BBC News – Congress manifesto: India opposition pledges to review armed forces act

India has entered full election mode: voting is due to begin on 11 April, with the final ballot cast more than five weeks later on 19 May. Every day, the BBC will be bringing you all the latest updates on the twists and turns of the world’s largest democracy.

Congress promises to review a controversial anti-insurgent law

What is happening?

India’s main opposition party Congress has promised to review the Armed Forces Special Powers Acts (AFSPA) if elected, according to its election manifesto.

The law allows troops to shoot to kill suspected militants or arrest them without a warrant.

It also protects soldiers who may kill a civilian by mistake or in unavoidable circumstances during an operation.

AFSPA has been blamed for “fake killings” in Indian-administered Kashmir and the north-eastern state of Manipur and campaigners say it is often misused.

The party has also promised to scrap a contentious colonial-era law on sedition if it comes to power.

Why does this matter?

Critics, including human rights campaigners, have argued that AFSPA is undemocratic and has given the armed forces carte blanche power.

The law has always been seen as controversial, but it hasn’t really been an election issue in years. In 2011, P Chidambaram, who was the home minister at the time, said he would review the law, sparking outrage from the opposition.

To some extent, it is a risky strategic move from the Congress, the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has already criticised them, calling the idea “positively dangerous”.

The announcement to amend the law comes as analysts say that the BJP has begun to treat national security as an election issue after a suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir in which 40 Indian paramilitary were killed.

The manifesto also gives more details on the party’s most ambitious welfare proposal, a basic income scheme that promises 72,000 rupees ($1050) yearly to India’s poorest households.

Economists have told the BBC that funding the scheme will require scrapping existing government subsidies on food and fertilisers, and removing certain tax incentives.

‘Narendra Modi’s army’

What is happening?

The chief minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, has drawn fire from the opposition for referring to India’s army as “Narendra Modi’s army”.

Yogi Adityanath, known for his fiery and controversial rhetoric, repeated a common accusation from the governing BJP party that the opposition Congress “used to serve terrorists biryani [a rice dish]”, an allegation stemming from rumours that 2008 Mumbai attacks gunman Mohammad Qasab was served biryani on Ramadan while he was in Indian custody.

He continued: “Modi ji’s sena [army] gives them only ‘golis’ [bullets] and ‘golas’ [bombs]”.

Why does it matter?

Mr Modi and the BJP are making national security their number one campaign issue ahead of the vote, continuously accusing the Congress of being weak on terrorism.

Various opposition leaders from across party lines called this comment from Mr Adityanath “an insult to our armed forces” and called on him to apologise.

A former Army Chief General, Shankar Roychowdhury, told NDTV that the Indian military serves “the government of the day, not a political party”.

The comments from Mr Adityanath came a day after he was embroiled in another controversy. He travelled to a village where a Muslim man was lynched for allegedly eating beef, and addressed a rally where one of those accused of the murder was seated in the front row of the audience.

Mr Adityanath also indirectly referred to the incident, accusing the previous state government of “curbing the passion of Hindus” and adding that he had taken immediate steps to shut down slaughterhouses.

Hindus consider cows sacred and killing them is illegal in several states including Uttar Pradesh. – Kar Seva’s Baba Jagtar Singh evicted from Sri Tarn Taran Sahib

Tarn Taran Sahib – Panjab – India, 01 April 2019. Following massive uproar of the Sikh Sangat in Punjab and worldwide, SGPC has taken the step the expel Jagtar Singh “Kar Seva” from Darbar Sahib Sri Tarn Taran Sahib.

Sikh activists are still present at Sri Darbar Sahib in Tarn Taran Sahib in large numbers. Bhai Baldev Singh Vadala (ex-hazoori ragi Sri Darbar Sahib) gave the following statement after the demolition of the Darshani Deordi last night by the Kar Seva babas.

“Kar Seva Jathas arrived here in large number last night. They came well equipped the remove the Darshani Deordi at night time. They had several weapons with them and when they were stopped by a handful of local Sikhs, those Sikhs were in turn attacked by the Kar Seva Jatha.”

After the incident, Sikh activists are calling for ex-communication of Baba Jagtar Singh from the Sikh faith and removal of Gobind Singh Longowal as the SGPC President.

