APRIL 18, Thursday

Delhi Edition

* Front Page

Unemployment is the real national security issue: Rahul
 
INTERVIEW | RAHUL GANDHI

‘This is a fight for the very idea of India’

Congress president says there is a clear link between national and livelihood security and the aspirations of youngsters and farmers; PM Modi is missing it completely

, Sandeep Phukan

 

Congress presidentRahul Gandhi speaks about the issues that will define the 2019 Lok Sabha election, including the lack of jobs, agrarian distress and state of the economy. Excerpts:

You’ve travelled non-stop, criss-crossing the country. What is your sense of the election? What is the mood on the ground?

This election centres on the issues of unemployment, the unrelenting plight of our farmers and agrarian distress, and the state of our economy. These issues will define the 2019 election. These are the issues that people want to hear about. Even pollsters agree on this.

Our manifesto has set down a framework to draw India out of the mess that Mr. Modi’s policies have created. Compare it with the BJP manifesto, which doesn’t even talk of jobs or the issues that matter to the people of India.

We have the highest unemployment rate in last 45 years, but Mr. Modi doesn’t have a word to say about it!

Instead, BJP has sought to divert the narrative of this election by making national security their key election narrative. But this has failed to fire as people will not be fooled: the fact is that the biggest national security issue is unemployment. And the other big livelihood and national security problem for India is the huge rural distress and the state of our farmers.

There is a clear link between national security, livelihood security and the aspirations of our youngsters and farmers. But the PM and the BJP are missing it completely.

Why do you say it has not fired? At rallies, the Prime Minister talks of a dumdaar sarkar, talking about a muscular nationalism. Does the BJP want to corner the Congress on issues of nationalism?

Let us talk about the term ‘dumdaar’. Where does India get its power from? Where does India’s strength come from? India’s strength lies in its huge economic potential, in the millions and millions of aspirational youth who can help India build a strong economy; who can start a massive number of businesses that, in turn, can employ millions of Indians. That is where India’s power truly lies.

If you want a dumdaar sarkar, you need to first employ India’s youth and give them opportunities to reshape their future and simultaneously rewrite India’s future. Only then will India become a powerful country.

Give our farmers a chance to usher in India’s second green revolution and India will become a powerful country. Kick-start our economy and get it back on track and India will be a very powerful country. Empower India’s poor and we will become a powerful country. Why can’t Mr. Modi see the connection between a dumdaar sarkar and employment for our youth, prosperity for our farmers and a vision for India that every Indian can feel a part of?

Don’t you think the mood of the country has changed post-Pulwama and -Balakot?

No, I do not think it has. The core issues for every Indian continue to be the issues of jobs, agriculture, opportunities for our youth, justice and equality.

Here is a government that is trying to build a narrative that terror strikes happened earlier as well, during the UPA. But this is the Modi sarkar and we go inside enemy territory, defeat them and come back. So they are trying to portray a decisive leadership…

Mr. Narendra Modi came to power on five major issues: jobs, economy, price rise, farm distress and black money and corruption. We have dismantled his false narrative on every one of these five issues.

We have dismantled him when it comes to corruption. You go out and you say chowkidar and people say chor hai. Everywhere, every State I go, I just need to say chowkidar and people shout back, chor hai.

We punctured his false promise on jobs. He promised 2 crore jobs a year. Today, India’s unemployment is at a 45-year high. We are losing 27,000 jobs a day! Millions of jobs were lost due to demonetisation.

Demonetisation was a completely ridiculous and absurd policy. Any economist will tell you that. Every Indian now knows that Mr. Modi’s ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ is a disaster. In addition, prices today are more out of control than ever.

We have dismantled Mr. Modi’s injustice on the issue of farm distress. His inability to protect our farmers and provide them a remunerative price for their produce is patently and tragically obvious. Mr. Narendra Modi stands exposed as a politician who only lies and spins false promises. That is why Mr. Narendra Modi only speaks about national security. But the real national security and livelihood security issues are his creation.

Why doesn’t he speak about jobs, farmers, economy, aspirations and justice? Because if he does so, people will say, ‘What are you talking about Mr. PM? And by the way, why did Mr. Anil Ambani get ₹30,000 crore? Who is he? Other than being your friend?’

The Congress party has torn Mr. Modi’s bluster to shreds. What you will see is that Mr. Modi’s gubbara [balloon] is going to burst! No wonder, after the first phase of election, they are moving from ‘national security’ back to ‘vikas’.

Let me take that further. The Congress party, through its manifesto, is proposing concrete solutions to India’s critical problems. Mr. Narendra Modi demonetised, we will remonetise.

Mr. Modi said ‘Make in India’ in words alone. We will give every entrepreneur the chance to start a business without taking any permission for the first three years. This is real ‘ease of business’.

We will give our farmers a separate budget. At the beginning of the year, we are going to tell them, this is what the government will do for you. No lies. No false promises. This is how we will give you the MSP.

So, we have thought through the solutions. We have spoken to thousands of people. We are going to implement everything we have learned from listening to India’s people.

You’ve raised the issue of Rafale. The Hindu has been reporting it extensively. Do you think that Rafale cronyism allegations will click with the voter? Is it an election issue?

The Rafale issue has already resonated with the people of India. It has exposed the false smokescreen created by Mr. Modi. Every Indian now believes that Mr. Modi helped Anil Ambani get the Rafale offset contract.

Your newspaper has shown that Defence Ministry officials protested against Mr. Modi holding a ‘parallel negotiation’ with the French on Rafale, bypassing the designated Indian Negotiating Team. The documents published by The Hindu prove criminal intent. When an investigation starts in India, and perhaps in France as well, layers of corruption in the Rafale deal will be as clear as daylight for everyone to see. Recent expose of mysterious tax write-offs in France to companies linked to Anil Ambani point in this direction.

But in a recent interview, the PM said the Rafale allegation was a lie; he made counter-allegations of corruption in the AgustaWestland case, talked about a ‘family’…

Mr. Modi is the Prime Minister for the last five years. Why hasn’t he taken action on this alleged corruption he keeps talking about? He’s free to investigate. But, why isn’t he investigating Rafale as well? Why is he not ready to face an investigation in the Rafale scam? That is because, there is clear proof of his own involvement.

I have a challenge for our Prime Minister. Why doesn’t he agree to debate with me on corruption? I guarantee you that the PM won’t be able to show his face after 15 minutes of me asking him questions on Rafale.

The BJP has gone to the Supreme Court and accused you of lying and alleged that you used an interim order to make a political statement. How do you respond to that?

There is a legal process on, so I won’t comment on the SC, because I respect it.

Your manifesto also says that if you come to power, you will investigate the Rafale deal…

Absolutely, it will be investigated. And by the looks of it, I seriously think it will be investigated in France also. Someone will need to answer why Mr. Anil Ambani’s companies were given a tax break of over 140 million euros by the French, as recently reported by a French newspaper. It is not going to go away, and it’s going to bring Mr. Modi down.

Coming to NYAY, or Nyuntam Aay Yojana, will it click with voters? The BJP calls it an election gimmick and asks where will you get the money from?

Firstly, we committed a farm loan waiver to the farmers of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. We implemented it in 48 hours. We have a clear track record of keeping our promises.

Congress brought in iconic legislation like MNREGA, the Right to Information and many others. The same people questioned us then saying, “Where will the money come from?” MGNREGA became the world’s biggest anti-poverty scheme and we kept our promise.

On NYAY, we have done the math. NYAY is needed for two reasons. One, it’s needed to overcome the incredible damage caused by Mr. Modi through demonetisation and a flawed GST. The UPA government took 14 crore people out of poverty, but Mr. Modi’s policies have pushed crores back into the very same cycle of poverty they had broken out of.

NYAY will make 25 crore of the poorest Indians participate more meaningfully in India’s economic growth by putting money in their hands. This will enable them to meet their essential needs by spending this money. This is where the second part of NYAY comes in — jump-starting the economy.

