Kashmir conundrum deepens. Elections for Block Development Council are to be held on October 24. Both Srinagar and New Delhi want to show to world outside ‘normalcy’ is returning, and choose to ignore the undercurrents of ‘civil disobedience’ by the Valley folk. Will these polls to elect peoples representatives be for real or a sham? The latter is a likely guess. More so as the electoral college here comprises panches and sarpanches and as of now more than 61% of these seats were lying vacant, mainly in the 138 blocks (of 310) in the Valley owing to peoples non-participation in elections held last December. Thus, the move to ease restrictions on Jammu leaders may not help the Government as the first step should be to fill these vacant posts. Plus, the unprecedented clampdown in Kashmir particularly for past two months may have seen some restrictions removed, but people are not willing to play ball. So while political activity may revive in Jammu, what about Kashmir? Leaders and activists continue to be detained and plans are to release them “one by one after analysis of every individual”, is no answer to a democratic exercise. An NC leader views the process as “face saving,” but peoples’ participation is under doubt. Three weeks time is unclear all that the administration has got. Decision taken and then planning to follow is the wrong strategy. Will there be a rethink?
NRC Ripples in N-E
Assam has triggered ripples across its neighbourhood. Since the National Register of Citizens was published, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh have sounded a red alert. Border checks have been intensified and those without proper papers have been turned back. Meghalaya is insisting on ‘valid IDs’ to prove Indian citizenship and Mizoram is not issuing requisite Inner Line Permits (ILP) to enter the State, to those Assam residents whose names don’t appear in the NRC. In fact, it has issued a directive saying any unusual influx of people without valid document has to be immediately brought to the district administration’s notice and that village and town authorities need to maintain strict vigil or proof before issuing the ILPs. While Meghalaya Police so far has turned back “1,329 detected persons,” its counterpart in Mizoram says “everyday 10-15 people without ILP attempting to enter the State are caught” and thus one can imagine the numbers. Likewise, Nagaland and Arunachal which require ILP to enter are being cautious.
Bypolls Big Test
Preparations are on a war footing for ensuing byelections in 16 States and one UT. All eyes are now on big chunk of 51 Assembly seats before Maharashtra and Haryana polls. While the BJP seeks to keep its juggernaut rolling, Congress and JD(U) particularly need to work doubly hard to retain some critical seats. These include, Gujarat, where Congress may find it tougher to retain two of six seats, with both its MLAs having become BJP candidates; MP Chief Minister Kamal Nath, under SIT scanner in 1984 riots, needs to win the sole seat to reach the 115-mark in 230-member Assembly; in Rajasthan, Congress it eyes at least one of two seats to raise its tally from 106 MLAs and in Kerala it’s hoping to do well in five seats, despite nagging uncertainty. Results of Bihar’s bypolls in five seats are going to further map out the JD(U)-BJP ties, under strain. Nitish Kumar needs to retain four of these to withstand saffron pressure, in the backdrop of RJD-Congress contesting together. For the BJP, UP hopes for tally of 11 seats if Yogi Adityanath can wrest two seats from SP and BSP, which is not easy. Plus, it could be wary in Assam of its 3 of 4 seats after NRC release. The rest of the seats — 3 in Sikkim, two each in Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and one each in Arunachal Praesh, Meghalaya, Odisha, Telangana, Puducherry and Chhattisgarh, would add to the story, which shall soon unfold.
New Face & Rivalries
The bugle has been sounded for the big fight in Maharashtra and Haryana. While the seat sharing formulas have been worked out between the rival camps, the Congress finds itself having to deal with dissention within. Former party chief in Haryana has quit the poll-related committees saying the State Congress has turned into ‘Hooda Congress’ as his supporters have been denied tickets. It’s the same story in Maharashtra, where Mumbai party chief has said he will not campaign for the party. In comparison the situation in the BJP is different as even though Khattar is Haryana has dropped some sitting MLAs, no dissent is being voiced. Importantly, the seat-sharing formula with its ally Shiv Sena has been cemented without any hiccups and the BJP continuing to be big brother in the 124 and 164 seats formula, respectively. Plus, the BJP has accommodated most of the Congress and NCP MLAs who walked over. The October 21 poll has a new entrant in the Sena — Aditya Thackeray, elder son of party chief Uddhav Thackeray. With the youngster being the first member in founder Bal Thackeray’s family obviously the spotlight is on him. Predictably, he has been given the ‘safest’ seat, Worli and the party is hopeful that if the combine wins, then Aditya may well be a contender for the top post, against Chief Minister Fadnavis, who the BJP is set for a second term. Both know there can be a slip between the cup and the lip.
The rain god has added to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s woes. Capital Patna got flooded with the late September unprecedented torrential rains, where ‘1.6 million of its two million residents battled water-logging,’ according to the State disaster relief office. The city’s poor drainage and infrastructure system stood simply exposed. Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi was among 4,000-odd people rescued by relief personnel, whereas people in large parts had to do without power for two days and phone connections. In the northern part, at least 15 other districts were marooned after heavy rainfall, which claimed 32 lives. Nitish, already at the receiving end not just by his opponents but partner BJP has some explaining to do as experts opine the flooding was due to unscientific planning and lack of accountability. When questioned by the media, Nitish hit back ‘What about heavy flooding in Mumbai or for that matter even in US?’ Bad answer, for two wrongs don’t make a right. He must set his house in order.
Andhra Nursing Drinks
No rash decisions on Gandhi Jayanti, is Andhra Pradesh’s way of achieving a target. So like nursing a drink, the State has decided to take measured steps towards complete prohibition. With next year as its target, Jagan Reddy government made the first move by taking over 3,448 shops on lease to be now run by AP State beverages Corporation. Plus, liquor shops gradually will remain open only for 3-4 hours. So far, liquor sales/consumption is down by 18%, 43,000 illegal/illicit liquor shops shut down and 4,788 cases registered against brewing of illicit liquor and 2,834 people arrested. Another positive is ‘generating jobs’ with 3,500 supervisors and 8,033 salesmen recruited to run the alcohol shops. Plus, night watchmen around neighbourhoods and another 680 in Excise department are to be recruited. Alcoholism has wrecked many a lives and homes and hopefully the slow and steady approach should help Jagan keep his promise to lakhs of women who sought prohibition. One would drink to that!—INFA