APRIL 19, Friday
* Front Page
67% turnout in second phase of LS poll
Highest polling of 78% recorded in Puducherry; 71% exercise franchise in T.N. Assembly bypolls
The second phase of the Lok Sabha election on Thursday for 95 constituencies registered a tentative voter turnout of 67.6% across 11 States and one Union Territory, with sporadic incidents of violence.
The overall figure was 69.62% in 2014.
The highest turnout of 78% was reported from Puducherry, followed by Manipur with 77.86% and West Bengal with 76.42%.
Tamil Nadu, which voted in the first general election without Dravidian stalwarts Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi, recorded an average turnout of 71.11% in the 38 constituencies. Polling in Vellore was earlier cancelled due to the alleged use of money to influence voters.
Besides, an average of 71.62% voters turned out to exercise their franchise in the 18 Assembly seats, where byelections were held simultaneously in the State. The outcome in these seats, along with four other constituencies that will have byelections on May 19, will determine the fate of the AIADMK government that is surviving on a thin majority.
Prominent candidates in Tamil Nadu who were in the fray included Union Minister of State Pon Radhakrishnan (BJP); Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M. Thambi Durai (AIADMK); former Union Ministers A. Raja, T.R. Baalu, Dayanidhi Maran and S. Jagathrakshakan (all DMK); Anbumani Ramadoss (PMK); and E.V.K.S. Elangovan (Congress).
Election to the Tripura (East) seat was postponed to April 23 because of security concerns.
There was an increase in voting percentage in the five Lok Sabha constituencies of Bihar from 61.93% in 2014 to 62.52%. In the eight constituencies of Uttar Pradesh, the figure stood at 62.06% till 6 p.m., compared to 61.87% the last time.
Govt. suspends cross-LoC trade after ‘misuse by arms, drugs smugglers’
‘Routes being used to move fake currency’
, Peerzada Ashiq
The decision will impact 300 traders and more than 1,200 people.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Thursday suspended the cross-Line of Control (LoC) trade in Jammu and Kashmir, citing “funnelling of illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency” as reasons.
The decision will immediately impact around 300 traders, and more than 1,200 people who are directly and indirectly associated with the trade on this side.
“The action has been taken after reports that the cross-LoC trade routes are being misused by Pakistan-based elements for funnelling illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency,” said a MHA spokesman.
“The trade has changed its character to mostly third- party trade, and products from other regions, including foreign countries, are finding their way through this route. Unscrupulous and anti-national elements are using the route as a conduit for hawala money, drugs and weapons, under the garb of this trade,” the MHA order said.
A probe by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the MHA said, suggested that a significant number of concerns engaged in the trade are being operated by persons closely associated with banned terrorist organisations.
It also pointed out that the government of India after the Pulwama attack withdrew the Most Favoured Nation status to Pakistan and “inputs suggested that in order to evade the consequent higher duty, the LoC trade was likely to be misused to a much larger extent.”
In a major confidence building measure, cross-LoC trade was started in 2008 by setting up two Trade Facilitation Centres located at Uri’s Salamabad in Baramulla, and Chakkan-da-Bagh in Poonch. The trade took place four days a week. It was based on barter system and zero duty basis.
“The move was made without any intimation to the traders. Around 300 traders, 1,000 truck drivers and 200 labourers are directly involved. They will lose their livelihood immediately,” Samiullah Bhat, vice-president, Cross LoC Traders Association, told The Hindu.
CSIR plans genome sequencing to map population diversity
CSIR effort set to probe link with disease
Many countries have studied genetic traits of citizens using sequencing.REUTERSHandout
In an indigenous genetic mapping effort, nearly 1,000 rural youth from the length and breadth of India will have their genomes sequenced by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The project aims at educating a generation of students on the “usefulness” of genomics.
Globally, many countries have undertaken genome sequencing of a sample of their citizens to determine unique genetic traits, susceptibility (and resilience) to disease. This is the first time that such a large sample of Indians will be recruited for a detailed study.
The project is an adjunct to a much larger government-led programme, still in the works, to sequence at least 10,000 Indian genomes.
Typically, those recruited as part of genome-sample collections are representative of the country’s population diversity. In this case, the bulk of them will be college students, both men and women, and pursuing degrees in the life sciences or biology.
“This will not be an exercise to merely collect samples from people,” said Vinod Scaria, a scientist at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), a CSIR laboratory.
“We will be reaching out to a lot of collegians, educating them about genomics and putting a system in place that allows them to access information revealed by their genome,” he said. Because genomics is largely confined to a rich urban demographic in India, this exercise, according to Dr. Scaria, would make such information ubiquitous even to villages. “Just as CT scans are now known across the country, we hope to do the same for genomes,” he said.
Genomes will be sequenced based on a blood sample and the scientists plan to hold at least 30 camps covering most States.
Every person whose genomes are sequenced will be given a report. The participants would be told if they carry gene variants that make them less responsive to certain classes of medicines. For instance, having a certain gene makes some people less responsive to clopidogrel, a key drug that prevents strokes and heart attack.
“We wouldn’t be sharing such information in the report. In some cases the correlation between disease and genes is weak. A person can request such information through their clinician because many disorders have single-gene causes but no cure or even a line of treatment. Ethics require such information to be shared only after appropriate counselling,” said Dr. Scaria.
The project would involve the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) and cost ₹18 crore, with the sequencing to be done at the IGIB and the CCMB.
After J&J case, govt. treads carefully
Control samples for imported drugs may be made mandatory
Bindu Shajan Perappadan
The changes come months after Johnson & Johnson was found supplying faulty hip implants.
The government may make it mandatory for import license holders to maintain control samples of imported drugs.
The Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) has recommended amendment to Rule 26 of the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945, which deals with conditions under import licences.
The DTAB says of the proposed change: “The licensee shall maintain reference samples from each batch of the drugs imported by him in a quantity which is at least twice the quantity of the drug required to conduct all the tests performed in the batch.”
“In case of drugs bearing an expiry date on the label, the reference samples shall be maintained for a period of three months beyond the date of expiry or potency. In case of drugs where no date of expiry or potency is specified on the label, the reference samples shall be maintained for a period of three years from the date of manufacture.”
A senior health official explained that, previously, the rules applied to indigenous manufacturers marketing drugs in the country, adding, “There was no such condition available in the import licence under the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945.”
“So, in a situation where there is any spurious, misbranded or sub-standard drug found in the market, it becomes very difficult to verify the authenticity of such drugs, as the control samples of such imported drugs are not available with the import licence holder,” noted the DTAB.
The move, which offers much needed protection to patients, and teeth to regulatory authorities in India, comes months after the Union Health Ministry found Johnson & Johnson Private Limited guilty of supplying faulty hip implants in India, and ordered the company to pay over ₹74 lakh to a Mumbai-based patient as compensation.
Meanwhile, the DTAB has also agreed to amend the Medical Devices Rules, 2017 to incorporate the names, qualifications and experiences of competent technical staff responsible for the manufacture and testing of medical devices, and the scope of accreditation in the respective forms.
