The Telegraph – Every government has enormous power to harm the people

However big a majority a government is voted in with, it does not come with a right to make mistakes

Ashok V Desai

Op/Ed 05 November 2019. Pranab Mukherjee and Manmohan Singh were loyal servants of the Congress for many years. I had a close view of the latter and a rather distant view of the former during the two years I spent as chief consultant in the finance ministry.

Mukherjee was deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, and planning was virtually dead at that time: the economic crisis required day-to-day handling that Manmohan Singh did because of his office, which controlled fiscal, monetary and external economic policy.

My recollection is limited to Pranab Mukherjee’s pronounced tenor voice, rather like Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s. He and Manmohan Singh were mutually well behaved in the few meetings where I saw them together, so I had no reason to doubt that their relationship was anything but cordial.

I was recently jolted out of my ignorance by Puja Mehra’s detailed description of Mukherjee and Singh’s pronounced cold war in her book, The Lost Decade 2008-18. Both served the Congress for decades, Singh continues to do so even now. Both rose to the top during the Congress’s halcyon days.

In the British system we inherited, the chief of government is the prime minister, and he who appoints him, so to say, is the president, our equivalent of the British monarch.

The president lives in luxury in the enormous palace once known as Viceregal Lodge. It has enough rooms for him to sleep in a different one every night of the year as long as he takes a 10-day trip away.

There was no prime minister during British days, so when Nehru arrived to head the first government of independent India, he was homeless. He took over Flagstaff House, the mansion of the commander-in-chief; though not nearly so sprawling as Viceregal Lodge, it had beautiful rooms spread along balconies which looked out on to a lovely garden.

But when he died, the Congress turned Flagstaff House into a museum, which it continues to be even under Bharatiya Janata Party rule, and Nehru’s descendant prime minister, Indira Gandhi, took over the entire Race Course Road, thus putting an end to the wonderful British sport of watching horses gallop and betting on winners and just-losers.

She expelled the horses, but she could not eliminate the punters. They continued to meet at the race course, listen to commentary on races in Mumbai, Calcutta and Chennai and bet on them. Once I was passing the race course and heard excited crowds cheering on the horses.

So I went in and sat down in the pavilion, waiting for the horses to run by me. None did; soon, the commentary too stopped. That is when I learnt the secret rendezvous of national punters. But before long, the prime minister, too, found it out, and stopped the betting conclaves.

When Narendra Modi won, he could not bear the thought of working at the desk or sleeping on the bed of those secular Congress prime ministers. There were rumours that he would move to a new headquarters.

There is an enormous complex being built not too far away from the race course, and he may eventually move there. But for now, he too has appropriated Race Course Road; instead of No. 7, however, he lives in No. 5.

Anyway, Manmohan Singh was the choice of Sonia Gandhi for prime ministership, and Pranab Mukherjee had to be content with various other ministries. So what he did was play pranks to annoy the prime minister.

The purchase of Hutchison Essar by Vodafone International Holdings took place abroad and was therefore not taxable under Indian law as it stood then; Mukherjee made a retrospective amendment to make it taxable.

P Chidambaram, his predecessor in the finance ministry, had made all the preparations for the goods and services tax; Mukherjee failed to get it through. He dithered on bank consolidation; the interminable non-performing assets crisis is due to corporate loans given by government banks when Mukherjee was finance minister.

He went on running large fiscal deficits long after the 2008 crisis had been overcome.

In sum, he sabotaged the economic policies Manmohan Singh wanted to pursue, whether because he was an old-style Congress socialist, or because he resented the elevation to prime ministership of his junior, Manmohan Singh, whom he had made governor of the Reserve Bank of India in the 1980s when he was finance minister.

That was the misfortune of the Congress government; it lost power in 2014.

Demonetization was an ill-conceived mess, so it is not surprising that no one has taken responsibility for it. But its announcement speaks for itself.

On the evening of 08 November 2016, the prime minister made an unannounced speech on television; he announced demonetization of high-value notes on three grounds: Pakistan printed Indian notes to finance the terrorists it sent to India, bribes were paid in cash, and smugglers (hawala traders) used cash.

But there were also some honest Indians; how was their cash to be protected? They could go and convert it into new notes in banks, except that banks were ordered to be closed the next day, and they had not been warned of demonetization, so when they opened, they did not have enough cash. Their ATMs stopped working.

And how much loss did the holders of black money suffer from the colossal punishment of cash holders? Only notes worth Rs 107 billion were not converted out of the total Rs 15 trillion issued, 0.7 per cent, they may have been black money, or their holders were not able to rush to banks in time.