Mr. Narendra Modi squeezed the purchasing power out of the economy. We want to jump-start the economy and fire the economic engine of growth.

NYAY will ensure that as people meet their needs and spend, demand increases tremendously and large numbers of jobs are created and a positive economic cycle is generated.

Where is the money going to come from? It’s going to come from Mr. Anil Ambani and Mr. Modi’s other crony-capitalist friends, who have been looting this country.

It’s not going to come from the middle class. Not a rupee is going to come from the middle class. There is going to be positive economic traction, strong economic and GDP growth and money will come through that.

We have done the math and that is why we can talk specifics: ₹72,000 a year to 5 crore of the poorest families. We have checked it, double-checked it and taken it to the best economists in the world and told them that this is what we seek to implement. What do you say? And they have all said, ‘Yes, it makes sense, go ahead and do it.’

We are seeing an engaging Twitter exchange between you and Mr. Kejriwal…

No, it’s not an exchange. I’ve just made one point. I’ve just said that the Congress party wants to defeat the BJP in Delhi. I have convinced everyone in my party that it is a valuable and an important thing to do. We can defeat the BJP in all seven seats.

I’ve made it very clear. We are flexible. Now it’s up to Mr. Kejriwal.

But he replied to your tweet saying ‘Aapne UP mein gathbandhan nahi kiya…’

What does that have to do with it? There are seven seats in Delhi. It’s a clear-cut thing. Let us get together and defeat them, if you want to. If you don’t want to, then that’s a different issue.

So you are open?

I’ve clearly said in my tweet that we are open.

Do you think opposition to Mr. Modi is enough to bring the Opposition together?

We are fighting for India’s youth, its farmers, its small traders and businessmen, its women, its deprived sections and its poor. We are not only in opposition to Mr. Modi, but this is a fight for the very idea of India.

But many of these leaders are talking about protecting the country from Mr. Modi’s style of functioning…

Mr. Modi is the manifestation of an idea. He is the manifestation of anger, of hatred, of fear and is backed by an organisation that wants to use that fear and anger to capture India’s institutions. That is what we are actually fighting. We are fighting the attempted capture of all of India’s institutions: the Supreme Court, the Election Commission, the Reserve Bank of India, the investigation agencies and the destruction of the very essence of democracy. The idea that India should be run out of one super-mega institution in Nagpur is unacceptable.

I am in Kerala today and if you listen to my words, you will see that what I am actually doing is defending the history, the spirit, and the culture of the people of Kerala, which is an intrinsic part of India’s civilisational values.

I do the same in Tamil Nadu, I defend Tamilians and their right to expression, culture, history, language and sentiment.

And I do that for every State in the country and its people.

The Prime Minister suggested that you decided to contest from Wayanad as it is a minority-dominated seat. The BJP tweeted saying you got scared in Amethi…

I am fighting from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh and I am fighting from South India. I am fighting from South India because I want to give a clear message to the people of South India: that each part of India — North India, South India, East India, North East India and West India — are equally important.

India must realise that all ideas, perspectives, languages are important, despite their diversity. That is why, I’m fighting from South India.

This message is loud and clear. Mr. Modi has actively discriminated against South India and every South Indian knows it. This is true for many other parts of India. You go to Tamil Nadu and ask them. They feel it. They feel it in Kerala too. There is a feeling that the space and respect they deserve is not given.

They believe that an organisation in Nagpur cannot express what Chennai or Kerala or Bengaluru or Hyderabad or others feel. I agree with them.

The Congress has maintained the suspense over the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat. Is your sister, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra going to be the candidate in Varanasi?

I will leave you in suspense. Suspense is not always a bad thing!

So you’re not denying it?

I’m not confirming or denying anything.

Where does the Congress party and Rahul Gandhi go from here if Mr. Modi wins the 2019 election?

Mr. Narendra Modi will be rejected by the people and will not form the next government. But let me just say this about the Congress party. The Congress party is an expression of the voice of this nation. It listens to this country and reacts to what this country tells it. Our manifesto is an example. Another is our role during the freedom struggle.

Then there is what we did in the green revolution, white revolution, the telecom revolution. The Congress party is nothing but the expression and the sentiment of the Indian people. So the Congress party will always be there, will always be powerful, as long as the Congress party is humble enough to listen carefully to what the people of India are saying.

 
Rain, thunderstorm leave over 50 dead in four States

Rain, thunderstorm leave over 50 dead in four States

Unseasonal storm damages crops in Gujarat, Rajasthan

Press Trust of India

Cooler capital: Rain clouds gather over New Delhi on Wednesday, promising relief from the summer heat.APAP

Jaipur/Bhopal/Ahmedabad

Over 50 people were killed as rain, coupled with thunderstorm and lightning, hit several parts of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra overnight, officials said on Wednesday.

The unseasonal rain and storm also caused damage to property and crops in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Rajasthan witnessed the maximum of 25 deaths, some of them in house collapses, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 15. While 10 people were killed in Gujarat, three were killed in Maharashtra.

Nath targets Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter in the morning to express anguish over the loss of lives in Gujarat and to announce relief.

Soon after, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath accused the Prime Minister of being concerned only with Gujarat, his home State.

In a tweet later, the PMO said, “PM @narendramodi has expressed grief at loss of lives due to unseasonal rains and storms in MP, Rajasthan, Manipur & various parts of the country.” The freak weather was attributed to a western disturbance.

Jet suspends all flights after banks refuse to release funds

Jet suspends all flights after banks refuse to release funds

Aditya Anand, Mumbai

Lenders said they were unable to consider the request for interim funding.

Jet Airways on Wednesday announced temporary suspension of all its international and domestic flights, with the last flight operating between Amritsar and Mumbai.

In a filing before the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and a statement to the media, the airline said it was informed by the State Bank of India (SBI), on behalf of the consortium of Indian lenders, that they were unable to consider its request for critical interim funding. “Since no emergency funding from the lenders or any other source is forthcoming, the airline will not be able to pay for fuel or other critical services to keep the operations going. Consequently, with immediate effect, Jet Airways is compelled to cancel all its international and domestic flights. The last flight will operate on Wednesday,” it said.

Kuldeep Sharma, vice-president, global compliance, and company secretary, in the filing to the BSE, said the decision had been taken after evaluation of all options available.

* States

Ensuring voting rights in ‘Veerappan territory’

Ensuring voting rights in ‘Veerappan territory’

Nearly 5,000 voters are located in remote areas in M.M. Hills forest division

R. Krishna Kumar

Difficult terrain: Though arrangements for polling in remote areas of M.M. Hills forest division pose logistic challenges, they are met during every election. M.A. SRIRAMM.A. SRIRAM

MYSURU

Setting up a polling booth in Male Mahadeshwara (M.M.) Hills forest division in Chamarajanagar district — amid hills, thick cover of trees, and myriad streams that are the lifeline to a variety of wildlife — is a challenge.

Poll officials drive through the thick jungles on a four-wheel drive vehicle, trek some distance to make sure that tribal people living in enclosures there exercise their franchise on Thursday.

Once these were out of bounds owing to the menace of the forest brigand Veerappan, but despite his death almost 15 years ago, the landscape lacks connectivity. It has, however, not deterred the authorities from ensuring that polling booths are in place a day before the elections.

In M.M. Hills forest division, there are 10 to 12 enclosures deep within the forest and one has to travel anywhere from 3 km to up to 12 km from the forest office along a winding and circuitous route to reach them.

District Tribal Officer Krishnappa said there are about 35,000 tribal voters in Chamarajanagar parliamentary constituency of whom nearly 5,000 are located in remote areas where even four-wheel drive vehicles cannot go. “We are forced to use two-wheelers or trek to shift the equipment, including the EVMs,” he added.

