APRIL 30, Tuesday

Delhi Edition

* Front Page

Violence mars voting in Bengal; turnout up in fourth phase





Violence mars voting in Bengal; turnout up in fourth phase

EC registers FIR against BJP’s Babul Supriyo for forcibly entering a booth

Special Correspondent
NEW DELHI

The fourth phase of the Lok Sabha election on Monday, covering 71 constituencies across nine States and a part of the Anantnag constituency in Jammu and Kashmir, was marred by several incidents of violence in West Bengal, where polling was held for eight seats.

The overall voter turnout in the 71 seats registered an increase, with the participation of more than 64%, compared to 63.05% in 2014.

The Election Commission said a First Information Report had been registered against Union Minister Babul Supriyo, the BJP candidate from Asansol in West Bengal, for forcibly entering a polling booth.

Another case has been filed against unknown persons for smashing the rear wind-shield of his vehicle, after he left the booth and was confronted by some local persons.

In West Bengal, there was a decline in the turnout from 83.38% in the previous general election to 76.72%, while a similar trend was noticed in Odisha that recorded 68%, both in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, as against 73.75% the last time.




Sacked BSF jawan to face Modi in Varanasi





Sacked BSF jawan to face Modi in Varanasi

Given SP ticket, Tej Bahadur vows to strengthen the forces and eliminate corruption

Omar Rashid

Tej Bahadur Yadav.PTI

LUCKNOW

The Samajwadi Party on Monday declared dismissed Border Security Force constable Tej Bahadur Yadav as its candidate to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi.

The party moved its candidate, Shalini Yadav, who had joined it recently, to make way for the BSF jawan. The SP is in alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal in Uttar Pradesh.

Mr. Yadav was dismissed from service for indiscipline in 2017 after he posted a video complaining about the quality of food served to the troops in the region along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir.

By replacing Ms. Yadav with the former BSF constable, the SP hopes to blunt the nationalism narrative of the BJP. Mr. Modi has referred to the Pulwama attack and the Balakot air strikes in his rallies.

Talking to reporters in Varanasi after filing his nomination papers, Mr. Yadav said: “I am the Samajwadi Party’s candidate now. The Samajwadi Party’s issues are now my issues.”

‘Sole objective’

“I was sacked for raising the issue of corruption. My sole objective will be to strengthen the forces and eliminate corruption,” he added.

Senior SP leader Manoj Rai said Mr. Yadav was in touch with the party and its chief Akhilesh Yadav obliged him with a ticket.

The party’s Varanasi candidate would focus on issues of jawan, kisan aur naujawan (soldier, farmer and youth), said Mr. Rai, adding that “the fight is between the nakli (fake) chowkidar and asli (real) chowkidar”. Varanasi goes to the polls in the seventh phase of the Lok Sabha election on May 19.

(With PTI inputs)


* Nation

SC restrains HC from appointing civil judges





SC restrains HC from appointing civil judges

Registrar General summoned with selection records pertaining to the posts

Press Trust of india
New Delhi

The Supreme Court Monday directed the Punjab and Haryana High Court Registry not to appoint any civil judge in Haryana without its nod and summoned the Registrar General with all the selection records pertaining to the exams held to fill 107 posts in lower judiciary.

The top court was hearing the plea filed by 92 aspirants to the post of Civil Judge (Junior Division) in Haryana. They alleged that 1,282 examinees, who had qualified the preliminary tests, appeared for the mains and out them only 9 were selected for the interview against a total 107 vacancies.

“Issue notice, returnable on May 3. The Registrar General of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana will be present with the records of the selection, including the evaluation of the answer scripts of all the candidates appeared in the Main Written Examination. No appointments will be made without leave of the court,” said a Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.

Discrepancies alleged

The plea, filed through Prashant Bhushan, Amiy Shukla and Shakti Vardhan, has listed out several discrepancies and sought quashing of the result of the Main (Written) Examination of Civil Judge (Junior Division) in the Haryana, which was declared on April 11.

The Bench, which also comprised Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, was hearing the petition challenging the selection process and evaluation method adopted in the examination on the grounds of being “unreasonable, arbitrary and malafide”.

The plea alleged that if the examination’s selection process was not stayed, it would cause irreparable damage to the petitioners and other unsuccessful candidates.

The petitioners alleged that various RTI applications were filed immediately after the result of the main examination seeking disclosure of marks, copies of answer scripts, model answers and marking criteria, but to no avail and the interview tests were scheduled on the basis of the already declared results.

The petitioners have alleged that there was a “serious problem” with the evaluation method being conducted for selecting judicial officers in Haryana.

A total 14,301 students took the preliminary examination held on December 22, 2018 for total 107 vacancies.

‘99% failed test’

“1,282 students, out of 14,301, who were declared successful in preliminary examination, took the main examination held on March 15 and 17, 2019,” it said. The main examination was cleared only by nine students out of 1,282, against the total vacancies of 107 which means that a total of 99.298 % of the students failed the test, the plea said.

“Some of the candidates who have not been found fit for the interview are the toppers and gold medallists in their respective reputed law colleges, the plea said.



57% polling in fourth phase





57% polling in fourth phase

Election Commission records increase in turnout to 60.68% from 60.32% in 2014

Alok Deshpande

All for development: (Top) villagers from a hamlet near Badlapur walk to the polling booth to cast their vote and (above) farm workers in Maval flaunt the ink after voting on Monday Sandeep Rasaljignesh Mistry

Mumbai

Maharashtra registered an estimated 57% voting in the fourth and final phase of general elections. In this phase of the polls, 17 Lok Sabha constituencies from the State went to polls. In the 2014 elections, 55.59% polling had been recorded in these seats.

Mumbai has recorded an increase in total voting percentage with an estimated 55.11% turnout as compared to 51.59% in 2014.

With all 48 Lok Sabha seats in the State wrapping up polls, the total voting percentage has touched 60.68% compared to 60.32% in 2014.

Ashwini Kumar, Maharashtra Chief Electoral Officer on Monday said, “We thank the people of the State for coming out in large numbers to exercise their right.”

He said the estimated voting for 17 Lok Sabha seats that went to polls in 4th phase was based on voting till 6 p.m., adding that, “the final figures will be announced tomorrow.”

“The cumulative figure of Maharashtra voting in all four phases would be 60.68 per cent. The estimation includes final voting figures of first three phases and tentative figures of the fourth phase,” Mr. Kumar said.

New voters

Across the four phases, out of 8,85,64,098 registered voters, estimated 5,37,41,204 exercised their franchise. There were 67.31 lakh new voters and 17 lakh names were omitted. Gadchiroli recorded the highest voting percentage of 71.98% while Kalyan recorded the lowest with 44.27%.

In terms of voter numbers, Thane with 21.60 lakh voters was the largest constituency in the State while Mumbai South with 14.40 lakh was the smallest. Beed in Marathwada had the highest number of 32 candidates in the fray while Gadchiroli-Chimur and Dindori had the lowest number of five candidates.

A total of 97,640 polling centres were set up this time, an increase of 8,161 from the last elections. Around 7.49 lakh government employees along with 1.04 lakh police personnel were deployed . The election commission had deployed 1,23,205 VVPATs.

Amount seized

According to Mr. Kumar, the total seizure was worth ₹53.08 crore in cash, ₹70.12 crore in gold and ₹34.15 crore in alcohol. As many as 17,588 complaints of election related offences were registered with the ECI during the four-phase election.

