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Khadakvasla tales: Reliving 50 years of National Defence Academy

Officers from the 36th course were among the junior most who took part in the 1971 war for Bangladesh and later at senior ranks in the Sri Lanka operations and the 1999 Kargil war among other such exigencies.

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Khadakvasla tales

Callow young men, still in their teens, join Indias prestigious National Defence Academy (NDA) as cadets every six months and three years later they are well-trained military officers in the making and branch out to the army, navy and air force. The most cherished event is the 50th anniversary of the passing out from the NDA and this week. On June 15 the 36th course will meet at Khadakvasla, Pune for what is a poignant and perhaps last such course get together – the Golden Jubilee Reunion (GJR).

A memorial meeting at the Hut of Remembrance (HoR) to pay silent homage to those we lost in operations and otherwise is the most sombre and the course has shrunk in numbers from the original 270. The wives of course-mates who are no more are accorded a special status at the reunion and the bonding among the course-mates, many who would be meeting again after 50 years, is distinctive.

I was privileged to be part of the 270-plus young cadets who made our bewildered way from then Poona (now Pune) station to Khadakvasla in mid 1966 and certain memories and vignettes remain luminous as they are distilled through a shared experience of having been brothers-in-arms for half a century.

Officers from the 36th course were among the junior most who took part in the 1971 war for Bangladesh and later at senior ranks in the Sri Lanka operations and the 1999 Kargil war among other such exigencies. Every NDA course has its share of outstanding officers who acquitted themselves in the highest traditions of the Indian military and the 36th is proud to have four Vir Chakra awardees (P.C. Bharadwaj, Tamal Roy, A.S. Ahlawat and Rohit Sethi) and three Shaurya Chakra winners (P.C. Bharadwaj, Timki Randhawa and Thayi Hari). The 36th also nurtured an Army Chief and now union minister of state (V.K. Singh) and a large number of three star officers among others. Some were injured in combat and related operations (Anil Bhalla and J.J. Smith among others) and yes, there will be a few who have lost limbs or were differently injured while in service – but are still stoic and cheerful.

Luck and chance play a very important role in any military trajectory and I had my fair share, which enabled me to stay the course for almost 40 years in uniform. The alternate path was that I would have faced the ignominy of being discharged from the NDA as a first termer in 1966 for very odd reasons. My accidental benefactor was the commandant of the NDA, the esteemed Major General Ranbir Bakshi who had won the coveted Military Cross (MC) in World War II.

Within my first month at the NDA I fell ill with a high fever that was not responding to the usual medication and very soon I burst into a severe skin allergy with attendant puss symptoms. My condition deteriorated and I was shifted to the Military Hopsital (MH) in Poona where a team of specialists tried to diagnose my unusual condition. At the time I was a little over 15 years of age and knew little beyond what one imbibed in boarding school and through the books one read.

I noticed an odd pattern at the MH where my skin condition elicited much professional interest – local civilian doctors came to examine me (rather rudely) and I was shifted to an isolation ward. Unknown to me the preliminary determination was that I had contracted a rare STD (sexually transmitted disease), for the skin condition was apparently similar (particularly in the groin) to venereal diseases and suddenly I had become a medical and disciplinary case!

Various stern looking officers came to question me about whether I had visited the red light area on arrival in Pune, or if I had slipped away from Khadakvasla to indulge in the carnal pleasures of life! I was completely stunned and my condition was absurd. I was often strapped to the bed naked – to prevent me from scratching myself and had no one to speak to, except for a dour nursing orderly who changed my bandages and brought my food. Worse, he insisted on calling me erangeela cadet’ (colourful cadet) and a echhupa rustam’ (hidden hero), alluding to my alleged sexual detour.

I was informally told that I had contracted an STD and I would be sent packing home. Very luckily for me the skin specialist, a senior World War II veteran, Colonel M.L. Gaind, finally reviewed my case and concluded that I had a congenital allergy that was exacerbated by an antibiotic which had led to the skin flare-up. And as chance would have it, when I was lying unclothed on the examining table with a sheet over me, the NDA commandant General Bakshi walked in for a personal consultation.

Clearly the doctor and the general were friends from younger days and my curious case, as it had unfolded was explained to him. I was made to sit up and Gen. Bakshi looked at me empathetically and said: “So son, you are not the erangeela’ I was told you are. Get well soon and join your course.”

To say that I was relieved would be the understatement of my 15-year-old life. I returned to the ragging, cycle lifting and front-rolling that first-termers at the NDA undergo with cheer and gratitude. But for the fortuitous visit by the NDA commandant on that particular day, I would have been denied the opportunity to be part of the 36th course for over 50 years.

