BBC News – Why ‘India’s FBI’ agents are clashing with police

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi – India, 04 February 2019. Imagine state policemen in the US detaining FBI agents investigating a case on state territory. Then imagine the governor of the state starting a public protest against the FBI and the president for carrying out what she calls an act of vendetta against her government.

Now imagine federal forces being deployed to protect their offices in the state, fearing attacks by supporters of the governor. This possibly sounds like a plot from a dystopian political novel. But it is what is happening in India.

A group of detectives belonging to India’s federal investigation agency, the CBI, arrived at the well-secured home of the commissioner of police of Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) in West Bengal state on Sunday evening.

They said they wanted to question Rajeev Kumar in connection with a ponzi scandal. (The multi-million dollar scam, involving businessmen, politicians, journalists and film producers, defrauded a large number of small investors.)

But Mr Kumar refused to meet the detectives. Instead his forces detained the agents, who are recruited from the police forces themselves, and took them away to a police station. They were freed after a few hours, and returned without being able to question Mr Kumar.

Mr Kumar had led the early local investigation into the scandal, before the case was taken over by the CBI under the supervision of the Supreme Court. The federal agency, say reports, unsuccessfully tried to question Mr Kumar half-a-dozen times in the past in connection with some evidence he had purportedly collected in the case. The agency believes that he is “hiding” something.

The ponzi scandal, involving at least two small investment companies, came to light in 2013 under the watch of the leader of West Bengal state. In India’s male-dominated politics, Mamata Banerjee is a rare firebrand woman leader who commands mass support.

She took power in 2011, ending 34 years of communist rule in the state. (The following year, she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.) The feisty Ms Banerjee has ruled West Bengal ever since.

Ms Banerjee has a testy relationship with the federal government, run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This is, in part, because Mr Modi’s party is trying to make inroads into Bengal, using its usual mix of development promises and sectarian rhetoric.

After a series of setbacks in state polls Mr Modi no longer looks invincible in general elections due this summer. And Ms Banerjee, an astute rival, is trying to position herself as a prime ministerial contender, in the event of an opposition win. Recently, she organised a well-attended meeting of 23 opposition parties who vowed to defeat Mr Modi.

Ms Banerjee, who is now holding an “indefinite” public protest in Kolkata, accuses Mr Modi’s party of targeting her government.

The BJP picked up 17% of vote share, but just two seats, in Bengal in the 2014 general elections. The party is desperately hoping for an improved performance this summer. It accuses Ms Banerjee of triggering a “constitutional crisis” by setting her police on federal agents.

Historian Ramachandra Guha says the latest battle is a “war between two ruthless and amoral politicians with absolute and equal disregard for institutional propriety”.

In the end, this unprecedented, and ugly, incident is actually symptomatic of a worrying erosion of India’s institutions and the regrettable breakdown of political bipartisanship.

The CBI, which reports to the ruling federal government, was once described as a “caged parrot” and has been used by successive governments to hobble political opponents. It has, many believe, lost credibility. In October, the government had to remove the two men at the top of the agency after each accused the other of corruption.

The standoff is the latest manifestation of a crisis that has often bedevelled the Indian state: the inability of an extremely powerful federal government, Mr Modi rules with an outright majority, to handle equally powerful and assertive regional leaders. It is a crisis which is at the heart of India’s federalism.

The Tribune – Will build gurdwara in Baku: Longowal

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 11 February 2019. The Indian Embassy in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku organised a special programme dedicated to the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak, which was attended by SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal on Sunday.

Longowal said with the support of the local government and devotees, efforts would be made to build a gurdwara dedicated to Guru Nanak at Baku. He said embassy officials had assured to take up the matter with the officials concerned to pave the way for providing requisite land for the gurdwara.

Are there sufficient Sikhs living in Baku to maintain the Gurdwara ? Is this to be a RSS Gurdwara maintained by the Modi sarkar ? Are there any historical connections between Sikhs and Azerbaijan ?
Man in Blue

Himalaya Exotic Supermarket – Gentbrugge – Moscou rail junction

Himalaya Exotic Supermarket
14 January 2019

Millet flour
People with wheat allergy should try this
You can also buy non-grain flours here

Gentbrugge – Moscou rail junction
20 January 2019

Tracks from Merelbeke to Gentbrugge and Dampoort

Moscou – the other side of the viaduct
Tracks to Gentbrugge and Dampoort

Tracks from Dampoort and Gentbrugge to Sint-Pieters station

Moscou – the other side of the viaduct
Tracks to Gentbrugge and Dampoort

Moscou Tram 4 terminus, temporarily served by buses

To see all my pictures:

More Belgium pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Pakistan Today – Former Indian Chief Minister lauds Prime Minister Imran Khan, criticises Indian government over renaming cities

News Desk, 11 February 2019. Former Indian Jammu and Kashmir chief minister (CM) Mehbooba Mufti has lauded Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan for his decision to name the Baloki forest reserve after Guru Nanak while slamming the Indian government for its regressive attitude.

Comparing the Pakistani government to the one in India, Mehbooba said that it was disappointing that the Indian government was only interested in changing the names of monuments and old cities bearing Muslim names while the Pakistani premier had proved to be progressive.

Taking to Twitter, she said, “How times change. Centre’s top priority is seemingly renaming historic cities & building Ram Mandir. On the other hand, heartening to see that Pakistan Prime Minister has initiated steps to name Baloki forest reserve after Guru Nanak ji & create a university under his name”.

