The Asian Age – No restrictions imposed on pilgrims travelling to Pakistan, India clarifies

New Delhi-India, 17 February 2018.India on Friday said it has not imposed any restrictions on pilgrims travelling to Pakistan amid heightened tensions between the two nations following a string of terror attacks in the Kashmir Valley.

“Of course not,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said when asked if India had imposed any restriction on pilgrims.

The clarification comes after Pakistan reportedly blamed India for withdrawing visa applications of pilgrims from the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi.

Advertisements – Court rejects NIA’s plea seeking transfer of Jagtar Singh Johal to Tihar jail

Sikh24 Editors

Mohali-Panjab-India, 16 February 2018. Mohali based Special NIA Court of Additional Session Judge Ms Anshul Berry has rejected the NIA’s plea seeking transfer of arrested Sikh youths namely Hardeep Singh Shera, Ramandeep Singh, Jagtar Singh Johal (Jaggi) and Taljit Singh Jimmy to the Tihar jail of Delhi.

Notably, quartet of them are currently being detained in the Maximum Security Jail of Nabha.

Advocate Jaspal Singh Manjhpur, who is acting as a defence counsel for these Sikh youths, informed that the NIA Court of Judge Ms Anshul Berry has entertained this plea on February 15 and had kept its verdict reserved for today.

He added that the court today pronounced its decision of quashing NIA’s plea as there was no provision in the law to transfer an under-trial accused to another state.

Advocate Manjhpur informed that he had apprised the Court about Supreme Court’s ruling depriving government and trial courts from the authority of transferring an under-trial accused to another state. “The prosecution lawyer couldn’t cite any legal provision backing NIA’s claim,” he said.

Den Haag Escamplaan

28 December 2017

Tram 6 to Leyenburg
Randstadrail 4 to De Uithof

Tienhovenselaan Tram-stop

RandstadRail 4 to Zoetermeer Javalaan
Tram 6 to Leidschendam Noord

Randstadrail 4 to De Uithof

Randstadrail 4 to De Uithof
Tram 6 to Leidschendam Noord

To see all my pictures:

More Netherlands pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Sikh Federation UK – Trudeau’s visit to Sikh homeland eagerly anticipated

Focus will be on what he says about the experience of the minority Sikh community in India and their campaign for greater rights

London-UK, 16 February 2018. Sikhs in Canada and other parts of the globe have been in private communications directly and indirectly with the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau and some of the Sikh Ministers and Liberal MPs accompanying him before his week-long trip to India that begins tomorrow on 17 February.

Trudeau will be accompanied by his four Sikh Ministers, Harjit Singh Sajjan (defence), Navdeep Singh Bains (innovation, science and economic development), Amarjit Singh Sohi (infrastructure and communities) and Bardish Kaur Chagger (small business and tourism), who is also the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and a number of other Sikh MPs.

As far as the worldwide Sikh community is concerned the peak of Trudeau’s visit to India is when he is in Punjab and the Sri Harmandr Sahib Complex on 21 February with his 35-member media delegation from Canada.

The Chief Minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh who last year accused all Sikh Ministers in Trudeau’s Cabinet of being Khalistani sympathisers and refused to meet Defence Minister, Harjit Singh Sajjan will face a major dilemma by being seen to make a U-turn.

Every word Trudeau speaks about the experience of the minority Sikh community in India when he visits the Sikh homeland will be closely watched and dissected by Sikhs not only in Canada, but other parts of the globe.

Privately and publicly there is no doubt the Indian authorities and media will challenge Trudeau on his perceived backing or otherwise for those campaigning for a separate Sikh homeland, Khalistan.

They will also try and get his views on the recent restrictions imposed by Gurdwara management committees in Canada on Indian government officials where he will no doubt have a carefully prepared response.

How Trudeau responds to questions about Sikhs in Canada could determine his political future as he will be conscious that his Conservative predecessor Stephen Harper in his November 2012 visit to India pushed back strongly when challenged by the Indian media.

Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper said merely advocating for a Khalistan homeland was not a crime and should not be confused with the right of Canadians to hold and promote their political views. He added that “we can’t interfere with the right of political freedom of expression.”

It will also not be lost on India that Canada, alongside Italy and Pakistan are leading a counter-proposal at the UN to have more non-permanent members that in essence is designed to stop India and others becoming permanent members of the UN Security Council.

