It’s an appalling dichotomy. On the one hand, there is a sea of humanity at the ghats of the Ganga in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, at the Maha Kumbh Mela and on the other a total of only 50 persons are allowed to offer prayers five times a day at Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz mosque with social distancing norms! The latter though should be seen as a saving grace for if the Centre had its way, no gathering should have been permitted ‘as religious congregations stand prohibited by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority in the Capital’. The Centre’s affidavit in the Delhi High Court dealing with Waqf Board’s petition for allowing Namaz, did get the judge to frown who said: “there is no clear stand has been taken whether any religious or festival-related gatherings or congregations are permitted at other religious places like temples, churches, mosques.” Precisely, so why the discrimination? The Uttarakhand government has made the Kumbh mela an exception, when Covid cases across the country are rising. Over 14 lakh devotees so far turned up at the ghats and it takes solace that there is a footfall in the numbers –way behind the 1.6 crore registered in 2010 Kumbh. It’s ‘a matter of faith which is bigger than anything else’, is its reasoning, which should apply to the month of Ramadan too.
What takes the cake is when Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat seeks to silence critics saying don’t compare the Kumbh Mela with the Nizamuddin Markaz, “which was held in a closed space and attended even by foreigners.” The Kumbh is being held in the open on the sprawling ghats of the Ganga, with SOPs in place, which of course is hogwash. A pertinent question would be then why are States scrambling and imposing curfew? People can congregate out in the open. Here too does the justification that ‘people’s health is a priority but matters of faith cannot be totally ignored’, hold good? There is a need for debate: is the Hindu faith different from that of the Muslims? In the Delhi High Court, when Solicitor General of India stated ‘all religious gatherings have been banned’, the counsel for Waqf Board countered saying he could submit photographs of Karol Bagh Hanuman Mandir to show a long queue and absence of social distancing. In fact, photograph of the Kumbh would more than suffice. The regret that Centre’s rules are applicable for only Muslims, is not off the mark. Will New Delhi make amends? People would like to believe Mera Bharat Mahaan!
NIA Gets Hard Rap
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) would do well to think of the adage, ‘once bitten twice shy.’ More so, following a terse lesson on usage of UAPA by a two-judge bench of Guwahati High Court on Wednesday last. Upholding the bail order of a special NIA court to activist Akhil Gogoi in October last year, the court ruled: while even provocative speech may come under UAPA ambit, it’s only punishable if it’s done with the intention of a “terrorist act” aimed at disturbing the country’s “unity, integrity, security and sovereignty” and in this case there was no ground to hold him “prima facie guilty of committing a terrorist act.” The case dates back to December 2019, after NIA hurriedly took over the case from Chabua police station, accusing him of leading a crowd of 600-odd people during anti-CAA protests, which caused ‘economic blockade’, ‘pelting of stones’ and murder of a ‘police personnel on duty.’ The materials along with the chargesheet, noted the court, are ‘basically statements of witnesses recorded under section 161 of Cr.P.C.’, which “obviously do not have any evidential value.” While Gogoi, who floated a new party Raijor Dal, and contested from jail for the Sibsagar seat in these Assembly polls could heave a sigh of relief, his ordeal with NIA isn’t over, as the Central agency has him booked in another UAPA case. Will it give in now?
Gujarat’s Tainted Reality
Three cheers to the Gujarat High Court. It has blown the lid off Rupani government’s false claims on steps being taken to contain the covid spread. On Monday last, a division bench of Chief Justice Nath took many by surprise, pleasantly. It heard a PIL, taken up sou moto saying the volume of reports in leading newspapers/news channels ‘are flooded with harrowing tales, unfortunate and unimaginable difficulties, unmanageable conditions of the infrastructure, the shortfall and deficit of not only testing, availability of beds, ICU, but also supply of Oxygen and thebasic medicines like Ramdesivir, etc, and these can’t be ignored.’ Observing “People now think they are at God’s mercy,” the AG was ticked off with: “situation is quite different than what you are claiming. You are saying that everything is alright. But, the reality is contrary to that.” Specifics were reeled out: it now takes almost five days for a person to get RT-PCR test result; you didn’t upscale testing facilities when you had time; there’s no shortage of Remdesivir, everything is available with you. We want results, not reasons.” A hard rap indeed. Not only is there a ‘trust deficit among people,’ but Rupani would do well not to rely on the propaganda machinery, which did wonders for Modi as Chief Minister. And remember Lincoln’s famous quote: You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
EC Didi’s Whipping Boy
The Election Commission may well end up as TMC’s favourite whipping boy, if it is upstaged on its turf. It’s a no holds barred for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and team. By now Nirvachan Sadan may have got used to oft-heard charge of ‘unconstitutional’ decisions but being nicknamed ‘Extremely Compromised’ by Derek O’Brien in a tweet soon after Didi was barred from campaigning for 24 hours should make it see red, given that it has barred BJP chief too from campaigning for same period. Adding insult to injury, firebrand colleague Mahua Moitra tweeted on Thursday last: It’s certainly criminal negligence bordering on manslaughter on part of @ECISVEEP to mandate 8 phase election in WB in middle of worst pandemic. Unbelievable that we are being put through this. Infections, deaths rising everyday,’ after Didi requested the EC to consider holding remaining 3 phases of polls in one go, “to protect people from exposure to Covid.” While the reason could be doubted given the BJP is giving the TMC a run for its money, the EC is in no mood to concede and said ‘There’s no such plan.’ It has also signalled it won’t hesitate in banning events like rallies in case guidelines aren’t followed. Luckily for it, Calcutta High Court too has stepped in and directed all guidelines as laid down by EC and CEO are strictly implemented in ‘letter and spirit and if necessary, with police aid.’ Who will have the last laugh?
Minister Turned Martyr
What better way to camouflage a setback by adopting a holier-than-thou approach. An idea, which emerges from God’s own country. The LDF government in Kerala has done precisely this after its Higher Education and Minority Welfare Minister KT Jaleel resigned on Tuesday last following the Lokayukta holding him guilty of “nepotism, abuse of power, favouritism” and saying he had no moral right to continue as a minister. The complaint accusing Jaleel of illegally appointing his cousin as General Manager, Kerala State Minorities Finance Development Corporation, was upheld by the Lokayukta. Four days later, he put in his papers saying it was ‘a mark of my political integrity” even though a petition against the order is before Kerala High Court. While he claimed to be a “victim of unjustified media witch-hunt for past two years,” he had ‘emerged guilt-free’ after Central agencies had quizzed him in a gold smuggling case. Like him, the government too sought to brush his censure aside and a minister said that Jaleel had upheld ‘best traditions of the Front’, unlike others such as former CM Chandy who remained in the seat despite adverse opinions from the Lokayukta. Term it making the best out of a bad situation.
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