The Hindustan Times – Ahead of court verdict on dera chief, police in Sirsa ready with riot gear

Alerts have already been issued by Punjab and Haryana as the dera has following concentrated in the inter-state border districts of the two states, which have sought central forces from the Union home ministry.

Bhaskar Mukherjee and Richa Sharma

Hisar/Sirsa, 19 August 2017. A day after a special CBI court in Panchkula reserved its verdict in the rape trial of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim, alias MSG, for August 25, the police in Haryana’s Sirsa, where the sect has its headquarters, held a security drill at the Police Lines on Friday to deal with any untoward incident in case of a verdict against the sect head.

Alerts have already been issued by Punjab and Haryana as the dera has following concentrated in the inter-state border districts of the two states, which have sought central forces from the Union home ministry.

Police in Panchkula, Mohali and Chandigarh have cancelled leave of the staff. The case goes back 15 years, and the allegations are that the dera head sexually exploited at least two female followers.

On Friday, deputy superintendent of police (DSP), headquarters, Vijay Kumar asked a Peace Committee formed by the Sirsa district administration to hold talks with the dera authorities. Riot gear was also distributed among police personnel.

The DSP said, “We have called in eight companies of the Haryana police from adjoining districts Fatehabad, Hisar, Jind and Bhiwani. If required, we will call paramilitary forces too”.

“We have also started training our women police force accordingly,” the DSP further said, adding, “Intelligence agencies are keeping a close eye on Dera Sacha Sauda followers and giving minute-to-minute details.

Meanwhile, superintendent of police (SP) Ashwin Shenvi, who was shifted from Sonepat to Sirsa, was to join duty by Friday evening. Ambala deputy commissioner Prabhjot Singh has also been transferred to Sirsa.

After the peace panel meet held by DSP Vijay at the sadar police station, he said, “The committee comprises elders, mediapersons, officials from the administration, and teachers.

The members have assured us that they will talk to the dera authorities and ask them to maintain law and order.” Sources said a meeting of the district administration and police officials, chaired by additional deputy commissioner (ADC) Munish Nagpal, was also conducted at the mini-secretariat.

In Hisar, SP Manisha Chaudhary and DC Nikhil Gajraj also conducted a meeting with officials; and police forces carried out a drill at the police lines.

On Thursday, thousands of dera followers had gathered near the Sirsa court complex, where Gurmeet Ram Rahim was supposed to appear before a CBI court through video-conferencing.

The dera head, however, did not appear before the court citing medical grounds. While talking to HT, a follower, on the condition of anonymity, said, “The sentiments of the followers are hurt. We will not tolerate anything against our pita-ji (father), our guru-ji!

However, we are sure nothing will happen to him, and justice will prevail.” Another said, “We are sure that maharaj-ji will get justice as all the charges of murder and rape levelled against him are baseless.”

When contacted, dera spokesperson Aditya Insan said, “Not even a single person from the dera management has issued any kind of directions to the followers.”

The dera head not only has criminal cases but has also has a festering run-in with Sikh radicals for having allegedly dressed up as the tenth Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh, in 2007 among other instances considered blasphemous by a section of Sikhs.

The Hindustan Times – India deploys more troops along China border in Sikkim, Arunachal, ‘caution level’ raised

India-China ties are currently under strain after New Delhi, along with Bhutan, raised concerns over Beijing’s attempts to build a road in the disputed Doklam area in the Sikkim sector.

New Delhi, 11 Aug 2017. In a strategically key move, India has poured in more troops along the entire stretch of its border with China in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in the face of heightened rhetoric by Beijing over the Doklam standoff, senior government officials said on Friday.

The “caution level” among the troops has also been raised, the officials told PTI.

The decision to increase the deployment along the nearly 1,400 km Sino-India border from Sikkim to Arunachal Pradesh was taken after carrying out a detailed analysis of the situation and considering China’s aggressive posturing against India on Doklam, the officials said.