This comes alongside the proposal for an additional over 700 staff members to monitor the sale, use, etc., of medical devices.
HAL resumes tests of jet trainer
They were halted in 2016 after aircraft encountered problems in spin test
Back in the air: A file photo of an IJT in Bengaluru.
Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) on Thursday said it has resumed test-flying its intermediate jet trainer (IJT) in a modified version after a gap of almost three years.
The first renewed test from its Bengaluru facilities on Wednesday was “flawless”, a statement said: “Its success is an important step [in] the IJT programme.”
HAL had halted flight tests of the IJT in 2016 after the aircraft encountered problems while undergoing critical spin tests. Meanwhile, in-house research, design and technical teams modified the aircraft, which has been produced in a limited series.
“HAL continued its R&D efforts and undertook modification of IJT LSP4 aircraft based on extensive and comprehensive wind tunnel studies,” HAL Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) R. Madhavan was quoted as saying.
The trainer aircraft, called the HJT-36, is being developed as the second-level trainer for new pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Navy.
The beginners start with a basic trainer (now the Swiss-made Pilatus) and then move on to the more complex Hawk advanced jet trainer (AJT) before they take up flying fighters or transport planes for the Forces. The IJT is aimed at easing this transition.
Taken up in 1999, the IJT programme has produced two IJT prototypes. The plane flew for the first time in March 2003. The IAF alone is reported to need 85 intermediate trainers.
Plea in SC on voting rights of undertrials and convicts
Provision violates the right to equality, it says
The Supreme Court is hearing a plea filed by a law student questioning an electoral law which denies undertrials and convicts their right to vote.
A Bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, on April 16, scheduled the case after a fortnight. The court is also interested to learn why Aditya Prasanna Bhattacharya, the student at the National Law School India University at Bengaluru, is interested in this particular subject and why he has sought to move the petition under Article 32. It however added that its queries had nothing to do with the merits of the petition.
Section 62(5) of the Representation of People Act of 1951 mandates that “no person shall vote at any election if he is confined in a prison, whether under a sentence of imprisonment or transportation or otherwise, or is in the lawful custody of the police”.
The provisions however exempt a person held under preventive detention from this rigour.
The petition, represented by advocate Zoheb Hossain, highlights how the Section sees both an undertrial and a convicted person equally. The former’s guilt is yet to be proved in a court. A person is innocent until proven guilty by law. Despite this, it denies an undertrial the right to vote but allows a detainee the same. However, a person out on bail is allowed to cast his vote.
The plea argued that the provision violates the rights to equality, vote (Article 326) and is arbitrary. It is not a reasonable restriction.
* Editorial 1
A shameful marker of five years
India’s dubious contribution to a global epidemic of hate is a spate of performative mob lynchings
Getty Imagesbamlou/Getty Images
The most malignant legacy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s five years in office is that he has made India a more frightening and dangerous place for its religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians. His leadership has been scarred by a massive surge in hate speech and violence against these groups. In particular, this period has seen the rise of a form of hate violence that targets its religious and caste minorities, better known as “lynching”. In these five years, this word entered popular discourse in India, for the first time, by describing frenzied attacks by mobs against people mainly because of their religious or caste identity, Muslim and in some cases Dalit.
Contours of hate
Right-wing regimes that are hostile to minorities have risen to power in many countries. But in no other country than India has this current anti-minority, far-right politics resulted in a concerted pattern of lynch attacks against minorities — and emerged as a scourge in the country today.
Lynching itself is of course not unknown in many countries. I have found three broad kinds in the modern world. The first is as occasional and random criminal acts, without any pattern or regularity to signal a significant social phenomenon. This can and does occur anywhere.
The second is as ‘rough justice’, of people frustrated by failures of legal justice, attacking people alleged frequently to be petty thieves or rapists. This has been common, for instance, in Indonesia and Latin America.
The third kind is as hate crime, one which targets persons not because of what a person has done, but because of who they are. This is what India is currently witnessing. These hate crimes are often dressed up as rough justice: people rationalise cow lynching as popular anger because state systems have not implemented cow protection laws. But the targets of lynch mobs are particular communities, and the allegations of crimes against them are usually patently false — and, in any case, just an excuse.
The closest global parallel to lynchings in India is the one of racial terror against African-Americans in the American South in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The motive of both was/is to target people because of their identity, to instil fear, and to convey a message of violent dominance.
I would characterise lynching in India not just as communal terror but specifically as command hate crimes. India Spend found that as many as 97% of cow-related attacks since 2010 occurred after Mr. Modi was elected to office; and that 90% of all religious hate crimes since 2009 have occurred under his watch. These point compellingly to the conclusion that an environment has been created since the Prime Minister assumed office, in which people feel safe, enabled and even encouraged to act out their hate and attack religious minorities.
This permissive environment is stirred firstly by frequent toxic hate speeches by senior leaders of the ruling party. A leading television channel found a 490-fold rise in hate speech by leaders in the four years of the current government compared to five years earlier. Mr. Modi has been remiss in condemning both hate speech and lynch attacks by communal vigilante formations, except in the most general terms. The police has tended mostly to criminalise the victims of these attacks and protect the attackers. They, therefore, feel emboldened and encouraged to attack people of minority identities, assured of their impunity, and convinced of their nationalist fervour and heroism.
Hate violence targeting religious, caste and gender minorities is, of course, not new in India. Violent clashes and attacks based on religious identity, most often targeting religious minorities especially Muslim, but also on occasion Sikh and Christian minorities, have continued after Independence. According to some estimates, the numbers of people who died due to communal violence in India could be significantly more than 10,000.
There are no accurate official data of casualties by lynch attacks and hate crimes in the past five years. But the numbers of persons killed in all such hate crimes are likely to be far less than those killed in even a single major episode of mass communal violence.
What then makes this present form of targeted hate violence, through lynch mobs and occasional solitary attacks, so worrying? Every episode of mass communal violence of the past, however grave, would occur in a particular area, and would unfold over some hours, some days, or in the rare instance of the Gujarat communal carnage of 2002, for some weeks. The difference with the new phase of lynch mobs and solitary hate crimes under the Prime Minister’s watch is that it is no longer bound by geography and time, and so it mounts pervasive fear.
Signal of impunity
Historian Amy Louise Wood writes vividly of the performative character of American lynching. In these “hundreds, sometimes thousands, of white spectators gathered and watched as their fellow citizens tortured, mutilated, and hanged or burned their victims in full view” This, she said, lent to lynching a “tremendous symbolic power precisely because it was… public and visually sensational”.
In India this same performative symbolic power has been attained with the video camera. In 28 journeys of the Karwan e Mohabbat to lynch victims in 14 States, we have found that almost every lynching was videotaped by the perpetrators and triumphally and widely circulated online. Through this the perpetrators signal that they feel assured of their impunity, that despite their posting their images of committing murder online, they will be valorised as ‘nationalist’ heroes of the Hindu nation.
