APRIL 29, Monday

Delhi Edition

* Front Page

72 constituencies in 9 States go to polls in fourth phase today





72 constituencies in 9 States go to polls in fourth phase today

Unprecedented security in West Bengal after Opposition complains of threats

Special Correspondent, New Delhi

The fourth phase of polling will take place in 72 constituencies across nine States amidst tight security on Monday. In West Bengal, where eight constituencies are going to the polls, unprecedented deployment of the Central forces has been made after the Opposition parties, Congress, CPI(M) and BJP, accused the ruling Trinamool Congress of intimidating their cadre.

Voting will take place in 17 seats in Maharashtra, 13 each in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, eight in West Bengal, six each in Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, five in Bihar, three in Jharkhand and a part of the Anantnag constituency in Jammu & Kashmir.

Critical phase

This is a critical phase for the ruling BJP and its allies as it had swept 56 of these seats in 2014, leaving just two for the Congress and the rest for other Opposition parties such as the Trinamool Congress (six) and the Biju Janata Dal (six).

In West Bengal, 561 companies of the Central armed security forces will be deployed, along with 88 companies of quick response teams. The Central forces will be guarding 9,685 polling premises out of a total of 9,804. The election is not only a test for 68 candidates but also one for the Election Commission. There have been stray incidents of violence in the first two phases in the State, and during the third phase one person was killed in violence on polling day in Murshidabad district.

Besides general election and expenditure observers, the Election Commission has for the first time deployed a special police observer and a special observer in the State.

(With inputs from PTI)




No Bank of Maharashtra loans for drought-hit farmers





No Bank of Maharashtra loans for drought-hit farmers

Lender cites high bad loans for drastic move in two States; Marathwada, Vidarbha to be impacted

MANOJIT SAHA, Mumbai

Heavy burden: The gross non-performing assets under agriculture now stand at 18.36%, says the bank.

In an unusual move, a state-run lender, Bank of Maharashtra, has decided not to extend loans in eight zones in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh that include Aurangabad, Latur, Akola, and Amravati, which are hit by drought.

The bank cited high bad loans from agricultural advances in the branches of these zones for the decision. The other zones are Solapur and Jalgaon in Maharashtra and Bhopal and Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh.

“The present condition of agriculture is pathetic, wherein gross NPAs under agriculture stood at 18.36%,” the bank said in a circular to the branches. A copy of the circular has been reviewed by The Hindu. The bank had seen fresh slippages of ₹1,300 crore during 2018-19 from agriculture loans.

“It is observed that eight zones/its branches are having high % [percentage] of agri NPAs which are identified for curative action on NPA management,” the circular said.

Remedial action

The remedial action, as suggested by the ‘top management’, says, “Branches having NPAs > 15% shall not sanction new/enhancement proposals under agriculture.”

The bank has said genuine cases of existing borrowers with good track record or new clients should be tapped by these branches and recommended to the next authority for sanctioning.

Furthermore, zonal managers of these eight zones have been asked to identify ‘chronic/stagnant’ branches, and should report the same to the planning department in the head office for merger or closure. The bank has asked all the zones to carry out a detailed analysis of NPA accounts and ascertain various measures for default. Among the eight zones, Aurangabad has the highest percentage of NPAs — almost 25% of advances — followed by Bhopal (21.4%), Solapur (19.1%), and Akola (16.5%).

Advances to the agricultural sector come under priority sector lending.



Sri Lankan troops close in on Easter blasts suspects





Sri Lankan troops close in on Easter blasts suspects

Father, 2 siblings of Hashim among those gunned down

Meera Srinivasan, COLOMBO

Victims remembered: Women hold candles during a vigil in memory of the victims at Lake House in Colombo. REUTERSREUTERS

The father and two brothers of Zahran Hashim, who is believed to have led the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka, were killed in Friday’s overnight gun battle between troops and suspects in the eastern Ampara district, the police said on Sunday.

Hashim was earlier identified as one of the two suicide bombers who blew themselves up at Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo.

Wife, daughter rescued

Further, a woman and a four-year-old child, rescued from a safe house stormed in the search operation on Saturday, have been identified as the wife and daughter of Hashim, police sources told The Hindu.

As security forces close in on the remaining suspects linked to the Easter serial blasts, which killed over 250 people, including 45 children, last Sunday, the police have detained 100 people so far. Authorities have said local radical Islamist forces, including the Hashim-led National Thowheed Jamaath, were behind the killings.

The IS, too, claimed the attacks on Tuesday, sparking questions about the outfit’s possible presence in the island. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Sunday that most of the terrorists allegedly involved in the bombings were killed or arrested, and the country is ready to return to normalcy.


* Nation

Agrarian distress a major issue in Rajasthan’s Hadoti





Agrarian distress a major issue in Rajasthan’s Hadoti

“Piecemeal steps, such as farm loan waiver and payment of MSP are not going to solve the problem”

Mohammed Iqbal

Hadoti Kisan Union general secretary Dashrath Kumar.

KOTA

Agrarian distress in south-eastern Rajasthan’s Hadoti region is getting reflected in the Lok Sabha election with farmers’ groups alleging that the BJP is skirting the issue because of suicides by a large number of farmers during the party’s rule in the State between 2013 and 2018.

The Congress faces a stiff challenge in the region’s two Lok Sabha constituencies, considered as BJP strongholds.

The farmers, who were earlier mulling over fielding their own candidate from the Kota Lok Sabha seat, dropped the plan following their inability to get the support of at least 400 polling booths. The Hadoti Kisan Union had decided to field a candidate if 30% representatives of about 1,300 polling booths in the rural areas and 750 in urban areas agreed to contest the polls.

At the national level, the Rashtriya Kisan Samanvay Samiti’s plan to field 20 candidates from Lok Sabha constituencies where farmers comprise the majority of voters has also not met with success. The major political parties in Rajasthan and other northern States have not evinced interest in extending support to the concept of farmers’ direct entry into active politics.

The farmers of the Hadoti region have been suffering losses since 2015, when rain and hailstorm caused extensive damage to their crops. The crop loss and debt burden led to suicides by about 50 farmers during the previous BJP regime.

The agrarian community was peeved over the State government’s claims that “natural deaths” were being projected as suicides to claim compensation.

Hadoti Kisan Union general secretary Dashrath Kumar told The Hindu that a consensus had emerged among the farmers that no political party would be able to resolve the agricultural distress as their actions were guided by “political expediency”. “Piecemeal measures such as farm loan waiver and payment of minimum support prices are not going to solve the problem,” he said.

Sitting MPs fielded

The BJP, which has fielded sitting MPs Om Birla from Kota and Dushyant Singh from Jhalawar-Baran, expects to get support of its traditional voters among higher castes and Other Backward Classes.

The entry of erstwhile royal family’s Ijyaraj Singh into the BJP just before the 2018 Assembly elections has come as a major relief for the party, as his candidature from the Congress would have posed a formidable challenge. Mr. Singh was elected an MP from Kota in 2009 on the Congress ticket.

Congress candidate Ram Narayan Meena, a senior leader who had won the Kota seat in 1998, has raised the issue of farmers facing difficulties after levying of GST on agricultural equipment and pesticides in his election campaign.

Pramod Sharma fielded by the Congress in Jhalawar-Baran is a lesser-known face. The BJP has not lost any Lok Sabha election from Jhalawar since 1989.




