The Tribune – Khalsa Aid serves ration to over 4,000 flood victims in Assam

Assam has been battling a severe flood crisis, and Khalsa Aid India are here to help.

Tribune Web Desk

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 24 July 2019. Assam has been battling a severe flood crisis, and Khalsa Aid India are here to help.

The good Samaritans of the non-profit aid and relief organisation have reached Assam and are trying to provide ration to at least 4,000 people. The team shared the incident on Twitter and have urged others to donate for the cause.

This isn’t the first time that the team of Khalsa Aid has come forward to provide selfless service to people in distress.

Khalsa Aid not only reached Maharashtra’s region that was going through a severe drought, but also reached Odisha following the devastation of cyclone Fani.

The team landed in Syria for a rescue operation and helped the refugees fleeing Myanmar or orphans in Haiti and garnered heaps of praise on social media.for their efforts.

Torrential rains have affected at least 27 of Assam’s 33 districts. At last count, 48.87 lakh people have been displaced from their homes.

BBC News – India court releases army veteran detained as foreigner

Guwahati – Assam – India, 07 June 2019. A high court in India has ordered the release of a decorated Indian army veteran who was hauled off to a detention camp after being declared a “foreigner” under a controversial measure. BBC Hindi’s Vineet Khare reports on how the man’s arrest has outraged India.

It was the evening of 27 May and Mohamed Sanaullah, 52, had just reached his home in Guwahati in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam, when he got a call from the local police superintendent’s office.

The man on the other end of the line told Mr Sanaullah that the state’s foreigners tribunal had declared him a “foreigner” four days ago and asked him to report there.

“He knew what lay ahead,” Mr Sanaullah’s lawyer and son-in-law, Shahidul Islam, who was with him in Guwahati at the time of his arrest, told the BBC.

He spent the night in police custody.

On Friday, the high court in Assam granted Mr Sanaullah bail. But his lawyer told the Indian Express newspaper that his appeal challenging his detention in the first place is still pending.

Mr Sanaullah is one of four million people who was left off the latest draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) published last year.

The NRC was first created in 1951 to determine who was born in India and who might be a migrant from neighbouring, Muslim-majority East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh.

The census, conducted only in the north-eastern state of Assam, counts as citizens those who can prove that they were residents of India before midnight on 24 March 1971, a day before Bangladesh declared its independence from Pakistan.

An army veteran with 30 years of service, Mr Sanaullah was working as an officer with the border police, GuwahatiGuwahatia unit of the state police service – when the call came.

Ironically, one of its main jobs is to stem illegal migration from Bangladesh.

Mr Sanaullah was dispatched to a detention centre the next day, where he has been ever since. There are hundreds of people, also declared foreigners, who are in six detention centres around the state.

Even though the most recent version of the NRC was only published in 2018, Assam has a history of trying people suspected to be foreigners. For decades, it did so under a 1983 law, until it was repealed in 2005. The detention centres were set up in 2009 because of fears that those declared “foreigners” would try and escape.

Many have been languishing there for years.

But Mr Sanaullah was luckier than most. His story caught the attention of national media, which began flashing headlines that a “war hero” in the state had been declared a foreigner.

Outrage quickly followed.

A leader from India’s main opposition Congress party said Mr Sanaullah’s detention was an “insult” to India’s armed forces, adding that it demonstrated that the NRC had been compiled in a “high-handed and flawed” manner.

Others asked if the purpose of the NRC was to identify illegal migrants or label all Muslims as illegal immigrants.

Officials are quick to point out that tens of thousands of Hindus were also left off the list. But critics cite the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

In fact the bill was shelved after people in Assam vehemently protested against it fearing that Hindu migrants who were not included in the NRC would still get citizenship to stay on.

As news of Mr Sanaullah’s detention spread, the country’s top court also got involved, expressing its “serious concern”. It summoned the state’s co-ordinator of the NRC and asked him to ensure that the process by which people were deemed foreigners or not was carried out properly.

