Indian PM Narendra Modi and his party just swept India’s elections

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S ‘VOX’ NEWS)

 

Indian PM Narendra Modi and his party just swept India’s elections

It was a stunning victory for Hindu nationalism.

A supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wearing a mask of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi dances as he celebrates on the vote results day for India’s general election in Bangalore on May 23, 2019.
 Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Image

The world’s largest democratic elections have concluded — and India’s pro-Hindu nationalist prime minister and his party are on pace to win by a landslide.

The early results from India’s weeks-long general election show a clear victory for incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which has so far won 300 of a total of 543 seats in parliament. The BJP seems to have trounced its main rival, the Congress Party, led by Rahul Gandhi, the scion of a famous political dynasty.

Modi and the BJP swept into power in the 2014 elections with a majority win, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in 30 years, promising to clean up the pervasive corruption plaguing the country and improve the economy.

But once he came into office, Modi began pushing a strident form of Hindu nationalism that inflamed tensions with many of the country’s minorities, including India’s sizable Muslim population.

Media reports have noted a dramatic rise in hate crimes during the five years Modi has been in power. Vigilante groups have sprung up around the country to protect cows, which are sacred to Hindus. A report by Human Rights Watch found that at least 44 people were killedbetween May 2015 and December 2018, most of them Muslims accused of storing beef or transporting cows for slaughter. Oftentimes, the guilty were not punished, and hate crimes were encouraged by speeches from senior BJP leaders. In May 2017, the Modi government banned the sale and purchase of cows for slaughter.

Meanwhile, Modi’s grand economic promises have not been met — unemployment in the country is now the highest it’s been in 45 years, and there are growing concerns of an economic slowdown.

So when the 2019 election rolled around, Modi decided to lean into his nationalist platform, which served to divert attention from the country’s more pressing problems. And now that the results are in, it’s clear his gamble paid off.

Modi’s economic record was his biggest liability in this election — but he clearly managed to overcome it

When Modi won in the 2014 election, his party defeated the Congress Party-led government by winning 282 seats. The Congress Party, routed at the polls, managed to win only 44 seats.

Modi’s sweep in the 2014 elections was based on a platform of development. His slogan was “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas,” or “inclusive growth through collective effort.” He promised to wipe out corruption, improve infrastructure, and boost the economy. For a citizenry and businesses tired of rampant corruption, Modi’s slogan offered a hopeful change.

But those promises have not materialized. Unemployment reportedly grew to 7.2 percent in February. And a leaked government report on unemployment revealed that the numbers were the highest in 45 years.

Some of Modi’s economic policies have also gone horribly wrong. In 2016, he introduced demonetization — in a surprise move, he pulled all 500- and 1,000-rupee currency notes out of circulation. He claimed it would get rid of corruption, as it would flush out unaccounted cash that had not been taxed.

He also claimed that the move would check the circulation of fake currency that was being used to fund terrorist activities in IndiaBut experts say it’s had no effect on this type of money. Instead, small businesses were severely hit.

There are other problems, too: Farmers in India have been distressed for years as costs have gone up several times while their incomes have stagnated or even declined. In fact, suicides by farmers because of their debt are depressingly common. Farmers played a big role in helping Modi sweep to power in 2014, as he’d promised to double their incomes.

But that hasn’t happened, either. The BJP government announced it would provide cash support of 6,000 rupees (about $86.22) for individual farmers in its February budget, one of a raft of policies aimed at securing the farmer vote before the election. Yet there was no guarantee that last-minute gambit would work, as farmers want more lasting solutions, including better prices for their crops — something Modi also promised in the last election.

Modi played to voters’ nationalist sentiments to distract from the country’s problems

When he released this year’s election manifesto, Modi announced a new slogan: “Nationalism is our inspiration.” It was a stark contrast to his previous economy-focused slogan and a clear signal of the kind of campaign he planned to run.

And sure enough, as political scientist Ashutosh Varshney, whose research focuses on India, explained in an email, Modi and his party campaigned on a “plank of nationalism and national security” rather than on their governance record.

In his campaign speeches, Modi used divisive language. At a public rally, he accused Congress of committing the “sin of defaming our more than 5,000-years-old [Hindu] culture.” And in keeping with the Hindu nationalist ideology of India’s glorious past, he promised a “new India,” and a return to its “glorious past.”

A recent conflict with neighboring Pakistan may have also helped him in this regard. In February, a group of militants launched an attack in the Indian-controlled region of Kashmir, killing dozens of soldiers. As anger mounted in India in the wake of the attack, Modi promised forceful retaliation.

His government later claimed to have struck a major terrorist training camp located in the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir and killed “a very large number” of militants in response. Modi’s approval rating surged to 63 percent on March 7 after this action, up from a dismal 32 percent on January 1.

“National security was one of the loudest themes of the campaign,” Varshney said. The message that Modi had “hit back [against Pakistan] strongly, was decisive, and had taught the enemy a lesson worked well.”

It also helped that Modi’s main opponent, Rahul Gandhi, failed to convince voters to support him over Modi.

Gandhi comes from a famous political dynasty: His grandmother, Indira Gandhi, was India’s first female prime minister, and his grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the first prime minister following the end of British rule. His father, Rajeev Gandhi, was also prime minister of India. Both his grandmother and his father were killed violently while still in office.

In this election, Rahul Gandhi promised a “final assault on poverty.” He said that if elected, his government would provide a minimum income for the poor and waive farmers’ debts. He also promised to increase the education budget, and, in an attempt to woo women voters, said he would reserve 33 percent of government jobs for women.

However, the Congress Party has come to be perceived as one that favors the Gandhi family — Rahul is the fourth generation to lead the party — over the country.

And Modi has used this to his advantage, taking repeated swipes at “dynasty politics” and speaking about the costs India suffered as a result of one family’s “desire of power.” He specifically pointed to the 21 months of emergency in 1975, during which then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s opponents were imprisoned, the press was censored, and civil liberties were curbed.

For many Hindus, the Congress Party was also seen as a party that “appeased” minorities for political gains, an issue that resonated strongly with Modi supporters. In what was seen as a clear attempt to counteract this perception, Gandhi and his sister Priyanka, who campaigned alongside him, were often seen frequenting Hindu temples.

But it seems that wasn’t enough to overcome the seductive power of Modi’s nationalism.

The new government will now have to address the growing economic crisis.

