The Indian Express – Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa Jayakumar launches political forum

Addressing a crowded press conference at her home, Deepa said her political journey had “begun”

Chennai, 24 February 2017. J Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa launched a new political forum while rival factions in ruling AIADMK provided welfare assistance across Tamil Nadu on her 69th birth anniversary on Friday in an escalating fight for her legacy.

As a war of words broke out, the state government led by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, his predecessor and dissident leader O Panneerselvam and AIADMK observed the birth anniversary of the late chief minister in different ways including holding of medical camps and planting of saplings.

Addressing a crowded press conference at her home, Deepa said her political journey had “begun” and also unveiled a flag depicting the images of Jayalalithaa and M G Ramachandran which she said was only a flag of the Forum named as ‘MGR AMMA Deepa Forum’.

Responding to a query, Deepa said the people desired that she contest from R K Nagar constituency that fell vacant following the demise of the late AIADMK supremo.

Deepa said she has been receiving several requests to enter politics and today’s announcement was to respect their wishes. Deepa, who will be the treasurer of the Forum, said her next course of action would be decided in due course and she would reveal it at the “appropriate time”.

In a veiled attack on Panneerselvam, AIADMK general secretary V K Sasikala, who is lodged in a Bengaluru prison, said, “When enemies and traitors wanted to defeat the party and the government, Amma’s soul guided us and has put up the AIADMK government in the seat of power”.

“Let us vow to protect the party, and work for the people,” she said in her letter published in Friday’s edition of party mouthpiece “Dr Namadhu MGR” Panneerselvam hit out at Sasikala and her family without naming her for trying to take over the party against Amma’s (Jayalalithaa) wishes.

“Dharma Yudham will continue (to retrieve the party and government),” he said and reiterated his demand for a judicial inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Jayalalithaa.

Paying floral tributes to Jayalalithaa, Panneerselvam gave away welfare assistance to the people at Tondiarpet in North Chennai.

Palaniswamy planted a sapling at the Omandurar Government Estate here marking the launch of a drive to plant 69-lakh saplings and a greening project in areas hit by last year’s Vardah cyclone commemorating Jayalalithaa’s birth anniversary.

AIADMK presidium chairman K A Sengottaiyan led the birth anniversary celebrations at party headquarters here in which the chief minister and other senior leaders took part.

Once a supporter of Sasikala, Jayalalithaa’s nephew Deepak Jayakumar has now said her attempt to become the chief minister was “unacceptable” to the people of Tamil Nadu, while claiming that the late AIADMK chief had left behind her properties to him and his sister.

He claimed that the former chief minister had bequeathed her properties, including her Veda Nilayam bungalow in Poes Garden here, to his sister Deepa and him, by leaving behind a will.

Sasikala was set to become chief minister succeeding Pannerselvam but the Supreme Court verdict in the disproportionate assets case dashed her hopes. Deepa earlier said the Sasikala camp does not deserve to be in “Amma’s place” (Jayalalithaa) at all.

“Certainly not good for the people because this kind of takeover(by Sasikala camp), this kind of hijacking the party is absolutely not acceptable for anyone, especially the cadre of AIADMK because their wishes have been totally ignored.”

Deepak said party members did not favour TTV Dinakaran’s appointment as AIADMK’s deputy general secretary. While speaking to TV news channels on Thursday, Jayakumar questioned reinduction of Dinakaran, who is nephew of Sasikala, and S Venkatesh into the party.

While Deepa can aspire for positions in the AIADMK, Venkatesh and Dinakaran could not, he said apparently referring to the removal of the two by Jayalalithaa in 2011. “They are trying to bring family rule.. probably they both forced Sasikala to hand over the party to them,” he alleged, adding, “Even the party cadres will not accept this”.

Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa Jayakumar launches political forum

Sikh24.com – Satkar Singh Sidhu Latest To Be Gunned Down In Abbotsford’s Violent Townline Conflict

Desi Buzz BC

Abbotsford-BC-Canada, 24 February 2017. Another young Indian-Canadian man has been gunned down in the ongoing gang conflict in Abbotsford’s Townline area.

Satkar Singh Sidhu, 23, has been identified as the man killed Monday in Abbotsford..

While RCMP said Sidhu did not have a criminal record but was known to police, it is believed the murder was targeted and is linked to other gang violence that has happened in the area.

In a statement, Cpl. Meghan Foster of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team said it’s fortunate no one else was injured in the shooting, which happened in a residential neighbourhood.

“Having association to or involvement with the gang life comes with many risks,” she said. “There are people who have information about what happened, and they need to step forward.”

She said it is still early in the investigation, and IHIT is trying to determine what, if any, involvement the three males taken into custody had in the homicide. They have since been released from custody, and are not facing any criminal charges.

Multiple 911 calls were reported Monday about shots fired on Steelhead Court shortly before 10 am.

Officers arrived to find Sidhu suffering from gunshot wounds. Ambulances were dispatched to the scene but he died off his injuries before he could be taken to hospital.

The neighbourhood is close to Townline Hill, an area that has been subject to recent gang turf wars.

The region has been subject to recent multiple warnings from police agencies, saying people connected to the conflict may be in danger.

Constable Ian MacDonald said one of the force’s officers saw the suspect vehicle speeding off. He gave chase, trying to pull it over on Highway 11, “and eventually into Mission”.

The vehicle only stopped after officers from Abbotsford and Mission RCMP threw down a spike belt. Three men were taken into custody, although it’s still unclear what, if any, role they have in the murder.

The vehicle was towed away from Lougheed Highway near Stave Lake Road and several of the windows were shattered.

Back at the scene, a large area of the road was taped off and investigators set up a white tent on a lawn.

Members of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team have taken over the probe into the incident. Anyone with information is asked to call police.

IHIT says its investigation is still in its infancy and “more updates will be provided tomorrow unless they can be provided earlier.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact the IHIT Information Line at 1-877-551-IHIT (4448), or by email at ihitinfo@rcmp-grc.gc.ca. Should you wish to remain anonymous, please contact Crime Stoppers by phone at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

http://www.sikh24.com/2017/02/24/satkar-singh-sidhu-latest-to-be-gunned-down-in-abbotsfords-violent-townline-conflict/#.WLBY-X_RHY8

Stars & Stripes – More bearded, turbaned Sikhs join Army as Pentagon reviews religious articles ban

Corey Dickstein

Washington DC, 24 February 2017. Eight Sikh Army recruits have received waivers this year allowing them to maintain their religiously mandated beards and turbans in uniform, nearly doubling the number of observant Sikhs in the Army despite a decades-old policy barring visual symbols of faith.

The most recent religious appearance accommodations were granted in January and February, according to records reviewed by Stars and Stripes, just weeks after then-Army Secretary Eric Fanning simplified the process observant Sikhs and Muslims must follow to receive a waiver.

This could signal a relaxing of the Pentagon’s ban instituted in 1981 on outward symbols of faith in uniform, which is being reviewed by the Defense Department and each of the military services, three defense officials said.

The Army has approved at least 17 exemptions for Sikh soldiers to maintain their unshorn beards and turban-covered hair since 2009, when it granted the first such request to Kamal Kalsi, a medical doctor who is now a lieutenant colonel.

Kalsi, who has partnered with the Sikh Coalition and other groups to advocate for Sikhs, said military service is a natural fit for many religious Sikhs.

For Kalsi, a native of India who grew up in New Jersey, the military is also a family tradition. His father and grandfather served in the Indian air force and his great-grandfather served in the Royal British Army.

“Military service and service in general is such a big part of the Sikh community,” Kalsi said in a recent interview. “In taking my oath as an officer in the Army, the things that I swore an oath to are the same things that I was taught as a Sikh growing up, honesty, integrity, courage.