“Doddane, Chengadi, Tokere, Padasalnatha, Indiganatha, and Dantallli are a few of the enclosures that are out of bounds. The Forest Department assists the district election authorities by providing logistical support, men, and communication equipment during elections,” said V. Yedukondalu, Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF), M.M. Hills.

In these places, conventional communication systems such as mobile phones are not guaranteed to work. “We provide our wireless system to enable them to communicate in case there is an EVM failure or there are other issues,” he said. A master control facility has been established at the DCF’s office in Kollegal from where all communications are routed to the respective authorities, said Mr. Yedukondalu.

Forest Department drivers are pressed into service as outsiders have no clue of the routes to be taken. Besides, these are wildlife- rich areas and it calls for special skill of the driver. The forest route to Doddaane, for instance, is fraught with risks of encountering wild elephants. “The elephants tend to stay put in an area for hours together and once stranded on the narrow stretch, vehicles cannot move. So our guards are present with guns and crackers to scare them away,” explained the forest official.

The staff deployed for election duties in remote locations are mostly men and they will be escorted by the Forest Department staff till the conclusion of the polling and return to their respective de-mustering centres at either Kollegal or Hanur.

Saffron coat over Uttara Kannada’s green canopy

Saffron coat over Uttara Kannada’s green canopy

BJP has been consolidating its position over the years, while Congress seems to be losing its footing in the constituency

Raviprasad Kamila,
Karwar

With about 75% forest cover, this is perhaps the only Lok Sabha constituency in the State that still has its greenery canopy intact. It also has an interesting history of noted Kannada writers and political heavyweights contesting to enter Parliament.

This time, the constituency is seeing a direct fight between Anantkumar Hegde, 51, the Union Minister and five-time MP from Uttara Kannada of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and Anand Vasant Asnotikar, 39, former State Minister and Janata Dal (Secular) candidate, who is supported by the Congress. Mr. Asnotikar, former Karwar MLA, is contesting the Lok Sabha election for the first time.

Rise of BJP

Though the BJP opened its account in Uttara Kannada after the Assembly elections in 1983 by winning the Kumta seat, it got its first Lok Sabha seat in 1996 with the win of Mr. Anantkumar Hegde. Since then, except in the 1999 election, Mr. Hegde has won this Lok Sabha seat.

The eight-month long communal riots in Bhatkal in 1993, the two yatras of the BJP – the then BJP president L.K. Advani’s ‘Ram Rath Yatra’ in 1990, and the next party president Murli Manohar Joshi’s ‘Ekta Yatra’ in 1991-92 – are said to have helped the rise of the party. The cold war between the families of seven-time MLA from Haliyal, R.V. Deshpande, and former Union Minister Margaret Alva is also said to have helped the BJP consolidate its position. In the past five elections, the Congress fielded Ms. Alva four times and Prashanth R. Deshpande, son of R.V. Deshpande, once.

Party workers, who were already unhappy over the party ticket being distributed only among the two families and not allowing second-line leaders to grow, are now more upset over the constituency going to the JD(S) candidate as the Janata Parivar has no history of winning the seat even once.

Many Congress workers have stayed away from active campaigning against Mr. Hegde. Adding to it, Mr. Deshpande, who is also the district in-charge Minister, has stayed away.

Mr. Hegde, whose statements have often stoked controversies for its communal tone, is facing four criminal cases (for promoting enmity between groups, and violence against medical staff), and Mr. Asnotikar is facing a case related to violation of arms rule. Mr. Asnotikar, son of former Karwar MLA Vasant Asnotikar, who was murdered, won the Karwar Assembly seat as the Congress candidate in 2008. Soon after the election, he quit the Congress and joined the BJP in ‘Operation Kamala’ to become a Minister in the B.S. Yeddyurappa-led Cabinet. Later, he joined the JD(S) and lost the Assembly election from Karwar in 2018.

Issues of forest dwellers

About 60,000 people in the constituency are facing the threat of eviction from forest areas under the Forest Rights Act following a Supreme Court verdict which applied to 16 states across the country. Most of such families are in the upper ghat areas.

On the other hand, fishermen are apprehensive that the latest Coastal Regulatory Zone Rules, 2019 which will reduce the no-development zone will displace them for taking up tourism development and other infrastructure development projects. Many of them residing in the coastal areas do not have title deeds (ownership) over their land.

Chenchus believe the fox ushers in fortune

Chenchus believe the fox ushers in fortune

Nomadic tribal families have succeeded in domesticating the animal

T. Appala Naidu

For luck’s sake: A Chenchu tribal family with domesticated fox near Krithivennu mandal in Krishna district. T. APPALA NAIDUT_APPALANAIDU

Two Chenchu tribal families were found in deep grief in a makeshift house under a tree along the National Highway near Krithuvennu town in Krishna district.

Nancharamma Nakkavolu, 52, said: “Two young female foxes presented to my relatives in the nearby town of Bantumilli died two weeks ago after goat’s milk was fed to them. A month ago, we caught four foxes — three female and one male — from the pits in Kruthivennu area.” The children, however, were seen in a playful mood with the lone female fox.

The nomadic Chenchu tribal families have succeeded in domesticating the fox. “Beginning the day by seeing the face of the fox is a fortune,” Ms. Nancharamma told The Hindu.

The tribal families in the district, less than 100 in number, eke out a livelihood by fishing in the ponds, and collecting wild crab and rats. “We offer rats, fish and wild crab to our foxes as food. They also love to accompany us to the fields,” says Nagaraju Nallapothu, another Chenchu family member. For most of the time in a day, the fox is left freely without being tied to a pole or tree. For the children of these families, they are a prime source of entertainment.

“We do not catch the foxes to make money from them by selling for any purpose. Newborn foxes are found in pits in the breeding grounds,” he said.

Four years ago in the Krithuvennu mandal, a non-tribal man reportedly offered ₹5,000 for fox skin. “On being advised by a godman, he had meditated sitting on the skin for ‘fortune’ for two weeks. However, such a belief arguably doesn’t exist now in our area,” a youth who skinned the fox said on condition of anonymity. A senior official at the Srisailam Nagarjuna Sagar Tiger Reserve Nageswara Rao said: “The conservation of fox falls under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972, according to which hunting or domesticating it is an offence and attracts punishment. The possession of fox by non-forest dwellers is also an offence.”

* Nation

As Rafale deal charges fly thick and fast, Rafel village raises eyebrows

As Rafale deal charges fly thick and fast, Rafel village raises eyebrows

Our area became popular and we realised there is a lot in a name, says sarpanch

Sidharth Yadav

The namesake: A board with the village name along the Mumbai-Kolkata Highway in the Saraipali block in the Mahasamund Lok Sabha constituency. sidharth yadav

Mahasamund

Whenever Mahesh Nayak visits Raipur now, the mention of his village doesn’t invoke queries about its location any more. Rather, it raises eyebrows.

Was the deal struck over your village? Why are political parties bickering over it? When yours is just one panchayat, how could the government buy 36 of them? These are among the questions that villagers of Rafel, pronounced the same way in Hindi as Rafale, the fighter aircraft of French company Dassault Aviation, have been confronting for the past one-and-a-half months.

“Ever since the Rafale deal became a political issue this election, we are visited by journalists almost every day. You are the fourth one to speak with me today,” says Dhani Ram Patel, sarpanch of the village, 170 km away from Raipur. It is part of the Mahasamund Lok Sabha constituency, which goes to the polls on Thursday.

Earlier, villagers had to take the names of Putka and Paikin, neighbouring villages, to help others locate Rafel. “However, when the deal was picked up by the media and our village became popular, we realised there is a lot in a name,” says Mr. Patel.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress are squabbling at various levels over the merits of the deal, their candidates haven’t visited the village’s 200 families, who hope this accidental fame and belated attention could bring them some benefits.

The origin of the name is a mystery though. “Our ancestors named the village thus. We don’t know the meaning or the story behind it. Even the village elders are clueless,” says Mr. Nayak.

