The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 18-03-2023 | 12:45 pm
From striking a chord with traders in the historic Raghunath Bazar last month to pouring water on Shivling at a temple in Poonch earlier this week, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president and ex-chief minister Mehbooba Mufti seems to be going all out to make an outreach to the majority Hindu community in Jammu, which has been known to be the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s core support base in the region.During her two-day tour of the border district of Poonch, Mehbooba visited Navgraha temple at Mandi-Ajote and offered water to Shivling there, drawing sharp criticism from some Muslim bodies as well as the BJP after its video went viral on social media.The J&K BJP spokesperson and ex-MLA R S Pathania dismissed Mehbooba’s move as “plain drama and gimmickry” by a leader who, he charged, had refused to give land to the Amarnath Shrine Board in 2008.The national vice-president of the Ittehad Ulema-e-Hind, Mufti Asad Qasmi, also criticised Mehbooba, saying her move was against the tenets of Islam.Mehbooba, however, justified it as a move reflecting “secular ethos” of India, saying “it was a personal matter and there is no need to make an issue out of it’’.Refusing to be drawn into a controversy over it, the PDP chief asserted that she knew her religion very well. Invoking India’s “Ganga-Jamuni (syncretic) culture, she said more Hindus offer chadars at Muslim shrines than Muslims in the country.The Navgraha temple was constructed by a former PDP MLC, Yashpal Sharma, who died in January last year. A leader known for his work for weaker sections of society, Yahspal was called “Sher-e-Poonch” by locals.“Yashpal ji had constructed the temple and his son wanted me to see it from inside,” Mehbooba said, adding that this is a beautiful temple for which the people of Poonch donated generously.“As I entered the temple, someone gave me a ‘lota’ (round-shaped vessel) with piousness asking me to pour water (on the Shivling),” she said, asking “how could one refuse to oblige if someone requests you with devotion.” “I did not want to break their heart,” she added.Amused but not shocked to see Godi media devote their prime time to my visit to a temple in Poonch. Would like to remind them that this is still Nehru & Gandhi’s India & not a BJP Rashtra. It is an India where muslim artisans carve the idols worshipped by Hindus.— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) March 17, 2023It is not the first time that Mehbooba visited a temple or a Hindu shrine, as she had visited Kheer Bhawani temple in Kashmir several times when she was the CM of the erstwhile J&K state.However, during her Jammu visit last month too, the PDP chief had sought to connect with the Hindu community, mounting a challenge to the saffron party as she urged the people of the region to wake up from “false dreams shown by the BJP”. At Raghunath Bazar in the heart of Jammu city, she had left her cavalcade and walked through the bustling market, a traditional BJP bastion, to meet and interact with traders. Some of the shopkeepers also stood with her for pictures, as she enquired from them about their business as also the status of market’s beautification project launched during her regime.Referring to Mehbooba’s bonds with the people of the Jammu region, a senior PDP leader said she had done her graduation from Jammu city before getting her law degree from Kashmir University. Her father and PDP founder Mufti Sayeed was then with the Congress and his family had strong ties with the family of K D Sethi, a veteran Communist leader and member of the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly. During her childhood, Mehbooba used to stay at Sethi’s house. When he passed away in January 2021, she had said that “Sethi ji treated me like a daughter and will always be an integral part of my childhood. I will miss his wisdom and guidance.”Mufti Sayeed was the only Kashmiri politician to have been elected to the J&K Assembly from the Hindu-dominated R S Pura constituency along the international border in Jammu in 1985, when it had gone for a bypoll. In the 1983 Assembly elections, he had contested as a Congress candidate from Bijbehra and Homoshalibugh in South Kashmir but lost from both the constituencies.Mufti Sayeed always acknowledged the support that he had got from the R S Pura people at a time when he was not getting it even in the Muslim-dominated Valley.After the elections to the 87-member J&K Assembly in November-December 2014 threw up a hung verdict, with the PDP getting 28 seats and the BJP 25, Mufti Sayeed decided to forge a post-poll alliance with the saffron party to form their coalition government, rejecting offers of support from the National Conference (15 seats) and the Congress (12), a senior PDP leader noted. After her father’s demise, Mehbooba took over as the CM in April 2016.When asked about Mehbooba’s tough stance over abrogation of Article 370 and the PDP’s bid to walk out of its coalition with the Congress over the Amarnath land row in 2008 leading to the collapse of the then Ghulam Nabi Azad-led government, which had given her the image of a pro-separatist leader, the PDP leader pointed out that this was part of her politics as a leading player of Kashmir politics, even as she is now steering her party to make inroads in Jammu ahead of the coming Assembly polls.
