Archive for ‘Karnataka’

28/05/2019

Priyanka meets Rahul Gandhi as he stays firm on quitting as Congress chief

The meeting between Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi comes in the backdrop of reports that the powerful working committee of the party may meet in the next three-four days to discuss the leadership issue.

INDIA Updated: May 28, 2019 13:42 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra,Randeep Surjewala,Congress spokesperson
Congress president Rahul Gandhi with his sister and AICC General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi. (ANI file photo)
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra met her brother, Congress president Rahul Gandhi amid reports that he wants to quit after the crushing defeat in the Lok Sabha elections.
Priyanka Gandhi, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, his deputy Sachin Pilot and Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala arrived at Rahul Gandhi’s 12, Tughlaq Lane residence on Tuesday morning. The meeting between Rahul Gandhi and senior Congress leaders comes in the backdrop of reports that the powerful working committee of the party may meet in the next three-four days to discuss the leadership issue
Rajasthan’s ruling duo Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot calling on him amid rumblings of discontent in the state and his insistence on quitting.
The Congress has denied that any such meeting has been scheduled in the near future. “These reports are baseless,” KC Venugopal, general secretary in-charge of organization who is responsible for convening Congress Working Committee meetings.
On Monday, Congress treasurer Ahmed Patel and KC Venugopal met Rahul Gandhi. But Patel insisted that he had gone to meet Rahul Gandhi for routine administrative work. “I had sought time before the CWC to meet the Congress President to discuss routine administrative work. The meeting today was in that context. All other speculation is incorrect and baseless,” Patel tweeted.
Three more state Congress chiefs resigned on Monday taking ‘moral responsibility’ for party’s poor performance in Lok Sabha elections. Other than Sunil Jakhar (Punjab) and Ajoy Kumar (Jharkhand) and Ripun Bora (Assam), HK Patil, who was tasked to oversee the Karnataka Congress campaign in December, also put in his papers.
ANI

@ANI

Delhi: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Randeep Singh Surjewala arrive at the residence of Congress President Rahul Gandhi. pic.twitter.com/WXmvlPMJv0

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Source: Hindustan Times
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18/04/2019

India election 2019: Can West Bengal’s female candidates win?

A supporter throws marigold petals at Mahua Moitra
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Women make up nearly half of India’s 900 million voters, but they are still poorly represented in the country’s law-making bodies. One political party is trying to correct the balance by nominating 41% female candidates. The BBC’s Geeta Pandey travelled to the state of West Bengal to see how they are faring.

On a bright sunny morning, as an open jeep decorated with bright yellow and orange flowers hurtles along the dirt track from one village to the next, women in colourful saris and men rush to greet Mahua Moitra.

They shower bright orange marigold petals on her, place garlands around her neck and many reach out to shake and kiss her hands. She waves at them, greeting them with her palms joined: “Give me your blessings.”

Young men and women whip out their smartphones to take photos and selfies. On the way, she’s offered coconut water and sweets.

Ms Moitra, who is contesting the general election as a candidate of the state’s governing Trinamool Congress Party (TMC), is campaigning in her constituency Krishnanagar.

Women offer sweets to Mahua Moitra
Image caption On the campaign trail, women offer coconut water and sweets
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Women throw marigold petals at Mahua Moitra
Image caption Supporters throw marigold petals at Mahua Moitra
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In one village, party workers tell her about an old man who’s too ill to come to meet her, so she walks to his home to greet him.

Her jeep is followed by dozens of bikes and their riders, all young men, chanting slogans like “Long live Trinamool Congress, Long live Mamata Banerjee.”

The loud, colourful procession is led by a small truck, fitted with loudspeakers, from which announcements asking people to vote for Ms Moitra are played on a loop.

With the election season well under way in India and political leaders criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country, addressing rallies, I’m travelling across the country to see if the high-decibel campaigns are addressing the real issues that actually affect millions of people. One of them is getting more women into parliament.

