The Hindustan Times – Man hacked to death, set ablaze in Rajasthan: Nephew says Afrazul didn’t wrong anyone

Afrazul’s family says he was harmless and worked to help others from his village in Malda find employment in Rajsamand.

Salik Ahmad

Rajsamand-Rajastan-India, 8 December 2017. Migrant labourer Afrazul who was brutally hacked and burnt by a fanatical unemployed man on Wednesday, lived with 24 labourers who shared four rooms in a rented single storey house in Rajsamand’s Dhoinda, about 300 km south of Jaipur.

Fifty-year-old Afrazul also worked as a labour contractor facilitating fellow villagers from Malda’s Sayadpur village in West Bengal find work here. They earlier lived in Kakoli, another area of the district and had moved into this house just over a month ago.

The father of three apparently had no vice.

“The only vice, he had was that he used to smoke bidis,” says Inaul Sheikh, Afrazul’s nephew who stays in the same accommodation.

He says Afrazul did not wrong anyone.

“Go to the labour market at Jhal Chakki and ask the people there who have seen him for the past 12-13 years. They will tell you what kind of a person he was,” he adds.

The man seen killing him in a video, Shambhu Lal Regar who was arrested on Thursday told police he killed Afrazul to save a woman from ‘love jihad’, a term used by right-wing Hindu groups to describe inter-faith marriages which they claim is an Islamist conspiracy to convert Hindu women through marriage or coercion.

But Inaul says he had nothing to do with it.

“If five or six years ago, some person from Malda took a girl from here what does it have to do with my uncle?” he asks.

Afrazul’s son-in-law Mosharaff Khan, another tenant in the same building, says his father-in-law had left for the labour market at around nine in the morning on Wednesday.

“There was a drizzle. We were watching television when he had tea and left. At 11:30am, he called to say that some labourers need to transfer money back home and needed his help,” he said.

At 3 pm, Inaul got a call informing him that the owner of the bike whose registration number ended with 786 had met an ‘accident’. When Inaul reached the spot, police had cordoned off the area where the charred body of his uncle was lying. Afrazul was not very religious and occasionally offered the juma (Friday congregation) prayer.

Mosharaff says Afrazul gave Rs 12000 to him on his marriage. “Garib majdoor aadmi kitna dega (how much can a poor labourer give?)”quips Afrazul’s fellow worker Samiul Sheikh who has been living in Rajsamand on and off for the past 18 years and knew the deceased for a long time.

The labourers keep their families at home. They keep coming at regular intervals depending on employment.

Afrazul’s wife and three daughters live in Malda. The elder two daughters are married, while the youngest (16) is yet to be married.


The Hindustan Times – Barack Obama says Indians can help their politicians by speaking out against divisive forces

Rezaul H Laskar

New Delhi-India, 1 December 2017. Politicians often mirror society and the people of India can strengthen the hands of politicians by speaking out against divisive forces, former US president Barack Obama said on Friday.

Obama made the remarks during an hour-long interaction at the 15th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on being asked about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s response when he raised the issue of religious freedoms in a private conversation.

Without sharing details of Modi’s reply, Obama said: “I think his impulses are to recognise the importance of Indian unity. I know that he firmly believes in the need for that in order to advance to the great nation status that India possesses and will continue to amplify in the years to come.”

In democracies such as India and the US, the “office of citizen” is the “most important office”, and it is the responsibility of everyone to speak out against divisive forces and to reinforce such views, he said.

Politicians, on the other hand, rarely get too far ahead of public opinion, and often reflect the views of society, he added.

“So if you see a politician doing things that are questionable, one of the things…is to ask yourself, ‘Am I encouraging or supporting or giving licence to the values that I’m hearing out of the politician?’ Because frankly, politicians tend to be more of a mirror, and more of a reflection of forces in society,” Obama said.

“Every once in a while they get out ahead and actually lead. But oftentimes they’re reflecting. If communities across India are saying we’re not going to fall prey to division, then that will strengthen the hand of those politicians who feel the same way.”

Obama noted that what he’d said in private to Modi about religious freedoms was the same thing he spoke about in public in the US and Europe. People around the world were feeling “worried and insecure” because of wide-ranging economic, cultural, social and demographic changes and missing out on commonalities.

Humans like to make distinctions on the basis of race, religion, gender or class to feel more important than others but there has been progress only when people have “reduced or eliminated barriers of artificial distinction”.