Ailing jail inmate dies in police custody in Kota, family cries foul





Ailing jail inmate dies in police custody in Kota, family cries foul

Two policemen sent to lines as disciplinary action after protest

Special Correspondent
JAIPUR

An ailing jail inmate died in police custody at a hospital in Rajasthan’s Kota town on Friday night after the police guards accompanying him for his treatment allegedly assaulted him. Two of the policemen have been sent to the police lines as disciplinary action after family members of the deceased staged a protest outside the mortuary.

Mohammed Ramzan, 60, a resident of Baran district’s Mangrol town, was serving a sentence in the Baran District Jail following his conviction under Section 347 (wrongful confinement to extort property) of the Indian Penal Code, after the Rajasthan High Court rejected his appeal. He was shifted to the New Medical College Hospital in Kota for treatment of liver diseases, including hepatitis, when he complained of pain.

Shifted from Jaipur

Ramzan was admitted to Sawai Man Singh Government Hospital in Jaipur from April 21 to 25 for treatment when his condition deteriorated. The family, which met him once in Jaipur, was informed that the patient had been transferred back to Kota, where he died in the ward for prisoners at the New Medical College Hospital.

A video, which surfaced before Ramzan’s death, shows him telling that three police guards had beaten him with metal pipes. He said in the video, recorded by a family member during his treatment in Jaipur, that the guards were inebriated and would thrash him when he cried in pain.

The family members alleged that the jail authorities did not give proper medical treatment to Ramzan when he fell sick. The deceased also faced communal slur, according to the family.

After the family members, accompanied by the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) members, staged a protest and refused to accept the body, Kota Superintendent of Police Deepak Bhargava assured them of an inquiry by a Judicial Magistrate. The post-mortem was conducted by a medical board and the body handed over to the family.

PUCL petition

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has shot off a petition to the National Human Rights Commission with the demand for registration of FIRs against the police guards allegedly involved in custodial violence that led to Ramzan’s death. It also sought an inquiry by the hospital into the violence in the prisoners’ ward and payment of compensation to the family of the deceased.



In poll season, Kanpur tanners bristle over Ganga clean-up





In poll season, Kanpur tanners bristle over Ganga clean-up

Tanneries shut down ahead of the Kumbh Mela still remain closed

Green concern: A tannery machine at a private factory in Jajmau in Kanpur.Shanker ChakravartyShanker Chakravarty

In the industrial belt of Jajmau, at the city’s periphery, there’s visible anger at the government. In the name of cleaning the Ganga, the tannery industry has been vilified and strangulated, workers claim.

Ahead of the Kumbh Mela this January, the Yogi Adityanath government ordered the tanneries shut — to prevent their effluents from contaminating the Ganga.

However it’s over a month since the Kumbh Mela ended and the closure hasn’t been lifted. “Effectively, it’s been six months since we’ve operated. Business is down by nearly 80%,” says Naiyer Jamaal, who runs the Makhdoom tannery here and a former secretary of the Small Tanners Association. “In spite of being non-operational, we’ve been slapped with a bill of ₹8.4 million by the Pollution Control Board for operation and maintenance of the effluent treatment plant.”

SP’s promise

In a rally earlier this week, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav proclaimed that “however many crores (of rupees) it takes, we will open the tanneries and also clean the Ganga…there are livelihoods at stake here.”

The Jajmau tanneries, of which 260 are operational out of the registered 405, employ about 200,000 workers. Through the closure of tanneries there’s also been an effect on allied industries that supply chemicals for the tanning industry, said Anees, a tanner.

Ram Kumar, the Samajwadi Party nominee for the Lok Sabha polls, said the tapping of the Sisamau naala was a “trick” played by the government to deceive people into believing that the Ganga had been cleaned in Kanpur. “It’s because the tanneries are shut there’s less load on the sewage lines. This hides the fact that the promised treatment plants haven’t been developed. In several villages, overloaded sewer lines overflow into dwellings,” he claimed, “This is a major poll issue and the residents will reflect their dissatisfaction with their vote.”

In March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that his government was making the “impossible possible” as far cleaning the Ganga was concerned. This was based on the city administration’s claim to have prevented sewage and industrial effluents in the city’s most infamous drain, the Sisamau naala, that spewed about 140 million litres of muck everyday, from emptying into the Ganga.

Dubious distinction

Kanpur contributes the highest pollution load among all of the cities of Uttar Pradesh, which itself accounts for 75% of the pollution load in the Ganga. Consequently, Kanpur has garnered about ₹1,000 crore of funds — more than any other city — from the ₹20,000 crore-plus Namami Gange Programme, the government’s flagship programme to clean the river.

However many BJP voters don’t see Namami Gange-work as a key factor ahead of polling on Monday.

Satya Dev Pachauri, the BJP candidate for the Kanpur city constituency and a Minister in the current dispensation, says, “Promoting industry, improved solid waste management, and having a metro rail” are the major prongs of his campaign. “My victory will strengthen Modiji and make our country stronger,” the two-time MLA adds. The Ganga cleaning progress doesn’t feature in the BJP’s list of achievements.

The prospects of the BJP will not be dimmed by the tanner’s unrest, says Mr. Pachauri.

“We cannot allow the tanneries to pollute and authorities — from the National Green Tribunal to the Central Pollution Control Board — have pointed to the excessive chromium content from tanneries. How can that be ignored?” he asks.



New MBBS syllabus to roll out in August





New MBBS syllabus to roll out in August

‘Massive exercise’ under way 22 years after its first revision; practitioners concerned over lacunae

Bindu Shajan Perappadan

Fresh treatment: The new curriculum by Medical Council of India is being billed as ‘unique’M.PERIASAMY

NEW DELHI

This August, undergraduate medical students across India will come into class to study a syllabus that has been revised after over two decades. Touted as a unique curriculum patented by the Medical Council of India (MCI), this “living document”, which means that it is open to review and revision as required, is currently in its final lap of preparation before it is implemented.

Hectic preparation is on with the core group of 40,000 medical teachers — previously trained by the MCI — ensuring the “last group” training for teachers in individual colleges. “This is a massive exercise in itself,” said an MCI official.

The group has been trained to teach the new components, including ethics, clinical exposure, inter-department co-ordination (teaching the same topic simultaneously), skill enhancement modules and a new foundation bridge course for graduates. “Teachers also have to be alert to the annual revision, which will include changing laws, new diseases, discoveries and updated research information,” said Dr. Avinash N. Supe, member of the expert group of the MCI’s academic cell.

But not all teachers are happy with the updated syllabus, pointing to several critical omissions.

“The syllabus isn’t wholesome and inclusive,” said Dr. Satendra Singh, disability activist and medical doctor at the University College of Medical Sciences and Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital, Delhi.

“Disability competencies for health professionals are missing from the document. The importance of empathetic non-verbal communication and unique medical problems associated with patients with disabilities has to be part of the new syllabus. Despite our submissions, after extensive consultation with stakeholders, we are taken aback by the fact there is no mention of it in actual document,” he said.

‘Outdated, dangerous’

Adds Dr. Zakirhusain Shaikh, Assistant Professor, Department of Community Medicine, Hamdard Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Jamia Hamdard, Delhi: “Having an outdated medical curriculum is not just dangerous and life-threatening but also illegal when it doesn’t conform to the legislation and judicial orders of the land.” He added that the new syllabus was gender-sensitive.