But they also seek through these videos to convey to the targeted community what they have been reduced to, begging vainly for their lives from their powerful attackers. Prof. Wood recalls: “Even one lynching reverberated, traveling with sinister force, down city streets and through rural farms, across roads and rivers… To be black in this time was to be ‘the victim to a thousand lynchings’.” In the same way, each lynching in India is reverberating to every inner-city and rural Muslim area: to be Muslim in India today is to be victim to ten thousand lynchings.
The message that such performative lynching communicates is stark and unambiguous. That if you are of the targeted community, you are no longer safe. In no place, and at no time. You can be attacked in your home: a mob can enter it and check what meat is cooking, and bludgeon you to death claiming it is cow meat. For being visibly Muslim, you can be lynched on a train, while walking down the road, at your workplace or a park. This fear, assiduously encouraged by the ruling establishment, is the most shameful marker of these five years.
India sometimes creates its own specific cruelties. These include untouchability, caste atrocities and the cruel burning of brides for dowry. While politically encouraged bigotry and hatred against minorities are growing into a malign global epidemic, India’s dubious contribution to this is its spate of performative mob lynchings, bludgeoning its religious minorities and disadvantaged castes into the pervasive fear of everyday living that this has brought in its wake.
Harsh Mander is a human rights worker, writer and teacher
Predictable chaos in Libya
The Iraqi-Libyan species of intervention, with UN ‘approval’ but under the West’s watch, is a post Cold-War phenomenon
General Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army, is advancing on the capital Tripoli, having taken control of the east of the country including most of the oilfields. Gen. Haftar had helped Muammar Qaddafi seize power in 1969 before going into exile in the U.S. in the 1980s, but returned to Libya in 2011 to join in Qaddafi’s overthrow. He now casts himself as a conservative Salafist opposing Islamists and the Muslim Brothers, and has the backing — for their individual reasons — of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and some West Asian states, apart from Russia (openly) and France (covertly).
The United Nations recognised Tripoli’s administration is called the Government of National Accord, but is anything but that, being dependent on a motley of warlords, militant or moderate Islamists, secessionists and monarchists, all split on regional and ethnic lines. Even before Gen. Haftar launched his offensive, West Libya was replete with inter-militia battles and kidnappings. The Tripoli government commands no security forces, public administration scarcely exists, water, petrol and power shortages abound, and few banks operate. Thousands are fleeing towards Tunisia, and 180 people have been killed so far in the recent fighting.
The rule of the gun prevails in Libya ever since western forces overthrew Qaddafi. The oil-rich country, now a departure point for thousands of migrants travelling to Europe, once had one of Africa’s highest standards of living, free health care and education, with high female literacy and percentage of women in the workplace. Its inland waterway to green the eastern desert was called the world’s largest irrigation project. But after the western armed intervention supported by some Arab sheikhdoms, a perceptive commentator noted, “Nothing was certain, least of all what kind of country Libya would now become.”
The revolt against Qaddafi began in Benghazi, and western intervention was legitimised by the fig leaf of a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire, a no-fly zone and protection of civilians, on which there were five abstentions which included India, Russia and China. Qaddafi accepted the resolution. Shortly thereafter, France, the U.K. and the U.S. attacked Qaddafi’s forces and NATO assumed responsibility for regime change at the same moment that an African Union mediation mission was en route to Libya.
The Libyan tragedy, like those in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and most probably to ensue in Afghanistan, illustrates wider issues at play. Iraqi warring militias after the Second Gulf War empowered jihadists, made Iraq ungovernable, U.S. withdrawal inevitable, and led to the Balkanisation of the nation. No lessons were learned, causing former U.S. President Barack Obama to confess that his worst mistake was a failure to prepare for the aftermath of western intervention following Qaddafi’s overthrow. Western wishful thinking persists in the belief that Libya could arrive at a path to democracy that revives the country’s collapsed institutions, rather than falling under military rule.
Post Cold-War phenomenon
In 1965 and 1981, the UN adopted declarations on the inadmissibility of intervention in the domestic affairs of states, and until the 1990s the UN was the custodian of state sovereignty. The Iraqi-Libyan species of intervention, professedly with UN approval but actually under western control, is a post Cold-War phenomenon, the motivation being to implant liberal democratic institutions and human rights, along with security concerns, usually thinly justified by 9/11 and lately the Islamic State. Exogenous state-building and a peripheral role for local leaders characterise this innovation in international relations. The spectre of failed states became a major concern, leading to the imposition of a neo-liberal agenda in the guise of human rights protection.
The ambiguous legal justification for interventions not specifically authorised by the UN, such as the creation of safe havens in Iraq, established a pattern despite negative precedents that showed that attempting nation-building in societies divided by ethnic, factional, ideological and religious lines is beyond the capacity of any minority group of UN members, let alone of one super-power. None of the interventions could have taken place without the projection of U.S. power or its indirect underwriting.
Two factors paved the way for these neo-protectorates; activists with rights-based agendas joined the political mainstream, and western outrage to televised suffering. Activists united with foreign policy establishments, and third world disorder presented opportunities for sly expansion of mandates into new operating areas. Added to these was post-1990 revisionism towards state sovereignty and permissiveness to humanitarian interventions. Relativism towards sovereignty was anathema to post-colonial independent states, especially when western interventions were selective and political in nature, and the victims of intervention lacked the power to oppose.
Western nations came to contemplate, albeit fitfully and inconsistently, neutralising a number of sovereign states in the third world that were illiberal, war-torn or internally weak, as potential threats to international peace. But this essentially political project was presented as a high-minded enterprise with altruistic motivations, similar to the post-war occupations of Germany and Japan.
There were many reasons for the failure of state-building in the new protectorates. The new elites were never very different or more liberal than those deposed. Organised criminality was invigorated by opportunities created by the absence of proper law enforcement due to outsiders not understanding the consequences of their policies. This was because the interveners were more concerned with checking the power of institutions rather than building them, and to appease domestic opinion back home, concentrated on exit strategies and political markers such as holding elections. If the outcome was doubtful even in Kosovo in Europe, the challenge of transforming political and social cultures in the world beyond Europe, where there is no economic pull factor and traditions have little in common with western liberalism, was obviously far more formidable.
As for humanitarian arguments and the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, such reasoning is malleable enough to be appropriated by Russia in Georgia and Ukraine. Whether in Libya or elsewhere, expeditionary interventions to implant human rights and democracy have a certain heuristic value in understanding the illusions of western hegemony which rose to prominence in our times and sought to mould the third world in its image.
Krishnan Srinivasan is a former Foreign Secretary
Airlines must take stock of their collective plight and sell seats at the real cost
To the long line of private airline carcasses dotting the bleak landscape of Indian aviation, one more may soon be added. Jet Airways announced a temporary halt of its operations from Wednesday night as funds to keep the airline going dried up. Despite intense lobbying by the bankrupt airline, banks stood firm on their decision to not release emergency funds to sustain operations until a white knight is found. With operations halted and the half a dozen or so planes that were flying till Wednesday grounded, the airline is staring down the barrel, especially because most of its prized departure slots at major airports across the country have either already been or will soon be allocated to other airlines. Jet will be able to regain these slots only if it bounces back before the end of the summer schedule in October. Whether that will happen is now in the hands of prospective buyers, who are said to have evinced interest in buying the airline during the Expression of Interest (EOI) process called by banks last week. The fact that the banks refused to extend emergency support is probably an indicator of the quantity and quality of the EOIs received by them. It is hard to believe that they would not have temporarily supported Jet if the EOIs had been serious. In sum, it does appear at this point that a miracle will be needed for Jet to take wing again.