Urjit Patel, the then RBI governor, never said a word about demonetization. But the crash of the banking system spoke for him, that the RBI had no clue about demonetization. He would never have wanted to be a part of the operation if he had had the choice. And he, like his predecessor, was got rid of by the Delhi government.

These were not the only errors of the present government; the introduction of the GST dragged out, and eventually landed us with a messy, complicated tax and collection structure. Farmers’ suicides and agitations show a serious problem, but the government has not even begun to resolve it.

These are some of the stories related by Puja Mehra in her highly readable book. It reads like journalism; but there is serious work behind it, as proved by over 700 endnotes. Maybe she will receive a spicy reply from the chief economic adviser in his next economic survey; more likely, it will go unanswered.

A reply would do nothing to ameliorate the sufferings that the people have gone through; rather than think of a reply, one wishes the government learnt not to make such heartless mistakes. Every government has enormous power to harm people; that is why our government has had elaborate mechanisms to prevent harm.

They have become moribund under this government; they need to be revived. Democracy is supposed to punish bad governments by voting them out. But that takes too long; however big a majority a government is voted in with, it does not come with a right to make mistakes. – Can the Kartarpur corridor really help Pakistan in smuggling drugs and ammunition to India?

Sikh24 Editors

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, Op/Ed, 05 November 2019. Ahead of the opening of much awaited Kartarpur corridor, the Indian intelligence agencies have again started its malicious propaganda against the Pakistan government.

Interestingly, the Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh is being used as a mouthpiece by the Indian agencies for raising suspicion over the Pakistan’s pro-Sikhism intention to open the Kartarpur corridor.

This time, the Indian agencies have claimed of the presence of some training camps related to Jaish-e-Mohammad in Narowal. The reports of Indian intelligence also claim of the presence of huge numbers of “terrorists” including women in these camps.

Crossing all limits, the reports by Indian agencies claim that the Kartarpur corridor could be used for smuggling Drugs and promoting anti-India activities. Actually, all these claims are being planted deliberately in media to create a panic among Sikhs and other communities about the Kartarpur corridor.

Can the Kartarpur corridor really be used for smuggling Drugs and Ammunition?

The Kartarpur corridor terminal on the Indian side is being built by the Land Port Authority of India (LPAI). In this terminal, all the facilities for managing the entrance and exit of Sikh pilgrims will be given like usual air and sea ports of India.

In other words, we can say that the Sikh pilgrims will have to go through security check while leaving for Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib as well as while arriving back in India after paying obeisance there.

These days, the luggage and passengers at all ports of India is scanned with radiation detectors to bar entrance of any prohibited item like weapon, explosives and drugs. These scanners can scan the passenger and his / her belongings in a quick and reproducible way, without harming the person or items being examined.

Further, the facilitation of X-ray and CT scanners at all ports has enabled the security staff to fully watch in a clear way that what is inside the luggage.

Beside it, the trade is already going between India and Pakistan through various ports like Attari-Wagah, then how come this corridor is going to become a pathway for drugs and ammunition even when it is a non-commercial corridor.

Op/Ed: Can the Kartarpur corridor really help Pakistan in smuggling Drugs and Ammunition to India?

Brussel/Bruxelles: Koningsstraat/Rue Royal – Place Liedts – Rue de Brabant – Rue du Progres/Vooruitgangstraat; Gentbrugge P&R

Koningsstraat/Rue Royal
25 October 2019

Koningsstraat MIVB tram

Eglise royale Sainte-Marie/Royal Church Saint Mary

Tram 92 Fort Jaco – Schaerbeek vv
Tram 93 Legrand – Bockstael vv

Place Liedts – Rue de Brabant
25 October 2019

Rue de Brabant/Brabantstraat
Place Liedts/Liedtsplein
Busy shopping area with mainly Moroccan shops

Rue du Progres/Vooruitgangstraat
Greek Orthodox Church
25 October 2019

Greek Orthodox Church

Gentbrugge P&R
Underneath E17 viaduct
26 October 2019

Tram 2 to Zwijnaarde

Gentbrugge P & R – Tram 2 to Melle Leeuw

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

OFMI – US Capitol briefing slams India’s impunity for genocide

Justice denied in state-sponsored massacres in 1984 and 2002

Washington DC – USA, 07 November2019. “We should use this moment when the world is paying attention to India,” said Sunita Viswanath as she joined a panel of academics, attorneys, and activists at a USA capitol briefing on the delay and denial of justice for state-sponsored massacres of Indian minorities.

