Nitish Kumar in eye of Bihar political storm over local body polls deferment post HC order

The Indian Express | 1 month ago | 05-10-2022 | 10:45 pm

Nitish Kumar in eye of Bihar political storm over local body polls deferment post HC order

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has come under fire from the opposition for failing to comply with a Supreme Court’s order that has led to the deferment of urban local body elections in the state.The Patna High Court recently ruled that the Bihar government had “failed” to observe the “triple test” criteria laid down by the Supreme Court in 2021 for reserving seats for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) in urban and municipal local body polls.The high court said that the current reservation of seats for OBCs and EBCs was “illegal” since the Bihar government failed to set up a dedicated commission to quantify backwardness for giving reservation in local body polls.The first phase of local body polls was scheduled for October 10.Nitish, who is known for his deft social engineering, seems to have floundered this time by disregarding the apex court’s order which had led to the cancellation of local body polls in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra last year.While hearing a case pertaining to Maharashtra local body polls last year, the Supreme Court had come up with a “triple test” mandate that requires setting up a dedicated commission to collect quantifiable data to determine backwardness of OBCs in local bodies; specifying the proportion of reservation required in light of the recommendation of the commission; and imposing a reservation ceiling of 50 per cent.Sources told The Indian Express that the law department of the Bihar government had asked the state election commission to proceed with the polls despite being aware of the Supreme Court order.BJP Rajya Sabha MP and former Bihar deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi told The Indian Express: “I had followed up the matter with top bureaucrats of the state government, but they still sought a favourable legal opinion despite a 2010 order of the Supreme Court clearly saying that political reservation is different from reservation in education and jobs.”“We are surprised and dismayed at the Bihar government for not adhering to the triple test mandated by the Supreme Court ,” he added.Modi alleged that crores of rupees spent by the candidates for local body elections would go waste because of the chief minister’s defiance of the court’s order.“No bureaucrat dared to give him the right advice. Despite the state election commission writing to the state government citing the two orders of the Supreme Court delivered in 2021, the Bihar government decided to go ahead with local body polls which were bound to be cancelled,” Modi said.The high court order passed by Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice S Kumar directed the Bihar government to hold the elections “only by immediately re-notifying the seats reserved for OBC category, treating them as general category seats.” The court said: “The state of Bihar may consider enacting a comprehensive legislation pertaining to reservations in elections to local bodies…. ”Sources in the government said that Nitish insisted on following the recommendations laid down by previous OBC and EBC commissions, and said that the “triple test” mandate was not required to be followed since the guidelines laid down by the erstwhile commissions were already being observed.But the Patna High Court rejected the state government’s argument and said, “No point of reference to the Backward Class Commission or Extremely Backward Class Commission for ascertaining political backwardness is placed on record.”The court also observed that the “procedure and pattern adopted by the Government/ Election Commission in reserving the seats for the OBC category in all the municipalities, be it municipal corporation, municipality or Nagar Parishad, is identical… reservation across the board is provided without evaluating any parameters, except population….”It also reprimanded the state election commission for kowtowing to the Bihar government.“The Election Commission is definitely not subservient to the government. It did not revise its opinion. It did not seek any legal opinion before acting on the government’s diktats,” the order said, adding that the Election Commission “shall review its functioning as an autonomous and independent body.”Nitish’s JD (U) has been finding it difficult to defend the chief minister for not adhering to the SC order.While several senior JD (U) leaders refused to speak on the matter, the party’s parliamentary board chief Upendra Kushwaha called the verdict “unfortunate”.Blaming the central government, Kushwaha said: “Had there been an all-India caste census, we could have given all relevant data desired by the court.”Modi, however, countered Kushwaha by saying that the court had enquired about data relevant for local government and the caste census had nothing to do with local body polls.Referring to the Supreme Court’s ‘triple test’ order on Maharashtra local body elections, JD (U) national president Rajiv Ranjan Singh told reporters: “Since we have been giving reservation in local bodies since 2007, what happens in Maharashtra now?”Singh accused the BJP of being “anti-reservation”.RJD national spokesperson Subodh Kumar attacked the BJP for its “failure” to set up a dedicated commission as per the court’s order. “What was the BJP doing? It had been previously very much part of the government with Nitish Kumar,” he said.

