Pakistan cornered globally

Pakistan cornered globally

While rival politicians are engaged in meaningless recriminations over the actual number of those killed in the post-Pulwama air strikes, the real story is the way India is succeeding in isolating Pakistan for the very first time in key foreign capitals. Gone is the neutrality on such terror attacks displayed earlier by the US. The most powerful nation now unhesitatingly demands that Pakistan take action against the terrorists it harbours in its backyard and ensure that its soil is not used to attack India or others by the jihadi elements. The French in fact took the lead in moving a resolution in the United Nations Security Council condemning the Jaish-e-Mohammed by name and asking Pakistan to proceed against it.

What is more, for the very first time China dropped its opposition to naming Pakistan as the source of jihadi terror and, despite initial reservations, went along with other members of the UNSC to retain JeM in the condemnatory statement. Britain, too, has been standing with India when it comes to ticking off Pakistan for its sponsorship of Islamist terror. Equally surprising was the way Saudi Arabia supported India in its fight against Pakistan’s terror exports. The visit of the Saudi Crown Prince accompanied by his foreign minister resulted in a strong statement in this regard. That Saudis are the chief patrons of Pakistan without whose financial assistance Pakistan would have long ago become bankrupt is undeniable. Only a couple of weeks ago, Saudi Arabia rescued Pakistan from being declared a defaulter by an emergency infusion of $20 billion.

Yet, it too refuses to be seen supporting the jihadis who are used by Pakistan to create mayhem against India. Meanwhile, China is under pressure to support other members of the UNSC to declare JeM chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. It still has some reservations, having blocked such a move three times in the past. Pakistan relies it on it not to ditch it when otherwise its isolation in the global body is near-complete. But China too has to appear to be impartial on fighting terror. Its dogged support of Pakistan in the UNSC on Azahar Masood shows it in poor light. Besides, the gains of the one-to-one talks between Xi Jinping and Modi in the Chinese resort town of Wuhan a few months ago could not be so easily jeopardized for a notorious terror-master who is condemned by the entire global community barring China. Maybe when the matter comes up for discussion in the UNSC, China would have found some way out of its predicament. However, the foreign powers need to take the Pakistani claim that it has taken stern action against JeM and arrested its leaders with a tonne of salt. It is a complete eyewash, meant to hoodwink the world. Pakistan Foreign Minister goes about telling foreign news channels that Azhar is sick, `very unwell’, while everyone knows that he is the hands-on boss of the terrorist outfit. After the Pulwama attack, news reports mentioned Azhar being sheltered by the ISI in a safe house.

Meanwhile, the claim by Imran Khan that he released the Indian pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman as a gesture of goodwill and wanted India to resume the dialogue with Pakistan has been exposed to be untrue. Pakistan released Abhinandan under the US pressure. A report in a contemporary mentioned how the State Department directed the US Central Command Commander Joseph Votel to ‘persuade’ the Pak Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa to release the Indian pilot in order to deescalate the situation. US National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had left Pakistan in no doubt in their own statements that this was the least it could do if it wanted to prevent escalation. In sum, given the way India handled the post-Pulwama situation in all its varied facets, it is a surprise that the Opposition raises mostly irrelevant questions more to try and find something to comfort itself than to help clarify the actual events after the suicide bomber killed 40 CRPF men.


Punishment or Justice? Rapist becomes victim!

Punishment or Justice? Rapist becomes victim!

Malda: A 35-year-old man, unfortunately, becomes a victim of his own crime when the rape victim pulled him into the fire after he had raped her and set her ablaze.

The incident is reported from West Bengal’s Malda District in Subhas Colony under Manikchak police station where the accused first raped the victim and later set her on fire but never did he imagine that the victim would still grab him while burning, News18 reported.

The victim was immediately rushed to a nearby hospital and later shifted to Malda Medical College for treatment.

She is undergoing treatment for burn injuries on her face and hands while the accused succumbed to injuries on Tuesday, the officials said.

An investigation into the incident revealed, the accused used to disturb the victim who is a widow and on the day of the incident, he had entered her house when nobody was home except the victim.
He raped her after entering the house and later set her on fire but the victim somehow managed to grab the accuse.

Police said locals rushed to her house after noticing smoke emanating from there and found both of them on fire inside a room and rushed to a nearby hospital.

Locals claimed that the accused often visited the house of the woman.
District Superintendent of Police Arnab Ghosh said, “We are investigating the case from all angles.”

agency in put 

Kumbh Mela 2019 enters Guinness Book of World Records: Government

Kumbh Mela 2019 enters Guinness Book of World Records: Government

संबंधित इमेज

New Delhi: The Prayagraj Kumbh Mela 2019 has secured place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest crowd management, largest sanitation drive and largest painting exercise of public sites, the government said here on Sunday.

