easily.” Once when too many people surrounded his campaign vehicle, Kamal threw down the torch in anger. He was also frustrated that the microphone was not working properly. “Kamal has always come across as an angry, melancholic figure who would question every wrong in society. But he suffers from a big boss psyche, which will not help him shine in politics,” said Ramu Manivannan, head of the department of politics and public administration, University of Madras.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the last few months, whenever he attended a meeting, Kamal would allow a chair on the dais only for himself, while others had to stand or were given seats a few metres away. This was the style followed by Jayalalithaa during the 2016 elections because of her poor health. But when Kamal, whose biggest strength was his public visibility as an intellectual star, chose to emulate her, the voters overwhelmingly rejected him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another issue which led to the tussle within the party was a meeting organised by Sankhya Solutions at a luxury hotel in Chennai to celebrate the MNM’s performance in the polls. Sources said the meeting was scheduled even before the results were declared. “It was the money of our party members which was spent for the meeting,” said an office-bearer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite all the confusion, Kamal has chosen to remain silent. “For him, it is like yet another movie bombing in the box office. He would now go and act in movies. Only our future is at stake,” said a party member, who is a businessman. Many of the senior leaders of the MNM, however, are still hopeful that Kamal will do the required course correction after finding out the reasons for the debacle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, the complete reliance on personal popularity, the absence of an ideology and the lack of clarity in key policy issues seem to be hurting Kamal and the MNM. “Kamal is a politician without an ideology and a clear roadmap,” said G. Gladston Xavier, who teaches at Loyola College in Chennai. “He has no political vision.”</p> Sun May 23 21:28:28 IST 2021 telangana-sacked-health-minister-eatala-rajender-set-to-take-on-kcr <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE PANDEMIC HAS</b> not halted politics in Telangana. On April 30, Chief Minister and Telangana Rashtra Samithi president K. Chandrashekar Rao was being treated for Covid-19 at his farmhouse, about an hour from Hyderabad. The next in command, Information Technology Minister and TRS working president K.T. Rama Rao, also had the virus and was admitted in one of Hyderabad’s top corporate hospitals. The state had, that day, seen a high number of single-day cases and deaths, and Health Minister Eatala Rajender had his hands full. Everyone had their eyes on the virus, and had missed the brewing political storm.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the evening, an hour after the municipal elections, a regional news channel—managed by the chief minister’s relatives and followers—broke news of alleged land grab by Rajender on the outskirts of Hyderabad. Two other channels, also known to toe the TRS line, followed suit. The chief minister ordered an inquiry by late evening, and revenue officials started their investigations the following day. Less than 24 hours later, Rajender was dropped from the cabinet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajender had been one of Rao’s closest associates, standing by him since the days of the Telangana agitation. A businessman and four-time MLA, he was the party’s floor leader in the assembly before he became the state’s first finance minister. In his second term, he was given the health portfolio.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, the powerful figure has been reduced to an outsider facing the full might of the government. As per the official version, some villagers in Achampet and Hakimpet, on Hyderabad’s outskirts, have alleged that Jamuna Hatcheries, a poultry firm managed by Rajender’s family, encroached upon their assigned land. Based on their complaints and the chief minister’s order, the district collector prepared and submitted a preliminary report within a day. It said that the company had not only illegally occupied 66 acres of assigned land, but also used the land for non-agricultural purposes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajender denied any wrongdoing and dared the government to initiate an inquiry by a sitting judge. He also subtly conveyed that he was a victim of a political ‘witch-hunt’. “I am ready to face anything. Let them do whatever they want, I will not be scared,” he told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As soon as he was sacked, Rajender got support from not just his followers, but also his opponents. The Congress and the BJP asked the state government why similar allegations against other TRS ministers and MLAs were not investigated with the same enthusiasm. In his constituency of Huzurabad, Rajender got a grand welcome by hundreds of his followers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Irrespective of age and caste, there is a feeling among everyone that injustice has been done,”he said. “Some of my well-wishers became so emotional that they cried. But many of them also feel that whatever has happened will be good for Telangana as things will be different from now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajender is yet to announce his next move, but he will most likely quit the party, contest the byelection on a different symbol, float a new party with likeminded leaders and intellectuals, and undertake a padyatra. His immediate concern, however, is to resist systematic attempts to cut his clout. In the past 10 days, the Telangana government has transferred a number of police officers and revenue officials posted in and around Huzurabad who were apparently friendly with Rajender. Putta Madhu, a zilla parishad chairman known to be close to him, was arrested in an old criminal case. “These are cheap tactics,” said Rajender. “If they had confidence in people, they would not lure my people with money or blackmail them with cases. I never expected this level of attack on me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though he did not name him, Rajender’s ire was directed against the chief minister. As per those close to him and a few senior journalists working for the channels that broke the news, a plan was hatched a few days back to highlight the alleged land encroachment. Having got wind of it, Rajender had tried to meet the chief minister several times, but failed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This was expected. KCR was looking for an opportunity to sideline him for a long time,” said a TRS leader who did not want to be named. What exactly created this rift between the two is being debated. Sources associated with TRS affairs said Rajender, being a tall leader within the party, was feeling suffocated over the way the chief minister treated him and was frustrated that he did not get enough freedom in his work. Moreover, the chief minister was always inaccessible. Rajender was not submissive like other leaders, which made him a sound like a rebel. “I am also the rightful owner of the pink flag (TRS party),” he had said as early as 2019. More such rebellious comments followed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“If you look at KCR’s history, he never tolerates dissenting voices,”said a senior Telugu journalist and political observer. “Rajender was in the firing line. What seems to have forced KCR to go after Rajender was the latter’s meetings with a few opposition party leaders and powerful representatives of different communities at the start of this year.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said political analyst and former member of legislative council K. Nageswara Rao: “[It was] no doubt a political operation, but I cannot say if the allegations against him are true or false. Now, we have to wait and see what he does. If his agenda is to just float an anti-KCR front with other opposition members, it may not work as every political party has its own shop and customers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many leaders have left the chief minister and ventured out on their own. Almost none of them have made an impact. For the TRS camp, Rajender would be just another name on that list. But, for his supporters, he has a credible image and the money power to form a new political front in Telangana.</p> Thu May 13 18:06:52 IST 2021 up-teachers-bearing-the-brunt-of-covid-19-callous-administration <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE LAST TIME</b> Vivek Kumar Shukla spoke to his uncle, Jagjivan Prasad Shukla, he said, “There are no breaths left in me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shukla, 36, was an orderly posted at the Sri Dayanand Inter College in Gokula village, Amethi. He was part of the government workforce that conducted panchayat elections across the state’s 75 districts to elect members to 8.69 lakh wards and gram panchayats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The panchayat elections took place between April 15 and 29. Each phase was preceded by a one-day long training. The school staff appointed for this, and for the subsequent counting of votes that started on May 2, was drawn from government and government-aided institutions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anita Gupta, 46, a teacher at the primary school in Jayapur (one of the four villages adopted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi) said, “Teachers are supposed to be intellectuals. So we conduct household surveys for the census and are sent into Covid zones to gather information. We are really beasts of burden.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gupta was on poll duty in a school in the Arajiline block (Varanasi) on April 19, and had to attend a training ten days prior to that. At both times, she said, there were no safety arrangements made by the district administration. “I carried my own face-shield and gloves. The heat made me feel faint,” she said. Gupta was not vaccinated, and was not asked for either her vaccination or Covid status.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the elections got underway, Uttar Pradesh was registering a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases. On April 15, the state reported 27,426 new cases. On April 30, it stood at 34,626. Opposition to the elections steadily built up. The High Court was approached to cancel it, the Supreme Court was asked to stop counting. Both pleas were rejected based on an assurance that the state had put the necessary protocols in place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On April 26, the day of the third phase of polling, the Rashtriya Shaikshik Mahasangh Uttar Pradesh (RSMUP), an affiliate of the RSS, issued a list of 135 teachers who had died after returning from election duty. Three days later, the Uttar Pradeshiy Prathmik Shikshak Sangh (primary teachers’ body) issued a list of 706 teachers who had died after polling duty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajeshwar Prasad Mishra, spokesperson of UP Madhyamik Shikshak Sangh (secondary teachers’ body), which has 52,000 members across the state, said, “At current estimates, 500 teachers have died. These numbers will go up as teachers return after counting of votes. This government has been deeply insensitive to teachers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On April 10, Shukla went for the mandatory training at the Government Inter College in Gauriganj. He returned home to Raebareli after 5pm, and had cough and fever. His uncle, who had brought him up since the age of two, asked him to gargle and inhale steam. Over the next few days, the fever came and went, while the cough persisted. The family had an oximeter—bought last September when Shukla’s uncle, also a teacher, had contracted Covid-19.</p> <p>On April 22, Shukla did an antigen test at the Rana Beni Madhav Singh District Hospital in Raebareli. He called home to say he was positive. Doctors, however, told him to isolate at home. The same day, Shukla’s uncle received an SMS with two numbers from the chief medical officer’s control room. When he called, he was asked to send pictures of the room and the toilet Shukla used. This was the last time that the administration checked on Shukla. There was no contact tracing, no dropping off medicines and no follow-up calls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two days later, Shukla’s breathing became laboured. The family looked for an oxygen cylinder but could find one only a day later. By then Shukla’s oxygen level had fallen to 70 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The family took Shukla to the Lalganj Rail Coach Factory Hospital. It had no bed to spare and was filthy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the evening of April 26, Shukla passed away—leaving behind a wife and two daughters, aged 12 and eight. The family said he was “eaten up by the election”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A desperate search for a bed in the same district was made by Mausam Roy for his 50-year-old father, Brijesh Kumar, who had served as the presiding officer at the polling centre at the Purva Madhyamik Vidyalaya at Deeh block in Jagdishpur on April 15.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He returned at 1am that night. One day later he had a fever and a cold. I was feverish as well. Our antigen tests were negative,” said Roy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though unwell, Kumar had to accompany his niece, Sneha Nirmal, 25, also a teacher, for election duty in Amethi on April 26. On the way back, he called his son and said, “I feel suffocated.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Roy rushed in a friend’s car to take his father to the district hospital. “We used every source we could think of, but were unable to get a bed,” he said. They tried numerous private nursing homes, but, Roy said, “no one was willing to touch” his father.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At one private non-Covid hospital, after Roy begged endlessly, Kumar was admitted to the emergency ward and hooked up to oxygen supply. Soon, he was administered a CT scan, which showed extensive damage to the lungs, an indication of a Covid-19 infection. The hospital asked Roy to take away his father immediately.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On April 28, Roy spent many hours at the district hospital pleading with the doctors for a bed. He said he was told to “go into the hospital and look for himself if there was any empty bed”—an activity he undertook multiple times, while his father waited in a car—and then in an ambulance. “At one point I also made my father sit on the stairs of the hospital hoping someone would take pity on him and offer a bed,” said Roy. Kumar died a few hours later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anand Pratap Sharma, the basic shiksha adhikari (BSA) of Raebareli, said, “I cannot comment on any specific case. This is a sensitive matter. The government has asked for a verified list of teachers who allegedly lost their lives after election duty. We are in the process of collecting that information.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BSA is the highest district-level reporting authority for teachers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE WEEK contacted a dozen teachers and their families across the state. Most were hesitant to speak fearing a crackdown by the government. All agreed there was no adherence to safety norms during the elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Subir Shukla, former adviser to the Central government on quality of education and resource consultant to the UP government, said teachers, despite their political clout, could not move the government on the issue of the election. “The general sentiment towards them has been that they have been drawing their salary for just sitting at home during the pandemic,” said Shukla.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anoop Kumar, 38, an assistant teacher working at the National Inter College, Saiyadraja, Chandauli, said, “On the morning of April 26, while on duty I received news that my mother was no more. I begged the sector magistrate to let me go, but he said he could not. I could go only after midnight. There was not even a bus to get back to Varanasi. A mini truck was assigned. I could barely register what I did at the polling booth. I will always regret not being with my mother in her last hours.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Kushinagar, some 226km from Raebareli, a pregnant Sita Kushwaha, too, begged to be let off poll duty on April 29. “My due delivery date is in the end of April… I am writing for the safety of the mother and the child… please be kind enough to relieve me of duty,” she wrote to the district magistrate and the BSA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kushwaha, 32, was posted at the upper primary school at Sukhpura, in Padrauna block. Her husband, Sanjay Kumar, said, “She was weak and was barely able to move. When her request was refused, I went with her for duty and also filled in for her at times. Even then she kept begging to be let off.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kushwaha was on duty, 6km away from home at the Thakur Harikesh Pratap Singh Inter College in Dudhi block. By the time the couple returned home at 9pm, she was screaming in pain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Next morning, at the district women’s hospital in Padrauna, Kushwaha delivered her third child, a girl. Kumar said he is not sure if his wife even saw their daughter. “She never gained consciousness after the delivery,” he said. Asked to leave the hospital because of the possibility of infection, Kumar took his wife to Samrat Hospital in Padrauna on April 30. “They told us to take her to a bigger hospital but my wife died before we could figure out what to do,” said Kumar, who has since been running a fever and is too weak to get off the bed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kushwaha, like many others, became the postscript to one of the largest polling exercises in the country. Kumar said it was an election he would never forget.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“And my daughters will never forgive me for letting their mother go,” he said.</p> Thu May 06 22:36:35 IST 2021 y-s-sharmila-political-entry-could-spell-doom-for-congress-in-telangana <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN JANUARY, THE TELANGANA</b> Jana Samithi (TJS) approached the police for permission to hold a protest at Dharna Chowk, one of the oldest venues for public agitations in Hyderabad. But the three-year-old party’s request was rejected. Until recently, TJS was the youngest political outfit in Telangana, launched with popular faces and some hype.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We wanted to hold a two-day protest at Dharna Chowk,” said M. Kodandaram. “When permission was denied, we requested the police to let us to protest for a day. That, too, was rejected.” The TJS had planned a protest on five issues, including the urgent need to provide jobs to the youth. A former Osmania University professor, Kodandaram had led the Telangana Joint Action Committee which fought for the formation of the new state; he later declared war on the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and co-founded TJS.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Where the TJS failed, Y.S. Sharmila—daughter of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, former chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh; sister of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy—succeeded and how. In April, she and her supporters held a one-day protest at Dharna Chowk and raised the same issue that the TJS was raising—youth employment. A few days before that, she had held a huge public meeting in Khammam, south Telangana. She flayed the K. Chandrashekar Rao government on a variety of issues ranging from education and health care to agriculture and housing. At Khammam, she dropped a bombshell: “We are going to start a party. It will bring back the YSR era.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The new party will be launched on July 8—Reddy’s birth anniversary. This will be the second party from the house of YSR; the first being the YSR Congress Party founded by Jagan. Sharmila is clear that her party will take on the TRS. The TRS, however, is maintaining a stoic silence; state units of the Congress and the BJP, too, are watching warily. But what was more surprising was the positive coverage she received from a section of the media, known to be soft towards the Telugu Desam Party and its supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sequence of events, which has been unfolding since the beginning of the year, has raised speculations over the probable forces behind Sharmila. Pitta Ramreddy, a close associate of Sharmila, said they did not have the support of any political party. “The TRS government was compelled to give us permission since they were also holding public meetings for by-elections,” he said. “We have not sought help from anyone and we do not have to.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramreddy is confident that many leaders from other parties will soon join them. “We have got calls from senior leaders, including MLAs, pledging support,” he said. “They are from almost all major parties including the TRS, Congress and others. All of them see a strong and credible leader in Sharmila garu, who carries YSR’s charisma. The response has been overwhelming and we are confident we will make a huge difference in state politics in the coming days.