In India, only 11% of members of parliament are women, and in state assemblies it’s 9%. In a list of 193 countries this year, India was ranked 149th for female representation in parliament – below Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

A bill to reserve 33% of seats for women in parliament and regional assemblies has been pending since 1996, so the decision by the TMC – led by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee – to give 41% of her party nominations to women has created a huge buzz.

Mahua Moitra during her road show
Image caption Ms Moitra quit her banker’s job in London to return to India and enter politics
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Ms Banerjee, who set up the TMC in 1998 after falling out with the Congress party, is a feisty politician who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2012.

Her female candidates, says my BBC Bengali colleague Subhajyoti Ghosh, are an “interesting mix” of career politicians and first-timers. They include actors, doctors, a tribal activist and the 25-year-old widow of a recently-murdered politician.

Ms Moitra, the TMC’s national spokesperson and a member of the state assembly since 2016, is among 17 women who have made it to the party’s list of 42 general election nominees.

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Read more from Geeta Pandey

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A former investment banker with JP Morgan, she gave up a well-paying job in London in 2009 to return to the heat and dust of Indian politics.

Her decision left her family aghast. Her parents, she told me, thought she was “insane”. Some party workers too had their doubts – “she’s a memsahib”, they said at the time, “she won’t survive”.

A poster of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal
Image caption Mamata Banerjee was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2012
Presentational white spaceBut she has survived – and thrived. In 2016, she won the Karimpur assembly seat that no non-Left party had won since 1972 and has now set her eyes on the national parliament.

She’s agreed to let me follow her on the campaign trail, so for two days I’ve been a “fly on the wall” – standing behind her in her jeep, travelling in her car, watching her strategise with party workers, aides and confidants.

The previous evening, I had watched her be the chief guest at a college cricket match and address a gathering at the local market in Plassey.

A four-hour drive from Kolkata, Plassey is the site of the famous 1757 battle between the British East India Company and the local ruler supported by the French.

Ms Moitra takes her spot to speak and clearly takes aim at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as she talks about a deadly suicide attack in Kashmir and India’s subsequent air raid in Pakistan.

The bike riders
Image caption Her jeep is followed by dozens of supporters on bikes
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Women shaking hands
Image caption Many women reach out to shake hands with Ms Moitra

“What’s the point of saying you killed all those terrorists in Pakistan? It’s not important who you killed in Pakistan or how many. What’s important is you failed to protect our soldiers.”

She talks about how the government has failed to create jobs and accuses the BJP of trying to divide Hindus and Muslims.

“You have taken away our livelihoods and you’re trying to teach us about [the Hindu god] Ram and [Muslim saint] Rahim? I don’t have to write my religion on my forehead,” she declares to loud claps from her supporters.

Elections in the past were to change the government, she says, but this election is to save the constitution of India. “It is no ordinary vote.”

Her main rival is the BJP’s Kalyan Chaubey, a former footballer who played in goal for India. So drawing a football analogy, she declares: “I’m an A-league centre-forward player, stop my goal if you can. I am here to win.”

Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, a founder member of the TMC and two-term MP, says to nominate so many women is part of a “continuous process” followed by Mamata Banerjee because “you can’t develop a society without uplifting the status of its women”.

In the last general election in 2014, she points out that the party nominated 33% women and 12 of their 34 MPs in the outgoing lower house were women.

Ms Banerjee, she says, believes that gender sensitive laws will come only if more women are in power.

At a campaign rally that Dr Ghosh Dastidar addresses in Kumhra Kashipur village in her constituency Barasat, women are seated in the front rows.

Their opinion though is divided over whether having more women in parliament will actually benefit other women.

Dr Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar being welcomed in her constituency
Image caption Dr Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar is among the founder members of the TMC and a two-term MP
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Supriya Biswas says it’s easier if their MP is a woman because then it’s easier to approach her. “For, who can understand a woman better than a woman?”

Archana Mallick and Meena Mouli, who live just across from the rally ground, point to the broken roads near their homes and complain about poor medical facilities in their village. They say that the candidate’s gender is “inconsequential” and what’s important is “who works for our benefit”.