Dr. Shaikh said that, recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) changed the term Gender Identity Disorder (GID) to Gender Incongruence, and removed it from the list of mental disorders, but, “This hasn’t been catered to in this new syllabus. Similarly, the American Psychiatric Association has also discarded GID and adopted Gender Dysphoria. Why then is the MCI still stuck with GID is baffling.”

He added, “The entire document doesn’t mention the word transgender even once, forget about including any other guidelines for transgender health. It still has in the curriculum, under the heading of ‘sexual offences’. Transvestism is described as sexual perversion. All this when Section 377 regarding unnatural sexual offences and Section 497 regarding adultery have been termed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.”



SC: filthy language not criminal intimidation





SC: filthy language not criminal intimidation

Legal Correspondent

The court observed that mere allegation that the appellant abused the complainant can’t be seen as criminal intimidation.

NEW DELHI

Abusing a person with filthy language alone does not constitute the offence of criminal intimidation, the Supreme Court has held.

“The threat must be with intention to cause alarm to the complainant to cause that person to do or omit to do any work. Mere expression of any words without any intention to cause alarm would not be sufficient to bring in the application of this section,” a Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and K.M. Joseph said in a judgment on April 26.

Justice Bhushan observed that the “intentional insult must be of such a degree that it should provoke a person to break the public peace or commit any other offence.”

“The mere allegation that the appellant came and abused the complainant does not satisfy the ingredients [of criminal intimidation],” the court said.

The Bench was hearing an appeal filed by an insurance claim surveyor in Uttar Pradesh, who was accused of criminal intimidation and use of filthy language by a factory owner in Mathura district.



In response to Mann ki Baat, words of wisdom





In response to Mann ki Baat, words of wisdom

A group of intellectuals critiques current government with series of talks on video called Aqal ki Baat

Peter Griffin

Harsh Mander

Kawalpreet Kaur

Mumbai

On February 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed off his radio address to the nation, Mann ki Baat, with the promise that the next edition would be on the last Sunday of May, when he would be back with renewed confidence and for many more years.

Since early last week, a group of thinkers has been putting out a series of videos with a cheeky title — Aqal ki Baat — and a clear intent: if Mr. Modi does resume his broadcasts, it will not be as Prime Minister.

Short talks

The videos start with a short animation of a microphone and the title; then, against a neutral background, a speaker talks directly to camera. The talks are short (from 1.30 to 7.30 minutes, with most clocking in at around the 4-minute mark), in Hindi and English, and by experts in various fields, including economics and policy, the RTI Act, gender rights, forest rights, employment, and demonetisation, pointing out what they see as the faults of Mr. Modi’s tenure. Some speakers talk about attacks on institutions, intellectuals and academia, and the effects of demonetisation.

Shabnam Hashmi, one of the producers (the videos have been released by Anhad, the NGO she founded in 2003), says the effort is because “the national media, especially the electronic media, is completely compromised and controlled, and a certain narrative is being thrust on the people of this country.” She and her collaborators felt the need to offer a counter-narrative. “I think it adds to the resistance which many other groups are part of, confronting the brazen dispensation which is sitting in the Centre.” And, she adds, “As opposed to Mr. Modi’s Mann ki Baat, which one is sick and tired of, there was a need for Aqal ki Baat, which if you translate it is wisdom talk.”

“This is not an ordinary election,” says Harsh Mander, activist and author, and one of the speakers. “It will decide if India’s secular democratic Constitution will survive. Aqal ki Baat allows us to talk directly with people to counter the propaganda of the ruling establishment with real facts, to enable them to take informed decisions.”

Another of the speakers, Atul Sood, Professor in the School of Social Sciences, JNU, reiterates that view, and says that instead of the government’s performance in the past five years, or specific goals, “the attempt is to construct the discourse around intent: good guy versus bad guy. In this context, laying down before the electorate the issues that impact lives of ordinary people is of immense significance.”

Radhika Chitkara, lawyer and researcher, says that she felt the need to contribute because, “since 2014, there have been relentless assaults on the Forest Rights Act, and the constitutional authority of gram sabhas of Adivasis and forest dwellers through legislative, executive and judicial means, which attempt to overturn decades of accomplishments of the forest rights and environmental movements.”

Countering false info

Initiatives like this, says Kawalpreet Kaur, Delhi president of the All India Students’ Association, “could help counter the absurd and fake information being circulated over the Internet by the government. It is time people knew the real facts, like that unemployment rate is the highest in the past 45 years and educational institutions have been under massive attack in the past five years.”

Low-budget effort

The series was done at very low cost. The simple elegant look makes a virtue of necessity: there was no money for graphics or anything but a simple shoot. A friend offered a studio, shooting and editing staff worked overtime, and the speakers spoke for free, spending their money to get to the recording.

As of Sunday, there were 84 videos on YouTube. Though none had huge viewership numbers, this is not a concern for Ms. Hashmi as the platform is not their main channel of distribution: that is WhatsApp. Before the series began, the team contacted over a hundred people across India in civil society networks and asked them if they would help. As videos release, these nodal people get copies and then send them out to their contacts. “We can’t count to how many people it is reaching out [via WhatsApp],” she says. “It could have reached a lot more if we had money to boost them, which we don’t.”

Will new videos continue to come out after voting is done? “This is targeted at the election,” Ms. Hashmi says. “but we might continue. Even if this government goes, there will be issues which we are fighting for.”



A war muddies the Rajsamand battle





A war muddies the Rajsamand battle

Haldighati echoes in election

Mohammed Iqbal

BJP candidate Diya Kumari during her election campaign in the Rajsamand constituency. Special arrangement

RAJSAMAND

Medieval history, with its chronicles of reigns and battles, is in full play in the Rajsamand Lok Sabha constituency, which was part of the erstwhile Mewar princely State. Rajput groups are protesting against the BJP for fielding Diya Kumari, 48, member of the erstwhile Jaipur royal family and former Sawai Madhopur MLA, in the constituency.

The battle of Haldighati, fought in 1576, curiously finds an echo in the election campaign after four centuries.

The Mewar Kshatriya Mahasabha is opposing Ms. Kumari’s candidature citing “the questionable role” of her ancestors. The then Amber ruler, Raja Man Singh, had led Mughal Emperor Akbar’s forces and defeated Maharana Pratap in the battle of Haldighati.

The Mewar kingdom has had strained relations with the Jaipur royalty because the latter accepted the suzerainty of the Mughals. Raja Man Singh of the Kachwaha clan was a trusted general of Emperor Akbar, who included him among the ‘Navaratnas’ of the royal court, while the rulers of Mewar had resisted the conquests of Mughals.

The Kshatriya Mahasabha’s general secretary Tanveer Singh Krishnavat said that Ms. Kumari’s candidature amounted to humiliation of Mewar’s Rajputs. “It is strange that the BJP has failed to find a local Rajput candidate here. Ms. Kumari was selected in a closed-door meeting and the decision was imposed on us without anyone being consulted,” he said.

At his election rally in Udaipur on April 22, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of Mewar’s pride while referring to Maharana Pratap’s struggle to save his kingdom.

Mr. Krishnavat said the BJP had not only hurt the dignity of Mewar for its political benefit, but had also accorded respectability to those who had stayed away from the agitation against the Padmaavat period drama film last year.