“I think those of us, like myself when I was president…Prime Minister Modi and others, our voices have more reach and we have an obligation to deliver these messages but it’s the task of all of us to reinforce it,” he said.

Obama said voices that remind us “that we work well together when we recognise our common humanity” should be encouraged.

“Particularly in a country like India where you have such an enormous Muslim population that is successful, integrated and thinks of itself as Indian, and that is unfortunately not always the case in some other countries… I think that is something that should be cherished, nourished and cultivated,” he said.

“I think all farsighted Indian leaders recognise that but it is important to continually reinforce it.”

The importance of individual rights and freedoms and the need to work together were threads that ran through Obama’s remarks at the interaction. Calls for isolation, nationalism and sectarianism, he remarked, “wreak havoc on us all”.

“We have to push against the politics of tribe and build on commonalities,” he said in his brief speech before the question-and-answer session. The US and India have a common set of values, including openness, rule of law and respect for personal freedoms, including the freedom of religion and freedom of the press.

People cannot be complacent about these freedoms and must defend them every day if they did not want them to wither away, he said.

The Hindustan Times – SAD considering Tota Singh, Ghunas for SGPC chief’s post

The annual meeting to elect the SGPC president is scheduled for November 29.

Gurpreet Singh Nibber

Chandigarh-Panjab-India, 24 November 2017. In its search for a suitable leader to head the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is now considering names of Tota Singh and Sant Balbir Singh Ghunas.

The SAD has a majority in the General House of the cash-rich body, in which 170 members come through elections. The annual meeting to elect the SGPC president is scheduled for November 29.

Former SGPC chief Bibi Jagir Kaur and Akali leaders Sewa Singh Sekhwan, Rajinder Singh Mehta and Amarjeet Singh Chawla are already vying for the top post, but the party is not very keen to give any of them the coveted post, sources said.

Meanwhile, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal has already started meeting SGPC members to discuss with them the issues related to the functioning of the gurdwara body, and also who will be the right choice to head it.

On Thursday, Sukhbir held a meeting in Chandigarh with at least 80 SGPC members from 11 districts of Punjab, Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh. He will meet the remaining members on Friday, followed by a meeting with the core committee members of SAD and party MLAs.

The party is looking for a rural face, who can handle the core job of SGPC with religio-political finesse and run the body with focus on management of gurdwaras and ‘dharam parchar’ (religious propaganda). They want the Sikh clergy and various ‘sampardays’ (sects) work in coordination with the committee.

The SAD is seen as lacking in handling of certain Panthic issues after the era of Gurcharan Singh Tohra as SGPC president. Also, after a series of sacrilege incidents two years ago, the party is losing grip over its Panthic constituency and looking for resurgence via the SGPC.

Tota a Taksali Akali

Tota Singh, 75, known as a Taksali Akali in Sikh politics, had twice served as cabinet minister under Parkash Singh Badal government after the SAD came to power in Punjab in 1997 and 2012. At present, he is senior vice-president of SAD and is among the few old-timers in the party.

He has also worked as senior vice-president and general secretary of SGPC under Tohra’s tenure.

Besides, he wields influence among the Sikh diaspora in various foreign countries, particularly Canada. However, Tota Singh was convicted in a case of misuse of official car while being a minister. Also, the party is wary that he may not be able to handle the ticklish issues concerning SGPC.

Ex-MLA Ghunas heads Mastuana ‘samparday’

Sant Balvir Singh Ghunas, 60, is another name that party is considering to head SGPC, who is a three-time former MLA and also member of SGPC. He is associated with Mastuana ‘samparday’ and is head of Gurdwara Gursagar Sahib, Mastuana, in Sangrur district. However, Ghunas never held any important portfolio in the party or the SGPC.

Taking feedback says Sukhbir Badal

“I am meeting all SGPC members to take a feedback. So far, we have not finalised any name. At this juncture, I can’t comment on the probable candidate,” Sukhbir told HT. One of his close aides said incumbent chief Kirpal Singh Badungar is also trying for a second term.

Sources said former SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar from whom Badungar took over last year is also lobbying for the post. He recently met SAD patron and former CM Parkash Singh Badal in this regard.

