The Indian Express | 2 months ago | 17-03-2023 | 12:45 pm
The technical education department in Punjab procured 3,780 two-seater desks/chairs for Rs 2.31 crore when the department actually only needed 1,512 such two-seaters and when the polytechnics for which the furniture was being procured were still under construction. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has now raised questions on the former SAD-BJP government for purchasing the chairs “in excess of immediate requirement” and the former Congress government for not returning the money to the Centre.Objecting to the procurement of the two-seater desks/chairs, the CAG said these were in “excess of immediate requirement, even before completion of civil work of the polytechnic buildings, in contravention of the Punjab Financial Rules”. This resulted in an unnecessary expenditure of Rs 1.39 crore.According to the CAG report, the procurement was done under the Centre’s nationwide scheme, ‘Sub-Mission on Polytechnics’. In 2009, seven districts in Punjab were identified for setting up new polytechnics under the scheme – Barnala, Faridkot, Fatehgarh Sahib, Kapurthala, Mansa, Muktsar and Nawanshahr. “Accordingly, GoI released central assistance of Rs 70 crore (Rs 56 crore for civil works and Rs 14 crore for M&E) between July 2009 and June 2016, leaving a balance of Rs 16.10 crore for the purpose,” the report says.The ordered desks/chairs were received in March-April 2014, 540 two-seaters at each polytechnic. However, the excess number of 2,268 desks/chairs lay idle or were used for unintended purposes in the polytechnics for more than eight years, the CAG has observed.From March 2007 to 2017, the SAD-BJP government led by Parkash Singh Badal was in power in Punjab. In March 2017, the Congress government led by Amarinder Singh took over the reins.In 2009, the chief engineer (buildings) of the state public works department worked out the estimated cost of civil works for all seven polytechnics at Rs 130.41 crore (Rs 18.63 crore per polytechnic) to construct a four-storey main building and workshop, meeting All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) norms. However, in January-February 2010, the department began construction work on single-storey buildings (with a foundation for additional three storeys) and the workshop for seven polytechnics with the available funds of Rs 56 crore (i.e. Rs 8 crore per polytechnic). This work was completed by 2013-14 for Rs 59.43 crore, the CAG report says.In the meantime, in November 2011, the department notified five courses with an annual intake of 60 students per course, per polytechnic. However, in November 2012, the AICTE, considering the available infrastructure, approved only two courses with an annual intake of 60 students per course per polytechnic from the 2012-13 session, initially in mentor institutes (second shift) for two years, and thereafter, in newly constructed polytechnics. The requirement of funds to build the remaining storeys escalated to Rs 115.29 crore by October 2015 due to time overruns, the report says. All this was during the SAD-BJP government’s tenure.However, even in 2022, the polytechnics remained incomplete for want of additional funds from the Punjab government. The institutes continued to run two courses from the partially constructed buildings with an annual sanctioned intake of 15-60 students per course. After observing that the construction was not being done as per AICTE norms and the lack of an undertaking from the government or department on further construction, the Centre did not release balance funds of Rs 16.10 crore. In November 2016, the Centre instead asked the department to refund the already released central assistance of Rs 70 crore along with interest, if any. The subsequent action of the department was awaited as of November 2022, the report points out.The CAG has said that knowing that without completion of civil works as per AICTE norms, the polytechnics cannot run to full capacity, and without obtaining even an assurance from the finance department on funds to complete the civil works, the department in March 2014 still placed a supply order for 3,780 two-seater desks/chairs.