Hosted on the eve of the 35th anniversary of the 1984 Sikh Genocide, the 30 October briefing focused on that atrocity as well as the 2002 pogrom of Muslims in Gujarat. Speakers, however, repeatedly emphasized that the real issue is a systemic, nationwide problem of impunity for those who commit communal violence.

“We call for a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system,” said Viswanath, the co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights.

Her call was echoed by other speakers. “Generally speaking, it is widely believed in the United States that, even if the politicians in India are corrupt, partisan, and now increasingly bigoted and sectarian, at least India has a highly responsive judicial system that is fair and quick to dispense justice,” said Pawan Singh, a director of Organization for Minorities of India.

“We are gathered here today to demolish that myth. The Indian judicial system has actually proven itself to be no less partisan and subject to manipulation and abuse in order to protect the perpetrators of crimes of religious hatred.”

“Officials do not hold private individuals accountable for the communal violence,” explained Jennifer Prestholdt, the deputy director of The Advocates for Human Rights. “Courts don’t hold the government officials accountable for sanctioning and, in some cases, promoting and encouraging individuals to commit the violence.

Political parties rally behind political leaders who are implicated in communal violence. Within the investigation and court systems, there’s obstruction of justice and witness intimidation that’s very commonplace in India.

Immunity laws such as was described in Jammu and Kashmir shield security forces from any kind of accountability. Throughout India, officials accept torture and extrajudicial killing as the norm. So, unfortunately, all of this impunity continues to fuel communal violence.”

Speaking about the 1984 Sikh Genocide, in which approximately 3,000 Sikhs were killed, Singh explained, “In massacring Sikhs in a terrifying spree of violence, not only have those guilty never been punished, but their leaders rose to political prominence for decades. One of them is Kamal Nath, who is now the Chief Minister of India’s Madhya Pradesh state.”

Describing the 2002 Gujarat Pogrom, he continued, “Sectarian Hindu mobs similarly went on a rampage across the Indian state of Gujarat, killing Muslim men, women, and children in retaliation for a fire in a train that had killed 59 Hindus, many of them connected with a movement to build a temple in place of a mosque that Hindu extremists had demolished in 1992.

Instead of prosecuting the perpetrators of the Muslim massacres, the Gujarat government connived from the very beginning to protect the perpetrators. The man who headed the state government continues to be himself accused of ordering the police to stand down and allow the Muslim massacres. He was denied a visa to enter the United States for nine years. He is now India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi.”

“I started believing that this democracy is a deception,” said Rajvinder Singh Bains, an attorney who pioneered a string of public lawsuits against Indian officials accused of custodial torture and enforced disappearances. Discussing the pursuit of justice for the 1984 genocide, he remarked, “We know the government did nothing. They set up a commission of enquiry.

When a massacre happens, what do you do? You start prosecuting. You start catching the guilty. Witnesses are available. You start trials. You start punishing them. That’s a normal, usual response. What happened in this particular case?

No, no, we will have a fact-finding enquiry. One, two, three, four. Till 2014, you had commissions of enquiry. For 35 years, you’re trying to find out what happened when everyone knows what happened. But no punishment. No trials.”

“Not only the acts of extrajudicial killing, and torture, and some of the other things that have been described, but the impunity — the lack of a government response to hold people accountable for those human rights violations, is, in addition, a human rights violation,” commented Prestholdt.

Viswanath suggested that the US needs to shift its perception of the Indian judicial system. “Time and time again, American diplomats, officials, politicians, journalists, academicians, they make the claim that, while it is true India has had a lot of religious violence and persecution, the victims can get swift and fair justice thanks to what is roundly called a free judiciary,” she stated.

“That, as we have heard today from various speakers, is not true. It speaks of a total failure of India’s criminal justice system that, not only do a majority of the guilty go unpunished, they actually get promoted and rewarded.”

“Minorities in India and their fundamental rights have never been respected,” explained Sukhman Dhami, co-founder of Ensaaf. “I don’t want to make this a discussion of historical events and facts, however, because I don’t believe that this is in fact history.

The events of 1984 in June and November were not isolated incidents, but rather these were atrocities that represented the beginning of a decade of atrocity crimes targeting the Sikh community. The atrocity crimes committed against Sikhs are part of an even wider context of atrocity crimes committed against minorities throughout India.”

Viswanath, who delivered the concluding presentation, described how the delay and denial of justice is “a fate not limited to Sikhs and Muslims.” She discussed how Adivasis (tribals), Dalits (former untouchables), Christians, dissenters, rationalists, whistleblowers, and a wide-range of others also endure travesties of justice.

