Asian Correspondent » Amarnath Tewary Asian Correspondent Wed, 27 May 2015 15:00:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 India: Is the writing on the wall for Nitish Kumar? Wed, 19 Feb 2014 03:35:02 +0000

Bihar state Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Pic: AP.

As India gears up for the forthcoming general elections, the political temperature in the crucial state of Bihar is rising as the state chief minister and Janata Dal United’s (JD-U) only trump card Nitish Kumar has apparently been losing coherence and his usual political composure these days.

A recent survey, one of many, has seemingly caused  a major headache for Kumar who is making a desperate bid to hold his fort all alone. The Bihar chief minister, yet to make any pre-poll alliance, has been taking on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) PM nominee Narendra Modi in ongoing rallies across the state.

The Times Now-CVoter national projection poll released last week projected BJP to get 202 seats and congress to sink to just 89 seats out of total 543 members of Indian Parliament. The BJP and its allies could reach up to 227, whereas the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) would barely cross the 100 seat mark, said the report.

Earlier polls also indicated positive results for the BJP and poor returns for JD-U and Congress in Bihar. Almost all the surveys have indicated that the Nitish Kumar led JD-U would not achieve even 10 in the 40 members Lok Sabha constituencies in the state.

“I don’t believe the poll survey reports and you too should not get carried away with such reports. These are just for entertainment value,” Nitish Kumar has been telling people at his Sankalp Rallies.

But his body language these days, say political pundits in Bihar, says something different. The otherwise confident and composed Kumar is looking edgy, they say.

Has he become nervous or overconfident? ask many in Bihar’s political spectrum today.

Recently when reacting to an intelligence report implicating a minister of Kumar’s cabinet for having Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) links, the Bihar chief minister slammed the BJP for raking up controversy.

“It appears that BJP leaders are suffering from sick minds. The minds of BJP leaders have become rotten and they’re suffering from a disease which makes them speak baseless things whenever they see a Muslim face,” said Kumar.

He not only gave a clean chit to his cabinet colleague and state minority welfare and IT minister Shahid Ali Khan but also came down heavily on the BJP saying that it  and Modi view every  Muslim with suspicion. “However, during the regime of Atal Bihari Vajpayee it was not the situation,” said Kumar.

The Bihar police too promptly denied any such link and said that after the investigation it was found that the minister has no links with any such organizations as reported in the letter.

Interestingly, the Bihar chief minister, who earlier accused the chairman of the Press Council of Indian of gagging media in Bihar, has now started taking on media for ignoring him and his work.

“You publish only about two darlings of media [oblique reference to Narendra Modi and Lalu Prasad Yadav]… who cares about me… I’m being neglected in media,” he complained to journalists recently.

The very next day he scolded photojournalists at one of his Sankalp Rallies in Begusarai and shooed them away from the dais as they were taking his pictures. “Go away from here…y ou don’t publish my photo then why take pictures and disturb me…m y face is not perfect for publication like others [indirect reference to BJP PM nominee Narendra Modi].”

In fact, in the run up to the crucial upcoming Lok Sabha poll, which is going to make or mar Nitish Kumar’s political future in Bihar, the Bihar chief minister seemingly has been losing ground. Despite his initial inviting steps towards Congress Party he did not finalise the alliance. Now, Nitish Kumar has kept his poll hopes flying on an likely alliance with the left parties CPI and CPM.

At a recent rally, Kumar said: “If you will not vote for my party candidates in the Parliamentary polls they [BJP / Congress] will ensure that my government in Bihar would fall in next 10 days.”

The political pundits of the state took these words to be pregnant with political meaning and leanings. “It shows he has become nervous with the political winds blowing in other directions in the state and the country… he, perhaps, has read what’s been written on the wall,” said one of them.

After an MLA and minister in his cabinet resigned from his party and membership of the state assembly and another MLA died of cardiac arrest, his government too has been reduced to a minority with just 116 members of 243 in the Bihar assembly. He is getting the support of four Independent and Four Congress MLAs in the House to keep his government alive.

Meanwhile, the buzz in political corridors in the state is that a bloc of altogether 19 MLAs along with the four Independent MLAs are ready to part ways with Nitish Kumar government but “they would prefer to wait till the Lok Sabha poll results”.

“It all depends what happens in the Lok Sabha and after that the Political situation in Bihar may take a major change,” said a poll observer.

Till then keep watching the great Indian political tamasha—or, some say, the biggest democratic festival of India.

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India: Politics turns to tragedy at Modi’s Hunkar Rally Sun, 27 Oct 2013 15:02:48 +0000 A series of bomb blast ahead of the BJP’s Hunkar [battle cry] Rally in Bihar Sunday in Patna, India left five people dead and over 70 injured. Five low intensity bombs went off in quick succession but the mammoth crowd refused to budge before BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s speech.

In his speech, Modi slammed his Bihar counterpart Nitish Kumar for betraying his party BJP and trained his gun towards the Congress party also for unemployment, poverty, fundamentalism and price rises. However, the series of blasts stole much of his limelight.

Plumes of gray smoke swirl above the crowd after one of a series of small bombs exploded near the venue of a rally by India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Patna, India, Sunday. Pic: AP.

After the first blast took place at Patna railway platform No 10 at 9.20am and six others went off between 11:40 to 12:45 pm the BJP leaders appeared concerned that the assembled crowd may disperse or there could be a stampede. Some even said the noise was caused by firecrackers.

Soon, the party’s star and PM hopeful Narendra Modi  took the stage to a rapturous reception and chants of “NaMo zindabad”.

Modi connected with the crowd by alluding to his unprivileged past.

“Unless the Congress party end the dynastic rule I’ll keep calling him [Rahul Gandhi] a Shahzada, heir prince,” he said.

Meanwhile, the political buzz in the state capital is that the serial blasts might go in favour of the BJP, as if it was found to be the work of a terrorist organizations, Hindu vote share would be polarized in favor of the party. The early leads indicated terrorist outfit Indian Mujahideen [IM]  had a role in the blasts.