These things are all part and parcel of being a Sikh and of being a good soldier in the USA Army”.

For many service members, the process to receive a policy exemption to wear a simple symbol of their faith, such as a yarmulke for Jewish service members, can be approved by their direct commanding officers, but for observant Sikhs, and for some devout Muslims who must wear beards or hijabs, the longstanding Pentagon policy requires a formal waiver to the military appearance standards.

Until recently, those exemptions were rarely granted.

That appears to have changed, at least in the Army.

The eight accommodations approved by the Army this year follow six exemptions that the service granted to recruits in 2016, according to the non-profit Sikh Coalition.

Army Lt. Colonel Jennifer Johnson, a spokeswoman for the service, said she could not confirm the number of soldiers or recruits who have received a religious appearance exemption because the process has been “decentralized” and records are maintained at various installations.

Before last year, only three Sikh soldiers had been granted similar accommodations since 1981, according to the coalition. Sikh Coalition spokespersons said they were unaware of any observant Sikhs serving in the other military branches.

Spokespersons for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps said they were not aware of any Sikhs serving in those branches with an accommodation to wear an unshorn beard and turban in uniform.

The policy change

On 4 January just days before he left office with the President Barack Obama administration, Fanning issued a memorandum that mandated brigade commanders grant accommodations to soldiers or recruits seeking to wear religiously required beards or headwear in uniform with only a few exceptions.

Previously, such decisions were made by the secretary. They remain decisions relegated to senior officials in the other military branches.

Fanning’s order instructed commanders to deny requested religious exemptions only if they are “not based on a sincerely held religious belief” or they would cause “a specific, concrete hazard … that cannot be mitigated by reasonable measures.”

The Sikh Coalition, which brought lawsuits last year against the Army backing four Sikhs in their pursuits of religious accommodations, welcomed Fanning’s decision. But the group has not finished its fight, said Harsimran Kaur, the coalition’s legal director.

Ultimately, she said, the coalition wants to see an end to “all religious discrimination” and seeks a Pentagon-wide policy change to allow persons of any religion to maintain their visual articles of faith in uniform without requiring an accommodation.

“The USA is the strongest democracy in the world, and it has the strongest military in the world,” Kaur said. “For the United States to take in people from different religions and different backgrounds that’s only going to strengthen that democracy and that military.”

The Pentagon has long pointed to two primary reasons for retaining its ban on visible religious articles, the need for uniform appearance to maintain good order and discipline and the potential impact such articles could have on servicemembers’ safety equipment.

Beards, especially, Pentagon officials have said, can interfere with the effectiveness of protective masks.

Kalsi rejects both arguments. He and other bearded Sikhs have been able to properly seal Army-issued protective masks to their face and pass standard gas chamber testing, he said.

Furthermore, Kalsi said he has never had issues with other servicemembers because of his visible tenets of faith.

“They have always sort of found it fascinating, or found it really cool,” he said. “The military always argues that the turban and beard may affect espirit de corps or unit cohesion. My experience and the experience of other Sikh soldiers who have deployed has always been the same – that we’ve never had any problems getting along with our units.”

https://www.stripes.com/news/more-bearded-turbaned-sikhs-join-army-as-pentagon-reviews-religious-articles-ban-1.455730#.WLEjAH_RHY9

Dawn – Situationer: when fear takes over

Lahore-Panjab-Pakistan, 24 February 2017. Around noon on Thursday a mother received a call from her daughter’s school in Gulberg. The caller informed her that the school was letting parents collect their daughters early in view of the blast in DHA an hour ago.

As she rushed to the school, a friend texted her a message that one news channel was airing ‘unconfirmed’ reports of an explosion at an American fast food chain’s Gulberg outlet, which is perilously close to the school.

“It was like I had already died. The message numbed my mind and body, totally. Don’t know how I pulled up the car and started calling the school. But the call wouldn’t connect,” she later told the mother of one of her daughter’s classmates, her eyes swollen and her voice choking because of crying.

