With the Sino-Indian rivalry over Central Asia heating up, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday hosted the first India-Central Asia Summit in a virtual format, and set “three major goals” that will take the ties between the Central Asian Republics (CARs) and New Delhi to much higher levels. PM Modi said that Central Asia was central to India’s vision of an integrated and stable extended neighbourhood.
“First, to emphasise that mutual cooperation between India and Central Asia is necessary for regional security and prosperity, I want to make it clear that Central Asia is central to India’s vision of an integrated and stable neighbourhood. The second goal of today’s meeting is to give an effective structure to our cooperation, which will pave the way for the establishment of a platform for regular interaction among all stakeholders. The third goal is to prepare an ambitious roadmap for our cooperation, which will enable us to adopt an integrated approach for regional connectivity and cooperation,” PM Modi said at the summit. PM Modi is said to have had a detailed discussion with the CARs’ presidents on the crisis in Afghanistan and security concerns resulting from the same.
In a significant development, India and the five Central Asian countries decided to establish a joint working group on Afghanistan at the senior officials’ level. This working group will frequently meet and discuss the collective Afghan strategy, sources added.
Presidents of five countries, namely Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan participated in the summit. PM Modi also discussed India’s energy security issue with these leaders.
Diplomats told The Daily Guardian that “PM Modi has a long-term comprehensive plan to engage with all the five Central Asian nations, keeping in mind China’s strategy to expand its presence and influence in the region.” In what highlights China’s ambition in the Central Asian nations, Beijing had made a surprise announcement to hold a virtual summit with the CARs on 25 January, which was two days before India’s similar exercise which India had decided over a month in advance.
Accordingly, Chinese President Xi Jinping chaired the virtual summit with the Presidents of these five CARs to “mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations”. This was touted as China’s first major diplomatic action on Central Asia this year.
Sources told TDG that a comprehension plan has been drawn up to hold more exchanges between India and CARs where the agenda set by PM Modi will be taken forward. PM Modi himself set the tone by emphasising on the need for “India and Central Asian countries to define an ambitious vision for the coming years. He acknowledged the completion of 30 “fruitful” years together in diplomatic relations, saying in his initial remarks, “Our cooperation has achieved many successes over the past three decades.” “And now, at this crucial juncture, let us define an ambitious vision for the coming years as well,” he added.
Later, it was decided that the summit level meet will take place once every two years. A secretariat “India-Central Asia Centre” will also be established in New Delhi for the India-Central Asia summit. This information was shared by Secretary (West) Reenat Sandhu. On a question related to China’s perspective with regard to CARs, Sandhu said, “Relations stand on their own merit. Focus of the summit is purely on further strengthening India, Central Asia partnership.”
Significantly, this is the first engagement of its kind between India and the Central Asian countries at the level of the leaders. The first India-Central Asia Summit, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said, is a reflection of the country’s growing engagement with the Central Asian countries, which are a part of India’s “extended neighbourhood”. PM Modi had paid a visit to all Central Asian countries in 2015. Subsequently, there have been exchanges at high levels at bilateral and multilateral forums.
In his initial remarks at the summit, PM Modi said, “We all are concerned about the Afghan situation and this makes cooperation between India and Central Asia all the more important for regional stability and security.” The virtual summit saw the participation of five Presidents—Kazakhstan’s Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Uzbekistan’s Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan’s Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow and Sadyr Japarov of Kyrgyz Republic.
The engagement between PM Modi and Presidents of five CARs assumes significance in view of the global power rivalry in the Central Asian Republics, with Pakistan and China working together to stonewall India’s approach to this region.
According to sources, PM Modi spoke about Afghan situation in light of the shared concerns that terror groups will gain ground support from the new regime in Afghanistan. The concern was also that the Taliban itself is working in close tandem with Pakistan-backed terrorist groups. “Afghanistan was discussed, all the countries share the same concerns and same objectives,” says MEA.
Meanwhile, the Delhi Declaration of the 1st India-Central Asia Summit was issued after the summit. The document says that the sides agreed to the organisation of activities including issuance of joint postal stamps to mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the countries of Central Asia and India. The leaders reiterated their commitment to strengthening the links between all modes of transport to ensure stable and reliable international transport. All the countries stressed on giving priority to the connectivity projects for transportation facilities between India and Central Asia. “India and Central Asian member countries of INSTC as well as the Ashgabat Agreement on International Transport and Transit Corridor called upon the other Central Asian countries to consider joining these connectivity initiatives,” says the declaration.