Every election, this village of farmers and labourers has sided with the BJP’s Raman Singh but the support seems to be wavering. “We are happy with the minimum support price offered on paddy and the loan waiver given to us by the Congress government. Many will switch sides this time,” says a villager.

Pressing issues

Although it has a primary and a middle school, the nearest primary health centre is 4 km away in another village. For the villagers, the declining water table is also a pressing issue.

“It would have been better if we got a name for better reasons,” says Mr. Patel.

Supreme Court frees convict in 20-year-old murder case

Supreme Court frees convict in 20-year-old murder case

He was a juvenile at the time of the crime in 1998

Legal Correspondent

The man was granted bail in July 2011, the SC was told.

The Supreme Court has acquitted a man sentenced to life imprisonment in a 20-year-old murder case on learning that he was a juvenile at the time of commission of the crime in 1998.

The case concerns the murder of Inderjeet Bhuman by Ashok Mehta and his son in Punjab. The sessions court in June 2000 acquitted the duo. The State then appealed to the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which in 2008 upheld the appeal and sentenced them to life imprisonment.

This time, the Mehras approached the Supreme Court. The appeal was pending in the Court for 11 years before it was finally decided by a Bench of Justices A.M. Sapre and Dinesh Maheshwari on April 15. The father died during the pendency of the appeal, and the case against him has abated.

The Bench found that the son had not completed 18 years when the offence was committed and was entitled to the benefit of the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act. It reiterated the law that “a claim of juvenility can be raised at any stage by an accused before any court, including the Supreme Court, even after the final disposal of a case.”

The juvenility claim in this case was neither agitated in the trial nor before the High Court. Justice Sapre said it was irrelevant whether the juvenility claim was made in trial court or not.

The prosecution had never challenged the correctness of the accused man’s birth certificate. He was, in fact, even granted bail on the ground of juvenility in July 2011.

“Till date he has already undergone considerable jail sentence, partly as an undertrial and partly as a convict… His appeal has to be allowed without going into the merits of the case,” the court held.

Lawlessness in J&K; militants’ bodies mutilated: Mehbooba

Lawlessness in J&K; militants’ bodies mutilated: Mehbooba

Former Chief Minister alleges ‘jungle raj’ in State

Peerzada Ashiq

Mehbooba Mufti

Srinagar

People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti, who is contesting from the Anantnag seat, on Wednesday said “the bodies of militants were being mutilated with chemicals during operations by security forces in Jammu and Kashmir”.

Sorry state

“Inmates are being beaten up inside the jails. The bodies recovered during the encounters are being mutilated and are burnt by chemicals. Even the Sub-Divisional Magistrate and his staff are beaten up. No law exists in Kashmir. It’s Jungle Raj,” said Ms. Mufti, who is Jammu &Kashmir’s former Chief Minister and once headed the overarching Unified Headquarters of the security agencies in the State.

She made these remarks during a public meeting in Anantnag, which is going to the polls in three phases from April 25.

Referring to the prevailing situation in J&K, Ms. Mufti said the then leaders of Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Maharaja Hari Singh, had not decided to accede to “this kind of a country”. “The country we had acceded to was equal for all Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus,” she said.

She said people were gripped by a sense of fear over the accession of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union of India “due to orders like the highway ban”.

“Atrocities are being committed against Kashmiris to suppress them. A fear has gripped the people who believed in accession. It gives jitters to people who are rethinking about the accession with this kind of country,” she added.

“I don’t know what the Government of India and the Governor want to do with Kashmir…”, she said.

* Editorial 1

The limits of populism

The limits of populism

It is very difficult for an incumbent government to offer biographical solutions to structural problems

Getty Images/iStockphotoARTQU/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Democracy and populism are cousins. A charismatic leader mesmerises the electorate, strikes an emotional chord and blurs the distinction between the leader and the led. However, a charismatic-popular-populist pitch doesn’t automatically transcend into populism. It requires demagoguery wherein hitherto suppressed but popular desires get articulated by a mesmeriser who emerges as the saviour. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were charismatic but not populist as they assumed a guiding role vis-à-vis the people rather than getting subsumed by their worldview. Gandhi didn’t hesitate to withdraw the non-cooperation movement in the aftermath of Chauri Chaura when it gained momentum, and Nehru stood for secularism and scientific rationality in the midst of Partition’s mass frenzy. The popular and the populist can be perfect strangers or bedfellows, and their transition into populism lies in a social, political and electoral mix.

History of populist elections

Against this backdrop, post-Independence India witnessed the first populist national election transcending into populism in 1971, on the plank of Indira Gandhi’s “Garibi Hatao” slogan. Being true to the saltiness of the turbulent late-1960s and 1970s, she adopted left-wing populism, denouncing her rivals as right-wingers. To be called right wing at the time implied being anti-democratic, anti-people and anti-poor. That populism made the leader and the led coterminous. It was even proclaimed that ‘Indira is India’.

What makes an election populist and determines its final transition into populism? The answer can be found by locating the constituent elements of the package. First and foremost, one needs a democratic set-up — real or farcical — as the ‘masses’ are indispensable to populism. Second, a charismatic leader is required, someone seen as an insider-outsider in the system offering a therapy for an ailing polity. It denotes a politics of ‘impatience’ and ‘exasperation’. Institutions and established procedures are seen to be subverted by the privileged elite to retain their advantage over the ‘masses’. The collective quest then is for a larger-than-life saviour to recover the national self. Third, a leviathan demon must be imagined whose destruction only a messiah is capable of causing. This takes the focus away from institutions/structures to personalities. A perfect battleground of protagonist vs. antagonist is drawn. In a nutshell, populism offers a biographical solution to structural problems. A saviour is presented who must seek popular approval to take the demon head on. An election in a democratic set-up is the perfect occasion for this crusade.

Since 1971, India has witnessed three more populist national elections transcending into populisms of various kinds, in 1977, 1989 and 2014, when the collective democratic quest in the electoral arena seemed to be for a saviour rather than a leader. On every occasion elections appeared like a biography of a new saviour. Pollsters and political analysts call this phenomenon the ‘leadership factor’. So, if 1971 was about Indira Gandhi, 1977 was about Jayaprakash Narayan, 1989 was about the sudden metamorphosis of an erstwhile feudal leader, V.P. Singh, into an anti-corruption crusader, and 2014 was about Narendra Modi promising epochal change.

The story since 2014

True to the populist requirement, Mr. Modi emerged as the complete package, being everything to everyone. A ‘Hindu-Hriday-Samrat’ to the Hindutva constituency, a ‘developmentalist’ for the corporate and middle class, a ray of hope for the rural masses, an ultra-nationalist for those sensing a national drift, a ‘chaiwala’ for the poor, and an insider-outsider to the masses feeling vanquished by the very system that is supposed to empower them. Thus, the circle of electoral populism that emerged from the leftward vantage point in 1971 got completed in 2014 with the right-wing populism of Mr. Modi.

However, the political journey since 2014 reveals something mammoth. The charisma Mr. Modi used to exude is dipping, if it has not vanished entirely, opening up a new political scenario without charismatic/mass leaders. At present, India doesn’t have charismatic leaders like Bal Thackeray in Maharashtra, N.T. Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh, M.G. Ramachandran/Jayalalithaa/Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu, Jyoti Basu in West Bengal or Biju Patnaik in Odisha. Lalu Yadav, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Prafulla Mahanta and Arvind Kejriwal are now quieter avatars of the old fiery selves. When there is a dearth of popular leaders even at the State level, for a populist to mount the crest of populism at the national level is a small possibility.

This means India is in a post-charismatic leadership phase. How this phenomenon unfolds in these Lok Sabha elections is yet to be seen, but one big takeaway lies in the fact that a populist election without a charismatic leader cannot transcend into populism. With dwindling charm, Mr. Modi can’t so easily repeat the triumph of 2014 in 2019.

