The Indian Express – Presidential Polls: Meira Kumar will challenge Ram Nath Kovind, BSP and SP go with Opposition choice

Manoj C G, Abantika Ghosh, Anand Mishra

New Delhi, 23 June 2017. The 2017 presidential election will not be without a contest. And it will see a Dalit versus Dalit. Seventeen Opposition parties Thursday announced that former Lok Sabha Speaker and Congress veteran Meira Kumar will be their joint candidate against the ruling NDA’s presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind.

In the end, Uttar Pradesh arch rivals SP and BSP went along with the Opposition choice and did not go the JD(U) way which backed Kovind, RJD’s Lalu Prasad called Nitish Kumar’s decision a “historic blunder” and “wrong decision.”

He said he would meet the Bihar Chief Minister Friday and “urge him to review his decision… I will tell him not to commit a historic blunder”. He called Meira Kumar “Bihar ki beti” (daughter of Bihar).

BSP chief Mayawati, who had earlier forced the Congress and Left to look for a candidate by announcing she would have no option but to back Kovind if the Opposition did not field a Dalit candidate, supported Meira Kumar: “In new circumstances, it is clear from the comparison of both candidates that UPA and other Opposition parties’ nominee Meira Kumar is more popular and able than the NDA’s candidate.

This is why our party declares its support for Meira Kumar for the post of President.”

Daughter of former Deputy Prime Minister and Dalit leader Babu Jagjivan Ram, 72-year-old Kumar, MP for five terms, is also from Bihar which Opposition parties think will have Nitish Kumar in a spot. At the meeting, leaders said that Kumar’s decision to support Kovind’s candidature was “most unfortunate” and that “he should not have done it”.

In Patna, JD(U) leader K C Tyagi said: “We have all respect for Meira Kumar but let us not make it a battle between Dalit versus Dalit or UP Dalit versus Bihar Dalit. We have taken a decision to support Kovind, which should be taken as an isolated case, not as any rift in the Grand Alliance or Opposition.”

Although the decision to field Kumar was described as unanimous, sources said NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s first choice at the meeting was Sushil Kumar Shinde, Congress leader from Maharashtra. But all others favoured Kumar’s candidature.

That the candidate would be a Dalit was a foregone conclusion as there was pressure on the Congress and others from parties like the BSP ever since the BJP announced the candidature of Kovind.

The Congress and other Opposition parties had been working overtime to come up with a Dalit candidate as the challenger although the numbers in the electoral college are stacked in favour of Kovind.

Sources said Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ahmed Patel had sounded Pawar about Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s desire to field Meira Kumar. CPM’s Sitaram Yechury was also part of informal discussions through the day.

At the meeting, Gandhi spoke first, but did not take any name. Pawar was next and named Shinde, Bhalchandra Mungekar and Kumar, in that order. Sources said he pushed for Shinde and Mungekar since both are from his home state of Maharashtra.

But Lalu Prasad, who spoke next, spoke in favour of Kumar. Sources said all who spoke later, including SP’s Ram Gopal Yadav and BSP’s Satish Chandra Mishra, backed Kumar’s candidature.

Yechury and his CPI counterpart S Sudhakar Reddy mentioned that the Left had thought of proposing the names of Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi and Prakash Ambedkar but would go with the consensus. Gandhi was out of the race after the BJP named Kovind.

Yechury said Gandhi himself told him after Kovind’s candidature that the parameters of the candidate selection will have to be changed. At the meeting, Left leaders did not press for Ambedkar either which meant that a consensus had been reached before the meeting itself.

Kumar’s candidature was announced by Gandhi with Pawar next to her. Asked whether she would appeal to Nitish Kumar to support Kumar, Gandhi said she would appeal to all parties to back Kumar. “We do hope that other opposition parties join us… We are also proud that she is the second Dalit candidate for the post of President,” Gandhi said.

After the meeting, all leaders were asked to stay back and sign various sets of nomination papers for Kumar. Nine MPs from eight Opposition parties signed the papers then and there.

Apart from Gandhi, those who signed the papers include former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Yechury, Pawar, Derek O’Brien of Trinamool Congress, Satish Chandra Misra, Ramgopal Yadav, DMK’s Kanimozhi and D Raja of the CPI.

Pawar’s proposal of announcing the candidate on Friday since some of the top leaders were not present was opposed by several parties who insisted that the paperwork too be initiated before the end of the meeting.