As the Opposition parties step up to build a united platform against the ruling BJP for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the saffron party has returned to kickstart talks with its erstwhile allies in a bid to breathe a new life into the NDA, even as the party has sought to firm up ties with its existing partners.Its rout in the recent Karnataka Assembly polls coupled with the rapidly-changing political situation seems to have forced the BJP to shed its tough stance against ex-partners that walked out of the party-led NDA on a sour note. Clearly, the party is again looking to stitch up a formidable coalition for the next general election.BJP sources said the party leadership has already resumed alliance talks with the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab. The BJP top brass has also reaffirmed the party’s ties with the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. Also, it will soon meet and hold discussions with smaller allies in other states, including Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, sources said.In a recent meeting with the BJP Chief Ministers and Deputy CMs in Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was said to have advised the BJP to be open to accommodate the regional parties by forging ties with them.A number of BJP leaders have admitted that the exit of parties like the TDP, Uddhav Sena, SAD and JD(U) from the NDA over the years has given the party an image in public that it does not want to accept regional parties that are formidable forces in their respective states. Its friendly parties – the YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh or the BJD in Odisha – had not been ready for a formal alliance while remaining unwilling to be a part of the party-led government at the Centre.According to sources, the BJP leadership has decided to keep aside its disenchantment with the SAD, which quit the NDA over the now-repealed contentious farm laws, after evaluating the Jalandhar Lok Sabha bypoll outcome.The May by-election to the Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat, a traditional Congress bastion, was won by the AAP with 34.1 per cent votes while the SAD and the BJP candidates, respectively, got 17.9 per cent and 15.2 per cent votes. “The fact that the votes won by the BJP and the SAD almost equalled the votes the winning AAP candidate got has made the leadership review its stance. The BJP is a party that drops hard or adamant positions if it is necessary for electoral wins,” said a party leader who is familiar with developments in the Punjab unit.After its decimation in the Punjab polls last year, the SAD – it could win only three seats in the 117-member state Assembly – was keen on returning to the NDA fold, said the leader. The BJP had then fought the election in a coalition with smaller parties, including the ex-Congress CM Capt Amarinder Singh-led Punjab Lok Congress, managing to win only two seats.Although the JD (S) was interested in a pre-poll alliance with the BJP in the Karnataka elections, the BJP did not go for it in a “strategic move” to let the regional party keep its Vokkaliga-Muslim support base, according to BJP sources. However, the BJP was disappointed with the “surprising drop in its vote share” in the elections. “For the Lok Sabha elections, it makes sense for both the parties to forge a formal alliance as the JD(S) does not have much hope to regain its minority votes in the near future,” said a BJP leader.Some recent statements from the JD(S) leaders, including ex-prime minister H D Deve Gowda’s praise for Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw for his handling of the Balasore triple-train disaster, indicate that there could be a tie-up between the two parties for the 2024 polls. In the wake of the Congress’s spectacular victory in the state elections, the BJP is keen to consolidate the Vokkaliga votes in its favour, sources said.The Karnataka lessons also appear to have pushed the BJP into resuming coalition talks with TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu. Although Naidu had made several attempts for a thaw in their ties earlier too, the BJP leadership was then reluctant, primarily due to vehement resistance from its state unit. Last week, however, Naidu met top BJP leaders, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and party national president J P Nadda, with both sides apparently agreeing to work together in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.With several crucial state elections lined up later this year in which it will face off the Congress directly, the BJP’s current focus has turned to curbing the re-emergence of the Congress in these states.While Naidu is keen on forging an alliance with the BJP to mount a bid to return to power in Andhra Pradesh by ousting the incumbent Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSRCP from power, the BJP is looking to secure its position as the most potent alternative force in Telangana. In both these states, the BJP wants to restrict the Congress to a distant third position or push it to the margins.After a hiatus in Maharashtra, the BJP leadership sent out fresh conciliatory signals to the Shinde Sena earlier this month, sources said. Both the allies share power in the state government led by CM Shinde, whose party has also been demanding berths in the Union Cabinet for its MPs who have extended support to the BJP in Parliament. Sources said fresh moves are afoot in the government to explore any possible changes in the Union Cabinet in order to create space for some alliance partners and new faces.Shinde along with Deputy CM and senior BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis met Shah earlier this week in the national capital, following which the CM announced that both the allies will contest all future elections in the state together. “During the meeting, it was decided that all future elections (including the Lok Sabha, Assembly and civic bodies) will be contested jointly by the Shiv Sena and BJP. We will contest and win the elections with a majority,” he tweeted.The BJP is expected to launch fresh efforts to strengthen its ties with the Apna Dal in UP, even as it would explore partnership with other smaller parties in both UP and Bihar.