Dilip Shinde, additional Chief Election Officer, said 3,991 complaints were received through the Commission’s app, cVigil. “The ECI found 2,231 cases genuine and appropriate action has been initiated,” he said. (With PTI inputs)




HC adjourns plea challenging NGT order on sand mining





HC adjourns plea challenging NGT order on sand mining

Tribunal had asked A.P. to deposit ₹100 crore for damage

Special Correspondent
VIJAYAWADA

The petition filed by the owner of a construction and sand mining company in the Andhra Pradesh High Court against the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order on sand mining in the State has been adjourned until after the summer holidays.

The NGT in the order had asked the Andhra Pradesh government to deposit ₹100 crore for the damage done by unregulated sand mining and banned mechanised sand mining.

Justice Kongara Vijaya Lakshmi on Monday heard the arguments of the advocates of the petitioner and the respondents, which included NGT, departments of Industries and Commerce, Irrigation, Mines and Geology and anti-land pooling activist Anumolu Gandhi, before adjourning the case.

Counsel for the petitioner Kanneganti Buchaiah said that the government allotted the work of sand mining to the company with strict guidelines, rules and regulations.

Huge loss

His sand mining and construction company would incur huge losses if mining was stopped according to the directive of the NGT.

The company would have to pay rent for the machine even if mining was not allowed leading to losses, he said.

Counsel said that sand was being excavated following the Sand Policy of the Government 2016. According to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, GoI, “Dredging and de-silting of dams, reservoirs, weirs, barrages, rivers and canals for the purpose of maintenance, upkeep, and disaster management are exempt from the requirement of obtaining prior environmental clearance”.

The NGT order was therefore “illegal, arbitrary, unconstitutional, unwarranted and void” and pleaded with the court to declare it as so.

NGT and Supreme Court advocate and environment law expert Sanjay Upadhyay arguing for the fifth respondent, Anumolu Gandhi, said that those who wanted to challenge the order of a tribunal could do so only in the Supreme Court and not here.

He quoted the case of Major General Shri Kant Sharma verses the Union Government case.

He said what the NGT pronounced was just an interim order and there was still scope for the petitioners to appeal to the NGT.



Kerala police up vigil against radical activity





Kerala police up vigil against radical activity

Steps in the wake of Easter day bombings in Sri Lanka

G. Anand
Thiruvananthapuram

Cybersecurity experts working for the Kerala police on Monday continued to scour the Internet for signs of homegrown radical activity in the wake of the Easter day bombings in Sri Lanka even as law enforcers advised top hotels and resort managers to up the security on their premises.

Officers of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Kochi attempted to make sense of the social media links of four people from north Kerala with Zaharan Hashim, the architect of the terror attacks in the island nation, according to State police officers.

Local law enforcers said at least one of the four had come under their radar in 2016 in connection with the defection of two groups of people from Kannur and Kasaragod to join the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and West Asia.

They said sleuths at the Kerala Police Cyberdome were trawling the dark-net in an attempt to identify internal channels, if any, used by radicals to spread propaganda or recruit followers or communicate with their counterparts elsewhere.

Officials said the Cyberdome, using Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools, had made much headway in finding and eliminating radical online content and earmarking the propagandists for the law enforcement to follow-up.

Investigators said the Police Intelligence has a good grip on the activities of individuals, charities and organisations which they said could be proxies for radical elements.

They were shadowing the online activity of several such people to detect hate speech and other illegal activities.

Advice to hotels

The police have advised top hotels to conduct a security audit of premises and to invest more in scanners, closed-circuit surveillance camera systems and strongholds to harbour guests in the event of a terror attack. They also asked the managements to train their staff in fire suppression, flagging suspicious activity, casualty evacuation.



Ishrat case: order on Vanzara, Amin discharge pleas likely on Thursday





Ishrat case: order on Vanzara, Amin discharge pleas likely on Thursday

Petitions moved after Gujarat government declined sanction to prosecute them

Press Trust of India, Ahmedabad

D.G. Vanzara

A special CBI court said on Monday that it is likely to pass an order on May 2 on the pleas of retired police officers D.G. Vanzara and N.K. Amin seeking dropping of proceedings against them in the Ishrat Jahan alleged fake encounter case, after the Gujarat government declined the sanction to prosecute them.

The court had earlier concluded hearing in the case on April 16, and had kept Monday as the date to pass its order.

Section 197 of the CrPC

The two retired police officers have sought that proceedings against them in the case be dropped as the State government has decided not to grant sanction to the CBI to prosecute them as required under Section 197 of the CrPC. Under the section, the government’s sanction is necessary for prosecution of a public servant for an act done as part of official duty. The court had in the past rejected their discharge applications in the case.

While the CBI refused to take any stand on the State government’s decision to decline sanction to prosecute the two accused, the mother of Ishrat Jahan, Shamima Kauser, has opposed their applications.

In a written submission made through her lawyer Vrinda Grover, Ms. Kauser said that the pleas to drop proceedings were “untenable in law and unsustainable on facts”, and that the State government was not the appropriate authority to refuse sanction to prosecute the two officers. She said the order of the State government amounted to “interference with the administration of justice”.

“It is a matter of record that it is the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and not the State, which is the appropriate sanctioning authority in the case,” she said.

Ms. Kauser contended that Section 197 was not applicable in the case that deals with “abduction, confinement and murder”, which were grave and heinous crimes falling outside the scope of official duty.

“The material on record shows that there was no encounter/confrontation with the deceased, that the encounter was set up and a fake encounter staged,” she said.

Mr. Vanzara’s lawyer V.D. Gajjar argued that the court cannot determine the validity of the sanction order and any review was not possible. He said judicial findings of the case had established that there was no “fake encounter” on part of the police officers.

He said the sanction for prosecution was declined after the State went through materials on record, examined the facts and circumstances of the case fully.

Ishrat, a 19-year-old woman from Mumbra near Mumbai, Javed Shaikh alias Pranesh Pillai, Amjadali Akbarali Rana and Zeeshan Johar were killed by Gujarat police in an alleged fake encounter on the outskirts of Ahmedabad on June 15, 2004. The police had claimed that they had links with terrorists.

The chargesheet filed by the CBI names several police officers, including Mr. Vanzara and Mr. Amin, who recently retired as a Superintendent of Police.



Army invokes emergency powers for missile deal





Army invokes emergency powers for missile deal

Set to procure two systems from Israel and Russia

Dinakar Peri
NEW DELHI

The Army is in the process of procuring Spike-LR Anti-Tank Missiles from Israel and Igla-S Very Short Range Air Defence Systems (VSHORAD) from Russia through a set of new financial powers for emergency procurements sanctioned by the Defence Ministry earlier this month, Defence sources said.

“Under the latest emergency financial powers, armed forces have been given a free hand to procure equipment worth up to ₹300 crore on a priority basis. The Request For Proposal (RFP) for the two deals have been issued and negotiations are ongoing,” the source said. Entirely new systems not in use can also be procured under the new powers, the source stated.

Tenders for both deals had gone through regular procurement process earlier. While the Spike tender was cancelled during the cost negotiation phase, the deal for Igla, after repeated delays, is in the cost negotiation phase. However, given the questions that were raised in the earlier deals, clarity is needed on the modalities for purchase through the emergency route.

Under the emergency route, the Army is looking to procure about 12 launchers and around 250 missiles for each system.