There is no doubt Trudeau will need to walk a fine line during his India visit given the media hype of him being a close ally of the Sikhs. The fact that economic trade between Canada and India is relatively small will help Trudeau stand up to pressure from New Delhi during his visit given the line taken by his Conservative predecessor.

Trudeau also knows next year he will be up against Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP), who will have most to gain if Trudeau fails to at least go as far as Stephen Harper in defending the rights of Sikhs in Canada to be able to highlight the atrocities by the Indian authorities i.e. the failure to release Sikh political prisoners who have served their terms and have the freedom to advocate for Khalistan.

Another human rights case that is certain to come up is the case of Jagtar Singh Johal where Liberal MPs have been vocal and the Canadian government has also officially raised concerns.

Trudeau is certain to face questions about the Sikh Genocide motion passed by the Ontario Provincial Parliament last year that was led by politicians belonging to his Liberal Party who have subsequently been promoted.

He will come across as weak on a crucial human rights issue if he chooses to distance the Liberal Party at the federal level from those of his party at the provincial level.

Trudeau should address this challenge head on and point out the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in late December 2014 referred to what happened to the Sikhs in November 1984 as ‘Genocide’.

He continued that ‘justice would be meted out to the victims only when the perpetrators of the crime are punished’ and ‘that until these persons are punished, victims will not get relief’.

It would also be an opportune moment for Trudeau to ask what the BJP government is doing to address the recent revelation of the sting operation that has exposed Congress politician Jagdish Tyler.

He has now been heard confessing to the killing of over 100 Sikhs and separately implicated Rajiv Gandhi by disclosing the two toured the streets of Delhi during the peak of the Sikh Genocide..

Gurjeet Singh
National Press Secretary
Sikh Federation (UK) <>

Dawn – The Dissenter: Asma Jahangir on the role of NGOs in democratising Pakistan

I met Asma Jahangir in 2015. I was conducting fieldwork for my doctoral studies on the issue of NGOs in democratisation in Pakistan.

With great sadness and a feeling of irreversible loss, I wish to share Asma’s thoughts on the subject.

It does not only offer Asma’s insights on NGOs, international funding and the nature of democratisation in Pakistan, it also gives us a peak into her humanist nature.

Asma Jahangir will remain unforgettable for most of us, as she should.

Arjumand Bano Kazmi

Op/Ed, 16 February 2018. It was the midst of June. Nearly four in the afternoon but the heat and humidity of Lahore was still intensifying.

Standing outside a modest commercial building in Lahore, I felt smothered, not because of the heat, but because I was finally going to meet Asma Jahangir.

It took me over a month to set up a meeting with her. Her office assistant kept apologising for making and then cancelling the appointments mainly for the unexpected turn of events and commitments that Asma had to attend.

At last, there I was, hot and nervous as I entered the building. Having no idea which floor of the building the office was situated, I kept going up the stairs. Besides, no lifts were in sight in that narrow and old fashioned concrete structure.

Upon noticing the board with Asma’s name, I pressed the buzzer. The door was opened by a middle-aged, modest looking tallish man, wearing worn grey trousers and a blue-grey lined shirt.

Like his clothes, he also looked worn. His face was made prominent by his thick glassed black framed specs.

Looking exhausted (perhaps after working all day or because of the airless office), he politely welcomed me with a busy and quick smile.

He went behind the counter labelled ‘Reception’. Before I said anything, he asked, “are you Arjumand?” I nodded as he busily affirmed my appointment in a ledger.

“I am Mushtaq, Asma’s assistant,” he said. “You have been conversing with me for this appointment. I am sorry about all the cancellations. Can I get you a glass of water?”

It was an unexpected offer. In the month of Ramzan, when most people in Pakistan were fasting, the offer was unusually fresh. I wasn’t fasting but politely refused the offer as it is commonly expected in response.

He then set off to guide me to Asma’s office. Following him through a small hall, I felt a sense of urgency in the averagely furnished office.

There were three smaller rooms and a big common room, all visible through cheap glass doors. There were people in all rooms, some conversing with each other in a more client-officer look, whilst others busy taking phone calls.

There were some destitute looking people, men but mostly women, sitting on a few seats in the hall. They looked like they were waiting to be seen.

As we approached the end of the hall, I saw Asma, behind the glass door of one of the smaller rooms. Mushtaq opened the door, softly announcing, “Arjumand is here”.

“I am Asma,” a petite woman promptly stood up behind a busy and messy looking work desk, warmly offering a handshake.