Brahm Dutt Dwivedi belonged to the old school of BJP leaders. A poet and a gentleman, he had once even been a contender for the Uttar Pradesh chief minister’s chair, after he had protected BSP supremo Mayawati from Samajwadi Party workers, in the infamous 1995 ‘guesthouse’ incident in Lucknow. He was murdered in 1997 by gangster Sanjeev Maheshwari Jeeva — an aide of gangster-politician Mukhtar Ansari. On Wednesday, the killing was back in the news as Maheshwari was shot dead on the premises of a Lucknow court.The then BJP MLA from Farrukhabad, Dwivedi was killed on February 10, 1997, while he was seated in his car, ready to leave for home after attending a tilak ceremony. His gunner B K Tiwari was also killed in the attack, while his driver suffered injuries.On July 17, 2003, the CBI court in Lucknow sentenced Maheshwari and former SP MLA Vijay Singh to life imprisonment in the case. Both convicts challenged the judgment in the High Court. In 2017, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad HC upheld the trial court judgment.Dwivedi was a tall leader in UP politics, and was well-connected with the top BJP leadership. After his murder, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi came to Farrukhabad to pay their tributes. Then Governor Romesh Bhandari and SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav too paid a visit. Vajpayee also visited Dwivedi’s ancestral village in Amritpur to attend other rituals after 13 days.As a lifelong RSS worker, Dwivedi had taken part in the Sangh’s training programme in Nagpur. He was also associated with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. He had started his electoral career with the Jan Sangh and became a municipal corporator in Farrukhabad Nagar Palika Parishad in 1971. He was later elected the vice-chairman of the same municipal board.His ticket to fame came during the Emergency, when, with the police on his tail, he had slipped past the administration to attend an event in Farrukhabad, where he managed to reach the stage to welcome then Governor Marri Chenna Reddy with a flower bouquet.Dwivedi was elected MLA for the first time in 1977 from Farrukhabad as a Janata Party candidate. He was elected MLA three times more and also served as the Minister of Revenue and Power in the Kalyan Singh government (1991-92).In June 1995, after Mayawati decided to withdraw from the SP-BSP alliance government that had been in power since December 1993, SP workers gheraoed the guesthouse where she was staying. Mayawati locked the door from inside, with SP workers roaming outside.Dwivedi, then the BJP MLA from Farrukhabad, was staying in an adjacent building. Alerted about the brewing trouble, he reached out to protect the BSP supremo, with other BJP leaders also reaching within minutes to bring the situation under control. Immediately after the incident, Dwivedi contacted Vajpayee, upon whose advice, the BJP escorted Mayawati to the Governor House and extended support to her party. Next morning, she took oath as CM.Sources said since that incident, Mayawati held Dwivedi in high regard and once even demanded that if the BSP were to form an alliance government in UP with the BJP, in which the chief minister would be someone from the BJP for the first half of the five-year term, she would only accept Dwivedi as the CM. Eventually, she came around to accepting Kalyan Singh as the CM after the BJP stuck to their choice.Dwivedi’s wife Prabha was elected MLA from Farrukhabad in the bypoll that followed his murder. She was also inducted as a minister in the Kalyan Singh government.At present, Dwivedi’s son Major Sunil Dutt Dwivedi is a second-term MLA from Farrukhabad. Sunil’s cousin Pranshu Dutt Dwivedi is the UP president of the BJP Yuva Morcha and an MLC from the Farrukhabad-Etawah local bodies constituency.Dwivedi’s nephew Sudhanshu Dutt Dwivedi, who fought the legal battle over his murder, said his uncle was also a lawyer who had appeared in court for senior BJP leaders, including Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, in a case related to the Babri Masjid demolition.He added that Dwivedi was also a poet of some repute going by the nickname “Manjul”, that Vajpayee had himself written words of praise for one of his books, Jab Hum Na Honge (When I’m Not There) — a compilation of Dwivedi’s poems published after his death.