Mr Sanaullah’s case documents revealed that the case against him was built on the basis of “witness statements” questioning his nationality. These statements were made in 2008 and 2009 by three people in his home village.

The documents also contain an alleged “confession” where Mr Sanaullah reportedly said that he is actually from a village near the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.

But these are all being questioned now.

For one, all three “witnesses” are flatly denying making any statement against Mr Sanaullah to the investigating officer, who has been identified as Chandramal Das.

“Sanaullah was like family to us. Why would I give a statement against him? I never met Chandramal Das or even heard his name until now,” Sobahan Ali told the BBC.

Another, Quran Ali, said he was mystified to learn his name was given as that of a witness because he had not even been living in the village at the time that he was supposed to have made this statement.

They say their names have been misused and their signatures forged on the document.

Mr Sanaullah’s family also deny he ever made any “confession” about his birthplace to anyone.

These revelations have now prompted police to register a case against Mr Das.

Mr Das, who retired last year, told the NDTV news channel that the entire thing was a “mix-up of reports”, and that he had meant to investigate another man whose name was Sanaulla (both names would be spelled the same in the local language).

“My father only heard of the probe in 2018 when his name didn’t figure in the NRC draft list,” Mr Sanaullah’s daughter Shehnaz Akhar told the BBC.

“It was only when he went to the NRC office that he found out that there was a 10-year-old case against him.”

Hafiz Rashid Ahmed Choudhary, a senior lawyer at the Guwahati high court in Assam, says that this case is hardly unique and that there are hundreds of people like Mr Sanaullah who are languishing in detention camps.

“It’s happening because of lapses on the part of the agencies. Police officials lack knowledge and sometimes act in a biased manner. And the Foreigners Tribunals are manned by members who give verdicts but have little experience. The minimum experience to be a member is seven years.”

Dawn – Citizenship rights

Huma Yusuf

Op/Ed, 25 February 2019. In 2016, British Prime Minister Theresa May derided cosmopolitan elite as ‘citizens of nowhere’. Her government is now taking this phrase too literally in its attempts to strip Shamima Begum, a teenaged UK citizen of Bangladeshi heritage who joined the militant Islamic State (IS) group, of her citizenship.

Shamima has never visited Bangladesh or held its nationality. But she is brown, and by turning to violent extremism, has betrayed British values and emphasised her otherness. So she must go back to where she does not come from.

Her family has challenged the decision. If their appeal fails, Shamima risks becoming stateless, a violation of international law. While the court battle to decide her fate will be prolonged, her predicament has highlighted how vulnerable the notion of citizenship is today.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has decried Home Secretary Sajid Javed’s decision to revoke Shamima’s citizenship, as it “risks creating a second class of citizenship”. Rather than centre the notion of citizenship on equal access to rights, justice and resources, the revocation reframes citizenship along ethnic, racial, religious, ideological and linguistic lines.

In a post-colonial, multi-ethnic, mixed race world of migrant flows, Javed has tried to do the impossible: define here and there, us and them.

Shamima’s case is not unique. The family of Hoda Muthana, a young woman born in the US to Yemeni parents who also joined IS, is challenging the US government’s position that she is not a US citizen and cannot return to face criminal proceedings for her actions.

In the UK, many long-term residents and British citizens of Caribbean descent have faced challenges to their right to live in the country.

The reality of uneven citizenship has created a sense of isolation

The reality of uneven citizenship has created a sense of precariousness and isolation among minority communities, and hardened perceptions of divisiveness and hate. Indeed, the experience of uneven citizenship likely fuelled violent extremism in the first place. Confirming it as truth will only create more Shamima Begums.

But today’s crisis of citizenship extends beyond including non-dominant groups in a pact with the state to provide sustenance, security and justice. The modern realities of regional groupings, trade zones and hyper-connectivity have led to the existence of supra-states that are making the vulnerability of citizenship almost universal.

Brexit can be reconceived as a crisis of citizenship as people have struggled to access their due rights and resources despite being citizens at the local (city or region), state and EU levels.