The Spike-LR (Long Range) being procured is a different variant from the one tested and shortlisted as part of the earlier procurement for over 8,000 missiles and 300 launchers along with technology transfer. As contract negotiations dragged on, the deal was cancelled in January last year and it was decided to procure a smaller number — 170 launchers, 4,500 missiles and 15 simulators — through an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) and make up the balance requirement with an indigenous Man Portable ATGM currently under development.

Before the IGA was concluded, validatory trials of the Infrared Seeker (IR) of the missile were to be held during the Indian summers as the missile “did not perform as desired in the previous trials during peak summer temperatures in the desert,” according to another source. However, the IGA has not made progress so far. The Spike-LR (Long Range) has a range of 4 km. It is so far not clear if additional trials would be performed as part of the emergency procurement.

VSHORAD deal

The deal for VSHORAD, to replace the legacy Igla systems in service, began in 2010 and has since seen several trials and re-trials with three contenders in the fray — MBDA of France, Rosoboronexport of Russia and SAAB of Sweden. Eventually, all three were declared technically complaint last year.

While the benchmark price determined was just over $2 bn, Rosoboronexport’s bid was much lower at around $1.47 bn, while SAAB’s bid was at about $2.6 bn and MBDA around $3.68 bn. This led to a division within the Ministry on how to proceed given such low bid from the Russians. But eventually Igla-S was declared the winner. The other vendors lodged protests and wrote a series of letters to the Defence Ministry alleging procedural violations favouring Igla-S which were rejected.




Rafale review petitions: govt. seeks time to file response





Rafale review petitions: govt. seeks time to file response

Legal Correspondent

New Delhi

The Union government on Monday made a mention before Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi seeking time to file its response to the Rafale review petitions.

Senior advocate R. Balasubramanium, for the government, sought permission to circulate a letter for additional time to file a reply.

He sought a deferment of the hearing scheduled for April 30.

A contempt petition filed by BJP lawmaker Meenakshi Lekhi is listed for hearing along with the review pleas.

The court allowed the government to circulate the letter but did not comment on an adjournment.

On April 10, a Bench led by the CJI refused the government’s preliminary plea to keep the Rafale jets’ purchase documents a secret.

Dec. 14 judgment

The court said the documents published first by The Hindu in a series of articles since February last would be considered while examining the merits of the five separate review petitions against its December 14 judgment upholding the 36 jets’ deal.

The government had claimed that the review applications were based on secret Rafale documents that were unauthorisedly removed from the Ministry of Defence and leaked to the media. Attorney General K.K. Venugopal argued that “stolen” documents came under the protection of the Official Secrets Act (OSA). They were not admissible in evidence in a court of law. Claiming privilege, the government wanted the court to ignore them, even if they were found to be germane to the Rafale case, and dismiss the review pleas at the preliminary stage.

The court, however, rubbished the government’s claim of privilege. It said neither the OSA nor any other law empowered the government to stop the media from publishing the documents nor the court from examining them.



German Bakery blast: charges framed against Yasin Bhatkal





German Bakery blast: charges framed against Yasin Bhatkal

IM co-founder, who was arrested in 2013, rejects charges, pleads not guilty

Shoumojit Banerjee

Yasin Bhatkal

Pune

After a delay of several years, charges were finally framed against the alleged co-founder of the Indian Mujahideen (IM), Yasin Bhatkal, in connection with the 2010 German Bakery blast case at a local court here on Monday.

Bhatkal, also known as Ahmed Siddibappa Zarrar, was brought here from the Tihar jail in Delhi and produced before the court of additional sessions judge K. D. Vadane.

The court read out the charges framed against him under the Sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Indian Explosives Substances Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Bhatkal, however, rejected the charges and pleaded not guilty.

This was the first time since his arrest in 2013 that he had been brought to the Pune court in connection with the blast.

The blast, which ripped through the city’s popular German Bakery in the Koregaon Park area on February 13, 2010, had left 17 persons dead and more than 50 injured.

Special public prosecutor Ujjwala Pawar said the Delhi police had filed an application requesting that further hearing be conducted via video-conferencing, while submitting their inability to bring Bhatkal to Pune due to security reasons. The hearing of this application was scheduled for June 15.

Bhatkal’s lawyer, Zahir Khan Pathan, opposed the Delhi police’s request, stating that the accused must be present during the trial.

Mr. Pathan submitted that it was the State’s responsibility to provide security and that Bhatkal could be lodged at Pune’s Yerwada Central Jail till his trial ended.

In December 2016, a National Investigation Agency (NIA) court sentenced Bhatkal and four others to death for orchestrating the 2013 Hyderabad blasts that killed at least 18 people and injured more than 130.



Turning the lens on hagiography, propaganda and censorship





Turning the lens on hagiography, propaganda and censorship

Shyam Benegal says curbs on freedom of expression put by any government are a good indicator of how insecure it is

Kennith Rosario

Mumbai

Veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal’s Welcome to Sajjanpur (2008) opens with a cautionary tale of changing the names of cities for political gains. While introducing the titular fictional village, the protagonist, Mahadev, says Jawaharlal Nehru changed Durjanpur (‘land of rogues’) to Sajjanpur (‘land of gentle folk’) after Independence. He recalls that the residents of Durjanpur were decent, but after the name was changed to Sajjanpur, all of them turned into scoundrels.

A decade later, Benegal notices a similar situation playing out in Uttar Pradesh, where the Yogi Adityanath government changed the name of Allahabad to Prayagraj.

On a whim

“It’s so silly,” says the 84-year-old filmmaker. “Tomorrow, you will say, ‘No, I think we don’t like the name Hyderabad, it’s too Muslim sounding, so let’s change it.’”

Set at a time when the village is going to the polls, Welcome to Sajjanpur explores several facets of electoral politics. Muslims being marginalised and being branded as ISI agents is one such. “Communalism has constantly come into play at election time in our country because this is an area we continue to feel sensitive about,” Mr. Benegal says.

He feels that India, as it stands today, is largely at peace with itself, and communal comments are used essentially to strengthen a party’s political base at election time. “The fact is that we have a very large majority of Hindus and it becomes their responsibility to see that minority communities don’t feel threatened and democracy is a system designed for that,” he says.

Mr. Benegal’s regard for a democratic system is championed in Welcome to Sajjanpur, where a transgender woman defeats a local goon accused of murder in the panchayat elections. She fights the elections with a development agenda, while the goon relies on arm-twisting and fear-mongering. The filmmaker, who identifies his political ideology as “slightly Left of centre”, says the problem in a democracy arises when a leader becomes bigger than the party. “We saw that happen during the time of Indira Gandhi and [Jawaharlal] Nehru, and we have a similar situation today,” Mr. Benegal says.

Over the past four decades, the filmmaker’s works have reflected the changing landscape of Indian politics. “I have looked at the system in so many different ways, right from my early documentaries,” he recalls. “Whether one likes it or not, one reacts to the world and country one lives in.”

The filmmaker points to his films such as Ankur (1974), which chronicles the downfall of the feudal system in rural India, Nishant (1975), which references the Telangana movement, and Well Done Abba (2009), which dives deep into everyday bureaucracy burdening the common man.

Even as Hindi cinema has captured the dynamics of Indian politics over the years, the trend of releasing films for political gains in the run-up to the elections seem to be a recent occurrence.