She highlighted cases like the 2006 Khairlanji massacre of Dalits and the arrest of Soni Sori, an Adivasi schoolteacher who was tortured and raped by police in 2011 after false accusations of supporting Maoist insurgents.

She also discussed the 2018 arrest of Sanjiv Bhatt, a Gujarati police officer who accused Modi of ordering police to allow Hindu mobs to kill Muslims. She further mentioned last year’s arrest of five human rights activists falsely accused of inciting caste-based violence — Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, and Varavara Rao.

“Those who raise these issues are called anti-India and anti-Hindu,” warned Viswanath. “We stand for the truest value of India and Hinduism. That’s pluralism…. We in the United States have the privilege of being able to speak truth to power without fear of violence and oppression. It is vital that those of us who can speak, do speak, and never stop speaking until democracy and justice for all are restored to India.”

Organization for Minorities of India was founded in 2006 to advance individual liberties of Christians, Buddhists, Dalits, Muslims, Sikhs, and all Mulnivasi people of South Asia by encouraging secularism, progressive human rights, liberation of oppressed peoples, and universal human dignity.

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Dawn – Foreign Office regrets India’s refusal to avail concessions for Sikh pilgrims

Baqir Sajjad Syed

Islamabad Capital Territory – Pakistan, 08 November 2019. The Foreign Office on Thursday regretted that the Indian government had decided against availing “concessions” announced by Prime Minister Imran Khan for Sikh pilgrims visiting Kartarpur Gurdwara on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism, Baba Guru Nanak.

“As a special gesture, Pakistan announced concessions on the auspicious occasion of 550th Birth Anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak to facilitate pilgrims. This has been refused by India in blatant disregard of Sikh sentiments,” FO spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal tweeted.

“If India does not wish to avail these facilitative measures for pilgrims, it is India’s choice,” he said.

The spokesman’s reaction came after the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said that the visit by Sikh pilgrims to Kartarpur Gurdwara via the newly established corridor would be conducted in accordance with the agreed bilateral agreement governing the corridor’s operations.

MEA spokesman Raveesh Kumar was quoted by Indian media as saying: “Sometimes they say passport is needed, other times it is not needed. We think there are differences between their Foreign Office and other agencies. We have a memorandum of understanding (MoU), it hasn’t been changed and as per it passport is needed.”

Spokesman says government was working on other initiatives for promoting religious tourism

Dr Faisal, earlier at his weekly media briefing, said that Pakistan government had as a “special gesture” waived off the passport requirement and the 10-day advance intimation for the pilgrims coming to the shrine. Moreover, $20 service charges per pilgrims were also waived off for 09 and 12 November.

The special concessions, which were announced by the prime minister through Twitter, were formally conveyed by the Pakistan government to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad and the government of India.

The government is expecting around 10,000 Sikhs to visit the gurdwara on the occasion of the opening of the visa-free corridor on 09 November. These include Sikhs coming from India via the corridor, those coming through Wagah border crossing, and Sikhs living in other parts of the world coming here for the occasion.

In reply to a question relating to visas for Sikhs coming through other routes, the spokesman said: “Our missions abroad are also fully facilitating visa requests from Nanak Naamlevas”.

Indian cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, he said, had been issued a visa and would be warmly welcomed at the opening ceremony. Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had first shared the idea of opening Kartarpur Corridor with Mr Sidhu when he last year visited Pakistan for attending PM Imran Khan’s inauguration.

Later, Mr Sidhu also came for the groundbreaking ceremony of the project.

According to Indian media, the invitation card issued by the Pakistan government to Mr Sidhu carries serial number ‘0001’.

Dr Faisal said the government was also working on a number of other initiatives for promoting religious tourism. “Sikhs / Nanak Naamlevas, Hindus and Buddhist Monks have various holy sites in Pakistan and we are trying to tap this potential of religious tourism,” he said.

Meanwhile, according to APP, the FO clarified that the passport waiver for Kartarpur pilgrims would extend up to one year as a special gesture on the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.

Mr Faisal was responding to a question in connection with a statement by the director general of Inter-Services Public Relations in which he termed passport a must requisite for Indian pilgrims using Kartarpur corridor.

“This is the formal position of Foreign Office and the ISPR statement is also in line with it,” he said.

Asked if Pakistan would like to open similar corridors with Kargil and Ladakh to facilitate meeting of families living across the border, he said Pakistan had no objection on opening of more passages, however India’s hesitation in holding discussions on several matters was a major hurdle in that.