The Train From 2014
No, that’s not the name of a ’50s B-movie. A goods wagon carrying fertiliser recently arrived in Basti, Uttar Pradesh—completing a 1,400-km odyssey that began in Vishakhapatnam four years ago. In 2014, Wagon #107462 (also not a film), attached to a freight train, departed the Andhra port with a consignment of fertiliser worth Rs 10 lakh, to be delivered to a Basti businessman, Ramchandra Gupta, but there was no sign of it for months and Gupta filed a complaint with the railways, which was unable to track it down. When the prodigal rolled into Basti last week, Gupta was of the mind to seek compensation from the railways. Officials remain puzzled, although some speculate that the wagon could have been detached from the train, as is occasionally done when there are technical problems involved.
Brute Kicks Vs Kiss
One of those delightful Dhaka showers. While some rushed for taking cover from the rain on the Dhaka University campus, two—a couple—remained seated on the steps in front of a chai thela. Photojournalist Jibon Ahmed was somewhere there and clicked the classic moment. He posted the picture on social media with the caption: “Songs of rains—let love be free”. But the timely click drew dark clouds of another kind for him. Apparently, some, including the news portal Purboposhchimd, which he works for, couldn’t digest the picture due to ‘cultural reasons’. Such a Rodinesque expression of love enraged them. Ahmed’s employers went to the extent of saying he’d staged the photograph and gave him the sack after manhandling him.
A Signature Move
Four years in power and still going strong, many feel that the BJP has got its infrastructure in place. The massive Modi rallies are planned to the T, from the tents’ fabric to the list of participants. But the party’s event managers were left red-faced when a tent at a Modi rally collapsed in Bengal’s Midnapore Collegiate Ground on July 16. Among those injured was Rita, who’d come to see Modi speak with her sister and mother. They were rushed to the Midnapore College Hospital. Later, the PM visited the hospital, where Rita asked for an autograph, and he obliged. She’s now a minor local celebrity. The 19-year-old has had a deluge of visitors wanting to see Modi’s autograph in Hindi. Rita has even received two marriage proposals, from a businessman and a farmer. She’s not interested, though. She wants to study.
The Pee-Pal Account
The only inconvenient thing about the new enterprise is the timing. You can’t predict with certainty when a cow decides to free her bladder. So, Jaipur’s Kailesh Gujjar has an ear out for the splattering sound of a cow peeing. It lasts for seconds but if a tub is kept early enough, you’ll get a couple of litres at the least. That’s worth Rs 50, with the current gaumutra rate in Rajasthan at Rs 15-30 per litre. Dairy farmers have a saffron-clad baba from Rishikesh to thank for monetisation of cow pee. Farmers use it as an organic pesticide and some use it for religious rituals. Then there are regular customers, like the Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology in Udaipur, which uses 300-500 litres of cow urine every month in its organic farming project.
Moneybags for Teabags
In another leaves-to-riches story, a Guwahati tea auction, held on an online pan-India system, saw a line of Manohari Gold Tea sold for a record Rs 39,001 (Ah,that mysterious extra rupee!). It was purchased by Guwahati-based Sourabh Tea Traders, and is expected to steal the hearts of their buyers in Delhi and Ahmedabad. The Guwahati Tea Auction Centre claims that this is the highest price any tea has sold for in any auction globally. The tea, which takes its name from the Manohari Tea Estate in Dibrugarh where it was created, “looks like crystals of pure 24-carat gold” according to the very happy estate owner, Rajan Lohia.
Victims of a new blame game
Meghalaya’s Khasi community is famously matrilineal—but perhaps not quite matriarchal. The Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council has passed a Bill to strip women who marry outside the community—and their offspring—of their Scheduled Tribe status and other privileges. H.S. Shylla, a KHADC member, reportedly justified the move by claiming that the community had been threatened by inadequate laws and mixed marriages. Women activists called the Bill unconstitutional and blamed the men for the outsiders’ presence in the first place.
For the health of Dr Nepal
There were two protests in Kathmandu on July 21 on the same issue. One, which saw participation from a former PM, activists, a former chief justice and actress Manisha Koirala, was a peaceful affair. The other protest included youth and student leaders. They demonstrated in front of parliament in support of Govinda K.C., a 61-year-old activist who is on a hunger strike since June 30, demanding reforms in the medical sector, which many feel is undemocratic. The protest turned violent as stones were thrown at the police, who fired teargas shells and resorted to a baton charge. Govinda ended his 15th hunger strike on July 26 after signing a nine-point agreement.
Karachi Lords No More
Last week’s Pakistan elections threw up many surprises. Perhaps, Imran Khan was one of them. But none could be bigger than the marginalisation of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) in Karachi. The political organisation that held sway over the port city for over three decades failed miserably in getting its candidates elected for both the national and the Sindh assemblies. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) carried the day.
Observers feel it is too early to write the MQM’s political obituary. But they also point out there was little doubt that the electorate was on the lookout for a national party to represent the city. Maybe that is why they chose the PTI nominees over those from the MQM.
Surprisingly, a defeated MQM cried foul over rigging. In the past, it was accused by the rest for ‘managing’ polls and violence.
“While it is too early to analyse the election results from the city, a few pointers may explain the surprising outcome. Of course, amongst the prime reasons behind the MQM’s predicament was the constant infighting between the PIB and Bahadurabad factions (of the MQM?),” says Dawn.
According to the newspaper, while public disagreements between Muttahida leaders were once unthinkable—especially on Altaf Hussain’s watch—ever since the supremo was sidelined after his controversial 2016 speech, there has been a visible power struggle within the MQM’s various factions.
Moreover, many of the party’s diehard supporters stayed home over Hussain’s boycott call. “And...it is also true that in the aftermath of the security establishment’s 2015 crackdown on the MQM, the party’s ability to indulge in ‘management’ of the polling process has been significantly reduced,” adds the Dawn report.
The paper also expressed surprise that the MQM has cried foul over rigging allegations, for it is the party that was accused in the past by its opponents of indulging in rigging, stuffing ballot boxes, and ‘managing’ the poll process under the threat of violence.
The Dawn report also suggest that there are not too many who are willing to shed tears for the MQM. Today, despite all allegations of irregularities during voting, it is a fact that there is an air of political freedom in Karachi, and that people are generally free to vote as they choose.
So what is the future of the MQM? While it has a genuine vote-bank in urban Sindh and, to its credit, the party has sent members of the middle class to the assemblies, the Muttahida’s reputation for violence has stuck. It is surely time for some serious introspection by the MQM.
Illustrations by Sajith Kumar