The collapse of Jet has caused turbulence in the market and also raised some serious questions over why the domestic airline industry is proving to be so perilous for enterprises. There have been more than half-a-dozen private airline companies that have fallen by the wayside in the last decade and more, and it is well-known how Air India is propped up with government support. While it is true that fuel costs, which account for about half of the expenses of running an airline, have been difficult to manage, the fact is that reckless competition is responsible for the sorry plight of the industry. Margins in the airline industry are wafer-thin in the best of times and the combined effect of rising fuel prices and the inability to pass them on to consumers due to competition has proved to be a deadly cocktail. In the race to the bottom, it was Kingfisher seven years ago, Air Deccan and Air Sahara before that, it is Jet now, and who knows which airline could be next. It is notable that airfares have largely stayed stable over several years, benefiting passengers but biting airlines. It is time that airlines took stock of their collective plight and stopped undercutting each other on fares. The Centre can help too by reviewing fuel taxes and surcharges apart from airport levies, which the airlines complain are too high. After all, a healthy airline industry can only be good for government revenues over the long term.
The Chinese economy has grown faster than expected, but concerns over stimulus remain
China’s economy is showing signs of a rebound. According to figures released by its National Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday, the Chinese economy grew at 6.4% in the first quarter of the current year compared to the same period last year. While this rate of growth is equal to the pace registered in the December quarter and faster than economists’ expectations of a 6.3% expansion, it is still slower than the growth rate of 6.8% recorded in the same period last year. Retail sales and factory output also showed strong growth momentum. The latest growth figure is seen as a sign that the Chinese government’s efforts over the last few quarters to stimulate what is the world’s second largest economy are beginning to have a positive effect. Total social financing grew by almost 40% to 8.2 trillion yuan in the first quarter of the year, pointing to a credit expansion that will boost growth in the coming quarters. With trade tensions with the United States subsiding significantly for now, export growth may accelerate, further boosting the Chinese economy. Chinese exports reached a five-month high in March, rising 14.2% when compared to the same month last year. The Chinese stock market has also been buoyed by the early signs of an economic turnaround and increased liquidity, with the CSI 300 index rising by over a third in value since the beginning of the year.
Gross domestic product growth that is generated largely by increased lending, however, poses the risk of losing momentum once the stimulus is withdrawn. Beijing, of late, has once again been prodding its banks to boost lending to public and private businesses, apart from implementing various fiscal measures to boost consumer spending. This could lead to a tricky situation where businesses that resort to heavy borrowing when credit is easily available become burdened with disproportionately high amounts of debt once the economic boom cycle reverses. Chinese authorities may eventually be forced to crack down on exuberant lending by banks when the economy is found to be overheating. It was such a crackdown that contributed to the fall in property prices in the last few years. For now, though, property prices have begun to rebound after restrictions on the real estate sector were eased lately, in an attempt to stimulate growth in the economy. The Chinese government is now walking a tightrope as it attempts to keep the momentum from slowing in the short term, even as market forces try to correct imbalances within the economy. Such macroeconomic policy, focussed too narrowly on the short term while ignoring the long-term consequences, however, does not bode well for either the Chinese economy or the wider global economy.
* Editorial 2
Is the Election Commission toothless or is it refusing to bite?
On its powers and limitations in conducting free and fair elections
The Election Commission (EC) has come under intense scrutiny over the last few weeks for its inability to take swift action against those violating the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). It took a rap on its knuckles by the Supreme Court for the EC to crack the whip. In a discussion moderated by Anuradha Raman, S.Y. Quraishi and Trilochan Sastry talk of the EC’s powers in imposing the MCC, and the controversy over NaMo TV. Edited excerpts:
Mr. Quraishi, with the EC recently taking action against some politicians for violation of the MCC, do you think it has finally demonstrated that it can bite?
S.Y. Quraishi: It is a pity that we needed the Supreme Court to remind the EC of powers that it always had. Even advisories for senior leaders is good enough because it leads to a lot of naming and shaming, which is effective. To say that the EC is toothless in ensuring that the MCC is followed is wrong. It probably needs a little more will power to act strongly, particularly against the ruling party, because the ruling party always has an advantage which has to be neutralised. I think the EC has enough teeth. Just polite advice to the Prime Minister is enough to cause ripples. To underestimate the power of advisories is wrong.
But it took a long time for the EC to actually act. Is there reason to believe that the EC is compromised?
SYQ: I wouldn’t use such a harsh word. The EC has always been under observation. Not only does it have to be fair, it has to appear to be fair. Now that it has got a rap on its knuckles, I think it will be bolder than it has been so far.
Does it worry you that the EC is taking its own time to act against the Prime Minister?
SYQ: It is very unfortunate that instead of debating the conduct of politicians, we are debating the EC. The EC is partly responsible because of delays. Had it acted promptly, it would not be in the dock.
What are your thoughts on the Supreme Court interim order directing political parties to provide full information on each and every political donor in a sealed cover to the court? I recall a conversation where you had serious misgivings about electoral bonds.
SYQ: I am partly disappointed and partly happy. I am happy that it has taken note and commented that there is no transparency [in the electoral bonds scheme]. But asking that the information be delivered in a sealed envelope is beyond my comprehension. It is a grave error and very unfair. Is it a state secret? Parties know who the donor is, the government knows, and the donor knows who he or she gave the bond to. It is only you and I who don’t know. Another sad thing is that while the elections are in process, the Constitution has debarred any intervention by the court. The fact that the court has to intervene again and again is a sad situation.
Trilochan Sastry: There is a procedural issue and a substantive issue. On the procedural issue of whether the court should have intervened during the election, I have no comments to offer, but on the substantive issue as to whether such actions should be taken against hate speeches and on the countermanding of elections in a constituency in Tamil Nadu where cash was seized, the EC’s decision is welcome. How institutions become aware of their power is a work in process and a long one at that. The EC is still discovering its powers, and if it is being nudged and that helps, it is okay.
On the issue of giving information on electoral bonds in a sealed cover to the court, we are very patient. We would have preferred something faster. The court perhaps felt it did not want to interfere when the election process was underway. So, it found a compromise and directed parties to declare who gave how much funds in the form of electoral bonds in a sealed cover. We will see on May 30th what it does. But the best practice all over the world is complete transparency.
Does the EC suffer from some inherent structural problems in the manner of the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners?
SYQ: The appointment system to the EC must improve. Right now, the Election Commissioners are appointed by the government of the day and they might feel beholden to the government or the government might feel that they should be beholden. In any case, public perception is that if they have been appointed by a particular government, they will be soft. A collegium system of appointment should be considered.