However, Ms. Kumari told The Hindu that the issue might have been spread by the Opposition camp and she had started her election campaign with the “blessings of Mewar’s royal family”, with which the Jaipur royalty had marital ties.

BJP leader Madhu Prakash Laddha pointed out that the then Amber ruler Sawai Jai Singh II had married the Sisodia princess of Mewar, Chandra Kanwar, in the 18th century, and their son Sawai Madho Singh, went on to become the king of the Jaipur princely State. “The historical facts should be seen and interpreted in perspective. They should not be used for a divisive campaign during elections,” he said.

Pressing problems

Congress candidate Devkinandan Gujjar, the District Congress Committee president, has been raising the issues of poor train connectivity, illegal mining and the drying up of the 17th century Rajsamand lake. Ms. Kumari said the broad gauge project for Rajsamand, awaiting approvals from various departments, would be one of her top priorities as an MP.

Shanti Devi, 62, selling groundnut on the lake banks, said the constant decline in water level had led to very little availability of both irrigation and drinking water during the past two years.

Villagers pointed out that since no step had been taken to protect the lake, farmers were facing an uncertain future and the young were finding it difficult to get livelihood opportunities.


* Editorial 1

An ineffectual angel





An ineffectual angel

The judiciary’s rhetoric has little purpose if it evades cases that call for it to enforce the grand principles of democracy

Gautam Bhatia

Getty ImagesRobinOlimb/Getty Images

The transition from a colonial regime to a democratic republic was one of the most singular achievements in Indian history. In her magisterial How India Became Democratic, Ornit Shani details the Herculean efforts that went into pulling off independent India’s first general election. By stipulating in the Constitution that elections must be conducted on the basis of universal adult suffrage, our framers transformed an entire population from subjects to citizens in one sweeping stroke. It was an achievement that many doubted would be possible, but one whose success should make us all proud.

Free and fair elections

At the heart of this achievement is the citizen’s right to vote. It is through the vote that the democratic legitimacy is periodically renewed and the foundations of the republic remain stable. But it is not simply the act of voting that is enough: rather, voting must take place as part of a free and fair election. And for that, there must exist a number of institutional factors and conditions, all of which, taken together, culminate in that final act of the voter casting her ballot.

The Indian Supreme Court has recognised this basic principle. In many judgments over the years, the court has set out the enabling conditions that guarantee that voting remains a meaningful activity. These include, for example, the citizen’s right not to be arbitrarily denied the vote (the court has, therefore, held that voting is a fundamental freedom guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution); the right to know (thus, requiring compulsory declaration of certain information by candidates); and the right to a secret ballot (that has prompted the court to order the inclusion of a NOTA, or None of the Above option). As the Supreme Court has reminded us many times, public faith in the electoral process is crucial to the continued survival of republican democracy, and it is these institutional safeguards that come together to ensure it.

Judicial inaction

Like with any other competitive process, the ground rules that constitute the framework of the competition must be enforced by an impartial umpire. It is here that the role of an independent judiciary is crucial. While in popular imagination, the primary role of the courts is to protect the fundamental rights of individuals against the state, another — equally critical — task of courts is to ensure that the ground rules of electoral competition, which are necessary to ensure free and fair elections, are maintained. For obvious reasons, this is not a task that can be left to political actors, and can, in essence, only be performed by the judiciary. This, therefore, is an arena where courts have to be even more vigilant than usual, because what is at stake is the foundational legitimacy of democracy itself.

In this context, the recent conduct of Indian courts reveals an unfortunate gap between judicial rhetoric and actual enforcement. First, the right to know: this much-vaunted principle, which has repeatedly been accorded pride of place by the Supreme Court, was flagrantly violated when the government introduced the electoral bond scheme early last year. The electoral bond scheme allows limitless, secret donations to political parties, including (and especially) by corporations. It strikes a dagger through the heart of the right to know, because it denies to voters the knowledge of who funds the people who ask for their vote. The electoral bonds scheme was challenged immediately after it came into force; the Supreme Court, however, held off on hearing the case until a few weeks ago, and then it postponed the case to after the elections, citing a paucity of time. In the meantime, significant sums of anonymous donations have come in through electoral bonds, and an overwhelming percentage of them have gone to the ruling party.

Second, the secret ballot. During this election season, Maneka Gandhi’s threat to Muslim voters to vote for her or else she would refuse to help them after she was elected, raised eyebrows across the country. However, as scholar Mukulika Banerjee had pointed out as early as 2017, and as journalist Ishita Trivedi demonstrated more recently, political parties are now able to determine voting outcomes at the level of individual booths. This destroys the very concept of the secret ballot, and makes threats like the ones Ms. Gandhi delivered extremely credible and capable of distorting the electoral process. However, when in 2018 a case was filed before the Supreme Court asking for the use of totaliser machines in elections — that would restore the secrecy of the ballot — the court dismissed it without even according it a hearing.

Voter complaints

Third, the freedom to vote itself. This election season has seen multiple complaints from voters who have found their names deleted from electoral rolls, without intimation or a chance to be heard. However, this is not new. The issue of voter deletions surfaced late last year, especially in the context of Assembly elections in Telangana, where the Election Commission of India (EC) itself admitted to the existence of the problem. It was alleged at the time — and has subsequently been established through detailed investigative reporting carried out by The Huffington Post — that the EC was using an un-audited de-duplication software, alongside (unauthorised) Aadhaar linking, to “cleanse” the electoral rolls, but the result, instead, was to remove a very large number of genuine voters. Accordingly, late last year, Srinivas Kodali, a Hyderabad-based technologist, filed a case before the High Court, asking that the EC be required to reveal the source code of the algorithm it was using, and open it up for auditing. Months have passed, the general election has come, but the High Court has failed to decide the petition.

And lastly, public faith in the electoral process: in mid-March, Opposition parties filed a petition before the Supreme Court that would have settled, once and for all, any qualms about the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs). The request was to verify 50% of the EVMs using the voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines. The EC’s only objection to this was that it would increase the time of counting by six days. One would imagine that a six-day increasing of the counting period, in the context of a seven-phase month-and-a-half-long general election, is a ridiculously small price to pay for maintaining public faith in the electoral process. However, with three phases of the election having come and gone, the court is yet to even decide upon the petition.

Just words?

On multiple occasions, over the course of many years, the Supreme Court has waxed eloquent about the glories of Indian democracy, the importance of free and fair elections, and the supreme sanctity of the vote. And indeed, our democracy is a genuine achievement, worthy of pride. Democracy, however, does not sustain itself. The court’s rhetoric has little purpose if, when it comes to the crunch, it evades deciding cases that call for it to descend from the commanding heights of eloquence, and into the weeds of actually enforcing the grand principles of democracy. The voter’s right to know, the secret ballot, and the freedom to vote itself — all these have been undermined to various degrees in the last few years, throwing into serious doubt the freedom and fairness of elections. But on each occasion, when the courts have been called upon to address these problems, they have dodged and ducked the issues, instead of solving them. The rhetoric is beautiful, but without enforcement, the judiciary remains, in the words of Mathew Arnold, “an ineffectual angel beating in the void [its] luminous wings in vain.”

Gautam Bhatia is a Delhi-based lawyer



Dangerous, debasing and deplorable





Dangerous, debasing and deplorable

The Modi regime has embarked on a game of brinkmanship with Pakistan for just an advantage on the electoral stage

Sudarshan V.

