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This poll will miss Nehru-Gandhi’s first ‘videshi bahu’ vote



Shobha Nehru

Kasauli, Oct 26 : This year’s assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh will miss the vote of the Nehru-Gandhi family’s first ‘videshi bahu’!

She remained apolitical in her 105-plus life. Be it parliamentary or assembly elections, she was not only among the early ones to vote but also exhorted others to exercise their right to franchise.

She was Shobha Magdolna Friedmann Nehru or Shobha Nehru, who spent most of her lifetime in Fair View, the single-storey British-era villa built in typical hill architecture style with smoke-emitting chimneys, in this picturesque and tranquil resort hill town. Old-timers recall she was, in fact, more Indian than most as she would not just be the first one to vote but also coax others to appropriately use their right to franchise.

The oldest resident of Kasauli and the oldest living member of one of the famous political families in India, popularly known as Aunty Fori, passed away at the age of 108 this April.

“In every election, Mrs. Nehru was among the first to reach the polling booth well ahead of the start of the polling,” Devinder Kumar Gupta, an old Kasauli resident who runs a provision store right in front of the 150-year-old Christ Church, told IANS.

He said she always preferred to cast her vote in each election, including for the local civic body.

“As a mark of respect to her stature and age, the locals too preferred she would be the first to cast her vote,” said Gupta, who was closely associated with her.

“But she always preferred to stay away from political affairs despite her close affiliations with the Gandhi family,” he said, adding, “she normally introduced me by saying: He’s is my BJP friend.”

“Have you voted?” Aunty Fori would enquire of every voter at the polling booth.

Christened Shobha Nehru after the marriage, the Hungarian Jew who narrowly escaped the Holocaust was married to the late Indian diplomat Braj Kumar Nehru in 1935, who was closely related to Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi and nearly succeeded Dag Hammarskjold as the United Nations Secretary General.

Locals recall how the Nehru’s Fair View bungalow remained the centre of political and social activity for decades.

The couple purchased the cottage in the late 1980s.

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi regularly headed to this hill station to meet his elderly aunt, who always preferred to dress in saris, and he did so to attend her last rites too. He was one of the pallbearers. On her part, Auntie Fori grieved beside the bodies of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

Now an eerie silence largely prevails in the cottage.

Of course, there’s a septuagenarian caretaker — younger than the cottage — and his questioning glances tell you that the visitors are rare now, even before he utters anything.

“After the death of ‘memsaab’, visitors have stopped visiting here,” caretaker Dhani Ram told this visiting IANS correspondent.

He said earlier visitors, friends and well-wishers would regularly come here to enquire about Aunty Fori’s well-being.

Ram said the ‘memsaab’ always remained excited about casting her vote.

“In every election, Gupta-ji used to accompany her to the polling booth.”

“After casting the vote, she used to mobilise others, especially women, to go and cast their votes. She used to say: ‘We are the lucky ones to get this opportunity. Don’t waste your time and opportunity. Go and get your man elected’,” an emotional Ram recalled.

The last time she cast her vote was in the 2014 General Elections. Before that she also voted in the 2012 state assembly elections.

After the death of her husband, Aunty Fory, who had to turn 109 on December 5, 2016, rarely travelled out of this town owing to her deep emotions with this place and her love for the local environment and greenery.

“Even if she had to travel out of Kasauli, she preferred to return in a day or two. Till her death, she was quite active with her social work,” Ram, the second generation working in this cottage, said.

After the death of her husband, Aunty Fori, whose life has been portrayed by historian Martin Gilbert in his book ‘Letters to Auntie Fori: The 5,000-Year History of the Jewish People and Their Faith’, she was involved more in social work.

Another old-timer, Jeewan Thakur, recalled how she was curious to know about geopolitical developments despite a vision loss in the last one-and-a-half-years of her life.

Whenever I got the opportunity to interact with her, she used to talk at length about the ongoing global developments, be it terror attacks by extremists or socio-economic or climate change issues. She was also much concerned about the deteriorating local environment,” he said.

One of India’s most distinguished civil servants of post-independent India and later governor of Assam, Jammu and Kashmir and Gujarat, her husband died in 2001. He was 92.