Studies, however, show that female representatives bring economic growth to their constituencies because they are more concerned than men about issues such as water supply, electricity, road connectivity and health facilities.

Saswati Ghosh, professor of economics at Kolkata’s City College, says that politics in India is “still very patriarchal” and it’s “absolutely necessary” to elect more women MPs.

“It is important to have more women in lawmaking bodies because I think after a certain number, you’ll reach the threshold level and that will lead to change. I don’t know if 33% is the magic number that will change the quality of discourse, maybe 25% can do the trick?”

Archana Mallick and Meena Mouli say a candidate's gender is "inconsequential"
Image caption Archana Mallick and Meena Mouli say a candidate’s gender is “inconsequential”

Critics, however, question whether celebrities are the right candidates to bring about that change.

Prof Ghosh says actors and celebrities make for “winnable candidates” and that’s why all parties choose them even though sometimes they may not be the right candidates to reach that threshold.

But, she says that Ms Banerjee is a strong leader who’s regarded by many women as “a role model who inspires more women to come into politics”.

And that’s something that many Indians think the country sorely needs.

In their manifestos, the main opposition Congress party has promised to pass the women’s reservation bill, if elected to power. So has the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, although it had made similar promises in its last manifesto and did nothing about it.

By allotting 41% seats to women, Ms Banerjee has shown that one doesn’t need to set artificial quotas to elect more women.

Source: The BBC

12/03/2019

Two dead after Chinese navy plane crashes

  • No other injuries reported following accident on southern island of Hainan
  • Military is currently intensifying training for pilots as it looks to strengthen capabilities

Mobile phone footage believed to be taken from the crash site. Photo: Handout
Mobile phone footage believed to be taken from the crash site. Photo: Handout
A Chinese navy plane crashed in Hainan province on Tuesday killing two crew members, the military said.
A short statement said the crash happened during a training exercise over rural Ledong county in the southern island province.
No one else was reported to have been injured after the plane hit the ground and the cause of the incident is being investigated.
Footage that purported to be taken from the crash site started circulating on social media after the accident.
Footage apparently taken at the crash site. Photo: Handout
Footage apparently taken at the crash site. Photo: Handout

The PLA’s official statement did not specify the type plane that crashed, although unverified witness account online said it was a twin-seat Xian JH-7 “Flying Leopard”.

The JH-7, which entered service with the navy and air force in the 1990s, has been involved in a number of fatal accidents over the years.

The country’s worst military air accident in recent years happened in January 2018. At least 12 crew members died when a PLA Air Force plane, believed to be an electronic reconnaissance aircraft, crashed in Guizhou in the southwest of the country.

Between 2016 and 2017, there were at least four accidents involving the navy’s J-15 “Flying Sharks”, one of them resulting in the death of the pilot.

Military commentators have previously said that China’s drive to improve its combat readiness, which includes the building of new aircraft carriers and warplanes, has resulted in a serious shortage of qualified pilots.

To fill the vacancies the Chinese military has started a major recruitment drive and intensive training programme for pilot pilots.

One unverified report said the plane that crashed was a JH-7 “Flying Leopard”. Photo. Xinhua
One unverified report said the plane that crashed was a JH-7 “Flying Leopard”. Photo. Xinhua

Currently China has one aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, in service, which can carry a maximum of 24 J-15s as well as other aircraft.

Meanwhile, the new home-grown carrier Type 001A will soon be commissioned, which is designed to accommodate to carry eight more fighters.

In addition, construction is believed to have started on another carrier that will be able to carry heavier and more advanced warplanes.

Chinese navy veteran warns training, not hardware is key to military preparedness
According to figures from the end of 2016, there were only 25 pilots qualified to fly the J-15 while 12 others were in training.
Most of the Chinese navy’s pilots have been redeployed from the air force, which is itself in need of more trained pilots.
This year the navy for the first time began a nation-wide programme to scout out potential pilots.
Speaking on the sidelines of the ongoing legislative meeting in Beijing Feng Wei, a PLA pilot from the Western Theatre, said the military was currently intensifying its pilots’ training as increasing amounts of new equipment entered service.
“Personnel quality is the key to everything,” he added.
Source: SCMP
06/03/2019

‘War’ and India PM Modi’s muscular strongman image

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he speaks during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) "Sankalp" rally in Patna in the Indian eastern state of Bihar on March 3, 2019.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionMr Modi is accused of exploiting India-Pakistan hostilities for political gain

A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth, American political journalist Michael Kinsley said.