Modi’s party may be victorious, but that doesn’t mean its troubles are now over.

Recent media reports have pointed to worrying signs of an economic slowdown. The BBC reports that economic growth has shown a decline, and sales of cars and SUVs are at a seven-year low. Kaushik Basu, former chief economist of the World Bank, told the BBC that the slowdown is “much more serious” than he initially believed.

Another big challenge facing the new government is providing jobs to an increasing number of young Indians. Some 84 million young voters became eligible to vote this year. Additional employment opportunities are urgently needed, but the unemployment data is not promising.

A recently leaked report based on official government survey data revealed that unemployment hit a 45-year high of 6.1 percent in 2017. A 2018 International Labour Organization (ILO) report also showed that the number of unemployed people in India is projected at 18.9 million by 2019.

Even more concerning, though, is whether Modi will continue to try to distract from the country’s economic troubles with even more overt appeals to Hindu nationalism.

Experts such as Varshney told me that if Modi comes back with a strong mandate from voters, a Hindu nation is almost certain, in practice if not constitutionally. This means that India’s rich and diverse culture — as well as its very identity — may be under threat.

Kalpana Jain worked for many years at India’s leading national daily, the Times of India, and was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 2009.

For more on India’s 2019 elections, listen to this episode of Today Explained, Vox’s daily news podcast.

‘Sea change in Pakistan’s attitude towards India after Balakot air strike’, says PM Modi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

‘Sea change in Pakistan’s attitude towards India after Balakot air strike’, says PM Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Pakistan’s attitude towards India and that during the Congress government has undergone a sea change and terrorists and their sponsors in Pakistan are living in fear.

LOK SABHA ELECTIONS Updated: Apr 11, 2019 21:27 IST

Avijit Biswas
Avijit Biswas
Hindustan Times, Bhagalpur
Lok Sabha Elections 2019,Election Rally,Election news
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the audience during an election rally, in Bhagalpur on Thursday.(Santosh Kumar /HT Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said that in order to talk of peace it is essential to be strong as he came down heavily on the opposition, particularly Congress, over national security.

At an election rally in Bhagalpur, Modi said that the country has emerged stronger after retaliatory action against Pakistan following the Pulwama terror strike. He said the air strike was carried out to address “the restlessness of 130 crore people of country for a firm and definite action against Pakistan”.

“Pakistan’s attitude towards India today and that during the Congress government has undergone a sea change,” the PM said. “Terrorists as well as well as their sponsors in Pakistan are living in fear.”

He attacked the opposition alliance for “speaking the language that supports terrorism”. He stressed that the opposition alliance should clarify whether they are with terrorists or with armed forces.

Modi who was campaigning for JD (U) nominees contesting as NDA candidates from Munger, Banka and Bhagalpur parliamentary seats, said the NDA has a clear policy of giving free hand to armed forces in the fight against terrorism and extremism. While he did not mention the Congress manifesto, he asked the people whether they approve curtailing power of the armed forces. The Congress manifesto promises to review the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act which gives the forces in disturbed areas sweeping powers of search and arrest and provides immunity from prosecution in civil courts.

He said as chowkidar of the people he has done what was expected from his government for social security and national security. He referred to works undertaken in social security front under various centrally sponsored schemes including Ayushman Bharat.

He said opposition leaders were fighting for their existence and were trying their best to create fear among people that there would be no election in the country in future and that the reservation policy would be abolished if he is voted back to power.

“On the contrary I favour further strengthening of reservation policy,” Modi said and cited the 10% reservation which his government had announced for poor people of upper caste.

He referred to the government’s minimum support price agriculture produce of farmers against their crop expenditure and said the Congress had no interest in improving the lives of farmers.

“Once we are voted to power again all farmers would be covered under financial assistance scheme instead of present coverage to farmers having land holdings up to five acres,” Modi said.

He also spoke about future plans aimed at extending support to small and marginal farmers besides small businessmen. He mentioned the development work undertaken in Bihar praised Nitish Kumar’s government for its performance.

In the silk town, the PM also spoke about the problems faced by local silk industry and apprised them on what his government has been doing to boost their business globally. “The mega handloom cluster was established here as a step towards solution of your problems,” Modi said.

First Published: Apr 11, 2019 20:56 IST

India: Jawans were killed for votes

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

‘Jawans were killed for votes’: SP leader calls Pulwama attack a conspiracy

Big fish will be caught if the new government after 2019 Lok Sabha elections probe Pulwama terror attack, says Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath demands an apology from Yadav.

LOK SABHA ELECTIONS Updated: Mar 21, 2019 16:48 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Samajwadi Party,Pulwama Terror Attack,Ram Gopal Yadav
Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav has raked up fresh controversy over Pulwama terror attack terming it a conspiracy.(ANI)

Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav has revived attack on the Narendra Modi government over Pulwama terror strike owned by Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed. Yadav has called the Pulwama terror attack a “conspiracy” in which “soldiers were killed for vote”.

The SP leader said if the government changes in 2019 Lok Sabha election, and a probe is conducted into the Pulwama terror attack, “big fish” will be caught.

“Paramilitary forces are unhappy with the government. Soldiers were killed for votes. There was no security checking between Jammu and Srinagar. Soldiers were being transported in ordinary buses. This was a conspiracy. I did not want to say this at this point of time. When the government changes, (and) it is probed, many big fish will be caught,” news agency ANI on Thursday quoted Yadav as saying.

ANI UP

@ANINewsUP

RG Yadav,SP: Paramilitary forces dukhi hain sarkar se, jawan maar diye gaye vote ke liye,checking nahi thi Jammu-Srinagar ke beech mein, jawano ko simple buses main bhej diya,ye sazish thi, abhi nahi kehna chahta, jab sarkar badlegi, iski jaanch hogi, tab bade-bade log phasenge.

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Responding to Yadav’s comment, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said the SP leader should apologise for “lowering the morale of soldiers”.

“Ram Gopal Yadav has presented an undignified example of politics. He should apologise to the public for his comment meant to raise question on the martyrdom of the CRPF jawans and lowering the morale of the soldiers of the nation,” he said.

Forty CRPF jawans were killed on February 14, when a suicide bomber targeted a convoy carrying more than 2,500 personnel from Jammu to Srinagar. The incident took place in south Kashmir’s Pulwama.