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sharmila’s next move will most likely be the tried and tested gambit of the YSR family—padayatra. Her father walked for three months in 2003, covering more than 1,500km, which catapulted him to power in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh. In 2017, Jagan’s 3,600km-long padayatra, which stretched to over one and a half years, won him a landslide victory and the chief ministership. Now, keeping the 2023 assembly elections in mind, Sharmila is gearing up for a similar padayatra in Telangana, which may extend to more than two years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, Sharmila is not new to padayatras. In 2012, when Jagan was jailed in a disproportionate assets case, Sharmila went on a 3,000km padayatra to strengthen the newly-formed YSR Congress Party. Post that, she has only emerged from the shadows to support her brother during election campaigns. Though she has never contested an election nor held any crucial party posts, Sharmila is a confident speaker who connects well with the masses. A few slogans against Naidu and his son, popularised by her in the 2019 elections, clicked well with voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Jagan has distanced himself from his sister’s decision to enter Telangana politics. He had taken a stand to steer clear of any political activity in Telangana as it would be detrimental to the interests of Andhra Pradesh; the two bifurcated states still have to sort out several issues. Sharmila, on the contrary, felt the need to further the goodwill her father garnered in Telangana and to revive the YSR family vote bank. While the family claims that there is no personal animosity between the siblings, the political rift is evident.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The big question though is which party stands to lose the most with Sharmila’s entry. If the powerful Reddy vote bank transfers its backing from the Congress to Sharmila, then the national party will be hit badly. A good number of voters had stayed with the Congress because of their loyalty to the late YSR. Sharmila’s biggest disadvantage is that she hails from Andhra’s Rayalaseema region; she is seen as someone who opposed statehood for Telangana.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is too early to talk about her,” said Congress spokesperson Sravan Dasoju. “Telangana has a special character and history and it is unlike any other state. The state was formed due to sacrifices made against the hegemony of Andhra leadership. In the long term, people will certainly question her and she will have to prove her commitment to Telangana. There will also come a time when she will have to fight her own brother on water issues between the two states. So, we will have to see how she deals with that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political analyst Telakapalli Ravi agreed that only the Congress stands to lose with Sharmila’s political foray, but added that legacy alone will not help her. “There are major political parties like the Congress and the BJP. She has to overcome a lot of difficulties to get ahead of them,” he said. “Her scope is limited for now and she can be a minor player in the state. It looks like the TRS wants to create space for her and the BJP also wants her here.”</p> Thu Apr 29 18:21:08 IST 2021 the-colours-and-clamour-of-west-bengal-elections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Among the many festivals of West Bengal, the election season stands apart. This year, the campaigns were grander than usual. The state has never seen so many national leaders and political heavyweights whip up a storm like they did this time around. With movie stars in the fray—both as candidates and campaigners—multitudes gathered at the rallies, regardless of their political leanings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From kites to sweets, saris to body art, masks to face paint, party symbols were everywhere. Another first was that over 700 companies of Central Reserve Police Force were deployed statewide to ensure smooth running of the polls. The echo of their heavy boots aroused as much fear in the hearts of the people as they instilled a sense of security in them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE WEEK captured the colours and textures of the spectacle that was the 2021 assembly elections in Bengal. Festoons, posters and hoardings fluttered across the state’s skies in every party’s colours, even as giant photographs of the leaders stared at citizens from their perches. The battle cries of “asol poriborton (real change)”, in the words of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and “khela hobe” (game on), coming from the Trinamool Congress camp, rent the air as election fever ran high.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Come May 2, the results will finally reveal the fate of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in the toughest political contest of her five-decade-long career.</p> Thu Apr 29 20:55:13 IST 2021 income-generation-and-industrialisation-are-key-for-bengal-to-survive <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>HAVING SERVED PRIME</b> ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh as chief economic adviser, Ashok Lahiri has now taken the political plunge. A member of the 15th Finance Commission, Lahiri was originally supposed to contest from the Alipurduar seat in North Bengal. However, after opposition from local BJP leaders, the party’s central leadership shifted Lahiri to Balurghat, the place his mother grew up in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the BJP has kept Bengalis guessing about its chief minister candidate, the state-level leadership has hinted that Lahiri could be their next finance minister. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You are an economist, policymaker and banker. But most people do not know that you are also a psephologist. What is your take on the Bengal elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People hardly know what goes on. I have some knowledge about the polls, but I never realised it is such a hard job. My candidature has made me understand this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you mean?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the past, policymakers like me used to blame politicians for not doing enough. That they did not fulfil promises. But they represent the electorate. Like [former US president] Barack Obama said, “You get the politicians you deserve.” So, the politician cannot do something that his people will revolt against.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You said you have taken many things from Bengal and would now like to repay the state. What do you want to give back?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bengal had occupied the prime position post-independence, but today that has eroded. There is a continuous decline in many parameters, for instance in terms of industrialisation and per capita income. In 1981, Bengal was eighth among the states in terms of per capita income. In 2011, it went down to the 18th position, and in 2018, 19th.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What about industrialisation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Same story. If we take industry, not construction and electricity, but manufacturing, then Bengal’s position has declined. Not all parameters have declined, but for me, per capita income and industrialisation of such a big state, with such a dense population, should have been the priority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But land is an issue.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, it is. But there are solutions. We must understand that having industries is not a choice, but a compulsion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But the left government had tried to acquire land for industrialisation.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I appreciate that the leftists tried to industrialise Bengal. But their methods were wrong. There has to be a win-win situation for farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The state government says that only barren land should be used for industries.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you believe that argument, then industries will come up only in the Thar Desert. Industries must come up in coastal areas. Our state government should have done land pooling long ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you propose?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bengal is a coastal state without a modern, state-of-the-art port. We have a riverine port in Kolkata. But now the river is so silted that tankers cannot come. So, you need a deep sea port. The Centre’s Sagarmala project has already proposed something on those lines. We need to take that up on a war footing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So building better connectivity is important.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes. South and North Bengal need better connectivity. Just 570km between Kolkata and Siliguri takes about 14 hours by road. Mumbai to Ahmedabad, with the same distance, takes only 10 hours. Transporting goods has to be cheaper.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you think of the education system in the state?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is pathetic. In education, Bengal was a pioneer. The first president (Rajendra Prasad) studied in my college (Presidency College in Kolkata). I do not understand why Bengal lost its great position.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, in terms of health, there is so much degradation. Bengalis go to Bhubaneswar for treatment. I blame the law and order situation for this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But the state government says that Bengal has the highest rate of economic growth in the country.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If it is so, then Bengal should have improved the economy of the state in a massive way, and per capita income and other parameters would have increased a lot. I do not say that I subscribe to all the arguments against Bengal, but questions have been raised about Bengal’s growth story.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lack of jobs is a crisis in many states, including Bengal.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Everyone wants government jobs because private jobs are not available. The Bengal government spends two-thirds of its budget on wages, salary, pensions and interests. So, [there] is no employment generation. We need to change this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But the state government says it does not have enough money.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You should ask the state finance minister (Amit Mitra) this question. I do not have all the answers. But there are always ways. Bengal’s GST (Goods and Services Tax) earnings are not bad. We have many options, particularly for the state and the local government. State excise is a possibility. Property tax and water charges are two areas. But I agree that they are not popular steps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Have you spoken to your friend, Amit Mitra, after getting the ticket?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, I have not spoken to Amit da.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you expect him to say?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well, I do not know. He might be surprised that I joined politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said that I had made him join politics, and I should follow the same path. I laughed at the idea [at the time]. Because I am a professional and I looked at it from that direction. Now, what would he tell me?</p> Thu Apr 29 17:43:14 IST 2021 uttar-pradesh-covid-19-crash <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A Covid wave of monstrous proportions is sweeping through Uttar Pradesh, which had done a relatively sound job of managing the pandemic’s first onslaught. On April 1, the total number of Covid cases in the state was 6,19,783. The number rose to 6,76,739 on April 10, and to 9,42,511 on April 21. More alarming is the rise in the number of deaths per day—from 48 in the preceding 24 hours on April 10 to 187 on April 21. The districts bearing the greatest burden of these numbers are Lucknow, Prayagraj, Kanpur and Varanasi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Stories of unbelievable suffering and neglect tumble out every day. One of them is from Dinesh Mehra, a garment exporter who had admitted his mother, Kiran, to T.S. Misra Medical College and Hospital in Lucknow on April 13. Kiran, 76, had tested positive on April 5 and the family had been treating her at home. On April 9, her blood sugar began to shoot up, while the sodium fell. She began hallucinating, prompting the family to admit her to the hospital.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At 4am on April 13, an ambulance picked her up. When the family called her at 10:30am, she said she still had not received breakfast—a dangerous delay for a diabetic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The well-connected Mehra then made multiple calls, including to the sub-divisional magistrate of the area who personally went to check the situation in the hospital. At 1:38pm, Mehra received a picture of his mother with her first meal of the day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next day, there were no calls from the hospital and the family was unable to call her cell phone. Persistent inquiries revealed that the phone and its charger had been stolen. Mehra immediately arranged for a replacement phone to be sent in. Yet, for the next two days, there was again silence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It took me 250-300 calls to be told that she had gone missing from the hospital,” said Mehra. “A constable from the Sarojini Nagar police station went to check on her whereabouts and found her. One version was that she had shifted to bed number 77 from her allotted bed number 76. Another was that she had been found locked in a room. She had not received any medication in the meantime. She was then shifted to the intensive care unit as the doctors said she was unconscious. A few hours later, she was put on a ventilator, and at 1:30am on April 19, we got a call saying she was no more. We had sent her to the hospital only because we could not manage her sugar levels. Had we had any inkling of what would happen, we never would have.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mehra is thinking of lodging a complaint against the hospital. He also alleges that his mother’s clothes and the ring and earrings she was wearing were stolen, as were the clothes the family had packed for her. After the cremation, when he went to collect the remains, he found that her lower denture was missing. “They even took away her gold tooth,” Mehra said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The hospital did not respond to queries, but one of the many social media posts complaining about gross negligence on its part elicited this response: “Our hospital is currently overwhelmed with the number of patients the government is sending. More than 40 per cent of the staff... have fallen ill; some have absconded; because of which there is an extreme shortage of manpower.... We have asked the government to provide help with this, as we were not given any time for preparation.” The hospital was a designated Covid facility even during the first wave of the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The list of Covid care institutions in Lucknow has been growing, but patients are still struggling to find hospital beds. Pharmacies have run out of basic pills like paracetamol. Oxygen concentrators, which one could buy for less than Rs40,000 earlier, now cost Rs90,000. Hospitals have started to request patients to leave as oxygen supplies run low.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shuchin Bajaj, founder director of Ujala Cygnus hospitals, three of which are located in UP, said, “In the first wave, because of the lockdown, transmission slowed down and hospitals were not under so much pressure. The pressure was on the supply of masks and personal protective equipment. This time, the manufacturing aspect is well taken care of, but there is shortage of medicines and plasma. Treatment protocols are also not clear.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An oft-repeated complaint is about the centralised allocation of beds through the integrated ‘Covid control and command centre’. In September 2020, the ministry of health and family welfare recognised the centre’s functioning as part of Covid-19 best practices. One of the centre’s tasks is to facilitate prompt referral of patients to the appropriate level of dedicated Covid facilities. This means that patients cannot go to any hospital that has available beds; they have to wait for the centre to allocate beds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another step (now done away with) added to the process was getting a letter from the chief medical officer before an admission. But even after a letter was obtained and an allocation made, the actual wait for a hospital bed could stretch for days. On April 20, the state’s Human Rights Commission directed the state government to do away with the requirement of letters and permit hospital admissions through the simple process of having every hospital display a real time list of available beds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No number of ‘connections’ can be of help in the prevailing situation. Veteran journalist Tavishi Srivastava started experiencing severe breathing difficulties after four days of being ill. She made desperate phone calls to other senior mediapersons, telling them in laboured breath: “Save me. I will die if I don’t get to a hospital.” It took more than six hours to get her to a hospital. Four hours later, on April 19, she died. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who had also tested positive and was in isolation, issued a note of condolence a day later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The system has crashed,” said Sunit Kumar Saxena, a doctor who retired from the state’s health services in 2019. “It was known that cases would increase after Holi. The infrastructure that was created for the first wave should have been enhanced, but it was dismantled. IAS officers in UP believe that they know everything and routinely disrespect doctors. And no one blames them. Even the people blame doctors if beds are not available. But it is not the doctors who create beds, or ensure oxygen supply or ventilators.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sometime around Holi (March 29), private labs in Lucknow stopped Covid tests. Several labs confirmed this to THE WEEK, even though the government said that there were no such orders. Low testing could have masked the number of new infections in the immediate follow-up to the festival.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“[Private labs] were handling a chunk of the samples, but for some reason they stopped testing and this added to our load,” said Jyotsna Agarwal, head of the department of microbiology at Ram Manohar Lohia Institute of Medical Sciences in Lucknow. “From January to March, we would test between 1,000 and 2,500 samples a day. Now we deal with 9,000 to 10,000 samples from Lucknow and eight other districts. Positivity rates have increased by 30-40 per cent. So, we cannot do pooled testing any more. One cycle of testing of around 100 samples takes anywhere between four to six hours. And the number of samples that keep coming in never seems to stop.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>‘Unbearable’ was the word used by a nodal officer at a Covid care facility in Lucknow to describe the work pressure. “There is no planning and execution for a triage area; key medicines like Remdesivir are unavailable; and facilities for disposal of biomedical waste are dismal,” he said. “We have to report bed availability, staff information, oxygen status and admitted/discharged/death status through various forms at different intervals during the day. For every death, forms have to be filled and submitted to the authorities concerned within two to six hours. We also need to attend meetings in person or through videoconferencing. We cannot switch off our phones; VIPs make calls throughout the day. With no time for rest or sleep, stress levels are high.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dr Girija Shankar Bajpai, an additional director of the state’s health department who oversees Covid-19 management in Lucknow, said the challenges were changing by the day. “But the biggest challenge remains the availability of ICU beds and the associated logistics. To increase capacity is another challenge and even the private sector is struggling.” Bajpai was in charge of the health facilities during the Prayagraj Kumbh in 2019 and was assigned the new role on April 18 as the situation in Lucknow began to worsen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sidharth Nath Singh, who was minister of health before he was given other portfolios, said the chief minister was monitoring and “elevating” the state’s health infrastructure. “The second wave’s impact is quite serious and unprecedented,” he said. “But our government is committed to securing the lives and livelihoods of the 24 crore people of UP, and is tirelessly working for them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The effectiveness of the government’s work will only be clear once this second wave recedes, revealing the true magnitude of the havoc it has caused. For now, UP has no time to lose if it wants to save itself from being swept away by this surge.