Last week, a prominent leader of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appeared to have done exactly that. BS Yeddyurappa said the armed aerial hostilities between India and Pakistan would help his party win some two dozen seats in the upcoming general election.

The remark by Mr Yeddyurappa, former chief minister of Karnataka, was remarkable in its candour. Not surprisingly, it was immediately seized upon by opposition parties. They said it was a brazen admission of the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party was mining the tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals ahead of general elections, which are barely a month away. Mr Modi’s party is looking at a second term in power.

Mr Yeddyurappa’s plain-spokenness appeared to have embarrassed even the BJP. Federal minister VK Singh issued a statement, saying the government’s decision to carry out air strikes in Pakistan last week was to “safeguard our nation and ensure safety of our citizens, not to win a few seats”. No political party can afford to concede that it was exploiting a near war for electoral gains.

A billboard displaying an image of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi holding a rifle is seen on a roadside in Ahmedabad on March 3, 2019.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThe BJP has put up election posters of Mr Modi posing with guns

Even as tensions between India and Pakistan ratcheted up last week, Mr Modi went on with business as usual. Hours after the Indian attack in Pakistan’s Balakot region, he told a packed election meeting that the country was in safe hands and would “no longer be helpless in the face of terror”. Next morning, Pakistan retaliated and captured an Indian pilot who ejected from a downed fighter jet. Two days later, Pakistan returned the pilot to India.

Mr Modi then told a gathering of scientists that India’s aerial strikes were merely a “pilot project” and hinted there was more to come. Elsewhere, his party chief Amit Shah said India had killed more than 250 militants in the Balakot attack even as senior defence officials said they didn’t know how many had died. Gaudy BJP posters showing Mr Modi holding guns and flanked by soldiers, fighter jets and orange explosions have been put up in parts of the country. “Really uncomfortable with pictures of soldiers on election posters and podiums. This should be banned. Surely the uniform is sullied by vote gathering in its name,” tweeted Barkha Dutt, an Indian television journalist and author.

Mr Modi has appealed to the opposition to refrain from politicising the hostilities. The opposition parties are peeved because they believe Mr Modi has not kept his word. Last week, they issued a statement saying “national security must transcend narrow political considerations”.

‘Petty political gain’

But can the recent conflict fetch more votes for Mr Modi? In other words, can national security become a campaign plank?

Many believe Mr Modi is likely to make national security the pivot of his campaign. Before last month’s suicide attack – claimed by Pakistan-based militants – killed more than 40 Indian paramilitaries in Kashmir, Mr Modi was looking a little vulnerable. His party had lost three state elections on the trot to the Congress party. Looming farm and jobs crises were threatening to hurt the BJP’s prospects.

Now, many believe, Mr Modi’s chances look brighter as he positions himself as a “muscular” protector of the country’s borders. “This is one of the worst attempts to use war to win [an] election, and to use national security as petty political gain. But I don’t know whether it will succeed or not,” says Yogendra Yadav, a politician and psephologist.

Indian people feed sweets to a poster of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they celebrate the Indian Air Force"s air strike across the Line of Control (LoC) near the international border with PakistanImage copyrightEPA
Image captionMany Indians have celebrated India’s strike in Pakistani territory

Evidence is mixed on whether national security helps ruling parties win elections in India. Ashutosh Varshney, a professor of political science at Brown University in the US, says previous national security disruptions in India were “distant from the national elections”.

The wars in 1962 (against China) and 1971 (against Pakistan) broke out after general elections. Elections were still two years away when India and Pakistan fought a war in 1965. The 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that brought the two countries to the brink of war happened two years after a general election. The Mumbai attacks in 2008 took place five months before the elections in 2009 – and the then ruling Congress party won without making national security a campaign plank.

