Change of Guard
Will winds of change blow in Jammu & Kashmir? The sudden change of guard –removal of Lieutenant Governor GC Murmu and appointment of his successor, Manoj Sinha, has raised eyebrows alright but the bigger question whether it gives hope for better times hangs in the air. First, the timing of the change in Raj Bhavan is interesting — on the anniversary of scrapping of special status of J&K and New Delhi deciding to bifurcate it into two Union Territories. That Wednesday Murmu put in his papers and within 24 hours Sinha, former MP and Minister was named. The Centre may have its reasons to make the switch over from a bureaucrat to a politician to run the State, but it must realise so far its promise of ‘achche din’ (better days) in the Valley has failed miserably. It cannot blame all on the pandemic. It has failed to win the trust of the Kashmiri as big plans of business and employment opportunities have not taken off. Worse, the local political leadership has been silenced, free speech throttled and a mockery made of democracy. Sinha holds a reputation of being a ‘mass leader’, and perhaps New Delhi hopes he may just deliver. His predecessor, in an interview to a national daily, had favoured early Assembly elections and restoration of 4G internet speed, among others—all contrary to Delhi’s thinking. The new LG’s persuasive skills both at local and highest political level shall be on test. ‘Well begun is half done’, the idiom should be his guide.
UP’s Political Message
The bhoomi pujan for the Ram temple by Prime Minister Modi in the temple town of Ayodhya, all decked up, hit headlines alright. However, the entire exercise turned out to give strong political overtones amidst the rituals. Modi, dressed in a dhoti kurta, given a silver mukht, laying foundation stone and taking prominent part in the puja among priests sharpened the ruling government’s agenda. A concrete step, like the temple bricks towards the eventual goal of the Hindu Rashtra? Time will tell, but Modi beginning his address with Jai Siya Ram begs a necessary distinction. Unfortunately, the nation’s PM was there more as a RSS pracharak. Indeed, a ‘grand temple’ will now be built for our Ram Lalla who had been staying makeshift tent till now, he said. ‘Today, Ram Janmbhoomi breaks free of the cycle of breaking and getting built again – that had been going on for centuries.” It was also breaking away from the past. Recall BJP stalwart and former Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani who had led the rath yatra and his party to a resounding victory thereafter. He stands clearly upstaged by his junior, Modi. Whom will history remember?
Odisha Must Do More
Odisha government needs to act, and act fast. A survey has projected acute food shortage in four migration-prone districts, wherein 78% of households have either exhausted the rice they had received from PDS, or about to exhaust their stock over the next fortnight. The shortage among the pension beneficiaries comes after 4 months of lockdown restrictions in districts of Kalahandi, Bargarh, Balangir and Nuapada. The survey by an NGO, Odisha Khadya Adhikar Abhiyan, on July 1-15, reveals that 16% of families reported PDS rice was exhausted; 24% said the stock would last between 2-7 days; 38% had a quota for 8-15 days and 73% claimed they had no cash to buy rice. Besides, 54% of households said they had ‘consciously reduced their daily food intake’ during the 4 months to ensure the ration lasts longer! Indeed, Naveen Patnaik government needs to do more. Assistance of 5 kg rice/wheat per head at Re 1 a kg, 2 litres of kerosene oil, Rs 1000 one-time cash payment for 94 lakh beneficiaries announced on March 21 for next 3 months, and assistance of rice/arhar dal under Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana is not going to get his people through the times ahead. Worse, majority of them have little income left.
Uttarakhand’s ‘Disputed’ Territories
Is it Uttarakhand’s turn to get embroiled in a territorial dispute? With External Affair Ministry mandarins caught up neck-deep with Chinese incursion, the tiny Himalayan State has to be on guard too. Nepal is staking claim to areas in its Pithoragarh district. It is reported that Kathmandu officials and SDM of Dharchula sub-division in the district are ‘exchanging letters’. Nepalese authorities insist that Limpiyadhura, Kalapani, Lipulekh in Pithoragarh district fall ‘under its territory where their citizens can move’ and that “no hindrances should be put in their movement by Indian authorities”. A reaction after a communiqué from the SDM (who denies it though) cautioning against ‘illegal’ entry of Nepalese citizens into Indian territories. But the Nepalese insist the movement of their people in those ‘areas (disputed areas) is natural,’ on basis of the Treaty of Sugauli between Nepal and erstwhile British East India Company in December 1815 and ratified in March 1816. Undeniably, a lot of water has flown since, but what is South Block doing? More so after Nepalese Parliament endorsed a new political map, which shows the said areas as its part. Does focus need to shift?
Telangana Demolition Row
Does Telangana and New Delhi have anything in common? Not really, but perhaps. Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao’s decision to demolish existing secretariat and construct a new one at a cost of Rs 400 crore amidst the pandemic has triggered criticism from activists and Opposition leaders. Similar to the furore over Prime Minister Modi’s Central Vista project, estimated to cost Rs 2000, wherein certain Ministry buildings would be demolished. The objection to Rao’s project, foundation of which was laid in June last year, is that the funds could instead be used for enhancing health infrastructure. Having crossed the last legal hurdle with the High Court dismissing bunch petitions against the demolition, the TRS government claims now to have broken down 90% of the 10-block Secretariat, including G Block from where the last Nizam ran his administration. Worse, the offices in these blocks, after the bifurcation of the state, say critics had been renovated and refurbished and could have been used for next 30-40 years or at least for now converted into temporary hospital. However, a BJP MP’s criticism is worth a note, wherein he accused the CM of being “busy with demolition work and designing contracts…” Would the same be said by him for the project in New Delhi?
Haryana’s Lockdown Booty
Learn to make a buck out of lockdown Haryana style! The 2000-page report submitted by the Special Enquiry Team (SET) to State Home Minister Anil Vij on Wednesday last reveals shocking collusion. It exposes the modus operandi of movement/smuggling of illegal liquor during lockdown, detected first in May and alleges involvement of officials of excise and police department. While noting there’s “no rationale for physical movement of stocks during this period’, the report says “it’s evident there was huge unauthorised movement of liquor… complicity of some excise officers is writ large on the face of it and collusion on part of some police officials also cannot be ruled out…” This needs a probe as “it was a period of complete lockdown and movement of not even a single soul except those involved in essential duties was permitted.” Vij has ordered Vigilance Bureau probe and registration of FIR against culprits. There can be no other choice as the report reads: “…police officials registered criminal cases against drivers of vehicles carrying smuggled liquor and kept letting go of the big fish allegedly involved in liquor smuggling trade across Haryana.” Will the cracks in the system be plugged and how soon? Is it wishful thinking?— INFA