“A three-member team from the Guinness World Records visited Prayagraj for the purpose. Exercises at a large-scale were performed before the team for four days, from February 28 to March 3. Around 503 shuttle buses were pressed into service on the highway in one go for the team on February 28. Several people participated in a painting exercise on March 1 and 10,000 workers engaged in cleaning at the Kumbh, all performing their duties together,” the Ministry of Culture said in a statement.

The festival, which began on January 14, will conclude on March 4 with the sixth and final “Shahi Snan” (royal bath) on the occasion of Maha Shivratri. The previous five royal baths were held successfully with more than 22 crore pilgrims taking holy dips, the Ministry said.AGENCY IN PUT 

There is a sliver of hope that both sides will see reason

There is a sliver of hope that both sides will see reason

written by Seema Guha FPJ :War clouds are looming over the sub continent as tension escalates between nuclear neighbours India and Pakistan. Will the two nations fight another war? Or will good sense finally prevail and the crisis diffused. Across the world leaders are advising India and Pakistan to exercise restraint as the two countries down each others planes and an Indian Air Force pilot is in Pakistani custody. The situation is still fluid and could go either way. Yet, with international prodding there is a sliver of hope that both sides will see reason.

India’s air strike on the Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp in Balakot, in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan led to much chest thumping here, with analysts saying that there was a paradigm shift in government policy. The air strike was triggered by a suicide bomber in Pulwama that killed 42-CRPF soldiers in Kashmir. The Jaish led by Maulana Masood Azhar has its headquarters in Pakistan claimed responsibility. Narendra Modi, always projected as a strong decisive leader, has lived up to his image.

Indeed, analysts say that Pulwama terrorists had handed Modi the 2019 elections on a platter. National polls are likely to be announced in the next few days. Many in the BJP have not wasted time in making the point. Whether it is BJP President Amit Shah or the BJP state chief of Karnataka, both have done so. Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale called the strikes a “non-military pre-emptive action,” emphasising that the target was a terror camp.

Gokhale took care to point out that the strike was not aimed at the Pakistan military or the people of the country. Just at terrorists. No one believed that Pakistan would allow the transgression of its air space to go unchallenged. The Pakistan military hold the country on a vice like grip and perpetuates it by fear of Indian aggression. The army stands between India and the people of Pakistan. In such circumstances it was inconceivable that Pakistan would not act. And it acted immediately.

On Wednesday, Pakistani jets flew into Indian airspace and a dog fight followed. India claimed to have shot down an F16 fighter aircraft while one of India’s MIGs was shot down by Pakistan. Afterwards, its foreign ministry claimed that this was not a retaliation to continued Indian belligerence. Pakistan has therefore, taken strikes at non military target, avoiding human loss and collateral damage. Sole purpose being to demonstrate our right, will and capability for self defence. “We have no intention of escalation, but are fully prepared to do so if forced into that paradigm.”

Ironically the tone and tenor was much in the lines of Vijay Gokhale’s statement on India’s airstrike. This was followed hours later by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s televised address to the nation where he appealed for peace talks with India. India called in Pakistan deputy high commissioner Syed Haider Shah to South Block to protest against the violation of Indian air space. Pakistan was asked to handover the captured Indian pilot immediately. A dossier on the JeM was handed over for Pakistan to take action. Earlier, India had refused to do so as dossiers by the dozens are with Islamabad, given after each terror strike, with no action ever taken.

Now that Pakistan and India have both demonstrated that they can violate each other’s air space and downed a fighter jet each, what is next? Pakistan releasing Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman shows its sincerity. This will be seen as a friendly gesture by India and the world. It will calm temperatures. Pakistan is unlikely to take action against Jaish or the training camps. The next step for both sides would be to gather diplomatic support. Delhi had made sure that the major powers were in the loop. In fact Donald Trump had said before the strikes that India was “planning something big.’’ All friends and neighbours have been briefed.

Pakistan on its side has also worked the phone lines and talked to its allies and friends. China endorsed the Russia, India, China statement after the RIC meeting in Wuzhen, where a call was made for “eradicating the breeding grounds of terrorism.” Yet at the news conference after the RIC meeting, Wang Yi clarified: “…China, Russia and India have reaffirmed our strong opposition to terrorism in all its forms. At the same time, we believe that Pakistan has always been opposed to terrorism.’’ The OIC had condemned India’s air strikes in Pakistan.

