The Indian Express | 4 months ago | 06-01-2023 | 11:40 am
The Opposition has a new bone to pick with the Mamata Banerjee government. Effective immediately, West Bengal has announced a revised mid-day meal menu for schools run by its government, with chicken and seasonal fruits to be served weekly, from January to April.Served a googly, which it cannot bat away outright in a state with few non-veg apprehensions, the Opposition pointed out that the period of the scheme coincides with the run-up to the panchayat elections in the state.West Bengal Education Minister Bratya Basu told The Indian Express that “paucity of funds” had made them restrict the scheme’s duration to four months. “Under the caring leadership of our Chief Minister, we have constantly strived to provide maximum benefits to students, and this gesture is one more step in that direction. We have introduced chicken and seasonal fruits from our savings. We would have been very happy to continue the menu throughout the year, but that would need much more funds which, sadly, we lack,” said Basu.According to the January 3 notification issued by the School Education Department, Rs 372 crore extra will be allocated to provide for the extra chicken and fruits, which will be additional to the usual menu of rice, potatoes, pulses, vegetables, soybean and eggs. The extra money per child enrolled in the mid-day now known as PM POSHAN is expected to be Rs 20 a week, for 16 weeks. The notification put the number of beneficiaries at over 1.16 crore students in state-run and aided schools.While the state and Centre share the cost of PM POSHAN in a 60:40 ratio, the notification underlined that the additional Rs 372 crore will be paid entirely from the state’s share.The scheme comes into force immediately, with the additional items to be served in different blocks on different days of the week.The panchayat polls, which are expected to see a heated contest between the ruling Trinamool Congress and BJP, are to be held in the month of April-May. Last time, the rural elections had been marked by widespread violence.Senior BJP leader Rahul Sinha said, “Why did the state government all of a sudden feel the need to introduce chicken and fruits in the mid-day meal scheme? This means that the CM has understood that the situation is dicey and her party will not fare well in the rural polls… The government is now offering chicken to divert people’s attention from real issues. The TMC is trying to buy people’s votes in exchange for chicken and fruits.”Senior CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty too slammed the state government. “It is good that the state government has increased the allotment for mid-day meals. It was a long-standing demand of the people. But has the government done this to improve the quality of the meals or just because elections are around the corner?” Chakraborty said, adding that they would have no objections if the government extended the scheme to December.State Congress president Adhir Chowdhury said it was clear that the move was taken with an eye on the panchayat polls. “But we will not protest as we want the people of Bengal to have the best of things. However, please ensure that the move is corruption-free,” Chowdhury said.Questioning the Opposition’s objections, TMC Rajya Sabha MP Santanu Sen said it should not read politics into every government move. “I would tell the CPI(M) that it should keep its mouth shut as its government destroyed the education system in the state… To the BJP, I would say that first criticise your own government’s decisions. We saw how petrol and diesel prices were (kept low) before the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls. Before the Gujarat elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated projects worth crores.”Criticising the BJP’s “narrow-mindedness”, Sen added: “It indulges in this type of politics. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee works for the people throughout the year.”The introduction of chicken in Bengal is striking because measures to get eggs into mid-day meals in other states have faced resistance by some groups. Currently, eggs are served in mid-day meals in 13 states and three UTs as part of “additional food items”, with the states/UTs picking the tab. The frequency ranges from five days a week to once a month.In Madhya Pradesh, the previous Congress government’s decision to add eggs to the menu of anganwadis was overturned by the BJP after it came to power in 2020. In Karnataka, another BJP-ruled state, the proposal to add eggs has been fiercely resisted in the past by Lingayat and Jain seers.Meanwhile, Bengal Education Minister Basu had a counter-suggestion for the Centre: “We request it to provide us more funds so that we can continue with such best practices.”