Dressed in an inexpensive shalwar kameez with a dupatta casually held across her neck, Asma could be described as any other Pakistani urban woman in her late 50s [She was in her 60s at the time but I was unaware of her actual age].

With her short hair loosely tied at the back, she was wearing a small chain with a single pendant.

Her small and feeble looking hands had a few rings, with a wristwatch visible at the end of her left hand.

What made her unusual, however, was her pensive eyes behind her thinly framed glasses.

While greeting her with a handshake, I seated myself on the chair across her. The busy and messy looking work desk separated us.

The room felt even smaller with a tall bookcase filled with books and files. Next to a small window, covered with blinds, was a table with a desktop.

There was also a carry-along suitcase (as if she was or will be travelling) and large handbag filled with papers.

“Arjumand, your research looks interesting,” she remarked in Urdu in a direct and swift manner. “I read through the description you sent through email. How can I help?”

I was a bit astonished. I was not expecting such a candid, welcoming and direct response from one of the most known human rights activists, for whom I always held high respect and considered as a role model.

Not being able to confirm my appointment with her earlier, I had disappointingly assumed that she must be difficult to approach, perhaps even a little arrogant.

But her presence felt contrary to my assumptions. Feeling a bit relaxed, I began with thanking her for her time to which she reacted quickly and said, “no need.”

I explained that my research was about exploring the roles of internationally-funded NGOs in democratisation.

Since she was leading an NGO with an aim to promote democracy and human rights and had long been involved in pro-democracy resistance movements, I wanted her to share her observations and concerns as she experienced them over the years.

“The role of NGOs in the context of Pakistan has been extremely positive and important,” she began, only this time conversing in English.

“Civil society has always been here in Pakistan before the conventional kind of NGOs that have come in now. These were introduced in the 80s.

“One of the reasons that in a Muslim country, dogmatic Islamic discourse has been resisted, is because of this civil society.

“What I call civil society, are poets, writers, union of journalists, trade unions, legal community, people who are liberal in their thought, who may or may not get together to form certain organisations.

“Even political parties are part of civil society in Pakistan. Pakistan has survived because it has political parties.

“But our state has never recognised this civil society. Nor do they recognise us now. They tolerate us because of international pressures.

“For example, they are compelled to involve us in developing the progress reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women at the UN.

“But by and large, since the Ayub era, there has been a regulated effort to hegemonise this civil society, including curbing the development of political parties.

“So to this day, the state does not communicate with us. It makes laws and introduce policies without any consultation, so we have been essentially kept at a distance.

“In a democracy, it is important that everything done in terms of the law and law-making, should not just be thoroughly discussed in the parliament, but also outside the parliament.

“In the colonial times, people were asked to give their opinion and the same should happen now. But, except for the businessmen who are consulted discreetly before the budget is announced or a finance bill is introduced, nothing else is done.

“Laws are made without consultation of lawyers; education policy is made without consulting with educationists and so on.

“So, we are kept at the margins.”

Suddenly the door opened with a knock and Mushtaq entered with a serving trolley carrying covered food trays. Asma slightly nodded and began to clear her desk making space for food.

“You will have to excuse me. I have not had any lunch. And I am advised that I must not miss my meals. Are you fasting?” I shook my head and said, “please have your lunch.”

Asma resumed talking as Mushtaq laid the table. “So, I was saying that despite this discouraging, in fact hostile attitude of the state, we kept demanding to be heard.

“We kept scrutinising them, even the dictators, for failing to deliver [on the] basic needs and security for our people. Women’s rights organisations have, in particular, played a laudable role.”

“Thank you Mushtaq,” Asma broke the conversation as Mushtaq left the room.

“I remember that back in 80s, the chaddar and chardiwari was an ascending slogan in Pakistan under the rule of Zia-ul-Haq.

“But we broke down the framework that they were creating for women. We were few of us as a network, but we managed to jolt people not just in Pakistan but even the international community started asking questions in their capitals against Zia’s Islamisation laws.

“Much credit should be given to the feminists of the West. They came to our rescue, defying their own governments who were supporting Zia’s jihad in Afghanistan.

“A global pressure was generated, and a public outcry compelled the dictator to back off. In this way, the Western civil society played a significant role.

“We have had people like Habib Jalib and Faiz among others who are institutions in themselves. They have given life, thought and progressive mind-set to many of us.

“They too were sheltered by the West and its civil society, when placed in exile by our state. So, for me, civil society in Pakistan has been organised, dynamic and daring.