It is not that Pakistan has been isolated and is friendless at the moment. Despite loud cries of isolating Pakistan, it is a foolish notion. Pakistan is not a small country. It has a population of 204.60 million, and is the sixth most populous nation in the world. It is also a nuclear power. Each nation looks out for its self interest. The US, despite President Donald Trump’s earlier rambling against Pakistan, now needs Islamabad as he prepares to wind down in Afghanistan. The US and Taliban held its second round of substantive talks in Qatar on February 25.

It is well known that without the Pakistan military and its spy agency ISI, getting Taliban to the table would be difficult. So not much can be expected from the US. What is expected is pressure on both India and Pakistan to de escalate. Hopefully, that happens as neither country can afford a costly war.

Seema Guha is a senior journalist with expertise in foreign policy and international affairs.


Ghost of Rafale deal still haunts Narendra Modi

Ghost of Rafale deal still haunts Narendra Modi

written by Nitya Chakraboty : Amidst the countrywide euphoria over the successful air strikes on terror camps in Pakistan, the Supreme Court has opened a Pandora’s Box by agreeing to hold an open hearing on the review petitions calling for the recall of the verdict given by the apex court on December 14 last year.

The decision of the SC bench headed by the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi has extraordinary significance as it allows consideration by the bench of the points made by the petitioners that the December 14 judgment was based on the wrong and untruthful facts submitted by the Government in the sealed envelope to the Court.

Further, the bench took an uncommon decision to hold the hearings in an open court instead of its chamber, which is generally done in such review cases. This gives credence to the fact that the highest Court of the country has taken up this Rafale deal controversy very seriously now as the Court’s image and especially the image of the Chief Justice has got a beating as a result of the dismissal of the petitions earlier and giving clean chit to the NDA government of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Now, the petitioners, especially the Trio – Two former ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and the lawyer Prashant Bhushan will be getting full opportunity in the open court to mention of the erroneous facts given by the Government in their note submitted through the sealed envelope as also the reports quoting the official documents which came out in media after December 14 judgment pointing out the active involvement of the Prime Minister’s Office in the decision making process on the Rafale deal overlooking the views of the defence secretary.

The date of the hearing has not yet been fixed but indications are that it will be held soon and that will start a process when the PM’s actions also in respect of precipitating the Rafale deal, will come to limelight.The most important aspect of the petition submitted by the trio in revised form, mentions that the December 14 judgment relied on non-existent CAG report to give clean chit to the deal.

The petitioners want the recall of the judgment since the judgment based on a hypothetical CAG report is not merely a clerical or arithmetical slip but a substantial error. Since the apex Court has agreed to hear the petition, it will be a tough task for the Government people including the attorney general to defend the official position. The Court will decide on the basis of open session hearings whether the December 14 judgment will be reviewed.

At this present juncture when no one is questioning the Prime Minister and his policies in the wake of the sweep of national sentiments, it will be interesting how the Supreme Court deals with the petitioners arguments in the open hearing. The petitioners will certainly request the presence of some retired officials for interrogation. Will the Supreme Court allow that? In any case, the hearings will be very embarrassing for the Modi government and also the Prime Minister himself in the present period of the Government and the BJP led frenzy.

As senior advocate Indira Jaising has pointed out a judgment based on facts which are false, is no judgment in the eye of law. The remedy is to recall the judgment and go for a fresh hearing, possibly by a different bench. The remedy is not a review of the judgment, much less an application for “correction” of the judgment, as is sought to be done by the Union Government.

This is perhaps the first time in Indian legal history that the Government has told the Court how to rewrite its own judgment, and which para to substitute for which one. Now comes the news, with clear evidence in the form of the defence ministry note, that the procedure for negotiating the deal was not followed. One of the first issues framed by the Court was the question whether procedures prescribed for negotiating the deal were followed. With regard to this, the Supreme Court in its December 14, 2018 order said:

“We have studied the material carefully. We have also had the benefit of interacting with senior Air Force Officers who answered Court queries in respect of different aspects, including that of the acquisition process and pricing. We are satisfied that there is no occasion to really doubt the process, and even if minor deviations have occurred, that would not result in either setting aside the contract or requiring a detailed scrutiny by the Court.

We have been informed that joint exercises have taken place, and that there is a financial advantage to our nation. It cannot be lost sight of that these are contracts of defence procurement which should be subject to a different degree and depth of judicial review. Broadly, the processes have been followed. The need for the aircrafts is not in doubt. The quality of the aircraft is not in question…”

This clearly indicates that if procedures were followed, there would be no case for entertaining the petition any further. The converse is equally true — that if procedures were not followed, the court would entertain the petition and consider directing the CBI to register an FIR. Failure to follow procedure leads to a presumption that the decision-making process was vitiated by extraneous considerations. The Supreme Court bench has to go into all these and decide now.

