BBC News – What is India’s president actually for?

New Delhi, 2 August 2017. Does the Indian president serve a purely ceremonial role? Is this a mere figurehead who, in the words of former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, is a “head that neither reigns nor governs”, and holds a position of “authority or dignity” more than anything else?

Last month’s election of Ram Nath Kovind as the republic’s 14th president reignited the debate. In his inaugural speech, President Kovind, a former spokesman for the ruling BJP, promised citizens he would “stay true to the trust that they have bestowed me”.

So do Indians need an assertive or pliant president? Should they be merely a titular head? Are Indian presidents mere “rubber stamps”? And what happens when the president acts in an assertive and/or partisan manner?

The Indian presidency differs from most presidencies across the world. The president does not exercise executive powers, he is the head of the state, and is required by the constitution to act on the advice of ministers.

So the role is more akin to that of the British monarch or monarchs in countries like the Netherlands or Spain: a referee over a parliamentary system where ministers possess the real power. Countries like Germany and Israel have presidencies similar to India’s.

But James Manor, a professor at the London-based Institute of Commonwealth Studies who has extensively researched the presidency, says Indian presidents are “not entirely rubber stamps”.

They can ask ministers to reconsider actions, offer them private advice and convey warnings. They also make public speeches which indicate, at least subtly, “some differences of view with the government, and which may swing public opinion”.

Also, more importantly, after elections, presidents are free to act, and must act, without the advice of ministers if no party has been able to garner a parliamentary majority. They also have some freedom to decide whether to accept a prime minister’s request for dissolving the parliament to enable a general election.

India’s first president, Rajendra Prasad, frequently disagreed with prime minister Nehru and sometimes subtly criticised the government in his public statements.

In what many believe was a shameful low for the presidency, the fifth president, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, readily acquiesced to former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s demand for a declaration to impose a state of emergency, when civil liberties were suspended in 1975.

Stormy relationship

The seventh president, Giani Zail Singh, a former Congress government home minister who once told the parliament that he admired Adolf Hitler, had a stormy relationship with the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

In 1987, he withheld assent from a controversial bill passed by the parliament. (The bill was later withdrawn.) There were reports that Mr Singh, who died in 1994 , had even considered sacking Mr Gandhi’s government over an arms purchasing scandal.

The ninth incumbent Shankar Dayal Sharma returned two executive orders to the cabinet in 1996 because they had been “inappropriately” issued before a general election.

And his successor, K R Narayanan, a London School of Economics-educated former diplomat and Dalit (formerly known as “untouchable”), was arguably one of India’s most assertive presidents. He delivered speeches which many believed were not vetted by the government and, in a surprising break from protocol, even gave an interview to a senior journalist.

Mr Narayanan also sent back a proposal to impose direct rule in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh to the cabinet, asking the ministers to reconsider it. He bluntly said: “I am not a rubber stamp.”

And he angered many in the government and the media for chiding visiting US president Bill Clinton at a state banquet, provoking the New York Times to comment that “the tensions inherent in forging an Indian-American friendship surfaced with Mr Narayanan’s speech”.

His successor A P J Kalam, one of the most popular Indian presidents, was more restrained, once returning an office of profit bill for reconsideration. The parliament returned the bill to him without changes, and he signed it into law.

‘More assertive’

Professor Manor believes Mr Kovind’s predecessor, Pranab Mukherjee, a veteran Congress party leader and a former senior minister, was “more assertive than nearly all previous presidents”.

Although he rejected a record 28 mercy pleas of death row convicts during his tenure, Mr Mukherjee defied the advice of the government and commuted the death sentences of four convicts in January.


The Tribune – Vulture population rises in Ropar

Arun Sharma, Tribune News Service

Ropar, 31 July 2017. There is good news for environmentalists as well as other residents of the area as the number of Egyptian vultures has registered a remarkable growth at two places in the district.

Ecologist T K Roy, who found these vultures near Ghanauli and Ganguwal Power House, said 40 per cent of the vultures found in the area were sub-adults. The presence of such a big number of sub-adult vultures at one place indicated that the breeding to the species was successful in this area resulting in substantial number of their survival.

Roy, who is also associated with Asian Waterbird Census, said Egyptian vulture population has been increasing during this decade in Punjab, especially where carrion are disposed of with the initiative of local panchayat or villagers.

He said more than 25 Egyptian vultures with nearly 30 per cent of them sub-adult at Ganguwal Point and more than 40 per cent sub-adults among 120 vultures at Ghanauli indicate successful breeding in the area. Earlier, vultures were not found at one place in such a large number in the past, at least in this area.

The ecologist said in 1990s due to the use of veterinary anti-inflammatory drug Diclofenac for cattle, nearly 95 per cent of vulture population had declined in Indian sub-continent. As per Birdlife International, present estimate of global population of Egyptian vulture was between 12,000 and 38,000 individual only.