The Hindustan Times – Despite ‘solving’ targeted killings, Punjab wants NIA to continue probe

Punjab police have last week nabbed five persons accused of killing people under a conspiracy to spread communal violence

Ravinder Vasudeva

Chandigarh-Panjab-India, 17 November 2017. Even after claiming to have solved the cases of targeted killings of right wing leaders in the state, the Punjab government still wants the National Investigating Agency (NIA) to go ahead with its probe in one of the cases, that of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) local leader Ravinder Gosain’s murder in Ludhiana last month.

The probe into Gosain’s killing was handed over to NIA by the state after the RSS top brass raised this demand before chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh.

Punjab police have last week nabbed five persons accused of killing people under a conspiracy to spread communal violence.

“Though we have solved the cases and Gosain’s murderers are also the same men who killed the others, we still want the NIA to go deeper into the case.

The NIA has expertise in dealing with inter-country terror issues, thus it would be in the interest of the nation if the central agency investigates the case further as perpetrators of these killings are in other countries, including Italy, UK, USA, Germany and Canada,” director general of police Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) local leader Ravinder Gosain’s murdertold HT.

The DGP also wrote to the NIA on November 15, giving details of fresh findings, including the alleged role of Pakistan’s ISI and Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF), and requested to continue with the case. It was the reason why the NIA on Thursday issued a notification about formally taking over Gosain’s killing.

On a campaign run by some activists in the UK against the arrest of one of the accused, Jagtar Singh Johal alias Jaggi, in which claims are being made that Jaggi is “innocent” and being “tortured”, Arora again said the police have “all the evidence to establish his involvement”.

“Moreover, now when the NIA will probe the case, investigation done by Punjab Police will also remain under check,” he added.

Punjab last week have claimed to busted a terror module behind these killings and arrested four persons, including Jammu resident Jimmy Singh when he landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi, upon returning from the UK. Jaggi, who is also a UK resident, was nabbed from Rama Mandi in Jalandhar district. He had landed in India on October 4 for his marriage.

Two alleged shooters, Hardeep Singh Shera and Ramandeep Singh alias Canadian, were arrested from Fatehgarh Sahib and Jalandhar, respectively. A gangster Dharmender Guggni lodged in Nabha jail has also been made accused.

The Hindustan Times – After Ram Rahim’s arrest, Dera Sacha Sauda dies a slow death

After the conviction of the group’s leader, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the colossal empire is struggling to stay relevant as the number of followers has dwindled and business affected

Hitender Rao

Sirsa-Haryana-India, 10 November 2017. A colossal business empire, worth an estimated Rs 2,100 crore and spread over 800 acres, has come to a virtual standstill. Its manufacturing plants, for aloe vera products, bottled water, car batteries, confectionery, oil-seed expellers, and atta (flour), are shut down. The nearby newspaper office, resort, shopping mall, cinema, petrol pump, restaurant, and hotel are all closed. The streets, too, are empty.

When Hindustan Times visited late last month, there was a lot of gloom and quiet in Sirsa, Haryana at the headquarters of the Dera Sacha Sauda. It started on August 25 when a CBI court convicted the group’s leader, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, of raping two disciples.

The announcement was greeted with fury: more than 45 persons were reported killed and more than 300 injured in riots across north India. This passionate anger was followed by rapid desertion. Interviews with both followers of Dera and officials of agencies investigating the group confirmed that it is in dire straits.

There are some signs of life though. The group’s much smaller, old base has remained active. Last weekend, the main headquarters was opened to celebrate the birth anniversary of Dera’s founder, Shah Mastana Balochistani. Sirsa police officials estimated that 4,000 people attended.

In general, however, recent months have seen the headquarters empty and the sect’s finances come under serious threat. “Neither are there buyers anymore nor anyone to pitch in with monetary contributions,’’ said Mangat Singh, a Dera follower from Sirsa. Dharampal, who runs a shop that sells Dera products outside the group’s headquarters, was one of the few premis (disciples) seen around last month.

“I worked at a Dera manufacturing unit,” he said. “Since it is shut down now, I look after this shop for couple of hours in the morning and the evening.” Not so long ago, Dera brand shops were full of followers of the sect; when HT visited, most stores, including Dharampal’s, were empty.

‘No one to take a decision’

For those that remain at Sirsa, there is a lack of direction and a struggle to maintain business as usual.

With Ram Rahim in prison and a number of his close aides on the run, Dera lacks a leader. According to the Sirsa police, Vipassana Insan, the chairperson, was unwell for a few weeks. Jasmeet Insaan, Ram Rahim’s son, is reportedly not interested in taking over.

