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Analysis

Law catching up with Akhilesh-Mayawati as they ready for alliance

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Even as Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj party (BSP) supremo Mayawati — sworn enemies till not long ago — are making all efforts to stitch up a united force in Uttar Pradesh against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the 2019 general elections, the law seems to be catching up with both of them.

While the BSP supremo is on sticky ground with a recent directive of the Allahabad High Court not to spare anyone involved in a Rs 1,400 crore scam in memorials constructed under her watch, even as it sought a progress report from the Uttar Pradesh government’s Vigilance Department that is probing the matter, the SP chief is in choppy waters over a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report which indicts his previous government in a Rs 97,000 crore scam.

According to a CAG audit, the mandatory utilisation certificates of works done between 2014 and 2017, involving Rs 97,000 crore, are missing. This amount was spent on 2.5 lakh works and projects, an official privy to the matter told IANS. Most matters pertain to the social welfare, panchayati raj and education departments in which more than Rs 26,000 crore was spent, but there is no certification of the works done.

Sources in the know of the full report say that, in most matters, the CAG suspects large-scale swindling and graft. What is surprising is the fact that while utilisation certificates were not given by many departments, subsequent installments were released. More than 2.55 lakh utilisation certificates are pending, casting serious doubt on governance under the watch of then Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.

On the other hand, four-time Chief Minister Mayawati also faces some fresh legal trouble. The Allahabad High Court this week sought a progress report from the government in the multi-crore monument scandal, which involved financial irregularities in the plethora of monuments and memorial parks built when Mayawati was in office from 2007 to 2012.

A bench of Chief Justice D.B. Bhonsle and Justice Yashwant Verma has given the state government one week to present before it the progress report in the matter in which the Lokayukta had inferred large-scale financial irregularities and corruption. The court gave these directions while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Shashikant Pandey of Mirzapur, who has cited Lokayukta N.K. Mehrotra’s 88-page report on the matter.

This could trigger big-ticket trouble for the BSP supremo as there are a lot of financial irregularities under the scanner in the construction of Ambdekar Smarak Parivartan Sthal, Manyavar Kanshiram Smarak Sthal, Eco Park, Gautambuddha Upwan, Ramabai Ambedkar grounds and Smirit Upwan in the state capital Lucknow and the Ambedkar park built in Noida, adjoining New Delhi.

Other than the evidence submitted to the Lokayukta what could trouble Mayawati in this particular matter is that two others accused — her confidantes and former Uttar Pradesh ministers Babu Singh Kushwaha and Naseemuddin Siddiqui — are now ranged against her. Siddiqui is in the Congress and Kushwaha has floated her own party. Any word from them about the complicity of “Behen-ji”, as Mayawati is referred to by her supporters, in the matter could immensely impact the political future of the 62-year-old.

A dozen legislators, more than 100 engineers and government employees, officers of the Noida Authority, Rajkiya Nirman Nigam and the Public Works Department (PWD) were made accused in the scam. Mayawati had taken personal interest in construction of these monuments, named after Dalit icons and Rs 4,500 crore was earmarked for the projects in the state budget. After the report of the Lokayukta was submitted, the then SP government led by Akhilesh Yadav had lodged an FIR in the matter in 2014.

It was alleged that the pink stone used in these monuments was supplied from Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh though in the books it was shown as having been purchased from Rajasthan and cartage charges were falsely billed. Crores of rupees allegedly went into the pockets of politicians and engineers in this. The Lokayukta, in his report, had also pointed out that while the labour and machines used for cutting stones were all from Lucknow, the payments made were 10 times what they should have been.

The state Vigilance Department is investigatng the matter. Soon after Akhilesh Yadav stormed to power, he had vowed to bring Mayawati to book but after some time the matter went into cold storage. Today, the two bitter rivals are talking of an electoral alliance in 2019. The BJP government too in the past one-and-a-half years has done precious little in the matter.

The BJP, rattled by the coming together of the two political rivals, which led to successive defeats in parliamentary and assembly by polls, will be more than willing to play this up, say political observers. First, because the processes have been started or raised by constitutional authorities — CAG, Lokayukta and the Judiciary — and hence it cannot be accused of political vendetta; and, secondly, because this will bring to the fore once again the “unholy nexus of the Bua-Bhatija to save their skins and sins”, a BJP functionary chuckled.

What and how much of an impact these issues will have on the 2019 elections is a matter of conjecture, but certainly the two issues have the potential to mar the initial attempts by the SP-BSP to emerge as alternative to the ruling BJP.

(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at [email protected])

Analysis

The US presidential elections and future of India-US relations

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Donald Trump Joe Biden

As the coronavirus pandemic dominates global news in the United States, progress toward the next presidential election scheduled to be held on November 3 moves slowly forward. President Donald Trump had no real opposition in the Republican party and is running for re-election. And it has now become apparent that former Vice President Joe Biden will be his opponent as the Democratic candidate for president.

What would a Trump victory bode for the future of US-India relations? What would a Biden victory bode? Let me answer each of those questions in turn.

Given the love fests of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, Texas, in which Trump participated in September of 2019, and Trump’s ‘Namaste Trump’ event hosted by Modi in India in February of this year, it might be assumed that the future for US-India relations is a splendid one. This would be an incorrect assumption.

Both of these events were more symbolic than substantive. Trump’s participation in them undoubtedly helped to persuade some — perhaps many — Indian American Modi supporters who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 to cast their ballots for Trump in 2020. Trump’s campaign team took steps to ensure this by holding an event at his Mar-a-Lago resort in which a group of prominent Indian Americans announced their plans to work for his re-election and to mobilize Indian Americans on his behalf.

To understand the future potential of India’s relations with the US. with Trump as president, however, it is necessary to look beyond these political moves and to examine the present state of those relations and Trump’s personal style.