“The troop level along the border with China in the Sikkim and Arunachal sectors has been increased,” said the officials on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information.

The Army’s Sukna-based 33 Corps as well as 3 and 4 corps based in Arunachal and Assam are tasked to protect the sensitive Sino-India border in the eastern theatre.

The officials declined to give any figure or percentage of increased deployment, saying they cannot disclose “operational details.”

According to defence experts, roughly 45,000 troops including personnel having completed the weather acclimatisation process are normally kept ready along the border at any given time, but not all are necessarily deployed.

The soldiers, deployed over 9,000 feet, have to go through a 14-day-long acclimatisation process.

The officials, however, said there is no enhancement of troops at the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction in Doklam where around 350 army personnel are holding on to their position for nearly eight weeks after stopping Chinese troops from constructing a road on June 16.

Bhutan and China have competing claims over Doklam, and are negotiating a resolution.

China has been ramping up rhetoric against India over the last few weeks, demanding immediate withdrawal of Indian troops from Dokalam. The Chinese state media, particularly, has carried a barrage of critical articles on the Dokalam stand-off slamming India.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj recently said both sides should first pull back their troops for any talks to take place, and favoured a peaceful resolution of the border standoff.

India also conveyed to the Chinese government that the road construction would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for it.

The Hindustan Times – Why the Indian government must help Italian Sikhs

Over the last 20 years, thousands of Indian Sikhs have migrated to Italy for work. Most found jobs in Italy’s dairy farm industry. And now they face a crisis of faith.

The Italian authorities make out that this is a matter of Italian values versus ‘eastern’ values. But the values that Guru Gobind Singh stood for are the same as the European ‘Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood’.
Man in Blue

Sunny Hundal

Op/Ed, 4 August 2017. Italian cheeses such as Parmesan and Mozzarella are known and eaten around the world. But how many people know these cheeses are alive today mostly because of Punjabi Sikhs? It sounds bizarre but it’s absolutely true.

This is a story not just of migration and globalisation but also how it impacts us in unexpected ways. Over the last 20 years, thousands of Indian Sikhs have migrated to Italy for work.

Most found jobs in Italy’s dairy farm industry, which was already facing a big shortage of workers since younger Italians were not as interested in farming. The influx of Punjabis saved the Italian dairy and cheese industry and even helped it grow.

“If you go to almost any dairy farm round here, you’ll find Sikhs working in the cow sheds,” dairy farmer Maurizio Novelli told the BBC recently. He was referring to the region of Reggio Emilia, the only place that Parmesan cheese can be made under EU rules.

Sikhs have become a success story in Italy. Thousands have stayed and built families in villages and towns across the country. There is even a huge gurdwara near the city of Milan, the Sri Guru Kalgidhar Sahib, which opened in 2011.

Up to 150,000 now live there, making it the largest Sikh community in Europe after the one in Britain. (Though the number of Hindus in Italy is thought to be larger, they keep a lower profile).

Italian Indians are like the economic cousins of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims who settled in Britain, like my parents, and North America. They are building a new life in a new country while keeping alive their heritage and culture.

But they now face a formidable challenge. Just a few months ago an Italian court ruled that Sikhs were not legally allowed to wear kirpans (the Sikh dagger), even for religious reasons. The court stated: “Attachment to values which violate the laws of the host country is intolerable, even if they are lawful in the country of origin.”

But Italian law already makes exceptions in matters of religion: for example, the Vatican Church is uniquely exempted from property taxes and gets a lot of money from the government every year. If Catholics can get special dispensation then why not Sikhs?

You might think that as a Catholic country, Italy should have the right to give them special preference. But this would be a mistake. In giving preference to one religion over others, Italy is saying that Hindus and Sikhs there are second-class citizens. It creates disharmony.

The Italians think that allowing Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims the freedom to practise their religion will make them less Italian. But other western countries have proven this wrong.