Getty Images/iStockphotoNaveed Anjum/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan should perhaps follow Russia’s example and that of the United Arab Emirates and confer Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Pakistan’s highest civilian award, the Nishan-e-Pakistan. This is for the Indian Prime Minister’s war-like efforts to bring peace to the region and for his dexterous effort to pull Pakistan and India back from the nuclear brink by first setting the threshold of the nuclear escalatory ladder really low and then artfully enlisting and fielding leaders of other nations to do the rest of the job — easily the more difficult part, behind the scenes.

Also, special appreciative mention must be made for making mediation fashionable in this part of the world once more. Once Mr. Khan bowls this googly, three things are sure to happen: Mr. Modi will stop taking undue credit for exemplary chowkidari; it will remove the bad blood that the Prime Minister has been busy infusing into the future of bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, into Jammu and Kashmir, and it will also lower the shrill levels of false rhetoric that has characterised this election and the national debate on security.

The story of what really happened will come out, sooner or later. But here is what we now know for sure. U.S. President Donald Trump was in Hanoi, in February, in the midst of extraordinary talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, when India sent planes to drop four super smart bombs on Balakot. The bombs were pretty smart. So they left no evidence of the destruction they allegedly caused and yet forced over 300 terrorists to vanish from the face of the earth without any funerary frills. It is arguable that the bombs, the modestly contained explosions that left the targeted buildings standing defiantly afterwards, were so chosen that it would give the Pakistanis enough room for deniability as the stage was set for mediators to hastily step in.

While no agreement was reached between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim in Hanoi, the American President was able to effectively and promptly work out an agreement for the unharmed return of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who had become a trophy capture for the Pakistanis and who was to become a trophy poster boy for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign machinery soon thereafter, till the Election Commission of India came down on this practice.

Managed outcomes

Very significantly, Mr. Trump prefaced the press conference of the aborted summit with Mr. Kim with the news that he had been able to broker a deal between India and Pakistan, as did Bill Clinton before him but without dragging the Pakistanis to Blair House. Mr. Trump revealed, “They’ve been going at it, and we’ve been involved in trying to have them stop. And we have some reasonably decent news. I think, hopefully, that’s going to be coming to an end.”

Between the magical strike at Balakot and Wg Cdr Varthaman’s release, Mr. Modi’s brinkmanship, which included threatening Pakistan with missile strikes if Wg Cdr Varthaman was harmed, not only kept U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton busy, but also brought the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and China actively into the behind-the-scenes act as well.

This delicate game of managed outcomes requires choreography and pre-verification of public stances that border on a pointillist painter’s obsession for detail to get the overall picture perfect. We know this because Mr. Khan soon confirmed: “I know last night there was a threat there could be a missile attack on Pakistan, which got defused. …Our army stood prepared for retaliation.”

So as the Indian Prime Minister struts the electoral stage making incendiary speeches that trivialise our nuclear capability and threaten bloodshed at night — “qatal ki raat” (night of slaughter) — through the implied threat of liberal use of missiles, it should give us pause to consider where we are being led. Imagine the horrific consequences of an exchange of missiles. Yet, Pakistan being the past master at repeatedly coming out on top while remaining in the bottom, has achieved several strategic objectives. More than a month later, Pakistanis continue to believe that what really happened was more an effete Deepavali-type fireworks than military, and by giving a nuanced and matching reply, even while tremendous pressure was on them not to, Pakistan was able to restore the status quo ante in terms of the nuclear threshold.

Hardly shock and awe

Let us be clear: Balakot is not about to change Pakistan’s behaviour. It has not frightened the terrorists into reformatory huddles and got them to stop dreaming their jihadist dreams. Pakistan seems to have an unending capacity to absorb punishment and inflict twice as much at the same time through cunning ways. According to the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, last year saw 262 terror attacks on Pakistan that left about 600 dead and more than a thousand injured. Balakot is not even going to figure in the next year’s listing. And Mr. Modi’s government is not in a position to hand out death certificates even.

Mr. Modi may have played the game of brinkmanship on the cheap and better than Atal Bihari Vajpayee did during Operation Parakram, when after Parliament was attacked by terrorists he mobilised the might of our entire armed forces against Pakistan even while the Americans controlled much of Pakistan’s airspace and sea routes. But Mr. Modi has dangerously lowered the nuclear exchange threshold, debased the language of deterrence, and made deplorable attempts to appropriate the armed forces as a political tool, including by exhorting first-time voters to vote for the Pulwama martyrs and for Balakot.

The last is ironic, considering that the army veterans remain a smited lot when it comes to the One Rank One Pension scheme. He has used every opportunity to work the theme, which includes even the anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test. The Defence Research and Development Organisation went into mission mode over six months ago. That test too could have just as easily been done significantly earlier as well.

sudarshan.v@thehindu.co.in



No more leeway





No more leeway

The RBI must set an example on transparency, and serve the national economic interest

The Reserve Bank of India has been given a “last opportunity” by the Supreme Court to stop being in “contempt” of the court’s clear and unambiguous order of December 2015. Ruling on a batch of contempt petitions against the RBI, a two-judge bench directed it to furnish all information relating to inspection reports and other material sought by Right to Information (RTI) petitioners, save material exempted by the court’s earlier order particularly on the grounds that it had a bearing on the security of the state. The bench made it clear that “any further violation shall be viewed seriously”. The banking regulator has repeatedly tried to stonewall multiple requests seeking information ranging from the names of wilful defaulters on bank loans worth hundreds of crores of rupees, to the bank-wise breakup of mark-to-market (MTM) losses and the losses in foreign currency derivatives contract cases. The Central Information Commission too had, in November, directed the then RBI Governor, Urjit Patel, to show cause “why maximum penalty should not be imposed on him” for the central bank’s “defiance” of Supreme Court orders on disclosing the names of wilful loan defaulters. The RBI was ticked off by the CIC for failing to uphold the interest of the public and not fulfilling its statutory duty to depositors, the economy and the banking sector, by privileging individual banks’ interests over its obligation to ensure transparency.

At a time when the level of bad loans at commercial banks continues to remain worryingly high, worsening their combined capital to risk-weighted assets ratio (CRAR), it is inexcusable that the RBI continues to keep the largest lenders to banks, the depositors, and the public in the dark on the specific loan accounts that are endangering the banking system’s health and viability. The RBI’s latest Financial Stability Report shows that the industry-wide CRAR slid to 13.7% in September 2018, from 13.8% in March 2018, with the ratio at the crucial public sector banks declining more sharply to 11.3%, from 11.7% over the same period. For a banking regulator that never tires of stressing the need for greater accountability from the numerous public sector banks, the RBI’s reluctance to be more transparent is perplexing. Even its latest Disclosure Policy, posted on its website on April 12 after the Division Bench had concluded hearings in the contempt case and reserved judgment, continues to direct its departments to withhold information that was expressly ordered to be shared by the December 2015 order. As the CIC aptly observed last year, the central bank’s intransigence and repeated failure to honour the court’s orders ultimately undermines the very rule of law it seeks to enforce as a banking sector regulator empowered by Parliament.