How does he analyse this trend? “When you make a film on a living leader, it either becomes a critique or a hagiography. If it is critique, then it can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, and useful in terms of understanding how that person reached that position of power. But if it is a hagiography, then it can easily fall under propaganda,” he says. On the other hand is the question of censorship and curtailing the freedom of expression. Does he see that to be a threat under the current regime? “We tend to see censoring hands where there aren’t too many,” he says. “Although we have the censors behaving in utterly stupid ways, that is not necessarily because of the government.” He says the curbs put by any government on the freedom of expression are a good indicator of how insecure it is.

3 simple rules

The filmmaker shares three simple rules when it comes to casting his ballot.

“On a municipal level, I vote for the small area and who I think is the best person there. On the State level, again I am concerned with the constituency where I am, and whether the person standing there really cares about the constituency. And when it comes to Parliament, one is concerned about national policies. I don’t go by the parties but whether the representatives are capable and what their beliefs are,” he says. “But one thing I will never do is vote for an Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram (‘frequent floor-crosser’).”

ILLUSTRATION:

J.A. PREMKUMAR


* Editorial 1

No good options in Afghanistan





No good options in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, ‘reconciliation’ means different things to different players and to different groups of Afghans

APRahmat Gul

During the last 50 years, Afghanistan has been through different governance systems — monarchy till 1973; communist type rule, initially home-grown and then imposed by the U.S.S.R. with its 1979 intervention; jihadi warlordism in the early 1990s; shariat-based Taliban rule; and a democratic republic based on a presidential system since 2004. Wracked by a growing Taliban insurgency, peace today remains elusive. Reconciliation with the Taliban is increasingly projected as the way forward. But ‘reconciliation’ means different things to different players and to different groups of Afghans.

Negotiating a U.S. exit

The U.S. began its operations in Afghanistan, primarily against the al-Qaeda, 18 years ago. As it set about creating new institutional structures in Afghanistan, supported by the international community, U.S. troop presence began to grow. From a few thousand in 2002, the numbers increased and stabilised around 20,000 between 2004 and 2006 when they started climbing. By 2010, it had spiked to 1,00,000, dropping to 10,000 in 2016 and currently numbers around 15,000. The cumulative cost has been over $800 billion on U.S. deployments and $105 billion on rebuilding Afghanistan, with nearly 2,400 American soldiers dead.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s policy announced in August 2017 was aimed at breaking the military stalemate by authorising a small increase in U.S. presence, removing operational constraints, putting Pakistan on notice, improving governance and strengthening the capabilities of Afghan security forces. Within a year, the policy failure was apparent. Afghan government continued to lose territory and today controls less than half the country. Since 2015, Afghan security forces have suffered 45,000 casualties with over 3,000 civilians killed every year.

Last year, U.S. senior officials travelled to Doha to open talks with the Taliban, followed by the appointment of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation. Five rounds of talks have been held and a sixth is likely soon. Mr. Khalilzad is seeking guarantees that the Taliban will not provide safe haven to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and Afghan territory will not be used to launch strikes against the U.S., while the Taliban have demanded a date for U.S. withdrawal along with the release of all Taliban detainees in Guantánamo and Afghanistan. Mr. Khalilzad has also sought a ceasefire in Afghanistan and engagement in an intra-Afghan dialogue in return. The Taliban have responded with their new spring offensive, al-Fath, and refuse to engage with the Afghan government. An intra-Afghan dialogue with political and civil society leaders planned for around the third week of this month in Doha was called off on account of the presence of Afghan officials.

It is clear that Mr. Khalilzad is not negotiating peace in Afghanistan; he is negotiating a managed U.S. exit. Given the blood and treasure expended, the optics of the exit is important. As former U.S. Defence Secretary J. Mattis said, “The U.S. doesn’t lose wars, it loses interest”.

Increasing polarisation

There is growing polarisation in Afghanistan along ethnic and even sectarian divides. With three presidential elections (in 2004, 2009 and 2014) and three parliamentary elections (in 2005, 2010 and 2018), faith in the electoral process and the election machinery has eroded.

The 2009 presidential election showed the growing mistrust between then President Hamid Karzai and Washington. The U.S. kept pushing Mr. Karzai to agree to a second round between him and his rival Abdullah Abdullah despite Mr. Karzai’s insistence that he had won more than 50% votes in the first round. After months of wrangling when Mr. Karzai agreed, Dr. Abdullah backed out and Mr. Karzai felt that his second term had been tarnished.

The 2014 election yielded a disputed result with neither Ashraf Ghani nor Dr. Abdullah willing to concede. Despite an audit, results were never declared. Instead, the U.S.-backed political compromise produced a National Unity Government (NUG) with Ashraf Ghani as President and Dr. Abdullah as CEO, a position never legitimised by the promised constitutional amendment. The NUG has aggravated polarisation and has often found itself paralysed.

The 2019 presidential election, due in April has been postponed twice, to July and now to September 28. This may have been pushed by the U.S. to give time to Mr. Khalilzad for his talks, but any further postponement will not be accepted by the people in view of the eroding legitimacy of the NUG.

Parliamentary elections due in 2015 were finally held in October 2018 even though the promised electoral reforms remained unimplemented. Under the circumstances, the results have yet to be declared six months later, further delegitimising the process. Together with the deteriorating security situation, the prospects for a credible and legitimate election in September seem remote.

This is why there is growing support among certain Afghan sections for an interim government. Such an arrangement would prepare the ground for fresh elections after constitutional amendments and electoral reforms using the Loya Jirga process over the next two years. Expectedly, this is strongly opposed by the more secular and liberal Afghan groups, including women, which see any such move as a step back from the democratic principles of the 2004 constitution. The real risk is that as Western funding for salaries and equipment dries up and political legitimacy of Kabul erodes, the cohesiveness of the Afghan security forces will be impacted.

Elusive peace

Just as there is no domestic consensus on the terms of reconciliation with Taliban, there is a breakdown of regional consensus too. Mr. Khalilzad met with his Russian and Chinese counterparts in Moscow where the three reiterated support for “an inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process”. However, there is no common understanding of what it means or which Afghans should own and lead the process. The NUG feels abandoned and has blamed Mr. Khalilzad of betraying the Afghan government; the U.S. has demanded an apology from the Afghan NSA, Hamdullah Mohib, for his outburst against the U.S.

Moscow has its own format for talks and is convinced that the U.S.-backed experiment of the NUG needs to end — the sooner the better. Chinese interest is primarily with securing its Xinjiang province and the Belt and Road Initiative projects in the region. Iran maintains its own lines with the Taliban even as elements of the Syria returned, battle-hardened Fatemiyoun brigade have given it additional leverage.

The Pakistan factor

Pakistan is once again centre-stage as the country with maximum leverage. To demonstrate its support, Pakistan released Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a leader and founder of the Taliban, after keeping him in custody for nearly nine years. Ironically, he was picked up because he had opened direct talks with the Karzai government a decade ago and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was furious when it learnt about it. The ISI’s investment in providing safe haven to the Taliban for 18 years is finally paying off as the U.S. negotiates its exit while the Taliban negotiate their return. A sense of triumphalism was visible in Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent statement suggesting the formation of an interim government in Kabul to overcome the hurdles in the Doha talks provoking a furious backlash from Afghanistan from the government and the opposition figures. Even Mr. Khalilzad dubbed the statement as ‘inappropriate’. Pakistan has since backtracked but it shows that old habits die hard.