The continuing violence in Manipur ought to be shocking for many reasons. But its sheer scale, endurance and brutality is still not getting national attention. As is typical, the prime minister who is never shy of taking leadership credit, is completely absent when there is an actual crisis that goes to the heart of both constitutional values and national security. In this instance, it seems like the double-engine sarkar, even after invoking Article 355, is unable to control the violence.It takes nothing away from the culpability of the present dispensation to acknowledge the long-standing and irresolvable contradictions of Manipur politics. Whenever the central organising axis of politics is a distributive conflict between identity-based groups, there is a high chance of violence. This is particularly the case where the conflict inherently has the character of a zero-sum game. In Manipur, the politics of distribution between Kukis and Meiteis turns on four goods whose inherent logic is zero-sum.The first is inclusion in the ST quota which is the proximate background to the current conflict. By its very nature, the inclusion of more groups in the ST quota will be a threat to existing beneficiaries. The second is land, and the tension between the valley and the hills. This is also a zero-sum resource, where protecting the land rights of Kukis is seen as foreclosing the opportunities for other groups. The third is political representation, where historically Kukis have felt dominated by the Meiteis. The fourth is patronage by the state in the informal economy, in which groups compete against one another for control of informal trade. Each state intervention in regulating trade becomes a locus of conflict.Place on top of that a default demand that the boundaries of ethnicity and territorial governance should, as much as possible, coincide. In principle, these demands could be negotiated through building inclusive democratic institutions. But this is easier said than done, when every policy instrument in contention — quotas, land, representation, and the state-economy nexus — are defined in terms of zero-sum games. The tragedy of Manipur was that, in part, there was no other game in town, one that could prise politics away from this zero-sum alignment of distribution and ethnicity.Dealing with such a situation requires at least three things. It requires a capable state impartially enforcing constitutional values. It requires a political culture that respects identity but does not politicise it. It requires a development narrative that all sections of society can potentially participate in.Instead, the Indian state made Manipur a charnel house of human rights violations, abetted violence and militarisation to unprecedented levels. It opportunistically used ethnicity both for electoral alliances and divide and rule. In some ways, under colonial divide and rule, the state pretended to hover above the various contending groups. The point of divide and rule was to present the state as neutral and shore up its legitimacy. But in democratic India divide and rule has meant the state itself getting implicated with one group or the other. The result was a weakening of the state’s capacity to govern. We can see the long-term effects of this even in the present crisis, where there is widespread agreement that the state security forces and police cannot be trusted to be neutral and impartial. This creates a vicious cycle where all ethnic groups feel the need to preemptively protect themselves. And finally, the state was not a neutral actor in the economy.It is worth remembering this structural contradiction when we diagnose the present moment. The politics of majoritarianism in Manipur was always more complicated. It was this history that had first given the BJP an opening, where the Congress was seen as an instrument of the Valley, so much so that the Kukis called for supporting the BJP. But the current dispensation, rather than seizing the opportunity to create a new politics, has made the same mistakes. Only this time, the consequences are even more tragic and irrevocable.The violence has given a lie to the BJP’s project in three senses. The first is that the BJP can build a capable law and order state. In this instance, that state has proven to be both deeply incompetent and partisan. The ease with which literally thousands of weapons have been looted would shame any half capable state. But more disturbingly, the pattern that the state is seen to be a partisan actor in the violence continues unabated. Second, it exposes the ideological dangers of the BJP’s project.The BJP tried for a brief moment to run with the hare and hunt with the hound. It tried to capitalise on Kuki construal of Congress in Manipur as majoritarian at the same time as it