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Eknath Shinde aide Ajay Ashar appointed vice-president of Maharashtra planning body
The Indian Express | 2 hours ago | 02-12-2022 | 05:45 pm
The Indian Express
2 hours ago | 02-12-2022 | 05:45 pm

A ‘controversial’ real estate developer, Ajay Ashar, known to be one of the closest aides of Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and works for him behind the curtains, was appointed as the vice-president of the state planning body MITRA (Maharashtra Institution for Transformation).Ashar has been working with Shinde for more than a decade now. Known in the inner circles of Maharashtra’s power corridors for working alongside Shinde, Ashar was never in the public eye until his appointment in a government body.In October 2022, the Maharashtra state cabinet cleared the decision to form MITRA on the lines of NITI Aayog with the aim to achieve rapid and comprehensive development of the state through the participation of private sector and non-governmental organisations.During the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, Ashar was reportedly on the radar of the central probe agencies but he was neither named in any scam nor was he called for any probe by any agencies. BJP leader Kirit Somaiya in 2020 had even tweeted Ashar’s name terming him as a partner of then CM Uddhav Thackeray. Somaiya did not answer the phone call when contacted for a comment.The state government also appointed former Shiv Sena MLA from Kolhapur Rajesh Kshirsagar, who has switched sides to join hands with Shinde after the split in the party, as the second vice-president of MITRA.Congress general secretary Sachin Sawant questioned the appointment of Ashar reminding how the BJP, when in Opposition, had targeted certain builders, including Ashar. “When in Opposition, MVA was accused of waiving off premium on certain real estate projects for benefitting a few builders. Now, those builders are being given responsibilities of planning for Maharashtra. Moreover, how fair it is to hand over planning of the state into the hands of a builder?” he said.Meanwhile, Ashar was unavailable for a comment.

Eknath Shinde aide Ajay Ashar appointed vice-president of Maharashtra planning body
Closure reports filed on FIRs against BJP MLA Ganesh Naik, Bombay HC told
The Indian Express | 2 hours ago | 02-12-2022 | 05:45 pm
The Indian Express
2 hours ago | 02-12-2022 | 05:45 pm

The Bombay High Court was informed on Friday that closure reports had been filed on two FIRs lodged against Maharashtra BJP MLA Ganesh Naik for allegedly threatening and raping a woman, who claimed that he was her son’s biological father. The court then directed the magistrate to dispose of the proceedings within three months.The prosecution submitted that it could not find substance in the allegations against the Airoli MLA. Additional public prosecutor Prajakta P Shinde told the court that in both the matters, A-summary reports were filed by the Navi Mumbai police in July and September, after the Shinde Sena-BJP government replaced the MVA government in the state.An A-summary report on a case is submitted to a magistrate when there is no clue about culprits, or when the accused is known but there is no evidence to justify his being sent to the magistrate for trial.A bench of Justices Revati Mohite-Dere and R N Laddha was hearing Naik’s plea seeking the quashing of the FIRs registered against him at the CBD Belapur police station. He was booked in April after the woman lodged a complaint that she was in a live-in relationship with Naik and that in 2021, he had threatened her with a firearm if she disclosed their relationship to anyone.The woman said she became pregnant with Naik’s child in 2006 and went to New Jersey in the US to give birth. However, despite assuring her that he would accept the child and stay with them, Naik did not do so, she alleged.According to the woman, Naik called her to his office for lunch. When she asked if he would give his name to the child, Naik allegedly pulled out his revolver and told her not to “harass” him or else, he would kill them and end his life. She said she did not file a police complaint back then as Naik was a minister and an influential politician.Senior advocate Ashok Mundargi, appearing for Naik, submitted that the “two cases have a political angle to them and there is a general tendency that cases connected to political personalities are deliberately kept pending”.In such cases, Mundargi argued, despite A-summary reports being filed before the magistrate and the complainant being issued a notice, nothing further happens. He therefore urged the court to direct the magistrate to expeditiously dispose of the matters.A single- judge bench of Justice Anuja Prabhudessai, which granted anticipatory bail to Naik on May 4, had noted that the woman’s statement had indicated that she and Naik were in a relationship from 1995 to 2017. She said that as her family did not approve of their relationship, she got married to someone else. According to her, she divorced him in 2001 and continued the relationship with Naik.Justice Prabhudessai observed that the relationship between Naik and the woman was consensual and that prima facie essential ingredients of rape were not made out and therefore his custodial interrogation was not required.