It is not as if the Supreme Court’s manner of appointment of judges is free of problems. You appear to be suggesting that the collegium system is working fine.
SYQ: Yes, there may be problems, but this is the best system possible. If you see the electoral system in the world, the shortest cut-off for appointment is in India. Everywhere in the world, such constitutional appointments are made by either a collegium or even by the parliamentary committees and there is a parliamentary endorsement. In some cases there is a live interview of the candidate so that the whole nation is privy to the appointment. It is only in India that the most powerful Commission in the world has the most defective system of appointment. Mind you, it also puts pressure on the incumbent. The Commissioners, even if they’re acting bona fide, if the public perception is, ‘oh they must be soft on the government’, as is happening just now, to insulate them from these kind of allegations and accusations, a neutral system of appointment is perhaps the answer.
Should the MCC be enacted into a law?
TS: I think good practice sometimes is better than a law. When we pass a law, we are unable to anticipate every contingency. I think we need to trust the EC to exercise its powers. The moment you make a law, some comma or some phrase somewhere will be interpreted this way or that way and it will end up in the courts. And there will be a legal tangle. The Supreme Court has kind of endorsed the idea of a MCC without giving it a legal status. I think we should just let it be like that.
SYQ: I am absolutely against making it a law. It is a clever trap. The MCC will be taken away from the EC’s discretion and it will have to be given to the judiciary in which case it will take 20 years for you to know whether some act was committed. Now this MCC acts like a fire brigade — if there is fire, it has to be extinguished right then and not after five or 10 years. Second, its moral authority should not be underestimated even if the ultimate punishment under the model code is advice, warning, censure or reprimand. Its contribution towards forming public opinion is firm. The moment a leader gets a notice, it becomes a newspaper headline. The moral authority of the model code is very strong and the leaders are actually scared of getting a notice under the model code. Third, anything which is in the model code is also part of different laws, and action is simultaneously taken under the laws also. The only difference is that the action will be known to you after 10 years, whereas, here, a notice is served even to the Prime Minister: you violated the model code, please reply why action should not be taken. And the reply comes in 23 hours. This kind of speedy compliance never happens even to a law of the land.
The week before the announcement of election dates is when we usually see a flurry of advertisements from the government. This year was no exception. How is it that the week before the EC actually announces the dates, the government is prepared with its advertisements?
SYQ: All I can say is that the dates are decided by the EC and governments are very curious to know what the dates are and we never let them out, so that the surprise element is not taken away. The incumbent government cannot plan its political moves accordingly.
TS: It’s very tricky to distinguish between a genuine policy decision which is announced and an announcement which is for the sake of getting votes. I think everything cannot be legislated. Something has to be left to the good sense of the voters.
What actually is the problem with the TV channel that was launched in the name of the Prime Minister a few weeks after the MCC kicked in?
SYQ: I don’t have the full facts, but prima facie there is no problem in a political party or a political leader owning a channel. We know that in the south every politician seems to have a channel. So when we were formulating the guidelines for the expenditure monitoring division in 2010 and 2011, we came across many channels which are owned by political parties. What they were doing was that their appearance on their own channels was shown as nil expenditure. We said, nothing doing. After all, there is a notional value attached to the telecast on the channel, which will have to be counted and shown as expenditure incurred. NaMo TV, if it is owned by the party or Mr. Modi himself, there is no problem except that the expenditure on the publicity on the channel has to be accounted for.
TS: I want to add one point here. You know the framework in which we are discussing all this. It seems to me that we are convinced that wrongdoing will happen and we are trying to fix it by this rule or that rule. Then we are falling back on the MCC. I think the only long-term solution is voter awareness. If the three of us seem to feel that a certain practice may not violate a constitutional right but it violates a moral code, I think when the people of India largely realise that, these things will disappear and among a large section of politically aware voters this is already happening.
Do both of you agree that the EC suffers from no limitations whatsoever?
TS: It can exercise far more powers when it chooses to, but the one power it does not have is to de-register political parties and you know there are parties which never contest elections, which do not submit their accounts, which do not follow their own internal Constitution of holding elections on time. And the EC becomes powerless. I think with due caution they should be allowed to de-register. In any case, there is judicial oversight.
SYQ: This has been pending for 20 years. We have been demanding that. The power to register does not include the power to de-register, according to a Supreme Court judgment. We went to the government and asked them to empower us. We have nearly 2,000 parties. Most of them are bogus; they are there only for money-laundering. We cannot do anything. To that extent, the EC is toothless, yes.
A struggle to breathe
In this election season, it is imperative for political parties to talk about pollution
Armin Rosencranz & Nitish Raj
The National Capital Region’s pollution levels make it to the headlines every year. Every October to December, stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, smog arising from industries, and motor vehicle emissions increase the air quality index (AQI) of Delhi to the hazardous level of 450. In the remaining months, the AQI goes back to the level of 101-200 (unhealthy for sensitive groups). The economic loss for India in the last five years due to the exposure to crop burning is about 1.7% of the country’s GDP. Annually, this exposure to pollution costs Delhi, Haryana and Punjab around ₹2 lakh crore.
Despite this alarming level of pollution, neither the Union government nor the Delhi government has taken significant steps to plan out a long-term solution. Even the interim Budget took no significant step to tackle this issue. The odd-even scheme, which was launched some years ago to curb pollution, failed to achieve its objective. A study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water found that the average number of vehicles plying on the roads daily increased by 10% during the odd-even period in January 2016 compared to the last week of December 2015. This increase was mainly due to a 17% increase in two-wheelers, 12% increase in three-wheelers, 22% increase in taxis and 138% rise in the number of private buses. Another study published in Current Science found that the odd-even scheme led to an increase in emissions as the median concentration of 13 out of the 16 gases measured were higher in the morning hours and afternoon hours on days when the scheme was enforced.
Clearly, the government needs to take more radical steps to curb pollution. It should: find alternatives to stubble burning and impose strict sanctions in case of contravention of any ban on the practice; impose a blanket ban on firecrackers; impose a blanket ban on all vehicles exceeding prescribed tailgate emission standards; legislate stricter norms for fuels; open toll roads where trucks should be be excluded and high-occupancy vehicles exempted from the toll; provide separate bus lanes to reduce congestion; create a separate fund in the Budget to specifically deal with this crisis; provide agricultural subsidies to farmers to disincentivise crop burning; improve the drainage system; and incentivise the use of renewable energy.
Apart from the courts, none of the other organs of the state has shown any readiness to deal with the pollution crisis. Meanwhile, until the government responds, NGOs and social workers should step in to tackle this issue through their own programmes and campaigns. In this election season, it is imperative for political parties to make this issue a priority, for pollution doesn’t only affect us but our children, the generations to come, and our planet.
Armin Rosencranz is Professor of Law and Nitish Raj is a student of law at the O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana
The many roads to development in Chhattisgarh
In the heart of Bastar, which is peaceful only on the surface
They may be remote and disconnected from electricity, dispensaries and schools, but several villages in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region abutting large tracts of forest boast of well-maintained roads. An activist who works to boost awareness among the Adivasis about their traditional rights to forest land attributes the quality of these roads in the conflict region to the influence of Naxalites.