The Pulwama terror attack saw escalation in tension between India and Pakistan. Days after the terror attack claimed by the JeM, the Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out a “pre-emptive” strike in Pakistan’s Balakot. The target was what was believed to be the biggest terror training camp of the JeM.

Pakistan responded to the IAF strike on terror camp by violating Indian airspace in its attempt to target military installations. The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) used a large package of fighter jets including the F-16 in its aerial campaign. An IAF response team foiled the PAF’s attempt to hit India’s military installations.

One F-16 fighter jet of the PAF was shot down by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was flying a MiG 21 Bison. The IAF aircraft was also shot down by the PAF. Pilot Abhinandan ejected safely but landed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, where he was captured by the Pakistan Army.

Amid mounting international pressure, Pakistan released IAF pilot Abhinandan leading to easing out tension between the two countries. The BJP-led government termed the development as its diplomatic victory following a “bold move” to hit at terror camp deep inside Pakistani territory.

The opposition has targeted the government alleging that it is using Pulwama terror attack and IAF strike at Balakot for political gain with an eye on the Lok Sabha election in April-May.

First Published: Mar 21, 2019 15:34 IST

India: Election Commission blows bugle, India takes poll position

(This Article Is Courtesy Of The Hindustan Times Of India)

 

Election Commission blows bugle, India takes poll position

Indian elections are not won or lost only on leadership and issues. It is a complex landscape with multiple states, multiple parties, and a battlefield where arithmetic often reigns supreme.

LOK SABHA ELECTIONS Updated: Mar 10, 2019 21:31 IST

Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times
Election 2019 date,Lok Sabha Poll Schedule,Lok Sabha Poll Schedule Today
A para-military jawan guards EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines) at a counting centre.(PTI File Photo)

In 2014, soon after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) historic win in the general elections, a senior leader of the party was asked what lay ahead. He said, “2019. As soon as you win, the clock starts ticking towards the next polls. We cannot be a one-term wonder. A second term will cement our legacy.”

Reeling from its worst ever performance, a Congress leader had a similar response about the next objective. “All our attention must be focused on 2019. We have to survive five years, and come back. Otherwise the party’s very existence will be under threat.”

A key feature of the Indian democratic system is periodic elections. This enables a smooth transfer of power. It ensures circulation of political elites. And it keeps both the incumbent under check (for it is always looking ahead to the next poll) and the opposition hopeful (for one electoral turn can bring them back to office). Both then remain invested in the stability of the democratic system and constitutional order.

Ever since 2014, it appears that both the incumbent, the BJP, and the opposition, the Congress, and a range of regional forces have been waiting for precisely this moment. With the Election Commission announcing the dates for elections to the 17th Lok Sabha, India formally enters poll season.

What will be the nature of this election? What are the issues at stake? How do the numbers stack up as campaigning begins? And what can India expect in the next 50 days?

Read more| Lok Sabha elections in 7 phases, voting starts April 11, results on May 23

Nature

Under the Indian parliamentary system, in theory, when a voter goes to the polling booth, all he is voting for is a representative from his constituency. This representative is meant to frame laws in Parliament.

But electoral competition is mostly between political parties, and the party with the highest number of parliamentarians, either on its own, or in a coalition, gets to form the government. So the voter is essentially selecting not just a candidate (MP), but also the party the candidate represents, and eventually the Prime Minister (PM). The legislature and the executive are conjoined, unlike a presidential system in which they are elected separately.

This may appear basic, but it is precisely this debate which played out in 2014. Were voters electing MPs, according to local factors and arithmetic, or were they electing a PM, in keeping with a larger national outlook? Did Narendra Modi turn Indian elections into a presidential race? And what will happen in 2019?

Modi is not the first leader who has made a general election all about leadership. Jawaharlal Nehru’s elections (1952,1957,1962) and Indira Gandhi’s elections (particularly the one in 1971) were essentially presidential in nature. Even the BJP’s electoral gambits in the 1990s under Atal Bihar Vajpayee were based on leadership. Modi refined this campaign plank and took it to another level.

In 2019, the BJP is attempting to do the same. It is asking voters a simple question: would you rather have Modi or an unknown leader in a weak coalition government? And it is hoping that the image of Modi will once again succeed in rebuilding a coalition across castes, classes, geographies and override local factors. The opposition is hoping to take the election in exactly the opposite direction. It would like voters to consider local factors, prioritise narrower concerns rather than focus on national leadership.

The outcome of the 2019 election, therefore, depends on its very nature. Will it be national or local? Will electing the PM or MP be important?

Read more| No assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir for now

Issues

But an Indian national election is too complex to be reduced to just one variable. As citizens grow more aware, aided by the spread of technology and mass media, the importance of issues will only grow. If the 2014 election was defined by anger against the past regime for its perceived corruption and inefficiency and hope for a new future, this election will be determined by a set of five issues, with sides pushing forward their competing narratives.

The first issue is national security, or, more generally, nationalism. This has shot up the charts in recent weeks in the aftermath of Pulwama.

The BJP’s story is straightforward and is following this script. The Modi government has cracked down on terror. It has also redefined the response for Pakistan-backed terror attacks, be it through the surgical strikes after Uri or air strikes after Pulwama. The following is the narrative of the government. The air strikes represented Modi’s decisiveness. He taught Pakistan a lesson. He also used India’s diplomatic strength to isolate Pakistan and bring back the pilot. Only a BJP government can keep India secure, a weak coalition government will preside over a weak security regime and would never have the strength to take on Pakistan. And any questions about the strikes come from a position of undermining national interest.

The opposition’s script on the issue is somewhat muddled. There are segments of the opposition which do not want to engage, refer to the air strikes as a matter of pride for the armed forces, and would like to shift the conversation. But there are others in the opposition who believe Modi needs be to questioned on his claims. They ask: Did the terror attack in Pulwama itself not represent an intelligence failure? What is India’s Pakistan policy, for Modi has swung from a surprise visit to the neighbouring country to talking tough? What was actually achieved in Balakot? Didn’t the fact that an Indian plane go down and an Indian pilot captured represent the government’s weakness? Did Pakistan actually land the final blow after the strikes? And what has the Modi government done to improve the situation in Kashmir or end terror decisively?

Read more | Model code of conduct now in force: What it means

The second issue is agrarian distress and rural India.