Nor is the issue of uneven citizenship a uniquely Western, or rich-state phenomenon. Internal migration, displacement, localised conflict, and refugee influxes have created similar tensions in the Global South. Pakistan must contend with its own versions of uneven citizenship.

The government flagged this when it raised the issue of 1.5 million people of Afghan descent who have only known Pakistan as home but cannot claim citizenship of our country.

Similarly, the Fata merger and questions about rights and legal regimes in the post-FCR scenario are challenging the Pakistani conception of citizenship.

An idea recently floated on social media that there be no requirement for arrest warrants for residents of the tribal areas is another example indicating that some Pakistanis are considered more Pakistani, in the sense of accessing their basic rights, than others.

The unevenness can be externally imposed too. India has been seeking to amend its citizenship laws to make it easier for non-Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh to apply for Indian citizenship.

The idea that religious minorities can migrate with more facility across the eastern border risks fuelling the belief within Pakistan that these communities have divided loyalties, a more diffuse relationship with the state, and are thus less Pakistani than others.

Citizenship should not only be defined in terms of identity and travel documents and an individual’s relationship with the civilian justice system. It extends to all forms of rights, from free speech to access to resources and livelihood.

Indeed, much has been written about how rapid urbanisation creates uneven citizenship, as the nature of sprawling cities results in divergent levels of access to resources, rights and protections.

This is not to be confused with inequality, which is centred on economic differences, but on the fundamental level of access to rights, basic service delivery and safety as provided by the state, and the extent to which people or communities can participate in governance.

However it is packaged, citizenship the world over is increasingly defined through exclusion, rather than inclusion. It has become a zero-sum conception which necessitates that for some to win, others must lose. Few can enjoy a sense of security as long as such thinking prevails.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

The Hindustan Times – AGP withdraws support to BJP in Assam over Citizenship Bill

The announcement followed AGP leader and former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta’s statement here that the party would withdraw support to the government in the state if the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in passed by Lok Sabha.

Sadiq Naqvi

New Delhi – India, 07 January 2019. The Asom Gana Parishad on Monday pulled out of the BJP-led coalition in Assam against a controversial bill that seeks to give citizenship to minorities of Bangladesh, party chief Atul Bora announced after meeting Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

The AGP’s exit, however, does not present any immediate danger to the survival of the Sarbananda Sonowal-led BJP government. The BJP has 61 MLAs in the 126-member Assembly and enjoys the support of the Bodo People’s Front (BPF) which has 12 MLAs.

“We made a last-ditch attempt today to convince the Centre not to pass the Bill. But Rajnath Singh told us clearly that it will be passed in Lok Sabha tomorrow. After this, there is no question of remaining in the alliance,” Bora said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday had said his government will try to get the Bill passed in Parliament soon. “It (the Bill) is connected to the emotions and lives of people.

It is not for the benefit of anyone but a penance for the injustices done in the past,” Modi said at a rally in Assam’s Bengali-speaking Barak Valley, where voices demanding the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill are the loudest.

The assurance had riled the AGP which prompted the party’s leadership to reach Delhi to meet Home Minister Rajnath Singh. AGP leader and former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta had warned that the party would withdraw support to the state government if the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is passed.

In December last year, Bora had written to BJP chief Amit Shah about the AGP’s reservations on the Bill and had said that it will make the Assam Accord “meaningless”.

“Our alliance with the BJP was based on the Assam Accord ansd other issues crucial to the state. The Centre had violated the understanding by introducing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 in Parliament,” read the letter.

The AGP chief had urged Shah to intervene and said his party will never support the obnoxious Bill.

The Bill seeks to amend Citizenship Act 1955 to grant Indian nationality to people from minority communities, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of residence in India instead of 12 even if they don’t possess any proper document.

The Bill has been opposed by a large section of people and organisations in the Northeast. The Congress, Trinamool Congress, CPI (M) and a few other parties have been steadfastly opposing the bill claiming that citizenship can’t be given on the basis of religion and that it is unconstitutional.

