The Hindustan Times – Manmohan Singh deserves a better report card than he got, writes Barkha Dutt

He was that rare entity in Indian politics, a genuinely democratic leader who made space for some dissent and did not personalise media criticism of him. As the second tenure of the UPA descended into chaos and corruption scandals I was among the many journalists who became unsparing in my criticism of his leadership.

But not once did he hold that against me or anyone else or clamp down on information routes or reporting access to officials in the Prime Minister’s office.

Barkha Dutt

Op/Ed, 21 October 2017. This month listening to Manmohan Singh describe Pranab Mukherjee as the “better qualified” candidate for the post of Prime Minister, I remembered something else he had said. “History will be kinder to me than the media,” he had proclaimed in his quintessentially soft-spoken manner.

I think we don’t have to wait for the passage of significant time to accept that he had a point. While there were many things to be greatly disappointed in his government for, and as its leader the buck stopped with him, perhaps we were far too stingy in our praise for what he got right.

Above everything else I think he was that rare entity in Indian politics, a genuinely democratic leader who made space for some dissent and did not personalise media criticism of him. As the second tenure of the UPA descended into chaos and corruption scandals I was among the many journalists who became unsparing in my criticism of his leadership.

But not once did he hold that against me or anyone else or clamp down on information routes or reporting access to officials in the Prime Minister’s office.

Through the worst things we said about him, we accused him mostly of not standing up to the corrupt in his cabinet as well as the overweening interference from his party, he continued to be unfailingly civil if we happened to meet him at public events. This is the true test of press freedom, how politicians behave when the media is rough on them.

On reflection, Manmohan Singh did not get enough credit from us for largely preserving the institutional autonomy of a free press at least at an individual level. Of course, institutionally, the Congress is yet to wipe its record clean of the stains of the 1970s Emergency.

And books and films have been banned on the Congress watch, making it just as culpable as other political parties. It’s also true that Singh was not as personally open to the media as the contemporary information age demands, he did press conferences but avoided interviews, and that is certainly a flaw.

But, what sets him apart among politicians of his ilk is that he never turned hostile to journalists even when we were brutal in our critique.

His authentic liberal instincts, perhaps something to do with the fact that he was an academic and technocrat more than a conventional politician, are distinctly different from both the main leaders of his own party as well as the ruling BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, for instance, seem to share a mistrust of the English-speaking media, albeit for different reasons and in different ways.

Both believe the media has been less than fair to them and both appear to take criticism very personally. Once you have been critical of either leader on an issue, chances are that they will cease to speak to you. Unlike in the case of Manmohan Singh, in both their cases, this aversion to the media does not spring from diffidence; it comes from a skepticism bordering on near-dislike.

And with both Modi and the Gandhi family, those around them take their cue from the top and tend to shut down channels of communication to the media as well. By contrast, during Manmohan Singh’s tenure, we were able to report on the government in a way that we were not able to report on his party.

There were two moments when Singh should have resigned for the sake of personal redemption. One, when he surrendered to party duress on inducting compromised DMK ministers into his cabinet against his preference and two, when Rahul Gandhi tore up an ordinance his government had cleared while he was away in the United States.

Yes, the ordinance was unforgivable and was designed to save lawmakers convicted of corruption, like Lalu Prasad Yadav. But by protesting in public and while the PM was on foreign soil, Gandhi sorely undermined Manmohan Singh’s authority.

Had Manmohan Singh asserted his independence and authority, forget history, even the present would have been more than kind to him. To that extent he permitted and enabled some elements of the scathing appraisal he was subjected to. But, with all the flaws of his tenure, we also owe it to him to revise our report card on him. He deserved a better score than we gave him.

Barkha Dutt is an award-winning journalist and author


The Hindustan Times – Supreme Court says human rights of Rohingya refugees cannot be ignored

The top court set the next date of hearing for November 21, and asked petitioners to approach it in case the government begins any deportation exercise.

New Delhi, 13 October 2017. The Supreme Court on Friday said that problem of Rohingya refugees is of a “great magnitude”. However, there is a need to strike a “right balance” to address concerns of national security that might arise due to their stay, it said.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra was about to issue a directive to the Centre not to deport Rohingya refugees but was stopped by additional solicitor general, Tushar Mehta, who said an order of this kind would embarrass the government on international fora.

The bench fixed November 21 to give a detailed and a holistic hearing on the petitions filed against the government’s decision to deport Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar.

At the request of senior counsel, appearing for representatives from the community, social activists and NGOs, the bench gave them liberty to approach it in case any contingency arose during the intervening period.

