A Congress Of Swots
How many MPs does Uttar Pradesh send to the Lok Sabha? What are the key failures of the BJP governments at the Centre and in UP? These were some of the questions asked in a written test that the UP Congress held to select spokespersons, following similar processes in Karnataka and Gujarat. Around 70 Congressmen of all ages took the test and were interviewed by AICC social media coordinator Rohan Gupta. There were reports that confused candidates had consulted each other—but as UPCC president Raj Babbar was quoted as saying, “If someone asks me such questions, I will also have to think for answers.” And what does the BJP have to say about all this? They’ve called it “a joke”. One wonders if there was a question about how many Congress MPs it takes to change a light bulb.
The New New Territories
Hard a’ port if you’re hard up. A Sri Lankan government probe seen by the The New York Times shows that at least Rs 523 crore from the accounts of a Chinese state-owned firm flowed into then president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s campaign funds during his failed re-election campaign in 2015, allowing the campaign to indulge in largesse. And the China Harbor Engineering Company now owns one of the island nation’s ports. Hang on, isn’t the age of colonial concessions long past? Well, Rajapaksa had left his successors little choice. His Chinese friends had lent him money for his infeasible Hambantota port project. But it drew little traffic when it became operational and, faced with mounting debts, the government was forced to hand the port and 15,000 acres of land on a 99-year lease to the Chinese.
That’s what it takes to be IAS officer Rohini Sindhuri Dasari, according to a fawning news agency report. Said paragon has successfully contested a premature transfer ordered by the state government, with the Karnataka High Court reinstating her as deputy commissioner of Hassan district. Former CM Siddaramaiah had instigated the transfer, allegedly due to lobbying by magnates, after Dasari cracked down on illegal sand mining in the district. Dasari’s triumph stands in stark contrast to the downfall of former state minister A. Manju, who had been in charge of Hassan and against whom Dasari had filed a case. The saga ended with Manju’s embarrassing ouster in the recent assembly elections.
Laden (the elephant) is not dead—he’s working havoc in Assam. The eight-foot-tall wild makhana (tusk-less male elephant), believed to be around 30 years old, may have killed 30 people over the last three years in the Rogjuli-Krishnai-Goalpara belt, according to the forest department’s estimates. Originally part of a four-member herd when he was first sighted in 2015, having come down from the Garo hills, Laden has been alone for the past two years and may be attacking people out of frustration, according to the Goalpara DFO Aiszwarya Goswami. “He normally attacks people in late evenings or at night. When he comes across a human, he tends to kick him or attack him,” Goswami said. Officials have been tracking his movements and are formulating a plan to capture and perhaps translocate him—far from a simple proposition.
After demonetisation, whatever will those Indians do to their rupee next? It’s impossible to say, so we had best be cautious. Well, that’s the approach taken by a spooked Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) of Bhutan. In a statement about limits on the movement of currency to and from India—up to Rs 25,000 per person—it advised citizens to avoid holding Indian rupees as cash and to deposit any such holdings in their bank, saying that “The RMA shall not be liable or responsible in case of any policy changes by the RBI, including demonetisation of INR currency notes in the future.” The Indian rupee is legal tender in the Himalayan monarchy.
The Land Of Green Gold
The Swat valley, in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is known as an archaeological treasure trove, but it may soon have another claim to fame. The region, which was deforested by the Pakistani Taliban between 2006 and 2009, is now filled to the brim with pine saplings. These, along with more than 9,00,000 quick-growing eucalyptus trees planted in the Heroshah region, are being grown under the provincial government’s ‘Billion Tree Tsunami’ programme. Officially, the Rs 1,163-crore initiative has seen a total of 120 crore new trees planted or regrown in the province.
A Stand-Out Talking Head
There’s a fresh...head...on the telly. A long-haired, turbaned head. A Lahore-based Urdu channel, Public News, has recruited one Harmeet Singh as a news anchor, and declared him to be Pakistan’s first Sikh television anchor. Harmeet, 28, is a Sahajdhari Sikh who has recently begun to grow his hair out and wear a turban—seemingly not due to any religious compulsions but because, as he admits with candour, it “enhances my personality and makes me stand apart.” Chosen, according to his employers, for his flamboyant looks and voice pitch, Harmeet, a native of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is reportedly fluent in Pashto, Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi and English.
The Newest Jacket
Indian initiatives or mounting international pressure notwithstanding, Pakistan always finds innovative ways of shielding proscribed terrorist outfits operating from its soil. The latest move is to mainstream them by encouraging active members of such organisations to participate in the electoral process. An example is how attempts are being made to allow the Lashkar-e-Toiba to morph into a legitimate political party. The LeT and its leader Hafeez Mohammed Saeed are blamed by India as being responsible for the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack and other attacks in Jammu and Kashmir.
When the LeT was banned under international pressure, the “deep state” in Pakistan allowed it to function as a charitable organisation under the banner of Jamaat-ud-Dawa. When JuD was also forced to be banned, it was encouraged to join the mainstream through the electoral process.
The Lashkar’s electoral face, the MML, is fighting polls and is fielding 10 women in major cities as well as professionals to shed its far-right image.
The Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s new political face is now the Milli Muslim League, which is contesting the forthcoming elections in Pakistan.
The MML, under the umbrella of Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek, has decided to field 79 candidates for the National Assembly (Pakistan’s parliament) and 181 for the four provincial assemblies polls that are to be held on July 25.
Though Saeed is not contesting, his son, Hafiz Talha Saeed and son-in-law, Khalid Waleed, figure among the list of candidates announced by the MML, which was forced to contest under the name ‘Allah-o-Akbar-Tehreek’ as the Election Commission failed to register the MML.
According to Dawn, the list of MML candidates also has 10 women, including three for reserved seats. Spokesman Ahmed Nadeem Awan said the MML has given tickets to women out of conviction, not compulsion.
“We have given tickets to candidates considering their political background and fighting spirit. They include lawyers, doctors and professionals who have been office-bearers in other parties and have recently joined the MML.”
The party has fielded 36 National Assembly candidates from the Punjab, 29 from Sindh, 28 from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 14 from Balochistan and eight from erstwhile FATA. It has put up five candidates in Karachi and four in Lahore. It has also fielded women candidates in major cities (Rawalpindi, Lahore, Karachi and Faisalabad) to dilute its far-right image and make it attractive to the urban middle class. If the anti-Indian rhetoric in Pakistani parliament gets shriller in the coming days then you know where it is coming from.
Illustrations by Sajith Kumar