Archive for ‘religion’

18/05/2019

Narendra Modi attends first press conference but takes no questions

Mr Modi said the Congress should be ashamed of the 1984 anti-Sikh riotsImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Mr Modi said he will not forgive Pragya Thakur

India is in full election mode: voting began on 11 April, and the final ballot will be cast on 19 May with results out on 23 May. Every day, the BBC will be bringing you all the latest updates on the twists and turns of the world’s largest democracy.

What happened?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has attended first ever press conference at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) head office in Delhi – days before Indians take part in the final stage of voting.

But journalists were left disappointed as he did not take any questions, and instead largely talked about his government’s achievements.

“I have come to thank the country for blessing me. I have seen a lot of ups and downs but the country stayed with me,” he said.

Mr Modi also spoke of his pride in India’s democratic process and said he needs to show the world “how diverse our democracy is”.

Mr Modi was seated next to party president Amit Shah. He said he would not take questions because the press conference was Mr Shah’s.

Earlier, the prime minister said he would “never be able to forgive” those who have “insulted” Mahatma Gandhi.

Mr Modi’s statement comes after controversial Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician Pragya Thakur called Nathuram Godse – the man who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi – a “patriot”.

Ms Thakur apologised after several leaders, including those from the BJP, criticised her.

“Such statements should be condemned. There is no place in society for such comments. She [Ms Thakur] may have apologised, but I will never be able to forgive her,” he said in an interview to News24 TV channel.

Why does this matter?

This is the first time Mr Modi has attended a press conference as prime minister while in India. Most of his press conferences have been on state visits to other countries and often involved little more than reading out an official statement.

He has given some one-on-one interviews to Indian media, though critics say that these have largely been tightly controlled and given to journalists seen as sympathetic to him. However in recent weeks he has given a flurry of interviews to several leading publications and television channels, including those that have been critical of him.

But if people were expecting a complete about-turn in his media policy this time, they would have been disappointed.

This caused some frustration among journalists on Twitter.

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Also on Friday, a BJP candidate apologised for calling Gandhi’s killer a patriot

Hindu activist Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur leaving for Simhastha in Ujjain under heavy police protection on May 18, 2016 in Bhopal, India.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

What is happening?

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician Pragya Thakur has apologised after calling Nathuram Godse – the man who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi – a “patriot”.

Several political parties had criticised her comment and her own party demanded that she should publicly apologise.

“It was my personal opinion. My intention was not to hurt anyone’s sentiments. If I’ve hurt anyone, I do apologise. What Gandhi Ji has done for the country cannot be forgotten. My statement has been twisted by the media,” Ms Thakur said on Thursday evening.

She made the comment after actor-turned politician Kamal Haasan said Godse was India’s first Hindu “extremist” earlier this week.

Why does this matter?

The BJP as well as opposition parties immediately reacted to her comment, which also caused a storm on social media.

BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao said that the party does not agree with her statement, and asked her to publicly apologise.

The main opposition Congress party demanded an apology from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said that the BJP should take “punitive action” against Ms Thakur.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said that “insulting martyrs is in the BJP DNA” and that the “soul of the nation” has been hurt by her remarks.

Congress party leader Priyanka Gandhi also lashed out at the BJP.

Political analysts also say that her comments have put the BJP in a tough spot, since Mr Modi and BJP president Amit Shah defended their decision to field her as a candidate despite terror charges against her.

Her candidature caused outrage as she is an accused of involvement in a blast that killed seven people and injured 100 others. Ms Thakur denies all charges against her.

However, Ms Thakur’s comments do reflect the views of some right-wing Hindus who support the BJP and have long seen Gandhi as too moderate.

Godse, who shot Gandhi in the chest three times at point-blank range on 30 January 1948, was also an activist with nationalist right-wing groups, including those closely associated with the BJP.

Hindu hardliners in India accuse Gandhi of having betrayed Hindus by being too pro-Muslim, and even for the division of India and the bloodshed that marked Partition, which saw India and Pakistan created after independence from Britain in 1947.

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On Thursday, a ruling party candidate called Gandhi’s killer a patriot

What happened?

Controversial Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician Pragya Thakur made headlines again. This time it was for calling Nathuram Godse – the man who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi – a “patriot”.

Her comment was made in response to a statement by southern actor-turned politician Kamal Haasan who had said India’s first “extremist” was a Hindu”, referring to Godse.

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His statement, made on Monday, was heavily criticised by the BJP, which accused him of indulging in “divisive politics” and filed a complaint against him with the Election Commission of India.

Why does this matter?

The BJP responded by criticising Ms Thakur and asking her to publicly apologise.

“BJP does not agree with this statement, we condemn it. Party will ask her for clarification, she should apologise publicly for this statement,” party spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao told reporters.

Mahatma Gandhi (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi,1869 - 1948), Indian nationalist and spiritual leader, leading the Salt March in protest against the government monopoly on salt production.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

Ms Thakur has seen her fair share of controversy. Her candidature caused outrage as she is an accused of involvement in a blast that killed seven people and injured 100 others. On 18 April, she said that police officer Hemant Karkare had died in the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks because she had “cursed” him. She was then banned from campaigning for 72 hours as a result.

