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Shweta Verma



The BJP on Monday staged protests against the Uddhav Thackeray government in Nashik. The agitation took place outside the famous Trimbakeshwar Shiva temple and the Opposition demanded for the reopening of shrines in Maharashtra.

CM Thackeray on Sunday interacted with the people of the state through social media. He had affirmed that the Covid lockdown restrictions will likely be at ease. Opening of spiritual places and its resolution may also be taken soon. The BJP’s political agenda is to use the agitation for the reopening of temples to corner the Shiv Sena on the Hindutva issue.

The BJP alleges the Shiv Sena has diluted its commitment towards Hindutva for political expediency, to come to power in Maharashtra with “secular” parties like the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Influential fringe groups like Shivpratishthan Hindustan led by controversial Sambhaji Bhide have also hit the ground over the issue and sought the reopening of temples, which may add to the Sena’s difficulties.

Last year too, former Chief Minister and Opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis had said that the BJP wanted all places of worship to be reopened for reasons of faith and sustenance of livelihoods. “If the Maha Vikas Aghadi (Maharashtra’s ruling coalition) has opened up liquor shops, malls, gymnasiums, why not temples,” Fadnavis asked.

In October 2020, Governor B.S. Koshyari had written a scathing letter to Thackeray questioning the government’s decision to not open temples, and had asked him whether he had “turned secular” by abandoning Hindutva. This had prompted the chief minister to retort in a similar vein, stating that he did not need a certificate to validate his pro-Hindutva credentials. Reminding Koshyari that he had taken oath as the governor of the state on the Constitution, Thackeray said that secularism was the core principle of this Constitution.

“Bars and wine shops are open, but places of worship are closed. They can be opened at least once a week on particular days like Monday for Shiva temples,” said BJP spokesperson Atul Wagh. “The Shiv Sena is not a Hindutvawadi (pro-Hindutva) but an opportunist party… They strike compromises for power,” he said.

At the time when religious places remain closed for common people in Maharashtra in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, state Housing Minister and NCP leader Jitendra Awhad visited a temple of Lord Ganesha and performed aarti, which invited criticism from the BJP.

Awhad took darshan of the famous Navshya Ganpati temple located on the Gangapur Road and performed aarti, before leaving for Trimbakeshwar en route to Mumbai, sources said.

Notably, the Nashik administration on Saturday decided to ban assembly of people at tourist spots in view of the pandemic. Social, political and religious gatherings also remain banned to avoid crowding.

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Himachal minister meets Shah, discusses plan to promote FPOs in cooperative sector



CM Jai Ram Thakur.

Urban Development and Cooperation Minister Suresh Bhardwaj called on Union Home and Cooperation Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi on Tuesday. Bhardwaj discussed the possibilities of expansion up to the block level by bringing cooperative societies under the Integrated Cooperative Development Project or outside it under the Agricultural Produce Organization (FPO) scheme.

Bhardwaj said that Himachal is working on a scheme aimed at promoting FPOs in the cooperative sector. Under this, the state government has set a target of reaching at least 10,000 farmers through registration of 100 FPOs in a year. He said that the formation of FPOs in the cooperative sector would strengthen the crop harvesting management infrastructure.

He urged the Union Minister to make available funds for the training of the members of the FPO Management Committee separately from the training of Secretaries. He also discussed other issues related to the Ministry of Cooperation with the Union Minister. Suresh Bhardwaj informed that the process of computerization of cooperative societies has been started by the state government in collaboration with NABARD and a provision of Rs 5 crore has been made for computerization of 300 meetings in the state. He urged to provide assistance in the ratio of 80:20 or 90:10 through State-Centre Partnership Scheme to connect all the cooperative societies of the state with this scheme.

He urged for extending the interest subvention to primary agricultural credit societies working in the health, education, MSME and eco-tourism sectors. Till now this facility is being provided only to the meetings working in agriculture and horticulture sector. He also urged for provision of collateral free credit facility up to Rs 20 lakh to cooperative societies so that more cooperative societies can take maximum benefit of schemes like Primary Agricultural Credit Societies or Integrated Cooperative Development Project of the government.