Sikhs in Britain and North America fought for and won the right to wear kirpans because these countries allow more freedom to practise religion.

Allowing them that freedom has made Sikhs even more proud to be British or Americans, not less. They are glad they live in a country that recognises and respects their beliefs, not treats them as a problem.

Italian Sikhs are now desperately trying to resolve their predicament. Last month they presented the Akal Takht, the highest temporal Sikh body (in Amritsar), with an alternative version of the kirpan. It was harmless, symbolic and approved by the Italian government.

But last week the Akal Takht rejected the modified kirpan, saying it went against the Sikh tenets. That leaves Sikhs in Italy in an unfortunate stalemate.

This is where the Indian government can help. It’s not for the centre to interfere in Sikh affairs, but the Prime Minister can certainly make the Sikh case to the Italian government.

Allowing people the freedom to practise their religion doesn’t hurt integration or the national character. In fact it strengthens it. Across the West, Sikhs Hindus and Muslims have demonstrated loyalty to their country while enjoying religious freedom. Italians need to understand the strength that comes from diversity, not dismiss it.

Sunny Hundal is a writer and lecturer on digital journalism. Follow the author

The views expressed are personal

The Hindustan Times – Four things Nitish Kumar will lose for embracing Modi again

Nitish Kumar may have found the time ripe for his return to the NDA fold, but he will likely play the price for yet another political somersault.

Kumar Uttam

Patna, 29 July 2017. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s return to the NDA fold is not without a price. Once seen as a challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019, Kumar will have to climb down a few notches to embrace the BJP.

Here are four things that Nitish will have to forego in alliance with the BJP.

PM ambition: For several months preceding his reunion with the BJP, Kumar tried becoming the rallying point of non-BJP politics. He did not succeed. Kumar has submitted to the leadership of Narendra Modi, who remains BJP’s face for coming elections. Kumar’s prime ministerial ambitions are buried. He remains confined to Bihar.

Sangh-mukt Bharat: At the peak of his fight with the BJP, Kumar dreamt of a Sangh-mukt Bharat, or an India free of the RSS, the BJP’s ideological mentor. His slogan was in response to BJP’s idea of a Congress-mukt Bharat.

With the Congress out of power in yet another state, Kumar will have to abandon his idea of freeing the country from the RSS. The BJP is strongly wedded to the ideology of the RSS and that leaves no scope for Nitish to pursue an agenda he once strongly backed.

Credibility: The reunion of the JD(U) and the BJP has left a sour taste in the mouth of the secular brigade. He broke ranks with the BJP in 2013 on the ground of “no compromise on principles”.

He dumped the RJD and Congress, saying there can be no compromise on his fight against corruption. He swung from one side of the political spectrum to another without much effort. Kumar’s flip-flop politics may dent his reputation as a dependable political ally for any formulation.

Big brother status: Kumar had the big brother status in the NDA when he was in alliance with the BJP. In 2010, the JD(U) got 141 seats out of total 243, leaving 102 for the BJP. They fought separately in 2015, and the BJP fielded candidates in 157 and Nitish on 101 seats. The BJP left 25 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats of Bihar for Nitish in 2009.

It will not be business as usual in the coming elections. The BJP may have accepted Kumar as its leader in Bihar, but leaves little scope for negotiation for him in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The NDA has 31 MPs from Bihar – BJP 22 and its allies 9.

The Hindustan Times – Operation Bluestar: Army does not have manuscripts, other items missing from Golden Temple, says Centre

In reply to a plea by Patiala MP Dharamvira Gandhi on July 7, the ministry said about the manuscripts, purportedly found during the operation to flush out militants from the Sikh shrine in Amritsar, that these “were handed over to Mohan Singh, curator, museum, Punjab government”.