A team led by Mr Karkare had arrested her for questioning in connection with the Malegaon blast.

During her campaign, she also said she was “proud” of her part in the demolition of the 16th Century Babri mosque. In 1992, right-wing Hindu mobs razed the mosque to the ground, claiming it was built on the site of a temple destroyed by Muslim rulers. The site, which is in the city of Ayodhya, has been a religious flashpoint for Hindus and Muslims for decades.

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Campaigning ended in West Bengal a day before deadline

What happened?

The Election Commission (EC) told political parties to end their campaigning in West Bengal state, a day before the deadline in the wake of poll-related violence.

The campaign will end on Thursday at 10pm local time, and voting will be held on Sunday.

The decision comes after clashes broke out between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers and protesters believed to be from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) on Tuesday.

It happened during a roadshow of BJP chief Amit Shah. Several people were injured and vehicles were set on fire. A statue of renowned Bengali reformer Iswarchandra Vidyasagar was also vandalised in the clashes.

Both parties have accused each other of starting the violence.

Why does this matter?

Violence took place during BJP chief Amit Shah's rally in Kolkata on TuesdayImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Violence took place during BJP chief Amit Shah’s rally in Kolkata on Tuesday

The BJP welcomed the decision, saying it validated their argument that the state had “descended into anarchy” under the leadership of chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

Ms Banerjee said that the move was “undemocratic” and “it had insulted the people of Bengal”.

“Tomorrow, [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi has two meetings in Bengal. When he finishes, the campaigning also ends… Instead of punishing Amit Shah, the Election Commission has given a gift to the BJP,” she said.

This photo taken on May 14, 2019 shows supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) facing off with Indian police next to torn down barricades during clashes between rival groups during a campaign rally event held by BJP president Amit Shah in KolkataImage copyright AFP
Image caption Several people were injured and vehicles were set on fire during the violence

Both parties are locked into a fierce election battle to win most out West Bengal’s 42 seats. Ms Banerjee has ambitions of becoming the prime minister in case a nationwide coalition of regional parties wins enough seats.

The state has also become crucial for the BJP as it’s trying to expand its reach in the eastern state. It won only two seats in the 2014 election.

The BJP performed well in northern states like Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in 2014, but this time it’s expected to suffer loses against a coalition of regional parties and the main opposition Congress.

So the party is trying to make up for the losses in West Bengal.

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On Wednesday, the TMC and the BJP accused each other of poll violence

West Bengal chief minister Mamata BanerjeeImage copyright GETTY IMAGES

What happened?

The war of words between West Bengal state chief minister Mamata Banerjee and the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) intensified ahead of voting on Sunday.

The latest verbal duel comes after violence was reported during BJP chief Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) on Tuesday.

Clashes broke out between BJP supporters and protesters who were holding “Amit Shah go back” posters.

Some people suffered minor injuries and a few vehicles were set on fire.

The BJP said the protest was “orchestrated” and called it an “attempt to strangulate democracy”.

Why does this matter?

The eastern state has become politically crucial for the BJP as it has intensified campaigning in the past few days.

And that has sparked a feverish electoral battle between the BJP and Ms Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC).

“What does Amit Shah think of himself? Is he above everything? Is he god that no one can protest against him?” Ms Banerjee said.

In reply, Mr Shah accused the TMC of not following democratic norms during elections.

“Have faith in the people of Bengal that they’d face the TMC goons,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to hold more rallies in the coming days, so one can expect more verbal fireworks from the two leaders.

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On Tuesday, the saga of the morphed Mamata meme continued

What happened?

India’s top court stepped in to release an activist belonging to India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who was sent to prison for sharing a doctored image of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Priyanka Sharma was sentenced to two weeks in prison on 10 May after she shared a picture of Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra and her husband Nick Jonas at the Met Gala – but with Ms Banerjee’s head superimposed on to Chopra’s body.

Earlier the court had said Ms Sharma could be released only if she apologised to Ms Banerjee, but later waived this condition.

Why does this matter?

The battle for West Bengal in this general election has been absolutely bruising.

The BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, has been campaigning hard for votes in the state. This has brought them toe-to-toe with the state’s feisty chief minister. The fact that voting for West Bengal’s 42 seats has been split across all nine phases of voting has meant that the battle has been long and drawn-out.

And with just one phase to go before voting finally ends, the gloves are well and truly off. The two parties have traded insults on the campaign stage, their workers have attacked each other, and the violence on the ground has intensified. And now the battle has spread to cyberspace as well.

The country’s finance minister Arun Jaitley jumped at news of Ms Sharma’s release to call Ms Banerjee a dictator.

Analysts say that this political row is so bitter because the BJP has clearly identified West Bengal as one of the states where they may be able to make gains this election. This becomes more important for the party in the context of their fight in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the most number of MPs (80) to parliament.

They are up against a powerful coalition of regional parties there, and many expect them to lose seats as a result.

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And PM Modi said Rahul Gandhi should be ashamed of 1984 riots

What happened?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that main opposition Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi should be “ashamed of himself” over his colleague’s remark on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Mr Modi was replying to a controversial statement made by Sam Pitroda, who is a strategist of the Congress party.

In his reply to a question about the Congress’ role in the riots, Mr Pitroda had said “so what?”.