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Kapila Vatsyayan: Of dance, space and time
It is said that dance emerged as a fully formed art by the mere wish of Lord Shiva. Dance, if not seen as a spontaneous creation can be understood as a curious mixture of several art forms such as music, drama, acting, movement projected upon its chief instrument of expression: human figure. Dance is not a simple synthesis of all arts but a heightened and intense expression of the combination. Dance is also a composition of movements that issue from various parts of the human form: shoulder, hip and knee joints being the key points. Natyashastra, the great treatise on drama and dance, categorizes human body into two parts: major limbs and minor limbs. According to this classification, head, hands, breast (chest), sides (waist), hips, and feet constitute the major limbs. Minor limbs include eyes, eyebrows, nose, lips, chin, mouth etc. Interestingly it does not analyze the role of toes of the feet, belly, knees and ankles in the dance movement and only alludes to the wrist.
The sage Bharata is assigned the authorship of Natyashastra. Its dates are in between 200 BCE or 200 CE and is lost in the mists of time. It is our good fortune that a large part of it is still available for us to learn and enjoy. As is the tradition in India, a major text is continuously worked upon by subsequent generations thus developing it continuously, making additions as the time demands and circumstances dictate. Natyashastra was also subjected to this process. One of the major contributors to this process was Kapila Vatsyayan, who by her translation and understanding illuminated and contemporized Natyashastra and its understanding. In this sense, she stood as tall as other commentators on Indian art as Abhinavagupta and Sarangadeva. Kapila Vatsyayan was born in 1928 in Delhi, pursued English literature in her undergraduate studies from Delhi University and PhD from Banaras Hindu University. At the age of ten while she was performing a dance titled, ardhanarishwara, she was identified by the great Kathak guru, Acchan Maharaj who told her “You dance beautifully but you need training”.
She kept her interest in dance away from her college life and learnt other dance forms: Bharatanatyam from Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai and Manipuri from Guru Amobi Singh. She was simultaneously involved in running a dance school and gathering teachers of dance from across the country to Delhi, which included Pt Birju Maharaj and Lalitha of Kalakshetra. She considered her mother and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, the founder of National School of Drama, Sangeet Natak Academy as her guru.
Later she went to America, where she conducted movement analysis with the help of Laban’s tools and Hanya Holm’s movement systems. She learnt from them, how self-awareness can be achieved through the movement of the body. She said in one of her interviews, “In the west we try to know our body whereas in India we use our body to transcend it, two completely different ways of looking at the same thing”.
Kapila Vatsyayan was at home with both Indian and Western traditions of dance and was therefore able to isolate that which is different and unique in each. In her analysis of the body movement within nrtta, as opposed to nrtya and natya, she elucidated the difference that is fundamental. Indian classical dance has three categories, nrtta, nrtya and natya. Nrtta is pure dance without meaning, where movements of body do not indicate towards any mood. Nrtya is body movements performed to musical notes whereas Natya is drama. She wrote that Indian dance conceives itself as the relationship between body movement and its response to the pull of gravity. It seeks to first arrive at the perfect position of balance, at a specific point of time and space along the vertical median also called the brahma sutra. She equated it to the idea of sama-bhanga in sculpture that places equal weight on both sides of the sculpture. This position is so important that all other dance movement springs forth from this original position and returns to this. A western dancer especially in ballet, leaps and glides in space and tries to free herself from gravity, even if for a few moments. She tried to eliminate or reduce space by covering as much of it as possible, by flinging oneself away from it and freeing oneself, by reaching out into space in both horizontal and vertical direction, trying to grasp and master space at the same time.
The Indian dance tradition looks at space, gravity and time differently. Here the preoccupation is with time. The striving is always for the perfect pose that conveys timelessness. The nrtta technique therefore depends on making intricate movements with body parts by manipulating time also called tala and achieve a series of poses with the perfect pose being a moment of arrested time.
Kapila Vatsyayan experienced in the sculptures of Khajuraho, the primal sources of Indian dance. To understand this experience, she began her doctoral studies at Banaras Hindu University, and analysed related manuscripts, photographs, artifacts, and sculptures. She thus began her journey of understanding human body as it moves in dance forms and composed her doctoral thesis as ‘Classical Indian Dance in Literature’ which she soon consigned to flames, realizing the audacity of her ambition reflected in the topic.
The author is Associate Professor and Director, Staff Training and Development, Anant National University
A MUSSOURIE-LANDOUR DIARY
THE NAME IS BOND, RUSKIN BOND
At the foot of the climb from Landour Bazaar to Char Dukan, the unpretentious residence of author Ruskin Bond sits atop a popular restaurant. Until a few years back, it also existed anonymously. Not so, now.