“There was no one to take a decision or run the place though Vipassana is back in action since Sunday,” said a senior Haryana police official familiar with Dera. “The post-verdict violence has done them a lot of damage. A number of cases have been registered against Dera managers. It seems everyone is playing safe right now.”

Hindustan Times was unable to reach any official representatives of Dera for comment, since many appear to be avoiding contact with the press and it is unclear who is currently authorised to speak on behalf of the group.

According to a Haryana intelligence official, the number of people inside the compound has dwindled from 10,000 to only around 800. “There are no followers and there is no one to give directions,’’ said one of the remaining sewadars (volunteers). “There is hardly anything for us to do. It is a strange situation.”

The compound’s hospital, colleges and schools are struggling to function. The intelligence official said that all these institutions are seeing a low turnout, of either students or patients, and have sought the permission of the Punjab and Haryana high court to operate their bank accounts in order to meet day-to-day expenses.

These accounts are the subject of both Dera’s hopes and a grave threat against it. The Punjab and Haryana high court is attempting to quantify the damage caused by the riots and considering whether to hold Dera liable.

Meanwhile, on September 27, the high court directed the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax Department to investigate the personal accounts of Ram Rahim and his associates for possible money laundering.

Before it’s too late

Dera’s businesses have been closing, its followers have dwindled, and its savings are in doubt, but one important source of hope remains: politicians.

When the Haryana state assembly met last month, it made a point of paying homage to the Dera followers who were killed in the violence. The sympathetic representatives were from a wide range of political parties, including the BJP, the Congress, and the Indian National Lok Dal. Dera has been an important vote bank for parties for at least a decade.

The Congress received its support in the assembly polls of Punjab, in 2007, and Haryana, in 2009. Then, in Haryana in 2014, it was the BJP that received Dera’s support. In Punjab in 2012 and 2017, it was the Shiromani Akali Dal.

The diverse array of politicians who have depended on the group is the only indication of its strength. And now, it’s only hope.

The Hindustan Times – ‘My family was murdered in front of me’: Sheela Kaur is an eyewitness but still awaits justice for 1984 anti-Sikh riots

One of the few surviving witnesses to the anti-Sikh riots, Sheela Kaur has identified Congress leader Sajjan Kumar as the man who instigated the frenzied mobs

Niha Masih

Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 3 November 2017. On September 10, 2015, a frail-looking Sheela Kaur stood in front of a packed court, 30 years, 10 months and nine days after her husband, father-in-law and brother-in-law were burnt alive by a frenzied mob in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

She pointed a finger at Congress leader Sajjan Kumar, identifying him as the person who instigated the mob in Delhi’s Sultanpuri, where she lived.

“Kaise bhool sakti hoon us din ke baare mein kuch bhi. Meri aankhon ke saamne mera poora parivar khatam ho gaya. (How can I ever forget anything about that day? My entire family was murdered in front of my eyes)”, Sheela says stoically.

The 53-year-old is one of the few surviving witnesses to have testified against the Congress leader.

Of the three cases against Kumar that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) re-investigated, the Sultanpuri case is being heard by a sessions court.

In 2010, the agency closed another case related to mass killing of Sikhs in Mongolpuri for lack of evidence. In a third case on similar killings in Delhi Cantonment, Kumar was acquitted in 2013. The CBI contested the clean chit.

Kumar approached the Delhi high court in 2013 seeking quashing of the Sultanpuri case against him. His counsel told the court the witnesses were “unreliable” as they surfaced after 24 years and had not named the leader in their previous appearances in other related cases. The court rejected the plea.

Sheela, however, insists she had named Kumar from the day of the carnage.

“Main toh hamesha se Sajjan Kumar ka naam leti rahi par anpadh hone ke kaaran mujhe pata nahi police ne kab kya likha. (I have always been naming Sajjan Kumar as the accused but being an illiterate, I did not know what the police were writing).”

After her deposition, Sheela will now be cross-examined by Kumar’s lawyers as the case drags on in the Patiala House district court. When contacted by HT, Kumar’s lawyer, I U Khan, refused to comment, saying “the matter is sub-judice.” Kumar himself did not respond to calls or a message seeking a comment.

For all these years, the gruesome story of her family members’ murders has remained a mere statistic in the footnote of the country’s history.