</p> Sat May 01 12:26:36 IST 2021 jaleel-exit-deals-a-blow-to-ldf <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>He is the “face of the left front” in Kerala’s Malappuram district, and the “face of Muslims” in the ruling left front. He is K.T. Jaleel, who till recently was minister for higher education and minority welfare, and the CPI(M)’s personal-cum-political bridge into the Muslim heartland. But with corruption charges having forced him to step down, he has fallen from grace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On April 9, the lokayukta in Kerala held Jaleel guilty of nepotism and abuse of power. The verdict came on a complaint that alleged that Jaleel had unlawfully appointed a close relative as general manager at the state-run Minorities Finance Development Corporation (MFDC). As pressure mounted on him to resign, Jaleel moved Kerala High Court to obtain a stay on the lokayukta’s verdict. But on April 13, even as the court was considering his plea, he announced that he was stepping down as minister. “The anti-left coalition in the state can kill me; but they cannot defeat me,” he posted on social media after announcing his decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The incident related to the complaint happened barely two months after the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front came to power in 2016. On July 28 that year, Jaleel wrote to the general administration department recommending that the eligibility criteria for the post of general manager at MFDC be revised to suit his relative’s educational qualification. The department replied that the criteria were fixed by the finance ministry after cabinet approval, and that any change would require cabinet nod. Jaleel, however, insisted that only the chief minister’s approval was needed as the specifics of the criteria were being expanded only and not necessarily changed. The chief minister’s office agreed with Jaleel’s contention and sanctioned his recommendation. The decision enabled the appointment of Jaleel’s cousin K.T. Adeeb, who had been an employee of a private-sector bank, as general manager “on deputation” at MFDC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Adeeb was soon forced to resign after his appointment sparked a political row. Jaleel had since been denying allegations of wrongdoing. “It is a case that has already been dismissed by the High Court,” he said after the lokayukta verdict. “The governor, too, had refused to entertain the complaint as there was no merit in it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But even as Jaleel filed a petition in the High Court against the lokayukta verdict, the opposition hit the streets demanding his resignation. “Jaleel has no moral right to continue,” said opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala. “Whenever the lokayukta has passed similar orders, the ministers concerned have resigned. That is the precedent.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The state government, however, soon took up cudgels on Jaleel’s behalf. “This was not an appointment but a deputation, and the said official was already drawing a higher salary [from the private-sector bank],” said Law Minister A.K. Balan. “Also, there is no rule that says that one cannot be appointed on deputation if he or she is the cousin of a minister.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>V. Muraleedharan, BJP leader and Union minister, said Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan should have asked Jaleel to step down the day the lokayukta passed the order. “Why is Jaleel getting preferential treatment that even CPI(M) ministers had not received?” he asked, referring to a similar situation in October 2016, when charges of nepotism forced party veteran E.P. Jayarajan to step down as minister. “It is as if Jaleel is the supreme Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, what makes Jaleel so uniquely powerful? The answer is that he entered the left front as a ‘giant killer’. In the 2006 assembly polls, he defeated P.K. Kunhalikutty, the tallest leader of the Indian Union Muslim League in Kerala, in the party’s bastion in Malappuram. Before he locked horns with Kunhalikutty and quit the IUML, Jaleel had been an up-and-coming leader of the IUML’s youth body. He had entered politics through the Students’ Islamic Movement of India, an organisation that was later banned by the Union government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As an independent legislator, Jaleel was an ideal find for the CPI(M), which had been struggling to find a foothold in Muslim-dominated constituencies in northern Kerala. As an intellectual who holds a PhD in history, Jaleel, too, was happy to join hands with the CPI(M). His oratorial skills and dynamism energised the party cadre in Malappuram district, which had for long been an IUML bastion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As he helped the CPI(M) make inroads in Malappuram, Jaleel increasingly became a powerful figure in the left coalition. In 2016, the coalition swept the assembly polls and Jaleel won from Thavanur, a constituency in the IUML heartland. He was the only independent MLA to be appointed minister in the Pinarayi Vijayan government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the past five years, Jaleel has faced a slew of allegations. He was alleged to have been involved in the gold smuggling case, which had led to the arrest of the chief minister’s principal secretary last year. He was also questioned by the customs department after it was alleged that he had helped unlawfully import “250 cartons of the Quran into the state” using the diplomatic route.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Officials in the ministry say Jaleel does not care two hoots for procedures. “If he thinks something needs to be done, then he just takes a decision unilaterally,” said a senior IAS officer who worked under Jaleel. “We have had a hard time with him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as the CPI(M) leadership has been vigorously defending Jaleel, veteran party leaders have aired their disapproval. “Jaleel still has not come to terms with the LDF’s style of functioning,” senior CPI(M) leader told THE WEEK. “Like most IUML leaders in the [Congress-led] United Democratic Front, he gives scant regard for procedures. All that is okay within the IUML. But the public will not tolerate any such things from an LDF government. Jaleel is yet to realise that.”</p> Fri Apr 16 16:02:41 IST 2021 can-left-veteran-ashok-bhattacharya-overcome-the-bjps-surge-in-siliguri <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>He was once called the king of Siliguri. But veteran communist leader Ashok Bhattacharya’s influence in the north Bengal city seems to be waning. This was evident in the thin crowd of supporters around him as he went about seeking votes for the seventh consecutive time. The sitting MLA has won all but one (2011) election from Siliguri since 1991.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once a heavyweight minister in the Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee governments, Bhattacharya was seen as a development man who brought together the varied sections of the Siliguri population. The city is close to Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Tibet, and is seen as an important strategic point for India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wearing a plain shirt and crumpled trousers, Bhattacharya extended his hands to voters while campaigning. “Vote for our future. Do not vote emotionally,” he told them. The people smiled, but did not commit. The violence in the state has marred the flavour of the elections this time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhattacharya, who has previously survived challenges from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress, is now on a sticky wicket because of the recent saffron surge. His confidant Sankar Ghosh has joined the BJP. An internal study by the BJP had found that it was Bhattacharya and not Mamata, who was its main challenge in Siliguri. And so, a coup was apparently arranged. Ghosh and several others switched to the BJP. He will now take on Bhattacharya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Asked about this, an unflustered Bhattacharya said, “I am not at all worried about who has left me. I have groomed many others. If they desert me, it is their own problem. Mind my words, I will win this seat again.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhattacharya is also known as the bridge between the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the influential people in the state, including superstar actors and sports legends.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so, apart from ideological differences with the Marxists, the BJP was reportedly more annoyed about Bhattacharya dissuading former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly from entering politics. Senior BJP leaders had been wooing the BCCI president to join their party. A confused Ganguly had reportedly reached out to Bhattacharya, who told him: “Politics should not be your cup of tea. As a player, you are loved by everyone. Do not split your fans on the basis of their political affiliations.” Ganguly has decided to stay away from politics for the time being.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhattacharya smiled when asked about it. He admitted that he had been in regular touch with Ganguly. “He is a Bengal cricket legend,” he said. “He fell ill. He is popular across Bengal, irrespective of caste, creed and religion. Should I not give him a suggestion about entering politics?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Did Ganguly call him when he decided to contest? “He called and wished me luck,” said Bhattacharya. “I have always maintained good relations with good people like Ganguly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently, Bhattacharya has admirers in other sports, too. Former Indian football captain Bhaichung Bhutia, who contested against Bhattacharya in 2016, has wished him luck this time. Bhutia, who also contested and lost the 2014 Lok Sabha elections on a Trinamool ticket, said, “There cannot be a better man than Ashok da. He is such a gentleman. He should win.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhattacharya laughed when told about Bhutia’ statement. “Not only has Bhaichung decided to issue a statement supporting me,” he said, “but also he would love to campaign for me. I am extremely happy seeing his love for me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Bhattacharya is sure of his victory, the religious polarisation in Siliguri could spoil his chances. The constituency has around 30 per cent of non-Bengali voters, who are mostly Marwaris, Biharis, Gorkhas, Bhutias and Lepchas. The BJP has increased its vote share among this group since 2014. It has become more popular with the Bengalis, too. Given that the Trinamool would also be a key player in the fight to corner the Bengali vote, should Bhattacharya not be more worried? “I do not think so,” he said. “Religious polarisation would not work in Siliguri. Also, non-Bengalis and other ethnic groups like the Gorkhas like me as well.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said everyone should be alarmed over the recent killing of four people (Muslims) in police firing and a Rajbangshi man, reportedly by his political opponents, at Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar. “Both the BJP and the TMC are playing the communal card,” he said. “They are not thinking of the region, which is very crucial for India’s integrity. Politicians need to be responsible, otherwise North Bengal will go the northeast way. I am happy that the Hindu-Muslim game will not work in Siliguri; demographically, it cannot be played here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Was this why he thought he would win? “You only look at the TMC and the BJP,” he said. “Do not fail to see the undercurrent in favour of the united front, which was seen in 1967 and 1969.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the reasons for Bhattacharya’s confidence was his party’s forward-looking candidate list. “We have fielded young faces in a majority of the seats. They will be the future of our party,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Should the CPI(M) not have done this before? “You are right,” he said. “Perhaps things would have been different then.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, meanwhile, is confident that its recent rise will see it through. “We will win Siliguri with a huge margin,” said BJP district president Praveen Agarwal. “In fact, we will win most seats in North Bengal. There is a wave in the BJP’s favour.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The people of Siliguri, however, are non-committal. “Ashok babu has a chance, but this time no one can say who will win,” said Swapan Majumdar, a local trader. “The BJP is gaining ground each day. We are confused.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said people had suffered a lot during the pandemic. “Our hospitals lacked facilities,” he said. “Many people died without being treated. Business also suffered. So, a section of people in Siliguri would show their anger through voting.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources said Mamata has been trying to woo Bhattacharya for the past few years. Perhaps seeing the rise of the BJP, she has scaled down her attack on Bhattacharya. But he rejected all such advances. Many people said that Mamata has put up a weak candidate—Jadavpur University professor Om Prakash Mishra—against Bhattacharya this time. Both the BJP and the CPI(M) have local candidates. The Trinamool, however, has denied that there was any such adjustment.</p> Fri Apr 16 15:45:07 IST 2021 why-central-leaders-are-absent-in-the-left-congress-campaign-in-west-bengal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>If the first</b> few phases are any indication, the West Bengal elections are fast becoming a two-horse race. The finish line might be weeks away, but the manner in which the BJP has matched the Trinamool’s cadre strength on the ground—especially in Nandigram—has sowed seeds of doubt in the minds of some leaders of the ruling party. In fact, Mamata’s strategists had to take to social media to quell rumours that she would be contesting from another seat in the later phases. They assured voters that Mamata would win Nandigram. “We had anticipated that (rumours),” said a senior Trinamool MP. “They would play psychological games during the elections. It was done to hit the morale of our workers.”</p> <p>BJP insiders said that the Nandigram model—fighting fire with fire—would be followed across the state in the next phases. Said state BJP vice president Biswapriya Roychowdhury: “This model is nothing but a method of resistance. We will not let the TMC rig the elections. In every booth, our men and women would guard the voters and keep an eye on the TMC polling agents.”</p> <p>The next two phases would see polling in two districts of North Bengal, and Hooghly, Howrah and South 24 Parganas in South Bengal. While the BJP has done well in the north, it will be looking to breach Mamata’s bastion in the south. The party has lined up a series of rallies by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and roadshows by Home Minister Amit Shah.</p> <p>Curiously, the third horse in the race—the united front of the left, the Congress and the Indian Secular Front—seems to be glancing at another race on another track: The Kerala elections. While the ISF is a new entrant and is contesting in only 31 seats, the two established parties have been defensive in their approach. There has been a sudden inertness in the campaign. Except for former state minister Sushanta Ghosh, in West Midnapore, no left or Congress candidate was on the ground against the Trinamool.</p> <p>That senior Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra have not visited Bengal has led to speculation that the party high command wants to avoid taking on Mamata as there could be a larger coalition against Modi at the Centre.</p> <p>“It is well known that if the Congress and the left campaign extensively, the anti-BJP vote would be divided,” said a senior BJP leader. “They can eat into the Muslim votes as a key Muslim cleric (Abbas Siddiqui) is with them. Maybe that is why none of the Congress leaders came. However, it is unfortunate for a party that always took elections seriously. Regardless of what Congress leaders in Bengal say, their high command is [not as against] Mamata.”</p> <p>The left, on the other hand, has never relied on outside leaders to campaign in state elections. However, many of its experienced leaders are old and ailing, and have been limited by the pandemic. The central leaders, meanwhile, have focused on fighting the Congress in Kerala; the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is in power there.</p> <p>There is also a crack in the broad leftist alliance as the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), which was part of the left front in the recent Bihar elections, opposed the idea of going up against Mamata to “help the BJP”. Apparently, the CPI(ML) refused to buy the argument that Mamata had reached a compromise with the BJP in Delhi.</p> <p>The Congress and the left seem to have accepted that Mamata is a key leader in the fight against Modi in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, and against numerous controversial legislations such as the citizenship act and the farm laws. The Trinamool chief had supported the Congress and the left during the farmers’ protests, and had even sent her party leaders to the Haryana-Delhi border.</p> <p>Given this, it was difficult for the central leaders of both the Congress and the left to campaign against Mamata wholeheartedly.</p> <p>Both parties have, however, played down the soft division between their state and central committees. “When the united front was formed, comrade (CPI(M) general secretary) Sitaram Yechury was present at the Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata,” said a CPI(M) state committee leader. “If needed, he would obviously come.”</p> <p>As for the Congress, the only tall non-Bengali leader at the Brigade Parade Ground was Chhattisgrah Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel.</p> <p>However, Congress MP Pradip Bhattacharya said that, given the allocation of seats within the alliance, his party was not a big force in the first three phases. “We are strong contenders in Murshidabad, Malda and Dinajpur. They will go to the polls later,” Bhattacharya told THE WEEK. “Perhaps that is why the central leadership has stayed away so far.”</p> <p>When asked whether the Gandhis would campaign, he said, “We have received no news so far. If they decide to come, we would obviously be informed.”</p> <p>In 2016, when the BJP was not a force in Bengal, left leaders from Kerala and Delhi had been part of rallies against Mamata despite concurrent elections in Kerala. Rahul had shared a dais with senior left leader and former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in Kolkata.</p> <p>Much water has flowed under the Howrah Bridge since. In the past few years, Mamata has made attempts to mend her relationship with central CPI(M) leaders. She even held meetings with senior left leader and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in Delhi, and invited him to join her fight against the BJP.</p> <p>The gesture seems to have paid off, but at the cost of a third front, said observers. Though some supporters are holding out hope that senior communist leaders will join the campaign now that the Kerala elections are over (April 6), some others said that it would be too late; the electorate would be completely polarised between the Trinamool and the BJP.</p> <p>Bhattacharya disagreed. He said there was an undercurrent in favour of the united front alliance. “People are underestimating our alliance,” he said. “I think we will be a factor in many seats, primarily in north Bengal.”</p> <p>He did not comment whether the central leadership had felt the same undercurrent.&nbsp;</p> Thu Apr 08 20:27:04 IST 2021 at-least-half-a-dozen-police-officers-being-investigated-in-antilia-bomb-scare-case <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>When Anil Deshmukh</b> resigned as the home minister of Maharashtra on April 5, after the Bombay High Court ordered a CBI probe into the allegation against him, he attributed it to moral correctness. Most others believed it was the result of an order by party president Sharad Pawar.</p> <p>Pawar, after discussions with Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, his nephew, decided to save his Nationalist Congress Party and the Maha Vikas Aghadi government from further embarrassment in the aftermath of the Antilia bomb scare. The Shiv Sena and the Congress, the NCP’s allies in the MVA, sought Deshmukh’s resignation since the controversy first came to light, but the NCP had been backing him. The High Court order made things easier for all three parties. The Maharashtra government has appealed in the Supreme Court and Deshmukh, too, was considering filing his own appeal.</p> <p>Deshmukh’s replacement is Dilip Walse-Patil, an NCP veteran who was minister for labour and state excise. He represents Ambegaon, Pune, in the state legislature and is in his seventh consecutive term. Walse-Patil has experience in handling departments like finance, energy, and higher and medical education. A man of few words, Walse-Patil has the reputation of being highly efficient and a troubleshooter.</p> <p>However, the task awaiting him is tough. He has to repair the immense damage done to the image of Mumbai and Maharashtra police after the arrest of assistant inspector Sachin Waze in connection with the Antilia bomb scare case and the alleged murder of Mansukh Hiren, and the allegation by former Mumbai Police commissioner Param Bir Singh that Deshmukh had given a Rs100 crore monthly extortion target to Waze and ACP Sanjay Patil.</p> <p>The NIA, which is investigating both the Antilia bomb scare and the Mansukh Hiren murder cases, is slowly tightening its noose around Waze. It has already arrested suspended policeman Vinayak Shinde and Naresh Gor, a bookie, alleged accomplices of Waze. The agency believes that it was Shinde, who was convicted in the controversial Lakhan Bhaiya encounter case, who called Hiren for a meeting claiming to be “police officer Tawde from Kandivali crime branch unit” on March 4. Hiren was allegedly murdered that night; his body was found in a creek in Retibunder in Thane, Mumbai’s neighbouring district.</p> <p>Investigators have so far recovered seven luxury cars—including a Mercedes-Benz, an Audi and a Prado—and a Benelli bike, which was used by Waze. In one of the cars, they found a currency counting machine and 05 lakh in cash. They are also probing the withdrawal of Rs26 lakh from a bank account jointly held by Waze.</p> <p>NIA sleuths are questioning a woman named Meena George who they claim was seen with Waze at a five-star hotel in South Mumbai. Waze had booked a room at the hotel for 100 days, under the name Sadashiv Khamkar. The NIA searched Meena George’s residence at Meera Road on the outskirts of Mumbai. They are also investigating her bank accounts and transactions.