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Analysis

Fear of poaching gives sleepless nights to Kashmir’s politicians

Forty-four MLAs is the minimum number to stake claim to power in the state. In the 87-member assembly, the PDP has 28, BJP 25, NC 15, Congress 12, PC 2 and CPI-M 1, while four MLAs are unattached.

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Jammju Politician

Srinagar, July 20 : Beware of predators and poachers, take care of your flock. This is the classic warning for shepherds while they graze their flock in the Himalayan meadows. In Kashmir’s political meadow of expedient opportunities, the same warning is now visiting mainstream politicians.

After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew from the ruling alliance in Jammu and Kashmir, the politics of make and break is back with a vengeance.

Dissident MLAs of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), including the influential Shia leader and former minister Imran Ansari and his uncle, Abid Ansari, who is also an MLA in the 87-member legislative assembly, were the first to hit the road against Mehbooba Mufti, the former Chief Minister and the PDP president.

Three more PDP MLAs — Abbas Wani, Abdul Majeed Paddar and Javaid Hussain Baig — found common cause with the Ansaris to rebel against the party leadership.

Encouraged by the trend set by rebel MLAs, two PDP legislators from the upper house of state’s bicameral legislature, Yasir Rishi and Saifuddin Bhat, also joined the dissident group.

Alarmed by the cracks in her party, Mehbooba Mufti warned the Centre against attempting a split.

“The breaking up of my party will produce more Sallahuddins and Yasin Maliks,” Mehbooba said on July 13, the day Kashmir remembers its martyrs who fought against the autocratic rule of the erstwhile Maharajas.

BJP leaders including Ram Madhav, the party’s national general secretary who played a pivotal role in forging an alliance with the PDP that brought the coalition to power in 2015, washed their hands off.

“This is an internal issue of the PDP and we have nothing to do with it. Our priority is to improve the situation in the Valley under governor’s rule,” Madhav said.

Former Chief Minister and regional National Conference (NC) Vice President Omar Abdullah came out strongly against encouraging dissidence in the state’s regional parties.

Omar has been pleading from day one after the imposition of the governor’s rule by N.N.Vohra that keeping the state assembly in suspended animation gives an opportunity for horse trading.

The NC Vice President wants dissolution of the state assembly and announcement of fresh elections to restore democracy in the state.

Omar’s worry has valid reasons. His father and party president, Dr.Farooq Abdullah, lost the Chief Minister’s post in 1984 when NC dissidents, with the support of the Congress Party, installed his brother-in-law, G.M. Shah, as the Chief Minister.

Sajad Lone of the Peoples Conference (PC), who was a minister in the Mehbooba Mufti led coalition, is believed to be the front-runner for the Chief Minister’s post if a viable third front supported by the BJP is able to take shape.

Forty-four MLAs is the minimum number to stake claim to power in the state. In the 87-member assembly, the PDP has 28, BJP 25, NC 15, Congress 12, PC 2 and CPI-M 1, while four MLAs are unattached.

Sajad Lone was given a ministerial berth in the erstwhile PDP-BJP ruling coalition out of the BJP quota.

J&K has a tough anti-defection law which makes changing parties very difficult for the rebels.

What irks the regional parties is the fact that seven BJP MLAs who were expelled by the party in the former state assembly were allowed by the then Speaker to sit separately in the assembly without losing their membership.

The top leadership of both the NC and the PDP are worried about such a situation arising again if horse trading succeeds in breaking the PDP to reach the magical figure of 44 with BJP support.

“That would be the darkest day for democracy in the state”, said a senior NC leader.

There are no indications at present that the NC faces a similar crisis as the PDP does, but as the saying goes — once bitten, twice shy.

Some senior BJP leaders in the state, including the former Deputy Chief Minister Kavinder Gupta, have started saying that the tradition of having a Muslim Chief Minister in the state has no constitutional basis.

“Anybody who becomes the leader of the majority in the assembly can be the Chief Minister. There is nothing in the constitution that debars a non-Muslim becoming J&K’s Chief Minister”, Gupta said.

Ironically, the growing voices in Jammu for a Hindu Chief Minister could prevent the PDP dissidents from fishing in the troubled waters.

“Why should the dissidents give up their claim to have one of them as the Chief Minister? After all, none of the dissidents has stuck his neck out to pave way for a Chief Minister who is not among them,” asked a senior PDP leader who owes unflinching loyalty to Mehbooba Mufti.

Politics being the art of the possible can make for strange bedfellows, but definitely not those who take risks for somebody else to get the top job in Kashmir.

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at [email protected])

Analysis

YouTube testing new video recommendation format: Report

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San Francisco, Jan 16 : Google-owned video sharing platform YouTube is testing a new video recommendation format that displays blue bubbles on the screen with relevant keywords and related topic suggestions, facilitating easier browsing, media reported.

“The screenshots obtained show these blue bubbles just underneath the video player showing more specific video recommendations,” The Verge reported on Tuesday.

The video-sharing platform is currently testing the feature with some users on its main desktop page as well as on the mobile app.

For sometime now users have been complaining that the videos recommended on the side on YouTube’s interface often have little to do with the current video, making recommendations a point of contention for the platform.

“It’s unclear if the videos that populate from the new recommendation bubbles will face similar algorithmic issues that YouTube’s recommendation feed currently suffers,” the report added.

There has not been any word from YouTube as of now on the working of these blue bubbles and whether or not they will roll out the test feature to a bigger group in the coming months.