On October 31, 1984, Sheela watched the announcement of Gandhi’s death on a small black and white television. “We never thought we could be targeted as we were poor daily wage labourers.”

Her block in Sultanpuri did not witness violence that night but the morning would be streaked with blood.

As news spread of mobs attacking a market nearby, a tense Sheela stepped outside her house tentatively. “Near my house was a small park where lots of people had gathered. That is where I saw Sajjan Kumar. He was saying, ‘kill those who killed our mother’,” she claims.

She ran back inside but the mob was on her heels. The three men in her house were taken out even as she tried to stop them. A while later, they were burnt alive. Their screams, she says, still haunt her.

“Na sar pe chunni, na pair mein chappal, bas ek mahine ke bete ko uthakar main bhagi. (I picked up my one-month old son and ran without a dupatta or slippers).”

She spent the next two days hiding in her Muslim neighbours’ houses – whoever was brave enough to give her shelter. It was only on the third day when the army arrived and took them to a relief camp set up at Rani Bagh.

It was at the camp that her first police complaint was registered. The only document she has from then is a laminated page browned with age. The handwritten complaint is now illegible. Only the police seal of December 15, 1984 is visible.

She does not know what happened with the cases in the immediate aftermath, all she remembers is the police and mediapersons coming to speak to her over and over again.

It was as late as in 2005, when a report by Nanavati Commission, the tenth such panel created to probe the riots, led to the Sultanpuri case being handed over to the CBI for re-investigation. It took another five years before a charge sheet was filed.

In the days leading up to her deposition, Sheela recalls a friendly neighbour coming to her several times advising her not to name Sajjan Kumar. Sheela instead requested for police protection, which was granted to her by the court.

She remembers being a little nervous on the day of her testimony but the thought of her late husband gave her the strength.

“Sajjan Kumar did not go to jail even for a day while my entire life was shattered. Even if he went to jail for one day, I will feel some relief,” she says.

“Till the time I am alive, I will continue to fight. Though it seems that the case is on me not on him,” she adds.

The years have taken their toll. Her voice wavers between faith in a system that she feels has failed her and anguish at the prospect of giving up the fight.

“Kya aapko lagta hai usse saza milegi? (Do you think he will ever get punished?)” she asks.

The Hindustan Times – Ports, airports alerted to check ‘radicalised’ Indians returning from IS strongholds in Syria, Iraq

Indian agencies are constantly in touch with their Iraqi, Syrian, Russian and American counterparts to ensure that each of these radicalised mercenary Indians is accounted for and not let loose in the society at large.

Shishir Gupta

New Delhi, 28 October 2017. With the fall of Raqqa, the so-called Islamic State capital, on October 17, security agencies have alerted all airports and ports to guard against radicalised Indian fighters returning from the fallen Caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

The instructions are clear that Indian fighters are to be heavily screened and arrested on arrival.

Top intelligence sources said that available data indicates that 91 Indians joined the IS in Iraq and Syria, and Khorasan in Afghanistan. Of them, 67 went to fight in Syria and another 24 from Kerala joined the IS in Afghanistan.
According to counter-terror specialists, 11 Indians have returned to India, but it is not clear whether they returned from fighting in Syria or some of them were turned back from the Turkish border.

While reports of the total number of Indians killed in fighting range from 7 to 15, there is no confirmation on any of the deceased.

Indian agencies are constantly in touch with their Iraqi, Syrian, Russian and American counterparts to ensure that each of these radicalised mercenary Indians is accounted for and not let loose in the society at large.

A detailed plan has been put into place by counter-terrorism specialists, so that all the returning Indians are profiled with their families and understood how they got radicalised in the first place.

Although there is no word on the remnants of UP born Indian Mujahideen terrorists, who moved to Syria from Pakistan under guidance of one Yousof Al Hindi, a large number of these fighters are from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

The Indian intelligence assessment is that foreign fighters returning from Syria will find home in restive Afghanistan, south-east Asia or Africa.

Already, there are reports of IS joining hands with al-Qaeda or the Haqqani network to launch action on the Durand Line (Afghanistan-Pakistan border). Indian agencies, however, suspect the role of Pakistan in order to further destabilise Afghanistan.

Although there is a genuine concern that these mercenaries will launch attacks in India later to keep the IS ideology alive, security agencies are constantly in touch with state police and associate agencies to avoid such incidents.

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.