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Posts Tagged ‘Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

Where did it all go wrong? India wonders…

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By Amit Baruah

Not very long ago, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could do no wrong – or so it seemed.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reshuffled his cabinet on Wednesday, hoping it would restore confidence in his beleaguered government

Long considered a man of unimpeachable integrity, Mr Singh coasted to a second term as the prime minister of the world’s second most populous nation in May last year.

From 145 seats in the lower house of parliament, Lok Sabha, in 2004, his Congress party increased its share of seats to 206 in the May 2009 polls.

By current Indian electoral standards, it was an impressive performance.

With the opposition in disarray, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government appeared to be on a roll.

An unshakeable understanding between Mr Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi ensured political stability in the country. Frequent meetings between the two suggested a neat division of responsibility between party and government.

‘Mind-boggling’

In the past few months, the personal equation may have continued, but things have begun going horribly wrong for the Congress-led coalition.


Regular protests by Telangana activists are just one of the government’s worries at the moment

Inflation, corruption scandals, a massive and ongoing agitation for a separate state of Telangana in southern India, apparent favours in the allocation of land, the abuse of discretionary powers by state leaders: everything seemed to go wrong at the same time for Mr Singh and his government.

A spate of court cases has given the government a headache.

The Supreme Court made some sharp observations of official decisions in what has come to be known as the 2G scandal – where the government is said to have incurred losses of billions of dollars in the sale of mobile phone spectrum.

And on Wednesday, hearing a case of unaccounted money being held by Indians in foreign banks, the court criticised the coalition for its reluctance to provide more information.

“It is a pure and simple theft of national money,” said Justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar. “We are talking about mind-boggling crime. We are not on the niceties of treaties.”

Such comments have become a near-daily affair for the government in one case or the other.

And so far it has not been able to come up with convincing answers.

Government ‘rudderless’

In what the Indian media has dismissed as a lame effort to energise his government, Mr Singh changed the portfolios of as many as 36 ministers on Wednesday, terming it a “minor reshuffle” and promising a more “expansive exercise” in the next few months.

But analysts believe that this may not help the image of the government as a performing entity.

Neena Vyas, associate editor of The Hindu newspaper, told the BBC: “More important is whether the government is able to break the logjam with the opposition, which prevented parliament from conducting any business in the recent session of parliament.”

Ms Vyas was referring to the impasse in parliament, in which all sections of an often-divided opposition came together to demand a parliamentary inquiry into the 2G scandal.

Several officials who chose to remain anonymous told this writer that a sense of paralysis had gripped the government.

“No-one wants to take decisions in such an environment where everything is suddenly under question. The government appears rudderless,” one of them said.

“It’s sad, but this is true,” confirmed a junior minister in Mr Singh’s government, who told me he believed the prime minister had been extremely hurt by the personal allegations levelled against him by some opposition leaders.

Challenges ahead

It is an open question whether the reshuffle carried out by Mr Singh will mean anything in real terms.

There also appear to be divergences on key issues like a new Food Security Bill between the government and the National Advisory Council, a powerful lobby group within the establishment headed by Mrs Gandhi.

Mrs Gandhi has said publicly there should be “no tolerance” for corruption or misconduct.

At a Congress party conference in December, she suggested fast-tracking corruption cases against public servants, providing full transparency in public procurements and contracts, and reviewing the discretionary powers of state chief ministers.

She also called for an open and competitive system of exploiting natural resources.

Analysts are comparing Mr Singh’s second tenure to the political crisis, linked to a corruption scandal, that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi faced back in the mid-1980s, despite having a huge majority in parliament.

Eventually, Mr Gandhi lost the 1989 elections and a motley coalition of parties took power.

While there are similarities between then and now, Mr Singh and Mrs Gandhi still have the opportunity to retrieve lost ground.

A lot will depend on whether or not the government can check spiralling food inflation. Also, whether the Congress and its allies are able to blunt the opposition attack during next month’s budget session of parliament will be critical.

Mr Singh and his government still have a little over three years to go before the May 2014 elections.

But the prime minister, Mrs Gandhi and the government have a tough job ahead if they fancy a return to power in Delhi.

India’s Orissa state ‘halts’ offensive against Maoists

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The government in the eastern Indian state of Orissa has halted an offensive against Maoist rebels after they abducted a senior official.