The octogenarian Bond’s lifetime of quiet dedication to his craft has exploded into a celebration of his existence. At any time of the day, his fans can be seen on the road outside his home, hoping for a glimpse of Mr Bond through the window he has made famous via his writing. Some are clicking selfies at various levels of the painted red staircase that leads to his apartment. Others throng the lone bench under a tree at the nearby entrance to the restaurant. They wait, hoping to see their favourite author climbing down the stairway. Prior to the pandemic, Mr Bond did so often.
A street in LandourThe staircase to Ruskin Bond’s flatView from Ruskin Bond’s window
Both the restaurant at Rokeby Manor in Landour and the bar at The Savoy in Mussourie had arrangements for his fans to drink and dine with the writer, albeit for a fee. On Saturday mornings, he graced the Cambridge Book Stall on the Mall in Mussourie. Here, he would autograph his books and graciously chat with his readers. This chance to interact has alas, all but evaporated since COVID 19 struck.
Perhaps it is this that has led people to besiege his residence in the manner they do. Yet while they stare at his window, none looks in the direction of where the fenestration opens to. Nor, as they tip toe up his stairway, do they venture too far to where the steps lead to outside. The view from Ruskin Bond’s window is as magnanimous as is his writing and the passage beyond the stairs leads into the lush forests of Mussourie-Landour where his intrepid explorations have inspired much of his work.
Ruskin Bond has unquestionably lent life to his surroundings and long after he is gone, the locale shall be enlivened by the imagination and descriptions of Mussourie’s most famous resident. Like him, visitors will be rewarded by widening the scope of their sightseeing and seeking out unique and less well-known aspects of this popular hill station.
DEMOLITION OF HOUSES
The quaint town of Landour, perched just above Mussourie and nostalgically named after a Welsh village by a colonial administrator is largely within a cantonment precinct. Most of the cottages that line the ‘chakkar’ here retain their original British names fondly harking back on a bygone era. Ownership though has since mostly shifted to well-heeled north Indians.
This was amply evident in the recent demolitions that shook the placid hill-town.
The popular Indian subscription to build what you want, where you want and when you want wasn’t acceptable to the Cantonment Board that governs the town and sits amidst the high-security Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) campus. It is the DRDO that occupies much of what is present-day Landour.
Evidently, money could not buy a ‘blind-eye’ and consequently, four or five properties that had violated the building regulations in varying degrees were subjected to demolition. The most visibly affected were the opulent residences of a banker and a hospitality tycoon.
This brings into the spotlight rampant construction in the entire belt. The haphazard manner in which the same is being affected has assumed disturbing proportions. The entire route from Dehradun to Mussourie is pockmarked by eateries that have sprung up at virtually every bend. Within the towns rampant construction, often of monstrous proportions, is indicative a lack of ecologically sensitive planning.
Given this scenario, the oasis that is Landour reminds us of how colonial planning and architecture of hill stations was different from that in the plains. The sensitivity and sense of aesthetics at work when Dehradun and Mussourie were planned and built are, alas, a lost consideration now.
AND AT THE END ARE THE CLOUDS …..
The cynical would shake off present-day Mussourie as a hill-top Chandni Chowk.
Crowded, chaotic and cumbersome.
While this assessment may wholesomely apply to parts of the city, there is redemption at hand when one veers off further from Landour Bazaar and the Mall towards the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Charleville. Here one enters a comparatively unhurried vicinity where a number of princely palaces are located. In their day, some Maharajas and Nawabs preferred Mussorie to Simla as absence of the Viceregal firmament here meant they weren’t subjected to a stringent colonial hierarchy.
Many of these palaces speak of neglect over time. Others have been effectively converted into heritage hospitality ventures catering to an ever-burgeoning domestic tourist circuit. A new relevance has crept in through past decades. Once beyond the colonial edifices, private forests round off the further edge of Mussourie here. The most visible of them is Lyndale Estate that curves along the Hathipaon Road and sinks all the way to the valley beneath. Enveloping an abandoned beer factory that sits perched on the edge of a hill outcrop, this property spread over hundreds of acres belongs to the owners of DLF, India’s largest real estate company.
Further along the same road is Cloud End, another expansive private forest. Unlike the other estates, this one is accessible to public. For a fee, one can walk through parts of the estate although this only allows a limited sojourn and hardly does justice to the captivating landscape.
If you are willing to make the effort a more rewarding experience is to walk along the road leading to Cloud End which offers stupendous views through gaps in the foliage and a distant peek at the cottage of the famed geographer Sir George Everest. This building has since been converted into a museum.