Things may be different this time. Professor Varshney says the suicide attack in Kashmir on 14 February and last week’s hostilities are “more electorally significant than the earlier security episodes”.

For one, he says, it comes just weeks ahead of a general election in a highly polarised country. The vast expansion of the urban middle class means that national security has a larger constituency. And most importantly, according to Dr Varshney, “the nature of the regime in Delhi” is an important variable. “Hindu nationalists have always been tougher on national security than the Congress. And with rare exceptions, national security does not dominate the horizons of regional parties, governed as they are by caste and regional identities.”

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Bhanu Joshi, a political scientist also at Brown University, believes Mr Modi’s adoption of a muscular and robust foreign policy and his frequent international trips to meet foreign leaders may have touched a chord with a section of voters. “During my work in northern India, people would continuously invoke the improvement in India’s stature in the international arena. These perceptions get reinforced with an event like [the] Balakot strikes and form impressions which I think voters, particularly on a bipolar contest of India and Pakistan, care about,” says Mr Joshi.

Others like Milan Vaishnav, senior fellow and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, echo a similar sentiment. He told me that although foreign policy has never been a “mass” issue in India’s domestic politics, “given the proximity of the conflict to the elections, the salience of Pakistan, and the ability of the Modi government to claim credit for striking back hard, I expect it will become an important part of the campaign”.

But Dr Vaishnav believes it will not displace the economy and farm distress as an issue, especially in village communities. “Where it will help the BJP most is among swing voters, especially in urban constituencies. If there were fence-sitters unsure of how to vote in 2019, this emotive issue might compel them to stick with the incumbent.”

How the opposition counters Mr Modi’s agenda-setting on national security will be interesting to watch. Even if the hostilities end up giving a slight bump to BJP prospects in the crucial bellwether states in the north, it could help take the party over the winning line. But then even a week is a long time in politics.

Source: The BBC

10/02/2019

‘Oldest known elephant in captivity’ dies at 88 in India

Dakshayani, an elephant that died in February 2019 aged 88Image copyrightSTR/AFP/GETTY
Image captionDakshayani, pictured here in 2016, lived at the Chengalloor Mahadeva Temple in southern Kerala state

Dakshayani, thought to be the world’s oldest elephant in captivity, has died at the age of 88 in India.

Given the title Gaja Muthassi or elephant granny, Dakshayani took part in temple rituals and processions at the Chengalloor Mahadeva Temple in the southern state of Kerala.

But her vet said the elephant stopped taking food and died on Tuesday.

Keepers started feeding her pineapples and carrots in recent years after she began to have trouble moving around.

She had not taken part in any public event for several years.

The Travancore Devaswom Board, which runs the temple where she lived, says she was the oldest elephant in captivity and estimated her age at 88.

However, the current Guinness World Record holder for oldest elephant in captivity is Lin Wang.

The Asian elephant died at a zoo in Taiwan in 2003 aged 86, and served with the British Army in World War Two.

Another elephant, Indira, died in India’s Karnataka state in 2017 and was reportedly aged “between 85 and 90”.

Dakshayani, an elephant that died in February 2019 aged 88Image copyrightSTR/AFP/GETTY
Image captionThe elephant took part in temple rituals and processions

India has more than 2,400 elephants in captivity.

The former Travancore Devaswom Board president told AFP news agency that Dakshayani was well-treated.

“Due to various practical constraints, we could not let her loose, but instead ensured that she had more than enough space to move around,” he said.

However conservationists say many elephants suffer in poor conditions.

UK-based group Action for Elephants says around 800 elephants are held in Indian temples, particularly in Kerala state, and live in “generally abysmal living conditions”.

Media captionIndia’s first elephant hospital is run by the charity Wildlife SOS

Source: The BBC

21/01/2019

Karnataka seer Shivakumara Swami dies; PM Modi, dignitaries pay tributes

Congress president Rahul Gandhi also expressed his condolences on Twitter, saying that Shivakumara Swami’s passing has left behind a deep spiritual void.