Nitya Chakraboty is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.


Total decay of our institutions

Total decay of our institutions

The February 14 Pulwama suicide terrorist attack on a CRPF convoy killing 40 policemen and its swift retribution four days later on February18 have practically swept away from public attention other parallel developments around our crumbling national security institutions.

We all saw the dramatic events unfolding in Kolkata beginning with the CBI raid on Police Commissioner Rajiv Kumar on February 4 and its dramatic retort by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee which finally ended up with Rajiv Kumar’s questioning at Shillong under Supreme Court orders.

However national media had totally missed a similar CBI versus local police drama which was enacted in Orissa between January 29 and February 9. First the CBI served notices on 2 BJD leaders in connection with a chit fund scam which they have been investigating since 2014.

This was alleged to have been in response to the fiery election speech delivered by a top BJP leader one day earlier in Orissa. Soon thereafter the local police issued notices to two BJP leaders in connection with a two-year-old murder case.

However, all these pale into insignificance compared to the institutional ignominy the CBI suffered on February 12 when the Supreme Court punished their “interim” director M.Nageswar Rao and his legal adviser S Bhasuram for being guilty of contempt.

Both were ordered to sit in a court room corner like errant students and fined Rs. 1 lakh each. Media also interpreted this as an indirect censure of the Modi government for permitting the hasty transfer of joint director A K Sharma, rival of the PMO favourite former Special Director Rahul Asthana.

The only comparable instance of such humiliation was on July 19, 1993 when US President Bill Clinton removed abruptly the then FBI director William S. Sessions before the completion of his term for misusing the FBI’s resources and agency planes. But that was a personal censure and not of the organisation.

If that standard is applied to India, those in the higher echelons of government who have been misusing secret intelligence aircraft to ferry politically important gangsters or scamsters from abroad should have been dismissed for violating national security interests.

Admittedly the CBI suffers from bad optics due to legal and operational problems, not all their own making. On May 10, 2013 the Supreme Court, while hearing the “Coalgate Scam” described the CBI as “A caged parrot” and “its master’s voice”.

Following this, senior retired police officers like Prakash Singh suggested that the CBI should be given a statutory role comparable to the Election Commission (EC) or Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG). I had opposed this through a column on 19 May 2013 saying that the EC and CAG did not have powers to search and arrest like the CBI. Without checks and balances this power would be misused.

I had also quoted the Supreme Court’s observation on 8 May, 2013: “The CBI cannot be given unbridled power as an unruly horse is a dangerous thing.” In retrospect, who would have controlled the Alok Verma-Rakesh Asthana run-in within a constitutionally empowered CBI?

Fortunately, this discourse took a different turn when the Guwahati High Court pronounced an important judgment on 6 November 2013 which began with a quotation from Thomas Jefferson. “When the people fear the government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty”.

This verdict set aside the Government of India’s resolution dated 1 April 1963 constituting the CBI and observed that the organisation was “Neither an organ nor part of the Delhi State Police Establishment(DSPE) and the CBI cannot be treated as a ‘police force’ constituted under the DSPE Act 1946.”

It was this judgment which had provoked the Shiv Sena, BJP’s ally, to brand the CBI as “The Centre’s illegal police force” after the Kolkata incident on February 3 when the CBI had gone to the residence of Police Commissioner Rajiv Kumar.

No doubt this judgment was stayed by the Supreme Court on 9 November 2013 on the Centre’s plea that this would affect 9,000 trials and 1000 investigations. However, no final verdict has been delivered so far by the Supreme Court till now. A leading law website had described this as “Ventilator Support” to the CBI in the wake of the Alok Verma-Rakesh Asthana episode as any declaration of unconstitutionality made by a High Court would have operated across the country.

Has this inadequate legal foundation made the CBI an “unruly horse” or a cabal of clashing interests with loyalty to different centres of power as we saw during the Alok Verma-Rakesh Asthana experience? Or was their ineptitude evident when a large team of CBI officers descended on the residence of Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajiv Kumar as a show of intimidation on a Sunday evening without a warrant but with only a Section 160 CRPC notice to question him on the Saradha Chit Fund case?

Was the CBI deceptive in ignoring a July 16, 2018 Supreme Court order that they should approach the Calcutta High Court in case they encounter any “Obstruction” from West Bengal government or its machinery? Was the nation wrong in concluding that the CBI’s intention was only to humiliate West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who had challenged the BJP high brass, by “raiding” the CM’s trusted police commissioner?