“It’s a matter of polarization of votes and nothing else,” an observer said. Bihar and the neighboring state Uttar Pradesh together constitute a total of 120 key Parliamentary seats ahead of next year’s election.

The Hunkar Rally was always going to be fractions. In the end it turned out to be tragic too. Political scores may have been settled, but it came at the cost of five dead and over 70 injured. Tonight the streets of Patna are packed with BJP supporters and ringing with chants of “NaMo”.

“Such blasts cannot deter leaders like Narendra Modi from becoming the Prime Minister of the country. We’re ready to make many such sacrifices for him,” said BJP supporter Rajesh Pandey, who was present at the rally.

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India: Bihar braces for Modi’s Hunkar Rally Sat, 26 Oct 2013 03:44:28 +0000 (UPDATE: India: Blasts rock Patna ahead of opposition rally)

Bhartiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi appears all set to storm the bastion of political bete noire Nitish Kumar on Sunday with the party’s Hunkar Rally in Patna, state capital of Bihar. The Bihar chief minister, earlier, cancelled a dinner with the top BJP leaders in Patna expressing his reservations over NaMo, as he is known in the Indian media. Modi has always been persona non grata for Kumar in Bihar, apparently because of his lofty political ambitions and aspirations.

The Bihar chief minister, on 16 June, even severed his ties of 17 years with the BJP because of Modi and his government survived in Bihar with the support of Congress party. Ever since the split, BJP leaders have launched tirades against Kumar. What surprised everyone is the overnight turnaround of senior BJP leader and former Deputy chief minister Shushil Kumar Modi who before 16 June saw Nitish Kumar as a PM candidate. Bihar BJP leader Shushil Modi, known as SuMo, was such an admirer of Kumar that in Bihar he was often accused of putting the BJP’s interests second.

Narendra Modi. Pic: AP.

The Bihar unit of the BJP was divided along pro-Shushil Modi and anti-Shushil Modi lines until he recently put his weight entirely behind NaMo, surprising even Nitish Kumar.

Such has been the effect of Narendra Modi that the entire party unit, willingly or unwillingly, appears to be pulling out all the stops to make the rally a “historic” one. All the party’s 12 Lok Sabha members and 91 legislators from Bihar have fanned out in every nook and cranny of the state to muster support for the rally; some with innovate ideas and experiments to draw attention of their supreme leader. NaMo tea stalls were set up, NaMo jalebis (Indian sweets) were handed out, door-to-door campaigns set off and road shows and boat shows were organized to invite people to the rally.

At the Gandhi Maidan, venue of the Hunkar Rally, a huge tent measuring over 2.5 lakh sq feet is being erected, one lakh (100,000) wooden toothbrushes [daatuns] are to be distributed before serving puri-subzi to the rally goers; scores of LED screens, a hi-tech linear sound system and 12 cameramen are also part of the arrangements. Altogether 11 trains and over 3,000 bused have been booked to ferry people to and fro to the rally venue. Hundreds of banners, posters, hoardings and arch-gates have been put up as well as larger than life cutouts of BJP leaders. The state capital, Patna, has become completely covered with rally posters and banners throwing normal traffic out of gear. Public convenience in the capital has gone kaput for the rally.

The party has also distributed two CDs ‘NaMo Hunkar’ and ‘Modi banenge PM’ right up to village level to spread the message of the Hunkar Rally. Bhojpuri superstar Manoj Tiwari – who recently joined the BJP – has also been roped in to pull and entertain crowds at the rally.

Party leader Shushil Modi once again outdid other party leaders when he took his road-show to the streets in Patna on Thursday with a gang of bikers escorting him while chanting SuMo/NaMo’s name. SuMo said he was inviting people through his road-shows to attend the rally, but for the frightened common it brought back memories of the previous RJD regime when rogue bikers with party flags often rampaged through city roads. They wonder if this is a sign of things to come should the BJP come to power.

The party leaders claim that over five lakh (500,000) people will be attending the Hunkar Rally and it will be the biggest ever in Patna. The star speaker Narendra Modi will be reaching at the venue at 2pm and will leave the city by 3pm. His entourage will go to the rally site direct from the Patna airport amidst tight security measures. He will likely to attack Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar for cancelling the dinner for them and raise other issues to strike a cord with the common people. Narendra Modi has made an impact with the urban middle class and youth in Bihar, but has not won the hearts of rural people in the caste-ridden society of Bihar. Although NaMo is widely seen as a strong leader, over-enthusiastic leaders like SuMo who could spoil the game by antagonizing common people through daunting road-shows .

Meanwhile, the Patna Municipal Corporation has started removing unauthorized banners, posters and hoardings, even though it is a bit late at this stage.

Nitish Kumar prefers not to be in town on Hunkar Rally day, he will be busy participating in his party’s two-day Chintan Shivir [meditation camp] at Rajgir on 27 -28 October, saying there is nothing special about it.

The Opposition party Rashtriya Janata Dal [RJD] led by incarcerated leader Lalu Prasad Yadav, though, has termed the Hunkar Rally as the Khunkhar Rally [ferocious rally] and the ruling party JD-U has dubbed it the Chitkar Rally [mourning rally]. Whatever you prefer to call it, NaMo’s presence in Bihar will herald some changes in the state’s political firmament. Whether it’s for good or bad, only time will tell.

Amarnath Tewary is the Bihar-based assistant editor of Indian national newspaper The Pioneer.

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India: BJP’s Modi nod sparks political crisis in Bihar Wed, 17 Apr 2013 06:30:05 +0000 Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar likely to go it alone as BJP set  to nominate Narendra Modi as Prime Ministerial candidate

With the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) almost deciding to go with Narendra Modi as its Prime Ministerial candidate and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s veiled yet open annoyance, all eyes are fixed on whether the 17-year-long alliance between BJP and Janata Dal (U) will end, or what wily move Nitish Kumar will take in days to come.