Mr Krishna was on his way to inspect a government project when he was seized

R Vineel Krishna, district collector of Malkangiri, and another official were kidnapped on Wednesday evening.

The Maoists have demanded the release of rebels held in prisons and an end to the offensive by security forces.

Indian forces are battling Maoists in several states. The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of the poor.

Orissa’s Home Secretary UN Behura said the government was “stopping all combing operations in the state” and was ready to talk to the rebels.

Reports said the state government had contacted leading social worker Swami Agnivesh to negotiate with the rebels to secure Mr Krishna’s release.

The Maoists’ 48-hour deadline to the government to release rebels held in prison expires on Friday evening.

Correspondents say the deadline is likely to be extended in view of the government’s efforts to talk to the rebels.

Malkangiri is among the districts worst affected by Maoist violence in India.

The hilly and forested terrain make it an ideal place for Maoists to run their camps there and launch operations against security forces.

Mr Krishna, 30, is a graduate from the premier Indian Institute of Technology and joined the civil service in 2005. He was appointed to head Malkangiri district 16 months ago.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the Maoist insurgency as India’s biggest internal security challenge.

A government offensive against the rebels – widely referred to as Operation Green Hunt – began in October 2009.

It involves 50,000 troops and is taking place across five states – West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa and Chhattisgarh.

Police target top official in Delhi Games probe

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NEW DELHI – Indian police said Thursday they had registered a case against the director-general of the Delhi Commonwealth Games, the most senior organiser of the tainted event named in a widening graft probe.


The Games were marred by venue delays and chaotic organisation

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) spokeswoman Vineeta Thakur told AFP that police had registered a first information report against V.K. Verma, the first step in criminal proceedings against an accused.

Verma was director-general in the organising committee of the October 3-14 Games, headed by its chairman, Suresh Kalmadi, who was quizzed by federal CBI detectives for eight hours on Wednesday.

“Verma is named as the key accused in the case which we have registered against him and four companies,” she said, adding that the four Delhi-based firms were searched on Thursday.

Police said the case against Verma related to contracts, reportedly worth six billion rupees (133.3 million dollars), awarded for the refurbishing of various stadiums of the scandal-hit Games.

Verma and the companies are suspected of cheating, criminal conspiracy and violating India’s tough anti-corruption laws.

In addition to searches at the four companies named in the case, CBI detectives carried out searches at another 10 premises in New Delhi and its suburbs on Thursday, a CBI source told AFP.

Police have so far charged three lower-ranking officials who are now in jail awaiting trial, but attention is turning to top managers, including Kalmadi, for their role.

The Games, which were marred by venue delays and chaotic organisation, were also hit by claims of massive financial irregularities as the budget ballooned three times to an estimated six billion dollars.

The national anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), received complaints alleging up to 1.8 billion dollars of Games money was misappropriated.

A initial report by the CVC into the Games confirmed the use of sub-standard construction materials in a host of Games-related building contracts and deliberate cost overruns.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, seen as “Mr Clean” in his corruption-ridden administration, set up a panel after the Games ended to investigate graft claims. It is expected to deliver its preliminary report later this month.

The Games brought together 6,000 athletes and officials from 71 countries and territories, mostly from the former British empire.

India police raid minister’s homes in telecoms probe

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NEW DELHI – Indian police on Wednesday raided two homes of a former telecoms minister who is alleged to have sold off mobile phone licences at knock-down prices in a scam that cost the government billions of dollars.

A spokesman for the Central Bureau of Investigation said A. Raja’s residences in the capital New Delhi and in his constituency in the southern state of Tamil Nadu were searched by police.

Raja, who resigned last month, is accused of changing bidding rules to favour selected companies who were often ineligible to compete for the lucrative second-generation (2G) mobile phone licences.

The licences were sold in 2008 at cut-price rates that denied the treasury up to 40 billion dollars in lost revenue, according to the national auditor.

The scandal, which could prove to be the biggest corruption case in India’s history, has engulfed the Congress-led ruling coalition and is seen as one of the government’s most serious setbacks since it came to power six years ago.

In a campaign for a cross-party investigation, the main opposition parties have stalled parliament for weeks.

The government has refused to agree, saying that the police and state anti-corruption bodies are both investigating the sales.

Raja belongs to a regional party that is key to the Congress alliance holding onto power, prompting accusations that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was slow to act against him after the 2G sell-off.