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Analysis

2002 Gujarat riots: Judge P.B. Desai ignored evidence, says activist Harsh Mander

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Harsh Mander

New Delhi, Jan 9 : Special SIT court judge P.B. Desai “ignored evidence” that former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in a mob attack in Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Housing Society during the 2002 riots, did all that was possible within his power to protect Muslims from the “rage of the mob” and instead echoed the position of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi that his killing was only a “reaction” to his “action” of shooting at the mob, says human rights activist Harsh Mander.

He says that “the learned judge”, who retired in December 2017, overlooked statements by surviving witnesses that Jafri made repeated desperate calls to senior police officers and other persons in authority, “including allegedly Chief Minister Modi”, pleading that security forces be sent to “disperse the crowd” and rescue those “against whom the mob had laid a powerful siege”.

Mander, who quit the IAS in Gujarat in the wake of the riots, makes these observations in his just released book, “Partitions of the Heart: Unmaking the Idea of India”, published by Penguin.

The 66-year-old activist, who works with survivors of mass violence and hunger as well as homeless persons and street children, goes on to quote the late journalist Kuldip Nayar to establish that Jafri had desperately telephoned him, “begging him to contact someone in authority to send in the police or the Army to rescue them”.

Mander says Nayar rang up the Union Home Ministry to convey to it the seriousness of the situation. The Home Ministry said it was in touch with the state government and was “watching” the situation. Jafri called again, pleading with Nayar to do something as the mob was threatening to lynch him.

In the chapter titled “Whatever happened in Gulberg Society?”, Mander contends that Jafri did everything within his power to protect “those who believed that his influence would shield them from the rage of the mob”. Mander says Jafri begged the mob to “take his life instead” and in a show of valour went out “to plead and negotiate” with the angry crowd.

“When he realised that no one in authority would come in for their protection, he also did pick up his licensed firearm and shoot at the crowd…,” Mander notes, describing it as the “final vain bid” on behalf of Jafri to protect the Muslims in the line of fire.

The author notes that in describing Jafri’s final resort to firing as an illegitimate action, the judge only echoed the position taken repeatedly by Modi, who had given an interview to a newspaper in which he had said that it was Jafri who had first fired at the mob.

“He forgot to say what a citizen is expected to do when a menacing mob, which has already slaughtered many, approaches him and the police has deliberately not responded to his pleas,” says Mander.

He says that it was as if even when under attack and surrounded by an armed mob warning to slaughter them, “and with acid bombs and burning rags flung at them”, a good Muslim victim should do nothing except plead, and this would ensure their safety.

Ehsan Jafri’s wife Zakia Jafri, according to Mander, was firmly convinced that her husband was killed because of a conspiracy that went right to the top of the state administration, beginning with Modi. The author notes that the court, in its judgement running into more than 1,300 pages, disagreed.

“It did indict 11 people for the murder but they were just foot soldiers,” observed Mander.

He further says that the story the survivors told the judge over prolonged hearings was consistent but Judge Desai was convinced that there was “no conspiracy behind the slaughter” and that the administration did all it could to control it.

“Jafri, by the judge’s reckoning, and that of Modi, was responsible for his own slaughter,” he laments.

Mander also argues in the book that recurring episodes of communal violence in Ahmedabad had altered the city’s demography, dividing it into Hindu and Muslim areas and Gulberg was among the last remaining “Muslim” settlements in the “Hindu” section of the city.

He says that Desai also disregarded the evidence in the conversations secretly taped by Tehelka reporters, mentioning that superior courts, according to Desai himself, have ruled that while a person cannot be convicted exclusively based on the evidence collected in such “sting operations”, such evidence is certainly “admissible as corroborative proof”.

“But he chose to disregard this evidence, not because there was proof that these video recordings were in any way doctored or false but simply because the Special Investigative Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India chose to ignore this evidence,” says Mander.

According to Mander, the Tehelka recordings “certainly supported the theory that there was indeed a plan to collect, incite and arm the mob to undertake the gruesome slaughter”.

The SIT was headed by R.K. Raghavan, today Ambassador to Cyprus. Mander contends in the book that just because the investigators did not pursue Tehelka recordings in greater depth, Desai concluded that the “recordings cannot be relied upon as trustworthy of substantial evidence and establish any conspiracy herein”.

In the book, Mander takes stock of whether India has upheld the values it had set out to achieve and offers painful, unsparing insight into the contours of violence. The book is now available both online and in bookstores.

(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

Number of suicides highest in Army amongst three services

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

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Ajit Doval

New Delhi, Jan 7 : The number of defence personnel committing suicide was highest in the Army amongst the three services in the last three years, data shows.

In 2018 alone, as many as 80 Army personnel are believed to have committed suicide. This number is 16 for Air Force and 08 for the Navy, Minister of State (MoS) for Defence Subhash Bhamre told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply on Monday.

In 2017, the number of Army men who are suspected to have committed suicide was 75, while in 2016 this number was 104.

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

In his reply, the Minister said that various steps have been taken by the armed forces to create healthy environment for their officers and other ranks.

“Some of the steps include provision of better facilities such as clothing, food, married accommodation, travel facilities, schooling, recreation etc and periodic welfare meetings, promoting yoga and meditation as a tool for stress management, and training and deployment of psychological counsellors,” the reply read.

It said mental health awareness is provided during pre-induction training.

Besides, institutionalisation of projects “MILAP” and “SAHYOG” by the Army in Northern and Eastern Commands to reduce stress among troops has been done.

A helpline has also been established by the Army and the Air Force to provide professional counselling.

IANS

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