Bihar state Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Pic: AP.

Will he be playing footsie with  Congress or he will wait to see if the BJP decides to change its mind? We should not forget that BJP leader LK Advani has not yet ruled himself out of the PM’s race within party. Will Janata Dal (U)’s Nitish Kumar explore the possibilities of creating a separate political bloc along with Bengal and Orissa counterparts – at least 100 Lok Sabha – seats or he will extend his issue-based support the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and be saddled for five more years in Bihar? Or could the imminent break-up prove fatal for both and box JD-U and BJP, providing an opportunity for opposition parties to flourish in Bihar? There are more questions than answers these days.

The million dollar question is what will happen if both the NDA partners part ways in the Parliamentary poll scheduled to be held in April-May 2014?

Despite the popular belief and the party’s own assessment that the BJP will not be loser if Nitish Kumar opts out of the alliance, the ground realities and facts suggest otherwise. The upper castes are behind BJP, but its because of Nitish Kumar’s support it also got votes from the lower and loser middle castes, as well as minority votes – winning a 39 percent share of votes in the state. The JD-U won 22.61 per cent while BJP received 16.46 per cent of votes respectively.

There is also a possibility that if the alliance splits a section of the upper caste votes too will go to Nitish Kumar’s side as we’ve seen happening with the BJD in Orissa. A section of the upper caste could even support Nitish Kumar out of fear of the return of Lalu Prasad Yadav and his “jungle raj” in the state. In his seven years in power in Bihar Nitish Kumar has been carefully nursing a section of upper caste, Bhumihar, doling plum posts and positions to bureaucrats and politicians coming from this caste segment. The Bhumihars in Bihar are considered as a politically aggressive caste capable of influencing poll prospects significantly. In the early days the Nitish regime was popularly referred by many as Bhusashan—rule of Bhumihars.

So, in case of both parties contesting the poll separately Nitish Kumar may have the last laugh with his social engineering paying off handsome electoral returns.

Narendra Modi is set to be declared the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate. Pic: AP.

But it won’t be plain sailing for Bihar chief minister and JD-U leader Kumar. The imminent split has the potential to cost him dearly. The BJP had contested only 102 seats out of the total 243 seats and had got a 16.46 percent voteshare. And unlike other parties the voteshare of the BJP has been constant at 13-15 percent in the last decade. Upper castes are mainly concentrated in the Mithila, Kosi and Magadh regions with very thick concentration in the districts of Patna, Bhagalpur, Gaya, Aurangabad, Darbhanga, Madhubani, Samastipur and Gopalganj. These political constituencies have been a stronghold of BJP for a long time and it will quite difficult for Nitish Kumar to make a dent in this impregnable fort of the saffron party.

Furthermore Kumar did not received the 17 percent Muslim votes in the last assembly poll and a minor swing in the vote pattern could be dangerous for him. The anti-Narendra Modi vote on which Nitish Kumar apparently is banking on will also go to other parties like RJD-LJP and Congress. Together RJD-LJP and Congress comes around 34 percent of voteshare, just 4-5 percent short of the NDA alliance vote share.

There are certain facts at local level which the political pundits outside the state have failed to notice. The BJP in Bihar is a divided house: one side is led by party leader and deputy chief minister Shushil Kumar Modi and the other supported by Narendra Modi. In the last seven years of power sharing, many in Bihar believe Shushil Modi has done more harm to BJP than even Nitish Kumar or the Opposition. Shushil Modi not only tried to follow Nitish Kumar in every turn but apparently has surrendered the heart and soul of the party at Kumar’s feet to remain at number two in the state. Many believe that a split will prompt Shushil Modi to  join Nitish Kumar. Interestingly, soon after the BJP central leadership came out with fitting reply to Nitish Kumar’s speech at his party’s recen national executive meet in Delhi, some of the Bihar BJP leaders in the Narendra Modi camp flew off to meet party president Rajnath Singh urging a “do or die battle” with Nitish Kumar. The party president told them to be patient and wait for the opportune time to come.

The faction-riddled BJP in Bihar could play into Nitish Kumar’s hands if he goes alone in the poll contesting all the 40 Lok Sabha seats. If Nitish Kumar stood with the BJP he could not get more than 20 seats, but contesting all 40 seats party pundits believe he could win as many as 30. And having mores seats in his kitty Nitish Kumar will be able to play longer and smarter in his gameplan of national politics with more bargaining power with whoever wil be at the centre: NDA or UPA. The common perception in Bihar is that Nitish Kumar will prefer to go alone if BJP sings the Narendra Modi mantra and consider possible alliances after the elections. Others believe the split will only benefit the opposition.

“Nitish Kumar may find himself at number three position,” said a Bihar BJP leader.

At this stage the one thing that is clear is that Kumar would prefer to go alone in the poll if Narendra Modi finally is declared as the BJP’s PM candidate. In his hate of Narendra Modi, Nitish Kumar has gone to the point of no return. But until that declaration is made he will be watching and waiting. And who knows the game of possibilities in politics better than Nitish Kumar, who waited 15 years years to dethrone his arch-rival Lalu Prasad in Bihar. The great political drama has just begun and there is a lot more to be seen in days to come.

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13 years in limbo: India and Pakistan’s nowhere man Tue, 26 Feb 2013 02:41:01 +0000 13 years after overstaying his Indian visa for just three days, one man remains entangled in a bureaucratic nightmare, unable to return to his family in Pakistan

“I don’t understand borders… I can never respect borders,” says Mohammed Idrees Alam.

For 13 years now the 46-year-old has been separated from his wife and four children in Pakistan, unable to return because he overstayed his visa in India for three days in July 1999. Since then, the India-Pakistan border has been the source of his greatest hopes, and his greatest disappointments. He is the ‘nowhere man’.

Mohammed Idrees Alam pictured outside Kanpur Railway Station. Pic: Prashant Ravi.

His story begins like this….