The Shiv Sena (UBT), which had warned Congress leader Rahul Gandhi against “insulting” Hindutva ideologue V D Savarkar, said on Wednesday that the issue has been resolved and they were “firmly united” with the Opposition parties in their fight against the BJP and the Narendra Modi government.“The issue has ended for us…The matter has been resolved,” MP Sanjay Raut, Uddhav Thackeray’s close confidant, told The Indian Express. “I have spoken to Rahul Gandhi about the issue,” he added.In his speech in Malegaon on Sunday, Uddhav Thackeray had warned Rahul Gandhi that the Sena (UBT) would not tolerate any insult to Savarkar. “Savarkar is our deity…we will not tolerate any insult to him,” Thackeray had said.Asked whether Gandhi had promised not to raise the Savarkar issue again, Raut said, “We do not want to speak about it anymore. As I have said, the matter has been resolved.”When asked what the party’s stand would be if Gandhi raises the issue again, Raut said, “If Rahul Gandhi raises the issue again, we will see what to do… But we are confident he will not raise the issue.”Raut said the Shiv Sena (UBT) will be attending the meetings convened by the Opposition or the Congress. The Sena had on Monday night skipped a meeting convened by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge. “We are firmly united with the Opposition to save democracy and dislodge the BJP from power,” Raut said.On Tuesday, Congress communication head Jairam Ramesh said 19 parties were saying in one voice that democracy was in danger and “we have to unitedly face and fight the dictatorial government”. The Shiv Sena (UBT), he said, was one of the 19 parties.“There were 18 parties last night. Today, I have said 19. The number will go up from 18 to 19 when Shiv Sena is part of the group,” Ramesh said at a press conference in Delhi on Tuesday. To this, Raut said, “We are with the Congress and the Opposition…We will be attending all their meetings.”
As the Congress on Tuesday stepped up its protest against the “hasty” disqualification of Rahul Gandhi as a Lok Sabha MP, party MP Manish Tewari is learnt to have suggested to the leadership that it should give a notice to move a no-confidence motion against Speaker Om Birla.The leadership asked Tewari to draft the notice and he handed it over on Tuesday. The party, sources said, had not yet taken a call on pursuing it. Sources said the leadership was not sure if the other Opposition parties would come on board. Sources said the leaders of some Opposition parties had signalled their reluctance to get behind such a move. The Congress leadership, sources said, does not want to do anything that may signal division in the Opposition camp.According to the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha, a member “wishing to give notice of a resolution … for the removal of the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker shall do so in writing to the Secretary-General” and “on receipt of a notice … a motion for leave to move the resolution shall be entered in the list of business in the name of the member concerned, on a day fixed by the Speaker, provided that the day so fixed shall be any day after fourteen days from the date of the receipt of notice of the resolution”.Since the Budget Session of Parliament is set to conclude in a week, the move, even if pursued by the Congress, has largely symbolic value given that the motion can be listed only after 14 days from the date of the receipt of the notice. Some of the leaders said the idea could be pursued to make a political point.In 2020, 12 Opposition parties submitted a no-confidence resolution seeking the removal of Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson Harivansh. But then Chairperson M Venkaiah Naidu rejected it on the ground that the resolution should serve a notice period of 14 days and that it was not in “proper format”.In the past, resolutions seeking the removal of the Speaker have been given at least thrice — against the first Lok Sabha Speaker G V Mavalankar in 1951, Sardar Hukam Singh in 1966, and Balram Jakhar in 1987.
