The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Rajasthan faces an uphill battle in the byelections to an Assembly and two Lok Sabha seats, with strong resentment prevailing among various caste groups and major sections among farmers and traders. The January 29 bypolls will provide an opportunity to the Congress to turn the scales in its favour.The Alwar and the Ajmer Lok Sabha seats and the Mandalgarh Assembly seat in Bhilwara district were earlier held by the BJP. Ajmer MP Sanwar Lal Jat collapsed at a meeting in Jaipur and died on August 9, while Alwar MP Mahant Chand Nath died on September 17 following a prolonged illness. Mandalgarh MLA Kirti Kumari died of swine flu on August 28. Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, for whom the byelections are going to be an acid test, has been touring the three regions over the past two months. However, the ruling party is yet to finalise its candidates.The Congress has announced former MP Karan Singh Yadav as its candidate for Alwar. The Opposition party has been gaining strength in the desert State, especially after its improved performance in the Assembly election in neighbouring Gujarat. The stature of former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who was the Congress’s election in-charge in Gujarat, has increased after the election results.Gujjar agitationAgitated over the State government’s failure to give them 5% reservation, Gujjars have announced that they will invite Patidar leader from Gujarat, Hardik Patel, to campaign in Rajasthan for voting against the BJP.The politically influential Rajput community, which had earlier traditionally supported the BJP, has been angry ever since the encounter death of gangster Anandpal Singh in June. The CBI, which had earlier turned down the State’s request for an investigation into Anandpal’s death, has now agreed to take up the investigation, but the political damage will be beyond repair.The farmers, who launched a prolonged agitation earlier this year with the demand for a crop loan waiver, are mulling over entering the electoral fray. All India Kisan Sabha president Amra Ram has said that farmers would not allow the BJP to divide them on the basis of caste and religion.Amid all these challenges, the BJP seems to be relying on Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the “crowd-puller”. Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria said here on Saturday that there would be no challenge for the BJP with Mr. Modi “being around”. “Mr. Modi is working hard for the progress of India. God has sent him to take care of our nation,” he said.The BJP government has invited Mr. Modi for laying the foundation stone of the Barmer oil refinery on January 14 despite a strong protest registered by the Congress. Mr. Gehlot pointed said United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi had already laid the foundation stone in 2013 and Mr. Modi’s visit to Barmer just before by-elections would amount to a violation of the model code of conduct.In an indication of dissension within the party, BJP State president Ashok Parnami told reporters here that the party’s election committee had sent the panels of probable candidates for bypolls to the Parliamentary Board and was waiting for its decision.
Many strands of Shujaat Bukhari’s murder in Srinagar on Thursday resemble those of the assassination of People’s Conference leader Abdul Ghani Lone 16 years ago.It is so despite the fact that Bukhari was a journalist and Lone a politician, both high-profile. Both were perceived to be seeking to bridge the mutually clashing political ideologies comprising the complex Kashmir matrix.Retrospectively, it would seem that first Lone and then Bukhari made a fatal miscalculation. Any attempt at crossing the red lines, even with pious intention, amounts to walking into a minefield because elements in Pakistan view it as a hostile act.Extremist factions of Kashmir-oriented armed insurgent groups based in Pakistan are overly suspicious of individuals as well as groups, on both sides of the Line of Control, which are perceived to be propelling any proposition seeking freezing of status quo on Kashmir between India and Pakistan as a way out of the impasse. They would settle for nothing short of whole of Jammu and Kashmir.As it is, almost each and every peace move crashes right at that ideological barrier.Bukhari’s profile did not take long to emerge on the Kashmir scene after he opted for journalism in the 1990s when he joined Ved Bhasin’s Kashmir Times in the thick of insurgency (then spearheaded by pro-Independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front). Bukhari’s shifting to The Hindu a few years later substantially elevated his public profile. He was an instinctive journalist and his wider interests buttressed his public image. Bukhari widened his sphere of influence with the help of his talent and aptitude for Kashmir’s cultural and literal life. He soon became a popular face in the Kashmir media and in the rest of India and