This weekend a bunch of soon to be 70-years-olds will share their individual trajectories at the Golden Jubilee and recall General Baskhi and scores of other officers who molded the callow lads, as also Subedar Major Kanshi Ram, our drill JCO and the chance cum luck factor that shaped our lives.

(Commodore C Uday Bhaskar (retd) joined the NDA as part of the 36th course in July 1966 and retired from the Indian Navy in early 2007. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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BJP leaders brainstorm for second day, say govt ready for talks with farmers

Union Home Minister Amit Shah met Agriculture Minister Narender Singh Tomar earlier in the day to discuss the strategy to break the logjam.

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Farmers on Protest

Eager to break the deadlock with famers who are agitating for scrapping the new farm laws, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership held meetings for a second consecutive day on Monday and sent out the message that the Union government is ready for talks.

Union home minister Amit Shah met Union minister for agriculture, NS Tomar earlier in the day to discuss the strategy to break the logjam. A senior party functionary said, “The message from the top is clear that the laws are not anti-farmers and that the farmers are being misled. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reiterated that laws will offer better opportunity for the farmers.”

The functionary said the government is ready to sit across the table and discuss the new laws and “address whatever concerns” the farmers have.

Speaking in Varanasi, the PM on Monday said the laws have given farmers new options and legal protection. He lashed out at the opposition for “misleading” the farmers and said earlier decisions of government were opposed now rumours have become the basis for opposition and propaganda is being served even though the laws favour the farmers.

The party has also opted for a cautious, measured response to the agitation. Even though it is pinning the blame on the opposition for provoking the protest, it is taking care not to rile the farmers. “The farmers are innocent. They are being misled by those with vested interests. The laws have barely been implemented and their impact is yet to be ascertained, so how can people rush to call these anti-farmers,” said Rajkuamr Chahar, head of the BJP’s Kisan Morcha.

He said the Punjab unit of the Morcha has been communicating with the farmers’ representatives and has relayed the government’s willingness to address their concerns.

On Monday, even as the party tried to diffuse the anger against the bills, its ally the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) joined the chorus for the rollback of the laws. Rajasthan lawmaker and RLP chief, Hanuman Beniwal, shot off a letter to Shah, seeking the reversal of the laws.

“….In view of the countrywide sentiment in support of the ongoing farmers’ movement, the recently introduced three bills related to agriculture should be immediately withdrawn. (The Centre must) implement all recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, and immediately hold dialogue with farmers in Delhi,” he said.

The BJP, however, played down the ally’s demand. Its national spokesperson on economic issues, Gopal Krishna Agarwal said, “We assure all, including our NDA partners that farmers’ well-being and welfare are in our heart. Large scale market reforms are needed and that has always been the consensus.”

He went on to add that while the BJP opposes misgivings about the APMC mandis being dismantled and MSP being withdrawn, the opposition is politicizing the issue along with the Arhtiyas (commission agents) and middleman.

“We have offered all the basic facilities to farmers, drinking water, toilets, shelters and medical facilities. They have been given permission to protest and also been invited for dialogue. We are open for all discussions on the merits or demerits of the three bills. If farmers have certain serious concerns, we are ready to listen to them,” he said.

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Lunar Eclipse: Chant these mantras for peace during Chandra Grahan

Check out the Chandra Beej Mantra, Dhanvantari Mantra, Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra and Shanti Path given below to ward off the ill-effects of this celestial movement.

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Lunar eclipse

Lunar Eclipse 2020: The fourth and the last Upachaya Chandra Grahan (Penumbral Lunar Eclipse) of 2020 will take place today. Though Sutak is not applicable during Upachaya Chandra Grahan, the constant movements of the Grahas (planets) may cast an impact on zodiac signs. It may influence people’s natal charts. Hence, people must chant mantras to negate the negative effect of Grahan.

The Lunar Eclipse will have a duration of 4 hours and 18 minutes. It will begin on Monday at 1.04 pm and reach its peak at 3.13 pm. The Lunar Eclipse will end at 5.22 pm and will have a magnitude of 0.82.

Check out the Chandra Beej Mantra, Dhanvantari Mantra, Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra and Shanti Path given below to ward off the ill-effects of this celestial movement.

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Uttar Pradesh law on love jihad seeks to divide communities, writes Kapil Sibal

The Ordinance also goes against the right to privacy. The state has no role to play in the personal choice of individuals in consummating a union and embracing their partner’s religion

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Love Jihad

When laws are motivated by communally divisive agendas, they breed suspicion within communities, resulting in a sense of alienation. That in turn negatively impacts societal peace and harmony. Occasionally, it leads to sporadic violence. When such laws attempt to interfere with personal relationships or emotive issues of choice, which are at the heart of individual freedoms, the outcomes are even more disturbing. That explains why matters relating to marriage, divorce, succession and inheritance polarise dialogues and attitudes.

