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Archive for February 2011

Rajasthan cops arrest witness in Mecca Masjid case

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The Times of India

HYDERABAD: A prosecution witness in the Mecca Masjid bomb blast case, Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar, 43, was arrested recently by the Rajasthan Anti-Terrorism Squad (RATS) on charges of his role in the Ajmer Dargah bombing.

According to sources, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had picked up Rateshwar in connection with the Mecca Masjid case a few months ago and grilled him. In view of his knowledge of the vital portions of the case, the CBI offered to make him a prosecution witness to which he had agreed. Soon after, the CBI arrested the key terror plotter Swami Aseemanand from near Haridwar in the same case and brought him to the city.

Fearing that the Swami might spill the beans and name him in other bombing cases, Rateshwar took to his heels and disappeared from the police radar. His fears came true when the Swami spoke about his role in Ajmer Dargah bomb blast case to the RATS.

In the meantime, the RATS also gathered more evidence against Rateshwar on its own in the Dargah case and intensified the manhunt. He was finally arrested last week and produced in Ajmer district court.

Sources said that the CBI has cited Rateshwar as the PW 113 in the Calendar of Oral Evidence and also recorded his statement. The CBI chargesheet filed against the two accused __ Devender Gupta and Lokesh Sharma __ in the Mecca Masjid case said that Rateshwar has given a statement to the agency, which corroborates the facts of the chargesheet and would prove that on October 11, 2007 Sunil Joshi (another accused in the case who was murdered later) phoned and told him that the Ajmer blast was triggered by him with the knowledge of Indresh Kumar, a senior RSS leader.

The chargesheet further said that Rateshwar would also prove that Swami Aseemanand and Sunil Joshi were close to each other and that the Swami had provided shelter to Joshi after the Ajmer blast.

Sources said that the RATS could also make Rateshwar a witness as he has been involved with the gang that carried out bombings at various places in the country during last about six years.

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Betrayal of a mandate?

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Tehelka

THE BURNING question that the Justice Somasekhara Commission was mandated to answer was “to identify persons and organisations” responsible for the attacks on churches in September 2008 and thereafter in Karnataka. On the question of who was behind the attacks, the report says “there is no basis to the apprehension of the Christian petitioners that politicians, Sangh Parivar, BJP and the state government are involved in the attacks, either directly or indirectly”.

However, the report also observes, “The plea of Christian memorialists for taking action against Mahendra Kumar, the then convenor of Bajrang Dal, who publicly sought to justify the attacks, is totally justified.” The report adds, “the plea that organisations like Bajrang Dal need identification and registration for legal control deserves acceptance”.

Further, Annexure XLVIII of the report, which lists 56 churches that were attacked, specifically names Hindutva fundamentalist organisations that were involved. In particular, Bajrang Dal has been named as being behind the attacks on nine churches, Hindu Jagran Vedike (HJV) on three churches, Sangh Parivar on one church and unnamed Hindu fundamentalists on two churches.

In view of the annexure, the question is whether Justice Somasekhara is justified in giving a clean chit to the Parivar. The only way he can do that is by concluding that neither the Bajrang Dal nor the HJV are part of the Parivar. However, the material before the commission, both in terms of written submissions made before it as well as the cross-examination of Mahendra Kumar, indicates the linkages between the Bajrang Dal, VHP and RSS. What emerges is that the Bajrang Dal does not act independently but is part of a larger Parivar that controls and directs its actions. During cross-examination, Mahendra Kumar states that the Bajrang Dal is the youth wing of the VHP.

This admission must be read in the context of the Liberhan report, which was also placed before the commission. It should be noted that when the Liberhan report was sought to be placed by the counsel for the Christian community, Justice Somasekhara objected, saying that the report was unnecessary as he was going to understand what happened in Karnataka as a sui generis event with no linkages or connections to past events. However, the counsel argued that one cannot see the attacks as a one-off event and it had to be seen as linked to Hindutva ideology and the RSS’ organisational structure.

The Liberhan report had concluded that the Parivar included the BJP, RSS, Bajrang Dal, VHP and many other “mutating and transforming organisations”. It argued that they are “collectively an immense and awesome entity with a shrewd brain, a wide encompassing sweep and the crushing strength of the mob”.

The material before the commission discloses the Parivar’s role in the attacks. Why then does Justice Somasekhara conclude that the Parivar had no role? What paralysed him from drawing the necessary conclusions?

Justice Somasekhara concedes that district officials failed, particularly in Davangere. Describing their actions as “unreasonably cruel and illegal,” he recommended initiation of action against police officers. However, the commission refuses to attribute any vicarious liability to the BJP-run state government.

As an exercise in public reasoning, Justice Somasekhara’s findings are riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions, and completely fails to persuade that indeed the Sangh Parivar had nothing to do with the church attacks or that the BJP administration is not criminally liable for allowing the attacks to happen.