“RSS/Modi gang/Hindu agencies are directly responsible for this and Longowal as well as Badal or both complicit in this. After Harmandr Sahib’s historic destruction in the name of making it a “tourist spot with VIP lounges ” this dastardly act is a part of the series which aims to destroy Sikh history, culture and identity.

The recent attacks on Sikhs in Haryana, Rudarpur and preventing Sikhs from giving exams with their articles of faith or all being done at the behest of Hindu agencies under RSS/Modi.”

Hoepertingen: Sint Vedastus Kerk – Mariagaarde – World War I Monument

Sint Vedastus Kerk
26 March 2019

RC Sint-Vedastus Church

26 March 2019

Entry Gate

Court yard

Court yard

World War I Monument
26 March 2019

Tribute to the heroes

Curious to see that one hero died in Amersfoort in the Netherlands where there was no fighting at all

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Express and Star News – Celebrations in Wolverhampton honour 550th anniversary of Sikh Guru’s birth

Inspirational celebrations honouring 550 years since the birth of the first Sikh Guru united community leaders in the city.

Annabal Bagdi

Wolverhampton – West Midlands – UK, 01 April 2019. More than 100 guests from across the UK came together to pay tribute to Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the faith.

It comes after academics from the University of Wolverhampton teamed up with the Consulate General of India as part of year-long festivities marking the milestone.

Dr Opinderjit Kaur Takhar, director of the university’s Centre for Sikh and Panjabi Studies, said: “We were delighted to celebrate the 550th Gurpurab (birth anniversary) of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first Guru of the Sikhs.

“The speeches presented at our event highlighted various aspects of Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s life, his teachings and how he continues to be an inspiration for millions of Sikhs and non-Sikhs across the world.

“For me, Guru Nanak was the most inspirational and influential thinkers of the 15th century.”

Guru Nanak Dev Ji was born in Rai Bhoi Ki Talvandi, now Pakistan’s Nankana Sahib, in 1469.

Communities across the globe will mark the anniversary with a mix of events throughout this year, with the UK expected to host the biggest celebrations after India.

The Wolverhampton event, which filled the Chancellor’s Hall at the Wulfruna Building, featured a string of speeches highlighting the teachings of Guru Nanak.

These included motivational messages of peace, gender equality, rejecting discrimination and promoting harmony among communities.

Deputy High Commissioner of India Charanjeet Singh, who visited the city for the first time, said: “Guru Nanak’s teachings are universal, they appeal to people across religions, countries, and societies.

“His message of peace and brotherhood is all the more relevant now.”

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street thanked the 150,000 Sikhs across the region for their “outstanding contribution” to the community.

He reflected on the recent spate of attacks on Birmingham mosques, which saw leaders of gurdwaras reach out to Imams and offer their support.

The mayor added: “We see that spirit of universal brotherhood alive and well every single day across the West Midlands.

“Thank you for setting that example and making that difference when another community was under attack – great example to us all.”

Other speakers included Vice Chancellor of the university Professor Geoff Layer, Birmingham-based Consul General of India Dr Aman Puri and chairman of the Council of Gurdwara Management Committees UK Avtar Singh.

They were joined by Dr Sadhu Singh, who is chairman of the Council of Sikh Gurdwaras and represents 10 Sikh temples in Wolverhampton, as well as the city’s Ethnic Minority Council.

Tory life peer Lord Suri of Ealing, chief executive officer of Sun Mark Dr Rami Ranger and spiritual leaders Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh Ji and Baba Amar Singh Ji also shared their thoughts on Guru Nanak’s teachings.

Jas Wouhra, who set up East End Foods with his brothers in 1972, brought an end to the evening with a special musical performance.

The university’s Centre for Sikh and Panjabi Studies, which opened last March, is the first of its kind in Europe.

Dawn – Bilawal’s two-fold challenge

Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari seems to be the man of the moment, these days.

Arifa Noor

Karachi – Sindh – Pakistan, 02 April 2019. With the PTI in power and the Sharif family in a mood for quiet reconciliation, only BBZ seems to be within reach of the coveted spot of ‘man of the opposition’. Indeed, there is no one else who can compete with him to fill the space once dominated by Imran Khan.