The opposition has a robust case and argues the following. The government has not implemented the Swaminathan Commission recommendations on Minimum Support Prices. Farmer incomes are at a low; either margins are so low that livelihood is difficult or farmers are actually getting less than their cost of production and are thus driven to despair and debt traps. The government has done little to make farming attractive, treats farmers as liabilities and is leaving rural India unprepared for the future. Farmer marches and protests across the country are a symptom of this distress, as is the BJP’s losses in the state polls last year. If elected to power, the Congress has promised a blanket farm loan waiver.

The BJP, for its part, cites the PM Kisaan Scheme — a promise of Rs 6000 to small and marginal farmers, of which the first instalment of Rs 2000 is in the process of being transferred — as a landmark income support initiative. It argues that structural problems in Indian agriculture are a legacy of the past, and, instead, it has attempted to address it through soil health cards, insurance, market reforms. Productivity has in fact shot up. In addition, the Modi story for rural India goes beyond agriculture and focuses on assets. The government cites construction of houses and toilets, the distribution of gas cylinders, and electricity connectivity as big accomplishments.

The third issue is jobs.

The opposition claims that despite promising millions of jobs every year, the government has been a dismal failure on employment creation. They point to both demonetisation and the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax as having actually destroyed jobs. A recently leaked official report appears to substantiate the claim that unemployment was at a low in the year following these initiatives. The lack of progress on Make in India, the stalled private investment, the persisting twin balance sheet problem are all cited by the opposition to make the case that the government has done little to kickstart the economy, and has only favoured a few crony capitalists.

The BJP has an entirely different narrative on jobs. It argues that there has actually been substantial job creation in the service sector; the Mudra loans indicate a spurt in entrepreneurship and self employment; the government has also improved India’s ranking in the ease of doing business, which facilitates investment, which, in turn, facilitates jobs. The Modi government claims that far from encouraging cronyism, it has actually brought in key reforms to institute cleaner capitalism — from the bankruptcy code to the GST — and this will slowly begin showing dividends. As proof of its sound economic management, the government also points to low inflation.

Read more| EVM ballot paper to carry candidates’ photographs to assist voters

The fourth issue is identity, which encompasses both caste and religion.

For the opposition, the BJP regime is marked by a strong element of Hindu upper caste domination, which is geared against Dalits. By suggesting that the BJP is against reservations, pointing to the presence of upper castes at the top echelons in the party, arguing that there is a tilt towards Thakurs in key states like UP, and claiming that caste atrocities have increased, the opposition hopes to wean away Dalits and perhaps even sections of OBCs from BJP.

On caste, the BJP has attempted to keep intact its wide coalition. By restoring the original provisions of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, or restoring department wise reservations for marginalised in universities in the final cabinet meeting, the government hopes to convince Dalits its interests are supreme; by introducing 10 percent reservation for economically weaker sections, it hopes to signal to ‘General castes’ – its old core vote – that the government has taken steps to make the system more just for then; by pointing to the ongoing work of the commission to sub categorise OBCs, BJP will tell OBC groups that it is drawing up a more equitable system where advantages are not monopolised by only the most dominant of the backward groups.

The identity debate will play out in the realm of religion too. Some opposition parties will be vocal in pointing out that BJP’s regime was marked by outright majoritarianism; state backed vigilantism in the name of cow protection; marginalisation of Muslims from the political sphere; and assault on their livelihoods. Most opposition parties – particularly Congress, but also key regional forces in UP like Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party – will seek to capitalise on the Muslim vote, but not make this an explicit part of the agenda for they fear that it will lead to counter-consolidation of Hindus in favour of the BJP. But make no mistake, as subtext, religion will matter. For its part, the BJP will make an attempt to play the Hindutva card, in order to construct a wide vote across caste and class cleavages. From the (temporarily stalled) Citizenship Amendment bill to promises of Ram Temple, from acting tough against illegal (Muslim) immigrants to blurring the line between nationalism and Hindutva and encouraging polarisation on the ground, expect the BJP machine to deploy a range of tools.

And the fifth issue is the state of Indian democracy or institutions.

For the opposition, the post 2014 period has been marked by increasingly authoritarian rule of Modi, aided by BJP president Amit Shah. They allege that all institutions – from the cabinet to Election Commission, from Central Bureau of Investigation to the Reserve Bank of India, from the judiciary to the media – have all been compromised in this quest to create an almost totalitarian set up where party faithful take over all spaces. The BJP argues that distortion and politicisation of institutions is once again a legacy of the Congress. These allegations are only a result of an old entrenched elite having lost power. And in fact, they claim, what is now visible is deeper democratisation with a new segment of people, away from Westernised urban centric backgrounds but more rooted to the soil, exercising power.

Read more| Lok Sabha election dates announced: Know when your state goes to polls

Arithmetic

But Indian elections are not won or lost only on leadership and issues. It is a complex landscape with multiple states, multiple parties, and a battlefield where arithmetic often reigns supreme.

The BJP begins its campaign way ahead of the rest of the pack. This is both the party’s strength and weakness. It swept north, west and central India in 2014. Replicating the performance in these regions will be particularly difficult because either the party now faces three tiers of anti incumbency in many of these states – it is in power at the centre, in the state, and has the MP from most constituencies across Bihar, UP, Uttarakhand, Himachal, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra – or has just lost power in states – be it MP, Rajasthan or Chhattisgarh. It also has an additional challenge in the form of alliances, especially the SP-BSP alliance in UP.

The Modi-Shah machine’s entire effort will be to defend its gains in this belt, and it believes the surge in nationalist sentiment post the air strikes will benefit them most precisely in this belt. The opposition’s entire effort will be to limit the BJP to the bare minimum here. This will either take the form of sharp bipolar contests in which the Congress is the principal challenger, or triangular contests in which the BJP will face a regional force with Congress playing a supplementary role.

If the game in the heartland for the BJP will be defence, in the east and south, it will be expansion. The BJP has invested remarkable energy in West Bengal and Odisha in particular. The opposition is more enthused here, however, for it believes that the BJP has not been able to make enough inroads independently in West Bengal or Odisha to take on the Trinamool or Biju Janata Dal; it has weakened its chances in the Northeast by pushing the Citizenship Bill; and it has minimal presence across all southern states except Karnataka where a Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance will take them on.

It would be foolhardy to make any predictions based on these regional variations at the moment. But what we can say is the following.