A former Chairman of The Tribune Trust, Nehru, in his autobiography, ‘Nice Guys Finish Second’ wrote: “We got married on the 25th of January 1935. It is a remarkable tribute to my wife that she absorbed with incredible grace and unbelievable success that cultural shock that she was bound to suffer.”

How could their beautiful and lovely daughter marry a black man in a distant country of which they know nothing, and who, by his own confession, belonged to a family of jailbirds,” he wrote.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected].in)

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Refugees found frozen in Lebanon near Syria border



Refugees found frozen

The bodies of nine Syrian refugees who crossed into Lebanon have been found frozen in a mountainous area near the border with Syria, according to the Lebanese army.

The military said in a statement that the bodies were found on a people-smuggling route in the early hours of Friday after a snowstorm hit the Masnaa area, where Lebanon’s largest official border crossing with Syria is located.

“The army saved six other displaced Syrians, one of whom died later in a hospital from frostbite,” the statement added, raising the death toll to 10.

“The bodies were taken to the hospitals in the area, and the army continues to search for other displaced people trapped in the snow, in order to evacuate them and provide medical treatment for them.”

The identities of the Syrian refugees were not immediately known. According to some reports, at least one child was among the bodies found.

Two other Syrian nationals were arrested and charged with people-smuggling, the army added.

‘We are deprived of everything’

Temperatures dropped on Friday as winter storms battered the Lebanon-Syria border, making the lives of the more than 357,000 Syrian refugees living in makeshift tents in the Bekaa Valley, some 60km north of Masnaa, even more difficult.

Reporting from the region, Al Jazeera’s correspondent Zeina Khodr said that Syrian refugees “face many challenges during the winter months”.

“They live in tents that are made out of plastic sheeting, which does little to protect them from the cold and the rain,” she said.

Hammadi Chelbi, a Syrian refugee who has been living in Bekaa Valley after he fled the Syrian conflict in its first year, told Al Jazeera that he and his family are living in misery.

“We have nothing but pain, sickness and suffering,” he said. “We are deprived of everything.”

There are one million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, although government officials estimate that the number is closer to 1.5 million.

The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says it is not getting the money it needs to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon through another harsh winter.

Last year, it requested $228m but received less than 60 percent of that, prompting it to warn that life in the camps was getting worse.


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One vote can’t change dynamics of our relations: Netanyahu on India



Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

New Delhi, Jan 14 : Just one negative vote at UN cannot change the dynamics of Indian-Israeli relations between India and Israel, visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said here on Sunday, terming relations with India as “marriage made in heaven”.

“I don’t think one vote affects a general trend you can see in many other votes and everything and these visits,” Netanyahu said when asked to comment on India’s vote at UN against US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in an interview on India Today TV channel.

“Yes, naturally we were disappointed, but this visit is a testimony that our relationship is moving on so many fronts, be it political, technological, tourism, security and so many other areas. Ultimately you see it reflected in all UN votes, not just now but soon,” he added.

In December last year, India voted in favour of a resolution brought by Turkey and Yemen in the UN opposing the United States’ decision recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The resolution was approved with 127-9 at the UN General Assembly.

“First of all there is a special relationship between the two countries, between their people and then between the leaders. The partnership between India and Israel is a marriage made in heaven but consecrated on earth,” Netanyahu said, adding he respects his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi “as a great leader” because he is “impatient to bring future to his people”.

On cooperation in counter-terrorism, he said that intelligence is the key.

“And Israel has on the whole superb intelligence. I would say none is better. And we share with you our intelligence and have stopped over the last few years some 30 major terror attacks, which we shared vis-a-vis not India alone but with dozens of countries.

“Israel protects lives of so many people. When you board a plane you want to know that plane won’t be blown up mid air. It will take off and land safely. When that happens, usually Israel has something to do with it, not on every flight but on many flights,” he said.

Asked if he approves India’s terror strikes launched across the border with Pakistan, he said that India makes its own choices and “you fight terrorism by fighting it”.

As the interviewer persisted, a smiling Netanyahu said: “Well, I am trying to be a foreign minister. I am trying to be a diplomat, because I hold two portfolios — the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister at the same time.”

Asked if Israel can use his good offices with China to persuade it to not veto a resolution against Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed, Netanyahu said: “I think these things are best discussed not on television, especially if you want to make progress.”

