The Hindustan Times – Rajasthan by-elections loss should worry BJP, Vasundhara Raje as state election nears

A sweep of this nature signals that the public sentiment is turning and the Congress party machine is doing something right, writes Prashant Jha.

Prashant Jha

Jaipur-Rajastan-India, 2 February 2018. It takes special skills for an incumbent to lose a by-election. This is especially true when you are in power in both the state and the Centre, and voters know that electing an opposition candidate will neither change the government nor help in “getting work done”.

Yet, the voters of Ajmer and Alwar have elected Congress candidates in the Lok Sabha bypolls by wide margins. And the voters of Mandalgarh have elected a Congress legislator for the state assembly. All three seats were held by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) earlier.

This is a warning signal for the BJP at the Centre, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah, and a stinging rebuke to the BJP in the state, led by chief minister Vasundhara Raje. It comes as a shot in the arm for the Congress in general, and Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot in particular.

The outcome will have implications for the morale and internal power equations in both parties. It will set the tone for the Rajasthan state assembly elections at the end of the year. It even offers some signs for the 2019 general elections.

State craft

The fact that Raje personally campaigned in the bypolls, spending weeks on the trot in the constituencies, means she cannot escape responsibility for the defeat. The scale of the losses shows that there was almost a wave against her government.

This is significant because Raje is already vulnerable. Many in the RSS and the BJP have felt that she is unpopular and have sought a change.

She has also traditionally had a somewhat difficult relationship with the party leadership in Delhi. But Raje did lead the BJP to victory in the last assembly elections. She has a strong base within the party in the state.

And there has been a degree of rapprochement with the Prime Minister. The BJP was aware that having her at the helm may not be a guarantee of victory, but removing her could lead to certain loss if she rebelled. This has helped her survive.

The bypolls, however, will strengthen those voices within the party that seek a change in leadership. It will put her on the defensive as campaigning begins for the state polls, and it also dampens the morale of the party ranks in general.

On the opposite end, the victory comes as a big morale boost for the Congress. The party is starved of electoral wins and a sweep of this nature signals that the public sentiment is turning and the party machine is doing something right.

The Congress picked candidates smartly and did micro caste-management well. In Ajmer, it was a senior Brahmin leader who ate into the BJP’s core vote. In contrast, the BJP put up a rookie candidate, the son of the deceased MP, in the hope of winning sympathy votes.

In Alwar, it was a veteran Yadav leader, a former MP, who competed with BJP’s Yadav candidate, thus splitting the community.

The margins indicate that Congress was able to win votes across different sections of society and resonate the larger narrative of Raje’s failures.

In Alwar, where the BJP had stepped up the communal rhetoric in a bid to polarise the electorate, the Congress was careful in not getting into the ‘Hindu-Muslim trap’ and keeping the focus on development.

Leadership mattered too. Pilot, as the Congress’s Rajasthan party chief, has worked hard on the ground over the past four years, creating and capitalising on the resentment against the Raje government.

When he did not contest in Ajmer, his old constituency, there was speculation that Pilot was scared. But he campaigned hard across all three seats, and told the electorate it was “his election”.

Like the BJP, there is internal factionalism in Congress too, with Ashok Gehlot harbouring ambitions of becoming the CM again. This verdict will strengthen Pilot’s hands.

The stage, therefore, is set for the state polls this year, with the BJP on the defensive and Raje’s leadership under question on one hand, and the momentum and morale with the Congress on the other.

National message

It would, however, be a mistake to confine the impact of the Rajasthan verdict to only the state, given that both Ajmer and Alwar were Lok Sabha polls. It should worry the BJP because this is an early sign that repeating its sweep of north and west India may not be possible. In 2014, the party got 25 out of 25 seats in Rajasthan.

If the current trends hold, Modi and Shah will have to prepare for a dip in those numbers.