“It is a large issue. An issue of great magnitude. Therefore, the state has a big role. The role of the state in such a situation has to be multipronged,” the bench said.

Mehta was told that the government should not be oblivious to the plight of children and women. “They do not know anything. We expect the executive will not be oblivious to their condition. Do not deport them. You take action if something wrong is found,” the bench said.

On behalf of the petitioners, senior advocate Fali S Nariman said that all Rohingyas, be they Muslims or Hindus, are not terrorists as the government has stamped them to be. “It (Centre) cannot pass a blanket order like this,” he submitted.

The bench felt the government’s concern over national security, too, cannot be ignored. “There is no iota of doubt that a humanitarian issue is involved but national interest has to be kept in mind,” said the judges.

They also emphasised that the court will go by the letter of the law and not get swayed by the “emotional arguments” offered by the two sides.

Centre should deal with migration: MHA

The ministry of home affairs (MHA) said the issue of Rohingya migration had to be “dealt with only by the Central government” as it is an executive function of the government.

“The central government is of the opinion that deportation of illegal immigrants has to be dealt with only by the central government because it is essentially an executive function of the government,” said an MHA spokesperson after the hearing.

The spokesperson added that the apex court had not stayed the deportation of Rohingyas.

“No interim order has been granted. The SC has merely recorded the statement of the learned counsel for the petitioner to the effect that in case of any contingency he can move the court for appropriate interim order.”

The Hindustan Times – Trump sends lieutenants to ‘agents of chaos’ Pakistan with tough message from USA

Washington has long been frustrated by Pakistan’s willingness to offer cross-border safe havens to Taliban factions and armed jihadist groups fighting US troops and their Afghan allies.

7 October 2017. President Donald Trump will dispatch his top diplomatic and military advisors to Pakistan in the coming weeks, turning up the heat on a nuclear-armed ally accused of harbouring terror groups.

Weeks after Trump angrily accused Islamabad of providing safe haven to “agents of chaos,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to depart for Pakistan late this month.

He will be followed by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, according to US and Pakistani sources.

The one-two punch is designed to drill home Trump’s message that Pakistani state support for jihadist groups has to end, according to officials briefed on the visits.

Washington has long been frustrated by Pakistan’s willingness to offer cross-border safe havens to Taliban factions and armed jihadist groups fighting US troops and their Afghan allies.

The relationship reached the breaking point in 2011, when president Barack Obama sent commandos into Pakistan in 2011 to kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was living in a military garrison town.

With little change since then, Trump came to office indicating that Washington’s frustration had reached the point where something had to give.

“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” he said in an August address.

But in the six weeks since Trump signalled that tougher tone, there have been precious few signs that the calculus in South Asia has changed.

Mattis told Congress this week that he will try “one more time” to “see if we can make this work.”

Not acceptable

“To this point, we have not seen any impact on military-to-military relations,” said one Pentagon official, suggesting any change would not happen after Mattis’s visit.

Visiting Washington, Pakistan’s foreign minister Khawaja Asif appeared unwavering.

He lashed out at “hollow allegations” about Pakistan harboring terrorists as “not acceptable.”

“That is not the way you talk to 70-year-old friends,” Asif said bitterly.

“Instead of accusations and threats we should cooperate with each other for peace in the region,” he added in confirming Tillerson’s visit.

While professing anger in public, Pakistani officials in private complain about receiving no concrete requests to target the Haqqani network or other groups.

US officials have been reticent to share some intelligence for fear of tipping off targets with links inside Pakistan’s government.

Earlier this month, a US drone killed three suspected militants in an attack on a compound in Pakistan’s tribal region.

Pakistani officials also complain of receiving mixed messages from the Trump administration, which is still struggling to find its feet under a mercurial commander-in-chief.

A September meeting in New York between Vice President Mike Pence and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was said to be cordial, despite Trump’s fire and brimstone rhetoric.

“It was a very good meeting with the vice president,” said Asif.

After that, Pakistan officials said, they were surprised at a tougher tone outlined in public by Mattis and in private by Trump’s National Security Advisor H R McMaster.

Call Pakistan’s bluff

Some optimists point to a visit by Pakistan’s army chief to Kabul as evidence that Islamabad is moderating, after years of support propping up the Taliban.

But many, having watched this debate for decades, are less convinced.

The Taliban and groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, they argue, remain a potent tool in the hands of Pakistani intelligence.

“Of course they don’t get the message” said Christine Fair, a South Asia expert at Georgetown University.

“Pakistan is not going to do anything different than its already doing unless the administration can figure out a way to do what no administration has previously done.”

“That is basically to call Pakistan’s bluff and impose some meaningful punishment.”