We always want to elevate our CBI to the level of the FBI. We forget that the FBI has earned this high position in America through hard work and professionalism. Firstly, they do not have “Deputationist” officers like in India who operate in a revolving door fashion.

This includes some who are tainted in the States for being too cozy with politicians. Second, the FBI works under the supervision of an Attorney General who has a distinct legal identity independent of the President as this post was created under the Judiciary Act 1789, two years after the US Constitution was passed.

That was how Attorney General Jeff Sessions was able to defy even President Donald Trump although he was appointed by him. Next, their independent functioning has in-built checks and balances to prevent misuse. For example, the Bureau does not have the power to decide whether a charge sheet is to be presented.

That power is with the federal prosecutors or US attorneys. They have to obtain court orders for the electronic surveillance of suspects. The court has the power of monitoring wire taps to prevent misuse.

Their budget and operations are tightly supervised by Congressional Committees who can hold special hearings. Their intelligence activities are supervised by the Director of National Intelligence. They have to obtain State concurrence to investigate State crimes.

Their anti-terror investigations are carried out by joint teams that even include non-police officials. Lastly, they have an “inspector general” under the 1978 Act, independent of their organisation, who works as a “whistle blower” and “auditor” to keep a tight check on the FBI’s operations. Is our CBI prepared to work within such constraints?

Vappala Balachandran is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat. (Syndicate: The Billion Press)

Will Modi declare a war on Pakistan?

Will Modi declare a war on Pakistan?

written by Bharat Raut  BY FPJ :The Valentines’ Day did not bring in a happy message of divine love and affection for India; instead the nation was pushed into a state of sorry, grief, agony and anger as a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy travelling from the valley of southern Kashmir was attacked at Pulwama by a suicide bomber and 40 Jawans were martyred in no time.

A Tsunami of protest was witnessed through the length and breadth of the nation and all senior leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh squarely blamed Pakistan for the covertly act. However, there is no word from Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on this issue yet. What does this mean? Does he accept the blame by keeping silence? Or is he not bothered about what India says and feels?

Big-wigs of national and regional political parties have been unanimously demanding to take apt revenge of the act. “Mere protests are not enough now. Over a billion Indians are expecting an action”, said political world. Here the action means nothing less than military action. Yes, that’s the feeling of the nation.

Now the question is, should India go for war against Pakistan? If yes, what would be its socio-political impact? Can India afford a war at this stage? This question assumes significance at this state as the Modi Government is on the verge of completing its first five-year term and the next Lok Sabha elections are due in the next three months.

US would stand by India
However, if a war really breaks out, it would invoke global reactions. Going by President Donald Trump’s recent utterances, it looks like the US would stand firmly with India. There is no love lost for India’s security and sovereignty but the US Government does not want China to become active and move its army closer to the West Asia ostensibly to help Pakistan. The US also wishes to keep the Russian forces at arm’s distance from India. In short, India would be held in a cross fire, if it opens war front against Pakistan in near future.

As Modi and his government mull its retaliatory options against Pakistan’s dastardly attack in Pulwama, it needs to look back in history and make a note of what works and what doesn’t. Whenever India has enjoyed a degree of military success against Pakistan, it has had to do with two common attributes: an element of surprise and a willingness to escalate. Unfortunately, surgical strikes no longer carry the surprise element. After 2016, the Pakistani army will be prepared for it. Also, unlike last time, there would most probably be no terrorist launch pads to be found in areas close to the Line of Control (LoC).

Since the Pulwama attack is bigger than Uri but much less ambitious than Kargil. One would expect an Indian military response, if any, to be between the two strata of surgical strikes and the use of air power. This is a narrow window, and then there are the low-yield battlefield nuclear weapons that Pakistan regularly flaunts. It is increasingly becoming difficult for India to impose costs on Pakistan that will instil some level of deterrence while, at the same time, not breaching any nuclear red lines.

Any significant response will either breach those red lines or demolish the Pakistani nuclear bluster for good. Once the immediate needs have been taken care of, India should think of a long-term strategy. Everything from covert operations to counterforce strikes should be on the table. Having said this, one must also take into account the mass feelings of the population. Pakistan-trained- terrorists have been regularly attacking Indian civilian territory and killing innocent people. India, apart from sending protest notes and fiery speeches, has not been doing anything worth noting.

As a result, India has become a ‘barking dog’ for the international diplomacy as well as the Indian population. In this situation, without much bothering about Pakistan’s possible protests and threats to get international sanctions against India, the Indian government needs to act firmly and quickly to retaliate. In Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan would not do anything without the clear mandate from Pakistan Army. This is because he has been installed in the saddle by none other than the army.