“I don’t think so, this is also another lie, and what about 1984? You speak about what you [Mr Modi] have done in five years. It [the riots] happened in 1984, so what?” he said.

Mr Gandhi said he was “ashamed” of Mr Pitroda’s statement, and asked him to apologise.

Mr Pitroda later said his statement was “twisted” and he did not mean to hurt sentiments.

But Mr Modi said the Congress chief “must apologise”.

“I was watching that naamdar [the dynast] told his guru that he should be ashamed of what he said. I want to ask naamdar, you pretended to scold your mentor for what? Because he exposed what was always in the Congress’s heart, and in the discussions of the naamdar family? Because he made public a family secret? Naamdar, it is you who should be ashamed,” Mr Modi said.

Why does this matter?

The controversy matters because it comes days ahead of voting for the 13 seats in the northern state of Punjab.

The BJP, which has formed a coalition with regional Shiromani Akali Dal, is locked in a bitter electoral battle with the ruling Congress in the state.

Sikhs are a majority in the state and the 1984 riots is still an emotional issue for many of them.

More than 3,000 Sikhs were killed in 1984 after the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

They were angry at her decision to send the army into the Golden Temple – Sikhism’s holiest shrine – to flush out militants earlier in the year.

The killing of Mrs Gandhi, who belonged to the Congress, saw mobs attack and murder members of the Sikh community across the country.

And both parties appear to be trying to come across as pro-Sikh ahead of the vote on 19 May.

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On Sunday, Delhi voted but not enthusiastically

A voter in Delhi in the general electionImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Delhi’s voter turnout was lower than in 2014

What happened?

Sunday saw India’s capital Delhi vote along with several other states in the polls – the penultimate phase of the country’s mammoth general election.

Voters turned out to vote, but in fewer numbers than they did in 2014. The election commission said that around 60% of the capital’s registered voters had actually cast ballots, which was about a five percent drop from 2014.

Delhi Chief Electoral Officer Ranbir Singh expressed disappointment, saying that the turnout did not match expectations.

Why does this matter?

The election commission is right to be disappointed – it had run a series of campaigns in the city, encouraging more people to vote.

But it was not as though polling in Delhi was an entirely smooth process. Some voters complained that their names were missing from electoral lists even though they had all the necessary documents. There were also reports that around 1,200 Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) had malfunctioned across the city, delaying the polling process.

The fact that Delhi became a three-cornered contest after the main opposition Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which controls the Delhi state assembly, failed to stitch up an alliance may also have put voters off. Many analysts believe that this failure will only split voters who were against prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and effectively hand them victory.

So they may have decided to just stay home, and not bother queuing up in the blistering heat – it touched 40C on Sunday.

Source: The BBC

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16/05/2019

Gandhi killer ‘patriot’ comment by BJP candidate draws outrage

Mahatma Gandhi (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi,1869 - 1948), Indian nationalist and spiritual leader, leading the Salt March in protest against the government monopoly on salt production.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

India is in full election mode: voting began on 11 April, and the final ballot will be cast on 19 May with results out on 23 May. Every day, the BBC will be bringing you all the latest updates on the twists and turns of the world’s largest democracy.

Ruling party candidate calls Gandhi’s killer a patriot

What is happening?

Controversial Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician Pragya Thakur has made headlines again. This time it was for calling Nathuram Godse – the man who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi – a “patriot”.

Her comment was made in response to a statement by southern actor-turned politician Kamal Haasan who had said India’s first “extremist” was a Hindu”, referring to Godse.

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His statement, made on Monday, was heavily criticised by the BJP, which accused him of indulging in “divisive politics” and filed a complaint against him with the Election Commission of India.

Why does this matter?

The BJP has responded by criticising Ms Thakur and asking her to publicly apologise.

“BJP does not agree with this statement, we condemn it. Party will ask her for clarification, she should apologise publicly for this statement,” party spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao told reporters.

However, Ms Thakur’s comments do reflect the views of some right-wing Hindus who support the BJP and have long seen Gandhi as too moderate.

Godse, who shot Gandhi in the chest three times at point-blank range on 30 January 1948, was also an activist with nationalist right-wing groups, including those closely associated with the BJP.

Hindu hardliners in India accuse Gandhi of having betrayed Hindus by being too pro-Muslim, and even for the division of India and the bloodshed that marked Partition, which saw India and Pakistan created after independence from Britain in 1947.

Ms Thakur has seen her fair share of controversy. Her candidature caused outrage as she is an accused of involvement in a blast that killed seven people and injured 100 others. On 18 April, she said that police officer Hemant Karkare had died in the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks because she had “cursed” him. She was then banned from campaigning for 72 hours as a result.

A team led by Mr Karkare had arrested her for questioning in connection with the Malegaon blast.

During her campaign, she also said she was “proud” of her part in the demolition of the 16th Century Babri mosque. In 1992, right-wing Hindu mobs razed the mosque to the ground, claiming it was built on the site of a temple destroyed by Muslim rulers. The site, which is in the city of Ayodhya, has been a religious flashpoint for Hindus and Muslims for decades.

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Campaigning ends in West Bengal a day before deadline

What happened?