Narendra Modi – hated by minorities, loved by businesses

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By HEATHER TIMMONS

GANDHINAGAR, India – In a soaring, unfinished conference hall in western India, thousands of businessmen and diplomats from around the world gathered recently for an investment meeting. They were there to pay homage to a politician for accomplishing something once thought almost impossible in India: making it easy to do business.

The politician, Narendra Modi, the chief minister of the state of Gujarat, sat onstage, stroking his close-cropped white beard, as executives from the United States, Canada, Japan and elsewhere showered him with praise.


Narendra Modi, chief minister of the state of Gujarat, spoke at a conference last month that was meant to promote business.

Ron Somers, head of an American trade group, called him a progressive leader. Michael Kadoorie, a Hong Kong billionaire, enveloped him in a hug.

“I would encourage you all to invest here,” Mr. Kadoorie, chairman of the Asian power company CLP Group, told the audience, “because it has been an even playing field for me.”

The coastal state of Gujarat, famous as the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, has become an investment magnet. The state’s gross domestic product is growing at an 11 percent annual rate – even faster than the overall growth rate for India, which despite its problems is zipping along at 9 percent clip.

And Mr. Modi receives – some would say claims – much of the credit. The year before he took office in 2001, Gujarat’s economy shrank by 5 percent.

But critics of Mr. Modi, a Hindu nationalist, point to another legacy of his early days in office – something that has made him one of the most polarizing figures in Indian politics. Months after he became chief minister, Gujarat erupted in brutal Hindu-Muslim riots that killed more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.

Despite Mr. Modi’s subsequent denials, he has not fully escaped a cloud of accusations by rival political groups, victims and their families, and human rights groups that he and his aides condoned the attacks against Muslims and – as one case now before the Supreme Court charges – may even have encouraged them.

A special investigation team formed by the Supreme Court has filed a 600-page investigative report on the riots, which has not been officially released. Numerous other lawsuits related to the riots are also winding through India’s courts. In 2005 the United States refused to grant Mr. Modi a visa, on grounds of religious intolerance. Meanwhile, environmental activists and local tribesman who have been protesting the construction of seven dams in Gujarat that will displace 25,000 people say they the protesters have been regularly jailed by the state police, charged with being Naxalites, a militant rebel group.

Mr. Modi, who has declined interview requests from The New York Times for several years, did not comment for this article.

Of the lingering controversies, a spokesman for Mr. Modi, Steven King, with the Washington public relations firm APCO Worldwide, wrote in an e-mail responding to questions: “The government has very highly developed grievance proceedings.”

Corporate executives, though, tend to concentrate on Mr. Modi’s pro-business attributes, which they see as something of an anomaly in an India where government bureaucracy, bumbling or corruption too often impedes commerce.

“In India there is a sense that efficiency is at such a premium because there is so little to go around,” said Eswar Prasad, a professor of trade policy at Cornell who has served as an adviser to the Indian government. “When people find an effective politician who can make things happen on the ground, they are willing to ignore the character flaws.”

Under Mr. Modi’s watch, the energy companies Royal Dutch Shell and Total have opened a major liquid natural gas terminal in Gujarat, and Torrent Power, an Indian company, has built a huge power plant. Meanwhile, Tata Motors, DuPont, General Motors, Hitachi and dozens of other foreign and Indian companies have built factories, expanded operations or invested in projects in the state.

When the Canadian heavy machinery company Bombardier won a contract to supply subway cars to the Delhi Metro in 2007, it needed a factory site, quickly. It found one in Savli, an industrial estate in Gujarat. Just 18 months later- when in many parts of India, the permit process might still be grinding away – the factory was built and operating.

“It was incredible,” said Rajeev Jyoti, the managing director of Bombardier in India, “and it was a world record within Bombardier.”

Compared with most other states, Gujarat has smoother roads and less garbage next to the streets. More than 99 percent of Gujarat’s villages have electricity, compared with less than 85 percent nationally.

In 2009, Gujarat attracted more planned investment than any other state in the country, about $54 billion by value of announced plans, according to Assocham, a trade association of Indian chambers of commerce.

Mr. Modi, who has no business or economics background, deserves praise for this, corporate leaders say. Before entering politics in his late 30s, he was a religious volunteer for the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which sponsors schools and provides aid during natural disasters, but has also been widely criticized as being intolerant of other religions and of secular Hindus.

In India, where corrupt politicians often seem to be raiding the public coffers to benefit their offspring, Mr. Modi’s success is sometimes attributed to his apparent lack of a family life. Acquaintances and local news reports say he was married at a young age but separated soon after from his wife. Mr. Modi has never commented on reports about his personal life.