Trump has warned that military aid, which was halved between 2012 and 2016, could be cut further, a move that Fair dismisses as insufficient.

“It’s basically saying that we’re going to cut back the money the US taxpayer is giving to Pakistan,” she said.

“That’s not punishment. Pakistan is not entitled to our money. What they are really talking about is giving Pakistan less of an allowance.”

Policymakers have considered revoking Pakistan’s non-NATO ally status, with deep symbolic but limited practical impact.

Punitive economic sanctions, that could force Pakistan closer to China, Russia or Turkey, seem a long way off.

And Pakistan remains vital for the United States as a route to resupply its forces in Afghanistan and for supplying the Afghan army.

The Hindustan Times – Supreme Court says states must appoint police officers to prevent cow vigilantism, pay compensation for violence

The court also asked the chief secretaries of 22 states to file compliance reports in pursuance of its order on laying down a mechanism to sternly deal with self-styled cow vigilante groups.

Bhadra Sinha

New Delhi, 22 September 2017. Victims of crime, including people killed by cow protection groups, were entitled to financial compensation from the government, the Supreme Court said on Friday as it asked states to appoint district-level police officers to check violence by gau rakshaks.

The court also asked the chief secretaries of 22 states to file compliance reports in pursuance of its order on laying down a mechanism to sternly deal with self-styled cow vigilante groups.

“The state is under obligation to frame a scheme and compensate those who are killed in violence,” said a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra in reponse to advocate Indira Jaising’s plea for a judicial order for paying compensation to the family of 15-year-old Junaid who was killed in a train near Delhi on June 23.

Jaising pleaded in court on behalf of Tushar Gandhi, the great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, who is among several petitioners who have moved the top court seeking action against the vigilante groups, accused of attacking and killing several people across the country on suspicion of smuggling cattle and eating beef.

Jaising said the central government be directed to frame a national policy on preventing incidents of cow vigilantism.

She also said there were several judgements, which make mandatory the award of compensation to the victims of such crimes, but unfortunately, the money was not being paid.

The bench, however, asked her not to “mix up the issues” of cow vigilantes and compensation.

The court then asked the counsel for 22 states to file compliance reports by October 13 and fixed October 31 as the date for hearing the PILs.

“Let the compliance reports be filed…nobody can wash off their hands (from their duty). We will give directions to all the states,” the bench said.

Only five states, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, have carried out the order so far.

The court, while proposing measures to stem what it called growing violence by so-called cow protection groups, had said the nodal officers would have to ensure that vigilantes do not become a law unto themselves.

It had given states a week to comply with the order. The court had also asked states to list steps they would take to step up security on highways, where cow vigilantes have stopped vehicles carrying cattle and attacked people.

Critics have alleged the attacks have risen since the BJP-led government took power three years ago, and several states ruled by the party made laws to punish cow slaughter. Critics accuse the vigilantes of using cows as a pretext to target Muslims and Dalits.

The Hindustan Times – What you need to know about the BJP

Prashant Jha’s new book closely examines how the BJP has maintained its winning streak. Here, he writes about the four big lessons he learnt while covering elections

Prashant Jha

Op/Ed, 16 September 2016, Five years ago, few could have imagined India’s President, Vice President, Speaker, Prime Minister and Chief Ministers of over a dozen states would be from the BJP.

Fascinated by how the BJP not only won 2014, but has succeeded in relentlessly acquiring power, state after state, I kept a close watch on the party while covering elections for Hindustan Times.

Here are four big lessons I learnt which feature in my book:

1. When Modi listened to Rahul Gandhi

If 2014 was Narendra Modi’s golden year, 2015 was his worst year in Delhi so far. The famous suit, plastered with his name, made it appear like power had got to him. The government had to backtrack from amending the Land Acquisition Act, which made it look ‘anti farmer’. The foreign trips made him look disconnected. Delhi was a debacle and Bihar a humiliation.

And the sharpest sting came from Rahul Gandhi, when he called the Modi government ‘suit boot ki sarkar’. It struck a chord.

And so Modi listened to what Rahul had said in the same speech. The Congress leader had advised the PM to shift to the side of labourers and farmers and the poor, they were more in number after all. And Modi, who had moved from being a Hindu samrat between 2002 and 2007 to a vikas purush from 2007 to 2015, became a gareebon ka neta.

The narrative around demonetisation, as a battle of the honest poor versus the corrupt rich, was a step. The sharper focus on welfare, particularly Ujjwala scheme of distributing free LPG cylinders, worked.

The government used the infrastructure laid out by UPA, Aadhar, the Socio Economic Caste Census, DBT, and ran with it to improve delivery partially. Modi waived off farmer loans in UP. He became a messiah of the poor.