Closure reports filed on FIRs against BJP MLA Ganesh Naik, Bombay HC told
Five paddy-growing districts in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha to get 12 hours’ power supply
The Indian Express | 5 hours ago | 02-12-2022 | 02:45 pm
The Indian Express
5 hours ago | 02-12-2022 | 02:45 pm

The Maharashtra government has decided to provide 12 hours of uninterrupted electricity to farmers for agricultural pumps in five districts in the Vidarbha region, officials said. The demand for increased electricity for agricultural pumps came from paddy-growing districts such as Chandrapur, Gadchiroli, Bhandara, Gondia and Nagpur. Farmers cultivating paddy were facing hardships due to the short supply of electricity.Senior BJP minister for forests Sudhir Mungantiwar, who hails from Chandrapur, raised the issue with Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis two days ago. During the discussions, Mungantiwar apprised the two leaders of the problems faced by paddy farmers in the five Vidarbha districts. Reduced power supply meant that farmers in these districts were forced to do farming activities during the night when the electricity supply was more steady. However, it also made them prone to attacks from animals, officials added. After considering the farmers’ plight, the state government directed the energy department to increase supply from eight hours to 12 hours to farmers using agriculture pumps in five eastern Vidarbha districts. In its order, the government has also stated that instead of night, farmers should be provided electricity during the day.

Five paddy-growing districts in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha to get 12 hours’ power supply
In latest Shivaji row, a BJP minister among the richest in Maharashtra Cabinet
The Indian Express | 5 hours ago | 02-12-2022 | 02:45 pm
The Indian Express
5 hours ago | 02-12-2022 | 02:45 pm