Further, speaking to the Indian media on Monday, the former Indian CM once again drew comparisons between the two neighbouring countries and their recent actions.

”Monuments and old cities with Muslim names are being given Hindu names. There’s a race to build the temple. Muslims are killed in the name of cow vigilantism, instead of taking action, the central government puts them in jails under NSA like in MP. Politics is being done in name of Hindutva,” she said.

”In Pakistan, they formed an Act to save temples and want to name a forest reserve and a university after Guru Nanak ji. If you compare, you’ll feel that there is some kind of exchange between our nation formed on the foundation of secularism and Pakistan formed on basis of religion,” she added.

It is pertinent to mention here that Indian cities of Allahabad and Faizabad were renamed Prayagraj and Ayodhya, respectively.

Dawn – Refusing to learn

Umair Javed

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 11 February 2019. The brazen police-led harassment of academic and activist, Dr Ammar Jan, for his participation in a PTM-affiliated protest revealed once more the Pakistani state’s attitude and approach towards progressive politics.

While others have written and will continue to write about recent events, it is also worth zooming out and seeing these as part of the general approach towards political conflict in the country.

All disagreement on the distribution of resources (such as revenue, subsidies, and natural resources like water and gas), the distribution of rights (such as citizenship, law, personal and organisational freedoms, and other associated liberties), and the distribution of authority (who gets to decide the first two) can be categorised as political conflict.

Pakistan’s history shows one primary axis of political conflict, the state (or the centre) versus peripheral regions. These regions represent politicised ethnic collectivities, and thus the central question in political contestation has been over the distribution of resources, rights, and authority for these regions/ethnic groups.

Ethnic conflict was around when Pakistan became an independent state.

However, at varying points in the past, class conflict (especially during the 1960s and 1970s) and religious conflict (during the last two decades) has also coloured the political field.

Ethnic, class and religious conflict are substantively different. The former lends itself to geographical secessionism, as it has at various points in the past. Class and religious conflict is more about the nature of the state.

Despite these differences, the approach of the dominant order of power, whether one calls it the ruling elite, or by its precise institutional edifice, the military and its junior partners, to ethnic and class conflict in particular has followed the same pattern: coercion, blowback, escalation, and suppression.

In one domain it has been successful, class conflict was coercively dealt with both by Bhutto and, more forcefully, by Zia through their assault on the labour and peasant movements. It is thus a figment of the past for old people, and fails to register in the contemporary imagination of young people.

It is a rare instance of the state succeeding with its bludgeoning approach to the point that the challenger no longer poses an institutionalised threat to the dominant order of power. Poor people are so burdened by the anxieties of basic subsistence that claim-making for a new social contract with the state does not figure into their lived reality.

Religious conflict has seen the most interesting history. It is where the state has remained the most accommodative, and used coercion only when the institutional interests of the military have been challenged.

Our constitutional and legislative history, and law books more generally, are a testament to the generosity of the state as far as religious claim-making is concerned.

But it is ethnic claim-making where the dominant order of power has persisted with a largely coercive approach and refused to exhibit any amount of learning. This is ironic (and frankly astounding) given the sheer number of occasions offered for a rethink.

Ethnic conflict was around when Pakistan became an independent state. It appeared forcefully when disputes emerged over the nature of constitutional design in the early years of independence; it displayed its strength in the first provincial assembly polls in erstwhile East Pakistan in the early 1950s.

It escalated during much of the 1960s, when legislative debates showed representatives of the (numerically dominant but politically peripheral) ethnic group, the Bengalis, warning the military-bureaucratic oligarchy of resource distribution imbalances.

And it reached its ultimate crescendo in the civil war that followed a failure of the dominant order to respect a democratic mandate.

But inexplicably, the stark nature of the outcome (an independent state) was insufficient to persuade the state that ethnic grievances could be handled in some other form.

So brute strength was used again in the aftermath of Bhutto’s NAP government dismissal in Balochistan, against Sindhi nationalists in the 1980s, against Urdu-speakers’ mobilisation in the 1990s, against the Baloch (again) from the mid-2000s onwards, and now against the mobilised Pakhtun youth of Fata.

The instruments of coercion have evolved to include smear campaigns, enforced disappearances, and heavy censorship, alongside the use of brute force.

There is no attempt to understand the underlying nature of the problem, ie the distribution of resources or rights, nor is there any other lens available to see the problem except that of national (in)security and nefarious foreign designs.

This is a logical outcome of decision-making remaining in the hands of an institution trained only to see all political conflict as a security and sovereignty-related issue. If the strategists running affairs of the state were to truly reflect on the country’s history, they would see external drivers of conflict as, at best, marginally influential.

The tragedy is that since 2008, the country has seen some marginal progress in the development of an institutional framework that provides for non-violent resolution of political conflicts.

Its most obvious forms are the limited workings of a civilian government, a functioning legislature, and the 18th Amendment that resolved some basic resource and authority-related conflicts.

But now we hear planted voices all day that this solution has weakened the centre, and thus weakened the country, a spurious correlation that has persisted for seven decades.

As a country that is constitutionally mandated to operate as a democracy, and with a history of failed attempts at coercion, accommodation, autonomy, and transparency are primordial tasks that should not require such vocal enunciation.

It is unfortunate that they do and that enunciation is done with little effect. And it will be an even more unfortunate riposte to history when in an attempt to centralise power further and bludgeon a ‘post-ethnic’ state into being, the dominant order removes even those moderately functioning platforms of conflict resolution that have emerged in the last decade.