After JD(U) broke ranks, the parties clearly wanted to avoid any more last-minute desertion. Other leaders argued there was no point in withholding the name when the decision has already been taken rather than media speculating or revealing the name.

Left leaders, who are in touch with the Aam Aadmi Party, said Arvind Kejriwal will come out in support of the Opposition candidate. While the JD(U) deserted the Opposition camp, RLD’s Ajit Singh, who was not present at the last meeting, attended the Thursday meeting.

With Santosh Singh in Patna and Ramendra Singh in Lucknow

Presidential Polls: Meira Kumar will challenge Ram Nath Kovind, BSP and SP go with Opposition choice


The Tribune – Opposition’s unity stumps Congress

Ruchika M Khanna

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, 22 June 2017. Bitter political rivals Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) joined hands in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha today after the AAP MLAs were thrown out by marshals even as turbans of some MLAs were flung into the air.

The unexpected bonhomie stumped the treasury benches, with the CM alluding to a collusion between the two.

Akali MLAs literally hand-held the AAP MLA in their fight against the “tyranny of the treasury benches unleashed by the Congress in cohoots with the Speaker”.

Not only did SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal lead a walkout when AAP MLAs were being evicted, he and his MLAs later led the AAP MLAs back inside the House, pushing away the watch and ward staff. This, even as a dazed CM and Speaker looked on.

The SAD-BJP MLAs were annoyed at the Speaker rejecting their plea for tabling a privilege motion against Finance Minister Manpreet Badal and instead accepting a privilege motion against Akali MLA Pawan Kumar Tinu for his “unparliamentary” language against a minister yesterday.

Even as the Speaker adjourned the proceedings, an unfazed Sukhbir stayed on, refusing to be provoked by Congress MLAs. By this time, the Speaker had announced that all AAP MLAs be removed. The SAD-BJP objected to each AAP MLA being lifted and thrown out by four-five marshals. Akali MLA Tinu too was manhandled as he opposed the marshals.

Sukhbir objected to the use of force against two women MLAs, but to no avail. At this juncture, Bikram Majithia returned to the House with the turban of AAP MLA Manjit Singh Bilaspur and placed it on the table.

The Speaker urged the MLAs to let the House function and the CM to speak. But Sukhbir insisted that the turban of a Gursikh was more important than any House announcement. Majithia said the Punjab Vidhan Sabha owed its existence to the turban (referring to the Punjabi Suba movement).

As the Akalis raised slogans of “death of democracy at the hands of the Speaker”, the latter ordered the watch and ward staff to evict all SAD-BJP MLAs from the House. But the MLAs walked out on their own.

Later, Sukhbir held a press conference where he raised the issue of three women MLAs of AAP, Baljinder Kaur, Rupinder Kaur and Sarabjit Kaur Manuke, being manhandled. He said they would launch an agitation for the removal of the Speaker for his “bias” against the Opposition.

Gent: Sint-Antoniuskaai – Rabot

28 May 2017

Sint-Antoniuskaai – Rabot

Rabot – Tram 1 and Tram 4
28 May 2017

Rabot – Tram 1 tracks

Tram 1 to Wondelgem

Tram 1 to Wondelgem

Rabot – Begijnhoflaan
Tram 1 tracks

Tram 1 to Flanders Expo

To see all my pictures:

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

The Scotsman – William Dalrymple on the Koh-i-Noor diamond, colonialism and Brexit

Is the Union of India the successor state to the Sikh Kingdom ? Which present-day country has a valid claim on the Koh-i-Noor : Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan or India ? Or does it belong to the descendants of  the Moghul emperors,  Nadir shah, Shah Shujah or Ranjit Singh ?
Man in Blue

William Dalrymple

On 29 March 1849, the ten-year year-old Maharaja of the Punjab, Duleep Singh, was ushered into the magnificent Shish Mahal, the Mirrored Hall throne room at the centre of the great Fort of Lahore.

The boy’s father, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, was long dead, and his mother, Rani Jindan, had been forcibly removed and incarcerated in a palace outside the city. Now Duleep Singh found himself surrounded by a group of grave-looking men wearing red coats and plumed hats, who talked among themselves in an unfamiliar language.