“It has been guided by the values of democracy, participation, fundamental freedoms for citizens, protection and advocacy for the rights of minorities.”

While speaking, Asma began to unimposingly share food, serving me everything that was there at the table. I gestured to politely refuse, which she swiftly ignored and kept serving.

I noticed, it was home-cooked simple lunch in small portions. Only much later in time I came to know that at the time of our meeting, Asma was undergoing medical treatment for a serious illness.

I still wonder how she did it, taking time for activism and full-time work despite being seriously ill. But that was Asma. A usual looking, but an unusually strong woman.

“What do you think of these new NGOs that are internationally funded for defined projects and programmes? Do you think they are doing what you as an activist used to do or still do?” I asked as I nibbled on the mixed seasonal fruits.

“I consider them non-conventional NGOs as they are different from NGOs in the past,” Asma continued. “I am not against international support.

“Western civil society has always supported our civil society for pursing democratic aims. They also pressurise their governments, so their governments are compelled to support us and pressure our state to have a democratic set up.

“I am also not denying that the West is often guided by its own vested strategic interests. True that the West had supported the most formidable dictatorships in Pakistan.

“Nonetheless, their financial and issue-based support is extremely valuable for our civil society to make even little stitches in the torn fabric of our socio-political experience.

“It has to be our own judgement with which we should balance our priorities. Our organisation is funded by the Western partners, both by the state and civil society institutions. But we set our own agendas.

“I would not say that all NGOs set their own agendas. Some may have their funding agencies’ agendas, I cannot deny that.

“But that doesn’t just happen in the civil society. Our state, including government and the army, follows foreign agendas when compelled to in exchange of financial rewards, so how can they blame us?

“Just because they have been given legitimacy by their institutions doesn’t mean they are beyond the bounds of scrutiny.

“It is all because of this historical hostility against the civil society that we face the charge of following foreign agendas.

“I simply laugh at these charges. As if our society and state is completely innocent of not taking any external influence.

“But I do think that present day NGOs should have a common sense and not poor-judgements. They must understand that in Pakistan, the work they do is political to its core. And they should openly accept that.

“They should work alongside political parties to develop a critical mass but keep their distance from them by not directly engaging and playing a political role. They must work collectively and develop what I call ‘collective wisdom’ for liberal values.

“There must be deep knowledge: I think that an NGO that does not have deep knowledge of its own society is not helpful to democracy.

“I’ll give you an example. When General Musharraf came to power, if you look at the newspapers of those days, and I wish you would, apart from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), not a single NGO opposed the military dictatorship.

“The reason being that they thought liberalism can spring out of the barrel of a gun. There is the contradiction.

“The people at HRCP have for years stood up against dictatorships. They have spent years in jail. They had taken the beating on streets and their members were killed by the establishment. They know what the barrel of a gun is like. So, we must learn from them.

“NGOs should be able to differentiate myths from reality. I would say that what is most important for an NGO is to gain respect of the public that they are addressing.

“To find such respect in a society in which NGOs are under attack is not easy. But who said our work was supposed to be easy!

“A few welfare organisations in Pakistan managed to achieve this status such as Edhi. HRCP is also respected to a certain extent.

“But the rest of NGOs, I don’t see them taking positions as openly as they should.”

Asma’s voice was evenly paced, with clear sentences in sequence. So far. her expression kept a sustained tone.

“From where do you get your funding?” I asked, having been given a chance to speak.

“We have overseas funding from Norway, Netherlands, Denmark, EU and other European countries. But we set the agenda.

“We do not take funding from the US, directly or indirectly. We don’t even take funding from the private citizens of America. We have a distinct worldview.

“Many NGOs in our community do not subscribe to our secular liberal worldview and keep their distance from us. That is all fine. We have nothing against them.

“But I do believe that civil society is only civil if it does not have criminal aims. Our society is fast becoming a violent place.

“Dissent is not accepted here. The right wing is soaring. We all have to fight religious extremism together for our survival.

“I have to say that in a culture where tolerance, equality, and freedom of expression are heavily restrained, NGOs have taken up important issues to advocate.

“If they were not there, there would be no freedom of expression and no talk of taboos in this country. I believe, in fact I know, that there is no option for this country’s survival but democracy.

“There has never been a moment in time when even 200 people got together to bring in the military. If the military has ever been called in, it was done by our weak civilian governments, not by the citizens of Pakistan.