politicised and promoted Meitei identity. Now that contradiction has burst open: A visible demonstration of the limits of Hindutva accommodation. Contingently convenient alliances will, in the end, be overrun by the ideological juggernaut. And third, it has shown that the BJP’s political instincts can be overrated: Its capacity to negotiate complicated social fissures in the North-east has been overestimated. What the BJP had touted as the moment of its greatest ideological triumph, winning in the North-east, is turning out to also expose the limitations of its politics.It is not going to be easy for Manipur to recover from this violence. There are no credible public institutions that can hold perpetrators of violence to account, impartially. The nature of the violence is such that both the Kukis and Meiteis will be left with a deep sense of victimhood. But there is a deeper question: Is there any political force left in the state that can do the job of political mediation? In a situation where, singly, all parties are considered partisan, the only possibility would be an all-party mediation, one that tries to lift Manipur out of a fatal combination of zero-sum identity politics. But such imaginative gestures are now beyond our ruling establishment.When I first read journalist Sudeep Chakravarti’s book, “The Eastern Gate”, one line stood out. He recounts a visit to Churachandpur, ground zero of the current violence, where he sees a sign by a church: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but it ends in death.” Alas, these words seem all too prophetic at the moment, when no one is prepared to break the mould of politics in Manipur. Nero will, of course, continue to fiddle, while Manipur burns.The writer is contributing editor, The Indian Express
Zahid Malik came to Purola town in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district over 30 years ago, and has been running a readymade garments shop for 18 years. He had also joined the BJP six years ago. However, on Wednesday night, he had packed everything up and loaded it into a truck as he got ready to shut the shop for good.He is one of at least seven Muslim shop owners in Purola market to permanently close their shops and leave the town in the past two-three days.Zahid’s elder brother, Abdul Wahid, had moved to Purola much before Zahid. The tailoring shop that Abdul ran for more than three decades has been managed by his son, Shahnawaz, ever since Abdul’s death a few years ago. Now, Shahnawaz is also considering leaving town.Tensions in the Purola area erupted on May 26 after two men were allegedly found with a minor girl by some local residents. One of the two men was Muslim, leading to allegations of “love jihad”.Police identified the two men as Ubaid Khan (24) and Jitendra Saini (23), who were booked under sections 363 (kidnapping) and 366A (procuration of minor girl) of the IPC, as well as under the POCSO Act. They are currently in judicial custody.Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand: Muslim owned shops forcibly closed by Hindutva outfits! Posters have come up asking Muslim traders to vacate their shops before a Panchayat for “targeting Hindu women” to be held on June 15! Some Muslim shopkeepers have left Uttarkashi & came to Dehradun! pic.twitter.com/FQ6vYJD0bL— Muslim Spaces (@MuslimSpaces) June 6, 2023An officer familiar with the investigation said, “The girl did not know these people… There is no love jihad angle. We can call it love jihad only if the girl and boys knew each other, or the guy introduced himself as someone else, or they already had a friendship. But that is not the case here.”The day after the incident, protest rallies were organised by right-wing groups, the local Vyapar Mandal (trade union), and some residents. They demanded strict action against the accused and called for a stringent verification process of “outsiders” who come to the town.Posters also came up threatening Muslim traders with consequences if they did not shut down their shops.There are around 35-40 shops run by Muslims in Purola, and all have been shut for the past 12 days.The district administration have meanwhile formed joint teams of revenue and police officials to verify the antecedents of those coming from outside.“There are around five-six (Muslim) families living here for decades, including ours, and they, too, are being targeted now. They are using social media to threaten us. We have also been removed from the WhatsApp group of the Vyapar Mandal. Instead of giving us security, the PAC (Provincial Armed Constabulary) jawans deployed here are asking us not to leave our houses,” said Mohammad Ashraf (41), who runs a garment shop in the area. Ashraf is one of the few members of the community to own a house in Purola.