If he loses confidence of the Uniform force, he would not survive even for a day. Pakistan has earlier seen such army coups more than half a dozen times in the near past. Therefore, Imran would have to be prepared for war with or without his own wish.

Weakened Pakistan
Pakistan’s another handicap is that the Islamic nation is weakened due to internal rebellions. Baluchistan is on the verge of declaring independence and the region of Swart has been mainly occupied by Taliban militants. Politically, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) now led by Zardari and Benazir Bhutto’s son are waiting in the wings to see the exit of Imran Khan.

On the other hand, if India directly or indirectly declares war and enters Pakistan territory, it would have a great positive impact for Modi. Let’s recall here when 1999 Kargil action took place, the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government that had lost vote of confidence on the floor of Lok Sabha, came out with a handsome majority for NDA after the ‘Operation Vijay’.
Will Modi, who considers himself the follower and disciple of Vajpayee, follow the same path? Let’s wait and watch.

Bharatkumar Raut is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).

Cry, my beloved country

Cry, my beloved country

The dastardly attack on CRPF personnel in Pulwama on February 14 has caused the entire country to go into robotic mode. The response from media, politicians and civilians is mechanical and repetitive rhetoric. As I sat glued to the television and watched the gory story from Kashmir, a shiver ran down my spine. The entire event seemed copy-pasted! As if a printer has been set by default to print endless copies of the same blood-soaked sheet!

The condemnation, outrage, outbursts and defence evoked a sense of deja vu. Had I not been conscious of date and time, I would have taken it for a replay of a past misdeed on the screen. I failed miserably once again — failed to comprehend that ‘something’ which must have been amiss in the life of the young culprit, the face of this latest perpetrator of terror.

All terrorists look the same to me! Behind their different facades is one universal persona. I wish I could peek into his childhood and recognise the strain of destructive rebellion and save the rest of the country’s youth from being lured into the trap. It is strange that while the country’s heart bleeds for the brave soldiers meeting such a devastating, untimely death, I also mourn the ruination of thousands of young hearts for a vague cause.

Feeling hopeless and distressed at the sight of the blood-bathed bodies of our soldiers, I decided to switch off the television and go for a walk. My fifty-five inch television screen had became a nuisance today. The gigantic videos of the incident suffused my entire room and my being, and out of sheer suffocation, I decided to go out for a breather.

Again the same monotonous comments, condemnation and frenzy. “Wait and see. This time action will be taken. This time the government has to act.” “But what about previous acts?” I ask, “We will just talk for a few days and offer shraddhanjali and finish!” Friends retort, “This time it is different. More casualties! Action will be taken!” Indians are good mathematicians after all. The greater the casualty, the higher the impact.

And action. Little storms do not bother us, we are accustomed to tsunamis. While we kept our own little intellectual talk on, I was reminded of the onscreen debate that I had switched off and felt like a bonsai version of the newsreaders and debators. Was there a way to escape? Amidst the cacophony in my mind, I realised that the families of the dead warriors must have gone mute. Their pain, my words fail to measure.

Those who have lost their sleep tonight and for an eternity of nights to follow.  The rest all will go to sleep on a full stomach today. The shattering cries of the martyrs’ children will not be our wake-up call tomorrow; we have our own caller tunes. But for them, no music can ever sound the same. Should we tell the martyrs’ families to face the disaster with equanimity? Which religion in the world has the power to heal their gaping wounds? It is deplorable that ancient philosophies have become modern-day religions.

I wish we had let them be just that – philosophies — our guides and guardians. Philosophy, the mantra of life has disappeared and that is why we do not bother about the living beings. A secular country thrives on a philosophy that gives it a working ideology. A philosophy that undertakes to find meaning in life, not make it meaningless. A philosophy that tries to understand the fundamentals of human existence and experience.

But here we stand, threatening human existence as never before. Man versus man. No one is concerned about the country’s philosophy. All that matters is statistics, majorities, minorities, and so on. Religion, a personal habit or choice of worship, has become the battleground of the world. Sadly, we just have political schools of thought, instead of ideological seats of learning.

Religion has become so big and humanism so insignificant. It has become a deadly tool to rationalise every sort of violence. And even rationalisation has become a variable, with a new value for every new calculation. Without the philosophy of humanism grounded and intricately etched in every single individual of the world, existence will be nothing but a nightmare. What shall I dream about today? Goodnight, dear country.

 Alka Jainis Teaching Associate, Rani Laxmibai Central Agricultural University, Jhansi. Views are personal.

written by Alka Jain  FPJ.