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took a jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday night (GMT) and alleged that the BJP and RSS are “incapable of looking at the future” and can only talk about the past.Addressing a gathering of the Indian diaspora in the Javits Centre in New York, Gandhi said, “He (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) is trying to drive the car…the Indian car and he looks in the rear-view mirror. Then he does not understand why this car is crashing, not moving forward. And it’s the same idea with the BJP, with the RSS. All of them. You listen to the ministers, you listen to the Prime Minister. You will never find them talking about the future. They only talk about the past”.Gandhi asserted that the BJP and RSS speak only about the past and always “blame somebody else for the past”. In India, there is a fight going on back between two ideologies — one represented by the Congress and the other by the BJP and the RSS, the former MP said.“The simplest way to describe this fight is that on one side you have Mahatma Gandhi and on the other side, Nathuram Godse,” he said.On the Odisha train accident, which claimed 275 lives and left over 1,000 injured, Gandhi said that during the Congress tenure, if train mishaps happened, ministers used to take responsibilities for their actions and “we accepted our mistakes”.“I remember a train accident when the Congress was in power. The Congress did not get up and say ‘now it is the fault of the British that the train has crashed’. The Congress minister said ‘it’s my responsibility and I’m resigning’. So this is the problem we have back home, we make excuses and we are not accepting the reality we are faced with,” Gandhi said.A one-minute silence was also observed to pay respect to the people who died in the accident.During his 40-minute long speech, Gandhi also praised the Indian-American community for the way they have lived in the US. “All the giants that have emerged from India, you can see that there were certain qualities that all of them possessed. Firstly, they searched for, represented and fought for the truth. Secondly, all these people were humble, and there was no arrogance in them. That is how Indians have worked in the US, and that’s why Indians are successful here. I respect and honour you for that.”Gandhi is on a six-day, three-city tour to the United States. He has visited California, the Bay area, Washington and New York to interact with the Indian communities, think tanks and the press.Earlier last week, Gandhi also said the RSS and the BJP are controlling all the instruments of politics in India. Taking a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rahul said, “I think if you sat Modi ji down next to god, Modi ji would start explaining to god how the universe works. And god would get confused that what have I created.”— With PTI inputs
DAYS AFTER they threatened to throw their medals into the Ganga, and the night before their five-day deadline for action against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh expired, a delegation of the protesting wrestlers met Union Home Minister Amit Shah at his official residence in the Capital late Saturday.The meeting, which is learnt to have lasted for over two hours and ended after midnight, was attended by Olympic medalists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik along with several coaches. “We had a meeting with the Home Minister. I can’t comment further,” Bajrang told The Indian Express.Bajrang and Sakshi, along with World Championship medalist Vinesh Phogat, have been at the forefront of the protests against Singh, who has been accused of sexual harassment by seven female wrestlers, including a minor.The Delhi Police registered two FIRs against Singh on April 28 that, as reported by The Indian Express Friday, have at least two instances of demanding “sexual favours” in lieu of professional assistance; close to 15 incidents of sexual harassment that include 10 episodes of inappropriate touching, molestation that includes running hands over breasts, touching the navel; several instances of intimidation including stalking.The Indian Express also reported that one Olympian, a Commonwealth gold medallist, an international referee and a state-level coach are learnt to have corroborated the allegations of at least three female wrestlers, and are among the 125 potential witnesses across four states whose statements have been recorded by Delhi Police.The status of the investigation into these allegations against Singh was the key issue raised by the wrestlers at their meeting with Shah, The Indian Express has learnt. The wrestlers underlined their demand for a strong chargesheet to be filed quickly. The Home Minister is learnt to have said that the due process needs to be followed.Earlier, Sports Minister Anurag Thakur too had urged the wrestlers to “fully cooperate with a fair investigation” and let “the law take its own course”.The last high-level meeting between the protesting wrestlers and government representatives was held on May 27, on the eve of the new Parliament’s inauguration. As the talks were inconclusive, the wrestlers, along with their supporters, went ahead with their plans to march to the new Parliament. They were stopped on the way, manhandled and detained by the Delhi Police. The police also filed an FIR against them under multiple sections, including rioting.In response to the treatment meted out to them, which was condemned by international sports bodies and athletes in India, the wrestlers decided to “immerse” their medals in the Ganga last Tuesday. They went to Haridwar but did a rethink at the last minute, after a phone call from a BJP leader who asked for some time, and pressure from their families.Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) president Naresh Tikait, who also reached Haridwar, asked the wrestlers to defer their decision by five days. On June 2, after Singh was forced to postpone his rally in Ayodhya, Tikait said at a khap panchayat that the government should be given “7 to 10 days” to take action against Singh.