Such agendas germinate a majoritarian culture pitting “us” against “them” and give birth to electoral majorities. The road to power then becomes a relatively easy enterprise. The rise of right-wing assertions, a global phenomenon, is based on such engineered societal divides. The Uttar Pradesh government’s recent promulgation of the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, relating to “Love Jihad” is yet another attempt, in a string of communally charged initiatives, aimed at reaping electoral dividends.

Love jihad is a concept the contours of which are blurred. However, in simple terms, all that it means is that if a Muslim boy, in love with a non-Muslim girl chooses to marry her and she embraces Islam, such a union will be looked upon with suspicion by the law and is liable to be declared void. This strikes at the root of individual liberty since such a union cannot be held to be legally suspect. It strikes at the core of the ‘right to privacy’, which is protected constitutionally.

The Ordinance also targets mass conversions, which have taken place in the past. These include conversions to Christianity in the 1930s, to Buddhism by Dalits in the 1950s and Mizo Christians to the Jewish faith in the 2000s. Those seeking to convert allure marginalised castes and tribes with hope, dignity and material enticement. Dr Ambedkar, disenchanted with the caste structure of Hinduism, converted to Buddhism.

The reasons for such mass conversions are complex and need to be addressed separately. Under the proposed law, those guilty of mass conversions are liable to face a jail term extending up to 10 years and a minimum fine of Rs 50,000. While it is justifiable to prevent conversion based on force, coercion, undue influence, misrepresentation and allurements, it is difficult to prove these elements if a Muslim boy and a non-Muslim girl or vice-versa exercise their free will to marry for reasons that are entirely personal. The reason why non-Muslims convert to Islam is because the children born in wedlock would otherwise be excluded from inheritance under Muslim law.

Absent this conversion, the union of a Muslim with a non-Muslim or vice-versa will be a difficult proposition. That is why the intent of the proposed law is suspect as it seeks to target conversion and not marriage. The Ordinance provides that in an interfaith marriage, if one of the partners wishes to embrace another religion, that person will have to inform the District Magistrate or the Additional District Magistrate in writing at least two months in advance. A format of the application seeking permission for conversion will be provided by the government.

Under the proposed law, it would be the responsibility of the person embracing another religion to prove that such person was not converted forcibly or through fraudulent means. Those who abet, convince or conspire are also liable to be prosecuted. Any such violation of the law would entail a jail term of six months to three years and a minimum fine of Rs 10,000.

Marriage between two people is personal to them. It allows either of them to opt out of the marriage. In addition, the person victimised is free to allege use of force, coercion, fraud, undue influence or misrepresentation against the other. In the absence of any of these, it is unthinkable that the law mandates a person who voluntarily embraces another religion to seek permission to prove that the decision was not actuated by any of those elements. Reversal of the burden of proof in matters of personal choices of a life partner may be legally unsustainable.

The obligation to seek permission for conversion two months in advance is fundamentally arbitrary and a violation of the ‘right to privacy’. The state has no role to play in the personal choice of individuals in consummating a union and embracing the religion of the partner. The state can certainly regulate acts of forced conversion but the starting point of such regulation has to be a complaint made by the individual who opts to convert. In most of these cases, it is the parents who complain that their daughter has been fraudulently enticed into a relationship and is a victim of forced conversion.

The Ordinance allows members of the family of those who convert or any relative to lodge an FIR. This makes the Ordinance an instrument of harassment in situations where interfaith marriages are voluntary.
We have seen this being played out in Hadiya’s case in Kerala. The couple went through trauma when Hadiya’s husband and some organisations were targeted for allegedly having induced her to convert to Islam. This was despite the fact that she constantly denied the allegations, asserting that she had embraced Islam voluntarily and much before she had met her husband.

The drama was then played out in court after the Kerala High Court held the marriage to be void on grounds that there was no reasonable explanation given by Hadiya for her marriage to a Muslim without the consent of her parents. Finally, while appearing personally in the Supreme Court, she unequivocally stated that she had married her husband of her own free will and converted to another religion much before her marriage. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) was asked to investigate the circumstances in which Hadiya had married and converted.

The NIA decided to widen its investigations. From a list of 89 such marriages, it investigated 11 cases and in the absence of prosecutable evidence, all such matters resulted in closure. The bottom line is that the Ordinance serves a political purpose. It is yet another way to polarise our polity. The issue is emotive and seeks to divide communities. The constitutionality of such a legislation when challenged should be decided with utmost speed. The court, hopefully, will find such laws to be antithetical to the constitutional ethos and our civilisational values. Any attempt to delay adjudication would only be playing into the hands of those intending to divide and not unite India.

This article first appeared in the newindianexpress on Nov 30, 2020 under the title ‘The perils of an economic oligarchy’. The writer, a senior Congress leader, is a former Union minister.

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