“This is where NGOs should direct their efforts to. To keep in check the governments that they do not resort to calling for the military rule.”

“What makes your or your NGO’s approach different from other NGOs in democratisation?” I probed further.

“We make demands from the government and if the government asks us to come anywhere to speak or inform their approach, we never refuse. We reserve our right to criticise, as we should do.

“Our work is primarily awareness and advocacy for the people who cannot speak for themselves. We also do not ‘train’ parliamentarians or do leg-work for them. We consider this service delivery, and we don’t have resources for it.

“For example, in the making of the 18th, 19th and 20th Constitutional Amendments, we advised when consulted upon. Most of our demands were not addressed.

“For example, on judicial appointments, we pushed for the parliamentary oversight. The CJP refused to accept this and now the Chief Justice is the sole authority for the appointment of judges. This is why, historically our justice system has been influenced by the establishment.”

By now, I have gathered that Asma was a reflective soul with a fire burning in her heart to bring about social change for democracy and human rights.

She was rooted in local culture and history of resistance against anti-democratic forces – including the state and the extremists.

She was not apologetic for her secular liberal beliefs. Neither did she mock international funding but recognised its positive support. She was also critical of NGOs that stay at margins and only engage when they have projects relevant to the issue.

In response to my question on NGOs’ role in law-making, Asma sneered. “I don’t think NGOs can be given a formalised role in law-making. There should always be input from them and there are ways for doing that.

“You have to lobby and ensure that your input is considered. When there was the draft going around of the 18 Constitutional Amendment Act for consultation, to my utter surprise, only a handful of NGOs responded.

“The idea that you should be given a formal role is absurd. Why should you be given a formal role if people have not elected you? Whom do you represent? If you represent an idea then give that idea and let the parliament decide.

“With all my respect to those NGOs who do the leg-work for politicians in drafting laws, I would say please have those laws vetted by lawyers.

“You simply cannot be experts in everything that you manage to get funding for. Just because you can speak English, you cannot understand the legal system of this country.

“This naivety or opportunism – whatever you want to call it – takes its toll as laws get drafted which contradict the previously progressive laws.

“Who suffers, it is the public and those progressives who struggled to lobby for those laws. This is why I say that NGOs’ poor judgement is dangerous.”

“What do you say about volunteerism that’s disappearing fast and is a big concern for our NGOs? This would be my last question. I have already taken plenty of your time.”

We were now being served fresh tea and it was nearly time for me to leave. I thought I must try to add just a few more questions before my one hour was up.

“Don’t worry about time. You are always welcome to contact me again should you need to. I am happy to help,” Asma smiled and then mocked herself to adding, “Certainly you had quite the opposite experience of approaching to me.

“But in my defence, I can only say that my days are often frantically and randomly organised. That’s another thing about NGOs that I do not understand. Since when have we turned into these bureaucratic bubbles which are required to have three to five year strategic plans?

If you have too much bureaucracy you cannot work in a country like Pakistan where there is crisis every day. I will not be able to tell you today what I am going to do tomorrow because I am not a master of things.

“Plus NGOs should stop thinking that they know everything. That they can train the police without reading the police laws!

“And finally on volunteerism, I strongly believe that NGOs should nurture it and the conventional tutorship from senior NGOs’ experts to young volunteers and staff members must continue.

“There has to be some commitment to what we do and stand for. The amount of money NGOs’ personnel are paid these days, breeds corruption and opportunism in my opinion.”

With the close of her sentence, I took my leave and thanked her.

I left Asma, a petite, humble but an incredibly strong woman in that very standard small third floor office with cheap glass doors.

But Asma did not leave me. Her reflective rebelliousness had stayed with me, which I carry to this day.

Arjumand Bano Kazmi is currently an Early Career Fellow at the Institute of Advance Study, University of Warwick, UK. Arjumand has extensive experience working with NGOs in Pakistan and the United Kingdom, with a focus on women’s and minority rights, democratisation, and the voluntary sector infrastructure support. She holds a PhD in Law and an LLM in Law in Development from the University of Warwick.

The Hindustan Times – How the BJP made the Northeast its own

The BJP is remarkably adaptable in the northeast and assumes a different avatar. The fact that it has expanded so rapidly in the most unlikely of regions is a remarkable political story of our times.