Mr. Modi’s administration has brought novel solutions to some of India’s most tenacious problems. Corruption became less widespread after the state government put a large amount of its activities online, from permits that companies need to build or expand, to bids for contracts. To plow through a multiyear backlog of court cases, and prevent day laborers from losing income, Mr. Modi asked judges to work extra hours in night courts.

Mr. Modi uses a chief executive style of managing the bureaucrats who work under him, according to associates and business executives in Gujarat. He gives promising people positions of responsibility, sets goals and expects people to meet them. Nonperformers are pushed aside.

It may seem an obvious way to administer a state with more than 50 million people and a budget in the billions of dollars.

But this approach runs counter to India’s tradition of cronyism. In a recent reshuffle of India’s national cabinet ministers, for example, the minister of highways who substantially missed targets for road-building was made minister for urban development, a crucial position for a rapidly urbanizing nation struggling to build livable cities.

Even in another state considered pro-business, Tamil Nadu in the south, the ruling party, D.M.K., has been dogged by accusations of corruption.

In Mr. Modi’s case, the accolades once would have been unthinkable. After the Hindu-Muslim riots a decade ago, he was considered a liability for his political party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. But these days, with Gujarat’s soaring economy, Mr. Modi is sometimes mentioned as his party’s most likely candidate for prime minister in 2014, when the next general election is expected.

Despite his lack of executive experience, Mr. Modi’s supporters credit him with a politician’s innate sense of marketing. Images of Mr. Modi were plastered on billboards throughout Gujarat during the investment summit meeting, proclaiming the state’s support not only for investment but for social programs like support of girls’ education – a particularly important subject in India where there is a large literacy gap between men and women.

Within Gujarat, which has a centuries-old reputation for business acumen, even Mr. Modi’s fans sometimes grumble that he and his image makers may be taking outsize credit for its economic growth. And they say that the headline numbers that Mr. Modi’s government trumpets can be misleading.

For example, the $450 billion in “memorandums of understanding” – essentially, pledges to do business in the state – that the government says were signed during the January investment summit meeting double-count some deals, according to businessmen in attendance, because they include loans and investments for the same projects. Mr. Modi’s spokesman confirmed there might be some redundancy in the $450 billion figure, but said it was impossible to break out the loans from the investments.

Yet, no one disputes Gujarat’s rapid growth. And Mr. Modi’s supporters say India’s economic success will depend on each state’s adopting many of the same measures he has employed. India’s central government may apportion budgets and write overall laws, they say, but it is the states that are responsible for overseeing everything from land allocation to electricity distribution.

“If you are an investor in India,” said Mr. Somers, of the United States trade group, “Gujarat must be at the top of your list.”

What Israel Is Afraid of After the Egyptian Uprising

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By: Peter Beinart

We’re almost two weeks into the revolution in Egypt and the American media keeps asking the question that my extended family asks during all world events: Is it good for Israel? Ask a Jewish question, get a Jewish answer, by which I mean, another question: What’s good for Israel?

Obviously, a theocracy that abrogated Egypt’s peace treaty with the Jewish state would be bad for Israel, period. But that is unlikely. The Muslim Brotherhood is not al Qaeda: It abandoned violence decades ago, and declared that it would pursue its Islamist vision through the democratic process, which has earned it scorn among Bin Laden types. Nor is the Brotherhood akin to the regime in Iran: When Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tried to appropriate the Egyptian protests last week, the Brotherhood shot him down, declaring that it “regards the revolution as the Egyptian People’s Revolution not an Islamic Revolution” and insisting that “The Egyptian people’s revolution includes Muslims, Christians and [is] from all sects and political” tendencies. In the words of George Washington University’s Nathan Brown, an expert on Brotherhood movements across the Middle East, “These parties definitely reject the Iranian model…Their slogan is, ‘We seek participation, not domination.’ The idea of creating an Islamic state does not seem to be anywhere near their agenda.”

Could this all be an elaborate ruse? Might the Brotherhood act differently if it gained absolute power? Sure, but it’s hard to foresee a scenario in which that happens. For one thing, the best estimates, according to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Stephen Cook, are that the Brotherhood would win perhaps 20 percent of the vote in a free election, which means it would have to govern in coalition. What’s more, the Egyptian officer corps, which avowedly opposes an Islamic state, will likely wield power behind the scenes in any future government. And while the Brotherhood takes an ambiguous position on Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel–it opposes it but says it will abide by the will of the Egyptian people-the Egyptian army has little interest in returning to war footing with a vastly stronger Israel. Already, Mohammed ElBaradei, the closest thing the Egyptian protest movement has to a leader, has called the peace treaty with Israel “rock solid.”