Several villages and administrative blocks in Kanker district (about 150 km from Raipur), such as Narayanpur, Antagarh and Abujhmad, are considered part of the ‘Red corridor’, a zone where Naxalite influence is considered pervasive. Keshav Shori, co-founder of DISHA, says: “In their efforts to reach deeper into the State and counter the Naxalites, the government and security forces have invested in building pucca, all weather roads. Where you see great roads, you also see military men and their camps. That brings about its own set of problems.”
Indeed, no settlement of the forest villages in Kanker or Narayanpur district is too far away from a camp site. A soldier from the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) says he has already spent four years in the Antagarh forest. A photographer colleague and I were in the district for a story about the forest rights of the Adivasis. When my colleague took some innocuous photographs of the majestic sal and mahua trees, a barrage of Army men approached us and demanded that the photographs be deleted.
The SSB is tasked with guarding the various infrastructure projects coming up in the region, particularly the 235-km railway line that will connect Jagdalpur district with the Rowghat mines. Though the project was commissioned more than two decades ago, the Maoist insurgency and the general intractability of the region had considerably delayed the railway line’s progress. “Even if everything looks peaceful on the surface, there’s always uncertainty. Anything can happen any time over here. Half a kilometre from here, some months ago, an improvised explosive device went off,” the soldier says. “If any adverse report from this area reaches our superiors, we’re hauled up and get into trouble.”
The solid roads bring the Army men closer to the villages, but without dispelling the mutual suspicion that seems ever-present among the tribals and the security personnel. It’s hard to tell if a particular villager is a Naxalite, an informant or a courier, another soldier says.
The passive friction plays out even among the stray dogs in the villages. Several camps have their police dogs who accompany the soldiers when they are out patrolling. The dogs are well fed and well nourished, and several times, says Mr. Shori, the local strays tag along with the Army dogs and attack the domestic fowl in the villages. “When the villagers demand compensation from the Army men, they refuse to pay saying that it wasn’t their dogs that devoured the fowl,” he says.
With India’s cities incessantly hungry for the coal and minerals that abound in Chhattisgarh’s forests, governments — whether Congress or the BJP — are unlikely to ever stop building roads that will reach deeper into the heart of the forests. But how effectively they win hearts is still a story in the making.
SERIES |FROM BARUMULLA TO BARABANKI
Punjab’s past to the present, and the elusive josh
Anti-incumbency has not set in against the government led by Amarinder Singh, and the excesses of the past regime have not been forgotten
A hundred years after the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh, the history and politics of Punjab are being robustly contested, once again, on the eve of the Lok Sabha election. But notwithstanding the nostalgia, the grandstanding and mud-slinging about who collaborated with whom, it is clear even to the politically naïve that it is the Congress that dominates Majha, Doaba and Malwa, the three principal geographical divisions of the State.
Anti-incumbency has not set in against the government led by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, and the excesses of the past regime have not been forgotten. But the josh is missing, as Punjab has faced its worst decade, economically and socially, since the years of militancy.
Once, as you travelled from Jammu to Delhi through the Punjab, there was the joi de vivre of the Punjabi gabrus across the rural countryside of one of India’s most prosperous States. As you stopped at the Verka milk bars, through GT Road, and emerged refreshed, you were convinced of the potential and power of the Green Revolution, multi-purpose projects such as Bhakra Nangal, and the indomitable spirit of Punjab. Not so anymore, as economic growth has plummeted, unemployment has increased, and agricultural distress is a stark reality! And Udta Punjab is not just a cinematic delusion, but the reality of even small town Punjab.
Given this reality, it is not surprising that even a century after the massacre at Amritsar, looking back seems as important as looking ahead. Every occupation constructs its collaborators, and most are often pushed into the proverbial dustbin of history. So was the case with the worst days of British colonial rule.
In the case of the Amritsar massacre of 1919, ironically the contemporary descendants of the dramatis personae are today engaged in a heated political battle: from the royal house of Patiala, to the landed aristocracy of the Majithias.
But as you enter Amritsar’s heritage square, the makeover (unlike rural Punjab) is stunning and you can be forgiven if you forget the political squabbles.
The aesthetic sensibilities of purists will rarely be satisfied, but for lesser mortals, this glimpse into Punjab’s past is sensitively reconstructed. My friend, the brilliant Kishwar Desai, is the force and inspiration behind the still growing Museum of Partition, though she does not take credit for the overall transformation of Amritsar’s heritage square.
The narrow galis, as you leave heritage square, are still the same, as I search (in vain) for my grandmother’s havelis in Katra Alhuwalia and Katra Jaimal Singh (all in the vicinity of Hall Bazaar), but the square reminds you of the best creative efforts of old European towns. Even in the days when every dominant discourse invites suspicion and scepticism, the basic narrative of Jallianwala Bagh is rarely challenged. But it is the subtext that is mired in controversy.
Originally the property of Himmat Singh of Jalle in Fategarh Sahib, it was once a public garden in the vicinity of the Golden Temple complex. The main proponent of the 1919 Amritsar massacre that happened on Baisakhi on April 13 was Acting Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer. He ordered the firing at an unarmed crowd of protesters. Several hundred were killed, and the shooting was arguably the worst blight on the history of the British Empire in India. Even worse, Michael O’Dwyer, the Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab, was supportive of the General’s actions.
Many Indian responses are well known. Rabindranath Tagore renounced his knighthood, Mahatma Gandhi used the term “Dyerism” to describe the tyranny of force, violence and oppression, and even Winston Churchill described the killings as a monstrous event. But there was a section of the elite in London, who sought to rehabilitate Dyer and there were Indian collaborators as well. Jathedar Arur Singh Naushera, of the Akhal Takht, presented a saropa to Dyer. Arur Singh is an ancestor of the radical politician and former MP (and ex-IPS officer) Simranjit Singh Mann (who leads his own version of the Akali Dal).
Sundar Singh Majithia, the great grandfather of Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur (spouse of former Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, and daughter-in-law of Prakash Singh Badal, supremo of the Akali Dal), is believed to have continued to socialise with Dyer even after the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy. And Maharajah Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, current Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s grandfather, seemed to have a pally relationship with Lt. Governor O’Dwyer, who was subsequently assassinated by Udham Singh in London in 1940.
My politics is, of course, fundamentally the politics of the classroom, and I reflect on the present (and the election) in my friend Professor Harmeet Singh’s M.A. Politics class in Guru Nanak Dev University.
Bright, spunky young men and women help me forecast the results of the election. What is remarkable is the degree of consensus that the Congress will dominate the election, with the possibility of even touching double digits in the 13 constituencies of the Lok Sabha. The NDA, with the BJP contesting from Amritsar, Hoshiarpur and Gurdaspur, and the rest left to the Akalis, could win as few as three seats.
Even Majha, where Amritsar sits, and with a history of voting the incumbent out of power, is likely to vote for Captain Amarinder Singh’s regime. Unless, of course, the border with Pakistan tenses up and there is rapid escalation.