Downbeat diesel





Downbeat diesel

The government must be more proactive in shifting vehicles to cleaner fuels

The decision taken by Maruti Suzuki, India’s largest passenger vehicle manufacturer, to eliminate diesel models from April 1, 2020, when the Bharat Stage VI emission standard is introduced, mirrors emerging global trends. Although diesel has powered India’s commercial transport segment for decades, its fortunes are declining for several reasons, beginning with the narrowing of the price differential with petrol. It has lost its shine in Europe, the world’s biggest market for diesel cars where sales of even well-known marques have fallen during 2018 by 20%. In a variety of mandated and suggestive ways, car-owners are being nudged towards petrol and alternative fuels. The diesel emissions data scandal involving carmaker Volkswagen dismayed many consumers. Given the prevailing economics and diesel’s reputation as a dirty fuel that adds to pollution from cars, buses and freight vehicles, auto companies see a weak business case to upgrade them. Maruti Suzuki’s decision makes it clear that in spite of being a strong past performer, this fuel is riding into the sunset as far as the personal vehicle is concerned. This outcome should be welcomed for the positive impact it will have on air quality and public health.

Automotive emissions, especially in congested cities, have risen due to steady economic growth, proliferation of vehicles and more vehicle kilometres travelled. In Delhi, for instance, the effect of shifting the three-wheeler and bus fleet to Compressed Natural Gas during a four-year period from 1998 improved air quality, but the gains were quickly negated by a rise in overall vehicle numbers, especially those run on diesel, besides a rise in other sources of pollution. Marking the steady deterioration in air quality, one study found that people on the road in Delhi had 1.5 times greater exposure to the city’s average ambient air pollution level. Diesel emissions pose hidden hazards, too. Besides the harmful fine and ultra fine particulates that they contain, the vehicular exhaust adds to ground-level ozone formed from nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons combining in the presence of sunlight, seriously harming respiratory health. The national plan to shift to higher quality BS VI grade fuels may offer some mitigation of pollution, but that can only be a respite. Improving air quality in the cities requires a transformative planning approach guided by the singular objective of reducing the use of polluting vehicles. Such a policy would prioritise less-polluting and alternative fuels for vehicles, but more important, encourage walking, cycling and using public transport. This is the direction that many world cities are taking. Paris, Madrid and Athens have announced a prohibition on diesel vehicles by 2025, while London has made it more expensive for older vehicles to enter the city. India has to chart its own equitable and accessible green path.


* Editorial 2

The government’s anti-corruption scorecard





The government’s anti-corruption scorecard

The last five years have seen consistent attacks on anti-corruption laws and institutions

The popular sentiment that helped the BJP in the 2014 general election was resentment against corruption in public life. The party’s clarion call for a corruption-free India resonated with the electorate, who believed the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate when he pledged, “Na khaunga, na khane dunga (neither will I indulge in corruption, nor allow anyone else to indulge in it)”.

Ironically, the last five years have seen consistent attacks on anti-corruption laws and institutions. Serious cases of big-ticket corruption have surfaced under the National Democratic Alliance regime, including banking frauds and the Rafale deal. At the same time, there is no evidence of any check on everyday corruption that impacts the delivery of services to people.

Blows to fighting graft

In 2015, the government proposed amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act. The amendment Bill, which was later approved by Parliament, narrows down the definition of corruption, increases the burden of proof necessary for punishing the corrupt, and makes things more arduous for whistle-blowers.

The most grievous blow is the strengthening of the shield available to officials accused of corruption. Investigating agencies have been barred from even initiating an inquiry or investigation into allegations of corruption without prior approval from the government. Effectively, this empowers political masters to decide whether they wish to allow a corruption inquiry against a government employee or not. The amendments have done away with the offence of abuse of position by a public servant, unless the element of bribery is established. This frustrates peoples’ ability to fight corruption in cases which may not involve the payment of a bribe, as it may be done for other considerations like pleasing political masters for rewards. Also, cases involving gratification are often impossible to trace as they may be deferred in the form of post-retirement benefits or paid through clandestine off-shore accounts.

Recent months have witnessed a brazen undermining of the autonomy of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). To insulate the organisation from government influence, the selection and transfer of the CBI Director is vested in a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and the Chief Justice of India. However, the government, without consulting the selection committee, removed the erstwhile CBI Director Alok Verma and appointed an Interim Director, M. Nageswara Rao. Although the Supreme Court eventually struck down these decisions as being illegal, it was not before the credibility of the institution was seriously eroded.

The Lokpal law was enacted to set up an independent and empowered anti-corruption ombudsman, who would work without fear or favour to tackle cases of big-ticket corruption involving high-level government functionaries. The BJP government failed to take the necessary steps to appoint a Lokpal for nearly five years. To ensure the independence of the Lokpal, the law provides for a balanced selection committee, including the recognised Leader of the Opposition. After the 2014 general election, no one was recognised as the Leader of the Opposition. Instead of limiting itself to amending the Lokpal Act to substitute the recognised Leader of the Opposition with the leader of the single largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha, the government introduced a 10-page amendment Bill which sought to fundamentally dilute the original law. The Bill was not enacted.

Three weeks prior to the 2019 general election, a selection committee without the Leader of the Opposition selected the chairperson and members of the Lokpal. The selection of the Lokpal by a committee having a preponderance of government representatives, and consequently an inherent bias towards candidates favoured by the ruling party, defeated the purpose of the law and undermined public trust in the institution even before it became functional.

The BJP government has failed to promulgate rules and operationalise the Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2014. Whistle-blowers, who speak truth to power by exposing corruption and wrongdoing, continue to be denied protection. Many Right to Information (RTI) users who have exposed corruption have been killed.

Everyday corruption

Corruption in India is not limited to collusive high-level scams. Petty corruption, which affects the delivery of basic services and rights to people, is rampant. This especially impacts the poor and marginalised, who are most dependent on public provisioning of rations, pensions, health and education. This form of corruption thrives primarily due to lack of effective mechanisms to hold officials accountable. A legislation to fix this problem was introduced in Parliament in the form of a Grievance Redress Bill in 2011. Unfortunately, it lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha in 2014 and needed to be reintroduced — a fact acknowledged by senior BJP leaders when they were in Opposition. Although one of the poll promises of the BJP was to ensure proper delivery of services to citizens, no attempts have been made by the government to reintroduce the Grievance Redress Bill, which would have empowered people to fight everyday corruption.

The RTI Act, one of the most effective tools to fight corruption and abuse of power, has been under consistent attack by the Modi government. Not a single commissioner was appointed to the Central Information Commission in the last five years without intervention by courts. In 2018, the government proposed regressive amendments to undermine the independence of information commissions. These were eventually abandoned due to public pressure.

The worst blow to the peoples’ right to know came in the form of electoral bonds. There has been an urgent need to infuse greater transparency in political party funding. The electoral bond scheme, passed as a Money Bill in Parliament, prevents citizens from finding out who is funding political parties. In one stroke it has ensured that donations worth thousands of crores can be made anonymously. Not surprisingly, the largest benefactor of the electoral bonds scheme has been the ruling party. Citizens don’t know who makes donations and whose interest, therefore, the party will serve.

Instead of putting in place a robust anti-corruption and grievance redress framework, draconian measures like demonetisation and mandatory use of Aadhaar have been pushed by the BJP government in the name of fighting corruption. These have done more harm than good. The BJP’s lack of political will to take necessary steps to curb corruption has given credence to refrains like ‘Chowkidar chor hai’, as people witness allegations of graft flying thick and fast in a regime they voted to power to eradicate corruption.