Even without getting into details of why the post-Bonn order in Afghanistan is fraying, there is agreement that peace in Afghanistan cannot be restored by military action. It is also clear that a prolonged U.S. military presence is not an answer. The problem is that a U.S. withdrawal will end the U.S. war in Afghanistan but without a domestic and regional consensus, it will not bring peace to Afghanistan. Sadly, today there are no good options in Afghanistan.

Rakesh Sood is a former diplomat and currently Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. E-mail: rakeshsood2001@yahoo.com



Line of confidence





Line of confidence

Streamlining business across the Line of Control will require both infrastructural and policy-level interventions

NISSAR AHMAD NISSAR AHMAD

Afaq Hussain & Riya Sinha

In the last decade, the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir has often been re-interpreted as the line of commerce and co-operation. This paradigm shift was the result of initiation of two confidence-building measures (CBMs) between India and Pakistan — cross-LoC trade and cross-LoC travel. It was representative of a constructive bilateral engagement process in the midst of political upheavals. Stakeholders were hopeful that while cross-LoC travel would connect divided families, cross-LoC trade would foster economic ties between Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) that would eventually help reap the peace dividend. However, on April 18, the government of India announced the suspension from midnight of trade at the two designated points expressing concerns over ‘illegal inflows of weapons, narcotics and currency’ in the country. ‘A stricter regulatory regime’ is expected for re-initiation of trade.

Cross-LoC trade is an intra-Jammu and Kashmir trade, in the form of barter of goods on a reciprocal basis. Started on October 21, 2008, the trade has been conducted through a standard operating procedure (SOP) mutually agreed by New Delhi and Islamabad. The SOP enlists the 21 categories of items to be traded on zero tariffs. LoC trade takes place four days a week, wherein traders are allowed to exchange 70 trucks per day. The trade-in (import) and trade-out (export) goods have to be balanced to zero for each trading firm within a period of three months.

What data show

The total number of traders registered at the Salamabad Trade Facilitation Centre (TFC), Uri, and Chakan-da-Bagh TFC, Poonch, is approximately 600. Since 2008, trade has shown an average year-on-year growth of about 19%, reaching a cumulative value of over ₹6,500 crore to date. Furthermore, it has generated more than 1.6 lakh job days. To date, more than 1 lakh trucks laden with goods have been exchanged, generating approximate freight revenue of ₹66.50 crore for transporters of Jammu and Kashmir. These figures are indicative of the potential that this trade holds for social and economic development within Jammu and Kashmir.

Despite its success in generating economic benefits, the operational and policy level deficiencies render the trade vulnerable to misconceptions and malpractices. Lack of clarity in the SOP towards rules of origin, items list, goods and services tax (GST)/local taxation mechanisms are some of the limitations. To further exemplify, a practice of ‘trade number selling’ was prevalent at the TFCs wherein few trading firms sell their registration/token numbers to other trading firms to send the latter’s goods across the LoC out of turn in the roster system. This practice has created a gap between the number of genuine traders and traders involved only in ‘trade number selling’. The issue is compounded by the presence of ‘seasonal traders’, that is, traders who are active only for few months, thereby leaving a negative balance overall in the barter trade.

These issues, coupled with a number of infrastructural issues such as a non-functional weighbridge, lack of CCTV cameras and truck scanners, and an absence of regular communication channels warrant reforms in the trade practices.

The unexpected suspension of the trade has affected locals. Traders have incurred significant losses as most of the goods were in transit while some goods were sold at a lower price in the local markets of Jammu and Kashmir. Traders who were awaiting the trade-in goods in exchange of the goods sent earlier have also incurred heavy losses and a negative trade balance against their firms.

What is the way out?

Streamlining LoC trade would require both infrastructural and policy level interventions. First, a revision in the SOP is required to highlight the trader re-registration process; we need clarity on the ‘rules of origin’ of goods; tradeable commodities need to be identified that will benefit the local economy of Jammu and Kashmir, and further eight-digit HS (harmonised system) codes must be assigned to ensure clarity on the items. The SOP must also specify the modality of movement of trucks across the LoC as well as clarity on filing of GST/other local taxes. A token system on a first-come-first-serve basis should be explored. This will check the misuse of trade registration number in the roster system.

Second, digitisation of the TFCs must take place to make the process of record keeping easy, transparent and accessible to various regulatory agencies. Third, the digitised TFCs should be enabled with a ‘trader notification system’ for timely reminders to achieve zero barter balance for continuation of trade.

Fourth, in case of non-compliance, a strict ‘trader de-listing policy’ needs to be put in place wherein any trader with a negative balance in barter for more than the designated time period can be suspended from conducting trade. Fifth, regular meetings must also be held between the trade facilitation officers of both sides of the LoC to ensure co-ordination of such activities and exchange of the list of suspended/banned traders.

Finally, infrastructure upgradation such as installation of truck scanners, functional CCTV cameras for security, and calibration of weighbridges, are essential to check the inflow of banned items, narcotics and weapons.

The gains made by India and Pakistan through initiation of cross-LoC trade and travel have manifested themselves in the form of recent talks of opening the Sharda Peeth corridor in PoK as another CBM. An important lesson is to be learnt here, optics and rhetoric aside, is that the sustenance of a CBM requires regular policy and operational-level interventions.

Afaq Hussain is Director and Riya Sinha is Research Associate at the Bureau of Research on Industry and Economic Fundamentals (BRIEF), New Delhi. The views expressed are personal



The heat moves north





The heat moves north

The BJP has more to lose than gain in the fourth phase of the Lok Sabha polls

In the fourth phase of the 17th Lok Sabha election, 72 constituencies across nine States and including parts of Anantnag in Jammu and Kashmir went to the polls on Monday. The BJP had won 45 of these 71 seats in the 16th Lok Sabha and its allies held another 11, indicating how critical this phase was for the incumbent dispensation. In the remaining phases too this pattern will continue. With the fourth phase, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, two States in which the BJP and the Congress are in straight contests, started voting. In 2014 the BJP had won all 25 seats in Rajasthan, and in Madhya Pradesh, 27 out of 29 seats. Violence in parts of West Bengal cast a shadow on the process and pointed to a volatile situation in the State that could lead to more violence in the coming phases. The BJP’s designs are to pick up a good number of seats in West Bengal to partly compensate for the losses that it is certain to face in the Hindi heartland where it had peaked in 2014. The Election Commission has ordered an FIR against the BJP’s Asansol candidate Babul Supriyo for trespassing into a polling booth and intimidating an officer. The EC must remain alert to ensure that polling remains free of violence and intimidation. In Maharashtra and Odisha, voting has ended. Five constituencies in Bihar and 13 in Uttar Pradesh voted in the fourth phase. The BJP and its allies are being challenged by regional alliances in the two States. Three constituencies in Jharkhand, six in Madhya Pradesh, six in Odisha, eight in West Bengal, 17 in Maharashtra, and 13 in Rajasthan voted on Monday.