Those that are part of persecuted minorities should be granted political asylum
This bill gives special rights to specific groups fleeing Muslim countries
but denies those rights to Muslims fleeing a Buddhist country
Man in Blue

The Hindu – Hasina heading for landslide victory after deadly Bangladesh election day

The deadly violence and bitter rivalry that marred the election campaign spilled over into voting day.

Dhaka – Bangladesh, 30 December 2018. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina appeared headed for a landslide win in a general election on Sunday marred by opposition claims of rigged voting as 14 people were killed in clashes between rival supporters.

Early results showed Ms. Hasina racing into a clear lead, winning each of the first 29 seats declared, some by tens of thousands of votes, according to Channel 24, which is compiling results from around the country.

The deadly violence and bitter rivalry that marred the election campaign spilled over into voting day, even as authorities imposed tight security with 600,000 troops, police and other security forces deployed across the country.

Ten people were killed in clashes between Ms. Hasina’s ruling Awami League party and supporters of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), police said, while three men were shot by police who said they were protecting polling booths.

An auxiliary police member was also killed by armed opposition activists, according to officials.

Ms. Hasina, 71, has been lauded for boosting economic growth in the poor South Asian nation during her decade in power and for welcoming Rohingya refugees fleeing a military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar.

But critics accuse her of authoritarianism and crippling the opposition, including arch-rival Khaleda Zia who is serving 17 years in prison on graft charges, to cling on to power.

The BNP-led opposition alliance on Sunday accused Ms. Hasina’s party of using stuffed ballot boxes and other illegal means to fix the result, which was to be announced on Monday.

BNP spokesman Syed Moazzem Hossain Alal told reporters there were “irregularities” in 221 of the 300 seats contested. Its Islamist ally Jamaat-e-Islami said it would reject the results.

“Voters are not allowed to enter booths. Especially women voters are being forced to vote for the boat,” Alal said, referring to the Awami League symbol.

‘We’ll cast your vote’

Bangladesh election commission spokesman S.M. Asaduzzaman told AFP the body had “received a few allegations of irregularities” and was investigating.

Authorities ordered mobile operators to shut down high speed internet services until midnight Sunday “to prevent the spread of rumours” that could trigger unrest. One independent television news channel complained that its broadcasts were blocked.

Voting in the capital Dhaka was largely peaceful as convoys of soldiers and paramilitary forces were on the streets where most traffic was banned.

“I have never missed voting in my life. This is probably the last election for me and I want a suitable candidate for my country,” 98-year-old Abdus Salam said at a Dhaka polling station.

However voters in provincial areas reported intimidation. Atiar Rahman said he was beaten by ruling party activists in the central district of Narayanganj.

“They told me not to bother, ‘We’ll cast your vote on your behalf’,” he told AFP.

The opposition said the unrest was stirred up to deter voters, and presiding officers reported a low turnout across the country.

Sunday’s deaths brought to 18 the official police toll for election violence since the ballot was announced on November 8.

Police said they acted “in self-defence” in the southern town of Bashkhali, when they fired on opposition supporters who stormed a polling booth, killing one.

In a separate incident a man was shot by police after he tried to steal a ballot box.

Free and fair?

Ms. Hasina needs 151 seats to control Parliament but experts say a victory would be sullied by accusations that she hamstrung opponents.

The opposition says more than 15,000 of its activists were detained during the campaign, crushing its ability to mobilise support.

Human Rights Watch and other international groups said the crackdown created a climate of fear which could prevent opposition supporters from casting ballots.

The United States raised concerns about the credibility of the election while the United Nations called for greater efforts to make the vote fair.

Seventeen opposition candidates have been arrested over what they claim are trumped-up charges while another 17 were disqualified from running by courts, which Ms. Hasina’s opponents say are government controlled.

The Bangladeshi leadership has alternated between Ms. Hasina and Ms. Zia, allies-turned-foes, over the last three decades.

Ms. Hasina rejects accusations of authoritarianism but analysts say she feared young voters would support the BNP.

Her government was criticised this year for its heavy handling of weeks of major student protests that brought Dhaka to a standstill.