The Election Commission (EC) has told political parties to end their campaigning in West Bengal state, a day before the deadline in the wake of poll-related violence.

The campaign will end on Thursday at 10pm local time, and voting will be held on Sunday.

The decision comes after clashes broke out between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers and protesters believed to be from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) on Tuesday.

It happened during a roadshow of BJP chief Amit Shah. Several people were injured and vehicles were set on fire. A statue of renowned Bengali reformer Iswarchandra Vidyasagar was also vandalised in the clashes.

Both parties have accused each other of starting the violence.

Why does this matter?

Violence took place during BJP chief Amit Shah's rally in Kolkata on TuesdayImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Violence took place during BJP chief Amit Shah’s rally in Kolkata on Tuesday

The BJP welcomed the decision, saying it validated their argument that the state had “descended into anarchy” under the leadership of chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

Ms Banerjee said that the move was “undemocratic” and “it had insulted the people of Bengal”.

“Tomorrow, [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi has two meetings in Bengal. When he finishes, the campaigning also ends… Instead of punishing Amit Shah, the Election Commission has given a gift to the BJP,” she said.

This photo taken on May 14, 2019 shows supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) facing off with Indian police next to torn down barricades during clashes between rival groups during a campaign rally event held by BJP president Amit Shah in KolkataImage copyright AFP
Image caption Several people were injured and vehicles were set on fire during the violence

Both parties are locked into a fierce election battle to win most out West Bengal’s 42 seats. Ms Banerjee has ambitions of becoming the prime minister in case a nationwide coalition of regional parties wins enough seats.

The state has also become crucial for the BJP as it’s trying to expand its reach in the eastern state. It won only two seats in the 2014 election.

The BJP performed well in northern states like Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in 2014, but this time it’s expected to suffer loses against a coalition of regional parties and the main opposition Congress.

So the party is trying to make up for the losses in West Bengal.

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TMC, BJP accused each other of poll violence

West Bengal chief minister Mamata BanerjeeImage copyright GETTY IMAGES

What happened?

The war of words between West Bengal state chief minister Mamata Banerjee and the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) intensified ahead of voting on Sunday.

The latest verbal duel comes after violence was reported during BJP chief Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) on Tuesday.

Clashes broke out between BJP supporters and protesters who were holding “Amit Shah go back” posters.

Some people suffered minor injuries and a few vehicles were set on fire.

The BJP said the protest was “orchestrated” and called it an “attempt to strangulate democracy”.

Why does this matter?

The eastern state has become politically crucial for the BJP as it has intensified campaigning in the past few days.

And that has sparked a feverish electoral battle between the BJP and Ms Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC).

“What does Amit Shah think of himself? Is he above everything? Is he god that no one can protest against him?” Ms Banerjee said.

In reply, Mr Shah accused the TMC of not following democratic norms during elections.

“Have faith in the people of Bengal that they’d face the TMC goons,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to hold more rallies in the coming days, so one can expect more verbal fireworks from the two leaders.

Presentational grey line

On Tuesday, the saga of the morphed Mamata meme continued

What happened?

India’s top court stepped in to release an activist belonging to India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who was sent to prison for sharing a doctored image of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Priyanka Sharma was sentenced to two weeks in prison on 10 May after she shared a picture of Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra and her husband Nick Jonas at the Met Gala – but with Ms Banerjee’s head superimposed on to Chopra’s body.

Earlier the court had said Ms Sharma could be released only if she apologised to Ms Banerjee, but later waived this condition.

Why does this matter?

The battle for West Bengal in this general election has been absolutely bruising.

The BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, has been campaigning hard for votes in the state. This has brought them toe-to-toe with the state’s feisty chief minister. The fact that voting for West Bengal’s 42 seats has been split across all nine phases of voting has meant that the battle has been long and drawn-out.

And with just one phase to go before voting finally ends, the gloves are well and truly off. The two parties have traded insults on the campaign stage, their workers have attacked each other, and the violence on the ground has intensified. And now the battle has spread to cyberspace as well.

The country’s finance minister Arun Jaitley jumped at news of Ms Sharma’s release to call Ms Banerjee a dictator.

Analysts say that this political row is so bitter because the BJP has clearly identified West Bengal as one of the states where they may be able to make gains this election. This becomes more important for the party in the context of their fight in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the most number of MPs (80) to parliament.

They are up against a powerful coalition of regional parties there, and many expect them to lose seats as a result.

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And PM Modi said Rahul Gandhi should be ashamed of 1984 riots

What happened?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that main opposition Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi should be “ashamed of himself” over his colleague’s remark on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Mr Modi was replying to a controversial statement made by Sam Pitroda, who is a strategist of the Congress party.

In his reply to a question about the Congress’ role in the riots, Mr Pitroda had said “so what?”.

“I don’t think so, this is also another lie, and what about 1984? You speak about what you [Mr Modi] have done in five years. It [the riots] happened in 1984, so what?” he said.

Mr Gandhi said he was “ashamed” of Mr Pitroda’s statement, and asked him to apologise.

Mr Pitroda later said his statement was “twisted” and he did not mean to hurt sentiments.

But Mr Modi said the Congress chief “must apologise”.