Pakistan as he engaged in Track Two activities.His visits to Pakistan, the U.S. and European countries got wide publicity in his own English daily, Rising Kashmir, which he floated after leaving The Hindu. In less than 10 years, his stable expanded with the addition of an Urdu daily, Buland Kashmir, a Kashmiri daily and an Urdu weekly. Bukhari took time off to promote literary and cultural fora floated by his group of publications.There was nothing he or his products — newspapers and literary and cultural fora — did or say that could place him in the hazardous course of confrontation with any of the local militant or secessionist groups.To his credit, he gave sufficient coverage to every thought and idea afloat in the over-crowded Kashmir politics.Bukhari soon became a familiar and popular face in debates on Kashmir on national TV channels. He held his ground against vocal opposition from ultra nationalists, just as he sought to deal with hardcore local armed groups without yielding any ground to them or risking their annoyance.His publications appeared with a distinct anti-establishment edge, but stopped short of crossing the red line of accession.Somehow, Bukhari was not able to maintain harmonious relationship with the local press corps. He recently fell out with the main body and floated a parallel one, though hardly with any big name.Reports from across the LoC published here lately indicated that Bukhari’s venturing into Track Two activities was causing resentment in the pro-establishment militants in Pakistan. They questioned his bona fides in the context of his recent meetings held in the U.S., Turkey and Dubai.Nobody could have guessed the impending tragedy. Bukhari had come to be seen as one of the few effective, reasonable voices of Kashmir. Ironically, its ugly side became the perceived cause of his tragic end.(The writer is a veteran Srinagar-based journalist)
Raising the issue of income tax notices to several Durga Puja committees in the State, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday accused the Centre and the Bharatiya Janata Party of insulting the festival. Speaking to journalists at the State Secretariat, Ms. Banerjee said those who talk about Hinduism before the elections are insulting a religious festival like Durga Puja by asking the organisers to pay income tax. The Income Tax Department had issued notices to about 40 big budget pujas during the last festival, seeking details of their income and expenditure.“Those who believe in the Hindu religion, observe Durga Puja. Many political parties do not have to pay income tax for the funds they spend during the elections. Then why would the puja committees have to pay tax? I condemn this attitude,” she said.Ms Banerjee’s remarks, just before the onset of the festival season, assumes significance as the BJP is likely to associate with several community Durga Pujas this year. Durga Pujas in West Bengal also serve as a prominent means of reaching out to large number of people. ‘Subscription by people’The Chief Minister said that community Durga Pujas are held on subscription paid by people, who pay taxes and therefore the question of taxing puja funds does not arise. “It is an insult to the pujas,” she said. Last year, West Bengal government paid an honorarium of ₹10,000 to the community Durga Puja organisers, a decision that was challenged in thee Calcutta High Court.
After putting students’ union polls on hold for over two years in four State universities, the West Bengal government has allowed the varsities to conduct elections whenever they deem appropriate. A letter in this regard was sent by the Higher Education Department to the V-Cs of Jadavpur University, Presidency University, Rabindra Bharati University and Diamond Harbour Women’s University.
Micromax Canvas Win launch eventIndian handset maker Micromax has launched two new handsets, Canvas Win W121 and Canvas Win W092, that are powered by Windows Phone 8.1. Micromax Canvas Win W121The Canvas Win W121 and Canvas Win W092 are the first Micromax devices based on the Microsoft’s Windows platform. On the specs front, both the devices are dual-SIM come with Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 1.2GHz quad core processor with 1GB RAM.Priced at Rs 9,500, the Canvas Win W121 features a 5-inch display, an 8-megapixel main camera with flash. It also has a 2-megapixel front snapper. The internal memory stands at 8GB, which is expandable up to 32GB via microSD card.Micromax Canvas Win W092The Canvas Win W092 has been priced at Rs 6,500. It comes with a 4-inch screen with an IPS WVGA display It sports a 5-megapixel rear camera (with LED flash) and a 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera. The device comes with 8GB of built-in storage with up to 32GB of expandable memory.While launching the devices at an event in New Delhi, Micromax Executive Chairman Sanjay Kapoor said, “We are the first Indian brand that has brought devices that operate on the Windows 8.1 update.”The new devices will start selling from July.