He is there to speak eloquently in parliament (and outperforms the leader of the opposition whose speaking skills are not much to write home about after all these years in politics); he sounds convincing in his interviews to foreign journalists; and his political legacy is enough for many to vouch for a rosy future for him.

And above all, his recent fiery incarnation which culminated in his train march from Karachi to Larkana seems to lend more credence to this idea. For many, he has already become an eloquent anti-establishment politician, following in the footsteps of his mother and grandfather.

But is opposition politics simply about filling the airwaves at a time when no one else is? Isn’t that what Imran Khan did after the 2013 elections? While this may be true, there is more to the matter, in the particular context of the PPP. And as the head and heir of the party, Bilawal needs to pay attention to the challenges facing him.

The PPP’s main challenge at the moment is its growing irrelevance in Punjab. Once a party which forced the military establishment to put together an alliance to stop it from sweeping the province in 1988, today the PPP has been reduced to a force which cannot even ensure the third place for itself in many electoral contests in Punjab.

The party may claim this is because of the uneven playing field and the rigging, which, of course, has been the excuse for any and every party’s perceived or real defeat. But there is also the largely prevailing perception that the party is corrupt and doesn’t ‘deliver’.

In comparison to the PML-N, which is seen to do so, Shahbaz Sharif’s slogan of ‘kaam ko izzat do’ resonates with its voters, the PPP is not seen to be a party that is capable of traditional governance.

For example, for Punjab, it is the party which gifted the province long, harsh hours of load-shedding, while the PML-N reduced the long hours to shorter, bearable ones.

And this perception has simply worsened since Asif Ali Zardari took over the party. He is simply not acceptable to the voter in the land of the five rivers. Many around BBZ realised this, and not just the ones from Punjab, as many assumed.

For why else were there leaks (deliberate or otherwise) in the earlier years about BBZ and Zardari not getting along. In 2013 came the story that the son left the country after arguing about tickets with his dad.

Some years later, he missed his mother’s death anniversary, and it was reported once again that it was because he had fought with his father over party matters (this is around the time Zardari called him immature publicly).

And during the father’s absence from the country, PPP leaders spoke (exasperatedly) of how the aunt kept a close eye on BBZ (implying that she did so at the behest of the father, who apparently was not entirely sure of his son).

In addition, an effort was also made to keep the father away when rallies were held to shore up support, especially during election time.

(That this was of utmost importance in Punjab was also obvious from the PPP leadership in the province, which was more vocal than their counterparts in Sindh that Zardari should abdicate in favour of BBZ.)

In other words, Bilawal faced two challenges, to emerge as a leader, but also one who was completely different from his father.

But the fake accounts case has shattered this hope of the two being two different brands. The case threatens not just Asif Ali Zardari, but also the government of Sindh. The trail from the accounts allegedly leads to government officials, right up to the chief minister of Sindh. And a jittery PPP has brought out its only blazing gun, BBZ.

He sits next to his chief ministers (past and present) to attack the accountability process and make cracks about militants being given an NRO.

He threatens (or did he only hint) to bring down the government with a long march and he snipes at the ‘selected’ prime minister. And all of these issues were highlighted more than once during the train march.

He may have exercised the Bhutto charisma and shown his mettle at public speaking, but in the process, his attacks on accountability and the fake accounts case are simply bringing him closer to his father in the public perception.

In recent days, no one has been able to argue that Benazir Bhutto’s son and Asif Ali Zardari are two different people with a different view and style of politics.

Perhaps, he feels he has no choice left. The PPP has little in its basket apart from Sindh and the cases now pose a threat to this. Perhaps Bilawal now has no choice but to defend the party, its government and his father.

This perhaps may not mean much in Sindh, where observers point out BBZ has always been seen as someone closely involved with the running of the province. But in Punjab, this can and will have implications in the long run.

The revival of the party, which was not easy to begin with, will be even more difficult because BBZ is now defending the party against corruption.

The voter in Punjab will find it that much harder to believe in BBZ as a harbinger of change. Did those who are pushing the accountability campaign ever realise that this could be a major fallout of the fake accounts case? Perhaps we will never know.