In a word, the best way to characterize the current relations between the US and India is “functional”. The relationship was relatively good for the first two years of Trump’s presidency. In fact, near the end of 2018, Alice Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, was quoted in the media s saying: “This has been a landmark year for US-India ties as we build out stronger relationships across the board.”

Then, in 2019, the relations went off the track in the first half of the year after the US and India got into a tit-for-tat tariff war after the US terminated India’s Generalized System of Preferences which allowed India to send certain goods to the US duty-free. There have been continuing efforts to structure a “modest” trade deal since then. It was thought there might be some type of deal done in September of 2019 while Modi was in the US by year’s end, and then during Trump’s India visit. But, as of today, there is still no deal.

This inability to get any meaningful trade agreement in place speaks volumes about India’s potential future relations with India with Trump as president. So, too does Trump’s style.

Trump’s campaign slogans this time around are “Keep America Great” and “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” Trump is not a policy wonk and most of his effort will go toward “America First”. This involves making the US more isolated by withdrawing from international agreements, restructuring trade agreements, emphasizing building walls to stop immigrants at the border, using tariffs to block trade with countries who are taking away American jobs, and confronting businesses who are allegedlly stealing American trade secrets.

This perspective suggests what India can expect for its relations with the US if it has to deal with Trump for a second term as president. The relations will stay functional at best. As I have said before, that’s because the words partnership, cooperation and collaboration are not in Trump’s vocabulary. Nationalism, isolationism and protectionism are.

Joe Biden stands in stark contrast to President Trump both professionally and personally. Biden is a strategic thinker and doer with a solid eight-year track record of leadership experience as Vice-President in forging alliances that have made a difference around the world and he has also been a long-standing friend of India.

He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading advocate for the Congressional passage of the Indo-US civic nuclear deal in 2005. At a dinner convened 10 years later in 2015 by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Vice President Biden discussed the tremendous joint progress that had been made by the two countries in the past and declared “We are on the cusp of a sea change decade.”

Early in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in July of 2019, in laying out his foreign policy vision, Biden stated that the US had to reach out to India and other Asian partners to strengthen ties with them. The items on Biden’s foreign policy agenda for strengthening which are of importance for India include climate change, nuclear proliferation and cyberwarfare.

During his vice presidency, Biden worked side by side with President Barack Obama to do things that would contribute to achieving Obama’s vision stated in 2010 of India and America being “indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time.” In 2020, those challenges are even greater than they were a decade ago.

That is why it is so essential that India and the US develop a strategic relationship that enables them to become those indispensable partners. That can happen if Biden assumes the presidency on January 20, 2021. It cannot happen if Donald Trump remains as president for a second term.

The results of this upcoming election in the US matter greatly for the future of the United States. They matter greatly for the future of India-US relations as well. Time and the American electorate will tell what that future will be.

(Frank F. Islam is an entrepreneur, civic and thought leader based in Washington DC. The views expressed here are personal)

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Analysis

Covid-19 toll across world crosses 35,000

The COVID-19 is affecting 132 countries and territories around the world.

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Patients infected with the novel coronavirus

New Delhi, March 30 : The death toll around the world due to coronavirus crossed 35,000 on Monday evening, with Italy heading the list of 35,097 deaths with 10,779, while the number of cumulative cases rose to 737,929, with US leading with 143,055 of them, as per data from the Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

Spain was second with 7,340 deaths, followed by China with 3,308 (3,186 of them in Hubei where the outbreak was first recorded), Iran with 2,757 deaths, France with 2,606 deaths, the US with 2,513 (776 of them in New York) and the UK with1,228 deaths.

In number of cases, Italy was second with 97,689, followed by Spain with 85,195, China with 82,198, Germany with 62,435, Iran with 41,495 and France with 40,747.

Meanwhile, 156,652 people around the world had recovered, with nearly half of them (75,923) in China, followed by 16,780 in Spain, 13,911 in Iran and 13,030 in Italy.

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Analysis

45% of Indians do not back up their data, files: Survey

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.

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Data Privacy

New Delhi, March 30 : Nearly half of Indians do not back up because they think their data or files are not important enough and most of those who back up their data, do it once a month, a survey said on Monday.

Other reasons cited by the respondents for not backing up their data included not knowing how to do it, not having time and forgetting about it, according to the survey by cybersecurity company Avast.

“It could be that many aren’t aware they are backing up, as it could be happening automatically, in the background, however, others really might not be backing up at all, thinking it is not worth it,” Luis Corrons, Security Evangelist at Avast, said in a statement.

“Losing personal documents, photos and videos can be a painful experience and it’s not until this happens that they realize how valuable it actually is,” Corrons added.

Of those who do back up their data, nearly 42 per cent Indians back up to a cloud storage, 36 42 per cent back up their data to an external hard drive, 23 42 per cent back up to a USB or flash disk, 18 42 per cent back up their phone to their PC, and 10 42 per cent back up to a network storage drive, the results showed.

Corrons recommended to back up data to two different locations, like the cloud, and a physical storage, like an external hard drive.

When it comes to iPhone and Android phone owners, the percentage that backs up is nearly the same, 69 per cent and 70 per cent respectively.

The percentage of smartphone owners that don’t know how to back up their data does not vary much between iPhone and Android owners, with 13 per cent and 17 per cent claiming not knowing how to, respectively, the study revealed.

Data loss can be caused by users accidentally deleting their data themselves, hardware damage and failure, as well as malware, causing valuable data such as photos, videos, documents, and messages to be lost forever.

Ransomware and other malware, such as wipers, can either encrypt or completely destroy files, and there is no guarantee that files can be decrypted if a ransom is paid.

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.

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COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. Most infected people will develop mild to moderate illness and recover without hospitalization.