2. The BJP is neither an upper caste, nor a solely north Indian, party anymore

BJP has moved from being an exclusivist Hindu party of upper castes to an inclusive Hindu party of all castes.

Amit Shah has done this through two key tools. The first is the organisation. In UP, he and his key aide Sunil Bansal, found, to their shock, that only 7 percent of the office bearers were OBCs and 3 percent were SCs in 2014.

In 3 years, this increased to 30 percent. This is a part of the larger organisational strengthening, from the booth level to the top.

Second, he constructed an alliance of the socially dominant but politically marginalised (upper castes) with the socially and politically marginalised (specific OBC and Dalit sub castes) against the dominant political castes.

The Yadavs in UP, Marathas in Maharashtra, or Jats in Haryana now confronted a challenge, and lost. BJP embraced the most visible and most invisible castes.

If Shah changed the caste character of the party in the heartland, general secretary Ram Madhav made it national by expanding in the Northeast.

BJP wooed local leaders like Himanta Biswa Sarma or N Biren Singh; it diluted its ideological core and respected the cultural diversity of the region; it adapted itself to specific realities, be it raising extra judicial executions or becoming the Bharatiya ‘Jesus’ Party for Christian tribals.

3. The Sangh cannot enable a win alone, but can ensure defeat

In an interview a month before the Bihar election, the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, supported reservation in principle, critiqued its politicisation and asked for its review.

Lalu Prasad ran with it to suggest the BJP would scrap reservations if elected. This shattered BJP’s chances.

The Sangh, either by such statements or sitting quiet, can make the party lose election. But on its own, it cannot make BJP win an election.

At the same time, it is the source, most BJP leaders owe their worldview and networks to the Sangh, and the supplement. It deploys pracharaks to quietly mobilise voters, and get them out on polling day; its vast network of swayamsevaks and sympathisers, professors, businessmen, shopkeepers, traders, journalists, labour leaders, students, also build a climate for the party.

Under the previous NDA government, this network of Sangh often did not own the government entirely. Under Modi, it does. The personal equation between Modi and Bhagwat; ideological convergence on issues ranging from gau raksha to Ganga and quest for Hindu unity; and close coordination on policy and personnel has meant Sangh deploys its resources.

This is invaluable, especially in areas where the BJP organisation is weak. Where its own organisational strength has grown, it needs the mother-ship less.

4. ‘Secularism’ is dead

The BJP creates, sustains, and sharpens Hindu-Muslim tension. Take UP. Its project was based on deception, from the theory of ‘love jihad’ to the stories of Hindu migration from Kairana; from alleging the state government favoured Eid over Diwali to portraying Hindus as the major victims of Muzaffarnagar when it was mostly Muslims who suffered.

This is politics at its most cynical and dangerous.

But I did not hear a single Hindu voter, even when he was a Congress, SP or BSP voter in UP or a JD(U) or RJD voter in Bihar, use the word ‘secular’ or ‘communal’. This was not a determinant of his voting decision. Indeed, secularism was merely seen as the quest for Muslim votes.

And the more parties spoke of the minority vote, Mayawati giving 100 seats to Muslims or Congress-SP allying to consolidate Muslims were seen as examples of this, the more it helped BJP consolidate the majority.

But what about Bihar, one may well ask?

Even in Bihar, the now broken Mahagatbandhan won not by highlighting secularism but by downplaying it. Lalu Prasad told Muslim leaders to go back home and appear only on polling day; Muslim leaders told Nitish Kumar not to even mention them and focus on the Hindu vote, all of it was aimed to prevent ‘polarisation’.

Old ‘secular’ politics won by hiding away the ‘secular’ rhetoric.

Future of the hegemon

This does not mean BJP is invincible. Delivering to both the middle class and poor will be a challenge for Modi. Managing caste contradictions will be a herculean task for Shah.

There is likely to be a trade off between the Hindutva agenda and inclusive governance. And as soon as a bigger section of the Hindu vote allies with a block of Muslim vote, the game turns. The state of the opposition will also determine the BJP’s fortunes.

But for now, to understand India, understand how the BJP wins.

The Hindustan Times – ‘I am going back to Sikhism’: Many disillusioned ‘premis’ renounce Dera

While a few stay loyal, some feel confused in the face of disgrace. Some of the Dera followers say they are waiting for the dust to settle.

Snigdha Poonam

Sirsa-Haryana/Bhatinda-Panjab, 2 September 2017. “I am going back to Sikhism,” said Manjit Singh, a 29-year-old follower of the Dera Sacha Sauda in southern Punjab who is disturbed by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s conviction for raping two disciples 15 years ago.