</p> <p>The NIA suspects that Hiren’s death was planned as Waze considered him a weak link in the Antilia bomb scare drama. According to Hiren’s family, Waze had told him to get arrested and assured him that he would be out on bail in three to four days. But Hiren did not agree and remained firm that his SUV, which was found outside Antilia laden with explosives, had been stolen on February 17 from the Eastern Express Highway, where he had parked it after a technical snag.</p> <p>Investigators believe that Waze took a train from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Kalva on March 4 and asked Hiren to meet him there. The NIA has also recovered a laptop, a digital video recorder and a scanner, allegedly used by Waze, from the Mithi River. It suspects that Hiren was smothered by Waze’s associates and then his body was dumped in the creek to make it look like a suicide. It is not clear yet whether Waze was present as he has an alibi—he claims that he conducted a raid on a bar in Dongri in South Mumbai the same night.</p> <p>The NIA team also recovered the number plate of a Maruti Eeco van from the river. The van had been stolen from Aurangabad a few months ago; the owner is a government servant who has no clue how his number plate ended up in the river. Waze was reportedly planning an ‘encounter’ of a couple of small-time goons in this van; he would then claim he had solved the Antilia bomb scare case, and thereby clear Hiren’s name. However, this theory could not be verified as NIA officers in Mumbai were tight-lipped.</p> <p>NIA sleuths also suspect that the Antilia episode had been planned to extort its owner, Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani. A senior IPS officer from Maharashtra, who requested anonymity, felt that there were three motives—earning laurels after claiming to have solved the case; gaining proximity to the Ambanis and getting in the good books of the ruling dispensation in Delhi through the Ambanis.</p> <p>The role of at least half a dozen police officers, including an IPS officer, is being probed by the NIA. After Deshmukh’s resignation, former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said that more skeletons would tumble out soon. Sure enough, a letter to the NIA court, dated April 3 and signed by Waze, named transport minister Anil Parab of the Shiv Sena as another cabinet member who had given him a collection job.</p> <p>The letter says that Parab asked Waze to “look into the SBUT (Saifee Burhani Upliftment Project) complaint” and “initiate primary talks to get Rs50 crore from the SBUT to close the preliminary inquiry”. In a news conference on April 7, Parab denied Waze’s allegations and said he is willing to face any inquiry. He added that this was the BJP’s plot to defame the MVA. State BJP president Chandrakant Patil had already told party workers that one more minister will have to resign in the next fortnight. The letter has definitely put Parab and the MVA in a difficult position.</p> Thu Apr 08 20:20:54 IST 2021 mamatas-singur-challenge <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AROUND 40KM FROM</b> Kolkata, and a short distance off the national highway that connects West Bengal’s capital to Delhi, lies a village once known for its green fields—Singur. The once-abundant fields are mostly fallow now. Also gone are the remains of a factory which was supposed to roll out the world’s cheapest car, the Tata Nano.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was the protests against the Nano project that put Singur on India’s political map. More than a decade ago, around 2,000 farmers who were forced to give up fertile land started an agitation that not only led to Tata abandoning the half-built factory and shifting the project to Gujarat, but also ended the decades-old left front rule in West Bengal. It was on the back of the agitation in Singur, and a similar movement in Nandigram, that Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress rode to power in 2011.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Singur, though, memories of that famous struggle have faded. Mahadeb Manna, a farmer who had celebrated the day Mamata was sworn in, is now disillusioned. “The leaders have let us down,” he says. “We have nowhere to go now. What shall I do with these patches of barren land?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is sundown and Manna, 55, is grazing his cattle on a field overrun by wild bushes and trees. The three acres he was forced to give up for the factory has been restored to him, but it is of no use. Around 1,000 acres in Singur were acquired for the project, but by the time farmers got all of it back after a long legal battle, the fields had become uncultivable. The compensation that farmers received from the state government—a few lakh rupees each—was hardly adequate. “The land could never be restored to how it was,” says Mahadeb. “I am now looking to sell it. But it is difficult to find buyers, as the land can only be used for industrial purposes now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Darkness falls, and Mahadeb takes leave. “I have to go back,” he says. “There are no lights on the way home.” Streetlights had come and gone with the Nano project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Mahadeb leaves, his friend arrives on a bicycle. Ashim Das, too, was a farmer, but his two acres are now barren. “We are no longer farmers,” he says angrily. “I am a daily-wage labourer now.” Ashim says he is ready to call “the bluff of the Trinamool” in this election. His aggression makes passers-by look at him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time, the battle to win the Singur assembly constituency is between Becharam Manna of the Trinamool and Rabindranath Bhattacharya of the BJP. Bhattacharya was president of the organisation that led the land movement; Manna was its convener. A former Trinamool minister, Bhattacharya had quit the party after he was denied a ticket. At 89, he is the oldest candidate in the fray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhattacharya’s decision to join the BJP, however, has not gone down well with supporters. “He should have taken our permission before joining the BJP,” says Ashim. “Does he not know that the farm movement is still continuing in Singur? We still have livelihood issues, and the land here remains uncultivable.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like other farmers, Ashim has been receiving rations free of cost from the state government. Families in Singur have also been getting 02,000 a month, along with regular supplies of rice and wheat, as compensation for their losses. But like many others, Ashim is not happy. He knows that the Singur agitation has cost him. “Initially, the monthly allowance and free rice were good,” he says. “But then I understood: I have to get my son and daughter educated. Where would the money come from?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To make ends meet, he became a vegetable vendor. “I sold vegetables in the local market. The money helped my son become a graduate with a diploma in computer design,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ashim does not like Manna, who was Mamata’s minister of agriculture. He alleges that Manna helped candidates who were less qualified than others land government jobs. “Most of them were relatives of ruling-party leaders,” he says. “But my son, even though he was well-educated, failed to get any help. Time has come to teach these leaders a lesson.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Early last year, Ashim’s son got a job at a small Kolkata-based company. He began getting a monthly salary of Rs18,000, but the pandemic suddenly ended the steady income. Ashim holds the state government responsible for his family’s plight. “During the lockdown, I was beaten up by the police,” he says. “The government that could not give us jobs attacked us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The land movement was indeed justified, say Ashim and Mahadeb, but they feel that the factory would have improved their lives. “At least, our sons and daughters would have had jobs,” says Mahadeb. “We were trapped and misled by politicians. They are the real culprits.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The resentment only gets stronger as one travels deeper into the villages around Singur. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had recorded a lead of more than 12,000 votes in the Singur assembly segment. Sanath Das, who owns a sweet shop at Bora village, says Bhattacharya, being an experienced leader, could well have sensed which way the wind was blowing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rift between Bhattacharya and Manna has only deepened the disillusionment in Singur. “They could not see eye to eye,” says Sanath. “They used to plot against each other.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhattacharya lives in the neighbouring Haripal constituency, from where Manna had won in 2016. Manna’s wife, Karabi, is the Trinamool candidate in Haripal this time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A retired high-school headmaster, Bhattacharya is referred to as mastermoshoi (respected teacher) by supporters. Bhattacharya calls Manna, who dropped out of school after class 10, as his “disciple” who later turned corrupt. Trinamool leaders, however, say Manna, 45, is more popular than Bhattacharya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manna himself denies that Bhattacharya was his political mentor. “Rabinbabu was my disciple, in fact. He is a person with a mean mentality. It is better to not talk about him. I am sure that I will win by a huge margin,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manna says Bhattacharya won elections because of him, and that it was based on his recommendation that Mamata made him minister. “He would not have survived politically without me. In return, he gave me no respect,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many of Manna’s erstwhile supporters now oppose him. One such person is Manoranjan Malik, who describes himself as a symbol of the Singur movement. He is the father of Tapashi Malik, a 16-year-old protester who was raped and murdered, allegedly by CPI(M) workers, in 2006. Even after 15 WWyears, says Manoranjan, justice has not been done. “In the 2018 local body polls, Manna even gave tickets to the nephew of one of the culprits who killed my daughter,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After Mamata came to power, Tapashi’s story was included in school textbooks. She also gave jobs to Manoranjan’s two sons. “I have every reason to thank didi,” he says. “One son works at Kolkata Metro and the other at the state secretariat. What more could I ask for? Still, the condition of the Trinamool here pains me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manoranjan runs a shop selling imitation jewellery near Singur railway station. Despite losses, he has been keeping the shop open because Mamata had helped him set up the business. But the fact that his daughter’s killers are roaming free is tormenting him. “A lower court had convicted the two main culprits, but the High Court granted them bail,” he says. “The government did nothing after that, and I don’t know why.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manoranjan believes that Mamata would return to power in Bengal, but he is unsure whether the Trinamool can win Singur and Haripal. “Anybody can win these two constituencies,” he says. “Time is ripe for punishment.”</p> Fri Apr 02 12:39:53 IST 2021 mamata-is-not-honest-but-she-wants-peoples-welfare <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/You are a four-time MLA from Singur and led a historic land movement. And now you are in the BJP.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/When your clothes are old and damaged, you need to change it. Will you be able to wear a torn shirt? No.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/But at this age, you could have made a graceful exit.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/That was my problem. I did not want to be a candidate this time, though I was very fit despite pushing 90. I expected the chief minister to talk to me and explain that she had to drop me. But I came to know from a television channel that I had been dropped. She did not care for my seniority and status.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Why is the Trinamool Congress a torn cloth?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/One must learn from history. Even Winston Churchill was defeated after World War II. Everyone must change with time to keep afloat. Look at the BJP. Can you make a comparison between what it was two decades ago and what it is now? It will change more in the coming years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The Trinamool said you were greedy.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Let them think whatever they would like to. A four-time MLA and cabinet minister should not be shown the door like this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Many people said you could not accept the new candidate in Singur.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/[Trinamool candidate] Becharam Manna is my disciple. I brought him to the Singur movement and gave him prominence. But that does not mean that I will not raise a finger if he becomes corrupt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/But Becharam alleges the same thing.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/What can I say? For 20 years I served everybody irrespective of their political affiliations. I don’t have a car. I have a very ordinary lifestyle. The problem is, Mamata Banerjee knows me well and respects me, but she has no control over the party and the party men who abuse power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Did you set any condition to join the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/No, I joined the BJP to protest the corruption in the Trinamool. I was surprised when I was nominated as the candidate in Singur within a few days of joining.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The BJP is in favour of industries. You drove out Tata from Singur.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Singur needs industrialisation today. I believe Tata should come back to Singur. My fight was not against Tata. It was against the left front government and the way it throttled the rights of farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Hundreds of acres have been lying fallow since Tata was driven out.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/That is the failure of the Trinamool government. There was no initiative to reuse the land. Mamata tried, but party men let her down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/You were shifted to three different departments when you were minister.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/That is because I saw corruption. I wanted to point that out. But, thinking that heads will roll, the chief minister shifted me to different ministries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/You mean Mamata is corrupt?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Well, I will not say that she is very honest. But I can say that she always wanted people’s welfare.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What was the level of corruption? Who were the people involved?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Please don’t ask me that. I have taken an oath of secrecy regarding cabinet meetings. I can only say that the party is deeply corrupt and that Mamata has no control over it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What will be the poll result?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I will not make any comment about the rest of the state. But as regards Singur, I can say that the Trinamool will lose.</p> Fri Apr 02 12:38:43 IST 2021 kamal-haasan-unlikely-to-be-kingmaker-but-may-play-spoiler <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON MARCH 9,</b> hundreds of young men and women filled a swanky hall in one of Chennai’s prominent hotels, awaiting the arrival of actor-director Kamal Haasan, who promised to “bring change” to politics. Kamal, known as ulaganayagan (world hero) in film circles and nammavar (our man) in the political arena, walked in two hours late, with loudspeakers blaring “Naalai namadhey” (tomorrow is ours), the campaign theme of the Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), his political party. It got the crowd excited, but they were more interested in clicking pictures of the superstar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Going by the present trends, Kamal’s vote share will definitely go up to 8 per cent from the 3.7 per cent he got in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. It will not be a surprise even if it touches double digits. But he will only end up a spoiler,” said political analyst Raveenthran Thuraisamy. Kamal’s recent rallies have drawn huge crowds, but observers feel he is unlikely to turn into a political phenomenon like former chief minister M.G. Ramachandran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Kamal does not enjoy support among the rural masses,” said Thuraisamy. “He is not a mass hero like MGR. He cannot be compared even with Vijayakanth, who enjoys huge popularity among rural voters.” Kamal has nevertheless offered Tamil Nadu a different brand of politics. His focus is on “honesty” and he promises a “government free of corruption”. Suave and articulate, he is quite popular among the upper caste—mostly Brahmin—voters despite his atheist, non-religious identity. He may not be a good orator, but he has been efficient in conveying his message to the voters. He, however, hardly touches upon topics like social justice or ethno-linguistic issues which have played a major role in shaping Dravidian politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At a recent news conference, when asked about the newly introduced 10.5 per cent internal reservation for the Vanniyar community, Kamal passed the question on to his colleague Pazha Karuppaiah, former MLA from the Harbour constituency. “Even a less prominent player like Seeman (filmmaker-turned politician) and his Naam Thamilar Katchi has an ideology, which is based on Tamil nationalism. But what is Kamal’s ideology? He is having trouble with a bag full of confused ideologies,” said academic and political analyst P. Ramajayam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For instance, while justifying his stand on having no truck with Dravidian parties, Kamal has struggled to explain his identity as a Dravidian. “As long as the word ‘Dravida’ exists in our national anthem, Dravidianism will exist. I only meant that the MNM will not have an alliance with any of the Kazhagams (the DMK and the AIADMK),” he said. Ramajayam said Kamal always presented himself as an alternative to the Dravidian majors, but had failed to explain whether he supported or opposed Dravidian politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kamal’s critics, meanwhile, say the MNM is nothing more than the BJP’s B team. They cite his open support for Anna University vice chancellor M.K. Surappa, who has run into controversies ranging from alleged financial irregularities to the introduction of Bhagavad Gita as a subject for engineering students, to argue that he is close to the BJP. “His primary agenda is to destroy Dravidian politics, which is also the agenda of the RSS and the BJP,” said DMK spokesperson A. Saravanan. Lawyer C. Rajashekaran, who was with the MNM till April 2018, said Kamal was a good actor, but a bad politician. He said he joined hands with Kamal after being inspired by his views on honesty and alternative politics, but became disillusioned after a while. “Kamal stands exposed with every step he takes,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the upcoming assembly elections, Kamal is focusing on urban constituencies, keeping in mind the MNM’s performance in the Lok Sabha polls. He has fielded candidates from 10 urban and industrialised constituencies in the Coimbatore region, which have significant Brahmin and Gounder votes. Kamal himself is contesting from Coimbatore South, which the MNM considers to be a safe bet for him. The AIADMK and the DMK are not contesting the seat, having left it to their allies. Kamal’s main opponents are Vanathi Srinivasan, president of the BJP Mahila Morcha, businessman Mayura Jayakumar of the Congress and industrialist R. Doraisamy of the AMMK. Doraisamy, who won in 2011 on an AIADMK ticket, could prove to be the biggest challenge for Kamal. “We are getting so much attention because Kamal is contesting from here," said Srinivasan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, MNM vice president R. Mahendran had polled nearly 1.3 lakh votes in Coimbatore, spoiling the chances of the BJP’s C.P. Radhakrishnan. He got 23,838 votes in the Coimbatore South assembly segment. “We identified 30 constituencies for nammavar. And Coimbatore was on top of the list,” said Mahendran, who has chosen Singanallur, which is next to Coimbatore South. “Our fight this time is to break the shackles of corruption hurting the state. The new and the young voters are for nammavar as they believe that only he can bring about change,” said Mahendran. Rakshika, a young voter who runs a bakery in the posh R.S. Puram neighbourhood, said Kamal could win as there was no DMK or AIADMK. “People like me who look for a change will vote for him," she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The MNM has attracted several prominent faces recently, including V. Ponraj, who was scientific adviser to former president Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, retired IPS officer A.G. Mourya and IAS officer Santhosh Babu, who quit his job alleging corruption by the AIADMK government. Kamal feels that they will attract more elite voters to the party. Ponraj, the party’s candidate for the Anna Nagar constituency, has considerable experience in reaching out to young entrepreneurs and social media groups. He claims to have brought in at least 1.5 lakh youngsters to the MNM. Santhosh Babu, who is contesting from Velachery, and Ponraj have contracted Covid-19 and are running a digital campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kamal has been closely associated with NGOs, women self-help groups, social reform activists and environmental activists. Some of them, like social activist Sneha Mohandas, who shot to fame after being selected to manage Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter account on the International Women’s Day in 2019, and environmental activist Padma Priya, who recently ran into a controversy by criticising the reservation system, are contesting on MNM tickets. “We are exploring new territories by tapping the support base of the youth and the non-voters. We want to bring in change by eliminating corruption,” said Senthil Arumugam of the Satta Panchayat Iyakkam, which has joined hands with the MNM against corruption and the liquor lobby. He said the MNM believed in identifying and bringing in the 30 per cent voters who always stayed away from elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kamal is expected to take away a part of the anti-incumbency vote, which would have otherwise gone to the DMK. Coupled with the support of a significant section of the urban middle-class and a chunk of the first-time voters, the MNM could turn out to be crucial in determining the winner in many constituencies. “In an election where victory can be determined by a few thousand votes, Kamal is definitely a spoiler. This is obvious with the alliance he has formed,” said Ramu Manivannan, head of the department of politics and public administration at Madras University.