After a 200-metre stretch of an under-construction bridge over the Ganga in Bihar collapsed Sunday, authorities on Monday said that one person working as a guard at the site has been reported missing.“He was a guard with the SP Singla Company. We have been searching for him since yesterday night. SDRF and NDRF teams are also engaged in the search operation. We have not been able to trace the body. We are making efforts to to recover the body at the earliest,” Parbatta Circle Officer Chandan Kumar was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.#WATCH | The bridge that collapsed yesterday had collapsed last year also. I have instructed officials to take strict action. It is not being constructed correctly that’s why it is collapsing again & again. The department will look into it & action will be taken: Bihar CM Nitish… pic.twitter.com/Y8m5Zo5Kka— ANI (@ANI) June 5, 2023Circle Officer Kumar added that the missing person’s bike is still parked near the pillar where it was yesterday.Meanwhile, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar Monday said that the said bridge had collapsed last year as well. “I have instructed officials to take strict action. It is not being constructed correctly that’s why it is collapsing again and again. The department will look into it and action will be taken,” he told reporters.The Bihar government on Sunday clarified that the Aguwani-Sultanganj bridge in Bhagalpur had been demolished intentionally, and that no casualties had occurred due to its razing. “It was decided that we must not take any chance and wait for a final report. So we went ahead with pulling down parts of the bridge. It was a part of such a preventive exercise,” Additional Chief Secretary of Road Construction Department, Pratyay Amrit, had said in a press conference with Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav.The 3.1-kilometre-long bridge, built by SP Singla Constructions Private Limited at a cost of Rs 1,710 crore, had also collapsed on April 30 last year, raising concerns over its construction.(With inputs from PTI, ANI)
With just the clothes on their backs, M Joy Singh and his family of five fled their home in the hill district of Kangpokpi and arrived at a relief camp in Imphal West’s Lamboi Khongnakhong on May 7. They have been there ever since and see little hope of returning anytime soon, even as the violence that started on May 3 continues across the state.They are among the thousands of families currently in relief camps across the state, many of whom have been living as refugees within their own state for close to a month now.As of June 2, there were 37,450 people living in relief camps across 13 districts. And with the continuing incidents of shooting and arson, particularly in the areas at the border of valley and hill districts, this number is rising by the day.The relief camp in which M Joy Singh and his family are being housed is located in a government school. Set up by local residents from a group called Indigenous Development Mission, it is much smaller than many other camps — housing 67 people from 22 families, most from Kangpokpi district and a few from Churachandpur district. Because the school campus is small, organisers say they are already running over capacity and have not taken in any new people since May 24.“The provisions for the camp are mostly being donated by different NGOs and clubs. They have been asking us about our needs and contributing. We have also been receiving some basic provisions from the government’s side,” said S Milan Singh, one of the organisers. Since May 12, they have received 18 bags of rice, three bags of dal, a few bags of salt, potatoes and onions, three tins of cooking oil and 22,000 litres of water from the district administration.In Churachandpur, Kennedy, part of the Kuki Khanglai Lompi group which runs 50 relief camps in the district, said meeting basic needs is a daily challenge amid the swelling numbers and soaring heat. On Saturday evening itself, more than 100 people arrived at the camps from Moljol village. Currently, he said, there are more than 6,500 people living in these camps, set up in schools, churches and community halls. Another 2,000 people are living in relatives’ homes but depend upon the group for food rations.“Different stakeholders are providing us with supplies. There are other civil society organisations, the church, private organizations, the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum and the district administration… Right now, providing medicines to the people is a big challenge for us, especially since a lot of people are getting sick because of the heat,” he said. More than anything, however, it is the future that worries him.“We can’t just keep feeding them every day. Ultimately, people will need their own livelihood again,” he said.Back in Imphal, M Joy Singh — who was a teacher in a private school — said that for him, rehabilitation would ideally mean returning to Kangpokpi with protection so that he can restart his life there. “I have lived all my life there. My parents and grandparents have been cremated there. I don’t want to lose the place where I was brought up, but I fear it may take more than one or two years to return,” he said.At another relief camp in Imphal, M Baby, whose home was in Churachandpur town and who has been in the camp since May 10, said that her family would prefer a fresh start in the valley.“We came with nothing but our clothes. But there is nothing to go back to, everything is destroyed,” she said.According to the Deputy Collector of one of the districts concerned, there are primarily two sets of people in relief camps with differing long-term needs. People who have moved to the relief camps from border areas of the same districts, and those who have come from other districts dominated by people from another community.“Those from fringe villages will probably eventually go back. It is more challenging for the other displaced group. Until the question of where they will be resettlement is tackled, we want to at least find a better place for them to live where they can have some privacy and live as family units instead of all together, which is something we are working towards,” said the official.Among the inmates of the Lamboi relief camp are 14 children. While schools across the state have been shut since the start of the violence and will continue to remain closed till at least June 15, a small respite for the children is that some volunteer teachers have been visiting the camp for the past two weeks to conduct some informal classes for a few hours for them.