Prashant Jha

North-East India, 16 February 2018. On Sunday, Tripura votes. The Left, which has ruled for 25 years in a row, is vulnerable. The mere fact that the BJP is the challenger is an astounding achievement, given that the party forfeited its deposit in 49 of the 50 seats it contested in 2013.

Nagaland votes on February 27. The BJP has managed to change the complexion of the state’s unipolar polity. It is in alliance with former CM Neiphiu Rio’s newly formed party, challenging the dominant Naga People’s Front (NPF).

But here is the twist. The NPF remains in the NDA, and its leaders are still insisting that the BJP is an ally. The only certainty in Kohima’s complex politics is that the BJP will be in government post polls.

In Meghalaya, another Christian dominated state, the BJP itself knows it cannot hope to win 10 or 15 of the 60 seats. Yet, it is hopeful of power. Its NDA ally, the National People’s Party, is fighting elections separately.

But if the Congress gets anything less than a majority, the NPP and the BJP will stitch up a post-poll alliance. This is the Manipur model, even if you get fewer seats, get to power through alliances.

What explains the BJP’s surge?

One, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s relentless focus on political power, ambition, and deeply held belief that every election has to be taken seriously and fought to win. Politically, the BJP knows it will struggle to replicate its performance in the North, West and Central India in 2019, and needs to improve its performance in the east.

Ideologically, the Sangh has long worked in the northeast. By expanding here, the BJP believes it is strengthening ‘nationalist forces’ and ‘national integration’.

Second, the party’s northeast in-charge, Ram Madhav, brings to elections an astute and professional style of political management. He starts preparations early and commissions surveys to understand issues and vulnerabilities of incumbents.

Madhav has a team of younger campaign strategists who cut their teeth in the Assam elections, worked in Manipur, and have been stationed in Agartala, Shillong and Dimapur.

They help with political messaging, give independent feedback on ticket distribution and alliances, sharpen the party’s campaign advertising and social media strategy, all of which is subject to Madhav’s approval.

Madhav is also quick in his decision making, and has built relationships with other local political leaders which makes alliances possible.

Three, to offset its weak organisation, the BJP has co-opted leaders from outside. The most successful example of this strategy is Himanta Biswa Sarma, whose entry arguably changed the course of the Assam election. And Assam then paved the way for BJP’s further expansion. Sarma is BJP’s most precious post-2014 find.

He can raise resources. He knows leaders from his Congress years in each state. He is a patient negotiator and a formidable organiser. This strategy was replicated in Manipur where CM N Biren Singh is formerly of the Congress and in Tripura where the initial corpus of leaders and a bulk of the cadre came from Congress.

Four, being in power at the centre is a huge asset. It helps the BJP make key governance promises. It gives the party additional resources, and allows it to unleash a campaign blitz with top ministers.

It gives the political leadership access to intelligence and security agencies, which play a key role in the region. It also makes it an attractive political option for local elites and voters who believe that they will be able to extract more resources from a friendly central government.

Five, the BJP is the challenger in all these states. It does not have to bear the baggage of the Union Government’s past sins of neglect and oppression, associated with the Congress, and the abysmal development record of many of the regional parties.

This allows it to carve out a message as a political insurgent, out to break with the past, promising ‘vikas’ and modernity.

And finally, the BJP is remarkably adaptable in the northeast and assumes a different avatar. It gives tickets to Christian candidates. It gives up the agenda of beef ban. It raises the issue of civil liberties and campaign against extra judicial executions.

It brings together warring Meitei and Naga leaders under the same government in Manipur; it stitches together a disparate coalition of Bengalis and tribals in Tripura.

Whether the BJP gets to power in all three states or is able to sustain its rise are open questions. But the fact that it has expanded so rapidly in the most unlikely of regions is a remarkable political story of our times.

The Tribune – Pakistan Hindus rue short-term visa, want to visit Haridwar

Tribune News Service

Amritsar-Panjab-India, 15 February 2018. Mala and Shamiya, members of a visiting group of Pakistani Hindu pilgrims, are disheartened for not being allowed to visit Haridwar to immerse the ashes of their relatives in the Ganga.

The pilgrims had arrived here on February 12 on a four-day visa. Most of them are from Pakistan’s Sindh province.

Shamiya has brought the ashes of her mother, who passed away in December last year, to immerse it in the Ganga in Haridwar. Similarly, Mala brought the ashes of her mother-in-law, who passed away about six months ago.

The pilgrims are putting up at Durgiana temple’s dharmshala. Mukesh Rana, their representative, said: “The visa for just four days is insufficient as they could not complete their pilgrimage.

