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Round The States

Bengal Polls: Centrepiece Nandigram Key

The curtains came down on the centrepiece of West Bengal Assembly polls, Nandigram. Both warring sides, the TMC and BJP  had their tales of horror to share, with each accusing the other of terrorising the voters. With the ballot boxes sealed, it’s a big prestigious fight for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who faces her protege-turned arch-rival Suvendu Adhikari. Remember, it was the 2007 land acquisition war in Nandigram which put Didi into the spotlight, paving the route for TMC’s victory in the 2011 Assembly polls, ending over three decades of Left Front rule. Will Adhikari be able to turn the tide? The turnout on Thursday last, sent a message the battle was close. And not without high drama. Didi was held up for over two hours in a polling booth where supporters from both sides nearly came to blows. Her security guards had to form a cordon around her and she moved out only after Central forces and police personnel reached the site. Predictably, she accused the ECI of inaction on her  ‘63 poll-related complaints’ plus claimed people had come from Bihar and UP and were being protected by Central Forces. Adhikari responded saying “The incident and her behaviour show she has lost the elections. She is just trying to grab some attention.” Over confidence and too early, should one ask? But doubts do linger, more so in the backdrop that Didi had a few days ago appealed to Opposition parties to sink differences and forge a united front against the BJP. Will there be a constituency number two, as PM Modi says?  

TN Tax Raids

The timing of income tax raids in the midst of an Assembly election raises a big question–genuine or usual arm-twisting by the Centre, wanting its share of the pie in the electoral battle? Eyebrows have been raised and the DMK is seething with anger as IT officials raided its chief M.K. Stalin’s son-in-law Sabareesan’s residence and other places in Chennai. While the IT team claimed it had received reports about ‘movement of cash related to election campaign’, DMK leaders say the raids followed after Sabareesan, a key strategist of Stalin’s core team, raised questions about the huge rise in Amit Shah son Jay Shah’s assets. Apparently, this is the second set of raids carried out by IT team. Last week senior DMK leader EV Velu’s residence was searched with same reason of “credible inputs of cash movement” during campaign. Another question is shouldn’t the Election Commission team have instead stepped in? While debate shall rage, the DMK is using the raids to hit out at BJP saying ‘since it came to power in the Centre, its practice has been to use government institutions during polls to threaten opposition.’ Perhaps, even some sort of damage control after the EC debarred A Raja for 48 hours from the list of star campaigners for his derogatory remarks.  

Gujarat’s Anti-Conversion Bill

Gujarat offers a lesson or two for legal luminaries on fundamental rights of an adult girl. Whether it will stand the test of time is the big question. On Thursday last, while introducing in the Assembly the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2021 which prohibits forcible conversion by marriage, and enhances punishment, Minister of State for Home Jadeja said “Some intellectuals are arguing that it is a fundamental right of an adult girl as to whom she should marry. And that it is a right given by the Constitution. But Hindu Ramcharit Manas and Quran, too, says not to break anybody’s trust. Marriage done with trickery is as good as breaking trust. This government firmly believes that trickery cannot exist with fundamental right. Marriage done by hiding name is trickery.” Ironically, was it indulging in trickery as alleged by the Opposition which said by not using ‘love jihad word in the Bill, people of Gujarat have been misguided.’ Though Jadeja’s speech did not have the M-word, it clearly targeted the minority community, accusing it of doing activities through trickery which “deprived us from Lord Ram’s darshan…tried to damage country through cross border terrorism …did blasts in Mumbai in 1992, launched attacks on Parliament…tried to defame Indian government by opposing CAA..” Whether this Bill like the one in Uttarakhand and UP be challenged in the Supreme Court needs to be watched, the definition and debate on fundamental right is expanded.

NIA Targets Southern Activists

The heat on civil and human rights activists in the country refuses to ebb, instead it’s getting hotter. This time round, the National Investigation Agency has trained its guns on southern States of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Since Wednesday last, it has conducted searches at 31 locations following an FIR registered last month naming 64 persons, including lawyers, journalists and civil rights activists for alleged Maoist conspiracy against the police and government! While the NIA justifies its searches saying these are linked to a case “relating to furthering activities of the proscribed organisation, CPI (Maoist), in AP in the guise of frontal organisations”, Rights’ activists accuse the Modi government ‘intimidating voices of dissent through intimidation and raids without any proof or evidence … False cases under UAPA are being filed.” The case is based on Vishakhapatnam police intercepting a journalist on November 23 last year on his motorbike, wherein the search of his baggage led to “recovery of Maoist literature, press releases, medicines and wire bundles.” And, under the radar now are activists belonging to Telangana Coordination Committee of Human Rights Forum, AP Civil Liberties Committee, Revolutionary Writers Association and advocates. The witch hunt is the second in NIA’s series after the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case. How many more critical voices will be suppressed should be a cause of concern.

Odisha-Centre Pow Wow

Does the Centre have exclusive rights over a scheme when the State is chipping 50% of the funds, is Odisha’s question which should spur a debate amongst others. The ruling BJD’s co-branding of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Gramin with the State’s housing programme and using its own logo has the BJP up in arms. In the Assembly on Wednesday last, BJP demanded immediate removal of logos of Biju Pucca Ghar Yojna from the houses of beneficiaries granted houses under the PMAY-G as the co-branding was a “deceptive” action to “discredit” welfare schemes implemented by the Centre in the State. In fact, Union Rural Development Secretary in a letter to Naveen Patnaik government categorically stated that the contribution of minimum State share from State resources is ‘a commitment’ by the State government for implementation of centrally-sponsored scheme and it ‘does not confer the rights to the State government for use of any other logo other than PMAY-G’! Unacceptable, is the BJD’s response arguing that using BPGY logo is as ‘per norms as the State share is 50%…and we shall continue to do so…’

Predictably, its more than meets the eye –not just providing homes but the politics of who should get the credit!

Don’t Waste Judicial Time

State government’s must think twice before knocking on the doors of the Supreme Court and try not to be clever by half. Well that’s the terse message they should clearly read following the apex court dismissing a special leave petition of Bihar government. Not just that, but the two-judge bench imposed a cost of Rs 20,000 on the State for “utter wastage” of judicial time in a matter, which had been disposed of by Patna High Court in September after the parties had ‘jointly agreed’ for it. It noted that the filing of the SLP was ‘a complete abuse of process of court and that too by a State government, apart from being a utter wastage of judicial time.” The costs of Rs 20,000 were directed to be deposited with the court’s Group ‘C’ (Non-Clerical) Employees Welfare Association within four weeks and that it’s open to the State to recover the cost from officers who were responsible for this “misadventure.” While its worth a watch whether the officials will pay for the costs eventually, Bihar and other State governments would do well to remember the adage a stitch in time saves nine. Or better still time is money!

 

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