As the election moves to the last three phases, the BJP and its opponents appear to be fine-tuning their strategies. The minimum income guarantee scheme promised by the Congress in its manifesto has not become a defining topic, much to the party’s disappointment. The Samajwadi Party, which is in alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party, has replaced its candidate against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi, in an effort to challenge him on the issue of national security, his key talking point. The new candidate, Tej Bahadur Yadav, was dismissed from the Border Security Force for circulating videos about poor quality food in the front lines. Mr. Modi claims to provide soldiers the best support, and Mr. Yadav’s candidacy is the alliance’s attempt to question that claim. In its heartland strongholds, the BJP is relying heavily on its core Hindutva agenda. Mr. Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have defended their decision to field terror-accused Pragya Singh Thakur in Bhopal, and in fact used her candidacy to push the idea of Hindu victimhood, a key driver of their kind of politics. The EC’s inaction in the face of multiple complaints from the Congress and other parties against Mr. Modi remains a matter of concern, and the matter is now before the Supreme Court.



Biden’s bid





Biden’s bid

Biden might be the strongest Democratic candidate, but he is not necessarily the best

Former Vice-President Joseph Biden has finally announced his candidacy for the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Though the 20th candidate to join the race for the Democratic ticket, he is among the most prominent — he comes with both administrative and legislative experience and has support among establishment Democrats. He has joined the race as a front-runner, with one poll seeing a six-point lead for him over his nearest rival, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Mr. Biden also brings into focus the legacy of President Barack Obama. Vice-President in the Obama White House for eight years, he has been a strong proponent of the Affordable Care Act and an advocate of free college. But compared to his main rivals in the Democratic primaries, such as Senators Sanders and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — one is a self-declared Democratic Socialist and the other is a Social Democrat — Mr. Biden is more of a centrist than a leftist insurgent. His views on health care, besides his support for Obamacare, are not very well-known. He has neither endorsed nor disavowed “Medicare for All”, which has emerged as a major campaign slogan among the Democrats. He has not offered any radical economic proposal either, such as, say, Ms. Warren’s $1.25 trillion education proposal to tackle college costs and student debt traps, or Mr. Sanders’s repeated vow to take Wall Street to task.

The ease with which Mr. Biden raised $6.3 million in 24 hours since he announced his entry into the race suggests that he has the support of big money as well. But all this does not ensure that his path to a candidacy would be easy. Mr. Biden’s most important challenge would be his own record as a legislator. He had led the efforts to pass the 1994 crime Bill, which many liberals and progressives attack for contributing to mass imprisonment, especially of African-American people. He co-sponsored the controversial Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which led to mass arrests, and voted in favour of the Iraq invasion in 2003. His harsh questioning in 1991 of Anita Hill, who had accused Clarence Thomas, now a Supreme Court justice, of sexual harassment, has come into focus recently. Besides, several women have spoken against Mr. Biden in recent months, alleging that his physical conduct made them feel uncomfortable. He has tried to distance himself from this past. Earlier this year, he said he wasn’t “always right’ on criminal justice; he regretted his support for the anti-Drug Abuse Act; he has spoken to Ms. Hill in private and vowed to be “more mindful” with women. But the question is whether Mr. Biden, with the burden of this record and his centrist politics, will appeal to the base of the Democratic Party at a time when a wide variety of leaders, from Mr. Sanders to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are pushing it to the left of centre.


* Editorial 2

The ideological crisis of liberal democracy





The ideological crisis of liberal democracy

Living a private life is simply insufficient. We badly need a commitment to public life

Liberal democracy was born with a design fault. Though a decent response to the existing social, cultural and economic conditions in which it took shape, it had inbuilt conceptual flaws that sooner or later were bound to run it aground. The very idea is destined to malfunction.

Negative liberty

For a start, the term ‘liberal’ in liberal democracy drew its nourishment from a particular conception of liberty which the philosopher Isaiah Berlin termed negative. The core idea of negative liberty revolves around the existence of a private sphere where an individual may do whatever she wishes, free from interference of state or oppressive social forces. Negative freedom is secured by limiting the capacity of states or social organisations to impose constraints on individuals. This is an excessively private conception of individual freedom: humans are concerned only with the satisfaction of their desires, indifferent to the shape of public life or the character of the state.

I do not belittle this idea. In conditions where powerful churches, caste organisations or the state is hell bent on controlling every aspect of a person’s life — who to marry, what kind of a family life to lead, what opinions to hold and what to eat — negative freedom is a precious good.

Yet, to delve further into the history of the idea of liberal democracy, these negative freedom-loving, liberal persons — the traditional middle classes — soon realised that limited governments on their own cannot ensure freedoms. These freedoms depend on certain kinds of state. Even governments restrained by laws but run by manipulative, self-serving, whimsical, power-hungry men can create political conditions that undermine these private freedoms. If so, lovers of negative liberty must, to some extent, take the reins of government in their own hands. Democracy is unavoidable. So, obsessed with private freedoms, still fundamentally disinterested in the art of government, they reluctantly invented a new form of government, representative democracy. How so?

Self-government is demanding. Assembling, deliberating and arriving at informed decisions on important public matters takes time and commitment. How can people occupied with producing, buying, selling, consuming and running their own lives in pursuit of private happiness also commit to running a government? They can’t. So, they do the next best thing: find those inclined to make politics their private business to become their representatives. For vast numbers of hapless people who can’t afford to get away from the daily grind of ordinary life and for those whose main purpose in life is the pursuit of personal happiness, there is virtually no time for public life or political decision-making. Their idea of political involvement is just too thin; the only time they can find for politics is during elections when they choose their representatives.

So, what is the basic flaw in liberal democracy? It is inadequately concerned with public activity, political liberty and wider community life. People almost wholly devoted to their private lives take virtually no interest in public institutions which can be easily manipulated to serve the private interests of the rich and powerful. Their small political freedoms can be stolen from right under their nose. Since they cannot muster the time or effort needed to learn about the traditions and heritage of their communities, these too can be easily destroyed before their own eyes.

To redeem themselves and their society, they need a sense of togetherness that helps build a vibrant political culture, one that is not exhausted by family love, or by narrow community feelings such as those related to caste or religion. They need a commitment to a shared good that presupposes a strong sense of public spiritedness. In short, to better realise even their own personal goals, the negative freedom-oriented middle class needs to find the right balance between private benefit and public good, rather than allow one to be trumped by the other. Conversely, indifference to public life means that nasty political worms would gnaw at it, adversely affecting even their private life. A stronger concern for the public good is a necessary condition of negative liberty. By itself, the idea of liberal democracy is both insufficient and deficient.

Forging solidarity

Of course, most societies soon realise this. That is why liberal democracies worldwide have periodic bouts of public spiritedness borrowed from the republican tradition. People become active citizens, coming out on the streets; challenge the establishment; protest with purpose; show distrust for liberal democracy, questioning existing modes of political representation. They demand greater transparency and accountability in public life. They even show a strong will to take political decision-making in their own hands. But this deepening democracy can’t just be a one-off event like the Arab Spring or the anti-corruption movement that preceded the 2014 general election in India.

Moreover, democratic solidarity is not the only way to overcome problems of liberal democracies. This function can also be performed by nationalism — by its ethically informed, inclusive variant or by dubious nationalisms such as the exclusivist, hate-mongering, national populism that is surging ahead today in different parts of the world.

However, forging solidarities, building public institutions, putting sustained pressure on governments to make informed, ethically grounded public decisions, and ploughing through historical material to sculpt traditions needs a lot of time and effort. Hate-mongering nationalism and populism, on the other hand, are manufactured easily and pay quick dividends. Spectacle prone, sensation-driven, playing on the fear, anger and frustration that grows in crisis-ridden liberal democratic polity, such nationalist populism can be generated by the empty rhetoric of a demagogue supported staunchly by an unprincipled, profit-seeking mass media. The contemporary crisis of liberal democracy is life-threatening, indeed!