In the terrors of the minutes that followed, the frightened but dignified child finally yielded to months of pressure. In a public ceremony in front of what was left of the nobility of his court, he signed a formal Act of Submission. Within minutes, the flag of the Sikh Khalsa was lowered and the Union flag run up above the Fort.

The document signed by the young maharaja handed over to a private corporation, the East India Company, great swathes of the richest land in India, land which until that moment had formed the independent Sikh kingdom of the Punjab.

At the same time Duleep Singh was induced to hand over to Queen Victoria personally the single most valuable object not just in the Punjab but in the entire subcontinent: the celebrated Koh-i-Noor diamond, or Mountain of Light.

When he heard that Duleep Singh had finally signed the document, the Scottish Governor General, James Broun-Ramsay, Lord Dalhousie, was triumphant. “I have caught my hare,” he wrote. He later added: “The Koh-i-Noor has become in the lapse of ages a sort of historical emblem of the conquest of India. It has now found its proper resting place.”

The East India Company, the world’s first really global multinational, had grown over the course of a century from an operation employing only 35 permanent staff, headquartered in one small office in London, into the most powerful and heavily militarised corporation in history: its army by 1800 was twice the size of that of Britain.

It had had its eyes on both the Punjab and the diamond for many years. Its chance finally came in 1839, at the death of Ranjit Singh, when the Punjab had quickly descended into anarchy.

A violent power struggle, a suspected poisoning, several assassinations, a civil war and two British invasions later, the Company’s army finally defeated the Sikh Khalsa at the bloody battle of Gujrat on 21 February 1849.

At the end of the same year, on a cold, bleak day in December, Dalhousie arrived in person in Lahore to take formal delivery of his prize from the hands of Duleep Singh and his Scottish guardian, Dr Login.

Still set in the armlet which Maharaja Ranjit Singh had worn, the Koh-i-Noor was removed from the safe of the Lahore Toshakhana, or Treasury, by Dr Login, and placed in a small bag which had been specially made by Lady Dalhousie.

Broun-Ramsay wrote out a receipt: “I have received this day the Koh-i-Noor diamond.” In Scotland we are good at remembering all we have suffered at the hands of English aggression and colonialism, but often forget all we contributed to British colonialism elsewhere, and nowhere more than in India.

It is true that the Scots were slow starters in the field of Empire building. Early attempts to set up a Scottish East India Company in 1695 and found a colony at Darien three years later both proved humiliating failures. But by the end of the 18th century, the Scots were making up for lost time.

If the Scots diaspora played a major role in Imperial projects from Vancouver to Mandalay, it was particularly in South Asia that they came to prominence. “It was India,” writes Linda Colley in Britons, “that the Scots made their own.”

Well connected but financially embarrassed Scots gentry queued up to take their chance in the great Indian lottery, flooding first into the East India Company, then into the successor institutions of the Victorian Raj and the wider Empire.

“Would you suppose it?” wrote Aleck Fraser of Inverness from Delhi in 1811. “We usually sit down 16 or 18 at the Residency table, of whom nearly half, sometimes more, are always Scotchmen, about a quarter Irish, the rest English. The Irish do not always maintain their proportion, the Scotch seldom fail.”

As the 19th century progressed, the Scots diaspora filled a disproportionate and ever-growing number of imperial positions across the globe. For better or worse, the British Empire was the most important thing the Scottish ever did. It altered the course of international history, and shaped the modern world.

It also led to the huge enrichment of Scotland, just as, conversely, it led to the impoverishment of much of the rest of the non-European world. Yet much of the story of the Empire is still absent from our history curriculum.

This means that most people who go through the current education system are wholly ill-equipped to judge either the good or the bad in what we Scots did to the rest of the world. This matters.

Over and again, we see our diplomats, businessmen and politicians wrong-footed as they constantly underestimate the degree to which we are distrusted across the breadth of the globe, and in a few places actively disliked.

Because of the wrong-headedly positive spin we tend to put on our Imperial past, we often misjudge how others see us, and habitually overplay our hand.

For the fact is that the legacy of the Raj is something millions of Indians are still deeply uncomfortable about. This was demonstrated most recently, and most humiliatingly, to Theresa May when she went to India with a delegation of businessmen this winter.

Having fallen out with Europe over Brexit, she seemed to believe that she would be welcomed in India with open arms.
Indeed the Prime Minister seemed to be under the arrogant impression that she could just kick-start the Empire, as if it was some sort of old motorbike which had been left in a garage for a few years and which now, given the breakdown of Britain’s European limousine, she could merrily mount and ride off into the sunset.