Mohammed was born and brought up in Kanpur in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. In September 1987, at the age of 21, he traveled to his maternal uncle Mohammed Shafatullah’s house in Karachi of Pakistan to “see the place and people on the other side of the border”.

“I had a three-month visa to stay there,” he says. “But when I reached there my uncle’s family members put me under a lot of pressure to marry and even said that the marriage was already arranged.”

“I was reluctant, and trying not to succumb to their pressure but amid all this my visa expired and I had no choice but to stay there for their support and help,” says Mohamed.

Left with no choice, young Mohammed Idrees married Shabana Idrees on 15 January 1988 and entered the leather business to earn his living there.

“I was known as Indian Idrees there,” he says.

Return to India

That same year he, along with his newly wed wife, got visas to travel to Kanpur in India to see his parents but at the last moment his wife’s visa “somehow went missing”, so he traveled to India alone.

“My parents were not happy with the marriage but after some time they relented,” he says.

Meanwhile, his first son was born on 16 October 1988. A year later, on 15 October 1989, he returned to his wife and son in Pakistan.

Over the next 10 years he did good business, gained Pakistani nationality and became the father of three more sons.

“I never wanted to lose my Indian nationality, but for the sake of my children and wife I surrendered my Indian passport to become a Pakistani national,” says Mohammed.

Mohammed Idrees Alam with his wife and children. Pic: Prashant Ravi.

In 1996 Mohammed received his Pakistani passport [no: G057703]. He was no longer an Indian citizen.

“Mine was a life compromised by situation and fate,” he laments.

Nevertheless, he remained in touch with his ageing parents in India.

“In 1998 I got a letter from my father requesting me to come to see him for the last time as he was not keeping well and I decided to go back.”

After a lengthy battle with bureaucracy, by May 1999 he had all the documents he needed to go back to India to see his parents. Then, everything went terribly wrong. The day before his departure his wife went missing along with all four children and all their money. His in-laws informed him that his wife and children were staying with a relative and would return in their own time.


Mohammed Idrees Alam, now a Pakistani national, crossed border at Attari in Amritsar on 10 May 1999 to meet his ailing father, Ahmed Jan. His visa [no: P093026] allowed him just 15 days in India.

His father died soon after he reached Kanpur and amid the grief and trauma Mohammed Idrees Alam overstayed his visa by three days. His visa had expired, and so had his luck. When he got over his grief he went straight to local authorities in Kanpur seeking a visa extension, but it was not granted.

“The authorities arrested me on 12 July 1999 … under the Foreigner’s Act and I was sent to jail,” he says.

It was the time when the Kargil war between India and Pakistan was at its height and the authorities branded Mohammed a suspected terrorist.

After six days in jail he was granted bail by the local court and was released on 18 July 1999. However, the mistreatment continued even when out on bail as he was labeled a terrorist and a spy by the people of the town he grew up in.

“It was worse than in jail,” he says.

For the next decade Mohammed battled the courts, officials and authorities of his Indian hometown to clear the charges so he could return to Pakistan and to his family. Meanwhile, across the border his four children were growing up and his wife coming to terms with his lengthy absence.

Eventually, the Special Chief Judicial Magistrate of Kanpur exonerated Mohammed Idrees Alam of the charge while imposing fine of rupees 500 with the period of detention he had already served in Kanpur central jail for “overstaying his visa”. The court also ordered his repatriation.

On 12 August 2009 the local authorities took Mohammed Idrees Alam to Attari border but he could not cross, as he did not have the required Emergency Certificate and a valid Pakistani passport. His Pakistani passport had expired in 2003.

By the time Mohammed finally reached the border, his Pakistan passport had already expired. Pic: Prashant Ravi.

“He can be repatriated to Pakistan only after the Pakistan High Commission confirms his nationality and issue a travel document in his favor,” says a RTI [Right to Information] reply, No: 28020/51/2012—F.III, from Ministry of Home Affairs [Foreigners Division].

Since then, Mohammed Idrees Alam, a frail man with sad memories, has been struggling to return to home and family, but with no success.

“I’m a nowhere man today. It’s been 13 years I’ve been running from pillar to post to cross the border just for overstaying three days of my visa. It’s quite unacceptable for humanity anywhere in the world,” he says.

Mohammed shows pictures of his wife and family. Pic: Prashant Ravi.

Life has not been easy for Mohammed in India. With his childhood home taken by a relative, he has spent time living on the streets and charity houses. Since May 2012, he has been living a small, cramped room in Kanpur.

Kanpur District Magistrate, Mr Manoj Aggarwal, said the authorities are in touch with the Pakistan embassy to try to get Idrees Alam’s passport processed.

“We’re waiting for their response but Mohammed Idrees Alam shouldn’t have overstayed,” he says.

Meanwhile, Mohammed lives in poverty, not even able to get a work permit so he can support himself. But he refuses go give up.

“I’ll keep fighting as I wish to meet my children before my death,” he says.

Mohammed Idrees Alam last talked to his wife three years ago in March 2009 on Holi festival on a neighbor’s phone.

“I just want to ask one question: which country I belong to?”

Who will answer: India or Pakistan?

You can listen to BBC World Service’s excellent report on Mohammed’s plight here

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Analysis: No apology, but Cameron puts best foot forward in India Wed, 20 Feb 2013 07:52:06 +0000 In the wake of the economic slowdown in Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron’s three-day trade visit to India was significant in many ways. He made strong pitch for Indian investors, students and bilateral relations. The British Prime Minister also assured India Britain would offer support with the probe into the AugustaWestland chopper scandal currently rocking the Indian government.

It was Mr Cameron’s second visit to India in three years, and with the biggest ever delegation of more than 140 members. Was it a ploy, or a sincere effort to improve relations with its former colony? Among Indians, the jury is still out.

David Cameron, Aamir Khan

British Prime Minister David Cameron, center left, and Bollywood actor & UNICEF ambassador to promote child nutrition Aamir Khan, center right, interact with students at the Janaki Devi Memorial College in New Delhi, India, Tuesday. Pic: AP.