Arun Janardhanan: There was a story that when you decided to resign as an IPS officer, the original plan was to join Rajinikanth’s party, which was to launch in 2019-20. Because Rajnikanth cancelled the plan, you joined the BJP. Is that true?I did not resign to join any political party. I was very allergic to politicians. Being a cop for nine-and-a-half years, I was at the other end of the political spectrum. Joining politics immediately after quitting is something I was not very comfortable with, but I wanted to go back to my grassroots. In the spirit of service, I started a foundation called We The Leaders Foundation. The idea of joining the BJP came after I met some leaders and they convinced me that the foundation can have a life of its own, but through politics I can achieve certain goals and objectives very fast, especially for Tamil Nadu.I have met Rajinikanth sir a couple of times and he’s a great person but I never met him to join his party. Our conversation was about issues of common interest and even now we maintain a good friendship.Arun Janardhanan: When you look at yourself as an ex-IPS officer, how does your past influence your present?After losing my first assembly election in Aravakurichi, I spoke to a lot of people and asked them what I did wrong? Many felt that my journey as a police officer, who directly entered politics, was an impediment. People don’t want the same force of a policeman in politics because you’re always ramrod straight. Politics is much deeper. They also want to test whether you will stay in politics for five-10-15 years, or is it a passing thought for you. Even now, if anybody wants to criticise me, they say, ‘Oh, he’s behaving like a policeman… for Annamalai there’s always black and white’. On the positive side, being in the police for about nine-and-a-half years has given me a good insight into human behaviour.I would like to be in Tamil Nadu. I don’t personally want to contest the Lok Sabha elections because I don’t want to be a leader in Tamil Nadu who will go to Delhi and then come backArun Janardhanan: When we look at Tamil Nadu, the BJP is seen as a North Indian party, an upper caste party. In Tamil Nadu, there is Dravidianism, Tamil nationalism, too. How do you plan to make the BJP popular in Tamil Nadu?In Tamil Nadu, the national party always had a role to play. When Modiji was coming to power for the first time as the PM in 2014, we got 19 per cent votes. DMK was as low as 23 per cent. In Tamil Nadu, a national party should have a face, as people here look for a face. It’s a very peculiar political model because people want to travel with the leader for a long time. We have to create leaders in Tamil Nadu who stick with people for 20-30 years. After some time, if the party gives me some other assignment, I would like to be in Tamil Nadu. I personally don’t want to contest the Lok Sabha elections because I don’t want to be a leader in Tamil Nadu who will go to Delhi and then come back.Liz Mathew: The BJP’s disappointing Karnataka election results were attributed to excessive Delhi influence in campaigning. What was the reason for the debacle? Was it the local or national leadership that worked on the party’s election strategies?Karnataka’s political landscape is intricate. In 2013, BJP faced challenges due to Yediyurappa’s separate party, KJP (Karnataka Janata Paksha), and vote cutters like JD(S), resulting in Congress taking power. In 2018, despite Congress leading by 2.5 per cent in vote share, BJP outperformed in 24 seats, marking a shift.Each of the six regions of Karnataka has a distinct voting pattern. In south Karnataka, with 64 seats from Mysore to Ramanagara, JD(S) is a key player. BJP’s influence is growing in north Karnataka, and they dominated central Karnataka in 2018. Bellary, a strong area for BJP in the past two elections, saw a downturn this time. Coastal Karnataka usually favours the BJP, but the recent election was tougher.Any government that releases the caste census will be in trouble. In a democracy like ours, with so many caste and social groups, nobody is going to agree with the numbersA surprise was JD(S)’s unexpected five per cent vote share drop, despite an aggressive campaign. BJP’s vote share in south Karnataka increased from 16 per cent in 2018 to 23 per cent, but Congress came out victorious, gaining 18-20 seats in the region. Despite the increase in ST reservation from three per cent to seven per cent, BJP underperformed in Bellary, calling for introspection. In Bangalore, BJP saw an improvement, winning 17 seats compared to 11 in 