Navrajdeep Singh

Patiala-Panjab-India, 21 July 2017. The Indian Army does not possess any manuscripts and other historical documents reportedly missing from the Golden Temple after Operation Bluestar in 1984, the defence ministry has said. It claims the manuscripts and other items were handed over to the state government and other agencies; but it mentions no dates.

In reply to a plea by Patiala MP Dharamvira Gandhi on July 7, the ministry said about the manuscripts, purportedly found during the operation to flush out militants from the Sikh shrine in Amritsar, that these “were handed over to Mohan Singh, curator, museum, Punjab government”.

It further stated, “Other items were handed over to functionaries of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC); government treasurer, Amritsar; and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).”

The SGPC says 15,000 rare books, 16,000 artefacts related to Sikh religion and history, edicts issued by the 10 gurus, and handwritten ‘birs’ (copies) of Guru Granth Sahib were among the items missing.

Gandhi said he, for now, only wanted the ministry to bring the issue of missing documents on record, which he has achieved. In the latest in his series of efforts, he had written to home minister Rajnath Singh for return of the material, but his plea was shifted to the defence ministry on May 31.

“I will meet SGPC officials now to approach the Centre again to trace the documents, which are not only a treasure for the Sikh community but also for Hindus and Punjab as a whole,” said the MP, who was elected to the Lok Sabha on the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ticket but remains suspended from it due to differences with its leadership.

SGPC president Kirpal Singh Badungar, when contacted, said the central ministries have been “lying repeatedly over such sensitive issues”.

“Where are the rare manuscripts and documents then, if the army claims to have not taken them away?” he asked.

The state government, besides the SGPC, have approached the Centre on multiple occasions over the years for “return” of the items held at the Sikh Reference Library in the Golden Temple complex till June 7, 1984, when the operation ended. But the defence ministry had said all material seized was handed over to intelligence agencies.

The matter had come to light prominently when a former sub-inspector associated with the CBI in 1984 had claimed that the material was shifted to an undisclosed location by the army and CBI officials.

The Hindustan Times – India engaged in negotiations with China on Sikkim standoff: Government tells Opposition at all-party meet

In response to the opposition leaders’ call for using “active diplomatic channels”, the Centre said it is engaged in negotiations to ease the tension in the Doklam region of the Sikkim sector.

Jayanth Jacob and Saubhadra Chatterji

New Delhi, 14 July 2017. The government reached out to the opposition parties and some of its allies on Friday to build a consensus on the border standoff with China ahead of Parliament’s monsoon session, but faced tough questions on the delay in resolving the dispute.

In response to the opposition leaders’ call for using “active diplomatic channels”, the Centre said it is engaged in negotiations to ease the tension in the Doklam region of the Sikkim sector.

The government briefed the leaders about the Chinese incursion as tension between the two Asian giants escalated in the past three weeks over the standoff at Doklam, located at a narrow but strategically important tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan.

As the impasse festered, opposition parties criticised the government for what they said not taking them into confidence on issues of national interest and security.

At a meeting at home minister Rajnath Singh’s residence, foreign secretary S Jaishankar and home secretary Rajeev Mehrishi made a detailed presentation on the India-China border issue and Monday’s militant attack on Amarnath pilgrims.

Jaishankar was quoted by opposition members as saying that China is trying to change the status quo along its southern border.

He talked about the diplomatic process to resolve one of the longest border standoff in recent times.

Opposition leaders, including Congress’ Anand Sharma and CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, wanted to know why the impasse happened in 2017 and why the government is unable to find a solution through negotiations and discussions. Most leaders, including the NCP’s Sharad Pawar, seconded the questions.

“What triggered the standoff?” Sharma asked.

The Congress, Trinamool Congress, CPM and Shiv Sena, which is an NDA ally, fielded a flurry of questions. Some of the opposition leaders later said they didn’t get satisfactory answers.

“We said that on issues of national security and integrity of the country, we are with the government,” Trinamool leader Derek O’Brien said.