Mr Cameron not only interacted with Indian students, business delegates and the Indian Prime Minister, but also visited Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar where in 1919 British General REH Dyer unleashed a massacre in which more than 1,000 Indians who had assembled for a meeting were mown down.

Facing the past

During his visit to the site in 1997, Prince Philip had described the death count as “vastly exaggerated”, causing serious offence in India. Queen Elizabeth II hasn’t said a word about the massacre, let alone apologise for it.

But, this time there was strong speculation in the Indian media that Prime Minister Cameron would apologize for the British cruelties in colonial India. Some said “if he doesn’t apologize, his visit is meaningless”, while the other voice was “if he apologizes it would be welcomed across India”. Others felt “what does it matter after nearly a century?”, while for most it was simply “this particular gesture of Mr Cameron will certainly strengthen the special ties he aspires to bond with India”.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, center, visits the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, Wednesday. Pic: AP.

In the end there was no formal apology, but what seemed to be a sincere expression of regret. On Wednesday, during a visit to the massacre site, he called the killings the killings “a shameful event in British history.” He also laid a mourning wreath at the site. He came, he saw and he made his point, said the observers.

Immigration issues

He also touched upon the young heart of Indian students for whom UK has been a favourite destination for studies, next only to the US. The strict visa rules for the non-European students introduced in last summer significantly caused a 30% decrease in the number of Indian student visa applications to the UK over the past year.

Now, Mr Cameron has promised to relax the visa rules as ‘Indian students are key to British higher education’. Both Prime Ministers agreed to increase university-to-university collaborations and also to enhance cooperation in skills educations.

“The announcement by Prime Minister Cameron means a big difference for Indian students who aspire to go to UK for higher studies. Its a welcome move,” said journalism student Alok Gupta, who wishes to continue his studies in the UK.

Trade and business

The two Prime Ministers also had a wide-ranging discussion on bi-lateral relations, particularly on how to enhance cooperation to develop Indian’s defense industry through greater emphasis on technology transfer, co-development and co-production.

Mr Cameron first visited India in the year 2010 when bi-lateral trade between the two countries was $12.6 billion, rising significantly to $16.2 billion in 2011-12. Britain is now the largest European investor in India, he declared in Mumbai. Now, said the British Prime Minister, both the countries are on track to take trade to $35 bilion by 2015.

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Bihar: An Indian state muzzles its media Fri, 15 Feb 2013 04:42:12 +0000 State government uses threats, ad revenues and strong-arm tactics to keep journalists under thumb

Is media muted in the northern Indian state of Bihar? Has the fourth state in Bihar been sold out? The Press Council of India (PCI) certainly thinks so. In its report the PCI has compared the current situation with 21-month emergency period– from 26 June 1975 to 21 March 1977 -when media was “gagged, muted and handicapped” in India.

The PCI report may have triggered a nationwide debate with its startling revelation, but for the journalists and supporters of press freedom it simply confirmed what they already knew. The present government of chief minister Nitish Kumar appears to be in full control of media, bar a few. And if he isn’t silencing the press, he is using it for his own publicity.

Nitish Kumar

Bihar state Chief Minister Nitish Kumar after state elections in 2010. The intervening years have not been good ones for press freedom in Bihar. Pic: AP.

The PCI chief, Justice [retd.] Markandey Katju visited Bihar a year ago and it was then he got real feedback on how the media is being officially gagged and muted. He immediately formed a three-member fact-finding team of journalists to unearth the details. It took them most of a year to come up with their final report and the contents were staggering.

Free and fair journalism in Bihar is facing a similar threat to which was seen during the Emergency in our country, said the report. The state government is using media for its own publicity and propaganda and the newspapers in the state have totally surrendered to the government for their only sources of revenue, “government advertisements”, said the PCI chief.

It is true that since Bihar is a poor, lawless and underdeveloped state there are no private companies or industries which can sustain the newspapers’ advertising revenue and its absence gets filled up by the government advertisements. The state government apparently tapped the situation for its own benefit and growth and its message regularly spills from the advertising into the news, such is its hold over the media.

Many journalists said newspapers have effectively become the state government’s Public Relation Department and those who do not comply face quick financial reprimand. The PCI in its report has even made reference to a letter written by the then director of the state PR department to the newspapers that ministers were not happy as their statements are not being published properly in their respective papers.

Journalistic integrity

It was just a tip of the iceberg. There are many instances of the state government reportedly using threats and strong arm tactics to muzzle the media in Bihar. Reporters and correspondents were either shown the door or forced to leave the state entirely whenever they tried to follow any kind of journalistic integrity. Editors and owners of the newspapers were summoned and told to either comply, or lose revenue. Some of the so-called socialist editors and senior journalists even started singing paeans of the government in their writings and papers in the hope of gaining some form of political office themselves.

This correspondent has been witness of several eminent journalists and newspaper owners from Delhi coming to Bihar with their only ambition to have a meeting with the Bihar chief minister. They even were kept in line for days before their meeting and what followed were all kinds of sugar-coated ‘news’ and opinion stories singing the praises of the state – how Bihar is making progress with over 13 % growth rate, just behind Gujarat and China; how Bihar chief minister Kumar has turned the fortunes of the state around; and how Bihar has become the most preferred destination for all the top industry honchos for investment.

What has been most surprising was that reputed journalists from Delhi who gained recognition and respect for exposing former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav for his alleged involvement in the multi-crore fodder scam now don’t find anything wrong in Nitish government. They still come to the state, do their best to see their face to the Bihar chief minister and fly back. The next day they appear again with their half-page byline story on page-1 or full-page Op-ed. Either, they have turned blind eye or have become myopic, for reasons only they can explain better.


Its not that only the state government has gagged media in Bihar as the PCI report suggested but even some of the so-called big journalists, local and national both, too are equally responsible for all this malaise.