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Ours is not the third front. It is the first front,” Kamal said in a news conference recently when asked whether his alliance would make an impact in the elections. Despite his confidence, the MNM has not been able to attract the interest of major parties and fronts. There was talk that the Congress and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, which were dissatisfied with the number of seats offered by the DMK, would join hands with the MNM. But both parties finally chose to remain with the DMK. Kamal even gave an open call to Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) after it quit the AIADMK alliance. But the DMDK chose to go with T.T.V. Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As of now, the only parties to join the MNM alliance are actor Sarathkumar’s All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi, which banks on the Nadar votes in Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi, and Perambalur MP T.R. Paarivendhar’s Inthiya Jananayaga Katchi. Kamal is unhappy that not many parties have joined hands with him. The inability to forge a formidable alliance has dented his image as a serious politician. His future in Tamil Nadu politics will be clearer after the elections, as he is yet to carve out a unique space for him and his party.</p> Thu Apr 01 18:33:42 IST 2021 dhinakaran-could-influence-results-in-some-60-constituencies <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON MARCH 3,</b> when expelled AIADMK general secretary V.K. Sasikala announced her decision to withdraw from active politics, her nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran was taken aback. Speaking to the media outside Sasikala’s bungalow in Chennai, Dhinakaran admitted that he did not see it coming. Two days later, when key allies of Sasikala and her Mannargudi clan resolved to go with the AIADMK and the DMK in the upcoming elections, Dhinakaran, who heads the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), said that he was staying put with his new allies—the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen of Asaduddin Owaisi, the Social Democratic Party of India and the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam led by actor Vijayakanth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am not fighting a lonely battle. I am fighting for the people of Tamil Nadu against the DMK for bringing back Amma’s rule,” Dhinakaran told THE WEEK, while campaigning in Coimbatore. “The people are looking for a change as they have understood that the present government has betrayed them. And the DMK has created an illusion by making people believe that they are coming back to power after 10 years. But the illusion will be broken.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Along with the alliance led by Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), Dhinakaran’s newly formed coalition, too, could eat into the traditional vote-banks of the two Dravidian majors and could influence the results in dozens of constituencies. While the DMDK could split majority votes in northern Tamil Nadu, the AIMIM’s impact will be felt in constituencies with considerable Muslim presence. The AIMIM is fighting from Vaniyambadi, Krishnagiri and Sankarapuram. It had polled over 10,000 votes in Vaniyambadi in the 2016 elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AMMK is expected to do well in more than 40 constituencies in southern and western Tamil Nadu. Together with its coalition partners, it is a force to reckon with in more than 60 constituencies. Dhinakaran is contesting from Kovilpatti in Thoothukudi district; he is taking on the AIADMK’s powerful minister Kadambur C. Raju and the popular CPI(M) leader K. Srinivasan. His confidant S.V.S.P. Manickaraja is the AMMK point man in Kovilpatti.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Other key constituencies where the AMMK candidates fancy their chances include Coimbatore South, from where Kamal is contesting. The AMMK candidate is industrialist R. Doraisamy, who had won in 2011 on an AIADMK ticket. AIADMK supporters might vote for Doraisamy as the incumbent MLA Amman K. Arjunan has been shifted to Coimbatore North.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Bodinayakanur, the AMMK has put up M. Muthusamy from the powerful Naidu community. In a constituency dominated by Kallars and Naidus, he is likely to split votes from his caste. Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam is facing a tough battle in Bodinayakanur, where the DMK has fielded party-hopper Thanga Tamilselvan, who was formerly with the AIADMK and the AMMK. The AMMK is also likely to perform well in Usilampatti, Thiruvadanai, Sattur, Andipatti, Melur, Pappiredipatti and Karaikudi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AIADMK government’s last-minute decision to give 10.5 per cent internal reservation for the Vanniyar community seems to have upset caste equations in southern Tamil Nadu and has provided an opening for the AMMK. Dhinakaran will also get the support of the Thevars, who have been feeling side-lined by the Edappadi K. Palaniswami government. “We can win close to 40 seats,” said Dhinakaran, who is from the Thevar community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhinakaran has prepared a progressive election manifesto, highlighting rural jobs and women empowerment. “Everyone thought I was in political hibernation during the lockdown period. But we were working on welfare schemes to bring out a strong manifesto,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The manifesto promises two crore jobs to those between 15 and 65 years of age. “At present, they sell whatever they produce with minimum or no profit. Things available in a supermarket could be produced in villages, if value addition happens there itself. If those products are sold directly to consumers, more than 50 per cent of the value earned by middlemen can go to villagers. Apart from rice, cereals, fruits, vegetables, dairy, poultry and fish, our villages can look at producing cleaning products and personal hygiene products which could be supplied as branded products,” says the manifesto. It estimates an outlay of Rs2 lakh crore over five years for the project, which it expects to obtain as soft loans from the Central government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Dhinakaran has released an impressive manifesto and has stitched together a strategic alliance, his long-term political future looks unclear in the absence of Sasikala. Dhinakaran is, however, hopeful that his aunt will make a comeback after the elections. Sources in his camp said there were political manoeuvres to merge the AIADMK and the AMMK under Sasikala’s leadership. Though it was greenlighted by the BJP’s top bosses in Delhi, there was no response from the AIADMK leadership. Dhinakaran is still clueless as to how Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami managed to scuttle Sasikala’s return.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I tried convincing her,” said Dhinakaran. “There were lots of expectations about her return. Most of the AIADMK cadre wanted her to come back and lead the party. But the AIADMK leaders felt differently.”</p> Thu Apr 01 18:34:19 IST 2021 rising-son <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A few weeks before the 2016 assembly elections, THE WEEK had asked former Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi about the political future of his son, M.K. Stalin. The DMK patriarch was noncommittal. “I cannot predict when a flower will bloom,” he said. Five years later, there is no uncertainty. Stalin became the undisputed leader of the DMK after his father’s death in 2018, and is leading the party’s election campaign against a formidable alliance led by traditional rival AIADMK and the BJP.</p> <p>Stalin, 68, has displayed enough ideological flexibility to reinvent the grand old Dravidian party and prepare it for the challenges of new-age politics. “Stalin might not be flamboyant or articulate like the old Dravidian ideologists. He is a cautious person and a gradualist, who proceeds step by step,” said Ramu Manivannan, professor and head of the department of politics and public administration, University of Madras.</p> <p>Stalin’s journey to the top was never an easy one. His political journey started in 1967—he was 14 when he campaigned for his uncle Murasoli Maran, who won from the Madras South Lok Sabha constituency. He was jailed during the Emergency and had to work hard for several years before Karunanidhi elevated him in the party hierarchy. “Stalin has worked really hard to reach where he is today. He is a natural leader of our party,” said DMK spokesperson T.K.S. Elangovan.</p> <p>The first major administrative assignment Karunanidhi gave Stalin was the post of Chennai mayor. When he assumed office in 1996, he was just 44, and was the first directly elected mayor of the metropolis. Stalin implemented several development projects and earned a reputation of being a good administrator. But he was forced to step down in 2001 when the AIADMK government under J. Jayalalithaa introduced an amendment barring MLAs from holding more than one elected office. Stalin, then MLA from Thousand Lights, chose to give up the post of mayor.</p> <p>The DMK alliance’s massive defeat in the 2001 assembly elections was a major setback for Stalin. Senior leaders of the party, including his uncle Maran, were upset about the coalition stitched together by Stalin. With the DMK winning just 27 seats, Stalin’s chances of a rapid rise in the party hierarchy were hurt.</p> <p>Two years later, Stalin was appointed deputy general secretary of the DMK, and for the next three years, he worked hard across Tamil Nadu, reinvigorating the party and preparing for the 2006 assembly elections. Many of his loyal supporters, too, were given party posts. The DMK won a majority in the assembly elections and Stalin was inducted into the cabinet. Three years later, he was named the first deputy chief minister of Tamil Nadu.</p> <p>Although Stalin was his chosen political successor, Karunanidhi never gave him a free rein. He was made working president of the DMK only in 2016, but even then Karunanidhi kept a tight grip over the party. Stalin’s actual ascension to power came only after Karunanidhi’s death in 2018. “Stalin could not become DMK president so long as his father was alive. Even his father did not trust him,” quipped Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami at a recent campaign rally.</p> <p>Karunanidhi’s demise in 2018 was an emotional shock for the DMK, with Stalin weeping publicly and penning an emotional poem in memory of his father. But more than the tears, it was the grit that he displayed in taking on the AIADMK government that made him popular among the DMK cadre. “Stalin has acquired leadership qualities. He has served the party for a long time and is also an able administrator,” said former Rajya Sabha MP T.K. Rengarajan.</p> <p>Stalin’s leadership qualities and political acumen came to the fore after he assumed the DMK leadership. Critics predicted a split in the DMK, with Stalin’s elder brother M.K. Alagiri leading a rival faction. But Stalin ensured that the leaders and the cadre stayed with him. The DMK had survived the splits led by M.G. Ramachandran and Vaiko in the past. So Stalin was confident that despite the challenges, the DMK cadre would not desert the party. When Alagiri announced that he had his own political plans, Stalin chose to remain silent. Alagiri was supposed to meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Chennai on November 27. But the Maran siblings intervened on behalf of Stalin and persuaded Alagiri to stay away from the meeting. DMK general secretary Durai Murugan had a long telephone conversation with Alagiri and convinced him that Karunanidhi’s family members could never join hands with the BJP. “If Stalin had commented or taken any action, it would have backfired. His silence worked best,” said a DMK leader.</p> <p>Stalin remained cool even when two DMK MLAs, Ku Ka Selvam and P. Saravanan, joined the BJP. “We need a leader who can keep the flock together and fight the challenge posed to the Dravidian movement. Stalin is the right person to lead now,” said Elangovan.</p> <p>Unlike Karunanidhi, who capitalised on the factional feud in the AIADMK in 1989 to return to power after a gap of 13 years, Stalin has made it clear that he is ready to wait for the right moment to become chief minister. While many critics blamed him for not using the opportunity provided by Jayalalithaa’s death in 2016, Stalin said he did not want a back-door entry to the corridors of power. “Patience is his biggest asset. Be it the long wait to ascend to the DMK throne or the wait to win an election, he has been remarkably patient,” said Manivannan.</p> <p>With the DMK’s massive victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Stalin has shown that he can win elections on his own and he is now the face of the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu. He has reenergised the DMK, and has made his family—with the exception of Alagiri—rally behind him. After complaints that he did not give enough space to his sister, Lok Sabha MP Kanimozhi, and also to the Maran clan, he ensured that their concerns were properly addressed. “He has turned very inclusive these days. He wants the party to be vibrant and active,” said P. Ramajayam, academic and political analyst. DMK sources said there would be changes at all levels in the party hierarchy if it wins the elections.</p> <p>The BJP’s aggressive push in the Dravidian heartland poses a new challenge, both ideologically and administratively. The BJP’s control over the levers of power in Delhi and its aggressive hindutva campaign in Tamil Nadu have become major challenges for the DMK. “We will continue to oppose attempts to take the country along the path of right-wing thinking. And we will oppose attempts to create divisions in society in the name of religion,” Stalin told THE WEEK.</p> <p>Manivannan said only the DMK was capable of fighting the BJP’s ideology of cultural absorption. But the DMK has adopted a soft hindutva stance in the assembly polls. The party manifesto talks about subsidies for pilgrims and for refurbishing temples and also an allocation of Rs1,000 crore for temple rehabilitation. But Manivannan said it was not soft hindutva. “I look at it as a counter challenge so that the BJP does not hijack religion as an issue. The DMK voters are perhaps religious, but they are against superstition and caste hierarchy.”</p> <p>The DMK is also troubled by legal issues such as the 2G spectrum case and the proceedings of the Enforcement Directorate against senior party leader and Lok Sabha member Jagathrakshakan. Another challenge for Stalin is the DMK’s poor record on law and order issues. People still remember the arrogance of DMK leaders during the party’s 2006-11 tenure and also the many instances of land grabbing.</p> <p>His supporters, however, are confident that Stalin will emerge victorious this time. “The DMK is the only party which fights against religious forces,” said Rajiv Gandhi, a Tamil nationalist politician who recently quit Seeman’s Naam Thamilar Katchi and joined the DMK. “I feel Stalin is the only leader who can fill the void created by the death of Karunanidhi in fighting these forces.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Mar 25 17:51:46 IST 2021 modi-is-prime-minister-for-corporates <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ Is the DMK the biggest challenge for the BJP and hindutva organisations in Tamil Nadu?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>The people of Tamil Nadu will not give any space to any party which undermines the historic social harmony and the principle of equality in the state. The BJP government at the Centre has been implementing schemes which are inimical to the progress of Tamil Nadu, has denied proper employment to our youth, and has made laws to trouble the peasants. It spends the revenue accrued from Tamil Nadu on north Indian states. No other Central government has discriminated so much against Tamil Nadu. Whatever the BJP and its leaders say about Tamil Nadu, it is only for publicity. As far as I am concerned, it is natural for the people of Tamil Nadu to show their hatred towards the BJP, which is against the basic tenets of the Dravidian movement, including Tamil language, culture, social justice and social harmony.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How do you look at the performance of the Narendra Modi government?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>The Modi government is not for the people, not for the farmers, not for the women, not for the poor and not for the middle-class. Petrol and diesel prices are rising, the GST is hurting businesses and huge taxes are being levied on the poor and the middle-class. This government is ready to write off millions of crores of corporate loans, but it has refused to waive farmers’ debts. It makes people think that Modi as prime minister works just for corporate companies.</p> <p>The Modi government does not respect the basic tenets of the Constitution. The constitutional and the legal systems are under threat. Democracy is faltering, while dictatorship is thriving. The Modi government does not even respect the legitimate sentiments of the farmers who have been been fighting tirelessly for more than 100 days. A person who has sought votes under the slogan of development has been blindly implementing his own agenda, indifferent to public concerns. Modi only follows the dictates of the RSS. His only job is to overthrow legitimate governments in the states and Union territories. Freedom of expression has been shackled. The media and the intellectual elites face repression if they criticise the government. Modi is running an undeclared emergency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Will the DMK continue to oppose the BJP even after the elections?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>The DMK is the third-largest party in India. It has opposed the Citizenship Amendment (Act), the three agrarian laws which are against farmers, the abolition of special status for Kashmir and the 10 per cent quota for the economically backward [among the general category]. We are at the forefront of the fight against disrespecting state rights. We will continue to oppose any attempt to impose right-wing thinking in the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What do you think of the Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>On burning issues, the Congress and its young leader Rahul Gandhi are fighting the BJP fiercely. The abuse of power by the BJP government is being curtailed to some extent because he and the Congress are raising their voices for the affected people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Some say the Congress is alive in Tamil Nadu only because of the DMK.</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>I do not want to say that. We are allies. We face elections as partners on the strength of each other. Ours is the longest-running coalition since 2004, with the exception of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress gives us strength; and we give strength to the Congress. We travel together with a sense of camaraderie.</p> <p><b>Q/Is it true that you faced much pressure to drop the Congress from the DMK-led alliance?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>The DMK is not under any pressure unlike the AIADMK. It is a valiant movement that opposed the Emergency even at the cost of its government. Only the DMK decides about its alliances.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What do you think of the BJP’s ‘one country, one election’ plan?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>This is practically impossible. The DMK does not support it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How do you assess the performance of Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>Palaniswami has ruined Tamil Nadu. He mortgaged the dignity of the post of the chief minister. He surrendered to the selfish interests of the Central government to escape corruption charges. Commission, collection and corruption are his agenda as chief minister. He has failed to create employment opportunities, promote business development and set up infrastructure projects. He has increased Tamil Nadu’s debt to Rs5 lakh crore. The state has gone back 50 years under him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What are your views on Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>The articles which appeared in THE WEEK about Panneerselvam are evidence of his corruption. His vision involves corruption and amassing wealth. Both Panneerselvam and Palaniswami are corrupt and are keen on sharing loot. They are not interested in serving the people. After his ‘dharmayudh’ and his vote against the Palaniswami government, he was made deputy chief minister. Although he was a three-time chief minister, he did not appear before the inquiry commission probing the mysterious death of former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa. Panneerselvam is a corrupt leader who betrayed his ‘mother’.