Finally, the result comes as a much-needed gift to new Congress president Rahul Gandhi. He led a good campaign in Gujarat, where the victor seemed like the vanquished and the vanquished had a sense of jubilation. But it was a loss, and in politics only victory matters. This is a victory.

The Rajasthan outcome shows to the Congress leadership that by backing a young and strong state leader, focusing on the failures of the government, smartly picking candidates, astutely managing caste, and avoiding the ‘communal trap’, it could potentially win back key states going to polls this year. Indian politics has opened up.


The Tribune – Rs 10 crore allocated for enhanced compensation to anti-Sikh riots victims

New Delhi-India, 1 February 2018. A modest Rs 10 crore has been earmarked for handing out enhanced compensation to victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in the Budget 2018-19.

The amount was allocated in the Budget, presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in Parliament on Thursday, and it would be distributed among victims of the riots.

The riots broke out following the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on 31 October 1984.

Of the 3325 victims, 2733 were killed in Delhi while rest of the victims were from Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and other states.

Soon after the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014, it had announced an additional compensation of Rs 5 lakh each to the next of kin of victims of the anti-Sikh riots.

The amount in the 2017-18 Budget was Rs 15 crore.

Some of the anti-Sikh riot cases are still continuing in courts and many Sikh organisations have alleged that the key conspirators of the violence were at large and victims have not yet got justice. (PTI)

Den Haag: Den Haag CS Hoog – Bus platform and RandstadRail Metro

Den Haag CS
Busplatform and RandstadRail Metro
24 December 2017

Platform for regional buses and international coach services

Stairs to RandstadRail Metro platforms

Metro platforms left and right

Den Haag Centraal RET RandstadRail Metro

RET RandstadRail Metro to Slinge (Rotterdam)

To see all my pictures:

More Netherlands pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Sikh Federation UK – UK Government failing 30-year old Scot torture victim held in Indian jail for 3 months without charge

London, 1 February 2018. Today Jagtar appeared in court for the 24th time, but still no evidence has been presented and no charges have been forthcoming.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) that took over the case six weeks ago from Punjab police was reprimanded by the judge today for delays and failing to produce the correct paper work.

Martin Docherty-Hughes the MP for 30-year old Jagtar Singh Johal from Dumbarton and Jagtar’s elder brother also today met with Mark Field, the Foreign Minister responsible for relations with India.

Mark Field was told the UK Government was failing to protect Jagtar from ill-treatment and not doing enough to secure his release and return home.

Foreign Minister Rory Stewart gave assurances in the House of Commons on 21 November of ‘extreme action’ against the Indian authorities in relation to the torture of the 30-year old Brit.

However, three months following Jagtar’s abduction on 4 November, allegations of third degree torture, denial of an independent medical examination, lack of private access to consular staff and no charges the Foreign Office is being accused of deliberately wasting time and negligence.

Bhai Amrik Singh, the Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK) said:

“The Foreign Secretary has failed to issue a statement or meet Jagtar’s family and Sir Dominic Asquith, the British High Commissioner to India has also been silent.”

“Mark Field has been photographed winning and dinning with Indian government representatives and more concerned with trade and protests against the Indian PM, Narendra Modi when he visits Britain in April.”

Yesterday a report titled: ‘Beyond discretion, The protection of British Nationals abroad from torture and ill-treatment’ was released in Parliament by Redress, a human rights organisation dedicated to securing justice for torture victims.

More than 100 British citizens a year are subjected to ill-treatment in foreign jails, but many struggle to get the Foreign Office assistance they need.

At the launch in Parliament organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Human Rights those present heard from Richard Ratcliffe on his campaign in the case of his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British mother jailed in Iran.

Others that spoke included Gurpreet Singh Johal the brother of Jagtar Singh Johal and Billy Irving one of the Chennai 6 who were scathing in Britain’s approach with India.

Several Sikh representatives spoke about Jagtar Singh Johal and India as well as Martin Docherty-Hughes the MP for Jagtar Singh Johal, Liz McInnes the Shadow Minister responsible for relations with India and Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi the MP from Slough.