However, he also said: “But our defence relationship is quite significant and comprises many things. I think the key word here is defence. We want to defend ourselves, we are not aggressive nations. We are very committed to making sure that none can commit an aggression against the either one of us.”

On the bilateral trade relations, the Israeli Prime Minister said that “there is a whole world that is erupting, exploding”.

Advocating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India to boost and deepen bilateral economic relations, he said: “Israel is changing so rapidly. We are creating industries. We have just created a car industry in just last five years. We have 500 start-ups dealing with automation of car.

“And there are other areas like water, agriculture, energy, health, transportsation. There is a whole world that is erupting, exploding. Future belongs to those who innovate… Israel is an innovation nation. India has innovations. In Silicon Valley there are two dialects you hear — Hindi and Hebrew and only a little English.”

He said that when he visited the iconic Teen Murti war memorial at Haifa circle, he felt “an expression of gratitude” because it was Indian soldiers who fell down while defending the city of Haifa (now in Israel) during WW-I.

“It’s closing of a circle 100 years later,” he said.

In a sign of growing importance to the ties with Israel, the government on Sunday renamed Delhi’s Teen Murti Chowk as Teen Murti-Haifa Chowk after the Israeli city.

Netanyahu is on a six-day visit to India, the first Israeli Premier to visit India after 2003 when Ariel Sharon came. Setting aside protocol, Modi went to personally receive Netanyahu.

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Full Court expected to resolve Supreme Court crisis




All 25 Supreme Court judges are expected to meet soon to resolve the crisis in the country’s apex court after four senior-most judges complained against Chief Justice Dipak Misra over allocation of cases.

Informed sources told IANS that a Full Court meeting of the Supreme Court judges will take place at the earliest to take a call on the issue and deliberate over the complaints highlighted in public by the four judges — Justices J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph — who are the senior-most after Justice Misra in that order.

The rebel judges criticised the Chief Justice over allocation of cases, saying the administration of the top court was “not in order”.

As there was no solution in sight, Supreme Court Bar Association President Vikas Singh met Justice Misra and gave him a copy of the resolution the Bar passed on Saturday. The resolution also suggested a Full Court meeting to resolve the matter.

Two days after the crisis began, a seven-member delegation of the Bar Council of India (BCI) on Sunday also met the Chief Justice to convey its concern over the issue. The BCI also met three of the four rebel judges.

“We hope that the issue will be sorted out amicably and no one from outside should interfere,” BCI President Manan Kumar Mishra told reporters.

“During the meetings with Justice Misra, Justice Chelameswar, Justice Lokur, Justice Joseph and other judges, each one of them assured us that the issues will be resolved. The meetings with the judges took place in a very cordial atmosphere.”

Justices Sharad Arvind Bobde and L. Nageswara Rao also met Justice Chelameswar at his residence.

As the crisis lingered, four retired judges wrote to Justice Misra on Sunday, throwing their weight behind the four rebel judges who “have brought to light a serious issue regarding the manner of allocation of cases, particularly sensitive cases, to various benches of the Supreme Court”.

The retired judges are Justice P.B. Sawant, a former Supreme Court judge, Justice A.P. Shah, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Justice K. Chandru, a former judge of the Madras High Court, and Justice H. Suresh, a former judge of the Bombay High Court.

They appreciated the “grave concern” raised by the four Supreme Court judges that cases were not being allocated in a proper manner and “arbitrarily” allocated to “particular designated benches, often headed by junior judges”.

“This is having a very deleterious effect on the administration of justice and the rule of law,” read the letter by the four former judges.

They said they agreed with the view of the rebel judges that the Chief Justice despite being the master of roster cannot assign cases “in an arbitrary manner such that, sensitive and important cases are sent to hand-picked benches of junior judges by the Chief Justice”.

“This issue needs to be resolved… for allocation of benches and distribution of cases, which are rational, fair and transparent. Only such measures would assure the people that the Supreme Court is functioning in a fair and transparent manner and that the power of the Chief Justice as master of roster is not being misused to achieve a particular result in important and sensitive cases. We, therefore, urge you to take immediate steps in this regard.”

Meanwhile, the Co-ordination Committee of All District Bar Associations of Delhi on Sunday condemned the four senior Supreme Court judges for going public over their differences with Justice Misra.

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