</p> <p><b>Q/The AIADMK and the BJP have levelled allegations of corruption against the DMK</b>.</p> <p><b>A/</b>The AIADMK and the BJP are making futile attempts to divert attention from the corruption allegations against them. What was the compulsion of the BJP to join hands with the AIADMK? Why did Modi and Amit Shah legitimise the AIADMK government? Why is the Centre honouring the AIADMK government by giving it awards, although it has failed in all fields? What benefit does the BJP get out of this? Just 20 seats? The people of Tamil Nadu know the underlying secret behind the BJP-AIADMK alliance and the reason why Modi is holding aloft the hands of Palaniswami and Panneerselvam during the election campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Do you think the decision to give 10.5 per cent reservation for the Vanniyars will help the AIADMK?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>The DMK was the first party to add the Vanniyar community to the list of the most backward classes with a reservation of 20 per cent. We were the first to accept the internal reservation request and to implement it. That is why the Vanniyar youth have benefited in education and employment. The Vanniyar community is well aware of the achievements of the DMK. Therefore, all sections of society, including the Vanniyar community, will support the DMK alliance and make it victorious.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What is your view on Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) president Kamal Haasan? He calls himself a disciple of Periyar and also a Dravidian.</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>Dravidian policies belong to the parties which follow Dravidian ideology. No political party can thrive in Tamil Nadu without using those names. That is why Kamal also says so.</p> <p><b>Q/What is the role of Kanimozhi in the party? After the death of Murasoli Maran, she has become the face of the DMK in Delhi.</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>My younger sister Kanimozhi is doing a very good job, both in the Lok Sabha and also in Tamil Nadu. She has participated in many programmes across Tamil Nadu and has been campaigning vigorously. She is a voice for women’s rights and also for raising the problems of Tamil Nadu in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/You came up in the DMK after going through many struggles. Can we say that your son, Udhayanidhi, does not have to face such an environment</b>?</p> <p><b>A/</b>All DMK workers have a political future according to their work. I have come to this position after half a century of hard work. Udhayanidhi went around the state and campaigned during the parliamentary elections. Even now, he is campaigning. He has participated in many protests, especially for the youth and the students. So, how can you say that such an environment is not available for Udayanidhi?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/If you form the government after the elections, how will your relations with the Centre be? What will be the nature of your political relations with the BJP?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>The relationship between the Central government and the state governments is based on the federal philosophy as laid down in our Constitution. The DMK government will act accordingly. The DMK-led government will be fully committed to upholding the rights of the states. We will work keeping in mind the concept of developing a harmonious and smooth relationship with the Central government. The BJP and the DMK are not partners in an alliance. So the question of a political relationship with the BJP after the electoral victory does not arise.</p> Thu Mar 25 17:48:40 IST 2021 youth-icon <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>He has not spoken about Dravidian ideology, Periyar or social justice. He has not written long letters to his followers through <i>Murasoli</i>, the mouthpiece of the DMK, like his grandfather, former chief minister M. Karunanidhi, used to do. He also did not rise through the DMK’s ranks like his father, party president M.K. Stalin. Yet, Udhayanidhi Stalin has become the party’s poster boy.</p> <p>Udhayanidhi, a film producer-actor-politician, loves the DMK, and, evidently, the spotlight. “Vote for the DMK,” he says, flashing his signature smile from a campaign vehicle in north Tamil Nadu. He explains why: “If you vote for the DMK, your MLA will go to the assembly. If you vote for the AIADMK, your MLA will either join the BJP or go to Koovathur (location of the resort where AIADMK MLAs elected Chief Minister E.K. Palaniswami).” The crowd around the vehicle relishes this dig at political rivals. Udhayanidhi goes on to attack the incumbent cabinet with creative monikers and the crowd goes berserk.</p> <p>Though his speeches lack the rhetoric flourishes common in old-school Dravidian politics, Udhayanidhi has found a different path to popular support—every meeting he participates in is interactive. This helps him connect emotionally with people. He also ensures that he is articulate and relatable.</p> <p>He was initially not accepted by senior leaders and even faced criticism within his family; his mother Durga, though, has been a staunch supporter. Stalin, too, did not want to hold his son back. Despite the early challenges, Udhayanidhi, 43, seems to have consolidated the party’s rank and file behind him in the past two years. He told THE WEEK that he does not mind people criticising him as a dynast. “My blood is DMK blood,” he says. “I am a born DMKian. I don’t have to prove this. I want to work for the welfare of the people. The DMK will ensure the defeat of the AIADMK and the BJP.”</p> <p>He entered the film industry with his production company, Red Giant Movies, in his early 30s, when the DMK was in power (2006-2011). He then forayed into acting and was slowly placed in the party—his images started cropping up in publicity material close to the 2011 assembly elections. But, the DMK was reduced to 23 MLAs in the 234-member assembly by former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK. The campaign focused on painting the DMK as a party of dynasts.</p> <p>During that period, Udhayanidhi’s political visibility dropped, temporarily. Four years later, he was made managing director of <i>Murasoli</i>. He used the new role to improve his image among party men. In 2019, he became the party’s youth wing secretary. The youth wing’s average age was 45. And, though it had 10 lakh members, there were only 4,500 functionaries. He wanted the youth wing to replicate the full structure of the parent body, across the state. There was opposition from senior leadership, even from Stalin. But, he went ahead with his plans.</p> <p>“His first job was to build the youth wing,” says Hasan Mohammed Jinnah, deputy secretary, DMK youth wing. “So he divided the party’s youth wing into seven zones, based on the regions in Tamil Nadu. For each zone, he appointed a deputy secretary and began a membership drive.”</p> <p>Udhayanidhi travelled across the state. His target was to enrol 30 lakh members. Twenty five lakh people signed up and a verification drive found 22 lakh members to be genuine; members aged between 18 to 25 had joined for the first time in two decades. With 22 lakh members on its rolls, the youth wing pushed for functionaries in every district and panchayat. The DMK youth wing had managed to give a platform to youngsters who were drifting towards other, newer parties.</p> <p>Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi, MLA and Udhayanidhi’s close friend, says: “He understood that an old party entrenched in ideologies needed youngsters to drive it forward. And this was the right time to do it.” The youth wing now seems to be celebrating Udhayanidhi more than Stalin. On March 7, for example, during a DMK state conference, senior leaders had to stop their speeches midway as the crowd was asking for Udhayanidhi.</p> <p>Udhayanidhi’s critics in the party say that he has been calling the shots since he was made youth wing secretary. The DMK’s former deputy general secretary V.P. Duraisamy, who walked out of the party to join the BJP, said at a news conference that he had to plead with Udhayanidhi for a Rajya Sabha ticket even though he was many years his senior. MLA Ku Ka Selvam from Thousand Lights constituency, a DMK bastion in Chennai, defected to the BJP alleging that Udhayanidhi sabotaged his chances of becoming secretary of the DMK’s Chennai West district unit and installed his confidant Chitrarasu in the post.</p> <p>Selvam had said that the party was in Udhayanidhi’s control, but, the latter dismissed the accusation and said the BJP “gave him a chocolate and took him away”. Udhayanidhi has made it clear that he can withstand criticism and opposition from within the party, like his grandfather.</p> <p>During the candidate selection for the assembly elections, he impressed the panel, which included his father. It is learnt that a witty reply had the panel bursting into laughter, even as Stalin tried to conceal his smile.</p> <p>The DMK seems to have outsmarted the opposition by fielding him from Chepauk-Triplicane. Actor-politician Khushboo Sundar, who defected from the Congress to the BJP, was eyeing the constituency. DMK leaders had said that Udhayanidhi would not get a ticket as that would lead to criticism that the party was supporting dynastic politics. The opposition alliance allotted the constituency to NDA ally Pattali Makkal Katchi and whatever threat a celebrity candidate like Khushboo could have posed in the DMK bastion was over. Within days, Udhayanidhi was announced as the candidate there. Now, “Udhayna”, as he is known to members of the youth wing, looks set to win ‘unopposed’.&nbsp;</p> Thu Mar 25 17:43:36 IST 2021 alliance-arithmetic <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The DMK has ensured that its alliance, which got around 54 per cent of votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, has remained intact. And it has done so while keeping its own cadre and the allies satisfied.</p> <p>The DMK-led alliance comprises the Congress, the left, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the Kongunadu Makkal Desiya Katchi—strong in a few constituencies in west Tamil Nadu—and the Thamizhaga Vazhvurimai Katchi, a breakaway faction of the Pattali Makkal Katchi.</p> <p>Thol. Thirumavalavan, president, VCK, said: “We are criticised saying we compromised for six seats. But it is not compromise. It was because of the warmth and the assurance from DMK leader Stalin.”</p> <p>It took days of negotiations to ensure that the Congress did not quit the alliance. Fissures in the ties had emerged after state Congress president K.S. Alagiri accused the DMK of humiliating the Congress. He said senior leaders Oommen Chandy and Randeep Surjewala were insulted by DMK leaders during seat-sharing talks.</p> <p>The DMK cadre felt that the Congress walking out would not affect the alliance’s prospects. But, Stalin did not want that. “People would have said we were arrogant or not accommodative or acting with a big brother attitude,” he said. “I wanted our allies to be with us.” MP, and Stalin’s sister, Kanimozhi, said that the alliance could be saved only if Stalin spoke to the Congress leadership. Stalin called Congress president Sonia Gandhi, like his father M. Karunanidhi used to do, and, the next day, the DMK and the Congress signed the agreement.</p> <p>When the CPI(M) refused to accept six constituencies, Stalin stepped in to assure them of a long-term relationship. The idea was to give three assembly segments for each parliamentary constituency won by the alliance partners in the Lok Sabha elections.</p> <p>The DMK contested in 124 seats in 2011, 180 in 2016, and will contest in 187 seats this year. In 2016, the VCK, the MDMK and the two left parties had formed the People’s Welfare Front and spoiled the prospects of the DMK coming to power. Stalin has certainly learnt from the past.&nbsp;</p> Thu Mar 25 17:39:11 IST 2021 troubled-land <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In 2007, when protests against the left government in West Bengal over the acquisition of farmland in Nandigram came to a boil, Mamata Banerjee tried to enter the town with a group of Trinamool Congress leaders. Having failed, she sought the help of national leaders. The BJP’s L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj were the first to reach out. Even leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi, Medha Patkar and several left ideologues joined hands with Mamata. TMC workers led by Sisir Adhikari would later storm the police barriers. Guided by Sisir, Suvendu, his son, carried out a violent push back against the CPI(M) cadre to become Mamata’s soldier in the Nandigram movement. It soon turned into a humanitarian crisis as 103 farmers lost their lives. Seven policemen were killed and 46 people are still missing.</p> <p>In 2021, the events that are now unfolding in this historic land are hard to believe. Mamata is training her guns on the Adhikari family as father and son have joined the BJP. Sisir, 79, says his decision to bring Mamata to Nandigram in 2007 was the biggest mistake of his life. Suvendu, who won from the Nandigram seat in 2016, will fight Mamata in the upcoming assembly election on the very land where they fought side by side.</p> <p>The wounds of the violent clashes have not healed completely and the people are still on tenterhooks as a political battle awaits them. Taking note of the sensitivity of the situation, the Central Armed Police Force was deployed in the constituency. Intense checking and frisking is being carried out at various points. This meant that the political activity here is not as boisterous as one would expect in such a high-stakes clash, but on entering Nandigram, hundreds of political flags dominate the open fields. At Reyapara, there are scores of BJP flags on farms next to banners that say, “Bengal wants its son of the soil, not the outsider.” Mamata, in this instance, is the outsider and the banner is a response to TMC’s slogan that says Bengal wants its own daughter.</p> <p>Speaking to THE WEEK, Suvendu took a jab at the TMC slogan, asking how a 67-year-old woman could be called a daughter. “I wonder if the party has the guts to say that Bengal wants its own <i>pishi</i> (aunt),” he said. That was in reference to Mamata promoting her nephew Abhishek as her political heir.</p> <p>“You can call her by any name,” said Akhil Giri, TMC chief in East Midnapore. “But her work in Nandigram is a part of history.”</p> <p>As we arrive at Garchakraberia, the changes are visible. There is strong support for the TMC in this region with party flags and banners atop many buildings. One common slogan reads: “This is our fiery lady. <i>Khela hobe ei bar</i> (Game on, this time)”. “This is the Muslim belt of Nandigram, so you will see a lot of TMC flags,” said Radharaman Das, who runs a tea stall.</p> <p>There is a serious problem, though. Since the Nandigram movement, there has been a lot of fragmentation of farmland within families. This has led to the breaking-up of the natural water resource and disputes within families, which in turn has made the farmlands less irrigable. And this is why farmers have allowed flags on their lands. As we travel from Reyapara to Debipur, it is striking to see that hundreds of acres of farmland have been converted into artificial ponds for aquaculture, mostly to farm prawns.</p> <p>On reaching Sonachura, 30km from Reyapara, we meet 72-year-old Radhakrishna Mandol, who says: “What will these poor people do, if they cannot earn money through farming? Prawn [fetches a better price] than 100kg of rice. So, they are cultivating it.” Nandigram is very close to the Bay of Bengal and the groundwater is saline. Hence, it becomes an ideal location to cultivate prawns, which has a huge demand across Bengal.</p> <p>The villagers who once revolted to retain their farms are now using the land for something else, but Ram Krishna Das, 64, blames the state government for this plight. “Why cannot this government make our land fully irrigated? [If they did], we would not have used these lands for other purposes. If we cannot bring home three to four crops a year, farming is not at all profitable,” said Das.</p> <p>The people of Sonachura would rather discuss the big political face-off than what is happening to their land. They fear that the contest between Mamata and Suvendu would raise tensions in Nandigram once again.</p> <p>‘Khela hobe’ is a wildly popular slogan for the youth of the Trinamool Congress across the state. In Nandigram, villagers use the phrase to convey their readiness to wage another battle for their land.</p> <p>“If the BJP tries to force our men and women to vote for them, we will fight back,” said Aswini Patra, a TMC leader in Nandigram. “There can be another war like the one that happened 15 years ago.”</p> <p>Sonachura is where the bloodiest battle took place in March 2007, when 14 members of the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) were killed in police firing. The people of Nandigram say the movement was one of the most secular movements in India, where Hindus and Muslims took up arms together. “Most people are upset that the same man (Suvendu) who had led both Hindus and Muslims is today out to divide the two communities in Nandigram,” said Mandol. “He is telling people that if Mamata Banerjee is elected from here, Hindus would lose their right to practise their religion.”</p> <p>Those who were part of the land movement cannot stand the mention of Suvendu. On March 17, when Suvendu visited Sonachura, 50 people protested his visit with black flags. Security forces allegedly attacked protesting villagers, many of whom were local TMC leaders.</p> <p>Villagers agree that Suvendu should have the right to join a political party he prefers. “But why should he let us down like this?” said Debkumar Roy, a leader among the farmers. “Today, he put us in a [dilemma], where he is fighting the election against a person whom we treat as our mother (Mamata).”</p> <p>Debkumar said he is among 64 people from Nandigram against whom old cases from the movement are being reopened. Almost all members of the BUPC had been jailed, but when Mamata came to power in 2011, the cases were withdrawn.</p> <p>His wife, Bhaktirani Roy, was also a member of the movement and had been hospitalised for a month after being shot at by the police. She is alarmed by Suvendu’s shift to the BJP. “Why did he not think of consulting us before taking such a decision? We loved him so much. But he ditched us in such a way,” said Bhaktirani.</p> <p>Nandigram has 1.6 lakh Hindu voters and 80,000 Muslim voters. So, if Suvendu can get about 75 per cent of the Hindu vote, he will win the seat. But if Muslims vote en masse for Mamata, which is likely, and she manages to get at least 40 per cent of Hindu votes, she would be the winner. The people of Sonachura are aware of this equation. “We have taken a pledge that we, Hindus, will vote for Mamata Banerjee,” said Bhaktirani, who is now a TMC panchayat member. “If we cannot do that, then the days of uncertainty and violence will return to Nandigram.”</p> <p>It was clear that the people who participated in the land movement would be on Mamata’s side. But does that mean Suvendu’s chances are all but dead? A section of Nandigram dismisses that notion, saying that it will be a close fight. This is because Suvendu is eyeing young voters. He also has a following among those, especially women voters, who were not part of the land movement.</p> <p>Sensing that Suvendu was playing the Hindu card, Mamata began her election campaign in Nandigram with visits to several temples. While doing so, she met with an accident and was out of action for a while. “If she cannot come, there is nothing to fear. We will fight for her,” said Kiran Shaw, another land activist.</p> <p>While land agitators do not blame Mamata for the lack of development in Nandigram, many others do. Pradip Giri, who lost his son in the police firing in March 2007, is unhappy with Mamata. “The left front government paid me Rs5 lakh as compensation,” he said. “What has this government done? They only paid me Rs1 lakh. We were promised houses and so many benefits. But except [improving] roads, nothing was done.”</p> <p>Narayan Das’s father, Sankar Prasad, has been missing since the movement. Narayan received a group D job from Mamata when she was railway minister, but is unhappy. “Can’t the government at least declare my father dead after 15 years? Because of that, my sister and I cannot divide the property. I could not perform the last rites for my father and there was no compensation,” he said.</p> <p>Besides those who felt betrayed by Suvendu, there are also those who feel this election will not be easy for Mamata. Gobinda Das, a young tea seller, says that families will be divided over whom to vote for. “Tensions are running high,” said Das. “Wives may not agree with husbands. Daughters and sons may not listen to their parents while voting. This is because both candidates once ruled the hearts of the people here.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Mar 25 17:30:07 IST 2021 mamata-is-a-better-human-being-than-suvendu <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Lakshman Seth was elected thrice to the Lok Sabha and West Bengal Assembly, when he was a member of the CPI(M). An influential leader in Bengal during the 1990s, Seth had drafted the Nandigram policy and it was under his stewardship that land acquisition notices were issued to farmers, culminating in bloodshed in 2007. He was arrested for the Nandigram violence when Mamata Banerjee came to power. He left the CPI(M) for the Congress in 2018. These days, Seth is a recluse with a soft corner for Mamata. Excerpts from an interview with Seth:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you view the contest in Nandigram?