“If an editor or a owner of a national newspaper or a channel come and visit the state chief minister with folded hands singing paeans to him in their pieces and reports what one can expect from the reporters?” asked senior journalist Ajay Kumar who runs a premier news portal, a publication that has managed to stay relatively free from government influence.

“It is all a matter of advertisement revenue that state government is using in flexing its muscle to muzzle media in the state,” said noted economist of the state Professor N K Chaudhury.

The newspapers either avoid publication of news related with crime, ransom, land grabbing by the ruling establishment or their supporters, murders and the activists of the land mafia, or they are underplayed and published in brief as small news items, said the PCI report; news relating to public agitation, concern, opposition voice or the government’s failure do not find space in newspapers, the report added.

A senior journalist associated with local edition of a national newspaper said that everyday they get panicky in newsroom when they do not find a promotional news for the chief minister. “Sometime, they make it a point to carry his picture to compensate the absence,” he said.

The Bihar chief minister is the overall Resident Editor of the newspapers running in Bihar today and the state public relation department is the virtual editorial room, said a state bureau chief working for a national newspaper.

While newspapers have  to make a profit to survive, should it be done at the cost of common readers? “It’s a crime done by newspapers against those readers who keep their faith in their paper and its content,” said Ajay Kumar.

This is a dangerous trend. An Independent agency must be created to release advertisements to different media houses strictly on the basis of guidelines, suggests the PCI report.

The startling PCI news report was carried by one or two newspapers, though not with much prominence.

“It says everything about media’s status in Bihar,” said a ruling party MP known for speaking his mind.

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Opinion: Time to confront India’s child sex abuse scourge Fri, 08 Feb 2013 03:51:17 +0000 As India reels from the recent Delhi gang-rape case, demanding strict punishment and speedy trial in cases of sexual assault against women, a fast-track court in Katihar district of northern Indian state Bihar awarded death sentence to a man convicted of raping and murdering his three-year-old niece after a six-day trial. The news hogged the headlines and was notable for the swift action and speedy verdict, but the real issue once again got buried somewhere deep inside – the rising incidents of child sex abuse in the country.

The second such horrible story which shook the country came from the central Indian state Chhatisarh, where over three dozen school children were abused for months by none else but the administrator and a colleague in the school. The traumatized little girls, mostly tribal, reportedly couldn’t muster the courage to complain until the pain became unbearable.

Pic: AP.

Even though child sex abuse cases are rarely reported to the police, every third rape case appearing in media today in the state involves child sex abuse. “They are the most vulnerable section of sexual abuse victims,” says young criminal lawyer of Patna High Court, Mukesh Kant. Kant also says that most child sexual abuse cases go unreported because of the social stigma attached.

Bihar-based social scientist Mr Shreekant, who earlier was a prominent media figure in the state, too agrees that “only 30 per cent of the child sex abuse cases come into the media for various social reasons”. Another important element of such sexual abuses is that in most of the cases close or immediate family members and neighbors are the offenders and that also comes as a major deterrent for reporting the cases, says the veteran social scientist.

In its recent report Human Rights Watch pointed out there are no statistics on the number of child abuse cases in India, primarily because of the low reporting of such cases.

After the recent horrible gang-rape and murder of a medical student in Delhi the Indian government set up a judicial commission led by former chief justice of India, Justice J S Verma. Recently the commission submitted its report with special focus on the high incidents of child sexual abuse and the failure of the government to ensure the implementation of child protection laws.

Human Rights Watch also said that such sexual abuse cases are disturbingly common and government responses are falling short in protecting children and in treating victims.

The report has urged the Indian government to “ensure rigorous implementation of child protection laws and strict monitoring of child care facilities”.

But social scientists and activists working for child protection say that until the society changes its attitudes towards such rampant abuse cases the problem will not solved. Laws alone cannot prevent children from being sexually exploited, society must come forward with a sensitive approach towards it, believes Dheeraj Kumar, who has worked for the “Bachapan Bachao Andolan” [save children] organization.

Bihar has one of the worst child sexual abuse records in India. Illiteracy and lawlessness is rife so most cases fail to come on surface for fear of legal-social harassment, informs Dheeraj Kumar. The brutal reality is that the victims are often children who are either abandoned or orphaned and living life on railway stations, bus stops and restaurants.

“They are subjected to regular sexual abuse but nobody cares,” says Manoj Kumar, a restaurant owner, adding that it becomes very difficult to keep these children under observation all the time. We must encourage children to speak out and protect them from their trauma, otherwise this heinous crime will keep flourishing in our society.

To prevent such sexual offences families should become the first unit to keep watchful eye on the movement of those loitering around their child, believes social scientist, Shreekant.

The family comes first, and then comes the law and its execution – this is a common belief in Indian society. But the executive and the judiciary must not shy away from their responsibilities and the sooner this is done, the better it will be for the protection of the children being sexually exploited in this country.

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The Modi-fication of Indian politics Thu, 31 Jan 2013 03:48:49 +0000 Narendra Modi

Narendra Mod. Pic: AP.

With the big battle of Indian politics bracing up for its ostentatious show in 2014, India has now started its churning process for the final selection. At its recent Jaipur session the Congress party elected its “PM-material” Rahul Gandhi as vice-president while the BJP, after lots of climax and anti-climax, made party leader Rajnath Singh its new party president. And, soon after his crowning glory Singh met Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, throwing enough hints that we’re in for a tough political bottle. Of late, a survey put the contest neck-and-neck with the figure 41 % for the 42-year-old “youngster” Rahul Gandhi and 49% for the 62-year-old “iron man” Narendra Modi. Modi recently played hat-trick in his state bolstering his claim to the throne at the Centre.

The Congress party, in all likelihood, has decided to play the biggest electoral match under Rahul Gandhi but it’s the name of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi which has been haunting the party the most. Not only the Congress party but the opposition BJP too, apparently, is heavily under the weight of Modi. For its parent body RSS the name of Narendra Modi has reliably grown out of its size. Its the Modi-fication of Indian politics, many say in India today.