The BJP is likely to dip from its high of 282 seats in 2014, but the extent of the dip is not known. The Congress is likely to gain somewhat from its low of 44 seats in 2014, but the extent of the gain is not clear. There will be a coalition in power after 2019 with regional parties probably exercising more say unlike in the post 2014 arrangement, but whether they will indeed exercise the veto or get leadership or play a supplementary role to a national party is not clear. And there will be a reconfiguration of forces after the results are out, with many of those currently on the fence — the BJD, Telangana Rashtriya Samithi or YSR Congress Party — more willing to reveal their cards.

But beyond the outcome, Indian elections are a remarkable exercise in allowing society to have a voice in shaping who runs the state. It is a moment for social conflicts and fault lines to play out in a civil, non violent and democratic manner. It is a moment for the political elites to understand and adapt to the demands of a new, empowered citizenry. And it is the occasion to keep this utterly diverse landscape tied together to a common political unit. Both the campaign and the polling over two months will once again be a tribute to the foresight of the Constitution’s founding fathers, as India charts the path for the next five years.

First Published: Mar 10, 2019 20:11 IST

After 43 days in Odisha prison, Abhijit Iyer-Mitra walks free

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S HINDUSTAN TIMES)

(I AM NOT A LEGAL EXPERT ON  INDIA’S LEGAL AFFAIRS BUT DOES NOT THIS TYPE OF A CASE DAMAGE INDIA’S CLAIM OF BEING A DEMOCRACY?)(oldpoet56)

After 43 days in Odisha prison, Abhijit Iyer-Mitra walks free

Iyer-Mitra, who was behind bars since October 23 over his tweets on 12th century Jagannath temple and 13th century Sun temple since September this year, was granted bail by Orissa High Court on Wednesday after the Odisha Government decided not to accord sanction of his prosecution and withdraw all cases against him.

INDIA Updated: Dec 07, 2018 01:26 IST

Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
Bhubaneswar
Delhi-based defence analyst Abhijit Iyer-Mitra on Thursday walked out of jail free after a court in Konark granted him bail on a personal bond of Rs 20,000 and an assurance that he won’t make any “distasteful remarks” in future. (ANI)

Forty three days after his arrest over allegedly insulting Odia sentiments and tradition in his tweets, Delhi-based defence analyst Abhijit Iyer-Mitra on Thursday walked out of jail free after a court in Konark granted him bail on a personal bond of Rs 20,000 and an assurance that he won’t make any “distasteful remarks” in future.

Iyer-Mitra, who was behind bars since October 23 over his tweets on 12th century Jagannath temple and 13th century Sun temple since September this year, was granted bail by Orissa High Court on Wednesday after the Odisha Government decided not to accord sanction of his prosecution and withdraw all cases against him. Iyer-Mitra was hospitalised on Sunday following acute pain in his stomach.

Soon after his release, Abhijit will head to Chennai to meet his mother VS Chandralekha, Tamil Nadu’s first Woman collector and a close associate of Subramanian Swamy.

The withdrawal of the cases came after he petitioned to the Odisha chief secretary seeking withdrawal of sanction to prosecute him under Section 196 of the CrPC in the 2 cases citing lack of intent or malice. “In addition to my apology to the Odisha assembly, I have unreservedly and unconditionally apologized for my words and actions that may have unintentionally hurt the sentiments of the people of Odisha, the Chief Minister and any others,” he wrote. Last month, the Assembly pardoned him after he begged apology.

In September this year, Iyer-Mitra landed in a doghouse after he flew in a chopper with former BJD MP Baijayant Jay Panda over waters of Chilika lake. He became a collateral victim of fight between the CM and his bete noire Baijayant Panda, when he went to the Sun temple at Konark in Puri district and posted a video blog on Twitter in which he said the temple was a humple(a slang for sex). An FIR was lodged at Konark police station, but Iyer-Mitra managed to secure bail from a metropolitan court in Delhi in September.

However, his ordeal began when he passed some offensive remarks against MLAs of the State leading to breach of privilege motion. He landed in further trouble when a second FIR was lodged against him by a one Manoranjan Swain of Bhubaneswar over an year-old tweet of him ridiculing Odisha and Jagannath temple. In a tweet dated November 16, 2017, he wrote “Odisha was discovered by Bengali explorers, who called it “OriShala!!! And it was named Orissa”.

Iyer-Mitra was arrested and sent to judicial custody after being booked under sections 294, 295-A, 506, 500, 153-A of IPC and 67 IT Act on Sept 20 for allegedly making offensive remarks that could cause communal disturbances. Soon after he landed in jail, he stopped eating.

Though his arrest was condemned by several intellectuals as well as Amnesty India, the government did not move till his health deteriorated on Sunday leading to his hospitalisation.

First Published: Dec 06, 2018 22:40 IST

UP village on edge after clash over alleged cow slaughter that left two, including cop, dead

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

UP village on edge after clash over alleged cow slaughter that left two, including cop, dead

Villagers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they fear the police may do “anything” to avenge Subodh Kumar Singh’s killing.

INDIA Updated: Dec 04, 2018 09:51 IST

S Raju
S Raju
Hindustan Times, Syana (Bulanshahr)
cow slaughter,Bulandshahr,Subodh Kumar Singh
Fearing police action, men from the two villages involved in the clash fled after the killing of inspector Subodh Kumar Singh and Chingrawthi resident Sumit, 21, in the violence. (HT Photo)

Chingrawathi and Mahaw villages in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr district wore a deserted look on Monday hours after a police inspector and a local resident were killed when protests over alleged cow slaughter in the area turned violent.

Bhartiya Kisan Union’s district in-charge, Tejvir Singh, said the men from the two villages fled after the killing of inspector Subodh Kumar Singh and Chingrawthi resident Sumit, 21, in the violence. He said they left fearing police raids. “We are in contact with women through mobile phones and keeping an eye on police activities,” said Tejvir Singh, who is a Chingrawthi resident.

Villagers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they fear the police may do “anything” to avenge Subodh Kumar Singh’s killing.

Tejvir Singh said the villagers were apprehensive that the police would not even allow them to bring Sumit’s body to his village for last rites. Sumit’s body had been sent to Meerut for post-mortem.

Tejvir Singh warned anything can happen if the police dared to misbehave with women in the absence of men.

He said the two villages, which have a population of over 5,500 of mostly farmers, are considered peaceful and blamed the alleged cow slaughter at Mahaw for the violence.