“I was watching that naamdar [the dynast] told his guru that he should be ashamed of what he said. I want to ask naamdar, you pretended to scold your mentor for what? Because he exposed what was always in the Congress’s heart, and in the discussions of the naamdar family? Because he made public a family secret? Naamdar, it is you who should be ashamed,” Mr Modi said.

Why does this matter?

The controversy matters because it comes days ahead of voting for the 13 seats in the northern state of Punjab.

The BJP, which has formed a coalition with regional Shiromani Akali Dal, is locked in a bitter electoral battle with the ruling Congress in the state.

Sikhs are a majority in the state and the 1984 riots is still an emotional issue for many of them.

More than 3,000 Sikhs were killed in 1984 after the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

They were angry at her decision to send the army into the Golden Temple – Sikhism’s holiest shrine – to flush out militants earlier in the year.

The killing of Mrs Gandhi, who belonged to the Congress, saw mobs attack and murder members of the Sikh community across the country.

And both parties appear to be trying to come across as pro-Sikh ahead of the vote on 19 May.

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On Sunday, Delhi voted but not enthusiastically

A voter in Delhi in the general electionImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Delhi’s voter turnout was lower than in 2014

What happened?

Sunday saw India’s capital Delhi vote along with several other states in the polls – the penultimate phase of the country’s mammoth general election.

Voters turned out to vote, but in fewer numbers than they did in 2014. The election commission said that around 60% of the capital’s registered voters had actually cast ballots, which was about a five percent drop from 2014.

Delhi Chief Electoral Officer Ranbir Singh expressed disappointment, saying that the turnout did not match expectations.

Why does this matter?

The election commission is right to be disappointed – it had run a series of campaigns in the city, encouraging more people to vote.

But it was not as though polling in Delhi was an entirely smooth process. Some voters complained that their names were missing from electoral lists even though they had all the necessary documents. There were also reports that around 1,200 Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) had malfunctioned across the city, delaying the polling process.

The fact that Delhi became a three-cornered contest after the main opposition Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which controls the Delhi state assembly, failed to stitch up an alliance may also have put voters off. Many analysts believe that this failure will only split voters who were against prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and effectively hand them victory.

So they may have decided to just stay home, and not bother queuing up in the blistering heat – it touched 40C on Sunday.

Source: The BBC

23/02/2019

Rakbar Khan: Did cow vigilantes lynch a Muslim farmer?

Members of Nawal Kishore Sharma's cow vigilante gang pictured in 2015Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ALLISON JOYCE)
Image captionCow vigilantes in Ramgarh in 2015
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A Muslim dairy farmer was stopped late one night last July as he led two cows down a track in rural Rajasthan, south of the Indian capital, Delhi. Within hours he was dead, but who killed him, asks the BBC’s James Clayton – the “cow vigilantes” he met on the road, or the police?

It’s 4am and Dr Hassan Khan, the duty doctor at Ramgarh hospital, is notified of something unusual.

The police have brought in a dead man, a man they claim not to know.

“What were the police like when they brought him in? Were they calm?” I ask him.

“Not calm,” he says. “They were anxious.”

“Are they usually anxious?” I ask.

“Not usually,” he says, laughing nervously.

The dead man is later identified by his father as local farmer Rakbar Khan.

This was not a random murder. The story illustrates some of the social tensions bubbling away under the surface in India, and particularly in the north of the country.

And his case raises questions for the authorities – including the governing Hindu nationalist BJP party.

Cow-related violence – 2012-2019

IndiaSpend map of cow violenceImage copyrightINDIASPEND
Rakbar Khan was a family man. He had seven children.

He kept cows and he also happened to be a Muslim. That can be a dangerous mix in India.

“We have always reared cows, and we are dependent on their milk for our livelihood,” says Rakbar’s father, Suleiman.

“No-one used to say anything when you transported a cow.”

That has changed. Several men have been killed in recent years while transporting cows in the mainly Muslim region of Mewat, not far from Delhi, where Rakbar lived.

“People are afraid. If we go to get a cow they will kill us. They surround our vehicle. So everyone is too scared to get these animals,” says Suleiman.

Everyone I speak to in the village where the Khans live is afraid of gau rakshaks – cow protection gangs.

Nawal Kishore Sharma's cow vigilante gangImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ALLISON JOYCE)
Image captionNawal Kishore Sharma’s cow protection group in 2015
Presentational white spaceThe gangs often consist of young, hardline Hindus, who believe passionately in defending India’s holy animal.

They believe that laws to protect cows, such as a ban on slaughtering the animals, are not being fully enforced – and they hunt for “cow smugglers”, who they believe are taking cows to be killed for meat.

Often armed, they have been responsible for dozens of attacks on farmers in India over the last five years, according to data analysis organisation IndiaSpend, which monitors reports of hate crimes in the media.

On 21 July 2018, Rakbar Khan met the local gau rakshak.

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There are some things we know for certain about what happened that night.

Rakbar was walking down a small road with two cows. It was late and it was raining heavily.

Then, out of the dark, came the lights of motorbikes. We know this, because Rakbar was with a friend, who survived.

Cow vigilantes on motorbikes in Yadavnagar, RajasthanImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ENRICO FABIAN)
At this point the details become a little sketchier. There are three versions of the story.