Second, the fine distinction between the incumbent right-wing populist and the liberal elite is blurred due to associational factors, such as the competition for the same sort of rhetoric on pro-people policies, making the slogan for anti-elitism, a prerequisite for any kind of populism, feeble.

Third, there hasn’t been a policy solution to the problems afflicting the people in 2014. Rather, with a high unemployment rate, deep rural distress, etc., the government has been pushing the problems out of the frame, rather than solving them. For instance, by suppressing data on unemployment, and making audacious claims that ‘job-seekers have become job-givers’. However, when the masses suffer, the populist leader’s capacity to strike an emotional chord so that they trust him by reputation is tough.

At present, a repeat of the 2014 kind of populism isn’t possible as the electoral speeches of Mr. Modi then carried the promise of emancipation. The fluidity of the binding narrative of ‘achhe din’ provided a sense of certitude to voters worried about various uncertainties. Now the narrative has shifted to presenting one’s failures to be less than those of the rivals. In a nutshell, populist tactics don’t seem to translate into populism at this juncture. In this post-populist scenario, the public sphere is witnessing animated public debate on a range of issues. No single narrative is dominant.

Therefore, in these Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s emphasis is on alliances. It is the pragmatism of political alliances that holds the key for the party, rather than Mr. Modi’s populism.

A fractured narrative

Hence, all the political hullaballoo over post-Pulwama hyper-nationalism may offer a shot in the arm to the BJP amid the the dwindling charm of Mr. Modi. However, a repeat of the 2014 kind of populism against the backdrop of undelivered promises will require a collective embrace of ‘self-deception’ by a significant majority besides the BJP’s core base. Populism is no more the defining feature of Indian politics and, by extension, of Indian democracy. All the narratives offered are fractured, including that of nationalism. In all likelihood, the Lok Sabha elections, too, will yield a fractured mandate. A fractured mandate at this juncture will be a good omen for Indian politics as democracy mustn’t be reduced to the biography of a leader.

Sajjan Kumar is a political analyst associated with Peoples Pulse, a Research Organisation specialising in fieldwork based Political Study

A crisis of credibility?

A crisis of credibility?

While nothing bars the EC from asserting its authority, it still needs institutional safeguards to protect its autonomy

S.Y. Quraishi

Getty Images/iStockphotoJuliarStudio/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Election Commission of India (EC) is a formidable institution which has led the world in electoral efficiency since its inception. But in the 2019 general election, it has come under the scanner like never before in the wake of incidents involving a breach of the Model Code of Conduct, particularly those by the ruling party. On April 8, in a letter to the President of India, a group of retired bureaucrats and diplomats, in the context of recent incidents, expressed concern over the EC’s “weak kneed conduct” and the institution “suffering from a crisis of credibility today”.

Points of concern

The letter described the Prime Minister’s March 27 announcement, of India’s first anti-satellite (ASAT) test, as a “serious breach of propriety [which] amounts to giving unfair publicity to the party in power”. Questions were also raised over the launch of NaMo TV without licence, and a biopic on the life of the Prime Minister which was scheduled for release on April 11, when elections commenced. The group also requested the EC to “issue directions to withhold the release of all biopics and documentaries on any political personages through any media mechanism until the conclusion of the electoral process”. They asserted that the release of such propaganda amounted to free publicity, and hence should be debited as election expenditure in the name of the candidate in question. The same standards should also apply to other such propaganda, an example being a web series titled “Modi: A Common Man’s Journey”.

Other important issues highlighted in the letter included transfers of top officials, voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) audits, violations of the MCC by Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh (for which the group has requested his removal on account of “grave misdemeanour”) and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath (in his speech he referred to the armed forces as the army of Narendra Modi), and also corrosion of the political discourse in general.

Needless to say, the questions being raised about the credibility of the EC are a cause for worry. It is, however, not the first time that the conduct of the commission has been questioned.

At the core

To my mind, the genesis of the problem lies in the flawed system of appointment of election commissioners, who are appointed unilaterally by the government of the day. This debate can be settled once and for all by depoliticising appointments through a broad-based consultation, as in other countries.

In its 255th report, the Law Commission recommended a collegium, consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India. Political stalwarts such as L.K. Advani, and former Chief Election Commissioners including B.B. Tandon, N. Gopalaswami and me supported the idea in the past even when in office. But successive ruling dispensations have ducked the issue, not wanting to let go of their power. It is obvious that political and electoral interests take precedence over the national interest.

A public interest litigation was also filed in the Supreme Court in late 2018 calling for a “fair, just and transparent process of selection by constituting a neutral and independent Collegium/selection committee”. The matter has been referred to a constitution bench. It’s not a routine matter. On issues of such vital importance, even the Supreme Court — which I have always described as the guardian angel of democracy — has to act with utmost urgency. If democracy is derailed, its future too would be in jeopardy.

Besides the manner of appointment, the system of removal of Election Commissioners also needs correction. Only the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is protected from being removed except through impeachment. The other two commissioners having equal voting power in the functioning of the EC can outvote the CEC 10 times a day. The uncertainty of elevation by seniority makes them vulnerable to government pressure. The government can control a defiant CEC through the majority voting power of the two commissioners. One has to remember that the Constitution enabled protection to the CEC as it was a one-man commission initially. This must now be extend to other commissioners, who were added in 1993, as they collectively represent the EC.

Moving forward

The EC’s reputation also suffers when it is unable to tame recalcitrant political parties, especially the ruling party. This is because despite being the registering authority under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, it has no power to de-register them even for the gravest of violations. The EC has been seeking the power to de-register political parties, among many other reforms, which the EC has been wanting.

The reform was first suggested by the CEC in 1998 and reiterated several times. The EC also submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court last February saying it wanted to be empowered “to de-register a political party, particularly in view of its constitutional mandate”.

Elections are the bedrock of democracy and the EC’s credibility is central to democratic legitimacy. Hence, the guardian of elections itself needs urgent institutional safeguards to protect its autonomy. It is time that action is taken to depoliticise constitutional appointments and the EC empowered to de-register parties for electoral misconduct. It is a step needed towards restoring all-important public faith in the institution.

While these reforms may continue to be debated, nothing stops the EC from asserting the ample authority it has under the Constitution and being tough. It’s not their discretion but the constitutional mandate. It did not need a reminder or a nudge from the Supreme Court.

S.Y. Quraishi is a former Chief Election Commissioner of India

For a free referee

For a free referee

The Election Commission must be unfailingly strict in ensuring a fair election

It took more than a rap on the knuckles by the Supreme Court before the Election Commission of India stirred from slumber amid repeated violations of the law and transgressions of the Model Code of Conduct in the ongoing election campaign. In fact, the EC had appeared to be willing itself into inaction amid a flurry of abusive and divisive speeches by pleading powerlessness to act. On Monday, the Supreme Court came down heavily on the EC for its lack of initiative in enforcing the law. The EC cracked the whip soon after the court’s censure and barred four leaders accused of intemperate speeches from campaigning for varying durations of time. By suggesting a clinical parity between BSP chief Mayawati’s call for Muslims to not divide their votes, and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s speech in which he characterised the election as a contest between ‘Ali’ and ‘Bajrang Bali’, in a reference to Muslims and Hindus, the EC perhaps wanted to demonstrate impartiality. However, it needs to do much more to be seen as a fair referee. The incumbent members of the EC may end up expending the accumulated trust in the institution if they do not consistently and unfailingly demonstrate efficiency and neutrality in enforcing the law and the MCC.