The name of Narendra Modi has created more of a problem within the rank and file of BJP than the Congress and the party for sometime has been trying hard to come out of its sheer desperation. But the more it tries, the more it gets coiled. After the newly elected party president Rajnath Singh’s meeting with Modi in view of the “forthcoming Parliamentary poll and his role”, another senior party leaders Yashwant Sinha set the tone declaring that “Narendra Modi is the only leader with ‘mass appeal’ and he should be the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate in the upcoming poll”. Sinha’s statement created fresh debate both within and outside the party.

The other BJP leaders termed it as Sinha’s “personal opinion” but party insiders said it was ‘popular opinion’ within the party too. It also cannot be ruled out that there is a strong line of leadership within BJP that nurses some hidden aspirations themselves. For some, the name is party veteran Lal Krishna Advani, while for others, the name is Shushma Swaraj. But, the grapevine hints that some dark horse too could emerge from behind the line. And the name is Arun Jaitley, the master management guru who maneuvers things naturally for his party’s win in states. Gujarat too has not been an exception.

“But, they do not have mass appeal”, said Yashwant Sinha and many in the party agree. “The sooner it will be done, the better it will for the party’s performance”, said one of them.

But, it has not gone down well with the alliance partners of the BJP: Janata Dal-United in Bihar and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. The JD-U leader and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is widely known for his “Modi untouchability” and his party leaders have been openly saying if Modi is the PM candidate, JD-U will not be the part of the alliance. Nitish Kumar’s itch against Narendra Modi had come to the fore when he once had cancelled his dinner for BJP leaders in Patna. The Shiv Sena leaders threw their hat for Shushma Swaraj for the top post of the country.

It’s an open secret in India’s political firmament that Bihar chief minister and JD-U leader Nitish Kumar also nurses aspirations for the hot seat riding on his “populist development growth story in Bihar and secular image”.

“Narendra Modi cannot escape the blot of the Gujarat pogrom”, said a JD-U leader, asking how such a leader can aspire for the top seat of Prime Minister. “He is not acceptable,” he said.

The left parties too have echoed similar sentiment and apparently are bogged down with the name of Narendra Modi.

But, interestingly, apparently enamoured with the development of Gujarat the top Indian business honchos appeared to be standing solidly behind Modi for the PM’s post. At a recent yearly business meet in Gujarat all the top business leaders sang paeans to the name of NaMo [Narendra Modi].

Has BJP leader and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi become indispensible for the party and politics today? Has Indian politics become to be or not to be with Narendra Modi. The upcoming 2014 Parliamentary poll will finally lob the answer to the nation.

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Analysis: The many shades of the Delhi gang rape case Thu, 10 Jan 2013 06:06:33 +0000 India Rape Outrage

Indian police officers lock the gate of a police station during a protest condemning the gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a city bus in Delhi last month. Pic: AP.

Three weeks after the Delhi gang rape of a 23-year-old paramedical student on a moving bus on 16 December, there have been many shades of the incident hitting the national conscience.

Protesting the incident, for the first time, a mass upsurge spilled over onto the roads of Delhi and in other parts of the country as well; debate, discussion and dialogue defined rape in new perspectives; political masters and legal luminaries lent their voices; social scientists and psychoanalysts explained the issue; self-proclaimed godmen preached on it and the media provided platform to all of them like never before. ‘Rape’ for three weeks became a national issue in India and the most repeated word in the media in a long time. Rape incident stories have been pushed forward from page 7 to page 1.

It is not that the rape of girls and women is a new thing in India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau’ 2011 report a woman was raped every 22 minutes in India and more revealing was the fact that there were 572 cases of rape reported in Delhi alone in 2011. The national figure goes into tens of thousands. But, the display of anger and frustration over the December gang rape was unprecedented and many related it with the Arab Spring spirit.

Although two weeks after the incident on 29 December the unnamed victim succumbed to her injuries and died in a Singapore hospital, the protests and the debates still rage across India. Significantly, the people of India came to know the actual name of the girl from foreign media. Her injured male friend too came on a private news channel on 4 January to tell the traumatic tale – so that people should know about what they endured in those two hours before being admitted to the hospital; so that people should know how policemen fought amongst each other over jurisdiction of the crime; and, people should also know how they were lying naked for two hours in chilly winter night on road while the ‘great Indian middle class’ rubber necked, but did nothing to help them.

And, it was the same middle class, commonly known as “common man” that expressed anger, shock the next day demanding capital punishment, chemical castration, shooting to death and burning alive of the accused persons. TV channels’ ratings soared with the ‘male friend’s’ interview and the common men of India kept coming onto the streets with candles and prayers, especially in Delhi where the horrific crime took place.

The chief justice of India said rape cases must be dealt quickly at fast track courts as delay in the trial in rape case may be one of the factors contributing to the problem, whereas Ms Ranjna Kumari, director of the New Delhi based Centre for Social Research fumed: at the moment the law doesn’t act as deterrent. Speedy trials and harsh punishments are the need of the hour cried the anguished people.

However, a report said that in a rape case in the western Indian city of Indore, the accused was convicted and sentenced to be ‘hanged to death’ punishment within just 36 days of the incident. Making laws speedier or harsher is not enough, social mindset too needs to be changed, the top police officer of Indore was quoted in the report.

Meanwhile, a Delhi court ordered an in-camera trial of the gang-rape case while barring media from the proceedings. “It is the case of virtually a crowd occupying every inch of space in the court room even to the extent of standing next to the reader and stenographer,” said Metropolitan Magistrate, Namrita Aggarwal. The case will come up again before the court for hearing on Thursday.

Some lawyers, however, challenged the magisterial order to ban reporting of case proceedings. Interestingly, there was not much protest against the gag order from the media. There is no necessity of any gag order from the court, said some journalists, but not as loudly as they reported the gang rape story in their respective papers.