The gang managed to catch Rakbar, but his friend, Aslam, slipped away. He lay on the ground, in the mud and prayed he wouldn’t be found.

“There was so much fear inside me, my heart was hurting,” he says.

“From there I heard the screams. They were beating him. There wasn’t a single part of his body that wasn’t broken. He was beaten very badly.”

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Find out more

Watch James Clayton’s report for Newsnight, on BBC Two

The documentary India’s Cow Vigilantes can be seen on Our World on BBC World Newsand on the BBC News Channel (click for transmission times)

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Aslam says that Rakbar was killed then and there.

But there is evidence that suggests otherwise.

Much of what happened next focuses around the leader of the local cow vigilante group, Nawal Kishore Sharma.

Aslam claims he heard the gang address him by name that night, but when I speak to Sharma, he denies he was there at all.

Nawal Kishore Sharma
Image captionNawal Kishore Sharma

“It was about 00:30 in the morning and I was sleeping in my house… Some of my group phoned me to say they’d caught some cow smugglers,” he says.

According to Nawal Kishore Sharma, he then drove with the police to the spot. “He was alive and he was fine,” he says.

But that’s not what the police say.

In their “first incident report” they say that Rakbar was indeed alive when they found him.

“Nawal Kishore Sharma informed the police at about 00:41 that some men were smuggling two cows on foot,” the report says.

“Then the police met Nawal Kishore outside the police station and they all went to the location.

“There was a man who was injured and covered in mud.

“He told the police his name, his father’s name, his age (28) and the village he was from.

“And as he finished these sentences, he almost immediately passed out. Then he was put in the police vehicle and they left for Ramgarh.

“Then the police reached Ramgarh with Rakbar where the available doctor declared him dead.”

Ramgarh at nightImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ALLISON JOYCE)
Image captionRamgarh at night
But this version of events is highly dubious.

I go to the hospital in Ramgarh, where Rakbar was taken. Hospital staff are busily going through bound books of hospital records – looking for Rakbar’s admission entry.

And then, there it is. “Unknown dead body” brought in at 04:00 on 21 July 2018.

Hospital record of unknown dead body

It’s not a long entry, but it contradicts the police’s story, and raises some serious questions.

For a start, Rakbar was found about 12 minutes’ drive away from the hospital. Why did it take more than three hours for them to take him there?

And if the police say Rakbar gave them his name, why did they tell the hospital they didn’t know who he was?

Nawal Kishore Sharma claims to know why. He paints a very different picture of what happened to Rakbar.

He tells me that after picking up Rakbar, they changed his clothes.

He then claims to have taken two photos of Rakbar – who at this point was with the police.

Nawal Kishore Sharma's photograph of Rakbar Khan
Presentational white space
Nawal Kishore Sharma's photograph of Rakbar Khan

Sharma says that he went to the police station with the police. He claims that’s when the beating really began.

“The police injured him badly. They even beat him with their shoes,” he says.

“They kicked him powerfully on the left side of his body four times. Then they beat him with sticks. They beat him here (pointing at his ribs) and even on his neck.”

At about 03:00 Nawal Kishore Sharma says he went with some police officers to take the two cows to a local cow shelter. When he returned, he says, the police told him that Rakbar had died.

Rakbar’s death certificate shows that his leg and hand had been broken. He’d been badly beaten and had broken his ribs, which had punctured his lungs.

According to his death certificate he died of “shock… as a result of injuries sustained over body”.

I ask the duty doctor at the hospital whether he remembers what Rakbar’s body was like when the police brought it in.

“It was cold,” he says.

I ask him how long it would take for a body to become cold after death.

“A couple of hours,” he replies.

presentational grey line

“I don’t want to talk about Rakbar’s case,” says Rejendra Singh, chief of police of Alwar district, which includes Ramgarh.

Since Rakbar’s murder several police officers have been suspended. I want to know why.

He looks uneasily at me.

“There were lapses on the police side,” he says.

I ask him what those lapses were.

“They had not followed the regular police procedure, which they were supposed to do,” he says. “It was one big lapse.”

Three men from Nawal Kishore Sharma’s vigilante group have been charged with Rakbar’s murder. Sharma himself remains under investigation.

The vigilante group and the police blame each other for Rakbar’s death, but neither denies working together that night.

The way Sharma describes it, the police cannot be everywhere, so the vigilantes help them out. But it’s the police that “take all the action” he says.

Nawal Kishore Sharma investigates a lorry outside Bilaspur, near Ramgarh, in 2015Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ENRICO FABIAN)
Image captionNawal Kishore Sharma inspects a lorry transporting cows (October 2015)
Much police activity in Rajasthan is focused on stopping cow slaughter.

Across the state there are dozens of formal cow checkpoints, where police stop vehicles looking for smugglers who are taking cows to be killed.

I visited one of the checkpoints. Sure enough police were patiently stopping vehicles and looking for cows.

The night before officers had had a gun battle with a group of men after a truck failed to stop.

These checkpoints have become common in some parts of India. Sometimes they are run by the police, sometimes by the vigilantes, and sometimes by both.

This gets to the heart of Rakbar’s case.

Human rights groups argue that his murder – and others like his – show that in some areas the police have got too close to the gangs.