For now, the EC has managed to redeem that hope to some measure, but not entirely. Article 324 of the Constitution gives the commission the powers of “superintendence, direction and control” of elections. Through the Representation of the People Act, other rules and orders, by the apex court and the EC, the system governing the Indian electoral process has evolved, and continues to do so. The EC has powers to deal with newer challenges that crop up, such as the easy dissemination of misinformation with the help of technological tools in recent years. While responding to new situations by changing the legal architecture is essential, the EC needs to build upon a fundamental premise of the rule of law, which is, ‘be you ever so high, the law is always above you.’ Prime Minister Narendra Modi has brazenly violated a directive of the EC that campaigners must not seek votes by invoking the name of the soldiers. Continuing raids by Central agencies targeting only Opposition leaders and the blatant partisanship of the public broadcaster, Doordarshan, smack of misuse of power by the incumbent government. The EC is vested with powers to ensure a free and fair election. Under Chief Election Commissioners like T.N. Seshan and J.M. Lyngdoh, the commission has in the past shown the capacity to come up with creative solutions that adhere to both the spirit and the letter of the law. Their examples should encourage the EC to find strength in its constitutional mandate and not plead helplessness in the face of challenges to its authority. The Supreme Court too made the EC conscious of its own powers once more.

Kohli’s 15

Kohli’s 15

India is hoping to deliver by packing the team with experience

The ICC World Cup is cricket’s holy grail. The quadrennial event played through the One Day International (ODI) format often shapes the legacy of squads and players. It is the one championship where all leading Test-playing teams congregate, and once a unit wins the World Cup, the ambiguity ends and arguments cease. With the 12th edition set to commence in England on May 30, there had been immense interest in the Indian team’s composition. The selectors, led by M.S.K. Prasad, have decided to give an experienced crew to Virat Kohli. Many summers ago, M.S. Dhoni said that a player should have a minimum of 50 ODIs under his belt before playing in the World Cup. The former captain’s logic was that an experienced cricketer would have more game-awareness. The present squad ticks that box. Among the 15, nine have played more than 50 ODIs, with Dhoni leading at 341; four are hovering close to the 50-mark; and only K.L. Rahul (14) and Vijay Shankar (9) are below that mark although there is no mistaking their talent. The Indian team has explosive batsmen, incisive fast bowlers and wily spinners. The all-rounders’ quartet of Shankar, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja and Kedar Jadhav also gives Kohli varied options when India opens its campaign against South Africa at Southampton on June 5.

The Indian team can deliver, but it could face tough opponents in hosts England and Australia, bolstered by the return of Steve Smith and David Warner. Kohli, Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan will be under pressure to fire with the bat; the bowling, featuring the remarkable Jasprit Bumrah, has to strike. Bumrah’s delivery stride might inflict a bio-mechanical strain on his body, but he has sparkled and has adequate support in Mohammed Shami’s pace and Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s swing that gains extra bite under the overcast English skies. Meanwhile, wrist spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have Kohli’s backing. Additionally, there is Jadeja’s left-arm spin and Jadhav’s off-spin to bank upon. Dinesh Karthik’s selection as the reserve wicket-keeper ahead of youngster Rishabh Pant stirred a debate, but the former’s experience tilted the scales. There was heartburn for Ambati Rayudu but Rahul has prospered in the current Indian Premier League, and in an emergency, he can also step in as a wicket-keeper. In any case, Pant and Rayudu have been named as standbys. The accommodation of so many glove-men in the team is an acknowledgement that, at 37, Dhoni might suffer an injury in a long-drawn tournament that concludes on July 14. India will return to cricket’s birthplace for one more tilt at the title, and the memory of Kapil Dev holding the 1983 World Cup at Lord’s remains as potent as ever before.

* Editorial 2

The ethical act of voting

The ethical act of voting

It is the duty of having to act not for individual benefit, but for the benefit of the larger society

“The problem lies in viewing voting as a transaction, the aim of which is to get some benefit for an individual or a group.” A voter poses in Teliamura district, Tripura, after casting her vote in the Assembly election in 2018. Ritu Raj Konwar

There is a puzzling trait that is pervasive and human. It is that we often judge others with a different yardstick than with which we judge ourselves. When I visit an organisation, there is always somebody who complains that their colleagues do not work at all. Ironically, the colleagues also say the same thing about others in the organisation. Our self-perception is often at odds with the way others see us. This is also part of a deeper human malaise: we think others are wrong and we are right in our beliefs and opinions. Elections exemplify these tendencies very well.

In the time of elections, we repeatedly hear these sentiments about other voters. The upper classes will tell you that poorer citizens vote only to get benefits such as cash, clothes, television sets and other consumer goods. The majority group will say that the minorities vote as a bloc since they have all been told whom to vote for. These are seen as examples of voters not doing their duty of voting for the best person, namely, the best political representative who will govern well. Those who support a particular party will say something similar about those who are voting for another party. It is as if when people vote for money or as a vote bank, they are not doing what they should. But then it could also be argued that a person who blindly votes for one ideology or another is pretty much doing the same thing.

Getting paid to vote

What does it mean to perform the act of voting correctly? It is often said that voting is a duty, but what kind of a duty is it? Is it to make a mark on a sheet or is it actually a particular process of thinking and deciding?

Consider the act of voting by those who get paid before they vote. This practice is not only endemic across States but is also done quite brazenly in some places. Party members go house to house and distribute money and other goods. This is done in the open and is a performance in itself. In other cases, people are given money and goods in more surreptitious ways. This cash-for-votes practice seem to go against the very grain of democratic election. But why so?

In the case of taking money or goods, voters see elections as a transaction. What they are basically asking is this: what am I getting in return for voting for you? This goes against a fundamental principle of democratic voting, which is that voting is not a transaction. When we do a job for someone we don’t know, and which benefits that person, we generally expect to get paid for that act. Voting is not a job in that sense. It is not a job which is eligible for some compensation. So, the fundamental question about voting is this: are we voting for our own sake or for the benefit of others? Does voting improve our well-being or that of others, the elected politicians? Or is it that the ultimate purpose of an individual’s vote is to improve the well-being of the larger society?

We are clearly helping somebody else by voting. If a person wins because of our votes, then he or she derives enormous benefit from being a member of the legislature. There is a direct benefit to the person who is elected — she enjoys a lot of power after being elected. This is the dilemma in electing somebody. We are supposed to vote for free, whereas the result of our action ends up making another person better off. So why is voting not seen as a business transaction since the winner of the election profits from the action of the voter? Why can’t the voter who is enabling opportunity for another person’s wealth ask for a share in that wealth? If voters do so, then they are behaving rationally.

People who stand for elections understand this logic well and they deal with it merely as a problem of economics. Their calculation is also based on this understanding: let us say a person wins an election, because of which she expects to make one crore in the next year. The person needs enough votes to make this happen and spends in anticipation that she will be able to recoup the money if she wins. Giving money to voters is thus like an investment. The amount of payment to voters is really a measure of how much elected representatives hope to make during their tenure!

When we vote based on our ideology, we are following the same logic as those taking money. Those for whom small amounts of money do not matter ask for other favours, including protection of their interests, whether their religion, their caste or even economic benefits appropriate to their class. When a group of rich people vote for a person who supports lower taxes, they are doing exactly the same as the poor, since voting is used as a transaction to get something they desire.

The dynamics of voting is thus a complex problem of rationality, similar to problems in rational choice theory. First, how do politicians know that the people will vote for them after taking their money or listening to their promises, especially if more than one politician pays the same group of people or makes similar promises? Moreover, how do they know that enough people will vote for them to make them win? For the voter, it is a much simpler calculation. They get paid for a service they perform by voting. Interestingly, many of them do vote for the person they take money from, because they feel they are morally bound to do so.

For the larger good

The fundamental problem lies in viewing voting as a transaction, the aim of which is to get some benefit for an individual or a group. But we have to recognise that voting is not like any other transaction. The duty that is inherent in the act of voting is an ethical duty, not just a constitutional one. It is the duty of having to act not for individual benefit, such as money or ideology, but for the benefit of the larger society. Such benefit for the larger society will include others benefiting as much as each one of us does through each of our votes. That is, when I vote, I vote on behalf of others as much as on behalf of myself. This duty is the ethical rationality related to voting. It is also a recognition that a democratic action like voting is primarily for the good of something larger than one’s self interests.