Raja’s lawyer, T.R. Andhyarujina, told the Supreme Court last week that his client had only been following procedures established by previous ministers.

J&K MLA placed under house arrest

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Ahead of the arrival of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here, independent MLA Sheikh Abdul Rashid was on Monday placed under house arrest when he along with his supporters defied prohibitory orders and tried to stage a dharna to protest the killing of three youths in the Machhil fake encounter. Official sources said Mr. Rashid and his supporters tried to take out a procession towards Lal Chowk in the heart of the city to stage a sit in but police and paramilitary forces prevented them. As Mr. Rashid and his supporters tried to break the police cordon, law enforcing agencies placed Rashid under house arrest and detained nearly 150 of his supporters, they said. Mr. Rashid had sought permission from the District Magistrate, Srinagar, for holding a “peaceful” protest demonstration in Lal Chowk or Raj Bhavan against the alleged “murder of three youths of Nadihal and unabated human rights violations”.

The district magistrate had declined permission, saying prohibitory orders were in force in the city. Section 144 Cr. PC prohibiting assembly of five or more persons has been imposed in the areas falling under police station of Nowhatta, Khanyar, Mehrajgunj and Safakadal, official sources said.

However, Mr. Rashid said he will go ahead with the dharna as he wanted to draw the attention of the Prime Minister towards the killing of three innocent youths of Nadihal. “We strongly condemn the police action. It is nothing but sham democracy”, he said. Mr. Rashid had also lodged a complaint with the state human rights commission (SHRC) on alleged forced labour following which the state police in its report to SHRC had admitted that people of Mawer in Langate constituency were used as forced labour by the army for 13 years without any remuneration. “Now that my complaint has been proved, the prime minister should apologise to the people and compensate them”, Mr. Rashid said.

Mr. Rashid in a separate complaint with SHRC had sought arrest and punishment of armymen allegedly responsible for the fake encounter in which three youths of Nadihal area were killed on April 30. An Army Major has been suspended and a Colonel removed from his command for their alleged involvement in the killing.

The Prime Minister will visit Kashmir on Monday to take forward his peace initiative in the state and is expected to renew his offer for talks with separatists. In view of prohibitory orders imposed in parts of the city and a shutdown called by separatists to protest the Prime Minister’s visit to the valley on Monday, all examinations scheduled for the day have been postponed. “All university examinations scheduled to be held today have been rescheduled. Revised schedule will be notified separately”, Kashmir University spokesman Showkat Shafi said.

Traffic has been restricted along the Boulevard road stretch from Dalgate to Nishat Garden in view of Dr. Singh’s visit. Superintendent Police (Traffic) Showkat Hussain Shah said no private or commercial vehicle will be allowed to ply on the road from Badyari chowk to Nishat Garden, a distance of nine km. Tour operators have also been asked not to ply on the road stretch and depart from the area before 6 a.m. and return only after 10.30 a.m., Mr. Shah said. He said similar restrictions will be in place on Tuesday as well.

India Maoist train sabotage toll climbs to 146

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KOLKATA – Indian rescue workers completed search operations on Sunday after pulling out 146 bodies from the site of a train wreck blamed on Maoist saboteurs, a state minister said.


The precise cause of the derailment was still unclear

The crash occurred on Friday when a Mumbai-bound high-speed passenger express from Kolkata veered off the tracks into the path of an oncoming freight train in a remote part of West Bengal state.

If confirmed as a Maoist strike, it would be the deadliest attack by the rebels in recent memory.

The government has recently been severely criticised for its handling of the worsening left-wing insurgency.

“Teams have pulled 146 bodies from the damaged carriages of the train. Now we are concentrating on hospitals because more than 200 injured are still there,” West Bengal civil defence minister Srikumar Mukherjee told AFP.

Relief and rescue workers rushed to the site — a Maoist stronghold around 135 kilometres (85 miles) west of Kolkata — and used mechanical cutters to reach the injured and the dead inside the badly mangled carriages.

The precise cause of the derailment was still unclear.

Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee initially said Maoists had blown up the track with explosives, while police pointed to evidence that a section of rail had been manually removed.

The Times of India on Sunday said police believed a “rogue Maoist gang” was behind the carnage.

Mukherjee said many of the bodies were badly dismembered and identification of the remains by relatives was proving to be a big challenge.

“We have urged the next of kin of the victims to donate blood to the Central Forensic Laboratory in Kolkata so that the bodies can be identified” by DNA testing, he said.