Cow vigilantes in Ramgarh check a suspicious load in November 2015Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ALLISON JOYCE)
Image captionThe vigilantes find what they are looking for (November 2015)
“Unfortunately what we’re finding too often is that the police are complicit,” says Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch, which published a 104-page report on cow-related violence in India this week.

In some areas, police have been reluctant to arrest the perpetrators of violence – and much faster to prosecute people accused of either consuming or trading in beef, he says.

Human Rights Watch has looked into 12 cases where it claims police have been complicit in the death of a suspected cow smuggler or have covered it up. Rakbar’s is one of them.

But this case doesn’t just illustrate police failings. Some would argue that it also illustrates how parts of the governing BJP party have inflamed the problem.

Gyandev Ahuja is a larger-than-life character. As the local member of parliament in Ramgarh at the time when Rakbar was killed he’s an important local figure.

He has also made a series of controversial statements about “cow smugglers”.

After a man was badly beaten in December 2017 Ahuja told local media: “To be straightforward, I will say that if anyone is indulging in cow smuggling, then this is how you will die.”

After Rakbar’s death he said that cow smuggling was worse than terrorism.

Nails used by cow vigilantes to force lorries to stopImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ENRICO FABIAN)
Image captionNails used by the vigilantes to force lorries to stop
Gyandev Ahuja is just one of several BJP politicians who have made statements that are supportive of the accused in so-called “cow lynchings”.

One of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ministers was even photographed garlanding the accused murderers in a cow vigilante case. He has since apologised.

Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch says it is “terrifying” that elected officials have defended attackers.

“It is really, at this point of time, something that is a great concern, because it is changing a belief into a political narrative, and a violent one,” he says.

The worry is that supportive messages from some of the governing party’s politicians have emboldened the vigilantes.

No official figures are kept on cow violence, but the data collected by IndiaSpend suggests that it started ramping up in 2015, the year after Narendra Modi was elected.

IndiaSpend says that since then there have been 250 injuries and 46 deaths related to cow violence. This is likely to be an underestimate because farmers who have been beaten may be afraid to go to the police – and when a body is found it may not be clear what spurred the attack. The vast majority of the victims are Muslims.

A cow shelter in RamgarhImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ENRICO FABIAN)
Image captionA cow shelter in Ramgarh
A BJP spokesman, Nalin Kohli, emphatically rejects any connection between his party and cow violence.

“To say the BJP is responsible is perverse, inaccurate and absolutely false,” he tells me.

“Many people have an interest in building a statement that the BJP is behind it. We won’t tolerate it.”

I ask him about Gyandev Ahuja’s inflammatory statements.

“Firstly that is not the party’s point of view and we have very clearly and unequivocally always said an individual’s point of view is theirs, the point of view of the party is articulated by the party.

“Has the BJP promoted him or protected him? No.”

But a month after this interview, Ahuja was made vice-president of the party in Rajasthan.

Shortly afterwards, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Rajasthan – publicly slapping Ahuja on the back and waving together at crowds of BJP supporters.

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In Mewat I speak to Rakbar’s wife, Asmina.

“Show me how you raise seven children without a husband. How will I be able to raise them?” she says, wiping away tears.

“My youngest daughter says that my father went to God. If you ask her, ‘How did he go to God?’ she says, ‘My father was bringing a cow and people killed him.’

“The life of an animal is so important but that of a human is not.”

The trial of the three men accused of his murder has yet to take place, but perhaps we will never know what really happened to Rakbar.

In November 2015, photographer Allison Joyce spent a night following Nawal Kishore Sharma’s vigilantes in the countryside near Ramgarh. One of her photographs shows a police officer embracing Sharma after a shootout between the vigilantes and a suspected cow smuggler.

Though the police now accuse the cow vigilantes of killing Rakbar Khan, and the vigilantes accuse the police, the photograph illustrates just how closely they worked together.

A policeman embraces Nawal Kishore Sharma after his group chases down a lorry in November 2015Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ALLISON JOYCE)
In the Indian media there have been claims that the police took the two cows that Rakbar had been transporting to a cow shelter, as Rakbar lay dead or dying in a police vehicle.

There are also claims that the police stopped and drank tea instead of taking Rakbar to hospital.

Whatever they did, they did not take Rakbar to hospital immediately.

Source: The BBC

19/02/2019

Viewpoint: Should Britain apologise for Amritsar massacre?

Indian visitors look at the bullet ridden wall at the historical site of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar on April 12, 2011Image copyrightAFP
Image captionVisitors can inspect a bullet-ridden wall at the site of the massacre

Hundreds of Indians attending a public meeting were shot dead by British troops in the northern Indian city of Amritsar in 1919. Historian Kim Wagner sifts fact from fiction as the UK House of Lords prepares to debate the massacre, including if Britain should apologise.

On 13 April 1919, Sergeant WJ Anderson witnessed first-hand the brutal massacre of hundreds of Indian civilians at Jallianwala Bagh, a public garden in Amritsar city.

“When fire was opened the whole crowd seemed to sink to the ground, a whole flutter of white garments, with however a spreading out towards the main gateway, and some individuals could be seen climbing the high wall,” Anderson later recalled.

“There was little movement, except for the climbers. The gateway would soon be jammed. I saw no sign of a rush towards the troops.”