Amidst protests by lawyers two of them, Advocate M L Sharma and Advocate V K Anand, appeared in the court to defend the accused persons. They, the accused persons whom he is defending, will plead not guilty to the charges leveled against them in the charge sheet and they want to face trial, said advocate M L Sharma. He claimed he was approached by the family of the prime accused Ram Singh, Mukesh and Akshay Thakur, who have signed him up to defend them. Anand too maintained he would be defending Ram Singh.

In the 33-page chargesheet Delhi police have accused five of them Ram Singh, his brother Mukesh, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Thakur of murder, gang rape, attempt to murder, kidnapping, unnatural offences, dacoity, hurting in committing robbery, destruction of evidence, criminal conspiracy and common intention under the Indian Penal Code. However, the chargesheet against the sixth accused, who is being proceeded against separately before the Juvenile Justice Board, is yet to be filed.

Meanwhile, a self-proclaimed godman Asaram Bapu, home minister of Chhatisgarh state, Nankiram Kanwar and Samajwadi party leader Abu Azmi have created ripples with their outrageous comments on rape cases. On Monday the Ahmedabad based godman Bapu, first, said that the victim girl too is as guilty as her rapists.. she should have called the rapists as brothers and begged before them to stop… this would have saved her dignity and life.. can one hand clap?.. he asked and then, a day after, he called media “barking dogs” for misreporting him.

The Chhatisgarh state home minister, interestingly, blamed the “position of planetary stars for the spurt in rape cases” whereas the Samajwadi Party leader Abu Azmi advised girls that they should not be out with their boyfriends late in the night. “A system is needed to keep such behavior in check,” he said. Other purported causes of the rise in rape cases in India included:  eating chowmein [noodles], wearing jeans, T-shirts, mobile phones, internet sites, and watching video films by girls and women.

The famous Indian psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar in a recent article has explained “we are caught between the extremes of traditional and western perspectives on women”. Some social scientist from one corner of the state quipped: rape is all about power and even powerful women rape. The buzz in Indian today is rape. And, the common man of the great India middle class appears to agape over ‘rape’ the most overused word in the Indian media today!

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India rape case: Time to take a stand Fri, 21 Dec 2012 03:46:19 +0000 India Rape Outrage

Indian police officers lock the gate of the police station during a protest condemning the gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a city bus late Sunday in New Delhi, India. Pic: AP.

As India reels following Delhi gang rape, thousands of similar cases are barely reported, writes Amarnath Tewary

On Thursday, 20 December, the state poll results of western Indian state, Gujarat and the political fate of its controversial chief minister Mr Narendra Modi came out, with Modi hitting a hatrick. But, when I switched on my TV late in the evening only four of total nine national news channels were live with Modi’s victory speech or discussing the poll results. It was also the fourth day of the shocking and outrageous gang-rape of a 23-year old Delhi girl, now battling for her life in the city’s Safdarganj hospital. The other news channels were following her story.

The gang-rape incident of Delhi has stirred nationwide shock, anger and outrage. For the last four days people, particularly students in Delhi, have come out on streets protesting and demanding capital punishment for the accused persons. They held a candle-lit march at India Gate, besieged Delhi chief minister’s residence and gathered at Jantar-Mantar.

Indian Parliamentarians, top Bollywood stars and other celebrities condemned the incident, demanding stringent punishment for the accused. Social scientists, psychiatrists, doctors, lawyers, experts all jostled for space in TV studios for debate, discussion and dialogue. It spread to other states too. It shook the nation; outraged the country.

Meanwhile, the victim is still battling for her survival in the hospital scribbling ‘she wants to live’. Outside the hospital, amidst the hordes of flashing cameras, several college going activist students were still holding vigil on Thursday night. It was a heinous crime, and we can only hope that the more it is condemned, the less it will happen.

But, in the midst of all the protests, outrage, furious TV debates, discussion and media reports one thing which struck me disturbingly was why all these things happen when a girl is raped only in metro cities of India? Why our nation feels outraged when such incidents happen only in big cities and why our political establishment get so stirred when the incident happens in the national capital, particularly, when the Parliament session is on? Why don’t they get this outraged when almost every day a girl is raped, gang-raped in second rung cities like Patna, Lucknow, Bhopal or Bhubneshwar?

On the same day when the Delhi incident happened, a 15-year-old, grade 10 school student was admitted in a government hospital in critical condition in remote Banka district of eastern Indian state of Bihar. She was also gang-raped on 15 December while returning from her school in her village. Police officials confirmed the incident and later arrested two accused persons who had fled to Delhi. The same day local newspapers also reported, not on front page, that an eight-year-old girl was gang-raped and murdered in Saharsha district of the same state, Bihar. Her body was found floating in a canal.

But, there was no protest, not even a murmur anywhere; no TV discussion, no candle march, no sit-ins with placards. No political statement, no demand for capital punishment. The Bihar police records said that altogether 40 rape cases were registered in the state capital, Patna, in the month of October. In total there were 823 cases of rape in Bihar in 2012 up to October and 10,288 since 2001 in the state. But, I see anyone no one protesting these rapes. The figures from Uttar Pradesh and Madhay Pradesh too are not very different from this.

Why such discrimination? Isn’t rape as violent in Bihar as it is in Delhi? Isn’t rape as traumatic for a victim in other places as in metro cities? The girls / women being raped are vulnerable everywhere; victims of hate crime anywhere and, its been in human culture for centuries.

The nation needs to be awakened beyond boundaries and we all should cry in one voice for every rape victim in the country.


About the author: Amarnath Tewary has been a senior journalist based in Bihar presently contributing to BBC online and the New York Times. He also was Assistant Editor with national newspaper The Pioneer, Sr. Asst. Editor with Goa based newspaper The Navhind Times and Bihar-based correspondent for the national newsmagazine Outlook. For the last 17 years he has been reporting from a lawless and backward state, Bihar.

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