But Egypt doesn’t have to abrogate the peace treaty to cause the Israeli government problems. Ever since 2006, when Hamas won the freest election in Palestinian history, Egypt, Israel and the United States have colluded to enforce a blockade meant to undermine the group’s control of the Gaza Strip. A more accountable Egyptian government might no longer do that, partly because Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood, but mostly because a policy of impoverishing the people of Gaza has little appeal among Egyptian voters. It’s easy to imagine a newly democratic government of Egypt adopting a policy akin to the one adopted by the newly democratic government of Turkey. The Turkish government hasn’t severed ties with Israel, but it does harshly criticize Israel’s policies, especially in Gaza, partly because Turkey’s ruling party has Islamist tendencies, but mostly because that is what the Turkish people want.

More than ever in the months and years to come, Israelis and American Jews must distinguish hatred of Israel’s policies from hatred of Israel’s very existence.

Which bring us back to the question: Is this bad for Israel? Benjamin Netanyahu and AIPAC certainly think so, since they believe that what’s best for Israel is for its government to be free to pursue its current policies with as little external criticism as possible. I disagree. For several years now, Israel has pursued a policy designed, according to Israeli officials, to “keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse.” (The quote comes courtesy of the recent Wikileaks document dump). The impact on the Gazan people has been horrendous, but Hamas is doing fine, for the same basic reason that Fidel Castro has done fine for the last 60 years: The blockade allows Hamas to completely control Gaza’s economy and blame its own repression and mismanagement on the American-Zionist bogeyman. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad govern in the West Bank without the democratic legitimacy they would likely need to sell a peace treaty to the Palestinian people.

All of which is to say: a shift in U.S. and Israeli policy towards Hamas is long overdue. The organization has been basically observing a de-facto cease-fire for two years now, and in the last year its two top leaders, Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniya, have both said Hamas would accept a two-state deal if the Palestinian people endorse it in a referendum. That doesn’t mean Hamas isn’t vile in many ways, but it does mean that Israel and America are better off allowing the Palestinians to create a democratically legitimate, national unity government that includes Hamas than continuing their current, immoral, failed policy. If a more democratic Egyptian government makes that policy harder to sustain, it may be doing Israel a favor.

The Middle East’s tectonic plates are shifting. For a long time, countries like Turkey and Egypt were ruled by men more interested in pleasing the United States than their own people, and as a result, they shielded Israel from their people’s anger. Now more of that anger will find its way into the corridors of power. The Israeli and American Jewish right will see this as further evidence that all the world hates Jews, and that Israel has no choice but to turn further in on itself. But that would be a terrible mistake. More than ever in the months and years to come, Israelis and American Jews must distinguish hatred of Israel’s policies from hatred of Israel’s very existence. The Turkish government, after all, has maintained diplomatic ties with Israel even as it excoriates Israel’s policies in Gaza. ElBaradei this week reaffirmed Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel even as he negotiates the formation of a government that could well challenge Israel’s policy in Gaza.

Instead of trying to prop up a dying autocratic order, what Israel desperately needs is to begin competing for Middle Eastern public opinion, something American power and Arab tyranny have kept it from having to do. And really competing means reassessing policies like the Gaza blockade, which create deep-and understandable-rage in Cairo and Istanbul without making Israel safer. It is ironic that Israel, the Middle East’s most vibrant democracy, seems so uncomfortable in a democratizing Middle East. But at root, that discomfort stems from Israel’s own profoundly anti-democratic policies in the West Bank and Gaza. In an increasingly democratic, increasingly post-American Middle East, the costs of those policies will only continue to rise. Israel must somehow find the will to change them, while it can still do so on its own terms, not only because of what is happening in Tahrir Square, but because the next Tahrir Square could be in Ramallah or East Jerusalem. After all, as Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar recently noted, Palestinian kids use Facebook too.

U.S. Special Envoy Embarrasses Administration

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The Slatest

Frank Wisner, Barack Obama’s special envoy to Egypt, “veered wildly off-message” when he spoke to the Munich security conference, notes the Guardian. Wisner, who had just returned from Cairo, advocated for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to stay in office and seemed to be arguing that the world owed him that much. “President Mubarak’s continued leadership is critical,” he said. “It’s his opportunity to write his own legacy. He has given 60 years of his life to the service of his country and this is an ideal moment for him to show the way forward.” Western officials were confused by Wisner’s words, particularly since they came soon after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsed an orderly and slow transition led by Vice President Omar Suleiman. The “whole episode was a reminder of the inherent problems in hiring special envoys from the ranks of retired diplomats who no longer feel constrained by State Department discipline,

Army asks Egyptians to return to normal life

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CAIRO – Egypt’s army said on Wednesday that Egyptians had delivered their message, their demands had been heard and it was time for them to help Egypt return to normal life, a military spokesman said on state television.

It was a clear call for protesters to leave the streets.

“The army forces are calling on you … You began by going out to express your demands and you are the ones capable of restoring normal life,” a spokesman said, adding that the message and demands had been heard.

The army has previously issued statements saying it would not use violence against protesters and saying it understood the “legitimate demands” of the people.