Sundar Sarukkai is a philosopher based in Bengaluru

End of the runway

End of the runway

The plans to rescue Jet Airways came too late

Jet Airways seems to have approached the end of the runway. With banks unwilling to throw in more money to rescue the airline and no saviours visible on the horizon, it seems destined to follow the flight path of Kingfisher Airlines, which bit the dust in 2012. From over 120 aircraft, the storied airline is now down to just five. Almost all its leased aircraft have been repossessed by lessors. On Wednesday night, the airlines decided to temporarily suspend all its flights. Its experienced pilots have either moved to competitors or are queuing up before them now. And the Jet brand, which was once reputed, stands tarnished with passengers complaining of cancelled flights and delayed refunds.

Emergency funding

Jet Airways has been pleading for emergency funding of at least ₹400 crore. But banks have refused to budge, and rightly so. From their perspective, more lending to the sinking airline would simply mean squandering money. Emergency funding is a viable option when there is a high possibility of the borrower’s business bouncing back and enabling repayment of the money borrowed. That is not the case with Jet Airways now. It was a different story a couple of months ago when the banks did attempt a bailout package for the airline. But the descent in the airline’s fortunes since then has been rapid. Only a foolhardy banker would write a cheque for Jet now. Besides, given the atmosphere of political uncertainty, bankers would think twice before trying to save a private airline that is probably beyond rescue. No banker would like to get in the crosshairs of a new government. As it is, some are asking why banks should try to rescue the airline instead of taking it to insolvency court, which is the prescribed route for such cases.

It is interesting that the present government, despite all the pressure that has been brought to bear on it, has kept away from all the action. Bailing out a private enterprise with public money is something that it would not want to be seen doing at this point in time.

The lenders consortium is still trying its best to find a suitor for the airline. They have invited expressions of interest from prospective bidders and will shortly call for bids. But what will the prospective buyers bid for? The airline is now down to about 16,000 employees, has a debt overhang of ₹8,414 crore (as of March 31, 2018), and accumulated losses of over ₹14,000 crore. Its routes and departure slots at major airports have been appropriated by competitors, albeit on a temporary basis. If Jet Airways does not show up on the radar again in full force before the end of the summer schedule in October, the routes and slots will be foregone.

For any prospective bidder, the attraction is not just the number of aircraft that the airline flies but also the routes, departure and landing slots, and parking rights. Besides, the brand loyalty, of course. Jet scored high on these accounts, but not any more. In short, Jet today has more liabilities than assets to speak about. So, why will any serious bidder agree to take over the airline now?

Stepping down

The fact is that the rescue act was mounted too late. That the airline was in trouble was known since October, but the desperation set in only in February. Part of the blame for the delay lies with founder and chairman Naresh Goyal, whose reluctance to part with control over the airline put off not just prospective investors such as the Tata Group (which admitted to have been in talks for an investment in Jet) but also Jet’s partner, Etihad Airways. In the event, Mr. Goyal’s decision to step down probably came too late in the day.

Mr. Goyal is a veteran of many a battle in the Indian skies and his influence over successive governments since the mid-1990s ensured that the skies were kept clear for him. The 5/20 rule (a government norm under which national carriers are required to have five years of operational experience and a fleet of minimum 20 aircraft to fly overseas) was clearly designed to help Jet. So were the restrictions on foreign investment in domestic carriers, until Jet decided to invite Etihad as a partner.

But Mr. Goyal has run out of options now. After all, what goes around comes around. Jet Airways was a superb brand and had built strong loyalty among fliers. It is sad that it has to go. But more unfortunate is the plight of Jet’s employees, who will now be forced to work with competitors at lower pay scales, if at all they find openings. And of course, fliers, who are already forking out 20-30% extra on fares thanks to the fall in airline seats.

raghuvir.s@thehindu.co.in

The facade of art house

The facade of art house

Mediocrity is often celebrated in our collective zeal to uphold the alternative in cinema

Kunal Ray

In India, particularly in art, the alternative to the mainstream is applauded. The alternative is shown more courtesy owing to the limited means of production that undergird this art, so much so that limited means are often wrongly adjudged as a precondition for good art. This assumption reflects our simplistic understanding of art and its making. A considerable volume of mediocrity is thus celebrated in our collective zeal to uphold the alternative.

In Indian cinema, the alternative is often synonymous with the absence of a popular star cast, small budgets, experiments in storytelling, and radical themes. All these together have created a formula for the alternative in Indian cinema. The question to then ask is, can the alternative ever be formulaic? And if it is formulaic, then how or what is the alternative really?

Take, for instance, the recent Hindi film, Hamid, which attempts to explore the problems of Kashmir. The film has been made on a small budget, features a relatively unknown star cast, and is shot in real locations in Kashmir. It also features a child actor who plays the lead and has all the necessary tropes of the alternative, yet the depiction of the problem is too simplistic. The message simply echoes the truism that terror is bad and the innocent always suffer. Don’t we know that already? The film takes no position on Kashmir and merely reduces it to a chronicle of problems that are probably well known in India. I wonder what the filmmaker’s position is vis-à-vis the issue and how it can be considered an alternative to portrayals of the Kashmir conundrum as seen in popular Hindi films such as Fiza, Mission Kashmir and Fanaa. Sections of the media were quick to applaud Hamid’s realistic setting and performances but realism alone doesn’t make the alternative.

When mainstream films attempt the alternative, they provide magnified access. A case in point is Alia Bhatt’s character in Gully Boy and her zealous appeal for women’s education. She is unabashed in her obsessive love for Ranveer Singh’s character without losing the focus of her career goals, and why can’t the two co-exist? This, to me, is authentic, alternative character creation. Kerala’s avowal of the alternative in literature, film and visual art is common knowledge. From O.V. Vijayan’s The Legends of Khasak to G. Aravindan’s films, the alternative aesthetic is deeply entrenched in the cultural landscape of the State. A clutch of recent mainstream contemporary films such as Angamaly Diaries, Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum and Kammati Paadam have compelled us to rethink the alternative in the commercial format. The stories are new, the range of characters diverse, and the performances riveting, thereby establishing that the mainstream can be radical too. Perhaps this is the new alternative without the facade of the art house and its hoary pretensions.

The writer teaches literary & cultural studies at FLAME University, Pune

* Foreign

Indonesia’s Widodo set for re-election

Indonesia’s Widodo set for re-election

Unofficial results put the incumbent in a comfortable lead over his rival, ex-General Prabowo Subianto

Agence France-Presse
Jakarta

Indonesia’s Joko Widodo was on track to be re-elected leader of the world’s third-biggest democracy as unofficial results put him in a comfortable lead over firebrand ex-General Prabowo Subianto after voting closed on Wednesday across the 17,000-island archipelago.

While official results are not due until next month, a series of so-called “quick counts” by pollsters showed Mr. Widodo as much as 11 percentage points ahead.

The vote ended at 1.00 p.m. local time, but some of the more than 8,00,000 polling stations across the volcano-dotted nation remained open late due to delays and long queues.

The quick counts have been reliable indicators in past elections, but Mr. Widodo held off declaring victory — while his rival insisted he had won. “We’ve all seen exit poll and quick count numbers, but we still need to wait for the official results,” Mr. Widodo told cheering supporters in Jakarta.

Mr. Subianto — who warned of street protests and legal challenges if he lost — insisted that he was Indonesia’s next leader, without citing specific evidence.

“We will not use illegal tactics because we have won,” Mr. Subianto said. “For those who defended (my rivals), I’m still going to defend you. I’m the President of all Indonesians.”

Mr. Subianto, who has long had his eye on the country’s top job, lost to Mr. Widodo in 2014 and then mounted an unsuccessful legal challenge to the election.

This year’s campaign was punctuated by bitter mudslinging and a slew of fake news online — much of it directed at the presidential contenders.