But her strategy of trying to strike trade deals with Commonwealth countries, dubbed Empire 2.0 by some in the Civil Service, certainly turned out be difficult to sell in this former colony, which now casts much more loving looks towards America than it does towards us. In the end, May’s visit to India was a humiliating failure.

For the truth is that Indians have very bitter memories of British rule. Today it is believed in India, whether rightly or wrongly, that the British came as looters and plunderers, and subjected the country to centuries of humiliation.

And it is certainly true that for all the irrigation projects and new railways, the Raj presided over the destruction of Indian political institutions and cultural self-confidence, while the economic figures speak for themselves.

In 1600, when the East India Company was founded, Britain was generating 1.8 percent of the world’s GDP while India was producing 22.5 percent. By 1870, at the peak of the Raj, Britain was generating 9.1 percent, while India had been reduced to a poor third-world nation with just 12.2 percent, a symbol across the globe of famine and deprivation.

Last year a video went viral in India of the eloquent Congress politician, Shashi Tharoor, arguing at the Oxford Union that Britain owed India reparations for the damage inflicted by the Empire: at last count, the YouTube video of his speech had five million views.

It was instructive to watch the surprised reaction in Britain: hadn’t we given the Indians railways, cricket and democracy? On a Sunday morning BBC talk show it was even claimed that, unlike the Belgians, the British never committed any atrocities in the course of their Empire building.

Tharoor was forced to remind his interlocutor of the Amritsar Massacre, where in the space of a single hour, according to official British figures, 379 civilians were killed and 1,200 injured when General Dyer’s troops opened fire on a crowd of unarmed protestors.

Tharoor could have come up with many much worse examples, for example the massive bloodshed in the aftermath of the Great Uprising of 1857, when the British army, including several Highland regiments, massacred many tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of innocents.

Yet in Britain we remain largely ignorant of the blackest side of the imperial experience, and are still taught in school that it was only our German enemies who turned racism into an ideology that justified mass murder.

In contrast the Raj, we like to believe, was like some enormous Merchant Ivory film writ large over the plains of Hindustan, all parasols and Simla tea parties, friendly elephants and handsome maharajahs.

The story of the Koh-i-Noor, a symbol of the sovereignty of India, taken from South Asia by force under the watch of a Scottish Governor General, raises not only important historical issues, but contemporary ones too, being in many ways a touchstone and lightning rod for attitudes towards colonialism and posing the question: what is the proper response to imperial looting?

Do we simply shrug it off as part of the rough-and-tumble of history or should we attempt to right the wrongs of the past? It is certainly something we all should think over carefully, not least given the importance of good relations with India, arguably among the most important trading partners that Scotland has in a post-Brexit world, in the coming Asian century.

Koh-i-Noor: The History Of The World’s Most Infamous Diamond by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand is published this week by Bloomsbury, £14.99

The Hindu – Kulbhushan Jadhav files mercy petition before Pakistani military chief

Kulbhushan Jadhav had earlier appealed to the Military Appellate Court which was rejected

Mubashir Zaidi

Karachi, 22 June 2017. The Pakistani military announced on Thursday that former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav had filed a mercy petition with Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Mr Jadhav was sentenced to death by a military court in April for espionage and terrorism. The International Court of Justice in May halted the execution on India’s appeal.

In a statement by the Inter Services Public Relations, military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said Mr Jadhav had filed the mercy plea with a confessional statement that he was involved in subversive activities in Balochistan.

Mr Jadhav was said to have been arrested last year from Balochistan. “Today, I genuinely feel, after the time spent in Pakistan, very ashamed and seek pardon of the acts and sins and crimes I have committed here against the nation and people of Pakistan,” he was quoted as saying.

Mr Jadhav’s second ‘confessional’ video was posted on the Facebook page of the military’s public relations wing, ISPR.

India lashed out at Pakistan for the “lack of transparency” in Mr Jadhav’s trial and mercy petition process, and indicated that Pakistan’s release of the video was an “attempt to introduce prejudice” in the ongoing International Court of Justice appeal.

“India is determined to pursue the matter in ICJ and is confident that justice will be done without being affected by these unwarranted and misleading steps taken by Pakistan,” official spokesperson Gopal Baglay said.