Ms. Hasina, daughter of Bangladesh’s first President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was gifted victory in the 2014 election when the BNP boycotted the vote claiming it was not free and fair.

BBC News – Rohingya return to Myanmar: Confusion and fear in refugee camps

Cox’s Bazar – Chittagong Division – Bangladesh, 15 November 2018. No Rohingya refugees voluntarily chose to return to Myanmar from camps in Bangladesh on the first day of a planned repatriation programme.

Under a joint deal between the two countries, authorities had wanted to move some 2,000 Rohingya on Thursday.

But the UN and rights groups say no-one should be forced to return, as the situation in Myanmar is not safe.

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims and others have fled to Bangladesh over the past year.

They were escaping violence and a military operation in western Rakhine state.

The UN has said senior Myanmar officials should be investigated and tried for genocide over the operation, which the army says was targeting militants.

After the planned repatriations were halted on Thursday, amid protests in the camps, senior Myanmar officials said they had been ready to process returnees and blamed the Bangladeshi side.

‘They’re sending us to die’

The refugees are mostly living in basic conditions in sprawling camps near the Bangladeshi border town of Cox’s Bazar.

Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed they should gradually be returned to Myanmar and thousands of people have been approved for return by Myanmar.

This has led to panic among the refugees, many of whom experienced violence in Myanmar, or had family members killed and their homes burned.

The first group of refugees due to leave on Thursday had been told buses had been organised, a transit camp set up and there were stocks of rations for three days, the BBC’s Yogita Limaye reported from one of the camps.

But hearing the announcement people erupted in protest, shouting “we don’t want to go back”, and holding up placards listing the things they wanted before they would agree to return. Some even broke down in tears, our correspondent reports.

“None feels safe to go back now. We cannot force them to go back against their will,” Mohammad Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s repatriation commissioner, told AFP news agency.

Amid the heightened anxiety, there is an increased security presence in the camps.

“I’m scared about the repatriation,” one 40-year-old man on the list to be sent back told the BBC. “Though they are trying to reassure us, I’m not convinced. I think they might kill us if we go there.”

Like many others he has sent his family into hiding in the camps. He said the only condition under which they were prepared to return to Myanmar was if they were given citizenship.

“If we have to go back, that is our fate. But I feel they will be sending us there to die.”

Another refugee told the BBC he fled with his wife and sons but that many relatives had been killed.

“They brutally tortured us,” he said, breaking down in tears. “The military came to us, they killed our people, threw kids in the fire and also set fire to houses.

“I am very disturbed by this talk of going back. How can we go there?”

The Hindu – India welcomes starting of Rohingya repatriation process

Kallol Bhattacherjee

New Delhi – India, 01 November 2018. India on Wednesday welcomed the decision of Bangladesh to begin the process of repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. The response from an official source came hours after Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to send 2,300 Rohingya back to Rakhine province.

“If they have agreed to take 2,300 Rohingya refugees then we will consider this as a good beginning. We have been saying that the Rohingya crisis can be solved with the repatriation of the community to the land of their origin in Rakhine province of Myanmar,” said an official source welcoming the step.

Teams of diplomats from Bangladesh and Myanmar met on Tuesday and agreed on this plan during a high level Joint Working Group meeting held in Dhaka. The meeting was attended by Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque and his Myanmar counterpart Myint Thu.

On Wednesday, both officials visited the Rohingya camps near Cox’s Bazaar to talk to the 2,300 Rohingya citizens of Myanmar who are among more than one million Rohingya refugees who have taken refuge in Bangladesh during 2017-18.

The agreement was preceded by a warning from a top UN diplomat who pointed out that Myanmar had not stopped human rights violation of the Rohingya community inside its territory.

India has been suggesting repatriation of the Rohingya refugees and has also contributed to creating housing settlements for the people who choose to return to Rakhine province.

“We believe repatriation will have to be coupled with socio-economic measures to ensure continued welfare of the Rohingya community on their land,” said the source.