The Captain, politically shrewd as he is, has articulated a nuanced view of the Karatarpur corridor connecting Dera Baba Nanak Sahib in Gurdaspur with Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur in Pakistan, welcoming the move and yet voicing his apprehensions about Pakistan’s intentions.
Even Doaba, which has been the source of a large section of immigrants to the U.K. and Canada and has been an Akali Dal stronghold, is unlikely to be a source of optimism to the Badals. Only in Malwa is Ms. Kaur probably assured of a victory in Bhatinda; and Bhagwant Mann is likely to retain Sangrur, but with a major fight on his hands. But Punjab’s honeymoon with the Aam Aadmi Party seems over as well.
The economic slowdown, contributed by agricultural distress, unemployment among educated youth and the epidemic of drugs remain the dominant issues. There is little by way of policies and their implementation that the Congress can give as evidence of a new Punjab in the making.
But it has only been two years since the previous Assembly election, and even given the reputation of the House of Patiala, too short a period for the honeymoon to end.
(The author is a Professor of International Relations at Jawaharal Nehru University and at the University of Melbourne)
Benefits of ‘silence’ in the rough and tumble of Rampur
BJP’s Jaya Prada hopes the restriction imposed by the EC on Azam Khan may help sway undecided, floating voters to her side
Big fight: Azam Khan in Rampur earlier this month and, right, Jaya Prada before starting her campaign on Thursday.PTI, NISTULA HEBBARPTI, NISTULA HEBBAR
Like Rampur’s eponymous knives, the cleavages created by identity politics run deep in this constituency. Gender politics, however, do not make the cut here, Samajwadi Party (SP) candidate Azam Khan’s unseemly remarks about his BJP rival Jaya Prada notwithstanding.
Mr. Khan looms large in Rampur, with every election since the late 1980s having revolved around him regardless of whether he was in the fray or not.
While the constituency discusses the incident that spurred the Election Commission (EC) to impose a 72-hour restriction on campaigning by Mr. Khan, residents Sharmeena Begum and her daughter Fatima insist they “hadn’t heard” what exactly had been said. “We have heard that something was said, but I didn’t hear what it was exactly,” said Ms. Begum, as she paused amid her shopping chores, near the SP headquarters in the area, an assertion repeated by many women here. Between the claims of ignorance and SP workers’ contention that the remarks were actually intended for Ms. Jaya Prada’s mentor, Rajya Sabha member Amar Singh, Mr. Khan seems to have weathered the storm.
Rampur, in northwestern Uttar Pradesh, has approximately 42% Muslim voters. When coupled with the SP’s support base of Yadavs (3.5%) and alliance partner Bahujan Samaj Party’s core constituency of Jatavs (about 8%), the election is seen as a cakewalk for Mr. Khan.
What his remarks against Ms. Jaya Prada and the EC’s strong censure have achieved, however, is to lend a fillip to the BJP’s supporters: of having temporarily prevailed over Mr. Khan.
At Mr. Khan’s fortress-like residence next to Rampur Jail, his son Abdullah Khan asserted to the press on Tuesday that his father had been targeted by the EC without “any notice”, possibly because he was a Muslim. Meanwhile, Mr. Khan spent his “silent time” holding closed-door meetings with panchayat chiefs from across Rampur, shoring up support.
The EC’s curbs, in a town that Mr. Khan runs like a fiefdom, have also helped his campaign to posit a competing victimhood. Mohammad Farooq, ferrying campaign flags outside the SP office, quickly furnishes his permit issued by the EC. “Pehley hi permit dikhaa rahey hain, kya pataa aur kya paabandi lagadey EC (I’m furnishing the permit beforehand, who knows what other proscriptions the EC will impose),” he said.
Speaking to The Hindu, Ms. Jaya Prada, however, expressed confidence that Mr. Khan’s remarks would help sway undecided, floating voters.
“I am not someone who is very calculating, I work from my heart. Azam Khan is like a dictator here, the Hitler of Rampur; even when I was an MP, on SP ticket, he wanted his writ to run here. This is a fight between me and Azam Khan,” she asserted. “I do not think that all Muslims will vote for Azam Khan, and those annoyed by him will think twice, and maybe shift; other communities in the constituency like Hindus, Sikhs, zari and patchwork workers may also get the incentive to move,” she said.
Some of that hope seemed to be vested with the Congress’s candidate from the seat, Sanjay Kapoor, who is being seen by both the SP-BSP alliance and the BJP as a spoiler. At the Congress’s campaign office in Rampur, Asim Khan, a general secretary of the Rashtriya Lok Dal who has quit the RLD to join the party, is accompanied by a roomful of party workers. Asim Khan, who claims he had been jailed at least three times over agitations he had led against the previous SP government protesting the closure of Rampur’s famed timber businesses, has equal disdain for both the BJP and the SP’s candidate. The SP points to the Congress’s traditional upper caste vote base, contending that these are more likely to accrue to Mr. Kapoor rather than Ms. Jaya Prada.
For a one-sided contest, the EC’s action appears to have provided a workable narrative to the BJP, and given it at least a fleeting triumph over Azam Khan on his home turf.
Barr releases Mueller probe report
Investigation neither finds that Trump had committed obstruction of justice nor exonerates him
In defence: Attorney-General William Barr, centre, speaking about the Mueller report in Washington on Thursday.APPatrick Semansky
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his inquiry into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election detailed a series of actions by President Donald Trump to impede the probe, raising questions about whether Mr. Trump committed the crime of obstruction of justice.
Thursday’s release of the 448-page report after a 22-month investigation was a watershed moment in Mr. Trump’s tumultuous presidency and inflamed partisan passions ahead of his 2020 re-election bid in a deeply divided country.
Democrats said the report contained disturbing evidence of wrongdoing by Mr. Trump that could fuel congressional investigations, but there was no immediate indication they would try to remove him from office through impeachment.
An extensive case
Mr. Mueller built an extensive case indicating that Mr. Trump had committed obstruction of justice but stopped short of concluding he had committed a crime, though the Special Counsel did not exonerate the President. Mr. Mueller noted, however, that Congress has the power to address whether Mr. Trump violated the law.
“The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law,” the report stated. Mr. Mueller, a former FBI Director, also unearthed “numerous links” between the Russian government and Mr. Trump’s campaign, but concluded that there was not enough evidence to establish that the campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Moscow in its election meddling.
The report, with some portions blacked out to protect sensitive information, provided fresh details of how the Republican President tried to force Mr. Mueller’s ouster, directed members of his administration to publicly vouch for his innocence and dangled a pardon to a former aide to try to prevent him from cooperating with the Special Counsel.
The report noted that some Trump aides did not carry out some of Mr. Trump’s demands, including the one to fire Mr. Mueller.
The report stated that when former Attorney-General Jeff Sessions told Mr. Trump in May 2017 that a Special Counsel was being appointed by the Justice Department to look into allegations that the Republican’s campaign colluded with Russia, Mr. Trump slumped back in his chair and said, “Oh my god. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f*****.” Mr. Trump appeared to be in a celebratory mood on Thursday, saying at a White House event with wounded U.S. troops that he was “having a good day” following the report’s release, adding, “It’s called no collusion, no obstruction.” Mr. Trump has long described Mr. Mueller’s inquiry as a “witch-hunt.”