Subodh Kumar Singh’s driver, Ram Ashrey, claimed the mob that attacked the police had firearms and when they fired, a bullet pierced the inspector’s left brow.

The driver and other policemen tried to take him to a hospital, but the mob surrounded them and compelled them to flee, leaving the injured inspector behind in the police vehicle, he said.

Balraj Singh Dunger, a Bajrang Dal functionary, told HT that he had directed his local leaders to submit a report about the incident. He said that the inspector seemed to have died of shock after sustaining bullet injuries.

Also read: Mob torches truck in J&K’s Kathua alleging cattle smuggling

In Lucknow, the Uttar Pradesh government ordered separate probes into the violence and rushed additional police forces to Bulandshahr fearing an escalation of violence amid the presence of lakhs of Muslims for a religious gathering.

Additional director general (intelligence) S B Shiradkar has been asked to file a report into the violence to the state government within two days. Inspector general of police (Meerut) led Special Investigation Team and a magistrate will probe the violence separately.

Officials said 11 companies of Rapid Action Force and Provincial Armed Constabulary had been rushed to Bulandshahr as a precautionary measure.

Around 15 lakh Muslims had assembled in Bulandshahr for a three-day Islamic congregation – Tablighi Ijtema – on Saturday. Officials said the event concluded on Monday and around six to nine lakh participants have since left the area. But until Monday evening, around five to seven lakh participants were still in the city. Officials said the police were “extra cautious” in view of the large Muslim presence.

Officials said 10 vehicles were attacked and five policemen were also injured in the violence that lasted for around two hours.

“At around 11.30 am, the villagers recovered cow carcasses. The locals dumped the carcasses on a tractor trolley and blocked the Bulandshahr-Garh highway under the Syana police station,” additional director general (law and order), Anand Kumar, told journalists in Lucknow. He said the attackers were from Nai Bash along with Mahaw and Chingarwathi.

Anand Kumar said inspector Subodh Kumar Singh reached the spot along with other police personnel and pacified villagers. “Initially, the issue was resolved and villagers were pacified on the assurance of a thorough probe,” he said.

The violence erupted when the police tried to clear the highway. “Initially, there was heavy brick-throwing. When police resorted to cane charge, the villagers opened fire from country-made guns. In order to control the situation, the police fired in the air to disperse the mob.”

First Published: Dec 04, 2018 07:18 IST

Congress which questioned existence of Lord Ram now talking about Hinduism?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

Congress which once questioned existence of Lord Ram now talking about Hinduism, says Smriti Irani

Referring to Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s remarks on prime minister Narendra Modi that he did not understand the foundation of Hinduism, Smriti Irani said that it was strange that the party which had once raised question on Lord Ram’s existence was talking about Hindu and Hinduism.

INDIA Updated: Dec 02, 2018 22:20 IST

Union minister Smriti Irani hit out at the Congress saying the party which had once questioned the existence of Lord Ram was now talking about Hinduism.(PTI)

Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Smriti Irani on Sunday hit out at the Congress saying the party which had once questioned the existence of Lord Ram was now talking about Hinduism.

Referring to Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s remarks on prime minister Narendra Modi that he did not understand the foundation of Hinduism, Irani said that it was strange that the party which had once raised question on Lord Ram’s existence was talking about Hindu and Hinduism.

“Where was the Hindu in Rahul Gandhi when Congress had submitted an affidavit that Lord Ram does not exist?..,” she asked.

In September 2007, the then UPA government withdrew from the Supreme Court its two affidavits, including a controversial one filed by the ASI claiming there was no historical or scientific evidence to establish existence of Lord Ram and Rama Setu as a man-made bridge. The then government had backtracked after the ASI affidavit triggered a massive controversy.

Read: Owaisi will have to flee like the Nizam if BJP wins, says Adityanath

When questioned on Punjab minister Navjot Sidhu’s visit to Pakistan and his remarks on chief minister Captain Amrinder Singh, Smriti Irani said that Congress president needed to answer on it.

“Why does a Congress minister insult chief minister of his state? Rahul Gandhi should answer it. Why does a Congress leader love Pakistan more than India, Congress should think about it,” she said.

She also questioned the “silence” of Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Navjot Sidhu’s Pakistan visit.

“Pakistan foreign minister said Pakistan could throw a ‘googly’ at India due to action of this (Sidhu) Congress leader. But, Rahul Gandhi is quiet on the issue..,” she said.

Also Read: Congress leaders offer prayers in temples when polls near, but for BJP they are cultural issues, says Rajnath Singh

Earlier in the day, home minister Rajnath Singh in reply to a question in Jaipur said Congress was talking about Hinduism which it has avoided discussing till now.

“Hinduism should not be connected with any sect, caste and religion. It is a way of living life and it is a human religion. What will they talk about Hindu and Hinduism? They have called Lord Ram a fictional character in the affidavit submitted in Supreme Court in Ram Setu case in 2007,” he said.

First Published: Dec 02, 2018 22:13 IST

Hindus, Jews celebrate joint festival of lights At Chicago Synagog

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Two holidays, one theme: Hindus, Jews celebrate joint festival of lights

Bringing together two diverse communities and highlighting strong Israel-India relations, over 400 people gather in Chicago to simultaneously honor Diwali and Hanukkah

  • Candle lighting with Rabbi Sidney Helbraun & Acharya Rohit Joshi at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)
    Candle lighting with Rabbi Sidney Helbraun & Acharya Rohit Joshi at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)
  • The crowd enjoying the program at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)
    The crowd enjoying the program at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)
  • Learning how to do a Hindu dance at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)
    Learning how to do a Hindu dance at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)
  • Standup comedian Samson 'Mahatma Moses; Koletar performs at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)
    Standup comedian Samson ‘Mahatma Moses; Koletar performs at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)
  • The crowd enjoying the program at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)
    The crowd enjoying the program at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)
  • Jewish dance lessons at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)
    Jewish dance lessons at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)
  • A Diwali diya and Hanukkah menorah shine side by side at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)
    A Diwali diya and Hanukkah menorah shine side by side at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)

CHICAGO — A joint Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights drew over 400 people to a suburban Chicago synagogue on Sunday, as together they honored the similarly-themed holidays of Hanukkah and Diwali.