Myanmar and Bangladesh had concluded an agreement last year to start return of the community who fled after the Myanmar military conducted a security campaign in the region. Repatriation of the community was to begin in January this year but it has been delayed so far.

Activists have expressed concern on the latest announcement saying that the return of the Rohingya refugees should be preceded by security guarantee from Myanmar.

Relief organisation Oxfam in a statement said, “The international community needs to step up diplomatic pressure on Myanmar to grant equal rights to the Rohingya, while continuing to support Bangladesh to assist all those in need.” Myanmar has said that it is trying to sensitise its military about ensuring safety of the community.

BBC News – India under fire as it deports Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar

India has deported seven Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar, despite last-minute appeals that doing so put them at risk.

New Delhi – India, 04 October 2018. The men had been detained since 2012 for immigration violations. Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court refused to step in to stop their deportation.

At least 700,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape violence in Myanmar in the past year.

UN officials have accused Myanmar’s military of ethnic cleansing. The army says it has been tackling insurgents.

The Rohingya are one of many ethnic minorities in Myanmar, where the government sees them as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and denies them citizenship.

The seven men deported on Thursday had been interred in a detention centre in India’s Assam state. They were handed over at the Moreh border crossing in neighbouring Manipur state.

“These are Myanmarese nationals whose identities have been confirmed by their government. The government given them travel permits,” L S Changsan, a senior Assam official, told the BBC’s Vineet Khare.

The UN special rapporteur on racism, Tendayi Achiume, said India risked breaching its international legal obligations by returning the men to possible harm.

“Given the ethnic identity of the men, this is a flagrant denial of their right to protection,” she told AFP news agency.

These are among the first deportations of Rohingyas from India since deadly attacks on police in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017 sparked a military offensive.

Officials in India say two Rohingya men were sent back in August – but this has not been confirmed by Myanmar.

Last year India announced it would deport its entire Rohingya population, thought to number about 40,000. This number includes some 18,000 Rohingya registered as refugees by the UN.

Despite the international pressure on Myanmar, India is actively pursuing a good relationship with the country’s army officials.

Correspondents say India hopes to enlist their help in acting against militants in India’s north-east, many of whom are based in Myanmar’s jungles.

India’s government also aims to grow its influence in Southeast Asia to counter China’s increasing presence in the region.

The Hindu – Canada strips Aung San Suu Kyi of honorary citizenship

Ottawa had given the long-detained democracy advocate and Nobel laureate the rare honour in 2007.

Ottawa – Ontario – Canada, 28 September 2018. Canada’s parliament has voted unanimously to effectively strip Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi of her honorary Canadian citizenship over the Rohingya crisis.

Ottawa had given the long-detained democracy advocate and Nobel laureate the rare honour in 2007.

But her international reputation has become tarnished by her refusal to call out the atrocities by her nation’s military against the Rohingya Muslims minority, which Ottawa last week declared a genocide.

“In 2007, the House of Commons granted Aung San Suu Kyi the status of honorary Canadian citizen. Today, the House unanimously passed a motion to remove this status,” said Adam Austen, spokesman for Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, on Thursday.

A brutal military campaign that started last year drove more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh, where they now live in cramped refugee camps, fearful of returning to mainly Buddhist Myanmar despite a repatriation deal.

Many have given accounts of extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and arson.

The military has denied nearly all wrongdoing, justifying its crackdown as a legitimate means of rooting out Rohingya militants.

But after a fact-finding mission, the United Nations on Thursday set up a panel to prepare indictments against Myanmar’s army chief and five other top military commanders for crimes against humanity.

Ms Suu Kyi’s democratically-elected government remains in a delicate power balance with the generals, whose presence in parliament gives them an effective veto on constitutional changes.

Mr Austen cited Ms Suu Kyi’s “persistent refusal to denounce the Rohingya genocide” for the withdrawal of the Canadian honour, which is symbolic and comes with no special privileges.

“We will continue to support the Rohingyas by providing humanitarian assistance, imposing sanctions against Myanmar’s generals and demanding that those responsible be held accountable before a competent international body,” he added.