2018.Overall, the BJP remains unperturbed after the Karnataka elections, as its vote share held steady. While Congress retained its candidates, BJP took risks, including a generational shift with Yediyurappa not contesting. The continuous change of three chief ministers in five years — HD Kumaraswamy, BS Yediyurappa, Basavaraj Bommai — also unsettled the administration. Furthermore, ex-Congress members contested under BJP, adding to the dynamism. Yet, the BJP is optimistic about sweeping the 2024 Parliament election.I can tell you, 100 per cent, that the Delhi leadership never drove this election. The election was completely driven by the local leadership. Modiji attended more rallies because the local leadership wanted him to attend more rallies. The programme was made by them — the election co-convener Shobha Karandlaje, state President Nalin Kumar Kateel, the former CM Yediyurappa, the then CM Basavaraj Bommai. The “Ee baari nirdhara, bahumatada BJP” (This time, BJP majority government) slogan was made by the local leadership. People want Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath to come for campaigning. We acted as a facilitator: Dharmendra Pradhan as election in-charge, Mansukh Mandaviya and myself.Liz Mathew: Were the leaders united? Was the decision on a generational shift taken on time? How will you address these issues?There were issues but whenever you make a shift, it is always an issue. You have seen Jagadish Shettar. The party has collective wisdom. The senior five-six leaders of Karnataka felt a generational change was needed. The way the BJP works for me, as a karyakarta, is that after a certain point of time they believe that you are not fighting elections but you’re important to the party — we will take care of you. The party will not reject any single person. I can give severalexamples from Tamil Nadu of people sitting in different positions, and for many of them it was a surprise. I have taken the resignation letters of two BJP karyakartas from Tamil Nadu who have become governors. In case of Jagadish Shettar also, the party didn’t sideline him. Seniors have to make way, but in some places they have to still be there. For instance, in Chitradurga we have a 74-year-old fighting the election on a BJP ticket because the next level of leadership is developing. Each seat will go through a different module. No two individuals can be equated. In the case of Laxman Savadiji, he was given a seat to contest but not the seat he wanted. He was also assured of something else once the government comes to power. These are all micro issues.Liz Mathew: Given BJP’s limited success in Tamil Nadu, have you felt frustrated or considered quitting due to its slow progress?I have no intention of quitting; I never publicly declared such a thing. A party’s growth depends on its members’ election competency. I was pleased when, in the recent urban local body elections, around 5,900 BJP candidates stood independently across all bodies. Many were successful, others weren’t, but now they are effectively working on the ground. Constant alliances can weaken a party’s ability to contest elections independently and fearlessly.Each state’s political environment varies, and what transpires in Tamil Nadu affects Delhi, considering its 39 Lok Sabha MPs. While BJP’s independent fight might be beneficial for us, it may not be advantageous for the overall Delhi numbers due to vote division.To establish roots in Tamil Nadu, BJP needs the ethos of a regional party. Consider DMK or AIADMK; they always prioritise Tamil Nadu. Since the inception of BJP state leadership, we resolved to champion Tamil Nadu’s cause, even if it occasionally inconveniences the party. For instance, when Karnataka, governed by the BJP, planned to build the Mekedatu dam, Tamil Nadu BJP observed a one-day fast in Thanjavur to express local sentiments. National leadership can then address these concerns.Modiji gave Tamilians a great honour by placing our Sengol sceptre, symbolising Chola power transfer, in the new Parliament, continually reminding the Speaker of its significance.P Vaidyanathan Iyer: What were the BJP’s apprehensions about the recent labour law amendments in Tamil Nadu, given that similar changes were made nationally?BJP is in support of bringing in a new labour code that is realistic and (in line) with the market sentiment, new era of technology. We had a problem with the way it was communicated by the Tamil Nadu government. It seemed they were trying to squeeze the workers’ rights by trying to put them in a room. Second, we asked for certain