Jaishankar informed the leaders about the strategic significance of Doklam and said the faceoff needs to be seen in the context of the Siliguri corridor, the narrow stretch of land connecting the Northeast with the country.

“There was widespread appreciation of the understanding between India and China that differences between them shouldn’t become disputes,” foreign ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said.

The Shiv Sena took an aggressive stand and sought action and “not mere talks” from the Centre.

But AIADMK parliamentarian A Navaneethakrishnan said they are satisfied with the government’s response.

Former defence minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, who represented the Samajwadi Party at the meeting, said the government needs to be careful about dealing with China.

Defence minister Arun Jaitley, home minister Singh and foreign minister Sushma Swaraj along with national security adviser Ajit Doval were present at the meeting.

It was decided that Mulayam Singh and Pawar, two former defence ministers, would meet Jaitley on the China issue. Swaraj called another meeting on Saturday to brief other party leaders.

The government also briefed the leaders on the attack in Jammu and Kashmir’s Anantnag in which seven Amarnath pilgrims were shot dead by militants when they returning from the shrine.

Several leaders said the government couldn’t come up with a credible reason to explain security lapses that led to the attack.

“Why was there a lapse and security failure?” asked O’Brien.

The leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress, wanted to know why the bus took four hours for a two-hour journey and why it was allowed to travel at night.

The Hindustan Times – UK launches ‘Grand Trunk Road’ project to mark 70th anniversary of India’s partition

The UK-wide project was launched this week to bring British Asians of all faiths and backgrounds together to reflect on their shared history through 11 special events funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

London, 7 July 2017. The British government has launched a new project titled the ‘Grand Trunk Road’ to mark the 70th anniversary of India’s partition in August 1947 with volunteers from the Muslim, Sikh and Hindu communities in the UK coming together to stage special events.

The UK-wide project was launched this week to bring British Asians of all faiths and backgrounds together to reflect on their shared history through 11 special events funded by the department for communities and local government.

The aim is for the participants to remember lives lost and learn about the history of partition first-hand from those who lived through the violence, displacement and ultimately the birth of India, Pakistan and eventually Bangladesh in 1971.

“Partition and its aftermath is part of who we are, whether we call ourselves Muslim, Sikh or Hindu, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Indian,” said UK communities secretary Sajid Javid.

“I hope this brave project will encourage British Asians of all three faiths to reflect on the divisions that ripped us apart in the past, thereby bringing us closer together in the future,” he said.

Volunteers from Muslim, Sikh and Hindu communities will get together to stage events, including a play written, produced and performed by a group of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs to tell the story of the 1948 London Olympics, the first time India and Pakistan met as competing nations in the country from which they had just gained independence.

An exhibition in Leicester tracing the history of migration from the subcontinent to East Africa will explore the impact of partition from a different perspective.

It will explore the relationships formed, as Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims of South Asian background were forced to flee to the UK in the wake of Idi Amin’s upheaval in 1972.

The exhibition will allow visitors to listen to the testimony of local residents.

UK minister for faith Lord Bourne said, “Just as the Grand Trunk Road has tied together India and Pakistan and their diverse cultures and faiths for millennia, this project will highlight the rich history that British Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus share.

“Events will be taking place up and down the country that will bring communities from the subcontinent together, foster new relationships and encourage friends and neighbours to document and share their memories of Partition.”

A women’s group in Slough in southeast England for Hindu, Muslim and Sikh women of all ages will also be set up to talk about the impact of partition on their own families.

The UK government said it hoped that the conversation will lead to a more formal event for the whole community.

According to the Department for Communities and Local Government, the aim of all the events is to bring people together from the three main faiths of the Indian subcontinent to hold events that can explore a range of different experiences around the history of partition and its aftermath.

A focus on lived experience and testimony will help to put in context the impact of this division in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and in Britain itself.