After failing to reach the school administration by telephone she pulled herself together and drove “madly” to get to the school only to run into a security picket.

The Rangers and the police had thrown a cordon around the Gulberg Main Boulevard outlet of the international chain. A policeman told her to take an alternative route.

“When I asked him about what was going on there and if the Rangers were searching only the food outlet or all the buildings, including the school, in that block, he refused to confirm or refute. He just kept asking me to move on and away,” the mother of two boys and a girl told Dawn.

She wasn’t the only mother to have suffered the trauma. Other parents too had similar experiences. Many made a dash to the school as soon as they heard of the Defence blast. Others were asked by a text message or call from the school administration or from their daughters.

Outside the school you could see many parents crying. Inside the school the children waited to be picked up as soon as possible.

“It was during the short break that the cell phones of our teachers started ringing incessantly. Everyone suddenly started talking about the Defence explosion and then ‘news’ of another blast in Gulberg,” an A-Level student said.
“We were asked by our school administrator to call home so that our parents could pick us up early. Every child was frightened, not knowing what was actually happening outside the school walls.”

‘Close to our homes’

Lahore is no stranger to terrorist attacks. Over the last decade the people of the city have seen hundreds of deaths in suicide bombings and sectarian attacks at public places and shrines like the rest of the country.

Parents remember refusing to send their children to school for days or taking them to public places. Some had even made their peace with their fear of death.

But the recent string of militant attacks in the country that began with a suicide attack on a protest at Charing Cross on the Mall in front of the Punjab Assembly earlier this month seems to have triggered a fresh wave of fear across the country. Thursday’s explosion has intensified these fears.

“The recent bombings have shaken everyone. This new wave looks dangerous. This is different from before. They (militants) seem to be closer… they’re hitting very close to (our) homes this time,” said an executive of a company who didn’t want to be named.

Unlike the past, traders too appear quite mindful of the threat and voluntarily shut down the markets. Restaurants that otherwise are usually filled with guests gave a deserted look.

“No one feels safe now. Everyone is advising everyone to avoid shopping malls, markets and restaurants. People are scared,” a trader told Dawn.

Many blame the electronic media and the government for the current environment of fear.

“If some media outlets are responsible for airing rumours as confirmed news, the (Punjab) government hasn’t done itself any good either by persistently trying to pass off the bomb explosion in Defence as an accident,” argued a LUMS professor. “Indeed, these government denials didn’t help”.

The ministers and officials have only added to the confusion, and public fears, just because it doesn’t want to look inefficient and weak. Such an outlook could boost demands for giving the Rangers more powers.”

The LUMS professor agreed that the management of the General Hospital had taken a good decision in disallowing the media from entering the premises for ‘live’ coverage.

“The media persons don’t realise how dangerous this can be for everyone, besides obstructing the effort to help the wounded.

The loss of 100 lives in a Quetta hospital in August last year and in Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital should be enough to make media refrain from following the wounded to hospitals and creating chaos for militants to do their work.”

Yet TV did spread rumours and panic with the news of Gulberg blast. “It is a tough call: do we inform our viewers and readers or do we play it down along with the likes of Rana Sanaullah,” said a journalist.

http://www.dawn.com/news/1316684/situationer-when-fear-takes-over

The Statesman – Modi’s hate-mongering won’t work in UP: Rahul Gandhi

New Delhi, 23 February 2017. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is spreading hatred in Uttar Pradesh but the voters of the state will elect the Congress-Samajwadi Party (SP) alliance, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi said on Thursday.

“Modi ji has lost the elections (UP), he can spread hatred as much as he wants but UP won’t pay heed. Congress and SP will form the government here,” Rahul Gandhi said while the addressing the voters of his Lok Sabha constituency of Amethi.