safety mechanisms, a welfare board to take care of it. Even if there was a labour union, we wanted them to go one level up in terms of setting a proper communication channel which was not addressed in the Tamil Nadu order. We are there for increased working hours, flexible working hours, but with certain conditions that make sure that everybody is heard. We are not blanketly opposing anything, like other parties. In the new era, a lot of changes have to come, but I feel the central government order was more practical and communicative.P Vaidyanathan Iyer: What is the local BJP’s position on Tamil Nadu’s decision to stick with the New Pension System?The local BJP strongly supports the New Pension System over reverting to the old model, citing concerns over escalating government expenses. I was one of the earliest people who entered the New Pension Scheme and the model is fairly good. I found it beneficial, offering flexibility in investment choices. It’s crucial to communicate to Civil servants that they can influence where their pension contributions are invested.P Vaidyanathan Iyer: Regarding the temple management dispute in Tamil Nadu between BJP-RSS, spiritual leaders and the government, what’s your stance?The Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act (TN HR&CE) faced initial opposition in the 1950s,assuaged by promises of undisturbed temple rituals, operations and properties. However, the Act’s execution is criticised today. Many temples lack Arukala puja and are deteriorating due to discord among stakeholders. Also, administrative costs exceed the stipulated 12 per cent of hundi collections, misappropriating funds meant for temple activities.The opposition to the current management is both ideological and administrative, with poor coordination adversely impacting temple operations.The BJP believes the TN HR&CE has outlived its usefulness and supports a new management method.For example, in the Kalikambal temple, trustees are publicly elected by the community. We propose a model where the temple community elects a board supervised by a reputable private individual. An overarching government authority should intervene only when norms are violated. This approach ensures community involvement while maintaining regulatory oversight.SHYAMLAL YADAV: Tamil Nadu has played a key role in the social justice movement and some parties in the state are demanding a nationwide caste census. In Karnataka, one reason for the BJP’s defeat is that the Congress very aggressively demanded a caste census. Shouldn’t there be a caste census?When there was the Congress government in Karnataka and Siddaramaiahji was the Chief Minister, from 2013-18, they conducted a caste census. That report never saw the light of the day. In several judgments, especially when the issues of caste and reservation came up, the Supreme Court has demanded for an empirical proof for giving data. The Karnataka Congress demanding for a caste census is like a kettle calling the pot black. They themselves are not releasing what they did. Any government that releases the caste census will be in trouble. In a democracy like ours, with so many caste and social groups, nobody is going to agree with the numbers. Let all the political parties fall in line. I’m not saying it won’t happen, it has to happen. But how it has to happen, what methodology, let us defer it to the wisdom of the senior political leadership.AMRITH LAL: How does BJP’s one India, one language and, to some extent, one faith agenda, work with the very strong regional linguistic nationalism of Tamil Nadu? Also, as early as 1982-1983 Hindu Munnani won a seat on its own in Padmanabhapuram, an assembly constituency. What is it that prevented the BJP from growing into a party that can win at least one seat in Tamil Nadu on its own?Our PM and the senior leadership, none of them believes in one country, one language. The new National Education Policy very clearly laid down the mandate saying it is not going to work.Let us have three languages. One is your mother tongue, one is English, one could be a regional language of your choice.You are right about the seat in Padmanabhapuram, Kanyakumari. Tomorrow if the BJP is standing alone, if it is a three-way division in Tamil Nadu, BJP will start with 40 seats. It is my strong answer to you as BJP State President. In 2016 we stood alone, but unfortunately there were some issues like lack of leadership, somebody went out, somebody came in, but post the assembly elections we are in a very good position in Kanyakumari, which you will also see in Lok Sabha.