He had served as the bodyguard of Brigadier General RH Dyer, who had rushed to Amritsar a few days earlier to quell what he believed to be a major uprising.

The crowd of more than 20,000 people, however, were not armed rebels. They were local residents and villagers from the surrounding countryside who had come to listen to political speeches or simply to spend a few hours in the gardens.

It was also the day of the Baisakhi festival, which marked the anniversary of the creation of the Khalsa, or Sikh community, and annually attracted thousands of visitors and pilgrims.

The crowd comprised Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. Most were men and young boys, including some infants; only a few women were present.

British Brigadier General R.E.H. DyerImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionBrigadier General Dyer rushed to Amritsar to quell what he believed to be a major uprising

When Gen Dyer ordered his troops to cease firing, Jallianwala Bagh resembled a battlefield strewn with corpses. Between 500 and 600 people were killed, and probably three times as many wounded. The exact numbers will never be known for certain but the official death count, reached months later, was just 379.

In recent years, much of the public debate has focused on calls for a formal British apology – the demand has been led by, among others, Indian politician and author Shashi Tharoor.

Queen Elizabeth II visited the memorial at Jallianwala Bagh in 1997 and then Prime Minister David Cameron visited in 2013 – both showed their respect yet carefully avoided making an actual apology.

In December 2017, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, nevertheless urged the British government to make just such a gesture during his own visit to Amritsar.

“I am clear that the government should now apologise, especially as we reach the centenary of the massacre. This is about properly acknowledging what happened here and giving the people of Amritsar and India the closure they need through a formal apology,” he said.

ritish Prime Minister David Cameron (C) along with Punjab State Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal (2L), and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) President Avtar Singh Makkar (2R) visit the Sikh Shrine Golden temple in Amritsar on February 20, 2013Image copyrightAFP
Image captionOn his 2013 visit, Cameron avoided making an actual apology but said the massacre was “deeply shameful”

Exactly what happened at Jallianwala Bagh, however, remains unclear, and a century later, the actual circumstances of the massacre are still shrouded in myth and misconceptions.

There are, for instance, people, often with a nostalgic attachment to the Empire, who still insist that Gen Dyer only opened fire as a final resort when the crowd ignored his warning to disperse – even though the general himself was quite clear that he gave no such warning.

Similarly, the idea that the shooting was necessary and prevented much worse violence conveniently ignores the fact that Indian riots in April 1919 were in each and every case precipitated by British actions.

Factual inaccuracies are also to be found at the Jallianwala Bagh memorial today. Among other things, a sign claims that 120 bodies of the victims of the massacre were recovered from what has become known as the Martyrs’ Well. It’s believed that many people jumped into the well to escape the bullets.

But there is no evidence for this story, which appears to be based on a mix-up with the infamous well at Kanpur city, where the bodies of British women and children were disposed after a massacre in 1857.

Visual depictions of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre also show machine guns being used, when the historical record is quite clear that the shooting was carried out by 50 Gurkha and Baluchi troops armed with rifles.

Gen Dyer also did not orchestrate the massacre, and deliberately trap the crowd inside the gardens, as some popular accounts have it.

An Indian man takes a photograph of a painting depicting the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar on April 12, 2011. The Amritsar massacre, also known as the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, took place on April 13, 1919 when British Indian Army soldiers on the direct orders of their British officers opened fire on an unarmed gathering killing at least 379 men, women and children, according to official records. AFP PHOTO /NARINDER NANU (Photo credit should read NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe crowd were not armed rebels but local residents and villagers

In fact, it was British panic and misreading of the political turmoil in India that was at the root of the violence.

While Indian nationalists were looking forward to political reforms and greater self-determination after the end of World War One, the British were still haunted by the spectre of the 1857 “mutiny”, an uprising that is often referred to as India’s first war of independence.

So, when riots broke out in Amritsar on 10 April – and five Europeans and dozens of Indians were killed – the authorities responded with immediate and indiscriminate force. Three days later, Gen Dyer entered what he mistakenly perceived to be a war zone.

Where popular depictions show a peaceful crowd of locals quietly listening to a political speech, Gen Dyer instead perceived a defiant and murderous mob, which had only days before run rampant through Amritsar. When he ordered his troops to open fire, it was an act of fear, spurred on by a disastrously flawed threat assessment.

None of this exonerates Gen Dyer or detracts from the sheer brutality of the massacre – nor does it justify the subsequent torture and humiliation of Indians under martial law. The indisputable violence of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre hardly requires any embellishment. Nevertheless, facts matter if we are to pay our respect to those who died rather than simply perpetuate politically convenient fiction. And to understand is not the same as to condone.

A visitor looking at the bullet marks on a wall on the eve of 95th anniversary of the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh on 12 April 2014 in Amritsar.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThere are bullet marks on a wall in the garden

Apologies and centenaries, which are essentially about the present rather than the past, are rarely conducive to an honest and nuanced reckoning with history.

An apology from a British government in the throes of Brexit, at the moment, seems highly unlikely. It it indeed doubtful whether an official acknowledgement of the massacre would be construed as more than an act of political expediency.

The question thus remains whether an apology without a genuine understanding of the past can ever provide the “closure” that so many seek.

Source: The BBC