How have things come to such a pass? Whatever else globalisation has done, it has reduced democracy to an electoral event and further deepened the privatisation of individuals. Liberalism in the era of globalisation has made people more self-obsessed, less capable of thinking about the common good or forging political solidarity, further in the grip of envy induced by feelings of relative deprivation. So far, new technologies such as cell phones and social media have only exacerbated this isolation of individuals. Rather than properly communicating with one another and trying to build a common mind on issues of common concern, all of us are busy expressing ourselves on Facebook or on WhatsApp. A cacophony exists of multiple voices talking past each other or venting their personal anger, paranoia or hatred at an imagined enemy. Fierce individualism and nasty nationalism are fueling each other. Caught within this diabolic syndrome, we risk losing even our hard-won negative liberties. Somewhere along the way, we have taken a wrong turn. Course correction and addressing the persistent crisis of liberal democracy will now require enormous collective effort and strong political will. And much hinges on whether the traditionally liberal, privacy-loving middle class will rise to the occasion and begin thinking of the public good.

Rajeev Bhargava is Professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi



For a malnutrition-free India





For a malnutrition-free India

Effective monitoring and implementation of programmes are required for the country to achieve its goal by 2022

In this election season, it is important to keep promises made not just to voters, but also those made to improve the lives of children, the future of the nation. Despite programme commitments since 1975, such as creating Integrated Child Development Services and national coverage of the mid-day meal scheme, India continues to grapple with a high rate of undernutrition. Improving nutrition and managing stunting continue to be big challenges, and they can be addressed only with an inter-sectoral strategy.

Stunting has lifelong consequences on human capital, poverty and equity. It leads to less potential in education and fewer professional opportunities. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4, India has unacceptably high levels of stunting, despite marginal improvement over the years. In 2015-16, 38.4% of children below five years were stunted and 35.8% were underweight. India ranks 158 out of 195 countries on the human capital index. Lack of investment in health and education leads to slower economic growth. The World Bank says, “A 1% loss in adult height due to childhood stunting is associated with a 1.4% loss in economic productivity”. Stunting also has lasting effects on future generations. Since 53.1% of women were anaemic in 2015-16, this will have lasting effects on their future pregnancies and children. The situation further worsens when infants are fed inadequate diets.

Ambitious goals

The aim of the National Nutrition Strategy of 2017 is to achieve a malnutrition-free India by 2022. The plan is to reduce stunting prevalence in children (0-3 years) by about three percentage points per year by 2022 from NFHS-4 levels, and achieve a one-third reduction in anaemia in children, adolescents and women of reproductive age.

This is an ambitious goal, especially given that the decadal decline in stunting from 48% in 2006 to 38.4% in 2016 is only one percentage point a year. This promise calls for serious alignment among line ministries, convergence of nutrition programmes, and stringent monitoring of the progress made in achieving these goals.

The data available on stunting tell us where to concentrate future programmes. Stunting prevalence tends to increase with age and peaks at 18-23 months. Timely nutritional interventions of breastfeeding, age-appropriate complementary feeding, full immunisation, and Vitamin A supplementation have been proven effective in improving outcomes in children. However, data show that only 41.6% children are breastfed within one hour of birth, 54.9% are exclusively breastfed for six months, 42.7% are provided timely complementary foods, and only 9.6% children below two years receive an adequate diet. India must improve in these areas. Vitamin A deficiency can increase infections like measles and diarrhoeal diseases. About 40% of children don’t get full immunisation and Vitamin A supplementation. They must be provided these for disease prevention.

Variations across States and districts

According to NFHS-4 data, India has more stunted children in rural areas as compared to urban areas, possibly due to the low socio-economic status of households in those areas. Almost double the prevalence of stunting is found in children born to mothers with no schooling as compared to mothers with 12 or more years of schooling. Stunting shows a steady decline with increase in household income. The inter-generational cycle of malnutrition is to be tackled with effective interventions for both mother (pre- and post-pregnancy) and child, to address the high burden of stunting.

In terms of geographical regions, Bihar (48%), Uttar Pradesh (46%) and Jharkhand (45%) have very high rates of stunting, while States with the lowest rates include Kerala, and Goa (20%). While nutrition has improved across all States, inter-State variabilities remain extremely high. The most significant decline has been noted in Chhattisgarh (a 15 percentage point drop in the last decade). Thus, the government can take lessons from Chhattisgarh. The least progress has been made in Tamil Nadu.

A study by the International Food Policy Research Institute shows that stunting prevalence varies across districts (12.4-65.1%), and almost 40% districts have stunting levels above 40%. U.P. tops the list, with six out of 10 districts having the highest rates of stunting.

Looking at this data, it is imperative to push for convergence of health and nutrition programmes right from pregnancy until the child reaches five years of age. This is doable. India must adopt a multi-pronged approach in bringing about socio-behavioural change. What is really needed is effective monitoring and implementation of programmes to address malnutrition.

Shoba Suri is Senior Fellow, Health Initiative, Observer Research Foundation



An insidious poll trend





An insidious poll trend

The cash-for-votes practice is no longer limited to the south. It’s time to think of ways to restore democracy

N. Bhaskara Rao

In this general election, the Election Commission has confiscated cash, gold and silver, liquor, drugs and other items worth ₹3,205 crore, according to data published by the constitutional body on April 27, before the fourth phase in the seven phase-election began. At this rate, we can expect more than twice this amount to be confiscated by the time the election comes to an end. This amount is much more than what was confiscated by the EC during the 2014 Lok Sabha election. What is confiscated is likely to be less than 5% of what is being spent by all the candidates and parties in this election. The total expenditure of this election is estimated to be about ₹50,000 crore, which is the highest amount for any election in the world.

Yet, no political party or leader so far has expressed concern about this trend and its threat to the fundamentals of our republic. Instead, candidates continue accusing each other of giving more cash for votes. I had pointed out based on field studies in 2009-2014 that the more the media coverage and the higher the number of crorepati candidates in the contest, the more the money that is expected by the voters. This is exactly what is happening today.

We should be concerned even more that the trend is no longer limited to being predominant in the southern States (other than Kerala), but has now become significant elsewhere too. According to the EC, if gold, drugs, liquor and cash are taken together, the total seizure is highest in Tamil Nadu by a wide margin, followed by Gujarat, Delhi, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh. On confiscated cash alone, Tamil Nadu again tops the list, followed by Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal and Maharashtra. Uttar Pradesh too is in the cash-for-votes race.

Two large-scale baseline studies of the Centre for Media Studies in 2005 and 2007 in 20-plus States and select studies since then in every round of elections reliably indicate that cash distribution occurred and may be on the rise irrespective of the socio-economic status of the recipients and the area in which they reside (urban or rural). Unless the demand side is addressed too, no policy initiative is likely to make a difference.

In this unusual paradigm how can we restore true representative democracy? One option is for the news media to play a positive and proactive role, which would require media houses to extricate themselves from conflicts of interest. The same could be said of corporates, which have become a major source of funding formally, yet there is also likely to be a strong informal nexus. Unless a course correction is made soon, the 2019 Lok Sabha polls will go down as a watershed election for the wrong reasons.