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>Nothing except a big fight between the chief minister and her former loyalist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But you are the reason for what happened there.</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>How can I be? I am simply watching an election battle. A betrayer, Suvendu [Adhikari], is fighting Mamata.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You call Suvendu a betrayer, but what about Mamata?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>She is not. Mamata is not solely responsible for what happened [in 2007]. Suvendu is the only one responsible for that movement. Mamata’s fault was that she listened to Suvendu, even after becoming chief minister. I thought she was intelligent, but ultimately, she is not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why do you blame Suvendu? Even you were guilty for the violence.</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>These are false allegations. I was not at all responsible for what happened. I was framed by the Mamata government because she was misled by Suvendu. He put huge pressure on Mamata to arrest me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So Mamata had only a small role in the violent movement?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>Yes. Mamata participated in it as part of a political movement. But it was the Adhikaris that took it to the level of extreme violence. It was Suvendu who brought Maoists into the movement. Mamata did not do all that. Because of her over-reliance on the Adhikari family, Mamata has to pay a heavy price today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But were you not accused by the state government for ordering mass murders in Nandigram?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>These are bogus [claims] planted by Suvendu. Mamata knows I was innocent. All the police firing was ordered from Writers’Building and the chief minister at that time was responsible for it.</p> <p><b>Q/ What was your purpose?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>I wanted to industrialise Bengal, and so, identified Nandigram for this grand project. My job was to implement the SEZ project, not to oversee law and order.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Who will win the Nandigram election?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>Mamata Banerjee. Suvendu will lose badly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But Suvendu has considerable clout there.</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>He is an anti-industrial character who drove big projects out of Nandigram. Many companies had to leave the Haldia dock because of him. The people of Nandigram have understood him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You seem to be a Mamata supporter now. That is quite a turn.</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>Not at all. But Mamata is a far better human being than Suvendu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will you join the TMC?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>I am a non-functioning leader of the Congress. I do not know whether I would join the TMC or not. In the past, Suvendu prevented my entry into the party. But I might advise the TMC on certain issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Mar 25 17:23:06 IST 2021 sabarimala-the-sequel <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Recently, a huge billboard came up at Thiruvananthapuram’s Bakery Junction, a prominent spot in the state capital. It featured a collage of photographs of BJP state president K. Surendran during the agitation against the Supreme Court verdict allowing women of menstrual age entry into the Sabarimala temple. The billboard was an indication that, with just two weeks left for the assembly elections, the shrine had re-entered the political discourse of the state.</p> <p>And, the ruling Left Democratic Front is feeling the heat.</p> <p>If one were to single out the biggest electoral mistake the Pinarayi Vijayan-led state government has made, it would be the “overzealousness” it showed in implementing the court verdict. The deity at the Sabarimala temple is a <i>naishtika brahmachari</i> (strict celibate), and the entry of women there angered a large group of believers. The left paid a huge price; it won only one of 20 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.</p> <p>While all political parties had welcomed the 2018 verdict as a “progressive step towards gender equality”, both the Congress and the BJP changed their tone sensing the pulse on the ground. They even hit the streets against the order.</p> <p>But the LDF, especially Vijayan, decided to follow the verdict in letter and spirit. He saw it as an opportunity for a “second renaissance movement” in the state and as a huge step towards gender equality. He must have also sensed the possibility of a grand alliance of OBCs and dalits, along with minorities, even though the upper castes were vehemently against the verdict.</p> <p>What Vijayan did not realise was that matters of faith were deeper than his communist view of progressive politics. He failed to understand that, for many common men and women, rituals and traditions were more important than political leanings. That the LDF government facilitated the entry of two women into the shrine was something the believers were not willing to forgive.</p> <p>“Being the head of the government, the chief minister may have to follow the verdict. But the court did not ask the government to ensure the entry of women at all costs,” said Rahul Easwar, a prominent face of the agitation. “The LDF paid a price for its overzealousness and it will continue to pay.”</p> <p>Having burnt its fingers, the LDF decided to mellow its stance. It started a house-to-house campaign that saw senior leaders visiting believers. When the Supreme Court, while hearing a review petition, referred certain questions to a larger constitutional bench—to consider the limits of the court’s powers in deciding conflicts between religious and other rights—the LDF maintained a guarded silence.</p> <p>And, with the LDF sweeping the local polls in December, even as it was mired in a gold smuggling controversy, the left may have heaved a sigh of relief. “I do not think that it (Sabarimala) is an issue at the moment,” Vijayan had told THE WEEK last month.</p> <p>It seems he was wrong. With days left for the elections, the Congress and the BJP have been bringing up Sabarimala more than ever.</p> <p>Amid this, on March 11, Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran expressed regret over what happened at the Sabarimala temple because of the verdict. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, however, said that the party had not changed its position. “The CPI(M) believes in equality, and that the LDF government had no other option but to implement the Supreme Court verdict,” he said.</p> <p>Yechury’s statement has made the party leadership go into damage control mode. “We were happy to see regret from CPI(M) leaders. But Yechury once again proved that the CPI(M) is against believers,” said Easwar.</p> <p>The opposition, especially the Congress, is happy to have got this lifeline. “The opposition has no other issue against the government,” said advocate and political observer A. Jayashankar. “There is no anti-incumbency, there are no corruption allegations. The Congress and the BJP realise the potency of the issue and they will use it to the maximum.”</p> <p>But will it have the same impact it did in 2019? “It will certainly have an impact in select pockets,” he said. “The scar of Sabarimala is yet to heal completely and it may work against those who are seen as strong advocates of the entry of women into the shrine. It is Ayyappan vs CPI(M) in certain constituencies.”</p> <p>Psephologist D. Dhanuraj agreed. “Sabarimala will not have a 2019-like impact,” he said. “But it will have some impact, especially in the south. It can affect the fate of a few leaders who had aggressively supported the verdict. It may have been a progressive step, but it was a huge blunder electorally.”</p> <p>In 2019, the Congress had benefited from the issue even though BJP workers had hit the streets and been arrested. “We will not allow the Congress to reap the benefits of our labour,” Surendran told THE WEEK. “All anti-CPI(M) votes will come to us.”</p> <p>Political observers, however, say that it would be the Congress that would benefit again. “The BJP may get the anti-CPI(M) votes in 15 to 20 constituencies where it is strong,” said political observer K. Jayaprasad. “In the rest, those votes are likely to go to the Congress.”</p> <p>The Congress manifesto has promised an ordinance to protect the interest of believers and the party sounds confident about the Sabarimala issue helping it this time, too. “The Congress has always been with the believers. We will protect their interests,” said state party president Mullappally Ramachandran.</p> <p>The party, however, has decided not to be as aggressive as the BJP. Rahul Gandhi, who was the first political leader to welcome the move, is reportedly not too keen on opposing the verdict. The party had withdrawn a video it had put out on the issue as it was deemed anti-women.</p> <p>As per observers, the opposition’s use of the Sabarimala issue has another angle to it. “If one goes by pre-poll surveys, Pinarayi Vijayan is the most popular political leader among women,” said Jayaprasad. “And, ironically, it was they who had vehemently opposed the entry of women into Sabarimala. The opposition parties are trying to use Sabarimala to wean away women voters from the left.”</p> <p>As Kerala goes to the polls on April 6, what remains to be seen is whether the Vijayan government’s performance can offset the simmering wrath of believers.</p> Thu Mar 25 17:04:34 IST 2021 a-rising-force <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>F</b>or the first time since the revocation of Article 370, a realignment of political forces is taking place in Kashmir. The move is aimed at creating a third front that would act as a counterweight to the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party. A third front will not only reduce the political heft of the two dominant parties but also help the BJP normalise the constitutional changes it made to J&amp;K on August 5, 2019.</p> <p>The first attempt to create an alternative to the two political parties was the launching of the J&amp;K Apni Party (JKAP) by former PDP leader Altaf Bukhari in 2020. Bukhari had urged the political parties to stop mourning the scrapping of Article 370 and focus on the development of J&amp;K. Several leaders from the PDP and the Congress joined JKAP, but the party lacked mass support. The NC and the PDP labelled the party as the BJP’s proxy. But the party performed below par in the District Development Council (DDC) polls, the first political exercise in the newly formed Union Territory.</p> <p>Though the BJP emerged as the single largest party with 75 of 280 seats in the polls, the six-party People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) led by Farooq Abdullah, which seeks the restoration of Article 370 and statehood to J&amp;K, won an impressive 110 seats out of 280 seats.</p> <p>The failure of the JKAP to make a mark may have disappointed policymakers at the Centre, but the chances of a third front increased manifold after the People’s Conference (PC) quit the PAGD in January. In a letter to Abdullah, PC leader Sajad Lone cited the fielding of proxy candidates by the PADG members against each other in the DDC polls as a breach of trust.</p> <p>Political observers believe that the chances of a third front comprising the PC, JKAP and others are real. On March 17, the idea received a boost after veteran politician Muzaffar Hussain Baig, who had quit the PDP last November, joined the PC. Baig had long supported the creation of a third front and said he would join if it was led by the PC. “Baig <i>sahab</i> has an old relationship with our family, and he cared for us in our childhood,” said Lone. “He started his political life also from the People’s Conference.”</p> <p>Baig’s association with the Lones goes back many decades. He was an associate of Lone’s father, Abdul Gani Lone, a lawyer who founded the PC in 1976. Baig was an active member of the PC for many years before taking a break to do his master’s in law. In 1996, he returned to politics and joined the PDP founded by Mufti Muhammad Sayyed, and entered the assembly from Baramulla in 2002. His joining the People’s Conference will strengthen the party in Baramulla, Bandipora and Kupwara in north Kashmir. The 75-year-old politician who commands influence among the Pahari-speaking population in north Kashmir is likely to attract more politicians to the PC’s fold from the PDP. According to sources, at least three leaders from the Baramulla district and other second-rung leaders are also likely to join the PC soon.</p> <p>A month before Baig joined the PC, his wife, Safina, was elected chairperson of the DDC Baramulla with the support of the PC. “Sajad <i>sahab</i> has risen above politics and proved relations are not only about blood,” she said after being elected.</p> <p>What the alliance between the PC, JKAP and the BJP could do was evident when the secret ballot was held to select the chairpersons for the DDCs. Given the numbers,&nbsp;the PAGD was all set to take control of&nbsp;at least six of the 10 DDCs in Kashmir. It needed only the support of one elected member each in the three other districts to take its tally to nine. After the secret ballot was held on February 13, the alliance managed to secure control of only five DDCs and failed to secure the support of independents in other districts. In contrast, the JKAP that won only 12 seats across the UT took control of two DDCs in Kashmir. In Kupwara district, the PAGD had won nine out of the 14 council seats&nbsp;when the&nbsp;election was held, but the PC emerged the winner. The party which had won four seats received support from JKAP’s lone councillor and three independents.</p> <p>The post-election exit of the PC from the PAGD also spoiled the alliance’s chances of selecting its chairperson in Kupwara district. The PAGD also suffered a setback in Budgam. The alliance had won ten seats, but an independent, Nazir Ahmed, was elected chairperson after three PAGD members cross-voted. And the JKAP got control of Srinagar and Shopian districts.</p> <p>Reacting to the results,&nbsp;PDP president Mehbooba Mufti tweeted: “So much for Vajpayee<i> ji</i>’s vision of <i>insaniyat, Kashmiriyat</i> and <i>jamhuriyat</i>. Not surprised at all by recent DDC chairmanship results. Two months were given to buy and intimidate the DDC members.” The NC raised concerns of horse-trading and&nbsp;defections with state Election Commissioner K.K. Sharma.</p> <p>An NC statement said: “…such defections undermined the spirit of democracy and violated the people’s mandate, so such DDC members who have changed the party affiliations post-elections should be disqualified and until proceedings in that direction [are] initiated such DDC members should be debarred from voting. The State election commissioner assured [National Conference leaders] that he would examine the matter.”</p> <p>Political observers believe north Kashmir is likely to emerge as the base for the third front as the area comprises a mix of Kasmhiris, Paharis and Gojris. The area witnesses high participation in elections and no political party dominates the area. The area has 15 seats out of 46 in the valley and is home to the People’s Conference and Awami Itehad; the two parties came second and third respectively in Baramulla in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The NC had won the seat.&nbsp;</p> Thu Mar 25 15:43:46 IST 2021 the-hardline-avatar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Films have great recall value, and politicians of all hues are well-aware of that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s favourite punch line is a take on the 2017 Salman Khan-starrer&nbsp;Tiger Zinda Hai:&nbsp;“Tiger abhi zinda hai (Tiger is still alive)”. The first time he used it was in December 2018 to reassure supporters while moving out of the Chief Minister’s House, after a defeat in the assembly polls had ended his 13-year rule. In an interesting turn of events, the line was repeated by Rajya Sabha member Jyotiraditya Scindia, whose switch to the BJP from the Congress along with a clutch of MLAs in March 2020 paved way for Chouhan’s return as chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chouhan’s most recent use of the punch line, accompanied by animated gestures and expression, happened at a public meeting in Bhopal on March 9, a fortnight before he completed one year in his new term as chief minister. “Tiger abhi zinda hai aur shikaar pe nikla hai&nbsp;(Tiger is still alive and is out on a hunt now),” he said, in an apparent warning to the mafia and antisocial elements.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whether it had the desired effect on criminals is not known, but it did burnish the new avatar that Chouhan had been painstakingly constructing for the past year.&nbsp;Political analysts, adversaries and a growing section of common people agree that Chouhan, in his fourth term, is a changed chief minister. Moving away from his moderate and conciliatory image, he has become aggressive in both governance and attitude.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chouhan’s oratory and people skills are well-known, and the BJP’s thumping victory in the bypolls in November 2020 highlighted his continuing popularity. But during the past year, especially after the bypolls, Chouhan’s public speeches have become fiery—he has often threatened the mafia and antisocial elements, saying he would hang them upside down, destroy them and bury them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Chouhan said that his attitude towards the mafia had been the same in his previous tenures, too, but agreed that he had become stricter because “middlemen and mafia were nurtured during the short Congress tenure. They have to be discouraged for the betterment of the state”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, his apparent hurry to pass the anti-love jihad law, his alleged bias against minorities during incidents of communal tensions, initiatives like changing Islamic names of cities and constituting a cow cabinet and getting an openly majoritarian MLA Rameshwar Sharma to become pro tem speaker are being cited as examples of his hardline tilt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So much so that many people said that Chouhan was trying to emulate Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a hindutva hardliner, in some ways. Chouhan, however, dismissed it saying that he had a working style of his own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political commentator Manish Dixit said that Chouhan might be aware that this could be his last term as chief minister. He is, therefore, trying to pitch himself as a probable prime ministerial candidate, though publicly he asserts that he will not move out of state politics. “That is perhaps why he hastens to implement the pet schemes and themes of the Union government and the party high command,” said Dixit, “and is showing this hardline tilt in keeping with the current political demand.”&nbsp;He, however, adds that his public posturing has had little impact on governance, be it reining in the liquor and sand mafia, or tackling crimes against women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Analyst Girija Shanker, however, said that Chouhan’s changed attitude had more to do with his need to ensure that there is no repeat of the 2018 defeat in 2023. “His personal ideology has always been clear as a typical BJP leader, but he kept governance separate from his ideology earlier,” said Shanker. The trigger for the change, he added, could be the national endorsement of the BJP’s right-wing politics in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, his current tenure as chief minister is more of a gift, said senior political writer Rasheed Kidwai, rather than something he had earned, as in 2008 and 2013. “Naturally his choices are now curtailed. His dependency has increased owing to Scindia and related factors,” said Kidwai. “There are too many competitors with direct link to party bosses. Therefore, he is not as sure-footed as earlier.” Also, as the BJP has a long list of second-rung contenders for the prime minister’s post, Chouhan is no longer sure of what the future holds for him, added Kidwai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, the RSS does not count him in the same league as Yogi Adityanath, said Kidwai. “His earlier image of a moderate leader, like Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s, is doing him no good as far as his future in politics goes,” he said. “So his aggressive public posturing and actions might be emerging out of these dilemmas.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Entrepreneur Pawan Chhajed from Bhopal said that Chouhan is going with the current flow of politics to reinforce his party’s and his own support base as he is aware of its success. He is also aggressively pushing the development agenda, he said, which would be noticed by the common people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress Rajya Sabha member Digvijaya Singh, however, said that Chouhan was always a hardliner. “You are mistaken if you say it is a new thing,” the former chief minister said. The only big change in Chouhan, he added, was that he had become very vindictive. Singh, however, did not elaborate on that point.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress media cell general secretary K.K. Mishra is clear that insecurity is driving Chouhan’s aggressiveness. “His old image of being a moderate leader has been demolished as he does not have a majority government now,” he said. “His opponents in the party are very active and that has put a lot of pressure on him. There are rumours that he might be replaced after the assembly polls in West Bengal and other states. The Uttarakhand instance (where the chief minister was changed over infighting) further gives credence to the theory.” Mishra, too, said that Chouhan’s dialogues have failed to make any impact on the mafia or governance. “Thus he goes on with this show of aggression,” he added, “but is hollow inside.”