The evening, which featured speakers, candle lighting, food from both cultures, dance lessons, and the world’s only Indian-Jewish stand up comedian, was hosted by Temple Beth-El in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook, Illinois.

The Chicago event has inspired similar gatherings nationwide — from a December 8 celebration in San Francisco, to events being planned in New York, Atlanta and Florida. The Chicago organizers also look forward to organizing a collective celebration of Purim and Holi, the Hindu spring festival, in 2019.

“I think we connect over a shared sense of pain and overcoming adversities,” Sunil Krishnan told The Times of Israel as people mingled before the program. Krishnan, who is Hindu, made the nearly two-hour drive from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to attend the event.

“I don’t know much about the Hindu religion, but I’m fascinated by it,” said Margaret Geber, a Jewish woman who came with two friends. “I love the feeling of hope and the energy of the room as people are getting to know each other.”

The crowd enjoying the program at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)

Highlights from Sunday’s program included speeches by human rights activist Dr. Richard Benkin; Indian Consul Head of Chancery D.B. Bhati; and Aviv Ezra, the Consul General of Israel to the Midwest.

Bhati drew parallels between Diwali’s festival of lights and the lights of Hanukkah, while Ezra highlighted the 26 years of diplomacy between Israel and India. That relationship has “grown in even more profound ways” since India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited each other’s respective countries last year, Ezra said.

Candle lighting with Rabbi Sidney Helbraun & Acharya Rohit Joshi at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)

The idea for the joint festival began five years ago when Peggy Shapiro, Midwest executive director of StandWithUs, invited leaders of the Indian community to her house for dinner to celebrate the 65th anniversaries of Indian and Israeli independence.

“The problem is, what food do you serve?” joked Shapiro.

“When we got together that night at my dining room table, we found such commonalities in our communities,” Shapiro said.

“I learned a bit more about India and the Jewish community there — India is one of the only places in the world that has never had anti-Semitism,” she said (presumably attributing the horrific 2008 attacks on the Mumbai Chabad House to Islamic terrorism, rather than specific hatred against Jews).

Snacks are served at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)

Prasad Yalamanchi of the Global Hindu Heritage Foundation also spoke about India’s support for Israel and stressed the shared experiences between Hindus and Jews, including the staggering losses that both communities faced due to persecution.

“We need to get together, Hindus and Jews, to protect our heritage and civilization for future of generations,” he said to roaring applause.

Shapiro then introduced “someone that nobody has ever heard of, but appeals to everybody — the world’s only Indian-Jewish stand-up comedian, Samson Koletar, aka Mahatma Moses.”

Koletar poked fun at Jewish and Indian stereotypes to the delight of a mixed crowd that apparently had a common appreciation for self-deprecating humor. And like any good comedian, Koletar didn’t spare himself, laughing about people’s confused reactions to his mixed Indian-Jewish heritage.

Standup comedian Samson ‘Mahatma Moses; Koletar performs at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)

Rounding out the speeches, Dr. Souptik Mukherjee — a researcher who has long been an advocate for Hindu-Jewish relations, and who has contributed to Israeli media — spoke about the 2,500 year history of Hindu-Jewish relationships.

“[Our] two communities today unite to celebrate values dear to us all, of coexistence, tolerance, gender equality, mutual respect and respect for each other’s culture and faith,” Mukherjee said.

The festival concluded with traditional Hanukkah and Diwali desserts, followed by dance lessons from each culture.

Dr. Souptik Mukherjee speaks at the Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Illinois, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (Ronit Bezalel/ Times of Israel)

“It’s really wonderful to have this event in our synagogue, and see new faces in here,” noted Mandy Herlich, the director of lifelong learning at Temple Beth-El.

Chicago’s Festival of Lights was sponsored by the Global Hindu Heritage Foundation, Param Shakti Peeth of America, Sewa Interational, Shir Hadash, StandwithUs, Temple Beth-El, TV Asia, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America.

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‘Open fire if you want’, BJP leader detained at Sabarimala

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S NEWS AGENCY THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

(SO, MR. SURENDRAN SAYS HE CAN WORSHIP BECAUSE HE HAS ‘RIGHTS’ BUT HE IS SAYING THAT NO WOMAN HAS THE RIGHT TO WORSHIP AT THE SAME PLACE HE SAYS HE DOES?)

‘Open fire if you want’, BJP leader detained at Sabarimala; party workers protest in state capital

The development comes after the 12-hour shut down called by the Sabarimala Karma Samiti and BJP to protest the arrest of Hindu Aikya Vedi leader K P Sasikala in the early hours of Saturday crippled normal life in Kerala, the second bandh in a month.

INDIA Updated: Nov 17, 2018 23:24 IST

Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Hindustan Times, Sabarimala
Sabarimala,Sabarimala bandh,BJP
Sabarimala: BJP’s Kerala state general secretary K Surendran being taken into preventive detention near Sabarimala by the state police when he came to visit Sabarimala, Saturday. Nov 17, 2018. (PTI Photo) (PTI11_17_2018_000179B)(PTI)

BJP’s Kerala general secretary K Surendran was detained in Nilakkal base camp when he tried to make his way to the Sabarimala temple today. The government termed the action a “precautionary measure” as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been backing the protests against the Supreme Court verdict allowing entry of women of all ages to the hilltop shrine.

Stopped by police and told that he cannot go towards the Pamba base camp and to the temple at night, an angry Surendran, who was accompanied by some party workers, said, “You cannot prevent me from going to the Sabarimala temple, as I have already registered for pujas. You can stop me only if you open fire and you are free to do so”, reported IANS.

As Surendran, who told the police he had come as a “Ayyappa Bhaktha” (devotee) and should be allowed to pray at the temple, tried to go forward, he was taken into custody. According to the new police rules that came into effect from Friday, no pilgrim is allowed to proceed to the temple after 7 p.m. as the temple closes for the day at 10 p.m.

Superintendent of police Yatish Chandra said Surendran was taken to police station in Ranni in Pathnamthitta district.

Following the arrest, BJP workers protested outside the state secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram , blocking traffic, and water canons were used to disperse them. The party has announced it would hold protests tomorrow too.

BJP state president P S Sreedharan Pillai said the police action against Surendran has created an “extremely dangerous” situation, according to PTI.

He said he has informed Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh about the “seriousness” of the situation.

BJP workers will observe a “protest day” in the state tomorrow and block traffic on the highways, he said.