Anjali Bhardwaj and Amrita Johri are transparency and anti-corruption activists associated with the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information



Banning social media is not an option






FROM THE READERS’ EDITOR

Banning social media is not an option

Sri Lankans are unable to find out the truth about what is happening in their country

Following the terror attacks on multiple sites on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka, it was commendable to see the country’s leaders take responsibility for the tragedy and the failure of the state in protecting its citizens, especially since no one in India has taken responsibility for recent attacks, including in Pulwama in February. The Sri Lankan leaders also went a step further. On April 28, in a fine gesture of unity, which is absent in the polarised polity of India, President Maithripala Sirisena from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Prime Minister Ranil Wickermesinghe from the United National Party, and Opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna attended a Mass led by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo.

A stratergy learnt from India

However, what the Sri Lankan authorities did not do right was to ban social media. Daniel Funke and Susan Benkelman, researchers at Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network and the American Press Institute’s Accountability Project, point out that turning off the Internet has become the Indian government’s favoured strategy to slow the spread of misinformation. They say that Sri Lanka has borrowed that strategy from India. According to a Freedom House study, ‘The Rise of Digital Authoritarianism’, India leads the world in the number of Internet shutdowns, with over 100 reported incidents in 2018 alone.

I am no fan of social media; I am a critic of platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat. But my criticism of these platforms flows from their inability to deliver when required and their reluctance to accept that they are publishing companies. I have argued that they need to follow the rules that govern media houses because a substantial amount of information flow is now determined by these platforms. It is also true that these platforms contribute to the amplification of fake news. But that does not mean that the problem will disappear if these platforms are banned.

Meera Selva, Director of the journalism fellowship programme at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford, explains that Sri Lanka has a “long history of censoring the press, by killing journalists, blocking websites and using draconian laws to fine and imprison reporters”. She draws our attention to the fact that the country’s media remains largely divided by language and geography. She points out that there are no outlets that are used and trusted equally by the Sinhala-speaking majority in the south and west, and the Tamil-speaking minority in the north and east.

She writes: “Social media, therefore, became a way to share stories and comment on current affairs. This hasn’t always been positive — it has also been used to spread ethnic and religious chauvinism, echoing the language used by politicians and mainstream media over the decades. Nevertheless, it has been crucial for promoting intra-ethnic dialogue in Sri Lanka.” Ms. Selva argues that by shutting down social media, “the government now risks preventing Sri Lankans from finding out the truth about what is happening in their fragile country”.

Social media can be useful

Disinformation is indeed a menace. For instance, the international news agency AFP published a story headlined, “No, this is not a photo of the youngest victim of the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka”. Its fact-check team not only proved that the claim was false, but also established that the image was posted online nearly a year prior to the April 21 attacks. It is in this context that Sanjana Hattotuwa’s observation gains credence. Mr. Hattotuwa, an expert on digital media, told the BBC that as time goes on, the ban could actually hinder the useful role that social networks could play. “The longer the block is in place, the more debilitating it becomes for families grieving in this unprecedented time to communicate with each other,” he said.

Banning social media is an easy option, indeed a lazy one, that leaves no room for innovative approaches in crisis management.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in



Pushing fear over hope





Pushing fear over hope

We must become aware of the divisive effects of the message of fear spread by our leaders

Unnikammu

With his focus on terrorism and Pakistan rather than on the development record of the NDA government in his campaign speeches, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pushing fear over hope. One effect of this rhetoric is that we are constantly reminded of the danger that we are in from these forces. The Prime Minister then becomes the ‘chowkidar’ who will protect us. This may be an effective strategy for getting votes. However, the focus on fear has subtle, subconscious effects on our attitudes and behaviour towards one another.

When our leaders tell us that we are in danger, we are reminded of our mortality. This is known in psychology as mortality salience. The theory that explains the effects of mortality salience on our attitudes and behaviour is known as Terror Management Theory. This theory proposes that a primary function of shared cultural beliefs is to protect us from the terror that we experience when we are reminded of the fact that we will die one day. We cling to our cultural beliefs when reminded of death. Several studies have shown that mortality salience makes people close ranks emotionally and physically and become more attached to those who are like them, that is, those who share their cultural beliefs. In addition, we tend to keep our distance from and vilify people who don’t share our cultural beliefs.

In an election, mortality salience will motivate us to vote for people who are like us regardless of what their policies and objectives are. This is a form of polarisation. Because of its unconscious nature, mortality salience does not make us aware that our behaviour is influenced by it.

The effects of mortality salience are attenuated in cultures that value tolerance and people’s right to their own beliefs. Traditionally, Hinduism is a tolerant religion. It is therefore surprising that the rhetoric of fear has led to so much polarisation in India. Self-esteem is one of the mitigating factors for the effect of mortality salience. When people are unable to live decent lives free from poverty and misery and they see little chance of leading a better life, they are likely to experience low self-esteem. Low self-esteem makes people more vulnerable to the effects of mortality salience.

We see decent and tolerant people becoming ardent followers of Mr. Modi’s divisive rhetoric because the effects of mortality salience are unconscious. People are unable to see that they are being influenced by the fear of death. I am shocked to see my close friends supporting the BJP without realising that this ideology treats Muslims as an outsider. Terror Management Theory teaches us that we must become aware of the divisive effects of the message of fear purveyed by our leaders. Let us vote for leaders who focus on what we have in common, leaders who communicate hope of a better future for all Indians.

The writer is a retired professor of management from Sultan Qaboos University, Sultanate of Oman


* Foreign

Prayers held near iconic Colombo church





Prayers held near iconic Colombo church

St. Anthony’s shrine, which was attacked last Sunday, has been popular among people of different faiths

Meera Srinivasan

A week later: Devotees praying outside the St. Anthony’s shrine in Colombo on Sunday.AFPJEWEL SAMAD

Colombo

Seated on a foldable, blue chair outside his shop on ’s Jampettah Street on Sunday morning, Mohamed Buhari was looking ahead, his gaze firmly fixed on the shrine less than 50 metres in front of him. “I was sitting right here last Sunday too, at the same time, when I suddenly heard a blast and saw flames erupt from there,” he said, pointing to the white Colonial building’s top.

The nearly-two-century-old St. Anthony’s shrine here was one of the churches attacked in the serial bombings last Sunday, which killed over 250 people across three churches and many hotels, mostly in and around Colombo, and in the eastern city of Batticaloa.

As dozens of worshippers gathered at the shrine for the special Easter service last Sunday, Mr. Buhari was sitting there, thinking of his wife who had passed away less than two weeks earlier.

“I just could not understand what was going on,” said the 69-year-old garment trader. He had left Thanjavur in India when he was 20, to work here in Kochchikade, as the locality is known. It became his home for life. “Hearing the sudden noise, residents rushed outside tried taking the injured people in three-wheelers, buses, or whatever vehicles we could find,” he recalled.

Televised Mass

With persisting security concerns, the Archbishop of Colombo cancelled all church services and instead held a Sunday Mass at his home that was televised live. However, dozens gathered outside St. Anthony’s shrine, singing hymns and lighting candles, exactly a week after the horrific attacks. Rows of flags in black and white were put up along the street, as if to register grief, protest and solidarity at once.

An old Catholic church, St. Anthony’s shrine, located in Colombo’s busiest market place, has for years been hugely popular among worshippers from different faiths, including Hindus and Muslims.