Roy said on the initiative of Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, UK, a consortium “SAVE” (Saving Asia’s Vulture from Extinction) was launched.

In order to check the extinction of this natural scavenger in Asia, SAVE took steps for vulture captive breeding, ban on use of Diclofenac, Diclofenac-free safe carrion feeding to vultures and concept of “Vulture Restaurant”.

In India, several states, including Punjab, introduced vulture restaurants with funds from the Centre.

In Punjab, one such restaurant was introduced at Dhar in Pathankot where wildlife division successfully runs this vulture saving project for a few years.

Den Haag Centraal – Hobbemaplein

Den Haag Centraal
10 July 2017

Den Haag Centraal – Low level tram stops

Den Haag Centraal – Low level tram stops

Den Haag Centraal – High level tram stops
Departures of trams 2, 3, 4 and 6

Den Haag Centraal – RandstadRail Metro to Rotterdam

10 July 2017

Tram 12 to central Den Haag

Bus 25 from Grote Markt to Vrederust
The Hobbemaplein is served by trams 6, 11 and 12 and by bus 25

To see all my pictures:

More Netherlands pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Het Nieuwsblad – Sikhs vochten samen met Vlamingen in Eerste Wereldoorlog

Historicus Dominiek Dendooven houdt lezing in De Bogaard

Een heel goede lezing door onze vriend Domeniek Den Dooven op 30 mei 2012
A very good lecture by our friend Domeniek Den Dooven on 30 May 2012

Sint-Truiden, 29 May 2012. Lang voor de Sikhs in de jaren ’80 aanvankelijk als politieke, later als economische vluchtelingen naar de fruitstreek kwamen, doken ze op het Europese continent op. In de eerste Wereldoorlog vochten ze mee in de Vlaamse loopgraven.

Over die minder gekende episode uit de aanwezigheid van de Sikhs in ons land houdt historicus Dominiek Dendooven woensdag 30 mei een lezing in cultuurcentrum De Bogaard.

In het eerste jaar van de Eerste Wereldoorlog verbleven verschillende duizenden soldaten uit toenmalig Brits India in de loopgraven van Vlaanderen. In afschuwelijke omstandigheden ondergingen ze er enkele bloedige veldslagen.

De Indische soldaten werden niet alleen geconfronteerd met de modder en de gruwelen van het slagveld, maar ook met de plaatselijke zeden en gewoonten. Europeanen en Indiërs bekeken elkaar immers met vreemde maar nieuwsgierige ogen. Van heel bijzondere aard was de situatie waarin Indiase krijgsgevangen terecht kwamen.

Het verblijf van die duizenden soldaten van het Indiase subcontinent in Europa was decennia lang vergeten maar staat sinds 1999 weer volop in de belangstelling.

Historicus Dominiek Dendooven van de Stedelijke Musea Ieper besteedt aandacht aan alle etnische groepen die deel uitmaakten van het Indian Army Corps: sikhs, hindoes, moslims en Gurkha’s (uit Nepal) .

De sikhs waren proportioneel sterk vertegenwoordigd. Tijdens de lezing wordt hun komst naar Europa en hun inzet op de Vlaamse slagvelden belicht. Speciale aandacht gaat naar de situatie van de Indische krijgsgevangenen.

Tot slot wordt de actuele herinnering aan die Indische militaire aanwezigheid, bijvoorbeeld op militaire begraafplaatsen en aan de Menenpoort besproken. Zo trekken sinds 1999 Haspengouwse sikhs jaarlijks naar de 11 novemberviering in Ieper.

De voordracht wordt geïllustreerd met tientallen unieke beelden en geluidsfragmenten, zoals opnames van de Duitsers met zang, muziek en verhalen van de Indische krijgsgevangenen.

De lezing is een organisatie van Erfgoed Haspengouw in samenwerking met het Rijksarchief te Hasselt en de Integratiedienst Sint-Truiden.

Info: Cultuurcentrum De Bogaard, zaal Club. Woensdag 30 mei 2012 om 19.30 uur. Toegang gratis.

The Hindu – Syria has no information about 39 missing Indians: Envoy

New Delhi, 1 August 2017. Syria’s Ambassador to India Riad Kamel Abbas on Tuesday said his country has no information about the 39 Indians who went missing in Iraq in 2014.

He, however, said Syria is “keen” to send them home if they are found in its territory.

Mr Abbas said an Indian delegation has made several trips to Syria and Iraq in the past to seek information about them and the chief of the Intelligence Department of Syria has also visited New Delhi in this regard.

“The Indian delegation went to Syria many times and the chief of Syrian intelligence agency came to Delhi for it. We are very keen to bring them (missing Indians) home if they are in our territory, but there is no official confirmation about it,” the envoy said.

Early this month, Iraqi forces freed Mosul from the ISIS, a development that gave a ray of hope to the families of 39 Indians. However, there was no information of the missing Indian nationals from the liberated city.