A TRAIN TO MUSSOURIE
Numerous schools dot the Mussourie-Landour landscape. The Doon valley and it’s surrounding hills are a cottage industry in education.
Some of the older institutions are Woodstock, which is possibly the largest land-owner in Landour, St George’s College, Oak Grove and Wynberg Allen.
All of these schools trace their inception to the nineteenth century. Oak Grove School in Jharipani, run by the Indian Railways, was founded in 1888. Apart from claiming an alumni as distinguished as that of the others, it is a part of a curious tale that lies buried in the forested hills below it, for over a century.
In 1920 the British Government made a second attempt to build a railroad from Dehradun to Mussourie. A site within the Oak Grove School was ear-marked for the penultimate station with the Himalayan Club as the last station on the route. The precise location considered for the station, a rare patch of levelled ground, now serves as a sports field.
The rail line had progressed in parts when an accident occurred during the construction of a tunnel between the town of Rajpur and Mussourie. There were casualties and the project was abandoned.
What may have also been a factor of discouragement to recommence work was a vehement agitation against the rail line by the traders in Dehradun. These merchants were apprehensive of losing the business of the well-heeled and ruling classes who flocked to Mussourie every summer. The railway track would have diminished if not eliminated their usual stop-over at Dehradun.
A walk to one edge of Oak Grove School near the building housing the middle classes treats one to a panoramic view of Dehradun. Below a sheer drop are the extensive forested undulations of Jharipani. Approachable from Rajpur, amidst this forest lie the rail tracks abandoned since a century and now obscured by foliage.
Upon exiting the sylvan ambience of a hill station school and driving into the chaotic traffic of Mussourie, one would ask oneself why a railway line here wasn’t a possibility today if it was a consideration over one hundred years back.
Contrarily, given the environmental damage inflicted by the daily movement of hundreds of petrol and diesel vehicles, an electrically operated train service would be a godsend in this fragile ecology.
Residents of Mussourie, riled by daily traffic jams along the approach to and within the city have taken to questioning the intentions of their government. The fact that recently a train service has been provided along a stretch to Srinagar in Kashmir makes a rail track to Mussourie seem eminently feasible, to their minds.
In absence of a state response, the rail tracks hidden in the forests of Jharipani shall serve to remind of braver and more adventurous times.
Rajesh Luthra is an architect in independent practice. Having graduated from Columbia University in New York City, he designs, writes and teaches in New Delhi.
SSC recruitment row: CBI quizzes Partha again
Abiding by the CBI summons, senior West Bengal minister and the TMC secretary-general Partha Chatterjee appeared before the investigation agency on Wednesday morning for questioning about the alleged irregularities in recruitment in government-run and aided schools by West Bengal School Service Commission (WBSSC).
This is the second time that Chatterjee— presently the minister for industries and commerce— appeared before the central agency. Grilled by CBI officials on Wednesday last week for three and a half-hours, he was asked to come again with documents.
Chatterjee, was the education minister when the alleged malpractices took place. He was directed to present himself before CBI on Wednesday last week by Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay of Calcutta High Court.
The directive to the minister to appear before the agency came after a division bench of the Calcutta High Court upheld orders of the single bench that directed CBI to inquire into the alleged illegal appointments given by WBSSC.
Meanwhile, Chatterjee had filed a separate case in the Supreme Court against the CBI for not summoning him, and the apex court also rejected Partha Chatterjee’s plea for protection. Chatterjee had approached the apex court challenging the order of the Calcutta High Court, however, a division bench dismissed the petition citing procedural errors. Nevertheless, the apex court said Partha Chatterjee’s plea would be heard if a fresh petition was filed.
According to sources, the CBI wants to get information from him about the discrepancy in recruitment corruption, as to under whose direction was the advisory committee formed, and who controlled this committee? At the same time, the officials said that they can check the income tax credentials of the former education minister.
The former education minister of the state evaded most of the questions during the three-and-a-half-hour interrogation last Wednesday. Meanwhile, the sources said, his entire statement has been recorded.
Cooling his heels in jail, Sidhu takes up clerical job
Navjot Singh Sidhu, the celebrity jail bird now incarcerated in Patiala District Jail, has been entrusted a clerical job by the jail authorities. The cricketer-turned-commentator-turned-comedian-turned-politician was on May 19 sentenced to one-year imprisonment by the Supreme Court in a 34-year-old road-rage case.’