While one day was consumed in travel, documentation and checking at the Attari-Wagah joint check post, for the past three days, they were not allowed to move out of the city.” He claimed that Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had assured them of visa to visit Haridwar, Delhi and Mumbai.

A local BJP leader, Salil Kapoor, who interacted with the pilgrims, said he had talked to state BJP chief Vijay Sampla over the phone. He said Sampla had assured him that he would take up the matter with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj.

Den Haag Escamplaan

28 December 2017

HTM Tram 6 to Leidschendam Noord

HTM Tram 6 to Leyenburg

HTM Tram 6 to Leyenburg

Escamplaan – RandstadRail 4 to De Uithof

RandstadRail 4 to De Uithof


To see all my pictures:

More Netherlands pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Dawn – Asma Jahangir: The street fighter

Saroop Ijaz

The Contrarion

Op/Ed, 11 February 2018. Immediately after the horrific Quetta terror attack on August 8, 2016, Dr Danish, a television anchorperson, tweeted pictures of Asma Jahangir with a caption in Urdu which translates as: “When lawyers were being killed in Quetta, the so-called leader of the lawyers was enjoying herself in the northern areas.”

The post was enthusiastically retweeted, shared on Facebook and distributed through WhatsApp groups.

Asma Jahangir was not “enjoying herself in the northern areas”. She was in Gilgit-Baltistan on a human rights fact-finding mission when the attack happened. There was no way she could travel to Quetta the same day.

She took to Twitter and responded to the anchorperson: “Shame on you for exploiting facts even when people [are] in grief … Ask [your] spy friends not to stoop to the lowest levels of viciousness.”

A picture of her from a March 2008 meeting with Bal Thackeray, the now deceased leader of Mumbai’s Hindu chauvinist Shiv Sena party, created a similar furore. Nationalist websites and media persons wrote thousands of words to denounce her for sharing the same space with one of Pakistan’s most vicious detractors.

It did not matter that she had met Thackeray in her capacity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, investigating violence against Muslims in India.

Indeed, many people go ballistic every time her name is mentioned. Haroon Rashid, an Urdu-language columnist with a large fan following, wrote in 2013, “warning” that he would lead a march on to Islamabad if Asma Jahangir was appointed caretaker prime minister. She had said earlier that she had no intention to accept the post.

Asma Jahangir’s earliest recollections of activism are from her time in school at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, a church-run school in Lahore.

If anything, these examples suggest a pattern: often wild, unsubstantiated allegations are levelled against her. Often she, too, responds to her detractors in a no-holds-barred manner.

In 2012, in typical Asma Jahangir style, she accused intelligence and security agencies of trying to eliminate her. National and international concern and outrage poured in with such vehemence that the plan, if there was any, had to be dropped.

It seems Asma Jahangir seeks controversy, her critics attribute it to a search for glory. The Lebanese-American writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a word for it: “antifragile”, that is, things and people that benefit from volatility, shock, disorder, risk and uncertainty.

Asma Jahangir does not agree. She argues that she does whatever she does in order to adhere to her core principles, not to seek glory, not to benefit from adversity.

In September 2015, the Lahore High Court ordered the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to black out the coverage of Altaf Hussain, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) supremo.

Very few, if any, lawyers in Lahore were willing to represent him due to his alleged involvement in acts of violence in Karachi and his volatile speeches and media statements.

Asma Jahangir was perhaps the unlikeliest lawyer he would get: the two had never found themselves on the same side of the political divide.

In May 2007, MQM had called Asma Jahangir a “chauvinist lady” who should form her own “chauvinist party”. An MQM statement had also accused her of having a secret affiliation with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

But she agreed to represent him.

Her opponents took to the streets. A small group of lawyers in Lahore brought out a demonstration, demanding the cancellation of her licence to practice law.

Her supporters in bar rooms were also uncomfortable with the idea but they knew she could not be swayed against fighting for someone’s freedom of speech, no matter if the person concerned was a serial abuser of that freedom. “Well, that is how she is,” says one of her supporters, shrugging their shoulders.

When Asma Jahangir decided to contest the election for the Supreme Court Bar Association’s president in 2009-2010, she faced stiff opposition from many sections of the society, including newspapers and television channels.

The media campaign against her was led by the Jang Group’s senior reporter Ansar Abbasi and it focused on projecting her as anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam. Six years later, the same media group engaged her as a counsel to represent it before the Supreme Court.