“My family came to Purola in 1978 from Bijnor. Our shop was one of the first few in the area. Three generations of my family lived here, but we have never seen anything like this before… I was born here. I studied in the local Saraswati Shishu Mandir. Most of my friends here are Hindus. We cannot leave this place,” he said.Those who have already left include three traders of toys and crockery, two who were running garments shops, one car wash owner, and one mobile repair shop owner.Having shut down his garment shop, Zahid said he would leave the BJP. He claimed that he was the Uttarkashi district president of the BJP’s minority wing, but the party’s district president Satendra Rana denied this, saying that post was currently vacant and that Zahid had once been a district general secretary.On his decision to shut his business in Purola, Zahid said, “There was a big rally on May 28, during which some people vandalised the hoardings and flex boards of shops owned by Muslims. At that time, I came to Dehradun. We thought we would wait a few days until the situation gets normal. But then, there was another rally in Badkot. Four days ago, we decided to leave Purola.”He said he would look for a shop to rent in Dehradun’s Vikas Nagar area.Local resident Abhishek Semwal, a BJP member, said several Muslim families had been living in the area for decades, but that “problems” started when “new people started coming and opening shops”.Semwal and others, like BJP office bearer Pawan Nautiyal, alleged that such “outsiders” were involved in illegal activities.Meanwhile, Purola sub-divisional magistrate Devanand Sharma Thursday held a Peace Committee Meeting with local public representatives, influential members of society, and local members of the Muslim community. He said that the situation was under control.On Friday, another meeting will be held with local residents to decide the future course of action.Brij Mohan Chauhan, president of the Purola Vyapar Mandal, said: “It is expected that we will ask the administration to make sure that those coming from outside present a character certificate from their local police station. Those already living here for several decades will be allowed to stay here. We will give them a date when they can open their shops.”
With the BJP on Thursday appointing election heads for all 48 Lok Sabha and 288 Assembly seats in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde has found itself on the back foot. The party, however, tried to downplay the move, saying that it will not sour their alliance as it was an attempt to build the party base and asserted that it will contest all 22 seats like the undivided Shiv Sena did in the 2019 elections.“We have an alliance with BJP. There is nothing wrong if BJP appoints election heads. These election heads have been appointed for building the organisational network and expanding its base,” Shinde Sena spokesperson Naresh Mhaske told The Indian Express on Friday.“Our leaders and BJP leaders will be working in coordination in all Lok Sabha and Assembly seats. The election heads appointed by BJP will help its candidate in a particular constituency from where the party is contesting. Similarly, the election heads will also work for our candidate where BJP is not contesting,” he added.Mhaske said the Shinde Sena will contest 22 seats in the coming Lok Sabha elections. “In 2019, the Shiv Sena which was in alliance with BJP had contested 22 seats. This time too, we will contest 22 seats,” he said. In 2022, the Shiv Sena split following a rebellion led by Shinde; the other faction is led by Uddhav Thackeray.MP Shrirang Barne, who was elected twice from the Maval Lok Sabha constituency, also said that the appointment of an election head does not mean that the same person would be fielded by the BJP. “It is their strategy to build their party and organisational network. But one thing is certain. I will be contesting from Maval Lok Sabha in 2024,” Barne told The Indian Express on Friday. The BJP has appointed Prashant Thakur, party MLA from Raigad district, as its Maval Lok Sabha election head. Three Assembly seats from Raigad district are part of the Maval Lok Sabha constituency.On the other hand, BJP’s Bhosari MLA Mahesh Landge has been appointed as the Shirur Lok Sabha election head. Landge is keen to contest the Lok Sabha election. “I am one of the aspirants for the Shirur Lok Sabha seat,” he said.Amit Gorkhe, who has been appointed as BJP’s election head for Pimpri, said that he was an aspirant for the Pimpri Assembly seat. “But my appointment does not mean I will be automatically contesting the Assembly seat. My job is to expand the party’s network and make the party stronger in the seat. If a Sena candidate contests from here, both BJP and Sena will work together in the constituency for his victory,” Gorkhe said.