“I hope after this that there will be a call for reconciliation because… we’ve been living in a very polarised atmosphere,” political analyst Gun Gun Heryanto told Kompas TV.

Papua to Sumatra

From the jungles of Borneo to the slums of Jakarta, Wednesday saw millions of Indonesians cast their ballots in one of the world’s biggest exercises in democracy.

Horses, elephants, motorbikes, boats and planes were pressed into service to get ballot boxes out across the vast country that is home to hundreds of ethnic groups and languages.

The call to prayer had rang out as voting began at first light in restive Papua province in the east of the 4,800 km-long Muslim majority nation.

Leading in pre-vote polls, Mr. Widodo, 57, pointed to his ambitious drive to build much-needed roads, airports and other infrastructure across Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

But Mr. Widodo — a political outsider with an everyman personality when he swept to victory in 2014 — has seen his rights record criticised owing to an uptick in discriminatory attacks on religious and other minorities. His choice of conservative cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate also raised fears about the future of Indonesia’s reputation for moderate Islam.

‘Indonesia first’

The soft-spoken Mr. Widodo stood in stark contrast to fiery nationalist rival Mr. Subianto, a strongman who courted Islamic hardliners and promised a boost to military and defence spending.

Echoing U.S. President Donald Trump, Mr. Subianto, 67, vowed to put “Indonesia first” by reviewing billions of dollars in Chinese investment.

His presidential ambitions, however, have been dogged by a chequered past and strong ties to the Suharto dictatorship, which collapsed two decades ago and opened the door for what is now a flourishing democracy.

Mr. Subianto, who moved to soften his strongman image with an Instagram account featuring his cat Bobby, ordered the abduction of democracy activists as the authoritarian regime collapsed in 1998, and was accused of committing atrocities in East Timor.

A record 2,45,000 candidates ran for public office, from the presidency and parliamentary seats to local positions — the first time all were held on the same day.

Voters punched holes in ballots — to make clear their candidate choice — and then dipped a finger in Muslim-approved halal ink, to prevent double-voting in a graft-riddled country where ballot-buying is rife.

About two million military and civil protection force members were deployed to ensure the vote went smoothly.

Trump vetoes Bill to end U.S. support for Yemen war

Trump vetoes Bill to end U.S. support for Yemen war

The resolution is an attempt to weaken my power: President

Agence France-Presse
Washington

President Donald Trump on Tuesday vetoed a resolution from Congress directing him to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, the second such move of his presidency.

The resolution was a harsh bipartisan rebuke to Mr. Trump that took the historic step of curtailing a President’s war-making powers — a step he condemned in a statement announcing his veto. “This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future,” Mr. Trump said.

The veto was the second of his presidency, after he overrode a congressional resolution that aimed to reverse the border emergency he declared in order to secure more funding for his wall between the United States and Mexico in March.

Green light

Vetoing the measure is an “effective green light for the war strategy that has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis to continue,” said International Rescue Committee president and CEO David Miliband.

“Yemen is at a breaking point with 10 million people on the brink of famine. There are as many as 100 civilian casualties per week, and Yemenis are more likely to be killed at home than in any other structure.”

Mr. Trump argued that U.S. support for the bloody war between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and Iran-aligned Houthi rebels was necessary for a variety of reasons, “first and foremost” to “protect the safety of the more than 80,000 Americans who reside in certain coalition countries.”

These countries “have been subject to Houthi attacks from Yemen,” he said.

Position on Masood Azhar remains unchanged, says China

Position on Masood Azhar remains unchanged, says China

Official says issue should be resolved through consensus

Atul Aneja

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang.AFPGREG BAKER

Beijing

China on Wednesday said it was not facing any deadline to take a call on designating Masood Azhar, head of the Paksitan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror group, as an international terrorist.

In response to a question on listing Azhar, Lu Kang, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said: “On the issue of the listing of Masood Azhar, China’s position remains unchanged. We are also having communication with relevant parties and the matter is moving towards the direction of settlement” in the UN 1267 committee.

China has been sticking to its position that the issue of listing Azhar is the prerogative of the 1267 committee and has rejected a parallel initiative by the U.S., France and Britain seeking a vote on banning Azhar in the Security Council plenary.

Last month, China placed a “technical hold” on designating Azhar following the February 14 Pulwama attack in which more than 40 CRPF personnel were killed. The JeM had taken responsibility for the attack.

Rules of procedures

India had expressed disappointment over China’s move.

Asked whether China had been given an April 23 deadline by the U.S., France and Britain to lift its hold on listing Azhar, Mr. Lu said: “I don’t know from where you get such information, but the Security Council and its subsidiary bodies like the 1267 committee, they have clear rules of procedures and you have to seek clarification from those sources.”

Bashir moved from residence to Khartoum’s Kobar prison

Bashir moved from residence to Khartoum’s Kobar prison

Military government announces steps to tackle corruption

Reuters

Sudan’s ex-President Omar al-Bashir.AFPASHRAF SHAZLY

KHARTOUM

Deposed ex-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been moved to Khartoum’s grim high-security Kobar prison from the presidential residence, family sources said on Wednesday, and transitional military rulers announced steps to crack down on corruption.

Demand for civilian rule

Sudan’s military ousted Mr. Bashir after weeks of mass protests that climaxed in a sit-in outside the Defence Ministry compound.

Protests are continuing and their leaders say the unrest will not cease until the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) hands power to a civilian-led authority ahead of elections. In initial moves to tackle graft, the TMC ordered the central bank to review financial transfers since April 1 and to seize “suspect” funds, state news agency SUNA said on Wednesday.

Mr. Bashir, 75, had been detained under heavy guard in the presidential residence inside the compound that also houses the Defence Ministry, before being transferred to Kobar prison late on Tuesday, the family sources said. He was being held in solitary confinement at Kobar, a prison source said.

France launches global contest to replace Notre-Dame spire

France launches global contest to replace Notre-Dame spire

Not having a new spire at all is an option, says PM

Agence France-Presse

A damaged section of the Notre-Dame Cathedral.REUTERSBENOIT TESSIER

Paris

France on Wednesday announced it would invite architects from around the world to submit designs for replacing the spire of Notre-Dame Cathedral after a devastating blaze, as the government braced for a mammoth restoration challenge.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the contest would decide whether the monument should have a new spire at all and if so, whether it should be identical to the fallen 19th-century model or be a wholly new design.

The world looked on in horror on Monday as flames engulfed the 850-year-old gothic masterpiece seen as encapsulating the soul of Paris and the spire came crashing down.

Explaining that having no new spire at all was an option, Mr. Philippe noted that Notre-Dame had been without a steeple for part of its history. “The international contest will settle the question of whether we should build a new spire, whether we should rebuild the spire that was designed and built by (Eugene) Viollet-Le-Duc, in identical fashion, or whether we should… endow Notre-Dame cathedral with a new spire adapted to the techniques and the challenges of our era.”

Mr. Philippe described the task of rebuilding it as “a huge challenge and historic responsibility”, a day after President Emmanuel Macron said the entire restoration should be completed in just five years.

The bells of French cathedrals were to ring out at 1650 GMT on Wednesday to mark the exact moment when the fire started on Monday. Mr. Macron had vowed to rebuild the iconic monument, the real star of Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, by 2024 when France hosts the summer Olympics. “We can do it,” he said on Tuesday, calling France “a nation of builders.”

No sooner had firefighters extinguished the flames than pledges of donations towards restoring France’s best-loved monument, which attracted 12 million visitors in 2018, began to pour in.

Within 24 hours, the pledges had reached more than €800 million ($900 million), with French business magnates and corporations jostling to outshine each other with displays of generosity.

In a sign of the monument’s resilience, the copper rooster that topped its spire was found on Tuesday in the rubble of the roof, “battered but apparently restorable” according to a spokesperson for the Culture Ministry.

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