The Gandhi scion went on to quote a few lines of a famous Hindi film song: “I have a message for those spreading hatred, you will neither become a Hindu nor a Muslim, you are a human being’s child and you will become a human being”.

Polling is on for 53 assembly constituencies spread over 12 districts, including the backward Bundelkhand region in the fourth phase of polling in UP.

Assembly segments in Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s Rae Bareli Lok Sabha constituency are among the seats where the electoral exercise is taking place. However, in a first since 1998, Gandhi gave campaigning a miss in her constituency.

Elections for UP legislative assembly are being held in seven phases, with three more on February 27, March 4 and 8 to follow after today’s polling. Election results will be out on March 11.

http://www.thestatesman.com/india/modi-s-hate-mongering-won-t-work-in-up-rahul-gandhi-1487841230.html

The Tribune – Sutlej Yamuna Link Stir : How the day unfolded, Police’s forceful display foils breach bid

Jupinderjit Singh, Tribune News Service

Shambu-Patiala district-Panjab, 23 Februray 2017. The manual and technical expertise of the Punjab Police was on full display at the Punjab-Haryana border today to prevent INLD activists from reaching the SYL canal.

In contrast, the Haryana Police had far less men. They also fared poorly on the modern equipment front.

The Punjab Police deployment was supervised by a DGP-rank officer, while a DSP-level officer was the in-charge on the Haryana side. INLD activists easily breached the Haryana security rings, but could not cross the Punjab Police barricades.

The specially trained anti-riot police, equipped with body suits that guard against fire, acid and stone missiles; head gear; pellet bullets; and chilli spray, was prepared for any eventuality.

Multi-barrel launchers mounted on Vajra vehicles, drones and a helicopter were used to ensure peace and foil any attempt to breach the barricades.

The helicopter and drones caught the fancy of the media and residents alike as these were used for the first time.

The Punjab Police had drawn flak in the past for not having proper weaponry, modern equipment and permission to use the chopper in several pressing circumstances. Most of the modern equipment was bought after the police faced challenges such as the terror attack at Dinanagar and Pathankot Air Force station.

Learning from the past, the government provided its helicopter to the police for the third day consecutive today. Senior officials used it to survey the border.

On several occasions, the drones were flown over the Ghaggar bridge, from where INLD activists marched towards Punjab. Besides drones, CCTV cameras installed at key points recorded the INLD’s march and police arrangements.

The anti-riot contingent was the first line of defence. It was earlier deployed in Bargari village, where clashes took place over sacrilege incidents. These men have been undergone a minimum 45-day training to handle a riotous mob. They are the “wall” of the police defence.

More than 5,000 men and women drawn from six police districts, besides 10 battalions of the paramilitary force and personnel of reserve battalions were deployed along the border, specially at the Shambu bridge and entry points to Sarala and Kapoori villages.

Under the command of DGP (Law and Order) HS Dhillon, eight commandants of reserve battalions, five SSPs and two IGs remained on their toes the entire day.

Punjab DGP Suresh Arora supervised the entire operation from the headquarters.

http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/police-s-forceful-display-foils-breach-bid/368822.html

The Indian Express – Pink Shirt Day observed: Sikhs in UK, Canada fight bullying, racism; Canadian PM, defence minister back campaign

Gurdwaras also support the campaign to spread message of kindness and tolerance

Divya Goyal

London-UK, 24 February 2017. Fighting against the racism, bullying, hate crimes and discrimination, Sikhs across the United Kingdom and Canada observed ‘Pink Shirt Day’ on Wednesday, coming out in pink shirts and turbans to give message of kindness and tolerance.

The pink shirts and T-shirts with the message ‘Kindness is One Size Fits All’ were distributed in huge numbers and Pink Shirt Day rallies held across Canada, the UK and in some other countries.

The campaign has also found support from Canadian PM Justin Trudeau and National Defence Minister of Canada Harjit Sajjan, a Sikh who too sporting a pink shirt gave out a message Wednesday.