The writer is the author of the recent book ‘Sustainable Good Governance, Development and Democracy’


* Foreign

Socialist Party wins Spanish election





Socialist Party wins Spanish election

Short of absolute majority, Sánchez’s PSOE will have to forge alliances to rule

Agence France-Presse
Madrid

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists have won snap elections, without the necessary majority to govern solo, in a fragmented political landscape marked by the far-right’s entry into Parliament. The results raise the spectre of another period of instability for Spain, with Mr. Sánchez depending on alliances with hostile rivals in an environment that has soured since Catalonia’s failed secession bid in 2017.

A significant development was the rise of the ultra-nationalist Vox party, which garnered just over 10% of the vote in a country that has had no far-right party to speak of since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. Mr. Sánchez’s Socialist Party (PSOE) got 123 lawmakers out of 350, or close to 29% of votes — short of an absolute majority but much better than the 85 seats it got in 2016.

“The Socialists have won the general election and with it the future has won and the past has lost,” he told cheering supporters from the balcony of the party’s headquarters in Madrid, claiming victory late on Sunday.

The big loser was the conservative Popular Party (PP), which got 66 seats compared to 137 in the previous election.

Possible alliances

Mr. Sánchez, who came to power in June after ousting conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote, could seek to forge alliances with far-left Podemos and smaller groupings like Catalan separatist parties, as he had done over the past 10 months. He could also try to cosy up to centre-right Ciudadanos, which won 57 seats. Together, they would form an absolute majority but voters from both parties would likely frown on such a move.

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera built his campaign on disparaging Mr. Sánchez, criticising his attempts to negotiate with Catalan separatist parties in a bid to ease aw secession crisis in the northeastern region.

The crisis in Catalonia was precisely what fuelled Vox’s meteoric rise from the outer margins of politics to the national scene, after gaining nearly 11% of votes in December regional polls in southern Andalusia. Founded by Santiago Abascal, a disgruntled former PP member, it will now take 24 seats in the national Parliament.

Vox stood out with ultra-nationalist rhetoric advocating the “defence of the Spanish nation to the end” and a hard line against separatists.




Sirisena replaces police chief





Sirisena replaces police chief

Also picks new Defence Secretary, blames officials for failing to pass on information

, Meera Srinivasan

A united front: Cardinal Malcom Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, Venerable Kirinde Assaji Thero and Muslim leader Mowlavi Nusrath Nowfal at a vigil on Sunday .REUTERSTHOMAS PETER

COLOMBO

President Maithripala Sirisena on Monday appointed a former Army commander to the post of Defence Secretary and named a new police chief as part of his promised effort to overhaul Sri Lanka’s security establishment in the wake of the Easter blasts that killed over 250 people.

General S.H.S. Kottegoda was appointed the Secretary of Defence, after Hemasiri Fernando resigned from the post. While taking responsibility for the attacks, Mr. Fernando had said, “there was no failure” on his part.

President Sirisena also named Deputy Inspector-General Chandana Wickramaratne as the acting police chief. The incumbent Pujith Jayasundara, who Mr. Sirisena had earlier asked to resign, was on Monday asked to go on “compulsory leave” after he “refused to resign”, official sources said.

As per Sri Lankan law, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) can be removed from the post only with a parliamentary resolution backed by a majority and based on a subsequent inquiry by a committee. Mr. Sirisena, who addressed media heads last week, squarely blamed the Defence Secretary and the IGP for “failing” to pass on the information to him.

Intelligence lapse

As Sri Lanka tries to come to terms with the serial bombings on April 21, serious questions on the apparent lapse on intelligence sharing loom. The country’s security forces and agencies have come under the spotlight, especially after President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said they were not aware of the prior warnings of likely attacks that, both leaders said, officials knew about.

On April 4, India is said to have shared highly descriptive information on the threat with Sri Lankan authorities. Meanwhile, security forces are continuing their search for the remaining suspects and possible cache of weapons or explosives.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said on Sunday that most suspects have either been “killed or arrested”. Over 100 suspects had been arrested so far.

All suspects listed in a “wanted list” publicised by the police recently have been identified, local media reported on Monday. Two of them were believed to have been killed in Friday’s overnight gun battle or the subsequent explosion early on Saturday, following which security forces found 15 bodies in the eastern Ampara district.

On Monday evening, the Army Headquarters announced that all Army, Navy, Air Force and police areas within the Western Province, where Colombo is located, and Puttalam District, in the North Western Province, were being placed under a newly-formed ‘Overall Operational’ command.



IS releases ‘Baghdadi video’





IS releases ‘Baghdadi video’

Man claiming to be the IS leader praises attacks in Sri Lanka

Ben Hubbard

The man purported to be Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a screengrab of the video.AP

Beirut

The Islamic State (IS) group released a video on Monday of a man it said was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s mysterious and reclusive leader, which would mark the first time he has showed his face while addressing his followers since the early days of the terrorist group’s rampage through Iraq and Syria.

In an 18-minute video released by an IS media group and distributed by the SITE Intelligence Group, the man identified as Baghdadi sits on the ground in an Arab-style sitting room, speaking calmly to a group of unidentified followers with an assault rifle at his side.

Loss of ‘caliphate’

He acknowledges that the group has lost its so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria, a territory the size of Britain that it ruled as an extremist proto-state.

But he said that the group’s battle with the West and its allies was far from over.

“Truthfully, the battle of Islam and its people with the crusader and his people is a long battle, and the battle of Baghouz finished and manifested in it was the brutality and savagery of the nation of the cross toward the nation of Islam,” the man said, his beard greyer than when he addressed his followers from a mosque in the Iraqi city of Mosul when the group was near the summit of its power. “At the same time, it showed and manifested the courage, fortitude and persistence of the nation of Islam.”

First video since 2014

According to SITE, the video was the first time Baghdadi has been shown in a video since July 2014, when he gave a sermon in Mosul.

In the video, SITE says, he praises the attackers who carried out the bombing attacks in Sri Lanka last week, saying they were revenge for the loss of Baghouz, the IS’s last territory in Syria, which it lost to U.S.-backed forces a month ago.

The IS group claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka attacks, which killed over 250 people. While Baghdadi has not been seen in several years, he has been heard from. In August, the IS released an audio recording said to be of him. NY Times



Afghan ‘grand assembly’ begins





Afghan ‘grand assembly’ begins

4-day event will discuss govt. position on talks with Taliban

Agence France-Presse

Opening day: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the grand assembly in Kabul on Monday.REUTERSOMAR SOBHANI

Kabul

Thousands of politicians and officials from across Afghanistan gathered amid tight security in on Monday to discuss the war and U.S. efforts to forge a peace deal with the Taliban.

More than 3,000 people have been invited to the rare “loya jirga”, which is being billed as the largest in modern Afghan history, in a bid to set possible conditions under which they might accept a peace settlement.

The loya jirga — literally “grand assembly” in Pashto — is being held as the U.S. and Taliban are discussing a possible foreign troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“We want to specify the main lines for the negotiations with the Taliban,” Mr. Ghani said at the start of the four-day summit. “We want clear advice from all of you.”

Mr. Ghani’s government hopes the high-stakes meeting will set out Kabul’s conditions for any deal, including the continuation of the Constitution and the protection of women’s rights, the media, and free speech. Mr. Ghani had invited the Taliban but the insurgents refused.

In the past, the Taliban have blasted rockets at a tent hosting a loya jirga. In a statement, the Taliban vowed that any decisions or resolutions made at a loya jirga are “never acceptable to the real and devout sons of this homeland”.


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