Suresh Bhardwaj also urged the Union Minister to bring state and district cooperative banks under the Credit Guarantee Fund Trust for Micro and Small Enterprises. This move will encourage these banks to provide advance loans to cooperative societies. He also urged to make provision for establishment expenditure under Integrated Cooperative Development Project, so that proper arrangement of staff could be made for this project. The Union Minister assured to provide all possible assistance to the state.

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Punjab sees first bureaucratic rejig after Channi assuming office



The first major bureaucratic reshuffle took place in the state on Tuesday after Charanjit Singh Channi took over as the Chief Minister. Transfer and posting orders of nine IAS and two Provincial Civil Service (PCS) officers were issued on Tuesday. While the state got new Director Information and Public Relations, three new appointments were made in the Chief Minister’s Office. DC Mohali has also been changed.

Senior IAS officers Tejveer Singh and Gurkirat Kirpal Singh, who were Principal Secretary and Special Principal Secretary to the former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, respectively, were also given new responsibilities. IAS Kamal Kishore Yadav has been given the responsibility of Secretary Information and Public Relations as well as Special Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, while 2009 batch IAS officer Sumit Jarangal has been posted as Director Information and Public Relations in his place.

IAS officer Tejveer Singh has been posted as Principal Secretary, Investment Promotion, Industries and Commerce and IT. Similarly, IAS Gurkeerat Kirpal Singh has been posted as Secretary, Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs and Defense Services Welfare. Dilip Kumar, a 1995 batch IAS officer, has been given the responsibility of the mission director, Tandrust Punjab, along with the principal secretary, Science Technology and Environment.

IAS officer Mohammad Tayyab has been posted as CEO of Punjab Waqf Board. Isha, a 2009 batch IAS officer, has been posted as DC Mohali. IAS officer Harpreet Singh Sudan has been appointed as Mission Director, Punjab Skill Development Mission, along with the earlier responsibilities held by him.

At the same time, IAS officer Shaukat Ahmed Parray has been posted as Additional Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister while PCS officer Mankanwal Singh Chahal has been posted as Deputy Principal Secretary to the CM. PCS officer Anil Gupta has been posted as Deputy Secretary Personnel.

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Amid exodus, new Bengal BJP chief says ‘game is on’

Arup Kali



Soon after becoming the new West Bengal BJP president, Sukanta Majumdar on Tuesday said, “The game must be played and the game will be played.” Majumdar said that Babul Supriyo, who joined the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Saturday, “could not play in the first XI, so he left”.

Majumdar said that the BJP will play the game and will not take the role of a spectator sitting in the gallery. On Tuesday, the newly-appointed state president was given a reception by the BJP at the state BJP’s Hastings office. After that, Sukanta Majumdar held a press conference with former state president Dilip Ghosh.

Targeting the Trinamool Congress, Sukanta Majumdar said, “There is a Taliban-style government in the state.” However, he did admit that there were some shortcomings in terms of planning and strategy in the election. At the same time, he urged the leaders and workers who left the party after the elections results to return to the party.

“We don’t want anyone to leave the team,” Majumdar said. “Those who believe in the principles and ideals of the BJP, hope they will stay with us. And those who came to the BJP for any other purpose, it is natural that they will leave. Those who have left will review; let them come back.” In fact, Majumdar made it clear at the outset that he will focus on the organization. Besides, the new state BJP president said that the biggest issue in the BJP’s campaign against Mamata Banerjee in the Bhabanipur by-election is violence.

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How insurgency in Manipur is finally fizzling out



Driven to the wall by security forces, pushed to the brink by their own leadership and utilised as cannon fodder by the Myanmar Army, it seems days for insurgent groups operating in Manipur are numbered now. Valley-Based Insurgent Groups (VBIG) is a term used to identify all Meitei insurgent groups operating in this Northeastern state. These include PLA, PREPAK (Pro), KYKL, UNLF & KCP (all factions). A total of more than 15 sub-groups are known to exist.

These underground groups ruled the Imphal Valley and South Manipur till as late as 2010-12. At one point of time, certain areas in Manipur used to be called “Liberated Zones” and their terror and criminal activities were rampant. However, due to a number of successful operations by security forces, these groups were pushed out from India into Myanmar. Due to the depleted strength, lack of morale and loss of appetite for struggle, many of them split and broke into pieces. Some of them entered into agreements with the government of Manipur.