“I’m wearing pink because we should celebrate our differences, stand up for each other, and work together to end bullying and discrimination.

I am wearing my pink shirt today because bullying is never okay,” said Sajjan in his message. “Our caucus is sporting its finest colours for #PinkShirtDay today, let’s stand up to bullying and lift each other up, today & every day,” (sic) said message from Canadian PM Trudeau.

Various Sikh organizations and gurdwaras across Canada and the UK requested people to “practise kindness, and wear a Pink Shirt, button, or pin to symbolise you do not tolerate bullying”. People were also requested to flash message ‘Bullying stops here’ on their T-shirts.

Jagmeet Singh, an engineer settled in Vancouver, told The Indian Express, “This Pink Shirt Day movement basically started from Nova Scotia where two school children were bullied for wearing pink shirts on day one of their school.

Since then, pink shirt has become a symbol against racism, bullying and discrimination. As Sikhs too have been facing these issues and have been victims of hate crimes due to turbans and beard, we decided to observe Pink Shirt Day for cause of Sikhs too.”

The Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar at New Westminster of Canada also observed the day with anti-bullying programme for the youths and requested people to wear pink.

“Bullying is a major problem for students, employees and almost everyone faces it once in life. So Sikh community settled abroad is hugely supporting this campaign,” said Prithpal Sekhon from Toronto.

Pink Shirt Day observed: Sikhs in UK, Canada fight bullying, racism; Canadian PM, defence minister back campaign

The Hindu – Pakistan on edge as terror hits continue

Mubashir Zaidi

Karachi, 23 February 2017. At least eight people were killed in a blast at a crowded market in Lahore, 10th attack in two weeks

At least eight people were killed and 30 injured in an explosion in the highly guarded Defence Housing Authority area in Lahore, the 10th attack in less than two weeks pointing to a resurgence in Islamist violence in Pakistan.

The blast comes a day after Pakistan announced a new nation-wide anti-terror offensive. Muhammad Iqbal, Senior Superintendent of Police, Counter-Terrorism Department, Punjab, said immediately after the attack that the blast was caused by explosives.

“How the explosives reached the area and how it got exploded is under investigations,” he said. The blast happened in a popular commercial area known for its cafés and restaurants.

The blast ripped through a yet-to-be-opened restaurant where people gathered to finalise its opening. Restaurant owner Moazzam Paracha was among the dead.

Four cars destroyed

The blast happened next to popular Indian cuisine restaurant Bombay Chaupati. Provincial minister Rana Sanaullah said the blast was “huge”. Rescue in-charge Farooq Ahmed told reporters the injured have been shifted to nearby hospitals. Four cars parked nearby were completely destroyed. No group has yet claimed responsibility.

Just over an hour later rumours of a second blast in another affluent area nearby sent ambulances racing to the scene, though authorities later said the reports were false. Media regulator PEMRA issued notices to 31 news channels as police claimed that the news was wrong.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is currently in Turkey, said in a statement that he is grieved over the loss of life.

Over the past two weeks, terrorists have struck cities in all the provinces setting alarm bells ringing for the Sharif government and the powerful military.

More than 120 people have died in these attacks. Authorities are claiming to have killed more than 150 suspected terrorists in a country-wide crackdown on militancy.

Optimism dented

The incidents, most of which were claimed by the Islamic State group or the Pakistani Taliban, have dented optimism after the country appeared to be making strong gains in its decade-and-a-half long war on militancy.

“After some relief over the last year or two, it’s turmoil again, it’s very troublesome,” Asha’ar Rehman, the Lahore editor of leading daily Dawn told AFP.

http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/pak-on-edge-as-terror-hits-continue/article17355820.ece

BBC News – Can Akhilesh Yadav win back 222 million Indian voters?

Op/Ed, 17 February 2017. Five years after Akhilesh Yadav led his regional Samajwadi Party to a spectacular win in the politically crucial Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, he is seeking an encore in the ongoing assembly elections in the country’s most populous state.