The latest protests come after the 12-hour shut down called by the Sabarimala Karma Samiti and BJP to protest the arrest of Hindu Aikya Vedi leader K P Sasikala early Saturday crippled normal life in Kerala, the second bandh in a month.

Sasikala, 62, had come for darshan at the hill top, but was stopped by police on her way to the temple. She was taken into preventive custody at around 2 am for defying prohibitory orders. Police had decided not to allow devotees enter temple premises when it was closed for the night and they said she was arrested after she went ahead flouting their warning.

Tension gripped many areas as after many right-wing outfits started a campaign saying Sasikala was arrested while carrying ‘Irumudi Kettu’, a sacrosanct offering taken by devotees to the Sabarimala shrine. Later a local court granted her bail and she said she will go back to the temple again. “I was detained for more than 12 hours on way to the temple. It seems the government is out to destroy the temple,” she said after her release.

Meanwhile, Mary Sweety (45), from Thiruvananthapuram, who was making her second attempt to visit the hilltop shrine, was asked to return after protesters stopped her at the Chenganur railway station itself. Sweety was one of the woman who had attempted to climb to the temple in October when it opened for the first time after the Supreme Court’s September 28 verdict but was foiled by protesters.

On the other hand, Ayyappa devotees complained that the heavy police restrictions are making their pilgrimage difficult as the shrine gates opened at 5 am. No one was allowed to stay at the hilltop temple top following a heavy rush.

On the large presence of police personnel,Pathnamthitta collector P B Nooh said, “there are many khaki clad policemen around. That is for the safety and security of devotees.” Police also used drones to monitor devotees at the Nillakal base camp.

The temple opened on Friday for 62-day long Mandala Pooja-Magaravilaku annual pilgrimage season.

First Published: Nov 17, 2018 20:28 IST

Four highly-trained snipers active in Kashmir

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

Four highly-trained snipers active in Kashmir, believe security agencies

Sniper attacks by Jaish-e-Mohammed militants have emerged as a new source of worry for security agencies in Kashmir with three personnel having been killed since mid-September, prompting agencies to re-calibrate their strategy to thwart such strikes, officials said.

INDIA Updated: Oct 28, 2018 23:51 IST

sniper,Kashmir,Jaish-e-Mohammed
Based on intelligence inputs, security agencies believe that at least two separate ‘buddy’ groups of the Jaish-e-Mohammed comprising two terrorists each have entered Kashmir Valley in early September.(AP/Picture for representation)

Sniper attack by Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists has emerged as a new source of worry for security agencies in Kashmir Valley with three personnel having been killed since mid-September, prompting law enforcement agencies to re-calibrate their strategy to thwart such strikes by the Pakistan-based group, officials said.

The first such attack took place at Newa in Pulwama on September 18 when a CRPF personnel was injured. Security officials thought it to be a one-off strike till the recent spate of sniper attacks that claimed the lives of a Sashastra Seema Bal jawan and an Army personnel in Tral, and a CISF jawan in Nowgam.

Based on intelligence inputs, security agencies believe that at least two separate ‘buddy’ groups of the proscribed Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) comprising two terrorists each have entered Kashmir Valley in early September and have entrenched themselves in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district with the help of some overground supporters of the outfit.

These terrorists, according to officials, have been thoroughly trained by Pakistan’s external snooping agency ISI for carrying out sniper attacks in Kashmir Valley and have been armed with M-4 carbines, used by the US-led allied forces in Afghanistan.

There is a possibility that these weapons may be part of the arms and ammunition captured by the Taliban, with whom the JeM cadre were fighting the allied forces in Afghanistan, security officials in the state said. However, they said that the weapon was also being used by the special forces of Pakistan Army.

In all the instances of sniper attacks, the terrorists used a nearby hillock to carry out strikes on a security force campus when unsuspecting jawans were using their mobile phones to talk to their family or friends. “These attacks have been precise, even while targeting a personnel inside a sentry post as he uses his mobile phone. They pick up the light of the mobile phone to carry out the attack on jawans,” said one of the officials.

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah has reacted to the rising cases of sniper attacks. “We’ve dealt with snipers on the border/LoC regularly and have SOPs to deal with those but never in the hinterland. This will force a rethink of all manner of security and protection procedures.”

The M-4 carbine is mounted with a telescope and the terrorists are using night vision devices to locate their potential targets, the officials said. The weapon can fire at its target up to 500-600 metres with precision.

The security agencies, including army, CRPF and Jammu and Kashmir police, have already issued fresh guidelines to their jawans and officers located in camps in the militancy-hit areas. Maintaining a silence over the change in tactics, the officials said that more combing operations would be carried out around the security camps.

They said that Jaish cadres were likely to carry out more such attacks in the future, but added that some modules had been identified and these cases were likely to be cracked soon.

The security agencies had been observing that while pushing the terrorists into Kashmir Valley from the Line of Control (LoC), ISI meticulously planned to send in Jaish-e-Mohammed cadre along.

Those terrorists were armed with the best possible arsenal including bullets with steel core – with the capability to pierce a static bullet proof bunker used during counter-terrorism operations, the officials said.

The first such incident was noticed on the New Year eve when JeM terrorists had carried out a suicide attack on a CRPF camp in Lethpora in South Kashmir. Five personnel of the para-military force were killed in the attack and one of them was hit by a bullet fatally despite using a static bullet-proof shield provided by the Army, officials said.

A thorough inquiry into the attack showed that the bullet fired by the terrorist from the assault AK rifle was of steel core with the capability of piercing through the static bunkers used by security personnel during encounters with terrorists.

Generally, the AK bullets used in the armoury have a lead core covered with mild steel which cannot penetrate a bullet proof shield but after the December 31, 2017 encounter and subsequent findings, the rules of the proxy-war changed, the officials said.

A detailed analysis of the previous suicide attacks was carried out during which ballistic analysis of the terror attack on district police lines of Pulwama in South Kashmir in last August showed that ‘steel core’ bullets had been used by the terrorists in that encounter with security personnel. Eight security personnel had lost their lives in the terror strike.

The ammunition, according to the officials, is being modified from across the border with the help of Chinese technology of encasing the bullet with hard steel core. At the United Nations, India has been seeking a ban the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group and designation of its chief Maulana Masood Azhar as global terrorist, but its efforts have been blocked by China four times so far.

First Published: Oct 28, 2018 18:26 IST