Honorary Canadian citizenship has only been granted to five others including the Dalai Lama, girls education advocate Malala Yousafzai and Nelson Mandela.

The Hindu – Our first aim is to oust BJP from power: CM Mamata Banerjee

Opposition will fight the 2019 Lok Sabha election under a collective leadership, she says.

Sobhana K Nair

New Delhi – India, 02 August 2018. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has said that the Opposition would fight the 2019 Lok Sabha election under a collective leadership, and the first aim was to oust the BJP government from power.

Ms Banerjee’s statement to journalists in New Delhi on Wednesday came after she held daylong parleys with leaders of 10 Opposition parties.

The Trinamool Congress chief met all leaders expected to play a key role in the Lok Sabha election: Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Samajwadi Party leader Ramgopal Yadav, Janata Dal (Secular) leader Deve Gowda and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

To a question at a media interaction after she met the Gandhis, whether she considered herself to be the face of the Opposition coalition in 2019, she said: “There is a song by Rabindranath Tagore that in a democracy ‘Amra saboi raja’ [All of us are kings].

All of us are together, we are all for all.” The question was posed to her repeatedly through the day.

Answering it earlier in the day, she said, “Please don’t discuss all these things. The Prime Minister does not matter to us. I want my country to progress. I want farmers and labourers to have a good life. I want communal harmony… ‘Pehle BJP ko haraane dijiye, phir baith kar dekhenge’ (Let’s first defeat the BJP, then we will sit and discuss)”.

She spent the first half of the day in Parliament meeting floor leaders of various parties. Her first meeting of the day was with BJP elder L K Advani. After the meeting, she said, “I know Advaniji for a very long time. I went to enquire about his health. It was a courtesy call”.

Back in the Trinamool Congress office, packed with MPs and reporters, senior leaders walked in one after the other. The first ones to arrive were Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ahmed Patel.

“Trinamool and Congress will chalk out floor strategies against the government, especially on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) issue. Mamata expressed pleasure at the Congress-Trinamool working in tandem. Congress-Trinamool will carry out joint issue-based protests,” a senior Congress leader said.

Then walked in Mr Ramgopal Yadav. He was followed by Rashtriya Janata Dal leaders Misa Bharati and Jai Prakash Yadav.

YSR Congress leader Vijay Sai Reddy walked in with a single pink rose in hand. But before he could reach Ms Banerjee, a contingent of the Telugu Desam Party, comprising former minister Y S Chowdary and MP Kesineni Srinivas, walked in.

Ms Banerjee told them to convey her regards to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. After the TDP delegation left, Mr Reddy got a few minutes with her.

The other leaders who came to meet her included DMK’s Tiruchi Siva, Congress leader Ashwini Kumar, Rajya Sabha member Jaya Bachchan and BJP rebel Kirti Azad. Later in the evening, Mr Kejriwal met her.

Targeting the BJP government over the NRC update exercise in Assam, Ms Banerjee said, “The NRC is a global issue because 40 lakh people have been deleted from a list of 2.2 crore people. Only BJP voters will have space in this country and non-BJP voters will be isolated,” she said at the Trinamool Congress’s Parliamentary Party office.

Counters Shah

Questioning BJP president Amit Shah who, on Tuesday, said ‘Bangladeshi ghuspethi’ (Bangladeshi illegal migrants) will be thrown out one by one and will not be allowed to vote, Ms. Banerjee said, “Bangladesh is not a terrorist country! When you say ‘ghuspethi’, you are insulting Bangladesh and India too because we speak the same language”.

She accused the BJP of doublespeak, with one section saying there would be no harassment, while another issued threats.

“Rajnath Singh says that no one will be harassed but his party says that we will push them out. Who is infiltrator? Who can be a bigger infiltrator than the people who dictate what to eat, what to wear…the ones who control media and one who interfere in judiciary too,” she said.

Ms Banerjee quipped that she herself would fail if such an exercise were to be repeated in West Bengal. “Luckily I am not from Bangladesh. Otherwise they would have labelled me too ghuspethi,” she said.