With Karnataka polls just around the corner, a video showing state Congress president DK Shivakumar showering currency notes on crowds during a roadshow has stirred a row.In the video, Shivakumar, during the ‘Praja Dhwani Yatra’ organised by the Congress in Bevinahalli in the Mandya district Tuesday, was seen flinging Rs 500 notes from the rooftop of a bus.#WATCH | Karnataka Congress Chief DK Shivakumar was seen throwing Rs 500 currency notes on the artists near Bevinahalli in Mandya district during the ‘Praja Dhwani Yatra’ organized by Congress in Srirangapatna. (28.03) pic.twitter.com/aF2Lf0pksi— ANI (@ANI) March 29, 2023Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai hit out at Congress, accusing the party of resorting to different tactics to garner votes. Slamming Shivakumar, Bommai said, “He (DK Shivakumar) does everything and blatantly uses all kinds of power. Congress thinks that the people (of Karnataka) are beggars but the people will teach them. People are the real owners,” news agency ANI reported.Bommai has also accused the state Congress chief of luring BJP MLAs by offering them tickets in constituencies where the party is yet to announce its candidates.“KPCC President D K Shivakumar since the last two to three days has been making phone calls to our MLAs in 100 constituencies where they are yet to announce candidates. He is stating that if you (BJP MLAs) come (to Congress) we will give you the ticket,” Bommai was quoted by news agency PTI as saying.Shivakumar is set to contest from his traditional seat of Kanakapura, according to the Congress’s first list of 124 candidates. The party is yet to announce tickets for 100 seats in the 224-seat Assembly.
Kolkata is set to witness parallel protests by the Trinamool Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress on Wednesday.While the TMC is protesting against the Centre’s “discriminatory attitude” against the state, the BJP is holding a day-long sit-in to protest against alleged corruption by the state government. The Congress in the state, meanwhile, will continue its protest against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from Lok Sabha.Here is everything you need to know:West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday began her two-day sit-in demonstration in Kolkata against the BJP-led Central government’s alleged “discriminatory attitude” towards the state. Banerjee will begin the dharna in front of the B R Ambedkar statue at Esplanade in Kolkata, which will go on till March 30.#WATCH | West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee sits on two days Dharna in Kolkata, starting from today against the Central government for not clearing funds for several schemes including 100 days work. pic.twitter.com/tfI45NFZ1u— ANI (@ANI) March 29, 2023The chief minister alleged that the Centre had not released funds for the MGNREGA project for the state and other initiatives of its housing and road departments. On Tuesday, she said, “The Centre has stopped releasing funds for MGNREGA and Indira Awas Yojana (Grameen). Besides, it has also stopped scholarships for OBC students”.While launching the ‘Pathashree-Rastashree’ scheme ahead of panchayat elections due later this year, Banerjee had said the expenditure for constructing the rural roads would be borne by the state and not the central government.“The Centre has not released over Rs 7,000 crores pending under the MGNREGA scheme and has not given work to our people despite West Bengal topping the list of states in completing the work under the initiative… We believe jealousy or politics may be the reason behind this,” she said.Coinciding with this, Trinamool Congress MPs are holding a protest in Parliament against the Centre in solidarity with Banerjee.Simultaneously, TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee will address a rally against the “anti-people” policy of the Centre and its “stepmotherly attitude” towards the West Bengal government. The stir was to “save” democracy, federalism, Constitution and the Parliament, news agency PTI reported.In a rare display of unity, TMC MPs had a few days ago, attended a meeting of Opposition parties called by Congress president and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, and also participated in the protest against Rahul Gandhi’s Lok Sabha disqualification. State Congress workers too will also continue its protest against the same issue.Meanwhile, the West Bengal BJP will also stage a protest in Kolkata, with its leaders holding a daylong sit-in against the ruling state government over “corruption allegations” at Shyambazar today. The party had on Tuesday protested in Kolkata alleging that the TMC government in the state was not doing enough to mitigate the losses being faced by potato farmers due to bumper harvest this year. Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari led a rally from College Square to Rani Rashmoni Road over the issue.— With agency inputs