The Indian Railways Board responded to the disaster by cancelling nighttime services in a number of Maoist-affected areas until further notice.

The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of landless tribespeople and farmers left behind by India’s rapid economic expansion.

The Maoist rebellion, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has labelled the biggest threat to the country’s internal security, began in West Bengal in 1967 and has since spread to 20 of India’s 29 states.

Indian Maoists kill 75 in police massacre

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By Iftikhar Gilani

* Central Reserve Police Force patrol attacked at dawn in Chhattisgarh

NEW DELHI: Maoist rebels ambushed and killed 75 paramilitary personnel in the jungles of Dantewada district of central Indian province of Chhattisgarh on Tuesday.

Sources in the Home Ministry said a patrol from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was attacked at dawn and when reinforcements rushed to the scene, they were surrounded by hundreds of heavily-armed Maoists, locally known as Naxals.

The attack has sent shock waves in the Indian security establishment. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh telephoned Home Minister P Chidambaram to make an assessment of the situation.

The National Security Council met under the chairmanship of the prime minister and is understood to have discussed the deadliest Maoist strike yet.

While Prime Minister Singh called it a “horrific” incident, Chidambaram said it showed the brutality and savagery of the Maoists.

The home minister admitted something must have gone “drastically wrong” in the joint operation, as the personnel seemed to have “walked into a trap”.

Home Ministry sources said it was likely that the CRPF contingent, which is a well-trained force, was tricked into an ambush.

“There was no intelligence input. But the troops were made to believe that they were going in for a raid in a non-descript area which was a Naxal training camp,” the sources said, adding the forces would need to improvise as lessons have been learnt.

The Red Corridor: The Maoist Threat To India’s Existence

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Zainulabedin Ameer | PKKH

India, lauded as the largest democracy in the world, comprises a range of ethnic communities. These are held together, feebly, behind the garb of democracy, which has the world believe that all is well at home. For Indians, the harsh reality is that the long concealed fractures are now beginning to show up as large as the Grand Canyon; long term oppression through history that has been horribly justified through hierarchical order [particularly the caste system] cannot endure. The downtrodden are rising and have been doing much more than making their presence known. Amid the havoc that the Maoists have been wreaking, the Indian leadership has been putting up a bold front. However, few statements have come through that are alarming, and they actually highlight how worried India ought to be. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself has admitted that the Maoists pose “the single biggest internal security threat to the country.” This is despite the fact that his government has been relentlessly blaming Pakistan for everything that happens on Indian soil. The time for covering up their own mess was over a long time ago, and, the Indian leadership, which has been re-elected, ought to focus on its domestic threats. India’s current regime may have been the sole victors of the General Election of 2009, but they are compelled to accept a competing force on another front; Maoist rebels have also shown that they hold considerable sway in many districts of the country that now form what is known as ‘The Red Corridor.’

The Red Corridor is a wide area in India’s East; it stretches along much of its coast while covering many districts inland that meet central Indian states such as Utter Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, etc. This region has witnessed more than 4000 people losing their lives in a span of less than a decade thanks to the vicious Maoist attacks.

For a movement that holds as much control as the Maoist movement does, it is quite perceivable that it has its ideology firmly rooted in the desire of its people; they wish to break the shackles that have confined and marginalized them for decades. Indeed, this Maoist movement, which is now better known domestically as the Naxal revolution, was initiated as a red peasant uprising around May, 1967. This revolution earned its name because it began at a village in West Bengal, which is known as Naxal Bari. Apparently, this movement was a response to feudalism.

The Naxal revolution was initiated in the form of a protest that could have gone by relatively unnoticed. With injustice and oppression of peasants being a normal practice, there was enough fuel to keep the movement going. It is alleged that communism had something to do with galvanizing this movement; it is believed that the peasants have been manipulated by individuals with foreign ideology.

Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal are believed to be the two main communist revolutionaries who have spurred the Maoist movement in India. Their aim is to usurp control through a typical agrarian-based movement. Moreover, these revolutionaries consider communist China to be their inspiration, and graffiti on Kolkata walls stand testimony to this bold and brazen statement.

Perhaps more disturbing than the statements made within India by the Maoist revolutionary leaders are those that are made from beyond its borders; Radio Peking extolled the Naxal Bari uprising, and referred to it as Spring Thunder.