After receiving a confidential copy of Mr. Mueller’s report in March, Attorney General William Barr made his own conclusion for the Justice Department that Mr. Trump had not committed obstruction of justice. But he told a news conference on Thursday that Mr. Mueller had detailed “10 episodes involving the President and discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offense.”
Any impeachment effort would start in the Democratic-led House of Representatives, but Mr. Trump’s removal would require the support of the Republican-led Senate — an unlikely outcome. Many Democrats steered clear of threatening impeachment on Thursday, although a prominent liberal Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, directly brought it up. The House, when it voted to impeach President Bill Clinton in 1998, included obstruction of justice as one of the charges. The Senate ultimately decided not to remove Mr. Clinton from office.
The Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said he would issue subpoenas to obtain the unredacted Mueller report and asked Mr. Mueller to testify before the panel by May 23.
Pak. Finance Minister quits as Imran reshuffles Cabinet
The government had earlier denied news of a shake-up
Asad Umar, who resigned as Finance Minister; and, right, Fawad Chaudhry, whose portfolio was changed.AFPAAMIR QURESHI
Pakistan’s Finance Minister Asad Umar stepped down on Thursday as part of a reshuffle of the Cabinet initiated by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“As part of a Cabinet reshuffle, PM desired that I take the Energy Minister portfolio instead of Finance. However, I have obtained his consent to not take any Cabinet position. I strongly believe @ImranKhanPTI is the best hope for Pakistan and inshallah will make a naya Pakistan,” Mr. Umar tweeted on Thursday.
Abdul Hafeez Sheikh will be Adviser on Finance.
Sources said Petroleum Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan was also asked to step down, but he refused to do so. He reportedly said that he will leave Prime Minister Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party if he’s forced to quit the Cabinet. He has now been made Federal Minister for Aviation.
Shehryar Afridi, State Minister for Interior, has now been made Minister for States and Frontier Regions. The new Federal Minister of Interior will be Brigadier Ijaz Shah (retired). Brig. Shah was Federal Minister Parliamentary Affairs earlier, a porfolio now assigned to Azam Swati.
Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry will now be the Minister for Science and Technology. Firdous Ashiq Awan will be Special Adviser to Prime Minister for Information.
According to sources, Health Minister Aamir Kiani, Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Ali Amin Gandapur and Minister for Housing and Works Tariq Bashir Cheema also lost their jobs.
Earlier, when media reported that a reshuffle was in the offing, the government had issued a denial.
Senior journalist Kashif Abbasi — who worked on this story for weeks and confirmed from various sources before breaking it — told this writer that the denial was given because the government was still mulling over replacements.
“Since one of them was the Finance Minister, any premature news on his departure would have affected the economy.”
Pakistan’s economy is going through a tough phase. Former Finance Minister Miftah Ismail told this writer that it is not enough to change a Minister or two. “The real problem is the direction set by the PM.”
Anchor Shahzad Iqbal said some Ministries were under-performing. The Finance Ministry, for example, had failed to reform the Federal Board of Revenue and achieve the tax target. “Bringing the economy on track was one of the biggest challenges for this government. The expectations were high but so far, they have not been fulfilled,” he said. Mr. Iqbal added that eight months were not enough to judge any Finance Minister’s performance, especially when a weak economy was handed over to him. “Asad Umar should have been given more time.”
Senior anchor Mansoor Ali Khan said Prime Minister Khan has created a hard shell around himself and has stopped caring about what the Opposition will say. “Khan took resignations from his Ministers when they landed in trouble.”
Mr. Mansoor Ali Khan said it is needed because this is Mr. Khan’s first time in federal government.
“This is a coalition government with an inexperienced Cabinet. I hope that with the passage of time, the captain and his Cabinet will learn their lessons through trial and error.”
Both Indonesian candidates claim victory
Authorities warn against ‘mass demonstrations’ in reaction to preliminary results
Another term? Indonesian President Joko Widodo, centre, delivering a speech in Jakarta on Thursday.APAchmad Ibrahim
Indonesia’s Joko Widodo said on Thursday that his re-election as head of the world’s third-biggest democracy was all but assured, calling for calm as his firebrand ex-General rival insisted he had in fact won the nation’s top job.
Mr. Widodo, 57, said he had received phone calls from world leaders to congratulate him on his country’s biggest-ever election, but added he would await the final results before formally declaring victory.
He cited a series of so-called “quick counts” by pollsters, which are based on samples, that showed him as much as 11 percentage points ahead of Mr. Subianto.
Quick counts have been reliable indicators in past elections. But “we still have to wait for the numbers from the KPU (General Elections Commission)”, Mr. Widodo told reporters. “Let’s continue to work and maintain our unity and harmony as a nation,” he added.
However, Mr. Subianto insisted that he and running mate Sandiaga Uno, a wealthy financier, had prevailed, citing voter fraud but without supplying concrete evidence.
“Sandiaga Uno and I are declaring victory as the President and Vice-President,” he told cheering supporters in Jakarta, ending his speech with shouts of Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest) and Merdeka (freedom).
Some supporters of Mr. Subianto called for a march near Jakarta’s biggest mosque after prayers on Friday.
The competing claims came as authorities warned against unrest over Wednesday’s “smooth and safe” polls, and warned of arrests. “If there are any illegal or unconstitutional actions that threaten public stability and security, (authorities) will take firm action,” National Police Chief Tito Karnavian said Thursday. “We won’t tolerate it. “I urge everyone against mass demonstrations, whether it’s to celebrate or to express dissatisfaction” at the results, Mr. Karnavian added.
Fugitive Saudi sisters to apply for asylum in Georgia
‘Protection of their rights is guaranteed,’ says Tbilisi
Seeking help: The two women issued pleas for international protection through their Twitter account.Twitter
Georgian immigration officers have visited two Saudi sisters who pleaded for international help after fleeing the ultra-conservative kingdom and will help them apply for asylum, an official said on Thursday. The two women had issued pleas for international protection on a Twitter account called @GeorgiaSisters, saying they were “trapped in Georgia” after Saudi authorities cancelled their passports.
They posted photographs of their passports identifying themselves as 28-year-old Maha Alsubaie and 25-year-old Wafa Alsubaie. “We are in danger,” Maha Alsubaie said in one video posted on Twitter. “Please help us.” “We want to apply for asylum in any safe country,” one of the women said in another video that does not show her face. “If we go back to Saudi we will be killed.”
Georgia’s Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sopho Mdinaradze said that representatives of the Ministry’s migration department “visited the women on Thursday and invited them to start asylum procedures. “They can feel safe, the protection of their rights is guaranteed in Georgia,” Ms. Mdinaradze said. The Ministry said later in a statement that the women “agreed to move to a facility for asylum seekers to undergo the procedures envisaged by Georgian law.”
The Saudi women began posting tweets about their situation on Tuesday, initially not revealing their identities.