EVEN in West Bengal where political leaders have been jumping sides with rapid frequency to stay on the right side, this was an unusual development. Last week, a leader of the Trinamool Congress from North Bengal, Udayan Guha, came out against his own father Kamal Guha, saying that as a Forward Bloc leader and minister, the latter too “gave many jobs illegally”.Udayan, who joined the TMC before the 2016 Assembly elections, said: “He (his father) also committed corruption for the sake of the party.”The amount may not have been much, Udayan was quick to specify, but it was still corruption. “If you take Rs 5, it is not corruption, but if you take Rs 50,000 or Rs 5 lakh, that is corruption? It can’t be like that… My father also employed many people.”Trapped in a corner over mounting corruption allegations against her government, particularly over the job recruitment scam that hits the people where it hurts, TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee appeared to pull this card out of her sleeve.And it’s not the only one. As the clock starts ticking for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, Mamata is employing several tactics, from targeted wooing of her Muslim support base to fighting the corruption taint to rolling out more schemes. In 2019, the BJP had stunned the TMC by winning 18 Lok Sabha seats in the state where it was not too long ago a nobody, and the TMC knows it can leave no chinks in its armour.The re-focus on the CPI(M) as the target of its attack is also calculated, as it plays down the significance of the BJP (which has lost many of its leaders to the TMC). Plus, the TMC is still reeling from losing its Muslim-dominated stronghold of Sagardighi in a recent bypoll to a Congress candidate, backed by the CPI(M).Over the weekend, in a little-noticed but worrying sign for the TMC, the Congress and CPI(M) swept all 19 seats in a closely fought battle for the Haldia docks management committee, in Purba Medinipur district. The TMC had won all but 1 seat last time, and had held control of the committee for 13 years.The corruption battleThe 2021 Assembly poll win had been a commendable achievement for the Mamata-led TMC, bringing it to power for the third time in the state against an ascendant and aggressive BJP. However, within a year, the blows started.It began with then Industry Minister and Mamata aide, Partha Chatterjee, being arrested by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) along with his confidante Arpita Mukherjee. The case struck headlines for successive days as more than Rs 50 crore in cash turned up at Mukherjee’s flats.Hardly had this furore died down that another top TMC leader, Anubrata Mondol, along with his bodyguard Saigal Hossain, was arrested in a cattle-smuggling case. Then came the school job scam, in which many officials of the school education department and TMC leaders were arrested.Against this backdrop came Udayan Guha’s charges against the Left regime that preceded the TMC’s – a surprising turn of direction given that it has been more than a decade since the Left Front lost power and the TMC has brought this up now.After naming his father as among those who gave out jobs as quid pro quo, Udayan shared documents which he claimed show how close relatives of CPI(M) leaders got employment in government sectors without proper recruitment examinations. He named the wife of CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty, Mili, who was employed by a government college in 1987 and worked there for 34 years before retirement, and relatives of former CPI(M) minister Sushanta Ghosh as among them.