All speakers in relation to Jagtar Singh Johal and the Chennai 6 agreed that the British Government was failing to provide strong enough protection to its citizens when they are unjustly jailed and tortured In India.

The 75-page Redress report highlights the specific cases of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran, Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege in Ethiopia and Jagtar Singh Johal in India and accuses the UK Government of “a failure to speak out in the face of serious human rights violations” that “seriously weakens the protection of its own nationals and risks legitimising abuses.”

Bhai Amrik Singh continued:

“We are deeply concerned with the time taken by Foreign Office officials to act upon Jagtar’s allegations of third degree torture and their failure to gain private access since his abduction three months ago.”

“Consular officials appear to simply be relying on physical signs of torture and ignoring the relentless psychological torture Jagtar has been under.”

“Although the Indian authorities have been torturing and mistreating Jagtar the UK Government has become complicit without taking the ‘extreme action’ they promised MPs in Parliament to protect him.”

“The Foreign Office must immediately intervene or there is likely to be a mass protest later this month in London due to their negligence and also will increase the number of protesters when the Indian PM attends the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April.”

A very broad coalition is being put together involving the Chennai 6 and Scots in general to protest against the treatment of British citizens tortured and jailed in India.

Gurjeet Singh
National Press Secretary
Sikh Federation (UK)

The Hindu – Highest-ever allocation to fast-forward Railway plans

Rs 148.528 crore earmarked to boost track conversion and capacity addition

Lalatendu Mishra

New Delhi-India, 2 February 2018. In the highest-ever allocation, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday announced a capital expenditure of Rs 148528 crore for the Railway Ministry for the year 2018-19.

A large part of these funds will be utilised for capacity addition. The government has decided to double 18,000 km of tracks and to work on third and fourth lines in several sectors.

“Five thousand kilometres of gauge conversion would augment capacity and transform almost the entire network into broad gauge,” the Finance Minister said. Mr Jaitley also said 4000 km of the railway network will be commissioned for electrification during 2017-18.

Freight corridors

The budget has also made provision for acquisition of 12000 wagons, 5160 coaches and approximately 700 locomotives during 2018-19. The Finance Minister said work on the eastern and western dedicated freight corridors was in full swing.

While Rs 51000 crore has been allocated for strengthening the Mumbai suburban network, the budget has allocated Rs 17000 crore to add 160 km of suburban network in Bengaluru to cater to the growth of the metropolis.

Responding to the allocations, Vishwas Udgirkar, partner, Deloitte India, said: “Measures announced on Railways investment is laudable, with focus on capacity creation, passenger safety, doubling of lines, and electrification. Specific mention of improving suburban train system in Mumbai is heartening announcement.”

Sudhir Rao, managing director, India, Bombardier Transportation, said going by the Budget announcement, the Railway Ministry has a vision to create a world-class, environmentally sustainable, energy efficient rail transportation in India.

“Our rail vehicles from commuter trains to metros, monorails to locomotives, high-speed trains to light rail vehicles provide sustainable mobility across cities globally moving millions daily. We are pleased with the intent for procurement of rolling stock by Indian Railways,” Mr Rao said.

“As a leading supplier of rail systems and products, we welcome the priority given to execution of projects. Capital expenditure of Rs 148 lakh crore was announced and most of this money will be spent on capacity expansion which represents huge business opportunities for rail suppliers,” he added.

“Modernising the railways riding on technology offers the appropriate ecosystem for the development of smart cities. This will help attract more business and increased employment opportunities for the local populace,” said Keshav R Murugesh, Group CEO, WNS Global Services.

Tech solutions

Rajaji Meshram, director, Infrastructure, Government and Healthcare Services, KPMG in India said, “The focus of investment is on safety, electrification, track doubling/tripling and rolling stock such as train sets, wagons, coaches and locomotives.”