The BBC’s Geeta Pandey recently spent a day travelling with him in his helicopter, as he hopped from one rally to another.

As our helicopter circles over the packed rally ground in a dusty village in western Uttar Pradesh, Mr Yadav is visibly pleased. “Look at that crowd, it’s a good turnout,” he tells me.

His political journey, however, has been far from smooth, especially in the past few weeks when he fought a very public battle with his father, party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.

As his diminutive figure emerges from the helicopter, waving and smiling, frenzied supporters cheer him lustily, shouting “Akhilesh bhaiya zindabad [long live brother Akhilesh]”.

The chants continue as he walks to the stage, party leaders garland him and shower him with flower petals, supporters wave flags, and victory signs are flashed. Many in the crowd push forward to get a better look at him.

The scorching sun beating overhead doesn’t seem to bother the thousands who have been waiting for several hours to hear him.

Speakers before him describe him as “hamare dil ki dhadkan” (our heartbeat) and “hamari umeed” (our hope).

In his speech, he lists the “achievements” of his government and the work he’s done to develop the state, the road network he’s built, the free laptops that have been distributed amongst students, the pension scheme that covers 5.5 million poor women and the 16 hours of daily electricity being provided to rural areas, with a promise to extend it to 24 hours if he’s re-elected.

The mostly young audiences clap loudly when he promises free smartphones for the youth.

Critics say that his supporters are lawless and that his is a party of goons.

Mr Yadav takes these allegations head on. “We’ve addressed the issues. We’ve improved policing, we’ve introduced a helpline for women, we’ve chosen women as candidates.”

His speech is laced with humour and sarcasm as he takes on his political rivals, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the regional Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

The BJP has not nominated a chief minister candidate and is banking on the charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is campaigning extensively in the state. The BSP is led by Dalit icon Mayawati, a four-time chief minister of the state.

The election is being seen as Mr Modi’s biggest electoral test since he swept to victory in India in the summer of 2014, it is also being seen as a referendum on his recent decision to ban high value banknotes.

It’s a topic Mr Yadav never fails to raise. “The prime minister said he would put 1.5m rupees in each of your bank accounts when he gets the black money. Did that happen,” he asks? The crowd answers with a loud “no” and a man shouts back, “We didn’t even get 15 rupees.”

He talks about the baby who was born in a bank as his mother stood in a queue to withdraw money. “No one helped her except us. I gave her 200,000 rupees,” he says, to loud applause.

A win in the election is crucial for Mr Yadav, it will help cement the 43-year-old as the undisputed leader of the Samajwadis.

Why Uttar Pradesh (UP) matters

The state is India’s most populous with more than 222 million people, if it were a separate country, it would be the fifth largest in the world, after China, India, US and Indonesia.

It sends the largest number of 80 MPs to India’s parliament.

Several of India’s prime ministers have come from here.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose the city of Varanasi in the state to make his parliamentary debut in the 2014 general election.

The Indian election no-one can afford to lose

It will also vindicate his decision to forge an alliance with India’s main opposition Congress party. Mr Yadav says the alliance will attract secular people, the youth and the minority Muslim community, but some senior party leaders, including his father Mulayam Singh, have questioned the rationale behind the tie-up.

The family feud has also hurt his campaign, coming so close to the polls. He tells me that he had planned to travel the entire state in a campaign bus, but had to abandon the idea since he ran out of time. Also, his father and uncle, two of the biggest party leaders, are no longer campaigning.

But it has also helped him, over the past five years, critics said Mr Yadav was just a figurehead and the real power lay with his father, uncle and other senior leaders. He has now been able to blame much of the negativity of the past five years on them.

In a presidential-style campaign, the party is projecting him as the leader working for the development of the state. His election catchphrase “Kaam bolta hai” (work speaks), his youth and his clean image are helping to keep his personal stock high, so much so that even his political opponents describe him as “well behaved and well mannered”.