INDIA Updated: Jan 21, 2019 16:13 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Shivakumara Swami,Karnataka,Karnataka seer
Soon after the Shivakumara Swami’s death, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that the Swami had lived for the people, especially the poor and vulnerable and expressed his prayers and solidarity with the seer’s devotees around the world.(Twitter/ @narendramodi)

Shivakumara Swami, the 111-year-old revered seer of Karnataka’s Siddaganga Mutt at Tumakuru, died early at 11.44 am on Monday.

The state government has announced a three-day mourning in honour of the seer and has declared Tuesday a statewide holiday, Deputy chie fminister G Parameshwara said soon after announcing the seer’s death.

The Swami, known among his followers as the “Walking God”, was one of the oldest known living persons in India. He was suffering from a lung infection for the past few weeks and was on ventilator for the last 15 days. Over the last few years he had been in and out of the hospitals due to age-related ailments.

Soon after the Swami’s death, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that the Swami had lived for the people, especially the poor and vulnerable and expressed his prayers and solidarity with the seer’s devotees around the world.

“HH Dr. Sree Sree Sree Sivakumara Swamigalu remained at the forefront of ensuring better healthcare and education facilities for the marginalised. He represents the best of our traditions of compassionate service, spirituality and protecting the rights of the underprivileged,” he said.

“I have had the privilege to visit the Sree Siddaganga Mutt and receive the blessings of His Holiness Dr. Sree Sree Sree Sivakumara Swamigalu. The wide range of community service initiatives being done there are outstanding and are at an unimaginably large scale,” the PMsaid.

President Ramnath Kovind expressed his condolences to the countless followers of the Swami.

“Extremely sad to learn of the passing of spiritual leader Dr Sree Sree Sree Sivakumara Swamigalu Ji. He contributed immensely to society particularly towards healthcare and education. My condolences to his countless followers,” the President tweeted.

President of India

@rashtrapatibhvn

Extremely sad to learn of the passing of spiritual leader Dr Sree Sree Sree Sivakumara Swamigalu Ji. He contributed immensely to society particularly towards healthcare and education. My condolences to his countless followers

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Congress president Rahul Gandhi also expressed his condolences on Twitter, saying that the swami’s passing has left behind a deep spiritual void.

Rahul Gandhi

@RahulGandhi

I am sorry to hear about the passing of Shivakumar Swami Ji, Pontiff of the Siddaganga Mutt. Swami Ji was respected & revered by millions of Indians, from all religions & communities. His passing leaves behind a deep spiritual void. My condolences to all his followers.

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“I am sorry to hear about the passing of Shivakumar Swami Ji, Pontiff of the Siddaganga Mutt. Swami Ji was respected & revered by millions of Indians, from all religions & communities. His passing leaves behind a deep spiritual void. My condolences to all his followers,” Rahul Gandhi tweeted.

Among the last people to call on him were Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy visited the Mutt to enquire about Swami’s health. BS Yeddyurappa, MB Patil, KJ George and Sadananda Gowda were also present.

The Swami was believed by his followers to be an incarnation of the 12th century social reformer Basava. He headed the Sree Siddaganga Education Society, which runs about 125 educational institutions in the state – from engineering colleges to business schools.

Security has been tightened at the Mutt as hundreds of followers gathered, praying for the holy man’s recovery.

Source: Hindustan Times

15/12/2018

Mystery shrouds death of 11 people who consumed temple food in Karnataka

Police confirm that the symptoms of the patients are consistent with poisoning through organophosphate,a common pesticide. Samples of the food have been sent for analysis.

INDIA Updated: Dec 15, 2018 20:16 IST

Vikram Gopal
Vikram Gopal
Sulawadi (Karnataka)
temple,prasad,Karnataka
Eleven people died and around 90 are in hospital, with the condition of many, including around 10 children, critical after eating food served at the Kicchugathi Maramma temple. (HT Photo)

A posse of policemen sits in the shade, keeping an eye on the people gathered in front of the unimposing structure of the Kicchugathi Maramma temple. On farmland opposite the temple, three forest officials are trying to manage a crowd gathered to see the carcasses of dead crows, around 20 of them.