Mangal Prabhat Lodha is a quiet man. At the BJP headquarters here, his colleagues say that the Cabinet minister operates silently — not flaunting his power and always speaking to a select group of people. The image of quiet efficiency is quite different to the public persona of a firebrand Hindutva votary and this combination helped the former Mumbai BJP chief become a member of the Eknath Shinde-led government. At present, he holds the portfolios of tourism, and women and child development.On Wednesday, Lodha lit a political firestorm by comparing 17th-century warrior Shivaji’s historic escape from the Mughal court in Agra with Shinde’s defection from the Shiv Sena that led to the fall of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in June. The comments came at a time the BJP was looking to move past the row Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari had triggered two weeks ago by calling Shivaji an icon of olden times. Koshyari’s remarks put the BJP on the defensive and it spent the subsequent days parrying the Opposition’s attacks, but the optics surrounding the Lodha episode is worse as the comments came at an event that the CM attended.Shinde, along with his Cabinet ministers, were in Satara on Wednesday to celebrate 363rd Pratapgad Din, the state government’s annual celebration of Shivaji’s assassination of Afzal Khan, a commander of the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur, at the foothills of Pratapgad Fort. “Shivaji Maharaj who was held hostage escaped from Agra by dodging Mughal emperor Aurangzeb … Shivaji escaped from Agra for swarajya (independence) Similarly, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde was also confined by somebody. But Shinde also came out from confinement in the larger interest of Maharashtra …”Amid backlash from the Opposition, the BJP left Lodha to deal with the fallout and none of its top leaders defended him publicly. Party insiders said the leadership had categorically told everyone to exercise caution while speaking on historical events or people. The BJP has now chosen once again to distance itself from the row and allow it to fizzle out. A senior BJP general secretary said on the condition of anonymity, “Sometimes, it is better to remain silent when some reaction boomerangs against our party and leaders.”Shinde, however, appeared to back his minister even as he underlined that nobody could be compared to Shivaji. Trying to defuse the tension, the CM said, “Lodha has allocated Rs 25 crore for Pratapgad Fort. Shivaji Maharaj is deeply revered and worshipped by one and all. Shivaji cannot be compared to anybody.”Aware that he had slipped up, Lodha attempted damage control by explaining he had never meant to insult Shivaji. Late Wednesday evening, the minister said, “I have not done anything wrong and did not insult Shivaji. I deeply respect Shivaji Maharaj. I was just citing some examples which have been wrongly interpreted. We often give Shivaji’s examples to children. It does not mean we are comparing them or insulting Shivaji.”Son of former Guwahati HC CJILodha, who is one of the richest state ministers with declared assets worth Rs 441.65 crore, is from Rajasthan. He arrived in Mumbai in the 1980s after completing his BCom and LLB degrees from the University of Jodhpur. His father Guman Lal Lodha was the chief justice of the Guwahati High Court. After initially practising law, Lodha ventured into real estate and founded Macrotech Developers (Lodha Group).Since his student days, Lodha was associated with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students’ organisation affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He made his debut in electoral politics in 1995, when he contested the Assembly elections for the first time. At present, he is a six-term MLA from the high-profile Malabar Hills constituency in Mumbai.The minister has often used the public forum at his disposal to speak about issues such as cattle slaughter and undocumented immigrants. He has spoken about the alleged threat Hindus face in the Muslim-dominated Malvani area of Mumbai.During a state Assembly debate last year, Lodha said, “There is a pattern to this Hindu exodus. They are being threatened and intimidated to leave their houses. A concerted attempt is being made to evict them. Just like Kashmir, Kairana witnessed the exodus of Hindus. Malvani in Mumbai is also witnessing the same.”On cow slaughter, he has said in the past, “There should be capital punishment for killers of cows and cattle. Cow slaughter should be punishable by death and beef export should be banned.”During campaigning for the 2019 Assembly polls, the Election Commission served Lodha with a show-cause notice for making a communal statement. While campaigning in Mumbadevi, the BJP leader said, “The explosives used in the 1992 Mumbai riots were made in bylanes five km from here.” The Mumbadevi neighbourhood has a sizable Muslim population.

In latest Shivaji row, a BJP minister among the richest in Maharashtra Cabinet
‘Chunavi Hindu’ says BJP, but Rahul Gandhi is climbing steps one temple at a time in his Yatra
The Indian Express | 5 hours ago | 02-12-2022 | 02:45 pm
The Indian Express
5 hours ago | 02-12-2022 | 02:45 pm