To read the full article on Asma Jahangir, fearless defender of human rights, click on the link below.

The Hindu – L’affaire Jacob Zuma: How the Guptas became Zuptas in South Africa

The family from Saharanpur is at the centre of the most outrageous political scandal to hit the African National Congress.

Josy Joseph

Johannesburg-Transvaal-Suid Afrika, 16 February 2018. When Atul Gupta, hailing from the nondescript, dusty Rani Bazar in Saharanpur, landed in South Africa in 1993 that country was still shaking off racial apartheid, and recently freed Nelson Mandela was still a few months away from becoming the first black President.

A quarter of a century later, with a sprawling business empire under its wings and several family members now South African citizens, the Gupta family is at the centre of the most outrageous political scandal to shake up post-apartheid South Africa.

The scandal claimed its biggest victim on Wednesday evening: President Jacob Zuma was forced to resign after members of his own party, African National Congress, threatened to vote in favour of the Opposition’s no-confidence motion in Parliament.

While South Africa turned out to be their El Dorado, the Guptas were not kind enough to their host country.

Building deep contacts within its politics, especially with the Zuma faction, the Guptas carried out what local media calls the “state capture”, where they dictated senior level appointments, manipulated state-controlled companies, received kickbacks, distributed expensive gifts including houses to the Zuma family, and finally when their shenanigans began to unravel, they hired a PR firm to unleash a campaign that tried to deepen racial divisions in South Africa.

The first scent

The three Gupta brothers, Ajay, Atul and Rajesh, grew up watching, and later working with their father Shiv Kumar Gupta, who ran ration shops, and distributed soapstone powder used in talcum powder. Besides, the senior Gupta also imported spices from Madagascar and Zanzibar, which probably gave the family their early exposure to Africa and its possibilities.

On his father’s advice Atul landed in South Africa in 1993, after his elder brother Ajay failed to break into the China market. With some money advanced by his family, Atul started Correct Marketing in 1994, and in 1997, as the business began to flourish, they changed the company name to Sahara Computers.

Meanwhile, one after the other, the rest of the Gupta family began to join Atul in South Africa.

Sprawling empire

The Sahara turnover zoomed from just over a million Rand in 1994 to almost 100 million Rand by 1997, and by 2016 Atul Gupta was listed the seventh richest South African with a personal wealth valued at Rand 10 billion (over $700 million).

His place should be seen against the larger reality of South Africa: Atul Gupta is today the richest person of colour, and the list of the richest South Africans is still predominantly white.

Sahara is today a sprawling business empire, not just a computer firm. In the mining sector, it has a string of companies and has interests in uranium, coal, diamonds and gold. It also runs companies for steel fabrication for mining, engineering and manufacturing parts for armoured vehicles.

As their ambitions grew and links to the Zuma regime deepened, the Guptas got into the media in a big way. Their newspaper The New Age, launched in 2010, is unabashedly pro-Zuma. In 2013, they launched a news channel, ANN7, which too has the same political slant.

The Guptas today live in the sprawling Sahara Estate in Saxonwold, Johannesburg with at least four mansions, and also have houses in Cape Town, Dubai, and elsewhere. They also have extensive interests in Switzerland and other tax havens.

They carefully cultivated the Zuma family as they began to grow in business, from their first meeting with the then vice-president Zuma in 2003. The Guptas extended support to Zuma in his power struggle with the then president Thabo Mbeki.

Zuma’s wife, son and daughter have worked for the Gupta family at various times. And son Duduzane Zuma became a business partner too.

In 2016, details began to spill out about the Gupta family’s business benefits from the Zuma ties. Some called in the “shadow government”, others called it the “state capture.”

The story was simple, the Gupta family had virtually taken over key functions of the State, manipulating government contracts, appointing senior functionaries, distributing kickbacks, showering gifts on the President and others.

In all these, the Guptas never forgot India. In the summer of 2013, they put up a grand show, lining up several Indian VVIPs for a wedding in the family.

A Jet Airways Airbus A330 landed on April 30, 2013 in a South African Air Force base, scandalising the country and showing off the influence of these smalltime traders from Saharanpur in the nascent democracy.

Whenever they could, the Guptas flaunted their friendship with politicians, film stars, cricket legends, and other who’s who of Indian public life.

They also virtually captured the Bank of Baroda’s operations in South Africa to turn into a virtual private entity with no due diligence.