</p> Thu Mar 18 20:45:21 IST 2021 media-thinks-i-have-turned-aggressive-people-dont <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ What has been your biggest point of satisfaction during the past year?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We took over the responsibility of the state amid the Covid-19 crisis. Today, the biggest point of satisfaction is that we, along with our frontline workers and the people of Madhya Pradesh, faced the situation with courage and confidence and emerged as winners. Even in such times, the state achieved number one position in wheat procurement in the country. The ‘anti-mafia’ campaign for the safety and security of the common man and focus on developing the roadmap for an ‘Atmanirbhar MP’ are some of the significant works we did during this period. We are happy that we were able to survive and sustain the welfare and development of the state during these trying times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What will be your focus in the remaining 2.5 years of your government’s term?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given the mantra of atmanirbharta (self-reliance), which is a great vision for new India. Our biggest focus now is to transform Madhya Pradesh into one of the most emerging and developed states of the country. Amid the Covid-19 crisis, the state has successfully started working in this direction, and soon everyone will witness this transformation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We want Madhya Pradesh to be a state that works on the principle of good governance, is free from crime, where our youth, especially our daughters, can move freely and get opportunities to explore their future in a more positive environment…and where farmers have a smile on their faces. Making a new, prosperous and atmanirbhar Madhya Pradesh is our primary goal and dream.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Despite repeated efforts, the state is not seeing many big investments. What are the steps being taken?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We are firmly moving towards making Madhya Pradesh the preferred investment destination. Various initiatives have been taken towards this:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>■ We are moving towards achieving investments worth Rs10,000 crore. The same will generate over 30,000 employment opportunities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>■ We improved our Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) ranking by three places, to be placed fourth in India in the joint report of Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), government of India (GoI) and World Bank in September 2020. We are top in the western region, ahead of some of the industrially advanced states of the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>■ More than 40 services related to opening new industries have been brought under the umbrella of deemed approval. We are offering instant approval for 15 services, 15-day approval for about 20 services and 30 days for the rest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>■ (National Investment Promotion and Facilitation Agency of India has rated) MP Industrial Development Corporation, our single-window agency, as a top-performing investment promotion agency. We secured 97 per cent on the overall parameters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>■ Last year, GoI allowed additional borrowing of 2 per cent of GSDP post compliance of certain EoDB reforms. Madhya Pradesh has been among the first five states to avail the additional borrowing limit of Rs2,373 crore for the successful implementation of reforms proposed by GoI.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>■ During the pandemic, we helped industries restart and provided support for movement of raw materials and finished goods. Labour laws were reformed to (promote growth of) the industrial ecosystem in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The state government supported the new farm laws, but there have been several cases of traders cheating farmers in open market. Even a relative of the state agriculture minister was duped.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The new farm laws are very beneficial for farmers and will bring revolutionary changes in their lives. The farmers of Madhya Pradesh are (convinced of) this fact. There is no farmer agitation in the state. As far as cheating is concerned, action has been taken against those guilty in all cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have issued a strict crackdown on crimes against women and different mafia. Yet, these crimes continue unabated.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Madhya Pradesh Police is working actively in this regard…. No organised mafia or culprits [in crimes] against women will be spared. We want to create a better environment where ‘rule of law’ is supreme.... It is also the duty of society to be active and responsible for the safety of women. We have launched the ‘Samman Abhiyaan’ for creating awareness about women’s safety. We also launched ‘Operation Muskan’ to ensure safety of our young girls and boys. Under this operation, 2,444 minor girls and 266 minor boys (who were missing) have been found and sent back to their families.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, action has been taken against more than 1,500 land mafia agents; government land, with an estimated value of Rs8,800 crore, has been freed from their possession. More than 52,000 victims of chit-fund fraud have been issued refunds worth Rs7,200 crore. More than 172 FIRs have been lodged against those involved in adulteration. People of Madhya Pradesh have welcomed these steps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Unemployment continues to be a major issue.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have already started recruitment for vacancies in the government sector. We are creating opportunities for both skilled and unskilled candidates. The rural employment scheme for labourers has been initiated. Covid-19 left many people unemployed; the Rozgar Setu portal is for them. Our career fairs have benefited around 1.44 lakh persons. Tourism is an emerging sector and we are focused on its development. We managed to generate livelihood and job opportunities for around 20,000 beneficiaries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ People say you have become a hardliner, aggressive in this term.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ This is not a common man’s perception. It is the media’s perception, and it is not new. I have always fought unethical and illegal practices. My attitude towards the mafia was same in the previous tenures. This time I am stricter because middlemen and mafia were nurtured during the short Congress tenure. And they have to be discouraged for the betterment of the state. The Freedom of Religion law (commonly referred to as the anti-love jihad law) is part of the ‘Beti Bachao’ campaign for us and we are committed to ensuring the safety of women in every way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is also a perception that you are imitating the Uttar Pradesh chief minister in your decisions and actions?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Again, this may be your perception and not the people’s perception. The people of my state have a different view about me. Every individual has his own working style. I am Shivraj Singh Chouhan and I have my own ways of working. They are like God to me and I am their servant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The BJP formed a government within one and a half years of losing the elections in 2018. Would anti-incumbency become a factor again in 2023?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Even during the 2018 elections, there was no such thing as anti-incumbency, I feel. We got more vote share than the Congress. Also, we have initiated so many development works, and people are well aware of it. That is the reason why people trusted us again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Forthcoming local body elections are being looked up on as semi-finals for the 2023 assembly polls. Will the BJP repeat its performance?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Of course. The BJP is a disciplined, well-organised and dedicated party whose focus is to be always ready when it comes to serving the country and its people. I am sure that we will get the love and support of our people in the upcoming local body elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Despite the bypoll victory, do you feel there is discontent among a section of party leaders about the preference for ex-Congress leaders in the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ As I said, the BJP is a disciplined party and organisation. We perform together as a unit. It is a big family and decisions are taken encompassing all opinions, listening to everyone and on the basis of wide consultations. All our party members are well aware of this culture and they also perform and act accordingly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your camaraderie with former chief minister Kamal Nath often becomes a talking point.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Why not? The battle between political people should never be personal. It is a conflict of ideologies, not identities. Kamal Nath&nbsp;ji&nbsp;is a senior politician…. Whenever we meet, we have an exchange of thought on many issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Though it is too early to ask, do you think you will be the chief ministerial candidate in 2023?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ These are party-related matters and party decides about them. My only focus is the betterment of my state and people…. I believe in giving 100 per cent to the present because your future is decided by your present.</p> Fri Mar 19 14:01:00 IST 2021 commanders-and-chief <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Mamata Banerjee was itching to head back into battle, but doctors at the state-run SSKM Hospital in Kolkata asked her to stay put for at least two more days. The chief minister had hurt her left leg and hip during her campaign in Nandigram on March 10.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though there has been speculation on whether she fell or was pushed, the doctors were more concerned about Mamata’s low sodium levels. “For a diabetic and senior citizen, lowering of sodium in the blood is dangerous,” said a doctor at the hospital. “It might cause heart or kidney disease. If not treated, it might lead to heart failure.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mamata, however, soon hit the streets in a wheelchair.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some senior Trinamool leaders had linked the Election Commission’s removal/transfer of senior police officers in the state to the “attack” on Mamata. Miffed, the commission asked poll observers to investigate. On March 14, based on their report, the commission pronounced it an accident and removed the district magistrate of East Midnapore. It also suspended some senior officials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mamata’s leg will need time to heal, which means that senior party leaders would have to take on additional responsibilities. While many veteran leaders have defected to the BJP, and more are expected to do so, the following five have stood by her and would be crucial to Mamata’s chances of re-election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>KALYAN BANERJEE</b></p> <p><b>THE CALCUTTA</b> High Court lawyer, who has advised Mamata on legal matters since 1984, has been entrusted with saving the party in Hooghly, Howrah and Bankura. If needed, he could also be used in his hometown of Asansol.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kalyan is one of the few Trinamool leaders hyping Mamata’s Covid-19 response. “Look at other states and then see Bengal. We are safe because of Mamata Banerjee,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Serampore MP has bitterly criticised those who have left his party for the BJP, including former cabinet minister Rajib Banerjee and former Mamata confidant Suvendu Adhikari. He said that these leaders used Mamata’s image to make their own political fortunes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the party’s internal study showed that it would fare poorly in western Bengal, especially in Bankura, Mamata gave him the responsibility of regaining lost ground. On his advice, the party changed most of its candidates in Bankura, Howrah and Hooghly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For instance, Singur movement leader Rabindranath Bhattacharjee was denied a ticket this time. He promptly joined the BJP and got a ticket. “The BJP has taken all the dirt from our party,” said Kalyan. “In a sense, they have cleaned our party. We thank them.” He said he would ensure that the party wins in the seats (around 50) that he is in-charge of.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kalyan has been a major player in the Trinamool’s court battles, including those linked to the Nandigram and Singur movements. About the cases he said he had always challenged the government of the day. “If needed, I will challenge this government as well,” he said. “I am happy that Mamata Banerjee has never done anything anti-people.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He alleged that the BJP government had systematically destroyed the autonomy of the country’s institutions. “The most recent casualty is the Election Commission,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>SUBRATA MUKHERJEE</b></p> <p><b>AFTER DECIDING</b> to contest from Nandigram, the first person Mamata turned to was Subrata Mukherjee. She sent her political mentor to the constituency to assess the ground situation. Mamata’s historic win in 2011 had its origins in Singur, Nandigram and Junglemahal. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, though, the BJP gained massively in Singur and Junglemahal. Even in East Midnapore, where Nandigram lies, the BJP’s rise has been sharp.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mamata would need Mukherjee’s experience to offset any saffron momentum. The 75-year-old, who will contest from Kolkata’s posh Ballygunge, will campaign in the 11 seats in Kolkata and 31 seats in South 24 Parganas. He will also monitor the party’s organisation in Nandigram and devise ways to checkmate BJP candidate Suvendu Adhikari.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The former Kolkata mayor said this could be the first Bengal elections where a section of the people might vote for religion. “I have been participating in elections since 1971, but I have never seen such a situation,” he said. “Today, the politics of hindutva is at its peak in Bengal. Religious sentiment is overriding the model of development.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But did the Trinamool not polarise Muslim votes in the past? Mukherjee disagreed. “Muslims are coming to us in large numbers because of Hindu polarisation. We need to give them political shelter,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mukherjee had lost the 2019 Lok Sabha election from Bankura, and has decided to return to his old Ballygunge seat. “If I remain fit, I will never quit politics. I will continuously work for the people,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1972, as a 27 year old, Mukherjee had become information and broadcasting minister in Siddhartha Shankar Ray’s government (the youngest cabinet minister in Bengal history) and was also an aide of Congress stalwart Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi. It was Mukherjee who told Dasmunsi about a young firebrand named Mamata. Dasmunsi then helped her get a ticket in the 1984 state elections, in which she beat the Communist Party of India (Marxist) veteran Somnath Chatterjee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once, as a Congress leader, Mukherjee used to bring prime ministers to campaign in Bengal. “But today, we have to face the prime minister (Narendra Modi) and home minister (Amit Shah) as challengers,” he said. “Many other Central ministers, along with big leaders of other regions, are flocking the state. [It is a] very tough situation this time, but we hope to emerge victorious.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>SAUGATA ROY</b></p> <p><b>PARLIAMENTARIAN</b> of the year in 2019, Saugata Roy has been a tough critic of the Modi government in the Lok Sabha. Regardless, his peers respect him for his argument, and his knowledge of the law and the Constitution. Many in the Trinamool privately say that only Roy should lead the party in Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Roy is a powerful man in Bengal, too, and Mamata knows that. He is her crisis manager. He was the one tasked with placating Adhikari before he quit following a tussle with her nephew Abhishek. Though Roy failed to stop him, he did prevent a few others from jumping ship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Dum Dum MP will play a crucial role in North 24 Parganas, the state’s biggest district with 33 seats. The political winds in three subdivisions—Barrackpore, Bangaon and Bidhannagar—favour the BJP. While the Barrackpore subdivision is populated by many non-Bengalis, the Bangaon constituency has a large number of refugees known as Matuas. The BJP is eyeing this community; the party had won the Bangaon seat in 2019. In Barrackpore, too, Trinamool defector Arjun Singh had swung the votes in the BJP’s favour. In Bidhannagar, some Trinamool defectors have been extolling Modi’s successes. Roy, who will also handle his party’s publicity drive in Kolkata, would have to play a crucial role in these areas. “I know there is a polarisation attempt by Modi and Amit Shah. But that would not work in Bengal,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Asked how these elections were different, Roy sounded like his friend Mukherjee. “Obviously, we have never faced such a battery of top leaders in Bengal,” he said. “We have never faced such a huge infusion of money. We had always faced the communists, who are localised. So, in a way, they (the BJP) have brought a different political culture to Bengal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>MADAN MITRA</b></p> <p><b>HE IS CONTROVERSIAL,</b> colourful and tough, and has remained by Mamata’s side during troubling times. Many rated him highly as state transport minister, before he got embroiled in the Saradha chit fund scam in 2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time, Mitra will contest from Kamarhati, near Kolkata, but he will also be used in places where the BJP is strong, like Barrackpore, Bangaon and Salt Lake. Given his influence in Kolkata, Mitra is going to play a major role in the city’s 11 seats. The Trinamool is banking on him to regain lost ground in Bhabanipur, Tollyganj and Rashbehari.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as he tries to do that, he also has to contend with the Enforcement Directorate; the agency recently called him in for the chit fund case. “I will find time to meet them even during this busy time,” he said. “I have always helped them [with] the case in the past.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mitra was in jail for two years, but continued as minister during that time. He also contested elections from jail in 2016, but lost. Out on bail, he contested the 2019 byelection from Bhatpara, which he again lost. But wins and losses are part of life, he said, adding that Mamata will remain invincible despite the BJP’s best efforts. “I will only tell the BJP that it should not overlook us. We are connected to the people, and that would always remain our plus [point],” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After Mamata, he is the party’s most popular face on social media, and he has already sung a theme song for his party. He has also claimed that he will work to defeat Singh in Barrackpore, and deny the BJP a single seat in Kolkata.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>RABINDRA NATH GHOSH</b></p> <p><b>FIVE YEARS AGO,</b> Ghosh had delivered north Bengal to Mamata. The party won close to 30 of 54 seats there; the region had been the stronghold of the left and the Congress. In return, she had made him north Bengal development minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, however, the Trinamool faltered. The BJP won seven of the eight seats in north Bengal; the Trinamool got none.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghosh, however, remains positive. “The BJP has collapsed in the past two years,” he said. “Price rise, [especially of] gas cylinders, would go against them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He added that, organisationally, his party had regained lost ground. It could regain the support of the Gorkhas with both Bimal Gurung and his rivals supporting Mamata. “Also, in the plains, the people have understood the BJP’s game,” he said. “The seven MPs are of no use. They have not been able to bring any project to north Bengal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghosh, who will contest from Natabari in Cooch Behar, said he was travelling extensively in north Bengal. “If needed I will go to all eight districts. We will get a different result this time,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghosh said that the BJP had won north Bengal because the left’s votes had moved to the right. “The left had a vote share of 38 per cent in north Bengal, which completely went to the BJP during the Lok Sabha elections,” he said. “They are returning to the left and to our party as well.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Calling this election a battle of survival for everyone, Ghosh said that the left’s revival would ensure Trinamool’s victory in north Bengal. “The left would completely cease to exist [if it does not win], and so it is trying to regain its votes. Our old votes have also come back thanks to the inefficiency of BJP MPs.”</p> Fri Mar 19 13:59:34 IST 2021