The VBIGs, though still active, have to a large extent lost their appeal among the Meitei population. Post the lifting of AFSPA in Imphal Valley where the majority of Meitei population resides, there is nothing much for locals to complain. The younger population is keen on learning better entrepreneurial skills, including English and Hindi and move to mainland for better opportunities. PLA and others groups are, therefore, devoid of any ideologically motivated lower rung cadres.

As of today, most of these groups are forced to live in make shift camps across the Indo Myanmar Border. The Myanmarese Army turns a blind eye on their existence as long as they are willing to pay a price in return, which was mostly in cash or in kind in terms of items required in Myanmar including food, medicine or certain other essential supplies. Sometimes, cadres are thrown away to local police/army camps to be used for menial jobs and labours, while the senior rung enjoys a life of luxury.

After a series of joint operations conducted by Indian Army and Myanmar Army, VBIGs were forced to shift their camps from East of Manipur to further North in the areas opposite South Arunachal Pradesh, where they live as tenants to NSCN (KYA). In addition, they were also forced to shift their camps to areas South of Manipur in Chin state. While the group members were safe in these locations, they were too far away from their areas of operations, leading further frustration and ideological isolation. The business community of Manipur also started challenging the writ of these groups soon after they realised their inability to cause much effect from across Myanmar into India. These operations from within India were merely by Over Ground Workers and could not actually instill a sense of fear. This started leading to a financial stress on the groups, which started impacting their relations with their bed fellows across the international boundary.

The Covid-19 pandemic hit the subcontinent in March 2020 and Manipur was one of the worst-hit states. This had a telling impact on the economy in Imphal valley and consequently the paying capacity of those big time businessmen who were still giving VBIG extortion money in return for peace. The small time businessmen no longer fear the VBIGs and only way possible for the VBIGs to extort money was by lobbing grenades at individual’s properties to only cause caution, as any casualty caused would further denigrate their name and popularity among masses. 

Meanwhile, a number of cadres started deserting and surrendering to security forces, and testified that the living conditions in camps had deteriorated severely to the extent that even proper meals had become a luxury. Ill-treatment and humiliation at the hands of their own hierarchy and because of their survival being at mercy of Myanmar Army and Myanmar Police, the cadres had no place for surrender and solace. The Myanmar Army had been grudgingly supportive whenever India had asked for any help and they have time and again destroyed few terrorist bases and camps in their territory.

The situation took a new dimension on 1 February, after the coup on 1 February 2021 when reins were taken over by the military junta. The violent protests since then have taken an unprecedented proportion, which was not anticipated by the Myanmar Army. PDF has mushroomed into an armed group with common goals to overthrow the regime, but with no fixed organisation structure. The local civilians themselves have joined the revolution with rudimentary weapons and are causing a heavy toll on the capability of Myanmar Army to respond. In such a scenario, Myanmar Army found an easy target in terms of PLA and other groups of CORCOM to build up its depleting strength. While the total strength of all Meitei groups across Indo-Myanmar border is anticipated to be only armed 300, Myanmar Army finds it convenient to demand the services of these groups in terms of providing manpower for holding their sentry posts, carrying out duties at vehicle check points and even routine patrolling. Grudgingly, the insurgent groups had to accede to the demands, failing which they would have been evicted from the host nation’s soil.

The insurgent groups have so far lost about 40 cadres in a struggle which is alien to them. The local people in Myanmar despise them. The Myanmar Army uses them like cannon fodder resulting in mounting casualties. The leaders of such insurgent groups, while living a life of luxury, are forcing poorer Manipuris into death and desolation. In the latest incident opposite Pangsau pass on 10 August in the area of Waktan village in Myanmar, six PLA cadres were killed in a case of internal feud. It is testimony to the low morale and indiscipline in the organisation which is bereft of any ideological locus standi. Given the circumstances, the militant cadres of VBIGs are in a “lose-lose” situation. The only “winners” seem to be the senior hierarchy of VBIGs and the Myanmar Army.

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Former Union minister Babul Supriyo, who joined the Trinamool Congress (TMC) last week months after he resigned from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on Tuesday said that he wants to be part of a team that embraces him warmly and makes him part of the playing 11.