At one of the rallies, I walk away from the stage to talk to his supporters.

Daily wager Bhura (who uses only one name) says he will vote for Mr Yadav since “he’s built lots of new roads”, college student Samir Khan because “I got a laptop from his government”, and farmer Shishupal Singh Yadav for introducing farmer friendly schemes, “when my wheat crop was ruined in 2015 due to unseasonal rains, the government paid me compensation.”

At dusk as he wraps up his day-long campaign, and as we head back, he tells me his big theme in the past five years has been road building.

“I believe in double the speed, triple the economy,” he says. “It’s said that America built the roads, and roads built America. I want to connect every city in the state to the capital, Lucknow, so that you can reach there within five hours from wherever you are.”

I ask him how he rates his chances in the polls? “We will win at least 300 [of the 403] seats,” he says confidently.

As we descend over Lucknow airport, I ask him what his evening plans are?

There’s official work to be done, then he has to meet party leaders and workers, there’s time to be spent with his MP wife and their three children.

“Politics is not easy, not everyone can survive here. You need hard work, and then you need luck,” he says.

He’s doing the hard work. Now all he needs is some luck.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-38979724

Sikh24.com – American Sikhs Combat a “Climate of Fear” with Food

United Sikhs

Norwich – Connecticut – USA, 22 February 2017. Since 9/11, Sikhs have unfairly become targets of religious-based attacks. Hate crime reports from previous years have shown a troubling trend towards hate-motivated violence against Sikhs mistaken for Muslims.

Many Sikhs are now living in fear that the current perceived anti-immigrant and anti-muslim rhetoric in the US (and other Western countries) could lead to another uptick in bigoted attacks.

“After the Quebec attack in Canada we asked our members to be vigilant, but today we’re asking them to be proactive. Let’s combat this growing climate of fear and xenophobia with compassion,” Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, organizer of United Sikhs Connecticut Chapter said.

That’s one of the thoughts behind the United Sikhs Connecticut Community Food Drive. As part of this quarterly event, a dozen or more volunteers (usually Sikhs) will prepare and distribute food to residents in need in Norwich, Connecticut.

The first food drive was held February 12th at Lee Memorial Chapel in Norwich. Up to 75 people in need received a home-cooked meal, complete with rice, beans, salad and a dessert.

“Food is one thing which connects people and I believe this is one way we can reach out to fellow Americans and initiate the dialog that may otherwise never be had. We hope that by increasing community engagement we can decrease the likelihood of hate-motivated crime towards us, and other marginalized groups,” Swaranjit Singh said.

United Sikhs, an international UN-affiliated NGO that offers humanitarian relief and legal assistance to Sikhs and others in need, hopes that by taking more proactive steps towards community building, it can ensure less discrimination cases comes through its doors.

“Sikhs have been living in the United State for more than 100 years but are still victims of ongoing hate and racial profiling. Being an organization that works for human rights and civil rights, I think it’s very important we take these kind of outreach programs to every city,” Swaranjit Singh said.

Swaranjit Singh says the mission behind the foot outreach is in line with what Sikhism teaches. “The message of Guru Nanak (Founder of Sikhism) which is love, compassion, sharing equality needs to go door to door and we believe this is good way to start.

Every month United Sikhs will plan something in a different town and different city to reach out to people and share message of Guru Gobind Singh ji which is ‘Recognize All Human Race as one,” Swaranjit Singh said. United Sikhs as a part of their Humanitarian Aid chapter conducts similar drives in Los Angeles, Toronto and in New York City.

February has been an active month for United Sikhs. The organization had a major presence in Yuba City last week as it (along with CEMA) provided food and shelter to the families who evacuated during the flood threat. A video of one grateful volunteer, went viral last week.

http://www.sikh24.com/2017/02/22/american-sikhs-combat-a-climate-of-fear-with-food/#.WK56hH_RHY8