A Dalit man who operates a bus stand in Salabatpura, Singh joined the sect two years ago, guided by the noble things he had heard about it. “I heard how it rids people of alcoholism, meat consumption, arranges weddings for poor women.

So, I started to visit the Dera. I began to like Baba ji’s preaching,” said Singh, who was himself an alcoholic before he took on the surname ‘Insan’.

“Some friends used to talk about these cases against him, but every time I saw Baba ji, I thought those were complete lies.” Now, Singh said he saw “truth in the charges”. “This morning, I read in the newspaper that 18 girls have been rescued from the Sirsa Dera and sent for medical examination.

Vishwas uth gaya hai (I have lost my faith in him). I can’t trust a godman again.” On August 29, the Akal Takht invited the predominantly Dalit followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda, who have long been marginalised by mainstream Sikhism, back into its fold.

Since the day of Singh’s conviction when thousands of his angry supporters ran riot across Punjab and Haryana, the young, male mob has become the face of a sect that claims a following of 60 million.

While many Dera followers remain loyal to the 70-year-old institution because of its place in their social and economic lives, some feel confused or conflicted in the face of their leader’s disgrace. There are a number of factors that attracted people to Singh’s cult; their reactions to his fall are equally diverse.

“It was after I saw a film of his, the one in which he plays an adivasi in Chhattisgarh, that I became inspired to follow him,” said 21-year-old Pooja Insan, who was leaving the sect’s Sirsa headquarters on August 30 with her mother at the urging of Haryana police.

Enraptured by Singh’s larger-than-life movie persona in MSG 2, Pooja persuaded her mother to travel from their home in Rohtak to the Dera’s Sirsa estate within days of the film’s release in 2015. “We felt so good.

We were first given the naam (Insan), then there was a satsang and dance performances by children.” Since then, she has visited the Dera at least once a month. Now headed back home, Pooja and her mother said they didn’t know if they were ever coming back.

“We didn’t know anything about the rape charges. We have never spent a night inside the Dera. We don’t want to be a part of any controversy,” she said.

Ramji Insaan, a 35-year-old engineer, isn’t a recent follower. Like most Dalit families in Bajeka village of Haryana, he has followed the sect since its founding in 1946. “I took the name 15 years ago. The Dera is a big part of the village’s life. Hundreds of young men are employed by it.”

Since August 25, the day of Singh’s conviction by a CBI court, though, most of them have been avoiding the subject.

“We are waiting and watching,” said Ramji, playing cards with his friends under a shed in the village. Asked if he is going to return to the Dera for the usual satsang, he said, “Abhi kuch nahi kah sakte. Aage dekhenge (Can’t say anything now, will see how things go).”

The Hindustan Times – Meet Jagdeep Singh, the judge who convicted Dera chief Ram Rahim of rape

Jagdeep Singh joined the Haryana judicial services in 2012 and was posted at Sonepat. The CBI court posting, which is generally given after a lot of checks by the high court administration, is his second posting.

Surender Sharma

Chandigarh, 25 August 2017. The atmosphere in Panchkula was charged with more than two lakh people camping in the city, several companies of security forces conducting flag marches and a curfew-like situation prevailing when judge Jagdeep Singh walked into the CBI court on Friday.

Soon after, Singh convicted Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim in a 15-year-old rape case, filed by two of his women followers.

A very competent, tough and upright judge with a no-nonsense attitude. That is how Singh is described by his colleagues in the legal fraternity.

An additional district and sessions judge rank official, Singh was designated as the CBI special judge last year. This is his second posting as a judicial officer.

Singh joined the Haryana judicial services in 2012 and was posted at Sonepat. The CBI court posting, which is generally given after a lot of checks by the high court administration, is his second posting.

Prior to joining the judicial service, he was a Punjab and Haryana high court lawyer. “Singh likes keeping a low profile and is a man of few words. But all those who know him vouch for his competence and integrity,” said a lawyer who has practiced with him. Singh, who hails from Haryana, took up both civil and criminal cases between 2000 and 2012.

Singh completed his law degree from Panjab University (PU) around 2000. “He was a bright student,” recalled a Haryana judicial officer, who has known him since his Panjab University days. “He is considered a very hardworking and upright officer,” he added.

Jagdeep hit the headlines in September 2016, when on his way from Hisar to Panchkula, he played a Good Samaritan and rushed four people, who were seriously injured in a road accident, to a hospital in Jind district.

As per reports, he first called up emergency to rush an ambulance, but when the operator told him, “Will the ambulance come flying?”, he stopped a private vehicle and himself took the injured to the hospital.

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