“A HORRIFIC example of deceiving the public!” tweeted Udayan.Chakraborty fired back telling Udayan to submit proof if he had any. “We are ready to face an investigation. If he does not have any proof, the TMC must apologise at an open forum.”The minority voteThe bypoll to Murshidabad’s Sagardighi seat – which had been held by the TMC since 2011 — was necessitated by the death of sitting TMC MLA Subrata Saha. Stunning the ruling party, the Congress’s Bayron Biswas won the bypoll, defeating the TMC’s Debasish Banerjee by 22,986 votes. Apart from the Left Front, Biswas was backed by the ISF, or Islamic Secular Front, a rising Muslim outfit that the TMC sees as a challenger for Muslim votes.In the postmortem done after the result, the TMC is said to have zeroed in on minority votes shifting to the Left-Congress, the corruption taint attached to it, and a decline in Mamata’s popularity as among the reasons.Sagardighi was also bad news coming so close to the panchayat polls, expected to be announced anytime soon in Bengal, given the fluid party loyalties at the grassroots level.While Mamata publicly asserted that “minorities are with us, like before”, a series of steps since indicate that this confidence is shaken.Firstly, the faces in the committee set up by the TMC to introspect on the defeat in Sagardighi. It included ministers Siddiqullah Chowdhury, Sabina Yasmin, Akhrujjaman and Jakir Hossain. Chowdhury was also given the responsibility of Malda, Murshidabad and South Dinajpur districts, along with Yasmin.Chowdhury used to be a leader of the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind, an organisation with a strong base among Bengali-speaking Muslims of West Bengal.Alongside this, Firhad Hakim or Bobby Hakim, identified with the Urdu-speaking Muslim population of the state, saw his wings being clipped. Previously, it was Hakim who looked after the TMC organisation in Murshidabad, along with Howrah and Hoogly.The president of the TMC’s Bengal minority cell, MLA Haroa Haji Nurul, was replaced next, with another young Muslim leader, Mosaraf Hossain, the MLA of Itahar.On Monday, in yet another change, Md Ghulam Rabbani was removed from the state’s Minority Affairs Department, and moved to Horticulture. Mamata herself has taken charge of the Minority Affairs Department for now.Simultaneously, the Mamata government announced the creation of separate development boards for minorities and migrant labour. A senior Cabinet minister said, “Earlier, there was a finance corporation for minorities. Mamata Banerjee has now decided to create a Minority Development Board and a Migrant Labour Development Board.”The new schemes, financial situationAlthough the TMC government has been able to increase revenue collection in 2022-23, the state’s revenue deficit has increased to nearly Rs 7,000 crore. Simultaneously, according to the Budget proposals placed by Minister of State, Finance, Chandrima Bhattacharya in the Assembly Wednesday, the state’s outstanding debt will rise to about Rs 6.5 lakh crore by the end of the 2023-24 fiscal.The Mamata government has several popular welfare measures such as Lakshmi Bhandar, Kanyasree, Rupasree, Sabuj Sathi which require huge outflows. The Lakshmi Bhandar programme alone needs more than Rs 20,000 crore per year.Recently, state government employees held a strike – the first under the TMC tenure – demanding a hike in dearness allowance.Mamata has accused the Centre of not paying Rs 1 lakh crore as its dues, including for wages of MNREGA. On Tuesday, she said it had been a mistake on Bengal’s part to join the GST, given the outstanding money to the state. From Tuesday, she is sitting on dharna at Kolkata Esplanade for two days over the issue.A nervous partyA section of the TMC leaders admit they are not too sure if these measures will achieve their objective. A senior TMC leader said: “Everybody knows that the CPI(M) gave jobs to party workers when in power. Congress leader Ghani Khan Choudhury, our leader Mamata Banerjee, and Mukul Roy also gave jobs when they were Rail Ministers at the Centre… But they did not give jobs taking money from aspirants; that is corruption.”The leader fears that the TMC might face counter-questions such as, if it knew about these corruption allegations against the Left government, why had these not been investigated in the last 10 years. “And lastly, just because they were corrupt, does it mean we have the permission to be corrupt ourselves?”CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said, “This strategy will not work anymore, as the credibility of Mamata Banerjee is finished and she cannot fool the people further.”BJP leader Samik Bhattacharya said, “The TMC is now trying to project the CPI(M) as the Opposition. But, the people already know who the Opposition is.”He added that even the TMC’s bid to regain Muslim confidence won’t work. “We are also reaching out to them, telling them that in Mamata Banerjee’s regime, most people belonging to minority groups have been killed, and the areas inhabited by them have remained undeveloped.”With the TMC projecting the BJP as an “outsider”, Bhattacharya insisted: “Our DNA and heritage are the same, and they (the Muslims) should march with us for the development of the whole Bengal.”