Citing the example of Lionel Messi to defend his move to switch from the BJP to the TMC, he said that even the footballer didn’t want to exit Barcelona. “Did he want to leave Barcelona? The situation was such that he cried during the press conference. Then he went to PSG. And now you are saying that ‘while playing for PSG, is he expected to core against Barcelona? Or is he going to stand still in front of the goal post because he needs to be loyal to his ex-team…which transformed him’,” he said.

In an interview with a TV channel, Babul Supriyo said, “I have not created history…I’m not the first to leave a party and join another one.”

Referring to the new West Bengal BJP chief’s reported comment that the state was facing “Talibanisation”, he said the term ought not to be used lightly. He said he had opposed it, too, when the Opposition and critics like lyricist Javed Akhtar had said similar things about the BJP. “Taliban is the name of a very wrong and cheap mindset. The term should not be used casually,” he said.

Thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief J.P. Nadda, and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the Trinamool Congress member said he has worked with them for seven years and learnt a lot from the BJP.

He emphasised that his own 2014 electoral victory from Asansol may have been based on his image as a Bollywood singer, but it was his public worked that ensured his 2019 re-election. “Whenever I play for whichever team, I’d want to give my sweat and blood in the playing field itself. It is not in my DNA to take the salary and perks from the public and then warm the benches,” he said.

Supriyo denied the allegation that he had joined the TMC to stay in power. “If that is so, what power have I got in Trinamool? I have already sought an appointment with the Honourable (Lok Sabha) Speaker. I want to stay on this moral ground. I am immediately resigning as MP of Asansol,” he said.

Earlier, after meeting West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee on Monday, Supriyo said that he is happy to be welcomed in Trinamool Congress (TMC). “I am very happy to meet CM Mamata Banerjee. The way she welcomed me to the TMC family is very warm. She asked me to work with all my heart and sing with all my heart which I think is icing on the cake. She said ‘Pujor samayo tumi gaan karo’ (Sing during the time of Puja).”

He added, “We had a very musical talk, at the same time whatever she said was really music to my ears. I want to thank Didi (Mamata Banerjee) and party General Secretary, Abhishek Banerjee for welcoming me so affectionately and warmly to the TMC family.”

The BJP slammed Supriyo for joining the TMC. On Sunday, BJP MP from West Bengal’s Ranaghat Jagannath Sarkar alleged that Babul Supriyo joined the Trinamool Congress (TMC) to evade the allegations of his involvement in the coal theft and cow smuggling cases.

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US not seeking new Cold War: Biden at UNGA amid tensions with China



In his first speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) since taking office, US President Joe Biden said that the world stands at an “inflection point in history” and must move quickly and cooperatively to address the festering issues of the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and human rights abuse. Amid growing China tensions Biden also declared the US is “not seeking a new Cold War.”

The high-level segment of the 76th UNGA began in New York on Tuesday.

Without mentioning China directly, Biden acknowledged increasing concerns about rising tensions between the two nations. But he said, “We are not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs.”

“We’ve ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan and as we close this era of relentless war, we’re opening a new era of relentless diplomacy,” U Biden said, making his first appearance as president at the UN General Assembly. The President noted his decision to end America’s longest war last month, in Afghanistan, and set the table for his administration to shift US attention to intensive diplomacy with no shortage of crises facing the globe. He said he is driven by a belief that “to deliver for our own people, we must also engage deeply with the rest of the world.”

“We’ve ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan,” Biden said. “And as we close this period of relentless war, we’re opening a new era of relentless diplomacy of using the power of our development aid to invest in new ways of lifting people up around the world.”

“We meet this year in a moment intermingled with great pain and extraordinary possibility. We have lost so much to this devastating pandemic that continues to claim lives around the world and impact so much on our existence. We’re mourning more than 4.5 million people, people of every nation, from every background. Each death is an individual heartbreak,” he said.

He went on to say this is “a decisive decade for our world” which will “quite literally determine our futures.”

“Will we work together to save lives, defeat Covid-19 everywhere, and take the necessary stem to prepare ourselves for the next pandemic, because there will be another one. Or will we fail to harness the tools at our disposal as more virulent and dangerous variants take hold?”

More than 100 heads of state and government will attend the UNGA in-person including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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