The Hindustan Times – Humsafar Express runs too fast on debut, leaves 23 chasing from Jalandhar to Ludhiana

Humsafar Express
From Jammu Tawi in Jammu & Kashmir
to Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh

The luxury Express reached Jalandhar Cantonment station at 8.40 am, an hour ahead of schedule, and left after a five-minute halt. It was scheduled to reach Ludhiana at 10.55am but it gathered even more time and reached at 9.28am after a 43-minute dash.

Amarpal Singh

Hindustan Times, Ludhiana, 1 July 2017. You’ve most likely heard of trains being late. You may also have heard of people reaching late for their train.

Here’s something rather rare. On its first regular run on Friday, the Humsafar Express (Jammu Tawi J&K – Tirupati AP) was running faster by an hour and more against it scheduled time, which meant that 23 people in Jalandhar missed it. In fact, the train reached Ludhiana, around 60 km ahead, even before its scheduled timing for Jalandhar!

The luxury Express reached Jalandhar Cantonment station at 8.40 am, an hour ahead of schedule, and left after a five-minute halt. It was scheduled to reach Ludhiana at 10.55am but, it gathered even more time, and reached at 9.28am after a 43-minute dash. This was 87 minutes, nearly an hour and a half, ahead of schedule.

Meanwhile, 23 people were left stranded in Jalandhar as the train had come and gone. It was then kept waiting for these passengers at Ludhiana, who were brought there in another train (Paschim Express) on the route, said divisional traffic manager SP Bhatia. The train departed from Ludhiana at its schedule time (11am).

Railway officials who did not want to be named said that the timetable was not updated in the system since it was the first run. Another senior official said the mismanagement was “properly dealt with”. “We took care that passengers should not face any inconvenience. The timetable was updated later,” he said.

Meanwhile, when Humsafar Express halted at platform 1 at Ludhiana ahead of its schedule, other trains (Amrapali Express and Amritsar-New Delhi Inter-City) that were to arrive at the platform were halted at another one.

The Hindustan Times – Mansarovar pilgrims stranded as China denies entry, MEA in talks with Beijing

Probir Pramanik

The pilgrims, who had been stranded on the Indian side of the border since June 20, returned to Gangtok on Friday.

Darjeeling, 23 June 2017. India has initiated discussions with China after a group of pilgrims headed to Manasarovar was denied permission by the neighbouring country to cross over the international border.

“Some difficulties are being experienced in the movement of Kailash-Mansarovar yatris via Nathu La. The matter is being discussed with the Chinese side,” the ministry of external affairs said.

Earlier, the 47 pilgrims who had been stranded on the Indian side of the border since June 20 after being denied access to cross over the international border, returned to Sikkim’s capital Gangtok on Friday evening.

Sources in the 17th Mountain Division of the army said that possible landslide on the Chinese side could be a cause for the denial of permission.

The pilgrims who were given accommodation in Gangtok said they were not given any reason for the denial of entry to China.

They said they had been put up at an acclimatisation camp in Sherathang, some 7 km south of Nathu La.

Nearly 40,000 pilgrims and tourists, around 80% of them from India, take part in the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra every year, which takes place between May and July.

The Hindustan Times – Thirty-nine Indians missing in Iraq are alive, in touch with nations to rescue them: Government

External affairs ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said the government had no information to indicate that the 39 Indians, believed to have been abducted by the Islamic State in Iraq, were not alive.

New Delhi, 17 June 2017. India is in touch with all the countries which can help in locating 39 Indians, believed to have been abducted by terrorist outfit Islamic State (IS) in Iraq in 2014, the government said on Friday.

Responding to a question on the issue, external affairs ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said Sushma Swaraj had met representatives and families of these 39 Indians early this month.

“We are in touch with all nations who are helping us or who can help us. All possible steps are being taken. As of now we have the information that the people are alive. We have no such information to suggest that they are not alive,” Baglay said.

The families said they had last heard from the men on June 14, 2014, when they all called home to say they were being taken away by IS fighters.