Navjot Singh Sidhu surrendered before the court a day after Supereme Court gave him 1 year jail due to 1988 Road Rage Case, in Patiala on Friday. ANI
Senior jail officials, on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Guardian Review that the former Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief has been asked to work like other inmates and earn for his keep. After a medical check up three days back, doctors prescribed a special diet for Sidhu. Keeping in mind his physical and medical condition, he has been assigned a clerical job by jail authorities. This would not be straining and tiring physically.
In his role as a jail clerk now, Siddhu would be responsible for maintaining inmates’ data, like recording the inmates’ work in/out time and miscellaneous expenses. Siddhu will be paid a measly sum of Rs. 90 a day for the job.
The cricketer had in 1987 hit Gurnam Singh, a 65-year-old resident of Chandigarh, which led to his death. The legal battle reached finally to the Supreme Court in 2018. Although the top court had held Siddhu guilty, he was acquitted with a fine of Rs 1000. However, the victim’s family filed a review petition and the Court handed him out one-year jail sentence. Siddhu surrendered before a Patiala court on May 20.
Popular for his famous couplets on glamorous women and coining slangs like ‘Thoko Taali’ and ‘Babji ka tullu’, life for Sidhu has been a roller coaster ride. Cooling his heels in jail, the former cricketer would now have ample time to hone his poetic skills while busying himself with the job the jail authorities have entrusted him with.
FRESH PLEA IN SC CHALLENGES PLACES OF WORSHIP ACT
The plea filed by a religious leader, challenged the constitutional validity of Sections 2, 3, 4 of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991.
A plea was filed in the Supreme Court on Wednesday challenging the constitutional validity of certain sections of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991, saying that it barefacedly violates the principles of secularism and rule of law.
The plea filed by Swami Jeetendranand Saraswati, a religious leader, challenged the constitutional validity of Sections 2, 3, 4 of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991. The plea said the sections not only brazenly offend Articles 14, 15, 21, 25, 26, 29 but also barefacedly violate the principles of secularism and rule of law, which are an integral part of the Preamble and the basic structure of the Constitution. The plea said the injury caused to the Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs is extremely large because Sections 2, 3, 4 of the Act have taken away the right to approach the Court and thus the right to judicial remedy has been closed.
Section 3 of the Act bars the conversion of places of worship. It states, “No person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination or any section thereof into a place of worship of a different section of the same religious denomination or of a different religious denomination or any section thereof.”
Section 4 bars filing of any suit or initiating any other legal proceeding for a conversion of the religious character of any place of worship, as existing on August 15, 1947.
The Places of Worship Act 1991 is void and unconstitutional for many reasons, the plea said, adding that it offends the right of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs to pray, profess, and practice religion (Article 25).
The Act infringes on the rights of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs to manage maintain and administer the places of worship and pilgrimage (Article 26). The Act further deprives Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs from owning/acquiring religious properties belonging to deities (misappropriated by other communities). It also takes away the right of judicial remedy of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs to take back their places of worship and pilgrimage and the property which belongs to deity, stated the plea.
The Act further deprives Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs to take back their places of worship and pilgrimage connected with cultural heritage (Article 29) and it also restricts Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs to restore the possession of places of worship and pilgrimage but allows Muslims to claim them under Section 107, Waqf Act, the plea added.
“The Act legalizes barbarian acts of invaders. It violates the doctrine of Hindu law that ‘Temple property is never lost even if enjoyed by strangers for years and even the king cannot take away property as the deity is the embodiment of God and is juristic person, represents ‘Infinite the timeless’ and cannot be confined by the shackles of time,” the petition stated.
MANN PROMOTES E-GOVERNANCE, BUDGET TO GO PAPERLESS
The Budget of Punjab will be paperless. Though many states have already adopted paperless budget, yet netizens are appreciating this move of Punjab government.
On Wednesday evening, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann tweeted that this time there would be a paperless budget. This will save Rs 21 lakh to the state exchequer of Punjab. At the same time 34 tonnes of paper will also be saved.
Mann said: “With this, we will be able to save about 834 trees. It is a big step towards e-governance. In this sense, the entire budget will now be read through the tablet.”
This will be the first full budget after the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party government.
It has been two-and-a-half month from now that the Mann government was formed in Punjab. To run the business of the government, the government had passed the interim budget. This interim budget of 3 months was Rs 37,120 crore. Of this, 4,643 crore were for education, 2,367 crore for agriculture, 2,726 crore for handling justice and administration of the police system. Rs 1,484.64 crore on social security, women and child development and Rs 1,345.61 crore on health and family welfare were passed.
Mann government will present the full budget in June. Punjab is currently in debt of about Rs 3 lakh crore. After becoming CM, Mann met PM Narendra Modi during which he had asked for a special package of Rs 1 lakh crore in two installments.
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