Visit one temple and they may question your religious credentials, visit several, and it might cease being an issue. As part of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been making high-visibility halts at shrines, particularly temples, appearing with vermillion on his forehead often, putting out pictures bowing to deities, posting videos of interactions with priests and, in an icing on the cake, sharing a photo that shows him prone in sashtang pranam at the Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain.The Ujjain temple incidentally is one of the prominent shrines developed, and celebrated, under the BJP rule in the state and Centre. Just over a month ago, a Mahakal Temple Corridor was unveiled with much fanfare in a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.आज उज्जैन में, शिप्रा नदी के तट पर बसे ज्योतिर्लिंग, भगवान महाकालेश्वर की आराधना करने का सौभाग्य प्राप्त हुआ।जय महाकाल। pic.twitter.com/DMtKRyjFkS— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) November 29, 2022The BJP has kept up its attacks on Rahul for the temple run. On Thursday, Madhya Pradesh Culture Minister Usha Thakur said: “My humble prayer is that no spiritual activity should be made a medium for political gains. These activities are an integral part of our life. You go to temples, it is welcome, but you should also understand the importance of offering prayers and darshan of the deity.”Campaigning in Ahmedabad’s Vasna for the Gujarat polls, Union Minister Smriti Irani said: “They (the Congress) are now reminded of the Hindu dharma because they are losing elections and understand that if they humiliate dharma and Hindus, they will not get a single vote from (people of) this religion.”Unlike this election, when Rahul has made just one visit so far to campaign for the Gujarat elections – in a break from his Bharat Jodo Yatra – the Congress leader had canvassed extensively in the 2017 polls, including making a series of temple visits in the state. The BJP had mocked Rahul then too, though that election saw the Congress give the ruling party a scare.Accusing Rahul of “putting up a pretence to prove his Hindu lineage”, BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya tweeted: “Rahul Gandhi is as much a Hindu as Arvind Kejriwal is honest… Make no mistake, this is just a tactical retreat, with electoral compulsions in mind, nothing else.”Sharing a video of Rahul performing aarti at Omkareshwar temple in MP, Malviya said: “If only ‘chunavi Hindu’ Rahul Gandhi knew that aarti is done clockwise and there is a scientific reason for it (earth moves in a clockwise direction and hence environmental frequencies are in sync with movement), he would not be making a spectacle of himself in public like this.”(Viewed from the North Pole, the Earth actually moves in a counterclockwise direction; from the South Pole, it appears to rotate clockwise.)Rahul Gandhi, son of a Catholic mother and a Parsi father, should stop this fancy dress drama in Hindi heartland.When in Kerala or TN, he never bothered to visit a single Hindu temple. Visited minority religious places though.His beliefs change depending on electoral maths… pic.twitter.com/zj0Gh2PZkW— Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) December 2, 2022After his visit to the Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain Tuesday, Rahul accused the BJP government of disrespecting “workers, farmers and small businessmen — the real ‘tapasvis’ akin to Hindu gods Shiva, Rama and Krishna”.Vermillion on his forehead, Rahul peppered his speech with references about Hindu gods and the Bhagawad Gita. “The Hindu religion teaches us to worship ‘tapasvis’… so why are they not worshipped?… The government does not give them anything, it gives everything to those who do puja of Narendra Modi,” he said. “Those who worship Modi, they get everything they want, railways, ports, airports, roads, power, water… everything.”The Omkareshwar and Mahakaleshwar temples are among the 12 Jyotirlinga sites in India, associated with Lord Shiva.हिंदुस्तान हमेशा से तपस्वियों का देश रहा है। आज, प्रधानमंत्री करोड़ों हिंदुस्तानियों की तपस्या का अपमान कर रहे हैं। pic.twitter.com/urn3poFciu— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) November 29, 2022In October, during the Bharat Jodo Yatra’s Karnataka leg, Rahul reached out to members of all three main faiths — Hindu, Muslim and Christian — in Mysuru by visiting the Chamundeshwari Temple atop the Chamundi Hills, the Masjid-e-Azam and the St Philomena’s Cathedral on the same day.Sharing pictures of the temple on Twitter, Rahul said: “Religious harmony is the foundation of India’s peaceful and progressive future.” The Bharat Jodo Yatra’s stated aim is to unite the country against “hate” and “discord”.A day later, he visited a prominent mutt of the Lingayat community, the most powerful voting group in Karnataka.Entering Maharashtra on November 9 from Telangana, Rahul paid a visit to the Nanded Sahib gurdwara, one of Sikhism’s holiest shrines, on the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti. On its official Twitter page, the Congress shared a video of Rahul praying wearing a headscarf with the Khanda symbol and someone wrapping a Dastar around his head. He prayed for harmony and equality, the party said.In September, soon after he had taken off from Tamil Nadu, Rahul met controversial Tamil pastor George Ponnaiah. After videos of their meeting emerged, the BJP attacked Rahul.

‘Chunavi Hindu’ says BJP, but Rahul Gandhi is climbing steps one temple at a time in his Yatra