“April 21st was my little grandson’s birthday. Had he been here and not gone to India for his holidays, his parents would have certainly taken him to the church that day, like every other year. Thank god the child escaped this,” said Vijayalaksmi Thambirajah, who lives in a cramped alleyway adjacent to the shrine.

Many families like hers, though saivam, as Sri Lankan Hindus often identify themselves, are regulars at the church. “Every Tuesday, many of us go to the Shiva temple nearby and then come to the Anthony’s shrine.”

Even legends around the shrine, which celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2010, reflect diverse influences, including from India. When the Dutch arrived in Sri Lanka in the 17th century, Catholicism, which their predecessor coloniser — the Portuguese — spread, came under serious threat, according to popular narratives. A priest by name Fr. Anthonio, from Cochin, is believed to have arrived here at that time, disguised as a merchant.

Helping locals, mainly the fisher community, he is said to have received wide support and drawn more people towards Catholicism. Those attached to the church believe that it was his Cochin-trader image that possibly inspired the locality’s name, Kochchikade.

Fr. Anthonio’s statue, usually placed inside the shrine, was kept outside on Sunday, at the entrance of the church. Scores of people stood facing the statue, their hands joined in prayer, tears rolling down their cheeks. The church they frequented was now across a row of rigid barricades and armed security personnel.

“It was Fr. Anthonio who dedicated this shrine to St. Anthony’s. His statue survived the blast and we wanted devotees to be assured,” said Fr. Jude Fernando, administrator of the church.

“It is still unbelievable… what do I even say,” he said, even as cleaners struggled to clear the debris and wash off blood stains inside. “I was right at the front when the blast occurred at the rear. I escaped so narrowly.”

Disbelief and helplessness were common refrains on the Sunday after. The usually bustling Pettah had quietened. Most shops were closed, and only a handful of people were out, buying essentials from roadside stalls.

For people of the area, the attacks were not only shocking, but also difficult to comprehend. People of all religions live here and have been trading with each other for years.

“We buy, we sell, we trade. And trade has no religion,” Mr. Buhari said, adding: “in any case what trade, what business now!” “We all know that all lives have to go one day. Death is not the issue. But no one has the right to take another human life in such a gruesome way. It is outrageous,” Mr. Buhari said.



1 killed in U.S. synagogue shooting





1 killed in U.S. synagogue shooting

Gunman posted a hate-filled letter moments before attack

Agence France-Presse

United against hate: A candle-light vigil at the Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church, California, on Saturday, for the victims of the synagogue shooting.AFPSANDY HUFFAKER

Poway

A teenage gunman who wrote a hate-filled manifesto opened fire at a synagogue in California on Saturday, killing one person and injuring three others including the rabbi as worshippers marked the final day of Passover, authorities said.

The shooting in the town of Poway, north of San Diego, came exactly six months after a white supremacist killed 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue — the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said those wounded included the rabbi as well as a minor and 34-year-old man who were injured by shrapnel. A 60-year-old woman died from her wounds.

No prior arrest record

Mr. Gore identified the suspect, who was arrested after fleeing the scene, as John Earnest, 19, and said he had no prior arrest record. He said Earnest burst into the Chabad of Poway synagogue — where there were around 100 people — shortly after 11.20 a.m. local time and opened fire with an assault weapon that appears to have malfunctioned, preventing him from inflicting more harm. Mr. Gore said an off-duty border patrol agent who was at the synagogue at the time of the shooting opened fire on the gunman as he was fleeing, striking his car but missing the suspect.

The man was eventually apprehended by a San Diego police officer who had been monitoring dispatch radio and raced to the scene, San Diego police chief David Nisleit said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the “atrocious” incident, calling it “an attack at the heart of the Jewish people”. Mr. Gore said authorities were examining Earnest’s social media activity and establishing the authenticity of an anti-Semitic open letter he apparently published on a far-right message board hours before the attack. The manifesto is similar to one posted on the same message board by the white supremacist behind the March 15 mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand that left 50 people dead.

The hate-filled letter lauds the Christchurch shooter’s actions and that of the Pittsburgh shooter and claims responsibility for a fire at a mosque in California a week after the Christchurch shootings.



Corridor linking India, Myanmar no longer under BRI framework





Corridor linking India, Myanmar no longer under BRI framework

South Asia is now covered by three other major projects

Atul Aneja

Chinese President Xi Jinping.APMark Schiefelbein

Beijing

India’s decision to skip the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) may have led to the exclusion of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor from the list of projects covered by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) umbrella.

In an annex tagged with the Joint Communiqué of the Leaders’ Roundtable of the BRF, which concluded in Beijing on Saturday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry website has not listed the BCIM as a project covered by the BRI — the giant connectivity initiative speared by China to revive the ancient Silk Road across Eurasia and Africa.

Instead, South Asia is covered by three major undertakings — the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC); the Nepal-China Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network, including Nepal-China cross-border railway; and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

India’s non-participation

Citing “sovereignty” concerns, India, for the second time, did not participate in the BRF, as the CPEC passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).

The 2,800-km BCIM corridor proposes to link Kunming in China’s Yunnan province with Kolkata, passing though nodes such as Mandalay in Myanmar and Dhaka in Bangladesh before heading to Kolkata.

Significantly, a report titled, “The Belt and Road Initiative Progress, Contributions and Prospects,” released by the Leading Group for Promoting the Belt and Road Initiative on April 22, did list the BCIM as a BRI project. Last September, the BRI had got a high octane boost when Myanmar inked an agreement with China to establish the CMEC. The 1,700-km corridor provides China yet another node to access the Indian Ocean.

The CMEC will run from Yunnan Province of China to Mandalay in Central Myanmar. From there it will head towards Yangon, before terminating at the Kyaukpyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in the Bay of Bengal.



UAE gives birth certificate to girl born to Hindu father, Muslim mother





UAE gives birth certificate to girl born to Hindu father, Muslim mother

Country breaks away from marriage rules for expatriates

Press Trust of India
Dubai

The UAE government, probably for the first time, has given birth certificate to a girl born to a Hindu father and a Muslim mother, setting aside the country’s marriage rules during its ‘Year of Tolerance’, according to a media report. As per the marriage rules for expatriates in UAE, a Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman but a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man.

Sharjah-based Kiran Babu and Sanam Saboo Siddique, who got married in Kerala in 2016, faced an unusual situation when their daughter was born in July 2018, the Khaleej Times reported. “I have an Abu Dhabi visa. I get my insurance coverage there and got my wife admitted to Medeor 24X7 Hospital in the emirate. But after the baby’s delivery, the birth certificate was rejected as I am a Hindu,” Mr. Babu said. “I, then applied for a no-objection certificate through the court. The trial went on for four months but my case was rejected,” he added. Mr. Babu said that since his daughter had no legal documents, he pinned his hopes on the amnesty period.

‘Year of Tolerance’

The UAE has declared 2019 as the ‘Year of Tolerance’ to bridge the communication gap between different cultures. “Those days were stressful and the amnesty was a window of hope. The Indian Embassy helped with the provision of an outpass. But the baby was denied immigration clearance as there was no data or registration number to prove her birth,” he said. Mr. Babu said that Indian Embassy counsellor M. Rajamurugan supported them through the process.

He again went to court and, this time, his case was approved. The couple was given the birth certificate of their daughter Anamta Aceline Kiran on April 14, a day before the festival of Vishu. “I am told that this is the first case where the rule has been amended,” he said.


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