India-Saudi Arabia ties: A tight rope to walk

India-Saudi Arabia ties: A tight rope to walk

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is turning his focus to Asia, secure in the knowledge that no uncomfortable questions about Jamal Khashoggi would be raised by his hosts. Asian leaders, it is well known, are not in the habit of raising human right concerns and they certainly do not like to make a public issue about “sensitive” matters. The heir to the Saudi throne, commonly known by his initials MBS, arrives in Pakistan over the weekend. His tour will take him to India, Malaysia, Indonesia and China.

He will be in Delhi on February 19, 20 on his first official visit to India, at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India’s relation with Saudi Arabia has improved dramatically since 2006, when Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud arrived on an official visit.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, went personally to welcome him at the airport. Since then, relations have looked up. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Riyadh in 2016, and buzz of major Saudi investments in India began. The PM met MBS, seen as the real power behind the throne in Buenos Aires, during the G20 summit in Argentina, last November.

The Crown Prince was once the darling of the US and European governments and media for his attempts to reform Saudi society from the clutches of the orthodox Wahabi clergy and attempts to shape the kingdom into a moderate Islamic kingdom. He cleared the streets of the all powerful moral police, allowed cinema houses and music back in and is in the process of building a huge entertainment district in Riyadh. All this had made MBS a favourite among young people in Saudi Arabia.

Not that he did not mess up even then. His disastrous war in Yemen, his decision to isolate Qatar were ill conceived. But the rest of the world was still not ready to write off the new Crown Prince who was seen as a breath of fresh air in the orthorodox Saudi ruling house. But the brutal murder and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last October has dealt a deadly blow to MBS.

The fact that some of those held responsible for the barbaric act were part of his trusted security personnel is not lost on people. It is also inconceivable that a well known Saudi journalist, working for the Washington Post and living in exile in the US, could not have been targeted without the express orders from the top.

The Saudis have denied any involvement of the Crown Prince. In fact, initially they denied any knowledge of Khashoggi’s whereabouts. Later in the face of evidence released by the Turkish authorities, with footage of Jamal entering the consulate the Saudis had to finally admit he died inside the consulate.

Perhaps in a bid to shift focus from MBS, the Saudis have begun the trial of the 11 charged with murder of Jamal. The prosecution had asked for death sentence for five of the hired hands. US and Saudi Arabia have been close allies. President Donald Trump, who walked out of the Iran nuclear deal is keen to isolate Tehran. His views on Iran is in line with the Saudis who see Iran as competition to Sunni dominance of the Muslim world. Trump is close to the Kingdom and his son in law Jared Kushner has developed a rapport with MBS.

Despite the goodwill from the White House, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi has outraged American public opinion and lawmakers both Democrats and Republicans no longer see the Crown Prince as a knight in shining armour ready to fight religious extremists. Yet in Asia, none of this matters. India wants investments from Riyadh. So does Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Saudis helped Imran Khan’s new government by offering a loan of six billion to ease the prevailing financial crunch.

There are plans for a ten billion oil refinery and petro chemical complex in the port city of Gwadar, which is at the heart of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. MBS is expected to announce major investments during his visit to Pakistan this weekend. He will be staying at Prime Minister Imran Khan’s home while in Islamabad. Delhi is also hoping for investments from Saudi Arabia.

Expectations are that MBS may announce investments in the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund, meant to help India’s creaking infrastructure. There is also talk of investments in the farm sector, where produce grown by Indian farmers would be directly exported to the Kingdom.

Yet Saudi investments in Maharashtra for a $44 billion refinery project has faced many delays and has frustrated the Saudis, not used to projects being held up because of public protests. Saudi Aramco (the state owned company) and the Abu Dhabi National Oil company had acquired 50 per cent stake in the refinery but strong opposition by mango growers had made it difficult for the government to acquire land and take the project forward. Still MBS sees India as a future growth area and prepared to invest in various projects here.

In the last few years, India’s ties with Saudi Arabia have improved dramatically. Riyadh, which at one time refused to hand over terror suspects, have since 9/11 been much more accommodating. With over three million Indians working in Saudi Arabia, Indian government’s whether BJP or Congress, are keen to take the ties forward. The hitch is trying to balance out India’s relations with Iran. It would have to be a tight-rope walk.

Seema Guha is a senior journalist with expertise in foreign policy and international affairs.

There is a high-stake battle for West Bengal

There is a high-stake battle for West Bengal

A political slugfest took place last week when the central government-controlled CBI landed in Kolkata to question the city’s police commissioner in connection with Saradha and Rose Valley chit fund scam. It triggered a strong protest from West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

The reasons for the stand-off between the Centre and State government could be the overlapping of administrative jurisdictions and judicial interpretations. But one important reason that may have played the crucial role in the developments leading to a flashpoint between Delhi and Kolkata is the political ambition of the BJP, which is betting big on West Bengal.