The Naxal peasant uprising became increasingly organized after the establishment of Communist party of by Charu Majumdar in 1969. From this point onwards, the mission appeared to become bold; the ideology began to spread to other parts of the country. However, this initial success was contained when the police killed Charu Majumdar in 1972 while he was in their custody. Without their leader, the rebels became dormant for a while. This was the time for action on the part of the Indian leadership; they could have made an attempt to win over the peasants by considering their demands and bringing justice to them. However, that opportunity was squandered, and by the late 1970s, the Naxal movement had once again gained momentum; it spread as far as Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab, as a fragmented effort, but was effective. Two of the most significant factions were the Peoples War Group that was based in the villages in Andhra Pradesh, and, the Maoist Centre, which was based in the jungles of Bihar. It is these two factions that merged in 2004 to intensify the Maoist movement.

At present, the Maoist movement now operates in more than 220 districts across twenty states of India. This is a shocking fact because of the significance it holds; the Maoists have the ability to strike at targets across 40 % of India. Their main strike zone is known as the Red Corridor, which is an area covering 92,000 sqkms. The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) claims that 20,000 armed Maoists are active out of a total of 50,000 that operate under different organizations.

Regardless of how many armed militants are present, the people in India would want stiff and sustained efforts by the Indian leadership to maintain security. However, India’s feeble response to the Maoist movement, operation ‘Green hunt’, has had little success. This operation was met with a backlash in Bengal and Bihar. As a result of little thought put into the strategy to deal with their apparently largest domestic threat, many Indians have perished.

It is evident that any military action has to be accompanied by a follow-up plan by state governments in terms of appeasing the restive people in the troubled areas; concerned authorities must address the needs of those being denied their rights. While this is a rough outline of what ought to be done, the Maoists remain resolved to take control of India.

With such glaring threats in the face of Indian authorities, they ought to re-think their role as a major country in South Asia. Precisely, what they should do is get their act together and deal with their domestic disputes instead of interfering in Pakistan’s Frontier and Baluchistan provinces. This should have been the realization many years ago. However, they have sustained their efforts in the form of insurgent plans carried out by the completely Un-Islamic Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP]. The Indian Research and Analysis Wing [R.A.W] has spent a great deal of its resources running this organization along with other western clandestine intelligence agencies; in a combined effort, they have tried to make the TTP look like an offshoot of the Afghan Taliban. Indeed, there is magnanimous difference between the two, and their game-plan has been exposed along with their ‘Cold Start’ Fourth Generation Warfare Strategy. They have made a spectacle of themselves, and continue to do so, while back home their very existence at stake.

India, China to discuss Kashmir visas, boundary Tuesday

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LOATAY.COM

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna Monday left for Beijing on a four-day visit, during which India is expected to raise its key concerns over the issuing of stapled visas to Indians from Jammu and Kashmir and Chinese activities in that state.

The minister will hold wide-ranging talks with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi in Beijing Tuesday.

Krishna’s maiden visit to Beijing comes ahead of a likely meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese President Hu Jintao in Washington and Brasilia later this month.

Krishna will formally open the Festival of India in China and attend a reception to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. He will also call on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao Wednesday.

The discussions will cover an entire gamut of bilateral relations, including the boundary dispute and issues relating to bilateral trade which has tiled in favour of Beijing.

The two sides are expected to set dates for the 14th round of talks between their special representatives to resolve the boundary dispute that triggered a war in 1962.

Ahead of the talks, India has said that it will raise its key concerns with the Chinese leadership during the visit, including Chinese infrastructure activities in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

Officials of the external affairs ministry Saturday asked China to stop issuing stapled visas to Indians from Jammu and Kashmir and asked Beijing to be sensitive to New Delhi’s ‘core concern’ on this issue.

‘This is a matter of core concern for India because it goes to the heart of our territorial sovereignty and integrity,’ said Gautam Bambawale, joint secretary who heads China and East Asia sections in the external affairs ministry.

India is also hoping that China will declare its support for New Delhi’s candidature for a permanent seat in an expanded UN Security Council this year when the two sides are celebrating the 60th anniversary anniversary of their diplomatic ties.

Despite differences over a host of issues, bilateral trade is burgeoning and is now estimated to be $43 billion in 2009, but with India’s trade deficit turning out to be whopping $15.8 billion.

India is set to press for greater market access to Indian commodities and the easing of barriers to promote more balanced trade relations.