This is the scene at Sulawadi, 200 km from Bengaluru, a day after 11 people died after eating food served at the temple. Around 90 are in hospital, with the condition of many, including around 10 children, critical. The crows died when they ate the food that was thrown away. By Saturday afternoon, Sulwadi has become a magnet for people from neighbouring villages.

Police confirm that the symptoms of the patients are consistent with poisoning through organophosphate,a common pesticide. Samples of the food have been sent for analysis.

Japamalai, a former gram panchayat member of the village, which is located 5 km from the Tamil Nadu border, stands at the centre of the clearing in front of the temple, eager to tell all the outsiders about the politics of the village, which he believes is at the heart of the tragedy, and others pitch in to fill the gaps.

According to them, tensions flared up in the village over the control of the temple, highly revered in the area. It is one of the temples that believers of the Om Shakti cult visit on the way to Melmaruvathur in Tamil Nadu, which has traditions much like the Sabarimala temple, including vows of purity that range from one week to 48 days.

Chinnappi, one of five persons taken in for questioning, was the chief trustee of the temple and nurtured ambitions of building a new dome for the temple. This was opposed by Immadi Mahadeva Swamy, “who also wished to have control of the trust”, Japamalai said. Many claim it was this fight that led to one faction adding pesticide in the food.

On Friday, Chinnappi held a small feast for about 100 people as part of a stone laying ceremony for the construction of the new dome. Among those who were present at the time were a large number of Om Shakti devotees who were passing by and decided to partake of the meal.

Around 20 crows died when they ate the food that was thrown away. (HT Photo)

Murugappa, one of the locals, said there was a foul smell in the food, but people continued to eat it. “Only a few of us threw the food away because there is a belief that you can’t refuse temple food.”

The only problem with this conspiracy theory is that the three cooks ate the food and are in hospital. Dharmender Singh Meena, Superintendent of Police for the district, said the three, Eeranna, Lokesh and Puttaswamy are in critical condition in a hospital in Mysuru.

Puttaswamy’s daughter Anita died after consuming the food, he added. “While it is almost certain at this point that there was poisoning we cannot be sure if there was criminal intent involved because the cooks have taken ill,” Meena said.

Indeed, locals at Sulawadi find it hard to understand how the food could have been poisoned. The kitchen is located behind the temple, where the trust has built a shelter for devotees who wished to rest there. All three cooks were on the payroll of the temple trust for years, Japamalai said.

Japamalai and Murugappa said the trouble began around 1 pm when some people complained of feeling sick. “Soon, people were throwing up on the side of the road and others just fell down,” Murugappa said.

About 40 km from Sulawadi, a large group of people have gathered at the government hospital in Hanur town, waiting to collect the body of Shantaraju, a Dalit from nearby Bidarahalli, who was at the temple as part of the Om Shakti devotees’ group.

Nagaraj, Shantaraju’s brother-in-law, asks his other relatives who gathered at the spot to sit down for a flash protest. “We will not leave this place till the accused is produced in front of us and we are allowed to dispense justice,” he says, before the policemen present at the spot calm him down.

Currently, 93 people are undergoing treatment at various hospitals in Mysuru, the minister in charge of the district, C Puttarangashetty said. “It is clear that there is foul play involved and we have asked the police to bring the guilty to book at the soonest,” he said. Of the 93, 29 are said to be in a critical condition.

The police are awaiting the results of tests conducted by the forensics lab in Mysuru to see if it throws up any more clues. “At present, we are questioning five people, Chinnappi, Mahadesha, Mahadeva and two others, whose identities cannot be revealed at this moment,” Meena said. “We have sent viscera and food samples to the forensics lab and I personally asked them to expedite the process,” he added.

Karnataka Chief minister HD Kumaraswamy announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each for the families of the deceased.

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