Therefore, what happened in Bengal was a political fight with the Centre using the CBI to push its agenda and the state government resisting it with the state police.  Over the past few months, senior BJP leaders, including its president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have held several rallies in West Bengal. With little over a month left for the elections to be declared, the BJP has got in a massive poll campaign mode in Bengal with several back-to-back rallies within a fortnight.

In December 2018, the party had tried to take out a grand rath yatra traversing through all 42 Lok Sabha constituencies, but was thwarted by the Bengal government as permission was denied at the last minute, citing law and order threats. While the BJP quickly knocked on the court’s door, the Calcutta High Court and the Supreme Court refused to interfere with the state government’s decision. Over the last two years, the RSS and BJP have reportedly made several attempts to demonise Ms Banerjee as a pro-Muslim leader. Religion has reportedly been blatantly used to induce fear, hate and divisiveness among Bengalis.

But the Hindutva card that the BJP has tried to play in Bengal, which may work for the party in Northern and Western states of India, is said to be too weak a card to deliver similar results in West Bengal. Reports suggest that the BJP’s attempts to woo the upper-caste Hindus in Bengal have given the party some ground in the state. But Bengal is too diverse a state with its cultures, languages, classes and castes and hence there is no one type of Bengali electorate.

If there is one state in which the BJP has put in lot of efforts in the last few years and faced as much resistance from its chief minister, it is West Bengal. She has stood like a wall, guarding its 42 Lok Sabha constituencies. But the power struggle in the high stakes battle for West Bengal between the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and BJP continues.

Given the acrimony between the BJP-led government at the Centre and Ms Banerjee, who has emerged as the rallying point for opposition unity, it is not surprising that the CBI’s attempt to question Kolkata’s top cop led to the chief minister accusing the Centre of ‘attacking the federal structure of the Constitution’.

Having taken the might of the Modi-led government head on, the sympathy that poured in for Ms Banerjee from opposition leaders, pledging support in her battle against a ‘fascist’ government at the Centre which, in their opinion, is ‘trying to destroy democratic institutions’, was also not unexpected.

Though the stand-off ended three days later with each side claiming ‘moral victory’, this is not the end of Modi-BJP versus Ms Banerjee confrontation, but the beginning of a bitter political battle ahead in the upcoming national elections.

With her dharna politics, Ms Banerjee has ensured that the discourse a few months before the general elections centres on her. But the BJP has also sent out a message to its political adversary in Bengal that it is ready to take on the might of the TMC head on. Ms Banerjee is no stranger to street politics. Her political journey is a testimony of protests and dharnas. If she is in her elements as a protestor, the BJP seems to be set for a confrontation with her. And there are reasons for this.

With the decline of the once-powerful CPM-led Left Front to the margins after two successive defeats to TMC and the Congress party not in a position to grab the opposition space, the BJP has been the key beneficiary of the vacuum left behind by the Left’s slide.  Over the past one year, analysts have been speculating that with the BJP’s electoral fortunes on the decline, the party might not be able to repeat its 2014 performance, mainly on account of a possible poor show in the Hindi heartland.

The recent coming together of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party would be a major hurdle for the BJP in repeating its 2014 performance in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP had swept the heartland in the last general elections, bagging 192 out of the 226 seats. It was the Hindi heartland – especially UP, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand – that propelled the BJP to an absolute majority in 2014. But with its recent defeat in three of the heartland states, the chances of repetition of the previous results look dim.

Since 2014, the BJP has been eyeing the North-East region where it has managed to form governments, either on its own or in alliance in six out of the seven states. There are 24 Lok Sabha seats in the region. These 24 seats are crucial for the BJP to make up partially for the losses in the heartland states, but won’t be enough to ride to power in 2019. That’s why West Bengal is crucial for the BJP, which will be hoping to win around 10 to 12 seats from the state. In 2014, the BJP had won two seats and polled nearly 17 percent votes, its highest ever in Bengal. In 2016 assembly elections, the BJP had polled 10 per cent votes and won 6 seats.

According to recent C-voter survey, the BJP’s vote share in Bengal is projected at 31 per cent in 2019 general elections and its seats tally could go up from two to seven. While this significant gain, it’s still not going to be enough to compensate for the losses elsewhere. But then the BJP is playing for a long haul.

Even if this round of election results go to the TMC, which is way ahead of other political parties in Bengal, BJP’s confrontation with the TMC might help the former eat into the Left Front’s votes. This will help BJP grow to a better position to face the TMC in the next assembly elections in 2021. This is why the BJP is making extra efforts in Bengal.

A L I chougule is an independent senior journalist.